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.