Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Devil (1981)

So are you one of those that enjoy watching movies where people are vomiting worms and snakes over and over again? Well, then The Devil is something for you! From a time when Asian horrors was really extreme and happily crossed the borders of taste and morality, here's a classic that I haven't seen before. Directed by Taiwanese master Ren-chieh Chang, this might not deliver anything original, and is far from perfect. Still it delivers good entertainment and a very straight-forward story.

A charming, handsome man is arriving to a small town and checks in at the local hotel. The youngest son works his matchmaking-magic and sets him up with sister and everything goes so well that they actually marries! Everyone is happy... until they realize who the devil is, him. He's just a rude and violent con-man who wants to make a quick buck with selling the hotel and taking the family money. But an older woman who practices black magic puts a terrible curse on him as a revenge. But he's not the last, because one after another of the local thugs are being killed off in this brutal fashion: being eaten alive from the inside by snakes and worms!

The Devil is, like many of these movies, a bit confusing and the final twists just made me even more confused. What's clear is that someone is killing off men in the village, who is it? Because our con-man is just interested in the hotel? Is someone taking revenge on the woman that gets beaten to death with a stone in the beginning? I'm not sure, but it's still nasty little Taiwanese horror movie with some very gruesome scenes of people having these creatures crawling out from the mouth, belly and other parts of the body that might be unprotected at the moment. It's more black and green slime than gore and blood, even if it's quite graphic and not for the sensitive viewer. For example, in the beginning we see the witch save one man with opening his belly and removing the snakes in Andreas Schnaas-esque close up's!

What I really like with the story is how the con-man very skillfully transforms from a nice hunk to a greedy and sleazy bastards, and how the family reacts to this. I'm not sure, but it seems like our heroine's cousin think she's hot and wants to marry her before the con-man takes his place. This is a fun detail, and I guess - like in Sweden - that marrying a cousin is very legal in Hong Kong also. Why the f**k am I writing about the cousin-thing? I have no idea, but I need to fill this review with, as we say in Sweden: Ordbajs.

The Devil is not out on any official DVD, but I got myself a widescreen bootleg dubbed to English. Worked fine for me and a movie the deserves a good, quality release. Maybe one day we'll see snake-vomiting in HD? I hope so!

It's Alive (2008)

I'm a big fan of Larry Cohen. He's one of my favourite screenwriters and directors and often revisits his old and new classics with the same happiness as before. But I need to say that one of his most famous movies, It's Alive - and the two sequels - are the weakest in his career. They have brilliant ideas, but are boring and talky and never take off into that awesome Larryland we love so much. According to me, a humble and slightly stupid film nerd in Sweden at least. But on the other hand, I love movies with killer babies and that's why I finally sat down and watched the remake of It's Alive, with the same title, shot in Bulgaria and with Bijou Phillips and James Murray as the parents of the monstrosity!

Lenore and Frank are a young couple who's finally having their first baby. But something goes wrong at the hospital and when Lenore wakes up again the doctor and the nurses are dead and the police is search the area for the killer or killers. But the baby are ok, they think... A little while later Lenore starts finding dead, half-eaten, animals around the house and she slowly understand that it's her infant son, Daniel, who's responsible. Like all good mother she does everything to protect him, but soon he also start to attack people and Frank is suspecting something is very, very wrong...

Except the beginning of the movie, It's Alive is more closer to the excellent 1991 killer baby-movie The Unborn and never goes further into the territory created by Cohen in the seventies. This is a sad thing, because I always loved Cohen's ideas and a movie like this could always get better when using more radical, edgy twists. But the new version is also way more fun and completely lacks the endless boring scenes of talking heads that plagues the original film. Sometime the easy way out can also be the best way to go.

It took me a while to get used to Bijou Phillips odd acting style and her even weirder voice, but after a while I realized that this was a very good choice of actress - because she feels very innocent and when the shit finally hits then fan she turns dark and nasty to a twisted little bitch. I'm impressed. James Murray's job is mostly to look good, but he and Bijou fits together and they are a convincing and cute couple who have to face their worst fears. This is a movie shot in Bulgaria, so that means most supporting actors and extras are not so American-looking and the locations look both like something from the Eastern Europe, but with an interesting American flair. The house where our family lives in looks hilarious, like an abandoned country-themed restaurant out in nowhere. A very odd choice of location.

One nice detail is that the same kind of stroller used on the original movie poster makes a cameo later on in the movie. I like that.

The gore? Yeah, it's mostly bloody - but has some graphic and fun violence. I love how the baby acts like a piranha when he chews the legs off people! But mostly they filmmakers focused on spraying a lot of blood, almost like from an old Samurai movie, whenever the baby attacks a poor victim.

It's Alive is a fun, violent and twisted movie. It lacks the originality, but it wins when it comes to entertainment and gore. 

Friday, December 30, 2011

El Asesino Está Entre Los Trece (1973)

The Spaniards didn't to be left out of the game and produced a couple of very Giallo-esque thrillers during the seventies, a few of the involving the great Paul Naschy in bigger or smaller roles. A Dragonfly for each Corpse from 1974 is one movie, but my favourite is the violent 1971 sleaze-classic Seven Murders for Scotland Yard, where a less fit Naschy plays a drunk ex-trapeze artist like only Naschy could do it. In 1973 this little known thriller game, El Asesino Está Entre LosTrece (literary: The Murderer is among the thirteen) and gives Agatha Christie's The Little Indians a nice spin with just pretending to go that route, but then turn out quite different.

Thirteen people gathers in a remote Spanish villa, after an invitation from the widow of a rich businessman, Lisa Mandel (Patty Shepard). All of them had some connection with her dead husband and she suspects, and claims have proof, that one of them killed her husband! With the help of her mechanic/gardener (Paul Naschy) she sabotage their cars and they just can't leave (if they don't walk, but you know how lazy rich fuckers are!). After intrigues, affairs and lots of talking one after another of them is getting killed by a murderer in black gloves...

El Asesino Está Entre Los Trece might not revolutionize the mystery-genre, but if you ignore the negative reviews out on the web this is a surprisingly effective little thriller. The main bulk of the movie is a talky, soapy story about a bunch of rich people sitting around in a big house, drinking, smoking and fucking. But believe it or not, this makes the last half hour even stronger and when the murders set in they are gory and bloody and very effective. Violent stuff, but without being to much (which of course is sad, we all want "to much" in a giallo) and with a nice, semi-ironic ending that actually lives up to one of the most used jokes about mystery-stories ever. 'Nuff said!

Paul Naschy as a quite small part, but makes a good performance of the little time he has. The rest of the cast is really good, and it's always to such veterans as Jack Taylor and Simón Andreu sleazing around in an obscure Spanish genre movie (something Taylor is good at, but this is the first time I've seen Andreu do that). The characters are well-written and has personality, so much of the entertainment comes from the actors and the charisma they have.

While the gore isn't overly graphic, it's well-made and hidden with clever editing. One of the cast gets and axe in his head and the clip where he get's it is SO short that it's almost too short. The other stabbings and throat-slits are nicely done, but we're not talking Carlo Rambaldi or Gianetto De Rossi exactly.

A slow-moving but still entertaining Spanish "giallo".

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Intensive Care (1991)

Around 10-11 years after it was hot and trendy to make a slasher, Dorna van Rouveroy decided to make the most generic European slasher ever. So generic it's really no difference between this one and any other slasher made between 88-89 in the US, home of the slice 'n' dice cinema. Armed with a script that three people worked on and a pointless, five minute cameo by George Kennedy (who during this time signed every contract handed to him without looking at the script) and some of the most ridiculous post-eighties haircuts ever. Yes, this is Intensive Care. One of the most butchered Dutch movies ever made.

Doctor Bruckner (George Kennedy) is a very angry and bitter man, with high thoughts about himself. When a less important doctor implies that he's done something wrong at the operating table, the good doctor just stabs the inside of the patient a couple of times and let the younger doctor solve the problem. Then he leaves, drives away in his car and.... hits a truck! An accident that sends him in a coma (where he get's shorter and very much slimmer)!
Seven years later and some wacky nurses decides to have fun with the comatose patients, puts funny masks on them - which obviously awakens Bruckner, grumpier than ever! He kills the staff and then goes out for a killing spree at a nearby town...

That's about it. Sure, we follow some meatbags living in the houses, among them the girl-favorite no. 1 from that time, Koen Wauters as the saxophone playing Peter. He looks like a Romanian transvestite, sick of tuberculosis. I guess that was the fad at that time. He, his girlfriend and her annoying little brother also plays some music for us. Terrible.

The biggest sin of Intensive Care is that it's so awfully nothing-special. There's nothing that differs it from the American counterparts. Nothing, except maybe the ugly actors (but we're talking Europeans á the early nineties here, so it's kinda normal) and the music number. Bruckner wakes up, looks completely different than Kennedy, kills people and then he dies in the end. Happy happy joy joy.

But this generic feeling of boring crap also makes it quite entertaining, like a lot of the poor slashers being made the years before this one. It's quite gory and bloody and the effects are decent. We're treated to a throat-slitting, a knife in the eye, a drill to head and some stabbings and stuff like that. The movie looks OK, but with the cinematography of a Scandinavian family movie and music from a German Scheiße production. The editing is surprisingly good with some effective moments of violence and chases. Not bad actually, I'll give them that.

Intensive Care shares more than a few names with the Dick Maas classic Amsterdamned, but where the latter one is witty and well-made, Intensive Care just is unintentional funny and unoriginal. But the gore and the entertainment value is still quite high. I recommend it for you who have nothing left to watch...

Ninja Killer (1974)

I've included the wrong year of this production, because Ninja Killer was probably released in the early eighties, but the movie it uses the main bulk of footage from was released in 1974 under the awesome title Karateciler istanbulda, starring the one and only bad-ass Cüneyt Arkin! Karateciler istanbulda was probably bought cheaply by Filmark who then shot new footage with Carter Wong and Bolo Yeung. Contrary to what the rumours say, Godfrey Ho was probably not involved in this (or what I know, any of Filmark's productions) and the director of the new scenes could have been a nobody with the name Victor Lam or maybe it just was an alias for Tomas Tang himself. I'm pretty sure we will never know.

The story is, for a Filmark production, quite straight-forward and the new footage fits in quite good to the Turkish movie. It's something about Hong Kong gangsters who smuggles antiques out from Hong Kong to Turkey, and the Honk Kong police sends a cop to assist Cüneyt Arkin catch the smugglers and at the same time some gangster boss in Hong Kong wants to take revenge on Bolo Yeung, who I think is a cop also... or maybe a gangster or... hey, do you know what? Just read Teleport City's ambitious try to explain the story here.

I must confess I never even tried to understand the stories in many of these flicks. I'm just waiting for the next cool action scene and that might explain my lack of ambition when it comes to this boring part of explaining the storyline. Because Ninja Killer is actually a very cool movie, and highly recommended. First of all, which we all knew deep inside: the Turkish original footage is WAY more cooler than the newly shot Hong Kong footage. The fights and random action performed by Arkin is extremely cool, very violent and with frantic fight scenes. The Hong Kong stuff is quite ok, but Bolo is fighting sideways like he's Doctor Zoidberg (they kinda look like each other to actually) and there's not love, no passion in the fighting. But it works and it's never boring.

Karateciler istanbulda also looks like an Italian cop-movie, with the same colourful characters and creative directing - except it has tons and tons of kung fu. Arkin is pretty good in what he does, and kills one baddie after another with convincing movie-kicks and a nice bitchslapping-attitude.

The final action scene is on top of roofs, and it reminded of a smaller version of the Jean-Paul Belmondo vehicle Fear Over the City. It looks quite dangerous in parts and I can't see any silly stunt doubles helping Arkin out when he rolls towards the edge of the roof or kicks the shit out of the bad guys.

Another fine thing with Ninja Killer is the fantastic soundtrack of electronic music. One of the tracks is, for example, something by Yellow Magic Orchestra. The use of a synth version of Flight of the Bumblebee is, to quote Teleport City, "really not much different than if they’d just slapped “Yakety Sax” onto the soundtrack".

Ninja Killer is out on a cheap-DVD in the UK, from InstantVision Ltd (IVL). The quality is really fine. Fullscreen, but clear and crispy (I always wanted to use the word like all the other home cinema nerds out there) and a lot better than I thought it would be. Probably taken from a digibeta master somewhere.

I movie I think most of you readers of Ninja Dixon will love and it's both cheap and easy to find! You know what to do!

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Top Ten Genre Favourites of 2011!

It's damn hard being the creator and father of Ninja Dixon to make lists like this. Mostly because I often takes me a few years to watch a new movie, even if it's extremely good and getting rave reviews from friends (just ask Jocke about that!). But this year I've been trying to watch some new stuff, just to be able to join what others are discussing.

What strikes me with this list is how mainstream it is. With the exception of a few titles this is big movies, distributed everywhere in fancy schmancy cinemas and in some cases even big successes. This goes against my secret agenda of only watching movies that other people don't understand, misunderstood productions that will be hailed as masterpieces in the future - but not now.

Here's a list in no particular order, because I can't stand putting one movie before the other. Some of these was probably released earlier, in one case it was out in festivals in 2009 - but I've chosen them because they got their big break/release in 2011, and therefore are new and fresh productions.

The Skin I Live In
- Could this be the most hyped movie of 2011? Yes, but it's also one of the few hyped movies that could stand the test of the audience and critics and delivered one of the most original and stunning genre-blending in years. Don't listen to fucked up critics who claim this movie is cold, this is the hottest eurocult-movie since Alejandro Amenábar's Tesis in 1996. And a good advice, don't read anything about. No spoilers. Just watch it and thank me later.

- The surprise-movie of the year! Not released on DVD or BD yet, but we caught this highly entertaining British backwoodshorror at the Weekend of Horrors in Bottrop, Salbau. So far director Alex Chandon's most polished movie, with a brilliant cast of character actors and some insane gore scenes during the second half. Unpredictable, funny and engaging. Can't wait to own it! My review!

Tucker and Dale vs Evil
- It took a few years for our new favourites Tucker and Dale to reach a wider audience, and it's strange why it took so long. This is one of the finest examples of a "horror-comedy" since Shaun of the Dead with characters you truly love (very fine performances by everyone) and a nice amount of blood and gore. The witty script, an original take on the tired slasher-concept, will surprise all of you.

Wake Wood
- I'll admit this is a very uneven movie, mostly because the budget seemed on the low side and it probably had a bit hurried shooting-schedule. But I liked it and mostly because of the fine cast and the presence of a truly weird local magic. The movie itself reminds me both of The Wicker Man and Pet Sematary, but in some parts even darker and nastier. The ending is a bit rushed and it's no perfect, but still a movie I recommend.

Troll Hunter
- Much has been written about this Norwegian mockumentary and even if some less intelligent US critics never understood it (hey, it's our traditions, not yours - keep an open mind please!) it's still beats the shit out of most American movies this year. Once again, this proofs that a good movie becomes even better if the screenwriters invest time in the characters and stop worrying about what other people will think about their project. Do I need to say that the CG effects looks absolutely stunning? A classic!

The Inkeepers
- How to follow up a classic like House of the Devil? Well, director Ti West really succeeded with making a movie as far as possible from his last, and don't believe the rumours - this is not a movie with an eighties feeling. This is just a very calmly told ghost story focused on characters and not only scares. It's a brave move, but it's captivating all the way through and has one of the most solid casts this year. I'm sure you will sit and discuss it with your friends afterwards, it's one of those movies...

- From Dutch filmmakers Dick Maas comes one of the funniest and most well-made Christmas-horrors I've seen in many years. This is not the fat bastard Santa wrecking havoc, it's the superior Sinterklaas and his demon-army of Black Petes who decides to take revenge on mankind! Much in the same feeling as The Lift and Amsterdamned, with the same visual flair and black comedy. And blood and gore. A top-class horror-comedy from a master of the macabre. Can't wait to see what he gives the world next time!

- One of the most unique and interesting genre-fuckup's during 2011. Is it drama, is it horror, is it thriller? Is it just the work of Eric Stanze? One thing is for sure, it has some fantastic gore, a well-written script and top-notch acting from Stanze's usual suspects. This also proofs that what format you shoot a movie has nothing to do with the quality. Nothing tires me out more than pretentious filmmakers who actually are so stupid they believe movies only can be real movies if they're shot on film. Bah! Humbug! The story, acting, the director always comes first - after that you should be able to shoot your movie with a VHS-camera and still be brilliant. If you can't do that, you have no fucking talent. My review!

The Thing
- Oh no! So politically incorrect of me! A scandal! ;) No, seriously. This remake/prequel was one of my finer experiences with genre cinema this year. I actually love how they went for both options and still managed to connect the dots and give the torch to John Carpenter's original (itself a remake) from 1982. Good actors, excellent direction and some amazing special effects (even if I can agree that the final monster is a but uneven). In the House of Ninja Dixon we fell in love with The Thing 2011!

- And of course, just until a couple of days ago, Lunopolis was out of my reach. Then suddenly I found it in a store in Stockholm and I saw what's probably one of the finest mockumentaries made in a very long time. A mix of every absurd conspiracy invented by mankind, but put together with so much love and intelligence. It has one of the most satisfying endings I've seen in a while and is an example of true and pure imagination. Indie-production when it's at its best! My review!

I also liked an enjoyed Final Destination 5 (a movie that should have a special prize for being superior than the mediocre part 4), Jason Connery's charming TV-movie 51, filled with rubbermonsters - always a pleasure to see and finally Super 8 of course, near-perfect family-entertainment in the vein as The Goonies and The Monster Squad.

I still haven't seen ChromeSkull: Laid to Rest 2, Attack the Block, Dear God No!, Red State, The Theatre Bizarre, Chillerama and The Woman, all who seem very interesting and in some cases really good. But one day, I just can't promise when, I'll see them and might give them a review if they're not to hip and hot!

Open House (2010)

The theme of home invasion is it's own little sub-genre inside the thriller genre and it's mostly a successful way to create tension. Just the idea of taking something so close to us, the ultimate safe-house, and make it a place of terror makes the storytellers go a little bit further. There's never fun when our private space is invaded my someone (or something) that doesn't belong there. Funny Games, Inside, Hard Candy, Straw Dogs are four movies that in very different way tells us the story of a home being a house of terror, and one of the latest examples is Andrew Paquin's Open House, starring his sister Anna Paquin in a small part together with her fellow colleague from True Blood, Stephen Moyer. But they are just minor characters in something much bigger.

David (Brian Geraghty) and Lila (Tricia Helfer) are two psychopaths and serial killers taking over a nice house outside Hollywood. They kill the people inside, but David keeps one of the - Alice (Rachel Blanchard) alive in secret, hiding her in a small space inside the wall of the laundry room. Alice is very jealous, but still they aren't living like lovers. She brings more people to the house, David films them with a camcorder and kills them brutally. Alice, who wants to survive, starts manipulating David to make him her friend. But it's not easy when Lila, who controls David completely, always is nearby. Will she, or they both, break free?

It's hard to say that Open House breaks new ground, because it doesn't. What it succeeds in is creating suspense and being a competent thriller with some excellent acting. I like how easy and smooth our "heroes" takes over the house and gets rid of guests and new friends (and the bodies are stashed in the garage, in tiny, tiny pieces). It's cold, brutal and quite bloody - and none of them are moving an eyebrow when blood spurts and people screams. Real psychos. Sometimes the cold American Psycho-style (overrated movie by the way) can be annoying, and Open House almost goes that way, but keeps the humanity by having Alice in the show, a character who reacts maybe more normal when she's in shock than many other similar characters. She understands that to stay alive longer she needs to be friend with David and respects him because she won't take any unnecessary risk. She wants to get out alive.

Open House is a good thriller with some nasty scenes of carnage, but it fails to be really engaging. We've seen it before, we can almost guess how it will and the characters are nothing new. When watching it I found myself thinking why this movie was made? It's not bad at all, really well-made, but how could it attract investors? When I movie can't offer anything new it has to rely on the actors, and I'm 100 % sure that the presence of TV-hotties Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer made the investment-deal come through.

I sound negative, but really, I'm not. Open House is a fine little movie that will deliver what you want to get from it. Just don't expect to be surprised.

Open House has recently been released by Njuta Films in Sweden and is possible to buy everywhere.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Pack (1977)

Robert Clouse had a very interesting career as a director. More or less, it seems, a gun for hire but still with a very edgy and radical style without abandoning classic filmmaking. He's only considered to have directed one major classic, the Bruce Lee flick Enter The Dragon. It's probably the only movie he will be remember for, but his career outside this kung fu adventure has a lot to offer. The Ultimate Warrior, with Yul Brynner and Max Von Sydow - a movie clearly before its time, has always been a favourite of mine. Gritty and violent and very stylish. In 1977 he entered the so popular genre of killer animals and the result was The Pack.

Joe Don Baker is Jerry, a marine biologist living on Seal Island together with his new girlfriend and their two (one each) sons. The island is a typical wildlife spot for tourists, but this is the end of the season and the last guests arrives to stay there over the weekend. It's a businessman and his family and staff, among them the bored son Tommy (Paul Willson, immortalized much later through his part in Office Space) and the secretary, who's gotten orders to try to seduce Tommy. Anyway, Jerry spots a straw dog on the island and soon he understands that there's at least a dozen, maybe more, starving and probably with rabies - and now they turned to human flesh to survive!

I would say that The Pack is up there together with Grizzly, Day of the Animals and The Prophecy (and Night of the Lepus, but for different reasons) as the best ever made in the genre. A bold statement, but that comes from a man that have seem them all and knows what to expect of a killer animal-movie. The direction from Clouse is intensive, and seldom have I seen so realistic and gruesome dog-attacks as here. Not especially graphic, but the dogs looks fucking pissed and the attacks are cleverly edited to look even more violent and ferocious! The Pack was made under the supervision of The American Humane Association and the dogs trained by one of the best in the biz, Karl Lewis Miller, but I can guarantee that you never seen anything like this. Even I felt uncomfortable watching those beasts with drooling jaws jump at the actors and stuntmen, looking like they are going to rip every throat in sight!

Joe Don Baker, lets take a minute or two discussing this man. I always felt, especially after watching this movie, that I've been a bit unfair to him. More than once I've been joking that it was only in the seventies a man like him could have been a movie star, a sex-symbol. But I've always seen him as the fatty he became later (still a brilliant actor of course, I love him!) but he really looked good in the seventies and even in The Pack his sex appeal shines through. More respect to Baker! The rest of the cast (and the character they're playing) are good and likable, and it feels like real people. Even the mumbling, silly blonde secretary/cook (Sherry Miles) has a lot of character and the scenes between her and Paul Willson is excellent. Willson was the Philip Seymour Hoffman of his generation, both playing similar character and sharing a look only a mother could love, but sadly Willson never became the big star he deserved to be.

The Pack finally out from Warner Archive and it's a fantastic movie, probably THE best movie Clouse directed. For you who are interested, in 2006 The Breed was released. It's a very similar movie but with a 100 % young and attractive cast. It's actually quite good, but never reaches the quality of The Pack.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Lunopolis (2011)

The mockumentary is a genre that expects us to believe in the impossible in the disguise of the possible. History are filled with, I would say, most interesting productions. It's like the genre itself makes the filmmakers extra careful with details, acting and trying to stitch together a script that will stun the audience. From Zelig and Cannibal Holocaust to The Blair Witch Project and The Last Broadcast, to modern movies like Survival of the Dead to Troll Hunter. Lunopolis was released this year, and so far - and I've seen most of them - this is one of the most powerful and intelligent mockumentaries made. The budget is low and some of the effects (like manipulated photos) aren't the best, but it makes everything come together in the end like never before.

Could the strongest idea with Lunopolis be that they took the most absurd idea, the most wacky storyline every conceived and made  it look like something possible? Yes, the basic idea is that a some filmmakers discovers a strange machine deep down in a secret underground base. It's an electronic device that nearly kills one of them. Everything leads them to The Church of Lunology (who bears more than one resemblance with Scientology) who believes people are living on the moon! The deeper our heroes go the more complicated the plot becomes and soon the day that some people believe is the end of the world arrives, the 21st of December 2012...

Lunopolis mixes every lunatic (sorry) conspiracy theory into one tight script. We have everything from ancient astronauts, hidden structures on the moon, the 2012 doomsday, UFO's, ghosts and sects mixed like never before, and hell yeah, it works! The footage of the crew investigating the leads and sooner or later getting themselves in danger is inter-cut with extremely well-made interviews with experts of mythology, religion, time and space. These are so realistic they could have been take from anything produced by the History Channel. But it's fake and it's so well-made I can't believe it.

What really takes me out of the story whenever it happens are a few not so good manipulated photos and two occasions when a characters draws a gun, which felt both unexpected and not really necessary becomes it suddenly feels like a cheap action movie. But that's my only complains. The rest is a very convincing and entertaining conspiracy-thriller with sci-fi elements. The acting is good, especially from the "experts" and I'm very impressed by the work Matthew Avant and his team has done with finding locations - from the secret underground base to the impressive headquarters of The Church of Lunology.

One of the highlights is actor Dave Potter, playing David James, a "moon-escapee" who wants to tell his story. His performance is excellent, worthy of very price in the book, and reminded me a lot of the equally brilliant performance by Raymond J. Barry in Interview with the Assassin, one of the best mockumentaries ever made. The director, Neil Burger, went on to bigger projects like The Illusionist and Limitless, but his first movie is still the best he made.

The moon has been a source of mockumentaries before: Alternative 3, Dark Side of the Moon, Apollo 18, but Lunopolis is the best. Without a doubt.

Matthew Avant will probably have a similar career, a successful one, but I hope he will stay closer to the ground and make movies like this - or better - in the future... or maybe he already done better movies in the future, or... right now?

Glen or Glenda? (1953)

I first saw Ed Wood's Glen or Glenda at a bad movie festival in my old hometown, Östersund. The salon was packed - like with all the movies - and the audience was hysterical. Everyone loved the movies and laughter and applauses filled the house. This was years ago, before Tim Burton's brilliant biopic about Mr Wood or easy to find DVD releases of his work. So it was time to watch it again and it's now I fully can appreciate it for being what it is, not a bad movie - but a very silly and confusing movie getting the facts wrong, but still with it's heart at the right place.

It's basically a docudrama about transvestites, telling the stories of three men and their road to happiness... or death. One of them, Glen, is played by Ed Wood himself and his real-life girlfriend Dolores Fuller is playing his girlfriend. This is also the part that takes up the bulk of the movie and dives in to some truly surrealistic and experimental sequences that goes from weird striptease and S&M to classic fifties kitchen-melodrama.

And... it's first now I put everything together. This movie was released in 1953! Somehow, in my imagination, I always felt it was made later - maybe in the end of the fifties or very early sixties, but imagine - 1953, a crazy, wacky movie dealing with transvestism! Not that it ends on a truly positive note. Glen learns to control his "Glenda"-character and becomes a happily married man. That never happen in real life. Dolores broke up with him, he got into heavy drinking and he never stopped wearing women's clothing. Glen or Glenda was his fantasy, his good old happy American fantasy about living his life as a respected man. Or what he thought was a good way of living.

Even of Glen or Glenda is full-blown exploitation it's made with a heart and a passion, with a few iconic images. The scene where Dolores gives Ed his angora sweater, or when Ed is sneaking around the stores spying on the mannequins in the windows. This has forever been imprinted in modern pop-culture, not only because of Tim Burton's movie but because they are strong images worthy to be remembered.

But even more iconic is the odd footage of Bela Lugosi, like a God-character watching over the life's of these transvestites, rambling immortal lines. I'm not sure what the purpose was, but it's still an essential part of an exploitation-classic. Let's finish this with the words of Bela Lugosi, the scientist...

Beware of the big, green dragon that sits on your doorstep.
He eats little boys, puppy dog tails and big, fat snails.
Beware. Take care.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ratline (2011)

The truth be told, I don't want to tell you anything about the story of Ratline. First of all because it's an original story that actually is original for real, and not inspired by countless other genre movies. Second, it's far to complex to just write down a few words about. It's so much more than gore and nudity, but Ratline includes both of these fan-favourites - without being juvenile and talentless like for example the movies from another famous indie-director, Andreas Schnaas. I'm very new to the work of Eric Stanze, the director of Ratline, but last week I saw Savage Harvest - his first movie - and now his latest. What surprises me is how similar they are in atmosphere. Stanze has a very distinct style, and now it's more mature, more or less fully developed. I can't wait to see the movies he made in-between.

Nazis + Occultism = instant interest from me. And I'm not alone in that. It's a shameful fetish most of us enjoy reading about, watching movies based on and just spending a couple of hours on the web reading fucked up site about conspiracy theories about the occult nazis can keep me awake all through the night. Richard Stanley's The Secret Glory is a must-see documentary about the subject. The McGuffin in Ratline is the infamous Blutfahne, stained by the blood of the early Nazis during the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. An object said to have enormous powers, especially in combination between ancient occult rituals and quasi-science. It's here we meet Frank Logan (Jason Christ), a man with one single goal, to find the flag and continue the that was started in the 1940's. This leads him to a small mid-western town where he instantly gets interested in Crystal (Emily Haack), a lesbian on the run after a drug-heist gone wrong. And from there everything just goes downhill...

Ratline is an interesting and unique mix of horror, thriller and drama - but to be fair, it's mostly a very intelligent and emotional drama with touches of gore, nudity and Nazi iconography. Don't let this scare you away, because 105 minutes goes very fast, mostly because of engaging characters and a very unpredictable script (written by Christ and Stanze).  The naturalistic acting and realistic locations gives Ratline an aura of the American seventies, or the realism of Larry Clark and Harmony Korine, but without even wandering over the border of pretentiousness. John Cassavetes also comes to mind, with the similar themes and the same actors refining their works from film to film.

Talking about the actors, they're all very good. From Jason Christ to Joseph R. Engel, but the shining star is Emily Haack. She's an amazing character actress, who plays a character that feels 100 % realistic. She never fools us that this is a movie, she tells us that this is real. And for me, that's god damn real acting.

Ratline can be purchased directly from Wicked PixelMedia, and it's also signed by director Eric Stanze. I'm pretty sure you won't regret buying it, because it's a movie you will revisit sooner than you think. Ratline makes you think, makes you react. This is not a horror movie for lazy viewers, it's a horror movie for us who loves to jump-start the brain after being force-fed with mainstream bullshit.

The First Power (1990)

I admit to be a strong and stubborn opponent to religion, and maybe specifically Christianity - because I was raised in that religion and saw some very dark sides of it that some people might not know about. Once when I was at a Christian camp for teenagers I was reading Whitley Strieber's The Wolfen and one of the pastors saw me and asked if that was good for me. I replied: "It's just a book". The same evening the same pastor got a message from "god" that someone (guess who?!) read books that wasn't good for him. For me it was the last nail in the coffin and I left religion and never turned back.

So what has this to do with The First Power? Well, every time I scream about the stupidity of religion Jocke at Rubbermonsterfetishism points out to me that with out nasty religions we wouldn't have so many fun horror movies based on Christianity! Well, he's right about that and that's one of the reason we have this Lou Diamond Phillips thriller from 1990. I remember how me and my dad rented it and I liked it, but I haven't seen it for at least twenty years and tonight I had the pleasure of watching it again. No, not a masterpiece - but still a good thriller.

A serial killer, Patrick Channing (the great Jeff Kober) is stalking LA with ritualistic murders involving occultism and devil worshipping. Lou is the twelve year old super-cop Russell Logan who finally catches him and watches him die in the electric chair. But some time after the killings starts all over again and Russell sees and hears visions of Patrick. A psychic, Tess Seaton (Tracy Griffith) helps him, because no one else believes in Russell's visions. Yes, Patrick is back from the dead and he's using the bodies of drug addicts to continue his killing spree!

Lou Diamond Phillips wasn't twelve years old when he shot this movie, but in some takes he sure looks that age. Anyway, The First Power is one of those slick, well-made thrillers that plagued Hollywood during the nineties. And friggin' love them all! Why? Because they look good, have nice neat little scripts, some violence, good stunts and a couple of audience-friendly twists and turns. Hardly original, but good entertainment. The level of violence isn't especially high, but the stunt-work is often fantastic. In this movie there's a couple of crazy stunts and action sequences, and I they must have been a blast to watch in cinema.

One of the best scenes - and the only one I remember from when I first saw it - is when the killer is taking control over a ceiling fan and chases our heroes out from an old building, climaxing in a nice stuntman-hanging-on-to-a-car-stunt that looks very dangerous.

The First Power is a good old occult thriller mixed with a nineties cop-movie. Lou Diamond Phillips might look very young, but he's good and handles the action and drama well - and shows of his hairless chest a couple of times. But Jeff Kober steals every scene he's in as usual, and that's fine with me. He makes even the most boring movies a little bit better. The First Power can be a bit troublesome (or more correct, expensive...) to find nowadays, but I found an Australian R4 release which looks good and are in fullscreen (not sure if it's open matte or not).

That's all folks!

Mask Maker (2010)

Over and over again filmmakers are trying to recreate the good old days of slasher movies. They claim to bring back the gore and grittiness of the golden days, but the truth be told the only slasher-style movie who I consider really gritty was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and that one almost completely lacks gore. And there's very few of the other real slasher classics who actually are so gory as modern filmmakers claim. I mean, Hatchet 1 and 2 are extremely gory compared to the movies they claim to have been inspired by. That's why I was surprised by the quality of Mask Maker (aka Maskerade) from director Griff Furst. I read some comments on the dreaded IMDB and people complained about the lack of gore, but I'm not sure they're understand what they're talking about. This is by far the most retro-realistic of the new slashers I've seen.

Jennifer and Evan are a young couple trying to stay together, to survive the everyday problems of having a relationship. But Evan has a big surprise for Jennifer, a house! A real vintage American gothic house. Sure, he got it very cheap, but with a little bit of renovation it will make good business in the future. What they don't know is that outside in the nearby shrubbery, a killer is buried. A killer with a mask made of human skin. He's been kept there, dead, for years with some ancient native American magic - but of course some fool breaks this spell and now he's back in business, trying to take back what's his!

Yeah, Mask Maker is very generic - but what it overcomes that weakness with being well-made and having a very good cast of both newcomers and veterans. The newcomers, especially the leads Nikki Deloach and Stephen Colletti, are interesting enough to care about and are portrayed with charm and wits by the actors. No Oscars here, but better than many of the bigger budgeted genre movies I've seen recently. But the veteran cast is really the highlight, from Treat Williams in flashbacks to Terry Kiser (yes, Bernie from Weekend at Bernie's and the nasty Dr Crews in Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood). But the best of the bunch is the brilliant Michael Berryman who is typecasted against his usual screen persona as a nice, gentle, smart and kind man. He's very good and it's so much fun to see him doing something different.

So, what about the gore? First of all, which is even more important, Furst really handles the murder-set-pieces very well. They are intensive and looks great. Clever editing that enhances the brutality on screen. The gore isn't that much different from any Friday the 13th movie from the eighties. Not mega-graphic, but it delivers some gore, blood and violence of good quality. Leonard, the name of the killer, is basically a mix of Leatherface, Myers and Voorhees, but kinda come off as creepy himself even if he's not that original.

Mask Maker is out from Njuta Films and it's a recommended buy!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Finale (2009)

Avid readers of Ninja Dixon knows I can be a very enthusiastic reviewer. I rather love moies than hate them and can find something good in almost everything ever produced. That's just my style and I just don't want to waste time with writing about bad movies. I mention this because John Michael Elfers Finale is probably one of the most visually stunning indie movies I've seen in years. I'm sure there's few other movies in this budget scale and with such a small crew and shot over a length of two years that can rival the visuals in this one. It's far from a perfect movie, but it so well-made that it's hard to not love it in one way or another.

The oldest son of Helen (Carolyn Hauck) and Peter (James Johnson) takes suicide after having a nervous breakdown. Their only daughter, Kathryn (Suthi Picotte) tries to cope with the loss of her brother and handles it much better than Helen, who's convinced foul play is behind her son's death. Kathryn joins the drama class at school and is offered the lead in a play, but something is not ok with the group - at least that's what her mother thinks. Soon Helen starts to see stuff, something demon-like in every reflection in the house - and like her dead son she starts painting everything black to stop this evil force from reaching her. But is she mad, or is she just getting insane because of her sorrow?

Eh, no. There's real supernatural stuff going on in this movie and makes it even better. No pretentious stuff about "it's all in her mind" or crap like that. This is the real deal.

The story is actually more complicated than this, and Elfers fills the movie with atmospheric scenes of both intelligent drama and strong horror. The scares themselves might not be that new, I've seen it before and after this movie, but it's made with so much talent and imagination that it stands out a lot from the rest. Most effects are done in-camera, just like "the good old days" (which I despise, the story is everything - not how you shoot it), but because the whole movie has a vibe of European genre film from the seventies and eighties (some reviewers has gone so far as compare it with Argento, I personally wouldn't go so far - the style is very different) and it helps that it's shot on film and not digital video (which I have no problem with, believe me).

The theme of the movie is also very retro. A satanic cult, demons, conspiracy, a young woman who enters the world of theatre - this feels like something from 1979 and not 2009. The acting is also top-notch and it never, not once, feels like a smaller production with less experienced actors. There's no way to tell that the whole movie was shot over two years either. Finale is just a very well-made horror movie. However, don't expect any gore. Blood and violence, yes, but the lack of graphic violence takes away one thing that Finale would have been even better with. It just fits the story and atmosphere, and the few blood-spurts and beatings wasn't enough for me. Here Elfers could have gone more Argento.

Don't be fooled by covers and reviews, this is neither a slasher or a Argento-esque movie. It stands on it's own two legs and is one impressive piece of American indie film history. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Don't Open Till Christmas (1984)

Dick Randall, the hyperactive jokester in exploitation cinema. Few men has delivered so much insanity to our screens, tapes and nowadays discs like Big Dick. Don't believe me? Just watch these movies and you will come crawling back on your bare knees for forgiveness: Death Dimension, Crocodile, Supersonic Man, Challenge of the Tiger, For Y'ur Height Only, The Clones of Bruce Lee, Pieces, Horror Safari, Slaughter High and countless other classics from Europe and Asia. I have a feeling that Mr Randall just had a blast with his investors money. He know what sold and used the budget to entertain himself - and the actors - to a maximum. I think we all can agree that none of his movies are 100 % serious. It's exploitation in EVERY way possible.

A psychotic killer is murdering every person dressed in a Santa Claus-outfit in London. Cranky old inspector Edmund Purdom investigates while there's a murder every ten minute or more, including an unhealthy dose of tits and ass.

Yeah, there's some silly sidestory where Belinda Mayne and her boyfriend is getting in trouble. Something like that. And it's not really important either.

Don't Open Till Christmas was a very troubled production. Purdom started directing it, but after realizing this would probably kill every other chance he had to direct something he quit and two years later two other directors plus a new writer cobbled everything together to the mess we all learned to love over the years. Mind me, it's neither a boring or a bad-looking movie, but the script is all over the place the atmosphere is so f**king seedy and sleazy. There's lots of backyards, alleyways, prostitutes, public toilets, drunken santas, breasts and thick RED blood all over the place. The murders are primitive when it comes to special effects, but the nasty way they're handled makes them more powerful. There's an sense of pure sadism over these sequences.

It's easy to see that the story was put together in chaos. The style differs from each scene and sometimes the focus is anywhere near the target. Most of the drama, the typical social realistic scenes that made the UK so famous still looks good and works most of the times very good, but cut together with extremely colourful bloody murder scenes makes the movie even crazier. I have no idea, but it feels like Purdom directed the drama and some other talented sprayed the blood later on.

The DVD from Mondo Macabro looks - yes, I'm not hyping it - stunning. At least compared with earlier DVDs and tapes out there. It has a nice natural grain, but it's very sharp and clear and everything you wanted to see in a movie about someone killing santas you can see here without rubbing your eyes every fifth minute. Even the dark footage looks gorgeous, and one scene that really comes out as great-looking is the weird ghosthouse/museum/whatevah set-piece.

Mondo Macabro never failed to bore me with their releases and Don't Open Till Christmas is not exception. Buy it before you get your dick cut off in a seedy London toilet!

The Sinister Urge (1960)

I'm pretty sure the enigma of Ed Wood will live on forever. If his little b-movies from the fifties and sixties still getting released and appreciated, even in a bad way, until today it mean he was something special. He almost created his own kind of cinema, with hilarious dialogues, fifties kitsch and special effects from hell - but still surprisingly consistent quality. Maybe not THE best quality, but his it shows that he had a specific style and that he tried to refine his storytelling more and more. The Sinister Urge was his last "real" movie, what I've heard anyway, and it's an interesting and not that bad trashy thriller-melodrama about "a smut racket" and a serial killer who lurks on innocent women!

Gloria Henderson (Jean Fontaine) is a cold-hearted and greedy business woman who owns a pornographic film company. Her right-hand man Johnny (Carl Anthony) lures naive women to star in their seedy productions (often against a beefy Hawaiian guy, Henry Kekoanui, with a big moustache - kinda hot actually, if he shaved that facial hair and didn't rolled his eyes like a cartoonish rapist all the time!). This is of course just a small-time business, but everything is owned by a big even seedier company in the background. Anyway, every time one of their actresses is causing problem, they're calling in their expert - a serial killer named Dirk (Dino Fantini) who takes care of them in the most violent and nasty ways! Will the cops stop them? Will Ed Wood get a chance to include a man in drag? The answer is yes on both questions, what did you expect?

The Sinister Urge has all the ingredients we learned to love from Mr Wood: goofy cops, teenagers dancing, men in drag, long dialogue scenes behind desks, tits, fist-fights, over-acting and superb melodrama á la random daytime soap. But here, finally, all of this comes together in surprisingly even mess. It's clearly one of Wood's finer moments as a director and he easily mixes sleaze with a couple of well-staged thriller-sequences. The murders, especially, are nasty and violent and I didn't really expect full frontal boobs, but hey - this movie has it all. I also like the quirky humour, like the porno director who only has an exotic "European" accent when he's directing, but not in private.

Ed Wood always created pure cinema, and there's no chance you ever will believe he's trying to create a reality. This is always set in a very special crazy universe, much like John Waters filmography or much of Ken Russell's cinematic world. An office without anything on the walls could be from any bad movie director, but when the actors start to talk and the storyline becomes more clear it's impossible not to guess that it's the work of another director than Ed Wood. More colour and much of the material could have been written by Waters, but lacking the seriousness that Wood wrote with.

Better than you would think, at trashy, sleazy movie who uses the word "smut" more times than explosions in a Michael Bay blockbuster. When I come to think of it, "smut" could be the perfect drinking game when watching this movie. So go ahead, have fun - and send Mr Wood a thought please.

I've started a new Thai movie blog!

After some thinking I've decided to start a another blog, only specializing in old and new Thai cinema. I'm slowly moving over the Thai reviews from Ninja Dixon to The Mee Noi Thai Movie Review, and will also focus on writing new and fresh texts about the fantastic cinema of Siam.

I will of course continue with Ninja Dixon, but everything Thai will be on the new blog. I think the world needs a specialized on this subject, especially just reviews and with a focus on genre films.

Hope you like it and if you want to, spread the link to everyone interested!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Unborn (1991)

I never understood movies that somehow should reflect real life horrors, a demonic baby to symbolise the fear of pregnancy, an serial killer dentist to makes us fear the dentist even more. When it comes to killer babies and related subjects there's a lot of movies to choose from, but I've always found it very silly to actually think that Rosemary's Baby or It's Alive could scare future parents. In the first case it's because Satan don't exists and it's hard to be afraid of a mythological character the second, a quite overrated movie, focuses to much on the baby as a pure monster. There's a monster baby in The Unborn also, but the main bulk of the movie is spent on the horror of having something unknown inside you... and it want to get out...

Virginia (Brooke Adams) and Brad (Jeff Hayenga) is a successful couple who the last five years has been trying to have a baby. Through a colleague of Brad they get a chance to try one last time at a specialist, the awfully nice Dr Richard Meyerling (James Karen). He enhances the sperms of Brad so the baby will be stronger and handle the complicated birth process. Pregnancy succeeds and the young couple is preparing for their new life. But soon Virginia starts to feel weird, she seem to be controlled by another force (which the poor cat experiences...) and a new friend of hers, also a pregnant woman with the same doctor, stabs herself repeatedly in the stomach with a big kitchen knife. Something is wrong and Virginia is the only one understanding that both her own and others lives are in danger!

Well, forget It's Alive! The Unborn is for me, from now on, the only killer baby movie worth the name. Not only does it deliver some truly macabre scenes of carnage, the atmosphere is genuinely creepy and the script tighter than Scottish catholic nun! First of all, Brooke Adams is a good competent actress - not to you either - that actually gives everything she's got to make this movie feel realistic, or at least very, very dramatic. There's no subtle acting when she's getting crazy and ripping her dear house away, or sitting in a chair screaming like a madman. She obviously understood the genre and respected it, something very few actors do I think, especially if they are at a low-point in their career and just trying to pay the rent.

Another fine performance comes from veteran James Karen, a bloke I've always felt have a problem with over-acting, but here does his way-to-fake-nice doctor perfectly balanced and with a cold, calculating under-the-skin psychopathic persona.

Staying away from sleaze and nudity, which would have dragged the fun script down actually, the story focuses more on some light gore (well-made, but not that graphic) and the descent into madness for poor Virginia, and here we have everything from a very violent fight between a lesbian couple (involving hammers), a down-and-dirty backstreet-abortion and of course the final monster baby (created by a simple but effective animatronic).

The Unborn is a violent, dark movie which is many notches above the usual DTV crapfests. Recommended!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Closed Circuit (1978)

Sometimes you see a movie that you never have heard of before and have no expectations about, and many of these movies turns out to be a lot better than I ever could imagine. Why? Maybe because no one have hyped - or hated - them and they stayed fresh because of the lack of interest from the cult movie community. Closed Circuit is a TV-movie from 1978, and even if some people call it giallo I'm not so sure I would consider it one. Sure, a giallo in Italy is a thriller/mystery with none, one or several murders. Even if Closed Circuit actually has three deaths and at a first glance is a thriller, it's more of an absurd black comedy with a healthy dose of Twilight Zone and Ray Bradbury.

It's time for cinema! A spaghetti western matinée with Giuliano Gemma and William Berger in the leads, I Giorno Dell'Ira (not to be confused with the 1967 classic with Van Cleef and Gemma). The audience is gathering. We have the young couple, the dirty old man spending more time on the toilet than watching the movie, a man and a woman having a secret affair in the darkness, a hysterical man who don't want to be disturbed by anything, two gangsters waiting for a "business companion" etc. Everyone from every part of society. During the last act, the dramatic duel, a man in the audience gets shot exactly when Gemma shoots first. He dies and within seconds panic strikes. The police seals the cinema very fast and keeps the whole audience locked up, while they're trying to figure out who's the killer is and where the weapon is hidden... but soon a second murder, identical to the first, happens right under their nose and the police gets more and more perplexed...

Closed Circuit is first of all a celebration to cinema and how the movies can work as a second reality that can affect us in the same way as real life. The movie is filled with movie posters, which is natural because it's set at a cinema, but it's only genre posters. A huge billboard of Paul Leder's  insane A.P.E (under it's Italian title Super Kong) adorns the outside wall, the lobby has a gorgeous posters of Tentacoli and in the room where the police interrogates everyone Mimsy Farmer looks down from a very nice poster of The Perfume of the Lady in Black. The movie on the screen is a fictional western made to look like the real deal (but I suspect that some of the footage comes from California, a western with Gemma and Berger from 1977). The mystery becomes even more a mystery towards the end, but is not the most important thing in the movie. What's strong about Closed Circuit is it's fantastic gallery of characters, all with their own secrets and agendas and how some of them starts to enjoy being prisoners in the cinema, demanding food, cigarettes, 12 different TV's (one for each channel). The most fascinating character is the first victim, a character we know very little about, but somehow creates the situation with his almost absurd interest in the moving pictures.

Don't expect blood and nudity in Closed Circuit, it's still an Italian TV-movie quite far away from the budget and spectacle of the cinema thrillers from the same time. But it's also a damn fine and intelligent movie, original and almost spooky. It has one sequence that gave me goosebumps because it was so intense, so magical and so macabre with very small means. It's not out on any official DVD what I know, but a TV-rip is able to download and is also used at the bootleg I have, from ZDD Visual Media.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Sauna (2008)

It started a year ago. Maybe later actually. Jocke over at Rubbermonsterfetishism saw Sauna and said to me - more than once during a short period - that this was something I should watch. And he told me it more and more times, he called my mother, he stalked my grandma... he even claimed to be my son to be able to infiltrate my workplace to tell me to watch it. When he started to put photos of us together, torn into a million pieces, into my mailbox I had to confront him. But it got worse.

And then, a couple weeks ago, we had a booth at the Scandinavian Sci-fi, Game & Film Convention in Stockholm, selling The Killer Elephants on DVD. Everything was calm until he suddenly disappeared and came back with the Njuta Films release of Sauna. I tried to avoid it for a week, but this morning I sat down and watched it...

The year is 1595, a delegation of Swedish and Russian officials travels through Finland to divide the country between the states. It's been a long and hard trip and the war isn't far behind them. Erik, the older brother, is plagued by the memories of those he killed - but continues to behave like it's war. The younger one, Knut, gets more and more worried of his brothers behaviour, but tries to keep out of his way. Soon they come to a big swamp, and according to all sources no one lives there - until they find a whole village in the middle of it. Soon a girl, that Knut thought Erik killed, starts following them and soon they realize that something is terrible wrong there. Or maybe it's that weird sauna, standing out in the wilderness, that haunts them all...

While Sweden still is a desert when it comes to genre cinema our neighbours churns out classic after classic. Denmark has been a force of cinema since many years, and Norway and Finland is there with them creating imaginative genre movies which aren't afraid of being bloody and commercial, but still stands with both feet in the Scandinavian mythology. Sauna is clearly one of the best. A meditative trip into the wilderness of our minds darker areas. Don't expect hyperactive editing and typical jump scares, this is so much more and with an amazing ambition to create something unique and genuinely scary.

I love how the camera sets in on a character and stays there. Reads the facial expressions, the eyes and the charisma of the actor. With no hasty cuts, director Antti-Jussi Annila gives us time breath the characters, feel the story and let the atmosphere creep up on us. Some people say it's impossible for someone from another country to judge if the actors are good or not. That's of course bullshit. An experienced, thinking viewer have no problem reading the actors of the most exotic origin and Finland is just next door to Sweden and I'll tell ya, this is some magnificent acting going on. Ville Virtanen and Tommi Eronen is of course perfect, but the biggest surprise for me was to see Viktor Klimenko's name in the end credits - and I finally could put a name on that familiar face. Klimenko was, and is still, a famous Finnish singer with a Russian heritage. Damn fine singer to and with some of the most outrageous "manly" album covers ever. In the beginning of the eighties he got a religious experience and turned his career to gospel and religious songs and the last I heard of him was that he claimed to be something of a prophet, telling the future and having a close contact with that absurd being called "God". So I thought he was lost - but obviously not, because starring in a very dark horror movie is quite a different career for a former preacher...

Sauna, which is the only good title, is also known as Evil Rising - but don't be fooled by that. This is a lot more than a simple supernatural horror movie. This is a Finnish masterpiece.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Ghostwatch (1992)

I love when people get upset. I just f**king love it. Why? Because I’m one of those that can be quite easily upset because of nothing, and I know violent stream of energy, power of live, that flows through your mind and body during such a thing. But I also learned to be very critical and not believe everything I see, read and hear – which sometimes borders to paranoia. That’s why I love mockumentaries. It mixes a genre I adore, documentary, with fantasy, imagination – stuff that boring people people without humor hate. When you look at Ghostwatch today I’m quite sure it wouldn’t fool so many, except the very naïve, but that’s of course because TV has changed a lot since then. But what still a fact is that Ghostwatch is a damn fine TV-drama made to look like a live broadcast starring the one and only Michael Parkinson.

From BBC's studio Michael Parkinson and paranormal expert Dr Lin Pascoe (Gillian Bevan) leads the investigation of a haunted house at Foxhill Drive. In the house they have reporter Sarah Greene who’s there to check all the weird stuff happening and outside is comedian, actor and TV-host Craig Charles (more known from Red Dwarf and Robot Wars) interviewing the neighborhood. The family, consisting of a mother and two daughters, has been terrorized by an unknown entity for several years and now is the time to prove what the hell is going on. From the start everything is cute and cuddly, a bit funny, innocent – but everything takes a turn when one of the daughters is caught faking a haunting – but then it takes another turn, and it’s all for the worst…

Ghostwatch is a fantastic example of how to manipulate the audience. Every turn, every part of the dialogue is there to create the viewer’s road to complete belief. Just when something seems a bit too far-fetched, the filmmakers add something that will bring us back to that this could be the reality. What makes it stronger is the presence of Michael Parkinson as the TV-host, sitting there being fatherly and friendly, a bit neutral in the chaos, and this nice old man is slowly getting drawn into pure hell! The actors are also very good, and the dialogue never gets to hammy or unrealistic. Sarah Green and Craig Charles is also friendly, loved, TV-profiles, which makes it even harder watching them being scared shitless by the ghost known as “Pipes”.

To add to the paranoia created by BBC, the ghost makes several cameo appearances during the show, and all of them are ignored – or not seen – by the hosts and witnesses. A British family, spellbound by what they see on the telly, would probably react, discuss and maybe even call to the hotline telling what they’ve seen. By planting one of these ghosts in the beginning everyone knows that they should look out for more.

If Ghostwatch had been an American production we would have seen a classic happy ending. But here’s no such thing. The show just breaks and leaves the audience alone… at least until the credits comes and tells everyone this is just a bluff.

Paranormal Activity might be more famous, but if you want to see the beginning of it all, buy Ghostwatch on DVD and watch it during one of those dark winter nights together with the rest of the family. You won’t regret it.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Black Widow - Sleeping With Demons (2011)

I was raised with music, heavy progressive, pulsating, weed-smelling Brit-rock from the seventies. That and psychedelic pop, coming from my youthful obsession of Beatles, The Move and much later American legends The Beach Boys. But my heart has always been with the progressive movement, especially if the played on atmosphere and with songs longer than ten minutes. It's been an adventure rediscovering these classics but one group that stayed hidden from me until quite recently was Black Widow, the notorious "Satanic" rock group that shocked the audiences with staged rituals and occult lyrics. I fell in love with Sacrifice directly, a brilliantly written and performed satanic saga. Even if Black Widow III drastically departed from the satanic way, I appreciate it as much because of it's psychedelic pop - and King of Hearts has since then become one of my favourite compositions of Jim Gannon. I actually thought that was everything, that the demons of Black Widow never would unleash themselves on the earth again...

...until the cinematic nerd-genius Jason sent me an MMS with a photo of a NEW Black Widow-album, Sleeping With Demons. I hurried to the iTunes store and bought it within minutes. Now, I'll admit that this could have ended up in something very bad. Imagine yourself a couple of old farts getting together and pretend to be young again. But that's the good thing with Black Widow. That wasn't even that modern and "fresh" at the time, they stayed away from that bullshit and did their own stuff so far away from the normal crap being released on vinyl. So what we have here is an album that sounds - with a few minor problems - like it should sound: satanic 1970.

The album consists of 15 song, and I can honestly say that there was just of them I didn't like. Even the Devil Gets the Blues is one of them, which is a bad embarrassing because it has original Kay Garret doing the singing - which is awesome, but I'm just not that fond of this kind of blues. I'm sure others will like it more. The second is Party time for Demons, mostly because it's silly. I was thinking constantly of Spinal Tap (which, by itself, is a good thing). I'm sure the band glanced at Spinal Tap once or twice during the making of this album, which just makes it even better - but Party time for Demons is just a bit to lightweight for me. To much rock & roll the bad way.

BUT the rest of the album, wow! Black Widow has gone back to their roots for most of the songs, but isn't afraid to send out some winks to the modern audience. The first track, with Tony ‘The Cat’ Martin doing guest vocals is a perfect, powerful start filled leading to the catchy track Sleeping With Demons. My favourite track so far is Portal To Hell, but prepare for an album filled with theatrical singing, occult references for the whole family, dramtic interludes, nods to the original albums and last, but maybe most important, a lot of pure love and respect for their own past.

There's a sense of "what the fuck", which both includes a small dose of self-distance and a goal to make something that the fans want without pretending to be twenty five again. They succeeded, which very few bands to after such a long time. This is not Sacrifice, but it wasn't the plan either. This is Sleeping With Demons, take it or leave it! I just wish this means them going out on tour, because I - and many others - would love to see them in Stockholm!

Visit their homepage, feel the atmosphere and then go and buy the album at the nearest store or through iTunes!