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Plot: friends, family and other lovers - and heroin too.

Sängkamrater (or Bedfellows, released for reasons unknown in the English-speaking world under the porntastic title Wide Open) reunited Christina Lindberg with Finnish director Gustav Wiklund for what was to be the last of her prime titles during her initial run. Lindberg had worked with Wiklund on Exponerad (1971) three years before and saw her back in familiar territory. After her excursion into Japan that was Journey to Japan (1973) and Sex and Fury (1973), as well as her induction into German softcore with Schoolgirl Report Part 4: What Drives Parents to Despair (1972), Secrets of Sweet Sixteen (1973), and Schoolgirl Report 7 (1974) Christina returned home to Sweden. There she would launch herself to cult cinema superstardom with Thriller – A Cruel Picture (1973), Anita Swedish Nymphet (1973), and the Shirley Corrigan romp Around the World with Fanny Hill (1974). Wide Open could, nay, should have been Lindberg’s last hurrah and the Three the Hard Way (1974) of Nordporn, except that neither of the Maries Liljedahl or Forså, were anywhere to be seen. In the year that ABBA rose to worldwide prominence by winning the Eurovision Song Contest with “Waterloo” Lindberg was just about to fall into certain obscurity and irrelevance.

Christina Lindberg

The other big name here is auburn haired demi-goddess Solveig Andersson. Andersson, of course, was Eva (1969) and had starred in the Danish-Swedish classic Dagmar's Hot Pants, Inc. (1971). It wasn’t even her first time supporting Lindberg as she had already done so in the contemptible and widely derided rape revenge caper Thriller – A Cruel Picture (1973) the year before. For lack of a better descriptor Wide Open is kind of a Swedish precursor to Popcorn and Ice-Cream (1978), although this being Scandinavian (and not German, Italian or British) it’s far from cheery.

For Gustav Wiklund this was supposed to be his pièce de résistance, his masterwork as he not only directed, but took to writing and producing it as well. Not that anyone could blame him. What would you do if you had Christina Lindberg and Solveig Andersson running around the set half-naked? In one of life’s bitter ironies Wide Open has become something of a forgotten title, as it’s seldom talked about when discussing the Lindberg and Andersson canon. For those hoping to see Christina Lindberg and Solveig Andersson engaging in extensive mutual groping will be sorely disappointed as no such thing will be forthcoming. Wide Open sort of bounces and straddles around (both in the literal and figurative sense) aimlessly before finally deciding what it wants to be. Not that that warrants the effort of seeking it out. Wide Open has been relegated to obscurity for a reason. This is the sort of thing you don't want to dirty up your resumé.

Paul (Kent-Arne Dahlgren) is an unambitious taxi driver in the capital of Stockholm. One day he picks up his bewildered alcoholist father Ollie (Âke Fridell) at a horse race and brings him to his apartment. In the apartment Paul’s journalist girlfriend Marianne (Solveig Andersson) is in the habit of wandering around naked, and she’s none too pleased with the improvised arrangement of having his father sleep off his hangover. Things don’t improve between the young lovers when Ollie suddenly assaults Marianne for no discernable reason. Thankfully Paul is able to intervene. To ease the tensions and diffuse to quarrel the two decide to go to a party. While Paul is in another room making out with a willing and able blonde girl Marianne runs into her free-spirited, promiscuous, and libertine sister Beryl (Gunilla Larsson). Things take a turn for the complicated when Marianne and Beryl’s parents (Per-Axel Arosenius and Karin Miller) come to visit unexpectedly the next morning and an impromptu birthday party is hastily thrown to fake that their relationship is at least halfway functional.

The following morning Paul wakes up between a naked Marianne and Beryl. Seething with anger and jealousy Marianne then departs for Copenhagen, Denmark on a work assignment. Beryl is an aspiring actress that has taken up nude modeling to pay the bills. When she picks up her friend Eva (Christina Lindberg) at the airport she speaks about her modeling work, and Eva’s all ears to make some money on the side. As it happens Eva is in an abusive relationship with Peter (Leif Ahrle) who degrades her in various ways and insists she do housekeeping chores au naturel. Beryl tries to seduce Paul, but he’s far more interested in Eva. Meanwhile the two girls go the studio of Mr. X (Jan-Olof Rydqvist) to shoot another nude spread. Afterwards Beryl is offered a stripping assignment at a gentlemen’s convention. On the way home she’s picked up by overweight bald deviant Leonard (Sture Ström) who locks her up and whips her. Beryl manages to escape and to hide her modesty grabs the nearest fur coat. What Beryl doesn’t know is that said coat has heroin hidden in the lining. When his shipment doesn’t arrive Mr. X dispatches his enforcer (Tor Isedal) to locate the missing heroin. He forces Marianne, Beryl, and Eva at gunpoint into a bout of bottomless go-go dancing to ensure they aren't carrying any of the goods….

Wide Open may be somewhat forgotten in the annals of Nordporn, it does feature a whole host of familiar faces. First, there are Tor Isedal from Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring (1960) and Exponerad (1971), and Åke Fridell from The Seventh Seal (1957), and Dagmar's Hot Pants, Inc. (1971). Back once again is character actor Per-Axel Arosenius from Alfred Hitchcock's Topaz (1969) and who played fatherly roles to Lindberg in Maid in Sweden (1971) and Thriller – A Cruel Picture (1973). Jan-Olof Rydqvist had crossed paths with Solveig Andersson in Eva (1969) and with Christina Lindberg in Anita Swedish Nymphet (1973). The remainder of the cast consists of television actors Robert Sjöblom and Gunilla Larsson. Despite their presence here Sjöblom and Larsson had and build extensive careers in television afterwards. As for svenske skønhed Christina Lindberg and Solveig Andersson, both were well past the apex of their respective careers. Lindberg’s initial run ended with a disappointing thud as she has more of a supporting role here, and she’s given little to do besides bouncing and strutting around naked. The same goes for Andersson, whose star burned bright and fierce in Eva (1969), something which her subsequent roles never were able to consolidate. Compared to both Gunilla Larsson was, while not exactly unattractive, on the plain side of average. That Wide Open gets the most out of her is with good reason too. In stark contrast to Andersson and Lindberg, Larsson could actually, you know, act.

Swedish erotica has the tendency to be downbeat and depressing most of the time. Unlike German, Italian, and British sexploitationers of the day Wide Open is about as far from fun and breezy as you could get. At least the whole fur coat plotpoint was used to far greater effect in the Cine-S classic The Hot Girl Juliet (1981) (with the triarchy of Iberian softcore sex goddesses Eva Lyberten, Andrea Albani, and Vicky Palma). There’s ample opportunity to get an eyeful of bröst and röv from the two main flicka. Typically, it’s Lindberg for the former and Andersson for the latter. Not that we would want it any other way, but by 1974 the whole spiel was getting kind of old. No wonder Gustav Wiklund grabbed every opportunity to have Solveig Andersson cavorting around completely nude.

Five long years had passed since Eva (1969) and Wide Open consistently fails to capture her beauty. Which is strange considering director of photography Max Wilén was behind the lens here too. Even Christina Lindberg looks more bored and boring than ever. Dog Days (1970), Sex at the Olympics (1972) or Love In 3-D (1974) this most certainly is not. Wide Open didn't even have a gimmick the way the amiable and psychotronic Four Dimensions of Greta (1972) had. This is one of those titles that is long overdue for an extensive restoration and high-end 4/8k remastering complete with digital color correction and improved audio. In recent years Christina Lindberg has been vocal in her disdain for Wide Open and has openly expressed her discontent and disappointment with how it turned out. It’s not exactly hard to see why she would feel that way. Wide Open was so cheap it couldn’t even afford a decent poster – and recent DVD releases have been forced to use images from Lindberg’s nude spreads of the day instead. In the Lindberg canon this is probably the most impoverished, incoherent, and lazy of all her prime features.

Plot: the sins of a young man’s past come back to haunt him in the present.

Revenge of the Pontianak sees yet another classic Asian horror monsters resurrected for the modern age. The movie is part of a recent and larger mini-trend in Asian horror cinema that sees young filmmakers looking nostalgically towards the past (typically the much simpler days of the 1970s/80s and sometimes even earlier) and modeling their own horror epics after established properties and beloved icons of the past. Indonesia celebrated the life and work of Suzzanna with Suzzanna: Buried Alive (2018) and Thailand resurrected its own classic horror monster with Inhuman Kiss (2019). Malaysia couldn’t possibly stay behind and Revenge of the Pontianak (or Dendem Pontianak back at home) is very much - even if it’s never officially acknowledged as such – a cordial tribute to Malay horror queen Maria Menado and a liberal remake of Revenge of the Pontianak (1957), the second in her loose Pontianak cycle. Ostensibly the name to watch here is Nur Fazura as the titular sanguineous seductress. Her performance is alternately quietly understated and searing with rabid intensity.

Maria Menado, the Queen of Malaysian horror

The twilight years of the 2010s have given way to a veritable wave of nostalgia-driven Southeast Asian revivalist horror. In this cycle young filmmakers paid tribute to the old masters and celebrated long forgotten genres and icons of yesteryear. Italy had Barbara Steele in the sixties and Edwige Fenech in the seventies, Spain had Soledad Miranda and Nieves Navarro, and in Indonesia Suzzanna was the undisputed Queen of Horror. Maria Menado was a contemporary of Suzzanna back in her home of Malaysia.

All through the fifties and sixties Menado starred in her most enduring works and was bestowed prestigious titles as “Malaya’s Most Beautiful” by Times Magazine and the “Best Dressed Woman in South East Asia” by United Press International. Her most iconic role would be that of the Pontianak in Pontianak (1957). It was so lucrative at the Cathay cinema box office that it not only spawned three sequels with Revenge of the Pontianak (1957), Curse of the Pontianak (1958) and The Vampire Returns (1963) but also launched the Pontianak subgenre of made-in-Singapore, Malay-language ghost horror in Singapore and Malaysia in the process. Its box office success inspired Hong Kong’s Shaw Bros to launch their own rival Pontianak trilogy. With their Revenge Of the Pontianak directors Glen Goei and Gavin Yap pay tribute to the ghost horror of yore now that Paranormal Activity (2008) and The Conjuring (2013) seem to have become the new international standard. Goei and Yap aim not for a direct remake but rather to capture the essence of vintage Malay fright cinema and its foremost international ambassador.

To Western eyes the Pontianak (Kuntilanak in Indonesia or the similar Tiyanak and Churel in the Philippines and India, respectively) is the halfway point between the vampire of European folklore and white ghost maiden omnipresent in Asian folk tales. As such the Pontianak typically takes the form of a beautiful woman with pale skin, red eyes, long black hair and long fingernails in a blood-splattered white dress. Hiding in banana trees during the day she typically died in childbirth and her vengeful spirit roams the material world because she was not given the proper burial rites. The arrival of the Pontianak is foretold by the barking of dogs, sudden illness among infants and a strong scent of either flowers or decay pervading the air. The Pontianak has been a staple of Malaysian horror cinema at least since the fifties and just like vampires, ghosts and slashers in Western cinema continues to inspire Malay filmmakers to this day. Perhaps the biggest innovation that Revenge Of the Pontianak offers is taking painstaking work to humanize the Pontianak and the woman in question. In doing so Goei and Yap change her from an antagonist into a victim of circumstance. Here the true villain is not the sanguineous ghost but the man condemning her to said fate. Just like how Inhuman Kiss (2019) was a coming of age story and doomed romance wrapped in Thai folklore this is a tragedy masquerading as a vintage ghost horror. What Suzzanna: Buried Alive (2019) did for Indonesian horror Revenge Of the Pontianak does a concerted effort to the bring old school sensibilities to contemporary horror cinema. It might not be exactly tense but it certainly looks and sounds the part

Malaysia, 1965. In a small kampong young aristocrats Khalid (Remy Ishak) and Siti (Shenty Felizaina) are preparing for their wedding. On the day of the ceremony his brother Reza (Hisyam Hamid) and his wife Aisha (Nadiah m Din) welcome Siti to the family. Also present is Khalid’s 9-year-old son Nik (Nik Harraz Danish) as well as his old friend Rais (Tony Eusoff). At the party Rais courts wedding singer Ida (Nadia Aqilah) and before long the two are in each other’s arms. On the way home Rais and Ida encounter the silhouette of a woman standing in the distance. Back in the kampong Nik claims he caught the glimpse of a ghost in the jungle around the house. Khalid brushes it off as childish imagination and retreats to the bedroom with Siti. He has a rude awakening the next morning when he sees the mutilated corpse of Rais strung up in a banana tree. “Darkness has descended upon this village,” dukun/bomoh (shaman) Su’ut Din (Shahili Abdan, as Namron) ominously intones striking mortal dread into the hearts of the superstitious villagers. Village elder Penghulu (Wan Hanafi Su) encourages the villagers to remain calm until the perpetrator is brought to justice.

At night Khalid is haunted by recurring nightmares and Nik is drawn to a comforting, familiar voice emanating from the nearby jungle. When small infants suddenly fall into inexplicable sickness, dogs devolve into fits of barking and a foul smell starts to permeate the air Su’ut Din fears the worst. It is not until Reza shows signs of possession and briefly speaks in tongues that it dawns upon Khalid that his sordid past has finally caught up with the blissful present. His erratic behavior forces Siti and Reza to corner him to come clean about his youthful indiscretions. The Pontianak is a maiden by the name of Mina (Nur Fazura) who Khalid was arranged to marry some nine years earlier in 1956. At the dawn of Malay Independence he reneged his vows and send her packing to Singapore. When she returned a year later she not only expected him to marry her but also to sire the child she was carrying in her womb. He’s soon to learn that Nik (to paraphrase Shakespeare in the Merchant Of Venice) “for the sins of (his) father, though guiltless, must suffer" and that ghosts of the past sometimes are indeed quite literal ghosts. Who or what will be able to repel the fury of an undead woman scorned?

If anything Revenge Of the Pontianak is custodian to some absolutely idyllic cinematography and locations on top of being masterfully scripted and tightly-paced. Each of the six main characters has a classic Arabic, Persian or Egyptian name corresponding with their designated archetype or function. The women are uniformly and universally beautiful. Nur Fazura gets to wear some beautiful pastel-colored robes and in each of her scenes she wears a different color reflecting her state of mind. In that capacity she can be seen in shades of green and yellow. Later when she’s turned into a Pontianak her red sari turns white as her hair loosens and fingernails grow. Some might recognize the Chinese sleep chant that Siti sings to Nik as Coldplay used it as a coda to ‘Yes’ on their “Viva la Vida! Or Death and All his Friends” album. Wicked tongues might claim that Revenge Of the Pontianak of hardly ever scary (and they would be right) but at no point does it ever promise anything else. This is a drama first and foremost – and any and all horror elements are secondary at best. The fact that Revenge Of the Pontianak goes to such incredible lengths to humanize its monster is just what makes it so interesting than any run off the mill Asian ghost horror. At heart Revenge Of the Pontianak is a human interest drama about a dysfunctional family – and that it just so happens to pay tribute to the life and work of Maria Menado is a neat bonus.

Glen Goei and Gavin Yap’s maiden foray into horror is one of unexpected surprises and benefits. Coming to the genre from the realm of comedy and drama the two bring that human touch to a genre usually bereft of such finesse and subtlety. Perhaps that is why Revenge of the Pontianak focuses so much on the romance and places the concept of the scorned woman up, front and center. After all what else was the parable of the Pontianak in Malay folklore than a dire warning to all men to keep their spiel in their pants and stay faithful to their wives? It’s also refreshing that for once the Pontianak is portrayed as the victim and that the woman for whence she came is not vilified for her alleged wrongdoings. Mina is by far the most sympathetic character and Khalid - no matter how you spin it - is an egocentric, opportunistic, entitled douche canoe of the highest order that so richly deserves the royal, infernal comeuppance he’s given. As the obedient, subservient wife Shenty Felizaina is pretty much an enchantingly robed nonentity until the third act when she suddenly becomes a key component in the resolution; and as the voice of reason Hisyam Hamid portrays the only male character worth rooting for. The uncontested star of Revenge Of the Pontianak is Nur Fazura. Fazura is able to convey so much with what for all intents and purposes is very little. Her final scene alone is the ideal showcase of her incredible range as an actress. That she’s barely known in the Western world says enough about our collective ignorance.

Revenge Of the Pontianak is neither a direct remake nor a tribute in the way Suzanna: Buried Alive (2018) was to the life and work of Suzzanna. While it captures the essence of what made the Maria Menado Pontianak horrors so timeless this never is a tribute to her specifically. Instead it touches upon a variety of human interest topics including, but not limited to, the importance of family, the place of women in society in Southeast Asia (specifically Malaysia and Singapore); the importance of religion, folklore and superstition; the Islamization of what then was still a Buddhist nation, the incursion of first world modernity upon third world nations - and what greater example of the ill effects of rampant toxic masculinity? It’s hardly a feminist manifesto or anything but the Pontianak is the central character here – and it are the women who play a pivotal role in the eventual resolution. That being as it may Revenge Of the Pontianak is not some great vanguard of innovation. Asian ghost horror is too limited in its conventions to really allow for much innovation or deconstruction. Like We Are Not Alone (2016) and Verónica (2017) before it Revenge Of the Pontianak is at its best when it focuses on the human aspect, although at least here the ghost is something different.