Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Nuns That Bite

Just released on Toei Video this past week,Yuji Makiguchi's Nuns That Bite (Onna gokumon-cho: Hikisakareta niso; '77) has been doing the theatrical rounds in Japan for some time, but has been MIA on DVD.

On the avmaniacs forum, one writer mentioned hearing that the film is the "Japanese equivalent of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (in fact and spirit). Having just watched the pristine DVD, I can hit that rumor on the head. It's a stretch to say the film has any resemblance to Tobe Hooper's rugged masterpiece. In short, it's a Japanese nunsploitation film that, content-wise, feels like Teruo Ishii-lite. Ishii, for the uninitiated, directed such works as Horrors of Malformed Men, Orgies of Edo, and Love and Crime. He also helmed a number of torture-themed flicks for the same studio, but it is with Love and Crime (also reviewed on this blog), with its glorious catalog of freaks and visual atrocities, that this film shares common virtues.

 The set-up is basic and a little protracted. A woman on the run is raped, rescued, then raped again. Escaping, she heads for the hills and finds safe haven at a convent. After becoming a  postulant (trainee nun), she catches her fellow sisters engaging in lesbianism, fighting over nothing, hurling snakes at each other, and engaging in mild flesh eating. For a film with this title, the amount of cannibalism on show is disappointing.

Compared to the rich convent life presented in Norifumi Suzuki's School of the Holy Beast, the convent in Nuns That Bite is a more modest affair. It's a series of rooms in which nuns sleep, make out, and act crazy. The Mother Superior is MILF material (I guess MSILF is more accurate) who oversees various punishments and enjoys the services of a strange boy-in-waiting (her son perhaps?) who appears to exert quite a bit of power over the sisters. This fellow proves himself quite the first-rate tattletale when he reports on our heroine's investigation into the convent's non-religious activities. Not surprisingly, she pays a painful price for the little shit's loose lips.

The films sounds marginally better in synopsis than it actually is. At times, it's a little slow and pedestrian, and lacks the cinematic energy someone like Suzuki or Ishii would have brought to it. Various bloody atrocities are served up with glee such as a headless body, a severed head, bones stripped of flesh, human meat BBQ, and various stabbings and piercings. The lesbian lovemaking is erotic enough without becoming repetitious, and there are some deformed, freakish characters who should have been given more screen time and some story relevance. One sequence involving a crazy woman  performing a religious ritual and acting like she's on LSD has the Ishii feel, and could have passed as a deleted scene from Horrors of Malformed Men. There is also a psychedelic dance number.

 For director Makiguchi, this is fairly restrained material. Previously, he directed the brutal, visceral Shogun's Sadism (aka Joys of Torture 2: Oxen Split Torturing) and the nasty Bizarre Crimes of Post-War Japan. Nuns That Bite was his last theatrical feature. 

At sixty-nine minutes, the film is very short, but it feels longer because there's not much plot to speak of.
Still, great to see this little-seen cult treat in the daylight at last, and recommended for adventurous film fans, of course.

Important note:  
As the film is not subtitled in English, my review is 
substantially biased by my inability to fully comprehend 
and experience the film as it is meant to be experienced.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Wonderful Mervyn Peake

Writer and illustrator Mervyn Peake, born in 1911, was best known for his stellar evocations of Treasure Island, Alice in Wonderland, and The Hunting of the Snark, and the wonderful Titus Groan ('41).  Personally, I'm also a big fan of his script for the superb radio play The Eye of the Beholder.

His 'Study of a girl from Edgware Road' ('38) is mesmerizing, typical of his striking style. 

The above illustration, from the book 'Witchcraft in England' ('45), has a wonderful gritty quality that, for some reason, makes me think of the beast men of Island of Lost Souls

Many of the subjects of Peake's work seem to be in possession of damaged souls, and it is this status that makes them so compelling for me. We connect with these outcasts and loners because they appear ready to challenge their condition.

This knowing child, 'Clare' ('49), is really special.

I urge you to hunt down Mervyn Peake - Writings and Drawings ('74; St. Martin's Press).

Sadly, Peake died at just 57.

Alarma Mother Lode


Prior to a journey recently taken, I hit the Alarma (magazine) mother lode, and couldn't be happier about it -- despite the fact that nobody depicted in the magazine itself is particularly happy.

Every now and then, we need to reset the counter, energize, regroup. Call it what you want, but us humans we need a break from the grind, the hussle, the tide of hypocrisy, and that day finally arrived for me. I'd been as busy as a one-armed juggler editing a doco I'm very fond of, writing a screenplay, and finishing a novel. So, with some business pending in LA, I planned my culture hunt (that would make it c-unt for short), and left the house with an important address given to me by a friend. He knew of my penchant for all things Mexican and bizarre, and felt inclined to steer me in a fresh direction.

My idea of recreation (solo recreation, anyway) is usually movies and bookshops, so I'm constantly tracking the global release patterns and whereabouts of various movies. I never stop looking for the wild and wonderful books and magazines that aren't so easy to find, and my natural curiosity is rarely dampened. Gems like Alarma can't be found on-line or at a traditional newsstand. Unless you're living in Mexico, you've got to click into predator mode to track down these totally unique and audacious weekly magazines, you've got to be hungry, you've got to kick down doors, spill some blood, and venture into neighborhoods where nobody knows your name (not in English, anyway!)

After a visit to the wonderful Luis De Jesus bookshop on Hollywood Boulevard where I picked up a book on creepy dolls and a Bukowski bio, I headed for East LA with the fresh address. There, in LA's answer to darkest Tijuana, I stumbled upon the Alarma mother lode.

At first, I thought the Alarmas in the foggy plastic bag, placed high on a shelf to avoid the eyes of kiddies,  were copies of the same issue. Fortunately, I was dead wrong. When I presented the protective bag to the cashier, she tore it open and asked me if I wanted everything in the bag or just one issue?  I replied "Just one issue," but when six more fanned out across the counter like a lucky hand in a game of cards, my pulse quickened and I blurted: "I'll take 'em all. Gracias!"  I then added a cheerful  "Buenos noces!" as I departed with my brown paper bag of crime scene goodness. I had such a spring in my step, I could have leapt tall buildings with Superman.

I drove home in a state of excitement while listening to the Drive soundtrack and a podcast on, you guessed it!, obscure soundtracks (Mr. One-Track-Mind Rides Again!) Now and then, I'd pull an Alarma out of the bag and leaf through it impatiently under the dim interior light.

I'm sure my idea of a great day is several miles south of yours, but I'm certainly happiest when I'm following my own sun.

Enjoy these treats.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Hong Kong Movie Mags

Just a selection of mags I've recently re-visited and re-packed. 

Hong Kong Film Magazine (USA)
Publisher: Grant Foerster
Editor-in-Chief: Rolanda Chu
Contributors: Rolanda Chu, David Hernandez, Grant Foerster, Beth Accomando, Vera Chan, Jade Li, Terry Chao

The 80's and 90's truly were a glorious time for Hong Kong cinema and Hong Kong-themed magazines produced by both rabid fans and professionals. 

China Blitz (Australia)
Publisher/Editor: Kris Kotsiakos
Contributors: Kris Kotsiakos, Frank Bren, Van Lee, Mark Savage

I was always on the hunt for new or old  issues of CINEMart. Although I read no Chinese, the mag had an impressive color section and usually included a poster.

Cinemart (Hong Kong)
Publisher/Chief Editor: Hin Kwong Lau

Although not strictly focused on Hong Kong content only, this ratty little gem was right there when Hong Kong films were turning unsuspecting Westerners into salivating fanboys and lifelong aficionados.   

Crimson Celluloid (Australia)
Editors: Brett Garten, David Nolte, Ant Timpson
Contributors: Michael Helms, Tony Egan, Shane Harrison, Dr. Vern Pullen, David Szurek, Joey Inferno, Richard Kuipers, Stewart Robinson, Don R. Kebab, Brett Garten, Ant Timpson, David Nolte

City Entertainment focused on anything exciting playing in Hong Kong, be it Hong Kong-produced or American. Full color throughout, it featured stunning poster reproductions, box office reports, laser disc news, and actor/director/producer profiles.

I picked up my first copy on a Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong.

City Entertainment (Hong Kong)

I had a subscription to this for several years. Never less than interesting.

MAMA (Martial Arts Movie Associates) (USA)
Publisher/Editor: Ric Meyers
Contributors: Ric Meyers, Bill and Karen Palmer, William Connolly   

Another idiosyncratic winner with a mountain of great content.

Hong Kong Film Connection (USA)
Publisher/Editor: Clyde Gentry III
Contributors: Sam Ho, Joey O'Bryan, Barrie Pattison, Curtis Tsui, Clyde Gentry III

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Very Heavy Number

 A book that keeps on keeping on.

Part of my collection for some years, this fine tale of a jailbait slut and the boys who do her bidding, sports a stunning cover that is typical of Thomas's other books. These include the excellent Reds and Turn Me On.


I picked this book up soon after publication and read it while also consuming Guy N. Smith's Night of the Crabs at the same time. Ironically, Smith's sex scenes were more explicit, but Thomas's sleaze quotient was higher and the crime aspects were very solid.

I love that the book opens with Shannon, the "heroine", getting high, and informs us that she started "blasting" at fourteen (!) God bless that gal.

You don't hear much about Thomas these days, which is a crying shame, because he was a true original.

How To Sell A Laboratory of the Devil

This Laboratory of the Devil sales brochure, used to sell the film to potential distributors at global film markets, is using sizzle to sell a sausage that never tasted as good as its parent. Still, it was worth the trip from an exploitation perspective.

It's the sequel to TF Mous' one-of-a-kind Man Behind the Sun, an authentic atrocity exhibition that used Japan's 731 camp as its launching place and managed to be both a fascinating historical document and a balls-to-the-wall piece of exploitation. 

Elekton Ebooks ( is selling the electronic version of Stephen Barber's Sadists of the Rising Son, an in-depth look at the camp and its gloomy history.

Mous, director of the original, did not return for this or the third entry.

The film is also known as Maruta 2: Laboratory of the Devil, and the third film is known as Maruta 3: Destroy All Evidence and A Narrow Escape. Neither title can extinguish its stench. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Essential Killing

I'm a big fan of Joseph Losey's Figures in a Landscape, a film about  two men pursued across a nasty wilderness by an evil looking helicopter. Losey doesn't provide much background to the men and makes the helicopter a singularly threatening presence.

In Jerzy Skolimowski's Essential Killing, Vincent Gallo plays a Taliban fighter pursued across a snowy landscape by an evil looking helicopter that sounds threatening and looks like hovering death. His pursuers are Americans. After he blows several of them up with a bazooka, he is captured and transported to some imagined hellhole in a Russian-speaking region. But before he gets there, pigs intervene, and the truck he's riding in crashes. He escapes, kills more Americans, and hoofs it out of there into the snowy wilds.

The film is an extended pursuit directed with poetic precision and room for reflection. It feels, smells, and tastes like Figures in a Landscape, so I'm sure it was an influence, but it evolves into its own beast.  Of course, it matters not that it burps up Figures for me because Figures remains in my mind an essential experience, an example of pure cinema, a relic of a bygone era in which everything was not explained, redemption wasn't obligatory, and villains were not black or white.

Filmed in Northern Norway, the snowy vistas are extraordinary and eerie, being both a refuge and a hell for our hero. So, is Gallo the film's hero? Is he heroic? Yes. Or should he be considered the villain and his American pursuers the heroes? Of course not. Gallo is the film's hero. The film is fresh because Gallo, a Taliban, IS the protagonist. It's his story. Clearly, he has his reasons for his actions (a deceased loved one is one of these, as is a war on his home soil), and the Americans have theirs. These days, the Taliban point of view is not one that's indulged often by filmmakers, so it's novel to see a character like this depicted as a flesh and blood man whose game is simple survival.  Although the political context is thick by implication, Skolimowski doesn't fatten the film's narrative with politics. Instead, he constructs a contemplative action film, or action drama, with a pinpoint focus on Gallo's inventive attempts to stay alive in an icy wilderness. And Gallo, by the way, is superb in a physically difficult, non-verbal role.

There are plenty of modest joys to be be had here. In one scene, the hungry, emaciated Gallo comes across a nursing mother. Without hesitation, he drops to his knees and drinks milk from her nipple. Like the killing he's forced to do (the guy isn't some screaming sadist), his time at the woman's nipple is an essential act, a shot at extended sustenance. In another scene, he takes a fisherman's catch while the fisherman looks perplexed. If a bloke looking like Gallo staggered out of the wilderness to eat your breakfast, this is exactly how you'd react. Towards the film's conclusion, he takes refuge with a woman who risks her life to help him. The way in which their encounter is resolved affirms the essential humanity of them both while acknowledging the obvious risks.

I've read a few criticisms of the film's ending. What's to criticize? The ending is totally consistent with the rest of the film. It's lean. It makes its point, it moves on.


The (British)  Artificial Eye Blu-Ray of Essential Killing boasts a breathtaking transfer and a great interview with director Skolimowski.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Horror Paperback Infestation

I was an instant fan of Beth Holmes' The Whipping Boy (Jove Publications, '78), a strange and sometimes mind-boggling tale of child abuse. If you can wrangle a copy, you won't be disappointed.

The cover art is striking but strangely underwhelming, too. I often look at it and contemplate the thinking behind it.The interior of the sleeve is the actual face of the man whose profile is seen on the cover. 

Pretty decent rabies novel from Walter Harris, who preferred to be known as W. Harris. Definitely a product of the success of James Herbert's The Rats, it had a similar structure and got a little too preachy about the sexually active. You know who you are!

Cover art is great, and makes it looks like a war novel. There's a war against rabies, sure, but nothing terribly military. I'd say Star Distributors were probably trying to snag readers of Martin Cruz Smith's Nightwing ('77), the 'Bats Attack' hit of the year. Guy N. Smith's Bats Out of Hell was released a year later to further capitialize on Cruz's success. It was clearly a good time for plagues, infestations, and bats.

Did Victor Mullen quit the book trade after writing The Toy Tree (Paperjacks, '88)? Must have. I can't find anything else by him. I did look. Oh, yes, I looked hard because I loved The Toy Tree.  The language is awkward at times (a few too many adjectives), but Mullen captured the madness of a crazy kid very nicely. He pushed the envelope, too, with plenty of nastiness directed at kids and some juvenile games that would not have been out of place in Serrador's film Who Could Kill A Child

The book's art is very special. Probably much too subtle for the random paperback buyer, it  conveys the book's nihilism with skilled strokes of the brush.

The Toy Tree was another interesting release from the Ontario-based Paperjacks, the same publisher of the masterpiece The Happy Man (reviewed on this blog long ago).