Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Kibakichi: Bakko-yokaiden I / Werewolf Warrior I (Japan, 2004)

(Trailer) Kibakichi (Ryuji Harada), dressed in rags and an ugly hat, is an itinerant swordsman with matted hair who is wandering the byroads of feudal Japan. He also just happens to be a werewolf. (Although, in truth, the term "werewolf" is Western and actually wrong: he is one of the last of his people, a village of yokai whose non-human form is that of a wolfen bipedal beast.)
As is to be expected of any Japanese samurai film, three minutes into the brown-tinted landscape he gets attacked by a band of bloodthirsty bandits who promptly lose limbs and life. They die, he continues his way, and — after passing a doom-saying blind woman and chopping his way past a few kappahe soon wanders into a sleepy village with a casino. The criminals and filth that come to play, however, leave much more than just their money: they serve as food for the village inhabitants, a variety of different forms of yokai who have struck a deal with the local humans (in form of the Yakuzi) to rid the neighborhood of unwelcome scum in exchange for the permission of peaceful residence.
All would seem fine and dandy, were it not for the simple fact that the movie's central theme is: never trust a human! The deal made by the local Yakuzi (all dressed in ankle-length leather outfits stolen from The Matrix) was one of politics: the friendship with the feared yokai ensured that the tilt of power in the regional politics was in their favor. With the arrival of western war machinery — Gatling guns, pistols and grenades — and the resultant military strength, the yokai are rendered expendable and the decision is made that they should be used for target practice. When the Yakuzi roll into town and begin to mow the yokai down, Kibakichi takes up his sword and basically disseminates everyone in an extended scene of ineptly staged and blood-drenched slaughter, the gore of which is only exceeded by the amount of laughter the fight also instigates...
Tomoo Haraguchi's Kibakichi: Bakko-yokaiden (or Werewolf Warrior I) is probably so intrinsically Japanese in its plot, characterization and execution that it is possibly impossible for Joe Schmoe Westerner to see where and how the film fits within its originating culture, but transplanted onto my DVD player here in Europe, and viewed through my Western eyes, the film wallows deeply, totally and unapologetically in the nether regions of guilty treasures and sleazy trash. It is, without a doubt, a truly psychotronic film: a Japanese B-movie oddity that definitely appeals most to fans of bad Godzilla and shogun movies, for the film combines the best — or worst, depending on how one looks at it — of both genres, only without Godzilla. Were it not for the ripped and chopped off bodily appendages and spurting blood, the general filmic execution is that of a children's film. Indeed, each and every monster that appears in the film is a product of the traditional Japanese paper-mâché and fake-fur school of costume design: no monster is as scary as it is hilariously laughable.
Regrettably, despite a promising opening scene and a entertaining grand final, most of what occurs in-between is so slow that despite the film's at times endearingly dilettantish execution, once too often Kibakichi: Bakko-yokaiden makes the unforgivable mistake of being boring. Still, the movie does have a strangely perverse fascination, much like that of the crack of a fat workman's ass when his loose pants slip too far down: you can't help but stare, even if you don't want to.
If you enjoy bad films, then Kibakichi: Bakko-yokaiden might be just the right thing for you... Hell, how can a true purveyor of bad films not find something to like in a movie with werewolves, monsters, samurai, Gatling guns and grenades?
Kibakichi: Bakko-yokaiden was followed by a sequel the same year. In all likelihood the two films were filmed in tandem, for the female nutcase werewolf with the razor-edged boomerang makes a brief introductory appearance in this flick only to disappear completely until Kibakichi: Bakko-yokaiden 2.

The Gathering (2002)

The Gathering is director Brian Gilbert’s first foray into the field of "horror" after already doing mainstream comedy (Vice Versa, 1988), mainstream drama (Not Without My Daughter, 1991) and critic-pleasing historical drama (Wilde, 1997). And, as to be expected, The Gathering is a pleasingly middle-of-the-road horror suspense film, well-made but with no surprises. About the only thing that makes the flick truly watchable is the headlining star, Christina Ricci, just at the point of her career when she decided to lose the baby fat and for the killer bod. OK, she had a killer bod even with baby fat – see John Waters' Pecker (1998) and Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow (1999) for primely droolable Ricci – but around the time of The Gathering she obviously upped the diet pills or used her finger a lot more, for she strolls around looking like a dreamily top-heavy model — an amazing feat considering how tall she is in real life. But, regrettably, although she is the best thing about the film, she also keeps her clothes on for the whole film. (The only commonly available version of The Gathering is the Weinstein Version, which was trimmed of ten minutes – including a sex scene featuring Ricci.)
The Gathering begins with the discovery a buried church from the 1st century in the rural English town of Ashly Wake, a church that features a hitherto unknown scene in relief of a group of people watching the crucified Jesus. Simon Kirkman (Stephen Kirkman), a well-known iconoclast religious scholar just happens to live in the neighborhood, so he undertakes the excavation and studies. In turn, his wife Marion Kirkman (Kerry Fox) just happens to run over an American drifter Cassie (Ricci), who awakens in the hospital bereft of her own memory but able to recognize the young son of the Kirkman’s by name. Invited to stay with the Krikmans until she regains her memory, Cassie is not only soon plagued by nasty visions but also begins seeing unfriendly, silent strangers hanging around the town. Like some sexy Nancy Drew she follows selected clues to a loner mechanic Frederick Michael Argyle (Peter McNamara) and learns that something terrible is going to happen soon; worse, she comes to realize that the young man she has been spending time with (and, in the Weinstein version, has screwed) is not what he appears to be — nor, for that matter, is she!
The plot circles around the concept that a group of 13 rubberneck spectators who once watched the crucifixion of Christ have been doomed by The Angry God to wander the earth forever, continually turning up at places where inevitable tragedies are to occur. (Busy folks, to say the least – whether they cause the events or just witness the events blurs on occasion in the movie.) Combine this idea with the above description, and you can pretty much figure out any and all the major twists that happen in The Gathering. In fact, the only true surprises are those leading up to the church’s discovery and they all happen within the first five minutes of the film.
Well acted and well shot, the film is not really all that terrible — it’s just that it isn’t really all the original or exciting either, and is also somewhat illogical at times. The Gathering is pleasant, neo-religious supernatural suspense film about the possibilities of redemption, but it is also nothing to write home about. There are both better horror and better Christina Ricci films available out there.

Robotrix (Hong Kong, 1992)

(Trailer) Beginning with the film’s first 10 seconds, during which an abysmally banal disco-tinged tune narrating the heart pains of an android infatuated lover is sung, it becomes obvious that Luk Kim Ming's Robotrix is going to be a typically mindless, logicless, overtly cheap, multi-violent, sexist Hong Kong lark, totally without any socially redeeming values and statements — in other words, truly great fun.
Robotrix is one of those (to the average Joe Westerner) unknown Asian trash films whose unexpected discovery makes you come back for more, faithfully wading through a ton of other Hong Kong crap before finding the next fun-filled romp. Advertised as the film that started and set the standard in Hong Kong for "Category III" movies, the film quickly makes the meaning of "Category III" obvious to everyone, even if the term is unknown off the island. Aside from showing the unshowable taboo of all Asian films, namely frontal female nudes with pubes, this film features one or two relatively realistic fuck scenes, as well as the biggest tits one can probably find on an Asian woman. The deliciously bulbous mounds are definitely big enough to make Russ Meyer go jumping for his home-movie camera were he still alive, and at least in the case of the character Selina, the bouncing love pillows are look very real. The violence itself is not as often or as well choreographed as in most films of this ilk, but Robotrix definitely is an extremely bloody movie, squirting red in quantities not normally seen outside of an Italian slasher film.
As to be expected, although the content is not, the acting is generally on the level of a low budget 1970’s era Disney kid’s film, alá Escape to Witch Mountain (1975), full of actors rolling their eyes and mugging for the camera. However, the film is so ridiculous from start to finish, so inexcusably exploitive and unredeeming, that the slapstick tendencies become an integral part to the overall fun.
Unlike most recent Hong Kong exploitation fare, Luk Kim Ming’s direction is relatively staid and old fashioned, and he never indulges in the more extreme MTV aesthetic favored by many modern Hong Kong trashmakers. This actually results in a much more enjoyable film, as most of the more extreme filmatic pyrotechnics practiced in Hong Kong (as in such films as Her Name Is Cat (1998)) seldom serve to do anything more than pad the film out, confuse the already mindless plot or simply induce headaches. The subtitles, like normal, feature translations that are so bad that they induce laughter, if not occasionally making the plot hard to follow. (Some of the more obvious mistakes include "psychic" for "psycho", "petty cop" for "lowly cop" and "mutilated" for "destroyed.") Needless to say, the dubbed version is equally unprofessional, the lips never matching the words being said.
The plot is wonderfully inane. Chesty cop Selena gets a bullet between the boobs when the horny prince she is guarding, just finished from frolicking naked (in front of a half-dozen guards) in a pool with 4 or 5 naked babes, gets kidnapped by Mr. Super Nasty, a powerful robot installed with bad guy Yamamoto’s feelings (i.e., soul). Yamamoto is out to get the prince’s sheik father to finance the building of an army of robots, most likely so that Yamamoto can rule the world, though this is never stated. The sheik himself is at the Future World Expo, viewing robots, when the American Android goes bonkers after sustaining damage while fighting the German Android during a test presentation.
Saved by mega-breasted android Ann (Amy Yip), he and the police promptly engage Dr. Sara, Ann’s creator, to find his son. She puts Selina’s feelings/soul in a robot reproduction, and super-boobs number two is created. Ann and Selina join up with the police task force out to stop Yamamoto, who has the tendency to throw naked hookers out of hotel room windows and punch huge indentations into the bodies the men who get in his way.
A few sex scenes later, including one in which Ann — logically undercover as a whore — decides to find out what sex is like, Dr. Sara ends up removing the eyes from a lowlife snitch that Yamamoto has killed because, as in Dario Argento’s equally misinformed 1971 film Four Flies on Grey Velvet, the image of his killer’s should be imprinted on his retinas. Thus the sheik’s bodyguards are revealed as being in on the plan, and are followed to their next meeting with Yamamoto, who, for some inexplicable reason, slaughters them. The ensuing fight between Ann and Selina against Yamamoto ends with the bad guy half-blown apart but with the two girls running off before they can finish the job so as to keep Ann’s robot identity secret from Joe, Selina’s boyfriend cop. Angry, Yamamoto goes home to his hideout in a car junk yard and drills a few holes in the prince’s leg.....
And the film still has 45 minutes to go!

Satan Met a Lady (USA, 1936)

Between the ten years spanning between Roy Del Ruth’s version of The Maltese Falcon (1931) and John Huston’s 1941 universally acknowledged classic version of the story, German-born William Dieterle, one time star of German silents — including Paul Leni's expressionist masterpiece Das Wachsfigurenkabinett (1924) — made a truly substandard variation of Dashiell Hammett’s novel starring Betty Davis and Warren William.
Satan Met a Lady, made in 1936, is a screwball comedy vaguely along the lines as W.S. Van Dyke’s The Thin Man (1934), only not even half as good. Dieterle has little grasp of his material, and shows little evidence of being the man who went on three years later to direct the all time best rendition of The Hunchback of Notre Dam (1939), starring Charles Laughton as Quasimodo. (But then, that film was also not a comedy.) Likewise, Dieterle’s stars in Satan Met A Lady don’t exactly excel either. In terms of comic interaction, nothing in the film gets even close to being half as charismatic or as witty as that of Myrna Loy and William Powell. Dramatically, well, it is to be expected that a film meant to be a screwball comedy would hardly achieve any of the nuances of performances to be found in Huston’s version of The Maltese Falcon. Strangest of all, though featuring the same producer (Henry Blanke) and scriptwriter (Brown Holmes) as Roy Del Ruth’s 1931 film, Satan Met a Lady pales terribly even in comparison to the oldest version of the story.
Warren William, who died in 1948, was a popular star now long forgotten, best known amongst film fanatics as a one-time Perry Mason (in four films), Philo Vance (twice) and, most regularly, as Michael Lanyard, better known as The Lone Wolf. In Satan Met a Lady he plays Ted Shayne, a skirt-chasing private detective who comes back to his hometown and restarts his partnership with his old P.I. partner Ames (Porter Hall), who promptly gets bumped off in a graveyard while tailing someone for client Valerie Purvis (Bette Davis). Though not particularly put out by Ames’ death, Shayne sets out to find out whodunit. Between his dizzy secretary, Ames’ widow and the various other ladies that distract him, Shayne discovers that a bunch of people are all after some mythical horn supposedly filled with priceless jewels...
The rest of the story we all more or less know, but instead of Sidney Greenstreet we have Alison Skipworth, and instead of Peter Lorre we get Maynard Holmes. And nowhere do we have anything all that funny, or even worth watching. Bette Davis made many a great film in her life, but this ain’t one of them.

The Convent (USA, 2000)

Mendez made a slight ripple in the sea of blood & guts trash filmmaking in 1996 with his film Killers. An odd mixture of Natural Born Killers (1994) and From Dusk till Dawn (1996), Killers got boring very quickly after its excellent opening scene of the two brothers shooting their parents apart to the droning sound of Iron Butterfly's classic In-A-God-A-Vida. In The Convent (2000), his over-the-top splatter fest from the turn of this century, Mendez once again starts his film off with a blood and guts assault, this time to the strains of Leslie Gore singing You Don't Own Me.
Filmed in a slow-motion,
style-conscious manner similar to what one finds in many of Brian de Palma's movies, The Convent starts off in 1960 with Christine, a shade-wearing and cigarette-smoking babe in a school uniform, walking into the chapel of St. Francis Boarding School for Girls where, in a ballet of excesses, she promptly attacks all the nuns with a baseball bat, sets them afire and then blows them away with a double-barreled shotgun. Yo! Watch that blood splatter!! Thing is, in comparison to what comes later, the film’s opening scene is almost tame.
Forty years later, as a prank a group of idiotic and mostly unlikable college students break into the convent and, when one of them ends up getting sacrificed by a group of Satanist there, a ton of demons are released that slaughter and possess everyone one by one. Sound familiar? Sure, think Evil Dead (1983) or Evil Dead II (1987), some other two dozen films or, most directly, Lamerto Bava's legendary Demons (1986) and its trashy sequels (official and unofficial). But instead of having the demons taking over the teens one by one in some forest log cabin, movie theater or high-rise, the demons decimate the kids in a deserted school for girls and, once they've pretty much taken everyone over, dress themselves in nun's habits and try to raise the son of the devil.
Somewhere along the line while writing The Convent, scriptwriter Chaton Anderson must have watched dozens of strong-hero-kicks-butt films like Rambo I/First Blood (1982), Terminator (1984), Terminator II: Judgement Day (1991) and especially Aliens (1986), for the last third of the film reintroduces the adult Christine (Adrienne Barbeau) as a total demon-ass-kicker. Dressed in skintight jeans, a leather jacket and decked out with shotguns and a machete, she motorcycles into the convent and what she doesn't shoot up or decapitate, she burns. Barbeau tosses off her characterization of the adult Christine with considerable aplomb: too intelligent not to know what kind of film she is in, she places her tongue so deeply in her cheek and rips through her roll with such carelessness that her performance is a joy to watch.
The film itself might not be a joy, but it is a feverish dance of excessive blood and guts, a never-ending assault of violence taken to such extremes that for most of the film one cannot stop laughing. First heads gets smashed like melons in doorways, dicks get bitten off and faces get torn off, then demonic nuns get multiple gunshot wounds and their necks spurt like never-ending fountains when beheaded. The Convent is without a doubt cheap and sleazy splatter and lacks any and all social consciousness or content — in other words, a perfect film for a six-pack and bong. For, even if the story is often predictable and the characters mostly lame, some of the dialogue and situations are sublimely hilarious.
Aside from Christine, the only likable and seemingly intelligent person in the movie is the hot-looking goth chic Mo (Megahn Perry), who spouts some of the best lines in the flick before she eventually becomes the first to be infected. Her gal-pal eventually becomes the movie's nominal heroine once Mo goes ultra-violet and ultra-violent and starts biting out tongues. Undoubtedly the most inanely surreal scene is that in which one of two male virgins tied to the sacrificial alter attempts to have sex with the recalcitrant other so as to lose their virginity and become undesirable as sacrifices. The film's biggest flaws, if one can even talk about a film like this having flaws, are the excessive length of the scenes in which the Satanists argue about who is going to do the sacrificing and the guest appearance of Coolio as Officer Starkey. The rapper is seen twice in The Convent, both interludes being the most superfluous scenes in the flick, seemingly written not out of expository need but rather to simply permit a special guest appearance, much like Danny DeVito's equally meaningless and unfunny character in Tim Burton's Mars Attacks! (1996).
All that aside, The Convent is a quick and bloody ride with no redeeming values but more than enough laughs and innards, full of the tasteless blood-drenched humor that works best when seen with a group of drunken and stoned buddies. Love that scene in which the cheerleader first gets her face pulled off and then sprouts demon's horns!

Shakma (USA, 1990)

(Trailer) Crappy films like this give bad films a bad name. Badly filmed and badly acted, Shackma is neither hilariously lousy or mildly effective, but rather 100% predictable and boring, neither its body count nor blood level helping in any way to keep the viewer awake. Movies like this shouldn't even be relegated straight to video/dvd, but should rather simply not be made. Co-director Tom Logan may have some 15+ years experience as an actor in the realm of soap operas (including regular parts on General Hospital and The Young & The Restless), but this atrocity — and all the other tripe he’s directed since — proves that he obviously gleamed little insight on how to make a film over the years. Co-director Hugh Parks must have as little insight as Logan, for Shakma is so dull and uninteresting that were it not for the blood, the film could be mistaken for a low-budget TV movie. Was there an actual script written before they began filming, or did they make it up as they went along?
As far as killer monkey movies goes — a rather small genre, luckily enough — Shakma is not as much fun as the big-budget guilty pleasure Congo (1995) or half as good as the relatively dull oddity Link (1986). Unsurprisingly enough, the movie stars some true has-beens, the most noteworthy being Christopher Atkins and Roddy McDowell. Atkins has bigger biceps and less curls than he did in The Blue Lagoon (1980), but his acting ability hasn't improved any. As for McDowell, though a regular face with steady employment before his death of cancer in 1998, his name has for decades hardly meant quality. True, he had parts in many a trash classic, including but not limited to The Poseidon Adventure (1975), Legend of Hell House (1973), It! (1967) and The Loved One (1965), but he also was seen in such mistakes as Embryo (1976), Class of 1984 (1982) and Angel 4: Undercover (1993), not to mention the Planet of the Apes TV series in the 1970s.
Aside from that of the killer baboon, the only mildly surprising and interesting face in Shakma is that of Amanda Wyss, who is easily as attractive in Shakma as she was six years earlier when she played one of Freddie Kruger's original victims in the classic A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984). Still, like all characters in Logan and Park's movie, her character reacts so idiotically in the end that one isn't sorry to see her go.
In terms of body count films, Shakma is provides the typically minimal characterization of the future dead bodies and idiots wandering around alone despite the knowledge of lurking danger, but completely lacks the typical series creativity in terms of methods of death that makes classic trash like Friday the 13th (1980) so much fun. In Shakma, everyone simply gets their throat ripped out, but for one guy who gets acid in his face and then gets his throat ripped out (why the acid covering his chest doesn't burn the attacking ape as well is not explained).
The little story that is there consists of a bunch of students playing some sort of Dungeon & Dragons type game in a locked up medical building, not realizing that a killer baboon (named Shakma) is on the loose. A few eventually realize what is happening and, logically enough, continue to wander off alone and put themselves into greater danger until they too get ripped apart. In the end, it's only Atkins against the baboon, and though the man actually wins, he ends up bleeding to death on the floor as he crawls down the hall. Sound original and exciting? Sure, and Christopher Atkins is one of America's great underrated actors.....


Mindhunters (2004)

(Trailer) Finland-born director Renny Harlin delivers another cool film. Not that all his films are cool – check out The Adventures of Ford Fairlane (1990) or Exorcist: The Beginning (2004) to see just how low he can go – but when he kicks ass, he kicks ass. In the case of Mindhunters (2004), he’s in top form and has dished out another cool genre flick that compares to his best genre work — namely, Prison (1988), A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988), The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996) and Deep Blue Sea (1999).
Sold as some sort of FBI mystery thriller, Mindhunter is actually little more than a glossy, well-made body count that takes its basic conceit from the old Agatha Christie book Ten Little Niggers (or, as it was re-titled as times changed, Ten Little Indians), which was filmed in 1945 by René Clair as And Then There Were None. In both Clair's classic and Harlin's re-working of the basic idea, a bunch of people are stuck alone on an island and are killed off one-by-one, the murderer obviously being one of their own – but who? But whereas the characters in the Christie film and book are strangers to one and another, in Mindhunters they are all classmates and friends: seven would-be FBI profilers sent on a training mission on an isolated island by their instructor Jake Harris (Val Kilmer). The sudden eighth member of the party (LL Cool J as Gabe Jensen) is of course the first suspect, but he too proves not to be a viable suspect. So who can the killer be?
Whoever it is isn’t wasting any time, however, and as one neatly lain and inanely ingenious trap after the other falls shut, the number of profilers dwindles. The traps are all ingenious — particularly the first one, the victim of which offers much the same shock value as the equally unexpected death mid-way through Deep Blue Sea — and the deaths are both nasty and gory, but more than just that, Mindhunters is visually well-directed and populated by well-acted and believable characters. (Indeed, that the characterization is so strong in the film is an integral aspect of the plot: the various traps are laid to correspond with the personality traits of the given victim.)
OK, a couple of the traps are so ingenious as to actually become ridiculous, but each and every one of them – even the one that you see coming – do manage to carry a good punch. Once revealed the driving motivation of the killer likewise does sort of seem a bit left-field, but if you figure the murder has the patience to set such traps, then they also probably have the patience to wait some 15 years before taking their revenge on their selected victims.
In a nutshell, Mindhunters is a well-directed, well-acted and fast-paced body count flick with decent gore and great effects — one damn fine piece of genre filmmaking, perfect for those who want something a little bit more interesting than just some superhuman madman in a white mask ala Michael Meyers or a supernatural jokester like Freddy.

Nightwish (1989)

As the cameraman for such instant non-classics as He’s My Girl (1987) and Big Bad Mama II (1987), amongst other crap, Bruce R. Cook obviously mastered enough know-how and control of the camera to give Nightwish some nice atmosphere, but his script is a mixed up mash of a car wreck that can’t figure out exactly what it is, what it wants to say or where it wants to go, and completely lacks any concept of logic, reality, continuity or other such necessary features needed to make a story. (Of course, it’s all a dream within a dream within a dream that’s not within a dream that is within a dream, so perhaps it is logical that there is no logic in the film.) True, the gore level is satisfying enough, as are the looks and tits of the two babes (Alisha Das (the brunette) and Elizabeth Kaitan (the boobs)) and the muscles of the tertiary male lead student (Brian Thompson), but the film pales in comparison to other great linear flicks of the same year such as Brian Yuzna’s Society, for which Cook was director of photography. Everyone dies at the end of Nightwish, as they rightly should for being such idiots, but then comes the twist ending revealing (surprise!) that it is all a dream after all.... or (bigger surprise!) is it really? But between the "twist" ending and the equally "twist" beginning, four idiot students go to a house with a nasty reputation to help an obviously unhinged parapsychology professor do some tests and end up facing ectoplasmatic "ghosts," scary apparitions, slug-like alien parasites, reanimated dead and a variety of other mismatching ideas before they all go bye-bye. It is rather a shame to think that this was one of Jack Starret’s last acting jobs before dying of kidney failure later the same year. The occasional character actor and director of such trash classics as The Losers (1970) and Cleopatra Jones (1973) deserved either something better or over-the-top terrible than this cinematic abortion to bow out with.

Nero (Italy, 1992)

Produced by Dario Argento's brother Claudio, who also put his support behind such popular cult films as Profondo rosso (1975), Suspiria (1977) and Dawn of the Dead (1978), Nero is an impossible to find but highly enjoyable Italian oddity that has less to do with blood and gut horror films than with artsy cult obscurities like Delicatessen (1991). Director Giancarlo Soldi's film is definitely less aesthetic and also lacks all of Delicatessen's lightly vaudeville aspects, but the black humor and inanely surreal facets lacing both films are of a similar vein. The story of Nero is based on a book by Tiziano Sclavi, the creator of the popular cult horror comic character Dylan Dog. (Dylan Dog was the inspiration for the excellent film Dellamorte Dellamore (1994), a stylish art house zombie gore fest starring Rupert Everett released in the USA as Cemetery Man.)
In Nero, there are no zombies, but there is a body count and some blood. Nero starts when Frederico (Sergio Castellitto, familiar to fans of Oscar-nominated foreign films as the lead in 1995's L'Uomo delle stele/The Star Maker) shows up to pick up his girlfriend Francesca (Chiara Caselli - shown here not in Nero, but in some unknown Italian film), who is leaving her boyfriend. Later Francesca gets all upset because she has left her anti-cellulite skin cream in her ex's apartment, and she nags the reluctant Frederico into going back to get it. Finding the door of the apartment ajar, he wanders in and discovers Francesca's ex lying on the floor with a slit throat. Convinced that Francesca is the murderer and has sent him to clean up after her, he attempts to dispose of the body and clean up the mess. His actions result in a trail of dead bodies, both accidental deaths and murders, as he continually gets mistaken for one wrong person after another. The narrative is circular in structure, ending almost at the exact point where it started. Actually, the story is oddly difficult to follow at times, and it is arguable that the film probably makes more sense when seen stoned.
In any event, Nero is an odd and individualistic low-budget production that often surprises and confuses but that is a refreshing change from the crap one usually sees. If it's a bit artsy-fartsy, so what? At least the film maker's were willing to take a chance at doing something different. The biggest flaw in the film is Chiara Casellithe; her Francesca is so dislikable and unconvincing that one has a hard time believing that anyone would want to have her as a girlfriend at all.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Snakes on a Plane (USA, 2006)

(Trailer) With a title like Snakes on a Plane, only someone with the brain of President Bush would probably have doubts about what the flick might actually be about. The rest of us, however, should have no problem sizing the film up for what it is: Another modern, Hollywood B-film.
Complicated and deep it ain’t, as the title indeed says it all. A bunch of snakes are let loose on a plane and all sorts of stuff that one might expect would happen if the inane situation were really to happen happens — and then some. About the only thing the title might leave one wondering is what series of events could possibly lead up to such a situation — especially since the plane in question is a red-eye special going from Hawaii to L.A., and Hawaii is still a place that can claim to have no snakes (although that could change). There is actually one big plot-hole that sort of renders the whole scenario impossible, but hell, it’s a B-flick about snakes, for crying out loud, not some Spielberg message-flick. Who gives a damned about plot-holes when the ride is good? And the ride is good, even if the CGI does sometimes sink below the level of that other (much campier and more underrated) snake flick Anaconda (1997).
One-time stuntman turned director David R. Ellis took over the project from the great Hong Kong master Ronny Yu after the latter dropped out due to those famous "creative differences," and while Yu may have the longer track record for kinetic visual excitement, Ellis once again manages to deliver a fine genre film that, once started, puts its pedal to the metal and barrels down the highway of ridiculous thrills at top speed — much as he did in his two previous genre efforts, Final Destination II (2003) and Cellular (2004). And if he doesn’t quiet go the gory excesses of FDII, Ellis nonetheless has no problems in showing splattering blood, close-ups of oozing wounds and the side effects of deadly bites. Likewise, he and the scriptwriter(s) have no compunctions against having snakes go for the places that any 13-year-old would probably want worked into the script if asked. (Indeed, not only does one snake sink its fangs directly upon the love-button of a well-stacked topless blond, but another snakes adds considerable length to the one man’s appendage.)
The B-flick staple used to get the story rolling is that of the witness to an event. Sunny-boy Sean Jones (Nathan Phillips, who people might recognize from the prior year’s much better — and depressing — Aussie horror flick Wolf Creek) witnesses bad-boy Eddie Kim (Byron Lawson) kill some district attorney. The FBI tracks him down due to fingerprints on a pop can he leaves at the scene, but Kim knows who he is too, so when Sean gets on the red-eye express with his two FBI escorts — one an expendable victim, the other Samuel L. Jackson (as Neville “I have had it with these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane!“ Flynn) — a couple hundred crack-crazed snakes join the baggage with a timed unlocking device (of sorts). After the mandatory time required to introduce the various would-be victims and survivors, the plane takes off and mid-way across the deep-blue sea the snake-shit hits the fan. Those few that don’t die frothing at the mouth try to keep the snakes at bay until the plane can land... but, damn! The pilots are dead, too.
A silly but entertainingly fun flick with just enough love-interest (played by Julianna Margulies (looking as good as she did in the unduly vilified Ghost Ship (2002)) as Claire the Stewardess and Sunny Mabrey as Tiffany the Stewardess) for the viewer to know that the heroes are real men, Snakes on a Plane offers nothing new but is at least an exciting ride. In the end, the simplest truth about the flick is that if the title alone appeals to you on any level, you'll enjoy the flick; if the title seems remotely stupid or ridiculous to you, then you probably won't.

Horrors of Spider Island (Germany/Yugoslavia/1960)

The third and (unsurprisingly) last film directed by Fritz Böttger, Horrors of Spider Island (Ein Toter hing in Netz) is the most readily available of the three women-on-an-island exploiters that the legendary German sleaze-film producer Wolf C. Hartwig produced at the start of the 1960s, the other two being the almost as enjoyably bad Flitterwochen in der Hölle (Isle of Sin) and the abysmally boring Die Insel der Amazonen (Seven Dancing Girls).
Horrors of Spider Island was first released in the U.S. in 1962 entitled It's Hot in Paradise due to a few discreet "nude" scenes (a nude group swim seen from the distance and a showering woman wearing only panties and seen from the back, among others), but was soon re-released in its present form and under its present title — supposedly the new version was trimmed of some skin, but most likely the actual cuts made are the cause of the occasional savage jumps in the (non)action later in the film. In any form, Horrors of Spider Island is a classic example of z-grade filmmaking, a film so hilariously inept in every way that it achieves that special, indefinable level of otherness that causes some celluloid mistakes to become enjoyably entertaining.
The opening scene of a casting call in L.A. for dancers for a review to be performed in Malaysia alone makes the film worth seeing. The bad dubbing is easily overlooked as various curvaceous ladies (no anorexics here, for sure) of varying moral levels prove their performance skills by showing-off their legs or stripping down to their undies. In no time flat, eight babes and their macho manager Gary (Alexander Darcy, also seen as Count Dracula in Al Adamson’s Blood of Dracula's Castle (1969)) are on their way to Malaysia by way of New York (!), but half-way to Hawaii (!) their plane catches fire and crashes into the ocean — all of which is shown using stock footage and an occasional close-up of some screaming dancers or a supposed air traffic controller in an empty room.
Of course, no one but the girls and Gary survive the nose-dive crash of the flaming plane, and after five days floating in a raft on a waveless ocean they land upon an island where they promptly find a cabin containing a dead man in a spider web (the inspiration for the German title, which translates literally into "A Corpse Was Hanging in the Web"). With nothing better to do, the eight gals spend the first night getting in catfights, doing their lipstick and sleeping in their skivvies on the porch while Gary tries to play the man in charge.
Linda-the-Slut (Elfie Wagner) gets Gary all hot and bothered so he walks out into the night looking for a place to rub more than just his shirtless chest, but before he can get unzipped he gets bitten in the neck by some hilariously cheap looking mutant spider (much like the monster in Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster (1955), the spider has a hard time attacking without help from the attacked).
Transformed into a clawed and fanged monster desperately in need of a shave and haircut, Gary goes back to the cabin the next day and kills Linda-the-Slut while the rest of the gals stumble around the island searching for him.
(As one of the girls says later when they find Linda's body submerged in a pool of water, "(She was) strangled by a spider!") Next Gary almost goes for his assistant Georgia (Helga Franck — who died for real in 1963 when she supposedly tripped out of the window of her 5th floor apartment in Munich) — but decides to run for the forest instead. 28 days of cat fighting later Gary still hasn't reappeared, but Joe (Harald Maresch) and Bob (Rainer Brandt) do. Helpers of the titular man in the spider web, they have come back to the island with new supplies. (According to Time Magazine (Monday, Dec. 25, 1944), Harald Maresch, once known as “Harold Ramond,” not only fought Nazis in Vienna and Prague as a member of the underground, he was also a Dachau escapee. He was also the man whom the “Mexican Spitfire” Lupe Valez, her career on the wane and facing public disgrace by being both unmarried and pregnant, spoke to in her suicide note, which said: "Harold: May God forgive you and forgive me too, but I prefer to take my life away and our baby's before I bring in him with shame or killing him.") Confronted by all the pulchritude, the two manly men quickly forget that their boss is dead and decide to spend the next six days until the supply boat comes back partying down with the babes — as Bob says at one point, "What are dancers? Hot goods for cold nights." That night there is a big bikini party, but even as Joe falls for Ann (Helga Neuner) and Bob works his way through the remaining willing babes on his way to meet Gladys (Dorothee Parker — the only actress to be in all three of Hartwig’s island movies) on the beach, Gary still wanders the island jungle...
Although the plot synopsis above does give some indication of the ineptitude of the production, what it fails to convey is the film's actual overall graceless incompetence in every aspect, be it the direction, editing, narrative, acting, dubbing, lighting, continuity — everything! To point out the film's flaws would take more time than to watch it. Indeed, Horrors of Spider Island is a truly, wonderfully lousy film; one of those so-bad-their-good z-films that reveal to the world that Ed Wood was not alone in his surrealistic ability to create surreally crappy but entertaining crappy films (to give Ed Wood credit where credit is due, he at least did so with lower budgets). If you like bad films, give this turkey a chance and you might think it's Thanksgiving; if you don’t like bad films, well, don’t say you weren't forewarned.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...