Thursday, April 21, 2011

And the winner is…

Thanks to all the contestants in the CiNEZiLLA/ONARFILMS competition!

Whoever could have guessed that you guys knew so much about Turkish cinema!

Well done everyone, but there can only be one winner, and that winner is…


Mr. Özturk!

(who will receive his prize as soon as easter is over and done with)

Thanks again to all participants and to ONARFILMS for helping arrange and judge this competition with me.

Stay tuned to ONARFILMS for their forthcoming release of ZAGOR - Kara Bela, which you definitely want to buy as soon as it’s released!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Hell’s Ground

Hell’s Ground
Original Title: Zibahkhana
Directed by: Omar Ali Kahn
Pakistan/UK, 2007
Horror, 77min
Distributed by: Mondo Macabro

Generic horror - despite how predictable and cheesy it can be, you still have to admire the power that the simplest of structure can have for a genre movie. Omar Ali Kahn’s Hell’s Ground is generic horror with obvious nods to Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1974, Friday the 13th 1980 and the zombie flicks of George A. Romero. But apart from using a generic formula, the originality here is that it’s a coriander flavoured Urdu-English movie from Pakistan.

A bunch of stereotypical characters, the flirty, the momma’s boy, the dopey yeah, you get the picture are presented one by one as they lie, trick and deceive their parents and take off on a road trip with getting stoned and shagging as their final destination. Their road is obviously one long series of ordeals such as, finding the right road, making it there before dark, fleeing from mutant zombies and later fighting off a Burqa clad murderer. You know the drill, one of them goes to look for something and after a while the others go searching and true to formula they start getting killed off one by one and the ending comes with a by the book last moment surprise twist and one last scare.

Apart from some obvious nods to US genre films with a Maniac poster in an early scene there ‘s also the product placement showing covers of Mondo Macabro DVD’s Bandh Darwaza (The Closed Door) 1990 and Zindra Laash (Dracula in Pakistan/ The Living Corpse) 1967 from which a clip also is seen on the dopey genre fan’s television. That scene is also a great build for a small part by Dracula in Pakistan star Rehan who later turns up in the movie as the traditional “town imbecile” warning off our young band of protagonists. Every generic flick that plays by the rules needs an omen character, Rehan is Hell’s Ground’s demented voice of reason.

It’s a fun movie that plays with a lot of generic slasher film traits. Remember that you never ever drink liquor or do drugs or get laid because that’s gonna put you right on top of the shit list and it’s exactly what happens in Hell’s Ground. Not that anyone get’s laid, but you know from convention that dope fiend O.J. [Osman Khalid Butt], cocky jock-type Vicky [Kunwar Ali Roshan] or sexpot, Roxy [Rubya Chaudry], are amongst the first to meet their maker. Nobody get’s their kit off in Hell’s Ground, but I’ll write that off as playing it safe for a Muslim audience. Finally it’s down to the innocent and kind of helpless Simon [Hadier Raza] and there’s always a final girl, Ayesha [Rooshanie Ejaz]. It’s a rather predictable, but enjoyable dot-to-dot puzzle that has a few really fun tricks up its sleeve.

Getting back to those generic slasher horror traits… This movie is filled with smaller ones too, like sneaking off to be with mates, hiding the “sexy” clothes, lying to the parents, watching horror flicks and smoking dope. We all know that lies, deception, drugs and sex are under penalty of death in generic horror.

The movie opens with an obligatory intial attack setting the tone of the movie and declaring the genre we are in - horror. There’s the genesis of evil – a tricky one as Hell’s Ground has two protagonists, both the toxic waste created zombies and the killer in the woods. There’s a warped family back-story, here it’s the tale of a woman who see’s one of her sons become a cross dresser “you loose a son, but gain a daughter” and being a Muslim themed movie, I would say that the non-acceptance of cross-dressing is what drives him to the edge and makes him kill anyone who comes near him, or her, as his secret could lead to his, or her, own death.

A favourite highlight among many, is “brother” Baley [Salim Meraj] hitching a ride from the young kids and completely taking over Edwin Neal’s Hitchhiker character from the original TCM, and making it his own in a fantastic way. It’s an excellent moment and a brilliant homage.

As with most generic horror the movie relies on a morality complex, of which it would be true to say that Hell’s Ground has two that it builds off. The first being industrial pollution that creates a lethal army of undead-like zombies, even a dwarf zombie. Obviously this could be a comment on industrialism in areas like Pakistan and India, where conglomerates exploit the area and dump there waste where ever the hell they want causing serious damage to land and people. The second a fair warning – Don’t do drugs, don’t mess around, don’t have sex (or fool around with gender roles) or else you will end up dead! It’s generic horror storytelling, it works like clockwork, and it’s a complete fucking fun rush of gore, death and Punjabi beats.

Apart from a majority of brilliant traditional music featuring artists like Noor Jehan and Nahid Akhtar there’s no disadvantage of featuring Stephen Thrower & Simon Norris Cyclobe on the soundtrack, fittingly enough their Strix Nebulosa is used under the scenes of chemical waste and protesting Pakistani people - industrialism in more than one way.

The pacing of Hell’s Ground is fast and ferocious as the movie never really lingers on too long in any moment, and the camerawork is delightful with the most inventive use of a fisheye lens I’ve seen in ages.

The mondo macabre connection is obvious, and who better to get into the field that dvd company and book author Pete Tombs and Andy Starke. After all they have been distributing and writing the definitive texts and releases of weird world cinema for the past decades.

Two fun pieces of trivia concerning Hell’s Ground: Director Omar Ali Khan runs a couple of organic, homemade ice-cream shops in Pakistan where the interior is mostly horror memorabilia oriented and he’s currently in pre-production for a second feature to be shot in the last quarter of 2011.

Final note: rumour has it that Swedish wildcat’s NUJTAFILM will be releasing a double feature with both Hell’s Ground and Dracula in Pakistan, a release to look forward to if there ever was one!

Monday, April 11, 2011

PERDU DANS LE CIMITIÈRE - La symphonie d’un Jean Rollin

It’s time for a new CiNEZiLLA mixtape, and this time I have spent my precious time cutting, splicing, pasting and looping the soundtracks of Jean Rollin. You can grab it in a moment, but first I have a story to tell you.

My wife just celebrated an important birthday, and when asked where she wanted to go, she said Paris. This was our first real trip abroad for almost a decade, a well deserved one and Paris is a city that I’ve wanted to revisit for a long time.

Going back to Paris for the first time in more than fifteen years I was determined to return to the Père-Lachaise cemetery with an agenda of seeking out the resting place of Jean Rollin.

Spring had hit Paris, and the Père-Lachaise cemetery was covered in a green leafy drowsiness, the weather served up a gentle rain drizzle and cloudy skies creating something of a dim lighting not to unfamiliar to that of a light summer night.

From the pages of the latest Video Watchdog, I knew where Rollin was supposed to be (concession 168, land registry 484, 27th division) and a somewhat familiarity with the cemetery I though it would be a fast in and out action to pay my respects to one of my most favoured directors. Armed with a map pointing out all the celebrity graves, except Rollin, and my playlist of Jean Rollin soundtracks in my headphones, I started my own search within in the cemetery Rollin had used in so many movies over the years.

Finding division 27 was no real obstacle, although getting a grasp of where exactly the borders between the divisions was, some are clearly marked by paths, others are not and bushy areas simply flow into each other making it difficult to realise when one has gone too far and well into an adjourning division. This happened on more than one occasion and I found myself way past division 27 and far into some other division in the 40’s. Then there’s the problem of actually finding the correct spot. If you have never been to Père-Lachaise, then it’s hard to imagine the logistics of the place, if there even is one. The rational grid structure that one would have thought to have be the backbone of a cemetery is non-existent. Père-Lachaise, much like London’s Highgate Cemetery, is jumble of new, old, large, small, structure and chaos within the cemetery gates. Plants grow wild, trees sprout from tombs, next to a contemporary gravestone, there can easily be a cracked slate presenting glimpses into a deep webbed hole right next to each other. Well tended graves stand next to moss covered, broken, toppled and damaged graves, family tombs stand aside with monuments and simple lots with a mere simple cross marking it’s site. It’s a dreamy gothic flavoured location that triggers the imagination and it’s easy to see why places like these where favoured – and still are – by low budget filmmakers. These locations contain more production value than any set designer ever could come up with. They are authentic and that shows in the movies shot there too.

Walking the narrow passages, climbing steep, narrow overgrown staircases, squeezing through tight passages to get to graves behind, it was almost like being in a Jean Rollin movie. I was at times expecting to see the two twins come walking along the path, or a figure hide in one of the tombs, or find Nathalie Perrey sat mourning at a unmarked grave.

After almost two hours, my family gave up. We couldn’t locate anything with a marking of concessions, land registries or even a name that could match. Nothing, not Jean Rollin nor his full name Jean Michel Rollin Roth Le Gentil, nothing, not on any of the graves, not on any of the family vaults, not on any of the monumental tombs, nothing. After a brief lunch they took off and I returned to the cemetery, still determined to find where Rollin was resting.

I asked the staff at the cemetery, but even they seemed to have some trouble pinpointing where the plot was. despite in my terribly limited and tacky French I was now quite assure that division 27 was right. So I returned to the location and started all over again. Another two hours later, the light was dropping and a cool breeze swept through the cemetery. I don’t think that there’s a single inch of division 27 that I didn’t cover, search and roam over in my search. As said, there where no markings that indicated to Rollin and I was starting to feel low as I had imagined that Rollin’s final resting place would at least be marked in some kind of manner when compared to the other “celebrity” graves, although I could find nothing. Although amongst the lots in division 27 there was one very simple grave and the first time I stumbled upon it my heart sank to the ground, this could not be the resting place of Jean Rollin. Outlined by twigs and sticks, a rather rough spot where grass grew wild, and a rock merely a two fists in size laid as a headstone, this was the only spot that actually felt like it could be Jean Rollin’s place. Now there was a name scrawled in white paint on the rock, and it wasn’t Rollin’s name, but that of a woman, Jeanne. Now I still can’t say that this wasn’t the spot as the rock could just as well have been left by a fan, who like me was searching for Rollin. Common sense made me revaluate and convince myself that this couldn’t have been the place I was looking for, but then there was one last clue that caught my eye each time I walked past the modest grave…

…a single iron rose.

Being familiar with the symbolism, iconography and traits of Jean Rollin’s movies, movies that where very much him, that rose was undoubtedly the single item with the most Rollinesque aura to it in the whole division 27. This token was for me as certain an referent as the bottles of whiskey on Jim Morrison’s grave, or the torn out pages of De Profundis laid on the tomb of Oscar Wilde, a deliberate gesture, a magical totem that joins fan and master in some post-modern ritual.

I can’t say that this was the resting place of Jean Rollin, but that spot and the many hours spent wondering that small division 27, where what I needed. I needed to go there and pay my respects, I needed to be in the presence of Jean Rollin, because I missed the occasion to meet him in the flesh not only once, but twice. In all honesty I felt kind of sad when it looked like I was going to have to leave without finding what I was searching for. But after walking that lot back and forth for several hours, listening to the soundtracks, searching for something, it didn’t really matter if that spot was his or if it was any of the other unmarked graves that I took photographs of. I found something and I felt content that I’d achieved what I set out to do, pay my respects to the great Jean Rollin.

For a few hours I was in his presence, that dreamlike cemetery magically put me in a Jean Rollin movie. It was a few unreal, weird and maybe even pretentious couple of hours, but for me it was one of the most emotional and genuine moments in a very long time. For me that lone iron rose was the confirmation that I needed, that lone rose was the sign that I was looking for. That iron rose was as close to Jean Rollin as I will ever be.

To celebrate the fantastic legacy that Rollin leaves behind, I present you with the latest CiNEZiLLA Mixtape: PERDU DANS LE CIMITIÈRE - La symphonie d’un Jean Rollin

Enjoy it my friends.

J.



The previous tapes:

SLEAZY SUCCUBUS - The sounds of Jess Franco

VELVET RAZORBLADES - The sounds of Dario Argento

POSTCARDS FROM HELL - The sounds of Lucio Fulci




I'll Never Die Alone

I’ll Never Die Alone
Original Title: No moriré sola
Directed by: Adrián García Bogliano
Argentina/Spain, 2008
Rape/Revenge, 86min.
Distributed by: Njuta Films

Four chicks take a road trip to an unknown destination. Through their interaction we get accustomed with them and get some kind of grips on who’s who. Soon they come across a woman lying in the ditch at the side of the road. She’s bleeding from a serious head injury and further away a man raises a rifle and starts taking shots at them. They take the woman with them in their car, only to witness her die as they drive towards the nearest town.

In the town local sheriff takes their testimonies and as they are about to leave, a familiar car parks outside the police station and out steps the men they saw earlier. A brief car chase later, the girls are about to face their worst nightmares as the band of men start abusing them.

From here on the movie becomes a pretty hard and pretty formulated revenge flick as the girls turn the tables and stalk the men who raped and defiled them earlier on. And unlike many other recent entries this one actually manages to be quite grim on several occasions and has some spectacular moments of coldblooded revenge.

I’ll Never Die Alone is all in all a rather decent exploitation flick, it’s got a slow build, a progressive threat and that violent point of no return where the four girls are violated in a long and drawn out process that set’s the premise for the rest of the movie – Revenge.

I really liked the small details that elevate it above the average low budget flick. Small stuff like exterior shots of the car in movement and keeping the audio digetic - creating a distance between the characters and the audience (not the same as character dimension), the way small subtle hints of back-story give dimension, and how values are set at stake. Sure they don’t progress much, but the fact that they are there prove that there’s some thought gone into the movie.

On a down side, I’d say that there isn’t enough time and space focused on the right characters. One "final girl", Leonor [Marisol Tur] has a few lines of dialogue indicating a back-story where she’s promised to take care of the youngest girl - Carol [Gimena Blesa]. Fine, it says something of her character and sets a value at stake. Which will later become a pretty neat layered reason for revenge later on – hey call it guilt if you want, that one always works it’s way in there one way or another. Being both a victim and failing her, subtext quest of protecting the young girl, she is driven to take her vengeance. Another one of the women who goes into the last battle, Moria [Andrea Duarte] hardly get’s any place in the narrative – apart from a pretty provocative off-screen moment featuring a hammer during the rape sequence - and I don’t really have any relationship with her character, which is a pity, as I don’t really give a shit about her – despite this is the chick most resembling the late Tura Satana and dealing out the best moment of payback in the entire movie. Let’s just say that there’s barbed wire involved. Although keeping in mind that this is a rape-revenge flick, I really don’t need to care, but tossing in a few empathetic traits in the characters would have gone a long way. It’s an easy trick that will help me root for the characters, instead of just take them for granted.

Here’s a tip for writers and directors of by the book rape-revenge flicks. Make me care about the female victim – sure rape in it’s self is appalling, but these movies deserve some dimension to the characters, anyway, make me care about them, then stop chickening out when it comes to the revenge! I see all this violence towards women over and over again in genre cinema, and then when it comes to their revenge it’s quite often a quick fix and off to the next one! Remember the death of Tony [Heinz Hopf] at the hands of Madeleine [Christina Lindberg] in Bo A. Vibenius Thriller - En Grym Film (Thriller - A Cruel Picture) 1974? Slow, sadistic, appalling and perhaps most importantly innovative! You hadn’t seen that before had you? Well that’s where the revenge sequences of contemporary rape/revenge flick’s need to be, grotesque, appalling and provocative. Even Ingmar Bergman and Ulla Isaksson knew this when the made the original, kick in the balls, rape/revenge flick Jungfrukällan (The Virgin Spring) 1960 fifty years ago.

Nevertheless I’ll Never Die Alone is a much better rape-revenge flick than something like Stephen R. Monroe’s remake of Meir Zarchi’s I’ll Spit On Your Grave 2010, where the most important moment of the movie is kept off-fucking-screen!

Now let’s get something very clear here. These movies are primarily directed at a male audience, in some psychoanalytical reading I guess it would be safe to say that there’s some sadistic part of “the male gaze” that get’s a kick out of the ordeal these women are put through. Then why don’t we get punished for taking pleasure in watching those scenes, why the hell would you chose to keep your main antagonists (or any of them for that matter) torture off screen?
In the 1978 original I Spit on Your Grave the best remembered moment, the iconic one – no, not Camille Keaton boating whilst swinging an axe above her head – it the one where she lures her antagonist into a bathtub and slices his fucking knob off! Now that’s still a pretty strong moment more than thirty years later, so why a remake – or any rape/revenge flick – would choose to keep male mutilation off screen is a goddamned joke. Take the opportunity to be graphic, take the moment at bay to be provocative, settle the score in the most profound fucking way that you can, but don’t, and I repeat, don’t keep it off screen, get it on there, because that’s why we come to watch, to see the old eye for an eye thesis be put into action. Someone may enjoy the rape, but make us fucking suffer the revenge in the worst possible way.

I’ll Never Die Alone works because it at least tries to give some depth to characters, minimal yes, but miles ahead of a lot the shallow one dimensional stuff out there right now. It also has a great use of a “helper”, a sliver of optimism, in the character of the police officer that meets the girls when they arrive in the town with the corpse of the dead woman. He becomes something of a beacon of hope when he later receives a phone call from one of the girls’ mother and starts his own investigation into their whereabouts. It’s a good device that brings light to a dark matter, even if I don’t want him to save the girls and punish the bad guys, that’s the surviving chicks prerogative. The style and mood is grim, the rapes are grim, the vengeance is grim – I’ll Never Die Alone is a grim film that dares to take the step ahead of cowardly contemporaries and punch back harder than the rest.

Image:
Widescreen

Audio:
Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish Dialogue, Swedish or English subtitles optional

Extras:
Trailers for other Njuta Films titles