Saturday, February 28, 2009


Our memories are ghosts, our minds haunted houses. I stalk around mine every night, smoking cigarettes and pontificating, talking with my hands to the walls, stepping gingerly around the rooms that I've lived in, the girls I've loved, the girl I love, the people I've hurt. I have conversations with Mr. Murphy about the books that he told me to read. Last night I dreamed of my best friend from 8th grade, Rian. The last time I saw him he was bleeding onto my back porch and had a concussion. I step outside and it's the beach the sun blinding light. I remember the ocean, first and foremost, writing on the beach, thinking of myself as a novelist and not being sure why, exactly.

(Andrei Tarkovsky is, for me, the greatest filmmaker of all time; watching his films, akin to religious experiences. SOLARIS was the first that I saw, and the power that it has over me is incredible. From the first images and sounds of running water, to the final helicoptor shot of clouds and sky, it is an utterly flawless masterpiece of epic scope. Viewing the movie is a draining ordeal, something that I almost have to endure. I am not much for sentimentality and I hate love stories. I love that I can appreciate his work despite being on the other side of the metaphysical fence. His work is always humanistic, in spite of his Christian leanings, and he never rushes to judgement of Kelvin or his fellow scientists, despite at times taking science to task and questioning its utility in explaining the deepest problems of humanity. And things never get too dark, never drop off into utter despair. The film's ending is certainly ambiguious but one does not leave it with a sense of doom or gloom. Rather, Tarkovsky is suggesting that reality is open to interpretation, and seems to be saying that what is "real" to Kelvin may not be real to you or I, but just the same, he is entitled to live how and where he chooses. I love that Tarkovsky's work strives for the cosmos and never shies away from tackling the most troubling issues of morality and perception. At the same time, he grounds all of his musings in the hopes and losses of one lonely man who seems to have lost his purpose. I have one goal, and one goal only: to become the secular Tarkovsky.)

If I could live forever on an island made of memories it'd be just me and my brother and my second dog, Choo Choo.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The FALLOUT 3 Reviews: Gojira (1954) and THEM (1954) - Little Atoms, Big Monsters

"Did you see that? That was nothing, but that's how it always begins. Very small."

- Egg Shen (Victor Wong) from the John Carpenter classic, Big Trouble In Little China.

Individual phobias may vary, but human beings tend to fear two things universally: the unknown and the notion that one day something may be on a higher rung on the food chain than we are.

Few films encapsulate these elements better than the “atomic fables” of the mid to late 1950’s. In 1954, two significant films from this sub-genre were released nearly simultaneously and their influence is felt even to the present day.

Toho’s kaiju epic, Gojira (better known as Godzilla), and Warner Brothers’ blueprint for the big bug movie, THEM.

You really do have to marvel at the beauty of the respective formulae in both movies. Talk to any High School Biology teacher and they’ll give you a laundry list of implausibilities as to why there should be no such things as giant ants or rampaging radioactive dinosaurs, but these two masterpieces play on the fear of the atom so well that rational science goes straight out of the window.

To paraphrase Stephen King’s musing on Coleridge; disbelief isn’t light, it is heavy and the ability of these two movies to hook you in immediately is nothing short of astounding.

When the atom warps nature’s design, all hell breaks loose.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into it but as I re-visited these films recently, I had to wonder if the respective antagonists in these films were products of deliberate irony or just the result of some huge pitch meeting. I’d like to think that more thought went into the concepts, but I do tend to give the movie business credit for being smarter than it actually is.

Take the case of THEM.

Mankind facing extinction at the mandibles of giant ants is one of the best examples of role reversal ever. No one really remembers the last time they stepped on an ant because the run of the mill human being that isn’t an entomologist doesn’t place that much weight on the existence of such a lowly creature.

Respect comes from parity or the acknowledgment of inferiority, so when mankind finds out that it may have to compete for its status as dominant species, it stands up and takes notice.

Gojira is equally ironic. In the movie, our nuclear fire spouting antagonist is called everything from a dinosaur to a monster god, but for all intents and purposes it really does act like the dragons of yore.

The thing to note is that in most Asian cultures, dragons are wise, celestial creatures and Japanese dragons in particular tend to have a role as water deities that preserve and sustain life.

Gojira, however, acts like a traditionally European dragon that brings misery and death, as if to imply that the product of the Manhattan Project had the capability of not only corrupting nature but twisting traditional symbols from Japanese folklore.

One of the films I reviewed earlier for this project (Threads) tackles the subject of the destruction of culture as a result of an atomic war, so it is interesting to see Gojira (possibly without meaning to) pay lip service to this issue head on in 1954.

You also have to admire the frankness of both of these films. One of the most iconic scenes in movie history is the scene where the daughter of the dead FBI agent (Sandy Dresher) comes out of her near-catatonia (induced by watching her parents devoured by the ants) when Dr. Medford (Edmund Guenn) tries to revive the child by giving her a whiff of formic acid. (i.e. ants secrete formic acid as both an attack and defense mechanism).

Not only does Medford succeed in bringing the girl out of her stupor, but smell of formic acid also send the poor kid into a blind panic and she begins to scream, "Them!" over and over again. Absolutely blood chilling.

It's at that point when you begin to understand that ants as antagonists are great because the goddamn things are hell bent on the survival of the colony at the expense of any nearby humans regardless of age, race, or sex.

If the ants have to eat your children in order to survive, then so be it.

"Them" will not discriminate.

In retrospect, it was a pretty ballsy move on the part of Warner Brothers to simulate putting a child in peril like that, but the concept of "everyone as prey" drives the fright train with terrifying efficiency for many other sci-fi horror gems like THEM, such as The Blob (made in 1958 and featuring Steve McQueen in one of his first leading roles) and The Blob's superior 1988 reboot featuring Kevin Dillon and Shawnee Smith.

The monster known as Gojira is also an equal opportunity destroyer, but the true bravery of this film springs from the honest dialogue concerning nuclear proliferation.

In order to stop Gojira, it dawns on Dr. Daisuke Serizawa (the late, great Akihiko Hirata) that he will have to create a weapon far worse than the one that created Gojira in order to destroy the beast (the dreaded OXYGEN DESTROYER!), and wonders if the mere existence of this new weapon will only serve to hasten the destruction of the planet it is supposed to save.

Serizaiwa’s exposition about brinksmanship seems nearly prophetic when you look at the events to follow in the Cold War. As much as I love the Godzilla franchise, I am somewhat saddened by Toho converting Gojira from a mirror darkly into a superhero, because the first film really is a lot more profound than most people give it credit for.

In Gojira and THEM, there is a lot of message and morale behind the respective threats to civilization.

I suppose the most glaring difference in these movies is the portrayal of the military.

In the 50’s, the US Army enjoyed an unprecedented amount of respect as both World Wars solidified its role as savior of democracy. It was only fitting that the Army should be the ultimate protagonist that faced down any unnatural threat to mankind on the Silver Screen.

No matter if the Sci-Fi Golden Age film threat came from giant bugs, big lizards, or aliens in flying saucers, you could pretty much rest assured that Big Green would come out victorious in the end.

In THEM, you still have the military filling the role of protector of humankind, but by the same token you had Dr. Medford (Edmund Guenn) constantly making sinister insinuations about the ants serving as the US's comeuppance for creating the A-Bomb in the first place.

Bitter commentary, indeed. We had ourselves to thank for our pending doom because the ants were just as much our creation as the A-Bomb was.

In short, we asked to be eaten.

Gojira , on the other hand, takes a very cynical view of the military and conflict in general for that matter. No amount of conventional armed force is capable of stopping Gojira; he becomes less of a rampaging kaiju and more of a walking metaphor.

He is Mutually Assured Destruction given life. A colossal, fire-breathing, self-fulfilling prophecy.

As I mentioned before, there is also the intriguing philosophical undertone concerning the Oxygen Destroyer: the weapon used to kill Gojira.

Dr. Serizaiwa assumes (probably correctly) that the only redeemable trait about nuclear weapons is that they are so destructive that no one is foolish enough to use them for fear of obliterating themselves alongwith their enemies.

Serizawa's concern is that the Oxygen Destroyer will provide the world’s armies with the one thing they want most; a WMD with the destructive power of a nuclear weapon but without the nasty by-product of global annihilation..

Or so they think... After all, the damned thing works by splitting the atomic bonds in oxygen molecules, therefore making air unbreathable and fostering decay in cellular tissues.

It is the central message of "at what price?" that makes Gojira a powerful piece of work.

Regrettably, that message was swept away in the campy goodness of subsequent films in the series, but I'm not really complaining since I watch Destroy All Monsters (1968) at least once every three months.

I can’t imagine any serious schlock film buff not having seen either of these movies, but the uninitiated should definitely check out both of them. For those of you that have seen these films, perhaps this bit of analysis on my part will inspire you to watch these gems with a keener eye for the subtle.

Oh, and in case you're wondering about how this relates to Fallout 3, there is a quest in the game entitled THOSE! where the object is to stop a nest of fire-breathing giant ants from destroying a small settlement close to the DC ruins.

I don't think that it is coincidental that the opposition in the quest appears to be a gestalt of antagonists from two sci-fi movies released in the same year and dealing with creatures mutated by radiation, but again I may be overanalyzing things.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970)


Jaromil Jires’ Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is the type of film that most movie viewers think of when they hear the term “art house”: its foreign (and on top of that, its Czech, so it’s not even a “familiar” type of foreign); it is more concerned with the visual aspect of film than with storytelling; and it’s almost entirely inscrutable. People parodying foreign art house films might actually come up with something that is at least superficially similar to Valerie.

Do not take this description, though, to be a condemnation of the film. Indeed, the movie is far too beautiful to condemn, and too strange to dismiss. But you need to know what you’re getting yourself into.


The plot (as much as it can be discerned) is as follows: Valerie (Jaroslava Schallerova), thirteen years old and beautiful, has just begun to menstruate. Her brother (but is he her brother? It’s never clear) breaks into the home that she shares with her grandmother and steals her earrings while she is sleeping, only to return them, explaining to her that they are magical. That same day, the carnival arrives. Among the tumblers is a man who looks a lot like Count Orlok, who Valerie sees as a monster. Her grandmother seems to recognize the man. Throughout the rest of the film, this vampiric figure is identified as a constable, a priest, and (most importantly) Valerie’s father, but it’s never clear if he’s any of them.


And then things get weird. The stranger turns Valerie’s grandmother, willingly, into a vampire; a bunch of self-flagellating thugs chase off Valerie’s brother, at least for a while; the local priest tries to rape Valerie; etc., etc. The difficulty in following the film isn’t exactly in understanding what’s going on--there’s usually an explanation for everything, at least at some level--and you can follow the plot without causing yourself too many problems. The difficulty, such as there is, is one of interpretation. How, exactly, are you, the viewer, to interpret the events? Should they be understood as allegory (but allegory of what)? Should they be understood in some sort of psychoanalytic-symbolic sense? Is everything happening literal, and real--in the sense that the action of a horror movie, with monsters and all, is real? What are we to make of all of it?

Perhaps most worth noting, beyond its general strangeness, is the degree to which the film is saturated with sexuality. Little Valerie, having “become a woman,” finds herself desired by everyone--family especially. Her ‘brother’ is clearly sexually interested in her, as is the priest, the vampire, and her own grandmother. Not only does she become the object of desire, but she also becomes a desiring object, seemingly interested in everyone’s advances. Considering that Valerie, and the actress portraying her, is thirteen, you can add pedophilia to incest, when counting up the ways in which the film can make your skin crawl.


I’ve said that the film’s inscrutable. So, what’s to be made of all of this? I certainly can’t claim to be familiar with the source material (a novel by Vitezslav Nezval), nor am I comfortable discussing the history or culture of Czechoslovakia in 1970. However, my basic stab at interpreting the film goes like this: Valerie, having entered womanhood, is thrust into the world of sexuality. That sex can be mysterious and horrifying, when first encountered (or when only imagined), accounts (to some extent) for both the unexplainable and the more horrifying aspects of the film. The more incestuous elements arise, I believe, from a similar confusion--as a child, a kiss from her grandmother, holding hands with a boy, etc., was only exactly what it was. Sex complicates all of that. There is sensuality everywhere, and everything that was once neutered is now, potentially, sexual. It’s a whole new world, and the film attempts to visualize that.

And it is in the visual realm that Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is most powerfully felt. Many of the film’s stills could be framed and put up on a wall, to be admired. I can scarcely think of two other films where so much time and effort has so clearly been put into making everything beautiful. Each shot is framed with the utmost care, each scene carefully composed. It’s truly wondrous to watch; that is, if you can sit through it.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Bloody Nightmares #7: Catholic Ghoulgirls (2005)


It's fully possible that i've never seen a film that is so much less than the sum of its parts. Catholic Ghoulgirls squanders whatever goodwill it may have built through absolutely pitiful direction and editing, leaving very little worthy of praise. Director Eamon Hardiman proves to be an incompetent filmmaker, even compared to some of the meager talents featured in this collection. From lighting, to sound, to make-up, to acting, to writing and nearly everything in between, this is simply a poor effort.

Now I certainly didn't go into this film looking to beat up on it, so let's start with the good. I was impressed by the soundtrack throughout, composed almost entirely of local licensed punk music. In particular the opening credits song and a fun cover of The Ramones' "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" make welcome appearances. Also, one character kills a hipster zombie for wearing a Thundercats t-shirt despite not growing up in the 80s, which I took as a fun comment on the Hot Topic crowd. Unfortunately, this is just the beginning of the film straining for pop culture credibility by making superfluous references to G.I. Joe, The Littles, Turbo Teen and Stephen King's The Dark Tower which come off as sad attempts at geek legitimacy and have no relevance on the plot.


And speaking of the plot? Kasey, Becky and Maria are three Catholic.. umm.. Ghoulgirls who wear the requisite garb and hang around in alleys while their male friends sit around debating pop culture until they are attacked by zombies. Kacey's boyfriend Jake escapes and picks her up in his car suggesting that the two leave town because of the unexpected living dead problem. She's hesitant at first, but he gives her until sundown to prepare before dropping her off at her house. She gets a samurai sword somehow, and they all eventually end up at a bar (with a visible advertisement looking for zombies for this very movie in the background) until the boys get eaten and the girls end up in a basement. Please God make it stop.

Now I know what you may be thinking. Catholic schoolgirls with swords killing zombies? Sounds great! But let me assure you that incompetence reigns over even the cheapest thrills in this film. Dialogue is a garbled mess, often being drowned out by the soundtrack music or even ambient noise. The editing is so bad that there are visible black frames between cuts that appear throughout the entire duration. The action scenes are totally inept, the gore is non-existent besides some terrible fake blood, and the photography looks like someone's last known photo. It rings completely of a filmmaker relying on a concept and a title to do his work for him, and there's simply no excuse for this level of laziness.


And I haven't even mentioned the tasteless "satirical" Jew-bashing opening to the film (featuring the worst looking newscast since A Candle In The Dark) which makes no sense in the context of the film, as is never mentioned again. I suppose it may be some connection to Escape From The Dead, apparently the precursor to this film, though i'm not exactly chomping at the bit to check it out. Hardiman may have been aiming for the unabashed bad-taste of a Troma film, but comes off instead as simply hateful and ignorant.

Also, I just noticed that the title card at the end of the credits has the film's title spelled incorrectly. What a piece of garbage.


Catholic Ghou(l)girls is presented in a terrible looking full-screen transfer, but I can't imagine it's Mill Creek's fault. This thing just looks and sounds awful.

There are chapter stops included. I recommend skipping through them as quickly as possible.


Catholic Ghoulgirls is the worst sort of trash, preying on fans of genre cinema looking for some fun and putting in as little effort as possible to provide it. The cast are obviously game, but the production work is so poor that it ends up being nearly unwatchable. Stay far away from this one.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Bloody Nightmares #6: The Crawlspace (2006)


It's the Chris Schwartz show, starring Chris Schwartz! The Crawlspace is a cheapie riff on Saw, but more impressively it's almost entirely a one man show. Chris Schwartz directed, wrote, produced, edited, starred, did the make-up and effects, and even scored the film. Luckily, far from being an awful vanity project, Schwartz has made a slow but reliably entertaining horror flick that makes the most of a minuscule budget.

And it really is watchable. While the script is shaky (and sometimes a bit pretentious) and Schwartz's acting can be a little much, the simple concept makes for some easy suspense and, despite a few missteps, the camera work is quite solid. Shooting in such a confined space must have been a logistical nightmare, but for the first time in the collection it feels like some scenes were actually planned in advance. They might not always come off perfectly, but the preparation pays off.


The plot should sound familiar enough to modern horror fans. Mike (Chris Schwartz) wakes up to find himself trapped in a dank, disgusting crawlspace that is littered with junk. A phone-call reveals that Mike has been captured, and is now being watched, by the torturous "director", who gives him several challenges to perform in order to stay alive. The final challenge is a one on one confrontation between Mike and The Director, if he can manage to live that long.

Running only a little over fifty minutes, The Crawlspace never really gets a chance to wear out its welcome. While there are plenty of scenes of Mike wandering around in the dark, talking to himself, and crying out in pain, the action moves along nicely until the rather abrupt and unsatisfying conclusion. I won't spoil it, but the final confrontation misses the mark, though I was happy to see that there wasn't a twist shoehorned in at the last second.


The photography is consistently dark and filled with noise, though this can likely be blamed on a combination of bad lighting and bad equipment. While the grain actually adds to the atmosphere of the filthy interiors, the problems persist in the few outdoor scenes and the unnatural colors seem out of place.

I was actually quite impressed by the film's score (composed by Chris Schwartz. Duh). It's mostly moody guitar screeches, but it fits the tone of the film and underscores the many scenes of minor action without ever overpowering dialogue. Unfortunately the film's sound effects are more distracting, particularly an unfortunate phone static noise that is irritating throughout.


The full-screen video quality in The Crawlspace is occasionally glitchy, and certainly dark, but the lighting issues don't hurt the film significantly. As long as the film stays in the crawlspace audio tends to be fine (outside of the sound effects issues), but outside scenes run into some muffled dialogue.

We have chapter stops, again with no separate menu for them.


Quite an accomplishment considering the resources available, The Crawlspace keeps its aims low which leads to a much higher success rate compared to other films i've watched in this collection. While still quite flawed, and obviously plagued by the appropriate comparisons to Saw and the like, Chris Schwartz shows a lot of potential and i'm certainly interested to see what he has in store in the future.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Bloody Nightmares #5: Serial Killer (2002)


A few years before Demon Slaughter, Director Ryan Cavalline put together a much more serious take on the horror genre in Serial Killer. More of a meditation on the mind of a murderer than a straight stalk and slash type of movie, Cavelline nonetheless packs the film with naked ladies and a few familiar faces to Z-grade horror fans.

The film spends much of its running time cutting between Michael (Adam Berasi, also the lead in Demon Slaughter), a professional writer who has begun to receive violent videotapes after publishing a book on serial killers, as wel as the exploits of an unamed serial killer (Vic Badger) who has apparently captured Michael's wife and child. Also interspersed throughout are filmed testimonials from actors portraying serial killers, including low-budget legend Joel D. Wynkoop, as well as terrified statements from the serial killers (naked and tied up) victims. And guess what? There's a twist at the end! Try your best not to guess it in the first ten minutes.


At times Serial Killer is quite an unpleasant movie to watch, but unlike Nightmare Asylum this time it's actually intentional. The serial killers speaking to the camera, while sometimes unconvincing, provide some powerful and disturbing moments that, frankly, give the film more power than it deserves. The main plot leaves much to be desired, and while the serial killer scenes have some strong elements, it's a bit too grim and humourless to be entertaining. And while I appreciated the bevy of naked adult entertainers on display, their frequency began to feel more and more exploitive as the film went on, particularly when they detail their respective sexual assaults.

But despite my objections to some of the content, Cavelline was smart to edit these scenes in to break up some of the monotony of Michael's brooding. He spend much of the film drinking and looking dour which quickly starts to become tiring. It's also interesting that graphic violence is mostly avoided, at least until the end, which was a surprise after the goopy excess of Demon Slaughter.


I praised Adam Berasi's performance in Demon Slaughter, but here he's really quite unconvincing as a tormented writer. Much better is Vic Badger who hammed it up as Satan in Demon Slaughter, but his unhinged act works much better here. The serial killers on the interview tapes (which include producer Ron Bonk and z-horror mainstay Ron Ford) do their job efficiently, but it's Wynkoop who is most memorably creepy.

While it uses only a few locations, the technical aspects of the film are respectable. Aside from an ill chosen rock song during a cemetary scene, the music is very well done. Dialogue is usually intelligible, and the special FX are all tolerable, though again sometimes hurt by poor editing.


Though it's only a small detail, there was one particular moment of the film that felt quite careless. I was irked by Michael writing "Your Dead" on a note for an autograph seeking visitor. It's difficult to believe that a professional writer would make such a slip on Your/You're, and it's almost equally hard to believe that it ended up in the finished film without someone noticing.

Serial Killer is presented in a decent fullscreen transfer free of some of the pixelation issues that plague other films in the Bloody Nightmares collection. Luckily there are none of the sound issues which made Demon Slaughter so difficult to sit through.


A decent stab (ha!) at a difficult genre, Ryan Cavalline deserves credit for trying something a little different in Serial Killer, though he fails as often as he succeeds. Hampered by some bad performances and an uneven story, there are still enough effective and creepy moments throughout to make it a worthwhile watch. However, a bit more care with the production side of things could have resulted in a much stronger film.

Bloody Nightmares #4: The River: Legend of La Llorona (2006)


Filmed over six days, Terrence Williams' The River: Legend Of La Llorona abandons the normal cheap gore effects of low budget horror in order to tell a dreamy, often effective, ghost story. While the budget limitations are always evident, he almost pulls it off until a cluttered climax (featuring some god-awful bluescreen effects) hurts what was up to that point an enjoyably creepy effort.

The film (and its two sequels) deals with the Spanish legend of La Llorona or "The Weeping Woman" which is helpfully explained during the opening credits with the help of a few illustrations and narration. The gist is that an old crone haunts the riverside looking for children because, years back, she murdered her own in a fit of jealousy before killing herself. In this story we follow Miguel (Will Morales), a young thug who has been hired to bring back the runaway Luciana (Carrie Wallace) by her father. After narrowly missing a young boy and crashing his car, Miguel wanders to a nearby hotel where strange things begin to happen almost immediately. Eventually we discover that Luciana is apparently the child of La Llorona, and her father (and sister Ann Marie) want her dead to end the curse. Much ghostly doings transpire, and there's a pretty decent twist at the end before things get silly in the final five minutes.


Williams' biggest strength as a director is an obviously clear vision of what he wants to see onscreen. Early scenes with Miguel wandering confused are legitimately eerie, and a dream sequence featuring a character hanging himself (from a ceiling fan?) is disconcerting though suffers from some bad acting. Considering the pace at which is had to have been filmed, Williams is able to tell a solid story.

That said, the film would have been elevated greatly by better acting and a more polished script. Will Morales is fine, and obviously has more chops that the rest of the cast, but some of the performances are a tad embarrasing. Denise Gossett as Mary, Luciana's mother, is particularly bad, though it's Mary Sanchez as Ann Marie who does the most damage. She's fine throughout most of the film, but her final scenes feel rushed and are quite difficult to understand.


While the movie's atmosphere is well served by the score, occasionally it overpowers the dialogue, which hurts a lot in a feature as talky as this. And while the film takes place at night, lighting was obviously a problem throughout and several scenes feature excessive video noise from attempts to brighten them.

As mentioned, though most of the film takes places in a small hotel, when the characters eventually leave things take a turn for the worse. We rapidly get some scenes featuring some egregiously bad (and seemingly unnecessary, since they are purely dialogue) blue-screen effects which are just awful. The final scene with Miguel and Ann Marie is supposed to feel tense and climactic, but instead is merely laughable.


The River: Legend of La Llorona is presented in a full-screen transfer that is likely the most consistent of the collection so far. Occasionally scenes feel a little washed out, but it's never difficult to recognize the action on the screen. There are occasional sound issues, particularly when paired with music, but the dialogue (outside of the final scene) can usually be heard clearly.


While I can't say i'm interested in seeing two more films based on the La Llorona legend, I do respect Terrence Williams (and his wife Nicole) for treading some new ground with this low budget effort. It still has some significant flaws, but shows definite promise and i'm interested to see future films from Cinema Threat Productions.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Bloody Nightmares #3: Nightmare Asylum (1992)


An entirely unpleasant viewing experience, Todd Sheet's Nightmare Asylum strongly resembles a particularly violent high school play being performed in a haunted house, but with little of the entertainment value that might suggest. Every line is shouted, punches miss by a foot, and generally everyone just seems embarrassed to be involved. Sheets has spoken of his affection for Italian horror directors like Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci, but this effort is artless and (even worse) tedious despite its hour running time.

To create the proper nightmare atmosphere for his film, Sheets has made a conscious choice to nearly completely avoid a plot. We follow Lisa (Lori Hassel) as she wanders from room to room in a demented funhouse (with wax museum!), occasionally being pestered by a creepy family (and their son Spider) or terrorized by a group of killers who are intent on dispatching people in the messiest way possible. There's plenty of corn syrup and organ meat on display, and it frankly gets to be a tad nauseating. Eventually, the big baddies (think a really talkative Leatherface with long blond hair and his mullet zombie sidekick) drag everyone to the zombie pit (not as fun as it sounds) before we're treated to not one, but two shitty fake-out endings.


According to the credits, Nightmare Asylum was filmed at The Devil's Dark Side Haunted House. It looks like a lot of fun. It has a wax museum ("Look, it's Pinhead! Cool, Linda Blair from The Exorcist!"), and a creepy morgue and all sorts of gory fun. However, it is not a movie set, and while Sheets gets plenty of mileage out of colored lights and fog machines, the rest of production is painful to sit through. While the cast is obviously speaking as loud as possible, it's only occasionally intelligable which makes long scenes of dialogue (much of which seems to have been made up on the spot) a garbled mess.

There is plenty of gore, including a severed tongue, guts being strewn about, and a stick being shoved up an ass and out a mouth, but it's all ineptly filmed or sabotaged by choppy editing. Occasionally a scene will be broken up by a seemingly random shot of a part of the haunted house, but such moments (along with the predominance of lit Exit signs) tend to remind the viewer of just how cheap looking the production is.


The acting is terrible, though Matthew Lewis as Spider at least seems to be trying, even if what he's trying to do is annoying. The nastiest of the baddies (Blonde Leatherface and his Mullet friend) have intolerably long scenes together, and the rare occasions when you can understand what's being said ("Oh, your aching banana! Well, my aching cumquat you piece of dookie!"), may make you long for the times that it's incomprehensible.

Make-up is mostly of the white face-paint variety, and the special effects are what you would expect from a Halloween haunted house. We get a few zombies at the end, but by then even viewers with the strongest fortitude will be crying out in pain.


Nightmare Asylum appears to have been shot on a camcorder, and it has a comparable image quality to low budet porno of the era. The Bloody Nightmares DVD transfer appears to come directly from a home video release, even including the FBI warning at the beginning. There are a few small glitches throughout, but considering the awful production as a whole it would seem petty to pick on them.

Almost the entire soundtrack is taken up by what seems to be a ten second loop from a quite familiar piece of soundtrack music. It's invasive, and seems to have been placed at random. There are some other original pieces of music that appear throughout composed by Enochian Key or Sheets himself, but it serves mostly to drown out dialogue. Thankfully.


On his website, Todd Sheets refers to himself as a "master of splatter". I respectfully disagree. From looking at his filmography, it seems like the films of Mr. Sheets appear again in this collection. After watching Nightmare Asylum, i'm suddenly starting to worry about what i've gotten myself into.

Oh so very bad.

Shura (1971)


Shura begins with the setting of the sun. It is the last time color, or the light of day, will enter into the world of the film. Only darkness remains.

Certainly Toshio Matsumoto’s Shura is a dark film. In fact, that’s an understatement; in Shura, light has ceased to exist. Darkness encloses the actors, and the sets. Each and every shot seems to be crafted in such a way that the screen is almost 50% black. This striking visual scheme certainly fits the mood, which is one of utter desolation and despair.


Gengo (Katsuo Nakamura) is a broke ronin, living with one loyal retainer in a Spartan house with bare walls. He’s sold everything he owns, except his sword, seemingly to “keep” a woman, a low-level geisha named Koman (Yasuko Sanjo) with whom he has fallen in love. In actuality, he is a samurai named Soemon, who needs all the money he can get to pay off a 100 ryo debt. In doing so, he can return to favor with his lord and join 47 other ronin--the 47 samurai (or loyal ronin) of Japan’s national legend.

The catalyst which causes the ensuing tragedy comes when the ronin’s retainer, Hachiemon, arrives with the 100 ryo Gengo needs to buy his way back into the honorable vendetta. It's always money, isn't it? Sango (Juro Kara), a beneficiary of Gengo’s patronage, shows up immediately after this, explaining that Koman is going to be sold to another samurai. Her cost? 100 ryo.

To get to the point: Gengo, after much prodding, spends the 100 ryo he so desperately needs, in order to save Koman, who agrees to marry him. But, there’s a problem. Koman can't be married, at least, not again. Sango is actually Koman’s husband. The two of them have played Gengo, and in doing so have stripped him of his love, his money, and his honor.

Gengo doesn’t take this well.


Though he’s initially ruined by the revelation, Gengo soon comes to realize the extent of the dishonor that's been done to him. The rest of the film details Gengo’s all-consuming quest for vengeance, and it does so with bleak, powerful visuals that seem to bring into clear focus the true horror of violence.

To the average viewer of samurai cinema, Gengo’s initial actions hardly seem beyond the pale. He is, after all, a samurai, a member of a cast distinguished by its two swords and its exclusive franchise on violence. That he chooses to wield his swords against those who wronged him seems quite in keeping with the cinematic samurai tradition.

Not so fast, says Matsumoto. Violence is not a clean, sanitized event, and vengeance can never truly be justified. As Gengo becomes consumed by his fury, he becomes less and less a man, and more a demon. When people die by his sword, they die terribly, and the graphic and intense depictions of their deaths only reinforces the brutality of Gengo’s “justice.”


Matsumoto is primarily an experimental filmmaker, with the vast majority of his work done in the genre of the short film. Only four times, to my knowledge, did he make full length features. He’s probably most well known (this is a relative term) as the director of Funeral Parade of Roses, the film that (supposedly) inspired Stanley Kubrick when he made A Clockwork Orange. While Shura is a very straightforward story, elements of Matsumoto’s background in experimental film seem to find their way in. The film is certainly shot by someone who is just as concerned with the visual look as he is with the story itself.

While Shura never dips off into total surrealism, the film remains oneiric throughout. The viewer is never absolutely sure that what he is seeing is actually taking place, or if it is actually a dream. After all, the film starts with a precognitive dream, and more than once the film depicts the contents of Gengo’s mind--how he hopes things might play out--as though they were real. Finally, it’s never really certain if Gengo is becoming “demon-like” with his actions, or if it should be understood like a horror movie, in that Gengo is actually becoming a monster. In a sense, it hardly matters; the evil wrought by Gengo is the evil wrought by man, and the evils against him (there are plenty) are certainly human as well.

To date, Shura doesn’t have a DVD release (that I know of) outside of Asia. It’s a shame, really. Hopefully Masters of Cinema, who released Funeral Parade of Roses in Britain, might look into this one in the future. It would certainly be worth it.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Bloody Nightmares #2: Demon Slaughter (2003)


Now this is more like it. High in ambition but low in production values, Ryan Cavalline's Demon Slaughter has the good sense to hide its shortcomings under layers of gunplay, gore and strategically placed nudity. Of course it all looks terrible, but it's never boring and it certainly looks like it was a lot of fun to make.

Meet Jimmy. He's a complete dick of a gangster looking for a way out of his life of crime. After killing his mistress (and some hired goons), he heads to the crime-bosses' hideout (aka A Bar) and blows everyone away before demolishing the place with a grenade. Unfortunately the bossman thought this might happen and dispatched a few thugs to kill Jimmy's wife before he got there. He finds her in a pool of blood and takes a moment to mourn before being beaten senseless by a couple of baddies. Somehow getting away, he high tails it to a cabin in the woods where he starts going a little wacky and meets a Satanish gentleman. Apparently he wants to recruit Jimmy to his army of the dead. We get the requisite low-rent Evil Dead references before the place is overrun (actually, around seven) with zombies who have messy faces but surprisingly clean shirts. Jimmy blows them away before axing Satan who melts away in a nice computer effect. But Satan has a surprise! *spoiler* The goons who murdered Jimmy's wife actually killed him as well, and it looks like being attacked by zombies in a run-down Cabin is actually his eternal damnation. Uh oh, spaghettiOs.


While Demon Slaughter wears its influences (and its flaws) on its sleeve, there are still a number of irritating things that shouldn't have slipped by even in a low budget effort. The gunshot sound effects get particularly repetitive, and when you have as much gun-play as this (thanks to a combination of airsoft guns & really fake looking muzzle flashes) it's hard not to notice. It would also have been nice if the gunshots appeared to do damage to the surroundings. The gunfight in the bar features hundreds of bullets being fired, but the place still looks pristine afterward. Just a little bit of faked damage could have gone a long way.

But the biggest flaw may have nothing to do with Ryan Cavalline's production. Several times throughout the film the sound drops out, sometimes for several minutes, with dialogue, music and sound effects becoming totally inaudible. This could very well be an issue with the DVD mastering, so it may be unfair to hold it against the movie. It's definitely distracting, however, and takes away from the experience.


The acting is, as usual, a mixed bag. While he swears ridiculously frequently, Adam Berasi as Jimmy does a serviceable job in the lead, though he fares much better at being a gangster than at the sillier horror elements in the film's second half. The make-up is equally inconsistent, with the demons (like our red friend above) looking quite decent, while the zombies look like they were thrown together a little too quickly. There's plenty of blood on display, but the gore is mostly shown in flashes and i'm pretty sure I saw some halloween rubber eyeballs in a pile of goo. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

The camera work is fine when sticking to handheld shots, but when trying to do anything more complicated (like aping the Evil Dead "shakycam"), things look a bit more ragged. There is also an overreliance on flashy transitions, particularly when moving into the dream sequences or flashbacks, that look amateurish. The film is almost entirely shot in daylight, which thankfully helps to avoid many of the lighting problems which plague other low budget productions.


The Bloody Nightmares DVD set presents Demon Slaughter in what was likely its original fullscreen aspect ratio. Any significant movement brings a lot of artifacting onscreen, and there's often significant pixelation, but it's all completely watchable. Outside of the mentioned issue with sound drop-outs, the dialogue and sound effects come through reasonably clear. The original music for the film is quite good, and the film also features a few song contributions for the scenes of carnage.

No extras except chapter selections, though they do not get a seperate menu on the DVD.


Fun, though shoddy, low budget crime/horror/comedy that makes for an enjoyable hour for fans. The effects are plentiful, though rough, and there's blood and a bit of pixilated nudity in a brief dream sequence. Certainly not scary, but offers a few thrills for less discriminating genre fans.

This trailer shows all the most fun effects. Enjoy.