ABCs of Death Review

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26 film makers, each given $5000, 5 minutes and a letter of the alphabet…The ABCs of Death.

A: A semi effective opener, with a semi effective display of domestic violence that at least musters a semi effective context at the end. Dir: Nacho Vigalondo 2/5

B: This may be the least intense execution of a horror ever put to film. It’s certainly one of the most incompetent and during I suddenly became very grateful of the scant runtime. Dir: Adrián García Bogliano 0/5

C: Managing to make 5 minutes feel like 5 hours, the creator appears to believe he has a mind bending concept on his hands as opposed to a rather dull concept on the bottom of his shoe. Timecrimes (2007) is the film this segment wants to be when it grows up, which was actually made by the director of the opening short. Dir: Adrián García Bogliano 0/5

D: Essentially a well shot music video, but impressively staged with overtures of Fight Club here and Gaspar Noe’s anally penetrative short Sodomites there. Dir: Marcel Sarmiento 3/5

E: Likeable actress Ms. Bettis may want to remain in front of the camera. Cheap CGI spiders? Is that it? Yep that’s it! From the off it is completely void of the adequate creep needed to provide anything in the way or interest. Dir: Angela Bettis 0/5

F: Right on cue the first Japanese entry shows up with its fists full of crazy and poised to smear that crazy all over our faces.  Vastly silly but most jarringly introducing a running theme of bowel based humour that near sabotages any tone that the whole project might be trying to establish. The only exception to this ill-advised pattern begins with the letter T. Dir: Noboru Iguchi 1/5

G: Brace yourself for some contemporary POV action. Or rather sit in calm anticipation through 5 minutes of scenic lead up to next to nothing. Dir: Andrew Traucki 1/5

H: One of the more unique efforts but also a strong argument for why cartoon aesthetics translated into live action are a bit too unsettling. At its best displaying some weird humour and accomplished FX. Not bad for a fetishistic Furry’s wet-dream. Dir: Thomas Cappelen Malling 2/5

I: Now we’re getting somewhere. An entry that is in a sense is the thinking man’s torture porn but is also effectively horrific in its minimalism. And not a moment too soon in the running to finally witness some deft skill. Dir: Jorge Michel Grau 4/5

J: Continued J-sanity with samurai, mercenary gurning and giggly gore, it also surely deserves some imaginary award for being the first entry to make me audibly laugh. Dir: Yudai Yamaguchi 3/5

 K: A cartoon non-hilarity that tacks on an ill-fitting ending and generally misses any mark. This skit notably risks ruining things especially being placed amid some of the strongest entries. Really disappointing when you realise it’s by the director of the solid Danish animation film Princess (2006). Dir: Anders Morgenthaler 0/5

L: Otherwise known as Indonesian-crass-contest-of-doom pushes the realms of taste like a trooper and wades around in vile lunacy along with some seriously dark humour. Easily one of the best segments (if not the best overall), near unrivalled in the impact stakes and assuredly not for the sensitive. Short, sharp shock at its best. Dir: Timo Tjahjanto 5/5

M: ‘’Really now Ti West with this and your V/H/S instalment I am really starting to worry about you.’’ A vapid visual gross-out that is supposed to be a bit edgy but just isn’t. Dir: Ti West 0/5

N: A note of levity that while not unwelcome isn’t exactly inspiring. A simple a comedy sketch that while sort of mildly funny is overwhelmingly un-horror. Dir: Banjong Pisanthanakun 2/5

O: Some pretence involving oddly subdued S&M innuendo and bubbles. Occasionally resembling something stylistically pretty (or should that be eighties) but an awkward fit in the run that leaves no impression other than a dated after taste. Dir: Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani 1/5

P: A competent and refreshing break from some of the more puerile entries, not so much in complexity but in being a fair few notches up on the effective scale and having a far less by the numbers genre set up and conclusion. Dir: Simon Rumley 4/5

Q: Fellow V/H/S fault figure Adam Wingard goes all Meta with his effort, a dicey move that thankfully pays off in a vaguely satirical and satisfyingly funny manner. This will go towards you climbing off my anthology shit-list someday Wingard. Dir: Adam Wingard 4/5

R: An icky Cronenbergian art-house Frankenstein, hopefully those words make sense in some order as it’s basically what you have in this short. Either way its miles better than Spasojevic’s previous feature-length A Serbian Film. Dir: Srdjan Spasojevic 3/5

S: If there is one thing worse than terrible horror it is terrible exploitation, especially when aping an already derivative Robert Roderiguez on his laziest day. With an arsenal of self-conscious swearing and no vision, it appears leagues of people still believe that some celluloid reel after effect, stock girls with alternative hair, bad dialogue and plastic weaponry make for a wild ride. Embarrassing. Dir: Jake West 0/5

T: Managing to be quite funny and the most endearing. Partly due to its inclusion through winning a competition for the anthology and also being that it’s good old homely Claymation with a comically British approach. Dir: Lee Hardcastle 4/5

U: Regional zombie POV that doesn’t set the world alight but also doesn’t disappoint. It does provide a rare glimpse of empathy for the unseen ghoul and feels like a slightly fresher angle on the undead. Not bad after my none-more negative experience with Kill List (2011), especially with this seemingly filmed on location between Kill List’s scenes. Dir: Ben Wheatley 3/5

V: A weighty live action Playstation-4 cut scene with a few too many ideas than it’s able to convey in it’s short time. Robotic-pizazz and some interesting potential as either a superior video game or an average (or less than) genre film are positives but it does wind up feeling like a work in progress trailer for film investors. Dir: Kaare Andrews 3/5

W: Another attempt at being post-modern. Those behind the scenes step forward and aim for the chaotic charm of Troma but the results are a bit too scrappy and not quite funny enough. Dir: Jon Schnepp 2/5

X: Hooray for body horror, this holds as the most visceral entry and is every inch a Xavier Gans film namely with its innate ability to be stylish and graphically bleak, very in line with the current wave of French horror, explicit and evocative. Dir: Xavier Gans 4/5

Y: Eisener’s stand-out has a real glint in its eye, is unique and prods at taste levels with the Canadian’s vibrant signature style which we saw in the highly likeable funfair that was Hobo with a Shotgun (2011). Dir: Jason Eisener  5/5

Z: Dr. Stranglove meets Tokyo Gore Police meets Ilsa She Wolf of the SS, or Nazi-Yakuza-Mutant-Rice-ploitation to coin a phrase. Although I had little to no clue of what was going on I did get that it is roundly Nishimura, visually memorable and if nothing else a decently hi-energy note to end on. Dir: Yoshihiro Nishimura 3/5

Aside from the grindingly weak toilet humour ABCs was better than I’d anticipated, the flow through of the collection wasn’t too much hard work and although there are several duds those being so brief definitely helps matters. The project is undeniably ambitious but unsurprisingly inconsistent. Still it falls closer to the positive than many recent horrors have and the international variation and handful of fresh ideas make for very welcome elements. The ABCs of Death is definitely a step in the right direction as far as horror displaying some imagination, let’s just hold out hope for this year’s other anthologies V/H/S-2, Sanitarium and The Profane Exhibit, although as Uwe Boll is the headlining director for latter best not to get too excited.

*I chose not to name the titles of each short as several serve as crucial spoilers.

(March 2013)

http://www.godisinthetvzine.co.uk/2013/03/11/the-abcs-of-death-short-by-short-review/

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Maniac Review

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A serial killer with a fetish for scalps is on the hunt. Frank is the withdrawn owner of a mannequin store, but his life changes when young artist Anna appears asking for his help with her new exhibition. As their friendship develops and Frank’s obsession escalates, it becomes clear that she has unleashed a recently-repressed compulsion. 

Being a remake Maniac retreads William Lustig’s grimy 1980 original, which despite sharing shelf space with the likes of Halloween and Friday 13th for 30 plus years was never nearly as revered. Unlike more commercially successful slasher titles Maniac version one was more in line with the cult films of Abel Ferrera and Frank Hennenlotter in its seedy shock which fell decidedly more into the horror underground with its departure from the suburbs and summer camps of other franchises at the time. This time round director Frank Khalfoun takes all the right cues from its source. In most ways this is still your average slice’em up with creepy mother issues and despatching of naïve female knife fodder but where it’s all too often a negative here the grimly back to basics style makes it more of a welcome film that creeps up on you despite usual expectations. In utilising POV for most of the violence and with it winding up in every scene throughout works effectively, lending a matter of fact intensity that is all too often lacking in contemporary slasher films. The stripped back to its roots approach gives makers the opportunity to pool their efforts where it counts in a film of this nature, after all the story is minimal at best and far from original. Instead setting the 80 minutes up as a viciously stylized experience is beneficial, especially the lack of clunky psychoanalysis (see Rob Zombie’s misguided Halloween re-mangling) adds to the appreciated briskness which serves its overall outcome very well.

Where the makers are concerned I have to give it to the French forces behind the scenes when it comes to delivering the red stuff in a lovingly striking fashion. Along with the POV shots the camera stalks, jars and judders with appropriate menace. The gore FX are simply flawless and for as questionable as it is to use the word subtle when describing this kind of in your face blade-happy violence I am referring to the seamless blending of the CG effects with the practical, it never looks anything but perfect and while this may seem a disposable point in a film this stark in its brutality it is potentially make or break, ultimately in Maniac how the kills are executed (pun unavoidable) is of the up most importance. L.A serves as a fitting backdrop, nicely replacing the original’s New York setting it manages to update the alleys, steaming grates and urban isolation, nicely recreating the seedy ambience that leaves one feeling alone despite the surrounding cosmopolitan pace. Adding to the successful unease is one of the best soundtracks I have heard for many a year, with its fittingly abrasive synthesized drone and perfectly pitched homage.

Elijah Wood appears very at home as shy serial scalper Frank; with his aptly incandescent eyes the actor uses his expected passiveness to channel Norman Bates to the hilt, showing a streak of murderous eerie that made him the only real menacing figure in 2005’s Sin City. As befitting of most horror nobody else is worthy of individual mention, through lack of screen time and character not actual incompetence. Maniac is a vicious little gem that deserves its own stab at modern cult status, refreshingly shirking any intent to pursue deadend sequels and gleefully in the spirit of the original. Fans of the original look out for a particularly fun shot evoking the infamous VHS ‘does what it says on the tin’ poster.

(Feb 2013)

http://www.thefilmpilgrim.com/reviews/maniac-a-remake-gleeful-in-the-spirit-of-the-original/9686

Iron Sky Review

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So after several years of struggling through production, lack of funds and fans rallying for support we finally have Iron Sky. But why was the ‘little space Nazi film that could’ only warranted a couple of showings in two London cinemas? I suspect it’s because Iron Sky is simply terrible.

Outside of saying Nazis on the moon there is little else going on; they ended up on the dark side of the moon after WW2, hiding out plotting their vengeful return to Earth until some U.S astronauts stumble upon them and instigate their invasion. The opening provides some competent FX, which for anyone who followed the film’s progress knows is what essentially garnered most of the films interest and eventual backing. But within a mere few seconds of dialogue things plummet fast and that’s before we get to Earth where the majority of the shoddiest scenes are played.

I found myself aghast at the crushingly weak level of humour, not as in low-brow but just plain unfunny. The comedy is stupefying, no better than that of say Epic Movie or its related titles of weak faux-parody; Iron Sky certainly shares the same level of intelligence and talent for satire. The script (which ironically doesn’t cost any money and call for any fundraising) topping the long list of embarrassments. I would never suggest that Norwegians shouldn’t write for black American characters but when using lines like ‘’You must be trippin’’ in 2012 (cue my brain searching for irony that didn’t exist) it becomes hard not to flinch; also note that placing a black guy in front of Nazis does not instantly create hilarity and therefore everyone in repetitive scenes mentioning that there is a black man in their presence does not at any point make it funnier. This kind of scenario is consistent with the rest of the film in that it’s shockingly dated throughout. I cannot fathom why the writer’s didn’t bare in mind the changing faces of politics and how overused some satirical references patently become, so having a Sarah Palin parody front and centre reflects a glaring amount of incompetence on the creator’s part.
As far as a Nazi film goes the film manages to somehow provide absolutely no edge, I was surprised that Nazis could be portrayed as so unthreatening and aloof. I understand this is supposed to be a comedy but the bad guys still have to be bad for context sake surely. Relying on scowling, uniforms and a couple of racial purity mentions make for lame villains. I am still none the wiser as to if they wanted the film to appear controversial and considering it’s hijacked a villain rife with it, I thought a little might be on show to elevate the mild exploitation approach. The performances are largely awful; here and there the occasional actor can be seen trying but most call for nothing but rolled eyes. Action-wise apart from some dull space ship combat there is hardly any and what there is has been done badly; shot often with slow motion possibly used to cover cracks in the choreography. Odd considering we’ve all seen many a low budget film manage to make someone falling over or getting hit look convincing, here it’s baffling that many of the takes used were deemed acceptable and don’t even work on a slapstick level.

The aesthetic is similar to the creaky Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow; it’s a clunky appearance with a bloom-lit sheen that makes things a bit cheap-dream-sequence looking, one of many ill-advised decisions on display; alongside the casting, soundtrack comedy cues and some truly embarrassing make-up and wardrobe choices. The dated political humour is off by miles but even if you removed the stale references you’re still left with terribly unfunny jokes and a tone which would be lame in any decade. It’s strange to say about a film that involves Nazis but I don’t doubt that the makers of Iron Sky had the best of intentions in producing a fun film but those behind the camera clearly lack skill beyond creating some kind of impressive CGI on a budget space designs.

(May 2012)

http://www.thefilmpilgrim.com/reviews/iron-sky-review/8743

The Oregonian Review

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First the good, or at least the tolerable; I was expecting far more of an assault on the senses from the opening of this meandering 80minutes but only managed to have my ears scratched with pleasant (or very unpleasant depending on how much drone you can stand and personally I am fan) tinny Americana sounds disrupting drawn out silences. The other plus is more self-serving in that this film has no story, in the slightest, so I am saved from raking over the plot which I hate doing in reviews.

The audio is the strongest part of the piece but with no strong visual or narrative (or anything for that matter) to underpin what you hear ends up a lone element in persuading to keep watching. A girl, a car wreck, girl becomes bloody and traipses aimlessly occasionally remembering to yell for help, cue brief to the point of useless flash backs or forwards and happening upon the odd ineffectively sinister stranger. If this sounds in anyway intriguing it is unintentional on my part. The decidedly seventies chic hand held camera work lends an almost Evil Dead in the daylight air (when a part possessed Ash similarly stumbles about with a bashed in head) to the wandering through a rainy woodland but never really adds enough in the way of paranoid suspense. Sadly I can’t even sing the praises of any of the performances, coming across as semi improvised it’s not so much the lack of dialogue that castrates the actors but the complete lack of having anything to do. They either appear out of nowhere, stopping briefly to loiter ‘’eerily’’, or if you’re our lead, walk, have flash backs/hallucinations/whatever and not so much wield a shotgun as inexplicably stumble upon one and proceed to ferry it around. Once the ”trippy” jump cuts kicked in I gave up all together, only watching to see if this gun was ever going to get used.

This is a very numb film; the makers mistaking dragging out one long non-event for patient dread. A pretty pointless exercise in vying for grimy cult status but by no means as out-there as it thinks it is.

(April 2012)

Tura Satana Obituary

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Tura Satana 1938-2011

Tura Satana Obituary

Sadly the startling exploitation star died due to heart failure on February 4th 2011.

Most notable for her iconic role in sexploitation king Russ Meyer’s Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill! The femme fatale performer led a harshly colourful life fit for the silver screen. Born in Japan a young Satana was moved to the U.S, living in a bleak internment camp then to be relocated to a crime ridden part of Chicago. A self bred fighter, surviving as a child from a mixed oriental family post a recent World War 2 America was no mean feat. Battling classmates daily and sexually assaulted by a gang at the age of 9, an event which the actress astonishingly claimed she personally avenged after mastering martial arts, her race along with early developed curves gained her such dangerously unwanted attention, but also allowed her to begin a career in LA as an erotic model at the scandalous age of 13 aided by a fake I.D. This was after she had been through reform school, led a leather jacketed gang and had an arranged marriage to an older teen, all this before even making it through pre-pubescence.

Throughout her teens Satana established a career as an exotic dancer, even dating Elvis on the down low and in her twenties moved into movies based on early advice from silent film star Harold Lloyd. It was her sexy yet vividly intimidating presence as Varla in Faster Pussycat that made her into an instantly recognisable cult figure, coolly rampaging through the black and white desert serving up violent justice to mean examples of mankind all the while looking as tough as her backdrop and performing her own fight scenes and stunts. Satana’s later years were no less dramatic; during the seventies she was shot by a former lover and in the eighties whilst working as a dispatcher for the LAPD she had her back broken which led her to study and work in nursing after a long recovery process in hospital. Tura lived her recent years basking in much of the deserved adoration that her cult status afforded her, a favourite with many a B-movie, retro and exploitation fanatic. It is near inevitable that such an astonishing life and character will and should be adapted on film, though it’s highly doubtful they could ever find an actress as strikingly powerful and enduring to fill those man stomping Go-Go boots!

A true cult legend in her own right…

(February 10th 2011)

http://www.zeitgeistmagazine.com/#/rip-tura-satana/4548328601