Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Night Visions Maximum Halloween 3011 End Report

What wouldn't one do to stay awake at Night Visions?

So here's the report on the final night of this autumn's precious Night Visions Festival. You'll excuse me if I keep these talks short, because I have a lot to cover (and I actually left one movie out because there was so little to say about it).

Red State (USA, 2011)
Director: Kevin Smith

The screening of Kevin Smith's latest film went really well with the audience. The most hilarious thing about it was that all the laughing made one audience member shout out in frustration "SHUT THE HELL UP! THIS IS NOT A COMEDY!" By the time the end sequence rolled along, I assume he saw the error of his ways. Red State is as much a comedy as any of Smith's previous films. Unlike most of Kevin Smith's previous movies, however, it is also pretty damn funny and good.

In an ultra-conservative small town, the local preacher Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) is practicing drastic measures in his crusade against gay or otherwise sexually "unnormal" people. The teenage boys Travis, Randy and Jarod couldn't care less, instead browsing the internet, looking to get laid. Little do they know that they are playing straight into the sinister plans of Cooper and his deranged family.

The script is among the very best things Kevin Smith has ever done, among Clerks I and II. What appears on surface to be a simple torture-porn horror film quickly changes into something else altogether, but revealing it would be spoiling things. Suffice to say the actual protagonist of the film is John Goodman's no-nonesense FBI agent Joseph Keenan who only comes into the movie about 45 minutes in. Among Smith's usual dick and shit jokes there is a clear political statement against fundementalist hate-groups. Also, Smith's humour is pitch-black this time around and he isn't tiptoeing around his characters, allowing many of them to suffer quick and surprising demises. The film's flaws are found in his lack of directorial skills. Some of the action sequences are confusingly edited, and the film does end in a big deus ex machina, albeit a funny one at that.

It is a sort of modern postmodern genre-combining, tribute-giving genre piece, but it is well-made, acted, structured and entertaining. I wouldn't have thought Smith had it in him. Let's hope he makes more of these rather than romantic comedies.

★★★ 1/2

Morituris (Italy, 2011)
Director: Raffaele Picchio

While the smart people that purchased the ticket to the Surprise Movie (which turned out to be Attack The Block), I had the big idea to check on the modern Italian exploitation cinema. This film is about Roman Gladiator Zombies who come to life and use their inexplicable superpowers to kill off a bunch of twentysomethings. Sounds like a surefire plan, right?

Well, it failed. The trailers of the film showing before some screenings earlier already made me dread for the film in advance. The trailers were nothing but dimly-lit forests and people running around them. No jokes, no action, no gore. The splatter effects in the film were made by Sergio Stivaletti, known from special effects in such films as Demons and Cemetary Man. Also what was funny for a while was the horribly bad subtitles that seemed to be in Borat English. These two things were by far the best part in the film, and even they felt like too little too late.

For the exploitation film totally screws its stupid concept by making us watch as five bad actors talk their way into a rave in the middle of a forest. It is all a ruse, however, and the three Italian men plan to brutally rape and murder the two Romanian tourist girls they had picked up. And we have to watch about twenty minutes of them brutally beating the crying women before the killing starts. Now, I'm far from being a moralist, but I do feel that rape is such a painful subject that it should only be used in films that treat it with the gravitas, such as Irreversible or Boys Don't Cry. Of course there are exploitation films such as the original I Spit On Your Grave that feel disgusting but even they have something to say about the subject. Here it is used just to make the audience want to reach catharsis by watching the rapists get brutally killed. As of such, there is no entertainment value to this thing.

★ 1/2

Viva Riva! (Democratic Republic of Congo/France/Belgium, 2010)
Director: Djo Munga

Viva Riva has been getting praise ever since its screening at the Berlin Film Festival last spring. Indeed, it is a clear sign on the rising talent from the middle Africa. But it was also mildly disappointing because it's not that particularly original. This kind of gangster story has of course been told numerous times before. Of course there is certain exotism and African flavour among it. Sex and violence come of course with the deal.

Riva (Patsha Bay) is a petrol dealer in Kinsasha. He finds a huge supply of precious barrels with his sidekick J.M. (Alex Herabo). He gains a good profit, selling off the drums, but his riches also attract attention from various lowlifes who want in on the cut. Riva himself is more interested in wooing a married woman, Nora, who has an abusive husband. When the gang boss Azor (Diplome Amekindra) finds out about his businesses, Riva has to walk on thin ice to avoid a full-scale gang war.

The film does earn its title of African Scarface, as the themes of sacrificing friendship and love for excessive luxury and over-the-top consumption. As you may guess, it does not end good for Riva. But the real stars of the film are the colorful cast of minor characters, to the female soldier masquerading as a nun to the ruthless crime boss.


High Crime (La polizia incrimina la legge assolve, Italy 1973)
Director: Enzo G. Castellari

Enzo G. Castellari is first and foremost a self-described entertainer, and a very good one at that. But it was a hugely pleasant surprise to find out that he had managed to direct at least one lean and mean crime thriller that also has ponderous subtext, political messages and very arty editing. The end result was so good, much of the film was remade by Castellari himself into 1980's much more action-oriented Revenge of the Cobra. You recognize a true exploitation master from allowing himself to exploit even his own work.

In Genoa, the police is closing in on a large-scale drug operation ring. Comissario Belli (known from 1969's Un detective, still played by Franco Nero) in particular is fond of using drastic measures to catch the culprits. So, he engulfs in car-chases and beats up suspects, much to the annoyance of the police commissioner Aldo Scavino (James Whitmore). But the criminals are also particularly ruthless, and won't hesitate to kill their own or to threaten the police force's families. They are also well-prepared enough to carry out their threats.

The ever-young Castellari was also present at the screening, and remembered that the film's initial idea came from a real-life crime headlines. He also claimed that the ruthlessness of the fight against crime and corruption is still as ruthless as it is in the film, particularly in Italy. Much of the action takes place among the labor protests and the mafia also has connections to the unions. But by the end the workers realize which is the worse of the two evils and allow Belli to do his job. Even though Castellari trusts in the little people, there is some cynical views on authorities who are either corruptible or in a position where they can be offed easily, while the culprits get away with it. The film has a very postmodern editing style that at part mixes events to the dreams of the characters and alternative happenings that turn out to be false. The end in particular is left open and it's left for the viewer to decide whether the outlook is really cynical or whether there's a glimmer of hope within it.

Castellari is still very proud of the film, as he should be, and the film was a huge success at the time. It was also the first of many crime films he came to direct.

★★★★ 1/2

Trespass (USA, 2011)
Director: Joel Schumacher

If Night Visions has a Nicolas Cage film in its programme, it is usually worth seeing. And noticing that it was directed by none other than Joel Schumacher, expectations were either on über-camp or at a reasonably bleak thriller. At the end the film delivered a mostly serious and working thriller, that also has really over-the-top performances that will work for any fans of Cage's raging on screen.

Cage plays the diamond-dealer Kyle Miller, an all business and no play -family man. He lives in a remote mansion with his wife Sarah (Nicole Kidman) and teenaged daughter Avery (Liana Liberato). He is hardly ever home, which has taken its strain on his marriage, and setting the rules straight to Avery (in Hollywood movies it's always the parents' fault if a teenager wants to go to a party). But the high-end security that the house has, also has a few flaws that are exploited by a team of high-end burglars that kidnap Kyle and Sarah and demand them to get them to open their safe. But what happens when Kyle very adamantly refuses? 

Schumacher is actually a pretty good thriller director, and his films tend to work better in a restricted area. Most of the film's plot takes place in the Miller's house. Cage's Kyle is no coward but he is hardly heroic, being calculating, bargaining and altogether slimy in other ways as well. He is playing with the life of his family after all. So it's a bit hard to swallow that the film's events are supposed to bring the family together. Kidman has happily laid off the botox and is capable for two expressions now, and has finally started to show some signs of age. But the best part of the film are the criminals, who are a desperate bunch, but played off as real characters with problems, not merely as a tour-de-force obstacle in the way of our protagonists. It may have not been Schumacher's intention, but the film actually works up a pretty grey area on its portrayal of good and bad guys.


Rabies (Kalevet, Israel 2010)
Directors: Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado

The first horror film to ever be produced in Israel shows promise. The directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado were set to appear on the festival, but the pre-production of their next film prevented that. Or maybe they just boycotted Valley of the Wolves: Palestine, I don't know.

Rabies follows a few groups of people who are all driven to one mysterious forest. First, there are two teenagers from a rich family on the run, a brother and a sister who have ickily fallen in love and escaped their parents. While running through the woods, the sister falls into a trap set by a mysterious huntsman. While looking for help, the brother gets ran over by a car driven by tennis-players (two boys and two girls) on their way to a game. Luckily the crash victim doesn't die, but instead insists on going to find his sister. While the boys go out to the woods, the girls call for the police. Too bad the worst officers, a sex-hungry pig and his melancholy partner, happen to come to the scene and start harassing the tennis chicks. All the while a ranger has found the wounded girl in the trap and attempts to take her back to his cabin. But seemingly something also makes people in the forest very aggressive, and due to bad communications, each of the groups will engulf in bloodshed.

I really like the rare horror film where the actual threat is kind of vague. The name implies that a virus is spreading in the woods that makes the people act so blood-thirsty. But it doesn't manifest in red eyes and foaming mouths, so it's always a surprise when a character suddenly resorts to violence. But they can also snap back at being reasonable and be horrified to see what they have done. Bad communications lead into a lot of trouble, as do dysfunctioning relationships, which to gether make people push each other further and further. A lot of anger comes through these characters and their petty woes. They don't realize that their heartaches aren't so bad as to die for, and that makes them all the more tragic.

The different segments in the film compliment each other, much like in Alan Moore-scripted comics. The editing works well, altough there may be a little too many people to keep track of. At first it seems that the film is satirizing macho attitudes as wanting to get a girl most often leads to caveman-like violent outbursts. But the girls get to act violent by themselves later on, too. The film also contains a lot of humour, and suitably it is pitch-black. This actually is a rare thing nowadays: a horror film set in a forest that does work!

★★★ 1/2

Deadball (Deddobôru, Japan 2011)
Director: Yûdai Yamaguchi 

Alongside Cage, what usually works in the middle of the night are the goofy japanese splatter films from the studio Sushi Typhoon. The films do tend to be hit-and-miss, but what sets Deadball on the right path is that its jokes come thick and fast, Airplane! -style. So altough there are plenty of humour that doesn't entertain, it goes over fast and we are off to the next moronically hilarious set-piece.

Jubeh Yakyu (Tak Sakaguchi) is a juvenile delinquent, charged with dropping 53 televisions on people's heads. The Clint Eastwood-modeled chain-smoker is put to the Pterodactyl Juvenile Reformatory. The prison is led by actual Nazis, they greet you by anal fisting you all the way to the elbow, and for supper, vomit is served. It soon dawns to Jubeh that he must get out of there as soon as possible. The best way would be to join the prison's baseball team, but ever since Jubeh crushed his father's head with a superpowered pitch and his brother went crazy, slaughtering people with balls, he has made a vow never to throw a ball again. But he may soon need to, since the nazis are planning to get rid of their prisoners by making the game a lot more violent.

The japanese do a lot of cartoon-like comedies and this is pure Tom & Jerry humour but with real people. The film is very crass, and its gory kill scenes are far from convincing. But the best way to watch this kind of crap is in the middle of the night with an audience howling with laughter. It does run out of steam at one point, but saves a lot by offering a truly outrageous finale. One has to ponder what did the regular japanese citizens think about that one.


Valley of the Wolves: Palestine (Kurtlar Vadisi Filistin, Turkey 2011)
Director: Zübeyr Sasmaz

By outrageousness, however, nothing beats this Turkish action film. It is the latest adventure of the Turkish agent Polat Alemdar (Necati Sasmaz), who would be best described as the muslim Steven Seagal. Polat travels the world to where-ever the muslims suffer oppression, and doesn't hesitate to brutally murder whoever is to blame for that. He has already set things right in Iraq, by killing lots of yankee scum, so now he heads to Palestine. The Turkish commando team runs into problems already at the border where they refuse to recognize that they have come to Israel. They state that their business is to kill the military leader of the Jews, the über-zionist Mosche Ben Eliezer (Erdal Besikcioglu). When the border guard refuses to take them to him, they start to shoot up soldiers. And won't stop until all the bad Jews in Palestine have been killed.

During the old days, Turkish films were mostly hilariously clumsy rip-offs of big Hollywood pictures, since no copyright laws were held in the country. Nowadays things are different, altough the spirit remains the same. Valley of the Wolves 2 looks expensive enough and has a somewhat original story. But the core is exactly the same as in the most over-the-top right-wing revenge fantasies of the 80's and 90's, mostly starring Chuck Norris and Steven Seagal. Like those guys, Sasmaz doesn't quip too many one-liners, but when he does, they are suitably awful. All the Turkish action films I've seen have nearly invincible leading men. It's also true here. It is impossible to kill Polat and his two brothers-in-arms, but they slaughter Israeli soldiers by the hundreds. That's probably why the Israelis have to kill so many palestinian civils and Hamas fighters to compensate.

So the film is nearly only killing people, and to boot it is an unbelievably serious affair. Too much joking would've taken some of the edge off this. Now, the end result is repetitive and awful, but one must admire its ruthless attitude. And it worked, too: The film became the most watched film of all time in Turkey.


Ator – the Fighting Eagle (Ator l'invincibile, Italy 1983)
Director: Joe D'Amato

Needless to say, the film isn't nearly as awesome nor expensive as the poster.
And then we got to the real meat of the festival, about 7 AM in the morning. Joe D'Amato is known as a real godfather of sleaze in Italy. He directed hunderds of films, most of which didn't shy away from nudity, gore and sex. But when the early 80's came, he saw a market for an adventure movie for children, and copied the adventures of Conan, so memorably brought to screen by John Milius. Ator the Barbarian was a series that spawned three films, and we had the good fortune to see the very first one.

In a needlessly detailed backstory (which is told no less than twice) we learn that according to the prophecies, the newborn Ator will be the chosen one to throw the evil High Priest of the Spider (played by a bearded burly black dude named Dakar). The warrior Griba (Edmund Purdom) takes the baby to be raised in a remote village and hides his birthright from the Armies of the Spider. Things do not work as good as they should, as Ator grows up to be played Miles O'Keeffe, and neither looks or acts like anything is working inside his head. When Ator has grown of age, he brings back a bear cub as a pet for his step sister. 

As you can see from this clip, he also decides that the siblings must marry. Somehow, his foster-parents happily agree, but as they are about to complete the ceremony, the Armies of the Spider attack, kill all the villagers except Ator, and steal his sister. He appears to be a little bummed by this. But then Griba appears and promises to train Ator to be a true warrior. Somehow for an 80's movie this is done without a montage, and Ator learns all the necessary skills in one afternoon. When taking a break, he spots a beautiful female thief (Sabrina Siani) fighting against aggressors. Luckily, everyone else in Ator's world is as smart as a lima bean, and Ator manages to best them. The female who refuses to reveal her name (altough it is actually Roon) joins Ator on a quest to defeat the High Priest of the Spider, and the Spider as well.

And treasure.
As you probably notice, the film's plot seems to be written by a five-year-old. Ator and Roon bumble from one fantasy cliché to another just because and escape because they were supposed to. Following them is Ator's pet bear, and D'Amato spends an uncanny amount of time just shooting it running from one place to another. Seems like he almost would've wanted to make a film about cute baby animals instead. That might explain why all the action in Ator is so horribly shot that it look just like five-year-olds fighting with plastic swords. In the end we get a betrayal that makes absolutely zero sense, the worst giant spider I have ever seen (it looks like a big hairy arse with dangling legs, caught in a corridor), and Ator choosing his sister over the fair, corageous and dying Roon. He's not just stupid, he's an asshole too.

The film is slow as hell and so stupid I think I suffered some sort of brain damage. But if there is one time of the day when this kind of thing makes you giggle, it's at 7 in the morning when you have stayed up all night.

★ or ★★★★★

Lady Terminator (Pembalasan ratu pantai selatan, Indonesia 1989)
Director: H. Tjut Djalil

But even Ator's magnificent stupidity remains second to this masterpiece, which will surely be hailed as one of the best closing films Night Visions has ever seen, alongside Pieces and Super Typhoon. Lady Terminator is something truly incredible. Altough the title might give you such an idea, the film doesn't actually contain any robots, cyborgs or androids. But it is a pretty clear-cut copy of James Cameron's The Terminator otherwise. It is a true trashy exploitation film from Indonesia, where such things hardly matter.

According to an Indonesian legend, there was once a sex-hungry queen who couldn't be satisfied by any man. She then bit their penises off with her vagina dentata in the heat of passion. But one man realized what was the problem, and pulled a snake out of her tush. This angered the Sea Queen so much that she vowed revenge on the disciples of the man in the future. Cut to the modern day, where a spunky young anthropology student Tania Wilson (Barbara Ann Constable) decides to visit the island where the Sea Queen used to live. But while diving, she is surprised to see herself fall into a comfrotable bed and getting her legs spread. Then an asp slithers into her pussy and thus she is possessed by the spirit of the Evil Queen herself. When she returns to shore nude, she stumbles upon a couple of horny Indonesian youths. They soon get their penises bitten off and are VERY dead bodies.

And this is where the similarities to James Cameron's sci-fi classic begin. Tania is now utterly unstoppable and she targets the young nightclub singer Erica (Claudia Angelique Rademaker), who's a descedent of the young man who wrecked the Sea Queen's powers way back when. A widowed American cop in Singapore Max McNeill (Christopher J. Hart) tries to help her to survive. In the film's action, Lady Terminator doesn't lose at all to even T2, as more and more rounds are shot. Seriously, every single character that gets shot in the film gets shot into swiss cheese. The script doesn't care one bit that Lady Terminator isn't a robot, so she hilariously does very robot things just because. When she cleans her eyeball under the sink in one scene, it actually looks better made than with Arnold Schwarzenegger's puppet head.

Go with them if you want to live.
The film's dialogue is ludicrous, and howlingly funny. It doesn't sound like anything anyone would say in any circumstances. The characters have almost no logic in their decisions, so they might go shopping when they know an unkillable murderer is on their trail. The finale une-ups all the craziness that has gone before it, by bringing in helicopters, surfer dudes, laser eyes and the lot. I haven't laughed so hard for a very, very long time.

★ or ★★★★★

Thanks a million for the unforgettable memories again, Night Visions. Can't wait for what's in store in the spring!



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