Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Video Nasty #36 : Mountain of the Cannibal God AKA Primitive Desires

Synopsis: Susan Stevenson (Ursula Andress) has flown to Generic South American Country to search for her Husband, who hasn't been heard from since disappearing into the jungle in search of uranium. Joined by her brother and a local expert Susan heads to the jungle and unknowingly towards the Mountain of the Cannibal God.

I can't help but audably sigh when I realise there's another cannibal movie on the list that i'm yet to watch. It's a lousy genre, and one that was completely bled-dry during the video nasty hey-day. Given my love for all things zombie, this disdain may seem surprising; surely a zombie is just a really hungry angry cannibal? Well yes, it's not the monster at fault, it's the unwritten genre rules. Where as zombie movies are fun and ridiculous with a sincere yet often shallow, pretentious social-science a-level subtext, cannibal movies are about shock, animal cruelty and natives with no clothes on. (I'll begrudgingly admit that zombie movies have also out-stayed their welcome after the post 28 Days Later resurgence)

Given my contempt for the genre I was pleasantly surprised by Mountain of the Cannibal God. That is of course, a back handed compliment. To say this the best cannibal movie i've seen is like saying the best food poisoning i've ever had or the least painful kick in the nuts. The film does have all the halmarks of a cannibal movie - Unnecessary animal slaughter (an iguana being torn apart is almost a genre all-time low), casual sexism ('It's hard enough for a man, for a woman it would be almost impossible') and excessive nudity.

Despite it ticking most of the genre boxes the idiot director did neglect a few. For example there was no back of the cigarette packet script, incongruous stock footage of wildlife and a general disdain for the viewer. Mountain of the Cannibal God feels a little like Indiana Jones, albeit being released three years before Raiders of the Lost Ark. Rather than focusing on the cannibals the film is more of a jungle adventure with inventive traps, rafting through crocodile-infested water and exploring huge caves. Unlike Indiana Jones these boys-adventure elements do have a violent sting in the tail. One trap is essentially a wooden iron maiden, tenderising the victim in preparation for the cannibal BBQ and the crocodiles somehow manage to tear a guide's arm off.

Although the cannibals do pop up every so often as our hero's mysterious adversaries (looking like Naan Bread from The Mighty Boosh), they only really come into play in the final act. If there's one thing i've learnt from the previous #35 films, it's that regardless of what has come before if you can deliver a barmy ending the viewer will walk away happy (Well, unless they have to write a review and realise they've been hoodwinked). Mountain of the Cannibal God ends with some images I don't believe i'll ever see (or want to see) on film again. In the climax Ursula Andress is declared a goddess, tied to a poll and sexually abused by a cannibal. Said cannibal then has his cock cut off and amongst an orgy of masturbation and sex the film delivers its Pièce de résistance - a cannibal fucking a pig.

So it's not exactly a struggle to figure out why the film was listed. Mountain of the Cannibal God is an OK film, but its obscurity really isn't surprising. Despite the frankly childish climax the film is far more entertaining than it should be, and is put together with a confident and expert hand.

After all, even I have to admit that the man porking the pork was very well lit.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Video Nasty #35 : Tenebrae AKA Unsane

Synopsis: As horror writer Peter Neal arrives in Rome he is greeted by his latest novel incarnate; young promiscuous women are dying in horrible ways at the hands of an obsessive serial killer. When the murderer sends Peter a note the local police take a leaf out of the Scooby Doo Big Book of Law Enforcement and ask him to help with the investigation. As the bodies pile up and the inept police are without a clue it's up to Peter to put an end to the killing.

After the supernatural classic Susperia and its interesting yet ultimately dissapointing sequel Infero, Argento returned to the genre he helped define, Giallo, with Tenebrae. Giallo movies are highly stylised pulpy Italian crime mysteries, often including extended and bloody murder sequences. And on the later point, Tenebrae does not disappoint.

The murder scenes are probably the most remarkable thing about Tenebrae. The most effective set-piece, the murder of a young lesbian couple, includes a two and half minute crane shot; sweeping around the couple's home as they are unknowingly stalked by the killer. It's a technically stunning shot (especially consider the clunky technology of the time) and its creeping pace perfectly leads into a gruesome double murder. Despite the technical brilliance of these scenes, I think their length are ultimately detrimental to the rest of the film. Too much time is spent introducing characters that are blatantly victim's to be, stretching the film's runtime to a slightly flabby one hour fifty. Despite the length it's worth the wait for the finale's blood fountain, gushing from a post-arm stub. It's so ridiculous I couldn't help but laugh-out-loud. Loved it.

The story is twisty, unpredictable and ultimately satisfying. The protagonist's novel acts as a meta-commentary of the film itself, both being concerned with the attitudes to what some might call sexual deviance, and others would call 'being yourself'. This affords Argento an excuse for lots of female nudity - not that an 80's Italian pulp director ever worried about narrative justification to show a bit of boobage. Despite the awkward miscast of Anthony Franciosa as the lead (I can't help but think the role was written for someone younger), the rest of the cast is great, especially John Saxon as Neal's over-effervescent agent.

The one thing that Tenebrae will rightly be remembered for (other than the masochistically difficult crane shot) is the unsurprisingly awesome soundtrack by Goblin. The title track is so good I was already firing up Garageband to knock together a remix (to facilitate my long-deserved breakthrough into the electro scene). Unfortunately I discovered that french-electro-bastards Justice have beaten me to it with the frankly brilliant 'Phantom' on their debut album 'Cross'. Oh well, guess i'll have to continue work on my drum'n'bass opus based on the theme tune of 'The Boogeyman'.

Compared to it's company on the list, Tenebrae is a masterpiece. Compared to it's company in the history of film, it's alright. The script is great, the acting pretty good and the visual's gorgeous, but it's let down by its slightly self-indulgent length and a lead character that doesn't quite work. I suspect this film  marks one of the few peaks of genuine enjoyment i've had since starting this movie marathon. I worry that i'm heading for a deep sustained trough.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Video Nasty #34 : The Boogeyman

Synopsis: 20 years after witnessing the murder of her abusive step-father Lacey is still haunted by the past. In an attempt to rid her demons she returns to the scene of the crime and accidentally breaks a mirror, unwittingly releasing the evil spirit of her late surrogate father. Silly cow.

The 80's were responsible for some really terrifying celluloid incarnations: pizza-face Freddy Krueger  and his razor gloves, machete weilding Jason Voorhees and his iconic hockey mask, Tina Turner with electrical-incident hair and her fucking Thunderdome. None of these compare to the terror that is The Boogeyman - A dude with some tights on his head, making his nose look a bit squidgy (think Owen Wilson, but without tights on his head)

Thankfully (yet somewhat surprisingly) you only see the Boogeyman's physical form during the opening scene (which is then scattered through-out the film in pointless yet time-consuming flash-backs). For most of the film the b-man is a malevolent poltergeist trapped in shards of glass. As shitty as that sounds, the film's premise - a murdered psycho returning as a supernatural being to take revenge on his killer - greatly pre-dates the similar and far superior Nightmare on Elm Street. Unlike Nightmare, the Boogeyman's motivation to return and kill anyone who get's near his funky mirror is never really rationalised. This problematic because of all the people he murders, he pretty much ignores his killer.

So the script is pretty awful. But like all good horror b-movies the creaky script and rubbish acting is inconsequential if there's some inventive gore and an absolutely insane finale. As a poltergeist the Boogeyman takes no prisoners, flinging garden forks and knifes at anyone who gets in the evil mirror's reflection (yes, I realise how stupid that sounds). The Boogeyman's most entertaining kill has to be the young couple immortally held together in a kiss via a bbq skewer thrown through their heads (shown above).

The ending is a blinder (although not quite as mad as Evilspeak). Under possession of the Boogeyman Lacey jams a piece of the haunted mirror in her eye and starts levitating. The local vicar attempts to rid Lacey of the evil spirit (how come all clergy in horror films know how to perform exorcisms?) but unfortunately has his face melted off and knives thrown in to his back. Lacey eventually overcomes the evil glass and throws it down the well, which then explodes. But we could all see that coming, right?

The Boogeyman is a good idea, executed very badly. It's presence on the DPP list is baffling, but as this is true for most of the films on the list i'm not that surprised (I can only assume it's on the list due to the implied child-abuse at the start of the film). The film ends with a requisite opening for a sequel, which was unfortunately made and also ended up on the DPP list, probably for crimes against cinema. I'll let you know when and if I find a copy.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Video Nasty #33 : Dead & Buried

Synopsis: After a series of grisly accidents, Sheriff Gillis suspects foul play. As the accidents continue the dead and buried are inexplicably sighted around town. Welcome to Potter's Bluff : A new way of life!

Dead & Buried is by far the biggest budget movie on the list, and accordingly it's team is also of the highest calibre. Co-writer Dan O'Bannon worked on Alien and went on to write one my favourite zombie movies, Return of the Living Dead. O'Bannon was joined by the his co-writer on Alien as a producer, as celebrated/exploited on the poster. Horror legend Stan Winston (Aliens, Predator, The Terminator) also provides special effects for many of the film's 'accidents'.

What they and director Gary Sherman created is a tonally-unbalanced yet surprising, gory and darkly funny original movie that deserves to be better known than it is. This isn't helped by the lousy DVD transfer; many scenes are too dark and most of the audio is time shifted as if all the actors are performing an elaborate ventriloquist routine. Spoilers ahead.

The plot itself owes somewhat to Invasion of the Body Snatchers (feel free to pick any version), although in this case the alien plants are replaced by a nutty mortician who can use makeup, embalming fluids and a bit of voodoo to quite literally bring corpses back to life. Unlike Invasion, there isn't any  subtext (lack of freedom, communism, blah blah blah), instead the plot is milked for all its paranoid and gloriously gory potential.

And god bless Stan Winston is this gory. Much like the film's tone the effects vary, ranging from vicious realism to intentional silliness. The most memorable scenes are head-meets-acid (not very well done, but A+ for effort), a needle being jammed into a completely incapacitated burn victim's eye (ewwww!) and the utterly insane prehumous embalming. Things get a little silly when Sheriff Gillis' collision with an undead results in a dismembered hand getting stuck in his car's grill, the hand still wriggling like Ash's bird-flicking paw in Evil Dead 2.

And this alludes to probably the only major issue with the film. In parts the film is deadly serious yet as the admittedly daft plot gathers momentum it feels like there's some resistance to embrace the potential for humour (unlike the similarly gory and funny Strange Behaviour).

Regardless, Dead & Buried is worth a watch if only for the third act's plot twists that are so good they'd make Shyamalan jealous. It's films like this that make my idiotic year long movie-night worth it.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Video Nasty #32: Don't Look in the Basement AKA The Forgotten

Synopsis: Nurse Charlotte has arrived for her first day of work to discover that Dr Stephens, her would be employer, was recently killed in a tragic 'accident'. Under the watchful eye of the Dr Geraldine Masters, Nurse Charlotte discovers that accidents aren't uncommon at the Sanitarium. Maybe giving an acute paranoid schizophrenic an axe as part of their treatment isn't such a good idea.

Regardless of any merit in Don't Look in the Basement, the debut and last notable effort of 'classic horror director'* S.F.Brownrigg, it has to be acknowledged that its treatment of mental health is incredibly offensive. A few of the film's i've previously reviewed have dared to go 'full retard' (see I Spit on your Grave), but this film makes them look like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in comparison.

The mental patients of Dr Stephen's sanitarium are one-dimensional plot fodder, painted using the full gamut of mental health cliches. There's Sergeant, a man who recently returned from an unspecified war and is now permanently guarding the house from the telephone repairmen. Judge, permanently laying down the law and dishing out draconian punishments. Allyson, a nymphomaniac who takes her top off at the drop of a, well, top. Sam, a post-lobotomy man-child with a predilection for popsicles. And that's only half of the sanatarium's occupants; the full set is available as part of 'Mental Patient Top Trumps', available in the foyer and all questionable toy shops.

Oddly, the way it mishandles mental health is part of its charm. The patients are ill-informed caricatures played wonderfully and with full conviction by a bunch of unknowns who probably weren't aware of the career kamikaze they were partaking. The most offensive turn has to be the film's finale, where all the patients turn on the mad matron and literally tear her apart. The assertion that anyone with a mental health issue is one plot twist away from cannibalism is so patently ridiculous it makes me want to tear the writer limb from limb and eat his guts. The insensitive bastard.

Offensiveness aside, the script is actually quite good and deserves better treatment than this low-budget grindhouse effort. The twist of the film, if you haven't figured it out, is that the hard-nosed matron that rules over the Sanitarium is in fact a patient, something which Nurse Charlotte discovers in the third-act. And, much the like the inexplicably inferior Shutter Island (SPOILER AHEAD), there's even a sub-plot suggesting that Nurse Charlotte was one of the patients all along, an intriguing idea that unfortunately fades a little too quick.

What the film lacks in quality film-making, it makes up for in silly gore. The film opens with a doctor being axed and later on a spike is jammed in a patients head, an old woman's tongue is cut off for talking too much and the grand finale sees the man-child Sam axing 6 patients to death whilst they're too busy tearing the matron apart.

I can't say I wholly recommend Don't Look in the Basement, but if you want to sample a slice of low budget exploitation, you could do a lot worse.

* As the DVD cover declares

Thursday, 9 September 2010

8-Bit Fridge

Whilst on holiday in Madrid we picked up some magnetic 'pixels' in the cool Reina Sofia shop. Here's our new 8-bit fridge: