Saturday, 21 January 2017

Blood Rage (1987)


Director: John Grissmer
Screenplay: Bruce Rubin
Cast: Louise Lasser (as Maddy); Mark Soper (as Todd/Terry); Julie Gordon (as Karen); Jayne Bentzen (as Julie); Marianne Kanter (as Dr. Berman)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #72

Blood Rage is an exceptionally dull slasher. At this point it's a crapshoot which actually stand out of interest for me, but like in a lot of cases the initial premise is interest. Despite the fact that it doesn't try in the slightest as an eighties film to do an accurate depiction of the seventies in the prologue, it starts well enough with a single mother (Louise Lasser) in the car with her boyfriend and her twin sons Todd and Terry (both played by Mark Soper) at a drive-in theatre. One son, as the twin trope in horror films usually are, is evil killing a random patron in another car and incriminating the brother. Years later, the evil son is living with their mother about to celebrate Thanksgiving only for the innocent brother to have broken out of the mental institution he's been locked in and for a body count to begin.

And soon after that prologue the film suddenly changes pace to a crawl. Uninteresting characters cannot help as, when news of his brother escaping out into the public is known, the evil one decides to carve up the friends he's pretended to like in a random moment where his sociopathic tendencies weren't kept hidden, proceeding to grab a random set of various weapons and go on a spree with little dramatic tension. This means many bog standard moments of the killer cutting through people one-by-one whilst frequently making the same comment over and over that blood isn't like cranberry sauce, even going as far as lick the blood to prove this theory.

Baring how this is probably what the eighties was probably like for most people, large hair but with warm wooden panel decor for homes rather than pastel and neon colours, it's only really the gore that stands out in the stalk and slash scenes. It's certainly memorable from special effects artist Ed French - severed hand clutching a beer can, someone being bisected from the waist sidewards - but it's no longer appealing by itself after seeing so many gore horror movies, to the point the desensitisation is from the point that merely having it isn't enough of interest, the same you can say for the brief moments of nudity as without anything else to bolster it, it's an empty thrill with little else. In terms of Thanksgiving slasher films, the more shambolic Home Sweet Home (1981) with its giggling, PCP addicted hulk killer and an annoying pest with a backpack guitar amp wearing mime makeup is far more compelling than a young girl wandering around in the dark looking for her lost cat or a good twin who looks literally damp as well as figuratively when he appears.

The only exception within the film that stands out is Lasser. Her performance cannot salvage Blood Rage in the slightest, but she's compelling in her own scenes, a character visibly affected mentally by all that's happened and lives in her own world. Some of the performance may come off as unintentionally funny, vacuuming while drinking from a bottle of wine, or chewing the scenery, calling random telephone operators trying to find her boyfriend's line as she becomes more and more histrionic, but that flamboyant and almost ridiculous portrayal is still the sole emotional connection you attach to the film. Her denial of which of her sons is the guilty one, alongside the bleak ending for her character, does redeem the film even if the rest of Blood Rage is not that interesting.


Monday, 16 January 2017

Formula for a Murder (1985)


aka. 7, Hyden Park: la casa maledetta
Director: Alberto De Martino
Screenplay: Alberto De Martino and Vincenzo Mannino
Cast: Christina Nagy (as Joanna); David Warbeck (as Craig); Carroll Blumenberg (as Ruth); Rossano Brazzi (as Dr. Sernich); Andrea Bosic (as Father Peter); Loris Loddi (as Father Davis)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #71

Alberto De Martino is infamously known for The Pumaman (1980), a particularly infamous attempt to latch onto the Superman film boom with Donald Pleasance trying his best as the villain and some of the most cumbersome flying sequences ever to grace a film. Other films show however De Martino was better than that film, and from the beginning Formula for a Murder is a lot more interesting. The only issue is that, like the other films of his I've seen, I can't particularly shout praises to Formula for a Murder either as it's not that spectacular.

A psycho thriller whose plot can be found in multiple languages in many films, a wealthy paraplegic woman Joanna (Christina Nagy) marries her sports coach Craig (David Warbeck) only for an issue related to her childhood to be a potential threat to her. A childhood trauma of being raped by a man posing as a priest not only lead to her physical disability but a heart condition that could kill her if the painful memories of the incident were ever to be evoked, which someone is attempted to capitalise on as she starts to see a faceless priest figure carrying a bloodied doll enter places when no one else is there.

The result's a giallo potboiler that can find its routes in countless inheritance based murder stories and Gaslight (1940), whilst Joanne's best friend and assistance Ruth (Carroll Blumenberg) starts to act in a very suspicious way, or is at least jealous of her friend's marriage with Craig. Giallos' are very subjective in whether they count in the horror genre or not, murder mysteries first which were so prolific in a short period of time and with films being made still after that boom period that they bleed into multiple sub-genres, this one qualifiable in horror as it evokes a supernatural tone with Joanne's trauma and the level of gore, shown upfront in the opening scene when a man goes into a confessional booth at a Catholic Church with intentions of slitting the priest's throat. There's also the reoccurring dream which shows the extent of Joanne's trauma, a surreal one involving a rolling ball, a wheelchair that stops working properly and a priest seemingly pushing her along for no reason that stands as the more interesting moments in the whole film.

The real issue with Formula for a Murder is that it's too conventional as a giallo to stand out. Played too straight, it's a case of where giallo's tendency to go on a few gnawled tangents, even if the plot becomes difficult to grasp, would've done the story greater favour. The one virtue that does make the film worth seeing once, barring the aforementioned dream sequences, is just David Warbeck by himself. While dubbed with what doesn't sound like his voice at all, he's a figure who stands out just from having done these Italian genre films by a charisma that you can't help as a viewer but appreciate. While as much memorable witnessing the surreal horrors in Lucio Fulci's The Beyond (1981), it's as much how he's able to brush off the more sillier roles he's had in Italian genre cinema without issue, the yellow mack raincoat he has to eventually wear in this film not phasing him at all, especially as he chews the scenery in the last bloody act with gusto. As a film though, Formula for a Murder's definitely one of the least interesting giallos I've seen sadly.  


Sunday, 15 January 2017

Goodnight Mommy (2014)


Directors: Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala
Screenplay: Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala
Cast: Susanne Wuest (as The Mother); Elias Schwarz (as Elias); Lukas Schwarz (as Lukas)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #70


Sadly there's a lot of films in existence that build up a perfect rhythm for two-thirds of their lengthy only to collapse in the final thirty minutes due to various ill-advised creative decisions - call it "third act madness", a M. Night Shyamalan plot twist, anything that ruins a film that could've done gangbusters is the entire film had kept with its initial good form. Goodnight Mommy is one such film, which is disappointing knowing it's a rare horror film, with art house leanings, directed by two women, as I hope more women direct genre films rather than dramas, and that it's produced by Ulrich Seidl, a controversial but incredible director of films like Import/Export (2007) who was clearly attracted to Goodnight Mommy for it's cold tone and how it deconstructs the image of perfect middle class life in its first half like in many of his own work.

For two-thirds it's perfect. Twin brothers Elias and Lukas (real twins Elias and Lukas Schwarz) await their mother (Susanne Wuest) to return home from hospital, only for her face to be entirely bandaged and her personality to be emotionally distant and with strange changes in behaviour. The two boys become suspicious whether she's their mother or not; you first believe this to be the case but eventually, for me, it becomes a disturbing take on childhood imagination and of how a child views the world being inherently toxic. Even if it wasn't explicitly about Capgras syndrome, viewing another close to you as an imposter due to mental health issues, it could work still in the context of how an entire emotional sub current adults have, their mother having been in an accident and divorcing, brings out a part of her behaviour that they could not understand, causing them to view her as an evil stand-in to their mother rather than view her their mother going through literal physical transformation as well as emotional change.

The result is like a razor being scrapped on your neck in how much tension there is in every scene, the stereotypical mode of how scenes are shot in modern art house films, slow and glacial, having an immensely virtuous effect in adding to this dread here. The almost sterile nature of the home the film is set in, dramatically contrasted with the natural woodland outside, gives the greater sense of this being an undermining of the image of familial bliss and leads to the strange and bewildering combinations of the exterior and interior, nature against modern urban like, like the boys' obsession with keeping countless cockroaches as pets or a nightmare of their mother stripping off in the woodland at like a witch or a feral entity.

It manages to become stomach churning in terms of denying the notion of childhood innocence, turning the ideas of fairytales of children being right when against the evil step mother etc. entirely on its head, family relationship made into a web of uncertainty not helped by the mother's distance and behaviour caused by great emotional stress. When it's purposely playing with what the truth is, unsure whether she's a victim of the boys' bizarre behaviour or whether she's an actual imposter, that vague but troubling tone for the film is absolutely compelling. The combination of art house with streaks of horror also includes moments which reach into the stranger areas of the genre, such as the sons placing a cockroach on their mother as she sleeps and a dead cat eventually being preserved in a fish tank full of flammable liquid.

Then the third act takes place and the good will to Goodnight Mommy starts to dwindle. The plot twist of one of the sons being dead, and being imagined all this time by the surviving one, a la The Other (1972) in how the imagined one corrupts the still living brother, is absolutely galling when its revealed, set up in the beginning but still a cheap twist especially as the initial set up with its creepy sterile tone is so much more compelling in comparison. The third act also becomes more clichéd, not only in the mother being tied to the bed upstairs and shouting for help to visitors downstairs at one point, only interesting in a darkly humorous way in that it's two elderly Red Cross members very pushy about donations involved, the moment it does briefly turn into a Ulrich Seidl film, but that it becomes a prolonged series of torture sequences with one of the boys being coxed by his mother to let her free. This in itself it somewhat problematic, as it's a hybrid of Hostel (2005) to the type of extreme art cinema of now which doesn't try to dissect this type of image at the same time, but that it's also when the film suddenly turns into a slog, the final plot twist a final death blow to its virtues. The weird mix of unnerving tension, reminiscent of producer Seidl's own films, and grotesque flights of horror is ebbed away for generic modern ultra violence and bad plot twists, quashing the goodwill the first half Goodnight Mommy had built up. 


Saturday, 14 January 2017

Fear X (2003)


Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Screenplay: Hubert Selby Jr. and Nicolas Winding Refn
Cast: John Turturro (as Harry); Deborah Kara Unger (as Kate); Stephen McIntyre (as Phil); William Allen Young (as Agent Lawrence); Gene Davis (as Ed)

Synopsis: Harry (John Turturro), a mall security guard, becomes obsessed with deliberate but mysterious murder of his wife, only for a growing series of clues and a constant stream of hallucinations to push him towards finding the culprit himself and finding out why his wife died.

Here, all the way back in 2003, Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn was already making idiosyncratic films that massively divided viewers. The Neon Demon (2016) may be exceptionally polarising now, but the result of how Fear X did before he had his reputation, his first attempt to break into the US, led his production company to bankruptcy and Refn to have to heal his wounds until the end of the late 2000s, making acclaimed sequels to his debut Pusher (1996),  and making a special in the Miss Marple franchise in 2009, the least excepted part of his filmography, before Bronson (2008) and Valhalla Rising (2009) brought him up to the present day auteur who's both loved and hated. Whilst Only God Forgives (2013) was notorious for him, he still got to make The Neon Demon three years after, whilst Fear X was an entirely different kettle of fish without the reputation of a mainstream smash in Drive (2011) to soften the divided critical opinion.


Fear X
is a very distinct animal that presents what would happen with Refn's later films, a through line to be found but within a work entrenched in a gritty, naturalistic grunginess for most of its length at odds with his later stylised, neon soaked movies. It still follows an almost elliptical tone that remains constant in his career however, which is the most distinct point to take from it. Turturro is prominent in three quarters or even more of the film, slowly unfolding scenes following his building up of clues of who is responsible for his wife's death through a minimalistic take on a very conventional crime narrative. The film starts to become more allusive as it goes on, becoming more like the Refn films of the later 2010s when momentum builds around the protagonist's hallucinations and the cause of the story being merely explained in snippets and hints in the dialogue only.


The most pronounced aspect of Fear X eventually, when its plot is a straight out crime thriller on paper, is the subconscious flashes of Turturro's mind straight from horror cinema. It could be seen as jarring - red and black visages of faces pushing through membrane1, flashes of x-ray like shapes layering on top of each other and, probably the most alarming moment in any of Refn's cinema despite all the gore he's depicted, an elevator in an entirely dark room whose light shows the ground being submerged in a foot at least of red water - but it matches an easy to forget the subplot suggesting the weight of the protagonist's grief is slowly evolving into this after it stars with his wife appearing at times to comfort him either as a memory or a ghost, the more nightmarish imagery building from the violence he has witnessed and will eventually find himself in trying to complete his goal. That the figure behind the murder is not an inherently evil figure, but given snippets of an ordinary home life thus forcing the viewer in a moral conundrum, brings a horrible sense of the viewer knowing how badly the story will resolve, the screws being turned more tightly to their discomfort as Turturro eventually finds himself in a red lit hotel straight from a David Lynch film. That the film even in its end credits, a split of various CCTV camera screens, is purposely undercutting the viewer's expectations of what they'd presume would happen in the film forces a cold, unnerving mood to be felt throughout its short running time.


Technical Detail:
Filmed in a gritty tone for a large part, Fear X has a remarkably different tone from the likes of Drive and later Refn films, feeling closer to the American indie films yore with Turturro's appearance and the wintery small town setting of the first half. Certainly this film brings up the fact Refn is able to take direct influences from many other films but creates his own idiosyncratic style, able to hopscotch between a grounded drama in scenes of Turturro as a security guard in a mall chasing an older man who's shop lifted, to a mix of horror and the montage effect of Stan Brakhage shorts in the more nightmarish imagery. The drastic changes in tone when it becomes more heighted doesn't contradict the more natural, paranoid tone of the first half in the slightest, able to make the two halves whole in how the slow methodical pace used through the film keeps everything controlled and suitable to each other.

The music marks Refn's constant obsession with electronic music, with the legendary Brian Eno with J. Peter Schwalm contributing an unnerving droning score of sounds and noises between them that adds to the sense of paranoia throughout the story.


Abstract Spectrum: Expressionist/Grotesque/Mindbender
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): Low
There're numerous films in Refn's filmography which exist within a subjective, sometimes nightmarish, reality which can exist out of time at points. Fear X at first is a grounded, subdued drama but like the later films a lingering sense of dread is felt at the start and, amplified by Eno and Schwalm's unsettling score, grows in intensity constantly next to Turturro's incredibly subtle performance, Refn's tendency for prolonged and lingering scenes having a distorting affect on viewers. Interestingly without the violence of the later films, very minimal throughout, the subjective nature of how its treated becomes even more disturbing in terms of the more fantastical imagery used or the scenes involving CCTV footage which have their own alien, grimy realism. As much a psychodrama drama as a crime mystery, the film entirely removes the expectations of a revenge story in its matter-of-fact anti-climax, turning against the viewer in a way that for me wasn't disappointing but gave me a chill on the back of my neck.

Personal Opinion:
An incredibly underrated film in Nicolas Winding Refn's career and actually my favourite from all the ones I've seen. For all the criticism of the later films being style over substance and for their graphic violence, Fear X qualifies as a significant rebuttal in how it takes a conventional plot and turns it into a subtle, potent experience.


1 This is actually reminiscent to the music video for Here to Stay by nu metal band Korn from around this period, only far more subtly creepy.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Invasion Earth: The Aliens are Here (1988)


Director: Robert Skotak
Screenplay: Miller Drake
Cast: Janice Fabian (as Joanie); Christian Lee (as Billy); Larry Bagby (as Tim); Dana Young (as Mike); David Dunham (as Charlie); Charles Wycoff (as Willie)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #69

At a cinema in middle USA, insectoid aliens led by the father of the green pigs from the Angry Birds videogames take over the management and intend to use the patrons as the first building blocks of a full scale invasion, using the vast array of fifties and sixties sci-film reels in the projection booth to numb the patrons' mind so they can use their technology to harness the human psyche. Only a white bread young couple can stop them, whilst most of the running time is the film raiding the vast catalogue of pre-existing films from decades before, from the terror of The Mole People (1956) to even big studio works like the 1953 War of the Worlds, in compilation film form. The story itself is merely perfunctory. A comedy in spirit, its mainly broad caricatures the film occasionally cuts to between film clips acting in exaggerated ways whilst the aliens take them over one by one - of two chubby hillbillies who don't change drastically even after Body Snatcher pods have turned them radioactive glowing green, a pair of the type of punk rocker that only existed in these types of genre movies for some inexplicable reason, a white trash family whose daughter is so loud someone in the audience knocks her out with a thrown wrench, two Japanese men who have cameras - broad but inoffensive stereotypes who are merely mild in terms of the humour.

The sci-fi narrative is a pastiche of said films, the leads bland white suburbanites whilst the aliens, well done in terms of a low budget film, have more charisma in spite of the lack of moving mouths, a pig-like blob which grunts managing to have more comic timing than the human cast. (One of his henchmen even gets to make out with a human woman who stars off nerdy before, in another broad stereotype, takes off her glasses and undoes her hair revealing herself to be a hot blonde). It does the pastiche with some charm, even managing to pull off a giant prosthetic monster at the end for an exclamation mark, but it's merely okay as a stand-by film, one that stands oddly with its subject as its both a tribute to this type of sci-fi cinema but constantly has characters mentioning these films as mind numbing and using them as a soma for the humans they're trying to control. It's an interesting meta-textual commentary, even by accident, about the aliens taking over the human race with films which warn people against such invasions, but its ambiguous in terms of whether it's meant to pay affection to these films or glibly taking advantage of them to make a new movie.


The real interest is all the films used in clip form. Films I want to see - even if many of them will probably suffer from their stilted writing, bland leads and accidental archness, the snippets of them in Invasion Earth, even if they emphasise said stiffness, would convince anyone they are utterly surreal and artistically eye-popping hallucinations even if they had pie dish flying saucers in them. Fresh faced Lee Van Cleef attacking a giant combination of a squid and dog chew toy with a blow torch, a rear-projection assisted giant man, countless family members of the monster at the end of Luigi Cozzi's Contamination (1980), disembodied brains and faces floating in ether, and an entire deeply troubled psyche of destruction and humanity being controlled for unknown forces. Buildings being graphically destroyed by giant monsters, people being taken over or, in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), replaced by copies, and a surprising amount of aliens wanting to take Earth women for sexual favours or (explicably in one of the trailers used) breeding stock for Martians, suggesting some deeply disturbing subtext from the creators depending on what the aliens are meant to represent, or a type of exceptionally kinky sexual fetish spilling out, all of which especially when the film becomes a constant montage of various different clips bouncing off each other having a potent effect in seeing all the destruction and chaos all at once. If anything alongside the legitimately weird and freakish imagery involved - the stop motion tendril brains from Fiend Without a Face (1958) are actually disturbing in terms of body horror here especially when they shrivel up and die after being shot - the deep well of fears and public concerns filtered out into these apparently mainstream b-flicks make them compelling enough to search out alongside the classics also shown.

Altogether you can't call Invasion Earth good, the best praise possible to give it that it has the virtue of any compilation of enticing viewers to track down the films used within. The film as a piece of entertainment thought is a peculiar oddity from the late eighties that's inexplicable in why it would be made and, whether for the cinema or (likely) video, who the exact target was for it. With no gore or swearing, it's suitable for kids with its light sense of humour, but even then I have to scratch my head encountering this peculiar one-off, and not necessary a positive reaction. It's encouraged me to track down the clips used in it, which I have to commend it for, but I can't proclaim it a great cult flick with pays tribute to an older era of cinema, more so as Popcorn (1991) exists, a slasher film which goes out of its way with success as a tribute to this gimmick filled era of filmmaking, understandably more well known compared to Invasion Earth.


Monday, 9 January 2017

Tokyo x Erotica (2001)


Director: Takahisa Zeze
Screenplay: Takahisa Zeze
Cast: Yumeka Sasaki (as Haruka); Yûji Ishikawa (as Kenjo)        

Synopsis: In past, present and future surrounding the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, a man Kenjo (Ishikawa) and a woman Haruka (Yumeka) exist both in life and even after their deaths at various different periods in three different time frames. A couple who break up, the man will die by being present at the gas attack at the wrong time and the women by Death himself in a pink bunny costume a few years later. Surrounding these events are masochistic sex with a gangster, a group of people celebrating in 1989 which leads to a sexual encounter between two women and Death, and the central couple reuniting as new people after their deaths in the 2000s confronting Death then, all interlinked by real documentary interviews with the public and the actors themselves musing on life and death.

Japanese pinku films are a fascinating genre in erotica. Whilst they can be merely softcore sex films, they can jump between genres, and because of the censorship that still exists in Japan which prohibits real sex being depicted without pixilation even in pornography, the genre has been allowed to thrive for decades. Also because of how its set up as an industry - as discussed in the vital tome on the subject Behind the Pink Curtain: The Complete History of Japanese Sex Cinema (2008) by Tom Mes - it's a hot bed for new talent who have become celebrated directors out of it (like Kiyoshi Kurosawa), and for politics and experimentation. With the boldest examples, as long as there were sex scenes and nudity, you could have openly political films, emotional dramas or absurd and inventive stories. Tokyo x Erotica admittedly, from one of the Four Devils of the 1990s pinku resurgence Takahisa Zeze, (who was joined by Kazuhiro Sano, Hisayasu Sato and Toshiki Sato as the other three), does feel like an ungainly creation, like a man sawn in half and attached to a different set of hips in being a softcore (but very explicit) sex film and being a dream-like drama about relationships and the notion of death. As Behind the Pink Curtain ends up emphasising with the later films up to the 2000s, a divide becomes evident between the growing audience for artistically bold pink films, who reaped them with praise and awards, and the patrons of an actual pinku film theatre, a fissure in this found in Tokyo x Erotica and somewhat frustrating as it is memorable as a result.


It's a bold move to tackle the 1995 saris gas attack in an erotic film like this, certainly not the only Japanese work with erotic sub currents to tackle serious subject matter the polar opposite of sensuality on face value. Far from a well schooled expert on the incident, it's however a grim incident which still has art tackling the subject explicitly or metaphorically in this decade, one which needed to be tackled carefully so not to become insulting or trivialising. Zeze does not trivialise it or do anything that would seem problematic, as instead it's a background influence that plays part of the film being a time capsule of the decade before the Millennium, also referencing the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 in passing glance as part of this. It juggles this with moments of lightness and carnality which manage never to contradict each other in the end. In the midst of these references, Death is a literal figure, more than happy to have sex with men and women, even managing to convince two female friends into a  sweaty, sexually explicit and intense threesome, whilst offering platitudes to mortals to live before he if their maker. It's strange that he's sometimes in a pink bunny costume, changes actor, and once appears dressed as Superman in a public street killing someone with a toy water pistol, but it doesn't detract from how explicitly serious the themes are about mortality. The real interviews do undercut the pornographic atmosphere with some surprisingly poignant thoughts, a couple with child off the streets to the main actress expressing deep rumblings on the subject of the movie.


If anything it's the main narrative of the central couple which feels weak if only because, having to juggle so much in only seventy seven minutes, the film is stuck in a nebulous place without fully embracing its clear desire to be a more unconventional, strange film and a serious statement on real life, more difficult to organise because of its lengthy sex scenes in-between the drama. The sex itself is surprisingly transgressive, a tension in them that's a virtue to the film, both in the flippant reversals of convention like Death preferring a woman's finger in his rectum rather than the other way around, or how a passionate sex scene between a gangster and his moll, before their interactions in their scenes turn sour and violent, is a S&M power play where he will tie her up, having sex with her by an open window overlooking what looks like a school field during an event, but he will gladly bark like a dog for her and have a water pistol full of semen shot into his face without complaint. It's instead the dramatic plot, having to also move back-and-forth between time, that's weaker in its attempts to be openly profound when instead, rather than trying to overreach in intellectual depth, this physical sexuality could've easily carried its themes more subtly.


Technical Detail:
The version viewed for this review of Tokyo x Erotica had a blurry haze to the colours and burnt-on subtitles that made the film even more dreamlike, but Tokyo x Erotica is visibly a low budget film, made with an advantage of its down-to-earth and raw aesthetic as a result of being shot on the streets, somewhat successful in its gamble to switch between time periods because of how nondescript the environments and clothing of the actors is. Zeze's clear interest in letting scenes play out as long as possible for drama, even in as short of a film like this is, is also applaudable, allowing a lot of interest in the characters as a result.

Abstract Spectrum: Expressionist
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): None
While the fluctuation in chronology is important for the film's story, and the ending breaks from reality completely as the central couple reverses their fate, most of Tokyo x Erotica is an erotic drama with a slow, methodical pace that never really develops into a more unconventional film but merely one with some experimentation. Baring the odd props - the bunny suit, a yellow water pistol full of semen a woman fires at her lover's face and then into herself, the Superman costume - this is very much a sober, straight forward drama about death with a few moments of deliberate avant-garde tendencies.

Personal Opinion:
A fascinating work, evidence of pinku cinema's experimental tendencies but I confess my first Takahisa Zeze film is an uneven experience  in terms of having to negate being both softcore porn and having greater depth. A part of me suspects there might be more rewarding films from the Four Devils era of pinku films but Tokyo x Erotica is slightly underwhelming.


Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Halloween: Resurrection (2002)


Director: Rick Rosenthal
Screenplay: Larry Brand and Sean Hood
Cast: Busta Rhymes (as Freddie Harris); Bianca Kajlich (as Sara Moyer); Thomas Ian Nicholas (as Bill Woodlake); Ryan Merriman (as Myles Deckard Barton); Daisy McCrackin (as Donna Chang); Jamie Lee Curtis (as Laurie Strode)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #68


If Halloween H20 (1998) was a perfect end to a franchise, give or take its flaws, than Resurrection is a diarrhoea stain on said end. As much as Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995) is atrocious, that was as much down to viewing a theatrical cut that was badly put together to the point of shambolic. Resurrection has no excuse, arguably the worst of them all technically in spite of how technically slick it is for how lifeless the result is. Even with higher production values than most of the franchise, the result here for all its surface gloss is as vapid as you can get even in the context of a slasher film sequel. A great deal of this is that the early 2000s are for me one of the worst periods of American cinema to ever exist in terms of the mainstream. Yes, great films were still being made in the USA at this point, but somehow because of how great of year 1999 was, there had to be a nosedive to address the balance immediately after. For every good film, there's a Dude, Where's My Car (2000), the live action Scooby Doo (2002), to a larger extent the dead end of post-Scream (1996) trendy horror films which Halloween: Resurrection firmly belongs to when they fell off the rails. In the eighties you can accept horror franchises getting away with contrived sequels, but during the early 2000s, which I grew up in, you suffered from a dire aesthetic that made such films less tolerable let alone one-off new premises. Flat, colourless direction, using flashy post-MTV editing and sheen that is ultimately tedious, a dreary American high school veneer, and terrible alt-rock and c-grade nu-metal, stuff in vast contrast to film franchises back in the decades like A Nightmare on Elm Street that had synth scores, glam metal and gooey special effects alongside their rainbow colour aesthetic and infectious sense of fun.


The problems inherently start with the prologue. The ending of H20, a perfect franchise conclusion, was already intended to be written over with disregard for the emotional investment it would provide viewers, Michael Myers surviving a decapitation and Jamie Lee Curtis reduced to a cameo. Ironically however I find that whilst it's a cheap shock to kill Laurie Strode off - more so now in reflection of how, done other times in A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th, and mainly to final girls, it's becoming problematic for me in the disposal of the characters - it's the only part of the film which has any interest despite also being inherently blasphemous in rewriting the previous prequel's ending. Also knowing it was Curtis openly finding a way so she didn't have to keep appearing in further sequels, respect for her if any, softens the blow. There's some emotion investment and tension to be found in a mentally frayed Strode taking a one last stand against Myers, using traps and planning for him in a mental institution, making the duplicitous decision of changing the narrative of H20's ending, when they could've either remade the series or found another way around it, at least palatable in some way despite the bitterness of it.

After that, it's a completely different film, once which feels like a generic slasher with the Halloween title and iconography slapped onto it, about a group of people entering the Myers family house as part of an online reality TV show, to explore it and according to the show's brain Freddie Harris (rapper Busta Rhymes) try to understand how one of America's worse serial killers came to be. The terrible aesthetic of the era doesn't compromise the moodiness of film, some semblance of atmosphere which does redeem the results a little, but it cannot sustain itself as everything else is dreadful. Flat, overbearing musical stings, lifeless quips instead of dialogue and so forth. The worst offender is the editing, so choppy and constant like so many films from the 2000s onwards that you may actually be able to mark when this terrible creative decision started to infect Hollywood films just from carbon dating the Halloween franchise.


Another factor is how, in this early 2000s period, likable young adult characters in American horror films were starting to disappear on the wayside; brutally, a lot of slasher films from the eighties don't have memorable characters, but American horror before at least, at its best, had likable figures. Unfortunately, I suspect a side effect of Scream's popularity, particularly its witty script by Kevin Williamson, was that many future films in this genre attempted to follow its lead without decent scripts of funny dialogue or actors who could perform charisma instead of vitriol. Busta Rhymes is notoriously bad in the film but it's not only the dialogue that does him a disservice, comparing Michael Myers to a killer shark doing no one favours, but how unspeakable wooden he is on-screen too. If the production had to cast a hip-hop artist in a role, they should've remember one film previous, rather than suddenly develop short term amnesia, and how that worked perfectly in H20 with LL Cool J proving to have incredible cinematic presence; instead of remembering this you have Busta Rhymes who doesn't, someone who is probably as charismatic as you can get in his albums and music videos but certainly isn't here. It's worst knowing, even against stiff competition in previous sequels, Bianca Kajlich is a terrible void of a final girl with little to work with, how obnoxious Katee Sackhoff is as a shrill fame obsessive, how already painful it was to have a vulgar pothead in a film by this point when it was still a relatively fresh idea from 1999 or so, how embarrassing it is for Sean Patrick Thomas' entire dialogue to be food based culinary observations of a bad diet turning Michael Myers into a killer, and how the only memorable person in the rest of cast is Daisy McCrackin because a) she's vaguely feisty as the psychology student who yet flirts with others out of her own desire to and b) I have an obsession with natural redheads with leads to utter idolisation.


As bland as it is, Resurrection at least had an interest idea within that could've been drawn out and worked on, dealing with the internet and reality TV as early as it did. My Little Eye (2002) was neck to neck with it in the same ideas but imagining the cynical nature of reality TV involve literally travelling around serial killer's mind, taking liberties in something close to meta-parody in cramming the Myers home with blatantly fake explanations for his life like a baby chair with straps on it, is a clever idea. It's also clever to have the final girl being helped online by a potential love interest watching the show as it airs, something that in any other film could've be stretched into a truly memorable movie. But Resurrection is entirely wasteful as a movie, even making The Curse of Michael Myers more bearable in comparison. It would take until 2007, and a full blown remake of the first film, to continue the franchise, completely starting from the beginning. It's not surprising why having revisited Halloween: Resurrection