Blu-Ray Review: Blood Feast & Scum of the Earth

Herschell Gordon Lewis, who died last year, was a genre film legend. Although he worked in most realms of exploitation films, from ‘nudie-cuties’ to juvenile delinquent films and even children’s films, he is best known for creating the ‘splatter’ sub-genre of horror movies. The first title of his that bludgeoned open the horror mould, was Blood Feast, which Arrow Video have released on Blu-Ray alongside another of Lewis’ 1963 features, Scum of the Earth.

Blood Feast

Director: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Screenplay: Allison Louise Downe
Starring: William Kerwin, Mal Arnold, Connie Mason
Country: USA
Running Time: 67min
Year: 1963
BBFC Certificate: 18


Blood Feast sees an Egyptian caterer, Fuad Ramses (Mal Arnold), butcher up attractive young women in order to extract the ingredients required to put on an authentic Egyptian feast as had been previously ‘enjoyed’ 5000 years ago. The feast is an offering for the Egyptian goddess Ishtar, who Ramses worships. The mother of Suzette Fremont (Connie Mason) foolishly thinks the feast sounds like a great way to put on a party for her daughter, so Ramses busies himself in preparation, hacking up a handful of women in the lead up to the ‘big day’. Meanwhile, two inept cops, including Suzette’s boyfriend Pete (William Kerwin), try to figure out who’s responsible for the spate of murders around town.

Despite his reputation and my love of genre movies, I’d never actually seen a Herschell Gordon Lewis movie before now. He certainly lived up to his reputation as the “Godfather of Gore”, but his limitations as a filmmaker are also evident. Luckily I was prepared for this and I actually had a lot of fun with Blood Feast, even if I’d never call it a great film. It’s generally a case of ‘so bad it’s good’, where I enjoyed laughing at some of the daft dialogue and frequently shoddy deliveries. Writer Allison Louise Downe and Lewis know their limitations though, so never take things too seriously, with some lines knowingly ridiculous. “I was thinking about those murders. They just take the joy out of everything” was a standout for me.

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DVD/Blu-Ray Review: Wolf Guy

Director: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
Screenplay: Fumio Kônami
Based on a Manga Series by: Kazumasa Hirai
Starring: Shin’ichi (Sonny) Chiba, Kyôsuke Machida, Saburô Date
Country: Japan
Running Time: 86 min
Year: 1975
BBFC Certificate: 15


Wolf Guy is a Japanese action movie based on a manga series of the same name. Starring Shin’ichi “Sonny” Chiba at the height of his fame, it’s a low budget B-movie attempt to fuse western mythologies with Japanese genre sensibilities. Being a lover of trashy action and all things Japanese, this description sounded good to me, so I thought I’d check out Arrow Video’s new release of the film, which has never previously been available outside of Japan.

Chiba plays Akira Inugami, the last survivor of a clan of werewolves, now living in the big city using his lycanthropic skills to solve crimes. One night he witnesses the brutal murder of a seemingly crazed man at the hands of what appears to be a tiger demon, only semi-visable to Akira. When he looks further into what happened, he finds that the man was one of a group of thugs who were ordered by gang boss Manabe to rape a young woman called Miki. He finds both of them and tries to help Miki and stir up trouble with Manabe. This unravels further into a wacky plot where the bad guys try to get Akira’s blood to make their own werewolf and use Miki’s anger to assassinate people using the tiger demon acting out her vengeful thoughts!

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Blu-Ray Review: Society

Director: Brian Yuzna
Screenplay: Rick Fry, Woody Keith
Starring: Billy Warlock, Devin DeVasquez, Evan Richards
Country: USA
Running Time: 99 min
Year: 1989
BBFC Certificate: 18


After producing Stuart Gordon’s first few films (Re-Animator, From Beyond and Dolls) and having trouble retaining control over their script for what would become Honey I Shrunk the Kids (yes the pair behind Re-Animator wrote the story to this family favourite!), Brian Yuzna decided to direct his own film. A script he’d been sent, combined with some of his own ideas as to what he wanted to make, resulted in the controversial cult classic Society.

It’s a film about Bill (Billy Warlock) who, like most teenagers, feels he doesn’t fit with the rest of his family. His wealthy socialite parents care for nothing but social status and have a disturbingly ‘close’ relationship with his sister (although Bill’s intentions towards her veer in this direction too). When a classmate presents him with some shocking evidence as to what really happens at one of the upper class ‘coming out’ parties, Bill begins to think that his fears are more than just the usual adolescent rebellion. After doing some digging himself, Bill finds himself more and more worried as to the nature of not just his family, but the whole of the upper classes around him. When he gate crashes one of their soirees, he finally learns the disturbing truth.

I’d heard so much about Society before watching it this week, that it was strange to finally see it. It’s a film that’s notorious for its shocking finale which must have absolutely fried people’s minds on release and sent them running for a sick-bag. Unfortunately I’d seen so many images and clips and read a fair few reviews of the film over the years that I knew pretty much exactly what was going to happen. Because of this I felt like I spent most of the film just preparing for the climax.

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Cinecast Episode 396 – Rated ‘R’ for Mood

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It has finally happened. Matt Gamble shows up and forces a co-host to say enough is enough and leave the room. In these parts, it is probably the best way to handle things until cooler heads prevail – which takes a few minutes. You might think is the grotesquery on display in Fury Road or the non-necessity of the Pitch Perfect sequel becoming this weekends box-office champ. But No. Appropriately it is the Game of Thrones Season 5 Episode 6. If Beinioff and Weiss, HBO’s show-runners are looking for a reaction, they have gotten it… Things devolve into semantics, call it the “Daybreaker’s Effect.” But fear not, intrepid listener with ringing ears, we move on to happier, less controversial places created by Mike Judge, Neil Marshall and Alfred Hitchcock.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!

 

 
 

 

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Toronto After Dark 2014 Review: Dead Snow 2

 

 

It must’ve been the easiest elevator pitch ever…

 

“Nazi zombies…[pause for effect]…in the snow.”

 

The film I’m referring to, of course, was Dead Snow and it delivered on its premise…A field full of dead German WW II soldiers are awakened and then begin to spill the blood of a group of young adults all over fresh pristine snow. It was funny, gory and even a little bit scary. With an audience, it was a thing of beauty from the first zombie hand breaking through the cold white crust to the last open-ended moments where the sole-survivor realizes he may not yet be out of the woods. Which brings us to the sequel…

Though I guess they didn’t have to do an elevator pitch this time around (since the first film was somewhat successful), I suspect it would have gone something like this:

 

“More Nazi zombies plus Russian zombies plus more zombies, more offensive humour, more gore, more outlandish situations, more, more, more.”

 

Note there were no pauses for effect there. As a matter of fact, to give the same sensation as watching the movie, you shouldn’t have any pauses at all while you say that sentence (preferably delivering the entire pitch all in one fell swoop without taking a breath). Dead Snow 2 (subtitled “Red vs. Dead”) piles ridiculous onto ridiculous onto a mound of bodies and doesn’t wait for you to catch up with the story. It’s a pretty straightforward tale anyway: the Nazi zombies want revenge on the town that killed them and now that they have a purpose (and a tank), the only way to stop them is through a rival army of zombies. The chosen horde here is a set of Russian soldiers that had been put to death by these very same Nazis now laying waste to small Norwegian towns.

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Toronto After Dark 2014 Review: Zombeavers

 

The best thing about Zombeavers is that it isn’t much more than its title implies. It creates a toxic spill in a remote area then plops a bunch of college kids in a cabin right next to it. Voila – zombie beavers attacking young co-eds. It also stays true to its 80s horror antecedents by making most of the gore and effects practical. CGI beavers would have ruined the film entirely, whereas these stuffed critters with partial animatronic characteristics and clunky tails do the trick nicely. When they come crashing through floor boards, they almost feel like they could chew your foot off. Of course, they are also just slightly ridiculous enough to laugh at when they suddenly show up in a bathtub or at the front door. Especially with their light blue glowing eyes…

The worst thing about Zombeavers is, well, that it isn’t much more than its title implies. Now that shouldn’t be taken necessarily as a criticism…It’s just that when the film works, it works so very well. So when it doesn’t, it’s somewhat disappointing. The film handles its action sequences very well and has moments of pretty inspired humour & gore, but then there are several scenes of bland, lengthy or even pointless chatter between the characters. Given the funny outtakes at the end of the film (some of which felt a bit like those line-o-rama special features many comedies have these days) and considering Judd Apatow, David Wain and others are thanked, I couldn’t help but want a bit more ooomph to the script. In fairness, my complaints are along the lines of wanting more than I’m really entitled to or should in any way expect. But it’s to the film’s credit that at some point – I did expect more.

Another thing about Zombeavers is that it sometimes is actually a bit more than its title implies. Think you know who’s going to get it next? Think the kills will all be based on levels of morality? Think you know how the beaver bite transforms its victim? Probably not…Not that the movie rolls out loads of surprises, but just enough so you aren’t completely sure of what the next scene may bring. One might even say that there’s just enough subversion of this type of genre to raise the eyebrows of those looking for simply a genre-throwback. On top of that, the cast does quite well with the material and only falter during some of those slower spots (though those moments could easily be “blamed” on pacing issues or editing). All three of the leading ladies (Cortney Palm, Rachel Melvin & Lexi Atkins) acquit themselves quite nicely through tears, screams, laughs and loads of prosthetics.

In the end, it’s a movie about beavers who become zombies. That alone should be enough, but you get more (including a great final “stinger”). So go enjoy Zombeavers.

DVD Review: Dead Sushi

Director: Noboru Iguchi
Screenplay: Noboru Iguchi, Makiko Iguchi, Jun Tsugita
Starring: Rina Takeda, Kentarô Shimazu, Takamasa Suga
Producers: Mana Fukui, Motohisa Nagata, Yoichi Sakai
Country: Japan
Running Time: 87 min
Year: 2012
BBFC Certificate: 18


I‘m a bit of a wuss when it comes to horror films. I scare easily and tend to avoid any torture-heavy films because I find them too difficult to sit through, plus I’m rather squeamish when it comes to any nasty violence or gore. Over the years I’ve hardened up a little (thanks to Justin’s video collection and trips to several horror festivals) but there are still a handful of notoriously nasty films that I’ve been consciously avoiding (Martyrs and A Serbian Film to name a few) and I occasionally feel like I’m getting a minor panic attack when I’m trapped in a cinema about to watch something grim.

When I was a teenager though I found myself drawn to a couple of the goriest films the genre had to offer, namely the Evil Dead movies and the early films of Peter Jackson, Bad Taste and Braindead (a.k.a. Dead Alive). As timid as I was (and still am), I discovered that when presented with humour and energy, gore was good.

Flash forward a decade or so to 2008 and I was enjoying my second (or third?) Dead by Dawn film festival up in Edinburgh (horror fans in the UK should check it out if they haven’t already). Early in the listing for the weekend was a film called Machine Girl. Reading up on the film in the programme it sounded pretty messed up and I could hear alarm bells ringing in my head as the lights dimmed. 96 minutes later I was raving about the film to anyone who would listen though. Its over the top nature and total disregard for logic or realism made the fountains of blood all part of the fun, bringing back those loving memories of watching Braindead on VHS in the mid-nineties. This was my first introduction to the work of Noboru Iguchi and the new wave of Japanese splatter movies which took the nation’s reputation for controversial, graphic filmmaking and stripped it of any traces of class, artistry and reverence.

Over time I’ve watched quite a few of the titles from Iguchi and similarly inclined directors such as Yoshihiro Nishimura (who provided special effects makeup for Machine Girl as well as directing films such as Tokyo Gore Police and Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl) and I must say, I’ve been gradually growing a little tired of them. The last couple I watched, Helldriver and Yakuza Weapon, had their moments but on the whole didn’t work as effectively as Machine Girl and Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl had when I was introduced to the sub-genre. Nevertheless, when I was offered the chance to review Iguchi’s latest blood-drenched opus, Dead Sushi I had to say yes.

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Blu-Ray Review: Yakuza Weapon

Director: Tak Sakaguchi & Yûdai Yamaguchi
Screenplay: Tak Sakaguchi & Yûdai Yamaguchi
Based on a manga by: Ken Ishikawa
Starring: Tak Sakaguchi, Shingo Tsurumi, Mei Kurokawa, Akaji Maro
Producers: Yoshinori Chiba, Toshiki Kimura & Shûichi Takashino
Country: Japan
Running Time: 106 min
Year: 2011
BBFC Certificate: 18

After spending the last couple of weeks watching and reviewing Mizoguchi films and Mark Cousins’ Story of Film I’m heading right over to the other side of the spectrum by covering the latest Japanese splatter-comedy offering, Yakuza Weapon. The star (Tak Sakaguchi) and writer (Yûdai Yamaguchi) of cult classic Versus join forces behind the camera after working together on Battlefield Baseball to co-direct this blood-soaked action comedy for specialist production company Sushi Typhoon (Cold Fish, Helldriver etc.).

Ex-Yakuza Shozo (Tak Sakaguchi himself) discovers that his gang-boss father has been murdered and heads back home to find the culprit. When he returns he discovers that his father’s right-hand man Kurawaki (Shingo Tsurumi) was to blame and has ruthlessly taken over the business. Shozo of course heads off to take revenge, but an epic battle results in both of them being mutilated. A secret Japanese governmental agency who have their eye on Kurawaki then step in, kitting out Shozo’s missing arm and leg with a high powered mini-gun and rocket launcher, turning him into the Yakuza Weapon. Kurawaki meanwhile, takes it upon himself to build an army of super soldiers to get his own revenge, including turning Shozo’s former friend Tetsu against him.

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Toronto After Dark 2011: The Woman Review

 

 

After watching a movie that takes place in such a strange headspace such as Lucky McKee’s The Woman, it is probably best to let the thing percolate a bit before even attempting to articulate a reaction. The prime example of this visceral reaction is a youtube video that went around Sundance after the films premiere featuring a guy who wanted the film destroyed from existence. *Deep Breath* Here goes. The Woman boldly defies any attempts to slot it into any sort of easy niche. It is simultaneously a blunt gender provocation, a deadpan satire and a gory torture movie. I suppose if a filmmaker elicits a visceral reaction in your audience, you have made a successful horror picture, but I am not sure that the film has anything new or interesting to say, and I am not exactly enamoured with how it goes about saying it. There are a fair number of of leaps and contortions to be made to get into the the film. You not only have to swallow that there is a super-psychotic family that is well integrated into the polite rural society of back-yard BBQs and supermarket chit-chat, but also that there is a feral woman who has lived her life out in the back forty thus far unnoticed. But let us proceed with an open mind, nevertheless.

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Review: Hobo With A Shotgun

[Reposted to line up with Canadian Theatrical Release of the film (American VOD is April 1st, Theatrical May 6th) – also, check out my Twitch coverage of the film with Interviews with star Rutger Hauer, as well as director Jason Eisener and Producer Rob Cotterill.]

Welcome to Scumtown. The graffiti runs riotous along the buildings and storefronts, and the crime even moreso. Living up to its title, it features Rutger Hauer riding the rails into town as the eponymous Hobo looking for stray cigarettes and some spare change to buy a lawnmower to make his way as a landscaping entrepreneur. The irony being that there is no grass to be seen in town. After witnessing a wanton act of violence, more a brutally bloody carnival side-show, by the local crimeboss his two identically dressed sons, he instead invests nickels and dimes on a pump-action Remington. The hobo goes to war against drug-dealers, pedophiles, dirty cops and a full assortment of colourful psychotics in the name of making Abby, a young hooker with the heart of gold, undergo a career change from prostitute to school teacher. Dartmouth, Nova Scotia was never particularly high on any tourists list of destinations, Jason Eisener’s nightmare vision of the city as an endless concrete gutter teeming with violent freaks and shuffling terrorized victims is unlikely to drum up future visitors. The brightest flowers the film can ever summon up (as a symbol of hope?) are a few rotting dandilions. Yellow weeds are as bright as it gets in this town.

Hobo with a Shotgun feels like a lost and ultraviolent product of the Canadian Tax Shelter films , the cycle of delightfully demented horror films from the 1970s and 1980s that resulted from an excess of government cash put in to stimulate a flailing Canadian movie industry. In fact, the film is indeed set somewhere in the early 1980s judging by the look of the currency being occasionally tossed around as well as a boxy gull wing car and a few choice boom boxes. While the film may have started its life as faux trailer entry in Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse, its graduation to a full-length feature easily eclipses Rodriguez’s own trailer-turned-movie, Machete. It draws its DNA not from the naughty drive-in and inner-city trash-palace fair of the 60s and 70s, but the ultraviolence of George Miller’s Mad Max films as well as the splatstick of Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead cycle, although if your ears are peeled at the beginning of the film you might just hear echoes of the Cannibal Holocaust theme.

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VOD Review: Dream Home

Here is something different. A slow-burn, gory slasher film based on the vagaries of capitalism, in particular, the Hong Kong housing market. Writer/Director Pang Ho-Cheung has been making ‘against the grain’ Hong Kong genre busters for some time now. One his previous films, the deadpan-absurdist feminist conspiracy noir, Exodus left a lot of people scratching their heads trying to find the joke. While Pang has yet to make his masterpiece, and Dream Home isn’t it, it is strange and weird and off-putting in all the right ways. So the film is a bit of a treasure nonetheless.

Cheng Li-sheung (Josie Ho) is working multiple service-industry jobs (from retail to telemarketing to prostitution) with one clear goal in mind. She wants to live in a harbour facing apartment in an upscale neighborhood Hong Kong. These types of residences run at exorbitant rates and is clearly beyond her means. But the year is 2007 and really this type of consideration seemed moot for many, at that point. When a choice flat opens up at a very good price, she jumps at the opportunity. However when the deal falls through, (the owners realize that they underbid their own real-estate) Cheng decides to take matters into her own hands to drive property values down.

These are the times we live in, magnified by a factor of 1000. The slippery slope of capitalism gone wild, is somewhat akin to David Cronenberg’s look at violence in the media with Videodrome. If the opening scene, a clever, and brutal use of industrial strength lock-ties, doesn’t turn you off from the queasy, explicit, nonchalant execution of the film and you can look by some down-right-odd cinematography (It is often quite experimental and off-putting), then you are in for a treat. Eschewing the usual suspense and stalk antics of the slasher/giallo, Pang plays it out in a very clear-headed way. Somehow, and this is a minor miracle of sorts, he even makes you care for Cheng, even though she is clearly the villain (delightfully focused as she is.) The film is structured in flash back so as to flesh how some of her motivations, but her clear-headed sociopath evening of mayhem (the movie basically takes place over 24 hours) is well realized for its absurdity, both at the detail level, and at in the big picture.

The final joke, not unlike Exodus, is a real winner. Welcome to the horror of new-millennium capitalism folks.