Big Tits Zombie

BigtzombieI must admit that I can’t get enough of this current Japanese trend of ultra low-budget exploitationers, so when I found out Takao Nakano had put his hands to one I was more than eager to check it out. Nakano is perhaps most renowned amongst purveyours of perversion and sleaze for Sexual Parasite: Killer Pussy and his Exorsister series of films which are some of the finest live action tentacle-rape trash available. He has also appeared in front of the camera in quite a few pink productions and wrote the screenplay for the wonderful Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai. As the majority of his works are manga-based, they are consistently over-the-top, often laced with lovingly-lensed scenes of scantinly-clad women wrestling, which is somewhat of a “trademark” in Nakano’s work, having an active side-career as a girl-on-girl wrestling promoter. Anyway, to the film…

As should be expected there’s nothing too heavy plot-wise, it’s basically strippers vs. zombies. Each girl portrays a stereotype: there’s self-harming, Bataille-quoting Gothic Lolita Maria, badass tough-girl Ginko, Bangkok bargirl Darna, and out-of-towner leader Leena (played by AV Idol Sora Aoi). When the girls end up performing at a backwoods strip joint, they discover a hidden basement loaded with occult literature which Maria can’t resist browsing and subsequently reading aloud from one title: a 16th century Book of the Dead. Of course this causes a demonic well to spew forth multiple members of the walking dead thus putting Maria in her element as she transforms into the villain of the film by controlling the zombies to do her bidding, forcing her fellow strippers to fight for their lives.

Throw in some random spaghetti western homages, a fire-breathing vagina dentata, topless sumo wrestling, an intensely creepy Deep Roy-lookin’ dwarf, cheap CGI splatter (and some practical gore FX), Russ Meyer-esque T&A comedy, sporadic 3D sequences, plus plenty of Cosplay outfits and you have a fun way to blow 70 minutes. Nakao’s camera approaches the feminine form with a “hentai eye” you might say, as it hovers, ever-ready to zoom into an up-skirt shot or extreme close-up while the girls are being mauled to death.

The main thing that sets this slightly apart from other “J-splatter” entries is the 3D element, I’m actually surprised that (as far as I know) no one else thought of it first. For the most part the film is 2D, it’s only when there’s some stripping or zombies that a five second warning appears on-screen for you to don your glasses for some (often rather brief) 3D action. The only flaw with this is that your eyes can take a bit to adjust to the transition and once they have the segment is over. Still, it is preferable to the whole film being in 3D as much of it would be redundant.

While perhaps not as over-the-top as The Machine Girl or Tokyo Gore Police in regards to the amount of body-horror and oddities on display, Big Tits Zombie plays out as more of a colourful pop-art piece with a sprinkling of gore, overt winks at the audience and a few badly choreographed fight scenes.

There’s also a 15-minute behind the scenes featurette in which the actresses speak about how they approached their characters and director Nakano on the girls’ various attributes.

Extras:
  • Making of Big Tits Zombie
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Two pairs of 3-D glasses

Big Tits Zombie is available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.

Bedevilled

Bedevilled-DVD

When high-powered businesswoman Hae-won is forced to take leave from her job due to being unwillingly involved in an attempted murder case, she decides on the isolated Moo Do island where she once spent a childhood holiday as her vacation spot. Once she arrives she is reunited with her old friend Bok-nam who, Hae-won soon discovers, has been saddled with the unenviable position of community punching bag.

The small backwards population consists of a handful of old women and three men, one of whom is a catatonic grandfather. While the old women debase Bok-nam verbally, the men (her husband and his brother) break her down physically and mentally. After a failed attempt to escape the island with her daughter results in the child’s death, Bok-nam finally snaps, engaging in a frenzied slaughter spree that will dispose of her tormentors once and for all.

Bedevilled is certainly one of the more bleak and harrowing films I’ve had the (dis)pleasure of witnessing this past year. It forces the viewer to experience the lifetime of degradation Bok-nam has been subjected to by beginning slowly and gradually building its momentum until just when you feel you can’t take any more it explodes into a cathartic orgy of violence.

The film also functions as a character study of two very different women: Hae-won being the upper-class city gal thrown headfirst into an atmosphere of violence and control, and Bok-nam the beaten-down backwoods gal who knows no different. Certain aspects of this bring to mind Dennis Yu’s HK shocker The Beasts and visually one also can’t help but be reminded of The Isle.

With its unsettling themes of sexual violence, child abuse & rampant misogyny, Bedevilled is obviously not a film for everyone but if you’re a fan of boundary-pushing or indeed, South Korean, cinema in the vein of I Saw The DevilThe Isle, or Oldboy, this will undoubtedly be up your alley.

Extras:

  • Behind the Scenes
  • Trailer
  • TV Spot

Available on DVD  and Blu-Ray from Madman Entertainment.

 

Rurouni Kenshin

KenshinIn the middle of the 19th century, the traditional feudal system in Japan is in decline. The Bakumatsu war has seen the shogunate replaced by a centralised Government. The nationalist forces, fighting for a brave New Age, including the legendary skills of a swordsman known as Battosai (Takeru Sato).

Now, the war a decade over, Battosai has sworn off killing and has taken the name of Kenshin Himura. The guilt of so many deaths weighing heavily on him, Kenshin wanders from place to place, helping those in need. His travels lead him to Tokyo and a failing dojo, operated by a spirited and idealistic young woman named Kaoru Kamiya (Emi Takei).

But more menacingly, Kenshin finds an assassin has been plaguing local law enforcement under the banner of Kaoru’s dojo. To make matters worse, the assassin’s name…is Battosai.

Rurouni Kenshin is the live action adaptation of the popular manga and anime of the same name – or as it is known in the West, Samurai X. Director Keishi Ohtomo and his team were clearly acutely aware of the love many held for the source material and the attention to detail in casting, costuming, props and even character movement is impressive. This does lead to the odd problem carrying over, such as when characters refer to Kenshin’s war time activities “14 years ago” despite actor Takeru Sato clearly being in his early 20s.

If such aspects might suggest this is just a soulless, slavish recreation, that would be completely inaccurate, for Rurouni Kenshin is a hugely satisfying slice of action with a side helping of melodrama.

The story involves a criminal plot to flood the country with high-grade opium. The money raised from the drugs is then funnelled into the purchase of guns and hence, a new army for this brave new Japan. But when the lead chemist Megumi (Yu Aoi) escapes the clutches of chief gangster Kanryu Takeda (the scenery-chewing Teruyuki Kagawa) and seek solace at Kaoru’s dojo, Kenshin is dragged into the conflict and at last must decide whether to return to his killing ways or risk losing everything.

The set up allows for a number of fight scenes of escalating drama and complexity. The film may boast luxurious period production design and excellent cinematography, but it is the fights that really stand out and the stars of the piece. Whip-fast swordplay, a touch of wire fu and a strong vein of humour and creativity make these absolutely top drawer slices of action. It helps that they are superbly shot and always maintain a clear sense of character and geography.

Perhaps the drama gets a bit heavy-handed at times, with the emotional hand-wringing wearing out its welcome and getting fairly repetitive by the end, but that is small criticism against the wealth of just damn good fun that the film rolls out.

A slick action extravaganza, Rurouni Kenshin is a samurai sword epic with a big heart and a bigger sense of fun. Check it out.

Extras:

The main extra on board is a 20-minute “Making Of”. This is actually raw behind-the-scenes footage with no commentary.

Despite the dryness, this is actually quite entertaining as it primarily showcases the fights scenes, giving a glimpse at the extreme levels of organisation required to create the mass battles in the film. We also see the actors training and, most endearingly, the wrap moments for the two leads.

Available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.

Dogtooth

DogtoothdvdDogtooth is a truly unique Greek film that observes the inner workings of an dysfunctional family unit in which the three children (two girls and a boy), now in their early twenties, have been completely denied access to – and contamination by – the outside world.

The family live in an luxurious, yet isolated, country estate where the children have been homeschooled, and had their minds sculpted to fit their father’s bizarre ideals. They are taught facts such as the word for vagina is keyboard, a zombie is a small yellow flower, a salt shaker is called a telephone; they believe their mother is able to give birth to a dog and that cats eat the flesh of children.

Their day-to-day schedule consists of competing against one another in various athletic activities in return for stickers, playing games like “who will wake up first” with a bottle of chloroform or “who can hold their finger under the hot tap the longest”, and throwing items over the surrounding wall to their missing/dead older brother.

The only outsider to enter into their world is Christina, a security guard from the factory where Father works, Christina is paid to provide the son with sexual relief. When Christina trades Older Daughter two videotapes (Rocky and Jaws) for some oral sex, their meticulously constructed universe begins to disintegrate.

I have to say, I’ve never seen anything quite like Dogtooth. Like the father in the film, director Giorgos Lanthimos has created an utterly surreal world that is simultaneously disturbing and absurdly humorous. Where else could graphic scenes of incest and cat mutilation coexist alongside spastic Flashdance -inspired performances and hilarious recitations of Rocky dialog?!

Overall though, the main feeling conveyed is one of sadness. Aside from sporadic outbursts of rage the children act mildly robotic, speaking in monotonous short sentences, and seem generally disconnected emotionally. They live in lavish surroundings yet are unable to properly flourish. Incarcerated in Eden.

Visually one can’t help but be reminded of Michael Haneke’s work; obsessively long takes, methodically framed static shots, a clinically modern aesthetic. It’s hard to say if there’s a message beneath all this irrationality, though various interpretations are possible; perhaps a metaphor for Greece’s totalitarian government or a nod to the numerous incest / imprisonment cases surfacing in recent years (Fritzl, Mongelli, Moe, Alvarez)… either way, this is one unsettling Greek film you don’t want to miss, right up there with Singapore Sling.

Extras:

  • Deleted scenes
  • Theatrical trailer

Available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.

Ex Drummer

ExDrummerBased on a story by infamous Belgian novelist Herman Brusselmans, Ex Drummer is a dismal, nihilistic trip into the world of three handicapped gentlemen who want to start a rock band.

The local battle of the bands is coming up and Koen, Jan & Ivan want to participate, the only problem is they don’t have a drummer. They soon decide to ask local author Dries to join their band, thinking his celebrity status may give them a better chance at winning. Seeing as all the members have their own particular handicaps, they ask Dries what his is – it seems he can’t play the drums.

The band is a motley crew indeed; vocalist / guitarist Koen is a horny, skinhead rapist with a horrible lisp, bassist Jan is gay with a paralysed right arm and an obsessive mother complex, and rhythm guitarist Ivan is a deaf junkie who treats his wife and child like shit. Dries accepts the invitation to join their band purely for his own amusement and in the hope that he’ll get a story idea from it. They name their band The Feminists.

Ex Drummer overflows with glorious politically incorrect offensiveness: rape, pedophilia, rampant misogyny, racism, homophobia, infant death, incest – there’s really something for everyone. Although with the misanthropic attitude and overall bleak atmosphere coexists a sense of the surreal and an undertone of pitch black comedy. For instance the scene where Big Dick, a member of a rival band with a horse-sized appendage, forces his wife to show her wrecked vagina to Dries, the two men literally walk around in her womb as Big Dick points out the tunnel he’s carved out with his mammoth member. The film doesn’t shy away from graphic violence either, particularly in the last quarter – there’s some rather gruesome death scenes and an extremely bloody rape / castration.

Ex Drummer is quite technically accomplished and visually stunning at times too, bizarre sequences such as the one mentioned above don’t really seem out of the ordinary when Koen the skinhead rapist lives upside down in his blood-splattered house, and some scenes are shot completely backwards. The camera-work and editing are utterly frenzied – especially during the final concert – with certain sequences being superimposed one on top of the another. The fantastic soundtrack deserves a mention here too, the film opens with the awesome Lighting Bolt track 2 Morro Morro Land and continues on with songs that complement the often harsh imagery on display. The bands in the film are actually quite decent also, they all have a similar lo-fi gutter-punk sound, and The Feminists do a wicked cover of DEVO’s Mongoloid.

A highly impressive feature film debut from Koen Mortier and a must see for fans of transgressive cinema.

Extras:
  • Making of Ex Drummer documentary
  • Music videos from The Feminists, Overdo Hykers and Flip Kowlier
  • Theatrical Trailer

Available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.

Battle Royale

imagesIn 2000, Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale hit like a cultural bomb. Adapted from the popular novel by Koushun Takami, the film managed to be scathing social criticism, teen melodrama and ultraviolent thriller all wrapped up in one. Its timing being so close to the Columbine massacre hamstrung its potential for a Stateside release, but it was a smash hit in its home territory has gone on to be one of the biggest cult films of the 21st century.

Ten years on, Arrow Video has released a brand new edition of the film, spread over three DVDs and including redone transfers of both the original theatrical cut and the ‘special edition’ cut that adds a bit of CGI blood and uses additional footage shot six months after the main shoot. It is an impressive package of a film that is definitely worthy of the treatment.

The set-up is classic exploitation film fodder. Every year, as an example to youth delinquency, a random school class is chosen to take part in the annual Battle Royale. The class of 42 pupils are sent to a deserted island, armed, and left for three days. Last child standing…gets to live.

Amongst the students is the reluctant Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Death Note Fujiwara) and the girl he likes, Noriko Nakagawa (Aki Maeda). Together they have to find a way out of the situation without being killed – or killing each other.

What elevates Battle Royale beyond its lurid premise is the way the children stay steadfastedly children throughout. They worry about friendships and who they have a crush on, who is cool and who is not, even in the face of impending annihilation. Because for teenagers, of course, these issues are as important as life or death.

The story often breaks into vignettes following specific characters, be it the returning survivor Kawada (Taro Yamamoto) who may or may not know a way off the island, abuse survivor turned murderess Mitsuko (One Missed Call Ko Shibasaki), rebel boy genius Mimura (Takashi Tsukamoto) or the homicidal Kuriyama (Masanobu Ando). Also among the cast is Chiaki Kuriyama, playing defiant track star Chigusa, the role that won her the part of Go-Go Yubari in Kill Bill.

Each of these stories-within-a-story showcase tragedy and the effect of social pressures on the young. The disassociation between youth and adults (here personified by Takeshi Kitano, playing the former teacher of the class) is a prevalent theme. Adults do not understand the young and children do not trust their elders. It is a gulf that the film paints as being potentially destructive for society.

Directed by the late Kinji Fukasaku in his 60th film at the helm, Battle Royale also contains some terrific set-pieces, from the massacre of distrust in the lighthouse to the showdown between Kuriyama and Kawada amongst the flames. If the film does spiral into heavy-handed melodrama at times – particularly at the end – this is a minor complaint to stack up against the power on display elsewhere.

Ferocious, deceptively clever and above all – entertaining, Battle Royale remains one hell of a film.

This new release feels pretty definitive, with extras ranging from video of stage appearances and press conferences through to footage of the score being recorded with the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra. Some excellent ‘making of’ material is present, often of a candid nature that is considerably more revealing than the usual Hollywood electronic press kit type of material. A comprehensive package.

Extras
  • The Making of Battle Royale: The Experience of 42 High School Students
  • Conducting Battle Royale with the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Takeish Kitano Interview
  • The Correct Way to Make Battle Royale (Birthday Version)
  • Tokyo International Film Festival Presentation
  • Opening Day at Maro No Uchi Toei Movie Theatre
  • The Slaughter of 42 High School Students
  • Premiere Press Conference
  • The Correct Way to Fight in Battle Royale
  • Royale Rehearsals
  • Masamichi Amano Conducts Battle Royale
  • Special Effects Comparison
  • Behind the Scenes Featurette
  • Filming on Set
  • Trailers
  • 32-page comic
  • 36-page booklet of essays
  • 16-page concept art booklet
  • Postcards

Battle Royal is available on R2 DVD from Arrow Films.

Subway

SubwayLuc Besson has become a name best known for directing and producing action fare. But back in 1985, he was a little-known filmmaker with one dialogue-less feature to his name (the post-apocalyptic The Last Battle). With this minimal backdrop, he created the film that would make his first major mark and pave the way for what was to follow, the offbeat ensemble piece Subway.

Christopher Lambert (best known as the eponymous Highlander) is Fred, a safe-cracker invited to a high-class party on the whim of a bored trophy wife, Helena (Isabelle Adjani). He steals some papers from her safe and is pursued by her husband’s men into the Paris Metro. There, he gives them the slip and finds the subway is populated by an assortment of quirky characters, each with their own way of surviving in the underground after-hours world.

The meandering narrative weaves around the lives of Fred and Helena, as well as the police operatives (including a pair named “Batman” and “Robin”) and the miscreants and petty thieves who call the subway home. Amongst the latter are various musicians, who Fred takes it upon himself to for a band out of. They include a drummer, played by Besson’s ever-present friend, Jean Reno.

The plotting of Subway is clearly not Besson’s focus. Instead, he aims to depict a world that the general populace only brushes against. There are few scenes set outside the subway, but instead of being a constraint, Besson turns that into a virtue. The subway becomes a world in and of itself. It has brightly-lit shops and cafes on one side and gloomy tunnels full of fluorescents and rains of sparks.

The visual flair that would characterize Besson’s career is remarkably mature even at this early stage. He has a striking sense of cinematography that combines fluid, mobile camerawork with strong lighting choices that mean Subway is never less than a joy to look at.

The emphasis on the visuals does seem to come at the cost of other elements. Most of the characters are woefully underdeveloped, even Fred. Only Adjani’s Helena gets any kind of arc or depth as she is shown to rebel against her life of luxury for the vibrance of life amongst the subway underclass. Adjani herself shows off some of her power as an actress, including a fine line in comic timing that her classic looks may belie.

A drifting film that has some great moments and clear indications of talent behind the camera, Subway may not demonstrate the finished Besson article, but it is a worthy watch all the same.

Only extras are trailers.

Available from Madman Entertainment on DVD and Blu-Ray

Ratman

RatmanDVD54cm tall Nelson De La Rosa – aka Mahow – stars in this piece of Italian trash cinema as Ratman, a rat / monkey hybrid who is on the loose on a tropical island attacking and killing swimsuit models and anyone else who crosses his path. De La Rosa is the world’s smallest actor (and a creepy little motherfucker!) who in 1990 was certified in the Guinness Book of World Records as the smallest man on earth, (although this is untrue, there are 2 other people in the world smaller than him – Gul Mohammed from India and Lin Yu-Cheh of Taiwan) he died recently on October 22nd 2006.

The thread-bare plot involves a “mad scientist” that creates this insane little mutant – for what reason we never find out – he promptly escapes and starts randomly killing people (mainly females). While on the island looking for her missing sister, Janet Agren (Eaten Alive, City of the Living Dead) meets up with crime novelist David Warbeck (Black Cat, The Beyond), and together they start to investigate the murders. Eva Grimaldi (Convent of Sinners, Quiet Days in Clichy) is also hanging around and treats us all to a titillating shower scene, which ups the pretty much nonexistent sleaze-factor a bit.

Although written by Dardano Sacchetti and Elisa Briganti (Zombie, House By the Cemetery), this flick is pretty much dullsville. There’s a bit of blood splattered around but very little gore apart from one scene where De La Rosa cannibalizes a victim, a lot of ‘fillers’, bad dubbing, and you don’t see Ratman half as much as I would’ve liked to, although when he does appear it definitely makes for the most entertaining parts of the film, so its not a complete waste of time. The film’s director Giuliano Carnimeo has also directed Case of the Bloody Iris, numerous Spaghetti Westerns and wrote the script for the infamous violent and sleazy Giallo The Killer is Still Among Us.

Extras:

  • Reversible cover art
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • 6 Shameless Trailers

Available on DVD from Shameless Screen Entertainment. 

Attack the Gas Station

Attack-gas-staion-dvd

Attack the Gas Station is a South Korean teenage black comedy about four smooth-looking Korean punks who out of boredom decide to trash & rob a local gas station twice in the same week. The second time however, the owner claims he has already sent the nights earnings home with his wife so the four lads decide to take the employees hostage and run the gas station themselves, while pocketing the earnings.

Throughout the course of the night the number of customers-cum-hostages rapidly increases until, via various series of events, the four misfits are faced with incessant in-fighting of the hostages, power struggles and eventually, an all-out battle. As a side-plot there are flashbacks to each of the four criminals past, explaining why they behave in the particular way they do.

Attack the Gas Station is an ultra-stylized, colourful and anarchistic political satire / social commentary on the disaffected Korean youth of today. There are numerous politically-incorrect statements such as the attacks on the facile national “motivational statements” hanging on the walls of the station and the comparison of the Pepsi logo to the Korean flag.

I didn’t really find the humour all that amusing as some of it is rather silly and slapstick in nature, however one comical running joke throughout the film – seemingly a homage to Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch – is the line “If they move, kill them” to which the response is always “Really?” (guess ya had ta be there). Also, some of the random beatings meted out to the hostages are kinda funny.

Overall an ok film if ya wanna waste a coupla hours but I felt it was kind of overlong and directed more at South Korean teens, so some of the comedy & allegory didn’t translate as well as it could of.

Madman Entertainment’s R4 PAL release is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and has a choice of either a Korean or English soundtrack.

Extras:

Trailers. That is it unless you consider an English dub-track as an extra.

Available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.

The Machine Girl

Machine-Girl-MadmanThe Machine Girl is one of the earlier entries in the New Wave of Low Budget Japanese Splatter flicks that are gaining popularity of late. Along with such films as Tokyo Gore Police, The Nihombie trilogy (Zombie Self-Defense Force, The Girls Rebel Force of Competitive Swimmers and High School Girl Rika: Zombie Hunter), RoboGeisha and a couple of other upcoming titles, these gore-soaked, no-holds-barred masterpieces are, in my opinion, some of the best cinema coming out of the East at the moment.

The scenario here is your basic revenge plot: Ami and Yu are a brother & sister who were orphaned after their parents committed suicide in response to false murder allegations directed against them. With their parents gone, the oldest sibling Ami runs the household and looks out for her brother Yu.

Lately Yu and some of his friends have been violently bullied at school and stood over by a local gang of youths led by Sho Kimura, the son of a nefarious yakuza overlord. Eventually the bullying goes too far and ends in the deaths of Yu and his friend Takeshi.

Ami vows to avenge her brothers death and joins forces with Takeshi’s mother Miki (played by JAV idol Asami) to hunt down the murderers, namely the Kimura family. But the Kimura’s aren’t your typical yakuza family, they are descendents of the infamous Hattori Hanzo clan of ninjas and they plan to put up quite a fight.

Chock-full of inventive splattery demises, arterial sprays, black humour and of course the main attraction: a cute Japanese schoolgirl with a big-ass machine gun for an arm, The Machine Girl does exactly what it says on the tin. The special effects here are handled by Yoshihiro Nishimura director of Tokyo Gore Police and the upcoming Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl. Minor use of crappy-looking CG aside – the effects are pretty decent considering the budget.

Machine Girl plainly wears its influences on its sleeve by taking films such as Braindead and Evil Dead (see Ami’s chainsaw arm-attachment) and seeing how far they can push the concept… honestly, we have some hilariously cheesy action scenes involving ninjas, graphic impalement, bodies chopped up and butchered in every manner imaginable, a drill-bra, flying guillotine and the amusing Super Mourners Squad.

The film also brings a stylistically Japanese bent by merging the black humoured gore with the OTT manga-esque atmosphere that tends to prevail in these type of films, thus rendering the eye-popping splatter FX that much more vibrant and in-your-face.

Lately it seems Media Blasters / Tokyo Shock’s production company, Fever Dreams are getting behind a few of these low budget J-splatter flicks – this one is done in collaboration with Nikkatsu – so I’m looking forward to see what they come out with next.

The Eastern Eye release is accompanied with a making of that runs for about ten minutes, trailer and stills gallery. It is a worthwhile purchase (mediocre extras aside) for fans of the recent J-sploit trend.

Available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.