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).