Cinema Obscura

Cinema Obscura: Rare Exports

This post was originally published on the DIDS website. Check out more reviews like this at From the Depths of DVD Hell.

Cinema Obscura - a weekly trek through the darker and frequently more random and forgotten regions of Cult, Foreign and Obscure cinema and pretty much everything in between. Each week highlighting a film worth hunting down, for those who like to wander away from the more-traveled-roads of Mainstream cinema.

This week marks a first for me, seeing how this is the first Finnish movie that I have reviewed ever, which is not too surprising as Finland isn’t exactly known for having a thriving film industry, yet it is from here the next “Alternative Christmas” Selection hails from, as Director Jalmari Helander sets out to give us a very different take on the Santa Claus myth.

Set on Christmas Eve, were a group of reindeer farmers living near the Korvatunturi mountains find their herd mysteriously slaughtered. Blaming the loss of their herd of wolves they quickly to write the mysterious deaths off while now facing no source of income. Meanwhile a young boy named Pietari (Onni Tommila) suspects that something that something else might be afoot, especially as an American drilling team working in the mountains have just discovered the mythical tomb of Santa Claus.

Starting life as a short film known as “Rare Exports Inc.“ (2003) were director Jalmari Helander, shot in a faux documentary style following band of three hunters (marker, sniper and tracker) on the hunt for the wild Santa Claus. This he followed up in 2005 with the fake health and safety film “Rare Exports: The Official Safety Instructions“ both of which were greeted highly positively but it would seem that Helander wasn’t quite over his feral Santa obsessions, as with this film he finally expands his highly unique twist on the Santa legend into a full-length feature.

Helander’s vision of Santa is far from the jolly fat man who we all tend to think of when we here the name, but here is portrayed as a Nordic legend were Santa is a horned demon, who kidnaps naughty children and who was imprisoned in the mountains to stop his twisted ways. Still Helander plays things close to his chest throughout, as he slowly adds layers to the myth, with the reindeer first turning up dead, followed soon after by all the village radiators and children apart from Pietari mysteriously vanishing overnight, but the real mystery begins when a strange bearded and naked old man turns up in one of the wolf pits” could he be the same mythical Santa or is he something else?

Still fear not as the towns folk here are unsurprisingly a tough bunch of people, with even kids frequently shown carrying rifles, which is the lifestyle you’d expect looking at their remote living conditions, were their sole source of income come from their reindeer herds, which makes it easy to understand their plan to sell this strange old man to the American’s as a genuine Santa and Helander has done a great job of bringing to life a great cast of characters, who are genuinely interesting and believable to watch, while maintaining the same spirit of his original short films.

While it might seem like yet another Christmas horror movie, the film is actually not as horror based as it would seem and largely plays like a warped fantasy film as Helander crafts out his own mythology for the Christmas legend, while his decision to play the events from a child’s perspective only help make the myth all the more believable, something seriously helped by Pietari not being one of the usual Hollywood smart ass movie kids, but rather a more realistic character who not only has genuine fears about a killer Santa roaming the village, but also worries about his fragile bond with his father, who is largely emotionally cold to his son, spending most of his time as the unofficial head of the village and ensuring that their turn enough profit from their herds to enable them to survive, something which has clearly caused him to lose touch with his own son’s emotional needs, with this relationship in particular being one of the key plot lines as the film progresses, with Pietari clearly keen to show that he is more capable of looking after himself than his father would believe, while there is at the same time an undertone that the men in the village have to prove themselves to be men capable of contributing to the survival of the village, which Pietari has frequently failed to do with his shy and retiring nature, while all the other men are shown as tough and burly.

Santa and his naked elves (it makes sense when you watch it trust me) once again maintain strong ties to things largely associated with Christmas; hence we see them with a ravenous appetite for Gingerbread, as well as being able to smell children, while their lack of dialogue only adds a mysterious edge to them, as well as enforcing the fact that these are very primal creatures and as such perfectly suited to the barren landscape which they inhabit. Meanwhile, the drilling crew are given out leaflets encouraging them to be good and think happy thoughts while working on the dig, by their mysterious American employer, while never fully being told what it is that they are looking for.

Despite being marketed as a horror film, there isn’t much in the way of gore with most of the deaths outside of a surprise pick axe to the head happen off screen, with only brief scenes of a reindeer carcass being butchered being the closest the film gets to gore, though it is expected that to a Finnish audience these scenes wouldn't be overly shocking, much like a Korean audience would view the squid eating scene in “Oldboy”. Still, the film has nothing taken away from it, by keeping things gore-free, while perhaps missing the chance to include the always effective shots of blood on fresh snow, which was kind of disappointing, much like Santa never getting a big final reveal.

On the whole, “Rare Exports” is a very sweet natured yet twisted movie and best categorized as with the likes of “Pans Labyrinth” and “The City of Lost Children” as it took attempts to create a fantasy Christmas tale for adults, especially as the sight of rampaging naked old men, might be a little too much for most kids, let alone adults to take, while Helander still manages to pull off a surprising twist at the end, which nicely ties into his earlier shorts. Still, if you want something different to watch this Christmas as well as an interesting take on the Santa myth, I would recommend giving this one a look.

Cinema Obscura: The Star Wars Holiday Special

This post was originally published on the DIDS website. Check out more reviews like this at From the Depths of DVD Hell

Cinema Obscura - a weekly trek through the darker and frequently more random and forgotten regions of Cult, Foreign and Obscure cinema and pretty much everything in between. Each week highlighting a film worth hunting down, for those who like to wander away from the more-traveled-roads of Mainstream cinema.

On May 25, 1977 George Lucas created with “Star Wars” the summer blockbuster, launching a saga which go onto be one the most popular franchises of all time, while giving nerdy males like myself something to fill all that time we had on our hands from you know not being able to talk to girls etc, while raking in $4.41 Billion in box office revenue from the films alone and this doesn't include the money generated from the countless spin off’s and merchandise”_because after all no home is complete without it’s glow in the dark lightsaber! 

Needless to say George Lucas has frequently tried to torpedo his cash cow with some shall we say interesting directions in which he chose to take the franchise with the first of these being in “Return of Jedi” which introduced the Ewoks, a creation which grew out of his desire to have a village of Wookies which somehow turned into these monstrosities which as we all know, were greeted by much disgust by the fan base, while also being one of the few cute and cuddly characters that people didn’t mind seeing being blown up. Still these would seem quite passable by the time that “The Phantom Menace” finally came out sixteen years later and unleashed the nowlegendary(and not in a good way) “Jar Jar Binks” which once again caused further venom to be unleashed by the fan verseas wellas the occasional burning effigy, as Lucas had finally managed to create something even crappier than those bloody teddy bears!!

Alas there would be something would top both these thing in terms of overwhelming badness, so much so that it would only ever be shown once in 1978 only to ever reappear on bootleg VHS copies as all those involved tried to forget it had ever been created. I am of course talking about “The Star Wars Holiday Special” and seeing how this December I am celebrating an “Alternative Christmas“ looking at the films which might be set at Christmas but are anything but traditional in the vision of the festive season they provide, in a series of reviews both here in this column as well as over my blog "From The Depths of DVD Hell", so what better time to revisit this rightfully forgotten cash in.

Riding high on success of “A New Hope” the story follows Han Solo and Chewbacca as they travel to Chewbacca’s home planet Kashyyk to celebrate Life Day with Chewie's family who comprise of his father Itchy, his wife Malla and son Lumpy all of which would be later retconned to Attichitcuk, Mallatobuck and Lumpawarrump, rather than taking the more sensible choice of just killing them off. Still these bargain basement Wookie costumes you best get used to watching, as they are your main company for pretty much the whole run time of this thing, while their various grunts and growls are even more nonsensical when they are the only characters on screen, often meaning that Art Carney seen here as the trader and family friend Saun Dann is left to try and string things together for those of us who don't speak Wookie, while the audience wonders why they aren’t getting to see their favourite heroes instead of these second rate characters

Meanwhile the Empire are busy searching for rebel agents on the planet after losing Han and Chewie, whose attempts to elude the Empire once again forms the mainback bone of the plot, which is intercut with random cameo appearances by Luke Skywalker, C3PO, R2-D2 and Princess Leia, aswell as several variety show style segments, musical performances and a cartoon, all of which add up to a two hour car wreck of a holiday cash in.

Still what is most interesting about this special is that all the cast return to play their characters, something unheard of for a special of this type and something which they would all later regret upon the release of the final product, with Lucas rarely commenting on it and seemingly refusing to acknowledge it’s existence, while Carrie Fisher would provide her commentary for the Star Wars DVD’s on the condition that Lucas gave her a copy, somthing which she openly admits to showing at parties, usually when she wants everyone to leave. Still these appearances outside of Chewie and Han Solo are pretty much glorified guest appearances with the majority of the special being left to Chewie’s family to irritate the audience with their painfully unfunny attempts at humour while preparing for Life Day or eluding the Empire.

Still if the antics of Chewie’s family were not annoying enough we also get even more unlikable characters introduced via various celebrities of the time who will no doubt beunrecognizableto most people not born back then, as they try to earn some cool points and no doubt an easy pay check off the back of the Star Wars craze, so hence we get Harvey Korman (yep i've no idea who he is either) showing up in three separate skits, with the most memorable of these being the mildly amusing “Cooking with Chef Gormanda” a four armed cook who Malla struggles to keep up with. Meanwhile his appearance as a malfunctioning droid in an instructional video is just painful to watch. Still slightly better is “Golden Girls” star Bea Arthur as a bar tender at Mos Eisley cantina, which also see’s a welcome return of the various residents and cantina band, though her bursting into “Good Night, But Not Goodbye” will have you quickly looking for the fast forward button.

This random musical interlude is not the only questionable musical moment, as Princess Leia even bursts into a song set to the tune of the Star Wars theme, which unsurprisingly didn’t catch on and hence why you always get folks trying to warble the instrumental version. I did wonder though why "What do you buy a Wookie for Christmas, when he already has a comb" didn't make the special.

Outside of the amateur hour operatic’s we also get musical performances by both “Jefferson Starship” and “Diahann Carroll” both of which quickly descend into 2001 style acid trip light shows , while Carroll’s performance is creepily watched by Chewie’s father as Carroll informs him that she is his “fantasy” while inviting him to “experience her”, while certainly not made any less creepy by the fact that Itchy is sitting in a machine pressing buttons which supposedly control the experience, which also brings into question if sex with a wookie is classed as bestiality?

So while the majority of the special is plain garbage there is still one good thing to come out of this and like the penny in the pile of shit, it is the first ever appearance of Boba Fett!! That’s right the coolest character in the whole of the Star Wars Universe made his debut here in the cartoon segment of the special, which take the term “Artistic License” to whole new level meaning that we get a rubbery looking R2-D2 and a version of Han Solo which bares a striking resemblance to Mick Jagger. Still it’s a fun first appearance for Boba Fett and is the only real reason to sit through the rest of the special which no doubt explains why it’s in the third quarter and not at the start.

To say that the special is flawed, is to put things lightly as honestly it deserves to have any copy in existence gathered up and burned and should in no reason what so ever be attempted to view while sober, with laces in your shoes or without atleast a couple of friends to heckle to hell out of it, neither of which I had for this last viewing which created an experience which is nothing short of cinematic root canal surgery” have been warned!!

Cinema Obscura: The Wizard of Gore

This post was originally published on the DIDS website. Check out more reviews like this at From the Depths of DVD Hell

Cinema Obscura - a weekly trek through the darker and frequently more random and forgotten regions of Cult, Foreign and Obscure cinema and pretty much everything in between. Each week highlighting a film worth hunting down, for those who like to wander away from the more-traveled-roads of Mainstream cinema.


Since exploding on the scene towards the end of 2001, the Suicide Girls have become something of a culture phenomenon, having burst out of their web based roots to the point where they are now considered the alt-scene rival to both Hustler and Playboy with founder Missy Suicide frequently going on record with her claims that they receive more submissions than both those magazines combined. As the years have gone by and the profile of the site has grown, thanks largely to various celebrity endorsements from the likes of Foo Fighters front man Dave Grohl, it was only really a matter of time before the Suicide Girls turned their attentions to the movies and this 2007 remake of the Herschell Gordon Lewis original marked a pre-emptive strike by the girls to break into the market before releasing "Suicide Girls Must Die!" in 2010.

I should state at this point before I go any further that I am looking at this film, purely on its own merits, rather than drawing comparisons to the 1970 Herschell Gordon Lewis original, which some of you no doubt hold dear like it's director the legendry grandmaster of splatter and will no doubt be up in arms about someone daring to remake one of his films, but seeing how I last watched the original, a couple of years back and not being able to find a copy in time for this review, I have for this reason decided to just look at this film on its own, without drawing comparisons between the original and this remake.

Edmund Bigelow (Kip Pardue) is a reporter for his own underground newspaper, obsessed with the obscure and bizarre nightlife of the Post Punk LA he lives in. After watching one of the elaborate magic shows put on by Montag The Magnificent (Crispin Glover), a magician with very dark twist as in his shows he seemingly kills members of the audience in various gory ways, only for them to appear unharmed at the end of the trick. However, when these volunteers start turning up dead, in ways similar to how they appeared to die on stage, Edmund decides to conduct his own investigation.

Opening with a blood drenched Edmund, as he staggers towards a strip club, clutching the latest issue of his newspaper, his Noir Esq. voice over gives us a quick background on his character, as it’s safe to say this film hits the ground running, throwing us head first into this decaying Post Punk version of LA, which Director Jeremy Kasten has chosen as the setting for his retelling of the Splatter classic which he has chosen to use as the base for his love letter to the LA Underground scene.

What first becomes apparent with this remake, is the overwhelming feeling it that the Director Kasten wasn’t sure how he could tell a Noir style psycho-thriller, within this world he has created, something which might go a long way to explaining why both Edmund and his girlfriend Maggie, are dressed like they are from the 1940’s with their retro tastes also stretching to their home life as well, with Edmund’s apartment being decorated with various old fashioned items from the period, while meanwhile the majority of the inhabitants of this world he has chosen for his setting are dressed more Punk or just with the sole intention of causing offense, such as characters like Hans (Bob Rusch) who appears during the first of Montag’s performances wearing a Nazi uniform, while during the opening party scenes we also get a quick shot of “Blood Wrestling”, which was ironically only added after several of the Suicide girls who had turned up to be party extra’s bugged Kasten to have them killed in the film and as a compromise created this scene, which actually works well in developing Edmund’s character, as he just smiles upon seeing this scene of naked women wrestling in blood, clearly having become immune at this point, from being shocked by this underground world, he has become fascinated with, while at the same time preferring it seems to remain an observer, rather than joining in and it’s Montag’s performance’s which to his surprise actually manages to shock him, despite him initially dismissing the act.

Montag’s performances are all equally bloody and gooey, as the (unwitting) volunteers appear to get killed in several horrible ways which include being burned alive and death by bear traps. The volunteers played here by Suicide girls Flux Suicide, Cricket Suicide, Nixon Suicide and Amina Munster (who makes the most of having no leg in real life, by having it torn off in the film) are all surprisingly convincing as actors for the small amount of screen time which they have, especially Flux who actually has one of the more important scenes of the film, but even more surprising is that you never once do you get the feeling that, they have been used just because of their “Suicide Girl” links or as that the film is some kind of shameless "Suicide Girls" plus, especially after all it is one of the selling points of the DVD to lure weak minded men / women folk like myself, drawn in by the “Featuring the suicide girls” tagline on the DVD cover.

Director Kasten has assembled a great group of horror heavyweights including Crispin Glover, Jeffrey Combs, Brad Dourif all of which are great in their respective rolls, with Glover acting truly off the hook with a performance which is almost hypnotic with his showmanship as the Magician Montag, as he prances around the stage while constantly addressing his audience with his random rants about the embodiment of self. Meanwhile Jeffery Combs is almost unrecognizable, until the end of the film as “The Geek”, spending the film dressed like a crazy homeless person, as he provides the warm up act for the show, biting the heads of rats and performing other equally disgusting acts, much to the intended repulsion of the gathered crowd. Brad Dourif is basically back in his usual crazy role as Doctor Chong, which is the kind of role we have to come to expect from him, when he is not providing the voice of the psycho doll Chucky in the “Childs Play” films. Meanwhile the rest of the cast do a great job with Kip Pardue more than capable of playing the lead, keeping the audience intrigued, while never giving the final twist away, as he forces the audience to see only what Edmund see’s, uncovering the puzzle one piece at a time as he slowly puts it all together. I also should mention that this is probably one of the few films, where I haven’t been truly irritated by Bijou Phillips, who usually I find either too sleazy or just plain annoying, but here I felt none of that and was surprisingly sold on the apparent innocence of her character Maggie, who is clearly not as comfortable in this alternative world as Edmund seems to be, constantly sticking close to him when confronted with anything that invades her little bubble of innocence that she has created for herself, while often appearing shocked at just how deep into this world Edmund has immersed himself.

The main problem I have with this film though, is mainly with how it is many ways attempting to fight well above its weight, with the story often getting confusing with the numerous layers, which Director Kasten has chosen to add to his vision, meaning that we are often bogged down in confusing visuals and making it hard to distinguish between the dream world and reality, something which it seems is clearly his intention, seemingly being represented of the mental state of Edmund though perhaps in the hands of another director, more familiar with this dream like style of film making, as sadly it detracts from what is generally a very watchable film. Still despite these issues I would certainly be interested in seeing more of his films, as the experience of watching “Wizard of Gore” certainly didn’t leave a bad taste in my mouth, unlike so many remakes that are churned out these days, it’s just more of a confused feeling that I now have to contend with. “Wizard of Gore” might get the backs up of the Herschell Gordon Lewis fan base and will no doubt be stumbled upon by fans drawn in more by the names featured on the cover, but it is certainly a film that deserves a watch (or two) as it is a film that has managed to at least escape the taboo of being a remake, to the point where it is a noteworthy film on its own merits, even if it’s minus points will no doubt lose it more fans than it gains, while perhaps proving to be one of the more interesting things that the "Suicide Girls" have attached their marketing machine to.

Cinema Obscura: Panic Button

This post was originally published on the DIDS website. Check out more reviews like this at From the Depths of DVD Hell

Cinema Obscura - a weekly trek through the darker and frequently more random and forgotten regions of Cult, Foreign and Obscure cinema and pretty much everything in between. Each week highlighting a film worth hunting down, for those who like to wander away from the more-traveled-roads of Mainstream cinema.

It’s safe to say that this era will be defined as the “the social networking era", especially as it seems the majority of us can’t get through the day without our Facebook / Twitter fix and I know that I'm certainly no exception to this. So what better time could there be for “Panic Button" to come along, the second feature by English writer / director Chris Crow who has made this  movie which  supposedly attempts to highlight the dangers of social networking sites, especially with it’s Dan Brown esq title card “Inspired by true stories shared via social networks.

The plot is honestly nothing too special as four strangers a brought together after winning a competition for an all expenses paid trip to New York on fictional social networking site Having given up their mobile phones, the group board their private jet, were they are greeted by a mysterious voice represented by a cartoon Alligator, who appears on the numerous monitors in the plane, who proceeds to invite them all to play a series of games, in a bid to win even more prizes. It’s only once the games begin that the group realise that things might not be what they seem and even more so that they should really have read the terms and conditions.

The group though small in number are interesting enough from the first impressions we get from them as we have single mum Jo (Scarlett Alice Johnson), the geeky computer nerd Max (Jack Gordon), the laddish Dave (Michael Jibson) and the bubbly blonde Gwen (Elen Rhys), but it’s once the games start that we truly learn who these characters really are, as their darkest secrets are dredged from their internet histories and social network pages and put on show for the others to see, as director Crow reminds us just how much information we send across the internet on a daily basis and what it can possibly revel about us. Though small in numbers especially when compared to the group numbers in similar films, they still manage to have enough dark secrets to compensate and the claustrophobic setting of the aircraft cabin certainly working to the advantage of such a small number of potential victims.

The cast are all unknowns yet still pull off believable performances, with the anonymity certainly working to their advantage here as no one is viewed with any preconceived notions of what sort of characters any of the group really are. Joshua Richards however seems to be channeling Brian Cox for his portrayal of the mysterious voice known funnily enough only as Alligator seeing how he’s represented by surprise! Surprise! of all things a talking alligator. Still this Brian Cox inspired voice acting is a great choice, especially seeing how Cox was so memorable with his own commentary in brutal PS2 game “Manhunt" and it’s a similar switching between playful and taunting that Richards brings to the role, which proves to be one of the stronger parts of the film, especially as he continually gives the impression of being in complete control, even as the group try to fight against the game they are being forced to play

Premiering at 2012's Horrorfest, it’s premise made it instantly one of the most talked about films of the festival, with its premier being greeted with much excitement and honestly the first thirty minutes of this movie are really great with the tension slowly being cranked up, as the games start of innocent enough with truths about the groups members being exposed to revel such fun facts as who secretly has a pierced scrotum, only to then suddenly take on a much darker edge, as the once playful voice suddenly becomes a lot more taunting and with the plane in flight it leaves the group with no were to run and zero means of escape, leaving them fully in the hands of this anonymous voice. Sadly it’s around this point that the film soon starts to loose it’s way as the group members are each assigned their own individual tasks causing a serious break in the tension, as the film now starts to feel as if it has no place to really go and is essentially padding out its run time, with this drawn out final game.

The main problem for myself with the film,  is that it tries to keep the focus purely on the group, no doubt due to budget restrictions which makes sense to keep the action purely in one setting, though without a second plot thread to keep the film flowing it results in the audience soon growing bored of these characters, especially when we know who they are which results in grinding everything to almost a standstill. A quick glance at similar films to this one only further highlight this issue, for example “Saw" (2004) is set largely around the two guys locked in a disused bathroom, but we still have the second plot-line involving Detective Tapp tracking Jigsaw to help keep the action flowing, even “Cube" (1997) had it’s series of identical interlinking rooms to throw in a few surprises, were as here it feels that they have written themselves into a corner with the setting and outside of how certain contestants meet their demise, there is very little on offer to surprise the audience once their secrets have been revealed and we know who they really are, with the final big twist almost seemingly anticlimactic once the big revel is given, while when the face behind the mysterious voice is revealed it only results in more questions as to how they managed to orchestrate the whole thing, while the epilogue is certainly undeniably chilling.

Director Crow has taken the refreshingly original direction here to keep the film largely gore free, which might be slightly disappointing for those expecting to see “Saw" on a plane! But it certainly doesn't take anything away from the film by not painting the walls with buckets of gore and amputated limbs, which after seven “Saw" movies is a much needed breath of fresh air for the genre and proving once again that you don’t always need to gross out your audience.

Despite having it’s numerous flaws “Panic Button" is still worth a rental, even if it doesn't exactly manage to keep up the tension the whole way through, it still plays out well enough to keep your attention, even when it feels like such minimal plotting is being stretched way too thin, while Director Crow show potential for good things, it is still way too early to start categorizing him as the new voice of British horror, he has still managed to pull off an effective film on a minimalist budget which reminds you again that a good films doesn't always need to have big named stars and a huge budget to achieve it’s effect and perhaps with a little more tweaking this film could have been a better example of this

Cinema Obscura: The Woman

This post was originally published on the DIDS website. Check out more reviews like this at From the Depths of DVD Hell

Cinema Obscura - a weekly trek through the darker and frequently more random and forgotten regions of Cult, Foreign and Obscure cinema and pretty much everything in between. Each week highlighting a film worth hunting down, for those who like to wander away from the more-traveled-roads of Mainstream cinema.

There are times as a critic were you will encounter a film, which makes you stop and say “I really have no idea, how the hell I’m going to review this” and much as was the case with “Martyrs” once again I'm presented with exactly the same situation, so this is going to be real interesting to see how this works here goes nothing.

Lucky Mckee is probably the most indie of the new generation of horror directors, having first burst onto the horror scene with “May” (2002), he has continued to maintain his indie roots while continually proving to be one of the most exciting new horror directors currently on the modern horror scene, a reputation which he further cements with this film, which could also be his most controversial to date as  he once again teams up with horror writer Jack Ketchum for his second adaptation of Ketchum's work after previously directing “Red” (2008).

While “The Woman” is the sequel to Ketchum's “The Offspring”  it is not essential to have read that book or even seen the film version, to get into this film as it is still very much a standalone movie, country lawyer and supposed family man Chris (Sean Bridgers) capture a primal woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) he finds in the woods during a hunting expedition, whom he proceeds to chain in his cellar while making plans to “civilise” her, not realizing the effect she will have on his family, who are already a fractured unit to say the least with his wife Belle (Angela Bettis) suffering from his casual abuse, while he seems to be molding a monster in his own image with his son Brian (Zach Rand), meanwhile his eldest daughter Peggy (Lauren Ashley Carter) lives in constant fear of her father, with the only one untouched by Chris’s influence seemingly being his youngest daughter Darlin’ (Shyla Molhusen), while this family clearly is a powder keg waiting to explode and the woman could be  the spark to do just that.

Since its premier at Sundance “The Woman”, where a man in the audience walked out complaining about the violence and misogyny featured (as shown in a much discussed YouTube clip), it has essentially has been a hot bed of controversy since then, with Director Mckee throwing into this potent mixture torture, nudity, rape and visceral gore, but surprisingly the most shocking thing on here is the casual abuse which Chris is happy to hand out to his family, to maintain his position as the head of the household. When all these factors are combined, this is far from an easy movie to watch, yet Mckee still manages to keep a vice like grip on your attention, slowly twisting the tension as he builds up to the inevitable meltdown.

The cast are all pretty much faultless with Mckee’s once again casting his long term partner in crime Angela Bettis once more and whom has appeared in all his film since, playing the titular “May” in his debut feature she has proven more than capable of adapting herself to the various roles Mckee has written for her in the past and here she perfectly embodies the character of Belle, who has now been reduced to a timid shell of a person, to the point where she unquestionably follows her husband’s plans to civilize the woman, without Chris bothering to properly explain his intentions, while being certainly even less willing to stop him tearing the family apart. Bridgers is equally fantastic as Chris, easily switching between his dominating side he reserves for his family and the southern gentleman face he projects to the public on his day to day life, while only truly revealing the true depth of his evil at the climax which like his third side comes seemingly out of nowhere. Still he is very much in the mind of the end justifying his means, as he regularly beats the woman when she disobeys his commands, while not even thinking twice to use a power hose to clean the dirt of her body.

With such controversial material on display, I had to question how much the younger cast members were aware of the content of the film? Still both Carter and Rand handle their roles wells with Carter certainly being one to watch, with her portrayal of Peggy proving to be especially memorable, as she takes the audience with her on an emotional journey, as she struggles to handle the chaos around her, let alone the fact her parents are keeping a feral woman in the cellar. Yet at the same time you feel that she longs to feel the same acceptance that her father shows to her brother, frequently emasculating her appearance by cutting her hair short and wearing baggy clothes, seemingly to disguise her femininity ideas sadly not explored further, much like a last minute pregnancy accusation which comes out of nowhere, yet to which Mckee seems especially keen to nail down, even when the audience is doubting it’s plausibility, let alone that it is used as the breaking point for the family.

Rand on the other hand is more of the curious teenager and monster in the making, as his father bullies him constantly to mold him in his image, while when left to his own devices even starts imitating his father’s actions with the woman, quickly changing from the naive teenager into something a lot more dark and sinister whenever he is near the woman.

McIntosh is truly believable as the titular woman, whose statuesque figure embodies this Amazonian like character, whose very nature is deeply rooted in our most primal instincts as she lives only to further her own survival, happily chewing off Chris’s probing finger without seemingly the slightest bit faze by the violence of her acts, while communicating only in the most basic of grunts and howls. Even though she seems to understand what is happening around her, the woman remains true to her primal instincts throughout, as especially shown during the bloody climax were she truly shows what she is capable of, as she sets about extracting her own brand of revenge on her captives.

Despite several moments of extreme gore, outside of Chris losing a finger, Mckee has make the bold decision to keep the gore for his shocking finale were he delivers in spades and truly ensures that the film gets a bloody send off, while seemingly being more happy to torture the audiences psyche until then, through scenes of Chris’s torments let alone a rape sequence which is handled in a thankfully non gratuitous manor and serves solely as a representation of the decline in morals that the woman brings out in the men in the family, as Mckee once again demonstrates a keen intellect behind his desire to shock.

While it might be easy to get caught up in the sexual politics which Mckee continually plays around with throughout to varying degrees of success, it is essentially best to leave these points open to personal interpretation, while for myself I found it to be a film which worked best when looked on as a grim portrait of picket fence hell, while proving once more that hell truly hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Cinema Obscura: Jack Frost

This post was originally published on the DIDS website. Check out more reviews like this at From the Depths of DVD Hell

Cinema Obscura - a weekly trek through the darker and frequently more random and forgotten regions of Cult, Foreign and Obscure cinema and pretty much everything in between. Each week highlighting a film worth hunting down, for those who like to wander away from the more-traveled-roads of Mainstream cinema.

Continuing my “Alternative Christmas“ theme, this week we look at a film which highlights the fact that just because you have the resources to do something it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should do it. “Jack Frost” is a key example of this theory in action while perhaps also being the only movie which thought that a killer snowman might be a good idea for a creature of terror!

Not to be confused with the equally awful but a whole lot less fun Michael Keaton of the same name, which bizarrely was released a year later and which also featured a man being reincarnated as a snowman. Still “Jack Frost” has the usual horror setup for serial killers getting their souls trapped in random objects, as serial killer Jack Frost (Scott McDonald) is being transported to prison, when the prison bus collides with a truck transporting genetic acid which proceeds to melt and bond him with the surrounding snow, as he now takes on the form of a snowman to take revenge on the local townsfolk including Sam (Chris Allport) the town sheriff who was responsible for capturing him in the first place.

So while snowmen might not be the most obvious object of terrors, being that they are clearly not scary in the slightest, you have to give Director (aswell as acclaimed playwright...well so IMDB tells me) Michael Cooney credit for giving it a shot. No doubt you thinking that at least the snowman on the front looks like it has been designed to at least look scary”_.well it when you watch the film that you soon realise that perhaps this creation cost the film it’s effects budget for the Jack Frost we get here instead looks like this.

Yes this cheap-ass foam snowman suit is what we get instead, which instead turns any possibility of horror into disbelief that any director would think that his audience would buy into this costume being the slightest bit scary, as it soon becomes more a question of how many surreal situations can we have jack appear in, be it driving a car or engaging in an even more questionable sex scene with Shannon Elizabeth’s character in what would also be her first film role. Hmm I wonder if she thought this would be her big breakout role as an actress or not?

Still Director Cooney has assembled a fun cast who all seem game for a laugh by appearing in this film, or perhaps it was just so that they could say that they were in a movie which featured a killer snowman, which honestly would be all I would need to sign up for such a project, though perhaps it would have been finding out the quality of the snowman costume.

The death scenes are on the whole pretty creative with death by Christmas decorations, decapitation by a sled and an axe handle down the throat to name but a few, while Jack’s attempt to bite off one characters head is painfully terrible much like Jack’s throw away one liners, which usually land on the wrong side of awful thanks to McDonald’s sheer lack of comic timing, though he certainly brings a lot of energy to the character in much the same way that Brad Dourif did for Chucky in the “Childs Play” movies.

I suppose the biggest surprise about this film other than the fact that it was not released by either "Troma" or "Full Moon" whose own outlandish output this would not look out of place amongst, but that it actually spawned a less well known sequel "Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Killer Mutant Snowman" which is even worse than this one, let alone the fact it features killer snowballs and looks like it was shot on cheaper film stock than most soap operas, but still is worth a look if this alone doesn't satisfy your killer Snowman fix.

Since it’s release “Jack Frost” has built up quite a cult following, mainly via word of mouth and it is honestly for all it’s flaws one of the better cult movies of this kind, while certainly a fun alternative treat to dig out and enjoy with a couple of cold beers and some like minded friends.

Cinema Obscura: Big Wednesday

This post was originally published on the DIDS website. Check out more reviews like this at From the Depths of DVD Hell

Cinema Obscura - a weekly trek through the darker and frequently more random and forgotten regions of Cult, Foreign and Obscure cinema and pretty much everything in between. Each week highlighting a film worth hunting down, for those who like to wander away from the more-traveled-roads of Mainstream cinema.

When it comes to “Big Wednesday” I feel Quentin Tarantino put it best when he said

I don’t like surfers. I grew up in a surfing community and I thought surfers were jerks. I love Big Wednesday so much. Surfers don’t deserve this movie.

Like Tarantino I too grew up in a surfing community, to be more precise the coastal town of Newquay in Cornwall, which you only have to ask any surfer and they will tell you it is one of the best places in England for surfing. Needless to say, such information meant as a keen windsurfer, having to deal with all the egotistical surfers, who seemed to think that the sea belonged solely to them, an opinion which also seemed to stretched to the rest of the town. Now I’m not saying that all surfers are jerks, something especially shown when you had long boarders and short borders fighting for the same waves, which generally started a whole new set of arguments. Alas, I digress as like Tarantino I am firmly in the mind that surfers do not deserve a movie this good, as this is a stone-cold classic!

Over the years there have been plenty of surfing movies, from the classic Bruce Brown surf documentary “The Endless Summer" (1966) and it’s equally fun follow up the imaginatively titled “Endless Summer 2" (1994) to more bizarre Drive-in fare like “Beach Blanket Bingo" (1965), but “Big Wednesday" is by far one of the best and certainly most accessible to non-surfer types like myself.

Following three friends Matt (Jan-Michael Vincent), Jack (William Katt) and Leroy (Gary Busey) over twelve years, starting with the South swell in the summer of 1962 and ending on the mythical Big Wednesday in the spring of 1974, a day prophesized by their adopted father figure and board maker Bear (Sam Melville), were the biggest and cleanest waves of all time will come. Meanwhile the boys have to deal with real life pressures as they find themselves slowly growing apart.

The three friends are all wildly different from each other from the group joker and self-confessed masochist Leroy, to the eternally laid back Jack, whose establishment-prone ways also prove to be frequently responsible for the group being divided, especially when he honorably signs up for military service rather than trying to get out. Finally we have Matt who despite being the most talented surfer in the group, to the point he has become a local surfing hero, suffers from a self-destructive nature with surfing seemingly being the thing which provides his only salvation from his personal demons, while the love of surfing also seems to be the one thing which keeps the group together, especially with their wildly different personalities and individual moralistic values, which would seemingly put them in different social circles to each other if they were to not share this bond, something which also seems to apply to the roller derby community, which frequently see’s friendships being formed between skaters from radically different social circles to each other, all through a shared love of the sport.

While essentially this is a movie about a group of surfers, this film is also so much more than that, as it’s also a story about growing up and having to face the frequently harsh realities of real life, in this case The Vietnam war which serves as the backdrop for the film, as well as providing an amusing scene were the boys and their friends plot to get out of being drafted, with one members attempt at portraying himself as a homosexual, only lands him directly on a recruitment bus for the marines. What is most interesting to see is how they change as the years pass by, especially as the boys change in terms of their lifestyles as they get married and gain real life responsibilities, while society continues to change with aging surfer and surf board maker Bear being reduced from a boardwalk legends to a drunk garbage man by the films finale, making this a highly unpredictable ride at best, especially as Director John Milius resists the urge to give everyone a happy ending, for all though the boys reunite for the finale, there is still a sense that this reunion will only be temporary at best, until the next time the waves call them back together.

Big Wednesday" was a real change in direction from the usual gung-ho action movies, such as “Conan the Barbarian" (1982) and “Red Dawn" (1984) that Milius is usually associated with and to which he would return to following the weak reception the film received on its release. Still with Milius being a keen surfer, this almost feels like his love letter to his sport, while also recruiting surf legends from the era such as Gerry Lopez, Peter Townend, Ian Cairns and Billy Hamilton, who might not mean much to the surf brats of today, but still provide a nice nostalgic touch to the film here, while also providing some amazing surf footage, which still holds up today especially during the finale were we are taken into a tube and can actually see the sand being churned up by the water, shots which are yet to be beaten by any film which followed. Meanwhile the cast are all fantastic with the majority of them still unknown actors at the time like horror icon Robert Englund, whose appearance here is more of a cameo while he also fills a dual role as the films narrator. Gary Busey here was coming in hot after his Oscar nominated performance in “The Buddy Holly Story" (1978) and truly embodies his character, much like Vincent and Katt who are equally believable in their roles.

There are some critics who would grumble that the film is uneven throughout, while comparing it’s use of the Vietnam war and its effect on society to that seen in “The Deer Hunter" (1978), which seems like a bit of a stretch when Milius seems to only want to use it as an a noteworthy event which affects the group rather than society on a whole and seems to have more of a focus on the boy’s own world changing, such as a local burger joint taking on a distinctly more hippyish theme, rather than anything resembling dramatic changes in society.

Personally, I would love to see the main idea of “Big Wednesday" applied to Roller Derby, especially as the only real movie we have to represent the sport, outside of the handful of films which attempted to portray the sport such as “The Fireball" (1950) and “Kansas City Bomber" (1972), meaning that currently all we have is “Whip It" (2009) to represent us as a community and while it’s hard to argue that it hasn’t in turn vastly increased the number of girls strapping on a pair of quads and hunting down their local league, after seeing the film, I still believe that we deserve our own version of this film, but for now at least the wait continues.

Cinema Obscura: Plague Of The Zombies

This post was originally published on the DIDS website. Check out more reviews like this at From the Depths of DVD Hell

Cinema Obscura - a weekly trek through the darker and frequently more random and forgotten regions of Cult, Foreign and Obscure cinema and pretty much everything in between. Each week highlighting a film worth hunting down, for those who like to wander away from the more-traveled-roads of Mainstream cinema.

So since my last post I've been getting over a plague of my own, thanks to this darn flu which is currently going around these rain soaked British shores. So looking for some camp zombie fun and an excuse to make the first of what will no doubt be numerous delves into the back catalogue of the legendary British Horror studio “Hammer Horror" who were not only the studio of choice for Horror legends Christopher Lee and Peter Crushing, but also dominated British Horror from the mid 50's through to the late 70's before going into hibernation until their recent revival with the releases of “Wake Wood" (2011) and “The Resident" (2011) as well as the forthcoming “Woman In Black" (2012).

Released back in 1966 when the studio was looking for new horrors to unleash on their audience, especially with the likes of Dracula and Frankenstein having grown stale as the result of numerous sequels.Shot back to back with "The Reptile" (1966) which would use the same sets as well as pretty much the same cast and crew. “Plague of the Zombies" also marked another noticeable departure from the norm for Hammer, seeing how both Peter Crushing and Christopher Lee are noticeably absent having decided to take a break from the horror genre, though it is widely believed that it was more to do with looking for a larger pay check from Hammer while these films also marked the end of the more traditional horror films they had previously been making as they instead focused on making cave girl movies and selling the world on the idea that cave girls actually strutted around in fur bikini's as so memorable seen in “One Million Years B.C." (1966).

Set in an unnamed Cornish village during the 1800's were the local residents seem to be dying from a mysterious plague, which has the local doctor Peter Thompson (Brook Williams) stumped and leads him to calling in assistance from his friend Sir James Forbes (André Morell) who soon arrives at the village with his daughter Sylvia (Diane Clare) in tow. As part of their investigation the doctors dig up the corpses of the recent victims of the plague, only to find their coffins empty! It is also after encountering zombies at a deserted tin mine, that their investigation soon leads them to Squire Clive Hamilton (John Carson) who has raised his own army of Zombies to work in his mine and carry out his bidding.

Opening with a truly wacky voodoo scene complete with howling tribal drummers dressed in stereotypical animal furs and bones, while the masked master carries out his zombie ritual, it is certainly a world away from more recent zombie movies and might prove a little alienating for zombie lovers more familiar with the gut chomping zombie classics of Fulci and George Romero, this film might come as a bit of a disappointment, as these zombies are far from the flesh eating hordes which they favored in their films, with these zombies instead baring more similarity to the first zombie movies such as “White Zombie" (1932) were zombies were used as slaveξlaborξto carry out their masters bidding and frequently used as a metaphor for slavery and outside of the end massacre which come as almost an after thought, these zombies are very much the same as their earlier counter parts, as they shuffle around the mine wearing monks robes, while actually proving pretty capable when it comes to works the mine, while also seemingly having maintained some of their human characteristics as seen by one of the zombie's manically laughing when first seen by Sylvia. Still a feverish dream sequence which seemingly hints at a zombie uprising, with the dead clawing their way out of their graves and shuffling slowly towards a panicked Peter now almost seems like premonition of the films which would follow in particular Night of The Living Dead's zombie approach and proving once again just how influential Hammer Films were, especially with this being their sole entry into the zombie genre.

Despite not having any of the big name Hammer actors, the cast are still mainly still Hammer mainstays and manage to pull out some great performances with Morell proving the highlight here as Sir James, who always maintains a cool demeanor in seemingly all situations, even as the events around him become more nightmarish.

The plot is fun enough as the two Doctors hunt down clues to uncover the mystery behind the plague and the missing bodies, though for a Zombie film the titular creatures seem like an afterthought here, to the point were you have to wonder if the film could have chosen something else, while meanwhile we have to contend with the bullying ways for the Squire and his young bloods, who seemingly hold the local community in the grip of fear, as to what repercussions await them should they revel what the squire is up to. Still having lived in Cornwall for 21 years before finally escaping to the bright city lights of Birmingham, I can safely say that the Cornwall shown in this film hasn't changed much from the Cornwall today, while also in another completely random piece of trivia while on the subject of Cornwall is the fact that my parents live near were they shot the bridge scene in “The Omen 3: The Final Conflict" (1981). Still I have to wonder why there isn't as much rural horror these days, especially with Cornwall and its aversion to change still making it a prime horror location. Still the minimalist location were needed seeing how scaled back the budget was for this film, compared to the earlier Hammer films and certainly works to the advantage of the film here.

Honestly I really struggled to get into this film, even entering into with the expectation of some cheesy zombie fun, but thanks to it's plodding pacing and under used zombies, it felt like it went on forever and really tested my patience at time, while it's lackluster finale which despite featuring zombies on fire, feels like it comes way to late and adds nothing to the film, apart from catching the viewer by surprise that the film has suddenly ended. The is no doubt that “Hammer" has in the past been responsible for some classic moments of horror and despite it's influence on the zombie genre, this is far from the studios best work and best certainly approached with caution.

Cinema Obscura: Near Dark

This post was originally published on the DIDS website. Check out more reviews like this at From the Depths of DVD Hell

Cinema Obscura - a weekly trek through the darker and frequently more random and forgotten regions of Cult, Foreign and Obscure cinema and pretty much everything in between. Each week highlighting a film worth hunting down, for those who like to wander away from the more-traveled-roads of Mainstream cinema.

Out of the horror gallery of rouges which includes the likes of Frankenstein's Monster, The Mummy, Zombies and my personal favorite Werewolves, I would have to say the one which has already held the least love from myself has always been “The Vampire" and it's a disinterest in these creatures of the night, which has only grown in recent years, especially as the vampire mythos has only grown increasingly watered down with the ever increasing rise in popularity of the Paranormal Romance genre, with the “Twilight"— saga being especially guilty of this crime of butchering Bram Stokers iconic creation, with Stephanie Meyer seemingly using it as a platform for promoting her Mormon beliefs, while Stoker's own version was rumored to have born out of his rejection by his actor friend Henry Irving and no doubt the reason that Dracula dies via stake, noteworthy especially for it's phallus shape. Still it's ironic that one spurned love story would spawn a bunch of half assed imitators which have been born in the wake of Twilight's surprise success, the vast majority of which proving equally dire and which have no doubt only seen publication after their authors found a way to turn their male lead into a vampire, while hopeful salvation did seem to appear in the form of “True Blood" with it's lashings of gore and sex and fun characters, this hope was quickly dashed as the series fell into the toilet during itŠ—Ès third season, while also proving there is only so much of Anna Paquin's horrible attempt a southern accent that one person can take.

Still to every rule there must be an exception and the 80's produced a handful of great Vampire movies, with the majority of which these having a comical edge, as seen in classics such as “The Lost Boys" (1987) and “Fright Night" (1985) and then along comes “Near Dark" (1987), which despite starting life as a western was given a vampire twist after a studio executive suggesting that the film would be viable if it was combined with another genre and hence director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Eric Red who had previous scored a hit with another horror classic “The Hitcher" crafted what is possibly the earliest and best example of the vampire western.

Set in the dusty backwaters of the American Midwest were farm boy Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) has a chance encounter with a mysterious girl called Mae (Jenny Wright) who turns out to be a vampire and after turning Caleb into a vampire as well , turns his life upside down as he finds himself taken in by her adopted family of fellow vampires lead by the dangerous Jesse (Lance Henriksen), who roam the highways in stolen vehicles looking for potential victims to feed upon, as Caleb tries to fight his ever increasing urges, unaware that his father (Tim Thomerson) and Sister (Marcie Leeds) are also following closely behind.

One of the most remarkable things about this film is that despite being made in the late eighties “Near Dark" has somehow managed to avoid looking as dated as it's counterparts, even with the electro heavy soundtrack courtesy of “Tangerine Dream" perfectly matching the setting and action perfectly, while the dust stained drifter styling of Bigelow's vampire gang still look pretty timeless, while perfectly suited for a group who live their lives on the desolate desert roads which they hunt, while still allowing for each characters room individual style and also making Severen's (Bill Paxton) an early example of the undead pinup. Still perhaps because fashion tastes in the Midwest haven't seemingly changed much since the film was released, is the reason it still looks pretty current.

The vampire group almost seem like a mini reunion of the cast of “Aliens" with Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen and Jennete Goldstein all joining the cast fresh of that film and still have a great onscreen chemistry while truly believable as a group who have lived and killed together for years and possibly centuries judging by some of the banter shared between the characters, with Severen and Jesse sharing a joke about starting the great Chicago fire of 1871. Meanwhile Goldstein continues to live up to her reputation as the human chameleon appearing here as Jessie's wife the rock chix esq Dimondback and shedding the eternally tough exterior of her most memorable role as Vasquez in “Aliens" (1986) to bring a deadly shark like beauty to her performance here as Dimondback who while more reserved than the boys, relishes none the less in the bloody carnage which follows in the groups wake.

What probably makes this film so enjoyable to a vampire hater such as myself, is how it manages to break with the traditional settings and conventions of the genre, as there is not a drafty castle or coffin in sight, let alone the fact that the word vampire is not uttered once throughout, while none of the group flash fangs or morph their faces when they go into vampire mode, with Bigelow instead portraying them as nomadic psychos with a lust for blood drinking, yet keeping all the traditional weaknesses as they are injured easily by silver and sunlight and become weak when deprived of blood, which is an especially key part of Caleb's character as he constantly battles to fight the animalistic urges taking him over, with Mae supporting him by allowing him to feed from her which in turn leads to much distain from the rest of the group, who'd rather dump him in the middle of the desert after he frequent fails to feed on the living and threatening to bring the attention the law upon their activities. Meanwhile equally interesting to watch is the Vampire child Homer (Joshua Miller) who finds him frequently frustrated to live his eternal life trapped in a child's body while seeing an chilling opportunity for a mate in Caleb's younger sister, which despite coming late in the film, still adds an interesting angle to the story while also proving the breaking point for Caleb.

Equally refreshing is that here there is zero attempt here toξromanticizeξthe groups blood drinking activities, outside of Caleb's initial turning, much like seen the feeding seen in the likes of “30 Days of Night" (2007) and this films closest relative “From Dusk Till Dawn" (1996) blood drinking is shown as an act of raw animalistic hunger, as the group are more like drug addicts constantly craving their next fix and tearing the throats out of their victim, while a memorable bar room slaughter, shows them relishing in tormenting their victims, who can only watch on frozen with fear as one of the group feeds on their chosen victim. Meanwhile Bigelow shows a lot of confidence with her directing debut here, pulling off a handful of great set pieces from a daylight motel shoot out to a showdown in an 18 wheeler are all skillfully handled, while providing a great grounding for her style of direction which would later lead to her directing the equally cult "Point Break" (1991) and “Strange Days" (1995), before later finally gaining the recognition she deserved with the Oscar winning “The Hurt Locker" (2008).

The other ace in Bigelow's deck here is truly Adam Greenburg's who memorably made The apocalyptic future of “Terminator" so bleak is on hand here to bring his stunning cinematography to the film, adding at times a dreamlike quality to the film, while the desert shot in the brilliant sunlight of day is highly reminiscent of Terrance Malick's “Badlands" (1973) and makes even the barren desert and minimalist towns memorably haunting.

Sadly there are a couple of minor flaws to the film, such as Adrian Pasdar who frequently seems to be out of his depth though it is unclear whether this is due to his inexperience as an actor, or just because of working with such a powerhouse cast who make up for a lot of his weaknesses, while the other slight niggle coming from the supposed vampirism cure via blood transfusion, which was an idea originally proposed as the ending for “28 days Later" that thankfully never made it past the storyboard stage, after its plausibility was brought into question and while it's none the less plausible here it is almost an acceptable leap of faith on the behalf of Bigelow, as part of the lead up to the final confrontation between Caleb and the rest of the gang. Still flaws and all this is an important movie in the Vampire genre and one that reminds of us all of a time when vampires were still scary and certainly don't fricking sparkle!!

Cinema Obscura: Enter...Zombie King / Zombie Beach Party

This post was originally published on the DIDS website. Check out more reviews like this at From the Depths of DVD Hell

Cinema Obscura - a weekly trek through the darker and frequently more random and forgotten regions of Cult, Foreign and Obscure cinema and pretty much everything in between. Each week highlighting a film worth hunting down, for those who like to wander away from the more-traveled-roads of Mainstream cinema.

Since getting Sky+ installed which interestingly enough was voted one of the best inventions of the last twenty years recently, especially as I have in a short time managed to fill the hard drive of the box, with a varied wasteland of old Buffy episodes, Anthony Bourdain Travel documentaries and a variety of late night movies, which vary from films by the genre masters like Fulci to more obscure and certainly random movies like this one, which like so many of these films I tape in the early hours of the morning, only had the briefest of synopsis mentioning wrestlers and zombies, which is pretty much all it really needed to get my interest, though this really doesn't even scrape the random surface of this film, which is not only a beautifully weird mix of zombies and wrestling, but also throws in random characters, lesbians, gratuitous nudity, surf rock and a healthy dose of gore to boot and somehow manages to make it all work!

The plot of this movie is none the less random as a group of secret agent esq group of Masked wrestlers lead by their philosophical Ulysses (Jules Delorme) who is supported by his fellow wrestlers including Mr. X (Sean k. Robb), the Blue Saint (Raymond Carle) and his sister Mercedes (Clarke) who are on a mission to find out who is responsible for unleashing killer zombies on the local community, soon finding a link to the evil (and fellow masked wrestler) The Zombie King (Nicolas Sinn)

Right from the start it's clear whether you're going to like this movie or not, as not only is it shot on cheaper film stock, than your usual mainstream movie, something which is usually enough to deter the more snobbish movie goer, but your also introduced to our supposed hero Ulysses who is not only a Santos imitator, but also provides a running deadpan narration throughout the film, while occasionally spouting random philosophy quotes in what it can only be imagined is an attempt, to make him seem deeper than your usual masked wrestling crime fighter. Still for his flaws at least you have a whole bunch of masked wrestlers to take your pick off and seeing how Ulysses is frequently pushed into the background until needed, with the other members of the group all getting their moment to shine, I couldn't help but wonder if it was because I wasn't the only one having doubts about his character, even more so when he is never actually called by this name.

The other warning sign for the less forgiving will be how truly random this world is, for not is it one were people can wonder around in Mexican wrestling masks, solving mysteries and not raise the slightest eyebrow raise, let alone the fact that trained wrestling zombies are also common place, which even more bizarrely is that despite everywhere being covered in snow and frequently blowing a blizzard, it still doesn't prevent Mercedes from heading off to the beach in a skimpy bikini. Still snow and blizzards are generally pretty common themes in Canuxploitation, so perhaps Canadians are just not so bothered by the cold like everyone else.

Essentially this film can be seen in the same fun terms as the Santo and Superargo films, especially as they are such a clear inspiration here and without knowledge of their camp humour or a love for wrestling in general, it can make this film hard to get into for some, especially as a zombie film alone it stands up kind of shakily which seems to have been the main disappointment for the majority of people, who have seen this film, despite the fact that Director and life long wrestling fan Stacey Case has managed to cram in a fair amount of satisfying moments of gore, but then for most the prospect of watching a film were the zombies are supporting cast, might be hard concept to grasp especially after so many years of movies portraying them as a main threat, so for Case to actually take a step back and reduce his zombie hordes, to the same version (if slightly more carnivorous) of monstrous slave labour that they were originally used as in the early zombie movies, such as “White Zombie" (1932), way before Romero turned them into their more ravenous image that the general movie going public is more familiar with. Still Case even brings a wrestling flavoured spin to the slave zombie idea, as he opens with masked wrestler Tiki using zombies in a caged wrestling match, which despite being undead still manage to prove themselves surprisingly limber and actually put on an entertaining match, with Case even casting wrestling legend Jim “The Anvil" Neidhart as the local sheriff, as well as casting wrestling trainer Rob “El Fuego" Etcheverria as the sole Mexican wrestler Tiki, while also using TNA's Tracey Brooks (seen here as Tracey Brookshaw) for some of the more involved fight scenes in which she doubles for Mercedes, but judging my Case's comments on IMDB it would seem his love for the sport extends beyond this film, especially as he has frequently comments that he'd “rather work with wrestler over actors any day".

Soundtrack wise Case has gone for a surf rock packed soundtrack, which helps the action flow and even adds to the campy fun edge, while proving a perfect accompaniment to the action, while the soundtrack has frustratingly proven impossible to find, especially after getting it stuck in my head and makes a refreshing change from all this darn rockabilly I keep hearing, while this soundtrack also makes a change from the usual tone deaf underground bands, which usually soundtrack these indie features.

This film is so hard to justify without watching it for yourself, especially as it's horror moments aren't exactly scary and while some of the humour misses its mark, somehow it manages to pull everything together into a slightly surreal but highly entertaining ride and if you can just watch it for plain entertainment value, without feeling the urge to be critical over every single frame of film, there is definitely a lot to enjoy, especially for the established Santo and Superargo fans, who will no doubt get a kick out of seeing a new movie picking up were those films left off, while it also attempts to do something other than the basic horde movie, which it seems the majority of zombie films have become as of late and at least it's bothering to try something new, when so much in the genre seems like it is just going over well trodden ground, so if you want something mindless and fun and your feeling open minded, especially if you thought that “The Calamari Wrestler" looked like fun, this might just be it's perfect partner for a truly insane double feature.

Cinema Obscura: The Lawnmower Man

This post was originally published on the DIDS website. Check out more reviews like this at From the Depths of DVD Hell

Cinema Obscura - a weekly trek through the darker and frequently more random and forgotten regions of Cult, Foreign and Obscure cinema and pretty much everything in between. Each week highlighting a film worth hunting down, for those who like to wander away from the more-traveled-roads of Mainstream cinema.

Although it might be hard believe it now, but when this film was released back in 1992 this film was pretty groundbreaking with its use of computer graphics and portrayal of Virtual Reality, with the film in turn sparking a whole craze for Virtual Reality, to the point were VR machines regularly popped up in arcades over charging for the experience, while consoles rushed out supposed VR titles such as “VR Racing" and the still popular “Virtual Fighter".

Essentially a cautionary tale about why man should not play god, the film explores theories regarding the use of Virtual Reality in this case as a way of increasing human intelligence, as scientist Dr. Laurence Angelo (Pierce Brosnan) conducts experiments on chimps using a mixture of drugs and Virtual Reality to increase their intelligence as part of “Project 5", while constantly fighting with his superiors and their desire to use his research for military purposes. After one of his test chimps escapes and goes on the rampage, Dr. Angelo turns his focus towards testing on humans finding the perfect subject in the slow witted gardener Jobe (Jeff Fahey) who is also the titular lawnmower man. Starting a program of accelerated learning, with Dr. Angelo using the same drugs he had been using on the chimps only with out the aggression factors of the original drugs. Soon it is not long before Jobe's intelligence has greatly increased to the point were he is able to perform feats such as learning Latin in two hours, while also unlocking telepathic and pyrokinetic-abilities.

Soon Dr. Angelo's work draws the attention of his superiors who have been keeping tabs on his progress, with the Project Director soon swapping the new drugs for the original “Project 5" ones, which inturn drive Jobe insane with power and on a path of revenge against those wronged him, while searching for a way to reach his final evolutionary state in the Virtual World.

“The Lawnmover Man" explores some pretty big Cyber punk ideas, while easily drawing comparisons with Mary Shelly's “Frankenstein" with Jobe at one point even saying

"I'm sorry you hate what you created"

With the other key reference point being Daniel Keyes “Flowers for Algernon" which it probably shares the closest links to, while the theories explored here are done simply and interestingly enough so not to baffle new comers, while also making good use of the relatively new (at the time of the films release) Virtual Reality technology, which it's safe to say hasn't aged well in the years since it's release, which is always the risk with any use of CGI, but here it pretty evident as what was once considered mind blowing looks painfully dated as featureless characters float in space against acid trip background with only Virtual Jobe getting any kind of characteristics. Still if your willing to take these effects with an open mind there is a lot of fun to be had with the assorted uses which are not only limited to the virtual world, but soon begin leaking into the real world as the lines between the two continue to grow all the more blurred for Jobe, as he's able to reduce men to molecules and even more randomly project himself as a giant floating head. Still interestingly enough part of the studio responsible for these effects would later become “Rockstar North" a studio best know for the “Grand Theft Auto Series".

The two lead characters are both fascinating characters, with the pacifist Dr. Angelo constantly having to betray these beliefs to further his own research while, clearly caring about Jobe's progress even though at times he lets his passion for progress overwhelm his compassion frequently pushing Jobe into traumatizing situations in favour of his progressing his researching while Fahey is completely convincing as the slow witted Jobe, with his childlike curiosity and friendship with the young boy Peter (Austin O'Brien) who is essentially on the same mental level as Jobe if not higher, making their friendship seem completely natural, while Fahey naturally portrays the continually increasing intelligence of Jobe, to the point were he is able to change him from the lovable doofus to a terrifying megalomaniac as his power spirals out of control.

Despite being a cautionary tale, Jobe's actions are frequently seen as more than an insane quest for power, especially as he seen being so frequently abused by the local bully Jake who frequently taunts him, while being even more regularly flogged for forgetting to do his chores by the sadistic priest whose shed he lives in, with both of these characters soon being targets for his revenge, while also unleashing a telepathically controlled lawnmower on Peter's alcoholic father in one of the more laughable sequences of the film, while the majority of the other deaths at Jobe's hands usually being the result of him being antagonized and unsurprisingly these scenes form the weaker parts of the film with the more interesting parts certainly being the Jobe's ever increasing intelligence and Dr. Angelo intelligence enhancing experiments than Jobe's ongoing quest for revenge and god like power.

Perhaps a better use of virtual reality would have been to film an established cyber punk classic like William Gibson's “Neuromancer", but it did still pave the way for CGI in modern cinema by giving an example of what the effects could be used to create, while also leading the way to some abysmal attempts to follow up it's success like “Arcade" (1993) and “Virtuosity" (1995) aswell as the ultimately superior yet more old school effects driven “eXistenZ" (1999).

“The Lawnmower Man" despite now being largely forgotten outside of sci-fi fans, grizzled VR boffins who felt that the film gave an unrealistic expectations of Virtual Reality, aswell as a brief legal case with Horror legend Stephen King, for the connection to his own short story about a man who eats what he mows (yes really) and to which this film has zero connection outside of a throw away line about part of one of Jobe's victims being found in a birdbath and the less said about the sequel the better really, especially as the studio doubted that anyone would actually buy it so much, that they now give it away for free with this film. Still it is a film still worth giving a look even as a fun companion piece to the superior “Tron" (1982).

Cinema Obscura: The Fall

This post was originally published on the DIDS website. Check out more reviews like this at From the Depths of DVD Hell

Cinema Obscura - a weekly trek through the darker and frequently more random and forgotten regions of Cult, Foreign and Obscure cinema and pretty much everything in between. Each week highlighting a film worth hunting down, for those who like to wander away from the more-traveled-roads of Mainstream cinema.

Some times it amazes me how great films can get so overlooked. Films which not only challenge their audience but at the same time take them on a journey of lush visuals and fantastic storytelling, as the director challange themselves to give thier audience somthing which they havn't seen before. I guess in a way the same question could also go a long way in explaining why we continue to get sequels to the Scary Movie franchise being churned out on an almost yearly basis. “The Fall" is certainly one of these movies which sorely deserved to reach a larger audience than it did, upon its initial release, especially seeing how it pretty much skipped a cinematic release, suddenly turning up on DVD it would seem, making it only more of a shame, especially seeing how it is certainly a film which deserves to reach a large audience, were now instead it seems to have been left to find its own audience, which if there is any justice it will.

The Fall" follows the story of Roy (Lee Pace) an injured stuntman, who forms a friendship with the eternally curious young girl Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), who herself is recovering from a broken arm, as Roy tells her a story of five mystical hero's and their quest to kill the oppressive governor Odious (Daniel Caltagirone). Though as the story continues the lines between reality and fantasy begin to become all the more blurred.

Storywise it's safe to say that this film falls somewhere between the adult fairy tales of Guillermo del Toro and Caro & Jeunet, especially seeing how it contains none of the real world horrors , which are fused into the stories of del Toro's work, while at the same time it doesn't slip into the more obvious surreal world of Caro & Jeunet whose films such as “The City of lost Children" (1995) are probably best known for this style of storytelling, instead “The Fall" sits somewhere between the two styles, especially seeing how Singh is keen to keep the two worlds he shows throughout separate, often having the bandit speaking directly at the screen as Roy, when he chooses to take us out of the world of his story. Meanwhile, Roy's tale of the masked bandit and his mismatched group, is really brought to life by the imagination of Alexandria, who inserts people she see's around her into the roles of the various characters, making it fun to try and place who each of the characters are in the real world, as she takes the descriptions Roy gives her, applying them to the people she see's walking around the hospital, even using the x-ray technician, as the basis for how the Armour clad henchmen of governor Odious look, while characters like the mystic are less obvious as to who they might be in the real world, with Singh only giving us the most subtle of clues as to their identity.

Right from the start of this film though it is clear that you are watching something special, as Singh skillfully combines slowed down black and white imagery, with his skillful use of Beethoven's "Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92, II. Allegretto" which here becomes more of a title piece to the film and certainly put it on a par with Clint Mansell “Summer Overture" which was most memorably used in “Requiem for a Dream" (2000). The score by Krishna Levy is the perfect accompaniment to the images on screen, not only helping to set the scene, but in some cases helping to emphasize the power of the imagery being shown to us and seems to mis-step though out, even if this sole Beethoven piece seems to dominate over the other pieces of music used thought.

Pace is on fantastic form here, moving seamlessly from the role of Roy to that of the masked bandit and even though we know that Alexandria is using him as the base for the bandit, it never feels as if you're just watching Roy, dressed as a bandit, but rather watching Pace as a completely separate character. However as the film progresses and the lines between these two worlds begin to blur, we start seeing more and more of Roy appearing in the character of the bandit, such as his sudden addiction to morphine pills, as well as the various touches which Alexandria adds herself to the point, were she appears as a character herself, taking on the role of the bandit's daughter. Still as Roy becomes more suicidal his story becomes all the more darker, while certainly not going as dark as Del Toro “Pan's Labyrinth" (2006) which also featured an equally sudden dark turn, which might not sit well with some viewers, but it is clear that when this appears, that Roy is simply trying to break the connection which he shares with Alexandria. However it does also form some of the more gut wrenching moments of the film, as Singh takes the hatchet to his list of characters.

I suppose the main downside for myself, with the character of Alexandria, who it is truly is Romanian, but her broken English meant that it felt like half the time she was simply improvising her dialogue and really relies often on Roy, to translate to the rest of us what she actually saying. Still her cutesy performance never reaches the level of being overly saturnine sweet, thanks largely to Singh never allowing the camera to focus for to long on her, without tingeing the scene with some element of darkness, which appears to surround her outside of the safety of Roy's hospital bed, such as the hypochondriac patient, who Roy shares a hospital ward with, while further driving home the idea of this film being a grown up fairy tale.Singh who is probably best remembered for “The Cell" (2000), another equally underrated classic, which might have been more popular had it not featured Jennifer Lopez, but still managed to remain highly memorable, thanks to it's incredible nightmarish imagery, as he took us inside the mind of a serial killer. Thankfully the six year gap since then seems to have not caused him to tone down his mind-blowing imagery any less, in fact it seems to only have given him more time in which to think up more breathtaking imagery and by signing up fellow visionary film makers David Fincher & Spike Jonze who both signed as Executive producers (Singh would later provide second unit work for Fincher on “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (2008), he has only expanded his canvas and certainly makes the most of it, seeing how the film was shot in 18 different countries, resulting in a film which is nothing short of breath taking and without a hint of CGI to be found, proving to even the most jaded amongst us, that modern film making can still be exciting and interesting, without losing it's an accessibility to a mainstream audience, which we have seen over the years happening with a number of equally great foreign films, only for the language barrier to eliminate the majority of their potential audience.

I can only hope that the wait isn't so long for Singh (Or Tarsem as he's now started calling himself) to release his next film, as if his current film making resume is anything to go off, he could certainly be a director worth watching and I can only hope that his future output remains as exciting and interesting as what we have seen so far.