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Plot: alien lifeform rids the Earth of politicians, lawyers, and corporations.

I Am Here…. Now is the second of Neil Breen’s religious-patriotic-jingoistic supernatural thrillers and the one where all beloved Breenisms coagulated into their known form. As a faux-New Age spiritualist interpretation of The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) it’s built around a Tuscarora Indian proverb and about as incomprehensible as Double Down (2005) before it. Just like the Robert Wise science fiction classic before it I Am Here…. Now too pushes an environmentalist agenda that promotes renewable energy and sustainability while simultaneously addressing more contemporary social problems as poverty, prostitution, and inner-city violence. Las Vegas’ own Christian geek green-Marxist, as Narnarland has lovingly dubbed him, is at it again and I Am Here…. Now is brilliant for all the wrong reasons. “I’m disappointed in your species,also sprach Neil Breen as he clubs the viewer over the head with heavy-handed, overt Christian symbolism. Where royalty-free stock footage goes, trashy braless women follow…

In the Nevada desert a meteor crashes and when the smoke clears a translucent glass paper weight is revealed. Materializing from the glass orb is The Being (Neil Breen) who takes human form and is clad in virgin white robes. Circuitry protrudes from his arms and chest, he bears stigmata on his hands and occassionally reverts back to his alien form. The Being is omnipotent and omniscient; ageless, and eternal – and he has created the Earth and everything on it as one of his “experiments.” Now, after countless thousands of years, he has returned to observe his creation. In the distance six crosses have been erected. The Being waggles across the desert landscape, passing disembodied doll heads until he comes across a skull. He picks it up saying, “I’m disappointed in your species,” after which he procures civilian clothing from a couple of heroin addicts (Ali Banks, and Tommie Vegas, as Tommie Lee Vasquez). Assuring them that, “it's only temporary,” he zaps them unconscious before imprisoning them in between dimensions. The Being takes the couple’s pick-up and heads for Las Vegas, a den of godlessness and vice. Humanity has fallen for the pursuit of material things and succumbed to greed. Capitalism is on the verge of depleting Earth’s resources and the natural environment is collapsing. The Being is the way, prepare for salvation…

On the sidewalks of Las Vegas Boulevard Cindy (Elizabeth Sekora) and her wild twin sister Amber (Joy Senn) (who looks nothing like her, but who has a similar fashion sense), both environmentalism activists, learn that they have been laid off by the renewable energies company they have been working for. “The poor economy” and “corporate corruption and greed” are to blame. Taking her baby out for a stroll Cindy and Amber discuss what they are to do. Amber suggests Cindy makes a living as a stripper and prostitute. Something which she has been doing all this time, apparently. Meanwhile a corporatist (George Gingerelli), politician (Jason Perrin), and lawyer (Ron Schoenewolf) are conspiring to keep renewable energy such as solar - and wind-turbine power from becoming legislated. On the other end of town Amber’s no-good boyfriend Aron (Med Jast) turns to petty theft and joining the local street gang to make ends meet. En route to their first escort job together Cindy and Amber run into the gang Aron wants to join. The Being helps a cancer-stricken, terminally ill senior citizen (Herbert Allen, as Hebert Allen) in realizing his dying wish: to see the “welcome to Las Vegas” street sign. On his way home wheelchair man runs into Cindy pushing her stroller. This prompts The Being to rejuvenate him so that he (Eduard Osipov) can be a family with a strange woman he met mere seconds before. Aron is summarily killed when he fails to pay his respects to his senior hoodlums.

Somewhere after Cindy’s descent into prostitution and before Aron being killed on the street Amber and The Being engage in a steamy affair. Amber feels that she has found the man that can tame her wild ways and make an honest woman out of her. The Being meanwhile has more pressing business to attend to. Business that doesn’t involve fondling women half his age. The Being has selected six corrupt One-Percenters to crucify in the Nevada desert. The crucified ones will act as a fair and final warning to humanity to redeem itself. The selected six One-Percenters represent the classes in cahoots with the drug cartel running cocaine across the Mexican border. The same cartel that operated a prostitution ring that employed Amber part-time. On his way across the desert The Being returns the two heroin addicts from whom he borrowed the ragged clothes. Amber, realizing that she has known The Being in lives past, desperately chases him across the desert begging to take her with him. Her tearful pleads fall on deaf ears as The Being reverts back to his alien form before returning to his translucent glass orb and departing for the stars from whence he came. If humanity fails to redeem itself now that the political –, corporate -, and financial class have been wiped out he will return to destroy Earth and everything on it once and for all.

When Mainland China pushes their environmentalist agenda of renewable energy they have the wisdom to cast models/hostesses as Frieda Hu Meng-Yuan (胡梦媛) or Miki Zhang Yi-Gui (张已桂) in productions as Angel Warriors (2013) or My Magic Girlfriend (2017), respectively. When Neil Breen does it, he casts complete unknowns. Breen is never in the habit of casting the same actress twice and unlike Rene Perez he doesn’t seem to have a muse. Perhaps Neil Breen uses his movies as preamble to meet beautiful women. Who knows? I Am Here…. Now is prescient in the casting of Joy Senn as she’s the embodiment of Breen’s ideal vision of feminine perfection. In that sense Senn is a precursor to Jennifer Autry, Victoria Viveiros, and Sara Meritt. Joy Senn and Elizabeth Sekora are average looking and not nearly as well-endowed as later Breen babes and their wardrobe consists of unbuttoned tank tops with spaghetti straps and short denim shorts exclusively. At one point both strip out of their tiny bikinis but immediately cover themselves up for modesty. Likewise is Tommie Vegas wasted on a glorified cameo appearance. Vegas is no Aria Song or Ginny You but she doesn’t exit without having her blue tank top fully unbuttoned and her breasts nearly falling out first. Of the entire cast only Tommie Vegas and Eduard Osipov have something resembling an actual career. Vegas would probably feel right at home with The Asylum, TomCat Films, or Rene Perez.

Breen’s disdain for the political – and corporate elite is well established by this point. While he’s highlighting a very real problem within global politics, namely corruption and greed, his solutions are usually quite drastic. In Double Down (2005) he caused the death of millions of innocents across a tri-state area by spiking the watersupply with anthrax. He also threatened mass civilian casualties if his character’s demands weren’t met. Here he resorts to similar draconic measures by advocating mass genocide for an entire class. Neil would take a similar stand in his magnum opus Fateful Findings (2013) where his character drove politicians and corporatists to commit mass suicide in public. Notably absent are the rock/mineral lending divine powers, and the lost Lenore that typically is central to driving the plot forward. That his alien resembles Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein from The Misfits is funny enough all by itself. The silicon messiah would resurface again in Pass Thru (2016) (where Breen ascends out of a drug-infested homeless commune) and he would play the titular twins in Twisted Pair (2018). Neil has never hidden his celestial pretensions, and doesn’t so here either. That Breen encounters a pair of heroin addicts in the desert foreshadows Pass Thru (2016).

That Breen is something of a crusader and a defender of the Christian faith was evident as early as Double Down (2005). I Am Here…. Now foregoes what little subtlety (that is to say, none) the past Breen feature had, and is littered with heavy-handed, overt symbolism. To wit, it begins with Breen literally coming off a wooden cross in white robes bearing (one-sided) stigmata; early on there’s a shot of six crosses on a desert stretch, probably meant to resemble mount Calvary; The Being has regenerative powers (he restores at least two clipped roses), and occassionally performs miracles such as healing/rejuvenating the terminally ill man in the wheelchair, which was probably meant to resemble the healing at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-16). Less subtle (but no less overt) is the fact that Amber has angel wings tattooed on her shoulder-blades; and acts as a sort of Mary Magdalene to Breen’s Christ figure. To really drive home the point I Am Here…. Now closes with a re-enactment of the touching the hand of God from the famous Michelangelo fresco The Creation of Adam. The entire thing is wrapped in oblique Native American and New Age mysticism, and the credits include the Tuscarora Indian proverb, “Man has responsibility, not power.” It’s probably meant to insinuate that Breen is concerned about the plight of America’s indigenous peoples, but there’s no hard evidence to substantiate that assertion.

That I Am Here…. Now was ripe for reimagining and expansion was a foregone conclusion. Breen would do exactly that with the double-whammy that was Pass Thru (2016) and Twisted Pair (2018). With his second feature Neil Breen evidenced that he wasn’t shy about recycling concepts and characters, and his apparent god complex wouldn’t diminish in light of his cult following as a fringe filmmaker. Instead of improving Breen seems to sink ever deeper in the throes of insanity. I Am Here…. Now offers no novel insights into the human condition and while the message it’s pushing is relevant enough, Breen fails to make much of a case for, well, basically anything. Neil Breen embodies some of the worst aspects of independent filmmaking. Neil Johnson he most certainly is not. Breen probably loves cinema judging by what he chooses to imitate, but he has no understanding of either cinematic language or any of its technical aspects. The lesser said about his writing the better. It makes you wonder whether there was even a screenplay. As always Breen’s supernatural thrillers are hardly ever thrilling and not nearly as “controversial” or “thought-provoking” as he probably imagines them to be. Not that Breen is any good at action direction either, as Twisted Pair (2018) would amply evince almost a decade down the line.

Plot: religious hysteria leads to the persecution of a libertine herbalist.

Spoken about in hushed tones of reverence by those in the know Il Demonio (or The Demon, internationally) is another example of just how revolutionary Italian cinema was during its Golden Age. Written and directed by Federico Fellini protegé Brunello Rondi Il Demonio (The Demon hereafter) is a socio-realist examination of religious mania and the oppression of patriarchal institutions in rural communities. Of how small-town superstition and religious hysteria lead to the persecution and lynching of an innocent outcast in a sleepy village in the south of Italy. There’s a distinct feminist undertone to The Demon. At every turn Purificazione is beset and besieged by men in positions in power, be they clergymen, police, or landowners. And with every fiber of her being she fights back. No wonder The Demon was deemed controversial upon release and condemned by the powers that be. What To Be Twenty (1979) was to the seventies, The Demon was to the sixties.

Brunello Rondi was an intellectual that wrote about 30 screenplays and directed 10 films himself. Gian Luigi Rondi, his brother, was a well-known and respected film critic at the time. Rondi was prone to imbue his screenplays with scathing social commentary and was critical of the church just as much as he was of the state. Rondi was the man behind Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960), Boccaccio 70 (1962), (1963), Juliet Of the Spirits (1965), and Fellini Satyricon (1969). Besides Fellini, Rondi also was frequently employed in providing screenplays for Roberto Rossellini. While his directorial career was off to a flying start with the iconoclastic The Demon he quickly fell into the trap of exploitation and puerile comedy. The lowest he would sink was Black Velvet (1976), one of the many lesser derivates following the box office success of Joe D’Amato’s softcore classic Black Emanuelle (1975) with the Javanese queen of fondling, Laura Gemser. In July 1965 Rondi was interviewed in the Paese Sera newspaper by a young columnist, and film critic for various magazines, who moonlighted as a screenwriter. The young man was working with Bernardo Bertolucci on a screenplay for the Sergio Leone spaghetti western Once Upon a Time in the West (1968). That man was Dario Argento.

Just like The Witch (1966) three years later The Demon is a highly atmospheric slowburn of a movie that even several decades later still manages to shock. Wonderfully minimalist and with mesmerizing black and white photography it’s an indictment of religion (Christianity, in particular) and the kind of small-town superstition and callous prejudice that it breeds. The Demon was filmed during the Second Vatican Council and released mere months after the passing of Pope John XIII. No wonder then that it was condemned by the Vatican, and panned by god-fearing critics on grounds of alleged “anti-Catholic” sentiments. While thankfully reappraised in more recent times the influence of The Demon is felt to this day.

Without The Demon there wouldn’t have been Witchfinder General (1968) (and the entire Inquisition fad that followed), it was a key inspiration behind Lucio Fulci's Don't Torture a Duckling (1972) (and thus was a direct influence on the nascent giallo murder mystery branch). Interestingly, future giallo specialist Luciano Martino is one of the producers and he recruited his brother Sergio as second assistant director. Finally, and perhaps more imporantly, the most memorable scenes that made William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973) (based on the 1971 William Peter Blatty novel of the same name) a fright classic for the ages premiered here first. What that means is that The Demon shaped the American property that would spawn an entire cotton industry (the demonic possession subgenre) back home in Italy. The Demon has influenced so many horror subgenres in such profound ways that it’s criminal how few have actually seen it.

In a mountain village somewhere in the south of Italy lives the sexually liberated herbalist Purificazione (Daliah Lavi). Purif is madly in love with farmer Antonio (Frank Wolff) but he spurns her advances as he’s promised to another (Rossana Rovere). Desperate to be loved Purificazione reverts to elemental witchcraft to win the heart of her object of affection. Living on the outskirts of town and perrenially clad in black Puri is the talk of the town and an outcast in her own community. Antonio is married to his promised woman and Purificazione is summarily rebuffed when she tries to barge in on the wedding ceremony. Purif is a woman in love. Madly. Deeply so. She casts the evil eye upon Antonio’s matrimony in hopes that he would return to her. When a mountainside ritual to win his affections doesn’t bring the desired result she resorts to stalking his home and spooking sentries and onlookers with the cadavers of recently deceased small animals. The village sees Purif’s increasingly unhinged behavior as a threat to the communal peace. The women consider her a harlot and some of the men think she’s possessed by a demon. The town has its own spiritual traditions and customs and Purificazione sinks deeper into madness. When chants and tokens no longer keep Purif at bay, the villagers agree that drastic measures need to be taken…

On one of her amourous escapades Purificazione is raped by a shepherd and violently “exorcised” by faith healer Zio Giuseppe (Nicola Tagliacozzo). Just for the crime of being a woman in love. Tired of all the abuse Purif is taken in by a group of nuns. For a while things seem to be looking up for Purificazione, but when she inquires after the history of a tree from which a man hung himself the relationship with her hosts turns sour. The nuns line the tree with barb wire and images of the Madonna, Purificazione reacts aversely to the sight of rosary beads and is banished from the convent. In the cathedral Padre Tomasso (Giovanni Cristofanelli) compels the demon to leave her body. Instead Purif speaks in tongues, spits the priest in the face, and spiderwalks her way across the floor as increasingly frightened parishioners look on. As the superstitious villagers pray for fortunate weather and crops, Purificazione hangs out in a tree eating an apple. Then Antonio shows up that night and the two succumb to the throes of passion. At long last her wish has to come true… Now that Purificazione has the man of her dreams, the only question is: at what cost will these affections come?

And what can you really say about Daliah Lavi? She was one of the great leading ladies of the Golden Age of Italian cinema along with Rosanna Schiaffino, Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida, and Claudia Cardinale. She was as patrician as Barbara Steele, Helga Liné, Graziella Granata, and Amalia Fuentes – and she has done just about everything. Daliah was multi-lingual (she was fluent in Hebrew, English, German, French, Italian and Spanish) and at various points in her life Lavi was a ballet student, an Israeli soldier, and part of the international jetset as a moviestar. She received a Golden Globe for most promising newcomer for Two Weeks In Another Town (1962) and starred in the Mario Bava giallo The Whip and the Body (1963). She was in the Karl May adaptation Old Shatterhand (1964) (from Hugo Fregonese) and in the spoof Casino Royale (1967) as well as the Bulldog Drummond spycaper Some Girls Do (1969) with Richard Johnson. Lavi acted in serious productions as well as a fair amount of pulp, and when her acting career winded down she reinvented herself as a pop singer. With help from Jimmy Bowien, the man at Polydor, Lavi enjoyed success in Germany – and the man who had discovered The Beatles and produced The Monks, Olivia Newton-John and Georges Moustaki had provided her with the platform that she could do more than just act.

Not to belabor the point any more than necessary but Hollywood always was, is, and continues to be, behind on European cinema. This especially rang true in the sixties and seventies when countries like Germany, France, and East-Europe (especially Russia and Czechslovakia) were responsible for some of the most revolutionary works in cinema. William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973) will forever remain, and be remembered as, an undiluted classic of American horror cinema, but there’s no denying that it loses some of its luster with the knowledge that some of its more memorable scenes were seen here first. If you know where to look shades of both The Demon and The Witch (1966) can be seen in Anna Biller’s retro nouveau masterpiece The Love Witch (2016) and Samantha Robinson is at least as beguiling as Daliah Lavi and/or Rosanna Schiaffino. Anybody with even the slightest and passing historical interest in continental European horror cinema has no excuse not to seek out The Demon. Since this came from a different time the horror is frequently more implied than shown. The Demon was a tipping point in Italian horror cinema and pivotal in the development of the genre. I Vampiri (1957) was the first Italian horror film of the sound era, and during the gothic horror craze of the sixties The Demon offered a more measured and realistic alternative.