Thursday, June 26, 2008

Punishment Park (1971)


"You don't want to hear my message. You spent fifty years evolving a propaganda system that'll take the truth and change it into what you want to hear. You don't want to hear shit that's gonna mean you might have to give up something. You don't want it." Defendant Lee Robert Brown

In 1970, American citizens who are deemed a risk to internal security must face prison, or else take a chance in punishment park.

British filmmaker Peter Watkins’ faux-documentary, Punishment Park, stands out as a remarkable time capsule, a cultural relic from a bygone era. A scrolling narration at the start helps to situate the film by going over the landmarks in the American culture wars of the late 60s: Vietnam; the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King; the emergence of Richard Nixon; the 1968 Democratic Convention and the Trial of the Chicago Seven; the Kent State Massacre. By beginning with this laundry-list of civil unrest, from 1968 onward, Watkins anchors Punishment Park in the dying days of the radical era, when the country really was at war with itself.


Under the auspices of 1950 McCarran Internal Security Act, President Nixon sets up secret tribunals for trying and sentencing political radicals, Black Power activists, Leftists, hippies, and peaceniks. Under the letter of the law, these people are denied a trial by jury, and are denied the right to see the evidence against them. They are given the chance to speak for themselves, in a sort of kangaroo court officiated by conservatives, jingoists, and moralists, who shout down anything that the defendants try to say. In the end, the defendants are sentenced to a lengthy prison stay, or given the option of trying to survive three days in punishment park.

The ‘punishment park’ of the film is a desert in California. The radicals who choose punishment park over their jail sentence are given three days to travel over 50 miles with no water, and with cops hot on their heels. These parks have a duel purpose--they ease the burden on America’s overflowing prison system, and they help to train police for the likelihood of facing what seems to be never-ending civil disobedience in the cities. If the police catch a prisoner, they tell that prisoner that the game is over, and that they must now face their full jail sentence. If the prisoners resist, they will be met with force--often deadly.

Watkins filmed Punishment Park like a documentary, and on a shoestring budget. He filled the movie with non-actors who were real-life activists. He didn’t even put words into their mouth; every ideological position taken, every speech given by the defendants at their trial, are their own. To add to the authentic feeling of the film, the members of the tribunal act with extreme hostility to these unscripted appeals. Tempers flair, and each “trail” devolves into a shouting match. When ideologies clash, they rarely do so intelligently.


The film cuts between two separate groups of defendants. While a new group is shown trying to defend themselves in court, the group before them is shown trying to survive punishment park. This allows you to see what’s in store for the few characters who you are introduced to through the trials.

As I watched the film, I couldn’t help but think that the realism works against it. Why, if Watkins is attempting such realism, would he make up something like a punishment park? Certainly I’d be willing to believe detention camps and the like, but the idea that the government would make a game that the defendants could possibly win made no sense. Of course, as the film continued, my problem was solved: it becomes quite evident that no one survives punishment park. This makes the film all the more frustrating, since the defendants back at the court will eventually be allowed to choose between a definite jail sentence or what seems like a fair chance at escape by going through the park. Not much of a choice.

The film is very trying to sit through--at least not without clenching your fists in anger. The tribunal is filled with pigheaded men and women who aren’t really there to listen, only to condemn. Most of the defendants start out trying to speak intelligently, but they are battered down with a torrent of shouting, and with ridiculous claims, accusations that all they want is to turn America into one big orgy, or to blow up innocent women and children. The defendants, in turn, become more acidic in their defence, until their own words are just as vile and unintelligible. If someone is hoping that one of these defendants will provide a sensible and comprehensive argument, they’ll be let down. What they will discover, though, is that the two sides meet, in most instances, in their need to resort to violence. The radicals and revolutionaries on trial, and those in the park (save the pacifists), admit that they see no way to change America, or the world, short of violence. But they don’t have the power to do such a thing. The people of the tribunal, and the cops in the park, however, do, and their use of power is obviously an ugly one. The resort to violence, in the final instance, is the only thing that matters.


Watching Punishment Park today, I can’t help but feel that the film acts in a surprising new way; that is, it brings into stark relief the complete lack of a radical movement in today’s United States. Whether you agree with the positions taken by the defendants in Punishment Park or not, it seems remarkable that such people once existed. As clearly shown at Kent State and the 1968 Democratic National Convention, and in countless other instances, there was once a large and vocal breed of people willing to put life and liberty on the line to stand up for what they believed in. Today, with a worse president and even greater abuses of civil rights, that same movement is strangely absent. This isn’t to say that it’s gone altogether, but that someone is more likely to risk flame wars on blogs than to risk rubber bullets and tear gas when standing up for their beliefs. It's the difference between an age where Che Guevara was a radical and one where he's a popular logo.

In an essay the comes along with the DVD, Scott MacDonald points out that the full strength of the film is generally only felt when watched with a group who then discuss the film afterward. This is hardly surprising, since watching the film really made me want to discuss it with someone. One of the questions that always comes up in such situations, he says, is “There are no such things as punishment parks--are there?” This is always followed by two things: first, by someone assuring the questioner that, of course, there isn’t, and second, by someone claiming that this first person is naive to think so. The discussion that ensues ends up boiling down to whether or not America really is a great place to live, a moral and free country, and as temperatures rise the discussion dissolves into the sort of polemical, ideology-driven rants that comprise the film itself.

The Project X DVD comes in a full frame, 1.33:1 aspect ratio, and is accompanied with a host of features, including: a lengthy (28 minute) introduction by Peter Watkins, the aforementioned essay, audio commentary by a journalist named Joseph A. Gomez, a short film entitled “The Forgotten Faces,” the original 1971 press kit, and a Peter Watkins filmography. Anyone interested in alternative filmmaking, political film, or 60s radicalism should probably give it a go. Just don’t expect it to be pleasant.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Shock And Awe - The Grindhouse Experience

On June 21, 2008 the Fox Theater in Toronto, Ontario presented the first Shock & Awe Grindhouse Experience movie festival, starting at 11:30 on Saturday and ending around 10:30 on Sunday morning. Folks came from all over to take in the craziness, and they weren't disappointed as the vast mix of different exploitation films kept things moving at a necessarily rapid pace throughout the night.

I'll admit that my own experiences were affected slightly from a near overdose of sudafed that I was taking to combat a nasty cold, but my zombie-like state was appropriate for a memorable night of rare exploitation on the big screen.

The Boogeyman (1980) - We began with a rough looking print for The Boogeyman, a pseudo-slasher film that spends its first half cribbing faithfully from Halloween, but takes a supernatural turn in the last half with a little of The Exorcist thrown in for good measure. A fun flick, with a welcome (but completely superfluous) turn from John Carradine in a brief role, and some inventive violence as a reward for patient viewers. The plot (about siblings haunted by the murder of their mother's abusive boyfriend) holds few surprises, but it's punchy and interesting to the end.

The Black Six (1974) - Things picked up considerably with the second feature: a blaxploitation biker fils about six Vietnam vets (played by a collection of 70s black football players) who cruise around the country looking for some peace and quiet, before the brother of one of the members is murdered by a group of racist motorcyclists. Featuring some comically awful performances, and some fight scenes right out of Dolemite, the film succeeds as a good natured document of a the time it was made. The opening scenes (featuring the gang doing chores on a farm for an elderly white woman) is amazing in its goofiness, but at least the film's heart was in the right place. Likely the second most entertaining film of the night.

Naughty New Orleans (1954) - A smutty, thankfully short burlesque collection featuring plenty of stripteasing and cringe-worthy comedy. The storyline (about a young woman trying to hide her burlesque dancing from her businessman boyfriend) is just an excuse to show some fine ladies showing off their skivvies. There was an impressive tassel twirling display from a *cough* full figured gal, and I'm a sucker for bad double-entendres so I got a few laughs from the skits, but this was a bit too much sizzle and not enough steak. Ones eyelids couldn't help but feel a little heavy.

Tintorera (1977) - However, sleep would be impossible as noise makers were distributed to the crowd to alert any sleepy neighbors about possible shark attacks (or three-way sex opportunities) in this smutty, bizarre Jaws rip-off. In fact, it's difficult to call it a Jaws rip, as it spends most of its (epic) run time following the sexual escapades of Esteban (Hugo Stiglitz) and Miquel (the unibrowed Andrés García, who according to IMDB has led one heck of a life). The two fuck everyone on the island while occasionally someone is eaten by some stock footage, much of which is Mondo-like in showing the Sharks really being killed in various bloody ways. It remains entertaining in it's own WTF-ness, but it drags painfully near the end before sputtering to a complete stop.

Danish Pastries (1972) - At six in the morning, what better way to keep tired hearts and minds awake than with some hardcore 70s porno action. We were treated to the ridiculous dubbed comedy about a girl's school and some magic sex powder and the orbit of the moon and.. um.. well, the plot provides ample opportunity for the gaggle of gals to show off everything they have. An early assault scene featuring an abundance of grape juice was more icky than sexy, but the climax (ha!) is neat as a jump into the town's reservoir results in an underwater screwfest. People were dozing off all over the place at this point, but just about everyone woke up for...

Dead/Alive (1992) (aka Braindead) - Peter Jackson's splatstick masterpiece is still the standard by which most gorefests are compared. The levels of violence still have the ability to astonish, and all of these years later the biggest accomplishment seems to be the fact that the film was ever even made. The attention to detail in the film's 50's New Zealand setting is amazing, and the Mother/Son relationship provides some welcome depth, but at its core it just wants to do anything to entertain. The ending, featuring a lawnmower massacre followed by a literal rebirth as a character escapes from the womb, might never be equaled with its excess. A monument in the history of violence, and a must-see for fans of genre cinema.

Between films there were prize giveaways, some neat treats at the concession stand (Danish Pastries!), and a few neat films for sale (I picked up a copy of the Turkish Wizard Of Oz for $2). As we wandered sleepily into the streets, blinded by the sunny day and probably looking a bit undead-like to the people stopping into the neighboring laundromat, the crowd sort of huddled near the entrance. We were battle-hardened.. having experienced an onslaught on our senses and a test of our wills. An experience not soon forgotten, and hopefully to be repeated in the future.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Never A Dull Moment (1968)

Dick Van Dyke stars in this, his third and last film made for Disney. The first was Mary Poppins, considered a classic despite Van Dyke’s performance. Second came Lt. Robin Crusoe, USN, which was perceived as an underperformer by Disney brass, but was actually just a sign of things to come for the studio’s product over the next decade. Finally, came Never a Dull Moment. Disney tapped Jerry Paris, who was mostly known around Hollywood as a TV director, to be the director of this feature. He had recently won an Emmy for Best Directing of a Comedy Series for (surprise, surprise) The Dick Van Dyke Show, and it was thought to get the best performance out of Van Dyke it might be best to put him under the direction of someone he trusted. The screenwriter was AJ Carothers, an old friend of Walt Disney’s. Carothers respected Disney so much that he openly admitted that he considered Walt his 2nd father. All in all he worked at Disney under contract for 7 years, knocking out mostly forgotten fare such as The Happiest Millionaire and Emil and the Detectives, and later delivered an eulogy at Disney’s funeral.

Van Dyke plays an actor named Jack Albany who is relegated to playing the mob henchman in episodes of police TV shows, who is mistaken for a hired killer working for a crime syndicate. Edward G. Robinson plays Leo Joseph Smooth, the head of this crime family. Smooth has decided that while his career has been lucrative, he has never pulled off the one big crime that would make him memorable to the public, so he plans on stealing “Field of Sunflowers”, a 40-foot-long triptych painting that is currently on display at the Manhattan Museum of Art.

Most of the problems with the film can be traced to Van Dyke’s performance. I believe whoever was responsible for casting him in this movie must have seen his famous trip in the opening to The Dick Van Dyke Show and thought, “Brilliant! That is exactly what we need for this movie!” The movie plays like some kind of weird concoction of a film, where someone wanted to make a slapstick comedy, without actually having any physical comedy in it. There are only a handful of gags in the movie, and it is telling that the trailer for it replays them all twice. Also, you can almost feel the pressure that marketing must have been feeling at the time as they keep pushing that Dick Van Dyke “gives the comedy performance of a lifetime!”

Perhaps the biggest positive that the film has going for it is the cast of hoods that work for Smooth. Slim Pickens plays Cowboy Schaeffer, one of the crew that doesn’t really have a whole lot of character development invested in him, but what the hell, it’s Slim Pickens and I’m happy to see him pop up in anything. Jack Elam eventually shows up as the real Ace Williams, the killer that Van Dyke is mistaken for. However, the biggest surprise to come out of this movie is the performance of Henry Silva. Silva plays Frank Boley, Smooth’s right hand man, who doesn’t just look like a young Jack Palance circa Shane, but plays the part as if he was auditioning for a Leone spaghetti western.

This DVD was released in June of 2004, one of a slew of barebones discs that Disney was releasing from their vaults at the time. It is presented in its original aspect ratio of widescreen 1.75:1, with only the theatrical trailer as a bonus feature. The transfer is nice, if a bit soft, almost as if it were slightly out of focus.

This movie didn’t quite mark the end of the film careers of those involved, but it was the end of a chapter in their professional lives. Dick Van Dyke went back to television shortly after this, starring in The New Dick Van Dyke Show, and guest-starring on numerous other shows. Jerry Paris directed 101 episodes of Happy Days before directing the comedy classics Police Academy 2 and Police Academy 3. AJ Carothers worked in Hollywood as a writer for hire for years after leaving Disney before coming up with the story for the Michael J. Fox vehicle, The Secret Of My Success, and making a mini-comeback in the late 80s.

Jittemai (Death Shadows) (1986)


What happened, Hideo Gosha? You used to be cool.

Jittemai (Death Shadows)
is an extremely campy yakuza flick, featuring mute assassins, insane (and corrupt) police officers, and sexy female cutthroats. It’s filmed on a cheap and gaudy soundstage, and punctuated by dance sequences. Yes, really. The best way I could possibly describe it is to say its something like an episode of the old Batman TV show, except with nudity and violence.


Absent from Jittemai is Gosha’s long-time collaborator Tatsuya Nakadai. Perhaps it was Nakadai’s job to vet the screenplays, in which case his absence explains Gosha’s lack of sound judgment in choosing this project. Without Nakadai around to classy-up the joint, one can’t help but notice how second-rate most of the acting is. But I digress.

The plot of Jittemai goes like this: rather than die for their crimes, three men agree to become “Shadows,” assassins who work for the law while circumventing it. In exchange for their lives, though, they loose their vocal chords--which apparently only requires a quick slash of the katana to accomplish. This is more or less the same way Kiichi Hogan, samurai of silence, lost his voice, so maybe Gosha was just rehashing one of his old stories.

One of these Shadows, Yasuke the Viper (Takuzo Kawatani), is sent on a mission to kill Denzo (Takeo Chii), a local crime lord. Upon infiltrating Denzo’s property, he discovers that one of the crime lord’s henchmen is--shock!--his estranged daughter. The daughter, Ocho (Mariko Ishihara), has been raised as a killer by Denzo, and hates her father for having abandoned her and her mother long ago. We learn all of this by way of a conversation between the two of them. What’s this, a conversation? But isn’t Yasuke the Viper mute? Why yes, yes he is, but that doesn’t stop him from using sign-language, and it doesn’t stop the film from giving him a voice-over anyway. He’s an extremely talkative mute. Anyway, one thing leads to another, and Denzo discovers the family relation, and soon he’s holding Ocho hostage. Yasuke the Viper gives his life to save her, and in doing so regains his daughter’s trust and love.


You’d think that’d be the entire film. It isn’t. That’s just the first twenty minutes. Then it gets strange.

Ocho takes Yasuke’s place as a “Shadow,” and, wielding a multi-coloured ribbon (!) as a weapon, she is sent on a dangerous mission, too complicated and mind-blowing to go over here.


The world of Jittemai is totally saturated with corruption. Priests rob the dead and sell their belongings and--worse still--this seems to be common knowledge. The police are so corrupt there seems to be no way to tell between them and the criminals they fight. Chief among these police officers is Boss Hell, who is probably the most entertaining character in the film. It helps that the actor seems to be one of the few people in the film who realizes he’s in a campy piece of crap. He acts absolutely insane, which was a good choice on the part of the actor, because his motivations are almost impossible to comprehend.

Jittemai is an extremely disappointing film, and it doesn’t make me enthusiastic to see Gosha’s later work. Despite the negative tone I’ve taken towards it, I suspect some people will enjoy it for its bizarre campiness alone. Like most of Gosha’s films, it’s only available, in North America, as a bootleg, though the one that’s easiest to obtain actually has dubbing, which is a rarity (although not really a welcome one). To be avoided.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Happening (2008)

In finding a way to preface this review of sorts, I'll just say that this was quite possibly one of the worst movies I've ever seen. Despite that, it is shockingly still worth watching. I viewed this flick in a crowded auditorium, and while many did leave midway through, I can only assume the rest of us stayed because of the all-powerful train wreck watching feel this movie gives off. That person being carted into the ambulance with their arm severed, and the rest of their body looking like the T-1000 that just ate a grenade? Yeah, that's this movie.

*** What I'll be going into are a lot of spoilers, and I'll also go into the ending, so if you really, REALLY want to be surprised, I'd suggest waiting to read the rest. ***

We begin pretty much with scenes depicted in the first trailer. If you haven't seen it, you can peep that right here:

So, in Central Park, all of these people start acting like the comedy troupe of about 200 or so people that decided to just stand still in Grand Central Station. There's no rhyme or reason for this, they just do. After they stand still, get this, they start walking BACKWARDS! WHAT. THE. FUCK. I'm spooked, really. Then they kill themselves in creative ways, like by stabbing themselves, clawing at themselves, and shooting themselves in the head.

At this point, I feel I should point out I'm describing the redshirts in the movie, not the folks in the comedy troupe, but man, wouldn't that be a helluva gag for those guys to pull off if they did start offing themselves. Am I right?!?

I digress...We then cut to Mark Wahlberg, who is, what else, a teacher. He's also the worst, and least confident teacher I've ever seen. It's just question after question he keeps asking his class about the whole, "why are bees disappearing" thing. It begins to feel like he really doesn't know, at which point I expect to hear, "No, really, I'm asking you because I really have no clue as to why they're disappearing." Did I mention he's a teacher in Philly? Sadly, there is no Fresh Prince to be seen. His class is interrupted, because they're sending everyone home due to THE HAPPENING that is going on in Central Park, and I would assume, the rest of New York.

There's also this whole subplot with Zooey Deschanel as Marky Mark's cheating wife, except she doesn't cheat, she has Flan, or some other type of horrid dessert with another man, which really bugs her. She shows you it bugs her because she makes silly faces at her phone whenever this guy calls. One could assume that these faces she makes are to convey concern, feeling uncomfortable, or even guilt, but it really just looks like she is making faces at a baby. Again, I am not making any of this up. I wish I could. THE HAPPENING ends up happening to the guy on the phone, by the way. I'm sure you all really wanted to know.

So, Marky Mark, the girl from Elf, John Leguizamo, and a little girl playing his daughter all hop on a train as THE HAPPENING happens in Philly. Spookily enough, the train STOPS in the middle of nowhere. WHAT A TWIST! THE HAPPENING is happening so much that the train conductors lose contact with the outside world. It should also be noted that it is at this time believed that terrorists are using some type of chemical weapon that's causing THE HAPPENING. One would think, why not just keep going on the train until the whole thing passes. If that were the case, we would be left with a 30 minute movie, and we would be deprived of every other hokey, and campy scene in the movie.

Well, all of these people on the train panic because they believe THE HAPPENING will soon happen to them. They all get the fuck out of Dodge, and so does Marky Mark, the girl from Elf, and the little girl. They get a ride from some creepy fuck and his wife, both of whom like, get this, HOT DOGS! HILARIOUS! They're also botanists and explain that it's plants doing this, as they're producing toxins as a defense mechanism so people in populated areas kill themselves.

For those keeping score, the plants are all like, "Fuck your global warming! Time to die, bitches!" and the people are all like "AHHHHHH! TERRORISTS!" Somewhere along the way, John Leguizamo slices his wrists (Remember kids: down the street, not across tracks), creepy guy and his wife who look like extras from House of a 1000 Corpses and like hot dogs (I'm still laughing) shoot themselves (I think, I was too busy laughing about the hot dogs), and a bunch of other people fall victim to THE HAPPENING.

Our main protagonists due not fall victim though, not yet, and they, along with two kids are on the run. THEY HAPPEN...I mean...They happen to find a house inhabited by some other people who have survived. It is here that M. Night decides to tell you that he is not fucking around, as the two kids (none of which is the little girl) get savagely murdered by the people in the house. Oh no, it's not THE HAPPENING that claims these two kids as victims, it's just some people who believe in good ol' fashion kid slaying to protect their home.

Now, you may be thinking, "Hey, this all takes place in Pennsylvania, people are turning on each other, and people are dying pretty easily: Is this a zombie movie?" Sorry to say, it isn't. If all of these people reanimated though, holy shit would this be an awesome movie.

Well, anyway, we near the end, where our heroes find what they assume to be an abandoned house. They are wrong though, as the house is owned by an old crazy lady, who for no reason at all, lets our heroes stay the night. She even cooks them dinner. How nice. While this movie jumped the rails about five minutes in, we finally reach the apex of how ridiculous this has been. The lady gets even crazier, warns Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch about stealing from her, and soon THE HAPPENING happens to the old lady. Marky Mark gives this old woman a dead behind the eyes stare as she shambles around the outside of the house, banging her head against the walls to kill herself, she also crashes her head through a window. Marky Mark can only exclaim an exasperated "Nooo." The wind, teaming with THE HAPPENING or midichlorians or whatever it is that causes THE HAPPENING, poors?, blows through the broken window. Marky Mark heads into another room and shuts the door behind him, but where is the Funky Bunch? Well, turns out they're in a spring house of sorts behind the main house. There's a pipe that connects the two homes that you can talk through. So Marky Mark and his Funky Bunch believe they're having their last conversation, decide it's the end and they're going to go outside to die. Wouldn't ya know it though, there is no more HAPPENING happening, and they live.

While the unassuming believe it's over, THE HAPPENING happens in France. YES! SEQUEL!

So, this was horrible. M. Night looks to be doing what we call damage control, calling this "the greatest B movie of all time." Well, call it whatever you want, but this was beyond bad. Really bad. It's such a great concept too, and could really say a lot about what's happening (sorry, no running gag here) to our planet, but instead he chose to make a really shitty film with bad acting. I give this the highest recommendation I can give a movie you want to sit down and make fun of with friends.

Onimasa (1982)


Times are tough in the Japan of 1918. A shopkeeper and his wife, having just opened up a new store, require protection from Boss Onimasa, if their business is to survive. Unfortunately, they have no money to offer him. On the other hand, they have plenty of children. When Onimasa arrives, however, he is less impressed with the boy they offer him than he is with their daughter, Matsue. He takes them both, but only Matsue is strong enough to withstand estrangement from her family and the rigors of yakuza life. It is through Matsue’s eyes, then, that we witness the fall of Onimasa’s yakuza clan, and the tumultuous forces that shaped Japan from 1918 until the World War II.

Hideo Gosha’s 13th film, and his first film of the 80s, sees the director producing one of his most humane and dramatic pieces. The narrative of the film centres around Matsue Kiriyuin (Masako Natsume), the adopted daughter of Boss Onimasa, and her quest to live the life she wants to lead despite being forced into the chauvinistic and violent world of the yakuza. That the film centers on a female lead marks a distinct departure for Gosha, one that seems to inaugurate the latter part of his career. Even though Goyokin, Tenchu!, and, to a certain extent, Hunter in the Dark all acted as a criticism of the hyper-masculine way of life that is intrinsic in the samurai or the yakuza (or the samurai and yakuza film), they all worked from within that system. In Onimasa, Matsue Kiriyuin is able to take more of an outsider’s view of the violent world she inhabits, and in doing so helps the viewer to see it as fraudulent, and often pathetic.


Though Matsue acts as the anchor of Onimasa's narrative, it is the titular character himself, played by Tatsuya Nakadai, who really drives the piece. After being all but absent from Tenchu! and harnessed with a fairly uninteresting character in Hunter in the Dark, Gosha finally brings Nakadai back into the spotlight, where he belongs. And Nakadai delivers. Generally a reserved actor, allowing his eyes or the pitch of his voice to carry the part, here Nakadai hams it up gloriously. His Onimasa is a weird, eccentric figure, who truly believes himself to be a samurai. It is almost impossible not to smile when he is on the screen. This makes it all the more shocking when he does truly reprehensible things, such as trying to rape his own adopted daughter. Its at moments like these that you suddenly remember that Onimasa isn’t just some entertaining old man--he’s a yakuza boss, and he didn’t gain that position by being all smiles and sunshine.


The plot is long and detailed (Onimasa clocks in at about 2.5 hours), and there’s too much to get into in a short review. The film follows Matsue’s life in the yakuza, from being a child acting as a server to becoming a fully grown woman who strives to leave her criminal family behind her. She succeeds in the life she is forced into through the power of her will. In one of the film’s funnier moments, Onimasa and Matsue, still a child, engage in a shouting match over whether or not she’ll be allowed to go to school. Onimasa, not surprisingly, doesn’t think that women should be educated; however, no matter how much of a hard ass Onimasa might be, he is unable to shout down a little girl as determined as Matsue, and in the next scene we see her attending classes. This sort of thing happens throughout the film, with Matsue always coming out on top.

The main conflict of the film--not the internal conflict of the family, but the one that leads to the bloody finale--occurs due to Onimasa's belief that he is not a yakuza, but a samurai. After he is ordered by the big boss (Tetsuro Tamba) to put down a strike, Onimasa is convinced by the union heads that a real samurai would help the people, and not those in power. Onimasa is convinced, and in helping the union he finds his clan ousted from the greater yakuza organization. Onimasa's decision would be admirable, if it weren't for the fact that he doesn't even understand how he got into it.


Onimasa is not an action movie, even though it does contain moments of graphic violence (it should be mentioned, here, that the film contains a rather violent dog fight that certainly seems authentic, and will probably make some viewers uncomfortable). The film is, on the other hand, a rather effective period piece. Through the eyes of Matsue Kiriyuin we get to see the decline of the yakuza and the great Onimasa clan. As well, we get to see the changing Japanese society, with a special focus on the government’s actions against the perceived Communist threat. The lack of action might disappoint fans of Gosha, which is too bad, since Onimasa shows the director at the height of his power. Every shot in the film seems perfectly composed, and the acting--especially from Nakadai and Natsume--is great on all fronts. It also contains a great performance by Shima Iwashita in the role of Onimasa’s wife, a no-bullshit lady who really holds her own in scenes with Nakadai. Add to that an appearance by a moustachioed Tetsuro Tamba and you’ve got quite the ensemble cast.

Onimasa can also be seen as playing with the audience’s expectations of yakuza films. Generally speaking, the yakuza films of the 60s portrayed the yakuza as the last bastion of the samurai way of life, with honourable yakuza (often Ken Takakura) overcoming corrupt yakuza and city officials to help the common man. The yakuza films of the 70s--notably those directed by Kinji Fukasaku--showed the yakuza in a grimmer light, portraying them as common criminals. Onimasa, completed in the 80s, seems to play off of both of these ideas. Onimasa considers himself a samurai, and tries to fight for the common man, but his fixation on bushido seems more delusional than noble, and is often shown to be only skin deep. In the end, the yakuza--at least the sensible ones--are the criminals that Fukasaku showed them to be, and people like Onimasa are mere fictions.


Like so many of Gosha’s films, Onimasa is sadly unavailable in North America. Wild Realm films has released a beautiful edition, and I’m hopeful that someone will port the film over for a R1 release. The French are simply years ahead of us in samurai and yakuza films. For you French-speaking types, the disc contains an interview with Hideo Gosha, the film’s trailer, photos from the film, and a Gosha filmography. It really is a great package--too bad there’s no English subtitles.

Onimasa is one of the few films in recent memory that surprised me. A rather unheralded Gosha film in North America, I was expecting a fairly unremarkable and dull yakuza film. Instead, it seems Gosha produced a drama whose quality could match that of his action films of the 60s and 70s. Maybe the film isn’t for everyone, but fans of yakuza films, Hideo Gosha, or Tatsuya Nakadai would be crazy to pass it up if the opportunity arises.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Hunter in the Dark (1979)


You can’t go wrong centering a your film on a one-eyed assassin. It helps when said assassin, Yataro Tanigawa, is played by someone like Yoshio Harada, who excels at looking both grizzled and dangerous (and not much else). Hunter in the Dark, a late 70s yakuza flick by Hideo Gosha, follows Tanigawa’s entrance into the service of Boss Gomyo Kiyoemon (Gosha’s main man Tatsuya Nakadai), a canny and tired crime lord who wants, above all, to retire someplace nice. Most viewers won’t be surprised to find out that this isn’t an easy goal for a yakuza boss to accomplish.

Like Goyokin and Tenchu! before it, Hunter in the Dark is a deeply cynical film, one in which the samurai idea of honour is largely felt only by its absence. In those earlier films, samurai clans are responsible for the evils that the main characters suffer; in Hunter in the Dark, the samurai (embodied in Samon Shimoguni, played by Sonny Chiba) are the villains, and the side of good, if it exists at all, can be found in the ranks of the yakuza.


Seen alongside these two other films, one can trace Gosha’s increasing nihilism. Gosha seems incredibly skeptical about the entire idea behind the samurai, and also seems to point towards the degenerative powers of violence. Of course, this can lead to a bit of a mixed message, since Hunter in the Dark might be Gosha’s best action film, while it simultaneously sends a message that violence begets more violence, and eventually overcomes everything.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. As mentioned, Hunter in the Dark primarily follows Tanigawa, the one-eyed assassin, who also turns out to be an amnesiac. He comes into the employ of Gomyo, who uses him as a bodyguard--an important position, when one works exclusively in the underworld. Tanigawa and Gomyo both get caught up with Samon in a complex bit of political intrigue that involves Tanigawa’s mysterious past and lots and lots of violence.


Hunter in the Dark sees Gosha begin to incorporate women more and more into the story. This is something that he continues throughout the rest of his films--Onimasa, his next film, features an actress in the leading role, and after that films like The Geisha and the Yakuza Wives are focused entirely on women. Here, while you do get one example of a loyal and loving woman, Oriwa (Ayumi Ishida), the majority are included for the purpose of a bath house knife fight. Not that I’m complaining.


At the end of the day, the plot of Hunter in the Dark primarily serves to allow Gosha to film some of his best action sequences. This isn’t to say that there’s nothing to the plot (it’s substantial) or that the characters are unimportant (they aren’t). Nevertheless, the film is driven by action. Whether it’s the action of the narrative--including the political machinations, or the revenge schemes, or what have you--or the actual, physical action scenes, Hunter in the Dark remains an action movie. And the action found in it is great. The story allows Gosha to produce a what could be described as action set-pieces, like the bloody fight in the tea house, or the bath house knife-fight, or the battle in the blazing temple. All of them are thrilling, and Gosha is really able to go all out.


To the best of my knowledge, there’s currently no official Region 1 release of Hunter in the Dark. That means anyone interested in tracking down the film has to enter bootleg territory. That being said, if you can track it down, and you’re the type of person who would track it down, then I think you’re in for a rewarding experience. The weaknesses of the script (slightly convoluted plot, fairly weak characters) and the fairly pedestrian acting (Nakadai is wasted in his role) are more than compensated for by Gosha’s excellent filmmaking. Hunter in the Dark might not be a classic, but maybe it should be.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tenchu! (Hitokiri) (1969)


Hideo Gosha’s second release of 1969 is perhaps on par with the excellent Goyokin, and seems to work in tandem with the earlier film to act as a criticism of the samurai way of life. The film is very closely centered on Shintaro Katsu, who plays Okada Izo. This character will be familiar to anyone who watched Takeshi Miike’s IZO, a movie about the same character existing throughout time, and acting not as a person, but as a symbol of the ever-present violence of the system…or something. Gosha’s film, on the other hand, is a character study of the assassin during his lifetime, and Katsu brings a depth of humanity to the character entirely missing from Miike’s later work.


We first meet Izo as an out of work and miserable ronin. Izo is so down on his luck that he even offers to sell his armour, but finds that the price simply isn’t worth it. In desperation, he turns to Hampeita Takechi, played by Gosha’s long-time collaborator Tatsuya Nakadai. Takechi is the head of the Tosa Clan, a group of Loyalists intent on overthrowing the Shogunate and returning the Emperor to power. Takechi offers Izo a job as an assassin, and the rumpled and pathetic Izo accepts. Flashing forward, the viewer discovers that Izo has rapidly gained in power and rank, and is known as a nearly unstoppable killer.

Indeed, Izo is shown to be a victim of his success. As he gains more and more fame for his skills as a killer, he becomes more and more enamoured with himself. He is often drunk, and always loud and abrasive. Izo likes nothing more than his fame, and takes any compliment from Takechi like a dog accepting a bone. His rise to decadence makes up a large portion of the first part of the film, but its accompanied by the sense, in the viewer, that it cannot last.


And, of course, it cannot. Eventually, Izo angers Takechi, and when he’s rebuked he feels that he’s become too important to follow Takechi’s orders. He soon discovers, though, that his great renown as a killer offers him no real job opportunities, and that only outcome of turning on his master is the possibility that he’ll return to where the viewer first found him--alone and penniless, on the verge of starvation.

Tenchu! is more infamous than it is famous, due largely to the presence of the poet and playwright Yukio Mishima, in the role of Shimbei Tanaka, another “unstoppable” assassin. In an eerie foreshadowing of things to come, a scene in Tenchu! Depicts Shimbei Tanaka committing seppuku, only a year before the poet himself did the real thing.


While Tenchu! Certainly offers its fair share of action, most of this is frontloaded into the first half of the film. The rest painstakingly details the fall of Okada Izo. Here, Katsu is at his best. His deep, expressive eyes are able to make plain the depths of the anguish and turmoil Izo feels inside. The ruthless samurai not only has to come to terms with his own place in the world, but he is soon forced to confront and interrogate the very notions of the samurai way of life, of clan loyalty and fealty, and even of the use of violence itself. Many viewers may find this second half of the film far less entertaining than the first, but it is this portion of the film that truly separates it from the flock of samurai films that were prevalent at the time. The emotional depth of the film is no doubt due to its writer, Shinobu Hashimoto, whose writing credits include Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai and Throne of Blood, as well as Kobayashi’s Harakiri and Samurai Rebellion.

Currently, there’s no North America release of Tenchu!, as is the case with most of Gosha’s films. The French release, by Wild Side, is a great, two DVD offering, featuring great video quality. Oddly, though, despite being a two-disc set, it only offers a handful of extras, such as interviews and a photo gallery. The original trailer seems to have been lost. Unfortunately, there are no English subs, so if you want to own a copy of the DVD, be prepared to wait (or starting learning French).


It’s crazy to think that Gosha was able to release both Goyokin and Tenchu! in the same year. In some circles, both films are considered classics of the genre. Don’t let that fool you, though; both are radically different films. While Goyokin is an exciting action/adventure, Tenchu! is a more cold and introspective film. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t contain some great action--it does--but if that’s what you’re looking for, Tenchu! might not be for you. Here’s hoping an English language release is on the way.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Goyokin (1969)


The samurai known as Magobei is an intimidating figure. From his very introduction, we can immediately deduce that he is intense, mysterious, and (of course) a master swordsmen. Played by the always-excellent Tatsuya Nakadai, Magobei is one of those samurai characters--like Wakayama’s Ogami Itto or Mifune’s Sanjuro--who, once seen, comes to epitomize the very figure of the samurai in film. Hideo Gosha’s Goyokin relies on his strong central performance, and Nakadai doesn’t disappoint, resulting in one of the more fun and exciting action movies of the 60s.

Hideo Gosha (1929-1992) was primarily a genre director, and this genre was action. He was a hell of a stylist, with a real eye for composition, and an obvious talent for filming action sequences. You could compare him to Kenji Misumi, since they seem to share a love of bloodshed, and since both produce highly stylized works, but where Misumi seems to bring out the inner comic book of his films, Gosha seems better at producing strong action scenes in a more realistic context. Most of Gosha’s films from the 60s are concerned with samurai, while his work from the 70s onward turns towards the yakuza.

Director Gosha and actor Nakadai had a long and fruitful partnership. While it’s a fairly common conceit to compare the relationship (and talent) of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune to John Ford and John Wayne, one might also make a similar comparison between the duo of Gosha and Nakadai to the team of Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood. Nakadai brings some real acting chops to Gosha’s movies, which helps to compliment Gosha’s professionalism as a filmmaker.


The plot of Goyokin only comes to the surface slowly. Magobei’s brother-in-law, Tatewaki (Tetsuro Tamba), is the head of the Sabai Clan, of which Magobei was also a vassal. Long ago, when Japan’s version of “the ship of gold” sunk just outside of a small village, Tatewaki came up with a fiendish plan: by taking the gold, he could replenish the coffers of the impoverished Sabai Clan, and the Shogunate would only need to know that the ship has sunk, its treasure lost. The problem, though, is that the inhabitants of that small village would be witnesses. So Tatewaki did what all samurai do best: he killed them all. Since the true perpetrators of the slaughter are never known to the general population, a legend develops, spreading the idea that the deaths were somehow the result of evil spirits or witchcraft.

Magobei was understandably upset by the slaughter. Out of loyalty to the Sabai, he agreed to stay quiet, since the truth would destroy them, but, unable to live with the murderers, he quit the clan and became a wondering ronin.

When the movie begins, the Sabai are once again in dire straights, and Tatewaki concocts a scheme to intentionally sink the next ship bearing ‘goyokin’ (official gold) and, once again, kill all the witnesses. Fearing that Magobei will find out about the scheme and attempt to stop it, one of the Sabai samurai sends off a couple of killers to get rid of Magobei before he can become a nuisance. Of course, they fail, and Magobei, now wise to the scheme, sets off to Sabai, to stop Tatewaki before he can kill again.


Goyokin is a strong movie in all regards, but it succeeds as well as it does because of Nakadai’s performance in the leading role. His Magobei is absolutely driven, and almost entirely devoid of emotion. It helps, too, that Gosha is able to craft some exciting action scenes for him, and Nakadai is up to the challenge, nearly as good at the physical stuff as he is in the rest of his performance. Luckily, though, his character is backed-up by fine performances from Tanba, Kinnosuke Nakamura (who plays a maniacal swordsmen with mysterious motives) and Ruriko Asaoka, who plays Oriha, the only villager to survive the original slaughter.


Like many of the samurai films of the late 60s and 70s, Goyokin presents a very calloused view of the samurai way of life. The Sabai, who are not shown to be atypical samurai, are hypocrites who truly care nothing about honour, and certainly not the common people below them. Magobei, a ronin, can hardly be counted as an answer to them; far from being an ideal samurai, he has turned his back on bushido. He may be out to help the next of Tatewaki’s victims, but it’s obvious that his personal vendetta is the true driving force.


Perhaps it’s best to call Goyokin an adventure movie. Magobei’s journey involves a battle between samurai and yakuza, an escape from a burning building, cliff-climbing, and a silent duel on a snowy plain. Gosha doesn’t really allow for a dull moment, while at the same time managing enough down time for the characters to be suitably developed. A lot of credit should go to Gosha’s writing partner, Kei Tasaka, since many of Gosha’s other films lack such an even mix of character and action.

Goyokin is available in North America from Media Blaster’s “Tokyo Shock” label, and in Europe (French only) from Wild Side. The Tokyo Shock DVD is a decent release, about on par with the Animeigo releases of Lone Wolf and Cub. I know that Wild Side has some pretty tip-top releases, so I’d be willing to bet that that’s the better option for anyone who can read French. Everyone else need not worry, though, because the Tokyo Shock DVD really has everything you need.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Executioner (1974)

I've always been a fan of the grindhouse and the more outlandish the film the better. Some of my fondest memories of childhood were going to the Bluebird Theater in downtown Petersburg, VA with my dad to go and watch the latest martial arts epic.

In the seventies, Toei Films seemed to pioneer the "anything you can do we can do better" spirit that the Japanese have pretty much honed to razor sharpness, and that spirit trancends all aspects of Japanese society.

If you build a great car, the Japanese will make it more fuel efficient.

If you start a great trend, the Japanese will find a way to drag your fad out five years longer than it should probably last.

If you make a great exploitation film. The Japanese will find a way to make it more violent than you could have ever imagined.

Legit badass Sonny Chiba was a busy man in the seventies and Toei Films was a busy studio. The now famous Street Fighter trilogy arguably began as a Japanese effort not only to break into the Asian martial arts movie market, but also as a serious effort to find inroads to the American b-movie market. B-movies don't win Oscars but they do tend to make enough money to keep studio books in the black until something else comes along. When in doubt, make an action movie.

My journey with Teruo Ishii's karate schlock classic, The Executioner, has been bittersweet. I've always lived with the assumption that movies such as The Executioner were a lot of fun to make for cast and crew alike. With such hilarious dialogue and outrageous action, how could anyone ever have a horrible time on that set?

However my follow-up research on Ishii revealed that Ishii actually despised working on karate movies. Ishii is best known in Japan for his film adoptations of the mystery novels of author, Edogawa Rampo. However the ironclad contract that Toei had with Ishii had the poor bastard directing everything from space operas to yakuza movies.

Subsequently, The Executioner represents Teruo Ishii's best effort to get himself reassigned by creating the most insane martial arts film of the age. However as Yogi Berra once said, "Irony can be pretty ironic sometimes," and it is Ishii's blatant contempt for every frame of this movie that makes it so fun to watch.

The Executioner tells a pretty simple story. In an effort to combat a vicious heroin smuggling ring, former Tokyo Metro Police commissioner, Arashiyama (Ryo Ikebe), and his smoking hot niece, Emi (Yutaka Nakajima.. did I mention that she was smoking hot back in the day?) secretly recruit a trio of criminals to whoop ass and take names. The unit consists of Ichiro Sakura (Eiji Go), a karate expert and all-around pervert, Takeshi Hayabusa (Makoto Satô), a disgrased police detective now working as an assassin specializing in smashing the skulls of crime lords, and Ryuichi Koga (Sonny Chiba), a ninja enforcer that will pretty much do anything if the price is right.

And if you're wondering, "Hey.. I wonder if the 'Koga' they're referring to are..."

Yep, it's those Koga.

This is by far the most violent movie I've ever seen Chiba involved in, and possibly the most enjoyable. The Executioner is definitely one of Ishii's more coherant martial arts epics. Ishii's professional shame is your boon as there is enough blood, boobs, and camp to satisfy even the most jaded exploitation movie junkie.

If there is a failing in this movie, it is the collective persona of our trio of karate vigilantes.

There is an almost tragic yet endearing quality about Chiba's iconic Street Fighter, Takuma Tsurugi. Tsurugi is honorable to a fault and his honor, coupled with the everyman desire to see that the rent is paid on time by any means necessary, often leads Takuma down the wrong path. By contrast, Etsuko Shiomi's Koryo Lee, aka the Sister Street Fighter, is as virginal beyond belief as a girl that kicks people to death can reasonably be.

However in The Executioner, Koga and company are not the criminals with hearts of gold as you'd come to expect in such scenarios. Arashiyama definitely picked the right crew since his goal is to fight fire with fire, but if it weren't for their superior striking skills it really wouldn't bother me if these guys died in the attempt to keep narcotics off of the mean streets of Tokyo.

Part of Ishii's master plan to get himself back to directing mystery movies must've been to sabotage this movie by making Koga, Sakura, and Hayabusa as unlikeable as possible in addition to being completely irredeemable.

This is a pretty minor fault and is cleanly overshadowed by the outstanding amount of kick-ass brutality found in this eighty-six minute gem of a Japanese exploitation movie.

Go, rent, be amazed.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Dawn Of The Dead - The Ultimate Edition (1978)

Dawn Of The Dead almost defies criticism. Its impact on pop culture is assured at this point, and any of the film's faults are certainly counterbalanced by its tremendous influence and ever-growing fanbase. It's a testament to the film's power that I just watched the film (in different forms) SIX times in the past week, and I still retain my strong affection for it. It might even have been reinforced.

I can't tell you how many times I saw Dawn Of The Dead as a teenager. My cousin and I used to watch it constantly, quoting lines at each other until even innocuous moments ("I saw it on a map!") attained hilarious charm. Even at that age I was aware that this was something more than your average horror film. It was something epic. Something apocalyptic. Something meaningful.

Even as a more well versed film viewer I still get a tinge of nostalgia from viewing it. I notice its flaws a lot more now. The sometimes dodgy acting. The cheap (and rapidly produced!) effects. The sometimes heavy handed themes. But it sucks me in every time. The story is that compelling, and George Romero's direction is as strong as its ever been.

It's the end of the world. The dead have come back to life (for an unspecified reason), and the world as a whole (or, at the very least, Pittsburgh) is having a hard time dealing with the hungry, flesh-eating hordes. While society goes down the tubes, rednecks gets kicks from hunting the ghouls like deer. Traffic helicopter pilot Stephen (David Emgee) and his girlfriend Fran (Gaylen Ross) are joined by SWAT team members Roger (Scott Reineger) and Peter (Ken Foree) as they attempt to escape the city. After landing on the helipad of a deserted shopping mall, the four rest briefly before taking the opportunity to explore the abandoned area (while dodging the hundreds of zombies still wandering the halls).

The quartet block off the entrances with trucks and lock down the doors before "going on a hunt", destroying the brain of any of the creatures that remain inside and stashing their bodies in the freezer. Then, with the mall to themselves they begin living a luxurious but empty lifestyle with all of their needs now fulfilled. Their peaceful existence is interrupted, however, when a roving gang of bikers spot the helicopter on the roof and storm the mall, leading to an intense and gory finale.

Dawn Of The Dead positions itself as a sequel to the classic Night Of The Living Dead, but besides the zombie antagonists and the recurring theme of a group of people holding up in a building surrounded by a growing number of the undead, the film is mining very different territory. Here the underlying (and sometimes in your face) themes have to do with commercialism and consumerism. The pale faced creatures claw at the glass windows of the mall, desperate to get in because "this was an important place in their lives". These packets of "motorized instinct" are positioned as sympathetic compared to the awful way that humanity is treating each other in the face of doomsday.

Much has been made of the levels of violence of the film, and with good reason. While positioned as a comic-book horror film, the violence is graphic and sometimes shocking. Particularly in the gut-munching finale, and in the initial SWAT-team raid. To Romero's credit he was never willing to cut the film to make it more palatable or marketable to the public. The world in which these characters live is a violent place. Romero is smart, however, to temper this violence with light comedic moments, even throwing in a zombie pie-fight before things go haywire at the end of the film.

There have been multiple versions of Dawn Of The Dead released on DVD, but Anchor Bay has gone all out with this release, truly earning its Ultimate Edition moniker. Four disks containing three versions of the film and two feature length documentaries, not to mention commentaries, trailers, photos and plenty more. This may be the final word on Dawn Of The Dead (but don't bet on it).

Disc 1 - The U.S. Edition

This is the 128 minute unrated version of the film championed by Romero as his preferred cut. The video quality of this version is absolutely pristine, and it's fully possible that the film has never been seen with this level of audio and visual clarity. Aside from the 70s fashions (which are on full display), the film could have been made yesterday. Much credit should be given to Michael Gornick, the director of photography on the film. It is, of course, presented in the film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio.

The disc has also been given a nice array of extras. The commentary has George A. Romero, Make-Up Effects Creator Tom Savini, and Assistant Director (and George's wife)Chris Romero and is moderated by Perry Martin, the DVD producer. Recorded in Romero's living room, this is a fascinating and insightful look at what turned out to be a historic and amazing shoot. You get a lot of detail about the troubles of shooting only nights for months on end, but also wonderful anecdotes about the production. Very worthwhile.

As well, we're treated to U.S. Theatrical trailers, television spots, radio spots, a poster and advertising gallery, a George Romero biography and a preview for the Dawn Of The Dead comic book (a mini-version of the first issue is included with the set).

Disc 2 - The Extended Edition

Often mistakenly referred to as a director's cut, this is actually the edit of the film that Romero created for the Cannes film festival and was created before he had a chance to finalize his choices. This version runs 139 minutes, and features a few extra scenes (most notably an expansion of the encounter with the police officers before the group takes off, including a few lines from Joe Pilato (Day Of The Dead)). There are a few extra scenes of violence, and a little more exposition, but it doesn't make a dramatic difference to the film as a whole. A worthwhile inclusion, but the theatrical cut remains snappier and superior.

Slightly inferior to the quality of the theatrical cut, the video quality is still on par with previous Anchor Bay releases of the film. Included on this disc is a cute (but odd) commercial for the Monroeville Mall (where most of the film takes place), production stills, behind-the-scenes photos and a memorabilia gallery. Also included is a feature length commentary from Dawn Of The Dead producer Richard P. Rubinstein, moderated by DVD Producer Perry Martin. Again, it's quite an interesting track, though decidedly more focused on the financial aspects of the film (as you would imagine). About half way through the focus goes onto the recent remake of Dawn Of The Dead and the track starts to dry up as Rubinstein attempts to justify it to what (at the time) was a pretty peeved fan-base. It ends with a diatribe about pirating, but for much of the running time it's a very informative track in regards to the devotion that Rubinstein had for giving George Romero as much creative freedom as possible.

Disc 3 - The European Version

I was particularly excited to view this 117 minute cut edited by Dario Argento (Suspiria, Deep Red) for European audiences. In reality, it could be argued that this cut was as influential as Romero's own, since the zombie boom in Italy (where Dawn Of The Dead was titled Zombie) was a direct result of this film's success. Deliberately losing some of the character development, Argento's cut is faster paced and includes considerably more music from the group Goblin, whom Argento collaborated with on the soundtrack. Some scenes (particularly the SWAT raid and biker attack) actually flow a little better in this version, though the personal moments are missed. Worth viewing for fans for countless bits that are unseen in other versions of the film.

Available on bootleg or import versions for years, this is likely the best the European cut of the film has ever looked. The image quality is on par with that of the extended cut of the film.

We're treated to a really fun commentary featuring actors David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger and Gaylen Ross who reminisce comically about their time making the film. Lots of great anecdotes and laughter pervade this track, though I was distracted by how much Scott Reiniger sounds like Crow T. Robot at times. A very worthwhile extra.

Also included are International theatrical trailers, television spots, lobby cards, a home video cover gallery, a poster and advertising gallery, a pressbook gallery, and a bio of Dario Argento.

Disc 4 - Documentaries

The fourth disc included the new 75 minute documentary The Dead Will Walk, featuring interviews with almost every major player involved with the making of the film (and a number of the zombie actors as well!). Lovingly assembled, the amount of affection the interviewees have for the films (and Romero!) is obvious. It repeats some information included in the commentaries (though, that should be expected), but seeing the participants so aware of their place in cinema history is a treat.

A more scholarly look at Romero and the making of Dawn Of The Dead, Roy Frumkes Document Of The Dead has been available for years as a separate film, but this is its first time packaged with the film it documents. Very rough, but featuring some invaluable footage shot during the making of the film, Document details Romero's career up to and including the making of Dawn, and details the filmic style that Romero had developed. A post-script section shows Romero on the set of the 1990 film Two Evil Eyes as he works with Tom Savini to perfect a gory death scene, and it's fascinating to be a fly on the wall witness to the often frustrating process of film-making.

We're also treated to some on-set footage shot by Zombie extra Robert Langer, who provides commentary over the silent footage. It provides a little more insight into the relaxed party-atmosphere of the mall while the film was being made.

Finally, we have a tour of the Monroeville Mall hosted by Ken Foree and featuring some of the Dawn Of The Dead cast. Fans looking for recognizable locations might be disappointed, but it's a terrific extra, and is filmed by horror FX maestro Greg Nicotero (KNB FX).

A triumph of ingenuity and superior movie-making, Dawn Of The Dead is a milestone in American horror film and has lost none of its power in the 30 years since its release. Made for a paltry $650,000, and put together completely away from the influence of a studio, it's a testament to the power of a single director's vision, and the loyalty he receives from the people who believe in him. An amazing and important film receives a deservedly epic box-set.