Monday, June 30, 2008

Ganga Ki Saugand (1978)

Or The Terrible Tale of the Atrocities Committed By Thakur Jashwant Singh (Amjat Khan) in and around a village near Mother Ganges.

When my imaginary children will ask me some day what evil is, I will show them this list of the deeds of Jashwant Singh (who, as Indian villains seem to like, often wears clothes with a big JS monogram, preferably on his breast or collar), man of EVIL:

  • Giving poor old men a job just to rape their daughters, who subsequently commit suicide. Afterwards, throwing said daughter's dead bodies into the Ganges and letting poor old men loose their minds over disappeared daughters
  • Killing one's own father when he hears of one's daughter killing habit by sheer force of one's evilness
  • After one's father's death raising his percentage of the products of the poor farmer's work to seventy-five percent
  • Having a village's moneylender and corrupt priest as one's henchpeople
  • Hitting on Jeeva's (Amitabh Bachchan) beloved Dhaniya (ridiculously stunning Rekha), when she refuses trying to rape her (don't fear, Jeeva is conveniently close)
  • Hitting and kicking Jeeva's mother
  • Disrespecting one's own mother when she doesn't approve of one's wicked, evil ways Subsequently "sending her on a pilgrimage" to have her out of one's way
  • Hitting one's sister. Also one's henchmen
  • Burning down Jeeva's house and trying to kill him and his mother
  • Later, burning down a lot more houses, to drive the wise Untouchable Kalu (Pran), father of Dhaniya and his people out of the village
  • Interpreting the word charity as "sending masked and armed men into the house of a friend of one's father's to steal all his money"
  • Letting one's evil priest guy frame Jeeva for a cow killing to ostracize Jeeva from the village
  • Being responsible for the death of Jeeva's mother!

And that is just the shortened version of the list, which shows the main problem of Ganga Ki Saugand very well. The film is so in love with letting its villain commit evilness after atrocity after misdeed and its heroes enduring those acts faithfully and peacefully that it doesn't give itself enough time to let the supposed heroes act. Even by the time Amitabh finally transforms from the not very bright villager into an morally upright and awesome dacoit, there's not all that much interest in showing much of what he does for his fame, since there are still more evil things that have to be done to the rest of the cast. I didn't understand what Amitabh was waiting for anyway, except for the Thakur to kidnap Rekha a second time.

All this doesn't mean that Ganga Ki Saugand is a bad movie. It's a very professional film made by very professional people. It just isn't the slightest bit more.


The Horror!? 99: Track of the Moon Beast (1976)

Since the dawn of mankind, astronomical catastrophes have always influenced us in profound ways. Small things can lead to the largest consequences. In today's episode of The Outer Limits...Um, sorry, I was getting distracted there.

A large asteroid hits the Moon leading to parts of the lunar surface raining down upon Earth as meteor showers. While talking terrible nonsense with his soon to be reporter-girlfriend Kathy Nolan (Donna Leigh Drake), the geologist Paul Carson (Chase Cordell) is hit by one of these heavenly messengers from the planet of Latex. What at first looks like a small injury turns out to have quite profound effects on the young man, who starts to turn into a gigantic (at least that's what the script says) lizard - which will soon be compared to a tyrannosaurus, even though it looks nothing like it (or any other dinosaur for that matter) -when the moon begins to shine.

Dino-Paul is a very grumpy were-dinosaur-lizard-thing, too. He kills everyone he meets, usually with the deliberate pace of a very tired snail. Still, it's obvious why his victims don't simply run away. Confronted with a creature looking like a man in a more or less nondescript Halloween fishman costume, making pathetic growling noises like a dog with a sore throat and flailing about like a drunk nobody could do more than stare.

The sheriff (Patrick Wright) is puzzled by the motiveless murders (Dino-Paul doesn't seem to be hungry, just bored) and even more so by the oversized bloody hand- and footprints found at the murder sites.

Fortunately he is one of the more reasonable monster movie sheriffs and so does what anyone in his situation should do: Call his (and as it happens, Paul's) friend the native American anthropology professor John Salinas (Gregorio Sala) who turns out to be our designated hero. After some research, the professor arrives at the truth about Paul's little problem and even finds a doctor who accepts his conclusions without so much as batting an eyelash. But there are bad news for the patient. His condition is incurable and he will soon reach a point of "atomic instability" and literally explode.

All this is exactly like something from an old legend of the professor's tribe, by the way.

Paul isn't at all happy with this prognosis (I can't imagine why. Who doesn't want to die as an exploding were-dinosaur?), and does not want to spend his final days in a hospital. Kathy, whose character is as stupid as her performance is bad, helps him escape into the desert.

My, might he go on a rampage again? Fortunately our tireless anthropologist does not wear the nick name "Johnny Longbow" (I'm not kidding here) for nothing.

As you might have gleaned from the plot, Track of the Moon Beast is a very bad movie with no positive qualities to recommend it. Of course, I urge you to watch it anyway. Its negative qualities don't quite have the charm or mind-boggling wrongness of Eegaah! and the like, but the monster scenes and some wonderful failures when Cordell and Drake are trying to emote should be enough to tide everyone over.

The absolute pointlessness of the story and the even more stupid than usual science are further endearing qualities of the movie. Nothing is more pleasant than an exploding (and watch out for that very special effect!) man in a latex costume.

And absolutely nothing can prepare you for the awesomeness that is Johnny Longbow.

Useless Trivia of the Day: The film was co-written by Bill Finger, the man who wrote the early years of the Batman comic.


Saturday, June 28, 2008

Night of the Bloody Apes (1969)

Meet Lucy Ossorio (Norma Lazareno), female wrestler and her boyfriend Arturo (Armando Silvestre), manly cop. Lucy is having quite a bad day. During her last fight, she hurt her adversary and friend Elena (Noelia Noel) so bad, Elena has fallen into a coma from which she will most probably never awake. That is at least what Dr. Krallman (Jose Elias Moreno) says.

Krallman has troubles of his own, and while Lucy is fighting the mental block that prevents her from fighting with her full ability, the kindly doctor and his private assistant Goyo (Carlos Lopez Moctezuma) use the doctor's secret basement lab/operation room to find a cure for his terminally ill son Julio.

Julio needs a new heart and fast, so what is a father to do? Break into the next zoo, look at footage of an orangutan, shoot a man in an undefinable ape costume, call it a gorilla and kidnap it from the zoo of course. Then it's just a question of a little effort, some real world heart transplantation footage and the help of Goyo, who calls Krallman master and works as his trusty servant since the old man somehow saved his life, until Julio has a brand-new gorilla heart.

Julio is saved and all would be well if not for a small complication in the form of Julio's newly won tendency to turn into something I suppose is meant to be an apeman, escape his father's house and kill, mutilate and probably rape people.

Dr. Krallman seems not too surprised about this turn of events. He recaptures his wayward son and of course soon has a new plan - replace the gorilla heart with a healthy human heart and all should be well again. Elena is obviously the perfect donor, having no family and lying in a coma. So, faster than you can say "morally dubious", Elena is kidnapped, heartless and incinerated.

But Krallman's treatment is not as effective as he has hoped.

Night of the Bloody Apes (you know, I always thought "apes" means "more than one ape") would be a much better film if it wouldn't promise some things it isn't then willing to deliver. Wouldn't you think that a movie that spends a remarkable amount of time introducing us to a wrestler, showing us her fights and entertaining us with her traumata would then let the character do something plot relevant, like fighting the monster, perhaps? Think again. NotBA only uses her as filler material, nothing in the movie would have to change if she was a soap saleswoman. Nobody involved in the production understood how disappointing a decision that is and how badly it damages a movie that taken without the lucha angle could be a fine trashy monster movie.

Alas most of the film found me grumbling about its lack of monster wrestling action, barely able to appreciate the unnecessary and badly executed gore effects (produced for the American version of the film, believe it or not), the even more unnecessary authentic heart operation scenes, the weird dubbing or the total lack of sense the whole thing makes.

But one scene pierced the shroud of my indignation beautifully. When Elena disappears from her hospital room, a room full of doctors discusses, as if it was the most normal and obvious thing in the world, how best not to inform the authorities of their missing patient. The personnel is obviously easily dealt with, it's enough to tell them the coma patient was sleepwalking (as we all know sleepwalkers are wont to do).

The version I watched was the dubbed American version as found on the "Horror from South of the Border Volume 2" set, full framed and not to shabby looking with some really eye-popping reds in the color mix.


Thursday, June 26, 2008

G.P. 506 (2008)

G.P. 506 is another entry on the slowly growing list of military horror films, like R-Point, another film of this new(ish) sub-genre written and directed by Su-chang Kong. The latter had very effective moments but didn't work for me as a whole. G.P. 506 is a brilliant step in the right direction.

It starts when a remote Southern outpost in the demilitarized zone between South and North Korea ceases communications. A troop of soldiers is dispatched and finds nineteen of the twenty-one soldiers manning the outpost dead, one soldier missing and the last one standing over the corpses of his comrades. Half naked, blood-spattered and with an axe in his hand. What seems like an obvious case soon leads the investigating officer of the military police in quite a different direction.

I'll leave the plot synopsis there, because I don't intend to ruin the effect the sure, detailed and slow but perfectly paced film should have. I think it is much preferable to go into this film without being spoilt.

Let's just say that G.P.506 also has very strong mystery elements and turns out to be part of a sub-genre of the horror film that is very dear to me.

South Korean films are often oddly fascinating. On one hand we have technical standards and a level of polish more typical for Hollywood, on the other often much more daring, interesting and accomplished scripts. As if South Korean scriptwriters had trust in the ability of their viewers to think about films, even come to conclusions on their stories without the need to have everything spelt out for them.

The real beauty of a film like G.P.506 lies in watching actively, following the directions the plot leads to and being happy with it.

In other words: You have to see this one for yourself.


The Horror!? 98: Devil Times Five (1974)

The family unit around patriarch Papa Doc (Gene Evans), whose name does not remind of a dictator without reason, gathers for a few days in their gigantic holiday home in the snowy Californian mountains. Too bad they are all borderline crazy. My first thought was actually that they'd soon start killing each other, but in a surprising twist five darling little children (among them Leif Garrett) barely escape from a bus accident and manage to make their way to the house.

Another survivor of the accident follows them only to be brutally murdered. My, it looks like the five are escaped mental patients.

Soon the little ones draw the family's attention and even those hardened, perverted members of the upper class can't resist a child's plea for help.

Since the house doesn't have a phone, Papa Doc's people and the kids get to know each other a little.

The next morning, Ralph (John Durren), the mentally handicapped man the Docs use as their personal slave (officially: handyman) is found dead, the house's generator and the car sabotaged.

What else is there to do than wait for the snow plow? One after the other, the adults are getting killed off by their guests in increasingly silly ways, my personal favorite being the deadly combination of drowning and piranha-attack in the bathtub. Finally, much too late, the surviving family members understand who and what the children are. A more modern movie would surely have looked for a way to provide a friendlier ending than the one which follows, but fortunately we are in the golden Seventies, so you know what to expect. You won't get disappointed.

I am not sure what effect director Sean MacGregor and writer John Durren tried to achieve here. I'm afraid everything is meant to be taken very seriously, as part of some very profound things the film is trying to tell us. Whatever they may be.

For me the movie works much better interpreted as a dark and creepy comedy, a less weird Spider Baby perhaps, or a much weirder episode of Dallas. I am not trying to slam the movie in any way, I had lots of fun watching it. The Docs' family is one of the more exaggerated film families you'll see, featuring the Weak One, the Alcoholic, the Mean Bastard Patriarch, the Nymphomaniac and so on, all quickly and entertainingly set at each other's throats from the very beginning. Their dubious charm is amplified by some great moments of snarky hate-dialogue.

Our theoretical bastions of sanity are actually feeling less sane than the murderous children. The family members just don't kill each other. I suspect because they couldn't hate each other so effectively after a murder.

The technical aspects of Devil Times Five are of a good Seventies low budget standard, no reason for complaints, no reason for compliments.

Who wouldn't want to see Leif Garrett in drag?


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Horror!? 97: Kong Island (1968)

Meet our hero, Burt (Brad Harris). He's a mercenary working in Africa and at the beginning of the movie (which won't feature Kong nor an island) he and a few mercenary friends are just assaulting a money transport. One of Burt's friends, Albert (Marc Lawrence) seems a little overzealous. At least killing the guards and his partners seems a little bit much even for Burt. But don't worry Burt, he's shooting you, too!

Unfortunately, Burt survives and we find him a year later in Kenya, visiting his "friend" Theodore (Aldo Cecconi), who is the sugar daddy of Burt's ex-girlfriend Ursula (Adriana Alben) and father to shooting mad Diana (Ursula Davis) and Robert (Mark Farran). For a friend Theodore shows a lot of antipathy for hero Burt, and the more we see of him, the more we can empathize.

While Burt is living the wild nightlife (and causing the  viewer temporary blindness by way of dancing...I still can't forget those terrible handclaps.), he meets Turk (Paolo Magalotti) an old associate of Albert who promptly tries to kill him. Alas without success.

I suppose Burt would still be searching for something to do today, if Diana and Robert wouldn't go on a hunting trip into the deepest Kenyan jungle. They want to shoot the famed "Holy Monkey" of some tribe or another, because nothing says "We are imperialist douches" better than this. After pointing for minutes and minutes and minutes at the most blurred animal stock footage I have ever set my eyes on (alright, I admit it, I went and brewed myself some tea, just to see more stock footage afterwards), their camp is finally attacked by the product of some weird experiments Albert conducts there: two mind controlled men in bad gorilla costumes. The shaggy ones kill all the men except Robert and kidnap Diana (as a good gorilla is supposed to do). Soon, Turk enters the camp to tell Robert he will only get Diana back if he lures Burt (whom Albert secretly lusts for) into Turk's and Albert's hand.

Back in the city, Robert does his best to appeal to Burt's better nature. But no real hero would lift a finger to rescue the daughter of an old friend, especially not a daughter who permanently throws googly eyes at him. Since Robert is at least partially clever, he mentions two words Burt understands, "Albert" and "money", and promptly has his very own arsehole-mercenary.

What follows are further hours of bad jungle and worse archive footage with small interludes for the death of Robert and the arrival of the real "Holy Monkey" - the local jungle goddess Eva (Esmeralda Barros), who shows an inexplicable interest in Burt. If we are still awake at this point, we also learn that Albert's gorillas were once upon a time Eva's, until the Evil One implanted his mind control devices.

After more leisurely strolling through the jungle, we finally arrive at the grand finale. Albert's devious plan is to make Burt his first human slave. Keeping in mind that his earlier experiments on humans were meant to create his own private sex slaves, I can't help but ask myself what exactly his relationship to Burt is.

There is some pointless sub-plottery featuring Theodore, then finally the moment we have all been waiting for: Burt vs ape. Which turns out to be Burt vs. ape controlling device. Albert probably shouldn't have explained the details of its placement and function to Diana. Oh well, the apes will be happy with their own private Albert toy, I suppose.

I have seen enough jungle movies to know what I have to expect from the genre. That is to say, not much. Kong Island (also known as King of Kong Island, which makes even less sense) doesn't disappoint. It has everything that makes the genre so irritating - the casual racism, the hours and hours of abysmal stock footage, bad gorilla costumes (do good gorilla costumes actually exist?) and for something that is supposed to be an adventure movie very little adventure.

"White goddess and jerk mercenary against mad scientist and his killer gorillas" sounds like an idea that should guarantee lots of silly fun. Kong Island's problem here is that its focal point lies on stock footage and pointless sub plots, the best ways to kill any kind of forward momentum (the word pacing doesn't even apply).

It's doesn't do the movie much good that all actors look as bored as the viewer, not even our local mad scientist tries to act. To think what Karloff or Lugosi or even John Carradine (yes, Lawrence is that apathetic) in their worst moments could have done here...

Bored and tired are the words that come to my mind for all technical aspects of the film, too. Most bad and cheap movies at least try to look interesting, or less cheap than they truly are. Here, nobody seems to have bothered.


The Science!? 20: Rocky Jones, Space Ranger: Crash of the Moons (1954)

When I started my long and exhausting Mill Creek box binge, I promised myself to blog about each and every single one of the movies on them I'd watch. I can't let the special magic of Rocky Jones stop me now.

So, this is a feature cut of two or three episodes of a short-lived American TV show about the Space Ranger Rocky Jones, his side-kick Winky, his boy-side-kick Bobby, his scientist-side-kick Professor Newton, and his girl-side-kick (don't know if she is supposed to be a love interest, all I can say is that she dresses exactly like an early Legion of Super Heroes member) Vena Ray. The DVD package claims that Rocky was canceled because "the costly special effects made it unprofitable". Since most of the special effects I saw looked worse than one can expect from a serial twenty years older than Rocky, we can happily put the claim into the realm of the myth.

My own theory explains the show's early demise much more neatly and fits the known facts. I think (wait for it) Rocky Jones was canceled when it turned out nobody wanted to see something this boring.

And it must be really boring to have put a veteran of boring and bad movies like me to sleep as fast and as easily as it did. Just half an hour of the adventures of Rocky and his friends left me snoring.

I'm not planning on returning to Rocky anytime soon, so you'll have to take my snoring as a review.


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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Sholay (1975)

Thakur Baldev Singh (Sanjeev Kumar), a former police inspector asks an old friend in the police force for help. He wants him to locate two crooks who always work together and are like brothers, Veeru (Dharmendra) and Jai (Amitabh Bachchan). He seems to need them for a dangerous mission. Asked why he wants some criminals for his job, the Thakur tells of his previous meeting with the two.

They were his prisoners then, bound to be taken on a freight train to the next city (and jail) by him and a few guards. Alas bandits attacked the train for its freight and slaughtered the Thakur's guards. He took his chances and trusted in Veeru's and Jai's promise of helping him and not trying to escape if he freed them. Together they eradicated the bandits in a very professional, if not neat manner. The Thakur was badly hurt in the fight, so Veeru and Jai had the choice of either getting him into a hospital or fleeing. They obviously chose to help him. So the Thakur knows the two are capable fighters who may do bad things, but aren't evil or inhuman. He doesn't even mind that they threw a coin to come to their decision.

Since we're spending the next forty minutes in the company of our really quite loveable rogues, we very soon catch on to the fact that Veeru and Jai tend to let this coin make many of their more difficult moral decisions for them, usually to the benefit of their better natures. After some (funny!) comedy, stints in and out of jail, song and dance with slight homosexual undertones (as it befits male bonding in movies), the Thakur's friend finally finds the two. Since the Thakur is willing to pay any price they ask for his job, they agree to follow him to his village. After he has paid them a nice advance and they have tossed their coin, of course.

On their way to the village they meet Veeru's future love interest, the cart driver Basanti (Hema Malini), who not only is a woman doing a typical men's job in rural India with absolute self-confidence, but also the first of a mutant species that can talk for hours without ever having to take a single breath. Dharmendra is charmed anyway (and who can blame him?).

When Jai and Veeru finally arrive at the Thakur's home, he is at last willing to explain what he wants them to do. They have to deliver the mad and sadistic bandit chief Gabbar Singh (Amjad Khan), who is the kind of man local mothers use to frighten their children with, to the Thakur. Although the Thakur still does not want to explain to them why he wants the guy so badly (and alive), they agree.

Following this we will witness many amazing fights between Gabbar Singh and his men (who work more like the country version of a protection money racket or the bandits in The Magnificent Seven than like Dennis Moore) and our heroes, Jai's meeting with his own love interest, the widow Radha (Jaya Badhuri), torture, tragedy, moments of incredible coolness (in a Fuck Yeah! sense), the vilest bandit chief this way of Il Grande Silencio, and really anything anyone could ask for in this type of film. There may even be a death scene as heartbreaking as Chow Yun-Fat's death in A Better Tomorrow.

Sholay belongs to the sort of movie you don't do any favors with giving a detailed plot synopsis. Some of the later scenes will sound surprisingly silly if only written about and not experienced at the level of intensity ("Sholay" doesn't mean fire for nothing) the film achieves in its later stages. It actually reaches the point where the comedic subplots and the songs are needed breathers in all that is happening. It of course helps that the humor and the songs are perfectly intertwined with the dramatic parts, only the first act of the film plays them relatively loose.

I can not find a single bit I can criticize about the film, every aspect deserves a mention stuffed with superlatives, starting from the brilliant direction, to the incredible acting, the awesome script, the breathtaking action, the wonderful music, and so on and so on. It is probably for the best if you just keep Sholay in mind as an absolute masterpiece of cinema, the kind of film absolutely everyone should see at least once in their lives.

As the plot synopsis suggests, Sholay is heavily influenced by the Western genre, visually and in the nature of its heroes and villains more by the Spaghetti Western, morally more by the kind of American Western people like Bud Boetticher and John Sturges made. The obvious theme of the ability of people to change even when they never have been perfect and can't change their pasts would have resonated a lot with both Americans, I think.

I have learned from the blogs of people who know a lot more about Indian cinema than I do that Sholay actually is one of the defining texts of a Bollywood genre called the "Curry Western", whose films often tell of city people of dubious moral coming to the country, killing bad guys and getting cleansed by the country's purity, a sentiment very close to the (conservative) heart of the traditional Western. Sholay at least is a little more complex in this regard. The change for the better the country starts in its heroes is mirrored by changes for the better in the country itself.

Boy, I am glad I am not seeing perfect films every day, I really have trouble writing about them.


The Horror!? 96: Bell From Hell (1973)

John (Renaud Verley) has spent years in a psychiatric clinic for the criminally insane and is finally released. His aunt Marta (Viveca Lindfors) was responsible for his interment after some unpleasant happenings the film will take its time to even vaguely explain. In John's opinion, the only reason for her action was greed. He thinks Marta wanted to get her hands on a quite impressive inheritance he made.

It is of course relatively hard to believe everything what John says, sees or hears, since whatever his state of mind before his imprisonment has been, he is now secretly but violently mad.

After some strolling through the woods near his home and "learning" in a slaughterhouse, he carefully starts to contact Marta and her three daughters again. Strange things happen that lead him to believe the women want to destroy his sanity once and for all.

This of course only strengthens John's resolve to take his vengeance on them. He starts out with little things that are just the a wee bit too gruesome and twisted to be called pranks and slowly but steadily increases the violence of his acts.

The version of Bell from Hell on the "Chilling Classics" box set I have just watched is unfortunately cut by about thirteen minutes. It nonetheless turns out to be a fascinating movie, a very European mixture of horror, psychological thriller, presumably (the cuts!) sleaze and self conscious art house flick. As usual with films like it, the viewer has to endure a very slow build-up. The first thirty minutes of the film contain more scenes of people staring meaningfully at each other but not saying a single word than sanity should allow. Fortunately even the over-slow beginning shows the greatest strength of the film clearly: excellent photography which produces an impressive mood of the weird and the uncanny that will grow from minute to minute.

Director Claudio Guerin even turns the Euro-typical circumcisiousness of plot and storytelling into a strength. We are never quite sure if (and how much of) what we see and hear is true, never secure in our sympathies. When John starts his more disturbing acts of violence, our trust in the common order of things is already shattered. Everything that follows is just there to keep us in this state of mind.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Machine Girl (2007)

High school girl Ami (Minase Yashiro) lives alone with her younger brother Yu (Ryosuke Kawamura) since their parents have committed double suicide when they were accused of murder. All seems to go rather well for them. Alas Yu and his friend Takeshi have trouble with Sho Kimura, the bullying son of a yakuza boss (Kentaro Shimazu) who traces his family line back to Hattori Hanzo himself and still holds with old traditions like the art of the ninja and killing one's staff for the slightest error.

At first Sho and his gang (The High School Ninja Gang, of course) blackmail the boys for money, but it becomes very clear very fast that they mostly are sadistic little pricks looking for reasons to hurt people. When Sho and Takeshi try to defend themselves, the gang murders them.

Ami, who knew nothing about all of this is as angry about the deaths of her brother and his friend, which soon are declared suicides, as she is heartbroken. Then she finds a notebook in which her brother helpfully laid out the names of his tormentors.

She tries to show the notes to the parents of one the gang members and convince them to go to the police with her. What Ami doesn't count on is that these people (the father even a cop) not only don't care about what she tells them, but are as mad as the nice serial killers next door.

Our heroine barely escapes from the ensuing fight and a cooking related violent incident that nearly costs her an arm.

After nightfall she returns. This time she is armed and ready and in short order decapitates the son, kills the mother and baptizes the father with blood squirting out of his dead son's torso. Having done the first part of her job, she continues her vengeance with an assault on the Kimura Family Mansion. Sho,his mad father and mother (Honoka) and their yakuza-ninja bodyguards together are too strong for even an (ex-pacifist) single bad-ass fighter like Ami. She loses the fight and gets caught.

Fortunately Mister Kimura holds to the old ninja tradition of torturing imprisoned enemies to death in epically protracted sessions, so at first Ami only loses most of an arm, and intent on keeping the rest of herself fit to take further revenge, escapes by breaking the neck of a yakuza who really shouldn't have looked under her skirt.

Wounded and tired she loses her consciousness on the steps of the garage of Miki Sugihara (Asami; the name of M.S. is of course a friendly nod in the direction of the sukeban actress of the same name), the mother of Yu's equally dead friend Takeshi, who up until now was too struck by her grief to do much else than blame Yu for Takeshi's death. She and her husband tend to Ami's wounds. When the now one-armed Ami regains her consciousness, she and Miki have a little fight to clear the air between them. Ami of course shows such incredible spirit that the impressed Miki swears to help her in their relative's vengeance.

Miki trains Ami in the art of fighting one-armed and dragging heavy things around, while the husband constructs a few helpful artificial limbs, including a chainsaw arm and an oh so practical gatling gun arm Django would have been proud of.

On the day the gatling arm is nearly ready, Miki makes a fatal mistake - while learning the cowardly Kimuras have fled their old mansion, she is spotted and followed by one of their goons.

The High School Ninja Gang attacks the garage in full red Adidas ninja costumes, Miki is painfully hurt, her husband cut to pieces and Ami experiences for the first time the awesome power of her gatling arm.

The two women on a mission grab the only yakuza survivor of the massacre and convince him with their loving and caring ways (and some nails in his head)to tell them of Kimura's new hide-out.

There, an unpleasant surprise awaits them. Mister Kimura hasn't been idle during the last few scenes. He somehow trained and upgraded the dead Ninja High School Gang's parents to the Super Mourner Gang, wearing photos of their dead loved ones on the chests of their post-apocalyptic football dresses.

And even if Ami and Miki survive this fight, there are still Mister Kimura and his flying guillotine, Misses Kimura and her drill bra and three young and innocent hostages standing between them and their revenge. Who will survive? And who will be cut into how many funnily formed pieces?

There are two kinds of people in this world. Those that greet a film featuring a Japanese school girl with a machine gun arm shooting (and sometimes cutting) yakuza and ninja into bloody pieces with hardly suppressed screams of joy and glee, and those that just run screaming out of the room. If you belong to the latter kind of people, I'm not really sure what you're doing reading this, if to the former I can tell you this much - this movie is as entertaining as expected.

One could of course complain about not very competent acting (although Asami makes a swell classic style sukeban), script holes and so on, but those aren't things one should look for in a film like The Machine Girl anyway.

Instead I'd like to praise some of the film's virtues. Greatest among them are the gloriously bloody (and gutty) fight scenes complete with enough absurd (and absurdly cool) choreographed moments to fill two or three other films. The special effects are mostly practical, with a few solid moments of CGI and are as completely over the top as I dreamt of when first reading about this film. There just isn't much that won't happen to a body here - realism thankfully be damned.

The script doesn't try to chain the absurd fights with too much earnestness and plays mostly as a weird comedy, possibly even an affectionate parody of the revenge flick.

A few scenes look like quite effective attempts at subverting parts of the film's own genre to me, especially Ami's continuous refusal to let herself be raped like a good revenge flick heroine. She instead opts for kicking her would-be rapists' asses. There is also the concept of the Super Mourners - how many other revenge flicks do you know which say right out that revenge can be a nearly unending circle, even in a blink or you'll miss it moment like it is done here? And do I see a critique of the culture of public mourning here?

Late in the film we also have a just-barely-not-a kiss scene between Ami and Miki, a scene usually played out between our manly male hero and his useless girlfriend or someone of that kind, here transformed into something way more interesting by making it into a scene between two women who are both determined to die for their respective revenge, but unwilling to let the other one die.

All in all The Machine Girl features more hidden complexity than expected in an over the top gore movie. Plus the gore. This must be what love feels like.


Not enlightening or useful in any way

Well, I just discovered the Cuss-O-Matic. As with everything silly and useless, I just had to try it out.

People of the earnest or easily offended persuasion should probably close their eyes now.


Almighty son of a screaming serpent-breeding scallywag!
Aw, fork me with a filthy ball-peen hammer!
Aw, tickle my dimply, bulbous belly-button!
O bastard child of a bulbous scorpian-loving shrew!
Oh, abuse me with a haunted crowbar!
Oh, bite my crazy, swollen posterior!
Oh, bite my crazy, volatile netherbits!
Oh, bite my swollen, dimply rear!
Oh, boff me with a crusty pitchfork!
Oh, slap my reptilian, wacky elbow!
Oh, spank my putrid, pogo-sticking rump!
Well, bugger me with a filthy lamppost!
Well, spank my filthy, crazy backside!
Well, violate me with a bloody wire whisk!
You son of a dimply maggot-brained reptile!



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Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Horror!?: Curse of the Headless Horseman (1974)

It looks like even I still have limits when it comes to certain types of bad movies.

Curse of the Headless Horseman may be good for nothing else, but at least it proves I still can dislike crap movies because they are crap.

A young doctor/doctor to be (who knows) inherits his uncle's ranch under the condition that he will make it profitable. Little does he know that the residing ghost (or is it no ghost?) will cause him and the horde of hippie friends he brings with him a world of trouble.

Equally little did this innocent reviewer expect the movie to be part of one of the most-feared movie genres known to man - the hippie amateur theatre troupe movie. All the terrors of the genre are present, starting with doped actors improvising dopily, continuing with a terrifying folk soundtrack to make your ears bleed, and still not ending with the most pointless storyline (I'd bet money there wasn't an actual script). Additionally we are treated to the work of a completely clueless camera operator who manages the admirable feat to never ever point his camera where it should point, probably thinking that nothing in his reach is worth seeing anyway (and right he is).

But there is one thing about the film I'll gladly praise: the sound is so bad all the way through that I couldn't understand half of the dialogue, which -for someone who heard the other half- is absolutely praiseworthy.


Friday, June 20, 2008

The Science!? 19: The Phantom Planet (1961)

The future. It is the 1980 and mankind has made its first small steps into space. A newly established moon base acts as base for all space operations.

But something is wrong - one of the station's ships has gone missing. It has probably been destroyed by something its crew described as a wandering planet. The following rumors even endanger the soon to be launched manned mars mission (now, this is a future I want to live in!).

So the Americans send out their best man, Captain Frank Chapman (Dean Fredericks, whose face I know from more old western shows than can be good), to find this "Phantom Planet" or their missing ship.

As it turns out, the rumors have been completely on the money, and after a small space walk that costs Chapman's navigator his life, his ship too collides with the asteroid everyone will continue to call a planet.

Chapman at least has the luck to survive and is soon confronted by the inhabitants of the asteroid, some very human looking aliens who just happen to be as small as the astronaut's hands. But some unscientific mumbo jumbo about differing gravitation and atmosphere of different planets brings him down to the aliens' size very fast.

Shortly after the Captain is more or less alright again, he is put on trial for harming one of their citizens, only to be found guilty and allowed to join the alien society in spite of that. Aliens, a strange lot. He may even roam the planet (now I'm using that word, too) freely, but may never return to Earth again, lest he betray the secret of his captors' existence. Additionally, he has to choose a wife out of two available girls, Liara (Coleen Gray), the daughter of the planet's leader/chieftain/whatever Sessom (Francis X. Bushman), and the mute Zetha (Dolores Faith).

Liara at once leeches onto Chapman, to the wrath of unmarried and temperamental Herron (Tony Dexter) and to Zetha's obvious regret.

During the following days Chapman learns something of the history of his new people. They were once a technologically highly developed race who grew complacent and bored with their existence. Instead of trying to achieve the Singularity, they chose to give up most of their technology, with the exception of their knowledge about gravity control and their ability to "chemically produce food". How exactly one gives up most scientific advancements, while keeping others, is never explained. I guess different parts of nature just have nothing at all to do with each other. Be that as it may, they now live a much more interesting life without paper, books, furniture, different clothes for different people and so on.

Chapman is understandably underwhelmed and neither his wish to return to his home nor the open antipathy Herron is showing him help to improve his mood.

After Herron witnesses a little sweet talk between the Captain and Zetha, in which he confesses his feelings for Zetha and that he just can't bring himself to tell Liara the truth because he is afraid to hurt her, Herron challenges him to a duel in the belief that his only hope in winning Liara back lies in the earthman's death. As it goes with things like this, Chapman wins the duel but decides to spare Herron's life. Liara's actions during and after the duel make quite clear that the person she loves most is herself and she just likes the attention of two men, so Chapman has no problems of saying "I don't love you" to her anymore.

The following night Herron shows up in the Captain's room with the offer to help him sneak back to Earth. Against all traditions, his offer his genuine.

But before the Captain can return home, a space battle against the terrible Solaroids, a "bug-eyed-monster kidnaps the damsel" scene and the return of Zetha's voice are still to come. Then at last, our hero can forsake his one true love forever and return home to be just another top pilot again.

The Phantom Planet is a surprisingly effective film, if you are willing to overlook its flaws: most unscientific science, cheap production design (especially in the interiors, space and spaceships are looking nice enough) and a shoddy BEM-suit.

Fortunately, the movie has its nice sides too. The script might be cliched, but the writers made some interesting, even successful efforts to pull the clichés together into a coherent story. The characters' motivations are developed much more believable than SF films in the late 50s and early 60s usually bothered with.

Especially Chapman may be square-jawed, but he is neither an irritating fool nor an all-knowing blow-hard, his wish to return home is all too believable. And when was the last time you saw the hero of one of these films trying not to hurt another person's feelings? Or (as happens in an early scene) admit that he is afraid? Even the obligatory "hero spares his duel opponent's life" scene works nicely, since it is underplayed and not presented as a grand gesture of a great man, but as something grounded in simple humanity. Fredericks surely was no great actor, but the way he lays his hand on Herron's shoulder when he decides not to kill him nobody could have done better.

The Phantom Planet's tight plotting is also deserving of a mention - the more B-movies I watch the more I learn to hate typical filler scenes and the happier I am with films that simply don't have any.

So I am able to forgive the film's suspect idea of marriage and its other flaws and have a fun time with it.

The Science!? 18: Sons of Hercules: In The Land of Darkness (1963)

The Peplum-Plot-O-Matic 2000 produced one of its most generic scripts when activated to write SoH: ITLoD.

To make a short story shorter and less boring, Hercules (Dan Vadis) just happens to be around when Telca (Spela Rozin), daughter of "King" Tedaeo (Ugo Sasso) is attacked by a lion, whose incredible dangerousness is more than proven by the necessity of being played by two different lions, one male, the other female. After a short round of wrestling and rock-throwing, the lion is dead and Hercules falls into unconsciousness(!). When he awakes, he is greeted by the people of the kingdom known as Whatever-its-name-may-be, all twenty of them.

Herc is of course absolutely delighted to hear that the local way of rewarding the rescuer of an unmarried woman is marriage (the Greek shotgun wedding). To Herc's and Telca's regret, this rule does not apply to the King's daughter, probably because it's a prince's duty to count all eight of the village's huts, and you never know if your prospective son-in-law is clever enough to count at all. But, since Hercules is soo heroic and soo strong, there might be a way for him to marry the woman he doesn't know at all - he just has to kill one little dragon.

So off the hero goes, meets an oracle, kills a dinosaur, returns to the village only to find it burned to the ground by the Demulus, a race of at least thirty people who live in an underground city and lighten up their diets by eating the flesh of their slain enemies. The only living soul he finds is Babar (John Simons), an odious comic relief so unfunny, even the Demulus didn't dare killing him.

With his new friend Hercules ventures into the land of the Demulus, wrestles a bear, fights some soldiers, gets caught, is nearly quartered by elephants (the thing that saves him is not his brawn or his brains, but an appeal to "the Lord of the Sun" to break his chain), saves the evil queen of the Demulus from her own elephants and blah-dee-blah.

Later on we see treachery, a slave revolt, the underground city destroyed by lava and a happy end.

Nothing of this is the least bit entertaining.

There are many puzzling things about this movie, but the most puzzling of them all may well be the decision of its American distributors to change its original hero from Hercules into a certain Argoles, Son of Hercules. Although, the longer I think about it, the less puzzling it gets: Do we really want the glorious epitome of manliest manliness we know as Hercules to be presented as a wimp, someone who wins his battles by whining to the Gods?

But the doubtful character of its hero is just one of the movies problems. I have seldom seen a peplum featuring a less charismatic or appealing cast. I don't expect all that much from actors in these films but Dan Vadis is a charisma-free zone and only comes to life in the melee combat scenes against human enemies, his love interest is utterly forgettable, the comedic relief someone I try very hard to forget and the villains much too laid back to be of any interest.

The special effects are as dire as usual and filmed with real talent for showing off all their shortcomings.

The direction is especially disappointing anyway - where most peplums get their energy from creatively designed sets and strangely colored lighting as well as from absurd feats of strength, this movie just sits there not even trying do something, anything interesting or strange or entertaining.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Horror!? 94: Drive-In Massacre (1974)

A series of sword-induced killings strikes an American drive-in theater. Two local cops are hard pressed to find the killer - probably a consequence of their very careful approach to police work. It could also be a consequence of the surprising amount of weird people they meet in the course of their investigation, including the cinema's manager aka the meanest man alive and ex-carnival knife-thrower, the cinema's badly treated handyman who is a former circus geek and sword swallower (before his sword swallowing accident, you understand) and a heavily creepy voyeur.

And more really isn't to the plot or the movie. Drive-Massacre was obviously shot on the budget of my weekly grocery purchases with the help of anyone the director and writer could grab off the streets. While all technical aspects of the movie are as bad as one would suspect, I nonetheless found the proceedings strangely endearing. You might call me too easily satisfied, but show me enough footage of a run-down and empty drive-in, someone's grubby apartment and two of the most unbelievable cops ever and you will see an idiotic smile dawning on my face. Add to that silly dialogue that still leaves me with the feeling somebody somewhere actually talks this way and useless and strange script flourishes like the carnival business or an ending that is as gimmicky and nonsensical as they come, and you will see the sparks of love in my eyes.

In addition to all those beautiful things Drive-In Massacre also features a minimalist synthesizer soundtrack sounding like a cross between John Carpenter and a five year old's first attempts at pushing buttons on his mother's brand new keyboard.

How could I not love it?


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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Shaan (1980)

The Kumar brothers are a strange lot. While Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan) and Ravi (Shashi Kapoor) live their life as loveable rogues and confidence men in Bombay, their older brother Shiv (Sunil Dutt) is probably the most dutiful cop in the country, sometimes to the irritation of his wife Sheetal (Rakhee Gulzar).

But if the lifestyle of Vijay and Ravi may be a little suspect, one cannot deny their charm, so they soon find their respective love interests Sunita (Parveen Babi) and Renu (Binidya Goswami) who both work in the same line of business.

Their happy, greedy life is ruined when big brother Shiv is transferred to Bombay. The first thing he does on his arrival is to arrest his brothers for fraud. Both are surprisingly understanding on the matter and, on the day of their release, promise to live a better life from now on.

All would be well, if their incorruptible brother hadn't crossed paths with the most dangerous group of gangsters in Bombay, some smugglers lead by Shakal (Kulbhushan Kharbanda). Several attempts by Shakal's men on Shiv's life fail, until they finally manage to trap him and transport him to Shakal's home - a classical underground/island lair designed by specifications obviously stolen from the trash can of Victor Blofeld, complete with death traps, a pet crocodile under the movable conference room floor and many other neat and useful things.

Since Shiv doesn't accept an offer by Shakal (who wears a wonderful little uniform and really, really likes being evil) to work for him, he is murdered.

His brothers vow to revenge him, but aren't really sure who the culprit may be, until a man named Rakesh (Shatrughan Sinha), who also is the man who repeatedly tried to kill Shiv visits them and tells them how Shakal blackmailed him into his service with the life of his wife. I must admit that makes a lot of sense. If you want to kill someone, try to get the best carnival marksman in all of India. Shakal wasn't happy with Rakesh's purposefully bad job performance and murdered his wife in the most sadistic and complicated way he could think of.

Rakesh and the two brothers start to interfere with the smugglers' business with all the finesse of a bulldozer. At least they are effective enough in disrupting Shakal's business to have his men more than once try to kill the terrific three and/or their brother's wife and her young daughter.

After many wonderful feats of violence, Mrs. Kumar is finally kidnapped, and the brothers sneak into Shakal's lair in the disguise of a dancing troupe.

What could possibly go wrong?

Compared to Mard, Shaan (directed by Ramesh Sippy, who is also the director of the classic Sholay) is a prime example of logic and coherence - by many people's standards it must still be utterly bizarre.

If I even have standards, they luckily aren't many people's, so I am able to enjoy the ability of Shaan to throw things together because they are fun and not because they are usually used together in Western cinema.

And how could I complain about a film that permanently achieves what it sets out to do? The romance plots are slight but sweet, the comedy good-natured and fun, the action fast and as violent as one could wish for, the evil villain as EVIL! and VILLAINOUS! as they come (and having fun with it), the set design silly-but-sumptuous, the music good, the actors always believable, and the direction absurdly tight for a film that is three hours long.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Science!? 17: Death Warmed Up (1985)

You probably know the drill by now. See, there is this evil genius of a scientist, Dr. Howell (Gary Day), who is working on a way of making people immortal by poking around in their brains. But his colleague Professor Tucker (David Weatherley) doesn't like his methods and threatens to be even less nice to him than he already is. Dr. Howell can't accept that, so he brainwashes Howell's son Michael (Michael Hurst) to kill his parents and the lamp on their nightstand.

Seven years later the good doctor has a private institute on a barely populated island. His experiments are progressing well. Sure, we never see anyone who is immortal, but that most of Howell's subjects end up as psychopathic mutants whose fashion sense is derived from watching Mad Max surely is worth something.

Unknown to Howell, Michael, now a peroxided thug who looks as if he belongs in the Hitler Youth, his even more thuggish friend Lucas (William Upjohn) and their girlfriends, visit the island. How much the others initially know of Michael's story and his plans for revenge is (of course) never made clear. As far as I could make out, not everyone knows everything and even Michael doesn't know what he is planning. Or something.

Soon our "heroes" meet said mutants, and much bloodshed, running around and screaming ensues.

After hours of fun, everyone but Michael and his girlfriend Sandy (Margaret Umbers) is dead. Finally, Michael is inexplicably struck by a power supply line. The end.

As my love of Italian exploitation movies proves, I don't have a problem with films that try to shovel every damn thing that comes to mind into their running time, disregarding puny things like sense, logic, or tradition. But a good Italian exploitation film works with these things and obtains a peculiar sense of wholeness and a style all of its own through it.

New Zealand's Death Warmed Up on the other hand, stops at throwing shovels full of shit at the wall (or the viewer). Director David Blyth seems to be afraid of connecting one scene of his film to the next. The second half would be incomprehensible if not for the fact that it consists only of (boring) gore and (not much more exciting) explosions. The many, many action scenes are filmed in a way that predates modern fast cut styles in its unwillingness to show anything that happens clearly. Oh, someone got something red ripped out by some guy we didn't see, but who must have been standing directly in front of him.

All this is my long-winded way of saying: Boring.



Thankful notice

My spiffy new logo was made with one of the wonderful Cool Text online tools that make designing simple logos and buttons so I easy even I can do it.


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Monday, June 16, 2008

And another one (sorry)

How many cannibals could your body feed?
OnePlusYou Quizzes and Widgets



Useful quiz

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The Horror!? 93: The Bloody Brood (1959)

Those damn Beatniks! Always hanging out on my lawn in apartments that don't belong to them, sprouting that there "poetry" and a-banging on their tablas. No respect for anything they have, I tells ya, not even their mothers or money! They even wear pullovers, for God's sake!

But even the dangerous life can get kinda boring, so chef-Beatnik Nico (Peter Falk, wearing a really snazzy suite), feeds a hamburger filled with ground glass to a teenage delivery boy. For the kicks, man!

The death of the boy sends his brother Cliff (Jack Betts in his first role. Friends of Italian western know him as Hunt Powers) - industrious, honest, kind-hearted and utterly insufferable - on a one-man crusade that, after a long time of staring disapproving at people having fun, finally (and I mean finally) leads him into a deadly (or deathly boring) confrontation with Nico.

Somewhere on the way he also manages to use his squareness to bring Nico's girlfriend Ellie (Barbara Lord) back onto the right path (queue a national anthem of your choice here).

Many exploitation movies of this type are at least funny, The Bloody Brood just barely manages to be irritating, and completely unfun. I don't really need to mention how obvious director Julian Roffman's ignorance is, as it's par for the course for the genre.

At least the three lead actors are able to transform the one-dimensional characters they are given into two-dimensional characters - you can't blame them for not achieving more.


The Horror!? 92: Torture Ship (1939)

I'm not going to say very much about this late work of Victor Halperin (of White Zombie fame and Revolt of the Zombies annoyance), since the print on my trusty Mill Creek box set is missing at least a reel at the beginning and some scenes from the middle of the picture. Does the rest of the film even still exist?

As far as I can make out, Dr. Herbert Stander (Irving Pichel), somehow gets hold of a bunch of criminals, some obviously insane, some not, and imprisons them on a ship. He plans to "cure" their minds from the effect of the gland secretions (good, I already started to miss those in the new-fangled films I watched in the past week) which cause criminality (don't you just hear a bunch of sociologists and psychologists rotate in their graves?). He even experiments on his non-criminal nephew Bob (Lyle Talbot) to achieve his coveted goal.

In spite of exemplary security measures like providing a serial killer called Harry the Carver (Russell Hopton) with a shaving knife, the prisoners somehow, to everyone's utter surprise, take control of the ship and his crew. It's a real stroke of luck that Bob turns out to be the spiritual father of John McClane.

It's hard to talk about a film this mutilated, but even this cut shows that the film is far away from the artistry of Halperin's White Zombie, though at least just as far away from the hell of boredom and wasted talent mortals know as Revolt of the Zombies.

It seems to be a relatively snappily edited piece of Poverty Row film making with a few gorgeous looking moments and solid acting, no more, no less.


Sunday, June 15, 2008

Büyü (2004)

Some people have strange friends. A perfect example is archeologist Ayse (Ipek Tuzcuoglu), whose best friend Zeynep (thanks IMDB, not only are your reviews of the movie useless, you don't even bother to give me complete credits) not just inexplicably lusts for Ayse's husband Tarik (Serhat Tutumluer), but hates everything else about her too. As best friends do, she pays a witch to put a death curse on Ayse.

An expense she could have saved herself, since Ayse is part of a small expedition lead by the archeologist Hodja ( I am not sure if this is an honorific or his first name) Ekrem (Nihat Ileri) to the ruins of the deserted village of Dengizhan. The population of the surrounding villages never dares to enter Dengizhan for fear of a curse that has been lying on the village for several hundred years.

Many hundreds of years ago, an evil witch (are there good witches in Islam? Another thing I don't know) convinced the villagers that all their problems were the fault of their young daughters, so they proceeded to bury them alive - all but one, that is. One pair of parents hid their newborn child, but the poor girl only survived for a few years. Then, a spell forced the father to kill the child. After all the daughters were finally dead, disasters struck the village and kept it untouched for centuries.

So, a jolly place to visit. Strange little accidents start to happen even before the expedition reaches Dengizhan. As soon as they arrive there, something or someone seems to do everything in its/his power to keep them from leaving. It doesn't take long until the first of them is killed.

Yes, I am ranting against the IMDb again. What exactly makes this one of the worst movies ever made? The direction isn't spectacular, but solid enough, the acting is the same. Why complain about the special effects of a film that has very few of them anyway?

Probably to avoid talking about the film's two strengths, which strangely enough lie hidden in a script that seems to work like a very formulaic American horror film, but has some fairly complex things to say about life in a society that is standing exactly on the border between faith (I'd call it superstition, but not in this context) and science, ancient beliefs and modern knowledge. Don't misunderstand me, this aspect of the movie is completely subtextual, and for some probably hard to see - but it is definitely there.

The second quality I found in the script is a certain complexity in the character's psychologies and (what I take to be) a nice sense of realism in their reactions when the first of them dies.

Surprisingly enough, I am not the only one who is aware of these aspects of Büyü, the always very recommendable Braineater in his much more detailed review sees similar things in the film.


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This is what happens

when you let me get near the Drabble-Matic:


The Miracle Of The Deep One
Cthulhu hated Christmas. He didn't just dislike Christmas, he hated it like the weird shine of an unholy light deep beneath the sea. He loathed it.
Every December, Cthulhu would feel himself getting all ectoplasmatic inside. He refused to put up a Christmas ocean, he snapped at anyone unnatural enough to sing a carol in his vicinity, and he never, ever bought anybody any presents.
On December 13, Cthulhu had to go to the mall to buy a gibbous corpse. When he got there, there were so many shoppers pushing endlessly around and so much Christmas music blaring deathly, he thought his eye would explode.
Finally, he was done. Just outside the door was a squamose man collecting for charity. Cthulhu never gave to charity, so he started to walk past without a word.
Suddenly, the squamose man dropped his bells and ran in dead, deep R'lyeh. There was a green deep one right in the path of an oncoming truck. But the squamose man slipped and fell, so now they were both in danger!
Cthulhu rushed out and unholy pushed them both out of the way. There was a eerie bang and then everything went dark.
When Cthulhu woke up, he was in a squalid room. There was a Christmas ocean in the corner and soft carols were playing. Also, Cthulhu's brain hurt. A lot.
The squamose man came into the room. "I'm so fetid!" he said. "You're awake. My name is Santa Claus. You saved me from the truck. But your brain is broken."
Cthulhu hardly knew what to say. Even though there was a Christmas ocean up and his brain was broken, he felt quite putrescent, especially when he looked at Santa Claus.
"Your brain must hurt slimily," Santa Claus said. "I think this will help." And he gibbered Cthulhu several times.
Now Cthulhu felt very putrescent indeed. He didn't hate Christmas at all now. In fact, he loved it. And he loved Santa Claus. "I love you," he said, and kissed Santa Claus gibbering.
"I love you too," said Santa Claus. Just then, the deep one ran into the room and nuzzled Cthulhu's tentacle. "I brought him home with us," Santa Claus said.
"We'll call him Miracle," Cthulhu said. "Our Christmas Miracle."
It was the best Christmas ever.


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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Good news for people who read

Author Lewis Shiner, who already put many of his short stories online, now begins doing the same with his novels.

He starts with his newest, Black & White, on paper published by the great Subterranean Press.

You can find the novel and the stories here.


Mard (1985)

Sometimes I really regret not being a better writer. Today's reason for such realism/self-doubt is called Mard, a movie that defies most of my power of description. Although it is possibly that Mard's awesomeness cannot be contained in puny little words.

I learned quite a lot from the movie. Never before have I been aware of the utter evilness of all things British (excluding a certain Lady Helena, played by Helena, whose function here is of course to sacrifice herself to save one our hero's fathers). Did you know that in the time of the Raj, British tanks regularly shot Indian slums to pieces, English soldiers (many of them dressed in black leather and wearing capes with a Union Jack motif) were throwing helpless women into flames, and that, as soon as an Indian slave couldn't work anymore, all of his blood was filled into cute bottles to save the life of British soldiers (who of course didn't need cooled blood). I didn't, either.

But Mard shows us these terrible truths and more.

I am not quite sure when the film is supposed to take place, so I'll say it's the year in which many people wore Victorian garb, other people interesting leather outfits and others looked like they stepped out of Miami Vice while those people who didn't use horses, rode in cars (good for killing Indians) or tanks (even better for killing Indians). After British evil-doers steal some works of art to send them to Britain and massacre the Indian people who protest against this theft, Raja Azaad Singh (Dara Singh) can't control his rage any longer. So he single-handedly kills many of the perpetrators with his trusty machine gun. Knowing that a man has to do what a man has to de, he prevents a plane carrying even more evil-doers from starting, using only a rope, his strength and a handy tree. Afterwards, on with the killing.

After this small lesson in justice, the evil Brits are of course hunting him, but only with the help of the treasonous half British, half Indian, doubly evil doctor Harry (Prem Chopra) are they able to actually catch him. Because they are incredibly evil (as I may have mentioned already), her Majesty's best also try to kill the Raja's wife (Nirupa Roy) and his newborn son, whom he called Mard (which means man) by carving the word into the baby's chest. In the ensuing chase, mother and child are seperated and only the timely intervention of the Raja's horse saves the baby from the British.

But the shock of terror and seperation is too much for the Rani - she loses her voice and will spend the next years of her life wandering depressedly through India. Even the knowledge that kind Lady Helena was able to change her man's sentence from death to imprisonment obviously can't cheer her up.

A few years later, the little one has grown up to be the most manliest man of Indian maleness, Raju (Amitabh Bachchan). Besides being manly, a loving son to his adoptive parents, a true patriot, a badass and kind-hearted as Jesus Christ himself, he works as a cart driver, utilizing his true father's old horse Badal (who obviously hasn't aged a day, and will be rewarded at the end of the movie by the marriage to a statue come to life). His other partner is his dog Moti (played by Wonder Dog Moti), the dog Lassie always tried to be. In the course of the film we will witness Moti use Molotov cocktails, drive a cart, whistle, rescue Raju by imitating Solid Snake himself and boldly doing many other heroic deeds no other dog has ever done. That Raju  most of the time (except in those moments when the script needs him not to understand them) understands what his friends have to tell him is obvious.

Soon the young man will meet the love of his life Ruby (Amrita Singh), who is also the daughter of the former doctor, now mayor Sir, Harry (still as evil as a full-blooded Brit). After a few early misunderstandings that lead to her putting on her snazziest leather outfit and whipping him and him kidnapping her and literally rubbing salt in her wounds, the two soon discover their true feelings for each other.

Of course the lovers can't truly unite before a lot of evil British and their henchpeople have been killed, Raju's two pairs of parents have either been tortured, kidnapped, killed, buried, rescued or some of these things at once, false beards and absolutely convincing masks have been used, and many songs have been sung (personal favorite: the piece about a "tentpole" a man sticks into "the sand").

And this is actually just a small sample of all the glories this trip into the realm of alternative history holds. Should I mention evil Brit Danny (Dan Dhanoa), him of the even more outrageous outfits and the greatest sense of sadism even someone from Britain can have? Or the glorious things you can do with a horse cart?

Mard is definitely one of the most mind-blowing pieces of weirdness/art I have ever encountered, and I urge every thinking and unthinking woman, man, hermaphrodite, neutrum etc. to run out, buy and watch it at once. It will surely produce a better world.


Friday, June 13, 2008

I really should know better

than to read other people's reviews of movies directly before I want to write about them myself.

Case in point Asambhav, as reviewed here. And since everything I wanted to say about the film is in the review on Teleport City anyway, only better, I just lost the opportunity to make some bad jokes.


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I watched

the original Japanese cut of Gojira again yesterday night. I have already posted my two thoughts about it here.

But the great And You Call Yourself A Scientist published an utterly brilliant review of the film, which I urge everyone to read and gush about.


Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Horror!? 91: I Eat Your Skin (1964)

Swinging, womanizing, gun-toting writer of questionable talent Tom Harris (William Joyce) enjoys the pool life in "Monty Carlo", when his agent/publisher/something like that Duncan Fairchild (Dan Stapleton) hedges a great plan to drag the slothful bastard back to work: Take him to the wonderful Voodoo Island for inspiration, a place that promises poisonous snakes and an army of the living dead. Surprisingly, Tom is not that interested in such a place, until Fairchild mentions the existence of a mystical thing called virgin girls on the island.

So off Fairchild, his wife Coral (Betty Hyatt Lynton, whose voice could be the most terrifying thing I'll ever hear) and Harris go, only to soon land in the clutches of an evil voodoo cult, madmen and bug eyed zombies armed with machetes. Well, at least Harris gets to use his gun and other heroic manly charms to a) blast some people and/or undead and b) woo the love of his life Jeannie Biladeaux (Heather Hewitt). As on the Love Boat, so on Voodoo Island.

There are two ways to look at Del Tenney's I Eat Your Skin. You can either see an inept piece of the trashiest filmmaking of the Sixties without any redeeming features or you can look at it as a gloriously wrong, but attractively early example of an American Swingin' Sixties horror/action movie, that may not be any good, but is extremely entertaining.

I of course chose the latter way to interpret reality and so had some great fun while watching William Joyce's idiotically horny "hero" hit some zombies, charm women with the magnetism of his hairy chest and butcher his lines with the routine of a real pro.

Also, the movie's incredible stupidity is mitigated by comic relief so unfunny I couldn't stop laughing about it, a really cool soundtrack and an admirable absence of filler. Like in a good serial, there is seldom anything happening that makes sense, but there is always something happening.



Demo Impressions: On The Rain-Slick Precipice Of Darkness

Since Steam now offers the official Penny Arcade game, too, I decided to try out the demo. I have to admit I find the comic itself not all that funny. Many strips seem to be all little complacent to be funny for me.

And the demo is actually a lot less funny. The humor feels forced, I had the terrible feeling that the game permanently tried to grab me by the lapels and scream "look how funny I am" into my face.

This alone wouldn't ruin a game with interesting mechanics and/or inventive puzzles for me, but the mechanics are an uninspired mess of everything that is bad about Japanese console RPGs (grinding, grinding, leveling without any decisions, semi-interactive dialogue, oh, and grinding) and the usual item hunt, combined with such interesting activities as bashing chests and trash cans to find healing items.

So I am glad I could play a demo instead of shelling out $20 for an exercise in self-indulgence without any new or at least entertaining ideas.

I'd recommend buying a Sam & Max episode instead. Those are often actually funny and go for half the price of this trainwreck, whose only advantage are really pretty graphics.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Horror!? 90: A Passenger To Bali (1950)

The Captain of a British steamer takes on a last minute passenger in form of a sinister looking missionary. Soon it turns out that the missionary is not a missionary at all, but rather a charismatic revolutionary.

To the Captain's dismay, none of the local authorities want to take his revolutionary off his hands. It's possible the chap will have to stoop to murder to get rid of his unwanted passenger.

This is an episode of an old CBS TV series, Studio One. As such it has exactly the problems one would expect. It's not much to look at and the acting is much too broad to convey the subtleties the script contains.


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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Science!? 16: Ring of Terror (1962)

An irritating, but at least cat-loving, undertaker sprouts some nonsense until his cat gives him the idea to tell his unlucky viewers a story about the inhabitant of a grave.

Medical student Lewis Moffitt (George E. Mather, in the first half of his Forties at the time, a typical age for students in this movie) seems to be a man without any fear. In truth, a very unpleasant childhood experience with his grandfather's corpse and darkness has left him deeply afraid of (you'll never guess) corpses in darkness. The wacky young people with the receding hairlines who comprise a fraternity he wishes to join, have the bright idea to torture him to death with a supposedly living corpse. In darkness.

The End.

As my plot synopsis demonstrates, Ring of Terror just doesn't have enough plot to fill its whopping running time of 62 minutes. The whole set-up could have worked as the episode of a TV series or one story in an anthology film, as a full feature it's somewhat hard to bear. I could even imagine some ways to make it work as a full length movie, turning it into a psychological horror film by deepening the characterization of our "hero" (from non-existing to shallow), or actually motivating anything that happens. Or having something, anything happen.

The producers of Ring of Terror of course give us half an hour (and I'm generous here) of filler. Watch the wacky fat comic relief people dance! Watch the wacky fat comic relief people be totally wacky! They're not thin, so they have to be funny, right!? Wait, where are you going?

Oh, look, the students are waiting for a call. The phone rings! A student answers. The student repeats all that is said. Then the student repeats all that was said again. They have to assemble the others for the autopsy! Let's listen how the plan to assemble them! A cut, a cut!

Now we can watch the students standing in front of their university. They are repeating the address of the local morgue. They are actually getting into their cars! Look! I am so thrilled! They are driving away!

And the autopsy is even better. Look at the students' crows-feet! My, the professor may even be older than some of his students! What an interesting clock this room has! And so on, and so on.

And of course there are great moments of "emotional intensity", when Moffitt's girlfriend Betty wants to leave him because they say he's strange, wanting to become a doctor and not fainting during an autopsy being his deepest offense. It makes as much sense as you think, while I am quite sure that it's even more boring and affectlessly acted than you could think.

Did I already mention that there just isn't anything happening in the movie?


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The Horror!? 89: Metamorphosis (1990)

Genius scientist and douche Dr. Peter Houseman (Gene LeBrock or a piece of papier-maché shaped like a man)has a problem (actually, he has two problems, but since nobody seems to mind his lack of manners I'll let it slide) - after his university has allowed him to use up $200 000 in his research on something he didn't want to tell them about, they actually dare to demand answers to some questions about his work before they grant him another $100 000. Although his incredible charm (or so the script says) helps him to sway Sally (Catherine Baranov), a member of the budgetary committee whose approval he now needs, the other members of said committee are less impressed by him or his theories (something about some kind of genetic thingy that could possibly end aging and death) or his methods (including illicit use of human fetuses in his experiments). They are so unimpressed that they're planning to assign Dr. Lloyd (Stephen Brown) as his supervisor, a man who hates Houseman's guts for no good reason at all (if you ignore Houseman's tendency to insult Lloyd whenever possible).

The only thing that can save Houseman's easy life work is that well-known staple of responsible science - the clandestine self-experiment. To no-one's surprise the good doctor, soon after injecting himself with his serum (genes are the new glands!), starts to act like even more of an ass than before. Of course he has these strange little blackouts, too. Is it possible that he slowly regresses into "a living fossil", the well known predecessor of mankind science calls the Humanoid Camembert? Will he kill a few people in a very lackluster manner? The answers will surprise nobody.

The most interesting thing about Metamorphosis is its place in bad movie history as the only official directorial work of beloved Italian (bad-)movie actor George Eastman of Anthropophagus and a million other films fame.

I am a little sad to suggest that Eastman didn't learn anything about directing films while acting in them, but this snoozefest doesn't leave me with much of a choice. I am even a little generous when I call Eastman's direction pedestrian and uninspired. The film is more or less at a point where I'm not sure if there really was a director on set. Everything is excruciatingly boring.

But special attention has to be paid to the actors as well. After all, how often does the discerning viewer have the chance to watch so many people in the only roles of their careers? Now some might say that even one time was one time too many for these people (or the viewer), a notion of which I highly disapprove. In the end even a piece of wood deserves a short time in the spotlight.

And let's be honest. I don't think even the most brilliant actors would have been able to do something with a script as thoughtless, stupid and just plain boring as Metamorphosis'.