Sunday, February 28, 2010

Intikam Kadini (1979)

aka Turkish I Spit On Your Grave

A quartet of roaming real estate agents has a car breakdown somewhere in the Turkish countryside. A friendly older gentleman and his daughter Aysel (Zerrin Dogan) agree to help the men out with a place to sleep for the night. That turns out to have been a mistake, because the next morning, the men first rape Aysel, then kill her dad only to merrily go their ways afterwards, I imagine whistling.

Aysel decides against the suicide option to solve what she calls her "state of disgrace". Instead, she vamps up a little - as you do as the protagonist in one of the more exploitative rape revenge films - and seeks out her tormentors one after the other to first seduce (or at least bait them with sex) and then kill them, usually while the needle-dropped soundtrack plays a funky little salsa tune.

Intikam Kadini is one of the relatively few surviving films of the great Turkish sexploitation wave of the late 70s. It seems that most of these films have been systematically censored and destroyed, tragically leaving even less of the films of this sub-genre available now than of the other parts of Turkish popular cinema of its time. Consequently, the version of Intikam Kadini going around is sourced from our old friend, the nearly colourless VHS tape, which itself is sourced from a beat up looking, but at least complete (one surmises) film source.

The lack of actual colours and the dubious state of the print make it a little difficult to say much about the film's look, but I don't think it would be unfair to call it a little bland, with awesome landscapes all around that are unfortunately never used for their full visual impact.

Both lead actress Zerrin Dogan and the film's director Naki Yurter (or Yürter?) were quite big names in their niche of exploitation film, both having taking part in swaths of now lost and destroyed movies. If my sources are correct (and I don't speak Turkish at all, so this might just be stuff someone on the Internet made up to make the films sound more exciting), the director did even land himself in prison for his part in making these disreputable movies. It's a sad state of affairs in any case, even if only the films have been destroyed. People going to jail for showing a few breasts in their films is downright unthinkable for me, although it of course wouldn't have been the first time for that to happen, nor will it most probably have been the last.

On the less depressing level of the actual film at hand, Dogan shows all the talents needed for her role here. She looks nice in a bikini, doesn't have a problem with getting naked or pretending to be enthusiastic in her sex scenes, but is also more than decent when presented with the necessity of doing some dramatic acting. To my relief, she also isn't one of those actresses who play a rape like any other sex scene, so that core moment of Intikam Kadini is just as unpleasant as it should be.

Dogan's cold and angry stare isn't on the level of Meiko Kaji in the Sasori films, and her body language not on that of Christina Lindberg in They Call Her One Eye, but her performance gives some of the sleaze around her a bit more dignity than it necessarily deserves.

I'm less enamoured of Yurter's direction. It is less rough and hectic - more professional -  than I'm used to from the other Turkish exploitation films, but it lacks the pulpy drive or the plain madness that seems to be typical of its peers. Intikam Kadini just isn't all that exciting to watch, which is a problem for a film that just can't deliver on set pieces or eye candy or depth of script as films made in different circumstances could, and has to live either on intensity or mood.

So, while the film is a competent piece of exploitation, competence is not necessarily a thing I (and I'm afraid most people deep enough in the claws of cult cinema to watch a rape revenge flick) am looking for in my exploitation fare.

Historically, Intikam Kadini is of course as important as it gets, granting us a visit to one of the truly lost corners of world cinema.


From Twitter 02-27-2010

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Saturday, February 27, 2010

In short: Kadaicha (1988)

aka Stones of Death

Believe it or not, but committing genocide on your indigenous population and then building houses on its sacred burial grounds is not a tactically well considered decision. Take the Australian community in Kadaicha as an example.

Some dead Aboriginal Australians a frightfully angry about past sins of the ancestors of people now living merrily on their graves, and do the logical thing - send bad dreams to the local teenage population, gift the teenagers with death-announcing crystals, and kill them off through super killer animals.

Teenage girl Gail (Zoe Carides) doesn't like that her friends are offed by eels and spiders who jump into their eyes, so she does some rigorous research and tries to make amends with the only Aboriginal she has ever met. Will the excitement never stop?

Going by the plot synopsis, you'd hope Kadaicha to feel a little less generic than it actually does. You could change the word "Aboriginal" in the script with "Native American", use slightly different animal species and take actors without Australian accents, replace the didgeridoo on the soundtrack with a banjo and you'd have a typical piece of US teen horror. It is a bit depressing to see how little the film is interested in milking the local and the specific for mood and instead insists on being as been there, done that as humanly possible.

I wouldn't complain if Kadaicha would at least be an entertaining generic teen horror film, but the script is just too slow and uninvolving, the acting too bland and James Bogle's direction too flavourless to leave me with any kind words for it.

I have a difficult time explaining why this film was made at all. It doesn't dare to be exploitative in any worthwhile manner, it's not fun enough to be taken seriously as teen horror, and it sure as hell doesn't have anything to say.


From Twitter 02-26-2010

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Friday, February 26, 2010

On WTF: The Real Pocong (2009)

As is customary, I randomly stumble on an Indonesian horror film nobody in the West seems to care about and ramble excitedly about it in my weekly stint on

The Real Pocong is quite the film, giving a classic Indonesian ghost the Fairy Tale treatment, as I'll explain in my write-up.


From Twitter 02-25-2010

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

In short: Tokyo Mafia 2 - Wrath of the Yakuza (1995)

When last we left our upstart non-yakuza hero Ginya Yabuki (Riki Takeuchi), he was forced to declare open war on the yakuza families making up the Teitokai.

Besides fire-bombing their offices, he decides that it's best to just let the yakuza's bosses be killed by professional killers he borrows from his triad friends. This plan works out rather nicely for him. Although there are some setbacks like a kidnapped girlfriend that leads to Ginya having to make use of his own paid police inspector, there seems to be no problem our hero cannot solve with a smirk and a phone call.

In the end, most of what has happened in this film and the film before turns out to have been orchestrated by the triads to drive all Japanese gangsters out of Kabukicho. And oh noes! They even have an agent among Yabuki's people.

In the end, Yabuki and his old friend Sho Saimon will join forces to punish the wicked by shouting excessively. And a bit of shooting too.

Since the first Tokyo Mafia film was all set-up for the inevitable yakuza war, I had hopes that its sequel would turn up the action and the madness a little. Alas, Wrath of the Yakuza is even more sedate than its prequel, without even the handful of awesomely stupid elements the earlier film had going for it.

Case in point is the whole "war" business. We are told that there are fire-bombings but don't even get to see the little footage the last film showed. The same goes for large parts of the assassinations or basically everything that could be entertaining to watch.

Instead there's lots and lots of talking and shouting by grim-faced men in mostly brownish and grey sets, which wouldn't be much of a problem if the characterization or the gangster politics were actually interesting or as complex as the film pretends they are. Too bad that they aren't.

It doesn't help the film that the racist claptrap about the evil Chinese and the heroic Japanese just doesn't work when we talk about people we never get to see doing a single decent thing, or that the eeeevil Chinese domination plans are all based on the yakuza being idiots who will fall for anything.

Not even Riki looks all that enthusiastic. Before the slightly entertaining finale, he's not even really chewing the scenery but limits himself to a bored looking smirk. It's a fitting look for the non-action going on around him, but probably not the facial expression someone whose girlfriend has just been snatched by his enemies should wear.

Certainly, the third Tokyo Mafia film will be better.


From Twitter 02-24-2010

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Soft For Digging (2001)

Virgil Manoven (Edmond Mercier), a lonely old man, lives in a hut in the woods, a cat his only company.

One morning when Virgil goes out to fetch his newspaper from the side of the road, the cat takes off into the woods. So Virgil goes after her, dressed only in his white underwear and red bathing robe. Instead of finding the cat, he stumbles upon the sight of a young man (Andrew Hewitt) strangling a child (Sarah Ingerson) to death. Panicked, Virgil flees from the place of the murder. The killer doesn't seem to follow him, but when Virgil calls the police, the ensuing search doesn't bring up any physical trace of anything having truly happened.

A few days later, when Virgil is again stumbling through the woods in his bathing robe in search of his still lost cat, he finds the little girl's grave. However, unlike most corpses, this one moves. That alone would probably be enough to cause a grown man to run, but then the girl's ghost appears, asks Virgil for help and tries to climb on his back. That really is too much for the old man, so he flees home and calls the police again.

Yet again, when the cops dig at the place Virgil leads them to, they find nothing. Obviously, they now have him pinned as a senile old crank. It wouldn't help his case if Virgil told them the truth about the ghost, or the fact that Claire, as the dead little girl is called, now talks to him through his dreams. If Virgil wants to help the ghost find peace, he'll have to do it himself, something not easy for someone who doesn't venture outside of his cave and the surrounding area anymore.

In the end, the dreams and chance lead Virgil to the truth and in terrible danger.

Soft for Digging is exactly the sort of movie that will stick in a lot of people's craw like a bone, but that is quite good if the viewer just accepts the way it goes about telling its story.

It is a very slow film (as is Virgil's life), in which nothing much happens (as in Virgil's life), and when something does happen, it is not always completely clear what it means (as is the case with Virgil's life). As should be clear by now, director J.T. Petty (who would go on to make the wonderful The Burrowers) uses everything in the powers of his meagre budget and his considerable talent to put the viewer into the shoes of his protagonist. Everything in the film seems to be designed to achieve this goal - Virgil never speaks to anyone, so we hear next to no human voice, only the sounds of the woods, Virgil never goes outside of his comfort zone, so we don't go outside of it either. Of course, there's still a difference between the audience and the protagonist in that the typical viewer will be more conscious of the barrenness of Virgil's life and of the absurdity of someone treating a patch of woods as his front-yard.

A crueller film would probably make Virgil a figure of ridicule. Soft for Digging isn't above showing the funny side of the sad state of Virgil's life (and Mercier's performance makes it clear that his character does see that side too from time to time), but it is not satisfied with treating a sad and lonely old man as someone to gawk at. While the film (or rather the world it takes place in) is cruel to him in different ways, it is designed to let the viewer feel the character's pain. There's a terrible irony in the way Virgil's final, quite heroic for a shut-in like him, acts in the film, his venture outside of the secure shell that is his lonely life, might not be ending his existence completely, but will only make the rest of his days more unhappy. It is not necessarily a nice thought, but something that more often than not happens to people as closed off from other people as Virgil here is. It could all just be an exercise in cynicism, but as it is in the short stories of Ambrose Bierce, whose style of chapter titles seems to have influenced the intertitles Petty uses, it's the cynicism of someone with too big a sense of empathy for his own comfort.

Apart from Bierce, Petty's debut reminds me of the individuality of the left-field filmmaking I always go on about excitedly, or the classic punk rock ethos. There's something uncompromising about Soft for Digging, a quality you need if you make a film people will feel uncomfortable with, be it because of its themes (old people, murdered little girls) or because you dare to be slow and possibly boring.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

In short: Rovdyr (2008)

aka Manhunt

It's 1974. The siblings Mia (Nini Bull Robsahm) and Jorgen (Jorn-Bjorn Fuller-Gee) are going camping in the deep dark Norwegian woods with Mia's best friend Camilla (Henriette Bruusgaard) and Camilla's boyfriend Roger (Lasse Valdal).

It's going to be their last real get-together for a long time because Camilla will be studying abroad for a year. Looking at how tense and passive-aggressive Roger acts around her, that will probably be for the better for her.

Or rather, would be better for her if their trip wouldn't end in blood and guts. At the last rest stop before their planned camping side, the friends pick up a girl who seems terribly frightened of three men with hunting gear driving around in a jeep.

After one of the less clever script ideas to get a group of protagonists out of their car and into danger (yes, let's throw away our car keys!), the hunters ambush the friends, killing some of them and leaving the three survivors tied up somewhere in the woods. They're not tied up too good, of course, or they wouldn't be able to free themselves to provide an interesting hunting experience for their captors.

Camilla, the least obvious candidate, will turn out to be quite a survivor.

I'm really of two minds about Rovdyr. On one hand, the film's director Patrik Syversen manages to create a film with a unified aesthetic on very little money. The woods, the muted colour palette, the excellent yet never gratuitous gore effects and the subtly clever sound design unite to a direct homage to the mood and feel of a 70s piece of grindhouse survival horror. If you add the solid acting and the (mostly) tight and tense script, you have a film that's as technically excellent as you could wish for.

On the other hand, it is also a very empty experience. It's one thing to make a homage to the style and feel of 70s horror, but quite another to keep as slavishly to that formula as if you'd believe it still were 1974.

What Rovdyr misses for me is a reason to care for it beyond its considerable technical achievements. Everything here happens exactly as you would expect it to happen in a film written in 1974. The film never deviates from its sources for a second, even the semi-downer ending is there and accounted for exactly as expected. The big difference between this film and its models is that Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Last House on Dead End Street had something to say about the state of the world they were made in or the state of mind of the people who made them. Rovdyr seems to lack this kind of resonance completely and has nothing else to replace it.

This is by no means meant to bash Syversen's work. Technical perfection is hard enough to achieve on its own, and if a director's first feature film has a surface this well done, I expect something truly exciting from his next one. After all, the director is already much farther along on the road to making a good film than most people working on this (non-)level of budget.


From Twitter 02-22-2010

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Music Monday: Cross Bones Edition

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From Twitter 02-21-2010

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Tokyo Mafia 1 - Yakuza Wars (1995)

Three years ago, Ginya Yabuki (Riki Takeuchi) had a falling out with Isagami (the inevitable Ren Osugi), the number two of the yakuza group he was a member in. Being roughed up by your superior for no good reason is one thing for someone like Yabuki, but then being mistreated with an ashtray obviously quite another, so his natural reaction (besides mugging, grunting and eye-bulging, of course) was to shoot Isagami in the leg, crippling the man forever.

As an honourable man, Yabuki followed his act at once with biting off his own little finger to atone and went into exile in Hong Kong.

Three years later, the former yakuza returns to Kabuki Cho with his own gang, the Tokyo Mafia. While small in numbers, Yabuki's contacts with the triads and the decentralisation of his organization give him a leg up when doing business in a part of Tokyo that is fought over by groups who are theoretically united under the banner of the Teitokai and two triad gangs.

The Tokyo Mafia isn't interested in the usual drugs, gambling and prostitution affairs of their peers anyway. Instead, the group makes its money by smuggling whale meat and committing high tech crimes.

Thanks to the diplomatic help of Yabuki's former yakuza brother Sho Saimon (Masayuki Imai) and quite a bit of money, the gangster manages to buy himself a peaceful working environment - for a time at least.

Alas, Isagami still hates his guts and some of the yakuza don't understand why they should let Yabuki have any business at all, if they could just take it away from him. It only needs one hasty attack on the life of the Teitokai leader by one of Yabuki's underlings to turn the situation into an all out war our hero neither wants nor thinks he can win.

Seiichi Shirai's Tokyo Mafia is probably more typical of the dozens of V Cinema (that's Japanese for direct to DVD movies) films adorable over-actor Riki Takeuchi starred in than those we usually get to see outside of Japan.

This is a case of a classical piece of middle-of-the-road exploitation filmmaking. It's cheap, it's confusing and it's very far from what many people understand under "art". Most of the film consists of grim men talking gangster politics which are look more complicated than they actually are, a bit of intense manlove thrown in for good measure, and a few bouts of ridiculous violence very much in love with hacking off innocent body parts.

Neither the plot nor the characterisation is all that interesting, but it's impossible to be too hard on a film that contains the utterly awesome/ridiculous scene in which an insanely mugging, grunting and screaming Riki Takeuchi bites off his own finger, like Elvis on a really bad day. It is one of the few moments where the film really dares to let loose, but it's enough for me to make it worth my time. There's also a conceptually very fun moment where Riki and two of his gang members - dressed for no good reason in army fatigues - "visit" a yakuza boss via helicopter for a nice little chat, commando style. It is as gleefully silly a scene as one could wish for, and probably just came to pass because someone in the production department managed to get a helicopter for an hour or two. One of the iron rules of exploitation cinema has always been and will always be that you shall not let a good helicopter go to waste.

I'm also quite partial to the whale meat smuggling idea that really drives the utter amorality of even our supposed hero in the film home. Still, it's not too difficult to root for Yabuki and his gang of international crooks, since he and his guy and girls are among the few people with a sense of personal loyalty - and therefore humanity - in the film. And, you know, Riki Takeuchi is turning on the intensity even in a film as routine as this one.

It's just too bad that Shirai's direction is a little on the conservative side, especially compared to the visuals someone like Takashi Miike or even "just" someone like Atsushi Muroga produce on an equally small budget. On the plus side, Shirai isn't actively undermining his own film.

I should also add that this is truly the first part of a serial and just stops right in the middle of what little plot it has. Since all four parts of Tokyo Mafia are sold together, that shouldn't be much of a problem, though.

If the sequel has more moments of insanity, I'll be perfectly happy.


From Twitter 02-20-2010

  • The Nebula nominations this year are particularly good. I think the most interesting they have been for years. I'm especially happy about
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Saturday, February 20, 2010

In short: Deathstalker (1983)

A slack-jawed swordsman with the not exactly confidence inspiring name of Deathstalker (Rick Hill) sets out to acquire two magical items from his fantasy land's evil magician king Munkar (Bernard Erhard) to get a full set of three together with his magical sword.

On his way to Munkar's castle, he meets some dude who will later betray him and the warrior woman Kaira (Lana Clarkson), a pioneer in not covering her breasts while fighting.

But Munkar has a plan. No, he's not going to make a full set of clothing mandatory for his subjects, he opens up a tournament. Publicly, he plans on making the winner his heir, but secretly, it's all a fiendish trap to kill all able warriors who could be even the slightest bit dangerous to him. I'm sure an evil overlord does not have any need for warriors in his army, ever.

On his way to the final confrontation with Munkar, Deathstalker will have to contend with a minor brawl, some lackluster fighting, an equally lackluster betrayal, and one of the magician's men being transformed into the form of Princess Codille (Barbi Benton), which puts quite a dent into Deathstalker's rape plans for him/her.

I think the short Sword & Sorcery boom brought us more crappy, painful films than any other boom in exploitation filmmaking. While films like Ator are at least entertaining through wilful stupidity, Deathstalker is mostly boring.

Director James Sbardellati seems to know only one way to keep his audience awake, and that is by flashing breasts at it. Usually, I wouldn't call nudity a problem in film, but breasts alone can't safe a film that has nothing else going for it.

The acting is execrable, not even the evil magician manages to be any fun, and Rick Hill is about as charismatic as a wall.

It doesn't help the film that there is no visible effort made to show anything interesting beside the naked actresses and a guy with the head of a pig, or that not much of interest is happening in it.

Pig headed dude and the very silly gender transformation scene are the only memorable elements on display, but the latter is also marred by Deathstalker's extremely irritating love for rape. I counted half a dozen attempted rapes in the film, not one of them needed for reasons of plot, character or theme, because those three things don't exist in the film's script. The final rape attempt is even committed by what is supposed to be the film's hero and only stays an attempted rape because the victim turns out not to have a vagina, for Cthulhu's sake!

The only difficulty Deathstalker leaves me with is to praise how artfully it manages to be boring and offensive at the same time, so I won't.


From Twitter 02-19-2010

  • New blog post: From Twitter 02-18-2010: New blog post: From Twitter 02-17-2010: Things I don't really get: discuss...
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Friday, February 19, 2010

On WTF: Sheitan (2006)

While most of France's horror output seems to be intent on exploring the torture porn genre until there's no baby left peacefully in its mother's womb, Sheitan goes in a different direction.

Which direction that may be I'll explain on


From Twitter 02-18-2010

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

In short: Madman (1982)

It's the last evening of a summer camp for gifted children and teenagers. The camp counselors and their wards are sitting around a fire telling ghost stories. Camp owner Max (Carl Fredericks) has an especially riveting tale that concerns a man who supposedly once lived in a now empty house nearby in the woods with his family. One night that man, known as Madman Marz, chopped his family up with an axe only to be in turn lynched by the local townsfolk (wielding torches and pitchforks I hope). Of course, Marz's body and the bodies of his family disappeared and of course he is said to roam the woods chopping up whomever he hears calling his name.

Of course, camp counselor idiot T.P. (it says so on his belt buckle, too; played by Tony Fish) can't help himself and shouts for Marz.

That very same night, a large, slightly deformed looking shadow sneaks around the camp, looking for an opportunity to do some axeing and some roping. The dead man's job is made easier when one of the teenagers disappears and some of the counselors go looking for the kid, of course alone or at best in pairs, and fall victim to chopping and strangling, until only our designated final girl of the evening, Betsy (Gaylen Ross, as known from Dawn of the Dead), remains.

I approach films jumping at me out of the cupboard labeled "slasher boom inventory" with a certain amount of trepidation. All too often, this stuff turns out to be nigh unwatchable, every film structured much too similarly to the next to keep my attention and usually filmed without much sense for mood or basic logic.

Madman is a bit better than most of its sub-genre contemporaries. It is still a highly derivative film nearly completely lacking in ideas of its own, but it is at least nice to look at. The cinematography by James Lemmo (who also worked with the young Abel Ferrara) is at times nicely moody, bathing the woods and Marz's house in a spooky blueish light and building up a feeling of claustrophobia.

I'm not as convinced by one-time director Joe Giannone's work. While there are a few tense scenes that make good use of Lemmo's visual talents, there's also a lot of dullness to go around.

The film provides a bit of cheesiness in form of a very funny (while totally earnest) sex scene and a truly perfect theme song, "The Ballad of Madman Marz", as played by a hair metal singer and his synthesizer.

All in all, I have seen worse examples of the slasher boom.


From Twitter 02-17-2010

  • Things I don't really get: discussions if Mass Effect 2 "is still an RPG" or not. Why is that important?
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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Blood (1998)

(This is the Japanese one with Riki Takeuchi, and not one of the bazillion other films with the same title.)

The professional killer Kizaki (Riki Takeuchi) tries to assassinate his former boss, the triad leader Ri (Sho Aikawa), which only seems fair to me, since we later learn that Ri first tried to have Kizaki killed for no reason we will ever be made privy of. Kizaki fails and is caught by Ri's men, tortured a little and then driven off into the woods to be disposed of.

Killing his two would-be executioners, the killer escapes nearly fatally wounded yet manages to get to a hospital. As luck will have it, his doctor there is Kamiyama (Noboru Takachi), a highschool friend of his from the time when was still called Takuya. Both men haven't seen each other in more than a decade. The last time they saw each other was in their late teens, when enemies of Kizaki were trying to rape his then girlfriend Yuki to get at him. The boys took to defending the girl but went a bit further than self defense by killing at least one of the attackers. Kizaki took the fall for both of them, and Kamiyama let him.

Now, Dr. Kamamiya is married to Yuki (now played by Mai Oikawa), who is pregnant. The doctor is still caught in feelings of guilt over what happened. Those feelings are strong enough for him to risk a lot to protect his old friend from the interest of the police and even help in Kazuki's escape when Ri's men attack the killer (through an old lady who is a professional killer like Kazuki, no less) in the hospital.

When Kizaki realizes that the physician is now married to Yuki, he urges Kamiyama to keep away from him in the future to protect the woman he obviously still loves.

Kamiyama, driven by a mixture of self-hatred and bitterness, agrees, but keeping out of Kizaki's trouble is more difficult for him than anyone could have imagined. Two mean jokes of destiny have provided further connections between the two men.

Firstly, the police officer investigating the case is the same one who was responsible for the rape revenge case years ago and is bound to realize what is going on betwenn Kizaki and Kamiyama sooner or later.

Secondly, Kamiyama is also treating Kizaki's enemy Ri for an inoperable and lethal cancer, and when the gangster boss learns of the men's connection, he does the obvious gangster boss thing and kidnaps Yuki to convince the physician to kill his old friend.

Of course, these problems can only be solved in a blood bath.

Before watching Blood, I only knew its director Kosuke Suzuki from his rather extreme sexploitation films in the Stop the Bitch Campaign series, so I didn't expect his earlier Yakuza film to be less interested in bodily fluids and much more in classical notions of tragedy.

Usually, I would complain about the heavy weight Blood's scripts lays on fateful coincidences, but if you read the film as a tragedy (like many yakuza films are between the shouting and the shooting), those really aren't coincidences but fate's way to fulfill a destiny a long time in the making for all of the characters, from Kizaki to the cop.

I think Suzuki manages to keep his film's tone earnest enough to make this reading as a tragedy instead of a melodrama tenable. There is something deliberate and consciously slow about many of the film's scenes. Blood is very - not as atypical for a film made for the V cinema market as one would think - focused on the feelings of its characters, or rather the part of their feelings that is readable in their eyes and in their posture. These aren't people really used to giving voice to their feelings, and when they do, their death can't be far away.

There is of course room for the genre-necessary violence, but much of the action is wilfully occluded through Suzuki's often elegant choice of camera set-ups.

When in doubt, Suzuki prefers Riki's angry "I EAT THE CAMERA!" face to spurting blood. In Blood's case, this technique doesn't have the unpleasant whiff of a film too cheap to have any action or a director too amateurish to show it, but works as a hint that the film's main action takes place not through gun play but in the lost places hidden in its characters' heads.

Instead of expositing the characters' inner lifes directly, Suzuki chooses to let the viewer fill in most of the blanks herself, a good method to infuriate everyone in dire need of having everything spelt out, and endear a film to people with an overactive imagination like me.

All this doesn't mean that Blood is a very subtle film. As you know, Jim, Riki Takeuchi is one of the great scenery-chewing, shouting and scowling actors that grace cinema and just doesn't do subtle like normal people understand it. Riki isn't so much acting as pushing a persona made of hair, rage and an underlying odour of being lost through the screen right into one's living room. Good thing that he's usually not playing the sensitive poet type but violent, angry and lost people like Kizaki. And he's as good at it as I can imagine. Noboru Takachi nicely manages to hold his own beside Riki without getting into a shouting competition, staying believable as someone driven by an unhealthy mixture of self-hatred, unspoken rage and the feeling to live someone else's life.


From Twitter 02-16-2010

  • New blog post: In short: Wheels of Fire (1985): A man called Trace (Gary Watkins) drives through the post-apocalyp...
  • The very wonderful RPG "The Spirit Engine 2" has gone freeware.
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  • RT @pnh: SFWAns: Insane Rachel Swirsky's astonishing "Eros, Philia, Agape" is not quite making the final Nebula ballot.
  • Any day that features the viewing of a film in which Riki Takeuchi bites off his own finger is a good day.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

In short: Wheels of Fire (1985)

A man called Trace (Gary Watkins) drives through the post-apocalyptic wasteland stalking his sister Arlie (Lynda Wiesmeier) and disapproves of her choice of boyfriends.

One day full of car crashes and random violence, the siblings are seperated. Without Trace knowing, Arlie is caught by the men of the evil post-apocalyptic warlord Scourge (Joe Mari Avellana), who will proceed to make her a naked car ornament, rape her, hit her and rape her again for the rest of the movie.

When they are not mistreating women, Scourge's men attack convoys of a group trying to establish a new order. Those guys are known under the unpleasant sounding name of The Ownership, and their love of order is the antithesis to Scourge's lifestyle, so the gangleader is trying to provoke them into a fight he knows he won't be able to win. No, I don't get it either.

While all this is going on, Trace drives randomly around, teams up with bounty hunter Stinger (Laura Banks) and her trained falcon and the mind-reading Spike (Linda Grovenor), fights Morlocks, roasts some cannibals and cynically leaves some people who are trying to build a rocketship. Neither he nor we know anything about them, so don't ask me why that's supposed to be a big thing.

When Trace finally realizes that Scourge has Arlie in his hands, he does the usual one-man hero bit.

Even compared with the Italian films which make up large parts of the genre, Wheels of Fire is an at times nasty piece of work. There's a bit too much care and love going into the depiction of Lynda's ordeal for comfort. I'm quite sure that it's all just meant as an excuse to show us some breasts, yet I can't help but feel that this goal could have been achieved in a less unhealthy way or with less enthusiasm for the girl's humiliation. Although I am talking about a film that thinks it prudent for its supposed hero to repeatedly use a flamethrower and shoot fleeing people in the back for no good reason, so it is probably a lost cause in any case.

It would be easier to overlook Wheels of Fire's dubious ethics if there were much else noteworthy about it, but the film doesn't seem all that interested in being interesting.

Director Cirio H. Santiago was of course an old hand (as producer as well as director) in the exploitation business, but he usually wasn't the most energetic of directors. His handling of the non-script stays flavorless and as meandering as the non-plot. It's done clean enough for a point-and-shoot film, it is just never stylish or charming or as full of pure dumb excitement as many other films of its sub-genre are.

The action is relatively solid in its cheap way, but again neither mad nor silly enough to keep the jaded viewer too interested.

There are a handful of moments which reach the proper height of dumb fun I want from my silly Mad Max variants - the Morlock sequence with its chittering blueskins is stupid enough to be charming, and the final battle is at least enthusiastic.

I can't wholeheartedly recommend Wheels of Fire to anyone but the hardened cult movie veteran (you know who you are), yet I have to admit that I stayed vaguely entertained by the comfy rhythms and genre tropes the film rather mindlessly repeats between its ethical failures, even if neither my heart nor my mind were exactly convinced by them. In other words: I have seen worse.


From Twitter 02-15-2010

  • "Last Life in the Universe" is a pretty brilliant film. That is all.
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Monday, February 15, 2010

Music Monday: Terrible Love Song Edition

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From Twitter 02-14-2010

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  • So, that was Mass Effect 2. Excellent game. Lost Jack., though, which makes me a little sad. But playing the whole endgame again would feel
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  • It's difficult not to like a film in which a character tells someone played by Riki Takeuchi that he's seen too many yakuza movies.

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Moon (2009)

There will be spoilers (although I'll be as unspecific as I can get away with).

Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is on the last three weeks of his working stint servicing the automatic helium harvesters of a private company (and this in a film made before Obama gutted NASA) on the dark side of the moon. It is obvious that Sam needs the return to Earth badly. Live communication feeds between his base and home have been out of service for ages, with pre-recorded messages which are relayed via Jupiter his only contact with his bosses and his wife (Dominique McElligott).

The only thing alleviating Sam's loneliness is his "Robotic Assistant" GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey), an AI who displays its emotional reactions mostly through smiley faces and wouldn't fulfil most people's emotional needs.

As a reaction to this isolation (and probably the boredom of his work), Sam has taken on a classic mad hermit persona, with all the rambling to himself and lack of hygiene that implies. The astronaut has also started to hallucinate, seeing the shape of a girl where there can't be one.

Distracted by one of these visions, Sam crashes his vehicle into a harvester and loses consciousness.

He awakes in his station's infirmary, not being able to remember what exactly happened to him (or how he got there). Sam soon realizes that something is not right. GERTY seems to be having secrets, possibly even a live connection to mission control, and Sam's not supposed to go outside until a rescue team arrives. It's as if there is something out there nobody wants him to see.

With a bit of creative sabotage, Sam manages to get outside and to the site of his accident. In his vehicle, he finds an unconscious, wounded man. A man who looks exactly like himself...

One of the more annoying aspects of the majority of SF in the movies in the decades after Lucas' Star Wars is the implicit insistence of too many of them that "SF" means "space opera" and nothing else. Of course, I like exciting adventures in outer space as much as the next guy (see my momentary slight obsession with Bioware's new Mass Effect game), but I find the way movies reduce a very rich genre to a single one of its sub-genres rather depressing. Add to this that movie space opera is usually ignoring the inspiration it could get from the more thoughtful - and frankly more interesting - literary space operas by people like Iain (M.) Banks and you have a recipe for the endless repetition of the same three or four ideas. Sure, movie SF has gotten a little better again in the last few years - mostly through the efforts of directors not from the US - but the success of a film like Avatar doesn't make the outlook for less loud SF any better.

Moon, directed by Brit Duncan Jones, is a perfect antidote to this sad state of the genre on film. It's not that its ideas about typical SF-nal elements like cloning or AI are revolutionary or new to someone even halfway familiar with written SF and its tropes, yet they are seldom treated with this much respect or concentration on the movie screen.

Jones is very good at playing with his audience's expectations, with the way movie conventions just let us assume certain points of view to be correct without asking any questions about them or looking at what's going on below our feet. In a way, we start watching the film the same way as Sam sees his life, taking what we are told to be the truth. At a certain point of the film, the viewer's interpretation of what is going on and Sam's will start to drift away a little. Most viewers will certainly realize The Awful Troof before our protagonist does, but it is very much to the movie's credit that it doesn't play the moment Sam realizes what the viewer already knows as a moment of revelation for anyone beside the protagonist.

Apart from an exceedingly clever script, Moon has a lot of other factors going for it.

Jones' direction is just fantastic, with nary a scene that isn't in some way important for mood, character, theme, or worldbuilding (the Holy Quartet of SF), but also without the strange feeling of claustrophobia I tend to get in too tightly constructed films. Moon does believe in the importance of incidental details, but as it is with Sam's moon base, there's still no wasted space in the film.

I'm also very fond of the production design. The moon base (and with it Sam's everyday life) feel right in a way you don't get to see too often in SF films. I can imagine this to be a place where a person has to spend years of his life, carefully designed not to let him lose his mind too fast.

Being basically a special sort of one person play (plus robot voice and video messages) with a heavy emphasis on character, Moon could still have been ruined by the wrong lead actor. Fortunately, Sam Rockwell's performance is just about as perfect as they come. Rockwell (at least in this film) has a natural acting style, without the "Warning! I'm acting now!" grandness of gesture Hollywood stars trying to act often fall into. As everything else in the film, Rockwell's performance is just right.


From Twitter 02-13-2010

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  • That's a lot of early Command & Conquer games out for free now. Not what I'd expect of EA.
  • Oh, "Hausu" is finally out for you English speakers. Absolutely not to be missed by any right-thinking person.

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

In short: Hepcat in the Funky Hat - The Case of the 2,000,000 Yen Arm (1961)

aka Vigilante in the Funky Hat: 200,000 Yen Arm

Three Japanese major league baseball teams are fighting to sign the student league star pitcher Kawahara. The young man suddenly disappears. Although his father and his manager pretend nothing is wrong, one of the teams, the delightfully named Nantetsu Kinki Socks, hires Ichiro Tenka (Sonny Chiba) to find out what really is the matter. Ichiro isn't an actual detective, but he is rather good at catching phone calls meant for his father, a big shot Tokyo detective.

At first, Ichiro isn't all that interested in actually cracking the case he took on. He prefers to stalk a young woman (Hitomi Nakahara) he has seen in a cafe and now very much wants to get to know. When he learns that she is a sports reporter working on a story about Kawahara's disappearance, the not-quite-a-boy-anymore detective changes his tune and goes to work on the Kawahara problem. He'll have to punch quite a few people in the nose and to weather more than one ride with the most frightening cab driver of Japan to win "his" girl's heart.

Like the Drifting Detective film I talked about some months ago, Hepcat is an early cooperation between the future inventor of the jitsuroku yakuza film Kinji Fukasaku and one of the most beloved scene chewers on the face of the planet, Sonny Chiba.

Both men are at very early points in their respective careers here, and therefore working on films which are obviously meant to cheaply fill slots in a double or triple feature. As is usually the case with films like this, Hepcat is awfully slight and scripted with a sense of propulsion but not much logic.

There really isn't much to it. The plot is of no interest to anyone, not even the characters, but it is fun to see a young boyish Chiba mug into the camera in a rather disarming fashion, which is all he ever seems to do when he's not punching people in the face in one of the film's enthusiastic action scenes.

Fukasaku already shows some of the flair he'd later bring to his more personal work. Some of the scenes are much more interestingly framed than is strictly necessary, but I'm not sure if I'd realized that if I hadn't been looking out for signs of the future Fukasaku.

What is already obvious here is the nervous energy that seemed to propel all of Fukasaku's films until the beginning of the 80s. This gives the film a nice forward drive that helps make it the fun, fast-paced time it is meant to be.

Hepcat is also a timely reminder that Nikkatsu wasn't the only Japanese studio trying to reach a younger, hipper audience with its productions. This Toei film features obvious Western influences, youthful protagonists, a fine jazz score and makes jokes about traditional Japanese morals.

It seems as if Fukasaku was part of a wave of directors dragging Japanese cinema into pop culture right from the beginning. That is especially fitting for a director who has made his interest in "youth" and the place of young people in his society a central theme for much of his career.


From Twitter 02-12-2010

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  • New blog post: On WTF: Maid-Droid (2009): From time to time, we all have to go back to the well of true Japanese s...
  • Iceland tries to monetize telling the truth. Good luck.
  • Regional locks on digital game delivery are bad enough, but having a game's store page show it as buyable in your region and then the
  • payment page showing it as not buyable is below the pale. 2nd time Direct2Drive pulls this on me in 2 weeks. Makes the last time I use them.
  • TweetDeck v0.33.0 is buggy as all get out. If you still haven't updated, don't.
  • So your character's abilities in Fable 3 will be based on follower number instead of experience points? Hit me, sounds to me as if the game
  • still had an experience based progression system, just under a different name. Well, it's a console game anyway, so why do I care?
  • Dave Sim probably really makes Valentine's Day cards like these.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

On WTF: Maid-Droid (2009)

From time to time, we all have to go back to the well of true Japanese smut.

This one, apart from being smut and of a (debatably) misogynist bend, is also an ambitious piece of SF. I'll try to explain in my review on WTF.


From Twitter 02-11-2010

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  • I wish certain parts of SFF fandom would stop making exceptions for everything bad Harlan Ellison does.
  • This photo series is called "HPL". Do I need to say more?
  • RT @botherer: Let there be no ambiguity. The Daily Mail is proudly, openly, grotesquely racist:

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

In short: Death House (1987)

aka Zombie Death House

Vietnam vet Derek Keillor (Dennis Cole), chauffeur of gangster boss Vic Moretti (Anthony Franciosa), is double-crossed by his boss for sleeping with Moretti's girlfriend, and put on death row for a murder he didn't commit. Even without the electric chair business, Keillor's new home leaves much to be desired.

The prison doctor does viral behaviour modification experiments on volunteers for the pleasure of a Colonel Burgess (John Saxon) of the CIA. The doctor protests when the good Colonel wants to test out a very different virus on them, but of course Burgess gets his will in another way. It's just too bad that this virus is quite contagious and turns its victims into rotting, inhumanly strong psychos. Things in the prison deteriorate fast. Before taking the final step of cleaning his mess up by blowing it to hell, the Colonel sends the ex-CIA scientist turned journalist Tanya Karrington (Tane McClure) in to do, well, I don't have the faintest idea to do what.

While all this is going on, Keillor starts a big prison riot. His plan seems to be to get his enemy Moretti delivered into the prison to do who knows what to achieve some goal I'm not privy too.

Oh boy, there is a good reason why beloved cult movie actor John Saxon directed only one movie. His directorial effort lets Fred Olen Ray and Jim Wynorski look like genius artists, and demonstrates neatly and painfully that having lots of experience before the camera does not necessarily give one any insights into directing a film nor does it make one able to be a better director than a trained monkey.

In its way, Death House is quite an ambitious movie. It tries to mix the genres of the crap 80s action film, the crap 80s horror film and the crap 80s prison film, and I'll admit at once that it is very successful at being crap.

As the plot synopsis should make clear, the story here makes less sense than anything Bruno Mattei ever cooked up, but unlike the Italian masters, Saxon manages to make the pile of nonsense exceedingly boring. Scenes go on and on and on, and what should be the simple set-up of a cliché situation (guy gets set up by mafia boss; bad things happen in prison) is developed as awkwardly and slowly as possible. You could cut about half of the film and still have the same amount of plot, mood and character development.

The less said about Saxon's actual direction the better. Let's just call it drab and seemingly made by someone who does not care his film is going to be inflicted on actual human beings at all.

The editing is even worse. The film jumps randomly from scene to scene and back to the scene before, dialogue is cut off while the actors are still moving their mouths, and so on and so on. Calling it "amateurish" would be an insult to each and every backyard filmmaker who ever scratched money together to make a film.

On the acting side, Saxon and Franciosa are cheesing it up quite enthusiastically, but drown in the blandness and utter boredom the former cooked up in his role behind the camera. I don't want to remember the other actors.

The worst thing about Death House, though, is that it has robbed me of a lot of respect for one of my favourite cult movie actors. It's one thing to make a bad, even a very bad, film but it is quite another to make one so bad that it amounts to giving your audience the finger.


From Twitter 02-10-2010

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  • Roky Erickson and Okkervil River? Now that's an unlikely yet exciting combination.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mutants (2009)

(Not to be confused with Mutants, Mutants or Mutant)

It's the viral fast animalistic zombie apocalypse. Yes, again. Somewhere in the French Alps, emergency doctor Sonia (Helene de Fougerolles), her husband Marco (Francis Renaud) and the somewhat paranoid soldier Perez (Marie-Sohna Conde) are trying to reach the near-mythical military base Noah that is supposedly situated somewhere up there.

The trio is in dire need of supplies, especially fuel for the ambulance they're driving, but stopping at a deserted gas station turns out to be A Very Bad Idea, leading to Perez' death by people less cruel than herself and Marco's infection with the slow-working virus.

Sonia is not willing to give up on Marco, so she takes him with her until she comes to a (much emptier than one would expect) deserted hospital. She decides to hole up there and try to do what she can for Marco while also searching for a way to contact the military base. Sonia is pretty sure the military would go out of their way to help her if she could only inform them of the fact that she is immune against the virus.

The physician hopes the same for Marco, but he slowly starts to change. A transfusion of her blood doesn't have the effect Sonia had hoped for either. Finally, after some time of unpleasant physiological and psychological changes in her husband, she promises to kill him by lethal injection. She changes her mind, though, and only sedates Marco to lock him up in the building's cellar, about five minutes before a very different quartet of survivors arrives.

After some of the usual zombie-apocalyptic happenings, Sonia manages to contact the military base. Of course, the situation in the hospital reaches a climax just twenty minutes before the military is bounf to arrive when the survivors are getting nasty, the not-zombies attack and Marco gets out of his cell.

The last event turns out to be a bit more helpful for our heroine than you'd usually expect, though. Her husband still seems to have some of his former feelings for her.

The zombie apocalypse has now reached France again, and I for one am quite glad it has. While Mutants won't win anyone's heart with the power of originality, it hits the beats of a modern zombie film in the 28 Days Later mold very well while adding a few things all its own.

Mutants has some logical flaws that should be obvious from my synopsis, but I didn't mind them much while watching the movie. That's the sign of a movie paced well enough to not leave the viewer time to analyze it, and really, that's all the logical coherence I need in my zombie apocalypses.

Since everyone regularly exposing herself to my natterings will know how a modern zombie works I see no need to say anymore about the standard stuff in the movie. Instead, let's look at the handful of things Mutants does differently or very well.

I was impressed by director David Morlet's decision to just throw us into a zombie apocalypse that is already ongoing without doing any exposition at all. "It's a zombie apocalypse, these are people, you'll understand the rest", the film seems to say, trusting that the viewer is savvy enough to know the zombie rules, as well as able to understand what's different in this apocalypse when we see it without explaining it outright. This method fits my utter hatred for exposition nicely, but people with less aggressive feelings about the technique should be alright with it too, I think.

After the fast set-up, the most interesting part of the film begins. In its middle, when Sonia and Marco have to cope with Marco's slow mental and bodily decay, the film strains towards an emotional power the zombie films of the last few years often seem to have gone out of their way to avoid. De Fougerolles' and Renaud's performances carry that phase of the movie much more than the writing (which is alright, but not more) or the special effects (which are perfectly servicable) do, with both actors playing it subtly enough to make the often seen cliché of "loved one turns into a zombie" painfully human again.

The slowness of Marco's transformation also adds a larger element of body horror to these scenes than usual in zombie films, at times echoeing Cronenberg's version of The Fly, although never reaching that film's level or grim sense of humor.

Logically, I had my problems with the emptiness of Mutants' locations. There should either be more infected or more dead bodies around, in the hospital in particular, but Morlet uses this emptiness and the emptiness of the snowy landscape to evoke a feeling of cold desolation that is too resonant to give up for mere logic.

Sonia's experiences with the other survivor, the final fight for escape and so an are modern zombie movie standard, done well enough, but they also stray from the film's emotional core that lies in the relationship between Sonia and Marco to show us less interesting things we have already seen before in other movies.

With a bit more originality in the denouement I'd probably call Mutants a small classic of its sub-genre. As it stands, it is a neat film that promises much for future films by Morlet.


From Twitter 02-09-2010

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  • So Bioshock 2 is just another shooter? Call me when I can buy it heavily discounted.
  • New blog post: Three Films Make A Post: No Admittance While The Coffin Is Open: The Hurt Locker (2008): When she's...
  • Was just directed to the Superbowl performance of The Who. Sad.
  • So, people are complaining that the free new Mass Effect DLC is only a weapon and armor? Sure, I'd prefer more quests etc too, but it's free
  • Why complain about a gift? Oh, right, because "gamers" only know how to whine.
  • And no, I'm not really an exception. I prefer whining about the whining to the whining whining, though.
  • Read Liz Williams' "The Shadow Pavillion". Her DI Chen novels have grown to become my favorite Urban Fantasy for people who don't like Urban
  • Fantasy series. With a healthy dose of SF to boot.
  • RT: @BreakingNews Italian aristocrat killed at boar hunt was uncle of man romantically linked to duchess of York [Yes, that's funny]
  • RT @mattpicasso: Download 51 covers by The Decemberists and @colinmeloy --
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  • RT: @mattsheret: Woah! RT @kicking__k: all 46 issues of Plan B magazine 2004-2009 - to download FREE (PDF format):
  • Sorry people-who-are-not-bots, I seem to be in a rambling and retweeting sort of mood today.
  • If Slumdog Millionaire is the worst film you have seen, you really should watch more movies.

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Three Films Make A Post: No Admittance While The Coffin Is Open

The Hurt Locker (2008): When she's on, Kathryn Bigelow is one of the great American directors. This is as perfect as a war movie of the naturalist school gets, without the cloying sentimentality or the downright hypocrisy your typical Hollywood war film breathes. There's a sense of tension and release in the film that would make for a great boy's own adventure war film, but Bigelow (or writer Mark Boal's script) don't go the easy way of ignoring the brokenness of their characters or the chaos and madness of the situation. One could criticize that the film shows nothing of the larger political picture, but its protagonists are so far from that kind of perspective that it would rob The Hurt Locker of its strength to show it.

I'd still very much like to see a film from the Iraqi civilian perspective, but that doesn't make this one any less good.


Takut: Faces of Fear (2008): How Brian Yuzna came to co-produce an Indonesian anthology horror film is anybody's guess (aka I don't want to visit the big horror sites to research it), but I'm quite glad that he did. Takut shoehorns six short films by different directors into a ninety minute runtime, leading to some very bite-sized episodes. Two of them, Show Unit, a hasty bit of suspense directed by Rako Prijanto and The Rescue by Raditya Sidharta, the final fifteen minutes of an ultra generic zombie movie that doesn't exist, are rather bad, but so short that you can cook yourself a cup of tea while they are on and be done with it. Three of the other episodes mix Indonesian mythology with Western horror film tropes and the sense of humor of an EC comic and succeed nicely in various ways. The last and longest part of the film is Dara by "The Mo Brothers", which drops the mythology and shows the trouble a restaurant cook has to go to to slaughter that nice male meat that makes her food so tasty. The vagaries of rebellious technology (damn those cheap chainsaws) and too many suitors unite to make Dara's life supremely difficult.

As far as horror anthologies without depth, but with pretty people, stylistic competence and an unhealthy sense of humor go, Takut makes for a fine time. Just don't expect anything beyond that.


Train of the Dead (2007): A gang of annoying and stupid nursery robbers (no, really, they robbed a nursery) take (for no good reason, of course) an annoying and stupid dirtbiker hostage. With the same genius for idiotic plans, they decide to hide in the freight compartment of a train. But oh noes! The train is full of ghosts! Whatever will happen to the evil people and to our charming dirtbiker? Or to the sad and lonely people accidentally watching this crap?

Broad comedy, even broader acting and an utterly stupid plot unite to drive your heroic blogger (that would be me) to curse this Thai film and all that it stands for - which is to say, stupidity and laziness.

I usually try to find something, anything good to say about every movie I write about, but Train of the Dead has me stumped. At least it's not even ninety minutes long.


From Twitter 02-08-2010

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  • I'm a proud member of the "I like the Mass Effect scanning mini game and the ammunition/heat clip stuff just fine" brigade.
  • Mass Effect 2, that is.

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Monday, February 8, 2010

Music Monday: No Bad Pun This Week Edition

From Twitter 02-07-2010

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Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Velvet Vampire (1971)

Lee Ritter (Michael Blodgett) and his wife Susan (Sherry Miles) meet the mysterious Diane (Celeste Yarnall) at an art exhibition. It's the sort of art exhibition that has blues singer Johnny Shines sitting in a chair and playing a song as part of the proceedings, but Lee just ignores that.

Instead, he is instantly slobbering all over the attractive Diane like a badly trained dog and is all too willing to accept an invitation to pack up Susan and spend a weekend in Diane's desert home.

The Ritters are quite a pair: Susan is vapid and spineless, while Lee embodies the always horny egotist arsehole archetype perfectly. So it is not too disturbing to this viewer to learn that their nice host is in truth a vampire who plans to keep one of them around as her new partner. When she's not drinking your blood, Diane is one of the more romantically inclined of her species. She even keeps the corpse of her husband preserved in the desert to prevent it from decaying and has a Native American servant she doesn't nibble on because he's something like her adoptive son.

All this the Ritters will only learn piecemeal between riding in Diane's dune buggy, being watched from behind a mirror and being seduced by Diane, first in dreams, then in body.

The Velvet Vampire was directed by Stephanie Rothman, one among many talented people who learned much about filmmaking from Roger Corman, for whose New World Pictures the film was produced. Of course, there can't have been much of a budget, so the production had to make do with an impressive, sometimes uncanny desert location, some very bad actors and an at times problematic script that mixes recurring dream sequences, a slightly feminist subtext (which I didn't find as convincing as in Rothman's The Student Nurses), bad dialogue and would-be intellectual depth.

Fortunately, Rothman has the visual imagination and technical proficiency to make not only a reasonably good-looking film but one whose world seems to drift the more in the direction of the dream-like the longer its characters lose themselves in the already dream-like desert (or Diane's world, if you wish). Even before, Rothman delivers moody treats like the minimalist recurring dream sequence featuring a bed, a desert, a mirror, two naked protagonists and Yarmall in a red dress.

The film's look and mood were much needed to help me get over its less impressive aspects. Miles and Blodgett are terrible actors. Both don't have one single line in the whole movie they don't butcher. Their performances would give the amateur hour a bad name, making it difficult to empathize with their characters like the script seems to want it.

Celeste Yarnall is better than her counterparts. She at least possesses the looks for the weirdly seductive vampire she is playing, if not always the needed charisma to make the fascination for her the other characters show absolutely believable. Where Miles and Blodgett just seem unable to speak, Yarnall is trying a bit too hard, putting too much theatricality into moments that would work better without it. On the other hand, that's what we are used to from movie vampires since time eternal, so I'm not sure if I should blame the actress or the vampire archetype.

All of the characters are also cursed with some very problematic dialogue. Most of the time, it strives for the type of overearnest depth that usually has its source in a combination of badly digested philosophy books and one joint too many. For my tastes, it barely escapes being ridiculous enough to ruin the film, but I wouldn't blame anyone who couldn't cope with it. Additionally, there is a truly hilarious scene full of supposedly sexy double talk about dune buggies that beggars believe. Not that I'm really complaining about the latter, mind you.

Despite its flaws I found The Velvet Vampire well worth my time. As always, I'm the kind of guy who can ignore things like acting flaws and the near-absence of plot if the movie I'm watching has enough of a mood and personality of its own, both things this film has in spades. There's something about the film's rhythm and texture that makes it as seductive to me as Diane is supposed to be to its protagonists.


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Saturday, February 6, 2010

In short: Kuntilanak Beranak (2009)

A group of cute college students looking for a location to shoot their own indie film in enter a large, dilapidated house in the country. There, they find a video camera containing a tape that shows the misadventures of another group of cute college students.

The latter group was trying to make some sort of sensational report to get some unseen producers to give them money for something (don't you just love the precision of detail that has gone into the plot?). The best thing they could come up with was to try and find out what really happened to a disappeared dancer.

At first, the country population was less than helpful and/or ghosts, but a helpful, insultingly acted mute guy ooga booga-ed them in the direction of an old dilapidated house. With a surprising amount of reason, our heroes postponed the search of the house until the next day. That night, they had rather disturbing encounters with a female ghost obviously out to warn them off from disturbing her home.

With a surprising lack of reason, the students/filmmakers/whatever entered the house anyway, only to have more ghostly encounters and run around screaming a lot.

So, the children of Blair Witch Project have obviously made it into Indonesia. Kuntilanak Beranak is no full-grown POV horror film, though. A lot of the shots are supposed to come from the cameras everyone is dragging around (and somehow all got onto the single camera the first group of students find, but oh well), but director Ian Jackson doesn't seem to care much about sub-genre conventions and also randomly uses shots that aren't. He also seems to have a thing for cameras hanging at about ceiling level looking down at the characters for no discernible reason - it's certainly not looking as spooky as it is probably supposed to.

For its first thirty minutes or so, the movie makes a relatively positive impression. While it is very obvious how low the budget must have been, neither the pacing nor the acting are too embarrassing. Some of the early ghost appearances are even quite effective, especially the (common in Indonesian ghost movies, as it seems) scene in which one character finds her strangely zoned out mother sitting alone in the dark in the living room, only to turn around and find that her real mother is just coming down the stairs and she just talked to a ghost in disguise.

As soon as the characters enter the cursed house, the film loses any interest at building and maintaining a mood and turns into all shaky cam and screaming all the time. There are still one or two neat ideas to be found, like the ghost of a dancer possessing someone to dance creepily, but Jacobs isn't able to milk them enough to fill another forty minutes. Screeching only gets a movie that far.

Even so, I won't come down to hard on the film. Being too long, but having four or five creepy scenes isn't too bad a record for a film this cheap, and while I wasn't exactly enraptured during the film's second half, I also wasn't too bored.