Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The A to Z of Exploitation Cinema

X is for...

Ideally X would be for Roger Corman's The Man with the X-Ray Eyes but those who've graduated from Sesame Street know why it can't be.  Instead X is for the Robert Greenwald mash-up of 50's and 80's that's even more ridiculous than the prospect of a Greek Muse inspiring anyone to build a roller rink.  Trailer below.

Most certainly the most fantastical film Gene Kelly's ever made.  If you give it the time of day you might just enjoy it.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Farewell Ken!

The cinematic world got a little worse yesterday when Ken Russell passed away aged 84.  The director of Women in Love, The Devils and Tommy had been seriously ill for some time now and leaves behind him an oeuvre that has challenged, intrigued and fascinated cinema audiences for over 40 years.  The true measure of a great director is one who’s work stands the test of time and taste and leaves the art form better off than it was before he came to it.

The A to Z of Exploitation Cinema

W is for...
Women's Camp 119

The war has seen a lot of dead German soldiers, one Nazi doctor has a theory that naked women prisoners rubbing themselves up against the corpses will bring his fallen buddies back from beyond.  This is just one of the experiments he creates and is probably the most tasteful.

If these two minutes of Bruno Mattei's exploitation classic is enough for you to want more then look no further.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

The Pleasures of a Woman

Certificate: 18
Running time: 60 mins
Director: Nick Millard (aka Nick Phillips)
Starring: Uschi Digard, Lynn Harris, Neola Graef
Genre: Drama
Format: DVD
Country: USA

When a wealthy man dies the only thing standing between his niece Lynn (Lynn Harris) and her sizeable inheritance is his manipulative wife Martine (Uschi Digard) and her sizeable assets.  The two women begin to square off in a back and forth game of prowess and sexual tension.

Uschi Digard has come back into fashion in recent years.  Not only is she the face (and body) of Russ Meyers and his cinematic ethos but has been there or thereabouts in some of the most ironic yet subversive offerings that exploitation cinema had to offer (Ilsa She Wolf of the SS, Ilsa Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks and The Black Gestapo).  Films that not only shaped the future of the genre but also managed to shape the perception of the period by those who came to it in later generations.  Uschi's influence have even earned her a lucrative DVD boxset of her work which is surely the ultimate compliment in a commercial age.  The Pleasures of a Woman is sadly not one of these films.

There are many problems with this film but in order to highlight the problems it's important to look elsewhere. This is 1972 and elsewhere directors like Jack Hill are working in the Philippines reinventing the exploitation wheel, Eddie Romero has just released The Beast of the Yellow Night (a film so wonderfully innovative that you wonder how more aren't made this way) and then you have The Pleasures of a Woman.  The voice over is dreadful, the dialogue flat and clunky to the point where you wonder whether there was anything actually written down when Lynn Harris went to recording.  Then you have Lynn Harris' voice which in itself is enough for you to voluntarily switch to Babestation.  Desiree Cousteau is made to look like Meryl Streep by Harris' narration.  The jazz score is added for the reason that most people have issues with people who say they like jazz.  The notion of jazz for jazz's sake is one based in pretension and not only highlights how little there was on paper for this film but how lazy and talentless the film makers are.  It will make you want to punch the genre of jazz squarely in it's face.  Anyone claiming that this is an exploitation film needs to think twice before speaking.  True exploitation cinema have certain key facets that set it apart (like any genre does), the biggest one (and most endearing) in exploitation is it's attempt to make the film greater than the budget or talent will allow.  The Pleasures of a Woman doesn't have doesn't have anything, it isn't trying to be anything other than slightly titillating.  One review I've read of the film called it "A Great Example of Post-Hippie Erotica" but it isn't even that, the only way you could find it erotic is if you had a fetish for heavy petting.  If it's Post-Hippie Erotica you're looking for then at least go for something that's actually made like it's trying to be an actual film like Taboo.

It seems that if you're interested in Digard's work in exploitation there's a window between 1975 and 1977 where she's involved in actual, quantifiable and enjoyable films.  Everything else appears to be lazy and dull examples of softcore pornography they attempt to tart up with some Miles Davis rip off and pass off as exploitation which does nothing but give the genre a bad name.  Terrible film but in the vein of the school educational system you have to give it a mark for actually existing even when you wish it didn't.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

The A to Z of Exploitation Cinema

V is for...
Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women

Astronauts land on Venus to discover a land of prehistoric women.  Essentially they've taken the notion behind Planet of the Apes and made it a lot more sexy wearing short fur.  Trailer below for lovers of all things neolithic.

It's a keeper right?  Bogdanovich's exploitation classic is available for next to nothing.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Does Anyone Want To Join A Film Newsletter?

I’m going to be publishing a newsletter shortly and rather than it simply be an extension of what already exists on Blogger I’d like to make it something that would allow those involved in the film blogs on Blogger to communicate not just with one another but with the wider film readership existing out there.  I’d like to get as many people interested and contributing to the newsletter as possible in order to create a way for everyone involved to share reviews, articles, ideas, screening information and giveaways.  Having programmed film events in Belfast I have a contact list of 1100 email addresses so if you’d like to become attached to the contribution list send me an email and please feel free to add yourself to the subscription list as the most of us involved and the more feedback there is the better it will become.

There’s so many wonderful film blogs here and it would be nice to be able to pull ideas and resources that would allow us to create a community forum.

Hope to get you involved.


John Baxter

Thursday, 24 November 2011

The A to Z of Exploitation Cinema

U is for...
The Untold Story

Danny Lee and Herman Yau's 1993 crime drama has the added benefit of being based on actual police records of reals events.  Trailer below.

If that's wet the taste buds then the DVD is only a couple of clicks away from being yours.

The A to Z of Exploitation Cinema

T is for...
They Saved Hitler's Brain

It's the post death status of Walt Disney too (allegedly).  Nazi scientists freeze Hitler's brain until such time they can bring him back and reinstate the order of the Third Reich.  You might not think it but David Bradley's Naziploitation film is due a remake...and apparently it's coming.

There's still a chance you're interested in watching the rest of the film right?  If so then wish granted, buy now before the remake ruins it for us all.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Dead Man's Shoes

Certificate: 18
Running time:  90 mins
Director: Shane Meadows
Starring: Paddy Considine, Gary Stretch, Toby Kebbell
Genre: Thriller, Drama
Country: UK

Richard (Considine) has returned home from the military to find that his younger brother Anthony (Kebbell) who has a mental disability has fallen into the wrong group of friends which has led to them taking advantage of Anthony in a way that Richard can not abide.  Putting his training to use in the urban environment of the Midlands he stalks the group of men before picking them off one by one.

While reviewing Death Sentence thoughts obviously turned to other recent vigilante offerings and inevitably to Dead Man’s Shoes.  Shane Meadows is without doubt one of the most interesting directors operating in the UK, rarely does he operate within the same genre twice in a row and there is always something deeply original and true to his work.  Paddy Considine, similarly, has a wide range in his ability and in co-writing the screenplay with Meadows (not to mention his recent offering Tyrannosaur) is a genuine creative talent.  The screenplay of Dead Man’s Shoes is a masterclass in ‘How to write within the confines of a formally structured genre while remaining original’ as it hits all the expected/demanded points you find in a vigilante/vengeance thriller but does so in a way that shows the freshness and originality of the writing.  Telling the story across two separate and distinct timelines it creates a degree of mystery in the proceedings.  The audience is 90% sure that the marked men deserve what’s coming to them but there’s always the chance that Richard is suffering from PTSD or simply crazy and stalking old school friends.  Gradually the events between Richard’s departure and return are revealed allowing the audience to relax and enjoy the mayhem.

Few things are as genuinely terrifying as the idea of a masked intruder in your home, what Dead Man’s Shoes understands is that the everyday is far more terrifying than the original.  This is an old concept that’s been forgotten by a lot of film makers.  For example Ghost Face in Scream is a highly theatrical character, the costume (though available at all good fancy dress stores) does not belong to the world he/she inhabits and in turn isn’t scary.  Michael Myers (Halloween) on the other hand is dressed in overalls and very much belongs to the world he inhabits and in doing so can be related with a lot more and is therefore terrifying.  The costuming of Richard in gas mask and army jacket is a beautiful touch as it allows the audience not just to relate to Richard (as he is not an affluent man but an angry one and is using what he has) but also relate to his victims as we are familiar with his attire and can easily imagine experiencing it in that context and it’s frightening.  This is not only a forgotten key to a good thriller but an essential aspect to the vigilante sub genre and works flawlessly throughout the film.

The cinematography is all important as the world seems to take on a different tint depending on Richard’s mood, such is his skill set he has been given through armed service, it’s understandable that if he’s in a dark mood the world will look a little bit bleaker for you.  When with Anthony he’s framed, more often than not, centre screen a light brightly reflecting how his brother feels towards him.  Richard has always been a beckon of light and the centre of Anthony’s world, his older brother was the safe arm around his shoulder that would protect him.  This was only reinforced when Richard left and is apparent in Meadows framing and use of lighting.  Likewise when Richard is dressed for “work” he lives off centre of shot, in the edges of the mise-en-shot and surrounded in shadows.  His presence under the stairs in a crowded house as the men attempt to piece together what is going on not only highlights his bravery and confidence that they are no match for him but also how predatory he is and how silent he will be when he strikes…ONE DOWN!

Meadows also knows how to get the best out of his performers, take Gary Stretch (Sonny) for example.  This former boxer and male model’s back catalogue includes Mega Shark Vs. Crocosaurus and The Heavy (alongside Vinny Jones – enough said) and like most people coming into acting from another profession suffers from the problem of awareness.  In The Heavy, though he has his moments, for the most part you can see the process of acting through the performance but not here.  In Dead Man’s Shoes Stretch is brilliant, even before you’re able to establish his guilt you’ve got a concrete disliking for him.  His strut and cocky assured way of carrying himself is reminiscent of so many people growing up that you can’t help but know him yet at the same time you know that the bravado his sends out into the world is a thin slip covering his fears and insecurities which makes him more dangerous than his macho persona ever could.  Stretch has never been better and the gradual deterioration as Richard tears down his mini empire brick by brick is brilliant.  Shots juxtaposing the carefree Sonny while Richard was in service and the present only go to prove the quality that he can provide when it’s directed correctly.  Toby Kebbell (as Anthony) is also remarkable.  Having watched him in Anton Corbijn’s Control and RocknRolla you would have to look extremely hard to recognise him in Dead Man’s Shoes.  The simplicity of his performance is probably the most beautiful thing in the film, this is not an Oscar winning performance of a man with learning difficulties this is a realistic performance and there’s a big difference between the two.  Kebbell’s interactions with Considine show not just the softer side of Considine’s character but also the softer side of the writing.  It’s important in a film as brutal as this one that it’s heart is soft and real and the conversations between the brothers give the film and the actions a purpose that’s much needed. 

Last but by no means least is Considine himself.  The man’s talent in front of the camera is something that is all too often overlooked due just how naturalistic he is in front of it.  In My Summer of Love, Red Riding and The Bourne Ultimatum he gives three excellent performances that go largely unnoticed because of how effortless he is.  The difference between these three and Dead Man’s Shoes is that he’s asked to carry DMS, this is his film in more ways than one.  His moments with his brother are touching, his stature in his ‘kill suit’ is frightening but the genuine brilliance of him in this performance are the cracks that he creates.  The scene in the snooker hall is a perfect example of how so much rage has been bottled into too small a vessel, and though his outburst is intentional to get the attention of one of his prey you can see that he is truly boiling over and only just controlling his aggression.  As the film progresses the cracks begin to increase and is clear that Considine (as actor and character alike) is enjoying the scenarios that are unfolding as his gas masked vigilante dishes out the justice.  The sequence between him and Tuff (played by Paul Sadot) and another member of the gang in the Midlands flat with a spiked pot of tea and a suitcase not only displays the rage contained within the man (a must in order to take justice into your own hands) but is also riddled with dark humour and with repeat viewings is one of the scenes you laugh with expectation of.  It’s wonderfully dark, undeniably fun, brutal and hits the right tone with audiences as both fear and pleasure wrestle for dominance.
The only criticism with Dead Man’s Shoes is in the final act as it does lapse into the predictable formula of the genre but in saying that the work it has done to lead up to this means it earns the right to do so and fittingly is perhaps the right thing to do in order to reconnect with the audience.

A hard hitting and bleakly rewarding thriller that grabs you from the get go and screams in your face through blood and broken teeth.  Well worth a watch.

Monday, 21 November 2011

The A to Z of Exploitation Cinema

S is for...

It's the classic idea of one last score and then out of the game but done Blaxploitation style as Superfly's realisation that either the big house or the grave awaits him triggers his efforts to get out while he's ahead.  Anyone who's ever tried to retire from the mob will know how easy the rest of the film is.  Effortless cool and right below.

Like Cotton Comes to Harlm, Coffy and Dolemite this film has sculpted a generation of film makers and audiences.  Click here to buy it for yourself.

Friday, 18 November 2011

The A to Z of Exploitation Cinema

R is for...

Back to the slightly wrong with Ratman - "He's the critter from the shitter".  It's all kind of brilliant, it's all kind of wrong and it typifies what's truly brilliant about the Italian directors of exploitation.  Grab a quick peak of what's on offer here...

Now that you're completely in love with you film why don't you grab a copy of it with change of £5.00!

The Tony Hart of Horror

The director of The Human Centipede [First] & [Full Sequence] has been working on a new project while creating the whirlwind of controversy that's been following his two movies.  Below is a correspondence from Six's producer and sister Ilona.

Maybe interesting to know after our two centipede movies we just put the crazy paintings of Tom on the internet which he has been making since 2007 (there are THC paintings as well)  This is the link :

Not to give too much away but here are some of the paint farts Six mentioned.  Enjoy!

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Cage against the Machine – How Nicolas Cage is turning Hollywood against itself

“It costs a lot of money to look this cheap”

Dolly Parton’s quote is one that the Academy Award winning nephew of Francis Ford Coppola has embraced and ran with.  In the first fifteen years of his career it was arguably one of the most interesting actors with a whole realm of potential having starred in Raising Arizona, Wild at Heart and the Neo-Noir Red Rock West… then something happened.  According to Sean Penn once he won his Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas he simply stopped acting but what if that’s not the case?

Most actors want little more than the acceptance of their peers whether they want to want it or not it’s something that is strived for.  Upon winning his gold statue that was secured and Nicolas was able to relax, enjoy himself, raise his fee by another zero and go wild…Cage still.  What followed his performance in Leaving Las Vegas can only really be described as something between a mid career crisis and a career make over as he dropped the character driven pieces (and the mere idea of scripts) and proceeded with a spate of (buzz word alert!) high octane, high concept action flicks which included Con Air, Face/Off, The Rock¸ Gone in Sixty Seconds and Windtalkers each of them involving Cage acting with his hands a capital A and his best Elvis Presley impression.  These films cost a lot of money, they made him and the Studios a lot of money but they also look like they cost a lot of money.  Of late Cage has changed the pace again, the new direction came immedidately after appearing as Fu Manchu in the Rob Zombie directed trailer Werewolf Women of the SS (a clear nod to Ilsa She Wolf of the SS) in the Tarantino-Rodriguez experiment Grindhouse

Since then he’s been on a one man mission to make as many big budget exploitation films as possible and in the process have gave offerings like Bangkok Dangerous, Season of the Witch, Trespass and the clearest indication of his intent, the so terribly bad it’s dangerously close to being brilliant Drive Angry.  To the inattentive it might look like just another terrible Nicolas Cage movie that he’s clearly made for the moment but all the markers are present in the film to show you that it’s pure exploitation cinema and is either a act of career suicide of magnificent defiance from a man who’s always prided himself in making things more challenging (hence why he’s known as Nicolas Cage and not Nicolas Coppola).

Drive Angry as carsploitation is the most recently (and most faithful) rendering of exploitation cinema in recent years.  Like the films of the 70’s it contains heavy amount of motor usage and the essential element of exploitation i.e. a struggle between what’s grand and lofty and written on the page and what’s achieved by the talent involved in bringing the script to the screen.  What makes an exploitation an exploitation is the gulf between as it’s clear (whether for talent, money or other limitations) that these goals will not be met.  It also has a heavy amount of supernatural/occult which is another key element of exploitation cinema, see Werewolves on Wheels or the excellent Race with the Devil for examples of how motoring and the supernatural/occult go hand in hand in exploitation cinema.  Cage and Patrick Lussier (director) have taken a film that Executives budgeted at $50,000,000 to make and have made it look like a 1970’s exploitation film that would star Silvano Tranquilli, an arrangement that would most definitely not have been discussed with the suits in Pre-Production.

There have been a few exceptions to Cage’s career direction most notably Bad Lieutenant with director Werner Hertzog but even that is in keeping with the current ethos as Hertzog is not a director that hits happily into the Hollywood mold and (to his create) didn’t attempt to contain Hurricane Cage.  This produced Cage’s finest performance in years but even in Bad Lieutenant his over the top leaning allowed comparisons to the hard edged cop movies that the movement produced like The Violent Professionals and most fittingly The Stone Killer starring the wonderfully OTT Charles Bronson.

Cage has a rather unique way of seeing things and it’s something that’s taken us a while to realise.  The films he’s taking these days won’t be good films, played straight and starring any other actor they’ll be terrible so the least he can do is take them in another direction and potentially create something that wasn’t intended by those backing it or marketing it.  In a time of chasing the almighty dollar Nicolas Cage is putting out exploitation after exploitation film, defying the expectations of audiences everywhere and perhaps coax one of his uncle’s University of California classmates out of cinematic exile, a Mr. Jack Hill.

...and you're still doubting then check out his new vigilante flick Justice which could have easily starred an Alpha male from exploitation cinema era.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Movie Bar - On Demand

The doors to the Movie Bar have closed but the spirit of exploitation cinema lives on and it's now in your own living room.  Thanks to the wonder of modern technology you can now stream the excellent CREATURES! double bill directly on to your HD television using HDMI cables or a AV docking station through your iPhone.  The double bill available from now until December 1st is a mix of wolves and the undead.

Werewolves on Wheels
A biker gang visits a monastery where they encounter black-robed monks engaged in worshipping Satan.  When the monks try to persuade one of the female bikers, Helen, to become a satanic sacrifice the bikers smash up the monastery and leave.  The monks have the last laugh though, as Helen, as a result of the satanic rituals, is now possessed and at night changes into a werewolf, with dire results for the biker gang.


O.C. Babes and the Slasher of Zombietown
The Zombies of Orange County are trapped by the Zombies from Orange County...this can't possibly end well.

Click [here] and O.D on the Movie Bar O.D

The A to Z of Exploitation Cinema

Q is for...
Queen of the Amazons

One of Roger Merton's five classic screenplays and an example of what would be considered the cuddly face of exploitation as an Amazonian tribe of ladies hold a man hostage with his wife hot on his trail in an effort to bring him home.  Truly enjoyable trailer below.

Click here to buy the DVD.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The A to Z of Exploitation Cinema

P is for...
Panzer Chocolate

You know that exploitation cinema is alive and very well when the market is open to new Naziploitation.  The SS are melting down Jewish POW's to make chocolate bars.  This film was first encountered on the excellent film site Twitch and is one of many Naziploitation titles to be expected next year.  Trailer for those curious is below.

No DVD yet as the film is yet to high cinemas though I can't see it play on many Odeon screens.  You might have to keep an eagle eye to catch it.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

The Human Centipede 2 [Full Sequence]

Certificate: 18
Running time: 88 mins
Director: Tom Six
Starring:  Laurence R. Harvey, Ashlynn Yennie, Maddi Black, Lee Nicholas Harris
Genre: Horror
Format: DVD
Country: Netherlands/UK/United States

It seemed at one point that the only way you’d be able to see The Human Centipede 2 [Full Sequence] in the UK would be to import the DVD from a country that has less of an oppressive stance on censorship.  Two minutes worth of trims later and the BBFC have climbed down from their position on the film and have granted Tom Six’s horror sequel an 18 certificate and Daily Mail readers a chance to scoff at the state of the country.

Before this review begins the first thing I’d like to point out is that I don’t care what other reviews and publications are focusing on.  The films I find repulsive are those that don’t treat cinema as an art form but are more interested in making money rather than telling a story.  The entire back catalogue of Michael Bay is infinitely more repulsive to me than the entire 71 minutes of Slaughtered Vomit Dolls on an eternal loop.  With that said let’s begin.

Martin (Harvey) is a disturbed loner who lives with his mother due to his learning difficulties and was sexually abused by his father when he was younger.  Working in a Car Park we encounter him not at the beginning but at the peak of his fixation.  He has slowly become more and more obsessed with Tom Six’s horror The Human Centipede [First Sequence] to the point were he’s unable to curb his desires, to pick up on the work of the fictional Dr. Heiter (Laser) and complete the experiment to create a full sequence…a twelve person centipede.

There was much speculation as to how Six was going to go about resetting the clock (so to speak) and introduce a sequence of events that would lead to the horror sequel that looked so impossible at the end of the first film.  Rather than, as many suspected, introduce a character who had worked alongside Heiter Six has taken a metatheatrical take on his own work.  Where traditional horrors like Halloween¸ Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street are more than content to simply ignore the causal logic of their previous ending and simply reintroduce their antagonist along with a full cast of fodder Six has changed speed and realm.  In The Human Centipede [Full Sequence] the worldin which the events of the first film occurred is a film. The narrative we have already seen before which makes The Human Centipede [First Sequence] little more than a film and the sequel (set in the real world) set in the reality the audience inhabit, the fear is more visceral, because it is no longer removed from the viewer.

  Few years pass without someone spouting their concerns about how horror films and violence video games can create violent behaviour in society.  Those old enough to remember the Jamie Bulger case and the defendant's affinity for the Child’s Play film will be aware of the two sides of the debate and those directors working in the genre see the referring to such cases as their worst nightmare.  As Six’s premise is one that’s so darkly far fetched he has not only openly embraced the notion of screen violence manipulating behaviour he has dedicated a film to it.  The acknowledgement of the first film as fiction in order to create a more real realm for the sequel is an interesting one.  As the audience we are aware of the first film, we are also aware of the perceived relationship between horror films and copy-cat violence, we understand that what makes The Human Centipede [First Sequence] scary is the medical knowledge that Dr. Heiter possesses and how easy it would be for him to stitch you into his creation.  We also know that what makes The Human Centipede [Full Sequence] scary is the knowledge that the first film is a film and that there may be individuals out there with the desire to recreate it. This in turn makes Full Sequence an instructional manual and Tom Six knows all of this too.

Shooting Full Sequence in black and white is an interesting idea, especially since Six has already established the fact that the first film is not real.  Black and white has historically been seen in film making as the psychological reality of the audience.  When colour was first brought into film making it was shunned by a lot of film makers as more theatrical, leaving it for the musicals and less “realistic” genres.  Though it might seem that shooting the film in black and white places a barrier between film and audience, it is a barrier that allows them to know that this too is just a film it has been theorised, even though  psychologically we are more willing to accept black and white as real.  Outside of the psychological it gives Tom Six the same kind of rope that Quentin Tarantino needed when filming Kill Bill and in particular 'The Bride's' fight with the Crazy 88.  The violence and gore can be a lot greater, constant and intense in black and white and not be penalised by the censors as it’s lacking the colour of blood and gore.

There’s a lot more to The Human Centipede [Full Sequence] than what most critics and media outlets are focusing on.  Quite a few seem to be rejoicing in the fact that it took less than £1,000 in it’s opening weekend at the Box Office as a moral victory but they’re not doing their jobs right.  Casting Laurence R. Harvey in the lead as a sexually abused adult with learning difficulties is an extremely interesting idea.  Tom Six came up with original premise of a human centipede as a joke answer to what to do with paedophiles and sex offenders.  When you consider that and the fact that a lot of offenders have been abused as children then you realise that there’s a greater social message to the film that what’s being allowed to penetrate the psyché of the cinema audience.  Harvey is actually very good in the role of Martin, more so when you consider that he was a complete unknown before Six cast him.  The decision to have him carry the entire film without him speaking a single word is also interesting, and also going unexamined.  His physicality is something that is interesting throughout the film, his stature and physique is underwhelming, his asthma undoes him on a couple of occasions but all the while there is a unnerving calmness to him that switches to controlled rage in the beat of a second, and this is geared towards one thing only, the construction of his own centipede.  The fixation with the film is well performed as it never comes across as forced yet it’s not without Six’s dark sense of humour, his masturbating with sand paper is unnecessary (narratively) but an example of the fun that Six likes to have and is reminiscent, in a way, of The Aristocrats and the need for those involved to out-gross one another. 

Ashlynn Yennie (Jenny aka the tail of the centipede in the first film) is a welcome return for fans but also helps to reinforce the fact that the first film was a film and this is reality.  Yennie (playing herself) unwittingly travels to London to audition for Tarantino only to find herself in an all too familiar scenario only this time with more to do.  Vivien Bridson (as Martin’s mother) adds another dimension to the character of Martin, she’s resentful of her son for having her husband sent to prison and hateful towards him for the slothful individual he has grown up to become.  It’s not just the case that Martin was sexually abused by his father but it’s obvious that his mother didn’t care enough to protect him and now hates him for sending her husband away.  The rest of the cast are made up of unknown names and to be honest most of them will stay that way.  Lucas Hansen (Ian) manages to stumble dramatically through his lines with the most unconvincing cockney accent since Dick Van Dyke, thankfully it’s not long before he’s bound and gagged.  The rest of the cast are given just enough to establish them as human beings before they’re whisked away to Martin’s “lab” for further medical examination.  Bill Hutchens is striking as the sexually abusive Dr. Sebring who just-so happens to be Martin’s family GP but even this character is handicapped by the underdevelopment of the supporting characters.

The script is hampered by the fact that the film is really underwritten.  Six has established Martin’s fascination by making the first film, we know more about his mind that we think (or we do if we’ve watch the first film) yet everything plays second fiddle to the horror.  This is a shame as the psychological aspect and the social commentary are both interesting and deserved to be explored.  The pacing of the film is strong though, where we couldn’t wait to see the centipede in the first film (which Six delivered promptly) the audience is shown more of the horrifying construction process and on occasion it can be an extremely difficult watch.  The most difficult being the removal of the victims teeth as it’s a sensation the entire audience can relate to.  It’s also not without a twist of humour that’s surely going to become the signature of Tom Six in future films outside of the world of centipedes.

The issues the censors had with the film was the sexual gratification that Martin was receiving from his work, something that wasn’t present in the first film, and is one of the reasons it’s been compared to Koji Shiraishi’s GrotesqueThough the comparisons are in some way understandable and inevitable they don’t stand up to scrutiny as Martin is a lot more human and weak as opposed to the Doctor in Grotesque (Shigeo Osako) giving the film a more accessible and humane feel than the torture porn Asian offering.  Like Grotesque and A Serbian Film there are a couple of moments in The Human Centipede [Full Sequence] that cross a line and take the audience into the realm of the uncomfortable one in particular during “the Getaway” which won’t be spoilt but lacks Six’s humour and just feels out of character and out of place in the proceedings.

The Human Centipede [Full Sequence] has done what all great films do and what no run-of-the-mill Hollywood super-budget special-effects-riddled-cynical-money-makers could only ever dream to achieve, it has sparked debate.  Whether it’s on the message boards of IMDB, Twitch or between friends, it has become a divisive piece of modern culture.  It is not a great film, few films are and even fewer from the horror genre.  What it is though is a horror film, and as a horror film it has an obligation to its audience to be scary or horrifying, to present uncomfortable scenarios in an unflinching way that will test the steel of the audiences nerves and stomach, and it does that wonderfully.  Yes there are serious problems with the script but all horror films have a tendency to under-develop the characters about to be butchered.  The most interesting thing about The Human Centipede [Full Sequence] is the reoccurring notion of abuse, and its cyclical nature and the greater ramifications for us as a society coupled with the idea of media related violence.  Few films have ever even hinted at this let alone allowed the notions to bubble beneath the surface of their narrative and for this it’s worth watching Full Sequence and making an informed opinion of your own rather than trust the hysterical clucking hens than have been heralding the end of civilisation because a film got a certificate.  A raw and unflinching horror that defies the codes and conventions of the genre to create it’s own kind of monster.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry

Certificate: E
Running time: 73 mins
Director: Erich Weiss
Starring: Norman Keith ‘Sailor Jerry’ Collins, ‘Philadelphia’ Eddie Funk, Don Ed Hardy
Genre: Documentary
Format: DVD
Country: United States

The title ‘Hori Smoku’ originates from the traditional Japanese Hori titles given to their tattoo artists and is the honourary title attributed to Norman Keith Collins aka Sailor Jerry.  Using a range of talking heads, archive photos and a whole lot of ink the documentary examines to origins, influences and legacy of Americas greatest ever tattoo artist.

Tattooing has become big business over the years and what Hori Smoku offers the viewer is an otherwise unobtainable look at the grass roots of Western tattooing by the men who lived through it.  As you would expect from a documentary about tattooing the films use of colour during the animation of the screen (in Jerry’s distinct style) is wonderful, there’s a certain richness to his style which is often imitated but rarely matched.  The use of green, blue, red and of course black creates before you a free flowing graphic of the work that made Jerry who he was.  It’s also a useful device for transitions between the talking heads and archive footage from Hawaii but it also works as a wonderful way of juxtaposing the classic Japanese style which caught Jerry’s eye and how constant refinement of his own style.  Similarly the use of the typewriter letters gives the audience a rare insight into the man’s attitudes and beliefs.  This was a pleasant surprise as the name ‘Sailor Jerry’ is a brand now and with corporate America comes a degree of sanitizing that must be achieved in order to appeal to everyone.  The fact that this documentary is willing to show and speak of Jerry’s right wing views, the fact that he hated Richard Nixon because he considered him too liberal, the fact that he gave up tattooing in the 60’s because he hated the Government and the idea of the IRS taking his hard earned money and the fact that he had a serious hated of Lyle Tuttle and the way he embraced the spotlight all point to character flaws but does so with such honest disregard for how it may be interpreted that it has a refreshing honesty that you can’t help but admire.

The talking head is a documentary technique that’s with the genre for life, there’s few ways around so the challenge is to present the talking heads in new and interesting ways.  Outside of the work of Errol Morris there’s few documentarians who truly attempt to subvert the talking heads in American documentaries and Hori Smoku is no exception.  This doesn’t really matter in the long run though, being able to absorb stories from such amazing characters like Eddie Funk (who started tattooing in Chicago when it was still run by the mob), Zeke Owen and Ed Hardy who both worked alongside and under Jerry during his peak is brilliant.  The use of archive photos from his shops taken at the time adds to the idea of getting a snapshot of the life of a man and creates a genuinely interesting colleague of tattoos that today seems cliché but at the time where some of the most cutting edge pieces of work available.  It’s testament to Jerry’s work that his ink looks as current and original and beautiful as ever, one can only imagine what he could have achieved today with all the technological advancements we have made.

The most interesting thing about this documentary is Jerry’s relationship with Japan.  Having fought against them in the second World War he became fascinated with the style and the logic behind the artwork, why waves move in a certain direction, why certain kimonos are worn by certain women and most tellingly how they don’t tattoo you straight away.  How the Japanese artists of the time would study you and your character and if they didn’t think they you would wear their work with honour they would refuse your trade is very much against the notion of America and the almighty dollar yet it appeals to Jerry because of his pursuit for honour.  His relationship with Ed Hardy is also an interesting one as Hardy’s admiration led to working alongside Jerry but his ability to behave more pragmatically mean he was able to travel back to Japan with a visiting Hori and (believed by some people) surpass his mentor.

There are a few problems with the documentary but oddly it’s own of the films biggest strengths.  The documentary is exclusively about Jerry’s work and in being about his work ignores large portions of his life that are genuinely interesting.  His days on the Boxcars, his marriage, his time in the US Navy, the fact that he remained a Captain until the day he died and his radio show (which took up a large portion of his later life).  The presentation of work is so enjoyable and well delivered it makes you wish they would include everything else.

Hori Smoku is not a documentary that will change your life, it will not get an innocent mans death sentence overturned like The Thin Blue Line it won’t even tell you everything you want to know but what it does achieve is well done.  It will take you on a journey from the early twentieth century until the present day via the art of tattooing, it will entertain you and most importantly for the genre it will leave you with a hunger to discover more.

The A to Z of Exploitation Cinema

O is for...
Oasis of Fear

Dick and Ingrid fund their gap year travels by selling saucy nude pics of Ingrid in this an exploitation flick that's been absent from the home entertainment market for years.  If you're aware of Umberto Lenzi's oeuvre then imagine watching the most graphic exploitation he's directed that you've seen, picture your parents sitting beside you and you're at how uncomfortable most people find it.  Still reading?  Trailer below...

DVD is available through the good folk at Shameless and stocked at HMV and here.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

5x5 Grindhouse Style

Marlene Clark

If Pam Grier is the Queen of Blaxploitation then Marlene Clark is surely second to the throne and although she hasn't experienced the same career resurgence of Grier the world of DVDs has given Marlene the chance to offer up many many stories from the golden age of exploitation cinema.  An excellent article  is available here.  Here's Marlene's five 5 star films.

1. Night of the Cobra Woman
Marlene is the leader of a Filipino cult who, after Joy Bang's boyfriends pet accidentally kills a sacred snakes, turns more than a little scaly to extract revenge.

2. Ganja & Hess
Starring alongside Duane Jones the two play the title couple.  Jones (Dr. Hess) has an accidental encounter with a knife carrying ancient germs than transform him into a vampire.  Initially Ganja (Marlene) falls for her ex husband but soon discovers his secret.

3. Black Mamba
Another great Filipino offering and another starring role as Marlene plays "The Witch" who's targeting the widow of the man she has stolen a precious ring from.

4. Son of Blob
There's no shame in the supporting role, especially in a film that also features Larry Hagman as a hobo.  This sequel has a technicians wife accidentally defrosts a sample of the original blob...oops.

5. The Baron
The most interesting Blaxploitation idea ever.  A black actor wants to make an all black film but to do so he has to borrow money from the mob.  With the most successful Blaxploitation films heavily involving white cast, crew or money it's a film that leaves you with a lot to think about.

This was probably the most difficult 5x5 to narrow down as Marlene's body of work is so rich and wonderful that you could pick so many combinations of so many titles.  Hopefully these five represent the best of the best for Marlene and the introduction of her work to fans of the genre.

Next up...

< Calvin Lockhart >

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The A to Z of Exploitation Cinema

N is for...
Nude Nuns with Big Guns

Ok so Nunsploitation might be the most acquired of acquired tastes in the sub genres existing under the heading of exploitation but you don't have to be an avid fan of Behind Convent Walls to consider this exploitive release of 2010.  Trailer is below and available for consideration...

Interested parties can avail of the DVD right here.  Warning! May contain Catholic guilt.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Death Sentence

Certificate: 18
Running time: 105 mins
Director: James Wan
Starring: Kevin Bacon, Kelly Preston, John Goodman, Aisha Taylor
Genre: Action, Thriller
Country: USA

When Nick Hume (Bacon) witnesses the death of his son in a gas station robbery gone wrong his life is shattered.  The only thing more traumatic that the act is witnessing his son’s killer being sentenced to three years.  Stunned, hurt and angry Hume (a previously quiet Executive) decides that enough is enough and that if the law will not dispense the justice that’s required then he will.

The vigilante/vengeance film is a real double edged sword as they are by definition one of the most enjoyable and thrilling sub genres out there but at the same time suffer from a lot of genre expectations and adherence to a narrative structure that ultimately lets down the audience who have seen it all before.  With the fact that the novel was penned by Brian Garland (writer of Death Wish) there was always the compounded risk that this, more than any other vigilante film, will be compared to the Charles Bronson classic.

James Wan’s body of work is one filled with hits and spills and though credit must be given to him for writing and directing Saw, which was without doubt the first genuinely challenging horror film to come out of Hollywood in years he is dually responsible in no small way for it’s five sequels.  There’s little argument however that when it comes to being almost confrontational with violence he is remarkably good at presenting the detail without feeling like it has ventured into the realm of torture porn.  What he delivers, as director, in Death Sentence is a wonderfully restraint and unpolished product that doesn’t feel like Hollywood.  The use of the camera is excellent, the way in which it stalks some of the performers, always peaking through or around objects and the use of chiaroscuro lighting creates a claustrophobia that has become his trademark.  Yet there’s something raw, it has imperfections and that’s part of it’s beauty.  The perfect example is when Hume shaves his head after getting out of hospital only to have missed a couple of strands of hair which isn’t much but gives the film a little something extra, a little blemish to ground it in a more realistic world and in turn make the violence hit home that little bit harder.  The violent sequences are genuinely refreshing as they don’t feel choreographed, animalistic certainly, raw definitely but not staged which is a real skill.  Wan clearly has an understanding of ‘the real’ and has stitched it into aspects of the film wonderfully.

Kevin Bacon (as Nick Hume) plays it so smart.  Where other actors have beefed up or trimmed down for roles of this nature, knowing the expected physicality of the role and wanting to look good in it Bacon has understood the character.  This is not a chiselled and tanned man, he’s white collar and grieving and if anything the skinny and unprofessional edginess to his character makes him even more intimidating in the role.  He’s not coming after you because he knows he can beat you, he’s coming after you because of instinct and rage and he is much more dangerous than you can imagine.  Bacon is one of those actors (like Kiefer Sutherland) who knows the difference between the “good” character and the “bad” character isn’t how you play it but is which side of the fence you’re on.  The character believes he’s in the right and whether you disagree will affect how you see them.  It’s a wonderful way to approach a character as it places the moral decisions with regards to their actions in the mind of the audience to be answered or not but allows for discussion.  This is, ultimately, the biggest strength of the vigilante sub genre as it always poses the unspoken question “what would you do?”.  The supporting cast all chip in with solid performance, Kelly Preston (who always has a question mark over her performances) is strong as Nick’s wife, John Goodman (as Bones) gives his stock white Supremist performance which is chilling regardless of how many times you have seen it and Aisha Taylor (as the chasing Detective) serves her purpose.

There are three problems with the film.  With the exception of Hume there’s no character in the film that is there for anything other than exposition or execution and because of this, even though the protagonist is a slight man, you never really doubt his ability to do away with everyone that impedes his advancement towards the end game.  The second, and this one is a lot bigger, is the fact that for the most part, we’ve seen it all before.  The cop who’s piecing it together but is just behind the curve, the wronged father, the nasty two dimensional baddies you love to hate.  Granted the methods in which most of them are despatched are extremely entertaining and lovers of the vigilante movie will cheer with each drop of blood spilt but it leaves you a little unsure as to why you didn’t love it.  The third problem, and this might say more about me than anything else, is one of humour.  In the great vigilante movies there is always humour, whether it’s a slight tip of the hat from the film makers or a more blatant belly roars, they are about fun.  The fun of living out your greatest desires outside of the law of repercussions that we all have.  David Lynch told me a story of being cut off while driving down Mulholland Drive and how he dreamt for a split second of catching up with the car, forcing them off the road and doing untold evils to them.  He didn’t of course but he did channel it into Lost Highway and the film was all the better for it.  Vigilante’s are heroes for when the law breaks down and as such we want them to be humourous and  enjoy their work.  Death Sentence lacks any real pleasure in the vengeance it delivers and falls short of delivering the basic animalistic pleasure required in these films.

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