Sunday, 28 June 2015


Deep space, late 23rd Century:

For the sake of his bloated vanity, the ship's captain has just thrown away the lives of his entire crew (and a brand new Constitution Class Heavy Cruiser) in a military engagement so futile it made the Kobayashi Maru look winnable. His captain and fellow crewmen all dead, the sole survivor of this appalling catastrophe is a plucky young Starfleet ensign, fresh out of the Academy. He is adrift amongst the blasted wreckage of the ship, surrounded by the frozen, mangled corpses of the friends and comrades who served alongside him. Ice crystals glitter on their frigid, spilled entrails. Their torn, burnt faces will forever wear the screams and prayers of their anguished final moments. Glistening maroon sculptures of hardened boiled blood jut from gaping wounds, erupting from torsos that have violently burst open under explosive decompression.

The shit-stink in his nostrils is a constant reminder that he's fouled his EV suit. Distant echoing voices that aren't really there and a sudden migraine like an ice-knife into his brain make him painfully aware that the suit's oxygen supply is about to run out. His vision fails, he gasps convulsively for the last stale fumes of air.

No Academy simulation could prepare anyone for this reality, let alone a naive, youthful junior officer. Overwhelmed by the hopelessness of his situation and the combat horrors before him, he begins to weep. Uncontrollably. Sobbing for the light-year-distant family who he knows he will never see again.

Now, out of nowhere, a familiar and sickening feeling. The nauseating, excruciating pain of molecules slowly ripping apart. Starting like pins and needles in the bone marrow and building to a nerve shattering agony that consumes his entire body. Our valiant young ensign is being beamed aboard a nearby starship.


Hope evaporates as a Klingon transporter bay materialises before his eyes. He's been beamed aboard the very Bird-of-Prey that just obliterated his ship. The ensign takes in his dank surroundings: the deck is coated in an unidentifiable congealed paste; a pile of corpses lies against a bulkhead, the mutilated bodies of Orion slave girls who have been discarded there after being used up and murdered for the crew's pleasure. Directly in front of him the hatch of a filthy Head hangs open, a paunchy Klingon perched on the spiky, black toilet within. He wipes the shit from his ass with living Tribbles. They squirm and mewl pathetically as he tosses them into a wall-mounted incinerator.

The Klingon warrior finishes and rises to his full seven foot height. Grinning toothily, he walks over to an oil slicked contraption that looks like a miniature iron lung crossed with a studded S&M sex toy. Slowly, deliberately, he wheels the machine over to face the young human. After adjusting a few controls, it purrs and shudders to life, suddenly sprouting a multitude of evil-looking, gleaming instruments.

As the torture machine rips the helmet from his head, the Klingon's deep, wicked chortle fills his ears.

The ensign's terrified face is illuminated in a grid of green laser lines, the machine scanning the contours of his handsome features. The scan complete, the machine whirs into motion, a long, scimitar shaped scalpel abruptly springing forward. It neatly bisects the ensign from forehead to chin, then efficiently and precisely flays the skin from his face. It's done so quickly that our young hero registers only frozen shock on his new meat-face. It's only when the blood and lymph fluid bead to the surface of the raw, exposed muscle that the first screams come. The scalpel smoothly retracts and is instantly replaced by a long, thick-bored needle that noisily liposuctions the flesh and fatty tissue from his skull, its tip scraping and scratching at the cranium beneath. Next comes a segmented, chromed hose, snaking carefully into position in front of the hole where seconds before the young man had a nose. It sprays a fine mist of fluid onto his cleaned skull-front. Instantly, the bone begins to dissolve in a bubbling, fizzing, steamy mess.

As he starts to die, the ensign remembers that among its many life-support features the EV suit comes with a built-in music player. Using the controls on the back of his glove, he punches in the commands by feel. The sounds of classical early 21st Century powerviolence blast from his neck mounted speakers. It's Dallas, Texas' PAVEL CHEKOV. His favourite. The track is their ripping cover of INFEST's "Sick Machine". He feels alright. Soothed. If he still had lips, they would curl into a wry smile at the thought that this music is totally melting his face while his face is being literally melted. Even though the young ensign knows that the frantic shrieks he can hear in the background are his own, it doesn't matter anymore. It's OK, because the music makes him feel like everything in the cosmos is just as it should be...

Sunday, 21 June 2015


I fucked up and missed the opening 15 minutes of last Sunday's SFF screening of The Duke of Burgundy, my last movie at this year's fest. Chalk it up to a bad case of festivalitis: too many movies, too many 5:00 AM alarms for work.

No biggie, I loved what I saw and will be returning to this baroque and beautiful alternate reality as soon as it gets a theatrical release here. Peter Strickland's mysterious, forested world - populated solely by women, all of whom seem to have a BDSM fetish and an academic fascination with butterflies and moths - is seductive and intoxicating. It's a place that I couldn't stop thinking about after the credits had rolled.

Strickland has captured the look and feel of classic European erotic artsploitation so perfectly you could be forgiven for thinking that you're watching a forgotten, unearthed gem from that bygone era. But this isn't simply a case of immaculately copying the style of another era with no real substance to back it up. Strickland's script is strong and his direction assured, firmly establishing a hypnotic, druggy atmosphere, then patiently weaving a story that's intriguing, weird, hilarious and ultimately very sad.

Lead actresses Chiara D'Anna and Sidse Babett Knudsen shine as the film's two central characters, Evelyn and Cynthia. Both women have charisma to spare in challenging roles that demand a wide range: perfect comic timing, awkwardly stilted formality, lustful passion and heartrending melancholy.

Cinematographer Nic Knowland (whose credits include Strickland's Berberian Sound Studio and 1980's The Great Rock 'N' Roll Swindle) fills the movie with an impressive array of visual delights: trippy, spectral lens flares; moody, windswept woods; carefully composed interior shots that use mirrors and reflections to disorient the viewer; a prolonged psychedelic dream sequence that will take your breath away. Add to that Hungarian production designer Pater Sparrow's eye for meticulous detail, and we have a strong contender for best looking movie of the year.

The final piece of the puzzle that makes The Duke of Burgundy such a perfect cinematic throwback to the films of Franco, Fassbinder and Borowczyk is Cat's Eyes' sublime, ethereal score. Listen to a couple of tracks below (as well as a look at the film's opening title sequence).

Along with Benson and Moorhead's Spring, The Duke of Burgundy was the easy winner for me at this year's SFF. An instant classic and very highly recommended.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Suehiro Maruo

One of the most overposted artists of the last few years? Perhaps, but I don't care. There's always room for more Maruo...

Friday, 12 June 2015

Christopher Lee

Horror has lost its most charismatic villain.

His piercing gaze and commanding bass voice were only part of a stage presence that was monumentally iconic and eternally inimitable. 

In his early career he was the reigning king of B-movie horror, working with the likes of Terence Fisher, Antonio Margheriti, Mario Bava, Freddie Francis, Jess Franco, Vernon Sewell, Gordon Hessler, Billy Wilder, Roy Ward Baker, Robin Hardy, Gary Sherman and Philippe Mora.

Late in his life he enjoyed the resurgence of interest that he so rightfully deserved, appearing in a number of movies for some of genre cinema's greatest directors, including Joe Dante, Tim Burton, Peter Jackson, John Landis and Martin Scorsese. 

His genre credits are innumerable, but I'll most remember him for playing Frankenstein's monster, Count Dracula, the Mummy, Fu Manchu, Lord Summerisle, Scaramanga and Saruman the White.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Born defeated, died in vain

I don't usually go for fan art much, but this Phantom of the Paradise painting by Keops7 is a real stunner. Honestly though, I'll take any excuse to bring up De Palma's gem of a rock opera again.

Phantom is hands down one of my absolute faves. It's incredibly nostalgic for me now, but aside from the emotional connection that I have to it, I also recognise it as an objectively fantastic movie.

From Jessica Harper's silky contralto to The Undead's blazin' proto-horror rock, Paul Williams' soundtrack is pure '70s perfection.

Born defeated died in vain
Super destructive you were hooked on pain
And though your music lingers on
All of us are glad you're gone
If I could live my life half as worthlessly as you
I'm convinced that I'd wind up burning too

Monday, 8 June 2015


German Angst's closing faux-vintage shot of a spring blossom aptly mirrors Goodnight Mommy's opening clip of the creepy Aryan family from 1956's Die Trapp-Familie singing "Guten Abend, gute Nacht". Both are meant to remind you that under the saccharine-sweet cultural image of dirndls, lederhosen and brisk, cheerful Bergwanderung lies a society that is completely at odds with all that. A society that many see as austere and repressed, but which is also well known for its dark excesses and a deep lingering pain from the still open wound of its recent past. Berlin-set horror anthology German Angst is overflowing with that pain and excess.

This three-parter, co-directed by Jörg Buttgereit, Michal Kosakowski and Andreas Marschall, is actually one of the more satisfying anthologies of the last few years. It's far more even than any of the V/H/S movies for one thing. An effort seems to have been made to tie the three segments together stylistically, and it definitely works in the film's favour. One very pleasing touch is to subtly include each film's title and director credit as part of its set dressing. The whole film is very nicely shot, particularly Buttgereit's opening Final Girl and Marschall's concluding Alraune, both of which are absolutely gorgeous.

Buttgereit's Final Girl feels like a distant mutant cousin to Nekromantik: different flat, different couple, same totally fucked up goings on. There might not be any necrophilia happening here, but Lola Gave's guinea pig* loving "girl" is every bit as sick and twisted as Rob and Betty were. Storywise this one is pretty slight, but that didn't bother me because it's just so visually interesting. Buttgereit's camera lingers lovingly on every inch of filthy squalor, and it really put me right there in that grungy flat. I could almost smell the mould and unwashed dishes. Some beautiful macro photography of a razor blade slicing into flesh and blood drops soaking into carpet are also memorably striking. Some strong sound design adds to the atmosphere and seals the deal.

Next up is my least favourite of the three segments, Kosakowski's Make a Wish, in which the ever present spectre of Nazism in Germany rears its ugly head. Kosakowski seems to be trying to make a point here about the relationship between victim and oppressor, but I didn't quite get it. No matter, it's still engaging enough, and the flashback sequence depicting a heinous Nazi atrocity in 1943 Poland is very well done. So well done on such an obviously low budget in fact, that I think Richard Raaphorst could learn a thing or two from it.

The best is left til last with Andreas Marschall's atmospheric, neon-lit erotic nightmare, Alraune. Along with Benson and Moorhead's Spring, this lurid little slice of psychedelic occultism is definitely the most genuine feeling Lovecraftian horror I've seen in a while. It really struck a nostalgic chord with me, as it kept reminding me of the heyday of the Gordon/Yuzna productions. Something about the look and feel of it, combined with the mix of sex, gore and practical creature fx. The cast give it their all, with Kristina Kostiv stealing the show as a seductive and tragic siren, while Rüdiger Kuhlbrodt devours scenery as slimy cult leader Petrus. Adding to the vibe of vintage eldritch mystery is Mathieu Amalric look-alike Milton Welsh's deeply intoned, hard-boiled voice over. Alraune's violent climax of sex, gore and hideous ancient evil is the perfect capper to a highly enjoyable and satisfyingly sick anthology. Seek this one out.

*A nod to the infamous Japanese series perhaps?

Saturday, 6 June 2015


It's fitting that throughout much of Deathgasm one of the characters wears a Bad Taste t-shirt. Director Jason Lei Howden has spent much of his career toiling as a VFX artist for WETA Digital, and his admiration for its co-founder and owner's early films is evident in every frame of his first movie. Underneath all the gross-out gore and dildo jokes Deathgasm shares the same sense of quaint sweetness that has made Bad Taste and Braindead so enduringly charming. It's that very specific brand of whimsical Kiwi charm that set Jackson's early movies apart from his main influence - Raimi's Evil Dead and Evil Dead II - and which continues to define the spirit of NZ horror comedies to this day.

Deathgasm also shares another essential quality that has characterised New Zealand's homegrown splatstick genre: it's actually funny. There's been an international avalanche of Jackson-influenced horror comedy in the last couple of decades, and way too much of it has been excruciatingly unfunny and exasperatingly stupid (and yes Tommy Wirkola I'm looking right at you). Deathgasm is cleverly written and frequently laugh out loud funny, a hilarious mixed bag of physical gags and silly jokes. Howden, who also wrote the script, seems to have a pretty decent grasp of heavy metal lore, and works in a number of in-jokes for metalheads, knowingly referencing everything from Poison to Manowar and Anal Cunt.

Unfortunately, the one thing that lets this movie down is the third defining feature of Jackson's seminal classics: the splatter fx. Although Howden's heart (and spleen, intestines etc) is obviously in the right place, and I appreciate his steadfast use of practical fx, most of the mayhem on display here is pretty uninspiring. I think it's essential with a movie like this to be as inventive with the gags as possible, and (with the exception of a pretty funny death by dildo scene) I'm afraid the grue in Deathgasm is more chore than gore. To be fair though, Howden's VFX skills make up for it with a number of cool little flourishes peppered throughout the movie, especially the animated title sequence which makes for a really fist pumping opener. It's also worth noting that the demons here are more Lamberto Bava than Raimi, which was refreshing.

As far as Kiwi horror comedies go, the recent Housebound and What We Do in the Shadows have set the bar almost impossibly high. Deathgasm may not have reached those same dizzy heights for me, but it's still well worth a watch. Horns up!

Next for me at the fest: Teutonic transgression in GERMAN ANGST!

Friday, 5 June 2015

SFF 2015: GOODNIGHT MOMMY (Ich Seh, Ich Seh)

This year's Sydney Film Fest got off to a fine start for me last night with Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz's chilling and outrageous Goodnight Mommy.

It's interesting to see this one so soon after Jennifer Kent's The Babadook, as the two movies share a similar premise: the emotional struggle between a single mother and her young son (or in this case twin sons) spiralling out of control with horrific consequences. Beyond that however, the two films have little in common, so it's cool to see the same idea approached from two very different viewpoints.

I hadn't read too much about this one and wasn't sure whether to expect a psychological thriller or an all out gorefest, so was pleasantly rewarded with an even balance of both. The first half is a deliberately paced slow burn, but is peppered with enough satisfyingly jolting shocks to guarantee that you stay wide awake. The dread gradually escalates to a final act that descends into over the top horror, which had even jaded old me cringing a few times. Fiala and Franz definitely weren't afraid to take their movie to some very uncomfortable and taboo places. It's not every day that you see a movie in which a 10-year-old boy is such a loathsome antagonist that you're rooting for him to die.

Goodnight Mommy is classic European artsploitation, a movie intended to satisfy the arthouse crowd just as much as thrill seekers and gorehounds. Its spooky wooded locations and chilly, clinical interiors are beautifully framed and patiently lingered on, making it worthy of seeing for the visuals alone. One (probably) opportunistically shot scene in a hailstorm is a real eye opener.

Back to the fest tonight to see Kiwi metal gorefest DEATHGASM!

Monday, 1 June 2015

Gee Vaucher

Gee Vaucher: outspoken feminist, pacifist, animal-rights activist, and an artist whose work is some of the most iconic and visually distinctive of the post war era. Although her most famous paintings are reminiscent of Salvador Dali in their technique, intricacy and dreamlike surrealism, there's still no mistaking her work for anyone else's. 

Vaucher's technical prowess at hyperrealist painting using only black gouache is unbelievable, literally so, because the typical reaction to seeing her work for the first time is disbelief that you're looking at a painting and not a photo montage. Probably adding to the confusion is the fact that during the same period that Vaucher was in her hyperrealist phase she was also producing some very powerful Dadaist photo collages.

At its inception punk and hardcore was rock taking a long, critical look at its jacked-up, piece of shit self in the mirror, and what followed was a process of deconstruction, annihilation and reformation. The resulting changes were not only evident in punk's music, fashion, social attitudes and politics, but also in its graphic design. Along with Raymond Pettibone's work for SST and Winston Smith's for Alternative Tentacles, Vaucher's work for CRASS and Exitstencil Press (not forgetting David King's equally iconic cross & serpents logo) was absolutely emblematic of that change.

That these three artists are still so frequently copied in punk design today could be said to be a fitting tribute to the importance of their work. I won't be so charitable however. That so many are satisfied to regurgitate and emulate this stuff that was so fucking incendiary to us three decades ago is to me indicative of the cancer that eats at the heart of punk. What was once about experimentation, subversion and pushing the boundaries is now all too often just about copying to be cool. 

Take a look at Gee Vaucher's work again. Then rip it the fuck up and find inspiration to try something new.