Archive for the Visions of Hell Category

SHARKNADO (2013)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2013, Action Movies, All-Star Casts, CGI, Garrett Cook Articles, Sea Creatures, Sharks, SyFy Channel Movies, TV-Movies, Visions of Hell with tags , , , , , on July 28, 2013 by knifefighter

SHARKNADO
Movie Review by Garrett Cook

PHvf6lEANnmQyD_3_mThe lifeblood of any narrative is conflict. Without conflict, you have a bunch of people standing around staring into space, waiting. When they start waiting, conflict occurs. The conflict being, uninteresting as it is, that what needs to happen hasn’t happened yet. Good conflicts make good stories. The more you throw at your hero and the hero has to get out of, the better and more exciting their situation. But what do you do when competing with the Hollywood event picture and Sundance Channel juvenile delinquency/Palm D’0r-grubbing adversity porn, who have cherry picked the worst things to happen to everyone? WAGES OF FEAR (1953) . SOPHIE’S CHOICE (1982). FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC (1987). THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW (2004). Those are big, juicy conflicts.

SyFy’s solution? Revive the giant bug/giant shark/giant alligator/giant problem movie. Sharktopi, Dinocrocs and Supergators have a way of knocking the wind out of a crying Meryl Streep for an hour and a half or so, and, if you’re looking to unwind after work, they’re generally more fun. They are by no means good by any conventional standard, but at least they have that going on.

Recent SyFy spectacle SHARKNADO took this principle and really ran with it. A hurricane off the coast of LA picks up 20,000 sharks. JAWS (1975)? One huge shark. OPEN WATER (2003)? A few sharks. These situations presented gigantic problems for the heroes who had to make it out of them alive. But 20,000 sharks? That’s a real problem. Not just for the heroes, but for you, the reader/potential SHARKNADO viewer. 20,000 sharks are dangerous enough to kill 90210’s Ian Ziering…oh, 20,000 times and enough of a spectacle that they leave you, potential SHARKNADO viewer, in danger of making what might be a terrible decision.

Is it a terrible decision? That’s what you’ve probably clicked on this article to find out. You want to know if it’s worth trading 100 minutes of your time for the experience of Ian Ziering and Tara Reid having to deal with sharks falling from the sky. Some of you, having seen the premise of the film restated will now stop sitting on the fence and decide to go watch SHARKNADO. Good. SHARKNADO was unequivocably made for you, thesis statement/pitch line enthusiast. But you might need actual info. Person who keeps reading to gather more data, SHARKNADO might be a little more challenging for you.

SHARKNADO begins with a corrupt sea captain, who you will never see again, brokering a deal with a shady Asian man to sell him 20,000 sharks. Does this deal precipitate the sharknado (no very dry pun intended)? No. Maybe. The shady Asian man and the captain are killed, the Asian man by the captain, the captain by the very sharks he sought to sell. Which actually makes you wonder if Anthony Ferrante and Thunder Levin (the director and writer of the film, respectively) stopped to make a sanctimonious finger wag at the practice of eating shark fin soup. Because right after we see mankind treating sharks badly, the sharks get caught up in a hurricane and start to be blown around, as if God himself were an angry shark.

This scene leaves you wondering whether SHARKNADO believes that the sharks are justified in their attacks because of our consumption of shark fin soup, whether the director has some sort of divine justice in mind, and whether this movie was made by poets or naifs. It is hard to tell. This is not the only time this occurs and of course, it’s a common phenomenon in really awful movies, like SHARKNADO, which is a movie that sucks.

This intro transitions into scenes introducing our hero, surfing bartender Fin (groan), played by 90210 non-favorite Ian Ziering (the blonde guy who looked like he’d been held back seven grades). He bartends, and he surfs. His Australian friend Baz (played by Jaason Simmons, whose name’s extra A stands for Awesome, because he is, in spite of this material) surfs with him but does not do much bartending. Possibly none. Adorable waitress Nova (the wooden, but sublimely hot, Cassie Scerbo) pours drinks for non-hot but adorable drunk, George (played by John Heard, from HOME ALONE (1990), C.H.U.D. (1984) and serious films from the early 80s), and life looks good, save for Fin’s estrangement from ex wife April (Tara Reid). I say good riddance, but as Flaubert writes, “the heart wants what it wants”. Fin and Baz go surfing, Baz is bitten by a shark and Fin sees signs that there is a hardcore hurricane on the way and he should get his daughter and son to high ground. He returns to the bar, calls up April, who says not to bother and that her slimy new boyfriend takes care of the family now. Fin decides maybe he’d better go save his daughter.

His intuition proves right when he sees that the hurricane is getting stronger, picking up sharks and dropping them on people. Which is a tremendous problem. It’s a big, juicy conflict that does not involve cancer, drug addiction, Nazis or Kryptonians. At least give it that much. George, the loveable drunk, is killed, Nova reveals that she is skilled with a shotgun and Fin and Baz kill many sharks. It’s a pretty intense scene, the sharks are pretty well rendered and it establishes a sense of urgency. It also begins to wag its finger at the harshness and lack of consideration that LA can have.

Arriving at his ex wife’s place of residence with her slimy L.A. boyfriend, Fin is reprimanded by her, her boyfriend and his sullen daughter, Claudia (Aubrey Peebles), who is sullen because she’s a teenager and it’s a liability. Due to a prodigious flood, the problem quickly swims up and bites the boyfriend in the ass for being an LA phony. It is hard to tell whether the writer and director believe that Hollywood is unsympathetic or think that America believes that Hollywood is unsympathetic. This question might seem moot, but is actually very important in determining whether SHARKNADO has shades of GLEN OR GLENDA (1953) bad- film-with-a-heart brilliance or whether it is actually pandering just as badly as one would have to assume it is.

Either way, Los Angeles is facing sharky judgment and Ian Ziering needs to find his son, who it turns out is in flight school. This initiates the film’s second act, which is weirder and more judgmental of Los Angeles culture and by extension, the film industry. In an abandoned flooded cityscape full of sharks, the movie takes on an air of “MULHOLLAND DRIVE meets BIRDEMIC” that might make this movie worth watching for curious film geeks and Bizarro fans. You see a bus driver who has come to town to be an actor and ends up being eaten for it, and hear a weird rant from a paranoid shopkeeper. There is something off kilter about these scenes in a way that transcends bad dialogue. Are these weird grains of sincerity shining through?

During these scenes, you get to experience the thing I really like about SHARKNADO, or just the idea of SHARKNADO. Tornados of sharks are spinning around Los Angeles eating people and a man has taken it upon himself to resolve this. The biggest, most senseless conflict imaginable and Ian Ziering will brave it to reach his son and save a city that the movie implies might not be worth saving. SHARKNADO parallels the experience of being a small budget filmmaker, a person dealing with a ubiquitous shitstorm using only courage and ingenuity and sometimes chainsaws. Saddled with a less than stellar premise, a talentless cast and a sub blockbuster budget, these filmmakers had to create something people would enjoy. Does Fin do a better job of it than the directors, writers and cast of SHARKNADO? Yeah. But that’s why we create heroes.

Somehow in quixotic combat with hopelessness, the hero wins the day, making this the most recklessly optimistic film ever made. “Will people watch a film called SHARKNADO with the least popular 90210 actor at the helm? YES!” “Can a man take on a Sharknado? YES!” “Can a coherent film be made about a Sharknado?” “YES!” These guys do Ed Wood proud. With the negativity, the cynicism and the constant barrage of bad news around us, a little optimism is a good thing. Sometimes too much optimism is a good thing. If enthusiasm is more important to you than success, you ought to watch SHARKNADO.

But you probably shouldn’t, anyway. SHARKNADO sucks.

© Copyright 2013 by Garrett Cook

BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW (2010)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2012, Bizarro Movies, Cult Movies, Experimental Films, Highly Stylized Films, LL Soares Reviews, Mad Doctors!, Mind Experiments!, Paranormal, Psychedelic Films, Telekinesis, Visions of Hell, Weird Movies with tags , , , , , , , on June 13, 2012 by knifefighter

BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW (2010)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

After watching Ridley Scott’s new blockbuster, PROMETHEUS, I took a train to the other side of town to see a movie that was, in many ways, its complete opposite. Low-budget, often badly acted, and just plain bizarre, Panos Cosmatos’ new film, BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW is a viewing experience of a completely different sort. But I don’t want to give the impression I didn’t like it. There were some parts of it that I liked very much.

Supposedly made in 2010, BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW has recently been doing the midnight movie circuit in some cities. I originally saw it listed as part of the Boston Underground Film Festival a month or so ago. I’d wanted to see it, but couldn’t. And now it’s back for a few weekend showings at a local art theater. So, for many people, it’s a new release. I know, for me it was. I also know that, based on the title alone, and a brief synopsis that highlighted a psychedelic storyline, I really had to see this one for myself.

The movie begins with an instructional video from Dr. Mercurio Arboria, for the Arboria Institute, which promotes emotional happiness and peace of mind. Supposedly, a visit to the foundation will include pharmacology, meditation and other fun stuff, in a regimen designed to help people find true inner happiness. Sounds pleasant enough. This video looked a bit dated and reminded me of the instructional videos that were made by the Dharma Initiative on the TV series LOST. Kind of an interesting way to start things off.

The movie’s credits begin, showing a giant, pulsating eyeball, with the actors and crews’ names coming forth from the eye’s pupil. It’s actually a cool opening credit sequence, and a cool image overall. I thought it was a good sign this was going to be a lot of fun.

Then the movie starts. It’s 1983. The foundation is being run by Dr. Arboria’s associate, Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers). But strangely, despite that cool promotional video, there’s only one patient in the whole building—or, if there are more patients, we never see them. The patient’s name is Elena (Eva Allan), and she’s a young girl around 19 or 20, who is dressed in a hospital gown and has long, brunette hair (she almost looks like those long-haired ghosts from movies like THE RING and THE GRUDGE). Elena does not speak, and appears to be in some kind of depressed/almost comatose state. Each day she is brought into a room to sit on a plastic seat, while in another, facing room, separated by a sheet of Plexiglas, Dr. Nyle talks to her. He talks and talks, but she never responds. He must have a lot of time to spend trying to help her, since there don’t seem to be any other patients for him to attend to.

For the first half of the film, this takes up most of the time. Elena is repeatedly brought into the room, Dr. Nyle repeatedly talks to her and gets no response. There are point-of-view shots of us going down an orange, antiseptic hallway. Its repetition seems almost aggravating at times. The dialogue is actually kind of silly, and the acting isn’t very good. There were more than a few times when I laughed out loud. Everyone else in the audience was quiet. I don’t think they appreciated the movie’s goofiness.

A few times, Dr. Nyle goes home to his wife Rosemary (Marilyn Norry), whom he either lectures or ignores. When she speaks, he makes goofy faces. There doesn’t seem much of a point to what’s going on.

Dr. Nyle (Michael Rogers) controls everything in the Arboria Institute.            Or does he? (from BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW)

There is a female nurse who clearly dislikes Elena. And we eventually learn that Elena has CARRIE-like telekinetic powers. There are also strange robots, that look like men in space suits with television screens in their bellies, called Sentionauts (it says so on the computer screen that activates them). They patrol the foundation’s halls after hours, especially if Elena leaves her room.

Then, about half-way through, something happens. We go back to 1966. Dr. Arboria, along with a female assistant, are shown in reverse negative (everything is strikingly white, and we can barely see people’s features). Dr. Nyle is prepped to enter another dimension, or at least that’s what it seemed to me. All white, he submerges himself in a giant puddle of inky blackness, and goes out the other side, where he turns different colors and his skin melts!! When he comes back, he is transformed. Slimy and black with ooze, he infects the female assistant, and she gives birth to a baby, before she suddenly dies. Could this baby be Elena? (!).

Back in 1983, Dr. Arboria, the head of the foundation, has become an drooling invalid/drug addict, who isn’t capable of doing much for himself. Dr. Nyle has to look after him, and even administer his heroin (morphine?) injections. Dr. Nyle has the true power at the institute and he clearly likes to manipulate those around him.

At one point, Dr. Nyle has kind of a breakdown and removes his wig (revealing a shiny bald head) and puts on a strange leather suit. While he is gone, Elena attempts to escape the facility.

BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW is a mixed bag, but I could definitely see it becoming a cult movie over time. Parts of it are so bad, it made me think of movies like Tommy Wiseau’s THE ROOM, and I think RAINBOW could benefit from an audience that interacts with it. It might make for a much more enjoyable experience. There are other times when the imagery is actually pretty interesting. But never once did I feel that the movie lived up to the promise of that great title—except maybe for the very strange events that occur in 1966.

The music, by Jeremy Schmidt, is mostly a droning synthesizer score, and it does get repetitive at times, but overall, it works. There are even parts where it gets more animated. The music was one of my favorite parts of the film, and definitely complemented the psychedelic feel of the proceedings.

The over-use of different kinds of filters in the film, and negative effects, seem like an amateur’s attempts at creating otherworldly visuals—or someone trying to transcend a miniscule budget—and there are moments when it feels like a student fim. There are also lots of close-ups on inanimate objects that go on a little too long. Despite the fact that it really is not a very good movie, there were parts of BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW that I enjoyed despite myself, and, as I said, there are several times when I found myself laughing—even though that probably was not what the director intended.

BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW, for the most part, might be one of those “so bad they’re good” movies for a new generation. It plays things completely straight (to its benefit), but is probably campy enough to attract a rabid audience.  I haven’t seen anything this odd (and yet enjoyable) in a long time, and it reminded me how movies like this were much easier to find in the 1970s and 80s. It made me miss those times.

A movie like this is hard to rate, because it’s clearly not meant to be a normal, mainstream narrative film. And, even as I write this, I find myself enjoying the movie now more, in retrospect, than when I was sitting in the theater. Despite its very obvious flaws, I give BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW, two and a half knives. And I’m sure its imagery will grow on me over time and this rating will improve…..

This might just be the kind of film that deserves to be revisited on Blu-ray.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

L.L. Soares gives BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW~ two and a half knives! But it’s such an odd movie, that rating may change over time.

The Geisha of Gore Looks at Two Classic Films by Nobuo Nakagawa

Posted in 2011, Classic Films, Colleen Wanglund Reviews, Geisha of Gore Reviews, Ghost Movies, Japanese Horror, The Afterlife, Visions of Hell with tags , , , , , , , , on March 16, 2011 by knifefighter

Classic Japanese Horror: Two Classic Films by Nobuo Nakagawa
By Colleen Wanglund, the Geisha of Gore

Nobuo Nakagawa is probably one of the most famous film directors you’re not watching. Nakagawa was a prolific Japanese filmmaker who directed almost forty movies between 1938 and 1982 (he died in 1984). He is a genius of the horror genre and considered by many to be the father of Japanese horror. Nakagawa is known for such movies as SNAKE WOMAN’S CURSE (1968), THE DEPTHS (aka THE GHOST OF KISANE {1957}) and VAMPIRE MOTH (1956) which is thought to be the first vampire movie in Japanese cinema. The movie which seems to get the most praise and recognition is Nakagawa’s JIGOKU from 1960.

JIGOKU was released in America under the title THE SINNERS OF HELL. The movie was remade in 1970 and again in 1999 under the title JAPANESE HELL by Teruo Ishii (HORRORS OF MALFORMED MEN {1969}), a well-known cult film director in his own right. Nakagawa’s version stars Shigeru Amachi as Shiro, a theology student who has just gotten engaged to his professor’s daughter Yukiko (Utako Mitsuya) when his friend Tamura (Yoichi Numata) shows up. Tamura offers Shiro a ride and a drink to celebrate his engagement, but while driving they hit a drunk in the road and leave him to die. Tamura is one nasty a-hole. Unfortunately the drunk was a leader of a gang and his mother who saw the car’s license plate number vows revenge. Shiro is horrified by his friend’s lack of remorse and decides to go to the police and confess. Tamura tries to stop him by telling Shiro that it won’t matter who was driving, that Shiro will lose everything.

Shiro goes back to his apartment to consider his next move but Yukiko is waiting for him there. He tells Yukiko what has happened, after interrupting her as she was about to tell Shiro something. Shiro insists they take a cab to the station but during the ride there is an accident and Yukiko dies. With his life spiraling out of control, Shiro goes home to see his parents, after receiving word from his father that his mother is seriously ill. While there he discovers his father has a mistress who is stealing money from the residents of the nursing home Shiro’s parents own. Shiro also meets the daughter of one of the residents, Sachiko (played by Utako Mitsuya, in a dual role) who is a dead ringer for the dead Yukiko. Shiro has also discovered that Tamura has followed him home, but so has the mother and girlfriend of the dead gangster killed in the hit-and-run accident. Things just go from bad to worse for Shiro, as well for the people around him.

JIGOKU is a beautiful film that is well-written and flawlessly directed with a minimalist quality. Nakagawa wanted to make something different from the ghost stories of the time and he certainly did that with JIGOKU. A somber mood runs effortlessly throughout the film, never deviating from its surreal and horrifying conclusion. At the time of its 1960 release in Japan, JIGOKU was received with shock and outrage as it contained very graphic images of the torments of Hell. The character of Tamura is a bit of an enigma as you’re not quite sure what to make of him. He is diabolical and without a conscience. What’s also so disturbing about Tamura is that he seems to appear out of nowhere and knows everyone’s darkest secrets. Is he human or a demon?

Jigoku literally translates to “hell” and the movie’s final third is a dark and horrifying depiction of Hell based on the teachings of Buddhism. Including traditions from other Japanese folklore and religions, this Hell consists of eight levels of fire and eight levels of ice. A soul’s punishment is determined by the type of sins committed while alive and can consist of anything from carrying the pain of those you have hurt, to being flayed alive. It is shots of live flaying and beheadings that lands JIGOKU a place in the splatter sub-genre and is believed to be one of the first examples of Japanese splatter horror. What is so scary about this is the belief that all souls must spend some time in Hell before moving on to Heaven and eventually reincarnation. As Shiro moves through the levels of Hell he witnesses the torments being suffered by those he knew in life. He witnesses eyes being gouged out and bodies cut to pieces, as well as hearing the never-ending screams of the sinners. Shiro is also being followed by Tamura, who tries to tempt him at every turn. Shiro is determined to prove that he is not a bad person and has a conscience. This last third of JIGOKU is quite intense and frightening. It’s almost uncomfortable to watch, but that is what a good horror movie should do—make the viewer uncomfortable.

Most of the extras in the scenes of Hell are butoh dancers. Butoh is a form of dance combining traditional and modern elements and was founded by Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno. Created out of the chaos of post-World War II Japan, most of the movements involve the distortion of the body. The form is primal, manic and at times sexually provocative. It was exactly what Nakagawa wanted for his denizens of Hell. Their movements capture the torment delivered to them. Hijikata also used butoh when he co-starred in Teruo Ishii’s HORRORS OF MALFORMED MEN (1969).

* * *

TOKAIDO YOTSUYA KAIDAN (THE GHOST OF YOTSUYA {1959}) is based on the most famous Japanese ghost story of all time, which was written by Nanboku Tsuruya in 1815 for Japan’s Kabuki Theater. Iemon Tamiya (Shigeru Amachi, who also starred in JIGOKU) is a ronin, a masterless samurai who has been refused the hand of Iwa (Katsuko Wakasugi), the woman he loves, by her father. Usually a samurai becomes a ronin when his master is killed—it is then up to the ronin to avenge his master’s death and then commit ritual suicide. Iemon is not one of those devoted samurai. Enraged by Iwa’s father’s refusal, Iemon kills the father along with another man. Naosuke (Shuntaro Emi), a servant and the only witness, tells Iemon he will help him hide his crime. They tell Iwa and Yomoshichi (Ryuzaburo Nakamura),the young man Iwa is betrothed to, that another man attacked and killed their fathers. Iemon ultimately marries Iwa and vows to avenge her father’s murder. While on a pilgrimage to pray at a shrine, Iemon and Naosuke stab Yomoshichi and throw him over a waterfall. They then tell Iwa and Sode (Noriko Kitazawa), Iwa’s sister, that the same man who killed the girls’ father has also killed Yomoshichi.

Some time has passed and Iemon and Iwa are living in Edo (Tokyo) and they have had a son. Naosuke and Sode are also in Edo, but neither of the sisters knows this. Naosuke has been promising Sode that he will avenge her father’s death. Sode has promised to marry Naosuke when the task is completed. Iemon and Iwa are poor, and he has grown tired of Iwa asking when he will avenge her father’s death. Iemon meets the daughter of a wealthy samurai and wishes to marry her; but he is already married. Oh, that pesky wife just getting in the way. Naosuke devises a plan to get rid of Iwa and clear the way for Iemon’s marriage. Iwa is poisoned and dies, but not before the poison has disfigured her face. Iwa knows she is dying and why, so she takes her son to the grave with her. Her body is disposed of and Iemon marries his new bride. Out of grief and betrayal Iwa’s spirit haunts Iemon and it affects everything he has lied, schemed and murdered to attain. Iwa has vowed revenge and she will have it.

TOKAIDO YOTSUYA KAIDAN is not the first film adaptation of the original play but it is the most faithful, following the story almost exactly as it was first written. It is a beautifully directed movie with a suitable dark atmosphere throughout. The sisters are very sympathetic characters and Iemon and Naosuke are truly villainous. The special effects are fantastic with Iwa’s face becoming “monstrous” after drinking the poison and her ghostly image is very scary, appearing quite often to sabotage Iemon’s plans. Nakagawa seemed to have taken inspiration for the filming of TOKAIDO YOTSUYA KAIDAN from early Hammer Studios films. This was a low-budget movie but it certainly doesn’t look it. TOKAIDO YOTSUYA KAIDAN is a movie for the horror purist and fans of good old-fashioned ghost stories. What also stands out is the story itself (both the original and this movie) is based on two real-life murders that took place during the samurai period in which it is set. The first crime involved two servants who murdered their masters and the other involved a samurai who murdered his concubine after learning she was having an affair. The story also takes place during a time when women were seen as merely possessions and they suffered greatly. The ghost represents the spiritual power of the woman, allowing her to take revenge for her bad treatment (come on, now, I’ve told you this before).

Both JIGOKU and TOKAIDO YOTSUYA KAIDAN are excellent movies from Nakagawa and if you get the chance to see them, you really should. They are each beautiful, dark and haunting in their own ways and great examples of early Japanese horror cinema.

© Copyright 2011 by Colleen Wanglund