The Definitive Document of the Dead

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Before the event of DVDs there were very few documentaries of the making of films especially when it came to cult and horror cinema. Occasionally there would be a promotional behind-the-scenes look for the major studio blockbusters screened on TV but nothing compared to the insight and analysis we have come to expect now. Document Of The Dead and Fangoria’s feature on Tom Savini Scream Greats Vol 1 have always held a special place for me as they were my first glimpse into what went on behind the scenes of some of my favourite horror flicks. I’ve always liked how they were shot in the thick of it all and are a great document of the time without the benefit of hindsight.

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Dolla Morte

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My mind is constantly in the gutter and I’m usually chuckling away at shit I probably shouldn’t be, so reading the description of Bill Zebub’s Dolla Morte I was immediately drawn to it. I’ve always enjoyed humour that a lot of people out there find deeply offensive or un-PC. Lowbrow gross out toilet humour just appeals to me. You can take your sophisticated comedy and fuck off for all I care. Gimme some Andrew Dice Clay or throw on Freddy Got Fingered and I’m happy. Dolla Morte has enough of this style of humour to give your average moral majority tight-ass a conniption fit. I’d love to see the look on their faces if they were to witness the scene in this film where Osama Bin Laden castrates The Pope. That forehead vein would no doubt be throbbing like crazy and they’d be off to the cupboard to pull out their trusty “Ban Everything” protest placard. Continue reading

In the Sign of the Taurus

Pull out the anti-depressants and crank up the tolerance level to 10, it’s Werner Hedman time again.

This time the film is set in the raunchy 1920s. Count Von Lieberhaus is the kindly benefactor to a town full of nubile girls. In return for tolerating his constant perving on them he doesn’t charge anyone tax and all is fine in the world. Tragically on one of his jaunts he suffers a stroke and later passes away. Gather the clichéd hall of fame to attend the will-reading. There’s the greedy mayor, the smug accountants and, my personal favourite, the alcoholic pastor (picture a heavily overweight Budd Tingwell in a BAD wig and you’re there), all out to grab a share of the late Count’s fortune.

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Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America

Severed_WaysGuy poops (graphically) in bush, kills some chickens, burns a church and headbangs in the forest… ZOMG that is so Black Metal. Severed Ways is shit. It’s horrible, tacky, trashy, a cash-in and devoid of a sense of authentic history or culture.

Two Vikings who were part of a larger group have been left behind in North America. Here you have what could have been an interesting premise: how do these guys survive? If the makers of the film had bothered to research and tried to put some culture into their movie instead of attempting to make a “cult Black Metal” film, it could have been an interesting film, but it’s not. Essentially what you have is these two dicks walking around, shitting, killing animals, burning churches and fucking with Christians.

It’s far too great of a compliment to call this film a documentary styled journey. It’s low-budget, Z-grade handy-cam trash. It utilizes a “Black Metal” soundtrack to pimp itself, and if you’re expecting to hear a “True Norwegian Black Metal” soundtrack well bad luck, it’s 95% ambient.

If you’re planning on checking this out because it has been touted as a “Black Metal” film with a “Black Metal” soundtrack, then you’re going to love this. If you want to check this out because you realize it’s a cash-in modern day exploitation crap-fest then you won’t be disappointed because it is sheer garbage. I love “its so bad it’s good” movies but this is “so bad it’s… just shit”. I really want to smash the DVD and douse it in petrol and burn it.

I don’t hate it only because it has been touted as a BM film and fails to be, everything about it is just terrible. From the bad camera angles, migraine-inducing hand-held work, terrible casting of pimply/skinny dorks as Vikings, the shitty $2 shop looking costumes, the film is just a joke. Not to mention the dorky blonde/Michael Pitt looking guy moshing (axe in hand) in the middle of the forest, I mean what the hell? Did Leif Erikkson mosh in the woods?. This is worse than art school crap, it’s worse than what a stoner could come up with it’s retarded. They also throw fire at some dogs and really  burn one, the butchered chicken killings, although pathetic, I can see why it was used but throwing fire at dogs is cruel.

There is no tension, no atmosphere, no character development and no rich tapestries in the settings or costumes. Valhalla Rising – although many felt let down by the lack of fighting- was so rich in its sets, costumes and atmosphere that the film was an authentic experience. Severed Ways is just second-rate fan-boy drama, I don’t see how on earth it got such a mainstream release, it seems like something a shitty indie label would put out. Give this one a miss and go purchase Valhalla Rising if you want a Viking movie and if you’re wanting a Black Metal movie go and buy The Misanthrope. Believe me, you‘ll thank me. You’re welcome.

Severed Ways is available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.

Mark of the Devil

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Filmed in Austria and starring a young Udo Kier and an old Herbert Lom as the apprentice and master witch hunters, Christian and Lord Cumberland respectively, this trashy knock off of Witch Finder General kicks off with a wagonful of nuns being raped and slaughtered so you just know it’s going to be a classy historical epic from here on in. Continue reading

A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin

Womans-Skin-DVDOne of the best films to come from the fertile mind of cult Italian filmmaker Lucio Fulci (Zombie Flesh Eaters, The Beyond, New York Ripper), A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is also one of the prime examples of a classic giallo thriller (a genre of Italian cinema named after the popular pulp crime novels published in the 1960s, dubbed ‘giallos’ because of the cheap yellowing paper they were printed on).

In the best giallo tradition, the plot of A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is convoluted yet ultimately simple and obvious, and seems to serve ostensibly as a vehicle for the film’s cinematic style. Carol Hammond, a classy and wealthy but seemingly bored London housewife (played by beautiful cult Euro starlet Florinda Bolkan) is traumatised by vivid, sex and violence drenched dreams which feature her permissive, party-loving neighbour Julia Durer (the equally stunning Anita Strinberg). When Carol awakens one morning to discover her dreams have transcended into reality and Julia has been discovered brutally murdered, she is fingered as the main suspect and must try to decipher her dreams and discover whether or not she is a cold-blooded murderess with a memory block or the victim of an elaborate frame.

Coming off like a Hitchcock film on acid, A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin literally pulsates with a psychedelic vibrancy, with some intense erotic imagery and moments of gaudy, extreme violence that foretells some of Fulci’s later career choices. The sequence where the institutionalised Carol stumbles upon a quartet of still-living, whimpering dogs hung up and dissected in a laboratory is truly disturbing and ghastly, and it’s not too hard to see why this scene was cut from most prints during the film’s initial theatrical run (the dogs, and a horde of attacking bats, were created by noted mechanical effects expert Carlo Rambaldi, who would go on to work on such notable films as E.T. and Alien. Ennio Morricone’s sparse but hypnotic soundtrack perfectly complements the film’s surreal tone and style, and would have to rate as one of the great Italian composer’s more underrated scores. The film also looks sumptuous, with nice sets and some ostentatious but stylish early-seventies wardrobes worn by the female leads. With their elegant and striking looks, Florinda Bolkan and Anita Strinberg are both effective in their roles, and are well supported by Stanley Baker (as a Scotland Yard inspector), Jean Sorel and Leo Genn as Carol’s father Edmond Brighton, a distinguished lawyer trying to clear his daughter’s name.

Umbrella’s release of A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin utilises a mostly sharp widescreen print that offers you the options of watching the film either in Italian language (with optional subtitles) or English dubbed. While the Italian language soundtrack is best, the dubbed version doesn’t distract too much due to the film’s UK setting. The colours of the transfer are vibrant and do justice to the lush cinematography of Luigi Kuveiller. A couple of the re-instated nudity and violence sequences are a bit grainy due to the source material utilised, but it’s nothing too distracting. Unfortunately, no special features are present, making Shriek Show’s two-disc special edition from a few years back still the ultimate release of this film. Considering some of the special editions of genre films which they have released in the past, it’s a shame to see Umbrella content to put out bare bones releases of late (in what is surely a cost-cutting measure for the company).

A perfect introduction for those unfamiliar with the giallo, and an essential addition to the DVD library of any established fan of the genre (not to mention the army of loyal Fulci cultists).

Available on R4 DVD from Umbrella Entertainment. 

An American Hippie in Israel [Blu-ray]

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Prior to this disc release, I had never heard of An American Hippie in Israel, but being something of a fan of counterculture cinema, I was curious to see what it was about this film that prompted Grindhouse Releasing to give it the deluxe treatment.

Written and directed by Amos Sefer (who doesn’t seem to have made another feature other than this), An American Hippie in Israel stars Asher Tzarfati as Mike, the titular hippie of the title, a Vietnam vet who lands at Tel Aviv airport (in bare feet and complete with requisite beard and furry vest) with no real plans other than to live “an absolute free life in an absolutely isolated place, away from this civilization and culture of violence- without clothes, without government and without orders.” Fortunately for him, he is picked-up hitchhiking by young theatrical actress Elizabeth (Lily Avidan), who becomes instantly infatuated with Mike and his hippie lifestyle, joining him in his quest for peace and freedom. After hooking up with another local hippie couple (played by Shmuel Wolf and Tzila Karney), they head for a small uninhabited island just off the coast, only to find that the nice ideals of the counterculture lifestyle do not necessarily hold-up to the harsh realities of life and the basic instinct to survive. Continue reading

Indie Director

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Oh if only one could review films on the basis of what the director INTENDED rather than what they delivered. It would make reviewing a lot easier and there would be more happy directors out there. Case in point is Indie Director, a film from the prolific Bill Zebub, creator of many shorts and videos including the luridly titled Antfarm Dickhole, Forgive me for Raping You, Zombiechrist, Frankenstein the Rapist and more. With that pedigree and his no-doubt great enthusiasm and tireless efforts I had high-hopes for this film. Continue reading

Suddenly Last Summer

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Suddenly Last Summer is the second installment in John Aes-Nihil’s trilogy of Tennessee Williams adaptations, the other titles being The Drift and Boom (which as far as I know is not currently available). Now, having never seen any of Williams’ original plays nor any of the numerous film and television adaptations myself, I can only judge his work from the interpretations of Mr. Aes-Nihil which, to say the least, are utmost bizarre.

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Snowtown

Snowtown-DVDThe Snowtown murders (aka The Bodies in Barrels Murders) occurred in South Australia between 1992-1999. The main perpetrator John Bunting, recruited various friends and acquaintances to assist in the disposing of undesirable types such as paedophiles, homosexuals and junkies. Their victims were often subjected to prolonged torture with assorted household implements and electrocution before death. Newcomer Justin Kurzel with his cast of untrained actors has attempted to bring the crimes back to life with his first feature film, Snowtown.

The opening scenes are all about establishing the grim atmosphere that is to pervade the following 2 hours and they do so effortlessly, capturing that hopelessly scummy feel of the welfare-reliant hordes. We are introduced to Jamie Vlassakis, his brothers and their solo mum Elizabeth, essentially poor white trash living in a rundown area of suburban Australia. Not long after their mother leaves them with a neighbour, who subsequently abuses and takes nude photographs of the boys, friendly John Bunting starts hanging around the house and eventually becomes Elizabeth’s live-in boyfriend.

The first thing John makes clear is that he fucking hates paedophiles, so with the boys help (and some mashed ‘roo offal) he terrorizes the aforementioned neighbour into moving. Regular gatherings are held at Elizabeth’s home where John riles up the locals with his scathing anti-paedo rhetoric and attempts to provoke them into action. The murders seemingly begin as a continuation of John’s heroic vigilantism, merely dispatching local kiddie fiddlers, but then degenerate into frenzied lust-murders as John starts taking out acquaintances and generally anyone who gets in his way.

An interesting aspect of how the director handled this story is that it is told from Jamie’s perspective; we witness his struggles with first identifying a father figure in Bunting then being forced to assist with the killings, including that of his step-brother. Another unexpected angle is that the film is less concerned with gruesome, splatter-y serial murder and more about the mundane human side of it. So there are numerous scenes of familial blandness, which add infinitely to the overall bleak mood. And that’s not to say there aren’t confronting scenes of torture and violence, but that when they do appear they have that much more impact.

Utilizing an unprofessional cast (aside from Daniel Henshall who plays Bunting) was an astute foresight on Kurzels behalf, as the film would have been completely laughable had it starred the usual suspects from Neighbours, Home and Away, etc. Kurzel’s attention to detail in reproducing the dated ’90s fashion, having a Sega Master System constantly chirping away in the background, and references to swish new Nike Air’s enhances the already vivid ambiance as well.

With Snowtown director Justin Kurzel has crafted an incredibly dark and authentic piece of filmmaking that, via evocative cinematography, sparse sound design and flawless acting – and without resorting to over-the-top shock tactics – manages to infuse the proceedings with a harsh tone of realism that will stay with you long after the screen’s gone black.

Highly recommended viewing, ranks right up there along with such hard-hitting Aussie fare as Boxing DayAlexandra’s Project or The Boys.

Extras

Extras-wise, aside from the requisite commentary, trailer and deleted scenes, there’s a short film, Blue Tongue, that stars a young Sianoa Smit-McPhee (Neighbours, Hung) as a vindictive little girl trying to attract a boys attention. There’s also 2 music videos directed by Kurzel for The Mess Hall, a short featurette on the Snowtown Murders and a 20 minute interview with the director.

Snowtown is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Madman Entertainment.