Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Lifeforce - review

1985 (USA)

Contains spoilers.

This was another one that wasn't really on my radar. It was only seeing it chosen by Dominic Brunt (Director of Before Dawn) as one of the headlines for the 2014 Leeds Zombie Film Festival that put it on. Having now watched it I'm still a tad uncertain. Sure the final fifteen minutes, depicting a ravaged London overrun with snarling cannibalistic monsters is zombie all the way and the victims of the space vampires are for the most part unwitting slaves incapable of imposing their own will on their actions. But, it's energy vampires. Both Col. Tom Carlsen (Steve Railsback), the only survivor of the ill-fated deep space explorer and Dr. Bukovsky (Michael Gothard) chief medical scientist of the European Space Agency and Thanatologist (the study of death) say so, and it is really all about three intelligent bat like creatures camouflaged as pretty wee things who are sat at the top of the food chain.

The first fifteen minutes or so are pure eighties space indulgence. The HMS Churchill out in the deep beyond on a mission to explore Halley's Comet discovers a hundred and fifty mile ancient space relic in its tip. Inside as well as the desiccated remnants of hundreds of human size space bats they find three perfectly preserved and perfectly naked humans caught in some kind of suspended animation and decide to bring them back on board.

The lead naked, and that's a word I'll be saying a lot, space person, is played by Mathilda May and as I'm watching the splendid new Arrow Blu-ray transfer of the original 116 minute cut, which is fifteen minutes longer than the theatrical cut the US audience had to watch there's an awful lot of it; not that I'm complaining. Brought back to Earth by the US Columbia which finds the HMS Churchill gutted and burnt out and the crew dead, it doesn't take long for those investigating the disaster to realise it might have something to do with honey lips and perhaps they're in a spot of trouble. Finally alone with a young doctor sparks fly, both metaphorically as lips meet lips, and literally  her first victim has his lifeforce zapped out of him before moving, naked, through the complex like an electric maelstrom escaping out into the wider world.

The young naked space girl with ulterior motives beguiling poor innocent men who just can't say no when presented with a willing bosom is a trope that's been done to death. It's a good, neigh, great excuse to show copious flesh with a semi-legitimate excuse, though in this case I'm not quite sure whether to applaud director Tobe Hooper or not, for the audaciously long time it takes for him to decide she should cover up. While Lifeforce doesn't go down the Species road making this trope the be all and end all of the film it does make up a large part of the story, and to be honest when if does decide to stray playing with alien possession it does unravel a little becoming unnecessarily convoluted and complicated, almost making one think it might have been better if they had.

There's a lot going on with the space vampires and while it's possibly all a bit over contrived it's fun, thought out and for the most part cohesive. They're energy vampires capable of draining the lifeforce from people. They can beguile people, making them fall so deeply in love, both spiritually and sexually, that they can't resist and they can also transfer their consciousness / soul / being into another person assuming motor control and suppressing the host's will. Also while they don't always drain all the lifeforce from a person when they do, leaving them a dehydrated lifeless husk, they do also leave a nasty surprise.

Two hours is the magic number in several ways. Firstly it's a two hour alarm call that springs the mini-vamps / zompires back to life, pulse racing with an insatiable hunger for some lifeforce of their own, else they'll explode. Secondly should they drain the next victim before they pop, they've only another two hours until they need to feed again. This idea of brainless primal hunger, the constant need to feed and the exponential spread of the disease is zombie all the way. These zompires, especially during the last fifteen or so minutes certainly look the part snarling goring their way through the streets of London and the effect as they leap on cars and chase the view remaining survivors also certainly looks zombie and they're a good enough fit in my mind. And let's not forget writer Dan O'Bannon's next film was The Return of the Living Dead, so this is a man well versed in the genre.

A solid script if a little convoluted and farcical, Lifeforce is a good film though not a great one and for such an over the top premise I felt it perhaps played it all a little safe. Peter Firth leads a strong cast who do well with what they've been given, and one can't help watch Patrick Stewart being wrestled to the floor and later orally explode with blood, without a wry smile. The pacing is good for a long film, and there's never a dull moment but it just as we too were coming near  the two hour mark and the finale, I felt it just hadn't elevated my heart rate to the to the same level as those on screen. A fun hokey sci-fi, tame-horror with a lot of nakedness that will leave a smile on your face, if nothing more, 6/10.


Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Stalled - review

2013 (UK)

Contains mild spoilers.

In the world of generic, lazy and very serious expansive and over ambitious zombie survival stories, and farces that don't respect the medium or just aren't that funny it's always a delight when something low budget comes along that not only understands the constraints but exploits them to produce something delightfully original that feels cohesive and entirely sure of its self.

Written by Dan Palmer and directed by Christian James, Stalled is a dark comedy and zom-rom-com with an intimate and claustrophobic twist. The film centres on office janitor W.C. played by the same Dan Palmer, who finds himself stuck in a ladies toilet cubicle on Christmas Eve at first wanting to escape the many obnoxious, drunk and half-naked girls that are coming in fresh from the office party on the floors above, then later wanting to survive the full blown zombie outbreak that's exploding all around. What's important, and what distinguishes Stalled from other films that at this point probably sound awfully similar, is that the four walls of the bathroom are for an hour and twenty minutes the only ones he, or us will see (not quite true but go with me.)

Limiting the film to the single personal setting and presenting it all, though third person, from W.C.'s perspective imbues the film with a feeling of intimacy like that of a drama or play, and not that of a feature film. It's twenty odd minutes before W.C. speaks, the only other non-zombie that's on screen for longer than a minute never shows her face and the action and jokes are measured and constrained; there's a lot on paper that could have gone wrong. Thankfully a deep well fashioned main character full of moral ambiguity and complicated drives, and an actor who can do him justice, combined with a well-paced, inventive and intelligent script and story enables Stalled to pull it off. 

The zombies exhibit that mixed behaviour we see in all main stream pop culture flicks picking and choosing heritage tropes to satisfy the vision of the film makers. The film does a good job setting the scene with subtle revelations rather than relying on any long winded and obvious exposition; there's a dead rat, a 'rapey' pizza guy who gets a bite in, and an implied non-airborne infection. Whilst the infected don't actually appear to die before becoming groaning single-minded cannibalistic gut munchers, once shuffling and hungry they're capable of withstanding quite the pounding with only a good old fashioned heavy trauma to the old noggin capable of putting them down. They're nicely presented and cohesive; the make-up and effects are excellent as is expected post TWD. There's a little too much one minute Romero slow, next minutes Boyle snarly and fast but it's not distracting and the zombies aren't really the main focus as they're really there as the vehicle to enable the character development and personal interaction to flourish, and to provide a few laughs.

Well thought out and confidently constructed Stalled comes across as a film that came out exactly as planned. It's tight, intimate, claustrophobic and personal precisely because that was intended. It's not hampered by the restraint of a small budget but at one and empowered by it. As a small tight single set zombie drama I honestly don't think it could have been done much better. I'll mention that just as Stalled is tight in vision, it's tight in length bringing an end to proceedings after a mere hour and twenty minutes though it gets away with it, and I suspect had it tried to go longer it may have suffered. I could also see how in the wrong mood or state of mind the film could labour with some of the jokes missing the spot and scenes lingering but approached in the right way, maybe without any beer there's a lot on offer. Something different, something intelligent, something witty and absorbing, Stalled is a great piece of film making and recommended, 7/10.


Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Zombie Night - review

2013 (USA)

Contains mild spoilers.

I'm sorry. I'm part of the problem.

Derivative direct to DVD / TV cash-ins like this only exist because of the great number of idiots willing to hand over money for literally anything new that has the z-word on the cover, and I did. I do console myself somewhat in the hope I'm providing a kind of buffering service, and my sacrifice may help others avoid the same cinematic misfortune. If just one person recalls the roasting I'm just about to give this latest The Aslylum snore-fest and returns it to the Walmart shelf with nothing more than a curory glance then maybe my +1 sale will be justified and I can forgive myself.

If you've not yet gathered, I'm not a fan of director John Gulager's (Feast / Piranha 3DD) weary pointless zombie endeavour, though I am amazed they got name-recognisable actors Anthony Michael Hall (Patrick) and Daryl Hannah (Birdy) on board; though let's be honest it's been a long time since these guys and girls were particularly relevant. Also in all honesty they don't do that bad job given the horrendous script they have to work with; though here we are one day after watching it and I'm already struggling to recall much of what they said or did. And this is Zombie Nights biggest problem. Nothing really happens. 

Looking at its Wikipedia stub, the plot in its entirety is described thus: "Two families must survive a zombie attack." That's your lot, seven words summing it all up, but here's the rub, even that I feel exaggerates all that's on offer.

Predictably it's z-day one for the traditional end of the world undead apocalypse. People are confused, people are scared, people die and even the brightest people are suddenly compelled to do really, really stupid things guaranteed to get them into trouble. Patrick, daughter Tracie (Rachel G. Fox) and a fodder friend are in a car, Tracie's mum, Birdy and grandma (Shirley Jones) are at home, their next door neighbour and all round douche, Joseph (Alan Ruck) and family are at home thinking about hiding away in their well-stocked safe room and the story flitters between the groups as they try and survive till morning when the zombies will all drop dead (again).

Contrived nonsense best describes how it all unfolds. Safe rooms with one zombie in and basements are given up in favour of graveyards and greenhouses. In all honesty the first five minutes will tell you enough. Tracie gets a text from her boyfriend (Joseph's son) that bad stuff may be going down, so Patrick decides to get off the free-way to make it back home via a short cut next to the cemetery. Fiddling with his own phone he hits someone and they all get out to investigate. With Tracie and Patrick studying two severed legs some eight foot from the car, two hands shoot out from under the boot (trunk) and grab said ensign expendable. Ok, nothing too bad so far. But with no sense of continuity, coherence or respect for the viewer we're then subjected to an awful borderline comical CG legless hover zombie pulling himself on to her, and more worryingly supposed to believe they can't hear her screaming for help despite being spitting distance away. It's all highly staged, amateurishly put together and one feels all happening just to enable Gulager to have the three of them running pointlessly between the gravestones for the next ten minutes. Zombie Night's problem is this scene becomes the template the rest of the film adheres to.

While I can maybe forgive a certain amount of contrived and convenient staging, here there's so little else it can't be overlooked and all the action, drama and tension is embarrassing and flat. I just have no idea what Gulager was going for. Even as a character piece positioning the film as real peoples experiences in the most traumatic of circumstance it utterly fails with people and performances shallow and forgettable. I'd almost go so far as saying I was quite early on rooting for the dead guys, and it was certainly a delightful relief when certain survivors got dispatched.

The western zombie cutty-cutter tropes are well made up and look the part though there's just too much staging and not enough of what I'd describe as natural behaviour for even these guys to save proceedings. Romero-esque gut munchers like this are all about instinct, hunger and teeth and I lost track of the number of times the zombie inexplicably suddenly held back from taking the bite so Gulager could try some cinematic wizardry and enable the following scenes to take place as written. It's head shots, it's some kind of virus with blood / saliva transmission, it's staggering, groaning, looking and acting stupid and some gut munching. It's groups appearing from no-where however remote, it's zombies outside the right window at the right time and zombies taking obvious cinematic direction and cues. It's nothing we've not seen a hundred times before, incompetently handled and insultingly perfunctory.

Insipid, derivative, uninteresting; there is nothing positive to say about Zombie Night. Utterly lacking cohesiveness, authenticity, the will to do well or any sparkle whatsoever, it's cinematic zombie fodder and deplorable bargain bin trash no one should give the time of day to. I'd started to think things were getting better as The Asylum's 2012 Rise of the Zombies was borderline watchable, but here things have gone backwards so far and so fast, I fear all hope the studio will eventually produce something of worth is lost. Zombie Night has no reason to exist, I've no reason to continue writing about it and you've no reason to ever think about it again; time for us all to move along, 2/10.


Monday, 14 July 2014

Demon Resurrection - review

2008 (USA)

Contains mild spoilers.

To get the most out of writer and director William Hopkins dark and twisted Lovecraftian exploitative zombie opus, one has to have patience. Patience not just to sit through thirty minutes of laboured exposition, an avalanche of superfluous characters, motivations and ideas, and a narrative that occasionally wanders but patience to see through a film that could easily be dismissed as amateurish and trite. First impressions aren't great; the acting is hit and miss, the dialogue hokey and the story audaciously confident in its presentation given how excessive the content. But if one perseveres, makes it to the thirty minute mark and is still awake, invested, and at some level open to the ideas presented, then the rewards are more than worth it.

There's mysticism, ancient races, strange cults, an ancient burial ground, a magic stick, path-working, and even an appearance from some old god shrouded in CG green mist to have his wicked way with the very naked star / victim of the story Grace (Alexis Golightly). There's a lot going on yet as fanciful as it gets, Hopkins pulls the Lovecraftian world together in a believable and coherent way. As Grace's friends begin their intervention confronting her and her boyfriend John (Damian Ladd), the real world as they perceive it slowly reveals a far darker one beneath, and their concerns start moving away from relationships, phone signals and what coke and snacks might be in the fridge to life, death and whether they might go the night without having their innards ripped out.

The long build up is approached with solemnity and absolute seriousness which can be a bit risky given the low budget and unfortunately it can't avoid the many pitfalls that come with amateur and b-movie yet Hopkins sticks with it and it never unravels enough to fall apart. Also this confidence and self-assuredness to stick to the plan no matter what is maybe the actual reason why with the arrival of undeniably the star of the feature, everything works so well.

The grotesque Fulci / Amando de Ossorio / Mattei zombies that pull themselves up out of mass grave to begin their siege of the house and brutal exploitative slaughter of anyone who happens to find themselves caught out is a full on return to the great zombie continental blood soaked lunacy we've come to look back on with great fondness, and never thought we'd get to see again. Innards get ripped out, eyes get pierced, skin gets lacerated with full on exploitative attention to detail, and the zombies advance like an unstoppable tide of death (as they should); it's breath-taking stuff from Hopkins and masterfully constructed from someone who obviously holds great respect for the genre he's not just imitating but in my opinion now contributing towards.

Yes it's another Romero farm house siege, though more Burial Ground than Night of the Living Dead, yes there's nothing we've not really seen before, and yes the masks / coloured CG mist are easy to mock, but it's intense and gripping, utterly and brutally brilliant and works on every level because it's dark, base and serious. Derivative is a term that's easy to throw at zombie films, but Demon Resurrection manages to dodge this label precisely because in the new zombie world of The Walking Dead and Shaun it's everything that they're not. Ok I'm playing with semantics but watching something old, nasty and no longer the vogue, that's actually new with the ink still wet is refreshing, even if it could be accused of rehashing the same mistakes.

The zombies look and behave much like the non-skeletal long dead murder-machines Amando de Ossorio fashioned for Tombs of the Blind Dead. They're chunky, brutal and slow staggering monsters that move and grunt under the control of Toth and seem to enjoy a sadistic pleasure in killing their (his) foes and eating their flesh. There's no blue skin here or parody uniformed recently deceased leaping about; they're methodical, they know where their enemies are and they will get back up after being knocked down. There's no head shooting and no hope; they're evil and desperately inhuman and seemingly invincible. And there's John...

John is also brought back from the dead by Grace who has a book and knows the right words. John however is not a Blind Dead gut muncher but a white vest top Gandalf / Jesus mystic zombie with an inscribed magic totem of power that's capable of blasting Hoth's army of darkness into dust. His return is poignant, spiritual and temporary, and though he's a bit Casper the friendly zombie, rescuing the scant surviving friends he does show a darker side, enacting brutal vengeance given the opportunity. I will add that a third zombie type makes a brief appearance  too in the guise of Hoth's zombie victims who are now dead and hungry in the traditional western Romero way. I'm not going to over think how these guys got turned or how their eaten insides are now tucked back in but like in The Beyond a little mystery always goes well Z.

A mash up Rosemary's Baby, Night of the Living, Dead Zombie Flesh Eaters / Burial Ground with a good sprinkle of Lovecraft, Hopkins low budget dark and twisted exploitative zombie opus Demon Resurrection is a triumph of amateur horror film making. Oozing with dark passion with a self-assured unique personality all of its own one has to applaud what has been achieved. Demon Resurrection is a confident and self-assured film remaining intense and serious despite playing with the most far-fetched edges of the Cthulhu mythos. It has its faults; mainly born from its shoestring budget and perhaps trying too hard, but it's a film that ultimately prevails in many ways because of them. A full on return to the past zombie craziness with carnage, death, boobies and brutal bloody gore, it's a triumph and a zombie film made for zombie film fans, 8/10.


Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Zombie Town - review

2007 (USA)

Contains spoilers.

For a bit of a goofy, low budget zombie film with more than a passing reliance on groan inducing and convenient contrivance, it wasn't half bad. An incompetent car mechanic, Jake (Adam Hose), his ex-girlfriend and now talented biochemist with lab access Alex (Brynn Lucas), and Randy (Dennis Lemoine) the road SALTER come together to uncover and solve the parasitical alien(?) bloodsuckers zombie mystery and save the day (which to give you a clue involves SALT). On the way there's a zombie ground zero outbreak, a lot of neck biting, a convenient couple of road accidents that stop anyone being able to get in or out of town and a zombie dog called Mr. Slippers. There's a lot going on, the action moves at pace and for all its problems there's a lot to commend.

It either starts appallingly well or appallingly badly depending on what mood you're in and now you feel about true b-movie film making at its brazenly finest. There's some running, some red-necks drinking beer, some neck biting, some stumbling, some garden rake slamming and a lot of CLOSE UP in your face camera shots. The result? Some laughs, some tears, some winces from a great no nonsense opening and appalling amateur acting and filming, but most importantly some fresh zombies ready to stagger around the woody outskirts of the small town of Otis.

I'll say one thing for director / writer Damon Lemay and the small but earnest cast. You get the feeling that there's been a genuinely passionate attempt at doing it all right. With the cabin in the woods massacre out the way the film picks up the insulated small town zombie outbreak narrative by the scruff of the neck. There's an ambitious, albeit painfully forced story that still works, some fantastic made up zombies, imaginative, fun and original outbreak sequences, and it all results in a tight competent little zombie film that more than holds its own at the low budget end of the genre. Complaints are more niggles; there's a bit of an identity crisis in that it's never full on farce despite occasional scenes that do descend to such, and the story is so telegraphed with Lemay obsessed with ensuring every small detail actually coherently plays some part in the story epitomised with Randy, the only guy in town with access to unlimited salt suddenly and inexplicably joining the main cast by wandering into the infected police station half way through. Despite the ridiculous contrivance though it was refreshing after watching so many small town zombie films that never even attempted a complete and cohesive storyline to watch one that has one through its core.

It would be very easy to call Zombie Town a bit of a Slither rip off with extra zombies, but by my reckoning, that Slither was released less than a year earlier, and understanding what goes into film production of any budget, I'd wager the basic parasitic zombie take over idea had at least laid its first eggs by the time Lemay had to hold his head in his hands and watch it appear on the big screen first. This being said, alien parasites taking over a small community isn't the newest idea whichever way you look at it.

I say alien though it's never explicitly stated. Either way they're certainly not your regular earth like blood leaches capable of climbing, infinite asexual reproduction and pursuing fresh victims all over town like hungry little death caterpillars. Finding a host it's a quick trip to the base of the spine where they inject hormones or a virus or something that soon attacks the brain rendering the person rabid, dangerous and eager to pass on the new found companions which have already started to replicate.

So they're not actually dead but that's ok; they're vacuous dangerous gut munchers and as I've now iterated on countless occasions lack of pulse isn't the be all and end all of state-z. They stagger about, they'll bite people or animals who also become infected, they appear to lose all cognitive function but they do degenerate if they can't pass on the ever swelling number of parasites. Denton (Phil Burke), brother of Jake and captured and imprisoned, is a zombie film delight. Watching his slow decent into zombie parasitic madness ultimately resulting in his death with parasites burrowing their way out in number was a celebration of unpleasant and provocative film making and wonderfully done.

The bingo scene, the grandmothers town rampage, the leg chain sawing, the eclectic metal / country / chime-bell score, the whole goofy central idea; Zombie Town is full of vibrant lively ideas and ties them all together, and even though I could, I'm not going to ruthlessly tear it all apart just because in doing so it relies on the viewer going with all the ridiculously narrative convenience. Instead I'm going to believe it was all a deliberate play by Lemay to give the film that b-movie undertone that leaves the viewer smiling both uncomfortably, as well as from having a genuine good time. Definitely a lot better than expected, and definitely a lot better than the vast majority of the low (and many bigger) budget zombie films made in the mid-00s this is definitely worth a watch, 6/10.


Friday, 2 May 2014

Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead - review

2011 (Japan)

Contains spoilers.

I marked review #100 by turning to one of zombie cinemas more serious and reflective releases. The Serpent and the Rainbow based loosely on the real adventures of one Dr. Edmund Wade Davis, played with vodou and zombification both psychologically and symbolically; pitting western dogmas against Caribbean mysticism with neither coming out on top. It was dark, thought provoking, sumptuously put together and made a fitting choice.

Now the thing I've learnt about our undead friends and their portrayal ever since Béla Lugosi helped a wealthy plantation owner win the object of his affection, is the medium is also partial to the odd bit of farce and audaciously stupid. The very concept is in itself a binary opposition; a state of being, that is neither alive or dead, and the zombie myth, our primitive minds way to deal with the unsolvable dilemma it presents. Zombies are an irreconcilable anomaly; they provoke fear, unease and the reasons they make a great cinematic vehicle for horror are the same reasons they make a great vehicle for ridicule. I've never shied away from this fact; zombies are absurd, they are stupid and when I mention I review zombie films the looks I get are justified.

So what better way for review #150 than to shift one hundred and eighty and look at a film that's the pure embodiment of playing with, and ridiculing these aberrations of nature.

Just to emphasise how utterly, audaciously and ridiculous Noboru Iguchi's Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead is, putting aside for one minute that you've already read the title, I'll describe the big final fight. Megumi (Arisa Nakamura) hurtling to the ground and her certain death has a last minute epiphany in the vision of her dead sister who took her life one year earlier for being unable to deal with the shame of farting in front of her bullying school mates. Surging with new vigour she soars back up above the Japanese forest canopy powered by her now never-ending fart-jet, with her small school girl breast exposed, to battle her camping companion Maki (Asana Mamoru) who after swallowing the queen of the Nekurogedoro parasites has mutated into a hideous flying monstrosity who's also carrying, a young knife wielding sociopath who has made a pact with the worms so that they'll keep her leukaemia in check. I'll add that the fight for the most part involves long anal worms flailing wildly at each other desperate to enter whatever orifices become available and I'll also add this isn't by the far the most ridiculous, or repugnant, or bat-shit crazy thing I'd had to sit through.

I'll cut to the chase. Is it just about the stupidest film I've ever seen? Without question. Is it misogynist? Yeah, probably, ok yes, definitely. Wildly inappropriate, even for a film with such dedicated scatological reverence? Yes, the two (yes) parasitic penis rape scenes make sure of it. Is it crass and at times painfully b-movie? Again, I've got to say yes recalling the paper-mache / zero budget queen Maki hybrid sfx (with emphasis on special). But did I enjoy myself? Oh YES…. Oh the shame… And whether Zombie Ass is for you ultimately comes down to whether you can even vaguely get behind the ideas I've mentioned so far; heck, even if you have, it will still test you.

Blood and guts are one thing and I'm now well-adjusted (don't confirm this with my wife) to deal with the day to day carnage that comes with the medium, but poo, that's something else. I won't mince words. Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead is obsessed with bottoms and what comes out. From start to finish, whether it's excessive flatulence and its social impropriety, to ensuring we never forget out of which orifice the parasite worms are most likely to make an appearance, Zombie Ass is a vehicle for a non-stop barrage of rear-end focus, as if a giggling delinquent on the back of reading too much Viz had been let loose with a camera and way too much money. 

From their first appearance pulling their way up and out of a vile cesspit below a dilapidated outdoor toilet to grope and grapple Maki's naked bottom, the zombies are there to be repulsed by and laugh at. They're covered in excrement and surrounded by flies, they shuffle and jerk about painfully as if they're suffering chronic constipation and cramp; they throw poo, they fart excessively and they're gloriously excessive. By themselves they never come across as particularly dangerous, as is the Romero way, unless of course one gets oneself cornered by a group. The real danger, such as it is, comes from the parasites which control their hosts and the zombies second state; that of quick moving rear ended parasite protruding drill that resembles a bastardised wheeler from Return to Oz stuck in reverse.

Infection is spread by the Nekurogedoro parasites eggs, incubation is fast and the effects total and irreversible. To be fair quite a lot of work has been done to actually make the ludicrous narrative actually seem semi-coherent. Iguchi could easily have bypassed any kind of structured story given the premise but the film does actually try to keep on point, and it does flow with reasonably good pacing. Dialogue is deliberately hammy and the actors to an impeccable job given what they have to do / say. Also even though Iguchi is obsessed with bottom secretions he doesn't ignore blood and gore with plentiful quantities of both oozing, flowing and exploding at any given opportunity, making it quite a test for even the strongest of stomachs.

Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead is the most audaciously daft and repulsive Japanese zombie film of its type I've yet seen even making the likes of Zombie Self Defence Force seem lucid and reasonable, and as such it's now firmly my favourite. Yes I know there's a totally unnecessary shower scene and having Megumi's dangerously close to age inappropriate breast in shot for the final ten minutes was wantonly gratuitous, but I felt Iguchi had actually behaved himself somewhat as none of these scenes were quite as exploitative as they could have been, and titillation obviously wasn't the main focus of the film. Then again perhaps I'm just getting used / immune to the fan service now with the ability to filter much of it out. Zombie Ass is a film I very much expected to hate and while I'll be the first to call it disgusting, vile and stupid, and certainly wouldn't show it to anyone who actually knew me, it's video nasty film making at its brazen finest, 8/10.


Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Junk - review

2000 (Japan)

Contains mild spoilers.

Put aside for one minute all the gnarly gut munching, gratuitous eye gouging and colourful brain rainbows, by far and away the biggest shock of the afternoon was looking down at the case some thirty minutes in and realising that Junk was in fact a film released in the noughties, and not as I was assuming the early eighties. At times a low budget Yakuza film with guns and goons, at times a painfully forced The Return of the Living Dead wannabe complete with chemical spills, a military cover up and a hell of lot of painfully bad decisions, and at its best a Fulci inspired video nasty; the one thing Atsushi Muroga's Junk never is, is refined or even vaguely contemporary. Honestly, whether it's the gangster posturing, the copious leather and denim, the sets and cars, or heck, the score and video presentation, everything screams Nightmare City, The Zombie Dead (Burial Ground) and Zombie Flesh Eaters; and certainly not 28 Days Later or Shaun of the Dead, both of which were released only a few years later. If we're kind we'll say Junk is deliberately old school; a somewhat kitsch hark back to when acting qualities and narrative sensibleness weren't quite so important as long as guts were spewing and dead people were really, really unpleasant.

A zombie munch in the first minute is always a good thing in my book and watching the topless Kyôko (Miwa) pull herself up from her peaceful permanent slumber, take one look at the scientists inquiring innocently as to how she felt and deciding she wanted a piece, was delightful. Skin gets ripped, blood spurts out and yes, the set is sparse, the acting even sparser but it's campy, fun and unashamedly in your face zombie. Yet it was all a tease; a glimmer of what we'd have to wait a lot longer for, as despite this no nonsense zombie start, it takes another thirty minutes for things to really get going again as Muroga has another film in his head too.

As much as the film does end up descending into exactly the European eighties video nasty nonsense we expected after the start, it also tries very hard to be a semi-serious Japanese gangster film with a Yakuza boss, a jewellery heist and a motley assortment of honourless goons who'd no sooner ask for your hand as stick it in a zombie's mouth. The robbery, the getaway, the boss and his goon-squad and young getaway driver Saki (Kaori Shimamura) and her attempts to buy her second hand dream car from a bafflingly superfluous used car salesman is all light, fun and entertaining in its own special way, it just drags on way too long for what's really just a narrative reason to get nine victims to the same abandoned remote factory.

It's entertaining when the world of the gangsters and zombies finally collide; it's just baffling so much attention was heaped on the one part of the zombie story that really didn't need much at all; especially given the brief part each of the characters was ultimately going to play once it kicked off. On top of all this Muroga also deemed it necessary to provide a western narrative and even a love story, that could sit over the chaos to present it all as reasonable, coherent and plausible but again like the gangster preamble it all ends up feeling a tad half hearted and redundant. I should reiterate that it's not all bad though as when focused on zombies and death Muroga gets it entertainingly right.

We have DNX, a highly experimental US funded drug which has brought Miwa back to life as an insatiable neck biter and flesh eater. We have the two doctors that administered the drug now bitten and turned into Romero tradition zombies too implying oral / viral transmission and a situation that could quite easily expand out of hand. Then to top it all off, in full on Return of the Living Dead tradition we have a bit of an industrial accident, a vial is spilled and the remaining corpses are up and joining in too.

There's a bit of a mix going on if we're honest; Kyôko it seems is actually quite intelligent and powerful, in a kind of possessed The Evil Dead / The Exorcist / Manga kind of way; those freshly bitten are blue tinted ponderous walkers straight out of Dawn of the Dead and the extras are a hideous bunch of foul fetid maggoty horrors that look like they've shuffled straight from filming Bruno Mattei's Hell of the Living Dead; which for reference, also concluded in a very similar looking industrial complex. One could nit-pick the non uniformity or design of it all, but it doesn't really matter. The zombies are fun, dark, dangerous and there's copious quantities of well-presented gore on display. The final superhuman Kyôko who survives a head shot, only to come back stronger with different colour hair doesn't make any sense at all but by now I'm starting to get used to Japan's need for a boss fight and it was at least captivatingly stupid.

Junk may be cheap but it is fun. The gangster and US military narratives are superfluous guff adding little to the trashy exploitative carnage that's the focus of the film but they're not actually offensive; and at a little over an hour and twenty minutes long I'm guessing Muroga needed some way to fill the time. It's daft, it's brash, there's some appalling English from some Japanese speakers and some painfully amateurish moments but you get the feeling Muroga knew all this and didn't really care. The mash of ideas and narratives never really gel yet in never firmly adopting any distinct identity, it kind of ends up getting one all of its own anyway and one can see how it got its name. A daft English / Japanese hybrid eighties throwback that's as entertaining as it is awful it's definitely worth a watch with a beer (or ten), 5/10.