Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Final Rapeman

THE REIPUMAN 7 (RAPEMAN 7) was the last contemporary entry, and certainly the most emotionally powerful of all the Rapeman films from series director Takao Nagaishi, and writer of five films Jun Kojo. From a production standpoint, it is equally the slickest alongside the sixth entry.  Sadly, the brand ended its contemporary storylines after this entry, and switched to two mostly forgettable spin-offs.

The series, a clever satire, has never been fairly evaluated, and is often dismissed due to its premise. If you can cast your hysteria aside, it is a humble but very fine series filled with everything you want from pulp: political intrigue; a heart-warming relationship between the Clark Kent-like anti-hero Keisuke/Rapeman and his uncle; darkly modest action scenes; and inventive rape sequences that are never terribly brutal and certainly not explicit. Unlike the original manga, this live action Rapeman is a softer touch, surprisingly well written and plotted, but is bizarre enough still for fans of wild and wooly cinema, and never overreaches in terms of its scale. A spare, infectious electronic theme always compliments proceedings.

It took four or five films for the series to find solid footing, so by this seventh entry, the delicate balance of satire, thrills and honest emotion was achieved –– and that's what makes it all the more frustrating that there was no eighth film set in present day Tokyo. I don't know why production company Pink Pineapple decided to set its final two entries in historic Edo, but, for me, they did the series no favors as an historic Rapeman just feels silly and tonally odd, and the heavy-handed slapstick is a real turn-off. On top of that, Rapeman wears a cape and resembles a future version of Batman.

The seventh film involves Keisuke's relationship with a childhood friend whose concern about his girlfriend opens up a hornet's nest of plot twists. Keisuke's "Rapeman Services", which he runs with his lovable uncle, takes on the task of getting to the bottom of his friend's problem, and Keisuke dons his mask once again to "Right Wrongs Through Penetration" (the series motto).

In our ultra-PC age where nothing is considered ironic anymore, Rapeman (all 9 films) walks an even harder road to understanding or acceptance now than it did when released on video in Japan between '93 and '96.  The original manga series debuted in '85 and ran 'til '92 with 13 issues in hand. A fictitious 14th issue appeared as a plot device in an episode about rape in the deadly serious, humorless, moralizing Law and Order: SVU. 

Unfortunately, Rapeman star Hiroyuki Okita, who was a leading teen idol in his earlier years, committed suicide in '99, three years after the series ended, and production company Pink Pineapple re-dedicated itself to sexual-themed anime.

In the film's final minutes, director Nagaishi stages a scene in which Keisuke's friend, the film's true "hero", returns home and finds his girlfriend gone. In her place is a giant Betty Blue poster and an empty chair with a letter on it. The image really resonates as the plot in this episode parallels the mental illness theme of the famous French movie. The follow-up scene in which the friend searches for his girlfriend on the waterfront and finds her is beautifully staged and acted. If you're not a rotten cynic, it will move you as much as it moved me.

Despite the hysteria surrounding this series, which has never been released legitimately outside Japan, a viewing of all seven contemporary entries leaves one with the impression of a unique piece of V-cinema that is, at heart, sweet, heartfelt, and unexpectedly humanist.

That it has never been distributed in a boxed collection outside Japan is most unfortunate.

***I owe my first exposure to the Rapeman series (in '97) to my dear Japanese friend and fellow filmmaker/otaku Tomoaki Hosoyama, the director of Weatherwoman***

Monday, July 27, 2015

American Guinea Pig

If you've been a long-time reader of this blog, you know what Guinea Pig means; you know the power of that particular brand. Made in Japan, the original Guinea Pig movies were the pinnacle of gore for a blood-hungry Asian market that had always placed a high premium on explicit violence. Released on video in Japan, the Guinea Pig VHSs were big sellers, and even became somewhat notorious when some otaku, charged with a bunch of murders, was found to have copies of Guinea Pig in his movie collection.

The first Guinea Pig movie, FLOWERS OF FLESH AND BLOOD, was the goriest and most one-dimensional of the series. A samurai warrior, played by infamous and brilliant manga artist Hideshi Hino, spends his evening hacking a bound girl to pieces with his sword. That pretty much sums it up: nothing else happens. The movie is a single-minded spectacle of violence and dismemberment that, by design, dares you to stare at the screen until the blood runs dry. It was followed by another single-minded movie, DEVIL'S EXPERIMENT, in which a woman is beaten until dead, and we get a counter on the screen marking the number of blows she has received.

I was living in Australia when a legitimate German box set of the series (8 DVD's) was released. The set included FLOWERS OF FLESH AND BLOOD, DEVIL'S EXPERIMENT, HE NEVER DIES, DEVIL WOMAN DOCTOR, MERMAID IN A MANHOLE (the only attempt to tell a more layered story), ANDROID OF NOTRE DAME, THE MAKING OF GUINEA PIG, and MAKING OF DEVIL WOMAN DOCTOR. On top of these 8 disks, you also got a Guinea Pig T-shirt, which I still own, and a pretty poster. At that time, the German set was the only legit way to see the movies.

In America, the series was a bootleg success, and copies were traded like gold nuggets between collectors and gore hounds who hadn't seen anything quite like it before. The first film in the series gained some notoriety when Charlie Sheen got a copy from Film Threat's Chris Gore and mistook the thing for a legitimate snuff movie. He contacted the FBI about it and scared up some controversy. After the making-of surfaced, however, Sheen looked like a right Mr. Stupid, but the film's infamy remained intact.

Eventually, the Guinea Pig flicks were released in the US by Stephen Biro's Unearthed Films, and finally they were accessible to moms and dads everywhere. The disks sold well, and it became clear to Unearthed that there was a market for Guinea Pig's brand of horror Stateside.

Mr. Biro, no stranger to controversy or gore, maintained his passion for the Pig over the years, and recently exercised his rights to the "franchise" by creating his own version of Guinea Pig, AMERICAN GUINEA PIG: BOUQUET OF GUTS AND GORE.

The film appears at a surreal moment in human history. When the Guinea Pig films were first released in Japan––on VHS, of course––there was no internet, so there truly was nothing else like them, they were the pinnacle. They remained the pinnacle, in fact, until competing Japanese companies turned out their own realistic "gore" films such as TUMBLING DOLL OF FLESH aka PSYCHO-THE SNUFF REELS aka NIKU DARUMA, and their ilk (see immediately below).

Now, in 2015, we find ourselves in a troubling era where the goriest, most aesthetically powerful examples of "gore" are suddenly real, and they're being made by the filmmaking divisions (I'm not kidding) of terror outfits like ISIS, Boko Haram, FARC, Al-Queda, and Mexican drug cartels. ISIS, in particular, has adapted an approach to their death videos that is both surreal and shocking. No longer content to put out grainy, shaky, amateurish records of their atrocities, they're now creating Hollywood-style videos of real mass murder that feature crane shots, state-of-the-art editing, musical scores, and credits(!) Their videos have become a form of recruiting propaganda, I imagine, with their slick, glorified images of beheadings, electrocutions, throat slitting, and drownings. The impact is confusing and disturbing because the content is, unfortunately, real, yet the aesthetic of these videos is that of slick fantasy.

So, in an era where with a click of a mouse you can be taken to websites dedicated to videos of real murder, real suffering, real rape, and really horrible human cruelty, where does AMERICAN GUINEA PIG: BOUQUET OF GUTS AND GORE sit?

Having just watched the movie, I can assure you that it doesn't sit in any quaint place beside its realistic "competition", although it's still comforting to know it's imagined and not actual.  Like its contemporaries such as the AUGUST UNDERGROUND films, the American Guinea Pig is very much part of horror's anti-aesthetic brigade. These films eschew story, technical polish, and a dazzling audio mix, and opt to present their horrors in the raw. Biro's movie replicates, to some extent, the tenor of the original Pig films from Japan, but synthesizes elements from NIKU DARUMA, Nacho Cerda's AFTERMATH, and Roger Watkins' LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET.

The most noticeable influence here stylistically (if you want to call it that) is Watkins' film––the killers are masked, the viscera is plentiful, and the mood is pure nihilism; but Cerda's AFTERMATH is also a major influence both visually and aurally. PIG's soundscape has many echoes of AFTERMATH's brilliant sound design, and utilizes non-traditional sounds to great effect. The killers, led by Scott Gabbey (publisher of Ultra Violent magazine), do have dialog, but their dialog is recorded low (or not so well, perhaps), and the soundscape dominates proceedings. So, thankfully, we're spared the mostly puerile, aggressive exchanges between the brutalizers.

The film/movie is shot on both Super-8 and video. Both formats are intercut, and their differences in texture add to the overall result. I watched the film on a 55" plasma, and regretted not watching it on a smaller tube screen as the larger size screen tends to water the image down. Still, the presentation format suits the subject matter, but I'd recommend screening the film on a smaller TV. Of course, it would be closer to ideal on VHS.

The storyline is simple: Two women, a mother and daughter, are kidnapped off the street by a masked man. They wake up in a warehouse, and are quickly subjected to around sixty minutes of detailed torture and gross dismemberment until they both perish. Like the first two Guinea Pig films from Japan, the "entertainment" value of these anti-aesthetic works can't be quantified as you would quantify the "entertainment" values of, say, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE or IN A GLASS CAGE, which are examples of extreme films that are still aesthetically rich.

To some extent, films like Guinea Pig are modern endurance tests, "gore" equivalents of porn endurance tests such as Sperrgebiet's scat epics, the filmic outrages of Otto Muehl, or the avantgaarde porngraphy of the German porn raconteur Simon Thaur; they compel you to keep looking as they promise to elevate the horror to a level not experienced before (hopefully). Despite the amount of gore that has flowed under the bridge in the 30+ years since the original Guinea Pig's release, Stephen Biro's AMERICAN GUINEA PIG still manages to achieve a fresh level of grue via the impressive make-up work of Marcus Koch. On a very small budget, Koch delivers torrents of slushy body parts and gore under the scrutiny of harsh lighting, and is ably supported by the restless, voyeuristic lensing of James Van Bebber on camera; Van Bebber, in an interview on the DVD, admits that even he was shaken somewhat by the accelerating obscenity Biro kept bringing to the torture table.

For me, the film reaches its nadir in a ten minute sequence near the end where dialog is eliminated, and Biro allows grotesque imagery and sound to carry us into the heart of its Tampa darkness (the was was shot in Tampa, Florida). Think of the sequence in AFTERMATH where the mortician fondles the corpse and then opens it up, then take several leaps further, and you'll have a pretty good idea of where this film goes.  While AFTERMATH was a beautiful film with a rigid, finely tuned aesthetic, this is not a beautiful film by any means: it wallows in darkness, in brutality, in a pornographic style of dismemberment that would have pleased Jeffrey Dahmer. Personally, I could have done without most of the dialog exchanges between the killers because the vocal performances aren't really strong enough to equal the power of the violence. Still, for a dedicated niche in the world market, AMERICAN GUINEA PIG: BOUQUET OF GUTS AND GORE steps up to the plate and hits a home run for a certain sub-niche of horror.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Beyond Redemption

THE REDEEMER (Son of Satan) has been given a solidly authored Blu by Code Red. There's no menu, and the print is scratched to shit in parts, but considering what a train wreck the movie is, the print damage actually enhances the experience: watching it close-up on my 55" TV was like staring at a fouled-up print at an old third-run grindhouse.

Almost every part in this cinematic hodgepodge of influences is played badly; from the evil priest who targets adults playing kids at a high school reunion to the "kids" themselves, director Constantine S. Gochis's handling of the talent is appalling and consistently miscalculated.

The film attempts to tell a not-terribly-original-but-ludicrous story of a nutty pastor seeking redemption by dressing up in disguise and killing kids at their high school reunion. Not even the reunion makes sense because almost nobody shows, and the school has been closed for years. The nutty pastor also sports a second thumb, an obvious prosthetic, that he is trying to get rid of. In one sequence, a schoolboy with a bowl haircut is seen sporting the thumb. The thumb's significance is never explained.

Watching a film that is attempting to capitalize on the success of quality cinema like THE OMEN, but has no talent behind it, is actually mildly enjoyable. As an audience, we're served up one stupid, incompetent scene after another, and some of them are so stupid they're surreal. We get a kill-crazy clown puppet on strings, a drowning in a bathroom sink, a spear that falls into a skull, and a shooting in the woods by a fat man sporting a wig and fake mustache –– for no discernible reason.

The film is copyrighted 1978, and certainly looks it, but, strangely enough, it has elements of films that would be released several years later such as FEAR NO EVIL, LEMORA:A CHILD'S TALE OF THE SUPERNATURAL, XTRO, COMMUNION, and ALICE SWEET ALICE. Of course, it doesn't come within a hundred miles of besting any of these movies, but it somehow manages to spit out bits and pieces that, consciously or unconsciously, got picked up and became part of horror culture years later.

The Code Red sleeve has some honest, amusing quotes about the movie:

"Guilty of the same gaping plot holes and cardboard characterizations as any other... nothing is ever adequately developed or explained, so the film becomes memorable for its opacity alone."
-- Fred Beldin,

Beldin also accuses the film of being "a silly, sanctimonious slasher..."

He's not wrong.

Still, there's something perverse about this nonsense being on BluRay, and being marketed for its more shitful aspects.

It's worth adding to your BluRay sub-section marked "cinematic crud".

Did Siskel and Ebert give the film their thumbs-up? I seriously doubt it.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Porn Closes The Racial Divide

Porn is the great equalizer, and has closed the racial divide on many an occasion.

The by-line on Curt Aldrich's SWAPALONG is pure gold.

"Everybody integrate!"

Poodle sex seems kind of delicate, and not conducive to a hot time –– that's my uninformed, non-zoophile logic, anyway. Poodles are so brittle and self-conscious, aren't they? If you're going to go the bestiality route, stick with Alsatians or Dobermans, right? I doubt a poodle would even let a gal run her fingers through his hair without biting her breast off; they're a snippy breed; much too prissy for cross-species couplings that will earn you a spell in prison in most countries.

Clearly, publisher Animal Library felt differently to me about poodles. The German name of the writer hints at the market for this one. "Horst" is a pervert's name.

Happy family stuff with author name removed.

But why is dad trussing daughter up at the bottom of the stairs? Mom could walk in with the groceries at any moment. I guess she's used to dad's antics; she wouldn't be with him if she didn't at least approve of them.

$2.50 got you a load of fun back in the 70's. Now it gets you squat.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Teen Lust

1979's TEEN LUST, lame softcore sex-fu, "borrows" the art from Ray Strong's porno paperback THE NAUGHTY NIECE, a hardcore tale of a young woman coming of age (who the hell am I kidding?)

The film was directed by Hollywood's go-to Asian, James Hong, and it's proof that Hong should stick to thespians.


As evident in both posters, the see-through gimmick is just fine when you combine it with voyeurism.

Of course, unlike the TEEN LUST movie, THE NAUGHTY NIECE  paperback delivers what it promises on every front (and back).

Friday, July 3, 2015

S/M Sniper Art Collection

Japan's brilliant S/M Sniper magazine is now defunct, but the memory of the magazine lingers in these superb images from Sniper contributor Atsushi Akai.

This is but a sampling of the 100+ images assembled in this sublime book.

FANTOMAS JAPONAIS was published in 2014 by France's Le Lezard Noir.

Many of these images appeared in Sniper throughout its history as Sakai was a regular contributor.

I love his use of space, and how the setting often dominates the subject, giving it, in turn, stark relief, and even greater prominence in the mind's eye.

Text is in French, images are universal.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Good Sport (Shooting Soon)

As we have just completed 120/80: STRESSED TO KILL (see art and trailer a few posts down), the next film to go into production -- with partner Tom Parnell -- is THE GOOD SPORT, a fast-paced, bloody thriller set in the world of Little League sports.

We're currently exploring shooting scenarios, and trying to pick the best state for filming from both a creative and financial perspective.

Production company is Delirium.

I'll post updates here.

The Erotic Scent of The Duke

Peter Strickland, the man behind BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO, a film I liked somewhat, returns to the screen with THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY,  a softcore, semi-sleazy yarn set in a world of women. The masculine title, according to Strickland, is meant to be ironic.

The film's initial spurt of inspiration was Jess Franco's LORNA THE EXORCIST: Strickland contemplated remaking that film for a couple of weeks before losing interest and leaving well enough alone. He did, however, stay on-topic, and delivers here a lesbian love story within a half-assed S/M structure; I say half-assed because one of the pretty asses in this movie doesn't seem quite as keen on the game as her "partner". Still, plenty of carnal fireworks emerge from the pairing, and there's a reasonable amount of nudity, some sex acts including a nice cunnilingus sequence, and bouts of imprisonment and servitude.

BURGANDY's women-only world is an interesting one, and forges a tone not unlike the world of Lucile Hadzihalilovic's INNOCENCE, a film exclusively featuring young girls adrift in a type of purgatory on earth. The women in Strickland's film are middle- to upper-class and enjoy meeting in stately drawing rooms to discuss insects. Although none but the central duo have sex with each other, one assumes there's plenty of lesbian sex going on behind closed doors.

Jess Franco's obsessions do seem to color BURGANDY, even though, technically, the film is more rigid and even-tempered than anything Jess ever made. The featured ladies think about sex a lot, which is good for the audience, and nobody seems to do anything terribly productive to fund the lifestyle they're enjoying (like Jess's ladies). The setting is the European countryside, and the true location (Hungary) is never referenced; probably a wise choice because this uncertainty gives the film a more fantastique vibe.

Actress Chiara D'Anna, who was also in BERBERIAN, is exquisitely carnal and subtly threatening in her role as Evelyn, the deceptively submissive actor in this little game. Her lover, Cynthia, is played with impeccable restraint by Sidse Babett Knudsen, a busy actress who appeared previously in television's BORGEN and the Mads Mikkelsen feature AFTER THE WEDDING. Both women carry the movie on strong shoulders, and make us believe in what is essentially very rich, dark nonsense.

Special mention goes to the film's opening title sequence; it captures quite perfectly title sequences from British thrillers that used freeze frames and often suffered visually (becoming dark and grainy) when dissolves were employed. Here, the technical deficits of these films are used as stylistic devices, and the result is sumptuous and atmospheric. The band, Cat's Eyes, provide a stunning score (available on CD), although nothing is quite as stunning as "The Duke Of Burgundy" title song ("Black Madonna" perhaps?), produced to replicate the sound and sweet fever of an old Carpenters song with Karen's gorgeous voice. It's just magic.

I'm dead against revealing plots and detailing story points, so I simply urge you to seek out and lap up this rare cinematic treat that was produced by Andrew Starke (currently making the superbly titled THE GREASY STRANGLER) and Exec Produced by Ben Wheatley. There is also a connection here to Pete Tombs and the Mondo-Macbro video label (that label did release LORNA THE EXORCIST).

Jess Franco would have been partial to this fine film and its proud obsessions.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Whipping Up Some Golden Age Book Bondage

From WR (Whip and Rope Publications) comes a title that triggers no confusion: A. deGranamour's MELISSA'S BONDAGE DEBUT.

The author was prolific in this niche, and often branched into erotica with a historical perspective such as SADISTIC PIONEERS.

This also featured pencil drawings by a "Ms. Jackie".

A title that purported to be a serious examination of spanking culture, but was little more than juicy anecdotes.

It always helps to list an M.D. on the cover.

Author G. Bennett Lockwood sounds serious.

"The Well-Spanked Farmgirl" from Wyndham Press (writer not noted), a publisher not affiliated with a similarly-named firm specializing in educational tomes, is adorned with some simple, evocative art. Of course, one could argue that the above is an education.

Again, no author mentioned, although some sources identify the author as Jaime Maran.