Archive for November, 2008

The Ghost Galleon

1975, Spain, Directed by Amando de Ossorio

Colour, Running Time: 90 minutes

DVD, Region 1, Blue Underground, Video: Anamorphic 1.82:1, Audio: DD Mono

As part of a marketing strategy for a new boat two helpless young ladies are sent off to float around the middle of the ocean in the hope that they will be ‘accidentally’ found, the resultant publicity doubling for a sneaky advertisement for the boat which helped them through their ordeal by simply staying afloat. Of course the whole plan goes to sh… bits when the two models drift through a dense patch of fog and discover an old abandoned galleon adrift at sea. Despite warnings from base one of them foolishly decides to board the ship to have a look around: she’s never seen again. Deciding they’d better help out, the marketing guys get together with a crazy meteorologist and a couple of the girls’ acquaintances and set off on a voyage to bring back the lost ladies. Passing through the sphere of mist they locate the same medieval galleon, their intention to find out what’s going on. But soon their boat disappears leaving them stranded on the creepy ship and the meteorologist surmises that they’ve actually passed into another dimension, a place where the dead are able to walk again…

Girls on a Boat

The third film in Amando de Ossorio’s infamous Blind Dead series, this has a different feel compared to the preceding entries. All four films utilised different characters and settings (much in an equivalent way to what Romero has done for his Dead films) with the principle threat sourced from the same thing: the rotting, eyeless corpses of the Knights Templar returning to transient life to reap havoc on the living. Most of the action (and I use that term lightly) in The Ghost Galleon (El Buque Maldito) takes place on the eponymous transportation unit and I think it was quite a stroke of imagination to have the Blind Dead discovered floating around on a supernatural vessel in the ocean as opposed to their usual terrestrial circumstances. Little exposition is offered for this and it lends a touch of mystique to the proceedings. As they do in the other three films, the dead awaken periodically to claim anything human that happens to be roaming within the vicinity but where it’s a nocturnal activity in the other parts, here it simply seems governed by some unspoken time lapse because night and day are blurred within the odd Twilight Zone that the ship inhabits. This was a difficult film to obtain for years and I’d always read that it was the most inferior of the series, but being a fan of the first two movies I was anxious to check out the final chapters when Blue Underground released the fanboy’s dream that was the complete DVD set several years ago. Whilst I could understand some of the complaints people levelled at this film I found it to be quite a spooky little chiller once the flaws were acknowledged and pushed aside. The most obvious flaws are some of the special effects: the ship from a distance looks downright awful, almost inexcusably bad. Second to this is the setting up of the story, which is improbable to say the least. But given the central premise I think minor improbabilities can be overlooked (we do after all watch films as a means of escapism do we not?). The characters themselves are bad-movie caricatures in some respects but they bring some amusement to the screen, inadvertently. The meteorologist is perhaps my favourite of these, dropping his office status at the slightest manipulation to head out on a real mission and managing to arrive at scientifically perplexing conclusions concerning their alleged switch between dimensions. Regardless of the incredible delivery, this theory fits in with the director’s ideas about the Blind Dead generally who, he has said, exist in state of spatial/temporal distortion rather than being conventional walking cadavers. Back to the ship itself: whereas the longer distance shots of the vessel are terribly realised, the situation on board is very different; the place is a rotten, dilapidated, creaking entity that’s satisfyingly creepy - very much the ultimate haunted house albeit on a boat. The Blind Dead sleep below deck in boxes that resemble the coffins that would make a more natural home and the homicidal knights appear to be oblivious to their change of locale. Very often stated as the least favourite of fans, The Ghost Galleon does the trick for my idiosyncratic tastes and creates a strange and eerie world that makes for comfortably inebriated viewing on winter nights.

Ghouls on a Boat

As previously mentioned the film was not easy to come by until around three years ago. Redemption had released the first two in the series on video cassette here in the UK but stopped there so it was quite an anticipated event when BU announced they’d managed to acquire the rights to remaster and release all four of them uncut. The third entry then made it across to the UK on DVD (with the other three) thanks to Anchor Bay, albeit missing the Spanish language soundtrack, which was a real shame. The BU contains Spanish and English audio with optional subtitles. I’ve listened to both tracks in their entirety and they’re both very good, clear representations of how the original might have sounded without any intrusive hiss. The English track in fact is dubbed fairly well and, given the sometimes less than sane nature of the material, it doesn’t suit the film badly at all. Image is presented in a roughly accurate ratio with strong levels of detail and appropriate colours, overall looking better than the final entry in the series (which suffered from grain and extremely soft focus nocturnal shots), although there is a murkiness to the onboard scenes due to the omnipresent fog. This presentation of a fairly obscure but charmingly uncanny film is appreciated and I’ve already had my money’s worth out of the disc along with the rest of the amazing and comprehensive set.

Posted on 23rd November 2008
Under: Horror | No Comments »

Deep River Savages

1972, Italy/Thailand, Directed by Umberto Lenzi

Colour, Running Time: 86 minutes

Review Source: DVD, R2, Hardgore; Video: Anamorphic 2.35:1, Audio: DD Mono

It seems almost everybody has heard of Cannibal Holocaust, partly thanks to similarities portrayed in the more approachable Blair Witch Project, partly due simply to its brutal notoriety as one of the nastier films of all time. The film was the most prominent component of a wider sequence that flourished to an extent throughout the seventies and before quickly dying a death in the early eighties, probable as a result of lack of diversity - you can only do so much with this sort of material before people go off looking for other things to interest them, such as political dramas and romantic comedies. The cycle often followed a predetermined narrative; ignorant westerners stumbling into jungles inhabited by evolutionary throwbacks in the shape of carnivorous natives with a taste for human limbs and organs. Along the way the westerners (and therefore, we) would witness horrific acts of barbarity that would push the boundaries of cinema to extremes, along with testing the limits of our constitution. Unfortunately these acts often utilised the ‘services’ of real animals and new depths in the search for entertainment and enterprise were reached. This latter point of course illustrates an indefensible staple of cannibal movies, at least from my point of view, but the continuation of productions throughout a decade or so must surely outline questions regarding the public search for entertainment. And indeed this links into the main moral focus that is dubiously raised time and again throughout the sub-genre, that there is at core little difference between us and the so-called savages portrayed as opposition to the westerners - we are endogenously barbaric ourselves. This is the real and oft forgotten reason that Cannibal Holocaust is the best of the bunch: it actually outlines that point better than any of the others and almost seems to have some social relevance amidst its rape and mutilation, though its means is still to some degree unjustifiable.

So where does Deep River Savages fit into all of this? Well, this film could be considered the starting point for the whole thing. The tone slightly differs to what would commonly follow but many of the trappings are still present. After being deserted by his girlfriend in Thailand, a London photographer gets into a brawl in a bar that results in a Thai man’s death. Despite a potential argument for self defence he heads off into the night to disappear, not realising that that’s precisely what he will soon be doing… Heading off towards the wilderness until the whole thing has chance to blow over, he arranges a long and quiet guide-driven sail down the river, eventually into uncharted territory. After several uneventful days of photography and sleeping his guide is found murdered by the side of the boat and John is promptly captured by the local natives that killed the man. What follows is several weeks of punishment, humiliation, attempted escapes, and slavery as John becomes gradually accustomed to what appears to be his new life in the tribe’s village. Until Marayå, a woman he has caught the eye of, experiences increasing attraction to the western man culminating in John being accepted as part of the tribe and marrying Marayå. But the imminent danger of neighbouring tribes is never far from reality…

Help!  I need some body...

What is essentially the birth of the cannibal movie surprisingly transpires to be a grisly-exploitation-movie-cum-love-story. Much attention is placed on the progressing relationship between John (Ivan Rassimov from many an Italian exploitation flick) and sexy native girl Marayå (actually Me Me Lai attempting to further her career after a stint in Sale of the Century). John’s former girlfriend is mysteriously banished from memory as he embarks upon a mission that will change his perspective on life forever. There are a couple of things to enjoy in Il Paese del Sesso Selvaggio (or Man From Deep River) believe it or not. Firstly the locations are attractive and make for striking travelogue-style imagery. Next is John’s voyage down the river, which actually musters a little bit of tension as the titular savages remain persistently unseen until he’s accosted. Finally there’s the omnipresent but underlying feeling of hopelessness as John’s repeated attempts to emancipate himself are thwarted before he’s dragged back to the village for more problems. This film initiated a trend for animal suffering that was to continue without any real justification, and this is where for once the BBFC’s intervention is merciful - they’ve removed almost all of it from this Hardgore disc. Lenzi was to make a name for himself in the sub-genre and went on to direct Eaten Alive (Mangiati Vivi!), a reasonable concoction of adventure and cannibalistic violence, and Cannibal Ferox, the man’s similarly horrific answer to …Holocaust. He was never going to be an Oscar winner of course but did manage to produce a couple of genuinely entertaining non-cannibal movies along the way, Nightmare City being my personal favourite.

Deep River Savages is almost palatable in its UK-approved censored version, exhibiting little animal violence (though there is one throat cutting of a goat that caught me off guard near the conclusion so beware) and only snippets of fairly heavy gore here and there. It’s nowhere near as nihilistic as what would come later on and its delineation of taboo love adds something of worth to the material. The influence apparently derived from the earlier western A Man Called Horse, to which Lenzi’s film bears more than a passing thematic resemblance, is also of historical interest to buffs. It’s never going to make any top ten lists but neither is it competing for any worst movie prizes either. The Hardgore DVD looks quite appealing in its fully scoped glory but is missing around 4 minutes (perhaps more) of visceral imagery that most people would really rather not see anyway. Back in the seventies this film was rejected outright in Britain by the BBFC, it was then technically banned on video and briefly placed on the DPP list during the eighties, there was then the strange appearance of a reportedly uncut though terribly cropped disc (DVD Classics) several years ago - I could only assume this to be a disc production error because there’s no way the board would allow this through uncut as long as they were awake when viewing. Media Blasters in the US have put out the best disc hitherto, being fully uncut and containing an Italian soundtrack alongside the English with optional subtitles. There’s also a ten minute interview on that disc. Despite that, casual viewers who’d prefer not to see cruelty to innocent creatures could safely get by with the Hardgore DVD reviewed here.

Posted on 16th November 2008
Under: Horror, Other | 2 Comments »

Silent Hill

2006, Canada/France, Directed by Christophe Gans

Colour, Running Time: 127 minutes

Channel 4 Broadcast, Image: 2.35:1, Audio: Dolby Surround

Following the successful PlayStation game of the same name (unleashed on gamers in 1999 and superseded by several sequels/spin-offs) this adaptation would appear to continue a trend that has brought in a few shilling for the film industry whilst simultaneously burdening the preciously limited time of viewers with an increasingly large and smelly mound of dung to wade through. Guilty entries include House of the Dead, Alone in the Dark, Postal and, to a lesser extent, Resident Evil; notice a pattern developing? Back in the nineties it was rubbish like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat (bearable maybe) and Super Mario Bros.; nowadays they’ve clearly got it in for horror movie fans it seems. I wrote off Silent Hill when I caught the theatrical presentation a couple of years ago: too long, not enough story, style over content, Sean Bean, etc. Despite that, however, it’s sometimes worth checking out a movie for a second viewing because it can reveal its underlying charms that way, should there be any present.

Mommy, you're hurting me!

Swapping Harry from the game for a woman (in fact that’s the case with many of the characters) called Rose the storyline otherwise remains fairly faithful to the first game: Rose and her husband Christopher have a few problems with daughter Sharon whereby she sleepwalks, draws up nasty little images and mumbles about a place called Silent Hill that they discover is a ghost town with a horrific history. Rose decides the only way to break the cycle (medication hasn’t worked) is to take Sharon off to this place Silent Hill to see why it’s become such an ongoing mental problem with the girl. After coming into unwanted contact with a policewoman along the way, Rose and the cop both crash their car and bike respectively, Rose waking up to find Sharon missing. She goes in search across the town, a place strangely misplaced from reality, and soon realises there’s something truly frightening about the environment. Air-raid sirens periodically sound the arrival of all-encompassing darkness and with it truly monstrous organisms that will slaughter anything vaguely human. Meanwhile Christopher is understandably perturbed by his wife’s rash trip with their daughter and heads off to Silent Hill himself. There he finds a police detective and team overseeing the scene of the former vehicle accident. Both the detective and Christopher head into the town to look for Rose and Sharon, but while they’re all there at the same time they don’t actually see each other - as Chris and the detective are present in everyday reality, Rose and the female cop now seem to exist in some alternate dimension - a limbo world inhabited by hellish creatures and the damned former inhabitants of the town.

Oh darn, I'm not wearing a bra!

Second time around Silent Hill didn’t strike me as nearly as bad. The story is undoubtedly quite limited, with many sequences simply following Rose as she’s exploring the town or being threatened by demonic apparitions from Hell. The problem there inherently lies with the very nature of the production, it being a game-to-film adaptation. A writer is damned if they do or don’t in that respect: add too much story and you’re at risk of disappointing the hardcore fans of the game by not maintaining faithfulness, take the game literally and there’s inevitably barely enough story to stretch the onscreen action to conventional running time. In that respect at least Silent Hill falls into the sincere camp, but it still exceeds two hours (two and a half with advertisements) and that’s way too long in my opinion. The other issue I really have is with Sean Bean. Of course he’s often extremely good at his vocation but he just doesn’t cut playing an American. If I was American I’d think he was taking the piss, it just doesn’t work. I never see much point in hiring an actor for a part that requires an accent so grossly at odds with their own natural tongue but here we have someone heavily northern (from Sheffield specifically), who can pull off a traditional English accent well enough, but when it comes to American he’s an embarrassment to whatever’s left of international peace. On the positive side the film’s visuals are stunning and Gans possesses stellar understanding of powerful composition - many of these frames could be frozen and hung on the wall (depending on the surrounding décor…), and the 2.35:1 proportions (thankfully maintained for C4’s broadcast) are comfortably put to use by the director. Colour choices and contrasts are so acute it’s almost too perfect. Similarly the music (mostly adopted from the game) adds to the tension with originality and impact throughout. Radha Mitchell does well as Rose, and though the Australian is another accent-choice anomaly she’s certainly more successful in this area than Bean. She also looks fantastic. Finally, the point of the film: terror. I realised more so second time around that there are certain scenes here that are utterly nightmarish in tone and effect. There are times when proceedings escalate to such a tremendous height of insanity and absolute ghastliness they not only drag you in but also make up for the movie’s aforementioned shortcomings. It should be pointed out in connection with this that the inhuman creations are highly imaginative and an appreciable cut above usual genre monsters. Whereas I once considered Silent Hill to be an overly stylistic waste of space I think I might have changed my attitude to the film. It might even go on my Christmas Blu-ray list… (Incidentally I believe that for a change the UK has received the best treatment for the BD compared to other parts of the world - nice.)

Posted on 9th November 2008
Under: Horror | 5 Comments »

Lost In Translation

2003, US/Japan, Directed by Sofia Coppola

Colour, Running Time: 97 minutes

DVD, Region 2, Momentum, Video: Anamorphic 1.85:1, Audio: DTS

Film is considered by a portion of humanity to be escapism, a means to separate an individual from the apparent reality that surrounds and engulfs them and temporarily immerse them within a universe created by someone else. One of the keys to successfully immersing the viewer within a film-maker’s universe is implanting into it a character that will exhibit characteristics that might remind the audience of themselves in some way - they will often more readily offer themselves as willing participants on the journey, and this is where I think the brilliance of Lost in Translation lies primarily. For those who are unaware, Bob is an admired and financially secure movie star who has become the (well recognised) face of an expensive alcoholic beverage so lending himself to taking an extra couple of million dollars at his agent’s request he’s staying in Japan for a few days to shoot some commercials advertising the drink. He’s quickly revealed to us to be grossly unsettled with his life: a marital state that bores him, children that probably don’t really like him anymore, a career that has diverted along a route that doesn’t particularly interest his classical sensibilities, and amidst all this is an escalating feeling of isolation and misplacement. Simultaneously Charlotte, a young newlywed also from the US, is staying in Tokyo with her husband while he cultivates his photography career. As he spends his days out shooting pictures and wallowing in blissful ignorance she spends her days becoming depressed and losing faith in what she might have thought was good about life. Inevitably Bob and Charlotte’s lives are destined to cross as they’re staying in the same flash hotel, and despite there being a significant age gap between them, somehow they bring to each other what they both need: companionship (albeit transient), silent understanding, entertainment, and a glimmer of light.

Johansson

It may be appropriate to describe Coppola’s film as a ‘romance’ but that would perhaps be trivialising the achievement whilst also giving the wrong impression considering the movie’s consistent avoidance of cliché. In addition there is somewhat greater depth to the two main characters than might be the case in your average love story, and it should be explained that there is no sex or love-making here - it’s been replaced by existential, or possibly spiritual connection making it altogether more poignant. Placing Bob and Charlotte in the very alien world that is Japan (captured quite nicely by the intricate picture quality of the DVD) instantly emphasises their isolation from humanity (whilst as a side effect highlights the distinct difference between cultures) and serves as a tool to facilitate viewer sympathy. I don’t especially consider myself your average viewer, given the fact that my tastes tend to differ from people who mostly adhere to what’s popular so I can’t say how the average viewer will respond to characters that are essentially ‘lost’, but I think Coppola has tapped into a little investigated human state here and I can identify with the condition even if the people themselves lead somewhat different lives. This is where the film functions at its strongest level and presumably there are others out there who appreciate the same attributes, taking note of the vast number of awards it acquired following its release. This very low budget production also went on to return a nice sum for its backers, which is reassuring. Of course there’s more to this project’s strengths than its insightfully written premise: Bill Murray as Bob yet again proves that he’s got to be one of the best actors living/working today, plus it’s nice to see Scarlett Johansson in a role prior to her ego-feeding, planet-sweeping stardom (that this film probably initiated) - natural beauty combined with talent in roughly equal measure. Looking at her then compared to now indicates that her apparent perfection was only ever going to be eroded by the world’s acknowledgement of such an amazing creature, hence all the more reason to saviour what’s here. The story also features in no small measure a subtle yet effective sense of humour, taking advantage of Murray’s comic abilities as well as lightening the mood throughout. Then there is an appropriate score that contributes towards the induction of the right emotions at the right times.

 

Lost in Translation is one of those rare movies that makes watching them truly worthwhile - an exquisite piece of intelligent art that’s not merely entertainment; it’s relevant on a metaphysical level, tapping into a human condition and dissecting it to see what’s going on. It gives us something to think about and makes us feel more comfortable because, for those of us who identify, it makes you feel like there’s somebody else out there like you and you’re not necessarily suffering alone. Nice work, Ms. Coppola.

Posted on 2nd November 2008
Under: Other | 3 Comments »

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