Monday, January 28, 2013

Land of Death

Land of Death
Original title: Nella terra dei cannibali
Directed by: Bruno Mattei (as Martin Miller)
Italy, 2003
Horror/Cannibals, 93min

God damn it, I love Bruno Mattei’s films. No genre was too far fetched for him to take on and regurgitate his own low budget variants of. Renown for ripping off others, lifting stock footage and sometimes clips from other films, and at times even ripping off himself. But one can’t really aim criticism towards it, as it’s actually something I see as an important Bruno Mattei trait. Production value and anything to make it a better movie, that’s what I see Mattei’s plagiarism, theft and recycling to be. Dedicated filmmaker at his best, and if there’s ever one word that sums up Mattei, it is enthusiasm.
Also released as Cannibal Holocaust 3: Cannibal vs. Commando, Cannibal Ferox 3, Cannibal of Death, Land of Death is no masterpiece in any way, but it’s full of that classic Mattei enthusiasm, and where everyone else was desperately seeking new areas of genre, Mattei stuck to what he knew best, cheap low budget exploitation. I can’t believe that I still write something along the lines of that in each and every one of the pieces I write on Mattei cinema post 1990, but there’s something fascinating about that fact and his dedication to the cheap movies that made him the master of exploitation that he rightfully was.

This time around its jungle adventure with classic cannibal genre ingredients – complete with animal slaughters, punishment of “unfaithful Mrs cannibal”, gut munching, dismemberment, and nihilistic climax.  Not forgetting stock footage of helicopters and jungle wildlife. (It wouldn’t be a Mattei film without slightly out of focus faulty cropped wildlife stock footage would it?)      
Taken deep into the green inferno by cool as fuck, pipe smoking guide Romero [Claudio Morales], a bunch of hard ass soldiers - lead by humorously clumsy rookie Lt. Wilson [Lou Randall] - are on a mission to find the daughter of Colonel Armstrong as she went missing on a previous expedition. (Sound familiar?) As you already guessed it’s only a matter of minutes before they stumble upon the worm-infested remains of the previous expeditions guide, and from out of nowhere, natives’ blow poisonous darts at them. Romero shows his diabolic character when he instead of assisting the soldier shot by a poisonous dart, calmly shoots him in the head – spattering the rest of the soldiers with his brain substance – whist delivering the cold line that there’s no cure for the poison, he merely put the soldier out of his misery.

Upon reaching the village they start spotting items of modern civilization upon the natives, which indicates that they are getting close to their destination, as these items are belongings of the former expedition. A peculiarity familiar trading of modern technology for further directions deeper into the jungle takes place. It’s amazing how much one can get in return for a flick knife these days.
The closer they get, the more carnage they find – one pretty neat skinned corpses hanging from the trees makes it all worth while – Gianni Paolucchi (who worked with Mattei in various positions since the eighties, and more importantly produced, and sometimes co-wrote almost all of Mattei’s films during Mattei’s last active decade.)… Anyway, Paolucchi and Mattei wind it up effectively as the group get closer to their destination. Appalled by the native ways, but also solving the struggle between the native tribe and their nemesis tribe who kidnap and rape their women, they slowly gain the trust of the tribe….
Exposition is always delivered by Romero who amusingly enough always seems to know everything about the natives rituals and habits, and get’s the chance to explain what the hell is going on at every encounter with them. It’s also quite funny that the more the commandos learn about the natives, the more they become infuriated with them, wanting to mount up and blast them away. Luckily they are told by Romero to calm down and lower the guns they have aimed at the cannibals. Yeah, seriously it happens a dozen times and even after they have gained the tribes trust and find Colonel Armstrong’s daughter. If the Philippine actors are stereotypical Italian Cannibals, the soldiers are a scary reflection of US army stereotypes. Gun crazy, trigger-happy stereotypes.
Long time teammate Luigi Ciccarese’s cinematography gets the job done, and the actors do what they can with what one only can imagine be minimal direction from Mattei, Most of the actors from these later films only ever did one or two films before slipping back off the radar. But who’s to complain, as this more or less gave a few lucky actors the chance to star in a “real” movie. (If you still haven’t seen Best Worst Movie 2009, about the legacy of former Mattei collaborator Claudio Fragasso’s Troll2 1990, you should stop everything right now and check it out. It’s a brilliant documentary)
I mentioned enthusiasm earlier on, and I seriously think that anyone watching these films and not picking up on the enthusiasm – after all Mattei and production company La Perla Nera crossed paths on many occasions during the last decade of his career indicating that Mattei eagerly wanted to make these films – are missing the ever so important ingredient that separates Mattei from many others. How many times have you checked out favourite genre filmmakers latest flick (or later productions) only to find it running on fumes with no passion at all. If not for the look of the direct to video productions, I honestly don’t see much difference in the late and early films of Bruno Mattei. No matter if it looks cheesy and cheap or rough and raw, I have the feeling that it was all film to him, and his level of engagement was constant throughout his creative lifetime. Just watch stuff like Snuff killer – La morte in diretta 2003,  L’isola dei morti viventi 2006, Zombi: la creazione 2007, and then compare them to Virus – l’inferno dei morti viventi 1980, Notte di terrore 1984 or even L’altro inferno 1981 and you will note that the only thing that really separates them is the quality of filming technology. Story and content wise they are all Bruno Mattei.
Nailing safe beats every five-six minutes with gore, death or gut-munching, mid point comes with the reveal that the General Armstrong’s daughter Sara [Cindy Lelic Matic, who reunited with Mattei on his next jungle cannibal movie, Cannibal World 2004] is in fact the white queen of the cannibal tribe, and a feisty one to say the least, with no intention at all to return to the decadent civilization of mankind. Snatching her from the tribe, they unleash the wrath of the Cannibals and from her on out it’s all about staying one step ahead of the many tribes they have angered on their path through the jungle and the ipacha tribe who definitely want their White Queen back.
Showing his talent for ripping off other films, Mattei literally uses everything he can imagine and freely borrows a multitude moments that you undoubtedly will recognize from previous cannibal film of the eighties, Deodato, Martino, Lenzi, and why not Franco while he’s at it. But it’s all done in a classic Bruno Mattei fashion, and I wouldn’t want it in any other way. Anyone else and I’d probably have lost interest, but with Mattei it’s a vital trait and half the fun of his films.
All in all, Land of Death is a pretty straight forward action/cannibal flick that uses something of an action plot before turning into something of a testing plot if I where to apply Norman Friedman’s forms of Plot on the film – probably a first time application and mention together with a Bruno Mattei film. Put in other words, first they search and we follow them on their action filled problem solving then the run for their lives as we watch the strong characters is responsible for their own fate. We also learn that arrogance and hostility will never end with success – basically the theme of all cannibal flicks. Norman Friedman’s plot structures are obviously something that Mattei and Paolucchi never gave a single minute of though about, but something that almost all filmmakers subconsciously know and use in their films, even if its only a cheap piece of Cannibal Exploitation.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Bunny Game (third time lucky)

One film that specifically followed me through all of 2012 was Adam Rehmeier’s haunting The Bunny Game. I went back to the film on several occasions, talked to Rehmeier, re-watched it when it hit BluRay and can't recommend it enough. If you missed me rant on about The Bunny Game then check here, and here. I also mentioned in the first piece, the way the soundtrack plays part in the constant grinding tension that is The Bunny Game:

Up to the moment when Bunny enters Hog’s rig, the music, with the exception of one early Death Metal track, shifts from the mellow atmospherically ambient style of score to dronish growl. A dronevilish growl that will seep through most of the coming events that when the music stops and the soundtrack only consists of diegetic sound it amplifies the moment on screen and helps set the audience in the realism of the moment. When music is used in The Bunny Game, it helps build the tension, and I know it’s going to snap at any given moment.

It’s time to capitalize on the audio assault of The Bunny Game all over again, as the soundtrack is finally being made available.

Rising Beast Recordings is proud to present the official soundtrack release of THE BUNNY GAME. This all-new auditory experience was arranged, edited and sequenced by director Adam Rehmeier just for this release. 60 minutes of music from the film, expanded and seamlessly blended for a sonic journey that is cinematic in scope. Score by Adam Rehmeier. Includes songs by HARASSOR and additional score by James Brown III.

Limited edition of 200 copies. Pro-duplicated cassettes with pro-printed folding j-card inserts.

The main reason I want to plug this soundtrack is partially due to the fact that it’s a great film and a great soundtrack. But mainly for the simple reason that it’s going to be a rarity, and it’s being released on old-school cassette. I still have a cassette deck in my car, and I guess this will be required listening when drive out to my house in the woods. 

Info on how to grab this highly rare item soon to be released by Rising Beast for an insanely low cost can be found in the links below.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Faces of Death

Faces of Death
Directed by: Conan le Cilaire
USA, 1978
Mondo/Shockumentary, 105min

Say Faces of Death, and genre fans will either crack out a disturbing smile, or reach for a bucket to chuck up into. The notorious badass movie spawned out of the Italian Mondo Cane films (and the genre they created), and a definite kick-start of even viler stuff to come. Faces of Death stood out as a ritualistic ordeal for friends and admirers of extreme cinema. When talking gross out factor and cringing realism, Faces of Death was always one title that could be topic for discussion.

The first time I saw Faces of Death was probably in the early nineties when I was working in an underground video store that specialized in finding uncut versions of genre film. You could say that that’s where I educated myself on genre cinema, and gorged my brain with all the fantastic stuff I’d only ever read about previously. There was always something inexplicably captivating with Mondo flicks back in the day, and to see how television has changed these past decades, it’s easy to see that what we where spellbound and blown away by back then is standard procedure today.

With access to Dutch, Greek, Japanese and other tapes from god know where, there was no limit to the movie marathons soaking up obscure, wild, bizarre and fascinating films. In it’s big bulky Dutch VHS case with that infamous electrocution image, Faces of Death was something of a cornerstone, a bad boy renown for its cold approach to its subject matter, and an authenticity brought to the piece by Dr. Francis B. Gröss. Sure I always presumed that he was a fake, but at the same time, without Internet or fast ways of checking facts, who really knew if Gröss was real or not. Because none of us bothered or had copies crisp enough to see that Michael Carr actually is credited as Dr. Francis B. Gröss at the end of the credits
At the age of late teens, early twenties, there’s no surprise that we fell for the tricks – I can still vividly recall discussions of what was real footage and what wasn’t  - But today we know better, and we know that the majority of footage was faked, although some of it really well done and with an aura of being authentic Cunningly re-enacted and interwoven with archive footage that the filmmakers had access to as they previously where wildlife documentary filmmakers.  

Tearing off with some very sensational stock footage of an authentic open-heart surgery, the film breathes realism into the opening of the film. It’s followed up with genuine shots of corpses and a real autopsy that was used to secure financers that the filmmakers really could pull off a shocking documentary that studied death in a serious – but totally exploitative way. But it’s all a cunning and manipulative trick to set us up for the introduction of Carr’s Dr. Francis B. Gröss (name pun anyone!). Dr. Gröss steps out of what we presume is the operating room or autopsy room we just saw the extreme material taking place in. Much like the way Ruggero Deodato would set us up with the faux documentary material two years later with Cannibal Holocaust, Le Cilaire set’s us up with this authentic material which makes us eat up all the horror to come as the gullible fools we have been manipulated into.

Faces of Death slowly works its way through its footage, starting out with the authentic human ends via animal deaths – slaughter houses – before working their movie making magic. Sure, sitting through footage of dogfights, animal slaughters, the consuming of monkey brains after smashing open its head, autopsies, open-heart surgery does become quite heavy after a while.  But it’s not until a half hour in when the first human death hit’s the screen, and without calling each scene classic – which they are – a sheriff is savaged by a stray crocodile he’s trying to rope in. Faces of Death chugs on wrapping bogus scenes with genuine autopsies, fake death cults, real snake charmers, idiots get to close to wild bears, set themselves on fire, and towards he end we even get cheesy proof of life after death… It’s a gallery of macabre and morbid moments, but at the same time almost impossible to stop watching, as Gröss guides us through the many faces of death he has taken to study during the years. Much like the nihilistic films of today that stick a quirky tune in the end credits to kind of wink at the joke of their dark movie, Faces of Death also desperately tries to stick a consoling or even redeeming finale to their movie, as a woman gives birth to new life. The cycle is complete and we have journeyed from death to life. Although, ironically the childbirth is the least graphic moment in this film as nudity was still a sensitive area in Japan at the time.

More than thirty years on, Faces of Death is still a fascinating film, totally exploitative, totally disturbing, but still a totally magnificent piece of tomfoolery and a well crafted horror show. Watching it in HD on BluRay is almost perverse compared to the first time viewing it on shoddy VHS tape with tracking issues colour dropouts and video static.  The images are totally lifted out of any dupe distortion, and VHS interference and presented in splendid new re-mastered clarity. Gorgon has really done a great job, but relieving this film of its crummy protective veil of old-school interference only serves to lift forth the flaws in clear daylight. For the time it was made, it is still pretty great stuff, but with the insight we have into movie making magic these days – special effects even have their own reality game shows now – some of the scenes do stick out as the simple effect shots they are. I never really reacted to the crap acting as much as I did this time. Perhaps the novelty has worn off and as a cynical adult I don’t fall for the old tricks as I used to.

It strikes me what a splendid craftsmanship has gone into the editing of Faces of Death as none of the footage is in raw shape (You would never edit real snuff!). Juxtaposition is often off kilter but sill effective in its own way, and the choice of music is at times only adding it on when comedic music almost mocks the terrible fates edited together. In 1999 – after directing whopping six sequels to the initial instalment - Cilaire directed Faces of Death: Fact of Fiction? where he partially reveals some of the fake material, but also declared that certain re-enacted material was authentic. A cunning lie to deceive fans and keep the myth and mysticism of the films alive. I don’t know how much use the somewhat vague investigation plot is – as that’s what Dr. Gröss is retelling us, his study and investigation into death. His conclusion is harsh and gloomy when he concludes that the movie proves that we are not as intelligent as we think we are. A rather cunning line when one stops to think about all the times we spent discussing what “had” to be real and not…

Originally made for the Japanese market (just like Sheldon Renan & Leonard Schrader’s Killing of America, a movie that showed the Zapruder film eons before Oliver Stone used it in JFK) Conan le Cilaire, the chosen pseudonym for creator John Alan Schwartz, was approached with the question of making a shockumentary feature where nature and it’s many deaths where in focus. Quite a logic way to go considering the amount of nature footage Schwartz had due to the nature film archive he had access to. Although wanting to do something outside of the animal kingdom, Schwartz and his minimal crew came up with the idea of taking a human approach to it instead. So they documented an authentic autopsy, and when they showed what they could come up with instead of animal carnage, the investors cried tears of exploitation gold. With the sensitive topic on display and raw violence of the film, almost everyone associated with the piece hid themselves behind pseudonyms as to keep a safe distance to the crude footage used and shot for the film.

Faces of Death is said to have out grossed Star Wars in Japan, but back in the states it failed miserably upon its theatrical release (in the States) by Aquarius in 1981. A failure that would change forever when it later became accessible on Videotape and firmly took its place in cineastes universe. Only time will tell what, if any, importance Faces of Death will hold in the history of genre, but one thing is certain, Faces of Death, real or not, still is a distressing piece of genre cinema.
Today the original Faces of Death shouldn’t be as shocking as it used to be – but it is.  It's still a foul, depraved piece of extreme exploitation cinema with a sour aftertaste unchallenged by others. Faces of Death is still a rough ride. The authentic deaths and autopsy footage are still kind of hard to watch without reacting, and the movie does set a very macabre tone. Perhaps even more so watching it as an adult, and perhaps it's this fake interwoven with real footage that makes it such a cynical masterpiece of nihilistic carnage.  But the main reason to pick up this classic is to sit through the audio commentary with moderator Michael Felcher and Conan Le Clair  as they go through the movie, tell you about the production and reveal the nature stock footage, expose all the fake stuff they created, tell you what’s what and share some previously secret facts on how other famous filmmakers where inspired by scenes created for Faces of Death. It’s a great commentary and definitely entertaining to hear about all the brilliant tricks that where used to fool audiences for decades, how it influenced culture and the films to come. I personally found great pleasure with “Choice Cuts”, where editor Glenn Turner (who worked with Schwartz on nature films before the shocksploitation racket) talks about his part on the film, his approach to the material and how it all came to be. There’s also “The Death Makers”, a cool short featuring Allan A. Apone and Douglas J. White, the special effect makers of the fake scenes who tell their tale, deleted scenes, and to top it all off there’s even an outtake reel, which uncannily enough even contains longer takes of real death.

If for nothing else, Faces of Death is worth revisiting just to hear the commentary and enjoy the documentaries on this landmark of extreme cinema.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Blue Demon vs. the Diabolical Women

Blue Demon vs. the Diabolical Women
Blue Demon contra “Las Diabolicas”
Directed by: Chano Urueta
Mexico, 1966

Thought to be missing forever for a very long time, Blue Demon vs. the Diabolical Women is the first of the Blue Demon films to se him enter the crime-busting sphere, it's also the second of his adventures to be shot in colour. Filled with sixties, pop-art vibe, hip music, go-go boots and stereotypical Mexican wrestling film characters.

Being the second part of the so called “Blue Demon against Crime” series, together with Blue Demon contra Cerebros Infernales (Blue Demon vs. the Infernal Brains) made the same year with much of the same cast and crew, Blue Demon takes on some real villains instead of gothic monsters and extra terrestrials of the previous films. The plot focuses on a nifty little intriguing featuring double-crossing bands of thieves, a strange gloved and hat bearing super villain, a band of Luchadoras who go by the name of “Las Diabolicas, and believe it or not another Blue Demon impostor!
The film kicks off with an initial attack sees two thugs nick a woman’s beauty box. She screams for help and the familiar masked face of Blue Demon turns up… but instead of helping her out, he sticks her in a chokehold so deadly that it sends her to the morgue… WHAT? Yeah, that’s exactly the reaction the set up wants us to have.

The thugs take their loot to head villain [Carlos Agosti] who has a cunning plan at bay. The jewels are sewn into a wrestling cape before we head off out to the ring for a delicious introduction to Las Diabolicas, a sexy band of Luchadoras! A switch is made and the Luchadoras – without knowledge of it – now have the stolen jewels on their cape. (Although nothing really ever comes of it oddly enough...)
Detectives Jaime Rayes [David Reynoso] and Bruno (who looks just like Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas) are put on the case of the murdered woman, and who better to do their dirty snooping around and getting into places the cops can’t go than Blue Demon. Turns out that the thugs have a nemesis in their criminal counterpart, a mysterious gloved, big-hatted super villain – who passes time woodcarving on the desk in front of them. This masked villain barks out orders and brings ruthlessness to the criminal underworld. The sexy luchadoras don’t really get much to do despite the title – one would have wanted more of them and why not more screen time, especially as they are supposedly the minions of the Super villain (that’s no spoiler, don’t worry)
The double crossing starts, and threats fly between the thug gang lead by Agosti and the gloved super villain, before the kidnapping of detective Jamie’s girlfriend. It’s Blue Demon to the rescue, and a shockingly fast reveal and climax before the masked hero waves goodbye, states that he will return with more information soon and wham, end credits roll.

Obviously, keeping the gloved, hat wearing super villain disclosed for the majority of the film becomes a natural matter of interest – who is it? The thug gang uses a fake Blue Demon who creates a few what the heck moments when our hero does things out of character, such as the deadly headlock in the opening scene. You know things are going to get weird when the fake and true Blue Demon take on each other in the ring before the movie starts building to it’s climax. The use of a false and evil Blue Demon impostor used to trouble Blue demon and was always a problem for him, as these characters often did vile deeds and showed no remorse what so ever. He wasn’t happy with the impostor character that figured in this and few other Blue Demon films. Perhaps it used to remind him of his pre-movie past as a rudo. This is before archrival Santo defeated and unmasked Blue Demon’s tag team partner The Black Shadow. It was a shaping moment, where Blue Demon decided to become a técnico (good guy) wrestler.
There’s a lot of great moments in Blue Demon vs. The Diabolical Women (as there always are), there’s a tense scene where he’s hidden in a boot of a car whilst the baddies shoot slugs into the car, he surprisingly rides a motor bike, two female cast members have a wicked, and fast karate chop sock punch out, a guest appearance by Ana Martín, once Miss Mexico who lost her title in the finals in London due to her being underage. Blue Demon climbs a wall in a way that would put possible inspirational source Adam West and Burt Ward to shame. No tilted camera trickery here, it's all brute force. And the best moment of this film is undoubtedly the Blue Demon vs. Blue Demon fight! Despite being 44 at the time, there’s not much that gives away who’s who when Blue Demon takes on his younger doppelganger. 
For me, there was a rather interesting moment as chief of police Don Javier [Antonio Raxel] watches the match from home, on his television. I've previously mentioned that Lucha libre films became immensely popular after the Mexican Government banned televised Lucha libre fights in he mid fifties, but i don't know when they returned to airing them... is this just a coincidental moment, had matches started being televised again or is it some form of critique towards the ban. I'll have to get back to you on that one, but it was a head scratching moment for me.
Staying true to formula - or perhaps shaping what would become formula - director Chano Urueta – who directed four of the first five Blue Demon films – keeps pace with plenty of fights – Blue Demon takes on foes both in and outside the ring, Las Diabolicas have a pretty lengthy bout where a full six luchadoras grapple in the ring, and every now and again Urueta chucks in a nightclub scene with dancing mamacítas and horn based rock band The Klan make a musical appearance not once, but twice this time, and there tunes are so groovy that not even the bad guys can sit still. In between that there’s the somewhat thin mystery story and the crime piece.
Gustavo C. Carrión’s score is just as great and catchy as they usually are, and really brings fun to the film with it's up tempo pop jazzy tunes. The same score was also used in the companion piece Blue Demon vs. the Infernal Brains.

Several sources refer to Blue Demon vs. The Diabolical Women as being the first Blue Demon film in Color, although I think that they may be wrong, and it may actually be the second color film. Which means that Blue Demon vs. the Infernal Brain would be the first. Both films where shot in 1966, and predated by the black and white Arañas Infernales (Infernal Spider) a sci-fi horror piece (also released in 1966). Switching the two color films around makes more sense and logic when looking at the films in a chronological flow, as it makes more sense to follow up Infernal Spider which is  sci-fi horror with another sci-fi horror before moving into crime busting and eventually into the spy themed Blue Demon, Destructor de espias 1967.

Disney Star Wars and the Kiss of Life Trope... (Spoilers!)

Here’s a first… a Star Wars post here.  So, really should be doing something much more important, but whist watching my daily dose of t...