Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Lemonade Joe (1964)

From http://1.fwcdn.pl/po/18/07/
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Director: Oldřich Lipský
Screenplay: Jiří Brdečka
Based on the novel and stage play by Jiří Brdečka
Cast: Karel Fiala as Lemonade Joe; Rudolf Deyl, Jr. as Doug Badman; Miloš Kopecký as Horace Badman/"Hogofogo"; Květa Fialová as Tornado Lou, the Arizona Warbler; Olga Schoberová as Winnifred Goodman; Bohuš Záhorský as Ezra Goodman

[Spoilers Throughout]

Synopsis: In the western town of Stetson City, Arizona, whiskey pours much to the sadness of teetotaller and Evangelist Ezra Goodman (Bohuš Záhorský) and his daughter Winnifred Goodman (Olga Schoberová), their religious abstinence campaign failing miserably. To their rescue, with his trademark Kolaloka lemonade his desired drink and perfect pistol aim, is Lemonade Joe who soon cleans the town up. Owner of the Trigger Whisky Saloon Doug Badman (Rudolf Deyl, Jr.) is not impressed by this, hiring the legendary outlaw Hogofogo, alias of his brother Horace Badman (Miloš Kopecký) to off Lemonade Joe.

With Czechoslovakian cinema - Czech and Slovakian alike - you will find the alchemist's stone of cinematic invention. Where even the genre films had the same craft as important dramatic works. Their history of stop motion both in stop motion and collage, is impeccable, and even the general style of their films from historical drama to science fiction is utterly unique. Cinema that is entirely unique and, even if more sporadic in release after the country split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, still produces such films. Theirs, before and after becoming separate countries, is barely scratched upon in terms of availability, allowing one to uncover hidden gems easily to the point of practically falling over them by accident. Take Lemonade Joe director Oldřich Lipský for example. You have, in one filmography, a Jules Verne adaptation (The Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians (1981)), Lemonade Joe, the comedy sci-fi film I Killed Einstein, Gentlemen (1969), and the truly bizarre Happy End (1966), a film told entirely backwards where a man goes from his execution for murder to birth as an utterly unreliable narrator.

Lemonade Joe itself if not the only western made behind the Iron Curtain. Not the only musical made behind it either. A comedy western musical influenced by silent cinema techniques however is a one-off. Its desire to both mock American capitalism, as Lemonade Joe is actually in the hands of the Kolaloka Lemonade he drinks as a spokesperson, is yet tempered by it being openly influenced by older American cinema. Singing cowboys were actually a subgenre at one-point in Hollywood, particularly with Gene Autry, a singer-songwriter/film star/television and radio star/business entrepreneur/rodeo performer. (Aptly too as Autry starred in the twelve chapter film serial The Phantom Empire (1935), a western/scif-fi hybrid where he ends up in a secret underground world of robots and subterranean people trying to invade the world above, which is as bizarre as it sounds). Before Canadian film maker Guy Maddin starting using silent film technqiues in stylised ways, and uncovering old genres to use for his own ends, Lemonade Joe takes an era of westerns even older than the fifties classics starring the likes of John Wayne few talk of. The colour tints are from all genres of silent cinema too. Blues usually for dark environments, yellow for outside or lit rooms. Speeding up the film. Images superimposed onto scenes, such as the Egyptian pyramids in the western mountains.

The artistry of older cinema - built having to use its resources in mind of limitations - fits the style of Czech cinema immensely, which has always had a craftwork above even some of the best of industries like Hollywood. Used in a sound film, this style is incredible idiosyncratic and allows for carte blanche in terms of what can be done. If there's a contradiction between paying tribute to this type of cinema and its jabs at America, think of it as admiration for the art turned into a custard pie to the face. Apt as Lemonade Joe is a living breathing cartoon right down to Joe and Hogofogo having a Tom and Jerry like relationship when the latter's introduced. The greyness to this satire, if there is any morality, is actually to the film's advantage, Lemonade Joe becoming as much a true hero as he is a parody. Eventually the heroes and villains become farcical targets as Kolaloka can even resurrect to dead, undermining the antagonism completely.

The performances are as energised and help in Lemonade Joe actually working, characters who are as broad as cartoons but with a tangibility to them so they are not hollow caricatures. Karel Fiala makes a great Lemonade Joe, the perfect blonde and even naive gunfighter with a violent aversion to alcohol and prone to bursting into song in accented English, helped by the fact he was a real life operatic tenor as well as an actor. His could've merely been a mockable character, but its testament to the film and Fiala's performance that the satire to do with his wholesome personality doesn't stop him being a lovable figure you want with Winnifred Goodman, even with showgirl Tornado Lou, the raven haired femme fatale whose lusty demeanour is actually melted by Joe's existence is her life.

From http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-F2Nh68GetKk/T6i8vjHpitI/
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His mirror, played by a strong figure in Miloš Kopecký, is Hogofogo. A figure so evil he's charismatic and even gets his own songs, all of which are the best in the film. One lusting over how he loves to kill, but the other probably Lemonade Joe's best scene, an inexplicably serious and potent number which intercuts into an imagined version of Hogofogo's funeral, a full New Orleans mourner's parade with blues instrumentation. That its whilst dressed as an old man to kidnap Winnifred Goodman doesn't undercut the moment. The only sour point, and the only one in the whole film, is when Hogofogo abruptly appears in blackface, a pretty grotesque look as with black makeup on Kopecký does look like a horrible caricature, but it does feel less problematic than the film referencing old Hollywood films even if its troublesome to witness.

The music alongside the production design is where Lemonade Joe in its oddness. Breaking expectations of a stereotypical western where the heroic gunslinger can hit a fly out of the air than (in English) sing a love song rocking on a bar piano. The general absurdity manages to come off as wholesome even when it still has characters die, someone getting a corkscrew in the back, and is ultimately still a piss take on American culture. The fact that this is film made in a communist country emphasising that its American references are to be viewed as parodies of the country the other side of the Iron Curtain. That it is sweet and playful is, yet, also for the better. Cartoonish with exaggeration. Its silliness, taking the production seriously, allows it stand out more.

Abstract Spectrum: Surreal
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): Medium

Personal Opinion:
An undiscovered gem in Czechoslovakian cinema. Again, how many musical cowboy films involving silent film techniques actually exist? That it feels like a fully gestated, fully accomplished production means that this enticing premise is even better as a result.

From http://www.imfdb.org/images/thumb/a/ad/
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Friday, 20 April 2018

Skullduggery (1983)

From http://horrornews.net/wp-content/uploads
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Director: Ota Richter
Screenplay: Ota Richter and Peter Wittman
Cast: David Calderisi as the Sorcerer / Dr. Evel; Wendy Crewson as Barbara / Dorigen; Thom Haverstock as Adam; Pamela Boyd as the Queen; Jack Anthony as Mr. Sluszarczuk

[Spoilers Throughout]

Synopsis: In medieval times, an evil sorcerer curses an entire family tree. The latest descendant of that tree, Adam (Thom Haverstock), becomes a violent killer when a fantasy dungeon game awakens the curse within him. After that is entirely subjective to each viewer's opinion...

Out of the obscurest corner of the slasher film subgenre, Skullduggery boggles. What begins as a Dungeons and Dragons fear mongering ends with police officers taking pot shots at a living suit of armour, but that seems logical to what happens in-between. One of the worst amateur dramatic plays shown in cinema takes place in a lengthy talent show that goes on and on. A magician, never explained and merely the magician, appears and makes a woman's top flutter only to begin the curse proper in our lead Adam afterwards/ A man claims he can such through a bus exhaust pipe to chat up a woman, without realising the homoerotic qualities of that line. Details, after the medieval prologue done in two sets and period costumes, which are jarring in tone. The beginning of  Skullduggery's ability to pile on further strange details afterwards.

Like the man with a noughts and crosses game on his back. He appears near the beginning and throughout the film at various points, the game slowly being played by unseen forces offscreen. His constant appearance seems too precise to be accidental but why he is there is unknown. The players of the game are unknown and it feels vaguely Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978) in tone, broad humour so upfront it drops on the floor flat. Its surrealism is in the tone of the Zucker Brothers but played at such a sluggish tone the presentation is off. If it's funny weird, it's definitely weird. Inexplicable things appear too. During a scene of the killer chasing a woman cutting to a length, it cuts to a minute long panning shot of mourners at a funeral who never appear again. Or Liberace's stand-in in the church flailing away at organ through stained glass.

Is it even a comedy? Well Wacko (1982) came around this time, so already the slasher was mocking itself as the glut came to be into the early eighties. But the tone is sabotaged by its non-sequiturs. Unless its ingenious and subtle in a way I cannot understand, but that's part of the inexplicable nature of Skullduggery. When a hospital murder sequence includes a smoking gorilla doctor who has just had sex with a human nurse, God only knows where we are stil going. Where has this film even been? The reason behind the entire Canuxploitation moment of Canadian genre films can only offer of a slither of this film's existence; that as the economic benefits to produce countless movies in the region, director/co-writer Ota Richter was one of many allowed to depict whatever he wanted onscreen as long as he completed a film that could be released. Even to the point its questionable if this is technically a slasher in the first place. There are elaborate deaths, but when they are all illusions for psychic heart attacks, all with an evil harlequin puppet controlling Alex, we are lost further in the general barking madness between the large couple who suddenly appear in rabbit costumes and a woman being wrapped around in a large python.

From http://horrornews.net/wp-content/uploads/2016
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Takings its Dungeons and Dragons paranoia into mind is as much part of the strange stew. Its misguided on both ends of the argument about the Satanic panic hysteria of the eighties. To merely mock the conservative Christians who got caught up within it as, considering secularists forget that if they believe Satan is real, it's a terrifying idea that he'd corrupt your children if given the chance. To merely dismiss it as silly and ironically watch their numerous scare videos on the subject as, trying to attack heavy metal and D&D fans amongst others, they took Mary Whitehouse stupefaction and old/new generation divide into problematic territory by suppressing individuals' rights. Mazes and Monsters (1982), where young Tom Hanks went insane without a basketball named Wilson and because of fantasy role-playing, is the nadir (height?) of D&D paranoia in film. Here it's worth mentioning as it barely plays a part, which just adds to the perplexing nature of this creation. Tapping into the zeitgeist but except that Alex targets people based on the missions in the game. It adds to the inexplicable nature of Skullduggery where an evil harlequin doll is truly more evil than the fantasy game but the game is still bookending the plot, whatever it is, feeling like the template to disguise the excuse for general madness.

In general the structure is like that of many slasher films. Fundamentally and technically adequate. Basic with varying, wonky scales for acting quality. The dialogue, because of the nature of this beast, is a stand out for sucking through bus exhaust qualities or squirrels down peoples' trousers. The deaths are closer to A Nightmare on Elm Street but no way near as creative, merely supernatural. It doesn't even have any real gore or any actual nudity, going against the lurid strains of this subgenre. The film has, by its ending, Alex going to a Satanic party with the camera intercutting between two male dorks, a very busty woman between them ogled by the camera for a long time, inexplicable melting down to a skull, and a mysterious doorway that never is explained, alongside two cops named Holmes and Watson who are useless in a cringe worthy attempt at humour, just adding to the strangeness. It can be compared to Jackie Kong's Blood Diner (1987) is that wasn't an insult to Blood Diner. That's not to say Skullduggery was compelling entertainment, but this is the queerest of weird horrors to experience.

Abstract Spectrum: Psychotronic/Weird
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): Low

Personal Opinion:
From the bowls of slasher cinema, rewarding just for how compellingly weird it is. You don't come here unless you expect this weirdness, and you'd be sorely disappointed if you came for another Canadian slasher to put near those like My Bloody Valentine (1981).

From http://www.juhanapettersson.com/wp-content/
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Monday, 2 April 2018

Container (2006)



Director: Lukas Moodysson
Screenplay: Lukas Moodysson
Cast: Jena Malone as The Voice; Peter Lorentzon as the Man; Mariha Åberg as the Woman

Synopsis: With voiceover by Jena Malone, Container follows a transgender man (Peter Lorentzon) whose life is a debris filled apartment ripped apart by his own thoughts. From the death of porn star Savannah to fear of the nuclear bomb, Container is an existential stream-of-consciousness where the voiceover, both his and separate as Malone's, connects together the images into a whole.

Container for the unprepared is an extreme film in structure. Difficult and liable to frustrate. In context of Lukas Moodysson's career it makes sense how his filmography got here however. His debut Show Me Love (1998) was an immense hit, a tale of adolescent love between two girls causing a wave of critical acclaim. Add Together (2000) and Moodysson even won the acclaim of his country's greater auteur Ingmar Bergman. For whatever reason however, this wave of acclaim was clearly a cause of an existential crisis. Lilya 4-ever (2002), whilst also acclaimed, also gained a lot of backlash for its perceived heavy-handedness, and thus the existential crisis began properly. Leading to the transgressive A Hole in My Heart (2004) and Container. Both of which gained negative reactions between them. With hindsight Container proved to be a necessity, Mammoth (2009) his small step back towards the mainstream, We Are the Best! (2013) about three young girls starting a punk band winning hearts all over again. And Container itself has a lot to say, deliberately the work of a filmmaker who is using it to dissect his own state of mind as much as its central character played by Peter Lorentzon. It says a lot that, within the documentary footage included with the DVD release, Moodysson has a psychiatrist, a Church of England vicar and a psychic see the film and/or the exhibition that came with it initially in England, and allowed them scrutinise his subconscious.

From https://blackiswhiteblog.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/
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I was aware  that this was never going to be easy to digest, which helped me be the perfect person to view the production as I was prepared for its notoriety. Container, with patience, is actually a good film. It will need repeat viewings. And particularly, whilst the monochromes images are important, it's the script and how Jena Malone reads them which stands out the most in terms of the production's virtues. A stream-of-consciousness, this structure is always difficult at first. A stream-of-consciousness eliminates the pauses and punctuation that allow one to ingest information in spoken and written speak clearly. It removes divides between one subject to another, allowing them to bleed into each other. Read aloud, whilst helping with the flow, also means you do not have the ability to re-read passages again for clarity unless you rewound the film back. The result, like William S. Burroughs at his most extreme in Naked Lunch, takes work at first to fully understand.

Whilst Malone at one point even explains herself as her real self, an actress merely reading lines despite playing actor Lorentzon's character, what you actually get is what can be viewed as the beginning of a 21st century existential fear. There is for myself the increasing thought that, when the Millennium took place and the world did not end, we as a society at least in the Western world entered this new century without purpose. Our narrator portrays both the transgendered man as much as a form of herself, the kind of twenty something Millennial who shifts onwards in the current state confused. Someone who fears their mortality constantly, yet feels they are God at other times. Considers God outside of themselves, yet are fixated on celebrities and topics Kylie Minogue cancer scare. Letters of Holocaust concentration camp victims are collected alongside porn star Savannah's boots, at first potentially tasteless unless viewed in the context of chaos of this century, that so much is to be digested these objects collect, clash and meld as one and the other. It varies between pathetic first world problems to real, sad moments of brevity, all of which I suspect is Moodysson himself bleeding out God knows what demons he had to purge at this period in his career.

From http://rarefilm.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/
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The visuals are as important. Squalor but never poverty pornography. Nudity, mass orgies and cramped apartments. Even that which could come off as weird and pretentious art performances in another film, such as anything with the dolls' heads and wearing objects as inappropriate dress, make sense in Container's logic, which is as much addressing this material world and scrutinising it as the words spoken by Malone's voiceover do. All the objects, from a Bing Cosby memorial plate to a dank mattress, become a psycho dramatic view of a life, which was enforced by that exhibition Moodysson created using the real props from the film that allowed people to scrutinise the objects in closer detail. The monochrome, rich and detailed like a Nobuyoshi Araki photograph, allows the film to exist out of conventional chronology but still keep a viewer within the world inside with some semblance of logic, between fiction and documentary but felt fully. What one should feel Container is the psychological state of its main character which it succeeds in.

Abstract Spectrum: Avant-Garde/Expressionist
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): Medium

Personal Opinion:
Not a film to compare to Moodysson's dramas. One which sadly become obscure but understandably when it presents a sharp and drastic change in pace from the likes of Show Me Love. On its own however its absolutely admirable and worthy of re-evaluation.

From http://rarefilm.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/
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Friday, 30 March 2018

Suddenly in the Dark (1981)

From http://cultfilmfinder.com/wp-content/uploads/
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Director: Young Nam Ko
Screenplay: Sam-yuk Yoon
Cast: Kim Young-ae as Seon-hee; Lee Ki-seon as Mi-ok; Yun Il-bong as Yu-jin

Synopsis: After a photo of a Sharman shrine doll inexplicably appears in the butterfly slides of Professor Yu-jin (Yun Il-bong) butterfly slides, his wife Seon-hee (Kim Young-ae) becomes increasingly paranoid when he returns home from a trip with a young woman named Mi-ok (Lee Ki-seon). Brought into their lives as a live-in maid, with no surviving family, Seon-hee becomes wary of a potential affair between her husband and Mi-ok. It is real, it is a psychological breakdown or supernatural, especially as Mi-ok's only possession is a shrine doll exactly like the one in the slides?

Suddenly in the Dark was the only horror film studio director Young Nam Ko made. He has over a hundred films in his filmography, a number only matched by the likes of Takashi Miike and Jesus Franco in the length of his career. Melodrama, comedy, action and yet only one horror film he desired to make, completed and never got another chance at repeating, making Suddenly in the Dark a curiosity. And whilst the film's plot logic and gender politics could be (understandably) questioned, it thankfully becomes a Repulsion-like tale in which nothing, even when it is openly supernatural by the end, is spelt out for viewers as actually happening or not. In the slew of various films about the supernatural invading homes, this one stands out with the sense that, even if there is an outside influence that eventually take violent action, it is revealed to be vengeance for the transgressions a person does. That such actions are influenced by what is impossible to fully connect, between reality and the imagined, makes things more interesting.

From https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/M/MV5BYm
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Also of interest is to see a Korean horror film from before the late nineties, in general a rare sight for a Western viewing to see a Korean production from their studio system era Many will be aware of the South Korean New Wave that came in the 2000s, films like Oldboy (2003) and The Host (2006) and their directors, kick-started arguably by horror film Whispering Corridors (1998). Sadly, growing up with this wave, the older era films were never taken into considering by the likes of Tartan Video's Tartan Extreme sub label, the rush for the new shining gems of South Korean cinema never fully leading to their older films getting proper retrospection. Were it not for the Korean Film Archive's hard labour and admirable zeal to preserve their country's cinema, including restoring Suddenly in the Dark itself, these films would still not be known outside the nation barring cineastes on website forums.

So to see Suddenly in the Dark is interesting, a production which shows the efficiency of a film crew that has worked over many films even if this was a one-off genre hop for its director. Like Japan, they gladly made a lot of horror films, even in the case of Suddenly in the Dark if they had their eyes off to the side during South Korea's political climate and whether censorship was relaxing by the point of this production or not.  Like 1965's A Devilish Murder, or Whispering Corridors and its themed sequels, it's interesting to note how their horror cinema (whilst not suggesting all films made within the country are alike) is nonetheless filled with psychological tales where the ghosts haunt people with already troubling neurosis and ordinary human anxieties. (And whilst not technically horror in the slightest, Kim Ki-young's The Housemaid (1960) has been nonetheless threaded into the genre, which emphasises this humanist side to Korean horror). In the case of Suddenly in the Dark there has to be a caveat that, depending on each viewer's personal interpretation of its female lead and her mental breakdown, it could either be defended as a continuation of stories of sexual anxiety or seen as sexist.

From https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CtY63xTUAAAp8Qu.jpg

An idea of interest however is to view the film in terms of patriarchal sexism, which actually adds a great deal of depth to the material. As demonstrated when Seon-hee's female friend suggests that a woman nearing her thirties is viewed as sixty, there is a streak throughout of confinement of these women in their middleclass lives. Whilst aesthetically, there is something pleasurable about the late seventies decor crossing into the eighties, there is also a sense of suffocation felt for Seon-hee in its immaculateness. A sense, like the really interesting psychodramas (i.e. most if not all of them), the modernity of their settings is as much complicit in the events, and that the reoccuring choice of female leads, even if it could be seen as sexist stereotyping and almost all of them directed by men, is subconsciously an awareness that these modern lives are life draining even if pleasant to look at.

Aptly, whilst an adult actress, Lee Ki-seon's Mi-ok uncomfortable evokes a teenage nymphet in both appearance and manner, her naïveté and scenes of nudity a more pointed issue for Seon-hee to be anxious about. Of course, whilst not as detailed as it has been described as, her background in Shamanism is significant. South Korean Shamanism, whilst I don't subscribe myself as having any knowledge at this point, went through the same narrative as in many nations' histories of being marginalised by the push of modernity, viewed merely as primative superstition preventing enlightenment, when in the modern day it became clear it was as important just for its sociological and cultural heritage, and had ambassadors promoting this fact, and the possible irony that as technology alienates people it stands out of interest when found in films like this or Kim Ki-young's Ieoh Island (1977). (Whilst a Japanese film, and not necessarily about indigenous religious belief, Shohei Imamura's The Profound Desire of the Gods (1968) is one of my favourite films of all time partially because it painfully details modernity intruding on heritage and ruining life for everyone, even if it is not morally black and white for the better about the behaviour of both sides).

Like any good psychodrama, it is entirely about being placed in the protagonist's state of reality as everything around our lead is suspect. This includes as much its characters behaviour, as likely to be reflecting Seon-hee's distortions of her reality as there is the potential danger of heavy-handedness in the material. It also does so by a lot of visual trickery to depict this. Never subtle, including segmenting the screen into fragments as if through a kaleidoscope, or what appears to be the camera shooting through the bottom of a beer glass, to depict her mental state. Heavy handed but it is effective in its crudeness; in another film it would not work at all, but here the context and general energy elevates the flourishes. Especially when simple things like where exactly her husband is in the house, or not, raise her suspicions and paranoia adds to this.

From http://medialifecrisis.com/files/images/articles/201510-Octoblur/
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Your appreciation of Suddenly in the Dark is as much for a fresh take on the material. That it does have a distinct artistic style or how Korean shamanism plays a part, even if it is a surface dressing, an aspect of South Korean culture not depicted at least for the West outside of films like this or The Wailing (2016). It also depends on whether you find the central anxieties of the protagonist too over-the-top or not, whether it comes off as crass or if you can appreciate its melodramatic streak as I did. Melodrama feels appropriate as, whilst a horror film, there is a streak of the heightened to the material, a vein especially in Korean and Japanese  horror (even into the modern day) where human drama usually is the catalyst for the horrors. That you argue easily the story is much a damnation about gendered roles, even if its explicitly said, helps with this. Rather than what happened in American horror where a slasher killer/monster took priority first and the characters were added later, films like this one have a lot to digest even if they are also entertaining as a mondo bizarro category genre film.

Abstract Spectrum: Psychological/Psychotronic
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): None

Personal Opinion:
Not a perfect film, but in terms of digging out a fascinating film from a neglected area of a nation's cinema, Suddenly in the Dark does intrigue. A basic premise repeated over a lot of films, the interest here is what is brought in tone, aesthetic and ideas. All of which are worthy of its recommendation.


From http://366weirdmovies.com/wp-content/
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Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Aaaaaaaagh! (2015)

From https://mydownloadtube.to/poster_image/detail_
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Director: Steve Oram
Screenplay: Steve Oram
Cast: Denise (Lucy Honigman); Barabara (Toyah Willcox); Smith (Steve Oram); Keith (Tom Meeten); Og (Sean Reynard); Ryan (Julian Rhind-Tutt); Jupiter (Julian Barratt)

Synopsis: In an alternative England, human beings are not that different from primates, communicating in grunts, and interacting in crude and even violent ways even when videogames and television still exist. One named Smith (Steve Oram), mourning the loss of his mate, travels with his friend Keith (Tom Meeten) to the territory of Ryan (Julian Rhind-Tutt). Ryan, with the help of Og (Sean Reynard), became the new alpha-male of a home with an older woman Barabara (singer Toyah Willcox) and her daughter Denise (Lucy Honigman), not impressed when Smith and Keith start to make themselves known. The original alpha-male of the territory, Jupiter (Julian Barratt), lays in an improvised den nearby, cherishing his beloved Battenberg cake in misery of his lot.

I admit, if it becomes my spiritual bias from my part, that my opinion on this is entirely my own opinion, but if human beings did "devolve" back to a primitive state, I seriously doubt we would return back to beasts. For me, the best of humanity feels out of place even from evolution. And also the worst of humanity feels alien even next to nature. In fact even the stupidity of mankind feels alien to nature, no other animal as strange as we. Even our fore-apes would have not been as bizarre as we can be. Steve Oram, actor and here director/star/writer, depicts probably a far more credible example of what would happen if mankind devolved in that, somehow, we would still be able to fix a broken washing machine but we eat meat raw, attempt to shag people randomly and piss up other peoples' refrigerators to mark territory. Frankly  a lot of this people would get away with now if they had the chance.

Aaaaaaaagh! is surreal black comedy, intentionally absurd and with a premise where,  even if it does have its own internal coherence , logic has to go out the window to appreciate it. One of the best virtues of the film is that it reflects human behaviour out its strangest would stand out even when the cast act like the casts of 2001: A Space Odyssey's prologue. It is also the film where Noel Fielding of The Mighty Boosh and The Great British Bakeoff gets his penis bitten off, so every base should be covered. A low budget film, Aaaaaaaagh! willingly shifts between the peculiar and the transgressive, but helping with this is that it had to be filmed within real environments including an ordinary city home making up a huge amount of the production value. The paradox of depicting mankind as primitives but shot in ordinary locations interacting with kitchen appliances and flat screen televisions is as much part of the humour. It also emphasises that this pretty much strips away its characters' emotions to their most vulgar even if the film did not have a script built around a grunted language. The kind of acts that are absurd to witness, like defecating on Clingfilm on the floor, but are things that you could imagine people would actually do and think about yourself actually doing if you were pushed into that direction.

So that means that, even if physically it would be difficult to rip a man's whole arm off with just physical strength, the violence behind it is a facsimile of violent you witness it real life. Like the sex as well, reduced to clothed dry humping with a lot of emphasis on ineffectual useless males. Fittingly as a plot, you could squint and realise this type of plot could have easily played out for a kitchen sink melodrama. Ryan the drug dealer having taking up a relationship with the older wife Barabara, the husband left out on the street whilst Smith plays the potential love interest for fellow member of the household Denise. That it is told in an extreme and over-the-top manner just provides a stranger and more fascinating edge in how this type of real life conflict could play out.

Helping the film is its score, significantly tied to this film as Wilcox's real life husband is Robert Fripp, the legendary guitarist and sole figure who has been in all formations of King Crimson, a legendary progressive rock band. The music comes from the King Crimson ProjeKcts albums, provided in respect to his wife starring in Aaaaaaaagh!, and in lieu of it not being originally composed for the film it is chosen perfectly nonetheless. Even if some of the synthesizers might be ridiculous, as is expected from as talented a musician as Fripp the score is dynamic and the kind a low budget production like this it should be grateful for. All because of the pure chance of their casting, particularly when it comes to the heavier material, a score here that lifts to material up as well in quality when sadly a lot of low budget films, and especially those of even lower budgets than this one without known actors helming them, can struggle at times acquiring memorable music to place over the scenes.

Is Aaaaaaaagh! actually "abstract" though? That is a question that can be lost in amongst the praise to the music and the humour of the film, especially as that is the reason the film is being reviewed in the first place. The answer? No. The irony is that, within ordinary English streets and homes, the film structurally by accidentally (or purposely) comes off as a pastiche of drama which just happens to be cast with ape-people who pee, fornicate and mutilate each other. With the potential to easily be turned into a really provocative stage play, the scenario is very normal in tone despite the strangeness of the material. The strangeness is entirely what the cast do and how they behave, not the structure of the film itself. The only thing remotely close to the alienating mood of the abstract is a brief animation repeated over and over of a chicken, with the most basic of stop motion and quirky music I secretly hope was also composed by Robert Fripp.

Aaaaaaaagh! is weird though. The willingness to brake taboos is thankfully tempered by the generally farcical tone, so that it does not become merely a string of obscenities but more perversely funny. And that does not take away from the sudden bleakness which surprises me with the picture's ending, ultimately proof the film is also good when it does not remove complex human emotions through the premise. Said ending, in which the sense of betrayal triggers an act of violence which undercuts the generally funny tone, does sober the viewer and that reveals a virtue of Oram's picture that might be intentional or not. That, whilst drawing from the dark sense of humour found in British comedy like Chris Morris' Jam (2000), this is a return to my original point that even if people were to act like this they would not merely regress into apes, the psychological baggage depicted in Aaaaaaaagh! complicating social interaction and behaviour unlike with animals. Merely a subjective opinion but a large part of Aaaaaaaagh!'s humour which can be agreed on is that, by dropping these characters into ordinary environments, it is not that strange to imagine people acting this way outside the film if they could get away with it.

Abstract Spectrum: Grotesque/Weird
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): None

Personal Opinion:
Definitely a great example of the current decade's slew of unconventional cinematic oddities, the type that are one-offs and appeal to cult film fans from the off-set and/or appear at festivals like this did at FrightFest. Not outstaying its welcome at less than eighty minutes, when the premise could have dragged on, Aaaaaaaagh! is memorable with intelligence behind it.


From https://s.ynet.me/assets/images/movies/
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Thursday, 15 March 2018

Blood Beat (1983)

From https://www.twistedanger.com/media/catalog/product/cache/3/
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Director: Fabrice A. Zaphiratos
Screenplay: Fabrice A. Zaphiratos
Cast: Helen Benton as Cathy; Terry Brown as Gary; Dana Day as Dolly; James Fitzgibbons as Ted; Claudia Peyton as Sarah; Peter Spelson as Uncle Pete; Franck Miley as Paul

Synopsis: Christmas season, Wisconsin. At the family retreat in the countryside, a family soon finds the merry season to be at ill-ease, the mother a psychic aware something is amiss in the homestead, and the new girlfriend of one of her sons disconnected from them. Could the random killings by a samurai in the environment be connected?

[Spoilers Throughout]

The infamy of Blood Beat, an obscure film but one which has slowly crept back into interest for those thirsty for odd American genre films, is that it is about a samurai ghost conjured to kill a person every time a young woman has an orgasm. Blood Beat does not exactly follow this premise exactly, in fact like a lot of exploitation/horror films deviating from these premises in the actual content. What sounds like a strange and lurid premise is something else entirely, as Blood Beat is still pretty weird as premises go. It does not get into the fact that it is still a film about sexual repression, family conflict, and a samurai inexplicably walking around the Wisconsin woodlands killing people.

Most of Blood Beat plays out like a very nihilistic family drama, where tensions are so high even Ingmar Bergman films have more levity compared to the attitudes and neurosis shared among these characters. Quite a few independent American genre films from this era have this peculiar trait, where they ingest other genres within them. They are the more rewarding, as rather than the generic exposition padding that the dull exploitation films have, independent productions like this instead ingest older types of cinema their creators grew up with or take on aspirations for more dramatic interaction between the characters. These films can  turn into dramas riddled with putrid emotional turmoil and this is among many.

From https://vinsyn-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/
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That it is set at Christmas offers a hilariously strange tone to Blood Beat, considering its premise, but emphasises this dramatic tone. Where the (step)father has moments of frustration with his wife's behaviour, that which may be due to her psychic powers but also has a side found in drama where she spends her days locked in a room painting by herself. Where her relationship with the new girlfriend of one of her sons has the awkwardness of a new person in one's life meeting the family for the first time, only with the added issue that said girlfriend is acting strangely and has a black magic aura surrounding her which erupts through sensuality. Even the side characters meant to just be slasher film fodder have toxic relationships, such as an older couple where the husband barks orders to his wife whilst in the other room with the dog. It can be ridiculous how nasty and bleak these films can be - the most extreme like Carnival of Blood (1970) and Andy Milligan films being practically nihilistic of the entire human species - and Blood Beat whilst not as extreme has an unintentional streak of negativity for human relationships until its ending, suggesting family and their ancestral bond literally leads to spirit strength.

Whilst it can be seen as extremely crass, that her libido is a destructive, not depicted in a way that I feel is sexist but just a bit silly, the girlfriend character for three quarters of Blood Beat is depicted in a way that leads to the film's more rewarding aspects. Whilst it is a family drama inexplicably draped is slasher kill scenes, her plot thread is depicted as a low budget psychodrama, play in a low budget, not-quite Repulsion (1965) style with overt references of Carrie (1976). It never explains why the family has samurai armour in the house, or why a samurai was chosen for this very rural and American type of genre film, but she has before being revelled to be possessed by black magic a fascinating character for this film to have, one who is nervous amongst the family and troubled. One who flinches during a hunt, refusing to see an animal be killed, fleeing from the scene and beginning one of the first deaths. Her sensuality, whilst potentially eye rolling in how it leads to death, does play to Blood Beat's weird tone.

From http://media7.fast-torrent.ru/media/files/
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Director/screenwriter Fabrice A. Zaphiratos helps in this regard by incorporating avant-garde techniques that create a sense of disorientation. The droning electronic score, found in many a production like this at the period, helps in its atonal noises further for this sense that Blood Beat is going to drag itself into stranger places as it tried to juggle domestic sequences with disconnected slasher kill sequences. That it eventually includes the girlfriend's sexual repression, whilst potentially crass, nonetheless lets the film edge closer to being to psychotronic version of Repulsion with added psychic shenanigans, objects in the kitchen assaulting a character at one point for evidence, where even a box of cereal is potentially threatening.

Sadly Blood Beat decides to end the film in pure gobbledegook. Not compellingly strange, almost logical ideas which ultimately make no sense, but the cod-mysticisms that a lot of horror cinema has which has no actual sense of mysticism even for a fun premise. Eventually the girlfriend is shown, as mentioned, to be possessed by an evil black magic figure, whilst the mother and her children are represented as being forces of good, all with the type of practical effects rotoscoped on screen you see in Indonesian films like Mystics in Bali (1981). Not necessarily a bad thing but unfortunately in context of where Blood Beat was going, with its regional flavour and lengthy scenes of low budget drama, it is a tonal shift that is not compelling weird but just arbitrary. It is an issue as well as betraying the tone Even in an exploitation film, a more honest and rewarding way to tell a supernatural/paranormal story would be to accept the irrational as that which invades normal reality and is beyond logic. Even if it has a pseudo-dramatic cause, confusion is more profound in lurid cinema and art house drama alike. To attempt to explain it rationally is deceitful, and in most cases never is satisfying anyway, where the mystery is loss and the films unravel themselves in having to try to explain something which comes off as convoluted. It is poisoned for a psychotronic film like Blood Beat to make sense, so the ending does in spite of the film's pleasures does slip its qualities down a little.

From http://horror.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-
content/uploads/2016/05/bloodbeat-1982-ted.jpg

Abstract Spectrum: Psychodrama/Psychotronic/Weird
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): None

Personal Opinion:
The film is still strange and memorable, but stepping back, even if you are willing to forgive Blood Beat for its flaws and admire its homemade quality from its French-Vietnamese director, he did drop the ball in story logic and in pure psychotronic entertainment by suddenly turning into a series of inexplicable coloured lights and psychic powers in the ending.

From https://vinsyn-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/
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Saturday, 10 March 2018

The Prisoner (1967-68)

From http://cdn-static.denofgeek.com/sites/denofgeek/files/styles/
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Directors
: Patrick McGoohan, Pat Jackson, Don Chaffey, David Tomblin, Robert Asher and Peter Graham Scott
Creator: Patrick McGoohan

Synopsis: Prisoner No. 6 (Patrick McGoohan) is former secret agent for the British government who resigns, only to find himself in the strange community known as The Village, deemed as having too much valuable knowledge to release. A place cut off from the entire world, The Village might be idyllic in appearance but it is a place for former spies  and agents where those in control will gladly use any means for the villagers to comply. With a revolving door of No.2s, all of them trying to learn why No. 6 resigned, No. 6 is both concerned about escaping The Village and who No. 1 is.

How do you talk of The Prisoner? Others have - Repo Man (1984) director Alex Cox has written a book to coincide with the series' fiftieth anniversary. Many have parodied or referenced the series including The Simpsons. Even in the least likeliest of places one swears the scriptwriter was taking direct inspiration from this series, such as the version of the Village Jean-Claude Van Damn ends up in during Double Team (1997). But we should not forget, as my own father had recounted when he saw the seventeen episode one-off back in the day, how bloody odd The Prisoner actually is. Despite only a few of the episodes being canonical to his idea, this was star Patrick McGoohan's personal project which he was able to have due to his success from the likes of Danger Man (1960-68), one where he openly led viewers into a bizarre tale of nonconformity.

From https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/M/MV5BMTUy
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The spy tales of before in his career merge into this, the secret agent No. 6 finding himself within the Wonderland of The Village. The use of quaint English iconography, from the garden tables and parasols to the symbol of the Penny Farthing, not only prevent the series from dating by being overtly artificial and colourful, but it brings about a paradox in how alienating the environment is despite looking like the utopia found on a jigsaw puzzle. The Village promotes democracy and happiness for its occupants at a price, and it is telling that with the first few episode No. 6 manages to already escape in the series only for things to be completely against him. It is even more telling one of the first episodes has him in an election to become the new No. 2, the event an utter sham controlled out of his will from the start. The metaphors, the cage of conformist life, are obvious but what leaves a lasting impression is how far and how out there this can be to the point of existentialism for No. 6.

Even in the context of the Cold War, The Prisoner instead feels like McGoohan exorcising concerns of how ultimately one cannot find true freedom, which he was open about in later interviews after the series broadcast. That it is by the perverse whimsy of late sixties psychedelic and British upper-lip aesthetic, the Good Ol' Days in its colour and harmonious looking environment, actually adds to this dark meaning in that it feels like Lewis Carroll's version of a Franz Kafka story. It also does not deny how openly weird the series still is, and more so when this was screen on ITV in the UK and shown on American television back fifty years ago. But helping it to succeed, alongside the choice of the Welsh village of Portmeirion as The Village, is the openly whimsical and multicoloured aesthetic. McGoohan, by the way, is incredible. Here you have an actor willing to put himself in everything even for a personal pet project, startling for myself as I have only known him before from his role in Scanners (1981). That he can be suave, that his lines can be full of playful barbs, that facial expression and tone of voice mean a great deal, adds to an incredible performance. He is willing to be pushed and not just in terms of literally, around in a wheelchair with a child-like expression on his face holding an ice cream at one point, but act as a character who is both mentally and physically beaten, controlled and even lobotomised throughout the episodes. Only an attempt at a Western drawl in one episode feels out of place, ironic as he is an American-born actor, but everything else has tremendous power.


Thankfully he was backed by a vast and revolving cast of British actors who will all need to be investigated in terms of their own careers. The Prisoner had the inspired idea, likely to reduce the issue of having to negotiate for the same actor over and over, of having No. 2 being a nebulous figure whose role is played by multiple actors and actresses. One actor, Leo McKern, plays a reoccurring and important part of the main narrative, but switching the No. 2 position adds to the sense of an organisation in The Village more sinister and difficult for No. 6 to fight against, anyone revealed to be No. 2 or a collaborator with a sense nothing is trustable. As No. 2 is the real villain the protagonist is up against, it proves more sinister how they can change easily, how disposable they even are as one episode's plot is about the old No. 2 being potentially assassinated by his replacement.

As there are seventeen episodes, there are too many plots to describe. But The Prisoner immediately from the first episodes fluctuates between science fiction, paranoid spy thriller and the utterly strange. Minds are swapped. One episode opens with nearly fifteen minutes without any dialogue. A costume party turns into a kangaroo court. Even No. 6's dreams are not safe from manipulation. There is a sense that as well though, if the series had gone longer, it could have dwindled. The creative team before the final two episodes try to expand out of The Village for one-offs that stray completely out of the conventions of what came before. One I profess to admiring, an even stranger story involving No. 6 against a villain wearing a Napoleon outfit, a chase through a carnival theme park and exploding cricket balls. The western episode however is the one average episode which warns that, whilst these later episodes even play with the reoccurring opening credits to interest effect, they could have derailed the series into the worst. Thankfully that episode ends well, but it arguably is the one bad moment in the entire series as it sounds exactly as average as you would presume from a British TV production trying to film a western, something that is parodied in Red Dwarf for its artificiality for a reason. Thankfully what you get in the first fourteen episodes, before the last two and excluding the western one, are all compelling. All inventive and catching you off guard continually.

From https://burnhollywoodburnhollywoodburnhollywoodburn
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Thankfully The Prisoner ends the right way too. Well, it ends but in a way that was notorious. The ending, appropriately called Fall Out, can be compared to the infamous last ending of another cult series from the nineties, Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995). They are exceptionally different series entirely, but both of them make fascinating comparison to each other. For how they became immensely popular when they were first premiering on television, but both ending with metaphorical endings rather than clear explanations of what happened. Both created in chaotic circumstances - the animated Evangelion plagued by its co-creator Hideaki Anno's deep depression during production and being prevented from creating the original ending, The Prisoner from McGoohan having little time and no idea how to end his project. Both endings did not go down well, Anno getting death threats from fans, McGoohan having to briefly hide from fans. The Prisoner's ending is stranger in how, on the surface, it is so disappointingly matter-of-fact in how No. 6 escapes without any tension. That does not include how in the midst of Fall Out you get licensed music of The Beatles on the soundtrack, a shock considering the licensing issues now that has caused for other older productions, and the unexpected mass chorus of Dem Bones in the middle of the episode. How metaphors literally speak out to represent various forms of subversion and what the hell No. 1 is supposed to be under the gorilla mask. That geography is defied and you witness Patrick McGoohan prancing around in the open side of a truck with a porcelain tea pot just adds to the weirdness. That he is not given his usual credit but just "The Prisoner" in his last few scenes of the series just adds to the sense of something being amiss. The perfect ending in hindsight because of this.

Abstract Spectrum: Mindbender/Paranoia/Psychedelic/Weird
Abstract Spectrum (High/Medium/Low/None): Medium

Personal Opinion:
Legendary with just cause. This it is a mainstream television series, that still followed the structure of an episodic programme, helps with its strangeness especially when one imagines how people reacted to the series back in the late sixties. (And the reactions to the ending would have been more extreme). It is a case of a work which got away with so much as long as it still kept a sliver of convention to help viewers get into it, allowing The Prisoner to have gained the mainstream and cult reputation it had whilst still being unconventional even for someone like myself. Why it took so long for me to view the seventeen episodes is embarrassing but it was still a rewarding experience.

From http://thescope.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/FallOut-6-540x405.png