Archive for February, 2012

The Geisha of Gore Takes On BATTLE ROYALE (2000)

Posted in 2012, Bad Situations, Colleen Wanglund Reviews, Controverisal Films, Cult Movies, Dystopian Futures, Geisha of Gore Reviews, Japanese Cinema, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , on February 29, 2012 by knifefighter

GEISHA OF GORE REVIEW
BATTLE ROYALE (2000)
By Colleen Wanglund

Imagine, if you will, being a high school student on a bus for a class trip, only to wake up on a deserted island and told you now had to kill your fellow students. That is the premise of the 2000 film BATTLE ROYALE. Directed by Kinji Fukasaku, BATTLE ROYALE is based on a1999 novel of the same name by Koushun Takami. On March 20th of this year the film will finally be released on DVD/Blu-ray in North America….YAY! A quick bit of trivia—Kinji Fukasaku directed the Japanese scenes in the WWII movie TORA! TORA! TORA! (1970).

“At the dawn of the millennium, the nation collapsed. At fifteen percent unemployment, ten million were out of work. 800,000 students boycotted school. The adults lost confidence and, fearing the youth, eventually passed the Millennium Educational Reform Act, AKA the BR Act…”

BATTLE ROYALE takes place in an alternate-reality Japan. Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara) is a high school student struggling to maintain some semblance of a normal life after his father’s suicide. It is the end of the school year and the class of 40 students is returning from a field trip. At some point the students are gassed and the bus is diverted to an evacuated island for the purpose of participating in the annual “game.” The class is awakened by their former teacher Kitano (played by the wonderfully quirky “Beat” Takeshi Kitano), surrounded by soldiers and informed of their situation. They have also been fitted with collars that will explode if the kids try to remove them….or if more than one has survived by the end of the game. The students are shown an orientation video that looks more like an MTV video, complete with a cute pop star-like young woman. The students have three days to kill or be killed and only one student is allowed to leave the island alive. Some of the kids rebel or refuse to participate, but they are dealt with immediately. In one instance they are provided with a demonstration of the collar’s effectiveness (ironically it is used on a student who had stabbed Kitano a year before, causing him to retire).

Along with two additional participants, Kawada (Taro Yamamoto) and Kiriyama (Masanobu Ando), the students are sent out at sixty second intervals with their personal possessions and a pack containing basic supplies and one other item. That additional item is either an obvious weapon or something that may prove to be a weapon. The first night sees many deaths among the kids, including a few suicides. Every six hours Kitano broadcasts a list of the dead over the island’s PA system, as well as the times and locations of “death zones”—areas that will cause the students’ collars to detonate if they are found to be in the zones. The collars also serve as tracking devices and they stop sending a signal when a teen wearing one dies.

Shuya has promised to protect Noriko (Aki Maeda) and they manage to successfully stay alive by hiding and staying out the way of the others. The two run into Kawada, who helps them out by giving them shelter in an abandoned house and tending to Noriko’s wounds. They spend a good amount of time talking and Kawada tells the teens that he is, in fact a survivor from a previous year’s battle. His wish was to survive again but get revenge on those who caused the death of the girl he loved. The house is eventually attacked and the three are separated, with Shuya being badly wounded. Shuya is taken to a lighthouse where a group of girls is hiding, but fear and mistrust get the better of them.

While all of this is going on, we are given glimpses of Mistsuko Souma (Kou Shibasaki), a student who proves to be one of the most dangerous players in the game, as is with Kiriyama. Mitsuko is the popular girl with the exclusive clique among the class but here on the island she has become a cold assassin, willing to kill anyone to get off the island. It is eventually revealed that Kiriyama volunteered for the battle because he thought it would be fun. He is as ruthless as Mitsuko. Meanwhile another student, Shinji Mimura (Takashi Tsukamoto) and two of his friends have a plan to hack into the military’s computers and blow up their compound on the island, effectively starting a revolution. Part of Mimura’s plan is successful, but not all. Shuya, Noriko and Kawada arrive at Mimura’s hiding spot too late to help them. Now they are on their own again, determined to leave the island together. Who ultimately will win the BATTLE ROYALE?

Okay, the first thing I love about this movie is that it stars Beat Takeshi. The man is amazing. He’s a director, actor, poet, television personality, screen writer, comedian, singer, painter and author. His movies are offbeat and Takeshi has developed quite a cult following both in and outside of Japan. He is a professor and owns his own talent agency and production company. The man is a dynamo. His biggest commercial success was his portrayal of the blind swordsman in ZATOICHI (2003).

….Sorry, back to the movie…..

BATTLE ROYALE, a dystopian parallel universe that condones teens committing violence against each other. It’s also a social commentary on how the younger generation seems to be turning its back on tradition. They no longer have the respect for their elders that previous generations had. We see this in the phone calls between Kitano and his daughter, although this is probably found most blatantly in the character Mitsuko. She is most assuredly self-centered and that is ultimately what makes her so dangerous. While we are given only glimpses into the teens’ characters prior to the battle, it is clear that Mitsuko is a bully. When she does finally meet her match, it is at the hands of someone who is just like her.

BATTLE ROYALE has not been released in the U.S. until this year, possibly due to comparisons with the Columbine tragedy. But note that this year also gives us the release of the similarly-themed HUNGER GAMES.

That said, the strongest characters in the film are the teens who do care about others. Shuya and Noriko manage to survive until the third day. They have taken care of each other and Shuya would probably die rather than allow that to happen to Noriko. So the message isn’t all bad. There is hope for redemption for this generation of teens.

When BATTLE ROYALE opened in Japan, it was a box office success, despite being given a rarely used rating of R15 (no one under the age of 15 admitted). While the graphic violence against teens seems exploitative, there is clearly a message of disillusionment with society in general, as well as a fear of the destruction of civil order. After all, it isn’t only that the kids are forced to kill each other off in a “SURVIVOR-with-weapons” scenario. It is the fact that adults distrust and dislike the teens so much that they force them into the battle for their very lives. They are given the ultimate punishment for defying their elders. BATTLE ROYALE is Darwinism at its dirtiest….only the most murderous will survive. It can also be considered an allegory on the competitiveness in Japan—both in school and in the workforce. At some point every society begins to fracture. BATTLE ROYALE shows us the extreme.

BATTLE ROYALE is, in my opinion, a good movie. The screenplay hits some of the points made in the book, although in a more exploitative way. There is quite a bit of violence and the SFX guys did a fantastic job but, considering the material, it is far from gratuitous. The young cast does a great job, especially Tatsuya Fujiwara as Shuya (who also starred in the DEATH NOTE films), and the main characters are fairly relatable. BATTLE ROYALE created a stir in Japan’s Parliament due to its violence but it is a memorable film for anyone who has seen it, and I highly recommend it.

© Copyright 2012 by Colleen Wanglund

Meals for Monsters: THE WICKER MAN (1973)

Posted in 2012, 70s Horror, Classic Films, Cult Movies, Jenny Orosel Columns, Meals for Monsters, Pagans, Twist Endings with tags , , , , , , , on February 28, 2012 by knifefighter

MEALS FOR MONSTERS: THE WICKER MAN
Review and Recipes by Jenny Orosel

THE WICKER MAN (the original 1973 version —not the 2006 root canal of a remake) is a rarity among movies.  There’s a sense of playfulness to it, a little absurdity, Christopher Lee in a dress, a couple musical numbers…then an ending that completely blindsides you.  You can have as much fun the second time around watching, if not more.  Thus, it’s perfect to invite friends over for a flick and some food.

A police sergeant is called to a small Scottish island to investigate the disappearance of a young girl who may or may not even exist.  He finds the tiny village is run by gleeful pagans.  Being a devout Christian himself, he is immediately suspicious of them and knows their sacrilegious ways must mean a horrible fate awaits the child.  But can he discover what they’re up to before it’s too late?

WARNING—THE FOOD PREPARED HERE INCLUDE SPOILERS.  TRUST ME, DO NOT CONTINUE IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THIS MOVIE, OR HEARD ABOUT THE ENDING!

This time around, I will not be including a cocktail.  Just about everything drunk during THE WICKER MAN was ale.  A recipe for ale would be a bit boring: get bottle, open bottle, drink, repeat.  So instead, grab your favorite ale, and enjoy a two-part main dish.

As the harvest festival grows closer in the movie, there are loaves of bread made to look like a Sun God.  Why not have your own for the meal?

SUN GOD BREAD

All you need is a tube of refrigerated crescent dough.  If you find one that is uncut, simply unroll and get to work.  If not, simply unroll the whole thing and seal any perforations.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Cut a circle from the dough, place on an ungreased baking sheet, place triangles of dough around the circumference for the sun’s rays and create a face from any leftover dough (the amount of detail in the face is directly related to whatever artistic talent you may have).  Bake for approximately 13 minutes, or until golden brown.

#

I did some research into Scottish stews, and it seems there are two ingredients that separate it from other countries’ stews: red currant jam and oatmeal.  Sounds like breakfast, but, in fact, it makes for a tasty meal.

SCOTTISH BEEF STEW

Ingredients:

1 pound beef stew meat, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 pound tiny potatoes
4 carrots cut, into bite size pieces
4 stalks celery, cut into bite size pieces
1 onion, cut into large chunks
1 pint mushrooms, quartered
¾ cup red wine
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp red currant jelly
2 tbsp oatmeal
1 carton (32oz) beef broth

Directions:

Brown the meat in a large pot.  Add the red wine and bring to a boil.  Once it is boiling, add the jelly and tomato paste.  Stir until they are melted together.  Add the rest of the ingredients.  Bring to a boil.  Cover and simmer for two hours.  Enjoy with a slice of the Sun God bread!

#

Now, dessert is where the fun begins.  There is no better way to end this meal than with a Wicker Cake, and it’s rather simple.

WICKER CAKE

Prepare a box of cake mix (I used Duncan Hines Butter Cake) as directed on the package, and bake it in a 13×9 pan.  Have a baking sheet with sides ready.  Once the cake is cooled, cut into six pieces: a large rectangle for the body, four narrow rectangles for the limbs (cut an angle for the arms so they hang slightly at the body) and a small square for the head.  Arrange them on the baking sheet, trimming as needed to fit.  Congratulations—you now have a Wicker Cake. 

THE WICKER MAN is a truly scary movie that still has a sense of humor about itself.  There’s no reason not to share that good-natured fun with your meal as well.

© Copyright 2012 by Jenny Orosel

GONE (2012)

Posted in 2012, Cinema Knife Fights, Killers, Michael Arruda Reviews, Mystery, Serial Killer flicks, Suspense, Thrillers with tags , , , , , on February 27, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  GONE (2012)
By Michael Arruda

 

(The Scene:  A police station.  MICHAEL ARRUDA is arguing with several homicide detectives.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Aren’t you going to look for him?  I told you, he’s missing.  He was supposed to do this review with me, but he never showed up.

DETECTIVE #1:  Hasn’t he missed reviews before?  We know for a fact that you guys on occasion write solo reviews.

MA:  You read the column?

DETECTIVE #1:  Yep.

MA:  Like it?

DETECTIVE #1:  Love it.

MA:  Thank you.

DETECTIVE #2:  Didn’t you say he was going to a party afterwards?  Maybe he just blew you off and went straight to the party.

MA:  He’s not there.  I checked.

DETECTIVE #2:  I think you should come with us.

MA:  Why?

DETECTIVE #1:  We read the column, remember?  We know you two are constantly trying to do each other in.  If he’s missing, you’re our #1 suspect.

SUSPECT #1 (upon entering scene):  Then, who am I?

MA:  An unpaid extra. Okay, folks, this opening has gone on long enough, and since things aren’t looking too good for me, I’m outta here!  I’ll have to find L.L. on my own!

(MA flees the police station, jumps into a car, and speeds away, leading the police on a high speed chase.)

MA:  Looks like I’m going to have to drive and review today’s movie at the same time, as well as find L.L.  Luckily, I can multitask.

(Car nearly hits an old lady crossing the street, but MA swerves out of the way just in time.)

MA:  Sorry, ma’am!  (She flips him the bird.) (He shakes his head)  Old ladies today!

Anyway, today I’m reviewing GONE (2012), the new thriller starring one of my favorite young actresses working today, Amanda Seyfried.  And you know what?  Seyfried can carry a movie.  She carries GONE, because without her, this film’s got nothing.

In GONE, Amanda Seyfried plays Jill, a young woman who claims she was abducted by a strange man and held in a hole in the middle of the woods, before she managed to escape.  The police don’t believe her story because they never found the hole or any other evidence that corroborated her story.

Furthermore, Jill believes her abductor is a serial killer, and she has researched information of other women who have gone missing in the area over the years, and she hounds the police incessantly about her phantom kidnapper.  Needless to say, she has not made herself many friends on the force.

When Jill’s sister Molly (Emily Wickersham) disappears just before an important college exam, Jill is convinced that Molly has been abducted by the same man.  Of course, the police don’t believe her.  They believe it’s all in Jill’s head, as she has a history of psychological problems.

Without the police’s help, Jill decides it’s up to her to find and rescue her sister.  Jill also believes—because her abductor prepared to kill her at sunset— that the man will also kill her sister by sunset, and so she knows she only has the one day to save her sister.  And she’ll have to elude the police to do it, because they consider her armed and dangerous.  She’s carrying a gun, which she’s not supposed to be doing because of her psychiatric record.

And so it’s a race against time.  Jill has less than 24 hours to locate and save her sister, all the while on the run from the police.  Unless of course, the police are right, and there is no serial killer.

(MA races through a red light, plowing through a busy intersection of fast moving cars and trucks.  Miraculously, MA’s car makes it through without a scratch.)

MA:  Gotta love CGI!

There’s really not a lot to this movie.  GONE is a very average thriller.  It’s got an average cast and an average storyline, but it also has Amanda Seyfried, who is anything but average.  She’s in nearly every scene, and I never got tired of watching her.  As I said earlier, she carries this movie.  Without her, I wouldn’t like this movie, but with her, I gotta say I enjoyed it.

I thought she played Jill perfectly.  Jill is incredibly driven in her quest to save her sister.  She pulls guns on people, lies, makes up one story after another, takes people’s cars—behaviors that can easily be confused with insanity.  She does all this because she only has one day to save her sister’s life.

Seyfried convinced me that Jill firmly believes that her sister will die unless she finds her.  There is a heightened desperation to her performance, as if the character is overtaken by adrenaline and never stops.

Going in, I wasn’t crazy about the story, which I had seen neatly explained in the movie’s trailers.  Is Jill insane, or did someone really abduct her before, the same someone who now has her sister?  Fortunately, I didn’t have a lot of time to think about it during the film, because I was too busy watching Seyfried in action, evading the police while playing private investigator. The movie’s paced very well.  Director Heitor Dhalia keeps things brisk.

(MA’s car races along highway in fast motion, with a long line of police cars in hot pursuit.)

MA:  Allison Burnett wrote the screenplay, and she also wrote the screenplay for UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING (2012).  I’m sure writing a script for a cookie-cutter sequel in a dreadful series isn’t the best indicator of one’s writing talents.  Burnett does a much better job with GONE, which is a much better movie than UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING.  Then again, there aren’t going to be a whole lot of movies worse than UNDERWORLD:  AWAKENING.  At least GONE has characters who speak real dialogue and actually sound and act like real people.

(Car pulls up to MA’s car.  It’s driven by a vampire.)

VAMPIRE:  Hey!  I heard what you said.  I’m insulted.

MA:  Why?  You think you act and sound like a real person?  If that were the case, you’d be swearing at me right now for doing this.

(MA swerves his car and knocks vampire’s car off the road.)

VAMPIRE:  I will avenge this act of violence against my kind!   I will seek the assistance of—.  (His car crashes and blows up.)

MA:  See what I mean?  Phony video game vampire speak.

Seriously, though, the story in GONE is nothing to write home about.  It’s all rather silly when you think about it, and even though this one rose above its material, I did have several beefs with its story.

For starters, Jill finds clues so easily in this movie, the police here must be dolts.  She’s able to track down all this information in so short a time, and yet the police have had months to do the same but haven’t been able to come up with anything?  The premise that Jill can solve this mystery in less than 24 hours is not very believable.

Neither are the arguments the police use to debunk Jill’s assertions about her abduction.  The main reason the police don’t believe her story is because they weren’t able to find the hole in the park where she was buried, and thus couldn’t confirm her story.  This would make sense if it were a little park, but the park in the movie is a vast expanse of wilderness.  We’re talking acres here!  And they’re supposed to locate a little hole in the middle of the woods, and when they can’t, they assume it’s not there?  So, they just throw in the towel and call Jill crazy?  It’s kind of a dumb argument.

The police also cite the fact that Jill couldn’t identify her abductor as a reason why she couldn’t be believed.  Really?  You don’t think that a serial killer might try and hide his identity?  The police found this suspicious.  I didn’t.

The movie just doesn’t do a good job of making us see the police’s side of the story.  Their arguments have holes.

Another drawback is that GONE lacks a villain.  Since Seyfried carries this movie on her back, the film could have certainly used the presence of a nasty bad guy, but because throughout the movie we’re never sure if there really is a bad guy, a screen villain is obviously— and noticeably— absent.

I was dreading the ending to this one big time.  I feared it would be the old “the killer is the last person we expect” trick, which usually is a forced plot point and makes no sense.  Luckily, that’s not the case in GONE.  As I watched the ending play out, fearing the worst, I suddenly realized, “this ending works!” The fact that I wasn’t down on the ending was a pleasant surprise.

(MA drives into the woods.  Pulls car over and gets out.)

MA:  I’m here in the woods because I just received a clue.  (holds up phone with text message that reads, “Looking for L.L.?  Try the woods.”)

As I said earlier, the rest of the cast is average.  Daniel Sunjata, as Powers, the main cop on the case, and Katherine Moenning as his partner Erica, are both watchable, as is Wes Bentley as Peter Hood, an officer who seems to have a dark side.  The same can be said for Emily Wickersham, who we saw in last year’s I AM NUMBER 4, as Jill’s sister Molly, and Sebastian Stan, as Molly’s boyfriend Billy.

Jennifer Carpenter has an absolutely thankless role as Jill’s friend, Sharon.  Carpenter, if you remember, turned in a couple of memorable performances in QUARANTINE (2008) and THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE (2005).  Here she’s reduced to just a couple of scenes, none of them all that important.

GONE isn’t much of a thriller, either.  There’s no edge-of-your-seat action, no sweaty palms, no scares.  It plays much more like a mystery than a thriller, as we watch Seyfried’s Jill race against time to put the pieces of the puzzle together and find and rescue her sister.

But all this being said, I found GONE very enjoyable.  I liked it a lot, and it all comes down to Amanda Seyfried.  This movie works because she dominates each scene she is in, she’s extremely watchable, and even though you know this movie isn’t anything to write home about, she makes you believe in what she’s doing, she draws you into her story, and the funny thing is you don’t really care if she’s nuts or not, you still want to go along for the ride.

I give GONE three knives.  Take Seyfried out of this movie, and you’re looking at maybe 1 or 2 knives, at best.

Okay, we’re in the part of the woods where— there it is!  There’s the hole!  L.L., are you down there?  (points flashlight into hole and sees L.L. lying on the ground.)

L.L SOARES:  Hey, stop shining that light in my face!

MA:  What are you doing down there?

LS:  What does it look like I’m doing?  I was sleeping.

MA:  Sleeping?   In a hole in the middle of the woods?

LS:  Hey, it works for bears.  It’s time for me to get to that party anyway.  (Climbs out of hole).  So, how was GONE?

MA:  I just finished reviewing it.  I gave it three knives.

LS:  Three knives?  I think you have a crush on Amanda Seyfried.

MA:  My affection for her is purely professional.  Besides, you like her too.

LS:  Not enough to see GONE.  (Sirens are heard in the distance, getting closer.)  What’s going on?

MA:  It’s the police.  They’re after me.  It’s a long story.  We’d better get out of here.

LS:  It looks like another fine mess you’ve gotten us into.

MA:  Well, folks, that’s it for now.  We’re outta here.  We’ll see you next week with a review of another new movie.

VOICE:  This is the police.  We have you surrounded.

(LS scurries to the hole.)

MA (to LS):  Where are you going?

LS:  Back into the hole.  Come on down.  I have widescreen TV down there.  We can preview next month’s movies.

MA:  Popcorn?

LS:  Of course.

(LS & MA disappear into the hole as the police converge on the scene.)

OFFICER #1:  Do you smell popcorn?

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives GONE~three knives.

(and it doesn’t hurt if you’re an Amanda Seyfried fan)

Screaming Streaming: BLITZ (2011)

Posted in 2012, Action Movies, Cop Movies, Michael Arruda Reviews, Screaming Streaming, Serial Killer flicks with tags , , , , on February 24, 2012 by knifefighter

SCREAMING STREAMING!
Movie Review:  BLITZ (2011)
By Michael Arruda

 

Jason Statham has been making movies for over a decade, but he’s still not a household name.  He should be.  As action heroes go, he’s one of the best in the business right now.

Statham stars in the new serial killer thriller BLITZ (2011), now available on Streaming Video.  BLITZ is one efficient little actioner, clocking in at 97 minutes.  Like its hard-hitting star, there’s not an ounce of fat on this one.

A British cop with anger issues, Brant (Jason Statham) is one step away from being thrown off the force.  He’s angry, impulsive, and violent, a liability to his fellow officers and the work they’re trying to do.  But when a serial killer who calls himself “Blitz” (Aidan Gillen) begins targeting police officers, the department wants every available man on the case, including Brant.

Brant teams with his newly appointed superior officer Nash (Paddy Considine) to hunt down Blitz, and it becomes a race against time as Blitz continues his brash daytime murders of police officers, even announcing to the press how many officers he intends to kill.  As the pressure mounts and emotions on the force skyrocket, Brant remains icy cold, focusing all his energies on one target, Blitz, who he intends to capture, dead or alive.

If BLITZ sounds like DIRTY HARRY GOES TO LONDON, you’re right.  There are obvious parallels connecting Statham’s Brant to Clint Eastwood’s iconic Dirty Harry character.  I was especially reminded of the original DIRTY HARRY (1971) because Aidan Gillen’s performance of the over-the-top brazen psycho killer Blitz reminded me a lot of Andrew Robinson’s Scorpio, the crazed killer in DIRTY HARRY.

However, BLITZ doesn’t play like a rip-off of DIRTY HARRY, or of other serial killer movies.  It stands on its own and plays much better than its material.  One of the major reasons it rises above the standard serial killer clichés is the presence of Jason Statham.

Statham is an extremely watchable actor, mostly because he’s very believable as an action hero.  In the film’s opening, when he confronts three thugs on the street and handily kicks their butts to kingdom come, you believe it.  Moreover, Statham’s cool no-nonsense style is easy to digest, making him very likeable, even when he’s kicking the crap out of someone.  I had really enjoyed Statham in KILLER ELITE (2011), and he’s every bit as good here in BLITZ, maybe even better.

BLITZ has a very efficient screenplay by Nathan Parker, based on a novel by Ken Bruen, and presents a story that is as compact as it is effective.  Sure, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before, but sometimes banalities can be overlooked if they’re done right.  Such is the case with BLITZ.  The killer is a lunatic.  You want to see him stopped, and you want to see a guy like Brant be the one to stop him.  Pure and simple, the film works on this level.

I also liked that the action took place in London.  It was just different enough to be refreshing.  And while the story is definitely driven by the desire to see Brant catch Blitz, the movie also does a good job showing us the stresses of police life without beating us over the head with it.  The story provides just enough police drama to serve as a realistic reminder that a cop’s life can be hell, day in and day out.

In addition to Jason Statham, the rest of the cast is also very good.  Paddy Considine is excellent as Nash, Brant’s superior officer.  Nash is another officer who was about to be booted off the force but then receives a transfer to Brant’s department to earn a second chance.  No clichés here, no “the new captain’s a phony or a jerk who talks big but knows nothing.”  No, Brant and Nash bond immediately, mostly because Brant tells Nash at the outset that in spite of all that has happened, he knows Nash is a good cop.  It’s a refreshing moment as those things go.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie has Nash pouring out his soul to Brant as they sit in Nash’s apartment having a drink.  Nash tells Brant the awful story of what happened to him earlier on the force, and how he almost threw his life away.  It’s a completely engrossing moment, and when he’s finished telling his tale, Nash looks at Brant, and Brant’s sleeping.  I laughed out loud.

Aiden Gillen is also very good as the killer Blitz.  He really makes you hate him, and you can’t wait for Statham’s Brant to catch up with him.

Zawe Ashton turns in a believable performance as Brant’s buddy on the force, Falls.  She plays yet another officer plagued by personal problems.

BLITZ was directed by Elliott Lester, and he has a quick, likable style.  The movie packs a punch as it flies by rapidly.  It’s also not overly gratuitous.  Blitz’ execution style murders are bloody and intense without being over-the- top violent.  This is an action film, not a horror movie.

I liked BLITZ a lot.  Jason Statham is fun to watch, and he’s supported by a fine group of actors who make this one a winner.  You’ve got a crazy serial killer on the loose and a rogue tough-as-nails cop going up against him, who’ll stop at nothing to get the killer’s head on a platter.  What’s not to like?

So, if you’re in the mood for hard-hitting action tale, one that’s as believable as it is entertaining, then you should check out BLITZ.   You won’t be disappointed if you’re a Jason Statham fan, and if you’re not a fan yet, chances are you will be after seeing this movie.

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda

A “Suburban Grindhouse Memories” Classic: GANJA AND HESS (1973)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2012, 70s Horror, Art Movies, Blaxploitation, Classic Columns, Cult Movies, DVD Review, Experimental Films, Indie Horror, Nick Cato Reviews, Suburban Grindhouse Memories with tags , , , , , , on February 23, 2012 by knifefighter

(Editor’s Note: Because of circumstances beyond his control, Nick Cato wasn’t able to get me his latest SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES column this week. So I figured, instead of having a hole in our calendar, I’d just reprint one of his best old columns from 2010. Keep in mind, with the next installment, Nick will have written 47 columns of SGM for us here at Cinemaknifefight.com. This one was Number 4. A true classic that deserves a bigger audience. Mr. Cato will be back with a brand new column next time.)

******

SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES No. 4:  Bill Gunn: a True Filmmaking Genius.
By Nick Cato

In the early 1970s, “blaxploitation” cinema was all the rage on the grindhouse circuit (be it urban OR suburban).  When director Bill Gunn was approached to make a film in the vein of BLACULA, he took the money and did something far more serious.  Instead of trying to make an exploitative quickie, Gunn went for the gusto and delivered an artistic deep-thinker that (to this day) has many who see it believing it’s a vampire film.  It isn’t.  In fact, Gunn went all-out as he wrote, directed, and stars in this surreal, nightmare of a film that requires at least three to four viewings before even half of what it has to say will hit you.

Since I was only five years old when GANJA & HESS was originally released, it was a treat to (finally) see this for the first time at a revival theater last month (April, 2010).  This was the first time that I knew–halfway through a screening–that I’d have to see what I was watching again (and as soon as possible) just to keep my train of thought (this turned out to be one of the most challenging films I’ve reviewed yet).  So I purchased a DVD the next day and watched it three more times.

The film follows Dr. Hess Green (played by legendary NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD star, Duane Jones), his new assistant George (Bill Gunn), and his assistant’s wife, Ganja (the lovely Marlene Clark).  Despite what some reviewers have said (I’m assuming they saw one of the several, heavily-edited/re-titled versions), Hess DOES NOT become addicted to blood AFTER being stabbed by his assistant; the very beginning of the film scrolls these titles (over some magnificently eerie music): “Doctor Hess Green … Doctor of Anthropology, Doctor of Geology … While studying the ancient Black civilization of Myrthia … was stabbed by a stranger three times … one for God the Father, one for the Son … and one for the Holy Ghost … stabbed with a dagger, diseased from that ancient culture whereupon he became addicted and could not die … nor could he be killed.”  So, for the record, Hess is already addicted to blood when his suicidal assistant George moves in; Hess is a wealthy anthropologist living in a tremendous mansion (African American stereotypes don’t exist in this film, instantly banishing a “blaxploitation’ label from it).  He even manages to stop George’s first attempt at suicide; George (apparently aggravated at this) eventually attacks Hess with the ceremonial dagger Hess had brought back from Africa.  Hess survives, but George ends up shooting himself in Hess’ bathroom.  When Hess discovers George’s body, we see him fall to his knees and lap his blood (the main scene I’m assuming has caused many to label this a vampire film).

George’s wife Ganja shows up at the Hess mansion to wait for her husband (Hess has him stored in a freezer in the basement).  And this is where GANJA & HESS truly becomes strange.  After discovering her husband in the freezer and assuming Hess killed him, she ends up believing Hess’ testimony of George’s suicide and she helps Hess to bury him.

Ganja & Hess fall in love, get married, and Hess eventually makes her a part of the “Myrthia” tribe, bringing its ‘blood curse’ upon her (one edited version, released in the 80s on VHS as BLOOD COUPLE, gave the film a standard (and false) vampire-film packaging).  Things get even stranger when Hess brings a man home for Ganja to feed on (she ends up having an affair with him first) and Hess begins to doubt his Christian roots when he finally begins to feel guilt after feeding from a young mother–guilt that nearly leads him to a nervous breakdown.

One of several misleading re-titles for Ganja & Hess: BLOOD COUPLE

It should be pointed out here that while everything I’ve just described is happening, the incredibly spooky score by Sam Waymon, along with some dazzling cinematography (I swear Dario Argento was inspired by much of this) helps to give GANJA & HESS a constant aura of surreal darkness that won’t leave your mind anytime soon.  One commentary track I listened to on the “GANJA & HESS: THE COMPLETE EDITION” DVD (Image Entertainment) mentioned that the opening sequence is told from 12 points of view (after re-watching it, I’m betting this is why so many are turned off to the film early on—it’s truly unlike anything you’ve seen before).  And this is just one thing that makes GANJA & HESS such a unique–and challenging–film.

GANJA & HESS is a film about religious identification and one man’s realization that he has strayed from the faith of his upbringing.  After making peace with God at a church service, he attempts to bring Ganja with him.  The film’s final moments feature Hess’ death and Ganja contemplating her own life: to me it’s apparent she likes what Hess has turned her into by smiling when she visualizes the dead man Hess had brought home for her running naked out of their pool.  And being a sequel-less film, we’re left to consider and debate if this is so.

Again, this is NOT a vampire film.  It’s an intense, unusual study of a millionaire who, despite having all there is to have in this world, is haunted by what lies beyond this life.  And yet despite this underlying theme (as well as a church service scene that goes on for WAY too long), I don’t think it was Gunn’s intention to make an evangelical film (and if it was, I’d like to know what church–in 1973– approved of extended shots of full-frontal male and female nudity, pagan blood drinking, and an artistic-look at suicide).

Watch GANJA & HESS.  Then watch it again, even if you don’t like it the first time.  Despite a few slow stretches, the film has plenty to offer to those who take the time to contemplate and dig out its treasures.

I can’t remember the last time a film has caused so much conversation between my friends and me.  GANJA & HESS, despite its all-black cast, is NOT a blaxploitation film.  It is a genuine hybrid of horror and art house filmmaking that stands alone.  It can not (and will not) ever be duplicated.

This is a true gem from Bill Gunn, and a gem I’ll surely be revisiting again and again.

© Copyright 2010 by Nick Cato

(Editor’s Note # 2 – This movie had a LOT of alternate titles during its (several) runs on the grindhouse circuit. They include: BLACK EVIL, BLACK VAMPIRE, BLOOD COUPLE, DOUBLE POSSESSION, VAMPIRES OF HARLEM and BLACKOUT: THE MOMENT OF TERROR. Confusing enough for you?)

BURKE AND HARE (2010)

Posted in 2012, British Horror, Grave Robbers!, Historical Horror, Indie Horror, Paul McMahon Columns, The Distracted Critic with tags , , , , , on February 22, 2012 by knifefighter

BURKE AND HARE (2010)
Review by Paul McMahon– The Distracted Critic

BURKE AND HARE (2010) opens with the line “This is a true story, except for the parts that are not.” It’s a taste of John Landis humor, and an excellent launching pad for this dark comedy, the first horror-themed feature film Landis (best known for AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, 1981) has directed since 1992’s INNOCENT BLOOD.

The story of BURKE AND HARE is one every self-respecting horror fan knows—a tale of grave robbers who murdered undesirables to sell their bodies to science, rather than do any actual grave digging. Burke is played by Simon Pegg (SHAUN OF THE DEAD, 2004 and PAUL, 2011) and Hare is Andy Serkis, best known as the motion-capture model for Gollum in THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY (2001-2003) and for Kong in KING KONG (2005).

The story takes place in 1828, a time before Gray’s Anatomy (the textbook, not the TV show), a time when the internal organs of the body weren’t understood. In Edinburgh, Scotland, two schools of medicine compete over freshly executed bodies to study. At the start of the tale, Doctor Monro (Tim Curry—Pennywise the Clown in IT, 1990, and of course Dr. Frank-N-Furter in the 1975 midnight classic, THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW), head of Scotland’s Royal College of Surgeons, has used his political influence to pass a new city by-law stating that all executed bodies are to be turned over to his school, free of charge. This leaves Doctor Robert Knox (Tom Wilkinson—THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE, 2005), head of Barclay School of Anatomy, to rely on grave robbers to supply his cadavers. Trouble is, Captain Tam McLintock (Ronnie Corbett), head of the Royal Guard, has declared war on grave robbery and has men patrolling every graveyard every night.

Enter Burke and Hare, two con men desperately in need of money. After spending their last coin on beer, they return to Hare’s place, where his wife Lucky, played by Jessica Hynes (SHAUN OF THE DEAD, 2004) informs them that Old Donald, their tenant, hasn’t paid his rent because he’s dead. She instructs them to get rid of the body before he starts to smell as bad as them. They fold him in half and stuff him into a barrel, intending to hide him at a construction site.

Being the lazy bastards they are, they stop for a pint on the way, and it is here they learn about Doctor Knox’s problem. A quick change of plans later, they’ve got five pounds in hand and a promise of five more for every “fresh” corpse they bring in.

With graveyards too well guarded to obtain bodies in the usual way, Burke and Hare try hanging around in unsavory places, hoping to luck into freshly deceased bodies to swipe. When they come up empty, they hatch a plan to help some of the old and unsavory citizens of the city off this mortal coil.

Success, of course, breeds only the need for more money.

Burke falls for Ginny Hawkins (Isla Fisher, WEDDING CRASHERS, 2005), a dreamer who wants to put on an all-female performance of Macbeth, and is hunting for a financial backer who shares her vision. Burke takes the job, and soon one thing after another goes wrong, leaving him desperate for more and more money. Hare’s wife Lucky deduces what her husband is up to and demands a cut to keep quiet. “Call it a tax between a man and wife.” As more and more people disappear, Captain Tam McLintoch of the Royal Guard strives to solve the mysteries and bring the perpetrators to the gallows.

Simon Pegg is making a career out of playing the loveable bum who remains affable while everything around him falls apart. It’s a role he’s good at, and he’s chosen movies that keep him in that realm of performance. As Burke, he excels at playing a character who realizes that his situation has him on a dangerous slope, yet is unwilling to stop until he gets what he wants—Ginny’s adoration, preferably in the form of sex.

Andy Serkis is so well-known for playing motion-capture creatures that his performance surprised me. He positively shines as Hare, a lazy bum and all-around lout who likes life a whole lot better when he’s making money, and is astonished to discover that he really does love his wife.

Isla Fisher is wonderful as Ginny Hawkins, a peasant girl with delusions of class, who is determined to better herself in a time when women are seen as servants, slaves or whores. The entire supporting cast is excellent, each of them playing their part straight, leaving the laughs to come from the situations and the storyline, rather than from actors winking at the camera.

The script by Piers Ashworth and Nick Moorcroft is spot-on, as is Landis’s direction. The movie was so well-constructed, that it was over before the first jolt of wander-bug hit me.  It’s a shame the film hasn’t become wildly popular, because there’s nothing lacking here. Landis has knocked another one out of the park, and his passion is obvious.

If I absolutely had to find a fault with the movie it would be that Tim Curry doesn’t have a lot to do. Still, his part is memorable and necessary, and missing him isn’t a good enough reason to knock points off. I give BURKE AND HARE five stars, with no time outs at all.

© Copyright 2012 by Paul McMahon

Me and Lil’ Stevie: SALEM’S LOT

Posted in 2012, 70s Horror, Me and Lil' Stevie, Peter Dudar Reviews, Stephen King Movies, TV-Movies, Vampires with tags , , , , , , , on February 21, 2012 by knifefighter

Me and Lil’ Stevie
Raise The Stakes In
SALEM’S LOT (1979)
By Peter Dudar

Exterior: Night

(Establishing shot of a lone Victorian house on a hillside. The moon is climbing just overhead, illuminating a sign on the side of the road that reads “Salem’s Lot.” The wind picks up, blowing tree limbs about, making the landscape seem almost alive. Camera pans slowly around the house to a set of bulkhead doors that lead down into the basement. The doors fly open, and the camera travels downstairs into the basement, where rats scamper across the floor. A figure steps out of the shadows. It is a man holding a ventriloquist dummy of the Master of Horror, Stephen King.)

Peter: Greetings, and welcome to another edition of ME AND LIL’ STEVIE.

Lil’ Stevie: Wassup, Constant Viewers? Welcome to my hizzle!

Peter: Um, we don’t live here. This is actually the Marsten House, the uncredited star of Tobe Hooper’s 1979 television miniseries masterpiece SALEM’S LOT, based on Stephen King’s 1975 novel. King’s novel was written on the supposition of what Dracula might have done if he’d survived his onslaught in London and fled to the United States. The result was the corruption and death of an entire New England town, fallen to bloodthirsty vampires.

Lil’ Stevie: And THAT came after my short story, “Jerusalem’s Lot,” which sets the stage for a Colonial era township that will eventually become Salem’s Lot. In that story, the town has already fallen once into…

Peter: Save it, Knot Head! We’re here to discuss movies. And our movie centers around Ben Mears (David Soul, television’s Kenneth “Hutch” Hutchinson of STARSKY AND HUTCH, 1975-79), a novelist who returns to his childhood home to write about the Marsten House. Mears has always known of the bad history of the house, and is somewhat disappointed to discover that the house has already been purchased by Kurt Barlow (Reggie Nalder, MARK OF THE DEVIL, 1970) and his business associate Richard Straker (James Mason, NORTH BY NORTHWEST, 1959), who have apparently come to Salem’s Lot to open an antiques shop. It seems that Barlow is never actually around in the Lot, so Straker has to be the mouthpiece for the two.

Lil’ Stevie: Straker is more like Barlow’s keeper, making all the “mortal” preparations so that the vampire can arrive safely and undetected. And did you notice how much Straker sounds a lot like Stoker? I did that on purpose. I’m so cool!

Peter: The REAL Stephen King did a fabulous job plotting out all the necessary details to maintain Barlow’s anonymity. But there are a few major discrepancies between the novel and Hooper’s film, which we will discuss later. For now, let’s focus on the rest of the citizens of Salem’s Lot. There are a lot of characters and conflicts to uncover, which help drive the story and establish the proper chain of events. Foremost, with Mears returning to the Lot, he begins retracing his own past by visiting the local high school and getting in touch with his former English teacher, Jason Burke (Lew Ayres, ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, 1930), who is putting together the annual town pageant with some of his students.

Lil’ Stevie: Particularly Mark Petrie (Lance Kerwin, OUTBREAK, 1995), and his pals Danny and Ralph Glick (Brad Savage and Ronnie Scribner).

Peter: Mears also meets Susan Norton (Bonnie Bedelia, DIE HARD, 1988), who happens to be a fan of his writing. The two have a romantic spark, only Susan’s bull-headed ex-boyfriend Ned Tibbets (Barney McFadden, INTERSECTION, 1994) still isn’t over her.

Lil’ Stevie: We also meet the real-estate agent Larry Crocket (Fred Willard…c’mon, EVERYBODY knows Fred Willard), and his lovely secretary, Boom-Boom Bonnie Sawyer (Julie Cobb, DEFENDING YOUR LIFE, 1991). Larry and Bonnie are having an adulterous affair, of which her husband Cully (George Dzundza, BASIC INSTINCT, 1992) is becoming privy to.

Peter: Larry also works for Straker, and upon instruction, Larry recruits Cully to drive to Portland to pick up a furniture crate and bring it back to the Marsten House. Only Cully has other plans, and will be busy catching Bonnie and Larry in the act of infidelity. Cully passes the job on down to Ned Tibbets and Mike Ryerson (Geoffrey Lewis, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, 2005), who runs the local cemetery. The two drive to Portland and pick up the crate, and return it to the Marsten House, but the two get spooked off because, a) the crate is cold as ice, b) the crate seems to move around in the bed of the trailer, and c) the Marsten House seems to radiate evil.

Lil’ Stevie: Freakin’ pansies!

Peter: You’d have done the same thing, Big Mouth!

Lil’ Stevie: Would Not!

Peter: Shhhh…did you just hear that?

Lil’ Stevie:  (Nervously) Hear what?

Peter: BOO!

Lil’ Stevie: Ayiiiiii! (Starts to cry and tremble).

Peter: Aw…I’m sorry, I was just kidding.

Lil’ Stevie: You really are a jerk!

Peter: Anyway, where were we? Ah, yes…We have Mark Petrie and the Glick brothers. Mark appears to be a caricature perhaps of Stephen King as a boy. Mark delights in horror films and masks and models and dioramas…all the stuff that the rest of us horror geeks grew up with but have never seemed to outgrow. Because of this, Mark seems a very likely combatant against the coming evil facing Salem’s Lot. The Glick Brothers aren’t as fortunate. After spending the evening rehearsing for the pageant, the Glick boys race home, only to be accosted by an unseen figure as they pass through the woods. Danny, the older, makes it home safe. Ralphie is abducted (by Straker, which we will learn a few scenes later when Straker arrives back at the Marsten House and finds the crate that Ned and Mike have delivered…which has been smashed apart).

Lil’ Stevie: And here’s where the real scares begin!

Peter: After Ralph’s disappearance, he comes back to see his brother. Only, his brother’s bedroom window is on the second floor of the house. In a moment of vividly constructed gothic fright, the vampire-Ralph floats up to the window, immersed in moonlight, and begins scratching on the glass. In a daze of almost hypnotic confusion, Danny walks over to the window and opens it, and invites his brother in, who promptly delivers a bloodthirsty bite to his neck. The scene is done spectacularly, with hair-raising music and lighting, and the terrible glow of Ralph’s vampire eyes makes TWILIGHT’s Edward look like a candy-assed fairy princess.

Lil’ Stevie: (Sighing) Vampires were scary once!

Peter: Danny grows sick because of the vampire bite, and Susan’s father, Dr. Bill Norton (Ed Flanders, THE EXORCIST III, 1989), is called in to help. Danny is hospitalized, where he gets a second visit from Ralphie before finally succumbing. Danny dies, and has his funeral up in the cemetery.

Lil’ Stevie: Only, Mike Ryerson never gets the body interred properly. After the service, he starts to cover the body, only to hear scratching sounds coming from inside the coffin. He opens the coffin, and Vampire-Danny sits bolt-upright and bites him.

Peter: And thus begins the transformation of the town. Salem’s Lot slowly becomes pandemic, forcing many folks to leave outright, while the rest struggle to understand what’s going on. Only Ben Mears and Mark Petrie know for sure, and their job is to make everybody else understand what’s going on without sounding as if they’re both crazy.

Lil’ Stevie: You can see how my story mimics the original Dracula; with Jason Burke filling the role of Van Helsing, Bill Norton filling the role of Dr. Seward, and Mears filling the role of Jonathan Harker. And the Marsten House is obviously my version of Carfax Abbey. And did you notice how I deftly maneuver the tropes of vampirism with infectious disease, or how I juxtapose the concept of “the bad place” between the Marsten House (on a smaller scale) with Salem’s Lot as a whole on a bigger scale?

Peter: You’re very clever for stump!

Lil’ Stevie: Grrrrr!

Peter: The rest of the movie is watching how the chain of events plays out as Ben tries to solve the vampire mystery and confront Kurt Barlow and destroy him. But as I’ve mentioned earlier, there are discrepancies. Foremost is that in the movie, Barlow has been cast as a clone of Count Orlok in F.W. Murnau’s NOSFERATU (1922). In Hooper’s film, Barlow has no speaking parts, nor shows any real ability to think or plot or do much of anything other than show up on screen and look scary. But don’t get me wrong, this actually works out very well for the miniseries. When Barlow is finally introduced, in the scene where Ned Tibbets finally gets his comeuppance, the vampire looks absolutely terrifying with his pointed ears and rat-like facial features. And since he has Straker to do all his speaking and planning for him, it really adds that element of old-school gothic charm. The film looks very much like a throwback to the old Hammer movies, and with Mason’s British accent, it sells.

Kurt Barlow, the very scary vampire in SALEM'S LOT was inspired by the silent film NOSFERATU.

Lil’ Stevie: I planned it that way!

Peter: You did, huh?

Lil’ Stevie: Ayuh!

Peter: I think props really should go to screenplay writer Paul Monash, and to Tobe Hooper, himself. This picture was post-TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, and it really shows that Hooper improved in a lot of his storytelling sensibilities. Most importantly, I think, is his deliberate withholding of gore and violence. His less-is-more approach seems more focused on delivering shocks to the imagination rather than pleasing some ratings or censors board. Vampire attacks always seem to freeze on screen, with heightened musical orchestrations filling in the blanks, and it never ceases to send a chill down my spine. It is effective, as is his use of tone and atmosphere as part of his storytelling.

Lil’ Stevie: Don’t hold back…tell us how you really feel!

Peter: SALEM’S LOT really is classic King. It’s a frightening, fast-paced story, filled with great characters and scenery. And it delivers the scares. I put this one in my top-five King favorites of all time. And that says a lot, especially after three decades. In the past thirty years, how many vampire films have actually left you frightened and made you feel uncomfortable?

Lil’ Stevie: TWILIGHT made me feel very uncomfortable!

Peter: (Laughing) You know what I meant.

Lil’ Stevie: I do. And it’s a bummer, because SALEM’S LOT was remade in 2004, with Rob Lowe and Rutger Hauer. And with all the money and special effects they threw into it, they never matched for a second the thrill-ride that Tobe Hooper presented.

Peter: Agreed…Hey, what was that sound?

Lil’ Stevie: Yeah, like I’m going to fall for THAT one again…

Peter: No, really, I heard something…

(Without warning, the vampire Barlow lunges out of the shadows. There is fresh blood dripping off his fangs, and his talon-like claws are raised out, meaning to grab our heroes.)

Peter: Well, Lil’ Stevie, this is one time I think you can actually make yourself useful!

(Peter turns Lil’ Stevie so that his head is pointing right at the vampire’s heart. He lunges forward at the vampire and impales the monster with Lil’ Stevie’s wooden head. The vampire staggers backward and howls out in pain as Lil’ Stevie’s legs and arms flail comically. There is one final burst of blinding light, and then the vampire turns to ashes. Lil’ Stevie drops to the floor, cursing and swearing. Peter walks over and picks the dummy up.)

Lil’ Stevie: That was just…disgusting!

Peter: It’s a good thing you’ve got such a pointy head!

Thanks for joining us, everyone! See you again next month!

-END-

© Copyright 2012 by Peter N. Dudar