The Black Room (2016)
You want to know how to win my heart? Begin your film like The Black Room! Within the first seven minutes we are treated to a nubile woman grabbed in the hot n’ nasties by an invisible force (well her grandmother is too; but one digs it and the other doesn’t and I felt the same way), a mystical medallion with painted on eyeballs flying around willy nilly, and red demon hands grabbing the nubile woman mentioned nubiley above (where said grabbing continues) as she is covered in “ectoplasm” before dragging her into some sort of portal located in a black room in the basement of the house in which she resides. Oh, and all of this is accompanied by a score that is equal parts ’80’s fright flick and ’70’s cop show. Again, all of this is just the beginning my creeps…
As we dive into the story proper, we are introduced to Paul and Jennifer; the Hemdales, a loverly couple that have just purchased their dream home…the same one from that intro up top ‘natch. Before long (and by that I mean within the next ten minutes and change) a handyman is dragged to hell by those damnable red hands and both husband and wife make their “O faces” at the behest of our saucy spirit. As the yarn unspools, Paul is besieged by animated lazer lightning™ that results in him becoming a vessel for the haunted horniness that dwells within the manse, and this leads to an orgy of backwards boobs (you’ll just have to see to believe), satanic ceremonies (complete with a groovy AF monster suit), wall F’n set to a guitar solo (again…seeing is believing), stereotypical goth girl (read: my type) demon sexery, and on and on before climaxing (literally) in a spectacularly over the top fashion.
I’m not even sure where to begin with The Black Room…let’s see…howzabout, The Black Room is like the love (lust?) child of a ’90’s Skinemax flick and a Full Moon feature, and if that isn’t a compliment and an irresistible invitation to watch this damn thing, then I don’t know what is! Writer/Director Rolfe Kanefsky goes so far off the rails with this picture that it goes from being campy spooky fun into becoming some sort of surrealistic bodily fluid drenched creation that manages to spawn it’s own genre (albeit one replete with visual callbacks to films such as The Entity and Society).
If there is a negative to be found with The Black Room it’s that it’s blatant lunacy and soft core thrillz und spillz© may not be for every viewer. Things are definitely not taken seriously, but the film never dives headlong into full on comedy territory (though it comes close with the scenery eating performance by Lukas Hassel which is worth the price of admission alone). Additionally I could have done without the intrusive (though minimal) amount of low grade CG effects in the picture during the big finale, especially since the movie already showcases some fun practical effects.
Listen, if your looking to feast those eerie eyeballs on a fright flick that has your full daily requirement of that unholy trinity that makes the horror biz so great; namely boobs, blood, and bad guys…then The Black Room will give you exactly what your looking for!
A gaggle of archaeologists explore a cave near the ancient Mayan city of Tikal when one of their number stumbles into camp raving about a mummy and a missing pal. Well, our heroes (some of which are actually prize winning dicks) don’t find their lost friend (even though his withered corpse is just kind of lying around a few feet away), but they do discover some submerged treasure…oh, and a skin dissolving blob monster that gets a real charge out of radiation. Being learned men, they take a hunk of that monster straight back to the lab where they promptly (and by that I mean eventually) F around with it until it becomes a full on rampaging beast with a serious case of the pisseds. Women are slapped around, a wet towel stands in for our creature, Dolores lackadaisically eats her lunch, and mummies fall to actually appear (unless I missed something…I mean the cat jumped on my lap a few times, and I dropped a peanut which I had to retrieve from under the sofa…). Such is Caltiki, The Immortal Monster. Oh, and there’s some shit thrown in about a comet.
Somehow in all of my years as a fan of the horror biz, I had never seen Caltiki…but I know a lot of folks consider it a classic of Italian sci-fi film making. Some people do, but do I? Yes and no. In the “yes” column, I have to admit, ol’ Caltiki contains a surprising amount of what had to be considered shocking gore for the freaky fifties. People are melted and devoured by the titular creature (with a thick go left behind), with wild abandon (okay, by that I mean in a couple of scenes)…and it’s during these moments that the film really shines (especially when the wife of our hero and her daughter are trapped in a house over run with the creeping muck). As for the creature itself, it certainly has a unique design, and miraculously doesn’t borrow any elements visually from it’s famous cousin twice removed The Blob. There’s also some impressive sets, miniatures, and process shots that are delivered on what was a minuscule budget (Don’t believe me? Count those extras during the press briefing scene…if you need both hands I’d be amazed).
On the opposite end of the spectrum; this film is filled with more padding than a bra on prom night. At just over an hour and fifteen minutes you’d expect this baby to hum right along…but it doesn’t. Instead it throws in a dance number, tedious underwater shots, bickering couples, overwrought melodrama, a child slowly eating a sandwich…pretty much any and everything it can to eat up that run time and ensure those creature rampages are kept to a budget friendly minimum. In short, enjoyed the film, but it falls prey to the same pitfalls that hindered many an atomic age creature feature.
Where this release really comes out on top however is in the beastly bonus department, as Arrow has piled on a healthy selection of extras including: new audio commentaries by authors Tim Lucas (doing his normal excellent scholarly analysis) and Troy Howarth (who manages to be just as informative and engaging as Lucas while amazingly not repeating material from the previous track), a lively chat with author Kim Newman on the influence of classic creature features (and weird literature) on ol’ Caltiki, and an alternative presentation of the film which showcases a better view of genre legend Mario Bava’s effects work. Up next we have an archival interview with critic Stefano Della Casa (who provides an archival introduction to the film as well) that analysis the ins and outs of Caltiki‘s significance to Italian genre cinema as well as his relationship with Director Riccardo Freda, followed by an archival interview with one of my fav Directors, Luigi Cozzi where he discuses the origin of the film. Closing things out are the film’s U.S. theatrical trailer and alternate U.S. opening footage.
While I enjoyed the film well enough, the wealth of extras is what really hits this release of Caltiki home. Classic creature feature aficionados (especially those that love the genre warts and all) will be well and truly rewarded by this release and should pick it up immediately!
Another Evil (2016)
Our hapless hero Dan just wanted to spend a nice quite time with his family at their vacation home, but unfortunately he happens to discover his home is haunted AF. After the first exorcist he hires tells him the ghosts are friendly and should just be left alone, Dan seeks a second opinion. Enter Os; a black clad straight shootin’ ghost
buster breaker who aims to get rid of those paranormal pests once and for all. As Os sticks around to take care of business, a bizarre friendship forms between the two men (one based on copious amounts of alcohol. TMI convo, and a rando stripper)…but as time wears on Dan’s patience with his new “friend” wears thin. Before long he wonders if Os is actually worse than the spirits he is removing, and then things go from “ha ha” (yup, this is ostensibly a comedy) to “hell no” as Os gets BD into his work and ends up holding the family hostage before contemplating the ol’ murder biz on one of them that he is convinced is Satan. Hijinks ensue!
Another Evil is a strange one for sure; I guess it’s technically a comedy, but it’s laughs are more of the chuckle softly variety rather than the full on belly larfs some chuckle flicks bring…in other words it’s a dry, almost arthouse affair in regards to it’s comedy. Now that isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, and I have to say the acting in the flick is superb with everyone playing their roles to the hilt, especially Steve Zissis as the practical and mostly non-confrontational Dan and Mark Proksch as the blunt, over sharing psycho Os. Also, as all over the map as the film gets with it’s tone it nevertheless never fails to engage the viewer and entertain…which is a highfalutin way to say “this movie does whatever the F it wants and manages not to suck Kong sized balls” (use that in your marketing, I dare ya)!
On the flip side, this is a micro-budget affair so don’t expect to see gobs of high tech effects utilized to realize ye olde ghastly ghoulies. That being said, there are ghosts, you do see them, and they are off-beat to say the least.
There’s no two ways about it, Another Evil is a winner in my book; it’s funny, dark, there’s F’n ghosts, and writer/director Carson D. Mell isn’t afraid to take a ton of chances…I say give it a shot, especially if you dig on flicks like Lace Crater; I wager you’ll have a ghoulish good time!
They Call Me Jeeg (2015)
Low life crook Enzo is fleeing from the police when he has the misfortune of having to take a dunk in the Tiber River which just happens to be home to a rather nasty drum of toxic waste. Long story short, Enzo escapers from his pursuers and only gets a case of the pukes for his trouble. No harm, no foul right? Well before long our “hero” is back up to his nogoodnik ways as he joins his pal Sergio in collecting from some drug mules…an operation that results in Sergio gettin’ all killed up, and Enzo being blown off from the roof of a building. The End.
Huh, what’s that? Oh yeah, that isn’t the end by a damn sight; you see Enzo survives that plunge with nary an ill effect. Before long the owner of those drugs mentioned above, a psycho psychopath by the name of Fabio, sends his goons to collect, only to find the mentally handicapped daughter of Sergio (Alessia by name). Enter Enzo who smashes ass six ways to Sunday and manages to inadvertently convince Alessia he is Go Nagai’s seminal robot superhero Steel Jeeg (rando for sure, but a lil’ less so when you realize that ol’ S.J. was a big shit deal in Italy; the country of origin for this here flick). Well Enzo isn’t quite a superhero, and soon he uses his powers for even more criminal action, but he destiny has other plans for him and before long he and Fabio clash in a most spectacular way!
While costing far less than any given DC or Marvel superhero romp, They Call Me Jeeg nevertheless measures up without a billion dollars of FX foolery. The tale of loser Enzo and his interactions with the world around him weave an engaging tale that manages to hold audience sympathy no matter what a shit heel the character is at his core; a feat writer Nicola Guaglianone and director Gabriele Mainetti should be well applauded for. Also of note is the excellent cinematography of Michele D’Attanasio which keeps things equal parts street level gritty and excitingly fluid. The cast as well is game; with Claudio Santamaria providing a layer of charm to the criminal Enzo, Ilenia Pastorelli playing woman child Alessia in a way that never becomes annoying (which is harder than it seems)…but the stand out for me is Luca Marinelli as the over the top super villain Fabio; a maniacal narcissist that is a delight to watch.
The only draw to They Call Me Jeeg is that at almost two hours long, things can get a little slow and “over-stuffed” at times, but never to the point where the film wears out it’s welcome; and while some of the scenes may seem extraneous, they at least serve a purpose to the narrative.
If you dig on street level superhero theatrics They Call Me Jeeg will really scratch that itch for ya; it’s a picture that deftly balances it’s fun with it’s grit and truly comes out on top!
The Love Witch (2016)
Elaine is a woman in search of the perfect man…an all consuming ambition she realizes through a series of arcane rituals and potions. You see, Elaine is a witch (who lives in astunning Victorian era manse ‘natch) and that is an unfortunate thing for those she selects that fail to meet her expectations (read almost all of them) as she has all manner of supernatural ways to dispose of them 9or to get them to do the deed for her). Will Elaine ever meet a man that measures up? What, you expect me to answer that here? You’re as dense as those boobs ol’ E tries to entice!
I can absolutely, assuredly guarantee you have never set your putrid peepers on a fright flick quite like The Love Witch. Let’s start with our heroine, Elaine (played to the hilt by Samantha Robinson); you’d be hard pressed to find a more put together and confident character in a picture like this, but for all of her supreme “on the ball” personality traits, writer/director (and more as you will see…) Anna Biller isn’t afraid to instill her protagonist with some pretty major character flaws; namely her uncontrollable narcissism which leads Elaine down some fairly destructive avenues as her spells and obsession with finding a member of the opposite sex that could ever possibly meet her outrageous standards leads to an ever increasing downward spiral.
Also of note is the unbelievable production design on display in this feature. Everything from the lurid, saturated, color palette, to the gorgeous costumes (designed by Biller herself, who also edited and produced the film for good measure), to even the facial structure of the actresses and actors ensure that the viewer descends into an off-kilter world seemingly woven from every late ’60’s/early ’70’s overly mod supernatural shocker (though it becomes clear that this is not a period piece, rather a film that just takes place in it’s own unique universe when a character whips out a cellphone) ever made but cranked up to the nines. Think Jess Franco meets Valley of the Dolls (on second thought make that Beyond the Valley of the Dolls) and you’ll get a bit of an idea of the aesthetics of the piece; all of which are presented with sumptuous aplomb on actual 35MM filmstock (another rarity this film offers to the wild n’ woolly world of independent horror sin-ema)!
Before I dive into the negatives of The Love Witch I do have to call attention to one more aspect of this flick that is top shelf, and that’s the performance of Jared Sanford as the warlock Gahan. This dude is straight up the modern day equivalent to grindhouse mainstay Joe Spinell, and in a cast as beautifully bizarre as the one in this film this dude managed to standout which is no easy task!
Okay, I mentioned negatives up yonder, but it probably should have just been singular, as the only real fault I had with The Love Witch was with that most dread of dreadful things in regards to movies; the pace. At two hours, there are times when The Love Witch seems rather slow movin’, and while the film is too distinctive and fun to ever be boring, things could have been a tad tighter here and there (and yes, I know the genre it is imitating was paced similarly).
Moments of leisurely pacing aside; The Love Witch is a tour de force, and it’s creator Anna Biller is a real force to be reckoned with. The greatest compliment I can give it is this: The Love Witch is like one of those racy Gothic thriller paperbacks you’d see in the supermarket in the ’70’s brought to life with all of the occultism, horny goings-on, and full on grooviness cranked up to the utmost degree!
From one extreme to another…
Ol’ Megan can’t seem to catch a break. In the space of one day she’s both fired from her job, and catches her boyfriend (who looks like an unholy amalgam of present day Trent Reznor and ’90’s era Matthew Perry) cheating on her by going BD in an underwear clad pseudo-Suicide Girl. After that pulse-pounding set up, our heroine decides to stay with a friend…a friend who’s (ridiculous ass) husband manages a strip club. Megan takes a job at said club as a…waitress??? (Wait, what the F’ now?). Anyway, that of course goes over like a fart in a submarine, and before long (and by that I mean waaaaay beyond the point where this flick becomes tedious) she begins “dancing” at the club. Soon Megan becomes the target of a bully stripper named Jazz (played by exploitation legend Erin Brown..or Misty Mundae; whatever the F she’s calling herself this week) and her gang of hard-ass ho’s (as well as the abusive owner of the club) and before you can say Paul Kersey she decides to get revenge on every MF’er that’s in her way.
Holy hell, where do I even begin with Strip Club Massacre? Let’s start with the incredibly short list of positives…as you would expect, you get some boobs, and some blood, though not even close to the levels you would expect with a film bearing the title of Strip Club Massacre. And that’s about it for what’s good in this flick.
Moving on to the bad side of things, this film is unbelievably amateur in every respect; nearly all of the dialog seems (poorly) improvised on the spot (were these actresses friends in real life and just chatting as the camera ran?), scenes go on forever (with zero regard or knowledge of basic pacing), absolutely nothing happens for interminable periods of time…and all of that doesn’t even cover the horrible sound mix or home movie quality cinematography.
Look, I’m going to lay it on the line and I hope all of you listen up…as much as you think you can get away with just throwing some attractive ladies and bargain basement gore our way, we as a fright flick loving community demand a (admittedly tiny) bit more. Edit your damn film down (this particular flick runs an hour and forty one minutes when we all know eighty minutes would have been sufficient), actually write a script (not just a vague plot outline on a cocktail napkin), and show some freakin’ heart…in other words, make an entertaining horror film that doesn’t involve near cataclysmic levels of padding and a piss poor excuse for a story!
I really and truly hate shitting on anyone’s parade, especially when they are trying to make a go of it in the horror biz, but I simply can not endorse Strip Club Massacre. This is a collection of footage that goes nowhere, has next to no purpose, and absolutely does not function as an acceptable narrative. On the flip side, I will admit the folks behind this film came up with a really rad ass title…I just wish what they put on screen lived up to that moniker.
Our ol’ pal Django In Name Only is back (this time played by Super Fuzz himself Terence Hill) and this time he’s rustled himself a scam of epic proportions. Ya see, ol’ DINO has taken a job as hangman to a crooked politician who’s game is condemning and executing local yokels in order to steal their land. Well, D-man is secretly rescuing the men and forming a gang of his own to take down the big bad boss who was responsible for the death of his wife (in cahoots with his shit heel of a best friend) years previous. Asses are whipped (literally…I mean the gang uses whips as weapons, not that there’s some S&M subplot running through this thing…oh, and speaking of “whips” I hope you dig on whip pans, cause this baby has ’em in spades), parrots are alcoholics, and the incidental music will have you humming Crazy by Gnarls Barkley.
Django Prepare a Coffin is a lively and entertaining revenge based spaghetti western. There’s tons of action, Hill makes an engaging, tortured, and believable hero, and there are some great set pieces (including a stagecoach chase that I can’t believe no one was killed performing and a beautifully composed sequence set in a surrealistic graveyard). Also worth noting is an early performance from genre legend George Eastman (Antropophagus himself) as a villainous henchman where he cuts his usual imposing figure. Additionally although Italy was fond of calling just about anything “Django” after the success of Corbucci’s 1966 masterpiece (for example Kramer Vs Kramer became Marry Django…If It Goes South, Divorce! and Sophie’s Choice became Pick A Winner Django…To The Other, Goodbye!), but Django Prepare a Coffin actually feels like a true sequel to the original (which I guess it sort of is…kinda…unofficially…in a way…yeah, the whole thing gets complicated).
If I have a bone to pick with this release, it isn’t with the film itself but rather with the package Arrow have put together. Now don’t get me wrong, the transfer they have used for the film is gorgeous, and the sound mix is tops…but if you are expecting the normal hours of extras get ready to instead find a barren landscape like the ones found in the film itself! Included are a new interview with Spaghetti Western expert and author Kevin Grant and a trailer…and that’s it.
As light as the bonus features are, I am still going to recommend the shit out of this release as Django Prepare a Coffin is a great film, and really gives fans of the character more of what they love!
Finally, our ol’ pal Shane from the Cathode Ray Mission drops in with his take on a new Blu-ray set from Arrow featuring the Dead or Alive trilogy!
Takashi Miike is a director that’s hit or miss for me; some of his films are fantastic, others are a slog…but good or bad, the man is insanely prolific, not to mention he has a penchant for not doing things the way one normally would. That’s why going into his Dead or Alive trilogy I was expecting them to be anything but your typical Yakuza crime films. So just how insane are they? Let’s find out!
The first Dead or Alive follows main characters Ryuuichi (Riki Takeuchi) and Detective Jojima (Shô Aikawa). Ryuuichi, the head of a small gang is trying to muscle his way into the crime-ridden Shinjuku quarter. While at the same time Jojima is trying to incite a war between the Yakuza and Triad. It all leads to a epic showdown between Ryūichi and Jojima.
The next film, Dead or Alive 2: Birds, has the same leads as the first installment playing different characters. Two contract killers cross paths while trying to kill the same person. The two men realize they’re childhood friends, and soon go back to their hometown. After a brief stay they decide to team up and start killing “evil doers.” This doesn’t sit well with their former bosses who come gunning for them.
Our last film in the trilogy chucks all the Yakuza stuff out the window and takes the series out a whole new door. Dead or Alive: Final is a post apocalypse mash up of Blade Runner, The Matrix and Mad Max…because why not. In the near future, Yokohama is ruled by a a homosexual mayor who has passed a law halting all heterosexual procreation. As rebels fight against the mayor’s police force a nomadic “replicant” enters the fray.
So here’s the thing about the trilogy; theres just no topping the insanity of the first Dead or Alive film (that epic opening and off the charts ending!). It was everything I was expecting it to be and then some. Now, the second doesn’t even try to top the first as it starts out a crime film, becomes an introspective look at childhood, and then becomes a crime film again…but as is the Miike way for me it just never worked. Then swinging back, the crazy sci-fi story of the third film is a welcome change, and while not as crazy as the first film, it had it’s share of “moments” and wonky effects.
While the films are uneven, the bonus features are anything but, as once again Arrow has done a bang up job. The amount of features is epic; High Definition digital transfers of all three films, new interviews with actors Riki Takeuchi and Sho Aikawa, producer and screenwriter Toshiki Kimura, audio commentary for Dead or Alive by Miike biographer Tom Mes, archive interviews with cast and crew, making-of featurettes for DOA2: Birds and DOA: Final, and original trailers for all three films.
The only hiccup I found with the set was with the third film. Due to some technical issues, the print of the film has subtitles on screen in certain parts. Not a major thing for me as it gave a bootleg sort of feel which took me back to how we used to have to view Japanese cinema.
Overall I liked the set, and I would recommended it thoroughly for fans of insane Japanese cinema (second film notwithstanding).