Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Little Fangorian Support

 Fangoria are exclusively running the trailer for my second new feature, Pond Scum, this week.

As a reader since Issue #1 (the one with the Godzilla cover), I'm humbled.



Exclusive trailer, photos: Savage picture “POND SCUM”

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tyrannosaur

Paddy Considine's Tyrannosaur is more horrific than most films calling themselves horror films. I guess I'm talking to you, Human Centipede 2. It's a portrait of a familiar, brutal British milieu committed to film before by Gary Oldman's amazing Nil By Mouth and Tim Roth's sublime The War Zone.


   
Why do I like films that, to some, feel like depressing stacked on top of depressing? Could be that they affirm my world view -- or one of them, at least. Or perhaps I just love honest representations of humanity, representations that don't lie or cave in to mediocrity under their own nihilistic pressure.

The focus here is Joseph (Peter Mullan), a damaged, angry, intelligent man, played with caustic menace and pathos by Mullan; he's not the 'Tyrannosaur' of the title, although he's prone to rampage like one. One shitty afternoon, Joseph takes refuge in a thrift store run by Hannah (Olivia Colman); she takes pity on the man and cops an earful of bile for her efforts. Later, Joseph will regret his thoughtlessness, and Hannah will reveal a side of her life that's a relentless gut-punch.


The central villain of this piece (in a film of villains shaded grey) is Hannah's husband James (Eddie Marsan), a thoroughly pernicious piece of work whose grotesque behavior towards Hannah is jaw-dropping.

 One sequence, involving him urinating on her, provides, like much of this film, several layers of outrage. Just when you think you've got the film figured, it springs surprise after surprise until it rises to a level of brilliance.

Considine, behind the camera for the first time, directs with authority and economy, and maintains restraint when most would lose grip on the reins.

This is one real fuckin movie. Hannah is an abused woman, a frightened woman who dreads going home. When the jealous, self-loathing Marsan drives into town to pick her up one evening after she drowns her anxieties in drink, we're truly terrified for her. Colman's performance is searing. It's painful to watch. A bloody portrait of a reluctant victim. Living in a constant state of fear, she's a woman tumbling down a staircase of despair, her personality replaced by a shell. A beautiful soul in retreat.

Ultimately, Tyrannosaur isn't depressing -- not for those liberated by truth. On the contrary, it's refreshing, invigorating cinema, reality with its skin peeled back, nerve endings exposed. Picture a clitoris separated from its sheath, then sliced open with a razer. That's the tenderness of the love and hate evoked here. And that moisture you see is acid outrage.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Trailer for My New Feature 'FERTISLE'

Blog posts have been spotty this year due to the fact that I've been working on two features and an epic documentary.

All three are finally taking shape as tangible entities and here is the trailer for the first one, Fertisle.

A man at war with himself, washed up on a strange South Pacific island, becomes its unwanted guest, and the target of a native woman who wants nothing but to be left alone.

The film is the first feature of US-, Japan-, and Australia-based production company, Cinenature, an outfit specializing in strong genre material for the international market.

My cinematic obsessions -- male/female relationships, dolls, islands, the ocean, the grotesque, and the beautiful -- are given full voice here.

 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Truly Amazing LEODO




 Is the lure of the sea as strong as the lure of women for men? I think so -- speaking for myself, anyway. Men become prey to women the longer they swim in their arms. They can become more idiotic, too, surrendering principles, standards, and boundaries they once clung to.

Possibly the hardest film I've ever felt compelled to write about is Kim Ki Young's Leodo, an impossible to categorize meditation on Men and their relationship to Women. Although the drama is intimate, it's addressing broad, fascinating issues such as religion, fertility, mortality, environmental pollution, and mythology. Threaded through that heady brew is a sweeping existential adventure on par, and having much in common with, Robin Hardy's film of Anthony Shaffer's The Wicker Man.






Legend has it that Leodo is an island where the souls of drowning men are carried to safety. It can't be seen unless you're wrestling with death. The women of Parang Island, a mountainous, anti-Shangri-La, live in the strangling grip of old beliefs and irrational fears. A few desperate men, pathetic fellows all, venture to Parang to live off the women in exchange for seminal donations. All but one of the women -- a lithe, stunning beauty --  is past her child bearing years, so her nights are filled with fertility rituals that culminate in necrophilia, madness, and their accompanying pleasures.

As simple as this description sounds, Leodo, made in '76 but released in '80 is anything but. There are plots within plots and flashbacks within flashbacks.  Mr. Young, a profoundly underrated and fascinating filmmaker, whose The Housemaid was recently remade in Korea, made several films that defy explanation. Works like Leoda possess a directness, a lack of compromise, a raw originality that tastes like honey to palettes dulled by calculated Hollywood fare. Young has no concern that Leodo will or won't be accepted by audiences. He doesn't care. It will find an audience. The audience will find it. It is this brave approach to the material that makes Leodo so amazing.




Having just made a movie (fertISLE) on an isolated island myself, today's re-viewing of Leoda cemented my resolve to move forward with pure, untethered intention on future projects of similar financial design.  A low budget is high license, an open door through which to step on grounds of choice with shoes not heavied by false expectations. Leodo feels and lingers like raw experience, its ocean vistas haunted, its couplings like sad Bacon sketches, its emotions raw and red like freshly stabbed flesh.

Based on a novel called Keum Byeong Mae by Lee Cheong-joon, Leodo was substantially rewritten by the director to incorporate a premise in which a developer is using the mythical island of Leoda as a marketing tool. On a ferry ride to neighboring Parong, there is an altercation between an executive of the company and an ex-islander. Thus results in the disappearance of the islander and a murder accusation. The accused, not charged, travels to Parong with a newspaper reporter to find the missing man.

 

Poster for the director's The Housemaid; I looked high and low for Leodo poster art,
but I came up empty-handed. If you find any, let me know, please.


In the majority of Young's movies, men are portrayed as poor, helpless devils, unable to control their primitive urges. The pleasures they pursue are portrayed as the overrated fantasies they actually are, mindless pursuits just as easily achieved with a bout of intense masturbation. "Prey for Queen Bees," is how one Korean critic described the status of Leoda's unfortunate males.

What Leodo explores in grand style is a concubine-like social structure that is torn apart by its lack of rules.  It's too casual, lacking perhaps the fascist discipline required to support and contain such a structure. Although the regressive desire to crawl into a woman's womb and die permeates proceedings, even these poor souls with penises are unable to get it right, so steered off course are they by the demon ego.

Leodo is part of the four-film Kim Ki Young Collection, a stunning set also featuring the films The Insect Woman (72), Goryeojang ('63), and Promise of the Flesh ('75).

The director died horribly in '98. He was burnt to death in a house fire. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Same Centipede, Same Boring Shite


 The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) is an endurance test because it's slow and protracted. The idea was just as silly the first time. Here, it's the same thing all over again. This time, Martin (Lawrence R. Harvey), a fat, bloated fan of the first film, wants to create his own human centipede. He does this by using his position as an attendant at a parking lot to collect the pieces he needs. He then sews them together and, presto!, another centipede.

Director Tom Six is easily one of the worst directors currently making horror films. His films have zero suspense, the ideas are juvenile beyond belief, and the acting is atrocious. He's also one of the luckiest directors currently making horror films because he's got half the horror community fooled into thinking he's doing something worthwhile and groundbreaking.


 What seems to be driving Six is ego. His name's all over the picture, and the film's focus on a man inspired by the previous film is masturbation of the lowest order.

Although I found this slightly less boring than the first one and Harvey is believably perverted as the lead, I wouldn't recommend it to anybody in a million years.

Say no more.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The True Horror of Silence


 This movie -- Silenced (Do-ga-ni/; Korean, 2010) -- is really something else. The one current imdb review gives it high praise and pretty much parallels my take on it. It opened last week at a very limited amount of cinemas, is UNRATED for very good reason, and is a major dose of heart-wrenching bleakness. That it is based on a true story that ended tragically makes watching it almost unbearable.

The story involves a school for the deaf where very young students (pre-teen boys and girls) are being beaten, raped, and intimidated by senior faculty members and their immediate family members.  If it weren't true, it would sound outrageously improbable. In his LA Times review last Friday, critic Kenneth Turan attacked the film for sensationalizing the sexual crimes. I disagree that the graphic depictions of child abuse are included for the sake of sensationalism. They are included because they need to be. We need to see and feel what these children went through in order to fully comprehend how barbarically they were treated by their carers at the school and by the corrupt Korean court system. Not surprisingly, "important" and influential men were protected by the court as their victims were denied justice.


 At the center of the film is a young male teacher (Gong Yoo) who suspects the children are being abused almost immediately after beginning employment there. When he witnesses a shockingly brutal beating of a young male student by a colleague, his desire to intervene is natural and strong, but he encounters opposition driven by different agendas from the school's principal and his own mother. It's a human rights worker who provides him the courage to fight a very broken system.

The first half of Silenced (the literal Korean title is Crucible) involves the teacher's discovery of the school's dirty secrets.  The second half focuses on a court case in which the children take the witness stand in front of their abusers. Some crimes are recreated. All recreations are beyond what you'd see in an American or British film, although works such as Tim Roth's The War Zone and Angelica Huston's Bastard Out of Carolina carry some of the same dramatic weight.


 Silenced is obligatory viewing for many reasons, but the primary one is its courage. When Kenneth Turan criticizes the film for its "sensationalism", he's taking an easy swing at it. How should the film's horrors be conveyed, Kenneth? Should they be less shocking? More palatable to you as a viewer? Suitable for the average American viewer? Sanitized enough for a PG rating?

Fuck that! I can't help but reflect on stories we hear often about politicians who give their support to controversial laws -- stem cell research, for example -- after the life of a family member is saved. These changes of heart sicken me because they are the disgraceful folly of men with narrow, insular visions who are unable to empathize with the struggles of people (voters!) outside their immediate circles. Only when these idiots come face to face with the real possibility of loss do they do what they should have done long ago. The recreations of ugly, intimidating sex crimes against children do need to be graphic because graphic hits home. But it's not the sex that bruises the viewer of Silenced -- it's the violent intimidation that accompanies it. We see, in a way never conveyed so bluntly and brilliantly before, that the most heinous aspect of rape (of children and adults) is the intimidation of the victim by the cowardly rapist. The physical aspect of the rape ends, but the intimidation is maintained by the rapist, his family, the general public, and the courts. It's an endless nightmare.


 Aspects of Silenced reminded me of Dr. Lamb because, from a photographic point of view, the recreations are rich and moody. The film's grim tone echoes Blood and Bone, The War Zone, and Run and Kill. It's not a horror film in any traditional genre sense (there are no Freddy Krugers here), but it certainly explores horrific material, material more deeply disturbing than the recent Serbian Movie because the intimidation scenes accompanying the sexual abuse make the drama real.

Highly recommended for those not irritated by the sticky grit of truth.

Monday, November 7, 2011

There's No Island Like An Island of Lost Souls

 
It's easier to write about something you hate than something you love. Love creates a euphoria that is difficult to articulate. That's why it's sought after, that's why the passionate murder in its name. One can't define love with a few choice words. Words fail in most cases. Music, on the other hand, can convey feelings of association with love. I used to make a habit of sending CD's to women I had secret crushes on. Some fresh girlfriends got them, too.

My love for Island of  Lost Souls ('32), the first movie based on H.G. Wells' 'Island of Dr. Moreau', heightened my excitement and made me impatient for the Criterion Blu-ray. I received it last week, banished all engagements, and watched it immediately.

 An unflattering portrait of the beautiful Kathleen Burke (The Panther Woman)

Like a reliable compass, the film took me straight to the fog-bound island with its crew of grotesque, tragic beast men, and it deposited me there for an adventure that I live anew every time. That's the film's magic. Each journey feels like virgin territory.  Until recently, I made do with a British VHS tape, its images denigrated by too much wear, its sound muted by inferior technology. As it represented my only hold on the movie, I never abandoned the tape, but I held little hope that a superior version would become available one day.


The Criterion Collection  has made Island of Lost Souls available on Blu-ray. So beautiful, so ravishing, so emotionally musical is this version, I'm tempted to send it out like love letters to those deserving of its joys. Written by Wells as a protest against vivisection, it focuses on one man's attempt to create his own men, using innocent beasts as genetic clay.

 


If you read this blog, you'll know why Island of Lost Souls is a favorite. A favorite? Is that all I can manage?  Describing my love for the film with words like "favorite" does it a horrible disservice. It IS a favorite, but I have many favorites, just as I've known more than a handful of favorite loves over the years, the first being an ethereal creature who opened forbidden gates to me when we were merely of an age deemed appropriate for riding a pushbike. Surely, like the film, she deserves more muscular distinction.

Of similar youth and curiosity, I encountered this Island of Lost Souls on a black and white TV jammed into a corner of my parents' living room at a time when TV wasn't yet a focal feature of the family home. The images of living creatures teetering in a limbo between human and animal engaged my senses and sympathies. Like the malformed stars of Todd Browning's Freaks, I felt sorry for these unnatural wonders, and became fascinated with them. Was my fascination compatible with sympathy? Could I ogle them, marvel at them, desire oneness with them, while fantasizing that I would save them and whisk them off to a safer harbor? Would it, in fact, be safe? Would they be safe with me? Or would I, lacking medical skills, become a purely voyeuristic Moreau, a savior turned betrayer?

Or worse?

The film's 'Panther Woman' (Kathleen Burke) is one of Moreau's finest creations, and she's deliciousness made flesh. As I contemplated her via the Blu-ray image, I was forced to admit that, under such circumstances, I could not merely rescue such a fascinating animal from a grisly fate. No, I'd surely want communion with her, to know her, to explore her, to contemplate the genetic and domestic possibilities she presented.


Director Erle C. Kenton is to be applauded for creating such anxiety in me, for transforming a novel into a horror film that sings a song with the intensity of love, and for leaving us with a trinket that has endured for more than seven decades, its black and white glow an eternal cinematic ember.




Criterion's stunning Blu-ray is a glorious hymn to the movie. Extras include a wonderful, informal chat between director John Landis, make-up maestro Rick Baker, and genre scholar Bob Burns; there is also a terrific piece by director Richard Stanley -- who was fired off the most recent version of the film -- in which he discusses his love for the original novel and film, and explains why he was ousted from his own take on the story. Film historians Gregory Mank and David J. Skal compliment these extras with mountains loads of rich production info.