japanesedream_72: (Default)
Watched The Happening last night.

Review in one word: Meh.

My brother said he wasn't super-impressed by it, either. I'd actually heard mixed opinions about it. Seems director M. Night I-can-pronounce-but-not-spell-his-last-name hasn't done a film that's been viewed as universally positive (at least, not among the people I talk to about films) since The Sixth Sense.

The premise is good - people suddenly begin killing themselves (some in very strange ways) for no apparent reason - it's just the execution that fails, I think. While it seemed an initially promising film, it petered out after a certain point, & I lost the emotional investment. I was watching without really caring. Maybe it's me, but the characters got wishy-washy or, in one case, just plain stupid (trying to think rationally about what should be a run-for-your-life moment, esp. with people dropping like flies around him). And the thing that's revealed as the cause, while interesting from a scientific standpoint, somehow fell flat.

I think the major problem is that I've already got a film about people suddenly killing themselves (some in very strange ways) for no apparent reason. And it does a WAY better job of pulling it off, even without exposition. It's called Suicide Circle.

Hey, M. Night, you need to watch more movies.

EDIT: I, on the other hand, probably need to watch fewer movies.

Had a look at The Messengers tonight.

Sometimes, when I watch a film, I play the "where the heck have I seen that actor/actress before?" game with myself. Occasionally, I lose, get annoyed, & head off to IMDB.com to look them up. Had to do that tonight, though more as a confirmation, since I knew but wasn't sure.

In case you get around to watching this one, I'll spare you that step: yes, that is the chick from the "Twilight" films. She plays a girl who, with her parents & toddler brother, move into an old farmhouse, a setting that's a full 180 compared to their previous life in Chicago. But then, that's the point.

Long story short, she & her brother begin seeing things in the house. Shadows, things moving of their own accord, strange people. And, of course, the 'adults' don't believe a word of it. The viewer, on the other hand, knows something is going on, given the prologue involving the house's previous tenants.

Another game I am sometimes forced to play when watching movies is, "what other film have I seen this in?". Now, I'm as big a fan as any of taking influence from something, or several somethings, & using it in new & interesting ways. Sadly, this film does it left, right, & center, though the mixture doesn't really come off as anything new, reinforcing the great artistic fear that, indeed, there is nothing original left in the universe.

Okay, that's maybe taking it too far. While not as amazing as some reviews would have it, the movie can be classified as decent, & worth at least one viewing. The effects are good, the acting is good, & although I wasn't completely emotionally invested 100% of the time, I did want to keep watching, & there were a few jumps here & there, plus one twist I didn't see coming.

Just don't be surprised if you find yourself recognising a lot of it.
japanesedream_72: (robot chick)
The word “kinky” is used on twice on the “Fright Night” box set: first, in the paragraph describing "Baba Yaga" (aka “Kiss Me, Kill Me”), & second, in the synopsis for “The Night Evelyn Came Out Of The Grave” (http://imdb.com/title/tt0067487/).

A rope made from bed sheets hastens the attempted escape of a man from what appears to be a psychiatric clinic. We see him running, pursued. The shots are quick, blurry, drawing us into the chase. He tries to scale the gate, but is apprehended.

Later on, this same man - a ritzy, upscale fellow named Alan Cunningham (Antonio De Teffé, billed here as Anthony Steffen) - escorts a pretty redhead named Polly out on the town. Driving along a dark, tree-lined street on the way back to his place, he stops, supposedly to check the tires. What he’s actually doing is switching to what is likely just one in a series of false license plates. He then takes Polly to a large, old house, which he explains is a former castle & his family abode. All the while, we are aware that someone is watching them.

Alan & Polly (who was given a fair amount of cash for her presence) end up in an antiquated room, decked out in S&M décor: chairs with chains, torture devices, & so forth. Then, of course, there are the knives...

I don’t think I have to tell you what happens next.

Dr. Richard, the therapist from the clinic (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart , who played another doctor in “Kill Baby Kill”), pays Alan a visit to speak with him regarding the “attacks” Alan’s been having, which are, apparently, centered around bad memories of the house, & of his late wife, Evelyn.

Against the doctor’s order, Alan extends an invitation to Miranda, a twitchy medium, as well as a small group of relatives, thinking that a séance might help. If Alan can contact Evelyn & resolve his issues with her, the attacks will cease. Or so the theory goes. In fact, the séance, when carried out, does prove somewhat successful: Alan does, indeed, have a vision of (or, perhaps, a visitation from) Evelyn, but never quite gets around to resolving any issues, because he promptly faints. The next day, he speaks with his cousin, George (Roberto Maldera), about going to London, where George will set Alan up with another gal, just as he set him up with Polly.

Flash forward to a copper-haired London stripper named Susie (Erika Blanc - I told you she gets around) emerging from a coffin & getting naked to “Barbarella” music (fun!). She hangs out with Alan after the show. (He’s got a thing for redheads, such as Evelyn was, though he always pulls on their locks just to make sure they’re not wearing a wig.) Afterward, she puts on a private performance for him in the old torture chamber back at the house. He gives her some thigh-high go-go boots & then tries to strangle her with a whip handle. I won’t give away the whole scene, suffice to say he has another vision of Evelyn & subsequent fainting spell before he can finish the job.

Both George & Dr. Richard urge Alan to get married again. And back in swinging London, he does just that. Upon meeting another redhead, Gladys (Marina Malfatti), at a party, he engages her in some humorous conversations & a quickie fling before proposing to her.

After the wedding, Alan & his bride return to the castle (check out the hilarious identical maids - is anyone else reminded of the cute courtesan from the Killers’ “Mr. Brightside” video?), where Albert (Rod Murdock) - Evelyn’s brother & the person who’s been watching Alan throughout the film for blackmail purposes - confronts Alan on the circumstances of Evelyn’s death, & warns him that his new marriage is a mistake, a caveat that proves quite apt when Evelyn’s spirit begins appearing more frequently about the house, & the people around Alan begin to die.

Dressed in the trappings of a classic-yet-modern Italian horror flick, “The Night Evelyn Came Out Of The Grave” chucks the standard ol’ ghost story formula out the window & gets inventive by throwing in a bit of giallo - namely, a plethora of murders, payoffs, revelations, & more double-crossing than you can shake a stick at - alongside the spectral stuff to mix things up, including a nod to Argento with the casting of Umberto Raho (“The Bird With The Crystal Plumage”) in a small role. Despite some minor, spotty problems with pacing, the movie is accentuated by nice sets & several lovely visual moments. Leading man Antonio De Teffé tries to be suave in a young Christopher Lee-type way, & though one can detect just a smattering of that je ne sais quois that would permeate Robert Tayman’s Mark E. Desade from 1974’s “House of Whipcord”, the acting, at times (& not just De Teffé’s), falls a little flat (though it might just be the product of bad dubbing, as is often the case with films like these). But that’s okay, because even if “Evelyn” does come off a bit Euro-trash (which, in & of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing), it’s capped off by a devilishly clever ending that I don’t think even the most experienced or jaded film buff could predict.

Still isn’t as kinky as “Baba Yaga”, though.
japanesedream_72: (Default)
I just can’t seem to make good cinematic decisions lately (at least, not since I bought “Kichiku Dai Enkai”). While this is, in the end, my own fault (& the reason I’m going on movie-buying hiatus, starting right now), I do place part of the blame on the opinions of others. And while, most times, such reviews & recommendations pay off, they do occasionally backfire.

“Uzumaki” (http://www.mandiapple.com/snowblood/uzumaki.htm) is on the top of a good many “great Japanese movies” lists, so I added it to my “must-get” roster some time ago. However, I kept putting off buying it, despite the fact that it was less expensive than many of the other Asian films I came across. Even when I frequented the Kiosk of Doom (which, regretfully, is no more), that stand in the mall where I purchased so many wonderful Asian movies (some of them being hard to find or not yet released in the US) for super-cheap, I’d see it & say, “I’ll pick it up one of these days.”

Well, that day has finally come, & all I can say is this:

I’m completely underwhelmed.

The story is actually a good one (based on a manga), concerning a small town overcome by a series of inexplicable events involving uzumaki, or spirals. Often reminiscent of another pattern-obsessed plotline, namely that of “Pi”, “Uzumaki” starts off slowly - a little too slowly, in fact - with one man, Mr. Saito, spotted early on by Kirie, a young girl established at the outset as the sole escapee/survivor of these bizarre occurrences, acting somewhat strangely. Mr. Saito - whose son, Shuichi is a close, close friend of Kirie’s (he even asks her to elope with him, though it seems more out of need to escape the madness that will ultimately destroy his family & many others than an actual desire for her love & companionship) - is videotaping a snail. The action seems innocent enough, but when Kirie speaks to him, he doesn’t answer.

Kirie’s father is a prize-winning pottery-maker, & Mr. Saito goes to him that evening asking to have a platter custom-made, with the uzumaki pattern. He prattles on about how the spiral is the ultimate work of art & such, & it is later revealed - by a beleaguered Shuichi - that Mr. Saito has been this way for a while, & is getting worse. Soon, he becomes completely consumed by his obsession, forsaking his job & spending all his time collecting spiral objects, including the sign from the local salon. He refuses to eat unless his food is uzumaki-patterned, like the spiral-shaped fish cakes in his miso soup. When he finishes those, he stirs the broth with his chopsticks (in fast-motion) & happily watches it swirl.

Hints arise that others in the town are beginning to succumb to what Shuichi alleges is the “curse” of the uzumaki. A school-mate of Kirie’s plummets to his death after purportedly doing “acrobatics” on the handrail of the school’s spiral staircase (there’s a shot in here that would make Mario Bava proud). One girl tells Kirie the boy just wanted to be noticed, & that this was the only way he could achieve his desire (while one can assume she’s talking about the acrobatics, something about the way she speaks implies that she is actually referring to the act of dying). The girl says she, herself, wants to be noticed, & she is later seen with her hair gradually re-forming into larger & larger spiral-shaped tendrils. If one thinks of the uzumaki not merely as a spiral but as a vortex, similar to a tornado or black hole, drawing things into itself, this does make some symbolic sense.

Meanwhile, the situation gets desperate at the Saito house, & Shuichi throws away his father’s collection of uzumaki items. Mr. Saito is angry, initially, but says he realises it’s the pattern that’s important, not the objects. He then proceeds to produce spirals in his eyes.

Back at school, another of Kirie’s classmates is going strange. He speaks & moves slowly, leaves a slime trail, & only comes to class when it rains. When one of his fellow students trips him, he falls to the floor & we see what appears to be a snail shell protruding beneath his shirt.

One evening, Kirie’s father tells her to take the finished uzumaki platter to Mr. Saito. When she gets no answer at the front door, she tries ‘round the back. Shuichi & his mom return home, just in time to hear Kirie screaming. They find Mr. Saito dead in the washing machine.

Unfortunately for the viewer, we never get to see the corpse (there is a dream sequence in which Kirie revisits the moment when she discovered the body, but whether what she sees in the dream is what she actually saw is anyone’s guess), though there is talk (mostly speculation by nosy acquaintances) of a gruesome demise. Fortunately for the story (sort of), Mr. Saito had been videotaping at the time, & a reporter called Ichiro, who’d been contacted by Mr. Saito the week before, checks out the tape, does a bit of digging, & comes up with some possible info.

At last, it all starts getting interesting, despite some cheezy graphics having to do with faces in the sky & a tornado-like phenomenon extending down into the local lake, Dragonfly Pond, from which Kirie’s father gets his clay, & in which Ichiro discovers there were once some ancient mirrors found (Mr. Saito had his wife’s small, round mirror with him when he died). Links are made between the Japanese words for ‘mirror’ & ‘serpent’, the Ouroboros snake, & what might be an ancient cult...

Of course, this is all meaningless, because Ichiro - the one person who may have had the first & only clue to what is going on - dies in a car crash when the pathetic doofus who’s been ambushing Kirie every day to profess his affection for her in odd ways (like giving her a jack-in-the-box) decides she is never going to forget him, & promptly leaps in front of Ichiro’s car.

Still, there’s a bit of hope left for the film even at this late stage, because Shuichi’s mother goes mad & begins obliterating all the uzumaki she sees, including cutting the tips of her fingers with scissors to eradicate the spiral shape of her fingerprints. Alas, although that’s the best there is, it ends too soon. What follows are some odd & lovely images, even a few gruesome ones (& one sadly cheezy one, which could have been a completely emotional moment but just ends up looking hokey), as the remaining townspeople, in one way or another, are besieged by spirals, to the point that the bodies of many have become stretched & twisted, & a few of them have turned into snails.

It may sound terribly exciting written down (I’ve seen reviews that call this movie a cross between Lovecraft, Lynch, & Cronenberg, with a little Tim Burton on the side - & while elements of each do exist, they are merely surface points), but the film’s ultimate downfall is that it feels unfinished; one is always expecting more to happen. I was actually wondering if I’d inadvertently bought an edited version. I wanted it to go deeper, to burrow in & find some hidden volcano of either meaning or, failing that, insane visual prowess, to explode on-screen & blow my mind, & it never did. It was as if the film-makers said, “We’re gonna show you some great possibilities, but throw them out the window as soon as they’ve piqued your interest.” Even as it is, the film could’ve been salvaged by an extra half-hour (it’s only 90 minutes long), in which we learn WHY this has happened, how Kirie managed to escape it, what Ichiro uncovered, SOMETHING.


I’m not saying all movies need explanations. “Suicide Circle” - which gives no reason whatsoever for anything that happens in the entire movie - is one of the most amazing films I’ve ever seen. But when my grandpa, who simply enjoys watching these things & doesn’t get much into the aesthetics, liked “Suicide Circle” yet insisted that “this one didn’t end right”, you know something’s not quite up to snuff.

I will admit, there is some good camera work in “Uzumaki”. I noticed myself looking in the corners of the frame, & checking out shadows here & there, in hopes of catching hidden spirals. I even paid more attention to some spiral patterns on tv & in my own environment after watching it. The ideas, too, are excellent & potentially intense. But much of the execution fell far short of the high amount of praise the movie often gets. It could have been a chilling, visually disturbing, darkly twisted film. But while it’s a nice theory, & worthy of a few screencaps, it’s hardly the amazingly artistic bit of brilliance some reviewers (& I’m talking good, reliable, reputable ones) proclaim it to be.

Thankfully, I’ve paid a good deal less for some of the better films in my collection than what I believe they are worth, so in some weird way, by some strange logic, it will even out. But it puts me in mind of a time when I was not able to fully appreciate the subtleties & social commentary of George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead”, which I exchanged with a high school classmate for the punk-rock zombie classic “Return of the Living Dead” (still one of my all-time faves). Maybe someday I will better understand what “Uzumaki” is trying to offer, & why so many think of it so highly. But until then...

Anybody got a spare copy of “Moon Child” they’d be willing to trade?
japanesedream_72: (Default)
In these days of cinematic laziness, when big studios rely on big name actors, big production budgets (mostly involving computers), & big, steaming piles of re-used plots, one pities those who were not raised on smaller, intimate, & vastly more creative films. While many of these warrant artistic merit simply based on plot, acting, & resourceful film-making, gimmicky (but oh so fun) tactics were often used in the production & promotion of low-budget or less-than-stellar horror movies (& even a number of good ones) to make them more appealing . In 1981, John Waters’ use of “Odorama” (scratch & sniff cards labeled with numbers coinciding with scents depicted in the film) during the release of “Polyester” paid homage to this forgotten form of art & advertising, & while it may seem ridiculous today, in the 1950s & 60s, such devices were a vital part of the theatre-going experience, thanks to producer-director William Castle. With plastic skeletons rigged to fly overhead to startle audience members, insurance policies for those who might die of fright while watching the film, special glasses for optical effects (kind of like 3-D, I guess), & buzzers under the seats to give the audience a jolt now & again, Castle enticed movie-lovers, many of whom went as much for the thrill of what he might come up with next as they did to see the actual movie.

Though not a Castle film itself, 1958’s “Terror in the Haunted House” (http://www.badmovieplanet.com/3btheater/t/terrorinhauntedhouse.html - this review contains major spoilage) does hearken back to such a time, it being the first picture in Psycho-Rama, “a visual process so devastating that our government banned its use within a year of the movie’s release,” or so claims the box. “Subliminal skulls, snakes, & messages leap off the screen & into your brain - can your psyche take it?!”

More a suspenseful psychological thriller than an outright horror story (likely why the original title listed on the IMDB is “My World Dies Screaming”), the film opens with a woman’s softly-voiced narration guiding viewers into an old house which is very familiar to her, but which she has never visited. The camera wanders (a la first-person perspective) through the various halls & rooms, but when she comes to a stairwell leading up into the attic, the woman is compelled to stop, unable to venture any further, fearing some fatal, frightening, hidden truth awaits her should she ascend.

She screams, & awakens on a therapist’s couch. Her name is Sheila (Cathy O’Donnell), & the house appears to her in a recurring dream. Her shrink has made numerous attempts to hypnotise her & guide her into the attic to uncover what he believes is a repressed memory. But though she comes close, she has not yet been able to go up those stairs. An orphan who survived a bout with tuberculosis as a child, Sheila has been living in Switzerland since her youth. Having spent some time in a sanitarium, she is now planning to return to the US with her husband, Phillip (Gerald Mohr), with whom she shared a whirlwind romance, & about whom she knows very little.

A shady character if ever there were one, Phillip talks around subjects, twists statements & situations to his benefit, & keeps secrets from his wife. He takes her to a large house in Florida, & right from the start, you know something’s fishy, because Sheila lets out an ear-piercing howl - the house is the same one from her dreams! After much hesitation & a bit of pressure from her husband, Sheila goes in. She meets Jonah, the caretaker (John Qualen), whose dog growls at the couple & yet obeys Phillip when he commands it to sit. Jonah tells Sheila the house has been empty for 17 years. One by one, he says, the owners “went away”, but he’s kept it as it was because he’s waiting for them to come back.

Not surprisingly, Sheila, as she moves through the house, seems to know each step before she takes it. Even the name on the mailbox - Tierney - is the same as in her dream. Greatly unnerved, she convinces Phillip she needs to get out of there, but when they try to leave, they find their car has been sabotaged, the distributor cap removed. Phillip blames Jonah, but with night falling & the nearest town too far to walk to, they have no choice but to stay.

In conversing with Jonah, Sheila calls up a few childhood memories, one having to do with a boy she liked who carved their initials on a tree. They are hazy recollections, at best, but they plant a seed of doubt as to her original assertion that she has only been to the house in her dreams. That night, she hears a horrible scream, & sees a figure outside the window - even though she’s on the second floor! She goes looking for Phillip, who is nowhere to be found, until she’s chased back into her room by Jonah’s dog. There, she finds her husband, who says he was just out for a walk.

Jonah re-appears, so after reassuring his ever-nervous wife, Phillip goes to confront the caretaker. Sheila takes a gun from Phillip’s suitcase for protection...but also discovers the missing distributor cap. She leaves the room, & in the hall, a shadow moves over her (a stunning shot), & she goes through a nearby door, only to see that frightening stairwell leading up to the attic.

While Phillip insists that Sheila’s mounting fear & paranoia are simply a product of her fragile mind, she becomes more & more certain he has intentionally brought her to the house of her nightmares. This feeling is cemented with the introduction of Mark (William Ching), a man who claims to be the owner of the house, who insinuates that he not only shares a connection to Phillip, but knows something about Sheila that she doesn‘t. Of course, the burning question here is, what is the terrifying secret locked away in the attic that poor Sheila is unable to face?

“Terror In The Haunted House” isn’t really as bad a movie as some reviewers seem to think it is. It simply lacks the cinematic horror elements for which it has been marketed. Though a little slow at times, there are several twists to the story, so it never quite goes the way you might expect, which is a definite positive. The acting is good, particularly Gerald Mohr as Phillip (described in my notes as “a shifty cross between Humphrey Bogart & John Larroquette”). I was slightly disappointed in the conclusion, however, which I found a tad lackluster, given the fairly interesting (& lengthy) build-up. (The inclusion of some super-sappy moments didn’t help this, though they do fit the movie’s often melodramatic tone.) One scene in particular could have been upped a notch & a half, had it been done as a flashback.

As for the subliminals, you can occasionally make out the shape of a head or a pair of eyes, even a word or two, but beyond that, it’s basically just a series of blips that make you blink a few times & would probably drive you completely nuts if they went on through the entire movie. Luckily, they don’t (they mostly appear in the beginning & near the end of the film). Apparently, Rhino Video, who released “Terror In The Haunted House”, re-mastered the original messages, adding their own slogan to the mix (“Rent Rhino Videos Every Day”), but you can at least give them marks for effort if you think of Psycho-Rama primarily as a throw-back to a bygone era. Besides, however distracting those quick flashes of faces & phrases may be, so long as the mention of them on the box is enough to spark your interest in the film, they’ve served their purpose.
japanesedream_72: (Default)
Normally, I dig “My Bloody Valentine” out of mothballs for Valentine’s Day if I get the opportunity. However, as much as I enjoy seeing a woman’s blood-soaked remains spilling out of a Laundromat’s tumble-dryer, I couldn’t pass up the chance to watch something a little more serious, & a lot more disturbing.

Inspired by a true incident previously showcased in such films as “Ecstasy of the Angels” & “Hikari No Ame” (“Rain of Light”), & funded by its college-student creators working on building sites & even volunteering for clinical drug trials, “Kichiku Dai Enkai” (“Banquet of the Beasts” - http://www.mandiapple.com/snowblood/kichikudaienkai.htm) is, perhaps, best known for containing scenes of total madness & unadulterated brutality. It’s a bit difficult to describe the plot of the film; that is to say, at times there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot going on. However, the subtext of certain moments in which action is absent actually speaks volumes to the viewer about just how much is going on, in terms of the unspoken tension brewing beneath the surface. Like the characters in works ranging from Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit” to George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead”, isolated from all but each other, this assemblage, too, is destined to implode.

There is a stark sense of realism to “Kichiku” that may not be on a par with “The Blair Witch Project”, but which is thoroughly credible & at the same time nostalgic, an echo of the era in which it is set rather than in which it was made, a 1970s atmosphere not unlike “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” or “Last House on the Left”. The 70s were an apparently tumultuous period in Japan which gave rise to militant student protest groups. One such group is the focus of the film; its leader, a young man named Aizawa, is in jail - for what, it’s never said, though it’s likely something to do with the group’s activities. He tells Fujiwara, a friend he made in prison who has been released, where to find the group, & to go visit them. Fujiwara agrees.

With Aizawa incarcerated, it is left to his girlfriend, Masami, to lead the group until his return. Masami is an unmitigated bitch who uses her feminine wiles to assert herself & to retain control of the all-male group. The first time we see her, in fact, she is engaged in sexual congress with group member Yamane. But soon after, when he bad-mouths Aizawa, & later tries to unite the other group members against Masami, not only does she threaten to tell Aizawa (who, it is said, has “a kind of charisma” that can subdue even edgy types like Yamane), but the others refuse to stand with him, & Yamane leaves.

The members of the group - hippie-looking guitarist Kumagaya (who Masami defended when Yamane got on his case, but on whom she later turns), Kumagaya’s clean-cut roommate, Sugihara (new to the group), a young man named Okazaki, & at least one other whose name I’m hard-pressed to recall - seem for a while to be doing their own thing. At one point, a couple of them are seen hiding evidence of something they’ve done (exactly what the group is protesting is never brought to light, & the crimes they commit for their cause are only vaguely touched on), & when they return, Fujiwara arrives also. Unbeknownst to all but Masami, who’d heard about him in letters from Aizawa, Fujiwara intends to join the group.

Masami decides to hold an “Enkai Party” (‘enkai’ means ’beast’) in honour of their newest member. This consists mainly of dinner & a show - the show being Masami in an Oni (or demon) mask dancing herself into a frenzy. Soon, however, she moves on to asserting her power over Kumagaya, whom she sees as a threat because he begins openly questioning her leadership skills. He is, at first, reluctant, inching his way across the room to avoid her roving hand, but she appears to win him over & they start making out.

Later on, Kumagaya & Sugihara are hanging out in their room, drinking, when Yamane shows up. Conversation leads to violence as Yamane provokes Kumagaya, who lops a bottle of beer across his face. No sooner are Kumagaya & Sugihara out the door in search of Masami - who has now taken up with Okazaki - than she & the rest of the group are standing in the corridor.

This is where the downward spiral of the group begins, as Yamane is taken into the woods, where he is to be tortured & killed. Guilt by association leads Masami to question Kumagaya’s trustworthiness (because he was once Yamane’s friend), & he, too, is condemned. Sugihara must choose between aiding in Kumagaya’s demise or facing the wrath of Masami, & anyone else who opposes her is doomed to suffer a similar fate...until Masami, herself, pushes things too far.

One cannot define the precise moment which ultimately changes the group members. The breakdown of the collective, while anticipated, remains something of a mystery, though the catalyst seems to be the death of their leader, Aizawa. Unable to hack it in prison, he has been slowly going mad throughout the course of the film, & ends up committing seppuku (or 'hara-kiri', Japanese ritual suicide) with a straight-razor. As it is Masami who cracks first, one can only assume that after his death, given her role as an extension of Aizawa, part of her died, too. But she is such a cold, unsympathetic character (at least until her gruesome demise) that nobody notices anything’s wrong until it’s too late. What have been, up to that point, petty internal squabbles, power plays, & manipulation tactics quickly turn into some of the most savage acts ever committed to film, including (but not limited to) beatings, strangulations, shootings, genital mutilations, & someone literally getting their head blown off. It operates almost like a contagion, spreading from one member to the next (contagion being a recurrent theme in Japanese horror).

Amidst all this bloodshed, there are aspects of the film that are both beautiful & terrifying. Long stretches without dialogue prove very powerful in establishing an almost palpable atmosphere. The forest scenes contain some stunning shots of trees, sky, even a small lizard. Other scenes concentrate on something as simple as a breeze dancing with a tinkling wind chime, the sound of birds chirping, or the abandoned building which the group occupies, the latter filmed in such a way as to lead us to almost believe it is as indigenous to the environment as the lush, grassy areas around it. These elements serve to subtly enforce the almost natural ‘beast’ or ‘feral’ side of the tale. The fabulous musical score, with its frenzied tribal drum beats, literally pounds this into one’s head. But the soft strains of traditional Japanese music, & modern folk guitar strumming a sad melody, remind us that we are witnessing a level of brutality that is wholly unnatural, & nowhere is this better or more strikingly demonstrated than in a scene which begins with Masami dancing amidst the ruins, decked out like a demented Geisha.

Which leads me to what I found most chilling: the reactions of the group members to the carnage they perpetrate, beginning with laughter (possibly out of fear, horror, astonishment, or simply insanity), but soon declining into acceptance or even fascination as each person succumbs to lunacy. A moment between Sugihara & Kumagaya near the end of the film suggests some little hint of compassion, & thereby humanity, left in these people, but even this disintegrates by the end of the scene. Most disturbing, however, are the moments in which group members like Fujiwara exhibit no reaction whatsoever.

It is often incredibly difficult to remember that “Kichiku” was not professionally made, but rather the work of college students. One might have expected such a film from the likes of Takashi Miike, Ryuhei “Versus” Kitamura, or the folks behind “Battle Royale”. Though it may not be as finely honed a piece of work as its big-time counterparts, this mix of gore, sociology, & socio-political commentary stands as a testament to ultra-creative film-making on its most personal level, & perhaps as a warning to a supposedly civilised world descending into barbarism even as I write this.
japanesedream_72: (Default)
Fixed the grammatical error in my previous entry...let's hope there aren't any in this one.

Did you ever find yourself in a funk, or have a generally bad day? Well, I’ve always believed that a little no-thought horror flick can work wonders for an addled brain, so when I had a day that was a bit of a downer, I pulled out “Rocktober Blood” (http://imdb.com/title/tt0176097/) to chase away the blues.

Our story begins with a rock band’s recording session. Now don’t be put off by the blistering, cheezy-80’s-pop-metal sound (the kind of thing even Beavis & Butt-head would berate); listen to the lyrics. They’re so wonderfully apt they act as a foreshadowing agent: “When you least expect it, I will attack. There’ll be hell to pay, I’m back!”

After the session, vocalist Billy “Eye” Harper (Tray Loren) teases his girlfriend, Lynn Starling (Donna Scoggins), that he’s going on a “hot date”, even though it’s 4:30 in the morning. She talks about wanting him to write a song for her, & he says his song “Rainbow Eyes” was written for her. She whines about wanting to sing it for the album, but she’s relegated to the harmony parts.

As Lynn attempts to record her tracks, the band’s manager, Chris (Nigel Benjamin), & producer, Kevin, are futzing around with the mixing board, while assistant Mary is doing...well, whatever assistants do. After calling it a night, everybody goes their separate ways. Lynn mentions wanting to use the hot tub, & Kevin jokes about going in with her. She says there’s only room for one, & Kevin tries his hand at the pinball machine instead.

Somewhere in the back of the studio, we see someone in a pair of polished combat boots & dark trousers - but only from the waist down - walk in. Kevin seems to know the person, who subsequently slits his throat. Soon after, Mary is dragged across the floor & impaled on an equipment rack. Lynn hears someone trying to open the door to the jacuzzi, & assumes it’s Kevin, but because she’s locked the door, they are quick to leave.

After drying & dressing, Lynn returns to find Billy sitting at the mixing board, making much use of pun & double entendre. When at last she sees what’s happened, Billy admits he’s the one who did it. He goes after Lynn, & when he catches her, says he wants her to sing, except he doesn’t like the way she sings his songs because there isn’t enough fear in her voice. He starts to cut her, but her screams alert a passing security guard (where this guy was when Kevin & Mary were getting slaughtered, I have no idea). Billy lets go of Lynn & runs off in pursuit of the guard.

Flash forward two years. A concert, part of the “Rocktober Blood Tour”, is announced, covered by a reporter called Rick Righteous from MV TV, whose report leads up to an interview with Lynn at a rock club. Lynn, it seems, fingered Billy as the murderer, though he was also, according to the report, responsible for the deaths of 25 other rockers (&, one would assume, the security guard, as well). This led to his execution the previous year. Since then, Lynn has re-formed the old band into a new one known as Head Mistress, who are headlining the tour with a stage show built up mostly around smoke, blood, guts (although not enough to put GWAR out of work or anything), chicks in chains, & Billy’s musical material. “He was really talented,” says Lynn, “he just went crazy.”

While Lynn’s version of “Rainbow Eyes” plays in the background, we see lots of club-goers dancing (I think most of these were friends of the directors, if I read the end credits right), & a familiar-looking pair of combat boots prowling around the stairwell & catwalk.

A dude in a mask, which Lynn takes to be her usual stage performer, Frankie, begs a word in Lynn’s ear, but when she goes to meet him backstage, he plunges a knife into the wall beside her head & takes off the mask to reveal...Billy.

Chris goes backstage looking for Lynn, & finds her in a tizzy because she just had a run-in with her dead serial-killer ex-boyfriend. Of course, he (Chris) doesn’t believe her, & sucker-punches Frankie for playing what he thinks is a cruel practical joke. Then he says something about taking Lynn & some of the entourage up to the lake.

A serene, secluded, & scenic lakeside cabin is where we next find Lynn, snapping pics in the forest. At least until she hears the sinister whispers of Billy echoing across the trees & rocks. She runs, falls, gets up, runs some more, & screams.

Back at the cabin, some of the girls from the stage show are dancing & exercising. Lynn comes in, acting tense. Once again, no one believes her when she says she saw Billy. The girls think she’s going loopy & warn her that if she continues to ‘hallucinate’, “they’ll send you back to that shrink again.”

But if she’s hallucinating, who’s that walking over the rocks in those combat boots? Who’s on the other end of the phone when Lynn receives a call threatening to spill her blood “all over my face”? Whose boots are those strolling down the stairs inside the house? And why does the audience get a glimpse of Billy watching Lynn & the girls boating on the lake?

When the killing starts afresh, there’s only one person that could possibly be responsible...or is there?

Along with the requisite stripping-of-the-clothes shots & chase-her-through-the-house scenes, “Rocktober Blood” has actually got a surprise or two. In the end, the plot may run like something swiped out of a soap opera, but that’s okay. It all culminates in a concert scene which features another of those oh-so-apropos songs (“There’s A Killer On The Loose”), & reprises of “Rainbow Eyes” & “I’m Back” that had me singing along (they’re catchy little numbers), as well as one hilariously cheezy moment involving Chris & the head of the band’s security detail. I also discovered what I took to be a sort of ode to “Peeping Tom”, with the use of a microphone stand as a deadly weapon.

While most of the film seems to be an excuse for directors Fred & Beverly Sebastian to showcase their friends, relatives, & record label (it says “Sebastian Records” in the credits), it’s not so bad as a horror movie. A few more murders wouldn’t have gone amiss, but there are a couple of groovy ones, including the slit throat & a severed head. Tray Loren also puts in a nice performance as the film’s resident lunatic. The rest of the cast is pretty much flat soda, but even that makes for some uplifting so-bad-it’s-good moments.

Who needs Prozac when you’ve got “Rocktober Blood”? This one’s a definite mood elevator, no prescription required.

Swiped from el_jefe59... )
japanesedream_72: (Default)
In the John Waters movie “Serial Mom”, there is a scene in which Kathleen Turner’s family realises she has left the house & thinks she is on her way to kill her son’s sex-addict friend. She’s really offing the couple who mocked her dentist husband (& gets further angered when she sees them eating chicken, considering her love for the little migrating birds she watches from her window every morning), but that’s beside the point. What I’m getting at is that when they bust into the son’s friend’s house, they find him engaging in an act of self-love inspired by one Chesty Morgan, & her movie “Double Agent 73” (http://imdb.com/title/tt0071437/).

A group of men, one of whom has a large birthmark on his face, are sitting around playing cards & such. Another gentleman, later identified as secret agent #99, sneaks in & begins hurriedly snooping around. At last, he finds what he’s been looking for - a hidden roll of microfilm. He swipes it & leaves, but is pursued, & gets bopped on the head. A shadowy figure, addressed by the others as Mr. Toplar, tells them to “get rid of him”.

Toplar’s guys take Agent 99 outside & try to put him in the trunk of their car. He fights them off & escapes. But as he’s running away, they strike him down with the car & drag him off the road. Someone finds him & asks who did this to him. With his dying breath, he says, “Toplar...scar,” & then collapses.

Cut to a beachy resort, where the vacationing Agent 73, Jane Genet (Chesty), is lounging. This is where we are first shown her incredible figure, including a lingering shot of her legs (after she’s removed her chunky platform shoes) & the first of many (many, many) tight close-ups of her magnificent bosom. (If you haven’t checked out the link, these mammoth mammaries are 73 double-F’s - likely giving rise to the film’s title.) Jane soon gets a call from her boss, Bill. He tells her she’ll have to cut short her holiday & fly to New York. Though she’s terribly angry about this, she consents, & meets with Bill (who makes rather pointed use of the word “imperative” throughout the film) to learn the details.

Seems there’s a heroin ring being headed by Toplar. But the good guys can’t catch him because they don’t know what he looks like (except for 99’s revelation that he has a scar). They do know that he’s got agents everywhere, some of which may even have infiltrated the agency Bill & Jane work for. The only concrete information they have are the names & addresses of a handful of Toplar’s informants & underlings, who are posing as legitimate businessmen. Jane’s assignment is to get as close as she can to these people (she is given a list), take them out if necessary, & photograph them & any documents she comes across. The goal is to get to Toplar & identify him.

But there’s a catch. She can’t take the pics with just any old camera. She’s given the use of the state-of-the-art, pressure-sensitive XL-17 model...which is implanted in one of her boobs. Bill warns her not to trust anyone, & gives her strict orders (for reasons I cannot divulge - but trust me, it’s way out there) to be back by March 11 at 10 pm. Beyond that, anything goes.

Taking heed of Bill’s advice, Jane is suspicious of the nurse in the recovery room after the implant surgery. Turns out her instincts are right, & she’d been dealing with one of Toplar’s associates. She ends up strangling the nurse & taking her photo by shifting one breast upward with her hand, thus enabling the camera to work.

Jane receives a coded message directing her to a club (an absolutely swingin’ place, in that wonderfully bad 70s way) where Mark Chiaro, another of Toplar’s guys, hangs out. She shares a drink with Mark & later blows the lock on the door to his hotel room with plastic explosive, & rifles through his things. Off comes the blouse, & she’s taking pics of all his papers. When he catches her, we find out those enormous breasts aren’t just for looks or cameras - they double as weaponry! She fwaps him in the face with one, inadvertently snapping his photo, & runs off whilst he’s down & dazed. But he’s soon up again, & this leads to a high-speed chase in some nifty 1970s cars.

Unfortunately, Jane gets caught & driven somewhere (it’s not really made clear where). Mark tells her to get out of the car, which she does. But she’s left a tiny explosive device in the vehicle...

Igor, the bad guy with the birthmark, gets a call - Mr. Toplar’s not at all pleased that there’s a woman making short work of all his men, & he wants her rubbed out. He doesn’t know who she is or what she looks like, but he knows roughly where she can be found. So Igor calls his pal Dimitri in to do the job.

Around this time, a friend of Jane’s comes over to spend a couple nights, & says she has something important she wants to talk to Jane about. Jane excuses herself to run some errands, & receives another coded message instructing her to meet a fellow agent, Atlantis 7, at the zoo at 3 pm. Meanwhile, Jane’s friend is taking a shower when Dimitri shows up & he, of course, mistakes her for Jane. What follows is a low-budget homage to (or perhaps rip-off of) “Psycho”, after which Jane returns to find her friend dead &, with no other recourse, goes to the zoo, where Atlantis 7 tells Jane he’s been sent by the boss to look after her.

As Jane continues on her mission to bump off the bad guys, & Atlantis 7 finds himself falling in love with Jane, Toplar & his gang finally figure out they’ve killed the wrong woman. So they decide to try again. Igor gets on to Dimitri, threatening, with a completely dead-pan delivery, “You’d better not muff it up this time, or it’s curtains for you.”

Okay, let’s be honest here. The storyline & characters of “Double Agent 73” (one of two Chesty Morgan movies directed by the late Doris Wishman) are a total afterthought. While the scenes in which Jane murders the members of Toplar’s syndicate are kind of a hoot (especially the one involving the poisoned boobie), & there are lots of humorous moments (bad clothes, bad lines, dizzying breast shots, & Atlantis 7 - who can pull off hammy & cheezy & a little bit corny, all at the same time), most people probably won’t care whether Toplar gets brought down or not. We all know this thing is just a vehicle for Chesty Morgan to get naked from the waist up & show off those freakishly huge assets of hers. They obviously don’t call the woman “Chesty” for nothing, & her bosom - which has made Ms. Morgan a cult icon - is as much the star of the picture as she is.

That’s not to say “Double Agent 73” isn’t a good movie. It may be a no-brainer, but it’s actually a whole lot of fun, particularly if you’re in the mood for campy, culty, low-budget, large-breasted, no-thought-necessary-but-suspend-your-disbelief-anyway sort of stuff. Though I guarantee you’ll spend less time trying to follow the plot & more time wondering how Chesty manages to get any sleep, or how she can function without the constant aid of a chiropractor.

I stole this from a couple people... )
japanesedream_72: (Default)
I believe it was Nietzsche who said that what does not kill us makes us stronger. I’m sure everyone can recall at least one negative experience they’ve gone through that’s left them a little tougher, a little wiser, a little more aware or appreciative. But for all the wisdom or strength these events may impart, we don’t always come out of them as well-adjusted individuals. Case in point: “Oldboy” (http://imdb.com/title/tt0364569/).

Dae-su (Min-sik Choi) is a pudgy South Korean businessman who ends up at the police station one rainy night for being drunk & flirting with another man’s girl. Though he already has a wife & young daughter, Dae-su has apparently got something of a roving eye. He causes a bit of a ruckus at the station before his buddy, Joo-hwan (Dae-han Ji), comes to fetch him. Afterward, they stop at a phone booth to call Dae-su’s wife & daughter (it’s the daughter’s birthday). But just as Joo-hwan is about to hand the phone to Dae-su, he finds that his friend has disappeared.

Next, we see a foot unlatching a small door - like a doggie-door with a lock - just above the floor. Dae-su’s head pokes out, & he pleads with this person to explain what he’s doing there, or at least to let him know how much longer he has to stay there, as it’s already been two months. A tray of fried dumplings is placed on the floor & pushed through the door. The foot locks it again & the person walks back down the hall.

Dae-su’s room - or, more aptly, cell - looks like a slightly off-centre (with just a hint of creepy) hotel room; it has a bed, tv, writing desk, & bathroom (sans door), even some art on the walls. But every so often, a music box-like song begins to play, & the room fills with noxious gas. Once Dae-su is knocked out, his clothes are changed, his room is cleaned, & his hair is cut.

This goes on for 15 years.

Over time, Dae-su begins to change. Physically, he grows leaner & stronger, yet appears much older than he probably is. He has little opportunity to do anything but think & watch television, other than engaging in martial arts training (his sparring partner is the outline of a person he’s made on the wall). The tv helps him to keep track of time & the events shaping the outside world (though he must have also watched a host of documentaries, because he later exhibits a “weird wealth of knowledge”, as I wrote in my notes). Sometimes he hallucinates that ants are crawling on him.

One day, he hears on the news that his wife has been found murdered. Witness testimony places him at the scene of the crime, & a family photo album has been stolen from his home. This is more than enough to push Dae-su over the edge on which he has been teetering - & if you’ve ever seen David Lynch’s “Lost Highway”, the freak-out Dae-su has here will remind you of Bill Pullman’s ‘head trauma’, just a bit.

After that, Dae-su’s eyes linger somewhere between extremely tired & more than a little insane. He attempts to dig his way out through the bricks in the wall. He also starts carving lines in the back of his hand (tattooing might be a more apt description) to indicate the number of years he’s been incarcerated, & writing down his thoughts in a notebook, along with the names of all the people he fears he may have wronged who might have wanted to seek vengeance against him. Whoever it is, he vows to escape, & to have his own revenge.

Shortly thereafter, while he’s half-unconscious from the knock-out gas, a woman comes to speak to him. She tells him he is on a plane, & that if he looks down, he will see a lush, grassy field. She rings a small bell, & - in a beautiful overhead shot - we, too, see the field. A trunk is situated there, from which emerges Dae-su, released as inexplicably as he was abducted.

But there is no one he can turn to, & he has nowhere to go. Branded a murderer & now a fugitive from the law, Dae-su tries to adjust to the outside world & to people (especially women) again. For a while, he simply wanders. After some bizarre encounters - a (suicidal?) man with a small dog, a group of thugs who accost him in the street, the mysterious person who hands him a cell phone & a wallet full of money outside a restaurant - Dae-su meets Mi-do (Hye-jeong Kang), a sushi chef. She tends to him when he passes out, & they quickly forge a relationship, which ranges, over the course of the film, from him trying to hump her as she’s sitting on the toilet, to a really sweet moment when he helps her dry her hair. During the latter scene, he wonders to himself if she would feel the same way about him had he not gone through his traumatic experience, for he knows - as the audience does - that his imprisonment has made him, in just about every sense, a better man.

Mi-do helps Dae-su gather information: she learns his daughter was sent to live with a family in Sweden, & obtains a map to his wife’s grave. She also joins him in his obsessive quest to find the restaurant that made the dumplings that were his only meals for a decade & a half. By doing this, he hopes to find some clue as to who his captor may have been.

One thing eventually leads to another, & Dae-su does, indeed, learn his enemy’s identity. In the process, he also beats the living tar out of a hallway full of guys, gets tortured & does some torturing (in a moment somewhat reminiscent of a memorable scene from “Bloodsucking Freaks”), & is re-acquainted with Joo-hwan, who lends his talents to Dae-su’s investigation. But by the time his enemy is revealed, said adversary is already one step ahead of Dae-su (&, it appears, always has been), & Mi-do’s life is threatened. Unless Dae-su can figure out, in the next five days, WHY he was imprisoned, Mi-do will die - just as his wife was murdered - along with any other woman Dae-su has ever loved. Much as Dae-su would relish bashing his foe’s head in, he must make a choice: uncover the awful truth & consequently save Mi-do, or have the revenge he has sought, heart & soul, for so very long?

By far, the best thing about “Oldboy” is Min-sik Choi. I was floored to learn that the man in the opening scene at the police station & the one released from 15 years of captivity were portrayed by the same actor. Yes, I mean in the predominantly physical sense, but also in that Choi truly embodies the determined, eccentric, dangerous aspects of Dae-su, in addition to the tender, vulnerable side...& yet he can do 'drunken jerk' quite nicely, as well. The story gets a trifle confusing now & again (this is either down to the way the manga on which it is based plays out or the fact that there are 4 or 5 writers credited for the screenplay), but it’s never boring (especially once the villain, whom I called in my notes “almost operatic”, comes into the picture), & things do make sense in the end - tragic & cruel & brutal as that sense may be (for both viewers & characters). There are some terrific visuals, including a perspective-oriented scene in which Dae-su literally pursues a memory, & a stunning final shot just prior to the credits. I liked the musical score, as well.

This film comes from the same director who gave us the “Cut” segment of “Three...Extremes”, Park Chan Wook. And while one can see shades of the various “Oldboy” themes in that piece, “Oldboy” itself seems to dwell in the twisted shadow of Takashi Miike (including one action, on the part of Dae-su, ripped right out of “Ichi The Killer”), as well as the martial arts films Hong Kong has been putting out for years. I have seen only a handful of Korean pictures, so I’m not sure if movies from that country have truly found their voice yet (consummate though I have found the ones I’ve watched, "Oldboy" included). It may be that they are simply eclipsed by the more well-known genre films of Japan & China. But, from what I’ve been seeing, they are definitely catching up. And fast.

Note: If you’ve already seen “Oldboy”, or are just curious (& don’t mind spoilers), check out this site with regard to the Indian re-make, “Zinda”: http://www.indiaglitz.com/channels/hindi/review/8003.html
(credit must go to [livejournal.com profile] asian_cinema for this)

More stuff I stole from el_jefe59. )
japanesedream_72: (Default)
Often, when I read about a movie in a book or on a website, I think to myself, “That sounds like it might be interesting”, or, “That seems pretty cool, I should check it out.” But rarely, if ever, have I read a synopsis so striking that, sight-unseen (i.e., without having also viewed a clip or photo), I felt an absolute need to see the film. And yet that’s just what happened when I came upon a passage in Kim Newman’s book, “Nightmare Movies: A Critical Guide To Contemporary Horror Films”, regarding “God Told Me To” (http://imdb.com/title/tt0075930/).

The setting is 1970s New York City. While homicide may be an everyday occurrence in the Big Apple, something strange is happening: seemingly normal people are suddenly deciding to go on murderous rampages. A crack-shot sniper (with a gun that, by rights, shouldn’t be able to shoot straight) picks off unsuspecting citizens from his perch on top of a water tower. A husband & father cheerily speaks in grisly detail about how he slaughtered his wife & children. A policeman marching in the St. Patrick’s Day parade (Andy Kaufman!) pulls out his gun & begins firing into the crowd for no apparent reason.

And each of them has the same explanation for doing it: “God told me to.”

The case is put in the hands of Detective Peter Nicholas (Tony LoBianco), a broody Catholic so staunchly attached to his faith that he not only goes to Mass every day, but refuses to get a divorce from his wife, Martha (Sandy Dennis), because the Church doesn’t believe in it (although there are moments, particularly toward the end of the film, when we see that he still cares for her & remains deeply connected to her). Yet he also maintains a relationship with Casey, a modern, women’s lib-ish gal (Deborah Raffin, who played Charles Bronson’s ill-fated paramour in “Death Wish 3”), who may or may not be a psychologist (she comes off a bit like one).

After some rigorous investigating, Peter finds a link - many of the perpetrators were seen in the company of a young, blonde hippie, whose face no one can describe as anything but an indistinct blur. The sniper’s mom identifies the mystery man as Bernard Phillips. But there is no criminal record on file, nor is there much in the way of documented history. So Peter tracks down Phillips’ mother...who promptly attacks him. Why?

Got it in one.

Things get a little freaky after that. Turns out Mrs. Phillips wasn’t ‘Mrs.’ anybody. Hospital records indicate she was a virgin who delivered a pseudo-hermaphroditic child via c-section twenty-odd years earlier. Further inquires lead Peter to a gentleman who found Mrs. Phillips one night those many years ago, on the side of a road in New Jersey, naked & rambling about being abducted by aliens while she was walking near her Massachusetts home.

What does this all mean?

Only one of the most promising & provocative cinematic concepts ever.

Preying on people’s deepest spiritual beliefs, Phillips (Richard Lynch) uses his power to manipulate the human mind, touting himself as a sort of Second Coming so the faithful will commit these ghastly crimes. When Peter finally comes face-to-face with Phillips (in a surreal moment that proves Newman wasn’t just talking about Phillips’ personality when he called him a “luminous hippie”), he does, indeed, find a Christ-like figure, whose lair - & this is a pretty ingenious visual device - more closely resembles one of the outer circles of Hell than anything divine.

Just why, apart from the obvious alien conquest, Phillips is doing all this becomes almost secondary. Like “Shikoku”, the overwhelming potential ramifications of these events are kept to an intimate minimum - specifically, their effect on Peter, whose connection to the case runs far deeper than he ever could have imagined.

“God Told Me To” is an engrossing tale, with some very well-played, emotional scenes, especially those between Peter & his mother (the late Sylvia Sidney), & the moment where the two women in his life meet. The conclusion begins powerfully, though right at the end it leans a little toward the anticipated. This in itself is to be expected, however, as writer-director Larry Cohen’s films have long been known for being more ambitious in their ideas than their executions; ergo, “God Told Me To” is a wee bit jumbled. One gets the sense that the people Phillips exploits are picked at random - I would liked to have had more of an organized-cult-a-la-Manson-Family vibe there. And the group of well-dressed, highly educated, semi-powerful-looking men who serve Phillips, in the belief that he really is something special, don’t appear to have that much in the way of either influence or intimidation.

Still, Cohen always gives us moments that are unforgettable (remember the delivery room scene from “It’s Alive”?), & attempts to make a culturally relevant statement with each project (“The Stuff”, for example, was an often blatant attack on consumerism & advertising), & there are plenty of both in this picture. The opening shot of the city, for instance, at once gritty & breathtaking, is an immediate hook. The underlying theme of religion, its origins, its true nature, & the easy manipulation of faith for either good or evil purposes, is something hotly debated outside the cinematic arena, & only daring filmmakers even try & address such notions. Why more people weren’t up in arms about “God Told Me To” at the time it was made, I couldn’t say. You certainly couldn’t release such a film today, given its suggestion that Jesus is (& I have to use Newman’s words here) “a bisexual psycho from outer space”.

I think Nate Yapp put it best, in his review at classic-horror.com: “’God Told Me To’ was filmed, it exists, & it's damn weird. That simple fact should be enough to get you to see it.” I can only add that you’ll know, once you’ve watched it, that you’ve seen something fairly profound, not only within the context of the story but outside of it, as well...& yet, like the finer details of Phillips’ face, you’ll find you can’t quite describe it.

Stuff I stole from el_jefe59 - we keep getting the same answers. )
japanesedream_72: (Default)
Outside of the films of David Cronenberg, I have to admit it isn’t very often I think of Canada when it comes to horror movies. But thanks to my “Fright Night” box set, I’ve discovered a little French/Canadian offering called “Cathy’s Curse” (http://imdb.com/title/tt0075820/).

In the late 1940s, or so one learns from the super-swift opening card, a boy named George Gimble was taken from the family home when his mother suddenly up & left his father one wintry night. Mr. Gimble arrives home that evening to find his daughter, Laura, alone, sitting on her bed with her favourite doll. He asks where her mother & brother are, & when she tells him they’ve gone, he is beyond angry. After telling his daughter her mom’s a bitch, he gets into the car, Laura in tow, & heads off in hot pursuit of his wife.

In one of the most unlikely - or, perhaps, most original - situations I’ve had the occasion to witness, Mr. Gimble swerves to miss a rabbit (yes, a rabbit), & skids off the undoubtedly icy road. He’s knocked unconscious, & a frantic Laura tries to revive him as the car bursts into flames...

Twenty-five or so years later, the now adult George returns to his parents’ house with his own family, wife Vivian & daughter Cathy. Right from the start, Cathy seems perfectly at ease in her new surroundings, which is somewhat more than can be said for Vivian, a constantly agitated (& totally annoying) woman who takes the time to remind her husband she’s already suffered a nervous breakdown, & often acts as if she’s over-due for a relapse.

Following a stint of helping her mother clean, Cathy says she’s tired & makes her way upstairs to lie down. But she ends up in the attic, exploring her dad’s family’s effects, & finds Laura’s doll, as well as a photograph of her aunt, which seems to mesmerise her. When Vivian finds her, she tries to take the doll from Cathy, threatening to burn ‘the filthy thing’.

Later, while Cathy is playing outside with some of the local kids, two women of stature in the town, Mrs. Burton & Agatha, go to visit Vivian. Agatha is a psychic, specialising in psychometry - in short, she’s able to sense things about the owner of an object by touching it. A picture of George’s father catches her eye. Meanwhile, under Cathy’s direction, the children are playing ‘car accident’, re-enacting the crash that killed Laura & her father.

After Agatha has a nearly overwhelming vision of the accident & Cathy, unprovoked, comes close to maiming one of the kids, Vivian finally gets her hands on the doll. Cathy starts screaming & banging her head until she gets it back. But if you think she’s just being bratty, remember that animals can keenly sense when spirit energy is at work. And the house caretaker’s Doberman doesn’t like Cathy one little bit.

It’s fairly obvious what’s causing Cathy’s odd behaviour (& if you haven’t already guessed, there’s one shot in the film that pretty much spells it out for you), which soon enough turns deadly, & gets more outrageous as the story progresses. The housekeeper, the caretaker (who looks like an older, ratty version of Mick Fleetwood, I swear!), Agatha, the dog, & even Cathy’s mother, all fall prey to the forces working through Cathy. And while most of it is predictable, standard fare for this kind of story (except maybe that creepy doll flying through the air & speaking telepathically in a deep, slurry voice), there’s lots of interesting things both on & beneath the surface to keep you entertained (as well as some amusing ones - note the scene in which Cathy teleports several times in her mother’s presence, yet Vivian doesn’t seem to notice).

My only problem with this film was the lack of explanations. Having no idea why anything that’s happening is happening might have worked in “Suicide Circle”, but it falls a little flat here. Not that this impedes on one’s enjoyment of the film, it’s just that, for example, I’d have liked a bit more back story on George’s family. Why did his mother run off so abruptly? More importantly, what prompted her to take George & leave Laura behind? True, Laura seemed to be Daddy’s Girl (even sharing his misogyny - an Electra complex, perhaps?), but still...

Regardless, “Cathy’s Curse” is one of those films I would like to see reach cult status. It certainly has the potential. Best described as “The Bad Seed” meets “Poltergeist” meets “The Exorcist” with a little bit of “The Shining” (& a whole lot of cheeze) thrown in for kicks, it’s freaky, campy fun.
japanesedream_72: (Default)
“This film really appeals to my sensibilities!”

That’s what I wrote whilst taking notes about a funky little box-set acquisition called “Baba Yaga”, here re-titled “Kiss Me, Kill Me” (http://imdb.com/title/tt0069753/). Beware: there is another movie bearing the English title “Kiss Me, Kill Me”, an Umberto Lenzi flick starring Erika Blanc. But this isn’t it.

Based on a 1960s S&M comic by Guido Crepax (http://www.jahsonic.com/Valentina.html), in conjunction with a figure from Slavic mythology, the film opens with classy comic book-ish images & some very groovy music during the opening titles, inter-cut with chic photographers & models at a party. Lounging around looking very haute couture & fairly decadent, they reference obscure art films like “Pierot Le Fou” (later, we’ll see someone watching “The Golem” at a German Expressionist retrospective!) & philosophise in their semi-pretentious, pseudo-intellectual way (my favourite line is, “Even Snoopy, in his own way, is anti-establishment”).

One of the photographers, Valentina (Isabelle De Funes), declines a ride home from her friends after the soiree, preferring to walk the streets of Milan at 3 in the morning. She finds a dog whimpering in the road, & ends up saving it from being run over by a large, black car. The driver is a pretty, elegant woman in black who introduces herself as Baba Yaga (Carroll Baker), & insists on taking Valentina home. On the way, Baba Yaga speaks in cryptic tones about her meeting with Valentina being pre-ordained, & knows the way to Valentina’s place without being given the address. When they arrive, she rips off one of Valentina’s garters, saying she needs a personal item from Valentina, but will return it.

Despite a troubled sleep in which Valentina is haunted by strange dreams about nudity & Nazis, she shoots a photo session the next morning with her model friend, Toni. Afterward, Baba Yaga shows up to give back the garter. Valentina asks her about the whole “pre-ordained” thing, but Baba Yaga says it’s too soon for her to know. She takes an interest in Valentina’s camera - “the eye that freezes reality” - & invites Valentina to her house, though one senses a darker tone beneath the request.

Later on, Valentina gets a call from her more-than-friend, Arno (George Eastman), a cameraman who shoots strange (but cheezy) commercials. She brings her camera with her, hoping to get a behind-the-scenes photo or two. But when she tries taking a picture, Arno’s camera completely jams up. When Arno takes Valentina home & pops up to her place for a drink, Baba Yaga is parked across the street, watching.

I gotta tell ya - normally, I dislike - dare I say, even loathe - sex scenes. I find that most of the time, they’re gratuitous, having no relevance to the story whatsoever, & sometimes they come off as a little vulgar. But this movie has what must be the greatest non-sex sex scene ever committed to film!

Toni comes back for another photo shoot (note that one of her costumes is 'half-naked cowgirl'; I found this amusing because it’s the picture used on the main menu of the DVD), but when Valentina takes the first shot, Toni collapses. She isn’t dead, but she has to lie down for a while before Valentina & Arno send her home by taxi.

Valentina goes to Baba Yaga’s huge old house, telling Baba Yaga she has to photograph some jewelry & would like to use some of the rooms as backdrops. Baba Yaga says fine, & admires the touch & sounds of the necklaces Valentina’s working with. Valentina takes her shots...

At one point, Valentina steps on a spot on the rug, & nearly falls through the floor. What she finds under the carpet is a bottomless pit (she drops something in & we never hear it hit anything). “Don’t worry about the hole,” Baba Yaga says. “That part of the house needs some repairs.” She then suggests Valentina photograph some of the interesting relics in the attic.

After a near-orgasmic moment with a pair of gloves, accompanied by memory flashes & strange, photographic visions, Baba Yaga gives Valentina the dominatrix doll (yes, you read that right) that sits watchfully in the attic. Her name is Annette, & Baba Yaga tells Valentina, “She will protect you.”

But what does she need protection from? And why, when she uses her camera, do the subjects of her photographs collapse? What are pictures of Annette as a real woman doing on Valentina’s roll of film? Why does Valentina have these weird Nazi dreams? Is Arno right in his assumption that Baba Yaga has a lesbianic interest in Valentina? Just who is Baba Yaga, anyway, & why does she begin promising Valentina riches & power & the knowledge of cosmic secrets? Is the bottomless pit in Baba Yaga’s house really a portal to Hell?

Sadly, many of these questions remain unanswered when the credits roll. But it almost doesn’t matter. “Baba Yaga” (or whatever title you see it under) is a weirdly cool Italian horror flick - sleek, stylish, original, & very, very artsy. Atmospherically, it absolutely screams 60s/70s, but the lesbian/feminist undertones & overt sado-masochistic touches (we’re talking whips, chains, & shackles here, people!) give it an extra dose of subversive edginess that helps distinguish it from its genre & era counterparts.

Swiped this from [livejournal.com profile] planetcrush:

I asked the magic cactus,
what is the meaning of life?
Um, well..., that really depends how you look at it, doesn't it.

reality subversion @ www.irreality.net
japanesedream_72: (Default)
New York City, 1955. A black cat wanders the dark streets. A woman screams. Soon, she’s in a creepy hospital, about to give birth, surrounded by sinister-looking doctors & nuns (the latter wearing those big, floppy hats like Sally Field in “The Flying Nun”). The woman fears for her child, which turns out to be a girl. Moving a bit too quickly for someone who’s just had a baby, she attempts to snatch her daughter from the hospital nursery & escape, but is stopped by one of the nuns. The woman flees, terrified. She takes a stairwell, but sees the black cat. She tries to run in the opposite direction, but a fierce wind whips up, & she tumbles down the stairs...

An elegant man, Mr. Rimmin (Richard Lynch, the alien messiah of “God Told Me To”), is seen at a party. He steps up to a candle-lit area at the front of the room. The guests fall silent, & he begins to speak of the newborn as a nun brings the baby in. Rimmin lifts the little girl up to a goat’s-head statue. “The child is ours,” he says, & the candles mysteriously blow out.

This “Rosemary’s Baby”-like moment is actually the opening for “Good Against Evil” (http://imdb.com/title/tt0076094/), a made-for-tv love-story-cum-supernatural-thriller...sort of.

The story picks up twenty-odd years later. Now a successful young fashion designer, the little girl, named Jessica (Elyssa Davalos), is living & working in San Francisco. There, she meets a freelance writer named Andy (the late Dack Rambo) when he accidentally runs into her parked car. They argue for a bit, & he ends up taking her car to have it repaired. By the end of the day, he returns it, good-as-new, & though he invites her to dinner, she declines. However, he’s quite persistent, & she finally agrees.

Despite a few teething troubles (mainly due to Jessica’s independent nature), she & Andy develop a relationship. They go on several dates, once to a fortune-telling booth. Jessica receives a cryptic prediction: “In the new millennium, the child of a child will takes its place, & havoc shall reign.” (Can you say, “Devil’s Advocate”, kids?) All the while, there’s an older gentleman following her, a man who possesses a goat’s-head statue & Satanic altar, over which is hung a large picture of Jessica with a pentagram drawn on her head.

The black cat - a refugee from the Munsters’ house, it seems - comes back into play while Jessica & Andy are out horseback riding. Satanic Altar Dude (he’s never actually given a name, as far as I could tell) steps in to help when one of the horses wigs out at the sight of the cat, though he gets killed. Afterward, a distraught Jessica admits to Andy that any man she’s ever had feelings for has died. Naturally, she tries to push Andy away so he won’t be the next to perish. But that proves more difficult than she realises, because she’s totally fallen for the guy, & vice-versa.

Rimmin starts performing rituals in the name of the demon Astaroth. According to “Fallen Angels & Spirits of the Dark” by Robert Masello, Astaroth was a member of Satan’s “unholy aristocracy” who “rode around on a dragon, but...had only one head” - several demons are described as having more than one - “usually depicted as quite ugly - & carried a viper in his left hand. Grand Duke of the western regions of Hell, he was also Treasurer of the whole place. The original couch potato, he encouraged men to sloth & idleness. In his spare time, he served as a kind of guidance counselor for other fallen angels.” Apparently, Jessica is - unbeknownst to her - betrothed to Astaroth, thanks to Rimmin, who seeks to gain immortality in exchange for his match-making services & all-around obedience to the demon.

Of course, what Rimmin doesn’t know yet is that Jessica’s promised to marry Andy. But when Andy takes her to meet the priest set to perform the ceremony, the church grows dark & cold as she approaches the altar. The priest naturally recognises this as a sign of evil, & wants to postpone the wedding & bring in another priest who happens to be an expert on evil. And the happy couple’s problems are further compounded when Rimmin abducts Jessica & hypnotises her so she’ll forget all about the time she spent in San Francisco...& especially about Andy, who’s resolved to track her down.

For a supernatural thriller, the first two-thirds of the story are interesting enough, but not terribly thrilling. Cat lovers will be in seventh heaven during at least one scene, though the animals themselves are used as harbingers of evil, or at least some general nastiness. The movie gets a bit better, though a tad out of hand, toward the end, veering almost completely off-track & becoming a shameless “Exorcist” rip-off with Kim Cattrall & Natasha Ryan (the little girl from the flashback scenes in “Sibyl”) in place of Ellen Burstyn & Linda Blair. All that’s missing is Max Von Sydow (though we do have the late Dan O’Herlihy - Andrew Packard to all you “Twin Peaks” aficionados), “The power of Christ compels you,” & a can of split-pea soup.

According to what I’ve read, “Good Against Evil” was supposed to be a launching pad for a series that never got picked up. Thus, the film is given no resolution. But since we’ve had oodles of supernatural series on tv in recent years, such as “Buffy”, “Angel”, “Charmed”, & “Supernatural”, maybe it was just an idea ahead of its time.

But probably not.
japanesedream_72: (robot chick)
Hot female vampire action with lots of blood & black feathers...sounds like an awesome movie, right? Well, on my copy of “Devil’s Nightmare” (http://imdb.com/title/tt0067592/), that’s just the logo for the production company!

Redemption Films (http://www.redemptiontv.com/x/movies.html) decided to open with a fanged black angel surrounded by scantily-clad “cannibal sisters” & a chick with bat wings, all writhing & chomping & salivating & bleeding every which way. The angel serves as hostess, in the vein (no pun intended...well, maybe a little) of Vampira, Elvira, & Zacherley. After an intro & some text cards telling us about the film & noting a factoid on its star, she launches into a brief history of cannibal movies (in which she describes several actresses as “lickable”), even though “Devil’s Nightmare” is not a cannibal flick...though she does mention a few classics, including the once-banned “Cannibal Ferox”!

But enough about the super-cool prelude. On to our feature, a clever little tongue-in-cheek number that’s sort of “The Real World” meets “Clue” meets “Seven”, with a supernatural twist a la “Faust”. Seven strangers, each representing one of the seven deadly sins, are on a guided tour of Germany. Reaching their destination is taking longer than expected, so they ask a creepy guy burning brush in a field if there’s a hotel nearby. He says no, but Baron von Rhoneberg over at the nearby castle might be able to put them up for the night.

The Baron is the descendant of a World War II general, whom we see at the beginning of the film. This original Baron von Rhoneberg waits tensely as his weak-hearted wife gives birth in the next room while the bombs are dropping outside. She dies in the process, & when the Baron discovers he has a daughter instead of a son, he stabs the infant to death. (No, it isn’t what you’re thinking, & yes, it will make sense later.)

After a campy song & the opening credits sequence (the film is an Italian-Belgian collaboration, thus the French title on the IMDB listing & the Italian title on the actual DVD),we see the present-day Baron talking to a reporter about his ancestors living under a curse. However, he refuses to allow her to photograph the house. Soon enough, though, she’s outside the place snapping pictures left & right. An arrow suddenly pierces the tire of her car. She runs, screaming, & falls...

The reporter’s body is found, & the townsfolk say she perished from a heart attack brought on by fear. There is an odd mark on her neck - “the mark of the devil” - & there is talk of a succubus.

It is at this point that we are introduced to our group, who find accommodation at the Baron’s home. In fact, the Baron’s butler, Hans (a dead-ringer for, & namesake of, the original Baron’s second-in-command), says a woman phoned to let him know the group was coming. She even gave him their names. However, as I don’t recall all the characters’ names, I’ll address them by sin.

Gluttony, the bus driver/tour guide, hides food in his suitcase & sneaks a snack at every possible opportunity. Lust is a pretty bisexual red-headed woman who has a vested interest (translation: groovy lesbian scene) in Sloth, a perpetually sleepy but totally adorable blonde with the creamiest skin ever (Shirley Corrigan, last seen hanging out with Paul Naschy in “Dr. Jekyll vs. The Werewolf”, if memory serves), yet is also seen getting it on later with Mr. Envy-Greed. Mrs. Envy-Greed can’t wait to point out how she watched him drooling over Lust, & thinks he only married her for her money. Though she is jealous of Lust for having such an effect on her husband, she seems even more interested in the Baron’s attempts at alchemy, & the riches he may or may not be concealing in his big, old house. Wrath is a bit of a curmudgeon, a crabby old so & so who complains non-stop about everything. Father Pride, the last of the bunch, is actually a priest-in-training, a seminary student. Can a priest embody pride, you ask? Aren’t they supposed to relinquish such thoughts when they become men of the cloth?

Well, that’s the clever bit. Or, at least, part of it.

Strangeness permeates the house. Bits of the ornate trim-work fall off, nearly crashing onto someone’s head. Doors shut of their own volition. Each room seems to have been the scene of some horrible occurrence or another, according to Hans - people found with their throats slit, fatal exorcisms, deadly accidents. And that succubus the townsfolk were talking about earlier finally shows up...

Her name’s Lisa (& she’s played by Erika Blanc - http://www.federicomancosu.com/forfun/foto2/ERIKA_BLANC.jpg - who had, apparently, made the rounds of European Gothic horror flicks in the 60s, considering she’s in 3 films on the same box set), though at first, no one knows what she is (however, she’s immediately recognised by Martha, the Baron’s maid, & not in a good way). During dinner, someone asks the Baron about his fabled family curse, & he tells how the original Baron sold his soul to the devil. The first daughter of each generation had to serve the devil as a succubus.

For those who are unaware, I quote from the Wikipedia definition (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Succubus): “In medieval legend, a succubus (plural succubi; from Latin succubare, "to lie under") is a female demon which seduces men (especially monks) in dreams to have sexual intercourse. They draw energy from the men to sustain themselves, often until the point of exhaustion or death.” (Warning: anyone seriously affected by grammatical errors will cringe at the numerous references in this movie to “succubuses”! Not sure if that’s a writing fault or a dubbing thing, but it’s a constant source of annoyance.)

Anywho, the fun begins as Lisa (in an uber-sexy outfit) reveals herself & begins to tempt the travelers, offing them one by one. Now anyone who’s read some of my old writings may remember that I had a succubus of my own. But whereas my girl, Eva, was, in the most traditional sense of the legend, purely sexual, I failed to take into account that desire - an important part of the succubus’ nature - is not always carnal.

“Devil’s Nightmare” is one of those nifty little gems that go largely undiscovered until people start buying DVD box sets like this one (http://www.navarre.com/prodhome.aspx?ItemNumber=2085247&Prod=video). With the atmospheric appeal of the Italian horror film, the pleasure of a slasher pic, & a wittiness that ties it all together (this includes the double-twist ending), it’s also a nice variant on the succubus story, a tale we don’t get too often, even in a genre that relies so frequently on mythical figures.

nicked from [livejournal.com profile] angelicmousegrl:

You are Milk Chocolate

A total dreamer, you spend most of your time with your head in the clouds.
You often think of the future, and you are always working toward your ideal life.
Also nostalgic, you rarely forget a meaningful moment... even those from long ago.
japanesedream_72: (melfina)
As most everyone knows by now, I have a deep, abiding affinity for any & all lore, literature, & cinema regarding vampires. In my heyday, I even wrote about them myself. So it stands to reason that I’ll watch pretty much any film on the subject. And with my fetish for Asian cinema, the chance to see a Japanese vampire story was one I just couldn’t pass up. Especially when the stars of said story are two of Japan’s most popular singers, Gackt & Hyde (both solo artists, & former frontmen for well-known bands Malice Mizer & L’Arc-en-Ciel, respectively).

Having read a couple of reviews for “Moon Child” (http://imdb.com/title/tt0365514/), one would think it’s just a flash-in-the-pan film, slick & glossy (particularly since Gackt co-wrote the story), with perhaps a bit of style but lacking anything major in the way of substance. Indeed, after a bittersweet opening scene, it did seem for a while like that was the direction it might be taking. But it isn’t terribly long before “Moon Child” turns completely serious, gets a lot more interesting, & ends up not so much a film as a debilitating emotional experience.

Made me wonder if they were watching the same movie I was.

It’s the eve of the Millennium, 12/31/2000, Tokyo. Two vampires fleeing from unseen human pursuers take refuge briefly in an alley. The elder vampire, Luka, professes to his worried fledgling, Kei (Hyde), that he is tired & wants to give up, to give himself to the sun. Wearily, he says he’d like to see the ocean one last time. Reluctantly, Kei takes him to the shore...

Some time passes (several years, in fact), & Kei is alone in a place called Mallepa. A fictional city somewhere near the Chinese border, Mallepa is largely populated by Japanese immigrants who were unable to cope with the economic downslide of their native land (bringing to mind the plot of Takashi Miike’s “Dead Or Alive”, & its depiction of the tense relationship between Chinese & Japanese cultures). The despondent Kei sits in a derelict building, caring little if the sun takes him. It is here that he meets a young boy named Sho, who, with his brother, Shinji, & friend, Toshi - all of whom are orphans - has stolen a suitcase full of cash from what I believe is a Chinese mafia big-wig. Shinji is shot & wounded when the victim of their thievery tracks them down, but Kei saves the boys from further harm by feasting on the bad guy. Shinji thinks Kei is a monster, but Sho - who earlier saved Kei from burning to ashes in the encroaching daylight - is unafraid.

And so their bond is cemented.

Flash forward several years. Sho (Gackt), Toshi (Taro Yamamoto, one of the participants in “Battle Royale”), & Kei comprise a gang of their own. (Shinji, who still has the limp from his childhood wound, hangs out on his roof, getting high & talking to the imaginary fish floating around his head. Sho has to bail him out when he can’t pay off the local syndicate.) They’re a little slice of crazy cool in leather jackets & tight trousers, dodging bullets & engaging in some fancy gun-work - especially Kei, whose vampiric reflexes allow him to have a sort of “Matrix” moment. (Toshi just delivers the drugged pizzas, to knock some of the opposing team out.)

During one particular shoot-out, Sho & Kei meet Son, a young Taiwanese who’d shown up to avenge the rape of his quasi-mute (she just stopped talking when she was a child) artist sister, Yi-Che. Afterwards, the little group - Sho, Kei, Toshi, Son, & Yi-Che (who tends to those wounded in the battle) - seem to be becoming fast friends. But for Kei, the fun he has with this happy contingent is as painful as it is enjoyable, & he begins pushing Sho away, urging him to live his own life.

Over the course of the film, years pass, tragedies strike (in droves!), situations change, alliances shift, & the dynamics of the relationship between some members of the group are altered forever. Yet through it all, the bond between Kei & Sho remains unbroken. And Kei’s struggle with immortality continues.

This is a truly remarkable & utterly heart-wrenching film, a visually striking piece that weighs heavy on the heart & lingers long in the mind. The acting all-around is great (J-horror lovers will no doubt recognise “Audition” & “Suicide Circle” alumnus Ryo Ishibashi in a cameo appearance as a detective), but at its core, it’s all about Gackt & Hyde, & these two are nothing short of fantastic. Their ability to evoke powerful emotions with their music (listen to something like L’Arc-en-Ciel’s “Finale”, the end title song to another tragic, beautiful film, “Ring 0”, & you’ll see what I mean) really shines through into their “Moon Child” performances as two connected, tortured souls. American singers-turned-actors rarely, if ever, pull off something so compelling.

Never, & I mean NEVER, have I cried so much during any movie, even the ones that left me in Blub City. Minutes into the Kei/Luka scenes, I was teary, & got misty-eyed several more times during the first portion of the film, crying a bit during one very sad scene. But before long, I was openly weeping at literally every other moment, reading out the subtitles (my grandpa, who watches all my movies with me, has trouble seeing the words sometimes) with tears streaming down my face, often with a sob in my throat, & quivering lips to boot. When it was over, I broke down & wept even harder.

And I loved every minute of it.


Jan. 8th, 2006 01:19 am
japanesedream_72: (Default)
They lied. It was "Stargate SG-1", not "Farscape". Oh well, there were other goodies on.

Speaking of goodies, have a review.

Told you I'd let you know, Planetcrush. )

You are Neil Pye, a lanky, suicidal, and slightly
boring hippie. Not very bright, lentils and
karmic harmonies are the most important thing
in the world. You have quite a persecution

Which of The Young Ones are you?
brought to you by Quizilla
japanesedream_72: (Default)
Although I have long admired the work of horror icons Boris Karloff & Bela Lugosi, I must admit the main reason I dug “The Black Cat” (http://imdb.com/title/tt0024894/) out of mothballs was blatant curiosity. When a scene from this film made it onto Bravo’s “100 Scariest Movie Moments”, several commentators mentioned the plot revolved around necrophilia. And so I decided to watch it again, to see if that were true.

Peter Allison (David Manners), a self-proclaimed “famous American writer of unimportant books” (he writes mystery novels) & his wife, Joan (Julie Bishop, credited here as Jacqueline Wells), are traveling through Hungary on the Orient Express. They soon discover that space in their compartment has accidentally been sold to another passenger, Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Lugosi), a Hungarian psychiatrist. As they’re getting off soon anyway, they decide to be nice & accommodate him. He seems to take a liking to Joan, & tells the couple how he left his own wife 18 years earlier to go to war. He was captured & imprisoned for 15 of those years, & is now, finally, returning home.

Turns out their destinations are not far from each other, so they all get off at the same stop, where they are met by servant of Vitus’. Amidst a terrible rainstorm, they board a bus, & the driver tells them the sordid history of the area, involving a massacre during the war. Suddenly, part of the road gives way as a result of the storm, & the bus overturns. The driver is killed, & Joan is injured.

Vitus takes them to a nearby house; he says the man who lives there will be expecting him. He tends to Joan’s wounds, & is soon met by the house’s owner, Hjalmar Poelzig (Karloff), a noted Austrian engineer/architect. Quite the foreboding figure, Poelzig soon turns on the charm in front of Joan. But one gets an immediate sense that some long-dormant animosity between Poelzig & Vitus is about to awaken.

Indeed, this is the case, & it centers on Vitus’ wife. An embittered Vitus blames Poelzig for “selling out” to the Russians during the war; his betrayal of the side ultimately led to the massacre spoken of by the bus driver, after which, Vitus - a survivor of said massacre - was imprisoned. Vitus’ wife, believing him dead, turned to Poelzig for solace & eventually ran off with him. All these years later, Poelzig has returned to the scene of his crime, his house (an architectural masterpiece) built upon the ruins of the fort in which the massacre took place.

But when Vitus asks after his wife & daughter, Poelzig tells him they are both dead, succumbed to illness (or something) after the war. All fairly believable, until we are later shown a beautifully preserved female corpse in a glass case, at which Poelzig stares fondly. (This may have been what the Bravo special was referring to; otherwise, there wasn’t a necrophile in sight.) Upon seeing the body of his wife, & understanding the depth of Poelzig’s obsession with her, the further-engraged Vitus accuses Poelzig of killing her, & threatens to murder Poelzig.

Poelzig tries eloquently to justify himself, saying that he was just as much a victim of the war as Vitus. Vitus, of course, isn’t buying it. He thinks that Poelzig lusts after Joan, & wants to keep her. He knows, too, that Poelzig is planning some sort of dark ceremony come the New Moon (which would explain why we see him reading “The Rites of Lucifer”), likely to involve Joan as a sacrifice, & agrees to a game of chess (Bergman, anyone?), the outcome of which will decide whether or not the couple (who keep attempting to go, but are thwarted at every turn) will be allowed to leave.

What Vitus doesn’t know about is the mysterious blonde woman in Poelzig’s concealed bedroom...

“The Black Cat” is one of several films based - sometimes in title only - on the stories & poetry of Edgar Allan Poe. A black cat does make intermittent appearances, if for no other reason than to terrify Vitus (he is deathly afraid of them, though having been through the kind of stuff the story tells us he’s been through, it seems a little ridiculous), & perhaps to tie in with Poe’s original tale. The plot gets a tad convoluted (much like the corridors of Poelzig’s house), & the Allisons are rather booby (yes, I said booby) in that 1930’s sort of way (in my notes, I wondered how the poor girl could get any sleep after her accident with her husband pawing & fawning over her so much), so we hardly even care if they get out of the house alive or not.

A few nifty little details do pop up from time to time, mostly of the photographic variety (although the sequence that made the “Scariest Movie Moments” countdown was a touch on the impatient side; it could have been prolonged, in my opinion). Classical music lovers will also delight in the playing of Bach’s “Toccata & Fugue in D-Minor” in one scene. A few fun lines here & there will no doubt make you giggle (the best being Lugosi’s, “Superstition, perhaps; baloney, perhaps not”). But my favourite is the inclusion of foreign languages - Latin in Poelzig’s ceremony, & a bit of Hungarian from Vitus (Lugosi’s native tongue).

Despite the fact that the literally explosive climax of “The Black Cat” is followed by an insultingly cheery denoument (as if the film-makers were afraid of ending their story on a high note), what ultimately makes this movie worth watching are the fantastic performances of Karloff & Lugosi. Karloff gives Poelzig a detached yet subtly eerie, almost haunting presence, & Lugosi lends a somewhat paternal air to the often defiant Vitus, particularly in the way he treats Joan. The confrontation scenes between Vitus & Poelzig are utterly mesmerising. I swear, these guys could read the phone book on-screen for two hours, and it would be amazing.

Those weaned on the films of these cinematic legends will no doubt enjoy this one. The youth of today, who seem to only know a movie by its re-make, would do well to watch it, too. They might actually learn something.
japanesedream_72: (robot chick)
He’s the Energizer Bunny with fangs! Just when you think you’ve seen the last of him, Paul Naschy’s most well-known & oft-played character, Waldemar Daninsky, returns, this time in “Dr. Jekyll vs. The Werewolf” (http://aol.imdb.com/title/tt0067016/).

A posh doctor from Hungary & his pretty English wife, Justine, travel to Eastern Europe for their honeymoon, passing through Transylvania on the way to his Hungarian hometown. Their friends jibe them about it at a dinner party in their London home a night or two before they’re set to leave, & when one of them quips about vampires, a timely gust of wind suddenly blows the window open, knocking over a ceramic bust. A bad omen if ever there were one!

Undaunted, the couple is next seen in the Transylvanian hills (notice how it’s supposed to be cold, yet Justine is wearing a mini-skirt & go-go boots). Their car breaks down outside a ramshackle building. After a quick encounter with a disfigured squatter, they get the car going & arrive at a village inn. The innkeeper tells them about the squatter (who used to be a wealthy & respected citizen until he was burned in a fire), & cautions them that the area is “filled with thieves, & worse”. He says they’d best keep their doors & windows locked at night.

He also warns them off the cemetery when the doctor mentions he is looking for some old graves - not only is it a dangerous place because of “what dwells within”, but the castle beyond the graveyard is said to be inhabited by a “monster”. The doc, of course, pays no heed to the warnings, & he & Justine go to the cemetery, where we find out the graves he came to visit belong to his parents.

Suddenly, the doctor & Justine are attacked by a group of would-be car thieves. The doc is killed, & Justine is about to be raped. Luckily, our favourite wolf in Polish nobleman’s clothing shows up to save her. After fending off the attackers - & slaying one of them - he takes the unconscious Justine back to the castle.

Once she comes to & calms down, Justine begins to put her trust in Waldemar, who lives with his family servant/confidante, Uswika Bathory. Uswika, an old woman spoken of as a devil/witch by the villagers, gives Justine some background on the Daninskys, & says that Waldemar is ill. She balks, however, when Justine asks the nature of his illness. Meanwhile, the surviving thieves plot against Waldemar, hoping to avenge their fallen comrade & pick up some groovy loot in the process. They make plans to plunder the castle - on the night of a full moon, no less - their leader (I think he’s called Otvos) un-swayed by talk of the supernatural forces they might be up against.

Naturally, Waldemar - in full-on werewolf form - thwarts the thieves’ plans; only Otvos is left alive after the confrontation. He vows to kill Waldemar, & enlists the aid of all the villagers. Waldemar is obviously aware that he’s become public enemy #1, but refuses to tell Justine anything other than that he fears for her safety. Come the next moon, she sees him transform outside her window, & he runs off, ashamed.

The following day, the angry mob have at it, even going so far as to collect every piece of silver to melt down into anti-werewolf weaponry. (I have a feeling they saved some money on dubbing here, given the incessant use of the exact same “Kill him!”, shouted from the crowd over & over, as if on a loop.) Long story short, Waldemar & Justine make a hasty escape, back to - you guessed it - swinging London.

This is where it gets funky.

One of Justine’s friends happens to be Dr. Henry Jekyll, grandson of the guy who created the potion which brought about the emergence of the infamous Mr. Hyde. Henry - who’s got a bit of a thing for Justine - agrees to see Waldemar at his clinic. He plans to use Grandpa’s formula to change Waldemar into Mr. Hyde at the next full moon, believing this will somehow counter-act the lycanthropy. Afterwards, Henry will inject Waldemar with an anti-Hyde formula he (Henry) has invented, & voila! Waldemar will be cured.

But as they say, the best laid plans...

Despite being a tad short on run-time, “Dr. Jekyll vs. The Werewolf” is jam-packed with plot, & takes a few unexpected turns, particularly in its second half. Don’t worry, there’s a decent bit of accumulated-hair-on-the-face & throat-ripping goodness, which should satisfy any rabid werewolf fans out there. The Mr. Hyde twist is a particularly nice touch, not only giving the ever-compelling Naschy yet another role to play, but providing a creative variation on what had, by the 70s, become (&, in part, still is) a rather formulaic horror sub-genre.

Fortunately, with the advent of DVD’s, Naschy’s movies, hitherto virtually unseen in America, are becoming more readily available. Though often badly dubbed & senselessly edited, they prove quite enjoyable nonetheless. Lovers of classic &/or inventive horror cinema are advised to snap up as many as possible. This one included.
japanesedream_72: (Default)
The first time I beheld Fields of the Nephilim’s “Dawnrazor” (http://www.vamp.org/Gothic/Images/images/dawnrazor.jpg), the cover shot immediately called to mind an image from the conclusion of “The Fog” (http://imdb.com/title/tt0080749/). John Carpenter, best known for beginning the teen-slasher craze with his uber-classic, “Halloween”, once again delivers high tension & cinematic prowess in this tale of conspiracy, betrayal, & revenge after death.

Just before midnight on what would be 21 April, an old man (the late John Houseman) sits on the beach in Antonio Bay, a small, coastal fishing town in Northern California, telling ghost stories by campfire to some local children. The last of these stories directly relates to the history of the town, & a resulting legend: on 21 April, 100 years ago, a ship called the Elizabeth Dane headed toward the beach in the waters off nearby Spivey Point. A thick, unearthly fog - the likes of which had never before been seen in the region - rolled in, but through it, the crew could see a light. They assumed it to be a beacon guiding them safely to the shore. Unbeknownst to them, it was, in truth, a fire that had been set up on the rocks. The ship crashed into the rocks, & all the men aboard were killed. Upon their deaths, the fog receded, & never returned. The legend states that if the fog were ever to re-appear, the Elizabeth Dane would rise up, the ghosts of its crew seeking out those who plotted their demise...

I think you can guess where this is going.

At the stroke of midnight, the whole of Antonio Bay falls apart. Car horns suddenly start blaring. Things begin shaking of their own accord. A row of pay phones rings simultaneously. Windows spontaneously break. Dogs bark at seemingly nothing. A sinister-looking fog slowly makes its way across the water, drifting toward the town. And a stone dislodges from the wall of the local church, exposing a hidden tome that reveals the awful truth behind what happened to the men of the Elizabeth Dane.

The film follows a small cast of characters as they contend with the fog & its vengeful spirits, including Nick (Tom Atkins), a local resident; Elizabeth (Jamie Lee Curtis), a hitchhiker Nick picks up; Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau), a single mom who owns & operates the town’s radio station, situated at the top of the lighthouse; Mrs. Williams (the late Janet Leigh, Jamie Lee’s real-life mom), the highly-strung town councilwoman whose fisherman husband’s boat has gone missing in the fog; & Father Malone (the wonderfully brooding Hal Holbrook), a half-drunk priest with a dark family secret.

What makes “The Fog” so great is not overt blood, guts, & gore, but just the opposite. While the fog itself becomes almost a separate character, with its ominous iridescence & organic, swirling movement, many of the film’s most violent moments take place in near-total darkness. You see enough of what’s going on for your imagination to take it the rest of the way (what I call ‘implied horror’), but what you don’t see is well made up for by what you hear.

One of my favourite things about “The Fog” is that it is an aural horror film. I can summon up from memory so many of its sounds, each so ingrained in me that hearing them again is like hearing a favourite song after many years, or wrapping myself in an old blanket - familiar & comfortable: the soft, melodic piano strains of the score; a whimper from the throat of a distraught Elizabeth; the distinctive vocal intonations of a tape of radio station promos Stevie plays in one scene. Not to mention the final shot of the film, where sound replaces visual, concluding the story on what, for me, is a fantastic high-note.

It pains me to know that there is a re-make of this film coming out soon, especially since the original more than holds up after 25 years. So before Hollywood screws up yet another cinematic gem, get your hands on a copy of “The Fog”, watch it now (although if you're reading this review in daylight, watch the movie in the dark), & check out this website for some screenshots from the DVD: http://outnow.ch/Media/Img/1980/Fog/.

August 2017

2728 293031  


RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Sep. 25th, 2017 11:45 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios