Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Devil Rides Out




The Devil Rides Out
Directed by: Terrence Fisher
UK, 1968
Horror / Hammer / Satanism, 96min
Distributed by: Anchor Bay Entertainment.



Story:
When young Simon gets seduced by a Satanic cult, it’s up to his guardian Duc De Richeleau to save him from the talons of evil. After entering Simon’s house late at De Richleau finds evidence of satanic rituals and is confronted by a demonic presence. At the same time Simon disappears mysteriously from the safety of Du Richleau’s mansion, forcing him to go up against the Satanic forces that have mesmerized Simon. A battle that cult leader Mocata does not fear at all, as he promises De Richeleau and friends while leaving them after a visit, that he will not return to their house, but “something” will come during the night…



Me:
Hammer, hammer, hammer. I love hammer movies, I started wathing them when I was a little lad, I used to read illustrated versions of their movies in the House of Hammer comics, I used to go home from parties just to fall asleep to late night airings of Hammer movies when I was studying at university. And thanks to home video and DVD there’s always been a decent selection of Hammer titles in my library so that when the urge hits me I can pop one of those fabulous movies in and fall asleep before it reaches midpoint. But this in now way means that Hammer movies are bad movies, quite the opposite. They are great movies well worth re-watching on more than one occasion.


The Devil Rides Out is a great example of Hammer on top of their game, you really can’t go wrong with Terrence Fisher directing perhaps one of his finest Hammer movies, with a screenplay by genre legend Richard Matheson, based on a book by Dennis Wheatley, grand master of the occult novel, and to top it off with Christopher Lee in the leading role and a great James Bernard score. That’s a set up that warrants a great movie. And it is, The Devil Rides Out is a fantastic movie, and in every way the antithesis of To the Devil a Daughter, the Wheatley/Lee/Hammer movie that bashed the final nail into Hammer's coffin some ten years later.

The Devil Rides Out sees Christopher Lee in the role of Duc De Richleau, a role he plays to perfection, and I’m quite positive that there’s more of Mr. Lee in this character than in his many portrayals of Count Dracula. De Richleau is a wealthy gent who together with Rex Van Ryn [Leon Greene] have promised to take care and act as guardians for younger upper-class chap Simon [Patrick Mower] (Although he looks old enough to take care of himself…) This leads to them arrogantly interrupting a party which they soon understand by the clumsy slip of the tongues the guests make, is in fact a party for the Satanists! As Simon tries to explain that the party is for invited guests only De Richleau forcefully lingers in the house, and as Simon politely shows them the door, De Richleau demands to take a look at Simon's attic observatory so that he can take a look at the stars. In the observatory he finds what he’s looking for, two sacrificial chickens, he’s proven his point and now because of the promise made to Simons father, has to save min from the satanic cult. This leads to the introduction of the secondary cast and the lead antagonist, the satanic cult lead by Mocata excellently played by Charles Gray [Possibly most know for playing James Bond’s nemesis Blofield in Diamonds are Forever in 1971 and the 1975 cult fave The Rocky Horror Picture Show where he’s the “Criminologist” and narrator of the movie]. After sneaking up on the secret Sabbath in the forest, racing their car and throwing a cross at the devil himself making him go up in a cloud of smoke to the horror of the Satanists, they snatch Simon and Rex’s love interest, Tanith with them. Tanith [Nike Arrighi] who also is a prospect awaiting initiation into the Satanists coven Then the movies shifts up a gear as Richleau and friends battle the various evil apparitions sent before them, giant spiders, fake incarcerations of the Eaton’s daughter Peggy, and the Angel of Death himself!

Needless to say all other characters are out acted by Lee who surely gives one of his all time best performances here, and he probably does this as he had a personal interest in the movie. Being fed up with playing the Count and the way the Dracula movies where going, he insisted that Hammer buy the rights to his acquaintance Dennis Wheatly’s novels. Said and done that’s just what they did, and this time around they made a damned good job out of it, but the next time, in the diabolical To the Devil a Daughter (worth watching only for Lee’s depraved satanic priest and a young Nastassja Kinski) they got it all wrong and bailed out halfway through making it a terrible movie and the one that sadly became the final movie released from that great studio.

Although Hammer films always where shot on tight budgets, short schedules, reoccurring actors and the same locations they always made movies that looked great. Period clothing, wonderful mattes, suggestive effects all work wonders, but among the most impressive production design in The Devil Rides Out is the amazing amount of period vehicles they rallied up for the shoot. Set in the 1920’s they manage to conjure up somewhere in the vicinity of fourteen various automobiles from that time period. Really an impressive feat considering the tight budgets that they shot these movies on. They could have made do with one or two cars, but no, every Satanist has to have on for that drive out into the forest. Also The Devil Rides Out is one of the first movies to actually deal with Satanism, Black Magic and the contemporary battle between Good and Evil in a serious approach, which possibly could be part of the reason that the ending comes all too easy, kind of sudden, somewhat confusing and really could have been better. But all in all if you get that far you will probably accept Christopher Lee’s cheesy explanation when he answers Simon’s question, But what happened? The Devil Rides out is a highly entertaining and a great movie, not to say one of Hammer’s best movies outside of their trademark Gothic Horrors.


Image:
Spherical 1.66:1 here presented in 16x9 Anamorphic


Audio:
DolbyDigital 5.1, Dolby Surround 2.0 and French Mono. No subtitles available.

Extras:
Well I’ve chosen to go for the US (out of print) version, as the version included in “The Ultimate Hammer Collection” lacks the extras featured on the overseas release. The extras on the US version are: An interesting and informative commentary track featuring Christopher Lee, Sarah Lawson and Marcus Hearn co-author of The Hammer Story, Theatrical trailers for the film, both US and UK versions, and then there’s the documentary. This is where the Anchor Bay edition make’s it worth the purchase as they enhanced each release with a thematically linked edition of the documentary series World of Hammer. Each episode dedicated to showcasing the best of Hammer and all narrated by former Hammer star Oliver Reed. This episode is the HAMMER episode and tells the story of this magnificent production company.

Although the US single movie edition is Oop, there is a great release available which features not only The Devil Rides Out, but also Don Sharp’s 1966 Hammer movie Rasputin : The Mad Monk, with yet another great Christopher Lee performance.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Storm Warning




Storm Warning
Directed by: Jamie Blanks
Australia, 2007
Horror, 82min
Distributed by: Noble Film


Story:
A rich couple, Ro and Pia, hire a small boat for the day and plan to spent it fishing and relaxing on the seas. But a sudden storm forces them to seek shelter and they end up on an island with only one house to hide in. While investigating the house Rob stumbles upon a secret weed farm and understands that who ever lives there will not take lightly to their intrusion. At the same time Pia notices that there’s a pickup pulling up just outside the house, and the home owners are less than pleased to find them there.


Me:
At first you will feel that this is just another one of those set em’ up, knock ’em down, movies going along for yet another torture porn ride. But then you'll start to get drawn in, and you don’t really know any longer what to think, and then at the end of the movie you will feel satisfied.

Jamie Blanks Storm Warning is indeed a very interesting movie, which after an initial viewing actually had me feeling quite satisfied, something I never expected as the narrative started to unfold. Being a wild blend of outback/hillbilly slashers like Texas Chain Saw, Hills Have Eyes, and Razorback meets modern torture porn in the style of the Saw, Hostel and Wolf Creek, Storm Warning toys around with gender roles and comes up with a few interesting surprises. And straight off the bat it has to be made known that this movie, even though it is made at the same time as those other T.P. movies (I hate that terminology and refuse to use it any more in this review.) it was in fact scripted by master of Australian genre cinema, Everett De Roche with movies like Link, Razorback, Harlequin and Patrick on his resume some thirty years ago when the Australian Exploitation genre was at it’s height. Also at one point in time, the movie was supposedly going to be helmed by Brian Trenchard-Smith. Worth pointing out before we get started is that director Jamie Blanks is one of those multi talented John Carpenter-ish creators who directs, edits and scores his own movies. The score for Storm Warning does it’s job and works with the movie, some parts are perfect, others less. But it’s not the score that is the main ingredient for making this a successful movie, it’s the cunning twists that are within that original script. It’s also a pleasure to see a director who has previously made a few lesser impactful movies like the decent Urban Legend and the tame Valentine, finally hit the nail right on the head.


Anyhow, the movie chugs along at normal pace to start with, and you know from the setup that these two wealthy characters Rob [Robert Taylor] and Pia [Nadia Farès] are going to wind up in some strange place, and meet even stranger people, and have some really strange terrifying shit happen to them. It’s the premise for that genre. And they do, some fifteen minutes in, as they seek shelter from the sudden storm that darkens the sky, forcing them into land, or rather a small island. During this set up, an ordinary day out in a small boat fishing and taking up the sun, Blank’s establishes two important character traits that are going to be shattered during the course of the movie.

Aussie bloke Rob is a no crap guy, a barrister who after being forced to drop a case, tells his wife Pia that he’d in the blink of an eye “take the bastards outback and give them a good beating” if he only could. We now know that Rob is prone to violence. Then as the storm hits and the boat has to be dragged through a ditch to safety, it’s Rob that gets in the water. He’s not only prone to violence; he’s also a man of action. At the same time Pia, Rob’s French artist wife, makes very clear arguments that she is sickened by the system that let’s criminals walk free, and as they catch a fish, she is appalled by the way Rob clubs the fish to death with a champagne bottle. We now understand that Pia objects to unfairness and violence, even if it’s just as simple as killing a fish on a hook.


Both those statements are twisted around and shattered later in the film as they stumble upon the house and the warped family that live out on French Island. All along you think that Rob is going to rise to the occasion and bring about the downfall of the three family members that hold them captive, threaten to rape Pia, and take their lives. But he doesn’t. He’s all talk and no action when push comes to shove and as he lies passed out with a broken leg on the floor of the barn Rob is certainly not the hero character we have been led on to believe. Instead it’s Pia who takes it upon herself to find that inner strength to fight her way out of this nightmare. She’s just killed a small wallaby to prove that she loves Rob, as the bad guys where about to cut off his balls unless someone killed the little animal for dinner, so she has now put her values at stake, she can kill if she needs to. And she will. In a nutshell it’s Pia who takes out the villains and makes their escape possible, and she does it in three very, very innovative ways that had me right on the edge of my seat twice. One guy is strung up in a terrifying trap made of fishing rods and hooks, and as he hangs there Pia beats him to death with a hammer, she runs one guy into the back of a giant propeller as he tries to smash the window of the car she’s trying to escape in, and Poppa, the lead baddass in this movie is first castrated by the most vicious vagina dentate ever, as she crafts her own anti-rape device with the help of a jar and it’s cap. If you are male you are going to squirm in that sequence.


Movies like this are nothing without their villains, and the villains here are all top notch. They are pretty far down the road of insanity and their strange relationship to each other is important here. Poppy is the father of the family. Fiendishly portrayed by John Brumpton, he certainly makes for a menacing father figure. It’s quite obvious that the two sons Brett [Mathew Wilkinson] and Jimmy [David Lyons] are terrified of him, and that’s also why there is a natural pecking order between the two sons. The father takes shit out on Jimmy, Jimmy beats Brett.

Let me linger for a moment as I talk about Jimmy. David Lyon’s performance as Jimmy is stunning. He is just fantastic, and the way he made this character come to life on screen is fantastic. He little twitches, the fast replies to the other characters dialogue, his teasing of Pia, throwing in French gargles here and there is wonderful. I’m sure that if there was ever a plan for a Storm Warning 2, the Return to French Island, Lyon’s Jimmy would have to be back, resurrected from the dead to continue his trail of death and sadism. It’s also hilarious that Lyon went from this sinister murdering psycho to end up as a regular on the last season of the TV show E.R. From menacing killer, to helping doctor that’s a transition that made me laugh the last time I saw him on E.R. and it was tricky not to see him just as Jimmy in a lab coat. But what a performance. Great stuff indeed. But then again the acting in the movie holds a very high level, and all the actors are very impressive, perhaps that one could have wanted more from Nadia Farès character, but being semi nude with an all male cast may have been intimidating. Especially when three of them are telling you that they are going to rape you and then kill you, acting or not, it’s definitely a menacing scenario.


All three of the antagonists are very menacing, and do their best to come off as evil, vile sadists, and it works, they really are despicable. And the fouler you antagonists are the more violent deaths you can give them. It’s psychologically validated, unless you let them kill off all the protagonists which will leave you with a valuable anti hero instead! This is also the second important ingredient for the twist that comes when Pia starts to fight back. Usually you have your protagonists trying their damndest to make it to the end of the movie alive, but still they are one by one picked off and finally you get the lucky survivor making a final successful dash for it. But what differs De Roche’s screenplay and Blank’s movie from the rest is that all male characters in the movie are impotent! They never kill, maim or butcher anyone (Well there is that guy in the red tracksuit early on in the movie, but that’s mostly off camera, and more of an indicator to set up how potentially dangerous they can be.) Instead it’s Pia who kicks ass, tortures, maims, beats and murders the victims in this movie. The single white female pushes genre convention aside and from the moment when understands that she can’t rely on her dope of a husband becomes the Femme Fatale Killing Machine. She even leads the antagonists on before lureing them into death. Just like a praying mantis. And that was honestly surprising; I never could have seen that coming. I was certain that she’d be the survivor, but not before witnessing her hubby being killed and her at least raped, beaten and put though hell before she would make her last dash. It’s a refreshing move, even though the script is 30 years old, and could quite possibly be what makes Jamie Blanks Storm Warning one of the best movies in this genre so far.

Image:
1.78:1 Widescreen

Audio:
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, dts 5.1. English language with optional Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish subtitles.

Extras:
Interesting commentary track with director Jamie Blanks, screenwriter Everett De Roche, lead actor Robert Taylor and the set designer. A 23minute EPK with behind the scenes footage and cast/crew interviews. Trailers for Rambo, The Mist and REC also available from Noble Film.



Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Compañeros



Compañeros
Original title: Vamos a matar, compañeros
Directed by: Sergio Corbucci
Italy/Spain /West Germany, 1970
Spaghetti Western, 118min
Distributed by: Blue Underground.

Story:
Swedish arms dealer Yodlaf Peterson arrives in San Bernardino to sell weapons to general Mongo. In San Berdnaninio he meets Mongo’s top henchman El Vasco, who doesn’t find the intruders presence a pleasure. When General Mongo finally arrives he tells the Swede about his sinister plan to crack the town safe and steal the valuables, which he offers to split with Yodlaf. The only problem now is that the only person who knows the combination to the safe is Professor Xantos, who is incarcerated in the state prison. The two foes Yodlaf and El Vasco have to put their differences aside and put together a swindling plan to break the professor out of his prison. A job perhaps easier said than done.


Me:
Sergio Corbucci, possibly one of the finest directors of Spaghetti Westerns, and easily on par with Sergio Leone, directed Compañeros in 1970 and is together with his two previous films Django (1966) and The Great Silence (1968) often quoted as three of the finest entries into the Spaghetti Western genre. Although lacking the grittiness and harshness of the two above mentioned movies, Companero’s takes a slightly lighter approach to the genre. Sure the violence and grit is still there, it’s just eased up with a few comedic scenes and several humorous encounters. But this works in favour of the movie as it brings a healthy balance to the relationship between the two lead characters The Swede [Franco Nero], and El Vasco [Tomas Milian] as they work out their love hate relationship throughout the movie. From that first meeting in the town square, to the final stand off at the end, they insult, torment, tease and bicker with each other all the way through, even though they are working towards the same goal they are very dependant on their represented counterpart. And finally we end up with them starring at each other in glorious Spaghetti Western close-ups in a final climactic duel, where the love/hate relationship shows its true colours. But I’ll return to that later.


I find it very amusing that Corbucci shows the real crook in this movie, is not as in US westerns, the Indians, the Mexicans, the Chinese, or the Europeans etc, but the rich white man and their corporations. When all of your main lead characters are in one way or another villains, Yodlaf, El Vasco, John the bounty killer, you have to put something else in the contrast frame. And Corbucci does it with subtlety. There’s two small scenes in the movie were vile business man Rosenblum demands that Professor Xantos [Fernando Rey] gives him uncompetitive access to the oil found in the land, and if he agrees to this they will contribute a large donation to the revolutionaries cause. But when Xantos refuses, because the land belongs to the people of Mexico, Rosenblum pays a visit to the mercenary John [excellently portrayed by Jack Parlance] and asks him to take care of the professor. Contracting Professor Xantos death to lay his hands on that valuable oil.


Let’s stay with Palance for a moment. His villain, like the rest of the cast, villains, is a rather interesting character. A bounty killer who cares for nobody but his pet hawk, a hawk which we learn saved his life after Yodlaf and he had a rather nasty encounter in Cuba. Hence the agitation towards the Swede, who he by the book tracks down and leaves hanging from a noose in the middle of nowhere. Determination and the satisfaction of completing a task, and also the promise of more marijuana cigarettes drive this cold blooded killer who not only fails his task once, by three times. But not before he kills the Professor, making all the struggle and overcome obstacles of the movie ironically pointless.


Sticking close to the rules of the genre, no Spaghetti Western is complete with out its grand finale showdown, and just like in the previous movie, Django, the Gatling gun is brought back out for a final frenetic thundering explosion of death and bullets as the Swede and Vasco go up against General Mongo and his men. But then there’s the added value of the wraparound tale. The main body of the movie is told as a long flashback initiated from those opening scenes where El Vasco and the Swede are staring each other down in a final duel. A Final duel where the two characters affection for each other overcomes their hate, and instead of shooting each other, they take out John’s henchmen who have hidden away in the background. Then they fight off John in one last blaze of glory. There’s a fine thread in the movie where the two lead villains, El Vasco and later Yodlaf actually evolve and take up new causes in life. They both walk from the path of villains, to become revolutionaries and fight for a good cause instead. Remember that Yodlaf early on in the movie says that he doesn’t care who he sells his arms to, as long as they pay. But in the final scene he revaluates his position and free of charge chooses to fight with the revolutionaries for freedom and a better future. It’s a neat detail that sets up a great climax to the movie. These evil characters come over to the good side.

It's fascinating that so many small details planted through out the movie return at one point or another just to play a larger role than first indicated. It’s these small details that showcase the craftsmanship of Carlucci once again. There’s the arms wagon that Nero arrives in town with which later is his salvation from John’s bullets, the dollar given to Vasco which later becomes his lifesaver, the wealth and value of the people of San Bernardino which gets flipped upside down in a last surprise as the safe is opened up by Yodlaf, it all comes back very nicely bringing the threads to a satisfying payoff. And even though Corbucci lightens this one up with a few gags, and comic themes, there is still a dark sinister tone, and the theme of Greed saturates the movie. Everyone is driven by their greed. Their greed for money, power, dope, revenge, or simply for peace and justice.

Compañero
s is indeed a grand Spaghetti Western, complete with top notch cast, one of the best Morricone soundtracks, beautiful cinematography, wonderfully edited by Eugenio Alabiso (just feel the pacing of those shootouts, frenetic to say the least.) that brings it all tightly tighter, standing the test of time and is easily comparable to some of Leone’s better movies. A must for fans of the genre.

Image:

Widescreen 2.35:1 / 16x9

Audio:
Dolby Digital 2.0. English or Italian soundtrack, with optional English subtitles.

Extras:

The 17 minute, In the Company of Compañeros where Franco Nero, Tomas Milian and Ennio Morricone discsuss the movie, the Theatrical Trailer and written talent bios.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sauna



Sauna
Directed by: Antti-Jussi Annilla
Finland / Czech Republic, 2008
Drama / Horror, 85min
Distributed by: SandrewMetronome.

Story:
In 1595 a party of five men is sent out to divide and draw the borders between the two countries after a twenty-five year war. The Finnish party consists of the two brothers Erik, a hardened soldier with fifteen years of fighting behind him and a large number of kills to his name, the other is his sensitive brother Knut, a scholar who is planning to take a professor post at the Geographical Institute at Stockholm after the task at hand is completed. After coming across a family who refuses to declare their items of value for the new states a frustrated and emotionally scared Erik goes to far threatening the lives of both the farmer and his young daughter. For her own safety Knut locks her in the underground cellar. Upon returning to the house he finds Erik straddled upon the farmer rapidly stabbing him and repeating the number 73, his latest death count. As they prepare to ride on, Knut tells Erik that he locked the dead farmers young daughter in the cellar, Erik tells Knut to get ready to move on, and that he will release the girl. A few days later they come to a large marsh area that will take them several days to get through, and after two days of trekking through the marsh Knut starts seeing distorted visions of the young girl. When Erik confesses that he didn’t release the girl from the cellar they start to fear that she has met her end in that dark damp underground. After this haunting realisation they come to a strange village in the middle of the marsh. A village built around a strange sauna, a village where time seems to stand still, a village with 73 inhabitants…


Me:
I was quite surprised by this movie as that I had heard a whole lot of different opinions about it, some claiming that it was good and some claiming that the Finns should stay away from J-Horror rip offs. But in all honesty this feels pretty much what I might have expected a Finnish horror movie to feel like. If you are acquainted with Finnish cinema you’d know that directors like the Kaurismäki brothers Mika and Aki and Aleksi Mäkelä are all known for their traditional storytelling, where the pacing is slow, gentle and saturated with legendary Finnish melancholy. Not that this means tedious imagery, even though their storytelling may be of the slowest kind, the imagery is stunning. With a simple almost minimalist sets and design, there craftsmanship is all within the framing. This is also very true of Antti–Jussi Annilla’s second feature Sauna. There’s a deep gloomy melancholy running throughout the movie which works fine as they are all emotionally scared by the many years of war, longing for home, and haunted by the events that have started to happen to them.


The movie kicks of rather suggestive, where we follow a bundle of furs as they flow along with a river. The furs are picked up and an off-screen person unravels them and reads the signed border documents, which end with the haunting words… and may we receive forgiveness… This propels us back in time eleven days earlier where we meet the two brothers Knut [Tommi Eronen, who looks and acts like a young version of the late Matti Pellonpä who you will remember from several Kaurismäki movies and Jarmush’s Night on Earth] and his older sibling Erik [Ville Virtanen] as they unleash the events that will bring them to their final justice at the end of the movie. Erik has just killed the farmer, and calculates that he has seventy three lives on his conscious. He tells Knut to get ready to meet up with the Russians and they take off to their meeting with Sjemenski [Viktor Klimenko] and his men. They set off to measure up, divide and map out the remaining parts of the land on behalf of their countries. Soon they find themselves approaching the marshes which they will need a few days to trek through. Sending off the remaining men to meet them on the other side of the marsh, the two brothers start to make tracks. But there is a tension between the men even though the war is over, and as they don’t totally trust each other the brothers are accompanied by Sjemeski, and two other Russian delegates. This is where the horror part of the story kicks in. After walking though the marsh a few days, Knut starts seeing visions of a young woman following them at a distance; this initiates the second flashback, to the events before the murder of the farmer. We learn that the farmer has tried to conceal valuables and food from the two brothers as to avoid paying a larger amount of taxes, and after receiving stale bread and exposing that they are hiding a large well stocked food cellar, Erik looses his calm and ends up killing the farmer, which is where we came into the story. At the same time in the cellar Knut makes a move on the young girl who rejects his approach, he concludes that it would be better if she stay in the cellar as to avoid the rampaging Erik. After the murder, and Knut preparing the horses, Knut tells Erik of the girl in the cellar, Erik claims that he will release her. So the visions in the marshes make Knut start worrying that she maybe wasn’t released, and Erik confesses to never letting her out. Knut wants to return to the farm and free her after encountering the ghost up close while racing after a map that has blow out of his hands. Erik refuses and they push on through the swamp, and pretty soon they find a strange very minimalist, misplaced building in the middle of the marsh. The building, a sauna is very evocative, because up to this point everything in the movie has been painstakingly time appropriate and this mysterious building is obviously built from moulded concrete slabs. Something definitely not around in 1595. Just beyond the concrete sauna lies a village, a village that looks very tidy and neat. Uncomfortably neat. The brothers and the Russians try to figure out how they should share the village, as this is so far the most important finding they have made in the marsh as they at the same time try to figure out the strange village and its mysterious sauna. Things start going bad, group members are killed or go insane, Knut tries to ward of the draw of the sauna, Erik tries to make an end for his foul doings during the war and eventually it all ends up in the sauna where the hermit monks who built the village hundreds of years ago, went to “wash away their sins”.


It’s true that the ending is very bleak, nihilistic and enigmatic, but then on the other hand, it kind of works with the genre. I prefer having a downbeat, closed ending which still poses questions after the movie ends than one that fails attempting to explain everything resulting in a loss of pacing and mysticism. We all know how devastating a lame or failed attempt at saving the day, killing the demon, and making the world a safe place again can be. But at the same time the movie has been such an entertaining, cryptic and haunting ride so far that the ending just takes the breath out of it. Up to the point where Knut finally enters the Sauna to confront the ghost of the young girl the movie has been doing a great job of building up the suspense. As soon as Erik joins his brother the air kind of goes out of the movie which is a shame, since it leaves you with a kind of “was that it” feeling. Then again, as stated earlier, you really don’t need to explain what happened in the Sauna, you understand that it’s the spirits of all the people Erik has killed that have come to take their revenge on him, and the girl takes Knut because he is the person responsible for her being locked in that cellar to start with. So all in all Sauna is a very entertaining movie, original, great atmosphere, the ending is sort of a let down, but there have been a lot worse than that on my DVD player lately, and it’s definitely a movie that makes me curious to what screenwriter Irio Küttner and director Antti-Jussi Annila come up with next time.

The cinematography by Henri Blomberg in this movie is great, the saturation, the washed out colours work perfectly with the dark brooding tone of the movie, acting wise the characters are very believable, sets and clothes are immaculate really selling the illusion that this tale takes place over five hundred years ago. And the themes of life, death, salvation and redemption run thoroughly through out the movie, and even though a few scenes are somewhat tame and confusing, there is more than enough to make up for that, and as mentioned before a lot going on inside the characters that never gets explained or dwelled into, which makes it an interesting movie to at some point in time return to and see how well it has matured and what new layers you can detect. And it’s a crying shame that I don’t understand Finnish, because I would have loved to listen to the director commentary and see what he has to say about his fabulous movie.

Image:
2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen for 16x9

Audio:
Finnish language, Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital Surround 2.0, Finnish, English and Swedish subtitles are optional.

Extras:
A whole disc full of extras; a decent making of feature, trailers, teaser trailers, bloopers, and that Commentary track I wish that they would have subtitled.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Turkey Shoot


Turkey Shoot!
Aka: Blood Camp Thatcher,
Escape 2000.

Directed by: Brian Trenchard-Smith
Australia, 1982
Sci-Fi, Thriller, Ozploitation
Distributed by: NjutaFilms



Story:
In a not so distant future, prisoners are sent to camps for re-education and behaviour modification. Radio Freedom host and wanted man, Paul Anders, with three previous successful escapes on his record, is placed in the dreaded Camp 47 together with Chris Walters and Rita Daniels because of their political opinions. There they quickly learn that you play by the rules of Camp Commander Charles Thatcher, and if you don’t you will be punished in front of all the other inmates by big bad Chief Guard Ritter. After a harsh introduction to the atrocities that take place at Camp Thatcher; Chris is abused and practically raped by the guards before being saved at the last moment by Paul, just released from being stuck in a cage and hung up in the burning sun upon arrival just because of his list of previous incarceration escapes, Paul lets partners in imprisonment Chris and Rita in on his plan to escape! But unbeknown to the brave freedom fighters, fiendish Warden Thatcher has planned a little game for his acquaintances in high government positions. A terrible game where selections of the inmates are to be hunted down and killed, just for fun.

Me:
Don’t you just love “not so distant future” movies that are supposed to have near future feeling to them when they where first released (in 1982) but then some thirty years later just makes you laugh because of their “campiness”? Brian Trenchard-Smith’s Turkey Shoot, is no exception, but still an interesting piece of Australian cinema. Getting in on the “future” trend in Australian genre cinema of the time Turkey Shoot is a decent re-imaging of Irving Pichel/Ernest B. Schoedsack’s 1932 movie The Most Dangerous Game, it makes great late night entertainment as they weave in minor subplots, violent death, obligatory “shared gender shower room” nudity and some really campy super villains to the gritty movie. That, shared gender shower room, perhaps it’s a kind of “all criminals are of the same low value” sort of statement? Anyhow Turkey Shoot is a wild ride indeed, and you have to agree that Alph the Apeman [Australian Wrestle Icon Steve “Crusher” Rackman]who takes part in the hunt as Tito’s [Michael Petrovich] choice of weapon is one of the true highlights of this movie. Anyone who could ever have come up with the idea of an ape-man in a shredded tuxedo definitely gets a round of applauds from me. It’s one of those creepy, hilarious images that make this movie stand out from the rest. As we are presented to the three lead characters, the tone of the movie is set firm when we witness two violent public executions held in front of all the other inmates as to scare them into submission, Thatcher and his high society friends start plotting out the details of their coming hunt. They watch over the inmates and choose their target subjects. Ever the smarmy politics man Thatcher gives them the fake deal; if you take part in my little game and survive the day I’ll let you go. He even hands out identity cards that they can use back in the free world. This is obviously received with various reactions. Then the day of the chase comes and the hunted are given twenty minute head starts before the hunters are going to start tracking them down. And that’s where the movie really gets going, as the chase proceeds and the violent carnage begins. Running through he jungle unarmed being chased by goons armed to the teeth is definitely exciting entertainment. There’s a excellent sequence where Thatcher takes shots at Paul on the other side of a ravine with a sniper rifle, Chris encounters the vile warden who previously tried to rape her, but as there’s no Paul around to save her this time she’s forced to kill him, hence abandoning her pacifist values and become a killer herself. And no film is complete without a final showdown, where the bad guys get pay their dues in violent graphic deaths one after the other before the camp is trashed by death from above as bombers take out the remains of the camp during the last shoot our between convicts and jailers.


Although in some way’s there’s not quite as much empathy for the band of rouges trying to stay one step ahead of Thatcher the tyrant and his band of happy hunters, as they mainly are only basis for gory deaths, apart from perhaps Olivia Hussey’s Chris and slightly Steve Railsback’s Paul, but he’s just a tad to smarmy for me to really identify with. Don’t get me wrong he is a chilled hero character very true to exploitation measures, and he makes the most of the part, but still I never quite like him enough to root for him. Perhaps it’s due to the selfish attitude he has during the first part of the film. If he really was a true freedom fighter, wouldn’t he want to break everyone out of the camp? Then again he more or less does in the grand finale, so there’s some sort of justification here. Back to Hussey, she made this one right after completing Ivanhoe, and she is really low key and naïve in this movie which can be somewhat annoying, remember she is only arrested for objecting to the beating Paul gets when he wounded runs into her store and falls on the floor before the “police” rush in. as she objects she’s accused of sympathising with the dissidents and is taken into custody. But her naivety makes that character arc in the end so much finer when she together with Paul blasts her way through the guards of the camp with that heavy machine gun, freeing all the prisoners.

But the most entertaining characters in this movie really are the villains, led by Michael Craig’s Commander Thatcher, he’s vile, evil, sinister just as your tyrant’s should be, and he sees no problem in making paradoxical statements as he runs his camp, twisting and bending just to prove his point. Like the rules you get the feeling that he makes up as he goes along just to yet again find opportunity to torture the inmates “Freedom is obedience, obedience is work, work is life. Well, now understand once and for all that the reverse is also true, Disobedience is treason, treason is a crime, crime will be punished!' But no evil commander is complete with out his band of henchmen, and Thatcher really has a great ensemble of evil subordinates to back him up. The immense threat that actor Roger Ward makes as the sadistic guard Ritter is great, he really stands out as one of those guys you wouldn’t want to be around because you might get a punch to the back of the head at any moment. Just the sinister sneer on his face topped off with that Prussian moustache just makes him a perfect evil warden. Then there’s the sadistic and lethal femme fatale Jennifer [Carmen Duncan] who takes to horseback during the hunt and armed with her arsenal of crossbow arrows tracks down the hunted before going one on one with Chris in a very tense scene where her S&M tastes are on display “You’ll be safe here! I’ll take care of you!” as she thrusts an explosive crossbow arrow towards Chris face!


Two things that have to be pointed out with Turkey Shoot is its executive producer (one of them) , or more know as the actor David Hemmings. You will know probably him from movies like Antonioni’s Blow Up or Vadim’s camp epic Barbarella. Anyhow after a run of films in Italy (among them Argento’s majestic Profondo Rosso and Castellari’s Heroin Busters, he followed these up with a decent batch of movies in Australia and New Zeeland, where he not only acted but also held executive producer roles and in a few cases directed a whole bunch of them. (He later directed a whole load of TV series like Magnum P.I., Airwolf, Murder She Wrote, The A Team etc. and was no novice to directing at this time either.) You have to make note of the great soundtrack by the late Brian May who also composed the soundtracks to several other great Australian Exploitation movies, Patrick, Mad Max, Thirst, Harlequin and Mad Max 2 to name but a few.

It comes as no surprise that director Trenchard-Smith gives a few pokes at the old motherland while shooting films in Australia, hence the main villain being called Thatcher , a somewhat political allegory to the at the time current state of the U.K. This is made very clearly in his use of authentic riot and political clash footage in the opening of the title sequence. Then there’s the obvious comment on the state of things where the “dissidents” being persons who hold different belief’s i.e. Paul, the radio Freedom fighter, Chris, the pacifist who objects to the needless violence and Rita, [Lynda Stoner – what a great name!] who refuses to being labeled a whore just for making a living, are carted off to be re-educated and reprogrammed to fit into society, only to be confronted by homosexuality (is it only me or does Thatcher have that vibe?), sadism, masochism, the perhaps worse crime of all the lack of respect for human life as they are chased through the jungles like animals for blood sport. It’s a great irony that many of the contemporary movies lack.


Image:
16:9, 2.35 Widescreen

Audio:
Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian and Finnish subtitles optional.

Extras:
A great audio commentary by director Brian Trenchard-Smith who discusses what he calls “A Train Wreck of a Film!” and gives a very entertaining insight into the movie, an alternative opening sequence, a poster gallery, stills gallery and the original trailer. Also there are trailers for Patrick , Pariah, Last Hunter, New Barbarians, Blue Sunshine, SS Experiment Love Camp and SS Camp Woman’s Hell.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Freaks


Freaks
Directed by: Tod Browning
1932, USA
Classic / Drama / Horror, 64 min
Distributed by: Warner Home Video

Story;
A group of unfortunate "freaks" travel the countryside with their sideshow circus. Flirty and greedy trapeze artist Cleopatra tries to snare Hans in a fiendish love triangle, so that she can elope with strongman Hercules after laying her hands on Hans money. But be warned, don't mess with circus folks or you may end up like the feathered hen...



Me;
Well you just have to love this movie don't you. I know I do, and I've seen it uncountable number of times, and fallen asleep to it probably the double that! The surreal cast of real life freaks definitely made this the cult classic it is. The story is wonderfully unveiled as the obnoxious Cleopatra [Olga Baclanova] seduces poor Hans [Harry Earles] away from his fiance Friede [Daisy Earles, Harry's rel life sister!]. After each "romantic" evening, she and strong man Hercules laugh it up as their plan to fool Hans out of his life savings is coming to a close. The acting is what you would expect from a bunch of real life freaks, the pinheads giggle (Yes this is where the Ramones got the pinhead forever making the image part of popular culture), the amazing half-boy [Johnny Eck] around, and the stunning Living Torso [Prince Randian] who, as his name states, has no arms or legs, rolls a cigarette, and lights it in the rain. Oh Boy, I can't even pull that trick off! The wraparound tale of the Feathered Hen is great, and if sideshow freaks haven't scared you before they sure will after you've seen the awesome climax of this classic gem.


It's often said that this was the film that put an end to Browning's impressive career [London After Midnight 1927, Dracula 1931 to name two other classics], but for sure his alcoholism had a bigger part of bringing around his downfall than this provocative mile stone.

Learn to love it, love to watch it.

Gooble, gobble one of us! Gooble, gobble one of us!


Image:
Black and White 1.37:1

Audio:
Dolby Digital Mono

Extras:
Here's a decent bag full of goodies to round off this magnificent film; There's a very informative and entertaining commentary track by David J. Skal, author of the Dark CArnival: The Secret World of Tod Browning, Hollywood's Master of the Macabre, a Special Message Prologue added for the theatrical re-release, a featurette on the three alternative endings, and the documentary Freaks: Sideshow Cinema.


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Keoma


Keoma
Directed by: Enzo G. Casterllari
Italy, 1976
Spaghetti Western, 97min
Distributed by NjutaFilms

Story:
When the civil war has ended Indian half-blood Keoma returns to his hometown only to find it under the suffering grip of the tyrannous Mr. Caldwell. To make things worse there’s a plague harrowing the inhabitants and no one is allowed to leave the isolated village unless they are dead or being taken to the mines where the sick are disposed of. Among Mr. Caldwell’s band of hoodlums are Keoma’s three stepbrothers, Butch, Sam and Lenny, who never accepted that their father William Shannon saved Keoma from death and raised him as his own son. Subsequent to rescuing Lisa who is pregnant but still being sent to the mines as her husband had the plague, Keoma makes it his mission to let Lisa give birth to her child and free the town. But freedom rarely comes without a price.

Me:
Like so many other Italian directors of the seventies/eighties, Enzo G. Castellari followed, started and perfected the trends and made the movies in demand. Keoma was his eight western and perhaps one of his finest, as it explores themes frequently used in the Italian Spaghetti Western; oppression, injustice, and the fight for freedom, but also uses a heavy dose of symbolism to make a statement about life and death. Shot in 1976 when the gritty Spaghetti Westerns where a fading kind, being replaced by more a comedic approach perfected by Enzo Barboni in the “Trinity” movies, often featuring Terence Hill [aka Mario Girotti] and Bud Spencer [aka Carlo Pedersoli] and post apocalyptic Sci-Fi adventures, Keoma is a great latter day entry into that magnificent genre that still stands strong against the tests of time.


Staying true to the traits of the Italian Spaghetti Westerns, it’s established from the start that Keoma is an unwanted guest in his home town, an outcast, a minority, in other words a traditional underdog, and we always root for the underdog. Not an underdog in the sense that he’s a weakling, because he is in fact the second fastest shot in the west out done only by his father, but more from a racial standing point. He’s an Indian, just below the recently freed slaves on the scale. After he is reunited with his father William [William Berger] they philosophize about the civil war that has just ended. In a somber comment Keoma's father points out that before the war the white man had a guilty conscious for slaughtering the native Indians, so they went to war to free the Negro slaves. Now that the Negro's have their freedom they have gone back to butchering the Indians. A sublime commentary on mankind and in many ways still true today where world leaders take to war in foreign countries to shift the focus of their poor jobs in office. Also there's an important indicator that even won battles can be failures. AS Keoma spends his first night in the town, he stumbles upon his old friend George [Woody Strode] who was the family caretaker when they where young, as seen in several flashbacks. George, once a slave, has now been given his freedom after the civil war, but has become an drunk instead. "I found out what freedom was worth. That's why I drink.". he replies when Keoma points out that the war is over he had gained his freedom, that which he dreamed of.



As usual Franco Nero does a great job of his portraying his character, Keoma, an Indian who returns to his hometown after the Civil war just to find that sinister ex-confederate Mr. Caldwell holds the small town in a tight grip. During the start of the film he encounters the gang as they slaughter townsfolk being shipped off to the mines where the inhabitants that have been infected with the plague are dumped to die. This is where he picks up a very pregnant Lisa [Olga Karlatos], and in a kind of statement against all the death and horror he’s witnessed in his lifetime he makes it his task to keep Lisa safe so that she can have her child. And he really goes through hell and high water to allow her to give birth to that kid. Lisa dies giving birth, symbolically cross cut against the final showdown between Keoma and his brothers; Death vs. Life, and as Keoma mounts his horse the old Witch [Gabriella Giacobbe] stood holding the child claims that she can’t look after the child because it will die, Keoma replies; “He Can’t Die! You know why? Because he’s free, and a free man never dies!” then rides off into the sunset. Also this final line is symbolic antithesis of the violent solutions taken to most problems met so far in the film, which could be interpreted as Keoma beating death, hence the old witch being Death, and when presenting her with a new life (the child,) he brings death to an end forcing her to embrace life instead. This theory is supported by the few times that the Witch reappears in the movie. Just after Keoma saves Lisa from death in the mines, as Keoma hangs beaten in the town, also when he completes killing off the gang members. Death is there to watch over his actions, possibly guiding him on. But Keoma makes his mark, he proves his point, the time of death is past, the leaders are dead, the gang disbanded. The townsfolk have their freedom once again and with it new hope as new life is brought into the world.


It’s uncertain how much of Luigi Montefiori’s [Aka George Eastman, another great Italian character actor and still to this day an active screenwriter.] original script was used during the shoot. Rumors has it that Castellari, unsatisfied by the script discarded them and had new scenes written as they where shooting. Although I think that it’s just an entertaining anecdote and pretty unrealistic as the movie is a very tight production and holds a high level story wise. I find it hard to see how they could have scripted the plot and all it’s subplots [the story of hatred and jealousy between Keoma and his step brothers as children, the three brothers own sinister plans to take over the town after Caldwell is killed by Keoma, the long thread death and life that battle throughout the movie, etc], while in the midst of production. It doesn’t add up, and Keoma would have been a much lesser movie if this was the case.


Keoma is a delight to watch and there are some amazing camera tricks that still hold up today. In the pre-title sequence there’s the origin of Keoma told through a flashback that still surprises me each time I see it. Just a simple trick as panning to the left and we are suddenly in the midst of an Indian slaughter, set up so that we learn the origin of Keoma and his tragic background. Also there are several occasions where his memories of his childhood fighting his three stepbrothers, hanging out with his stepfather, being taught to shoot bow and arrows by George [Woody Strode] are elegantly woven into the scene initiating the flashback, and on some occasions even have Keoma as an adult in the midst of the events. This is done as the picture editing of Gianfranco Amicucci, and the cinematography of Aiace Parolin all come together very neatly .And you can't really talk of Keoma with out discussing the soundtrack by Guido and Maurizio De Angelis which features really strange folk/opera singing by the enigmatic Sybil & Guy. But as terrible as it may be at times, they are singing the movie plot and pushing it forward, asking questions and making statements, which is really entertaining, and kind of works as an inner monologue of Keoma. So if your after a great piece of late seventies Spaghetti Western with out the laughs and comedic gags, then Keoma is definately something you might want to check out.


Thanks to Jenny for sugesting that the old Witch was Keoma’s subconscious when she first appeared in the pre-title sequence, for this got me thinking about the Sub Conscious - Defeating Death – Seventh Seal – Theme.

Image:
Cinemacope 2.35:1 - Anamorphic

Audio:
English Language, Dolby Digital Surround 2.0


Extras:
20 Minute interview with Castellari on the westerns and Keoma, the original trailer, poster and still gallery, biographies for both Castellari and Nero, and trailers for Sergio Martino's Torso, Jamue Balugero's The Nameless, and Lucio Fulci's New York Ripper also available from AWE.


Monday, April 06, 2009

One on Top of the Other



One on Top of the Other
(Aka Perversion Story)
Original Title: Una sull’altra
Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Italy/France/Spain, 1969
Crime/Giallo 97min
Distributed by: Severin


Story:
Dr. Dumurrier’s wife dies from asthma and then he spends the night with his lover. At a kinky nightclub they watch an act by starlet Monica, who looks just like his recently deceased wife. The cops start to investigate the death as they have received an anonymous tip that things aren’t quite right. Trying to convince the police of his innocence, Dr. Dumurrier tries his damnedest to find the true identity of Monica, but time is running away, and pretty soon he’s facing the gas chamber as he IS the prime suspect for his wife’s death.



Me:
Perhaps mainly know for his apocalyptic zombie horrors drenched in the realistic special effects of Gianetto De Rossi, (Zombi2 1979, City of the Living Dead 1980, The Beyond and House by the Cemetery 1981) Lucio Fulci was indeed a very talented movie maker definitely worthy of the title maestro, which I personally prefer over the gimmicky “Gorefather/Godfather of Gore” title he’s more commonly labled with. More or less doomed to the blood and guts genre after the success of Zombi2, the almost sixty films he helmed as director venture far and astray from one specific genre, and deserve to be highlighted to fully understand the frustration he experienced later in life. He directed some amazing westerns, a bunch of comedic dramas, and even one movie with Jazz bad boy Chet Baker, and apart from a shitload of violent horror movies he more or less ventured into every genre that was in demand as he built up that impressive track record. And then the suites of stunning early Gialli that frequently are kept in the shadow of Dario Argento’s influence on the genre by lesser knowing film critics. The interest in Italian genre cinema seems to be more in demand than ever, and thanks to this many of his earlier titles are starting to turn up on excellent editions that put those old VHS tapes from Greece to shame.

The main plot of One on Top of the Other, Lucio Fulci’s initial exploration of the Gialli (an amazing suite containing: Woman in a Lizards Skin 1971, Don’t Torture a Duckling 1972, Murder to the Tune of Seven Black Notes 1977, and later the disturbing The New York Ripper 1982 and Murder Rock – Dancing Death 1984.) certainly is very reminiscent of Henri-George Clouzot's Les Diaboliques from 1955. But don't worry, Fulci surely puts his characteristic Italian spin on it and ends up with a great movie once again proving his phenomenal skills as screenwriter and director. Using heavy Jazz beats scored by Riz Ortolani and a series of very effective splitscreen collages much reminicant of Richard Fleisher's The Boston Strangler from the previous year, this is pop-culture Giallo at it's finest.

A sleazy San Francisco doctor, Dr. George Dumurrier [Jean Sorel] runs the family clinic (but only spends like two minutes there in the entire film) and lies to the press about the success the researchers at the clinic have been making, as to up the value and status of the institute, much to his brother Henry's [Alberto De Mendoza] great disgust. At the same time he is having an affair with photographer Jane [Elsa Martinelli] behind the back of his terribly asthmatic wife Susan [Marisa Mell] Mell who totally owns this movie. Her performance here is definately on par with her performance a year earlier in Mario Bava's Danger Diabolik. Well to get things going fast, Susan dies from an asthma attack as George is out messing around. He and Jane see a great future open up for them as Dr. Dumurrier seems to be the sole inheritor of Susan Dumurrier's tremendous wealth. So in a state of euphoria they set off down to the local strip joint and just as they are about to sip on their celebratory champagne Monica Weston walks on stage to perform her popular act. But Monica Weston looks just like the recently deceased Mrs. Dumurrier, apart from the blond hair and green eyes. So paranoia runs rampant as George and Jane try to figure out who Monica Weston is and while the cops, with a little help from the crime tech guys, seeing Fulci make his trademark cameo, start to accuse George of killing off his wife for the insurance money. So it goes, twisting and turning as they seduce each other in and out of bed, in and out of clothes, trying to figure out who is who and who's trying to fool who. Until it all is revealed in the final act as George sits on death row getting a surprise visit from that brother who we saw in the first reel... Hmmm. It turns out that he and Monica Weston, (who in fact IS Mrs. Dumurrier as we just saw in a great New York montage where she takes off her Monica wig and drops out the green contacts that have had George confused all this time, flips her jacket inside out and takes a flight to Paris) have been lovers for quite some time and this was all an elaborate plan to frame George for her "murder". And look it's going to work because when Henry leaves the guest pen, he says to George that he'll be dead in 24 hours and there's nothing he can do about it. Henry leaves George on death row the happiest he's ever been, because now he's the only one left to cash in the large inheritance and spend the rest of his life with Susan.



And you honestly think that they are going to get away with it...

...don't you...

...then the Italian twist, as per tradition, the one you can't predict, the one that all the "finer cinema experts" choke on, the chance meeting, the unforeseen twist of events...


In Paris a reunited Mrs. Dumurrier and Henry go to a restaurant where they are spotted by a bloke who we saw briefly earlier in the movie, a bloke who we understood then as the cops ransacked Monica's flat was deeply in love with her too, and now heartbroken he kills her and her lover on the spot. WHO THE HELL SAW THAT COMING?


Amazing isn't it! You never know what is going to happen, and that's the point of theses movies you never know where they are going to end up. The Italian thrillers, the horror flicks, the Crimi's and the Gialli, of the sixties to late seventies, they are so unpredictable, full of false leads and bottomless plot holes that you never really can figure them out. Even when you think "Oh shit it's going to end up like that.” it more than often does a 180 and goes the complete different way. It's almost like the great soundtracks that accompany these movies. They shift their tone, force and approach as they play out over the images. One on Top of Another is no exception as Riz Ortolani's brilliant score beats the crap out of many contemporary scores (and that doesn't mean that they are bad either) driving the tempo of the movie with it's jazzy beat and suddenly going from sombre to full force. It's definately one of my all time favourite soundtracks and if I have to make a list of ten great score composers Ortolani, is definately in the top four.


Having studied films, narrative, structure and story for way many more years than I care to remember (because I don't have enough fingers to do the math) I can easily see where many fellow scholars and "learned" people fail to see and acknowledge the magic of these "cheesy" Italian movies. It’s because they go against all the rules and don't give a damn about conventions, and because they don't follow suite they still hold up for viewing today. I can still without a problem get drawn into a Giallo or Polizia after just a few minutes, just lure me past that initial set up it's all just sit down entertainment as I fall for the false leads, grin at the corny dialogue, sneer with the sinister villains, lust for the leading ladies, bop along to the jazzy soundtrack and finally shake my head in disbelief as the surprise ending comes out of nowhere and just wraps the film up. It's all entertainment deluxe, as the false leads, plot holes, surprise twists etc make up part of the challenge. How many times haven't you been sat watching a movie and realized. "I know exactly where this piece of crap is going..." or "I knew he/she did it!" or it just ends up being a rehash of old ideas and you still feel ripped off in the end. Well it happens much less with a piece of European exploitation cinema from the 60-80's in my opinion, and Lucio Fulci's One on Top of the Other is a great example of it.


Image:
Widescreen Letterbox :16x9

Audio:
Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono. Optional English or Italian Dialogue with English subtitles available.

Extras:
Original Theatrical Trailer
But the most exciting extra with this beautiful edition is that you get the entire soundtrack by Riz Ortolani on a separate CD.



GOKE, The Bodysnatcher from Hell


GOKE, The Bodysnatcher from Hell
Original title: Kyuketsuki Gokimidoro
Directed by: Hajime Sato
Japan, 1968
Sci-Fi / Horror, 84min
Distributed by: Shochiku Home Video

Story:
A Japanese airplane smashes into the ground after being startled by an unidentified flying object that destroys their flight equipment. The plane crashes into an abandoned area and the surviving passengers start to show their true colours. At the same time the strange object that they saw in the sky has landed and progresses its plan for the annihilation of earth. When a passenger escapes the wreckage and enters the spaceship he is attacked and after the alien being enters his body though a slit in his forehead, he is turned into a bloodthirsty vampire who goes back to feed of the rest of the plane crash survivors…


Me:
Goke IS an amazing piece of Japanese cinema that definitely needs so much more exposure and exploration. It is indeed an entertaining movie with so much more going for it than a lot of contemporary sci-fi horrors of the time had. Remember this is the late 60’s and the main theme of Japanese Sci-Fi was focused on Godzilla, Gamera, The Giant Majin, Mothra and other giant monsters crushing those wonderful miniatures versions of major cities. There are obviously a some exceptions The X from Outer Space (1967) to name one, but then again, those movies focus more on the “good men” of earth defeating the alien invaders. But GOKE goes further; there’s political commentary, there’s alien invasion, there’s vampirism and then there’s the social commentary. Almost everyone in this movie is a bad ass, with nothing more in mind but themselves. From the wealthy corporate arms dealers to the assassin [Hideo Ko] who uses their products, through the bomb wielding terrorist to the widower in grief on her way to collect her husbands dead body, from the uncanny psychologist to the space biologist, they all are disturbing selfish son of a bitches. That is all apart from two, the co-pilot Sugisaka [Teruo Yoshida] and stewardess Kuzumi [Tomomi Sato]. They try their damnedest to get themselves and everyone else through their ordeal and back to civilisation, which is why the shocking downbeat ending blows you away.

There is so much going on in this film that it’s almost impossible to take it all in on one viewing. First there’s the initial setup where the airplane flies through those beautiful red clouds, encountering suicidal birds, not quite understanding what is wrong with the “blood red sky”, this is a premonition of the coming alien invasion, but also works as a kind of warning light for what is about to happen. The plot starts to thicken and gets more complex when we learn that a British minister in Japan recently was assassinated, this is discussed by an arms dealer and his prospect weapons factory owner. The flight centre reports that they have received a note declaring that there is a bomb on the plane, and as they search the passenger’s luggage they stumble upon a small arsenal belonging to the assassin. In the middle of the search as goodhearted Sugisaka and Kuzumi make up excuses for the search as not to alarm the passengers, the psychiatrist stands up and declares that they might be searching for a bomb! He does this for his own scientific (or perhaps sadistic) intentions as it gives him an extraordinary situation to study the human psyche when opposed to a deadly threat. Suddenly the flying saucer attacks the plane making all the technical equipment and motors burst into flames. This gives director Sato an excellent opportunity to use all that great Japanese miniature photography so frequently used in the Kaiju movies, to show a very realistic shot of the burning plane crashing though trees and slamming into the ground. Pretty soon after they crash the true “terrorist” is revealed as he flees the burning wreckage to hide his bomb he still has to use. Now we know that the passengers are all pretty dubious characters, those who have been introduced pre-crash are the ones still alive after impact. Only Sugisaka and Kuzumi take time to put blankets over the deceased, as the others start bickering over the little water supplies left. The US widow on her way to reclaim her husband’s body uses up all the water left to wash herself after the crash, leaving the rest of the passengers without valuable fluid.

At the same time the narrative progresses there is a political commentary running through out the movie, from the “in flight” discussion about the assassinated British minister to the final “you are doomed” comments from the alien which ends with a collage of atomic holocaust imagery. The statements made by the two businessmen are quite obviously references to how the rest of the world is rapidly degenerating, and at the time of the movie the cold war was at it’s peak, Vietnam was coming to it’s pinnacle just as the Korean war was ending, Japan obviously felt very vulnerable as they where in the middle of a world itching to scratch, and even though Japan tried it’s hardest to show up the brave face of a neutral country with no further ambitions to make war, but focus on putting their past behind them, the movie shows that under the surface Japan is just like everywhere else with it’s fair share of egocentrism, escalated violence, and political terrorism.

Anyhow, the plane has crashed, the anarchy and paranoia runs astray. The Hijacking assassin kidnaps Kuzumi and rushes out into the desert only to stumble upon the glowing alien spacecraft. Not being able to control the urge to investigate it he gets too close and the alien mind force draws him into the craft. There in a room full of dark brooding lights the alien creature, looking almost like molten mercury creates a split in the hijackers’ forehead. That split in his head is an area of discussion, because it mostly looks like a vagina, and is frequently referred to as that in other reviews, and I could divulge into an analytical rant about Vagnia Dentate. Symbolism and all that comes with that, but I won’t and I’ll just refer to it as a slit in his head where the alien being enters his body. The alien life form turns him into a vampire and pretty soon he’s back at the wreck feeding off the blood of the decreasing number of survivors. One by one they fall victim to the space vampire and we learn more and more about the unlikeable cast and their terrifying egocentrism. The weapon factory owner turns his head as his wife is groped and molested by the arms dealer, as the profits of the pending deal ahead is much more lucrative for him than his family values. Mrs Neal, the widower takes a gun to the survivors to get her way through, and as previously mentioned they all show their darkest traits when confronted with the stalking terror outside the plane wreckage. But still, Sugisaka and Kuzumi try to keep the survivors’ spirits high but one by one they fall victim to the space vampire. Finally Sugisaka and Kuzumi go up against the alien life form, and seem to defeat it, but in reality the alien has only moved to a new host, and they are faced no further options but to run, run as fast and as far as they can until they reach civilisation.

I love that all the major studios named their aspect ratios after themselves, i.e.: Tohoscpoe, Shintoscope, Nikkatsuscope and here GOKE produced by the Shochiku Company, shot in full glorious Shochiku Grandscope. On a pop cultural level, GOKE is yet another one of those movies that Quentin Tarantino nods his head to in his 2003 movie Kill Bill: Volume 1, just like the swordfight with is an obvious nod to Toshiyo Fujita’s Lady Snowblood from 1973. When the Bride [Uma Thurman] flies to Japan in Kill Bill: Volume 1, just check out those dramatically coloured skies to see what I’m talking about.

But if we’re going to talk about influences and references, it has to be pointed out that director Sato has stated that Mario Bava was a major influence on his career as a director, and it’s quite obvious when you see what art director Tadataka Yoshino and cinematographer Shizuo Hirase did with the amazing style and imagery of this movie. On more than one occasion does Planet of the Vampires come to mind. There’s also a lot of the pop-culture look and feeling of Seijuin Suzuki’s Nippon Noir movies in here too, with Hideo Ko's suave assassin turned hijacker in his white suit and black shades. Then there’s the wonderfully nihilistic reference similar to that found in The Planet of the Apes, as Sugisaka and Kuzumi finally manage to find their way get back to civilisation only to find out that the rest of the world has already gone to hell while they where missing. The camera pulls back showing a dying earth as the army of flying saucers proceeds to hover towards their latest conquest.

Unfortunately this was the last movie that Hajime Sato directed, although he did continue writing a few scripts. It’s a shame that he didn’t direct more movies because the few movies he did directed only get better and better with time, and when you start noticing all the influences and references there is a sublime indication that this director could have broken out and developed into a acknowledged master of the arts on par to Ishirô Honda, Jun Fukuda and Nobuo Nakagawa. But then again GOKE is an amazing movie to end your career on and in more than one way the swan song of a great director.

Image:
Shochiku Grandscope 2.35 : 1

Audio:
Japanese Language 2.0 Dolby Digital. English Subtitles optional

Extras:
No extras.