Monday, May 27, 2013

Thanatomorphose


Thanatomorphose
Directed by: Éric Falardeau
Canada, 2012
Horror, 100min


A young woman [Kayden Rose] is trapped in the destructive circle of life… She has an abusive boy friend, she leads a boring social life, she sufferd from lack of enthusiasm and a meaningless extra job. They all add to the feeling of being trapped in an inescapable wheel of circumstance. Wanting change in her life, she get’s more than she bargained for when awakens one morning only to realises that she’s slowly rotting and becoming a living corpse.
Thanatomorphose is a hypnotic film. Dark, dreamlike, deviant and cryptic - this is a film that takes its audience into hell… without coming back. Split into three chapters Despair – Another – Oneself, Thanatomorphose follows a young woman as she slowly descents, decomposing, becoming a living corpse and beyond. It moves at a slow pace – but never becomes dull – as long shots linger on the events portrayed, it brings a realistic atmosphere to the film, as it almost becomes a documentarian gaze.
There’s a strangely poetic tone to Thanatomorphose, as the young woman slowly finds her freedom the further she falls into her decent. It’s when she is freed of her external features and attributes as a woman that she manages to free herself from the male gaze and hence gain her true freedom. Weird but beautiful and perhaps one of the reasons why this movie despite it’s disturbing visuals and provocative narrative is so graceful.
Female Sexuality is important in Thanatomorphose. Both from the protagonists view – the lead female character of the film, and from her antagonist’s – i.e. the male counterparts point of view too. The men have a high sexual appetite, but the woman does too. The men crave her, and in their world she’s simply an object of desire. She doesn’t really mean anything to them as the opening scene shows. Mere moments after being intimate, her boyfriend declares that he doesn’t intend spending the night there. He cuts his foot on a protruding nail and starts his abusive rant, blaming her for his misfortune. He exits the apartment and leaves her alone. Later in the film a “male friend” tries to seduce her during a party, some even later the woman performs oral sex on him. Despite her being in her state of decomposing, they follow through, only to have him rush out of the apartment upon ejaculating. The Woman is merely an object in the male world.  Although it’s perhaps her Own sexuality that is the strongest, as she satisfies her own needs on several occasions even whilst she decomposes. At the end of the day, her desires and lusts are the ones that control the men around her.
A crack in the wall acts as a metaphorical gateway, a gateway that at times looks like a symbolic vagina, a gate way to hell, a gate way to death, but also a gateway to freedom. But when passing through this gate way the woman becomes free. Men are not really of any use to the woman either. The sexual acts she engages in with them are almost acts of sacrifice, as they don’t really fulfil any of her needs.
She masturbates after her boyfriend has left the apartment and continues this act of self-pleasuring on several occasions through the film. Cries of ecstasy are mixed with cries of death… Life and death climax together constantly through the film, and nowhere is it more clearly than when she masturbates even through she’s a rotting corpse. A symbol of life and lust wanting to defy death, it’s an uncanny act of self-necrophilia. Éric Falardeau leaves some truly disturbing images with the audience that confuses me as to whether I should be feeling aroused or repulsed!
There is something morbidly beautiful and bittersweet about the fact that the further she falls into her grotesque state, the less of an object she is for the male counterparts. Ironic, and possibly kind of a metaphorical statement on the ever-infected objectification of woman discussion, and the blame game that follows after each harrowing case of abuse.  
Human curiosity, or perhaps I should refer to it as genre fan curiosity, keeps me wanting to see how far Falardeau is going to take things. A situation not too unlike that of Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs arises, where I want the woman decay faster so that I can see what happens, how far it will go… will there be a miracle ending or a devastating climax.  This is what makes Thanatomorphose such disturbing, captivating and emotionally strong film. This is a powerful movie, and body horror hasn’t been this grotesque since David Cronenberg and Jörg Buttgereit stopped operating in that area. It should be pointed out that lead actress Kayden Rose gives a hell of a performance, it’s a challenging part that she holds and she makes it work perfectly.
The path through Thanatomorphose is heavily paved with some spectacular special effects courtesy of Daniel Scherer - who worked with Richard Stanley on his Mother of Toads segment for The Theatre Bizarre 2011, François Gaillard’s Blackaria and Last Caress 2010 and Hélène Cattet/Bruno Forzani’s forthcoming L’étrange couleur des larmes de ton corps (The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears ) - and just let it be know, that body fluids are key word in this film. Sweat, blood and tears, and all from secretions associated with carnal pleasures to the discharges connected with putrefying flesh and death. Oh, and maggots, loads and loads of maggots. Scherer’s special effects are fantastic. They are so slimy, gooey, maggoty and realistic that you can almost sense that sweet and sour odour of infected flesh, sore with yellow pus and putrid mucus that oozes and pulsates on the screen.
Thanatomorphose is a tight and claustrophobic chamber piece all taking place in the same tiny apartment.  It’s a film that, thanks to it’s slow pace, snares the audience in a firm grip. There are no jump scares, but it is filled with haunting moments and bursts of horrifying violence. The awesome special effects take me back to old school of Euro Horror and eighties gore, and the dark cynicism of contemporary genre cinema lays as a moist blanket of despair over the piece. Thanatomorphose is a fascinating and grotesque deconstruction of gender; female suffering has never been as poetic as this. Thanatomorphose is cult cinema in the making!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Bava Quest [Final update]

So the quest comes to a closure.

It's not quite as I recalled it, but the more I watch it, the more familiar it is. As everything else, it was found on Youtube, although it was only posted three years ago. At a time when I'd given up on finding it on youtube. Then again if I


Both Joachim over at Rubbermonsterfetischim and Writer/Director of The Synthetic Man John R. Hand have mailed me links to the Nokia TV-ad I have been yearning to see once again...

Here it is in all its glory, the infamous Nokia, Black Sabbath commercial!

Enjoy, and thanks Jocke and John for the help!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Lords of Salem



The Lords of Salem
Directed by: Rob Zombie
Horror, 101min
USA, 2013
Distributed by: Scanbox


Rob Zombie, a musician to divide the fans and a filmmaker to divide the fans, but always a man who pays his dues and respects to the artists and filmmakers that inspired him on his own ventures.

The Lords of Salem is a film that like all previous Rob Zombie pieces will divide the audiences, although this little gem will perhaps be the one that stands high above the previous ones. There’s a potent value in Zombie returning to his own universe and leaving remake city behind. The Lords of Salem will become a seminal work in this director’s catalogue.
Radio Dj Heidi Hawthorne [Sheri Moon Zombie]  both works and parties hard. Together with her colleagues Herman “Whitey” Salvador [Jeff Daniel Philips] and Herman Jackson [Ken Foree] she is part of Salem’s most popular radio show. One day a vinyl record addressed to Heidi containing raw primitive ambience of a band calling themselves The Lords of Salem, is delivered at the station. No press release or explanation is given with the record, just the record in a wooden box with a cryptic logo on the front. The sound of the record evokes strange visions and nightmares of ancient witch trials. Before the night is over there are ghosts lurking in the corridors of the house Heidi lives in, and the ritual is just about to begin once again.

Zombie knows how to tell a story. If you ask me, he’s matured into one of the greatest indie horror storytellers out of the US in a long time. He knows that taking time to present the unique universe, establishing characters, breathing mystery into the narrative and delivering realistic twists and shocks are key to making it work. Neither is he a stranger to flipping conventional roles on their heads and offering alternative angles to the classic protagonist/antagonist roles, which gives an interesting dimension to characters. As said, Rob Zombie plays for keeps and he’s building up quite a catalogue of work in the last few years.
Right off the bat, Zombie sticks it to us with two short but important presentations (well three if you count the initial shots of Heidi driving to work) as Reverend Jonathan Hawthorn [Andrew Prine] puts ink to paper swearing that he’ll spend the rest of eternity destroying all who pledge a legion to Satan. Cut to Margret Morgen [Meg Foster] and her coven of Six. They chant, hail the unholy father and prepare to desecrate their false bodies… slipping out of their tattered robes they dance round the fire, scream hysterically and rub the dry hot soil against their aged naked bodies. A tone is set that is almost hypnotic. Hypnotic and uncanny and I’d go as far as saying that this is the initial attack, because the movie can be seen as being about the several hundred year battle between Margret Morgen and reverend Jonathan Hawthorn more than it’s about Heidi, after all their arc is one that spans decades and only now is the time right for the witches to take their revenge…

The ordinary world is set up delicately. We learn of Heidi’s living conditions, life at work, local celebrity and all that jazz. The dog is a great way to bring realism to the presentation of Heidi. When she tells him to get down off the table it’s obvious that Zombie has a vision for this character, and she’s not just a sloppy slacker but also someone who has some integrity, and holds some rules about things. A few scenes later he adds some dimension to the character when she goes to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting  - Although if she really was trying to stay away from drugs, she’d probably want to stay away from the booze too…

But with this paradox there’s also an opening to interpret the film as nothing more than Heidi’s decent into madness… the horror may well just be imagined. For all we know the nightmares and visions may just as well be hallucinations from drugs, the witches’ figments of Heidi’s imagination and the finale a simple orgasmic death splutter.
The uncanny seeps in delicately in a great scene somewhat reminiscent of J-Horror storytelling… the threat of the piece is already in the room but as Heidi never reacts to it, it becomes more of a threat to the audience than the protagonist. It kind of plays along the line of Hitchcock’s classic “bomb under the table” trait where the audience knows of a threat that the victim is oblivious to – tensions builds! Room 5 is also important to establishing the threat. Strange noises, strange sights and odd events that we see and experience with Heidi, are dismissed when Landlady Lacy [Judy Geeson] tells her that there is nobody living in Room 5.  From that moment all it takes is a single shot of the corridor leading towards Room 5 to threaten the audience.

Subplots to be found come in the shape of co-worker Salvador who acts as something of a helper and a weak love interest, and historian Francis Matthias [Bruce Davison] who in contemporary times investigates the arc of Reverend Hawthorne and Margaret Morgan bringing important backstory to the story. His investigation brings a framework to the film from which the legacy of The Lords builds off. Ok so with all this in place we need an inciting incident. When the strange record of pagan ambience is delivered to Heidi, the real horror starts. AS the music taps into her subconscious, the decent starts – just as one can presume that the listening women also are snared up by the guttural sounds that the The Lords vinyl evokes. An enchantment hidden away in the audio and that’s what brings all the Witches into the final climactic reveal at the theatre.
It's great fun to see how Zombie uses and blends his influences to come up with some really effective tricks – and the Black Metal beat is awesome and who doesn't love a La maschera del demoino (Black Sunday) reference. Mixing stuff like The Shining, The Devils, Suspiria and a fair deal of Carpenter, Cronenberg and Michael Winner’s underestimated The Sentinel. You could add any number of alternative European psychotronic flicks could be added to the list of possible influences, as Zombie has, on record, stated that he finds European genre of the 60-80’s to be more open minded and freaky.

The subplot with the mystic audio that Heidi is given is great, if not genius. Not only a haunting chant, but also a gateway into the flashbacks portraying the Witches’ coven fronted by Morgan as they chant and meet their deaths at the hands of Hawthorne’s team of executioners. A fine detail that’s presented is also that the audio affects other women in the town. There’s a montage that show’s how other women are affected by the audio and in an extension of that I’d also imagine that they too start to have hallucinations and vision similar to that of Heidi. This due to the sound waves of the primitive chants that evoke something hidden away dormant within the women of Salem for decades. And when on the topic of audio, I don’t think anyone’s actually used the dynamics of audio in the same way since Dario Argento screamed his noise performance with Goblin at the images of Suspiria. Holy Crap does Zombie and his sound designers hammer this baby down hard, going from deep rumblings drones to high pitch screamed dialogue. It’s fantastic and I really love what Zombie and John 5 have done with the audio.
Let’s talk about cast. So many times do genre directors get great stars of the past to do a bit part where they just walk on and off. Just enough to wet the appetites of genre gourmands, giving them the opportunity to go, Oh look there’s so and so… Now Zombie does this too, and part of the hype built up beforehand was the massive list of former genre actors who where going to be part of this project. Some have gone missing completely (one can only hope for a special edition at some point so that we get to see Udo Kier - who starred in Michael Armstrong's seminal witch hunter movie The Mark of the Devil very early in his career, Clint Howard, Camille Keaton and the late Richard Lynch’s scenes). It is great to see Ken Foree work his magic, as it is the brief cameos of cult icons like Sid Haig and Michael Berryman. But the absolute delight - and possibly a huge part in why this film is sooo tainted with eighties horror atmosphere - is the coven of Witches. Judy Geeson, Patricia Quinn and Dee Wallace as you’d never expect to see them. Not forgetting Meg Foster. Holy screaming crap, that’s one creepy witch indeed and I’m totally sticking this performance as one of the greatest eerie antagonists in a long time.
It’s obvious that The Lords of Salem is a personal film. It’s also very obvious that this is a movie done in the precise way Rob Zombie wanted it to be made, and that can only be applauded – if nothing else it’s a rather delightful and somewhat unique little film he’s come up with. It has some great shocks, some awesome visuals a couple of delightful mind expanding moments and definitely tells a seductive and sinister story. The only bone I have to pick is the way Zombie tells stuff during the end credits that I’d have loved to see in a closing scene. I find that this would have taken the edge off the Psychedelic dreamy rock video montage that climaxes the movie and wrapped it up more in a conventional fashion. I dig the ending, but at the same time I find that spending so much time to establish the ordinary world, characters and the pending threat, I feel kind of snubbed when it finally comes – even if paint FX, nineties music video aesthetics and vector based CGI images may just become the next retro cool way to go!
The Lords of Salem is a rockin’ rollin’ flirt with witches, satanic cults and the fever dream genre moods of EuroGoth and classic old school horror! Rob Zombie has matured into a great filmmaker and a force to rely on.


The Lords of Salem is evoked on Swedish DVD ad Bluray release on the 17th of July!

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

EVIL DEAD


Evil Dead
Directed by: Fede Alvarez
Horror, 91min
USA, 2013


What’s up with all kids in US horror being recovering junkies these days? Ok, never mind, here we go and let’s start out with a quick fix to establish characters and stuff. Mia [Jane Levy] and her friends have gathered at the cabin in the woods to help her kick her dirty drug habit. Her alienated brother David [Shiloh Fernandez] swears never to leave her and they all start their happy quest to help Mia go cold turkey.  Briefly into detox Mia starts to seriously complain about the foul stench and hey presto they find a trap door leading into the basement. Eric [Lou Taylor Pucci] and David venture into the hole whilst nurse Olivia [Jessica Lucas] and Natalie [Elizabeth Blackmore] await upstairs with Mia. Downstairs in the murky dark cellar the two chaps find not only the remains of loads of gutted and stung up cat carcases, but also a book wrapped tight in a black plastic bag and barbedwire. Guess what it is?  Ok, we don’t really need to take it any further than that. It’s Evil Dead, you know it – or should know it by heart. From that point on some serious demonic possession kicks ass, goo and gore splash all across the screen and the audience is left breathless at the end of the ninety-one minute run.
In the pre-build to watching this new Evil Dead film I re-watched the original. Yeah, I know, possibly something of a bad move before seeing a remake, but I have always recalled Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead films as more horror comedy than horror scary, and during the course of all the interviews I’ve conducted with filmmakers last year, a majority claim that Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead was the movie that made them want to get into filmmaking. So I had to watch it, and Oh boy has time deceived me. The original film was certainly much grimmer than I remembered it and suddenly all those censored versions made sense… where I’ve previously said, “What the heck is there to censor in The Evil Dead?” I now went, “Whoa, no bloody wonder this thing had problems getting through the censors!”

With that in mind, I stepped into the preview of Fede Alvarez take on Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead… the one that proudly has boasted that’ it’s cutting the comedy and going straight for the kill in one of this years supposed best horror films.

True, it does go straight for the kill. Even before the opening credits we are presented to a grim initial attack that even in its short form plays with what to expect. Then again, we’re all fans of the original, so we know what to expect. Roll the credits, send in the new flesh. Filmmakers are getting better at playing off audiences empathy for characters the Fede Alvarez/Rodo Sayagues screenplay (based on Sam Raimi’s motion picture, The Evil Dead) manage to win a few points with a family torn apart, mother with history of mental illness, sister with drug habit, brother with abandonment issues subplots hidden away in the backstories. Oh, and the horror genre’s BFF, Guilt, is very present too. David has some heavy guilt issues that make him go to some grueling lengths to rid himself of that guilt of haunts past. Although despite this I’d say that there’s not really an Ash protagonist to cling onto… which may be something of a problem. There are two, three very obvious characters to cheer for, and a last minute switch which shouldn’t work but does work that gives a final grab tight to the armrests of the chair in the dark when the shit hits the fan kind of character… but it’s not as familiar or close to us as Ash.  I need a person to identify with to make it an investable journey. Hell, that’s why Ash is such a cult icon. We could identify with him in all his klutziness.
There are several nods to the original film, sometimes as lines of dialogue reused in a kind of new context, sometimes in pure visuals and yeah, someone on the production had the great taste to include a 1973 Oldmobile Delta 88. Nice one! The movie blasts forth without leaving much space to catch your breath and the film is a gritty, raw, adrenaline rush of a movie. And I guess they where right to some extent, this is possibly the most fun you can have being freaked out in a dark cinema so far this year!

But now for the tricky stuff…  It’s Evil Dead, the third out of four films that more or less plays along the exact same beats as the original two, so I know pretty much what is going to go down. Sometimes remakes become checklists of what they used from the original and what they didn’t. Sometimes they check the list off perfectly sometimes they miss key moments. Almost all the classic moments are here but in new guises. Oh, something great is that Alvarez never even bothered to talk cellphones. There’s never any discussion and we never have to reach that awfully insulting “Oh no coverage” moment. That’s worth a lot for me.
Ok, Effects, well hell yeah it’s an Evil Dead movie there has to be special effects, loads and loads of outlandish special effects and they deliver en masse. The only problem I really have is that the possessed have become so god-damned mainstream that all possessed look the same! Remember the first time you saw The Evil Dead or Evil Dead 2 or Army of Darkness and just how impressed – or freaked out - you where with how the possessed looked! Well to be honest all that originality has become convention. The possessed – despite succeeding in freaking out the audience – in Evil Dead look like the possessed in every possessed film for the past couple of years. Hell I’ve even seen chicks as horror conventions sport the exact same look, even the possessed in Swedish “evil deadish” flick Wither that hits cinemas after the summer look like this! So I was kind of bummed by that, and then there’s a real REAL huge curveball tossed at full speed into the face of the audience during the last act that actually kind of lost me. It yanked me completely out of the movie - let me explain. Back in the day, we could watch horror, extreme horror and all that kind of stuff because it was at the same time pretty comedic in its exaggerated approach. Anything could happen and did happen, and things got gory and violent as hell, but it worked because it was all kind of naïve and over the top. Remakes and genre today generally tend to go for a more realistic approach and a darker more gloomy tone. Gone is the comedic relief and instead there’s only hard realistic violence. So when this moment comes around it was kind of out of place. It didn’t suit the rest of the universe that the film had built. You’ll know the moment when it comes, and I’m sure you will react the same… But thank the devils underground and all things sinister that Alvarez fixes his way out of that situation by delivering what may be amongst the most intense and blood drenched last ten minutes of a horror flick ever! It really just goes absolutely insane and that makes up for any flaws I was thinking of before this spectacular finale unleashes
So the short answer is Yes, despite some small flaws, Fede Alvarez’s reworking, rebooting or whatever the hell you want to call it, Evil Dead did leave me with a big dumb grin on my face. So it certainly works, get’s the job done, hits the right keys and proves that Fede Alvarez isn’t messing around. He’s here to make an imprint, first with that awesome CG Sci-Fi short, now with Evil Dead. It may not be the most terrifying film I will ever experience as the promotional materials boast, but it certainly is wild, ferocious, definitely hit the beats at all the right times, has some fantastic effects, and entertained the heck out of me, and again, those last ten minutes are so intense that they will drive you completely insane!

Evil Dead opens in cinemas in Sweden on Friday. 

Thursday, May 02, 2013

The Quest [Update]


Ok. Update time…
  
The Mario Bava, Black Sabbath stock footage used in that Nokia commercial quest is moving forth…

I’ve sent emails to various marketing departments of Nokia, but still haven’t received any replies… (Surprised?)

But through a few links I got from Joachim over at RubberMonsterFetischism  I’ve ended up with these small pieces of info.

The webpage Busses on Screen has the following information on the commercial:

Nokia -  
In a glimpse of the future, a young woman scares herself silly watching a horror film on her mobile 'phone sitting on a Parisian Saviem single-decker, fleet number 5833. The film is 'Black Sabbath', made by cult Italian horror director Mario Bava in 1963.

I’ve been to this site before, and it kind of confirms that there was such a promo, but I’d still want to find some hard facts in the shape of stills, frame grabs or moving images that the commercial existed.

An article dated February 2002 on the RealScreen site, discusses the hidden treasures of stock footage houses, and amongst the participants in this piece we find Maria Marin, owner of Third Millennium Films. Later in the same piece, her managing director William Morrow talks about their biggest sale…

Managing director William Morrow points to a $15,000 sale to Nokia of a clip from Black Sabbath, a 1963 horror flick from Italian filmmaker Mario Bava, for use in a European commercial. Morrow describes the clip: "The shot is of a woman holding a candle. She pushes a door open and then [the camera] zooms in on this hideous looking dead woman rising up, with big bulging eyes."

Well, that kind of confirms that there was a sale, and that there really was such a commercial. But still I want hard proof. I've obviously already written an email to Marin and Morrow to see out what they could tell me about this decade old top seller.

I’ll keep you posted.