Friday, December 31, 2010

A Serbian Film


A Serbian Film
Original Title: Srpski Film

Directed by: Srdjan Spasojevic

Serbia, 2010

Horror/Drama, 104 min

Distributed by: CCV in a near future…

You really didn’t think I’d let 2010 go by with out a reflection on what might have been the most provocative movie of the decade did you?

Well no, I wouldn’t. Like many other small time, backyard filmmakers that we never even heard of before they broke through with magnificent and impressive behemoths of obscenity and violence; like Alexandre Aja and Haute tension 2003, David Moreau & Xaviers Palud and Ils (Them) 2006, Greg McLean and Wolf Creek 2006, Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury and À l’interieur (Inside) 2007, Pascal Laugier and Martyrs 2008, Tommy Wirkola and Död Snö (Dead Snow) 2009, Kôji Shiraishi and Gurotesku (Grotesque) 2009 (which was also Banned in the UK), the Japanese new wave of cybersplatter with Yoshihiro Nishimura, Kengo Kaji and Noburo Iguchi, Gareth Edwards and Monsters 2010, Simon Rumley and Red, White & Blue 2010, and on and on and on, it’s been a very potent decade. But still jus t like all those names, very few had ever heard of Srdjan Spasojevic before his gutchurning Srpski Film started making people faint, puke and cry in festival cinemas throughout the world and became yet another in a long line of movies to get some great publicity when the BBFC stick their foot in their mouth and condemn the movie to a series of extreme cuts.

If you have been living under a rock for the last six months here’s a spoiler free quick fix to send you on the way.

Despite a happy marriage and children, Milos [Srdjan Todorovic], still misses the good old days when he was Serbia’s number one porn star. When a former skin flick colleague tells him about an offer to participate in a special art project, he starts to toy with the idea of returning to the scene. After director Vukmir [Sergej Trifunovic] offers him an obscene amount of money to get his dick out for arts sake, Milos decides to zipper down and get back into action. Obviously there’s going to be a twist, and it comes after a painfully slow build through the first third of the movie. I’ll get back to that build, because there’s some noteworthy stuff in there.

The presence of an obvious underage girl has Milos questioning the project, and that’s more or less when the shit hits the fan as Vukmir shows Milos what he exactly considers pure art, and the grotesque shock factor of A Serbian Film is a fact. From here on it more or less just churns on - Milos squeamish in front of the next scene Vukmir wants him to act in, and pumped up on horse tranquilisers and Viagra, Milos gets into the motion again and again and again. Rape, murder, necrophilia, paedophilia and on and on and on… the spiral goes deeper than any movie has gone before…

Yes, A Serbian Film is a provocative movie. Yes A Serbian Film is a rough ride. Yes A Serbian Film is disturbing. Yes A Serbian Film will get inside your head. Everything that you have heard about this movie is true, and it will undoubtedly disturb you when you see it, because it does push the envelope a fair bit further than it’s been before.

A Serbian Film is a movie that polarises me. There are some things in this beast that I actually found to be good craftsmanship and then there’s the other stuff that I found to be simply filler material. There’s a great dark, profound story in there somwhere, and that I like, but I feel that the extreme sexual content is filler.

Let me put that into context.

In the last third, something happens in the movie. Something that has Milos stood looking in a mirror, bust up, torn, shattered and really rough. From there on he tries to put together what the heck has happened. What road leads him here to this sudden awakening? Through flashbacks and a bunch of found D.V. tapes he starts putting the puzzle together – and yes there’s a few shocks waiting for both him and the audience along the way. And this part of the movie really drew me in. This was a genuine good dark thriller vibe going on and I was with it despite the god-awful build that I mentioned earlier. At this time in the movie it’s totally fair to compare A Serbian Film to stuff like Paul Schrader’s Hardcore 1979, Alejandro Amenábar’s Tesis (Snuff-Movie) 1996, Joel Schumacher’s 8mm 1999 or the transgressive movies of Canadian enfant terrible Karim Hussain – if you’ve seen his Subconscious Cruelty 1999, then you know what I’m referring to.

So that build then, well everyone, and I mean everyone is a complete bastard. There’s nobody to empathise with. Nobody. I mean it, nobody. Forget those reviewers who say that we get to spend time admiring Milos and how far he has come. Fuck that shit, Milos has come nowhere. He wants’ to get back into the porn business, and that’s clear as day. He’s just so immature that he doesn’t want to make the decision himself and let’s his wife – who works at the War tribunals in Hague – choose for him. And she let’s greed decide that she’ll let her husband go back to making fuck movies, and that’s not mentioning what she wants’ him to do to her in bed – perhaps not a characteristic, but it’s still of kilter. I can’t see any woman with a brain in her head ask her former porn star husband to treat her like he treats the women in his movies. Then there’s Milo’s brother, who is a complete bastard, and a cop who will figure throughout the movie, the demonic Vukmir, his henchmen, Milos old porn mates… and so on it goes. There’s really nobody to feel empathy for or with, not even Milos son. There’s nothing in their journey so far that makes me give a shit to be honest.

So what the heck makes me finally start to feel something for Milos after that bathroom scene? Well I’d say that it’s my own moral values that make me want Milos to get the fuck out of the death trip and save not only himself, but also his family. It’s gone to far and even Milos who has been up for anything so far has reacted – and even more we will see as the puzzle comes to a conclusion. The only way from there is up, the only way out is redemption, and along the way there is some kind of moral justification and revenge is taken in it’s own screwed up way. Srdjan Todorovic (Milos) – who has starred in several of Emir Kusturica movies, is incredible as Milos. He’ll never get one, but he should win some award because he really gives a performance that is hard to challenge here.

Looking at the movie technically is also an aspect that has to be taken into the equation, because it is a damned well made movie. All the provocative scenes are shot in angles where you do not actually see what you think you are seeing. The editing comes together in such a way that it all becomes an illusion. Spasojevic has created a movie that moves along the lines of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho 1960, Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chain Saw Massacre 1974 or even Takashi Miike’s Koroshiya 1 (Ichi the Killer) 2001. All those movies have scenes of extreme violence, but actually don’t show you what you think you saw, be it a knife going into the naked skin of Janet Leigh, a meat hook poking out of the chest of Terri McMinn, or Paulyn Sun’s nipples being sliced off by a razorblade wielding Tadanobu Asano. You may think you saw, but you didn’t. Which also leads me to that “shock” ending. Considering what has gone before, that’s a pretty tame ending, as the time for being suggestive is way past gone.

So, I can’t help but feeling that the shocking and taboo breaking moments of this movie actually do more to harm it, than actually work in it’s advantage. I feel that some moments are possibly uncalled for, and I don’t agree with them, but that’s just my filter perhaps, after all these movies are supposed to offend and provoke or else they aren’t doing their jobs. To be honest certain moments really feel like movie special effects when they are up there on the screen, and perhaps that’s a good thing when you come to think about it. But it’s a shame, as there is a good film in there but I find that it may have been lost to sensationalism.

The controversy that surrounds this flick is amazing marketing, but at the same time, these moments over the deep end is what’s going to make a lot of people choose not to watch the movie instead. And that’s a shame, because if Srdjan Spasojevic where to have made a movie where the disgust factor worked in favour of the movie just like in stuff like Martyrs, Grotesque or Heute tension, - where the violence and grotesque factor is a driving force within the narrative itself, he would have reached a wider audience and still have maintained the key result that A Serbian Film is going to have – launching his career in a franchise hell known as Hollywood. Because who wouldn’t want the man behind the “most disturbing movie” helming his franchise. I’m guessing that Spasojevic will be heard from again very soon – or if in some ironic twist Hollywood feels that he went to far and he never works outside of Serbia again.

Never the less, A Serbian Film is a hard movie to sit through. It is a movie that will scar you and make you question what the hell you are watching, and why? If you see, hear and feel the big screaming warning signs on the way down, well then pay attention to them them, because this is one disturbing movie and it’s not to be messed about with. A Serbian Film did get under my skin, it did affect me, it did have had me looking away on more than one occasion, but when it was over, it was over. I didn’t really take it with me in my consciousness afterwards. Not if you compare it to a movie like Martyrs, which had me mind-fucked for several days. So yeah, If you like extreme horror films then this is a movie that you should watch, you should be warned, but you should still watch it, because extreme horror movies are supposed to offend us, they are supposed to make us mad, upset or scared, they are supposed to pose rhetoric questions and make our skin crawl, get inside our heads and make us uncomfortable, and with that definition, then A Serbian Film is a movie fans of extreme horror should see.

I'm also quite sure that scandinavian distributor CCV will get a lot of crap for releasing A Serbian Film. I wouldn't be surprised if there are voices raised to reinstate the censors again and quite possibly there will be a moral panic like the one we saw back in the eighties. We will soon know, as it will be released uncut in mid January 2011.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Strigoi

Strigoi
Directed by: Faye Jackson
UK, 2009
Horror/Drama/Comedy, 105min
Distributed by: Njuta Films

In September I participated in a day of lectures focusing on the horror genre arranged by Lund Film Academy. As constructinghorror.com my mate and I where there to talk on horror storytelling, others on writing, some on production etc. The day ended with a debate panel featuring Jake West, Benjamin Hessler and Faye Jackson amongst others. A debate, something that the Swedes have quite a fetish for, and the topic under discussion was Gender in Horror Cinema! It sounded like an interesting discussion, but another thing that Swedes are obsessed with is genus studies. So the question was actually: is there a difference between what scares men and what scares women in horror? Something of a strange question if you ask me, as the majority of fears are primal and programmed since the dawn of time.

But the thing that stuck me, despite the panel of directors, screenwriters and academics who where sat in front of me was that they where missing an obvious angle that should have been on review more than what scares who.

One thing that I’ve noticed whilst watching loads of generic horror these past six months whilst writing that monthly column for Cinema magazine is that a lot of the really good, innovative and interesting titles have been movies directed by women! If you were keeping notes, I’d definitely say keep your eyes open for stuff like Caroline & Éric du Potet’s Dans ton sommeil (In Their Sleep) 2010, Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo’s After.Life 2009, Kerry Anne Mullaney’s The Dead Outside 2008 and Faye Jackson’s Strigoi, all movies written and directed by women, and movies that are unlike the most other movies out there the last few years.
The denominator for all these movies is that they all walk a slow paced shuffle though their narratives. Slowly building atmosphere, posing questions and staying safely in the psychological sphere of the genre rather that the traditional jump scare shock flicks that tend to bore the pants of me in the long run. These are some great movies that build a really tense and creepy atmosphere, steer off the path of the generic and into an innovative realm.

Writer, director and editor Faye Jackson’s second feature film, Strigoi, is a weird and beautiful little movie that perhaps works better as a horror film with a dark comedic tone more than a straight forward horror flick, because it does invite it’s audiences to share a few laughs along the way.

Strigoi tells the tale of Vlad [Catalin Paraschiv] who returns to his home village after failing medical school in the big city. Upon his return he starts to notice that things aren’t quite how they used to be in the old village. On the eve of his return the villagers have finally taken upon themselves to put an end to the local moneybag and somewhat sardonic Mayor Constantin Tirescu [Constantin Barbulescu], although that was just the start of their troubles. Whilst Vlad starts looking into the reason why men of the village are mourning the village bum, he finds that things go deeper than he could ever have expected. Together with his friend, village police officer Octav, [Vlad Jipa] Vlad starts to look into the reason why everyone is mourning the Florin, and the only person who is giving him answers is Mayor Tirescu…

Yes it’s a vampire story with it’s roots in Romanian folklore and instead of bringing the threat to our modernised high-tech city world, Jackson set’s her story in the back end of nowhere in contemporary Romania. Excellent. It’s an illustrious choice, because the setting and the almost all Romanian cast and crew, are brilliant. The movie holds something of a Romanian history parallel as the executions of the landowners/Mayor family at the start obviously leads one to think of Ceausescu and the freedom that followed the revolution. In Strigoi it’s a freedom celebrated by looting the Tirescu estate to the sounds of Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky.

But that loot is something of a homing beacon as the resurrected Tirescu’s go on a feeding rampage in the homes of villagers who stole from their mansion. Like when Ileana Tirescu [Roxana Guttman] enters the home of Vlad’s neighbour Mara [Camelia Maxim who is simply adorable as a frightened middle aged woman feeding strigoi and fighting her own fears here] and eats everything she can lay her hands on – apart from the cake Mara has baked for Vlad which she hides on the top shelf out of sight. Beautiful small details, that stand out and give layers and emotions to its characters.

Another thing that really fascinated me is that there is no real classic protagonists and antagonists in the piece. There are no polarised counterparts to be found anywhere, they are all more or less the same kind of personas which is very fascinating, because Jackson still get’s it to work and the mystery in front of Vlad, becomes just as much our task too.

Vlad Cozma is a great character. There’s a complex dimension to him. He was a medical student, but couldn’t face the actual task of going through with an educational autopsy. A failure that saw him flunking class and taking a job at a fast food restaurant instead. So much for the great plan to get out of the tiny village and make a better life, right? And it’s right back to crappy inbred village life that he is hurled when he runs out of funding and has to come crawling back to rural life – where they all still refer to him as the doctor, which is also what has him curious to the death of Florin as there are strange “strangulation like marks” on his neck. So Vlad is the sceptic of the piece and stays so for quite some time. It’s though his encounters with villagers like the neighbour Mara, his grandfather Nicaolae [Rudi Rosenfeld] his mate Octav and the strigoi, which he converses with, completely unaware of their being – see a sceptic can’t see the truth. Until he faces his fears, overcomes his squeamishness and has to ask the question who the real strigoi is. He’s a likeable character even though he may not have much at stake. But he’s concerned and wants’ to put wrongs right, which make us empathise with him. The running joke that Vald is too much of a coward also works to help us like him. Instead of lashing out, Vlad is concerned about the reactions his actions will give and walks gently through the narrative. There’s no clumsy or shit-kicking action hero here only a man of reason and a very real man indeed. A believable one, just like I need them to be for me to swept away by the magic of movie making.

Strigoi just goes to show that there still are some interesting ways to tackle the old vampire folk lore besides sticking them in teenage suburbia and having them fall “innocently” in love or hang out at loud techno clubs wearing rubber bondage suites and then chucking countless litres of fake blood at them… here’s an intelligent, human and dark take on bloodlines, vampire curses and capitalistic greed.

Strigoi takes an approach that is closer to that original Bram Stoker source and locates the story back to the rural Romanian landscapes. There are some hilarious moments that mock vampire convention, but at the same time here’s a fantastic naïveté amongst the villagers who all are believers. They grew up in the shadow of the strigoi so obviously they are afraid of the threat it poses.

Cinematography looks great, the location really adds to the atmosphere and there’s a great use of traditional Romanian music on the soundtrack – along with Spirit in the Sky and some fantastic tracks by Zack Condon’s euro folk inspired band Beirut.


Image:
Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1

Audio:
Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 English Dialogue. Swedish, Danish, Norwegian of Finnish subtitles optional.

Extras:
Included on this disc is Faye Jackson’s previous short movie Lump, A photo gallery and some trailers for other Njuta Films titles.

Now watch this trailer and tell me you don't want to see this great movie!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Paranoia

Paranoia
Directed by: Umberto Lenzi
Italy/France/Spain, 1970
Thriller, 94min

Wrapping up the loose trilogy of Jet-Set thrillers starting with Così dolce… così perversa (So Sweet… So Perverse) and Orgasmo, both 1969, the series comes to an end with Carroll Baker in her third flick for Umberto Lenzi. The suave, mordant and enthralling Paranoia.

Once again relying on Boileau-Narcejac’s novel Celle qui n’était plus (The Woman who Was) which also inspired Henri-George Clouzot’s Les Diabolique 1955, Hitchcock’s Vertigo 1958, not to mention a shit load of other Euro Thrillers including Lenzi’s two previous instalments in the “trilogy “, Paranoia may just be one of the finest adaptations to be inspired by that story and previous movies. Building not only a destructive threesome, the team of writers – including Bruno Di Geronimo (Gianfranco Mingozzi’s Flavia, la monaca musulmana (Flavia, the Heretic)) 1974. Marie Claire Solleville, who also wrote on Orgasmo, and Marcello Cosica who participated on one of my all-time fave zombie flicks, Jorge Grau’s Non si deve profanare il sonno dei morti (Let Sleeping Corpses Lie) 1974 and the screenplay to Mario Bava’s La maschera del demonio (Mask of Satan) 1960, put a twist on the story that actually had me going off track a few times. Which was surprising, unexpected and highly entertaining.

Helen [Carroll Baker] is a filthy rich, jet setting race-car driver who belts prestigious vehicles around the tracks at deadly speeds. After a somewhat serious accident she’s put in hospital all banged and bruised. She may be suffering from slight amnesia, this version is in Italian without subs, so I’m not with it all the way during the set up, but I’m going with the amnesia thread as that works better for the movie. Anyways she’s discharged from hospital and goes to rest along side her ex-husband Maurice [Jean Sorel] and his new sugar momma Constance [Anna Proclemer], who mysteriously invited her there to recuperate at their residence. The atmosphere is tense and the threesomes don’t quite know how to approach each other in this somewhat awkward scenario. Despite being divorced, Maurice still makes moves at Helen, and an effective flashback showing Helen and Maurice back at the breaking point of their relationship – a beautiful slow-mo scene where Maurice wrestles a gun out of Helen’s hand, which somewhat supports the amnesia theory as she wouldn’t be there if she’d recalled the bad ending.

After establishing what we suspect is the set up – Helen and Maurice wanting to get back together and Constance being in the way, there’s the obligatory scene of Carroll Baker in the shower peeked upon by not one, but two characters, and the first of several sudden plot twists. Constance starts to flirt with Helen, and there’s a fantastic scene of Helen trapped in a seductive game of footsie where both Constance and Maurice are working her legs and feet. Some nights later when Maurice comes home drunk, Constance suggests sinister plan to Helen, which would see her assist Constance in the murder of most likely cheating bastard Maurice. This also evokes flashbacks of happy times when Maurice and Helen where still in love, and it makes for a neat twist as it see’s Baker slowly falling into a state of disorder as she’s torn between her love and hate for Maurice. There’s a couple of classic deceptive moments as we now are lead to believe that Constance and Helen are going to off Maurice, but when push comes to shove… Obviously there’s a last minute spin and Helen doesn’t have courage to harpoon Maurice, and things take a completely different turn.

With Constance "out of the way", it looks as Maurice and Helen are safe on route to getting it all back together again, but… and there’s always a but, their happiness is threatened when an attorney friend of Constance, who always has his movie camera with him, starts to ask questions about accident that took Constance life. The suspicion and persecution starts to drive Helen round the bend – which to be honest has been done three times by lenzi and Baker at this time – and to make things worse, Constance daughter Susan [Marina Coffa] arrives and wants’ to know what happened to her mother... and finds her mother's husband being intimate with his ex wife!

It’s quite apparent that Umberto Lenzi started toying with the sadism that would become something of a signature trait of his here. There’s a lot of drawn out moments of mental torture like waiting for a corpse to be emerged from the sea, possible evidence on a reel of home movie, and constant suspicious stares. It all comes together wonderfully as editor Enzo Alabiso draws out the edits to the maximum, creating some immensely tense moments. It’s no wonder that Helen slowly goes insane considering the sadistic mind games that are played at her expense. Much like in previous instalments.

Anyways, back to the flick, where Susan wanders the same house as Helen and Maurice, after all it is her mother Constance house, and stats her own investigation into the mysterious accident that supposedly took her mothers life. Helen who in-between bouts of frustration and paranoia takes to snogging and shagging Maurice to keep her mind off the guilt that torments her, still has a harrowing surprise, shock and twist sequence left before the movie comes to it’s closure.

A common trait for all three movies in the “trilogy” is that cinematographer Guglielmo Mancori has something of a fetish for mirrors and composing frames within the frame. It’s not a bad thing, quite the opposite, as it treats the audience to some fantastic moments and at least once in each movie there’s a splendid illusion that a dead character is in fact alive. Something that lies close to the main device of these three movies – who is fooling who, and more than often with a rather cynical dark ending. It’s also noteworthy that Aristide Massaccesi (Joe D’Amato) worked as Mancori’s camera operator on Paranoia, just a few years before he started directing movies of his own.

Being a Spanish/French/Italian co-production, Antionio Ramírez – who edited several Leon Klimovsky & Paul Naschy flicks – accompanied Enzo Albasio in the editing. But that editing is still as ferocious as ever, and goes hand in glove with Mancori’s superb cinematography. Much of the same hard, almost violent editing style that was found in Orgasmo, and later in Il cotello di ghiaccio (The Knife of Ice) 1972, is seen here.

Gregorio Garcia Segura’s score (directed by Piero Umiliani) is groovy and sounds more like a cheaper companion part to Orgasmo than anything else. It even goes as far as reusing the rock act Weiss and the Airdales performing Just Tell Me once again in a club setting much like the one in Orgasmo.

Paranoia neatly wraps up the loose trilogy and sees some interesting traits evolve from the suite. The three movies showcase a progression of Umberto Lenzi traits that he’d later push further with the thrillers and several Gialli to follow. It’s also a treat to see Carroll Baker and Jean Sorel teamed up again as Paranoia with Romolo Guerrieri’s Il dolce corpo di Deborah (The Sweet Body of Deborah) 1968 are the only two movies they starred in together. Umberto Lenzi would follow Paranoia with a seedy sexploitation thriller – Un posto ideale per uccidere (Oasis of Fear) 1971 before starting off his fascinating string of fascinating Gialli that would definitely have him make his mark on the genre scene.



Image:
2.40:1 Original aspect ratio (16x9 enhanced)

Audio:
Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, Italian dialogue. No subtitles

Extras:
None.

Here's some freaky opening titles with some suave music for you to enjoy.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

R.I.P. Jean Rollin


It’s a sad, sad day indeed. There’s been to many obits' written this past year as some very important people have passed on during these last twelve months. Doing the rounds on the Internet and checking the latest goofy facebook updates, I heard the rumour that Jean Rollin had passed away after some time’s sickness. I was completely taken by surprise and it shocked me immensely. I had to call my wife as I walked one of our kid’s to school in the freezing cold snowstorm brewing to share my grief. I dropped him off, stuck my headphones on, flicked to random playlist with my gloved hands and eerily enough Acanthus score to Le Frisson Des Vampires started to play, and the saddening truth started to settle in. Jean Rollin was gone, one of the greatest French directors of all time, and ironically one of the least known ones too…

It made me really sad. It would be fair to say profoundly sad. It might be projection of all those other deaths this year or it may just be because Jean Rollin held a very special place in my heart. Jean Rollin is one of the directors that I have always looked upon with the greatest respect. These past years I have had a great time going back and re-watching movies that I first saw on VHS back in the early nineties – both through the many Redemption releases and some titles through V.S.O.M. Like a fine wine the films have aged gracefully and are more in line with my preferred taste now. Where some of the movies may have left a certain impression on me back then, they have had a completely different impact on me now as an adult. The years that have passed have allowed me to read movies in a different way, interpret themes and see connections within the canon. It had me so enthusiastic that the plan for 2011 was to quit work, go back to my film studies which I walked away from fifteen years ago – and write my masters thesis on the themes and iconography of Jean Rollin, a project I started exploring here on the blog.

Rollin has been a guilty pleasure of mine for something like two and a half decades, from when I was a single youth wanting to see as much weird stuff as possible, to being a married adult with two kids who seeks out Rollin movies as a meditative cure to the often repetitive movies that make up horror genre these days, not that Rollin made horror movies. His films where philosophical art-movies with horror conventions and traits to create a mesmerising world. It pleases, and in some way comforts me, that his movies have started turning up in pristine releases these last couple of years, because his great cinematic visuals and emotional themes will always stay with us, and be reinvoked every time that we watch one of his movies.

No matter what his main narrative was, there was always a tenderness to be found in his movies, a tenderness and a humanity that still fascinates me deeply and acts as something of a interconnecting trait throughout his work. Much like some other popular Euro genre directors, he was repeating a pattern, remaking his narrative, reworking his motifs, searching for that perfection that was his drive.


Something that always fascinated me about Jean Rollin, apart from being the creator of some of the most stunningly beautiful and poetic films ever to have been made, was the reoccurring tales that he was shy and uncomfortable around set of the adult movies that he directed to keep food on the table. These movies weren’t movies that Rollin didn’t care for, because he went into those movies with the same passionate approach and delivered some fantastic visuals there too. But supposedly he’d rig the camera, set up the shot, and then before the actors and actresses got down and dirty, he’d leave the room and smoke his pipe leaving an assistant to shoot the sex scenes. I don’t know how much truth there is to that rumour, but it has always stook with me and brought a kind of respect with it. I’ve always interpreted it as even though Rollin was uncomfortable in those settings, he was at piece with the fact that he was working within the low budget sphere, and no matter what kind of a movie he was making, he’d give it the attention it deserved, even if it meant setting up and then leavening the set before the rumpus started. As said, I have no confirmation of the fact or even know if it’s something I imagined along the way, but there’s a strong empathetic value in there.

An empathy that taught me to love Jean Rollin.

Rest In Peace Jean Rollin, the creatures of the night will shed a silent tear for you as we gather at the beach in Dieppe and gaze longingly upon the sea.


Texts on the movies of Jean Rollin.



Saturday, December 11, 2010

Sex & Fury



Sex & Fury
Original Title: Furyô angeo den: Ishoshika Ochô
Directed by: Norifumo Suzuki
Japan, 1973
Pinky Violence /Chanbara, 88min
Distributed by: Studio S. Entertainment

It’s quite easy to fall in love with Christina Lindberg as the silent avenger in Bo A. Vibenius seminal movie Thriller - A Cruel Picture 1974. But the Lindberg movie that delivers the best in my book is Norifumi Suzuki’s fascinating swordplay avenger Pinky Violence flick Sex & Fury!

If you know anything about the splendid age of Japanese Pinky Violence, then you will know the name Norifumi Suzuki. Born in the Shizuoka prefecture in 1933, he started out as a second assistant director at Toei Studios in the late fifties. It was Toei that would become his firm base for the most of his career and after a stint writing scripts for Chanbara & Yakuza movies, the modest kind still safely in line with the alliance restrictions posed after the second world war, he finally got the chance to direct one of his own scripts in 1968. Hibotan bakuto: isshuku ippan (Red Peony Gambler; Gamblers Obligation) was a very late 60's Yakuza action flick with a focus on female gamblers, here starring Sumiko “Junko” Fuji as O-Ryu. A few years later Kenji Fukasaku would bring the genre to a defining high with his series of male oriented yakuza flicks starting with Jingi naki tatakai (Battles Without Honor and Humanity) 1973.

Nevertheless Suzuki was right at the epicentre when Toei made the daring move to enter the Pinky Violence scene. In a bold move to fight against American imports and the ever growing popularity of television, the men in suits that ran Toei decided to take all their flair and artistry of the last twenty years and apply it to the new roman porno wave that was sweeping the nation. But where others where primarily low budget studios, Toei had the means to make a spectacular difference, and they did indeed.

Movies like Teruo Ishii’s Tokugawa onna keibatsu-shi (Joys of Torture) 1968, Shunya Ito’s Sasori movies – making if possible an even bigger star out of Meiko Kaji, who ironically left Nikkatsu Studios in an attempt to distance herself from their line of Roman Porno flicks. And the string of Suzuki movies that make up something of a backbone of the Pinky Violence genre; the Sukeban geira (Girl Boss Guerilla) and Kyôfu joshikôkô (Terrifying Girls’ High School) movies 1973, which both starred Miki Sugimoto and Reiko Ike, and the infamous nunsploitation Pinky Seijû gaken (School of the Holy Beast) 1974 firmly established Suzuki amongst the greatest directors of this evocative and fantastic genre.

But those movies hold nothing against to the tour de force of Sex & Fury. After an invite from Toei, the barely twenty-three year old doe eyed Swedish beauty Christina Lindberg packed her cases and took off for Japan. There she would star in two movies; Sadao Nakajima’s Poruno no joô: Nippin sex ryokô (Journey to Japan) 1973, a modern tale seeing Lindberg getting in the wrong taxicab on her arrival in Japan and ending up being enslaved by a kinky photographer who forces her into bondage themed photography. She soon develops Stockholm syndrome and a seedy twist comes into the movie. And then there’s the crown jewel of Lindberg’s Japanese movies, and in my honest opinion, the best movie of her career is Sex & Fury. No matter how delightful lead actress and genre star Reiko Ike is in this one, Christina Lindberg gives the performance of a lifetime as Christina the tormented spy.

Based on a novel by Tarô Bonten with a script by Suzuki and Masahiro Kakefuda, who co-wrote most of Suzuki’s movies with him, Sex & Fury is basically a classic Chanbara meets Pinku tale of revenge, Ike plays Ochô Inoshika, a woman with a mission. A mission to avenge the brutal slaying of her gambling detective father whose violent and bloody murder she witnessed as a child. As her father lies in a lake of blood taking his last breath of life he arranges three playing cards with the symbols of the tattoos his assassins have – Boar, Deer and Butterfly. Later in life Ochô roams the lands visiting gambling halls in search of her fathers killers. Here she meet’s anti-establishment activist Shunosuke (Masataka Naruse) who she finds comfort and alliance in. He promises to help her seek out the killers if she can help him in his fight against the establishment. With the corrupt cops on her heels there’s a second subplot that comes into play, the English Empire trying to pry their way into the economy of Japan by kidnapping politicians and starting a new opium war. The Empire comes armed with a deadly spy in the shape of the magnificent Lindberg. Obviously their paths cross, on more than one occasion, but Christina has a hidden agenda as she’s taken the mission in Japan as a device to be reunited with her love Shunosuke!

Being a Pinky Violence piece there’s more than enough moments of sinister violence and naked women being molested and pushed around by sweaty fellows, and there are some really great swordplay moments too, just like the iconic scene where Ike fight off a horde of swordsmen buck-naked. But it’s that delicious love story subplot between Lindberg and Naruse that make this movie such a damned fine piece, because it really gives Lindberg an opportunity to shine unlike the parts she had in movies back in Sweden – remember she has no dialogue in Thriller – A Cruel Picture, but here she really makes the most of it and delivers a terrific performance. The climax to her arc in the piece is a really superb moment that packs a strong emotional punch.
Obviously the story finally returns to Ochô and her vengeance plot. Again there’s some splendid moments as she’s captured by the last of her victims and learns a devastating fact from supporting actress Yôko Mihara, who starred as the main badass protagonist in many Pinku movies; Shunya Ito’s Joshuu 701-gô: Sasori (Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion) 1972, Yukio Noda’s Zeroka na onna: Aki wappa (Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs) 1974, and Suzuki’s School of the Holy Beast 1974 to name a few, but she also starred in movies directed by Nobuo Nakagawa, Kinji Fukasaku and several Teruo Ishii films too. If we agree that Lindberg is the sex, then Ike is the fury, and when that final battle comes, the semi naked badly injured blood drenched Ochô puts up a fight that you won’t forget in a near future.

The Pinku movies coming out of major Japanese studios had some great advantages, one being the incredible camera work that the pieces display. Much like the Giallo and Italian pieces have the stunning visual work, the Pinku movies had some true wizards shooting these wonderfully composed cinematographically masterpieces. Sex & Fury has some breathtaking images by Motoya Washyo, who also shot Suzuki’s Shiruku hatto no ô-oyabun (Big Boss in a Silk Hat) 1970, and Teruo Ishii’s Tokagawa irezumi-shi: Seme Jigoku (Inferno of Torture) 1969, definitely composes some stunning shots, and it’s no wonder that several scenes where later to influence Quentin Tarantino when he made the Kill Bill movies. A movie that makes for a great drinking game when you can name the referent influences.

Reiko Ike returned as Ochô Inoshika in Teruo Ishii’s sequel to Sex & Fury, Yasagure anego den: sôkatsu rinchi (Female Yakuza Tale) 1973 which also starred Tarô Bonten as Detective Tora. Nowhere near as potent as the original movie, it was amongst the last movies that Ike made before going about her career-killing move of declaring that she’d had enough of shedding her clothes for Pinky cinema.

So if you have a taste for the queen of Swedish sin, or Japanese Pinky Violence or even like the odd bit of sleaze and nudity along side your Chanbara, then Sex & Fury is a movie for you. Ferocious, violent, some brilliant subplots and two great actresses rolled together in the same movie. Sex & Fury is a magnificent Pinky Violence classic that should be a permanent fixture in any cineastes collection.


Image:
Widescreen 16x9
Audio:
Dolby Digital 2.0, Mono. Japanese & English Dialouge. Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian and Danish subtitles are optional.
Extras:
Christina Lindberg & Reiko Ike biographies, Filmographies, trivia Image gallery the original trailer and trailers for other Studio S releases.

Here's the opening titles with Ichirô Araki's rather catchy score.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Nude Nuns with Big Guns


Nude Nuns with Big Guns
Directed by: Joseph Guzman
USA, 2010
Exploitation, 85min

In the wake of Quentin Tarantino and Roberto Rodriguez Grindhouse double feature of 2007, the amount of movies trying to pinch a piece of the sleazy, crazy, low budget exploitation flavour of the seventies/eighties has been unlimited. A lot have been mere pastiches that leave no real impression apart from an “uh huh” reaction and nothing much more, but some have managed to pull it off and feel just like a third part to that initial retro-redux by the two guys mentioned above.

Joseph Guzman’s Nude Nuns with Big Guns is a splendid example of how Nunsplotiation, sexploitation, dirty bikers and corrupt clergymen all come together in a grande burrito of sleazy bloodshed, drugs and vengeance. Definitely one of the movies that get's the vibe and tone of Tarantino/Rodriguez project and takes it for a spin. And it's one hell of a good spin, that just may make you hurl.

After her lusts for carnal pleasure are discovered, Sister Sarah [Asun Ortega] is forced into the seedy underbelly of a Mexican drug ring where naked nuns process and package drugs for the church. The church sell the drugs to outlaw biker gang Los Muertos, run by sleazebag leader Chavo [David Castro]. During a drug exchange Chavo becomes outraged when one packet of drugs is missing. Needles to say the shit starts to kick as he enters the school bus with nuns demanding that they tell him who the hell stole his drugs. He whips out his gun and starts shooting the nuns until only one single shell-shocked beauty in a habit remains, Sister Sarah. Buying his way out of the swindle, Father Bernardo [Max Siam] offers Chavo to take the young nun with him to cover the loss of the drugs. Chavo drags Sister Sarah away to his strip joint - brothel The Titty Flicker where she’s forced into drug addiction and rapidly becomes a favourite ”Puta” amongst the clergymen of the area.

After one severe beating and a heap loads of heroin too many, Sister Sarah is kicked to the side and left for dead… at least in the eyes of Chavo. Instead Mr. Foo [Maxie J. Santillan Jr], the chapter’s ”witch doctor” takes Sister Sarah under his wings and secretly tends to her. During her time of recovery Sister Sarah hears the voice of God telling her that he has a plan for her, and that plan is to take revenge on the people that did her wrong…

That’s the first ten minute set up of Guzman’s pretty neat and shit-kicking sexploitaton flick Nude Nuns with Big Guns, an interesting surprise to say the least. Guzman also directed the 2009 grindhousey flick Run! Bitch Run, which also deals with Catholicism, drugs and revenge for rape.

There’s a great deal of nudity and some really grim seedy moments that will keep fans of sexploitation satisfied, and there’s enough psychotronic moments to keep the Grindhouse vibe alive, and believe me, if this movie had been made thirty years ago it would be one of the genre classics. And that’s without even mentioning the lesbian subplot.

Sister Sarah isn’t just a plain hot nun out for revenge, no there’s more at play here. Eventually we learn of a strong carnal lust for the same sex that has at one point in time caused Sister Sarah to sin against the lord, and that’s why she was punished by the evil, money hungry Money Magda [Emma Messenger]. The punishment - to work in the drug factories, where paranoia of being ripped off is so profound, that the nuns all have to work naked. Well there’s a pretty decent motivator to getting the nuns out of the penguin outfits and into their birthday suits if there ever was one. Anyways there’s a pretty decent dimension to Sister Sarah as she’s partially torn between giving herself to the lord and her lust for Sister Angelina [Ayicil Yeltan]. And as soon as she’s opened Pandora’s box, going about her Holy Mission, there’s no holding back on her love for Sister Angelina.

Chavo is a great protagonist. Vile, Sinister, Wicked. He holds no respect for anyone, not even his closest men, the gigantic Kickstart [Xango Henry] and Half Breed [Robert Rexx – Who also provided background voices for video game Red Dead Redemption] on which he pulls his gun and threatens to kill on more than one occasion. He doesn’t respect his employers the church either, and really doesn’t want to get drawn into their Holy War when Sister Sarah starts making the rounds putting slugs in the bad guys. He’s no stranger to a bit of depraved rape and sadism either. Something that is depicted more than once, possibly taking it’s peak when he orders the huge Kickstart to shag sister Mary [Kimberly Ables Jindra] the only witness to the murders that have been taking place.

Polarisation works wonders for this movie. All men are depraved, corrupt and misogynistic and look upon women as objects to defile. And the nuns are fair, innocent tormented souls… Well at least some of them, and in-between, the strippers at the nudie parlours are all there for our viewing entertainment.

About the pretty good soundtrack, well I’m surprised that Rodriguez hasn’t been in touch with composer Dan Gross because the grinding guitar and saxophone loop that constantly accompanies most of the seedy moments of the film sounds just like Rodriguez score for Planet Terror.

In a nutshell - sinister bikers, nubile nuns and priests pushing dope! All wrapped up in a splendid cocktail of exploitation traits and Mexican telenovelas, seasoned with loads of naked chicks, gun-smoke and the iron taste of blood. Nude Nuns with Big Guns makes for one heck of an entertaining Grindhouse feature that stands out amongst the otherwise pale competition.


Image:
Widescreen

Audio:
Dolby Digital 5.1. English and Spanish Dialogue. Swedish, Finnish, Danish and Norwegian subtitles optional.