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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Witching Hour
The Witching Hour
Rykodisc // NC-17 // October 30, 2007
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Daniel Siwek | posted December 19, 2007 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:
The French have a history of belittling while borrowing and bastardizing Americana. Just when you think they're making a mean joke out of us, you find out that it's really because they love it more than they know how to process. Examples: Blue Jeans (our 49er gear becomes Tr├Ęs chic), Elvis (Johnny Hallyday and "French Rock"), jazz and gangster movies (the French New Wave), P-Funk ("French House" and Daft Punk can't stay away), Hip-Hop (Daft Punk again, but how about MC Solaar, or the endless exploitation of b-boy culture in their own consumer culture?), Detroit techno (Uh, Daft Punk, but also people like Laurent Garnier who is also obsessed with . . .), John Carpenter (he's gaining Jerry Lewis and Woody Allen status over there), and most recently - Quentin Tarantino. Now Francois Merlin's Witching Hour takes all of that, but also throws in some belated hostility toward Euro Disney, to give us their version of a gangster-zombie movie.

Ulrich Santoro (Ulrick Waselunck) and his crew of young gangsters are a menace to good citizens everywhere, but his dad, Richard Santoro (Serge Jouenne) is the head gangster and he's called them together in a Reservoir Dogs-like meeting to give them an assignment: Steal the "Eye of Solveig," from rival outfit, the Maruccis' and inflict as much pain an suffering as possible. The heist/ambush is actually sanctioned by the cops who lost a few men to the Maruccis' when they ripped it off from the museum in the first place. The cops could care less about the stone (worth about $114,000,000, or as the adolescent-looking movie-buff/thugs note, what Spiderman made on opening weekend) they just can't be involved with the bloody payback.

Shifting into Kill Bill-mode (we even see it on a bus-stop poster), the crew have to fight their way through a series of adversaries; like a dangerously hip Texas Chainsaw -type family, some zombies, some gothed-out witches, a Warriors-looking gang (except one has a "Jason" mask), a Mummy-faced killer, and even Satan him/herself.

Hooked on their own silliness and a fetish with pop culture, the characters (obviously transparent muses for the actors who take on other roles in the production as well) are less of a band of outsiders and more of a band of School's Outsiders. With an almost Rob Zombie like obsession with all things 70s, their production company is even called School's Out, and from the outset you can tell that they want to out shock-rock Alice Cooper himself. The crazy Texas Chainsaw-Manson Family of cannibals get into a vicious discourse/parody of the "Disco Sucks" movement that recalls the maniacal pretension of Natural Born Killers and Man Bites Dog and attempts to out do the Godfather/Wizard of Gore himself, Herschell Gordon Lewis. I guess what I'm trying to get at, is that The Witching Hour wears its influences on it's routinely sliced-off and bloodied sleeves. From Vincent Furnier to other French and Italian sounding names like Jean Rollin and Lucio Fulci, their homage becomes a post-mod massacre in itself. One of the family members is a bearded and husky guy dressed as a furry Mickey Mouse (Thomas Laporte), huge gloves and all, and he looks like he's on one of Michael Alig's (the Party Monster) club-flyers.

In fact, there is a permeating awareness (and often too self-aware), not only in various subgenres of movies (from anime to kung-fu), but of video games, RPG's, and the f*ck-it-up sampling culture that makes acts like Daft Punk so badass in the first-place. Just look at the sound track: with no cares about licensing, they cut-up Kiss' "Christine Sixteen," Ozzy's "Crazy Train," Motley Crue's, "Too Young Too Fall in Love," some form of Black Sabbath, and some harder to identify snippets. They reveal as much love as they do irreverence for the original source material, and it gives their amateur filmmaking a youthful-yet-nostalgic edge. And while the lightening fast editing does little to mask the mostly abominable acting, the barrage of familiar images (from "Jason" masks to "Freddie Krueger" razor-nails), and shout-outs to (anti) heroes like Wendy O. Williams and Ace Frehley make it the French-gore version of Desperate Teenage Love Dolls

Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez probably blew these guys minds with Grindhouse but their even more comic-book-noir Sin City looks like a more immediate influence; especially in the illustrated credits (where they sneak in the Misfit's version of the Crimson Ghost). While the retro quality of the retro references work, they take it a bit far with the actual degraded looking image that was shot digitally. Between the crappy (4th generation looking video) image and the clueless acting, we almost believe that this is a YouTube film made by French high-school students; and that isn't so much of a complement. Like taking a picture of your boobs to pass along to your friend, it seems that these guys were more into the thrill of knowing the camera is on, then delivering a convincing performance. However, there were moments of pure low-rent, yet sellable fright; Macki, the Witch of Pain (Sophie Bertrand) has these fierce laser-claws that slice through guts like a Ginsue, and to top it off, she's Hot Topic/Suicide Girl hot.

The DVD

Video:
Shot in digital video and presented in full-frame, The Witching Hour should look far better than it does. Sure, the filmmakers could argue that they were going for that punked-up and ghetto look, but I don't care, the actual filmmaking doesn't support it looking like an aesthetic choice. With the dirtiest camera lens this side of Baghdad, there's also more lens flare than a J-Lo, in fact the filmmakers showed none of the attention to detail that their mentors did, and the result is a mostly crummy image. That's not to say that there isn't interesting use of color, mostly some spooky reds and creepy greens.

Sound:
The soundtrack works better than the image department, even if that has a low-fi attitude as well. You have to hand it to them, though, they don't let the sound cues rest for a second, and some of the most primitive noises can really aide a scene. The actual dialogue and such is adequately recorded.

Extras:

Original Trailer
Trailers: includes trailers for other Sacrament releases like Hurt and Black Mass
Deleted/Extended Scenes These scenes only make us feel that we gave them far too much of our precious time then they deserved.
Blood & Dishonor Book Teaser: An erotic look at Redemptions venture into print.

Final Thoughts:
I almost took this DVD out and flung it like saucer in Plan 9 but I talked myself into believing that the visceral reaction was only because I secretly liked it. I wish that were true. Well I suppose it is true and I better be proud of this decision, because by the time smoke fills the screen and they go into the satanic-comic-mode, I'm ready to throw up the horn signs. As awful as the film is, I believe that no masochistic hipster can do without at least partially viewing it. People into innards over-the-top will find a blood feast, and those who want to see how Tarantino inspired a new wave of French filmmakers ready to shed much more blood then Killing Zoe ever dared should also be interested. No it's not "good" like Zoe is, but it's far more outrageous and fun.


Why are our days numbered and not, say, lettered? Woody Allen
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