Sunday, 30 November 2014

Witch Story (1989) Allesandro Capone

I'm a great fan of the sort of horror that takes me to new worlds, down strange and winding paths, expands my mind. But sometimes I just want a film as easy and comfortable as a cup of tea and some choccy biccies in my favourite dressing gown (it's dark red to hide bloodstains) and slippers, and when I want that late 80's trash is my go to. Late 80's Italian trash is all the better, and late 80's Italian trash made in Florida, well, how can it fail? Witch Story certainly doesn't. Curiously, something of a sequel/rip off of 1982 film Superstition which I've not seen. I didn't know that Superstition was a great hit or especially groundbreaking, and since Witch Story also has parallels with the more contemporary Night of the Demons I'm surprised they went for the older reference. But then, questions like these are probably why I'll never be an awesome Italian trash producer. 

Anyhoos, Witch Story starts more or less as it means to go on. A semi creepy scene of a young girl being pledged to evil, then a torches and pitchforks witch pursuit. Unfortunately the chase takes place around dusk, still perfectly visible out, and torches, unlike shades or gloves, don't look cool when used necessarily, just silly. It's amusing though. Just like when events get going in the present and the luckless teens who inherited the witches house meet a priest on the bus who issues dire warning, bleeds from the eyes and then disappears. It may not surprise to know that this hardly fazes them, nor are they concerned much later when they meet a lone young girl playing with a ball outside the house, who also vanishes. Plus later on it seems like the house is very well soundproofed because when the sh!t really hits the fan, no one really seems to catch on until it splatters on them. And it's not like the murderous demons here are subtle, when they kill they really go for it. Still, who actually needs to be able to take this stuff seriously? Fun is all, fun is all. 

The film also brings up its one notable flaw early. There's a pitchforking but the contact is just out of frame, there's a brief semi gore shot after but that's of a wheel going over a limb. The witch burns up nicely, but it feels like things could have gone a bit more graphic. Much like in the rest of the killing, the sort of full on latex slashing, melon smooshing graphic lunacy that could have made this a classic is lacking. 

But the whole thing works anyway. The characters are all stock ordinary, stock odd or stock irritant, but the ordinary isn't dull, the odd isn't irritating and the irritating isn't hateful (still irritating though). Once the action locks in its pretty compelling stuff, a good amount of blood slung around and satisfying savagery (why stab someone once when you could do it a half dozen times or more?). There are a few flashes of amusing nuttiness, and in the final block veteran Scot character actor Ian Bannen even brings some real gravitas and creepy atmosphere. 

All in all, this is well worth a look for trash fans. Pretty much all others can avoid but if you are into this sort of thing and you've already combed the rest of the overlooked fun of the time, say Ritual of Death and the like, it's pretty much guaranteed Friday/Saturday night fun. Go ahead!

Satanic Attraction (1990) Fauzi Mansur

Obscure Brazilian pornographer Fauzi Mansur made just two horror films that anyone knows about, but in the second billed, Ritual of Death, he reached higher than a lot of better known and more legit film makers managed in entire careers. That film is a trash great, the sort of thing that reminds you why you got into watching that stuff in the first place and makes you commit to never stopping. Satanic Attraction alas is not great. In fact, some would have you think that it pretty much sucks. Suck it does not, but it sure ain't great. 

The set up has legs, radio presenter Fernanda entertains her listeners with a neat line in gruesome horror stories but finds herself in trouble when her stories are mirrored in gory reality, there's a nasty killer out there and interested in her, and the police have their suspicions too. And there's promising stuff on screen, the film opening for instance on native dancers and drummers by a river, led by a menacing figure in big gnarly head mask with horns, fur and tinsel. Then our menace is walking down a fresh, clean and well lit corridor to a gathering of squeaky looking upper class types, there are skull candles and a child's blood ceremony. Always fun to see deathless strange roots, new and upward bound embracing old macabre. 

Fernanda's studio is pleasing also, dim light barely pushing through dark and mist, cloth fan, little carven half nude and headless figurine, almost cavernous sense of space, lack of much in the way of equipment, it appears altogether like some elder worship place swiftly and shabbily re-purposed. All the better to spread the supernatural really. It doesn't matter that it doesn't really make sense that Fernanda does her show in the afternoon (doesn't every country have some concept of a watershed?), nor that everyone she knows seems to listen to her, in bar, boat or bedroom even though she isn't that great (I would have listened to something else and lied about it), nor that the police can't either shut her down or investigate better. It's a link, and an interesting one, and that's all that matters. 

On the pluses there's also the gore. More graphic and a little better looking than a lot around at the time there are at least a couple of pretty memorable scenes (including a bit with soap that manages to be more unsettling rather than less for its sheer ridiculousness) and more in general besides. 

But then there are are the minuses. Well really its the one big minus. The acting is bad and the dubbing is worse, but then who really cares about that. I heard a full on cut glass English accents from a Chinese princess in a kung fu movie one time and even that was more authentically emotive than the work here, but its all good. No, the real problem is the pacing. This kind of film needs to be concentrated, no time to think, everything done in 85 to 90 minutes at most. We don't need to know about the main characters love life or her friends or their lives or the incompetent cops unless these scenes are either straight direct or delayed direct set ups for weirdness, or for T&A, or sometimes even for humour. In a film like this we don't need anything that's just there, and yet there it is, here, turning what should be a definite blast into over 100 minutes that is only a little, at times. It's frustrating because this could have been so good. Well, not quite Ritual of Death good but still aces. This isn't aces. 

But its still worth a watch if you like this sort of thing. I wouldn't go so far as to call it "good", but if you need this sort of thing in your life and you've seen the better examples in recent memory you should definitely check this out. You probably won't even like it as much as I did, but you should check it out anyway, it might be better than whatever alternative you were thinking about before reading this. So watch it. Or don't. Woozle wazzle!

Shadow of Illusion (1970) Mario Caiano

I was looking forward to Shadow of Illusion, I can scarce think of any Egyptian themed horrors other than a multitude of mouldering mummies and so an occult horror in the land of the Pharaohs with nary a bandage in sight seemed pretty interesting, especially when made by Italians (whose often lax approach to plot logic is quite ideal for such fare) in 1970 (almost bang in the middle of the perfect era for weird cinema). Sadly, there's just not enough to it. Gorgeous Daniela Giordano plays a fashion model summoned to Egypt by a mysterious perfume company but when she gets there there's no one to welcome her and it seems not to really exist. There is a handsome if eccentric charmer to show her a good time though, and a weird, vaguely incestuous brother and sister, and eventually some shenanigans. I get the impression that this was largely improvised around the location rather than a fully realised and intentional project, for much of the time meaningful stares are about the extent of any intrigue. It wouldn't matter too much to me if the local colour came through better, but although this makes some effort it lacks atmosphere. Sure, there are whirling street dancers, rainbow robes, crush of faces and bodies, insistent pedlars and esoteric trinkets. There's a market fight with a stall overturned and fruit tumbling down steps, there are camels, even the obligatory look at the Pyramids. But its all just there, it never really transports the mind. Part of the problem is that the soundtrack is heavy on the European jazz and lounge, rather less so on geographically fitting sounds, and another issue is the slightly beat up quality of the Midnight Video rip in which this does the rounds. But really its hard to exactly pinpoint why this doesn't all work. Disinterested filming perhaps, or laziness? Who knows? 

And when this does actually get into the expected plotting or weirdness, it isn't so great either. The plot isn't short of interesting potential but nothing is really developed. The weirdness is there but all quite pat. Dope smoking, lesbianism, faces shifting into two, three, four and more and back together, dancing, whirling and abrupt editing that frustrates rather than building worthy montages. Mild sadism, a fog machine, lengthy ritual (with more dancing of course) and then only in the last 15 minutes or so there's a bit of actual tension and excitement. I would probably have hated this if I weren't positively predisposed towards this kind of thing, I found it all basically watchable but others may want to steer clear. Mind you, quite a few other reviews of this are quite positive so I guess maybe I was having a bad day. I wasn't really having a bad day though. Take it if you must...

Sunday, 19 October 2014

The Witch Returns To Life (1952) Rolan af Hallstrom

So, The Witch Returns to Life is just my second slice of Finnish horror, indeed just my second Finnish film outright, so far as I recall. I don't know whether the country has ever produced many horror films, but its presence even in the minds and collections of thorough going cult fans and explorers is pretty small, less even than the like of Poland or Yugoslavia. And alas on the evidence of this and earlier outing The White Reindeer I'm not surprised by the low profile. Not that The Witch Returns to Life is an outright bad film, in fact its actually rather charming. But it is odd and not necessarily in the popularly sanctioned ways that make cult favourites, I can well imagine a lot of disappointed viewers. 

The set up is solid, archaeologist Hannu is working in a marsh when he comes across an old grave with body staked through. Despite warnings he removes the stake, which I would have thought was a rookie mistake, what with damaging the body and all. But the body is apparently undamaged, and as a storm comes down a naked, very much alive lady is found in the same grave. Superstition and hysteria surge, and the mysterious lady (announcing herself as Birgit) wastes little time in stirring up lust and jealousy, working through the cast, feeling out and preying on division with playful menace. Much potential here for working on the rot of rural living, the peril of superstition, the battle of the sexes and related matters, but little is actually done with any of this. All is simple, the men think that all women are witches and the women think that all men are beasts. The leads are mostly housebound and the villagers mostly dumbly run around, the two have little interaction. And while some ambiguity to Birgit is hinted, this is dispelled by the matter of fact presentation of her powers. Basically this is a sort of parable, its simplicity, emphasis on exposition and slap yourself in the face ending could all be aimed at children. The effects too, almost entirely simple editing tricks which appeal to a primitive, undiscerning wonder. But then there's the dialogue, fairly frank on sex and infidelity, and enough nudity that this was originally touted as erotica in the States. A strange mix really, it should be jarring and offputting but somehow is more often than not simply good fun. Mirja Mane is most pleasing as Birgit, with a demeanour of shifting childlike innocence and crooked, dangerous sensuality she pulls events along nicely. The mounting mischief musters some suspense, chuckles and even mild creeps too, perhaps not especially intense or thrilling but at least quite engaging. Quality cinematography and plenty of fog and wind give this a far off, wistful atmosphere that is quite alluring, and it all moves like a rocket. 

Altogether I'm not sure how much appeal this will have to most viewers. A whole different world and different time, more for explorers than casual genre fans. But definitely of interest and merit and at least a little memorable. Not my heartiest recommendation, but if you're still here reading this it may be for you. Enjoy!

The Venus of Ille (1979) Mario Bava, Lamberto Bava

Until now I've liked through to outright loved every Mario Bava film I've seen, and only once got less than solid cock eyed entertainment from his son Lamberto. I'm fond of ambiguity, fantasy, Gothic romance, not the corrosive kind unfortunately popular these days but real yearning for the beyond. So The Venus of Ille should have been an easy winner for me, co-directed and written by the younger, but instead it only just about passes. The story sees antique lover Matthew come to the town of Ille to see its recent discovery, a bronze statue of Venus that crushes a workman's leg early on but is still generally thought to be a good thing. Matthew is entranced by the Venus, but also by Claire, engaged to boorish and boozy landowners son Alfonzo. Of course there's something more going on, the statue may be haunted or cursed. Could it even be alive? It's a good story, taken from a 19th century tale by Prosper Merimee and filmed several times previously, but the treatment here is not altogether satisfying. Slow burning, intent on character and atmosphere, this is interesting but lacking in drive or true engagement. The best aspect is Daria Nicolodi as Claire, the camera adores her, drawing out strength, intelligence through an enigmatic air, beautiful but unusual, she is just ideal for this sort of film. The Venus is interesting too, the camera also circles to draw out mystery, hints of life, drawing parallels, weaving a spell. I also enjoyed Matthew, his quietness, curiosity, artistic and romantic probing are quite interesting. But really, not enough happens here. Until the climax the few scares are not much effective and filler sequences including tennis and cookery (chopping meat, pulling out guts, cracking eggs etc.) bulk out the plot without adding much beyond a bit of sense of place and time. There are only a few small moments of the old Bava visual magic and those are diminished from his best, fun but not the sort to linger long in the memory. And all in all there's a lack of substance, this intrigues but never really locks down, sizzle without much steak. Not quite full on dull but in the environs, quite disappointing. 

A browse of a few other reviews of this indicates that it is better liked by others, a fitting swansong, superior to Schock, etc. And there's enough here for a tentative recommendation to those like me particularly interested in this kind of thing, especially if they can find a decent looking print (being a TV film I don't suppose its ever looked spectacular but I'm sure some are still better than others). But personally I'm not that convinced. Watch if you must I guess.

Tarot (1973) Jose Maria Forque

I wasn't much impressed by Jose Maria Forque's earlier film In The Eye of the Hurricane, so there was little logical reason for me to watch Tarot, more bloody mindedness. But I'm glad I did and it's a worthy illustration of how hard it is to predict one film from another, even by the same director in much the same field. I like to be reassured of this, that art isn't a one shot and you're out deal but something that can grow and improve, something that lives. Not that Tarot is some gem, in fact it only prowls the edges of being good, committing only rarely, but it's definitely worth a look for serious genre fans, some way more than can be said for the very much completists only stature of In The Eye of the Hurricane.

The key here is that there's enough here to prevent boredom setting in. The story is hardly original, pretty young Angela is invited as a carnal companion to a rich old blind man Arthur (Fernando Rey) but catches his hearts eye instead. But of course there are grasping servants, including handsome young Marc (Julian Ugarte) and older, wiser Natalie (Gloria Grahame), and soon there's deceit afoot, and things going all awry. This works by establishing its atmosphere and its intrigues quite well. Angela, played by Sue "Lolita" Lyon pursues Freedom, biking unbound across the lands, yet she also practices Tarot reading without deceit or apparent irony. The film never turns into an existential study of Being within Fate but the conflict is interesting and Lyon's performance is deftly conflicted, there's manipulation and cruelty there but also fear, naivete, even possibilities of tenderness. Fernando Rey is equally good as Arthur, he's deluded and silly and not even an especially nice guy but he brings pathos and dignity too. Slick, shallow, mean Marc has less to grapple with but is perfectly reasonably essayed, while Gloria Grahame is oddly amusing, pitching almost constant quizzical disdain that after a while comes across directed not just at the other characters but the film itself and probably its makers and audience. It's not exactly "good" work but it is fun and it does work for the character. Other characters have less time and register less, but they work by providing more motivations and possibilities. Arthur's mansion deserves a note too, with zebra striped furnishings, a pool, a set up bowling lane on the lawn and so forth it's a bright, opulent, seductive sort of a place, one could really believe Angela falling under its spell.

This all has a decent pull and its fun trying to figure out how exactly things will come together, but it does take rather too long to do so. Nearly an hour before the turning point, simply too long for interest not to be slipping away. Said turning point is an effectively intense, nasty scene that is worth the wait though. And while the fall out is not as well managed as it might be, with not enough twists and one surprise turn into surreal visuals that is a bit of a misjudgement, it does on the whole work out in a reasonably satisfying manner. I'm sure plenty will be disappointed, especially those not used to this kind of thing, but for the genre it all comes out at about average to me. Others have enjoyed it more so I may be a harsher judge I think. Not something I can fully recommend but if it does seem your cup of tea go for it. You could surely do worse...

Friday, 27 June 2014

Slave Contract (1982) Masaru Konuma

Masaru Konuma is mostly talked about for his 70's run of genre defining classics, making a legend of Naomi Tani and getting Nikkatsu to focus on pinkus primarily. But he wasn't a slouch in later, lesser known work and indeed Slave Contract is something of an early 80's highlight. The tale of political analyst Mikami and his wife Yuriko who take on slave girl Nami, it's simply plotted and curiously warm, good hearted stuff that rings emotionally truer than many of its contemporaries. So many either largely abandoned character or wove their sleaze through the sort of twisted plotting and mean spirit that swiftly feels cynical and pandering but Slave Contract actually feels human. Mikami is certainly a sleazeball but he isn't a sadist or even especially mean, instead a wry, content and almost gentle type, Yuriko is poised, capable of passionate depths but conflicted and Nami captures both a subhuman state and humanity breaking out in playful assertiveness and yearning. Even Nami's trainer the one notably nasty character of the film, isn't really a villain but a businessman with an eye for the angles. Some genre fans will surely be put off by the way that the film doesn't reach for extremes and things don't mount with too much weirdness (other than a truly eyebrow raising tweak on the racial aspect of slavery) or suspense, but the way the characters operate and rub together is compelling and sympathetic, feeling almost mature. These are unusual people in an unusual situation but they care for one another and try to work through things in a beneficial manner. Pinku lovers shouldn't be too worried by the above though as there's a whole lot of sleaze from start to finish, like dog play, a lit candle in the butt and more, all attractively shot with a merciful avoidance of any genital blurring. The kinder approach in general does mean that the film doesn't have too much of a kick apart from brief snatches, and it also lays the wonky sexual politics a little too bare, with a sinister vibe the essentially unpleasant fantasies of these films are easier to take than when they seem to just be treated positively. But that's only really a negative if you want it to be, after all why shouldn't this stuff be laid a little barer once in a while? All in all this is good fun stuff, delivering on most of the expected fronts, and Nami Matsukawa (also of Konuma's Rope and Breasts) is notably lovely as Nami. Not spectacular, but you should still check it out post haste.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Crazed (1978) Richard Cassidy

Shot in 1977 as The Paranoiac, screened in 1979 as Slipping Into Darkness and released on VHS as Bloodshed or Crazed, its best known title, what we have here is one of these largely forgotten but worthy of rediscovery dealies. Not lurid enough for psychotronic proto slasher fans, too slow and sombre for regular slasher fans, too obscure and low rent for mainstream fans, Crazed works as one of the more offbeat and feel-bad Psycho riffs before they faded into the past, and it works pretty well, if not exactly spectacular. The story is based around Karen, young attractive and diabetic she leaves her rural life her boyfriend to take a creative writing course in the big city. After several failed attempts she finally finds a boarding house to stay in, and there meets Graham. An odd, quiet fellow in thrall to the old lady who owns the place, he rather takes a shine to Karen. And, well, you don't exactly have to be Nostradamus to figure out where things are going... 

The pacing here may put off many, but there's a near constant atmosphere of oppressive shabby eccentricity that is quite powerful after a time. Barely anyone in the film is normal or on the up and up, from the lonely, deaf, kooky old biddy who runs the boarding house to an aggressively pretentious creative writing professor. Beverly Ross is just fair as Karen, it isn't the most thankful role to begin with but she puts across cowed and over passive yet really trying to break out in reasonably convincing fashion. Her averageness rather works though, making the weirdos around squeeze all the tighter. And she forms an attractive contrast with Graham, a lady who can fit in with a man who never has. Laszlo Papas does quite well as Graham, an awkward, sad oddball with distinct festering menace within, while only shining a few times he nonetheless conjures a low level compelling sympathy. Rejected by family, abused by a priest and flashing back to both of these one time when he goes to a massage parlour, working nights at a hotel, he's no monster really. 

I could perhaps have done with a jolt or two more, but when this really gets moving it does so in quite unsettling fashion, there's a little blood, a little nudity and a little intensity, it's a satisfying sort of a finale unless you've gotten through the first half and misinterpreted the whole tone of the thing. Some have criticised the music for being over lively and inappropriate but I rather liked the old fashioned nature of it. A bit more flourish to the direction wouldn't have gone amiss, but there are still some interesting shots and bits of editing. All in all this is a pretty good example of what it sets out to do. Quirky but serious, obscure and downbeat, there's a fairly select audience for this stuff and Crazed should definitely appeal. Others can pretty safely skip though.

Saturday, 31 May 2014

We Await (1996) Charles Pinion

Three years after Red Spirit Lake, We Awaits is the last and least of Charles Pinion's films (so far that is, he apparently has a new one called American Mummy due this year but I'll believe that only when I'm watching it). It's punk cinema running on fumes, it really seems like it could have been hashed out by enthusiastically imaginative but less than astute students in between bong hits. But at least for Pinion it changes things up again, the plot has a kind of urban Texas Chainsaw/drug trip/religious commentary thing going on, events are the most coherent yet, there are more actual songs back on the soundtrack and everything wraps up in a sprightly under fifty five minutes. 

Things open amusingly, different biblical channels playing too loudly on multiple TV's watched by the director on a couch, with a devil mask hanging on the wall behind him. Then we get to the meat of crooked Robert Tipple who tries to fleece a couple of religious types but winds up imprisoned by a family of loons. One son is a psychopath, the other is a human dog (by choice!), no one else is normal either and they all eat green goo derived from a fungus fed by glowing crystals, causing them to hallucinate and follow a strange religion. It all seems like it should be pretty awesome, but unfortunately is just kinda watchable. The main problem is that while it sounds pretty promisingly bonkers from an outline such as above, it actually isn't. Early on some genuine cock and ball clamping is pretty cool but then things rather slack off, there are people acting goofy, a wee bit of sloppy and choppy grue, blurry hallucinations of the dime a dozen kind, green and red filters and that's about it until some memorably mental near finale shenanigans that I won't spoil. And while the idea of religious belief and ritual as a kind of fungal freak out is interesting given real reports from takers of peyote/DMT/ayahuasca etc. (and some academic suggestion that Revelations may not have come from entirely spiritual inspiration) it isn't given much weight. Still, for fans of this sort of thing that are still on the trail it moves along nicely with some amusing moments, Neurosis and Unsane are in the soundtrack and there's atmosphere that is quite effective in the moment even if the whole thing falls apart soon after viewing. So if you're still here, you should probably watch this. Only after having watched Twisted Issues and Red Spirit Lake that is, as both are better. But yeah...

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Red Spirit Lake (1993) Charles Pinion

Five years after Charles Pinion first blared through screens with Twisted Issues he returned with Red Spirit Lake. Creditably its a very different beast, the plot is inspired by nasty exploitation rather than slashers and 80's cheese, there's a heavier emphasis on sex and weirdness, the setting is rural rather than urban, it isn't full of punk rock and it wraps up in a filler free 78 odd minutes. Plus it even has a different kind of point! I'm all for film makers not resting on their laurels, for me art should never rest but ceaselessly journey into the unknown, so Red Spirit Lake gets my goodwill automatically. But alas it's actually a bit of a step down... 

The plot sees attractive young Marilyn inherit the titular property after her aunt is murdered in the opening. See, evil industrialist Diego Sardonia (cool name!) wants to get his hands on the place and the magic within, and is all about sending vicious hired goons to help acquire it. But Marilyn has some tricks up her sleeve, plus there's some business involving weirdo caretaker Mathias (Pinion himself) and his simpleton brother Thomas, who have encountered angels (or possibly aliens, the main thing is that they're painted silver and wear tin foil). And later on some friends of Marilyn rock up to get involved in the fun. There are lots of neat ideas and the odd arresting moment but things don't really stick. The biggest problem is the point that the film seems to want to make, a contrast of the grasping, ultimately impotent feral savagery of Man (a phallic tusk appears in a dream sequence) with the playful and more powerful sorcery of Woman. Basically inane, 17 year old Riot Grrl/Wicca wannabe stuff, the kind of gender politics that can just about carry a short but that become embarrassing in the long form where one has more space to think about them, and especially embarrassing coming from a grown man. But also the film making hasn't improved much, and what is charming when dealing with a killer undead skater is more frustrating than charming when dealing with rape and more seriously unhinged material. So the whole is difficult to fully appreciate, even though on paper a lot of it is winning stuff. 

Still, serious trash cult enthusiasts should dig this at least a little. No Wave notables Tessa Hughes Freeland and Kembra Pfahler appear as witches, dancing in the snow in flimsy gowns such that you figure their nipples would freeze off, and Richard Kern plays a big meanie who gets a memorable comeuppance. There are red and blue filters, a score that has a lot of blurry noise/drone and occasional passages of beating industrial, there are a few tits, a few funny lines and it is effectively bizarre and gruesome at times. So I guess it's a case of if you're still reading, this may be a film for your, Just watch Twisted Issues first to get your bearings.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Twisted Issues (1988) Charles Pinion

The first feature from teacher turned punk turned film-maker Charles Pinion, Twisted Issues has a pretty good claim to being one of the most punk rock films ever made, or at least one of the most punk rock horrors ever made, horror not being a genre notable for its serious treatment of subcultures. Initially planned as a straight documentary on the Gainsville punk scene, additional writers turned the film into a genre fiction piece, with a plot loosely focused on Paul, a straight edge skater mown down by scumbags who is brought back to bandaged zombie life by a mad scientist, then nails his skateboard to his foot and goes off in pursuit of vengeance. The slasher aspects are fun, with kills circling that weird high energy territory where ineptitude undergoes fusion and becomes sublime, they aren't quite there but they never bore and rarely frustrate in the way that these films sometimes can. Fair amount of blood sprayed about, a goofy eye gouge and even goofier severed limb, amusing stuff. Also Paul's revival is portrayed through a bunch of nasty slaughterhouse stills so people who like bolt pistolled cow heads will be pleased. 

But what really attracts is the atmosphere, a totally authentic evocation of suburban punk nihilism. People hang out, sit around or stand around, drink, smoke, skate, drive, go to shows, most of them don't even have names let alone clues and all the while Pinion himself and occasional companions watch events on TV as well as news reports, an anti skating ranter and an imposing face inviting viewers to "Say yes". There's no great underlying point, an early sequence intercutting skating footage, Reagan, Hitler, Saddam Hussein, armies, bombs and so forth illustrates the extent of the smarts on display up front. And the constant punk tunage is only intermittently more than forgettable, mostly repetitive stuff that's probably fun to see live on a skinful but becomes wallpaper at home. But the kills and the filler and the meta-cinema framing all come together with a fittingly nutty finale, painting a portrait of life that is violent and stupid and meaningless and ruled over by people equally violent and stupid, and all damned to endless repetition of being violent and stupid and meaningless without even death to end the cycle. Most times films deal with subcultures they project their own ideas and ideals and may come across as satisfying art but are laughable and even insulting treatments of their subjects, Twisted Issues is far from this and that makes it kinda fascinating to me. 

Of course most will find this pretty tough to bear, and even those few who are attracted may find that a little goes a long way (the film is a little too long, around the hour mark wearing thin for a bit but picking up for the final ten minutes odd). Technically much as you'd expect, shots that are too dark, overenthusiastic use of red and blue filters, dialogue frequently muffled by the music or by ambient noise, camera work in the crap side of verite and so on. But you know, who cares about technical accomplishment in a friggin' SOV flick as long as it does what it needs to, which it does. To wrap up, this isn't going to appeal to many even among 80's SOV horror fans but if you've read this far it might be for you so go get it watched. Buffalo.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Queens of Evil (1970) Tonino Cervi

A handsome hippy called David bikes the day away, through picturesque countryside, guitars and folksy wail, time fading to fog and forest and darkness. He comes across a older suited man by the roadside needing a tire change and the two have a free and frank exchange of views on life and society, then an unfortunate incident sends our hippy off to seek refuge, which he finds with three lovely ladies living in a house near a lake. Of course things aren't quite what they seem... 

On the face of it Queens of Evil is quite typical culture clash horror of the sort popular at the time, but there's an uncommon allure and wisdom to it that puts it way out in front of that sometimes trite pack. Nearmost everything here is attractive, house, inhabitants, surroundings. From the giant portrait photos on the living room wall, white couches, floor pillows of red and white and blue and green and one side full of yellow, to the stylishly impractical spray of cupboards on the kitchen wall, impeccable faces, fashionable wigs, rich cakes, attire of light and ease and colour and shine, the film understands the real seductive power of opulence, treating it with more than just the expected simplistic ironies. Light dappling through green forest top, clear expanse of lake, it's hard to imagine not wanting to spend time here as the film works upon the viewer much as poor David is spellbound himself. Wisely the spell is not just expedient, David is deeply flawed but realistically so, he rises above mere sap. Throughout his interactions with the sisters or other cast he is determined of his beliefs, yet just as determinedly he is contrasted with the poise of others, against this and their knowledge and standing he is shown as weak, as selfish and arrogant and a little sloppily childish. Not unlikeable but foolish, compelling anyhow. And the combination of character and place gives this an impact rather more interesting than the average hippies over their heads exploitation fuelled and crafted with nothing but cynicism. There's even underlying Biblical symbolism to dig into if you fancy, although underplayed enough to take or leave. 

Much of this comes across as erotically charged fantasy rather than horror, little real darkness in the first half. But by the simplicity of meaningful glances and edits that have time passing, things appearing and disappearing in the blink of an eye, mounting small oddities a pleasing atmosphere is woven. Many will be put off by the pace, it places the film in the more cultish realms of such as Pensione Paura or The House with the Laughing Windows, only shocking at the end. I didn't have any problem with the pace myself, finding it quite effortless. I was little put out by the absence of any notable nudity, something which might very much have contributed to the feel of sinister seduction, I also felt a use of chintzy lightning effects should have been left out and that the coda was drawn just a tad beyond optimal effectiveness. But generally this has and does exactly what I want from such a film, in fact I might even call it an era favourite after it's had a little more time to sit with me. So if you've made it to the end here and it sounds like your cup of tea, highly recommended.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

The Objective (2008) Daniel Myrick

A strange radiation in the mountains of Afghanistan, taken for a new weapon of terrifying power, tracked by a CIA man and an unknowing squad. A journey into those dusty wilds, beset by danger both ordinary and unknown, blending science fiction and horror and steadily escalating. I'm not usually a huge fan of military type horror for one reason or another, but The Objective grabbed me almost immediately. For the mountains of Afghanistan are one of the cradles of civilisation, among the first tribe-lands of Man before the great spread across all this blue green marble, and thus of great anthropological and mythological significance. So we have the new, the focused and rational coming upon the very old and implacably weird, menacing but not evil, utterly alien, with the new confounded, one of my favourite kinds of genre thread. Good mileage in this manner from weird lights, colours and so forth in hi-tech scopes. And hints of New Age delusionals along Sitchin or von Daniken lines as the imagery steers toward the other-worldly but without the sprawl and structure that turns fascination into dull fantasy. Interesting imagery in general, nothing too spectacular but at times nicely different and even a wee bit of the red stuff. There could have been more, and at times they could have been just a little better rendered, still effective though. 

But as well as general interest in the plot, the character tension is better worked out than many such films. Simply, the subterfuge of the CIA lead is apparent from the outset, there's never any question of him being some traitor or scoundrel even if he does come off as somewhat unfeeling and unlikeable. His narration neither overloads the film with exposition or the obvious but actually makes him more enigmatic and interesting, his is a well worked out character and well essayed by newcomer Jonas Ball. And the squad, while a fairly nondescript bunch are serious, committed soldiers with none of the clichéd grunting jackassery or latent psychopathy that can taint these films with the crude and condescending. They could have been given more space to grow and be sympathetic, mounting events don't have quite the intensity that they might have done with a more developed set, but they work quite well all the same. 

Altogether this is good stuff for fans of the offbeat. Few fireworks and fewer explanations but thought provoking with an almost perfect ambiguous ending, I suspect quite a few will be put off but this is just my sort of thing and I expect others are out there.

Vanishing on 7th Street (2010) Brad Anderson

I always welcome horror movies about the dark, especially those not just about the fell beasts or villains within but the dark and shadows themselves. And I'm also very fond of the weirder and/or quieter kind of apocalyptic horror, ones that don't knock us down with zombies or meteors and then boot us in the nards with man's inhumanity to man exposed. So Vanishing on 7th Street is pretty much my ideal film, and at comes close at times to my ideal of such a movie so though flawed I can't help but have quite a soft spot for it. 

Slick news guy Luke, cinema projectionist Paul and nurse Rosemary all start off going about their own business, but as mysterious blackouts cause mass vanishings, they find themselves trapped in a bar with kid James, fighting off the darkness as the situation grows dire. Hayden Christensen plays the first, the weaker of the four he struggles at times to convincingly animate his character. A trickier character granted, a little weak and unsympathetic to begin with, but still could have been handled better. John Leguizamo is a good deal better as projectionist Paul, a sort of awkward, geeky type whose reserves of intensity have been forced to burst. Thandie Newton is also rock solid as the desperate, straining at her tethers Rosemary, while Jacob Latimore is agreeably sympathetic as tough young James. An effective ensemble, most of the best moments here come from their interactions, which pack at times get a good hold on the ol' ticker despite being a bit clichéd. Even as things don't go as well as they ideally might they keep things exciting. 

Alas the film doesn't really make the best of its potential. At first the dark is a credibly creepy adversary, shadows not just the broken, shifting, grasping semblances of the physical but alive to catch and steal away, taking the forms of vestigial creatures, only just discernible from mere tricks. But before too long they take on consistent shape and then mostly change neither their shape nor their tactics, leaving the film in a slightly lower gear than it should switch to to really keep it going. The film also doesn't have much in the way of explanation, dropping frustratingly fascinating hints that it doesn't really follow up on. The idea of humanity not as masters of reality but mere flickering image to something else, the centrality of will to existence, this is heady stuff indeed. But instead things go along standard lines, no true commitment and a sappy and inane cap off for good measure. Still, there's a lot to like with these problems set aside, a number of tense moments, one or two legit jolts and general fun with the basic concept so this gets a fair recommendation to the interested and less inclined to pick away. Probably merits more investigation of the thoughts of others as like I said, this is totally my kind of thing and it seems not to be terribly popular, but still a thumbs up.

Fertile Ground (2011) Adam Gierasch

Fertile Ground is one of those slightly irritating films that makes me feel like a sucker. For a fairish stretch, the opening third coming up on the first half or so, this is pretty much the best work from steadily unsteady genre writing/directing couple Adam Gierasch and Jace Anderson yet, with characters and plotting that aren't contrivedly quirky or chaotic, and even a core of legitimate emotionally hefty potential. Opening on a dinner party, main characters Nate and Emily are established swiftly, attractive young couple moving up in the world and facing challenges with smarts and good humour. Their bright and easy chemistry is straight away compelling and generally well handled, the editing of another early scene of moving into a new house has them working in time though separate, just the sort of unspoken but close union to make spooky events all the more affecting. It's handy because this is as predictable as they come even before the first hint of anything supernatural. I mean, has any couple ever moved into an ancestral country house to regroup following a tragedy and not encountered a frying pan/fire situation? Basically you've seen this a million times before even if you haven't, but somehow it works okay for a while. The performances are able, the location is pleasing and the scare tactics get a few hits. Though erring on the jumpy side of things I was "got" a couple of times and there's a certain atmosphere to the spectres, an old, grave worn malignant misery that makes a nice change from outright aggression or manipulation. 

Unfortunately things are spread too thinly, with a very much unnecessary 90 minute plus run time. There are only so many predictable spooks, plot beats, questions of paranoia or genuine evil that one can take, in something like this measured escalation just doesn't work because the viewer can already guess beyond intrigue what things are escalating to. By the final block doldrums set in sufficiently that the plot illogicalities become impossible to ignore (you're not isolated so why act as though you are!) and are not charming but annoying, while the potentially interesting aspects of the story are left undeveloped. There is at least a notable climax but this too is fudged, the kind of adolescent grasp at edgy cynicism that just comes across tired and mean and leaves a bad taste but not in a good way. So this is ultimately pretty hard to recommend. My interest in following Gierasch/Anderson and their work remains, seemingly nice people with some talent and legit genre enthusiasm, but I think by and large their best work was the screenplay for Crocodile 2: Death Roll and their progress through working with classic directors and then getting their own gigs has overwhelmed them. So I guess I'll stay a sucker for a while. Meh...

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Rogue River (2012) Jordan McClure

I don't know exactly when the vogue for shocker flash forward openings commenced or whether it has roots in any genre favourites, but I do know it's one of my least favourite ways to open a horror. Unless the narrative is cyclical or some kind of nested puzzle dealie I just find them a lazy means of trying to hook the audience and am immediately put on the offensive as a viewer rather than relaxing for a good time. So it is with Rogue River, a pretty basic backwoods torment venture of frustrating potential. Young Mara heads down to the river where her deceased pa used to take her to fish so she can scatter his ashes, but first a pleasant enough local named Jon tells her she can't scatter the ashes without a permit, then when she goes back to her car she finds it towed. So the aforementioned pleasant local offers her a trip into town, that is after they stop off so he can tell his wife Lea. Of course his wife invites young Mara for dinner and board, and, well, you can take a pretty good punt on what's to come... 

The big problem here is a fundamental miscalculation of how to make the story work. The basic structure is entirely predictable, with the interest and lone minor deviation from standard form lying in Jon and Lea, played rather nicely by Bill Moseley and Lucinda Jenney. An awkward, eccentric and early on winningly understated pair with a distinct undercurrent of sadness, given more space to breathe they might have made a memorable film even within predictable confines. But instead largely redundant and ineffectual scare tactics clutter what should be the suspense building first half, even sapping the couple of scenes that really work. Then when things really kick off the nastiness is tamely presented and ineptly abandoned while the forays into twisted territory are laughably abrupt and ill formed. As a whole it comes across as a forceful effort to conjure escalating twisted and shocking tension, but without actually thinking any of it through so that despite some bright spots none of it really works. Still, the film is swift and easy, never dull viewing, occasionally nicely shot and Michelle Page puts in a fairly effective harrowed turn as the central Mara. So for fanatics of this kind of stuff like me it isn't too painful, but I still wouldn't recommend it for anything more than a base level slow evening time filler. 

Friday, 11 April 2014

Prowl (2010) Patrik Syverson

Cinema is littered with directors sure footed through to great on their home turf, lured by the bright lights and bigger budgets of the US only to find themselves unsteady through to cack handed. I don't know of many that would call Patrik Syverson's previous outing Rovdyr (Manhunt) great, but it was at least a relatively memorable slice of brains free backwoods brutality. Prowl unfortunately is anything but memorable, in fact just four days after watching it for a second time and I can scarce remember any details. The story is workable enough, a pretty young thing desperate to escape her one horse town takes a ride with a trucker along with her friends, only to wind up locked in a disused factory hunting ground for monsters. No sensation but it definitely has potential. And however essentially faceless, the cast sell it all well enough with the great Bruce Payne giving out good underused grizzled and menacing but not exactly outright evil vibes as the trucker. Just doesn't really work though. Predictability is a villain here but not the main one, sure you've seen this situation play out a thousand times before even if you haven't but this shouldn't be a problem, heck the aforementioned Rovdyr was even rustier in the plot department. What hurts more is the absence of any notable bloodshed or gore (we get the red stuff splashed about a bit and a few severed limbs but that's about it) the uninspired antagonists and the dully irritating camera-work, both in the post 28 Days Later style. Lighting fast and cat agile human beasts might be good but the budget/performers/imagination involved don't permit anything too interesting. Syverson is a little more competent than many in employing the camera style, he does at least appreciate the benefits of visually coherent action so when things hot up they aren't entirely frustrating. But its still a cheap and unconvincing gimmick (do people really experience and process violent events with a severe case of the jitters?) that robs events of much of their potential impact. Also the factory setting is dull, the sort of place that worked in a plethora of 80's through 90's cheapjack action/sci-fi fare because lots of people and/or things got shot, set on fire or blown up but here holds little such excitement. While on the whole this didn't make me want to eat my own head, it moves fast and is at the very least mildly diverting, there's almost nothing about it to really recommend. I suppose I liked the twist character as I generally do such types, but that's more of a personal quirk. You'd probably be better off antiquing or smoking meth or something.

The Enemy (2011) Dejan Zecevic

A man sits smoking in pitch dark, quiet, but then light breaks in and he is walled up no more... In 1994, the first few days after the end of the conflict in Bosnia a team of soldiers are working to dismantle and remove mines they themselves planted, while staying in an abandoned farmhouse awaiting relief. Should be a time for packing up and going home but they just released someone they possibly shouldn't have. A rum cove at the least... 

The Enemy probably won't be dazzling anyone with its originality or innovation but within confines it gets things pretty right. Wisely it sets out its stall pretty clearly pretty early on, there's some interesting mystery in the finer details but overall the deal isn't complicated or elusive so the audience is well set up to just take it and settle in to get thrilled, the appeal is mostly visceral rather than cerebral which makes a nice change. Curious freed prisoner Daba is a cerebral type though, quiet, polite and wry, authoritative not by force but by wisdom, indeed with neither need nor inclination to really use force. He's the films trump card, such fun to spend time with that most predictability is smoothed over. Mind you, the generally solid performances also work in this way, without too much in the way of exposition or general fat they come across as a tight, coherent unit, not always comfortable but perfectly able to work together. And when it comes to ratcheting up the excitement now and again alongside the growing tension, mines make for a rather fun complement to the expected guns and fisticuffs. 

This is altogether, rather good stuff if military themed psychological horror is your thing. Aside from one expected bit of shallow brutishness that strikes more as lazy than shocking I have no real complaints about the general lie of it, in fact I had a really good time. But it surely could have been more. The mine removal set up could have been a piercing light into the absurd fog of war, a scene of outright offbeat humour shows how inspired, how different this could have been had it really spread its wings. Sure, quality generica is still quality, but I can sense the film shifting and preparing to recede less than a fortnight after viewing. Meh, don't take that as a deterrent though, watch it anyway and you might well think different. Over and out!

The Burrowers (2008) JT Petty

Watching a horror western hybrid like The Burrowers I become acutely aware that I come at it one handed. The number of Westerns I've seen in my life would barely break ten and so there's a wealth of genre context that I just don't have. In this case The Searchers, with which The Burrowers seems to share narrative fundamentals. But I guess it doesn't matter too much because this is a distinctly modern affair, posing as these things do that the West was not a melting pot of derring do and cultural creation myths but ugliness and violence despite blissfully attractive locations (this is shot in lovely New Mexico). It's not a serious study though, more an interesting backdrop. The story is of an Irish labourer about to propose to his beloved but finds her stolen away, possibly by Indians. So he joins a pack of Indian hunters for pursuit, but inevitably things get a bit weirder. The romance alas is contained in a brief opening, staying undeveloped, and while the low status of the Irish at the place and time is mentioned it provides no friction either underlying or ongoing. Likewise a black servant character proceeds with little discomfort although the racial situation of the time is also mentioned. And of course the main human villain is no more than an arrogant sadist. So the film doesn't really work on historical dramatics, but the setting suits the horror well. The titular burrowers are like huge and limbed maggots, crawling through the Earth to create and feast upon decay, and multiple top down shots establish the Earth as living thing, ground a flat, dull expanse of skin dotted by grass and trees as hair, humans with all their discord and violence invaders feeding the rot within. Makes for an interesting universal message that goes quite some way towards excusing other flaws in the conception. 

It could all have worked out splendidly but unfortunately isn't all there. The quest isn't as pronounced as it should be, nor the villain as vicious or the creatures deeds as grotesquely gruesome in presentation. The villain is nasty and the creatures, announced by a sinister creaking sound, are scary, but only towards the end does the film lock down in the way that it should and even then the close is a bit too open ended to fully satisfy. But it's still a generally effective ride. Karl Geary, earlier seen in 90's art vamp gem Nadja makes for an engaging, sympathetically driven hero, Clancy Brown is a good old school tough but decent guy, William Mapother is a similarly effective goodie, Doug Hutchison plays loathsome like its second nature (not quite as repellent as in The Green Mile but he still works well) and Sean Patrick Thomas rounds out the mains nicely as a quietly smart, stoic servant who sure isn't a sap. I was disappointed that Jocelin Donahue only appeared for about a minute at the beginning though, when you have an actress so goddamned cute you could happily watch her watching paint dry you really ought to show her a bit more. There's some reasonably exciting Western style action and bloodshed and what creature nastiness there is neat indeed though there isn't enough of it. And the generally bleak, serious tone is well judged, atmospheric and compelling rather than cloying. So in the altogether this is worthwhile stuff. For all its imperfections it still offers a good bit to chew on and does fair justice to both its horror and western sides. Many may happily skip but for fans of the slightly off the beaten track this gets a good recommendation.

Seconds Apart (2011) Antonio Negret

Freaky people, twins. In a trick of a haircut my ma and her sis can look uncannily similar, and lets not even get into the infamous round of Pictionary some decades back when one correctly guessed the other's elephant from the briefest momentary formless scrawl. Freaky people indeed. Seconds Apart comes from the freaky school of twin movies, though quality wise is more Blood Link than Dead Ringers. Counter-intuitively, though perhaps audaciously it doesn't bother with much in the way of human duality or shifting of personalities, mostly sticking with telepathy. Seth and Jonah (or is it Jonah and Seth?) get off on fear, creating, manipulating and recording fear in a deadly narcotic exchange, doggedly pursuing that first perfect high that slinks away unceasingly into the past. A nice idea executed with a pleasing cruelty and flair for the twisted, but the film isn't really that special. 

The main trouble is that Jonah and Seth just aren't really interesting at all. They look creepy enough but never come across across as more than dicks, just utterly average *beep* kids who fail to communicate anything through their average ass-holeness. A film like this really needs the fuel of torment or sadism, some real disturbance behind things, but it isn't here. There's not much here in general in fact. The victims of the film receive only the most cursory of character sketches and so depart with little power, the embittered detective on the case has only a little further shading and likewise only a little more impact. A romantic interest that pops up to rack up some tension is underwritten and unconvincing, though not really the actresses fault, who looks nice and gives it the old college try. And while there are a few scenes of bloodshed there's almost none of the sort of nasty gore that could have made several of them pretty great. Still Orlando Jones impresses as tough, determined Detective Lampkin, showing none of his better seen roots in lighter fare. And between the effortless experience of watching this and its scattered glimmering of legit inspiration it sits just on the right side of average, making it one of the better releases in the After Dark Original line and a reasonably cromulent slow evening watch in general. Not one to strain to watch of course, but not one to flee from either, minor thumbs up all in all. Elephant.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Al-ta'weeza (1987) Mohamed Shebl

Well, this was my first experience of Egyptian horror and I do hope it won’t be my last. But this hope does come with the significant caveat that I also hope Al-ta'weeza is not too representative of its fellows. The basic plot is quite reasonable, a villain wishes to acquire a flat for reasons that are not entirely clear, but the father of the family cramped within isn't interested in selling or moving so the villain sics a bit of the old supernatural menace on them. And the supernatural visitations are amusing enough, with objects moving of their own accord, room shaking, pyrokinesis and the like. We also get some nice moments as the camera takes the eye of the demonic, prowling through the flat low and sinister. A little disappointingly there's little in the way of local colour to the terror but much as they may be the most basic of Western generica the tropes are solid enough, I mean no one wants mystery tremors or unexplained fire, that shit is dangerous. And I guess maybe in a culture removed from the secular mythology japing of horror in the West to explicitly tackle local custom may have been less palatable. Could have worked OK, but the pace, oh dear oh dear the pace. I’m not fundamentally opposed to big clunking chunks of soap operatic filler but they have to be done right, either building and maintaining tensely churning and hence hilarious melodrama or at least poised at enough of a skew from reality and relatable human behaviour to be perplexingly compelling. Al-ta'weeza opts simply for a banal facsimile of real living, there’s some potential in the characters and basic conflicts established (between young and old, change and tradition, global and local perspectives, etc.) but nothing is developed and most of the time just feels like dead fat, with corresponding just about workable but basically flat performances. And it bulks up the film to nearly 100 minutes!  I'm sure it's more relatable to Egyptian audiences and perhaps more interesting too but the fact remains that you just can't really get away with a horror film in which at least half the run time isn't the least germane to the actual horror. Much the more frustrating because this actually ends on a memorable high note, a bit of bloody lunacy that isn't often seen anywhere that shows that the film-makers weren't too afraid to shock and spread their wings but just didn't. All in all this isn't something I'd recommend even to the most dedicated of obscurity searchers, it's just too long and not very good. Didn't make me want to poke my own eyes out or anything but at times I did wonder why I never seriously pursued learning French or other languages and whatnot. Take of that what you will...

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Feminine Carnivores (1970) Zybnek Brynych

Treasure hunting among cinema's lonelier ruins can be some of the most fun in the world, but sometimes alas there's little there but hallucinatory light from the crypt, the bones are all dust and the relics just second rate craft cheaply daubed. So it is with Feminine Carnivores, which looks like it should be great but really isn't. The set up is inviting, a lady named Eve travels to an exclusive women's resort to resolve nebulous psychosexual disorders, but finds that things there are somewhat stranger than expected. And for a while its a pleasing watch, plenty of attractive women, chic location, stylish interiors with modernist paintings and objets d'art (I especially liked the mantis doorknob) yet realistically comfortable, plenty of camera whirls and zooms and a bit of surreal choppy editing, loose plotting that yet steadily advances the atmosphere and idea. But around halfway in things pall as it becomes clear that the film actually doesn't have anything smart to offer and is really just coasting. It seems like a feminist picture celebrating women in control, but by the by turns out to be no more than an idiots take on radical feminism. The men are variously arrogant, crude, shallow or just cracked pawns like a retarded gardener or a policeman who just wants to build card castles. But the women are really no better, just vicious, crooked and deadly. And while said gardener is called Adam, the film goes nowhere with the expected symbolism. No real suspense because things are obvious from the title on and both the characters and their interactions are all more or less one dimensional, but worse the film lacks either genuine radical feminist ire or (for the most part) the comically hypocritical sleaze and violence to be an entertaining conservative denouncement. 

On the plus side a group bra burning is somewhat amusing, of course only attractive young ladies bare their breasts, and the camera smartly conveys from very early on the cyclical nature of both the narrative and the characters. It also works as a kind of time capsule, amber freeze of the angst, pretension and style of certain kinds of European artiste of its unfortunately not entirely lost era. An unintentionally positive thing, its dated nature showing up how ludicrous is the persistence of some of its attitude into the modern age. 

Others are more generous to this than I, but after mulling it over I'm sticking with really not being a fan. For those that have to see it (you know who you are) it's still better than a poke in the eye with a wet stick, but otherwise avoid.

Nigel the Psychopath (1994) Jim Larsen

I don't know anyone called Nigel in my real life so before last night my concept of "Nigel" was a blank canvas, rude clay hungry for a sculptors tender caress. But no more, now I have a Nigel forever! 

Nigel wears jeans, white trainers, camouflage jacket, gas mask and cap, except for when his jacket is blue and he has a hat. He carries a rake, except for when he carries a stick, then he carries a rake again except for when he carries guns or other things. He kills everyone he meets but they don't seem to be too concerned. Probably not paid enough. Actually I don't suppose anyone was paid at all. The cast doesn't seem to reach beyond teens and some not even that. 

There doesn't seem to be an iota of rational thought here, just a few afternoons of fun between friends recorded. So the interest is mostly incidental. Nigel has a brother who set off his spree when their mother died, by telling him that she went to Heaven and is happier there. His brother is called Chubby and wears a T shirt with a picture of Leatherface on it. There are bits of hilariously lackadaisical fighting, as if everyone involved was either incredibly stoned or just didn't give too much of a sh!t and wasn't into it. I hope for the former myself because youth delinquency is fresh and progressive and awesome since at least the late 50's. 

At one point a couple of characters are driving and there are red fuzzy dice hanging from the rearview mirror. Mmmm, fuzzy. Some quality dialogue, like "you be illin' when you should be chillin'". Sage advice that, I was once ill when I should have been chill and I wound up in the hospital. And the odd fun image like Nigel's maniacally rake hacking shadow on a brick wall, or a severed leg going down a playground slide. How do you sever a limb with a rake? He found a way! There's a guy in drag trying to pull a Friday the 13th Part 2 ending. And a drunk singing "Time of my Life". 

Also the soundtrack is often perfectly serviceable 80's style girl rock except for when it's something else like just a harmonica. All in all this isn't in any way, shape or form a "good" film but I wasn't bored. Except for when I was bored. The end credits roll around 55 minutes but the film would definitely have benefited from being like, 10 minutes shorter. A final thought, 1994 saw tremendous works like Dellamorte Dellamore, In The Nightside Eclipse and Transilvanian Hunger, but it also saw Nigel the Psychopath. Really makes you think, except for when it doesn't. Watch it!!!

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Lesbian Rape: Sweet Honey Juice (1991) Hiseyasu Sato

In previous films Hiseyasu Sato has dealt in cameras, microphones, vibrators and more, now is the turn of the test tube. Lesbian Rape: Sweet Honey Juice opens with light, clink, pipette mixing unknown fluids, then a whole veritable forest of unruly test tubes through which is glimpsed a lady, fractured, cold and indistinct. By the by we see her talk to a  Dictaphone and her friendship with a lizard which she strokes with erotic tenderness, single rich red nail caressing tiny back. Subtle it ain't but a fine bit of economical character sketching and thematic foreshadowing, for a newcomer or a long time fan. Test tubes are a neat subject, while the previous mentioned devices mediate directly between mind and body, test tubes essentially come between people and the reactions of creation, are clear and isolating ways of seeing and can even perform pleasure too. Alas the film has little to do with the purpose of test tubes for science, being more interested in their role in intimacy as tender or vicious, the latter perversely less cold. And as two unknowns together form something new the characters here progressively fuel and warp each other, making things new. The same old Sato preoccupations in just slightly different situations really. But while his work is all too often flawed by producer impositions, needlessly drawn out sex and frustrating abortive run times, this one has a well structured plot and vivid characters which are actually advanced and developed by sleaze, and a smart climax that brings everything together. The focus is on lonely lesbian scientist Kyoko with an urge to control manifest in her study and her night time rape fantasies. Her interior life is filmed in rich sad blue, her fantasies the amber of flesh and desire preserved, and as she begins to pine after her assistant Chitsuko and ensnare technician and fellow rape fantasist Yumisaka blue and amber literally come together as fantasy turns to reality. Afterwards the lighting tends towards the less artificial and the rape scenes from a kind of spacially screwy voyeurism to somewhat more of a conventional intensity. Chitsuko is notionally the normal one of the three, lonely and yearning waiting for a catalyst, while Yumisaka is curious as pinku rapists go, a pathetic, malleable type searching for some sense of control. Ably performed they twist and turn, action in apartments, a rooftop, a stairwell (these might be plural but it makes little difference), public paths and bridges and benches, part of but isolated from the world around. It's altogether most satisfying, bringing the sleaze and weirdness in good measure, a spot of dark humour, even odd passages of poignancy and tender, arousing eroticism. Essential Sato then, and even nay sayers or newcomers may find good times. Check it out folks...

Friday, 14 February 2014

Flesh Target: Rape! (1979) Yukihiro Hawada

Oh, what woe is the plight of the Japanese businessman. Watching beautiful women, reduced to ages, jobs, lovers, rankings, just objects passing by. Lusting after them, but they can't be yours, you're just a lowly, lonely face gazing out from the midst of a hundred and more faceless windows. A ways off planes take off and land, ships forge through the water but you're just a small man. And one night at an important meeting in a restaurant you drink too much and slug your condescending lecher director and all seems down the tubes. But then you set about raping your way through the women of your company and things are actually looking up. Wait, what? Back up there a second dude...

Yep, this is late 70's violent pink through and through. I've not encountered the work of director Yukihiro Sawada before but if Flesh Target: Rape! is any good indication I need to check out more. Several notable features here, the first being a distinct sense of grotesque satire in its depiction of office life so meaningless, so stultifying that not even a rapist (and not a terribly subtle one at that) can make much in the way of dangerous ripples. I rather wonder how popular audiences of Japan reacted to this back in the day: hosts of defamed and disapproving frowns? Or wry smirks of acknowledgement and twinkling eyes in the dark? The rape scenes also stand out, reminiscent of the work of better known Nikkatsu contemporary Yasaharu Hasebe they are varied in location and fuse the rough and gritty (lots of convincing wailing and crying) with the cruelly erotic (like a head and single breast burst through a paper apartment wall, bouncing with forceful thrust) and ultimately mythic. Our lead ends up usually providing pleasure however reluctantly felt and despite his acts breaking not only the fundamental taboo but breaching various literal and symbolic barriers commonly accepted, the simplest form coming early as he rapes a lady in a deep roadside puddle as the rain lashes ever fiercely down. And the lead character himself, Nezu (it seems right to only use his name later) played with skill by one Keijiro Shiga. He's an empty vessel, rape fills him like some invigorating narcotic, but when the deed ends he returns to emptiness, a cool recurring guitar theme the most notable aftermath. He grows slowly, by an accumulation of gestures and reactions but not some great change, like a vessel that is filled and emptied and refilled and emptied again over and over but never cleaned he layers inside. Interesting in a few ways this, first it deflects the inherent nastiness of the premise, steering the film a little away from the unabashed rapesploitation of something like Rape: 13th Hour. Plus it deepens the satire, taking the deadening atmosphere as internalised, and foreshadows the irony of the close of things.


Altogether this is a real genre winner, apart from some minor tightenings here and there I can think of little that could improve it. Not exactly flush with intrigue or variety and perhaps demanding of a mindset already experienced in the field, but for the interested or the already hooked this borders on essential. So go watch!

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Secretary Rope Discipline (1981) Hidehiro Ito

Quite undeservedly little seen, Secretary Rope Discipline may ultimately tread territory neither especially unique, insightful or incendiary but is a surprisingly nicely thought out and satisfying affair in its pink cinema terms. The story is simply based, Eguchi is a secretary for a design firm caught stealing samples for a rival, who is then imprisoned and as the title suggests, disciplined. Actually not so many ropes, but she's certainly disciplined. What's fun is how the story and characters develop though, a way that agreeably challenges order. In a society of such high value placed on honour and loyalty, betraying one's company, one's value in the world, for personal aims is a pretty big no no. Yet as incest, sadism, meaner scheming and personal betrayal mount Eguchi takes on sympathy not just for reluctantly doing a bad thing in good faith and taking harsh punishment but for being a pretty straightforward person caught up in a decidedly twisted world This isn't just ironic critique though, in the latter half the film shifts gears to provide genuine uplift as Eguchi is allowed beyond her corporate value. It's ironic still, but in a positive way, almost feel-good actually.

Of course all this wouldn't matter much if this wasn't effective sleaze. Sure there are plenty of pink flicks that were essentially thoughtful adult dramas with a few tits and asses but this is no such slice of life or historical fare, from pretty much the opening and the title on this is entertainment minded. There's whipping, douching, fun with jam and general degradation, as well as a few more standard sex scenes. Pretty effective erotic charge at times, albeit in a perverse manner. Plus the actors are both attractive and pretty solid, gorgeous Junko Makubi most effective in the lead going through lust, fear, despair, acceptance and strength, Yumi Hayakawa deceptively juvenile but smartly vicious, Rika Takahara happily screwy and the males convincing in their sadder orbits. And the shooting smartly captures emotion from more than just faces, take for instance an early dance in which a hand traces out the lust from innocent verve.


The genital obscuring is an irritation, even though a couple of scenes are stronger than a lot of such films in their implication of penetration and there is some use of obscuring ornaments. Bright patches do still appear to stop us from seeing anything naughty and one really wishes the visuals were a bit smarter so as to avoid them. Other, better directors have avoided them, while this is the first Hidehiro Ito I've seen he seems good enough that he too could have avoided them with a bit of wit and effort. Oh well, it matters not too much. This is generally good stuff, dark, arousing, fun and even happy. One of the few internet mentions I've seen calls it “really quite foul” and that's an overstatement, but genre fans should definitely give this a whirl. Over and out...