Directed by Edgar Pêra;
Produced by Ana Costa;
Screenplay by Luísa Costa Gomes, mr. Pêra, based on the novella by Branquinho da Fonseca, O Barão;
Music by Vozes da Rádio;
Director of photography: Luís Branquinho;
Art director: Fernando Areal;
Starring Nuno Melo, Marcos Barbosa, Leonor Keil.


The Baron is a Portuguese film shot in retro-modern-scope, in glorious high contrast Black and White, boasting to be "a 2-D film by Edgar Pêra". One could say that it is modern precisely in its anti-modernity. It is almost impossible to describe this film without relying on comparisons: The Baron looks and feels like a weird re-enactment of a 1930s horror film through the arty lense of a very talented modern director – something along the lines of Almereyda's Nadja, Merhige's Begotten and Maddin's Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary. There are also droning soundscapes and grotesquely nightmarish non-sequitur situations in which humor and horror are disquietingly close reminiscent of David Lynch. 
The key overall effect is instability. Nothing in the world directed by Edgar Pêra is permanent: the images dissolve or overlap, the lights and darkness come and go, a huge room is suddenly shrunk to a black solitary cell... Nothing is stable. The same goes for his narrative, with only the vaguest respect to linearity and conventional logic. The events are governed by dream logic, and The Baron may easily be one of the most oneiric narrative films in recent times – or perhaps since the days of Jean Cocteau.
For those yearning for plot, here's the essence: it all starts like Kafka's The Castle, with a frail-looking school inspector visiting a remote ("off the maps") village whose name he's forgotten. Unlike K. he is almost forced into the towering prison-like structure and brought to the powerful Baron who governs the region through fear. Just in case there's any doubt, he keeps repeating: "I'm the one in charge!" What follows after the inspector's arrival to the Castle is a series of increasingly nightmarish scenarios, although the terrors are rarely specific. As in the films produced by Val Lewton in the 1940s (humorously alluded to in the prologue), few are the scenes of direct horror, yet the sense of foreboding and doom hangs over all.  
The center of it, of course, is the Baron himself: as played by Nuno Melo, he is one of the most charismatic and memorable "gothic" villains ever since Klaus Kinski had his larger-than-life role in Nosferatu (1979). It is a performance which cannot be praised enough: the entire film hangs on Mr Melo's strong sholders and his commanding, scene-stealing presence haunts the screen even when he is not visible. His Baron is a force of nature and a joy to watch (from a safe distance, that is)! The other players are very fine indeed, but inevitably overshadowed by the iconic presence of Nuno Melo.
Of course, Edgar Pêra as the veteran avant-garde director, Luís Branquinho as his trusted director of photography and Fernando Areal as art director (with his sparse, heavily stylized sets) are equally prominent stars of The Baron. Their job in creating this world of floating shadows and vague nightmares of oppression (political and existential, almost metaphysical) is nothing short of amazing. This is a daring, original and highly memorable work of a true visionary and demands the audience ready and willing to be surprised by something unconventional and new. 
This, however, doesn't mean that the film is all about doom and gloom and slowburning terrors: it is also very funny in its own idiosyncratic and eccentric ways. Its playful absurdities are channeling Kafka's insight of the proximity between horror and humor, and its vision of the world is at the same time very dark, and somewhat tongue-in-cheek, too.
This review is based on the film's screening at Vienna's Slashfest, where Mr Pera was a delightful guest. His next film will be a very original adaptation of H. P. Lovecraft's The Horror at Red Hook seen as a parable of racism. Let's pray to the Elder Gods that this happens soon!

Here is the trailer:

This review originally published at Beyond Hollywood.



Country: Japan
Genre: Horror
Running Time: 105'

Renpei Tsukamoto

Mimula, Yu Yoshizawa, Asaka Seto, Renji Ishibashi 

GHOUL RATING: **(*)  3-

Story: The familiar cell-phone ring announces a different ghost in this sequel. Kyoko (Mimula) has three days to unravel the secret behind the curse, or to die trying. She is helped by her boyfriend, and a female journalist whose sister was killed by the same (or is it?) cell-phone haunting, death-foretelling ghost. Ultimately, they are led to Taiwan, to a deserted mining village where a young girl was tortured and killed in the mine, only to leave a terrible grudge behind her…

Review: The movie opens with a fine scene: it's raining, and a spooky black-haired woman, dressed in white, her face obscured by the umbrella, comes to pick up a little girl from the kindergarten. The little girl greets her teacher, and someone else next to her. But no one is standing there. She goes with the woman, leaving the teacher puzzled… Pity that none of this prologue has anything to do with ONE MISSED CALL 2. The story proper starts with a similar scene like in the original: a group of young people are sitting in a restaurant, when that well-known cell-phone melody starts again. This time, however, the film breaks one of the basic rules established in part one. The phone is left in the kitchen, and is picked up by the owner's father. He hears his daughter making a remark about leaving the oil on the stove, and then screaming. Only minutes later he will be found with half of his face literally poached in oil. All this is fine, but whatever happened with the basic rule of the phone-owner being the next victim, and warning him/herself from the future? What about the three days' period between the omen and its fulfillment?

ONE MISSED CALL 2 takes such rules pretty haphazardly: sometimes they apply, sometimes they don't. Who cares, as long as anything spooky happens, right? Well, not really. One of the many qualities of RINGU, the unattainable blue-print for most of later Asian ghost-horrors, is that it establishes its rules early in the film, and plays upon them consistently until the end, with no cheats, no forced twists and eleventh-hour's changes of plan for the sake of adding yet another superficial 'boo!' But, ONE MISSED CALL 2 is pretty far from RINGU. Hell, it's far even from Miike's ONE MISSED CALL! While many accused the Master for making a 'derivative' film, unworthy of his status of a groundbreaking, unpredictable purveyor of hilarity, frights and gruesome images, at least his ONE MISSED CALL was scary, dynamic and full of memorable images and set-pieces. The sequel by the TV helmer, Renpei Tsukamoto (not related to Shinya!), is a typical by-the-numbers retread of been-there done-that. 
The worst attempt at 'originality' is at the same time the most misguided step-away from the original: namely, the ghostly perpetrator of cell-phone haunting is no longer Mimiko, but some entirely new girl creature. As the story goes on, the link to the previous film, and the whole cell-phone thing, becomes increasingly tenuous so that, after the half-hour mark, it's almost entirely forgotten. The whole affair seems like one of those instances where an unrelated screenplay is forcefully made to fit a franchise by inserting random elements from it which never properly gel into a coherent whole (see the later parts of HELLRAISER series as text-book examples of this strategy).

To sum up: no Mimiko, no warnings to self from the future, no colorful death scenes (OK, there is ONE, in the bathroom, and that's it for the whole movie!), no jawbreaker candies (until the forced twist ending)… So what do we have here? A tired, worn out story of yet another investigation which leads to yet another mistreated girl who avenges from beyond the grave. Because of her scary premonitions, the villagers of her Taiwan community sewed her lips shut, and left her tied to a chair in an abandoned mine. There are at least TWO plot points here which resemble RINGU, and yes – there IS a scene in which the girl slowly, one hand at a time, creeps out from a well. Only minutes later another broken apparition crawls down the stairs for all those of you who somehow missed the JU-ON / GRUDGE series. Bo-ring! The final half-hour gives its best to achieve an over-the-top horror-action finale like in Miike's original, but fails miserably. It's just too incoherent, too 'anything goes' to make us care for any actor from the stupidly separated trio which roam the abandoned mine. Even the 'tragic-romantic' ending is half-hearted (or is it half-assed?) since the characters were never real in the first place.

Make no mistake: ONE MISSED CALL 2 is a tolerable, watchable time-waster which can be recommended for die-hard fans of J-horror. There are some moderate scares, or at least solid attempts to create them (although very few in the overlong mid-section which begs for fast-forwarding!), so indiscriminate viewers can be satisfied for the time being. But there's nothing in this particular film to stay with you and haunt you, say, a week or two later. As the time passes, all that'll remain is a ghostly blur which merges with all those other would-be-spooky Asian horrors trying to cash in on the ghost-craze. If you care for originality, good frights, and movies which respect your intelligence, this is a call you can afford to miss.



Halloween is the perfect opportunity for a list of the best horror films ever made – of course, my personal picks.
            The list is not perfect, nor is it carved in stone, but still – I hope it can serve as a guide and reference, or at least reminder while making your own lists, or while selecting movies to watch, on Halloween, or on any other night.

            Here it is: I hope you find it useful.
            The list is in jpg. format because Blogger otherwise doesn't allow tables – so, in order to see better, please click on each image to see it bigger & easier to read.



DONNIE DARKO by Geoff King

Wallflower Press, 2007
118 pp
Review by Dejan OGNJANOVIĆ
I guess I was subconsciously expecting this book to be a letdown. The first two in the Cultographies series were excellent and very much to the point: so, at least one had to be somewhat behind, right?  Rarely does one find a series made up entirely, and with no exception, of excellent books. And yet, the third Cultographies book is another sure-fire winner.
            This accomplishment is even greater if we consider that it deals with the most difficult title of the three. THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW and THIS IS SPINAL TAP (previously reviewed here) are both universally liked and popular. They've been with us for several decades, they had the time to grow its cult following, while numerous articles, essays and whole books have been devoted to their meticulous analysis. Not so with DONNIE DARKO. Devoting a book to the most recent among the titles (released only 7 years previous to writing), Geoff King did not have the advantage of piles of literature to rely on. Although DONNIE DARKO became an "instant cult" phenomenon, it remains to be seen whether its cultdom will last for decades as the case is with THE ROCKY HORROR and SPINAL TAP. But, King does not shy away from the difficulties of his task, and overcomes them masterfully.
            He deals with the fact that DONNIE DARKO was hard to categorize, which is a cult-worthy credential, but one that made industry figures tread warily. He goes on to narrate the history of troubles the film had to overcome to find the finances, then to find a distributor at Sundance and ultimately to reach its audience. The latest trouble had to do with the unfortunate release date, immediately after the 9-11 tragedy. Still, there are telling details to be known about the theatrical and TV trailers for the film, as they unveil how the makers wanted their film to be perceived. 
As the matter of fact, Geoff King stresses the role of the audience in creating a cult phenomenon – provided that the makers structure their work in such a way to make it cult-friendly: "A major qualification for some texts that generate 'fan' activity, as John Fiske suggests, is that they are 'producerly', by which he means texts that generate more than usual amounts of interpretive and other activity by their followers; 'they have to be open, to contain gaps, irresolutions, contradictions, which both allow and invite fan productivity.'" 
            In other words, one of King's key arguments in this book is that the originally released version of DONNIE DARKO – with all its gaps, irresolutions and contradictions, with its intentional ambiguity between a symbolic (psychological) and literal (science fiction) reading – invited fan activity and various interpretations that had a good deal in obtaining the film a cult status. It is a bit unorthodox, but in this particular case quite necessary that King devotes some time to analyze fan response at the 'customers section' of the sites like Amazon and internet forums at the IMDb, and they strongly support his case that DONNIE's openness to various readings was among the crucial factors which made its cult. King compares the theatrical release and 'Director's cut' and convincingly argues that the latter version has actually diminished DONNIE's cultdom by over-explaining the ambiguities of the original version and by explicitly using 'The Philosophy of Time Travel' as the guiding light in interpreting all the mysterious events of the film. This may be the key reason why many fans prefer the earlier (ambiguous) version.
            Some devoted fans may be angered by King's very objective assessment of the film's merits, especially when he places it among the 'light-weight' variety of cult film, made such more by blurring the generic distinctions than (as is more common in cult movies) by transgression, provocation, shock and excess. DONNIE "seems a very safe and unthreatening form of cinema", and it had received prominent mainstream reviews upon its release, mostly positive and approving. It did not take numerous years to crawl from obscurity and attain recognition: it became an instant-cult classic, embraced by the majority. As such, it "remains very much a part of the commercially oriented indie-sector rather than its more marginal realms."  
            Yet, it is precisely the objectiveness of his approach which makes this a reliable, well-researched and convincing study of a complex film and the attendant phenomenon of cult films in general. Very readable and intriguing, the book made me want to see DONNIE DARKO once again, and that's an additional quality: it makes you think, and makes you want to argue with it, too.
            Since all three books of the first series of Cultographies proved to be such a success, we can impatiently await the upcoming titles, which should include books on films such as BAD TASTE, THE EVIL DEAD, BLADE RUNNER etc. Keep up the good work!


Slash Filmfestival in Vienna

The second edition of the Austrian /Slash Filmfestival will take place this year September 22–30 at the Viennese Filmcasino, a beautiful old cinema characterized by its lavish '50s-interior-design and a patina-laden atmosphere.  

/Slash Filmfestival was conceived as a film festival organized and programmed by young genre enthusiasts. Its premier edition last year was extremely well attended and instantly became one of the events to go to for Vienna's cinephile community and hipster crowds alike. We've decided to go against the grain with our filmfestival, moving away from the cineplexes and instead giving our audience a chance to absolutely immerse themselves in a universe filled with the very best of international genre cinema. 

Films screening at this year's /Slash include Kevin Smith's RED STATE and the Guillermo del Toro-produced chiller DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK. Other highlights include titles like John Carpenter's THE WARD, THE WOMAN, THE RABIES, COLD FISH, A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE, KILL LIST, STAKE LAND, THE INNKEEPERS… The full program can be seen here: http://slashfilmfestival.com/programm-2011/


Apart from Joe Cornish, who will present his movie ATTACK THE BLOCK, other guests of the festival are Portuguese avantgarde-genre-auteur Edgar Pera as well as Hollywood's most daring character actor Crispin Glover who will present Crispin Hellion Glover's Big Slide Show and his film It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE.

Apart from screening films we are well connected with magazines like VICE with whom we're working together on our festival parties, this year including a superhero drag ball and a pop-up party in the breakfast room of a small Vienna boarding house. Already last year we did a Zombie flashmob in Vienna, which will happen again during this year’s edition. 

There will also be two panels on the 26th. Their overall subject is "The (utopia of) subversion in genre-cinema". The question to be discussed is, whether modern genre cinema can still be subversive and political. Before the discussion, the Austrian short film DIENSTAG (1993) will be screened in presence of the director Franz Berner and cameraman Robert Angst. It is a film that had its premiere 18 years ago at the DIAGONALE (Austrian Film Festival) to great controversy and has never been shown again since. Panel 1 is about "Genre cinema in Austria", while Panel 2 is about "Porn and Politics".

Dejan Ognjanovic will participate in the second panel and will announce the showing of Serbian distaster/horror film VARIOLA VERA.

All artwork used in this article is done by Andre Breinbauer for the Festival's booklet.

Further details on the festival's site.


NEIGHBOR NO. 13 (2005)

Country: Japan
Genre: Drama
Running Time: 108'
Director: Yasuo Inoue
Shun Oguri
Shido Nakamura
Hirofumi Arai
Yumi Yoshimura

**(*)  3- 

Story: Juzo is an introverted boy constantly bullied at school. Akai is the leader of the pack which douses Juzo with water and burns him with acid. The scars of these treatments remain. He grows up into a fine looking young man (Shun Oguri), but no one suspects that inside he harbors another self – the one which bears the marks of inhuman acts visited upon him. It is a scarred, ugly and more muscular version of him (Shido Nakamura). This dark doppelganger is bent on vengeance. As it turns out, it is no coincidence that Juzo lives in the same tenement building as his former tormentor. Nor is it pure chance that he starts working for the construction company where Akai (Hirofumi Arai) is still up to his old bullying tricks. Akai's cute wife and a small son do not suspect anything regarding their neighbor from the apartment no. 13...

Review: NEIGHBOR NO. 13 is the kind of a movie that can be hurt by false expectations. It is marketed as a vengeance saga (after all – vengeance sells! Don't we all dream of one kind or another?). The DVD package presents it as an over-stylized action flick: you see two cool dudes, one of them sporting a bloodied samurai sword, and the dark blue wall behind them is splattered with blood. Oh, yeah! The fanboys are drooling already. Below the title, you see the magic words: 'director's cut'! 'Aha', you think, 'so there was some other, censored cut? There must be plenty of gore and nudity to be cut from here!' On the back cover you instantly recognize Takashi Miike scowling from a photo. 'Damn! Miike is in this too? This must be cool beyond words!' If you cannot read Japanese, the rest won't tell you much, since there is no English on this DVD cover, but then you go on the internet and find reviews that mention that it's based on a manga ('Hell yes!') and you also find all the talk about 'brutality', 'gore' and... yeah – 'nudity'! Your hand, with a will of its own, is already in your pockets, counting the cash.

Wait a minute.

First you must be warned of the following: I am not aware of there being any other cut of this film, but if anything *was* cut, it must be mere seconds, since there is not much explicit stuff here to begin with. The most 'shocking' thing you'll see is a close up of a big fat turd. The violence is mostly off-screen, or shot from a distance, while its aftermath –if shown at all- can be seen only in glimpses. Of course, that's a legitimate aesthetic decision – as long as you're aware of it, and do not expect something else. Something more Miike-like. Talking about whom – his cameo is the smallest 'blink-and-miss' cameo you'll ever see in your life: he is onscreen for the whole three seconds. And as for the nudity: no, the cute wife (Yumi Yoshimura) does not bare much more than a single shoulder. The only bare flesh you'll see here belongs to the boyish Shun Oguri: of course, this being an Asian film, you cannot expect full frontal (that's still a big No-no!), but you do get to see almost every other inch of his slim bod. If that's your thing – you've been warned.

OK, now that we've discussed the exploitation parts (or lack thereof), let's talk about art. After deciding that this is neither action nor horror film that the package might lead you to believe, how about drama? Is it a 'revenge saga' along the lines of Chanwook Park's vengeance trilogy? Well, not really. The revenge is utterly uninspired and takes the most predictable route. No ingenious and convoluted plans here. Nor is it emotionally searing in the way that Park's films inevitably are. Admittedly, there is some creepiness involving the bully's kid, but that's about it. (Of course, if you're on a strict diet of recent American fare, then you *will* be shocked by a lot that goes on here, but I assume that readers of this site are well versed in Asian cult cinema, and are therefore not easily shocked.) Our protagonist is reduced to a cipher and his 'struggle' with the double (the two of them fighting in a lonely cabin in the wasteland under gloomy skies) is shown in stylized imagery where visuals from the director's commercials creep in. Unfortunately, none of that makes the drama any deeper or more layered – just prettier, especially in contrast with the drab, claustrophobic environment of the tenement building which takes the bulk of the film.

The greatest fault with NEIGHBOR NO. 13, however, is its 'deliberate' pacing. The story is too simple and the characters too conventional to fill the two hours' running time, and the pace is too often too slow. Our debutant director shows signs of promise, especially in instances where he refuses to go the easy way and provide cheap thrills, but on the other hand, a story like this *requires* something more visceral – either in terms of imagery or emotions. The detached attitude (e.g. over-reliance on long, wide shots, which place the characters and events in the distance) is not the way to go; when mixed with a really uneven, stop-and-go pace (with more stopping than going) and an utterly underwhelming ending, it all boils down to a solid, if overlong exercise in nothing special, although occasional flashes of quirkiness make it more palatable. The patient viewers will certainly find some rewards in this film, but the common viewer might not be predisposed to enjoy a too-simple story unnecessarily complicated and prolonged.

DVD [NTSC, Region 2] :  The fine, but misleading package of the disc is already mentioned above: the DVD cover and the menus lack anything in English, so it may take some wandering around until you find what you want. Animated menus are good (although inappropriate for this particular film: they also try to 'sell' a cool, stylish action film – which this is not!), but of little use to English speaking viewers. When you click on 'SET UP' – all you find is a bunch of Japanese characters. Luckily, once you play the movie, the English translation is excellent and subtitles are readable. The visuals vary a lot, but that seems to be the way it was filmed: the scenes in the apartments are intentionally under lit and lacking detail, while the symbolic, stylized parts (in the cabin) are crisp and top notch. The sound (in 5.1. surround) is excellent, making a particularly good use of the brooding dark ambient score and sound design. There is also an audio commentary here, in which (at least) two Japanese talk and laugh, but there is neither explanation in the menus nor subtitle for it, so this was obviously not meant for the English speaking viewers. The bonus materials are scarce: a theatrical and TV trailer (again, misleadingly presenting the flick as a much weirder and gorier affair than it is) and cast and crew text info (only in Japanese, of course). You also get chapter selection (if that's an extra for you!) – and that's all.



Country : Japan
Genre: Horror / Comedy
Running Time: 104

Producer: Kenzo Horikoshi, etc.
Director: Hiroshi Takahashi
Cast: Takashi Urai, Aki Miyata, Rena Komine, Shoko Nakahara


Story: Bad things happen when innocent blood is shed. In the early 1700s, Lord Sodom Ichibei is celebrating his wedding day when his bride-to-be suddenly vomits blood on her white gown and dies. Suspecting witchcraft, he kills his bride's two maids, but once he realizes their innocence, he becomes completely insane and kills everyone around him. 300 years later, his descendant goes through the same: one of the innocent victims is reincarnated and poisons all the guests at his wedding, while his bride dies in a similar bloody manner. This transforms Ichiro into the evil and vengeful 'Sodom the killer', a cursed man who becomes blind at the spot (except he can see cats, dogs, trees and flowers). He finds a group of minions and starts a master-plan for the world's destruction.

Review: SODOM THE KILLER seems to be a horror comedy, but it's neither funny nor scary. SODOM THE KILLER seems to be a spoof, but a spoof of what exactly? I don't know. SODOM THE KILLER seems to be intentionally bad, but does that really distinguish it (and make its watching worthwhile) from flicks that turned out bad while striving for the good? That is the key question, and on its answer depends whether you'll find it enjoyable or just plain horrible. The film opens with a relatively straight face: a typical prologue of 'how the curse started'. It becomes slightly suspicious when the bloodshed comes, and you see it shot completely bloodless, and extremely poorly staged. Once you spot the very modern pipes in an 18. century castle you realize that perhaps you're not supposed to take this seriously. OK, so far so good. But, once you see through the real intention, does that make the film any more enjoyable? Well, that's where SODOM THE KILLER lost me. 

I do not deny, some of the jokes are not too bad: for example, an evil master-plan to replace one single bag of real money with counterfeits manages to create a nation-wide inflation and is followed by a starving family massacre of the entire restaurant because they cannot pay for the meal. Also, there are plenty visual jokes which try to make the film's deficiencies into its strengths, like using an obvious dummy instead of a human stand-in for a fight scene. Later on you see a life-sized photograph of an actress glued to the back window of a car in full-speed instead of a stunt double. If that's your idea of humor, you'll laugh yourself senseless. What else do we have here? Toy aero planes instead of real (or at least CGI) ones. Dodgy rear-screen projection in several cases: in one scene, a toy-train in stop-motion is 'derailed' in a fuzzy rear-screen projection while the video-sharp shot actors react exaggeratedly in front of the screen. In another, towards the end, a character abandons the 'car' and runs off the rear-screen projection down the corridor. Numerous such winks and reminders of the medium of cinema and its conventions make this flick a solid inspiration for another of those dry academic essays on post-modern discourse in contemporary film, layers of reality and their appropriation in genre cinema, and the like. Yeah, right. But does THAT make the film any more fun? 

How hard is it to make an intentionally bad film? It's cheap, and does not even pretend that there was anything remotely resembling a budget around. Shot on digital video, it looks cheap and ugly. Its look becomes tiresome pretty soon, just like its humor, or what passes for it. The whole thing leaves a strong impression that perhaps it could be palatable only with a strong dose of alcohol or some stronger brain-addling additive, in which case the silliness might be alchemically turned into entertainment and the time might no longer be a factor. You see, a good spoof should not exceed 85 minutes, whereas this one is at least 20 minutes too long. If you watch this sober, you'll feel almost every one of those minutes taken away from you.
SODOM THE KILLER also presents one of the more blatant cases of false advertising in recent times. The DVD case shows off a dark and gloomy, possibly satanic imagery, and promises that it comes 'from the creator of RINGU'. Uh-uh, I'm creeped out already! I wish they lied about the latter. Sadly, this flick is really written and directed by Hiroshi Takahashi, the genius who wrote the screenplay for the original RINGU - but also the dumb-ass responsible for its underwhelming sequels and even for the despicable American remake-sequel, THE RING 2. Why should a man like him want to be involved with an homage to Ed Wood and Ray Dennis Steckler right now and in this manner is anyone's guess. As it stands now, I think another RINGU is required from him to annul this mediocre (at best) endeavor. 

From the above it's quite obvious that you should not expect a horror film, or anything remotely similar in quality to RINGU. No horrors, no creepiness, not even a trace of sodomy - unless the latter refers to the feelings of those innocent souls who buy or rent this DVD expecting a scary movie and end up being f***ed in the ass by a completely different, dumb creature!