Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Score (1995)

The be-mulleted Japanese American robber Chance (Hitoshi Ozawa) would like to retire from life on the wrong side of the law, but his boss, the "Colonel" (Takashi Ukaji), violently insists on him committing a last crime. Chance is to rob a jewellery store together with an all-star Japanese American gangster trio consisting of the dependable Tequila (Shu Ehara), the whiny Flight (or Right, in any case played by Ryushi Mizukami) and the dubious and untrustworthy Duck (Masahiro Yamashita). The Colonel makes it quite clear that Chance is the only one of the four who will survive the moment of payment for their work, leaving the robber with a bad taste in his mouth but not much to do about it.

Although everyone dons an awesome suit for the assault on the jewellery store, the whole thing doesn't go that well. The men get their loot, but Flight is shot in the shoulder and will from now on be even whinier than before. The wounded gangster has something of a hysterical fit during the drive to the abandoned factory where the group is planning to hole up and meet the Colonel and manages to attract the (yes, Japanese) serial killer couple of Doc Holiday fan TJ (Kazuyoshi Ozawa) and Sara (Miyuki Tanako), who cop to our "heroes" being in the possession of quite a bit of jewellery.

As if two serial killers and the coming betrayal by their boss wasn't enough, the gangsters decide to do a little backstabbing among themselves too.

One of the open secrets of Japanese direct to video/DVD action films of the 90s is that a lot of these films aren't any good and often do not contain as much action as the term "action film" would suggest.

In fact, many of them are just slow and boring and contain less action than the average love poem.

Fortunately, you can't complain about a lack of people hurting each other in interesting ways in the films of Atsushi Muroga, at least not those I have been able to see. Muroga's Score seems to be very typical for the director's output. The movie takes place in a somewhat silly pretend US nearly exclusively populated by people from Asia (apart from one gangster moll, one cop and one henchman), yet never feels a need to excuse or explain this or other of its implausibilities. Instead of making excuses, the film likes to rip off and/or nod in the direction of dozens of other films, starting with the obvious inspirations (City on Fire and Tarantino's re-imagining Reservoir Dogs for the gangster and action side of the film, Kalifornia and Natural Born Killers for the serial killer couple) and continuing to more obscure references hidden away in character names and (bad) one-liners.

The tone throughout is never completely serious but never crosses over into the realm of the merely ironic.

And who'd have time for being ironic or being too serious when he has to show people jumping, shooting, bleeding and jump-shooting again and again and again, everybody losing litres of blood, anyway? Happily, the film's characters (except for poor, whimpering Flight) all have the constitution of cartoon characters and usually need to be killed three or four times until it takes. That's five times the shoot-outs for the price of one! They shoot! They bleed! They mutter "there's only two kinds of people" variations, and I, for one, can't resist.

Other things Score doesn't have time for are: authentic human emotion, a memorable score, boredom, dialogue sequences that don't end in violence or at least wild screaming after about thirty seconds, the sad facts of human physiology, viewers who take this sort of film too seriously.

I can't help but compare Muroga's way of making a cheap, exciting movie to the Takashi Miike style of filmmaking. While I haven't seen anything by Muroga that is as bizarre or subtextually rich as Miike at his best, Muroga's films do seem to have a comparable ethos. They have the look and feel of films made by a director and actors just trying to have a bit of fun on camera while also trying to make their audience complicit in their fun without needing to be all clever all the time, yet also without being as stupid as they sometimes pretend to be. The difference between Muroga and Miike seems to be that the former is always willing to keep his films inside the framework of conventional genre film, while the latter very obviously doesn't care what he's supposed to do. There's something to be said for both ways of going about it.


From Twitter 03-30-2010

  • New blog post: From Twitter 03-29-2010: New blog post: From Twitter 03-28-2010: The Descent 2 seems to have been m...
  • New blog post: In short: Land of Doom (1986): You know the drill by now. Post-apocalyptic wasteland. Little food. ...
  • Holy crap! It's Lam Suet - and his character isn't called "Fatty"!
  • 300 words successfully transplanted.
  • Too bad I have the wrong gender to be Lady Frankenstein.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

In short: Land of Doom (1986)

You know the drill by now. Post-apocalyptic wasteland. Little food. Less sense. Love for impractical leather outfits. Insane leather-lovers called raiders who look like accountants on the weekly trip to their favourite SM club.

Those raiders are more dangerous than they look, though. They attack a peaceful village and go on a raping and killing spree. Only a woman called Harmony (Deborah Rennard) manages to escape. During her wanderings through the post-apocalyptic desert hills, she meets a non-descript guy fittingly called Anderson (Garrick Dowhen). Anderson was once a raider too, but he tried to bring the other raiders around to a more tolerable lifestyle of rebuilding and not-raping, and was therefore replaced by leather-masked madman Slater (Daniel Radell) and is now a wanted man in the insane rapist and killer community.

At first, Harmony and Anderson don't quite know what to make of each other, but after some adventures in post-apocalyptica, including meetings with cannibal Frenchmen, jawas and a guy with a mandolin and a puppy, some time fighting the raiders (with inconclusive results) and many many scenes of Harmony kicking men in the balls, they are getting kinda sweet on each other. The end.

Well, yeah, as my rather lackluster description and the non-appearance of something like a plot hints at, there really isn't much to Land of Doom. It's post-apocalyptic cheapness in neutral mode.

While there isn't anything truly annoying about the film (unless one can't cope with cheapness and pointlessness in a movie; in that case however, one has no business watching post-apocalyptic cinema at all), it doesn't have too many things to recommend it.

The movie is not as boring as many of, say, Cirio H. Santiago's contribution to the post-apocalyptic genre, but I wouldn't exactly call it exciting either. At least Land of Doom features exploding huts and exploding barrels (alas, no exploding crates) and has about three silly-awesome ideas (the jawas, the Frenchmen, and, um, the puppy guy), yet it has its difficulties making a whole movie out of them.

I have of course seen - possibly even enjoyed - films which were much, much worse than Land of Doom, and so couldn't help but feel vaguely entertained while watching it. If that doesn't sound like much of a recommendation, I can also add that I didn't mind the movie.

Could I make it sound even more exciting?


From Twitter 03-29-2010

  • New blog post: From Twitter 03-28-2010: The Descent 2 seems to have been made with the theory in mind that the bes...
  • New blog post: Music Monday: Happy Happy Joy Joy Edition: Technorati-Tags: music monday,music,morita douji
  • Nothing from me today, move along now, please.
  • A "community event" that's only for US citizens? Good to see the respect Bioware shows for us fans in the less important parts of the world.

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Music Monday: Happy Happy Joy Joy Edition

From Twitter 03-28-2010

  • The Descent 2 seems to have been made with the theory in mind that the best way to make a sequel to one of the best horror films of the last
  • decade is to make a film that's as derivative and just plain shit as possible. Mission accomplished.
  • New blog post: From Twitter 03-27-2010: New blog post: From Twitter 03-26-2010: RT @warrenellis: The moral of TAKE...
  • New blog post: Intruder (1997): In mainland China, Yieh Siu-Yan (Ng Sin-Lin) kills a woman who is just about to em...
  • Lesson: don't edit your reviews while on crack .RT @BuckSexington: How far into 1UP's JC2 review can you get?
  • "Contact Wesley's brain wave. We need to communicate with him."
  • Whoever allowed Wong Jing to make a Wiseley movie should be punished.
  • This is now officially "Really Annoying Movie" weekend.

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Intruder (1997)

In mainland China, Yieh Siu-Yan (Ng Sin-Lin) kills a woman who is just about to emigrate to Hong Kong to live with the man she has married. The young woman then steals her victim's identity, travels to Hong Kong and applies for a passport.

This is just the first step in a complicated (and increasingly weird) plan to get her husband and herself safety and new identities away from the mainland, after they have killed a whole family and hubbie has lost his hands to the sweet attentions of police dogs.

The next step is for Siu-Yan to pose as a prostitute and find a fitting male victim. Taxi driver Chen Chi-Min (Wayne Lai) is the poor chosen one, because he has few human contacts and lives in a house as far away from the city's centre as possible. At first, the woman is just trying to get as much information as possible out of her designated victim. The next night, she runs him over with a car to break his legs and make him easier to handle for the next night, when she comes to visit him at his home.

Now, all she needs is enough time to torture some more information out of him and to get rid of Chen's estranged mother and his four year old little daughter whom her father loaded off to live with grandma. Surely, there's nothing that can go wrong for her or hubby.

Intruder is a fine example of post Untold Story Hong Kong CAT III cinema, based on a crime supposedly ripped from the headlines and adorned with extra helpings of nastiness. The film plays merrily with an anxiety that must have gripped Hong Kong especially hard at the time, the fear of the sort of people that would be coming over from the mainland after the Handover. Of course, Hong Kong cinema has always been full of some dreadful thing or the other coming to the city from another country (preferably Thailand), so this is only a new incarnation of a very old trope.

Having said that, I think the movie is not one of the more difficult to stomach examples of its kind - with one qualification I will get into later.

Intruder is the only film directed by Tsang Kan-Cheung, who mostly worked as a script writer for comedies. What drove him to write and direct this is anybody's guess. My wild guess would of course be money.

Tsang gives his film a moody and cold look, dominated by blue light and rain that reflects the coldness of its main character Siu-Yan, who doesn't have the police counterpart that many other CAT III films of this type use. Instead the film mostly keeps to the killer's perspective, but keeps its audience distanced from her motivations and plans.

The violence is quite nasty, but not too bad compared to other films of its genre. Tsang seems more interested in shocking his audience with Siu-Yan's ruthlessness and the terrible utilitarianism of her deeds than through grossing it out. The film is not looking away from her brutality, but it also isn't wallowing in it as much as it could.

The film also shows more sympathy for the victims than you usually find in movies following a serial killer closely. Siu-Yan's victims might not be very nice persons, but the more time the film spends with them, the more sympathy they evoke simply through the plain humanity of people in fear and pain, which puts them into deep contrast to our less than warm protagonist/killer.

Ng Sin-Lin for her part is really quite brilliant in her role. The emotionless manner and the cruel effectiveness with which she operates at first are very disturbing, but the true emotional punch comes in the moments when some long forgotten rests of humanity surface. Something, the film makes clear (probably with a hidden cynical sneer), an effective killer of her type can't have.

Intruder wins some of its tension in the decidedly cheap way of putting a small child into danger (and she is ill too boot!), but I am alright with the way it handles the "child in danger" problem.

Would this be a Western film, we could be quite sure that the child's ending will be a happy one, but there are no certainties of this sort in Hong Kong cinema of the period, and so I found myself watching her ordeal with more tension than I usually would. That alone certainly makes this not a film for everyone - while there are films with heavier on-screen violence against children, not many of them have the aura of ruthlessness Intruder affects.


From Twitter 03-27-2010

  • New blog post: From Twitter 03-26-2010: RT @warrenellis: The moral of TAKEN: Daddy knows best. Don't make daddy k...
  • New blog post: The Naked Witch (1961): After a disembodied voice has treated us to nearly ten minutes of droning n...
  • Oh, a comment thread where someone tries to get around the Hitler rule by invoking (and misspelling, of course) Goebbels. Impressive.

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Naked Witch (1961)

After a disembodied voice has treated us to nearly ten minutes of droning nonsense about witches that will have no bearing on anything to come, the droning voice of our protagonist for the day takes over. Protagonist guy (Robert Short) - as we will later learn the owner of a chest as hairy as Feroz Khan's - is a nameless student, using the last day of his school holiday to visit beautiful Luckenbach, deep in the most German part of Texas.

He's mostly looking for stories and legends about witchcraft, but the good people of Luckenbach seem strangely reluctant to share. Only village beauty Kirska (Jo Maryman; and can I just say here: what's wrong with her hair!?) is willing to help. After some painfully awkward flirting, she hands the student a book that relates the story of the Luckenbach Witch, some poor widow (Libby Hall) who was unfairly staked for witchcraft centuries ago, but is supposed to return some day to take vengeance on the descendants of the people at fault in her death.

Our hero does the obvious - he sneaks out of his hotel at night, stumbles onto the witch's grave, digs her out and removes the stake to take it with him as a souvenir. Of course the witch comes to life again, steals the stake and starts to kill people with it.

Learning of the killings, the student decides that he just won't stand for witchy business like this and randomly stumbles around the country side to stop our witch gal. That is, until our hero witnesses the witch's skinny dipping activities. Her awesome powers of being naked overwhelm him, she does some dancing, they have off-screen sex and she sneaks away to stake Kirska. Will our especially heroic hero wake up early enough after a night of fun to prevent the worst?

The Naked Witch is the first feature film directed by legendary master of boredom Larry Buchanan, and Buchanan already shows an early mastery at making an hour-long movie that feels as if it were three hours long. At times, the director's utter lack of talent gives the film an awkward charm, especially in those sequences where Buchanan's failures combine with the equally absent talents of his actors to produce some sort of black hole of suckiness only specialists in bad movies should dare enter.

Of course, even for us, there's not much reason to enter said hole, unless one feels the overwhelming need to learn that Larry Buchanan's oeuvre is without a single moment of excitement.

It's really quite fascinating how drab and boring this little film is. In theory, it is filmed in interesting locations, and the plot might not be very original, but it is the kind of old standard that usually just works for a mildly entertaining time. Somehow, Buchanan manages to drag what should be awkward and charming into the realm of the dreadfully boring. In a sense, his work here is quite impressive.

As is the fact that the film's nudity that takes place outside of the water (it is titled "The Naked Witch" after all) is censored by thick black bars so that Libby Hall's evil breasts can't corrupt the youth. I know, the film was made in 1961, but still - you either put nudity into your film or you don't.

As a German, I was at least vaguely amused by the "authentically German" culture of Luckenbach and the dreadful German the people there speak. It looks as if the Luckenbachians were trapped in a dreadful limbo, refusing to accept any sort of change and still pretending they were living in a Germany that never existed in the first place, and most certainly didn't exist anymore in 1961. This does come quite close to what I imagine hell would be like.

From Twitter 03-26-2010

  • RT @warrenellis: The moral of TAKEN: Daddy knows best. Don't make daddy kill a shitload of foreigners and then say "I told you so."
  • New blog post: From Twitter 03-25-2010: New blog post: From Twitter 03-24-2010: New blog post: From Twitter 03-23-...
  • New blog post: On WTF: The Last Gateway (2007): Argentinean director Demian Rugna proves once and for all that it ...
  • Did you know that the lovely Apex Book Co. sells all ebooks on DriveThru for just $1 a pop until April 1st?
  • I love watching Ubisoft squirm and promptly hit another hole of idiocy.

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Friday, March 26, 2010

On WTF: The Last Gateway (2007)

Argentinean director Demian Rugna proves once and for all that it is possible to make a proper Fulci-alike on a budget.

Friends of narrative cinema need not apply, anyone else could do worse than to take a look at my write-up on


From Twitter 03-25-2010

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Thursday, March 25, 2010


District 9 (2009): If it was ever needed, this is proof that a maximalist aesthetic can work perfectly when in service of the right material. Obviously, you can have social commentary, an unsympathetic protagonist, Hollywood sentimentality, bloody shoot-outs, moral ambiguity and a finale with a big damn mech on Hollywood money, and you can make it good, if you just try hard enough.

Stuff like Avatar is just not on the same level, even as pure spectacle.


Rocktober Blood (1984): While it starts out with ten minutes of everything loveable about the 80s Hair Metal Slasher sub-genre (perverse hair, terrible music, cheesy dialogue, cheesy everything else), this movie credited to a group of inbred cannibals calling themselves (excuse their grammar) "the Sebastian's" crawls to a halt for the next hour only to awaken again for the mandatory "massacre on stage". While I'm all for poking people to death with a microphone stand and death by guitar, even this theoretical highpoint of the cinematic art is destroyed by slow, slow, slow pacing. I'd recommend reading a book (about METAL!, of course) while watching this. That way, you can still enjoy the better parts of the film while not nodding off during the idle hour.


Beach of the War Gods (1973): Wang Yu writes, directs, stars and really really hates the Japanese. What a surprise.

Our "hero" and a bunch of under-characterized "patriots" protect a Chinese town against Japanese pirates. More than half of the film - as it seems the only half Wang Yu as director and writer cared about - consists of a pro-longed battle inside the town walls. The battle is stylishly shot (and ironically heavily influenced by Japanese Chambara) and brutal, but isn't as involving as it should be. Turns out that I need to be vaguely interested in characters to care if they live or die, and that Wang Yu isn't at all interested in building at least stock characters.

I prefer Wang Yu when he's either kept in check by the Shaw Brothers production machine or utterly insane. Beach is neither here or there.


From Twitter 03-24-2010

  • New blog post: From Twitter 03-23-2010: I love it when people use the phrase "the literary cannon". It's so very s...
  • Annoyance of the day: how certain big(ish) horror sites add one sentence to a press release and call it a blog post - without indicating
  • they are just quoting the PR, of course.
  • New blog post: The Moment To Kill (1968): It is about a year after the end of the US Civil War. Justice of Peace W...
  • Huh, LJ just temporarily banned me from accessing their site, what with me cheekily auto-refreshing my friends page once every 15 minutes.
  • "F.3.A.R."!? Honestly, that's the title? *headdesk*
  • Alas, poor Monolith.
  • The new album of Through The Sparks is quite good. Also free:
  • RT @McKelvie Want to read the entire first issue of PHONOGRAM: THE SINGLES CLUB for free? Then go here: Please RT!
  • RT @wisekwai: Ok, so Werner Herzog really is 'Plastic Bag' . And he's awesome. Via @cinematical
  • Utterly fascinated by these stage plots of metal bands. And frightened by Sunn O)))'s.
  • RT @jessnevins (who is on a roll just now): From a Spanish comic in 1944: Spider-Man (check out his costume):

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Moment To Kill (1968)

It is about a year after the end of the US Civil War. Justice of Peace Warren (Rudolf Schündler) has sent for two old associates, the gunmen Lord (George Hilton) and Bull (Walter Barnes), to come to the nameless frontier town he resides in.

When Lord and Bull arrive, there's no trace of Warren to be found. His office is locked and empty, and nobody in town is willing or able to tell the men where the judge disappeared to, even though the two men prove to be quite persistent in their quest.

The duo's pesky asking around has consequences for them. One night, a rather large assembly of rather unfriendly armed men attempts to take them on. Lord and Bull aren't exactly surprised by this turn of events. This and their superior abilities in playing slasher-like tricks on their enemies in the dark are more than enough to keep our protagonists alive. It is becoming quite clear to the gunmen that the boss of the enemy horde is a certain Forester (Carlo Alighiero), the man who also controls the town.

Before they can have more than a nice little chat with Forester and his psychopathic son Jason (Horst Frank), the surprisingly still alive judge calls his friends to his secret hideaway. There, he discloses to them why so many people are trying to kill him and everyone looking for him and what it is he needs their help with. Turns out that the secret gold reserve of the former Confederacy is hidden somewhere in town. Judge Warren wants to get his hands on the gold to finance a second Civil War, but he has trouble finding the gold. He knows that there are two things he needs to locate it - Regina (Loni von Friedl), the wheelchair-bound daughter of the man who hid the gold and the man's favourite book of poems, but Forester has kidnapped Regina and stowed her away somewhere, and the book isn't to be found where it's supposed to be. Before they can discuss matters any further, the judge is killed and Lord and Bull will have to begin their search for girl and gold without further instruction.

Fortunately, they are quite capable men.

The Moment to Kill is only the fourth movie in the long and interesting career of its director Giuliano Carnimeo, and the second of thirteen Westerns he'd direct between 1966 and 1973. Going by the handful of them I have seen until now, most of these films aren't of the type you will find listed in books about the Spaghetti Western as being especially important for the genre's development. Carnimeo's films are instead the products of craftsmanship that should make up the middle ground of any proper genre. That is, unless we are talking about the Sword and Sorcery film, which doesn't have any middle ground to encounter.

Carnimeo's film is very much a Spaghetti Western like you'd expect it to be, taking place in a West where dusty men of dubious morals, with even more dubious motivations, walk dusty (or sometimes muddy, just for a change) streets, trying to outwit and outshoot antagonists clearly lacking any morals or sanity. While there really aren't any surprises to be found, Carnimeo's film does deliver the expected with a lot of technical acumen. You'd think that all the killing, torturing, and all those shifty looks would get stale when you have already seen a few dozen other Spaghetti Westerns, but Carnimeo injects his film with a nervous energy punctuated by scenes of a more brooding atmosphere I found quite thrilling. As befits a film with its title, The Moment to Kill is also on the more brutal side of the Spaghetti Western, but it does not seem to share the sadistic side of its characters as much as it wants to make us uncomfortable through it. Trying to disturb viewers with nastiness and brutality is an old Spaghetti Western trick, of course, and something that connects the genre in my mind as much with the horror genre as it does with the US Western.

What the film does not do is to develop any sort of depth. At the point where the judge explains his plans to "let the South rise again", I thought I was in for at least a little subtextual fun with the historic background, or even a few thoughts about the psychology of members of the losing side of a war, but these things are dropped as soon as they have been brought on the table and are never thematized again.

There also aren't any attempts at doing something more than the obvious with the characters - excluding one plot twist I am not going to spoil here - but everyone does his or her iconic job of laughing madly and looking even madder (Frank) or staring shifty-eyed (everyone else) well. As someone who got to know George Hilton through the sleazy pretty boy roles he played in a lot of giallos, I'm always a bit surprised to see him perform as a stoic Western anti-hero as well as he does here; he's a bit like Anthony Steffen with facial expressions.

All in all, I'm quite fond of The Moment to Kill, although I suspect that how much a viewer will get out of it will heavily depend on a given viewer's interest and love for the Spaghetti Western genre in general. I had my fun with it.


From Twitter 03-23-2010

  • I love it when people use the phrase "the literary cannon". It's so very siege of Vienna.
  • Awesome writer Sarah Monette promised a podcast, and a podcast we get.
  • New blog post: In short: Hard Revenge Milly (2008): A woman named Milly (Miki Mizuno) roams a mildly post-apocalyp...
  • I declare Dragon Age Awakenings to be good. So, I hope the next game will take place in Orlais?

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

In short: Hard Revenge Milly (2008)

A woman named Milly (Miki Mizuno) roams a mildly post-apocalyptic Yokohama. She likes leather, swords and has a shotgun built into her right leg, as well as some other less obvious augmentations.

It seems as if Milly has spent some time harassing (alright, slaughtering) the men of a group of thugs known as the Jacobs Brothers.

After a little rest - weapon sharpening at the very empty bar of a once famous swordsmith called Jubei - Milly kills one of the actual Jacobs Brothers and uses him to lure the rest of her victims into an abandoned industrial building, where she wants to end her problem with the gang once and for all. Milly has good reasons for being as angry as she is - some unspecified time ago, the gang killed her husband, burned her baby and cut off her breasts, so her actions here seem like quite understandable.

From time to time, I think about giving up on the direct to video part of the Japanese film industry. After all, the last few years of its output have largely consisted of incredibly unenthusiastic genre films every bit as low on imagination or ambition as their Western counterparts. Fortunately, whenever I start to get too cynical, a film like Takanori Tsujimoto's short Hard Revenge Milly comes along like a mighty fountain of blood and restores my faith in Japan as the center of everything adorable and lovely in the world.

At first sight, Milly isn't too impressive. There's some of the typically crappy looking CGI you know from other films of its budget level on display, and the story takes place in the usual assortment of empty factory halls and other ruined industrial buildings every other Japanese direct to DVD film is filmed in too. But Tsujimoto is a much better director than many of his contemporaries, using his two or three locations for all they are worth, treating them as if they were the most exciting thing he had ever filmed.

Tsujimoto has a fine feeling for the use of natural light (instead of the more typical boring green and yellow camera filters), knows how to give his film pacing and rhythm through editing, in short, he works like a proper director making a proper movie and not like a drunken idiot who just doesn't care about the fact that someone will have to watch his output.

The fight sequences are more than decent too, showing a healthy love for over the top blood and gore effects and black humor combined with the tightness that makes for an effective action scene.

Miki Mizuno (who I found utterly dreadful in Joe Ma's attempt at making a Sasori film) does a solid job too, looking all grim and determined and throwing herself into the action sequences with verve.

Of course, the blood, the action, the tasteless jokes and Mizuno looking grim is all there is to the film, but its short running time of 43 minutes means it doesn't overstay its welcome and leaves me quite satisfied.


From Twitter 03-22-2010

  • So, Tanith Lee's "The Birthgrave" is a pretty neat deconstruction of Sword & Sorcery tropes, until the final twenty pages, when the book
  • decides to explain itself away with !bonus psycho-babble & heroine whose mind has to be saved by a manly man.
  • New blog post: From Twitter 03-21-2010: New blog post: Hammerhead (1987): Once, Hammer (Daniel Greene), Jose (Jorg...
  • New blog post: Music Monday: Goodbye Mister Chilton Edition: Technorati-Tags: music monday,music,alex chilton,yo...
  • Strange fact: all the horrible things I hear about "Repo Men" make the film sound very enticing
  • RT @kjhealy: Hello America! Germany says, Welcome to 1883! The UK says, Welcome to 1911! France says, Welcome to 1930!
  • So, the first pay-for Mass Effect 2 DLC is basically horse armor, just uglier? I kinda love you, but I don't love you that much, Bioware.
  • Large paid-for demos to measure a game's popularity before release, EA? Really? Not to test out how stupid your customers are?
  • What the actor says: "Shit!". What the subtitles say: "Oh no!".
  • Vote marmoset! RT @FOURDK: Vote in the Animalympics finals. Mere hours left!

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Music Monday: Goodbye Mister Chilton Edition

From Twitter 03-21-2010

  • New blog post: Hammerhead (1987): Once, Hammer (Daniel Greene), Jose (Jorge Gil), Carlos and Greg (Jeff Moldovan) ...
  • So, I do understand that right, the new Doctor Who season starts in the US before the UK?
  • RT @malpertuis: RT @Brittanysbeers: Ever wanted to see every cover of Amazing Stories? I did, too.

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Hammerhead (1987)

Once, Hammer (Daniel Greene), Jose (Jorge Gil), Carlos and Greg (Jeff Moldovan) were "the Storm Riders", the most popular mercenaries in Jamaica, until one day Hammer just stole away to become a cop in the US, leaving behind his friends as well as his girlfriend Marta (Melonee Rodgers).

Six years after Hammer has left, a frightened Greg appears on the cop's turf, begging for Hammer's protection from some mighty dangerous people he has angered back in Jamaica. Before Greg can explain what is what, a hired killer (Frank Zagarino) drops a freight container on him. The following chase and a shoot-out in a well populated area end with the killer's escape and Hammer getting sent on holiday by his boss. It seems that wildly firing your gun in public place, without a care for the health of civilians, is against some obscure rules and regulations. Who knew?

Hammer decides to use his vacation time for a trip to Jamaica. Once there, he soon gets in contact with Jose - who is our odious comic relief for the evening, but is atypically useful in a fight - and Greg's girlfriend DD (Deanna Lund). Their old friend Carlos has disappeared. It is obvious to our brainy hero that he must be either in the hands of Greg's enemies or already dead. Together with Jose, Hammer begins to commit a series of crimes from reckless driving to torture to illegal entry to murder - all in the name of finding out who killed his old friend. Not surprisingly, the local authorities are a bit non-plussed by his actions, their scorn however is going to be the least of Hammer's problems, since Greg's mysterious killers don't take too kindly to random armed madmen trying to disturb their plans.

Somehow, Hammer still finds time to rekindle the affair with Marta and learn that he has a little daughter with her. It's a situation ripe for an abduction.

In 1987, the Italian genre movie industry was barely alive. Budgets were low, acting talent willing to work for the little money that was still there was scarce, and so even an old hand at making movies like Hammerhead's Enzo G. Castellari had to work with whomever he could get. In Castellari's case, this means he had gone from working with actors like Franco Nero and Maurizio Merli to dragging bodybuilders like Daniel Greene in front of the cameras. Unless you are very enthusiastic for men built like ruminants, that is not the sort of change it's easy to get behind.

While Greene is as dreadful an actor as his musclebag status threatens, he is not the worst of his kind. Where many of his colleagues usually don't even try to do any acting, Greene seems to throw himself into his role with a relish. The outcome isn't exactly pretty, but I find it difficult not to root at least a little for someone so obviously doing his best. Greene's not an actor, but at least he is likeable.

The less said about the rest of the cast the better. They are there, they mangle their lines, they die a bloody death, and mostly that's perfectly adequate for the film, unless you think a bit about the film's story and start to imagine it slightly re-written and re-cast with the competent and charismatic actors it would have been cast with ten years earlier. It is not difficult at all to imagine the film as a tense and slightly depressing crime and violence epic about trust and betrayal between four friends, deeply cynical and not ending well for anyone. All the elements for it are there, but Castellari is experienced enough not to go in this direction with the actors at hand.

This leaves the dramatic part of the film deeply unsatisfying, yet Castellari does try to put as little emphasis on this side of the movie as possible. Instead, he does what his talents and the talents of his actors are most suited for, and shows as much action and violence as possible.

Even at this point in his career, on a dwindling budget that prevents doing anything truly spectacular, Castellari knew how to deliver a riveting action set piece. There are car chases (of course including the sad end of a fruit stall), a human hood ornament scene, shoot-outs, as well as some raw and exciting punch-outs. The only things missing for the discerning friend of Italian action film of the decade are a helicopter and exploding bamboo huts, but the film does feature an exploding safety deposit box, so that's alright, too.

Since this are the 80s, the action has an higher cheese factor than that found in earlier Castellari movies. I was quite surprised to realize that the director's still 70s-gritty shooting style and the 80s silliness do work well together, producing a friction that's more riveting than I had expected.

Just four years after he had made this film, Castellari would find himself in TV hell, with everything still interesting about his work gone. That, however, is a different story, and one that shouldn't ruin the pleasures Hammerhead still can provide.


From Twitter 03-20-2010

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

In short: The Sewer Rats (1974)

The car belonging to a man with a crippled leg (Richard Harrison; throughout the film only identified as "Cripple") breaks down in the muddiest part of nowhere. The only thing amounting to civilization close by is a muddy conglomerate of hovels populated by a handful of men (among them Gordon Mitchell) of dubious sanity and clearly lacking morality. Oh, and there's a single woman, Rita (Dagmar Lassander), the wife of one of the men. While everyone is busy keeping dangerous secrets and looking for gold in an old abandoned mine, she spends her time sleeping around with most  of the men, and laughing maniacally.

Although he has been greeted without enthusiasm, the nameless man decides to stay around for a while, sending everyone around him scuttling to find out what his hidden reason for staying might be. Is it after one of them? There are so many secrets going around that it's hard for the men to decide. Rita for her part tries her best to add the stranger to her collection of trophies, but he's a hard sell, driving the poor woman into provoking the other men even more.

It will just need a little more effort until everyone will be at each other's throats completely.

The Sewer Rats is a nice, grimy and decidedly muddy thriller that has ambitions on being a neo noir. Everyone here is basically a sleazier variation of one noir character type or the other, mixed up by throwing the more Spaghetti Western hero-like Harrison into the fray with them. The men (and the woman) are all decidedly unpleasant, but the film isn't as cynical as it could be - a few of them get slightly redeeming qualities, which proves helpful when the time of the big violent denouement comes and the viewer should care about what happens to them. Between the sleaze and the grime, the film shows some humanist strains - mostly in the way Harrison treats some of the other characters - that I found thoroughly surprising and quite satisfying.

A film like this always risks to become just a bit too cynical and falling a bit too much in love with wallowing in the mud (figurative and non-figurative). For me, films that go too far into that direction sometimes tend to lose the punch they are supposed to have. When everyone is an irredeemable bastard, I find it hard to care about anyone.

The Sewer Rats' Director Roberto Bianchi Montero avoids that pitfall more or less. While especially everything to do with Rita is as sleazy and exploitative as possible (and can well be read as quite misogynist), there are also moments of unexpected compassion for her, and it is this compassion that makes the downbeat tendencies of the film work all the better for me.


From Twitter 03-19-2010

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Friday, March 19, 2010

On WTF: The Oracle (1985)

A Roberta Findlay film about a cursed planchette, a bedraggled housewife and men with moustaches!

What could possibly go wrong?

Find out the frightening truth in my review on


From Twitter 03-18-2010

  • Hm, Dragon Age Origins Awakenings (I defy all colons) should be unlocked here in about an hour, U think. Fortunately, there was no pre-load,
  • so there's no temptation to play the night through.
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Thursday, March 18, 2010

In short: Fluctuations (1969 or 1970)

A Woman reads a book called "Voyeur", sitting on a chair, naked below the waist. Another woman stares at "A History of Orgies". Two karateka are fighting in a living room, while fighting sounds play out of synch. Two seconds of moaning as recorded over a telephone are looped endlessly. The slowest striptease in the history of the world starts. The kinkiness ramps up and up and up, going from threesomes, to hair-whipping to sleepy druggy sex to the voyeur woman wrestling with the karate guys. Some time during all this, the moaning turns into a lewd phone conversation with special interest in excrements and love as hate as love. Close-ups of scars. Writhing. People staring into the camera. More looped moaning.

Whenever I think I have reached the point in my film-watching career where no amount of weird stuff in a movie could surprise me, I find a film like this. It is of course not surprising to find a late 60s East Coast sexploitation epic that is utterly weird - that's the rule and not the exception - but it is a surprise to find one that seems to be either the product of the mind of an experimental filmmaker who has watched too many smutty pictures or of a smut filmmaker who has watched too many experimental films.

Directed by Joel Landwehr ("a film student", the Internet tells me) under the most excellent alias Leo J. Rhewdnal, Fluctuations is decidedly unsexy. Everyone's writhing and staring is so zoned out, utterly distanced and abstracted that I wouldn't be at all surprised to hear that Landwehr was trying to use Brechtian theatrical techniques, which, I might add, seems just insane in a skinflick.

It is possible that Landwehr was trying to make a point about the connection between sex and violence in sexploitation, but it is also quite possible that his film is a product of some sort of drug binge.

There's not much else I can say to illuminate anything about the film. It's one of those cases of "has to be seen (to be believed)". It might get a little strenuous to watch, but who said watching sexploitation is all fun and games?


From Twitter 03-17-2010

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sherlock Holmes (2009)

Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and his associate/common-law wife Dr. Watson (Jude Law) are putting the finishing touches on the case of the fiendish Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), who has delighted London with a series of black magic murders.

After Blackwood is caught, Holmes falls into his usual, bored funk, in this case deepened with his annoyance about one of the facts of life even a bastard genius has to live with - people are leaving. To be exact, Watson is about to get married to his fiancée Mary (Kelly Reilly) and is going to leave Holmes behind in their Baker Street abode.

A sudden appearance by Holmes' old flame/enemy Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) who has been hired by a shadowy character to convince Holmes to search for a certain Reordan (Oran Gurel) is proves to be an excellent distraction for our unheroic hero. But the life of a consulting detective can never be interesting enough, and so it is very much to our hero's delight when news reach him that the freshly hanged Lord Blackwood seems to have risen from the grave. That seems like an excellent excuse to keep Watson away from the married life! And might Irene Adler's missing person have something to do with the Blackwood affair?

After having suffered through more than one bad British Tarantino rip-off directed by him, I didn't think Guy Ritchie had anything good (beyond distracting Madonna from making records; something he also isn't very good at) in him. I'm happy to say I was wrong.

Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes imagines the character as a two-fisted pulp hero who has more in common with Doc Savage or (to take a British example) the mid-period Sexton Blake than with the way most other interpretations of the consulting detective show him. This might distress or annoy a certain part of Holmes fandom that can't abide versions of Holmes which put their weight less on the armchair detective side of the character and more on Holmes as a man of action. Others, like me, will probably be glad about a Holmes film taking liberties with a character that has become part of our cultural background, and turned into a piece of modern mythology that is based on much more than Arthur Conan Doyle's writings. Like all mythology, Holmes gains his strength through re-interpretations and re-imaginings. I really wouldn't see much point in a film about the detective that's trying to copy the Brett or the Livanov version. After all, these interpretations of the character already exist on screen; re-hashing them without Brett and Livanov would be an exercise in futility.

Watched as the pulpy adventure movie it is supposed to be, Ritchie's film succeeds quite brilliantly. Ritchie shows a firm hand at throwing Holmes and Watson into silly-awesome set pieces, racing them through them and just stopping for enough breathers to nod in the direction of various other Holmeses and Watsons, and to put a bit more emphasis on the complicated emotional relations between Holmes, Watson, Mary and Irene. This would probably not be all that exciting if the set pieces didn't work, but work they do, with all the breathlessness that a contemporary Hollywood blockbuster and classic pulp storytelling share. There's a sense of utter glee hanging over the film, as if Ritchie had finally been let loose to play with his perfect toy box. This enthusiasm and sense of fun is what divides Sherlock Holmes from other pieces of mainstream cinema as produced by people like Michael Bay; where Bay and his ilk are filling their films with the things their focus groups demand, Ritchie seems to put the things on screen he himself finds fun. As should be obvious, I'm all for a well-placed bit of fun.

Just as obviously, I can't stop talking about this Sherlock Holmes and its sense of fun and glee without mentioning Robert Downey Jr.'s performance as the title character. After this and his work on Iron Man, I'm convinced that Downey is the perfect actor for the well-paced screen spectacle, perfectly fit for physical acting and possibly the most note-perfect over-actor since Vincent Price (whom I'd loved to have seen as Holmes). As you know, Jim, a good over-actor does not merely chew the scenery, but knows exactly how much of this treatment a film needs and - more importantly - can take, and does not bite off more of a given film's face than necessary. Downey is really glorious as Holmes, and he is expertly supported by Jude Law's straight man with a fist and a sense of irony.

My only problems with the movie are Hans Zimmer's score, which sounds a bit too much like something written by a man who very desperately wants to be Ennio Morricone, but just isn't, and Rachel McAdam's inability to project the charisma the script demands of its Irene Adler. Both problems are notable, yet never grow large enough to endanger the film's exhilarating effect.

Sometimes, Hollywood blockbusters do deliver what they promise.


From Twitter 03-16-2010

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  • The King in Yellow & I. *giggles*

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Three Films Make A Post: They Thought He Was Dead. They Were Wrong.

Pandorum (2009): The critical consensus about this film seems to be that it is pretty bad, but I don't agree with that. It certainly isn't a very good film or one that works well as the piece of SF/horror it is meant to be, but it mixes a pretty cool set-up with the awesomely stupid and the just plain stupid with such enthusiasm and earnestness that I couldn't help but have an hour and a half of fun with it. It's also great to see the extras from John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars (a film that works for me on the same level as Pandorum does, now that I think of it) are still getting work.

Just don't expect something clever from the poor film.


Vampire Hookers (1978): You'd think that a movie featuring geriatric John Carradine as a poetry reciting master vampire and his three frequently naked vampire brides, as well as Vic Diaz and a ten minute plus four-person sex scene (without Carradine and Diaz, don't worry) would be a highly entertaining experience, but you would be wrong. This Cirio H. Santiago film is supposed to be a comedy, and therefore singularly unfunny for anyone without a preference for vampire fart jokes or the type of humour that is based on the inability of our male protagonists to identify transvestites.

Worst of all is how the (in theory relatively short) film drags and shuffles its feet for most of its running time, as if nobody was bothering to actually try and make it fun, and Santiago instead went for making it just long enough to be sellable. And just don't get me started on the painful sex scene (of doom).

At least I will always have this piece of wisdom the film shared with me: "Coffins are for being laid to rest, not for being laid".


The Cut (2008): This South Korean film about a group of medical students learning that autopsies can be much more dangerous than one would expect and that their elder generation has more than one corpse hidden in their cellars is well-acted, slickly directed, yet still not all that interesting a film. While the characters are a bit more complex than they first appear to be, the film is a bit thin and most certainly not deserving of nearly two hours of running time. Everything about The Cut is decisively conventional, and therefore just not all that interesting.


From Twitter 03-15-2010

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  • New blog post: Music Monday: Oh Edition: Technorati-Tags: music monday,music,fugazi
  • A "Faustian bargain with Ares"? Um.
  • Oh, and Happy Lovecraft's Birthday, world!
  • I am a bad Lovecraftian!
  • So, let's do that again.
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Monday, March 15, 2010

Music Monday: Oh Edition

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From Twitter 03-14-2010

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Warrior And The Sorceress (1984)

A lone swordsman dressed in black - whom the end titles in their incredible originality call Kain (David Carradine), but who is never named in the film itself, so I''ll just call him Toshiro - comes to a desert town somewhere on a two-sunned planet in sword and sorcery land.

Two bands of thugs are competing for dominance of the village's well, and with it its citizens. One of the gangs is lead by an overweight guy named Balcaz (William Marin) and his pet lizard doll person, the other by the only slightly more impressive Zek (Luke Askew) and his captain of the guard - if you want to call about a dozen badly armed hollering yokels a "guard" - Kief (Anthony De Longis).

As will come as a complete surprise, Toshiro plans on putting both groups even more at each other's throats than they already are, hoping to achieve a nice profit and possibly a thugless town in the process. The swordsman is rather good at his job, too. At a later stage in his plans he even manages to put the reptiloid slave trader Burgo (Arthur Clark) to good use.

Our hero's life gets a bit more difficult when he discovers that Zek keeps Naja (Maria Socas and her perpetually unvovered breasts), a sorceress/princess of a now fallen empire Toshiro had once sworn allegiance to, as a prisoner. For some reason, Zek wants the woman to make him a magical sword whose usefulness besides its sharpness the film never bothers to explain.

Toshiro for his part has not freed himself completely from his old oaths and tries to help Naja (or her breasts?). That is not going to make his life any easier.

I like to imagine that, like the character David Carradine always played, the actor drifted from country to country for most of his career, sprouting wisdom of the east he didn't have a clue about, lending his dubious acting talents to whomever payed him enough needed him. His wanderings must have lead him onto the set of this US/Argentinian sword and sorcery rip-off of Yojimbo some day, and because its director John C. Broderick gave him a bit of money and promised him many scenes of interaction with pretty, bare-breasted women, the veteran of looking bored while carrying a weapon stayed.

Keeping in mind the type of guy who usually starred in cheap sword and sorcery flicks, a professional sleepwalker like Carradine is an improvement. At least he looks like an interesting human being and not like a bodybuilder and has some experience in looking not completely ridiculous in fight scenes. Of course, a lot of Carradine's acting here still consists of him looking bored or stoned, possibly both, but that's still a better performance than Miles O'Keefe ever delivered. From time to time, Carradine even looks somewhat awake (I blame Maria Socas). Sometimes, he even looks as if he is having a bit of fun with trying to imitate Toshiro Mifune's body language out of Yojimbo, or at least the part of it that consists of rubbing his face or his chest.

The rest of the actors is about as good as you'd expect from a film like this. Maria Socas looks quite striking but doesn't have anything to do, while Askew and especially Marin do look appropriately silly/menacing.

Not surprisingly, while he's stealing merrily from both directors, Broderick's work on his film is neither on the level of Kurosawa nor on that of Leone, but he does a solid and unremarkable job of the point and shoot type. The film's pacing is also kinda alright. This outpour of relative technical competence alone does put The Warrior and the Sorceress on the higher tier of Sword and Sorcery films for me. Yes, I am damning with faint praise, but what can you do?

At least, the film tries for a bit more internal coherence than typical of its genre on screen. It might be a bit generous to speak of believable world building, but the characters at least seem to have a past that has something to do with the history of their surroundings. I'd even go so far to say that a better scriptwriter could have used the characters' pasts to produce a bit of tension here.

Of course, there was only John C. Broderick, and so the tension is replaced by sometimes competent, sometimes dreadful fights, a four-breasted woman with a poison tentacle, some rubber monsters, a lot of naked women with a more normal amount of breasts, an unfortunately also nearly naked fat guy and David Carradine. That, however is entertaining enough for me, so I'm not going to complain.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

On WTF: The Clown Murders (1976)

Although it is much maligned, I found the Canadian psychological thriller The Clown Murders quite satisfying in its insistence on ambiguity and moral murkiness.

All details about it can - as always - be found in my review on


From Twitter 03-12-2010

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  • D&D alignments as explained by Dr. Who
  • And another round of Peter Molyneux hatred begins. Because someone actually trying to make interesting games is the most worthwhile target
  • in a world filled with Gears of War, Modern Warfare and Modern War Gears of Warring War.
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Friday, March 12, 2010

In short: Spies Kill Silently (1966)

aka Spy Strikes Silently

Famous scientists of a humanitarian bend - which in this film means scientists doing things like looking for a cure for cancer, not building death rays, surprisingly enough - die in mysterious ways. It looks like natural causes, but the international secret services soon figure out that the scientists were all murdered. By whom and why is unknown (and the latter will stay unknown even after the movie is through).

The British send the best spy of the Americans (no, I don't understand how that's supposed to work either), Michael Drum (Lang Jeffries) to Beirut to protect a Professor working on the cure for cancer there. Whoever is responsible for the other murders isn't too keen on Drum's presence, so the assassination attempts on him start before he has even had the opportunity to meet the man he is supposed to guard, but if there's one thing Drum is good at, it's killing back people who want to kill him. It's just too bad that he never leaves any survivors he could question about the identity of their boss or bosses.

Despite his awesome powers of face-punching, Drum isn't able to protect his charge. A few minutes of distraction by two cops who inexplicably attack the agent are enough to leave the poor cancer destroyer dead.

At least these two dead cops put Drum on the right track. They were obviously drugged and mind-controlled by some fiendish mastermind. But who, oh who might it be, and what does said fiendish mastermind want? Only lots of travel between London and Beirut will solve this riddle.

Maria Caiano's Spies Kill Silently will probably not go down as one of the unknown masterpieces of Eurospy cinema, but in its modest yet confident way, it is a fun enough little film.

Caiano's direction isn't too sexy or stylish, but it lacks the sloppiness that drags some parts of the Eurospy genre down. Some viewers seem to have their problems with the film's pacing, I however would call it tight enough to work.

The movie stands on the line between the more batshit Eurospy films and a more realistic sensibility. While the big bad's plan and his methods to realize it are beautifully silly nonsense, and the scientist hunt only seems to happen to point his enemies in his direction, the rest of the film is on the more gray and unfriendly side of the genre. Jeffries' Drum is a very competent fighter, yet he lacks the suaveness and the (often annoying) propensity to torture his enemies and innocent women with bad wisecracks many other Eurospy heroes show in abundance. He isn't exactly a believable spy in Le Carré sense, but he's not one of the silly buggers that dominate European spy films either.

The film's action scenes tend to the more realistic side too, feeling a bit more brutal than usual.

"Realistic" is of course a very relative phrase. We are still talking about a film whose evil mastermind uses a mind control drug and a death ray and likes to rant long and pointlessly about his own awesomeness.

Spies Kill Silently is a satisfying little film that hits enough of the required genre beats to be fun.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

In short: Blood Stalkers (1978)

The most annoying quartet of city people ever to grace the Florida backwoods - Vietnam vet Mike (Jerry Albert), his wife Kim (Toni Crabtree), "entertainer" Daniel (Ken Miller) and his wife or girlfriend, the dancer Jeri (Celea Ann Cole) and her pneumatic cleavage - has decided to spend two weeks in a hut in the middle of nowhere Mike inherited from his parents.

The typical weaselly gas station attendant (Herb Goldstein) warns the travellers off in the usual rude and unhelpful way, because, he says, Mike's hut lies in the territory of the "blood stalkers", whatever that may be.

Not surprisingly, neither he nor the threatening stares of the other friendly country folk can dissuade the tourists from their holiday plans.

Even before they have finally found their way to the hut, the quartet has started to bicker and blabber melodramatically, and they sure as hell aren't going to stop that for quite some time, even when strange noises and a vandalized car should distract them.

After some time, destiny shows some consideration for the mental health of the film's viewers, and something with very hairy arms attacks Jeri. Mike's experiences as a soldier save everyone's lives, but it is clear that someone has to go for help.

How unfortunate that someone has now sabotaged the car completely. Mike decides to make his way through the woods to ask the country people for help, while Daniel "protects the women". You can probably imagine how well the latter works out.

Meanwhile, Mike arrives safely in Hicksville, but finds nobody willing to help him and his friends.

Blood Stalkers was written and directed by ex-radio-DJ and "bigfoot expert" Robert W. Morgan and is Morgan's only directing job. Frighteningly, the man has also written the script to (Florida's beloved son's) William Grefe's shark torture porn movie Mako: The Jaws of Death, which is not what I'd call a recommendation.

I sure wish someone had re-written Morgan's script for Blood Stalkers a bit, because as it stands, the film's first hour is pretty dreadful. There's lots of driving around through Florida while nothing at all happens and even more annoying bickering between the utterly loathsome characters to slog through, all of it filmed with all the charm and energy of a dead rat.

Until, suddenly and quite unforeseeable, the movie (and with it at least this viewer) suddenly jumps up and screams: "But look at this!" and turns into a raw but clever piece of typical 70s horror. Suddenly, Morgan even does some actual directing beyond pointing the camera and shrugging. There's a really clever bit when Mike tries to get help from a local black church community, but is (with much more trepidation than the white people show) turned away with a look that to me seems to have a lot to say about the black experience in the Deep South of the US.

What exactly he and the preacher are saying to each other is drowned out by the church's gospel choir, which will continue to dominate the soundtrack a bit longer while Mike is desperately running and his friends are desperately dying.

After that, the film takes a rough and nasty turn into revenge flick territory, presented with the sort of dryness and ruthlessness that is typical for exploitation cinema of this era and bend. It's extreme enough that my emotional reaction to the proceedings wavered at the point where the ridiculous and the depressingly bleak meet, as it should be.

That surely isn't what one had expects from a film that was trying to bore one out of one's mind just minutes before.


From Twitter 03-10-2010

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  • New blog post: No Name On The Bullet (1959): A gunman named John Gant (Audie Murphy) comes into the quiet town of ...
  • RT @YSDC: The beginnings of a Cthulhu correspondence... The scanned letters of Herber, Lehmann, Morrison et al.
  • Sometimes, the European Parliament does a good job.
  • Charles "Town That Dreaded Sundown" B. Pierce is dead.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

No Name On The Bullet (1959)

A gunman named John Gant (Audie Murphy) comes into the quiet town of Lordsburg. Gant is a very reserved and earnest chap, doesn't talk much, observes a lot. Gant is also a professional killer with a peculiar modus operandi. His method is well known - and would not work quite as well if it wasn't. He comes into a town, checks into a hotel, watches and waits and makes his potential victims so nervous that they are just bound to pick a fight with him, putting him into the position to shoot them in "self defence" and merrily go on his way.

The killer's arrival causes panic in the peaceful town, and soon everyone who thinks there might be a reason for Gant to come for him is on edge. It turns out that the peaceful little town isn't as peaceful as it seems, and that a lot of its citizens have good reason to be afraid, be it the man who ran away with another man's wife and learned to hate her, as she did him, or the businessmen squabbling over a mine. All too soon, there is the first suicide, and shoot-outs between citizens will not be far behind. All the while, Gant hasn't even fired a single bullet.

The killer obviously enjoys this part of his job very much. He's keeping to a strict codex of not killing those people for whose death he wasn't paid and he is convinced that he's doing the world a favour killing those for whose deaths he was, a never explained sense of biblical justice hangs about him and his techniques. Righteous people have no need to fear Gant, after all.

Seemingly the only man who doesn't fear Gant at all is the local physician Dr. Luke Canfield (Charles Drake). The doctor is an idealist willing to put his head on the line for the things he believes in, as driven a healer as Gant is a killer. This makes the doctor Gant's opposite as well as his mirror image, and both he and Gant know it and feel a certain attraction to each other.

It is only a question of time until it will come to a confrontation between the two men.

It is a well-known fact that B-grade Western in the 40s and 50s could get away with much more daring scripts than their high budget counterparts, but it is also true that most of them had to take much of what they had said back for their final reels so as not to shake the status quo up too much. Somebody must have forgotten to send the memo about the final reel to No Name On The Bullet's director Jack Arnold (yes, the former monster film specialist) or its scriptwriter Gene L. Coon (yes, the future Star Trek writer), leading to a film that is as thematically unified as one could wish for. It is not that the film's ending is utterly pessimistic or cynical - the bad are being punished and the good live on, after all - but it is far away from the kneejerk "and everything is alright again" ending that mars many a movie of the era.

Not being a Spaghetti Western, the film clearly takes Canfield's side in the conflict with Gant, yet it does so sharing the empathy and the need to understand Canfield shows for everyone around him. On another level, the film seems to be as much about theology (or possibly moral philosophy) as about a killer coming to a frontier town. Here, the film puts Canfield's New Testament morals above Gant's Old Testament ones without ever pretending not to understand the lure of the latter.

No Name on the Bullet is also part of the sub-genre of the psychological B-Western. As such, it is more interested in observing (very much like Gant must have done a hundred times before) how men cope with their feelings of guilt when coming under pressure from an outside force. The conclusion the film comes to - people break - isn't exactly pretty, and, again surprising in its honesty for a movie made in 1959, in the USA, the film doesn't judge its characters for that.

No Name On The Bullet is exceedingly economically filmed. Arnold only has 73 minutes to tell his story, give enough depth to half a dozen characters, set up the Canfield/Gant conflict and put a handful of shoot-outs or near shoot-outs on screen, so there's no time for him to be flashy or to demonstrate what a good director he is. Instead, he does what truly good director does, puts his ego out of the way and tries to do justice to an excellent script. This approach leaves much work for his actors, and all of them use their chances to build on the audience's knowledge of stock characters and make them something more.

I was especially impressed by Audie Murphy, an actor who isn't exactly known for giving his characters much depth, but who here brings Gant to life as a man at once relishing the role he plays in life with a hardly controlled sadist glee yet who is also able to be compassionate, in his own way even kind.


From Twitter 03-09-2010

  • New blog post: From Twitter 03-08-2010: New blog post: From Twitter 03-07-2010: New blog post: From Twitter 03-06-...
  • New blog post: Things I Learned About/From Doris Wishman by watching "Bad Girls Go To Hell" (1965): Bad girls go t...
  • Still kinda loopy from watching "Fluctuations" yesterday.
  • What's the logical reaction if you don't like a popular webcomic? Not reading it? Nah, that would make sense!
  • Oh maaaaaan.
  • Do you hear that? It's the sound of the joyless ones gibbering and meeping.
  • Need rich fiancee now! RT @YSDC: Astounding Stories 1936, with HPL's 'The Shadow Out of Time' tale. Two copies on eBay:

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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Things I Learned About/From Doris Wishman by watching "Bad Girls Go To Hell" (1965)

  1. Bad girls go to hell.
  2. There are no bad girls in "Bad Girls Go To Hell".
  3. To make up for it, all men are evil, belt-wielding rapists. Who probably don't go to hell. And they are waiting for you womenfolk about two steps outside of your front door.
  4. Most women run around their apartments in their undies all day. If they want to do some cleaning, they throw over a negligee.
  5. The best way to hide the lack of quality in your post-dubbing is to film your actors' backs as much as possible.
  6. If you can't film a back, try to find a family of ducks to film while the dubbing actors talk. Or are these talking ducks?
  8. The thing that represents New York best can be found when you (as a New Yorker director) point your camera directly at the sky.
  9. If the sky isn't available, there's always walking feet. Oh glorious, glorious feet!
  10. On planet Wishman, time and space don't work the same way they do on our planet. Thankfully, there's the post-dubbed dialogue to oh so subtly tell us about any changes.
  11. Most cops enter their mother's apartment through the walk-in closet. (Possibly 10b.)
  12. After this film's ending, Groundhog Day can just go home.
  13. I like planet Wishman.


From Twitter 03-08-2010

  • New blog post: From Twitter 03-07-2010: New blog post: From Twitter 03-06-2010: New blog post: From Twitter 03-05-...
  • What a surprise.
  • New blog post: Music Monday: Sounds Like Lemmy Edition: Technorati-Tags: music monday,music,high on fire
  • A trailer, that's what you put on the Net to prevent people from watching your movie, right?
  • Huh, Toki Tori plays excellently with High on Fire in the background instead of the game's own candy-coloured music.
  • Whining about ad-blocking when you have a site full of eye-destroying ad blights won't make me whitelist you. Just saying.
  • RT @Quinns108: So I'm meant to be reviewing Silent Hunter 5 today. Guess the DRM servers have gone down, again.
  • It's comedy gold.
  • Hmm, my random wallpaper thingie must be in a weird mood. Again, Conan, but with frogs as drawn by Mike Mignola.

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