Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ero Kowai Kaidan Vol. 2 - Poltergeist (2010)

College student Maiko (Shelley Fujii) is run over by a car while crossing the street, which seems to be the sort of thing that happens when one is more interested in one's cellphone than in one's surroundings. She doesn't seem too badly hurt, but once she is released from hospital, the young woman begins to have the mandatory strange experiences.

The rather nice kick in the head has given Maiko the ability to see the ghosts spooking all around her. After a bit of panicking, our heroine has a little talk with the woman who paints her "past life picture", and is therefore an expert on all things spiritual. The woman's recommendation is for Maiko to just ignore the ghosts and continue living as before, but the spirited young woman decides to ignore such a boring proposition and help the ghosts solve their various problems. Just like on TV.

At first, things go well: a college friend is healed from his ghost-induced backaches and the killer of a family of three is apprehended with Maiko's help. Alas, things get a bit out of control once our heroine makes contact with a poltergeist who has been hanging around her all the time. The deader shows itself to be prone to sexual assaults and other highly unpleasant activities. After a little research, this behaviour fits perfectly to the ghost's back story, for he turns out to be a mass rapist and murderer who was lynched by angry villagers after a night of carnage. The ghost also happens to be what Maiko's psychic painter friend paints as the girl's earlier incarnation.

Now, it seems as if it were high time for an exorcism, but there are still two twist endings to come.

It might sound a bit strange given the usual cheapness and ugliness of many of his films, but to me, Poltergeist's director Naoyuki Tomomatsu is one of the true auteurs working in the gravitational fields of pinku, violent exploitation and the weird in Japan today.

Though Tomomatsu's films nearly always struggle visibly with the restrictions of their budgets, they also show a director obsessed with pondering his favourite philosophical questions in his movies, questions like the nature of free will and human identity, not caring that he's producing cheap filler material for low-level DVD labels.

Poltergeist clearly isn't one of Tomomatsu's more successful efforts, in part because the director doesn't really manage to unite the erotic (which, in this case, means "containing a bit more nudity than strictly necessary and having a very silly rough ghost sex scene") ghost story the series he's working in wants him to tell with the weird and slightly annoying double twist ending and his own philosophical concerns.

Instead, Tomomatsu has produced a film that jumps from cheap scares, to the shower, to POV-scenes of the heroine holding monologues of skewed philosophy into her cellphone, to squirt-y ghost sex scenes with the random abandon of a rather peculiar dream, until it tries to explain all its weird flaws away by actually explaining everything that happened as the dreams of a woman who has been lying in a coma for three years. Which certainly is something, though neither what Tomomatsu is going for, nor very good exploitation cinema.

The other reason - beside it not being all that much of a movie - why Poltergeist stays interesting but also unsatisfying is the abhorrent quality of the film's actors. There's a frightening awkwardness surrounding every single performance here (even the ghost actors share that trait), with nobody able to even emote the straightest feelings the least bit convincingly, and obviously even less able to cope with Tomomatsu's discussions of the construction of identity and the ghost hunter fame of Thomas Edison.

It's a bit of a shame, really, because I could see myself being a bit more excited about Poltergeist despite its flaws if it had been acted professionally.

 

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Three Films Make A Post: From Embryo To Woman in 4 1/2 Weeks

One Million Yen Girl aka One Million Yen And The Nigamushi Woman (2008): Yuki Tanada's indie drama/comedy (you know the type) with the fantastic Yu Aoi is at its best when it's just calmly and with inconspicuous elegance watching its characters and letting the audience sort out for themselves what to think about what they see. That method kept me pretty happy for about ninety minutes of the two hour running time. Then, the director suddenly seems to remember that she actually wants to make a specific, moral point and calmly and inelegantly begins to just tell the audience what that point is and what they are supposed to think and feel about it in the most mawkish way imaginable.

It's not enough to ruin the film for me (especially since there's a well-meant attempt at breaking up the mood of moral pedantry again at the movie's end), but it drags a film that up to that point was silently brilliant into the realm of the merely good.

Gantz (2011): Somehow, director Shinsuke Sato takes a manga and anime that's so testosterone-driven, sexist and gory that I'm pretty sure it's not written by a human being but by a penis, surgically removes about half the sexism, all the nudity, a lot of the gore and two thirds of the dumbness, and turns it into a pretty entertaining, even clever(!) bit of big budget mainstream action/science fiction.

Sato keeps the story's ruthlessness, as well as the elements that can be read as critical of the juvenile power fantasies that are the basis of Gantz's violence, so that one might at times get the impression that he's just about to really mess with the genre he's working in.

It's still a very mainstream affair though, and so the more deconstructive side of the film has too make room for some J-drama inspired melodrama and rather unconvincing character development for much of the film's last act. I didn't mind, though, because the action's pretty awesome and Gantz still is much cleverer than it needs to be, which is more than you can expect from this sort of affair.

The Task (2010): A bunch of clichés takes part in a reality show where they have to do stupid tasks in a haunted prison. As you'd expect, there's more going on in the prison than the TV crew (who, by the way, are so hard up financially they're making a reality show without having security personnel or a paramedic in place) expected, and the ghost of the prison's warden (trademark: does not like to wear shirts though he really, really should) gets stabby. It all ends in the usual dumb double twist ending. Of course.

If you're burning to see a movie where a total absence of originality and interesting ideas meet overly broad acting and vague technical competence, this will be just the thing for you. Not bad enough to deserve at actual derision, The Task is horror cinema so mediocre it's not even exciting enough to bore properly. Watch this, watch nothing, watch anything - it's pretty much all the same.

 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sur Le Seuil (2003)

aka Evil Words

Bestselling horror writer Thomas Roy (Patrick Huard) has cut off his own fingers and unsuccessfully tried to commit suicide by jumping through a closed window afterwards (pro-tip: first open the window, then hack off your fingers).

He is given into the tender loving care of psychiatrist Dr. Paul Lacasse (Michel Cote) and his very pregnant colleague and friend Dr. Jeanne Marcoux (Catherine Florent). Initially, Roy is Jeanne's patient, but she's too much of a fan to take the lead in his case, so her mentor Paul takes the initiative.

The beginning of Roy's treatment isn't exactly promising. The writer is too withdrawn to even speak anymore, and even a psychiatrist wants his patients to talk from time to time. Fortunately, and strangely, a sleazy reporter named Charles Monette (Jean L'Italien) approaches Lacasse to give the doctor a scrapbook with newspaper articles covering over thirty minor catastrophes and murders he fished out of Roy's trash. Monette doesn't come right out and tell it at first, but he can place Roy as a helper or witness at the scenes of at least five of these accidents and deaths, and speculates that the writer was in fact at each and every one of them, probably for inspiration.

That sort of knowledge is pretty helpful for a psychiatrist, and after Lacasse has realized that all of these accidents and crimes have found their way into Roy's works, he develops the theory that his patient's breakdown is based on his feelings of guilt for using the violent deaths of others as the base of his writing.

Roy's editor and best friend tries to sell the psychiatrist on a somewhat different theory, though. He is convinced that Roy was somehow able to foresee the violent deaths, and wrote about them a short time before they happened. Unlike Jeanne, Lacasse is at first understandably reluctant to accept that theory, but - as it goes - rather strange things are happening around his patient that can hardly be explained otherwise, and once Roy has regained his ability to speak, he tells him the same thing. Various hints lead the psychiatrist to a horrible event surrounding Roy's birth, an event that just might repeat itself now, thirty-six years later.

Sur Le Seuil is a French Canadian cable TV production, and most of its flaws are well within the realm of the typical for these kinds of circumstances. Firstly, Eric Tessier's direction tends a bit to the bland side, and he's not always that great at evoking the required mood for his film through intelligent stylistic choices; I found the lack of imagination in the lighting of the core horror scenes especially disappointing - some better use of shadows and indirect light could have gone a long way to make these parts of the film more tense.

Secondly, the film's script is a bit too talky in places, spending a bit too much time with parts of the characterization that aren't going anywhere. I had - just to take one example - difficulty to understand why Lacasse's status as being in a divorce was supposed to matter. Sure, the film tells us that he's off-balance because of it, but Lacasse never truly acts that way. Diversions from the film's core ideas like this also drag the pacing down a bit, and take time that could have been put to better use to explore other things more, like the idea of an absolute, partly abstract evil - instead of a horned guy named Satan - that lies behind the rather horrible things that happen throughout the movie.

On the more positive side, I was quite surprised by how grim an ending French Canadian cable TV allows the film to have - there's no cheesy rescue of the innocent in the last second. Starting from a pretty silly - yet still fascinating - premise, this is the sort of film perfectly willing to then consequently go through with it, even when it leads in a direction you just don't go on television. I can always respect a film that's consequent, especially when it takes a not very original idea that might have been taken from any occult horror movie of the 70s and really thinks it through.

So, despite its clear and visible flaws, I found myself quite satisfied with Sur Le Seuil. I'm perfectly willing to ignore pacing problems and professionally bland direction in a film that takes itself as seriously as this one does, and while I see many ways in which the film could have been improved, I'm - this time around - okay with a movie that's as inoffensively solid as this one is.

 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

In short: The Perfect Crime (1978)

Original title: Indagine su un delitto perfetto

After the head of large, multi-national corporation dies in a toy plane explosion, his potential successors are desperately shuffling to get themselves into a good position for the election for the next company president. The potential candidates are race driver Paul De Revere (Leonard Mann), Sir Arthur Dundee (Joseph Cotten) and Sir Harold Boyd (Adolfo Celi), and they are just all too willing to transform the expected round of metaphorical backstabbing into some actual backstabbing.

First to go is Paul. Somebody sabotages the breaks of his car, causing the guy to collide with a truck, drive off a cliff and burn to difficult to identify parts in his sports car - it's like three deaths for the price of one.

Sir Arthur for his part has a fantastic plan of how to get rid of Sir Harold: Arthur sics his own lover Polly (Gloria Guida) on his rival to poison him during sex. Let's just hope it'll happen fast enough so that no one will kill Arthur by frying his pacemaker with some sort of microwave gun.

Sir Harold has his own problems anyway. His wife Gloria (Janet Agren) is the spouse who actually owns parts of the company, and she has proof for some of his shadier dealings she uses as protection against any murder attempts, so he has to keep her happy. Which is easier said than done with a woman like Gloria who really likes to rub her husband's nose in his helplessness - and in her affairs with various young men, including Paul.

Scotland Yard's Superintendent Hawks (Anthony Steel) - who just happens to be a cousin of Paul's - has quite a job in front of him.

Giuseppe Rosati's The Perfect Crime belongs to the sub-genre of the Italian giallo that has its fun with portraying the oh-so-decadent lives of the rich and mean in a cross of an especially mean-spirited soap opera with an exploitationed-up landhouse mystery in Agatha Christie's style - though it has to be said that the Italians' class politics are much less abhorrent than Christie's ever were.

The Perfect Crime takes up a perfect middle ground in its chosen sub-genre. It's not as unpleasant and misanthropic as some of its brethren and seems more interested in playing up the fun factor. While all the characters are abhorrent in one way or the other, Rosati's film's not wallowing in all the details of their abhorrence as much as it could, so there may be a few scenes of rich people being satisfyingly mean to each other, a bit of nudity by Guida and Algren, but nothing that should shock anyone not writing for Christian movie review sites. Rosati puts a higher emphasis on the mystery content of his movie, and has visible fun with the convoluted construction of his doubly convoluted plot, inventing some perfectly silly murder methods of the type that don't make much sense but are fun to watch especially because they don't make sense.

Of course, it's all a very slight affair, only mildly stylish directed, and most definitely not the sort of film that'll leave one with any new or interesting insights into humanity nor even just the evils of the rich. But - also of course - there's nothing at all wrong with a movie about unpleasant people doing fun yet murderous things to each other for profit being slight, as long as it actually is fun. And fun, The Perfect Crime is.

 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Earth Dies Screaming (1964)

One day, the world's population falls down dead wherever it stands (at least in that corner of the world we get to see in the movie), as if struck by a poisonous gas pumped out by unfriendly aliens.

A small group of survivors - manly man test pilot Jeff Nolan (Willard Parker), the gangster-ish tough guy Quinn Taggart (Dennis Price), his girlfriend Peggy (Virginia Field), alcoholic Edgar Otis (Thorley Walters), his lover Violet Courtland (Vanda Godsell), and later on the young couple of pregnant Lorna (Anna Palk) and her first pouting, then competent husband Mel (David Spenser) - all of whom have for some reason or the other not breathed the air when the end of the world was taking place, find themselves thrown together in a small, pretty English looking village.

As if it weren't already difficult enough for a group this badly mixed to keep together and themselves away from doing some sort of violence to each other, they are from time to time very politely attacked by slow-moving robots who look like cigars that have been pressed into space suits. Unimpressive as the machines' speed is, they at least have the ability to kill people with a mere touch. What's worse is that these robots - or their potential unseen masters - are able to revive the bodies of killed humanity to do their bidding zombie-style.

The survivors' only hope is the fact they are taking part in the sort of movie that can't end in anything other than optimism, and is willing to give them the easiest way out of their predicament you could possibly think of.

When Terence Fisher wasn't making films for Hammer, the director lend his immense talents to other production houses too. In the case of the beautifully titled The Earth Dies Screaming, Fisher was working for the company of Robert Lippert, an American who had moved his B movie production machine from the USA to the UK to save some bucks.

It's pretty obvious that Lippert was really into this not giving his films much of a budget thing, and so The Earth Dies suffers from quite a few problems that could have been avoided in an even only slightly better financed movie. As it stands, the end of the world takes place exclusively in a small British village, and while that's certainly a good idea to emphasise the characters' isolated position and helps explain why there are so few robots and zombies attacking them, there's something a bit too un-apocalyptic about an empty village street with only a few bodies lying around, and something much too polite and convenient about how the apocalypse turns out for the characters. This politeness in the face of the end of the world is quite typical for British apocalypses of the time (and of decades before, too), but for my tastes, it robs The Earth Dies of some of its potential punch, leaving its audience (or at least me) with the appearance of a film nearly ready to push things in horror/SF cinema truly forward.

There are some (obvious) parallels between some of the scenes here surrounding the not-zombies and the basic humanity under siege set-up, and Romero's later classic Night of the Living Dead, but if Romero (who may or may not have seen this film at all) had learned something from the earlier film, then it was to put more energy into the character work, and to stop pretending that everything's always going to be alright, even after the end of the world as we know it. At least the script is clever and consequent enough not to explain its monsters.

That doesn't mean Fisher's movie is bad. Though I would have wished for a bit more complexity in the film's characters, the cast gives solid performances throughout, keeping the stock character types they are working with pleasantly two-dimensional. The script - while missing out on taking that decisive step towards honesty - has its moments whenever it's called on to set up one of the film's few, yet effective scenes of suspense and terror. The film's monsters - both the silly but effective robots and the completely effective white-eyed zombies - are fine in concept and execution, though I suspect some may find it difficult to overlook the robots' glittery stiffness and won't be able to just go with it and enjoy the conceptual creepiness of their design.

Fisher was of course one hell of a director, even when he had to cope with budgets and shooting times that must have made his circumstances at Hammer look absolutely luxurious. Although his classic horror movies at the bigger studio were shot in colour, Fisher had years of experience in black and white work (including some British noirs and thrillers for Hammer), and had no problem going back to black and white for this one. This experience working in black and white helps the director create some wonderfully creepy effects through the use of stark shadows and the play of light that work especially well with the not-zombie attacks.

In the end, Lippert probably got more bang for his buck from his director than he wanted or could appreciate.

 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

In short: The Neighbor Zombie (2009)

An HIV vaccine developed in India has a the unfortunate side effect of creating a zombie virus. Victims slowly or rapidly - depending on their emotional state - develop a rather animal-esque disposition and a hunger for human flesh.

The virus makes its way to South Korea, where the government soon enough declares martial law and orders the military to shoot the infected on sight. The film follows the development of the situation from the first infection to the discovery of a vaccine and the aftermath of the catastrophe in six episodes directed by four different directors (all of whom also have two or three other roles to play in the production, which hints at this not being a very well-funded film) that plotwise reach from the tale of a geek who is infected by something living in his walls (like two of the film's other parts directed by Oh Young-doo), to the tale of a woman (Lim Jeong-seon) slowly feeding parts of her own body to her zombiefied mother (as directed by Hong Young-geun) because she still is her mother - zombie or not, to some Resident Evil crap (as directed by Ryoo Hoon), to the tale of a man who can't come to grips with the things he did when he was a zombie and additionally has to cope with a girl who wants to kill him and a mad robber with a hate-on for people who weren't zombies (directed by Jang Youn-jung).

Tonally, most of the film is positioned at the place where melodrama, Korean black humour and quite a few clever ideas about the emotional impact of a zombie apocalypse on people meet. For most of the episodes, this works out better than one would expect - the directors are quite good at letting their film's tonal fluctuations look organic and believable; most importantly, they know when to stop joking.

And though not all the film's ideas about zombies are original, they're definitely on the more intelligent side of the zombie movie spectrum, showing more interest in what this sort of catastrophe would do with people than in zombie action clichés. I did especially appreciate the fact that there's a time after the catastrophe in the movie, an idea basically unexplored in the zombie film canon. The only exception to this rule of interest in people is Ryoo Hoon's episode, which plays out like a bad Resident Evil fan film (yup, it's worse than the actual Resident Evil movies), with mediocre martial arts, people who inject themselves with a zombie drug and some awkward stuff about a government conspiracy. Needless to say, this part of the film sticks out like a sore thumb, and needlessly drags the film down into what's most annoying about the zombie-film sub-genre.

Fortunately, the rest of the film is good enough for me to just ignore this faux pas and praise the film as a whole as a demonstration of independent filmmaking spirit, where having not much of a budget is a thing to work around, and not something carted out as an excuse to not even try to make a decent movie.

 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Three Films Make A Post: TODAY- The Pond! TOMORROW - The World!

Los Marcados (1971): A Ranchero that is heavily influenced by styles and theme of the Spaghetti Western, so expect lots of close-ups of the faces of ugly and sweaty people, more implied and more than implied nastiness than you can shake a stick at and peculiar uses for the camera's zoom objective. Plus some fascinating weirdness, latent homophobia, and heavy, melodramatic sighing into the camera.

Alas, the film's narrative style is so confused and unclear that it's pretty impossible to understand why people are sighing into the camera, and how they relate to the other people in the film. I'm somewhat impressed that director Alberto Mariscal makes what is basically a simple revenge plot this difficult to understand, I just wish he'd put the energy he uses for that attempt into quickening the improbably slow pace of a story in which not much is happening anyway. I suspect if a viewer can get into the film's groove, she might find something psychedelically relevant here. I couldn't.

Space Battleship Yamato (2010): It'll come as a surprise to nobody that, provided with a large budget and a horribly cliché-ridden script based on a much-loved yet horrible old anime show, the Japanese film industry will crap out the same sort of nonsense most high budget US movies try to torture their audiences with. So expect a bit of pew-pew, much bathos, a tear-jerking soundtrack, and a script that barely bothers to cohere because it prefers to spend most of his time to regurgitate ye olde clichés of military porn. Though it's pretty obvious that someone in charge of the production has seen at least a few episodes of Ronald Moore's Battlestar Galactica, it's just as obvious that said someone wasn't willing or able to actually apply any of the lessons he could have learned there to the movie at hand.

I could cope with the film's complete lack of ambition and applied intelligence better if the film were at least somewhat charming, but where other stupid movies might carry a sense of wonder or some visual imagination around, Yamato only has the vacuum of space.

Winter's Bone (2010): Thanks to Debra Granik's Winter's Bone, I don't have to end this on a bitter note, because what could have been a particularly arrogant and cynical piece of Oscar-baiting poverty porn is anything but. Granik does not look down on her characters, and she doesn't judge them or the world they live in in a simple way.

Most of the film's strengths lie in Granik's ability to give her story a quiet and unassuming intensity built out of the acting's unhurried subtlety and a visual style that finds beauty and clarity in compositions that seem much more spontaneous and natural than they actually are; there's an art in achieving an emotional effect by underplaying how much work you've put into achieving it, and Granik seems quite an expert at it. That her film is a perfect counterpoint to the self-important "I am big, deep art" gestures and kitsch-philosophical depth of stuff like The Fountain and Tree of Life does make Granik's approach to filmmaking like a holiday in a land where artists from time to time look away from their mirrors, too.

 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Spirit of Wonder: Miss China's Ring (1992)

Outside of a small coastal town in an England that seems to be stuck in an eternal, rather peaceful and un-classist version of late the late Victorian or early Edwardian era, a young Chinese woman everybody only calls Miss China is running an inn, being nice to the local children, and kicking asses with her superior kung fu when necessary, like a deviant Michael Ripper. China could be satisfied with this somewhat boring life, if not for her boarders, the mad scientist Professor Breckenridge and his assistant and junior inventor Jim.

Because science ain't cheap, and Breckenridge spends all his money on his inventions, the scientist is behind on his rent all the time, providing China with ample opportunity to kick his door in. Which seems financially counterproductive to me, but what do I know?

Jim's a slightly different case - China and he have one of those slowly developing romances going on that mostly consist of the possible lovers looking at each other longingly and not explicitly speaking up, a state of affairs that is somewhat ironic when one half of the potential couple is as decidedly lacking in shyness and reserve as China is when not concerned with her love life.

Breckenridge's newest invention is particularly spectacular. He has - or so he says - invented a way to travel to the moon. That's the sort of thing that should keep a man in rent money for a long time, one would think, but convincing people the professor has a direct line to the moon turns out to be surprisingly difficult even when he writes a happy birthday wish for a certain Chinese innkeeper on the moon's surface in large letters. At least, this particular invention enables Jim to show he's the kind of guy willing to give his beloved the moon. If she kicks it hard enough, that is.

Miss China's Ring is one of two OVAs based on the rather obscure - as far as my sources tell me, both in the mythical West and in Japan - manga series Spirit of Wonder by Kenji Tsuruta. It's one of those OVAs whose existence is a bit of a mystery: its source is after all not particularly successful, and its tone and style don't fit particularly well into any clichés about what real otaku like. The anime also doesn't fit very well into the bodies of work of its director Mitsuru Hongo (whose Outlaw Star is a perfectly fine time) or its screenwriter Michiru Shimada, both men who have spent most of their working lives producing mildly to quite successful anime of the "popular yet not exactly conceptually riveting" variety that just scream work for hire. It's not that Miss China's Ring is an incredible artistic statement, but it's something a bit different in filmographies that generally tend to the blandly commercial.

Visually, Miss China's Ring is nothing spectacular. It's dominated by muted pastel colours and character design that's not too generic - I suspect we have the manga source to thank for that - without anything in its designs that would be stunning, or spectacular. Which, come to think of it, seems to be the right way to go about this particular anime. This is, after all, not a story of high drama and ultra-violence (even Miss China's fights are on the quotidian side), but rather a soft steampunk tale that charms its viewers by treating the utterly fantastical and whimsical with the same smiling interest it shows for its characters emotional lives. That is, of course, a time-honoured way to treat the fantastical, yet not one that's used in the movies all that often, not even in anime. When I look at how well Miss China's Ring succeeds with this technique, I'm bound to say unfortunately.

How well exactly does Miss China's Ring succeed? I had a bright, dopey smile on my face for its whole final act, and if that's not recommendation enough for you, I can't by of any further help.

 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Spasms (1983)

Seven years ago, millionaire Jason Kincaid (Oliver Reed) and his brother mounted an expedition into the wilds (or something) of Micronesia to try and get behind the truth of a local legend about the door to hell opening there every seven years to let out a giant snake. The expedition cost the brother his life and left Kincaid with a telepathic connection to and an obsession with a possibly demonic, loud yet stealthy snake of quite variable size.

Now, seven years later, Kincaid has hired some poor idiots to catch his arch enemy and transport it to his mansion in the USA. Kincaid hopes having the thing in close proximity will somehow make it easier to sever the telepathic bond between him and the hellish animal (though the film also insinuates that this particularly dubious idea might actually be caused by the snake's malevolent telepathic influence). To help sever the unpleasant bond, Kincaid hires psychiatrist and ESP researcher Dr. Tom Brasilian (Peter Fonda, who is all relaxed, man).

Alas, evil never sleeps. A snake worshipping cult of satanists thinks Kincaid's snake is the devil himself, and has therefore hired the shady Crowley (Al Waxman) to steal it before it can even get into the millionaire's and Brasilian's hands. This being the sort of film that it is, it will come as no surprise to anyone that Crowley's attempt to steal Plissken the snake (combined with an attempt of Kincaid's niece to kill it that is only in the movie to make things superficially more complicated) only sets the animal/demon/whatever free so that it can finally begin its murder spree.

Will Kincaid and Brasilian be able to stop it before it eats itself through the whole population of a university town?

If this rather confused sounding plot synopsis (and believe me, I left out much that is superfluous and obviously only in the movie to bring it to feature length) has left you in any doubt, let me just state the obvious here first: even in the area of the animals running amok film, where my expectations of quality are especially low, Spasms is a horrible film any way you look at it. William Fruet's direction is at once bland and roughly jumpy, reminding me quite a bit of the worst parts of Mexican lucha cinema of the late 70s, where elderly directors working on material they don't care about with no budget to speak of were pushed into service by producers who frankly didn't care much either. The most obvious difference is the absence of masked wrestlers (Peter Fonda being not a very good Santo) and filler.

Instead of horrible night club scenes, Fruet (also at least co-responsible for the script) prefers to add as many ridiculous and cheesy flourishes right out of the 70s (quite an idea for a film made in 1983) as he can find, producing a film that adds the devil to a giant snake to devil worshippers to virally induced telepathy to Peter Fonda's funding difficulties until there's no room to develop any single element in the movie properly and everything turns into an incoherent mishmash of this, that, and Peter Fonda "charming" leading lady Kerrie Keane.

What I can't say about Spasms however is that it's boring. There's always way too much ridiculous nonsense going on for that problem ever to manifest. The horrible special effects alone, featuring a snake that very much looks like a toy somebody has painted over to look more threatening, should be enough to keep the easily entertained (like me) happy.

While every single element of the film is badly executed, the sheer mass of crap (which, Peter Fonda explains "charmingly", is an unladylike thing to say - in this movie's world, that's the sort of thing you say to a woman to get kissed, by the way) the film throws monkey-like at its audience is nearly automatically entertaining. After all, if you don't like blue snake-o-vision, you'll probably like the very polite satanist ritual, or Al Waxman nearly exploding from snake poison, or the totally subtle gratuitous (as if it ever were) nudity.

Plus, Oliver Reed does some perfectly, inappropriately intense scenery-chewing of the type only the truly great actors know to produce. If that's not enough for you, though, you'd best keep away from Spasms.

 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

No posts for a few days (again)

because even ancient evils get sick from time to time, it seems.

 

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Three Films Make A Post: Many Motion Pictures Promise You Terror But This One Is Truly Frightening!

Proie aka Prey (2010): The male members of a family owning a rural chemical plant are trying to hunt down an overly aggressive boar, but eventually have to defend themselves against a whole pack of mutant killer boars. Of course, they are responsible for the boars' existence and of course tensions in the small group make their survival exceedingly more difficult than the boars alone could. Man is after all - and please repeat after me - the greatest monster of them all.

While I couldn't shake the feeling to have seen Antoine Blossier's film more than once before, I also felt decently entertained by it. This is, after all, a well-paced, well-acted, and well-shot film that manages to make good use of the old "you're mostly just hearing the monsters" trick. The only thing it truly lacks is an identity of its own.

 

Kishin Houkou Demonbane (2006): On paper, a mecha/fight anime sprinkled with terms taken from Lovecraft and Western magic(k)al traditions where the Al Azif is a Magical Girl sounds like a surefire win of the bizarre and silly to me. Alas, the copious use of Lovecraftian names is basically all this twelve-episode show has to offer. The rest is dire fanservice, horrible animation, characters more generic than the word "generic", and fight scenes as lazily animated as the producers could get away with. It's as if all the show's creative energy had flown into the use of Lovecraftian words, so that nothing was left for minor things like decent plotting, pacing, or even just a basic interest in entertaining one's audience beyond showing the panties of the Necronomicon to it. Which is not a sentence I ever thought I'd write. Oh well.

 

Insidious (2010): As much as I sympathize with Saw director James Wan's and Saw writer Leigh Whannell's attempt at making a more subtle piece of ghost-oriented horror, I can hardly call the result of that attempt a successful film, for if there's one thing the pair seems to be unable to do, it's being subtle. Neither the attempts at building psychological tension nor the theoretically creepy scenes work, mostly because there's never any proper build-up to them, and even if there were, in the end, Insidious prefers to PLAY VERY LOUD MUSIC AND SHOUT at its audience instead of actually going through with that subtlety thing. If you think a guy suddenly jumping at you shouting "BOO!" is the height of horror, you'll have a heck of a time, though.

 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Devil's Woman (1996)

In an attempt to escape a life of being brutalized by directors for no gain in fame, actress May (Cammy Choi) makes a (not exactly voluntary) pact with a mysterious black magician. Before she's allowed to become successful, though, the sorcerer magics a spider under her skin and uses her as his private magical assassin, first making her sex a doctor to death by dehydration through sperm loss, then having her kill a nurse with an evil kitty. It all has something to do with our magician's wish to find a proper body to reincarnate his wife in, or something of that sort. I think. These murders - and others the audience doesn't get to see - do come to the attention of the police.

Investigator in charge is "Baldhead" Lam Kwok-kong (inevitably for the hairless in Hong Kong, played by Elvis Tsui), who has his own troubles to begin with, for ever since a dead foetus spattered on him during a hostage situation that ended badly, Lam has visions of death that'll later come true. These visions will not be much of a help for our hero when the mysterious sorcerer decides to hinder the police by enchanting Lam with a permanent erection and thoughts of rape. Fortunately, Lam's partner Cheung Si-man (Ivy Leung) and her magically adept Granny (Helena Law) - coming complete with child ghost companions - are there to help him out.

So yes, as the random assortment and sheer amount of never dramatically developed stuff I just mentioned (and the amount of stuff I didn't mention - I've left out the part of the plot concerning a female police physician explaining Elvis's visions with his lack of a girlfriend "to lighten his pressure", just as an example) might hint at, this is very much your typical CATIII black magic movie, just with less puking of maggots and worms (only a spider was harmed during the production of this film, it seems), and less sex, nudity and rape than you'd expect. Don't worry, director Norman (or Otto) Chan Hok-Yan isn't mad enough to include no nudity at all in his sleazy horror movie, but he does show a certain degree of restraint in this respect - at least for a CATIII film. I also have to add that the film's definition of rape seems to include consensual sexual activity too - I honestly don't know what to make of that.

Anyhow, what Devil's Woman lacks in maggots and breasts, it tries to make up for in the expected confusing, shoddy plotting - clearly made up as the production went along - that not only pulls its focus randomly from one character to the next (I imagine depending on who of the cast members was available on a given day), but also keeps some important developments off-screen and prefers to have characters explain them to each other and the audience.

On the other hand, Chan uses the parts of the running time he frees up this way not only to tell a lot of dick and sperm jokes, and show Elvis Tsui making frightening "I have an erection" grimaces, but is also quite fond of filling them with the sort of insane shit one hopes for from this kind of movie: so there's a killer cat (doubled by a puppet when it comes to dying, surprisingly enough given the well-known Hong Kong disregard for animal rights) conquered by a microwave oven, a door to hell opening up in Elvis Tsuis's bed (that part might be realism and not insane shit, though), Elvis fighting his erection through the power of prayer (when Elvis Tsui prays, not only erections flee, but the light turns red, too, I've now learned), Elvis gaining the power to fight evil because his virginal partner gives him parts of her blood to drink, and so on, and so on.

Devil's Woman is not - I'm sure everyone still reading is now gasping with surprise - what you'd call a good movie, hell, some people wouldn't even call it a movie at all, but I found it difficult not to succumb to its threadbare charms, the film's tendency to just make up one disconnected piece of craziness after the other without a care for dramatic arcs, or filmic rhythms, or sense, or anything other of all that fancy film school stuff. It's even easier to fall for the film's dubious virtues because it feels quite good-natured, as if nobody involved hates all of humanity and wants it to die right this second, in what just might be a first for a CATIII film. Which might be a weird thing to say about a film where a dead foetus lands on the protagonist, but there you have it.

 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

In short: Kazuo Umezu's Horror Theatre: Present (2005)

Original title: Umezu Kazuo: Kyofu gekijo - Purezento

It's Christmas all over Japan, and a merry band of friends decide to top off their Christmas celebrations with a stay in a particularly Christmas-themed hotel. Virginal and pure-hearted Yuko (Mai Takahashi) uses the opportunity to fall into bed with her love interest Ryosuke (Takamasa Suga), even though the hotel gives her horrifying flashbacks to a childhood nightmare. As the word "horror" in the title should make abundantly clear, this "having sex" stuff can't be tolerated, so once the couple's finished, a big fat gaijin Santa Claus (Randall Himes) appears. He's got spiky things with Christmas ornaments and he knows how to use them!

Those of his victims Santa doesn't dispatch at once, he drags into his torture cellar, where he also feeds brains to his reindeer. How will Yuko escape him, now that she'll never be able to be a proper final girl anymore? Will Ryosuke's tendency to vomit a lot help her?

But wait, there's more: turns out Yuko never was all that virginal and pure-hearted at all, and a smoker to boot, and just pretended to be one to drag Ryosuke into her bed! How fiendish! Then it turns out it was all a dream! Then it turns out the dream was a dream too! Then it turns out the dream inside the dream was a dream too! Or was it?

Far be it from me to give anyone reading this the impression that I'm intellectually inconsistent (though I am), but it's better to be intellectually inconsistent than to be intellectually dishonest, so I have to admit that my usual hatred for "it was all a dream" twist endings just didn't make an appearance while I was watching Present. Turns out you just need to make your dream-related twist endings so ridiculously complicated and bizarre that they themselves feel like a dream, and I'm neither going to be annoyed by them nor complain about them. In fact, the proper ridiculousness of Present's ending fits in so cosily with everything that came before it that I even have to admit that this might have been the only correct way to end this particular movie.

What did come before the ending was pretty much the intersection of the styles of the short film's two father's, loveable weirdo and mangaka genius Kazuo Umezu - on one of whose manga shorts this is based - and director of gorily bizarre movies Yudai Yamaguchi. Umezu's obsession with childhood fears and Yamaguchi's love for ridiculous (and sometimes awesome) rubbery gore fit together well, and both have a thing for the slightly hysterical and the bizarre, so this is a case where the sensibilities of a mangaka and a director truly are one - at least in the limits of this particular short film, where Umezu's more political and social interests don't really apply, and where Yamaguchi's love for the whacky cancels out the potentially annoying moral lesson of the story.

Present's short running time helps to keep Yamaguchi's less savoury tendencies (tendencies that only appeared in Yamaguchi's films after Meatball Machine) in check, so there's neither too little actual content to fill out the running time, nor the overwhelming feeling of having an overexcited thirteen year old shouting into one's ear for ninety minutes. This time, Yamaguchi's gets the balance between the crazy and the normal just right.

For my - admittedly peculiar - tastes, Presents pretty much has everything I could hope for in a low budget direct to DVD short: very Japanese gore, bizarre humour, merry eroticizing of Western culture, and a mood of violent dream-like strangeness.

 

Friday, July 8, 2011

On WTF: Prikosnoveniye (1992)

aka (The) Contact

One of the true delights of this movie reviewing lark is that from time to time, you will stumble upon wonderful little films like this Russian pearl of philosophical low budget horror with a fairy tale influence you'd never have encountered otherwise.

As always, my write-up on WTF-Film will tell you more.

 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

In short: The Nevadan (1950)

The Old West. Tom Tanner (Forrest Tucker) has stolen a nice amount of gold - first from a bank, and afterwards from his partner (which will not be important later on). Though he is caught, the Law is unable to find out where Tanner hid the loot.

While a marshal is transporting the bandit through Nevada, Tanner manages to escape, clearly bound for his ill gotten gains. On the way, he meets the seeming greenhorn - as demonstrated by his wearing of city clothes - Andrew Barclay (Randolph Scott). At first, Tanner steals Barclay's clothes and takes him as a sort of hostage, but soon enough, the greenhorn turns out to be quite handy with guns and horses and helps Tanner escape the interest of the men of Edward Galt (George Macready) - rancher, entrepreneur, greedy bastard - who wants Tanner's gold, too.

Clearly, there will be various changes of allegiance between Tanner, Barclay and Galt during the course of the film, and Barclay will turn out to be exactly who you'd expect from a character played by Randolph Scott. There's also a sub-plot concerning Galt's daughter Karen (Dorothy Malone), who has somehow managed not to realize that her dad is the evilest man alive and promptly falls for his enemy Barclay. If you smell a three-directional shoot-out for the film's finale, have a cookie.

Gordon Douglas's The Nevadan is situated at an interesting point in the history of the US low and mid budget western, created just before the real start of the wave of darker, more psychologically oriented films that were soon to come. The Nevadan is still beholden to the easier structures and morals of the films of the 40s, yet also shows its genre's developing interest in more complex characterization and a deeper exploration of themes the American western in general (I know, there are exceptions) had been circling around yet avoiding to confront head on for decades.

On paper, The Nevadan's plot already features exactly the sort of elements directors like Budd Boetticher or Andre de Toth would use to turn the genre's interest inward: there's the relationship between Barclay and Tanner that would be an ideal set-up to explore the similarity between the lawman and the bandit; the family relationship of the Galts, where the daughter turns out not to know her father at all, and the father uses her as an excuse to indulge in his worst impulses; Galt's brother pair of henchmen as another example of skewed and unhealthy family dynamics. In practice, The Nevadan does unfortunately shy away from doing more with these elements than just pointing them out, shrugging, and showing us a scene of people riding through the pretty landscape instead.

Though that comes as a bit of a disappointment for someone like me who is always hoping for the kind of western that made him fall in love with the 50s variant of the genre, The Nevadan is a pretty worthwhile example of the straight American no-nonsense western. There is after all quite a bit to like about the film: the acting is fine, if a bit too beholden to embodying standard archetypes instead of human beings (and everybody's cast exactly to his or her usual type, which is always a double-edged sword), the plot is merrily paced, and Gordon Douglas's direction shows the director (who'd later make one of my very favourite giant monster movies with Them!) as a man who knows how to shoot straight without shooting bland, and has a real hand for staging action scenes - the film's finale is even a bit exciting.

 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

La Fille De Dracula (1972)

Luisa Karlstein (Britt Nichols) returns to her ancestral home for a deathbed visit with her mother(?)/grandmother(?) (Carmen Carbonell). Before she dies, the old lady asks Luisa to take a look into "the crypt below the tower", to "see what it is that is killing her", and because the first count who is buried there was a vampire. No, I don't know what that's supposed to be good for either.

Dutifully, Luisa wanders off to the crypt, whereupon a coffin swings open and the first Count Karlstein (Howard Vernon in his most comfy role) - or, following the pre-movie text card, Count Dracula - stares long and hard at the girl and hisses.

Afterwards, Luisa renews(?)/begins(?) a love affair with her cousin(?)/childhood friend(?) Karine (Anne Libert), which results in a bit of sex and some biting with the vampire fangs Luisa grows from time to time.

While that has been going on (though the first murder seems to have taken place before Luisa even arrived), the nude female population of the nearby town has been decimated by a mysterious bloodsucking killer. Like the audience, investigating Inspector Ptuschko (Alberto Dalbes) has no clue what's going on. That doesn't hinder him from being a condescending smartass to everyone, nor from randomly naming people as the killer without having much evidence for his theories. Among the Inspector's suspects is the not-undead Count Karlstein (Daniel White).

The Karlsteins' secretary Jefferson (Jess Franco himself) seems to know what's up with his employers' family, but he needs a bit of time before he goes from incoherent ramblings about the supernatural into vampire hunter mode.

If you don't already enjoy the films of Spanish exploitation auteur and fan of close-ups of female pubic hair Jess Franco, La Fille De Dracula will probably not teach you how to do it, containing as it does all the flaws of a typical early 70s film by the director and not as many of their virtues as one would wish for as one of the uninitiated. Once you have fallen in love with Franco's ways of doing thing like I have, you learn to just ignore his films' idiosyncrasies, go with the flow, and hope for another shot of random, strange beauty.

La Fille isn't making life easy for its viewers. I'm used to Franco's disinterest in narrative subtleties like a dramatic arc, characterisation, or just making plain the relationships between the characters, but even I found myself getting impatient with this particular film from time to time - a real problem given that La Fille, like all of Franco's movies, is paced at a tempo one might call - depending on one's temperament - "languid" or "snail-like". I'm okay with long stretches of movie where nothing at all is happening, as long as they are filled with enough Franco-isms to keep me awake, but it's exactly the scenes containing Franco's special obsessions - lesbian vampire sex, longish cameos by himself, weird artsy night club striptease scenes, long shots of the faces of his actresses or just a reflection the director is fascinated in - that don't seem to have quite the power here they have in the director's other films.

I'm obviously entering a realm here where it becomes difficult to quantify why this particular film's lesbian sex feels less weird and effective as that in Franco's other movies, or why this ultra-lazy (we never witness him actually getting out of his coffin) Howard Vernon vampire is less impressive than the actor's usual performances, or why a long shot of the reflection of a living room in a piano seems not quite as fascinating as usual; "it just feels this way" is the only - and unsatisfactory - explanation I have.

That doesn't mean that La Fille De Dracula is a film completely without merit for the Franco fanatic - we're going to watch anything with the man's name on it in any case - it's just a film that (to me) is not as fascinating and hypnotic as the director's movies can be.

 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

In short: Dylan Dog: Dead of Night (2010)

Dylan Dog (Brandon "I'm not here" Routh), the former investigator and conciliator for the population of supernatural creatures of New Orleans turned first monster vigilante, then normal private investigator after his woman got refrigerator-ed. Though his former monster friends don't like him anymore, Dog gets back into the paranormal investigation business when something kills his comic relief sidekick (Sam "I'm not funny" Huntington). It all has something to do with a case Dog didn't want to take concerning the murder of the father of personality-deprived Elizabeth (Anita "I'm not here either" Briem). Daddy died because he smuggled a much coveted McGuffin into New Orleans, and now every monster faction in the city tries to get the thing, which leads to Dog having particularly unexciting fights and confrontations with vampires, werewolves and zombies while randomly walking around, ahem, "investigating".

Oh, and the comic relief sidekick returns as a - still painfully unfunny - zombie. If you've ever seen a movie, you can imagine the rest yourself, and will probably come up with a more entertaining plot than the movie at hand has.

Whatever could go wrong with an adaptation of Tiziano Sclavi's long-running comic series into a Urban Fantasy movie featuring that guy who was already horrible as Superman, a role not exactly known for its emotional depth or breadth? Basically, everything else, too. The script is a plainly stupid assortment of badly realized clichés, painfully unfunny humour and dialogue (plus - see me shudder - off-screen monologues by our titular hero) so wooden and dumb it'll make your brain bleed, and a plot built with the Script-O-Tron-2000 (dumber edition). Obviously, the film doesn't make much use of its New Orleans setting either, and might just as well take place in Generic US City for most of its running time.

Director Kevin Munroe is exactly as good as the script he's working from, so don't expect any reprieve from the pain from him. While the camera stays in focus all the way through, and the film's basically professionally shot, there's not a second of visual imagination on screen throughout the whole film. To make matters even worse, Munroe also doesn't manage to balance the (supposedly) humorous elements with the (supposedly) more exciting parts at all - it's all a big, boring stew of scenes that seem randomly strung together, starting for no good reason and ending in the same way.

The actors don't want the people behind the camera to get all the blame for the catastrophe that's supposed to be a movie, though, and so each and every one of them delivers an atrocious performance. And it's not even the kind of atrocious performance a viewer could have fun with. There's an unpleasant odour of nobody giving a toss for the fact that people will actually pay money to watch this abomination surrounding everything here I find at once depressing, infuriating and undignified.

Usually, I have no trouble finding something worthy of praise even in the most dire of films, but even if there were something praiseworthy to be found if I'd just dig deep enough, Dylan Dog's air of disinterest and apathy robs me of all inclination to look for it any further.

 

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Sunday, July 3, 2011

Screamtime (1982 or 1983)

New York. Two crooks steal a couple of videos from a video store and go watch them in the apartment of a female friend of one of them, because hot damn, we need some breasts in this thing! The videos they watch are - quite inexplicably - three British horror shorts.

In the first of these shorts, Jack Grimshaw (Robin Bailey), the owner of a Punch and Judy show in a town by the British seaside, who just might love his puppets a little too much, is beleaguered by the contempt of his wife and the pure hatred of his teenage stepson. After the darling boy burns down Jack's little theatre, someone carrying a large stick and talking like Mister Punch does a bit of violence.

The second short concerns Sue (Yvonne Nicholson) and Tony (Ian Saynor), a freshly married couple, moving into the traditional house with a dark secret. Soon enough, Sue has visions of blood and violence that lead her to seek help from a psychic. But the haunting is more elusive than expected.

In the final short, a young dirt biker (David Van Day, of a band named "Dollar" I'm just not going to google) in need of money takes on a job as gardener for two eccentric elderly ladies who are obsessed with a bunch of rather unpleasant stories about an ancestress's bloody pact with fairies, and with their collection of garden gnomes. Our biking friend decides to rob the old gals; obviously, he hasn't expected the lethality of garden gnomes and other assorted fairy creatures.

The Internet - usually a source of rumours and ideas about everyone and everything - does not provide any data about the production history of this UK-produced (mostly UK-produced?) anthology movie. My theory - I have no proof whatsoever for it, mind you - is that a US producer somehow got his fingers either on a UK omnibus movie without a framing story or three unconnected short films, and decided the only thing this one was missing to become saleable was said framing story, a bit of female nudity and some footage of Times Square in its sleazy prime. Consequently, the producer shot the New York-based framing device that doesn't fit the tone of the rest of the movie at all, but contains tits, and called it a day.

The shorts - maybe the whole film - are supposedly directed by Michael Armstrong and Stanley A. Long, two veterans of UK exploitation films, working under the pseudonym of "Al Beresford", which might explain the professionalism at least the first two shorts demonstrate.

The stories themselves are quite good in their cheap and unassuming way. They're shot in the typically pleasant, slightly grainy style of their time that gives the simple plots an effective grounding in reality.

Quality-wise, my favourite is the first story. Obviously, there's something inherently creepy and unpleasant about Mister Punch, and whoever directed the episode milks that fact, as well as the grey bleakness of the surroundings the short takes place in, to conjure up a mood of the weird quite efficiently. The murder scenes' use of handheld camera and subjective shots is also quite creative.

The middle part just didn't grab me as much, solidly made as it may be, but the third and final episode's another winner, if of a very different kind than the first one. As is only right and proper for something starring a very minor pop star, the fairy story is a real cheesefest that just can't pull off what it's trying to do - namely somewhat subtly demonstrating the inherent menace of the common garden gnome in its natural state - but turns into something pretty special once it pulls out its big guns: a little person badly dressed up like a murderous garden gnome and an attractive woman who first steps out of a painting, then undressed a guy via telekinesis, snogs him, and then telekinetically knifes him. Say what you will about this part's failure at being horrific, it is pretty darn funny.

As is the finale of the framing story that teaches us that stealing three short films from a video store (or even just sleeping with someone who did that) is the sort of crime that should be punished with random, ridiculous death by Mister Punch and grabby TV hands. I'm sure the MPAA would approve of that message.

Anyway, though I wouldn't call Screamtime a lost classic, it's an entertaining enough little film that contains multitudes: the creepy, the mediocre, the ridiculous and the documentarian. I could hardly ask for more.

 

Saturday, July 2, 2011

In short: BKO: Bangkok Knockout (2010)

A posse of Thai martial artists wins some sort of competition in the hopes of getting that coveted Hollywood movie contract. Little do they suspect that the following celebration will leave them all drugged and unconscious. Awake again, the group (plus an annoying comic relief fiddler - no, I'm not joking) find themselves in a complex of derelict, budget-conscious industrial buildings.

Soon enough bad guys attack and drag the two women of the group away, provoking everyone to run around in all directions and stumble into various fights and traps.

Everything is - of course - part of an evil plan by the organizer of the competition from the beginning of the movie to let our heroes fight evil martial artists (under the tutelage of multi-talented director Panna Rittikrai) to the death so that a handful of rich racist foreigners can bet on the outcome. There will be much kicking and badly written betrayal before the film is through.

Let's the start off with something positive about BKO: veteran director/action director/producer/writer/martial artist/on-screen bad guy Panna Rittikrai still really knows how to do cheap, sometimes gimmicky, yet always exciting action scenes. There's little of the obfuscation of what's going on in fights that's (unfortunately) still so popular in martial arts cinema on display in BKO, for Rittikrai knows that his audience has come to actually see people doing interesting stuff with their - and to other people's - bodies.

Consequently, whenever the film concerns itself with people jumping, kicking, hitting and setting others on fire, BKO's pretty awesome to watch. It's the sort of martial arts movie that tries to include at least one fun gimmick in each fight, so - apart from the expected - the film has scenes of martial artists fighting a car, martial artists fighting an axe-swinging killer out of a slasher movie (I dubbed him Jason Axe), martial artists fighting Jason Axe while he's on fire, martial artists fighting guys on dirt bikes, martial artists stealing Panna Rittikrai's inhaler, and so on.

Unfortunately, Rittikrai feels the need to pad out an hour of highly entertaining (if completely stupid) action with forty long and painful minutes of boring stuff, mostly in form of making the audience watch the evil foreigners (with quota evil Thai guy, don't worry) sit in a container and talk nonsense, horrid comic relief, and various painful attempts at pretending anybody is interested in the young non-characters played by the young non-actors that are our supposed heroes. I had difficulty keeping these non-entities apart throughout the movie, which surely wasn't made easier by the fact that not one of our heroes has anything amounting to a single character trait, or at least a fighting gimmick. The latter, it seems are something only the bad guys are allowed to have here.

Obviously, regularly stopping the proceedings for a little chat between characters you just want to shut up and fight whenever the film has just become exciting is not exactly a good idea, especially not in an action movie that has nothing else to offer. It's particularly frustrating because the action in BKO is often good enough to let it stand among the best of the last wave of Thai action movies. For me, though, the boring parts suck too much fun out of the film to recommend it.

 

Friday, July 1, 2011

On WTF: Detective Dee And The Mystery Of The Phantom Flame (2010)

Original title: Di Renjie

Sometimes, cinematic dreams come true and a once-loved director who has been in the dregs for years suddenly comes out on top again.

Case in point is Tsui Hark's pretty great, slightly steampunk-y mystery wuxia Detective Dee. Find out what exactly I think about the movie in my write-up on WTF-Film.