Thursday, March 31, 2011

In short: A Chain Of Cursed Murders (2006)

Original title: Chain: Rensa jusatsu

A quartet of vapid schoolgirls comes in contact with a cursed chain text message. If the receiver of the message doesn't forward it to nine people during the next twelve hours, she dies a (kinda) horrible and sorta (the budget only suffices for one Japanese Blood Fountain, one ripped-off rubber face and various rubber limbs) gory death; if she does, she just might die too.

Soon enough, there's only one of our intrepid heroines left. Obviously (see: vapid)  she's totally out of her league, so she asks her lecherous (are there any other ones?) teacher for help finding the sender of the cursed message. He agrees, if she is willing to sleep with him afterwards, that is. Well, it could be worse, right?

Anyway, that teacher is a multi-talented guy: he only needs to plug a handy into his laptop and can pinpoint the exact location - even the floor inside a building - from where a call or a text message has been sent. The guy's probably moonlighting as a super spy.

Turns out the messages have been sent from a hospital. Girlie and her new partner travel there, and learn the truth in an exciting double twist ending; there's a third twist, too, but that one is only for the film's long-suffering audience.

Given that A Chain of Cursed Murders was written by Sakichi Sato, the same guy who wrote Takashi Miike's Ichi the Killer and Gozu, as well as the pretty funny Tokyo Zombie, I'd love to pretend that this horrible mess (directed by Ryuichi Honda) is an attempt at parodying the Japanese version of the horror genre. Unfortunately, there's nothing to find on screen that could support that theory - the whole film is just one badly thought out character doing some stupid thing after the other. If elements of the film are supposed to be funny - and really, can something like the high-tech-leach-teacher be meant seriously? - they never actually are. The plot makes less sense the longer the film goes on, while the characterization just doesn't work at all, not even in the genre short-hand version of characterization I'd be totally willing to accept; it would also have been nice if anyone's motivations had made any sense. And that's the quality of the script before the twist endings hit and destroy the last, sad bits of logic and character, as if they were a giant meteorite and logic and character the dinosaurs.

There's no escape from the film's frightening odour of crapness to be found in the acting: the young actresses couldn't emote believably if it would save their lives, and the two grown-ups are working at about the same level, just without having the excuse of inexperience.

I'd say something about Honda's direction, but that would already be giving it more credit than it deserves.

On the positive side, A Chain of Cursed Murders is at least short.


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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

La Meute (2010)

aka The Pack

In a big no-no for each and every horror film ever made, Charlotte (Emilie Dequenne) picks up a hitchhiker from the side of a country road. The hitchhiker Max (Benjamin Biolay, whom I mostly know as a musician and who does act with the expected lack of varied facial expressions) guides her to the small country bar of La Spack (Yolande Moreau), where the couple is soon enough attacked by roaming rapist rockers. Fortunately, La Spack owns a shotgun and is willing to threaten to use it. After that bit of excitement is over, Max wanders off to the toilet, never to appear again.

La Spack just shrugs his disappearance off, but Charlotte has taken enough of a shine to the hitchhiker to wait (not the least bit suspiciously) right in front of the bar in her car for nightfall to do a little break-in and reconnaissance. Unfortunately, the bar owner's no complete idiot, catches the girl, and sticks her in a cage. Turns out Max hasn't really disappeared either, but is in fact La Spack's son. Why the disappearance charade, you ask? I have not the faintest idea, and I suspect the scriptwriter doesn't have one, either.

Anyway, this little lapse in narrative logic is not Charlotte's biggest problem. That would be the fact that La Spack and Max kidnap people, bleed them dry and/or (again, don't ask, I didn't write this thing) feed them to the blind cannibalistic undead that are the product of a mine accident, or digging too deep - or something.

At least, there's a pensioned ex-cop (Philippe Nahon) on Charlotte's trace, so there's hope for her survival even beyond her own attempts at saving her life.

I often like my movies random and have a big place in my heart for the nonsensical and the confused in cinema, but this French black comedy/backwoods horror/creature feature concoction's tendency to go off into a different tonal or stylistic direction every five minutes, as well as its utter lack of even vaguely believable character motivations or the simplest attempts at keeping to an internal logic mostly ended up annoying me. Why, just to take the most obvious example, does our designated heroine go off to fight the movie's monsters after she's been rescued instead of legging it? Only because sixty minutes do not a feature film make, I'm afraid, and because director/writer Franck Richard couldn't come up with a better (well, actually, any) explanation. I don't even want to begin trying to fathom the motivation of Max for first helping his mother killing who knows how many people, but then changing sides quite completely. Yeah, sure, he's supposed to have a crush on Charlotte, but there's a difference between that and helping to kill one's mother and the monsters one has been feeding for years. Neither the script nor Biolay's wooden non-acting do anything to sell the idea. And let's not even mention the random rapist rockers.

Still, there's a lot to be said for the value of heaps of disconnected, under-explained crap in a movie - it can surprise, it can delight, it can put a viewer's mind in spaces the products of orderly professionalism can't reach; said crap does however need to be entertaining, interesting or just pretty darn loopy and not only random and pieced together from the horror clichés of the day. That's exactly where La Meute truly falters, because there are only a handful of scenes, and a bit of spirited production design worth more than a confused shrug.

The film's either very brown or very desaturated visuals don't make it any easier for me to like it. I know, I know, science says that only brown, grey, and yellow are colours conducive to creating a bleak mood. On the other hand, extensive research into other movies has shown that the use of the whole colour spectrum (I'd even be satisfied with the addition of green and red) in colour films can have the most fascinating effects on viewers like keeping them awake, and can even be used to enrich a film's mood, content, or themes if applied with thought and care. On the negative side, the use of more intense colour schemes makes the urine coloured skies contemporary horror filmmakers love so dearly nearly impossible to realize; and where would we be then?

It's a horrible day when I feel the need to call a film too incoherent and tonally inconsistent to bother with, but there you have it: La Meute is just too incoherent and tonally inconsistent to bother with.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Three Films Make A Post: More Startling Than Jules Verne!

The House That Would Not Die (1970): Aaron-Spelling-produced TV movie with Barbara Stanwyck as a government executive on leave because of a broken heart moving into an old dark house with her niece. The usual strange occurrences and possessions by ghosts hint at some terrible evil that was done there in the past. It's an exceedingly dependably made film by the exceedingly dependable John Llewellyn Moxey that makes for a decent 70 minutes of old-fashioned spookery, but lacks any spark of ambition or real excitement. The most interesting aspect of the movie is that Stanwyck's love interest is about twenty years younger than her in a clear demonstration that not only elderly male actors were once allowed younger romantic leads. Even though poor Stanwyck's Richard Egan here is neither pretty nor charismatic, I still approve of this exciting demonstration of equality.


Tron: Legacy (2010): Remember Tron? Well, Disney didn't, so they made this thing. The only parts of the film (and I use the word "film" loosely, given that this is mostly a check-list-like wandering through iconic elements of the original, but with a darker colour scheme - colours are evil!, as we all know - and more hippie babble than you can shake a stick at) worth mentioning are the fine music by Daft Punk, the performances of Jeff Bridges (now as the Dude in your computer) whenever he's showing his actual face and not the digital uncanny valley version of it and Olivia Wilde. Incidentally, these are also the only aspects of the film that seem to be alive and not constructed by PR people thinking about focus groups with only a vague idea of what the original film was about, and no interest at all in making an actual movie. It's not that Tron was a brilliant intellectual effort, but it was a film with a heart, its very own (and at the same time very timely) aesthetics and a sense of wonder about the world it created where its supposed sequel has nothing but the greedy eyes of a Disney executive.


Golgo 13: Queen Bee (1998): Also not very good is this OVA based on the long-running manga by Saito Productions about the super-assassin and all-around tough guy Duke Togo and his inherent awesomeness and sexual prowess. It's directed by Osamu Dezaki, pioneer and veteran of more than one type of anime, as well as one of the three directors responsible for an earlier Golgo anime, but is still lackluster, slightly incoherent and more than just a bit distracted, as if nobody involved were all that interested in making the tits and violence it contains exciting in any way or form.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Cold Prey 3 (2010)

Original title: Fritt vilt III

It's the end of the 80s, so quite some time before the occurrences in Cold Prey and Cold Prey 2 took place. The first group of young ones ever to get slaughtered by the franchise's killer (oops, spoiler) is making a short camping trip to the woods around the empty hotel of ill repute. They had initially planned to stay inside the hotel for the night, but at least one of the girls, Siri (Julie Rusti) has a finely developed sense for the creepy, and doesn't want to stay there. In a surprising twist never before encountered in the history of slasher cinema, her friends aren't total douches and listen to her; this film not taking place in the winter like its predecessors probably makes that decision a bit easier.

Not that staying outside helps the meat any: in an exciting twist, at this point in time, our killer is hiding out with his uncle in his hut in the woods, so meat and killer meet soon enough and killing ensues. Uncle isn't very happy when he finds out what his dear nephew is up to, but he isn't that much saner himself and is pretty fine with five dead people as long as he can keep Siri as his pleasure slave. There's a second uncle, too. He's the local cop and doesn't know what his family is up to (or in the anorak killer's case, that he's even still alive).

The cop has some vague ideas about something being wrong, but will he find out soon enough to be able to help anyone? Or will the victims be able to help themselves, what with them having two girls who could qualify as final ones in the form of Siri and her friend Hedda (Ida Marie Bakkerud)?

One does not go into the third entry into a slasher franchise that until now had even in its best moments (that would have been the second half of the first movie and no part of the second) distinguished itself by giving disturbingly generic ideas a pretty sheen of professionalism expecting great improvements in quality or ideas; in fact, after the mess of regurgitated, badly connected clichés that was Cold Prey 2, I went into this prequel expecting to be annoyed by it.

Much to my surprise, Cold Prey 3 turned out to be a pretty fine film. Sure, it's still a full-blooded slasher with all that entails, but it seems as if its new creative team - neither director Mikkel Braenne Sandemose nor the two screenwriters Lards Gudmestad and Peder Fuglerud had anything to do with what came before - spent a bit of thought on how to use the standard elements of the slasher movie (and a few bits and pieces of the backwoods horror film) without making a slasher movie by the numbers.

The addition of the anorak killer's uncles to the plot shakes things up more than I would have hoped for, making it possible for the film to take a few actually unexpected turns, that in their turn help to build a sense of suspense people not named John Carpenter often have a hard time creating in this sub-genre.

Sandemose prefers classic thriller techniques to jump scares, and while there's no shying away from violence, blood and downer endings on display, Cold Prey 3 is not at all interested in gore for gore's sake (that was already one of the better features of the first two films in the series for me). Done well - and this film does it well - it's usually more exciting to watch people trying to avoid getting slaughtered than watching an assortment of creative kills.

It's also pretty useful for the film's effect - giving its audience more to be interested in than the next kill - that it's victim characters aren't of the totally annoying sort your typical viewer would want to see die as fast as possible. I'm not talking especially deep characterisation here, but the film does avoid having characters like The Slut, The Jock, and The Practical Joker; sure, there's The Guy With The Smiths T-Shirt, but that's good taste in music for you.

So, while Cold Prey 3 won't set the world on fire with brilliance, it's a pretty good entry into the slasher genre. It's not retro (and that although it's taking place in the 80s), it's not lazily ironic, it's not pretending its audience is full of idiots, it's suspenseful - what more could I ask for from a slasher movie made in 2010?


Saturday, March 26, 2011

In short: End Call (2008)

A gaggle of high school kids lead so crappy lives they just can't help themselves when they learn about a mysterious phone number under which the Devil or the Grim Reaper makes one's wishes come true for the small price of the time of life a call takes. Well, plus the financial costs of a never-ending call. Not surprisingly, everyone calling the number ends up dead in increasingly stupid ways sooner or later.

This one's a terrible mess. Kiyoshi Yamamoto's direction is quite pretty to look at, and the acting's decent enough. Unfortunately, End Call doesn't actually contain enough ideas or plot for ninety minutes of film, and what's there of them doesn't make much sense. In a practical turn of events, not making any sense is also what the character motivations do. These very basic problems of the script are only made more clear by a distracting and useless approach to non-chronological storytelling. There are good and interesting reasons to tell a story in out if its timely order - "because the audience would otherwise realize even easier how stupid our plot is" is not one of them.

Add to this Yamamoto's inability to turn his pretty pictures into a moody - and don't even start about creepy or spooky or disturbing - film, and the script's insistence on shovelling every Lifetime Movie (or whatever the Japanese version of them is) cliché about "the youth of today" on screen - there's schoolgirl prostitution, dubious web sites, depression, cutting and everything else you could think of apart from drugs and projectile vomiting - without understanding even a single one of it, and you'll only need an exceedingly stupid double twist ending to really make my life as a fan of Asian horror cinema completely miserable.

In a not very surprising, yet still painful, turn of events, End Call does not disappoint in this respect - the twist is in fact double, and as stupid as any masochist could hope for.


Friday, March 25, 2011

On WTF: Diary Of A Madman (1963)

If there's one rule, one law, one order you can hold onto in this sad and tragic little life, then it's the superiority of Vincent Price over all other horror actors. Never did he give a bored performance, never did he just appear and cash in his cheque. Or so I thought, before watching Reginald Le Borg's Diary Of A Madman, a film so full of indifference even the glorious Mister Price was infected by it.

If you want to hear the details of my painful experience with this one (and who doesn't want to read me suffer?), please head on over to WTF-Film.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

In short: Birdy The Mighty (1996)

Original title: Tetsuwan Birdy

(We continue our accidental series of Yoshiaki Kawajiri write-ups. Well, no anime tomorrow, I promise.)

While trying to apprehend an intergalactic criminal, Federal Space Officer Birdy accidentally electrocutes hapless Japanese high school kid Tsutomu. That sort of thing just isn't done in her line of business, so her superiors use awesome space science to put things right. Well, sort of: from now on Birdy and Tsutomu have to share one body - though their body conveniently changes form and ability depending on who is the body's main controller at any given time. Birdy still has a job to do, too. Her arch enemy Christella Revi plans something unpleasant for Earth and her denizens and supports the mad experiments of a Japanese war criminal mad scientist to achieve it. Because Christella doesn't like our heroine much, and even less so her usually successful attempts at disrupting her plans, she sends various freaky assassins after her and Tsutomu. Fortunately, Birdy's pretty great at punching people and things, and Tsutomu's a more useful partner for her than anyone could have expected.

As if being dead and doing body time-sharing with a superheroine from outer space weren't troubling enough for a teenage boy, Tsutomu also has to cope with his crush on his classmate Natsumi and his own lack of self-confidence.

If you go into the 4-part-OVA Birdy (based on a manga by Patlabor creator Yuki Masami) expecting the sprightly mix of naked flesh and the old ultra-violence Yoshiaki Kawajiri's name as a director promises, you might be a mite disappointed. There's a spattering of blood and unidentifiable alien goo, but it's really pretty harmless for what one is used to from the director's more typical anime; the OVA also resists nearly all opportunities for nudity or making smutty jokes about the whole "young man and young woman sharing one body" business in a nearly disconcerting display of reserve.

However, one shouldn't let one's disappointment about the OVA's lack of exploitational values bar the view on the fact that Birdy really is pretty awesome in its own, slightly unexpected way. Kawajiri still is a master of staging dynamic action sequences, a fact the series' milder amounts of blood and gore doesn't change at all, and while there's no freaky body horror, there's still one silly-awesome idea following the other.

There's something very good-natured about the film's humour. It may make fun of Tsutomu's awkwardness, of his family and of Birdy's hot-headedness, but it does so (and that's really very typical of what I know of Yuki's manga) in such a loving way that even the thought of actual mean-spiritedness - the bane of a lot of comedy if you ask me - seems to be completely beyond it. Like the action, it's all in good fun.

Birdy as a character reminds me as much of Western superheroes as anything I've seen coming from Japan (the whole set-up with her and Tsutomu has a Rick Jones/Captain Marvel vibe, by the way - alas, I don't have a clue if that's coincidence or Yuki's a closeted Marvel fan). It's not the grim and gritty version of superheroes, though, but the more lighter, swashbuckling style you don't actually see all that often around these parts anymore, with a heroine who's confident and decidedly un-jerky (even though she has the obligatory tragic past), and just very fun to watch at work. I think it's scientifically proven that Birdy (the character) is pretty darn awesome.

"Pretty darn awesome" is in fact also a good description of the whole OVA. Fun action with fun ideas, featuring fun characters doing fun things - surprise! - makes for an exceedingly fun series, and another feather in Kawajiri's hat.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Biohunter (1995)

aka Bio Hunter

In their copious free time, scientists Komada and Kamagaya are working as self-styled bio hunters, hunting (and sometimes curing, it seems, though the film also calls the state incurable) people infected with the so-called Demon Virus. The virus plays bowling with its victims' genes, leading to charming, often mouth- and tentacle-based transformations and an unnatural hunger for human flesh. Komada himself is infected with the virus, and is able to smell out things and situations standing in connection with the virus. In emergencies, he also transforms into a cross between the wolfman and a classical Japanese demon that is quite different from the forms the other infected the film shows take. Until now, and with Kamagaya's help, he has been able to control and guide his transformations, but both men think that it's only a question of time until Komada will loose his humanity.

By chance, Komada one night stumbles upon a woman chased by three yakuza thugs. He protects Sayaka, as she is called, and because his Virus Sense tingles (practically, he starts to cry whenever virus-related stuff happens), offers her his and Kamagaya's help in her troubles.

Sayaka is the daughter of a famous fortune teller, who seems to have foretold something an influential client wasn't too happy about.

Sayaka's dad is hiding out somewhere in the countryside, so the scientists and the woman make their way to find him and protect him from his enemies. Our heroes will learn soon enough that the dangerous prophecy had something to do with the Devil Virus, a prospective prime minister, and a series of murders that is shaking Tokyo right now.

When I tell you that Biohunter begins with a sex scene in which a woman's breast grows a mouth and munches off her partner's hand, you'll probably not be too surprised to hear that Yoshiaki Kawajiri was involved in the OVA's production. This time around, Kawajiri may have only been responsible for the script, but his DNA is still all over the anime. The directorial credits go to Yuzo Sato, but a look at his filmography - this being his first job as a director with the next one coming seven years later with a lot of work mostly on the animation side, and in part in other Kawajiri projects, in between - suggests to me he wasn't exactly the leading light here, so I'm going with my gut feeling that this is very much a Kawajiri anime. On a technical level, Biohunter looks and feels as you'd expect from this sort of anime - the animation is solid, the human character design more solid than inspired, the pacing fine, and the voice actors are convincing enough.

Nearly a decade after Wicked City, Kawajiri still liked to milk the whole "tentacles plus gore plus breasts plus solid action plotting with slight philosophical bend equals instant fun" formula, and I can't say I blame him for it, given how much it agrees with his sensibilities and my tastes. As is typical for nearly everything by Kawajiri I've seen, there's a sense of actual intelligence surrounding the film that shows itself in clever details like the big difference between the way the deeply human Komada's monster form looks in comparison to the other infected we get to see, emphasising how different from them he is on the inside, too; obviously, Komada's monster form (and his frequent reactions to the moon), is also a large nod in the direction of classical Hollywood werewolf lore.

The script also sets up some interesting comparisons between the (pseudo-)scientific way the scientists explain the Virus, and the metaphysical/superstitious language the fortune teller prefers. In the film's context, it's pretty clear that both are attempts to put into language experiences neither the language of science nor that of mysticism were truly built for; in the end, no-one's interpretation of the Virus is wrong, but nobody's is completely right either. Which really is pretty clever for a gory little monster anime that wouldn't necessarily need to have any thoughts at all to find its audience. It is also more respectful of human endeavour than the usual stuff about the need to put one's feelings before one's rationality to truly understand things, I think.

Perhaps not as clever, but at least pretty amusing is to find the film arguing that a politician makes for an especially mean monster because he's already got no moral compunctions or an ethical backbone even before he turns into a monster. The cynic (or is it the realist?) in me agrees with this assessment.

But all the hidden cleverness and technical solidity wouldn't amount to much without Biohunter's slight detours into weirdness. These detours aren't excessive for anime or Kawajiri's work, but when one is talking about things like the hero's hand getting blown off in an explosion, hitching a ride on a helicopter, and later rescuing the hero's love interest and telling him where to find her, "not excessive" is quite a relative description.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

In short: Something Creeping In The Dark (1971)

aka Something Is Crawling In The Dark

Original title: Qualcosa striscia nel buio

A mix of unpleasant strangers - a rich guy (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart) and his wife Sylvia (Lucia Bose), physician Dr. Williams (Stelvio Rosi) and his companion (I honestly have no idea what their actual relationship's supposed to be, the film sure ain't telling) Susan (Mia Genberg), a professor with a tendency towards the occult and helpful exposition (Angelo Francesco Lavagnino), two cops (Dino Fazio and Franco Beltramme) and Spike (Farley Granger), the serial killer they just apprehended - are stranded on the same country road when various bridges break down during a storm. Fortunately, there's a house nearby, so everyone decides to just drop in there.

Joe (Gianni Medici), the house's owner, isn't too fond of suddenly having a roomful of strangers in his living room when he was planning to spend some quality time with his girlfriend (Giulia Rovai), but the cops don't take his no for an answer.

So soon enough, everyone's hanging around in Joe's living room, drinking his booze. After the Professor mentions that this house once belonged to a supposed murderess with a background in black magic, Sylvia - after having been insufferable to everyone and having had a strange vision in which she sees herself murdering Spike - decides that it's now time for a little séance. After all, Sylvia's beleaguered husband is a perfect medium.

Unexpectedly - these things never go wrong in movies, after all, that séance turns out to be not such a hot idea. The lady of the house does in fact appear and possess the hubby, but she's very displeased by having been disturbed. Once everyone's gone to bed, the dead woman (in form of an invisible force) begins to possess various members of the party, letting them act out their hidden desires. Obviously, there will be murders, and even more obviously, especially Spike will have a chance to continue with his hobby.

Mario Colucci's Something Creeping is a pleasant entry among the number of Italian variations of the old dark house sub-genre. Unlike its American and British forebears from a few decades earlier, the Italian old dark house movie does not explain away strange and seemingly supernatural occurrences with some preposterous, "natural" hokum. Quite the opposite, a film like Something Creeping relishes the possibility to use the supernatural as a catalyst to bring out its characters' nasty sides.

Not that these nasty sides are all that difficult to bring out or even just to find. Keeping with the tradition of all Italian horror movies - and again in opposition to the classical old dark house films, where all characters were annoying, but usually not utterly despicable - most of the characters here are either so repressed they seem hardly able to show normal human reactions or such utter bastards one can't help but enjoy most of what's happening to them a little too much.

What is happening to the characters mostly fits their various neuroses well enough, and while none of it is surprising, it's quite pleasant to watch the bunch of bastards squirm, the supposed authority figures just try to ignore the truth when it doesn't fit their concept of reality, and Colucci's camera having fun zooming around the rooms while the dead woman breathes heavily on the soundtrack.

Something Creeping isn't the most atmospheric Italian movie of its type, but Colucci makes good enough use of his competent cast and the little special effects his budget allow him to produce a slight, but very entertaining piece of 70s occult horror.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Wicked City (1987)

For centuries, the human world and the world of the demons have held a secret peace based on regularly renewed treaties and regulated by a group of secret cops on both sides of existence known as the Black Guard.

The peace treaty's up for renewal again, and human Black Guard Taki is put in charge of protecting one of the treaty's signatories, one Giuseppi Mayart, from potential harm. Because this is an interspecies operation, Taki's efforts will be assisted by the beautiful demon Black Guard Makie, who looks like a perfect candidate for interspecies romance. Taki will need Makie's help badly, for a terrorist group from the demon side is putting all its power into assassinating Mayart before he can sign the treaty. But the demon terrorists are not the new partners' only problem: their charge turns out to be an insufferable little leech of the highest order whose main ambition seems to be making his protection and their life difficult by running after every pair of breasts available, like Master Yoda on Viagra. Furthermore, not everything about the soon-to-be-lovers' job is as it seems to be.

Wicked City is one of the forerunners of what would soon enough turn into the charming sub-genre of anime and manga loved and feared around the world as tentacle porn, but unlike many of its successors, Wicked City is neither true porn nor only interested in showing big breasted girls with green hair getting raped. The film is also nearly the beginning of the long and fruitful career of classy exploitation anime hero Yoshiaki Kawajiri. Before this, Kawajiri directed an adaptation of E.E. Smith's Lensmen and a segment of an anthology movie, both of which I'll take a look at sooner or later, but Wicked City is the first long-form anime that shows Kawajiri as the kind of guy who's not just making his films to fill a quota of breasts, tentacles and mutilation in his films.

Not that Wicked City doesn't contain all of these required elements  in spades. There's a whole freak show worth of grotesque transformations, fun violence and (often) less fun sex on display that would excite anyone (probably even exploitation anime's patron saint Go Nagai) not completely deaf to the charms of these things even if there were nothing else memorable about Kawajiri's movie. However, this particular director does not share the line of thought many of his colleagues and followers seem to believe in that says just throwing the good (or "good") stuff at one's viewers alone is enough to make for an actual movie, so he put actually coherent world building in the service of a well-paced plot into Wicked City, too. Sure, the world Kawajiri constructs is silly, as is the plot, both however never just feel as excuses for showing the audience nudity and violence. Instead the plot and the exploitation are integrated with each other like in any other film much less interested in showing a woman's whole body turn into a vagina dentata. Truly, it's the best of both worth.

Another advantage Kawajiri's film has compared to a lot (not all, mind you) of his genre companions is the actual brilliance of the film's monster designs. Kawajiri - or probably his art director Kazuo Oga - doesn't use a half-hearted penis-shaped tentacle when he can have penis-shaped tentacles with mouths. He doesn't just use a vagina dentata, but a woman turning into a four-legged spider with a vagina dentata she also uses to spin webs with, and so on, and so forth. As should be obvious, a lot of the film's design work (and some of the backstory about demon women sucking the life energy out of men that reminds of traditional Chinese ideas about fox ghosts) seems designed to let some of the worst nightmares a certain type of men have about women come alive, all in the good old horror and exploitation tradition of playing with the fears of one's audience as much as with their desires. But to me there's also a degree of humour visible in these designs, knowing winks that suggest that, no, nobody involved in the making of this movie actually thinks that women are out to castrate men metaphorically or less metaphorically, which is an effect quite difficult to achieve in a film this full of rape and fearful female sexuality.

Really, what's not to love?


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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Note of absence

I don't want to be one of those bloggers, but there is just not much writing happening right now here in R'lyeh. Normal service will - hopefully - resume on Sunday.

And hey, I watched a The Asylum movie, so you don't have to.



I Watched The Asylum's Sherlock Holmes (2010). I Took Notes.

  • Elderly Watson (who looks quite un-wrinkled for the eighty years plus he must be old) prefers to watch the Blitz from his lighted second story window; blackouts are for the weak.
  • So wait, Holmes's least known case is one that had dinosaurs cavorting through London and the city attacked by a mechanical fire-breathing dragon? I blame marmite for Londoners' bad memories.
  • Producing CGI tentacles that move like bad stop motion tentacles must be some sort of achievement, I'm sure.
  • Ten minutes in, and I already wish for Matt Frewer as the superior Sherlock Holmes actor; at least that guy's a professional actor. Of course, even good old wooden uncharismatic Ianto from Torchwood aka Watson looks like an actor of immense presence and talent in comparison to today's Holmes.
  • What's with his voice? No, honestly, what's with his voice? And his line delivery? He's reading all of his lines off a teleprompter, isn't he?
  • Remember Sherlock's brother? Thorpe? The one who was Lestrade's "partner" (stop crying!) at Scotland Yard?
  • Remember how Sherlock always leaves the physically dangerous jobs to Watson in the books while smirking like an imbecile? Nope, me neither.
  • The john's name is John! Soooo funny! Looking forward to someone stepping on a banana peel next.
  • Who knew that Watson would be the junkie's favourite doctor?
  • Holmes declines the application of drugs. What's next, a big speech about his hatred of cocaine?
  • "Show us your search warrant, then" is surely a sentence every shady working class man in Victorian London uttered dozens of times.
  • "Is your workforce made of illegal immigrants?" - wait, am I watching Machete again? Can't be, that one did not generate the wish to be blind and deaf in me.
  • Flashbacks to something that just happened the scene before are so useful. If your assumed audience has the short term memory of a fly. Which would also explain how much this film stinks.
  • Thorpe Holmes is Iron Man!
  • So, Sherlock's real first name is Robert. This Holmes really is more of a Robert, too. Bob Holmes, consulting detective, yeah, that has a special sound to it. Or is this film the story of a guy named Robert pretending to be Sherlock Holmes for fun and profit and making a very bad impression on the world? I'd rather watch that.
  • Come to think of it, what's Thorpe's real name then? Dick?
  • Isn't a robot assassin girl bomb and a mechanical dragon a bit of overkill when your plan is…what is our bad guy's plan anyway, except exploding Buckingham Palace? Come to think of it, why does the mechanical dragon roar?
  • Holmes is a bit like Batman in that he doesn't use guns. Well, except in anything featuring him not "written" by the genius responsible here.
  • Machine gun airship versus mechanical dragon should be awesome, shouldn't it? Too bad that it's in this film and realized accordingly.
  • Elderly Watson is so ashamed of the crapness of his story that he dies right after telling it. I sympathise.
  • 58 years later, and robot assassin girl bomb hasn't had a change of clothes.
  • It's frightening to realize this isn't the worst movie produced by the Asylum I've seen. These people are responsible for altogether too many dead brain cells. Someone should sic dinosaurs on 'em.


Friday, March 11, 2011

On WTF: Primal (2010) & A Short Maintenance Note

Man, don't you just love Roger Corman productions from the first half of the 80s? Well, I suspect the director of the Australian film Primal does to, and so gives us a survival horror tale that feels quite a bit like one of those productions, just with more slow motion and bad guitar.

My write-up on WTF-Film does explain what I thought about it.

In other news, there won't be any posts from me for this weekend. I have important videogames to play. Normal service will resume on Monday.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

In short: The Shock Labyrinth 3D (2009)

A group of former childhood friends is reunited when a long lost friend reappears banging on one of their doors. Yuki, as the returnees name is, has been missing since something terrible none of the former friends can or will remember happened to the children at some place they can't remember either, leading to consequences which, yup, nobody remembers. I smell traumatic flashbacks in their future.

After some back and forth, Yuki manages to fall down some stairs. Her former friends bring her to a hospital, but the place is empty. Soon enough it transforms into that place everyone had wanted to forget: a carnival ride known as "The Shock Labyrinth". Mildly frightening things will happen, and the friends will have to face their obligatory frightening past.

One of the sadder moments in the life of every cult movie fan is when he has to realize his personal hero directors are only human too, and therefore able to produce astonishing failures. Case in point is this movie by (still very much beloved) Takashi Shimizu. I was well able to overlook the crapness of his Hollywood films, because a talented director from any part of Asia coming to the US and not making terrible movies just isn't done. But The Shock Labyrinth 3D was made in Japan, for the Japanese market yet it still is a total catastrophe.

Gone is everything I loved about Shimizu's movies - his ability to use simple visual means to produce a mood of disquiet, doom and a Lovecraftian feeling of the universe, his talent to make do with the simplest of character sketches and still have an audience feel bad for what happens to these non-persons, as well as his often truly frightening imagination when it comes to set design, sound design and consciously confusing plotting. All this is replaced by scenes of non-entities plodding through dark corridors, the least needed 3D-effects ever to touch a screen, a 30 minute plot blown up to 85 minutes through judicious use of filler (that is, more running and plodding around in the dark), stupid death scenes (honestly, "dead woman falls on persons from above and breaks their necks" just doesn't work, and definitely does not get better through repetition), and a dead woman crawling out of a flying rabbit backpack while digital water drops fall from the sky.

Shock Labyrinth would be a less painful experience if there was anything to recommend it, but even the film's perfectly fine basic idea of a ghost taking vengeance for past, half-imagined crimes (that actually were a hardly creditable series of accidents) that might go somewhere if executed with subtlety or energy, is ruined through the ham-fistedness and the sheer dragginess of the execution. It's really a bit embarrassing coming from a man like Shimizu.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Massacre (1989)

Original title: Massacro

A serial killer is roaming the city, hacking prostitutes to pieces. Walter (Gino Concari), the police inspector responsible, is at a complete loss when it comes to catching his perp. It might also be he's a mite distracted by his girlfriend Jennifer (Patrizia Falcone), who is playing the lead role in some sort of horror movie; at least, Walter's hanging around the set more often than he's working.

The director of Jennifer's film wants his horror movie to be more authentic, so he invites a real medium (Anna Maria Placido) to hold a séance for the core crew and main actors that's supposed to give them "insight into the spiritual world". However, the séance doesn't go too well: instead of the medium's spirit guide, she accidentally conjures up a malevolent entity called Jack, who does some mild spooking before disappearing via floating POV camera somewhere in the bar of the tennis club where the séance takes place.

It can hardly be an accident that afterwards, crew and actors are killed off one by one. For inexplicable reasons, the police assumes these new killings to be the work of the same killer who's offing the prostitutes. Not that the prostitute murders and the new killings have anything in common apart from ending with dead bodies, but hey, it's the movie police, so what do you expect?

Soon enough, the police captures the prostitute killer, and now pretends to have solved the film crew killings too. Not surprisingly, the murders continue soon enough. It seems as if this killer has grown very fond of Jennifer and has chosen the actress as his final victim. Will anyone solve the mystery of his very obvious identity before it's too late for the young actress? Will the film's ending care?

Given that Massacre was directed and written by Italian sleaze expert Andrea Bianchi (also responsible for house favourite Malabimba and the venerable Burial Ground), I expected it to be somewhat more exciting than it turned out to be. Sure, the film's first half sets up a lot of sleazy melodramatics around the wild, wild sexual life in showbiz with the usual assortment of decadent producers who use their wives as their private pimps, bisexual actors looking for some quality casting couch time, lesbian production assistants in lust with the main actress, and middle-aged gay transvestites, but nothing much comes of it all, except for some leering shots of breasts and thighs and a bit of nude gyrating, all of which is just very mild by Italian exploitation standards in general and Bianchi's in specific.

Frankly, Bianchi seems bored with all that flesh and supposed decadence, and is not the least bit interested in doing anything interesting with it, like trying to make his film actually sexy, or shocking, or anything that could keep an audience awake. It's all just there to pad out the running time between murders, or so I must assume.

Not that the horror and gore parts of the film are any more accomplished. The film starts out well enough with a bit of ridiculous, yet nasty, gore (later to be recycled in Lucio Fulci's - who produced Bianchi's film - Cat in the Brain) and human body parts that seem to detach from a body at the slightest provocation, as if they were made of rubber, but after that it's a long slog through boring sleaze that only leads to some more murders that are just as boring and again staged with total disinterest.

I liked the séance quite a bit, though, for Anna Maria Placido's great grimacing and enthusiastic shouting. Her performance is like a breath of lilac-scented air in comparison with the apathetic staring and mumbling found everywhere else in this thing. But apart from the séance, and the mild bit of fun one can have with trying to puzzle out the plot of the movie the crew is filming (something about witchcraft that also includes a burlesque actor?), there's nothing else to recommend about Massacre.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

In short: BreadCrumbs (2009)

As if they had never seen a horror film in their life, a porno film team goes for a weekend of shooting in and around a picturesque house in the deep dark woods just North of No-Cellphone-Reception. It's the last porn our designated heroine Angie (Marianne Hagan), is planning on making before going out of the business, but the whole affair will go a bit differently than how she had hoped - and Angie isn't exactly Princess Optimism.

Unfortunately, the film people attract the attention of a pair of creepy and not exactly sane teenagers (Amy Crowdis and Dan Shaked) who have a complicated mix of a game of Cowboys & Indians and one of Hänsel & Gretel going on. Declaring the pornographers living in a house made of candy, the kids go about their business of killing them off. Patti, the girl sister, is also quite good at talking people into believing her brother's the brain of the operation, and herself just an innocent victim too, when a fitting audience like Angie (who seems to long not so much for a family, as for a family as representation of a life and therefore wants to believe in Patti as an innocent) presents itself.

BreadCrumbs' setup is certainly serviceable enough for another entry into the endless sub-genre of horror movies about people getting hacked up in the woods, and though Mike Nichols' direction isn't exactly riveting in its imagination, there are a handful of effective shots arising from a foundation of perfectly solid filmmaking. Surprisingly enough, the film doesn't even break down in its final act, but goes on as if nobody had told it that horror films are supposed to implode once the finale comes around. In fact, the problem phase of this particular film is the first act, when too many characters aren't always doing very interesting things (or worse, "comedic" things), and the film seems to wait for someone's permission to start.

The film's script is a bit more ambitious than that of many other spam in a cabin films. There are attempts at actually fleshing out the characters of some of the designated victims a little, and while nothing of it is all that original and exciting (would you believe it - the porn producer is a cynical bastard of the highest calibre?), the fate of two-note characters is always more interesting than that of one-note characters. Alas, only about half of the characters are this semi-interesting. Others stay grating caricatures whose deaths I'm only too happy to witness in a movie.

Angie on the other hand is even outright complex, outfitted with a past the film doesn't feel the need to explain in full detail because it trusts Marianne Hagen to show the humanity of her character through body language and facial expression instead of expository dialogue, which does work out nicely most of the time. There's some surprisingly nuanced acting from Hagen (as well as from Crowdis) on display.

A bit more problematic than Angie are BreadCrumbs' attempts at using fairy tale tropes to do the thematic heavy-lifting, define the kid's behaviour, and Angie's motivation, and provide a mirror through which the film's finale is filtered. It's a bit too much for to carry even for something that's as loaded with meaning as a fairy tale trope. I do appreciate the ambition of doing more than just paying lip service to the fairy tale elements, but I don't think the metaphorical level and the basic backwoods slasher setup really come together as well as they should here.

But hey, let's not end this on a negative note, because BreadCrumbs is that rare beast: a piece of contemporary backwoods horror that's actually pretty good.


Sunday, March 6, 2011

Blue Gender (1999-2000)

Diagnosed with an incurable genetic illness, teenager Yuji, together with a lot of other people suffering from the same illness, is put into hibernation, with the hope to get him out of his freezer again once a cure for his problem has been found.

Yuji probably didn't expect the state of things when he wakes up in 2031. Some anonymous soldiers and a mecha are trying to get Yuji's body out of the facility he has been sleeping in for more than twenty years, but are attacked by a horde of large, insectile creatures. During the course of the fight, the teenager's hibernation sarcophagus is damaged, leading to the boys awakening. It takes him some time to realize that the mecha is not another horrible monster, but is in fact trying to protect him from the creatures. It sure doesn't help that the robot's pilot Marlene is not much of a people person, and doesn't say a word to the shocked boy for quite some time.

Somehow, with the help of a whole squad of mecha and soldiers, Marlene manages to expedite Yuji out of the building. After a bit of back and forth and the second of Yuji's many hissy fits of the show, his rescuers finally bother to explain a bit of what's going on to him. Turns out that Earth has been overrun by these strange, frequently mutating bug things that were for some reason dubbed "Blue", most of humanity has been killed and a few chosen ones have been evacuated onto a space station named "Earth Two". The ruling cabal of the station has for some reason the soldier's don't know about (and, at least if you ask Marlene, don't care about) decided to bring as many of the hibernating "sleepers" into space. Yuji is the only sleeper the squad responsible for the sleepers of Japan has been able to free.

Things do not improve for the soldiers during the next few episodes of the show. Slowly but surely their numbers are whittled down by bug attacks until they even allow Yuji to learn how to pilot a mecha (here called "Attack Shrikes"). He turns out to get surprisingly good at it improbably fast. Various attempts to leave Earth - first via a facility on the open sea, then together with another rescue squad in Korea - fail, until the only choice left is to try to get Yuji somehow to the space port of Baikonur in what once was Russia. By that point, Yuji has learned that the inhabitants of the space station aren't exactly heroes: while they fled to space, they let the surviving humans on Earth to rot, and treat the survivors they meet when on a mission on the planet as completely expendable.

After Korea, what once was a military squad now consists only of Marlene and Yuji. Of course there's romance in the air. Yuji's whiny yet compassionate attitude whittles down the defences Marlene has built in long years of loneliness and trauma, and the boy is sixteen or seventeen. Obviously, the young, and unspoken, love will have to stand more than one test in the future, but its effects are rebuilding Marlene into a much more whole person.

After half of the show's episodes are over, the couple finally reaches Marlene's home, but there, things only become more difficult. The leaders of the place turn out to be space fascists planning to use Yuji and others with the same genetic problem for their own, not exactly humanitarian, purposes, and they don't look too kindly on Marlene's change into an ethical person, either.

On the surface, the anime show Blue Gender is nothing special. Looking at its single elements, one might suspect that the show is a rather artlessly fashioned grab-bag of ideas that were popular in SF/mecha anime at the time of its creation: there's the teenage male hero with hidden powers and an easily aroused libido; the gore-loving giant monsters; the mecha of the real robo variant (sub-genre demi-god Ryosuke Takahashi had a hand in the creation of the show). In the middle of the series, elements of academy shows begin appearing, but also a revolution and the mandatory ecological message. On paper, it's really too much, and too little of it is original, but the show's main script writer Katsumi Hasegawa (who must be one of the nerdiest men on the planet, seeing that he also writes light novels, draws manga and has experience as a suit actor for tokusatsu show as well as "special effects critic", whatever the latter may be) and its director Hiroshi Abe (not the actor) fuse the show's disparate elements so well that they fit quite organically.

There are only a few episodes that don't really work, usually when the middle aged men decide to write about sex as if they themselves were still sixteen, and not just their hero and their presumed audience. For most of the time, though, everything comes together into a coherent and fitting whole and doesn't betray its ideas and characters to the demands of fan service too much. Even when Blue Gender uses stock character types, it knows quite well when to stop using them.

Hasegawa does quite a few clever things in his scripts. While the way the show uses Marlene won't stand up to a strict feminist interpretation (but what does?), it's nice to see a show respect its female lead's competence even after its male lead has found the awesome mecha pilot in himself. It's also nice - and quite surprising - to find a show that doesn't pretend that a woman must give up on her competence to achieve emotional wholeness. In fact, once Marlene has begun to face her own feelings, the show changes from being told through Yuji's perspective to being told from Marlene's - not exactly the kind of narrative strategy you'll find very often in anime or elsewhere.

I also approve of the show's tendency to go into the nasty places (children dying, innocents dying, terrible changes in Yuji etc.) its world suggests without doing it just to be gritty and edgy. Everything unpleasant is a natural consequence of the show's backstory. The same goes for the show's at times melodramatic tone - it's simply appropriate for business like the end of humanity or desperate teenage love.

The only other negative I can find is the very variable quality of the animation. I wouldn't at all be surprised to hear that the show went over budget or over time in its final third, when episodes (especially the second to last one) begin to use the good old technique of using static drawings where they really don't belong.

Still, a bit of shoddiness in the later stages of animation are a price I'm willing to pay for a show that uses its clichés without becoming one.


Saturday, March 5, 2011

In short: Rajang Setan

aka Satan's Bed

When divorcee Siska, her daughter Meria and her niece Nina move into the fine new luxury villa Siska's rich boyfriend Markus has bought for her, they probably did not expect to wander onto the turf of a duo of rather aggressive ghosts left over from a murder case from the 40s. Mostly, the ghostly work of evil is done by a rather ripe looking guy wearing a razorblade glove who prefers to attack his victims inside of dreams - let's call him Freddie; late in the movie, his blonde ghost girlfriend starts to assist him with her powers of "sexiness". Anyway, the lusty Nina is soon killed off by Freddie. Of course, her boyfriend Rudy is the police's main suspect.

Since most everyone reading this blog will be familiar with the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, I don't see the need to go much further into the plot. Suffice it to say that the film only adds a few minutes of the female ghost's shenanigans, some awful comic relief and two failed exorcisms to the original's mix.

It's a shame, really, because some of the other South-East Asian Nightmare rip-offs I've seen - and man, are there a lot of them! - used the original's most characteristic bits and pieces in a rather creative way, keeping with Craven's basic plot set-up, but adding a lot of local colour.

Rajang Setan doesn't really add anything interesting, but seems more occupied with subtracting the most successful parts of Craven's film without bothering to replace them with anything exciting. Gone is the inventive female teenage heroine (she's replaced by a whiny brat, pure chance and a very random priest), the suspenseful struggle to stay awake, and Craven's intelligently constructed transitions between reality and dream. In a film made in Indonesia during the 80s like this, I would at least have hoped these elements to be replaced with the traditional amount of freaky ideas and cheap gore, but director H. Tjut Djalil seems more interested in long, dully staged dialogue sequences explaining the evils of divorce. The second failed exorcism with Freddie making a Caesarean Section from inside his priestly enemy is somewhat fun to watch, as is the last priest (there are many different sorts of priests and shamans in Indonesia roaming the lands and fighting spirits, it seems) hitting dead people with a large cross (always a favourite), but that's about all Rajang Setan has to offer apart from a little insight in what a Conservative horror film maker from Indonesia in 1986 thought about divorce. The latter is somewhat interesting, yet nothing that I need to watch a full-length movie for.


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Friday, March 4, 2011

On WTF: Le Poile De La Bête (2010)

aka Hair of the Beast

A charming rogue pretending to be a priest. Werewolves. Evil aristocrats. Charming ladies. Jokes. Fighting. Whatever could go wrong with a film like this? Learn the shocking truth in my weekly appearance on WTF-Film!


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Three Films Make A Post: Mad Science Spawns Evil Fiends!

Night of the Cobra Woman (1972): This US/Filipino co-production (this time around made by an American director with American leads and Filipino everything else; "everything else" does of course include our old buddy Vic Diaz in his usual role) has quite a bit of interesting subtext circling around ideas of doomed interracial love, unhealthy dominance in relationships and sex as addiction, but falters to make that subtext work as the cheaply shot horror movie it's also supposed to be. For every clever scene, there are two more that work neither thematically nor as exploitation, giving the whole film a ruptured and jagged feel. It's still a bit more enjoyable than many other of these co-productions with Corman's New World Pictures, because director Andrew Meyer is at least visibly trying, though not succeeding, to make a worthwhile movie. Enemies of real animal violence beware: there's some rather ugly and unnecessary stuff on display; poor monkey!

The Invincible Barbarian aka Gunan, King of the Barbarians (1982): This Italian film by Franco Prosperi on the other hand isn't trying anything beyond being an early (these guys were as fast as The Asylum) cash-in on Conan, with random ideas stolen from peplums and possibly a few books thrown into the mix. Take some colourlessly filmed actors on valium, add a stolen soundtrack, stolen special effects scenes, and a British accented voiceover guy rambling random nonsense and explaining the parts of the plot for which there was no budget (basically everything), and you have something Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso would have made comedy gold from. Alas, Prosperi was no Bruno Mattei, and only makes a golden sleeping pill.

Malevolence (2004): Pleasantly irony-deficient slasher about quarrelling amateur bank robbers and their mother-daughter hostage duo coming too close to the pleasure farm of the local mute slasher. The film's photography's pretty great, the acting's pretty solid, bags are worn on heads. It's all very derivative, but watchable enough in its own, unambitious yet competent way. I'd suggest turning the film off ten minutes early, though. For some reason, director Stevan Mena felt the need to tack on five superfluous minutes of unnecessary exposition done by a badly acted cop that doesn't explain anything an even mildly conscious viewer hasn't understood, and further five minutes of nearly as pointless dream sequence after the actual plot has run its course and the ending credits should appear. That's a very unfortunate way to end a mostly alright movie.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Psychotronic Man (1975? 1980?)

One day, Chicago barber Rocky Foscoe (Peter Spelson, also co-writer and producer of this awe-inspiring epic) - owner of a porn moustache and the most awesome, possibly sentient hair - "takes the long road home" from work, that is, drives in real-time through the countryside surrounding the city while horrible country rock plays on the radio. When Rocky finally gets tired, he falls asleep by the side of the road only to awaken by night in a levitating car. What happens next, the audience never learns, for the magically-haired one finds himself back in his bed and assumes the weirdness must have been just a dream.

But something truly must have happened to Rocky while he was out. He has awful headaches and begins to kill with newly developed psychic, nay, psychotronic(!) powers of staring grumpily while dramatic music plays. Soon enough, the police notices Rocky's escapades (or perhaps his hair). But will the powers of the notoriously effective Chicago law enforcement be enough to stand against our hero's psychotronic stare?

There weren't many films made in Chicago during the heyday of regional filmmaking in the US, supposedly because the city's mayor had it in for the well-known negative influences of the cinema on the populace everywhere. How true that story is, I don't know. What I do know is that The Psychotronic Man is a valiant effort by director (and co-writer and cinematographer) Jack M. Sell and his buddy Peter Spelson to put the city on the cinematic map, stuffy filming permits be damned. It's also the film whose title inspired Michael Weldon to use the adjective "psychotronic" in the title of his pioneering magazines and books about everything that's right and proper in cinema.

The film itself is not quite as exciting as that makes it sound, though, and certainly nothing I'd recommend to beginners or mere dabblers in the psychotronic or regional filmmaking arena. There are just too many scenes without pay-off to slog through for a semi-sane viewer. Additionally, there's the terrifying amount of the film's running time spent on the always boring cop scenes its type of movie just can't (or won't escape) and on Rocky driving around, to cope with, lending the film a stately pace quite unfitting its contents. Because the film doesn't exactly work hard to distract from it, it's also difficult to ignore the fact that there's not much happening in it at all, or that the more exciting things that do happen - like most of the murders - tend to do so off-screen.

Of course, these problems, as well as everybody's stiff and stilted line deliveries, are about what I expect of a movie of The Psychotronic Man's pedigree, and nothing anyone more than superficially interested in cult movies of the more painful kind won't have lived through in dozens of other films to get at their delights. And delights are hidden in Sell's and Spelson's film, too. There is, for one, Spelson's performance, mostly consisting of strained mumbling and impressively overdone stares, only supported by whatever it is that's living on his head. In fact, it's not difficult to to watch this thing and imagine a slightly different plot - something about an alien life form disguising itself as hair and living on Spelson's head.

Also somewhat awesome is the homemade waka-waka funk part of the film's soundtrack that kept reminding me of the soundtrack to Disco Dancer for some frightening reason; in any case, I'd buy the mp3.

I also have a lot of respect for the amount of local colour in the film. It casually shows parts of Chicago no tourist would ever search out, probably emphasizing those parts of the city the filmmakers knew first hand and knew they could use for guerrilla style shooting sessions. For their efforts, Sell and Spelson (and their audience) were rewarded with a sense of place Hollywood films spent millions on to emulate.

And then there's the only theoretically exciting thing actually happening on screen: a big, overlong, and very very slow car chase through the dark streets of Chicago (with a short break for a moment of levitating car that's taken in absurd stride by the cops witnessing it) that goes on and on and on and on in an obvious attempt to pad out the running time/pay homage to the French Connection films (please cross out the inappropriate explanation), and only stops with an exploding car that is only there to ease the audience into a big, overlong foot chase. It's horrible, it's boring, it's beautiful, and it sure ain't good for the brain, which, now that I think about it, is an apt description of the whole Psychotronic Man experience.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

In short: Things (1989)

Don (Barry J. Gillis) and his buddy Fred (Bruce Roach) are visiting Don's brother Doug (Doug Bunston) and his pregnant wife Susan (Patricia Sadler) somewhere in the wilds of the USA as represented by somebody's hut in Canada. At first it's all dream sequences, talking complete nonsense, hiding insects in sandwiches and looking at Doug's collection of lost Picasso paintings, but after what feels like hours, a horde of giant ant creatures made of papiermache crawls out of Susan's belly and starts to eat through the family starting with the dog (don't worry, animal fans, it's just a long, long, long scene of a dog yowling off camera and some blood spattering onto a white wall, then some more blood, and then even more blood). That's the sort of thing that's bound to happen when you're trying to cure your childlessness with the help of an "experimental treatment". Fred gets sucked into a mousehole (or something), hands get lost, practical jokes are played while the practical joker's dead wife lies next door, body fluids flow. From time to time, porn actress Amber Lynn appears to read the news. After a time, the film is over.

Canada, the country that can be made responsible for the existence of Things, isn't a place I usually connect with (probably shot on home--grade video) amateur gore movies. Watching this thing, I couldn't shake the feeling everyone involved was trying to make up for the small number in local productions in this particular genre by making Things particularly insane.

If you've seen anything else in Things' style, you know the deal with the technical side side of affairs. The camera work is mostly static, full of badly framed scenes taking place in the cramped surroundings of what in these cases usually is the director's living quarters; but at least someone brought a red light bulb. The script seems as if it had been transcribed from the random mutterings of a very disturbed teenager somebody found chained in the attic. Characters don't just not act like people, they act as if they don't even know something like logic or humanity might have existed somewhere, sometime.  Dialogue stretches from ridiculous cursing to sentences like "I wish I had a midget for a brother instead", and something about blood flowing like maple syrup. Of course, most of the dialogue has been dubbed in later in what I can only assume must have been single takes; of course, some characters have been dubbed by more than one person, while others, especially the incredible Doctor Lucas, are realized by having their voice actors do funny voices. Some of this might be meant as a joke, this, however, is not a film where the difference between humour and ineptness is clear. I think it's supposed to be a comedy, but I might very well be wrong.

Obviously, nobody goes into a film like Things looking for technical achievements. When it comes to amateur gore escapades, I'm usually hoping for experiencing a cross between a fever dream, a boring home movie and a direct visual line to someone else's unconscious, and Things delivers on all three fronts. This is after all a film that starts off with a dream sequence containing a naked woman in a devil mask taking an ant baby out of a fridge (at least I think that's what happens), continues through long, painful "buddies in a living room" scenes and takes various detours into incomprehensible insanity like a randomly inserted scene with Lucas and a hunchbacked assistant doing nasty stuff to a half rotten guy, activities we'll never hear about again. Not to speak of the Amber Lynn stuff. Things is like a vacation in other people's worm-riddled brains.


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