The Funeral (1996)

‘One family, one murder, too many lies’

Directed by:
Abel Ferrara

Written by:
Nicholas St. John

Christopher Walken (Ray), Chris Penn (Chez), Annabella Sciorra (Jean), Isabella Rossellini (Clara), Vincent Gallo (Johnny), Benicio Del Toro (Gaspare), Gretchen Mol (Helen), John Ventimiglia (Sali), Paul Hipp (Ghouly), Victor Argo (Julius)

Abel Ferrara is an interesting director and The Funeral – his second gangster film after King of New York (1990) – is an a-typical, but interesting film that is set in the 1930’s. Christopher Walken plays Ray Tempio, boss of a mob clan. His young brother was killed and the body is brought to his house where relatives and associates gather for what will be a three day funeral.

Soon, his other brother Chez (Chris Penn) arrives, a hothead who’s mentally unstable. The brothers want to go after the killer and their suspect number one is gangster Gaspare (Benicio Del Toro).

Through flashbacks we learn more about the Tempios although it is hardly information overload. Ferrara and his regular screenwriter St. John are holding back! But first the positive points. The film is shot beautifully. From the images of mourning relations to the gangster nightlife that is portrayed, it all looks stunning. Also, performances are great all around. Two cast members deserve special mention. Chris Penn gives a career best performance as the craziest mobsters ever. And Annabella Sciorra is truly excellent as Ray’s wife Jean, who is openly critical of the gangster lifestyle.

What I am less thrilled about is the build-up. The movie ends with a dramatic act by Chez, but it is not really clear how he comes to this act, apart from the fact that he is crazy. We are not given enough pieces to work out this psychological puzzle. Same for the youth flashbacks from Ray. It is obvious that they have impacted him greatly, but exactly how remains elusive. Is the screenwriting the problem here? Or does Ferrara just enjoy leaving things a little vague? Judging by most of his films, it is the latter. Normally, this is good. A true artist knows as well what to leave out as what to put in. But this time he used the scissors too rigorously.


JEAN: “They’re criminals, and there’s absolutely nothing romantic about it.”

In 2009, Empire Magazine named The Funeral #16 in a poll of the ‘20 Greatest Gangster Movies You’ve Never Seen (Probably)’.

Cult Radar: Part 4 is glad to explore the video trenches to find that oddball treasure between the piles of crap out there. Off course a treasure in this context can also be a film that’s so shockingly bad it’s worth a look, or something so bizarre that cult fans just have to see it. Join us on our quest and learn what we learn. Hopefully we’ll uncover some well-hidden cult gems.

Researched by: Jeppe Kleijngeld

The Green Hornet (USA, 1974)

Directed by: William Beaudine, Norman Foster, E. Darrel Hallenbeck
Written by: Charles Hoffman, Ken Pettus, Jerry Thomas, Arthur Weingarten
Cast: Van Williams, Bruce Lee, Charles Bateman, Walter Brooke

This is the first of two movies, compiled of The Green Hornet TV-episodes. It follows the adventures of Britt Reid aka the Green Hornet (Van Williams). In the daytime he is the publisher of a newspaper called ‘The Daily Sentinel’ and a news broadcaster. At night he is a masked vigilante who investigates crime, together with his sidekick Kato (Bruce Lee). In this film they take on various racketeers and a brilliant scientist that wants to drop a H-Bomb. While Reid does most of the investigating like some sort of Phillip Marlowe, Kato uses his martial art skills to kick the bad guys asses. The TV-budget obviously didn’t leave a lot of space for production design, but this is nevertheless entertaining stuff. If only to see an early example of Lee’s great talents at work.

Fury of the Dragon (USA, 1976)

Directed by: William Beaudine, Norman Foster, Robert L. Friend, ao.
Written by: Ken Pettus, Arthur Weingarten
Cast: Van Williams, Bruce Lee, Walter Brooke

This is the second compilation film made out of The Green Hornet TV-episodes. This time around the Green Hornet and Kato have to rescue the abducted daughter of a Middle-Eastern prince. They also take on a corrupt cop, a ring of drug dealers and a gang of art-thieves. The transitions between the four different episodes are a bit odd, but the episodes chosen are pretty decent. Al Hirt’s great trumpet theme score is missing most of the time, but the other Green Hornet elements are there: detective work, Kato’s martial arts and the usual comic book gadgets. Like the first film, this is entertaining super hero stuff.

Goin’ Up (Netherlands, 1983)
OT: De Lift

Directed by: Dick Maas
Written by: Dick Maas
Cast: Huub Stapel, Willeke van Ammelrooy, Josine van Dalsum

Expertly made Dutch thriller about an elevator that starts to live a life of its own. The visitors and inhabitants of an office building are terrorized and killed by the elevator, until maintenance man Felix Adelaar (Huub Stapel) starts to investigate the mysterious occurrences. The limited concept of this movie seems more like material for a short, but writer / director Dick Maas stretched it out over a feature that pretty much manages to entertain throughout its duration. The characters are a bit flat and the resolution a little silly, but this is made up by a few terrific shocks and excellent cinematography.

Body Snatchers (USA, 1993)

Directed by: Abel Ferrara
Written by: Stuart Gordon, Dennis Paoli, Nicholas St. John
Cast: Gabrielle Anwar, Terry Kinney, Billy Wirth

New York filmmaker / artist Abel Ferrara directs a fabulously creepy remake of the fifties sci-fi classic about aliens attempting to take over the world. The alien pods’ tentacles infiltrate the bodies of sleeping people and make copies. The old bodies just disappear and one by one, all people are replaced by pod-people. Gabrielle Anwar is one of the few humans still able to resist. On a notable modest budget, Ferrera has perfectly captured the paranoid spirit of the original. The good cast and efficient shock effects complete this as a direct-to-video must-see.

Iron Monkey Strikes Back (Hong Kong / Taiwan, 1977)
OT: Jue dou Lao Hu Zhuang

Directed by: Hsueh Li Pao
Written by: Shu Mei Chin
Cast: Kuan Tai Chen, Sing Chen, Ling Chia, Lin Chiao

Despite what the title might suggest, this movie has nothing to do with the popular Hong Kong flick Iron Monkey. In fact it is unclear what ‘Iron Monkey’ from the title refers to in this movie. This is a much older martial arts film set in the Ching Dynasty. The emperor’s wife is murdered by a mysterious assassin. An investigation is started by inspector Coolhead, who tries to unravel the conspiracy. Although there is reasonable looking action every few minutes, the ridiculous dubbing and sound effects take a lot of fun away. Only for real kung-funatics.