Thursday, April 24, 2008
I'm usually pretty forgiving about the gaps in logic that seem to be inherent in a lot of Italian horror movies. Most of the time there's a trade off where plot cohesion is sacrificed in order to create a nightmarish atmosphere. In movies where this is done well, I can forgive the resulting plot holes. House by the Cemetery isn't one of those movies, unfortunately.
Lucio Fulci's work has always been an acquired taste, but I've usually been able to look beyond its fault. Even so, I find it difficult to give this movie a pass. Lack of narrative logic was a trademark of Fulci's, but here it's gotten to a point where it's just too nonsensical. A person can only suspend their sense of disbelief for so long before it gets to be a joke, and this movie is an example of such an instance. Adding insult to injury is the film's horrible dub. The dubbing jobs for these things were never that great to begin with, but this one is just so grating that it's hard to watch at times. This may not be Fulci's worst effort, but he certainly did far better over the course of his career.
The version I own on DVD is one of those crappy public domain things I found in the bargain section of my local Sam Goody, and it's honestly kind of a piece of crap. If you absolutely have to own the movie on DVD, I'd recommend getting Anchor Bay's version. I haven't ever had the chance to take a look at it myself but it can't possibly be any worse than the version I own.
This is a strange sort of film, and not just due to its subject matter. Picture a marriage between the set design and atmosphere of the old Universal Pictures monster movies of the '40s and '50s and the over the top sensibilities of the grindhouse movement and you'll have some idea as to what to expect from this film. It makes for an interesting dichotomy, both jarring and entrancing at the same time.
I don't yet own a copy of the movie on DVD, but it and several of the other films in the franchise are available here in the U.S. They seem to have gone out of print, but they can still be had for a fair price if you look hard enough.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
There are several DVDs of the film floating around; I own this one from Anchor Bay. The main extras are a lengthy interview with Gilliam and Palin as well as a retrospective of Gilliam's career.
A sequel was planned but never came to fruition.
Link(s) of interest:
Click here to read a plot synopsis of the film, but beware of spoilers.
There's really not much to say about the DVD. It's pretty barebones, but it does sport a serviceable widescreen transfer and the original Chinese language track at a cost of only $10. Not a bad package for the price, though not really a great one either. Still, the film's a must own for Chan fans.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
This is probably the most coherent Fulci film that I've seen. It's a fairly typical zombie movie in terms of plot, but it's just so over the top. For example, where else could you see an underwater battle between a zombie and a shark? The gore quotient is pretty high as well. There's even one scene (the infamous "eye" sequence) that makes a jaded gorehound like myself squirm. Definitely not a movie for everybody, but required viewing for fans of Italian horror.
I've yet to replace my battered old VHS copy of this with the DVD version, but it's on my to-do list. There are several DVDs of the film floating around, but the one that seems to be the nicest is this one from Shriek Show. It definitely blows the other discs away in terms of bonus features.
Even though the movie is called Zombi 2, there technically never really was an original Zombi. The film's title was selected as a way to cash in on the success of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead, which was called Zombi in Italy.
ATHF is the very definition of an acquired taste; you either love it or hate it. That being said, even diehard fans may be a little disappointed by this movie. The main reason for this is that the franchise's brand of humor doesn't really lend itself to longform stories; it works fine in the 12 minute chunks that compose the TV series but really starts to drag when drawn out to an hour and a half. That being said, there are a few treats for longtime fans to be found here as well as some other surprises. My personal favorite is a brief cameo appearance by Bruce Campbell as the voice of the forgotten fourth Aqua Teen that's just priceless.
I don't own the DVD, but it seems to be a fairly well put together package. It's a 2 disc set that boasts a lot of extras, the big draw being a completely different cut of the film that was scrapped in favor of the one that ended up in theaters. It's definitely something that's intriguing to longtime fans, myself included.
The guerrilla marketing campaign for the film landed the makers in hot water in Boston when one of the neon signs used to promote the movie was mistaken for a bomb.
Thursday, April 3, 2008
The One-Armed Swordsman is regarded as a seminal 'wuxia' film, a subgenre of martial arts cinema that follows the exploits of noble, self-sacrificing swordsmen. This film marks the first time star Jimmy Wang Yu portrayed a one-armed martial artist, and is quite a bit better than a lot of what came after.
The fight choreography is good for the most part. My only nitpick has to do with the fact that it's fairly obvious to the viewer that Jimmy Wang Yu's character's 'missing' arm is clearly just strapped behind his back, but there probably really wasn't any way around this. You notice it less and less as the film goes on, so it ends up not really being that big of a deal.
The Region 1 DVD was produced by Dragon Dynasty, a company that just continues to impress me. I would have been satisfied to just get this in the original Chinese with a decent widescreen transfer; Dragon Dynasty gives us this and then does us one better by including lots of worthwhile extras at a budget price. Well worth the purchase for genre fans and fans of Chinese cinema alike.
This was the first film to ever make over a million dollars at the Chinese box office.
1980's Humanoids from the Deep (also known as Monster) is sort of a weird movie. It's basically a marriage between the goofy plots of 1950s B-movies and the excessive sex and violence that permeated the horror genre during the 1980s. I've always felt like it worked though, but then again movies about sea monsters/sharks/etc. have always creeped me out ever since I first saw the original Jaws. I guess it has something to do with how alien an environment the ocean is for us humans or something. I don't know. As far as the movie goes, the special effects aren't exactly impressive or anything, but its a fun little piece of inconsequential horror.
I can't really comment on the DVD release since its long out of print and goes for a premium on eBay, but it seems to have contained some interesting bonus features, most notably featurette wherein film critic Leonard Maltin interviews legendary B-movie auteur Roger Corman about his involvement with the film.
Corman ordered that additional scenes be shot after the movie wrapped because he felt that there weren't enough scenes of sex and violence.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
My personal favorite Schwarzenegger movie, here's 1982's Conan the Barbarian. You can go here for a plot summary, but beware of spoilers.
This is kind of a weird movie. More of a guilty pleasure than anything else, it's one of those movies that just revels in the blood, guts, and boobs excess of the 1980's. Schwarzenegger is billed as the star but he only has like 30 lines throughout the entire picture, a fact that certainly didn't lend anything to his reputation as an actor. James Earl Jones is good as Thulsa Doom, bad wig and all, but you get the feeling he's sort of slumming it here. Director/writer John Milius must be applauded for preserving the violence and brutality that were hallmarks of Robert E. Howard's original short stories, even if he does take some artistic license with Conan's backstory.
Also of note is Basil Poledouris' magnificent score, regarded by many as one of the greatest film scores ever created.
The DVD release is pretty good, sporting an interesting documentary as well as a raucous commentary track by Schwarzenegger and Milius. It's currently only available as part of a 2 disc set along with its vastly inferior sequel that retails for like $10, well worth the price if you want to own the premier sword and sorcery flick of the 1980s.
Schwarzenegger did all of his own stunts in this movie.
I can't really be objective about this movie; the nostalgia factor is just too great. I love it because it reminds me of my childhood, a sentiment that I think is shared by many of the movie's fans. I'll leave it up to others to determine if it's a good movie or not it the traditional sense. I will say that it sports pretty good animation (at least compared to the TV series that it's based on). The filmmakers' decision to kill off so many of the TV series' principle characters is another element of the movie that I've always found interesting. There's a level of violence here that's pretty jarring when you compare it to its TV counterpart, a move on the part of the filmmakers that was pretty ballsy in retrospect.
As for the DVD, it's top notch. The movie really got the royal treatment in regards to its DVD release, ostensibly to mark the 20th anniversary release in 2006. The cynic in me makes me think the only reason they bothered putting out such a sweet disc was to cash in on the hype surrounding the live action movie, but whatever. Definitely worth owning if your a Transformers fan or just an 80s pop culture aficionado.
This was Orson Wells' final film role before his death.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
This is an interesting film. Making a kung fu movie starring two genuinely physically handicapped individuals could have very easily degenerated into an exercise in exploitation. The Crippled Masters doesn't fall into that trap however; instead it serves as a sort of showcase for two men who overcame their disabilities and became talented martial artists. It's actually pretty inspiring.
I can't really say much about the DVD. The version I have is one of those public domain deals, and it's now seemingly out of print. Worth tracking down if you have the time and dedication.
This was supposed to go up ages ago, but life got in the way. Anyways, here's the 1978 Jackie Chan vehicle Snake in the Eagle's Shadow. Go here for a plot summary, but beware of possible spoilers.
If Police Story was the film that brought Chan to the attention of western audiences, then this is the one that introduced him to Chinese viewers. It was the first picture in which Chan was allowed to do stunts the way he wanted to do them, to the great success of both the movie and his career. Definitely worth a watch if you want to see Chan in his prime. Makes a good double bill with Chan's later Drunken Master.
The DVD isn't anything to write home about, but the picture looks great and it has the original Chinese language track on it, which is always nice to have. No extras to speak of, but that isn't unforgivable for a budget priced disc.
1) The character Lei Wulong from the Tekken video game series is based on the character Chan portrays in this movie.
Link(s) of interest:
1) Buy the DVD
Thursday, March 6, 2008
If there's such a thing as a minimalist gangster film, then this is it. Its more of a meditation on life than it is an action picture, with long periods of calm punctuated by quick flashes of brutal violence. This is something of a trademark for Takeshi, as is the air of loneliness that prevades the whole affair. This effect is enhanced by Takeshi's decision to use the desolate beaches of Okinawa as a backdrop for the majority of the movie's scenes, and also by Joe Hisaishi's haunting score.
The film has been released on DVD here in the States, but only as a bonus disc included with the release of Takeshi's disappointing Zatoichi remake. There isn't much in the way of bonus features, but it's worth the price if you want to see a different kind of gangster film.
1) The word 'sonatine' is a musical term.
Today we have Lucio Fulci's City of the Living Dead. You can go here for an in-depth plot summary, but beware of spoilers.
This is probably my third favorite Fulci picture, after The Beyond and Zombi 2. Fulci's trademark lack of plot coherence isn't quite as pronounced here as it is in The Beyond, but things still aren't exactly linear. Still, this factor is probably one of the reasons I like this movie since, when you think about it, there's only so much you can do with zombies before the concept starts getting stale. Fulci dodges this bullet by giving his zombies the ability to teleport... Like I said, it doesn't make much sense, but its cool.
That being said, this isn't a movie for everyone. Fulci's penchant for graphic gore is on display here in all it's glory. The special effects have actually aged fairly well, especially an infamous sequence involving an unfortunate man and a very large drill.
The film's DVD releases have been lackluster. Both Anchor Bay and Blue Underground have put out versions, but both releases are essentially identical. The lack of decent bonus features on both releases is disappointing, but the film is worth a watch if you aren't squeamish.
1) Fulci used the fictional Book of Eibon as a plot point both in this movie and in The Beyond.
2) Dunwich, the name of the titular city, is a reference to an H.P. Lovecraft story.
Link(s) of interest:
1) Buy the DVD from Amazon
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Got another review for ya today. From 1983, here's Sleepaway Camp.
There's really not a whole lot I can say about this movie. By and large it's just your typical 1980s slasher flick; just another ripoff in the sea of ripoffs that emerged in the wake of the original Friday the 13th. What separates this flick from its ilk, however, is its truly odd shock ending. I won't go into details here so as to avoid spoiling it, suffice it to say that it had even me, the stereotypical jaded horror geek, a little bit creeped out. It's worth sitting through the whole movie at least once to see it. The payoff really is worth it.
The film's famous ending was parodied on an episode of Cartoon Network's Robot Chicken.
Link(s) of interest:
1) Visit the film's official website
2) Buy the DVD from Amazon.com
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Considered to be one of the 50 greatest cartoons of all time (it ranks #24 on the actual list), it was nominated for an Academy Award in 1954 and was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2001.
The art style personally reminds me of those weird paintings that Rod Serling used to show before each Night Gallery segment.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Horror cinema is not a genre one generally associates with high art. It’s not often that one comes across a horror movie that is both frightening and beautiful at the same time, but there are exceptions to this rule. One such film is 1965’s Kwaidan, a hauntingly beautiful piece of Japanese horror cinema.
Kwaidan is an anthology film based on the works of Lafcadio Hearn, a Greek-born writer who lived and worked in Japan. It consists of four unrelated stories, each of which has its roots in traditional Japanese folklore. In the first, “The Black Hair,” a repentant samurai returns to the wife he abandoned years before and finds she’s not quite the woman she used to be. The second segment, “The Woman of the Snow,” tells of a lonely woodcutter’s fateful encounter with a snow spirit during a blizzard. The third, “Hoichi the Earless,” concerns a blind musician whose songs have the power to enchant even the dead. The final tale, “In a Cup of Tea,” details the difficulties faced by a samurai after he glimpses a mysterious face in his teacup.
Kwaidan is something of an anomaly; it has the unique distinction of being both a traditional piece of Japanese cinema as well as an effective horror film. Masaki Kobayashi’s direction carries with it the deliberate sense of pacing so commonly associated with Japanese cinema of the day, while at the same time subtly cultivating an increasing sense of tension and unease that continues to build until each segment’s climax. Kobayashi previously used this technique to great effect in 1963’s Harakiri, but he perfects it here.
The effect is enhanced even more so by the production’s unique approach to set design, wherein nearly every scene- even those that are supposed to take place out of doors- was shot on elaborate sets specially constructed on soundstages. The liberal application of vivid colors to these already highly stylized sets lends the production an ethereal quality that is reminiscent of what Italian horror auteur Dario Argento would go on to do in his masterpiece Suspiria, and one can’t help but wonder if he wasn’t inspired by Kwaidan. These factors, in conjunction with Toru Takemitsu’s minimalistic score, foster a haunting, dreamlike atmosphere that pervades the entire film.
The end result is a fascinating movie that offers something for both lovers of Japanese cinema and horror aficionados alike. It’s one of those rare films about the supernatural that actually succeeds in creating a convincing sense of the otherworldly. One needs look no further than Kwaidan for proof that horror movies can also be art films.
1) The word 'kwaidan' means 'ghost story' in Japanese.
2) The film was nominated for an Academy Award in 1966. It lost, unfortunately.
Link(s) of interest:
1) Download Lafcadio Hearn's original short stories in ebook form at Project Gutenberg
2) Buy Kwaidan on DVD
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Chan Ka Kui (Jakie Chan) is a Hong Kong police officer who is assigned to protect a key witness in a huge drug bust case. Naturally, things don't go as smoothly as they should and Ka Kui ends up getting framed for the murder of a fellow cop. From there it becomes a race against time to both clear his name and nail the drug lord responsible who is truly responsible.
This is definitely one of the best (if not the best) films Jackie Chan has ever done. Chan's trademark physical comedy and insane stunt work are present in abundance and, since this was made when Chan was in his prime, all of them are pulled off with much more vigor and panache than what's been on display in his more recent movies (and that's saying something). The only gripe I have with the picture is that that aren't that many fight scenes, but this is a minor complaint overall since the ones that are there are superb. Chan's fight choreography is just as polished here as it has been in his more recent efforts, if not more so.
The DVD is a pretty sweet package as well. Dragon Dynasty has hit another home run with this disc, which includes deleted scenes, a commentary track, a documentary on the film's stunts, an interview with Chan, and several different audio tracks, all for under $20. The DVD's only flaw has to do with the fact that the video is somewhat more grainy than is typical for Dragon Dynasty's releases, but I feel like the grain sort of adds to the gritty look of the movie, so it wasn't really a problem. All in all, Police Story is a great movie presented on an excellent DVD.
This really is Chan at his finest.
1) Chan not only starred in this movie, he also directed it and sang the theme song.
2) The movie's crew took to calling the film "Glass Story" due to the insane amount of sugar glass that was broken during the fight scenes.
Link(s) of interest:
1) Police Story theatrical trailer
2) A Police Story fansite
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
The students of the Hang Tui school have a strong sense of justice. This pisses off their rivals at the Chao school, who hire martial artists from across Asia to put them in their place. What follows is a massacre, the only survivor being a guy named Tien Lung (Jimmy Wang Yu) who loses an arm in the fight. He's taken in by a kindly old doctor who just happens to know the secret of a one armed fighting technique that could allow Tien Lung to exact revenge on his enemies...
If the above plot synopsis makes the movie sound a bit cookie cutter, that's because it is. What a disappointment this movie was. I went into it thinking it would be as good or better than its sequel, Master of the Flying Guillotine, but its not even close. It just takes way too long to get to the point. The movie is called One Armed Boxer but he doesn't even lose his arm until the final third of the film, and the earlier segments of the film just drag.
I can't really comment on the film's DVD release since I don't think it's been released stateside, but it doesn't really matter since it's only really worth watching if you've seen the sequel and want to know the character's backstory. If not, then it's totally skippable.
This was the second one armed character played by Jimmy Wang Yu. The other was a one armed swordsman.
Link(s) if interest:
One Armed Boxer theatrical trailer
Monday, February 11, 2008
For today's review we have The Beyond, the masterpiece of Italian horror maestro Lucio Fulci.
An old New Orleans hotel just happens to have been constructed over a gateway to hell. A new owner moves in and begins renovating the property, inadvertently unleashing the dark forces contained there.
The film is admittedly something of an acquired taste. One aspect of the film that can be off-putting for unsuspecting viewers is the insane amount of gore that Fulci tosses up on screen. This was more-or-less a trademark of Fulci's (and Italian horror in general), and could be disturbing to viewers with weak stomachs. The movie's second stumbling block has to do with the frequent lapses in logic inherent in the story. I read somewhere once that Fulci was more concerned with creating atmospheric visuals in his films than he was in cultivating a cohesive narrative, and The Beyond does seem to adhere to that framework. If I had to describe it, I'd say that it has the logic of a nightmare; one of those where you can't get away from whatever's chasing you no matter how far or fast you run. It doesn't always make since, but it's definitely very atmospheric.
As for the DVD, it's a pretty decent package. The best features are two interviews included on the disc, one with Fulci (conducted shortly before his death) and another with the principle actors that was done at a horror convention around the time of the film's theatrical re-release in the late 1990's. They're not all that informative, but they're interesting nonetheless. Unfortunately, the disc seems to have gone out of print recently, so it may be hard to track down a copy. Even so, it's worth the effort if you enjoy gory, atmospheric zombie flicks. If you do, they don't get any better than this one.
Link(s) of interest:
The Beyond theatrical trailer
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
San Te (Gordon Liu), an anti-Manchu patriot, seeks refuge in the Shaolin Temple after his comrades and family are killed. In order to get revenge for their murders, he begins training in Shaolin martial arts, honing his skills in the titular chambers, each one designed to teach a different skill.
The film has been hailed by many as the greatest kung fu movie of all time, and that's no understatement. Produced by Shaw Brothers Studio during the company's heyday, the film boasts rather high production values (for its time) and decent performances all around. The fight choreography is also well done, though it may seem a little slow to viewers weaned on more contemporary martial arts fare. The real draws here, however, are the endlessly inventive training sequences wherein San Te struggles to master new skills in unique and often painful ways, building himself up to the point where he can finally exact his revenge on his enemies. It's fascinating stuff, and a refreshing change of pace from the typical beat-'em-up style storylines typically associated with this genre.
The American DVD release of the film is quite well put together. Produced by Dragon Dynasty, the disc is a nearly identical to the remastered Region 3 release, right down to the bonus features. The American release goes one better, however, boasting both an exclusive commentary track as well as an English audio track not present on the Region 3 release. The end result is a really nice disc, far superior to the bare bones treatment these types of films usually receive when they're released on DVD here in the US. This fact, along with the sheer greatness of the film itself make it a must own for every self-respecting kung fu fan.
1) Star Gordon Liu appeared in both Kill Bill films, playing a different character in each one.
2) The film spawned two sequels; Return to the 36th Chamber (1980) and Disciples of the 36th Chamber (1985).
Link(s) of interest:
The 36th Chamber of Shaolin theatrical trailer
This blog is basically going to be my soapbox for extolling the virtues of cult cinema in all its forms. Posts will most often take the form of movie reviews, beginning with a summary and critique of the film in question and ending with a word or two regarding the quality of the title's DVD release.
My first review should be up by the end of the week, so please look forward to it.