Archive for the Foreign Films Category

Geisha of Gore Review: BLACK RAT (2010)

Posted in 2013, Asian Horror, Colleen Wanglund Reviews, Enigmatic Films, Foreign Films, Geisha of Gore Reviews, Killers, Revenge!, Slasher Movies with tags , , , , , on April 30, 2013 by knifefighter

GEISHA OF GORE REVIEW: BLACK RAT (2010)
By Colleen Wanglund

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BLACK RAT (Kuronezumi) is a 2010 Japanese horror film written by Futoshi Fujita—whose only other writing credit is for a film titled KILL (2008)—and directed by Kenta Fukasaku, son of legendary director Kinji Fukasaku, known for such films as BATTLE ROYALE (2000), THE GREEN SLIME (1968), and the Japanese sequences of TORA! TORA! TORA! (1970) (after the studio fired Akira Kurosawa for going way over budget). As a matter of fact, Kenta worked as an assistant to his father on BATTLE ROYALE and finished directing the sequel BATTLE ROYALE II (2003) after Kinji’s death.

Six high school friends each receive a text message telling them to meet in a classroom at their school at midnight.  The message comes from Asuka, who committed suicide a few months earlier.  Four of the teens arrive on time where they are greeted by a girl in a rat mask—the big kind that team mascots would wear.  The masked girl takes attendance and tells the teens there will be “tests” that they must pass in order to gain her forgiveness.  She communicates with them through the use of flash cards. Upon challenging her, the kids are presented with the bloody body of one of the friends who didn’t arrive to the meeting place on time.  He clearly was beaten to death.  “Rat Girl” then attacks the four kids in the classroom, sending them all scattering throughout the dark building. 

The rat girl catches up to one of the boys outside and tells him his test will be to stop her from scoring on a penalty kick on the soccer field.  The boy fails to stop the goal and is put out of his misery, to put it mildly.  One of the girls—a brainiac type—is strapped into a chair wired for electricity.  Her test is to score at least one hundred points in karaoke….which she fails to do.  As another of the friends arrives late to the party, the remaining boy and girl—a tough guy and his Lolita-styling girlfriend—face off in a dark hallway against “Rat Girl.”

The chronology of the film gets a bit skewered after a bit.  There are a myriad of flashback scenes showing how mean the teens were to Asuka.  Asuka had an idea for the school’s year-end festival.  She wants them all to do a variation on a dance they all learned as children that tells the story of seven little black rats who were friends (thus the reason for the mask).  Each one of the teens, we discover, is supposed to represent one of the little rats.  This is also why the girl is wearing the rat mask….to remind the friends of what they did to Asuka.  There are other scenes where the teens were supposed to meet to rehearse the dance but were goofing off, instead.  Asuka manages to smile and stay positive through all of the crap she gets from her supposed friends….though why they’re still her friends is anyone’s guess. There are a few interesting twists and we do eventually discover who the perpetrator behind the mask really is, although as with all good Asian horror, the identity of this person (or persons) is still a bit vague.

One thing that drew me to BLACK RAT is the fact that it is a slasher film…a genre sorely lacking in Asian cinema.  The best example of Asian slasher flicks is probably BLOODY REUNION (2006, South Korea), whose original title is TO SIR WITH LOVE, which makes no sense, but I digress.  BLOODY REUNION, directed by Lim Dae-wung, is a very good movie with some intense torture and death scenes, as well as some psychological terror.  It’s better than a lot of American slasher films.  BLACK RAT, on the other hand, tries to be a really good slasher flick—and it succeeds in some ways—but for the most part it falls short.

The film does a good job of insinuating violence without showing it, particularly with the death on the soccer field and the electrocution after the karaoke failure.  The focus here is on the psychological aspects of the horror.  What makes it effective is the viewer’s imagination making the deaths more gruesome than anything that could be shown on-screen, so it makes your heart race a little faster in anticipation of further horror.  Where BLACK RAT fails to deliver are two particular fight scenes that don’t ring true to me and are pretty much just filler—although one leads to a decent beating where again, the final kill blow is off-screen. 

The story ultimately falls flat, as well.  The film begins with Asuka’s suicide—a jump off the top of the school building—but nothing in the story that follows convinces me that these teens should or could be held responsible for her death.  Nothing they did could even be construed as bullying.  Yes, they were cruel, at times, but nothing to the degree that would convince me this chick was suicidal. And there is nothing else to make me believe that this girl had (or thought she had) reasons to kill herself. There is virtually no character development.  Am I supposed to feel empathy for Asuka and rally behind her, or whoever the rat girl is, in the quest for vengeance?  Am I supposed to feel sorry for the teens who are the objects of misplaced vengeance?  I don’t know because I’m never really given a chance to learn who these kids are.

On the other hand, I appreciated the fast pace of the film (minus the flashbacks).  The blood begins to flow very early on and the kills themselves are well-done.  The rat mask, which is mangled and bloody (Asuka wore it when she jumped) is quite creepy. The only SFX issue I had was a scene where a motorbike explodes.  It was a bad CGI job that was completely unbelievable in how it translated to film. 

Comparatively speaking, BLOODY REUNION gives a better and more original story effectively mixing slasher and psychological horror, and the characters are more fleshed out.  There’s also the subtext of mental illness and obsession that BLACK RAT doesn’t have.  BLACK RAT is not an original story and is full of clichés, which is fine, but it becomes so convoluted that whatever I found interesting can get lost.  I admit I’m a bit schizophrenic with BLACK RAT.  It’s not a film I would recommend to any hardcore slasher fan, but I still found it fascinating.  Even after everything I found wrong with it, I still don’t feel as though I wasted my time—and it’s a short 75 minutes. 

© Copyright 2013 by Colleen Wanglund

The "rat girl" shows them a particularly disturbing flash card in BLACK RAT.

The “rat girl” shows them a particularly disturbing flash card in BLACK RAT.

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CRITERION AFTER DARK: THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY (1961)

Posted in 2013, 60s Movies, Art Movies, Classic Films, Criterion After Dark, Enigmatic Films, Family Secrets, Foreign Films, Garrett Cook Articles, Lovecraftian Horror, Madness with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 24, 2013 by knifefighter

CRITERION AFTER DARK
THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY: ELDER GODS WHERE YOU LEAST EXPECT THEM
By Garrett Cook

throughaglassdarkly

It’s been forever since I’ve written one of these columns. People and cities and ideas and lives change and mine did in several big ways in the last year. I missed writing for Cinema Knife Fight, and now I’m gonna do it again. I thought maybe I would start by finding a weird, shocking, filthy, perverse Criterion film. Something that would blow your mind and take you to the very edge of perception. And I did. Did I ever.

Cronenberg? Bunuel? Malle? Nope. Asian horror? Nope. Some kind of Swedish erotic art film? A little warmer. Imagine if Tennessee Williams and H.P. Lovecraft collaborated on a family drama set on an isolated island, a place tinged with madness, with the stench of malevolent cosmology hanging in the air. And there’s sin and sexual dysfunction and a sinister play with a dark truth at its core. So let’s add a little Robert “The King in Yellow” Chambers to the mix. Moody black and white cosmic horror. Yeah, that’s the stuff. So, who pray tell is the twisted mind behind this?

The man whose work inspired Wes Craven’s THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972) and who had a knight in plague-stricken medieval Europe confront the grim reaper himself. A true master of the horror genre. Who knows terror like…Ingmar Bergman? That can’t be right. But it is. Bergman is the genius behind THE VIRGIN SPRING (1960), which was later remade (reimagined?) as THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, and pitted a knight in a chess game against death in THE SEVENTH SEAL (1957). His film THE MAGICIAN (1958) had all of the elements of one of Val Lewton’s classics of psychological horror: from a man terrorized by doubts in his psyche to a murder that may or may not have been in the province of the supernatural. THE MAGICIAN is, as well as being a period piece and an excellent story about the power of art, a masterpiece of quiet horror.

And so is THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY (1961).

THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY is one of those movies that defines in people’s mind what an art film is, or what a drama is. It looks on the surface to just be a story about a disintegrating family. The setup is not particularly horrific: a novelist takes his son, his daughter and her husband on vacation. His daughter is schizophrenic. She finds out his novel is about her and gets upset. Why is this of interest to a column on horror culture and filth in the Criterion Collection?

Because as I said, there are traces of cosmic horror and weird fiction here that are hard to ignore, but enjoyable to savor, as they seem to be in the wrong place. Near the beginning of the film, the son puts on a play starring the daughter, involving a knight’s strange relationship with a ghost. It’s cool that it calls back to the questing knight facing death in THE SEVENTH SEAL, but fans of vintage weird fiction might see another connection, another great “Death and the Maiden” play, embedded in a narrative: Robert W. Chambers’ The King in Yellow centers around an ominous play where the heroine’s sad song freezes the heart of the viewer. This play hints at love and death interweaving on a cosmic level, and at there being something deeply wrong in this family and on this island. The King in Yellow terrorizes you with evil in the walls of a metanarrative, and THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY does the same. Something is wrong with this play. Something is wrong with reality. Something is loose in the theater.

Karin comes to a realization in Bergman's THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY.

Karin (Harriet Andersson) comes to a realization in Ingmar Bergman’s THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY.

Although her father feels Karin is incurable, Karin’s husband is trying to remain optimistic. He does not believe her condition will have to eat away her life. And it doesn’t seem to, until Karin finds her father’s manuscript. In her father’s manuscript, the heroine is an incurable schizophrenic, in her father’s manuscript, Karin his hopeless. When Karin reads this, she is naturally upset, but it seems to go beyond that and once again into the realm of weird fiction and magic. The fictional Karin is sick, so the real Karin becomes sick. The fictional Karin is too crazy to heal, so the real one must be as well. It works like a voodoo doll and warps the world like the sinister play in Chambers’ story. It has even, in some ways, turned into a grimoire like the Necronomicon from Lovecraft’s books.

Karin begins describing her hallucinations about people behind the walls watching her, judging her. She seems to have a strange sixth sense that she’s not just the protagonist of a novel, but that of a movie as well. She seems to see the framework and that there’s no difference between life and art and reality and fantasy. She faces the realization of the protagonist of Lovecraft’s story Pickman’s Model, who discovers that the hideous paintings of his friend Pickman were modeled after a photograph from life. So the movie returns to the Pickman’s Model/King in Yellow delusion, the stuff that Lucio Fulci’s A CAT IN THE BRAIN (1990) and John Carpenter’s IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS (1994) deal with, along with Stephen King’s THE DARK HALF (made into a film by George Romero in 1993). The reality-warping power of madness shines in Karin’s dialogue, because Bergman has isolated the movie from the rest of reality. On this little island, all we have are people’s opinions on Karin’s madness, and Karin’s madness itself. Like Shakespeare’s power to conjure images, Karin’s makes things happen in your head, turning words into imagery, and therefore turning her words into reality.

Karin succumbs not just to insanity, but to her worst urges, performing an act of incest. Her behavior has gone from simply crazy to truly aberrant, committing on of the worst sins imaginable. This is a pretty sordid world Bergman has created, one without hope or moral high ground or a chance to gain rectitude, a world ruled over by a force that is less than benevolent. Without a single tentacle, we have the feelings Lovecraft sought to convey of smallness, depravity, insanity and isolation. And the feeling that Karin’s visions are right. There are people outside the screen watching and judging her and waiting for her to fall apart on both sides of these realities. And she is under the power of a man behind a camera who is frankly not going to be very nice to her.

As Karin finally cracks, she does so in fine Lovecraftian form, terrified by confronting the image of God. Creatures like Nyarlathotep and Cthulhu appear before the eyes of Lovecraft’s heroes to shatter their minds or prove that the minds of the hero have been shattered.

“God is a spider,” Karin says.

And while Bergman does not show the spider, we have now gotten the idea in our imagination that Karin has seen some dark god. Does it matter that she is crazy? Has this god driven her crazy? We can’t say definitively that Lovecraft’s protagonists have seen the Elder Gods, and we can’t say with any certainty that Karin doesn’t know something in this Swedish art-house gothic that shows no monster at all, THROUGH THE GLASS DARKLY has as much in common with Val Lewton’s deep psychological thrillers for RKO in the 40s, in fact sharing a lot of themes with CAT PEOPLE (1942), THE SEVENTH VICTIM (1943),. and other films of their ilk. And all leave you with the same horrendous impression that something is out there and that mad and malformed as the human mind can get, there is a grain of truth to all of the hallucinations and all of the cosmic horror.

The discriminating viewer is not just one who finds meaning in the depraved and the weird and the horrific, but also one who finds the depraved, the weird and the horrific in the things that academics and squares and stuffed shirts say are meaningful and THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY has that stuff in spades. So, if you like Lovecraft, Hitchcock or Lewton—or just an uncomfortable chill and a lump in your throat—Ingmar Bergman might be the scare you need.

© Copyright 2013 by Garrett Cook

Meals for Monsters: VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS (1970)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2013, Adult Fairy Tales, Coming of Age Movies, Foreign Films, Jenny Orosel Columns, Meals for Monsters, Vampires with tags , , , , on April 10, 2013 by knifefighter

MEALS FOR MONSTERS: VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS (1970)
Review and recipes by Jenny Orosel

VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS silverferox design (1) copy

You know that magic moment when you’ve discovered a hidden gem of a movie?  That moment when you see something totally different and you cannot wait to introduce your friends, your family, and random strangers on the Internet to something totally unique and unknown?  And then the feeling following when you realize, you’re not the first to discover it, not the second or third, but the nine hundred, fifty seven thousandth.  That happened with me and VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS (1970).  It turns out this is a classic unbeknownst to me, a film that influenced many that came after it (including being the inspiration for 1983’s IN THE COMPANY OF WOLVES), is currently playing on Criterion’s Hulu channel, and is taught in many college courses from Women’s Studies to Eastern European History.  I feel like my eyes have been opened, much like Valerie’s (albeit, to a much less profound degree).

For those who haven’t experienced it yet, VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS is a fairy tale from Czechoslovakia.  Not one of your Disney fables, but as they were in the Grimm days.  Thirteen-year-old Valerie is awakened from an afternoon nap when a thief steals her beloved earrings, the lone gift left by her long lost mother.  No worries, as they are returned the next day.  Only, now she begins menstruating, and when she puts the earrings back on, she can see the world as it really is.  Her suitor is now an eagle, the travelling missionary is a weasel, and her small village is overrun with vampires, from the local priest to her friend’s new husband, to her own grandmother.  The priest wants to corrupt her innocence, her grandmother wants to steal her youth, the eagle is hiding a dangerous secret, and nothing but evil seems to come from the missionary.  Can Valerie survive with her body and soul intact, or will she become yet another ‘monster’ herself?

Yes, a lot of the imagery in VALERIE is heavy-handed.  Weasels, vampires, demons…these were hardly unique in the seventies, and are even less so now.  But that hardly matters in VALERIE’s world.  The imagery is so stunning that it more than makes up for the lack of originality in the symbols.  ‘Lyrical’ is the best word I can come up with to describe the pacing.  Valerie moves through the week with such a gentle ease, despite the madness surrounding her.  And it’s hard to believe that Jaroslava Schallerova, the actress who portrayed Valerie, was only 13 herself when she made this flick.  She carries the movie, being in nearly every shot, without faltering, with a performance more nuanced than what most performers three times her age are capable of.  The only downside has nothing to do with the movie itself, but rather the DVD.  The subtitles are seriously lacking in the region 1 release from Facets Video.  It’s not quite at the “All your base are belong to us” level, but there are moments when it gets closer than it should.  From what I understand, the region 2 disc from Redemption, is much better, and I can only assume that Criterion’s streaming version is tightened and some of the grammatical issues have been fixed.

Coming up with a drink for this one was a little tricky.  In the past year, the Czech Republic put major restrictions on hard alcohol.  However, beer is more popular than ever over there.  So what would be a good beer drink to honor Valerie’s transition from childhood innocence to adulthood?  I present to you the:

BEER FLOAT

drink

Ingredients:
Fruit flavored ale
Chocolate ice cream

Directions: Feel free to adapt this to taste.  I used an apricot ale.  Strawberry ice cream was attempted, but the flavor was too light to stand up to the chocolate.

Kolaches, like VALERIE, are little bits of Eastern European deliciousness that I’ve only recently discovered. They can be made with sweet fillings or, as I used them here, with savory meat for a meal.  But they do need a vegetable side.  Boiled cabbage is a popular Czech side, but that’s not something I wanted to put people (or myself) through.  So I did the next best thing:

KOLACHES WITH BRUSSELS SPROUTS

dinner

Ingredients for the Kolaches:
1 roll refrigerated French bread dough
½ Polska Kielbasa, diced
8 mushrooms, diced
½ onion, diced

Directions: Preheat the oven to 375.  Sauté the sausage, mushrooms and onion until the veggies are cooked through.  Divide the bread dough into 8 equal parts.  Flatten each piece into a disc and put onto a greased cookie sheet.  Divide the filling evenly onto the center of the discs and press down with the palm of your hand.

Ingredients (for the Brussels sprouts):
1 pound Brussels sprouts, halved or quartered (depending on the size)
Other ½ of the onion, diced.
6 slices of bacon, cut into strips.

Directions: Toss the ingredients together and put on ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake both of these, at the same time, for 25 minutes.

One of the most popular Czech desserts is a pastry called a Trdelnik.  It’s an elaborate bit of sugary goodness that takes multiple risings, and has to be baked over an open fire on a spit.  As delicious as they are, it’s too much work and too much of an expense, involving equipment that you’ll maybe use once or twice again.  Instead, I took the traditional flavors of the Trdelnik and put them into a bread pudding:

MOCK TRDELNIK

dessert

Ingredients:
1 small loaf cinnamon bread, cubed
4 eggs
¾ cup milk
¼ cup sugar
1 can tart cherries (NOT pie filling, but the kind that are packed in water), drained.

Directions: Beat the eggs, milk and sugar.  Fold in the bread and cherries.  Pour into buttered baking dish (this can be done ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator until ready to bake).  Bake in an oven preheated to 350 for 25 to 30 minutes, or until done.  Can be served hot, room temperature, or cold, but best served with whipped cream.

I’ve seen my share of Female Puberty Horrors in my day. From CARRIE to GINGER SNAPS to countless others in between, the transformation from girl to woman has been done so many times as lycanthropic transformation, the emergence of witchly powers, as a sign that the demons within her has emerged with her menstrual blood.  It’s a welcome change in VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS that, it’s not the girl who is evil, but the world around her.  The added bonus is that it’s a fantastic movie that, although muddled at times, is both fascinating and gorgeous to watch.  If you’re in the same boat I was and have never seen it, do so now, and hopefully you’ll enjoy the dinner as well.

© Copyright 2013 by Jenny Orosel

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THALE (2012)

Posted in 2013, Adult Fairy Tales, CGI, European Horror, Fantasy, Feral people, Foreign Films, LL Soares Reviews, Mythological Creatures, Supernatural, Unusual Films with tags , , , , , , on April 1, 2013 by knifefighter

THALE (2012)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

thale

The last few years, we’ve been getting some interesting genre films from unlikely places, like RARE EXPORTS (2010), from Finland, which gave us the truth about Santa Claus and his elves (they’re really scary creatures), and TROLLHUNTER (also 2010), from Norway, about a special government agency focused on keeping Norway’s troll population in check. And of course, the films of Lars von Trier, who has been making unusual films in Denmark for several decades now (including the excellent THE KINGDOM, 1994—which was the inspiration for Stephen King’s underrated TV series, KINGDOM HOSPITAL—and more recent films, such as the distrurbing ANTICHRIST (2009) and the end of the world tale MELANCHOLIA (2011).

The new movie THALE (2012), like TROLLHUNTER, is also from Norway, and once again deals with creatures from Norwegian folklore, although instead of being about trolls, this time we learn about the huldras, woodland creatures that appear to us in the form of beautiful women with tails, that are much more dangerous than they appear to be.

As THALE begins, Leo (Jon Sigve Skard) and Elvis (Erlend Nervold) are at a house at the edge of the woods, which is also a crime scene. It’s their job to clean things up after the police are done. The two of them are also old friends, and Elvis is filling in for Leo’s usual partner. The two catch up on news about their lives and joke around, when they are told that only half of the victim’s body was found; the other half was most probably carried away by animals that live in the nearby forest. They have to try to find as much else of the corpse as they can, so they start looking around the property, tearing out the floors of the outhouse, etc., when they find a hidden stairway leading down to an underground bunker, which does not appear to have been used for years. Everything is covered in dust, and the canned goods that are stored down there have long since expired.

Elvis finds an old cobweb-shrouded cassette player, and somehow it still works. When he turns it on, the tape inside plays a conversation between a doctor (the victim of the crime they’re cleaning up, presumably), and a girl. Or rather, the doctor does most of the talking (actor Roland Astrand provides the doctor’s voice). We only hear the girl when she screams during a painful procedure.

Who are these people? It’s not long afterwards that the two men find Thale (Silje Reinamo), who appears to be a girl in her 20s, and who has been abandoned in this bunker since the doctor’s death. It seems that she was the subject of his experiments, and there’s something not right about her. Like the fact that she doesn’t speak, but if she touches you, she can project vivid images into your head that “speak” for her.

Silje Reinamo is very effective as the otherworldly THALE.

Silje Reinamo is very effective as the otherworldly THALE.

As the men try to figure out who and what Thale is, some strange creatures stalk the woods outside, and at one point some nefarious men in gas masks and hazmat suits (and toting guns) arrive. It seems there are several individuals who would like to have access to Thale, now that the doctor isn’t around. Which ones have her best interests at heart, and which ones want to hurt her? Well, that’s for the viewer to find out. And Leo and Elvis are caught in the middle, waiting for their compatriots to show up (they’re delayed).

THALE is an atmospheric little film,  that gives us a good feel for the woods of Norway. The acting here is pretty good. I liked Leo and Elvis a lot, and Silje Reinamo is particularly  good as the otherworldly Thale. Effectively written and directed by Aleksander Nordass (whose other work is mostly short films and TV movies), I thought THALE was an enjoyable horror/fantasy that reveals that there are probably many Norwegian fairy tale creatures who have yet to be explored on film.

Despite its short running time of 76 minutes, I thought THALE fleshed out its characters well, and has a compelling storyline. My only complaint is that the other huldras we see, which are much more animalistic than Thale, are CGI creations that really are not very convincing. For the most part, Nordaas films them from a distance, or fleetingly, but there are times when they are in full view, and they don’t look realistic at all. I think it actually would have been better to go with makeup effects for the creatures in this case; they are just more visceral and not as cartoony as low-budget computer effects.

Aside from this one setback, however, the movie is original and worth seeing. I give THALE three knives.

It was made in 2012, and was shown in Austin, Texas last year as part of the South By Southwest Film Festival, and is getting a brief theatrical run (mostly in arthouse theaters) now. It is also currently available on cable OnDemand.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

The original Norwegian poster for THALE.

The original Norwegian poster for THALE.

 

(Editor’s Note: I was originally planning to see and review the new Ryan Gosling film THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES this weekend, but it was in limited release and wasn’t playing anywhere near me. When it goes into wider release, I’ll be writing about it here).

LL Soares gives THALE  ~three knives.

Nick Cato’s TOP 5 FILM EXPERIENCES OF 2012

Posted in 2012, 2013, Best Of Lists, Foreign Films, Grindhouse, Martial Arts, Nick Cato Reviews, Suburban Grindhouse Memories with tags , , , , on January 3, 2013 by knifefighter

Top 5 Film Experiences of 2012
By Nick Cato

I spend more time each year seeing retro-screenings of older films than new films, but this past year featured some solid, new grindhouse-quality releases. Here are my top 5 favorite film “experiences” of the year, featuring both new and old titles.

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5) 4:44 LAST DAY ON EARTH (2012): As a huge fan of Willem Dafoe, I’m always thrilled to see his latest project, especially when it’s an independent film. This downbeat apocalyptic drama by cult director Abel Ferrara features a different demise for mankind and has a tone all its own. I caught a Q&A session with Ferrara on opening night in Manhattan, which greatly enhanced the evening.

Vulgaria-Movie-Poster-Large

4) VULGARIA (2012): This comedy from Hong Kong had the crowd floored on opening night of the annual Asian Film Festival in New York City this past July. The director stated AMC theaters had acquired the rights to distribute this in limited release across the USA, so hopefully that’ll be happening soon. It centers around a film producer who lectures his class on the crazy things he has done over the years to finance some films. It’s sheer hysteria from beginning to end, all the more amazing as the print I saw was subtitled. Don’t miss it.

switchblade sisters

3) SWITCHBLADE SISTERS (1975): Jack Hill’s legendary, off-the-wall all-girl gang epic was featured in a rare 35mm screening at the Nitehawk Cinema in Brooklyn this past fall. Being able to see this on the big screen for the first time was a highlight of my filmgoing year (and life). If you’ve never seen it, you have yet to live.

The_Raid_Redemption

2) THE RAID: REDEMEPTION (2011): This action-packed Indonesian film had limited distribution in the USA in 2012, and even showed up at some major multiplexes around the country. A SWAT team raids an apartment complex a local drug gang has turned into their headquarters. The action and fight sequences are nearly non-stop, and a particularly brutal form of martial arts is used by the entire cast. A couple of knucklehead teenagers saw the subtitles and left during the first three minutes. They have no idea how GREAT a film they missed. The director even managed to sneak a couple of cool twists in-between the barrage of violence and suspense. Simply incredible.

salo

1) SALO: THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM (1975): Possibly the most controversial film of all time, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s dark epic came to NYC’s IFC Center in June, 2012 for a one-time showing and a sold out crowd. If you have seen it, but not on the big screen, words can’t describe how much more INSANE everything looks (and sounds), especially on this vintage 35mm print. While slow and repetitive at times, brutally mean spirited, and just downright depraved, Pasolini’s artistic look at a bunch of fascists who kidnap, torture and humiliate a bunch of teenagers into submission at an isolated Italian villa is as beautifully shot as it is painful to watch. SALO isn’t a pleasant or even enjoyable film to sit through, but it’s one any lover of obscure cinema should see at least once in their life…and if they can do it in a theater, all the better. Hearing a sold-out crowd giggle through one of the more disgusting sequences made it a bit easier to go down. Love it or hate it, SALO is a film that once seen can never be forgotten. (Editor’s Warning: SALO is not for the squeamish)

© Copyright 2013 by Nick Cato

JUAN OF THE DEAD (2011)

Posted in 2012, Apocalyptic Films, Comedies, Dark Comedies, Exotic Locales, Foreign Films, Gore!, Horror, Just Plain Fun, LL Soares Reviews, Zombie Movies, Zombies with tags , , , , , on November 26, 2012 by knifefighter

JUAN OF THE DEAD (2011)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

In 2004, SHAUN OF THE DEAD gave us a horror comedy that hit all the right notes. Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost gave us a “dead on” comedy firmly planted in the world of the zombies created by George A. Romero in such classic films as NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978), and DAY OF THE DEAD (1985). The reason why it was so brilliant is because it was so well-versed in the world Romero created and played off that smartly.

SHAUN opened the floodgates for other zombie comedies. Some of them have been pretty forgettable, others like 2009’s ZOMBIELAND, have given us clever riffs on similar material. And now, along comes JUAN OF THE DEAD (aka JUAN DE LOS MUERTOS),  a zombie comedy that comes from (and is set in) modern day Cuba. How does it stack up to its predecessors? Quite well, actually.

Directed by Alejandro Brugues, JUAN OF THE DEAD begins with Juan (Alexis Diaz de Villegas) and his buddy Lazaro (Jorge Molina) floating on a raft, fishing. They catch a strange-looking fish that turns out to be a dead body. But it suddenly lifts its horrific head and tries to bite them! Lazaro shoots a harpoon through its skull, and the friends agree to keep this a secret.

But not long afterward, they find themselves in the middle of a full-blown zombie infestation in Havana!

As zombies fill the streets, Juan and Lazaro decide it’s time to take a stand—they start a service where they hire themselves out to kill zombies. They are joined by Lazaro’s son, Vladi California (Andros Perugorria), a young hippie lady’s man, as well as a transvestite named La China (Jazz Vila) and her hulking boyfriend, El Primo (Eliecer Ramirez). They all have their special weapons: Juan uses paddles from his raft, Lazaro has machetes, El China has a slingshot and El Primo uses his fists—and, because he faints at the sight of blood—El China blindfolds him and has to lead him around.

There’s also Juan’s daughter, Camila (Andrea Duro) who is visiting from Miami where she lives with her mother. She hasn’t seen Juan in years and picks the worst possible time to come visiting. Of course, as the movie progresses, we find out that Camila, who Juan is always trying to protect, is as tough as he is.

The name of their enterprise becomes “Juan of the Dead” quite by accident (it’s the way Vladi answers their ancient-looking telephone the first time they get a job). They are soon being hired to go to rich people’s houses to exterminate their loved ones, and hotels to get rid of occupants who are no longer breathing.

Juan and friends look for work during a zombie apocalypse in JUAN OF THE DEAD.

There are lots of scenes of Juan and his friends getting in bloody brawls with zombies, so there’s lots of gore. They also meet some interesting characters along the way, including a gun-toting preacher who only speaks English (albeit with a thick Cuban accent) and who no one else can communicate with (they only know Spanish). And, at one point, the gang is apprehended by soldiers who order them to take their clothes off and they are chained together in the back of a transport vehicle. Unfortunately, one of the other prisoners turns out to be a zombie, which leads to chaos.

The movie has its share of laughs. One scene came toward the end involves Lazaro telling Juan he has been bitten by a zombie and won’t make it to morning. It sounds pretty intense, but it turns out to be pretty funny.

It’s also interesting to get to see Havana, which was obviously a beautiful city once, but is now rundown and crumbling. We don’t get to see real Cuban locales on film very often, but I hope JUAN OF THE DEAD won’t be the last movie we get from Cuba anytime soon.

It’s a good cast, and Alexis Diaz de Villegas has a lot of heart in the lead role. While I didn’t think it was as funny as SHAUN OF THE DEAD, I thought it was a fresh take on the whole zombie apocalypse thing, and it’s worth checking out.

I give JUAN OF THE DEAD ~ three knives.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives JUAN OF THE DEAD ~three knives.

Meals for Monsters: TENDERNESS OF THE WOLVES (1973)

Posted in 2012, 70s Horror, Art Movies, Based on a True Story, Cannibalism, Crime Films, Foreign Films, German Horror, Jenny Orosel Columns, Meals for Monsters, Serial Killer flicks with tags , , , , on June 6, 2012 by knifefighter

Meals for Monsters: TENDERNESS OF THE WOLVES (1973)
Review and Recipes by Jenny Orosel

It’s not often a horror movie can truly state that it’s “based on a true story.” But when you have a movie based on the most notorious homosexual-pedophile-cannibal-serial killer out of Germany, it’s easy to claim that moniker. TENDERNESS OF THE WOLVES (1973) could give any of the slashers from that era a run for their money. But this one is extra creepy, knowing the events shown actually happened.

Fritz Haarmann, a small-time criminal, is made an undercover inspector by the German police, hoping his contacts will give them an in with the criminal underworld. Instead, Fritz uses his position of power to seduce young men and boys, more often than not killing, dismembering, and eating his victims. What he cannot eat himself, Fritz sells as black-market pork. Some of the most disturbing moments of the movie comes when Fritz hosts a dinner party and his guests gush and compliment him on the quality of his pork dishes, savoring every bite. With scenes like that, it was screaming for a “Meals for Monsters” treatment.

Fritz would often visit the local bar for to sell some pork and maybe indulge in a schnapps. Straight schnapps, though, can be a little harsh, and you’ll get enough harshness with the movie. Hence:

SCHNAPPS PUNCH

DIRECTIONS

Mix equal parts club soda, cherry juice and grape juice. Mix in a shot of apple schnapps (or two, if you think you’ll need it to get through the movie). Enjoy!

To not have a pork recipe in here would be like Willy Wonka without the chocolate.

GERMAN BEER-BRAISED PORK RIBS

INGREDIENTS

2 slabs spare ribs
1 large bottle of German beer
6 cloves garlic, whole
3 tablespoons dried rosemary
3 tablespoons sage
Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

Cut the ribs into batches with four or five ribs apiece. Put them into a roasting pan with the beer, garlic and herbs. Cover tightly, and put in a 300 degree oven for two hours. Note—after the braising, I would recommend putting the ribs under the broiler for a couple minutes on each side. It’s not necessary, but it gives the outside a nice bit of crust. Also, they’re great served with roasted potatoes. Fingerling potatoes are great, if just for the look on the plate.

For dessert, I’ve adapted a traditional German butter cake and added some apples. This is a bit time-intensive, so, if you don’t feel like waiting, you can always have a second Schnapps Punch for dessert (or a third, if you really need it to stomach eating ribs during a cannibal movie).

BUTTERKUCHEN WITH APPLES

INGREDIENTS

4 cups flour
1 pkg instant yeast
1cups warm milk
1 ¾ cup sugar, with 1/4cup set aside
10 tablespoons butter, softened
1 egg
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 small apple, diced

DIRECTIONS

Put the flour in a mixing bowl, with a small well scooped in the middle. Inside, place yeast, milk, and a pinch of sugar. Mix together and let activate for fifteen minutes. Then add the egg, 7 tablespoons butter and 1 ½ cup sugar. Mix well (I would suggest using a stand mixer for this, if one is available). Place in a greased bowl, cover, and let rise for 30 minutes.

Start the oven preheating to 375 degrees. Flatten the dough into a greased jelly roll pan (or small, rimmed cookie sheet). Make little indentations with the tips of your fingers. Mix ¼ cup sugar and the cinnamon. Top cake with the diced apple and pinches of the remaining butter. Sprinkle with the cinnamon mixture. Allow to rest as the oven preheats.

Cook for 25-30 minutes, or until browned.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder was originally approached to direct this movie. Fassbinder, who rose to fame in Germany by making shocking films, deemed the subject matter too controversial, even for him. Instead, he produced it, hiring on one of his actors, Ulli Lommel, to direct. Rumor has it that Fassbinder is the real auteur behind TENDERNESS OF THE WOLVES. Whoever was the director isn’t important. What is important is that, as a shocking, frightening bit of cinema, it works. And while this meal might not be as masterfully prepared as Fritz’s famous dinners, at least this one won’t send you to prison.

© Copyright 2012 by Jenny Orosel