Entertaining Japanese Exploitation Movie with a Fun Ending
I read about Violent Classroom (or Classroom of Terror) years ago in Asian Cult Cinema magazine. I thought it sounded wild but had to wait two decades before a subtitled print became available.
The plot, pre-dating Class of 1984, has an ex-boxer taking over the teaching of physical education at a bad school. The most unruly students are a motorcycle gang called The Sidewinders. However, by the end, the teacher has learned that the school is corrupt from the top down and the only way to end the corruption is through violence.
The memorable ending has the school board meeting breaking out in chaos. The Sidewinders battle the fascistic kendo club (led by the student council president), while the PE teacher dukes it out bare knuckled against the samurai sword wielding school principal. It's the kind of ending that brings a big smile to to the face of Asian exploitation fans.
Having written that, I think I saw the film too late. Had I seen it in the late 1990's when I had first heard of it, I would have loved it. In 2021, I am like, it's kind-of fun, love the ending, and move on. On the other hand, one could certainly do worse than Violent Classroom.
Locations can make a big difference in certain movies. I am thinking of the location work in the two versions of Nosferatu (or about any Werner Herzog movie for that matter). The Virgin's Music benefits from authentic locations. The western viewer feels he is watching the drama take place in a startling, foreign world. Along with its black and white photography, the settings are this film's strength.
The plot begins like Dracula. The plot has a traveler being stranded at an inn when the carriage driver ominously says he will go no further. Trying to walk the rest of the way, the traveler sees a castle in the distance with strange music coming from it, but a young boy warns the traveler to not go there. Suddenly, a quick moving carriage runs over the boy. Its owner is Sibila (Olivera Katarina) the castle's owner. She has the child and the traveler brought inside the castle. From there the tension builds slowly as Sibila constantly flirts with the traveler, who is bewitched by this beauty.
Olivera Katarina is certainly right for the part, sensual and mysterious. However, a half-hour of flirtation and build-up (who is playing that strange music?) occurs before the big reveal at the end. I found it too much set-up and not enough pay-off. I had a similar reaction to Leptirica, also from director Djordje Kadijevic. Others may like Devicanska Svirka more than I did.
Jan is brought to a mental hospital in the country after trying to commit suicide. This character has little reason to want to end his life. He is a handsome, successful architect with an attractive wife and a cute, young daughter. Yet, Jan feels alienated from all of that.
Films set in a mental asylum, from Shock Corridor to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, often reflect the problems of the outside, "normal," world. The Return of the Prodigal Son is no exception. Most of the other characters are unhappy too; they just don't act out. Jan's wife, Jana, has a lover while Jan is away. Her parents seem to like the substitute more than their son-in-law. The psychiatrist is well meaning but ineffective and perhaps tired of his job. Meanwhile, the psychiatrist's wife (Dana Medricka, giving the strongest performance in the film) feels unloved and develops a crush on Jan.
The Return of the Prodigal Son is part of The Pearls of the Czech New Wave collection put out by Criterion's Eclipse branch. It is the third film I have watched in the set (The Joke and TheReport on the Party being the other two). It is my least favorite of the three, striking me as being a little too much like Michelangelo Antonioni without Antonioni's creative architecture. Still, the film is well acted and has some wonderful moments that live on after the film's ending: Jan's roommate at the hospital, a dancer, entertaining Jan's young daughter; two encounters with circus performers; Jan and the psychiatrist's wife on the grass; and the case of mistaken identity that leads to the climax of the film.
The Return of the Prodigal Son is not an overly entertaining movie. The whole film suffers from ennui. I got restless while watching the film, but parts of it have stayed with me the last few days. The film is worth a look for patient viewers.
Decent Downbeat Samurai Film With A Stunning Final Twenty Minutes
I first read about The Betrayal in Patrick Galloway's excellent book Warring Clans, Flashing Blades. Galloway highly praised this film starring Raizo Ichikawa from the Kyoshiro Nemuri/Sleepy Eyes of Death series.
For most of the film's running time I was somewhat surprised by Galloway's enthusiasm. The plot involves an honorable samurai (Ichikawa) who allows himself to go into exile after a samurai of a rival clan is stabbed in the back (well, slashed actually). The honorable samurai did not commit the deed, but because the ones who did will not come forward, our hero agrees to leave the area and thus become the prime suspect of the killing. The hero sacrifices his happiness for the good of his clan. Supposedly, this exile is only to be for a year while the clan's boss works out a deal with the rival clan, but things do not go as planned.
Most of the film charts our hero's growing disillusionment with the samurai code. The Betrayal is not the only film to cover this ground. Harakiri, Onibaba, Samurai Rebellion, and Ugetsu have all, in more meaningful ways, called into question the role of the samurai. Therefore, while I liked the story well enough, I did not understand Galloway's praise. That is until I got to the film's last twenty minutes. When the hero finally has to face his former clan, the viewer is treated to a dizzying killfest that approaches the Lone Wolf and Cub movies (no blood sprays or severed body parts though). Ichikawa sells this sequence. He throws all of his energy into this action scene.
I am still not as gung-ho about the film as Galloway was. I find it just a slightly above average programmer (admittedly, a downbeat one) until that finale. However, that is some ending sequence.
"See You in Hell, Friends" are the last words a character says before the vehicle full of people he is driving runs off a cliff. This is toward the beginning of this film from Juraj Jakubisko.
Petras, a (maybe) survivor of the wreck, relates the back story. It involves how he came to live in an unusual commune with an aging Colonel and a free spirited woman named Rita who has married both men. Others who eventually live in the big mansion include the Colonel's anarchist father who has returned from somewhere, two strange women building an ark, a laid back priest, and Christine, the "goose girl" daughter of Rita and her husbands.
See You in Hell, Friends is an odd movie. The camera is hardly ever static, constantly moving. Scenes are cut quickly producing a disorienting effect in the viewer. There is not much plot, but quite a few events happen, always quickly and without much setup. The short (72 minute) film certainly isn't boring, but it also doesn't seem to go anywhere. It also contains a political message, but I don't have the background to completely grasp it.
The film worked well enough for me to give it a slight recommendation, but I also felt that I was not getting a lot of what was intended. Also, this is the second Jakubisko film I have seen to prominently feature geese (The Deserter and the Nomads being the other). Maybe the director likes to eat goose.
When people who don't watch art films make jokes about them, this is the kind of film they mean
Update on 08/08/2021:
I wrote the review below right after I had finished watching the film. Since then, I have read the novel by Laszlo Krasznahorkai on which the film is based (in a surprisingly readable English translation by George Szirtes). Reading this novel has given me help in understanding the film adaptation.
First off, the novel is easier to read than what I had expected. True, it is an internal novel with very little external action, but it is also only 282 pages and the English translation flows nicely (the lack of paragraph breaks is the one stumbling block). The novel is okay. I am not extremely enthusiastic, but I am glad I read it. The Bela Tarr film adaptation is faithful to what happens in the book, although it leaves out the most cinematic scene from the novel (an encounter with a ghost . . . If it was a ghost).
The novel has a certain ambiguity. It explains the how, what, where, and when, but does not always supply the why. For example, even after reading the novel, I still do not know what I am supposed to think of the character Irimias. However, the novel does adequately explain the meaning of the bell sound that is heard at the beginning, a revelation I quite frankly didn't understand in the film adaptation. In fact, the movie comes off as more ambiguous than the novel.
What makes the movie more obtuse, at least for us story conscious viewers, is that film, being a visual medium, cannot as well render what is going on in the minds of the characters. We only get their behavior. Satantango is one of those literary works that probably should not be adapted to film. It does not translate well. In addition, for all of its running time, the film seems to gloss over the most emotionally moving sections of the novel (everything with poor, little Esti). Again, the movie gives us behavior not emotion.
Having written that, the more I think about it, the film does improve on the book's ending. I originally found the film's ending a cheat, a con job on the viewer. However, the more I think about it, the more I like its abstract note of finality (it's over!). I also find myself replaying a couple other images from the film: the horses that have escaped from the slaughterhouse and that scene in town with the trash blowing around the streets (although I could have used less screen time devoted to that one).
I originally gave the film a 1/10. I still don't like the movie or, judging from the two films of his I have seen, Bela Tarr's aesthetic. I still find the seven hour running time indulgent to the point of arrogance. However, that initial rating seems a little harsh. After all, the film did encourage me to read the original novel and has given me a few images to replay weeks later. I am changing it to a 3/10 (the novel would rank a 6/10).
Below is the original, unedited review:
MY ORIGINAL REVIEW:
About twenty years ago, I had the dubious pleasure of watching Bela Tarr's Werckmeister Harmonies at a film festival. I didn't like the film, but what made the experience harder to take (at least to take seriously) was the question and answer session after. Director Bela Tarr was on hand to make such comments as: "I don't like movies that are information cut, information cut." Well, I and many other cinema fans do.
After that experience, I swore off Bela Tarr movies. A few Christmases later, a friend gave me the Artificial Eye DVD of Satan's Tango as a gag gift. It sit on my shelf for probably a dozen years, until this week. Satan's Tango is one minute shy of seven hours (almost three times the length of Werckmeister Harmonies). Needless to say, I was pretty hesitant to watch the film. The film lived up to all my expectations.
The plot, to the extent the film has a plot, is about a poor farm collective which consists of mostly sour, dishonest people. At the beginning of the film the collective is worried about the return of Irimias, a troublesome sort who was believed to have been killed. In fact, Irimias has come back to apparently convince the collective to move to a better location and start anew. I write "apparently" because Irimias seems to have other motives, not all of them for the best interest of the group. . . And why does he want explosives?
Actually, the plot is very minimal and much of it is frustratingly ambiguous. Most of the film's seven hours consist of behavior. People stare out of windows. People wait on a bureaucrat. People eat. People dance drunkenly at a bar. People walk around, A LOT. All of this happens in rain, mud, and under perpetually sunless skies. To further add to the film's difficulty, the takes are long and the score is somber. Not a whole lot else happens in seven hours.
I don't understand what I am supposed to get from long takes of people walking in the rain. I have walked in a cold rain. It wasn't pleasant. I know what the characters are feeling, so why do I need so much screen time devoted to it? Yes, these characters (and probably these actors) are cold and uncomfortable, but so what? The film does not render the characters in such a way that I as a viewer can empathize with any of them. Therefore, I just don't care if they are cold and have to walk a long distance to their new home, a rundown mansion.
Admittedly, for art movies, I am a story/character centric film viewer. I like a good story, interesting characters, and bright, colorful cinematography; none of which are in Satan's Tango. I am also deficient in my knowledgeable of Hungarian cinema. I have seen a few films from Miklos Jancso, and especially liked The Round-Up, but that is about all.
I have a rule regarding a long book or a long movie. Time is precious. If a novelist or a filmmaker is going to ask for a significant portion of a reader/viewer's time, then that artist has to reward the person in the end. A short book or a short movie, since it is asking less of its audience, has the right to be more experimental and more challenging. Said shorter work, can also get by with an ending that is barely an ending. A seven hour film owes more to its viewer. I have been moved by lengthy films such as, Sergei Bondarchuk's War and Peace, Masaki Kobayashi's Human Condition, and Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies. However, Satan's Tango just wasted my time.
Hong Kong made quite a few comedic fantasies in the 1980s and 1990s. The best of these is the original Mr. Vampire. Return of the Demon is a less successful example.
The plot has three ruthless treasure seekers accidentally freeing an imprisoned evil being who now must kill the three who set him free. I am not quite sure why since the English subtitles on my copy are not always clear in the translation. A master of martial arts (also the brother of the supernatural entity) and his young student have to stop the freed entity and save the treasure seekers.
That is the basic plot, but the film travels a detour filled route to resolve it. There are several slapstick digressions along the way. Most of these comedy scenes are not very funny. For example, in one scene, dog urine is mistaken for cola by several characters.
However, there is one wild and funny sequence. The heroes get mistaken for killers and are locked up by a sadistic jailer who loves to torture the inmates. While in jail, one of the heroes turns into a werewolf (technically, a were-dog) and begins to create havoc. Much chaos ensues. This scene makes a viewer wish for more like it. Unfortunately, there isn't. Even the final showdown is pretty forgettable.
Hong Kong comedy is something of an acquired taste. Those with a taste for it might enjoy Return of the Demon more than I did.
I have wanted to see Clegg ever since I watched the first disk of 42nd Street Forever trailers where the film's trailer was shown under the title The Bullet Machine. Unfortunately, the film proved very hard to find in the U.S. (and maybe the U.K. too). I had to settle for a poorly panned and scanned copy that rendered the action scenes hard to follow.
The film seems to be a (very) low budget mixture of Get Carter and an American hardboiled detective film. Harry Clegg is an ex-cop turned P.I. and on the dishonest side (and on the borderline incompetent side). At the beginning of the movie, Clegg is ambushed in the country by one of his less than satisfied customers who has paid two goons to kill Clegg. After dispensing with the three, Clegg returns to London and gets another job. The well-to-do Lord Cruikshank has received a threatening letter that he wants Clegg to investigate. Cruikshank believes the man responsible is an embezzler who was sentenced to twenty years in prison, but Cruikshank is not too forthcoming with other details. Clegg calls up a lady friend still on the force (Clegg has a lot of lady friends who do his work for him). Clegg learns that the embezzler died in prison twelve years earlier. Meanwhile, a female killer with rifle is eliminating some of Cruikshank's former associates.
The film does not have much of a mystery. Most of the film consists of Clegg (the not exactly dashing Gilbert Wynne) wandering around, sleeping with an unlikely attractive woman, and getting into fights with goons. The film holds the viewer just interested enough to keep him watching but not enough for him to get involved in the plot or the characters. The action scenes are hard to judge out of the correct aspect ratio. I was disappointed that, in spite of the way it is played up in the trailer, Clegg never squares off against the female hitwoman, nor is her character as prominent as she appears from the preview.
Clegg was directed by Lindsay Shonteff, a director that not many people have much love for. I am not quite sure why. I have sat through much worse than Clegg from lesser directors like Al Adamson and Ted V. Mikels, both of whom have a cult following. I rather like Shonteff's The Fast Kill. Clegg is not as good, but it is watchable enough on a boring afternoon. I probably wouldn't watch the film again, even in a better, correctly letterboxed copy.
Deborah Shelton Fans Should Take Note, Most Everyone Else Can Skip It
Dangerous Cargo was recently released on disk from Mondo Macabro, an interesting distributor of unusual films. This film is a slow going nautical thriller starring the lovely Deborah Shelton, or as the opening credits list her, Debbie Shelton (Miss USA). That might be the first time I have ever seen a description of an actor in the credits.
Set on a cargo ship, the plot has guns and nitroglycerin being smuggled by the unaware crew. A new crewman, who has come in to replace a crewman, who was mysteriously murdered on shore leave, is working for a third party who wants to steal the weapons and explosives. Further complications include a new captain (who knows about the cargo), the captain's new wife (Shelton), and the first mate who used to date the Captain's wife. The plot is not really the main selling point of the movie; Deborah Shelton is. The film includes about a half a dozen scenes of Shelton in various stages of undress. If you are a Deborah Shelton fan, Dangerous Cargo will be a must watch.
However, as a thriller, the film never generates much tension. Take the big storm scene for an example. One would expect shots of the dangerous cargo to be shifting ominously in the hold, as if, at any moment, the ship will blow. Nope, we just get the captain saying "left . . . right" and stock footage of a storm. Dangerous Cargo struck me as a rather lazily directed movie. Still, the film has an undressed Deborah Shelton.
As for Miss Shelton's acting, she looks pretty, which is enough for the majority of the film. However, the film's final third hinges on her character. The filmmakers just don't explain her character satisfactorily (was she in on the gun running with her husband?). At that point, Shelton's lack of acting experience becomes more noticeable. However, Shelton plays the character as written, so the ambiguity in the character is the fault of the screenwriter.
To be honest, most who watch Dangerous Cargo are not going to pay much attention to the film's plot. It is pretty pedestrian, although I was surprised by the early exit of one character. The film is too slow to work as a thriller, but it does have its charms (mainly Deborah Shelton).
Back in my teenage days, I was obsessed with punk rock and heavy metal music. I listened to (and enjoyed) several bands that might now be considered politically incorrect (S.O.D. and The Meatmen were two such bands). Even back then The Mentors, from what I had heard of them, seemed to go further than I wanted, although I did admire the fact they played in executioner hoods (the band liked the movie Mark of the Devil).
The Mentors: Kings of Sleaze Rockumentary is a sometimes interesting, sometimes frustrating look back. Coming out of Seattle in the late 1970's, El Duce (drums and vocals), Sicky Wifebeater (guitar), and Dr. Heathen Scum (bass) formed a band that shocked and appalled most with offensive lyrics (the band were branded "rape rock," a description the band wore proudly). The band was even banned in Canada. Punk (and heavy metal, to some degree) was always about shock ("Belsen was a gas" the Sex Pistols sung back in the day). Offensiveness comes with the territory. Still, wearing the banner of "rape rock" and singing a song, no matter how tongue in cheek, about beating up homosexuals, post Mathew Shepard, seems too much even by my apologetic standards.
The documentary does not do much to address the controversy, praising the band for upsetting Tipper Gore and the PMRC. All of the interviews are laudatory in nature. That is one of the problems of the documentary. To be fair, filmmaker April Jones should have interviewed musicians from the era who were offended by The Mentors. Another problem with the documentary is the ending. El Duce (real name Eldon Hoke) was an alcoholic since he was a teenager. In 1997, he (while drunk) was hit by a train. This was shortly after he gave a rambling interview where he claimed to know who murdered Kurt Cobain. Jones suggests that El Duce was murdered because he knew too much. Sure, and for a C note I will tell you what happened to Jimmy Hoffa.
All in all, the film did hold my interest. There were some funny stories told. I particularly liked the one about how The Mentors inadvertently ended up playing a little kid's birthday party. The film, however, did not make me want to track down The Mentors music, and as journalism, the film is mostly a miss.
Entertaining Enough, But Best Appreciated By Fans New To The Horror Genre
This is the type of documentary that is very easy to watch for a horror fan. As the title implies, it highlights 50 worthwhile, lesser known horror movies.
I am unsure who picked these movies. I assume it was a combination of the director (Anthony Masi) and the talking heads who provide comments on the films. These speakers are not necessarily the ones I would seek out for this type of documentary (Michael Gingold, Alan Jones, Tim Lucas, Kim Newman, David Skal, to name a few). I have had a minor crush on Michelle Bauer, Linnea Quigley, and Brinke Stevens since I was a young teen, so it was fun to see them. Phillipe Mora would not be my first (or in the first dozen) choice to represent the older guard of horror directors. As for the younger horror directors, I had not seen any of their films, so their comments didn't mean much to me, ditto the genre scholars interviewed. Onto the choices.
First off, any time one uses the term "best," he or she should be prepared for a heated debate. To my embarrassment, I have seen only forty-one of the fifty (I had fully expected to have seen them all). Most of them I liked, although several would better be labeled "guilty pleasure" rather than "best" (Slumber Party Massacre and The Beast Within would be two of those). Plus a few of the films picked are just bad movies (I have yet to meet any horror fan who liked Valentine).
As for, being obscure ("You've Never Seen"), I pride myself on knowing horror movies, but I can say that I had never heard of two of the fifty movies on the list, which is props to the filmmakers. However, I would argue that at least half of these films would be known by almost horror fans except young, new to the genre horror fans (which may be the targeted audience). I am especially thinking of Pumpkinhead and Wrong Turn, both of which have had multiple sequels. Also, some choices may have been based on ones that people have heard of but have so far skipped (Halloween III since it does not feature Michael Myers).
The documentary is an easy watch. One can stop it and start it at will (I watched it over the course of a day). Film analysis is kept at a superficial level, but that is to be expected. Some of the clips are good.
For the curious, here is my alternative list of fifty good horror movies that you might have missed for one reason or the other (I have left out all of the films in the documentary, even the ones that I agreed with):
(1934) The Black Cat
(1943) The Seventh Victim
(1948) The Night Has a Thousand Eyes
(1957) Curse of the Demon
(1957) Quatermass 2 (Enemy from Space)
(1962) Burn, Witch, Burn (Night of the Eagle)
(1963) The Three Faces of Fear (Black Sabbath)
(1963) Matango (Attack of the Mushroom People)
(1965) The Curse of the Fly
(1971) A Bay of Blood
(1971) The Blood on Satan's Claw
(1971) The Devils
(1971) Let's Scare Jessica to Death
(1972) Demons of the Mind
(1972) The Stone Tape
(1972) Tales from the Crypt
(1973) The Messiah of Evil
(1973) The Theatre of Blood
(1974) Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter
(1974) The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue
(1980) The Changeling
(1982) The Sender
(1986) Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
(1986) The Seventh Curse
(1987) Angel Heart
(1987) Stage Fright
(1988) Brain Damage
(1988) Lady in White
(1988) The Lair of the White Worm
(1989) Santa Sangre
(1997) Lost Highway
(2000) Shadow of the Vampire
(2003) Into the Mirror
(2003) Ju-on 2
(2005) The Call of Cthulhu
(2007) Black Water
(2008) The Burrowers
(2010) The Reef
(2012) Here Comes the Devil
Kenji Misumi Is Missed, but the Third Film Offers Fitting Conclusion
The third film in The Daibosatsu Toge trilogy starring Ichikawa Raizo as the murderous anti-hero Ryunosuke Tsukue offers a fitting conclusion to the series in spite of some problems.
The biggest problem is that Kenji Misumi does not return to the director's chair. Kazuo Mori, a workmanlike director, takes over. Gone are the bright colors of the first two films. Also, missing is some of the poetry. Throughout the series, Ryunosuke has been beset by sounds and visions of those he has killed. Misumi used voices, a shadow on a wall, to present Ryunosuke's mental deterioration. However, here, director Kazuo Mori gives the audience spectral, deformed figures like in a horror movie. It is a very literal approach, and I missed Misumi's subtler hand.
Another disappointment is the way the third film seems, at least for most of its running time, to be an intriguing, stand alone samurai story, but in the last twenty minutes rushes to a conclusion for the whole series, with some of the major characters absent from the scene/film.
In spite of these, I liked the main story with Ryunosuke getting involved with a corrupt lord and a deformed, wealthy woman. As always, Ichikawa Raizo is marvelous as Ryunosuke. He always had me watching.
I had read about this film's ending in one of Chris D.'s articles on samurai films published in the mid-1990's in Cult Movies magazine (these articles helped get me interested in samurai films). I was waiting in anticipation for the climax. Well, it wasn't exactly the way I had pictured it (Kenji Misumi would have done it better), but it was still a good send off for the murderous Ryunosuke Tsukue.
The second Daibosatsu Toge (Satan's Sword) film improves on the first one, and is the best of the three films where Ichikawa Raizo plays Ryunosuke Tsuke, the murderous protagonist of the series.
The first film ended in a cliffhanger, the second film opens somewhat unsatisfyingly after the climatic duel at the end of the first film. Hyoma is still seeking vengeance for his dead brother. O-Matsu, the girl's whose grandfather Ryunosuke killed at the beginning of the first film, has been sold to a courtesan. The film introduces a new character, a ronin that Ryunosuke meets on the road who gets our anti-hero involved with members of the Tenchu Group, a rebellious group which wants to overthrow the shogun. I believe Ryunosuke worked for a pro-shogunate group in the first entry, but Ryunosuke is first and foremost a killer. Politics do not mean much to him.
Once again, the film's strengths are its bright colors (Kenji Misumi returns as director) and Ichikawa Raizo's performance as the smug killer Ryunosuke. This second entry has more excitement, particularly in the second half. Ichikawa Raizo gets even more of a chance to shine in the role. The climax builds to a mountaintop duel while a fire rages in the village below. This is a visually arresting, if sudden (another cliffhanger ending is coming soon), finale.
This third Trailer Trauma disk, easily the best of the entries I've seen, offers a little less than seven and a half hours of horror movie trailers from the 1980's, plus a commentary for each year of the decade.
I was a child/early teenager during the 1980's. I saw only two of these films in a theater when they first played (Swamp Thing and Maximum Overdrive - in retrospect, I wish I had picked more wisely). I do remember seeing newspapers ads and television previews for many of these movies. In addition, I have fond memories of the video boxes of most of these films in the VHS days. Since then, I have seen the majority of the films on VHS, DVD, or Blu-ray. The 1980's is my decade for horror movies, and this collection delivers. I was humbled to find that there were three 1980's horror films on the collection that I had never heard of (Raiders of the Living Dead, The Kiss, and Heaven Becomes Hell).
I could nitpick about some of the choices (the revenge film Ms. 45, the musical version of Little Shop of Horrors and the nudie flick Stripped to Kill 2 are horror movies?) and some of the omissions (missing personal faves include: Born of Fire, Brain Damage, Forbidden World, The Gates of Hell, The Lady in White, Razorback, and Stagefright). However, I am happy by how many films I love did make the cut.
As for the commentaries, each year in the decade has a new commentator(s) except 1986 and 1987, which are both covered by Stephen Romano of the Shock Festival trailer book/DVD. Since I usually enjoy listening to the commentaries on the 42nd Street Forever collections, it is no surprise that my favorite two commentaries were by two of the 42nd Street Forever gang, Chris Poggiali covering 1981 and Michael Gingold covering 1983. I wish they had been paired together for all ten years. Also worth a listen to are the commentaries for 1985, with the incredibly fast speaking Grady Hendrix, for 1987 with Stephen Romano, and for 1988, with Dan Buskirk. I also admired film director Ted Geoghegan for his enthusiasm (he seems to love doing this commentary!) even if his information is not always correct. The commentaries for 1980, 1984, 1986 (also Stephen Romano), and 1989 are not essential, worth a listen once for diehards like myself, but they could also be easily skipped.
Trailer Trauma 3: 80s Horrorthon is a love letter to 1980's horror movies. For some viewers the trailers here will be nostalgic. For others, like myself, the trailers will be more bittersweet (I saw Maximum Overdrive in a theater but not Aliens? True, I was a preteen, but still).
Satan's Sword (or Daibosatsu Toge, The Great Buddha Pass) is based on a very long, unfinished series of books published in Japan (all unread by me). These books have been adapted a few times to the screen. The best known in the west is Sword of Doom, starring Tatsuya Nakadai and, in a supporting role, Toshiro Mifune. Although that film is easier to find (and has a Criterion Collection blu-ray release), I preferred this trilogy of films starring Ichikawa Raizo.
The first film introduces the rather long list of characters. At the film's heart is Ryunosuke Tsuke, the anti-hero of the series. Ryunosuke enters the film by cold bloodedly murdering an old man travelling on the Great Buddha Pass. Why does Ryunoskue do this? He likes to kill people. Next, the wife of a samurai competitor comes to see Ryunosuke , begging him to throw their upcoming match, so her husband can rise in the clan. Ryunosuke sexually assaults the woman and deliberately kills her husband in the duel. That is just the type of man he is.
This first entry packs a lot of plot into 105 minutes. In addition to Ryunosuke and the dead samurai's widow, the film features Hyoma, the vengeance seeking brother of the samurai Ryunosuke killed. There is also O-Matsu, the young woman who was travelling with the old man Ryunosuke murdered on The Great Buddha Pass. In addition, the film features some political intrigue involving groups loyal to the shogun and other groups rebelling against the shogun. I do not know much about Japanese history, so some of the intricacies were lost on this viewer. The film certainly has more plot than swordplay and even ends on a cliffhanger in mid-action.
Satan's Sword has two big strengths. First and foremost is Ichikawa Raizo. I have admired the actor ever since I saw him as Kyoshiro Nemuri in the later Sleepy Eyes of Death/Son of the Black Mass movies. Few actors play a smug, anti-hero better. Ryunosuke Tsuke is a horrible person, yet the viewer cannot take his eyes off of him, thanks to Ichikawa Raizo's intense screen presence. The film's second strength is its colorful photography. Director Kenji Misumi has a wonderful eye for color and composition.
The first entry in this Daibosatsu Toge adaptation may seem a little slow for those looking for action. The film features a couple of good swordfights, but it is mostly a drama. However, the film looks nice and Ichikawa Raizo is wonderful.
Would Have Worked Better as a More Traditional Documentary
Last Christmas, a friend of mine gave me the Facets DVD of this film as a gag gift. He knew how much I had disliked the one other Alexander Kluge film I had seen (Willi Tobler and the Decline of the Sixth Fleet). I did not like this film either, but I was less bothered by it (maybe because I had lower expectations).
First, let us look at that title, In Danger and Deep Distress, The Middleway Spells Certain Death. With a title like that, a potential viewer knows that he should not expect entertainment. In fact, a viewer should deduce from that title that he is in for a slog, which he is.
On the surface, the plot seems to be about two women living in West Germany. One is a spy for an Eastern bloc country. However, she is often being censured for the nature of her "reports." They read like poetry. One of her handlers, tells her that, rather than sending them on, she should just read her reports at a coffee house. The other woman is something of a thief. She allows men to pick her up for quick sex, but then she steals their wallets. In one instance, after outdoor sex, the woman steals a car from one trick while he is urinating (what she does with the stolen vehicle after that is not explained)
These two women are sometimes placed (like in the film Medium Cool) in the background of real events. In this case, the events involve the social unrest going on in West Germany in the 1970's. The film includes lots of documentary footage. There are scenes of a choir of policemen, dancing girls (the highlight for me), the police demolishing a building that squatters had been using, the police clashing with demonstrators (a water cannon is used), and, finally, the police chief defending his actions. Some of these scenes are interesting, others less so, but I was not sure what I was to understand from any of them.
How all of these characters and themes fit together is not adequately explained. Are the directors saying that in 1970's West Germany, the best one can hope to be is either a spy or a thief or are the jobs of spy and thief the middle way that leads to the death of the title? The viewer has no idea. The filmmakers (Alexander Kluge and Edgar Reitz) would have been better off just making a more traditional documentary. The filmmakers' opinions would have been clearer and the viewer would have been given more of a context. This last point is particularly important for the foreign viewers (like myself) who has only slight knowledge of the political and social realities of 1970's West Germany.
In Danger and Deep Distress, The Middleway Spells Certain Death resembles a film that Godard might have made if he had been German and trying to make a 1974 response to the 1927 film Berlin, Symphony of a City. This is not the kind of movie I enjoy (or get) much from watching. I began using my fast forward button at the twenty-five minute mark and leaned on it heavily for the remainder of the film.
High Class Production Design (for this type of movie)
Katharina, die Nackte Zarin, as it was originally titled, has been a personal obsession of mine since I happened to see a trailer for the film and fell in love with the pouting Uschi Karnat (aka Sandra Nova) who plays Catherine the Great (Katharina) in this film.
First, this is an "adult" film. This fact needs to be established at the beginning because part of my interest in the film is how it differs in some ways from other films in this highly formulaic genre. Next, I have seen two versions of this film, a feature running 107 minutes by my DVD player, which focuses more on the story, and a two part film which stresses more the sex at the expense of the story. Which of these versions one would prefer to see might depend on what the viewer is primarily interested in watching the film for. I like both versions!
The 107 minute version (the version I saw in French) is the story of Basil, a member of the Queen's army. A Cossack group has started a rebellion and its leader has set himself up as the new Czar. The Cossacks attack Basil's village, killing many of the peasants. Basil seeks help from the Queen, but finds that she is more interested in personal pleasure than matters of state. Katharina takes a shine to Basil, but Basil prefers Maria, one of the Queen's handmaidens. This does not set well with Katharina. This version does a decent job with the story. It effectively resolves the Cossacks and Basil/Maria storylines at the end. It is also light on explicit sex.
However, "light" does not mean free of explicit sex. Before watching the film, I had assumed that it would be a softcore version of the film. In fact, the 107 minute version still has actual sex. It's just very brief (although longer than what one would expect out of a "legitimate" movie).
The two part version of the film (which I watched in German from a dub off of the Tabu VHS tapes) puts the story second and amps up the sex. It is mainly the story of the sexy bedroom adventures of a kinky queen, with the Basil and Maria storyline put in the background. The film continues on twenty minutes past the resolution of the Basil and Maria storyline. This is to squeeze in one more sex scene involving Katharina and her handmaidens. Speaking of sex, the sex scenes are more plentiful and longer in screen time. For example, Basil's friend, an engineer, is a ladies' man in both versions, but in the Tabu cut, the scenes of his conquests do not fade to black just as they start (like in the 107 minute cut). However, those watching Katharina und Ihre Wilden Hengste only for its sex, might still be disappointed by even this two film version, since, while the sex is the main focus, it is not the film's only focus.
I like Katharina, die Nackte Zarin in both cuts for a couple reasons. First, the costumes and set designs are luxurious for an adult film. Caligula (another film I champion) is the only other film made for the adult film market that looks bigger. Growing up in the era of pornography shot on video, I am intrigued by adult films that look like real movies, as Katharina does.
Second, Uschi Karnat is a foxy lady. Few actresses have had such a lovely, pouting face. True, Karnat's performance in other movies have been as captivating (although she always looks great), but she owns the role of Katharina.
I am rating both versions of Katharina, die Nackte Zarin a 7 out of 10. That rating may seem high for what are essentially pornographic movies, but I rate on the basis of enjoyment. I enjoy these films!
Second Disk of Trailer Trauma Previews Improves on the First
This second disk of movie trailers from Trailer Trauma is an improvement over the first volume for several reasons.
The first reason is that this three and a half hour collection consists of (mostly) horror movie previews, and I am a horror movie fan. The first volume was a little too scattershot for my taste.
The second reason is that more thought has gone into the organization of these trailers than in the first volume. A reason exists for the order of the movie previews. Sometimes a group of films were from the same studio (there are several trailers from Hammer studio). Sometimes films were linked by country (Latitude Zero and The War of the Gargantuas were both Japanese productions). Sometimes two films that had originally played together in a release had their trailers consecutive. I appreciated this organization.
Third, there were some unusual and fun trailers in this one. I am not a fan of Horror Hospital, but it was fun to see a preview for the film under its "Computer Killers" title. I enjoyed seeing previews for personal favorites like The Blood on Satan's Claw, Let's Scare Jessica to Death, The Night Evelyn Came out of the Grave, The Tower of Screaming Virgins, and Zombie. Furthermore, because of their trailers, I wanted to give a second try to a few films that I did not remember liking that much on a first viewing, like Latitude Zero, Lost Continent and Screamers (represented by a foreign trailer). Finally, as usual for these collections, there were films represented that I was unfamiliar with, like The Blood Rose and Horror House.
The disk also includes an audio commentary. The track is by George Reis of DVD Drive-in and Keith Crocker of Cinefear. Reis provided the nice looking trailers (sourced from 35mm), but Crocker probably dominates the commentary. Both men know their movies. They have seen and liked the vast majority of these films. However, both men spend too much time talking about where they saw the films, mentioning movie theaters, television channels, and video stores around Long Island. These references meant nothing to me since I am from the Midwest. The speakers do better when they give information about the films. I thought their comments on Horror House and the double bill Women and Bloody Terror and Night of Bloody Horror were especially good. I would say the commentary was worth a listen to once, even if it is three and a half hours long.
Trailer Trauma 2: Drive-in Monsterama offers good movie preview viewing for horror movie fans.
Although I have always loved Monsieur Hulot's Holiday, the first time I watched Playtime I did not like it nor did I see what all of the fuss was about. I even gave away my Criterion DVD because I suspected I would never watch the film again. I was wrong. The second time I saw the film I could appreciate it (I understood why others liked it), but I admired Playtime more than I liked it. This week I watched the film for a third time and could finally say, without hesitation, that I did like the film.
Viewers need to overcome several hurdles to enjoy Playtime. First, although the character of Monsieur Hulot is probably the film's main character, Playtime lacks a clear protagonist. Furthermore, the film is arranged not by plot but by episodes, which means it does not have much in the way of a traditional story. Finally, Playtime deals with characters who are alienated (or at least out of touch) with the modern world. Perhaps as a result, the film can seem cold. There are laughs to be had, but they are like laughing at the memory of a friend's hysterical misadventure while attending his funeral.
Where Playtime succeeds, and it took a third viewing for me, is with its view of human nature. The films of director Jacques Tati are some one of the most humane and optimistic that I have ever seen. These traits are a big reason I return to the films.
Take for example the sequence at the fancy restaurant in the second half of Playtime. The restaurant is having a lousy opening night. Anything that can go wrong does. Into this environment comes a rich American. This fellow enters the film by demanding a specific table at this restaurant. The fact that this table is already reserved for someone else makes no difference. The American wants that table and is willing to pay to get it. At this point, the viewer is expecting this character to remain the easy target of the arrogant American who thinks he can buy everything. However, Tati is a much richer director than that, and the more the character (a side character really) is shown, the more we as the audience likes him. For all of his money and brusqueness, this man likes fun, play, and games. The more the evening deteriorates, as more and more disasters befall this restaurant's opening night, the more humor this man sees in the situation (unlike one clueless guest who states, "It is the same every night"!?). So, it is not surprising that this American will end up befriending Hulot. What is surprising is how much thought director Tati has put into this minor character that most directors would have just left an easy joke.
Another example, early in the film, Monsieur Hulot goes to an office building. The reason is unclear (it might be for a job interview), but the why is not really important. The office manager that Hulot is to see is a brisk, harried man who wears shoes that patter loudly on the floor when he walks. This office manager and Hulot will spend a lot of screen time chasing each other all over the office building, almost, but never quite, meeting each other. A lesser director would have abandoned the office manager after this sequence, after his turn as the comic foil was over, but Tati comes back to the office manager long after the office building has closed for the night. The office manager does finally meet Hulot, on the street, at night, and the two will have a nice conversation (that the audience is not privy to) and will part on friendly terms. These are the moments that make Playtime (and much of Jacques Tati's work) special.
For Playtime, Jacques Tati built a giant city front on a set, at much expense. It is an impressive feat which looks marvelous on the Criterion blu-ray. Yet, in spite all of the spectacle (or maybe because of it) Playtime wins me over with its characters, like, for example, Barbara (oh, the many things that can be written about the classy Barbara).
I did not like Playtime the first time around, maybe because I was expecting a story with Monsieur Hulot in the lead. On my second viewing, I appreciated the spectacle and the massive accomplishment but did not find the film all that funny. With this third viewing, I observed the film's characters and that made me, finally, like the film, even if I do still miss Monsieur Hulot's absence for much of the movie.
Trailer Trauma (the first in a series) offers 137 minutes of movie previews. It is an enjoyable enough time, although I have seen better trailer collections.
First off, I have to give Garagehouse Pictures credit, of the sixty odd trailers on display I had only seen seven of them. True, I had seen different trailers for some of the films featured (Black Fist for example), but I am still impressed by how new to me most of these trailers were. The collection has its highlights: The College Girl Murders, Dawn of the Mummy, Goliathon, and an odd double bill of re-titled films Hex Massacre and Lucifer's Curse (actually Who Can Kill a Child? and The Chosen). All of these trailers are for movies that I have seen and enjoyed. However, Trailer Trauma also provided me with a few recommendations. Due to Trailer Trauma, I am now curious to see The Children, Knights of the City, and Naked Vengeance.
In spite of all its strengths, Trailer Trauma still ranks second tier as far as trailer collections are concerned. First, there are no extras on the disk. All the Blu-ray offers is trailers. Some information about either the films in the disk or the process of making the disk would have been appreciated.
Second, the arrangement of the trailers is somewhat problematic. Although some attempt is made to occasionally put similar trailers for similar movies side by side (the trailer for Smokey and the Good Time Outlaws is followed by one for Smokey and the Hot Wire Gang), the disk never builds the way a good collection should. Starting off with the teaser for Deathbed is a nice touch, but the disk soon falls into the pattern of here is a trailer, here is another trailer, here is yet another trailer, without a noticeable progression. Finally, the set ends with a trailer for the Italian western Captain Apache. While Captain Apache does not look like a bad movie, it is an odd choice to end a 137 minute disk of trailers, particularly since it is only the second western featured in the collection (The Legend of Frenchie King being the other). In contrast, Trailer War, the previous trailer collection I watched, saved its wildest trailer for the end. Trailer Trauma just kind of peters out.
I like Trailer Trauma, but I doubt I will re-visit the disk.
First I need to confess that I find the 1960 original only fair. I like the bright color cinematography, but find the story rather silly.
The 1979 version of Jigoku features a better story at its center. An adulterous couple (a man and his pregnant sister-in-law) are fleeing the woman's husband (who is also the man's brother). They hide out, but are caught and the man murdered by his brother. The killer also mortally wounds his former wife and leaves her to die. However, the woman gives birth to a daughter before dying. This daughter, Aki, is fated to avenge her mother and end in hell. Twenty years later, Aki returns to her rural birthplace and begins to seduce her two half-brothers (they share the same father) leading to tragedy. In the last twenty or so minutes, the film switches to the underworld (hell) as we see the punishments the characters receive. I think life (and afterlife) is rather unfair to Aki since she is given no moral choice but is forced by fate to avenge her parents. Maybe that is just a westerner's opinion.
This version of Jigoku suffers from being way overlong, a half hour longer than the original 1960 film. Also, there are some noticeably ineffective uses of rear projection (the rescue on the train is one glaring example). As for the afterlife scenes, they are not as colorful as the original 1960 film nor do they improve in the FX department. However, the resolution is more satisfying than the ending of the original film.
Fans of the 1960 film might want to see this 1979 version for comparison sake. Also, lead actress Mieko Harada, in a dual role as both Aki and her mother, is quite good (Harada later had a good role in Kuroasawa's Ran). This version of Jigoku is not a bad film, but it is way overlong.
I can't remember the last time that I watched all of the content on a disk. I don't just mean the featured show but all of the extras as well. I watched everything on Alamo Drafthouse's movie preview collection Trailer War.
First, there were the trailers themselves. As I expected, having watched the fifth volume of 42nd Street Forever, the employees of The Alamo Drafthouse have turned in some wild trailers. Some trailers were familiar to me. I have enjoyed the trailers for Amin The Rise and Fall, Deranged, and Starcrash in the past and enjoyed watching them again here.
Other trailers were new to me but for films that I have previously seen. These included the trailers for Inframan, The Dungeonmaster, The Northville Cemetery Massacre, Who Saw Her Die? (with that great Ennio Morricone children's choir), and the great trailer for Thunder Cops, which ended the disk with a bang! All of these were good trailers for films that I have enjoyed. I was happy to see the films represented.
Finally, this wouldn't be an Alamo Drafthouse collection without the trailers for obscure films. Some of these included: Animal Protector (which looked like it could be the most inept action movie ever made), Argo the Fantastic Superman, Eunuch of the Western Palace, and Voyage of the Rock Aliens. All of these were new to me!
Trailer War offered two hours of great movie previews. So what about the rest of the disk? The blu-ray featured a good interview with director Joe Dante who reminisced on his days of making trailers for Roger Corman at New World Pictures. There was a brief, but interesting, talk with Alamo Drafthouse employee Lars Nielsen about the American Genres Film Archives. The disk also featured trailers for other Alamo Drafthouse releases. Here was where I had one of my criticisms with disk. After setting through a disk with two hours of great movie trailers, it was disappointing to see such boring trailers for other Drafthouse releases (Miami Connection excepted). I would guess that the Alamo Drafthouse was stuck with whatever the film companies sent them, but still they were disappointing, particularly since I have seen a far, far better trailer for one of the releases, Wake in Fright under its alternative title The Outback ("What happened to him? The Outback!").
Finally, the main extra of the disk was a commentary track by Alamo Drafthouse programmers Lars Nielsen and Zack Carlson. These two were also on the commentary tack for 42nd Street Forever Volume Five. Nielsen and Carlson were entertaining to listen to and provided some useful information. However, their track was slightly disappointing for two reasons. Nielsen and Carlson have not seen all of the films for which they have trailers (this is understandable since some of the films are quite obscure). Harder to overlook was the lack of preparation. Doing a little background research on the films would have cleared up a few points. The most glaring example was when Nielsen and Carlson debated whether or not George Lazenby appeared in the trailer for Who Saw Her Die? (yes, guys, he was the leading actor!). In spite of this, the commentary track was well worth listening to, with the comments for Lola's Mistake and The Northville Cemetery Massacre being particularly of interest.
I am a fan of trailer collections, and Trailer War ranks high up. I still prefer the 42nd Street Forever collections, but Trailer War would be just under them.
I saw this film under the title Special Correspondent. The print I saw was dubbed into English as well as panned and scanned; however, the film's mediocre plot would only have benefited so much from a better screening.
The plot has a bored suit and tie businessman (Jean-Louis Trintignant) one day leaving his car in traffic and abandoning his respected life. The man drifts for a couple days until he happens to meet a criminal planning a diamond heist. This seems like an exciting change of pace to the bored hero, so he joins the thief and another man for what promises to be an easy, inside job. The heist goes wrong when the three are double crossed by the men who set up the heist. The former businessman finds himself alone still alive. On the run, he is picked up by the girlfriend (Marie-Jose Nat, the director's wife) of the man who double crossed the hero and his partners. She wants the former businessman to rob her boyfriend and his men, one of whom is a stone killer.
This is familiar territory. The film gets more familiar as the businessman and the gangster's girl go on the run to Monte Carlo with the police and the unstoppable killer in pursuit. A simple plot is not always a hindrance in a thriller, but Diamond Safari is simply too pokey, stopping for dull romantic interludes (like the lovers strolling in the countryside). I usually like Jean-Louis Trintignant, and he is fine here. However, Marie-Jose Nat does not generate enough sultriness for the viewer to understand why men are so willing to follow her. Diamond Safari (or Special Correspondent) is not terrible, just overly familiar, the kind of movie one watches with half interest on a lazy afternoon and forgets about two days later.
Delivers On What One Would Expect, But Very Familiar
I saw this film under dubbed into the English under the title Victims of Vice. It is a sleazy thriller that delivers on the naked flesh, but it is also unsurprising in every way.
The film opens with a blonde woman, naked under a coat, being shotgunned to death by a killer in leather and a biker's helmet. Two policemen are searching for the killer. The clues are the drugs in the dead woman's body and reports of a boyfriend that drove a white convertible. The film then switches to this boyfriend as he has a new pickup, also young and blond. It soon becomes clear that he is grooming her for a rich older man with kinky tastes.
Victims of Vice has hottie French blondes in various stages of undress, an 80's synth score by Cerrone, and that is about all. I don't want to suggest that the film is unwatchable, for with the female cast, it is not. Instead, Victims of Vice is just overly familiar. There are the mismatched cops, the druggie snitch, the politically connected bad man, and even the girlfriend-used-as-bait climax. The film's script offers no surprises.
Victims of Vice reminds me a little of another 1980's low budget French crime film, also directed by a filmmaker more known for sex than action. That film was Death Brigade from Max Pecas. That film, while no classic, was better than Victims of Vice.
Stone Age Warriors is a diverting jungle film from Hong Kong with a couple of pretty actresses, an action packed climax, and real Komodo dragons.
The plot has two women traveling from Hong Kong to an Eastern jungle in search of a missing man. One woman (Elaine Liu) is the man's daughter and the other (Nina Li Chi) is an insurance representative who is pretending to be pregnant with the missing man's child. They are helped by a missionary with expert martial arts skills (he is played by Siu-Wong Fan from The Story of Ricky). The group has to face a tribal war over a pig, drug dealers, deadly natives, and komodo dragons. These komodo dragons were a highlight. In typical Hong Kong fashion, real reptiles were used near uncomfortable looking actors (viewers should watch the outtakes over the end credits).
The first half of Stone Age Warriors feels slow. It also features a fair amount of unsubtle Hong Kong humor (like a native having to wear a large pink hat over his privates). The film comes alive in the second half when the girls encounter the drug dealers led by a viscous fighting female. The action is strong in this second half, making up for the slow beginning.
Stone Age Warriors is not a great film. In fact, it is just slight entertainment, but it does, at least in the second half, entertain. One could do worse on a lazy afternoon.