Sunday, 29 December 2013

Diary of a Serial Killer (1995) Otto Chan

It'd been a few years since last I watched any Category III pictures, though amongst my first loves in extreme cinema it isn't often nowadays that I get a fire in my belly for them. But watching Diary of a Serial Killer made me much want to return, an experience like slipping on your favourite dressing gown and slippers, sinking back in an armchair with a nice cuppa and some choccy biccies for dunking, smiling in a shifting shaft of warmth and light and dreaming of home. A second tier affair pulling the same tricks as several before it, it moves with nary a hiccup and plenty of fun, well anchored by its fine central performance. Kwok Pong Chan does fine work as crazy Lau Shau Biu, the serial killer of the title who brutally slays hookers in the belief that the more horrific their death the more thoroughly cleansed they will be of the karmic stain of selling themselves. I'm not sure that this is entirely how reincarnation works, but then I'm not a serial killer. Anyhow he does very well, beginning intense as he recounts his story in a cell, he proceeds to cover assorted psychopathic bases, from coolly hateful and vicious, to merrily sadistic to depravedly clownish and shades between. But he also convinces in his sense of righteousness and compulsive self rationalising, as well as actually harrowed by his urges and the constant threat of events to slide from control, and even keeps a handle on tonal shifts that require actual tenderness and human warmth. He may not have the presence of a Ben Ng or a Simon Yam, but is I think worthy here I think of the genre's greats. Of course a fine central performance would count for little without content to back it up, and Diary of a Serial Killer does pretty well on this front too. While actual gore is fairly limited the violence is mostly nastily sexual in nature with scenes that don't skimp much on nudity, and are agreeably twisted to boot (with one particular mean spirited mutilation standout in the final block). Happily these scenes are quite creepy also (as well as grim), taking place in an attic whose veils, bed and chair and plastic sheeting and mood lighting (permanent dusk or twilight with deep blues and reds) afford a curious ambience that has something of boudoir, dungeon and even shrine mingled. Killer's headspace given deft form, so killer, kills and killing floor align, retreat within that becomes progressively incongruous with the world without. Smart, provoking stuff, but not taken far enough, part of two twined tensions of the film that don't quite come off. Lau Shau Biu pulls against his outside world, and in so doing pulls against our outside world, the sheer fantasy that he could do what he does in the way that he does it without being caught earlier spiting those who would complain of unreality or plot holes. And his religious motives pull against his character, his real motives he prefers to avoid. So why not add more narrative meat, more psychology, have a film not just of yucks but fears of psyche and the world pulling apart in the denial of reality, barbed wire around the brute punch of straighter exploitation? The seeds are there in the structure, all the little things that aren't quite right but satisfy the audience, but the seeds don't grow. Still, this is pretty well paced and never dull, may not satisfy the more ravenous of filth hounds but most should have a pretty good time. So even if greatness is just peering in from the peripheries, this is still well worth a watch for genre fans. Go see...! 

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Sex Psycho (1970) Walt Davis

Strange relic this, from those formative years of US hardcore cinema. Times before the genre was in full flood, coming forth in glorious fruitful waves through the hearts and minds and junk of the masses. In the accelerated lifespans of cinema's more polluted and seething back waters some long time before full forms were spawned, the defining symbols of porno chic and rot gut roughie alike, the classics of Damiano, Metzger, Costello and more. One imagines just about anything could have come and taken hold from that era of rutting potential, well just about anything but not this. While absolutely of its time Sex Psycho is in the order of film that could have come from any time, working with a bulldozers concern for sanity, reason and even the public. Not much seen or thought of in its day and a cult concern only after long later home releases, it doesn't have much in the way of peers or imitants, staying more a near lost moment in time. So it is, but it's fun to speculate on what could have been. I mean, how much more fun would 70's hardcore have been if more was shooting at bloodthirsty bisexual degenerates, right? 

The plot is a spindly thing of infidelity and murder, but really this is about sex, sex and more sex. On the plus side it's consistently bonkers stuff with only one scene of straight vanilla, there's a memorable early shock twistaroo and a couple of hilariously nutty gruesome pay-offs. Combined with the sporadically somewhat amusing writing this all makes for a certain slack faced compulsion. On the minus, direction is as rudimentary as it gets, and the performers bring neither the twisted tenderness nor the demented fury called for by the story, this the kind of unrelenting, close, hairy and dirty f#cking that one can almost smell through the screen but has little interest beyond that faint whiff of sweat, semen and unwashed sheets. Things are chiefly softcore as well with only a few explicit penetrative shots, presumably the cast were actually going at it but the camera isn't that interested in getting its nose in the details. Now of course badly shot grimy hardcore isn't essentially more worthy than badly shot grimy softcore, but with a set up like this it really helps. 

Plus there just isn't enough internal tension or interest to sustain this, the wry comment framing device has been put to plentiful better use elsewhere, character interactions offer no surprises and line deliveries are usually bored and sometimes botched. The lone vanilla scene is also a skippable drag. 

But still, I find this sort of thing impossible to really dislike whatever its problems. Never quite reaching boredom, it's the kind of vaguely niche filth that achieves worth simply by being, sampler of depraved anti art that invites a grin at the real face of Man. Not recommended unless you have to see it then, but I'm sure at least a few will be open to its charms. 

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Savage (2009) Brendan Muldowney

I approach revenge cinema a little differently to my usual genre appreciation, being fundamentally opposed, even disturbed by the notion, as a viewer I find myself in a position of opposition. Not predisposition not to like revenge films at all mind, just more critical, more interested in the inner workings than surface stories. Savage thus is a film of some interest to me despite not being wholly successful, as it does quite admirab;y try to make an interesting point out of a decidedly conventional scenario. The story of Paul, a photographer of Dublin's seamy underbelly who gets brutally attacked, his descent and ultimate violence, it falls into the serious category of revenge film rather than that of redemptive myth, here revenge is not a means to restore order but atavistic hunger beyond justice. Territory travelled so many, many times that the challenge of any individual film is virtually desperate, to wrest some kind of insight, any worthy insight, out of the sheerly obvious. Savage actually does quite well, rather than a matter simply of descent into madness the focus is on the folly of masculinity in extremis, so focused on ultimately meaningless signifiers like hair, muscles and genitals, that the really important things, those that make someone not just striving towards Man but simply man, strong in heart mind as well as body, good and fulfilled. The opening scene neatly foreshadows this point, as Paul pursues sordid little detail for a photostory while missing wider events right around him, then while the film practically bellows its point from scene to scene the focus remains agreeably clear. A strong performance by one Darren Healy as Paul keeps things compelling rather than eye rolling, beginning a weak man with a measure of real underlying goodness, his halting progress through fear and anger, goodness seeping away as blindness enfolds, is handled with skill and actually slightly unsettling by the end. Decent shooting helps too, painting a world merely bleak during days, at night a restless hopeless underworld crawling with violence sometimes not even out of range of streetlights.

So plenty of good here, unfortunately this only has a real punch to it in the final ten minutes. By some combination of low budget and artistic intent the key early attack is much shied away from, minor face carving and POV shots of crashing feet and fists being about the extent of it. It's mean but it really feels too restrained, too coy for a film of serious, relevant intentions. And in the final block, fantasy taking over as confrontation draws imminent, things simply aren't stressful or twisted enough, there's some psychological suspense but not so much dramatic. The climactic nastiness is reasonably gruelling, but more and earlier really would have improved the overall effect. Still, this is noble stuff, an addition to a stuffed to bursting genre that might not have much worth beyond serious fans but is still worthy of not being forgotten. So don't run, but check it out I guess...

Thursday, 5 December 2013

High Lane (2009) Abel Ferry

Wow, just what you always wanted! An almost absolutely generic backwoods (or in this case mountains, same difference) horror in which the modicum of pulse raising tension created by the one genuinely fine set piece (bridge mishap!) is almost instantly dampened by a descent into the kind of fare that feels like you've seen it hundreds of times before even if its actually been under a dozen. And of course the characters aren't especially likeable or interesting (daredevil, timid, totty etc.), with the chief shot at context or history mostly an irrelevance. 

Basically there's little reason to watch this unless you happen to be an absolutely committed fan of backwoods horror and as such will take anything. Fortunately I am that committed, and presuming that the proverbial room has been cleared, onwards! This all takes place in a lovely setting, genuinely impressive early on and later at least pleasant. The pace is swift, getting stuck into the mountaineering pretty well immediately and skipping downtime between the two phases of the film, nor is there any let up in the latter. The menace is adequate, however unimaginative. I mean, no one wants pitfalls, spikes, man traps or a loon with a bow and arrow. There's a bit of bloodshed and even a wee sliver of atmosphere when it comes to the villains lair. And when it comes to the final scuffle things are shot to quite reasonable exciting effect, frenetic yet visually coherent and modestly satisfying. 

So it works, more or less. Trouble is that work more or less is all that it does, even for die hards like myself this is incredibly thin stuff. I'm no great stickler for originality, point or purpose in a mindless horror, but time and time again I've seen films able to be genuinely weird and surprising within generic constraints, or simply doing things with sufficient gusto to override their familiarity. Such is the case for about ninety percent of worthwhile vintage slashers instance, and this kind of modern backwoods stuff is a close cousin to that. So while I won't entirely dis-recommend this I really can't judge it any more than a bog average time waster that might appeal on a really slow spell. Take it if you must I guess... 

Summer's Blood (2009) Lee Demarbre

Ah, the curse of an inviting premise and an active imagination. See, when I read of a nutter kidnapping a girl to be part of his garden, I imagine upright burial in earth, rows of unfortunates dead and dying, pale faces gasping in hunger and smeared in dirt. You know, kinda Motel Hell style but meaner. Not just a girl chained up on top of, not even within, a gardening plot in a cellar. Massive let down really. 

This is basically just your average innocent trapped by psycho family fare. Moves along fairly effortlessly, quite nicely shot, with just a couple of tweaks. As main weirdo Tom, Peter Mooney is good value the young, handsome and charming sort of loon he does a solid, even somewhat creepy job, one imagines him a nice guy outside of being irreparably broken. His "normality" does well to drive the film just a little beyond its mediocre reaches, contrasting well with the more outlandish incest themes. Contrasting too with the other villains, with whom he also shares effective chemistry. Barbara Niven works well as equally broken but considerably more downtrodden and desperate mother Gaia, but the main draw is Stephen McHattie as vicious yet charismatic dad Gant, just a bucket of fun in the final block. Classing things up with his tough, cool approach yet simultaneously bringing everyone down by being a big old scumbag, a turn of wickedly entertaining vim. 

Unfortunately this is otherwise pretty average, seen it all before stuff. Rather little in the way of bloodshed, sleaze or driving nastiness, distinctly disappointing given that director Lee Demarbre made the rather satisfyingly grisly and unhinged HG Lewis homage Smash Cut in the same year. There were the germs of something really quite appealingly twisted here, Earth mother as fount of sickness, irresistible attractive forces of family and nature turned utterly to wrongness, but things never grow, it's quite a downer But worst of all is the never convincing or compelling Ashley Greene as the heroine. Nice looking young lady and I'm sure she's lovely in real life, but Bob bless her a good actress she is not. She clearly tries, kudos to her, but no. 

So what we're left with is a generally competent affair, better than it might have been and passably worthwhile to addicts like myself that just have to watch, but still average and a little disappointing. Better than a poke in the eye with a wet stick though... 

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Black Death (2010) Christopher Smith

One of the great adventures of contemporary cinema (as opposed to the relative assurance of the past) is tracking young directors. New voices, new visions, and whether they arrive fully formed or need time grow, take shape. Whether they do indeed grow, or are sustained or even decay. And the roads directors take, direct progression/regression or the more convoluted. Although accomplished from the start, Christopher Smith has taken rather the convoluted route by tackling several distinct subgenres, Black Death his most recent and it seems, the apex of his powers so far. Evoking Witchfinder General and at least one other classic Brit horror, though it pales by comparison it really shows a talent on the cusp of greatness. 

The story sees a young monk caught between religion and the world, who takes on a mission of escorting holy troops through treacherous territory to dark destination, a village exempt from the plague in which it is said God no longer reigns. In the best spirit though, the mission and destination reveal the underlying idea, society for all its contrasts permeated with rot and savagery. Religious isolation that controls rather than aids, and violence spread through the righteous, the lawless and the simply uneducated. Essentially a condition in which something as significant as plague is still just a catalyst. 

Unfortunately things don't come through quite as strongly as they should. Most have the easy chemistry of English veterans coming together (Tim McIninerny is particularly fun), while Dutch stunner Carice van Houten owns her evilly regal character. It's well paced and attractively shot too, moving nicely from damp and grim to light and alluring as events progress. But much of the potential blood, gore and general unpleasantness here is avoided, a move which one suspects was made to keep the audience from being distracted from the point by having fun but really comes across as squeamishness. To be fair, objectionable editing and speed cam are largely avoided, the grisliness is often just out of frame and there's a fair sprinkling of effective grue. But things are a little squeamish and offputting all the same. More troublesome though is the climax, which affords powerful turns to just two characters, largely abandoning the rest. The others may not have been key to the main drama, but their abandonment hurts the film as a whole, and the avoidance of most possible fireworks also dampens things. Then we get a coda which though smart in idea is sketchy and muddled in execution. All a bit of a bringdown from what is pretty striking for a good spell. 

But for the most part this is solid, thought provoking stuff, that it doesn't fully succeed is ultimately less important than its general qualities. So pretty well recommended dudes and dudettes. 

The Thaw (2002) Mark A. Lewis

Watching a film like The Thaw I get a small sadness that's different to the feeling I have of other generic fare. Big ideas here, the very future of the Earth, idealism carried beyond reason into calculated horror, the contrast of cold calculation with bloody reality and underlying all, two of the most momentous discoveries in the whole field of natural history. Big ideas but small, evasive and downright flawed execution. And there's the sadness, more than the endless iterations of nutbar with a knife, twisted family values, crazy crazy virus crazies or whatever, I come to this stuff to dream and here is dreaming denied. 

The beginning points to the rest here. The nature of the horror is made explicit within minutes, killing suspense and wonder, and by the end of the opening credits all has either been spoiled or over strongly pointed at. After this the construction becomes straightforward, but the course of things still inane. I've never been a science student, never gone on any exciting field trips in dangerous, unfamiliar territory, but I imagine that if we arrived at base camp to find no welcome nor even adequate power, we might be shocked and wary rather than just cranking up the generator and otherwise heading off to bed down or get amorous. And I think that if I had an insect bite that rapidly turned into a gruesome, unusual and painful sore I would get onto sorting it out pretty sharpish. I also think that if I found what seemed to be a well preserved specimen of a long extinct species with something clearly living inside it, I'd either be up and down whooping with amazement or at least jaw dropping dumbstruck. Furthermore, if I were a writer and I had established that two characters had a history, then that one gave the other an STD, I might actually do something with this point instead of making it and immediately dropping it. 

But setting aside what I might have done, essentially this is all worthy of something other than turning into a predictable riff on The Thing with incredible creature effects replaced by bugs. Not even weird looking bugs at that. Just regular old bugs. This disappointment aside though, these are an effective menace. Small, fast moving, swarming nicely when needed and always well realised on screen, they are about as cool as bugs can be. And they lead to nicely grody wound effects and vomiting. Combined with a fairly swift pace they make for pretty diverting fun in a vacant sort of way. The film is also crisply shot and appropriately lit, it all looks reasonably classy. Plus the acting is all at least competent, with an underused Val Kilmer a grizzled highlight. 

So overall this just about works on an entertainment front, despite shortcomings. Some gross goods and a few tense moments, just don't get suckered into expecting more. Partially recommended I suppose. 

Monday, 21 October 2013

Progeny (1998) Brian Yuzna

I can draw to mind scarce subjects more fitting for horror than pregnancy. New, pure life within world touched frame, unconditional love, human sharing a space with godhood for a spell. Joyous peak but daunting even at the best of times, and so a wealth of image and ideals ripe for perversion. There have been a few pregnancy horrors down the line, but since the success of Rosemary's Baby a majority concerned with the occult. Which makes some sense, it's almost a complete switcharoo. Me though, I just like science fiction a little more, which is why it pleases me that Progeny is a pretty creditable offering in this field. The story sees Craig and Sherry Burton conceiving after some effort, but soon things start to get a little unusual. See, they figure out the night they actually made it happen, and there's a two hour chunk missing that might have been more than just your run of the mill sex fugue... 

There are two drives here, one conventional and occupying around two thirds of the run time, the latter a little more creative. All the tropes are here, sinister puppeteering, suspicious authorities, weirdness escalating alongside paranoia and a general breakdown. Unfortunately the execution is somewhat rote rather than inspired, failing to maximise potential. A number of the scares are pat and predictable but worse, the film plays the physiological card early but then tries to maintain tension between reality and delusion anyway. Also, the script doesn't give its leads much of a chance to come across as loving and happy at the beginning, so the emotional descent is less pronounced and moving. Things do come together later on and rather improve with the addition of the idea of human intellect grappling with the incomprehensible, the films other drive carrying it through to the end. Depth is added, even dare I say it intelligence, but more importantly things build to a pleasurably tense albeit unlikely finale. But it doesn't fully satisfy, rather than properly entwining the two drives seem more to futilely pull against each other. 

Altogether this is a good watch though. Arnold Vosloo is convincingly edgy and rattled as Craig while Jillian McWhirter makes the best of her wild ride, the two take a little time to really gel together but when they do it makes for some tense viewing. Lindsay Crouse and Wilford Brimley provide effective support, but best is Brad Dourif as a sympathetic oddball, it's the kind of role he could do in his sleep but he brings an A game all the same. The pace is effortless, there's brief nudity, a bit of icky gore and high quality practical effects, particularly in a really pretty splendid nightmarish reveal (Screaming Mad George had a hand), although the computer assisted stuff looks a tad cheesy. So if you enjoy the pregnancy horror subgenre there's no reason not to watch this, even if you find it imperfect as I did you're sure to have something to chew over. Go check it out! 

Mulberry Street (2006) Jim Mickle

The convergence of human and rat is a rather excellent concept that occasionally pops up in genre cinema and literature, and should do more. People don't tend to like to think of themselves analogous to rodents, flea ridden agent of pestilence and biteyness isn't a common aspiration in the same way as bears or sharks or wolverines. But low bound human kind, trapped in cramped, dirty, twisted sprawl, co existing in cities with those of a whole different world, different living in almost every way, well there's something there. Mulberry Street is at its best building this impression, shot close and cluttered, all about sweat and dirt, pores and cracks and hair. A sense of place that comes less from grand establishing shots than a flow and cumulation of images. And people going about their business even as weirdness trickles in and new reports grow ever more sinister, as if not so much deliberately forcing the outside away but simply living apart. There's outright commentary here, after opening shots of rats we see the Statue of Liberty, a little later a public sculpture (one can only hope it is stainless steel) of a rat is glimpsed, the neighbourhood is being redeveloped and some white collar type smiles from posters. One character is a bedridden World War II veteran, another is returning home from her present service. It's not exactly subtle or creative but it complements the mood rather than being forced enough to spoil it. 

As is perhaps inevitable, things go a bit downhill when the excitement really kicks in. The action is shot in the fast and frenzied post 28 Days Later style, ridding the film of much in the way of actual gore or nastiness but even worse, obscuring the mutant effects to the extent that they could almost not even have been there. There are a few appropriately ratty shots and the first attack is quality fun, but in general this is rather more akin to the average infected "zombie" style. A couple of good jolts and a rather bleak tone building to a solid finale, but mostly generic. Solid performances and the tightness of it all keep things relatively compelling though, with Nick Damici deserving of credit for wresting what could have been the most generic of hero by default characters into reasonably affecting territory. So it all comes across a respectable good time, it probably won't set anyone on fire but good stuff for a slow night. 

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Dark Echo (1977) George Robotham

The lone directorial opus of long time stuntman and uncredited walk on player George Robotham, also his only foray into writing and production, Dark Echo is one of those films generally interesting less for what it does but how it does it. The plot is simple but alluring stuff, a picturesque lakeside town is menaced by a bedraggled ghoul, the rather awesomely named Captain Gohr (that's Captain Manfred Gohr!) who has returned after a hundred years to kill the descendants of those who blamed him for a tragic boat wreck. After several deaths, a suave psychic is brought in to investigate, and investigate he does. This is almost all that happens. Where much European horror of the time would have ladled on gore and nudity into a leery gaze at the fractured and secretive realm of small town living, perhaps taking pot shots at war, religion, capitalism or the nuclear family, this opts for an approach rather like that of a 50's monster film. Mature, imaginatively open people pursue a mysterious beast that is known to the audience from the outset, there's a progression of scares into a big shock that establishes the climax, young hedonists are around to drum up the teens who neck at the drive in crowd but ultimately prove their real worth. The monster signifies itself alone (there's a message about vanity but it's hardly sophisticated or insightful), the dangers are simple and direct, no status quo is overthrown. Even the aspects that do seem up to date (nudity from the aforementioned hedonistic youths, the stand out gore gag) don't stick out but appear simply as part of a refined template. It even stays true to the notable flaw of older films with an ending that is somewhat pat and predictable after what has come before, although the revelation of Gohr as a rather good menacingly decrepit and ghastly being impresses more than expected. 

The main difference is that the svelte, usually under 80 minute run times of older fare were no longer so popular, so Dark Echo gives us plenty of filler, what might have been passably exciting at 75 minutes is more of a charming amble at 91. There's a distinct travelogue vibe as our hero is first seen skiing, then is roused from his poolside relaxation, gets to hang out at a local bar where he teaches the keep how to mix a martini, sees local spots of interest and generally lightly takes in the colour without getting too stressed out about the mounting body count. Some may be put off by all this but it actually makes for a rather nice atmosphere, what with a castle, church and its yard with curious triangle headed graves, an ossuary and generally pleasing architecture and furnishings. Plus the cast is generally attractive and charismatic (especially Karin Dor) and there's a pretty spiffing elderly witch with a pet raven. It overall comes across as a curious, eager but inexperienced and stumbling thing, succeeding more often than not but less through skill than commitment. If this were gorier it could have been pretty great instead of an obscurity that only had like, three home video releases before resurfacing in the internet era, but it does alright for what it is. Not something to pursue unless you have to then, but for those who do it ain't too shabby. 

Monday, 9 September 2013

Dr Hackenstein (1988) Richard Clark

With the exception of the more offbeat, tasteless and splattery, I'm not a great fan of horror comedy. Sure, the two are just opposite ends of the same snake, they should work so well together, but somehow I find much horror comedy has the two ends going in opposite directions instead of feeding off of each other. So I wasn't exactly well primed to watch Dr. Hackenstein but I settled down to it all the same. Mostly for the name. Just can't resist a name like Dr. Hackenstein. And really, neither can you. Most of you aren't even reading this right now because you just opened another tab to go load the movie up on Youtube. I could spend the rest of this review besmirching your saintly mothers and virtuous maiden aunts and you'd be none the wiser. I won't though because I'm a mature adult, ass dick titty poop. 

Anyhoo, this isn't much to write home about. A couple of hot bitch sisters, their annoying ass whiny creepo little brother and cute nice girl cousin crash their car and wind up at the house of the titular doc. He just so happens to need a sets of limbs, as his wife has been reduced to a severed head and is none too pleased about the state of affairs, communicating through telepathy. Fun fact, severed heads are capable of developing awesome telepathic and telekinetic powers, as their functions are unimpeded by the needs of the body. Unfortunately they still need the whole support structure of heart and lungs so few remain alive long enough to develop such powers. But back to the film. From the outset, this is remarkably sane and competent for something distributed by Troma. The story, the structure, the humour, all very conventional, the acting mostly restrained, production values fair and direction and editing all up to snuff by "normal" standards. This is good in some ways, giving the film an innately easy watchability. But without any intrinsic weirdness to go on the requirements are a good deal higher for the rest of the film to impress. 

There's some good stuff here, but not enough and some judicious pruning would have helped to make it stand out more. The title role is charmingly essayed by one David Muir, with the right weird enthusiasm and undercurrent of menace. He seems like he probobly had the chops to be a fair b horror player but his only other role outside of television was in Neon Maniacs (which I've not seen). The three girls are attractive and likeable enough to watch, with the lead played by Stacy Travis, who went on to star in Richard Stanley's classic Hardware. There are a couple of kooky old graverobbers played by Anne and Logan Ramsey, they bring the frankly dim material alive by playing it like second nature and seeming to have a good time, the same goes for a short appearance from Phylis Diller as an irascible biddy. The house in which most of the film takes place is a sturdily imposing place, and the laboratory well kitted out with pipes, bottles, tubing and frothing colourful fluids. There's brief nudity (including corpse boobs, nobody doesn't like corpse boobs) and what effects shots are there (too few really) are actually pretty well handled. And there's an interesting if not especially original detour into dark poignancy in the climax. But at the same time there's too much walking, driving, sitting and staring. Lots of dead space and not really the good kind. And some mostly unfunny deaf mute housekeeper humour. The sort of thing that's only funny when pushed to ludicrous extremes, which here it is not. So I guess this is kinda dull in spells. Not quite enough to get truly tedious, but definitely dull. Still, you could do a hell of a lot worse on a slow evening. Watch if you must, I guess. 

Leptirica (1973) Djordje Kadijevic

I'm most fond of delving into the output of countries less well represented in the international community of fear, I find sometimes a most pleasant dislocation even before approaching the nuts and bolts of story and scares. But alas, sometimes I find myself caught out as a less than ideal audience, or even just straight up disappointed. Such is the case here, with apparently Yugoslavia's first ever horror film. Leptirica to be fair starts rather well, an old miller sleeps for the night as the wheels turn, but soon eyes rise from the dark. Long, hairy fingers, fearsome fangs, attack and bloodied neck in flour. It's a fine scene in the vampire as monstrosity tradition, and an ideal set up. Who will step up to the job, face the beast and provide a small village with their vital flour? Why, it's the sort of endeavour that could make a hero of a poor young man and win him the dainty hand of the local rich man's daughter! 

Things do not go as you might expect. While some kudos are I suppose merited for a film avoiding the traditional structure of such a tale, Leptirica fails to replace it with something more interesting. There's a first night for young hero, Strahinja, who survives the ghoul and is hailed by the villagers, but rather than continue his job and thus have the film space out portions of fear, most time is spent with the local council, a gathering of witless capering drunks whose behaviour does little to compel or amuse. So the plot moves too slowly for a film of a mere 63 minutes, and there's unfortunate near dead time. Strahinja remains a colorless, vaguely unlikeable figure throughout, and the human antagonist, rich man Zivan, is similarly uninspiring. The only tension really comes from daughter Radojka, an ethereal lady of long fair hair and subtle but definite air of the sensually ominous, her presence captivates, her scenes drawing the interest through to the end. The end returns to the promise of the opening, a mad whirling and fairly unsettling affair, the lack of explanation leaves things a little open to interpretation but the visceral effects satisfy. Too little too late though. 

This did fulfil my basic desire to spend time in a place almost entirely unknown to me, but without much in the way of an effective horror experience I can't say as it was all that good of a time. I suspect older Serbs and those in general more familiar with the source literature and culture may still be impressed by this, but I am not they. Still worth investigating for horror historians and perhaps for those that just plain like to watch obscurities, but expectations are best kept low and the latter group should probably just skip to director Djordje Kadijevic's later, superior and more obscure piece Sveto Mesto. Toodles! 

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

The Newlydeads (1987) Joseph Merhi

One way I almost always know a film will be a good time is by an opening driving sequence. From Manos to The Shining and all sorts in between, opening driving sequences are sure signs of quality entertainment. The Newlydeads opens promisingly with road, rain, radio, vamp red nails on steering wheel, otherwise unseen driver. Then the driver arrives at a lodge and swiftly succumbs to the advances of the sleazy manager. But wait a second, this is no lady! Scuffle scuffle, bish bash bosh and a corkscrew to the bonce. Cut to 15 years later. 

The essential set up screams out for a good cheesy slasher (murderous zombie drag queen is a hell of a hook), but the execution is confused at best. A small array of doltish death fodder is roughly established, often with hooks for us to want to see them die like pickled prick of a preacher, charmingly deaf elderly couple and such, but outside of one classically styled double murder there's actually little in the expected line and a good handful of the cast have little to no bearing on the plot despite their screen time. Jackie, for that is the name of our mouldering evil-doer seems at first to want to ruin her killer's business and marriage by popping up at inopportune moments and offing his guests, but then it seems that she actually wants him. I'm sure it's not entirely unknown for a head stabbing to light the torch d'amour, but in this case I'm just going to go with it not making sense. It's also unclear whether Jackie is supposed to be more of a visceral undead slayer or powerful supernatural being, both possibilities being touched on. Then there's an action that by any logical plot progression would be climactic but instead takes place with relatively little fanfare some half hour before the end, and a death which should be pivotal or at the very least emotional but is only noticed after the fact, and then immediately glossed over. And naturally, the ending is abrupt, bizarre, inappropriate and lacking in actual closure. 

As you might have guessed, this one is pretty much garbage. But it's the good kind of garbage, fast paced, lively and reasonably short with the end credits coming in around 76 minutes. There's a spot of nudity, a bit of gore, the zombie makeup is suitably grody as far as paste and paint jobs go, the final block is good fun and the whole is consistently stupid while just about keeping the right side of obnoxious. Worth a watch if you're a fiend like me with low low standards. Maybe. 

Freeway Maniac (1989) Paul Winters

Ah late 80's slashers, the glorious bottomless pit of inanity, where the serious is often hilarious and the humorous tortuous. Where sincerity is an accomplishment in itself and actual accomplishment is strictly a fringe benefit. The broad streak of what appears to be intentional comedy in Freeway Maniac should be its downfall, but its hard to dislike such an ungainly shambles of a thing, powered with distinct idiot verve. 

Things get off to a double classic start. First a short few moments of anonymous driving footage. Who is in the car? Who knows? Where is it going? See above. I'm not sure it ever even turns up again actually. But since much of the film is about driving lets just call it atmospheric foreshadowing. Then things switch to crudely enthusiastic kitchen sex, interrupted by stalker POV shots and stabbing. No impact shots, just the blade going up and down and getting a bit of red on it. The man of the scene seems to quite clearly have been stabbed in the back, yet he falls over clutching his stomach and his back is entirely unharmed. Good times... 

Expected things follow. Stabby child has grown up to be a savage hulking lunatic named Arthur. Breaks out of an asylum through the miracle of astoundingly lax security measures, leaves a trail of corpses. Meanwhile pretty young model/actress Linda is having a bad day. Her partner is a cheat, her car breaks down and she gets menaced by gas station sleazoids. Fortunately Arthur turns up to deliver from peril. Unfortunately he also wants to deliver her from life (or something) since she apparently resembles his dear mama. He gets sent back to the funny farm, and expected things happen again. And half the movie is yet to come.... 

To be honest there really isn't too much good here. Arthur is an imposing specimen and he kills loads of people (also at one point he eats a snake and howls like a coyote, that was fun), but since there's no real gore, only a little blood and barely even any impact shots, only a handful are especially effective. Being a big guy and prone to fighting and bludgeoning rather than hacking and stabbing, there's a somewhat pleasing rough and tumble brio to Arthur's attacks, but the choreography is pretty amateurish. The film seems to vaguely posit him as anti hero tireless overcoming obstacles in his quest, but forgets to make him very funny or interesting. Only the briefest of nudity, no suspense and worst of all perhaps, the execution is mostly low level incompetence rather than joyous insanity. But it bustles along nicely. I was rarely bored, there's an ever faintly glowing core of offbeat energy. I even laughed out loud a few times. I've not gone too much into the films specific good bits because if you're like me and you just have to watch films like this, the good bits are better left as a surprise. But I definitely thought there were a few good bits. Actually, I think I can probably mention that Robby Krieger was responsible for the soundtrack and that it kinda rocks. So there's that. Anyways, you probably shouldn't bother with this one unless you feel like you have to, but if you do have to it won't have you breaking out the eye chisel or anything. Watchable crap/score. 

Sunday, 19 May 2013

The Territory (1981) Raoul Ruiz

A small group of wanderers find themselves lost in wilderness, and as time draws on become increasingly, violently unbound from the conventions and sanities of everyday society. It's a classic stock narrative of horror and prosaic drama alike, something that by now holds only a little interest. Happily The Territory is less concerned with grubby inhumanity nor grim adversity that drives it, but headspace. The action of mind, how it churns in isolation and the quirks and follies that spring, this is the concern, while the events may have parallels in reportage and history, may be considered a microcosm of societies at large, the concern is focused on the small.

So we see the urge to collect, to classify. Lists, numbers, repetition, order, theory and prediction. This urge, these expressions and their opposition, the playful, the absurd, the truly questioning that seeks beyond. Not unfamiliar stuff, but the loose, weird approach works very well. The notion of wilderness itself is important, compare with other films of like interest. Mind portrayed as virtually limitless wilderness, ever shifting and dotted with the inexplicable, captures something both more hopeful and more daunting than the similar horror of dark houses or sprawling hotels with characters digging in. Under roof one might be trapped but can still adjust, can make ones cosy nook, in wilderness one might ever roam, have ever the possibility of escape but never quite be safe. The execution is top notch, vivid photography and lighting bringing many pleasures. Red-orange sky like something apocalyptic, a coat of wintry snow, camera pulling slowly out into water, reflection of land giving way to clear and a few dead animals floating. A quite remarkable sequence as one man strides straight and boldly to find a way out, only for the very image to shift and blur out of focus into mocking unreality. And more of course, more weirdness and some violence besides.

There are a few of the flaws one almost expects from such a work, it is unfortunate to note. Moments of stiff acting and stilted dialogue, characters that maintain a sort of intellectual distance from the viewer where at times they should simply grip, some mis-calculations, abrupt ending. While it does work as a genre film it is art film at heart and at some points it is hard not to wish for a gnarlier punch. But whatever it's still pretty great, and if you've gotten here without skipping to the end you might like it as well. So, you know, go watch...

The Woman With Red Hair (1979) Tatsumi Kumashiro

Bound in the conventions of a Nikkatsu picture but straining with a little art and fire to grasp something beyond, firmer and more meaningful, The Woman With Red Hair manages to be a quite reasonable watch while not altogether an especially compelling one. It begins striking, the fine titular female walking lone down the highway, shortly before a couple of thuggish labourers Kozo and Takao rape their bosses daughter under a pier. Driving home the woman with red hair hitches a ride, later entering a relationship with Kozo. Takao meanwhile grapples with the aftermath of his earlier relations, the possibility that he may now be a father. As with his earlier film Black Rose Ascension, director Tatsumi Kumashiro shows a talent for marginal society. Tough, crude men toiling to no discernable great end and hoping only for the prospect of more work, unable to relate to others in any other than brutal terms, oppressed without mercy by rain. They are trapped in their world, escape is futile, and the woman with red hair finds the same, she has sought to escape some kind of abusive partner, shadows of drug addiction, yet finds the same recurs.

This should be a powerful, emotive tale of rough passions boiling in claustrophobia, spitting and streaming over into savagery, but while the intense atmosphere is quite well sustained it does little to escalate and so becomes more wearying than gripping. There's a lot of sex, suitably joyless with breasts shots enough and skillfully shot to avoid the need for optical blurring, it no doubt suggests a certain intentional sobriety of approach while fulfilling the needs of the studio. But after a while the scenes exhaust what they have to say about the couple, and after that exhaust their own lack of meaning. The same is true for the dialogue, its banality stales not long after its purpose is clear. And worse, when events finally descend we get kid gloves rather than furious pummeling.

Still the cast at least draw things out nicely. gorgeous genre regular Junko Miyashita handles the title role, high strung and burning, yearning, hungry yet sad within. Frequently shrill yet she works rather well, for the character is without artifice, her fires are from her alone. Renjo Ishibashi is equally good as Kozo, in a somewhat more difficult role, his character truly isn't very likeable and yet he suggests with skill his irresistible drives and conflicting internal shifts. Kai Ato supports nicely albeit with considerably less screen time and hence reduced impact as Takao, something of a mirror image to Kozo, while the rest are decent enough.

In all, this is somewhat interesting but a little difficult to really recommend outside of serious genre enthusiasts and those with a deeper knowledge of Japanese culture and society. Without full on sleazy kicks or deep insights it's a smart but slight affair that rather tails off, by no means a "bad" film but not something impressive or all that memorable. Not one to get excited about hunting down then.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

La Traque (1975) Serge Leroy

From an era of many a grim, classy thriller edging on exploitation, prefiguring survival horrors of today, La Traque has sadly fallen into obscurity. A great shame, though it falls short of the likes of Chabrol its still a damn fine Gallic entry, well worthy of dicovery. Eurocult notable Mimsy Farmer stars as a teacher from England come to work in France, renting a weekend house on a beautiful rural estate. She runs afoul of two drunken members of a hunting party (tastefully restrained but still somewhat powerful rape scene), but worse comes in the aftermath of the vile deed and she becomes the quarry of the day...

Now sadly this aftermath is what hold the film from greatness, imprecisely staged and shot it makes something of a grey area of what should be a complex but clear pivotal moment, contrasting uneasily with the clarity of the rest of the film. It echoes some way through the duration, rather distracting from what is otherwise an assured escalation of events, harder to be engaged in mounting suspense when the trigger poses undue questions. But by the by events fully grip again, building to an inevitable yet still devastating climax. The films notion of the varied strata of the Frencyh hunting classes riddled with flaws from social to the outright criminal and in these flaws inextricably bound is something of a bourgeois baiting cliche, but instead of absurdity or simplistic provocation La Traque thrives on humanity. The majority of the characters may not be good people but they are people, shaded and subtly played not caricatures of seething evil within respectability. Their pasts are pasts, they don't crystalise to monsters in the situation but generally hold back at every step, drawn horribly further by every mistake and every single moment by which they don't turn back. Skilled, potent stuff, backed up by superb cinematography, crisp, clear and bleak. The locations are gorgeous but damp, chill (off season) and as the film goes on seem to grow ever more forbidding along with the plot. Little more to say, though I suppose animal lovers should be warned of a couple of scenes of hunting related violence. And though the film has aspects in common with exploitation such viewers should be warned there is little violence and almost no blood. But as intense and thought provoking rural thrillers go this is close to front of the pack with a close that'll rock your socks off, highly recommended. 

Blackout (1978) Eddy Matalon

Blackout begins with criss-cross of power lines, then a traffic report with striking view of New York, glum magnificence of soaring buildings, grey sky and mist. View soon moves below to the hustle bustle of the streets, traffic and noise and rush and crime, and then to varied appartment block dwellers and their doings, a Greco-Jewish wedding, magician and his beloved pooch, kids, the elderly, the whole spectrum. But weaving through this slice of life a police transport carries some decidedly scurvy knaves, and soon things will never be the same...

It's a leisurely, smartly handled opening, dotting lightly between characters in such a way as to establish multiple threads of interest in the shortest possible time, but also building atmosphere of small crouched fragile within great, disorder lying gnarled just beneath the surface, realistic tension of city living. So when power fails, and things start to go awry there's real tension, and the film maintains higher speeds throughout, having banked plenty of steam. As far as lesser known late 70's urban thrillers go, this isn't as grotty or shocking as one perhaps might hope, but with a most able cast it makes a pretty excellent ride. Jim Mitchum makes a credible hero by not straining at heroism, his cop protagonist is just a good commited guy doing his job, no daredevil or tough guy. The baddies are the real winners though, one Don Granberry (also seen in the excellent Death Weekend) as a hyperactive, visibly, bracingly unstable pyromaniac, Terry Haig (appeared in The Pyx and Ilsa the Tigress of Siberia) as a slick but suddenly vicious rapist, one time player Victor B. Hall as (mostly) mute brute Marcus and best of all Robert Carradine as lead villain Christie, arrogance underpinned by callous intelligence and random mean streak. They have good chemistry and make for a few jolting moments (one is especially mean spirited), especially towards the end. Supporting cast is good too, especially from Ray Milland as the building owner who goes from merely grouchy to downright pissed and scowling like a champ as things go from bad to worse.

The drive of the film is pretty relentless once it gets going, while there is some downtime and levity there's no real ease and any smiles are crooked. There are a few unbelievable moments that belie its gritty attitude, and one or two spots where the intensity could have been punched up a little, but otherwise this is an exciting, high quality film of its type, well recommended.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Full Circle (1977) Richard Loncraine

Something of a cult notable but rarely aired on the box and seemingly unavailable on DVD, Full Circle (aka. The Haunting of Julia) sits firmly in the land of the flawed gem. An adaptation of a novel by Peter Straub (called Julia, I've not read it) it has some troubles typical of horror adapted from literature, and possibly marks of production woes too. Characters and their relationships which might in a novel be well delineated, deeply if not clearly considered and wrought, here are somewhat more sketchy, and one subplot is allowed to drop without impact. Also, more is said than shown of the stories horror, an approach which feels at times more TV theatre than cinematic. Now in context there's useful purpose. The focus is tightly on Julia, after the tragic death of her daughter (the days before everyone was taught the Heimlich) seeking to start new life alone, away from her interfering husband. That other characters have bare looks in, that we see them entirely in relation to her says much for her isolation. And the use of exposition over flashbacks, tense, frightened faces, quavering voices, sinister underswells in the delivery, draws out of the supernatural aspects the comfort of the concrete, one is never too far from the thought that poor Julia is simply delusional, caught up in the fancies of others, spinning from what meagre material she finds a web all the more dangerous for being insubstantial. Well maintained but precarious, patchy. There's a lot of potential for serious study here that goes wasting, guilt, paranoia, oppressions of family living, persistence of evil and cold calculations of darkness, while generally speaking brevity is a boon to this sort of genre cinema here an expanded treatment would be ideal, and for the characters, the straightforward drama too.

Luckily Mia Farrow's central performance is excellent, porcelain beauty that seems to silent speak of inner cold, hurt emptiness, bewildered longing. She holds everything together with clammy compulsion and quiet moments of deep sadness, in fact her turn is one of the few such that actually moved me somewhat. Tom Conti provides good support and contrast as an affable, concerned friend, though Keir Dullea is a tad wasted as the low key antagonist husband The scare scenes are often rather fine too, simple stuff but intense and unnverving (there's one pretty sweet jump scare here), building to a powerful climax. So it all works, even if it could have been... more. Strong 7/10 I guess.

Something Creeping In The Dark (1971) Mario Colucci

Dwelling in the strangelands of mingled giallo and supernatural, Something Creeping in the Dark may not rise to obscure gem status but is definitely worth more interest than it currently claims, and much deserving of remastered DVD release rather than its current availability through bootlegs or the internet. An assembly of strangers seek refuge from a storm in a mysterious house, well to do squabbling married couple (genre veteran Giacomo Rossi-Stuart and Lucia Bose of surrealist classic Arcana), doctor and his comely nurse, killer (handsome devil Farley Granger rocking a leather jacket) and the two detectives in charge of bringing him in. Piqued by the story of the houses former owner they perform a seance, and when this is interrupted the night commences to go rather awry...

Writer/director Mario Colucci wisely keeps this one offbeat and mostly on the down low, revelling in location and mood rather than action. The approach does wear a bit thin by the end but the first two thirds are so are fine stuff. The house is a treat of elegant oddity, luxurious red drapes, exotic gew-gaws spread about the walls, a strange abundance of clocks, and the direction, editing and score do it its due, the long, slow fluid camera, the rhythms of zoom and cutting, subdued yet richly ominous score all coming together with house for evocative near perfection of long uneasy night in strange place, fascinating frozen time and ambiguity.

Things perhaps are a little too oblique, while the characters are of interest little is known about any so their relationships and interactions are a little lacking in suspense and ultimate impact. There are a number of scenes of swift, jolting violence but nothing graphic, and the film has little blood and no gore to speak of. Nudity is also limited to one character, and though all this is in keeping with the films leaning towards earlier psychedelic/Pop Art inspired genre outings like The Witch in Love or Femina Ridens, the carnal tanglings and sinister mood really needed a less restrained expression. The end is a disappointment too, an abrupt, predictable gotcha of a thing that would pass muster in a short film but not after nearly ninety minutes. But this is still good stuff on the whole for the old fashioned, but European minded not starched. Suited perhaps best to late Friday nights sipping wine, from me then a 7/10.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Mongrel (1982) Robert A Burns

I feel sorry for anyone who rented the Paragon tape of this back in the day, invited by its snarling Cerberus that appears in no way, shape nor film during the actual film. And I feel sorry too for those closer to now who noted written/directed by Robert A Burns and thought it might reflect something of his genius for art direction as seen in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (or, erm... Don't Go Near The Park), or his acting prowess of Confessions of a Serial Killer. Alas, cry nay!, the most distinctive furnishing of the boardinghouse on which Mongrel focuses is a Deep Throat pinball machine, and the acting is just competent. In fact the only people liable not to be disappointed by this are those already steeled by the drudging disappointment of what seem to be the majority of reviews out there. Having read up before hand I expected nothing and hence was actually somewhat pleasantly surprised. For most of the runtime a slow, meagre thing, it nonetheless manages a certain dull, vacant watchability. Of the two key events that drive the plotting one occurs after the twenty minute mark and the other after the thirty, with little in the way of exploration of either character or location beforehand to make the wait especially worthwhile. Yet there's some tension to the set-up, nice guy Ken arrives at a boardinghouse of stereotypical boardinghouse tenants (oddballs, ass-holes, good guy, nervous guy, nice girl and hippy lady), and immediately grates, while there are no substantial sign-posts to indicate where the story is heading. Things are slow even when the story does get moving, some ten minutes odd could have been shaved to good effect on the films interest level. But things never quite drop from dull into boring, and when the film really breaks a sweat in the final twenty minutes or so it's agreeably offbeat stuff, mildly intense, a little unsettling, a satisfying capper. No gore to speak of and only a bit of blood, it still works quite well. X-Files fans may be amused to note that Mitch "Skinner" Pileggi makes his debut here as the ass hole of the film (and is effectively repellent) and classic film fans may chuckle at a boisterous cameo from Aldo Ray, who presumably palled up with Burns while appearing in the aforementioned Don't Go Near The Park. No one else really stands out, though no one is too notably bad. Altogether there aren't many likely to have much time for this, it's really just a film for obscurity fiends. But with an interesting atmosphere and decent finale its about worth the effort, so reasonable kudos from me.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Bloodmoon (1990) Alec Mills

One of the less feted slashers to still earn a release on a non poundstore/fly-by-night DVD label, Bloodmoon is generally taken as proof positive that the slasher genre had well mouldered away its last worth by the late 80's, and that Australians were never good at making them anyway. Apparently their older effort Nightmare is actually quite a solid giggle but I haven't seen it yet. Easy to see why Bloodmoon gets little love, it's a copiously flawed work, yet I found it difficult to really dislike. Problems first, starting with plot which is sloppily worked out with several fudged motivations and a lack of clear central protagonist. In the first half hour a teen rivalry subplot weighs heavy, but that dissolves completely into cheesy romance, which is then largely set aside for luridly schlocky soap operatics. Of course murder is bubbling away at the heart of it all and things catch alight sometime in the second half with a turn into suspense shocker, but even as things come to a head the impression remains of two fairly distinct scripts hastily pasted together. Along with plot deficiencies the kills mostly aren't up to much, poised without much suspense, staged with little skill and perhaps worst of all displayed with little grue. There's some blood and a couple of nice after the fact body shots, but given that the killer's weapon of choice is a loop of barbed wire for garroting purposes the general absence of rent flesh and gushing red is coming on tragic. And adding to the malaise is an unmemorable score from the usually reliable Brian May (not to be confused with the shaggy haired Brit astrophysicist), spiced up with a couple of typical for the era wuss rock tunes which are really no match for the butt rock of its genre contemporaries.

But for all this, a good time for me. The younger cast members cast are bright and enthusiastic, performing without guile and selling the material with charm. There are a number of attractive girls and a bit of nudity, but in a nice departure it feels innocent and fun rather than sleazy and deliberate (even if it was indeed sleazy and deliberate, which I suspect was the intention). The older members do well too, especially a creepy, toadishly pathetic Leon Lissek as a cuckolded teacher and Christine Amor a delight as his ice bitch wife. The locations are pleasing and the direction randomly atmospheric, one of the kills is surprisingly vicious and others achieve in random shots a certain offbeat charm. And due to the well stuffed plotting there's always something to entertain going on even if it is decidedly inane. So I rather enjoyed it all and was never bored. Not a film I'd ever recommend as "good", but worth a watch for bad slasher junkies.

Blood Frenzy (1987) Hal Freeman

Ah, now this is the good stuff. In one of those wacky japes the like of which I really hope were never actually sanctioned by the APA, a therapist takes six patients off for an intensive desert retreat, at which exactly what you expect happens. If Blood Frenzy were less entertaining I'd be pretty ill disposed towards the way it treats as normal some of the more reprehensible myths about mental health professionals and their patients, that the former are well meaning but easily deluded and somewhat nitwitted and the latter often have little more than standard social dysfunctions and readily experience cathartic breakthroughs, but since its kinda awesome as far as no budget late 80's slashers go I thought it forgiveable.

Simple fare for the most part, writer/director Hal Freeman (better known as a pornographer and centre of the vital court case of that culture) avoids the sap and psychodrama or multiplous red-herrings that one might expect from the situation. The writing is rather fun and snappy, carving out somewhat agreeable characters from clay stereotype, with a good dose of enthusiastically delivered profanity (Pussy-bumper!). Pacing is well measured for the small cast, with death and excitement portioned nicely for suspense purposes, events building to a rather fine over the top and twisted finale that would be more at home in some of the genre classics of several years previous. Although the kills don't have much in the way of variety or invention they are mean and bloody, even mustering a small measure of style and eerieness. More nudity than just the one short occasion would have been most welcome, in keeping with the generally sleazy vibe but you can't have everything. The cast make up in enthusiasm what they lack in talent with one John Clark amusing as the sort of chauvinist who would usually be merely insufferable, and its nice to see Lisa Loring, who followed this up with the crap but fun ski themed Iced the next year. There's some awkward editing and the desert setting is rarely put to all that much atmospheric effect (though this is partly down to the problem that the majority of available prints of this seem decayed), but there are one or two good shots, and while the score passed from my mind almost as soon as the credits rolled there is nice use of a nursery rhyme. So altogether a winner and well worth a watch for fans of the era and style.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Love - Zero = Infinity (1994) Hiseyasu Sato

It's said that after first editing this ran around ninety minutes in length, cleary a flagrant tax on audience expectations and severe breach of producer guidelines. So a third was snipped away, leaving problems for film and viewer. What point is any vision print on screen if so compromised? And how do we viewers judge or trust our judgement from such compromise. Impossible conundrum perhaps, but still more entertaining than my standard Saturday afternoons drinking tea and scratching my balls.

Actually a good half of this is very good indeed. Instead of the usual Sato ouroboros of deviance working towards apocalypse, rather moving stuff, characters kind, actually helping each other. The lead, a voyeur with a mission of care and knowing, his employer whose self interest is equalled by compassion, a killer with love and insight to impart, and junkyard freakoids with interest favorable as much as self directed. Dialogues are involved and interesting, and a meeting over coffee has a real sense of beautiful tragedy rare for the director. Unfortunately everything gets fragmented as the film goes on, its quite clear that entire scenes are missing and the plot turns to sketchy remnants. There aren't even many extraneously extended scenes or masturbation, but still a feeling of truncation. So the opportunity is lost for real exploration of AIDS paranoia and drug warping that might truly have taken this beyond a typical Sato joint, a great shame given the potential of the emotional connections.

But what's there first half to second is still full of joy enough to make the film a winner, all the usual tropes plus a plenitude of cool sunglass reflections, and added to the usual penis substitutes is a delightful syringe ejaculation. The somewhat central blood draining steroid addict is a terrifc figure, black coat and glasses, still and composed amid endless crossroads traffic, sped up in one of the rare useful and interesting occasions of that usually so empty, predictable effect (the first time I've seen it used by Sato). Also of the sex one scene has a couple getting lubed up and glistening, doing it on a plastic sheeted bed. I love the look of lubricant and I like to see a couple glisten as they f#ck so it got past my usual boredom at such vanilla scenes. And despite the lack of context the ending is heart choking stuff. So altogether this may be Satophile only stuff, but in that way still rather recommended.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Naked Blood (1995) Hiseyasu Sato

By quite a ways the best known film from Hiseyasu Sato (a bucket or two of the good old claret will do wonders for your distribution!), Naked Blood sees him on decent albeit by this point slightly unsurprising form. The most striking difference to his earlier work is that Naked Blood isn't really a pink film, there's an important sex scene and some nudity, but the focus has departed from the carnal. In this vein is the other change, the film concerned almost as much with innocent (relatively speaking) victims as the warped guilty. But otherwise the expected is all there, ills in heredity here rather smartly detailed, progress for all it's lofty goals just a catalyst for flesh obsession, and of course isolation and voyeurism with a rooftop, camera and binoculars getting a look in.

With no random detours into sleaze to keep the producers happy Naked Blood is pretty slow and measured stuff, only really sparking in the final block which earned it it's sterling reputation even among the less devoted to the strange. But the plot and characters are compelling, even indefinably moving, and slants of outright science fiction are fresh and interesting. Sato gets ever closer to the apocalypse hinted in the like of Brain Sex, but with warmer, almost tender touch, the maturity of someone finally knowing to get their hands dirty. He engages more with his subject rather than spying, progress of sorts, but here lies the problem with the film. It's a simple engagement, he never fully gets inside the story and characters, never properly guts, skins and pins. Instead of revealing whole new aspects of his obsessions he just fractionally advances their study. It's frustrating because there's so much potential here and Sato has trod such material before (Naked Blood being a reworking of his earlier film Pleasure Kill which I have not seen but is apparently superior), I suppose it clarifies his limitations.

Still, taken individually as an art shock piece Naked Blood is well worthy of consideration. It avoids the general pitfalls of emotional drudgery, static shots and overdriven pseudo intellectualism, and its symbolism is neither forced nor over-obscure, it coheres on a narrative level with little dubious ambiguity. And importantly its gruesome scenes are well handled and thoroughly twisted without obvious contrivance a far cry from the sorts of films that treat educated audiences as fools to be shocked from complacency. So my misgivings granted, still recommended.