Sunday, November 27, 2011

Make Them Cry Slowly - The Vocal Sounds of Italian Cinema


Well, it's the first of advent, and how better to celebrate the countdown to Chrystmas than with the great lounge muzak sounds of Italian music.



Enjoy.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Underwater Love

Underwater Love.
Original title: Onna no kappa
Directed by: Shinji Imaoka
Japan/Germany, 2011
Drama/Comedy/Musical/Pinku, 87min


You can stop with the Hentai jokes as of now. From here on it’s all Kappa! The Japanese water spirit, renown for being malicious troublemakers, with a bag of tricks ranging from breaking wind, peeking up women’s skirts, pulling kids into the water, rape and drowning people. Keep a cucumber handy as they are addicted to the vegetable, and tossing it in its direction could be what gives you the extra minute to escape the claws of the Kappa.

You may have seen him before in woodprints of the Edo period, or as the lurky turtle monster in Kimiyoshi Yasuda’s and Yoshiyuki Kuroda’s Yokai movies of the late 60’s, possibly even in Takashi Mike’s Yôkai daisenô (The Great Yokai War) 2005 … but you have never seen him like this. Stop what you are doing and come meet Kappa… you won’t regret it.

Middle aged Asuka [Sawa Masaki – who starred in Barbet Schroder’s, to date, last movie, Inju, la bête dans l’ombre (Inju: The Beast in the Shadow) 2008 based on a Rampo Edogawa novel] works at a fish processing plant. She’s got a pretty straightforward life, and her imminent future seems to be clearly staked out for her. Pretty soon she’s going to marry Hajime [Mutsuo Yoshioka – star of several Imaoka Pinku's], who runs the factory she works at and is something of a jerk. One day whilst rescuing a fish that has miraculously survived into the plant, she encounters a Kappa at the nearby harbour. Although Kappa waves at her, she tries to ignore it, even though she’s delighted by the fact that she’s seen a real live Kappa. But Kappa want’s more than a wave, he wants to talk to Asuka, and has a very determined agenda. Confronting her as she’s about to leave, Kappa reveals that he used to be her school friend Tetsuya Aoki [Yoshirô Umezawa] who after dying in a drowning accident several years ago, was reborn as a kappa… Asuka takes him home and stores him in the washing machine, where he - staying true to legend – waters his bare scalp to keep from dehydrating. But it’s not an easy ride, and despite having a fun time with Kappa, Asuka’s moral dilemma lies in the fact that she’s engaged and planning her wedding to Hajima. Kappa is rejected, and like a love sick teenager – which Tetsuya indeed was before his untimely demise – he takes comfort on the arms of Reiko [Ai Narita] starts to show an interest in him, Asuka soon get’s jealous and realises what she’s about to miss out on. Finally one last subplot is put into play. Kappa – Tetsuya – being a spirit figure, knows that Asuka is going to die soon, and the reason for him returning to the human realm is that he want’s to save her.

Part fantasy, part comedy, part musical – with music and songs written by French/German pop duo Stereo Total, part Pinku… yes turtle boy get’s his mojo workin’ too, Underwater Love is one hell of a funny and weird movie. It never really get’s too explicit, too surreal or too far-fetched. Imaoka commonly brings a comedic tone to his movies, and Underwater Love is no exception. This is why the sudden breaking out in song – much like Takashi Miike’s Katakuri-ke no kôfuku (The Happiness of the Katakuris) 2001 – the dopey characters, and semi impressive special effects – courtesy of Taiga Ishino who’s worked with Yoshihiro Nishimura and the J-Gore gangsters on several of their flicks. But at the same time the almost naïve make-up and prosthetics of Kappa work for the movie
Shinji Imaoka has been a solid name on the later years Pinku scene. He recently, 2009, directed a remake of Junchirô Tanizaki’s short story Hakujitsumu (Day-Dream). A movie that previously was adapted and directed by Pinku legend Tetsuji Takechi twice. First in a Wizard of Oz-ish style where the wraparound was in Black and White with colour dream segments in 1964, and again in 1981 in a more graphic and daring take. If you do not know the story then let me just mention that it’s about a visit to the dentists that takes on epic proportions concerning bondage, vampirism and surreal dreams with a powerful triangular love story at the core. Definitely a movie worth seeking out if you like bizarre and kinky Japanese movies – they are certainly amongst my favourites in the Pinku genre.

But back to Imaoka, who is considered part of the “Seven Lucky Gods of Pink” circle, and like most of the people working in Japanese genre cinema spent several years working for one mentor. Imaoka’s mentor was the great Hisayasu Satō, which makes him an interesting name in my book. But where Satō holds a more voyeuristic and rough approach to the pink themes, Imaoka tends to take the themes lighter, coming at the genre with a more comedic angle where the sex scenes not necessarily are the main focus. He may have alienated a lot of Pinku viewers with his restrained approach, but he’s gained a lot of acclaim from critics and even won the Best Director Award at the Pink Grand Prix. One can see why critics would favour them, as Imaoka’s movies frequently have a serious emotional theme from which his movies build off. It’s not rare to find characters stuck in the rut of convenience and every day routine whilst yearning for something else that they at one point in time gave up on.

Which brings me to the main theme of Underwater Love. Because it’s no surprise to see how the characters interlock with each other when you know that it is a reoccurring Imaoka trait. Asuka may seem happy in her current state, but she isn’t… which we will understand as the movie plays out. Tetsuya – Kappa that is – comes to the human realm with a longing for Asuka. He’s been in love with her since he was a young man, but never proclaimed his love. In death, reborn as Kappa he has a second chance.

Let’s talk about character development, and mainly because I’m excited by the chance to talk about character development in a movie like this. Tetsuya, a shy young man in life, comes back and offer’s his reborn state as a sacrifice to save a woman (Asuka) who never responded to his silent love all those years ago. In his final moments of the movie, he even bargains with a god of death, and when he finally reaches climax – metaphorically and actually in the movie, his arc ends. Asuka is comfortable with her nine to five grind, jerky husband to be and doesn’t really make much noise. Although by the end of the movie, she will have entered deep into the sacred forest, inserted the magic anal pearl into her rectum, fought and defeated a god of death and engaged in necrophilia. A young man afraid to speak up and proclaim his love evolves into a strong personality staking his life to save his love. A woman so passive that’s she content with a lesser everything evolves into a strong warrior wrestling gods and fighting for something better. Impressive character arcs to say the least, and beyond the goofiness of the comedy, singing and Pinku, a fascinating tale of development as they progress from one side of the spectrum to the other.

Then there’s the issue of cinematography… If I throw movies like Wong-Kar Wei’s Days of Being Wild 1990, Ashes of Time 1994, Happy Together 1997, In the Mood for Love 2002, 2046 2004, Yimou Zhang’s Hero 2002, Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park 2007 – all of them award winners for the cinematography – at you, then back that up with titles like, John Favreau’s Made 2001, Pen-Ek Rantarauang‘s Last Life in the Universe 2003, the Fruit Chan/Chan-wook Park/Takashi Miike horror anthology Three… Extremes 2004, M. Night Shyamalan’s The Lady in the Water 2006, Jim Jarmusch’s The Limits of Control 2009 – all of them movies know and favoured for their stunning visual imagery, well then you wouldn’t even think of sticking a Japanese Pinku, comedy, love story in there would you. But you can. All of them where lensed by the magnificent Christopher Doyle - the praised Australian cinematographer who has brought some of the most beautiful movies to the big screen over the last three decades. If not for anything else, you need to see this movie for its cinematography

Shot in a mere five days – in no way unique for Pinku - the flaws of tight budget and stressed production schedule shows despite some fantastic cinematography. But a movie concerning a lovesick fantasy figure searching for a sacred anal pearl so that he can trick the god of death, doesn’t really need high production values, as that one line alone more or less motivates the reason why you need to watch Underwater Love.

This is an instant classic, a hilarious blast with a sensitive story at the core. It’s a movie that kicks those Ninja Turtles back into the sewer where they belong and leaves us with a new icon of fantastic cinema –Kappa! I officially challenge you to the Kappa dance, which will start as of now.



Monday, November 21, 2011

The Innkeepers

The Innkeepers
Directed by: Ti West
USA, 2011
Horror, 102 min

I find that I quite enjoy the movies of Ti West, or at least I think I do. I have not seen all of them; I have not even seen half of them. I saw The House of the Devil 2009 and thought it was an awesome example of mimicking a style long gone, and done in a way that wasn’t exaggerated and stale, as many of the grindhouse pastiche movies have become… (Yeah, Hobo with a Shotgun 2010, was fun, but not much more. One-liners should come naturally, not forced out with each line of dialogue.) What West did with The House of the Devil was so skilfully perfected, that if someone had sold me it under the premise that it was a long lost late seventies, early eighties flick, I would have believed it.

Needless to say, I really enjoyed The House of the Devil, and hold it amongst the best of the last decade. Mood, atmosphere, visuals, approach, narrative and storytelling aspects, it’s my kind of movie. Which obviously means that I had a lot of anticipation brewing before catching The Innkeepers.

Claire [Sara Paxton, who I hated in the Last House on the Left 2009 remake, but totally believe here] and Luke [Pat Healy] are two twenty-something’s who are the keeping an eye on the Yankee Pedlar Inn as it slips into its last week in business. There’s only a few residing guests left in the building and even the owner, Rob, has taken off. Luke has an obsession with acclaimed hauntings that are supposed to have taken place at the Yankee Pedlar Inn and runs a webpage dedicated to the legend of Madeleine O’Malley. Clair in an approach that is almost as if she is humouring Luke, helps out to record ambience sounds in various rooms during her night shifts. A fun pastime until she actually records someone playing the piano in the entrance hall… a room she knows is empty.

Much like The House of the Devil, West smoothly approaches his topic with a method similar to that of a crocodile stalking blissfully unaware prey in the waterline. Instead of jumping in head over heels, he builds the tension slowly and merely hints at strange activities in jump scare moments or shorter scene climaxes. Just like The House of the Devil, when it’s time to peak with the culmination, it comes fast and without messing around. Tension has been built up, tweaked and teased for such a long time that the payoff is inevitable. Inevitable, terrifyingly effective and once again, leaving the audience with a bitter pill to swallow. Bitter in the best possible way that is, as the storytelling and the narrative does its job effectively. When that all clicks, you know you are in for a good time. And by then there's no backing out.

Getting there is an entertaining ride. Just as West approached the Satanic Cult in The House of the Devil, there’s several curveballs tossed and sharp turns laid out in the narrative of The Innkeepers too. The legend of Madeleine O’Malley is the main subplot, the ghost story that drives it forth. Luke really want’s to make contact with O’Malley, and even claims to have encountered here in the dark hallways of the hotel one night. Claire is more restrained and doesn’t really believe in it. Regular readers will go aha – the sceptic! - and you are absolutely right. Claire is the sceptic of the movie, as she doesn’t really believe, although through slow delicate transitions she moves into the world where hauntings are possible, and as we identify with her, we go right with her. Claire is a really empathetic character, shown through her gentle approach to things, even apologetic to rude residents, and her total geek vibe when her favourite actress Leanne Rease-Jones [Kelly McGillis] checks into the hotel and the time she spends listening to the love problems of the barista [Lena Dunham] next door – time Claire doesn’t really have, all build our empathy for her. The fact that she’s an asthmatic, tells ghost stories with a flashlight under her face, is really kind of dorky – watch how she reacts when she realizes that she’s in her underwear in the reception area – and somewhat of a slacker, all make her a much more likeable character for me, as she goes against stereotypes.

Oh, one more thing on bringing the audience into the unnatural world. There’s that excellent use of the Internet viral video, which Luke shows Claire early on in the movie. She watches the spartanly furnished room, through the web camera footage, waiting for a ghost to appear and when the feed cuts to a shock screaming face, Claire falls for it big time. This happens four minutes in and set’s a tone for the movie, which stays with me throughout. We understand that she and Luke play these kind of pranks on each other, although where Luke really does want to believe, Claire still only thinks it’s a laugh. Which is why when she straps on the equipment and starts recording ambience audio in the hotel at night, at Luke’s request to help him prove that there’s something else there but them, we start to empathise with her. And it’s through her – the sceptic – which we start to move into the world where a haunting could be possible. Again the viral video and the nightmare shock play into the hand of the sceptic. Not real, but tricks or imagination it gives us the same mind-set as Claire. When Claire starts to hear sounds on the recordings and see things in the dark, we too accept them as we now realize that this is no prank, or a dream. It’s really happening.

A second sceptic is used to manipulate the audience into believing, and that’s what the Leanne Rease-Jones character is for. She’s a healer who doesn’t believe in the ghost either, so when she starts acting weird and more or less orders Claire to get her stuff and get out of the Inn, you know that shit is going to happen.

There’s an everyday geeky kind of humour in the movie, which reflects the characters well. At times it’s almost as if Claire overacts on purpose to prove to the people she’s talking too that’s there’s a ghost in the hotel. Or possibly because there is supposed to be a playful attitude within the movie, even looking at the advance art - above - I can sense a tongue in cheek approach to the movie. Because that is one of the traits that I like with the flick. It’s playful, and joyful and doesn’t take it’s self all too serious. I like that in a genre movie and at time it helps sell me the movie a lot more than the regular tricks of the trade. This is also reflected in the soundtrack, which, in the first half at least, has something of a matineé-ish tone to it. Definitely not what I would have expected from a horror flick at least. Perhaps West want’s us to watch The Innkeepers as a fun, light-hearted film as this makes the flip at the back end so much more harsh, because the laughs will stick in your throat when the horror kicks in and scares that smile off your face.

Endings. Again, like The House of the Devil - which I'm constantly comparing to as it's such an awesome movie - The Innkeepers somewhat challenges its audience. Did it really happen? I know of people who read the ending of The House of the Devil as a possible “dream state/imaginary” space as to say that the movie never really happened… strange yes, and I do not really agree with it either, but at the same time, I definitely feel that The Innkeepers does pose similar questions. Did it really happen or was it in the state of fear and confusion that brought it all on? The last shot lingers on for an eternity before presenting the answer. And I also find that last scene to be part of the intelligent narrative that West uses in The Innkeepers. It's not to unlike the viral video that was seen earlier. He builds to a climax with the exact same tricks that the viral video does. And this is a motif that I find runs vibrantly though the movie. Is it real or all just a trick? During the last half hour, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a scene where Claire wakes up and it all had been a dream. Now this doesn’t happen obviously, but in some strange way there’s a feeling that it could have happened in the last act.

Scares. Yeah, there’s a bunch of them and they get more advanced as the movie goes along. The first being that viral video within the first couple of minutes through the hilarious “I’m standing behind you and don’t want to scare you…” moment, to the atmospheric mood that seeps in when they start to explore the basement, the really effective in-camera tricks, to the straight out grotesque moments which the movie culminates with. Yeah, West does deliver the scares, the shocks and the uncomfortable moments once again… and you know what, the second viewing is more so as you start to add together things you picked up in the first viewing with events in the second.

It’s my humble opinion that this movie will find it’s own audience and will generate a certain cult following. It’s a well-told tale with characters – well mainly Claire - that are totally believable, empathetic. Despite some of the scares being somewhat artificial – and the ghost of O’Malley does look kind of generic – they still get the job done. The power of the story takes over and the magic of storytelling sweeps me into the dark and I find myself fumbling for the light switch. Nothing is as powerful as the suggestive less-is-more approach that makes this a fantastic trip to Scareville.

I like it and I definitely will return to Ti West’s The Innkeepers as I’m convinced there’s so much more to read and explore in that great little movie.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Gorgon

The Gorgon
Directed by: Terrence Fisher
UK, 1964
Horror/Mystery/Fantasy, 83min


I can’t really understand genre fans that don’t like Hammer films! How can you not like Hammer films? For years I’ve been fucking annoyed that watchers of genre cinema all seem to be so polarized, they either only want the gore, the violence, the nihilistic carnage, or even worse, the ones that draw a line with The Exorcist, Jaws and Alien and determine that everything beneath them is automatically unwatchable trash.

Well obviously these people are not really fans of genre cinema. Let's just say that they like a few quick scares, and keep Hollywood in business. Fans of genre cinema take it all in, and leave no rock unturned in their search for the next thrill. The audience above are joined by the fact that they completely ignore the fluff… whilst supposedly claiming to like genre cinema. Well, the fluff is really what makes it all worthwhile. It’s the stuff that keeps the really good from the really bad. It's within the realm of the fluff where the important movies really are found. Such as the Hammer films. Looking at them historically the Hammer movies where the first gore films. Yeah, screw Hershell Gordon Lewis, screw the Japanese Chanbara flicks, Terrence Fisher’s The Curse of Frankenstein 1957 is the first splatter flicks. When Peter Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein shoots Christopher Lee’s creature in the head with a shotgun and Lee holds his hand up to his face as the blood pours out of the concealed hole in his head, it was deliberate. When Lee’s eyes turn red and the blood seeps from the side of his mouth in The Horror of Dracula 1958, Fisher with makeup artists Phil Leakey and Sydney Pearson knew exactly what they where doing and knew that they where pushing the limits of things… and they created a complete new horror ingredient that people had never seen before, which in it’s own turn made Hammer Studios the minor success story that it was to become.

Terrence Fisher also helmed 1964’s The Gorgon based on a script by screenwriter/director John Gilling – who would later also direct some of the better later movies for Hammer, such as The Plague of the Zombies and The Reptile both 1966, and ended up directing the Paul Naschy penned La cruz del Diablo (Cross of the Devil) for Naschy in 1975.

Let’s set up The Gorgon – Something is luring in the dark of Castle Borski just outside of Vandorf. Seven unexplained murders in five years have Inspector Kanof [Second Doctor Who, Patrick Troughton] a frustrated man. When young woman, Sacha Cass [Toni Gilpin], goes missing and shortly after, her bohemian boyfriend, Bruno Heitz [Jeremy Longhurst], is found hung from a tree. It all looks like a closed case, and the town Judge rules it all as a murder followed by suicide. Nobody but Bruno’s father Professor Heitz objects and points out that Cass body was actually turned to stone… the town of Vandorf obviously want’s to keep something a secret, and he will not leave until he’s unveiled the mystery and cleared his son’s name. Doctor Namaroff [Peter Cushing] and his assistant Carla Hoffman [Barbara Shelley] run the village mental institute and all seems fine, until Professor Heitz second son, Paul [Richard Pasco] arrives with the same ambition to solve the curse of Vandorf. Carla and Paul take a liking to each other, and plan to take off as soon as Paul has figured out what goes on at Castle Borski, which obviously set’s up an interesting little triangle drama between Paul, Carla and Doctor Namaroff. Towards the final act, Paul’s mentor, Professor Karl Meister [Christopher Lee] also comes to the small village and together with Paul they aim to put an end to the rumors that, Magaera [Prudence Hyman, in one of her few onscreen credited parts in a Hammer flick] – one of two lesser know sisters to the legendary Medusa - resides in the woods of Vandorf.

It’s obvious that Gilling has a passion for detective stories – he wrote several crime/detective screenplays, and directed loads of super detective shows, like The Saint, The Champions and Department S. This is seen in the way he constructs the script to The Gorgon, as the movie primarily is a horror movie with an investigation plot. Gradually the audience know what is going on – the gorgon, and the subplots – and with a Hitchcock-ian structure, Gilling and Fisher lead us down a path that is more detective story than horror.

Red herrings are laid out for us to stumble on such as the Martha [Joyce Hemson] character who we blatantly are lead to believe is the Gorgon, and there’s very driven dialogue to make us pose further questions such as when Carla with panic in her voice says to Dr. Namaroff that “She has come back!” Everyone seems to have something to hide, facts they dare not proclaim, truths not yet spoken, which obviously propels the narrative forth.

Obviously the horror comes through the loan of a legendary icon, the Gorgon, Medusa or Mageara as she’s called here, and the heavy gothic vibe that seeps though the movie. Hammer movies are at their best when they ooze of EuroGoth created through the wonderful set design of Bernard Robinson, those great matte painting landscapes, and James Bernard’s magnificent scores – of which The Gorgon holds one of the darkest he composed for Hammer.

The motif of death is very dominant in The Gorgon and despite using a legendary tale we all know by heart – stare in her eyes, turn to stone – they put a spin on it, where characters don’t turn to stone in the flash of an eye as in the old Harryhausen flicks, but more of a sadistic torment as they slowly turn into stone statues. One character even writes a letter home, telling of the pain and despair he feels in that very moment. That’s kind of heavy, even for a Hammer movie. Also they bring a familiar spin to the story when it becomes apparent that the second night of the full moon is when the attacks occur, something we all know from Werewolf folklore.

Building tension and then gradually releasing it is what Hammer movies are all about. God knows they made their fair share of movies that did nothing but build only to present a semi-shocking reveal at the end. This is also true with The Gordon. The initial attack if you will shows us the exact path that Sasha Cass takes, the religious nook by the roadside, the full moon, and the looming structure of Castle Borski. These elements all become referents later on as Professor Heitz walks the same path, it’s not rocket science and we know he’s walking right into danger. Returning imagery, locations and motifs are all important tools for building anticipation as the next time we see them we are aware of the threat they pose.

Characters are kind of stiff and restrained throughout The Gorgon. There’s no real arcs with evolving characters here, and there’s nor really anyone to feel for to start with. Secrets are kept, science argues against fantasy and every one – especially Dr. Namaroff act as skeptics when it all comes around. So there’s a use of something called the contrast frame at work here, where even the men of science deny to acknowledge the Gorgon – which the audience by the way, knows exists – it becomes logic that we tend to empathize with Paul and Carla. They are after all the only characters to stand up for there beliefs, and even though we as an audience are miles ahead of them both, we tend to favor them.

Although one must not forget the many subplots that are irking their way in, of which the Paul – Carla one is the strongest. There’s also the whole protection racket that comes with Dr. Namaroff. It’s almost eerie the way Cushing sluggishly floats around, stopping here and there for a pose to show us that he’s lost in thought, because despite being the skeptic of the piece, he knows what’s going on… Or at least, has an idea, which is why he becomes a human shield for Carla. He won’t let anyone near her, and does his best to protect her. But he’s so overprotective of Carla that it becomes painfully obvious why she falls for Paul, as he offers her the freedom she looks for. Away from corridors of Dr. Namaroff’s institute, away from Vandorf. Ironically it’s merely a metaphorical freedom and her real freedom comes in a completely different form during the final moments of the movie courtesy of scarcely used Christopher Lee’s Prof. Karl Meister.

The Gorgon, is still one of those Hammer movies that sums up all that was great about Hammer horror, the atmosphere, the somewhat stiff stage performances of the cast, lurking death, gothic horror and, for the time period, acceptable special effects. Perhaps not as impressive as his work on The Horror of Dracula, you still have to give Sydney Pearson credit for the Medusa and her head of snakes. It get’s the job done, the turning to stone transformations, although primarily only make up, work and the final decapitation scene is still something of a classic Hammer moment. When it all comes around, the movie may be a tad on the slow side, but then again that’s what draws me into the world of Hammer. The slow meditative approach, the modest scares and the clean cut closure, which almost all Hammer movies end with. There’s never any lingering around for no reason at all in the world of Hammer. Kill the monster, cue the end credits, let’s all get up off the couch, and sod off to bed.



Sunday, November 13, 2011

Ratline


Ratline
Directed by: Eric Stanze
USA, 2011
Drama/Horror/Exploitation, 109min
Distributed by: Wicked Pixel Cinema

If you write that your movie is about Nazi Occultism on the cover art, I will watch it. I have an intense soft spot for Nazi’s and the paranormal – and why not, it’s so goddamned out there. I love the Third Reich’s fascination with the occult. I have done so since Spielberg and Lucas made a Saturday morning matinée about the krauts obsession with the supernatural. If you also happen to be an indie filmmaker, with some really interesting movies on your resume, then I will undoubtedly watch.

To set up the story of Ratline, it would be easiest to say that the movie is about the hunt for an old Nazi flag referred to as “Die Blutfahne”, a mythical swastika flag that went missing at the end of the Second World War. The only surviving member of the SS Paranormal Division is now seeking the flag with the intentions of completing the rituals that have been brewing for decades.

The main selling point of Ratline is obviously the Nazi connection, the promise of grotesque entertainment and spontaneous nudity along the way - as you will see from the trailer below. It’s all there, but Ratline serves up something much more than just an average exploitation flick. It shoves itself way beyond simple conventions and presents an intriguing and engaging story that delivers some severe shocks in it’s final act.

So, instead of going where convention predicts, Ratline tells the story of several characters and how their paths cross along the road of life. The initial set up creates a mood for the flick, as a bloodied, post-heist Crystal [Stanze regular Emily Haack, looking better than ever] burns her clothes and cleans up before hitting the road again – this woman is on the go. Cut to opening credits, which pass by rapidly as a metaphorical escape from the starting point, only to land in a Satanic Cult preparing their ritual. We stick with the youngsters for a while, and you would think you know who the leading characters are by now. But when the Satanic Cult, now on the roam for a human to sacrifice, fail to snare Crystal in their sinister trap, the focus shifts to a lone man peacefully driving his truck down the road. The kids lure him in, and moments later he’s tied up and ready to meet his maker as the kids tell him that he will be Satan’s sacrifice tonight.

A twist in the same form as the classic Psycho twist topples the world we have been introduced to. Where storytelling guru Robert McKee would shout out negation of the negation, Stanze and Christ thrust it full speed up that street. The entire opening set up with the teenagers performing a mock “this is what we think it’s supposed to be like” satanic ritual, and getting carried away to the extent of performing a human sacrifice becomes superbly ironic as they stare into the face of death in the shape of Frank Logan, [co-writer Jason Christ, also a frequent Stanze collaborator] a supernatural übermench who’s all the kids imagine themselves to be, amplified thrice.
For most of the first half of the movie, the ordinary world is established; characters present themselves and reveal their traits. Subplots are introduced, Penny Webb [Sarah Swofford] is presented, we gain insight into the backstory of Crystal, and the very real threat that she has pending over her life. It's a slow build, but it's necessary for where Stanze is going to take us.

But so far there are no characters that I really care about. They may interest me, but they primarily go about their business and where ever the day takes them. Their lives are woven together as their paths intersect and I find myself wondering where it’s all going to go… after all I do have some presumptions of the characters and what they may get up to. Somewhere just past midpoint – [59minutes] the first of many reveals is presented. First it’s the genesis of the Blood Flag, the item that Frank has been hunting through the movie, and the Nazi thread of the movie. It’s presented in a great - retro newsreel “found footage” complete with director cameo - way and does a great job of kick starting the second act. Now it all makes sense, we know of Frank’s identity, and this starts up a new wave of questions.

Then something unique happens. A moment that in its restrained shape proves that less is more, and a moment that definitely could have become something completely different. Instead it becomes a key moment of the movie. Penny and Crystal are drawn together by their desire for each other, but instead of using the moment to jump into gratuitous moment of nudity and sexploitation, Stanze has the two women merely connecting. An initial moment of intimacy that proves they have a desire for each other. From here they share a common foundation from which they can build a future together - a small sliver of light in Crystal’s darkness. They kiss, they embrace, and we can see the lust in their eyes. They have both yearned after this intimacy a long while and finally, as they find it, they have something worth fighting for. I call this an important moment as it establishes a value within the movie. Crystal who has been on the run for the major part of the movie – running from her past, running from her now and most likely to run from her future too – finds a reason to stop. There’s a possible love story there, which fills her character with value. I’ve said it in texts before; love is a strong tool in movies. We can all identify with the emotions a play; the emotional recognition is what creates the empathy for the characters. Crystal and Penny now have a value, never mind how dark and nihilistic we may be, we will want that moment of ecstasy to come. Their joy is our joy. The Crystal/Penny affair is used brilliantly, as it builds from here on out and culminates in the movies strongest and profoundest moments of disturbing darkness.

The slow build, which has lead up to the Frank backstory and the Crystal/Penny affair, culminates with a final rush of insight. We finally find out how these characters all come together, and in what way they all fit into the bigger picture. It’s an impressive move, which I should have seen coming, but I didn’t, for which I give all credit to Stanze (and Christ) as it caught me by complete surprise.

So I though that I’d be watching a cheap exploitation flick drenched with blood and gratuitous nudity, and the usual hardened unconditional approach that Stanze brings into his movies. But I ended up getting something completely different. Yeah, there’s nudity – fitting within the context, there’s some gore – at times fantastically gross and impressive, and that dark approach Stanze brings to his subjects is perfected with Ratline.

I’ve recently had the pleasure of watching through a retrospective of Stanze’s work due to the Eric Stanze Collection box being released by Njuta Films here in Sweden. (Ratline not included, but six other titles, which I reviewed in the November issue of Cinema – English version available on ipad - where I also pointed out that Stanze worked Second Unit on Jim Mickle’s impressive Stakeland.) There’s no doubt about it, Ratline is the Stanze-one-man-film crew’s most flawless work and it’s definitely a breaking point in his career. Indie movies usually just play though and that’s that, but Ratline really got under my skin, as some well played tricks pulled me in, set me up and unexpectedly shocked me.

Do NOT miss Ratline, as I have a feeling this is the one that makes the difference. It's the kind of movie that makes me love independent movies all over again, as it comes out of nowhere; punches hard and leaves an imprint that will last a long time. Skillful storytelling applied on genre, in the very best way.

The disc also features a behind the scenes documentary, and two commentary tracks, both featuring Stanze and both giving different insights into the movie and the filmmaking process. You should be listening to these kinds of things if you claim to be interested in making, or simply understanding movies. This is where you learn it for real, but watching stuff and listening to the people who made them.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Inbred


Inbred
Directed by: Alex Chandon
UK/Germany, 2011
Horror, Comedy, 90min

So I’m in Bottrop Germany attending the ninth Weekend of Horrors with fellow cineastes, bloggers and genre movie critics Fred and Joachim. I’d was spending a small fortune on various special editions of Lucio Fulci’s epic Zombi 1979, when we keep seeing people walking around with these really neat retro style exploitation poster t-shirts of a naked woman with a horses head. That’s enough to catch my attention. Then we see flyers pinned up all over the place of a chubby fella with a pig’s head and 3D glasses… Yeah, when we see that there’s a free screening of said movie, it’s wasn’t a hard decision when we decided that dinner could wait, as we had a chance to see a movie not yet released. Especially a movie which few images seen triggered our imagination into places unexpected.

Stepping into a dimly lit room where some geezers where are fiddling about with the projector to get the correct aspect ratio – one who I’d later realize was director Chandon – I started to feel that this may just have been the best damned move this entire weekend, because moments later a bloke had an axe planted in his face and the gore-fest started.

To set this up, here’s a mandatory quick fix for you: It all starts off with a movie within a movie. Let’s call it the initial attack to use terminology that you know I like to toss around. A prologue that ends in a violent showcase of impressive effects and fucking nails the mood of the movie. Cut to modern time, and the introduction of the ordinary world. Kate and Jeff take a minivan from London up North. The obligatory place to take the piss out of, the place where all mongrels live and are kicked in the bollocks in everything from Guy Richie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, to Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, it’s Great Britain’s Deliverance country. Now I'm from the North, and I have no problem taking the piss out of the fact of being a Northerner, and see no reason why anyone else shouldn't. For me it makes Inbred just fell a whole lot more close to home.

Anyway, that’s where they take a bunch of outcasts for a weekend of recreation and self-esteem building. Characters are established some likeable, some not. Small details work their way into the narrative and will return later on in completely different context, such as Tim [James Burrows] the rather empathetic arsonist. Yeah, I know he’s an arsonist from the way he reacts to stuff he sees around the old cottage they are supposed to spend the weekend at. This works for several of the other main characters too, and predictions lead to the unexpected as Inbred manages to avoid a lot of way to common pitfalls along the way.

So in their ordinary world, Chandon sets the characters in motion, tweaking and enhancing the minor traits we learned on the drive up, before the obligatory step into the unnatural realm is presented. Quickly fixing up the few rooms that they are going to live in during their stay, the kids are rewarded with a trip down to local boozer “The Dirty Hole”, where they encounter the inbred. From here on we know that the city folks are facing their worst nightmares as cultures clash and the scratching’s fond inbred ignite the hunt that will make up the rest of the movies drive forth.

Now from that you might feel that you know exactly where and what Inbred will be like… but you are wrong. This movie takes a familiar pattern of discourse and flips it head over heels. Conventions lead me astray on several occasions, which gave the viewing experience an interesting touch, as this doesn’t happen to often. The first question in the Q&A after the screening was not surprisingly “Is this movie out yet, because I have to have it!” That’s the kind of movie Inbred is.

Imagine all the dark comedy of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen pumped up on steroids, laced with the nihilistic horror of the new French extremity of recent years – Frontier(s), Haute tension, Belgian Calvaire which undoubtedly is in the same niche and British “fish out of water” – aka city twats taking to the countryside - shockers like Eden Lake and The Cottage. Then spice that with a dash of Jean Rollin, classic Italian gore and a backwoods Emmerdale Farm and you will start to get an idea of how fucking wild and brilliant Inbred really is.

There’s a couple of hilarious referents to stuff like An American Werewolf in London’s The Slaughtered Lamb – you know, the pub they walk into only to find Brian Glover and a young Rik Mayall blurting out that they “don’t like your kind ‘round ‘ere!” – the granddaddy of them all, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, iconic Monty Python images, and fucked up vaudevillian acts from hell.

In many ways the movie blows stuff like The Cottage, Severance and Doghouse right off the map. Inbred plays for keeps, it builds up slow and presents the characters in likeable ways, especially the social workers, Jake [James Doherty], who is such a complete twat, but still tries his hardest to make it work, and Kate [Jo Hartley – a Shane Meadows regular] who manages to work with the kids on their own turf. It’s no surprise that she takes on a heroine character as the survival horror aspect shoots through the ceiling.

Some fine details that made this an intelligent movie in my book: reoccurring readers will know the most annoying cock up in my eye are those fucking cell phones. Be clever, don’t insult me with the bloody “Oh I have no coverage” bollocks because that’s just lazy. The last movie that did that ended up being tossed out the window and into the park outside my flat, because it was shat out 54minutes into a 90minute film. Chandon handles it brilliantly; as Jeff takes the phones off the kids, sticks them in a plastic bag and shoves them in his backpack. Now that an original way to solve that problem, and just like the character traits, this comes back with a twist later on.

Subplots. Ron [Mark Rathbone], who isn’t allowed into the show, somewhat of a village outsider who even the inbred call a weird sicko. You know that there’s something really freaky in his backstory that makes him really intriguing, and interference with the village performances is hinted at. He’s an interesting character and is used perfectly.

Special effects that had me wondering how the fuck did they pull that off? A lot of movies try to put animals on screen and it most often looks terribly fake. There’s a horse scene, and a lamb scene in Inbred that are stunning, and then there’s some of the best bloody gore scenes I’ve seen since I started watching these kind of movies almost three decades ago. This one goes all he way to eleven on Chas Balun’s old gore score.

Political incorrectness. To show just how far out there the inbred are, Jim [Seamus O’Neil] puts on a full black and white minstrel makeup, and considering that even the old Robertson’s gollywog is erased from popular culture, it’s a grand way to show that the villagers go about business in any way the like without caring about wrong or right.

Unpredictability is an important part of Inbred, as there’s several times you think you know exactly where it’s going and then Chandon, pulls a 180 on the audience and takes it all in a complete different direction. This was refreshing and definitely created a vibe in the room and definitely created tension in scenes focusing on the empathetic characters of the piece… not saying that we all laughed

Acting is top notch. The villagers do exactly what you expect of them and it rarely feels overacted, when it does it works for the character. Seamus O’Neil another Shane Meadows regular, which you will find several in the movie, as the evil antagonist ringleader is hilarious as patriarch Jim, and Gris [Neil Leiper] is someone to keep your eyes open for more of. Protagonists James Doherty, James Burrows and especially Jo Hartley all give fantastic performances, and watching them fight for their lives was an enjoyable struggle, as it all stays very believable. You know that making it believable is crucial to me when watching genre movies.
Needless to say the rest of Friday night was spent discussing Chandon’s Inbred, and comically all three of us later spontaneously drifted into separate corners of our hotel room to start writing our reviews of this spectacular movie. It recently played in Sitges, and received a honourable mention at the Fantastic Film Festival in Lund – although if I’d had been in the jury, this one would have been sent to fight for the Méllès d’Or in Sitges, not Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block 2011, which I also thought was a great trip.

So grab a fountain pen and scratch Inbred onto your arm, because this one is going to be a classic, and you definitely don’t want to miss out on this gem.

Read more about Inbred here.