Monday, June 29, 2009

Antti-Jussi Annila's Sauna (2008)

Set in 1585, Antti-Jussi Annila's Sauna (2008), at the conclusion of a twenty-five year war between Finland and Russia, with the former under the crown of Sweden, is about two brothers, Erik (Ville Virtanen) and Knut (Tommi Eronen). Knut is the younger and a cartographer, with the promise of a professorship in Stockholm upon completion of his task. Erik is war-torn, tired, and often violent. Erik and Knut represent the Swedish crown in the mapping and creation of a new border between Finland and Russia. They are joined on their expedition by three Russian emissaries, led by Semensky (Viktor Klimenko). There is hostility between the two sides, but they are united honorably in their task for both of their respective countries. The majority of the hostility that the party encounters is from the locals in the various villages in and around the new border. Eventually, the party comes upon an isolated village in the dead center of a swamp where a sauna serves as its centerpiece.Previous to Erik and Knut joining their Russian compatriots to complete the border marking, the pair stopped with a local family, a father and his teenage daughter. One evening, Erik notices that a shelf looks recently emptied, as if the father and the daughter are hiding something. Erik confronts the father and forces him to show the wares. In a cellar, there is a stockpile of rations. Erik pulls the father back to the cabin, while Knut stays below with the young daughter. Knut makes an attempt to kiss the young lady, but in fear, she covers her face and cowers. Knut locks the girl in the cellar and finds Erik having murdered the father. Erik claims it was self-defense. (Semensky later says to Erik, who dons glasses for his poor eyesight, that although his glasses give him the air of civility, they do not hide his eyes which miss the war and the opportunity to continue violent acts.) Knut says nothing upon finding his brother having bloodily killed the man, as Erik mutters only the words, "seventy-three." Knut tells his brother that he's locked the girl in the cellar, and Erik says that he will let her out.
After meeting with the Russians, Erik and Knut begin their long journey towards the North. Knut sees at several intervals what looks like a young woman in the distance, and eventually, Knut tells Erik that he believes the young girl from the cellar is following them. Erik shocks Knut with his revelation: he never let her out. Knut says that they must go back, but Erik vehemently disagrees: they must trudge forward and complete this task for the crown. Knut is quite wrecked with guilt for the girl's trapping; however, he hides a deeper guilt (that Erik is able to later pull out of him) about the girl. The five come upon a swamp. Semensky says lets go around it and split the middle of the swamp with the border. Erik, characteristically and hostilely, disagrees: give the whole of the swamp to Sweden or trek forward. As they move through the swamp, the party spies an sauna eerily out of the blue and come into the neighboring village. The village has seventy-three residents, only one of whom is a child, and are all unnaturally clean.Antti-Jussi Annila's Sauna is a gorgeous-looking film and really represents how technology can be used well with cinema. Only with the new-finagled cameras can the lines in Semensky's and Erik's face be captured: just by looking at the detail on their skin can the viewer tell that these gentlemen have seen very hard times. The titular sauna looks oddly clinical yet tainted, as the mold and mildew is around the dark opening. The dying vegetation and the cold weather are not just shown in glorious detail, but the detail is so overwhelming that the viewer can almost feel it. Cinematography aside, Sauna presents a dense and maybe esoteric theme of seemingly redemption and cleansing, tied to the titular sauna. What is certain, however, are the stellar performances by Ville Virtanen and Tommi Eronen, as Erik and Knut, respectively, two very complex characters. Their fraternal relationship is so genuine, and despite the often totally bleak nature of the film, their love never wavers. Virtanen and Eronen give very emotional and sometimes vulnerable performances, which alone make Sauna worth viewing. The David Lynch-like mystery involving the sauna and the nearby village is intriguing. I sat through the film twice before blogging: once as a passive viewer and the second more critical and sensitive, attempting to link the the themes and pick up clues. I do not believe I was wholly successful but I will certainly revisit Sauna again. Sauna is above all a very disorienting film: sometimes real-world-like harsh violence combined with darkly ethereal and creepy imagery and elements. A tight and focused film, densely-packed, richly-detailed, and a curious gem.

Songsak Mongkolthong's The Screen At Kamchanod (2007)

Without a doubt, and I'm certain my few readers are sick of hearing it, but I absolutely love what I call "quiet" films: nothing loud or obnoxious or quickly-paced or product-laden but mostly sparse and leisurely-paced and unassuming and sometimes still. Don't get me wrong, I certainly very much love films of the former but really prefer the latter. I don't really know why. Perhaps it's because most of life is fairly intense, where I see logic fail on an grand scale daily, I take solace in cinema which doesn't attempt to grab and keep me entertained as if I have ADD but like a slow continuous current I can wade through it without fighting or just let myself float away with it. So give me five characters, an irrational experiment, unforeseen consequences, the confrontation of inner demons and external ones, a soft celluloid palate, and a little bit of history, and we have Songsak Mongkolthong's The Screen At Kamchanod (2007). Twenty years prior in the Kamchanod forest, there was an outdoor screening, and at the start of the screening, there was no audience. However, as the night drew on, the film spooled or broke, and to a white screen, an audience appeared out of the forest. Myth or real, paranormal or coincidence, young Dr. Yut wants to find out with an experiment to recreate the screening ("Is there an overlap between this world and the next?") but is missing the actual film. With the help of a couple, Ji and Pun, who are also reporters, Roj, the lonely, drug-addicted assistant to a shopkeeper, and Yut's girlfriend, Aon, who has about had it with this life, Yut begins to assemble the clues and learn the location of the film. Through the network of projectionists, Yut and his cohorts learn that the film's original projectionists were Pradrab, whose whereabouts are unknown, and Chin, who's at a local hospital, unresponsive and nearly vegetative. Chin has a bandaged fist, and when Chin refuses to talk to Yut about the screening, Yut decided to cut the bandages from his hand revealing a small trinket. Chin flips out and begins to see things. Yut promises to give it back, if Chin reveals the location of the film. Pradrab has it, says Chin, and as Roj arrives to deliver Yut some documents, almost fortuitously, Roj tells Yut that there's an abandoned movie theatre. The theatre has been abandoned for years and the projectionist, Pradrab, was famous for screening movies for ghosts. One evening, he locked himself inside his booth with the intention of burning the film, but rumor has it, that the ghosts killed him to save the film. When Yut's crew of five arrive, they will be the first folks to visit the theatre since the last screening.
Needless to say, they find the film and screen it (its images are Kamchanod forest?), and The Screen At Kamchanod takes on the feeling of the world ending not with a bang but a whimper. Evocative of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's masterful Kairo (2001), the answer to Yut's original question ("Is there an overlap between this world and the next?") comes much sooner than the film's ending (where the original screening is replicated). "Have you noticed," asks Aon to Yut, "that we are seeing fewer living people and more ghosts?" Yut believes seeing ghosts everyday is normal; however, it's taking quite the toll on the others. Pun breaks down from her encounters and Ji begins breaking down, because the woman he loves is breaking down. Roj starts sleeping on the roof and begins using more, since the dope is better up in his head than the ghosts. Aon, who was first glimpsed by the viewer in nearly a trance and wanting to kill herself, wanders throughout the whole film. She's haunted by not just the other-worldly but by the real world, which isn't such a happy and safe place to begin with. While Mongkolthong attempts to provide the bang to the wonderful whimper of The Screen At Kamchanod with the ending, although clever and intriguing, the real attraction of the film is not the investigative mystery behind the original screening but the film's bulk in the middle. Aon, portrayed by beautiful Pakkramai Potranan, and Roj (Namo Tongkumnerd) are Screen's most interesting characters: they are from the wonderful WKW/French New Wave mold, where crying is often covered by sunglasses. Roj is reluctant and really drawn to the mystery because he's quite lonely. His initial encounter with Aon is on a train platform, where he saves her from nearly killing herself. Roj becomes entranced with Aon, often stealing noticeable glances of her and her legs when he can. Aon's self-destructive beauty is also alluring to Roj, and to the viewer, and the two consummate their relationship in almost the most unexpected way. Potranan's Aon, initially, would seem a collateral character and her only involvement is as Yut's girlfriend. However, Potranan really conveys a lot of the heartfelt emotion of the film and is easily the most captivating to watch. Aon's and Yut's relationship, also, comes to a very interesting conclusion, as well.Finally, it should be mentioned, since this is a horror movie, the creepy ghost imagery runs the gamut from ineffective to effectively creepy. I really enjoyed just watching these five characters fill Screen with their supernatural encounters. Mongkolthong creates some beautiful set pieces, such as the scene in the movie theatre when the crew views the film. The ending, although a little over-dramatic, is quite effective and creepy in its own way. I love the photography and the look of Thailand in the film: some gorgeous imagery with the colors of brown and grey, alongside weathered concrete temples, the nearly ancient-looking movie theatre, and wonderful glimpses of a quiet city (mostly populated by ghosts). The Screen At Kamchanod is a film likely to alienate horror fans and kind of float away into obscurity. Also kind of appropriate for a film about the dangers of crossing over into unknown worlds, don't you think?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Shimako Sato's Eko Eko Azarak: Wizard of Darkness (1995)

After a prologue with some lines from John Milton's Paradise Lost, specifically invoking the name of Lucifer, an unknown woman is seen running frantically through the streets of Tokyo, where, unsurprisingly, no one cares. However, the red-robed Satanists, in the midst of some serious mumbo jumbo during a ritual, have her in mind; and after the unknown woman takes a dark corner, she is met with a gruesome girder killing. One of the red-robed is singled out to finalize the plan in their Satanic conquest, and it is happening at a high school. As the teenagers are walking towards the school to the hauntingly minimal piano score, Mr. Numata waits at the front gate. After groping one young woman, Kazumi, Numata stops another, saying he doesn't recognize her. The new student is Misa Kuroi (Kimika Yoshino), who is also a witch, arriving to stop the Satanic evil in the school in Shimako Sato's Eko Eko Azarak: Wizard of Darkness (1995).What follows in Eko Eko Azarak: Wizard of Darkness is a little Harry Potter, some Nancy Drew, and a tinge of Degrassi High, with a lesser budget, some steamy sex, and a healthy dose of bloody violence: a perfect potion for cinematic exploitation. There's the jock, Shindo, who's immediately enamored when he first glimpses Misa. There's also the poseur, Mizuno, who likes the attention he receives, because he's into magic. Mizuno does reveal that the rash of recent murders all have taken place geographically in the shape of a pentagram with the school in the center; however, when he tries cast a spell for Kazumi on the roving-handed Mr. Kumata, he's upstaged by Misa. Mizuno becomes jealous of Misa's genuine talent and he attempts to turn her classmates against her. Kurahashi is Misa's doting new friend, who Misa ends up saving after someone sinister casts a spell upon her. Mr. Kumata ends up dying, and Mizuno's plan of turning Misa's classmates against her nearly comes to fruition, as all eyes fall on Misa as the cause for not just Kumata's death but all the mysterious occult deaths occurring around Tokyo. One evening, while all the students are summoned after school to take a math test by Ms. Shirai, they are all going to need Misa's help as they get locked into the school with the number "13" written on the board (and the Satanic shenanigans begin). Oh, and by the way, to spice up this mix, Ms. Shirai is sleeping with Kazumi. They like to do it in an empty classroom and provide Eko Eko Azarak with its steamy lesbian sex scenes.
The final two-thirds of Eko Eko Azarak becomes survival horror involving spell-casting and possession with lots of arterial spray and some gruesome killings. The film's location is primarily the school but absent, however, are the pop songs and cell phones. Eko Eko Azarak has a good overall sense of dread and mystery, which is aided by the low budget. Sato is able to use a singular location, as did Toshiharu Ikeda with Evil Dead Trap (1988), and focus on it tightly, so it appears to the viewer as claustrophobic. It works. The absence, also, of any positive happy images or music adds to the dread and foreboding of the mystery and horror. Even on a very subtle level, Sato takes his quiet and focused style and is able to make a profound criticism of the current school system, its teacher-student relationships, and even modern relationships between adults and children. The best aspect of Eko Eko Azarak is the character, Misa, and the performance by Kimika Yoshino (whose photo is currently the header for this blog in Takashi Miike's Gozu (2003)).
The viewer knows virtually nothing about Misa or her background. Sato would draw Misa's history much deeper in his subsequent feature Eko Eko Azarak: Birth of the Wizard (1996), with Yoshino returning as Misa. However, the mystery surrounding Misa adds both to the film's overall sense of mystery and the tragedy within the film, as well. Mizuno learns that at Misa's previous school there were several deaths involving Misa. She tells this to Shindo, and it's why Misa cannot get close to anyone. Shindo doesn't care. He loves her anyway. Kimika Yoshino is strikingly beautiful and has gorgeous sleepy eyes, which she imbues with both sadness and intense focus. Yoshino's fantastic, while the rest of the cast gives stereotypical over-the-top performances in stereotypical roles. Eko Eko Azarak does have it's share of b-movie cheese, especially near the end, and the cheese ranges from slightly annoying to awesomely sublime.
Eko Eko Azarak: Wizard of Darkness is a little film that has stayed with me since the first time that I saw it around its original release date. It's certainly cheesy, but it's comfort-food cheese: fun to see every once and while and not really filling but certainly, deliciously consumable.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Shyam & Tulsi Ramsay's Hotel (1981)

I picked up Shyam & Tulsi Ramsay's early Bollywood horror film Hotel (1981) for a song after becoming hypnotically entranced by six (yes, six) of their later releases, each from Mondo Macabro DVD, in their Bollwood Horror Collections Vols. 1, 2, and 3. Each volume contains, respectively, Bandh Darwaza (1990) & Purana Mandir (1984), Veerana (1988) & Purani Haveli (1989), and Mahakaal (1993) & Tahkhana (1986). I collect all of the Mondo Macabro DVD releases like comic books after having read essential genre tomes, Pete Tombs's Mondo Macabro and Cathal Tohill & Pete Tombs's Immoral Tales: European Sex & Horror Movies 1956-1984. While this ain't a commercial for the Mondo Macabro DVD label, I do believe in supporting the genre labels, especially MM, who put out often obscure unknown flicks for the seriously curious genre fan. But back to Bollywood and this Western white guy's history with them. I read on a film message board a few years ago that there was a Bollywood version of David Fincher's Fight Club (1999) available on dvd. Color me curious, I purchased a copy of Vikram Chopra's Fight Club: Members Only (2006) and was taken aback: although clearly "inspired," it wasn't a complete rip-off of Fincher's very dark comedy but rather a very light one about five friends and their take on a "fight club." I had a true case of culture shock, with the most shocking aspect of the film being its run time, nearly two and a half hours (not uncommon with Bollywood films, as I later would learn). I also noticed that at least thirty of those minutes were devoted to the song-and-dance sequences (a staple of Bollywood cinema which I also later learned), which were catchy and fun pop songs, shot in the style and nearly as slick as a MTV music video. Although Chopra's Fight Club is by no means a very good film, it was enough for me to want to seek out more. Perhaps because of my love for Italian genre, I sought out the Bollywood versions of films that I had already seen and enjoyed, such as the Pang Brothers' The Eye (2002), Chan-wook Park's Oldboy (2003), and Bryan Singer's The Usual Suspects (1994). Subsequently, I would seek out a bunch of original and recent ones (post-2000), as there were myriad available on Netflix. After seeing a baker's dozen or so, without really seeing a Bollywood horror film (save the mediocre redux of The Eye), I put Bollywood cinema behind me, since none of the films (mostly action and adventure) really blew me away. Also with the average run time of nearly two and half to three hours, I could watch a couple flicks from nearly any country while I was watching only a mediocre one from India. It wasn't until over a year or so later when I viewed the Ramsays' Bandh Darwaza in the very first MM Bollywood Horror Collection that I realized I had been both unfair and quite misguided towards Bollywood Cinema. I was blown away by Bandh Darwaza's b-movie comedy, horror, and cheesiness; loved its romantic love songs as a break in the action; and relished its length, at approximately two hours and twenty minutes. To digress a little further (all this rambling will seem appropriate shortly, I promise), I have a terrible habit of having to watch a film (or read a book) before bed time. Depending on how well the day has kicked my ass, I'll watch somewhere from five minutes to an hour of a film before nodding off. Over the course of five or six nights for each volume, I watched all of MM's Bollywood Horror Collections, never having to worry about catching up with one of its rambling yet simple plot lines, as each were often episodic and quite enchanting. There's a real energy and vibrancy to the cinema, and I can't imagine not having Bollywood cinema in my immediate future. So, after exhausting the current Ramsay releases from MM (all of which I loved, each for different reasons), I had to look elsewhere, and I found it cheaply on Indian dvd in Hotel (1981).
Suraj (Navin Nischol) is a wealthy, yet single, businessman, who desires to build a hotel in the region where his long-lost love, Sushma (Nellam Mehra), currently resides. Suraj's buddy, Vijay (Rakesh Roshan), thinks he should let his past love go but encourages his business endeavor, while Vijay has his hands full with layabout and wandering brother, Sanjay (Prem Krishan). Suraj hires Chhaganlal Patel (Ranjeet), a charismatic yet, as is later shown, crooked land sales contractor and developer to find a piece of land to build the hotel. Chhaganlal Patel finds only one piece of suitable land, which is unfortunately the site of a cemetery, owned by a local church. So, in due course, Chhaganlal Patel greases the palms of a government official and a big-time lawyer, and along with his sexy secretary, Shabho (Prema Narayan), Chhaganlal Patel dupes the priest who owns the land into selling, by telling the priest that an orphanage is going to be built on the site. Suraj is happy that Chhaganlal Patel found a piece of suitable land and Suraj paid handsomely for it. He also agreed to let Chhaganlal Patel helm the construction of the hotel. When the old priest sees that a hotel is going up on the land, Chhaganlal Patel laughs him off and the old priest dies. Later, layabout Sanjay comes snooping around when the hotel is complete and he learns of the nefarious goings-on. When he gets killed, Chhaganlal Patel and his cohorts hide the evidence, while Suraj and Vijay arrive at the hotel to host a grand gala. Let the hijinx ensue.
While I attempted to give a succinct preview of the plot for Hotel, at nearly two hours and twenty minutes, the viewer is going to get to see every iota of this hotel's construction, from inception to completion, in, primarily, a rambling and comedic fashion. At times the film feels unfocused, as if the Ramsays are attempting to fill the run time and are making the film up as they go. No matter, because along the way, I was treated to quite a few comedic sequences, especially with Chhaganlal Patel, who, although the villain, isn't mean-spirited but ridiculously greedy. Ranjeet's performance is appropriately subdued and over-the-top at times. The song and dance sequences, especially the love songs, are really cute and well-done. Shabho does a great number at the hotel's opening-night party, and I had a complete smile on my face the whole time. While there is a bunch of comedy, a martial-arts finale, romance, and a little drama, there is little in Hotel in the way of horror. The six subsequent features of the Ramsays included in the MM Bollywood Horror Collections, all have horror as the main theme. In Hotel, horror is just another theme thrown in the mix, although there are some creepy cemetery scenes towards the end (zombies, too). It would have been nice to have more horror elements throughout the film, but I enjoyed Hotel very much for its overall sense of fun and camp silliness. So like Hotel, this review has a little bit of everything. Now, isn't that just damn clever on my part?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Amando de Ossorio's The Loreley's Grasp (1974)

The negligee, below the chin but above the breasts, of the would-be bride, who gets a nighttime caller at her window, flows scantily in the light around her body. A touching scene: the groom must get one more glimpse of his love before tomorrow's wedding. Alas, the green, rubber-suited Loreley, who rips the sheer fabric and lovely torso of the would-be bride in order to eat her heart ends any wedding plans to substitute rush funeral ones. The Loreley is a German legend (?), who comes upon the shore from the river, after her sleep for centuries during the full moon, to consume the hearts of the unwilling, in the form of gorgeous beauty, Helga Line, before returning to her slumber in her den under the water, where she guards the gold of Woton. This is real cinema, people, from an old school master filmmaker, loosening up in the liberal 70s to deliver a camp horror classic: Amando de Ossorio's The Loreley's Grasp (1974).
A blind musician tells the tale of the Loreley to quite the crowd in the pub. They won't listen, because it's just a legend. It must be a wild beast who killed the unsuspecting bride. Enter gorgeous Elke (Silvia Tortosa) with a tight bun and the serious and stereotypical headmistress outfit on. Outside the village, the all-girls' school fears for their safety from the wild beast. Who will come to their rescue? Enter my main man, Sigurd (Tony Kendall), and dig those threads, baby. He's a young, suave hunter, who's going to protect the swooning schoolgirls. Elke, unfortunately, is as tight as her bun, because she doesn't like Sigurd's brash, arrogant manner. The schoolgirls really dig Sigurd, though, and love to wink and blow kisses from their windows down to him on the grounds at bedtime (in a precious scene). Another young female gets her heart ripped out by the Loreley and the blind musician gets torn to bits, as well. Elke won't let Sigurd swim in the pool with the girls, so he goes out to swim in the marsh. A dazzling beauty is seen on the shore line in a bikini, and when she glimpses Sigurd, she prances away through the forest. Sigurd meets a mad crazy scientist in the forest, also, who is working on a way to destroy the Loreley. Sigurd still doesn't believe in the legend; however, when he finally enters the lair of the bikini-clad beauty, whose name is Loreley, and becomes enamored with her charm and beauty, Sigurd thinks maybe something's up. Sigurd's heart becomes torn not from the Loreley's ferocious claws but by her seductive innocence and his burgeoning love for Elke, who has let her hair down a little, and even steals a glance from her bedroom window.Amando de Ossorio has crafted a horror film with The Loreley's Grasp that has all the camp charm of a 60s Batman episode combined with the mostly risque but sometimes overt nudity of more liberal 70s cinema. Not liberal enough for Women's Lib, however, as the story and characterizations are out of the 30s and 40s. The Loreley's Grasp has everything: horror, science fiction, romance, comedy, action, and adventure, more like an old time serial or comic book. The gore, especially the wince-inducing heart-ripping scenes, are the most modern aspects of the film (save maybe the threads). All of the films that I've seen from de Ossorio have that odd mix of romantic sentimentalism and modern depictions of gore and flesh: Malenka (1969), Tombs of the Blind Dead (1971), Night of the Sorcerers (1973), The Return of the Evil Dead (1973), The Ghost Galleon (1974), Night of the Seagulls (1975), and The Possessed (1975). Amando de Ossorio was in his mid-fifties by the time he made The Loreley's Grasp, so perhaps he was mixing a blend of his favorite childhood stories in a market that was increasingly demanding more gore and nudity.The real treasure of The Loreley's Grasp is Helga Line. Absolutely radiant and charming as the titular character, this is by far my favorite performance by her. The scene where she confronts the mad scientist in his lab with her muscular, whip-wielding assistant, Alberic (Luis Barboo) is standout for its old school, camp flavor. Line is also amazingly seductive and charming in her scenes with Kendall, and in fact, all of Line's scenes would be worth the price of admission alone. Tony Kendall, who worked previously with de Ossorio on his excellent The Return of the Evil Dead, gives a penultimate machismo performance. Kendall, like Line, delivers his performance with camp serious but also with tinges that he is having a tremendous amount of fun with the whole goings on. Finally, Silvia Tortosa's Elke is a terrific foil to Kendall, and their romantic relationship has all the flair of a fairy tale. Tortosa plays the strict German headmistress/airy young lover role with a lot of enthusiasm and fun. The Loreley's Grasp is not a film for the seriously uptight and rigid but for the adventure seekers who like comic books and rubber-suited monsters. I truly wish that I could see a matinee feature today that is this much fun. Treat yourselves, see it.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Shane Meadows's Dead Man's Shoes (2004)

A film about brothers, Shane Meadows's Dead Man's Shoes (2004) is immediately apparent. Watching the younger lad follow the older one, donning an army-green jacket with a duffel bag of the same color slung over his shoulder, in the opening credit sequence, even without the flashback footage of the Super-8-ish home movies of two young boys in familial situations, is enough to tell the viewer that these two are brothers. The pair are walking to an abandoned farmhouse, slightly outside the village where the two grew up. The older one with the army fatigues is Richard, played by Paddy Considine, in his finest role to date, and the younger one is Anthony, his mentally disabled brother, played by Toby Kebbell in a heartbreaking and endearing performance. Anthony is Richard's reason for coming home; not a happy reunion, as Richard's actions initially appear as a military operation. The next thing to become apparent: this is a story of revenge.
After the two make camp at the abandoned farmhouse, Richard, with Anthony following behind, immediately come into their home village. Through an alleyway, Richard comes upon a house and searches the perimeter for any signs of life. A black-and-white cut scene occurs in which Anthony is seen holding grocery bags and being summoned inside the house by an older chap. Once Anthony is inside, there's a bunch of people, looking as if they're just having a good time drinking and smoking a little weed. Cut back to color and Richard, with a glass of water in front of him, and Anthony are in a pool hall. Local drug dealer, Herbie, walks in, and if looks could kill, then Herbie would have fallen over at the threshold, because Richard knows him. Herbie peddles some drugs to a couple locals and disturbed by the stare that he is receiving from Richard, he confronts him. What the fuck is Richard looking at? "At you, ya cunt!" Herbie's scared: after another confrontation outside his mate's club, where Richard seems to be apologizing in a rather intimidating fashion, Herbie runs to see a couple chums. They're reading a little porno and drinking some beers. Herbie sits with the two and brings a serious buzzkill: Anthony's brother's in town. The look on the duo's face is priceless, and Dead Man's Shoes cuts again to the black-and-white flashbacks: the once fun-looking party has just gotten a little nastier and all of its participants are plainly identified. Richard knows who all of them are, and he has a bout of fun with them. After Herbie gets a little muddled-headed on the weed and booze with his mates, he meets an eerie looking figure at the apartment complex door, beckoning him. It's a haunting and powerful image:The following morning, the whole crew, who were at the original "party" with Anthony know who Richard is and are wondering what he's up to. Some pranks were pulled the night before, like Herbie's mysterious encounter, a ramshackled flat, some spray-paint on a few fellows, but mostly harmless. The crew's leader, Sonny, played by boxer Gary Stretch, decides to get the lot together and go and find Richard. On the street, Richard's spotted and Sonny goes to intimidate Richard. Fat Chance. Stretch is an imposing figure, but Considine's Richard openly confesses that he is the prankster. Sonny doesn't move, and Richard threatens him and looks as if he's about to jump out of his skin to attack him. Richard tells Sonny where he can find him, at the farmhouse, and Sonny leaves. That evening, one of Sonny's crew gets iced in the bathroom (shown in a nasty aftermath scene), and they decide to kill Richard.Ex-elite soldier, Richard, methodically goes about his plan of bloody and gruesome revenge. But not before Meadows increasingly shows the viewer through the black-and-white flashback footage the escalating series of events that fuelled Richard. Meadows has an observant eye for detail and goes to great lengths to replicate the actual culture he presents with his films, as he did previously in TwentyFourSeven (1997), A Room For Romeo Brass (1999), and later in This Is England (2006), for example. Dead Man's Shoes shares Meadow's observant eye, and his use of genuine locations, especially the brilliant scenes within hilltop castle, give a real intimacy to the film. The characters, beyond their dialogue with their regional accents, feel part of their surroundings. It's very easy to feel "within" this story, as if you know these people, no matter where in the world you are viewing Dead Man's Shoes. I also had little trouble getting hooked by the story, as the pacing and the film's writing is fantastic (penned by Meadows and Considine). Meadows gets playfully dark with his humor, especially when the crew goes to confront Richard at the farmhouse. He, then, gets downright nasty and gruesome when Richard kills his victims.Beyond, however, the exciting revenge drama, Meadows (and Considine's performance) paints amazing character portrait with Richard. Revenge is a popular premise in cinema, as some genres lived on the theme, such as samurai cinema, where revenge often brought honor to the dead, or Westerns, where gunslingers once thought dead come back to literally haunt the living. Most often the film ends with a climatic showdown and the final kill in the plan of revenge ends the film. Meadows goes much further. The film's final twenty or so minutes really shape the whole film, when Richard learns the location of the last member of Anthony's "party." The openly psychotic rage that Considine's Richard brings is opened up and drawn like blood. The final confrontation involves Richard and his inner demons. It's a captivating and powerful revelation. There are few words to describe how good Considine is. Brilliant is just the tip of the iceberg.Dead Man's Shoes belongs in that favorite class of films here, a film firmly rooted in genre that transcends it with its creative talent. This is a film which only gets better with each subsequent viewing. See it.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Orhan Oguz's Büyü (2004)

Perhaps to my detriment, at least in regards to the future, I have always lived very much in the present. I also have a terrible memory and a "let be" attitude towards the past. However, I very much love the cinema of yesterday. Seemingly each decade of film represents, at least a little bit, the time in which it was made; so in that respect, every film is somewhat dated. And that's a good thing. One of the aspects of cinema that I really love is how each decade had its own artistic vibe, perhaps influenced by its culture. One of my favorite eras, which I share with numerous other film lovers, is the 1970s, especially the genre pictures. There was a distinct absence of irony to most of the films and an often sleazy, sexy, sometimes nasty, and campy vibe to a lot of them. Unfortunately, that distinctive vibe died with era, and when modern filmmakers attempt to channel or reproduce that vibe, like Quentin Tarantino's excellent Death Proof (2007), it never comes out the same. I recently had the pleasure, however, of digging up a recent film that comes damn close to some of my favorite Euro-cult horror films, like Amando de Ossorio's Tombs of the Blind Dead (1971), and its subject is one of my favorites, the archaeological dig. Without further ado, I present from Turkey, Orhan Oguz's Buyu (aka The Spell) (2004).
Buyu begins in a desert village, where a young couple is resting on a quiet night. The little girl is playing with a metal hoop in the other room, while her father carves a wood crib, presumably for the little girl's doll, with an ornate dagger. The young mother, with piercing looks at the father, resumes her knitting. When the opportunity is ripe, the young mother steals away from her family, across the way to the tenement on the far side, where it is a little darker under the full moon. The young mother visits an old crone, and without dialogue, the two begin a ritual. At this point, I am guessing magic, because it involves nudity and whipping. The old crone with a thorn branch lashes the young woman several times across her back and front to produce blood. The old woman does the same to herself and she mixes the two's blood. Meanwhile, back at the homestead, the father finds himself in heartbreak, as he has taken the dagger and spilled the blood of his child.
Cut to modern times, with a nifty transition, where beautiful archaeologist, Ayse, is describing to her colleagues, at a dinner party, the significance of an old deer hide with some lines from the Koran inscribed upon it (the same hide was seen over the little girl's bed in the introduction). The whole crew is having dinner the night before the archaeological dig at Dengizhan Village to study Artuk culture and find their artifacts. Hodja, the patriarch and leader, is bringing along Cemil, the sole other male, Sedef, Hodja's daughter, Aydan, Ceran, and of course, Ayse. Zeynep, another dinner guest, along with Ayse's husband, aren't going on the expedition. Zeynep is resentful of Ayse's successes, and she tries to put the moves on Ayse's husband. He brushes her off. So what's up with Dengizhan Village? The archaeological crew takes a flight, a bus, a hike on foot, and a long trip through a cave to get there. Before arriving, however, they make a pit stop to talk to an elderly gentleman, who cautions them on going. Dengizhan Village "is cursed by God." No one lives there now nor has anyone lived there for a very long time. An elderly sorceress moved into the village and convinced the folks in the village to kill all of their girl children. In a flashback sequence, a baby girl is seen being buried alive. One widowed villager had a baby girl hidden away for four years, until he decided to marry a woman from another village. The new wife didn't like the young girl, so she had the sorceress put a spell on the husband, forcing him to kill the child. That act, apparently, caused "disaster after disaster to occur" until no one was left in the village. The archaeological crew still wants to go there.
Meanwhile, back home, Zeynep goes and visits a witch, herself. Zeynep tells the witch that she wants Ayse dead, because Zeynep has always lived in the shadow of Ayse. Zeynep's family loved Ayse more than she, and Ayse has always been more successful. The witch takes Zeynep's money and agrees to cast the spell and kill Ayse. Coinciding with the crew's nighttime arrival at Dengizhan Village, blood starts pouring out of the water spouts onto the rocks, as the witch casts Zeynep's spell. Dengizhan Village is quite spooky looking, as ominous tenements lay under the moon, across the field, where the old sorceress once lived.
Thus really begins the true litany of crazy and cheezy events in Buyu. Cemil gets bitten by a three-toothed flying creature while eating dinner. Aydan gets a dream-time visitor similar to the evil in Sidney J. Furie's The Entity (1981). The following morning, the pack mules are gone, and the dig is not going well. Ayse decides to go for a walk, and while coming upon the eerie tenements across the way, a metal hoop bounces out of an open door. Then, BAM!, a huge boulder comes out of nowhere, nearly killing everyone. The boulder sequence, like the rest of the film, is played dead serious; however, I laughed quite a bit upon viewing it (more than once). Hodja and the crew look around the tenements and find nothing amiss. Sedef finds a deer hide near the base, and Ayse says that its language is about demon spirits. The crew decides to begin digging in this area, and the area begins to yield several artifacts. Of particular note is an ancient dagger, which looks exactly like the one the young father was holding in the initial scenes. The crew stops for the day, when an ancient gravestone is uncovered, very near the surface. At dinner, the lights powered by the generator go out, and Cemil and Ceran go to fix the problem. Ceran steps into a mysterious beam of light, and her gorgeous eyes glaze over. Cemil and Ceran become transfixed and begin having sex, and when the light disappears, the two separate, ashamed. What overcame them? Ceran splits back to the crew, and Cemil gets attacked, throat cut, and decapitated. The location of the Dengizhan Village looks authentic, and its essential to the atmosphere of Buyu. Its feel is similar to the Templar ruins and graveyard in de Ossorio's Tombs of the Blind Dead. The music is used judiciously but is also similar to the humming and ominous tune in Tombs. The horror scenes range from the ridiculous, the boulder scene, to the effective, Cemil's death and several of the subsequent ones; and having a mix is also essential to Buyu's old school flavor. Perhaps the most ancient aspect of Buyu is how sexist it is: presumably all of the women on the dig have Ph.Ds in archaeology, and are shown to be successful, quick, and resourceful, especially Ayse. However, there's no shortage of scenes to show the ladies topless, while they're not donning their tight clothing. There's a nasty catfight between Ceran and Aydan after Cemil's death, and Oguz often shows the women characters as essentially shrill and emotional. Normally this would be offensive, but like a lot of 70s Euro-genre pictures, it's just another ridiculous aspect of the film not really taken seriously.
While Buyu is no means a masterpiece, it is a tremendous amount of fun, especially for film lovers of a by-gone era. Buyu sits nicely on the shelf next to the coffin box set of The Blind Dead films. Digging up and finding films like these is perhaps one of the most rewarding aspects of my cinematic journey and receiving their small pleasures during the present time of their old school flavor.