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.