Friday, 29 January 2010

Video Nasty #4 : Driller Killer

Synopsis - Reno lives with his girlfriend and her other lover in a dilapidated apartment building in New York. He's been working on his masterpiece for sometime, inexplicably a painting of a giant buffalo, whilst his partner makes ends meet. His emasculation, the failure of his art and the success of those less talented then him heat the slow boil of Reno's rage until he finally snaps and in a fit of insanity takes to the streets to kill the very people he is fearful of becoming, the homeless.

In 2010 i'm attempting to watch and review all of the films on the DPP Video Nasty list. Click here for an explanation.

Driller Killer is a hard film to classify. Its aesthetic is too grimey and cheap to be classed as an art house movie, but it's too ambitious and difficult to be labelled a slasher film. After all, no one is killed until fifty minutes into its relatively short running time and of those who do succumb to Reno's Black and Decker (11 by my count), not one is a woman. With that said, the film doesn't pull its punches when it comes to gore which matches the best (or should that be worst?) nasties.

There's never really an explanation as to Reno's weapon of choice. Maybe it's a phallic symbol, a desperate assertion of his dwindling masculinity. After all, his girlfriend not only supports him financially but also has to turn to another women to fulfill her carnal needs. Or maybe he chose the drill because it makes a cool noise and requires very little effort on his part. After all, killing ten people in one night with a knife would be exhausting. Whatever the reason, when Reno sees a portable power supply advertised on television his eyes light up. One can only assume his previous killing efforts could only happen within a two metre radius of a plug.

The killings are surprisingly unsettling and perfectly timed. The camera will linger on a vagrant shuffling along just long enough for the viewer to relax, at which point Reno will come sprinting into frame, jamming his drill into the poor victim's chest. These mostly bloodless kills are pretty shocking due to their sheer ferociousness. Well, they were until I realised that they reminded me of the scene in Monty Python's Holy Grail where Sir Lancelot is slowly advancing towards two guards only to suddenly appear and stab them. As soon as I'd made the Python connection I couldn't help but giggle whenever the killer came flying in to the shot.

Other than the fact that the film's called Driller Killer (a title which I can't help but think was meant to be funny), there's one scene in particular that got the film on the DPP list; a quite nasty prolonged shot of Remi giving a 6mm frontal lobotomy to a suprisingly static tramp. He doesn't even finish the job off with a Rawl plug, which in my opinion is sloppy workmanship. A still of this scene was the cover of the original VHS cover, providing the final screw in Driller Killer's DPP coffin.

One thing the film does particularly well is capture the sleazyness of New York in the 70s. Aside from the odd synth, the film is mostly soundtracked by 'Tony Coca-Cola and the Roosters', a shitty punk band (aren't they all?) who live in the flat above Reno and sound oddly like The Kings of Leon. There are numerous uncut full performances by the band, providing little apart from boredom and irritation. Driller Killer opens with the text 'This film should be played loud'. Maybe the director wanted us to be driven as mad by the crappy music as Reno was? If so, it worked.

For most of the viewing I was unsure of what to make of the film, I was struggling to understand if the filmmaker had something interesting to say, or the dialog was just foreplay to Reno's power tool penetration (I promise i'll not mention my phallic symbolism theory again). Any doubts I had were quelled by the final scene. The director applies remarkable restraint when a normal horror hack would of exploited the situation for all it is worth. The film ends with something that would normally be considered a cop-out in low budget horror: implied violence. The viewer is plunged into darkness and we can only imagine what actually happened.

I'll leave the final word to Steve, a school child from Coventry allegedly* questioned for the Parliamentary report 'Video Violence And Children'.

I like the bit in Driller Killer where he puts a man up on sticks and then he gets a drill and puts it through his stomach and he screams for ages

Me too little man, me too.

* This is from the excellent 'Seduction of the Gullible' by John Martin. The report quoted Steve from Coventry, even though no schools in Conventry were involved in the survey.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Video Nasty #3 : Eaten Alive AKA Death Trap

Death Trap opens with Buck, a young pre-Krueger Robert Englund, taking liberties with a newly recruited prostitute ('My name is Buck and I'm here to fuck'). The girl is fired for not indulging in Buck's rear-end shinanigans and is advised to stay the night at Judd's. Before leaving she's warned not to let Judd know she worked at Miss Hattie's, he doesn't take kindly to sinners!

Judd's motel is seemingly located on a smokey low rent sound stage. As if the constant country music and ramshackled rooms weren't enough of an attraction, Judd's hotel has a zoo comprising of a dead monkey and huge man eating african crocodile. Before you can say 'rubber reptile' Buck has beaten the ex-whore to death with a rake and thrown her to his pet crocodile. The film then follows a parade of guests inexplicably renting a room at Buck's and most of them meeting a grissly end, before the inevitable and predictable demise of Buck.

In 2010 i'm attempting to watch and review all of the films on the DPP Video Nasty list.Click here for an explanation.

Eaten Alive is a gory exploitation movie and for the most part good sleazy fun. It's a perfect example of the style Rodrigeuz and Tarantino were trying to capture in their ridiculously expensive homage to exploitation cinema, 'Grindhouse'. In fact, Tarantino quotes the first line of Eaten Alive in Kill Bill (the aforementioned chat up line from Buck). Eaten Alive has an aesthetic that thankfully wasn't ruined by the supposed digital mastering; the scratches on the film are still clearly visible, constantly breaking the blood splattered fourth wall. One could easily imagine a drive through full of teens in the 80's screaming and cheering when the unfortunate guests are fed to the croc. I like to think that in a cinema full of like minded people, I'd be cheering too.

The hotelier Judd is the star of the film, in terms of appeal and screen time. He's a protagonist you really love to hate. We were both shouting 'kill him' at the TV when ever the opportunity arose, which has to be the mark of good bad guy. Basically, Buck is your run of the mill hollywood pyschopathic extreme rightwing nazi christian. He despises prostitutes and spends a lot of his time grumbling whilst using a magnifying glass to read porn magazines on his swastika adorned arm chair. I think the original intention of the film was to try and expand on the Judd character, but on a production fraught with problems something was lot in process (The film had a total of six producers and director Tobe Hooper eventually walked off the set). The Judd character was inspired by the serial killer Joe Ball, a bar owner who also had five pet alligators. When confronted about several missing women, Ball shot himself.

The gore is silly and good fun, but what else would you expect from a movie where the main murder weapon is a ten foot 'invincible' crocodile? The Croc is put to good usage, ripping heads off and even eating a girl's cute furry dog. Judd does his best with his trusty sythe, jamming it in people's necks and dragging them into the pool. Realistic, this is not.

The movie was directed by Tobe Hooper, whos previous film was the the seminal Texas Chainsaw Massacre (TCM). Coincidently, although TCM was banned, it never appeared on the video nasty list itself. Apart from being in the same genre, TCM and Eaten alive have very little it common. TCM was and is still a visceral and intense movie, leaving a lasting imprint on the viewer. It is a masterpiece of suggestion; how else could a film with hardly any blood, no swearing and no nudity receive an 18 certificate when finally released on DVD? Eaten Alive on the other hand is a big dumb gore-fest, where nothing is left to the imagination. One has to wonder if Hooper only made TCM so sparse of gore for budgetary reasons. Although I think it's more likely that Hooper originally expected TCM to receive a PG certificate (this is true).

Maybe I'm being too kind to Eaten Alive because it's the first movie i've watched on this stupid endurance test that's actually been as I expected, not that it was a particularly memorable film. I wouldn't recommend it to everyone, but if you like a bit of silly violence and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it's probably worth checking out just to see what Hooper did next. There's no reason this film should ever of been banned, but I can understand how it got caught up in the Video Nasty fiasco far more than Unhinged due to the sheer amount of gore. Regardless, it's far too silly to be taken seriously.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Video Nasty #2 : Unhinged

Synposis: Three teenage girls are travelling to a music festival when they crash their car into a ditch, most likely because they're being pursued by a camera man in a helicopter playing cheesy synth music. They awake in a mysterious Mansion, inhabited by a spinster and her man hating mother. One by one the girls are stalked by a mysterious sexually repressed killer, who reveals his true self in an utterly bizarre climax.

In 2010 i'm attempting to watch and review all of the films on the DPP Video Nasty list.Click here for an explanation.

From the outset Unhinged has all the classic hallmarks of a Slasher movie. There's unnecessary nudity and as soon as the DJ on the crackly car radio has warned the girls of unexplained disappearances in the local area, they crash the car. And all of this happens within the first ten minutes. Unfortunately, instead of maintaining the momentum the films slows to a crawl and never really gets back to walking, or more suitably, stalking pace.

The lack of pace is surprising considering the film's attractively short running time of seventy nine minutes. I think the directory and his script monkey made two mistakes. Firstly, if you're making a slasher film you really need more than three people to kill. Secondly, write more then twenty minutes worth of a script. Rather than writing more dialog then your average Pingu episode, the film makers decided to flesh out the film with excruciatingly slow shots of, well, nothing. One could argue that the intention of such languid shots were to deliberately build tension. If that's the case then it's ruined by the Rick Wakeman wanna-be noodling on the 303 whenever there's some dead air to fill.

The acting was worse then one could expect from a low budget film, the three girls focus so much on their lines that they forget to act. The stand out performance has to be the scene stealing eldery mother, who has two fantastically melodramatic Jekyll and Hyde scenes at the dinner table. When talking to the girls she's a loveable grandma figure (with bizarre Shatner-esque intotation), but when talking to her daughter she's a physco man hater, venting her misandry at her 'slut' of a daughter. As if the barn storming schizo act wasn't enough she sporadically stops mid speech and becomes enticed by small silverware in front of her, grasping at them for some inexplicable reason (see picture).

Other than the mad mother the only other redeeming factor of the film is its ending. We discover that the mother has a son who lives in the shed due to her irrational hatred of cock bearers. The brother is obviously the killer and as he chases the Final Girl she shoots him dead. In a fit of rage the sister then reveals herself to be the killer and also a man, before bludgeoning the remaining girl to death with his hair chest on display. What I love about the reveal is that the he-she's voice literally drops three octaves (think Judy Dench suddenly talking like Brian Blessed).

The film really is dull and despite a few bizarre moments (the mother, the ending) I can't say I'd recommend that anybody watch it. As a physcological thriller it's poorly acted and follows a mostly predictable path. As a horror film the horror is almost non-existant, a five year old wouldn't find this scary. There was promise with the first kill, carried out by an ominous death character (see picture). Unfortunately the film makers didn't capatilise on this truly scary image and instead settled for a P.O.V. axe murder and a shemale axe attack.

I have no idea why this film is a video nasty, although I do agree that the public do need protecting from films as bad as this. To label it obscene wrongly gives it credit for achieveing something on an emotional level, which it clearly doesn't. I've been more emotionally affected by burning a piece of toast.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Video Nasty #1 : Anthropophagous (AKA The Grim Reaper)

Synopsis: A bunch of twenty-something Americans who are less likeable than the Manson Family charter a boat to a remote Greek island to meet up with their English friends. When they arrive on the island it is seemingly deserted apart from a mysterious (i.e. old) woman who keeps popping up in windows and disappearing. One by one the jerks are killed by a heavy breathing beardy cannibal (If you're going be stalking people, work on your cardio). Towards the end of the film we discover that the man was driven to cannibalism after accidentally killing and eating his wife and son.

In 2010 i'm attempting to watch and review all of the films on the DPP Video Nasty list.Click here for an explanation.

You know when you wake up after a night out and realise that you've agreed to do something stupid in a drunken stupor? I had that exact feeling when I received my first three Video Nasties in the post. Staring at the man with his head imprisoned in a bamboo box on the cover of Deep River Savages I didn't know whether to feel more sorry for him or me - Yeah, you're about to a human entree, but at least you don't have to watch Killer Nun. Regardless, I committed to this stupid endeavor and im going to finish it.

Anthropophagous eased me into the process gently and I actually enjoyed it much more than I could ever of expected. The production values are relatively high (emphasis on relative w.r.t. the list) and it moves along at a decent enough place. The film is directed by Joe D'Amato, who's name pops up on the DPP list a few times. The man has directed 196 movies, although the word 'Movie' is a probably a little kind considering most of them have titles like Sexy Treasure Hunt Show and Robin Hood: The Sex Legend. Like many horror films of the era the script isn't the film's strongest point; the dialog is forced and unnatural, especially when exposition is involved.

The soundtrack is heavily orchestrated, which would be impressive if it didn't sound like it has been lifted from a Thundercats episode. The biggest problem was the lighting. I wouldn't be surprised if the lighting guy had an Alsatian in a high vis. jacket. There are a number of scenes where someone is carrying a candle in a dark house. The lighting solution to this was to shine a torch in the actor's face. If this wasn't bad enough the torch was being held by someone with a hand shakier than Jimmy Saville.

Something that really distracted me was the eponymous beast. He reminded of someone and it took a while to figure out who. At first I thought it was Björn Ulvaeus from Abba, but then I realised. It was Non, one of the three evil Kyrptonians in Superman 2.

My favourite scene involves a disembodied head in a bucket. Not because it was scary, the head looks like a rejected prop from Wurzel Gummidge's head shelf. The writer obviously had an idea that he thought would be terrifying: A female puts her foot in a bucket of water only to find the captain's head in it. How terrifying! Unfortunately to get this convaluted scene to work an actress has to pull up a bucket on a rope onto the boat, put the bucket on the floor and then put her strained ankle in the bucket, all without looking at the bucket. Because the woman's eyes were fixed on the middle distance through out the scene it was entirely predictable and all the more hilarious.

So why was it on the list? The two scenes that probably earned it a reputation as a Video Nasty were cut from my version of the film (apparently the distributor mistakenly submitted the heavily cut version to the BBFC). The original ending had the beast being disembowled and eating his own intestines, which makes sense really. If I was a cannibal i'd like my last meal to be myself - I've been rearing this livestock since I was born, I don't want some other cannibal getting a slice. I'm pretty sure this scene would remain uncut by the BBFC as eating innards is the mainstay of most zombies films since Dawn of the Dead. I don't think the other scene would get passed the BBFC at all, which sees the reaper pulling a featus out of a pregnant woman and chomping on it like it was a happy meal (the effect was achieved using a dead rabbit).

Personally, I think the biggest factor in its banning was probably the VHS cover. Due to the general furore over Video Nasties, many were added to the list for arbitrary reasons, not least of which the VHS 'big box' covers. With the home market being flooded with low-budget horror imports the small independent distributors had to rely upon advertising and video artwork to get their videos sold, always trying to outdo their competitors on the gore stakes. And as you can see from the original video cover above, it's a pretty fantastic and gory cover.

One down, 60 to go.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

This blog is obscene

All video recordings sold in the UK must be classified by the Board of British Film Censors (BBFC). The BBFC have the power to refuse classification, effectively banning a film from release. I think the BBFC do a pretty good job and it's not one I envy.

I'd imagine that when someone takes a job at the BBFC they'd be thinking 'Ace, I get to sit around watching movies all day before they've been released, uncut!'. Little do they release that 10 years later they'd be sat in a small screening room watching a marathon of Dad's Army episodes. (In case you're interested, the boxset is 80 episodes. Therefore at 8 hours a day that's a whole working week of back to back Dad's Army). It would be like hell programmed by UK Gold.

The BBFC have only had the remit to classify videos since the introduction of the Video Recording Act 1984. Before this the sale of a film on VHS could only be blocked using the Obscene Publications Act. According to wikipedia, the act defines 'obscene' as something that will "tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it".

Local police forces used this somewhat broad definition to carry out raids on video stores, seizing video's that their bosses deemed to be obscene. In one case Dolly Parton's 'The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas' was seized as pornographic material. Because of the varied interpretation of the law the Directory of Public Prosecutions made a list of films that had been successfully prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act or were awaiting to be tried in court. After Mary Whitehouse coined the term 'Video Nasty' the list came to be known as the DPP list of 'Video Nasties'

The list itself is a mixed bag of up to 72 films (the list changed over time). Some films clearly shouldn't of been in the list ('Evil Dead': a slapstick over the top horror comedy), some to this day are questionable ('Faces of Death': A compilation of snuff footage, mostly fake) and some are just plain sick ('Last Orgy of the Third Reich'). Of the 72 films, 61 have been released in some form or another (no surprises that 'Last Orgy of the Third Reich' is still banned).

So why am I telling you, the single person who reads my blog, about this? I've decided that i've needed something other than my uninteresting life to blog about, and the list of 61 films is it. I'm going to attempt to watch all 61 released films by the end of the year, and write a review for each one. If Mary Whitehouse was right, by the end of the year I will be a disgusting broken husk of a man who can only express himself through violence, sex and swearing. If i'm right, i'll spend the year watching some brilliant, some bizarre but mostly poor films.

Full disclosure. Of the 61 films i've seen 5 before (mostly good) and I already own 2. As I can't bring myself to contaminate our Love Film rental list i'll be buying most of the films, as cheap as possible. This shouldn't be difficult. The first film I typed into (Obviously 'The Anthropophagous Beast' AKA 'The Grim Reaper') was £1.00 delivered. If anything, I'm going to have some cheap nights in.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Stuck on the motorway and desperate for the toilet? Try hitting a car

One of my many New Year's resolutions for 2009 was to write a weekly diary entry on my blog, mainly because I have the same memory limits as a Commodore 64. I had forgotten so much about my life up to that point and I knew my memory was only going to get worse. I needed to record what was happening somewhere, otherwise all these things would be lost in time, like tears in rain. Also I like writing even if no one reads or enjoys what I write (I can't blame them, considering the incredibly nerdy way I misappropriated a quote from Bladerunner at the end of the previous sentence).

Like most New Years resolutions I started with conviction, managed a few months and then gave up. The problem is that most of my life is mundane, such that writing and reading about it was a dull experience. I suppose that if this was an unpublished diary I could of written some really interesting stuff. But I like my friends and family and wouldn't want to upset anyone.

I'm starting to think that writing a blog could become the replacement for the country's most popular New Year's Resolution: 'Going to the Gym'. I've looked at a few random blogger accounts and it seems that most people started out in good spirit, managed a few posts and then gave up (Hi Sam!). At least with a failed blog you don't have a direct debit entry on you monthly bank statement for the next year, mocking your pathetic lack of will power.

So this year I haven't set myself any blogging target, I'll just do it when I think i've got something interesting to write about. In fact, I have no news years resolutions. Oh, apart from getting Married. That's quite a big one, although someone's already agreed to marry me, so the difficult part is sorted.

If one of my News Year's Resolutions was to not cause car crashes, I would of failed within the first five days. Driving to my first day of work of 2010 I managed to hit a car from behind at a roundabout. Thankfully it was at very low speeds and no-one was injured (in fact, i'm pretty sure there was no damage to either car, but I can't blame the other person for claiming on my insurance, i'd probably do the same). Unfortunately I couldn't blame the 'big freeze' that had unexpectedly hit the country. Presumably the snow was unexpected because we hadn't seen weather like this since, well, roughly this time last year.

Normally i'd be mortified that i had caused an accident (sorry, collision. accident implies someone is to blame), but I have a water tight excuse - my bladder.

My bladder has always been useless to the point that I think i really should speak to a doctor about it. Before hitting the car in front I'd been sitting in a queue for two and a half hours on the M1. It had got to the point that the pain had turned into cramping, like my body was warning me about the long term damage i was about to cause.

I was so desperate for a wee I'd already formulated a plan of action. Costa Coffee cup? check. Blanket to cover little D, avoiding embarrasment from passing motorists? check. Moved sun visor to stop lorry drivers looking in? check. Fiddled with all seat controls to ensure optimal 'run-off' angle in case of spillage? check.

When the accident occurred I was only (theoretically) a few minutes away from work so I decided my McGyver like plan could wait. Because I was so desperate to visit what was at that point the most beautiful urinal in the world I wasn't focusing on driving properly. I saw a clearing on the round-about ahead and accelerated. Unfortunately, the person in front of me didn't.

Fortunately, I did learn something from this experience. If you are ever in a car and desperately need to go toilet, I can wholly advise causing an accident. You totally forget about needing to wee for at least fifteen minutes.

I'm mad as hell, and i'm not going to take it anymore

Recently I watched the excellent Network (1976), a satire on television in the US, or really anywhere in the world.

As a young'un I found it quite difficult to get into films made before I was born, generally because older films weren't pieced together with quick cuts, short scenes and the general kineticism of modern movies (is kineticism even a word?). I've always loved film, but I had a habit of watching the 'classics' without really giving them the full attention they demand and deserve. They are not Terminator 2; they insist some degree of concentration from the viewer. Films had more talking, more raw emotion and less explosions. And this, I now know, is a good thing.

I'm often bowled over by how edgy films from the 70s can be. I don't think it can be a coincidence that all of the great films from the 70s were so intelligent but unrelentingly harsh and visceral: Apocalypse Now, Clockwork Orange, Exorcist, Taxi Driver, Staw Dogs ... the list goes on. I suspect this is for many reasons, not least the fall-out of the Vietnam War and the political changes at the time.

Or maybe it was that films would always be like this if the 80's hadn't happened. The 80's was the decade of excess; everyone wanted to forget about the 70's and the cold war, something which is reflected in the movies of the time, there were alot of disposable feel good rom-coms or chuck norris beating the shit out of Russians. This was also the decade of affordable VCRs, with which came straight to video movies and public outrage over 'video nastys', because films that could only previously be seen in the cinemas could now be watched at home by kids. Consequently, The prequel to my favourite film ever, 'Evil Dead 2' was branded a video nasty and only re-released uncut in 2001. Anyway, enough amateur (and probably a bit incorrect) film history.

Ironically, maybe the real reason film has changed so much since the 70s was the hypothesis at the heart of Network. As media becomes too influenced by business (especially big business), it is inevitably compromised. And the 80's was, after all, the decade of the corporation. Huge conglomerates were desperate to be involved with all areas of business, and their board of directors only cared about one thing. And for the movie studios they purchased, it wasn't artistic integrity.

Spoilers on Network from here in...

Network begins with a news anchorman being given his weeks notice due to his nightly news show having a poor audience share; he's past it and they need fresh blood. The anchor responds by announcing on the evening news that he will kill himself live on the air next week. The film follows the reporter's subsequent rehiring as the 'Mad Prophet of the Airways', when the network realise that the reporter's subsequent expletive laden outburst on the air gained them a higher audience share.

The one part of the film that is eerily prophetic is how the conservative 'just the facts' nightly news slowly changes into 'News Entertainment' program, fronted by the Mad Prophet's ramblings who now has a mantra: "I'm mad as hell, and i'm not going to take it anymore". News reports are replaced with a psychic trying to predict next week news and seeing if their previous week's predictions were correct. Time is given to a segment called 'vox populi' (Voice of the People), which presumably gives air to the opinions to the (mostly) uninformed people on the street.

Essentially, ignoring the psychic, the film invented a 'News Entertainment' format that is very similar to a lot of news programming now on the air. No where is this more apparent then the Murdoch owned Fox News (US), an incredibly right-wing news station that reports republican opinion as fact, with Glenn Beck acting as Fox New's Mad Prophet.

Coincidentally, the only reason that the Murdoch owned Sky News isn't more like its American counterpart is that Ofcom ensures news is reported impartially. It is widely accepted that a Cameron government would greatly reduce Ofcom's powers and in return the Murdoch owned newspapers (e.g. The Sun) will switch their allegiance from Labour to Conservative for the next election. As we've seen in the last few months, Murdoch's kept his part of the deal.

Network ends with producers deciding to assassinate the Mad Prophet live on air due to falling rating. Recently the presenter of a Brazilian Crime TV show was accused of ordering assassinations to boost his TV shows ratings. He was caught out because his film crew were consistently arriving at crime scenes before the police.

Network is a brilliantly written film and well worth a watch, although I've ruined the ending now. Of course, the writers of Network managed to summarise my ramble into a few sentences:

You're television incarnate, Diana: Indifferent to suffering; insensitive to joy. All of life is reduced to the common rubble of banality. War, murder, death are all the same to you as bottles of beer. And the daily business of life is a corrupt comedy. You even shatter the sensations of time and space into split seconds and instant replays. You're madness, Diana. Virulent madness. And everything you touch dies with you. But not me. Not as long as I can feel pleasure, and pain... and love.