Saturday, April 30, 2011

Ciao Bruno, the last zombies of Mattei

The death of Bruno Mattei was also the death of Italian exploitation. Many of our old favorites, the maestro’s of sleaze and mayhem are still alive, but retired or working with something else. But not good old Bruno! He died on the top, still churning out exploitative masterpieces, with cheap crews and cheap actors. Not cheap because there are bad, but because they had to be cheap to be able to work for Mattei and the company producing the movies, La Perla Nera. The budgets was low, around 50000 dollars per movie and the cast was made up by local talents like the cool Alvin Anson and Yvette Yzon (Pinoy actors obviously like alliteration) and ex-pats like legendary Jim Gaines, Mike Monty and others we’ve seen in tons of older Filipino action classics. I’m sure that Mattei knew what he was doing. There’s a reason for still using his old alias Vincent Dawn. He was making cheap exploitation, some people would even call it “crap”.

The thing is that it’s far from crap. It might be cheap and exploitative, but that do not mean its crap. Quite the opposite I would say. Making cheap movies are an artform by itself and Mattei surely was the master of this. Give 50000 bucks to Michael Bay and he wouldn’t even know how to film himself out of his VIP luxury trailer. Mattei used that budget carefully, and when he didn’t have the money he used an explosion or two from another bigger-budgeted movie. Sometime even more, as long it worked in his movie. In the last two movies he made he once again explored the zombie-myth, like he did in the excellent and bat-shit nuts Hell of the Living Dead in 1980.

Island of the Living Dead is more ambitious that it’s first given credit for. The story, while hardly original, still stands on its own legs with a few nods here and there to other movies. A team of treasure hunters are forced to go shore on a mysterious island. What they find there is a lot of zombies, old fuckers by the way – conquistadors, slaves and other relics from the past. At first they only find skeletons, but soon zombies and something I would like to call ghosts, show up and start to eat their way thru our team (Jim Gaines, Yvette Yzon, Alvin Anson, Gaetano Russo etc). Honestly, of the two later zombie-movies Mattei directed this is the weakest. It has a lot of good stuff, and the old-fashioned zombies are fun – but it really lacks a good pace and the gore and action is very low compared to what would come next. It also has a lot of very unintentional comedy, for example, did you know that fishing boats had their own self-destruction mechanism? Probably the funniest scene I’ve seen. But they needed it to make the story move along nicely, so why not?

In the sequel, oddly named Zombies: The Beginning, Yvette Yzon are back as the only survivor (which is a bit odd, because she actually becomes a zombie in the end of the first movie!). And here it becomes really interesting, because the “original story” by producer Giovanni Paolucci and script by Antonio Tentori, is only James Cameron’s Aliens but with the aliens changed to zombies! Yes, it’s almost scene for scene – but with some small changes. For example, here they skipped the always irritating finding little girl-storyline which I always felt stopped the action in Aliens – and instead of a big mother of an Alien they used a talking brain in the end! I like that. Somehow it seems the budget was slightly higher here, or they spent the money more wise. The gore and blood is a lot more with tons of exploding heads and very big and gory squibs. The zombies are plenty and aggressive and we’re also treated to a stock footage-werewolf/monkey/bigfoot/yeti-thingie that’s never explained. The end also gives us the creepiest thing I’ve seen in a long while: mutated zombie-children, almost buck naked with pingpong-eyes and very eerie choreographed slow-motion movements! This is disturbing, in a good way. I mean, wtf?

This was the perfect last movie for Mattei. He once show that he can tell a story like no one else, probably because he was best telling others stories than his own. And what better than just to steal ‘em and do it your own way? But I sense that if he didn't day, there would have been one final last chapter in his zombie-saga. So sad he never got a chance to finish it...

Island of the Living Dead is dedicated to Mike Monty and Zombies: The Beginning ends with touching video footage of a frail Bruno Mattei and the sign “Ciao Bruno…”.

Like I said so many times before, Bruno Mattei will be missed. A true talent, a true maverick.

Mahakaal (1993)

My experience with Bollywood (I know there’s other places in India they make film in, but it’s a simple expression and everyone knows what you’re talking about) is more or less zero. I’ve tried before to immerse myself in enormous movie industry in India, but always given up because of the wealth of movies to start with. But finally, I made it easy for me. I bought Kaalo (and reviewed it), mostly because it was short and had a fun concept and since earlier I prepared myself with Mondo Macabro’s impressive Bollywood Horror Collection vol. 1-3.

Mahakaal is A Nightmare on Elm Street the Indian way, which actually makes it better than some of the movies it was inspired by. It might not be as good as Wes Craven’s original classic, but the unique touch it gives the story with colourful and cool song- and dance-numbers, some freaky special effects and hilarious fashion makes it really good. I won’t go into the story, because it’s the same as the first Elm Street-movie + some details and twists from the sequels here and there. Instead I want to focus on how fun this movie is. How extremely much passion has been poured into the production with crazy comedy, wild action and very cheesy horror scenes.

The budget is low, but that hasn’t stopped the Ramsay-family from just giving it all when it comes to money-shots! The effects are cheaper and maybe not so well-made as in the original Elm Street-movies, but the are always spectacular and gives us more knife-gloves than we ever could asked for, more fighting and more Indian chicks dancing! At first I was very sceptical to this fellow, Johnny Lever, the most popular Indian comedian EVER. His comedy is VERY broad, very non-subtle. His Michael Jackson-wannabe character is quite annoying, but when he shows up in other characters he’s more fun. In one scene he’s obviously parodying some other Indian actor, with a big beard and does some serious ass-kicking in a bar, which is one of the highlights of the whole show.

I’m not familiar with the other actors, but everyone seem to enjoy themselves a lot and throws themselves into the acting, action and show-numbers with a lot of enthusiasm. That spills over to us, the spectators, and I got a fantastic feeling of well-being after watching Mahakaal.

One thing that strikes me also is that the movie is over two hours and still never feels boring. Something fun and exciting is happening all the time. I think that's the best certificate a movie can get.

The Mondo Macabro DVD looks great with a clear and crisp fullscreen transfer. I doubt it ever looked so good before – and after, because I guess this is the only way to see it in the west if you’re not buying some Indian DVD or VCD. Now I can’t wait to watch the other movies in the Bollywood Horror Collection!

Histeria (2008)

This is, what I know, the first Malaysian horror movie I’ve seen. Some people claim it’s the first Malaysian horror movie, but I’m not sure that’s correct. Often, even in the most conservative countries, there are movies you do not expect to exist. But what do I know, I’m just a simple country boy from Sweden. Director James Lee got a choice from the producer to make a genre movie. Action was too expensive, and it all ended with Histeria, a horror movie that might not bring something new to the world but still is quite entertaining.

Location: an all-girl school where a prank goes terribly wrong. It doesn’t lead to a knife-wielding maniac taking revenge on the girls or a vengeful ghost killing them one by one. Instead they remove some holy object from an ant hill and up crawls a god damn monster with sharp teeth and hunger for human flesh! The holy object (some bones or something) is placed there by the gardener to protect the school and girls (and of course, because he’s weird, everyone think he’s really a pervert!). It won’t take long until the few girls left at school are hunted down by the monster, and what’s there not to like about that?

Histeria both fails and succeeds in creating a good story. The good thing is that it’s very well-made with excellent directing and cinematography. No fancy schmancy editing or weird colour-scales, this is very competent filmmaking in the old school of storytelling. What’s both the blessing and curse of the movie is the build-up. The director obviously wanted to make a movie with real characters and slowly tells the story of the relationships and intrigues at the school. It’s not until like 45 minutes into the movie we’re treated to the first sight of the monster and some blood. Usually I don’t mind this, because if it’s well-made it’s worth the time getting to the juicy stuff. The problem here is that it’s hard to tell the girls from each other. They look the same and with the uniforms they are more or less impossible to tell apart.

But when the horror kicks in, it gets better. The monster is awesome. A dark figure, humanoid, with insect-like face and big sharp teeth! He/she goes for the throat and – I’ve changed my mind here – even if it’s not GORY, I would say it is at least very BLOODY. Not that there aren’t any graphic shots – there are, and they are very nice, but most of the attacks are violent, bloody and juicy. But it would have been nice with some nice gore.

Histeria is an odd movie. It feels like something that was planned to be a typical slasher at first, or maybe a one of those boring Asian ghost-movies, but the monster-twist is a surprise and makes the movie so much more fun. It’s out on Sweden on a nice DVD, only with Scandinavian subtitles. But it’s recommended viewing for fans of neo-horror from Asian countries.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Rituals (1977)

I wonder if it’s possible writing something new about Rituals? I’m not sure really, because it’s one of those rare genre-movies that are only exploitation on the surface, while it really is such a more competent and intelligent piece of adventure/thriller/drama than the mainstream-media probably realize. At a first glance Rituals is just a rip-off on Deliverance. Yeah, that could be true. It’s easy to see the similarities, but Rituals has one thing that actually makes it better: a couple of drunk doctors.

You see, Deliverance – which is a masterpiece, one of the most perfect movies EVER – has Burt Reynolds. Über-macho-warrior Numero Uno. In Deliverance there’s Burt doing the protecting and deep inside we all know that Burt will save the day with his bow and arrow somehow. In Rituals we have five quite pathetic doctors who want to do their “ritual”, be men, get drunk, smoke some weed and then go back to their families and jobs they really hate. Their ritual is to take a long walk, but still never face danger or adventure. Just do something macho they can brag about to their colleagues afterwards.

They are all losers. Even Hal Holbrook, as the wise and older doctor who refuses to let someone die in his job, preferring to let them be vegetables for life instead of dead, is a weak mother. During the whole movie he goes from being a gentleman to the savage he despise so much, and in the end… well, let’s say that he’s not so innocent anymore. These are normal human beings, so far away from stereotypes or cliché-ridden characters you can get. All of them have their major faults, but it’s hard to dislike them because we all know that we probably would react in the same way if something similar happen to us, or even less terrifying!

Shot in continuity, which mean they shot the movie in the same order as the scenes in the script, which helps a lot in this trip to hell. It’s clearly visible on the actors, not only with make-up and costumes getting dirtier and dirtier, but the eyes, the voices and reactions. It’s a very physical movie, and none of them are any athletes, which makes it even more filled with tension. One unique thing with Rituals is that there’s a gay character, and nothing more. He mentions an ex-boyfriend, and that’s it. It’s no big deal, it’s nothing amazing or disgusting or bizarre or politically correct. It’s just the way life is. And that what Rituals in the end are about, acting and dialogue. Probably the most naturalistic I’ve ever seen in genre movie. They could have done it so much simpler, so much more stupid. But the script is smart, the characters multi-layered and the direction flawless.

Rituals are of course also about terror and horror, and even if it’s quite slow compared to other movies in the same genre, it manages to spellbind the spectator for 100 minutes. Not more graphic violence and blood, except in the end, and it’s more of Deliverance than a typical horror movie.

I’ve said it many times, Rituals is a masterpiece. A classy, emotionally charged backwoods-thriller with everything from great drama, excellent acting, blood and violence. It has it all. The Code Red DVD is a must in the collection. The print(s) used is not fantastic and quite rough, but superior to all previous incarnations of this movie. So throw away that ugly motherfucker of german big box, those blurry tapes and watch the movie like it should be watched.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Dark Nature (2009)

Here we have an oddity, a Scottish (more or less) remake/homage too Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood. Marc de Launay’s slick thriller/slasher Dark Nature first seems a bit weird to be a product of 2009, where we are used to see more typical body count-thrillers and not something that mostly can be described like a slow-moving drama with some nasty kills spread over the storyline.

The story is as simple as it can be. A family with a younger boy and a teenager daughter is going on vacation to, I guess, the wife’s family village. They’re going to meet up with her mother and some other relatives. But the whole thing starts with an older woman getting brutally killed – and then, surprisingly – her killer is getting killed himself by an unknown killer! Yes, exactly like Bay of the Blood. What unfolds is remarkable similar to the Bava-classic. From the weirdo handyman to the insect-collecting man with a spiritual wife! Slowly they’re getting killed one by one (one with a machete in the face...) until the familiar ending…

Sorry, that was actually a lot of spoilers for you who have seen Bay of Blood. But wait, I think you might enjoy this little film anyway. It’s an ambitious and quite violent indie-flick with some gorgeous Scottish (I guess) landscapes and fantastic nature. I could kill for the house they use in the movie!

Even of much of the story is borrowed from Bava’s old masterpiece, it still stands on its own two feet and does it well, keeping the balance between homage and originality. The eurocult-vibes are strong, but lacks the prolific actors. It has some graphic violence and, if I remember it correctly, some minor nudity too.

The distribution is crap of this movie, and the best way to see it is to buy the Troma blu-ray, which is very cheap and looks very good. ‘Nuff said about Dark Nature, it’s an good movie, and probably the only remake of Bay of Blood we’ll ever see.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Kaalo (2010)

What’s missing in my almost collection? Indian movies, lots of Indian movies. So I decided to do something about that and start getting myself everything that sounds, looks and probably is a lot of fun. I started with Wilson Louis 2010 horror movie Kaalo (“First Ever Day Horror”), because I heard good stuff about it from people I trust and the simple story seemed right up my alley!

A bus with the usual suspects: the young horny couple, some disrespectful hoodlums, a silent hero, the comic relief bus-staff, a fancy fashion photographer and his model and an older couple on their way to meet their grandchild. Everyone is kinda happy, until the road they’re travelling on disappears in a big hole (probably leading to hell!) and they are forced to take the road leading thru the deserted village of Kulbhata! It’s deserted for a reason: a big, slimy monster-witch is killing everyone getting close to the place with her big spear! She also has gigantic wings and can crawl underneath the surface of the ground, sucking people beneath and killing them! Will they make it?!

Kaalo is a cheap, quite rough horror movie. But it’s a very entertaining and energy-filled piece of exploitation. The director Wilson Louis takes his inspiration from Evil Dead, Tremors and Jeepers Creepers, which if this was a SyFy Channel production could have been very boring. But the frantic pace, the wacky visual solutions and the non-stop monster action make Kaalo a winner! Just don’t expect big Hollywood-effects. It has some dodgy digital effects, but it’s so colourful and fun that everything is forgiven. I LOVE the monster-witch for example! Green and slimy, with a huge tongue and those wings, armed with a spear! Very violent chick, I tell ya, and she uses her weapon to impale and hit a lot of victims.

I can’t say it’s a gory movie, but it has a lot of goo and blood, and a few graphic stabs here and there. Not bad, could have been more, but I can promise you that when this movie starts you will – especially after the excellent opening (which has a kill that reminded me a lot of The Hills Have Eyes-remake by Alexandre Aja) – never be bored. And yes, its 81 minutes long and has maybe 2-3 minutes of song which I think is a great choice. Horror and monster first, a little bit song on the side.

This movie made my day, and a perfect inspiration to find myself more Indian genre movies!

Torso (1973)

One of the most meaningless issues in the world of movie-nerds is if Torso should be considered a ”slasher” or a ”giallo”. Yes, it’s true. I run into this discussion at least once a year, which makes it a more serious issue among horror fans than famine, war and child abuse. So now we need to get some stuff straight here: Torso is a giallo, the Italian thriller. It has everything a typical giallo should have: a childhood trauma, a killer with a knife, dolls, lots of murders and nice music. The only thing that make it slightly similar to what some people claim is a typical slasher, are the fact some of the young female victims goes to a villa on the countryside and get’s killed there. That’s it. And it does not mean the genre is “slasher”. Seriously, if a movie like The Prowler or House or Sorority Row was made in Italy they would be considered giallos, because they are thrillers. Damn, Agatha Christie is considered giallo in Italy!

Puh. Fuck it. Sergio Martino’s Torso is one of the most prolific and famous giallos of the 70´s, and it’s easy to understand. It has a lot of nudity, the gore is primitive – but plenty and the classy score the De Angelis-brothers are among the most famous and popular. And maybe it’s the future US slasher-ingredients what makes this movie even more entertaining because the final is one of kind and delivers a lot of tension without being especially violent. Even the mass-slaughter inside the villa is off screen, just the aftermath is shown. Genius, because one of the thing people remember is the über-violent ending! It’s the TCM-hypnotism once again, people just imagine and it turns out even better than the filmmakers probably planned.

I’ve always wonder if the crappy effects in the two first murders are meant to be that way. Both the girls, when the knife hits and when they eyes are pushed in, are very plastic – in one case almost doll-like. Or maybe that just fitted with the killer’s obsession with them being dolls? Probably just a weak day for special effects-guy and nothing more to read in to it, but I always react when I see it. Somewhere, I don’t remember exactly where, I’ve seen the infamous Il Mostro di Firenze-case being mentioned as a inspiration to this movie, but this is of course totally wrong. The first – maybe – murder was in 1968, which wasn’t that famous. The second incident happen in 1974, but it wasn’t until 1981 the police understood that there was a serial killer on the loose. So I think we count the Il Mostro-case out as inspiration for Torso.

This wasn’t so much about the story, which I think no one complains about. One million other blogs has already talked about the plot and the kills, but I feel Torso with it’s unique twists and turns, to be a one of a kind giallo that deserves slightly higher recognition than being presented a pre-slashers and a gore-movie. This is a high class thriller with ideas that even today feels quite fresh.

A classic.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The End of Agent W4C (1967)

Compared to overloaded fiascos like Modesty Blaise and Casino Royale from the same era (I still like them, even if they are quite tiresome in the long run), The End of Agent W4C was a huge success in eastern Europe and is remarkably similar in style of comedy as it’s more well-known siblings. The only difference is that this is a genuine fun movie with jokes that never falls flat.

Jan Kacer is Cyril Juan Borguette, Agent W4C, a secret agent that refuses to kill animals, have indestructible shoes and an old-fashioned alarm clock with everything from a car key to a nuclear bomb. He also has a lot of women after him, but they never seem to make him fall for them. This time he’s on a mission to an anonymous European city (Prague, which everyone fails to keep secret) from another anonymous European city (Paris, which is shown with a photo of the Eiffel Tower with the text “An anonymous European city”) to get his hand on a secret microfilm, hidden in a salt shaker. The local secret service in Prague want that micro film too and send out the only man they have available and can afford, their bookkeeper Foustka (Jiří Sovák) who fumbles his way thru the international spy-world with his faithful little dog by his side!

This comedy makes everything the right way, for once. The characters are very likable and instead of over-acting and funny faces they act realistic and with a very fine comic timing. The character of Foustka is obviously based on Inspector Clouseau, but with less slap-stick. Czech funny man Jiří Sovák plays the character with a straight face and like Sellers never seem to realize the mayhem he creates around him. Květa Fialová is the female heroine, and even if she’s doing a straight part with nothing particularly funny to do, she’s excellent, gorgeous and sexy as the combined Olympic swimmer/secret agent. Jan Kacer is a great lead, always black sunglasses (maybe a nod, tribute, to Zbigniew Cybulski who died young the same year and was a famous handsome Polish actor known for his sunglasses), a cool beard and with deadly karate-chops!

The story itself is a mixed bag of jokes which revolves around the central MacGuffin, the salt shaker and what’s in it. This is a world where everyone is a spy or a henchman hired by a spy, and in a famous scene absolutely everyone is a spy, hiding at a restaurant – from guests to the musicians. It all ends in the traditional huge fistfight row, like in Casino Royale or in dozens after dozens of western-comedies. The jokes are non-stop, but never tiresome. It’s 85 minutes of pure, classic comedy and it still holds up very well.

The End of Agent W4C is out on a nice-looking Czech DVD with English subtitles. Well worth purchasing for the collectors of spy-movies and classics from behind the iron curtain.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Ikarie XB-1 (1963)

I’m very fond of eastern European movies, especially when they tried their hands on genre movies like horror, science fiction, action, disaster etc. Why? Because they took it more seriously. They might have used the same clichés, but with a sense of “Lets do this for real, why make something silly when we can do it hardcore?”. Sure, I miss monsters and huge invasions, but I appreciate that questions asked and the opposite propaganda which feels fresh compared to, for example, US counterparts. This is the first Czech sci-fi I’ve seen, and I want to see more!

Spaceship Ikarie XB-1 is moving thru space, after years and years of travel. The crew (and technology) is searching for other lifeforms, but after such a long time routine has taken over and it’s just like normal life on earth – just maybe more boring. Suddenly they find a spaceship. The crew, humans, are dead – in the middle of card games and partying (capitalistic behaviour!). It also has a nuclear bomb, which goes of and infects our crew… will they make it, or will they be just another mission lost in space?

Maybe I’m totally wrong here, but I would like to call Ikarie XB 1 neo-realism in space. It has a realistic story without any mumbo jumbo, shows ordinary life on a spaceship, frequently uses handheld camera and just feels so much down-to-earth (haha) compared to sci-fi movies from other countries. Even if the interior of the ship feel quite dated and the uniforms aren’t that different what they probably thought was futuristic in the sixties, the atmosphere on the other hand is fantastic. The best scene is when they enter the found spaceship, which is both eerie and have sense of realism.

On the down side the movie is very slow and nothing much really happens, not regarding action or adventure. It’s just a daily routine on a spaceship for the most of the running time, but slowly accelerates to a thriller when the other spaceship and the radiation spreading. The ending is powerful, optimistic and gives a few goose-bumps – and maybe it was best leaving it there where it ends. Not showing so much more just triggers the imagination, which in this case only is a good solution.

Ikarie XB-1 is a slow and maybe not too exciting sci-fi flick from the former Czechoslovakia, but for fans of good sci-fi this is a must, a very well-made and intelligent written story which leaves a taste for more Czech sci-fi.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Dead Serious (2005)

I started my Sunday with watching Joe Sullivan’s criminally under-distributed Dead Serious, an action-oriented vampire-flick set in a New York gay bar! I’m not the one that says no to ambitious indie-movies and since I first heard of Dead Serious I wanted to see it. The concept is fun and feels like a fresh idea in a sea of the normal stupidity released on DVD. So was the movie any good? Let’s see…

A normal night in New York: Mike (Michael Weingartner), an accountant have one last meeting at one of his new clients, a gay bar and decides to meet up with his wife Susan (Felissa Rose) there afterwards. The night is young and the crowd is dancing, drinking and having a blast. One of them is Richard (a spot-on Patrick Swearingen) who goes there to find his husband, who he suspects might have an affair with someone at the bar. But his husband Troy (Brian Gianci) is actually a government agent, trying to figure out why people are disappearing around the bar – and now he knows. The bar is taken over by vampires and they, together with The Christian Action Army – lead by evil conservative reverend Bob Rivington (Carson Grant) – take over the US, transform all the gay’s to nice, decent heterosexuals with a serum and bring back God into everyone’s life!

Dead Serious is Die Hard VS Vampires VS gay comedy VS biting (no pun intended) satire! First let me start with a small complain. It ended way to fast. I wanted more of everything, and they only way I can see this happen is if Dead Serious gets better distribution so director Joe Sullivan has to give us a sequel. Because another action-vampire-horror flick with an accountant and his wife, a Broadway dancer and a government agent against killer Christians would be fantastic.

But at least, while it last, Dead Serious is a fun and smart horror-comedy with a good amount of blood and witty dialogue. It’s a low-budget SOV film, seem to be shot at a real bar somewhere and that is both a blessing and a curse. I guess the location stopped the crew from going really berserk with violence and gore, but also gave the movie a realism which I appreciate. It’s not without blood and the squibs and fangs is plenty! The best thing is the actors, which are better casted than many other horror-indies I’ve seen. From the trio of excellent bad guys, Thomas A. Cahill (imagine Jürgen Prochnow, but more dangerous), Paul Coughlan and Carson Grant to the very funny crew of The Decency Channel (for example Jack Halpin as Blanton Wheatley, the hairspray-obsessed TV reporter) to the likable heroes mentioned above. This is great casting with actors who can deliver smart and funny dialogue and at the same time give believable performances.

It’s quite hard to find Dead Serious, which is a damn pity, because it really deserves better distribution. It’s one of those rare indie-movies that try to making something more than just shooting another boring slasher in mom’s backyard.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Silent House (2010)

First of all, I’ve seen a lot of references to The Silent House being a found footage-movie. This is not the case, it’s a ghost movie with the concept of the one take-illusion, but it’s as far away from the typical handheld documentary footage some people claim it to be. This is a pure, complete cinematic experience from the first frame to the last and it is more or less excellent. The only complains I have, and I know I rarely complain, is that it gets a bit too generic when it comes to the many ghost house clichés it delivers during its short running time. There are creepy girl ghosts, freaky Polaroid photos, bumps in the night, complete darkness with photo flashes used as light, something or something gliding by the camera in the foreground (a speciality that only John Carpenter made work, in – among others – The Thing) and so on. But what the f**k.

Laura (Florencia Colucci) and her father Wilson (Gustavo Alonso) goes out the countryside to help her fathers friend Nestor (Abel Tripaldi) taking care of his house for a couple of days, moving the lawn, fixing the garden before the people who bought it arrives. They’re gonna start early in the morning and arrives late at in the evening to able to start working early. Nestor tells them to not go up on the second floors, the floor and roof aren’t safe there… It won’t take long until Laura hears a terrible noise from the upper floor, and loud banging on the walls. Her father tells her to stay put while he goes up to check what the hell is going on… and he does not come down again…

The Silent House is such a beautiful movie! Shot with a Canon 5D Mark II digital camera, basically a still camera, but with amazing camera work. This is helps the movie because the cameraman can easily follow the actors around the house, even in the smallest spaces. Compared to another horror movie in one single take (which is true in the correct meaning with that one), “Cut”, this movie truly looks like a real movie in every sense of the word. Every angle, every movement are like from a normal movie, but everything hangs together in one piece. The technical part of the movie is simply stunning.

But the true magic of The Silent House is the script. It’s not overly complicated, but what makes it stand out from the rest is the lack of dialogue. Sure, they talk – but just the most necessary. There are no long talky scenes to fill out the story and explain the meaning of everything. The story is told almost in it’s entity by acting and camera work, not talking. This means hard work for Florencia Colucci who is in most of the shots of the movie, going from a normal shy young woman to afraid like never before.

Sure, what the movie could have used was more original ideas. But I also guess that talking on such an experiment maybe leaves out a too complicated and innovative script. It’s a pity, but the movie is still so good that it really does not matter in the end. This is one helluva horror movie, and I really hope that director Gustavo Hernández continues with the same quality and not being sucked up in the studio system (which means first a remake of a European movie, then a bigger original movie that flops and then back to DTV flicks with less or no marketing at all).

See it. Now.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Psalm 21 (2010)

First of all, a serious warning: there will be a lot of superlative's in this review. No, it's not a review. It's a tribute.

Sorry, my hands are shaking. I have genuine problem writing down what I feel about Psalm 21. I was SO skeptical before watching this movie, really. Because Swedish horror movies generally sucks big time! But what I think we have here is THE best Swedish horror movie made. Yes, I would say so. It has some faults, some minor problem – but that occurs during the first 15-20 minutes of the story. I’m not gonna go into those details, but if you have problem with the beginning (which I’m sure only will be for Swedish viewers), just wait and let the movie take you into a very, very dark story. A story which holds no punches what so ever with its message.

Jonas Malmsjö, son of famous Swedish actor Jan Malmsjö (Fanny and Alexander, Scenes from a Marriage etc), plays Henrik, a priest living a, on the surface, a happy wonderful life. He’s divorced and feels that the relationship with his son is cracking up. But that’s the least of his problem when his father, also a priest, dies in a drowning accident. They haven’t had contact for many years, but Henrik goes up to Hammerdal, the small town where his father had his church, to find out what really happen. A dramatic incident makes his car break down, and he’s stuck on a small road out in the deepest forest. He finally finds shelter in a remote house. The family that lives there are odd, and they seem to have some connection to his father. At the same time he starts to get visions, terrible visions…

Here we have a genuine Swedish horror movie, but for once it either tries to imitate US production or trying to be TO Swedish. And with “to Swedish” I mean very correct, very clear, very boring, silly, crappy and shallow. There’s stuff that are in every Swedish drama production – cello music, saliva when people yells or cry and very small towns – but thankfully director Fredrik Hiller never once falls in the terrible fucking pit of normality, “lagom” was we say in Sweden. “Lagom” means that something is either too much, too little, too bad, too good, too funny, too scary, too tasty and so on. A very normal mentality in Sweden, which is very sad.

But Psalm 21 delivers, for once. I can’t say it’s a gory movie, but it has it fair share of very effective shocks and special effects – all very well-done. The visuals of the movie are stunning, and the cinematography together with Hiller’s direction is among the best I’ve seen in our cinema for a long time. But where it’s most powerful is in its story, which I really don’t want to say so much about. But as ex-Christian, raised in a very nasty religious environment, this movie comes as a revelation. It’s like I, for once, counts in this sick thing we call religion and what that form of spiritual powerplay has done.. I’m sure some more emotionally sensitive people will be disturbed by the story that unfolds, but I’m also sure that a lot of people will take this to their hearts. But make no mistake, Psalm 21 is a supernatural (not some silly “It’s all in his mind”-shit) horror-thriller.

I also want to mention the actors. Jonas Malmsjö has never been a favourite actually, and he does some of his old acting-tricks – but does them very well. Per Ragnar, who plays his father, has always been an excellent actor, specialised in creepy, dark characters. He’s marvellous here. Görel Crona, I haven’t seen much for her lately, so it’s great to see her do such a low-key, but very fine-tuned part has the mother of the family. Her husband is played by Niklas Falk is downright fantastic. Their grown-up son is played by Björn Bengtsson, and he still has some theatrical mannerism in his acting, but handles the part very well – I’m impressed. Josefin Ljungman plays the teenager daughter, Nora, and makes it a realistic performance – totally superior to a lot of actresses in her age. Ok, I could mention everyone, so fuck it.

Psalm 21 is a – insert random superlative here – movie, and probably the best Swedish horror movie ever. Sorry for my ramblings, I need to buy a kebab now to calm me down.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Bangkok Knockout (2010)

Do you remember kung fu-movies from the eighties? They always ended with a spectacular fight inside a warehouse or a factory. Panna Rittikrai’s latest movie is more or less that for ninety minutes. I’ve been a long time fan of Rittikrai, both his über-low budget VCD-masterpieces to his later work with the awesome Tony Jaa. During later years he’s always been in the background, doing the stunt- and fight choreography for tons of fun action movies from Thailand. With the exception of the absurdly violent Born to Fight (starring Dan Chupong) he’s stayed away from big mainstream directing. Until now. Bangkok Knockout is very similar to Born to Fight, but with lower budget and less blood – but don’t worry, it delivers!

A group of hopeful fighters, stuntmen and athletic actors gathers for an audition. It’s an American production and behind it all is a bearded, rude, cigar-smoking Farang. So all the good guys gets chosen, invited to a party… and next day they all wake up in a big industrial area (with never-finished houses, garages, warehouses etc) after been drugged! They never tried out for a movie, but for a deadly game where rich foreign fuckers bet money on their survival against a gang of ruthless killers! Let the action begin!

Like Born to Fight we first have to suffer thru around half an hour of pointless character development before the fun can begin. It’s actually quite similar to BTF, with a small gang of heroes forced to fight killers in a secluded area – but this time the movie ends with the fight on and around the truck. The cast is young and cute, but most of them seem to be skilled fighters and handles the action very well. The only stand-out performance is living legend Sorapong Chatree, who looks almost too fresh for being 60+ years old. He don’t have much to do, but is always a welcome guest in any Thai movie. Panna Rittikrai, who looks f**king brutal, acts as one of the bad guys and is fantastic. He even has a fight, even if he doesn’t move around much, mostly blocking hits and breaking one or two legs. The worst performance is from one of the western actors, he sounds Russian and he can’t act his way out of a wet paper bag.

But the action, you ask? First of all, it’s not as creative or innovative as in Chocolate or Raging Phoenix. This is more balls-to-the-walls brutal action, with quite straight-forward fights with a lot of neck-breaking stunts. It slowly gets more and more spectacular the further the movie goes and offers a lot of fights. It won’t change your world, but I guarantee you get entertained. My favourite scenes is has quite little fights. It’s with a mute, tall killer with an iron mask and a big axe, like a Jason Voorhees! He’s impossible to take down and even fights being totally on fire! Except this you’ll get action with motorcrosses, a truck, different fight-techniques, a car or two and in-between some stupid Thai comedy. The only really bad thing (and I don’t count a thin storyline bad, it’s just a frigging action movie man!) is the extremely homophobic depiction of one of the bad guys, who are so stereotypical that it leaves a damn bad taste afterwards. This is a common thing in Thai movies, but here it’s a bit too much even for me.

Bangkok Knockout (aka BKO) will turn some people away for being very thin, a bit cheap and very uneven as all of Rittikrai’s work as a director. Personally I was very entertained by it and just loved the fights and stunts. Because in the end, that’s the reason for the existence of BKO: kicking the ass of brave stuntmen, nothing else.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Redeemer (1978)

The Redeemer could have been a normal pro-slasher if it wasn’t for that it begins with a boy walking up from some kind of lake, walks into a mans bedroom and uses his power to make that man grow an extra thumb. Except for that, it’s quite a normal slasher with some violent deaths and a very ambiguous twist. Normally I wouldn’t care much to write about a movie like this, but it has a special atmosphere and an interesting cast of characters with more depth than usual.

Maybe this is because it came before the big slasher-boom and allowed the script to be more interesting than demanded from the bodycount-hungry audience. The problem is that it has problems making everything come together in the end. Is the killer doing a good thing, if so this is clearly a extremist right-wing movie with no redeeming qualities what so ever? Or is a demon using a priest to perform evil deeds in the form of divine punishment? Yeah, the question actually makes me feel more and more unsure how to interpret the message. Maybe it doesn’t have a message? Maybe it’s just a silly slasher movie with some ideas that looked cool on paper but didn’t work out in the editing? Really, should I care?

Because the movie could just be a way to show people getting killed in creative ways, I and choose to see it that way. Not that it’s extremely gory, but it has its share of blood – which the knife in head is the showstopper. The other killings are more visual than gory, like a very drawn-out beating in toilet or the well-made burning man. The atmosphere is nice and the direction is competent, but you never sense danger. Its way to easy to escape the house and outside its just pure stupidity that makes people run right in the arms of the killer.

In the end The Redeemer is a flawed movie, but well worth watching for a couple of creepy moments and bloodshed. The DVD from Code Red is a bit rough, but adds to that Grindhouse-feeling the kids like so much nowadays. It’s just sad that Code Red themselves seems too loath the movie by putting to very negative quotes on the cover and name their own trailers “pointless”.

For us who loves movies like this, it’s never fun to be told that our taste suck directly from the distributor. But even because of this, Code Red is one of my favourite companies and I recommend everyone to buy their releases and support a small company that releases movies only a few of us really enjoys.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Name for Evil (1973)

The weirdest movie of the weekend, A Name for Evil, is an oddity produced by Penthouse (yes, THE Penthouse) starring no other than Robert Culp and Samantha Eggar. Marketed as a haunted house-movie, I’m not sure that’s a correct label on this movie – but it has a haunted house, but it’s at the same time so much more than that. And I will at the end of this little text make a statement of a more modern movie that could have been inspired by this one.

Robert Culp is an architect, John, tired of constructing boring office building. He throws out his TV from the apartment window and takes wife Joanna (Samantha Eggar) and their life and moves out in the nature, to an old run-down old house belonging to the family. But not long after John arrive he’s starts seeing “stuff”. Hauntings, visions. Warning’s from someone that could be an ancient relative of him. The remote location of the house starts to get to his and his wife’s nerves, and soon he’s drawn into a dark, sexual game…

This is a very odd movie, one of the oddest I’ve seen in a long while. It’s not bad by any means, but cheap and maybe a bit crude when it comes to some of the visions that appear. We’re not talking special effects here, just shadows and “ghostly” voices. But the ghost-stuff is really not important, because it’s probably just in his head anyway. It’s the how the nature, the location, suffocates them. Such a beautiful place creates so much paranoia and violence. In one of the best scenes of the movie John is drawn into the sexual games that the local people are involved in. If it’s real or not, or partly, is hard to tell. But everything culminates in a huge graphic orgy out in the forest. Everyone is one with the nature.

Yes, this feels – especially when you see it – a lot like Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist. Antichrist is also a name for evil, which is never explained in Von Trier’s movie. Not in this movie either, but somehow it feels like the nature, the woman holding John back, is the evil. It also has the same feeling of claustrophobia, even if both of them are set in wilderness where it’s easy to escape. It ends with sudden and surprising violence, like Antichrist, but A Name for Evil is of course a lot tamer. In the end only one is alive, and nothing will be the same again…

I’m not trying to convince you that A Name for Evil is a masterpiece, but it’s a nice little movie which is far more ambitious than I expected from the beginning. It has tons of nudity – including Robert Culp’s holiest of holies – a weird musical number (which make it resemble The Wicker Man) and a couple of very cryptic twists and turns. Pity the DVD is crap, but I hope maybe someone like Code Red would release a proper version of it in the correct ratio and better picture quality.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Dorm That Dripped Blood (1982)

Finally I can throw away my old crap-deluxe DVD version of The Dorm That Dripped Blood and erase every memory of all the even crappier VHS-versions I’ve seen, because the new Synapse edition is so good it’s just not worth watching any other version. The cool thing is that the directors dug up, without knowing it, their original uncut version of the movie – before distributors and other idiots raped the movie with their bright ideas. Not that the movie itself offers anything new, but it’s an ambitious and very gritty slasher which carved itself a nice place in slasher-history.

A bunch of students volunteers to stay behind before Christmas vacation to clear out their old dorm. It’s one of those high rise apartment buildings and not the typical picturesque villa with some silly Greek letters on the front. So this means there’s a lot more places for a serial killer to hide, which is exactly what happens – and one by one the students fall victim for the sadistic unknown killer!

It’s a by-the-numbers slasher-story, but it works a lot better than most of the others because it has a very gritty, well-shot, cinematography, realistic and natural sets and a cast of actors that might not be the best crop from the local acting school, but gives us someone to root and care for. The two directors make an excellent job with a very small budget and inject a lot of life into the scenes, with intelligent use of the camera and atmospheric lightning. I really enjoy the small and cramped locations, which make everything so much dangerous. You can’t just escape from the house that easy, not without going up or down dark stairs, taking a short-cut thru creepy basements and knowing that if the killer chases you up on the roof, there’s no chance in hell you can jump down from there. It’s just a very smart and fun place to film a slasher movie.

How about the gore then? Yes, it’s cheap and very effective. From a nice hand-slicing, some stabbings here and there and of course the main show-stopper, a drawn out drill to the head-kill which is damn gory and graphic. The spiked baseball bat-kill is very nasty too. But compared to, for example, Friday the 13th part 4 or The Prowler it’s not much of course. Even if the effects aren’t that realistic the editing and composition of the shots make them a lot better than if less talented people should have done it.

The Synapse DVD/Blu-Ray combo is excellent. The print (which bears the even better title, Death Dorm!) is grainy, but with nice colors and sound. Every frame looks like something from Eli Roth’s Thanksgivning or Edgar Wright’s Don’t, gritty and nasty and with a lot of great shots which all fits perfect in a Grindhouse-trailer. Maybe the finest and most loving genre-release so far in 2011!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Buried Alive (1990)

Hey, I had NO idea Edgar Allan Poe wrote a slasher about semi-nude babes with mental problems getting killed off one by one at a psychiatric clinic! You learn something new every day, because Buried Alive is really – if you believe the title card – “Edgar Allan Poe’s Buried Alive”! And even better, with these few words I wrote down the entire story of the movie and I don’t need to do that in the next segment.

Instead I can start with making one of my well-used clichés: this is better than some people claim it to be. Not that it’s any kind of masterpiece, not even close. It’s actually a crappy movie pretending to be quite entertaining, which is better than a boring movie that is… boring. I have no idea what I’m rambling about here, just “ordbajs” as we say in Sweden. Any way…

The director, Gérard Kikoïne, directed Edge of Sanity in 1989. A shallow, but gorgeous-looking take on Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde with Anthony Perkins in scen-chewing mega-mode. I actually like that movie a lot, and I can see a lotof Kikoïne’s style in Buried Alive, but this one is way more generic and lacks the extreme exentricity of his earlier adventure in horror. But what it lacks in personality it gains in visual excess – just on a smaller scale. The set-pieces is ambitious and filled with wacky angles and odd editing, reminding me a lot about Argento and similar visual directors.

The killer is actually cool, with something that looks like an inside out Ronald Reagan-mask on his head, which predates David Arquette’s The Tripper by a number of years. He’s a brutal and violent guy, but except a bizarre scalping with an electric mixer there’s no real gore to cheer about. Most of the time he just hits his victims over their head and buries them alive (Poe! See! See!).

But Buried Alive has good pacing and if the story bores you, the nice cast won’t. Robert Vaughn, not exactly at the height of his careeer, are making the best of his part and seem to have quite a lot of fun. Donald Pleasence is old and don’t have much to do, but he seem to enjoy a funny and goofy character which is very innocent. John Carradine also has a part, which must have been one of his last (the movie is also dedicated to his memory) and it’s classic The Bard of Boulevard-material with a fun scene-stealing sequence at the end. Arnold Vooslo and William Butler belong to the younger generation genre-actors doing small parts – and the women? I have no idea, they all look the same to me.

No, Buried Alive is not a good movie. But it’s an entertaining movie and that’s enough for me.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Battle of Los Angeles (2011)

Isn’t strange, every time The Asylum releases one of their mockbusters, which is no different from all the fantastic rip-offs from Italy, Indonesia, India, Turkey etc, 90 percent of the worlds cult-movie fans unites in the defence for boring, crappy, 100 million dollar budget blockbusters! Yes, that’s the only time it’s OK (except when Uwe Boll makes a movie) to protect the artistic sensibilities and qualities of Battle: Los Angeles and similar movies.

Can it be so that making a commercial “blockbuster” with one million dollars is more controversial than spending a small country's national budget on one crappy, nationalistic mess? I think so, at least for those that think a low budget movie must look like Al Adamson (bless him by the way, a genius) or Fred Olen Ray (not sure I want him to be blessed, but what the fuck!).

What we have here is a case of international Jante Law (“Jantelagen” in Sweden). Let me quote from Wikipedia:

The ten rules state:
Don't think you're anything special.
Don't think you're as good as we.
Don't think you're smarter than we.
Don't convince yourself that you're better than we.
Don't think you know more than we.
Don't think you are more important than we.
Don't think you are good at anything.
Don't laugh at us.
Don't think anyone cares about you.
Don't think you can teach us anything.

That’s what it’s all about, nothing else. The Asylum make low budget action-fests, monster-mayhems and disaster-flicks, using digital explosions and one or two washed-up has been-actors – and they’re proud of that, because they manage to make movies instead of whining like some catholic school girl stuck in Anton LaVey’s pool-party!

So why is Battle of Los Angeles better than Battle: Los Angeles? Here the reasons:

Big scale battles. Where the blockbuster effectively transforms a fun invasion-flick to another of those Iraq-dramas with claustrophobic shots and boring let’s sacrifice ourselves for the humanity, the mockbuster offers nice wide-angle shots (steady shots too) of the action, big houses exploding – cheap effects of course – with around the same amount of lead actors like the blockbuster.

The 1942 battle of LA! One of the things I was looking forward too when I first saw the trailer for the blockbuster was the connection to the 1942 incident. Which in the movie is more or less nada! The mockbuster, on the other hand, has a close connection to that incident and uses in a fun way with a few twists and turns.

• The blockbuster clearly has more aliens, but the mockbuster has one big-ass motherf**king alien which actually looks very cool and well-made. It stays in its ship, but if they ever make a sequel I hope they would unleash it on some poor city! Hell, just use the computer model in another production, it’s a damn fine monster!

• The mockbuster have a chick with a samurai sword. The blockbuster doesn’t.

Battle of Los Angeles is a cheap movie. It’s hard to say it even has a battle of LA, because most of it is set on a base outside LA and when they finally enter LA it’s more of an industrial sandpit. But it keeps up the pace and never, which should be banned in these kinda movies, divulges itself in pretentiousness and pretending to have a message or have something important to say.

But before I let you go, let me first explain that with “washed-up has been-actors” I mean actors that I love and care for a lot. Check them out in The Asylum’s movies and you’ll see that they’re giving it all! They playing a big role again, a hero or a bad guy, and they’re the star again – so they just don’t give a fuck about what movie it is, they makes the best they can and work hard for the little money they get.

That’s movie magic, friends.