Monday, February 9, 2009

Short Film: Staplerfahrer Klaus - Der erste Arbeitstag / Forklift Driver Klaus: The First Day on the Job (Germany, 2000)

Staplerfahrer Klaus has been one of my favorite accidental discoveries for a long time now and has long since become mandatory viewing (as the supporting film) for anyone that comes over to my place to watch DVDs. A satire of educational films like those we of the US were forced to watch in Drivers Ed, the roughly 9-minute-long film looks and feels like a true industrial safety film up until the humour — and splatter — kicks in.
In Germany, the film has an additional “realistic” edge in that it is narrated by Egon Högen, a voice well-known from educational series and other miscellaneous voiceovers. Klaus himself is played by Konstantin Graudus, a familiar television actor. His last feature film work worth mentioning was in Christian Alvart's lousy serial-killer-vs.-faith film Antikörper / Antibodies (2005/trailer), which seems to get rave reviews everywhere but I thought sucked deer-dick. 
Stefan Prehn’s website is here; regrettably, I have been unable to locate Jörg Wagner's contact information.

Return of the Deadly Blade (Hong Kong, 1981)

The most apt statement to be found on the web about Wong Tai-Loi's 1981 film Fei dao you jian fei dao / Return of the Deadly Blade is found on the website Trash City Film Blitz, which compares the continuity of the film as being like "trying to follow, say, Buffy, if all you saw was the fights." The (unanswerable) question does naturally arise as to whether or not the Shaw Brothers production was such a scotch-tape affair upon its original release, but the 85-minute version found on the Eastwestdvd that was available at 99 cent stores throughout Las Vegas, Nevada, in November 2008 – as a double feature with The Golden Destroyers (1985), a film by Gordon Chan, who is also responsible for the popular piece of Hong Kong flotsam Fei hu xiong xin / The Final Option (1994) — is a true example of a film made incomprehensible by its editing. Still, the general inanity of the entire project, and some entertaining fight scenes, manages to make the film mildly entertaining if one is in a particularly non-judgmental and non-demanding mood. Of course, one can’t help but wonder about a culture that presents a rapist as the secondary hero, rape as something to laugh about and, in turn, more or less promotes the idea that a way to a woman’s heart is to bonk her against her will. But despite this more than questionable stance, a film that features men using steel umbrellas and fans as weapons of defense, a fight in a public cave sauna fought with bath towels, attacking ninjas on water skis and an important character that twirls around in what has to be described as a flying wheelchair cannot be completely despised.
As mentioned above, the plot is virtually undecipherable, but by the end of the movie a general storyline does emerge. Big Brother Lung (David Chiang of 1974's The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires) is out to find the legendary Master Li (Norman Chu) so as to revenge the death of his father. The Lonely Winner (Yasuaki Kurata), a good-time guy that likes to dip his wick in unwilling females is in search of someone who can finally beat him in a fight, and he sets his sights on Master Li.
The Lonely Winner is also being followed by one of his prior, once-unwilling wickwetters; though he hardly realizes it, he is actually as in love with her as she is with him (an important point, as it emerges later in the film). The paths of the two fighters continually cross on their respective journeys, which end in the mystic Lunar World, where the final big showdown with the Moon Goddess occurs amidst the revelation of all sorts of unexpected family secrets.
OK, given a choice between this flick and say, Sien nui yau wan / A Chinese Ghost Story* (1987/trailer) or Do ma daan / Peking Opera Blues (1986/trailer), Return of the Deadly Blade loses hands down; but if those two Hong Kong masterpieces aren’t around and your weed is good and you’re bored shitless, this oddity does have its appeal. An appeal that would substantially increase if the DVD formatting were better, for at least on the Eastwestdvd DVD the film transfer is atrocious, framed in such a way that most of what occurs left or right is cut down the middle. Indeed, much more so than the film's lack of continuity or clarity, the formatting is actually to blame for destroying much of the visual pleasure that this early hidden-wire-flying-fighters film might have had to offer.

*The fight choreography of Chinese Ghost Story and its sequels (among other films) was done by one Siu-Tung Ching, who also is responsible for the fight choreography of this film. Here, in Return of the Deadly Blade, he still seems to be learning the ropes — although he still does a damned good job.

El Arte de morir (Spain, 2000)

A group of six (unnaturally) dissimilar friends get tired of the condescension and conceitedness of their seventh friend – Nacho (Gustavo Salmerón), an artist that does stuff like sneaking into morgues to photograph the dead for inspiration but, in the end, basically just repaints details of the imagery of Hieronymus Bosch – and decide during an overnight camping party to punk him good. The particularly retarded prank, however, goes majorly wrong, resulting in one dead body and six people who don't want to go down for it and have their lives ruined. Four years later, long after everything is dead and buried, a detective focuses in on the case again when a junkie shows up with the identity card of the "missing" artist. In fear that the detective might learn where they buried the body, all six of them go back and dig it up, but before they can move it, the abandoned building catches afire. They barely manage flee the structure, which burns to the ground, but soon thereafter they begin, one by one, to die horrible deaths – starting with the beautiful Candela (Elsa Pataky – seen here in one piece in a photo not taken from the film) who gets torn apart by dogs. Iván (Fele Martínez), the friend that was closest to Nacho, is plagued by visitations from his dead friend, but when he tells the others of the visitation's dire forewarnings of terrible events, they all assume he is both a nutcase and the killer – and the fact that he is basically stalking his ex-girlfriend Clara (María Esteve) does little to help his reputation. Only when his sudden appearance saves Clara does her opinion change, but can they avoid a violent death like that suffered by all their friends?
The Art of Dying, as El Arte de morir is known in non-Spanish-speaking lands, is a slickly made horror film that manages to overcome some truly horrendous gaffs in the initially textbook slasher script and acting department to develop into something rare: a body-count film that transcends its initial derivativeness and become both enthralling and, at times, scary. But then, although the bodies do drop one by one, the film is much more a supernatural horror film than a simple 10-little-indians flick, for there is far more of Carnival of Souls (1962 / trailer) or Jacob's Ladder (1990 / trailer) in The Art of Dying than, say, Scream (1996 / trailer) or Friday the 13th (1980 / trailer).
On the one hand, scriptwriters Curro Royo and Juan Vicente Pozuelo – the duo behind the script of Trece campanadas / 13 Curses (2002 / trailer), another seldom seen Spanish horror flick that agitates ever so slightly in an art circle – deserve some respect for managing to save their script mid-way through by injecting an unexpected and surprising (if not somewhat implausible) twist, but on the other hand they deserve a good slap in the face for regurgitating such an abominable dramaturgy the first half hour.
The basic premise of The Art of Dying cribs mightily from I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997 / trailer) and any number of Golden Age and non-Golden Age teenagers-with-a-secret-who-begin-to-die flicks, and like so many of the worst of the genre, The Art of Dying fails to bring together a believable circle of friends. True, for the most part the six remain all equally unlikable, but they never actually click as a believable clique. That the realm in which they live (extremely well) is, as always, absent of any parental figures – with the exception of the grieving father of the young artist gone missing that serves both as a symbol of guilt and recovery – can be overlooked for they are old enough, per say, not to have any umbilical cords left, but as friends they already don’t seem to fit together before the big bad event even happens and thus remain unconvincing. Likewise, when all characters are uniformly dislikable – and not one character is introduced in such a way that makes them so (although some do manage to gain some sympathy as the film proceeds) – it is very hard to root for anyone, or to care when they die. Lastly, the second key event of the film, their return to the location where Nacho is buried, is brought about in such a contrived and unbelievable fashion that the event almost ruins the film; indeed, director Álvaro Fernández Armero – a director of comedies and dramas on his first fling in the genre of horror – deserves a hearty slap on the back for managing to exhibit enough directorial style and control that the viewer does not turn off the DVD player at this point with a groan.
It is from here onwards, however, that The Art of Dying finally gains its solid footing and becomes an engrossing rumination on love and sacrifice, guilt and redemption, and (to an extent) guilt and revenge. The highly original editing of the film – events are not 100% linear, but are crosscut from the past to the present as needed to advance the story – assists in maintaining the general sense of unease, in part by making unexplainable events (like a bar that is normally full suddenly being empty) as strange to the viewer as the person involved.
In short, despite its flaws The Art of Dying is an amazingly effective, surprisingly creepy and at times frightening horror film that deserves more attention than it has gotten. The soundtrack, with its classic-like and ethno drum and bass interludes, is totally bitching, too.

7 Mummies (USA, 2006)

At what point does a B-film become a Z-film? Is the qualification based only on budget, or is it based on the end product? 7 Mummies must have had a big enough budget, for it could afford a relatively large cast of actors with contemporary B and horror film heritage – most of whom actually manage to come across as if they at least think they are in a real film – and a shitload of extras, but the final product is, well, pretty insipid. Indeed, you know that scene in Austin Powers (1997/trailer) in which the bad guys do that stereotypical maniacal laugh so long that it becomes funny? The same thing happens three times in this film, and the last time it happens, at the end of the film – a replay of the first laugh scene, actually – the viewer really gets the feeling that it is (s)he who is getting laughed at for having sat through the whole film.
7 Mummies
starts off with an Old West scene of what looks to be two mentally deficient cowpokes dragging a coffin through the desert under the heat of the midday sun. A bump over a stone and the coffin-end breaks open, spilling gold coins. As the two cowpokes stand there gleefully giggling as if they just successfully impregnated their cows, a sword-wielding cowboy rides in from somewhere and beheads the in-breds (off-screen).
Next, we see a flipped prison transport van at the side of the road in the middle of the desert. Once the male guard is offed and female guard (Cerina Vincent as Lacy) over-powered, the six escapees – the good guy of them all is obvious 'cause he's the tall, good-looking, strong and silent type (Billy Wirth as Travis – Come to me, baby!) – wander off towards the Mexican border, with Lacy in tow. Along the way they first discover a golden medallion and then stumble upon an old Apache (Danny Trejo, obviously hard up for cash), who promptly tell them of a hidden treasure in a close-by town. The greedy college grads that they all are, the convicts change directions to go to town. Reaching the town, not one of them finds it odd that it is inhabited by refugees from a Spaghetti Western and, instead, hit the local saloon for a couple of free beers. Soon the sun goes down and for about ten minutes 7 Mummies becomes a really lousy imitation of From Dusk Till Dawn (1996/trailer) as everyone in the bar except our cons turns into flesh-eating ghouls. (The ghouls in the bar make nary an appearance after the bar fight.) The rest of the film is spent following the last survivors as they run around the town trying to escape the town’s sheriff (Billy Glide) – the cowboy with the sword – and deputy (played by Thadd Turner, a true Ol’ West fanatic, who is also responsible for the flick’s asinine script) and also find the treasure. Which they do, in an underground room located at the end of a tunnel they discover in the town church. But, hold on now, partner! That there treasure be protected by seven kung fu fighting Jesuit mummies, so in no time everyone is kick-fighting and flying through the air in true Hong Kong fashion. The survivors decide to skedaddle, and soon the last two (guess which ones) are zooming out of town on a Harley, the now mummified sheriff in hot pursuit on his horse, his sword a-swinging...
Adjectives that fit the movie? How about: Derivative, inconsistent, illogical, idiotic, dull, predictable, ridiculous, cheesy, laughable, irritating... Get the (Z-)picture? About the best thing that can be said about 7 Mummies is that unlike the general trend of U.S. American B-films, the film actually shows tits: Humongous, silicone-engorged love pillows that look like they could knock you unconscious with one swing! Regrettably, they are shown but briefly and are badly lit, so even that short-lived highlight doesn’t do much to save the film. Nor, for that matter, do the occasional gore highlights, like the nifty decapitation scene and the scene with the poked-out eyes. To say the film could have been better is as obvious as it is an understatement; the real crunch would be to say how it could have been better. In this regard, much like the equally retarded tax write off Museum of the Dead (2004/trailer), which evidences about as much talent but a smaller budget, this reviewer is of the opinion 7 Mummies would have been a lot better had it never been made.

Haunted Honeymoon (USA, 1986)

Haunted Honeymoon (trailer) is a period costume comedy set in the 30s or 40s cut to the tradition of such classic films as the original The Cat and the Canary (1927) – and certain remakes – or other similar old-dark-house comic horror films of varying quality featuring Abbott & Costello, Jerry Lewis & Dean Martin, Bob Hope, Red Skeleton and dozens of other lesser talents. It is a strange little film that is definitely of the “Either You Love It or Hate It” camp. Maltin’s, that famous film and video bible for Middle American Republicans isn’t shy about what it thinks and rates the film as a Bomb. Well, as is common knowledge, Maltin’s opinions are often more simple than factual — he does, after all, write to the level of his intended audience.
More truthful is that
Haunted Honeymoon is a highly flawed but interesting, entertaining and enjoyable oddity that, much like the forgotten comedy Top Secret! (1984/trailer) is awaiting both rediscovery and reappraisal. Veering between high comedy, hard violence, loving satire and straight theft of both classic jokes and famous visuals, Haunted Honeymoon is both funny and at times scary, as much a “light” horror film as it is a comedy. This type of mixture is very hard to make work, and while Wilder isn’t 100% successful all of the time, he doesn’t exactly fail — and, in fact, he delivers a film far more enjoyable than his bigger hit, the abysmal Woman In Red (1984), if not one of his most enjoyable films since he stopped working with Mel Brooks. Partially due to its quaint, period setting and obvious homage tendencies, Haunted Honeymoon has also dated much better than Wilder’s big hits Silver Streak (1976/trailer) and Stir Crazy (1980), which have become oddly unfunny over the years.
About the biggest flaw in Haunted Honeymoon is that Wilder collected an excellent cast of distinctive character actors for his film and then gave most of them very little to do, often having them simply disappear for long stretches at a time for no logical reason. (Of course, this is also common to all the old dark house films.) He doesn’t exactly waste them, per say, for they all have a scene or two as recognizable, traditional horror film types so common to the kind of film Wilder is both making fun of and giving loving homage, but one nonetheless ends up feeling that he should’ve done more with them.
Likewise, it is both odd and unexplainable how unfunny Dom DeLuise is in drag as Aunt Kate. For that, however, the late Gilda Radner, Wilder’s wife at the time, delivers a wonderful performance and exudes a lively energy and presence that outshines everyone around her and adds much to the film. One of the original Not Ready For Prime Time Players on Saturday Night Live back when the show first began and was still both on the edge and funny (and not the dull, creaking, arthritic institution it is now), Radner, like the other original two female comedians of Saturday Night Live, never got as big a boost from the exposure the show gave her as her male counterparts did, despite being much more talented than most of them. Still, her innately humorous but at the same time gently vulnerable presence in Haunted Honeymoon reaffirms the belief that had she not died of cancer in 1989, she might have a long, fruitful and varied career ahead of her.
In Haunted Honeymoon, she plays Vickie Pearle, and works alongside the neurotic Larry Abbot (Gene Wilder) in the Manhattan Mystery Theater, a hit radio program. The two plan to marry and return to Abbot’s family home for sort of family reunion actually planned to help cure the unsuspecting Larry of his neurosis via something best described as shock therapy. Unknown to everyone, someone in the huge mansion is actually out not help cure Larry, but to get him out of the way. A simple plot familiar to anyone who has ever watched afternoon television after school as a kid, but made with a bigger budget and better equipment, excellently filmed and loaded with visual puns swiped from both classics and forgotten film of yesterday. Everything leads up to a jarringly hardcore fistfight that gets most of its violence from the over exaggerated sound effects, every fist making contact with a “POW” louder than a punch thrown by Rambo....
Yep, Haunted Honeymoon is a film you either love or you hate, but that time is proving ain’t all that bad after all.

Nirvana (Italy, 1996)

A music video to the film:

Long-Island born and European-raised actor Christopher Lambert had already had a number of small parts in European films prior to his much publicised introduction to international audiences as the title character in Hugh Hudson’s Greystroke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984/trailer). Since then, the steadily employed actor has shown himself to either have the worst taste in scripts or a lousy agent, for though he has consistently top billed a variety of films over the last two generations, his name has become a definite synonym for trash — and not very good trash at that, either. Even when working with directors like Luc Besson (Subway (1985)), Michael Cimino (The Sicilian (1987)) or Stuart Gordon (Fortress (1993/trailer)), the end product has always been one of the worst films in the respective director’s career. To give credit where credit is due, Russell Mulcahy’s Highlander (1986/trailer) was enjoyable enough, but the three sequels since then are nothing less than evidence of a complete lack of pride (or perhaps a drug addiction) on Lambert’s part, as is his participation in Fortress II:Re-entry (1999/trailer). Truth be told, Lambert seems to be well on his way towards becoming the Robert Vaughn of the future: a familiar (expressionless) face and name that occasionally does something good but whom, all in all, stands for "this film sucks."
Keeping that in mind, it is understandable that few people bothered to go see
Nirvana during its limited release, despite its fab poster (at least here in Europe) of a Photoshop-enhanced, bare-breasted Tantric Goddess Kali with an obscenely long tongue. What a damned shame, actually, for Nirvana is probably one of the best films that Lambert has ever starred in — and a really excellent film to boot.
A cyberpunk science fiction film along the lines of Robert Longo’s Johnny Mnemonic (1995/trailer) or Brett Leonard’s Virtuosity (1995/trailer), peppered liberally with Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982/trailer) and featuring visual references to films as separate as Cimano’s The Deer Hunter (1978) and Steven Lisberger’s Tron (1982/trailer), this budget-constrained film is a labor of love from a well informed filmmaker not afraid to throw in everything in the book and a few things more. Italian Gabriele Salvatores manages to infuse a relatively worn out idea with enough wit, flare, detail and speed that Nirvana definitely becomes a greater sum than its parts; the final result is a film that grows onto one slowly, forever gaining more and more of the viewer’s interest, until suddenly one is completely involved in all that is happening.
As Salvatores has explained (and as is obvious in the film), the title Nirvana refers not just to the computer game featured in the story, but is also a direct reference to the Hindu philosophy itself, in which "reality" is considered to be a type of illusion, a tertiary and ephemeral level that has to be gone through to reach perfection, or Nirvana. Just like in computer games, including the one in the movie, one continuously repeats this (earthly) level until one has learned from and corrected all one’s mistakes. Throughout the film there are many parallels made to connect this philosophy to the structure of cyberspace and computer games.... in fact, by the end of the film, many good arguments present themselves that the "real world" in the film is actually as much of an artificial world as that of the "cyber world" of the computer game around which Nirvana’s plot is built.
Initially, the editing structure of Nirvana leads to some confusion about what is happening, but once the film gets underway, everything begins to make sense. Nirvana tells the story of computer game designer Jimi Dini (Christopher Lambert), a dissatisfied and unhappy man still suffering the loss of his last girlfriend Lisa (Emmanuelle Seigner, Roman Polanski’s wife in real life, seen here in a photo that is not from the film), who left him a year before in 2004. Three days before Christmas, the day Nirvana, the game he has designed for the multinational Okosama Starr Corporation is set to go on sale, Jimi plugs in for one last check of the product. To his astonishment, he finds that his computer has been infected by a virus that has given the game’s hero Solo (Diego Abatantuono) consciousness. Solo, realizing that he is merely a computer-generated figure that is doomed to continuously relive everything ad nauseam, bids Jimi to free him by destroying Nirvana’s program. The problem is, the master copy of the game is in the Okosama Starr databank, and to comply fully with Solo’s request for deliverance, Jimi must hack into the databank, something he can’t do alone. Driven by both a desire to free Solo and locate his beloved Lisa, Jimi leaves the safe haven of Centre for the dangers of the first of many multi-cultural slums, Marakesh. Tailed by a minion of the corporation (Harukiko Yamanouchi), Jimi teams up with a permanently broke, motor-mouthed Hacker named Joystick, a friend of Lisa’s with whom she briefly stayed after she left Jimi. Joystick, who has sold his corneas and now can only see in B&W through cheap, second-rate implants accompanies Jimi onwards to Bombay City in the search of a Hacker good enough to get into Okosama Starr’s database. Along the way, they team up with Naima (Stefania Rocca), a rambunctious drug-happy young woman with nice (and seemingly real) breasts, blue hair and a downloading device built into her forehead but no memories, having had them all erased the year before due to her hacking activities in the past. These events and all that come are interspersed with Solo’s world, in which, when he isn’t getting blown away, he is continuously trying to convince various other characters that they are all just artificial creations inhabiting a computer world.....
The world as pictured in Nirvana is pretty much Blade Runner times five but with less money, and the story is as complicated as it is illogical, but what first comes across as major flaws, when added up later with the overall sequence of events, visuals and ending, only serves to underscore Salvatores’ continuous flirting with the question of what is and what isn’t real. While never completely stated in the film, clues are planted throughout Nirvana that tend to make one think that this is less a film taking place in a future gone wrong then it is a computer game being successfully played from beginning to end. Could it be that Jimi is as unreal as Solo? The question is never completely answered....
Special credit must be given Fabrizio Donvito and the firm Digitalia Graphics, who are credited as having done the digital effects for the film. They are both creative and masterful, and add immensely to the overall strength of the film.

Progeny (USA, 1999)

(Trailer) Some bad movies are simply lousy, others are so bad as to be good, and others are unbelievably putrid. Guess what Progeny is. Unbelievably enough, this piece of unforgivable crap was not only directed by Brian Yuzna, the man who gave us such splatter classics as Society (1989/trailer), The Bride of Re-Animator (1990/trailer) and The Dentist (1996/trailer), but the story was also supplied by the one and only Stuart Gorden. Could it be that neither actually had anything to do with this movie, but simply sold the right to use their names? My mom could do better than this, and she’s been dead for five years.....
Basically, the infertile Dr Craig Burton (Arnold Vosloo) has sex with his wife Sherry (Jillian McWhirter) and suddenly hours have slipped by — many too many hours for anyone other than the most practiced tantric guru or Jamie Gillis to have kept an erection. Suddenly wifey is pregnant, and the baby seems malignantly evil. Could it be that while they were screwing aliens came down, sedated the couple and impregnated Sherry? Could it be that Dr. Burton is merely a bit psycho and is having problems coming to terms that he’s gonna be a daddy? Could Sherry be delusional? Do we care? The special effects are laughable in this film, the aliens looking and moving like the blow up dolls one can buy in every tourist trash shop in the world. The impregnation scenes mildly disturbing, but dulled by repetitious showings — though, oddly enough, each alien insemination scene, all seemingly of the same event, is completely different (maybe the aliens aren’t too fertile either — but perhaps it is an attempt by the filmmakers to cast doubt on the veracity of the lead character’s sanity). The aspect of Burton’s sanity verses possible delusional tendencies is poorly presented, the events happening all being too literal for anyone (but other characters in the film who don’t witness the events) to doubt Burton’s sanity. Wilford Brimley is totally miscast as Dr. David Wetherly, Sherry’s gynecologist and Burton’s coworker and friend — most women have something against their gynecologist kissing them hello when they lie there with their legs hiked and spread, their beaver for the world to see. (Likewise, co-workers and professionals or not, most men who don’t have that special kink tend to dislike having a friend get too close to the lovebox of their wives.)
Progeny might be a good film to show your girlfriend when her biological clock starts ticking too loudly, but in general it is a bleak and boring film, full of illogical holes and terribly acted. True, as always Brad Dourif does a good job, his acting abilities contradicting his present position as B-movie & video-fodder character actor, a position forever ununderstandable considering his stellar beginnings in such films as One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975/trailer), Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) and Wise Blood (1979). But one decent acting job can’t save a boring, badly conceived and terribly made film.

Carnival of Souls (USA, 1962)

An atmospheric, enjoyable low key supernatural thriller that has gained a rather large cult following over the recent years, a large enough following to result in its having to suffer a completely misguided reinterpretation in 1998 (trailer). Oddly enough, while she has nothing good to say about the new version, it was actually Candice Hilligoss, the lead of the first version, that instigated the remake in the first place. As she tells it, she was deviously maneuvered out of the project by the Hollywood Powers involved, people who had no feeling for the material and merely raped the original idea in hope of filling their pockets. Hilligoss’s bad feelings and justified spite aside, the remake of Carnival of Souls, released as a Wes Craven production (probably more for the commercial drawing power of his name than for any actual participation), is truly a piece of shite.
Rather unlike the original version, Henk Harvey’s first and only shot at feature-length film making, a $30,000.00 labor of love filmed in Kansas and Utah utilizing a number of students from the Theatre Department of Kansas University. According to the film’s cinematographer Maurice Prather, Carnival of Souls was made because everyone “wanted to make a movie that would make a little money,” but the film is so contrary to popular, mainstream notions of horror films — and indeed, it was less than well received upon its original, very short release — that it seems hard to believe that there weren’t some other, more artistically oriented intentions pervading for both Henk Harvey and the film’s scriptwriter, John Clifford. It is easy to conjecture that the monotony of the productions of the Centron Corporation, an industrial and educational film company in Lawrence, Kansas, where they both worked, created the urge in the two to finally do something original, to make something special.
In any event, the snide remark by The Washington Post that Carnival of Souls is "an existential horror cheapie" can be viewed as on the mark, so long as one ignores the intentionally insulting aspects of the word "cheapie." Much like Curtis Harrington’s Night Tide (trailer), which was made a year later, Carnival of Souls is less a "cheapie" than merely a "financially handicapped," highly individual project that boasts of a dreamlike quality, a finely tuned use of black & white photography, excellent nuances of characterization and an overall effective sense of unease rather than any mundane Hollywood production sensibility. (Unlike the remake, which had the budget but feels cheap — and sleazy — despite itself.)
Carnival of Souls begins with a drag race that ends with a disaster — a car, filled with three young girls, goes off the side of a bridge and sinks, seemingly taking all three occupants to their deaths. Three hours later, while the local authorities are still trying to locate the submerged car, a wet and muddied Mary Henry (South-Dakota-born Candice Hilligoss) emerges at the river side, dazed, confused and with no memory of what has happened. A cold, distant woman, she leaves the town the very next day to take up her new job as an organist in a church in Utah, not even stopping off to visit her parents who live along the way. Entering Utah, she passes a large, deserted pavilion and suffers her first hallucination, the reflection of a ghoulish, pale-skinned man with deep rings around the eyes (an uncredited appearance by director Henk Harvey). (Truth be told, while it might seem sacrilegious to all them film fans out there who worship this film, the make-up job on this guy and the other "souls" is pretty cheesy — far cheesier than that of the zombies in Night of the Living Dead (trailer), which is often said to have been influenced by this film.)
Arriving in her new domicile, she takes up a room in the boarding house of Mrs. Thomas (Francis Feist), where she quickly suffers more hallucinations, at one point even seeing the man walking around downstairs. After introducing herself to her boss, with whom she makes a brief visit to the exterior of the old, deserted carnival outside of town, Mary goes to buy a dress and, while in the changing room, suffers a warping of reality (symbolised cheaply and very effectively by a slight, water-like rippling): Suddenly, not only can she not hear anyone or anything, but no one realises her presence. She runs terrified through the town accompanied only by the clacking of her own shoes, a sound made all the more unnatural since it doesn’t always match her steps (probably an accidental effect, but none the less, quiet effective). Later she does regain her grasp onto — into? — reality at the local park, but her relief is short lived. In an abysmal attempt to regain some sort of humane connection to the world and people around her, she goes out on a miserable date with John (Sidney Berger), the alcoholic, dislikeable jerk who lives across the hall. The next day, while practising on the organ in the church, her hands seem to come alive by themselves and play an "ungodly" music, resulting in the loss of her job. Trying to flee the town, she suffers a reoccurrence of her disassociation with the world around her and is unable to leave; at the local bus station, when she unexpectedly hears the announcement of a departing bus, she boards it only to find it full of more dreadful ghouls, whom she barely manages to escape.....
To tell more would involve having to reveal the ending, and while the ending is not exactly unexpected,
Carnival of Souls deserves to be seen, not just read about... so if you want to find out what happens, go rent it. (Or buy it: If a good quality version is too pricey for you, almost any given 99-cent store selling cheap, public-domain DVDs has a copy — what’s more, you can download it for free here at the Internet Archives.)
The film definitely isn’t your normal low-budget piece of trash, and while it doesn’t force you to buy new underwear, it does offer some downright chilling moments, such as when Mary goes wandering alone in the pavilion or whenever she becomes "disassociated." The dialog tends to be a bit odd in an interesting way, but one is never sure if it is meant to be so ironically (as in the average David Lynch film) or is simply incompetently written. Contrasting that, much of the acting is superb — in the case of John, he comes across as such a jerk that one can’t help but think that he had to be one in real life, too. Candace Hilligoss does an excellent job as Mary as well, her portrayal effectively going from distant and disinterested to disoriented and helpless to terrified. That she never had an active career in the movies or on television is surprising. A onetime student of Lee Strasberg, she clearly had talent. Be what it may, her only other cinematic outing seems to have been in one of Roy Scheider’s first films,
Curse of the Living Corpse (1964/trailer), directed by Del Tenny, the same man who disgorged Horror at the Beach Party (1964/trailer) and Zombie / Voodoo Blood Bath (1964). The latter of the three films gained considerable unjustified fame when it was re-released in 1971 as I Eat Your Skin on a double bill with the fun I Drink Your Blood (trailer).

A Tale of Two Sisters (Korea, 2003)

(Trailer.) Two adolescent sisters, Su-mi (Im Soo-jeong) and Su-yeon (Mun Geun-Yeong), return to the large, immaculately decorated family home after an unspecified length of time in a sanatorium and promptly lock horns with their new and hated step-mother Eun-Ju (Jung-ah Yum). The milquetoast father (Kap-su Kim) is usually either a shadow in the background or unaccountably absent or silent as the war between the sisters and stepmother steadily graduates from simple hostility to psychological terror and physical harm, even as ghostly apparitions start making their appearance. (As Eun-Ju says to her husband at one point, "There's something strange in this house.") Has there been – or will there soon be – a murder?
The film is the most internationally successful film to date of Korean director Ji-woon Kim, the man behind 1998's black comedy The Quiet Family / Choyonghan kajok (trailer) –
which was remade to greater popularity by Takashi Miike two years later as the extremely weird flick The Happiness of the Katakuris / Katakuri-ke no kôfuku (trailer) – and a participating director in the excellent and oft-shocking tri-segment anthology film Three Extremes II / Saam gaang (2001). The fourth version of a Korean folk tale, A Tale of Two Sisters is, to date, the highest grossing Korean "horror" film; currently the Hollywood re-envisionment, entitled The Uninvited (trailer), is set for general release in 2009. And while it is doubtful that the mainstream US version will in any way come close to the general visual, aural and atmospheric artistic level of Kim's film, it shouldn't have much difficultly in making more sense dramaturgically.
A Tale of Two Sisters is one of those films like the recent critical and box office success El Orfanato / The Orphanage (2007/trailer) which, while undeniably well made and interesting, nonetheless suffers some obvious dramatic inconsistencies that all those lavishing the praise either simply ignore or for some strange reason simply fail to notice. Not to say that A Tale of Two Sisters lacks aspects that are to be praised, for the contrary is true. The music to the film is both beautiful and haunting, alternately underscoring and playing against the given mood of a scene. Likewise, the oft-igneous framing and camera work may at times verge on the baroque, but it helps lend the movie a continual visual beauty that is at time disquieting and, at times, a pleasure to the eye in which the occasional bursts of true horror become twice as effective. Last but not least, the acting is excellent, with every character conveying the perfect note no matter how fleeting – or how long – their given screen time might be.
No, the problem with A Tale of Two Sisters is simply the story itself, which seems in general to be viewed as a masterpiece of ingeniously twisting narrative but is, in the end, much more an unsatisfying excess of over-intricate plotting sprinkled with a variety of horror conventions that leads up to a "shocking" but unsatisfying twist ending – with a final scene that seems more tacked on than necessary. (Once again, evil is punished.) It's just, due to the story's big twist shortly before, the supernatural angle is more or less disposed of, so when it suddenly rears its head again in the last five minutes, it seems much more like a dues ex machine than a satisfying conclusion. Likewise, the opening scene that sets up the entire film as a flashback is truly extraneous and unneeded, and serves little but to make the (first) twist ending easier to foresee and, in turn, cast an overall doubt on everything that occurs in the movie as a whole – indeed, could the last scene also only be a figment of the imagination of the one sister? But then, seeing how much the director plays with reality and interpretation, perhaps that was his goal – another one of the clues indicating the twist that viewers should catch, like the verb conjunction form the father uses when he tells his daughter(s) to get out of the car in the first scene of the flashback. (That “clue,” however, might only exist in the German-language version.)
In any event, once again to give credit where credit is due, as flawed as the narrative is, in every other aspect of the film, director Ji-woon Kim's presentation is done with such an assured hand that the almost two hour long running time of A Tale of Two Sisters never becomes boring despite an extremely languid pace and, although unsatisfying as a whole, the film is also anything but wasted celluloid.

Head of the Family (1996, USA)

Now this is a crappy film. People should be shot for wasting celluloid on something as shitty as Head of the Family. Stealing stuff that was already cliché long before a dozen other movies used it, scriptwriter Benjamin Carr pads the story with the jokes that fall flatter than road kill... A shame, for the basic premise — that of murderous, brain-stealing mutant quadruplets — could lend itself to a decent trash film if handled correctly. Actually, most clichés lend themselves well to good trash movies if handled correctly, but neither the director "Robert Talbot" — as in: yet another pseudonym for Charles Band — nor the scriptwriters (Band and Benjamin Carr) handle anything correctly in this DVD aberration. Hell, the script doesn't even include a single likable character, thus leaving the viewer without anybody to identify with or root for.
Shot with the gleam and glow of a music video, Head of the Family reveals Band to be a believer of the unmoving camera, all scenes being crisply lit but staged with less life than dead lesbian being molested by Ron Jeremy. Primarily a series of long shots alternating between close-ups, the most creative camera angle in the whole film is when the film's nominal hero Lance (Blake Bailey) is getting laid by Ernestina (Alexandria Quinn* as “Dianne Colazzo”) and we get treated to salivating inducing view of Ernestina's deliciously pendulous melons from Lance's point of view. Seldom in the film is there any apparent understanding of anything cinematic, be it mood or lighting, fluidity, alternative angles or anything mildly creative that might have at least kept the film from being the visual corpse it is.
Oddly, the actors do well enough, especially when they have their clothes off, which is actually more often than normal for a modern low budget exploiter of the generations following the 80s. Aside from Quinn's hefty pendulums, we’re treated to a few pleasant scenes of Jacqueline Lovell's less exuberant but nonetheless pleasing physical charms, including the big scene close to the film's end in which she is tied naked to the stake to be burned alive. (Jacqueline Lovell is perhaps better known as "Sara St. James" from such X-rated video fodder as Nude Bowling Party (1995) and Cream On Jeannie (1995); one must say she does keep her muff nicely trimmed.) Head of the Family might have been slightly more interesting had the oddly repetitious sex scenes been hardcore; as it is, the scenes are filmed for laughs but aren't funny, lack either eroticism or carnality, and simply help make a short film that feels long seem even longer.
The plot is: homicidal couple film noir meets mad monster doing unnatural experiments in the basement. Lance, looking like a buff cross between Michael J. Fox & Eric Stolz, runs a cafe and is boning waitress Loretta (Jacqueline Lovell), the girlfriend of Wheeler (James Jones), a gun-toting motorcyclist who pushes his way into the position of Lance's partner. After witnessing how Otis (Bob Schott), Ernestina and Howard (Gordon Jennison Noice) – the three local sibling weirdoes – bump off an out-of-state driver, Lance finds out that they are controlled mentally by their even weirder brother Myron (J. W. Perra), a huge brain sitting in a wheelchair. Lance blackmails them into disposing Wheeler for him, but they get mad when Lance gets greedy and starts making monetary demands. Next thing Lance knows, he is their prisoner, Loretta is tied naked to a stake and, in a true case of Beauty and the Beast, the strong but idiotic Otis puts a wrench in his brother's plans...
The last scene sets the situation for the once-announced sequel, but although announced,
The Bride of the Head of the Family seems never to have been made. Not surprising, considering how bad Head of the Family.

*(Measurements: 36D-25-36) As did the more popular (but ex) skinflick starlet Trace Lords, Alexandria Quinn used a fake ID to began her career in the x-rated movie industry while underage (at 17). Like the early oeuvre of Lords, who was 15 when she started riding salami on film, the early films featuring Quinn were pulled from circulation and re-cut or dumped. Quinn returned to the adult-film business after she turned 18, where she is still busy exchanging body fluids on film.

The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (Great Britain, 1974)

The Decline and Fall of Hammer Film Productions sure was a quick one, wasn’t it? Founded in 1934, it was a nominal production firm of B&W films until it suddenly took off with the film versions of the television series The Quatermass Experiment (1953) and Quatermass II (1955/trailer). Soon after, beginning with The Curse of Frankenstein (1957/trailer), Hammer gained an international and eternal reputation with its famous Gothic horror films that revitalized horror cinema and are now (as then) so dearly loved by so many. For years it followed the basic formula of cheaply producing what looked to be lavish productions of horror films of varying (but mostly good) quality, but by the early seventies the Gothics were out of fashion and Hammer was in search of new genres, ready to try anything to make money, finally bankrupting itself with an ill-advised (and truly crappy) remake of The Lady Vanishes in 1979 starring Elliot Gould and Cybill Shepherd. Before that dreadful day, the company brought out innumerable classics and almost-classics films (as well as a few turkeys) of varying genres, from cave-gal to gothic to suspense. (And since then, but for a brief foray into television, the company has been in limbo, only shaking its bones every so often when some press release or other heralds a return that never happens.)
Regrettably, as enjoyable as The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974) is, it is neither a classic nor almost classic of the Hammer oeuvre, but much more a brainless but highly entertaining piece of flotsam that serves well as an example of how Hammer lost its way in the twilight of its years. Directed by Roy Ward Baker three years after his last Hammer film, the indefinitely better Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde (1971/trailer), The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires was one of two films Hammer made within a year — the other being the truly and painfully abysmal so-called "action" film Shatter (1974/trailer) — with which the firm tried to ride the then new and popular wave of Hong Kong sock-‘em-chop-'em flicks, both of which were made as co-productions with the legendary Shaw Brothers of Hong Kong, a studio as idiosyncratic as Hammer. Both productions are so flawed that they support the argument that there was a lack of decent interpreters both leading up to and during the actual productions, but of the two The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires is definitely the more enjoyable, for as silly as it is, it remains relatively fast-paced and funny enough to be a painless 89 minutes (unlike the incomprehensible 72-minute version entitled The Seven Brothers Meet Dracula originally cut for the US market, which keeps the blood and bare Asian breasts but jettisons almost all continuity — but then, who really needs continuity when there are enough tits and blood?).
Theoretically, the film is the ninth and last of the Hammer Dracula series, and along with the second of the series, The Brides of Dracula (1960/trailer) it is one of the only two to not feature Christopher Lee as the famed blood-sucker. Not that it matters, for shortly after the film starts Count Dracula (John Forbes-Robertson, looking very much as if he’s having a bad-hair day and sounds as if he’s suffering from hemorrhoids) shape-shifts into a Chinese guy named Kah (Shen Chan) and isn’t seen again until the final frames of the film, when Prof. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) manages to bump him off within a few seconds, despite the fact that every other confrontation with the Asian vampires earlier in the film was a long, drawn-out ordeal. But this is only one of many dramatic flaws in Don Houghten’s seemingly tossed together screenplay. Indeed, going by his scripts for this film, Shatter, and the two prior Dracula updates — Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972/trailer) and The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973/trailer) — the man was less than a noticeably talented scribe, for his films tend to be low on logic and high on loose ends and inconsistencies, sort as if he were maybe experimenting with William Burroughs cut-up method of narration but without any artistic pretensions. In The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires Houghten lets his lack of literary skills go particularly free, which, assisted by Roy Ward Baker’s stolid direction, makes for some true chuckles.
Typical of the script is the film’s inability to do much of anything with the dues ex machina played by the statuesque Julie Ege, an “emancipated” woman named Vanessa Buren that pays for the journey into the backwaters of China but is seemingly incapable of ever doing anything other than either tower above her Asian co-stars or cower in the corner screaming in fear of vampires (rather unlike the only other female of importance in the film, the petite Asian sister who can both kick butt and do the dishes). Unlike in her first Hammer film, Creatures the World Forgot (1971/trailer), Ege keeps her 36-24-36 figure demurely covered throughout the film, which also severely hampers the audience from seeing her talent. (In regard to neked skin, that which is seen in The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires is supplied by the Asian village gals, for not one is ever taken without the vampire first ripping off her top.)
The plot of the film is as contrived and ridiculous as could be expected in a film that can only be described as an un-frightening vampire kung-fu movie. Kah, the keeper of the Seven Golden Vampires tramps to Transylvania to ask Dracula to help him watch over the vampires, but Drac kills him, takes his on shape and then skedaddles back to the back waters of China ‘cause he’s tired of living in the backwaters of Transylvania. What do you know, but Prof. Van Helsing just happens to be in Asia giving a lecture on vampires and implores his audience to believe the legend of the Seven Golden Vampires even though he’s never seen them. They treat him like the wacko he truly appears to be, but in no time His Ching (David Chiang) not only proves that the best way to gain a man’s trust is by breaking into his apartment while he’s there alone, but also reveals to Van Helsing that he comes from the cursed village of Ping Kuei, where six of the Seven Golden Vampires still terrorize the townspeople (one of the seven is long dead, having been killed by Chiang’s grandfather). One wonders how a town as small as Ping Kuei could have enough inhabitants to survive the continual and extensive pillages of the vampires, but that is a typical lack of logic innate to the film. Funded by the thrill-seeking Vanessa Buren the motley crew of Buren, Van Helsing, his son Leyland (Robin Stewart), His Ching and assorted siblings – 6 other brothers and one sister (Shih Szu), all specialists of different weapons – make their way across the desolate landscape, delayed first by an attack of vengeful triads and then by the Golden Vampires and their walking dead slaves. (In an odd compromise between East and West sensibilities, the walking dead of this film don’t jump to get around — as they do in most Asian vampire films, be it the excellent comedy Mr. Vampire (1985/trailer) or Tsui Hark’s disappointing Vampire Hunters (2002/trailer) — nor glide as they tend to do in the West, but sort of boogie forward instead.) Finally reaching Ping Kuei, otherwise known as the village of endless fodder, they group dig in for the big showdown as the undead come dancing around the mountain. Considering how easy it actually is to kill the undead, it is odd that the motley crew is so ineffective. But all the better for the viewer, naturally, for it is in the dwindling of their numbers that gore finally kicks in...
To claim that The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires is a good film would be more than stretching the truth, but to claim that it is a fun film is not. Patently ridiculous and cheap looking, the overall cheesiness of the project combined with the dead-seriousness with which everyone approaches their parts does wonders and changes a turkey into, well, fine ham.
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