29 October, 2007

THE CORRUPTION OF CHRIS MILLER



Unacknowledged masterwork, deservedly obscure Spanish slasher flick or something in between? Don't plan to pick it up at your local Best Buy to check it out, it won't be there for some time.

The lovely, talented, troubled Jean Seberg plays Ruth Miller in Juan Antonio Bardem's underrated Spanish giallo.

I'm looking forward to picking up the recent Criterion edition of Jean Luc Godard's Nouvelle Vague classic, A BOUT DE SOUFFLE/BREATHLESS. One of the more significant extras is Mark Rappaport's 1995 film FROM THE JOURNALS OF JEAN SEBERG, a memoir of the actress who became an instant international star, along with Jean Paul Belmondo, with the 1960 release of Godard's film. One reading of Seberg's subsequent career is that it was a long downward spiral from there until the day in 1979 when she was found dead in Paris from a barbiturate overdose. To die in Paris, the same city which Godard followed her through with his hand held cameras in A BOUT DE SOUFFLE two decades earlier... there's something poetic in that. And, of course, tragic. But we're not here to go into the details of her demise, but rather to take a look at an often misunderstood and underrated mid 1970's Spanish psycho-thriller which some say she did only for the money.




LA CORRUPCION DE CHRIS MILLER is almost impossible to see today in its scope shooting ratio and in its uncut 107m form. Here's hoping for an uncut OAR DVD release of this film, which remains ripe for reevaluation. As it stands today even Spanish horror fans who gather on the internet either don't know about it or don't have access to it in proper format.



Reading the usually discerning Vincent Canby struggling to find some value in it and coming up empty in his 1976 NYTIMES review, when it was finally released here some three years after it was made, gives some insight into the problem. He finds a possible allegory of General Franco's Spain but can't believe anyone would bother. Some reviews incorrectly file it away as Jean Seberg's last film, it wasn't, but it does feature one of her most interesting performances as the frustrated matron, Ruth Miller. At times one gets the feeling that she may be doing something beyond method acting. But there's a lot more to this film than a snapshot of Seberg on her way to oblivion.



As written by Santiago Moncada, the dynamo who is credited with the scripts for two key Spanish horror films of the 1970's, Claudio Guerin Hill's LA COMPANA DEL INFIERNO (1973) and Joaquin Romero Marchent CONDENADOS A VIVIR (1971). The prolific writer also worked with Manuel Cano (THE SWAMP OF THE RAVENS), Mario Bava (A HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON) and wrote two of Jess Franco's most compelling 1980's films JUEGO SUCIO EN CASABLANCA (1984) and LA ESCLAVA BLANCA (1985). Both Franco films have never had a North American theatrical release or video presentation on any format. Picking through Moncada's busy career (try to spot his name in Tarantino's DEATHPROOF) one might detect a casual nihilist with a taste for irony and a penchant for self destructive characters. CHRIS MILLER may be his most ambitious, and conflicted, work, combining numerous elements from previous horror films and thrillers: PSYCHO, THE NIGHT DIGGER, PERSONA, to name but a few.



During a rainy 1970's Spanish summer, a remote region is terrorized by a serial killer who slaughters his victims with extreme prejudice before robbing them. But the rain is something more than a freak weather pattern and the killings illustrate a kind of brutality born of pain. It's a bit disconcerting that the most sympathetic character is a serial killer whose motive turns out to be a quietly devastating comment on the banality of evil. The two central relationships in the film, between Ruth and Chris Miller (Marisol), and Barney (Barry Stokes) and Ruth, are based on power games which endlessly ping-pong until they flame out in spasms of ultra-violence. The kind done with common kitchen knives, blunt instruments and whatever is at hand. As with Hitchcock's PSYCHO (heavily quoted throughout the film), explaining the plot is not enough and finally unfair. One finds patterns: the dysfunctional family unit formed by Ruth, her stepdaughter, and drifter Barney finds ironic counterpoint in another family. They become known as the Farmhouse Family in the national media when they are massacred in the film's central sequence, which is staged with the chilling precision of Hitchcock at his best. The fact that the fatal intruder appears as a "monk" with a scythe evokes another 1970's Spanish horror memory, Amando de Ossorio's "Blind Dead." The victims are a "healthy" functional family, with the mother and father relaxing in front of the fire as the children sleep upstairs. One really feels a sense of violation as they are efficiently slashed to death. The random nature of violent crime has rarely been illustrated with such clarity.



When the killer is caught, Ruth and Chris go to work to hide another crime, their own. In the film's final images a cycle of secrets uncovered and regenerated leaves the two women in a kind of suspended animation, somewhere between guilt and denial. Director Bardem resists every temptation to turn this into an erotic film, although the lesbian undertones of Ruth and Chris's relationship are obvious, if never exploited.



Lavishly shot on location by Juan Gelpi with a haunting score by Waldo de los Rios, THE CORRUPTION OF CHRIS MILLER is not an auteur film in the strictest sense. Directed by early Jess Franco employer, the late Juan Antonio Bardem (COMICOS), it can be seen as an elaboration on the Bardem's DEATH OF CYCLIST (1955), on which Franco worked as an assistant director and was critically noticed at that time for a depiction of the Spanish class system hiding something criminally deceptive. CHRIS MILLER seems designed as an exploitation film which allows itself a series of gory epiphanies, given the Spanish censors displeasure with too much sex. But the film is not as gory as it might seem on first viewing. While Bardem seems definitely more at home with violence than sex he also understands violence has something of a sexual component and, perhaps with Moncada's templates in mind, locates the trigger for crime in childhood trauma and adult resentments.



THE CORRUPTION OF CHRIS MILLER may or may not be a masterwork of its form, but it is a film which will make you think. Over the years I have made a number of 10 Best Spanish Horror Films lists and it always makes the final cut. What I like the most about it is that there are no happy endings or tidy explanations for what has happened. We are left feeling drenched in ambiguity.


And you won't forget the rain...



(C) Robert Monell, 2007










5 comments:

ecom said...

My review of the film can be found here ()

My Greek cassette is letterboxed at 1.85:1 but the opening credits say its a Panavision film (meaning "in Panavision" not the "cameras and lenses by Panavision" credit for flat films). I found it closer to Umberto Lenzi's pre-Argento/Martino gialli with Carroll Baker. It also owes something to D. H. Lawrence's THE FOX (as did Norman Warren's PREY - a VW review of that film mentions an adaptation of the Lawrence novel from around that time).

ecom said...

Whoops, forgot the review link (http://p210.ezboard.com/CORRUPTION-OF-CHRIS-MILLER/fthelatarniaforumsfrm2.showMessage?topicID=345.topic)

Robert Monell said...

Good comparison with THE FOX. I'm pretty sure the OAR was 2.35:1 scopre. The Greek video is not an acceptable version.

ecom said...

I'd like to see the film on DVD but I'd be more interested in a collection of Waldo de los Rios's scores for this, LA RESIDENCIA, and WHO CAN KILL A CHILD on CD.

Robert Monell said...

I like his scores a lot, his music for CHRIS MILLER really covers over some serious flaws. He committed suicide according to the Naschy book.