to stuff commented on
Bodysnatcher from Hell
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Ju-On: The Curse / Ju-On: the
Ju-On: The Grudge
The Ape Man
of the Zombies
Ghost Ship (1952)
13 Gantry Row
The Invisible Ghost
The Story of Ricky
13 Ghosts (1960)
House of the Dead
They Came Back (Les Revenants)
Lisa and the Devil
The Black Cat
Cursed [aka 'Chô' kowai hanashi A: yami no karasu] (Japanese, 2004) -- dir. Yoshihiro Hoshino
Welcome to the Mitsuya Mart!
Re-titled Cursed for international release, this J-Horror entry is so deliciously bizarre, idiosyncratic and creepily humorous, it makes an effective addition to the already odd Asian ghost-story sub-genre. While no upper echelon spook classic, the film works in its own terms, despite rough patches.
For a start it looks pretty good. Though low budget and filmed on digital video, it doesn’t significantly suffer from these drawbacks – not unless you are irrevocably wedded to slick Hollywood production values. If you aren’t, you might find that its video origins give the film’s interior shots (in particular) a sort of starkly lit garishness that accentuates the sense of exposure and threat pervading events. Though its oddball combination of bizarre humour and horror can seem somewhat jaggedly melded together at times, the result has a definite manic attraction all its own. Its unsettlingly alien qualities add to the overall effect.
Cursed is set in and around an inner-city suburban convenience store, the Mitsuya Mart. This is a less-than-convenient convenience store, in that the owners are certifiably mad, and the Mart’s ambiance and reputation are such that local residents never shop there. Only those from out-of-town, or those who haven’t been paying attention, risk popping in to pick up some emergency supplies. To do so is to court death. If your purchases add up to 666 yen or 999 yen or even 699 yen, it is likely that you’ll be tracked to your apartment by a huge sledgehammer-wielding maniac, attacked psychically and emotionally while bathing or preparing dinner, haunted by a parker-wearing phantom, hit by a bus, or otherwise visited by spectral, and dangerous, scraps of weird-shit metaphysical spookiness. So if your purchases fortuitously add up to 820 yen, resist the temptation to buy a counter treat as you stand ready before the cash register, or else you’ll find that the total will hit 999 after all – and then you’re done for.
The loose, anecdotal visitations that make up much of the film were apparently taken from a book series popular in Japan. As such, Cursed relates to what is becoming a popular Asian sub-sub-genre – the ghost movie based around a series of anecdotal scare moments. Ju-on: Grudge fits into this mould, though the Pang Bros’ Eye 10 and Tales of Terror from Tokyo and All Over Japan offer more direct examples: films of an anthology nature, with sometimes tenuous (or non-existent) arcing linkages. This anecdotal approach can work rather effectively for ghost stories, as that is essentially what they are, even when given a more directly plot-structured framework; the approach harks back to the ghost story’s origin – the "Did you hear about…?" mode of "campfire" folktale – and gains a sort of resonance from that association.
Meanwhile, and most importantly, the stark atmosphere is insidiously unnerving, the moments of haunting satisfyingly creepy, the acting good, and the framing moments strong. Young newcomer Hiroko Sato, as the resiliently cheerful part-time check-out chick, manages to drag viewer sympathies into the story and to provide an anchor for identification. Not any easy task. Though the film does provide some "explanation" for the spooky occurrences, it in no way connects the dots in regards to the exact nature of individual events – because, essentially, they represent disparate hauntings brought together conceptually under the wide embrace of the cursed Mart. As in much Japanese horror, "explanation" is not the point – "Don’t look for meaning," one character advises. "There is none." But the film needed a focus, and Ms Sato provides it.
The Japanese title translates as something along the lines of "The Most Horrible Story 'A': Crows of Darkness", which in itself encapsulates much about the film’s tone. "Crows of Darkness" would have been a much better title for the US release. This would have avoided the tendency for the film to be confused with the higher profile werewolf movie Cursed directed by Wes Craven, which was released about the same time – and sounds much less boringly generic.
18 December 2005
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section is designed as a place where I can add quick comment,
short reviews, random thoughts and observations on films
and TV related stuff, as well as books perhaps ... on
an ongoing basis. You'll probably note a certain lack
of objective restraint at times. Sorry.
The Black Cat (US, 1934) -- dir. Edgar G. Ulmer
Featuring stellar and subtly nuanced performances by Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, The Black Cat is a stylish, marvellously effective horror film that creates a dark, oppressive metaphor for the corrupting influence of past iniquities. Ulmer was a fascinating director -- never feted within Hollywood and mainly confined to low-budget genre flicks, he nevertheless managed to produce this classic of horror, Detour (one of the great film noirs) and a slew of flawed but intriguing cheapies, such as The Amazing Transparent Man and Beyond the Time Barrier, made back-to-back in 1960 over a two-week period. In The Black Cat, he creates such an atmosphere of claustrophobic intensity and perverse evil that the film managed to get itself banned in various regions, despite the fact that the violence generally remains off screen and implication rules. The film contains a wealth of perversities: hints of necrophilia, references to mass slaughter (Poelzig's house is built of the site of a wartime massacre), a flaying, the corpses of ex-wives suspended in death in a basement "museum", murder, Satanism, and an air of obsessive and simmering revenge. What's more, inspired as it was by the real-life "black magician" Aleistair Crowley, its credentials would not have gone down well in polite society. Then there's the wonderfully "modernist" set design and the strange appearance of Karloff's world-weary devil-worshipper, Hjalmar Poelzig. Even his vengeful enemy, Dr Vitus Werdegast (Lugosi), with his "morbid fear of cats", supplies little by way of heroic virtue, seeming to be motivated by a death wish as strong as Poelzig's. Death is everywhere in fact, offering more than a hint of post-war malaise. It is a moral death that afflicts them both; they are undead ghosts playing out the final act of a long-running emotional conflict. Says Poelzig to Werdegast: "Are we not both the living dead? And now you come playing at being an avenging angel, childishly thirsting for my blood. We shall play a little game, Vitus. A game of death..." What this all adds up to is a treat for horror fans that is comparable to nothing else in the history of the genre.
22 November 2005
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and the Devil (Italy, 1973) [aka Lisa e il
diavolo] -- dir. Mario
and the Devil is a film that has been much
abused. At the time of its first release, The
Exorcist was making a killing at the box-office,
so of course a surreal and lyrical film with "Devil"
in the title wasn't going to make it to the screen without
studio interference. In this case the interference was
considerable. Bava's morbidly beautiful masterwork was
totally re-edited, new footage of now "standard"
demonic possession was added, and it was re-named The
House of Exorcism. Bye-bye lyricism. Bye-bye
original film is arguably a career high from a man who
made a number of horror masterpieces. It contains no
demonic possession, no head-spinning, no echo-chambered
bass voices, no levitation, no green-pea spewing, no
"Don't break my balls, priest!" retorts. Lisa
and the Devil does not, in fact, concern itself
with demons or exorcisms at all; it is a poetic ghost
story, where Telly Savalas' humorous butler/devil is
a claimer of the dead, a sort of grim reaper, apparently
causing past events to replay in order to ensnare the
living. Visiting tourist Lisa (Elke Sommers) is part
of a bus tour examining an ancient fresco in an Italian
town square; she becomes fascinated by an image depicting
the Devil carrying off the souls of the dead, but is
enticed out of the bustling square by music, which,
it turns out, is produced by a music box complete with
revolving dolls -- the most prominent of which is a
skeletal Death figure. The dance-of-death box is owned
by a strange man who looks a lot like the Devil depicted
in the fresco. Lisa flees, but suddenly the town is
deserted and she is lost -- and eventually ends up taking
refuge in a lavish mansion where the inhabitants play
out an elaborate history of love, betrayal and death,
engaging in their own dance of death. Lisa is the spitting
image of Elena, who was at the centre of the passions
being re-enacted. Soon there is violent death and terror...
and all are lost in events that have clearly already
happened and are now happening again -- or are still
film contains many scenes of visual poetry; one that
is particularly memorable depicts the son of the household
having sex with Lisa, who is drugged and comatose, in
a bed that contains the decayed corpse of Elena and
is surrounded by obscuring gauze, mouldy cake and rampant
vegetation. Implications of necrophilia and incest abound,
and bloody murder splashes gouts of red across the film's
lush colour scheme. Confusion between large doll-figures
(carted around by the devilish butler) and their human
counterparts, an atmosphere of increasing decay, and
images of vast and shadowy emptiness give the whole
thing an air of temporal confusion that is thoroughly
(US, 1960) -- dir. Bert
are a product, and a victim, of their time and circumstances,
some more markedly than others. But this doesn't mean
they can't be enjoyed and appreciated. Tormented
is a noirish ghost flick by exploitation cheapie director
Bert I. Gordon, who is better known for his movies about
big things -- his best probably being The Amazing
Colossal Man. The thing about Gordon is this: he
didn't have much money, had a limited technical repetoire,
and was prone to doing the obvious, directorially. But
his films often have aspirations to better things and
show hints of what those better things might be.
is a good example. It is a small film that makes the
best of a beach/island/lighthouse setting, in which
environment a supernatural love-cum-revenge tale plays
out to reasonably good effect, all things considered.
Richard Carlson stars as jazz pianist Tom Stewart, who
is visited on the eve of his wedding by his lounge-singer
ex-lover with threats of exposure. "No one will
have you except me," she threatens. When she accidentally
falls off a derelict lighthouse, he deliberately avoids
saving her, but is subsequently riddled by guilt. Is
it simply guilt that evokes a subjective ghostly presence? Well,
not entirely. Others do smell her perfume, and objects (such
as a wedding ring) disappear, a recording of the ex
singing "Tormented" refuses to be silenced,
her footprints appear in the sand. Yet there remains
an ambiguity about the whole thing that allows us to
experience the haunting as a metaphor for Stewart's
emotional state without feeling as though we are being
manipulated too much.
of the scenes and effects are hokey, no doubt about
that. Some things would be better half-seen -- the singer's
disembodied head, for example, is hard to take seriously;
and her footprints actually appearing alongside those
of Stewart and his fiancé as they walk along
the beach would have worked better as a static manifestation -- being there when he looks but not actually appearing.
But other scenes carry considerable impact: the first
appearance of the ghost as a diaphanous windblown figure
hovering in the air outside the lighthouse railings;
the singer's body rescued from the sea and becoming
seaweed in Stewart's arms; flowers and bouquets wilting
as an invisible presence makes its way down the aisle
in response to the minister's ritual appeal for those who "object"
to the marriage to speak up. The ending is both grim and effective.
Driven to murder by the need to cover up his guilt (or
by the taunting of the ghost), and even contemplating
killing the young sister of his bride (because she witnessed
the deed), Stewart falls to his death thanks to the same faulty railing
that brought about his ex-lover's earlier demise and a sudden
"in-your-face" appearance of the ghost. On
a benighted beach, watched by the wedding crowd, divers
drag a body out of the sea -- but it is the ex-lover's.
They then drag out Stewart's corpse; as they dump him
on the sand next to the ex-lover, her arm falls across
him in a possessive embrace -- and she is seen to be
wearing the missing wedding ring.
the film does show its age, its time (especially
in some of the rather strained "hip" dialogue) and its budgetary limitations,
but it is an entertaining B-film anyway and resonates with the
power of an effectively, if a bit shakily, realised
Darkling (US, 2000) -- dir. Po-Chih
is another example of low-budget TV filmmaking that, to
my mind at least, thoroughly justifies the medium as offering
opportunities for small and quirky projects. Of necessity
eschewing spectacle and complex SFX, The Darkling
proves to be an intimate, intelligent parable exploring desperation,
the desire for "wealth, happiness and fame"
and the associations we are willing to make in order to
achieve our ends. Using the always fascinating world of
the collector as a central metaphor, the film successfully
creates its own dark atmosphere and generates enough suspense,
albeit low-level, to keep any willing viewer involved.
The fallen, djinn-like cherub that is the Darkling is
a shadowy, ambiguous and creepy creation, effectively
encapsulating the darker possibilities of the film's world;
its depiction here is effective if limited by the production's
low budget -- but it works nevertheless. The actors are
serviceable to good, with F. Murray Abraham as a stand-out,
though Aidan Gillen does a fine, low-key job in the role
of the main protagonist. With a carefully constructed
script, good direction and an earnest technical sincerity,
The Darkling is the sort of low-budget film that
would not get made if the cinema box-office were the only
criteria governing such things. The film was never one
that was going to be welcomed, enjoyed or even tolerated
by everyone, and nor was it going to be of great significance
within the genre. But it has an integrity of its own and I
for one am glad it had a chance to be made. (The other
benefit for the film collector, of course, is that, being
utterly insignificant in terms of industry profile, the
film was released to DVD very cheaply, despite an excellent
transfer and good general presentation.)
(UK/US, 1995) -- dir. Lewis Gilbert
The effectiveness of this ghost movie based on the novel
Haunted by James Herbert derives in part from the
fact that it draws on a pre-eminent literary tradition
(specifically that of the English ghost tale, full of
class-conscious social politics and a strong sense of
history), while maintaining a modern sensibility. With
its period setting, and in particular the iconic aristocratic
personalities inhabiting Edbrook, an imposing English
manor house, it combines Old Dark (and Haunted) House
imagery with effective dramatics to draw us in and keep
us on the back foot right until its turnabout ending.
The Mariell siblings are played effectively by Kate Beckinsale,
Anthony Andrews and Alex Lowe, and represent a classically
eccentric bunch -- upper-class, ostentatiously "clever",
self-indulgent and thoroughly spoiled, so much so that
an unhealthy and insidious undercurrent becomes apparent
right from their introduction. Aidan Quinn's troubled,
but sceptical, academic, Prof. David Ash -- invited to
Edbrook in order to dispel nanny Anna Massey's fear of
the ghost(s) that supposedly haunt the place -- brings an
appropriate mix of knowing objectivity and vulnerability
to the scenario, harbouring as he does much lingering
guilt over the childhood death of his sister. This, of
course, allows for the introduction of the sort of ambiguity
that works so well in ghost stories: Are unnatural occurrences
at the house a function of his own unresolved emotional
traumas, garnished with a fair measure of sexual confusion
generated by Christina Mariell (whose naked indifference
to social conventions seems both stimulating and sinister)?
Or is there more to it? Of course there is more to it,
and the viewer knows this, but the ambiguity effectively
moderates our responses and, given a bit of artistic suspension,
encourages us to become absorbed by the possibilities.
That this 1995 supernatural drama plays a similar endgame
to the 2001 film The Others should not surprise
us; that particular trope has been around for some time.
However, it's a measure of this film's success - and the
success of The Others for that matter - that we
allow ourselves to be pleasantly surprised at the end,
instead of ignorantly dismissing it as derivative.
Asphyx (UK/US, 1973) -- dir. Peter Newbrook
by new company Glendale at a time when the Hammer crew
were resorting to increased levels of sex and violence
to combat escalating box-office competition, The
Asphyx seems staid and traditional, despite
its intriguing premise. Though based on an interesting
scenario, the film exhibits lazy writing and a reluctance
to develop the implications of its concept through to
some logical conclusion. The 2.33:1 aspect ratio and
shadowy visuals suggest an opulence of imagination that
doesn't transfer over to the story itself, and one can't
help coming away from the film with a feeling that its
main character -- an aristocratic scientist obsessed
with death and thwarting its hold over humanity -- would
have been better depicted by someone with the experience
and horror-film savvy of contemporary Peter Cushing.
Cushing's performance would have suggested greater complexity
and conviction, and would have brought an appropriate
manic poignancy to the role. Robert Stephens is servicable
enough, but he never quite manages to make his character's
motivations totally convincing. And his ornate contrivances
to place himself, his daughter and her fiance near to
death seem based more on a desire for dramatic spectacle
than on the need to come up with a logical, and safe,
mechanism derived from necessity.
its framing device (albeit ill-used), its period setting,
its original scenario and effective cinematography,
the film does go some way toward forging its elements
into a dark parable of grief and obsession (and it is
certainly creepy in those moments when the Asphyx --
the spirit of death -- manifests in Cunningham's light
and shrieks in protest at its entrapment). But in the
end it falls short in many areas, most notably failing
to give credibility to its incredible events. Ultimately,
there are too many contrived actions and undeveloped
implications for the film to succeed in coalescing into
a dramatic whole.
(UK/Germany/Luxembourg/US, 2002) -- dir. William Malone
basic critical response to this horror film, from professionals
and general public alike, is fairly consistent: they
all hate it. I only discovered this after I watched
it and then looked around for some intelligent critical
discussion. But there wasn't much of that out there
-- just sarcastic dismissal, often at considerable length.
Some reviews do attempt to explain why it is so bad,
mostly by referring to it as being (a) derivative of
Ringu and its US remake, and (b) narratively
inept and incoherent. Personally, however, I had seen it
as taking a slightly different approach to themes made
popular by The Ring, and had no trouble "understanding"
what was going on in the film. So the fact that so many
saw it as intolerably derivative and "making no
sense whatsoever" came as a surprise. Even Roger
Ebert, who takes a tolerant approach to the film --
one determined by his appreciation of its excellent
visual stylings -- considers the plot to be incoherent.
Others simply have contempt and disdain for it as "bad
filmmaking": bad acting, bad dialogue, bad direction.
Loathing is almost universal.
a doubt the film avoids spelling out its narrative semantics
in so many words. Nor is the plot transparently obvious.
But I would contend that the through-line is there and
that as a whole the story hangs together. Occurrences
within the film can be explained and it seems
resistent to logical querying only to the extent that
most ghost films remain a few steps beyond the rational.
That it suggests Ringu is certain; that it
was deliberately trying to steal from that film is less
certain. The director has apparently claimed that he
hadn't seen Ringu (or The Ring) when
he made it. Even if he's being deliberately forgetful, those elements that
suggest Ringu have quite a wide-ranging currency
and the basic thrust of the film takes it to different
imaginative places anyway. The mix even seemed rather
original to me. Moreover, I thought the acting was OK,
if not inspired (in particular, the romantic chemistry between the
two leads is all but non-existent), the script was
fine (if a little obtuse at times and a little messy
at others), and the direction was inventive. The film
is not perfect, but does display technical competence
and in the end offers decent entertainment value.
my take on the story. The Doctor (Stephen Rea) is a
psycho bent on acting out his obsession with mortality,
killing his victims online via webcam according to his
own rules and as a comment on humanity's essentially
voyeuristic fascination with death and suffering. One
victim -- the Doctor's "favourite" -- returns
as a ghost, but tied to the internet, through which
her suffering had been broadcast; now she is bent on
revenge. A website that offers images of her suffering
is the means by which she can manifest, the fears of
those who go there and buy into the morality of such
a site giving her the psychic means to gain entry into
the world. Why does she appear to victims as a child?
Perhaps because it is to memories of herself as a child
that she is most connected. At any rate, the bizarre
killings (which reflect the victims' deepest fears and
must therefore be seen as subjective in nature) lead
to investigation by a policeman (Stephen Dorff) and
a health inspector (Natascha McElhone), and thus, eventually,
guide these two protagonists to the Doctor's current
lair. It is important to note that the deadly feardotcom
website is not the same as the Doctor's website, the
URL of which is changed after each killing. Where did
the feardotcom site come from? Who knows? As a distillation
of the ghost girl's suffering, presumably she created
it herself, supernaturally. Why does she take it out
on innocent viewers? Well, that's what vengeful ghosts
do, and in this case she only attacks those who enter
the site knowing it is about torture and death. As such,
they are not innocent at all, on one level. At the climax,
Detective Reilly, dying from the Doctor's attack, brings
the feardotcom site up on the Doctor's screens precisely
in order to allow the ghost girl to manifest and gain
her ultimate revenge -- on the one who was responsible
for her death. She does so in an appropriate manner.
there are still unanswered questions, though not at
the level of the main storyline. So why do so many viewers
fail to appreciate what went on? Who knows? Certainly
the film suggests Japanese horror such as Ringu
in its refusal to fully rationalise its ghostly goings-on
-- but it does create its own "rules" and
pretty much sticks to them. It also offers a fairly
intricate narrative structure, with lots of interweaving
of incidents and images without verbal backup to carry
the meaning. Perhaps it does these things to an extent
unjustified by its emotional content and hence makes
unreasonable demands on the viewer's tolerance. Perhaps
its characters simply aren't strong enough to make the
average viewer willing to struggle with its cinematic
obscurities; in other words, it doesn't foster suspension
of disbelief. Many viewers are simply bored. For whatever
reason most seem more inclined to nitpick than to surrender
to the film's story, pointing up supposed inconsistencies
and illogical behaviour that, in other flicks, would
simply be ignored. That, too, is a failing, I guess.
I think it has value as a ghost film, paddling in the
waters springing from Ringu's well and offering
a variant take on its themes.
(US, 1972) -- dir. Bill L. Norton
monsters aren't confined to Japanese daikaiju eiga
[giant monster films]. This early '70s made-for-TV monster
flick sports a host of them, with makeup courtesy of
soon-to-be-SFX-superstar Stan Winston (who would get
involved in John Carpenter's makeup extravaganza The
Thing in 1982 and would subsequently be responsible
for creature effects in 1987's Predator).
The gargoyles are varied in form, well-constructed,
and both sinister and cute; moreover, they show themselves
rather good at destroying buildings with their bare
claws, lurking among rocks and desert scrub, and leaping
on passing riders. Though the suits suffer from "knee-wrinkle"
and in a couple of shots the zipper is visible, the
designs are so effective I'm inclined to be forgiving.
After all, such things are traditional. What matters
is that the film transcends its low-budget made-for-TV
origins, managing to be entertaining and, at times,
what it is, then, Gargoyles is a enjoyable
film, with enough that is memorable to give it staying
power. Yes, it looks like a TV movie, being unable to
open out as widely, plot-wise, as it should, lacking
the right level of gore, and veering away from sexual
undercurrents that are there but unduly muted. There
is something about the pacing of dialogue scenes that
says "telly drama", too. But director Norton
does particularly well during certain key scenes (the
early attack on the hero's car, the destruction of Uncle
Willie's shed, the siege of the motel room) and the
actors are mostly good -- from Cornel Wilde as the briefly
sceptical popular anthropologist, Jennifer Salt as his
revealing-halter-top-clad daughter, Grayson Hall as
the perpetually tippling landlady, Scott Glenn as dirtbike
rider-turned-good-samaritan (in the manner of Steve
McQueen in The Blob), and Bernie Casey
as the deep-voiced lead gargoyle, evoking both Tim Curry's
Satan in Legend and the Creeper from
the recent Jeepers Creepers. I particularly
enjoyed Woody Cambliss' Uncle Willie, the roadside weird-shit
man. They all worked effectively, even when the dialogue
became a bit loose and the dramatic pace faltered.
settings, too, are a positive asset. Filmed in the Carlsbad
caverns and New Mexico, the splendid rock formations
and contrasting desert openness give the film real class.
What is lacking is a bit of arcane stylishness in lighting
and general approach. The cathedral-like rock formations
offered the director a wonderful opportunity to evoke
the sort of gothic grandeur we associate with traditional
stone gargoyles. Over all, the film's gargoyles are
too well lit -- and too often we see them upright, simply
standing or running around. I kept imagining the camera
catching them on the top of cliffs, leaning from ledges,
hunched and looming over the human characters the way
gargoyle statuary looms over visitors to Notre Dame
cathedral and similar religious edifices. We should
have been given glimpses of them swathed in shadows,
barely animate, like ill-lit, benighted statues come
to ambiguous life. But it didn't happen. Despite the
good bits, this stylistic lack of imagination made the
film seem undercooked. It is undoubtedly an enjoyable
cult monster flick, but it could have been a classic.
this current frenzy of remakes, usually of classics
that don't need to be remade, Gargoyles
represents just the kind of flick that would be a natural.
Some atmospheric CGI gargoyles would go down very well,
despite the appeal of the original costumes.
(US, 2000) -- dir. Steven E. de Souza
the late 1970s, demonic possession films became a standard
of the horror genre after the extraordinary box-office
success of Friedkin's The Exorcist.
Most of the direct rip-offs were, of course, only lukewarm
regurgitations of that film -- and where filmmakers
deviated from the formula, the result tended to be audience
disinterest and critical scorn. Boorman's Exorcist
2: The Heretic, for example, is undoubtedly
a flawed film, but not the disaster most critics make
out. What it is is wildly idiosyncratic and divergent
in approach and thematics, and this rather bemused and
urge to replicate The Exorcist faded
somewhat as the years went by, though comparable demon
flicks continued to be made, and the influence of the
patriarchal granddaddy of possession films lingers.
Possessed, made in 2000 for TV, does
not try to remake The Exorcist as such,
but there are, inevitably, similarities. Supposedly
based on the same "real-life" incident that
inspired The Exorcist, the film sticks
more closely to that historical event than its predecessor
did. Hence, it is set in the late 1940s-early 1950s,
offering an effective period feel through both set design
and character attitudes; moreover, the Reagan character
has reverted to being a boy; and the ending becomes
less morally apocalyptic. Naturally de Souca felt the
need to cinematise events, upping the ante visually,
and this brings in some Exorcist-esque
effects, but Possessed remains nicely
low-key in its use of horror clichés and the
result is a surprisingly good, and effectively dramatic,
film. Though low budget, it manages to generate decent
suspense and to work some good shocks, with the possessed
boy mouthing hair-raising language that I imagine was
expurgated for network showing. Timothy Dalton is the
film's biggest asset, however. His performance as the
tormented and despairing priest totally transcends the
cliché and carries us over the budget-driven
low-points, supported by a script that is generally
well-constructed and has its own integrity. I particularly
enjoyed the priest's scorn, directed toward the spitting,
hissing, spinning demon at the climax, where he says
derisively: "This is evil?"
Birds (US, 2004) -- dir. Alex Turner
a good cast, an imaginatively appealing historical setting,
a terrific haunted mansion (complete with eerie surrounding
cornfield), an intriguingly Lovecraftian central idea,
and the availability of sets hired cheaply in the wake
of Tim Burton's Big Fish, this Civil
War demonic ghost story has a lot going for it, especially
in the light of its meagre budget. Director Turner shows
himself to have promise and Dead Birds,
his first feature, comes over as a visually interesting,
occasionally scary -- though inconsistent and under-developed
-- horror film.
Dead Birds works a treat, with individual scenes
that are extremely well handled. Yet I found it all
a little too familiar, even the "revolutionary"
use of its Civil War setting (which was there to provide
texture rather than substance). The film kept reminding
me of other films. Even the excellent "scarecrow"
moment, where a displaced comrade is found to be stuffed
with straw, resonates from a better film, Scarecrows,
about a bunch of robbers who, coincidentally, hold up
in an old house surrounded by haunted cornfields and
scarecrows -- and gradually get picked off by the vengeful
real problem, however, came from the character arcing.
The opening bank robbery (our introduction to people
we are about to spend 90 minutes with) is ill-considered
and gratuitous. We are supposed to care about their
fate as the film unfolds, but they are a bunch of unsympathetic
bastards from the start -- even Nicki Aycox's nurse,
who violently slaughters a bank teller for no purpose
other than to provide opportunity for a passing gag.
Subsequent attempts to induce empathy are tainted by
this macho beginning, which sets the tone of our emotional
responses, and is way more violent, emotionless and
bloody than the rest of the film put together. The "hero"
agonising over accidentally killing a kid doesn't carry
much conviction either, given he'd just shot some poor
old bugger (and others) in the bank for no very good
reason. From that point on, I just didn't care what
happened to the gang. If the robbery had simply "gone
wrong", resulting in deaths caused by panic, the
scene would have worked fine ... and would still have
had sufficient moral ambiguity to carry the rest of
the plot. But the writer and director were apparently
going for "hard-edged violence" and confrontation
rather than narrative/character effectiveness. The result
was a weakening of the overall effect.
said, Dead Birds offers lots of atmospheric
brooding and a good central idea, even if it isn't developed
with any great imagination. There are many quietly suspenseful
scenes (though few creepy moments). In a film this slow
moving, there needs to be enough imaginative input to
carry us through, and the slow pace should add to our
unease rather than diffuse it. Moments of ghostly visitation
provide quite a jolt, however -- and the "flashback"/nightmare
vision in the third act is a near-masterpiece of well-selected
imagery and effective editing.
guess this sounds pretty much like I didn't care for
the film at all. I did, in fact, up to a point; I simply
thought it could/should have been much better. I was
left with the impression (confirmed by the "making
of..." docu on the DVD) that the writer (Simon
Barrett) was not quite on top of things and allowed
himself to be bullied by a director with great potential
but who in this case didn't really know what story he
really wanted to tell.
[aka Yogen] (Japan, 2004) -- dir. Norio Tsuruta
as part of the J-Horror Theater series (no. 2), Yogen
is a wonderfully imaginative and powerful film, with
moving central performances by its two principals, Hiroshi
Mikami (as Hideki Satomi, as college teacher) and Noriko
Sakai (as Satomi's wife Ayaka, a researcher at the same
college), and an original storyline only vaguely suggestive
of Ringu. Yogen is based on
the manga series Kyôfu shinbun
[or Newspaper of Terror] created by Jirô
Tsunoda. Its central image is of a dark and crowded
page of newsprint, which flaps out of the sky or otherwise
makes an appearance, in order to reveal a news item
concerned with violent death to come. What this knowledge
does to the characters to whom the premonition is given
is the central driving force of the story.
several shocking moments -- all superbly executed --
and many disturbing images, Yogen weaves
an intriguing and profound tale of personal destiny
and its interaction with the destiny of others. There's
not much that is predictable about this film and, unlike
the horror films we are more familiar with, it seems
as interested in involving your thought processes as
in scaring you. Conspicuously lacking in gorehound violence,
it uses deepening implication to disturb, along with
the odd visual frisson. In the end, it is the
characters that provide the narrative with its momentum,
rather than the unravelling imagery of the premise (as
good as the imagery is). The film's ending, to my mind,
Uncanny (UK/Canada, 1977) -- dir. Denis Héroux
to the OED, the term "uncanny" means "untrustworthy
or inspiring uneasiness by reason of a supernatural
element; uncomfortably strange or unfamiliar; mysteriously
suggestive of evil or danger". It literally means
"unknowable", I believe. Given the suggestive
nature of that, any film with the word as its title
should be unsettling and creepy at the very least. Well,
this one isn't, even though it wants to be. It's a feline
horror anthology starring Peter Cushing, Ray Milland,
Donald Pleasance, Samantha Eggar and others and is second-rate,
if not absolutely terrible. Only really worth it for
Cushing's brief linking bits and Pleasance (who spoofs
himself and the film industry in his segment, as does
Eggar). The main problem is that the cats aren't filmed
with any degree of spookiness, apart from the occasional
cattish inscrutability. It's all too upfront. Héroux
couldn't even manage the old Cat-Leaps-Out-of-the-Cupboard
trick to get a scare. Most of the time the cats involved
look confused, slightly nervous or indifferent, rather
than vicious and manipulative, appearing to want to
be elsewhere. A bit like the actors, especially Milland
who comes over as bored and impatient. One day someone
will do a good cat horror film, extending the eeriness
created by the cat in Ju-On:
the Curse to the length of a feature.
did like the opening credit sequence, though, with all
its paintings of cats.
3000 (Germany/South Africa, 2004) -- dir. Darrell
could they possibly go wrong? The most ancient and famous
of vampires turns up on a derelict spaceship being salvaged
by a typical bunch of misfits -- and then goes into
predatory mode. Very Alien, sure, but it should
be at least entertaining. The DVD cover looks very cool
-- a complex Giger-esque vampire, teeth bared.
they did go wrong. Very wrong. The film is
abysmal. It has some decent low-budget production values,
but the script, acting and direction are shockingly
bad. Okay, some of the actors make a brave attempt (and
their names will be withheld in consideration of possible
future careers). But most of their characters are awful,
often annoying. Nothing much happens that couldn't have
been written by an indifferent monkey with something
else on its mind. And the ending...
sure the production meeting that discussed it went something
to writer (sounding somewhere between bored
and desperate): How are we going to end this thing?
Writer: Beats me. Does anyone care
by this stage?
Director: Oh, come on, we HAVE to have
Writer: OK, but first we need some
sex between the Crew Member Who's Blonde and Wears An
Impractical Low-cut Tanktop, and the Totally Obnoxious
Director: That wouldn't make sense,
would it? She hates him.
Writer: Does it have to make sense?
Look, she's an ex sex-bot who's acting as an undercover
drug agent. That's the Big Revelation, right? Clever.
Director: It's a rip-off of "Alien".
Writer: It's a homage. But it was clever
then and it's still clever now. Besides, the robot in
"Alien" wasn't a sex-bot. Sex-bots are even
Director: OK, OK. Whatever.
Writer: So if she's an ex sex-bot,
she'll have sex with anyone, even a Stupid Mindless
Hunk That She Hates. Women are like that. Especially
if they're sex-bots.
Director: But we can't have a sex scene.
Erika only agreed to do the role if it didn't include
her being naked.
But she's been in Playboy. I thought that's
why we got her.
Director: She wanted to Get Serious.
Writer: Really? Okay, never mind. I've
got it covered. They don't actually get to have sex!
Leaves the audience with a lot of Unfulfilled Sexual
Tension, see? Very popular.
Director: Still doesn't give us an
Writer: Well, while the audience is
distracted by the possibility that something interesting
might be going to happen -- after all, they've wanted
to see Erika nude the whole way through the picture
-- we'll blow up the ship.
Director: What? Why? We haven't set
that up. It doesn't make sense.
Writer: Sure it does. We've got Udo
Kier on contract. He'd blow up a ship. Everyone
Director: But even if he would, why
just at that moment?
Writer: Because we want to end the
picture. Why else?
Director: That's terrible.
Writer: Hey, it's an ending, You can't
deny that. And a tough one. Everyone dies. Very arthouse.
Director: No audience'll buy it.
Writer: Sure they will. They couldn't
give a rat's arse about any of the characters anyway.
In fact, they hate them all and by this time just want
the damn movie to end.
Director: We might as well have a Space
Volcano that erupts suddenly and kills everyone.
Writer: Hmmm, not bad. Sort of cross-genre
homage to ... something I've forgotten. Very postmodern.
Let's do it.
Director: Forget it. We've only got
twenty bucks left. Can't afford to build a volcano.
We'll stick with blowing up the ship. The SFX department'll
like that. He hates that ship.
Writer: Cool. I'll write it into the
Director: I didn't know there was
a script. Who took my copy?
sold the DVD immediately after watching it.
Honeymoon (US, 2004) – dir. David Gebroe
its title suggests something comedic, if not farcical,
Zombie Honeymoon is in fact an often
moving meditation on the dilemma of finding that the
one you love has become something increasingly hard
to relate to. Denise and Danny have just married and
are deliriously happy and deliriously in love. While
honeymooning, Danny is assaulted (rather grossly) by
a zombie that lurches out of the sea. Danny dies, but
ten minutes later is back, apparently normal. But all
is not as it seems. Not only did Danny die, he
is still dead – has become one of the cannibalistic
living dead, in fact – and proceeds to chow down
on random visitors to their house, compulsively and,
afterwards, with genuine regret. What is Denise to do?
She loves him, but he keeps eating their friends.
the film has its grimly humorous moments, the narrative
isn’t handled as farce. Denise’s emotional
dilemma is treated seriously and the carefully modulated
performance of Tracey Coogan successfully carries a
heavy emotional load. The cannibalistic scenes are gross
and bloody, in the tradition of Romero’s living
dead movies, but the end result is a sort of black-tinged
pathos that is both profound and metaphorically resonant.
As he becomes more and more zombie-like, visibly rotting
and swapping the power of speech for a pained wheezing
groan, we can’t help but sympathise with Denise’s
desperate confusion. The image of her sitting in their
bedroom watching a cooking show on TV, turning up the
volume to muffle the hideous sound of Danny eating a
policeman, is wrenching, outrageous, and infinitely
director deserves recognition for his great achievement.
Managing to bring together traditional Romeroesque zombie
tropes with those of a tragic romantic drama is not
something to be taken lightly.
Came Back [aka Les Revenants] (France,
2004) – dir. Robin Campillo
re-envisaging of the zombie film that incorporates Haitian
zombie ambiance into the dominant Romero scenario, Les
Revenants is very nearly a classic, in the
end suffering somewhat from its own determined emotional
distance and the lack of narrative conviction in its
with a superbly unsettling scene of hundreds of the
dead returning to life en masse through the gates of
a cemetery, Les Revenants seeks to
explore attitudes to death and loss through a narrative
involving the reintegration of the dead back into society.
These zombies are not decayed, flesh-eating monsters;
they are whole, undamaged, clean and filled with zen-like
calm. They can talk and to all intents and purposes
appear to be as they were before death took them –
better perhaps, as whatever disease or accident was
responsible for their death has left no scars. Slowly
they remember their past; yet slowly, too, they appear
to their families and friends as more and more distant
and alienated. Finally it is clear that all they have
is memory; they have no initiative, no awareness of
the future. They are removed from ordinary life, like
faded photographs (a conceit reinforced through the
use of flat lighting and predominantly white clothing).
Dead, they existed only in the past. Returned from death,
they exist in the present but remember the past. But
being alive means existing in the past, present and
future. Therefore, however they might appear, they are
not alive. In fact they are like corporeal ghosts, physical
phantoms haunting the living. As a metaphor for failing
to let go, the concept works beautifully and the exploration
of it, particularly in the relationship between a young
woman (Géraldine Pailhas, in an excellent and
finely nuanced performance) and her dead husband (Jonathan
Zaccaï), is movingly handled.
moments within the film are quietly chilling and unsettling,
redolent with an incongruous but numinous terror, and
the emotions displayed are wonderfully complex, as families
find that their own responses to the return of loved
ones are not as unambiguous as they might have hoped.
Campillo seems to be so intent on maintaining a non-exploitative
horror tone throughout that he trips up the narrative
and makes the film’s progress as flat and “removed”
as the zombies themselves. His one attempt at “action”
is ill-conceived and pointless, as he tries to push
the film toward some sort of climax. The zombies’
acts of sabotage seem unnecessary, both within the plot
and thematically; if the sabotage was intended as a
distraction to allow the dead to “escape”,
the real effect is just the opposite. And the reaction
of the authorities, though suggestive of the end of
Romero’s Night of the Living Dead,
begs way too many questions as regards the director’s
avowed attempt to keep the film within the bounds of
the real; is it conceivable that the authorities could
destroy the dead like this, on such a flimsy pretext,
without provoking massive protest and even civil action?
I don’t think so. It wouldn’t matter except
that these things – the sabotage and the attack
on the dead – seem so out of place that we are
forced to question them. Throughout the film Campillo
and his characters resolutely fail to ask the obvious
questions or express a natural curiosity as to how the
dead can return and what the experience of death was
like for them. I neither want nor expect an answer to
these questions and the lack of questioning can be accepted
within the context of a parable. But the sabotage and
its consequence demand explanation, and when we don’t
get it, or even a hint of what it might be for, it causes
us to start questioning more widely.
me a more effective ending, and one that arises more
naturally from the first two acts, would have been for
the zombies to simply disappear, gradually and without
fuss fading into shadows, as both they and their loved
ones realise that the dead simply don’t belong,
and can never be re-integrated into their old lives.
This makes sense thematically (and metaphorically),
whereas Campillo’s existing ending remains unsatisfying
a pity. There is great beauty and a profound pathos
in this film, undercut at the end by confused methodologies.
Waves (US, 1977) -- dir. Ken Weiderhorn
aquatic Nazi zombie movies go, Shock Waves
is a classic. Made by Ken Wiederhorn, otherwise renown
in the genre for the not-very-memorable Return
of the Living Dead II, it is an enjoyable low-budget
zombie flick that has become something of a cult favourite
over the years, and provokes its fair share of chills.
Set near and in the midst of a semi-tropical island
marshland (complete with decaying colonial mansion),
it is atmospheric and often suspenseful -- and only
falls down in being somewhat narratively underdeveloped.
Visually, despite its rather dark and indistinct appearance,
it is a delight. Even the film's dirty graininess can
be extraordinarily effective, as in the rise of the
ghost ship, which, no longer on the ocean floor, bears
down on the protagonists' boat during a weird and unsettling
storm at sea.
cast includes veterans Peter Cushing (looking typically
gaunt and authoritative as an ex-Nazi commander), John
Carradine (looking typically gaunt and haggard as a
hire-boat captain), Brooke Adams and Luke Halpin. They
all do a good-to-servicable job. Even better are the
Nazi zombies, members of an elite "not-quite dead
and not-quite alive" SS death corps, whose transport
was scuttled (by their non-undead commander) at the
end of the War when their existence had become problematic,
and who have now returned to do what ex-mass murderers
and psychopaths do when they've been resurrected as
zombies: kill without rhyme or reason. Memorable scenes
of SS zombies lying just beneath the surface of ponds
and rivulets or prowling the off-shore ocean beds in
jackboots, black goggles and decaying skin are alone
worth the price of admission. As befits their elite
corps status, these zombies stalk confidently through
the mangroves and kick in doors with aplomb -- though
they're also not averse to standing half visible in
the mangrove shadows and simply watching. Such
moments linger in the mind.
film does feel under-written, however -- not in terms
of existing dialogue, but as regards narrative content.
Cushing's character, superbly realised by the horror
maestro, is underused. In fact, I would have liked the
story to concentrate more on Cushing's aging SS commander,
who has exiled himself here on the periphery of the
Death Corps graveyard in nostalgic guilt or fear, rather
than on the doomed victims who have wandered into this
piece of resurrected history and are now forced to relinquish
their tenuous hold on life. Unfortunately the commander's
fate remains somehat off-hand -- though the film ends
with a melancholy and chilling fatalism that is both
redolent of the period and strangely haunting.
of the Dead (Canada/US/Germany, 2003) -- dir.
Uwe Boll [aka House of the Dead: Le jeu ne fait que
tagline of this zombie light-weight reads: "The
dead walk... you run". Not quite accurate. Though
this post-Millennial zombie flick references Romero's
Living Dead classics as an inspiration, the zombies
actually run, leap and utilise assorted weaponry in
a way totally alien to the Romero dead. The real inspiration
behind the film, in fact, is the Sega game of the same
name, and the House of the Dead references the
game constantly, not simply on a Sega banner decorating
the stage at "the rave party of the century"
but by continually inter-cutting the game's actual graphics
into the action. This -- and the unending, ultra-stylised,
Matrix-esque fighting -- are the two single most annoying
things about it. Together they manage to effectively
undermine whatever audience involvement the film might
is a pity. True, the situation and basic plotting are
totally unoriginal. Indeed when I read the synopsis
-- horny young groovers go to weird island for a rave
and end up being chased and killed by zombies -- I was
tempted not to bother. Though there is slightly more
to the plot (a bit of interesting back-story), the "more"
is so token it doesn't make much difference to the overall
effect. Vacuous characters get killed by zombies. That's
it. Admittedly there is a hell of a lot of running around.
And stylised fighting. Did I mention the stylised fighting?
A lot of it is in slo-mo, utilising a tedious 360-degree
sweeping motion centred around whatever character is
being thus heroically re-envisaged -- a technique that
was stolen from umpteen more effective Japanese and
Hong Kong martial arts films, not to mention The
Matrix. (Come to think of it, the Japanese
zombie/yakuza epic Versus had to be a stylistic
inspiration for this film; it stole from The
Matrix, too, but rather more creatively.) But
how is it that a bunch of boneheaded twenty-somethings,
who can barely remember their own names and spend a
lot of their time drinking and fumbling at various items
of clothing, suddenly prove to be superhuman kickboxers,
kung fu fighters and experts in both modern and ancient
weaponry? That was the real mystery, not where the zombies
"pity" aspect mentioned above arises from
the fact that the actual cinematography looks clear
and professional (though not the directorial decisions
relating to it), the setting is wonderfully picturesque,
one or two of the actors are OK (Jurgen Prochnow in
a stereotypical role and Ona Grauer, whose character
at least appears to have a few brain cells), the design
work is good and the zombie make-up occasionally effective.
Then they go and spoil it by being too damn hip and
thoughtless for their own good.
only sign that this is a post-Millennial zombie film
is the metal/techno/hip-hop soundtrack and the slo-mo
bullet POV stuff. In storyline it's bad Romero ... no,
it's post-bad Romero, being more like one of those 1980s
Italian Romero rip-off flicks, like Zombie
Holocaust: sexploitation, bloody zombie action,
experiments in longevity by mad scientist (or in this
case long-dead de-frocked medieval priest). In short,
nothing new, technically competent with good-looking
cinematography and design work, terrible directorial
decision-making, dumb flat-line story, a script full
of bad dialogue and logic flaws, and lots of gory zombie
Ghosts (US, 1960) -- dir. William Castle
watching this "gimmick" horror film from legendary
cinema showman William Castle, it occurred to me that
13 Ghosts needs to be considered as
working in a different genre to other horror films.
There's little point in watching it as an ordinary horror
film, that is, as an artistic experience wherein disbelief
is suspended and the appropriate emotions are provoked
in you by the immediacy of the on-screen drama and the
power of its atmospherics. Instead, 13 Ghosts
stresses its own artificiality, glorying in its status
as a piece of celluloid gimmickry and forever reminding
you that it's all a thrill ride. Most horror films have
an element of the "thrill ride" mentality
about them, but Castle makes it his film's reson
d'être. The experience of being in the theatre
and screaming your head off with your mates while playing
hide-and-seek with the "ghosts" is what it's
13 Ghosts was shot in Illusion-O, a
dubious technique invented by Castle that allows an
audience to see or not see the onscreen ghosts as they
wish. A cardboard viewer with separate blue- and red-tinted
lenses was supplied at the door. Are you brave? Then
look through the red part of the viewer to see the ghosts,
Castle explains. If not, look through the blue part
and the ghosts will disappear. Of course, you can see
the ghosts even without the viewer, but nevertheless
the illusion of having an option was a clever marketing
stratagem and, no doubt, involving for the original
audience of spook-show enthusiasts. The trouble is,
though the film is mostly in black-and-white, the screen
is tinted whenever the ghosts are about to do their
thing and a sign appears at the bottom saying "USE
VIEWER". When the ghosts have gone you are admonished
to stop using the viewer. As a result of all this signposting,
there's little tension, no unanticipated scares and
a continual reminder that the whole thing is a fake.
Castle's beginning monologue, with its corny if endearing
visual gags, simply adds to the feeling of artificiality.
course, you could always watch the TV version that is
purely in black-and-white, without Castle or the tinting,
but where's the fun in that? The idea behind the film's
scenario might have had potential -- the past owner
of the house having collected ghosts and our brave all-American
family, having inherited the place, now need to deal
with them, using special glasses that make the spooks
visible. But Castle doesn't develop the concept much
at all (just as he never develops the idea of the mysterious
13th ghost), and both the staging of the ghost scenes
and the weak climax are too theatrical to generate anything
by way of chills -- unless you're willing to play Castle's
"peek-a-boo" game and consciously pretend.
current DVD re-issue offers a nice clear print (of both
versions). Though the glasses are said to be supplied
and aren't, you can always make your own in order to
play along with the gimmickry of it all. Might be fun
in a group.
don't expect to be engaged by the drama itself.
Story of Ricky (HK, 1991) aka Riki-Oh,
Lai wong (original title), King of Strength
(literal translation of HK title) -- dir. Ngai Kai Lam
Italian zombie movies (see Burial
Ground and Fulci's Zombie Flesh
Eaters). Raimi's Evil Dead.
Jackson's Bad Taste and Brain
Dead (Dead Alive in the US).
Gordon's Re-Animator, From
Beyond and (interestingly) Fortress.
Still with me? Add a big helping of Shaw Brothers kung
fu martial arts. Also the Sonny Chiba bone-cruncher,
The Streetfighter. Mix well.
the above stew settles nicely in your stomach rather
than compelling you to reach for a bucket, then you
might be interested in Lai wong (Story
of Ricky). Just out on Region 4 Hong Kong Legends
DVD (uncut Collector's Edition), it actually lives up
to its cover blurb (except for the bit about The
Matrix... no relation there, folks), offering a
non-stop pageant of head-splitting, gut-slicing, blood-splattering,
eye-gouging, limb-removing and body-mincing -- all in
the name of good clean down-and-dirty action entertainment.
on a rather violent Japanese manga, Lai wong
places its supernaturally strong hero, Riki-Oh, in an
alternative-reality, futuristic (2001), corporatised
prison, where he must slice heads apart with his bare
hands just to survive (and to stand up for The Right).
As has been proven in the past, it's a good scenario
for a film of this kind -- claustrophobic and otherworldly,
open to psychopathic behaviour, rampant self-interest
and aggressive violence. Once it's established that
the hero is ethically driven and a decent bloke, then
the audience can readily give in to his sense of battered
injustice and its manifestation in the form of gorily
particular interest is the way that fantasy elements
are introduced without the need for rationalisation
or undue embarrassment. This film takes the implicit
unreality of action films and ramps it up several notches.
Riki is super-strong and has been from birth. Yeah,
OK. He's an Asian Hercules. He can pound his fist
through a gut or a prison wall or steel bars with a
single blow. Cool, eh? He can have the muscles
of his arm sliced open and heal the injury, mid-fight,
by tying the tendons back together with his other hand
and his teeth. Can't everyone? Razorblades
through the cheek. Spike through palm. Spear through
leg. Lay it all on him and he can still fight. Of
course he can. A big bugger of an opponent can
reach into his own abdomen, haul out his intestines
and use them to strangle Riki. He's certainly got
guts, as the spectators remark. Elephant gun cartridges
can be shot into someone and cause them to blow up like
a balloon before exploding. Sure, happens all the
time around here. The warden suddenly turns into
a huge ogrous monster for the final conflict, in order
to put the rebellious Riki in his place. What? Really?
OK, I can live with that -- aren't all action film bad-guys
monsters at heart? One thing's for sure -- anyone
who rents this film expecting a Jackie Chan clone are
in for one hell of a surprise!
sheer in-your-face violence and fantastical gore, you
have to give director Ngai Kai Lam his due. But while
it's undoubtedly bloody and a little confronting for
your granny, it's not overly realistic and is so extreme
as to veer into parody, much the way Brain Dead
and Evil Dead did. So is it a horror
comedy like those films? Well, yes, though its overt
origins in the martial arts/action film tradition give
it a pseudo reality that those films never courted --
and hey [said in an ironic tone] who could deny the
reality of action films? (Note: Riki actor Siu-Wong
Fan does his own stunts and is adept at most martial
arts, or so he says in the rather interesting interview
included on the DVD. So that aspect is real!)
Lai wong does what it set out to do,
and does it with gusto -- despite the rather rubbery
look of most of the body-dismemberment SFX. For a viewer,
liking it or not liking it will definitely come down
to a matter of taste. But be sure to watch the subtitled
version. You wouldn't want the irrelevant unreality
of the dubbing to distract you from the much more relevant
unreality of the gore and violence itself.
note: This was apparently the first HK film to
receive a R-rating for violence rather than sex.
Invisible Ghost (US, 1941) -- dir. Joseph H.
no literal ghost in this film, invisible or otherwise.
But there is a phantom haunting Charles Kessler (Bela
Lugosi). Though provoked by an imagined ghost (that
of his missing and amnesiac wife, returning now as a
rain-drenched face at his window or benighted spectre
on his lawn), the real ghost remains invisible to everyone
else; it is the unresolved emotion that manifests in
Kessler as a mindless, homicidal rage.
film -- the first of Lugosi's el cheapo horror
flicks for Monogram in the 1940s -- offers up a badly
worked-out scenario, but it is atmospheric
and provides strangely fascinating entertainment on
a B-grade level. Lugosi plays his part with considerable
dignity and is effective in a sinister (when homicidal)
but sympathetic role. The tragedy is his, despite the
corpses of strangled victims that litter his house.
Good light-and-shade photography, decent acting and
imaginative direction create many memorable images,
giving the impression that it was only lack of a decent
budget that prevented the narrative from being developed
in a way more dramatically feasible than was managed
in the available space. If the story could have expanded
beyond the house, many of the logical absurdities and
shallow melodramatics of the plot would have been minimised.
despite everything the film does work as a sort of metaphor
-- an absurdist poem that plays liberties with naturalistic
expectation. The version I watched on Flashback DVD
was sepia in tone rather than clear black-and-white.
Whether this reflects the original or not, this quality
actually served to give the tale the resonance of a
The Beginning (US, 2004) -- dir. Renny Harlin
is a tradition among fans and critics. I came to Harlin's
much-maligned prequel to the 1973 classic with very
low expectations. His career has not been all that stunning
(though to be frank I don't think it's been all that
bad either: Die Hard 2 (1990) was a
pretty good action movie -- as was the generally under-rated
The Long Kiss Goodbye (1996); I've
always enjoyed Prison (1988) for what
it was -- and what it was was a gaudy comicbook horror
flick, just like his Nightmare on Elm Street
4: The Dream Master (1988), which wasn't the
best of the series but worked on the level of B-grade
visual posturing; and his other recent horror/action
blockbuster, Deep Blue Sea (1999),
had its moments -- though it gave me a headache, I recall,
and that didn't put me in a particularly receptive critical
mood. None of these were great films by any stretch
of the imagination, but they were above-average exploitation
movies, which is what Hollywood seems to go for post-Jaws).
Harlin's strength has been in action and the exploitation
of genre tropes. So when he inherited The Exorcist
prequel from Paul Schrader, under circumstances guaranteed
to set everyone against him, it looked a little like
we were in for a typical non-horror action-film riff
on the horror classic. This seemed particularly likely
when it was revealed that Schrader's version was felt
by studio execs to lack the right clichés [not
their words] to satisfy the "target audience"
(of 14-year-old boys, presumably).
the initial response was predictable: critical scorn,
fannish loathing, rampant dismissiveness.
it to be awful, I waited to see the film on DVD rather
than at a cinema and long after bucket-loads of abuse
had been directed at it. Well, in the event I didn't
find it to be awful, despite the scorn. Nor was it simply
an action film -- nor a teen body-count slasher re-cast,
for that matter. Of course, it also wasn't original
or subtly horrific. But it wasn't dreadful. Like Prison
and Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master,
it was a fairly typical B-grade exploitation film, only
this time for the 2000s -- that is, expensive and with
high production values and plenty of CGI, yet still
essentially exploitative. That's OK. I enjoyed it for
all that. It had some excellent visual design and offered
darker, claustrophobic aspects to balance the box-office
appeal of occasionally unnecessary blockbuster spectacle.
The actors worked hard at giving their characterisations
depth. The archeological aspect was imaginatively exploited,
too, and made the film feel less typical. (Maybe that
was a problem; like Exorcist 2, opening
the scenario out to include more exotic locales created
an ambiance significantly different to the suburban
mundanity of the original Exorcist's
setting -- a difference that did not allow its extreme
demonic imagery to gain power by playing out against
a contrasting and familiar background.) At any rate,
the film's narrative developed efficiently and played
out with enough drama to keep me interested, even though
it wasn't exactly my ideal of an Exorcist
what I've read (and from my opinions regarding the displaced
director), Schrader's version might be more powerful,
less stereotypical, and more character-focused. Will
it be more horrific? Not according to the studio execs
-- though that may reflect their definition of "horror"
rather than its actual emotional impact. Who knows?
Perhaps his film will seem more like a worthy extension
of the original. It's rather unique that we'll get a
chance to decide for ourselves.
whatever Schader has produced, Harlin's effort, taken
separately, felt like a enjoyable exploitation horror
flick, with high-ish production values, effective if
rushed characterisation, and some muted thematic impact.
To totally reject it on the basis of what it isn't would
be, in my opinion, an over-reaction.
Changeling (US, 1980) -- dir. Peter Medak
conceived as a high-quality supernatural thriller --
with a prestigious cast that includes George C. Scott
and Melvyn Douglas and a director whose background is
in stage adaptations -- The Changeling
comes over as an effective haunted house film, with
an intriguing mystery gradually unravelled by Scott's
grief-damaged composer and enough chilling moments to
satisfy the viewer's expectations of numinous terror.
It is, however, dramatic rather than genre exploitative,
and for me at least more often provoked feelings of
sorrow than of terror.
effective, however, is the role of sound in creating
its most chilling moments, especially appropriate given
the fact that Scott's protagonist is a composer seeking
relief from his own tragedies and a renewal of inspiration
in the Seattle mansion that stands at the centre of
events. Thumpings, peripheral noises, even the small
sound of a bouncing ball are used to great effect. The
set, too, is impressive, built, I believe, at great
expense and dealt with rather decisively at the end.
Its stairways and passages take on a sinister character
of their own that allows us to feel something of the
characters' growing dread.
the film works, too, as many ghost stories do, in terms
of a mystery to be solved, as the past -- forced into
frightful action by resentment, loneliness and a great
sense of injustice -- struggles to find resolution through
the main character's vulnerability.
Gantry Row (Aust, 1998) -- dir. Catherine Millar
acting and effective dialogue, a carefully measured
pace, and a setting that (for Australians anyway) gives
the film a certain familiarly picturesque interest serve
to obscure the somewhat unoriginal nature of this haunted
house drama. Rebecca Gibney and John Adam play Julie
and Peter, a yuppie couple who buy an old house in an
exclusive street (in the Harbour-front Rocks area of
Sydney), with the intention of renovating it into a
liveable state, even though it means putting themselves
seriously into debt. As they struggle to make the house
over, sinister forces from the past arise to thwart
their attempts at re-creation. It is, above all things,
an upper middle-class nightmare.
Stephen King has pointed out in regards to The
Amityville Horror (in Danse Macabre,
his book on horror fiction and its meanings), much power
can be gained by appealing to an audience's fear of
financial vulnerability and ruin. Ghosts are implicitly
about death, but in horror fiction fear of death is
often part of a much wider concern -- fear of change
and loss of control over ordinary life and the expectations
we have of it. In 13 Gantry Row, these
fears are admirably captured with an occasionally unnerving
the film's credit, the emphasis remains on the couple,
their new/old house itself becoming a metaphor for the
tensions that can simmer beneath the surface of even
the most apparently stable relationship, sparked into
life by hidden currents in the world and in themselves.
The rising tensions are effectively imaged as a watery
stain that crawls upwards on the wall, becoming more
and more human-shaped as time passes and the couple's
frustrations mount. In its creepier moments, 13
Gantry Row captures the metaphorical nature
of the ghost story very well, and this saves the film
from appearing too mundane. Though made for television,
it generally manages to evoke an expansiveness (both
visually and thematically) that is cinematic in feel,
and its clunkier moments -- such as the opening sequence
with its dark and somewhat skewed Hammeresque tone --
are not frequent. Big effects are generally bypassed,
however, in favour of dramatic tension (which might
lead some viewers to complain that the film lacks action).
13 Gantry Row is a good, though minor,
effort, with a climax that doesn't flinch from the unpleasant,
if predictable, end made inevitable by the narrative's
Entity (US, 1981) -- dir. Sidney J. Furie
production values and a brave performance by Barbara
Hersey as an ordinary woman under attack from an unrationalised,
and invisible, male force can't hide the fact that The
Entity never coalesces into an effectively
structured narrative. Written by Frank De Felitta and
based on his own novel, it proports to be an account
of a real incident. As such, it holds some intrinsic
interest, but neither De Felitta's script nor Furie's
direction give it a strong artistic form, structurally
is undoubtedly effective in its depiction of the central
character's lonely struggle to maintain her sanity in
the face of supernatural rape and psychological disbelief;
but what does it all amount to? Perhaps it doesn't need
to amount to anything -- many of the best and scariest
ghost stories resolutely defy "explanation".
Yet the climax, which doesn't rid Carla Moran of her
invisible attacker, needs at least to offer her a way
out of the emotional bind she's in -- or to totally
and ironically destroy her -- in order to give the film
some overall impact. That it is supposed to have offered
the former resolution is conveyed through a final moment
of defiance when the door of Carla's house slams shut,
symbolically closing her in after the spirit has supposedly
been dispelled -- yet then she walks up to it, pulls
it open again and walks away. Presumably, her new spirit
of defiance -- her refusal to be a mere victim -- gives
her power over the entity, whatever its purpose. Fine,
but where did this sudden defiance come from? The process
didn't convince me -- and it leads to nothing except
a postscript note that tells us that, in fact, the attacks
will continue, if intermittently and with less intensity.
This may be "what happened", but film (and
fiction) isn't reality.
lengthy argument between rational psychologist Ron Silver
and psychic researcher Jacqueline Brookes -- the possibility
that the attacks are some sort of externalisation of
Carla's own psyche -- is the basis of a secondary, though
significant, theme. This is at times engaging; but the
whole thing takes up too much screen time, slowing the
pace and simply making us impatient with psychologist
Sneiderman, especially as there is never any doubt in
the viewer's mind that Carla's attacker is real. There's
no blurring between the objective world and Carla's
subjective experience of it; if there'd been more doubt,
our engagement with the film would have been the stronger
for it, allowing the viewer to directly experience Carla's
its way, this is a powerful film -- and somewhat prurient
scenes of Carla's naked body under invisible assault
are undoubtedly disturbing -- but in the end I felt
a sense of lost potential and wanted the filmmakers
to drop even more of the supposed real-life elements
than they did.
Ship (UK, 1952) -- dir. Vernon Sewell
all ghost movies/stories are scary, or are meant to
be. This low-budget pre-Hammer British effort has few
scares and even lacks a genuine "ghostly"
atmosphere. Conceptually it seems to be aimed at establishing
a rationalist approach to supernatural phenomena --
something the great Nigel Kneale did in the terrifyingly
spooky, and intelligent, telemovie, The Stone
Tape (1972), and in Quatermass and
the Pit, for that matter. But Ghost
Ship doesn't go for thrills or chills. It is
almost documentary in its visual tone and anecdotal
in its dramatic structure.
story concerns a couple who, against the advice of their
dockyard agent, buy a reputedly haunted steam yacht.
Superstitious ship hands quit, visitors smell phantom
cigar smoke in the galley, and then the sceptical husband
(designated as recently arrived from America, no doubt
to justify his resistance to belief in ghosts) sees
the ghostly smoker manifest in the engine room. This
prompts him to agree, albeit reluctantly, to the presence
of a psychic investigator, who in turn brings in a medium.
Via a flashback, the real story of What Happened is
revealed and, predictably, it involves a love triangle
and murder. The narrative ends with revelation, not
with action. Those familiar with these things will pick
the final "twist" before it happens, but it's
neat enough anyway.
film is quiet, low-key and (so it seems to me) reasonably
entertaining, though its failure to create any sense
of urgency or danger beyond the possibility of financial
loss for the yacht's purchasers will alienate many modern
viewers. But the talky script (typical of the stage-driven
scripts of British cinema at that time) is competent
and the cast (especially an array of character actors
in secondary roles) appealing. The leads are Dermot
Walsh and Hazel Court, the latter better known for the
Hammer films The Curse of Frankenstein
and The Man Who Could Cheat Death,
as well as some of Corman's later Poe-inspired films,
especially Masque of the Red Death
and The Premature Burial. Here she
is competent, but isn't required to display a very broad
range of emotions.
interesting is Hugh Burden who has the pivotal role
of the imported psychic investigator. Burden is one
of those faces you recognise from bit parts in umpteen
Brit movies and TV shows, but whom you can't quite place.
He was in Blood from the Mummy's Tomb,
I believe. Here, he is given an undramatic but central
task -- to explain the supernatural -- which he does
in a mini-lecture utlising a variety of tuning forks!
this isn't a significant ghost movie, or even a significant
movie. But it does what it does rather nicely -- and
though you'll probably be left contemplating all the
neat spooky stuff director Sewell didn't inject into
proceedings and sighing over lost possibilities, the
film is worth a look as an example of a type of ghost
story -- one very common in pre-20th century literature:
more anecdote than plot.
1: Director Vernon Sewell would later be responsible
for the interesting but flawed (and minor) horror film
Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968),
as well as Blood Beast Terror (1968)
and Burke and Hare (1971). I detect
2: I was intrigued to note the Internet Movie Database's
claim that Steve Beck's Ghost Ship
(2002) was a remake of this film. If true, you can readily
see how its undramatic scenario was effectively recast
-- and appreciate the 2002 film even more as a result.
of the Zombies (US, 1936) -- dir. Victor Halperin
army of the undead rebel in a frenzy of destruction"
63 minutes, Halperin's follow-up to his own classic
White Zombie did manage to told my
attention, despite its poor reputation. Any longer,
however, and all those critical reviews that describe
it as "boring" and "uninteresting"
might have been more justified. The film is admittedly
low-budget and very much a B-film of its period –
a mere footnote in the history of the zombie film, alas
– but it is not without interest. A young Dean
Jagger, playing Armond Longue, WW1 vet and archeologist,
struggles to overcome his own jealousy and the attendant
ethical dilemmas that arise from sudden attainment of
mystical power – the secret of dominating the
will of others in order to turn them into zombie slaves.
The romantic triangle that sees Jagger's Longue turn
from sympathetic protagonist to viciously jealous antagonist
gives a hint of White Zombiesque thematics (enforced
acquiescence does not make for true love), using Bela
Lugosi's hypnotic eyes from that film to symbolise the
imposition of zombie-creating mind-control. Though not
all that well realised, there is a sombre resonance
to the film's scenario of emotional weakness given the
power to overcome, thanks in part to its dark atmosphere
of stagey romanticism and political threat. Early scenes
of Cambodian zombie soldiers striding implacably toward
allied lines, unaffected by bullets and bombs, and the
suggestion that here lies the value of the zombification
secret – military conquest – gives the film
an effective political undercurrent, against which Jagger's
emotional bitterness and subsequent use of the secret
for his own ends can be seen as a commentary on the
limitations of fascist power.
perhaps. It's there by implication anyway, if less deliberate
in actuality. In short, I suppose this isn't a particularly
good film, but it has a certain charm – enhanced,
I thought, by the cheap yet effectively exotic archaeological
structures in and against which the story plays out.
Like Hitchcock (who used the technique deliberately
at times when he didn't have to), I have an artistic
fondness for back-projection.
should note that the zombies do revolt at the
end, but only once Longue's mind-control has been loosened
and they are not, therefore, zombies any more -- and
hence they never really become an "army of the
undead". There is never any sense that these zombies
are dead at all, in fact, despite the one battlefield
scene. They are simply controlled, will-less. Very much
a pre-Romero view of the living dead. The DVD transfer,
from RBC Entertainment, hasn't been cleaned up but has
good black-and-white contrast and offers a generally
decent image, ageing scratches notwithstanding.
Holocaust (1980, Italian) -- dir. Marino Girolami
infamous video nasty -- an archetypal '80s Italian cannibal/zombie
cross-over gore fest -- has just been released, like
Burial Ground, by Umbrella
DVD (R4): uncut, widescreen and in its full-colour glory.
Previously known in a re-cut, rather butchered version
under the title Dr Butcher, MD (standing
for "Medical Deviant"), it is not as much
a revelation as some other zombie films have been once
released from the restraints of 1980s censorship and
poor-quality VHS. Sure, the widescreen is a vast improvement
over pan-and-scan claustrophobia, the gore is uninhibited
and the clear image makes it look less cheap-jack. But
that doesn't make it good. For zombie flick
fans, it's a necessary purchase, of course, and it remains
entertaining (for what it is) throughout. However, it
suffers from some poor dubbing/dialogue, dodgy scripting,
and direction that fails to take you by the throat at
any point, giving the pacing a lackadaisical quality
and producing odd dramatic transitions. Mere extremes
of gore don't have as much impact as they once did,
and though the scenario should be involving (jungle
trek, cannibal incursions, desperate situations, mad
surgeon with zombies), it is all somehow rather contrived
and undynamic. Even the not-infrequent sight of lead
beauty Alexandra Delli Colli nude fails to raise the
film much above the average.
is a 90-minute version of the film, however
-- the longest I've come across -- so presumably that
means we see more of Alexandra and more gore overall.
DVD includes a strange interview with make-up/special-effect
artist Maurizio Trani, in which he finally admits that
he's never actually seen the film and hence is unsure
whether or not it's any good. Certainly his zombie make-up
didn't impress me much -- too much latex and little
relationship between the decomposed faces and curiously
unaffected arms, chests and legs. There is a much more
informative interview with Roy Frumkes, who directed
some additional zombie scenes that were cut into the
Dr Butcher version (in order to get
the zombies going earlier, as in the original they don't
get munching until the final act). He shows us interesting
footage from a film that never got completed -- Tales
That'll Tear Your Heart Out -- the source of
the imported undead scenes. A real curiosity.
Bodysnatcher from Hell (1968, Japanese) [aka
Kyuketsuki Gokemidoro] -- dir. Hajime Sato
interesting, if uneven, old-school Japanese horror film.
The opening sequence (with terrific model SFX of a commercial
plane flying through blood-red clouds, suicidal bird
life, unusually lucid character development, background
threats of terrorism, etc. leading to a crash) is very
powerful indeed, creating an insidious sense of impending
doom. The atmosphere of doom closing in and the increasing
paranoia develops well -- though the 'message' (an indictment
of human stupidity and the perils of war) is driven
home a tad too insistently and without much finesse.
The story-telling itself, however, works well, with
some effective menace coming from Hideo Ko both as a
terrorist/assassin and then as an alien puppet... weird
guy. The effect of the blob-like alien going into and
out of the scar on his forehead is simple but quite
chilling. And then there's the apocalyptic ending --
reminiscent of Invasion of the Body Snatchers
whole thing is rather like a Japanese take on a Mario
Bava film. It has something of the heavy Italianate
imagery and ponderous sense of dark forces at work that
characterises the Bava school of supernatural drama.
short, darkly creepy and gothic.
(aka Shiryô-gari) --
dir. Atsushi Muroga (1999, Japanese)
doubt about it. Even with a relatively low budget, Japanese
horror films such as this one have an abundance of style.
Junk is a zombie film in the post-Romero,
faux-Gordon tradition, and as such it's a hoot. What
it adds to the sub-genre is some good Japanese actors
(along with a few mediocre Western ones), exciting action
sequences, a Yakuza/crime overlay and a few unexpected
and engaging ideas that lift the film above the norm.
If you're familiar with zombie-film traditions, you'll
recognise elements from Day of the Dead,
Re-Animator, Fulci's Zombie
and others -- even Return of the Living Dead
3. Not to mention its Pulp Fiction
the film's ancestry doesn't matter too much because
it mixes up the acquired elements with style and rapidly
takes on an integrity of its own. Junk
mightn't break much by way of new ground, but we are
given an engaging, often thrilling cannibal-living-dead
rollercoaster ride. If you like that particular zombie
tradition, you should enjoy this modern Japanese foray
into the genre. Sure, some of the splatter effects aren't
any better (and are in some cases marginally worse)
than those in 1980s Italian zombie films such as Burial
Ground, but overall the result is classier.
Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1931) -- dir. Rouben Mamoulian
Louis Stevenson's novel is, I believe, the single most
filmed novel in history. That's what they say anyway.
Certainly there have been many examples, some of them
more "inspired by" than "based on",
but nevertheless telling the same story (such as the
excellent Hammer variant Dr Jekyll and Sister
version is regarded as a classic. It hasn't been an
easy one to track down (apparently at one time it was
believed "lost", owing to an attempt at cinemacide
undertaken by the distributors of Spencer Tracy's 1941
version). But it turned up on a recent Warner Bros DVD
double (along with Tracy's version and, I'm delighted
to say, the Bugs Bunny cartoon "Jekyll and Hare").
I was amazed and enthralled. Yes, it is the best film
version of the novel that I have seen. And yes, it is
still an extremely effective piece of cinema, even after
all these years. Thoughtful. Complex. Powerful.
Marsh's performance is a pleasure to watch (and won
him an Oscar). Though occasionally a tad "broad",
it is subtle and energetic as well, striving for a wonderful
continuity between Jekyll and his alter ego, Hyde, while
ensuring that you don't think of Hyde as being the same
man. (In fact, it is hard to think of Hyde as being
played by Marsh at all!) Nor is this a stock characterisation:
Marsh doesn't make Jekyll dull and staid and Hyde inhumanly
monstrous. Both are real characters, with roles governed
by the dynamics of the script. And Hyde's scene with
the prostitute Ivy, in which he brutalises her, mentally
and physically, is stunning in its intensity.
Mamoulian's interpretation of the story is sexual (Hyde
displays Jekyll's obvious desires, unrestrained by either
social expectation or morality). But Mamoulian doesn't
set up a cliched dichotomy between some coldly beautiful
and morally domineering Murial (Rose Hobart) and a sexually
provocative, wanton Ivy (Miriam Hopkins). Hobart's Murial
is witty and warm, if restrained by her father's social
puritanism -- she is self-possessed and full of as much
life as Jekyll. Hopkin's Ivy is warmly erotic and gives
too freely of herself, but she is never looked upon
as "evil". Sex here is the issue, sure, but
it is not condemned. It is a human need, that's all.
It's how we handle it that counts. And Jekyll handles
should add that the first transformation scene (in particular)
is quite amazing, especially for the time. No dissolves,
no CGI, just Marsh's acting and some tricks of light
an excellent cinematic analysis of the film, see Caligari's
Children by S.S. Prawer.
The Curse and Ju-On: The Curse 2
(2000) -- dir. Takashi Shimizu
the feature film Ju-On: the Grudge
clearly gained from a bigger budget, non-video film
stock and its creator's greater experience with the
subject matter, these telemovie (or direct-to-video)
precusors are certainly worth chasing up if you are
a fan of the aforementioned film. They are more-of-the-same,
but as "the same" is so damn good and so essentially
creepy, why miss out? Using the same technique as the
feature -- dividing the film into "chapters"
centering around various characters who enter the haunted
house that originated the "ju-on" of the title
-- Ju-On: The Curse and its sequel
(though a bit less so) resonate numinous dread, a terror
rife with a sense of fatefulness and dark with transcendent
significance. Sure, it is a fear that is conveyed even
more powerfully in the subsequent feature film, but
what we gain from these precursors is a knowledge of
how the "grudge" arose, and a greater understanding
of the mechanism that drives it. Again the characters
are well-drawn and we become involved with them quickly
and easily. The imagery is wonderfully unsettling, and
though a few of the major manifestations are less effective
because less subtle and more unambiguously presented
(particularly in Part 2), they are undeniably powerful.
Again the sound effects play a major role (you'll view
your cats with increased suspicion), and the technique
of spiraling toward central plot information, though
less well developed here, is similarly effective. Like
the feature film to come, these telemovies work on our
deep fear of mortality and the sour passions that can
warning, though: Ju-On: the Curse contains
one particular scene of fetal murder that is very disturbing
indeed, even though most of the details are merely implied.
It's hard to imagine this moment being aired on normal
Ju-On: The Curse 2 repeats a significant
portion of Ju-On: The Curse before
breaking off into new areas. Taken as a separate entity,
the sequel does justify the repetition, though some
may feel cheated. However, I suspect that viewers might
be better off letting time pass between watching the
first and plunging into the second.
Ho-tep (2002) -- dir. Don Coscarelli
Ho-tep (an unlikely film based on Joe R. Lansdale's
unlikely and excellently weird short story) is a pure
joy. A comedy, but not really. Actually a powerful meditation
of aging. Bruce Campbell's Geriatric Elvis is never
a caricature, but a genuine piece of dramatic acting.
Campbell is brilliant here. The film definitely shows
that you don't need a big budget to succeed, just a
smart script, great actors, a few decent ideas, and
commitment. Maybe it isn't "the greatest of movies"
(as it was reproved for not being by one critic I came
across), but it's certainly the greatest "redemptive
Elvis mummy movie" (as Campbell calls it) ever
(1980) -- dir. Kinji Fukasaku
is the International version of Kinji Fukasaku's Fukkatsu
no hi. The DVD version I watched was a cheap
transfer, pan-and-scan version running 108 minutes --
from a film that in its original form is reportedly
155 minutes long. So what has been removed?
it was pretty obvious what was missing: the main character
was clearly supposed to be Yoshizumi, the Japanese geologist
(Masao Kusakari), but his back story (which is thematically
important) and his developing relationship with the
female lead (Olivia Hussey) were both missing, as was
his vital last-act 4-year trek across a deserted US
and beyond, searching for a way back to the few remaining
survivors of humanity. So, all the Japanese stuff was
cut out (46-odd minutes of it!), leaving the film as
decimated as the world it depicts.
even given all that, it was clear to me that this was
a major film -- beautifully shot and directed, ambitious
and complex. And astonishingly bleak. What was amazing
was that it even got made -- bringing together a huge
international cast (including Glenn Ford, Chuck Connors,
George Kennedy, Robert Vaughan and Sonny Chiba of Street
Fighter fame), with lots of on-location shoots,
real submarines, many different settings, etc., under
the creative charge of a Japanese director (famed for
the old SF flick The Green Slime and
the recent smash hit, Battle Royale).
So why was the film ignored? Most critics just say,
"Another late '70s disaster movie" and leave
it at that.
even this cut-back, faded print turned out to be a much-better-than-average
disaster movie. I really enjoyed it, was moved and affected
by it and, as I say, could easily discern the brilliance
that lies behind it. Add in the remaining 46 minutes
(which would make sense of the personal relationships
and various thematic elements, including the dramatic
coherence of the last act) and a nice widescreen print
and you'd have one of the great end-of-the-world films.
The Grudge (2003) -- dir. Takashi Shimizu
I accidentally stumbled upon a cinema viewing of Ringu
[The Ring] some while ago, I'd been harbouring a lingering
grudge toward what I thought horror cinema had become
-- tired, stale, uninventive, unable to chill. But to
my delight I realised that the genre hadn't taken to
stumbling about like a creatively challenged zombie;
it had just gone elsewhere to grow new talons and to
scare the hell out of audiences that don't feel a need
for the obvious. Many others had already realised this,
of course -- they just hadn't told me.
is another great Japanese horror film, one that, like
Ringu and the brilliant Kairo,
made me shudder while watching it and haunted me afterwards
with its quiet, unsettling imagery. It is beautifully
made and beautiful to look at -- full of atmospheric
shadow and light, quickly drawn characters (though not
inane or uninteresting, to this viewer at least) and
haunted spaces, all of them intertwined with delicacy
and a nice maliciousness, in a soundscape that still
lingers in my bones.
an unusual film structurally, too, being more a series
of moments than a straight-ahead thriller. That's not
to say (as some reviews I've read have maintained) that
there is minimal or even no plot, and hence that it
is dull. Rather the narration spirals through manifestations
of the titular supernatural grudge, creating a plot-line
that weaves a grim tapestry spanning past, present and
future. You have to pay attention, of course. And you
have to absorb it in three dimensions, as it were, not
just lineally. If you don't expect a conventional ghost
story, it will work for you, I suspect. That it didn't
work for many critics tells me more about the critics
than it does about the film.
is one film that insists on further viewings, which
alone suggests it is not as simplistic as some would
have me believe. I want to explore the weird temporal
logic of its visions of mortal terror -- the grudge
that can become an destructive force.
Ape Man (1943) -- dir. William Beaudine
is one of Bela Lugosi's Z-grade horror quickies, and
it's the sort of film that helps explain why Bela's
career as a horror star stalled while Boris Karloff's,
despite ups and downs, didn't end in total embarrassment
(in fact, it ended in Targets, which
was one of his best). This film is clearly a rip-off
of Karloff's simian cheapie from 1940, The Ape,
which in fact works quite well and doesn't leave Boris
looking like a chump. Bela's attempts to mimic a mad-scientist-turned-ape
are just awful, rather like watching your dad make a
complete ass of himself at your 15th birthday party
by doing his impersonation of John Wayne in front of
your friends. He's a bit embarrassing! And so is the
film! It starts out with some OK banter from a bunch
of journos led by Wallace Ford and its main redeeming
feature is the fairly standard screwball-comedic relationship
between Ford's journo and the new chick photographer,
played by Louis Currie. Apart from that, there is only
the cheese factor to keep you watching -- and admittedly
it's quite high. I guess I wasn't bored, but I wasn't
what was with the weird guy who's seen lurking around
comically staring through windows, etc. through the
whole thing, only to reveal at the end that "I’m
the author of the story. Screwy idea, wasn’t it?"
Very odd. Who on earth thought it'd be a good idea to
remind the audience they're idiots for watching this
R. Graeme Cameron, a correspondent from the excellent
MonsterFighters discussion group, was good enough to
give a lengthy response to the above mini-review. He
maintains that the film is at least a bit of a hoot
and has some nice things to say about Lugosi. So click
here to read his
Hood 2004, 2005
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