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 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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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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Finite Focus: I kick Arse for the Lord! (Braindead)

Dead Alive One SheetPeter Jackson will likely be forever known as the man who spearheaded the effort to bring J.R.R. Tolkien‘s Middle Earth at a state-of-the-art epic scale. Fine, fair enough. The Lord of the Rings trilogy has its strengths and weaknesses, curiously enough, it was a trilogy of diminishing returns, the films seemed to get more repetitive as they went along as if the director’s ‘spontaneousness’ was constrained by the increasing scope of the source material.

If I were being completely honest with myself, I would have to say that I enjoy the New Zealander pre-Rings where he had the free reign to be at his most incorrigible: The prankster mock-doc Forgotten Silver, the matron-murdering girlfriends drama Heavenly Creatures (which incidentally launched Kate Winslet‘s career), the foul-and-filthy-Muppets flick Meet the Feebles (there are nearly half a dozen jaw-dropping moments in what Jackson gets away with here) and this film, Braindead, known in North America as Dead Alive.

God bless wikipedia. Whoever wrote up the description for Braindead had an nice insight that I’d never noticed about the film. In a conventional zombie flick, the heros endeavor to keep the zombies out of their sanctuary (shopping mall, cottage, house, military base), yet Lionel Cosgrove, our sensitive hero, aims to keep the zombies contained in his house while aiming for normalcy to the outside world. When you think about it, since Dead Alive is a comedy first, everything else second, it allows for one of the most effective elements of comedy, namely social embarrassment and loss of face. Peter Jackson takes this to gargantuan heights, including often, literally loss of face. The last 25 minutes of this film has yet to be topped in the splatter-comedy subgenre. Braindead remains the undisputed benchmark after nearly a decade and a half, even if it takes some of its cues from Sam Raimi‘s Evil Dead flicks. Jackson goes from Raimi‘s injection of The Three Stooges to zombie sex (and procreation), underground Nazi doctors and machete wielding Skull Island natives.

The scene included below is most definitely not aiming for subtlety! It is (debateably) the first point in the movie where things really start going crazy. The nice catholic minister who performed the (botched) funeral of Lionel’s mother notices a disturbance in the cemetery as Lionel attempts to deal with a few of the local punks who have been zombified. Throwing off his night robe, the minister breaks out the kung-fu in a loving tribute to The Shaw Brothers and Monty Python. It is this type of sheer silly glee that Jackson seems to have grown out of, and to be perfectly honest, I really miss it. Who says auteurs have to grow up?