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La morte ha fatto l'uovo (1968)
One thousand chicken
Giulio Questi's early giallo is very different from the genre, but it can be called giallo since it has a mystery audience has no idea about until the very end. But the mystery doesn't involve the identity of the possible murderer but the various and altering relations between the characters. Marco, Anna and Gabrielle live together and work together, in a huge chicken farm / factory owned by Anna. Soon it is clear all three, plus their friends, have another things in their minds; they act what they don't say and vice versa. This gives the director Questi a great opportunity to handle topics of greed and money that easily blind.
The way how Questi handles his theme is very satiric, thus making the film close with Mario Bava's Reazione a catena / Bay of Blood 3 years later. Both films have serious theme about man's ability to turn violent in his search for monetary benefit and freedom and both films discuss this satirically, with maximal effect since comedy is often at its best when the subject stays serious and universally important. As a pure giallo mystery, the film is also quite rich since the audience has no idea what is going on until the very end when it is revealed. Questi uses very interesting editing technique that makes many of the scenes "broken", using flashbacks, dreamy/nightmarish moods and so on. This forces us to dive deeper inside the characters and their varying points of views.
The film has also an interesting topic about man's subconscious and instincts. Main character Marco is considered "morally corrupt" due to his unusual sexual preferences. But at the same time Questi shows how much there is inside human brain, needs, wills, desires, we don't necessarily want to talk about in fear of unacceptance or being classed as "sick." We are not as civilized, as perfect, as the moral codes of society try to suggest when they go after "the morally sick" Marco. There's also a very harrowing and unforgettably absurd scene at the experiment lab of the factory. The doctors have created a manipulated type of chicken that would be commercially extremely profitable to the factory while at the same time the manipulated monsters are a plentiful spitting at nature's face. Marco is against this, against the others around him while he has been named "morally wrong" and bad. Questi had important things and questions in mind and also the ability to turn them into a film.
Real themes in a giallo thriller are quite rare and Questi has done it very well. This is among the earliest but also among the very best of the giallo.
Il coltello di ghiaccio (1972)
Among Lenzi's best
This early 70's giallo by Umberto Lenzi is certainly among the best in his filmography and also in the whole genre. Personally I think Lenzi's best films are the funny cartoon-turned-film Kriminal, the stylish giallo Seven Blood-Stained Orchids, the explosive Napoli violenta and this. In the eighties he did plenty of film trash in form of Eaten Alive, Hitcher in the Dark or Black Demons, all of which are ripping something off and/or very dull and slow moving. Knife of Ice came when the giallo boom was at its hottest and the result is convincing.
Technically the film is superb, containing great cinematography in the beginning when we learn about the main character's trauma towards trains. From this point on, Lenzi shows us his ability to benefit the widescreen and, for example, the bicycle ride near the forest is genuinely beautiful! This scene also shows Lenzi's ability to build suspense, very slowly but meaningfully. After all, there aren't so many murders in the whole film, only the suspense circulating around the murderer's identity.
One suspect is a devil worshipper which brings new aspects to the mystery. Since the final scene takes place in a church, one can wonder if Lenzi wanted to comment on something, maybe the hypocritical morale of church and superstition. The main character (Carrol Baker) is mute which demands a lot from her face and eyes. The actress works very well, giving us a believable performance circulating around the emotions of fear and mental pain. The other actors are good, too. The finally, however, may not give too positive a sight about female sex since they all are expressed rather negatively in the film, one way or another. Still this is easily among the most noteworthy in the genre, not as bloody as the Argento films, for example, but equally suspenseful and visually also interesting.
Un urlo dalle tenebre (1975)
Elo Pannacciò's "Un Urlo nelle tenebre" aka "Cries & Shadows" (1975) is another Exorcist rip-off from the Italian continent, by a director who was totally unknown to me before (and is likely to remain so, too!). There are bad bad films and good bad films, and I'm glad to say this makes it more to the latter part, due to its incredible badliness that makes some of the stupidest efforts of Italian / European exploitation cinema look very convincing. I mean mostly the acting of the possessed protagonist teen; rarely have I seen anyone expressing his emotions of "fear", "hatred", "blasphemy" and so on more unconvincingly and amusingly! Just look at his eyes and how much he tries in every scene! The film runs 82 minutes in PAL version (from Luminous, if anyone knows about possible cuts, please contact!) which is not bad for a film like this and I managed to sit through it very well. The Devil worshipping scene at the beginning of the film is rather funny, with huge, inverted and red pentagram on the wall and bunch of people around the "sacrifice." There's some of the usual nunsploitation/exploitation elements on display, like the group sex orgy and some gore, but compared to some other films of the time and genre, this is surprisingly tame and goreless. I hugely recommend Renato Polselli's "The Reincarnation of Isabel" which is among the sleaziest demonic b-films of the seventies.
There is one thing I find especially amusing in "Cries and Shadows". When the Devil inside the character starts to speak to the exorcist and another people around him, he screams "I live by your lies!!" and the like which makes me wonder how can he be in physical existence in the first place, if the writer suggests the religion He originates from is only lies? Maybe I really shouldn't think about it any more, but it managed to make me smile for the rest of the film! I recommend not to waste too much time or money to track this rather rare and unknown title down, but if you do, some juicy laughs are guaranteed to follow. I promise!
Among the best in my opinion
Sergio Martino's "Lo Strano vizio della Signora Wardh" (1970) is a welcome addition to the list of giallos that had remained long unseen for me. Martino has done some of the most interesting of the 70's exploitation cinema (like "Torso" and "Mountain of the Cannibal God") and also an interesting spaghetti western "Mannaja." The giallo hasn't as hard-to-follow and confusing plot as it could have, there are not too many characters which makes their efforts and plot turns easy to follow. The story is simple and involves strange murders closely related to beautiful Wardh lady. There are some masterfully constructed mystery / giallo segments that look no less ambitious than those of Dario Argento. I mean mostly the garage scene and the "gas" scene near the end. These build the suspense well and involve the audience much better than some of the more gore-oriented works of the genre. Martino's film has also some stylish and violent murders but fortunately he didn't concentrate only on them. The locations are simply stunning, and the end twist is surprising and certainly original in my opinion. I think this is among the best of the giallo genre, on the same level with Mario Bava's "Blood and Black Lace", the films by Argento and Tonino Valerii's "My Dear Killer", for example, to name just a few.
Black Jack (1968)
Dark spaghetti nihilism
Gianfranco Baldinelli's Italian western Black Jack (1968) is hauntingly dark and violent tale of a bank robbery and revenge. A bunch of thieves rob a bank but feel their leader / mastermind Jack divides the money for his own good. This results some sudden bursts of violence and torture as their ways apart, leaving Jack to wait for his payback time. The premise is quite good, as the theme of vengeance has often been exploited in (these) films, making it look something much safer and more positive than it actually is. Margheriti's film Vengeance is interesting but never manages to express anything worthwhile about revenge and its possible results. Hossein's Cemetery Without Crosses has a great potential and characters, but ends up in rather typical and unsatisfying ending, albeit the film being very interesting visually (scripted by Dario Argento).
Black Jack has several intense and disturbing moments, and the storytelling is very effective, making the 90 minutes pass incredibly fast. There are some segments of fantastic photography in the desert, some poetic images of irreversible violence (mostly the thickening flame on front of the picture) which all make the film little closer to the masterpiece of spaghetti western, Il grande silenzio by Sergio Corbucci, and from the same year. Black Jack certainly doesn't show violence in a good or positive light (unlike Fulci's Four of the Apocalypse, for example) and it must be said it hasn't lost much of its power during these years. Some "infamous" and "shocking" westerns like Cutthroarts Nine (Joaquim Luis Romero Marchent) seem rather pathetic in front of these much more visual, also mentally violent and effective works of the genre.
Ratu Ilmu Hitam (1981)
Silly and wild far East horror
Queen of Black Magic (1979) is a "sequel-in-name" to the two Black Magic films that came out from the Shaw Brothers in HK, in the 70's. The third film is a surprisingly fast-paced for most of the time, with plenty of black arts in practise with gory and gruelling results. We get to see maggot-infested bodies and food bowls, exploding spellcraft victims, hilarious and stupid dialogue (and dubbing) and exotic locations in the jungles of Indonesia (I think, since this was a co-production between a few Asian countries.) The film is made with an ultra-low budget but that's why it is also so enjoyable and smile-inducing, and the effects are certainly not as bad as they could be. I'd like to see the two original Shaw films, but in itself, Queen of Black Magic is a welcome addition to the library of weird and wild cinema beyond any limitations or taboos.
Faccia a faccia (1967)
Among the best
Sergio Sollima's Faccia a faccia (1967) is a very great Italian western with the genre icons Tomas Milian and Gian Maria Volonte. A seemingly "good" teacher, a professor (Volonte), gets by coincidence on the same path with a seemingly "bad" and infamous bandit (Milian) only to see how hollow and meaningless those terms are, used alone, without the other, the opposite. The way how both characters begin to change (the professor away from his usual, sophisticated environment and society) is very believable and well-written with the development that steps on the all necessary steps, not jumping from one point to another and thus making it all very unnatural: when an unexpected character does something against his "persona", it has been well argumented by the previous happenings and words. Like in the masterpiece western Il grande silenzio (Sergio Corbucci, 1968), there are no entertaining heroes that end up killing the "bad guy" in a spectacular finale. Sollima concentrates on the dualism of the human nature and the fact how easy, in the right circumstances, it is to change and cross the line, for every human being, no matter what the past or status in society. And he does it very well, both script-wise and image-wise.
The imagery and compositions are great, intelligent and use the whole aspect ratio very carefully. Sollima uses some very low and radical angles very effectively, to make the imagery as rich as possible. The actors are professionals and both leads possess perfect faces for their roles. The soundtrack by Ennio Morricone is once again very pleasing but not among his greatest works, like in the mentioned film by Corbucci, or several films by Sergio Leone. This is simply a fantastic western from the time very many were made, after the success of Leone's first film with Clint Eastwood in 1964, A Fistful of Dollars. Corbucci's Il grande silenzio is even more stunning in its visuality and silent despair, but after all Sollima's film's statement isn't any more positive, untrue and calculated, in other words.
Weakest of the three that I've seen
The third TOXIC AVENGER film (aka LAST TEMPTATION OF TOXIE, 1989) by Herz/Kaufman pair is not too interesting anymore because it seems to rely more and more on the inept "humor" that would be found in the many other Troma films, too, but which was much more intelligent and critical in the frist TOXIC. Still the third part includes even Satan and an internal moral fight of the protagonist mutant which are welcome additions to the dramatic structure of the monster story! There are some nice and even clever camera tricks and angles (like the school bus terror) and naturally lots of ridiculous sexual situations and (some) ultra gore, but when compared to the originality and great dialogue of the first movie and the ultra wild and still pretty fresh feel of the second part, this third movie seems more and more just a money taker and not so great a (trash) movie anymore. Usually if a sequel has many segments or scenes from a previous film (usually from part one), that tells something about the obvious lack of new ideas and in addition to this sequel in question, that can also be found among others in an awful Sonny Chiba sequel to his Japanese karate flick THE STREET FIGHTER (1974), THE RETURN OF THE STREET FIGHTER (1975). These films don't have anything else in common for sure but both sequels tell the same thing.
The Toxic Avenger Part II (1989)
Sillier and gorier
The Toxic Avenger, Part II (1989) by the Troma lunatics Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufman continutes the adventures of Toxie, a nuclear waste mutant monster hero, and his attempts to maintain peace in his home town, a world of its own (especially in Part I), Tromaville. And so on. Unlike the first film with many clever and satiric elements in it, the sequel concentrates more on the not-so-clever humor and jokes and extremely over-the-top ultra gore and violence that have often been censored (the Japanese VHS, the US Tox Box DVD set and, surprisingly, the Finnish videotape RE-release are as uncut as possible & director's editions) and for a better reason than in Part I. The effects are quite splashy and nasty. There are some genuinely funny moments and bits of dialogue (especially dealing with the Japan/USA territory and cultural differences and also genuine acceptance of foreign people, something that, for example, many Hong Kong exploitation films rarely achieve or dare to do) but the spark of freshness is gone. There is also a James Bond spoof that may be funny for some; at least the long chace is well shot even though the budget for the sequel was notably higher than in the first film. Ultra gory, ultra toxic and often ultra stupid but honest trash cinema.
Eine Armee Gretchen (1973)
Hard to describe without angry sentences
This film, Eine Armee Gretchen (1973) by the European trash/sleaze/soft porn _producer_ king Erwin C. Dietrich is among those very few grade Z films that really make feel angry for many reasons. Firstly, the whole sub-genre of exploitation, nazsploitation, is very repellent and something that should not be used as a theme in entertainment, I really think. It is so easy to exploit something that makes beasts curious, why else there would be pictures of real deaths, suicides and so on on the Internet, for example? From nature comes many dangerous instincts that are the more dangerous, the more the animal in question has "intelligence" and ability to calculate.
The most notorious, perhaps, of all Nazi atrocity garbage films is Canadian Don Edmond's Ilsa - She Wolf of the SS from 1974 that includes graphic violence, torture and laughable cinema but also spawned many sequels and rip-offs that started to exploit the original exploitation.
What makes especially Dietrich's piece of world's most boring 96 minutes of celluloid among the most unspeakably painful experiences in my life is that it doesn't even try to present the nazis as evil and destructive, it presenents them only to have another reason for a new sex scenes which the film is full of (surprisingly, the film is practically goreless unlike the other films of the genre, but that fits well to the career of its director). Naturally the film's status is so low that criticism like this is pretty useless: there's nothing in the film that the most untalented amateur group could not have made.
Another thing is that no matter how tolerant I am towards trash and B cinema, this goes way under all the categories in its level of braindead. It has no plot or any dramatic moments to make it at least marginally interesting for a second, the acting is not acting, only reading lines in front of the camera, the scenes are ridiculous (the final battle in green grass with tanks must be seen if you thought your home video was bad) and the editing done in 2 seconds with garden scissors. All these make those 96 minutes feel like an eternal death alive, and since it underestimates the viewer so pathetically, this is among the exploitation (usually revenge themed) turkeys that are without any, absolutely, any merits. Not even a single frame is interesting, visually or dramatically. The Swiss DVD was released for some reason, think twice do you really want to pay many Euros for it (fortunately I got mine in trade for some junk!)
Soy Cuba (1964)
Uniquely breathtaking (with only few others to come close)
This Soviet Union / Cuban co-production Soy Cuba (I am Cuba, 1964) is not among the most incredible, literally and completely objectively, pieces ever made for its message, universal theme or other mental content to be expressed, but for its camera usage and images. They are unlikely ever to be surpassed and even if they were, this was most likely the first that took the tool this far to the outer limits of human abilities! Director Mikheil Kalatozishvili tells four different stories inside the almost exploding Cuba, calm Mother that cries tears for what people have done to her, that are practically not related even though they all show the politics and victims of the situation that led to violent revolution in 1959. But as mentioned, the ending of the film or political opinions are definitely not too special or universal, so the film would be pretty lame without its visuality. Cinematography by Sergei Urusevsky is something that brings only few makers to mind. Soviet director Andrei Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev (1966) has genuinely some of the greatest black and white photography and crane shots in cinematic history, but maybe surprisingly even more Cuba brings Ukrainian born montage director Aleksandr Dovzhenko's Earth (Soviet Union, 1930) to my stunned mind, with the latter film's totally incredible imagery in the calm country side fields to which the technology and "civilization" is arriving. One story in Cuba is very "field oriented" and even though Dovzhenko's camera angles and takes are not very able to be compared with Cuba (in fact, they are often pretty far from each other), the atmosphere is very similar with the films. And needless to say, the montage imagery throughout the film but especially at the ending of Dovzhenko's film is incredible and unforgettable.
Another film that comes to my mind is Gillo Pontecorvo's La Battaglia di Algeri (Algeria, Italy, 1965) which is perhaps more vital in its message and varies from a very fast documentary style narration and feel of restlessness to more dramatic and calm moments with Ennio Morricone's music. This documentic and dramatic variation is often pretty similar with the two films and both films show the violent scenes very harrowingly in hald held camera and often with fast movements even though Pontecorvo's film has more of that kind of segments. And both have plenty of powerfully black and white smoke. It seems that these two films are so full of impact and timeless merits that all the things they have to deliver to the audience are almost impossible to take with just one viewing. The viewer is completely and literally breathless after both films either due to their speed and harrowing realism or poetic experimentations on camera possibilities never seen before.
The crane shots, the low angle compositions, the long takes without cuts, the Peter Greenaway like usage of images that give space to the background (usually sky, which in itself brings Nicholas Roeg and his 1971 film Walkabout to my mind) are the things that burst out with the impact that is not to be written or described, it has to be experienced and seen as it is cinema. French director Gaspar Noé's cinematic tools are as powerful as those of the mentioned directors' and especially his Irréversible (2002) consists completely of long takes without edits and with miraculous crane shots. If the Cuba director and Tarkovsky would have been mutated into one individual, that would have possibly been Gaspar Noé as the visuality and themes these makers have are as unique as the amount of honest and uncommercial talents working in cinema nowadays.
Soy Cuba is definitely among the few films that have my greatest praisings even though it offers no "serious theme or message" to deliver to the world, and the one it has to deliver to Cuba is the oldest mean mankind has lived together, always failing. The cinematic tools of the film are incredible and the two other directors mentioned here, having (had) the same potential have also delivered immortal and timeless themes and mental gifts to the world and mankind. Still that doesn't make the technical achievements of Cuba any less brilliant.
The Toxic Avenger (1984)
Much more clever than I remembered
This Troma film, a piece of symphatetic and not uninteresting trash by veterans Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz, THE TOXIC AVENGER (USA, 1985) turned out to be even funnier and genuinely more clever little film as I re-watched it last night on the wonderful Tox Box DVD set released by Troma (including all three films in director's cut versions!)
First of all, I admire the speed the directors manage to maintain throughout the film, minutes just pass by without even thinking about it which is definitely not always the case with B films. The characters are very noisy and irritating most of the time, but that fits to the own world of the film, the Tromaville, and thus doesn't feel annoying anymore. I think this is something many other trash films have never achieved, for example the awful 2002 film THE HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES by musician Rob Zombie, whose film tries to be funny (the characters laugh at their own jokes all the time etc.) but doesn't manage to create an interesting or original world of its own at all - and that's why the idiotic characters and neverending talking/screaming starts to feel very irritating. Unlike THE TOXIC AVENGER, Zombie's film leaves nothing to the viewer's brain.
Especially like the German expressionist piece and cinematically breathtaking achievement DAS CABINET DES DR. CALIGARI by Robert Wiene, the Troma film has created a wild and wonderful world in which the unusually wild and excessively behaving and reacting (face expressions and other representations of one's feelings) characters fit perfectly. Also, THE TOXIC AVENGER has some satiric elements in it, mostly towards the youth in general with its desperate searches for a stronger identity, usually at the expense of the weaker and "uglier." The actors are all great. The scene in which a mother of some brat is "washed" in a very unusual manner strenghtens the mentioned interpretation about the youth even more. The film manages to point out some errors and negative sides of the society with black humor and dares also to show the flag in a little different (and more realistic, as any other flag on Earth) light than, for example, Michael Bay which is great, too.
Of course the film is also full of sex, women's breasts and ultra violence not to speak of awful editing and continuity errors but they kind of add to the unique and over-energetic world of the film. The best thing here is that the makers knew what they were doing - outrageous trash - they knew that the film won't be appreciated by the Academy, for example, but they also knew that despite those facts and "authorities", their film can have many themes and ideas, even more than those that get golden statues.
My greetings to the lunatics at Tromaville!
Greta - Haus ohne Männer (1977)
Typical Franco film
Ilsa - The Wicked Warden (USA, German, Swiss, 1977) is the fourth installment in the repellently themed "nazsploitation" Ilsa series that began with Canadian Don Edmond's Ilsa - She Wolf of the SS in 1974. The good thing is that this Franco film does not include any nazis or camps in it, just turkeyish plot in which the Ilsa character Dyanne Thorne runs a hospital that turns out to be, surprisingly, a nasty place in which girls are being tortured and force-showered without the outer world knowing anything about the place! Well credibility has never been Franco's strongest point.
The film has practically all the typical and main Franco elements in it. It has very slow parts that are totally unnecessary to the "plot" or narrative, they are just there to make the film run a little longer. It has the director in a brief role, it has at least two prolonged shower scenes and imaginative attempts to show Franco's wife and sensual actress Lina Romay nude in front. And naturally it has several scenes of violence and sexual sadism, and since the film was produced by the European trash/sleaze king Erwin C. Dietrich (producer of Franco's Jack the Ripper (1976) and the awful Eine armee gretchen that belongs to the most ridiculous celluloid misusages of the whole cinematic history, directed by the producer himself in 1973), it is nothing but greedy sexploitation for the whole 90 minutes.
Another thing that is typical for Franco is that he likes to add some symbolism to his films, as if he really had had something in mind but was unable to, for one reason or another, really deliver the message with the film. I'm talking about the ending that definitely belongs to the most unforgettable endings of the director's colorful filmography and would have worked fine in the more ambitious hands. Now it is just there after 85 minutes of honest exploitation so it is impossible to be taken seriously after the footage that has just been shown. Also, would that world really be any safer or "cleaner" even if the protagonist she-devil was killed?
Due to the ending and its potential, this belongs to the more interesting Franco films. Otherwise it is just as boring, slow moving and gratuitous money-taker as most other exploitation films by Franco, Italy or any other region.
Lisa, Lisa (1974)
Sick and twisted axshler oddity of the seventies
Frederick R. Friedel's Lisa, Lisa (1974, more famous titles include Axe and The California Axe Massacre) is among those weird and twisted horror exploitation films that were made in the US and elsewhere especially in the seventies after Herschell Gordon Lewis had "created" the "gore movie" term with his Blood Feast (1963) and other similar films of his. The closest thing to Friedel's film that I can imagine is Marc Lawrence's ultra rare Daddy's Deadly Darling aka Pigs (1972) which has equally menacing rural milieu, dark and deadly farm houses and overall feel of unexplained psychosis.
Axe opens with a scene with three well suited gangsters that wait for their friend who apparently has betrayed them and so will get a lesson from the boys. A murder takes place after which an escape from police to the farm areas. They terrorize an innocent shop keeper on their way and finally make it to a house inhabited by a shy, silent and very strange girl, Lisa, and her paralyzed and helpless grandfather whom Lisa lives with, alone. The gangsters soon notice the attractiveness of the young girl (very strangely and making the film even more "suspicious" considered what will happen later in the film, the cover of the old British tape which was banned, says the age of the girl being thirteen while there's not a mention of her age in the film itself!) and some axe wielding and also boringly slow moving terror soon happens.
The film runs only 60 minutes plus the credits but it feels much longer. This is the kind of marginal horror film that practically cannot be seen/watched more than once as it offers nothing significantly special or interesting that would give a motive to see it again sometimes in the future. Even those mostly looking for gore in their films won't get too much from this film, which isn't always the case. The story is filled with mysterious holes and unexplained things and none of the characters get developed to anywhere so they are all more than uninteresting. Nothing about the past of the gangsters and the reason of the beginning, nothing about the girl and her strange silence and self destructive behaviour, nothing. But there are some elements in the film that make me wonder what was in the head of the director/writer, other than to make another exploitation cheapie for the drive-ins.
Most notably I mean the ending which is among the most twistedly repellent I've seen in these films. The cannibalistic habits of Tobe Hooper characters will feel tame in comparison to those of the Axe's people as nothing is explained and Lisa acts as "naughtily" towards her relative as she does towards the thugs. This is definitely among the things that I will remember about this film, and also the final nail to the coffin of these "so twisted and insane no wonder the directors don't have plenty of future films on their credits" films to which the mentioned Pigs, in which, the pigs of a mysterious old farm keeper eat people, also belongs.
Otherwise Axe is not as strong or graphic as some of the time's other efforts. There are couple of murders and attempted violations of the girl, but much is left off-screen which definitely isn't a bad idea. Still this is an exploitation film and includes also some nastier bits and gore, with the kind of close-ups and other camera proofs that make it clear what were the motives to make this film and market it like. There's nothing interesting visually, and the editing is sometimes very bad as well as the acting and that makes it naturally even more difficult to sit through, despite its short running time.
The only really interesting and effective element in the film is the soundtrack that consists of very strange and high keyboard voices and waves that naturally are among the things that make the film look and sound so weird when compared to other films of its kind. The soundtrack may sound annoying too, but it adds nicely to the atmosphere and it becomes clear that things inside Lisa's head are not as they should, but since nothing is explained further and nothing else is this interesting, it cannot raise this film too much higher and the element can be appreciated only as a single succesful piece in a very flawed work. But it still could be completely without interest (and run longer), so spending the hour with this odd example of the seventies B cinema didn't just go in vain as it could have! 2/10
La bête (1975)
Polish film maker Walerian Borowczyk's La Bête (French, 1975, aka The Beast) is among the most controversial and brave films ever made and a very excellent one too. This film tells everything that's generally been hidden and denied about our nature and our sexual nature in particular with the symbolism and silence of its images. The images may look wild, perverse, "sick" or exciting, but they are all in relation with the lastly mentioned. Sex, desire and death are very strong and primary things and dominate all the flesh that has a human soul inside it. They interest and temptate us so powerfully (and by our nature) that they are considered scary, unacceptable and something too wild to be true.
A sophisticated young woman travels with her mother to a French countryside to meet her soon-to-become husband whom with she has had a letter affair of some kind. All are very exciting and each others' parents and relatives wait impatiently to see the new people arriving to their families. The innocence of the young bride shines through and no one knows what can happen and wake up inside the walls of the big and beautiful French mansion, with all its humans and animals, and a mysterious "la bête" that turns out to be something that the characters, nor most of the film's audience, could have never imagined to be real and (in front of) them.
The film is about the same theme as Canadian David Cronenberg's debyt feature Shivers (1975), which happens inside a huge luxury building in which destructive and gory parasites spread from human to human by sexual contact and make people act furiously and violently in their lust for pleasure and fulfilment of instincts. Human has instincts that can be and are stronger than his will and that is why those instincts can be as dangerous and powerful as the instincts of some other animal, a beast, be it a lust for blood, revenge or sex and carnal pleasure. Humans are only animals that have intelligence and tools to convey it but because we are also animals, that intelligence is not always used too much as can be seen anywhere around us. The film opens greatly, and very shockingly for most hypocritic attitudes, showing a horny male horse raging in fury as he waits to get inside the mare and continue the race, but the rage and visible lust we see from his eyes and violent movements are the key elements of that beginning and why it is there, not the close-ups of organs as could be so easily claimed. The horse is a beast that battles in an almost unbearable heat, in heat that's much stronger than his will as he doesn't have any control at that point anymore. The power of the instinct makes an animal a beast.
After the memorable beginning, the characters get introduced, and the film fantastically has all the necessary age groups inside it from the little innocent children waiting to grow up and develop to their blossom, to the adults and elders that all represent their own part of the lifespan, creating the face of human life on screen. A film doesn't necessarily need more characters this way as all the important ones are already there and represent the whole race, including the urban and countryside inhabitants, and both sexes. The mansion makes the protagonist girl's sexuality wake as she saws the horses coupling and acting like she obviously has never thought of. For the first time she sees something unique and something that excites and feels almost vital for her and her body, like getting water when you're very thirsty. The transformation of the girl is a very important element in the film as she has lived unaware of these things inside her, with his mother and camera and a letter-boyfriend, even though the things have just waited for the moment to burst out. Flesh desires flesh and that belongs to being a humanimal, but still those things are not so easily admitted everywhere and films like these trying to depict it get banned for decades? Man's stupidity and unwillingness to interpret images must not be an argument for a film being banned or otherwise violated.
The film's last 30 minutes are also as important as the beginning, and once again show how powerful cinema is without needless words and talk. As the girl and audience realizes what her body starts to feel and desire, she starts to have dreams about the mysterious beast that turns out to be none other than the undressed form of ourselves, having lived in the woods without other people/beasts near him. The dream sequence is the one that causes and caused most of the controversy alongside the film's overall straight and honest attitude, and the images are so easy to be judged as "perverse" and "pornographic", without a courage to go deeper into them, character reactions and thoughts behind what we see. The images are exciting in her dream and also eventually inside the dream for the dream's (more) human character, and Borowczyk forces us to admit it with the images that are so close to a "normal" sexual act between a man and a female, which is a beautiful thing and expression of love, another human need. Also the numerous, and cleverly blackly humorous love making scenes inside the mansion, between the young mother and the black servant, get interrupted many times as someone screams for the servant, for example, and there's no doubt that the sensual image of two young human bodies being together and being interrupted with an angry shout at least doesn't become any more pleasant by the interruption. Borowczyk has managed to paint his images so beautiful and "sensitive" that his message is almost impossible to be misunderstood, but nothing seems to be impossible for our cultures and minds that criticize art. He uses dialogue only when it's necessary, otherwise the images do the job and make the film powerful.
Death is also there, as flesh dies sooner or later, after years of life and instincts, it dies. The ending is inevitable but the meaning of the dream sequence could have also been as powerful without the kind of dramatic and "revealing" ending too. Another blackly humorous element comes when we see the shocked city women running out of the place in which they saw a little more than they were looking for! They visited the mansion of truth about flesh, us and them. The film reminds me of French writer Georges Bataille's Story of the Eye with its same themes about eroticism, death and how they both are always connected to the nature of our flesh. The book is well written and fantastic as well as this film, and naturally both have been blamed for their "too explicit" content and other equally noteworthy shallow comments.
Borowczyk's film is also very beautiful visually alongside its raw honesty, and the nature and forest have rarely looked so bright and shining as they do in this film. The sun shines through the trees, and to everyplace where humans live, and the beauty of it is always there, but so is the ugliness that originates by the inhabitants of the world. To every innocent white sheep there's a selfish, evil and horrible beast in our world and that is why the intelligence we have been given never fully seems to overcome the power of our bad instincts and the other side of the sheep, present inside every human soul. It is about how many manages to keep the dark side passive and not active. The fulfilment of some of our instincts is not a bad thing, and by using this intelligence and seeing which of the instincts are good and which bad, they can be satisfied without exploitation, violence and the lethal and destructive circle created by it. Human is not more than an animal with intelligence, intelligence that is so easy to be forgotten and eaten to the background by things that feel better and more satisfying at each and perhaps sudden moment. Borowczyk's film is a masterpiece, unforgettable and clever piece of magical cinema with ageless theme and also an example of how much can be achieved, expressed and given by a film maker, who is also only a human.
Today I'm dirty, tomorrow just dirt - Time, deeds, man
Argentinian born French film maker Gaspar Noé is already one of the most important and powerful film makers of all time. His 1998 debut feature film Seul Contre Tous is an unforgettably merciless but also so uniquely rewarding depiction of rotten society with even more rotten human beings that inhabit it with their selfishness and potential to violence and revenge - those things that everyone feels sometimes, more or less often, and things that only create more of them when not kept inactive and off. The last 15 minutes of Seul Contre Tous include some of the most unimaginably brilliant editing and camerawork (including a body-mounted camera and clever communication/estranging with the unsuspecting audience) not to speak of the soundtrack, which force us to see the truth about ourselves and things around us. Those mentioned elements are also the same that stamp the work of Japanese film maker Shinya Tsukamoto (Tetsuo in 1988, Gemini in 1999) who is also a friend of Noé. These two directors do most of the important parts of their film making themselves (camera operating, editing, directing, writing..) and both have the talent to smash the viewer straight to the face and force him and her to think and even change towards something better. Now Noé has even surpassed his power and moment of total breathlessness of Seul Contre Tous with his 2002 film Irréversible, a masterpiece that has the same ability to change people's lives and attitudes towards a better world, but with the kind of power of imagery and soundtrack that only few, unfortunately, as films like these deserved more attention and respect, are willing to accept and understand.
Alex (Monica Bellucci), Marcus (Vincent Cassel) and Pierre (Albert Dupontel) are three French friends who live peacefully and also in love, as Alex and Marcus are together and love each other genuinely. Alex has also been with Pierre but their thing didn't work and now they are only friends and all three get along more than well. Comes a weekend night and time to go to have some fun with more friends. Then, as some alcohol and drugs are involved, comes some arguing with the lovers and Alex decides to go home to sleep and leave her drunken boyfriend to dance alone. Unfortunately for all (but fortunately for the real ill world and audience for whom this film with its message is made for) she meets the most evil thing ever possible to live inside the flesh and bones of human being and a terrible rape takes place. How does man with his instincts react when he learns something terrible and violent has happened to his loved one and there's also a possibility to get to know who did it? Revenge is a human need has the mighty director said and the man's potential for mindless violence, lack of moral and willing to take revenge are the main themes of this important film and it all is told with so much genius and unique elements the film already belongs to the list of the unmatched and the films that managed to make and achieve something for the first time in the history.
The film is told backwards so that we'd see even clearlier what results from what and then we are forced to ask ourselves why, which requires to look inside our own heads and souls and look into the mirror. The film begins with the most infernal 20 minutes of the whole movie history and culminates to the most graphically violent and mentally and physically shocking sequence ever created that leaves no questions for what is the real nature of violence, and thus revenge, like. The incredible colors, lights and darkness of the beginning are already something very powerful and unique, but are accompanied even further by truly incredible usage and movements of camera as it twists and shakes in agony of forthcoming and present terror for the whole beginning of the film. The film has only 19 or so parts/scenes as it's told without single edits inside the parts. The form is very convincing and unconventional and naturally makes it even more realistic and easy to connect to our own world. Those who blame the disturbingly strobing, pounding and restless (sonic) imagery of the beginning don't know how much camera is in cinema and how a talented maker can use it, depict and show with it. It is Hell we're witnessing at the beginning of Irréversible so why would've Noé made it look peaceful, calm and harmless as it's all really bad and wicked even and especially for those who support it as we soon learn at the Rectum finale. It is Hell that can be found anywhere where humans live, be and do deeds together and to one another.
Noé's camerawork is definitely something very difficult to imagine to be created and the director has said in interviews that there were indeed some segments (mostly the party sequence) when he thought he'd become crazy as it all was so difficult to do and keep in control. The camera is not so wild and restless after the beginning as there isn't even a reason for that, again an example of what does camera mean in cinema and how it must be used without being gratuitous or meaningless. The crane shots of the beginning of the story but the ending of the film are also breathtaking and hypnotic and also show for one last time what is another key element of (the) film alongside the imagery: the soundtrack and music, sounds and voices of the film. The soundtrack consists of menacing, pounding and with one word infernal sounds and also electric music, but those waves are the ones that are not likely to be found from any other film. The sounds make the happenings of the screen look like how they are inside the film and how they would be if and when something like that happened in real life. Never have I experienced and heard the soundtrack strengtening the images as it does in Irréversible. I had one of the year 2002's greatest and unforgettable moments when I saw the film on big screen, which it demands, and I will never forget the feelings I had during the opening of the film, and after I had read about the elements and creating of the soundtrack, I understood even more about the uneasiness of myself and the audience as well as the genius of its creator. If one decides not to agree with Noé about the anti-violent message of the film, he will be smashed numb in front of the images and sounds whether he wanted it or not.
The point of the unspeakable violence of the film is to make it look and feel as bad and irreversible as in real world too. When the revenge takes place and we experience something extremely ugly and both physically and mentally painful Noé forces us to see the things that the avenging minds don't see, at least in time, how violence always requires more of it as human beings are pretty much the same animal and we all share these instincts and potential which still could and can be fought against. The revenge and its destroying face comes clear when we ask ourselves who did, what did, to whom did and finally why did, and when the viewer admits those things and accepts the answers the message Noé meant has been delivered. In films violence can be harrowingly brutal, shocking and graphic without being gratuitous and just cheap exploitation shock, and that is the case with Noé's work as in any other important film that builds and gives, and never takes/exploits anything by raping the tool of cinema. After the Rectum finale, only a stupid and a weak mind can think that any wise decisions were made, after the fateful rape, by the characters, humans.
Also the infamous crime scene that started it all is so easy to be judged as "unacceptable" and, even more laughably, "pornographic", as now it is nothing less than effective and useful for its purpose, useful to show the nature of sexual violence and how it really is, ugly, nauseating, sadistic and without respect for human life. If someone asks why such a long scene of rape must be filmed as those kind of things happen in real world all the time, the answer is a new question: since those things happen around us all the time and other tools have not been able to stop them or other violence in our world, why couldn't an artist try his own extremely powerful tool (cinema, image and sound) to change and affect things and people? Can there be enough weapons to stop those things happening around us and why the attempts of cinema and a film maker so often are overlooked and not given the acceptance and importance they deserved? Perhaps because they show too much about our very selves and to admit it, that everyone of us is just a human, is too difficult for many.
Another important theme of the film is that of its title, how things and deeds are and remain how they once get done, and the more serious and critical the deed is, the more we look and think about it afterwards, still never being able to change it once it's been done as time is so merciless. Beautiful, sunny and sweet things full of life can turn into destruction, darkness, agony, death and eternal loss especially if wrong and fast decisions are made and too much power for the animal instincts are given. Noé's phrase "time destructs everything" is more than true, but also, to some extent, possible to be affected by us who live this world and life so that no more destruction than there already is would take place. Too often precious things get killed because we didn't understand and see early enough, and that's why films like this are universal and eternally fresh in their themes. The film is not thoroughly pessimistic and hopeless due to certain images of beauty and possibility; the images of the beginning were destructed by a happening not possible to be prevented but the total death and Hell could have been prevented, and that's why we, the audience see it first.
The actors all do incredible job as there wasn't a script for the film, only a few written pages about the main happenings and parts of the story so all the dialogue was improvised by Noé's instructions and the three do it very naturally and it is not possible to guess there wasn't a screenplay for them without knowing it. In any possible aspect this film is unique and like no other: it was made like no other, it includes images and sounds like no other, and it has a theme and message so strong like no other film (some getting close) in the whole history of movie making. Great art doesn't need to be conventional and like the other works of its kind, and possibly the greatest thing an artist can achieve is a new, powerful, view and way to present it. That Noé achieved and delivered. He did a masterpiece in 1998 and he did another, even more powerful masterpiece in 2002. Both films are perfect in my values and thus among the most important works ever made. Noé did these two and he's still young and full of ideas about themes and elements which he will use in his forthcoming projects. He must not be left outside the canon of the most important masters and philosophers of cinema like some other have, and the world doesn't even know how much it gets if the financers of his films would understand this too. It is like I and the other audience didn't know what was to come when the hypnotic credits of Irréversible started to roll on the silent screen. 10/10
Un delitto poco comune (1988)
Promising but also flawed thriller
Ruggero Deodato's Un Delitto poco comune aka Off Balance (1987) is an Italian thriller about a wealthy and happy pianist (Michael York) whose life turns upside down after the doctors find a very rare and lethal disease inside him. He starts to grow older very fast, having only few months to live or so and things turn even darker for him as someone starts to viciously murder those close to him. The plot follows police agent Donald Pleasance's attempts to find the killer before it's too late as well as the pianist's own efforts to return a some kind of balance to his life.
Film maker Ruggero Deodato has made one of the most challenging and important films of all time, Cannibal Holocaust (1979) which tells about rotten media violence and the animal species that consumes it. The film is notorious for its unspeakable acts of carnal violence but none of it is in vain or gratuitous which is way too much for some viewers to understand and admit as most of them can't face themselves on the screen. Deodato has also made pure exploitation trash like the 1980 La Casa sperduta nel parco aka The House at the Edge of the Park or Inferno in diretta aka Cut & Run (1985) both of which are mostly just extremely gratuitously violent but also have at least some thoughts and themes to make them more interesting than other nasty and gory Italian films of the period.
Off Balance is written by Gianfranco Clerici whose other credits include the mentioned masterpiece Cannibal Holocaust with Deodato as well as The House at the Edge of the Park but also Lucio Fulci's sadistic and misogynistic terror tale Lo Squartatore di New York aka The New York Ripper (1982) the last two of which are perfect opposites to the firstly mentioned and its subject matter. Off Balance is easily among their weakest works but, fortunately, has some brain too in addition to blood.
The film has a very promising beginning with the first murder scene taking place during the credits inter-cutting to calm scenes depicting the protagonist play piano in his concert. The film moves fastly from the beginning and the characters and their relations get introduced well too. But ultimately, after the first half or so the film loses its fire and becomes slower with plenty of talk and things that don't make too much sense, mostly involving the killer and his (absent) motives for his vicious acts. I can't name one single explanation for his acts and that is rather frustrating once one has realized that. The things that are discussed in the second part are also interesting and important but they are presented with too much contrast with the more lively first half.
The film's theme about aging and living one's life while it's offered and on hand is of course important and surprisingly well-concentrated on in the script and practically the whole last part is about this and not about the killings anymore. The film tries to make the audience understand how important it is not to let your life pass by without living it, as there may come times in the future that you start regretting it as life after all would have offered something interesting and worth living. It definitely doesn't say life or youth ends when your hair go off but it says that some things should be understood not by experience but for example by other people around us or art depicting these things.
The film works also as a pure giallo thriller as it has its moments of suspense and mystery and of course the graphic blood letting. There are few nasty murders in the film, both at the very beginning and they are definitely very "Italian like" with the huge amount of red color sprayed over the screen. The second one is very close to Dario Argento's style but serves not any other purpose than itself, unlike the great usage of similar effect in Argento's Tenebre (1982) for example. The effects are pretty good and the aging character becomes all the more tragic as we see the horrible face mutations of his in so little time. York does a believable role and never over-acts at all.
Off Balance is more promising and potential than some other films of the giallo/slasher genre and since it's Italian, it could've been so much more than it now is. Deodato and Clerici have once proved to be a very efficient couple but it seems they're ambitions are either not supported by the producers anymore or have just changed a little bit in themselves. 3/10
Forced Entry (1973)
The ultimate experience in filthy sickness on film
Shaun Costello's (some akas for him include Amanda Barton, Warren Evans and Helmuth Richler) 1972 US hard core porn/horror film Forced Entry is among the most infamous and thoroughly mean spirited films ever made, albeit very rare and hard to get, dealing with the subject matter that is not suitable at all for purposes of entertainment, that is rape, as painfully realistic as possible and without any other meaning than the shock exploitation value. Rape can be just as graphic and horrible as in Forced Entry, French film maker master Gaspar Noé's 2002 masterpiece Irréversible being perhaps the strongest example with its anti violent themes, and it is only about how those scenes are used and why. Forced Entry goes shamefully wrong at every possible question.
A deeply disturbed Vietnam veteran working at a gas station called "Joe's Friendly Service" is played by an ex-porn star Harry Reems (as Tim Long) and he hates females. The opening credits tell that the veterans are left and returned to society with deep feeling of fear, rage, frustration and anger, all of which are definitely true, and that all they need is a victim and an enemy. The protagonist's enemies are the members of the opposite sex whom he sadistically and extremely brutally rapes and then kills. He speaks dirty things to them during the act, things like "you better start liking that, bi**h", and the film concentrates on these long scenes of sexual violence and misogynism. So that's the story of the film, going from the previous victim to the next one, he gets their addresses as they visit his gas station and after the day, he finds the houses and it starts again..
The film is very amateurish in most levels, there are meaningless camera zooms and movements everywhere, the microphone can be seen on the top of the screen, the acting is only occasionally convincing (mostly the rape victims are not always at all realistic, they may even have a neutral expression on their face!) and the film is just so plain dirty and smut filled as possible. Reems' character is pure evil and sadism and violence are his best friends, but far more convincing and also challenging performance of this kind can be found, for example, in William Lustig's Maniac (1980) with the late Joe Spinelli as the maniac. Also, the endings of these two films are pretty close to each other but again Lustig makes it really harrowing and uses his camera with talent, not to speak of the incredible Jay Chattaway composed soundtrack.
Forced Entry has plenty of more or less actual war atrocities footage to add to the shock value, and a premise of this kind could create a wonderful piece of cinema, with plenty of social criticism and thoughts about the "civilization" of our world and how it contrasts with the wars and other things we do to each other all the time. A great example of this is Buddy Giovinazzo's challenging Combat Shock (aka American Nightmare, 1986) which depicts the living hell of a Vietnam veteran as he tries to survive the dirty, drug filled and violent streets around him, with no work and no one to help him anywhere. Forced Entry uses plenty of the war images which are pretty harrowing, to say the least, but don't add anything to anything as the film doesn't have a theme and any kind of meaning other than to be among the most notorious examples of the hard core sex film market. Also the editing is very bad at times during these flashback scenes, too fast and irritating and probably finished with the other eye already in the schedule of the next sex film to be made.
The rape scenes themselves are very strong and pretty hard to watch. If I noticed myself watching a film like this more than once, I'd really stop and ask myself what the hell am I doing? The rape scenes leave nothing to the dirty imagination, they include mostly oral sex and all in extreme close ups with shocking and mean dialogue from which the rapist seems to excite even more. This is a plotless porn film with a story of some kind and the main concentration is on how it could be made as sick and disturbing as possible. The murders are very badly made but graphic enough to leave even worse taste in the mouth after the rapes have been finished. There are no strong or surviving female characters in the film, all either get raped and killed or then messed up by drugs and thus acting like idiots. Neither the male characters are too plenty in the film, but as the Reems protagonist is the dominating abuser all the time, it all leaves a very misogynistic taste in the mouth after all, and it is pretty impossible to come up with a justification of its existence for a film of this kind. It is ready to go as far as possible to deliver the ultimate shock-excitement experience, with no thoughts on what kind of things they are in fact depicting and dealing with.
Forced Entry is not a film, it is an attempt to make some money by temptating the sex film audience by its controversy and graphic content which all rapes a tool called film and cinema. This is easily the lowest and also most disgusting film I've seen, surpassing even the Japanese Guinea Pig series, with titles like Devil's Experiment (1985) and The Flowers of Flesh and Blood (1985), and it is just because the makers didn't care for anything and let our nature's most dangerous and vile instincts come active while "writing" and shooting their product. 1/10
Yeuk ji luen (1993)
Thoroughly perverse and twisted example of HK nastiness
Billy Chung Siu Hung's (the bloody swordplay film Assassin from 1993) film Love To Kill (Hong Kong, 1993) is among the strongest products of the Category III boom that inhabited the HK cinema in early nineties. It consisted of films with strong sex, nudity and violence, more or less gratuitous and shock valued only. Love To Kill definitely belongs to the "more" category with some unforgettable ideas and pieces of celluloid sickness.
The HK psycho Anthony Wong (from the award winning The Untold Story by Herman Yau, from the same year) plays a business man and a husband who likes to torture, humiliate and rape his young wife (Elizabeth Lee Mei Fung) who for some reason doesn't leave him and save herself and their little son from the disturbed tormentor. A policeman (Danny Lee, the famous police character actor from films like Dr. Lamb (1992) by Billy Tang (and co-directed by Lee) and The Killer (1989) by John Woo to name just a few) however sees the problem and starts to protect the wife and the son but Anthony naturally doesn't like this at all, and leads it all into the typical ultra-mean spirited and graphic finale during a rain storm.
The film is almost completely without any serious merits as it's just a piece of exploitation in order to cash in when these kind of films were so popular. The imagery and happenings are something never found in the Western cinema, at least in mainstream, and it all becomes even more mind-blowing when some/most taboos for Westerners, like violence and perversions witnessed by a child, are broken in these films so often that reading the plotlines alone would make most viewers feel sick, and that goes perfectly especially for this film too.
The film still has a rather interesting and creepy soundtrack in the tradition of the mentioned Dr. Lamb which practically started the whole boom in 1992. Usually the music and soundtrack in HK films is interesting and adds to the imagery, especially in these terror films. Also the cinematography is worth mentioning as the film bathes, especially in the finale, in blue colors and camera lenses (as does Assassin, too), and the raging storm is captured nicely on the camera. Otherwise there's nothing that would rate the film any higher other than on the nastiness-meter.
The actors and actresses are talented and professional and so don't make the film any worse with their acting. Still the film has the usual HK humor in it which makes the sick goings-on even sicker as some "humor" is thrown into the soup. That includes some jokes about Danny Lee's erection and so on..Something that could never be found in the Western "serious" films either. And that thing usually destroys mane otherwise noteworthy HK films as the humor is just so obvious way and attempt to entertain the audience and masses.
The film has a very high outrageousness level as it has numerous scenes depicting the abuse of Wong's wife in various ways. She gets raped and molested, beaten and kicked by her husband. We also get to see some flashbacks from Wong's own childhood which turns out to be equally violent as his own father killed too and turned his young son into what he is now. These flashback scenes, mostly at the end of the film, include also some totally unexpected experiences as the imagery is speeded up (for example the hits of an axe) and that creates completely insane and mean spirited atmosphere to the scene. Again something that only HK exploitation makers seem to be able to come up with. The ending itself includes plenty of sudden and shocking gore as the madman wields his axe and meets also some nails, for example, on his furious way.
The film is also genuinely pretty "suspicious" in my opinion as the violence and terror is realistically painful and deals with things that should NEVER be taken as entertainment, mostly I mean rape. The version I saw (I've seen two versions) includes a very long and completely nauseating rape scene that just tries to be as sadistic as possible. I'm not sure does the HK audience really like imagery like this but I think no one with some sense for morality in films/entertainment would never accept or make something like it. Women get brutalized and killed in the most sadistic and low ways so that the fates of the men seem almost tame when compared to the females.
The other version I saw, the newly released DVD in HK (without subtitles) has this "table brutality" scene in a much longer form than the subtitled Taiwanese DVD which is otherwise identical to the HK version. I've also heard that the old HK Laserdisc is different from these two and since the end credits are filled with scenes and images not found in the actual film, it is impossible to say how "uncut" versions these that have been released or shown theatrically are. Obviously plenty of footage has been cut out, possibly even before the theatrical release.
The film is written by Law Gam Fai and Lau Wing Kin, the former having written also films like Dr. Lamb, The Untold Story and Gunmen (Kirk Wong, 1988) but out of his other films that I've seen, Love to Kill is the most gratuitous. Dr. Lamb and The Untold Story both are very brutal and violent but have also some attempt to some criticism towards the authorities and men in general as how it is easy to turn into a beast when chasing or fighting one. The harrowing torture imagery of The Untold Story, the victim being the criminal, is very strong and definitely has its impact to change something that may be rotten in the society and among the police for example. But there's none of this in Love to Kill, it is just honest, calculated and fastly made exploitation which is, by the way, produced by a veteran director Kirk "Organized Crime & Triad Bureau (1993), Crime Story (1993)" Wong!
Love to Kill earns no more than 2/10 from me as I don't have too high appreciation on films like this. (HK) Cinema is meant to be and can be more and films like Love to Kill are only commercial parasites living among the real pieces of the art.
Wei qing (1993)
HK terror with Michael Wong and Ellen Chan
Kin Lo's Fatal Love (1995) is from the later days of the infamous CAT III boom of Hong Kong cinema. Fatal Love stars Michael Wong and Ellen Chan in a tale in which a young female police (Chan) gets a dangerous job to hunt down a suspected killer rapist Wong who is also a well-liked business man with rather good looks. So he may or he may not be the sadistic killer that likes to do sick things to the innocent female victims of his..The film is a traditional mystery thriller with the elements that were the reason it was made for in the first place, the CAT III elements, that are graphic sex and violence.
The film is pretty effective at times as it has an atmospheric, as usually in these HK films, soundtrack that includes low and menacing sounds to make the imagery and forthcoming terror even more horrible and unpleasant. One can just remember the opening frames (and sounds) of Hermay Yau's harrowing The Untold Story (1993) to get a great example of this terror created through sound and also unique camera techniques. But overall Fatal Love is nothing special as a totally serious film as it is so commercial and gratuitous in its excesses.
The sex and nudity is plentiful as can be expected and the ending is definitely unforgettable, totally and severely mean spirited that makes it hard to justify an existence of a film like this. Something that could be expected only from Hong Kong exploitation cinema. The amount of violence and gore is not too high but it is strong and its spirit very wicked.
Fatal Love is still slightly more above the most braindead examples of the boom, like Ivan Lai's two Daughter of Darkness (1993 and 1994) films or the same director's Peeping Tom (1997) to name just a few. Fatal Love doesn't have the typical "humor" or unbalance, it is pretty calm serial killer mystery all the way without any need to throw in the usual "funny" and noisy guy that plays with food and tells sex jokes and so on. Fatal Love is only violent exploitation cinema with low artistic and cinematic merits but it still could be much worse. 2/10
La endemoniada (1975)
Boring and dull Exorcist rip-off from Spain
Spanish director Amando de Ossorio (RIP) is famous for his living dead templar horror films that began with "Tombs of the Blind Dead" in 1971. This film, "The Possessed" (1975), is a cash-in of William Friedkin's "The Exorcist" (1973) and a very bad one. It has a creepy looking teenage girl cursed by some witch or wannabe and then she naturally creates horror around her while her parents and authorities start to investigate a priest about exorcism, Satan and so on..There's nothing special or original in the plot, nor in the whole film either.
The film has two pretty scary looking actors and I mean the witch and the lead girl who both have the face required to play in this kind of Satanic tale. The old witch make-up is also convincing and these little things are almost the only positive things that can be said about this slow and tired piece of Spanish film.
The protagonist priest is the only one that has even a little depth in him as we get to learn something about his past. This is nice and gives also some potential to criticise some more or less hypocritic things that can be related to being a priest and denying one's human feelings and needs. But nothing is used so ambitiously, the priest only gets to develop slightly higher than the other characters but nothing else.
The special and horror effects are also very bad and few. There's no gore or on-screen carnage as usually in these films, only some very badly acted scenes of demonic violence and one rather pointless (off screen) castration commited by a devil. The atmosphere is only very rarely anything interesting, and practically always involves either the girl or the witch and their faces. One laughably bad "horror scene" is straightly from "The Exorcist" (among many other elements in the film) and has equally bad "trick effect" as Italian Joe D'Amato's exploitation sickie "Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals" from 1977.
The English dubbing is awful as well as some of the dialogue. The dialogue thinks the audience is very stupid and so every "important" thought of a character is said and spoken out so that nothing is left to the imagination, like "How the hell you have my voice?" as an example of this hilarious stupidity!
"The Possessed" is a very bad and uninteresting piece of horror film and definitely among the worst examples of "rip offs" in general. Only the very few things mentioned make this to the 2/10 level which means that I won't ever return to this film again but will keep on watching other films by the director who definitely is capable for more.
Ultra gory later day Franco
Spanish exploitation/sleaze/horror king Jess Franco's "Faceless" (Spanish, French, 1988) is one of his more interesting works and has a remarkably bigger budget, too, when compared to some of his older and duller films, like "El Sádico de Notre-Dame" (1974) with its numerous aka titles to name just one. Faceless has a very typical story that is like in his 1962 classic horror film "Gritos en la noche" aka "The Awful dr. Orloff" and like in that film, Howard Vernon plays "Orloff" in Faceless, too. The plot however is very thin but still the film never feels boring or too long thanks to some interesting elements in the film.
A beautiful French female gets her face ruined by some crazy woman who throws acid on her face. Her determined brother is a doctor and promises to restore her beauty and make her look an attractive girl again. This he will achieve by kidnapping young females to his clinic with the help of his nurses and a Morpho-like monster (referring to the Orloff classic from 1962), and it is not too long before they kidnap a model girl whose father starts to worry about his daughter's disappearance and so he sends a one-faced cop to France to search for her. So there's nothing too special or never-seen in the plot but still Franco manages to maintain our interest with pretty good actors, pacing and (of course) graphic gore all of which are not always present in his other, worse, movies.
This is not a typical Franco flick at all as it hasn't got gratuitous nudity and plenty of it. Of course, since this is directed by him, there are lusty characters who crave for sexual pleasure almost all the time and this animality side of human nature is a real theme in some of his classics, most notably his 1981 women-in-prison film "Sadomania - Hölle der Lust" and the 1977 classic "Liebesbriefe einer portugiesischen Nonne" aka "Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun", both of which depict humans as pretty much animals living only to satisfy their instincts for violence and especially sex, the latter film also having some commentary about church and hypocrisy that can be related to it. But these things are not so "deep" in Faceless anymore and the brief scenes of sexual intercourse and playings feel a little forced and unnecessary but fortunately they are as mentioned very brief.
There's one very interesting character here, and that is the nazi doctor who has done some horrifying experiments on living humans back in the war camps, and he is sent to complete the face transplantation for the girl. There are also some interesting issues about superficiality inside modern society in which external beauty is the most important thing for some/most, and this accompanied with the presence of the most wicked of them all, the nazi doctor, gives the film a fair amount of thoughts about rotten and disturbed society and how far its inhabitants may be ready to go in order to reach the selfish goal and save their own skin (not pun) at the expense of others. As the real life atrocity nazi character is there it all becomes more harrowing and haunting, especially when he indeed looks quite scary physically, too.
The ending leaves some things open but still it is pretty effective and crystallizes the theme of the film described above. It is obvious this film is so easy to sit through as it really has something more than just graphic gore and face mutilation, things that would have been the only things in this film if some less ambitious director had made it. And Franco always (well, almost) seems to be very interested to add something deeper in his (exploitation) films which is nice.
The gore and exploitation elements are pretty strong and present throughout the film. A needle gets plunged into the victim's eye in a zooming Franco close-up, a character gets drilled to the head in a pretty outrageous scene, but the most outrageous scenes involve the facial experiments and how good the special effects are here. It is "a little" more graphic than in John Woo's "Face Off" (1997), and Franco this time really is able to concentrate on the details and close-ups as there are nothing to be shamed of in the effects work this time. The gore and amount of it is pretty extreme so no matter what themes they had in mind, exploitation was still the main thing and those scenes pretty much the reason this film was made for in the first place.
Faceless is easily among the easiest to watch and more noteworthy films of film maker Jess Franco. It has not laughable over-acting, it has some professional actors in it, too (like Telly Savalas in a role of the father of the missing girl), it has some genuinely interesting issues which all are presented in a form of a traditional almost plot-free but well paced gore film. One major negative side for me is the awful 80's disco/pop soundtrack that plays throughout the movie and its various night club scenes and sounds like Wham or George Michael and so it is not a great delight to my ears. The plot is also full of holes and things that don't get explained (like what is in fact the status of a murder clinic of that kind?!) but still it could be much worse and ridiculous and Faceless is a respectable 5/10 achievement by the legendary Spaniard.
Non ho sonno (2001)
Argento's return to Giallos
Dario Argento's return to his most familiar and favourite genre, murder mystery (Giallo), is this 2001 film Non ho Sonno aka Sleepless which he also co-wrote with Franco Ferrini, his long time companion. The film is about a grisly murder that took place in 1983 and involved a "dwarf" and a very traumatic thing related to that. Seventeen years pass by and an unlucky prostitute seems to meet the same killer or a copycat, and so the years dead case becomes active again and the old detective (great Max von Sydow) is called back for some help, and he indeed starts to investigate the case even though he's been retired for many years. The plot is confusing to say the least and the film is again overlong, but are there any positive aspects in this newer film by Italian horror maestro?
The legendary rock band Goblin with Claudio Simonetti reunited for this film and that is easily among the film's greatest merits as their score and atmospheric electric guitar soundtrack is almost as wonderful as it is in Argento classics like Tenebre (1982) or Profondo Rosso (1975). The film's first 20 minutes are also among the best the film has to offer as it includes a nightmarishly prolonged chase in a night train during a heavy thunderstorm, exactly like in the masterpiece Suspiria (1977) and its first 15 minutes as well as in the finale of Tenebre, and the storm rages here as menacingly as it did in those classics. Even a less than a second frame of a lightning from the sky creates a wonderful tension here accompanied with the pounding music. Also the editing and camerawork is clever in that beginning and it is quite sad how the tone slows down and gets more tired after the promising beginning.
As mentioned, von Sydow is also very noteworthy aspect in the film and he is a professional, even though Argento definitely is not always too great with actors. It is easy to see von Sydow doesn't even need the assistance by the director, he knows how to do the scene and thus he saves a lot from this film, too. The typical magic bits of Argento like incredible colors, camera drives and darkness are only occasionally present here. The long camera drive over a carpet is like the similar scene involving an entire apartment with its walls and roof in Tenebre, and the darkness and usage of shadows is close to his noirish, but very flawed, 1996 film La Sindrome di Stendhal aka The Stendhal's Syndrome which starred his own daughter, Asia Argento. Non ho Sonno isn't too hypnotic or wonderful a film anymore, and clues of this were also visible in the mentioned 1996 film as well as the disastrous Trauma (1993) and Il Fantasma dell'opera aka Phantom of the Opera (1998). Apparently one thing Argento always manages to do are the extremely painful and graphic scenes of violence.
The violence is mainly towards females in this film which will definitely annoy some viewers as the scenes are easy to interpret misogynistic, but still there are normal, natural and safe female character(s) in the film, too, and among the leads, so let's not blame Argento for the former thing. The murders themselves are perhaps the strongest he has ever shot and come almost close to gratuitous exploitation with plenty of close ups of gushing wounds and violated victims. One scene is very similar with the "teeth crushing" of Profondo Rosso, as nasty and painful as in that film and all these scenes of infernal violence seem to serve is the shock value to create the "horror" which would be in fact much more effective if everything was not shown, or at least if the visuals and music were more noteworthy than in this film.
The film lacks again a theme of any kind so the film will look very frustrating and boring if one searches for something more than just a "surprising" murder mystery that goes on for too long. There's again an explanation of some kind for the acts of the murderer but they are not always so easy to take seriously, unfortunately. The film includes also a quite repulsive scene of a child witnessing a brutal murder of a relative so scenes as strong as these would require the piece to have a real theme and thus more reason to include scenes like those. The film is not so artistic anymore in any way, so unwillingly or not Argento has this time created only a piece of violent mystery thriller to satisfy the audience by the "entertainment" received by that, nothing more, those few cinematic merits mentioned above excluded naturally.
It is quite painful for the viewer to sit through films like this, Trauma and La Sindrome di Stendhal as they feel so slow and boring, mostly because the characters never become too interesting or multi leveled and there are scenes that are unnecessarily too long and not so important to the plot development, and they also usually involve, for example, the protagonist quite irritatingly talking to himself/herself as he/she tries to solve the case by himself in peace. Someway it all was and is really interesting in giallo classics Profondo Rosso or Tenebre as those films have more interesting characters and overall more merits in the imagery and soundtrack. Someway Argento seems to have lost his touch to the magic he owns, but hopefully he manages to get it back again some day. He just should concentrate on other things than graphic violence and too untraditional cases and explanations in his films.
Non ho Sonno is a 3/10 experience for me, after seen the uncut Italian version that has also been released in the UK. The US video/DVD under title "I Can't Sleep" is cut for violence and gore. This is on the same level with Stendhal, and that level is not too great or recommendable. Below that level are still Trauma and Phantom of the Opera so it could still be worse but something I wouldn't like to see from Argento.
Ooru naito ronga 3: Sanji (1996)
Humans.....are living garbage. Face it.
Japanese film maker Katsuya Matsumura is responsible for this extreme trilogy, All Night Long, that is highly controversial in Japan (and elsewhere where it's known) and only the first film, All Night Long (1992), managed to get a theatrical release, the sequels, All Night Long 2: Atrocity (1994) and All Night Long 3: The Final Atrocity (1996), were denied a theatrical release and so they received only a video market distribution of some kind.
This third entry is a little different from the first two films and concentrates on a disturbed teenager who works on some kind of a sex hotel in which customers visit with their sex companions, spend a steamy night together and then leave the room filled with used condoms and other filth around the place. This protagonist works there with another male and a slightly elder female who all are not as balanced human beings as they could. He collects pubic hair from the sheets and practises other similar anti-social things. Soon the boy starts to get obsessed with a girl that lives near and he starts to collect her trash and leftover food and everything possible. He becomes obsessed with trash bags and collects them to his room, bathing in filth, literally and eating (the girl's) garbage and making nice collections of her sanitary towels and so on. It is easy to get the picture by now, and the film really is as outrageous in its imagery and hard to take (to say the least) as it sounds. Welcome to the origins of living, sorry filth, the truth about our very selves, but in a very extreme and merciless way without too much hope for a better world anymore.
The film is as horrible as just possible, without any signs of humanity or purity left. The first film had that one female character, the second film had also at least one (albeit a very unbalanced and disturbed one after strong sexual humiliation etc.), but this third film is practically completely without those elements of hope. There are only bad, selfish, mean spirited and evil characters here who only try to keep on living by satisfying their instincts for carnal pleasure, humiliation and violence, all of which are usually practised together. The imagery and scenes are so dirty and depressing it really requires an "experienced" non-mainstream cinema viewer to be able to handle it, I would say according to what I felt when watching this. That is also among the film's negative things as it would have needed, like part 2, at least one ray of light among its characters, but, like the previous film, these sequels work better if they are watched as if they were connected to the first film straightly.
This third film is also the "smallest" in the series, taking place in the mysterious apartment/dumping ground environment where the half dead characters scrape their precarious living. The second was slightly better as it had those images of real life atrocities and terror, but the "largest" is easily the first film which takes place in a familiar society with its schools and other elements found everywhere where humans live. Still part 3 has many scenes of products of industrialism (like military aeroplanes and so on) which Matsumura shows a lot so he definitely tries to achieve bigger waters with this film, too, which is of course good for the film.
There are some great lines that crystallize the themes of this series in each film, alongside the greatest power in Japanese cinema, the silence which is used (fortunately) in Matsumura's work, too. In part 2, a character says "if there wasn't sex, you people would be nothing" and that goes very well with part 3, too, as the film is set in the hotel of sexual desire and voyeurism. It is really the only thing these people have in their miserable lives as it is one of the primary instincts in our nature. Another great line comes from this part 3 which suggests that humans are born half dead, growing up until they finally become completely dead. Humans are living garbage, nothing else. Matsumura must be the most pessimistic and misanthropic film maker ever and that's why his honest, argumented and feared work is so great even with its few flaws.
Otherwise part 3 has one rather negative side and it is its slow pace and a lack of a "hook" at the beginning to really grab the attention of the viewer. Now the 82 NTSC minutes piece feels awfully too long especially as the first 45 minutes or so of the film is so calm and full of silent images. There would have been something to make it very interesting from the very beginning and also some cuts to the more unnecessary parts would have been welcome. Also the bullied school girl character remains a mystery: why can't she fight back and try to survive from the hell her school mates have created around her? I would also like to ask why the lead character becomes so obsessed with the filthy white trash bags in the first place, so the characters in this third All Night Long film are easily the weakest ones.
This is an expected ending to the disturbing trilogy. It has perhaps more shocking and graphic violence at some parts, but overall is equally nihilistic and horribly disturbing with the previous films, especially part 2. This is the kind of cinema that don't get made too often or in too many territories, Japan being usually the bravest one. All Night Long is probably the darkest film trilogy ever made anywhere, and it is great it has a rather talented and visionary maker behind it so that it achieves a lot more than an average exploitation director, with no ambition, from the same script would have achieved. Enter if you dare to see the harrowing truth and vision of ugliest kind. 5/10
Ooru naito rongu: Sanji (1995)
Extreme animality inside human nature
Japanese documentary film maker turned film director/writer Katsuya Matsumura's All Night Long series is one of the most depressing and darkest explorations on the brutest sides of humanity ever commited on film, with brain too. The first film, All Night Long (1992) was released theatrically in Japan, but this sequel, All Night Long 2: Atrocity (1995) and as far as I know the third one, All Night Long 3: The Final Atrocity (1996) were denied a theatrical release as the films were considered too strong and "unacceptable" and so they were released only on video, amid some heavy resistance. It is easy to see why but still the films are not without a real importance.
A nerdy school boy is spending his summer break from school mostly with his computer and chat friends and also a small girl figure doll he likes to paint and take care of. He is also bullied by a bunch of sadistic slightly elders that are led by a homosexual sadist who starts to interest in the boy and thus starts to seduce him. Naturally the boy doesn't feel the same way and as the leader of the gang is determined to get what he wants, it all leads to some incredible scenes of human degradation and genuinely off-putting violence and acts of abuse.
Like the first film, this is about the animality behind human nature and how seemingly normal and balanced people share the exact same instincts and potential to violence as the "bad already" people, in this case the thugs, do. Violence and instincts for it belong to the human nature. That is a thing that should be fought against as those rotten sides of our nature should be kept passive on the background no matter what happens. But we know how the world is like and how man kills man everyday in the name of some "righteous war or revenge" and so on. It is great how Matsumura has included images of real life terrors and war atrocities in this film making the film so much more universal and larger as it all really is there, not only in the little apartment the film takes place in, but everywhere around us. And extreme films like this are there to explain and ask us why. Why do people want to revenge and cause more violence? If more people would dare to watch films like this and also accept and admit their content and message, maybe some would see the light and change towards a better man, helping the world become a better place.
The film has also some clever small details, like the little hamster the homosexual villain likes to play with (and also kill them, naturally). That small and peaceful little creature is also splattered in blood once the carnage begins, once the humans have turned into worse than animals and peaceful nature. Some would blame the film for its depiction of sexual minorities (gays), but that is not possible as the film also has a normal homosexual male who is not dangerous or sadistic at all, unlike his boyfriend. Another clever detail is the video camera that records something the nerd does, and how it shows the slow turning of his character into something he has not been, straight to his face. And after that, everything indeed turns into hell.
The film is mostly without music which makes the imagery all the more nightmarish and disturbing whereas the first film still got a (rather creepy) music soundtrack in it. The violence once it bursts out (or once the film begins) is so cruel, sadistic and sick it is not necessary to go into details but if Pier Paolo Pasolini's masterful Saló o le 120 Giornate di Sodoma (1975) felt too strong or gratuitous (which it definitely is not) then there's not a chance All Night Long 2: Atrocity would be possible to be sit through. Still Matsumura, like Pasolini, doesn't go into unnecessary details and close ups, camera just witnesses what men do to each other, on mental and physical level, and the both levels are horrible, including sexual degradation, abusion, forced drugs, rape and calculated sadism in the name of revenge.
The film has also a very wry bit of black humor at the end which underlines finally the development of the protagonist boy. He just became that way, and seems to end up like the one in the first part of the series. In my opinion, the massacre that happens at the second part of this film has some things that should have been done differently, like how the boy so fast turns into the devil himself (and turning also against the "innocent") and how one tormented couple is able to make love in the other room, something that fights against what has just been shown! Also, the film would have been even more noteworthy if it had included one pure character that would have left some hope for the light, and this same "error" is present in the third part of the series: the sequels work better if they're imagined to be connected with the first film which had the angel-like character to show how the animals still could and should live together.
All Night Long 2: Atrocity is perhaps the most extreme in the series, being equally disturbing and off-putting with part three, All Night Long 3: The Final Atrocity. The first film is perhaps the "easiest" to watch even though it has one of the most vicious acts of murder ever filmed at the beginning but it also has a slightly larger environment as it includes a high school milieu and other elements of society surrounding us, thus making the film even more believable for those who are not so ready to accept what the sequels so extremely suggest and prove, in their smaller environments, both taking mostly place in one single room or apartment. In my opinion, maybe that's why the first film is the most noteworthy in the series but the other two, especially this first sequel, are as well significant pieces of honest and that's why ugly cinema telling about us, none other than us. 7/10