Blu-Ray Review: Youth of the Beast

Director: Seijun Suzuki
Screenplay: Ichirô Ikeda, Tadaaki Yamazaki
Based on a Novel by: Haruhiko Ôyabu
Starring: Jô Shishido, Misako Watanabe, Tamio Kawaji
Producer: Keinosuke Kubo
Country: Japan
Running Time: 92 min
Year: 1963
BBFC Certificate: 15

I‘ve been aware of Seijun Suzuki in the Japanese cult cinema landscape for some time. I’ve seen his two most famous classics, Tokyo Drifter and Branded to Kill, but I haven’t ventured beyond those yet, which is a bit mad seeing as I enjoyed both quite a lot and he’s directed over 50 films so far. His career has been an unusual one though which resulted in (supposedly) quite a hit and miss collection and his story is possibly more well known than his films have actually been seen.

In the mid-50’s, the Japanese entertainment company Nikkatsu started producing films again after a hiatus which began during WWII and, in a bid to keep productions fresh and exciting, they hired a number of young assistant directors from other studios, promising to promote them quickly to full director status, which was unheard of in the traditional Japanese studio system back in those days. Among those directors were Shōhei Imamura and Seijun Suzuki. Whereas Imamura started making his unique glimpses of the underbelly of society pretty much straight away, Suzuki found himself churning out cookie-cutter releases for the studio by the dozen, largely yakuza/gangster pictures. By all accounts, most of the 20-odd films he directed in his first 7 years or so at the studio weren’t particularly memorable. However, growing tired of this workmanlike practise and getting jealous of the freedom allowed to his peer Imamura, he finally tore off his shackles and made what is considered his breakthrough film with Youth of the Beast in 1963. It didn’t make much of a mark at the time, but in retrospect, it paved the way for his most highly regarded period which culminated in Branded to Kill which may have got him fired from Nikkatsu, whose head thought it was “incomprehensible”, but cemented his name in the pantheon of cult classic cinema.

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Occultober – Day 9 – The ‘Burbs

The ‘Burbs
Ah The ‘Burbs…A film that leaves some unmoved, but (after repeated exposure) settles comfortably into many people’s personal Top 20 lists. My own first encounter with it 25 years ago left me unconvinced. Fortunately, I felt a pull back to it years later…

When the film was released, Tom Hanks was already a “star” comedy name and had a few big hits under his belt (most notably Splash and Big), but also a few klunkers. Name recognition still got people to the theatres in 1989, but then they weren’t sure about what they found there – the comedy in The ‘Burbs was both subtle and broad, it had action, horror & satire and it warned us of the hidden evil that lurked in the bedroom communities of our major cities (not the first to do so, but one of the more clever attempts). Director Joe Dante certainly liked using the suburbs as his playground of choice and in this case even reduced his focus to mostly just one particular block.

New neighbours (as typically happens) get the tongues wagging and curiosity turns to suspicion turns to obsession. Outside influences and out of the ordinary behaviour in the cozy suburbs can be considered potential malevolent forces to be reckoned with, so Ray (Hanks) and his neighbours begin to track the movements of The Klopeks. There’s something amiss about them, so of course they must be piling up the bodies in the basement for some kind of cult-like activities. Whether or not there are indeed occult happenings on the same street where kids ride their bikes, six packs of beer get guzzled and newspapers are the only obvious signs of the corrupt big cities is almost besides the point – the movie revels in the paranoid actions of its trio of husbands trying to “protect” their environment.

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Occultober – Day 6 – Event Horizon

Event Horizon
One of the few science fiction films featured here, this should be no surprise, because few are crazy enough to merge genres in this fashion and talented enough to pull it off.

I would never say that Paul W.S. Anderson’s Event Horizon is perfect. But it does have some incredibly scary moments, and a pretty sustained level or creepiness across the entire runtime of the film. That is if you can stomach the gorier moments in the film. It is kind of amazing that this was a studio released film with a sizeable budget, considering how graphic the imagery on display. Perhaps this is what endeared the film to me back when I caught in the theatres, the reviews were toxic and the film was a financial failure, but it has just a bit of je ne sais quoi (and two talented actors) to make the whole thing work. And it works well in the dark.

Laurence Fishburn captains rescue ship, commissioned by a scientist (Sam Neill) who hopes to find out what happened to the vessel knowns “Event Horizon” which disappeared, seven years prior but suddenly resurfaces in a decaying orbit around Neptune. The engine was a prototype designed to give faster than light travel by folding space, but instead, it may have opened a portal into another dimension, possibly to Hell.

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Occultober – Day 1 – Race With The Devil

Over the course of the month, one a day, we will be offering suggestions on cult films to watch. And by cult films, we mean films about cults, even though many of these films have cult followings in their own right. Each will go up as a separate post at the stroke of midnight, as it should be.

Race With The Devil
Why not kick things off with a bit of that old-school 1970s Satanic Cinema mixed with adrenaline-laced car chases. The tail off from the Corman biker movie cycle (the film features a stalwart of the genre, Peter Fonda, along with Warren Oates) before Mad Max, there is an absolutely incredible action set-piece in the middle of the film involving a lot of Satanists attacking a Winnebago at 80 miles per hour.

The rest of the film has some pretty classic occult cinema imagery, as well as sympathetic and fine performances from the two couples who turn off the main road with their RV and witness a human sacrifice.

Quote of the Day: Rosenbaum on what ‘Cult-Film’ means Today

“One of the problems inherent in using the term “cult” within a contemporary context relating to film, either as a noun or as an adjective, is that it refers to various social structures that no longer exist, at least not in the ways that they once did. When indiscriminate moviegoing (as opposed to going to see particular films) was a routine everyday activity, it was theoretically possible for cults to form around exceptional items — “sleepers,” as they were then called by film exhibitors — that were spontaneously adopted and anointed by audiences rather than generated by advertising. But once advertising started to anticipate and supersede such a selection process, the whole concept of the cult film became dubious at the same time it became more prominent, a marketing term rather than a self-generating social process.”

This is an excerpt from Jonathan Rosenbaum’s sharp little piece on Joe Dante, here.

Trailer: The Sound of My Voice

“I just feel like we are in over our heads.” “Yea, That’s investigative journalism.”

Undercover reporters, cults, and possible time travelers abound in this indie drama/thriller. The Sound of My Voice not only turned some heads at 2011’s SXSW & 2012s Sundance, it stars indie science-fiction favourite Brit Marling (Another Earth) as the enigmatic and charismatic cult leader. There is definitely a claustrophobic vibe to the tone and cinematography here. The trailer is below.


DVD Review: The Devils

Director: Ken Russell
Screenplay: Ken Russell
Based on the Play by: John Whiting
And the Novel by: Aldous Huxley
Starring: Vanessa Redgrave, Oliver Reed, Dudley Sutton, Gemma Jones, Max Adrian
Producers: Ken Russell & Robert H. Solo
Country: UK
Running Time: 107 min
Year: 1971
BBFC Certificate: 18

Sadly reaching the end of his life back in November, Ken Russell was long a figure of controversy in the history of British and indeed world cinema. Famous for his flamboyant, campy style and frequent exploration of sexuality and the grotesque in his work, his films were always an acquired taste to say the least and his career dwindled in the last couple of decades. Back in the late 60’s and early 70’s he was a force to be reckoned with though, finding success with Women in Love, The Boyfriend and Tommy, despite his films having that ‘marmite’ effect on many. Certainly the most controversial, well known and probably most well received of Russell’s films came early on in this period in 1971 with the release of The Devils. With scenes of nuns taking part in depraved sexual acts and graphic gore and violence, the film struggled to get past the censors, with certain scenes being removed for its cinematic release and several more shaved off for home video. Even now, 41 years later, the film has long struggled to get a DVD release in the UK and those scenes missing from the cinematic release have not been reinstated. These wrangles have even prevented a Blu-Ray version from being released. The BFI however have finally given the film the full-blown special edition treatment with a 2-disc edition of the film utilising the finest available transfer so that we can witness Russell’s masterpiece in all its grotesque glory.

Based on a play by John Whiting and Aldous Huxley’s novel ‘The Devils of Loudon’, which was based on detailed research into true acts of the time, The Devils is set in seventeenth-century France. Father Urbain Grandier (Oliver Reed) is the lustful head of the well-fortified city of Loudun, a key location in the king (Graham Armitage) and cardinal’s (Christopher Logue) quest to gain full control over the country. Taking advantage of Grandier’s bed-hopping antics and exploiting the erotic obsessions of the deluded mother superior Sister Jeanne (Vanessa Redgrave), the leaders send a cruel Baron (Dudley Sutton) and sadistic ‘exorcist’ (Michael Gothard) to bring down Grandier, literally and figuratively reducing the city to rubble.

I must admit I’ve never sat through any Ken Russell films in their entirety before this. I was always more of a fan of the gritty realism of American cinema in the 70’s and than in the high camp Russell is more famous for. I’ve seen segments of Tommy that didn’t appeal to me and although Altered States sounds more like my kind of thing, it always looked a bit dated. So it was with a certain reluctance that I approached The Devils. I must say I’m glad now that I did. Yes there are dated elements and the performances and style are ludicrously over the top as I expected, but there is also a hell of a lot to appreciate on screen.

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Trailer: Kill List

A film that polarized a good bunch of the Row Three (and The Substream) crowd at TIFF this year. Kill List is an odd beast, and while this trailer emphasizes the ominous, there is a fair bit of off-kilter British humour and crime/mystery all thrown together with a decidedly Wicker Man cult angle. Ben Wheatley (Down Terrace) is one of the most interesting genre directors out there, and he delivers with this one, at least in my opinion.

The trailer is tucked under the seat.
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