Friday, 30 April 2010

Video Nasty #21 : Terreur Cannibale AKA Cannibal Terror

Synopsis: After a child kidnapping goes wrong two criminals venture in to the jungle to lay low. After being raped by one of the kidnappers a women informs the child's parents of the criminal's location, leading to a deadly chase through cannibal country.

Terreur Cannibale is made by filmmakers with so little respect for their audience that they think its ok to make up the script as they go along. Therefore, in the spirit of not caring about plot, structure, entertainment value or quality, I've decided to use my unedited viewing notes as a review...

Opens with upbeat music, sounds like La Bamba. Dubbed a little girl with a grown woman's voice! Mouths not even moving when dubbing. At least dub using voices that match the face! Decide to hide in an indian forest. No reason to run away but do anyway. Dubbing just shows that no one gives a shit about this film, quick cash grab. Border guard seduced by the plainest most unremarkable brunette. 'That's what I call a nice piece'. Obligatory stock wildlife footage. 20 cannibals next to the road. Cannibals clearly westerners. Is that offensive? Main cannibal wearing a wig. Dancing around a tiny fire. Cannibals probably called Hank and Bob, directors friends, taking a break from trucking. Footage eating innards playing ad nauseum. Nudity. Camera doesn't know what to look at. Women clearly not tied up properly. Oh, he's a rapist now? Miming guitar playing. Knocking out epic solo whilst he's playing the chords to Wild Thing. House owner goes away for two days, as soon as his wife is raped he makes it back 'sooner than I thought' (20 minutes). She didn't seem to mind being raped, has a dance party with rapist. Showing pants. Five second shot clearly a photo of one of the actors. ugh. Man ripped open by cannibals. Cannibal shot dead. Editor desperately trying to make a film out of this incongruous mess. Camera work is a mess. A practical master class in shitty film making. Cannibals are skinny white guys with canes making weird noises at each other, adorned with Fisher Price face paint. Plastic skull on sticks. Ironic that a cannibal film is so bad I want to gnaw on my arm. No women in tribe. Oh, there's one! Bullshit rituals, all they do is dance around making noises, must get boring. Man shot. And another. This jungle has mowed grass? One cannibal wearing bermuda shorts. Really dull. 15 minutes of stalking through woods. 10 minutes of dancing around, nothing happens. 5 minutes of yanking on innards. Shit shit shit.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Video Nasty #20: Evilspeak

Synopsis: Coopersmith (or Cooper-dick to, well, everyone) is the least popular cadet in military school. He's bullied daily, despised by the soccer coach and forced to clean out the church's catacombs by the pastor. Whilst cleaning out the crypt Coopersmith stumbles upon the art of black mass and, in a heartbeat, decides that the only way to get revenge on his bullys is to enlist the help of Satan. After all, revenge is a dish best served disproportionately.

I was never really persistently bullied at school, despite being an obvious target. My teenage attempts to grow locks was scuppered by my hair's ability to disregard gravity, growing away from my head but never downwards. For many years I belligerently sported a ginger afro in the misguided belief that one day my muscle-hair would give up and relax. Being a red-head was reason alone to be abused, making my noggin the size of a Space Hopper just made me an even easier target, literally. Afro aside, I was also a 'greb', a derogatory term used for anyone in our school that was in a band, read NME, knew the lyrics to Polly by Nirvana and thought most chart music was shit. I was a prime target, but for some reason I was spared from sustained bullying. I was shouted at most days and one evening attacked by ten or so yoofs in the street, but it wasn't part of any persistent campaign. The only consistant bully I had was myself, with the constant self-loathing I knew I had to perfect if I ever wanted to grow up like my miserable idols.

Despite this, I have experienced many adrenaline-fuelled moments of reverie imagining overblown retribution against some jerk that pushed me over in the school corridor or reminded me, for the two hundredth time, that my hair is still ginger. Unlike Coopersmith, the anti-hero of Evilspeak, even in my darkest moments I had never considered a black seance to harness the power of Satan. It just seems a bit mental.

Coopersmith is bullied more than your average kid. As if the archetypal teenage bullies killing his puppy wasn't bad enough, the entire military school staff despise him. The soccer coach encourages others to inure him so he can't play in the big game, the head teacher will moan about him being a welfare case to anyone who'll listen and Sarge, the drunk who lives beneath the church, repeatedly calls him a cocksucker (although given that he calls everyone a cocksucker, I suspect Sarge may have tourettes). The film is so occupied with Coopersmith being emotionally crushed by every person in his life (as mitigation for the events to come), even I felt like I should join in and give him some abuse.

When Coopersmith isn't being bullied, he spends the film typing dubious satanic latin into an even more dubious monitor sized super computer. Like all good celluloid computers, Coopersmith's PC is more powerful and advanced than Stephen Hawking after a voice upgrade. The computer perfectly translates the book and, once parsed, starts guiding Coopersmith through the satanic rites, flashing 'Blood Consecrated Host Required' like a psychopathic edition of Microsoft Windows. When he finally delivers the last ingredient (that dead puppy came in handy) the screen prints the ominous 'Data Complete' and switches to its extravagant tron-like pentagram screensaver. Unintentionally, Evilspeak's use of a computer to summon evil is a pretty prescient analogy of the how the media currently views computers. The Internet is, after all, the 21st century Video Nasty, blamed for everything broken in society like the comics, videos and computer games that came before it.

When Coopersmith finally gets his retribution it's satisfying, if not a little ridiculous. All of his fellow pupils are in the church for a pre-soccer game rally from the Priest. As Coopersmith completes the ceremony he rises through the floor from the crypt below, sword in hand and killer pigs in tow. As the crowd scrambles we're treated to Coopersmith floating around the hall mashing up people's heads with a sword and hell's pigs tearing people limb from limb. The Pièce de résistance has to be the nail in a crucification effigy becoming supernaturally dislodged and flying through the priest's forehead. As deserved as the revenge is, it is quite boring after the initial onslaught. The wire work is particularly rubbish, making Coopersmith look more like a wonky marionette then a levitating force of evil.

Evilspeak is enjoyable enough, saved from banality by a solid and empathetic performance from Clint Howard (Ron's brother). Even though the film takes a while to get going, the retribution finale is cathartic whilst being unintentionally hilarious. I can only assume the film was deemed offensive as the story is basically an unabashed endorsement of using violence for revenge, made worse by the fact that the big guy himself, Satan, is sold as an anti-hero. You know what, hats off to the filmmakers for taking a stand. The media are always vilifying Satan. Poor guy.

Video Nasty #19: Faces of Death

Synopsis: Pathologist Dr. Francis B. Gröss thinks that to truly understand death, we must face it in every possible form. To this end the good doctor has travelled the world, amassing enough footage for a feature length snuff compilation. Genocide? check. Suicide? check. Eating a live monkey's brain? check. And you thought 'You've Been Framed' was a barrel of laughs!

Faces of Death was the film on the video nasty list I was most reticent to watch. I don't find real footage of death particularly enjoyable (assuming everything in the film is real) and, ignoring the questionable morality of a snuff mega-mix, a film comprising disjointed scenes of death just sounds dull. Faces of Death did, to a degree, surpass my low expectations. That's not to say it's a good film, it just isn't as morally bankrupt or boring as i'd expected. If I can say one kind thing about Faces of Death, it's that it isn't Transformers 2.

Despite my expectations, the film does have some cohesion between scenes, provided by the narration and philosophical musings of the fictional pathologist Dr. Francis B. Gröss. The voice over is surprisingly well written, making the piece more like a morbid discovery channel documentary than the low budget exploitation it really is. Some of the learned doctor's utterances almost provide an educational slant to the sick side show, such as Gröss' cowardly but identifiable admission that if he had to work on the animal slaughter production line he revels in showing us, he'd stick with the Nut Roast (the hallal slaughter of a cow is particularly grim and bloody). Other narration is less grounded though. Gröss suggests that cancer is a manmade desease that could be erradicated through sociological changes; the motivations of a human who takes their own lives is still a mystery; and the allies quickly beat hitler's army (maybe from an American point of view they did).

I have to admit that some of the footage is genuinely exciting, but it is mostly stuff that could and should be seen in good documentaries. Open heart surgery is fascinating (ignoring the filmmakers' cheap trick of pausing the footage to imply the heart has stopped beating) and some of the real nature footage is far more interesting than the staged footage of a man being eaten by a crocodile. The footage showing the aftermath of a 727 (PSA Flight 182) crashing over San Diego is morbidly fascinating and surreal, parts of plane and bodies strewn across the well kept lawns of suburbia.

As should be expected, the handling of some footage is in very poor taste. Although I can forgive the banjo music soundtracking the headless chicken 'dancing' around (it's just a nerve reaction after all), soundtracking real footage of a person jumping to their death with Dixie Land Jazz music is horribly disrespectful. Despite being accompanied by a rightfully somber narration, holocaust footage made me extremely uncomfortable, although I suppose genocide has to be acknowledged as one of societies many unnatural causes of death.

So is Faces of Death real or fake? I spent some time researching the legitimacy of the film before I watched it, mostly as an emotional safety net for some of the more infamous scenes. Regardless of what I discovered, I was always going to watch the film, uncut, because it's the only fair way to make a judgement on the Video Nasty furore at the end of this obscenity marathon. In true mondo tradition the film is a mix of fact and fiction, with no clear indication of what is real and what is fake. The Internet puts the figure at 40% fake, which seems reasonable. The fake footage is very well shot and as such i'm not sure how I would of reacted if I saw the film in '78 on a grainy VHS, especially as I wouldn't of had the detailed film geek analysis a few mouse clicks away. Obviously no person was killed for the film, and the infamous monkey antics is a certified hoax.

There's no denying that Faces of Death is made for a juvenile audience; IMDB's forum is mostly people reminiscing about watching the movie at sleepovers and believing everything was real. Despite the target market, the film is put together with some competency and, thankfully, it's clear that no person or animal was harmed for the sake of entertainment, something which cannot be said for other films on the DPP list (Cannibal Holocaust). Faces of Death isn't a good film, It just isn't as obscene as I expected.

I think i'll pass on the three sequels.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

And His Soul Danced

Last weekend someone said something to me that i'd only expect to read in a book or hear in a film. 'Playing the fiddle', he said, 'makes my soul dance'. This struck me as a beautiful expression and something I can really identify with (to music in general, not my violin playing. Despite many years of lessons my violin playing couldn't even make my soul nod its head).

I think that it's a shame that people don't talk more like they do in films, emotionally unconstrained & straight from the heart, forgetting inhibitions and dropping their social facade.

Now I think about it, he may of been quite drunk. So maybe what i'm actually saying is, let's all drink more.

Video Nasty #18: Possession

Synopsis: After working away from home for a mysterious organisation Mark returns to Berlin to find his marriage in ruin. Whilst trying to salvage his relationship with his wife Anna, Mark makes some startling discoveries. Aside from his wife's affair with Heimrich, a new age martial artist, she's also having sexual relations with a man-eating tentacled thing.

Possession's appearance on the DPP list is something of an anomaly, like funny dialog in a Rob Schneider movie or Stevie Wonder playing a BNP fundraiser. The film doesn't belong, and as such provided a welcome break from the mostly low-budget exploitation of the previous 17 films. One its most appealing aspects is that it's difficult to pigeon hole. The first third of the film is a miserable relationship drama, with very little respite from the couple shrieking at each other. Once Mark dispatches a private detective to follow Anna the film enters horror territory; the detective and his partner being killed by Anna and fed to a slimy octopus like beast in a run down apartment. After more shrieking it is hinted that the entity isn't a monster but a malevolent manifestation of the hurt caused by the emotional breakdown, the incarnate loss of hope and faith. The remainder of the film enters typical Lynch territory, disregarding any semblance of a linear or sensical story in favour of emotional and surreal vignettes.

There are large chunks of the film that are dull, which isn't helped by the deliberate overacting of the two leads. Whilst Isabelle Adjani's (Anna) break down remains convincing Sam Neill (Mark) pushes it a little too far, becomes a melodramatic caricature, so emotionally and physically intense I spent most of the film waiting for his eyeballs to pop out under the pressure. In parts the dialog is wonderfully cryptic and philosophical, but it's mostly incoherent rambling. I think the leads are intentionally unlikeable, wallowing in self pity and sixth form philosophy whilst the most important thing in their life, their young child, is suffering.

Despite the individual scenes never quite coming together as an enjoyable whole, the film does have some great moments. The design of 'monster' is outstanding. Like The Thing, the 25 year old puppetry trumps anything computer generated. Nothing is more of a testament to this then the scene of Anna making love to the undeveloped entity. It's a scene that could of easily looked ridiculous but was actually skin crawlingly creepy. Another stand out scene follows Anna in a subway station having a complete mental and physical breakdown. For minutes she smashes her body against the wall, finally kneeling on the floor with milk and blood poring out of her head. It makes no sense, but it's horrifying.

I'll concede that i'm sure there are themes and ideas in the movie that i could only begin to comprehend after multiple viewings. I'm sure there is significance to the characters living next to the Berlin wall, and Mark's mysterious government job is clearly linked with the entity somehow (oddly, the clue to this is pink socks).

I don't have a problem with the non-traditional, avant-garde nature of the film. I really love Mulholland Drive, a film which, much like Possession, starts as a linear understandable piece and after 40 minutes suddenly shifts into incoherence for the remainder, as if the director suddenly had a massive mental breakdown,. Unfortunately, Possession is too flawed to keep my attention, especially over the seemingly unending 123 minute runtime. Possession is a film that, despite its many flaws, has to respected for the fact it doesn't conform and does something truly different. Also, this is the only film i've seen where someone is killed using just a shoe, feather and a toilet boll? (answers on the back of a postcard)

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Video Nasty #17: Inferno

Ironically, the best horror film i've seen so far this year is from the '70s, but not on the DPP list. Argento's Susperia is a wonderful film, a Technicolor nightmare soundtracked by Satan himself on the keys (AKA Goblin). The film is rightly revered by horror fans because it's so boldly different from anything else in the horror genre; Argento's cinematography is bold, saturating every frame with primary colours to add an otherworldly quality to the horror fairy tale. From the outset the soundtrack is unrelenting, grabbing the viewer and beating them around the head with a constant unnerving drum beat that underlies the whole film. Although Susperia isn't on the list of Video Nasties, the second part of the Three Mothers Trilogy it began, Inferno, is.

As a stand-alone film, Inferno is frustrating. It has moments of brilliance, but these are let down by poor pacing and an almost episodic script. The film repeatedly introduces a character, lets them make an expositional discovery and then kills them off, making it hard to care about anyone in the film. It's almost as if the director decided to start-over every fifteen minutes. In fact, the story is so fractured and confused I couldn't figure out how to write a synopsis for this post.

Where as Susperia's equally baffling script could be excused due its astonishing cinematography, most of Inferno's visuals are oddly flat and uninspiring. The bold blue and red colours that washed the Argento designed art-deco sets in Suspiria look misplaced against the more familiar New York architecture, to the point of distraction. Thankfully, the cinematography comes to life when Argento's dark imagination flourishes, the visuals imbibed with the atmosphere of an otherworldly fairytale.

One of the most effective scenes follows a resident of the accursed New York building entering a metaphorical rabbit hole in the basement to discover the identity of her house-witch. Through the hole she enters a flooded ball room adorned with a portrait of her landlord, Mater Tenebrarum, the Mother of Darkness and Shadows. The scene is claustrophobic yet serene, the woman holding her breath inordinately as if she was in another world, free of natural constraints like gravity and the need to respirate. The calm actually heightens the tension as she inevitably discovers she is not alone in the ballroom.

A later scene alludes further to Grimm's dark and ironic stories, a deserted Central Park providing a moonlit woodland lake. After being tormented by the witch's cats, the local occult antiques dealer has collected a sack full ready for drowning. Struggling to keep the sack of cats underwater he slips and the local population of feline fearing rats pounce and tear him apart (that's irony!). As he calls for help a local hotdog vendor runs on top of the water and finishes him off, as if possessed.

Other than these two stand-out death scenes the rest are lacking, almost deliberately restrained, as if to distinguish the film from it's prequel's epically choreographed kills. The aforementioned rat scene is creepy, but the follow up death-by-cats is laughably unconvincing, especially as you can see a hand throwing the terrified domestic cats at the victim.

Inferno is Argento's difficult second album, forever destined to be compared to it's successful big brother. I think the ultimate problem is pace, Susperia comes out starting blocks at speed and continues accelerating where as Inferno never finds its footing, too concerned with exposition that, I suspect, was mostly retroactivity continuity for a trilogy that may of not been considered when making the first film. Inferno is a must watch for a fan of Susperia, but enjoyment is probably limited for someone not familiar with the far superior predecessor.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Video Nasty #16: Visiting Hours

Synopsis: After being attacked in her home TV reporter Deborah Ballin is recovering on the ninth floor of the local hospital. As neighbouring patients are brutally murdered it becomes clear that Deborah's attacker is determined to finish the job. Another night at the hospital may be the death of her.

The poster for Visiting Hours is great but completely misleading. The skull rendered using room lights and the tag line 'So frightening you'll never recover' suggests that the film is a supernatural horror, when it is actually a tense thriller with more in common with Silence of the Lambs than Halloween.

Michael Ironside's portrayal of Colt, the woman-hating psychopath literally kills all competition in the movie, his near mute performance captivating yet mysterious, something which is impressive considering his predominant screen time. Celluloid psychos need a creepy hook, and Colt delivers; photographing his dying victims and setting up a snuff gallery in his house, the centrepiece of this nutty room being a mosaic of photos forming a monochrome skull. Refreshingly Colt appears to be aware of his anger problem and as such is constantly squeezing a stress ball, the psychiatric equivalent of prescribing a cancer victim Paracetemol and a good night's rest.

All other performances in the film are perfectly fine but pale is comparison to Ironside. Lee Grant's TV reporter is a solid performance, but disappointingly the script doesn't provide much more characterisation then her feminist anti-violence media facade, something which itself is never fully explained. Sheila, the vigilant nurse on Deborah's ward, actually steals the show and towards the end of the film, the murderous desires of Colt. William Shatner makes a small appearance in a marquee filling role, reminding us that he can put in a perfectly good performance when he wants to be.

Although the film lacks in blood and guts, it deliver some powerful scenes of violence, proving that you don't need a bucket of fake blood and half a pint of hydrochloric acid to shock and repulse the viewer. Colt's kills are brutal, and even when he kills the wrong person he is completely unaffected, taking the time out for a Kodak moment plus safety shots. In a predicable ironic twist the only large amount of bloodshed is the ending of the film, when the anti-violence reporter's hands are, literally, covered in blood.

The film does have a few problems. Colt's repeated kills in the hospital after numerous security reinforcements become increasingly ridiculous to the point of annoyance, and the finale's extended chase scene around the bowels of the hospital was predictable and dull stuff. Despite this, Visiting Hours is a solid serial killer flick particularly memorable for Michael Ironside's terrifying performance. Its presence on the DPP list only acts as a reminder of how arbitrary the selection process was, informed more by hearsay and promotional materials (that poster is scary) than the film's content.