Saturday, 1 December 2012

Night Visions Maximum Halloween 3012

Night Visions Maximum Halloween 3012. Even writing the name of the festival makes me tremble. It was very, very cool. I wrote several extensive reviews already for the Elitisti web magazine, so check those out if you happen to know Finnish. But since I hadn't the time or the resources to write about every single film I saw at that festival, I'll leave the scraps here. But never fret, for since the festival's quality this year was nothing short of brilliant, there were plenty of interesting new genre pieces to go here, too. This year at Night Visions saw a rise of thrillers that didn't quite fit the regular horror form the festival is known for, but won audiences over by their sheer inventiveness and quality.

Berberian Sound Studio (Great Britain, 2012)
Director: Peter Strickland

This Italian-shot Brit thriller had plenty of positive buzz surrounding it. And I was both disappointed and satisfied with the resulting film simultaneously. Director Strickland plays with the sort of mental breakdown story that horror fans know by heart from the films of classic directors from Polanski to Cronenberg. The difference here is that Strickland isn't twisting the screw of suspense as tightly as those two masters. But audio-visually his film is on par with those masterpieces.

The timid sound engineer Gilderoy (the sublime Toby Jones) is summoned to Italy to work on a movie he knows nothing about beforehand. The middle-aged man is still a real mama's boy, and pines for peace and nature. But his work requires him to stay at an artificial environment at all times, working with artificial sounds. To top all that, he finds the Italian film producers, led by Francesco (Cosimo Fusco) sleazy and unpleasant. The film he is working turns out to be a simple-minded torture-porn, all squishes, slashes, burning flesh and screaming young ladies. So Guilderoy's sanity slowly begins to crumble.

The film homages the old genre films made in the 70's. For fans of giallo and other violent Italian film, there are plenty of references to classics. But generally, the film resembles more artistic thrillers such as Blow Out or The Conversation, as the plot moves forward very slowly, and at first only tiny, almost insignificant little signals hint that something is very wrong.

The film tricks the viewer himself by mixing up timelines, fact and fiction and various layers of the story. These methods bring to mind Oliver Assayas's Irma VepBerberian is very confidently handled, and in a way that doesn't give any sense of catharsis or ending. This leaves the viewer hugely unsatisfied, which makes for the biggest flaw and the biggest strength of the film at the same time. Sometimes we need something to irk ourselves a little.

In the end technology destroys the nature-minded main character. He begins to infuse together with the very machines he works with. Mark Kermode compared the film to Videodrome. This comparison didn't cross my mind watching the film because there are so many more obvious (visual) inspirations. But that comparison is in fact perfectly apt. In both films, our subconscious, it's worst fears and greatest desires fuse together with an obsession to the means of a technology to create a hideous mutant.

Subsequent viewings may raise this film's score considerably in my mind. One thing is clear, the audio-visual strength on display here is so powerful, it is a pure waste of time to even attempt to watch this anywhere else than at a proper cinema.

★★★ 1/2

Tulpa (Italy, 2012)
Director: Federico Zampaglione

From one tribute to old Italian horror cinema to the other. Whereas Berberian attempts to say something about old movies and their technology, Tulpa is more pure regurgitation. It has the same inherent sadism than the films of the likes of Lucio Fulci, and the same obsessions with sexual perversions, laced with violence. But story-wise it fumbles up even worse.

Lisa Boeri (Claudia Gerini) is a tough-as-nails business woman by day. At night she likes to head off to an underground sex club to bang masked strangers. But it appears that a mysterious black-gloved stranger is following the club patrons home, and murdering them in the most brutal fashions. Ever-growing worry of her own survival starts to ruin Lisa's daily businesses, and she attempts to find out the identity of the killer before she gets offed too.

The film has at times a very odd, dreamlike quality, best presented by the creepy thin butler of the club (Nuot Arquint). This is contrasted by the very violent, pitch-black humour and sadism-laced murders. the best among them is a young lady's horrible merry-go-round trip around a ball of barbed wire. Even the strongest violence does have a surreal quality and doesn't feel like sheer torture-porn.

But the film loses steam as it goes along. The final act is a mess, with nothing remaining to hold the audience's interest in the mystery.

The film had it's first screenings at this year's FrightFest and Sitges festivals. After those screenings, the film was reported to be ludicrously bad, with its hokey dialogue and inexplicable plot-holes. After a frantic re-cut, the movie is mostly just dull. I probably would have greeted the stupider and sillier version more warmly.


The Seasoning House (Great Britain, 2011)
Director: Paul Hyett

A feminist thriller from the Balkan war would seem to fit Love & Anarchy or Artisokka better than Night Visions. Still, the resulting film was still one of the most suspenseful of this year's lineup. The film is the feature debut of special effects wizard Paul Hyett, and very surprisingly it relies more on stark characterizations, moods and athmosphere than buckets of gore or any supernatural scares. The film is very realistic in all its violence, which makes it all the more scary.

In 1996, soldiers have locked the young ladies of a occupied village into a house where they come to rape them. The captive girls are kept under strict order by the house's master Viktor (Kevin Howarth), so as to please their clientele. But there is one girl that Viktor has spared form sexual violence, the deaf and mute Angel (Rosie Day). Viktor hasn't got anything good in store for her either, he just likes to torment her and keep her in fear as to when he will violently pop her cherry. But Angel has got an ace up her sleeve, she is small enough to fit into the ventilation shafts and crawlspaces of the house.

Much of the time the silent Angel goes around offering to help her fellow captives however she can. They are tortured, tied to beds and brutalized on a constant basis. As Viktor and the visiting soldiers get more and more ruthless and brutal, she makes up her mind to have her bloody vengeance on the lot.

Hyett utilizes the blueprints and the cross-cut of the house rather brilliantly. The viewer follows Angel through wall-busting transitional shots. The character moves from being a victim to being a vengeful, unreachable ghost to become hunted like an animal. Hyett's cynical and gray-scaled photography is hopless and cynical. The film piles up ghastly things so thickly and often that the viewer becomes numb to its horrors before the end. But the film is still very close of becoming a future classic. The only thing stopping it is that a film this harsh and brutal isn't one anyone would want to return to.

★★★ 1/2

Shogun Assassin (Japan/USA 1972/1980)
Directors: Kazuo Koike, Robert Houston

Roger Corman's film releasing company bought the rights to Kazuo Koike's classic Japanese samurai/ninja series Lone Wolf & Cub in the late 70's. Producers David Weisman and Robert Houston realized a super-violent serial hinging so tightly in Japan's history, and so purposefully repeating itself, wouldn't be a success in the west. So they had a bright idea to cut the first two films of the series into a new one, thus giving the film more of a dramatic ark and making it resemble a revenge western more. The film was also laced with modern synthesizer music and English dubbing. Against all odds, the end result was quite good, and became a classic among gore-hungry action fans.

The small boy Daigorō (Akihiro Tomikawa) narrates the story of how his father became a wandering ronin, a samurai without a master, home or honor. The executioner Ōgami Ittō (Tomisaburo Wakayama) is the right hand of the shogun of the Yagyu clan. The cruel, power-hungry shogun brings hundreds of prisoners of war for him to kill, but at the same time becomes fearful of his servant's skills and brutality. He orders his ninja assassins to kill Ōgami  but they only manage to murder his wife. The furious Ōgami makes his infant son Daigorō choose between life and death. Since the boy chooses the way of the sword, Ōgami doesn't gain straight revenge on his former master which would be suicidal. Instead, he sets off to walk around Japan and live by accepting the odd assassination job. The shogun's pursuing henchmen he can off one by one if he has to. And he is totally able to, too.

The cinema hasn't really seen a protagonist as bad-ass as Wakayama before or since. The stoic, chubby man appears to be always carrying grudges, yet can have surprising scenes of tenderness and care when taking care of his son. At the same time he suffers no remorse in cutting his enemies into tiny pieces and letting blood flow like geysers  The comically overblown amounts of splatter and inventive fight scenes make the film exciting. But the real value is in the surprisingly poetic, quiet scenes just before the slaughter. The film thus shares something with the films of Sergio Leone.

In the end, like in a true serial, Ōgami's exploits have no proper end. The wandering knight and his son just wander on to new adventures, on their never-ending walk to hell.


Seeding of A Ghost (Zhong gui, Hong Kong 1983)
Director: Chuan Yang

At first glance, this year's final film of the festival didn't seem to be as insane and hilarious as previous Night Visions closers. But this Shaw Brothers horror classic gets crazier and crazier as it goes on, to the point where the oddity is so mind-blowing one has trouble keeping up with all its twists and turns. The early screening after a night of staying awake might be to blame. But more probably it's the fact that this film is so sprawling with ideas that the viewer has no time to recover until the next one comes from out of nowhere.

Why hello there! Am I delirious or is this really happening?
A regular Hong Kong taxi driver Anthony Fang (Norman Chu) hits a man while driving in a dark and gloomy street. He is relieved to see the man survived, but then the victim reveals himself to be an evil sorceror and promises that Anthony is cursed from there on. Anthony shrugs this off since he has a beautiful young wife (Mi Tien) to go home to. But soon, she grows ever more restless and embarks on a relationship with the card shark Fong (Norman Tsui). Coming home from her lover, she ventures into a dangerous neighborhood and is raped and murdered by hoodlums.

The broken Anthony seeks the evil sorceror to help him. The wizard promises to bring her back to life, but swears to use dark forces with will fare badly on the man already jinxed with bad luck. Anthony doesn't care. So, the wife is brought back as a supernatural zombie, but she's not particularly happy about it. The evil magic zombie starts to have her revenge on everyone who irked her, as well as their whole families, her former lover first and foremost. The resulting havoc destroys everything it comes across.

While the first half of the film is sold on ridiculous soft porn sex scenes, and stupidly melodramtic romance, the real fun begins when black magic comes properly into the picture. The resulting fight between the forces of good and evil are nothing short of spectacular, and feature a lot of actually quite good effects work. Blood and guts are pumped out ridiculous amounts. The film also develops the then-popular themes of body horror by featuring plenty of odd mutilations and human body parts turning into bloody, monstrous appendixes.

The film plays a lot on the presumed fairy take ending of love and goodness triumphing over hate and vengeance. But the film packs a mean punch, and its final scene in particular is deliciously wicked. I am not an expert on Chinese folklore, but I would have to say, if this represents it, the country is a lot more insane than I ever imagined.

★ or ★★★★★

So that was that. I hear the theater itself is calling me to return again and again. It's saying... I've always been at Night Visions.

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