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Old geezer, learning to embrace and enjoy oldgeezerhood. "... and I looked and I saw... that it was GOOD!"

Tremble With Fear! In The Frightening Interrogation Room #1… Kinji Fukasaku’s COPS VS THUGS Reviewed

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BD / DVD Combi. Regions B/2. Arrow. 18.

Cops Vs Thugs, huh? Wonder what this one’s about (it’s about 100 minutes, as it happens… boom boom!) The fish markets and hostess bars of down town Kurashima are a bit off our usual beat here at The House Of Freudstein but, as Oscar Wilde once remarked, you should try everything at least once (admittedly he made exceptions for incest and morris dancing.)

Director Kinji Fukasaku came to Western attention with the astonishing dystopian fable Battle Royale (2000), three years and two further features before his death, but Arrow have been keeping the Fukasaku flame alive with sterling releases of his movies in the Battles Without Honour And Humanity series and are now turning their attention to one of the similarly themed films he made in between those, 1975’s Kenkei Tai Soshiki Boryokuin (Cops Vs Thugs.) Like many of the “jitsuroko” pictures released by Toei Studio at this time, the film is loosely based on notorious real life criminal cases.

Set, for some reason, in 1963, it starts promisingly enough with tough, trench coated Detective Kuno (Bunta Sugawara, a kind of Japanese Henry Silva type) slapping around a bunch of Yakuza foot soldiers on their way to some felony or other. He tells them that they’re not worth the trouble of arresting, because they’re only going to get themselves shot soon, anyway… but he does insist that they pay their sushi bill. The fact that these guys don’t dare turn their guns on Kuno speaks volumes about Yakuza etiquette in those days or, at least, how it got depicted in the movies. Of course this cop has other reasons to feel secure throwing his weight around, notably the fact that he is well connected with the Ohara faction and its acting boss Kenji Hirotani (Hiroki Matsukata), whom he helps in his struggle with a rival gang led by Katsui Kawade (Mikio Narita) over a crooked land deal being set up by a corrupt politician. Don’t worry if you can’t follow the unfolding details of that, it’s merely a MacGuffin to keep things chugging along as Fukasaku and his favoured screen writer Kazuo Kasahara concentrate on the moral complexities and compromises that keep the lid on the Kurashima pressure cooker.

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If Kuno is a bad apple (and indeed, he’s more Bad Lieutenant than Serpico), clearly he’s not the only one. The brown stuff really hits the fan when Lt Kaida (Tatsuo Umemiya), a by-the-book straight-edger (and judo ace to boot!) arrives and upsets the whole rotten apple cart, together with the network of shady alliances that has been keeping the peace… rival hoodlums are soon decapitating each other on the town’s subway steps.

These Yakuza films have exercised a clear influence over John Woo’s work, but while Woo’s gangsters are able to bond with the heroic cops because of some kind of nobility attaching to the code by which they live, here the cops are just as bad as the gangsters. Fukasaku is quite unapologetic about this situation, which he attributes to the post WWII social and economic chaos in Japan, when desperate people from very similar social backgrounds were choosing careers as either cops or gangsters in order to ensure that their families had enough to eat. It’s also suggested at various points that the establishment tolerates the Yakuza as a bulwark against communism. Fukasaku seems equally sanguine about the way all this male camaraderie is often sealed by the brutal sexual mistreatment of some unfortunate women or other. So, surprisingly does the BBFC. Toshiaki Tsushima’s two fisted score, heavy on blacksploitation-style wicky-wacky guitar music, compliments the frenetic action en route to a cynical Get Carteresque conclusion which proves conclusively that if you sit on the fence, one day you’ll get shot by both sides.

I’m not in a position to tell you anything about the reversible sleeve or illustrated collector’s booklet (first pressing only) featuring the thoughts of one Patrick Macias, but my preview disc contains a bonus trailer, one of those “visual essays” by Tom Mes and a featurette in which Fukasaku biographer Sadao Yamane talks engagingly about the director’s work. Did you know that the guy who plays Matsui in this film insisted that Bunta Sugawara beat the crap out of him for real? And still he doesn’t get name checked on IMDB. So much for Method Acting…Cops-vs-thugs.jpg

 

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What Goes Up Must Come Down… THE CLIMBER Reviewed

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BD / DVD Combi. Regions B/2. Arrow. 15.

Like our old pal Giulio Sacchi, as played by Tomas Milian in the recently reviewed Almost Human Aldo (Joe Dallesandro) is a small time crook with big dreams, given impetus by the contemptuous treatment dished out to him by his mob superiors. After cutting a few corners in the cigarette smuggling racket, he is beaten up by The Camorra and dumped outside the city limits. Making his way to Rome, in a stroke of luck that equals Giulio’s in hooking up with Anita Strindberg’s character, he’s taken in and supported by the lovely Luciana (Stefania Casini) while he begins taking similar liberties in the capital’s drug trade and gradually ascending the perilous underworld ladder. Confirmed in his cynical amorality, Aldo returns to Naples to dethrone Don Erico (Raymond Pellegrin), ably supported by a squadron of stunt bikers and the mandatory bad French criminal (“He doesn’t shoot people for the pay… he just hates everybody!”) who’s always in these things to make their bad boy Italian protagonists seem more sympathetic. What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? What, similarly, shall if profit Aldo if he’s shaking down every Neapolitan hot spot but has so alienated Luciana that she tops herself? The law of gravity, furthermore, dictates that his meteoric and violent rise will be followed by a comparably precipitous and bullet ridden descent…

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Naples native Pasquale Squitieri directed several crime slime efforts (e.g. Gang War In Naples, 1972… Corleone, 1978… and The Squealer, 1985) but remains significantly less well-known over here than his missus Claudia Cardinale (nice work if you can get it!) On the evidence of The Climber, he deserves at least as much attention as more celebrated auteurs in this genre such as Fernandi Di Leo. His off-kilter compositions, unexpected camera angles and deployment of such devices as slow-mo convey Aldo’s increasingly parlous state of mind without detracting one jot from the adrenalised action, sonically seasoned by a selection of hysterical plastic soul and a recurring freakbeat reboot of Hocus Pocus.

Hopefully Arrow will be unearthing further titles to bolster the rep of this, er, criminally underexposed director though there would be a certain bittersweet irony if this does prove to be the case, their impressive 4K restoration of The Climber coming three scant months after Squitieri’s death in Rome, aged 78.

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The career of Joe Dallesandro (above) has been subject to the same gravitational forces affecting the character he plays in Squitieri’s film. The “pretty face” of Warhol’s Factory, as it appears in Little Joe’s Adventures In Europe, now resembles that of Harvey Keitel’s Bad Lieutenant after a particularly heavy night on the tiles (there’s no way of gleaning from this bonus featurette if his crotch is as impressive as it appeared on the legendary cover of The Stones’ Sticky Fingers album), every line and wrinkle part payment for the Getting of Knowledge. It’s a long time since I watched Dallesandro in any of Warhol’s underground efforts (and I’m in no hurry to repeat the experience any time soon) so after his dubbed appearances in various European pictures, it comes as something of a jolt to hear him reminiscing in his Brooklyn accent about Squitieri (whom he remembers as a “strange”, gun-toting character), his real life relationship with Casini (“She left Bernardo Bertolucci to start dating me and I thought ‘Well, I must be somebody!’ “),  the reluctant-to-strip Sylvia Kristel (with whom he co-starred in Borowczyk’s The Streetwalker, 1976) and his (apparently successful) struggle with alcoholism. He reflects philosophically on the times (notably on Bitto Albertini’s Safari Rally, 1978) when he was stiffed. Contrary to the Lou Reed song that clinched his public image, Little Joe, it seems, often gave it away…

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Street copies of The Climber (in its first pressing, anyway) will apparently come with a booklet featuring new writing on the film by Roberto Curti, author of the Italian Crime Filmography, 1968-80 on which I’m currently not in a position to comment.

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No Orchids For Marilù… the Shameless Blu-Ray of Umberto Lenzi’s ALMOST HUMAN Reviewed

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BD. Region B. Shameless. 18.

As well as fascists, ultra-leftists, fascists posing as ultra-leftists and ultra-leftists posing as fascists, Italy’s “years of lead” (the violent ’70s, give-or-take) were stoked by disgruntled southern peasants who’s been drawn to the northern cities by the promise of the Italian “economic miracle”, only to turn to crime after finding the streets paved with shit rather than gold. In one of this disc’s bonus interviews, Milano Odia: La Polizia Non Puo’ Sparare (original Italian title) director Umberto Lenzi posits another explanation for this chaotic decade, namely that it was French criminals who brought kidnapping, drug dealing, bank robbing, et al, to Italy… an improbable claim but one that also surfaces in Enzo Castellari’s seminal Poliziotteschi effort High Crime aka The Marseilles Connection (1973) and Contraband, Luci Fulci’s late (1980) entry in the cycle, the latter of which panders to a romantic conception of the mafia’s origins as a patriotic opposition to the Napoleonic occupation of Italy. Almost Human (1974) is not a mafia movie (though Lenzi made plenty of those) and its protagonist is not mobbed up, nor is he any kind of a heroic patriot… Giulio Sacchi (Tomas Milian in top, scenery-chewing form) is part of the aforementioned economic flotsam and jetsam… he’s a snivelling psychopath with a chip on each soldier and a burning desire to strike back at everybody who’s responsible for his personal and social inadequacy, i.e. everybody but himself!

The action starts with Giulio fouling up a bank heist by shooting a cop who merely wanted to write him a parking ticket (his trigger-happiness will be a recurring motif throughout this film.) Beaten up and called “a shit head” by local Mister Big Ugo Majone (Luciano Catenacci) and his boys, Giulio resolves to prove them wrong and join the criminal super league. As explained to impressionable stooges Vittorio (Gino Santercole) and Carmine (a nicely nuanced Ray Lovelock), his master plan includes the kidnapping of Marilù (Laura Belli), the daughter of rich industrialist Porrini (Guido Alberti.) After they’ve pocketed the ransom they’ll kill her anyway to cover their tracks. “Listen, there’s only one thing that matters…”, Giulio insists: “… either you’ve got a load of money and you’re somebody cool, or you haven’t got a place to pee!”

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The kidnap is eventually effected with the connivance of Giulio’s long-suffering girlfriend Iona (Anita Strindberg)… boy is he punching above his weight here, but Iona’s hung up on this bit of rough and that’s all there is to it. After her boyfriend has been gunned down, Marilù tries to seek refuge in the home of a bourgeois family who are sexually assaulted, strung from the light fittings and machine-gunned for their trouble. Carmine, who had initially experienced cold feet, participates enthusiastically in all this carnage after Giulo has plied him with pills.

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Giulio ties up an irksome loose end by sending Iona’s car to the bottom of Lake Cuomo, with her in it. investigating this rum series of events, Commissario Walter Grandi (Henry Silva) notices that one guy keeps cropping up again and again and finally it clicks that Giulio was the guy taunting him at the scene of a cop stabbing. “I’m interested in this man..” he tells his superior, in a telling turn of phrase that suggests Grandi’s personal affinities with his quarry: “… he’s a psychopath!” Takes one to know one, I guess, but the law requires something more solid than the strong circumstantial case he is building. In the words of the title… “Milan Hates: The Police Aren’t Allowed To Shoot” But we are talking about Henry Silva here…

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Grandi is literally hobbled as the climax to the kidnapping drama plays out. Having shot the ill-fated Marilù and both of his accomplices, Giulio unloads a clip into the Commissario’s leg before disappearing with the ransom money. Later he’s sitting at a sidewalk café in his expensive new threads, sipping “French champagne” and trying to recruit a new crew of dead beats when Grandi, walking with the aid of a stick, turns up and shoots his way through the legalistic Gordian knot. “Call the chief and tell him that ex-detective Grandi just killed a murderer”, Dirty Henry tells a gob smacked copper. Giulio expires, appropriately enough, atop a pile of garbage.

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Producer Luciano Martino’s in-house writer Ernesto Gastaldi (better known as a giallo specialist) penned this hard-hearted effort in accordance with Lenzi’s obvious love for the likes of Mervyn Leroy’s Little Caesar, William Wellman’s Public Enemy (both 1931) and Howard Hawks’ Scarface (1932.) Its story owes another obvious debt to No Orchids For Miss Blandish, the 1939 James Hadley Chase novel  filmed under that title by St. John L. Clowes in 1948 and as The Grissom Gang by Robert Aldrich, just three years before Lenzi lensed Milano Odia: La Polizia Non Puo’ Sparare… he lensed most of it, anyway. The edge-of-your-seat car chases sequence, orchestrated by the legendary Rémy Julienne, has been cut in by the cost conscious Martino from the previous year’s The Violent Proefessionals, directed by his kid brother Sergio. This would be the first of many times that Julienne’s footage got recycled in various crime slime epics… hope he was remunerated every time rather than accepting a flat payment (though I rather doubt it!) All of this kick-ass action is nicely complimented by a downbeat Morricone score with a memorably staccato main theme.

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Of the significant bonus material on this disc, the featurettes Like A Beast… Almost (interviews with Lenzi, Lovelock, Gastaldi and Santercole) and Milian Unleashed (an audience with the film’s charismatic star) will be familiar to anyone who invested in the No Shame DVD release back in the noughties and the latter has already appeared on Shameless’s own DVD release of Almost Human. Pride of place goes to a new Umberto Lenzi interview, in which the grumpy old man of Italian genre cinema is on vintage form. He talks animatedly about how that cinema drew its inspiration from successful American models and – while remaining infra dig with the intelligentsia –  effectively bank rolled the Arthouse efforts of Fellini, Antonioni, Bertolucci, et al. He moans about Kathryn Bigelow pinching his President-masked bank robbers and Sergio Martino stealing his favourite editor (Eugenio Alabiso.) Amusing (sort of) anecdotes include how film noir icon Richard Conte missed the first day of shooting because he died, obliging Lenzi to recruit Silva at short notice in what turned out (with apologies to Conte’s nearest and dearest) to be a masterpiece of serendipitous casting.

Lenzi ‘fesses up re his reputation of being a hard ass with actors but contends that if you don’t impose your will upon them, the shoot is going to hell in hand cart. His memories of working with Milian (on several pictures… he compares the relationship to that between Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski) are particularly compelling. Apparently the actor used to drive him mad by improvising while the camera was rolling, though Lenzi is big enough to admit that these unsolicited contributions were sometimes inspired. More alarmingly,  he reveals that Milian’s method acting approach prompted him to hit the pharmaceuticals pretty hard in his attempts to clinch the character of Giulio’s Little Casar. We at The House Of Freudstein are reminded of Laurence Olivier’s advice to Dustin Hoffman on the set of Marathon Man (1976)…

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presented in HD, Almost Human looks almost totally marvellous,  though pronounced grain in certain shots (a few obvious second unit cutaways) are the price we have to pay for such technical advances. It’s an imperfect world, made even more so by the recent passing of Tomas Milian. This Shameless release serves as a timely tribute to an enormous talent, showcased in a role that is, even by his less than sedate standards, truly demented.

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Stay tuned to this frequency for further bulletins from our roving Crime Slime reporter…

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Serving God With Biochemistry Since 1981… ABSURD Arrives On Blu-Ray

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BD. Region B. 88 Films. 18.

What can I possibly tell you about “Peter Newton” / Joe D’Amato’s Absurd that you don’t already know or can’t easily glean from Seduction Of The Gullible: The Curious History Of The UK’s “Video Nasty” Panic? OK, if you haven’t got a copy of that to hand (and if not, why not?!?) I’ll try to get you up to speed. On account of its Medusa VHS release, Absurd became alphabetically the first of the “nasties” and was also one of the last, in the sense that along with 38 other titles, it stayed on the DPP’s proscribed list until that throwback to The Spanish Inquisition was discontinued. Plotwise, it unfolds as equal parts Halloween remake and half-assed sort of sequel / sort of not, to D’Amato’s other “nasty” Anthropophagous Beast (1980), though it manages the improbable feat of being an even worse film than that. Luigi Montefiori’s monstrous dude boasts a much better complexion here than in Anthropophagous and doesn’t actually eat anybody (he even resists the urge to consume his own intestines when they spill out, yet again, at the start of this one) though he does hang Michele Soavi’s juvenile delinquent upside down from a tree, bake Annie Bell’s bonce in an oven and penetrate the heads of various other dudes with axes, black’n’deckers and bandsaws. All of this is on account of a genetic mutation (a scientifically induced one, it is darkly hinted) that has also, as (bad) luck would have it, rendered him virtually indestructible, as Father Edmund Purdom explains to the sceptical cops, their scepticism scarcely mitigated by the priest’s announcement that he serves God “with biochemistry rather than ritual.” Katya Berger, who spends most of the film screwed to some fiendish orthopedic device, ultimately rises from it (begging certain obvious questions that D’Amato clearly can’t be arsed answering) to prove that when it comes to challenging the alleged indestructibility of hulking home invaders, eye pokings and decapitation trump biochemistry every time!

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88’s Absurd Blu-ray represents the first legitimate UK release of this title – and its first appearance on disc in this country – since the “nasties” witch hunt receded. It’s uncut and looks better than it probably deserves, the graininess that plagues many such 2K upgrades of films from its era contained within acceptable parameters. You get a commentary track from The Hysteria Continues (Teenage Wasteland author and Richard Osman soundalike Justin Kerswell with his pals) which makes for reasonably diverting stuff, if not quite as amusing as their Pieces commentary (these guys are fast becoming the “go to” crew for Edmund Purdom movies!) Their audio track is slightly out of synch with the visuals, too, which gets a bit jarring when they’re talking about specific shots.

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In addition, you get the expected reversible sleeve options and a nifty little insert which contains amusing capsule reviews of the DPP’s least favourite 39 titles by Calum Waddell. Best of all are two interview feauturettes, each about a quarter of an hour long, with Montefiori (aka George Eastman) and Soavi, both looking significantly greyer than you probably remember them. Montefiori, who still presents an imposing physical presence, generates plenty of tantalising trivia for pasta paura buffs, including how he took on the Anthropophagous role because he was keen to visit Greece… only for all of his scenes to be shot in Rome… and how he was originally slated to direct Stagefright (1987) until he was distracted by problems with a restaurant he had just opened (!) and the project devolved to Soavi. Big George, who is endearingly modest and self-deprecating throughout, concedes that Soavi did a much better job than he could have hoped to. He also makes some fascinating and frank observations on the character and career (“He preferred staying in the lower league where he could have more control over everything”) of Joe D’Amato, whom he clearly loved dearly. He reiterates the story that D’Amato’s fatal heart attack was brought on by the disappearance of several cans of footage, a sad but also apposite ending to a life consumed by film. Soavi obviously worships the memory of D’Amato too, recalling his first impression of him as “a little man with a smirk and a cigarette… it was love at first sight!” Elsewhere in the interview, he celebrates D’Amato’s role as an incubator of young talent such as his and contends that “everything said about him is probably all true and all false… a very complex and incomprehensible person… for me, a genius… one of the greatest cinema masters of all time!” Perversely enough, after enduring another screening of Absurd, I’m inclined to agree!

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Toast Of Douglas… MINDHORN Reviewed

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Barratt gets the David Hess role in the upcoming House On The Edge Of The Park reboot…

Directed by Sean Foley
Produced by Jack Arbuthnott, et al
Written by Julian Barratt, Simon Farnaby
Edited by Mark Everson
Cinematography by David Luther
Music by Keefus Ciancia, David Holmes
Special FX by Niall Trask
Starring Julian Barrett, Simon Farnaby, Essie Davis, Harriet Walter, Russell Tovey, Nicholas Farrell, David Schofield, Richard McCabe, Jessica Barden, Steve Coogan, Simon Callow, Sir Kenneth Branagh

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29/04/17 … another great night at Nottingham’s Broadway cinema. Kudos to Mayhem honchos Chris Cooke and Steve Sheil for procuring a Mindhorn preview and Q&A with its stars / creators Julian Barratt (The Mighty Boosh “jazz maverick”) and Simon Farnaby (known, chez Freudstein, as “that guy from Horrible Histories”). Thanks for the ticket, Chris.

I’d been looking forward to this one for a while. Inestimable anti-social media friend @CosiPerversa warned me that Bunny And The Bull from the same(ish) team was pretty rank stuff (and I’ve never had any cause to doubt his judgement) but the premise of this one was irresistible…

Julian Barrat is Richard Thorncroft who was Mindhorn, a much-loved ’80s TV detective who used his bionic lie-detecting eye (don’t ask!), not to mention his mastery of Brazilian martial art Capoeira and his lady killing charm, to get to the bottom of various crimes on the Isle Of Man every week. Thorncroft was habitually beastly to his stunt double Clive Parnevik (Farnaby) and – his ego swollen by a Hollywood offer that never came to anything – he rubbished his screen side-kick Peter Eastman (Steve Coogan) and the IOM itself during a particularly drunken appearance on Wogan, with predictably disastrous career consequences. A quarter of a Century later, “the fame has faded and the waistline has expanded” (welcome to my world, pal!) He’s lost his hair as well (at least I’m hanging on to mine) and he’s been reduced to advertising man corsets and orthopaedic socks (though John Nettles has just bumped him off of that gig.) Just to exacerbate Thorncroft’s discomfort, Mindhorn was replaced with a spin-off series showcasing the exploits of Windjammer, the character played by Eastman, who’s now doing very nicely indeed for himself.

Opportunity knocks (probably for the final time) on our boy’s door when a murder occurs on the Isle Of Man and the unbalanced Paul Melly (Russell Tovey), who identifies himself as “The Kestrel”, warns that there’ll be more unless he gets to speak to Mindhorn, whom he believes to be a real person. Hopeful of reviving both his career and his relationship with former co-star Patricia Deville (the lovely Essie Davis, below), Thorncroft gets on the first ferry out of Liverpool and proceeds to make a total arse of himself with the local cops (flinty faced David Schofield and the bemused Andrea Riseborough.)  Along the way he has humiliating run ins with Eastman and the perennially buff Parnevik, who is now shacked up with Patricia. Ironic that the bionic eyed dick couldn’t see any of this coming…

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Every bit as deluded as his nut-job fan (who at least has the excuse of a learning disability), Thorncroft embarks on a redemptive journey (I’m only sticking that “character journey” shit in there to wind up Mrs F, whose current least favourite metaphor it happens to be) and we actually start rooting for the dopey no-hoper as the penny drops that several key characters are not quite what they seem. Along the way, of course, the cruel ironies and comic complications multiply exponentially…

Barratt and Farnaby allegedly spent ten years working on the script of Mindhorn and it wasn’t a waste of a decade. On top of a firm, fun premise (into which elements of Toast Of London, The Six Million Dollar Man, Bergerac, Shoestring and others have been shoe-horned) the gags are scattered thick and fast. It ain’t exactly Spinal Tap or Airplane, but if you were beginning to think that the words “British”, “screen” and “comedy” were mutually excluded from appearing in the same sentence, Mindhorn will certainly disabuse you of that notion… it’s everything that Coogan’s recent output has aspired, in vain, to be. Barratt and Farnaby’s central roles aren’t too much of a stretch from anything you’ve seen them in previously but the rest of the cast (which also includes Harriet Walter as Thorncroft’s two-faced agent, Richard McCabe as his dissolute publicist and bit-parting Ken Branagh and Simon Callow) are uniformly excellent. The Mindhorn memorabilia and “clips” from the TV show are a particular treat. I hope they manage some of the mooted spin-offs… at least a Mindhorn TV episode as an extra on the DVD release? We’ll, er, see…

Hats off to rookie feature director Sean Foley. Christ knows why they thought he could pull it off, but he did. One quibble… I’m too much of a technical ignoramus to work out if the film was in some way misprojected, but the cinematography of David Luther (an ASC award nominee!) made parts of it look like it was shot on VHS… and I’m not talking about the retro stuff that’s supposed to look like it’s on VHS!

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Barratt and Farnaby’s Q&A (ably moderated by Sheil) was every bit as amusing as you’d expect, though a little different from most of those I’ve attended, which have overwhelmingly featured horror / exploitation film makers. When faced with a question that’s been, frankly, a bit dumb, those guys always seemed to be tying themselves in knots, in defiance of audience giggles, to dignify it with a straight answer. Barratt and Farnaby, as comedians, took the alternative course of amplifying the dumbness of certain questions and milking them for maximum comic effect. It has to be said that some of the questioners were asking for it but I still felt vaguely uncomfortable. Then again, Freud argued that humour was intimately connected with the discharge of uncomfortable emotions… and you know Sigmund Freud wouldn’t shit you about something like that.

One thing that did become apparent, because Farnaby told us, was that Parnevik’s accent was supposed to be Dutch. Later in the session he attempted a Leeds accent that was similarly wide of the mark. Admittedly his Geordie is spot on (and was mercilessly deployed to take the piss out of Ridley Scott), then again he is a native of County Durham. Ah well, nobody’s perfect. The Q&A was enlivened by the presence of one Isle Of Man refugee (who conceded that all the flak it gets in the film falls under the category of fair comment) and an actual capoeira practitioner who (rather generously) complimented Barratt on his rendition of this esoteric Brazilian martial arts / dance crossover discipline. Oh, and there were plenty of cake-based cracks concerning Noel Fielding’s latest career move, too.

Never forget… you can’t handcuff the wind.

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The late Keith Moon leads The Who in spooky ’70s anticipation of Mindhorn’s capoeira moves…

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Liberté, Équalité, Fraternité Über Alles… FRONTIERS Reviewed

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Die screaming, Marianne…

DVD. Region 2. Optimum Home Entertainment. 18.

Since the days of Méliès, France has made a considerable contribution to genre cinema,  albeit one that is often glossed over in the standard Anglo-Saxon accounts. In terms of horror and suspense,  Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955) exerted a massive influence over what are probably Hitchcock’s two greatest films, Vertigo (1958) and Psycho (1960), while Georges Franju’s Eyes Without A Face (1960) spawned countless good, bad and Jesus Franco excursions into surgical horror. Only last year, Julia Ducournau’s Raw (reviewed in my Mayhem 2016 Festival report) allegedly had punters fainting in the aisles with its upfront depictions of cannibalism. The high watermark of confrontational French horror, though, was undoubtedly the noughties, a decade that kicked off with Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi’s ugly paean to the joys of indiscriminate fucking and killing, Baise Moi (unaccountably misperceived as some kind of noble feminist call-to-arms over here.) Whatever happened to them? Gaspar Noé’s Irreversible (2002) remains one of the most mortifying cinematic experiences that many of us will ever endure. Now he’s just embarrassing. Alexandra Aja impressed with High Tension aka Switchbade Romance (2003) before being sucked into formulaic Hollywood shit. Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury finally found Beatrice Dalle a post Betty Blue role that was worthy of her in their chilling Inside (2007.) Subsequently authoring the disorienting but rather misfiring Livid (2011), they’re now involved in yet another desecration of the corpse of Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Pascal Laugier (whose 2004 effort House Of Voices was, amongst other things, a public love letter to Lucio Fulci) made the fierce Martyrs in 2008, a film not to be confused with its limp 2015 Hollywood remake. Have I left anyone off? Pardonnez moi…

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Xavier Gens’ Frontiers (2007) isn’t the pre-eminent flowering among this decade’s garden of gallic gore (though it’s pretty damn good)… in terms of political prescience, though, it remains nonpareil. The day after I’m posting this review, the French turn out to vote in a presidential election which, it is widely believed, will result in a Far Right candidate making it to the final run off. Gens saw it coming ten years ago…

Riven by social, ethnic and religious tensions, the banlieues are ablaze after the first round of a French presidential election has resulted in a run off between the right and far right candidates. A bunch of muslim youths, secularised but terminally disaffected,  manage to get out town with some money they’ve ripped off and drive towards the Dutch border, only to take a rest stop at a farmhouse in the armpit of nowhere. As luck would have it, this is where decrepit, hold out Nazi officer Von Geisler (Jean-Pierre Jorris, who just happens to be a dead ringer for Jean Marie Le Pen) presides over a creepy family he’s variously fathered on a now demented local biddy or kidnapped as children. The two likeliest lads among our protagonists think they’ve landed on their feet when they bed the two sluttiest sisters but the latter have an ulterior motive for checking out their virility… the boys should have been alerted to the fact that something is seriously up by the presence of a fat sweaty dude, with too much body hair, wearing a butcher’s apron… those guys are always bad news!

Sure enough, the carnal hors d’oeuvres concluded, it’s time for the cannibal main course, the balance of the picture playing out as a mutant marriage of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Sorrow And The Pity. The guys are variously chained up with the pigs, beaten, hamstrung, mutilated, shot, boiled, hung up on meat hooks, skinned and salted for later consumption.

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Yasmine (Karina Testa) gets off more lightly than her male associates (give or take a few submersions in slurry) as Von Geisler, having decided that she’s just about white enough, is preparing her for the role of brood mare to propagate his decrepit dynasty (a sly comment on the FN’s current drive to convince people that it’s not as racist as it used to be.) Yasmine’s refusal of his generous offer is stated with a purloined shotgun. Who will survive? What will be left of them? And what awaits them in the wider world they will emerge into? Keep telling yourself it’s only a movie… even though it isn’t!

Made two years after Hostel but a decade before the political situation we currently find ourselves in, Frontiers is a timely… timeless… reminder about how people who’ve become overly concerned with national frontiers can quite easily overstep the boundaries of human decency. A salutary lesson, and my dear old Dad (the former desert rat) must be spinning in his grave over the prospect of us needing learn it all over again.

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Nice Places To Visit But You Wouldn’t Want To Live There… HIGH RISE and KONG: SKULL ISLAND Reviewed

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From the days before The Guardian embraced Neoliberalism, Austerity… and all that cal.

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Hairy palms… the first sign of insanity… or was it wanking?

The House Of Freudstein is a wonderful but sometimes strange and frightening place. There is no rule book. There was one, but it’s currently being used to prop up the short leg on The Doc’s operating table, so you’ll have to have it out with him if you want to read it. In the absence of the rule book, the standard operating procedure that’s evolved around here is to write about low-budget horror, schlock and sleaze. Yet here I find myself, on Good Friday 2017, about to pen reviews of two Tom Hiddleston films… strange and frightening indeed.

1 ) Get Off Of My Cloud… HIGH RISE Reviewed

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DVD. Region 2. STUDIOCANAL. 15

It’s become a cliché of lazy film critique (one on which I’ve frequently fallen back myself) to describe the works of Poe and Lovecraft as “unfilmable.” Plenty of film makers have had a go and some have done rather well, invariably by injecting new plot elements into the tenebrous sketches of EAP and HPL. The ’60s / ’70s countercultural holy trinity of Ballard, Burroughs and Dick have fared demonstrably worse at the hands of screen adaptors… well, PKD’s done OK, with major plot additions making not one but two lucrative Total Recalls (Kate Beckinsale’s in one of them… more on this attractive guitar-sucking actress later) out of We Can Remember It For You Wholesale and a cocktail of additions and surgical extractions transforming Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep into the all-conquering (apart from at the box office) Blade Runner. As for Ballard and Burroughs, two words are sufficient to convey what fucked-up film fodder their fiction can become… and those words are “Cronenberg” and “David”, though not necessarily in that order.

There are friends and peers who roll their eyes and wiggle their fingers around their temples whenever I have the temerity to question anything Cronenbergian, but guys… when DC’s Naked Lunch was released, in 1991, I had already spent the best part of two decades enthralled and repelled by the Burroughs novel and its immediate “sequels.” With their deployment of “cut up” and “fold in” techniques, these incendiary works were designed to advance the novel’s narrative techniques to the level of cinema so arguably the very act of adapting them to the screen was a salutary lesson in defeating the object of the exercise… but if there was any way to translate work of such challenging complexity to the visual medium, the spectacle of Roy Scheider ripping a Mission Impossible mask off to reveal that he is (da da!) Doctor Benway sure wasn’t it.  As for “Sexual ambivalence? I thought you said sexual ambulance”?… give me a fucking break! I concede that Cronenberg had the humility to dub this mess “Naked Lunch” rather than The Naked Lunch but then again, this is a film that has rather a lot to be humble about. Nor was I significantly more impressed by Cronenberg’s adaptation of Crash (1966), despite my innate predisposition to favour anything so despised by the Dailys Mail and Express. Once could even argue that Cronenberg’s feature debut Shivers (1975) was the closest he (or anyone) ever came to the literary spirit of Ballard and, by dint weird of weird synchronicity, High Rise was originally published in the same year. Must have been something in the air, or possibly the air conditioning… whatever, each provided a prescient taste of unpleasant things to come. The very next year Harold Wilson resigned under never-quite-explained circumstances and Callaghan and Healey (not, as is commonly misremembered, Thatcher) signed the UK up to the great neo-liberal experiment that is still sucking most of us dry today.

Fortunately there’s no longer any need to make that argument (the one I mentioned towards the end of the previous paragraph, bozo! Pay fucking attention, alright?) as Ben Wheately (A Field In England, Sightseers, Free Fire, et al) has directed High Rise (2015.) If Danny Boyle was the ideal man to stage the London Olympics’ opening ceremony (or was it the closing ceremony? Couldn’t bring myself to watch any of that stuff) then Wheatley’s the guy to orchestrate TV coverage of The Apocalypse. And while we’re all waiting for that…

Tom Hiddleston, who looks a bit like that kid out of Home Alone on steroids, plays Robert Laing (I was waiting in vain for characters named Janov and Szasz.) By day he teaches physiology in a hospital. Slicing into the scalp of some dead dude to peel his face off and reveal the skull beneath is as good as any a precis of the dionysian / dystopian dehumanisation that is to follow… more importantly, the fact that it causes one of Laing’s wise cracking students to faint is a gratifying (as far as I’m concerned, anyway) nod to the greatest TV program of all time…

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… Quincy M.E.

When he gets back to his swishy apartment in the eponymous High Rise, Laing’s just looking to be alone, but gets inexorably drawn into the complexly nuanced social nexus of his ultra-class conscious co-High Rise dwellers. Shit like this happens. I know, I’ve experienced it during the regrettable periods when I’ve been obliged to take day jobs. Thankfully, none of those degenerated into the “eating dogs and throwing people off roofs” scenario depicted here. Nor, rather regrettably, did they evolve into the kind of sordid sex orgies that seem to break out in High Rise at the first suggestion that the lifts aren’t working properly or the supermarket is out of sugar puffs.

As the High Rise goes to hell in a hand cart beneath him, its designer Anthony Lord (Jeremy Irons) squats atop it in the swishest apartment of them all (complete with rooftop recreation of an ancien regime garden), rather like Dr Eldon Tyrell in the Tyrell Corporation pyramid in Blade Runner. Rather like Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Wilder (Luke Evans) wants some face-to-face time with the man at the top… he wants more swimming pool privileges for his kids, fucker! James Purefoy (as Pangbourne) portrays the kind of psychotic smoothie he’s been specialising in since his Mark Anthony in that splattery mini-series Rome… he’s getting very good at it, too. If they ever decide to remake The Professionals, I’m hoping he gets the call for Bodie. I’ve always had problems telling the Siennas Miller and Guillory apart. Wheatley casts both of them here (I think they’re having a lesbian affair or something) to clear up… or possibly intensify any such confusion.

So often in the past I’ve expressed myself bewildered, exasperated and / or infuriated by the decisions of the BBFC but on this occasion I’m coming at it from an unaccustomed angle. I’m genuinely surprised that our pals at Soho Square deem the litany of atrocities trotted out in High Rise worthy of a ’15’ certificate. I remember an earnest young man who wrote a book in which he railed against the hypocrisy of the “video nasties” witch hunt, who would no doubt roll his eyes and wiggle his finger around his temple at my concern over the prospect of my daughter being exposed to Wheatley’s film. It’s a moot point anyway, as High Rise ticks precisely none of the boxes that might have tempted her to watch it… it’s not Japanese, it’s not animated and there are precisely no sensitive gay characters discussing their emotional problems in it.

Cast interviews in the bonus material give you the chance to decide which of the participants are playing ninnies and which of them are actually just ninnies. Hiddlestone sounds quite intelligent and thoughtful until asked what his dream, Anthony Lord designed apartment would look like and specifies that there would have to be a gym in it… bloody ninny! Sienna Miller, who seems to have made a career (at least if the things I’ve seen her in are anything to go by) playing underfed crumpet has never actually appealed to me but in these interviews she not only sounds a lot more intelligent than you’d give her credit for, but also looks absolutely incandescent… better than she does in the actual feature. It’s as though she’s taken the high rise elevator out of pleasant-looking Elizabeth Hurley mid-table mediocrity into the upper echelons where the grateful carpets are trod by the Kate Beckinsales of this world.

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Kate Beckinsale. Treading on a capet. Yesterday.

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Kate Beckinsale. Treading on a carpet. Sucking on a guitar. The day before yesterday.

 

Who shot these bonus interviews? Maybe Miller should put him / her on a permanent retainer. I’d definitely do so, were I not a penniless blogger.

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Just about the only mishap that doesn’t befall the residents of The High Rise (or at least, the only one it would be tasteful to make wise cracks about) is to encounter a giant gorilla climbing to the top of it. Hiddleston dons a vest and cargo pants to cross off this particular entry on his bucket list in…

2) Too Much Monkey Business… KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017) Reviewed

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Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts.
Produced by Alex Garcia, John Jashni, Mary Parent, Thomas Tull, et al.
Written by John Gatins, Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connelly

Edited by Richard Parent.

Cinematography by Larry Fong.
Music by Henry Jackman.
Special FX by Chris Brenczewski and shedloads of others…

Starring: Tom Hiddlestone, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John C, Reilly, John Goodman, Houston Brooks.

You wouldn’t want to live in Mansfield and it’s not even a particularly nice place to visit, nevertheless that’s where our Meerkat Movie vouchers have brought the Freudstein family on an expedition to check out Kong: Skull Island. The Odeon has dispensed with its ticket office since we were last here, you’ve got to print out your tickets on some infernal self-service device. Presumably this was intended to cut down the staff wage bill but there still seem to be countless callow youths standing around awkwardly in their cute uniforms, resolutely refusing eye contact in case – heaven forefend – they might be called upon to help you with something.

During the endless trailer reel we suffer Jason Statham running the gamut of emotion from A to B in a trailer for The Fast And The Fatuous Part 38 or whatever it is. “That looks shit!”, opines Freudette to her Mum… Christ on a fucking bike, wherever does she pick up language like that?

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Rather like our previous foray into mainstream cinema, Doctor Strange, which I reviewed elsewhere on this site (not that any of you fuckers bothered to read it!), Kong: Skull Island has had so much money chucked at it, there’s no way it wasn’t going to be entertaining, albeit in a stupid ass, knuckle-headed kind of way. There’s a prologue, during which we witness a Japanese and an American airman, who’ve just shot each other out of the sky in a WWII dogfight, about to conclude their death match when they’re interrupted by you-know-who raising his ugly, hairy head. Cut to the early 70s, where Tricky Dicky has just announced “peace with honour” in Vietnam and Lieutenant Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) feels that he and his grunts have been sold out. They don’t need much convincing to sign up to a geological study on Skull Island, under the direction of Professor Bill Randa (John Goodman), whose motivations aren’t exactly as stated. Nobody seems suspicious about a geological survey on a permanently storm surrounded rock (glorifying in the name of Skull Island) that requires a heavy-duty military attachment… not hunky James Conrad (Hiddleston, who would have done better to stay in the chic opium den where they found him), nor busty war reporter Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), whose along for the ride as Kong candy because Fay Wray is no longer available. Joseph Conrad is no longer available either, but because he penned Heart Of Darkness, from which this film, Apocalypse Now and many others have pinched so much, they thought they’d name a character after him. Kind of. Alongside the uncredited input of original Kong writers Edgar Wallace and Merian C. Cooper, you’ll easily spot elements of Moby Dick, Lord Of The Flies and Treasure Island just for starters. I did and I wasn’t really paying attention.

Anyway, Packard’s chopper squad fearlessly navigate their way through those perpetual storms but before you can whistle Ride Of The Valkyrie, the hundred foot ape turns up and starts swatting them out of the sky like Dinky toys. Conrad, who’s a pretty touchy-feely guy for the kind of black ops specialist he’s vaguely suggested to be, argues that KK was only defending his territory but Packard has conceived a mortal grudge against that monkey, unconvinced by the argument that his removal will lead to the island being overrun by H.R. Giger rejects from the centre of the Earth. In other words, Kong’s a big ugly monster bastard but he’s our big ugly monster bastard. The allegory of recent US foreign policy isn’t too difficult to discern and there are a few throwaway gags at Trump’s expense, but we’re mostly here to gawp at big beasties fighting each other rather than critique current geopolitical trends and it has to be said that the CGI creations are impressive, if lacking the charm of Harryhausen and O’Brien’s stop motion masterworks. I would have preferred to see KK slugging it out with some authentic looking dinosaurs than those Gigeresque jobbies, but what do I know?

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The soundtrack is nicely peppered with 70s rock classics and the Ben Gunn character gets to go home and enjoy the ballgame with a beer and a hotdog, not to mention his miraculously well-preserved wife. Conrad’s viewpoint vindicated, Kong is left lording it over Skull Island and multiple sequels are already in the works.

Sorry to get all prissy about ratings again, but Mrs F felt rather forcefully (and I’m inclined to agree with her) that this was pretty violent stuff for “12A.” Thankfully, Freudette doesn’t seem to have incurred any significant mental scars on account of it. One of my most vivid childhood memories is of my Mum taking me to see One Million Years B.C. when it came out in 1966 and now I’ve taken our kid to see a monster movie, it feels like the circle of life is being completed. Or something. At the time I was more enthused by the dinosaurs than the spectacle of  Raquel Welch in her fur bikini…

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… I dig the dinosaurs in that movie to this day, though my priorities did shift somewhat with the onset of puberty. What about Freudette… did she find the Hiddleston hot? (Dunno if I’ve mentioned this already, but I find him a bit of a ninny) Only, she tells me, in so far as she could imagine him in a passionate clinch with Benedict Cumberbatch. Apparently there’s a whole wing of the internet that’s obsessed with the possibility of such a romantic coupling. Perhaps that makes more sense to you than it does to me. Parenthood, like life at The House Of Freudstein, is a wonderful, sometimes strange and frightening thing.

The main feeling I was left with after consuming Kong: Skull Island was a desire to root out some of those batshit crazy Japanese Kong movies and review them on this site. So I’ll be doing precisely that, shortly.

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Hampstead Smiles On A Murderer… My Breakfast With JOE D’AMATO

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The incredible Joe D’Amato with his business partner, Donatella Donati.

This account of a “most unusual dining adventure” (to paraphrase Faces Of Death) was originally filed in the aftermath of Eurofest ’95, held in Hampstead on 7th October that year. Thanks are due to the organisers. Both of them.

Aristide Massaccesi, Michael Wotruba, Tom Salina, John Bird, Michael Holloway, Alexandre Borsky, Hugo Clevers, Pierre Bernard, Peter Newton, Federico Slonisco, Richard Franks, David Hills, O. J Clarke, Jim Black, Dirk Frey, Philippe Fromont, John Newman, Robert Hall, Steve Benson, Kent Bruno, Kevin Mancuso, Peter Mancuso, John Larson, Alex Carver, Dario Donati, James Burke, Joan Russell, Jeiro Alvarez, Robert Yip, Hsu Hsien, Boy Tan Bien, Young Sean-Bean Lui, Chang Lee Sun, and most (in)famously, Joe D’Amato (Jeez, I’ve nearly used up my entire word allocation already!): many names, all of which (and more) can be linked to one face. It’s a grizzly, tanned visage, trimmed with silver stubble. The nose is Roman, the eyes are lively, and the mouth is flashing a smile that reminds me of that shark in “Mac The Knife” as its owner emerges from the lift into the lobby of his Knightsbridge hotel to clasp my hand in one of his own disproportionately large mitts and wish me “Buongiorno”. This is the Sunday morning after the busy Saturday before (D’Amato has spent the previous day lapping up the adulation of Britain’s gore-hounds and sexual deviates at the stonkingly successful Eurofest ‘95 in Hampstead; yesterday evening he was wined and dined at a bash held in his (and fellow star-guest Catriona MacColl’s) honour; and his companion, Donatella Donati, has spent the weekend shopping ‘til she dropped). Now, over our breakfast, we’re going to discuss the films that have made many people lose theirs. Eyebrows have already been raised at the spectacle of Joe on his hands and knees, unfolding and signing several of my quads from his Black Emanuelle series, but for the repectable diners of Knightsbridge far, far worse is to come…

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Indeed, my opening gambit concerning the impact of AIDS on the hard-core porn scene having caused much choking on kippers and rustling of Daily Telegraphs among our genteel fellow fast-breakers, I opt to follow up by enquiring about a somewhat less contentious aspect of the D’Amato oeuvre, his stint as camera operator for Jean-Luc Godard. “I worked on Godard’s Le Mepris,  an adaptation of a book by Alberto Moravia”, he recalls: “Godard is  really a genius, no doubt about it”. He’s certainly regarded as a “worthy”, Art-house director, whereas D’Amato’s own approach has always been ruthlessly commercial. “Yeah, that’s true…”, he concedes: “… myself, I have absolutely no interest in being an artist”.

This candid self-assessment has been borne out by D’Amato’s recent return to hard-core porn, cranking out an unlikely series depicting the sex lives of such historical, legendary and fictitious figures as Aladdin, Tarzan, Hamlet, Marco Polo and Al Capone (you get the impression that he’s waiting for Mother Theresa to pop her saintly clogs and pass into history, so he can begin detailing her covert participation in anal sex orgies). “We don’t have much of a film industry in Italy these days, unfortunately”, he explains: “So it’s purely a business decision to go back to hard-core. The market for these films is very big in The United States  and all over Europe… apart from Britain, of course! (laughs) Everywhere else in Europe, people are terribly interested in these movies”. I assure him that we Britons are equally fascinated by the hitherto-undisclosed raunchy antics of these esteemed personages, but the powers that be over here take an unenlightened view of such things.

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D’Amato’s prolific, commercially driven career has frequently led to him being compared with two directors in particular – Jesus Franco and Roger Corman. How does he feel about these comparisons? “It’s OK, I don’t mind these comparisons at all”, he reveals: “I like Jess Franco, he’s just like me in many ways. I’ve never met him, but I know his work” (indeed, he supervised the assembly of a Franco anthology culled from De Sade’s Juliette, Midnight Party and Shining Sex for the Italian market). “For sure, Corman is better than the two of us put together”, he admits. Corman, of course, is famed for his knack of knocking up a film out of nothing in a couple of days, and D’Amato once made the fascinating remark that he doesn’t set much store by a lot of pre-production, feeling that this “flying by the seat of your pants” approach sharpens his spontaneity and creativity. “Yeah, yeah, this is true. If you have everything organised, then you are obliged to shoot that way, but when I come to a place and nothing is ready, I use my fantasy to come up with something and for me this is better, gives more feeling”. Isn’t it risky, though? “Usually we have everything that we need, but I’ve had so much experience I can usually resolve any problem that arises”.

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D’Amato actually made a film for Corman, La Rivolta Delle Gladiatrici aka The Arena, in 1973. “The film is credited to Steve Carver, but was just a supervisor, sent over by Roger Corman. I directed the picture, then it was sent over to The States and edited by Joe Dante”.  His involvement in muscle-man pictures goes much further back than that, though, featuring as he does in certain filmographies as a contributor to Mario Bava’s 1961 Gothic Peplum Hercules In The Centre Of The Earth. Understandably, given the sheer volume of films he’s worked on over the years, D’Amato isn’t sure: “We made so many pictures in that period, about ‘Ercole’, you know, mythological films… Peplums, yeah, and for sure I remember that I worked with Bava, but I can’t remember if it was on that movie. Eugenio, the father of Mario Bava, had a small company that made the credit sequences for the movies and I worked with him, maybe an 85 year-old man then, but I learned so much from him, then later I worked my way though the various jobs, loading the film, and so on until I became a director myself. At one time I was assistant cameraman to the younger Bava, Mario. Mario was… perhaps not a genius, but like his father, a man who knew absolutely everything there was to know about making a movie… he was a craftsman… and in the same way, I’ve worked my way up through all the steps in the industry, and now I can do any job it takes to make a film”.

Again like Mario Bava, D’Amato progressed from cinematography to directing, and another parallel is that their directorial careers both had obscure beginnings, because each in their early days directed several pictures that were credited to other people. In D’Amato’s case, as is usual, there was a sound commercial reason for this: “At the same time as I started directing, I was still working as a Director of Photography, and I wanted to keep that work up, because it was my bread and butter. But a director like, let’s say Alberto De Martino… ” (for whom D’Amato shot The Tempter, The Killer Is On The Phone, The New Mafia Boss, etc) “… would not be happy to have another director working on his film, you know?” This, of course, was the origin of our Joe’s pseudonym addiction…

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“When I first started directing I made three movies, and the credit was going to ‘Dick Spitfire’ or whoever, because I wanted to keep cinematography as my main job, then Death Smiles On A Murderer came out under my real name, Aristide Massaccesi, because I had decided at that point that I wanted to pursue this career in directing. Then there was a period in Italy where East European directors were in vogue, so I called myself ‘Michael Wotruba’ for a while (laughs), purely as a marketing move. Later it seemed that all the successful American directors – Scorsese, Coppola, De Palma – so we tried to find a name that would make people think of an Italian-American director, and we saw the name ‘D’Amato’ on a sexy calendar, so that was it. It was the same thing recently when I made Chinese Kama Sutra, because in Italy movies like The Red Lantern were making a fortune. So I made this movie in the Philippines in 1993, I took a Chinese name, (Chang Lee Sun) and nobody knew that it was me, and when newspapers reviewed the film they said it was OK, ‘too hard’, perhaps, but they warned their readers that the movie wasn’t really Chinese… they said it was Japanese!” D’Amato is particularly tickled by this anecdote, his laughter segueing into an attack of smoker’s cough (the dapperly dressed director is seldom seen without a fag seemingly surgically attached to his lower lip). Presumably just to see how far he could take this gag, Coughin’ Joe credited the same year’s Sex And Chinese Food to Young Sean-Bean Lui (!)

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The first film which our hero owned up to, the aforementioned Death Smiles On A Murderer (1973), was confusingly plotted and more visually stylised than would often later be the case (“I was trying to evoke a certain atmosphere in that film”). It starred the late, great Klaus Kinski, an actor with a reputation for being difficult, but D’Amato disagrees: “For sure he was crazy and yes, not very normal, but he was very professional and would do exactly what you wanted him to do, so to work with him was in fact very nice. We had a good feeling when we worked, it was fantastic for me, though I know some people had a problem with him, because he was crazy…”

Still on the subject of “not very normal” folk, D’Amato shot second unit footage on Lucio Fulci’s White Fang (1973) and some eighteen years later would produce the great goremeister’s Door To Silence. “We also worked together many times over the years, when I was a cameraman…”, D’Amato remembers: “Fulci is nice, really very nice. Maybe he acts the part of ‘the character’ a little, but it is just a part he plays, he’s not really mad, you know… he’s a regular man, and very professional to work with”. D’Amato concedes that Fulci wasn’t too pleased over the alterations he had made to the film and its soundtrack. “Maybe it’s my fault. You saw the movie… when I read the story I liked it very, very much but when I watched the results it seemed a little static to me, so I went back to Louisiana where it was made and tried to shoot a small amount of stuff, just some bullshit that would make the film a little more pacey, you know. I changed the first soundtrack… we spent a fortune on the soundtrack because we used the best jazz band in Italy, but jazz is not to everybody’s taste, so I changed the first part of the music to something a bit more modern”. Fulci was also peeved that the film went out credited to H. Simon Kittay, and one might have thought that his name already had sufficient cult following to sell a film without the benefit of a pseudonym, but D’Amato insists: “Just before this, Fulci had made a couple of shit movies which didn’t do too well in foreign territories, so we thought it was better to use the other name from a sales point of view, you know?”

“Umberto Lenzi is also very professional, another nice guy” opines D’Amato, who produced Lenzi’s Ghosthouse and Hitcher In The Dark. Donatella, who has just joined us at the table, pulls a face that indicates a marked difference of opinion on this score. “Well, Fulci’s mind is much better than Lenzi’s… ” her companion continues: “… though as directors, they’re pretty much as good as each other”.

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One long-time collaboration which D’Amato remains unreservedly enthusiastic about is the one he’s enjoyed with Laura Gemser, the striking Eurasian actress who occupies pole position in his pantheon of sex / horror cross-over stars. Indeed, he’s keen to churn out another batch of Gemser bonk-fests, “… but the man who is now her lover doesn’t like her doing sex scenes. As a favour to me she has appeared  in several small roles in my recent films, because we are good friends, but she doesn’t really want to be an actress anymore”.

I ask him about the history of their association, and he tells me: “Laura made the first Black Emanuelle film with Adalberto Albertini, and the producers of that movie wanted to put her under contract to make ten movies. They were looking for a young director to do the movies, so I went to Holland, where she lived, to make this contract with her. We had this good feeling because she was very friendly, so we began the collaboration. The first movie I made with her was Andrea’s Complex (aka Voto Di Castita – BF), with Jacques Dufilho and a lot of Italian actors, a story about a guy who likes to watch people having sex, which is something that often happens in my movies (laughs). Then I made Laura’s second ‘Black Emanuelle’ movie – we made five of those, altogether”.

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I put it to D’Amato that his Emanuelle And The Last Cannibals (1977) in many ways anticipates Ruggero Deodato’s more celebrated / vilified Cannibal Holocaust from a few years later, and he shrugs a modest assent. D’Amato, like Deodato, has been dogged through the years by stupid rumours about real cannibalism, “snuff movies” and the like, but whereas Deodato has only suffered this shit on account of Cannibal Holocaust, several D’Amato pictures have been scrutinised under the moral microscopes of morons. Blue Holocaust (aka Beyond The Darkness), 1979’s heart-warming, heart-munching saga of a necrophile taxidermist, attracted accusations that a human cadaver had been mutilated in one of its scenes; the South American “snuff” loops unearthed by Gemser’s investigative reporter during Emanuelle In America looked a little too realistic for comfort to some people; and the unforgettable scene from Anthropophagous Beast, in which Luigi Montefiori aka George Eastman scoffs down a skinned rabbit, masquerading unconvincingly as a newly-aborted foetus, has even been screened on News At Ten as “a clip from a snuff movie”!

“Mad, absolutely mad!” declares an understandably peeved D’Amato “Because it was just a rabbit, you know – from the butcher’s shop! And Blue Holocaust was only a movie – we had cow intestines next to the girl, and we shot from an angle that made it look as though they were being pulled out of her body… so no dead body! It’s so funny that people in other countries believe we Italians are really killing people and putting their corpses in our films!” (laughs)

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“As for Emanuelle In America, we shot the ‘snuff’ scenes in 35mm, later we scratched the negative and printed it in 8mm, then blew it up again to make it look realistic… just bullshit, it’s only a movie, you know? I don’t why people would think this stuff is real”. Did he know that David Cronenberg was allegedly inspired to make Videodrome after seeing Emanuelle In America? “Yeah, I heard that…” laughs D’Amato: “Maybe I should ask Cronenberg for some money!”(Laughs) Sorry Joe, I don’t think Videodrome actually made any money…

In the piece I wrote for Dark Side #42 about the many mysteries associated with Giannetto De Rossi, one of the enigmas I pondered (and offered some cynical explanations for) was the fact that this special FX ace appears on the credits of Emanuelle In America only as boom operator, but D’Amato offers a perfectly prosaic explanation for this rum turn of events: “De Rossi certainly did the effects… there must have been a mistake, a mis-translation in the credits of the English-language version”.

Returning to Montefiori’s raw rabbit repast… how did he feel about eating that and all those animal guts at the end of Anthropophagous? Didn’t he ever say “Oh no, Aristide, I can’t do it!”? “Montefiori just takes a bite…”, laughs his mentor: “… he doesn’t eat it really. When he was supposed to be eating the intestines of that cow, he just ran his mouth over it, that’s all!” (laughs)

Most people just see Montefiori as a big, brooding heavy (“Yeah, just put him in a mask and he’s the monster”) but he acts, writes, directs… so he must be a pretty bright guy, no? “No!” guffaws D’Amato, finding this suggestion particularly hysterical. “No, he’s not very intelligent, believe me!” “He’s a good writer” chips in the horrified Donatella, diplomatically.

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“Montefiori has made many movies with me”, D’Amato continues. “He’s a good guy to work with. I produced his directing debut Regenerator, a nice film. He was supposed to direct 2020 Texas Gladiators, but after five days he lost confidence and I stepped in to finish the movie. He wrote a very good script for another film I made about people after the atom war, Endgame and it’s a nice story, with the duel between these two people”.

I put it to D’Amato that Endgame  is one of the best movies in a pretty dire genre, the Italian post-apocalypse cycle, and point out that it and another entry in that cycle, Lucio Fulci’s Rome 2030: Fighter Centurions, were shamelessly ripped off by Paul-Michael Glaser’s big-budget Arnie vehicle, The Running Man. “Sure, I know what you mean”, he replies: “It could be, because I made a movie called Sharks – Deep Blood in The States with Raf Donati, a friend of mine who worked in Martin Scorsese’s archives. He told me that Scorsese has a big library of Italian movies and that sometimes when Scorsese shoots a movie, he calls Raf and asks for something by Vittorio Cottofavi, Riccardo Freda, or Mario Bava, because he wants to screen these movies before he makes his, he wants to achieve the same shot or lighting effect or something as in one of these movies”.

I’m not sure if Martin Scorsese has ever cribbed any plot-points from a Montefiori script, but further evidence for Donatella’s high estimate of the big lug’s writing prowess is provided by the bang-up job he did on the script of Stagefright, providing a solid platform from which Michele Soavi could launch his impressive feature directing debut.

Was D’Amato aware, from Soavi’s days as a bit-part player and assistant in his own films, that this protégé would go on to make it as a respected genre director in his own right? “Sure, and it was me who actually persuaded him that I should produce Stagefright for him rather than the other way… Michele had worked as my assistant on many movies. Before that he was an actor, he was obsessed with being the new James Dean, had his haircut like James Dean and everything (laughs). I gave him his first opportunity to shot some scenes, on 2020 Texas Gladiators, and now for me, he is the best Italian director of these movies, better even than Argento and Fulci, who I would put in third place. He likes to do horror movies more than any other type, but mainly he just wants to make movies. This is very important because some people in Italy just want to be a director, I mean they want to sit there giving orders and looking important, but Michele truly loves movies, he works very hard, he will do anything… he’s just fantastic! Dellamorte Dellamore is a very good movie, and yes, I would love to work with Michele again. It might happen in the future”.

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Although, with Stagefright, D’Amato produced what is arguably the last great giallo, he has never directed a thriller of this type himself. “This is just because I never found a script that was really good” he explains, before elaborating: “ Maybe it’s a little complicated to do such a movie, with a low budget it’s much easier to do some gore effects. To make suspense you need time, you need to think, you need to do many shots and it’s much easier to make impact in a horror movie with blood. In Rome right now we have people very interested to do a classic horror move, not like Nightmare On Elm Street with all these expensive effects, but with the monsters, and I called Montefiori about making another movie, like Anthropophagous or something like this, where the scares would come totally from the dark, the creaking of the door, the use of sound to scare the audience, because I really believe the time is right for this kind of movie”.

A glimmer of optimism there that the current poor state of genre film-making in Italy might be about to pick up? “I don’t believe there is any future, unfortunately”, he demures:  “because now there is just Berlusconi and Cecchi Gori who own all the theatres, and it’s cheaper for them to buy a movie from the United States, any bullshit, really American bad movie, than to produce an Italian one, you can put them in the theatres and then show them on TV for $50,000 – $100,000.” I mention that English fans of Italian exploitation films find it hard to understand how there were so many being made in the ‘80s, and now – nothing! “Yeah, I know!” sighs D’Amato, and the interview winds down on an appropriately down-beat note.

As he signs some bits and pieces for me, we chat about this and that, including the fact that William Berger’s children featured in the cast of Absurd. D’Amato tells me that he worked as DP on many of the late star’s films, and regards him as “a fantastic actor and a very nice person”. “Didn’t Berger live in a hippy commune at one point?”, I ask. “I can’t believe that… he seemed like a really normal person!” frowns D’Amato, momentarily looking for all the world like a scandalised bourgeois… then he’s off, no doubt meditating his latest historical hard-core thrash. Hey Joe, didn’t Prince Albert have a pierced cock? Gotta be some possibilities there… and I did hear that Florence Nightingale was a bit of a goer!

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One of the calmer moments from Joe’s notorious Blue Holocaust…

 

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When Two Tribes Go To War… Calum Waddell’s CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST Tome Reviewed

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Cannibal Holocaust by Calum Waddell: Auteur. ISBN paperback: 978-1-911325-11-6 ISBN ebook: 978-1-911325-12-3

When I interviewed Ruggero Deodato in the ’90s I mentioned the obvious (to me) affinities between his 1980 films Cannibal Holocaust and House On The Edge Of The Park, only for him to pointedly dismiss any such parallels. Well, I persisted, both films deal with a group of feral outsiders who are ultimately revealed to be less morally culpable than the “civilised” sophisticates whom they encounter… but the director was having none of it. Although both films had been lumbered with the moronic “video nasties” label in the philistine climate of early ’80s Britain, by the time I spoke to Deodato the reputation of his little anthropophagous epic had made the transition from international pariah to postmodern phenom worthy of serious critical – and even academic – attention. House On The Edge, in the meantime, has undergone no such re-evaluation (and admittedly, it’s nowhere near as good a film)… it remains, in the eyes of the world, an irredeemably tacky little knock off of a Wes Craven knockoff (I personally find much to “like” in HOTEOTP but this isn’t the place to go into that) and Deodato didn’t want anybody besmirching his suddenly respectable cause celebre with any comparisons to it. Have it your way, Ruggero…

From my earliest scribblings in Samhain, during the aforementioned video witch hunt, I was agitating for (and I hopefully contributed towards) a criticism that would fuse fannish enthusiasm for such genre films with an intelligent, analytical approach. Subsequently (blame me if you want to… I’ve frequently had the impression that I’m being shot by both sides) there have been comings together of the zine scenesters and the ISBN-totin’ academics, who’ve generally snarled at each other before withdrawing to their respective corners. One gathers there was a particularly mean-spirited poker game at one point but, as yet, nobody’s managed to find the found footage that documents this…

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Calum Waddell is not (and this won’t come as news to him) everybody’s cup of tea or bowl of monkey brain mush. He notably declared himself horrified by Cannibal Holocaust. Gore hounds, horrified by the fact that he was horrified by it, then alleged hypocrisy when he continued to write (very well) about it in genre publications and get paid (nothing like as well, believe me!) to do so, interviewed and befriended several of its principal creators, toured the festival circuit with them and collaborated on the film’s Blu-ray release in The States. But come on, guys… isn’t anyone who’s fascinated by this most notorious “video nasty” also appalled and repelled by it? Isn’t that the very essence of its ongoing “appeal”? Cannibal Holocaust isn’t Marmite (even if one of its most persistent chroniclers seemingly is.) Waddell’s proven track record of willingness to take a wider view, plus his extensive connection with the film’s creators (Carl Yorke – the hateful Yates himself – contributes a thoughtful and witty foreword) guarantee that anyone who picks up this latest entry in Auteur’s (Columbia University Press in the U.S. of A) ongoing Devil’s Advocates  series will find a lot to, er, get their teeth into… much food for thought in, e.g. his survey of which Italian cannibal movies got distributed in which Third World territories, from which you can draw your own conclusions.

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The author gives cursory treatment to Cannibal Holocaust’s seminal role in the aforementioned “nasties” hoo-hah and its roots in the “mondo” school of shockumentary, satisfied that enough has been written on both of these scores, elsewhere (not infrequently by myself.) My own particular interest in these films has always been the extent to which they represent a range of domestic reactions to the failure of Mussolini’s abortive (and ultimately absurd) attempt to refound some sort of Roman Empire. Waddell casts his net wider, framing his (persuasive) arguments in the wider context of The Cold War, which still had a decade or so to run when Deodato took his band of cinematic conquistadores up the Amazon. The proximate inspiration was no doubt Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979), though Cannibal Holocaust makes a starker statement about the impact of imperialism on the bodies of “gooks” and “savages” than FFC’s bloated folly, with its relentless focus on the mindset of its American characters, could ever hope to achieve… if, indeed, it was ever interested in doing so. When Alan, Jack, Faye and Mark massacre the yanomami in their huts for the purposes of their tacky little mondo movie it is, as Waddell points out, the spectre of My Lai that haunts our screens…

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“A clump“?

… Cannibal Holocaust could as easily be read as an allegory of the 16th Century European (specifically Latin) conquest of South America and a much more finely nuanced one than, for example, Neil Young’s celebrated Cortes The Killer, which combines musical fireworks with a portrayal of life under Moctezuma and his warrior priests so naively sanitized as to amount to inverted racism. Trust Bernal Diaz, who was actually there with Cortes and whose account, in The Conquest Of New Spain, of brutal life and death in the Aztec empire is all the more trustworthy because he pulls absolutely no punches at all about what a bastard (and indeed a killer) his master was.

Similarly, it’s a moot point (and one made eloquently in the final section proper of Waddell’s book, “Patriarchy In Cannibal Holocaust”) whether the indigenous women here (not to mention Faye) suffer more at the hands of the mondo crew, casual rapists and killers as they are, or their own jealous menfolk, casual abortionists and honour killers that they are.

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Hip as he is to such moral relativism and the irony of an exploitation movie that’s exploiting its own expose of exploitation movies to put bums on cinema seats, Waddell can’t help but multiply rather than resolve the ethical ambiguities of Cannibal Holocaust… as would any self-respecting discussion of Deodato’s film, which remains a hall of distorting mirrors in which the moral high ground is impossible to locate, let alone claim. Nevertheless, those seeking a guide through the arterial byways of Deodato’s Heart Of Darkness (perhaps towards a verdict that will be – to paraphrase a line in another notorious “nasty” – one of self-incrimination) will wait in vain for a better one than this.

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People Get Ready… TRAIN TO BUSAN Reviewed

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DVD. R2. StudioCanal. 15.

Just had your top ten favourite zombie movies engraved in stone? Better get your chisel out! Just had ’em tattooed on your back? It’s back to the clinic and a spot of laser treatment for you, then…

During the noughties, when I was writing a regular DVD review column for Dark Side magazine, I was required to spend a lot of time watching J-Horror… K-Horror… all things contemporary Far Eastern had become very popular. Not with me, I have to say. It’s not that these films are badly made or anything (Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s “much anticipated” Creepy struck me as a very slick piece of work when I caught it at last year’s Mayhem Festival in Nottingham, even as it was lulling me off to sleep)… and invariably they piss all over their inevitable, blanded-out Hollywood remakes… it’s just that doomed alt.schoolgirls with sinister stuff coming out of their TV sets don’t particularly do anything for me. Something, though, must have seeped out of my own TV and infiltrated my seminal vesicles at a crucial moment, as young Freudette is just bonkers about this stuff.

Writer / director Sang-ho Yeon’s achievement is to expand K-Horror beyond its accustomed claustrophobic chamber horror confines and into the best episode of the Demons franchise that Dario Argento never produced, in which – after a toxic spill from a biotech installation has reduced much of South Korea’s population to hyperactive flesh-eating ghouls – a trainload of Seoul commuters attempt to make it to the government hold out at Busan.

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No, Mr Yeon (or mister Sang-ho, depending on which Koreanologist you consult) didn’t exactly  burn the midnight oil coming up with an original scenario but it’s the furious inventiveness with which he concocts new scrapes for his characters to overcome that will keep you riveted for the duration of the ride… that, plus the fact that these characters are so well written and performed, you actually care about what’s going to happen to them. Asian film makers are particularly good at this, of course… I still curse Takashi Miike for establishing Ryo Ishibashi’s character as such a likeable guy in Audition (1999) before unleashing that disturbed girl on him.

Seok-woo (Yoo Gong) is the hard-working salary man who’s been neglecting his cute daughter Soo-an (Soo-an Kim) and is trying to make amends by taking her to see her mother (who he’s in the process of divorcing) in Busan. When the biotoxic shit hits the fan he forms an unlikely dynamic duo with taciturn, salt-of-the-Earth tough guy Song-hwa (Dong-seok Ma), who has pregnant wife Seong-kyeong (Yu-mi Jung) in tow.

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In between fighting off zombies they get in a lot of  angsting over the right things to do in terms of family and your fellow man, in stark contrast to both the feral legion of deadites and Yon-suk  (Eui-sung Kim), the selfish corporate big wig who’s not above using innocent dupes to decoy his attempted escape (if you remember Fernando Sancho’s corrupt mayor in Amando De Ossorio’s Return Of The Evil Dead, 1973, you’ll know what kind of a sleazebag we’re talking about here.)

Train To Busan is that rarest of things, a high-octane, suspenseful action movie with a sense of proportion. It’s a violent zombie film that isn’t particularly gory (the spastic zombies are plenty scary looking and blood flows freely as they get stuck into their prey but there’s none of the expected unfurling intestines) and uses its CGI sparingly, to great effect.

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That a zombie movie could be simultaneously so hard-hitting and so subtle is a revelation… I loved the fact. for instance that the transformation of the protagonist’s mother into a zombie is rendered not by visual pyrotechnics but the coarsening of her conversation during a phone call. As for Seok-woo’s climactic scene of redemption… yes, I wept ( I am, after all, “the biggest fucking cry-baby in fandom”!)

Bonus materials comprise a 15 minute “making of” featurette from which one gleans how  harmonious and hard-working the shoot was (“discipline is a vehicle for joy” in the sagacious words of Robert Fripp) and two tasters (trailer and brief excerpt) from Yeon’s prize-winning animated prequel, Seoul Station.

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Undoubtedly Train To Busan will piss all over the inevitable, blanded-out Hollywood remake that’s allegedly (and sadly) in the works.

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Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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