Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Video Nasty #15: The Beyond

Synopsis: Welcome to Louisiana's recently refurbished Seven Doors hotel. Breakfast is served 8 till 10, Checkout is at 11. The gym's on the first floor and the gateway to hell is in the basement.

Although i’ve only seen a few of Fulci’s movies (there are three on the DPP list), I can understand why people often refer to The Beyond as his masterpiece. The Beyond is a nightmare committed to celluloid, set pieces of incredibly visceral and inventive gore bound together with a storyline that is set in the same waking nightmare, not constrained by conscious reasoning and the earth bound laws of nature. I can understand why some people would take issue with the story's apparent plot-holes and inconsistencies, but when has a nightmare ever made sense?

The film opens in sepia toned Louisiana, a torch wielding mob storming the Seven Doors hotel to take their revenge on the warlock in room 36 who they believe has damned them all. From the outset Fulci is keen to let the viewer know he means business; The artist’s flesh is lacerated with chains, his body crucified in the basement and covered in boiling acid. All of this is done with unflinching voyeuristic camera shots, which left me feeling slightly disgusted but also perversely impressed. Unfortunately in taking their revenge for the warlock's unspecified sins the locals have opened one of the seven doors to hell (It sounds like hell seriously falls foul of fire exit regulations).

The film then moves to the now past present (1981) and we follow Lisa, the hotel’s new proprietor, as she starts renovating the seventh gate of hell for new guests (to be fair, i’d take my chances with the seventh gate of hell over Premier Inn any day). Whilst everyone involved in the venture is dying in horrible ways Lisa continues to investigate the mystery of room 36, helped by an apparently non-existent blind girl and the local doctor.

Although I’ve seen films that are, in terms of gallons of blood shed, far more bloody than The Beyond (Peter Jackson’s Braindead is untouchable in this respect), I can’t think of a film that has as many effective hands-in-front-of-eyes sequences. Fulci is a master of gore and his sick mind seems to come up with ever inventive and horrible deaths. His eye gouging obsession aside (the retina removals in this are far more effective than the infamous splinter sequence in Fulci’s previous Zombi 2) there are some nightmare inducing scenes, including a paralysed man being attacked by flesh tearing tarantulas, sulphuric acid melting an unconscious woman’s face and a girl being chased by a pool of her dead mother's blood.

Towards the film’s climax I was slightly concerned that Fulci had backed himself into a corner. Given how powerful the evil is, it seemed unlikely that the lead characters could possibly over come it. And, thankfully, Fulci doesn’t deliver anything like a happy ending, but something that is as ambiguous and unexplained as the plot that came before it. This is ultimately what makes the film work. Aside from a few nods to plot, there’s no attempt made to explain what is happening, or to understand the malevolent force at work. Evil can’t be explained, it just is.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Video Nasty #14: The man from deep river AKA Deep River Savages

Synopsis: John's living the colonial English man's dream. He's been accepted as warrior by a jungle tribe, he has a beautiful & permanently naked native wife and is the only one in the village who doesn't think throwing spears at helicopters is a good idea. Now he just has to meet the neighbours, a bunch of blood thirsty cannibals.

Deep River Savages is often credited as the first in a long run of italian produced cannibal movies, the people-eater prototype. Given this, it's surprising that the titular savages are actually on screen for less than five minutes, barely eating more than a bit of arm and breast. The film is really a soft-core mondo love story, with large helpings of real animal torture thrown in for cheap thrills.

After killing a man in self defence John charters a boat into deep jungle territory, using his day job as a photographer as cover for going on the run. After some reverie about the foggy streets of London and half a bottle of Jim Beam, John awakes to find his guide missing and some pissed off natives with spears. The tribe take him prisoner because, he believes, they have mistaken him for a fish ('I'm a man!, not a fish!').

Then follows 20 minutes of cruel and unusual rituals, including what I have now termed human piƱata and blow-dart carousel. Once John has survived these unexplained rituals he is accepted in the tribe, destined to carry logs around for the remainder of the film for no notable reason. I think i'm right in assuming that most, if not all of the rituals in the films are made up by a naive westerner. Some, such as voodoo dolls, i'm sure are not attributable to asian tribes and others are just plain mad.

When a women's partner dies they seem to have a few ways to pick a new partner. The first is for the woman to have tag team sex with multiple men on her dead husband's ashes, presumably picking the one with the best moves. The second sees the woman sitting blindfolded in a room, deciding on her man according to who touches her up best through a hole in the wall. Naturally our hero John wins his women Maraya by not grabbing her boob like all the neanderthal tribe men, but instead stroking her arm. He's obviously playing the long game. Perv.

Other than the extraordinary way in which John 'wins' his woman, the remainder of the film is a plodding mediocre romance with lots of slow motion frolicking in the jungle. Maraya learns english surprisingly fast, especially considering John's rubbish definitions (a car is a box that makes a noise, apparently).

We only get to see the real savages in the last fifteen minutes of the film, eating one of John's tribe and then going on a rampage in their village. John manages to save Maraya, but she then dies after giving birth to his child, leaving John to turn his back on the western world (literally, he hides from a rescue helicopter) and to take charge of rebuilding the village. And that's it, the film ends with me looking a bit confused, expecting at least twenty more minutes of cannibal mayhem.

Cinematically Deep River Savages looks great, has a nice soundtrack and what we do see of the cannibals is fun. Unfortunately it's a painfully slow movie, which is a surprise considering the amount of torturous rituals and animal cruelty. I suspect that it began life as a soft-corn porn exploitation love story, but to get the horror crowd in the director added a bunch of shocking animal cruely and a few cannibals. Which is a shame, because without the cruelty and cannibalism I wouldn't of had to watch it.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Video Nasty #13: The House on the Edge of the Park

Synopsis: Mentally challenged Ricky and his psychotic italian american friend Alex have been invited to a middle class house party after fixing the host's car. Quickly annoyed by frustrating sex games and a rigged game of poker, Alex holds the party hostage and takes revenge in the most despicable manner.

Like Night Train Murders, The House on the Edge of the Park is a 'rape revenge' movie clearly inspired by The Last House on the Left. In fact, David Hess all but reprises his role from Last House on the Left as the ring leader of the atrocities when the party goes wrong. And it doesn't take long. The condescending guests cheer the mentally incapacitated Ricky on as he boogies and strips to the cheesy disco, desperate to impress his new friends. Alex is clearly disgusted with their behaviour, and turns his attention to the advances of Lisa, the blonde who invited them to the party. Lisa's sexual games frustrate Alex, and when he discovers the party guests have conned Ricky out of money in a bent game of poker a lame fight kicks off, with Alex and his switch blade coming out as the winner. Ricky thinks they should leave but Alex makes it clear they're in for the long haul 'You must be cartooning', he says, 'the best is yet to come. Now we're gonna have some fun with these cunts'. And so begins Alex's prolonged torture, mutilation and rape of the guests.

The next 40 minutes are very tense, the guest's lame attempts to escape always foiled at the last second. An astonishing 11 minutes and 43 seconds were cut from the later half of the film to satisfy the BBFC. The story remains mostly intact, the biggest consequence being the the film's only murder being mostly left on the cutting room floor, creating some extremely annoying and incongruous cuts. I can only assume that I had same issue with the film as the BBFC. I was slightly perturbed by the way the female characters were represented in the film, they all appeared to be sluts and after a struggle enjoying being raped. Thankfully, my concerns were mostly resolved by the nonsensical twist at the end of the film.

The House on the Edge of Park has one of the dumbest twists i've ever seen on film, and i've seen M. Night Shamalan's back catalogue. Just when it seems that all hope is lost, one of the guests reveals a gun and shoots Alex in the leg. He explains that Alex raped and killed his sister last year (something we see at the start of the film), and that the whole party has been an elaborate ploy to take his revenge on Alex, making his eventual murder look like self defence. This explains the sexual teasing, apparent enjoyment of rape, and fixing the card game; it was all done to make Alex flip. Here's the stupid thing: For some unknown reason they'd let Alex rape, mutilate and, in one case kill so they could take their revenge safe from prosecution. And they never explained how they knew it was Alex who had killed his sister.

As with the director's previous film, Cannibal Holocaust, we are treated to some unsubtle dialog to hammer home some of the psuedo-intellectual themes of the film; the true cost of violent revenge and if enjoying it makes us as bad as our enemy. 'It's all over', the brother says after killing his sister's murderer. 'But at what price?' his girlfriend replies (rape, mutilation and death, btw.). Just incase you don't get the message, he replies 'but you found it exciting didn't you?'.

Despite the ridiculous ending and the fact I was watching the heavily censored BBFC approved cut, I really enjoyed The House on the Edge of the Park. The film is shot well, manages to maintain tension through out and has surprisingly good performances, especially from Giovanni Lombardo Radice (Ricky) and David Hess (Alex). Now I really need to watch The Last House on the Left

Friday, 19 March 2010

Video Nasty #12: Zombie Creeping Flesh AKA Hell of the Living Dead AKA Night of the Zombies

Synopsis: The HOPE project have been secretly working on a solution to the rapid growth of the third world - a well controlled zombie apocalypse. When something goes wrong a bumbling SWAT team is sent into the Zombie infested jungle to investigate, unwillingly teaming up with a TV reporter and her cameraman.

Zombies. They are by far my favourite movie monster. More terrifying than Vampires, Werewolfs, Frankenstein and Rob Schneider. And the reason is simple, literally. Zombies don't have gimmicks; they'll come into your house without invitation, they can eat after midnight and garlic only improves the smell of their rotting flesh. They have one function, to eat and subsequently infect. Like the proverbial rice on the chess board one zombie spawns two over breakfast, its offspring creates four over brunch and by dinner the population of a small town looks like the queue outside the post office on pension day, stumbling, dead eyed, stiff-jointed coffin dodgers.

Zombies are universally scary because they play on the most ubiquitous of fears, dying. They are a walking reminder of our mortality, that all we have to look forward to is decomposition and, if the outbreak affords us resurrection, chewing on some unlucky bastard's guts. They're Aesop for adults, no matter how fast you run you'll always need to sleep, and the zombie will catch up. You can't rationalise with a Zombie, they'll just stare at you blankly and then bite your nose off.

In Romero's Dawn of the Dead a priest declares that 'when there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth'. Although I don't buy the heaven/hell system, I like the idea that Zombie's are the inevitable response to man's sins on earth. Mother nature always finds a way, and when it can't reduce our bourgeoning population with Swine Flu what better solution than a new type of virus, turning us on ourselves?

I think that the simplicity of Zombies can also be their undoing. All you need to make a Zombie film is a few willing friends, some blue face paint and a gallon of fake blood. Therefore, when Romero had success with Dawn of the Dead studios were falling over themselves to buy up Zombie films, regardless of quality. Zombie Creeping Flesh is one of the films rushed out to cash in on Dawn's success, and it shows. Like Dawn the main characters are a SWAT team and a TV reporter. Like Dawn the film is soundtracked by Zombi. Like Dawn it has moments of (attempted) humour amongst the blood shed. Unlike Dawn, it is rubbish. In fact, Zombie Creeping Flesh is a cinematic perfect storm, a film that is so bad it's good. It is an awful yet strangely entertaining mess.

The script is laugh a minute, especially the forced and unnatural macho banter between the members of the SWAT team. I struggle to believe that a member of an elite military unit would say 'When did you start worrying about our balls daddy?' to his commander. The dialog is made all the more comical by the poor dubbing and the voices clearly not belonging to the actors on the screen. The story isn't much better either - it's never really explained what the SWAT team are doing, why the scientists working on the genocidal virus are surprised by what happened when it leaked, and how the reporter worked out the truth with absolutely no evidence.

The SWAT team really do put the special in 'special forces'. They wear a navy blue uniform throughout the film, even though most of the time they are on stealth operations in the jungle. Despite the 'one in the chest, one in the head' mantra, the team seem to think pounding a body full of semi-automatic fire will do, even after one them points out that the only way to kill the undead is a head shot. When they split up to explore a mysteriously deserted house one decides to put on a tutu, top hat and dance around with a cane, only to end up as an extra in Thriller. Another jumps in an elevator full of zombies, presumably because it was quicker than the stairs.

The film is notable for the shameless amount of incongruous stock footage it recycles. In between shots of the SWAT team driving around the jungle we see grainy footage of wolfs, bats, elephants, pelicans, cranes and monkeys, not once aligning with the shots of the SWAT team. If this isn't bad enough the producers sink to a new low by exploiting footage of natives. Real footage of tribal burial ceremonies are used a precursor to the dead rising and celebrations are repurposed as tribes running away from hordes of the undead. If this wasn't exploitative enough, the film has the funniest and most blatant piece of titilation i've ever seen. When the reporter and SWAT team arrive at a native village the reporter tells them she'll go in first, as she's familiar with their customs. Cut to a perfectly framed shot of the women's norks as she takes her top off and then stands there, boobs aplenty for at least five seconds.

But as I said before, these flaws make the film watchable and ultimately enjoyable. The gore is quite impressive, the finale seeing the female reporter's tongue being ripped out and her eyes poked out of their sockets from the inside. If you want a silly gorey movie, Zombie Flesh Eaters is it. If you want something you can really get your teeth into, stick with Dawn of the Dead, its far superior inspiration.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Video Nasty #11: Lisa, Lisa AKA Axe

Synopsis: After a bit of the old ultra-violence, three inept criminals are on the lam. Deciding to get off the road, they forcefully take refuge in an isolated country house occupied by Lisa and her incapacitated Grandfather. It looks like the jerks may of chosen the wrong 13 year old to mess with.

Lisa, Lisa is a dark but mostly benign little film. In fact, given its 65 minute runtime it's more like a TV movie, or an episode of Tales of the Unexpected. From what I've read it was made on a miniscule budget to appease drive-in distributors, hence the short runtime. Given that, I think it's quite an achievement. Not that I won't rip into it...

The film open with our bungling criminals waiting in a flat for the cross-dressing owner to return. In this short period the film establishes the three main character's traits with broad strokes. Steel is pure evil, worse than Sauron, Hitler and the dark lord himself, Robert Kilroy Silk. He's so evil, you have to wonder how he's made it this far in life without stabbing himself in the face for making eye contact in the mirror. Lomax is a cigar smoking rotund idiot who rubs his leg incessantly when he's horny, extinguishing both the cross-dresser's life and cigar in one blow by jamming it down the victim's throat. Finally there's Billy, the soft spoken good boy gone bad whos heart's not really in it. I call him the Honey Monster, as he has more hair on his face than skin. After the initial murder the criminals go on the run and in a slightly tarantino-esque scene torment a girl in the local mini-mart, making her strip and take part in a Wlliam Tell reenactment, bow replaced with gun.

Lisa looks angelic but is clearly troubled. She lives to care for her paralysed grandfather, collecting eggs, killing chickens and constantly making tomato soup, although there's some implication that the rich red colour may not just be from tomatoes. Her grandfather sits in his chair all day, happily watching static on the television. When the criminals arrive and start taking liberties (two try to rape her) Lisa retaliates and using her apparent super-human strength hides the bodies in inexplicable places, including the chimney.

Despite the low budget aesthetics, there was clearly a lot of effort put into the soundtrack. There are recurring themes such as the bad guy's percussion shuffle, and the scenes between Lisa and her Grandfather are scored by probably the only Stlyophone opus ever written. The sound is particularly crummy, dialog often barely audible or badly dubbed. Despite this, the sound effects used in fight scenes have a particular charm, every punch accentuated by a huge crash, thwack or thud, like a Hannah Barbara cartoon with blood.

The worst thing about the film has to be the editing. In the opening scene there were 55 dialog-free quick cuts between the criminal's faces and the door the victim was about to walk through, presumably to build tension. The final frenetic rate of the cuts had me literally laughing out loud.

Lisa, Lisa has to be praised for its achievement on a miniscule budget, and does provide a satisfyingly dark ending. Despite its placement on the DPP list it has little to offer in the way of gore or shock. I'm not watching the film again but if you fancy it you can pick it up as part of Poundland's hardgore series. I shit you not.

Candle Envy

'My mum told me that everyday is my birthday. It turned out she was addicted to beer and cake' - Sarah Silverman

When I was a kid I decided to learn an instrument, so I enrolled in lessons and began a concerted five year mission to avoid playing the violin. During that time my nan made me an awesome violin shaped cake. For some reason I went balistic because someone else had the audacity to position the candles on my cake. Luckily i'm a mature 28 year old now, so when Jen surprised me with a cake adorned with pre-positioned candles this morning I buried that rage deep inside and smiled like a grown up.

If I ever go postal, it'll be caused by years of suppressing candle envy.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Video Nasty #10: Strange Behaviour AKA Human Experiments AKA Dead Kids

Synopsis: When teenagers start dying Sheriff Brady suspects foul play at the college's psychological research department, who he also blames for his late wife's death. Little does he know that his son has enrolled in the college's medical research programme for some quick cash. Can the Sheriff solve the murders before his son becomes the next victim of the human experiments?

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

Strange Behaviour is a solid piece of work, well directed, effectively soundtracked by Tangerine Dream and co-written by an oscar winner (how many other video nasties can claim that?). Although it's sold as a teen slasher, it mixes elements of horror and sci-fi, supported by mad scientists, exhumed bodies, remote controlled chickens and teenagers reprogrammed to kill. It's pretty funny in places too. After a victim identifies the killer as an overweight teenager, a policeman visits the college to retrieve all student records. When asked what he's doing with them the cop replies, completely dead plan, 'we're looking for the fat ones'.

The film is actually a slightly tongue-in-cheek homage to 50's Sci-fi, possibly set in the 80s. Whenever it's meant to be set it has a great look, a weird mash up of the two decades; wood panelled station wagons, spontaneous synchronised dancing at fancy dress parties, wood clad bedrooms and huge hair.

The mad scientist plot is particularly fun. We're introduced to the pyscology department's mind control experiments in a lecture by the late Doctor Le Sange, delivering a posthumous discourse via a huge black and white projection. He leads the lab hand to demonstrate what is essentially a remote controlled chicken, the animal lifting his legs at Le Sange's command. The blatantly evil Gwen Parkinson is continuing his work, and pays the local kids to take part in experiments in her cavernous Jame Bond-esque laboratory. The experiments have a few side effects - short periods of high intelligence, pissing blood and incontrollable killing sprees.

The film delivers on gore, but nothing to deem a banning. Arms are chopped off, knifes are jammed in achilles and, in a true hands-in-front-of-eyes moment a 6 inch needle is jammed into an eye socket.

Unfortunately the film runs out of steam towards the end, despite an unexpected smart twist. There's also a complete misfire of an epilogue, providing completely unnecessary emotional resolve to the underplayed father, son and step mother relationship issues. Regardless of this, I think Strange Behaviour is something of a hidden gem. If you can find it, it's well worth a watch. Even if just for the joke about the fatties.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Surely this should be dead by now?

It's tempting to keep it going for next December.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Video Nasty #9: Nightmares in a Damaged Brain

Synopsis: After leaving a mental asylum George is making the long journey to Florida to see his estranged child. As he starts racking up a body count the doctors realise they may of made a slight mistake. Can they get to George's family before he does?

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

Nightmares is something of a cult classic, gaining particular infamy as one of the film's repeatedly vilified by the media during the Video Nasty furore. This is not without reason; there is some extremely bloody violence in the film (after all, horror effects legend Tom Savini did act as an advisor). I'll admit that the film did make me very uncomfortable, but not in an emotional sense, more an impulse-buy Ikea dining room chair uncomfortable. The film is so dull I actually felt physically ill, fidgeting in my seat, desperate to make it to the end as not to cop-out on my self-inflicted curse of watching this crap.

I don't understand how acting can be so dreadful. Acting can't be that hard, can it? Maybe the producers had a challenge to see if they could cast an entire film using people with less acting chops then a mountain goat. If that was the idea the film was, in its own way, the film is a triumph.

The most annoying aspect of the film is its attempt at broken-family drama, which unfortunately dominates the film. The wife is torn between her boyfriend and children, the kids are running amok and the youngest is developing his father's less desirable character traits. I guess the viewer is meant to care for the family, contributing to the slow crescendo of tension as the demented father gets ever closer. Unfortunately the combination of poor acting and appalling dialog meant that I ended up hating the family, wishing the dad would just give up on the slow burn, jump on a plane and dispatch these morons.

Thankfully there were a few moments of unintentional light relief. My favourite occurs after the son's friend has been murdered. A police officer suspects the kid of foul play, so he takes the corpse out the back of the ambulance, puts it on display and in front of news crew's cameras grills the poor kid. This scene would be the undoing of any other film, but in Nightmares it was a highlight. What a disappointment.