Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Sounds of Ninja Dixon.

One of my great friends, supporter, mentor and fellow geeks, Ninja Dixon has finally started to let his way cool, sleazy and growly radio voice be heard...

Check out his audio review HERE and hear the great man talk about one of his most cherished films, the infamous COMMANDO MENGELE!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Night of the Demon

Night of the Demon
Directed by: James C. Wasson
USA, 1980
Horror, 92min
Distributed by: CodeRed.

Hailed by some as the "Best Bigfoot film of all time", if not the "single best movie" ever, James C. Wasson’s Night of the Demon has a hell of a lot to stand up too… Well, it’ sure as hell isn’t one of the best movies ever, but it’s got several really great examples of crap storytelling a lot of weird shit goes on, and the cheap and cheerful effects which are part of the whopping death toll make up for a lot of the bad, because if there’s one thing that I like predominately, it’s passion. Night of the Demon has a lot of passion, and really want’s to be a great horror flick. It tries a bit too hard, but it’s a damned entertaining little oddity that certainly manages to make the 93 minute runtime shoot past in no time at all.
Doctor Nugent [Michael J. Cutt] is hospitalized with serious injuries. At his bedside stand Doctors Paxton [Eugene Dow], Harris [Don Hurst] and Inspector Slack [Terry Wilson] who bid Nugent to tell his story… the story of how he and several of his student’s took a trip into the wilderness to search for clues to the reason behind the death of one of the student’s father. Nugent claims that all the stories they have heard about strange things going on in the woods are true, there is a beast living up there in those woods, and the beast is responsible for the deaths of all his students…
Then the trouble starts, the hospital scene leads to a flashback of Nugent rallying up a couple of bucky students for a weekend expedition. They take off and set up camp – in broad daylight – outside some really lame park ranger’s cabin before Nugent starts telling “bigfoot” stories… which in turn lead to yet another flashback within the flashback. Just about every pastime scene is presented in flashback form, for no apparent reason, as the attacks could have taken place in the real time of the movie. But the main problem is that almost every flashback scene is lead up to by a piece of really shitty dialogue along the lines of “oh, yeah, that like those two girl scouts who went missing…” or “that young couple who went missing from their van…” etc. etc. before fading into a flashback. All that’s missing is that tingly wiggly sound Wayne and Garth used to make each time they had a past tense story to tell.
This is obviously an annoyance, and it get’s worse, a lot of pointless exposition is simply shitty conclusion work presented in really bogus dialogue such as “oh so those people what we saw must have been part of that strange cult we heard of before we came up here…” kind of stuff. It’s annoying, but definitely worth seeing as this is a textbook example of what not to do… despite the high entertainment value.
Yes, I said strange cult above, there’s a Cultist subplot concerning cultists who worship the bigfoot, there’s a outrageous father, and cult leader subplot, who keeps his young daughter under lock and key to keep her away from the groping hands of horny young men, and there’s the absolutely delirious – but superb – subplot concerning “Crazy Wanda” [Melanie Graham], her deceased mutant baby and a surreal “rape” scene that definitely makes the movie growl in the night. A lot of the subplots, are unfortunately come off as just being tossed in, and few of them really tie into the main story – such as the sinister cop who stalks the kids, is part of the cult and whom one expects to become something of a secondary protagonist, but just vanishes from the story… it’s a shame, because some of the sub-plots are as mentioned fucking outrageous and undoubtedly pretty unique. Although the introduction of the subplot cluster, is done in a really effective way, through crosscutting rapid sessions of interviews with townsfolk, just as Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myric did almost twenty years later in The Blair Witch Project 1999. This is kind of what made me muster up the effort to write about this movie at all. I’ve always claimed that most movies will contain at least one great moment where it all comes into focus, where it all drops into place and the intended vision of that segment really snaps into place. The introduction of Cult, Cult leader and Crazy Wanda are such moments, and it makes up for a lot of poor storytelling stuff that goes on in this film. 
Let’s talk about the "violent" special effects.  Well, perhaps not too violent, but kind of low-budget effective special effects, and bloody hell do the special effect’s woman, Susan Brott, work her ass of on Night of the Demon. There’s somewhere near nineteen deaths in the movie, and at least fourteen of them are on screen carnage! It’s all a right laugh, but at the same time the further the movie gets, the more dark the violence becomes, at first there’s simple splort-splash scenes, but the last act is pure diabolical hell. The last act becomes something of a siege movie, when the band of youths – and Doctor Nugent - are held captive in a small mountain shack whilst the Bigfoot strikes at them one at a time. So the road to the last act goes via schlocky gore gags, to a biker having his knob ripped off, to the final carnage where highlights include being thrown on a saw, cutting a huge gash and then watching the Bigfoot pull out the intestines, an almost Argentoesque pane of glass throat slicing moment and a face being hideously disfigured as it’s pushed into a hot fiery stove…
Oh, I almost forgot, the movie does have an initial attack to establish genre and the main protagonists – the beast, and introduce its unique Bigfoot vision. The initial attack focuses on the bloke who’s daughter is part of the Nugent expedition, and it’s him we witness being attacked and killed in a rather “H.G. Lewis toned” attack. The subjective camera lurks forth, he grimaces and from the armless silhouette shadowed on his tent the torn off arm splatters the entire fabric with red goo… but it doesn’t stop there, as it’s just about to go from hyper kitsch to really neat opening titles. The blood pours from the gaping wound where the man’s arm once hung, and flows across the soil, creating a small river of blood that finally ends up filling the footprint of The Bigfoot! I like it, and this is the kind of dorky, cheesy tone that this movie delivers en masse. Not deliberately funny like a Troma movie, but accidentally funny, as it just happens to become funny under the circumstance.
The star of the movie could be Bigfoot, played by Shane Dixon -who went on to be a stuntman in Hollywood, and this despite the fact that Sasquatch mostly wobbles around looking like a flea-market Chewbacca suit, and is revealed way to early for my tastes.  Director James C. Wasson only ever made the one movie, this one. The video artwork used to sport a warning for scenes of extreme and explicit violence… which probably felt like a kick in the bollocks when it shortly after it’s release found itself being seized and prosecuted as one of the films on the infamous British video nasties list – which just goes to show how outrageous that list actually was. Just a few years ago the Iver Film Services original VHS, with their Oscar statue mimicking logotype, would put you back close to a hundred quid. In 1994 the movie was passed with almost two minutes cut from the flick…
But what I really like about this little flick is that there’s an almost Edward D. Wood Jr. vibe to the film. I love the passion of Wood’s film making, I don’t lay any value into his filmmaking skills or get into that whole shit flicking discussion. The guy had passion in his films and his storytelling, and that’s a lot more than one can say about a lot of other films in this genre.  I find the same energy in Night of the Demon. Certain actors are pretty all right, and others kind of really not all right; some of the actors could definitely come from the realm of amateur porn, and I’d be surprised if there isn’t someone out there who’s shouted out “Oh look it’s whatsherface from that movie!” in the campervan shagging scene, but all of them – and the crew – at least give off an aura of believing that they are making a masterpiece. For a one shot moviemaker James C. Wasson at least had the right attitude, drive and passion, and perhaps in some ways Rubbermonsterfetischism and  NinjaDixon are right, perhaps this is a masterpiece in it’s own little way.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

No Reason

No Reason
Directed by: Olaf Ittenbach
Germany, 2010
Splatter/Horror, 74min
Distributed by: NjutaFilms

It was raining, the thunder was roaring outside the window, and my kids where wanting to watch some damned cartoon movie for the umpteenth time… patience was low, tension was in the air… but they won, the got their animated movie and I redrew to the kitchen table to with a sigh. Until I realized that this was a perfect time to stick one of those “no, you can’t see what I’m watching” movies on my laptop and get some video time put down to use.
A naked woman, who we later will come to know as Jennifer [Irene Holzfurtner], holds what appears to be an official of some sort at gunpoint. He begs for his life and tells her that he’s got a wife and child at home. She cries out that she also had a child, before they start to struggle. He beats her with a 2x4 that he’s grabbed from a pile of rubble, and she pulls the trigger of the gun, blasting bloody holes in his wide torso. She stares blankly into the void before turning the gun against her own head and pulls the trigger, sending her brain matter splashing across the screen. Now this could easily have been the climax of the film, but it’s not, this is merely the beginning and Jennifer’s death is merely the start of her torment, and the journey that will kick us head over heals.
There’s something really interesting in No Reason, something that makes me put Ittenbach in a whole new light. I’ve previously primarily seen Ittenbach’s movies as good old, German Splatter, with all the trimmings.  I’ve talked about German Splatter as a niche before, and all the traits that come with it: Demonic possession, campy acting, bodily fluids, decapitations, eye gouging’s, genital mutilation, the cynicism, the dark comedic undercurrents, and profound nihilism, child deaths -I didn’t know one could put squibs on toddlers - it’s all there. But for some reason there was more to this one than I’d noticed in earlier Ittenbach movies.

It’s possible that Ittenbach has always had these finer storytelling tricks in his work – well, I know that some of the basic ones have always been there – but I’ve never really seen them stand out like this before. No Reason (which could be somewhat of a trick title) really impressed me and definitely shined a whole new light on Ittenbach.
In short form I’d say that No Reason is a kind of Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy inspired tale where Jennifer is forced through several layers of hell – the colour codes [Red, Green, Blue, Yellow to produce a final stage] – to find the true reason for why she’s submitted to this torture.  -While in this hell, she encounters the masked man, “the black one” as he’s called in the film who also has an obvious referent to H.P. Lovecraft with that Cthulhu inspired mask he wears. There’s also moments of Nakagawa Nobuo’s Jigoku, Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, Dante’s classic descent into hell and back, and the strong colour schemes made me think of Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, The Thief, his Wife and Her Lover. I also like the way that Ittenbach poses questions about life, death and the paths that we chose as humans. It’s also these colour schemes and the choices that lie therein that determine our fates in the after world in the philosophical discussions that Jennifer and the “Black Man” have. The strict colour lighting also gives a great effect as the tremendous violence of the RED level becomes so much more profound when the whole screen is saturated in deep red, and one can’t really distinguish gore from lighting. It creates an ominous effect.
German Splatter films top trait is delicately prepared as home movie footage starts off the movie. This builds the “ordinary world” where Jennifer as a child has all the love, affection, concern that a child could possibly have, her parents have the best possible though of their child and have already dreamt up scenarios of what she’ll be when she grows up… this taints everything that we see with Jennifer from here on, as the movie starts with such positive boost of values.  It’s within the loving values of the parents dreams and ambitions for their daughter, contra what we know at the end of the movie, not forgetting the last harrowing minutes of No Reason, that showcase the wonderful cynicism that is a vital trait to the German Splatter genre!
It’s a pretty strong movie, and unlike your regular German Splatter, this one does mess around with the viewer. I’d like to call it something of an empathetic head-butt, because we have been through this decent with Jennifer and have obviously become empathetic with her. It’s odd, as this rarely happens in German Splatter where characters are restricted to a few key scenes and then packaged with wraparound carnage and death. In No Reason, Jennifer is a physical participant in every single scene, hence the automatic effect that we empathize with her… and because she’s taking this ordeal for the noble reason of being reunited with her child.  By putting her through this ordeal with an item/object/totem of desire presented as the trophy at the end, one charges the search with positive value. It’ becomes a noble quest and we can empathise with the search, we want Jennifer to be reunited, we want her to be reunited so that we can get closure to the story being told. We want her to be reunited so that we can see why the reason of her ordeal. The human mind tries per automatic to solve, understand, interpret mysteries, questions, actions and events, and we also want answers to what, why and how Jennifer ended up in this scenario.
So when the last act finally comes around Ittenbach has been playing an emotionally sadistic game with us. But it’s a good one, and I liked it a lot, which is obviously why the movie get’s a high rating than the average German splatter flick. I hope this flirtation with deeper themes holds up and that we will see more of it in the films to come.

Another favourite corner stone makes an appearance in No Reason too, Guilt! There’s a reason why Jennifer is put through her ordeal, and I’d easily write it off as guilt. She’s well aware of her deeds in the past, and that’s why she ends up where she ends up, in a nightmarish state where guilt forces her to deal with her backstory. Again, it really liked it, and it certainly put a whole new spin on the way I look at Ittenbach movies from now on.
Irene Holzfurtner, who's naked practically the whole movie, does a fantastic job as Jennifer, all the angst and torment that is associated with post-war German cinema, is channelled right through this woman. Her pain leaves an impression, and I’m thrilled to see her slated for two Ittenbach films this year. Where the hell have the Germans been hiding this woman? The movie also features a last scene cameo from New Zealander Timothy Balme, who you should recall from Peter Jackson’s Braindead.
I have to tip the hat to editor Jonathan Martens’ disruptive and eclectic editing. Normally the whole philosophy of editing is to never let the audience feel, or become aware of the cuts, as it interrupts the flow. Being a former editor myself, I personally hate sloppy editing, as it’s quite often just a testament to idle hands. But when used as a style, a trait or a gimmick that works in favour of the movie, I’ll hail it unconditionally. After all, rules are written in order to be broken. So where the norm would crave straight continuous edits, No Reason, goes for the complete opposite when depicting hell and the blitzkrieg of edits really push the movie into hard terrain. With the deconstructive, flow interrupting style of edits the experience of watching the movie becomes even more uncomfortable.
No Reason stands out amongst German Splatter. Within it’s realm it’s innovative, yet stays true to the traits that define the niche. The colour codes are an attention-grabbing device and one could presume that this is Ittenbach paying homage to the lighting schemes of Mario Bava and Dario Argento’s Suspiria. You need no reason to like the movies of Olaf Ittenbach. Really you don’t, you take them for exactly what they are, delirious pieces of violent cinema, with some outrageous effects and a fury unlike non other. No Reason has a really interesting narrative, which I find made this a well worthy of the time spent watching it. Such is the magic of Olaf Ittenbach, the unconquered Goremeister aus Deutschland!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Sinner: The Secret Diary of a Nymphomaniac

Original title: Le journal intime d’une nymphomane
Directed by: Jess Franco
France: 1973
Drama/sleaze/thriller, 87min
Distributed by: Mondo Macabro

What a wonderfully lurid little title this is, seductive, enticing, captivating and damn right enchanting. Part of their great re-mastered Jess Franco releases, Sinner is yet another, first on DVD, from Mondo Macabro. Watching it once again reminds me of the brilliance of Franco, and why he deserved every ounce of that Goya Lifetime Achievement Award he was presented with a few years back.

It’s recently become that I find myself laughing along with each Franco release that comes out on DVD. Because every damned Franco release has the obligatory “One of his finest/best/weirdest/etc". quotes on the front. It’s funny because it’s always true! Every damned movie one sits down to watch has that Franco magic that just pulls you in and has you happily going along for the ride, and buying into whatever territory he want’s to take you to. No wonder the damned Franco DVD’s are something of Pokémon’s in the eyes of his enthusiastic followers, you simply can’t stop until you have them all.
Sinner: The Secret Diary of a Nymphomaniac is the exquisite tale of a young woman’s decent into cesspool of sexual depravity, and the series of events that force her to take a drastic exit from this world… after first taking her cunning revenge on the men who shaped her.
Without wasting time, the opening shot establishes that familiar Franco territory, the act/show being performed on stage for an enticed audience in a nightclub. Linda Vargas [Montserrat Prous] is performing with Maria Toledano [Kali Hansa] on stage whist the audience sip champagne and cocktails.  Where many Franco stage performances are revealed to be acts, the tables are changed here and what follows the performance is instead an act of sinister vengance. Linda joins one man in the audience, Mr Ortiz [Manuel Pereiro], entices him into buying bottle after bottle of champagne – making up a grand total of ten bottles, before they drunkenly leave the sleazy parlour and move to a seedy hotel room instead – another rather frequent Franco location. They start making out, but he passes out, and where one would expect Franco to go one path, he takes a completely different one, as Linda calls the cops, reports the murder of a young woman, and then slits her throat. As she lies bleeding to death on top of Mr Ortiz the cops bust in the door and arrest Mr Ortiz… ok, they blatantly walk in as if in a Monty Python Piranha Bros sketch, which bit actors portraying police often do in Franco flicks. It’s a grand set up, it comes completely unexpected and Sinner: The Secret Diary of a Nymphomaniac has its hooks deep into me at this point. I’m ready for the journey and desperately want to know how Franco is going to play this one.
 A brief cameo by Franco as Inspector Hernandez later, and the ball is upp and running. Mr Ortiz claims his innocence and his wife Mrs Ortiz [Jacqueline Laurent, who later ended up in several Torgny Wickman skin flicks!] refuses to believe the outlandish claims that her loving husband has murdered some two-bit prostitute. She takes it upon herself to pursue the truth, and make justice for her husband. This is a superb designation of the characters arc, which will change severely as the film progresses.
This is where the novelty of Sinner: The Secret Diary of a Nymphomaniac turns up, the search for the truth, becomes a post-mortem telling of Linda’s life. Mrs Ortiz goes to Countess Del Anna Monterey, who starts retelling how she met Linda, and the story is set in motion. I love the fact that it’s told in a non-linear fashion, it strikes me that several Franco pieces are done in this way. Linda moves to the big city where she quickly falls prey to sexual predators, Mr Ortiz being the first to violate her fragile tender frame.
There’s a great tone of guerrilla filmmaking throughout Sinner: The Secret Diary of a Nymphomaniac, definitely in the vain of the filmmakers whom Franco sought inspiration from, as he’s got Gérard Brisseau roaming around locations armed with his hand held camera as if it where a documentary shoot.  The funfair segment early on in the movie feels like a genuine piece of grabbing the moment, and the curious stares towards the camera sum it up with their “what the hell’s going on here” glances. It’s also a key scene to the movie, which lingers on for two long, is remarkably subjective for a Franco film, and provides the moment of corruption that will take Linda from childhood innocence into curious female sexuality when Mr Ortiz spoils her by buying cotton candy and the molesting her on the Ferris wheel.
Hence becomes Linda’s hatred of mankind, which leads her into her lesbian relationship with the Countess, but soon the Countess isn’t enough and Linda starts being intimate with everyone she set’s her sights on, especially men forbidden through marriage, making each promise of togetherness be merely words with no meaning. Linda searches on and meet’s raunchy exotic dancer/amateur photo model Maria Toledano, whom she falls for instantly. Her relationship with Maria leads to her participating in photo shoots, forcefully drawn into pornographic photo sessions, which in turn leads to drugs to numb the pain. The otherwise stone cold Mrs Ortiz starts to see that there’s more to this young girl than just being a dead prostitute.
So far, the story has been told to Rosa Ortiz by the Countess, now focus shifts, and Rosa seeks out Toledano to learn more about the young woman who’s death is pinned on her innocent husband. But at the same time this last act also reveals a lot more about Mrs Ortiz and the kind of conservative woman she actually is. Her meeting with Maria Toledano is awkward, Rosa obviously feels out of place when Maria tears off her clothes proclaiming that she hates wearing clothes.  A stern contrast to Mrs Ortiz, who hasn’t even seen herself without her clothes on and only makes love to Mr Ortiz with the lights out, says a lot about her, and perhaps why Mr Ortiz was running around after hookers.
Maria progresses to tell Mrs Ortiz about Linda, and it’s revealed that Maria has in her possession the journal of Linda. Now the insight is right from the heart and soul of Linda as the two women read the entries painfully jotted down by Linda. These pages tell Linda’s childhood, why she left the countryside and came to the big city, how her life changes as she encounters men who only want to use her as a sexual plaything, and also of how she narrowly escapes a jail sentence for drug offences due to a kind-hearted doctor who takes her in, in an attempt to cure her and set her back on the right track. This Doctor is played by Franco backbone, Howard Vernon. Despite Linda basically begging the good Doctor to shag her, he resists, and instead of looking at her as a piece of meat, he treats her with respect and gives back her value as a woman. But old habits die hard, and after a late night out, smoking dope, making out with men and women, Linda is confronted by the good Doctor who screams out that she’s betrayed his trust, and there for he will treat her as the nymphomaniac she is. This is the climax experience that leaves her in despair, when she later performs on stage with Maria Toledano she spots Mr Ortiz in the crowd, and knows how she must seal her fate.
The ending images of the movie, show Rose Ortiz, not only discovering new sides to her own sexuality, but also coming to a painful insight, and by taking the journey she’s become empathetic towards Linda, with whom she now can relate to. By backtracking Linda’s tracks she metaphorically done the same journey, and she too can feel the betrayal by man, and directly through her husband. A ghostly voice pleading to her, awakening guilt in her, triggers her to take sides with her sister in pain, and she seals the fate of her husband there and then.
A brief analysis and storytelling resume would go like this: Sinner: The Secret Diary of a Nymphomaniac is an exploitation gem that uses an Investigation plot to study the post-mortem character, Linda’s, degeneration. It also uses the insight that comes with the “investigation” to evoke empathy within the  “investigator” and affects her into a change of heart. The roles have altered; the victim and perpetrator have changed places. Poetic justice has been created and fates have been sealed.
Being another of the almost dozen films Franco wrote and directed in 1973, Sinner leaves no one disappointed. Again he’s working with Robert du Nesle‘s CFPC (Comptoir Français de Productions Cinématographiques) - who also produced Countess Perverse and Lorna the Exorcist –and all three edited by Gérard Kikoïne, back in Paris. The soundtrack is just a delightfully delirious as the one for Countess Perverse, although Jean-Bernard Retitaux is this time around teamed up with superstar, Vladimir Cosma. I’m still determined that someone release them as soon as possible, they are absolutely awesome, and actually surpass Hübler and Schwab’s pop-kitsch tracks for the German films.
Again, one is struck by the high quality of the production, smart use of simplistic plot and recurrent actors. It shines through when Franco is happy with his cast and crew, as there’s definitely soul in his output of this time. I’m curious to the fact if shooting hardcore films a few years later – as such was the novelty, and competing market of the time - didn’t artistically challenge filmmakers like Franco, Rollin etc. That’s not what they wanted to be shooting, and I’m certain that even they had fine ideas of where eroticism and porn cross, and how far they could go without crossing that line. Going beyond those boundaries must have affected ambition and passion for their trade, and I feel it shines through on those movies. The savvy that makes them shine is missing.
Unfortunately Sinner: The Secret Diary of a Nymphomaniac also suffered the same fate as Countess Perverse and Lorna the Exorcist and was following it’s initial run, crammed packed with hardcore shots, given a new title and tossed out onto the porno circuit, something which is when given the original versions at hand an atrocity, as they have an original story and narrative to them. I could compare it to if someone fixed an obscenely large plaster cast knob to Venus de Milo, or breaking up the frame of Mona Lisa and adding a crudely sketched snatch to the painting. It’s apparent that Franco had a strong vision of the movies shot at this time (as I’m certain he had with the most of his films), and interweaving unsophisticated hardcore shots definitely wrecks that vision. Luckily for us, Mondo Macabro are presenting the movies in their intent versions, and I don’t really see the point in those German box sets with each of the variant versions, as any version other that the Franco one, isn’t a Franco movie!
Sinner: The Secret Diary of a Nymphomaniac is basically a “countryside lass getting gobbled up by the sinister cogs of the big city” story, and it’s not really anything that we haven’t seen before in the sexploitation circuit. Films of the niche ranging from Hardcore 1979, Christiane F 1981, 8mm 1999, the cheap knockoffs, Hanna D, the girl from Vodel Park, 1984, Snuff Killer 2003 etc. have all been down that path. The big difference is found in the way Franco chooses his leading ladies. Franco’s movies could easily have been simple sleaze fests, but I’ve realized that a majority of his leading ladies have one thing in common, and it’s a vital ingredient to Franco’s films. Sinner was shot between the tragic death of Franco muse Soledad Miranda and before he firmly planted his lens on Lina Romay. I find Montserrat Prous, who starred in a half dozen films for Franco during this time period, to fit the formula perfectly. It’s all in the eyes! The movies where Soledad, or Lina, or Montserrat and so on, are the unfortunate victims, there eyes all contain a sadness, a depth, a vulnerability which makes the audience empathize with them. I also see this being the main reason why his later films totally miss the connection with the audience that these early works do, as they lack this vital ingredient. The vulnerable female muse that we are accustomed to seeing in Franco’s films. I’m absolutely determined that this is a vital part of the Franco formula! I even remember one drunken night back in the age of VHS calling up a mate and bemoaning how awfully rotten the antagonist was treating Lina Romay in one of the many Franco movies he'd duped for me.
Do yourself a favour, go out and pick up Sinner: The Secret Diary of a Nymphomaniac today, as this is one splendid movie in the annals of Jess Franco, and I will always be captivated by the simple fact that this Spanish genius directed so many fantastic, and career wise, landmark movies in the year of 1973.

Oh, and don't forget to pick up the Jess Franco mixtape from the right side bar... one hour, fifteen minutes of delightful Franco soundtrack in one nonstop mix, and you can challenge yourself to naming the scores and the soundbites... Enjoy!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings

Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings
Directed by: Declan O’Brian
USA/Germany, 2011
Horror, 93min

Tut, tut, tut… Twentieth Century Fox… You bastards. Tut, tut, tut, Declan O’Brian. Despite the fact that I every now and then can enjoy franchise fare –which in more than one way is the elevator muzak of horror cinema – it really rubs me the wrong way on occasions because of it’s predictability, ridicule and wafer thin plots. Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings is one such movie, and although I try not to trash movies here, I just have to give a few pointers as to why I feel this one didn’t’ really make it work.
Being part four in an on-going franchise, which basically rips off The Hills Have Eyes and sticks it in a slightly different context, naming this entry “Bloody Beginnings” is a goddamned joke. The movie opens with a short “way back in 1974” pre-title sequence where two doctors gawk the caged up freaks, and gives minimal insight into the three disfigured inbreeds known as the “Hilliker Brothers”. A hand full of dialogue lines are strewn about and then as through magic – or a stolen hair pin – the boogeymen break out, release the other freaks, and slaughter the Doctors… Then it’s rapidly back to 2000now, and I’m still waiting for the bloody beginnings as a few lines of dialogue, some gory effects and torture machines constructed by what I thought where inbred freaks, not rocket scientists, don’t’ really give any insight into the genesis of the Hilliker brothers at all. Hell, at least Platinum Dunes had the decency to try giving some insight into the tormented life of young Leatherface in their shit feast Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning - didn't work, but they tried. The main question is why the hell do we need to explain evil every goddamned time? Don't you think the horror would be even deeper if you didn't know WHY?
Then credits, and there’s a fast cut to not one, but two couples fucking. One heterosexual and the other, which is most likely supposed to shock us in the way it’s shot and edited, is a homosexual couple. Oh, lesbians, not gays, gays would be way too alienating for the conventional genre audience.

Guess what, they buzzing from post coital buzz when clueless Kenia [Jenny Pudavick] stomps into the room telling them to get ready for their weekend in the woods, without making a single remark about the four naked people or the rancid musky smell that must linger in that room.

Further ridicule is added to the “plot” when one of the gang members has a premonition that something bad will happen… or was he the only one to pay attention to the weather report that flagged for sudden shock snowstorms?
Following a shitty snow scooter sequence – which has the leading lady Pudavick – grinning moronically as if she’s in a Tampax commercial – the gang in an attempt to avoid the storm by taking the wrong trail – doh, never saw that one coming – and when they are midst white out, they bump into the abandoned – but strangely still heated – Glenville Sanatorium of the opening sequence. They bunk up for the night, find a couple of bottles of thirty year old whiskey and then oh my fucking god, the obligatory “do any of you guys have cell coverage” moment! I have to force myself from ramming my note pen right into my eye as to never have to sit through another by the book generic horror flick ever again. Why, oh why do we need to have cell coverage scenes in every fucking movie? You loose me completely at that point.
Stereotypical characters – such as the lesbian couple who despite what’s going on, make out and have it off at least three times during the ninety minute film, dorky pot smoking dudes, third base girlfriends, nerdy guy and quirky virginal heroine hardly create empathy for any of the characters what so ever, and make’s the movie feel agonisingly tedious for long times. When shit hit’s the fan – almost 40 minutes in – it becomes routinely run, run, run, chase, chase, chase, where ever second scene feels like a “Oh you go that way, I’ll go this way”, “If we split up we hold a better chance of finding blah, blah…” you get the picture. It’s as if the screenwriters never watched Wes Craven’s Scream, because all the jokes he was shooting off where aimed at the bullshit which had become generic horror! 
There’s never a real moment where it lands and generates emotions for anyone at all, and something that really felt out of place was the melancholic music every time a character dies… strange, and totally out of place, as I still don’t give a fuck about them, and this far in they are merely lambs to the slaughter and I want to see them die terrifying deaths. At best it feels like a gory episode of Scooby Doo, and perhaps this is why the sudden quick-fix ending doesn’t really do anything for me either. The only thing missing is that the gang – the few left – round up the inbred monsters, rip off their masks and reveal Dr. McQuaid from the opening segment to be the real villain! Zoinks Scooby!
 Special effects are pretty cool, the mutants look awesome, and even pass close-up in strong light scrutiny. In line with the Scooby-Doo referent, the blood flows almost cartoonish, and albeit being violent and supposedly sensitive scenes – thanks melancholic music cue! - many of them are right out funny, which I guess they should be. After all this is all about escapism in more than one-way.

Despite the pie-tossing above, and my annoyance of arrogant, insulting filmmaking, yeah, I find it arrogant, as said this is what gives genre films a bad rep, the cooperate hotdog factory of terror turds, I’m sure that Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings will find it’s prime audience. I’m not the target for generic horror anymore, it was way over two decades ago I was in that niche. After all if you want a few shots of tits’n’ass, water thin plot that plays by all the rules and conventions, shallow characters and a lot of cheap jump scares, some really cool and brutal special effects, then you know that this move is right up your street… which is why Wrong Turn 5: Bloodbath is already slated and Doug Bradley is supposed to star… "Jesus wept!"... wait, that's another franchise they took to hell already isn't it?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Divide

The Divide
Directed by: Xavier Gens
USA/Canada/Germany, 2011
Horror/Drama, 107min

Second to the “Home invasion” genre, the genre’ that freaks me out the most is the post apocalypse ones. Not the fantastic one’s where we have rebuilt civilization in whatever way we can, but the ones dealing with the hours, days, and weeks after the balloon pops. I blame this all on being part of Generation X, growing up fearing the nuclear bomb, and all those British high on realism survival horrors that blitzed onto our TV screens late eighties, early nineties.
 Sometime back then (or even further if you really look for it) there’s a vital change in movies of what we refer to as “modern age”. They frequently have a theme proving that it makes no matter what the external threat may be, humans will always fight amongst each other. We will not rally up together to communally fight one common foe,  but we will single out individuals within the group and attack them first. Almost like when animals sense the weakness within their pack. But the twist in genre films being that the internal tormentor will be the primary antagonist for the protagonist, and life will not go on – or adapt to new conditions – before this antagonist is taken care of.
Nine people hide away in an underground bunker/safe room in the bottom of their New York building as nukes take out their city. Moment’s later fractions start to form in the small group. Initially it’ seems to be them all against Janitor Mickey, who’ already lives in the shelter below to start with. Then a secondary threat is posed when men in biohazard suits break into the shelter – which the nine at first think is a rescue team – only to kidnap the youngest female child of the group.  From here on the group shatter as they realize they are powerless in the situation. With this insight new forces start to surface within the group, and the small community becomes a merciless dictatorship where one man rules them all.
Xavier Gens really has a knack for stabbing knives into his audience and then slowly twisting them around forming a gaping hole. The Divide, just like his earlier Frontière(s) 2007 is a harsh, haunting chamber piece with a dark insight into the human mind. Several sudden plot twists bring edge to the piece, and every time one thinks the characters will react in one specific way, they go the other. One could definitely call the movie a study of human decay, and how a group, no matter how small it may be, will soon be confronted by choices that will polarize them.
The main narrative is of course survival, in small and larger arcs, the main large arc being staying in the bunker until it’s safe to venture outside, the macro perspective to survival. What’s alarming with the piece is how they react when they realize what is going on outside their shelter, or at least what they think is happening. The group crumbles and plummets into an even deeper darkness as they start to lash out at each other. Restrained food and water start taking its toll and they fall even deeper into desperation and frustration. Here some of the finer subplots come into play, the one concerning Eva [Lauren German] and her boyfriend Sam [Ivan Gonzalez], the triangular tension between bothers Adrien [Ashton Holmes], Josh [Milo Ventimiglia] and his best (perhaps even boyfriend) Bobby [Michael Eklund], the personal grudge between Devlin [Courtney B. Vance] and Mickey the Janitor [Michael Biehn] etc. It al builds neatly off smaller subplots to intertwine with each other to become subplots of their own which later evolve into main narrative.
Just like in zombie drama/horror’s paranoia is a big part of The Divide. The fractions within the constellations don’t dare trust each other, and perhaps they shouldn’t either. I love what Gens has done with the Mickey character, and put moral doubt in an otherwise commonly sacred character, the 9-11 fire fighter. (or perhaps I should say Karl Mueller and Eron Sheefan,  as they wrote the story). Its’s also the character who has the most dimension, as we never really know where we have him. One minute he’s lying, or is he, then he’s telling the truth or is he? He’s a scarred and complex character, who puts many of the others to shame.
German’s Eva more or less comes off as a typical passive female lead – No, she’s no Milla Jovovich or Sigourney Weaver, kicking ass from square one – but she does have a great character arch as she grows with the tension and frustration slowly cranked up throughout the movie. Finally she has no other option but to react, and cut her ties with everything. And talking of past, I love when small hints are given to backstory, without becoming ridiculously daft. At one moment Sam screams “You where nothing, a junkie walking the streets before you met me!” Again these small sub-plots such as the one between Eva and Sam is fascinating and definitely what bring the characters to life. Eva and Sam’s relationship is so over, but they still haven’t dared let go… which is metaphorical for the journey that Eva makes in the movie. She doesn’t really dare, she’s passive until she’s forced beyond the norm.
Cast wise it varies, some are really impressive, especially Milo Ventimiglia and Michael Bien who I feel are completely cast contrary to what one would have expected from them. Venitmiglia gives a great performance as a complete psychopathic guy who stumbles over too much power to fast. An interesting note on the two leading men, where Biehn at first comes off as the antagonist of the piece, values shift through actions and deeds. Despite what we may think of Mickey, it s nothing compared to what Bobby and Joey do to him which shifts the balance of focus. From that moment on we empathise more with him and the two men take over the role of antagonists.
German and Arquette as the only female cast members do what they can, but Arquette does all the real work, she has a traumatizing road ahead of her and loosing her only solid rock – “the only good in me” – she plummets down into chaos and depravation at the hands of Joey and Bobby. Almost like a bully mentality, as long as she sticks with them and let’s them have their way, she’s not at the boot of the torment. Other’s are completely over the top, and perhaps should have toned it down a bit. Then again, who knows how the hell we’d react when faced with death by starvation and radiation poisoning whilst trapped in a fallout shelter with a load of people I hated…
The ending is dark and nihilistic, but at the same time, immersed with the same poetic beauty that I find in other Gens films, and despite the violent climax offers a suggestion of hope and a future after the terrifying ordeal. I also find it kind of interesting that both Frontier(s) and The Divide both feature somewhat passive female characters that transform completely only when then have been pushed to far. This generates a determined fighting machine that will let nothing or anyone stand in their route to survival.
The Divide is an intense ride, a powerful journey of human decay, dark depravity, as it’s characters regress to primal beings, and at the same time an intense ride as the will to endure is tested in extreme ways. The Divide provoked me in several ways, and played with some of my basic fears and definitely made me think about those “What if” scenarios. That’s a good reason to watch if there where any.

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