Friday, May 31, 2013

The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail (1945) Review

The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail poster
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Stars: Denjiro Okochi, Susumu Fujita, Masayuki Mori, Takashi Shimura
Genre: Jidaigeki

The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail, sometimes referred to as They Who Step on the Tiger's Tail, is an early film by Akira Kurosawa. Completed in 1945 but didn't see release until 1952 due to the war that was going on at the time.

A group of seven men and their porter, disguised as Buddhist monks, must swindle their way past an enemy checkpoint which has been set up to stop them from escaping.

The film is adapted from the kabuki play Kanjincho, and the older Noh play Ataka. The film's stage-play origins definitely show in the film. There's not very many locations in the film and many scenes are very long and focused. Kurosawa's signature wipe transition seems more like a curtain closing in here.

Should be noted that the film is on the short side at about an hour long. This prevents the film from ever dragging or feeling boring, because it is a little on the slower side. But it's a good film. From its opening scenery shots that remind one of Rashomon, to the middle long scene of the fake monks trying to trick dozens of enemies (definitely the scene that steals the show here), to the end boozing and dancing and somewhat ambiguous ending (an ambiguity that was never before present in previous versions of the story); it's all really great and enjoyable. 

The dialogue and general writing is very well also, as one may expect it must be in a film without much action. There's even some heavy suspense at times. There's also a dimension of comedy present in the form of the porter, played by then-famous Japanese comedian Enoken. It all works well and Kurosawa's directing makes the film especially shine. 

The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail

The cast is pretty great too, kind of like an assembly of Kurosawa regulars (though, of course, the loved Toshiro Mifune was yet to star in a Kurosawa film). There's Denjiro Okochi playing a very large role, a face Kurosawa fans may recognize from Judo Saga and No Regrets for Our Youth. Susumu Fujita plays an equally important role, known for starring also in Judo Saga and No Regrets for Our Youth, and would become a Kurosawa regular when he'd appear in minor roles in many later films such as The Hidden Fortress, The Bad Sleep Well, Yojimbo, and High and Low. Masayuki Mori, the man who would go on to play a the samurai in Rashomon and star in The Idiot, makes an appearance. And of course, last but certainly not least, there is Toho regular (and in turn Kurosawa regular) Takashi Shimura, who has appeared in even more Kurosawa films than Mifune has. So it's definitely an interesting cast for big Kurosawa fans. 

The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail

All in all it's a very impressive film from an early Kurosawa and probably his best film hitherto. Highly recommended for Kurosawa fans and worth a watch even for those who aren't. 

3.5/5 stars

Purchase The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail on Amazon: Criterion Set - DVD - VHS

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Most Beautiful (1944) Review

The Most Beautiful 1944 poster
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Stars: Yoko Yaguchi, Takashi Shimura, Takako Irie
Genre: Drama, Propaganda

The Most Beautiful is Akira Kurosawa's second film. It was made during WWII and is pretty blatantly nationalist propaganda. That's not to say that the film is without merit though. After all, what Kurosawa picture is?

The film is about a factory of women workers who make things like lenses and optics for the Japanese military. They are given a quota and a deadline that they must meet. They face very tough work and numerous hardships as the film follows them towards their goal.

Despite a clear objective being presented in the film (meeting a quota) the film's plot doesn't really "progress" in the traditional sense. The film really only tells a story secondly. Firstly it encapsulates its environment; it places the viewer into the universe of a wartime factory worker. Its intentional documentary-esque style further supports this. Almost none of the actresses were big names, and none of them looked like stars. They looked like typical Japanese girls. They wore no make-up, they bore no extravagance. And through their amateurishness realism was achieved.

It really is some very impressive acting. Every girl in the film, despite having little or no acting experience, did a wonderful job. Takashi Shimura also has a small role in the film but unfortunately its such a minor role that one can't help but to feel that his talents were a bit wasted.

There's a lot of emotion in this, and the actors do a great job to convey it all on screen. The problem I had was that I just really didn't care. It's a very slow moving, drama-heavy film and by the second half the girls just become annoying. They're constantly whining and complaining, most of the time over such petty things. I understand that the characters are immature because, well, because they were very immature and young girls. It just gets old real fast and sympathy for the characters is slowly lost. At least for me it was.

The Most Beautiful 1944 still

You also have the factor that these girls are directly aiding an imperialist government and equipping its military. Not to mention that the film itself, as per the nature of a propaganda film, is meant to manipulate a nation's public into feeling patriotic. It's the problem all propaganda films suffer from, Japanese or not. However, Kurosawa does a fine job at giving the film much more depth than your average propaganda film.

The Most Beautiful 1944

Kurosawa himself has said that while he was making The Most Beautiful it was already clear that Japan would lose the war. I find this a bit funny in a twisted sort of way. The film deals with a factory of girls struggling through great hardships just so they can help their country kill the other countries. And they're really passionate about it and, in their minds, they are completely righteous and justified in their actions. In the end they make their lenses and optics and they served their part. Yet, watching the film now, we know that the Japanese lost the war quite terribly. Which adds a large sense of dread to the film as we now watch the film knowing how it ultimately ends.

The Most Beautiful 1944 cafeteria

It's a great film to watch for its historical context. Kurosawa's directing certainly makes it watchable. All in all though it just had too much annoying drama for my tastes and the characters, though well played, became annoying and their actions seemed trivial and petty. The great sense of realism the film had going for it is much negated by the fact that it is indeed a propaganda film (which, of course, by definition, is manipulatively glorified). Really only for Kurosawa completionists and those interested in the historical context.

2.5/5 stars

Purchase The Most Beautiful on Amazon: DVD - Criterion DVD Set

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Cameraman (1928) Review

Keaton's The Cameraman poster
Director: Edward Sedgwick, Buster Keaton (uncredited)
Stars: Buster Keaton, Marceline Day
Genre: Slapstick, Romantic Comedy

The Cameraman was Keaton's first film after moving to MGM--a move he would later consider to be the worst decision of his life--and it also happens to be one of the last silent films he did. More importantly though it is widely considered the last "true" Keaton film; the last picture he would make with passion and in his signature Keaton style. 

I have very mixed feelings about The Cameraman. If I could compare it to one other silent Keaton film it'd probably be The General, since both feel very well-paced and more slow, making it feel more like a typical film rather than a mere laugh fest. There are laughs to be had no doubt, it just feels more like a Romantic Comedy than any other Keaton film before it. In fact, I'd say that this film feels more like a Charlie Chaplin picture than a Buster Keaton one. Which, of course, isn't necessarily a bad thing. 

There's not much in the way of stunts here, which is a tad disappointing but also not surprising. When MGM signed Keaton they forced him to use a stunt double for some of the more dangerous stunts as they were keen on protecting their investment (it's just a shame they killed it at the same time). There are plenty of, what shall I call them...visual jokes, though. Watching Keaton talk to a monkey or play pretend baseball or break a window over and over is all well and good and funny, it's just not nearly as impressive as some of his earlier work. 

Buster Keaton with a monkey in The Cameraman

Whereas The General felt more like a proper Action Adventure than a Slapstick, The Cameraman feels more like a proper Romantic Comedy. Keaton films have always involved a boy trying to win a girl, and his films have always had a very basic level of emotion to them, but in The Cameraman much of it is Keaton's character actually spending time with the girl (played by the very beautiful Marceline Day I may add) rather than just overcoming obstacles and spending the final frame of the film with her in his arms. So, in that respect, I suppose it is natural to say that The Cameraman has some of the best character development we've ever seen in a Keaton picture (though that's hardly the point of a Keaton picture).

Marceline Day and Buster Keaton in The Cameraman

It's a pleasant little film with lots of emotion and some real good laughs. A must-see for Keaton fans as it both marks the end of one part of his career and the beginning of another (or the beginning of the end would perhaps be more accurate--or perhaps just the end).

3.5/5 stars

Purchase The Cameraman on Amazon: DVD Collection - DVD - VHS

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Punisher (1989) Review

The Punisher 1989 poster
Director: Mark Goldblatt
Stars: Dolph Lundgren, Louis Gossett Jr.
Genre: Action, Exploitation

One of the earliest film adaptations of a Marvel comic book character (lest us not forget the Howard the Duck movie), though perhaps not the finest example of how to do a comic book movie right.

So the mob kills Frank Castle's, an ex-cop's, wife and children. So he decides to kill every criminal there is, especially the mob. Thus he becomes The Punisher. However, when the yakuza come over from Japan and try to take over the mob by kidnapping all the dons' young children, The Punisher must step in and save the children.

The plot doesn't really have much to do with The Punisher comics at all. Sure there's Frank Castle's backstory (a very loose backstory, mind you) but there's no classic Punisher enemies, take for example Jigsaw, instead there's all new enemies and a new story. I know that when this film came out The Punisher was still a fairly new series (started in 1986) but they still had plenty to work with. This is essentially The Punisher thrown into the plot of a typical 80s action film. The yakuza? Seriously? A bunch of young kids serving a major plot in the film? The kids in the film mostly ruined it for me. It made the film seem like it was undecided whether it wanted to be family-friendly or not. With the yakuza and ninjas and the kids it almost feels like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie at times.

The main problem is that this film is just some damned conventional and boring. Everything about it follows the formula of an 80s action film: from the enemies to the stereotypical black 80s cop to the involvement of children to the soundtrack to the camerawork to everything else. If you've seen any other action film from the 80s you've essentially seen this one. 

Then we have The Punisher himself, played by Dolph Lundgren (whom also did many of his own stunts in here). Lundgren does a decent job portraying The Punisher/Frank Castle, for the most part. He certainly fits the look (except for that painted on 5 o'clock shadow. Seriously, what the hell?). He has such a dumb face though that sometimes the sight of him makes you want to laugh. If anyone has a dumb-looking face it's Dolph. He's not a terribly good actor either, but that sort of works for The Punisher. He does a decent enough job as the title character, I can't really complain. What I can complain about, however, is the design of the character. Where the hell is the skull? Why would you design The Punisher without a skull on his torso? That's like making a Superman movie and not giving him the 'S' on his chest. Were they trying to make it less comic-booky and feel more realistic?

The Punisher 1989 motorcycle

This is an action film. In fact, I'd probably even call it an exploitation film (or, more accurately, an Ozploitation film). The only problem is the action scenes are lame. They're boring. The action is dull, unimaginative, and often gratuitous (not that I have much of a problem with gratuitous violence, so long as it's in good fun). And when an Action Film's action fails then there's not much else you're left with.

The Punisher 1989 yakuza Lady Tanaka

I watched this movie a lot when I was a kid. I wasn't born yet when it was released (not that it was released into U.S. theaters anyway), but I remember having a VHS or possibly even DVD release. There was probably even a time when I would have called The Punisher my favorite comic book character largely because of this film (my favorite pretty much changed every other week back then). But even with nostalgia working for it I couldn't call this a good film or even a largely enjoyable one.

The Punisher 1989 Dolph Lundgren

There's many better Action films from the 80s that you can watch. I'd avoid this one unless you really love The Punisher and want to see what early Marvel films were like.

1.5/5 stars

Purchase The Punisher on Amazon: DVD - VHS

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Game of Death (1978) Review

Game of Death (1978) poster
Director: Robert Clouse
Stars: Bruce Lee (footage), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (footage), Robert Wall
Genre: Kung Fu, Bruceploitation

This is not a true Bruce Lee film. It's shameless Bruceploitation that used the footage of a dead Bruce Lee to make some money on his name. It's actually kind of disgusting.

Before I get to the story in the movie let me comment on the story behind the movie. Before Bruce Lee died he had been working on a new film called Game of Death and he had already shot some footage. It was to be the film that truly captured his philosophy and display his fighting as he would want it to be displayed. He had to put the project on hold though to go and make Enter the Dragon which, unfortunately, would prove to be his last film; dying before he could finish what would surely of had been his masterpiece.

So, with the Bruceploitation genre already up and running and such "Bruce Lee" films being released like The Legend of Bruce Lee or Bruce Lee Fights Back from the Grave or The Clones of Bruce Lee, it apparently occurred to someone that they could not only exploit Bruce's name but his unused footage from his uncompleted Game of Death also.

The result was a stitched together film with some scenes using footage from other Bruce Lee films, some scenes utilizing the unused Game of Death footage, some scenes using Bruce Lee stand-ins (who look nothing like Bruce), and some scenes of stand-ins actually using cardboard cut-outs of Bruce Lee's face. Oh, and they use actual footage from Bruce Lee's funeral as a plot device in here. The stitched together film which shamefully bares the name of Bruce Lee's unfinished film comes nowhere near matching Lee's vision and instead is just an awful film. 

The plot resembles nothing of Lee's original script and the film only makes use of about 11 minutes of the unused footage instead of the more than 30 that was available. The new story is about some mafia who harasses Billy Lo...who is supposed to be Bruce Lee since the film shows us Billy Lo working on Fist of I dunno. It's a stupid fucking plot. It's a stupid fucking movie.

Bearded Bruce Lee stand-in in Game of Death

The only good thing about this film is the 11 minutes of actual Bruce Lee footage, which wasn't even used to the best of its potential. How can you take a film seriously when it actually tries to trick its audience into thinking some stand-in that looks nothing like Bruce Lee is actually Bruce Lee by use of false beards, sunglasses, and Bruce Lee cut-outs? It's silly, ridiculous, and quite insulting to audiences and to Bruce Lee's legacy. Also, I should add, they had to use a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar stand-in as well, being that he refused to partake in this "new" Game of Death.

Bruce Lee cardboard cut-out face in Game of Death

The non-Bruce Lee fighting is decent. It's nowhere near the level of Bruce Lee fighting and choreography but for what it is it's alright. The Robert Wall locker-room fight was pretty good. The motorcycle fight was kind of cool. Overall though it's just a pretty pathetic film. 

Robert Wall in Game of Death

There's really no necessity to watch this film. If you want to see the full 35 minutes of Lee's original footage for Game of Death check out the excellent documentary titled Bruce Lee: A Warrior's Journey. Also check out my review for the Unfinished Game of Death.

1.5/5 stars

Purchase Game of Death on Amazon: Blu-Ray - DVD

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Game of Death (unfinished, 1972) Review

Bruce Lee's The Game of Death original poster
Director: Bruce Lee
Stars: Bruce Lee, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Tien
Genre: Kung Fu

This is a review for the original footage Bruce Lee shot for his uncompleted Game of Death in 1972, before he put the project on hold to go make Enter the Dragon, which shortly after he, unfortunately, passed away, leaving this film to never be completed. This is not a review for the 1978 Bruceploitation film, also entitled Game of Death.

There is nearly 40 minutes of footage which Lee had shot in existence. I will be reviewing the footage and what Lee had intended the film to be, i.e. the film's vision.

Bruce Lee was to play a successful martial artist who a Korean gang tries to recruit to help them rob a pagoda which is guarded by a skilled martial artist on each floor. Bruce Lee's character was to refuse but eventually forced into helping the gang once they kidnap his family. At the base of the pagoda there are ten karate black belts they must defeat. Inside the pagoda there are five floors each one with a progressively more challenging opponent.

The only parts that were filmed were as followed: Dan Inosanto (a student of Lee's and would later go on to train Bruce Lee's son Brandon) as the Third Floor Guardian, Ji Han-Jae as the Fourth Floor Guardian, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (former professional basketball player and student of Lee's) as the Fifth Floor Guardian, the final opponent. Hwang In-Shik and Taky Kimura were intended to play the First and Second Floor Guardians, and frequent Bruce Lee co-star Nora Miao (and the only person to share an on-screen kiss with Bruce) was set to play the sister of Bruce Lee's character. The likes of Robert Wall, Chuck Norris, Jackie Chan, George Lazenby, Sammo Hung, Jim Kelly, Bolo Yeung, and Lam Ching-ying were also intended to have roles in the film.

Bruce Lee in Game of Death

The film was set up to represent Bruce Lee's true philosophy: to be formless. He would overcome each challenger on each floor by adapting to each of their different styles. He would ultimately win because he was formless, adaptable and they were slaves to their style (aside from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the final floor, whose method reflected Lee's own real-life Jeet Kune Do). The yellow and black tracksuit actually was meant to represent flexibility and lack of uniform, whereas many of the other opponents in the pagoda were to wear the uniforms of their school of style. I have no doubt that had the film been completed it would have been Lee's magnum opus; accurately portraying his beliefs and philosophy and his fighting style (or lack thereof). Lee, after all, was to be credited as Director, Star, Writer, Producer, Choreographer, Co-cinematographer, among many other roles.

The footage that does exist, which can be viewed for the first time ever in the excellent documentary Bruce Lee: A Warrior's Journey, is fucking awesome. The fighting is ruthless and the idea of having a challenger on each floor leads to great pacing, anticipation, build-up, and gives the sense of weariness seeing Lee climb up and up the stairs just to fight an opponent harder than the last.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar vs Bruce Lee in Game of Death

I've said it before and I will say it again: the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar fight is the greatest Bruce Lee fight out of all of his films. Many will argue that the best was the Chuck Norris fight in Way of the Dragon, a good fight no doubt, but still, in my opinion, not as good as Bruce vs Kareem. I remember watching Game of Death footage when I was very, very young (I'm sure it was from the shitty 1978 version) and I remember being terrified by Kareem. He was so giant and massive...mysterious even. He was silent and his eyes hid behind those dark glasses. Just sitting there in that room. It was one of the scariest things I'd ever seen as a kid. I remember as a child sharing the fatigue of Bruce Lee climbing those steps. I remember feeling just as rewarded as Lee's character must of felt after winning. It was truly a powerful fight for me when I was young, which only makes me all the more sad that the film was never completed.

One of my biggest wishes is that Bruce Lee had lived long enough to complete The Game of Death. I'm confident it would have been his best film and one of the greatest martial arts films of all time. I suppose we should be thankful that we at least have some of the footage.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Game of Death

The footage that was shot is fantastic and the concept of the film likewise. I can't quite apply a rating to this being that it's an uncompleted film, but by all means check the footage out in the documentary Bruce Lee: A Warrior's Journey.

Purchase Bruce Lee: A Warrior's Journey (which contains all known Game of Death footage): DVD - VHS

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Shiver of the Vampires (1971) Review

The Shiver of the Vampires poster
Director: Jean Rollin
Stars: Sandra Julien, Marie Pierre Castel
Genre: Horror

French director Jean Rollin's third film which also happens to be his third film about naked vampires.

A couple of newlyweds decide to visit the wife's cousins, whom live in a castle, for their honeymoon. Except when they arrive they find out that her cousins are dead...and by dead I mean they're vampires. And so from there the plot unfolds.

Rollin isn't exactly known for having straightforward or even coherent plots, but this one is fairly simple, for a Rollin film at least. It's easy to follow and understand (for the most part; it's still a bit confusing at times) but it's still quite an engaging story and enjoyable throughout. A Rollin film is hardly ever about the story though.

This film is very beautiful, somewhat on a poetic and writing level but mostly in its cinematography and imagery. Some people seem to complain that Rollin's first film, The Rape of the Vampire, was a bit pretentious and overdone when it came to camerawork and imagery (I happen to disagree with such an statement) but those people should be happy to know that The Shiver of the Vampires manages to have some wonderful camera angles and whatnot but in a completely non-intruding way.

Of course it's a bit of a challenge to do imagery and camerawork justice with words; it's something you have to see for yourself. There's great use of lighting as well, with red, green, and blue glows in every scene, sometimes reminding me of the red lighting used years later in Dario Argento's Suspiria. There's also a fabulous soundtrack. Whereas The Rape of the Vampire had a No Wave Jazz sound this film has a Psychedelic Rock sound. It's very suiting to the film and is actually done quite well; a joy to the ears.

The Shiver of the Vampires film still

This wonderful imagery and cinematography and lighting and score, as you may expect, form a very unique atmosphere. Which is perhaps the film's strongest point--it's atmosphere, which is an odd fusion of Surreal, Psychedelic, and Gothic. 

Marie Pierre Castel in The Shiver of the Vampires
Marie Pierre Castel nude in The Shiver of the Vampires

There's the obligatory nudity and eroticism that nearly all Rollin's films have. It's nowhere near as explicit as some of Rollin's later work, but it's not often that you'll find a woman with all her clothes on. It's never really gratuitous nudity least not completely.

Sandra Julien nude in The Shiver of the Vampires

Another great film from the master of vampire lesbians, Jean Rollin. One of my favorite films from him. A fine example of Atmospheric Horror done well. 

Purchase The Shiver of the Vampires on Amazon: DVD - Blu-Ray - Stream

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Nude Vampire (1970) Review

The Nude Vampire (La vampire nue) poster
Director: Jean Rollin
Stars: Olivier Martin, Caroline Cartier, Ursule Pauly
Genre: Horror

The Nude Vampire, originally released as La vampire nue and also commonly referred to as The Naked Vampire, is Jean Rollin's second film, following his black-and-white debut The Rape of the Vampire.

If any Rollin film deserves the title of Surrealism it's probably this one. All I can remember in the way of plot is some vampires, some nudity, some weird masks, some shooting, and a really far-out ending. Yeah, I don't know, go watch a trailer or something.

I don't really have much to say about this one. It's a solid movie but as of now I see it to be the worst of Jean Rollin's early vampire films (by which I mean up to and including Requiem for a Vampire). It fails to match the beautiful cinematography and sets of The Rape of the Vampire, it's terribly inferior to the following The Shiver of the Vampires, and it's not as atmospherically enthralling as Requiem of a Vampire. It's a fine film, and it does many things well, but everything it does is done better in other Rollin films. 

I've only just watched this a day or so ago and yet I'm struggling to remember much of it. It has a pretty confusing and convoluted plot that doesn't even make much sense when you sot it all out (as with many of Rollin's films). Rollin has never been noted for intricate storylines though. He's remembered for his poetic imagery and weird atmospheres and, yes, plenty of vampire nudity.

There's certainly some nice cinematography and imagery in here and it does maintain a pretty weird and mind-boggling atmosphere. Plus there's a fair amount of vampire nudity in here. The soundtrack is good too; a bit more conventional compared to the twisted jazz in The Rape of the Vampire or the psychedelic rock in The Shiver of the Vampires but still good nonetheless.

The Nude Vampire cult

I unfortunately only had access to a dubbed version of this film, rather than a preferable subtitled one. If you can, avoid the English dubbing. It's awful (as most film dubbings tend to be). Perhaps this was why I didn't enjoy this film as much as I could of.

The Nude Vampire naked black girl

An enjoyable film, but not, in my opinion, Rollin's best. A must watch for those whom are already fans of Rollin's work, but perhaps not the best starting place for newcomers. 

3/5 stars

Purchase The Nude Vampire on Amazon: DVD - Blu-Ray - Stream

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Rape of the Vampire (1968) Review

Jean Rollin's The Rape of the Vampire Le Viol du Vampire poster
Director: Jean Rollin
Stars: Solange Pradel, Jacqueline Sieger
Genre: Horror

The directorial debut from Jean Rollin, the master of shirtless vampires, The Rape of the Vampire (Le Viol du Vampire) is a low-budget yet highly inventive and unique film that is beloved by Rollin fans but unfortunately overlooked by just about everyone else.

The plot can be a bit hard to follow for some, so much so that the film sometimes earns the descriptor of 'Surrealism" and Jean Rollin himself said that when the film was first released many audience members threw things at the screen in anger due to the fact that they didn't know what the film was about. It's truthfully not that hard to follow though, so long as you pay attention. The film is in two parts, since it was originally planned as a short film (part one) but was later expanded (part two) in order to qualify as a feature. The basic premise is this: three people go a chateau to cure four sisters of vampirism, which they believe is only a psychological disorder. Things go awry though when they realize that they are indeed vampires.

One reason why the plot is a bit confusing and seemingly nonsensical at times is because Jean Rollin lost the script very early in filming the second part. Which is why the first part (which was originally made as a standalone short film) is much more coherent than the second. So not only did the second part have the burden of expanding an already concluded story but it also was largely improvised due to the loss of the script.

It's not the story that will remain with you long after you watch a Jean Rollin film though, it's the odd atmosphere and beautiful imagery (and perhaps some vampire breasts as well) that you will remember.

The Rape of the Vampire door

This was the only film Rollin ever shot in black & white, and seeing it makes me wish he made more in b&w. Of course it was shot in b&w due to budget limitations (similar to why Night of the Living Dead, another low-budget horror classic released the same year, did the same) but I felt that the lack of color really complimented the atmosphere and imagery. Anyone who has watched a Rollin film (aside from those who foolishly wave it off as "trash") will know that Rollin was a master at creating a haunting atmosphere that can spark numerous emotions in the viewer from confusion to terror to somberness to arousal. Companioned by simply stunning imagery and cinematography. If Night of the Living Dead's camerawork achieved the feeling of claustrophobia then The Rape of the Vampire's achieved the feeling of the haunted and fantastical.

The Rape of the Vampire Brigitte running in a field
The Rape of the Vampire Brigitte

The atmosphere and imagery work together and compliment each other and imagery, at the end of the day, is a small part of the vast atmosphere. Another part would be the musical score. Many of Rollin's films are noted for their great soundtracks and his first film is no exception. Much of the music has a very jazzy sound, but perhaps more accurately a twisted jazz sound. Comparable to many No Wave Jazz bands that would later form in the 70s and 80s, such as The Lounge Lizards (who are very much worth a listen I may add). In conclusion it's a fantastically haunting soundtrack that builds on the atmosphere and is an impressive piece of work in its own right. 

Jean Rollin films are known for their level of eroticism. The Rape of the Vampire lives up to its name. It's not nearly as explicit as some of Rollin's later films, but there is nonetheless an abundance of vampires boobs and bushes.

The Rape of the Vampire nudity

I mentioned that this film was low-budget, and when I say low-budget I mean low. None of the actors had ever been in a film before nor had any prior training. The scene with the mob of people actually consisted of crew members rather than hired actors. And last but certainly not least, the four vampire sisters were played by only two people. Yes, you read that right. According to Wikipedia two of the sisters were played by Ursule Pauly, one was played by a stripper, and the fourth played by a mannequin. Amazing.

The Rape of the Vampire sisters

That being said, Jean Rollin did a very good job with such a small budget. He didn't entirely disguise the film's budget of course, you can still notice the budget limitations in action, but he certainly made the best of it and the final product is to say the least very impressive. Which brings me to the acting which is, as one would expect from amateurs, amateurish, but certainly not terrible. Jacqueline Sieger as the Vampire Queen was wonderfully creepy and delivered a pretty stellar performance. Her ghoulish face is certainly one that I will not soon forget.

The Rape of the Vampire queen
The Rape of the Vampire bloody teeth

The Rape of the Vampire also has a bit of history and scandal to it as well. It was released during the May 1968 events in France (which if your not familiar with here's a Wikipedia article) and French film distributors, fearing the box office, released not a single new film into theaters during that time. Thus The Rape of the Vampire was the only new film to be released during the May 1968 civil unrest in France. Which is a phenomenal thing itself but the film also, because of this fact, ended up being the most successful film in France that year. Pretty extraordinary.

The Rape of the Vampire upside down cross

The Rape of the Vampire is an essential film for fans of Jean Rollin, it's certainly one of his best, and is also a great place to start for those unfamiliar with Rollin's work. It's a great film when you give it a proper chance and deserves to be considered a classic of the genre.

4/5 stars

Purchase The Rape of the Vampire on Amazon: DVD - Blu-Ray

Friday, May 10, 2013

TerrorVision (1986) Review

TerrorVision poster
Director: Ted Nicolaou
Stars: Diane Franklin, Gerrit Graham
Genre: Horror, Comedy, Science Fiction

TerrorVision pretty much defines what a cheesy 80s horror film is: a ridiculous premise, equally ridiculous fashion, awesome practical effects, MTV, a great soundtrack, and metal heads. (and W.A.S.P.!)

So a family, composed of a military grandfather and a grandson who follows in his war-like footsteps, his sister whom pretty much sums up the 80s in an outfit and her metal head boyfriend, not to mention the oblivious swinging parents and a late night horror hostess in the vein of Elvira. The family gets a new satellite dish installed, except, to their surprise, an alien monster from another planet gets beamed through their satellite and materializes out of their television set!

Like I said, it's an absurd premise (which kind of reminded me of The Video Dead). The story fits perfectly with its era, back when Television sets were the most important piece of technology a family could worry about, rather than the cellphones and computers and tablets of nowadays.

The 80s were a time of great B-movie horror films, a time perhaps only comparable to the B-movies of the 1950s. The slasher genre was in full swing, horror films began to become self-conscious of just how cheesy they were, practical effects had evolved enough to look totally awesome and people did some crazy stuff with effects. Not to mention that the 80s were really the last decade where practical effects were the standard, until the 90s, and even more-so in the 2000s, where CGI is the new standard of special effects.

And the special effects in here are pretty damn awesome. Not only the monster effects and design bring TerrorVision visual pleasantries though. There's also some wonderful use of lighting, and every scene is complemented by some colorful lights. The film always gives off a purplish or bluish or sometimes even greenish glow. It's very reminiscent of the lighting in Creepshow. And lest us not forget the wonderful 1980s vibe the film has.

TerrorVision Diane Franklin

The soundtrack is pretty fantastic also (just listen to the title song), parts of it were composed by Richard Band and a few tracks by LA rock band The Fibonaccis. It's definitely awesome.

All the acting is fairly average, except for maybe the beautiful (and simultaneously ridiculously fashioned) Diane Franklin, whom gives a very memorable performance. 

TerrorVision alien monster

If you like films like Killer Klowns from Outer Space then TerrorVision is your kind of film. It's campy, low-budget, hilarious, and pretty damn awesome when all is said and done. 

3/5 stars

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