Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Ken Russell

Farewell to a brave, wild and visionary director. Quite simply, there will never be another like him.

He made films that ranged from the truly sublime to the frankly terrible, but
all of his work was astonishing, surprising and undeniably his own.

Chief among my personal favourites are The Devils and Crimes Of Passion, but I've always been most fond of Altered States. I'm sure others of my generation will remember all the hullabaloo at the time of its release (in mags like Starlog and Cinefantastique), with writers hailing the film as visually transcendent and technologically cutting edge, the final sequence in particular. The film also contains FX sequences that are textbook examples of the amazing results that can be achieved using only practical, in-camera FX. It's a flawed but fantastic film, and I still can't understand why Paddy Chayefsky detested it so much.

The legacy of Ken Russell is garish, psychedelic, lurid, shocking, silly... and ultimately very beautiful...

I'd like to think that somewhere he's having a few stiff whiskies with Oliver Reed right now.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Ass 2 Mouth

I actually think "Ass 2 Mouth" would've made a pretty classy tagline for this sequel, but I digress.

The premise behind Tom Six's Human Centipede series, shallow as it may be, is obviously quite seductive to me. Having been sucked into the vortex of hype surrounding the first film, only to be left disappointed and wondering what all the fuss was about, I've still got enough interest in this revolting spectacle to subject myself to it's sequel. Although the first film didn't deliver on it's promise, I didn't completely dislike it. It was an attractive film, pretty easy on the eyes really, and the central performance from Dieter Laser as the mad Dr. Heiter was amusing and entertaining enough.

Both films have raised the ire of many horror fans who feel that Six is just an egomaniac having a laugh at our expense, and continuing to guffaw all the way to the bank. I have no doubt that he's doing just that, but personally I don't always need to be pandered to and treated like a valued customer. I don't mind being fucked with a bit, and after all, horror filmmakers have been doing it for decades. It's called exploitation cinema for a reason.

At least Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) looks like it truly delivers on the disgusting goods.

If you're an inquisitive sucker like me you can find out for yourself this weekend, as Sydney's Mu-Meson Archives are hosting three screenings of the film completely uncut. Each screening will feature an appearance by Martin himself, Laurence R. Harvey (right). Details follow:

Limited seats, limited screenings, Monster Pictures presents in conjunction with the Mu-Meson Archives the Sydney premier and preview screenings of Human Centipede 2. Each screening will have a special live appearance by lead actor Laurence R. Harvey (Martin).

Friday 18th November late night preview screening, doors 10pm for 10.30 start, tickets concession $15/$20 (limited to 60 seats).

Saturday 19th November official Sydney premier screening with discussion panel and Q&A with film critics including lead actor Laurence R. Harvey (Martin).


Coffin Ed - freelance writer. Coffin has been involved in the Sydney music scene for the past thirty years and was also co-founder of the Mandolin Cinema during the 1980s. He currently writes for Drum and City Hub and was a former FBi Radio presenter with the Naked City program.

Jack Sargeant - underground culture and film historian, author of Deathtripping: The Cinema of Transgression, Naked Lens: Beat Cinema, Suture, Cinema Contra Cinema. Film festival programmer. Sometime art curator.

Dean Bertram (PhD) - freelance writer, filmmaker, and film festival
director based in Sydney. He is the co-founder of A Night of Horror International Film Festival.

Richard Kuipers - film critic for the international trade paper Variety. He also contributes movie reviews and commentary on ABC Radio National and the webzine Urban Cinefile. Richard has produced and directed several documentaries including Stone Forever (1999), a look at one of Australia's most famous cult films. He produced the national television program The Movie Show on SBS Television from 1992-2000.

Jay Katz - moderator.

Doors 7.30pm for 8pm start, tickets concession $20/$25 (limited to 80 seats).

Saturday 19th November late night preview screening, doors 10pm for 10.30pm start, tickets concession $15/$20.

Tickets available at door for preview screenings.

Premier screening tickets can be purchased beforehand during other screenings @ Mu-Meson Archives, please check website for other screening times.

Mu-Meson Archives at Crn Parramatta Rd & Trafalgar St Annandale at the end of King Furniture building up the steel staircase. Phone 9517-2010

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Mondo Zombie

This poster by Jeff Proctor for Mondo Tees recent Mondo Mystery movie screening of Dawn Of The Dead is incredible.

Jeff always does outstanding work (I love his poster for Hobo With A Shotgun), but he's truly outdone himself here, creating the coolest piece of alternative artwork for the movie I've ever seen (I've still got a nostalgic fondness for the poster book artwork too, at right). He must have spent hours pouring over reference material in an effort to get every zombie in the movie on there, and I think he's just about done it.

It's sort of like a Where's Wally of the walking dead.

Some of the more prominent ghouls on the poster: the plaid shirted poster zombie, Stephen, hare krishna, the zombie who's cranium Stephen ventilates in the elevator, machete zombie, the blonde girl who attacks Roger in the truck, Roy Frumkes getting a pie to the face, the African woman who gets her jewelry so rudely snatched by the bikers, helicopter zombie, the fat zombie who falls into the fountain, sweater/escalator zombie, nurse, M-16 zombie, Miguel (who takes those meaty bites out of his wife in the tenement) and the nun (love that undead tableau on top of the truck).

That's only about half of the festering blue rotters. Who have I left out?

But the attention to detail doesn't stop there! Jeff has even included vehicles from the film as if they are characters in their own right. The WGON helicopter hovers in the sky, as the two trucks driven by Peter and Roger sit in the stinking, seething car park below. Interestingly, the grill and light of the car visible between the trucks isn't the 1978 Volkswagen Scirocco driven through the mall by our heroes, but a 1977 Ford Pinto seen elsewhere in the movie.

Please enlarge the poster to study it really closely for a long time and become completely obsessed with it as I did.


A quick heads up to my fellow Sydneysiders to start watching the skies. Chris Murray and the other fine folks at Popcorn Taxi have put together a Q&A screening of Joe Cornish's SF debut Attack The Block a few weeks ahead of it's local theatrical run.

The film has enjoyed wild popularity this year with North American audiences at festivals and screenings there. The resultant hype preceding it now seems pretty over the top, and I'm not sure that audiences in it's native UK ate it up as readily. Perhaps people over there would rather see obnoxious little hoodies get destroyed by Michael Caine instead of portrayed as charming anti-heroes. Having seen the movie, my advice to others would be to temper your expectations. It's a rewarding little slice of SF horror, perhaps even a minor genre classic, but the second coming it most certainly isn't.

However I'm just grumbling, and Attack The Block really is worthy of your time and attention. Monster freaks will love the original and very effective creature design and FX, and for fans of Shaun Of The Dead, Hot Fuzz and Don't it's cool to see the emergence of yet another talent from the same camp as Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.

The screening and Q&A with director Joe Cornish is on November 21. Details and tickets HERE. Seeya there!

Thursday, 20 October 2011

100th Post

The above image is appropriate as today the EYE finally
crawls past the 100 post mark.

It's taken me two long years to get here, but it's been a fun and interesting ride. When I started Unflinching Eye, I doubted that I'd get reader one... it was good enough just to have a free, creative forum to rant about my celluloid obsession. Now, over 500 comments later I'm proud to feel like a small part of a large, vital community of global film freaks. That my humble little blog could carve out it's own tiny niche amongst so many other far better blogs and sites still surprises me, and is surely a testament to the enthusiasm and open-mindedness of my readers. Thank you all.

One thing that I've noticed in the horror/genre/whatever blogging community is that there's almost none of the negative bullshit which seems to permeate some other quarters of the online movie community. I don't think I've had a single trolling comment in all this time (and I rarely see them on other blogs), which would seem to indicate that we bloggers/readers are generally a friendly, tolerant bunch who value other people's opinions as much as our own.

Of course the ultimate proof of that is in the many awesome folks I've "met" through the EYE. In the last two years I've shot-the-shit with a dizzying array of fascinating and learned people coming from as far afield as Croatia, Ireland, Sweden, Italy, Russia, Northern California, Kansas, New York and Northeast Tennessee... to name just a few. Once again, thanks to ALL my readers and fellow bloggers for your insightful comments and kick-ass blogs. Y'all rock!

So what has the EYE wrought in it's first 100 posts?
If it's soundtracks you're after you could do a lot worse than spending a stormy night with Seppuku Paradigm's score for Martyrs or François-Eudes Chanfrault's OST for À l'intérieur. If Japanese horror scores are more your thing, why not spend a few minutes with Tomohiko Kira's soundtrack for Evil Dead Trap (directed by the late Toshiharu Ikeda, R.I.P. 1951–2010).

Are you a Cronenberg fan? Then take a look at the
Interzone Dispatches (Report #3 coming soon) for a look at the far reaching influence of the body horror master, as well as a great recent short. Not a Cronenberg fan? Maybe you'd prefer to read about Linda Blair or Yaphet Kotto.

Dig comics? Check out the "sequel" to Carpenter's The Thing (it's better than the prequel!), or if that's too mainstream for your tastes why not gross yourself out with Hideshi Hino's Skin And Bone?

Like your music
heavy? You might enjoy Akimbo, Annihilation Time, Rudimentary Peni or Sacrilege.

Or if art and design is your thing, feast your eyes on the lurid paintings of Andrei Bouzikov and the beautiful poster art of
Silver Ferox.

Whatever your tastes, I hope you can find something to enjoy here... and keep finding things to enjoy... because this EYE isn't closing just yet!

Monday, 17 October 2011

The Road Leads To Nowhere...

Earlier this month we lost David Hess. He was 69 years old.

In Wes Craven's Last House On The Left and Ruggero Deodato's The House On The Edge Of The Park, Hess gave us two of horror's most unforgettably unpleasant villains in Krug Stillo and Alex.

The sleazy, deadly charisma with which Hess imbued these two iconic sociopaths made them perfect cinematic reflections of Charles Manson - albeit a more muscular, macho interpretation of the man - complete with devoted followers in tow
, ready to do anything to please their murderous leader (most memorably Giovanni Lombardo Radice in Park).

Of course Hess was also a gifted musician, and his oddly inappropriate score for Last House really helps to accentuate the film's nasty vibe of bad acid and the Summer of Love gone very wrong. Sweet, folksy numbers like "Wait For The Rain" and the opening credits track (reprised in "Blow Your Brains Out") are just dripping with a kind of haunting, saccharine melancholy that gives the depravity and carnage on screen an extra dose of hallucinatory menace. Whatever the relative merits of the Last House soundtrack, it certainly still rates a mention just for being one of the strangest horror scores around.

However, removed from the disturbing context of pants-pissing and chest-carving, these sad songs are appropriate for spending a few minutes contemplating the life and achievements of one of horror's most undersung participants.

R.I.P. David Hess. Here.

Friday, 9 September 2011


Something smells a bit stale around here. Has it really been five weeks since my last post? I guess time flies when you move house and your life gets thrown into total disarray. After 12 years in the inner city I'm now in a sleepier, more suburban locale and I'm starting to like it (it was a bit too quiet at first). Also, we still aren't connected to the matrix, but I'm on the Case (yeah, that was a bad Neuromancer joke).

I haven't seen much in the way of movies recently (although "Why Cookie Rocket" was surprisingly solid), but I've had a lot of fun plowing through the first season of Game Of Thrones which is enjoyably violent, sexy, atmospheric and legitimately disturbing at times. I found much to hold my attention in season one: Sean Bean, Peter Dinklage and multiple layers of twisted political intrigue... all punctuated by some truly shocking and unsettling grue. In a literary genre that seems to value conservative nostalgia and convention over ideas and originality (endless, vastly inferior rehashings of The Lord Of The Rings, not to mention that the premise for Harry Potter was lifted wholesale from Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea books), writers like George R.R. Martin should be commended for coming up with stories that feel fresh, adult and unpredictable. Good stuff.

Actually, most of my recent filmic satisfaction has been found not on a screen, but in the pages of a book. I've been a faithful reader of Nathaniel Thompson's excellent Mondo Digital site for over a decade now, and when his DVD Delirium Vol. 1 was first released by Fab Press I jumped on it, initially devouring it cover to cover, only to return to it countless times over the years. I've been trawling local bookshops for the follow-up volumes for years, but recently I bit the bullet and ordered Vol. 4 direct from Fab.

Whereas in previous volumes Nathaniel shared writing duties with some esteemed colleagues, this time out he's gone solo, and I appreciate the consistency that approach has brought to the reviews. For me, the real value in these books isn't in the technical specs on specific DVD releases (though that's great too), but in the sheer breadth and depth of information that they provide on some of the world's most obscure, hard to find and flat-out weird films. The only other reference books I can compare them to in terms of obscure cinematic knowledge are Pete Tombs' excellent Mondo Macabro and Immoral Tales (the latter written with Cathal Tohill).

Honestly, I'm only half way through the "D" section and I can't believe how many new "discoveries" I've already made.

Who knew that Mark Gatiss - who portrayed my favourite character, Glen Bulb, on the brilliant BBC black comedy Nighty Night - was also a gifted genre writer who's penned episodes of Doctor Who and a creepy made for TV ghost anthology (called Crooked House), inspired by the classic Amicus anthologies? Probably loads of people, but not me! Had you heard that Dawn Of The Dead's David Emge appears in a 70's sexploitation romp called The Booby Hatch that was written and co-directed by Night Of The Living Dead's John Russo? I was ignorant again! Did you know that 70's Time Lord Tom Baker does "a nude scene no sane person ever asked for" in Pier Paolo Pasolini's The Canterbury Tales (I actually knew that one)? Have you ever heard of Altin Cocuk, Anti-Clock, The Bed Sitting Room or Codex Atanicus? Me neither, but I wanna see 'em all NOW!

The real beauty in these books is in the concise brevity of each review - in just a few paragraphs you often get plot, cast and crew backgrounds, anecdotes, production history, home video history, personal insights and some tantalising (and spoiler free) teases of what to expect from the film in question. If you haven't discovered these indispensable books yet, they come very highly recommended from your's truly.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

The Woman

This month Lucky McKee and brave actress Pollyanna McIntosh will be at Melbourne's Cinema Nova and Sydney's Chauvel to do Q&A's for their new shocker The Woman. The dates are August 9th and 10th respectively.

I was dying to see The Woman earlier this year, so I caved in to temptation a while ago and watched the screener rip that's been kicking around... but now I'm freshly psyched to be seeing it again in a theatre (and hopefully with an appreciative audience). The Woman is a small film, but the striking sound design and beautifully lensed rural locations and interiors should make for an atmospheric theatre experience. It's quite a unique little horror trip, radically at odds with my expectations for it (partially fueled by the hilarious reaction of that jackass at Sundance). What appeared to me at first to be a riff on Martyrs is actually a very different animal indeed, and I have a hard time thinking of another movie to compare it to.

I'm a fan of McKee's, having enjoyed everything he's done so far, including the much maligned The Woods and his unfairly criticised Masters Of Horror episode Sick Girl. May remains a riveting horror character study, and Red is an excellent Jack Ketchum adaptation (although I'm still unsure how much of McKee's work made it to the final cut there). I actually consider the man to be one of the most consistently original voices in contemporary American horror.

On another note, I imagine Ketchum must be fairly pleased with the progress of his cinematic career thus far. Chris Sivertson's The Lost was excellent (thanks in part to Marc Senter's show-stopping portrayal of height-challenged sociopath Ray Pye); Red is an effective slow-burn revenger that again benefits from a killer performance by Brian Cox; and I've yet to see (or read) The Girl Next Door, but there seems to be plenty of good will towards it amongst horror fans online. The general consensus seems to be that the last Ketchum adaptation - Offspring - was a bad misfire (can't comment)... but four out of five ain't bad! I should point out that Pollyanna McIntosh's impressive performance in The Woman is a reprisal of her portrayal of the same character in Offspring, both films having their origins in Ketchum's nauseatingly boundary-pushing splatterpunk novel Off Season.

I'll be at the screening at the Chauvel on the 10th, and I hope you can make it too. In case you haven't seen it yet, I'll leave you with this priceless gem taken from the film's inaugural screening at this year's Sundance film fest. In it you will see an apparently grown man (who seems to have stepped right out of the South Park Sundance episode) lose his shit and freak the fuck out about some sexualised violence in a fictional movie. I'd love to see his reaction to A Serbian Film!

Friday, 15 July 2011

SEE Jed As A Puppy!

"Se til helvete og kom dere vekk. Det er ikke en bikkje, det er en slags ting! Det imiterer en bikkje, det er ikke virkelig! Kom dere vekk, idioter!"

So, here it is, the trailer for this year's prequel to The Thing. I don't mind that the film appears to be an obvious hybrid of remake and prequel, as I anticipated that from the outset. My main problem with this trailer is that everything feels a bit "flat". The Thing is essentially an intimate little story about an alien and a small group of humans, and as such it demands amazing creature FX and a strong, charismatic ensemble cast. At this stage I have grave doubts about both. I will say without reservation that Mary Elizabeth Winstead definitely looks like the warmest place to hide. Ahem.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Not Human

A mere three months (almost to the day) before The Thing 2011 hits theatres, and Universal has finally seen fit to release the film's first promotional material. I like the logo's simplicity, and that it's so similar to the '82 poster logo. It's also interesting to note that they've opted for a painted image, obviously reminiscent of Drew Struzan's iconic artwork for Carpenter's film (right). The image also recalls the transformation and demise of poor Bennings (below).

That's right,
I'm still actually holding out hope for this...

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

AFTERMATH: Mortician, Heal Thyself

cadaver's eyes... dead inside

Discerning gorehounds should require no introduction to Nacho Cerda, or his half hour mini-masterpiece Aftermath. The infamous little film was once considered to be somewhat of a holy grail for connoisseurs of grue, a bona fide underground phenomenon to be sought out and experienced on bootleg VHS. That was until a few years ago, when risk-taking DVD company Unearthed Films bequeathed it to the masses on a feature packed disc that collects the film with its two sibling works - The Awakening and Genesis.

To paraphrase something I wrote last year, I think
Aftermath dwells in the same rarefied cinematic netherworld as Hideshi Hino's two Guinea Pig entries - Flowers of Flesh and Blood and Mermaid in a Manhole (both also available on DVD from Unearthed). It's a shadowy limbo where art and extreme gore coexist, comfortably and without a hint of pretension, irony or "artistic slumming".

Of course I'm not saying that horror cinema and "highbrow" art are mutually exclusive. One needs only peruse the works of Ken Russell, David Lynch, Kei Fujiwara, Lars von Trier, Shinya Tsukamoto, David Cronenberg, Jörg Buttgereit and many others to see that, if anything, the opposite is true. My point is that Aftermath and Hino's Guinea Pig films belong to a very small subset of films that seem to draw their inspiration from the least accessible reaches of each sphere - extreme gore (eg non-narrative, faux-snuff) and performance art.

What might appear to be an unlikely marriage at first glance suddenly makes more sense when you consider the shock tactics employed by some of the more extreme performance artists of the 60's, 70's and 80's. Take for example the excesses of the Viennese Aktionismus collective - the ritualistic disembowelment of animals favoured by Hermann Nitsch or the simulated penile dismemberment of Rudolf Schwarzkogler. There are undeniable commonalities shared by the extremes of horror and art: unfettered imagination; a desire to push cultural boundaries and explore taboos; a distaste for the banal, the mainstream and the commercial.

all in a day's work...

Cerda's Aftermath certainly ticks all these boxes - it's highly imaginative, taboo smashing and about as non-commercial as you can get. Not to say that Cerda didn't have commercial ambitions for Aftermath, indeed he originally conceived of it as a show reel to sell his talents as a director(!). However, unlike many show reels, this film isn't a shallow,
technical exercise but a deeply personal project in it's own right. Amongst the gruesome proceedings, one can clearly see evidence of Cerda's fascination with Catholic iconography. It seems to me that the mortician here is a priest, garbed in his sacred vestments, and going through the motions of his familiar ritual. The morgue is his chapel... the autopsy table his altar. But all is not well in this death church, for the sense of elitist power that comes with the responsibility of presiding over the dead has overwhelmed the priest, festering into corruption and perversion.

The mortician's eyes, above his surgical mask, reveal a great deal of the turmoil that rages within. Self loathing, desire, pain, cunning, addiction,
shame, and an exhaustion that will never be cured by sleep. His carnal desires have consumed him to the point that he has become an automaton, and although those eyes reveal much, they are also the dead eyes of a reptile. As dead as the corpses upon which the mortician works... and preys. Indeed the highly realistic cadavers laid out on the morgue's tables appear to have more life than he.

Speaking of convincing realism, Cerda did extensive research for Aftermath, interviewing a forensic surgeon and even attending a triple autopsy. The film was shot in a real, functioning morgue in Barcelona, and the corpses seen therein are a combination of exceptional prosthetic work and one amazing performance by a live actor. The outcome of all this research and attention to detail is a very unsettling vérité experience indeed. The late Chas. Balun even claimed that Nacho had gone too far, when he famously labeled the film as pornographic.

Add to the above attributes some beautiful cinematography, graceful editing and powerful sound design, and you've got yourself a pretty special little slice of sickness. Buy the DVD directly from Unearthed Films HERE. Beware the Necrophiliac Mortician...

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Fuck The OFLC

Our forceful guardians of dubious morality, the OFLC, have been quite busy in the last couple of years. Oh yes.

Last year they banned Bruce LaBruce's L.A. Zombie outright. The scissor-happy sadists then refused to grant it a festival exemption, which would have allowed it to play at the Melbourne International Film Festival where it was already scheduled to do so. The MIFF organisers got cold feet and cancelled the screening.

Shortly after that, Richard Wolstencroft (director of the Melbourne Underground Film Festival) organised for a screening of the film to be held at MUFF, in protest of the OFLC's actions. The screening went ahead, but not long after Richard was rewarded for his troubles by having his house raided by police and charges laid against him. That debacle is still being played out in the courts.

Then last December the OFLC flew into another fit of tooth-grinding moral outrage while enduring a viewing of Srdjan Spasojevic's A Serbian Film. Of course their reaction to it was to freak out and ban the fuck out of it. Later, after the film's Australian distributor trimmed two minutes of carnage and resubmitted it... they banned that cut too! On the third submission (with three minutes excised) they finally relented and granted it an R18+, but the fully uncut film remains contraband in this country.

The silver lining to all this is that, with impeccable timing, Shawn Lewis and the other degenerates at Rotten Cotton have recently unleashed a line of t-shirts to celebrate the transgressive boundary destruction that is A Serbian Film. It couldn't be a better time to show your support for freedom of artistic expression and your distaste for the censor's shears. There's three designs to choose from (I'm partial to "MILOS" myself), and you can order right HERE.

More info on censorship in Australia HERE.

UPDATE: Well, I just learned that I'm a bit out of touch... according to their website the OFLC (The Office of Film and Literature Classification) ceased to exist back in 2006, and to quote their FAQ: "its responsibilities were transferred to the Classification Board and the Classification Review Board and the Attorney-General's Department." Anyway, it's just the same bunch of puritanical bureaucrats operating under a different name.

So it's just the "Classification Board" now is it? How much more Orwellian sounding can you get?

Monday, 6 June 2011

Keep Watching The Skies!

Just a few short months before the third adaptation of John W. Campbell's seminal SF horror story hits theatres, let's take a moment to acknowledge the passing of the man who first donned that monster makeup, back in 1951's The Thing From Another World. At an imposing 6' 6" James Arness was an obvious choice for the role of rampaging extraterrestrial, although unlike some of his Famous Monster brethren, he apparently wasn't very fond of the character. Genre fans will also remember him for his role in another iconic creature feature, 1954's atomic cautionary tale Them (right).

Friday, 3 June 2011

Insect Politics

Before deserting your grey, battery-hen cubicle for the promise of another hazy weekend, I'd like to show you something genuinely mesmerising and beautiful
. It's a short film called Loom, and it's the latest work from a German creative firm known as Polynoid. From a cursory glance around their website, they seem to specialise in high-end CG animation for advertising, however this particular film is a purely creative effort, presumably to draw attention to their talents.

Directed by Jan Bitzer, Ilija Brunck and Csaba Letay,
this five minute short took a staggering entire year to complete. To put that into perspective, many bloated FX blockbusters complete a full feature's worth of CG in well under that time, resulting in the subpar "spectacles" that so often sully the screens at the local multiplex. Conversely, the love and attention to detail in Loom is evident in every frame of it's scant running time.

Enjoy, and have a good weekend.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Sydney Film Festival 2011

Rejoice! This year's Sydney Film Festival (running 8-19 June) is the most genre friendly in years. They're offering up a varied platter of cinematic goodness ranging from exploitation gorefests to metaphysical mindfucks and everything in between. Samurais, vampires, hitmen, trolls, hillbillies, mutants, paranoid survivalists and a shotgun toting Rutger Hauer... they're all here! Below you can find my selection of the best of the fest. I'll be lurking at 13 Assassins, Kill List, Take Shelter, Elite Squad, Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Tree Of Life, Stake Land and Hobo With A Shotgun, so if you spot a guy with a very bald head and a horror, punk or metal t-shirt, come over and say hi!

Get all your info and tix at the SFF site right here, and BE THERE OR BE SQUARE!


Prolific Japanese movie maverick Miike Takashi shifts gears from his usual hyper-violent style with this classy remake of Eiichi Kudo's 1963 film, set in the twilight of Japan's feudal era. The sadistic brother of the Shogun, Lord Naritsugu, satisfies his bloodlust by brutally terrorising the people and gets away with it because of his political connections. Master samurai Shinzaemon Shimada (Kôji Yakusho of Tokyo Sonata, SFF 2008) is summoned to assassinate him and is pitted against his old friend and sparring partner Hanbei, who now leads the evil Nartisugu's personal army and must rigidly observe the samurai code regardless of his own principles. Shinzaemon bands together a motley crew of 12 men and begins to plan a complicated ambush. The meticulously designed slow-burn set up ultimately leads to a breathtaking 45-minute battle sequence that combines the mastery of Akira Kurosawa with the in-your-face excesses of Quentin Tarantino - and yes, the blood does flow!


Jay's got problems. His marriage to Shel has descended into a screaming match, his £40,000 stash has disappeared and he hasn't worked in eight months. A former soldier who hasn't recovered from a 'stormy' mission in Kosovo, Jay's a hit man and he's hit rock bottom. Opening as a confronting domestic drama, director Ben Wheatley's stunning second feature spins off in strange, unpredictable and entirely pulse-pounding directions once Jay and best mate/army buddy Gal start working for a particularly sinister client. Pulling the tired old 'troubled hitman' formula by the scruff of the neck and propelling Gal and the increasingly unhinged Jay into a nightmare you won't soon forget, Kill List marks Wheatley as a talent to watch.


The elliptical narrative of Terrence Malick's rapturously beautiful, emotionally arresting film audaciously segues between the particular (the repressed desires and shimmering aspirations of the O'Briens, a middle-American family in the 1950s) and the universal (the continuous cycle of existence, from the age of the dinosaurs to the new world). "There are two ways through life - the way of nature and the way of grace," says the voice of Jack's mother in the opening moments, and while young Jack (Hunter McCracken) must choose a path - between father (Brad Pitt) and mother (Jessica Chastain), competition and allegiance, success and happiness - old Jack (Sean Penn) has lost his way and is searching for permanence in a gleaming, chaotic modern city. Dreams and memory collide in Jack's spiritual, emotional and intellectual journey as he seeks to reconcile with the past, to reclaim his relationship with his father and to properly mourn the loss of his brother. More densely labyrinthine than any of Malick's previous films (The New World, The Thin Red Line, Days of Heaven, Badlands), the slippery editing is in absolute collusion with Alexandre Desplat's soaring music and Emmanuel Lubezki's glorious cinematography. The result is a commanding cinematic paean to life - its intimacy, messiness and grandeur.


With a script as sharp as the fangs on the vampire hordes it lets loose, Stake Land is one mighty meaty and exciting horror pic. Striking the perfect balance of bloody thrills and pungent social commentary, ace director and co-scripter Jim Mickle (remember that name) centres his tale on teenage orphan Martin and his tough-as-nails vampire-slaying guardian, 'Mister', surviving on the road after America is overrun by bloodthirsty beasts. What separates this film from the pack is the added threat posed by Jebediah, a fanatical Christian fundamentalist whose followers believe the monsters have been sent by the Almighty himself. At once a crunching gore-shocker and a potent critique of intolerance and extreme right-wing conservatism, Stake Land keeps the pupils popping from get-go to fade-out. And if that's not enough, Kelly McGillis makes a fabulous return to features after a decade's absence - as a nun!


Before CGI-laden monster movies, high-concept horror films and cautionary tales of teenagers gone bad, there was Roger Corman. Now in his sixth decade of producing low-budget genre quickies like Monster From the Ocean Floor, The Wild Angels and Rock 'n' Roll High School, Corman is also noteworthy for giving early breaks to aspiring filmmakers Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, Peter Bogdanovich, Jonathan Demme, Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson. They join a substantial roster of the Corman faithful and beloved genre stalwarts - Dick Miller! Mary Woronov! Eli Roth? - in singing the praises of Corman and his utterly unique brand of soft-spoken pragmatism in this documentary tribute. Credit writer-director Alex Stapleton with pulling revelatory backstage stories from everyone (particularly Nicholson) and stuffing his film to the gills with astutely selected and remarkably well-preserved clips. For fans convinced true genre filmmaking died by killer shark and skywalking space operas, the King of the Bs welcomes your fealty.


Having already received a directing Award at the Sundance Film Festival, Sean Durkin's stunning debut feature is one of few films in history to be subsequently included in the Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival. Elizabeth Olsen (the captivating younger sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley) plays Martha, a young woman who reunites with older sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) after she mysteriously escapes from a bucolic commune. Lucy's materialistic husband (Hugh Dancy) and their nouveau riche estate prove suffocating and oppressive but Martha (whose identity slips between each of the titular names) stays, terrified that the enigmatic leader of the collective (John Hawkes) will track her down. Rippling with a permanent sense of threat (Michael Haneke's Funny Games provides more than tonal reference) Durkin's filmmaking and Jody Lee Lipes' exquisite cinematography are perfectly attuned to both beauty within the frame and the power of what to leave outside it.


If Ingmar Bergman had wandered into rural Tennessee and downed a few too many shots of moonshine he might have made something like this bizarre and compelling family drama. Mixing elements of Southern Gothic, sports drama, situation comedy and backwoods horror with biblical overtones, Septien takes us to the very strange farmhouse of the Rawlings brothers. Cornelius (played by writer-director Michael Tully), a Christlike figure and brilliant sportsman, has returned after an 18-year absence. Amos creates grotesque art in the barn, while Ezra dons a frock and does the housework. Then there's Wilbur Cunningham, who lives in a tyre in the backyard. When a plumbing problem needs fixing the you-know-what really hits the fan. A disturbing, fascinating and darkly comic portrait of family ties, obsession and redemption, Tully's movie is an American original that's not to be missed.


Cult kingpin Rutger Hauer is baaaack! Starring in the sleaziest piece of gutter trash to hit the screen in years, the 67-year-old is dynamite as an unnamed Skid Row bum who arrives (on a freight train, natch) at the hellhole of Hope Town and doesn't like what he sees. Helped by hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold Abby, the pissed-off pensioner swaps his walking stick for a shotgun and points it in the direction of the nastiest crime family you're ever likely to meet. The second spoof 'trailer' from Grindhouse to evolve into a feature film, Hobo is a stylishly assembled, extremely violent and grimly humorous throwback to the glory days of 70s exploitation cinema. Is this the ne plus ultra of vigilante movies? Gather your guts if you dare and decide for yourself.


Jeff Nichols' daring psychological thriller stars Academy Award nominee Michael Shannon (who also gave a knock-out performance in Nichols' debut film, Shotgun Stories, SFF 2007) as Curtis LaForche, a working man living in small-town Ohio with his beautiful wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and their young, hearing-impaired daughter. When Curtis's recurring dream of an ominous storm becomes increasingly vivid, he fears for both his sanity and the safety of his family. Internalising his anxieties, his outward behaviour becomes progressively stranger to his wife and fellow workers, and then the hallucinations start to invade his waking life with terrifying consequences. Is Curtis experiencing deranged visions or premonitions? David Wingo's broody, foreboding score and Nichol's exacting script allude to the possible origins of Curtis's psychic malady - impending ecological disaster, economic uncertainty and threatened masculinity - all the while, like Todd Hayne's Safe, maintaining a slippery and perfectly measured ambiguity. As dramatic metaphor, his disruptive behaviour holds a mirror to the fears and contradictions pervasive in contemporary life. With a performance reminiscent of James Mason's in Nicholas Ray's Bigger Than Life, Shannon is totally transfixing as the unhinged everyman.


The legendary Scandinavian monster is the star of this scary and funny conspiracy chiller. Presented as surviving footage shot by a student documentary crew investigating the mysterious deaths of bears, André Øvredal's nail-biter goes deep into the woods to discover something at once scary and magical at play. The key to unlocking the activities of Norway's secretive Troll Security Service is Hans, a 'bear hunter' who reluctantly allows the ambitious filmmakers to chronicle his activities. The result is a captivating, frequently amusing and surprisingly touching series of encounters with monsters far more complex and formidable than the dim-witted creatures of Norse folklore. Exciting and hugely entertaining, The Troll Hunter is quite possibly the finest entry yet in the found-footage documentary cycle triggered by The Blair Witch Project.


Now the highest-grossing Brazilian film of all time, José Padilha's (Bus 174, SFF 2003) high-octane follow-up to his controversial 2008 Berlin Film Festival-winner Elite Squad (SFF 2008) is also a nail-biting standalone thriller drawn straight from the headline news. More than a decade has passed and Nascimento (Wagner Moura) has been promoted from captain of BOPE - the rabid military police who shoot first and don't give a damn about questions - to Chief of Rio's intelligence bureau. His ex-wife is remarried to ambitious human rights advocate Fraga, and his relationship with his teenage son is faltering. In a narrative move that reflects the popular TV series The Wire, the professional and personal changes in the life of Nascimento broaden the perspective of the original film, shifting the focus from the drug wars in the favelas to police vice and political corruption, making for a film that is just as relentlessly paced as its predecessor and dramatically even richer.


In this rib-tickling reversal of horror movie conventions, Tucker and his best buddy Dale are sensitive, kind-hearted hillbillies. But try telling that to the college kids camping near the duo's shack deep in the Appalachians. Convinced they've stumbled into The Hills Have Eyes territory, fratboy Chad and his panicked pals decide attack is the best form of defense and launch a hilariously inept 'kill-them-before-they-kill-us' assault on their supposed enemies. A treat for dedicated gorehounds and serious film buffs alike, this terrifically topsy-turvy take on the 'spam-in-a-cabin' horror cycle of the 70s and 80s comes complete with the most eye-catching use of a wood chipping machine since Fargo. Winner of the Midnight Movie audience award at SXSW, this is splatstick of the funniest kind.


You've never seen a coming-of-age story like this before. On her sixteenth birthday, mousey schoolgirl Rin discovers she's part of a mutant clan at war with humans. Suddenly sprouting a Freddy Krueger-like hand and an attitude to match, Rin slips into a spangly silver jumpsuit and joins a fighting force of foxy mutant femmes in a blood-drenched battle for nothing less than the survival of her species. Produced by Sushi Typhoon, the geniuses behind Alien vs Ninja and Karate-Robo Zaborgar, this example of Extreme Asian entertainment proudly goes where X-Men dares not tread. Non-stop comic-book carnage doesn't get much better than this.

All film info courtesy of Sydney Film Festival

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Un Altro Giallo

Here's yet another upcoming European neo giallo that I forgot to include in the previous post! Masks is the second feature from German director Andreas Marschall, who previously helmed the reputedly quite gory occult horror flick Tears Of Kali. I'm attracted to directors who have a thematic concern that they revisit throughout their body of work, so it's interesting to note that both of Marschall's films so far revolve around violent cults. I always hope in such instances that we're seeing the emergence of a talented new auteur.

Masks is one of the new crop of retro-Italiana that's unashamedly flaunting it's influences - front and centre, and subtlety by damned. This looks very slick for a low budget effort, but if I have one criticism based on the trailer, it's that Marschall seems to be walking a very fine like between riffing off, and just plain ripping off, Suspiria (he also cites Sergio Martino's All The Colors Of The Dark as an influence). I'm fond of Lucky McKee's The Woods because I think he managed to craft a respectful homage to Suspiria, whilst injecting enough of his own ideas to give the film it's own life. With Masks, I'm not sure if Marschall is offering much more than Argento worship.

After watching the trailer, what say you? Am I being too harsh?

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Giallo 2000!

Although rehashing the past rarely makes for groundbreaking or progressive cinema, I'm personally quite pleased that the recent trend of revisiting the style and tropes of 70's and 80's gialli seems to be flourishing. The giallo was a wonderful, gorgeous, lurid and insane chapter of cinematic history - and until recently it looked like it was all behind us, the genre having petered out into such inferior entries as Al Festa's woeful Fatal Frames ('96) and Argento's exponentially worsening output (culminating in the absolute nadir of 2009's ironically titled Giallo). In my opinion, the last really worthwhile examples of the form were The Stendhal Syndrome and Deodato's under-appreciated The Washing Machine.

Around ten years ago I was so craving a revival of the genre that I eagerly handed over my cash to Trevor Barley/Roman Nowicki for the "pleasure" of watching the first entry in his notorious Fantom Kiler series. The enticing stills of what appeared to be the masked, fedora wearing killer from Mario Bava's Blood And Black Lace menacing naked women with a gleaming knife were impossible for me to resist. I actually watched it a few times, disliking it more with each viewing, until I finally had to admit to myself that I had been thoroughly duped. This wasn't the real thing... just an opportunistic appropriation of the fetishes of the genre, distilled into a sleazy and distastefully misogynistic fantasy. I'm no politically correct prude, and I'll happily admit to getting a few kicks and laughs out of it, but in the end I found Kiler to be little more than an unpleasant pile of shit, carefully dusted with a light coating of sugar.

Let's face it, it makes Giallo a Venezia look like a work of high art, and comparisons to other notorious films like House On The Edge Of The Park and The New York Ripper are an unforgivable insult to Fulci, Deodato and everyone else involved with those fine films. But enough about that.

One could argue that a revival of the giallo is impossible - that the form was entirely a product of it's time and cultural milieu and can't be anything but disingenuous now. If misfires like Chris Sivertson's I Know Who Killed Me (unfairly maligned, but a pretty poor flick nonetheless) were the norm, I'd probably agree with that assertion. However, it would seem that we're starting to see a number of European films emerge that aren't just aping the tropes of the Italian thriller, but building on it's conventions to further the genre in hopefully progressive ways. Let's take a look at some recently released and upcoming examples:


This French/Belgian co-production from 2009 is the only film on this list that I've seen, and it may well prove to be the best of the bunch. After helming a string of short films together, this is the feature debut of co-writers/directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, and it's an impressive first effort to be sure. Although unmistakeably a modern giallo, Amer is more suited to the arthouse than the grindhouse, and will no doubt frustrate some viewers who are expecting more of a traditional stalk and slash scenario, as suggested by it's poster (but what a poster that is!).

Nonetheless it is overflowing with recognisable elements, most notably it's use of otherworldly lighting gels; a fantastic score made up of classic tracks culled from the likes of Sergio Martino's Case Of The Scorpion's Tail and Paolo Cavara's Black Belly Of The Tarantula; and a scene involving a straight razor that you won't soon forget. Some reviewers have criticised Amer for being an exercise in style over substance, but I suspect that's likely due to it's rather obfuscating narrative style. The film is heavily reliant on arcane visual symbolism to tell it's story, and if misunderstood (or ignored) it's quite understandable that one would find find it all a bit bewildering. For an in depth analysis of the film's symbolic meaning and cinematic references see Cinezilla's fascinating review HERE.


This Spanish film from last year, produced by the prolific Guillermo del Toro, reportedly plays as more of a traditional thriller than the previous Amer, perhaps making it more akin to some of De Palma's early films than the Italian directors who influenced him. Reactions have been mixed on this one, but most reviewers seem to agree that the lead performance by Belén Rueda - in a dual role, playing twin sisters - is excellent and worth the price of admission alone. A complaint common to many reviews is that the tension and dread built up in the initial hour is betrayed by a disappointingly incohesive finale. Quibbles like that won't keep me from checking this out however, as I've been reeled in by it's obvious style, atmosphere and creep factor. Coincidentally, this is screening in Sydney tonight as the closer for this year's Spanish Film Festival... get your tickets HERE!


From what I can gather, last year's Swedish thriller Ond Tro (Bad Faith) is less reliant on the more overt visual cliche's of the giallo than the other films on this list. Don't expect any garish colour gels here, rather a less superficial connection to the genre, embodied in a plot element familiar from movies such as Deep Red and Tenebrae - that of the witness to a murder becoming so immersed in solving the case, that they suddenly find themselves dangerously at the centre of it. I need no further enticement to get my ass in the seat for this than knowing that it was shot by one Hoyte van Hoytema, the brilliant cinematographer behind Let The Right One In.


Let's leave High Brow alone for now, and fix our lecherous gaze upon this sleazy and sadistic looking little flick. Upcoming French erotic shocker Last Caress doesn't seem to give a damn about the finer elements of the giallo, it just wants to exploit every gory, sexy fetish of the genre to maximum effect. Frankly, the trailers, stills and poster for this scream "Fantom Kiler with better production values", but I think I can live with that. To be fair, this does appear to be a lot classier than Kiler (not that that's much of a complement), but whether that makes me a complete sucker or not will depend on the quality of the final product. In the meantime, the trailers provide plenty of enjoyably carnal carnage, and if pillaging some of your favourite gialli isn't enough, these cinematic perpetrators (François Gaillard and Christophe Robin) are also teasing some nunsploitation and even a little imagery lifted straight out of The Beyond! Website and trailers HERE.

Finally, I had to include this awesome poster for an unrealised feature, from Argentinian indie director Daniel de la Vega, that went by the title of Necrofobia. It's such a perfect piece of giallo inspired art that I think it merits inclusion. I haven't seen any of de la Vega's work, but he obviously has an unhealthy fixation with Euro horror that traumatises him like a rabid cat in the brain. For proof of that obsession just look at the titles of some of his previous films: Jennifer's Shadow and Death Knows Your Name. Hmmm, talk about wearing your influences on your sleeve!