12/26/2010

DARK STARS RISING by Shade Rupe – Book Review


review by
Dejan Ognjanovic

Dark Stars Rising: Conversations from the Outer Realms
Author: Shade Rupe
Format: Paperback
Size: 218x157mm
Page Count: 568
ISBN-13: 9781900486699

 
Though unrelated to Lovecraft, in spite of the allusive title, Dark Stars Rising is a true Necronomicon, a Black Bible of transgression and transcendence, of the Other and the Beyond. Big words, I know, but this is a big book – big in every sense. More than 560 pages of large format (8 of them in glorious color) are crammed with 27 long interviews with some of the most daring fringe artists in various modes of the One & Only True Art: that of pushing Boundaries! Whether they're expressing themselves through directing, producing and starring in movies, or their respective modes include photography, music, magic, self-torture, stand-up comedy, performance etc. – all of them share a rare passion and total devotion to their Art, and revealing talks with these "dark stars" are nothing short of inspirational.
            Dark Stars Rising reveals a candid and warm side of Divine, the inimitable star of John Waters's trash epics and puts a new light on erotic death trips of Richard Kern's photos and short films. Udo Kier, another cult star of high camp, shows off more lucidity, humor and insight than many of his better known colleagues. Jim Vanbebber talks about the low budget splatter of his Chunk Blower, My Sweet Satan and Charlie's Family, while Buddy Giovinazzo (Combat Shock, Life is Hot in Crack town) rises from a similar background of shoestring moviemaking to reveal his deals with Troma and why Maniac 2 (with Joe Spinell, again) never happened. 
The mystical insights are oozing from the thorough, career spanning and thought-provoking interviews with the masters of (oc)cult cinema like Alejandro Jodorowsky and Richard Stanley, while the somewhat academic, yet still down-to-earth and funny Dennis Paoli bares all about his collaborations with Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator, From Beyond, Castle Freak, etc.). Chas. Balun, veteran of horror-zines, and Johannes Schonherr, critic, festival programmer and author of Trashfilm Roadshows: Off the Beaten Track with Subversive Movies (also from Headpress) uncover the varieties of extreme cinema from around the world. French provocauteur Gaspar Noe is here, too, to put his Argentinean background in perspective with French influences in making the angry movies like I Stand Alone and Irreversible
William Lustig talks about Uncle Sam, Maniac Cop films and how he almost directed True Romance. Crispin Glover unveils his uniquely schizophrenic position of alternating between the blockbusters (Back to the Future, Charlie's Angels) and personal, offbeat projects (What is it?). Tura Satana, the memorable busty star of Russ Meyer's Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! offers a surprising amount of brains, emotion and attitude behind the appearance of a fetishized, objectified (or is she?!) woman with big boobs and even bigger personality. Authors Peter Sotos and Dennis Cooper talk about the extreme topics of their controversial books (homosexuality, serial killers, pedophilia, pornography etc.) while Hermann Nitsch, the legendary Vienna activist of gory and scatological performances (some featured in the cult classic, Dusan Makavejev's Sweet Movie) talks about transcending the body by immersing into its tissues and liquids. Etcetera, etcetera.
            These are just some of the unique creators whose words and images grace this Book of Transgressions. And, talking about images: if you expect your typical talking-heads book, with huge chunks of dull black-on-white text and an occasional ordinary photo of the artist thoughtfully looking into the distance, think again! This is a Headpress book, which means that it is lovingly designed (by David Kerekes) with an almost incredible amount of photographs and stills (some of them exclusive, never seen before), diagrams, esoteric and other symbols, all of which not only accompany but also embellish, extend and further explain the words around which they grow. The wonderful design merges the word and text in such a manner as to provide an even closer look into the idiosyncratic world of each specific artist so that whatever is lost on the way to the page (like, the artist's voice, manner of speech, the aura of his/her surroundings etc.) is more than recovered through the lavish visuals which augment their words. These images almost literally burst from the paper in a subliminal, psychedelic manner, spilling from the edges of the pages into your surroundings and into your brain – altering them so that after reading this book you can't be the same person as before. The trippy cover art by Howard Forbes also helps immensely.  
The enthusiasm expressed by these dark stars is contagious, and reveals new constellations of a parallel, far more interesting universe which thrives beyond the dull, fabricated facade of shallow "films" and fake "artists" boasting the covers of mainstream books and magazines. Shade Rupe, as the author of all interviews, has done an excellent job of probing into the essence of what these subversive minds are all about, and his knowing but modest presence allows these stars to shine without the obtrusive "me! me! me! look at how much I know!" stance which mars so many otherwise interesting interviews. His balanced questions manage to provoke his subjects into giving what must be some of the best interviews in their respective careers, and this certainly applies to the thorough and more than honest ones by Alejandro Jodorowsky, Udo Kier, Dennis Paoli, Tura Satana, Peter Sotos, Genesis P-Orridge, Gaspar Noe, Richard Stanley and Crispin Glover. 
I wouldn't want to sound like a plant, but in trying to curb my enthusiasm for this book by finding a fault with it, I couldn't come up with anything other than the fact that some of the interviews are not so fresh (a few are a decade or more old). However, in most instances like that, what is being said is so worthwhile that even references to then-contemporary plans and intentions do not take away from what's really important and timeless. In the book's commendable "the more – the merrier" attitude, on top of all 27 interviews and all the amazing imagery, there are 50 pages of Shade Rupe's reviews of books and films directly or indirectly relevant to the stars interviewed previously, and they adequately complement what precedes them. Hopefully, they'll help to educate and initiate the novices into the parallel universe of films, books and art that many may not be aware of.
Dark Stars Rising is a perfect holiday gift: just make sure you don't give it to your grandmother or to a relative or friend of any kind of orthodox persuasion or taste, because the book itself is as provocative and boundary-pushing as the artists it covers. There is movie gore, splattered bodies and zombies; there is real (animal) blood and animal carcasses (in Herman Nitsch's sessions); there is frontal nudity, both female and male, not all of it in the conventionally erotic context (sewn pussy; animal brains and innards around a penis; suggestive though non-explicit kiddie photos; morbid attractiveness of skeletons, pregnant beauties and dead chicken, etc.); there are images at the same time titillating, repulsive and strangely ambiguous…
Just like the Necronomicon, this book is not for everyone. After seeing its table of contents and reading this review you'll know who you are. Invoke often, but carefully, from the pages imprinted by these dark stars!
 
            This review originally published at Beyond Hollywood.

12/21/2010

100 BEST EUROPEAN HORROR FILMS


edited by Steven Schneider
British Film Institute, London, 2007

I had the honor to give a small contribution to this excellent selection by, first suggesting a film to the editor, and then writing about it. The title in question is the only Serbian film included in this prestigeous company - Déjà vu (Već Vidjeno, 1987) by Goran Marković.
Here is the list of all the films included, accompanied by MY RATINGS for each title – those are the usual Ghoul ratings, from Worthless (*) to Masterpiece (*****).


Anatomy
**(*)

Angst
****

Autopsy
**(*)

Awful Dr. Orloff, The
**

Beast, The
***

Bell of Hell, The
***

Beyond the Darkness
***

Beyond, The
***(*)

Bird with the Crystal Plumage, The
***

Blood and Black Lace
***

Blood and Roses
**(*)

Blood Splattered Bride, The
**(*)

Bloody Pit of Horror
**(*)

Cabinet of Dr. Calgari, The
****

Cannibal Ferox
***

Cannibal Holocaust
****

Cannibal Man
**(*)

Castle of Terror, The
***

Church, The
***

City of the Living Dead
***(*)

Curse of the Devil
**

Dark Waters
****

Daughters of Darkness
****

Day of the Beast, The
****

Deep Red
****

Deep River Savages
**

Déjà vu (Već Vidjeno)
***(*)
 
Dellamorte Dellamore
****

Demons
***

Diabolical Dr. Z, The
**(*)

Diaboliques, Les
**(*)

Don't Torture a Duckling
**(*)

Door with Seven Locks, The
**

Eyeball
**

Eyes Without a Face
****

Fascination
**(*)

Four Flies on Grey Velvet
***

Funny Games
***

Girl Who Knew Too Much, The
**

Golem, The
****

High Tension
****(*)

Horrible Secret of Dr. Hichcock, The
***

Hour of the Wolf
***

House that Screamed, The
**(*)

House with Laughing Windows, The
***

Hunchback of the Morgue
**(*)

In a Glass Cage
****

Inferno
***(*)

Kill, Baby…Kill
***(*)

Laurin
**(*)

Let Sleeping Corpses Lie
***

Lips of Blood
**(*)

Lisa and the Devil
***

Malefique
***

Man Bites Dog
*****

Mark of the Devil
**

Mark of the Wolfman, The
**

Mask of the Demon
****

Mill of the Stone Women
***

Nameless, The
***

Nekromantik
***

Next!
**(*)

Nightwatch
***

Nosferatu
*****

Nosferatu the Vampyre
****

Opera
***

Ordeal, The
**(*)

Orgy of the Vampires
**(*)

People Who Own the Dark, The
**(*)

Perfume of the Lady in Black
***

Possession
****

Rabid Grannies
**

Raisins of Death
**

Return of the Wolfman
**

Schramm
***

Seven Blood-Stained Orchids
***

Short Night of Glass Dolls
***

Spirits of the Dead
***

Stendhal Syndrome, The
***

Succubus
**

Suspiria
****

Tenant, The
****

Tenebre
***

The Lift
**

Thesis
***(*)

Tombs of the Blind Dead
**(*)

Torso
**(*)

Twitch of the Death Nerve
***

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders
***

Vampires, The
***

Vampyre
****

Vanishing, The
***

Vij
**(*)

What Have You Done to Solange?
**

Whip and the Body, The
****

White Reindeer
***

Who Saw Her Die?
**(*)

Witch, The
***

Zeder
****

Zombie Flesh Eaters
***

12/04/2010

ISOLA: MULTIPLE PERSONALITY GIRL (2000)


Country: Japan
Genre: Horror
Running Time: 93'
Producer: Masato Hara
Director: Toshiyuki Mizutani
Cast: Yoshino Kimura, Yû Kurosawa, Ken Ishiguro

GHOUL RATING: ** (2)


Story: This film's background is a real event, the earthquake which devastated the city of Kobe in January of 1995. Yukari Kamo (Yoshino Kimura) finds herself in Kobe, and offers her help in a shelter for the recently homeless victims of the quake. Her ability to read other people's minds is anything but welcome but, as it turns out, might come handy when she comes across Chihiro Moritani (Yu Kurosawa), who has a multiple personality syndrome. Out of the 13 characters inhabiting her brain one seems to be a murderous entity which calls itself Isola, apparently after a vengeful character from the collection of classic ghost stories UGETSU MONOGATARI. Several deaths later it seems that people who cross Isola's past are bound to die in some very unusual ways. Further research into her past discovers a certain scientific experiment which may have started it all. It will also provide another possible explanation for the killing-personality's name, as it has to do with an ISOLAtion chamber in a nearby institute…


Review: ISOLA starts nicely enough. It opens with a real horror, the Kobe earthquake (several shots only: don't expect large-scale sensational set-pieces of destruction, as this is a rather low budgeted film, and it shows). Then it introduces its troubled outcast characters, and appears to be a character driven horror. Sadly, this impression does not last, and the film quickly progresses into a muddled, conventional and shallow exercise in déjà vu. In the context of ISOLA's rather pulpish denouement, the Kobe documentary-footage prologue seems a bit arbitrary, and questionable as well. Using a real-life tragedy, including actual shots of destruction and desperate people in the streets, for the sake of… what? Elevating a conventional and undercooked horror flick?
            A slow build-up at first seems OK, as the film appears to be about some people. However, their plights are soon forgotten and pushed aside while the storyline becomes more muddled, convoluted, uninteresting and… just plain boring. There are very few kills: one is a grotesque, (un)intentionally funny suicide of a girl who drowns herself by submerging her face in the toilet (!). The other is a somewhat more interesting ghost-induced suicide in which a professor who slapped Isola ends up jamming a bunch of chopsticks into his own neck, with a predictably strong (and so typically Japanese) geyser of blood spurting on unsuspecting customers of a diner (one of whom is Takashi Miike in a blink-and-miss cameo)! Other than those two scenes, the horror part is woefully underwhelming.
            For a film that boasts the subtitle of a "multiple personality girl", it does not use the tiniest shred of this rarely found concept. We barely see ONE of those personalities, far from all THIRTEEN! The trials and tribulations of having all those people in your head… that sounds like an interesting idea for a good movie, but this is not the one. Nothing is really made with that: all we see is a cute girl (Akira Kurosawa's grand-daughter, Yu Kurosawa) bullied by her schoolmates and teachers, and small glimpses of Isola behind that. Pity for the wasted potential of some intriguing drama.
            There's another fine concept wasted here: the sensory-deprivation chamber for inducing hallucinations in whoever is submerged in a solution which renders the body weightless and deprived of any sensations from the outside world, thus making space for those from inside. A great idea lifted from some actual scientific experiments, interestingly used in Ken Russell's extravagant ALTERED STATES. Sadly, it was not all that inspiring for Mr. Mizutani, the director of this flick. The isolation chamber's organic design is an improvement over the ugly, angular one from Russell's film, but that's as far as the inspiration has gone. The psychological and mystical trappings of this device are avoided altogether, while even the cinematic ones are barely touched upon.
            The plodding direction brings everything to a conventional, derivative conclusion which will only leave you shrugging your shoulders – provided you're still awake as the end credits roll. Therefore, ISOLA is recommended only for die-hard fans of J-horror: it does show some potential, and there are interesting ideas and bits to be found here, but very little is done with them.
            ISOLA is now available as a part of THE KADOKAWA HORROR COLLECTION, a four-disc set with variable contents. Other titles in it have already been reviewed separately at this blog: SHIKOKU is the best among them  since it is the creepiest and most intriguing (although my colleague's review will lead you to believe otherwise); INUGAMI is another example of a great concept wasted for an artsy, dull movie, partly saved by its eye-candy use of stunning Japanese woods and mountains; in this company ISOLA is slightly better only when compared to the surprisingly shallow SHADOW OF A WRAITH (surprising - because WRAITH was directed by Toshiharu Ikeda, the man behind EVIL DEAD TRAP).

11/16/2010

STICENIK (The Protected One, 1973)

 
Directed by:
Djordje Kadijevic

Production:
Radio Television Belgrade, 1973

Running time:
46 min. (16 mm, b/w)

Screenplay:
Djordje Kadijevic,
based on a story by
Philip David

Director of photography:
Branko Ivatovic

Music and sound:
Milan Trickovic

Make up:
Lepa Prvanovic

Starring:
Milan Mihailovic
Dusan Janicijevic
Branko Plesa
Bogdan Jakus
Ljubomir Cipranic
Toma Kuruzovic
Svetlana Dragojevic


PLOT: A young man is running through the desolate area, surrounded by sand and an occasional blackened, barren tree, apparently fleeing from someone. He is followed by a man with a cold expression, wearing a black mantle. The young man reaches the large building of an asylum and requires the doctor to receive him and take care of him. He introduces himself as Michael, but refuses to say anything more about his persecutor. He denies hints that he may be sick, and believes that he does not need treatment, but only care and protection. The doctor is initially skeptical, but there is a shadow of a doubt because he himself saw, or thought he saw, someone who had followed Michael to the very asylum. 

The second time, the follower comes into the asylum's yard and heads towards the building. The doorman stops him, claiming that it is not time for visits, but the Man just grabs him by the neck and throws him down to the ground. He leaves only when the screams attract attention of the rest of the staff and patients.
One morning, a doctor walks through the foggy wasteland, when he encounters the pursuer, seeking his protege back. He claims to be Michael's guardian. Michael has escaped him but, allegedly, he needs the kind of care that the doctors are unable to provide. The nameless "guardian" threatens a gloomy outcome if his protege is not delivered back to him...

REVIEW: The Protected One is another example of Djordje Kadijevic's skills in mature adaptation of a literary work so that, in his interpretation, it becomes even more complex, with the potential developed to the utmost. The literary text becomes only a point of departure for an intelligent and inspired author's superstructure, fully colored with Kadijevic's trademark style, but basically true to the original. This personal touch can be seen, among other things, in the very title: none of Kadijevic's horror adaptations (The She-Butterfly, The Maidenly Music and A Holy Place) is called by the title of stories they were inspired by ("After 90 Years", "Alpurarian Music", "Viy"). This freedom is fully deserved, because of the originality and seriousness evident in the director's approach.
The story "Michael and His Cousin" by Philip David originates from a collection of short stories A Well in the Dark Woods (1964). The central theme, in all of them, concerns man's inability to transcend earthly limitations and penetrate into the beyond. This is perhaps most explicitly present in the story "A Blind Bird," about a man obsessed with becoming a bird and flying away from his empty life. At the same time, stories of this collection speak of fascination with "the dark side" and inability to resist the metaphysical darkness, especially apparent in the collection's titular short story, in which a father fails to rescue his son from the mysteriously magnetic attraction of a well in the dark forest which no one else can see. "Michael and His Cousin" also falls into this thematic circle since it deals with inability of escaping one's destiny. David's story is merely nine pages long in print, and hardly comparable to a sketch. Kadijevic is inspired by this sketch to apply his paintbrush and make a detailed artwork worthy of Francisco de Goya.  
Narrated from the perspective of an unnamed doctor, the story begins in a dark, stormy night when a mysterious fugitive enters the doors of asylum. In Kadijevic's film, it happens in broad daylight. True, this is a gray, overcast fall day filled with howling winds. In this author's films the day is as often the scene of horror as is the night, and he manages to create some of his most memorably spooky effects of his films in their daytime scenes. Even if these proceedings are, to some extent, due to the limitations of a cheap TV production and difficulties related to night shooting, the fact remains that Kadijevic has no problem circumventing this obstacle and finding terror in the cold daylight. This is actually closer to the point of David's prose, in which the light of day does not bring salvation.
Certainly the key moment in the story and the film version is the relationship between the young man and his pursuer. The true nature of the follower has intentionally been left foggy in both cases. In the story's title he is referred to as a "cousin", and later references describe ''a slender, elongated inhuman and swift figure'', ''unknown creature", ''a stranger'', ''persecutor'', "mysterious, tyrannical, parasitic creature'', ''unknown master", ''ghostly man'', ''phantom'' and so on.  
The origin of this creature remains unclear, but subtle allusions suggest that he is most likely the Devil, who came for his due, for the soul of the one who unwisely, and perhaps unknowingly, sold it into predition. In any case, it is clear that the relationship with the "relative" does not come from blood ties, but that their connection is of a more intangible, more sophisticated nature. It is a relationship of a master and a (runaway) slave, or guardian and ward, "the protected one".
In fact, the story seems to repeat the situation of the classical German horror film Der Student von Prag (1913), screenplay written by H. H. Evers, but in a way that elliptically obscures the first phases of the plot, representing only its culmination, with no introduction and development. In the film by Stellan Rye a young student sells his reflection in the mirror (his soul) to a refined man of aristocratic manners, dressed in black. The latter is presented as Dr. Scapinelli, but it is clear that this is a devil incarnate. (See: Dejan Ognjanovic, Faustian screen: The Devil in Cinema) In the end, realizing what he has done, the boy runs away, but in vain, and his own reflection kills him. "The Buyer" appears to rejoice over the dead body of the student, ripping the contract, and symbolically taking the soul to eternal damnation… The Protected One ends in a very similar manner…

(This is an excerpt from the book on Serbian horror cinema In the Hills, the Horrors by Dejan Ognjanovic)

11/04/2010

A SERBIAN FILM and other Serbian horrors in RUE MORGUE!

 "Subversive Serbia" was the name of a program at this year's Fantasia festival in Montreal which showcased new and much talked-about titles like The Life and Death of a Porn Gang and the notorious A Serbian Film, together with somewhat older horrors, all coming from a country not known for its genre fare. It was a success, both in terms of audience response (and awards) and in terms of the recognition by the jury and the press. It took the audiences by surprise – and by the throat!
            A wave of shocking, transgressive and fascinatingly moving horrors, which some have hyperbolically compared to A Clockwork Orange, originated in what other reporters labeled "an undiscovered country." Well, the time is ripe to reveal new and old Serbian shockers to a larger audience.
            That's where the renowned Canadian horror magazine RUE MORGUE enters to fill the gap and provide the belated, yet timely (!) introduction to Serbian horror films. The latest issue #106, which hit the North American stands on November 1st, boasts a large section on Serbian horrors, namely:
           

1) THE ART OF ATROCITY
This is my brief introduction to the recent real-life horrors which fuelled the new wave of Serbian films, coupled with a very thorough interview with Srdjan Spasojevic, the director of A Serbian Film. This is probably the longest and most thorough interview he's given so far – so brace yourself to hear what he had to say in answer to all these questions:

- One American critic called A Serbian Film – "one of the angriest films I've ever seen". What is the root of that rage?
- How did you get funding for such an extreme film?
- How difficult was it to cast such a movie, particularly the underage actor who plays Milos’ son?
- What’s your attitude towards horror? Although A Serbian Film is not a “pure” example of that genre, that’s the label it gets most often because of its extreme imagery, gore and shocks.
- How did you meet your co-screenwriter, Alexandar Radivojevic, and how did the story develop?
- Why title it A Serbian Film?
- Was the movie inspired by any particular real-life incidents, or is it simply the fallout of growing up during wartime?
- In A Serbian Film there are obvious influences from American, European and perhaps Japanese films. It has been compared to works by filmmakers as different as, say, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Gaspar Noé, Pascal Laugier, Eli Roth, Tobe Hooper and Takashi Miike. What do you think about those, and who are your real influences?
- The movie is riddled with scenes of atrocity; what was the most difficult sequence to shoot?
- Why did you feel that the notorious “newborn porn” scene was necessary?
- Have audiences thus far understood your intentions with the scene?
- Tell us about some of the other problems you’ve run into. Is it true that you had to leave Germany because of the film?
- So, you’ll allow your film to be cut for some releases? What do you think about such demands?
- Do you consider the film dangerous?
- Are you working on another film now, and will it share a similar aesthetic to A Serbian Film? Take a similar approach?

The intro + the interview occupy stunning 4,5 blood-drenched pages of the mag!


2) PAIN AND PERVERSION IN THE BALKANS
 
            This is my review of The Life and Death of a Porn Gang laced with snippets of interview with its director, Mladen Djordjevic. It takes ½ page.


3)  TRADITION OF TERROR
            A brief overview of all horror films ever made in Serbia, from the local-cult SHE-BUTTERFLY to the most recent ZONE OF THE DEAD. This intro is graced by the exclusive photos of these films, largely unknown in the West.

            That's what occupies this unique 7-page Serbian horror special.  
As for other horror contents, take a look HERE.


10/29/2010

MEMORABLE SERBS IN FOREIGN HORRORS

The new issue of the RUE MORGUE magazine, which hits the stands on November 1st, has a spotlight on Serbian horror films, which includes: an introduction to the real-life horrors which gave birth to the cinematic ones, a very thorough interview with Srdjan Spasojevic (the director of A SERBIAN FILM), a brief presentation of another recent Serbian shocker (THE LIFE AND DEATH OF A PORNO GANG) laced with the talk with its director, Mladen Djordjevic, and an overview of all Serbian horror films made up to date (more than a dozen gems waiting to be discovered by the Western audiences).
            In order to announce this Serbian horror-special, I'll point out some of the more memorable and lasting impressions made by the Serbs upon the international horror scene.



- During the silent era, Iván Petrovich (real name: Svetislav) was a big star: he had major roles in such horror films as The Magician (1926) and Alraune (1928). 
Also, in the Austrian-Hungarian film The Death of Dracula (1921) female lead was played by a Serbian actress Lene Myl. Sadly, all prints of this first screen adaptation of Dracula (made before Murnau's Nosferatu!) seem to be lost.


- In the curious Incubus (1966), a horror film entirely in Esperanto, the titular character is played by Milos Milos (!), a Serbian actor who soon after that film shot and killed the estranged wife of Mickey Rooney, Barbara Ann Thompson Rooney, and then killed himself.


- Srdjan Zelenovic 
 
played Sacha (aka The Male Monster) in Paul Morrissey's Flesh for Frankenstein (1973), as a representative of the Serbian uber-male who was supposed to father the master-race. 
 
If only he weren't impotent...


- Olivera Katarina 
 
played Vanessa Benedict, a waitress with a stunning buxom in Michael Armstrong's Mark of the Devil (1970). Her other genre credits include Devicanska Svirka (A Maiden's Music, 1973) and Carlston za Ognjenku (aka Tears for Sale, 2008).


- Rade Serbedzija 
 
had a memorable role in Serbian disaster-horror film Variola Vera (1982). Later he had a successful international career, with roles in Eyes Wide Shut, Snatch, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, etc. 
 
His genre credits include: Mighty Joe Young (1998), Stigmata (1999), The Fog (2005), The Eye (2008) and Quarantine (2008).


- Milla Jovovich
 
the star of the Resident Evil series, is born of a Serbian father and Ukrainian mother. Her other horror credits include A Perfect Getaway (2009) and The Fourth Kind (2009).


- Bojana Novakovic 
 
is another hot actress from Serbia whose horror outings so far include Drag Me to Hell (2009) and Devil (2010).

***

PS: - The French actress Simone Simon (pictured at the very top of this article) played a character named Irena Dubrovna, a Serbian cat woman in the original Cat People (1941). The legend of the cat people, as presented in the film, is a complete invention and has no correlation with Serbian folklore, just as her surname isn't even remotely Serbian.

10/25/2010

T. T. Syndrome (2002)


(T. T. Sindrom)

Serbia

105 min


Director: Dejan Zecevic
Screenplay:
Dejan Zecevic
Cast: Nebojsa Glogovac, Sonja Damjanović, Nikola Djuricko, Branko Vidakovic, Dusica Zegarac
Producers: Milan Peca Nikolic, Pedja Milojevic


A group of young people try to score some weed. They go to the Turkish baths within the ancient Belgrade fort to meet a pusher, but end up trapped there and mercilessly killed one by one by a mysterious slasher clad in black leather. It all seems to have some connection with a strange and very rare T. T. Syndrome, but will they solve the mystery before they're all gone down the drain?

Zecevic creates a rather effective collage of slasher stereotypes mixed with an Argento-like whodunit (close-up fetishism of gloves, door handles and various sharp weaponry, plus the typical giallo motifs of a strong mother figure, childhood trauma and a haunting nursery rhyme). Relentless claustrophobia and tension in an inspired setting at their most effective resemble the highlights of early John Carpenter's and Tobe Hooper's films, while the vivid flashes of gore invoke the spirit of vintage Lucio Fulci. 

T. T. Syndrome is the first Serbian horror film which does not feel obliged to justify itself with elements of more respectable genres or motifs. It does not imply a political allegory, although placing (and killing off) its youthful cast entirely in a public toilet might have been a statement about dashed hopes of post-Milosevic Serbia, after all! But above everything else, the movie uses motifs and style of slasher, plain and simple, to scare its audience. It is a horror fan's brainchild made first and foremost for other horror fans.
 
In spite of its shoestring budget, T. T. Syndrome can stand next to most American low-budget efforts without feeling inferior. Zecevic makes a most inventive use of his limited setting, the decrepit Turkish bath and public toilet. Through his directorial skill he creates a palpable menace within such a banal setting which, by the end which takes place in the fort's catacombs, attains almost mythical proportions. The film's technical side is quite competent, and the same can be said for the acting ensemble, including a few veterans from Variola Vera. T. T. Syndrome became a cult film in Serbia and even managed to get into several international genre festivals: Brussels, Sitges, Barcelona, Puchon, Luxembourg, Neuchatel, Ravenna, Trieste.

10/10/2010

HELLEVATOR: THE BOTTLED FOOLS (2004)


Country: Japan
Genre: Sci-Fi / Horror
Running Time: 97 min.

Producer: Hideo Nishimura
Director: Hiroki Yamaguchi

Cast: Luchino Fujisaki, Yoshiichi Kawada, Ryôsuke Koshiba, Kae Minami…


GHOUL RATING:
**(*)
2+


Story: 17-year old schoolgirl Luchino has a smoking problem. In an oppressive, futuristic society where smoking is prohibited, her attempt to violate this rule accidentally sets off a fire and explosion in one of the corridors. Running away, she ends up in an elevator, which is the main means of transport within the crammed megalopolis (which we never see, but so we’re told). Pretty soon she gets trapped there with a group of unusual characters, including two convicted rapists being escorted to their execution. Of course, they are not in chains for long, and then… blood splatters the sickly-greenish walls and floor…


Review: The title HELLEVATOR makes this sound like a cheesy Charles Band production (say, about a killer elevator in a ‘modern’ high-rise; or, a gateway to hell posing as an elevator, or some such); however, the original title BOTTLED FOOLS doesn’t make it sound much better. Under any other name, this rose would still smell low-budget but, luckily, this is not the type of flick the title(s) would make you expect. HELLEVATOR belongs to a subgenre that fat encyclopedias usually define as ‘a bunch of unsympathetic caricatures (or was it ‘characters’?) confined to a single set, yelling at each other for at least 90 minutes’. Being trapped in an elevator is bad enough; but, to be trapped with a gang of hysterically screaming Japanese provides a totally new definition of Hell - so I guess the American title is accurate after all. Add a couple of rapists and a mad scientist to liven up the proceedings, and you get bottled fools too.

The futuristic design and claustrophobic setting led some to compare this effort to a budgetary-challenged Canadian SF-horror CUBE (1998), and to be honest – some similarities are there: one main set, poor acting, lots of screaming, quite a lot achieved from the limited resources, etc. The main difference with CUBE and other members of the ‘confined claustrophobic quarrelling’ subgenre is that there is no immediate threat in the setting, or from outside. Horror comes mostly from inside the elevator. Freud said something like ‘A man is a wolf to another man’: or, to put it simply, it’s people giving hell to one another in this film. And not just the usual suspects (or convicts) either! Torment also comes from inside, since our main character, Luchino, is plagued by the memory of killing her abusive father (talk about Freud!), and – to add insult to injury – her telepathic abilities which enable her to peek into the unsavory minds of her fellow passengers. 

HELLEVATOR was directed by Hiroki Yamaguchi, revealed in the additional features on the disc as a likable young man in his mid-twenties. Orson Wells he ain’t, but let’s say he could become a solid Japanese Don Coscarelli. Shot on digital video, with a group of unknowns, using (literally) discarded waste material for the sets, HELLEVATOR does not (and cannot) hide its very low budget origins. Yamaguchi uses all kinds of editing tricks to overcome the limitations of his setting and make the rhythm faster. Decent lighting and framing make the grainy images palatable, although the pea-soup-vomit color of the inside of elevator may become too oppressive after a while. In spite of no budget, Yamaguchi even managed to squeeze in an amazingly accomplished bullet-time sequence, and the ‘Making of’ documentary reveals the unbelievably simple way it was done!

All this is very well, but how much fun is there to be had on this HELLEVATOR ride? Let’s see. Gore is flowing freely: no complex latex effects here, but red spells red. The obligatory rape scene is there, too. What, you thought the Japanese would make a SF-horror without one? Hey, that would be like a good old American slasher from the ’80-ies without a shower scene! Cool gadgets made of scrap? Check! Uber-cool characters? There’s this guy with dark shades and a walkman, sitting in a corner, unmoved through most of the carnage; how’s that for ‘cool’? Heroine, on the other hand, is pretty, but bland (let’s say: pretty bland). All the rest are the kind you cannot wait to see dispatched ASAP. Any subtext for your intellect to chew on? Well, you might read some into it, what with the oppressive society of the future as imagined by a teenage boy who hasn’t read much else than manga, but that’s as far as it gets. The ‘twist’ ending might give you some food for thoughts, provided you freeze-frame it to see what’s there for 15 frames (non-Japanese viewers are advised to watch the interviews on the disc for further explanation. Note: that blink-and-miss image was NOT the Eiffel tower!).

The end result is a watchable, occasionally entertaining, but mostly underdeveloped and uninvolving film. It is a great showcase for its director: we should pray that he gets more money, and more inspiration, for his further films, for he certainly showed a considerable technical talent here. In the future, let’s hope for more substance to his stories, and more budget and style to his direction. Till then, you may want to rent this, but I’m not sure how much it deserves to be owned and re-watched.