Thursday, September 30, 2010

In short: Ero Kowai Kaidan Vol.1 - Iguana Onna (2010)

Office worker Ayaka (Akiho Yoshizawa) meets office worker Hiro (Mutsuo Yoshioka) on a blind date party. They hit it off well, and two scenes later, they're merrily humping away. But the couple's happiness is soon disturbed by an reptile-loving ex-girlfriend of Hiro's named Saori who proceeds to stalk Ayaka.

At first, it's nothing more than the expected threatening text messages and silent staring up the apartment building Ayaka is living in, but soon Saori hires an internet detective agency to dig up dirt about Ayaka.

When even the revelation that Ayaka worked as a prostitute a few years ago won't break the two up, Saori's actions get increasingly creepy. Saori won't even hold off from using the supernatural to get her characterless man back.

Iguana Onna is another attempt to mix light softcore sex (with fewer sex scenes than a true pinku of the same length would have) and horror, but as many other films who have tried that particular trick, it manages to already stray from the path of quality on the most basic level. That is to say, the sex isn't an intrinsic part of the horror nor the horror an intrinsic part of the sex. Basically, the sex scenes are just longer and a wee bit more explicit than they are in your average horror movie, but the film wouldn't change one bit if they weren't there at all.

Still, I wouldn't find much reason to complain if these sex scenes weren't more routine than they are erotic, lacking in creativity as well as in simple enthusiasm. Worse, the more copious horror scenes are too bland to work too well either, and are based on some problematic assumptions, namely that reptiles (be it iguanas, or - and I'm not making this up - turtles) are creepy and that the iguana woman Saori turns into in the end is frightening rather than funny. The former might be true at least for some people, but the latter is about as true as the German foreign minister is competent.

At least - and again very much like Herr Westerwelle - the iguana woman is quite hilarious, using her forked CGI tongue and the usual herkyjerky movements in a "big" attack scene so unthreatening it is pretty funny. As is some of the dialogue (personal favourite: Ayaka and Hiro earnestly discussing during a relationship quarrel what a street survey would find more reprehensible, him being "a player" or her being "a whore"), and the acting. Yoshizawa, who in theory carries the main load of the film, does not seem to be one of the idols with any acting talent beyond the dropping of her clothes, which is a bit problematic in a film that could only be saved by concerted efforts of the actors to camp it up outrageously. Instead, she, and everybody else, goes for the usual (and very bland) soap operatics.

It's probably less than a compliment to Iguana Woman when I say that I still have watched worse films produced for the contemporary Japanese DVD market than an indication of how deep the industry of the country has fallen, but at least I was able to watch this one all the way through in one sitting (all 70 minutes of it!) and am still willing to watch other films of its kind soon - if only in the hope for ridiculous iguana women - which is more than I can say of too many other films of its ilk.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

God's Left Hand, Devil's Right Hand (2006)

Original title: Kami no hidarite akuma no migite

A little boy called Sou Yamabe (Tsubasa Kobayashi) has strange precognitive powers connected with his dreams. One night, while his older sister Izumi (Asuka Shibuya) is watching over him, he dreams of the cruel murder of a teenager (Saaya). Somehow, the boy's mental connection to the murder victim runs so deep that he even mirrors her deadly wounds, his throat tearing open and blood spattering in an early warning that the blood in this film will be very fake looking yet will also appear in copious amounts. Only the fast reaction of Izumi saves Sou's life, but he still ends up in hospital in a coma from which nobody seems to be sure when or if he will awake.

Sou had warned Izumi that something like this would happen to him, and made her promise to save him if she could. At the time, Izumi didn't take what her brother told her seriously, but now she is convinced she has to follow the vague hints he gave her to the killer he saw in his dream.

The audience has already made the killer's acquaintance. Kubota (Tomorowo Taguchi), as he is called, is a soft-spoken grocery store clerk who takes loving care of his little, paraplegic - yet for some peculiar reason wheelchair-less - daughter Momo (Momoku Shimizu). Of course, if you know what he's doing in his free time, some of Kubota's interactions with his daughter begin to take on quite disturbing features. He draws macabre little stories that end up in violent deaths of young women for Momo, which delight the girl to no end, it seems, but each of these stories is actually based on the true events of one of his murders. And Kubota has already told a lot of stories to his daughter.

So it's probably for the best that Izumi has a prophetic dream that leads her to a red cell phone with which she can get in contact with her comatose little brother, who in turn is able to point the girl to the town where Kubota and his daughter live. There, Izumi teams up with Yoshiko (Ai Maeda), the sister of poor, dead Ayu and follows a tiny handful of clues to Kubota.

I will always admire Shusuke Kaneko for his brilliant reimagining of Gamera and the whole kaiju genre in the 90s (and his pretty neat Godzilla film), but I have not been satisfied with any of the films he made outside the kaiju genre I have seen. Like Kaneko's Gamera films, all of these movies are trying very hard to do clever and unexpected things inside their respective genres, yet unlike the Gamera films, they never manage to achieve their goals completely.

This adaptation of a manga (that is of course not available in translation) by the great Kazuo Umezu (who has one of his inevitable - and inevitably charming - cameos giving Kubota positive reinforcement for his art) starts out well enough.

Kaneko seems to be quite on the right wavelength to work through some of Umezu's favourite themes. Early on, God's Left Hand makes much of the difference in the way children and adults see the world, with the serial killer ironically being closer to a child-like disposition than a sane grown-up could be, and shows very Umezu-like doubts in the correctness of seeing the world in a rational and grown-up way (Umezu does live in a striped house after all) when it is obvious that the world isn't a rational and grown-up place.

The way Kaneko treats the supernatural here fits into the same mould. Izumi, who as a teenager is much closer to being an adult herself and not prone to magical thinking anymore, is at first sceptical when it comes to her brother's prophecies, but as soon as she has witnessed him nearly dying, she accepts all the weird coincidences, prophetic dreams and bizarre occurrences the film is throwing at her with the matter-of-factness of a much younger child, following the trail before her like the fairy tale character she is.

It is important not to misjudge the film as one of those horror movies that try to be realistic or logical, or even believable in the usual sense. This is a dark fairy tale with a bad wolf who pretends to be a loving father, a little princess in peril, a courageous girl on a quest and a forest of subtextual meaning that just happens to take place in contemporary Japan.

And for the first forty or fifty minutes, Kaneko's film is a pretty impressive fairy tale at that, proficiently balancing on the line that divides non-naturalistic filmmaking from silly camp, managing to squeeze a dream-like mood out of mundane locations.

But then, suddenly, the film begins to falter, right at the scene I won't spoil for anyone by calling it the Great Cake and Axe Massacre, in which what should feel grotesque and just plain weird turns into a kitschy mess of cake frosting, rubber heads and idol cameos. It's a scene that ripped me right out of the mood Kaneko had built up so carefully before, and for the rest of the film's running time I wasn't able to find a way back into it anymore.

Unfortunately, much of what follows that scene isn't really worth trying to get into again. Although there are still some utterly fantastic moments (and a wonderfully bizarre happy end) to follow, much of the rest of the film is further disrupted by increasingly bad acting. I could forgive the child actors (and possibly even the idols) for not being able to get through the more emotionally draining later scenes, but Tomorowo Taguchi has been in more than enough films to really know better. His performance starts out quiet and underplayed and therefore disquieting, but all too soon turns into an eye-rolling piece of overacting that would be too much in a Tim Burton movie, and just sucks every bit of menace and subtlety from this particular film.

But it is not only the acting that is at fault here, the script and Kaneko's direction falter as much, with everything that was subtle and ambiguous in the beginning turning into the obvious and overly familiar, until the finale finds the film turning into a full-blown celebration of cinematic weirdness. Alas, at that point, it is already far too late to matter anymore.

So, like all of Kaneko's films not featuring guys in rubber suits, I can't whole-heartedly recommend God's Left Hand, Devil's Right Hand. I don't think, however, that this is a movie to avoid completely. It's just a question of coping with the crushing disappointment that Kaneko, who should by rights be one of the leading Japanese directors of intelligent commercial films working today, has again not lived up to his directorial potential.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

In short: .357 Magnum (1977)

American Jonathan "Johnny" Hightower (James Whitworth) works as a contract secret agent for some British-accented guy with the most frightening hair I have ever seen. The hair monster wants Johnny to kill another guy called Clay. Clay is in ChinatownHong Kong and then moves on to ChinatownTokyo. He walks a lot, has vague phone conversations but also shoots a few people.

Johnny thinks he's going to need help for this one, so he seeks out an alcoholic gunman named Steven he is friends with. Steve likes to talk in close-ups that hide his mouth. They shoot, they philosophize, then they shoot some more. They visit the OK corral so that Steven can philosophize some more. All the while, Clay has been walking and working his phone.

When it's time for our heroes to spring into action, it's also time for a Priscilla Alden cameo. And betrayal! And a five minute scene of a woman licking a vibrator! Then vengeance!

If you haven't entered the peculiar world of directing force of un-nature Nick Millard until now, .357 Magnum would probably be too exhausting a place to start. I'd recommend Criminally Insane as a less disturbing starting point.

If, on the other hand, you already have made contact with Millard's work, you will recognize his style at once. The unmoving (possibly unmovable) camera, the a-rhythmic and illogical editing, Millard's weird talent for making even those scenes in which all contributing actors are present at the same time look as if they aren't, the rough sound and the nearly perverse use of library music.

Everyone on screen is stiffly staring into the direction of the camera, muttering dialogue with all the conviction and emotion of someone who has been dead inside for years. I still hope there's a zombie film hidden away somewhere in the director's back catalogue. That would truly be a match made in the special heaven that's reserved for all things improbably painful and beautiful.

The movie's plot barely makes sense (and what sense there is nearly completely destroyed by its confused storytelling), and yet it's presented with an utterly weird weight of conviction, as if Millard, in making films most people wouldn't even call films, had found a source of disquieting earnestness that leads his films as far away from the fun playing around of other no-budget productions of this kind as it can be lead. Millard seems to follow his own internal logic, a logic that might be incomprehensible for anyone not Millard, but which is logic nonetheless. Even the scene - coming right before the so-called finale to rob that of any possible excitement that might have built up for it in a viewer - of the guy with the hair (wasn't he in Millard's Satan's Black Wedding?) watching the woman licking her vibrator feels as if it would make sense to someone able to look into Millard's head.

And what an interesting place to live in that head must be.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sister Street Fighter: Hanging By A Thread (1974)

Original title: Onna hissatsu ken: kiki ippatsu

After her adventures in Japan during Sister Street Fighter, Koryu (Etsuko Shihomi), everyone's favourite kicker of evil behinds, has returned to Hong Kong. She has kept her talent for being at the right place at the right time, and so is present when some brutal martial artist thugs are attacking a private eye. Koryu is able to drive off the attackers, but can't prevent the detective from being mortally wounded. At least, before he dies the man is still able to give her his glass eye and beg her to bring it to a certain Doctor Wang, whom Koryu already knows as the father of her old school friend Birei (Hisayo Tanaka).

From Wang, Koryu learns that he had hired the dead detective to find out what happened to Birei, who disappeared. The glass eye - as glass eyes do - contains some photos that make clear the young woman has been kidnapped by a Japanese gang of human traffickers. Birei's father, knowing that Koryu has experience in Japan and is quite good at not getting killed, begs the fighter to travel to Japan and get his daughter back. Of course, Koryu agrees.

About ten seconds after she has arrived in Japan, our heroine is distracted by the first of many attempts of the human traffickers to permanently get rid of her, but Koryu's not the type to get phased by a little violence and solves the problem without too much of an effort, even if she has to fight ninjas on the roof of a moving train.

After that, it's time to visit her sister Hakuran (Tamayo Mitsukawa), who is supposedly working as a designer of jewellery, but is in truth part of the Osone group that is responsible for Koryu's problems. It's not that she has much of a choice in that, mind you, because the Osone group need a talented jeweller like Hakuran too badly not to press her into service through violence and sadism. They're not just human traffickers selling their victims into prostitution, you see, the group also uses an alcoholic surgeon to sew jewels into their victims' asses in a newfangled smuggling ploy. So Koryu has her work - and an obvious source of melodrama - cut out for her.

For her second Sister Street Fighter film, the Toei higher-ups seem to have trusted the abilities of Etsuko Shihomi enough not to put her mentor Sonny Chiba at her side to steal her lamplight. She's getting a bit of male help again, but where Chiba was typically memorable in the first movie, her new sidekick's just there to break a bit of second-string henchman skull and point Koryu into the right direction from time to time. That sidelining of male protagonists is of course a good thing - there are more than enough movies with Chiba and co. strutting their stuff admirably, so there's no need to fill a film with "Sister Street Fighter" in its title with guy cooties too.

By now (and still in the second year of her movie career), Shihomi has really hit her stride and doesn't just show off appropriately photogenic and brutal martial arts skills, but has also mastered the three expressions of emotion most important in this arm of martial arts cinema: the pissed off look, the violently determined look, and the mean stare. That's no small feat with a face that does fulfil all rules and regulations of cuteness afforded that have come down to the Japanese moviemaking culture from their venerable forefathers.

What's best about Shihomi's position in the film, though, is something completely different, and something I'd usually associate with martial arts films from Taiwan and Hong Kong rather than with Japanese films of the 70s. It's how matter-of-factly the film treats its heroine being a female ass-kicker. Koryu's gender does not seem to be a thing even worth mentioning for most of the movie. There's barely a sentence of the usual "but how could a girl beat me?" stuff coming from the bad guys; it's as if the film just doesn't put any importance on it.

While Shihomi effortlessly carries her part of the movie, returning director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi does not seem to be at the top of his game. The cinematic basics are of course realized with the highest level of craftsmanship - this is a Japanese movie of the 70s made by highly knowledgeable professionals, after all - but the creative visual flourishes that elevate a film from good to "what did I just see" levels aren't really forthcoming. When he's not moving his camera around to produce a dynamic feeling, Yamaguchi mostly goes for the overuse of zooms and a high amount of shots from below at a slanted angle that certainly look peculiar, but are not peculiar enough to push the psychedelic buttons I was hoping for seeing pushed going in.

More problematic some viewers could be the perfunctory way the emotional and melodramatic parts are integrated into the storyline, but this just looks to me like a film concentrating on what it does best (brutal violence) and mostly ignoring what it does worst (crying). Owing to that, Hanging By A Thread is not an emotionally complex movie, yet it isn't supposed to be one.

A bit more disappointing to me is that Yamaguchi (or his script writers, veteran director, writer and madman Norifumi Suzuki and Masahiro Kakefuda) dials down the batshit insanity of the proceedings compared to a first movie that in its turn was already dialled down from the insanity of The Streetfighter. Fortunately, "dialling down" in this context still leaves us with a movie where even an alcoholic surgeon (usually seen with a large parrot on his shoulder, so I suppose he's a pirate surgeon) is an expert martial artists, where bad guy fighting techniques contain things like hypnotic sai sounds that let heroines see double, where there's a throw-away ninja attack just ten minutes in and where the final strikes of the final fight are exchanged while the combatants are flying. So, while it's not as batshit, organ-ripping insane as it could be, Hanging By A Thread still prefers the ridiculously awesome to the realistic.

And, as it goes with movies that do this, it's incredibly fun to watch.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Three Films Make A Post: Means Horror!

Kain Kafan Perawan (2010): A bunch of pretty and stupid young people tries to film a documentary in a haunted railroad coach. Only one of them survives the ensuing meeting with the resident ghost, who proceeds to hitch a ride with her and terrorizes her and her big sister and various other people.

Ghost! Scream! Ghost! Run! Ghost! Ghost! Run! Scream! Ghost! Whimper!

That's about all of this Indonesian teen horror movie's content. There's no theme, no characterization, no mood and no plot, instead one unoriginal shock after the other, with nary a pause for breath. It's too bad, really, because director Nayato (Fio Nuala) manages to make his probably ultra-cheap movie look quite alright through judicious use of fog and blue light, and could probably produce something atmospheric if he put his mind to it. Alas, it's just all running and screaming, all the time.

Gehara (2009): Charming short film that functions as a parodic homage to the kaiju genre, especially the films of Shusuke Kaneko, although there are also a lot of old school kaiju elements to be found. Quite different from a lot of genre parodies, this is short enough not to overstay its welcome and seems driven by actual affection for and knowledge of the genre it is making fun of.

And, you know, it's about a smelly, hairy (hippie?) monster that is conquered with the help of a really big ventilator.

Triangulo de Oro (1983?): For a deeper look at Colombian director of the fantastic Javier Pinilla, I'd recommend you have a look at an excellent article and triple review on Braineater.

Unfortunately, this one, an adventure movie about a chubby, mono-browed shirt-hating guy wearing a leather vest on his naked chest trying to first save his sister from certain death and then steal a magic golden triangle from a very strange island, doesn't even seem worth watching for the lover of the campy and bizarre. On paper, Triangulo is full of the good stuff of crappy adventure movies: bad martial arts, man-eating bushes, teleporting golden triangles, a very dubious looking hero who is named after his own boat (well, or the other way around) and a direction style that looks self-taught in all the good and all the bad meanings of the word. But all that good stuff is buried under so much tediousness: scenes that don't need to be in the film at all, other scenes that run on and on and on without mercy, much annoying running back and forth and an awful lot of repetition. This tendency to tediousness turns what should be a fun sixty minute ride into ninety minutes of boredom that feel like four hours.

It really is quite a shame, because Pinilla's direction and his crazier ideas hint at the potential for something entertaining in the same honestly enthusiastic way Turkish pop cinema is entertaining.

Friday, September 24, 2010

On WTF: Resurrecting The Street Walker (2009)

Oh look it's another fake documentary! But this time, it's a very good one that should be worth the time of even the most devoted of the form's detractors.

I get quite excited over the film in my review over on WTF-Film.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

In short: Death Screams (1982)

aka Night Screams

aka The House of Death

It's the end of the summer holidays in a small town in North Carolina. In a few days, a group of (of course looking rather old for their age) friends will leave their home for various Big City colleges.

But before it's time to say goodbye for them, they're going to have a little fun at the town's yearly carnival. After that, there's still time to drive out to the river situated nearby and have one final party.

What the friends don't know is that a killer armed with a machete (and sometimes bow and arrow and a plastic bag, it seems) is slashing and stalking through town and will soon enough demonstrate his own style of partying to them.

Will the town's mean fat redneck sheriff be able to save anyone before his heart finally succumbs to all that ichor that's clogging his arteries?

If you're looking for a local slasher movie that's particularly exciting or clever, or for one that actually works as a suspense film, I'd recommend you just keep away from Death Screams, because in these respects, there's not much to the film. The kills mostly aren't interesting, there's no mood of danger or terror, and although the physics of some of the kills are rather problematic (did you know that it takes about three seconds to suffocate underneath a plastic bag that someone has loosely thrown over your head?), they aren't really ridiculous enough to provide much amusement.

If, on the other hand, you're me, and have subscribed to the concept of small local productions like this being windows into the very specific cultural mores of very specific times and places, you'll find some minor delights on display here. Look at the amusing pretend-mean grandmother! Marvel at how boring life must be where a carnival as shabby as the one we get to see is a major event! Thrill to the sense of witnessing a sheriff as authentically mean-spirited and bitter as they come! And be surprised by the sense of pessimism and ennui in the teenaged protagonists played by playmates and people with only a handful of acting credits to their names, whose only distractions from the smallness of their lives are joints and sex (see also, "Let's Take Some Drugs And Drive Around")! Watch me try and avoid to describe the film as "thematically rich"!

Of course, Death Screams truly isn't "thematically rich", but rather a very standard cheap slasher film that - probably without intention of its director David Nelson or its one-time (or just pseudonymous) writer Paul C. Elliott - takes on aspects of the environment it was made in.

But if one goes on an expedition into the wilds of local, independent filmmaking, one should not care too much if the more interesting sights one finds have been erected intentionally or not, and instead enjoy them and be thankful they exist.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The House Of The Devil (2009)

It's some time in the early 80s. Financially desperate college student Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) stumbles upon a strangely lucrative baby sitting job for an even stranger couple, the Ulmans (Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov).

Only when Samantha arrives at the couple's house somewhere far outside the city she's studying in does Mr. Ulman explain that this isn't exactly a babysitting job, but that he and his wife want Samantha to watch over Mrs. Ulman's mother. Sam is not keen at all about that change of plans, and only when Ulman offers her a preposterous $400 for one night of work does she agree to do the job.

Ulman explains that Samantha probably won't even see the old woman, and that he only needs her to be there in case an undisclosed kind of emergency happens. Surely, this strange job won't have anything to do with the lunar eclipse that will happen this night?

Once she's alone, the young woman is getting increasingly tense. It takes some time, a bit too much of the unhealthy atmosphere of the house, and some hints at the fact that the Ulmans were lying to her, but after a while even Samantha begins to feel that the whole set-up just isn't right. Of course, at that point, it's already too late and Samantha's new career as victim of satanic rituals can begin.

Ti West's The House of the Devil is a full-blooded piece of retro cinema. Not satisfied with using elements of a certain subset of the satanic panic movies of the late 70s and early to mid-80s, and mixing them with modern ideas, West goes all out in pretending he is in fact making his film in the 80s (and alas, also in avoiding any new ideas getting into it). Film stock, camera angles, the faces of the actors, the music, even the titles, everything here is designed to emulate a very precisely defined group of grim, slow and suspenseful but not too gory horror films, and it's difficult to argue with the success of that part of West's effort.

Sure, the film might be a tad too slow - especially in its middle parts - for many contemporary viewers, but so were the films West is imitating here. However, the slowness, as well as the fact that the audience knows much earlier about the danger Samantha is in as she does herself, are the film's way of generating suspense without having to show much more than the increasingly nervous young woman in a creepy house. For my tastes, it works out fine, but not everyone who has seen the film seems to agree with me here. The word combination "slow and boring" is tossed about quite often by people talking about House of the Devil, and for once, I can understand where they are coming from. Not everybody is made for watching (creepy) bonsai trees grow.

My main problem with The House of the Devil has nothing whatsoever to do with its pacing or anything technical about it.

The problem is the strange lack of ambition beyond making a film that is exactly like some (well-loved, excellent) films made in an earlier era of the genre West's film shows, the spirit of imitation that is so strong West even consciously copies the flaws of those films. Of course, it beats making another remake of a well-loved film that doesn't understand the spirit of the original and doesn't have any ideas of its own worth a new film, but it only avoids the first of these problems.

It's a wonderful thing that West is inspired by parts of the horror genre that seem forgotten and ignored by too many directors working in the genre today and tries to use techniques that have gone out of style quite unjustly, but the product of the director's labours misses out on the next step: using the style and the techniques to make a film of his own, preferably a film of his own time that speaks to and about contemporary anxieties as the films of the 80s spoke about the anxieties of their times. There's no need to just repeat what the old movies said - they already said it, and they are still there to repeat what they said on the flick of a remote.

The House of the Devil is a great replica of great horror movies, and is certainly enjoyable and technically impressive, yet it's so caught up in its admiration of a different era that it's lacking a personality of its own. It's the "retro" dilemma in full effect.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

In short: Leyendas Macabras De La Colonia (1974)

Luchador Tinieblas has bought a cursed (and very ugly) painting from an antiques store, despite dire warnings from the owner - who probably shouldn't have paintings for sale he doesn't actually want to sell. When Tinieblas, his wrestling partner, the glorious Mil Mascaras, their buddy El Fantasma Blanco and two ladyfriends are celebrating a successful (and painfully long) match, the painting spews some magical fog and transports all five of them into the 16th Century.

There, they stumble into the conflict between a half-Aztec witch (Lorena Velasquez) who is trying to revive the mummy of her dead mother through lots and lots of human sacrifices, and the Inquisition. Well, mostly our heroes hide behind conveniently placed pillars and watch people in cheap costumes do nothing much of interest, or are imprisoned by the witch. From time to time, an organ playing guy with oatmeal pasted on his face recapitulates everything that happened just a second before he appeared while giggling a lot.

After some back and forth, Mil Mascaras and co are randomly sucked back into their time, only to have to fight some of the witch's Aztec warriors in their next ring fight, after which the film just stops.

Now, I know that it is important to go into the lucha movies churned out by Agrasanchez Productions with a positive attitude if one wants to derive any entertainment from them, but Leyendas Macabras might just be the film to drive even the most patient of positive thinkers into the strange and frightening realm of negativity.

It's not that I'm not used to the slap-dash production values of Agrasanchez films, or the way they seem to include more filler than actual movie or plot, or their typical air of just-not-giving-a-shit, but there's still a difference between their usual modus operandi of not even trying to produce something vaguely entertaining and this completely disinterested revue of barely connected scenes in that this one near magically manages to cause annoyance close to physical suffering in me.

Even Lorena Velazquez and Mil Mascaras, who were usually the sort of troopers elevating even the most bored of movies, just can't seemed to be arsed to do put any energy in at all; especially Velasquez looks in dire need of caffeine throughout the film.

It certainly doesn't improve the impression Leyendas Macabras makes that it starts out with the longest ring wrestling match I can remember to have seen in a lucha movie. Of course, in keeping with everything else, it's also an especially lackluster one (with some surprisingly unconvincing wrestling by Tinieblas) and thereby prepares the pitiable audience for the things to come. Not that there are many things to come.

The air of utter boredom and disinterest also manages to infect those elements of the movie that by all rights should be entertaining, like the random oatmeal-faced guy and the attacks of the mummy mummy. Not even the script's strange decision to cast Tinieblas as a comically womanizing jerk and Mil Mascaras as his straightman and have them bickering like the lucha version of an old married couple leads to as much hilarity as it should, coming as it does sandwiched between scenes of utter boredom and scenes in which characters without character explain the plot to each other or just right into the camera.

Well, at least Superzan's not in it.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

At the Earth's Core (1976)

Eccentric British scientist Dr. Perry (Peter Cushing) has invented a fabulous drilling device, the Iron Mole. Before going on some more interesting travels deep within the Earth's core in it, he and his former student and current financier, two-fisted American David Innes (Doug McClure) are making a test run through some Welsh hills. But the Mole works better than anyone could have expected and transports our heroes right to the centre of the Earth, where they find a whole new world - called Pellucidar - to explore.

Only armed with an umbrella and Doug McClure's fists, the men have to fight off ridiculous suitmation dinosaurs, are captured by the swine-faced servants of a race of hypnotic, telepathic, man-eating dinosaur-birds, romance a princess (Caroline Munro) - alright, only McClure romances, but what can you do - and incite a human revolt against the evil dino-bird people.

Poor Amicus studios, always playing the second fiddle behind the Hammer juggernaut, having to somehow make movies on budgets even lower than those of their more successful rivals. In the second half of the 70s, Hammer was of course already racing towards financial doom itself, and it's not difficult to imagine that times for Amicus must have been even harder.

So, while Hammer was trying to turn Dracula into a James Bond villain without a James Bond to fight, Amicus turned its misshapen but loveable head towards the non-Tarzan works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, of course biting off much more than their budgets could have been able to chew even at the best of times, as At the Earth's Core amply demonstrates.

Seldom have the 70s (this is shortly before the first Star Wars movie, mind you) seen a more rickety looking conglomeration of cardboard sets. The often nearly immobile and always terrible looking giant monster suits are usually crosses between dinosaurs and other animals. My personal favourite here is the toad-o-saurus who seems barely able to move its head but is at least able to breathe fire (as toad-o-saurusses do) and explodes when punctured by arrows shot by famous action hero, elderly (and terribly ill looking) Peter Cushing. The toad-o-saurus is exemplary for the special feeling of ambitious ridiculousness the cramped but colourful sets and the monsters exude, the charm of the inept but beautifully sillily imagined that one can find in certain Taiwanese fantasy films, and that one wouldn't expect to find in a film from the UK. On a technical level, the special effects are of course utterly embarrassing, but I haven't got what it takes to complain that a fire-breathing toad-o-saurus, a boar-o-saurus or the awesome cave octopus doesn't look "realistic" enough.

Where the special effects either embarrass or charm the pants off of one, the script turns Burroughs' rather sprawling (at least as far as I can remember) novel into exactly the theoretically tight, yet easily distractible, simple adventure yarn one usually finds Doug McClure starring in. It's all very silly (and takes place in surprisingly few sets) and somewhat dumb, but it hangs together well enough while providing the basic thrills it promised to deliver.

I also dig (sorry) the trio of B-movie stalwarts at the film's core (sorry, I can't help myself), or rather the professional enthusiasm they bring into a film with such a thin script and dubious production values.

Beloved B-movie icon Peter Cushing looks rather terrible, and has to play an often annoying "idiot scientist" role, but does this with his own peculiar sort of dignity that makes my inner child cheer whenever he does things like trying to fight a chicken-o-saurus with an umbrella, explodes the turtle-o-saurus, or states the obvious with one of the better lines of his career, "You cannot mesmerize me, I am British!" (of course echoing something very similar from Horror Express).

Doug McClure gives exactly the same easy-going, two-fisted manly man performance he does in all of his films (to be honest, I never understood why his films even bothered to give him a character name other than "Doug McClure"), but fortuitously this is exactly what the film wants of him, no more, no less. Caroline Munro is, as was so often the case in her career, relegated to the role of the stunning girl that doesn't wear much clothes and needs to be rescued repeatedly. On paper, it's a waste and a shame, but in practice, she's at least so good at the stunning bit that I'm glad it's her and not blonde bimbo number three playing that role.

So, although probably nobody would want to call At the Earth's Core a good movie, I find it quite irresistibly charming. It's a little weird, a little cheap, a little stupid, and sometimes, that's exactly what a film is supposed to be.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Friday, September 17, 2010

In short: Home Sweet Home (1981)

It's Thanksgiving! Some nameless bodybuilding psycho (Jake Steinfeld, of "Body By Jake" notoriety) has broken out of the mental asylum. First thing he does is hunt himself a car, then he injects a bit of PCP into his tongue and leaves the Big City for greener pastures. While he's at it, he also has a good laugh and runs over an elderly woman.

Out in the country, the killer stalks and then slashes some people who might or might not be related to one another, and who throughout the film act as if they needed to be in a mental institution too. The end.

Oh well. There aren't too many Thanksgiving themed slashers, so I might as well put that down as one of the positives of Home Sweet Home, right next to Steinfeld's ridiculous performance that consists of loud laughter, gnashing of teeth and looking as if his face is going to explode any minute now.

The first forty minutes of the movie are full of the sort of random crap people who go for this sort of thing (aka me) are watching bottom of the barrel slasher movies like this for: there's a guy (possibly named Mistake!) who spends the whole film in mime make-up and chases the other characters around while playing mediocre rock licks on his electric guitar (amp on his back), an offensive Mexican stereotype girl who "sings" and plays the acoustic guitar who might have become Mistake's new girlfriend if not for the killer, some other guy (this film gets exactly as much precision out of me as it deserves) loses his head because Steinfeld jumps on the open hood of his car, and everyone else is either a semi-hot woman with an intensely weird looking boyfriend or said weird looking boyfriend. In other words, these forty minutes are a dreadful trial for anyone of taste and culture, and therefore pure gold for the friend of bizarre trash.

Unfortunately, after most of the cast has been killed off, director Nettie Pena decides that he/she wants to make a real suspenseful slasher movie. Obviously, given the non-talent of herself/himself and everyone else involved, boredom and long, badly lit scenes of nothing much ensue until two sleepwalking cops save the day.

Still, we will always have the pantomime guitarist from hell.

Addendum: friend of the blog Todd (of the always delightful Die, Danger, Die, Die, Kill!) has - through the power of professional research - found out that Nettie Pena a) is in fact a woman and b) is still working making environmental documentaries. Thanks Todd!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Three Films Make A Post: A Terrifying Case of SKULL-DUGGERY!

Don't Look Up (2009): Fruit Chan remakes Hideo Nakata's fine early ghost story for the English language market, but replaces subtlety with loud noises and annoying dumbness and Nakata's interesting characters with a director who is seeing dead people in badly acted epileptic fits and the usual clichés that come with that sort of role. Instead of not explaining a lot, Chan churns out some crap about a "gypsy curse" that is supposed to give the film a whiff of the Gothic, but only achieves to bring it further down the road of films nobody needs to see.

It's an embarrassing film from a director who really should know and can do better. A fantastic demonstration how not to make a film about ghosts.


Rat Sakti Calon Arang (1985): Despite being blessed with Suzzanna (in an improbable double role as evil black magic queen and her kind-hearted daughter) and Barry Prima in the leads, this Indonesian film isn't really the insane mix of horror, martial arts and fantasy I had expected, but rather a more earnest-minded adaptation of an actual legend, which puts it right outside my area of expertise (and my areas of vaguely knowledgeable dilettantism, too). It's a fine time, though, and - earnest-minded or not - does have moments like the utterly bizarre scene in which Suzzanna fights one of her enemies by power-urinating on him that bridge all cultural barriers for your low-brow needs.


BloodRayne 2: Deliverance (2007): Leave it to Uwe Boll to make a movie with a vampire lord Billy the Kid as its big bad that is utterly tedious and boring. I would admire Boll's gift for inciting even the better of his actors to dreadful performances, or his utter inability to learn how to point a camera into the right direction without having it make the wavering motions of a sick donkey, or his talent for finding scriptwriters whose lack of craftsmanship is equal to his own, but then I have seen too many of his movies to feel anything but disgust for him.

There aren't many directors able to make their crap films feel like deliberate insults to anyone stupid enough to lay his or her money down for them. Boll is their master.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Plankton (1994)

aka Creatures From The Abyss

A quintet of bimbos - both male and female - manages to get lost at sea in their rubber boat during a terrible storm. As it so often does, destiny favours the stupid, and our heroes (yuck!) stumble (or whatever the high seas version of stumbling may be) upon a yacht.

The boat is puzzlingly empty of a crew, but it looks as if it hasn't been empty for long. Personally, after the bimbos have inspected the ship's interior, I can't say I wouldn't have been surprised to hear the boat's crew just jumped over board, so strange is it.

One part research lab in !fish science!, one part stupid automated voices in the silliest places and one part party cellar of a mad porn producer, this is a place to puzzle minds much more complex than those of our heroes, so they decide to just don't think about it and make themselves at home.

They'll find out soon enough what happened to the boat's crew - they were all attacked, killed and thrown overboard by mutant fish who have eaten too much irradiated plankton and are now able to live on land. Only one scientist managed to hide himself away in the surprisingly huge lower decks of the boat/ship/yacht/UFO, and he's a bit mad. And sexually obsessed with fish, but, as the film informs us, these things happen.

Anyway, after too many scenes of waddling through the boat, the bimbos are finally attacked. They will learn the hard way that their fishy enemies are quite infectious. Let's hope everybody dies.

By the mid-90s, when Plankton was made, Italian horror film was as dead as the eyes of Silvio Berlusconi, and the few directors still working in it weren't usually able (and sometimes I can't help but think unwilling) to produce anything worthwhile.

Calling Plankton worthwhile would be quite a stretch, seeing as its first half is so drab, slow and boring that I nearly hadn't persevered to get to its more interesting parts. It's starting out like the sort of movie The Asylum has crapped out regularly in the last few years. A bunch of utterly talentless actors, dubbed by terrifying creatures from beyond (the lead actress sounds so much like Minnie Mouse, it's disturbing) does "humour", "squabbling" and "characterization" in a way which manages to be at once boring and physically painful, speaking sentences no human being should be allowed to say, and not much of interest happens. If something happens, the special effects supposed to show it are so insultingly realized that it's impossible to imagine they were made by people with even the least bit of respect for their audience or themselves. The nothing drags on and on and on and on.

But then, at the point in the proceedings when any sane viewer would already have ended the pain either by suicide or destruction of the movie's DVD with a sledgehammer, Plankton suddenly turns…well, not good, obviously, but so totally bonkers that I'm nearly willing to forgive the existence of its first half. Suddenly, the film transforms into a tour de force of one supremely tasteless scene of badly realized special effects mayhem after the other. A guy shape-shifts into a mutant fish-things during a prolonged sex scene; the "intellectual" (aka guy with glasses) of the bunch reads up on the influence the sexual obsession of a scientist can have on fish mutation and asks "How long have you been fucking fish, Professor?"; a girl gives birth to something that looks a lot like caviar; tentacles are trying to pull Minnie Mouse into a sink; idiotic yet wonderful transformations happen; somebody opens the container for radioactive material. It's as if the first half of the script (well, if there was one) had been written under the influence of valium, but the second half after reading a bunch of those horror porn fumettis that always make me think of Italy as the Japan of Europe. Of course, I'm quite thankful for it.

Sure, the acting's not getting any better, but the dialogue is mostly turning into screaming, screeching, and gurgling (with a bit of gibbering on the side), so that's quite alright for everyone's competence level. The special effects are still not very good on a technical level either, but are wallowing in their own ridiculousness with a pure and undiluted enthusiasm that's as infectious as the movie's fishes.

Plankton's second half is so entertaining - and of course so frequently hilarious - that I find it difficult not to recommend it to serious travellers into the realm of the abysmally entertaining. The film's beginning is like a final exam, testing the mettle and endurance of anyone daring enough to study crap-filmology, its second half the high one gets after one has graduated.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

In short: Valhalla Rising (2009)

It's the early Middle Ages, in Scotland. A mute, one-eyed man - called, if called at all "One Eye" - (Mads Mikkelsen) has been the captive of a small clan of people prone to sitting around staring into the emptiness of the Highlands for years. They use his disturbing prowess at fighting in ritual fights against other clans, but treat the man at best as a very dangerous animal. A boy (Maarten Stevenson) of the clan helps One Eye escape his chains, giving him the opportunity to slaughter his captors quite effectively.

Afterwards, One Eye and the boy wander through the hills until they meet a small group of violently minded Christians who are, as they say, on their way to the Holy Land. The man and the boy join the group, and soon find themselves on a ship bound wherever their hosts think that Holy Land might be. One Eye is given to visions with an undertone of doom, so he doesn't seem at all surprised when their ship gets stuck in an unnatural fog bank that envelopes the vessel for days on end. Some of his companions soon think that One Eye is cursed and leading them all into hell, but the man is not the sort of person one wins a violent encounter with.

After a long time, the fog lifts, and the group finds itself in a place that might be America, or hell. Obviously, danger awaits, most of it of a more spiritual nature, but there are also arrows.

An audience expecting Nicolas Winding Refn's Valhalla Rising to be the movie equivalent to Viking Metal (not that there's anything wrong with that for me, mind you) will probably be disappointed by the film, as will friends of films with obvious and "realistic" (whatever that means) plotting that make themselves so clear their contents might as well be just read about instead of experienced.

Refn's film is quite unlike that sort of movie. It's more of a very violent art house film that shows enticing possibilities for more than one interpretation of its meaning, but isn't willing to play the meaning-reducing game of allegory. Which doesn't mean that there aren't elements of allegory to be found here - it would need a certain type of IMDB reviewer to miss the religious connotations - but that only seeing the allegorical possibilities would close one's view on other aspects of the film, and very possibly the part of the movie going experience that is about seeing and feeling. Large parts of the movie add up to more than mere allegory and make use of the fact that everything we see on screen can be a metaphor and something concrete in the reality of the film at once, leaving the viewer to decide on the film's meaning instead of shoving it in her face.

Much of the Valhalla Rising plays in the spaces between what's real and what's metaphorical, and I think it will work best for an audience going into it with a very open mind, willing to confront the tension between the film's gritty violence, the awe-inspiring bleakness of its locations and its indifference towards the expectation of how narrative or acting are supposed to be done on screen.

I for my part found Valhalla utterly fascinating, and Refn's insistence on making a movie that's not too readily accessible without being hermetic admirable.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Warrior 2 (1983)

aka The Warrior and the Blind Swordsman

Original title: Si Buta lawa Jaka Sembung

When last we saw the heroic Indonesian freedom fighter Jaka Sembung (Barry Prima), he had just ended the Dutch colonial reign over Indonesia by gorily despatching of a lot of evil people. It doesn't seem to have stuck, though, and so this sequel finds Jaka fighting his old enemies again. In fact, he and his merry band of rebels are so effective at their jobs that the Dutch colonel governing the land is already at the end of his rope.

The best weapon against Jaka's magical martial arts prowess seems to be to hire local talent, so the Colonel holds a fighting tournament whose winner will have the dubious honour of killing Jaka for him. The winner is a blind magical stick fighter known as Si Buta (Advent Bangun).

Si Buta merrily proceeds to search out Jaka, rips his head off and cashes in a chest of gold for the body part. The Dutch, being evil and all, decide to not let Si Buta get away with the payment due to him and attack the warrior on his way home. Si Buta fights his enemies off by throwing parts of a forest at them, but is mortally wounded during the fight. Fortunately, a woman named Maki has observed the last half hour of the movie from various trees and does a little sex healing magic on Si Buta. He isn't pleased with that, though, and declines the woman's friendly offer of more sex, marriage, immortality and a soul forever damned to hellfire, because he is a rather nice guy at heart. Or so he says. This pisses Maki off so much that she tries to kill the still wounded Si Buta by jumping up and down on his chest.

And the evil magician would have gotten away with it too, if not for the timely appearance of a very lively Jaka Sembung, who drives Maki away and takes care of Si Buta's wounds. You see, Si Buta's attack on Jaka was just an illusion the talented guy used to cheat the Dutch out of their gold.

Now, together, Jake and Si Buta only have to fight off Maki and her cult of giggling magic fu amazons and the Dutch to secure a happy end for themselves and Indonesia.

Worod Suma's The Warrior 2 isn't quite as transcendentally awesome as Sisworo Gautama Putra's first adventure of Jaka Sembung, but it's still a highly entertaining entry into the Indonesian Magic Fu exploitation genre.

Sure, it's not as insane an experience as the first movie, but we're still talking about a film in which an elderly evil guy's possession of what I hope is a prehensile tail and not a tentacle growing out of his behind seems like a perfectly ordinary thing nobody even deigns to mention as something special or bizarre, a film in which knowledge of magic like invisibility or teleportation is utterly common and a film that can't go five minutes without something completely outrageous happening. That not everything that does happen makes much sense is of course a given, but I don't think anybody would go into a film like this expects anything different.

Worryingly, I have to admit that the plot as a whole probably makes a bit too much sense. It's the old story of freedom fighters wasting their time and energy on infighting when they should try to concentrate on their true enemy while said true enemy comes to gloatingly mop up the survivors when they have mostly eradicated themselves. Don't fret, though, this instructive lesson is taught to the audience in the gory, and highly distractible comic book style of Indonesian cinema of that era, by a director who just can't help himself but has to pile subplot on subplot on silly aside until the film becomes a lumbering mountain of one damn thing after another.

That's of course exactly what I came to The Warrior 2 for, so every minute spent on Maki's problems in finding a willing partner to produce a child that will rule the world (and why is that always such a problem for evil queens in Indonesian films? Even Margaret Thatcher was married, after all, and none of them is that evil) is a minute well-spent, as is each and every other minute of the film, now that I think of it.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

In short: Horror House on Highway Five (1985)

From the notes of Denis K., who was found clutching them in his hands, hiding as far away from his TV as possible, gibbering madly:

People are killed by a guy wearing a Richard Nixon mask. A mentally disabled and a mentally ill weirdo (Gary and Dr. Marbuse, I kid you not) kidnap a female college student to torture her with an obviously cold iron. There may be other reasons that make less sense the longer this goes on. Painful, sleazy rock music of various sub-genres randomly blares in the background; an atonal string quartet attacks; doo-wop beckons. Two other college students strand near the killer's house and build themselves some bombs to feel safer. Scenes of perfectly grimy no-budget slasher strangeness are disturbed by the dopiest humour known to man, also dope humour. Lots of corpses are found. More stalking. Marbuse babbles the worst German on celluloid. An overabundance of bad jokes assaults the unwary (again). Acting grates; questions mount. Why am I watching this? What have I ever done to writer/director Richard Casey?

Nixon turns out to be a German rocket scientist/LSD guru/serial killer with the oh-so-very-German name of Dr. Bartholomew, and quite undead and/or just very wormy. Looks like he can become invisible, too. Only the whooshing sounds betray him. Careful with that fork, Eugene! My brain hurts, but I go on.

Dr. Marbuse [sic] dons a home-made swastika skullcap before he's trying to kill a girl with a hand-drill. Please, make the music stop. Oh, look, they stole this part from Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Just that it made sense there.

I'm still not sure which parts of the movie are meant seriously, which are jokes; is there even a difference anymore? Watching this, the dumb, the bizarrely random, the boring and the weirdly disquieting do a little dance to the music of the worst bands in history in my brain. Please make them stop.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

In short: The Horror Star (1983)

aka Frightmare

Elderly horror actor Conrad Radzoff (Ferdy Mayne) does seem to identify a bit too much with his roles, spicing up his life with a little murder here or there, as it seems without anybody ever thinking those deaths to be anything more than accidents. Even on his death bed, he's still smothering a director to death.

After the actor's slightly bizarre funeral ceremony, with special egomaniac dead guest host Conrad Radzoff on a large video screen, his career of being a nasty piece of work should by all rights be at an end.

Unfortunately, a group of rich and bored fans of Radzoff's work (among them a very young Jeffrey Combs) decide that it would be quite a bit of fun to steal his corpse and party with it in an old dark house where some of the man's films have been shot. At first, it's all fun and games and kissing corpses, but just the next day, Radzoff's wife Etta (Barbara Pilavin) finds her husband's dead body missing from his mausoleum. She does the obvious for inhabitants of the planet horror movie, and holds a séance to a) ask hubby where his corpse has been stashed and b) incite him to murder his kidnappers.

Keeping with the character of someone who has a poison gas trap in his mausoleum (which will find its uses during the further course of the movie), the old dead guy prefers b) and begins to murder the stupid, annoying kids, mostly by sneaking around and staring at them.

Norman Thaddeus Vane's The Horror Star isn't as good a movie as The Black Room which he'd make one year later. The film starts strong, with a nice "Christopher Lee as a murderous maniac" performance by Mayne, and a mood somewhere between a very black farce and an homage to classic horror actors with the unspoken promise of future nastiness, but soon begins to drag terribly.

As soon as Radzoff is dead, there just isn't anybody interesting on screen anymore. The grave robbers are an utterly characterless bunch difficult to keep apart, and the grown-ups appearing from time to time are neither interesting nor important for the plot nor do anything worth watching, with the séance as a hysterically melodramatic (aka highly entertaining) exception.

But even once Radzoff revives again, the film only partially manages to win one's interest again. The killing scenes just aren't all that interesting, unless you're excited by seeing a girl knocked-out by a levitating coffin, and the last third of the film only consists of the killings and Mayne walking around in more fog than was in Carpenter's The Fog.

The film still has its moments, thanks to sudden attacks of the surreal and the macabre as demonstrated by the charming scene of a raven landing (and nibbling on) Comb's bodyless head.

Vane also has the ability to give his film a look that's much slicker than you'd expect from the budget, even if he's really overusing the fog to get there.

The problem is just that the The Horror Star's first twenty minutes promised a more complex and original movie than the rest of the film manages to deliver.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Skinwalkers (2006)

Werewolves exist! And they are divided into two groups. The first group are the nice small-town werewolves who like to have a nice chat drinking coffee and eating apple pie, and like to tie each other up in nice harnesses when changing time comes to not have to go out and kill people. Killing people makes a werewolf insta-evil, you understand, and these evil werewolves, or to be more precise, evil biker werewolves make up the second group of werewolves.

All could be well - or uncomfortable, depending on how you look at it - for werewolf-kind, but there is a prophecy that the son of a werewolf will end their curse when he turns thirteen years; something the biker werewolves do not approve of.

So it is probably rather fortunate that Timothy (Matthew Knight), the chosen one, and his mother Rachel (Rhona Mitra) are protected by a whole small town full of good werewolves. Not that anybody would tell Rachel or Timothy about the whole werewolf Jesus thing - they're thinking they're living with the family of Rachel's dead husband in a very friendly small town.

Alas, a few days before Timothy is supposed to fully turn into Werewolf Jesus, the biker werewolves (all four of them) under their leader Varek (Jason Behr) attack the town. Turns out the good werewolves didn't spend any of the last thirteen years on planning how best to protect their messiah, and are mostly slaughtered, notwithstanding that they should be prepared, are fighting on their home turf, and have an incredible advantage in numbers.

A handful of the nice wolves do at least manage to get away with Rachel and Timothy, but their backup plan seems to be to drive around until they can hide in a cave, so it's probably no surprise that more encounters with the biker werewolves will follow.

As far as action movies with werewolves go, Skinwalkers is one of the better examples of that particular sub-genre. Unfortunately, this isn't a sub-sub-(sub?-)genre that includes many films that are any good at all, so the movie reaches its lofty position at the top of the dubious pack by being just about watchable.

Director James Isaac (of Jason X "fame") does at least know most of the tricks of mid-low-budget action filmmaking, and so all scenes containing shooting, werewolf punch-outs and gratuitous slow motion are as basically alright as they come, if completely lacking in imagination or the sense of excitement that would come with less predictable or just more awesome action. Hong Kong this is not.

But at least there's the - in cheap US action movies since 1995 - mandatory exploding gas station to enjoy. Though it's disappointingly not placed in the rather limp finale.

The rest of the movie (aka every scene without violence) suffers  more from terminal stupidity than from predictability, though it's still more predictable than rain in autumn around where I live. It's not just the whole prophecy set-up - and why exactly does everybody know Timothy is the chosen one? Was there a burning bush somewhere who informed everyone? Do the biker werewolves have an email newsletter? It's also the fact that everybody acts like an utter tool, from the bad guys coming in guns blazing when they could reach their target better by stealth and using the pulsating masses in their heads, to the good guys who don't seem to have any actual plan of action, or any sensible back-up plans. The film seems to take place in a parallel universe where it's logical not to tell Rachel that her son's on somebody's death list; where a shoot-out in a hospital or the killing off of a whole small town or lots of werewolf attacks don't incur any form of police reaction, and so on, and so forth. It's always astonishing how little thought and care three scriptwriters can put into a single script.

That lack of care and intelligence really is a shame in this particular case, because there was an interesting film about the difference between barbarism and civilization waiting to be made out of some of the film's ideas; not necessarily an original one, but a thoughtful one.

On the more positive side, the bad-script-experienced cast is as good as the film allows, with everyone playing their usual parts. Rhona Mitra is only allowed to get into action heroine mode very late in the proceedings, though. I suspect nobody involved with the production wanted to get anyone watching too excited. You never know if a member of the audience has a weak heart, and who wants to have to live through a law suit for manslaughter?

Be that as it may, Skinwalkers is perfectly watchable. It's just not good enough to excite nor bad enough to amuse.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

At Mystic Skull: The Sisters (2004)

Meat Grinder isn't the only film the impressive Tiwa Moeithaisong directed, and so it was just a question of time until I would come to one of his earlier films.

The Sisters is a bit more generic "Asian horror" than the later film, but it contains a lot that makes it worthwhile. My review at Mystic Skull hopefully explains what.


Friday, September 3, 2010

Alas, no posts this weekend

Turns out that being sick and rambling on about movies at the same time aren't what my brain was built for.

If you like, amuse yourself in the archives.


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On WTF: Centurion (2010)

My weekly write-up on WTF-Film concerns Neil Marshall's Centurion this week, and not surprisingly, I kinda loved it despite all of its flaws.

I am a sucker for historical pulp adventure, after all.


From Twitter 09-02-2010

  • New blog post: From Twitter 09-01-2010: New blog post: From Twitter 08-31-2010: New blog post: From Twitter 08-30-...
  • New blog post: In short: Zombie Brigade (1986): aka Zombie Commandos aka Night Crawlers The city fathers of the ...
  • Gaiman's Sandman! As a WB TV show? By Eric Kripke? Let's hope that's just a nasty rumour.
  • I imagine a fight between Apple and Facebook as something right out of a kaiju film. Just without likeable monsters.
  • The hell?
  • Everybody interested has already seen the Dune Encyclopedia, right?

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Thursday, September 2, 2010

In short: Zombie Brigade (1986)

aka Zombie Commandos

aka Night Crawlers

The city fathers of the charming little town of Lizard Gulley somewhere far out in the Australian bush thinks they have hit the big time. The major Japanese corporation of Mister Kinoshita (Adam A. Wong) is planning to build a ginormous tokusatsu theme park on their property, promising prosperity for all. Kinoshita and his assistant, the Chinese-Japanese Yoshie (Khym Lam) arrive in town to close the deal, so Lizard Gulley's mayor (Geoffrey Gibbs) decides that it would be a good idea to blow up the Vietnam War memorial that's standing right in the middle of what shall become RoboMan Park.

The dubious morals of that action aside, it turns out to be a rather unhealthy decision too. The soldiers buried at the memorial were infected with a vampire virus, and are now very much awake, pissed and hungry.

Fortunately, Jimmy (John Moore), a city-educated Aboriginal who is still only able to survive by doing menial tasks, turns out to be quite competent in vampire invasion situations. His uncle is also the local Magical Negro, and conjures up another bunch of dead white guys to clear out the vampires.

Zombie Brigade has quite a lot going against it, even if you ignore the utter absence of zombies its title promises. Its plot is stupid, the pacing slow as molasses, the acting's no good at all and what goes for action is just too limp to be even called limp anymore.

On the other hand, the film's main heroes are an educated Aboriginal and a Chinese-Japanese executive, who are much preferable to the white middle class obsession of a lot of horror and are even used to show the audience the horrors of casual racism. It's not something many horror films even try to do, and - at least for a film of its strained resources  - Zombie Brigade is even rather subtle about it. It's just too bad that the film's honest sounding anti-racist message is undermined by Kinoshita being the typical 80s cliché Japanese capitalist, dying as a vampire with a samurai sword in hand.

But you can't say the film's not trying to be diverse.

The movie takes a turn towards the utterly weird for its final half hour or so, with one of the more bizarre resolutions to a mass vampire attack I've ever seen that comes even more unexpected than Johnny's uncle conjuring up of more dead guys to help out. At that point, the movie's two directors even manage to get some moody and atmospheric shots that nearly make up for the very shoddy vampire make-up.

I'm quite enamoured with the film's specificity. It looks like it was shot in a real Australian small town, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if at least most of the minor actors were recruited from the population there, so everything feels as real as things in low budget horror movies can feel. It's a very Australian feeling film, and though I'm sure that its Australia is in part a fantasy and a lie, I appreciate how energetically the film makes use of being local instead of trying to pretend to be all metropolitan, which would of course be damned to fail anyway.

So, yeah, this one's got something.


From Twitter 09-01-2010

  • New blog post: From Twitter 08-31-2010: New blog post: From Twitter 08-30-2010: New blog post: From Twitter 08-29-...
  • New blog post: Iron Fist: The Giants Are Coming (1973): Original Title: Demir yumruk: Devler geliyor Two hostile ...
  • I don't think I have it in me to write up Bloodrayne 2. Things Man isn't meant to know etc.
  • It's all a whirl of wobbling camera, bad lighting, bizarre framing, bad dialogue and worse acting anyway.
  • Boll's gift: he has so much potentially fun stuff and potentially hilarious badness in his movies and still manages to make them boring
  • Another online SF magazine I must have missed somehow
  • RT @jessnevins: Hey, everyone: @daniel_poeira's collection of Brazilian pulp covers. Check it out!
  • No love for street fighters

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Iron Fist: The Giants Are Coming (1973)

Original Title: Demir yumruk: Devler geliyor

Two hostile groups of evil foreign evil-doers have come to Turkey to find a mysterious hidden dagger, which in turn will lead its owner to some mysterious hidden uranium mines, which again in turn will make their owner the (mysterious and hidden?) ruler of the world.

Said forces of evil are a cross-dressing (or just very gender-confusing) Fu Manchu with his army of bikini-clad, high-heeled and caped machinegun-toting women and boring normal henchmen and a sure sense for fine lair-design (and, as will later turn out, a love for torture), and the bald, scar-faced Russian Zagoff with his army of guys in mock-Cossack outfits and boring normal henchmen and a sure sense for having a guy with a steel claw hand as his right hand man. But don't worry, easily worried reader, the forces of good are on their way too, in the form of Turkish secret police agent Meral (Feri Cansel), her co-agent and philandering fiancée Ervel, their pratfalling, yet two-fisted and competent comic-relief side-kick Orhan and vengeance-seeking Murat, the son of (and I quote) "the only expert on Egyptology" whose knowledge about the dagger got him killed.

While Meral is working overtime by doing undercover jobs as a masked dancer in Fu Manchu's lair (didn't I say the guy's got style?) and as Zagoff's new secretary, the bad guys take turns kidnapping and trying to kidnap Murat and whoever is with him at that moment, in the hope that Murat will be able to tell them where that darn dagger is hidden, until the good guys manage to punch their way to freedom again, only to then be re-caught before they can even drink a nice cup of tea. That is, until (or is that until until?) Ervel is seemingly killed by Zagoff, but returns dressed in a superhero outfit that cleverly and-oh-so-subtly incorporates the logos of both Superman and Batman to do even more and better punching.

Oh yes, Turkish pop cinema. You know the drill by now I suppose, and will expect of Iron Fist exactly the mixture of straight-faced silliness, enthusiastic (and technically dubious) action sequences whose sound effects only have the slightest connection to what is actually going on on screen, blatant disregard for trademark and copyright laws, wild mugging of the bad guys, and the same "borrowed" music on the soundtrack every second of these films has, that it delivers.

If you're like me, you will be very happy with that, too, and will probably applaud the film's tendency to randomly throw completely useless stuff on screen because someone thought it would be a cool idea to have Zagoff demonstrate his invention of an iron block-hand thingie that also functions as a gun, even though it's never going to be used during the course of the film. That particular case might of course be the film's director Tunc Basaran making fun of the rule that guns hanging over fireplaces just must be fired.

It's of course all delivered in the breathless pulp style of Turkish cinema of this type and era and driven by a sense of the ridiculously awesome that was basically invented to charm the pants off of cult movie fans thirty years later.

As a bonus beside the typically awesome and weird, Iron Fist also recommends itself by letting Meral be just as competent as the guys (and quite stunning to look at, too) and by being as obvious about possible gay subtext as any Turkish film I've ever seen. I don't necessarily mean the (problematic if you want to go all serious on a film that really wasn't made for it) cross-dressing Fu Manchu, but rather the enthusiastic hugging and touching between male characters who have already been seen shouting stuff like "Let's shower together!". I'd be remiss in my duty if I wouldn't mention Orhan's very loud and big love for Ervel's bodily achievements in this context, or the fact that Murat and Ervel are suddenly the biggest buddies after a bit of training and showering ("showering"?). In all honesty, it would be no surprise at all if the four good main characters would celebrate their final victory in a good, old-fashioned orgy.

Which would be the perfect finale for a movie that already is an orgy of awesomeness.


From Twitter 08-31-2010

  • New blog post: From Twitter 08-30-2010: New blog post: From Twitter 08-29-2010: New blog post: From Twitter 08-28-...
  • New blog post: Men From The Gutter (1983): In jarring contrast to movie cops everywhere else, Hong Kong policemen ...
  • What did we do to deserve "Clash of the Titans 2"?
  • I despair of artists saying crap like "giving work away for free devalues it". There's a difference between artistical value and
  • and the amount for which you sell a work, you know?
  • And if you don't see one, why not go into a job with hourly wages?
  • This ill-conceived rant brought to you by Sergio Aragones. Whose work always sucked anyway.
  • Space Hulk and class.
  • The Adventures of Lil Cthulhu!

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