Saturday, November 24, 2012

Andrey Iskanov’s Ingression


Andrey Iskanov’s Ingression
Directed by: Andrey Iskanov
Russia, 2010/2012
Horror, 100(ish) min. 

There’s a lot of pain in the films of Andrey Iskanov, mental suffering, torment of the psyche and torturous frustration. Iskanov constantly returns to these themes film after film, like an explorer of human distress. But he does it in his own unique way, as he blends horror themes, surrealistic imagery, violent bursts of juxtaposition and clashing contrasts laced with layers of eclectic editing.
Andrey Iskanov's Ingression (formerly known as The Tourist) sees the final bookend of the HalluCinoGeNnN trilogy made up by Gvozdi (Nails) 2003 and Visions of Suffering 2006. They do not share a chronological narrative, but more so themes and visual/audio style. They are movies that deal with strong topics, and are filled with strong imagery. It’s no understatement that this trilogy of films is challenging and demand a lot from their audiences. Where many would display their special effects and violence up front, Iskanov hides it under ferocious distortion, intense editing and walls of provocative audio. Iskanov’s films leave their audience drained and exhausted.
A few days ago, Iskanov granted me the interview we have been talking about conducting for quite some time now, and we ended up talking for a massive four hours about his films, storytelling, the unique style of his films and how people receive them. Without hesitation I can say that my respect for Iskanov’s films, craftsmanship and working situation grows deeper for each time I speak with him and unearth more insight into his philosophy, aesthetics and obstacles in the way of his film making.
Fans who might have caught Ingression at the B-Movie, Underground and Trash Filmfestival in Breda, Netherlands, or the HÕFF in Estonia a few years ago, will be interested to learn that Iskanov has gone back into the movie and reshot most of the first act. This forced him to reshoot all scenes of featuring his leading lady, as she wasn’t available for reshoots. After the festival cut, with a impressive running time of 159 minutes, there was also some controversy surrounding scenes of violence aimed at a child. Something Iskanov decided to remove after harsh critique from fans and industry. 

“This was before Serbian Film was released; realistic violence and murder against kids was not completely accepted or understood by fans. Members on horror forums wrote some really bad reviews, and I got a lot of angry mails. Even some of the actors started complaining and wanted me to take their names from the credits. Distributors once again commented that the film was too long and that people cant didn’t have the patience with movies that long. (As a referent to the four and a half hour long Philosophy of a Knife), 
 so I removed the original ending and shortened the film to around 100 or 110 minutes.”
Taking place in an utopian future on the brink of political chaos, Alex [Iskanov regular Svyatoslav Iliyasov] is on the brink of self-destruction. His wife Lucy [Voiced by Manoush, who also did voice work for Iskanov on Philosophy of a Knife 2008 and starred in Marc Rohnstock’s Necronos: Tower of Doom 2010] has walked out on him and moved in with his neighbour Victor [played by Iskanov himself]. Alex turns to drugs to ease his pain, and perhaps help him over the edge and into realm of indifference. Facing the legendary underground drug dealer known as The Alchemist [another Iskanov regular Victor Silkin], Alex is offered a new drug, unlike any known to man.
Alex takes the drug, called Tourist, which puts him in a trancelike state inducing hallucinations of amongst other things, being chased by a band of knife wielding assassins – a highly impressive segment of the film that comes to a hideously violent climax. In his drugged state he connects with other dimensions, and comes upon a seductive woman in black who lures him into a sinister plot to assassinate The Alchemist. It becomes an agenda that takes Alex on a deadly detour from his original plan and into something completely different...
No plan is complete with out it’s twists and turns, and Iskanov takes us down a complex road before setting Alex and The Alchemist face to face where fate changing questions are posed. The narrative rushes forth, blending action and horror with moments of extreme violence.. and just wait until you see the absolutely fantastic Lovecraftian tentacle moment?
Iskanov told me that this magnificent scene is homage to the tentacle monsters he loved as a child. H.G. Welles War of the Worlds, The Kindred and Xtro. But whatever impression the scene made on me, Iskanov promises that I haven’t’ seen anything yet, as he’s just even spent the last six months creating a new monster reshot this scene.

“The creature was all done in old school fashion. Reverse photography and fishing lines. There were batteries and diodes in the head for the red eyes of the creature. 

But I’ve created a remixed creature scene where I constructed a new creature. This one glows in the dark like a deep-sea fish. This one was much harder work than it was in first time. I also used few assistants and also ultraviolet lighting to make it work.”
It should be pointed out that there is really no answer to how one should read an Andrey Iskanov film. There are many layers to his work, and each individual viewer who watches them will interpret them differently. The closest and most concrete description I can suggest is reading them as Andrey Tarkovsky channelled via William Burroughs. The style of Iskanov’s films rely heavily on inner monologue that push the narrative forth, and this is an approach I associate a lot with the fine art of Tarkovsky. The rapid imagery and disruptive visuals remind me of Burroughs writing style.
Being a former editor myself, I personally hold editing as the key to creating great cinema; it’s in the dark of the edit suite where a movie can become a masterpiece or a disaster. Sure script and shoot are of high importance, but editing can make or break a movie in an instant. With more than a thousand hours of television productions behind me, I can say that this is the truth. Dodgy story, shoddy camerawork can all be saved to present a decent final result after post. The way Iskanov brings his movies together in the edit suite is impressive and I can only imagine the mammoth task it takes as he composes the visual and audio assaults that his movies are made up of.
When Iskanov writes his films, he goes about it in his own fashion too. In hindsight this could be a  way of writing that gives an insight into the fragmented and disruptive style his movies play out in:

“I only see short flashes of future scenes, images about which I know nothing. It’s just of puzzle. I see few bright moments, which may be the centre of the film, but no any story or characters. It’s just bright images of some sequences, which are hidden from me
and later I start imagining a connection between all of those images.”


There are some amazingly cunning edits in Ingression, part of them being images of animals in distress, human atrocities and general chaos. This brings sublime nausea to the piece, as these images are truly disturbing. It would be pointed out that despite quite a few shots of animal cruelty, no animals where harmed in the making of the film, the images are archive footage shown in TV screens through the narrative, and Iskanov is an animal lover himself. It’s an effective tool as it brings discomfort to the audience. Being a former picture editor myself, Iskanov and I obviously discussed editing and share a similar philosophy about postproduction, a key position in every production.

“Editing is most important part of filmmaking. Camerawork and sound design will create atmosphere, but the actually film will be born in the editing process!”
I’ve been privileged to see some of the Re-shoot and reedited first act of Andrey Iskanov's Ingression. Compared to the older cut, I find that the changes in the new version really do work in favour of the movie. Especially the relationship between Alex and Lucy is put into a much more valuable context. Now I see their relationship as it was before the divide that drives Alex over the edge. It’s a more humane and valuable one, which can give an insight into the motivation that, drives Alex forth. More time is spent giving a value to the past relationship, making it more important and a source of loss, frustration and depression, hence creating empathy for Alex, which makes it easier to take his side in the journey.

It is a fascinating trip, with several stand out impressive moments. Bringing moments of drug fueled mayhem, body horror aesthetics and some great special effects I find it to be one of his most comprehensive films so far, and I definitely rank it amongst one of his best films. No matter what influences may have shaped this original visionary, Iskanov has a unique style and his movies are one of a kind. I guess it would be fair to sum up Iskanov’s style as seeing what a person on a bad acid trip sees and experiences. It’s captivating, eclectic and highly addictive.
 
Andrey Iskanov is seeking distribution for Ingression and working Tochka, at his part of the upcoming The Profane Exhibition

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Excision


Excision
Directed by: Richard Bates Jr.
USA, 2012
Drama/Horror/Dark Comedy, 81 min.


Growing up is Hell… we’ve all been there, adolescence, raging hormones, alone against the world, struggling to be a part of the bigger picture, whilst nobody understands a single word we are talking about…

The American nuclear family was shattered decades ago. Kids want to live their own lives and don’t want to follow guidelines given by parents, teachers, councilors etc. We all know this, and it’s through our emotional recognition with the characters we see on TV and film that we with ease can identify with the youth in despair we see in what best can be called coming of age movie, a genre that basically relies on the basic plot of transforming an innocent youngster into a budding adult. Sometimes as quirky comedies, other times hard as fuck dramas, but I love it best when this genre is meshed with horror themes, as they sometimes really hit it out of the park. Stand By Me, Lost Boys, Jack and Diane, Let the Right One In, and Carrie are just a couple of examples of where it all clicks and makes for a brilliant little gem.
Pauline – played to perfection by AnnaLynne McCord - is a teenage girl, best described as alienated, a loner, a late developer, sexually confused and immensely frustrated. Struggling her way through school, dreaming of a career as a surgeon, trying to keep her head above water is a constant struggle, not made any easier when constantly overshadowed by her younger, more developed, more mature younger sister Grace. You know the type, and you have seen it in every single coming of age flick, every high school film, every youth oriented movie you ever watched, and Pauline fits the archetype to the dot. Although the off kilter erotic and gory amateur surgeon wet dreams which Pauline wakes climaxing from each night are a completely new and unique addition to the teenage angst story.
Time is spent setting up the family structure; a classic shattered one, with a fixed façade so that nobody will ever know of the turmoil on the inside. Pauline is the natural outsider, where strictly religious mother Phyllis [Tracy Lords] is the dominate parent, appalled by her husband Bob [Roger Bart] and deeply concerned about the Grace [Ariel Winter] who suffers from Cystic fibrosis… see, no place for troubled Pauline, hence her being sent to counseling with family priest William [John Waters]. The family shares some absurd dark secrets that intertwine life and disease, which also generates some of the violent frustration and repressed hate with in the constellation.
The way that Bates brings his characters together in sensitivity and strenuous    moments of affection only to flip the scene on its ass when their fixed roles break through is like poking a dirty finger in the open sore that family life can be, and it is heartbreaking. As the formula goes, all underdogs have their moment, and we all know that they find that one challenge that makes them rise to the occasion. Excision has this too, and Pauline finds her quest, the one that will elevate her to legendary status, set everything right and make her the center of attention… the only distraction being that this is coming of age blended with horror and there’s no climax in horror without violent death. Something that makes Excision raise its self above the completion and scream – Look at me you bastards, I made you laugh, but now I’ll tear your hearts out!
All of Pauline’s torment and antagonism builds our empathy for her. She is the obvious point of identification, despite all her disillusions and freaky behavior. Hey come on, who doesn’t love an eccentric weirdo? But what makes her such an interesting character is not the fact that she’s an outsider kid that we can relate to, but the complexity of her character. Because despite being alienated and isolated from peers and family, Pauline is very proactive in her actions. She has an agenda and she sticks to it. She wants to lose her virginity and she makes it happen, again in great originality and in such a way that you can’t possibly not feel for, and with, Pauline. She turns the tables on her tormentors, and gets even in the most awesomely sinister way. She strikes out when she’s cornered. She’s a pretty active character. These are all important actions before the movie grinds into its climax, one that generates a lot of tension. I’m not going to talk about the climax of this film, as it would be idiotic to spoil that experience, and it is an important part of the movie’s realism. No matter what you think when you get there, it’s a true and honest ending. One that I totally respect Bates for sticking to.
There’s’ a great use of guilt in Excision. Catholic guilt, the mother of all guilt! On a few occasions, Bates cuts to intimate moments of Pauline praying. Begging forgiveness for her sins, desperately asking for a sign, a sign that she’s accepted… It shows that she knows her actions and thoughts are wrong, but at the same time coming to the subconscious insight that there is no God.
Metaphorically the prayers also represent how Pauline is taking distance from the world she has grown up in. Challenging God, she takes departure from the catholic upbringing her mother has raised her in. At the same time, Bates is playing mind games with us in the scenes of prayer… Pauline looks as beautiful as she does in her own erotic fantasies. Perfect complexion, beautifully lit, almost angelic, perhaps whilst questioning faith, Bates may be commenting that there is a God who accepts Pauline just as she is… or that there is no God, and that the perfection strived after in prayer, is the same as in Pauline’s dreams.
Excision stays very true to it’s own universe, and delivers no supernatural fix at the end of the line. We are taken along on Pauline’s journey and we stick with her. We empathize strongly with Pauline and really want the best for her. We want that magic moment that this hybrid genre traditionally brings, the destruction of all foes, the telekinetic vengeance, a supernatural fix or the rush of insight, as characters become adults. Instead Bates makes it his own realm in a harrowing way. It’s a brave way to go when Bates easily could have stepped down a completely different path in the last act. But he doesn’t and he keeps realism and painful reveal packed into one disturbing final tweak that sticks haunting insight in the mind of his audience. Growing up is Hell.
The supporting cast is great, bit parts by Ray Wise, Malcolm McDowell, John Waters and Marlee Matlin are nice additions to the fantastic job Arial Winter and Roger Bart do as the family. Although extra credit has to be given to Tracy Lords as Phyllis, the complex mother, struggling through her life with a husband she’s grown to resent, a daughter with a deadly condition and Pauline the weird hormonal rage machine.
Excision is a powerful and beautiful movie, not only story wise, but visually it looks fantastic, as reality and dream crash in contrasting styles and tone. The film is filled with emotional recognition; personal torment and a disturbing climax that totally crashed the buzz the movie set me up for. It’s like riding a rollercoaster without a clue of where it goes, and not knowing if there are enough rails to get you safely home.
Deliriously disturbing, and magically captivating, I love Excision as it takes convention and makes it real. I live for movies like this, movies that dig into familiar genres and niches, only to crush prediction and deliver an impactful movie unlike the others. If you where to see one coming of age horror hybrid this year, then this it the one to see.
 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Caperucita y Pulgacito contra los monstrous


Tom Thumb and Little Red Riding Hood
Original title: Caperucita y Pulgacito contra los monstrous
Directed by: Roberto Rodriguez,
Mexico, 1962
Fantasy/Family/Horror, 82min

Let’s cut to the chase, Roberto Rodriguez – no not the Mariachi/Dusk till Dawn/Sin City /Spy Kids and Machete franchise genius, but another Mexican genius with the same name - wrote and directed three El Cheapo Mexican takes on Little Red Riding Hood primarily aimed at children, but perhaps best suited for fans of psychotronic entertainment, as they are weird pieces of low-budget madness. Anyways, to save time, skip the first two, go straight for the cherry of the pie, and did into Tom Thumb and Little Red Riding Hood, also known as Little Red Riding Hood and the Monsters!
When people talk about Disney on Acid, they have no fucking clue what they are talking about…. You really haven’t seen anything until you have enjoyed the surreal cacophony of Tom Thumb and Little Red Riding Hood.  Something of an Avengers of the time, Rodriguez teamed up the already established characters Caperucita Roja (Little Red Riding Hood), Pulgarcito (Tom Thumb) and brought their foes along for a wham bam face off quite unlike anything else.
In the wonderful world of fairy tales, we find a bunch of monsters put on trial. The Vampires tells that the case of the day is against The Wolf  [Manuel ‘Loco’ Valdés] and The Ogre [José Elías Moreno – who later starred in Rene Cardona’s La horripilante bestia humana (Night of the Bloody Apes) 1969], since they never succeeded in eating Little Red Riding Hood [María Gracia] and Tom Thumb [Cesáreo Quezadas] in previous movies, which they all starred in. The jury consists of a pinhead, Frankenstein, a child kidnapper, a Siamese twinbeast, a Witch, and the Father of Hurricanes… a motley crew indeed. The Judge arrives –Snow Whites evil Stepmother, played magnificently sinister by Ofelia Guilmáin who starred in amongst other things Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel 1962 and the infamous El baron del terror 1962 - and she doesn’t waste her time at all! She instantly condemns the two beasts to death by the circular saw! The vampire pleads for their lives, and instead they are sentenced to lure Red Riding Hood and Tom Thumb into a sardonic plan where The Queen's magic will turn them all into monkeys. Excited yet? Well you should be as this is only the beginning of this sensational oddity that will blow your mind.
Basically it’s a tale of good versus evil, but with the ultimate mix of influences picked up along the way. Disney, Grimm, Wizard of Oz, Mexploitation, Sci-fi and Horror - anything you can imagine. With the main plot established within the first fifteen minutes – transform all the villagers of Red Riding’s hood to infantile apes, or mice in some cases – the action starts being hammered in, children and adults all become primates and it certainly looks as if the evil forces are going to bring chaos to fairyland. It’s all up to Red Riding Hood, Tom Thumb, and Stinky the Skunk to confront the evil queen and save the day.
You will not believe how this movie builds and builds, upping the action with each twist and turn: fairy god mothers, giant robots, wrestling monster galore, fire breathing dragon, and a wishy washy tear jerking happy ending.
Technically, I love this movie. It has everything that I love in a matinee – they didn’t call K. Gordon Murray the King of the Kiddie Matinée for nothing, he certainly knew what he was picking up when he grabbed, re-dubbed and re-issued this one back in the day. Tom Thumb and Little Red Riding Hood pulls all the punches it can, and goes all in. There’s matte paintings, trick photography, colourful pantomime outfits, Papier-mâché monsters, forced perspective images, and even some really silly musical numbers. You will love this movie like none other! It’s a magnificent magic masterpiece of matinee madness.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Deranged


Deranged
Aka. Deranged: Confessions of a Necrophile
Directed by: Jeff Gillen & Alan Ormsby
USA, 1974
Horror, 80min

The power of a title is a strong one, and an ever so important one too. Tell meplot, seduce me, and capture my imagination…  Deranged: Confessions of a Necrophile… it don’t get much better that that does it.  I'd stick it really close to Nude for Satan on the cool as heck movie title scale. It is a mighty powerful and potent title if there ever was one… Now, I’ve seen this movie before, several times, and we even aired it at the TV station I used to work at back in the mid nineties, but I’ve never found a release that felt worth the while. It was released as part of MGMs Midnight Movies double features but that was supposed to be cut, so I never picked it up… so when I stumbled over the German unrated DVD release in Bottrop Germany during the Weekend of Horrors last weekend, I did a little happy dance, as this is a find.
Two movies, both made in the same year, building off the same legend, using the same “based on true story” gimmick, and at times even sharing remarkably similar scenes, Deranged, is more or less the perfect counterpart to Tobe Hooper’s epic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Although only one of them would go down in the books as most terrifying movie of all time…
When Ezra Cobb’s [Roberts Blossom] beloved Mother, [Cosette Lee] passes away his world comes tumbling down upon him. Loneliness and isolation get the better of him and he decides that mother, who he still talks too, would be better off back at home instead of buried in a hole in the ground. So he pops of down the cemetery and digs up old Mrs Cobb. Seen as her flesh droops from the decaying corpse, he needs new flesh to keep mother as perky as she used to be, and new flesh means bad news for the ladies of Wisconsin.
Deranged is a great little mood piece. Perhaps not to high on physically exhausting violence, but damned high on creepy atmosphere. During the first ten, fifteen minutes the film almost comes off as a cheesy little oddity, but then you become drawn in and snared up in the weirdness and aura that Gillen & Ormsby whip up with pretty small means. Now these guys where no strangers to atmospherically laden creepers; Gillen worked as assistant director on producer, Bob Clark’s, Dead of Night, which Ormsby wrote and won an award for Best Screenplay at Sitges in 1975. Ormsby previously collaborated with Clark on Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things. Clark would had already produced and direct a pretty neat string of moody genre pieces culminating with the early slasher Black Christmas, which he directed at the same time the other two where directing Deranged.
I love how Deranged and Texas Chain Saw Massacre live in parallel worlds. Both feeding off the same pyscho killer legend of Ed Gein. But where TCM is a violent assault on all senses, Deranged is more of a tight moody drama that takes it’s audience into the mind of the insane Cobb. The scenes where poor barmaid Mary [Micki Moore] follows Cobb home only to discover his menagerie of corpses in various stages of decay, not forgetting his female body suit, is every bit as disturbing as TCM. Just as the dinner party in Texas Chain Saw Massacre, the dinner party in Deranged should have become an iconic moment in it’s own right. Roberts Blossom (who only passed away last year) gives an outstanding performance, and definitely a performance that challenges any of the attempts to shine insight into the mind of the maniacs in the Texas Chainsaw franchise… (The later ones aka, reboot’s, that is)
Friends of Cobb try to engage him in a social life, The Kootz family try to hook him up with dates, and suggest several women whom Cobb should consider taking out… it’s a cheap, but pretty tame way to create some kind of empathetic recognition or understanding with Cobb, who rejects the offers as he’s still very much under the power of his dead, but still possessive mother. Although Deranged is not without it’s seedy moments, there is a couple of them, such as when Maureen Selby [Marian Waldman] tries to lure the simple minded Ezra into having sex with her after a staged séance or Mary being tied up and tittyfiddled by Cobb, Deranged does well after almost forty years of trashy, exploitation competition.
There’s a hilarious gimmick which kind of breaks all storytelling rules,  when the newspaper columnist Tom Sims [Leslie Carlson] acting as a narrator, stepps in every now and again to fill us in on exposition that we need to follow the narrative. Fascinatingly it works, proves that rules are meant to be broken, and it gives the filmmakers an opportunity to tell us how Ezra is feeling deep inside, something that otherwise would have been impossible…
As the film chugs into it’s climax, the final scene recreates the haunting image of Bernice Worden’s decapitated and gutted corpse which police officers found hanging in the barn as they raided Ed Gein’s farm back in 1957. It certainly brings the movie close to the real deal, and delivers a fascinating portrayal of insanity. But what I like the most about this little beauty is perhaps the way it sticks to it’s guns and proves that there isn’t really a lot needed to set a great mood. Compared to Texas Chain Saw I’d even say that the eyeball gouging, head top chopping, brain eating, and gutting of Sally [Pat Orr], is more graphic than anything Tobe Hooper showed us. Texas is a masterpiece of Hithcockian editing where we are tricked into seeing things that never really where there. The psychological strain of forceful imagery is much more effective than anything that could have been put on screen, but Deranged sports some early Tom Savini effects, and already then he knew how to gross out an audience whist keeping it terrifyingly close to reality.
So, the happy dance back in Bottrop was well deserved. This German 30th Anniversary Edition, is a beautiful one. The print is almost pristine, the audio nice and crisp, and for a rare change, the original American soundtrack and English subtitles are optional. The few inserted scenes, the ones removed from US prints to create an R-Rated version, are intact here, although taken from an obvious lesser quality source. But never the less, it’s the otherwise deleted eyeball gouging, skull sawing and brain eating that is missing from all other prints.
At the end of the day, Deranged does good with the small means it has, and at the end of the day, it’s an effectively creepy piece that easily should stand next to your Texas Chain Saw Massacre films.