Archive for the Surgical Horror Category

AMERICAN MARY (2012)

Posted in 2013, Crime, Film Festival Movies, Gangsters!, Indie Horror, Nick Cato Reviews, Surgical Horror with tags , , , , , on June 5, 2013 by knifefighter

AMERICAN MARY (2012)
Movie Review by Nick Cato

 american-mary-posterA favorite on the film festival circuit in 2012 and the latest from directors Jen and Sylvia Soska, AMERICAN MARY came directly to pay per view and had a limited theatrical run this past May.

Meet Mary Mason. She’s in medical school studying to be a surgeon. Her professor thinks she has the goods (despite yelling at her for texting in class…I didn’t know students were yelled at in college?) and Mary is indeed dedicated; she even practices suturing on turkeys in her spare time. But her funds are running low, and Mary realizes she needs to make some serious cash or she’ll be studying for her finals as a homeless person…without her cell phone.

She visits a local strip club, intending to audition for the sleazy owner, Billy, who is taken aback by her resume (because, you know, all stripping jobs require one). But in the middle of her “audition,” the club’s bouncer interrupts Billy and demands his presence in the basement. He returns (remembering Mary’s medical resume) and asks her if she wants to make $5,000.00 in cash. She follows him downstairs to find a man slashed from scalp to navel. With the five grand before her, she agrees.

Before long Mary is making a ton of cash as an underground surgeon for Billy, who is apparently involved with all kinds of shady trades. She also begins to work with people looking to have unusual body modifications, and her reputation on the underground circuit grows quickly.

Meanwhile, her professor invites her to a “high-scale” party where he drugs and rapes her.

The rest of AMERICAN MARY is basically a revenge film, as she goes to extreme lengths to get even with her professor for his evil deed. Now with her back turned to the professional medical community, Mary continues to cater to those who can afford her services (including filmmakers Jen and Sylvia Soska in a small role as twins looking to have their left arms switched), although a detective begins asking her questions in the wake of her professor’s disappearance and eventually comes crashing down on her.

The film reminded me somewhat of EXCISION (2012), but where EXCISION features a few truly disturbing sequences, I only found one scene (when we first see the modified professor) to be even slightly chilling. Star Katherine Isabelle does a good enough job, although I think many might have a hard time buying the idea that a favored medical student would throw everything away in the face of low funds and a perverted professor (with the right lawyer Mary could have sued him for all he was worth!).

AMERICAN MARY paints a world where all men are dogs (even the upright detective annoys us the second time he’s seen) and where female empowerment comes via barbaric surgeries. It can get gruesome at times, but it’s not half as graphic as some early reviews suggested.

This is worth a view, if only to see a vast improvement on the part of the Soska sisters as directors (aside from a few shorts, their only other full length was the campy but forgettable DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK from 2009). Once they learn to build suspense and tighten up their scripts, I can see some good things coming from them. Their black hearts seem to be in it … now they just need to work on the execution (full pun intended). I give this one 2 and a half knives.

© Copyright 2013 by Nick Cato

 

Mary (Katherine Isabelle) goes to work in AMERICAN MARY.

Mary (Katherine Isabelle) goes to work in AMERICAN MARY.

Nick Cato gives AMERICAN MARY ~ two and a half knives!

 

Transmissions to Earth: THE ABCs OF DEATH (2012)

Posted in 2013, Anthology Films, Asian Horror, Body Horror, Controverisal Films, Dystopian Futures, Just Plain Weird, LL Soares Reviews, Murder!, Surgical Horror, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , , , on April 18, 2013 by knifefighter

TRANSMISSIONS TO EARTH

zontar_sage_2

presents

THE ABCs of DEATH
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

The-ABCs-of-Death-Poster

The concept is in an interesting one, give 26 filmmakers $5,000 each to make a short film, roughly about five minutes long (some more, some less). The only caveat being that it has to be about death in some way. So we’ve got maybe the most ambitious horror anthology film so far, on the heels of some good ones like THE THEATRE BIZARRE (2011) and V/H/S (2012). But with 26 shorts, it’s not the easiest film to review, so a critic inevitably has to stick to the highlights.

The structure is as follows: a short film plays, followed by the screen going to red, and the name of the film (and the director’s name) spelled out in children’s blocks. While trying to guess who did what is part of the fun (unfortunately, I haven’t heard of a lot of the directors here, so I guess it wasn’t that much fun), I would have preferred if the film names and directors had appeared before each film, but C’est la vie.

The movie begins with Nacho Vigalonodo’s “A for Apocalypse,” where a woman attempts to kill her bedridden husband for past sins, first by stabbing him, then throwing hot grease in his face and bonking him on the head several times with the oversized frying pan. Unfortunately, he won’t die, and just stares at her, while we hear the sounds of cars crashing outside their apartment window. It’s an interesting enough start.

As the movie unfolds we’ll be treated to everything from disturbing films to dark comedies, from traditional animation to Claymation, from Japanese surrealism to South American grit. The list of directors includes people from all over the world, and it’s interesting to see what each of them comes up with. The other thing about anthology films is that, if you don’t like what you’re watching, there will always be a new one starting soon enough.

As for highlights, the more squirm-inducing entries come to mind first. These include Timo Tjahjanto’s “L for Libido,” which involves men being forced to partake in a kind of “circle jerk to the death,” where what they have to watch (and get aroused by) gets more and more disturbing. This one, which comes right about at the middle of the overall movie, might just be the roughest of the bunch. Close contenders include Marcel Sarmiento’s “D is for Dogfight,” where a boxer fights it out with a vicious dog, while spectators shout and gamble on the outcome (all in slow motion), and Xavier Gens’s “X is for XXL,” where an unattractive, overweight woman who yearns to be like the pretty girl on the TV commercials she keeps seeing, subjects herself to a very radical diet involving an electric carving knife. Ti West’s “M is for Miscarriage” is another one with a killer last scene that will leave an impression.

A scene from the intense "D is for Dogfight."

A scene from the intense “D is for Dogfight.”

I also liked Ernesto Diaz Espinoza’s twisted “C is for Cycle,” Bruno Forazni’s self-explanatory “O is for Orgasm,” and Jake West’s hi-octane entry,“S is for Speed.”

More light-hearted and/or stranger fare includes: “H is for Hydraulic Emulsifier,” by Thomas Cappelen Malling, a fun, live-action cartoon where an anthropomorphic dog (dressed like a British aviator) sits at a table next to the stage at a strip club, while an enemy (Nazi) cat woman’s act gets more and more lethal; Noboru Iguchi’s installment, “F is for Fart,” where a Japanese girl’s crush on her teacher leads to an odd exploration of bodily gases that come in various colors; the final short, Yoshihiro Nishimura’s “Z is for Zetsumetsu,” which involves naked Japanese people eating sushi and shouting as the world comes to an end; and “T is for Toilet,” by Lee Hardcastle, where Claymation parents who are trying to get their young son to use the toilet for the first time are in for a nightmare.

A scene from the twisted live-action cartoon "H is for Hydraulic Emulsifier."

A scene from the twisted live-action cartoon “H is for Hydraulic Emulsifier.”

One of the more visually impressive entries is “V for Vagitus,” by Kaare Andrews, taking place in a dystopian future where procreation is against the law, but you can earn “special privlidges” if you join the police force.

Some disappointments include Ben Wheatley’s “U is for Unearthed” shown from the point of view of a monster (vampire?) – it had the distinctive look of Wheatley movies like the brilliant THE KILL LIST (2011), and I guessed who it was immediately, but the short itself was pretty much a throwaway and I wanted something more ambitious from such a talented director. Also, with “R is for Removed” by Srdjan Spasojevic (who also directed 2010’s controversial A SERBIAN FILM), I was expecting something with a real wallop, instead getting something more surreal and strange – a burn victim’s skin is peeled off by doctors section by section, and immersed in fluid that reveals the skin is really strips of celluloid from a movie reel. And “B for Bigfoot,” by Adrian Garcia Bogliano, doesn’t even really have a Bigfoot in it (it should have been called “B for Boogieman,” instead).

"T is for Toilet"

“T is for Toilet”

I hate to jump around so much, but that’s the way you remember these films: some are instantly memorable while others you might forgot soon after watching the movie. For the most part, there aren’t many total duds here. There are exceptional installments, and then ones that are just okay (even the “disappointments” I listed above weren’t completely awful). And I liked the way that there were so many tones and styles and flavors, like visiting a visual Baskin Robbins.

If you’re a fan of anthology horror films, there’s a lot to like about THE ABCs OF DEATH, and you should check it out. You’re bound to find several installments that you really like.

It would just be too difficult to list every single short and rate it individually, but overall, I give the movie three knives.

(This movie is currently in very limited theatrical release and is also available on cable OnDemand in some markets.)

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives THE ABCs OF DEATH  ~three knives.

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou: FACE OF TERROR (1962)

Posted in 1960s Horror, 2012, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Foreign Films, Mad Doctors!, Spanish Horror, Surgical Horror, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , on May 10, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This Week’s Feature Presentation:

FACE OF TERROR (1962)

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable—then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes!

The “mad plastic surgeon attempting to make scarred chicks beautiful again no matter who they kill” (a.k.a. MPSATNSCVANMWTK)  is a genre staple that just doesn’t want to die.  Starting with the brilliant EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1960), moving through dozens of tacky European examples like CIRCUS OF HORRORS (1960), THE AWFUL DR ORLOFF (1962), and FACELESS (1987), to last year’s brilliant Pedro Almodovar film THE SKIN I LIVE IN (2011) the mad plastic surgeon has indeed lived again and again.  One of the lesser known films in this genre is FACE OF TERROR, a 1962 Spanish movie from Futuramic Releasing.  This twisted little flick is a bit different from most MPSATNSCVANMWTK films.

Fernando Rey (THE FRENCH CONNECTION-1971, SAVING GRACE-1986, VILLA RIDES-1968, THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOUSIE-1972, and more than 200 other films!) stars as Dr. Charles Taylor, who has a new method of fixing scarred and damaged skin.  As he tells the Madrid Institute of Mental Health, he can form a synthetic plastic skin that can be connected to any tissue, but the technique has yet to be tested on human beings.  He wants patients from the insane asylum to become human guinea pigs.  The board of the hospital denies him access to any patients, but who is that woman in white watching through the window?  Why it’s a patient, and she sneaks into the good doctor’s car backseat riding all the way to his home.  Dr. Taylor somehow doesn’t notice her, even though she’s wearing white hospital duds.

Once he’s home, he participates in some sexually-laced banter with his assistant (and sometimes lover) Alma, played by lovely Concha Cuetos (SLUGS-1988 and THE POD PEOPLE-1983).  After Alma leaves, the mental patient confronts the doctor, and she’s a horribly scarred woman with a face like half a pepperoni pizza.  She tells Dr. Taylor she was about to jump off a bridge, and if he doesn’t operate on her right this minute, she’ll kill herself, because “women are far more susceptible to psychological damage due to disfigurement.”  The monster-faced girl is played by the gorgeous (and actually talented) Lisa Gaye (ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK-1956 and more television shows than you can shake a remote at, including such 60s fare as THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW, SEAHUNT, and HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE).  Of course, when the Doc gets a good look at Norma’s face, he decides to take a chance and perform the procedure.  Cue operating montage followed by waiting in a mummy-like, bandage-wrapped state montage.

Soon, the bandages are off, and she’s even more beautiful than we suspected.  In the meanwhile, we discover this woman, Norma, who escaped to the good doctor’s home/office, is a psychotic killer who is very violent.  She’s “a sick woman, and a very dangerous one.”  The police are notified, and after they see her gruesome head-shot, they decide she’ll be easy to track down.  Anyone with that face would be easy to find.

Dr. Charles Taylor (Fernando Rey) about to take off the bandages of his latest patient, Norma (Lisa Gaye) in FACE OF TERROR.

Norma, infatuated with her new glamorous puss, wants to leave the lab.  Dr. Taylor gives her a formula that will keep her skin from tightening too much or drying out and flaking off (uh-oh!)  Taylor goes to his office and chastises himself, “Body temperature.  I never figured on body temperature!”  When he later coaches her, he discovers the tag on Norma’s wrist that identifies her as a patient at the mental hospital.  He says he’s taking her back, that the operation was illegal because the hospital said he couldn’t use patients.  As he dials the phone, Norma begins to lose it, screaming and shaking, and she finally beans the doctor with a huge chemical bottle.  Norma believes she’s killed her savior, and she escapes, taking the formula with her as well as all his money.  Alma arrives back at the laboratory and finds her lover on the floor in a coma.  He’s taken to a hospital, where he eventually awakens…with amnesia!

Here’s where FACE OF TERROR veers off into its own crazy film, steering clear of the usual clichés of the MPSATNSCVANMWTK sub-genre.  The plastic surgeon is the good guy and the woman he’s experimented upon is the evil creature with a new face, a mental patient and homicidal maniac.  We have the “monster” running around with a brand new face, nothing like the photos of the disfigured girl the police possess, and the doctor can’t recall what she even looked like when he was done with her.  And he’s suffered nerve damage!

Norma buys a stylish wardrobe and gets a job at a nightclub where men are soon prowling after her like horny wolves in heat.  The want-ad states ‘Waitress, Enjoy Beautiful Vacation-Land, Must be young, attractive, & personable.’  Well, that fits her to a ‘T’.  Soon, the manager of the place is pawing her, a patron won’t take no for an answer, and Norma’s face requires a lot of touch-ups with the formula.  The flaking plastic skin effect is truly icky and effective, and every time it happens, Norma gets a little crazier.  Soon, she kills one man in a fit of rage, but she also knocks over her bottle of magic skin formula.

She returns to Dr. Taylor, now recuperating at home in a wheelchair.  Demanding more of the formula, Norma throws a hissy-fit that would make any two-year-old child proud.  “You did this to me,” she screams.  “I came to you for help, and you did…this…to ME!  Don’t tell me what I should have done!  Give me that fluid!  You’re against me!  Everyone is against me!  I hate you all!”  She grabs a bottle of acid (isn’t there always a bottle of acid in every mad plastic surgeon’s lab?  Just in case?) and she chases the doctor in his wheelchair around the office.  Then, Alma comes back and quite a cat fight ensues.  The doctor is crawling across the floor to find a weapon…

Will Norma kill the doctor and his lover?  Will she disfigure Alma?  How many other men will die while the totally ineffective cops sit in their office and discuss what could possibly be happening out there in the real world?  You’ll have to watch to find out.

One of the truly odd features of FACE OF TERROR is the fact that it was filmed in English even though it was made in Spain.  All of the actors read their lines phonetically, and most of them come off as idiot savants or as escapees from mental ward’s themselves.  It lends a surreal air to the whole film, raising it to a whole new level of strangeness.  As if FACE OF TERROR needed to be stranger.

After her surgery, Norma (Lisa Gaye) finds out she has quite a way with men, in FACE OF TERROR.

FACE OF TERROR was written by Monroe Manning, who supposedly directed the classic 1961 sexploitation film THE TOUCHABLES (although this isn’t certain).  As well as writing this sicko black and white wonder, he also supervised the American version of FACE OF TERROR and was also the art director!  Later, he went on to write most of the episodes of the television shows LASSIE and FLIPPER!  Such a diverse career deserves a round of applause.

FACE OF TERROR was co-directed by Isidoro M. Ferry and William J. Hole Jr., who also directed THE DEVIL’S HAND (1961), SPEED CRAZY (1959), and the wonderful GHOST OF DRAGSTRIP HOLLLOW (1959).  All exploitation classics.

The cast, especially the luminous Lisa Gaye and the stodgy Fernando Rey (only a few years away from respectable roles in major films), is fine, even when phonetically mumbling their lines or getting dubbed in what sounds like a bell chamber.  The production values are all fine, and the black and white cinematography by Jose F. Aguayo is very nice.  Aguayo also lensed such foreign classics as Luis Bunuel’s TRISTANA (1970) and VIRIDIANA (1961), so the man knew what he was doing, and the whole film looks crisp and quite beautiful.

Throw in a rock ‘n’ roll number; a rushed wedding, complete with flaking skin; a car chase; a flamenco dance scene; someone pushed down an elevator shaft; and another gory murder, and you have a wildly entertaining MPSATNSCVANMWTK.

I found FACE OF TERROR on the Creepster TV Network, but Sinister Cinema also sells a pretty good DVR of it.

I give FACE OF TERROR three plastic skin grafts out of four.

© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl

THE SKIN I LIVE IN (2011)

Posted in 2011, Art Movies, Foreign Films, Horror, LL Soares Reviews, Surgical Horror with tags , , , , , on November 14, 2011 by knifefighter

THE SKIN I LIVE IN (2011)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

I’ve been a fan of Pedro Almodovar for a long time now. I think the first movie of his I ever saw was 1987’s LAW OF DESIRE. By then, he was already an arthouse sensation, having previously made such talked-about films as DARK HABITS (1983) and MATADOR (1986). And then something happened in 1988, with his film WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN. He broke through to another level completely, and began his ascent to the role of iconic director. WOMEN was his first big international hit, and it wouldn’t be his last. Suddenly, the guy who was making quirky films about society’s outcasts was a genre unto himself, eventually winning the Foreign Film Oscar for 1999’s ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER (which, strangely, I didn’t like very much).

Despite often dark subject matter and forays into violence and brutality, I always saw Almodovar as an upbeat director. His first priority is always his characters, and he makes you care about them, and the plot is merely the journey their lives take. You don’t necessarily think of him as someone who makes horror films, and yet his most recent film, THE SKIN I LIVE IN, has been called just that. Having finally seen the film, I can’t whole-heartedly agree, because Almodovar is still a genre unto himself, still unlike anyone else making films today. And yet there are distinctively horrific elements in his new film.

SKIN serves up the tale of Dr. Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas), a famous plastic surgeon. Some of you may remember that back in 1990, Banderas became star thanks to Almodovar’s TIE ME UP! TIE ME DOWN! He’d been in several of Almodovar’s films before that, but TIE ME UP! was the film that brought him to the world’s attention in a big way, and soon afterwards, Banderas moved to America and started what has been a long career in American films (NOTE: the same week THE SKIN I LIVE IN was released in the arthouse theaters, the movie PUSS N’ BOOTS, where he gave voice to the title animated character, was the Number 1 movie at the Box Office). But he started in Spain with Almodovar, and it’s nice to see the two reunited after all these years.

Dr. Ledgard is keeping a woman captive in his home, named Vera Cruz (Elena Anaya) , and she is desperate to escape when we find her. She has been locked in a room for what seems like years (and which reminded me in a strange way of Chan-Wook Park’s OLDBOY from 2003, for this reason). Vera watches television (mostly yoga tapes, something she practices for hours), and makes strange papier mache art objects, many of which are busts of people covered in bandages, much like her own appearance during recovery after several operations. At the same time, Vera is constantly under surveillance, with several TV screens throughout the house showing her every move.

Dr. Ledgard has discovered a new kind of synthetic flesh which not only replaces damaged tissue (it’s intended specifically for burn victims), but which is an improvement on real flesh, since it is more impervious to damage, and repels such things as insect bites. And it is clear that Vera has been his guinea pig in this discovery.

When Dr. Ledgard is away, the household is run by Marilia (Marisa Peredes), a harsh-looking woman who is not only the head of the domestic staff; we also learn she is Ledgard’s real mother. When Marilia’s son (and thus Ledgard’s half-brother), Zeca (Roberto Alamo) shows up – a bank robber looking for sanctuary – things suddenly get out of hand, as the violent Zeca sees Vera on the surveillance screens and decides to go looking for her. When he finds the right room and breaks in, Vera thinks her savior has finally arrived to set her free, but Zeca is only interested in raping her. But Dr. Ledgard arrives home in time to interrupt.

The rest of the film jumps back and forth in time to show us what happened in Ledgard’s life to bring him to this point, how Vera got to be in this situation, and more. This being an Amoldovar film, as I mentioned earlier, characters and their histories are the most important aspects here, and SKIN becomes a kind of melodrama, or cinematic soap opera, as things progress. But I am not saying that to belittle the film. On the contrary, Almodovar uses these trappings to great effect to tell his stories, much in the way that great directors of the past like Douglas Sirk brought us unique human dramas that were completely their own.

In the flashbacks, we meet everyone from Ledgard’s former wife, who killed herself, to his daughter, a girl suffering from severe social anxiety who is raped after a party, and other interesting characters. Each of them plays a significant part in the story, and by the end, everything has taken some fascinating turns, many of which we don’t see coming.

As for Banderas, I found his performance cold at first. With his slicked-back hair and icy demeanor, he’s hard to sympathize with, and I was concerned he would come off as one-dimensional. But, as the story unfolds and we learn a great deal about his past, he becomes warmer and fully human. The same goes for the other key players here, with Vera perhaps the most tragic of all.

Once the mysteries of the film opened up, like the petals of a flower, I found myself going from liking THE SKIN I LIVE IN, to deciding it is a work of brilliance in many ways. While I’ve been a fan of Almodovar throughout his career, I’ve found his more recent films to be a bit uneven, but this one had the best elements of Almodovar’s work, giving us a true return to form for a man considered a master filmmaker.

There have been many horror films dealing with merciless plastic surgeons over the years, from 1935s THE RAVEN, where surgeon Bela Lugosi mutilated the face of gangster Boris Karloff, only agreeing to fix it if Karloff did his bidding; to the classic 1960 French film EYES WITHOUT A FACE (LES YEUX SANS VISAGE) by Georges Franju, which used truly poetic imagery to tell the tale of a man using surgery to try to replace the face of daughter, injured in a car crash, with the flesh of abducted women. Almodovar uses this theme to his own ends, but he does it in a powerful, dramatic way that will take your breath away at certain points.

Easily one of the best films I’ve seen this year. I give THE SKIN I LIVE IN, four out of five knives.

© Copyright 2011 by L. L. Soares

L.L. Soares gives THE SKIN I LIVE IN ~ four out of five knives!