Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sauna aka Filth (2008)

After 25 years of war between Sweden and Russia, the year of 1595 finds both countries busy with redrawing their borders. In the 16th century, the drawing of borders was a physical act, a work of practical cartography as well as taxation.

The Finnish brothers Erik (Ville Virtanen) and Knut (Tommi Eronen) Spore are the Southern agents of the Swedish crown deciding on the exact course of the border between the Swedish territory of Finland and Russia. Shortly before they are supposed to meet their Russian counterparts to coordinate and finalize their efforts, the brothers get themselves into trouble in a small village. Erik, a soldier with the charming (and not serial killer-like at all, oh, no) habit of counting the people he has killed (it's getting up to 73 now) slaughters a farmer (let's call him number 74) for the sin of hiding some of his taxable property from him, while Knut, a scientist by trade, very nearly rapes the same farmer's daughter. Unlike Erik, Knut is very much afraid of what he is capable of, stops himself and locks the girl in a cellar, to keep her safely away from harm as well as to not to have to deal with his own emotions. In a moment to delight every hobby Freudian, Knut asks his brother (who is still quite bloody from murdering someone) to free the girl from the cellar. Erik promises to take care of it, and of course doesn't.

Some time later they meet up with their Russian counterparts led by a certain Semenski (Viktor Klimenko), a man who is mostly interested in getting the whole border business over with and finally be able to live in peace. They are nearly through with the work. Just one more pesky swamp and the thing will be over. Semenski is willing to just say that the border is running right through the middle of the swamp without doing any real cartography or putting any markers down in it, but Erik, still fighting the war, insists on real exploration.

Unfortunately for the men, there is in fact something of interest in the swamp, something people as guilt-ridden and morally troubled as Erik and Knut, who has started to see the apparition of a certain dead girl even before, should better stay away from.

It's not the village of war refugees the men find that will be at the core of their troubles, it's an ancient sauna built a little further off in the swamp. But instead of cleansing sins, this sauna was built (if it was in fact built) to make one see one's sins more clearly, in preparation the other things it also shows.

Sauna is one of those films that seem to get better the more crappy contemporary shot on video horror you have seen, but I am not completely sure that it really is as good as It felt like. It is possible, even probable, that the siren song of a film that was not written by a bunch of morons and filmed utilizing mobile phones as cameras with the "director"'s family doing the "acting" is so strong that it makes me overlook certain weaknesses more than I should.

So, let's start with the weaknesses, which can mostly be found in the script. If you take away the historical setting, this is close to a lot of horror films from the last couple of decades, mostly those supernatural horror films which took something different from the Asian horror wave than the jump cuts, but it is at least a film about adults with emotional baggage instead of another film featuring our old friends Final Girl, Slut, Funny Black Guy and so on. Still, deeply original this is not, even less so when you take the bluntness of the film's psychology and metaphors (a girl locked away in a cellar, huh?) into account. On the other hand, Sauna's characters do at least have a psychology.

Then there's a underdeveloped sub-plot about gay attraction in it that is problematic in the way it couples homosexuality and violence, as well as a very unsubtle way to get rid of some characters.

Nearly as ill-advised is the final bunch of special effects. Those might have looked very good on paper, but just don't work in their execution. I am less than sure about their necessity either - for me, the film would be stronger without showing what it shows.

These are all flaws I am willing to live with, though, because these are all flaws that only come into play through the things the film does right. The psychology seems sometimes too reductionist because the acting is good enough to let you believe in the characters as persons; the special effects are problematic because the film is so excellent at setting an initial mood through light and landscape without showing much of anything; the answers are too blunt because the questions are so interesting.

I think the point I am trying to make through my rambling is that Sauna is an excellent film that has the type of flaws a lesser movie won't have because the lesser movie will have failed before it will even have reached the point where these flaws can come into play.

 

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Music Monday: That's That Edition

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

In short: The Legend of Wisely (1987)

His friend David Ko (director Teddy Robin Kwan) tricks the SF writer and international adventurer Wisely (Samuel Hui) into helping him steal a strange artifact known as the Dragon Pearl for gangster boss Pak Kei-Wei (Ti Lung!) from a group of Nepalese monks.

When good old honorable Wisely realizes that the monks he and David acquired the pearl from aren't the evil man-eating meanies David made them out to be, he swears to bring the artifact back to them.

With the help of Pak's sister Sue (Joey Wang), Wisely goes to work. His life would be a lot less difficult if he'd only have to keep the gangster (who is after all played by Ti Lung and therefore basically honorable) at bay. Unfortunately, a certain Howard Hope (Bruce Baron) from Egypt and his sometimes colourcoded henchmen are also quite interested in the object.

The Legend of Wisely is a prime example of the troubles with competence. Everyone taking part in the production does basically a decent job. You can't really criticize any single element of the film for being bad, it's just that the film composed of these elements is not very exciting at all. As a film based on I Kuang's (or whatever his name was that week) Wisely character, Legend lacks the sweet siren call of total, bat-shit insanity that makes other films in the cycle like The Seventh Curse or The Cat so much fun. Instead we get some solid action sequences and a plot that makes a certain amount of sense.

It's just too bad that this is something you can get from a lot of other movies, delivered in a more exciting form.

 

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

In short: The Curse of Kazuo Umezu (1990)

Two anime shorts based on the works of one of my personal heroes, Kazuo Umezu.

The first story "What Will The Camera Reveal?" is about high schooler Masami, who develops an unhealthy mixture of obsession with and fear of Rima, the new girl in her class. When she starts having nightmares of something terrible that visits her in the night and a strange mark appears on her throat, Masami comes to the conclusion that Rima must be a vampire. One of her classmates - a certain Umezu (unfortunately not wearing anything with red and white stripes) - suggests that she films what is really happening at night in her room. There are bound to be surprises.

The second story concerns a group of four girls, their visit in "The Haunted Mansion" and the unpleasant things that happen to them.

I had a surprising amount of fun with The Curse of Kazuo Umezu. Its flaws - really bad animation, stories without any depth whatsoever and the sort of plotting one would be hard-pressed to find anything more friendly than "serviceable" to say describe it, should be more than enough to make this OVA one to avoid, but in truth both shorts provide a kind of horror short film comfort food that is very endearing. They might be going through some very familiar motions, yet they are doing it with enough of Umezu's trademark sense of hysteria to have a rather loveable feel.

Also, the shorts allow me to use the words "endearing" and "loveable" when describing stories featuring dead children and dismemberments.

 

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Friday, March 27, 2009

The art of the metaphor

Well, everyone who hasn't already done so (I am late to this very special piece of writing) should probably take a gander here.

I quote: Her legs were quills. They were bundles of wicker, they were candelabra; the muscles were summer lightning, that flickered like a passing thought; they were captured eels or a cable on a windlass. Her thighs were geese, pythons, schooners. They were cypress or banyan; her thighs were a forge, they were shears; her thighs were sandstone, they were the sandstone buttresses of a cathedral, they were silk or cobwebs. Her calves were sweet with the sap of elders, her feet were bleached bones, her feet were driftwood. Her feet were springs, marmosets or locusts; her toes were snails, they were snails with shells of tears.

 

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

In short: Dead Snow (2009)

And another wonderful sounding vacation spot made less than attractive by the movies.

A group of medicine students goes on vacation in the snowy mountains of Norway. Soon they are visited by the local exposition fairy in the form of a rude weirdo, who tells them all about the history of the dead nazis who supposedly haunt the area. What do you know, the guy is right! There are in fact Nazi zombies (of the fast, tool using variety) around. And what nazi zombie could ever resist the promise of spam tasty medicine students in a cabin?

Dead Snow is a surprisingly entertaining horror comedy from Norway. The beginning is nothing special thanks to overuse of standard tropes like the already mentioned exposition fairy or friends being completely surprised by the phobias of their friends (and really, script writers of the world, people know the phobias of their friends like they know their unhealthy obsession with peas), but once the nazi zombies start to doing their thing the film gets rather fun.

For once, this is a low budget film that knows what it can and what it can't achieve on its budget and that strictly sticks to the things it can achieve: some moody shots of spectacular landscapes, humor that starts out as a rather minor part of the set-up but slowly increases to a crescendo of bloody (and sometimes really mean-spirited) silliness very much in the spirit of young Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi, and some rather clever suspense set-ups.

One could complain (as the usual IMDB people of course already do) about a certain slightness in content and depth, but that amounts to complaining about a car not being an airplane or a technical manual not being good literature. Dead Snow sets out to be a fun ninety minutes for the kind of people who think Jackson's Brain Dead is funny (and by Cthulhu, it is!) and a fun ninety minutes for the kind of people who think Jackson's Brain Dead is funny it does deliver.

 

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Music Monday: Things you only get away with when you're young edition

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Martyrs (2008)

As a little girl, Lucie (Mylene Jampanoi) has been held captive and abused by a group of strangers. The girl escapes and is brought to an orphanage, where she meets Anna (Morjana Aloui), who is fast becoming the only person the traumatized girl trusts.

Fifteen years later, Lucie sees a picture of her tormentors in a newspaper. Despite Anna's moderating influence, the hallucination stricken (if the things she sees are in fact hallucinations and not something far worse) young woman is hellbent on getting revenge for the things that were done to her - if just to alleviate the fear and the feelings of guilt that make her life hardly bearable.

Martyrs is another entry into the new(ish) French horror sub-genre of the New Cinema of Cruelty (you could also call it Torture Porn plus, if you like) like Frontier(s) or Inside. For me, this turned out to be the most effective and therefore most unpleasant film of its kind I have seen. How much this will do for (or rather to) you will probably depend on your reaction to the tonal and thematic shift the film makes at one point. Whereas other films of the sub-genre go exactly into the direction you'd expect, Martyrs takes a much weirder (in more than one meaning of the word) turn by which what initially seems to be a film that talks about survivor guilt in the most blunt way possible transforms into something closer in sensibilities to Barker and Poe. For some, this shift will probably ruin the film, for others like me, it will actually make it worthwhile (if "worthwhile" is a word one wants to use for a film that tries to emulate the feeling of being repeatedly hit in the head with a blunt object, that is).

What the shift undeniably does is make talking about Martyrs decidedly difficult. I'm usually not shying away from spoilers, but in this case I (like most other reviewers on the 'net, it seems) think going into details would derive the film of some of its power.

So, what else can I say? I can most certainly compliment the actresses (and this is at its core a film about women, for better or worse - queue your own thoughts about the violation of women on screen here; at least nobody can reasonably blame the film for violating women on screen for our entertainment) for their performances, which at times reached a level where I found it physically painful to watch what happens to them. (Yeah, that's a compliment in this context).

I can also say that Pascal Laugiers direction is so self assured, tight, yet at times strangely abstract in its depiction of suffering, while still not dehumanizing the victim of violence - I know, this does not make much sense on paper - that I am now even looking forward to the Hellraiser remake he is directing next.

If you feel prepared for a cinematic experience lying (based on your disposition) somewhere between rather unpleasant and extremely disturbing, Martyrs should be your film. Just don't think that it will do what you expect it to do at all times.

 

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Friday, March 20, 2009

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

In short: Digital Devil Monogatari Megami Tensei (1987)

When Japanese high school girl Yumiko is transferred to a new school, she soon finds it to be a rather strange place. One of her classmates Akemi, has a rather weird influence on the other students and even some of the teachers. Even stranger for Yumiko is the feeling of knowing Akemi from somewhere, although they can't have met before.

When she stumbles into the computer room of the school at night, Yumiko learns the secret of the school. Akemi uses the school computer's processing power to summon a demon called Loki for the promise of enough power to never again be the battered nerd he was before he contacted the demon. Loki doesn't demand much for his help, really - just a nice female teacher brain for some innocent head sex from time to time, nothing that could hurt anyone, since the school's computers don't have enough processing power to help Loki into a true physical manifestation anyway. At least that's what the demon says.

Well, wouldn't you know? Demons lie. Things would look rather bad for mankind's future, if not for the fact that Yumiko is a reincarnation of the goddess Izanami and there's just a little underworld traveling necessary to put things right again.

Based on a Japanese novel that spawned the sprawling series of (Shin) Megami Tensei videogames and their spin-offs, this OVA is a small disappointment. The movie has some neat, outdated-in-a-fun-way, basic ideas, but not enough spine to carry them through. The juxtaposition of demons, modern (in 1987) technology and traditional myths should be extremely entertaining, yet a total lack of enthusiasm for its possibilities lets the film fall flat nearly completely. There's a palpable hesitation to commit to anything of interest that really bugs me here - the movie is nearly sleazy, yet doesn't dare to do the last step; nearly weird, yet just too disinterested in being weird to get going; a little gory, yet never so much anyone could think it committed to being gory; and so on and so on. It's quite a shame, as is the lack of creativity shown in the demon layouts. Loki looks like a He-Man figure Mattel decided not to produce for its inherent boringness, therefore about as unexciting as possible.

Well, at least it's short.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Other Gods

In lieu of insightful commentary or - rather more typical for this blog - inane ramblings, my fever-addled brain instead presents you, dear readers, with this, a short film that was supposedly (which is to say, obviously not) made in 1924 adapting Lovecraft's The Other Gods, one of his dream cycle stories.

In any case, it is an excellent piece of work.

 

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Music Monday: Headachy and sickly edition

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

In short: Humongous (1982)

A woman (let's call her Miss Future Desiccated Corpse) is raped by a supposed friend of hers. Her German Shepherds don't take kindly to this sort of behaviour and rip him to shreds.

Thirty-six years later (the film is very precise about this date for no reason I could explain) three siblings - Good Boy, Jerk and Girl with Glasses - are out on a boat trip with the boys' girlfriends - Good Girl and Slut - (Girl with Glasses has no boyfriend, of course - she's wearing glasses, d'oh). The night is getting rather foggy, and shortly after they have picked up Slightly Dubious Stranger who got himself stranded in the middle of nowhere, Jerk's jerkiness leads to their boat's destructive acquaintance with a bunch of rocks.

Fortunately there's an island nearby. If you can believe Slightly Dubious Stranger, it's inhabited by an old woman and her German shepherds.

Well, who or whatever lives there doesn't like guests much (unless they're its dinner) and starts killing our heroes off one by one. Will Good Girl turn out to be the Final Girl, too?

Humongous starts out with one of the more unpleasant rape sequences in horror, but after that mostly stays away from high nastiness. In fact, it plays out as a rip-off of Anthropophagus without the gore and without Joe D'Amato's (misguided but present) visual talent (you know, the things that make Anthropophagus interesting), making it a typically mediocre piece of the 80s slasher wave. Some of the mandatory "stumbling through the old dark house" scenes have a little atmosphere and there's a nice moment "inspired" but the best scene of Friday the 13th, Part 2, but that's all the film has to recommend itself.

Seeing that it was directed by Paul Lynch, who was also responsible for Prom Night, that's more than I would have expected.

 

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

In short: Yogen aka Premonition (2004)

Ayaka Satomi (Noriko Sakai) and her husband Hideki (Hiroshi Mikami) are driving through the Japanese countryside with their little daughter Nana (Hana Inoue). When they stop so that Hideki can use a phone booth to transfer some files to his employer, the man finds a ripped apart, dirty sheet of newspaper right in front of his eyes. The headline that catches his eye reports the death of a child named Nana Satomi, hit by an oncoming truck while out with her parents, complete with a photo of his daughter. Hideki is puzzled and disturbed, but before he can anything, a truck does in fact hit the car with his daughter in it.

Three years later, Ayaka and Hideki's feelings of guilt for the death of Nana have driven them to divorce. Ayaka is working in parapsychology now, searching for answers to questions she isn't willing to ask loudly, while Hideki has become the kind of teacher who never looks at his students. It doesn't look like he is willing to risk having a life outside the classroom anymore either.

The state of fugue the ex-couple is in is broken when both of them are independently experiencing some very strange things. Especially Hideki is haunted by strange lapses of time and reality, as well as further premonitions of doom brought by appearances of the newspaper.

I found Yogen to be a much better film than I had expected after reading the usual lukewarm reviews (lukewarm reviews for good movies and good reviews for utter tosh seem to be a theme for me in the last few weeks). Its director Norio Tsuruta is also responsible for the very interesting Kakashi.

Yogen belongs to the decidedly non-naturalistic school of Japanese horror (think Takashi Shimizu with a deeper interest in people). If you need detailed explanations for supernatural events or more logical than emotional coherence in your films, this is probably not made for you. Tsuruta never bothers to explain anything about the newspaper, he seems much more interested in using the weird as a metaphor for the state of mind his characters are in after losing their daughter, quite effectively so, at that.

Although creeping the viewer out obviously isn't the film's main goal (and really, the couple losing their daughter is rather more touching than another spring-loaded cat), there are still some moments that are profoundly disturbing, less through shock value than through a quality of weirdness the better Japanese horror films often strive for.

Again, Yogen is a film better experienced than rationalized - if you are willing to accept it on its on terms.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Coming Soon (2008)

Chen (Chantavit Danasevi) is working as a projectionist in a large cinema in a Thai city. It's not the most harmonious of work environments anymore since Som (Vorakarn Rojjanavatchra) - also working at the cinema - has broken up with him. It was his own fault really - stealing your girlfriend's stuff to finance your drug (well, the subtitles call it medicine) habit and hitting her when she catches you doing it is usually not the best way to keep up a relationship.

Chen's honestly in love with Som, though. Her leaving has motivated him to clean up his act. When the film starts, he is working with Som's brother Peoll to earn enough money to get a wristwatch that belonged to Som back from a pawnbroker. It just so happens that the best way the two geniuses can think of to get enough money is taking part in a film piracy ring. This incredibly evil endeavor ends up badly when Chen screens a soon to be released horror movie for Peoll's camming pleasure. Chen falls asleep in the projection room, and when he wakes up Peoll is gone, leaving only his camera behind. The footage on it is rather disturbing and suggests that Peoll was attacked by a ghost stepping down from the screen.

Chen's not too keen on having anything to do with the whole thing anymore, but the nice man for whom he and Peoll were supposed to film the movie uses the power of soft threats of violence to convince him to give the pirating another try.

Poor Chen starts losing it when Peoll appears on screen during the film, obviously a victim of the film's evil spirit, a creature that has started to take an interest in the young man.

Together with Som, who still cares quite a bit about him and is disturbed by his strange behaviour, Chen starts to investigate the background of the film. It is supposedly based on a true story.

Coming Soon is the directorial debut of Sopon Sukdapisit, probably best known as the co-writer of two of Thailand's best horror movies, Shutter and Alone. If you are looking for something of the same quality, you could get as disappointed as many of the online reviewers whose incessant moaning and whining about totally solid films like this is probably an early sign of the coming zombiefication of mankind. Personally, I don't expect every film to be a masterpiece and am perfectly able to cope with a straightforward, simple little horror film that tells a straightforward and simple little tale, in a straightforward and simple way.

It's a solid film all around. Sukdapisit's direction isn't especially flashy or moody, but he mostly avoids the shaky cam/jump cut approach to filmmaking that has already softened more than one brain. I'd use the words straightforward and simple to describe his style if I hadn't just read about the evils of repetition in reviews. I found the integration of Som's and Chen's relationship troubles quite adequate, even a little touching, at least enough to make me root for them and not their ghostly enemy, not at least thanks to the solid (there's that word again) acting.

Even the inevitable twist isn't too annoying. Sukdapisit (who also wrote the script) is good at creating twists that make enough sense not to let the whole film crash down around them.

The creepiness factor is relatively low, though there were two or three scenes I found thoroughly uncomfortable, just enough to keep the film on my good side.

All in all, I'd recommend Coming Soon, it may not be the second coming of the ghost horror film, but it is a well-made and entertaining little flick.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Werewolf (1956)

A stranger (Steven Ritch) steps into the diner/bar combination of Typical Nameless American Smalltown-ville (I'm still on the fence if I shall call all places like this "Bucksnort" in future reviews). The man doesn't look too well and seems disoriented, but not disoriented enough not to remember what a bar is for. After making his mind even more unclear, he stumbles out again, this time followed by a rather unfriendly guy who would very much like to make his money his own. The following friendly chat in a nearby backstreet doesn't go like the would-be mugger intended, though. Instead of a richer mugger and a dead or unconscious victim, the local police end up with a mugger who has literally been torn to pieces. The snarling sounds from the alley and the subtle hint of the film's title make clear: yes, the stranger is a werewolf. He is - as will later turn out - one of these poor pathetic werewolves which aren't responsible for their condition and really unwilling monsters at heart. Since it's 1956, he isn't victim of a gypsie curse, magic having been displaced by mad science quite some time ago. Two rather suspect scientists have injected him with a serum that's the base of their plan for survival of the big atomic war that's surely coming. What exactly this has to do with making a werewolf, I'm not at liberty to tell.

Sheriff Haines (Don Megowan, perfectly fit for playing monsters from Black Lagoons, less fit for speaking roles) doesn't need much time to start believing in monsters. After the town doctor (Ken Christy) is visited by the stranger who takes some time out of his busy schedule of growling and being hairy to ask the doc for help, the Sheriff is even reluctantly willing to try and take the poor guy alive, arresting people instead of shooting them a police tactic seemingly unheard of in 1950s America.

It could all end so well, if not for the arrival of the mad scientists who are responsible for the whole mess in town. Both are more than intent on destroying all traces of their misdeeds.

The Werewolf is a surprisingly competent little film, at least when one keeps in mind that it was made by the same people who would go on to be responsible for that classic of High Hilarity we know and love as The Giant Claw. I'd even go as far as calling the film "classy", up to the point when we first meet the mad scientists, that is. From then on the combination of the usual mad science silliness, werewolf melodrama and "philosophical" discussions gets a little grating, mostly thanks to dialogue that is less clever than it thinks it is and actors whose capabilities aren't high enough to rescue anything.

But it's still not a bad little movie. Fred F. Sears direction has some moments of surprising creativity with a certain amount of cleverly framed shots and even scenes that are quite effective at establishing mood, nothing his other films would prepare one for. The script might not be that good, but it moves along with comparable speed and even has something akin to internal logic.

One could do a lot worse when it comes to 50s monster movies.

 

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Hellsing (2001-2002)

Great Britain, through the God-given wisdom of its unsurpassable queen, has its own way of dealing with the typical troubles that plague every modern state in the form of vampires and other monsters. A secret, para-military religious order, the Hellsing Organization, has been protecting the Glorious British Empire (can I get an "Amen!" here?) for centuries.

The current leader of the organization, Sir Integra Wingates Hellsing (and yes, "Sir" Hellsing is a woman - thanks, delightfully stupid subtitle writer) has quite a bit of trouble with her job. When she's not banging heads with the (mostly evil) vampire hunting arm of the Vatican, the Iscariot Organization, she has to cope with the new-born trouble of a very modern type of vampire created by human hands through the implantation of some sort of living microchips. This type of vampire is rather less subtle and a lot more uncontrollable and worldly ambitious than the classical kind, so there's a lot of rather unpleasant work to do for her and her men.

Fortunately, the Hellsing Organization not only has a copious amount of red shirt footsoldiers, but also employs its own pet vampire. Known only as Alucard (hey, it's better than Dr. Ackula), the insanely powerful creature has his own reasons to serve Hellsing through the 13 episode run of the show, whatever they may be.

Right in the first episode he makes a young, dying police woman with the arch British name of Seras Victoria his vampire servant, probably to have someone carry even larger guns than he himself uses, wear short skirts and be our viewpoint character through most of the mindless carnage that follows.

Ah, Hellsing. A nearly classic example of the beauties of the trashy side of anime. The show might not be "good" in the way most people like to use the word, but it has at least two things going for it. Firstly a very neat visual style, wildly mixing Gothic imagery with an insane tourist's point of view of England and secondly its wonderfully skewed perspective on British culture. Whatever it can get wrong about the UK (I don't think anyone making this show knows that England and the UK are different entities) it does get as wrong as humanly possible. The viewer should be prepared for some entertainingly outrageous interpretations of British patriotism, the Church of England, the position of the Queen and honestly everything the show could possibly get wrong. Special bonus points go out to the Evil Vatican (for some reason not shown molesting children - a missed opportunity) and the fusion of the Big Evil Black Man stereotype with the Evil Albino stereotype into one offensive package. The show is full of things like this that would annoy and offend endlessly, if one could bother to take anything here seriously.

Hellsing's plot is mostly an excuse to throw as much silly-cool and stupid into the viewers' faces as possible, sometimes to great effect, just faltering from time to time when the show tries to "say something" or (please no) tries its hand at "characterization". Luckily, the latter does not happen too often.

I should warn everyone who likes his questions answered, though. The final episode of the show takes great pleasure in not answering a single question that might have come up during the show, even the identity of a traitor in the show's interpretation of the British Government isn't explained, instead we're treated to a sudden pop-up text that informs us, that yes, indeed, there was one and now he's dead.

This fits the tone of the rest of the show perfectly - I dare anyone without knowledge of the manga or the OVA to explain the logic of the show's plot to me (or the motivations of its characters).

I can't say I care much, though. I came for bizarro England, blood, bodily transformations and big guns, and by God, these things the show delivers. Amen!

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

In short: Cold Prey 2 (2008)

After surviving her fight against the cold-loving slasher in the first Cold Prey, final girl Jannicke (Ingrid Bolso Berdal) is picked up by a patrolling police man. Looks like the first part didn't take place as far from civilization as we were told, huh, or is it possible that someone scripting this was incredibly lazy?

Be that as it may, Norwegian police is endlessly competent. After they have shipped Jannicke to the next hospital (yeah, the hospital is bound to be closed very soon and run by a small emergency team - how ever did you guess that?), it only takes them a few hours to recover the dead bodies from the last movie - including The Killer, of course. They ship them to the hospital, too, of course.

As it goes with killers in slasher movies, the big hairy one isn't as dead as everyone thinks he is (of course) and soon wakes up to dismember a few more people. What a nice coincidence that there's a professional final girl in the hospital.

Well, I can't say Cold Prey 2 isn't competently made. The film has no technical problems to speak of, the actors are professional enough, there's not even a stray microphone arm in sight. But what use is competence when it's the best there is to say about a film. Everything that could be the base of an entertaining film is completely undermined by an incredible predictability and a derivativeness in search of a fitting superlative (even "more derivative than slashers usually are" comes to mind, but is rejected as making the film sound too original).

There's not a single moment you haven't seen played out in exactly the same way in a dozen other movies, not a single scene that's playing out differently than you'd expect - the film is nearly brilliant in its absolute lack of even a single second of footage that doesn't look like it was taken directly from the outtakes of other films of the sub genre.

I'd also like to mention how gloriously wrongheaded the final confrontation is. Not a single reason comes to mind why it should take place at all, no, sorry, let's make that "not a single good reason" - Cold Prey 2 would be just too short for a feature film without it.

I'd really like to recommend this to anyone, but friends of the slasher movie will have seen all parts of the film already - before those parts were senselessly stitched together to form this Frankensteinian abomination - and people new to the subgenre should probably start out with something that's actually any good, or at least vaguely entertaining.

 

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Monday, March 9, 2009

Music Monday: We love Scottish Pop edition

Now this is just glorious

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Sunday, March 8, 2009

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Saturday, March 7, 2009

In short: Phantom Lady (1944)

After an argument with his wife, engineer Scott Henderson (Alan Curtis) meets a mysterious woman (Fay Helm) in a bar and spends the rest of the evening with her. She seems to be just as hurt by something as he is, so he is willing to accept her refusal to tell him her name. When he arrives back home, a few cops and a strangled wife are waiting for him. The lead investigator, an Inspector Burgess (Thomas Gomez), seems quite convinced that Henderson is the killer. The engineer's alibi isn't as good as one would expect - anyone who has seen him together with the woman now denies ever having laid eyes on her, and that's enough to convince this film's justice system to sentence a man to death.

Only Henderson's assistant Carol (Ella Raines) believes in his innocence. The young woman is going to do just about everything (including flirting with Elisha Cook, jr.!) to help the man she secretly loves. Unfortunately, the real killer has no qualms about silencing a few people more if necessary.

Phantom Lady by Robert Siodmak is a very fine adaptation of a Cornel Woolrich novel. It's quite a bit friendlier than its source, but it is still a very fine and quite dark work that would recommend itself alone through its use of female characters as something a little different from the usual noir femme fatales. Carol is somewhat frightening in her perseverance - sure, she does everything she does for a good reason, but people are still dying around her, a fact she's obviously willing to accept.

 

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Friday, March 6, 2009

Night of the Skull (1976)

"Louisiana" (Louisiana, Spain, I suppose) around the turn of the 19th Century into the 20th. A man in a skull latex mask murders Lord Archibald Marian (Antonio Mayans) in a rather cruel fashion.

Police Inspector Bore (Vicente Roca) is confronted with more suspects than anyone could reasonably cope with. There's the Lord's extra-marital daughter Rita (Lina Romay), living in his house as a punching bag for her father and his wife (Evelyne Scott), the rather mad servant Rufus (Luis Barboo) and so on and so on.

At the reading of the man's will it turns out Marian must have had some inkling of his coming death. At least there's no good reason anyone could think of why he should have made two testaments - one in case of a natural death and a different one in case he is murdered. The latter makes Rita his sole heir. This rather happy endy proposition is cut short by Bore, who'll have to check some things first before he lets the business proceed. To nobody's surprise, the murders continue, and the help of Scotland Yard's best man Major Brooks (Alberto Dalbes), the appearance of another, older testament with completely different contents (and no, I don't see why that should matter, but in the world of this film, it does), and the arrival of even more suspects/potential heirs/potential murder victims for the reading of the older/new/whatever will do nothing to make matters less complicated. Bore also beautifully follows the tradition of the Old Dark House school of mystery in his insistence of putting everyone together in the same place, so they are easier to find for the killer, um, because it's safer.

I have made my love for the lifework of Jess Franco clear enough in earlier write-ups, I think, but even I (someone who adores Oasis of the Zombies) can't bring myself to recommend Night of the Skull. The film's main problem is its genre, or rather the fact that the mystery genre is less than ideal for Franco's directorial strengths and deadly for its weaknesses. Even an Old Dark House Mystery needs a certain amount of internal logic; people just getting information without any explanation of where it comes from, or when and how it was acquired, as happens here repeatedly is to be avoided at all costs. There is also the problem of tension - Franco is always at his best when he can play loose with plot, action etc, while a mystery like this needs a certain amount of tightness and a sort of tension Franco is not used to provide.

The film is not all bad, though. It looks at times delightful. It also has some moments of typical Franco hypnotism and it is always a pleasure to watch an ensemble of favorite Franco actors doing their thing. The problem is just that Franco is never at his best when he is trying to be conventional. (And, I have to ask, what's with the lack of nightclub sequences and sleaze?)

Oh, this is also the only film I know of that is based on "Edgar Allen Poe's The Cat And The Canary", probably the best book never written.

 

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Thursday, March 5, 2009

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Brides Wore Blood (1972)

A young member of the Spanish or Mexican (the film's never clear about it; everybody is very American here) family of the de Lorcas finds a journal hidden by his grand uncle. Not that the young man himself is going to be of import - the film consists of a long flashback sequence into the tale the journal tells, and will in fact never return to the young guy. That's probably for the better, because the end of the film makes his existence rather illogical anyway.

The true story goes something like this: Since the time when an ancestor once botched some occult experiments, the de Lorcas are cursed. Every male descendent of the line will some day transform into a vampire, killing his wife after the birth of a son.

Grand uncle doesn't want his nephew to transform, though, so he conspires with a clairvoyant only known as Madame von Kirst (and damn, she doesn't even have a nice tarot set - she's using standard playing cards instead) to lift the curse.

How do they go about it? Inviting four young women to the family home, using one of them as an "altar"/source of blood for a transfusion (I suppose) and drugging another one for impregnation, of course! Unfortunately the dear nephew is already vamping out, and so the uncle's plans don't go too well. I'm not sure why uncle and nephew are at odds anyway - they both are into kidnapping and impregnating women, but hey, what do I know.

What follows is a sequence of barely holding together moments of vampirism, possessed mute semi-hunchbacked servants, some moldy guy who lives in the cellar being rude and other inexplicable things.

The Brides Wore Blood has all the hallmarks of a regionally produced (Florida, home of more zoned out filmmakers than should be possible) low budget piece of puzzlement. There's the semi-professional (at best) acting, the technical mediocrity of the filmmaking (and let's be honest, mediocrity is brilliance in this context; sometimes there's even camera movement!) and the classical WTF of the script.

Nonetheless (or probably even because of) those flaws, it's well worth watching. Some of the actors chance on an acting style that hasn't much to do with good acting, but still achieves some interesting effects. Especially the uncle is rather interesting when he starts to explain his outrageous theories in a droning, bored sounding uncle voice most people would reserve for the explanation of taxation laws. (And wouldn't that make a nice horror movie, too?)

The mute, semi-hunchbacked (which means the production couldn't be arsed to provide the poor guy with as little as a cushion to stuff under his shirt, so he's just going very very stooped) is another favorite.

I also highly approve of the film's interpretation of vampires: the main vampire is just a slightly pudgy guy with a ridiculous taste in shirts and seems to have developed the art of hypnotizing people with the pure boredom he exudes (also great: his backrubs seem to lead to pregnancy), while a hench vampire mostly acts like a heavily drugged (and not very talented) mime, something that can't help but make the customary staking quite satisfying).

And, having all this silliness and very little sense in the movie, the film still has some typical 70s horror elements of ruthlessness, a downer ending of course included. Logically, the stupid and the depressed should not work very well together, but I still found myself affected by the later parts of the film (especially the just plain nasty ending) when an honest sense of hopelessness steps out from behind the usual ineptness. This is more than one can hope for from this kind of film.

 

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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The other funny Lovecraftian thing everyone else is posting, too

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Monday, March 2, 2009

Teach the tentacle-controversy!

I'm not the biggest fan of The Onion, but this nearly had me in tears.

ARKHAM, MA—Arguing that students should return to the fundamentals taught in the Pnakotic Manuscripts and the Necronomicon in order to develop the skills they need to be driven to the very edge of sanity, Arkham school board member Charles West continued to advance his pro-madness agenda at the district's monthly meeting Tuesday.

 

via Cheryl Morgan

 

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The WTF strikes again

Shadow Unit, the most excellent fake TV show as a series of stories by some even more excellent SF/F writers goes into its second season.

Go read it here!

 

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Sunday, March 1, 2009

In short: Someone Behind You (2007)

Ga-jin (Jin-Seo Yoon)'s family is a little troubled. For years they have been plagued by an absurdly high rate of violent deaths (although the children of the family were somehow kept out of the loop about this).

On the wedding day of Ga-jin's aunt, her fiancé throws her down a balcony. Auntie, being quite hard-headed, as it seems, survives, but a few hours later, her own sister stabs her to death in front of Ga-jin. The high school girl-played-by-a-woman-in-her-20s is rather traumatized by it and so it's not too surprising when she's plagued by nightmares in which a badly burned dead woman tells her that she's next.

Unfortunately, that's the truth. Suddenly just about everyone who holds even the smallest grudge against our heroine feels the need to literally bash her head in; there might even be a time coming when a girl can't trust her own mother anymore.

Well, the first hour or so of Someone Behind You is rather neat. As long as the film is playing with Ga-Jin's growing sense of paranoia about the people around her (especially those people she trusts the most), it achieves some effective moments of unease. But for some reason, the film (or its director Ki-hwan Oh) isn't satisfied with having one good idea and just running with it, instead it adds a vengeance seeking psychopath whose motivations really could be made a lot clearer to the supernatural curse plot-line, and ends in a surprise double-twist ending that is at once no surprise at all and just plain confusing.

I am usually the last to complain about a lack of exposition, but exposition (or at least some explanations) is exactly what the film's ending needs. As it is, Someone Behind You mostly seems confused about what kind of horror story it actually wants to tell.

It's quite a shame about the solid acting and the excellent beginning, really.

 

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