Thursday, May 31, 2012

Ajooba (1991)


"One of the worst all-time Hindi movies ever", so says the first user comment on IMDB. But hey, that's the first thing you seen on most movies on IMDB (except the usual classics like Taxi Driver, The Godfather, Star Wars, The Shining... *yawn*). This was one of several attempts of legendary superstar Amitabh Bachchan to get a new hit and once again conquer the cinemas. The rumour says he even starred in it for free, just to be nice to director Shashi Kapoor (normally an actor, and didn't direct again after this) and get a big juicy part again. To boost the budget and maybe make it look bigger Kapoor co-produced Ajooba with the Soviet Union and the movie was shelved for a couple of years until it was released in India in 1991. It had since earlier already been out in Soviet, but to little success. Ajooba proved to a be a big fiasco even in India. Why? Let's take a look.

Amitabh Bachchan is Ali, the thought-to-be-dead son to an imprisoned sultan. They shipwrecked, all survived - but didn't found each other after the accident. The mother turned blind and Ali was washed up and raised by a new family. The little kingdom is now ruled by a crazed magician, Vazir-E-Alla (the great Amrish Puri - just do an internet search on his name and you'll see what is his most famous movie) who controls the people with violence and black magic! But Ali can't stand this and transforms himself (and with that I mean he puts on a mask) to Ajooba, superhero and swashbuckler! A fantasy-version of Zorro! Together with his faithful friend Hassan (Rishi Kapoor) he strikes back to save his country and maybe even see his parents again!

What we have here is a good old adventure tale. Think Luigi Cozzi's Hercules, but with a big dose Zorro and Robin Hood. It's very old-fashioned, and I think that's the main reason it didn't hit off with the audience. Sure, Kapoor's direction has a lot to offer - it's stiff and quite unfunny - but I've seen worse and so have you all. Ajooba runs around on his horse, flashes his sword, falls in love and gets into fistfights with guards. Hassan is the comic relief and Vazir is as evil has he can be! Did the audience expect something else?

The co-production with the Soviet Union also gives a nice touch to the scenery and also a lot of extras running around in colourful costumes everywhere. The sets is just nicely painted plywood, but adds a lot to the fairy tale quality of the story. All actors are good, but as usual Amitabh Bachchan is the best - even if I sense some kind of tired "Fuck it, I won't even get money for this!"-look on his face from time to time. I'm sure he did his best, but after numerous flops I guess he might have been a bit tired of it all.

The pacing is a bit slow and it has to much dialogue and drama, but the action looks okay and the monsters - there's two of them - are rubbery fun. First there's some very strange sea creature who helps our heroes and then there's the Godzilla-big Golem statue wrecking havoc for a few minutes, kidnapping a character and looks at Ajooba and one of the bad guys fighting each other on a flying carpet! The miniature effects is really good, almost Japanese quality! The only country in the world that can't stand blood in family movies is the US, and because this isn't an American movie we actually get a some blood and cartoonish nasty deaths from time to time in Ajooba. That's good. It certainly spices up the action!

Not a masterpiece, but a nice matinee adventure. I liked it! Hope you like it also!

Once Upon a Time in Sweden: The Forgotten Wells (1994)


I promised myself not to write about bad Swedish movies during this week, but the other day I found myself watching Mats Helge Olsson's The Forgotten Wells (aka Jagad i Underjorden aka Grottmorden), the last gasp of the not so spectacular Swedish empire of low budget genre movies Mats Helge created when he needed money after a very, very, very big flop called Sverige åt Svenskarna (but that's a totally different story). During the end of his career he got involved with muscle-boy Anders Hellquist (here credited as A.R. Hellquist), who in a couple of "action classics" starred as the shirt-ripping hero. It was also during that time that Olsson's pupil, Anders Nilsson, started to direct more and more and this movie is credited to them both.

Hellquist is Pete Savage, an adventurous journalist sent out by his boss (played by Frederick Offrein) to investigate a system of forgotten... wells! Yeah, that's true! Many years ago a boy is said to have disappeared in the underground system and Pete and his team is set out to find him! But what the hell, at the same time - from a nearby mental hospital - a crazy serial killer escapes and hides out in the wells! Bad luck for our heroes! And even worse, the brother of the killer - a very rich man named Tanner (Taggen Axelsson) - sends out his henchmen to kill every witness to his brother's bloody mayhem!

No, this is not a good movie. Actually, it's very far from a good movie. I guess it's suppose to be a horror/slasher (which I always forget), but the tension is nada and the "actors" mostly seem interested in beat each other in different not so creative ways. It's very dark and hard to see what's happening which is a brutal contrast to the scenes in the beginning that looks like they're from an extra cheap porn movie. The strongest part of the movie is the editing. Confusing, yes - but during the sloppy fight scenes it's actually quite good and works fine - but that's always been a fact in the work of Mats Helge: action is interesting for the filmmakers, the rest is just to fill out between the crappy fights.

I might seem harsh on the movie - and yes, that's what I am. But as a collector of Mats Helge movies and odd genre flicks from Sweden it's necessary to watch everything I find. For several years I had contact with Mats Helge, but stopped answered the phone after he started to rave about how the homosexuals and the Jews controlled media and destroyed his career - men like that are best to ignore before they take over your life. But he was friendly anyway and my interested also made me get to know some of the actors involved in his classics - and I casted three of the stars from this movie in a movie I produced morethan ten years ago. Fun times.

But back to The Forgotten Wells. Another thing I like about it is the underground locations - both real locations and built sets. Pity they're so dark it's impossible to follow the action. Sam Cook, who have a much bigger part in yesterdays Mask of Murder, also have a very small part here. Do anyone know who he was/is? Let me know, I'm curious! Another odd casting is Gareth Hunt, the British character actor (The New Avengers and the failed Bond-spoof Licensed to Love and Kill) who slums as a bad cop during most of the movie. How the hell did he end up in this micro budget Swedish crapfest?

I can't recommend The Forgotten Wells to anyone, but it's an interesting and failed attempt to make another slasher in Sweden - and every try is a welcome try.

Gharshana (2004)


This is actually the second time I've seen Gharshana and obviously I forgot all about it when I put the disc in the player a second time. This might seem like it's a movie that is easily forgotten, and while it's hardly original and still a good action-drama in a very underrated genre (in the rest of the world): big, muscle-guy with moustache hits bad guys with his own fists and romances a beautiful woman at the same time. Yeah, only in India and this Telugu movie doesn't break one single convention - but sometimes it's nice to play it safe, at least so ignorant foreigners like me can get entertained.

Venkatesh plays sadistic (almost fascistic) super-cop Rama Chandra who think it's just better to kill the criminals before spending the tax money on a real trial. While not courting the young teacher Maya (Asin Thottumkal), he's also on the hunt for Dass, a very dangerous criminal - and they day he kills him everything seem fine. The problem is that he didn't kill Dass brother, Panda (Salim Baig) who's now out to get revenge for the murder of his brother and starts killing of every cop and their family involved in the case! It's up to Rama Chandra to save the day - if he can save Maya first!

India has never been a stranger to remakes, either just traditional remakes or proper legal remakes of other Indian movies - without one million geeks whining like they're dying. Gharshana is a remake of the Tamil movie Kaakha Kaakha (2003) and in 2011 the Hindi version came, Force - and yet another one the same year, the Kannada remake Dandam Dashagunam! But hush, don't mention it to the politically correct movie geeks out there. They could faint.

Back to Gharshana! This is what I call Indian Action Porn, which means that with a cock-shot or two it would be perfect as a very expensive and ambitious porn movie. All men - at least the heroes and the main baddies - are big, strong and muscular with tight trousers and with testosterone pouring out from every artifice in their body. The love-interest of the hero is beautiful and sexy, but there's always a few booty-shaking slut-like characters to inject some more SEX in the story. Not  negative thing at all, it's just fun with these amazing stereotypes and the shameless übermensch propaganda that would make Joseph Goebbels spin around in his grave of jealousy! This is American action from the eighties, but often even more over the top.

Compared to others in the same genre this is quite low on jaw-dropping wire-work, but has enough sadistic beatings, shootouts, stunts and slow-motion somersaults to make an action-fan like me happy. It has an odd grindhouse-quality also, with - it seems - different quality on the film stock, some very strange editing choices and this official DVD boasts print with water/sun damage and scratches. Not on purpose of course and it fits the slightly trashy, but expensive, atmosphere of the movie.

The story itself is more or less original but at one point they can't stay away from classic Indian Hollywood-remaking and almost scene for scene copies an important scene from David Fincher's Seven!

Gharshana is not a masterpiece or classic of any kind, but it's very entertaining and very violent, which is enough for me. I think most of you would appreciate it. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Sholay (1975)


Puh! Three and half hours later and I've finally watched India's most beloved super-hit ever, Ramesh Sippy's Sholay! From the beginning (the first weekend more or less) considered a huge flop and they even planned to shoot a new ending, a happier one, to attract more audience. But the word of mouth spread fast and soon it was the biggest hit ever! It played in Indian cinemas for many years and I think it played, at one cinema, up until 2007! That's friggin' amzaing. So of course I had to watch it to see what it all was about! So was it worth the watch? Let's see....

Dharmendra and Amitabh Bachchan is Veeru and Jai, two cunning criminals and sometimes even gentlemen. After being caught by Inspector Thakur (Sanjeev Kumar) they spend some years in prison, under a Hitler-styled hysterical warden, and tries to escape from time to time. When they finally get out Thakur is waiting for them. He's not a police anymore and wants to hire them to catch a bandit, the evil Gabbar (Amjad Khan), alive so he himself can kill him! Gabbar killed his whole family and the only one's he think is brave and skilled enough to catch Gabbar is our heroes. Reluctantly, after being offered a healthy amount of money, they agree - but soon find themselves protecting a whole village from the bandits!

What to write about a movie that's been analyzed, turned inside-out, remaked, spoofed, celebrated and for a moment even considered to have a 3D conversion for a new release in cinemas? Well, I have no fucking idea except that I can understand that it became such a big hit. Here we have over three hours that feels like one hour, seriously. There's not one boring second and the story actually struggles along really good, without jumping around too much in genres or having too many musical numbers. Sholay is basically a western, a spaghetti western done the curry way.

From the opening action scene, a train robbery that is extremely spectacular (it took 20 days to shoot) with lots of stunts and fighting and of course a big explosion in the end to the numerous shootouts and fights along the way to the dramatic and sad ending. Much of the success is built upon the sparks between Dharmendra and Ambitabh, which also makes this a typical buddy movie of the best kind. Maybe it references Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid here? Another sequences is a successful homage to Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West, who manages to do that without just ripping the original scene angle for angle. If it works for the story, that's what matters in the end.

I'm always amazed when watching action scenes in Indian movies. It really doesn't matter if the movie is cheap and crappy, or a big budget extravaganza like this, the action is always totally over-the-top. Why? I guess to deliver as much entertainment as possible to the audience that will sit there for a couple of hours. Sholay has also very complicated scenes with a lot of stuntmen involved, lots of advanced editing, squibs (the first thing that would suffer if this was a cheap movie) and a creative you're-there-with-the-characters angles and set-ups. I'm always happy when the stuntman do what ever they can to not fall right into the camera. That's passion!

Sholay is a masterpiece, without a doubt. It has enough action and drama to keep the energy up for three and half hours. Not many movies can succeed with that!

Once Upon a Time in Sweden: Mask of Murder (1985)


Arne Mattsson's Mask of Murder have never been a movie with a good reputation in the horror community. Even the most fanatic and open-minded fans out there seems loving to bash it. I think this hangs together with the bully-system that the Swedish film community - lead by Ingmar Bergman - started against Arne Mattsson, and both colleagues and critics joined the herd and continued to bash him for the rest of his career. Why? Well, first of all - Arne was an easy target. He was a sensitive man, he didn't like to be trashed and was out-spoken in the matter. He was also a controversial man who often, through what seemed like shallow entertainment, loved to bring up subjects that few others dared to touch. Another reason was his love for crime stories. He wasn't forced into movies about murder and mayhem, he loved it and sported his own impressive collection of detective novels. This "weakness" for the commercial part of culture made him an easy target for the fancy critics and pretentious colleagues. By 1985 his career was since long more or less dead, but he continued to make movies and Mask of Murder seemed to have been a smaller hit on video shelves everywhere. I hope Arne got some of those money...

In a Canadian wintery town a serial killer is on the loose. He's has a white rubber mask with red lips painted on it. Some locals spots the suspect and calls the police. Bob McLaine (Rod Taylor),  Ray Cooper (Sam Cook) and their superior Jonathan Rich (Christopher Lee) heads out to the house where he hides, but it all ends in disaster and Jonathan gets shot and Bob executes the suspect in cold-blood. Everyone thinks the killer is dead, but some nights after someone is back with the mask - slashing the throats of young women!

It's a lot more to the story, but the less said about the twists and turns the better. Mask of Murder is a cheap movie, it looks quite rushed - and believe me, it's not shot in Canada or anywhere close to that continent. It's shot on Arne's own backyard, Uppsala and nearby areas. Uppsala was Arne's favourite town and used in many of this movies, and it's always a pleasure finding the locations he used. The script could have needed one or two extra passes, but it still works quite fine as a bleak and nasty murder mystery. Arne's favourite camera techniques is still there and makes the cheap locations looks way more nice than if a less competent director would shoot the same script. Like Hitchcock, Mattsson knew how to tell a story without unnecessary dialogue and tells a lot of the drama just by moving the camera in the right moment or the use of logical and intelligent editing (an art form that's totally forgotten nowadays...especially in bigger, mainstream movies).

Mask of Murder is also a very dark and cynical movie with a lot of nasty and bloody murders on women plus some bloody squibs. There's very few - if none - sympathetic characters to root for which might be the reason why a lot of fans have problem liking it. Personally I think that's just fantastic, because movies like that is needed. The world isn't a happy place, so why fool the audience?

The trio of lead actors, Taylor, Cook and Lee, makes excellent performances - but I find the supporting actors even more interesting. For example we have Heinz Hopf, more famous for his legendary role in They Call Her One Eye, as a slightly unstable hairdresser. In two even smaller parts we have Legendary (yes, with a big L) Hjördis Pettersson in, I think,  her last part + another veteran from the screen and stage, the brilliant Sif Ruud.

Mask of Murder is out on an okay-looking DVD from Studio S in Sweden and I guess that's the best way to go if you, as a serious movie collector, wants this movie in your collection. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Once Upon a Time in Sweden: Besökarna (The Visitors, 1988)


Maybe I'm lacking the imagination I thought I had when it comes to find interesting Swedish genre movies to write about this week, but the fact is that there's not much movies to choose from. Besökarna (aka The Visitors) launched a short-lived Hollywood career for the Ersgård brothers (including a couple of Charles Band productions: Mandroid and Invisible: The Chronicles of Benjamin Knight) and after that a couple of fiascos in Sweden. It might sound like I don't like them, but I do - I just think they should go back to make a classic horror movie - because Besökarna, their first movie, proves that horror is what they can do best.

A new family is moving in, it's Frank (Kjell Bergqvist) and Sara (Lena Endre) and their two kids, Lotta and Peter. The house needs a renovation and Frank starts fixing it up directly while he's longing to Monday when he's gonna present an idea for an advertising campaign and get rich. But it won't take long until strange happens in the house. The wallpapers falls down over and over again and Frank starts to hear odd sounds. It won't get better when the clients hates his idea and he needs to come up with a new concept in just a couple of days. But the ghostly visions gets worse and soon he brings a psychic investigator, Allan Svensson (Johannes Brost), to the house - and then when it really goes to... HELL!

It was many years since I saw Besökarna the last time but what strikes me the most now is how terribly the actors are. I mean, this is the crappiest acting of the crappiest acting I've seen in a Swedish movie. Everything an actors gets angry he or she starts to scream and wave a round like a madman. It's ridiculous! Nowadays all the actors are beloved and even Kjell Bergqvist and Johannes Brost have become decent actors (Johannes just got a comeback after a few years out in the cold). But here, oh lord. It's unbelievable! Not sure non-Swedish speaking audiences can notice the same way as we do, but trust me.

So, that was some whining and here's some more: I need to point out the almost overly simple storyline. Good in some ways, but also lacking imagination. It feels a lot like Amityville 3 - lots of noise but nothing is shown, which a movie like this needs. The main ghost/demon looks cool, for example, but is seen for less than one single second. And no, that's not good. When you don't have so much to deliver, bring on the monster instead - but the Ersgård brothers stay away from that also.

On the other side: the second half is actually damn effective as a ghost movie. The filmmakers goes all the way (except showing the demon enough) with moving objects, violent entities trying to bash in the door, kids in danger, visuals effects and pyrotechnics - and a nice sequence when one character is stuck hanging upside-down trying to reach the button to stop the demon from breaking free from it's mirror-hell. Stuff like that, I love it so much. There's also a good and very well-edited car chase that actually is quite spectacular in it's own discreet way. Maybe the only good car chase ever filmed in Sweden.

I will try to end on a positive note. Besökarna is probably the best haunted house movie ever made in Sweden - but it might also be the ONLY haunted house movie ever made here (I'm not even counting the awful Scorched Heat from 1987). Okay, I tried. It's still entertaining and delivers a lot of visual treats during the last half. I think I can recommend it to fans of obscure Eighties horror-nonsense.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Once Upon a Time in Sweden: Stenansiktet (The Stone Face, 1973)


This Swedish oddity was produced by sleaze-maestro Inge Ivarson (Bel Ami, Justine & Juliette, Flossie, Language of Love and a ton of other sex-classics from Sweden) and directed by edgy dramedy-director Janne Halldoff, shot on location in Skärholmen, the famous concrete-suburb to Stockholm. Stenansiktet is very far from Ivarson's other movies, but the themes is as usual controversial and stuff you would never see in a movie about young teenagers in the US (for example).

Jan Blomberg is Harry, a social worker deeply involved in trying to make Stockholm and especially the suburbs a better place for humans. After his baby boy died in a freak accident on a playground - the ground being asphalted and easy for the kids to hurt themselves on - his wife gets a nervous breakdown and is committed to an asylum. Harry wants to change stuff, but the politicians won't listen to him. One day, after getting attacked by a gang of 13-15 year old boys he realizes that they can work for him, kidnapping corrupt and evil politicians so he can kill them in the safety of his own home!

An idea that originated in the sixties (in Sweden) was to build enormous areas of concrete living facilities for the workers to live in. Only live in. Work during they day and then go home, watch TV, sleep and then work again. Everything should be concrete and asphalt. This, of course, turned out to be a very bad idea. People need something else than a cube to live in. They need to live also. Gone was the nature, the parks, the playgrounds - left was a miserable state of humanity. Bored kids turned to drugs and violence and the parents sat at home brainwashed by the TV. After this huge mistake the government tried desperately to fix this, but the problems still are there - which especially during the last eight years has widen the class inequalities to alarming levels. Culture and creating is evil, work and slavery is good.

Stenansiktet (which literary means The Stone Face) is a lot about this, but also a story about the kids, growing up more and more cynical. When watching Stenansiktet it reminded me of everything from Bo Widerberg's Mannen på Taket, Kids, A Clockwork Orange and Roy Andersson's A Love Story. The location in Skärholmen makes the movie almost look futuristic, in that realistic seventies way with big concrete walls and house, underground parking lots and big empty squares.

The acting is very uneven, but Blomberg is great as Harry - both oozing of friendly goodwill and a dark undertone of being a manipulating psychopath. Interesting enough the only ones how looks through is the kids, which gives hope for the future.

I'm not sure how much Stenansiktet could attract non-Swedish viewers, but if you find a way to see it, give it a shot. It's satire, social-realism and often also quite funny. It's not out on DVD what I know, but many years ago Klubb Super 8 released it on VHS.

And how is Skärholmen and the rest of the concrete suburbs today? Nowadays its a lot better, the criminality is still there but the people are fighting for making it a better places, the squares are filled with vendors who sells fruits, vegetables, everything you need - and here we can only thank one group of people: the immigrants.

Without them these places would be dead. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Upcoming: Once Upon a Time in Sweden Week!


Yeah, good ol' Ninja Dixon will TRY to deliver a slate of Swedish classics - but I promise to stay away from the obvious one, The Call Her One Eye (you can instead read this interesting text I wrote once - or just check out this nice photo of me and Christina). I just added two photos of Christina Lindberg to make more people to read this announcement! I'm not even sure Christina will be in any of the movies I'll be watching this week!

I will instead try to review a couple of movies that is rarely written about or just plain under-appreciated. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this upcoming week and the concept of Once Upon a Time in Sweden!

/Ninja Dixon


Lokis. Rekopis profesora Wittembacha (1970)




I hope you accept I will refer Lokis. Rekopis profesora Wittembacha to the shorter and easier to remember title Lokis for the rest of the review? Of all the European countries often Poland made the most unusual genre productions during the Iron Curtain area. Maybe more dramas than genre, but often very interesting and thought-provoking. While the sci-fi's from the east block always been hailed as the best ever much less is said about their horror movies. Lokis is, like most of the others, a very slow-moving story set in the past...

Edmund Fetting plays the German Pastor Wittembach on his way through Estonia to do research about folklore. On a train he meets an old countress (Zofia Mrozowska) who invites him to her family castle. Her son, a young count (Józef Duriasz), is a pale man who acts odd, but is nice and polite to his guests. He seem to have an aversion against smaller animals and catches everyone he sees and puts them in cages. In the castle a doctor Froeber (Gustaw Lutkiewicz) takes care of the countess, going more and more mad. He tells the good pastor that among the villagers they believe that she got raped by a bear and that the young count is a werebear!

Oh, don't expect a raging werebear slaughtering people. This is very far from a traditional horror movie. It has horror themes, but is more of a wicked, dark drama, about a fucked-up family on the countryside. If you start watching this movie like one of Corman's Poe-movies, but with a big twist of social-realism and no special effects you won't be disappointed.

What's more interesting is how the atmosphere creeps up on you. You sense that there's something wrong all the time, but it's not until the last half hour characters gets darker and the ugly face of reality. I love how the pastors stays there even if he starts to hate the family and only cares about the rare books in their collection  and how the doctor gets more and more cynical, pretending nothing is wrong - but playing around with the family like the characters on a chess board.

The last minutes of the movie is the most eerily, with a doomed final scene - very sad and emotional. Both because it shows the cruelty of humanity and the how some people always seems doomed whatever they do. Brilliant stuff.

Lokis is a very Polish movie. The characters are very black, cynical and close to emotionally psychopathic - like all humans are deep inside, but without that Happy Happy Joy Joy-mask that I personally hate so much. The art of acting is very similar to the UK, with excellent performances down to the smallest supporting part. It's not about being a star, it's about telling a story - and the Polish never disappoints me there.

Lokis is not a movie for everyone, but if you're interested in a dark drama filled with dread and unhappy people in desolate castle on the countryside this might be something for you. It's out on DVD in Poland in a nice horror-box from KinoPolska - with English subs. They've actually released several fantastic box sets, all English friendly!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Ilya Muromets (1956)


I think the general public thinks of Soviet cinemas a long, depressing dramas about farmers crying over the dry summer and cold winter. They might have done some of those plus a generous amount of documentaries and war movies, but here and there, tucked between the propaganda (basically the same propaganda all other countries had in their movies, but the opposite) Mosfilm produced some stunning "mainstream" entertainment. The spectacular Vietnam drama Koordinaty smerti (1985, my favorite anti-war movie), disaster movie Air Crew 1980) and Die Hard-scenario/martial arts action flick Pirates of the XXth Century (1979)! But one of the best movies EVER produced by Mosfilm was Ilya Muromets, more known as The Sword and the Dragon in the US.

Ilya is a big man, with a big beard, usually strong and brave - but after illness he's paralyzed and sits on his throne in a little Russian village longing for his glory days. At the same time the evil Tartars invades mother Russia and all he wants is to help out and destroy the invaders. One day some pilgrims comes by his farm and they give him an antidote and suddenly he can move again. He takes his faithful horse to Kiev and joins Prince Vladimir there (after a lot of adventures of course). But through misunderstandings Ilya is imprisoned and the Tartars is slowly taking over the country. Ilya is the only one to help them... if he gets out!

Ilya Muromets has a lot of grand scene-chewing, stoic actors posing in front of sunsets and more bearded men than at a Bear Weekend in Berlin. The dialogue is stiff, but in a very conscious way - this is a fairy tale, a "jolly grand tapestry" and  a "Hellman’s mayonnaise of epics" according to William S. Berger in two colourful tweets to me. It's not meant to be realistic or low-key, this is the grandest spectacle made in the fifties and it easily beats every damn epic made in the US or all other countries. Even today it's impressive, with action and effects that still holds up.

Big-boned Boris Andreyev plays Ilya, 41 years older at the shooting of the movie - playing a "young man". That will never work in any normal movie, but he's such a cool (and bearded) man that it works in such a crazy piece of cinema that this is. He's the essence of manliness without being a total asshole. Ilya Muromets is packed with wonderful scenes, including some kind of creepy wind demon who with his mouth can blow away most people, animals and house! Another weird character who shows up is a giant fat Tartar (carried on a big shield by his men), who both manages to look fucking freaky and humours at the same time. The last half hour is only action with thousands of extras bashing each other on battle fields and finally a dragon, built in "real-size", using it's fire-breath to kill and destroy during the final showdown outside the city walls.

Ilya Muroments is THE best fantasy movie ever made. It still manages to entertain and stunt he audience with it's visuals. Another fantastic thing with it is that it won't take three hours to tell the story - just eighty-six minutes, and I wish every fantasy movie could be that short. I mean, it's has not time for boring scenes or drawn-out walks. This is essential cinema, a movie every fan of fantasy should watch - and even like me, who hates the genre, can't withstand the charm and intelligence - not to forget the action and monsters - in a movie like this.

Long live Mosfilm!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Demonia (1990)


Without stepping on too many toes I would like to say that many horror fans out there is a bit lazy. They are too afraid of actually liking a movie if it's widely considered a bad movie. Argento, Romero, Carpehter, Craven and Fulci - all of them have had this curse on them and still has in most of the cases. Maybe it's because the horror community is such a small and narrow part of movie society that people are afraid to get pushed out from the fellowship. Remember that Romero's Day of the Dead, Argento's Phenomena (and a couple of more) and Fulci's Murder Rock once was considered bad movies but is now hailed as good, excellent or pure masterpieces. With open eyes and mind it's therefore very interesting watching the lesser loved movies directed by, for example, maestro Lucio Fulci: Demonia.

A Canadian (I read that on IMDB) team of archaeologists lead by Professor Paul Evans (Brett Halsey) is on Sicily to excavate some ancient roman sites, but nearby is an old monastery - rumoured to be haunted by the local villagers. One of the archaeologists, the young Liza Harris (Meg Register) soon sees visions of five nuns being tortured to death and she's getting more frail the more she sees this. Her interest is in the occult, but this time it's way more serious than earlier. Soon people around her, team-mates and folks from the village, is getting brutally killed! Can it be that the nuns has come back for revenge?

Demonia is a very interesting movie. I'm sure that if it had a higher budget and more time for special effects and longer shooting schedule this would have been one of Fulci's best from the eighties, because the script isn't bad at all. Written by Lucio Fulci and Piero Regnoli (who actually wrote both Nightmare City AND Burial Ground) this is a low-key story (believe it or not!) with an intelligent dream-like quality. Fulci seem to know what he's doing and the story flows very good - especially with a very good performance by both Halsey and Register. The mystery and atmosphere works better than usual and the movie is also packed with very gory and violent killings!

And there we have one problem with Demonia. The budget for effects wasn't really high, it seems, and most of the effects - the spectacular one's like the body ripped in part and the poked-out eye - looks very amateurish. Usually I don't care about it and I can live with these effects, but the rest of the movie is so serious that the low quality on the effects takes you out from the movie every now and then. I don't know, but it feels like A Cat in the Brain could have gotten some inspiration from this production - just remember the scene where Fulci voices his dissatisfaction with the effects?

Demonia also looks very cheap, like a low-class TV-movie. Could be the transfer to DVD, but I never seen this movie looking good. With Sergio Salvati behind the camera and Giannetto De Rossi this could have been a fantastic movie, but instead with get the less skilled Luigi Ciccarese on photo (one of Mattei's closest cinematographer's) and Franco Giannini doing the effects.

But if you disliked it before, give it a chance again. It's not bad at all actually. Just very cheap. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Deadwood Park (2007)


Thanks to Njuta Films we have an excellent box with six movies from Wicked Pixel Cinema, with director/writer Eric Stanze as their main talent and spokesman. Now, the whole team is extremely talented but Eric is THE director and it's understandable. The man has a lot of talent and after watching Deadwood Park today I'm considering him as the best indie-filmmaker in the United States right now. Big words, yeah, but watch this one and Ratline and try to have an opposite opinion (and if you have, you're an asshole - no, just kidding!). So, what is Deadwood Park? Let me tell you...

William Clifton is Jake Richardson, a young businessman coming back to his hometown after being away for most of his life. In 1979 his twin brother, Francis, was kidnapped and killed by an unknown assailant. He was the last of twenty-six children being brutally murdered during a span of more than twenty years. Now when Jake starts to ask questions about the killings he understands quickly that no one in town wants to talk about it. Instead everyone is blaming it on the former, now dead, amusement park employee Harold. Too easy for Jake, but before he can starts to investigate even closer he starts seeing things. Ghosts, ghosts of small children. And they want contact with him, show him something...

That's the story, but believe me: it has a lot more to offer. I'm not that a big fan of comparing artists work with other creative persons, but to give you a clue here: it reminds me of Stephen King, the good King - who enthralled my summer vacations as a kid reading about small town mysteries and bloody deaths. That and the old mini-series Chiefs, about a serial killer casting his shadow over a small town during three generations of cops. Deadwood Park is slow and filled with tension, with the Stanze's trademarked portray of backwoods-America. Very few directors has been able to show white trash, small cities who lost hope and desolate streets like Stanze - without falling to the stereotypical trap of hicks and rednecks.

The bulk of the movie, at least the exteriors was shot during the fall of 2006 and continued to may the next year. So prepare to see a lot of orange leaves, rainy roads and cold clouds over you when watching this. The story evolves almost entirely around Jake, and Clifton carries the movie on his shoulders without problems. His co-actors are also good, especially Bryan Lane as Sheriff Robert Cooper. It runs for almost two hours and I can promise you that you will sit there watching without any breaks. The script is excellent, there's not unnecessary scenes, nothing stupid at all. What's there is there for a reason. Another thing with Deadwood Park is how ambitious it is for such a low budget movie. We have very important flashbacks for example, to the seventies, fifties and forties - including a damn WW2 battle scene!

Don't expect much gore, at least not until the last half hour which has some very bloody and well-made stuff for gorehounds. But it's the story, the tension, everything in this movie that's even more important. It's not about the gore, it's about one of the tightest indie-scripts I've seen.

Puh, hyping yeah? Probably. But when something is brilliant you should say its brilliant also. Not try to be low-key or... afraid of recommend something you really think its good. Deadwood Park is fucking good, a sensational thriller/drama. Gah, I have no idea I could be more stunned over a movie than Ratline but here it is... what can I do?

See it.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Undertow (2003)


Ten years ago, when no one was making horror movies in this god-forsaken country called Sweden I actually starred in probably the only indie-horror movie that got distribution during that time, Camp Slaughter (not to confuse with Camp Daze who was re-titled Camp Slaughter a few years later). The Swedish Camp Slaughter was a tribute to the slashers of the late eighties - I remember the filmmakers tossing around titles like Slaughter High and Friday the 13th part 5. That was the inspiration, but the idiots at Sandrew Metronome compared it in their marketing to Black Christmas and Halloween! So of course the HATE came from all fronts, and no one appreciated a small micro-budgeted slasher movie that didn't cost a penny from he tax payers money. But has that to do with Jeremy Wallace's The Undertow you ask? Well, the reason why I bought was that the rumour said that Camp Slaughter and The Undertow had similarities. Unintentional of course, but still. Could be fun to see!

A bunch of slightly annoying (but not too annoying) slackers decides that camping in Redneckistan is a good thing. It won't take long until they are stopped by a sleazy sheriff who terrorizes them for a while and then pours out their beer! Scandal! They stop by a store, and the people there are even more hostile... Happy happy joy joy! Anyway, the daughter of the towns mayor sneaks up the camping site at night and warns them that her mentally-disabled brother, called The Boy, is out to get them. Her father uses him to clean out unwanted city-folks from their pure and Christian community! The horror! The horror!

No, it's not that similar to Camp Slaughter - but the killer himself is very similar - both in looks and behaviour. After watching Ratline I've been curious to see the rest of Eric Stanze's work. He didn't direct this one, instead his producer and co-worker Jeremy Wallace did. Instead Stanze shot it, edited it and worked on the special effects - together with executive producing for Sub Rosa Extreme.  But it feels a lot like a Wicked Pixel Cinema production, maybe lacking the depth that I've seen in some of the other films - but it has that gritty atmosphere. Compared to a lot of other filmmakers who went out with their digital video cameras and shot their own homemade epics this gang knows how to tell a story and to point the camera. And it works surprisingly well for being such a generic storyline.

I think we can thank the good cast for giving The Undertow some extra class. Both Emily Haack and Jason Christ is in it, both veterans in the Stanze-stable. It seems like there was a lot of improvising and for once it works very good (I'm very rarely a fan of improvising lines). I guess we're dealing with actors who was good friends in real life and made it possible to be so good.

The gore is bloody and quite graphic, but I think they spent most of the money and time on the first killing, a very nice and very graphic head-squeezing (I guess it's called) that holds up even today, in this day and age.

I'm one of them who have no problems watching very cheap shot-on-video movies. This one looks cheap, but because they're able to tell the story good it's very watchable. You see, it's not the format you shoot that's important - it's the story and script. Untalented people can spend millions with shooting on 35 mm, and it's a disaster. I kinda prefer when talented people work with what they have instead, even if it means someone somewhere will look down on them for using video as a tool for telling stories. 

The Mummy Theme Park (2000)


One of the few things that irritates me, still, after using internet during so many years is the fact that IMDB still haven't separated Al Passeri and Massimiliano Cerchi. I'm not sure or why it happen, but old Italian special effects maestro Passeri got mixed up with American indie-director Cerchi and is now just one of Cerchi's aliases. Because believe me, the latter didn't do production design on Alien 2: On Earth when he was eight years old or built the miniatures to Atlantis Interceptors when he was eleven (even if it looks like the work of a child). The real Passeri did direct three movies and today I'm gonna look at his last one, The Mummy Theme Park.

A photographer, Daniel (Adam O'Neil) and his co-worker Julie (Holly Laningham) is hired by a sheik in Egypt to document his new project, a theme park that takes the visitors back four thousand years to the time of the pharaohs. With the help of a scientist he actually awoken the mummies as half humans/half robots, reconstructed their physical appearances and uses them has entertainment-slaves! But something goes terrible wrong and soon our heroes is hunted by killer-mummies down in the buried city!

To just claim this is as the worst movie ever made is to do the movie injustice. But I've read it many times over the years and had that opinion myself when I saw it on DVD more than ten years ago for the first time. Yeah, it's not a good movie - but this is one of the few truly original genre movies ever to come from Italy - in the visual department, because I can't promise you never seen anything like it. What we have here is Passeri using all his old-school skills do a whole movie only based on them. I had some strange memories of this being shot digital and using a lot of cheap digital effects, but hey - it's the exact opposite.

I never seen a movie deliberately using so many, nowadays, lost special effects techniques: miniatures in front of camera to create a big environment, perspective illusions, black art (when someone is wearing black clothes and mask standing in front of a black textile and makes dead objects move),  double exposure, the use of mirrors to make a location bigger and back projection (not blue screen). Almost every shot in this movie is a special effects shot using these techniques. There's a couple of simpler digital effects, 2D, which works like cartoonish elements in the storyline. Not meant to look realistic, but more to generate a laugh or just look absurd.  

The look of the movie is also ultra-stylish, not even near realistic. It's a combination between a bad school play and Fellini! Everything is built in studio, as cheap sets for the close-up's and miniatures for the bigger angles. When the close-up comes they are usually quite cramped, so there was probably very little money to build them with. But the miniatures looks better...in their own way.

One thing that looks very cool is the main mummy, who after being burned is a walking flesh-monster with a huge mouth! The nastiness of that creature actually stands out very strange compared with the rest of the movie.

Produced by Production Film 82 in Rome, at RAI's studios and using dubbed Italian actors under new "American" names - this is a pure Italian production and has nothing to do with Massimiliano "Max" Cerchi, at least that what I think. What happen with Cerchi by the way? He and the company he owned, the Las Vegas based Rounds Entertainment, was sued by filmmaker Jeff Carney in 2003 and was ordered to pay 96000 dollars in damages because of distributing a movie he didn't have the rights to and since then he seem to be lost, staying away from the law.

The Mummy Theme Park is a very strange movie. An odd bird, and very unique. Rarely has the Italian film industry seen something like it before and after - except for the two other movies Passeri directed around the same time. But this one is extreme in it's deliberate lack of realism. Give it a shot, but I doubt it's the kind of movie you will like. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Aliens vs. Avatars (2011)


Like you all know I rarely review movies I dislike. Very rarely. And no, I don't dislike Lewis Schoenbrun's Aliens vs. Avatars either. The only thing I'm getting sad over is that we don't have this industry of cheap, silly, DTV movies in Europe. Not only would it generate more jobs inside the film industry - for actors, technicians and for bloggers to whine about - it also would create a much more fun environment for us creative's out there. AVA (which also is the name of one of the characters I realize now) probably didn't have much money at all, but they still have pros working in front and behind the camera. So what the hell is all this about? Let me give you the rundown...

A dangerous alien, a monster called Scythe crashes in some park area outside LA and the only one who can stop this creature is Ava, a blue-tanned female alien who transfers herself into the avatar of a human - see, if you do it the opposite way it can be really cheap! She also sends down a ROBOTAR (it's impossible to not write that name with small letters), a very old-school rocket-shooting robot who can kill the monster. In the middle of this is a gang of 35 year old-ish high school students who's out camping! And did I mention that this movie started with two women showing their boobs? Maybe not for me, but I'm sure a lot of other fans out there would like to know that. And yeah, that's it.

This is cheap. This is very cheap. I guess it's one of the cheapest movies I've seen recently. And I'm 100 % sure how funny it's supposed to be, because even if everything that happens in it is extremely absurd - most of the dialogue and actors are doing it completely straight. And yes, that might be why I actually found it entertaining. I never really cared for actors doing that whole twinkle-in-the-eye job when working in cheapie movies, I appreciate it them more if they do it seriously and doing what they can to make the story engaging. Amazingly enough it works here. Sure, the pre-credits are a bit ironic - with very simple computer graphics and corny music, and for a while I was afraid that was the actually special effects in the movie. But don't worry, the space-scenes that comes later are okay, seen worse.

What works less good is the practical effects, for example the monster-suit and the character of ROBOTAR. Here the low budget really shines through but also fits the corny atmosphere and gives the whole movie a playful feeling. It's not meant to take seriously, but the nudity and cheap gore makes it still more adult than the normal backyard-epics being produced all the time. The gore... it's primitive, but bloody. A nifty ripped-off arm gives us a lot of blood, so also poked-out eyes and no less than two decapitations (using the same fake-head I suspect). It could have used more. Why not toss in a group of scouts for the sequel?

My biggest complain is that ROBOTAR isn't in the movie more. Just the last couple of minutes. He's awesome - in rubbery, cheap, tacky way - and I could see him shoot rockets all day long. He needs to come back to the next epic from director Lewis Schoenbrun - or what the hell, give him his own franchise! I rather see him than Transformers.

Aliens vs. Avatars is a surprisingly entertaining cheapie. Way more charming than I expected it to be.

Now if someone can send me a screener of The Amazing Bulk...

Darfur (2009)


Yesterday I watched Renny Harlin's 5 Days of War (you can read my comments at the NinjaDixon tumblr), a good b-action movie disguised as a message-movie disguised as a b-action movie. Everything at once. Today I watched a similar movie, Uwe Boll's Darfur. Now, most idiots out there have seen House of the Dead and Alone in the Dark and decided that everything after that is the same thing. Now, I like these two movies - they are simple entertainment made for a lot less money than shitstorms like the Transformers or Twilight-franchises. What's interesting with Boll as a filmmakers is for every "silly" movie, and with that I mean über-commercial popcorn-movie he makes something totally different. Movies like Tunnel Rats, Stoic, Seed, Max Schmeling etc is very different from House of the Dead. They aren't even "fun" violent movies, they are plain disturbing and says more about humanity than very few other movies. Cynical stories about how humans really are. Darfur is the latest of these dramas, a very, very disturbing account of the genocide in Darfur.

We follow a gang or journalists and photographers on a routine mission in Sudan, together with representatives from an organizations that's there to observe. Only observe. They arrives to a small village and spends some time there interviewing the villagers. When they leave they see a Janjaweed convoy getting close to the village and they decide to go back, to just be there as international journalists - hopefully to stop the warriors from attacking the village. But everything goes very wrong...

Darfur is a very realistic movie. It's improvised by the actors and Boll also takes a documentary-approach in the style. Lots of handheld camera, without getting too shaky, lingering close-ups on sweaty faces and a camera that won't stop filming even when something we don't want to see happens. Some less intelligent reviewers have stated that this is just violent porn, that it's entertainment - but believe me, there's nothing entertaining or funny with what we're seeing in this movie. It's graphic yes, but I've seen worse - its more that first half hour of meeting the villagers that makes it so hard seeing them die from the hands of their enemies.

The acting is also very impressive, and its even more fun that Boll only uses actors like Billy Zane, Matt Frewer, Edward Furlong, Kristianna Loken etc - all who do amazing jobs creating realistic characters. I'm not familiar with the South African actors, but all of them are eerily realistic (some of them are also real victims of the terror in Sudan). I'm happy to say that Darfur is very far from the typical DTV movie and I'm actually quite happy that a lot of people out there probably choked on their pizzas after work watching this drama. They probably expected something very different.

Maybe it should be mandatory for every person involved in Lundin Oil to see this movie, for example our incompetent Minister for Foreign Affairs, Carl Bildt, who was involved in the genocide in Darfur indirectly through his work with Lundin Oil and still goes free. You know, you get a lot of power with important friends and millions on the bank. Here in Sweden we call him The Genocide Millionaire, and it's a quite fitting name for him - and a big shame for Sweden.

Give this movie a chance, read up on Lundin Oil and Carl Bildt, and ignore the real war-porn being produced in Hollywood: Saving Private Ryan, Black Hawk Down and the rest of the crap!

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Edgar G. Ulmer Week: Journey Beneath the Desert (1961)


Five days, five movies directed by Edgar G. Ulmer. I hope to do this again sooner or later, but I have no idea if it was appreciated or not. I guess not to many care about old semi-mainstream movies by a poverty row director nowadays. But the most important thing is that I do, and I'm gonna end this week with a highly recommended movie, Journey Beneath the Desert, one of many adaptations  of Pierre Benoît's story L'Atlantide. I haven't read the book or seen any of the other film versions, but I highly doubt they come up in same class as this one. Yeah, maybe they are more arty and pretentious - yeah, even with bigger and fancier set-pieces or better actors. But I never cared about stuff like that, because it all becomes crap if the director has no idea what he's doing. And it's very easy to see that Ulmer, taking over after the sick Frank Borzage, really knew what he was doing here.

A team of hunks crashes in the desert during a storm and when they hide in a cave they notice that a strange-dressed man is fighting for his life in nearby ravine. They help him inside the cave. Soon they discover a rare mineral, or stone, or something, and the man seem upset that they want to take the stuff with them. He leaves and come back with soldiers. Soon they are trapped in the underground city of Atlantis, sunken thousands of years ago into the desert - now ruled by a young queen. It all beings well, but our heroes aren't allow to leave the city and soon find themselves prisoners! There's just one problem, the city lies exactly where they gonna try out a nuclear bomb! They don't know exactly when, it depends on when the wind changes direction...

Journey Beneath the Desert begins like a normal European adventure movie, not far from the typical peplums of the time. But soon it's clear that Ulmer wants to do something more serious with the story than just another mindless adventure romp. Slowly the atmosphere is getting darker and nastier and the true politics of Atlantis comes forward - with slavery, fascism, capitalism. The slaves are literary working under the bourgeois, who lives luxury lives while the workers are tortured and mistreated like never before. The cult is based around one leader, a symbolic queen starts to understand that what she does is not really important - it's the men around her. I guess an American critic would see this as anti-communist, but for me it's very clearly anti-capitalistic, or at least on the left-wing of politics. I don't know about Ulmer's own stance in politics, but without speculating to much I think it's quite easy to see where he stands.

I don't want to reveal to much about the story and how the characters evolve, but for being a commercial adventure movie it sure takes a lot of unexpected character-trips. It's one of those where people die in the "wrong" order, which was a nice surprise - and the interesting theme of "manly love" between two of our main characters was also very interesting and unique. Another great thing with this movie is that the set designer was Ulmer himself and the movie looks sensational. Like Mario Bava, but more realistic and gritty. Every effect shot are either perfect or cartoonish in a very conscious way - like a fairy tale book, a comic strip.

Don't worry, it also has it's fair share of action scenes and violence and everything is very well done. But like always with the movies of Ulmer it's often the story itself that takes over the interest from us, the audience, and all the "fun" stuff comes as a welcome bonus to spice things up a little bit.

Another fine movie from Ulmer. See it or be a wimp!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Juggernaut (1974)


Richard Harris, Omar Sharif, David Hemmings, Anthony Hopkins, Ian Holm, Clifton James, Roy Kinnear, Freddie Jones, Jack Watson, Julian Glover - yeah, that's the line-up for Juggernaut, Richard Lester's terrorist-thriller from 1974. He was actually the third director working on the movie, and the only one that shoot material for it. Surprisingly enough it's still a perfect and very well-written thriller (Lester demanded some script-changes and the original writer refused to have his name on the movie for example) that kept me on the edge of the sofa!

Someone wants to blow up Britannica, a cruise ship on it's way to the US with 1200 passengers and crew. The unknown terrorist, calling himself "Juggernaut", has planted 16 oil drums with explosives all around the ship and if the company owning the boat doesn't pay him half a million pounds he will blow it up! What's left to do than send bomb-experts Anthony Fallon (Richard Harris) and Charlie Braddock (David Hemmings) and their team to the ship to try to defuse the bombs. But it won't be easy...

Juggernaut is something so rare as a pure bomb-defusing thriller. There's not focus on action or chases, just manly men sweating, smoking and defusing bombs. In the hands of an incompetent director this could have been the most boring movie ever made, but Richard Lester knows how to tell a story and how to give life to the characters. The first ten minutes is spent on mingling with the passengers for example. Nothing dangerous, not red herrings - just establishing characters and doing it extremely well. Hardly without any dialogue, or just the minimum of talk.

I began this review with writing down all the male actors, and it's one of those movies that revolves around men doing manly thing - or just being depressed. Or drinking booze. Or smoking. The women are supporting parts, but lets not forget two masterful performances by Shirley Knight and Caroline Mortimer - Shirley as the mistress of Omar Sharif's egocentric captain and who befriends the Roy Kinnear and Caroline playing the wife of Anthony Hopkins - who have the unthankful part of crying and looking worried the whole time, but she's doing it perfect. Doris Nolan, who plays Clifton James wife is also very funny with her stone face and a fantastic interaction with James.

Shot aboard a real luxury liner, this movie looks terribly realistic and authentic. I'm not sure there was any sets built, but if so they looks extremely real. The beginning of the movie, as mentioned above, is almost documentary and that style - that bleak, nerve-wrecking cinematography keeps up the whole show. We're on that boat and it feels. I also love the aerial shots of the boat when two of the bombs go off. Like taken from a news report. You never see stuff like that anymore.

Juggernaut is a cleverly disguised character-driven drama and without those realistic characters - even the macho-gang lead by Harris and Hemmings, and the bureaucrats sitting in London trying to solve the problem their way - to the odd gang of passengers - it wouldn't have been so good. It would have been a good thriller, but not a damn excellent thriller like it is now.

One of the characters is killed in a very sudden way, and I almost flew up from the sofa - both from anger, fear and shock. I didn't want that character killed. But they did it anyway. That's movie magic, people, that's movie magic.

The Edgar G. Ulmer Week: Hannibal (1959)


One thing is very clearly about the career of Edgar G. Ulmer: he could direct everything - and it turned out really good if it had that extra edge in the story. I can easily see why he directed Hannibal, but more to that later. This wasn't the first time Ulmer worked on a bigger budgeted costume-extravaganza. Pirates of Capri, also shot in Italy 1949, for example. When Hannibal came it was at the end of the trend in Hollywood and the only one who really cared about making similar movies was the Italians - but with smaller budgets: the so-called Peplums. Hannibal probably had a modest budget, maybe around one million dollar and Ulmer did everything to put those money on the screen.

Hannibal (Victor Mature) leads his army of the Alps and after adventures and lots of deaths the arrive in Italy. One day he and his men catches a young woman and her best friend, Sylvia (Rita Gam) and Quintilius (Terence Hill, under his real name of Mario Girotti). But Hannibal is a wise man and lets them see his powerful elephant-army and sets them free. But Sylvia falls in love with him and they keep contact, even if he's preparing to invade the city. Her uncle - and the father of Quintilius - Fabius Maximus (the great Gabriele Ferzetti) soon finds out what she's done and won't understand that her plan is to make Hannibal and the Romans come to a friendly solution. The war-starved Romans don't give a fuck about peace-talk and attacks... and tastes the first rage of Hannibal's killer elephants!

The budget might be lower than usual, but Hannibal is still one of the best historical epics from this time. It delivers the best on all fronts: melodrama, action, dialogue and cool actors. Not only does this movie have Terence Hill, Bud Spencer is in there somewhere also! What makes this movie so strong is first of the down-to-earth gritty style of Edgar G. Ulmer. Much of this can of course be explained by the low budget, but it has a very cynical view on humanity and it's far more violent and disturbing in others in the same genre. I've seen bloodier movies, but it's still pretty graphic (arrow in the mouth, cut of arm, soldiers being crushed by elephants, falling down from mountains, eaten by wolves etc) and the nasty screams mixed into the soundtrack during the battle scenes makes everything so much brutal. If you don't like nasty horse-falls maybe you should stay away from this flick, because it's horses who falls because they're trained to do but because of wires!

The second detail that makes this movie so good is the charters. Victor Mature, a quite stiff and not exactly a colourful actor, makes a perfect Hannibal. He's like a grizzled old fart, too bitter to stop himself from fighting - even if he hates what he's doing. He's not that far away from Tom Neal's character in Detour - a talented man who wants to do good, but fuck things up whether he like it or not. Most of the times when young women falls in love with older men in movies like this I laugh, but Sylvia's love for Hannibal is well-written and I can buy her fascination - a father figure. She even calls Quintilius, a man in her age, a "child" several times. She wants a father, nothing else.

Hannibal has it's fair share of faults of mistakes, everything because of the low budget and probably a quite fast shooting schedule for this form of epic project. But if you can look beyond shaky sets, stuntmen visibly holding spears meant to penetrating them, some less-than-impressive extras in the background and some really lousy night-for-day shots you'll find a damn impressive and pitch-black epic, more edgy and interesting than all others in the genre. The ending is super-black, very downbeat in that wonderful Ulmer-way and in a way very ironic. He builds up a story that ends in a way that even I couldn't expect (and forgotten after watching it several times before).

Hannibal is out on an OK-looking DVD from VCI, the best it probably have looked since it was out in cinemas - but still would need a new released with a restored print as a source.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Beowulf (1999)


Graham Baker's Beowulf was a popular staple among me and my friends and created many jokes, most of them ridiculing Christopher Lambert - but also the fact that no one in this movie seem to be able to move around without making saltomortals up and tables, back and forth, always landing on their feet! I'm not kidding, and its getting worse closer to the end when everything is flying everywhere. But I have a soft spot for it and I to watch it again after many, many years out in the cold. So I finally took the time and remove the plastic around the DVD and gave it a spin... or a saltomortal!

In a distant... back or forward in time I have no idea, but it's some other kind of reality where medieval times is mixed up with... a time with aluminium, electricity, gas and zippers. Christopher Lambert, who else, is badass Beowulf - who's searches for darkness (and a place to sleep). Good for him he arrives to a weird castle and it's small population who's plagued by Grendel, a nasty monster who kills at least one every night! Crap, yeah? But Beowulf wants to do something about it and offers his warrior service to the sick and old king Hrothgar (Oliver Cotton) and his warrior penis to the beautiful Kyra (Rhona Mitra)! And with his trademarked voice created from whispers and throat clearings Lambert takes on the beast... and the mother of the beast!

Beowulf is a shallow, empty movie - but a lot of fun! It boldly tries to be Mortal Kombat (just watch the pre-credits with the animated logo of Beowulf, and the music) in combination with a couple of ounces of Highlander. But most of the time it's the awesome mix of really crappy techno and mediocre martial arts who makes this movie worth watching. At least the style is consistent, it goes with the idea of a alternative medieval reality with EXTREME corniness! I'm a fan of Lambert, but even I need to agree that he's not really good here. Like he KNOWS what the fuck he signed the contract to agree with. Well, Lambert, it's too late now.

I would say the weakest part of Beowulf is that it really lacks hard violence and graphic gore. Sure, there's a lot of action but it's weak action and the blood is mostly just blood coming out from the mouth or a little bit on the face or on the floor. And a über-silly movie like this needs gore, it needs graphic violence to feel at home in every family's collection. But it won't stop it from being silly entertainment, and we need that kind of movies!

What's really good is the extremely strange monster showing up in the end. I can't really describe it, it's so odd and I never seen anything like it. Part human, part insect, part thing. No, that was a lousy description! It's big, fleshy and everywhere - that's for sure. And it's not an effective monster either, too many parts to cut of very easy. But hey, everyone must earn their living.

Beowulf is out on a very nice looking DVD from Echo Bridge Entertainment in the US, anamorphic widescreen and all. What's extra silly is that the cover makes it look like a SERIOUS movie! Lambert in a shining armour, crawling on the ground with a castle in the background. That's exploitation my friends, pure and simple exploitation.

The Edgar G. Ulmer Week: The Man from Planet X (1951)




Edgar G. Ulmer tried his hand on sci-fi as a director three times during his lifetime and the first one was the quite original The Man from Planet X, famous for probably being the first pure alien-invasion movie ever made (aliens invaded earth before this movie, but then in Superhero-serials and similar, and this must be considered on of the first of its kind). It was shot in six days on a budget on 41000 dollar, but the great sets (borrowed from 1948's Joan of Arc) and the slick directing of Ulmer makes it looks like at least 100 000 dollar more.

Journalist John Lawrence (Robert Clarke) travels to a remote Scottish island to interview doctor Elliot (Raymond Bond), a famous astronomer, about a strange planet coming closer towards earth. John is a childhood friend of the doctors daughter Enid (Margaret Field) and they are of course glad to see each other again. Elliot works together with the sinister doctor Mears (William Schallert), who's more greedy than interesting in saving mankind. One evening John and Enid finds a strange object on the moor, something that looks like a very small rocket or satellite. Shortly thereafter a spaceship lands and strange things starts to happen...

Ulmer uses his budget well and The Man from Planet X turns out to be a very intelligent and interesting early alien invasion flick, partly because it sets some of the "rules" that has been used in most other movies of the same kind afterwards, but also because it dares to be original and unpredictable. Robert Clarke is a classic Ulmer-hero, very friendly and very smart - a true gentleman without any hidden agendas or any obviously sexual interest in the heroine - it's all very romantic. Margaret Field plays a smart and witty heroine (she's the mother of Sally Field also, which I had no idea about!) but at one point she's sedated because she's in such a shock after seeing the alien creature - something that only could happen in movies from this time!

The alien, or spaceman, is an interesting character himself. With a face like an African mask, or maybe he just have a face with very little expressions, he's damn eerie and his inability to speak makes he even more scarier. With a blank face and often standing in the shadow with very little or no movements at all he's easily the weirdest spaceman from the fifties, maybe not in appearance - but his whole aura. The planet he comes from is quite interesting, the one coming closer to earth. I guess I'm not the only one realizing the planet itself is quite close resembles Melancholia, the planet in Lars Von Trier's movie with the same name. Even her the earth is on the brink of disaster, but like in more or less every sci-fi movie from the fifties everything works out okay in the end.

The Man from Planet X is another proof that you don't need that much to create a good movie. For geeks who's raised on Star Wars and 2001 this might be a very silly and stupid movie, but of course it's not. The script is water-tight - with the usual exceptions of the liberal views of scientific facts that always caused older sci-fi movies to have a certain degree of silliness - but most important, the characters and storyline works out well. You can find, if I'm not remembering it wrong, this movie released on MGM's Midnite Movies label.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Burnt Offerings (1976)


I think the seventies was the best decennium for ghost stories, at least in movies. The colourful sixties was left behind and instead we had new filmmakers, a grittier style and there wasn't a demand for happy endings. Movies like The Sentinel, Legend of Hell House, The Changeling - yeah, I would even count Rosemary's Baby to this trend. All brilliant pieces of art and totally lacking respect for the "moral majority". Robert Marasco had a hit with his thin novel BurntOfferings in 1973 and a couple of years later TV-director Dan Curtis used it to make his maybe (correct me if I'm wrong) only movie made for cinema. Armed with an impressive cast and a spooky house he delivered one of the finest in it's genre...

Super-happy family Marian (Karen Black), Ben (Oliver Reed) and Davey (Montgomery Lee) finds a fantastic house on the countryside, for a shockingly cheap price over the summer. It's two old siblings, Roz (Eileen Heckart) and Arnold (Burgess Meredith) who wants to rent it to a family that really gonna LOVE the house. There's just one minor catch, they need to take care of the elderly mother who lives upstairs. She only stays in her room, never goes out - "Just put a tray of food outside her door". Ben is sceptical, but Marian thinks it's a great idea! So they bring their Aunt Elizabeth (Bette Davis) for a summer of fun and relaxation... but soon something starts to change, something wants to destroy the family. Not from the outside, but through their minds...

It might not be clear in my text above, but Burnt Offerings is oddly similar to Stephen King's The Shining - actually to that degree that I had to pause the movie to do an internet search to see if there's something else thinking the same thing. And yes, even Stephen King admits Burnt Offerings, the original book, was a big inspiration to him! The Shining was released in 1977, the year after this movie came out - so I'm sure he both got inspiration from the book and the movie! No surprise maybe, I am Ninja Dixon after all, but I think Burnt Offerings is a much better movie than The Shining. First of all, the transformation of the father from a nice dad to a raving psychopath is much more convincing in Oliver Reeds version. It's even stronger because he comes out from this psychosis from time to time and remembers how he behaves. This time the rest of the family gets affected by the house also, and Karen Black's characters gets more and more disturbing - spending most of her time in one single room, polishing some old photographs.

The most heartbreaking part of the movie is how the aunt gets sicker and sicker, older and more tired, until she hardly can take care of herself. It's a very strong and emotional performance from Davis. In the middle of it all we have Montgomery Lee, the boy, who without a chance to do anything witnesses his families descent into madness. Strong stuff. All actors are doing magnificent jobs, but the creepiest of them all is probably Burgess Meredith is Arnold, the wheelchair-bound paedophile (I guess he is, because that's how Meredith plays it). A character that sets the tone for the whole movie.

Burnt Offerings is a bit too long for it's own good, and there's too many endings - including one with killer-tree's attacking - but when the final-final ending comes it's shocking and powerful and actually damn scary.

Close to a masterpiece, but not all the way. Recommended to everyone here, yes - even you...