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King Kong (1976)
An Under-appreciated Gem
John Guillermin's interpretation of "King Kong" was unnecessarily written off by most critics as a monumental misstep upon its 1976 release and has been pretty much ignored ever since. This is the Jan Brady of Kong films. Nestled between the iconic 1933 original and Peter Jackson's hugely acclaimed recent remake Guillermin's version somehow got lost in the mix, which is unfortunate because this is my favourite of the three. King Kong circa 1976 has an edge the others are lacking. It's bloodier, gorier and sexier than the other two versions put together.
One of the main criticisms levelled at the film is that it takes unnecessary liberties with the original plot. This is an entire re-imagining. Unlike Peter Jackson's faithful remake, Guillermin's Kong is set in the then modern day 1970s and features a plot about a greedy oil company rather than a film crew. The male star is now a stowaway Science Professor, while the female lead is a wannabe starlet found adrift in a life raft. Personally, I think the changes make the film. The hunger for oil regardless of the cost is thematically more relevant than ever and the film's surprisingly strong environmental message is refreshing.
As the leads, Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange make a strikingly attractive pair. Jeff was at the height of his career and delivers a typically solid performance. This was Jessica's big break and I think she does a good job with a difficult role. Jessica looks every inch the movie star and brings her own unique sense of frailty to the role but her character is somewhat undermined by the writing. I'm sure Fay Wray and Naomi Watts would have struggled just as much with the seedier elements of the film.
The undisputed star of the film, however, is Kong. The thing I love most about this film is its reliance on animatronics (and a couple of monkey suits) instead of CGI. Carlo Rambaldi's life sized mechanical Kong is the thing of legend. The detail in Kong's giant hand alone is magnificent. The computer generated special effects, on the other hand, haven't aged well at all. The best thing about this version is the producers' willingness to make Kong a killer. I love the bloody battle with the giant rubber snake and Kong's memorable tantrum involving a giant log. My favourite part is when Kong tramples innocent bystanders in New York. It's 70s exploitation at its best as are the decidedly disturbing scenes where Kong washes and dried Dwan (Jessica Lange) and the infamous moment when he exposes her breasts. It's wonderfully tasteless and so of its time. Just like Dwan's story of being rescued by "Deep Throat"! Another interesting aspect of the film is using the World Trade Center instead of the Empire State Building for the finale. It is a bit disturbing to see the Twin Towers feature so prominently but it's also touching to see them in all their former majestic glory. Their use makes the film a true historical document. The finale itself is utterly brilliant. In fact, the entire New York sequence is tense and spectacular. Guillermin's "King Kong" has its flaws but it has the balls to be different and offers a whole new spin on the Kong legend. The film is definitely undervalued and under-appreciated. Watch it for Kong's horny eyes alone!
Silent Hill (2006)
Excellent Mainstream Horror
"Silent Hill" is an excellent example of a computer game that has been adapted with great attention to detail by an obvious fan. The tone, the plot and even the musical score remain faithful to the game, which results in a visual world that instantly feels familiar. However, the same could be said for Uwe Boll's glorious computer game adaptations. The difference between "Silent Hill" and "House Of The Dead", for example, is this film's ability to stand alone without prior knowledge of the game.
Christophe Gans begins his film with an ominous sequence that shows Rose frantically chase her sleepwalking daughter, Sharon, to the side of a cliff. Sharon wakes up and says "Silent Hill", the name of an abandoned town. Such is the simplicity of the film's premise - a mother decides to take her daughter to a town that she has mentioned in her sleep. This seemingly innocuous set-up belies the twists and turns that occur when Rose and Sharon finally arrive in Silent Hill. In fact, the film begins much like an Asian horror movie, deriving suspense from random creepy events and an ominous tone. "Silent Hill" works very well on this level, due to the stylish cinematography and creative art design.
The first half of the film moves slowly enough for the audience to learn more about the characters and appreciate the depth of Rose's maternal instinct for Sharon. Australian actress, Radha Mitchell delivers her best performance since moving to Hollywood as Rose. There is something wonderfully ordinary about Radha, which in turn makes Rose sympathetic and credible, despite the incredible scenarios in which she finds herself. This part of the film also introduces Officer Cybil, played with flair by Laurie Holden. Cybil is initially suspicious of Rose but turns out to be her only ally in the world's least friendly town. The supporting cast is bursting with gifted character actors like Sean Bean, Alice Krige and Deborah Kara Unger but their roles are too small to make a significant impact on the film.
"Silent Hill" transforms from an eerie thriller into a fast-paced, supernatural horror movie when Rose loses Sharon to the Silent Hill locals. The second half of the film plays like a demented cross between "Aliens" and "The Village", only with more violence and gore. The segments, when the alarm sounds and the world literally turns to hell, contain some excellent special effects and editing. There are a couple of examples of poorly realised computer graphics but as a whole the visuals are stunning. The scene where Rose crawls past light sensitive drones in the basement is brilliant. The gore is surprisingly plentiful with victims being ripped apart and a mattress enacting a particularly painful revenge on one of the faithful.
There is much for gore hounds and gamers to enjoy in "Silent Hill". The majority of the film holds up very well for casual viewers; however the ending is destined to leave some people scratching their heads in confusion. Christophe Gans has displayed enough originality and flair to announce himself as a talent to watch. Bring on the sequel!
Mirror is a disconcerting film. There is no plot, at least in the traditional sense of the word, and much of what happens is steeped in heavy symbolism. And yet, Andrei Tarkovsky weaves the hard truths and brutal realities of everyday life into Mirror's surrealist tapestry with an effortlessness that makes the film utterly compelling. Not only do the real and surreal collide; time shifts randomly and the natural world becomes a character in its own right. I hate to think how unbearably pretentious this film could have been in the wrong hands. Tarkovsky, however, walks the fine line between art and facade with supreme skill. Mirror is an experience to be savoured.
Few films are as open to interpretation as this one. The beauty of Mirror is that allows the viewer to come to their own conclusions without being intentionally baffling or obtuse. The film is told in a non-linear fashion with events occurring in the present, past and quite possibly the future - depending on your interpretation. Pieces of a central narrative slowly begin to emerge and take shape. Mirror casts light upon the various stages of Alexei's life. However, this film is about more than one man. Alexei is a representation of humanity itself - at least, that is how I interpret the film. Tarkovsky uses Alexei's story as a vehicle for exploring the transcendent nature of human relationships. This may sound heavy going but it's not. Mirror has a dreamlike quality that washes over, rather than overwhelms, the viewer.
Tarkovsky was one of cinema's true originals. Many directors have played around with colour changes and time shifts but very few of them did it with Tarkovsky's sense of purpose. Small details in Mirror take on symbolic meanings, which further the story - this is not an exercise in empty symbolism. For example, Tarkovsky uses the natural world to link scenes and depict the passing of time. The startling use of rain and wind also contributes to the film's surreal tone. One of the most impressive aspects of the film is the director's ability to marry the real with the surreal. For every fire burning in the rain, there is the bleak image of a child sleeping in a box. Tarkovsky takes excerpts from one person's life and builds a commentary on humanity itself.
Volumes could be and possibly have been written about Mirror's multitude of layers and meanings. This film is so incredibly rich in ideas and artistry that it is almost impossible to process everything in one viewing. However, after the first viewing, you will know if Mirror is for you. The film, if nothing else, is a polarising experience. I expected to hate it given my general aversion to "arthouse" movies but was overcome by the film's humility. Unlike the majority of his colleagues, I never get the feeling that Tarkovsky is grandstanding or trying to show off his mastery. He films Alexei's story in a straightforward manner with simple angles and long shots. For a film that incorporates documentary footage of atomic explosions, bullfighting and Chinese demonstrations, Mirror remains masterfully subtle.
Tarkovsky's striking eye for composition and his ability to combine eclectic elements is without comparison. However, the film offers more than a series of captivating and confounding images. Mirror's greatest achievement is to capture a sense of what it is to be human, in a manner that is neither pompous nor pretentious. This is a hauntingly beautiful film.
Nekromantik 2 (1991)
An Idiosyncratic Sequel
Joerg Buttgereit's films have their own unique place in horror movie history. Few directors have even come close to producing anything as beautifully depraved as "Schramm", "Der Todeskoenig" or his signature film "Nekromantik". The latter film is a superbly original romantic comedy about an unusual love triangle between a woman, her lover and a rotting corpse. It comes as something of a surprise that the sequel is content to re-hash the original - only without the sardonic humour or the perverted sense of romance. Nekromantik 2 is a strangely dour affair; the film is slow, affected and a little bit too clever for its own good. Thankfully, Buttgereit plucks enough grim and gross ideas from his wonderfully sick mind to make the film a worthy, if somewhat disappointing, sequel to a true genre classic.
Nekromantik 2 picks up where the original film finished - with Robert pleasuring himself while violently committing suicide with a kitchen knife. The brutal imagery of Robert ejaculating blood while stabbing himself has lost none of its bite. After such an eye opening beginning, the film quickly takes on a more solemn tone. Monika, a nurse with a taste for necrophilia, rescues Robert from his grave and takes him home. The painstakingly detailed depiction of erotic corpse cleaning is textbook Buttgereit. From this point on, the film loses momentum - mostly due to the fact that nothing really happens apart from Monika meeting Mark at the movies and beginning a relationship with him. The courtship between Mark and Monika is painfully boring to watch and incredibly drawn out. There are tedious close-ups of them on a ferris wheel, an unnecessary dating montage and an uncharacteristically dull sex scene.
The film only begins to show signs of life when Monika starts asking Mark to play dead during sex and shows him a family photo album full of dead relatives. It soon becomes clear that Monika is finding it difficult to choose between the decomposing object of her desire and her living boyfriend. In an excruciating scene Monika appears to choose Mark and cuts Robert into pieces with a handsaw. This sequence is wonderfully grotesque but incredibly long. Buttgereit appears intent on testing not only the viewer's ability to hold down their dinner, but also their patience. Despite chopping him into small pieces, Monika can't seem to part with Robert completely, so she keeps his head and his penis in the fridge. Strangely, Mark doesn't take finding a decomposing penis in his girlfriend's icebox as an indication that he should look for a new woman. The film falls into another slump until the gory conclusion, with the exception of a particularly unsavoury and lengthy clip of a baby seal being dissected. Thankfully, the conclusion is premium Buttgereit as Monika finds a way to enjoy the company of both Mark and Robert simultaneously.
Buttgereit's excruciatingly long and detailed depictions of corpse cutting, animal dissection and dating rituals do not make for great viewing but the parallels that these sequences draw and the clinical detachment with which Buttgereit draws them, are intellectually stimulating - if clumsy and pretentious. That is not to say that the film is entirely without humour. The film within a film about ornithology is very amusing and a clear swipe at "art-house" filmmakers. The irony is that Nekromantik 2 is 10 minutes of necrophiliac sex and extreme gore away from being art-house fodder itself. Those 10 minutes make up for a lot of the film's posing. The make-up and gore effects are typically gross despite the extremely plastic looking corpses. The seal dissection looks like it has been stolen from the Greenpeace archives as it appears to be authentic.
The acting and general production values are still rather amateur in nature. This is easy to disregard when you are being swept along with Buttgereit's gory magic as with the original "Nekromantik". However, these flaws are far more obvious at the snail's pace with which this film proceeds. Monika M puts in the best performance and makes an appealing lead with her clear blue eyes and Germanic disinterest. Buttgereit's direction and script remain as idiosyncratic as ever. I'm convinced that Buttgereit is a genius but this film only shows rare glimpses of what he is capable of. Nevertheless, Nekromantik 2 does give us something to think about while we wait patiently for his next dose of cinematic perversion.
Ta paidia tou Diavolou (1976)
Nico Mastorakis has unleashed some pretty terrible films over the years and would probably give the hugely misunderstood Uwe Boll a run for his money as IMDb's most maligned director. Unlike Uwe, much of the criticism aimed at Nico has been deserved. However, it would be a mistake to let Mastorakis' reputation as the king of Euro-trash deter you from watching Island Of Death. Island Of Death is a true horror classic and one of the defining moments of 1970s horror excess. Many films have aimed to offend; few have succeeded as well as this wonderful piece of filth.
In the DVD audio commentary, Mastorakis unashamedly admits that Island Of Death was a calculated attempt to cash in on the success of Tobe Hooper's "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre". Island Of Death is not as scary as Hooper's masterpiece and certainly not as well made, but Mastorakis arguably succeeds in making a more shocking film. The film's plot is simple, yet impressively constructed. A seemingly normal young couple arrive on the Greek island of Mikinos for a holiday. The facade of normality begins to crumble when Chris and Celia have noisy sex in a phone booth - with Chris' mother on the line. It soon becomes apparent that the couple have more sinister hobbies than kinky sex, namely they have taken it upon themselves to rid the island of its sinners. In a storyline that pre-dates the likes of "Natural Born Killers" by several decades, Chris and Celia have well and truly developed a taste for blood.
From the very first murder - which involves Celia exposing an artist as a sinner by having sex with him and Chris exacting punishment by choking the man with a rope, nailing him to the ground and pouring paint down his throat - it is immediately obvious that Mastorakis is not holding back as far as sex and violence is concerned. In fact, the director does everything in his power to up the shock value. Nico seems to revel in smashing taboo after taboo. The list includes bestiality, incest, male anal rape, water sports (the kind involving urine) and the slaying of gays and lesbians. There is also some heroin use, graphic lesbian sex, another rape attempt, a dose of racism and a handful of other gruesome murders and detailed sex scenes. In short, Island Of Death is very much a product of the "anything goes" approach to horror in the 1970s, and all the better for it.
The violence and gore is exceptionally well handled. It is hard to believe that the man who coordinated the brutality in this film went on to make movies involving rubber puppets doubling as sea demons ("Blood Tide") and an internet chat room thriller (".com For Murder"). The goat rape is suitably repulsive, the brain splatter aftermath of one of the shootings is magnificently vile and the extended face burning of the lesbian character with a lit aerosol can is truly repugnant. Mastorakis also throws in one of the iconic action sequences of 1970s horror with Foster's death by aeroplane vignette. The gore effects are well done and impressively realistic. The film's sexual content is almost as graphic as the violence. I imagine that it was the juxtaposition of graphic sex and extreme violence that resulted in the film being banned in so many countries, rather than any one act of violence or depiction of sex.
Mastorakis' films have almost always been tainted by spectacularly bad acting. Island Of Death does not contain any Oscar worthy performances but the cast is uniformly respectable. Jane Lyle plays Celia with a wide-eyed innocence that is genuinely disturbing, while Robert Behling injects Chris with a demented sense of self-righteousness that makes the character all the more chilling. The acting highlight for me was, without a doubt, horror legend Jessica Dublin as Patricia. I can't think of many actresses who would take a role that involves them being urinated on, let alone perform it with as much enthusiasm as Jessica.
For what was little more than a shameless exercise in putting together a film that would appeal to weary horror fans, Island Of Death is an extremely effective and original film. More surprisingly, Island Of Death is lyrical in a way that horror movies seldom are. The film exhibits an ethereal quality that sometimes borders on the surreal. The shocking conclusion is as poetic as it is brutal and Mastorakis makes full use of the beautiful Greek countryside throughout. Island Of Death won't appeal to everyone but for fans of nasty horror, this film is simply unmissable.
An Entertaining Disappointment
Kurt Wimmer virtually created a new genre with "Equilibrium". Following up that cult classic was always going to be difficult but when Ultraviolet was announced, expectations were understandably high. As it turns out, Ultraviolet falls considerably short of the high standard set by "Equilibrium". However, this film is by no means the train wreck that it has been portrayed to be. Ultraviolet may be a mess but it still offers more dizzying imagery and computer magic than most blockbusters with three times its budget.
The single biggest problem with Ultraviolet is the story, or lack thereof. A longwinded preamble talks about plagues and diseases, which have resulted in a large portion of the population becoming hemophages - a kind of inoffensive vampire. The government's response to the crisis was initially to treat, then simply to eradicate the hemophages. This was the fate that befell Violet, who escaped a vampire concentration camp to become a vigilante. Despite the fact that Violet never looks or behaves like a vampire and the film forgets to explain Violet's inexplicable fighting prowess - so far so good. In fact the film begins in spectacular style as Violet breaks into a laboratory and steals a case, overcoming a virtual army of guards and scientists. The film begins to fall apart at the seams when Violet finds a human child inside the case and decides to protect it at all costs. Her actions are at odds with everything the character stands for and Violet appears to think nothing of betraying her colleagues.
The rest of the film is basically one long chase scene as Violet struggles to protect the child, known as "Six" from the humans and her fellow mutants. Ultraviolet is never boring, fight after unrealistic fight takes place, characters come and go, flashbacks show glimpses into Violet's old life but nothing really makes any sense or is even vaguely plausible. "Equilibrium" managed to create a sense of gravity through its own convincing mythology. Ultraviolet, on the other hand, is about as deep as Paris Hilton.
If you can get past the fact that the film is basically an excuse to show off Wimmer's computer trickery, Ultraviolet is an enjoyable experience. The action sequences are disappointingly soft as far as violence is concerned but the martial arts and shootings are innovatively staged. There is a tendency to give every fight scene a "Matrix" makeover, with balletic martial arts moves and the requisite bullet dodging, but there are enough new ideas on display to give the film its own identity. The human ball bearings that open the film is one example of Kurt Wimmer's wonderful imagination, Violet's climactic fight against an entire army is another.
In the midst of all this action are a couple of nice scenes between Violet and Six. Milla Jovovich is surprisingly effective as the title character and has to be the best supermodel turned action hero in the history of cinema. Violet is more than a rehash of Milla's character in the far superior "Resident Evil" films. Violet's actions might not make much sense but Milla somehow manages to stop her from coming across as a complete lunatic. The only other actor worth mentioning is Nick Chinlund as Vicecardinum Daxus. Chinlund gives an enjoyably extravagant performance and he makes a good foil for Milla's subtle take on Violet.
Ultraviolet, like "Equilibrium", is distinguished by its innovative use of computer graphics and stylish set and costume design. Kurt Wimmer does not simply utilise computer graphics for special effects sequences, he uses them to create the film's tone, style and landscape. As such, Wimmer's films occupy a weird and wonderful place between live action and computer animation. The jarring factor for the uninitiated is that this director is not aiming for science fiction realism but a highly stylised fantasy world. It must be said that this approach was far better suited to the darker "Equilibrium". The candy coloured world that serves as the backdrop for Ultraviolet often robs the film of its edge and contributes to the film's lack of gravity.
The theatrical version of the film appears to be a studio hatchet job. Apparently, there is at least half an hour of additional footage floating around. I hope that Kurt Wimmer one day gets the opportunity to release a revised version of the film. I suspect that the released product differs substantially from his original vision.
Basic Instinct 2 (2006)
A Great Sequel
It appears that most people decided they were going to hate Basic Instinct 2 before it even hit the theatres, which is a shame because the film is great. Basic Instinct 2 might not scale the same heights as the original but it is a well directed thriller that offers a great cast and the funniest opening sequence in years. The general view that Sharon Stone was too old to reprise her career-making role is a prime example of the prevailing view in Hollywood that an actress over 40 should put a bag over her head and stick to playing mothers. Don't fall for it - Sharon still has enough sizzle to put most leading ladies to shame.
The original "Basic Instinct" was dark and sleazy in a way that only Paul Verhoeven could get away with in a mainstream movie. The tone for the sequel is decidedly different and will initially be quite jarring for fans of the original. This is immediately apparent from the spectacular opening sequence in which Catherine becomes distracted while being digitally pleasured and crashes her car into a river. Catherine's unfortunate companion dies and she is once again the prime suspect in a murder investigation. This scene really has to be seen to be believed and I can only hope that it was intended to be darkly comedic because I think it's one of the funniest movie moments in years. The scene also heralds the overt film-noir stylings of director, Michael Caton-Jones. The image of Catherine floating to the water's surface like a corpse is memorable and beautifully shot.
After the film's stylish yet hilarious beginning, it comes as a relief that the remainder of the film is a more traditional thriller, which offers liberal servings of sex but more importantly, an intriguing (if incredibly unlikely) storyline. Catherine is interviewed by Michael, a psychiatrist who declares her to be a calculating sociopath. Instead of being offended, Catherine is impressed and visits Michael for therapy after being acquitted! This begins a long game of cat and mouse, as the sexual tension between the couple mounts and people close to Michael begin suffering violent deaths. The film's credibility hangs on the assumption that Michael would be willing to risk his career and safety for Catherine and that she would be amused enough by Michael to bother trying to ruin his life. The talented cast somehow make the scenario seem vaguely plausible and from that moment on, the film is an escapist treat.
Sharon Stone annoys me when she tries to act. When Sharon is content to rely on her charisma and sex appeal, as in this film, she's a joy to watch. Catherine Tramell is just as enticing a character now as she was all those years ago. The diva attitude is intact, as are her crazy-eyed dramatics and habit of frequently disrobing. The major difference is the quality of the writing. Sharon manages to get away with the kind of truly awful dialogue that would leave most actresses red-faced and appalled. It's ridiculous that the state of Sharon's looks has been such a talking point with this film. Strangely, the nastiest remarks have come from women - so much for all the whining about the lack of roles for women of a certain age. An actress over 45 actually lands the lead role in a major production and all the proponents of acting equality fall over themselves to cut her down. Sharon certainly still has what it takes to turn heads and this reincarnation of Catherine Tramell is sensational.
In fact, the biggest problem with the film is the question of why Catherine would bother to give someone as insipid as Michael 5 minutes of her time, let alone stalk him like a crazy woman. It is a credit to David Morrissey's skill as an actor that Michael transforms from a dull bore into something far more edgy. David Morrissey might seem a bit lost in the sex scenes but he excels in close-up and displays an impressive range. The supporting cast is equally good, with stellar performances from Charlotte Rampling and David Thewlis. The performances are better than the tawdry script deserved and Michael Caton-Jones exhausts every camera angle imaginable trying to keep the direction interesting. If anything, he tries a little too hard. The film noir approach occasionally seems rather forced, particularly during the action sequences.
As for the film's sexual content? There is enough flesh on display to please the casual pervert but not enough to make the more genteel viewer too uncomfortable. I particularly liked the group orgy scene, stylishly filmed from a glass roof. The violence has been toned down in the sequel but the action and gore content is well handled. I found the film's conclusion as perplexing as the original, which I'm not sure is a good or bad thing. Forget about the bad press and enjoy this film for what it is - an entertaining thriller, spiced with liberal doses of sex and nudity.
Zombi 3 (1988)
Zombi 3 was doomed from the moment Lucio Fulci suffered a stroke during filming and was forced to stand aside as director. Fulci was replaced by Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso, who - while not in the same league as Fulci - certainly know their way around a horror film. Given the circumstances, it's not surprising that the film does not meet Fulci's usual high standards but it is shock that the finished product turned out to be such an awful and embarrassing mess.
Fulci's "Zombi 2" was a brazen attempt to cash in on the Italian success of George A. Romero's "Dawn of The Dead" (released as "Zombi" in Italy). "Zombi 2" exceeded all expectations and became a horror classic in its own right, largely due to Fulci's sublime direction, sense of humour and more-is-more approach to gore. Sadly all of these qualities are sorely missing from Zombi 3. In fact, Zombi 3 has very little going for it at all. There are odd moments of competence and one moment of Fulci brilliance but as a whole, this film is a dog's breakfast. Even the most ardent fan of Italian horror will find this stinker painful to sit through.
It is hard to convey just how bad this movie is. Zombi 3 is abysmal in just about every regard. Perhaps the most grating aspect of the film is its complete and utter disregard for so called "zombie-lore". Fulci took an original approach to zombie behaviour in "Zombi 2" (the underwater zombies being one of the many highlights of that great movie) but still remained within the basic zombie framework. The zombies in this turkey not only run around with great agility, they also talk and remember who they were. These creatures are not the living dead - just living mutants. The misunderstanding of the zombie concept is just one of the script's many flaws. The film's basic premise of a zombie virus being released into the atmosphere is pretty lame but the fact that Zombi 3 requires announcements from an ecologically friendly, zombie DJ to pull the disjointed and confusing storyline together is simply unforgivable. The same could be said for the hilariously inept special effects. The scene in which an actor is attacked by obviously dead, stuffed birds would embarrass Ed Wood, while I hope the person who forgot to apply zombie make-up to the actors' hands and legs is hanging their head in shame somewhere.
Amongst all the incompetence there are a few moments that make the viewing experience bearable. One of them is the zombie in the fridge, which Fulci considered to be one the only respectable scare in the film. Another highlight is the zombie birth scene which was "borrowed" for the recent remake of "Dawn Of The Dead" and the clever twist of having the characters pursued not only by the undead but also by crazed army officials. It must be said that these few bright moments are probably reason enough for horror buffs and zombie aficionados to hunt the film down. Everyone else will be left scratching their heads in wonderment at the epic scale of the Zombi 3's incompetence.
Give Me A Break
The premise of Reeker is so stupid that it makes my head hurt. I spend most of my spare time watching horror films of wildly varying quality and find myself pretty immune to nonsense but a slasher film about an odorous grim reaper type creature that hides under beds and in toilets with an electric hand saw is just stretching credibility one step too far. This is unfortunate because, aside from the laughable story and some unimpressive special effects, Reeker is a competently made and appealing horror movie.
David Payne begins the film with a fantastic sequence that will have animal lovers squirming. A car collides with a dear, coating the car in blood. The car swerves along a deserted highway as the driver attempts to clear the windscreen and control the vehicle at high speed. Despite the promising start, the remainder of the film never lives up to its potential. The basic story involves a group of college students driving to a party in the desert. Unfortunately, their car breaks down and they find themselves stranded at a creepy diner. This situation gives the characters a chance to develop while simultaneously building some tension with a series of weird happenings. The group is comprised of the usual horror movie stereotypes, perhaps with the exception of Jack, who is blind. None of the characters are particularly appealing and when mutilated people begin appearing and the students start getting picked off, I can't say I was particularly upset.
Despite the frenzy of horror movie clichés, this part of the film works well. The effects are gory and visually effective. The director milks the suspense by separating the characters and having blind Jack stumble around over cadavers. The events have an eerie quality and the isolated desert location is atmospheric. The film begins to crumble into the ridiculous when the students start getting hacked up - by the above mentioned grim reaper with poor personal hygiene. Apart from the inherent lunacy of the concept that death hides under beds and in lavatories waiting to slice people up with his vast array of saws, the story is illogical even within the film's own mythology. How does an apparition stink and why would a demon be frightened of a gun and physical violence? Furthermore, what's with all the lurking? For an embodiment of death, this reaper or "reeker" is pretty damn timid and useless. The depiction of blind jack as some kind of demon sniffer dog is also one of the most moronic things I have seen in mainstream horror.
In the midst of all of this idiocy, the film does manage to sustain a sense of momentum and suspense. David Payne knows how to direct an action sequence and the actors are all reasonably impressive, particularly Devon Gummersall as Jack. The special effects vary in quality from the excellent gore of the opening ten minutes to the appalling "reeker" effects, which sum up everything wrong with using computer effects in horror movies. The finale involves some nice stunt work but the daft twist ending just makes the entire movie all the more obscenely and unbearably stupid.
Reeker is not a bad film, just an oppressively illogical one. I love a good (or even a bad) horror franchise - but I really hope the Reeker has jumped out of his last toilet. This idiotic villain needs to be laid to rest.
Ranpo jigoku (2005)
A Mixed Bag
Rampo Noir is a collection of 4 short films based on stories by Edogawa Rampo, the so-called "Japanese Edgar Allen Poe". Rampo Noir is widely uneven, painfully pretentious and at least half an hour too long. Despite these shortcomings, the film does offer its fair share of pleasures - stunning visuals, black comedy and a large dose of Japanese weirdness. Rampo Noir is not a great film but it is an interesting addition to the very small genre of "arthouse horror".
The first of the four films sums up everything that is wrong with the project. A naked man running towards a lake is inter-cut with a naked couple wrestling. The film is silent and partly shown in slow motion. I'm sure there was a deep philosophical reason behind this but I was basically too bored to bother considering what it might be. Even the French would be embarrassed by this exercise in pretension. The next segment, Mirror Hell, is an improvement. For starters, it has sound and a narrative. Mirror Hell is a mystery about a mirror that has the nasty habit of burning off faces. The film is not particularly riveting and some of the special effects are clumsy and not very convincing. The segment is saved by some arresting photography and a wonderfully kinky sex scene between Azusa and Toru, which involves a lot of rope and candle wax.
Caterpillar is the third and, in many ways, most successful of the films at pushing the envelope. This film has an edge that the first two segments are sorely missing. The basic premise of the film is a wife who appears to have amputated her husband's arms and legs in order to save him from going to war. This film explores domestic violence and domination from the unusual angle of a female perpetrator. Caterpillar is an interesting thesis about love in one of its most warped incarnations but instead of shedding light on the issues it puts forward, the film is happy to be a kind of Japanese "Boxing Helena", with its focus firmly directed at shock value and titillation. And it is exceedingly successful at meeting these goals. The scenes where the wife makes her limbless husband eat from a dog bowl and then beats him with a riding crop certainly leave an impression, as does a gruesome scene where she cuts off his nipple. The film also offers a large dose of kinky, limbless sex which is portrayed as vilely erotic. Caterpillar is a nasty little film and Rampo Noir is all the better for it.
Crawling Bugs is the fourth and final segment of Rampo Noir. This film once again explores the idea of how the illusion of love can be the catalyst for the most abhorrent situations. Crawling Bugs tells the story of Masaki, a man who can not bear to be touched by other human beings. This obviously affects his chances with Fuyo, so he kills her and takes her home to be his bride. Despite the multitude of possibilities that this scenario offers, Crawling Bugs avoids the explicitness of "Nekromantik" or even "Kissed", and is happy to be blackly comedic. This is ultimately a smart move as Masaki's vain attempts to keep Fuyo from rotting inject Rampo Noir with some much needed humour and offer some pleasant respite from the sometimes overwhelming level of pretension. Crawling Bugs is visually stunning and very well directed. The gore effects are convincing and the film walks the fine line between the surreal and the plain disgusting with great skill.
Rampo Noir desperately tries to push the boundaries of mainstream cinema but never quite succeeds. In comparison to many of the films emerging from Asia, Rampo Noir is actually rather quaint - with the exception of the large quantity of kinky sex. However, the concept is an interesting one and it offers the opportunity to explore the work of four promising Japanese directors. Rampo Noir is no "Three Extremes" but is worth watching, particularly for the crazy woman with a riding crop.