Monday, 31 March 2008

Flesheater (1988)

Grampa's gotten into the strawberry jam again.

Bill Hinzman played the zombie who chased Barbara around the cemetery in Night of the Living Dead. Twenty years later he decided to capitalise on his marginal fame by making a zombie film of his own; writing, producing, directing and placing himself in the title role. The result was Flesheater, otherwise known under the almost copyright infringing title Return of the Living Zombies and in the UK as Zombie Nosh. An homage to Romero's classic, Hinzman essentially reprises the same role from that movie.

The film begins with a group of "college kids" on a hayride, ready for a night of drunken debauchery. It's 1988, so it's stonewash denim and feathered hair as far as the eye can see. They are uniformly obnoxious and I couldn't keep their names straight, so I didn't bother. A nearby farmer digs up a coffin inscribed with a vaguely menacing passage, and when he opens the lid, a zombie (Hinzman) leaps out and eats him. At this point the film proceeds like countless slashers, with teens pairing off to engage in poorly acted romance before being munched by Hinzman.

Eventually the main group run across some zombies and retreat to a nearby cabin. They board themselves inside and the requisite power struggle between alpha males ensues. The women, meanwhile, are busy backing themselves up against windows so the zombies can bust in on cue. One girl's repeated cry of "Oh my Gawd!" will have you in stitches. They attempt to call the police, who respond to their not-unreasonable pleas for help with remarkable skepticism. They are cut off mid-call when a sneaky zombie rips out the phone cable. Eventually the zombies force their way in and the teens are killed.

So, we're almost half and hour in and all of our protagonists have been eaten, save for a couple who've sealed themselves up in the cellar. Time to introduce some more fodder, I guess, through the timeless medium of the nude shower scene. I don't know who the girl is supposed to be (older sister? babysitter? live-in maid?) but downstairs the mother and kids are preparing for Halloween night. Hinzman politely knocks on the front door and proceeds to eat the entire family, starting with the little girl and finishing with the girl upstairs. Naturally he removes her towel and gropes her for a bit first (one of the perks of being producer/director/star). The father returns home and is eaten by his former family. Whoops, those characters didn't last long. Better move on.

The couple from the cellar manage to escape when a policeman responds to the cabin and is quickly eaten. After trying unsuccessfully to seek help from a farmer, they crash what appears to be the lamest Halloween party ever. Only about eight guests have shown up, and the host (dressed as Dracula) is hitting the sauce pretty bad. The guests remain unconvinced of the couple's story until the zombies crash the party too. Hinzman takes the opportunity to grope a few more topless actors, because why not? The two teens are the only survivors, and escape back to the safety of the cellar.

By this time word of the zombies has spread, and a volunteer force of gun-toting rednecks has been assembled. The last act of the film follows them as they hunt down and destroy all the zombies. Despite some nice head explosions, it all proceeds in a fairly uninteresting manner. Most of the zombies from earlier in the film make an appearance, which is nice because it's not very often you see a bunch of rednecks blasting a zombie in a chicken suit. The ending of the film is painfully telegraphed (hint: it's stolen from Night of the Living Dead, like everything else in this film) and the two teens happily pontificating on their future together hammers it into your head with the force of a shotgun blast. Of course, Hinzman's zombie survives the extermination process, but if he was setting himself up for a sequel he was wildly optimistic.

The gore effects are nothing special, but occasionally impressive for such a low budget. Hinzman is twenty years older than in his appearance in Night, and the makeup does little to hide the fact that he's not the gaunt, cadaverous man he once was. The acting in this film is hands down some of the worst I've seen, and that's saying something. The dialogue-heavy scenes are downright painful. It's good for a laugh, if nothing else.

There's very little in this film that other people haven't done better. Skip it, unless you really want to see the boobs of some 30 year old actors pretending to be college students. If that's the case, I'd like to direct you to a little friend of mine called google.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Guy N. Smith Book Review - Deathbell

Over his illustrious career, Guy N. Smith has lent his writing talents to a wide variety of subjects, including killer locusts, killer bats, killer pesticides, killer pheasants and, of course, killer crabs. But how many authors are brave enough to tackle such heady fare as killer percussive instruments?

In Deathbell, a mysterious stranger named Martyn Hamilton moves into the long deserted Caelogy Hall, along with his wife, his Chinese servant-girl Karamaneh and an ornate bell he picked up during his stay in Tibet. After it's installed in the belfry of his chapel, they are ringing it day and night and it is so fucking loud that deaf people can hear it.

Soon the villagers are dropping dead of brain hemorrhages and when his mother is the latest victim, Julian Dane returns to the village, determined to uncover the mystery of Caelogy Hall. The Noise Abatement Society is no help, their instruments show the volume of bell as being well below legal limits. The police are a bunch of useless bastards who refuse to believe the bell is responsible no matter how many people bleed from the ears and drop dead.

To make things worse, the sound of the Deathbell drives people homicidally insane. A local tough rapes and murders a girl. Then the village idiot rapes her corpse. Talk about a bad day! A couple of bank employees have mad monkey sex and then torture and kill their boss (Smith used to work in banking, I wonder if that part's autobiographical?) A bunch of people are killed when the village cathedral's stained glass windows suddenly explode during a packed service.

People are also experiencing visions of robed monks with no ears performing horrific rituals. What's up with that? Eventually Julian gets close to Karamaneh, but Martyn Hamilton always materialises out of nowhere when she's about to say anything. I won't spoil the ending, but it has something to do with an evil Tibetan cult. I wouldn't think Tibet to be a hotbed of Satanic cults, but whatever.

I think Guy N. Smith wrote this one when he lived next door to a guy who played loud techno at 3am. I imagine it would be pretty cathartic. It's pretty gory, even for Smith, and a few sex scenes appear out of nowhere, complete with hilarious turns of phrase e.g. "...nipples stiff and red, like cherries topping a sundae." Smith's characters are normally paper-thin, but they're a good quality 90 gsm parchment paper. Here they're like crumbling newsprint. I barely knew who the hero was, let alone cared what happened to him. He doesn't even find anything out until the last couple of pages, when Hamilton barfs up about two pages of exposition right before he dies (um, spoiler). Anyway, if you care about nitpicking details like characters and plot, this book isn't for you. Actually, Guy N. Smith probably isn't for you either, so why are you reading this?

Apparently there's a sequel called Demons. I hope it's about a Satanic aromatherapy candle called the Deathsmell that stinks out a whole village. People have nosebleeds and drop dead while experiencing visions of monks with no noses. How do they smell? Terrible! (Oh God, I'm so sorry)

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Day of the Dead (2008)

Zombies are the worst. They never chip in for petrol.

Was this movie a calculated attempt by Steve Miner to disappoint and infuriate me? Cause if so, mission accomplished. You know, I kind of liked Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead remake. Like a hungry zombie, it stripped out the brains, heart and guts of the original, but damned if it wasn't entertaining. Day of the Dead takes everything that was annoying about that film (and modern horror in general) and turns it up to eleven.

Super-fast zombies running along walls/ceilings, dodging bullets and screeching like parrots? Eschewing the mature adult cast of the original for a bunch of annoying teenagers and twenty-somethings? Fast cutting, shaky-cam bullshit? Computers vomiting CGI everywhere? Check, check, check and hell yes.

The film mainly revolves around military hard-ass, Corporal Sarah Bowman, inexplicably played by the baby faced Mena Suvari. Jesus Christ, would it kill filmmakers these days to fill a tough gal role with an actor who weighs more than 90 pounds? Remember Sandahl Bergman in Conan the Barbarian? She looked like she could ruin some shit. Anyway, when a zombie virus invades her shithole home town, Corporal Bowman teams up with an unsurprising bunch of stereotypes and tries to save the day. These include such genre staples as the trash talking black guy (Nick Cannon) and the slimy scientist who will probably betray them at some point (Matt Rippy). Her commanding officer is Captain Rhodes (Ving Rhames, in what amounts to an extended cameo) who pretty quickly turns into a zombie and eats his own eyeball. Yum!

Like the original, there's also a semi-intelligent zombie named Bub. He doesn't eat people because he was a vegetarian in life. When I heard that I almost sprayed beer out my nose, so I hope you're happy Miner. They decide to sit him in the back seat of their car and take him along (I'd be calling shotgun pretty damn quick), which a good indication of the kind of brains trust we are dealing with here. I'm surprised they didn't let him drive.

There's also a bunch of annoying teenagers in this film, the two important ones being Corporal Bowman's brother Trevor (Michael Welch) and his girlfriend Nina (AnnaLynne McCord). They end up trapped in a radio broadcast tower, where Ian McNeice is playing a radio DJ. I swear that guy looks fatter every time I see him. I thought he was going to have a heart attack on camera. Trevor's mother, now a zombie, recognises Trevor's voice on the radio and has the sense to head to the radio station to find him (and eat him). By zombie standards, that's some Mensa shit. They try to explain these occasional flashes of intelligence by saying that the zombies retain part of their memory or some such thing. It's still stupid, but it does lead to some hilarious scenes like a platoon of zombie soldiers running around and firing their guns wildly like the most retarded militia in the USA (this is supposed to be scary).

Anyway, eventually Trevor and Nina meet up with Corporal Bowman and company, and together they stumble across the "secret" laboratory where the zombie virus was created. For some reason the lead research scientist has turned into a super zombie who can dodge bullets. Whether he knows kung fu is not explored. And please, people, having someone point out how bad an idea it is before splitting up does not make it okay. Anyway, a bunch of them die, they blow up the laboratory using some convenient gas cylinders, end of film.

If you haven't noticed, this is a remake in name only. It's disheartening, since Romero was forced to cut a great deal out of his original script due to budgetary constraints, and it would have been cool to see his original vision realised (albeit by a different director). No doubt the result wouldn't have been any worse than this dog's breakfast. There's a few characters who share the same names and there's some military dudes and some scientists, plus there's an underground bunker, I guess. That's where the similarities end.

This film has no subtext. It barely has text. I don't know about supertext, the jury's still out on that one. This movie joins the pile of shameless cash-ins along with Day of the Dead 2: Contagium and Creepshow III. Okay, maybe it isn't as bad as those films; the special effects are pretty good and it looks pretty slick, especially for a direct-to-video release. I guess if you can put up with epilepsy-inducing camera work, loud noises passing for scares and a moronic plot filled with morons - and if you aren't saddled with the expectations built up by the original film - you might like Day of the Dead.

Oh, and a word on this "fast zombie" bullshit. I don't having anything against it in principle. I liked the Dawn of the Dead remake and 28 Units of Time Later. However, some people say that zombies aren't scary because they are slow and weak, which is a profound case of missing the point. Sure you can kill them easily, you can run away, but where are you going to run to, fucker? As long as there are humans, there will always be zombies. The inexorable march of the zombie is a symbol of the hopelessness of the human race, the slow creep that is destroying civilisation. That's the scary thing about zombies. You take that away and you remove the smothering atmosphere, the sense of dread. The zombies become just another creature of the night. So I guess I do have something against it in principle. Forget I said anything.

5 Games That Have Caused Me to Lose My Shit

1. Ninja Gaiden - XBox
What I might have said:
"What the fuck?! That boss killed me in, like, two hits! That's fucked!"

2. Battletoads - NES
What I might have said:
"God damn hoverbike level! That column came out of fucking nowhere! Nobody could beat this! This is bullshit!"

3. Shadow Warrior (aka Ninja Gaiden) - NES
What I might have said:
"Fucking eagles! Three whole hit points, are you shitting me?! Knocked me into a God damn pit! Fuck this game!"

4. Mega Man - NES
What I might have said:
"Fucking moving platforms! Jump you fucker! Nooo! Fuck you, you little blue shit!"

5. Bart vs the Space Mutants - NES
What I might have said:
"These controls fucking suck! I can't jump over shit! Why the fuck can't I hit that bird with a rocket?! Fuck!"

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Creepshow III (2006)

If you can look at these makeup effects without laughing, you are a stronger man than I

Creepshow is the shit, and Creepshow 2, while a step down in quality from the first, definitely has it's moments. They managed to capture the essence of the 1950s pulp horror of E.C. Comics (the first film more than the second) while being fine genre films in their own right. As horror anthologies go, they are at the top of the heap.

So, twenty years later, Creepshow III is unceremoniously dumped onto video store shelves. A perusal of the credits shows that nobody from the original is involved, although they are shameless enough to namedrop both George Romero and Stephen King on the back of the box. Worse still, these are the same group of hacks who brought us the excremental Day of the Dead 2: Contagium, so I guess that they won't rest until they've taken a dump on Romero's entire legacy. Can The Crazies 2: Epidemic Boogaloo be far behind?

The film starts with an amateurish piece of Newgrounds-quality animation that makes the cut-rate cartoon of the second film look like Fantasia. It has about as much to do with E.C. Comics as my nuts, and it does not bode well for the rest of the film.

In Alice a bratty schoolgirl is walking through a typical suburban street (hope you like it, because it's one of a handful of shooting locations), musing about how much she hates her life. She returns home to find her father fiddling with a universal remote he obtained from the nutty professor down the street. However, this is no ordinary remote, and each push of a button sends Alice into an alternate universe. Pushing the "Color" button, for instance, turns her family into African-Americans. For some reason, with each successive change she develops weeping pustules all over her body, but she doesn't seem particularly worried, so why should we? In the end a push of the "Signal" button turns her into a mess of oozing sores, until the Professor arrives and turns her into a rabbit. Whuh?

Radio sees a down-on-his-luck security guard buying an old radio from a bum on the street, only to have it start talking to him in a sexy voice. At first it starts ordering him to clean up and telling him what to eat. Much like having a wife. Inevitably, it's advice becomes more sinister. Actually this story is probably one of the better ones. The radio routinely dishes out financial advice, and is obsessed with diversification and long-term sustained growth. "Don't even fuck with commodities" it warns.

In Call Girl, a serial-killer hooker makes a trip to see her latest John, not knowing that he has a surprise in store for her. Should I tell you he is some sort of vampire thingy with a terrible facial prosthetic (featured prominently on the box art and at the top of this review), or let you experience the terror for yourself?

In The Professor's Wife, a couple of former students come to visit their professor on the eve of his wedding. As shown in an unbearably lame flashback montage, the professor was fond of practical jokes, so the students come to the sensible conclusion that he has built himself a Stepford Wife. They proceed to knock her unconscious and take her apart in an attempt to find her circuitry. This is played for laughs, so when the professor gets back they realise their mistake and "hilariously" run around hiding severed body parts in his kitchen. Stupid.

Haunted Dog introduces an asshole doctor who is being forced to work at a Health Clinic as part of his community service. On the way to work he drops a hot dog and so he gives it to a bum and, of course, the bum chokes on it and dies. The doctor is subsequently haunted by the bum offering him a spectral hot dog from beyond the grave. The story is padded out with interminable montage sequences of the doctor writing prescriptions and being a dick. They aren't funny. He pops pills and is mean to his patients, but he's no House MD. He's not even a Dr. Becker.

There isn't really a wraparound story this time around. Rather, the different segments occur near-concurrently and the characters and story arcs overlap. It's just a method to work around an extremely limited budget and reuse sets and actors. The stories are muddled and incoherent, with no tension or interesting characters. Acting ranges from near-competent to terrible. The "comedy" is absolutely dreadful and you can hear the gears grinding with the tonal shifts. Gore effects are limited to a few rubbery limbs and lots of ketchup. There's not even any boobs. Creepshow III is pretty bad, is the message you should be taking away from all this.

There really isn't a single thing to recommend about Creepshow III. You may see the box on the shelf and be tempted, like I was. Be strong and learn from my mistakes. Taurus Films trades in broken promises and shattered dreams and I'm pretty sure they feed on the tears of small children. You know what's really scary? Creepshow IV is in production as of February 2008.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Hard Target (1993)

This is how a man deals with snakes

I have a lot of guilty pleasures, but the guiltiest of all would have to be the 1993 John Woo film Hard Target. Actually, you know what? Fuck it, I'm not guilty at all. I love Hard Target, mullet and all, and I don't care who knows it. But first, some history. After the breakthrough success of The Killer and Hard Boiled, Woo was about to make his stateside debut. Sure, he was going to be saddled with Jean-Claude Van Damme, but I like to think of it as a trial by fire, an initiation test into the fraternity of Hollywood action directors. I think many of us Woo faithful were upset with the result because we still had hope for Woo's Hollywood career, but looking at it now I can appreciate it for what it. Cause seriously, this shit is bananas.

Now you probably all know the plot, but I'll briefly summarise: Nat (Yancy Butler) comes to the Big Easy in search of her father, a homeless Vietnam vet who has gone missing. After being a little cavalier with her bankroll, she is attacked by thugs and it's up to Chance Bordreaux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and his greasy, greasy mullet to rescue her. Cue fist fight, where we are treated to many shots of JCVD's oily mane whipping about in slow motion, no doubt spattering all nearby with warm grease.

Initially he has no desire to help her find her father, but a brother's gotta eat. Turns out that Nat's father has been the latest victim of a Most Dangerous Game style hunting operation run by the villainous Fouchon (Lance Henriksen). Soon Nat and Chance are on the run from Fouchon and his motorcycle goons, until Chance turns the tables. The film ends with an extended climatic shootout in a warehouse full of old Mardi Gras floats.

Van Damme trips and stumbles over his lines, leaving the corpses of bad one-liners in his wake. I think Yancy Butler and her eyebrows are trying to under-act JCVD on a bet, but she should know that such a thing is not possible. There is supposed to be chemistry between them but it's like watching a retard bang two blocks of wood together (although Nat seemed so impressed by JCVD's slow-motion swagger I'm surprised she didn't immediately take her pants off). When is Woo going to realise that the only love affair he should be committing to film is that between a man and his pistol? Literally, you sickos. At least this is one JCVD film that doesn't subject us to a shot of his bare ass, so woohoo I guess.

The rest of the cast is the greatest ensemble of B-movie wackiness outside of a Uwe Boll film. Wilford Brimley as Chance's bootlegging Cajun Uncle Douvee? Genius! Lance Henriksen plays Fouchon in a ridiculously over-the-top manner, all clenched teeth and menacing growls, although with Henriksen it's pretty much a menacing growl by default. He's the kind of bad guy who vents his frustration by punching out his own men. Arnold Vosloo is great as Fouchon's right hand man Pik, and an actor I wouldn't mind seeing a bit more of.

All of Woo's trademarks are here... two-fisted shootouts, slow-motion jumping through windows and lots of birds. Here it's pigeons instead of doves though, which kind of botches the symbolism. I guess having a geographically inaccurate species of bird in your movie crosses the line of realism for Mr Woo. He also picks his own pockets a few times; Chance's gunfight with Pik and Fouchon's single-shot pistol are lifted straight from Hard Boiled.

There's some pretty awesome shit in this film, like Chance kicking a dude off a motorcycle or Uncle Douvee shooting an arrow that whips right past Fouchon's face in slow motion, causing a whole lot of stuff (including Douvee's own house, a bit of overkill on his part I thought) to blows up real good. There's also lots of dudes getting shot a whole bunch of times and then getting a roundhouse kick to the face for good measure, which is good stuff. But with John Woo's excess and JCVD's king-sized ego, the film balloons into self-parody, so we've also got scenes like Chance balancing on top of a moving motorcycle or punching out a rattlesnake. This is also awesome, but for different reasons. The constant bursts of Louisiana-flavoured music got on my tits, though... we're in New Orleans, I get it.

One other thing of note is that the editing in this film is just brutal. Apparently the studio put it through the wringer several times to try and get it below an NC-17 rating. As a result, action sequences seem a little sloppy and unfinished, plus Chance only shoots dudes a paltry five times instead of a more satisfying twelve. Apparently there's a Director's Cut floating around that alleviates some of these problems. I doubt it turns it into Hard Boiled 2 or anything, unless it excises Jean-Claude entirely, or at least digitally removes his mullet. If this is the case, please inform me as to where I can find a copy.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Aysecik ve sihirli cüceler rüyalar ülkesinde (aka Turkish Wizard of Oz) (1971)

Our heroes take part in another clumsy, poorly choreographed dance routine

I suppose it's not really fair to call this film a rip-off of the 1939 MGM classic, since the US film was not the first nor the last attempt to adapt Frank L. Baum's classic novel to the big screen. However, this film does take borrow a great deal from the MGM film, and puts it's own bizarre and unmistakably Turkish stamp on the proceedings. It literally translates to "Aysecik and the Magic Dwarfs in the Land of Dreams", Aysecik referring to our Dorothy stand-in, a character who had already starred in a series of Turkish childrens' films. She is played by Zeynep Degirmencioglu, and seems a lot more... glamorous than in the MGM classic. There's no English subtitles, but I doubt they would have helped much anyway. This film is cuckoo-bananas.

Unfortunately, the trading of Kansas for Turkey has left Aysecik's guardians farming a mountainous wasteland, fit for cultivating naught but dust and rocks. Nevertheless, Aysecik lives a happy and carefree existence with her little dog Toto, er, I mean Banju. The arrival of the twister prompts a change to some shoddy cel animation, presumably since it's cheaper to animate than some real-life special effects. Once she wakes up, the film suddenly and inexplicably cuts to Aysecik in the middle of a dance with some Turkish munchkins. She retrieves the silver slippers from the flattened witch (they're silver in the original book and besides ruby is so last year) and with a kiss from the Good Witch she skips into the forest. There's no brick road in this version, yellow or otherwise, just acres of dull Turkish woodland.

Dorothy comes across the scarecrow in a field, in a scene that plays out similar to the MGM movie, except that for some reason the scarecrow is a mincing gay stereotype. Fabulous! After his rescue, Aysecik and the scarecrow engage in a song and dance routine that seemingly goes on forever, not helped by the fact that neither of them can sing or dance. They also find the tin woodsman rusted up in a clearing in another sequence much like the 1939 film, although I swear the scarecrow hits on the tin woodsman at one point. The cowardly lion suffers the worst from the reduced budget, wearing a baggy body suit with clumps of hair stapled to his groin.

After a run-in with some gropetastic trees, the three of them stumble across a miniature village of living dolls. Two of the creepy dolls have a chat with Aysecik, which ends with everyone in tears (the Tin Woodsman is unaffected, presumably due to his lack of a heart). Following a brief journey on a river raft, they receive another visit from the munchkins.

Now it should be noted that the munchkins are a little different in this film. There are seven of them, and they can perform magic and appear and disappear at will. They dress like Nutcrackers and tend to line up in height order and laugh their asses off at absolutely everything. Here they have a clumsy song and dance with Aysecik and company, and then send them on their way.

At an incredibly bad model of the Emerald Palace, they meet up with a frighteningly jolly fellow in a fez, who leads them to meet the Wizard of Oz. The magic dwarves also appear to slingshot pebbles at the portly fellow's ass and then disappear when he turns around. They must have thought this was particularly amusing because they proceed to repeat the sequence several times. They finally meet the Wizard who, rather unimpressively, turns out to be skull on a table next to a flaming oil drum. Presumably, the Wizard instructs them to kill the Wicked Witch and they leave.

This is followed by a bizarre scene, where the scarecrow is disemboweled and turned into a pile of hay in which to hide Aysecik and the cowardly lion. I presume were trying to hide from the gaze of the Wicked Witch (who in this version, has a face that appears to be covered in a horrible fungus), but it doesn't work because she watches all of this occur. She sends out her soldiers, who tear apart the scarecrow and bash the tin woodsman with oversized styrofoam boulders.

Aysecik is taken to see the Wicked Witch who puts her in a dungeon. After the Witch tricks her into giving up her silver slippers, Aysecik defeats the Wicked Witch by throwing some water on her. This causes her to writhe around in an orgiastic manner before disappearing off camera. The soldiers of the Wicked Witch are happy to be free of her, and Aysecik and her pals return to see the Wizard, who is revealed as a man in a cheap Merlin costume. He gives what I assume is the speech about their brains, heart and courage being inside them all along. He agrees to see her home in a hot air balloon, but thanks to Banju's antics, she misses the balloon and the Wizard (or at least a doll in a model hot air balloon) floats away alone.

So, Aysecik and her three friends are on the road again in an attempt to find the Good Witch. They stop in for a song and dance number with the doll village, before coming across some caves filled with hammer-wielding cavemen. Thankfully, the munchkins appear and blast the cavemen with a cannon. The munchkins, of course, find their acts of violence hilarious. After several more awful dance sequences, she finally meets up with the Good Witch, and after a tearful goodbye, Aysecik clicks her heels three times and she's back on her dirt farm.

In some ways, this film is more faithful to Frank L. Baum's book than the 1939 film, but the pacing and editing make it seem like a random sequence of unconnected events. Frequent song and dance sequences are hampered by a cast who are obviously not up to the task. It doesn't have the manic energy and abstract craziness of Turkish Star Wars, but it's certainly strange, especially for someone who grew up with the MGM classic.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Creepshow (1982), Creepshow 2 (1987)

Little known fact... zombies love cake

Holy shit, Creepshow is awesome. Written by Stephen King and directed by George A. Romero with Tom Savini providing visual effects... how could it not be? It's a compendium of five horror shorts... a love letter to the E.C. horror comics of the 1950s. Romero incorporates all sorts of comic book inspired touches, including split screens, freeze frames and colourful background graphics. The sound design is similarly wonderful. It's funny and it's even got some good scares too. (That hand busting out the grave gets me every time, even when I know it's coming.)

In Father's Day, a family gathers at their isolated mansion (on guess which day?) to celebrate the memory of their crotchety patriarch, which coincidentally marks the date he was murdered by his long-suffering niece, Aunt Silvia. However, their father is making a special appearance this year, and he wants his cake! (Skip to the next paragraph now to avoid spoilers) I laugh when I see the zombie with his head-cake, because you know he had to be sitting there in the kitchen beforehand, piping on the icing and lighting the candles.

In The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill, a country bumpkin (Stephen King, hamming it up) discovers a meteor full of blue goo. Soon a virulent alien fungus starts growing everywhere that has come into contact with the "meteor shit". Guess he shouldn't have put his fingers in his mouth, huh? This is probably the weakest story, but it's also one of the shortest.

In Something to Tide You Over, Richard discovers that his wife Becky is having an affair with a TV actor named Harry. Too bad for Harry that Richard is insanely, homicidally jealous, and concocts a plan for revenge that involves burying the adulterous duo up to their necks on the beach at low tide. This is one the best stories, thanks to great performances from Leslie Nielson and Ted Danson.

In The Crate a college professor is called in to the campus when a janitor discovers a mysterious old crate. Turns out the crate contains a vicious ape-like monster, still alive after 150 years and understandably hungry. Soon the janitor and an unlucky grad student have fallen victim to the creature. He calls in a friend, an English professor saddled with a nagging shrew of a wife, who devises a plan to kill two birds with one stone. Great performances from Hal Holbrook, Fritz Weaver, and especially Adrienne Barbeau.

In They're Creeping Up On You, E.G Marshall plays a reclusive, Howard-Hughes-like business tycoon. After a lifetime of screwing people over, he gets his just desserts when cockroaches begin to invade his germ-proof penthouse apartment. Soon they're everywhere (even in his food processor, ew) but where on Earth are they coming from? Gross-out moments galore, especially in the final scene.

The wraparound story involves a child seeking some voodoo-based revenge when his cartoonishly abusive father throws out his favourite comic book (Creepshow, natch). Watch for Tom Savini's cameo as a garbage man.

Horror anthologies aren't usually very good, but Creepshow is a stand-out exception. The stories are paced perfectly and the brisk running time means that they never outstay their welcome. The cast are uniformly excellent, and play their roles with the perfect level of camp. Creepshow is a favourite among horror fans, and with good reason. E.C. comics couldn't ask for a better tribute.

Creepshow 2 is a pretty precipitous drop in quality from the first film. The reins were handed over to one of Romero's frequent cinematographers, Michael Gornick. It lacks the creative camera work and graphics of the original, and fails to capture the comic book tone that really made Creepshow shine. To be fair, Gornick had numerous production problems and a severely restricted budget, which also cut the film down to three stories instead of five.

Old Chief Wood'nhead is probably the only one with an actor you might have heard of, unless you're some sort of robot with imdb for a brain. George Kennedy plays a kindly shopkeeper in a dying rural town. It weird, he plays this role like he's in an old Disney film in which a magical donkey saves them from unscrupulous bank owners. A trio of crooks attempt to rob them, and in the process the two of them are shot and killed. Consequently, their beloved cigar-store indian comes to life and seeks revenge on the criminals. Bo-ring!

The Raft is probably my favourite. It's not the story, cause it's basically teens on a raft menaced by The Blob's aquatic cousin. It's not the special effects, cause the creature looks like a garbage bag floating on the lake. It's certainly not the acting. No, it's Randy, a jock who wears bright yellow budgie smugglers and teases his friend for helping clean up an oil spill by saying "mucho ecologico". He's hilarious. Anyway, they all die. Spoilers.

In The Hitchhiker, an adulterous woman is on her way home from a midnight rendevous, when she runs over a hitchhiker. Fearing discovery of her affair, she drives off. However, the hitchhiker appears again and again, increasingly bloody and mangled after each encounter, and tries to force his way into her car. He says "Thanks for the ride, lady" over and over, which always makes me laugh. This story is pretty good, thanks mostly to Lori Chiles monologue-heavy performance.

The wraparound story sucks nuts. It's like the first one except replace "abusive father" with "schoolyard bullies" and "voodoo doll" with "venus fly trap". Also replace "live action" with "cheap-ass animation". Plus there's this Cryptkeeper type dude called the Creep who has a scrotum chin and makes bad puns before every story. Sure, that was de rigeur back in the old E.C. comics (the punny host, not the scrotum chin), but there's such a thing as being too faithful. Tom Savini appears as the Creep in a very brief live-action segment of the story.

I re-watched the both of these in preparation for Creepshow 3, which has recently been released direct-to-DVD. Nobody in the creative team is returning from the first two films. In fact, it's is from the same dudes who brought us Day of the Dead 2: Contagium, a film that squatted over the face of Romero's zombie classic and gave it a Dirty Sanchez. So yeah, I don't have high hopes, but watch this space for the review.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Black Demons (1991)

MUST... KILL... WHITEY!

Umberto Lenzi's Black Demons was called Demoni 3 in Italy, to cash in on the success of Lamberto Bava's Demons films. It has nothing to do with those films, and neither is it to be confused with Bava's film Casa dell'Orco, released in the US as Demons III: The Ogre. Does that make sense? Anyway, Black Demons is a cheap and dull little horror flick that should be avoided like a Macumba voodoo ceremony.

Kevin (Keith Van Hoven), Jessica (Sonia Curtis) and Dick (Joe Balogh) are three idiots, trekking their way through Brazil. Two are content to do the tourist thing, but Dick has a single-minded fascination with voodoo. He manages to track down a Macumba witchdoctor and convinces the locals to let him take part in a voodoo ritual, which he records on a tape recorder. He must have gone out drinking afterwards, because he wakes up the next morning in his hotel room with a hell of a hangover and an amulet around his neck.

The next day the three of them are driving out in the middle of the rain forest when their Jeep breaks down. Luckily they are picked up by locals Jose (Phillip Murray) and Sonia (Juliana Texeira), who take them back to their deserted villa. When they arrive they are given a chilly reception by Maria, their live-in housekeeper, who mustn't be doing a very good job because the walls are crawling with spiders. Maria is also a practitioner of Macumba, and immediately senses that there are evil forces at work. In the middle of the night, Dick feels a strange compulsion to head down to the graveyard and play his recording of the voodoo ritual. Thanks to a curse placed on the villa, this causes six slaves to rise from their graves, blinded and hanged during a slave rebellion one hundred and fifty years ago. They only have one thing on their minds: KILL WHITEY!

The rest of the film plays out like a mid 80s slasher film; The jeep breaks down, the generator packs up and people are picked off one by one. Everyone takes a break every twenty minutes to dish out enormously dull chunks of exposition that are completely obvious when they aren't superfluous. In fact, the whole film has a very mid 80s look and feel, despite being released in 1991. Italian horror was in a decline at the time, and the lack of budget shows. So much so that you only hear about one of the deaths through the radio.

During the course of the film Dick goes increasingly cuckoo-nutso and by the end of it he is chasing Jessica around with an axe. Keith manages to put together some molotov cocktails to keep the zombies at bay and I don't know what kind of fuel they use in Brazil but they are some powerful shit. They explode like hand grenades, often multiple times. Anyway, Dick tastes the sharp end of a pitchfork, the zombies get toasted and Jessica and Keith drive off into the sunset. I guess they had four spares, because Dick had slashed all the tyres earlier in the film.

The cast have the double whammy of being both unattractive and unable to act. Jessica (Sonia Curtis) is the worst of the lot on both counts, apparently foisted on Lenzi at the last minute. Watching her pathetically scream and pretend to trip over in unflattering jeans is more scary than the zombies. Jose is near-indecipherable due to his accent and bored monotone, and he has most of the dialogue. You're pretty much rooting for the zombies from the get go.

The zombies look pretty cool, though. They've got nooses around their necks and each carries a different weapon (knives, hooks, scythes etc). I find it hard to believe they were buried like that, but they look pretty good for dudes who have spent a hundred and fifty years rotting in a grave, so who knows? They also have manacles and chains around their hands and feet, so their approach is accompanied by creepy chain-rattling. Except when they're sneaking around... then they're silent. Yeah, these aren't your ordinary zombies, they'll sneak up on people and duck into the shadows if they're spotted. They do a pretty good job of it, since they're blind.

The deaths are reasonably gory (eye gougings always get a thumbs up from me) but nothing to write home about (I don't know about you, but I always write home every time I see an explicitly gory horror film). Aside from the voodoo ritual, which manages to capture some measure of excitement (less so when it's repeated in flashback for the fifth time), the film is shot in a very workmanlike manner.

It's a well known fact that a movie's quality is inversely proportional to the asskickery of the box art, and it holds true here. The box art is great, even if it depicts seven zombies when the movie repeatedly states that there are only six. All in all, this film is very dull, especially considering this is the same guy who brought us the fun and fast-paced not-zombie film Nightmare City. The only thing this film did was make me appreciate that one even more.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (1974)

Stitchy McChesthair is on the hunt for human flesh

This Spanish-Italian co-production from director Jorge Grau is known by many names... Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, Breakfast at Manchester Morgue, The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, Don't Open the Window, among others. It was made to cash in on Romero's successful Night of the Living Dead, but it was released before Dawn of the Dead and the flood of rip-offs that followed. As such, it avoids many of the cliches that emerged in the wake of Dawn and adds a healthy dose of 70s style social commentary and environmentalism. The result is a refreshing and entertaining zombie film.

George (Ray Lovelock) is a groovy, hairy antiques dealer with a keen sense of fashion, who is heading into the English countryside to renovate an old cottage with some friends. While stopping in at a petrol station, Edna (Christine Galbo) backs her mini into his motorcycle because she is a woman and can't drive. He convinces her to let him drive her to her destination and borrow her car for the weekend (isn't she trusting). On the way we learn that Edna plans to visit her junkie sister Katie and her huge-eyebrowed photographer husband Marin.

They stop to ask for directions, and George meets a group of scientists testing a device that uses ultra-sonic waves to control the insect population. Meanwhile, Edna is attacked by a zombie tramp, but by the time she finds George and starts babbling hysterically he has disappeared. Isn't that just like a zombie? George gives her a belittling as only a hairy 70s man can do.

By the time they arrive at Katie's they are a little too late to save Marin, who has been throttled by the zombie tramp. The police arrive to investigate, and the Inspector (Arthur Kennedy with a spotty Irish accent) takes an immediate dislike to the three of them. Katie subsequently has a nervous breakdown, and George discovers that there has been a rash of homicidally aggressive babies born around the testing area of the ultrasonic device.

After being harassed by the Inspector ("You're all the same with your long hair and faggot clothes... drugs, sex and every sort of filth!"), Edna is convinced that the man that attacked her and Marin was a recently deceased local tramp. In order to convince her otherwise, George takes her to the cemetery so they can visit his grave. A graveyard isn't a particularly good place to be in the midst of a zombie plague, and soon they are trapped in a tomb, along with a member of the local constabulary.

The copper is clobbered with a tombstone and messily devoured, but George and Edna burn up a couple of zombies and make their escape. The Inspector later discovers the bodies and concludes that the George and Edna are drug-addled Satanists. George bashes the hell out of the ultra-sonic device, but he is captured by the police right around the time more of the devices are rolled out. Naturally, the Inspector doesn't believe his story, and George is forced to escape and head back to find Edna, who has been taken to the hospital with zombie-related injuries.

It's there that the bloody finale occurs, with an army of zombies (well, seven or eight) munching on hospital staff as the two of them try to make their escape. The film concludes with a twist ending that wouldn't seem out of place in a Tales From the Crypt comic.

Let Sleeping Corpses Lie was shockingly gory for the time, and while it doesn't compare to the lurid exploitation films that would come out in the next couple of decades, it's still quite gruesome today. The effects are handled by gore maestro Gianetti de Rossi (who would later work on Fulci's Zombi 2) and marvelously executed.

Jorge Grau knows his way around a camera, the film boasting an attractive look and memorable set-pieces. It has a deliberate pace that might be a turn-off to those accustomed to more action-oriented zombie flicks, a slow build that ramps up to a cracking finale. Much of the film revolves around the generation gap tension between the groovy George and hard-line conservative Inspector. It's not subtle, but it works, thanks in part to the performances by Ray Lovelock and Arthur Kennedy.

This film is an under-appreciated horror gem, one of the few zombie films that stacks up next to Romero's. It is essential viewing for any zombie fan.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Guy N. Smith Book Review - Killer Crabs

Now this is more like it! Killer Crabs is Guy N. Smith's second crab book, and like any good sequel, he takes everything that was great about the first book (gory deaths, explicit sex) and takes it up a notch!

The book starts off the Norwegian coast, where a bunch of fishermen get the ol' snippety-snip. The crabs are on the move! It seems they've understandably gotten sick of the weather in the UK and moved to the Royal Hayman Hotel, a fancy island resort off the coast of Queensland. Because the book is set in Australia, we need a grizzled, no-nonsense hero in khaki shorts. Here it's Klin, a hairy man's man who can't go anywhere without people gasping in awe at his rugged manliness. One day he is out shooting at a bunch of dastardly Japanese poachers, when he spies an enormous crab scuttling along the reef.

Because you can't have everyone believing the hero right away, the events of the first book have been banished to the annals of folklore. I would have thought that horse-sized crabs killing dozens of people would have made more of a splash in the news. Maybe it was overshadowed by the UK winning the 1976 Eurovision song contest with Brotherhood of Man's Save All Your Kisses For Me.

Anyway, after a bunch of local fishermen and a whole boat full of Japanese poachers are turned into crab chow, the Australian authorities start to pay attention. Enter Professor Cliff Davenport, marine botanist, hero of the first book and no stranger to the murderous crustaceans. He is on the first flight over.

The resort is also host to a number of secondary characters. Corder is a portly reporter from the mainland, hoping to catch the scoop on the giant crabs. Harvey Logan is a big game hunter who is looking to bag himself a great white, though his skills may not match his reputation. Caroline Du Brummer, resident high-flier and nymphomaniac, bangs any guy she can find, but has an agenda of her own.

Soon the crabs make their assault on the resort and they are just as invulnerable as ever, barely noticing the blast of a destoyer's 40mm guns. One unlucky crab gets killed by a ricocheting fragment of shell and Harvey Logan, emasculated after a woeful bedroom performance with Caroline, claims it as his kill. Hitherto unmentioned in this review is Frank Burke, a thief on the run. He is in possession of a briefcase containing 20,000 pounds and Harvey, Caroline and Klin all get embroiled in a subplot about the stolen money.

All of this leads up to the finale, where Klin, Shannon (chief shark-patrol officer) and Davenport end up stranded on an island mangrove swamp, and hope to destroy the crabs before they can spawn. The book kind of loses it at the end, but it's a suitably brief and action-packed journey getting there.

The kills in this book are more gruesome than in the last book. No longer content with a simple bisection, characters get their limbs amputated, decapitated and disemboweled in a single sitting. Sex scenes are plentiful and described in Guy N. Smith's lurid yet not quite pornographic style. Two claws up!

Guy N Smith Book Review - The Lurkers

Have you ever had that experience where you finish a book, put it down and then wonder what actually happened in the 200 odd pages you have just read? This Guy N. Smith novel reminded me of such an experience I had several years ago. You know how it goes, a long haul flight, hours of sleepless boredom, and you decide you need a looooooooong book - preferably one that requires zero brain power. So, between Australia and Los Angeles I started and finished Stephen King's Cujo. It was only after I emerged from my post-flight haze that it dawned on me that nothing had really happened in the entire book, that there'd been over 300 of charater development and I still actually couldnt care less whether they lived or died. And the dog wasnt even possessed - it just had rabies! I mean come on people! Apparently they even managed to make a movie out of it - well, the set would be pretty straightforward: you need a big dog, a car and 2 people inside. Just to demonstrate that the story could have been written on a paper napkin I will provide a summary:

  • Dog gets rabies
  • People drive to visit dog's owner
  • Dog attacks car
  • Car wont start
  • Car gets hot
  • People trapped in car


The Lurkers, whilst there was arguably a lot more action than in Cujo, left me with a similar feeling. Im not quite sure why, I think it is just that I don't like it when creating atmosphere is achieved primarily through 'unexplained feelings that something is wrong' - I am much more convinced by gruesome deaths or a series of unexplained accidents. In other words 'in your face; horror.

The story starts when an author and his family rent an isolated cottage in the welsh countryside, in order to get some peace and quiet to finish this latest novel. Unfortunately for him the cottage is surrounded by a collection of resentful and xenophobic locals, his kid is targeted by British-hating bullies that give even the headmaster of the school the willies and his wife is plagued by those aforementioned 'feelings'. Needless to say, the husband is quick to dismiss his wife's complaints, and prefers to concentrate his efforts on his novel and the bullies. Even when he finds his kid's cat gutted and hanging in a tree near the sacrificial alter just behind the cottage he's rented, he actually seems pissed off rather than scared.

Time passes, with a few more strange noises in the night, and threats from the locals, and the husband still carrying on as if everything was normal - of course, he's making no progress whatsoever on his book, and his wife is still hysterical. The last straw for the wife comes when her kid's new pet, a fluffy white bunny rabbit, is found with its stomach slit open on the sacrificial altar (which is probably fair enough).

When the wife leaves with the kid to stay with her parents, the husband thinks he can finally get some work done. But the dark forces (if that's what they are) have other ideas, and soon the husband is engaged in a one-man stand-off against an army of rifle-wielding white druids. There are certainly some tense moments, and it's certainly a good armchair read. This wasn't one of my personal favourites (just in case you hadn't figured that out yet), but for the less hardened Guy N. Smith readers, perhaps a good introduction. So, just a short advert for The Lurkers:

"Looking for a edge of your seat roller-coaster ride of terror and suspense? The look no further than Guy N Smith's latest novel The Lurkers. Witness one man's battle against dark forces and xenophobic locals that have caused his wife to flee for her life. Are the strange lights in the snow and the gruesome acts of ritual sacrifice the work of an ancient cult, or is there another, and probably even more improbable, explanation?"

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Zombie '90: Extreme Pestilence (1991)

You know, you could just substitute the entire film with this image.

It's never a good sign when an entire feature film is included as a "bonus feature" on a DVD. Andreas Schnaas second directorial effort, Zombie '90: Extreme Pestilence, is included on the Zombie Doom DVD, much like a dead rat carries the bubonic plague.

Through the wonder of stock footage, a military aircraft carries "lethal, toxic, untested chemicals" on a secret mission. Inevitably it crashes, unleashing a zombie plague. In a nearby hospital, Dr. Simon is conducting an autopsy. He extracts organs whole and unmolested from the incision... maybe that's why he died? After fighting his way a gaggle of spotty reporters, Dr. Burns (the same guy who played Dr. Senius in Zombie Doom) busts into the operating theater, and as the corpse rises from the operating table and starts playing with it's intestines, he shoots it in the head.

Dr. Burns insists that he and Dr. Simon take one of the zombie bodies back to his private laboratory so they can experiment on it in peace and maybe discover something about zombie physiology. After a gruesome autopsy, the two doctors head into the forest with a Geiger counter (played by a multimeter), don hazmat suits and gas masks and try and find the location of the aircrash.

The adventures of the two doctors are randomly punctuated by unconnected zombie attacks. A dude is cut in half by a zombie with a chainsaw, who proceeds to play around with the intestines like he's pulling taffy. A couple of zombies cut the breasts off a girl (hey Umberto, they're stealing your bit!) as she prepares to take a shower. Another girl gets her genitals mutilated, a Schnaas directorial stamp, much like Kubrick's corridor compositions. A wheelchair bound woman is decapitated with an axe and her baby (played by a doll filled with raw meat) pulled to pieces etc etc ad nauseum.

Eventually Dr. Simon is killed, and the film concludes with Dr. Burns taking an unconvincing tumble in the woods, subjecting us to a 10 minute dream sequence in an abandoned house. The whole sequence seems like an excuse to work in the location, but despite the potentially spooky surrounds, attempts at building suspense and atmosphere are woeful. During the dream he is attacked by a couple of zombies and then woken up by an actual zombie, who munches on his guts. Cue credits, which state that the film is produced by "The Violent Shitters, Hamburg". You may want to see a doctor about that, guys.

A film like this is really just a showcase for gore effects, but even they aren't particularly ambitious or creative. In most cases a guy in bad zombie makeup plays around with raw meat (rarely the appropriate cut, I saw someone pull a spinal column out of someone's stomach... very sloppy Schnaas) while being squirted with red paint. The cast is recruited from the "friends and family" school of acting. The top tier actors are those who can refrain from laughing or looking at the camera. The editing and lighting are terrible, the soundtrack consists of a few looped pieces of synthesizer twaddle.

The dub job, however, is one of the few things that makes this film watchable. That's not to say it's good; it's just so utterly bizarre. Dr. Burns (a very white German guy) is dubbed like a superfly black dude and Dr. Simon like a whiny cartoon sidekick. It's pretty obvious that most of the dialog was dubbed in off the cuff, with no attention paid to synchronising lip movement or making any sense. The film is at it's most entertaining when Dr. Burns commands his injured partner: "Don't bleed!" or says of a zombie: "Im'a run over his dick." Sometimes the film looks like it's making a genuine (if unsuccessful) attempt to build atmosphere, but then Dr. Burns sees a black, mustachioed zombie and shouts "It's Jimi Hendrix!". It's almost like watching an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

It's hard to say whether this film is meant to be taken seriously, but I'm not about to give it a free pass if it's not. It sucks. In his later films, Shnaas developed a sense of humour, and his movies benefitted as a result. This film is really just a bunch of mulleted Germans playing around with a few gallons of red paint and raw meat. I'm sure it was a lot of fun, but I don't know why they had to film it.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Story of Ricky (1991)

Q) Is this awesome? (Y/N)
A) Yes


Lik-Wong
(aka Riki-Oh, The Story of Ricky) is a film about, surprisingly enough, Ricky (Fan Siu-Wong), a man who is sentenced to prison and fights back against the bullying prisoners, the corrupt officials and the man. Not a wholly original premise, but when Ricky puts his fist through the belly of a monstrously fat prisoner, spilling a gallon of intestines and gore, you may realise that this is not your typical prison movie. In fact, this is one of the craziest, bloodiest and most outrageous films I've ever seen. It's a Hong-Kong film (one of the few films with a Category III rating and no sex), directed by Ngai Kai Lam and based on the manga Riki-Oh by Tetsuya Saruwatari. I'm not sure how faithful it is to it's source material, but since Saruwatari is the same guy who brought us The Fist of the North Star, I wouldn't be surprised if the manga contained the same level of insane ultra-violence.

Ricky used to have a happy life, flying model aircraft with his girlfriend while wearing matching yuppie outfits. One day, however, his girlfriend stumbles across a bunch of drug dealers, who chase her onto the rooftops and right off the side of a building. Seriously, she just runs right off the edge like she's in a Road Runner cartoon. Ricky immediately seeks revenge against the head gangster, punching a fist-shaped indentation in his skull. The crook shot him a bunch of times first, so you'd think that it would fall under the banner of self defence, but Ricky goes to jail anyways.

Straight away you notice that this is not your ordinary prison. As the opening crawl states, prisons have been privatised, and inevitably turned corrupt. The Assistant Warden is an obese asshole with a hook for a hand and a glass eye and what's more, they can't even afford locks on the prison doors. Hardened thugs walk around freely at all times of night and day, carrying concealed weapons and committing acts of wanton violence. It's like Cabramatta or something. The prisoners are kept in line by the Gang of Four, a group of colourful villains in cahoots with the Assistant Warden.

It's lucky then, that Ricky is a master of Chi Kung, which allows him to heal from fatal wounds and punch through torsos, which he demonstrates in short order. The Assistant Warden does not take kindly to his troublemaking. He lures him into a confrontation with Oscar, a tattooed Yakuza gangster and one of the Gang of Four. The fight goes pretty poorly for Ricky at first... Oscar sprays powdered glass into his eyeballs and cuts a deep gouge into Ricky's arm. Luckily, Ricky uses his Chi Kung powers to wash the glass out of his eyes and tie his tendons together with his bare hands. Once Oscar realises he is out of his depth, he commits seppuku with the knife and tries to strangle Ricky with his intestines. The movie only gets crazier from here.

Now, guys like Ricky and I, we're not just scowling bad asses with a propensity to put our fists through torsos, we've also got a sensitive side. He even gives a Oscar's mute godson Alan his flute (thankfully, how he smuggled it in glossed over) and in return Alan inadvertently reveals the location of the Assistant Warden's opium farm. Alan is consequently killed by the Gang of Four (Gang of Three now, I guess) and whenever a bit player dies, Ricky gives us a full-on, standing out in the rain, shaking fists at the heavens, "Nooooooo!" This happens twice in the film. Gee, dial down the drama, Ricky. Makes you wonder what he'd do if it was someone more than a passing acquaintance.

You've heard about the Assistant Warden, but what about the Warden? Well, he's been on vacation, but halfway into the film he returns with his odious, comedy-relief son. After gouging out some eyes and establishing himself as an even bigger asshole than the Assistant Warden, they set about subjecting Ricky to a series of Bond-villian-esque tortures including burying him underground for several days and filling his mouth full of razor blades. Ricky fails to crack and eventually escapes, lobotomising a dude with a single punch and popping out the Assistant Warden's good eye.

After letting the prisoners mutilate him for a while, Ricky takes the Assistant Warden to the kitchen. The Warden is doing a late night inspection and mincing a prisoner's arm in an enormous meat grinder (hm, I wonder if that will come in handy later). Unimpressed, the Warden shoots the Assistant Warden with a "compressed air" bullet, which causes him to inflate and explode. After dispatching the remainder of the Gang of Four, Ricky squares off against the Warden. The Warden has Chi Kung powers as well, but his manifest a little differently, transforming him into a hulking monster in serious need of a kleenex. After a short fight, Ricky tosses him into the meat grinder, and pulps him until there's nought left but a severed head. Holding his grisly trophy aloft to the rioting prisoners, he punches an enormous hole in the wall of the prison and informs them they are all free. I'm not saying that freeing a bunch of convicted criminals is such a hot idea, but why didn't you do that eighty five minutes ago, Ricky?

I started writing this review by cataloging all of the insane gory moments in this film, but it ended up ridiculously long. I've barely touched on all the different crazy ways Ricky pulps his enemies. This film came out about the same time as Peter Jackson's Braindead, probably the only film gorier than this one. Compared to Braindead the effects are laughably cheap, but thankfully it doesn't take itself seriously, and it's faithful to the spirit of graphically violent manga, for better or worse. I mean, the Assistant Warden stores mints in his glass eye! This film is worth watching just to see what crazy shit is around the corner, and it rarely disappoints on that front. They really don't make them like this anymore and I'll leave it up to you whether that's a good thing or not.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Maniac (1980)

Who could resist this sexy man?

William Lustig's Maniac is a film that seeks to shock and disturb, rather than entertain. It focuses on the last few days of serial killer Frank Zito (Joe Spinell) as he stalks and kills several women while spiraling into madness. That's it, really, so if you're looking for a complex plot then you're out of luck, and what did you expect from a movie with an awesome cover like this? (Is it just me, or does it look like the guy on the cover has a huge package?)

As the film opens, Frank Zito wakes up from a nightmare about killing a couple of canoodling teens, and from the first view of his fleabag apartment, it's clear that all is not right. Creepy dolls, some encased in cages, bizarre paintings on the wall, and a candlelit shrine to his mother. So yeah, he's not a model of sanity, and he proves so almost immediately by murdering and scalping a hooker. Back at his apartment, he nails the grisly trophy to a mannequin as he talks to it and babbles insanely.

Next he packs a some weapons into a violin case and it's off to stalk the streets of New York. Soon he comes across a couple getting busy in the back of their car, one of whom is played by none other than special effects wizard, Tom Savini (credited as "Disco Boy"!) Frank jumps onto the hood of the car, whips around the barrel of his shotgun and blasts Tom Savini's head clean off! In super slow motion! This is an amazing and memorable effect and should definitely (along with Scanners) get the Oscar nod for Best Head Explosion (a category that should be introduced asap.)

As the body count racks up, it becomes increasingly apparent that Frank has suffered terrible abuse at the hands of his mother. She used to lock him in cupboards, sleep around etc. Now he has serious abandonment issues, and his killings are a way of ensuring that the women never leave him. Not startlingly original, but it does provide a little back story for his gruesome rampage.

Eventually Frank meets a photographer in the park, Anna D'Antoni (Caroline Munro). She takes a liking to him for some strange reason, and they start dating. It shows that Frank is capable of functioning normally, even being charming on occasion, but he's not charming enough to make the idea of her being attracted to him believable. Neither of them have the acting chops to pull it off, and the scenes of them together drag terribly. Inevitably, he turns on her, but she manages to escape. As he sits in his apartment, the police closing in and his last hope for redemption severed, he finally goes off the deep end. His mannequins come to life, slowly closing in on him before gorily dismembering him with shrieks of bloodlust.

The next morning the police arrive at his apartment. His body is still intact, save a stab wound in his stomach. They are pretty lazy cops, since they don't bother checking for vitals or anything. They just shake their heads sadly and leave, cueing Frank's eyes to predictably snap open.

Maniac goes for a gritty realism, and it mostly works. It goes for a lingering sense of unease rather than a reliance on jump-scares. A scene where a girl is chased through a subway station is well staged and genuinely frightening. The synthesiser-heavy score is great and appropriately moody. Much has been made of the extreme gore in this film, and it does not disappoint. Savini's special effects are, as always, gruesomely convincing.

The film really revolves around Frank Zito (his victims are really just mannequins) and as such it hinges on Joe Spinell's performance. He put a lot of effort into preparing for this role, and he pulls it off admirably, creating a horrific yet pitiable character. Apparently Spinell stayed up all night drinking before filming in order to get the look right. I believe him. He almost always looks haggard, his face covered in a sheen of flop sweat. Much of the soundtrack consists of Frank's grunting, moaning and insane babbling. The film does an admirable job of trying to get you inside the head of a serial killer. As you can imagine, it's not a very pleasant place to be.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Guy N. Smith Book Review - Thirst

The book opens with a lorry driver who, while driving a tanker filled with noxious weedkiller, decides to take a detour to visit his "girlfriend" - perhaps not the greatest idea at the best of times, but one in this particular instance proves to be particularly disasterous; while trying to navigate the backroads of the welsh highlands, the driver loses control and the lorry plummets into the depths of a reservoir...releasing its contents into the water supply.

This isn't just any weedkiller - but the most toxic weedkiller ever developed, and even small amounts cause horrific sympotms in its vicitms, which culminates in certain death. In fact, anyone who comes into contact with the contaminated water soon becomes a victim of the symptoms of weedkiler poisoning: unquenchable thirst, followed by maddness, copious pustules and boils over the entire body and, soon thereafter, death. And, of course, there is no antidote (well, that wouldn't be any fun now, would it?)

Now, one would have thought that in this situation the authorities might have decided to switch off the supply of water from the contaminated reservoir, but inevitably, they refuse to believe that this is a serious enough problem to warrant such action, until it can be "proven" that this is a problem (which in reality is probably not too far from what would happen in this situation!).

Well, obviously, the authorities are wrong, and pandemonium ensues when the contaminated water enters the water supply of Birmingham. The city becomes a disaster zone, people are dying in droves, and the transport system crashes to a grinding halt. No one can get out, gangs run riot on the streets pillaging houses and shops for cans and bottles to drink, and generally its not a very pleasant place to be!

Amoungst all this mayhem, we meet our main character, one of the scientists who developed the weedkiller recipie, and who for some reason feels responsible for the disaster and for restoring order to the city. On his quest, he manages to form a relationship with another survivor (well, why not?), and to befriend an axe-murderer who has just escaped from the local jail.

As far as Guy N Smith novels go, this is certainly one of the most action-packed, and anyone who delights in reading graphic and detailed descriptions of revolting medical symptoms and gruesome deaths (and lets face it, who doesn't?) will not be disappointed. I certainly delighted in the (some would argue) unnecessarily numerous description of the deaths of weedkiller victims, along with copious other large-scale diasters (huge fires which the weedkiller water is unable to put out, train and plane crashes, motorway pile-ups) which adorned the novel's pages!

Friday, 7 March 2008

I Spit on Your Grave (1978)

The hammock of the damned

Meir Zarchi's I Spit On Your Grave (otherwise known under the more tasteful title Day of the Woman) was crucified upon it's release. Roger Ebert named it the worst movie ever made, but then he liked Garfield: The Movie, so what does he know? It was finally released uncut in Australia in 2004, so I picked up a copy. Does it live up to it's reputation? Let's find out...

Successful New York writer Jennifer Hills (Camille Keaton, Buster Keaton's granddaughter!) decides to take a trip up to a remote cabin so she can finish her book in peace and tranquility. Upon her arrival, she is continually harassed by four inbred locals... Johnny (Eron Tabor), Stanley (Anthony Nichols), Andy (Gunter Kleemann) and the mildly-retarded Matthew (Richard Pace). Offended by her fancy-pants New-York-independent-feminist ways, they concoct a plan to punish her and help Matthew lose his virginity. The next day as she is relaxing on her boat, the four men tow her boat to shore and chase her through the woods. She is captured and brutally raped and beaten... twice! Bruised and bloody, she crawls back to her house, but the men are already there. They rape and beat her again and ridicule and burn her manuscript for good measure. The three men order Matthew to stab her to death, but he can't bring himself to do it and leaves her alive, concealing it from the other men.

Over the following few days, Jennifer is in a daze. Gradually she gains back her senses, and with them, a thirst for vengeance. She pieces together her manuscript and vows revenge on her attackers.

First of all, she lures Matthew to a tree near her cabin and has sex with him. When he is distracted, she slips a noose around his neck and hangs him from the tree.

Secondly, she takes Johnny back to her house and makes him strip at gunpoint. He manages to get the gun from her, but she lures him back to her cabin and into a hot bath. She starts to beat him off before pulling out a hidden knife and cutting off his wang. She locks him in the bathroom and calmly waits until he bleeds out.

The two remaining men take their motor boat to her cabin and attempt to kill her with an axe. She escapes in their boat, and as one of the men swims after her she buries the axe in his back. The last man attempts to climb onto the boat but, ignoring his pleas for mercy, she guts him with the outboard motor. The film promptly ends.

It's easy to see why this film caused a few blue-hairs to faint back in the day. The rape scene in this film is almost thirty minutes long, stark and brutal, with no muscial score or editing tricks. Not exactly pleasant viewing, and that's exactly the point. The scene isn't made to titillate. A lot of people misinterpreted this film as a glorification of rape, which makes about as much sense as saying that Catch 22 is a glorification of war. It's a harrowing experience, but it's not as morally despicable as some would have you believe.

Does it hold up after 30 years? Well, with shock-fests like Irreversible making the art-film circuit, it seems that audiences are a bit more tolerant of shocking content when it is put in an appropriate context. That's not to say it's not shocking anymore, because it is, but I doubt it would be the subject of as much controversy these days. Truth be told, a lot about this film is fairly mediocre. The men in this film are unbearably stupid. Matthew seems to be smartest out of all of them, and he's retarded. Production values are very low and the acting is spotty, although Camille Keaton is very good. This is probably one of the best films in the admittedly small rape/revenge genre, it's certainly the most well-known.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Thriller: A Cruel Picture (1974)

You know, her aim can't be that good without any depth perception

The Swedish rape/revenge film Thriller: en grym film (Thriller: A Cruel Picture) was released in a heavily-censored form the US as They Call Her One Eye. A few years ago, Bo Arne Vibenius' revenge epic was re-released on DVD by Synapse Films in it's original cut, hardcore sex scenes and graphic violence intact.

Madeline (softcore starlet Christina Lindberg) has been left mute ever since she was brutally raped by a vagrant. She is walking near her parents' farm one day, when she is offered a ride by a passing sleazebag, Tony (Heinz Hopf). He injects her with heroin to keep her under control, and pimps her out to a variety of seedy clients, including a lecherous photographer and a violent lesbian. When she fights back against one of the clients, Tony gouges out her eye. Soon she discovers that Tony has been writing terrible letters to her parents under her name, and they have killed themselves as a result. Heartbroken, Madeline seeks out instruction from stunt drivers, martial artists and weapon specialists. Subsequently, she uses her newfound skills to wreak bloody vengeance against those who have wronged her!

Compared to grimy rape-revenge flicks like I Spit On Your Grave, Thriller has a slick and stylised feel. Scenes of violence, in particular, are very stylised, shot in Peckinpah-esque, super slow motion, with distant, echoing sound effects. The result is dislocating, and occasionally quite beautiful, such as when Madeline punches a policeman and a spurt of blood arcs gracefully across the screen. Some scenes are quite brutal and graphic, such as when Tony cuts out Madeline's eye (legend has it that they used a human cadaver).

Christina Lindberg is, as always, a treat to look at. She spends a sizable portion of the film nude, but a body double was used during the hardcore sex scenes. During her acts of revenge, she wears colourful, spaghetti-western inspired outfits with matching eyepatches, providing the inspiration for Daryl Harrah's character Elle Driver in Kill Bill (you didn't think Tarantino had an original thought, did you?)

The stylised, slow-motion violence and some beautiful shot composition (some of the frames I'd be happy to hang on my wall, only some mind you) give Thriller a classier edge, and while it's certainly not high art, it's less likely to make you feel in need of a hot bath afterwards.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Last House on the Left (1972)

Worst camping trip ever!

Over 30 years after it's release, critical opinion is still divided over Last House of the Left. It's fans defend it as a harrowing study of violence, while it's critics dismiss it as exploitative trash. The truth is, it probably falls somewhere in the middle.

The plot of Last House on the Left is essentially a retelling of Ingmar Bergman's Virgin Spring. Mari (Sandra Cassel) and Phyllis (Lucy Grantham) are two happy, middle-class teenagers heading to a rock concert. It's Mari's birthday and boy does she like talking about her breasts. After a discussion of boob-accentuating sweaters with her parents, she launches into a celebration of her newly-developed breasts with her best friend. My wife informs me that discussions of this nature are atypical, which left me deeply disappointed.

In an attempt to score some grass they are abducted by a foursome of escaped convicts. They consist of the ferocious Krug (David Hess), his girl Sadie (Jeramie Rain), the knife-toting Weasel (Fred J Lincoln) and the heroin-addicted Junior (Marc Sheffler). The girls are bundled into their car and taken out to the woods near Mari's house where they are teased and tormented before being raped and killed.

Following this, the convicts seek refuge at a nearby house, not realising that it belongs to Mari's parents John (Gaylord St James) and Estelle (Cynthia Carr). During the night Estelle overhears them talking about their crime, and the parents decide to take matters into their own hands.

The scenes of sexual torment are broken up by a pathetic comedy subplot about two idiotic small-town cops (one of whom is played by Martin "Sweep the Leg" Kove) and Mari's parents preparing for her birthday. I imagine the juxtaposition was intentional, but the shifts in tone are clunky and awkward. The twangy, upbeat soundtrack (partially composed and sung by David Hess) is bizarre and often highly inappropriate.

The quality of the acting varies (most of the cast were in adult film), but David Hess gives a standout performance as Krug. He would go on to play a very similar role in Ruggero Deodato's House on the Edge of the Park. Cassel and Grantham are convincing in their roles as the two victims, and according to interviews they were genuinely terrified of Hess. When they are forced to strip in the woods, Phyllis tries to comfort Mari by saying "There's no-one else here, just you and me", a heartbreaking line which I was surprised to find out was improvised. The film takes a downturn during the last act of the film. The class warfare set up between Mari's parents and the convicts is never really explored, and seeing Gaylord St James running around with a chainsaw is frankly hilarious.

There is a small amount of gore (Phyllis is disembowelled at one point) but, like Tobe Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the real horror comes from the inhuman cruelty forced upon the girls. It may have been the subject of controversy when it was released, but Last House on the Left can't be so easily dismissed as an exploitation film. It's apparent that Craven and Cunningham were trying to strip away the veneer of slick Hollywood violence. Fans of Scream or Nightmare on Elm Street might be shocked by the raw brutality of Wes Craven's first feature. It's sloppily made, and Wes Craven is quick to admit that he had no idea what he was doing, but it's evidence of the talent that would grow in their later careers.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

I Blog On Your Grave!

It's March, and what better way to shake off those post-Valentine's-Day fuzzies than wallowing in that most scuzzy of sub-genres, the rape/revenge film. These films sprang up like toadstools in the 70s, when filmmakers were testing the limits of what they could commit to the silver screen. I'm conflicted about these kind of films. I'm not so quick to dismiss them as tasteless exploitation, but the cynical voice in me says that they were a way for filmmakers to have their cake and eat it too; to have scenes of lurid sex and violence, justified by the idea that they were making some sort of feminist statement.

Over the next week we'll be taking a look at three such films... Wes Craven's first feature film Last House on the Left, the arty Swedish entry Thriller: A Cruel Picture and the singularly sleazy I Spit On Your Grave. By the end of it you'll probably be scrubbing yourself raw in a scalding hot shower, only to find out that the dirt just won't come off!

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Za ginipiggu 2: Chiniku no hana (1985)

Your tooth decay brings great dishonour to the daimyo

The Za ginipiggu (Guinea Pig) series of films were an attempt to create the most vile, disgusting horror films possible. Based on a viewing of the second, they largely succeeded. There are six films in the series, seven if you count Za ginipiggu 7: Zansatsu supeshyaru (Guinea Pig 7: Slaughter Special), which is essentially a highlights reel.

The first film surrounds kidnapping of a young girl, who is subjected to a series of tortures as an experiment on the human pain threshold. The abuses start out as relatively mild (Loud noises? Punching and kicking? Administering shots of booze and spinning her around in a chair? Around here we call that "Friday night at the pub") but gradually ramp up in intensity. The third film marks a shift in tone for the series, eschewing the documentary realism for a semblence of plot and elements of humour.

The second film, Za ginipiggu 2: Chiniku no hana (Guinea Pig 2: Flowers of Flesh and Blood) is probably the most (in)famous in the series. It gained brief notoriety when Charlie Sheen came across a bootleg copy of film and the called the FBI, believing it to be a genuine snuff film. Looking at the special effects, it's not hard to see why. Only the editing techniques and a few cartoonish sound effects betray it's origin. Completely plotless, and filmed in a grainy, pseudo-documentary style, the film shows a man dressed as a Samurai slowly and graphically dismembering a sedated girl while reciting poetry. And that's it. It's hard to call it a "horror" film. Certainly it has the capacity to horrify, but there's none of the suspense traditionally associated with horror films. It's like the difference between eroticism and hardcore pornography.

And hardcore it most certainly is... it makes the "torture porn" of the last few years look like a model of restraint. The special effects in this film are some of the most gruesomely realistic I've ever seen. As my review history demonstrates, I am a seasoned gorehound, but this film had me staring at the screen in mute horror, occasionally saying to myself "How did they do that?"

The film was written and directed by Manga artist Hideshi Hino, who injects a vein of queasy sexuality into the proceedings. The film was hugely popular in Japan, but came under public scrutiny when they were discovered in the house of a serial killer, Tsutomu Miyazaki, who had apparently re-enacted one of the scenes from the film in the murder of several little girls.

To say this film isn't for everyone would be a gross understatement. I shudder to contemplate who it might be for.