Monday, 24 December 2012

The Bedroom (1992) Hiseyasu Sato

Sex, drugs and cameras have made the new reality, this is The Bedroom. A strangely warm film, even when dealing in it's central location, the mysterious and nefarious "Sleeping Room" in which women come to be fondled and photographed in drugged submission. The tone is erotic, perplexing, beguiling, not cold or clinical. Where earlier Sato films gave us seductive dance now is the consummation, disconnections complete through Halcion and fractured psyche, cameras an active, living presence, voyeurism no longer perversion but healthy state of mind. It's a slippery film despite a climactic revelation that appears to draw events together, like a wet dog it squirms away virtually at the instant of a firm hold, but the effect is not unsatisfying, it appears more an understanding of the folly of certitudes. There are some clear and notable features though, mostly cameras which have grown from mere mediating devices to active participants, their work in the Sleeping Room and how they act outside. In that strange room, female bodies in soft focus, nude, pliant and bathed in shifting light. The red light of watching camera swollen to great imposing orb casting unreal glow about the scene, with red combating swells of deep blue, transforming bodies to abstract communication, in one scene flesh very much like soft clay. Then the sleepy struggle of faltering relationship played out in protagonist Kyoko's flat, her afflictions passed on to her husband, they try to play out a normality they know to be a lie. Cameras here are not transformative and mystical, just another lying presence, when Kyoko films herself having sex the viewpoint remains hand held but wanders impossibly, when her husband uses the camera for video-diary he records contrived close ups and filter effects. And of course there are the trademark Sato rooftop conversations, his moods of bleak isolation, of a city bare, lyrical apocalyptic musings and psychology that emerges mostly in the gaps.

This is all good stuff, emotive with streaks of visual flair, culminating in perhaps my favourite moment of the film-maker so far. But at the same time his growth in maturity has its corresponding loss in punkish energy, The Bedroom doesn't excite and ignite in the way one might hope. There also isn't much in the way of perversion or genuine menace, though there is rape (of course) and some violence, and perhaps one could probably argue that paying to fondle and photograph an unconscious woman is not exactly a hallmark of psychosexual stability. Interesting but not really enough, this needed more fangs. The art crowd will surely dig this more than Sato's earlier work, and fans of his earlier work will no doubt like it less. Me, I liked it well enough, and I suspect repeat viewings will present it clearer, sharper in the mind for better appreciation. So 7/10 for the moment I guess. 

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

36 Pasos (2006) Adrian Garcia Bogliano

Like many I suspect, my first experience of Adrian Garcia Bogliano was his raw and gritty rape revenge shocker No Morire Sola. This earlier work is a much different beast though, where that was a humourless and traditional piece harking back to classic exploitation days, 36 Pasos is an offbeat, darkly comic and even layered film, much more a modern affair. The story operates in the twisted captivity genre that has become so popular in recent years, with a group of young women held in a sunny, idyllic country home for reasons unsure. But unlike much of the genre 36 Pasos eschews elaboration, not a film of grandiosely contrived vengeful plotting nor of dubiously inventive and unlikely Rube Goldberg inspired instruments of torture. And the young ladies aren't criminals, scumbags or self condemned by bad faith. Instead the violence is blunt, simplistic and bloody, and the characters are realistic, recognisable people, albeit all decidedly attractive. They may not always be smart or likeable but they compell, and the uniformly fine, natural performances miss nary a beat. The gradual unfolding of the story into the crazed finale, short sharp bursts of violence, underswells of dark humour (albeit never mean spirited) and occasional experimental flourishes paint a rather interesting picture, the set up is essentially an abstract stand in of multiple possibilities, an account of absurd striving. Question the rules and face dire consequence, question authority or try to escape and face the same. And while the rules may seem not harsh, even curiously reasonable, they are but a happy face on cruel reality. So whether its getting ahead in business, social spheres or just the business of living in general, 36 Pasos fits.

But for all those uninterested in subtext this is a fine entertainment without looking any further. Though the budget is evidently pretty small the gore is effective with even a wince making moment or two, it also comes at a good clip while maintaining an element of surprise, from a bloody, gnarly corpse in the first five minutes or so to appearances from our good friends chainsaw, nail-gun and branding iron. A smattering of nudity adds to the exploitative charm also, without coming across as forced or silly. And the ending draws things together in satisfying, even oddly moving fashion. Now straightforward slasher or splatter fans probobly won't like this too much and I expect thorough-going art horror fans will find it too trashy, but for me this was most agreeable stuff. Well, I suppose I expected more leftfield weirdness, but what I got didn't disappoint. 8/10, highly recommended to indie horror fans.

Brain Sex (1988) Hiseyasu Sato

Violence and the media have an uncomfortable, incestuous relationship. Well no sh!t Sherlock, pretty much anyone who has ever taken a critical interest in violence or the media knows this. The trouble with making films on the matter is that this relationship is so vastly aged, so sprawling in complexity and so endlessly fertile that a film could take four hours and multi-layered narrative and not run out of things to say. Naturally, a film of an average length really has its work cut out to not appear trite, and a film barely feature length is pretty well set for a fall. So, Brain Sex doesn't tell you anything you don't probobly already know. It's your average teen girl who makes hysterical and exploitative radio broadcasts for a living getting involved with a serial killer story, with little to surprise other than some underdeveloped climactic twists. What makes it at least marginally worth a look though is that it isn't a censorious drone or even a standard issue weird and vicious late 80's pinku (the genre having wound up tumbling over its own ambitions to shock by that time), but a more personal work, built on director Hiseyasu Sato's own interests.

It can be taken as a double sided film, to newcomers to the director it develops many of his trademarks within a recognisable generic story and to the already initiate nearly the opposite, developing his trademarks by snaring recognisable generic story in their web. Characters cloaked in isolation, emotionally chilled even when bouyed up with excitement, older generation who can do little but pass on their flaws. Voyuerism, manipulation and control, the very modern death dance of technology and base animal, sick sweet spiral of perverse minds in congress, attraction of opposites. The usual good stuff then, and some reflection on the viewer in scenes of sex and murder consumed through binoculars. Unfortunately Sato messes up the pacing, and so a well handled and reasonably unsettling first half devolves into overlong sex and masturbation scenes that leach suspense from the plot, then the final five to ten minutes whizzes through would should have taken at least double that for effective impact. I'm not the sort of guy to usually complain about extended scenes of naughtiness but Sato isn't working independent here so can't go hardcore, and even worse doesn't overdrive the perversion. Earlier on there's shoe worship, panty nuzzling and a bit of rope work, but later on things get unappealingly standard. Sure there's self pleasure with a snake, but it's either not a real animal or so drugged up as to be essentially unreal, so the scene comes off little more than camp. Meh, at least the film ends on an amusingly anarchic note. And it's impossible to dislike all the pretty Japanese boobs 'n butts. So I guess all in all this is a little bit of a let down, but I had a pretty sweet time for the most part. And it's still virtually essential for fans of the director or generalised weird pink cinema. 6/10 or so.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Lolita Vibrator Torture (1987) Hiseyasu Sato

A vibrator is a lot like a camera. Hotly throbbing thick black rubber or smoothly gleaming steel, a device to come between the body and its pinkly twitching sexuality. Cameras, their boxy light and glass come between the body and reality, both are objects made to arouse and transform. The two are techologies essence and purpose given pure form, the human urge to mediate and control. Hiseyasu Sato's great interest is in such mediating devices, how they attract and change the user, how they effect body and mind. Lolita Vibrator Torture expresses this simple, it is amusingly enough the most sane and straightforward of Sato's work that I have seen thus far, story of a murderer who torments his victims with a camera before killing, and photographs their death throes. But he meets his match in his latest victim, a girl warped more fundamentally, a new breed, even more perfect child of the modern age...

There aren't a lot of twists here and the progression is predictable, but the treatment is terrific. The camera treats breasts and blood and spluttering fluids with the chill grace of a medical training video, the use of stills and focus on decorative photographs (a two dimensional nod to Blind Beast?) makes for a clammy remove from the action. Sato's fondness for height and isolation is evident here (there's a nice surprise with regard to location), moving the interrogation from technological advance to spatial, deepening the horror (what if the rot springs from the essentials of modern living and not just the fripperies?). There are no overextended sex or masturbation scenes to derail the pace and no beaver blockers either, the visuals are pure and the ride as sleek as, well as sleek as the vibrator which plays such an important role. And all quite thoroughly unsettling.

Things aren't perfect, the psychology of the piece, that stated in dialogue rather than suggested by visuals, is pretty basic and not put across with much poetry. And there's a scene that totally looks like it's going to lead to pegging but then doesn't. Movies need more pegging, this isn't even opinion but cold hard fact, and so I really don't care to be teased. Especially irritating since Sato has made at least a couple of actual gay pinkus, so I can't imagine why he felt a bit of the old prostate stimulation wasn't a good idea here. I guess maybe since it was one of his earlier films he was wary. Ah well...

Still, this is awesome stuff and pretty much essential if you dig the artier, offbeat side of Japanese extreme cinema. 8/10 kinda film, highly recommended.

Friday, 14 December 2012

The Peace Killers (1971) Douglas Schwartz

Of the many and beautiful subgenres of exploitation out there I'd have to say that bikersploitation has always been one of the least attractive to me. I don't find much visceral appeal in speeding hot metal or the open road, and seeing a bunch of dudes in leathers just makes me want to go dungeon hopping. Plus as a general rule I'm not all that find of black and white representations of subcultures designed to play on the ignorance and prejudice of the masses. So far as I can gather bikers weren't all inherently violent at best and grisly sadists at worst. And hippies weren't just simple minded peaceniks. The Peace Killers plays both stereotypes to the hilt, patently silly however you look at it and probobly a little offensive if you were there at the time. But setting aside history and reason it pretty much rocks, a swift, no nonsense bit of nonsense that any old school exploitation fan could love.

The plot follows Kristy, who used to run with the vicious Death Row gang but fled after seeing a gang rape. Nothing beats a good gang rape for getting your moral compass spinning. She defects to a hippy commune but is spotted at a gas station by some Death Row members so they go after her. After some violent altercations the hippies and her team up with a rival gang led by hard as nails mama Black Widow and the stage is set for confrontation. There's little to no fat here, no extraneous dicking around with romance or scene setting parties, things just move. Just enough characterisation to make things matter, a bit of torture, a bit of rape and regular doses of fun violence all building up to a rather splendid climax that makes up for its lack of choreography or slick shooting with bloodshed and a great rough 'n tumble energy.

Of course it wouldn't all work without actors, and they do a good job. Jess Walton is agreeably innocent and lovable as Kristy (doesn't hurt that she's gorgeous and shows skin), Paul Prokop brings a sense of sincerity to his ridiculous cartoon caricature hippy leader Alex, despite lines virtually indistinguishable from the sort of mockery expected from South Park or The Simpsons. Clint Ritchie is terrific as arch baddie Rebel, charismatic and enthusiastic enough in his nastiness to be one of the more impressive pre Hess exploitation villains. But most fun is Lavalle Roby as Black Widow, spitting her lines with immensely enjoyable, even Pam Grier worthy venom. Cult fans will probobly enjoy Michael Ontkean (Slap Shot, Twin Peaks) as well, though he has a pretty uninteresting role.

So all in all this is a winner. It isn't especially strong or brutal, but for a pre Last House on the Left effort it's still nicely mean at times, plenty die, blood is spilled and there's even a genuinely thrilling sequence that I won't spoil. Unjustly it still seems to be pretty obscure these days so I say track down a copy as soon as you can.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Sex Jack (1970) Koji Wakamatsu

Despite the inviting Anglicised title Sex Jack (I don't know what the Japanese Seizoku actually translates to) is one of the more restrained and ordinary Wakamatsu efforts that have made it to Western audiences. There is sex but it's neither gratuitous nor violent, and there's no character named Jack. What we have here is the life of a revolutionary group, on the run and eking out last days of sex and boredom in a run down flat. Wakamatsu was something of a revolutionary himself, but neither aloft intellectual nor hungry juvenile, possessed instead of a notable fervid insight. So the characters are not beautiful or glamorous, not intelligent nor energetic, sustained only loosely by a sense of group solidarity, a faith in their own existence. The camera is close but not intimate, never warm, critical and never sharing. The trouble is that there isn't a whole lot of action in the physical sense or otherwise, so while the well evoked ennui is pretty interesting and makes for a smoothly watchable ride it isn't especially compelling and certainly not all that memorable. At least there are some terrific visuals, a reckless muddy scuffle and a conversation under a bridge separating worlds, a whole different realm out away in the bright unknown horizon, powerful facial close-ups and other highlights underscoring all the muck, clueless youth and isolated longing.

There's some intrigue to the story also, the group fearing for their future, wary of government, perhaps a mole in their midst. Things neither unravel nor wind up to breaking point but brood, the films progress has the quality of a thickening, and gradual clarification, purpose coming to be through the pointless. Enough here that I was entertained, but students of the era may very likely find more, with socio-historical context more apparent. Without context though, it still manages to be slightly more successful than Wakamatsu's similar, later Ecstasy of the Angels, which despite featuring slightly stronger content was overlong, over-complex and a little dull. All together Sex Jack is best recommended to fans of the director who were never too fussed about the seedy and grotesque sides of his work, those interested in vintage cult cinema, Japanese or otherwise, and those who appreciate political cinema of a time when art really felt like it mattered to the world. I almost feel bad for not liking it more but hey, I did still like it some. Worthy use of my time, 6/10 kind of film or so

Saturday, 8 December 2012

The Gateway Meat (2008) Ron DeCaro

Right from the outset The Gateway Meat both attracted and irritated me. Amusingly it's made by "For the Good of Mankind Productions". Then there's a warning about content, noting that the film has extreme religious and political views expressed alongside the standard bad taste and nastiness, that these views are satirical and not held by the film-makers. Really, if the satire in your film is worth a damn you really shouldn't have to tell people about it up front, and actually you shouldn't do it in any case unless you happen to be a couple of cartoonist genii with a long term plan to take the piss out of everyone. There follows a bit of text explaining the background, values of the Love Generation drowned by cellphones, George W. Bush assassinated by religious extremists, and a nice Satanist family trying to go about their business. It comes across somewhat juvenile, the sort of thing that might amuse as a spoken word introduction to a cheesy apocalyptic industrial concept album but is just clumsy on screen.

But when things properly get rolling they satisfy well enough, with a couple of the common pitfalls for the latter day US schock genre avoided. The film has a sense of pace and progression to its nastiness, instead of starting with the dial at 11 and then trying to f#ck the meter into oblivion, or spraying the whole shop with kid gravy in the opening five minutes and then spending the remaining hour reluctantly cleaning up. The grisly acts get more gruesome as the film goes on, so there's a happy modicum of suspense and surprise. Also the characters actually communicate and appear at times as a cohesive unit rather than constantly howling profanities and mindlessly beating each other. So they didn't tire me out almost immediately in the same way as say, the August Underground cats. This isn't to say that the characters aren't vulgar and vicious though, or well developed, or that the story is well handled. The story is potentially fascinating (this was actually what initially got me interested in the film), an inversion of the classic hero narrative in which a man must live up to the ideals and prowess of his master Satanist grandad and commit terrible deeds in order to open a portal to Hell. Unfortunately this is mostly put over by voice over and the characters never really move, there's little internal urgency here. Worse, the story has little growth or resolution, the film is apparently part of a trilogy and badly feels it, somewhat truncated and simplified. And while the worst experimental tendencies of the genre are avoided, there's still overuse of dizzy fade edits and jerky camera work.

All shortcomings aside though, I had a pretty solid hour and five minutes with this one. It isn't too overbearing or pretentious, the effects are of a decent standard and there's even one scene with a bit of fabled nastiness I've never encountered in film before. Even if pretty minor stuff all round this was pretty pleasing, and so I'd recommend it to fans of the whole trash extremity scene for sure. Just you know, not a classic or anything...

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Serial Rapist (1978) Koji Wakamatsu

For a film of such legend, Serial Rapist actually surprised me a little. While other Wakamatsu films of my experience thus far use explicit socio-political contexts or experimental storytelling and technique to deliver character and underlying radical theme (Wakamatsu being famed for his political pursuits), here almost everything drops away, outside of the avant garde Serial Rapist is as close to real nihilist cinema as you're ever likely to see. A chubby oddball cycles around, stopping every now and again to rape and kill. A twinge of dark humour, the end. Closer to the emergent misogynist serial killer scene of US exploit cinema at the time, pinku fans are as likely to be bored and depressed as enthused by the film, lacking as it does the power dynamics, historical guilt and characterfully twisted plotting conventional to the genre.

We don't even get to know our heroes name, still less anything that motivates him other than some shapeless, powerful hatred of the fairer sex. Only hints are there, his few moments of dialogue, the odd, intermittent music. Scratchy strings (guitar?), sax saxophone, weird, wavering mouth organ, atonal spirits of lonely dysfunction that sometimes take over natural sound (and natural sound has its own like role to play). The camera too, peering long and calmly at surroundings when he leaves sight, or slowly pulling away from his form. Roads, river, construction site and boarded up house, the hustle and bustle of anonymous city full of little people and little lives. The killer is we may suppose just another little body, just an inevitable of modern living. So being perhaps inevitable his deeds have little fanfare, the scenes vicious, sexual but not erotic, no sensation just violence. No blood other than a few evocative daubings, no gore. Nothing to really titillate, just violence repeating into cold, cold creeping through the bones. It's a bold treatment to shun the exploitative and incendiary, and were the film better known I'm sure that any praise would be balanced out by boredom, but as a fan of the bleak as much if not more than the entertaining Serial Rapist rates as a triumph. Not many films interest me as much as bum me out, and still fewer get beyond bumming me out to creeping me out without making me giggle somewhere along the way (bathos is a close cousin of pathos). Serial Rapist gets it right, and though not my favorite from Wakamatsu it's still among the best Japanese exploiters I've had the pleasure of so far.  Highly recommended.

Day of Love (1991) Aleksandr Polynnikov

Russia is not known for its exploitation cinema. I guess back in Soviet times exploitation movies were considered bourgeois affectation, counter revolutionary or somesuch, and post Soviet era I guess very little got exported. Day of Love is quite the rarity then, never officially seen outside of Russia and only recently available via fan subbed bootlegs. It deserves more, although not exactly a classic it stands as a fine throwback to the 70's, with a splendid second half. The plot is terrific, Moscow crims plan a large scale stolen truck deal but need a diversion for the cops, so they enlist a pack of youth scumbags to go on a rape spree. But when someone rapes young beauty queen Cristina, the lot of them are in for a bad time. Unfortunately the sexual violence is almost entirely off screen, the handful of attacks show some nudity (thank f#ck) but it's mostly a top ripped off, a panty sliced off there and whoosh!, to the next victim. The film really comes alive with the vengeance portion though, Cristina's stepdad does not take kindly to her rape and so along with her beau sets out to put things to rights, leading to an indecently rousing showdown in a factory. While as a rule revenge sequences in films that don't show much of the crimes are moronic at best (like the dreadful Last House on the Left remake), Day of Love scores on ingenuity, and vigilante satisfaction is adeptly balanced out with a downbeat and cynical two punch cap off. Perfectly 1970's really. For substance there's a subsurface conflict of past and present. The gangsters are dealing in sturdy old school equipment, but hire newfangled young punks, young Cristina is a modern lass who wants to go abroad, and her boyfriend is an older man and foreigner, in town to sort out the computer systems his company has sold to automate a car factory. So there's an interesting feel of a country in transition working out its contradictions that comes together nicely in the end. The acting and characterisations are above average for this sort of film, nothing too special but all the mains are drawn and played well enough to stand out. So it all holds together pretty well (I enjoyed it cold sober), and the final block is really pretty ripsnorting. Definitely worth a watch for fans of this sort of thing, a solid entry from a time when old school exploitation was on the way out.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

El Bosque del Lobo (1970) Pedro Olea

Apparently one of the least seen of vintage era Spanish genre films, despite the name and period setting suggesting Naschy style lupine action, El Bosque del Lobo is a far cry away. Don't let the lack of bonkers plotting and modish nudity and bloodshed (there is indeed no nudity nor bloodshed) put you off though, it's a mature and unsettling horror drama treat well worth investigating for any fans of more restrained and intelligent fare. The story often takes a backseat to the period, a potent evocation of what could easily be any past era, close knit God fearing and superstitious villagers separated by hard journeys, prominent churchmen and landowners, imperfect but essentially good people doing the best they can. The background is filled without modern attitude, all the better for the film's purpose to emerge through the story.

The tale is of Benito Freire, travelling pedlar and sufferer from epilepsy or some related ailment. Something of an innocent, somewhat simple and preternaturally sensitive, after a mad moment sees him commit a serious crime he spirals dowhill into horror. Though he lies and does some awful things he remains a curiously sympathetic creature, an outsider and villain obluquely influencedby what he sees and hears. A bad person but hard to really call evil, in his actions he reveals how the structures and superstitions of ill advanced people make ample ground for misfortune. In fact the course of events could quite easily be transferred to a modern setting and conditions, the misunderstandings, fears and failures of communication are universal, indeed even demonstrable with modern cases in real life. This is the films power, another world that maps with sad ease to our own. Of course, the production and plotting wouldn't add up to much if the acting wasn't on the money and fortunately it generally is. Juan Luis Lopez Valdez is near perfect as Benito Freire, sullen, frowning but helpful, palpably used stoic, and in his violent moments contorted, brows knitting in miserable frenzy. The rest of the cast fill more conventional roles and do so solidly, sweet young ladies and crueller old, vigorous young men and aged, dignified men of cloth or land. Everyone does their part nicely, although the only face which stood out for me was Euro cinema veteran John Steiner in a small but important role, his wandering man of surpassing insight a sort of happier reflection of poor Benito.

Things are not perfect here, the main drawback being a final act that feels curiously slack, it should be exciting but somehow feels redundant and unfocused. The lack of insight and redemption is a good thing, but really there could have been more of a kick here, more tightening of the screws. Instead things are predictable and get a little wearing as the end draws in. And more general shading and context would have been useful, more perhaps of Benito's childhood and interim years, something more, just a few sketches of something more behind the general implications of the piece would have made it in total more powerful. But still, this is a fine diversion. One of those films that really does take you away from your everyday surroundings, yet still relevant, quite an achievement. Well recommended then, although probobly better for art-horror fans than seekers of pulse pounding excitement.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Satan's Princess (1989) Bert I. Gordon

A fairly typically styled late 80's action horror trash effort, Satan's Princess often comes across similar to something David A Pryor (Sledgehammer, Deadly Prey, Night Trap) or his ilk would concoct. Sprightly but inelegant, occasionally jolting but never scary, generally daft but rarely witty, occasionally sexy but never seductive. Little innocent fun here to remind of the joyous inanity of earlier Bert I. Gordon efforts like The Amazing Collosal Man or The Cyclops, this is more of an attempted serious affair with a hard, even mean edge, and some agreeable sleaze and violence. The flimsy premise has hard boiled retired cop Lou Cherney (Robert Forster) taking on the case of a missing girl, in the process running into the evil schemes of one Nicole St. James, ancient she demon turned millionairess fashion house head. There's little effort to hold the plot together, there's some notion of a cult, of prophecy and psychic powers, pretty much all the expected tropes of an occult horror in a modern day setting in fact, but the stringing together of all these elements is perilously haphazard. Individual scenes are fun but often lack adequate justification and hence impact, and the lacking connective tissue means that the slower moments drag more than they should.

But they don't drag too much, mostly due to a way above the call of duty turn from B cinema veteran Forster, his tough but tender (some surprisingly sweet scenes with his mentally handicapped son), tired but determined (you'll cheer when he finally decides to really get rogue) performance seems more suited to a dour crime drama from the previous decade than a mis-shapen oddity of this sort. He isn't matched by Lydie Denier as the heavily French accented villainess, neither comically camp nor seductively sinister she pretty much coasts, though her nude scenes are good value (she really is one stunning lady) and she has good support from Michael Harris (later to be the titular villain in Sleepstalker) as a creepy and enthusiastically murderous henchman. Between the three of them and a small host of interesting side players popping in and out things are sustained, never exactly schintillating but always just about pleasing. And in the end Bert I Gordon remembers his roots for a splendid final ten odd minutes of utter silliness that is bound to raise a smile. In general I could have done with more coherency, more atmosphere (although we do get sleazy streets and a spot of 80's cop movie saxophone mourning) and more gore (just a few scenes of fun bloodshed here), but as far as this kind of junk goes, Satan's Princess score well enough. Recommended for the afficionados of this sort of thing.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Even The Wind Is Afraid (1968) Carlos Enrique Taboada

Not too hard while watching Even The Wind Is Afraid to thread back through the years, imagine children watching rapt at the picture-houses, their first horror film, perhaps even first memory of the land of moving pictures. Like a number of made for television horrors in the US of the early 1970's it seems to have sunk heavy into a lot of young minds. Like a lot of those made for television horrors it's a staunchly traditional piece and like those, sadly it isn't much of a big hitter these days. In fact these days I'm not sure that even young audiences would find it terribly impressive these days, such is its restrained approach weighed against the glut ofr flash and excitement offered even by quieter chillers these days. Happily it's fine entertainment for the traditional seeker, filled with charm and a certain satisfaction to it's simple, easy workings. It tells the story of schoolgirls punished to remain on premises during half term, after they trespass in a mysterious tower, explored by young Claudia in her restless sleep, called by nightmare, and there of course dark secret and upheaval.

A typical take on a girls school, desires repressed, two authority figures one old and stern, the other young and friendly. The schoolgirls are I suppose meant to be in their mid teens though the actresses seem to range from mis to late teens even to around mid twenties. Not exactly convincing as schoolgirls then but a comely bunch with an easy, lively chemistry that convinces in establishing them as a cohort. And their mixed ages do mean that the films one racier moment has a somewhat pleasing charge, though it simultaneously robs it of potential daring effect. It's a shame that the film doesn't make more efforts to push the envelope, there's plenty of scope here for taking the story beyond its tropes and winding the supernatural into an actual consideration of repression and authority, isolation and tragedy, the notion of school as microcosm, but nothing really emerges, the film stays basic throughout. But its still good stuff with a couple of able chills, and in the nightime howling of wind moments of rather engaging clammy atmosphere. In essence it may come down to a childs film, but it's a childs film in the best way, calling to the imagination, looking to the world to come and the world beyond. And as such I guess I rather recommend it, a film for the child within the horror fan if that child still lives. Not the enduring classic that some have it as, but still definitely worth a look.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

La Dinastia Dracula (1980) Alfredo B. Crevenna

La Dinastia Dracula was my first Mexican vampire film, and man, I expected more. More atmosphere, more flavor (apart from sombreros and some of the architecture it could just as easily be a slacker than usual Mediteranean offering). More blood (there is very little), more sleaze or even sensuality (there is none), more madness and mayhem (to be fair there is quite a lot of madness here but nothing in the way of creditable mayhem). But despite lacking in most aspects, this awkwardly edited, crudely staged schlocksterpiece is pretty decent entertainment for the most part, a midsection stumble into boredom tries the patience but things get moving again pretty nicely for the finale. The pacing is swift, from the opening execution of naughty vampire Duke Orloff, through multiple attacks and chintzy effects to a grand fiery climax. Duke Orloff's seedily suave successor Baron van Helsing (!) offs men, women and children, has the power to turn into mist, a dog and rubbery bat, can teleport and materialise in a burst of flame, and at one point even appears to have the power of pyrokinesis. He also looks a bit like a washed up Latino Elvis, which is pretty awesome. His consort Madame Kostoff is fairly witchy and malign, though not as attractive, naked or lesbian as I tend to like cinematic witches to be. Both are pretty terrible actors, as are the rest of the cast, but to their credit they handle everything as high drama, one imagines their enthusiasm as audacious ploy to have the material transcend itself though sheer force of will. They don't quite succeed but it's a hell of a lot of fun to watch them try, and they do manage to smooth out the limitations and the confusions, like why does Baron van Helsing sabotage his own evil land grab plan by killing loads of people, and what was hanging a pig from a tree in aid of? Or why is the content largely tamer than even the mildest of Hammer period outings, despite various scenes that seem to indicate quite clearly that it wasn't a film for family audiences? Heck, I've seen stronger Mexican fare from the 60's and even that wasn't exactly striking. Still, I had a good time with this one and I'd say it's worth a watch for undiscriminating fans of oddball period horror trash. Entertaining enough, and sometimes enough is, well, enough.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Panico (1970) Julian Soler

Panico was my first experience of vintage Mexican horror, and an intriguing entree it is. An anthology film leftfield of many of it's time, which tended towards  collecting traditional tales, taut, simple and neatly wound. Panico for the most part deals little with spooks, goblins or bumps in the night, it is instead an offbeat and even arty look at the troubles within, unquiet minds rather than unquiet graves and dark. Its three tales are labelled Panic, Solitude and Anguish, and they deal in said states with some success, although Anguish glosses its darkness with streaks of uneasy humour. Panic is the highlight, a nearly relentless chase through forest of a young white dressed beauty by an older scowling purple clad avenger. Wordless save for a largely superfluous piece of exposition at the end, it works very well on a miniscule premise through deft employment of symbols and a telling flashback. Repeated facial close ups bring a feeling of melodrama, but their strained flesh of torment seeking outburst is contrasted wonderfully with the forest around, trees impassive, so straight and tall and spread out round, the setting dwarfs interior trauma, makes all insignificant and in insignificance the more poignant. This section would be even better were its explanation left implicit, but remains a little gem.

Solitude keeps up the bleakness, with two gents feeling through swamps from yellow fever and the memory of those they have had to bury. But while they may be able to get away from the immediate horror, one is still overtaken by paranoia and guilt, with predictable consequences. It's similar to Panic in that facial close ups and emotional intensity are set at odds with the glaring natural world, but this time there is more a feeling of life to the swamps, of sound and movement and almost open hostiliy. There's more dialogue here as well, more plotting and action and what might seem to be a pretty conventional set-up, albeit cloaked in a murk of ambiguity. Unfortunately at just a little under 40 minutes, what might have been pretty impressive stuff, moving and chilling in equal measure, ends up drawn out and dull in spots. There are a couple of memorable images and the muggy, depressive atmosphere is well spun, but it's too dreary to fully keep interest going.

Anguish is a rather substantial turn around, a slight and fairly silly tale of science gone wrong given power by some effective suspense and boasting a rather inspired darkly comic final shot.The premise holds little water, a scientist has developed a drug that induces catalepsy for several hours but accidentally takes some himself and is mistaken for actually dead. Now the second part is pretty reasonable, but it's never explained, nor is any explanation immediately apparent, why any scientist other than a mad one would wish to create such a drug. This isn't a mere anaesthetic gone wrong, this is a substance that causes the appearance of death for a few hours, accompanied by no loss of cognition so that any test subject knows and can feel exactly what is happening to them throughout. Now I don't know about anyone else, but this sounds like mostly an instrument of torture to me... Still, so long as one doesn't think too hard on this, Anguish is a fairly effective tale, both witty and nightmarish, the two twining ever tighter until the climax. Much more conventional in style than the first two tales and lacking their psychological weight and genuine darkness, it still appeals as something of a time capsule, a well handled darkly humoured vignette that is perfectly early to mid 20th century in idea and development. And it also wraps up the film around in theme, presenting death after the earlier stages of the previous chapters. Perhaps after horror and dark, when the end comes we can but laugh...

Well, perhaps. Anyways, Panico is a fairly interesting affair that probobly won't be of much interest to any other than devotees of vintage foreign horror or perhaps serious anthology addicts. But to those compelled to see it, it does earn my mild recommendation, for if nothing else it does quite well at being unusual, and where convention is so much easier, the unusual is worth commending.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Violent Virgin (1969) Koji Wakamatsu

You know, I like experimental films and I like pinku films. But as it turns out, those aren't two great tastes that go great together.. Well, not exactly. Violent Virgin falls into that odd hinterland of of occasionally striking and too generally interesting to ignore, but not powerful, cohesive nor overall forceful enough to quite qualify as a proper success. The plot is certainly somewhat inspired, a young couple eloping from the city have been intercepted by gangsters who take them to a deserted field and force them into a twisted theatre parody of society. One can easily see the potential spreading out, the absurdity of societal structures revealed in abstraction, the havoc that they wreak upon the individual and the action of the beast within man once unbound by the loosing of normality. It's all there, but in a slightly unsatisfying light and loose way, the effect being less of a clearly thought provoking comment and more an undisciplined riffing on place and theme, spiralling around and by the by out into nothing. It isn't a terribly gripping experience, but not really a dull one either, with a fair amount of nudity (mostly breasts), and some entertaining blunt violence, especially scenes involving baseball bats.

As was often the case in older Wakamatsu films, both color and black and white are used, black and white for what the camera sees in general surveyance of the landscape and action and color for what the protagonist sees. The balance is interesting, though the color scenes have an inevitable vividity in comparison, they ultimately come across as bleak as the black and white, the implication being of a grim insignificance to the individual and his view, no matter how he might try to impress himself upon a scene. There's also prominent use of a Christian image whose purpose is less easy to divine, either an obvious critique or elusive comment, or perhaps just there in spirit of the surreal. Like much else in the film it's an interesting touch but heavy handed and insignificant in the end. Quality acting might have granted greater weight to things, but most of the cast seem wrapped up and ineffectual, with the exception of the final scenes they seem generally experimenting rather than whole heartedly participating. The script shoulders a good deal of the blame here though, though there are moments of emotion there's very little here of naturalism for anyone to easily get their teeth into.

So in the end this is a divisive piece for me. I'm certainly glad I saw it, it has plenty of good as well as bad and I won't forget it in a hurry, but at the same time its a disappointment both from generic perspectives and coming from an otherwise frequently brilliant director. A worthy curio is perhaps the best summation, worthy, intriguing but inessential, to be pursued or dismissed mostly depending on your level of tolerance for the odder end of this kinf of Japanese cult fare.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Rope and Skin (1979) Shogoro Nishimura

Rope and Skin was the final film of the phenomenal Naomi Tani and fittingly it's about retirement. Specifically that of Red Cherry Okuma, gambler, fight and all round righteous lady about town. Unfortunately during her final game she embarasses a crooked boss, helping incite a perilous spiral of violence and degradation bound to leave no one unscathed. Interestingly the film rather brings to mind a Toei production with its warring gangs, honor pitted against avarice, flashes of bloody violence and sparse but skilfully evoked period setting. The mean tone and sexual humiliation is all Nikkatsu though, and the storytelling typical of director Shogoro Nishimura with its moments of tenderness cut down by cruelty and a strong relationship between females in which one lady suffers to protect the honor of the other. I'm not sure I'm completely convinced by the combination of pinku tropes with more family friendly bloody period revenge drama since the former genre tends to rely on titillation via dubious sexual morality and the latter is concerned with satisfactions of a moderately more noble kind in the felling of evil, and the sexual stuff is a bit pat (save a bit of amusing use of foodstuffs), but there's a fairly satisfying amount of nudity and the action is efficiently choreographed, the two combining with a swift pace to make an entirely watchable experience.

Naomi Tani is ace as ever, performing with nobility and stoicism with a certain hard edge that allows her to convince in action scenes despite lacking the fierceness of a Reiko Ike. Yuri Yamashina projects an affecting wounded nobility as the much wronged Yukiyo, daughter of the good boss of the film, Shohei Yamamoto is appropriately intriguing as mysterious good guy Mr. Hanai, there's a small but moving role pinku notable Junko Miyashita and the villains are suitably crass and hateful. The overall relative lack of shock and insanity here is a definite setback (though for some it may be a plus I suppose) but all in all this is still a quality work and since things never get too graphic there are no appearances for the dreaded beaver blockers that curse many a film of this kind. Well recommended to both established genre addicts and newcomers alike then, and the fact that I wasn't tremendously impressed by it really says more for the general high standards of the genre than any great problems with the film itself.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Flower and Snake 4: Rope Slave (1986) Shogoro Nishimura

The ever able Shogoro Nishimura brings us another Flower and Snake entry and is still going strong. I don't usually expect much from the fourth installment in a series but Flower and Snake: Rope Slave is an effectively twisted, fresh and cruelly poignant affair, while it lacks something of the charm and tension of its predecessor it makes up for the lacks with mean vibe and a fine finale. The plot follows deviant dentist Dr. Oba who has a habit of sexually molesting unconscious female patients, aided by naughty nurse and lover, the comely Naoe. It's a good racket he has going on, secure sex and plenty of room for abusive fun times, but then he takes a shine to Miki, student and lover of noble artisan widowed Lady Ito. So Dr. Oba steps up his shenanigans and pretty soon everyone is headed down a bad path...

It's a claustrophobic affair with only four key players and no important side characters, and only four or five locations, all confined with almost no time spent outside. There aren't many twists or complications either so the film doesn't have much tension. But things are lifted far away from potential monotony by by the rhythm of the construction, adeptly balancing the traditionally loving relationship and tender sexual moments of Miki and Lady Ito with the perverse connection of Dr. Oba and Naoe, their relationship murky in its power exchanges and mutually fuelling malevolence, their sex an expression of said murk. Also the dentistry setting makes for some rather good squirm inducing scenes that are a nice change from the standard sexual degradation, creepy exploration of a ladies lower mouth (as it were), and an inexplicit but potent bit of full on torture. There's a fair amount of regular sexual degradation as well (of course!) but it's mostly "seen it before" stuff. The lack of variety only hurts a little though as the film is very focused.

The cast sell it well too, Ran Masaki is great as the abused Miki, like her previous film for Nishimura (Beautiful Teacher in Torture Hell) she conveys innocence and tenderness that is poignant both in scenes of love and of abuse. Minako Ogawa (returning from Flower and Snake 3) does a good job as Lady Ito, sensual and dignified, while whoever it is that plays Dr. Oba (I lack a proper translated cast list) is a quality villain of the cold and arrogant kind, one can easily sense the calculations by which his pleasure becomes all, and anybody else just an object. The direction goes well as well, crisp and efficient with nary a wasted shot, the film is good slick stuff. It may not be especially advanced or thrilling stuff, but as far as 80's pinku cinema goes it's pretty much rock solid stuff. Recommended to thoroughgoing genre fans certainly, others may enjoy but could equally take a rain check. If I were still rating films I'd probobly give it a firm 7/10,  but, you know, results may vary and all that. Enjoy!

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Flower and Snake 3: Punishment (1986) Shogoro Nishimura

I've not yet seen either of the first two Flower and Snake films. Didn't make me hesitate to watch this one though as I'm pretty sure the connection is thematic rather than directly plot or character based in nature. And since said theme (sexual subjugation and ambiguous acceptance) is a staple of the pinku genre at large and so something I've encountered many times, I didn't feel beholden to chronological order. Flower and Snake 3: Punishment is considerably less acclaimed than the Konuma original and doesn't do anything especially new or elaborate but it's a perfectly solid work for genre fans, well orchestrated by the veteran Shogoro Nishimura. The plot follows Shizuko Tooyama, whose rich businessman husband refuses to prop up the ailing concern of associate Takeshi. So Takeshi kidnaps Shizuko and makes her star in a porno film for blackmail purposes. And both maid Chiyo and lawyer Sugimoto are involved also, as well as Shizuko's student Mitsuko. Although the plot set up is simple, the involvement of multiple players gives it a taut, twisty feel where sympathies blur and shift which is most agreeably sustaining. The performances are all solid, starlet Minako Ogawa is harrowed but resourceful and determined as Shizuko, with some welcome darker shadings as well, Yuichi Minato is a good scummy villain and the other performers deliver the various intrigues with often sinister aplomb. Some nice pulsing synths on the soundtrack get the blood flowing, and the sexual scenes are suitably claustrophobic and mean, there are also outdoors nightime sequences lit in wan, eerie green conveying offbeat murky atmosphere. As far as the all important grotesqueries of the film go there's various sexy rope work, hot wax play, piss fun and a couple of slightly more unusual perversions that I won't spoil here. Suffice to say things aren't spectacular but perfectly pleasing, and the way things are organised the morality is nicely murky, giving the viewer a modicum of depth to chew on. The conclusion isn't so strong but provides at least a visually pleasing capper, making the film in general a solid piece of slim slick sleazy fun. Newcomers and genre enthusiasts of a more discerning temperament can probobly just about pass this one by, at least if there aren't any more spectacular offerings available, but for the more general fan like myself who just plain digs pinku films and isn't too worried if they're socks aren't knocked off this is worth a look. BW thumbs up then, but don't strain yourself searching for it or anything.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Sex Hunter (1980) Toshiharu Ikeda

These days genre fans probobly know Toshiharu Ikeda best for memorable splatter outing Evil Dead Trap and its sequels. But though those are a lot of fun, especially the insane Italian aping original Sex Hunter may possibly be Ikeda;s magnum opus, a heroically bonkers pinku epic even b y Nikkatsu's generally impressive early 80's standards. The plot has ballerina Miki invited to an elite school by Akiko, sister of Miki's mysteriously missing boyfirend Genichiro. No prizes for guessing that Akiko has some rathe dodgy plans going on, but it's most barring the firmly jaded that will find events shocking...

But as well as shocking, Ikeda really impresses with his direction, this is a genuinely artistic piece of work. The cinematography is crisply attractive and the lighting clear, all the better to highlight the shifting tangles of passionate bodies, writhings framed elegantly in bright and austere box like rooms, limbs artfully stretched and folded in inviting flesh geometry, and all often surrounded by mirrors both one way and two layering the action. It's beautiful, really rather erotic stuff, and if it weren't for optical fogging wrecking some of the compositions Sex Hunter would be an unshakeable classic regardless of genre on visuals alone. Fortunately the plotting supports the few visual lapses, taking the common pinku theme of liberation through force into deliciously unhinged territory. And although much of the depravity is predictable there are a couple of amazing scenes, most notably one involving Coca Cola which, well if it doesn't make your jaw drop you probobly need a tetanus shot.

The pace of the film and behaviour of two of the main characters means that there isn't a lot of suspense and so the film isn't as incendiary as it might have been. A terrific ride with beautiful ladies and well performed by all, but this coupled with the horror of beaver blockers mean I can't quite rate this as highly as other commenters. Still, even though this is a qualified success, it's still a classic, and a must watch for all fans of the genre. Watch as soon as you can, and thank me later...

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Rope and Breasts (1983) Masaru Konuma

It's not often that a pinku film leaves me with unequivocally pleasant feelings but hey, it wouldn't be such an enticing genre to me if it didn't surprise once in a while. Rope and Breasts is actually the first film I've seen from the legendary Masaru Konuma, which probobly seems weird given that his earlier work (most notably Flower and Snake and Wife to be Sacrificed) is much better known, and not only launched the grand success of Naomi Tani (who I have so enjoyed in other films) but also launched Nikkatsu on their lengthy kick of mpstly working in the adult genre. Rope and Breasts may not be especially Earth shattering but it has character, charm to spare and a couple of great scenes. It tells the story of husband and wife BDSM performance team Issao and Sayo Mayuzumi who are on the down and out relationship wise but nonetheless accept a private commision before what may prove their last public show. The general workings of the film will surprise few, their private job is for an older man and wife whose tastes are a little more dangerous than their average audience and the experience proves a transformative one, but the attitude sets this one a little apart. There's an absence of cynicism and cruelty, replaced by compassion and something like warmth, younger Issao and Sayo bicker and fret away in private the flickering power exchanges of their relationship in marked contrast to the certainties of their show, they chip and bustle rather than slash and rend, one can't help wanting the best for them both rather than gloating over their misfortune and possibility of degradation. And the older Kenzo and Taeko may be deviants tinged with something of the sinister, but their wisdom and experience shines through and they are far from the menacing older generations of so many other films of the genre.

The performances are all adept, Nami Matsukawa very fine as Sayo with her unrarified looks and strong demeanour, Ryosei Tayama rightly hesitant as Issao, and Izumi Shima compelling as the viciously beautiful Taeko. Everything looks crisp and attractive with some vibrant use of colors, especially during the opening and events flow most pleasantly, it may not be the most exciting of films but it is certainly never dull. Perhaps one or two more set-pieces would have pushed things up for me but as it stands there's some quality flogging and a great water wheel scene, so it all ends up pretty cool. Altogether then, this is well worth a look for genre enthusiasts. A classic it is not, but still richly entertaining and more loveable than expected, BW recommends!

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Mindkiller (1987) Michael Krueger

Ah, supernatural nerd vengeance movies. I've a great yen for the genre, having been something of a fringe individual for much of my younger, especially school life, so I've been interested in seeing Mindkiller for about as long as I've known of it. Unfortunately having a vested interest in subject matter also tends to make one rather more perceptive of problems, so while overall I found this a fairly pleasant and if nothing else perfectly watchable slice of low wattage schlock, I also found pretty deep running problems that very much held it back. But firstly, the good stuff. Unlike surprisingly many films in the genre, Mindkiller has central characters that are actually nerdy, not jocks in nerd drag, not assholes or obvious bubbling nutjobs. Just awkward, needy library workers who would quite like to get laid but are held back by lack of social graces or good looks. And in a sitcom style set-up, get all excited when an attractive lady winds up employed to prop up their department. Now the approach to library workers is a cliched nonsense at least by todays standards (library workers these days tend to be mostly average ordinary women interspersed with a few average ordinary men, none with any notable physical or social shortcomings at all), but the characters and their doings are handled in brisk and likably breezy fashion, their chemistry works and there are some pretty amusing moments in a daft sort of fashion. Although the pace at which things actually happen in the film is fairly slow it bowls along nicely as well, and has some fun offbeat touches leading to a memorably effects driven finale. The general trouble with it all though is a feeling of vague mediocrity, mediocrity which settles after the final credits roll into dusty dissapointment and the realisation of what could have been. The film hints at imagination and a sense of real crazy verve but never fully accomplishes either because of the low budget. Not just this, but it's way too tame. Brief nudity, a few nice creature effect shots but no real gore and little tension, it's more than a little threadbare. And worse, not only does the film skimp on the potential of what a nerd could do with powers of telekinesis and telepathy to advance himself, it pretty much glosses over the ghastly implications of what he actually does do. Restraint is all well and good, but this kind of film needs to not be so dickless because such is a disservice to all potential viewers, and a moral murk that deserves far more interesting treatment. But still, I wasn't fully disappointment. As late 80's oddities go this certainly won't be setting any lives on fire, but as a time filler I thought it came across pretty well. Had I watched it say, 15 years ago or so, I probobly even would have thought it really pretty solid. Nowadays I can't say as this is really worth a look to anyone other than trash archaeologists, but for those out there it's certainly a good few notches better than a poke in the eye with a wet stick. Not worth any kind of vigorous searching out, but not dis-recommended either.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Tokyo Caligula Fujin (1981) Koyu Ohara

While Koyu Ohara may never be held in the same exalted terms as the best of his Nikkatsu contemporaries, the guy had undeniable chops when it came to serving up tasty sleaze morsels. Tokyo Caligula Fujin (Lady Caligula in Tokyo) falls a fair ways short of my favorites from him so far on account of being brainless and largely lacking in emotional heft, but it makes up for it with a swift pace and lunacy from the get go. The first scene gives us wine play, spray-can cream cooch fondling and peppermint douching (during the course of which the lady on the receiving end quite reasonably call her lover out on being a bit of a weirdo), then the tone flips around from playfully, amusingly bonkers to rather more downbeat and serious (albeit still bonkers). Heroine Saori has been made a fool of by her husband and his lover, and upon meeting her old gal-pal Shuran finds not respite but further humiliation and abuse. Personally I thought the film could have done with about 50 percent more rope work but there's rape and piss fun and more besides so it's a bit churlish to complain.

The direction is mostly perfunctory apart from a couple of moments of interesting framing and a nice sequence of sex from a projector splayed in shifting pop art form across two copulating bodies. Still, there's no use of pixellation and the action is all pretty clear, plus the color scheme has some unexpected rich greens and other evocative tones, bringing a certain unexpected fell vivacity to events. Maiko Kasama does a good job as Saori, poise ebbing away as she falls, her journey from dignity to dejection an effective one. Other performers are solid, though the film in general is underwritten and there are several potentially interesting alleys that remain unfortunately unexplored. Though the pace is invigorating, this is definitely a film that would have benefited from a further ten to fifteen minutes of development, clocking at just over an hour it's a quickie that should have taken a little more time. But again, it feels a little churlish to complain as this is good fun stuff with a pleasing sense of variety and at least one stand out bit of memorable nastiness for the harsher hearted among us. So, definitely recommended for genre enthusiasts, casual samplers probobly need not apply though.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Wolf Lake (1980) Burt Kennedy

I'd be interested to know what went on behind the scenes with the releasing of this one. I'm guessing the pitch was easy but the finished project was a pretty difficult sell, which would explain why this potentially rather fine film has a collosal, gaping flaw in it that threatens to (though without quite succeeding) utterly ruin the experience. See, this is one of those films that looks like it should be a gnarly exploitation thriller but is actually a pretty slow moving and somber affair building up to an intense but not redemptive finale, a serious film with a serious point to make. Except that someone apparently took their potential audience for idiots and decided to cater to this by changing the film in the most idiotic way imaginable, inserting utterly needless flash-forwards that spoil key events of the finale early on in the film. Now maybe, just maybe there was some notion of highlighting the inevitability of such climatic tragedy. Maybe the flash-forwards really were an artistic decision and not just a craven attempt to keep bums in seats with a few action shots to tide them over during the build-up. Whatever the intent it was an abject fucking failure in artistic terms, and seems to have done the film no favors in the long term as nowadays it largely languishes in obscurity despite its other merits. This my friends, is why the majority of moneymen and distributors in the movie industry should be sterilised. Or to be fair if I am making an untrue assumption, sometimes artistes need a swift sharp blow to the back of the head.

My ire over, Wolf Lake is otherwise pretty sweet. War veteran Charlie and his pals head out to the titular lake for a buddies weekend of drinking and shooting, finding the place in the care of dissolute long-hair David and his beautiful girlfriend. Tensions are immediate, but things really go downhil when it transpires that David is an army deserter. See, Charlie has personal reasons for disliking army deserters, and out in the woods away from civilisation, well no prizes for guessing this isn't a situation that will go well. But what makes the film really work is how well it conveys underlying macho tension beneath its contemporary issues. Charlie (Rod Steiger) and David (David Huffman) were never going to get along, Charlie a grizzled, fractious type with baggage, alpha status pretentions and an unshakeable sense of his own "right", David almost his younger reflection, but not quite past the point that turns character to stone. Both performances are very fine and their clashes make for rewarding drama, with Steiger in particular drawing depth and sympathy from a character who could have been a standard monster. Jerry Hardin as Charlie's friend Wilbur also fuels the drama, a beta among alphas who becomes a catalyst, while the few other cast members make suitable impressions, the gorgeous Robin Mattson in particular as girlfriend Linda who happily for the audience gets topless a couple of times. The film takes a goodly long time to get to it's action, but the attractively desolate location makes for nervy atmosphere and the brewing themes make for a modicum of suspense despite the early spoilers. Then when things really get moving its quality stuff, violent, shocking and well constructed in its intensity and feeling of mayhem. So it's a film that works. Just about. Honor, family, loyalty, vengeance, these tensions inherent to the red-blooded male that threaten ever to overwhelm, powerful stuff. Sex and violence, always welcome. But good God, what a painful, needless botch along the way.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Scream Bloody Murder (1973) Marc Albert

I wonder, will I ever tire of films like Scream Bloody Murder? I sure as hell hope not. Lurid psychosexual trauma and proto slasher killing sprees in the days before Halloween opened the floodgates and smoothed away most coarse and creepy features to leave nothing more than slick sex and slaying schlock, bad taste and gutter sights, I can't imagine ever not being a fan. Scream Bloody Murder is probobly little more notable than many of its ilk, but it did at least survive in fairly decent condition and its pretty much a perfect exemplar. Our lead Matthew starts the film by running over his dad with a tractor before falling out of the seat and managing to run over his own hand. A spell at an institution run by nuns takes him to his teen years, with a fully fledged Oedipal complex and habit for murdering anyone who gets in the way of his quest for a perfect mother. Also he has a hook for a hand but despite this tends to use various sharp instruments to kill. Not the brightest spark, our Matthew. Anyway, the first half is pretty much golden, the second lags a bit but the ending is positively glorious. Fred Holbert ably shoulders the film as Matthew, he comes across a pathetic yet menacing figure, weird, sad and very lost (he has various potential support structures that fail him, or rather he fails them), but all pathos underlined by unsettling violence. The sort of character Wes Bentley seems to be good at playing these days actually. Although the film isn't especially grisly (reasonably bloody at times but not really gory), two time wonder director Marc Albert (his other effort in the chair is a nudie cutie called Wild Gypsies, not seen but on my list) employs lots of unbalanced angles and wild swinging camera work, gross and mocking twisted delirium faces and voices fed through distortion and echo to rather splendidly convey Matthew's sudden lurches into violence. Unfortunately the killing tapers off in a second half mostly concerned with girl in captivity unease (albeit spiked by the odd moment of lunacy), but the ending is classic stuff, headrush of psychotronic fire to leave you smiling for hours afterward. Altogether this one doesn't make it into the highest echelons of drive in lunacy, lacking just a little in the pathos or nastiness that could make it a true classic. No nudity either, which is a major downer. Still great fun stuff though and genre fans should make it some kind of a priority. Have fun...!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Force of Darkness (1985) Alan Hauge

Well then. This is a curious little thing. On the one hand, Force of Darkness has a plot propped up on a bit of nonsense that goes echoes beyond fantasy and into dark waters of real life, making for a queasy twinge of offence in the head and bad taste in the belly. It has the whole madman is possessed by demon or demons set up, a psychiatrist character who appears briefly and seems intended as a wishy washy figure whose science is impotent. And a fundamentalist christian character who seems posed as the films pillar of spiritual strength and guidance. So there's the notion of fundamentalist religion having a more useful grasp on mental illness than the actual mental health profession, which would be funny were it not for the fact that even today some people still believe this, and such belief has fulled multitudes of abuses ranging from straightforward negligence right up to torture and homicide. So some aspects of Force of Darkness had me hating it. But then on the other hand the most interesting character in the film (and the only likeable or remotely nuanced one) is a New Age monk type standing against fundamentalist belief and instead drawing on various disciplines in his efforts against evil. And he happens to be the brother of the pyscho at large, so the film gets to bring in ideas of sibling opposition. Brothers, both afflicted by painful childhood, one killer who remains a victim cursed by the simplistic demons that he will not let go, and one a warrior of peace, leaving behind simplicity to embrace complex notions. The situation is mirrored by the other siblings of the film, these male and female. Gloria, made victim through her embrace of New Age solutions to a problem (hypnotherapy for smoking), and warrior Tom, an actual man of war and simple as they come. And instead of chequered past the reason for their opposition, plain old gender stereotyping. And the cap on this assemblage of characters is the first victim, Gloria's fiance and hypnotherapist, who appears within moments to not be the most principled of individuals, and goes by Ron Hubbard II. Now I suppose there's an outside chance that this wasn't intended as a jab at the pulp writer responsible for Scientology, everyones favorite science fiction based cult and pyramid scheme. But I don't think that's likely, really. What I get from all of this set up is that even though there's a great streak of bullshit in this film, there's a level of thought here that even if skeletal still raises interest a few notches beyond the average contempoary urban fright thriller. Setting all this aside, Force of Darkness really is an average mid 80's fright thriller. Neither plot, ideas, characters nor action are developed, there's no real gore and the violence is roughly TV movie level, maybe just a notch above in a scene or two. It works as fairly solid entertainment though, with a brisk pace, some effective jolts and rather creepy scenes filmed at Alcatraz. And Mel Novak does a quality job as bedevilled maniac Conrad, relentless, demented and rather chilling. The end is anti-climatic, but not ruinously so, and the overall effect is of a rather average late night time filler with a few bright spots. So I guess that's what my summation will be. Average late night time filler with a few bright spots. See it if you must, but don't strain yourself if you don't have to.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Rope Cosmetology (1978) Shogoro Nishimura

After watching a little burst of fairly restrained and emotionally mature pinku fare I started to worry if I was getting locked into a sober groove and furrowing away from the morally vacant lunacy that made me love the genre in the first place. Rope Cosmetology proved to be a perfect corrective, a simple yet brilliantly bonkers joint from the talented Shogoro Nishimura (Rope and Skin, Woman with the Pierced Nipples, Beautiful Teacher in Torture Hell etc.) with the remarkable Naomi Tani getting up to some of her most unusual shenanigans. Here Tani plays Kanako, a bored housewife whose husband plays bafflingly little attention to her. If I were married to Naomi Tani I'd have my head between her legs 24/7 or as close as, but I guess there's a cultural difference thing at play. I.e., her husband works really hard at a tedious job and is more concerned with advancing himself than pleasuring his wife. Work ethics, personal development and so forth over pleasure. Seems a bit rum to me but there ya go. So anyway, she gets a message from former girlfriend Tomoe, who is now wife and muse of an S&M artist. After seeing what Tomoe and husband Isaku get up to, Kanako figures she wants in on the same scene. Wonderful things follow...

To get the downside over first, this is a film of decidedly modest ambition. The plot is one line and the characterisation wavers around one note, and the two don't interact in a way that leads to tension or much in the way of insight. There's some interesting comment on the notion of S&M and the dogplay of the film does take both submission as an idea and the degradations rife in the plotting of pinku cinema to their logical extremes, revealing a glorious mad vitality there often merely hinted at or less, but the film doesn't really rise above sleaze exercise. It's fortunate that it works so well as sleaze then, with rope play, hot wax dripping, lesbianism and the aforementioned dog play (peaking in one absolute jaw dropper of a sequence). Naomi Tani is on typically terrific form, dignified inside even in moments of least dignity, adventurous with a realistic tinge of hesitancy, and of course a lady of physical perfection, pure skin and graceful curves is if sculpted by gentle hand from the marble of the gods. Aoi Nakajima is also very fine as Tomoe, cheerful and charming if a little naive. Katsu Yamada is appropriately stuffy but slwoly aired out as Eichiro, husband of Kanako, while Akira Takahashi is perfectly likable whilse still a palpable sleazehound as Isaku. Everyone plays off each other with confidence giving affairs a potent charge, and while there may be few great surprises, on the whole this is just a really, really fun film. I guess only fans of the genre have any need to track this one down, but for them it's if not a full on must see then certainly highly recommended. So BW sums up, check it out!

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Street Hunter (1990) John A. Gallagher

I don't tend to watch a whole lot of action cinema. Well, not a whole lot of action films that don't include either quality kung fu or deranged and excessive violence. I probobly wouldn't have bothered with Street Hunter as it doesn't have a reputation for either and doesn't evidence anything to make its reputation unfair, but it does have stupidity to spare and not the gauche, tiresome stupidity of a film made for millions with an IQ a millionth of said millions, but an offbeat cool, gritty stupidity that manages to be consistently amusing and watchable instead of depressing and dull like a lot of action stupidity. Actually Street Hunter is kinda lousy as an action film, being of such low budget that the action consists of little more than a good deal of people getting shot and a couple of lame explosions. But at least there are some bloody squibs for the people being shot and a lot of big budget action films of the time didn't really bother with that, so there's a plus. The cast is what really makes the film entertaining. Undervalued should have been a big name star Steve James has one of his few lead roles as the heroic bounty hunter Logan Blade, he's tough, he's cool and he takes shit from no fool. He's even socially conscious, concerned with the education of underprivileged youth. And a decent screen fighter to boot, though he only has a few occasions to show of his physical prowess he makes good use of them. On the side of evil is John Leguizamo in a hysterical early role as a loud mouth upstart drug dealing jive turkey, his trash talk constantly undermined by his obvious weakness. And the always awesome Reb Brown is a villain for a change, a soft spoken psycho mercenary with an obsession for historical war and victory and no tolerance for bad discipline. He acts like he has a serious role in a serious film and as a result is pretty interesting as well as being as badass as you'd expect (it's Reb Brown, so pretty fucking badass). And Valarie Pettiford makes for a better than average token girlfriend character, throwing herself into the cliches with agreeable gusto. I'd say as a mindless action film this is a little overlong and underpowered to carry a kick with the best of 'em, but it sure ain't half bad if you drop your standards down a mine shaft or two and then sit down with a bottle or two of your preferred tipple. That's what I did at least. So on those terms if not necessarily others, recommended from me...

Nurses Sex Journal (1976) Chusei Sone

So, here's another one of Nikkatsu's more serious and sensitive outings. Well, when I say serious and sensitive I don't mean that exactly, more that Nurses Sex Journal aims for more of a dramatic feel around the sexy times, its characters exist beyond mere cyphers and the plotting is a bit more advanced than the assualt/rape/rinse/repeat/ season to taste with rope bondage/piss play/hot wax dripping that makes so much pinku cinema such deliciously decadent entertainment. Here lovely young nurse Akemi is noticed spying on a young mobster and his girlfriend who live across the road, and upon discovering that her brother is in need of an expensive operation for unspecified malady she accepts the young mobsters offer of entry into prostitution, despite her being engaged. Characters wind and wander in a loosely plotted progression of events, Akemi is drawn into her new career despite misgivings, her relationship with her neighbour disturbs his girlfriend, her brother stays sick and is comforted by the friend who first brought him in for treatment, a fellow who it is implied speeded him into illness and is himself a bit of a sleazebag. Everyone is flawed in some measure but all are rounded, no heroes or villains, just people caught in a swirl. There's humour, pathos, kink and even the odd surprise (like an unexpected scene of rather frank homoeroticism), there isn't much of a compelling drive to the plotting but the film works in general just by being interesting viewing. And though things can appear a bit aimless, they are underpinned by a somewhat moving observation, mirrored symbolically in Akemi's job working in a blood transfusion clinic. Sex and money as sad vampire hungers, drawing people together with little joy or pity, pursuits that ultimately serve little more purpose than their own preservation, no real use at all to those caught in the web. Its thought provoking stuff and less "fun" than many of its genre, but good stuff anyway. Except that is for the ghastly presence of genital censorship, here presented chiefly in the form of bobbing oval blobs. Which is at least different to the usual, and for some reason kinda funny to me. Maybe because at one point it appears as though the effect was achieved by manually waving a colored in black oval over the naughty parts, attached to an uncovered handle both cut out of a transparency. The ovals shake around as well, adding to the impression. I wonder if in the credits somewhere there's a listing for "Censorship Stick Wielder Man"? Or maybe "Master Cock-Blocker!"? Also at the end theres an appearance of a socking great rectangle reminiscent of the technique that ruined Woods Are Wet, but fortunately it only happens once and but the end the whole affair has headed for bleakly comic implosion anyway. So I guess altogether this is pretty decent stuff. It's audience I suspect will be rather limited by its sober approach, but as a fan of character drama as well as cheering sleaze I thought this one a pretty solid 70 minutes or so, certainly never dull. So like, a fair thumbs up from me but don't expect anything like Hasebe or Ohara style stuff.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Dark August (1976) Martin Goldman

Watching Dark August I was rather reminded of Stephen King's Thinner. Both have a city slicker type, a little arrogant, a little entitled, accidentally killing a female relative of an elderly conjure man. Both men are cursed, and both seek radical action after friends and loved ones are drawn into their circle of danger as the supernatural grips tighter. It's hardly an innovative or original set-up of course, but still nice to see that sometimes even those highly vaunted as imagineers draw deep at the wells of tradition. Dark August is it must be said the better of the two, a strange regional item that could never be mistaken for anything other than a late 70's piece, setting about its events with simplicity, a flair for the strange and unnerving talent for shocks, where Thinner was more a heavy handed mix of Twilight Zone karma, theatrical grotesquery and boorishness masquerading as depth.  Though not without flaws, perhaps most notably that an entire interesting potential plot strand is brought up and set down in the minute or so it takes for the main character to have a fractious phone conversation, Dark August is in fact one of the better obscure horrors I've seen for a while, the sort of film that really deserves a DVD release to unleash it upon audiences of today. Key to its power is direction, interesting angles and a skill with both stillness and hand held excitement, the latter deployed in short sharp bursts that tend to sneak up and jab you right in the guts so you near-most double up from the intensity. And the quieter moments layer up the atmosphere nicely in between the jolts, many meaningful stares, creepy figures seen or half seen, flashbacks and disorientations building upon each other with hot uneasy effect. Star J.J. Barry (who co wrote the interesting script with director Martin Goldman) is a decent everyman, he has a touch of the overdriven to him but is generally likeable, suggesting realistic depth to the character though the writing is generally plot driven. Carolyne Barry is quite lovely as his girlfriend, a warm and pleasant lady for whom one cannot but help wish safety. Highlight though is William Robertson as the silent staring villain of the film, a seething vicious menace rarely far from eruption. Kim Hunter is quality also as the white witch of sorts who lends her help, a kind and pragmatic lady mixing new age christianity with more arcane rites in the service of good. This is the second late 70's horror I've seen in a week or so with a dash of new age christianity helping against more esoteric evils, I guess people figured the great bearded dude in the sky was cooler back then. There are probobly complaints to be made about muddled theology and the normalisation of christianity as a cure all for evils, but I won't make them because I can't really be arsed, also the film delivered in the all important oddball freakout stakes so I was left pretty pleased, with the ending especially fine. Also there's a wee bit of blood and even brief nudity bolstering up the shock side of things, though the film was a PG in the States back in the day it's certainly harder hitting than the majority of PG13 fare of more recent times. I expect the audience for this will be limited to obscure horror junkies like myself even though it could easily score with wider audiences who can appreciate a well crafted spook show at any level. Well recommended from me then, and perfect for a summers night.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Black Rose Ascension (1975) Tatsumi Kumashiro

I've long enjoyed films about film making and makers. The mechanisms exposed make a double image, the art we see reflecting off it's artifice and vice versa. And really, what better subject than pornography, the art of flesh wrought to make illusion as real and seductive as possible. Black Rose Ascension, a rather atypical outing from Nikkatsu takes a pornographer and his travails as its subject and does a rather fine job of gazing within makers cape to find not golden conjurer but sad human, pink and precarious. Shin Kashida plays said pornographer, on the lookout for a new leading lady after his intended falls pregnant. For some reason I wouldn't have thought being with child would be an impediment to being an adult star in Japan, but then sadly I'm not Japanese. Anyhoo, he finds a new star in the troubled Ikuyo (the always lovely Naomi Tani in a rare relatively un-exploitative role), then falls in love with her and surprisingly, things don't entirely go wrong. Which is not to say that everything goes right, but the sadness is less cynical or mean than many, and is tinged with a certain unforced wistful yearning and touching beauty. The characters here are restrained and human, some very much flawed like the director, but all shaded to an interesting degree of reality. The locations and direction contribute to this reality, cable cars, girders, water and beach, wooden dwelling hanging on a wall, interior shots cramped and clustered while exteriors gaze on the actors often from afar, while many of the pinku Black Rose Ascension places its characters and their works and dreams as fragile pieces very much part of the general urban bustle, a sense always that forces without may be as important as those within. It's slice of life cinema really, quite some distance from what one might expect of a Nikkatsu film with Naomi Tani and a role for fellow pinku star Terumi Azuma. Sleaze hounds may well be put off then, though there is sex and nudity and moments of meanness they are never gratuitous or particularly eyebrow raising, just part and parcel of the world on show. Now, as slice of life cinema goes this isn't terribly sharp, at least not to these eyes (those more fully versed in the genre or the mid 70's Japanese milieu may differ), it isn't exactly the most impactful or notable of films. And yet it stays charming in the memory, and stretches out such as to provide some lingering food for thought, some scraps that linger pleasant in the eye.  It has almost something of the US indie drama to it, albeit thoroughly different in details and lacking any great pretensions. Good food for when richness feels to gauche then, and a recommendation from me.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Ghosts That Still Walk (1977) James T. Flocker

Little known, this one. Slow hot breath of folk weirdness, murmuring breath of America's past less travelled. A shame but expected, given the lack of sex or gore, the crawling pace and sketchy plotting. But Ghosts That Still Walk is a fairly worthy little piece for oddball archaeologists, brewing up new age Christianity and American Indian mysticism into something as compelling as it is static and stodgy. Writer/director James T. Flocker could never be accused of dynamism, but he has a vision here and carries it out in admirably unencumbered fashion. The plot sees a family tormented by obscure occurrence as a result of unwise delvings, and a handy hypnotist unravelling the mystery. Most of the events are retold in flashback in the hypnotists chair and either take place in the desert or a suburban household, the cast is small and there's no real world context. The consequence is a film taking place in a small befuddling bubble and a drawing claustrophobia of single intent, untainted diversion from the normal. 

Now to be fair, at over 90 minutes this is certainly too long. There actually isn't much in the way of filler, but scenes and shots meander in excessive length, there's too much leisure here. Also the structure means that the films key set piece is the first of them, and so things rather dip after the half-way point. But said set piece is pretty groovy and unusual (evil rolling stones assault a motor home!) and it goes on for a more than satisfactory time so that's a plus. And what comes after, including the arching explanation is pretty weird as well. And doesn't entirely make sense, which is a bonus. The cast is about what one expects, i.e. nondescript. Matthew Boston plays a sickly cutesy young teen that it's hard not to wish ill upon, Ann Nelson pulls off a likeable kooky old lady schtick, and Rita Crafts is pleasant viewing as the helpful hypnotist, easy on the eye if not an especially good actress. The others do their jobs pretty well also, everyone seems appropriately committed. I reckon the film would have definitely benefited from fleeter pace and more intensity, but it works well enough in its way, its interesting and relatively unusual and should appeal to fans of same. Gets my seal of approval then, but definitely an acquired taste. 

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Cruelty: Black Rose Torture (1975) Katsuhiko Fuji

Serious, sobering and sad. Not three words that I usually find myself using in a review of a pinku film, but Cruelty: Black Rose Torture is a little loftier in its intentions than the average. It's sleazy too of course, but in a matter of fact way, acknowledging the power in sex and body without the warmth and closeness of intent to titillate. The story is of Yumiko and her maid Chiyo, who at the start travel to see Yumiko's brother, who Chiyo loves, only for the trip to prove disastrous as Chiyo is raped by an official on the train, then Yumiko's brother is forced to flee from the Japanese secret police and the two women are tortured to find his whereabouts. Cut to two years later and the brother is fighting at war, Yumiko is going insane and Chiyo has to go to any lengths to hold the situation together. Needless to say, things do not go especially happily for anyone...

So, this is a pretty serious film about the effects of war on home life, of the brutality of officialdom and the tragedies and ironies of love. The direction is subdued and claustrophobic, shots often static and neatly framed, many times looking down upon the protagonists and their entanglements impassive as the ceiling itself. I was a little reminded of the work of Koji Wakamatsu, though this isn't in the same league, lacking his scalpel of style and politics to dissect character and situation. This is still reasonably nuanced stuff though, no Sadean monsters, no extravagance, just people, some good and some deeply flawed, existing in a state that all know could get much worse at any moment. So the film consists mostly of sexual and emotional power play before coming to a head in the final 15 minutes or so, and I must say I was left fairly downbeat at the end. Humanity, warmth and wrong coiling into abuse and death with flat inevitability, not exactly cheering stuff. The lack of all that much sleaze also means that the film isn't generally as entertaining as others of its ilk, though there are various rapes and some pretty harsh cane beating. Fortunately the cast sell things well, the divine Naomi Tani touching as Yumiko, noble heart fragile, soiled and soon declining, and Terumi Azuma equally fine as Chiyo, borne ever deeper down by love and duty. Not having a proper cast list I can't single anyone else out but the various military types are all suitably brusque and officious, and the villain of the piece shaded enough to be interesting. So all in all this is a decent, if not terribly distinguished genre entry, and one that will likely disappoint newcomers or the more devoted sleaze-hounds among pinku fans. But for a change of pace and some genuine drama to chew on this is a solid little piece, and worth checking out.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The Bunny Game (2010) Adam Rehmeier

Some distance into The Bunny Game I thought, "This is exactly the sort of film I would make". But then afterward I thought about it more and realised, "This is the sort of film I would have made 5 years ago". That is of course if I had the resources and wasn't crippled by drink and depression. It's the sort of film I probobly would have loved back then, back when I thought Flower of Flesh and Blood was one of the greatest films of all time, back when the whole notion of endurance test cinema was a new and wonderful thing to me, when I thought that work which seeks to test us is that of the highest possible pursuit in art. But nowadays, with so many hours of bad porn, gross out artsploitation and experimental perfomance trash scrawled obscene physical graffiti through my head-sphere, I can't say as The Bunny Game did all that much for me, despite its lofty aims and occasional classy moments. The set up is as simple as can be, cocaine addled hooker hottie gets picked up by trucker loon and variously tormented in the back of his truck and sometimes the desert. The gimmick is that the living lady is some kind of performance artist and ex hooker or ex stripper, who actually endured similar bad shit in real life and then endured the degradations of the film for real, as some kind of therapeutic process. Or something like that any ways. It could have been quite brilliant, the notion of a film acting as genuine therapy, catharsis captured on screen reality hearkens right back to the ritual roots of drama, its function as glorification of the Gods. Today of course the Self is God, and God is Self, so in their way the likes of The Bunny Game, anything from Lucifer Valentines undervalued Vomit Gore trilogy (its actually pretty hilarious as long as you don't watch it sober) to the live recordings of Otto Muehl and the Vienna Aktionists, are in their way an honest return to fundamental aesthetic/religious expression. Heck, The Bunny Game is even pretty blatant at times in its nods to religious purification. The trouble is, it just isn't all that interesting. Lots and lots of screaming, some hosing, a fair amount of physical abuse and a couple of actually ace scenes that I won't spoil, all adding up to a film that feels like it should feel like an uncompromising, soul darkening nightmare but rarely rises above a mild feel of discomfort or shock. On the plus side, Rodleen Getsic is a terrific leading lady, giving perhaps the most fearless female performance captured since Emily Haack first started making waves, she plays less a character and more a raw sensation, hurt and fear and confusion and desperation in striking, beautiful, ragged blaze, magical to behold. Jeff Renfro is pretty great as the crazy trucker as well, one gets the impression that like his co star, he is barely even acting. As villainous roles go though, it has none of the depth or amazement factor of say, Dean Minindao from The Taming of Rebecca or Gas Station Attendant in Forced Entry. And the power of both performances is rather sapped by the modishly stylised direction, all fast editing, minimalism and oblique digressions that work nowhere near as well as a more straightforward approach might have done. It may well have been an attempt to capture the fractured head-state of a coke fiend, in which case I can't really judge its effectiveness as I've never been a coke enthusiast, but cinematically it wears thin pretty quickly Still, at least the film abandons the splashes of awful generic "extreme" metal on the soundtrack that might have ruined the whole thing, in favor of creepy drones which go down much smoother. I'm not sure there's much more to say really. As an extreme cinema fan I didn't think this one was that good, as an art fan I thought similar. It is at least pretty watchable throughout though, and occasionally rather gnarly. Maybe others will be better disposed to appreciate it than I, but I can sadly only give a minor positive.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

The Reincarnate (1971) Don Haldane

I should probably admit from the outset that I have a great love and affection for films like The Reincarnate, hell not even the films themselves (or not just the films themselves, to be precise) but their very existence, their essence and continued survival. Pale ghost murmurs of 70's esoterica heard by few but the more dedicated of cine-archaeologists, their joy is in their very obscurity. I would probably still like The Reincarnate even if it was total crap, in fact the only way I wouldn't like it is if it was Night of Horror, and it isn't Night of Horror, its The Reincarnate. And its not half bad either, though only a select few will likely think it much good. It's overlong with lots of talk and little action, and only a couple of scares, but on the other hand its an unusual and interesting little piece, well acted with a nice take on the "innocent becomes stooge for cultists" genre and some thought provoking overall themes. The cultist at hand is one Everett Julian, the "stooge" one David Payne, the former a rich aesthete and follower of the arcane Sakana rites who finds himself advancing upon Death's door, the latter a young and talented artist chosen to be the next link in Mr. Julian's chain of existence. See, according to Sakana the only reality is eternity, eternity is eternal life and eternal life is reincarnation. Things get explained in more detail of course, but basically rather than stick with the standard model of escalating tension and twisted paranoia, writer/director Don Haldane opts for musing on art, knowledge, memory and the nature and meaning of life. The implicit warning of the film is that such pursuits become dangerous when unhinged from morality, but even with this element in place there is little in the way of clearly defined good or evil in the film, for all the expositional chatter quite a lot is left to the viewers own musing. The quantity of talk will likely be the biggest drawback for most viewers, but the stars hold it together pretty well, their performances honed in a theatrical manner. Jack Creley is perfectly smooth as Mr. Julian, polite and pleasant yet rarely lacking a clear hard edge that shows he tends to get what he wants. And Jay Reynolds is an effective foil as David Payne, a modern man and his own man, unswayed by forces around him, wise to any BS and determined to be his own determiner. Playing well off each other they impart a sense of humanity and warmth to what in lesser hands could have been a thoroughly dry and tedious affair. All this said, even their fine efforts can't quite assuage the problem of the film being simply too long for its own good. At around 96 minutes long, with at least one entirely pointless character and various scenes either played too slowly or with an excess of talk, The Reincarnate does take some effort to consume without any breaks, and it generally lacks much in the way of gripping momentum. So even I was a bit bored at times, and I have a pretty considerable tolerance for otherwise rather tedious fare. But I was never too bored, and I was never quite bored in the bad way, that manner when you really know you would be better off hitting the way than flexing your brow trying to keep your eyes open. The Reincarnate kept me wanting to watch it, and at the end I was fairly satisfied. So a thumbs up from me, but definitely an acquired taste kind of a film.    

Monday, 16 April 2012

Blood Symbol (1992) Maurice Deveraux

Of all the obscure and ill starred slasher productions of the 1980's, Blood Symbol must be among the very most troubled that actually managed to get completed and released. With production beginning in 1984 and ending in 1991, with the gap down to lack of funds and possibly other issues, it is understandably pretty messy. But with plenty of directorial flourish and a couple of rather inspired scenes it manages to be rather fun and more memorable than various of its more polished contemporaries. The plot has student athlete Tracy menaced in dreams and visions by a creepy looking killer cult leader, appealing then to supernatural slasher tropes as established by the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise as well as devil cult superstition, and though the structure is significantly flawed, with dodgy pacing and a weak switchback final act coming after a rather fun peak around the hour mark, on the whole the film comes through as a pretty engaging, unexpectedly psychotronic and occasionally mean spirited piece. The visuals are key, employing red and blue lighting as well as nicely placed black and white nightmare sequences, a couple of strobes, some cunning camera angling and movement (though migraine sufferers should be advised there is a fair amount of handheld work)and bursts of editing frenzy in the early 90's music video style, while the extended stalking sequences feel a bit too much like an imitation of Carpenter the direction and editing are actually pretty interesting when they go for the insane sledgehammer effect. However they don't entirely cover the fact that the body count is rather low and only one of the deaths is really satisfying, so one could be forgiven for disappointment, perhaps a feeling of plenty of sizzle but little steak, or even too much sizzle as well as too little steak. Personally I like films of this level to have as much sizzle as possible even if there isn't much steak, countless slashers at almost every level have handled the meat and potatoes of the slasher format well, but somewhat fewer of the really cheap ones actually muster the delectable weird vibes that get my mouth watering even without all that much good for the eating. I'm not terribly bothered about films not being nourishing, to be honest I watch stuff like this for self flagellation as much as anything. Oh, and speaking of weird vibes, fans of bad continuity will have a blast here as the production woes resulted in some actors, most noticeably the leading lady, changing in appearance between scenes, their age somewhat showing. Also, the acting is witheringly dreadful, though to be fair the original voices were dubbed over because they apparently sounded too French-Canadian. I would have preferred the original even if it was difficult to understand, French-Canadian accents get me all tingly inside and I found the leading lady (Micheline Richard) somewhat comely in a frizzy haired goof kinda way. The other victim girls were pretty cute as well, though shamefully no one gets at all naked, or even wears revealing/amusing clothing. So I guess there you have it, no tits, a bit of blood, some weirdness and meanness. Pretty much only a film for those out there that "have" to see it, but it worked well enough for yours truly