Tuesday, December 15, 2009

An Interview With Jenny Spain

An Interview With Jenny Spain, of Deadgirl

Deadgirl tells the story of two bored and unpopular teenagers, JT and Rickie, who skip school one day and pass the time by going to check out an abandoned mental hospital. They eventually find a naked dead girl, bound and wrapped in plastic, in a corner room of a dark corridor of the basement, only they discover she's not exactly dead. What happens from there is the real meat of the film, as JT and Rickie's relationship is tested by this discovery and their differing opinions on what to do about it.

When I first sat down to watch Deadgirl, I didn't expect to like the film. Despite zombies being one of my favorite horror genre staples, the enormous amount of bad zombie films out there has made me a bit skittish about getting my hopes up for a good one. What I got this time was a surprisingly refreshing and original take on the zombie genre. This film, like Pontypool, proves that there is still fresh territory to explore within the zombie film concept. While I freely admit that it's not a film that everyone will love, I do recommend that you guys check it out.

The dead girl in the film is played by model and actress Jenny Spain. She gives what I thought was a brave performance, spending most of the film nude and bound to a gurney. Not to mention being made up in a less than flattering light with everything from simply looking unwashed and neglected to beaten and bruised. She never speaks a word in the film, yet you often wonder what her character is thinking about the things that are going on around her.

I had the opportunity recently to interview Jenny Spain via e-mail. She was very friendly and enthused about the idea even though this blog is fairly new and I'm a very inexperienced interviewer. I am very pleased with how the interview turned out and I hope you guys enjoy it!

Heavenztrash: If I understand correctly, you started out in modeling and then got involved in acting. Had you always wanted to be an actress or is it something you discovered about yourself through your career?

Jenny Spain: Ever since I was a little girl I have always wanted to be both. I took theater and modeling when I was young. I always loved modeling because its acting and expression. You can be anything and as a model I learned expression. When I took theater I did a lot of children's plays such as Peter Rabbit. Growing up I was always exposed to entertainment. My friends did movies and worked for MTV. So I had the exposure also being behind a camera.

HT: How did you come to find out about the script for DEADGIRL and become involved with the film?

JS: A good friend of mine contacted me about DEADGIRL and put me in contact with Gadi & Marcel. I did a home audition since at the time I was was living in Michigan. I sent the video and everybody LOVED it.

HT: How did you feel about the material initially, especially given what your character has to go through? What, if any, reservations did you have about it?

JS: I read the script and instantly fell in love with it. Growing up watching horror films this was completely different and emotionally dark. I knew my role as deadgirl and knew it would be difficult. I really had to emotionally and mentally prepare myself for it.

HT: Did you have to audition for the part? If so, how was the audition conducted?

JS: I did a home audition using a video camera. Before my audition I just happened to have been watching Shawn Of The Dead so it was a hoop going from watching records being thrown at some dead chick's head to a very emotional/animalistic deadgirl.

HT: What was the hardest part of the film making experience for you? Was there ever a time that you were having second thoughts about the project?

JS: DEADGIRL is a very dark and emotional film. Knowing I would be nude and majority of my scenes included a lot of physical and emotional activity, it was very difficult. It was important for me to build a bond and comfort zone with my co stars. I knew they felt uncomfortable and I reassured them that its alright, your not doing anything wrong. We are making something special. JT (Noah Segan) was very intimidating. Women like to feel comfort and have reassurance and I knew our characters were going to be a battle. We understood each other, worked together and made it happen.

HT: Did you enjoy making a film with such heavy subject matter? Do you think that you would do it again?

JS: Honestly I did enjoy making DEADGIRL because it was such an intense movie to make and it brought everyone involved close together. We knew how extreme and how far we were going and it really became a family affair.

HT: You've asked the fans on twitter what their favorite parts of the film were, or what parts scared them the most... what was your favorite part of the film?

JS: My favorite part was were they discover the girl, its such a mystery and so much death and beauty that lies beneath. Her discovery is probably the most intense because it makes you question life itself.

HT: Have you experienced any negative reactions from family or friends about the film since it's release? You said in an interview several months ago that you watched it with your father, I can't imagine that was very comfortable.

JS: Yes, I have had some negativity from family. I did an interview with the New York Post about taking my dad and my brother to see DEADGIRL. My mom still wont see DEADGIRL because she knows the content of the film, but she is still proud. I took dad and my brother to one of our premiers at the AFI Film Festival. I didn't tell them much about the film. I was hoping we would have separate seating but we all had to sit together. My dad was a little uncomfortable so I went and got a BIG bucket of popcorn. My dad and brother shared it and by the end of the movie the bucket was CLEAN! I reassured my dad that I had a stunt double. ;) My brother who serves in the U.S Army said "Thats my kind of movie" my dad said " Cool Jen". He is short on words but he has been a huge investor in me and my career. My dad loves the movie!

HT: Have you kept in contact with any of the other actors involved in DEADGIRL? If so, how are they enjoying the film's reception?

JS: Yes! I do keep in contact with everyone. We all became very close both Gadi and Marcel as well as spfx artist Jim Ojala. We have all developed a special bond. Especially working with Jim who did my spfx make-up. I was nervous at first, shortly we became the best of friends we goofed a lot and got into mischief. All the hours in make-up, not to mention I mooned ALOT of people! ha. Stuff they don't mention on behind the scenes. We made it fun. Not very many films go this far emotionally, mentally and physically. DEADGIRL had an impact on many of us and brought us all close together. That's rare.

HT: Are there any actors or directors that you would really love to work with in the future? Who would they be and what is it about their work that you enjoy?

JS: There are lots of actors I would love to work with. Everyone is different and has a particular style. I'm an observer, actors or not, everyone has some kind of talent to learn from. I think its important to be observant and open minded. It helps with with creativity.

HT: What can you tell us about your upcoming film Trust and your character in it? So far I've only read that it's being compared to Saw and Big Brother on some levels. (There seems to be a certain level of interest in tying reality TV in with horror I've noticed. The best effort so far being the UK zombie miniseries, Dead Set, in my opinion.)

JS: I play Elaine Tanner who is a lead character in TRUST. Can't tell you too much about my character because that would just give it away :) Both Directors Kerry Finlayson(UK) and Dominka Pyke (Poland) have won awards for previous international films. TRUST is about 12 reality TV stars at their last chance of fame and a huge wad of cash and would do anything to win. Everyone is put through tests, whether it's life or death, and nobody knows. Some turn up missing, dead, it's a battle between lovers and friends. Lots of sex, blood, its good. It's about who you can TRUST.

HT: You've mentioned a couple of non-horror film projects that you may have coming up, can you elaborate on those at all?

: I have multiple projects in the works. I have been offered many leading parts two are Sci-Fi, the others are drama/thriller. Unfortunately, I can't say the names just yet. They are all leading roles with some big names. So keep a look out! :)

HT: Is horror your favorite genre? Do you plan to work within the horror genre more in the future, or is it a stepping stone into acting for you?

JS: I grew up watching horror. My dad introduced it to me as a kid. Growing up watching horror films taught me to be fearless. There are many lessons to learn in the horror genre. Those who are not use to seeing death and blood, etc, who watch Lifetime and soaps all the time... if someone was in a real life situation and had to act quickly, who would be the first to freak out? It's common sense. So you wont see me on Lifetime. Ha! I love horror, but I'm the type of girl who loves to expand herself.

HT: From what I've seen you post on twitter, you seem to be a huge film fan like myself and those who will read this. You may even watch more movies than I do, and that's saying something! What are some of your favorite films?

JS: My ultimate favorite film is Bram Stoker's Dracula. I could watch it over and over again. It's so sexy, dark and lustful. I am not a fan of love comedies. Majority of those who watch love comedies can not divide reality and fantasy. It's a whole different world. I'm a fan of a good flick that keeps me on my toes, not something that would make me depressed, veg on ice cream, and cry over. That's just lame.

HT: Is there anything that you'd like to talk about that hasn't been mentioned in the previous interviews you've done about DEADGIRL or about yourself?

JS: I would just really like to thank you for this interview and all those who have seen DEADGIRL. We worked really hard for this and waited so long for everyone to experience it. Our DVD commentaries/behind the scenes doesn't compare to what we actually went through to make this film but it's as close as we could get. So please check out DEADGIRL you'll either love it or hate it. Thank You!

I'd like to give a HUGE Thank You to Jenny for taking the time to do this interview. I hope she'll keep us informed of her future projects and maybe grant us another interview later on down the line. You can follow Jenny Spain on twitter, where she can be found as @jennyspain. I hope you guys enjoyed it and check out DEADGIRL!

As always, Comments are welcome!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Chaw (2009)

Chaw (2009) 121 Minutes. Jeong-won Shin, Director.

Chaw is a South Korean horror/dark comedy film about a man-eating boar terrorizing the small Korean village of Sammaeri. According to IMDB, it's only the second film from director Jeong-won Shin. I was unfamiliar with all of the cast except Yu-mi Jeong, whom I'd seen previously in A Bittersweet Life. What drew me to watch the film was the concept. Killer boar terrorizes village. Yep, I'm sold. I'm a sucker for that kind of thing. I love old school monster movies. Unless Syfy makes it.

The film credits open with some rather disturbing and realistic looking footage of hunters trapping and killing animals in a series of quick flashes. I don't know if the footage is real or not, it certainly looks like it is. Once that bit of unpleasantness is out of the way (I'm not a fan of real animal violence AT ALL) the film starts with a man going to take a leak at the edge of a hill before tripping and falling face first into a dug open grave. He climbs out of the hole, clearly disturbed by this turn of events and is promptly attacked and drug away by the boar, who we don't see at this point. A classic beginning to a film that is essentially a Jaws knock-off. I mean that in a good way. I love Jaws, and I tend to enjoy Jaws knock-offs. And this one doesn't take itself too seriously.

From that point, we meet the typical cast of characters. The village chief, the retired hunter, the detective sent to investigate the killings, the new cop in town, and the big game hunter brought in to solve the problem. We are also treated to some strange villagers like an apparently insane woman who insists on being called “mother” and laughs maniacally at everyone, and an odd street urchin looking child who may or may not be her son. These characters have good development and interact well with each other.

One of the things that works in this movie, strangely enough, is it's humor. I'm kind of a hard sell for horror comedy. For years I resented Return of the Living Dead for making zombies funny. (Don't worry, I got over it. But, for the record, I like my zombies to be slow, hungry, mindless hordes.) But in this case the comedy and horror elements actually compliment each other pretty well. For some reason Tremors comes to mind, not in story, but in how the horror and comedy work within the story. Some of the humor in the film appears unintentional. For example, in one scene, a group of hunters comes to the village to help track down the boar. These hunters are supposed to be from Finland, yet speak English with VERY American accents. There is some physical humor in it as well. People are always falling down in this movie. Come to think of it, boars are always falling down in this movie too.

Visually the film is nice to look at. The forest is very pretty and I like the set design. There are a few action scenes where I didn't care for the filming style that the director chose to use, but that's a personal preference. The special effects in it are pretty solid, all things considered. The gore and blood effects are pretty typical of what I've seen out from Korean cinema. The boar sometimes looks a bit odd and not very menacing, but when they are showing it running through the forest and so on, the effects are good. It's usually the close up face and mouth shots where it looks computer generated. Bear in mind that I'm particularly picky about my CGI and am a big fan of practical effects, so I am probably making more of this than I should.

Interestingly, about 70% of Chaw was filmed in California near San Francisco, despite being a Korean production. Much of the film takes place in rural areas and it was much easier to secure permission to film in the California woods than it was to film in Korea. Many of the computer generated effects were also done here in the United States. From what I've been able to find out online, the effects crew spent two years developing the boar in the film.

Snakes feature prominently in two scenes of the film, in one instance it was a computer generated one that looked rather weak. I think they would have us believe it was a Mamushi Viper that you were seeing although it looked more like a variety of rat snake to me. The other one, which was presented in the story as being a venomous snake looked like it may be a Cooks Tree Boa or something in the smaller tree boa family. I realize this probably doesn't matter to anybody but me. I have been around reptiles most of my life, and find it really annoying when a film tries to show me one snake and tell me it's another one. At least the film makers in this case used a less common snake for their “deadly snake” than a lot of films do. I've lost count of the number of films where some deadly snake that kills you in seconds is portrayed by a corn snake or boa constrictor. Even the cover of Anaconda 3 (which I've never seen and have no desire to) has a bunch of ball pythons on the cover and the main snake being featured is a Burmese Python with something looking like a computer generated rat head tacked onto it. Completely ridiculous, but I digress...

This film can't help but draw comparisons to Jaws, as I mentioned above, and the Australian film Razorback, which it's particularly reminiscent of in the final act. I've also heard of an American film called Pig Hunt, which I've not seen, and have heard this compared to as well. From what I can tell, they are very different films though, and the only real comparison to be found in it is that both involve killer pigs.

Chaw is a very fun film and I highly recommend that you guys give it a watch if you get a chance. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. So many really bad monster movies come out, it's always a good thing when one like this comes along, in my opinion.

As always, comments are welcome!

(I finally got a chance to write a new review! Thanks for the patience everyone!)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Animal Factory (2000)

Animal Factory (2000) 94 Minutes. Steve Buscemi, Director.

Animal Factory tells the story of Ron Decker, played by Edward Furlong, a young felon sent to prison for two years after being convicted for dealing in large quantities of marijuana, and his relationship with Earl Copen, a long term convict, played by Willem DaFoe. Decker is clearly in over his head, being sent to a prison full of hardened criminals, while he is inexperienced and naive. He falls in with Earl Copen after a short while and is taken in by Copen and his friends, and struggles to adapt to prison life.

Edward Furlong gives a good performance as Ron Decker. He comes of as inexperienced and uncertain of how to best interact with the other inmates. Furlong looks androgynous in the context of the other inmates, carries himself kind of shyly, and frankly, looks like the kind of guy who would wind up being a rape victim within the first few weeks of incarceration. As the film progresses, his character changes, becoming darker, and more acclimated to prison and prison culture.

Willem DaFoe is excellent as Earl Copen. DaFoe portrays Copen as haggard and wise, a jaded prisoner in a way that seems more genuine than say Morgan Freeman's turn as Red in Shawshank Redemption. (This is not meant as a slight against Shawshank Redemption, which I am also a fan of). There is a tired look in his eyes sometimes, and a calculating reptilian expression at others. The performance is sometimes very subtle, and at other times, animated. Copen has been incarcerated for so long that he knows how to exploit the place to suit his needs. DaFoe performance changes showing Copen's adaptation to what the situation needs to achieve his goal. He takes Decker under his wing and shows him the ropes, so to speak. He helps Decker find a better job in the prison, and helps him make the best of his situation, while Decker worries what he wants in return.

The film also stars Danny Trejo, whom Bunker befriended in Folsom Prison. Many other familiar character actors turn up in the film as well, such as John Heard (C.H.U.D., Chumscrubber), Mark Boone Junior (Memento, Seven), Chris Bauer (The Wire, 8mm), Tom Arnold (Rosanne, Freddy's Dead), Seymour Cassel (Convoy, Rushmore), and Mickey Rourke (Angel Heart, The Wrestler).

Mickey Rourke turns in a particularly noteworthy performance as a trans gender convict, who is Decker's first roommate. He gives a great monologue at one point in the film about how he was born the wrong sex. In the DVD's special features, there is a really amusing interview with Rourke where he talks about the lengths he went to in order to get into character for the movie, including flying across country wearing a bra and outfit similar to what he wears in the film. In the film's commentary, Danny Trejo points out that Rourke also wrote some of his own dialog for the film.

The film touches on other interesting aspects of prison life, such as race relations. There's a scene in the film where the African American convicts are staging a demonstration for better working conditions and one of the characters tells Decker that he'd join them except that they are all black, that he'd be shut out by some of his white friends if he did. In another instance, a white inmate is attacked by a black one who is mentally unstable, and tension ensues despite it not being a race related issue. It also touches on things like how the convicts perform certain actions and make decisions based on how that action will appear to other convicts. As Copen says at one point in the film, “All a convict has is his name, remember that.”

The film has a great atmosphere to it. The set design is excellent. The prison looks run down and aging, and provides opportunities for great visual moments. The place looks so beat up and old that you can almost smell the old building musty odor of the place. There is very little scored music in the film, with most of the sounds present being ambient noises such as footsteps, doors closing, alarms sounding and the like. The majority of the music is heard when a convict is playing a song on a guitar and the others are listening to it.

This was the second feature film by long time actor Steve Buscemi, who also directed Trees Lounge, and later went on to direct many TV series episodes such as Oz, The Sopranos, and Nurse Jackie. It was based on a book written by Edward Bunker, an ex-convict who passed away in 2005 at the age of 71, and also wrote the screenplay. Bunker, who wrote several books and films including the Dustin Hoffman vehicle, Straight Time, served time for bank robbery, drug dealing, extortion, armed robbery, and forgery. (This is according to Wikipedia which admittedly is not always the most reliable source of information, but I've read interviews with Bunker where he talks about several of these crimes.) He started out with juvenile detention centers while a minor, and in 1951, at age 17 he became the youngest inmate at San Quentin Prison. Bunker was in (and occasionally out) of prison for various offenses until 1975. Discovering that he was earning a living from writing and acting, he put his criminal days behind him. Edward Bunker appears in Animal Factory in a brief cameo, which is what most of his film performances amounted to, including his role as Mr. Blue in Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs.

What sets Animal Factory apart from the majority of prison films I have seen is that it feels very realistic. People going into this film expecting the typical prison film will be a bit disappointed. While films like Shawshank Redemption and American Me feel appropriately bleak and gritty, this film has an authenticity about it that struck me as fascinating. The interactions between the convicts feels very real. Even the way that they walk and the conversations that they have with each other feel somehow more authentic than I've seen in other prison films.

I've never spent time in prison, and I've only knowingly been acquainted with a few people who have over the years, so I can't speak as an expert on the prison experience. But the few times I have spoken with ex-convicts and literature I've read, such as Jack Henry Abbott's In The Belly Of The Beast, have lead me to believe that prison life is better exemplified by Animal Factory than by Shawshank Redemption or Oz. If anyone who reads this has served time and feels compelled to comment on this, I'd be very interested to hear what you have to say.

The commentary track on the DVD by Edward Bunker and Danny Trejo is really interesting. They both talk about the different people that they know that they served time with and how many of the characters in the film are based on those people. It's filled with anecdotes about prison life on everything from the boredom of prison and comments on prison food to explaining how some of the different scams that convicts pull on each other work. They point out many of the extras in the film were ex-convicts that they served time with, telling their stories. Bunker talks about working to get the film made, how it took five years to get made, and some of the aspects of filming the movie in a prison with actual inmates.

I really love this movie, and have always felt like it's been overlooked. I highly recommend it to fans of prison dramas. I love the performances in it, I think the set design is great, and that it's got great atmosphere. I really hope that people who haven't seen it check it out.

As always, comments are welcome!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Calvaire (2004)

Calvaire (2004) 88 Minutes. Fabrice du Welz, Director.

Calvaire tells the story of singer Marc Stevens, a traveling performer at retirement communities and Christmas parties, who has car trouble one night while traveling through the wilderness of southern Belgium on his way to perform at a holiday gala. When his van breaks down in the rainy evening, he encounters a strange young man looking for his dog who agrees to lead him to Bartel's Inn for the night. Paul Bartel, a lonely innkeeper, at first seems very friendly and eager to have Stevens as a guest, but things become more troubling as Stevens tries to get his van fixed and move on to his next gig. Marc finds himself in an increasingly disturbing position as his situation becomes more and more out of hand between dealing with Bartel's strange behavior and the even stranger population of the nearby village, whom Bartel clearly fears.

This is the first feature film by Belgian writer/director Fabrice du Welz, who would later write and direct Vinyan, a harrowing descent into madness film about a couple seeking their lost child in the jungles of Thailand. Calvaire stars Laurent Lucas as protagonist Marc Stevens, who's other film work I am unfamiliar with, but does a decent job in the film's lead role. Jackie Berroyer gives us an excellent and strangely moving performance as Paul Bartel, the innkeeper. Also starring the great Phillipe Nahon, best known to me from his roles in Brotherhood of the Wolf, I Stand Alone, and as the psychotic madman in High Tension, as the leader of the villagers. The last member of the cast that I felt was particularly noteworthy was Brigitte Lahaie, star of many 70s and 80's French exploitation and horror films (even the occasional hardcore film), who has a minor role in the film as Mademoiselle Vicky, one of the nurses at the retirement home.

Even though this film is presented to us as a horror film with a sprinkling of what may be darkly comic moments, I find it to be primarily a very bleak drama about loneliness. Almost every character in the film feels desperately lonely and isolated, and it's clearly had profound effects on them. The innkeeper is the most clear example of this, as he reveals early on that his wife, Gloria, has left him some time ago. We learn early on that Bartel was a comedian before becoming an innkeeper and that he quit doing comedy when Gloria left, as she broke his heart. His longing for companionship is clear from the beginning, and in Stevens, he sees a kinship as they were both performers. But the loneliness is clear in seemingly everyone that Marc encounters from Mademoiselle Vicky at the beginning to Boris, the strange man looking for his missing dog, Bella. The struggle to escape the sadness and loneliness that many of the characters appear to feel is what seems to be the primary motivation for their extreme actions.

The film, while having a simple premise and rather linear plot as a survival/escape from wilderness madmen movie, has interesting little things about it. While typically a film will give the viewer a good idea of what the main protagonist's motivations are and an idea of what kind of person he is, this film does not. He is intentionally left vague to us, he is almost like a vessel to be used as a focal point for the other things that happen in the film. We know very little about him. On the other hand, we are given a much more clear idea about the history and motivations of Bartel. Often, at least while as long as it is left up to him, Stevens seems to be disinterested in the lives of those around him, and interacts with them only in as much as is required of him.

Another perhaps interesting side note is that we see very few women in the film. Once Marc finishes packing up his van and leaves the retirement home that he performs at in the beginning, the film never shows us another female character. The village seems to not have a female population. It's as if they have all vanished. The only indicator that this is not the case is in a tiny scene Bartel passes a group of identically dressed children in the woods. The viewer is left to come up with their own conclusions about why this is, and what it means.

One of the interesting directorial choices I noticed in this film is that there is almost no music in it. The majority of the sound in the entire film is made up of ambient sounds and times when characters are speaking. This only adds to the sense of isolation, in a way, by not using the music to add tension to the environment. The one time that music is present in the film, it is because a character is playing a piano in what might be the strangest dance sequence I have ever seen. Truly creepy and unsettling. The director also tends not to show very much on screen violence, the majority of it happens off camera. This may be due to budget constraints, or may simply be a directorial decision. It's a fine choice, as the material is strong enough to still feel disturbing and have a sense of dread building without using visual effects to achieve it. There is a lot of violence in the movie, we just tend to see it's effects afterward, similar to the famous ear sequence in Reservoir Dogs.

Also of note, I was excited to see that viewers are once again treated to the excellent camera work of Benoit Debie. Benoit Debie is one of my favorite cinematographers working today. He has impressed me very much with the handful of films he's worked on that I've seen. (Irreversible, Calvaire, and Vinyan.) As much as Vinyan seems to get divided reactions from the few people I've spoken to that have seen it, everyone at least seems to appreciate the camera work in it. I may review it here one day, as I found myself deeply affected by the film and consider myself among it's fans. I am looking forward to seeing his work in Gaspar Noe's Enter The Void.

Fabrice du Welz pays homage to many films and filmmakers with his first effort, and speaks openly about it in the interview portion of the DVD from Palm. The name of the innkeeper, Paul Bartel, is surely a reference to the director of the same name who helmed efforts such as Private Parts and Eating Raoul. There are shots in the film that reminded me of Straw Dogs, particularly during a siege segment of the film that is amazing to behold visually. I found myself also reminded a little of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Psycho, and of course, Deliverance. But the film feels neither regurgitated nor like he's ripping off those films. He's clearly shown a distinct vision and style in Calvaire, he's taken those elements and refashioned them in his own way. If anything, he's showing the audience that he is as much a fan of those earlier works as we are. As he himself puts it in one interview, “With [Calvaire], I feel like a young painter who is surrounded by many great masters. And very simply, he paints his first piece, his first important piece. So, obviously, he references his great masters. But he tries to do it with his own personality. That is what I tried to do.” I, personally, feel like he succeeds.

I recommend this disturbing little film to any of you out there who like dark, unsettling movies about madness and survival in extreme situations. There is a very low body count to it, so those looking to see bodies littered about the screen, this one isn't for you. I think it's a great movie and was one of my favorite films of 2004. In America, it's distributed by Palm Pictures and can be found easily enough to rent on Netflix, or can be bought from Amazon and other retailers. It is in French with English subtitles, and the DVD includes a very nice “Making of...,” theatrical trailer, and previews for other Palm films. As far as I am aware, no dubbed version exists, which suits me fine.

That said, I chose to review this film, because it seems like not a lot of people have seen it here in America. I really enjoy it, and I hope that some people who might stumble onto this blog who haven't seen it will give it a chance. I really look forward to seeing what Fabrice du Welz does next.

As always, comments are welcome! =)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Hiruko The Goblin

Hiruko The Goblin (1991) 88 Minutes. Shinya Tsukamoto, Director.

Based on two stories from the Demon Hunter manga series by Japanese author Daijiro Moroboshi, Hiroku tells the story of a goblin let loose through one of the Gates of Hell. As it begins terrorizing a school one summer, a small group of students and an archeology professor struggle to find a way to stop it.

The film starts with the disappearance of a high school teacher, Mr. Yabe, and one of his female students while exploring a cavern. The teacher's son, Masao, and his friends go looking for the missing girl, Reiko, who he is secretly in love with. He is later joined at the school by Hiedo, an archaeologist who is trying to prove that demons exist and is being spurned by his colleagues for his beliefs. Masao is clearly more important to the events going on than he realizes, because every time someone dies from an attack by one of the demons, an image of their face is burned into his back.

From the opening moments of this film, I was immediately struck by the realization that Hiruko the Goblin was not like the other Tsukamoto films I had seen. I've seen a handful of his films, and they have been universally dark and atmospheric. From the cyber-punk body horror of Tetsuo:The Iron Man, his first film, to the pent up grief and surrealism of Vital, I had come to expect certain things from a Shinya Tsukamoto movie. I was certain within the first six minutes of the film that I was not going to be getting that experience from this one. Instead of the dark, dramatic story that I usually get from his films, I found myself watching a light horror comedy with more than a few nods to other films contained in it.

Tsutsushi Umegaki's synthesizer score during the opening credits, which seems to be clearly inspired by low budget horror films of the 80's, gave me my first real clue as to what kind of film I was in for. Using that as a jumping off point, there were references to Evil Dead, Little Shop Of Horrors (1960), Alien, The Abyss, and The Thing among others. Tom Mes' excellent book "Iron Man:The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto" even shows a side by side comparison of shots from the ending scenes of Hiruko the Goblin and Metropolis! These things never feel like they are rip-offs, but more like nods toward those films. They aren't used as scenes being repeated from those film as much as they are ideas about effects and creature design being adapted for use in different ways. I'm sure that there are probably other references that I didn't catch on first viewing.

Japan's love of arterial spray is on full display here, from the windows being showered in blood during an off camera decapitation to the on camera attachment of a demon's body to a person's head. The empty school setting is used well, providing lots of long hallways to run (or bicycle a couple of times) down, kitchens to search and fight in, and stairways to stumble around. The heroes use a variety of weapons from shotguns to bug spray in their efforts to thwart the Hiruko demons.

The DVD that I have of this film is put out by Media Blasters apparently in association with Fangoria International. The film is shot on widescreen. It's got a few cool extras on it, including an interview with Shinya Tsukamoto, an interview with the special effects designer, a small feature on the goblin creation and design, a photo gallery, and a few trailers for other films from Shriek Show.

I can honestly say that while I don't think that this is my favorite Tsukamoto film, an honor that falls to either Snake of June or Vital (depending on my mood that day), I do think that this is the most fun I've had watching one of his films and I highly recommend it to my readers. It's certainly one that I will be watching again, and one that I think would be fun to watch with a group of people as well.

I decided to do a bit of research about this film after seeing it, and thought I'd share my findings. First of all, the name Hiruko comes from Japanese mythology. It was the name of the misshapen child of the brother and sister deities who gave birth to the islands that make up Japan. The story is recorded as far back as 712 A.D. The name translates as “leech child.”

Hiruko was Tsukamoto's second film, the first being Tetsuo:The Iron Man. When he was approached to do the project he wasn't interested in doing a manga adaptation, but was a fan of Moroboshi's work and accepted. While Tsukamoto wrote the screenplay and directed the film, he allowed others to handle the cinematography and editing of the film. This is an unusual move for him, but at the time, he was intimidated by working on a film for a studio, instead of doing his own independent work. To this day, he has only directed material that wasn't completely his creation twice, Hiruko the Goblin and Gemini.

While Tsukamoto doesn't claim to have negative memories of working on the film, the studio staff under him resented being forced to work seven days a week on the project, which was the style that Tsukamoto preferred to use. They also felt that he was too young and inexperienced a director. His biggest problem on the set was in dealing with a supporting actor, Hideo Murota, pictured below. Murota had an alcohol problem and would often show up on the set already drunk and carrying a bottle. Having starred in over a hundred films by that point, dating back to the yakuza films of the '60s and '70's, Murota disagreed about his part in the film and tried to force his opinions. He and Tsukamoto almost came to blows at one point during production and were separated by the cinematographer and one of the assistant directors.

The film also represents what Tsukamoto states is the only time that he has ever made a compromise regarding one of his films. He feels that the ending of the film is not what he would have wanted and that he had to settle for something less because the production ran out of money. The film had a budget of approximately $2 million, and when it ran out of funds near the end of production, the crew continued to work on it without pay to insure its completion.

It turns out that this film was a massive failure upon its release. (I didn't discover it until years later.) The studio, Sedic International, spent a lot of money on TV spots and ads for the film, but Tsukamoto felt that the posters were worthless. He was not involved in any of the promotion of the film, and looks back on it as a mistake. Tsukamoto has had a hand in every aspect of his films from that point on, from preproduction to marketing.

My information on the history of the film comes from interviews with Shinya Tsukamoto and from Tom Mes' superb book “Iron Man: The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto,” which I highly recommend to his fans. It is released by FabPress, and can be found here: http://www.fabpress.com/vsearch.php?CO=FAB064 or at www.amazon.com .

Comments are welcome, of course! =)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Last House On The Left (2009) 114 Minutes, Unrated Cut. Dennis Iliadis, Director.

As I posted on twitter the day before this film released on DVD here in the USA, I had only one wish for this movie. I wished that it not make me angry. I am a big fan of Wes Craven's original film and, when hearing that it was going to be remade, I was not a happy camper. Why not? Well, I'm not a big fan of remakes. I don't mind them, in theory. It comes down to what's done with that material. Some remakes improve on the material (The Thing), some do interesting spins on the material (Dawn of the Dead '04), some are mediocre (Texas Chainsaw Massacre), and some are absolute travesties (I Am Legend.) I always worry about having a travesty befall a story that I love. While admittedly not a huge fan of Friday The 13th, on the whole, I was completely incensed with how poorly that “re-boot” was handled. This is also the reason that I didn't go to the theater to see this film, and waited for DVD. The one thing that made me feel a little bit more comfortable about this remake being made was that Craven was directly involved with it and hand picked the director for it. I don't always like Craven's work, but I trusted him to understand how important the original film was to its fans.

It was not without a sense of dread, and I assure you that it wasn't the kind of dread that the filmmakers were hoping I'd have, that I put the DVD in my player. All I wanted was to not hate this film. I would have been totally fine with it being mediocre, just did not want it to suck. Luckily, I got my wish.

For the uninitiated, Last House On The Left is a remake of a semi-notorious 1972 film of the same name. It was the first film written and directed by Wes Craven, which was loosely based on Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring. While it's not without it's flaws, it was a disturbing and deeply affecting film.

Both versions of Last House On The Left tell the story of a teenage girl named Mari and her friend encountering escaped convict Krug and his gang. The gang kidnaps the two girls and assault them in the woods. Then when circumstances leave the gang stranded in the woods, they seek refuge in a nearby home that just happens to belong to the Mari's parents. The parents eventually figure out what happened and seek revenge for their daughter.

Strangely enough, this film is bookended by the two weakest scenes of the entire film. The opening five minutes should have been trimmed off, in my opinion. It's too predictable and unnecessary. There is no information there that we couldn't have figured out for ourselves from a single line or two of dialog that occurs about fifteen minutes later. And the last two and a half minutes of the film require a suspension of belief that is far beyond anything else that occurs in the film. Again unnecessary and honestly, just plain silly.

Those two things aside, this is a surprisingly solid remake. It is appropriately violent, bloody, and disturbing. The key change that most concerned me from the original (that one of the girls survives) is not as troublesome to the story as I'd been worried it would be. Several things are improved upon from the original version. One of the biggest improvements is the character development and the quality of the acting. All of the characters seem to be more fleshed out, more realistic.

The most obvious example of the improved acting is that of the parents. In the first film, they were easily the weakest link of the first film. (That is assuming that you take out the intentionally bumbling policemen, who were added to lighten the mood of the material. Thankfully, the remake removes that bit of nonsense.) In this version the parents act more like real people and less like soap opera archetypes. The original has a really annoying scene of the parents baking a cake for their daughter's birthday with them reading the recipe book together and so on that is completely ridiculous. For one, I've never had anyone read a recipe book with me, have you? But, I digress. In this version, they seem like more complete people, with the father wanting to get alone time with the mother although never actually saying so, the mother dealing with people from her job that she doesn't care for but has to feign politeness with(something I relate to more than I like to think about), and so on. They have lost a child already in this version, and that adds toward the reasons that they are willing to go to the lengths that they do for their daughter. And when they go to those lengths, it's very satisfying.

While it's an important part of the film, the rape scene is uncomfortable to watch, and if you are deeply affected by that kind of thing in a film, I'd advise you not watch this one. The scene is very graphic, but not in any kind of an arousing way. I feel like the scene is very much about power, punishment, and subjugation and not at all about sex or sexuality. At least that's the impression that I take from it. Surprisingly, unless you count Dillahunt's ass, this a nudity free scene. It's one of the most viscous rape scenes I've seen in recent cinema. Not on the level of Irreversible, mind you, but brutal to watch. It also shines a real spotlight on the sound design in the remake, as there are some very uncomfortable sounds at this point in the film. It certainly adds to the level of realism in the film.

The gang in the remake is still comprised of people who are sadistic killers, but they don't have the level of insanity that I felt from the gang in the original film. I don't mean to say that they do not work in the film or that they are a detriment to it, it's simply that the original casts a shadow over this one for me. In some ways this is one of the things about the remake that would work for me a lot more if I had never seen the original film.

Garret Dillahunt gave a great performance as Krug. I was familiar with him from having seen his work in Deadwood, The Assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford, and No Country For Old Men. He will also be in the upcoming film, The Road, which I'm very excited to see. His version of Krug is more calculated and measured character than David Hess' out of control psychopath. While there is nothing at all wrong with Dillahunt's performance or casting, for myself at least, David Hess is Krug. He is a lot of what made the original what it was.

I feel I need to mention the performance by Riki Lindhome. At first glance I thought she was cast for the simple reason that she was pretty enough and capable of looking mean. She looks like what I suspect some Hollywood executive would think a bad guy's girlfriend would look like. I have to chalk that up to my own personal cynicism though, because after watching the remake twice now, I have to say that she's my favorite character of the film. Lindhome brings the Sadie character to life far more than in the original film. She is desperate for Krug's approval, and while she is as deeply involved in the gang's deeds as anyone, there are moments where you get the feeling that she doesn't want things to be the way that they are. When her character is cornered later in the film and forced to fight, she is like a caged wild animal, positively feral. At that point in the film, she completely sold me on her performance.

I honestly can't say that I disliked the performances of anyone in this film. My only real complaints with it were the two scenes I mentioned earlier. That being said, I feel like this remake is pretty solid and totally worth watching. I would complain that it didn't really bring anything new to the story, but in the case of a story that I enjoy so much, I think it would have the potential to really upset me if it had. I think that for audiences today who are unwilling to watch older cinema (and shame on you if you are one of those) this is a great film.

For myself, I prefer the grainy look and feel of the original. Something about how it was shot, and certainly David Hess's Krug, make it a more visceral and frightening film to me. This film is more polished and clean looking, even if it is covering some gritty material. Still, it didn't upset me, and I'm very pleased about that part.

As for the DVD itself, it's pretty a pretty bare bones release. A couple of deleted scenes and a three minute long "Inside Look" featurette. I would have really liked a commentary track or two.

Comments are welcome.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Under Construction. Bear with me. More coming soon.