Ginger Nuts of Horror
By Alex Davis
Dir. Buddy Giovannazzo, USA, 91 min
Now, I must confess I found it hard to picture the day I'd be turning my attention to a Troma film here at Film Gutter. While I've never been an avid follower of the cult company, it's hard not to have stumbled across at least a few of their movies over the years and while some have been fun, it's hard to deny that many are absolute and utter trash. There are a handful of b-movies I have a fondness for, but on the whole I'm not a fan of that end of horror. Just because there's a low budget doesn't mean a movie has to be low quality or low brow.
Some people might argue that the nature of Troma's movies makes them ideal for Film Gutter, but I've tended to try and veer away from flat out 'bad horror' in order to focus very much more on the extreme elements. There might be a few more Troma features that could fit the bill, but there's plenty that would come before those on my list of preferences. However Combat Shock has been on my radar for a while, with many claiming the film features one of the most disturbing finales of all time. That's a privilege that still belongs to Megan is Missing, in my opinion, but it's sure big talk to put on the table. So how does Combat Shock stack up?
Well, I have to say this one was a pretty pleasant surprise. It is low budget, and you can see that it's low budget, but it is one of those gems that uses this fact to its advantage to develop a movie that is grimy, unpleasant and uses what it has in an ingenious way. The story follows Frankie, a Vietnam war veteran whose life has well and truly hit the skids after his dark experiences. We see a little of that to kick off with in flashback, and revisit them a few times throughout the story as rather broken memories. He's got no job, no money, a marriage to Cathy that is deeply struggling and a baby that is anything but normal (which gets attributed to all the chemical warfare he was a part of in Nam) and cries constantly, a pretty harrowing background to Frankie and Cathy's misery. The main part of the story follows Frankie as he wanders the desolate streets of town, bumping into drug addicts, pimps, prostitutes, crime lords (whom he happens to be in debt to) as he makes his way to the unemployment office looking for something, anything by way of a job. All the while we see splices of his experiences as a prisoner of war, and the building implications that come with his long recovery and the amnesia he suffers about the attack in one particular village...
For me, this one was pretty impressive and explored a lot of interesting ground. It's a story of urban decay, of what war can do to a person, or having no hope and no visible way out of the situation you're in. Ricky Giovinazzo does a good job in the lead role as Frankie – he's very believable and his various struggles are pretty well depicted – and the constant, hideous crying of the baby is cleverly employed as a background sound throughout a lot of the movie. Sure, some of the scenes and the acting performances around the wider city are a bit ropey, but many add to the scenes of grit and grind that everyone there is experiencing. It's a story that really embraces the underbelly of society.
And the finale? Yeah, I'm happy to concede it was pretty full on. It's not completely unexpected given what comes before it, but it does certainly pack a punch and is a suitable conclusion to what is a pretty nihilistic movie. Combat Shock has certainly built up a cult following, and remains weirdly current and prescient. There are still people struggling desperately at the bottom rung of society, and soldiers fighting in conflicts all over the world who simply don't have the support they need. I also think it's a good example of what you can do in a movie without a lot of money to do it with, so for me it's a real credit to all involved.
RATING: 9/10. Maybe enjoyable isn't quite the right word for a movie this bleak, but it certainly was compelling despite a few flaws here and there. But given what the movie is some of those more ridiculous performances from the minor characters don't feel so bad – in fact many seem to fit what is a dark but absurd scenario. I can certainly see why this one has built up a following – in fact it's no shock at all to hear. I'm happy to give this one a highly creditable 9/10.
By Alex Davis
Dir. Kasper Juhl, Denmark, 100 mins
Come on in, the water's beautiful...
The extreme horror scene is one where a new name can really emerge and make a great impression. In recent years we've seen fantastic talents like Phil Stevens and Arthur Cullipher come through, among many others, and a name that keeps circling onto my radar is Kasper Juhl. Still only 26, the Danish writer/director has just finished his seventh movie, Your Flesh, Your Curse, and here at Film Gutter we were lucky enough to have the chance to take a look at his latest.
Your Flesh, Your Curse follows the story of Juliet White, a beautiful but broken young woman who spends most of her life in a haze of either alcoholic binging or drug-fuelled paralysis. She has a few friends, all of whom encourage and share in this type of behaviour. There are hints from early on that Juliet has some pretty serious past trauma, which is confirmed in a video clip from her father apologising for the horrible abuse he inflicted upon her. This seems to see her revisiting – maybe even being unable to resist – abusive characters in her life, and we see her endure some pretty torrid sexual encounters in the opening of the movie.
Sounds pretty dark, right? Well, rest assured YF,YC is merely warming up at this point. When Juliet passes out in public as a result of her drug use, she's found by Max, who forces himself upon her before slashing her throat. And here begins a sort of hell for Juliet, who is forced to relive some of the most awful events from her history, as well as experiencing new aspects of nightmare.
There are three main things I want to say about this movie, two good and one not so good, and I'll endeavour to do so without giving any spoilers. First off, this one is beautifully shot – everything looks stunning and there's obviously been a great deal of thought about the look and feel of this film. There are a lot of fine details that add a lot, and even the grubbiest and filthiest of scenes are shot cleanly and with real precision. There's no doubt this is a skilled cinematographer at work – it's lavish and it's perfectly easy to get lost in its arthouse qualities.
Secondly, the lead actress in the role of Juliet, Marie-Louise Damgaard, is absolutely fantastic. Obviously a vast chunk of the story hangs on her performance, and she really delivers – it's not hard to believe that she's genuinely going through hell here. The whole thing looks like an extremely difficult shoot to put yourself through, as Juliet spends a great deal of the time going through either physical or mental abuse at the hands of many different characters. It feels like a real landmark performance for her – in fact I struggle to think of many better leading roles that I've seen in extreme horror. It just feels real, which is a true testament to it, and I'm sure there are bigger things ahead for her.
The last thing I have to say is that – for all that I think this movie is overall very good – it did leave me feeling pretty confused and a little uncertain as to what I had just witnessed. I'm not averse to a bit of abstraction or alternative storytelling – in fact I'm something of a fan of it – but I don't feel like I really had enough to grasp onto that was cogent. I couldn't really tell you adequately what Juliet's arc was, and I don't think we really have a suitable resolution of the dark story with her father – I thought that was going to be a key part of the film, but didn't really seem to go anywhere (unless you choose one certain interpretation of the pretty ambiguous finale). Our ending scene suggests some sort of character development, but other than that it's almost a montage – one that is in equal parts glorious and harrowing, but a montage nonetheless.
With the above said, don't make any mistakes, YF, YC is extremely good. I mentioned Phil Stevens earlier on and the comparison is practically an irresistible one – these two young directors are really exploring just how beautiful and arthouse extreme horror can be in a way that is rarely done. If your view is that extreme horror means that is has to be grimy and visually unappealing, I suggest you watch this film and prepare to eat your words.
RATING: 9/10. Your Flesh, Your Curse is stunning to watch, superbly acted and kind of washed over me (in a positive way!) as a watch – I was fully immersed, so much so that when the movie came to an end I found myself pretty surprised. The overall effect is impressive, and this is obviously a filmmaker delivering a singular vision really powerfully. The surprise came because in some way I had expected something more of the plot to reveal itself – the last scenes are pretty ambiguous, and it's a film that not just begs but basically requires some viewer interpretation. If that's your thing, then you should check this out for sure – in fact if you like your extreme with more of an artistic angle, I'd suggest this is essential viewing. It's the kind of bold and brave filmmaking that suits me to a tee as a viewer – 9/10 from me.
BY ALEX DAVIS
Dir. Fred Vogel and Scott Swan, USA, 88 min
As much as I love watching so many great extreme movies with Film Gutter, as well as having the chance to write about them, I do occasionally wish there was something a bit more fun to take in. Probably once every forty or fifty movies is there something that genuinely makes me laugh, or that I can look back at with real fondness and think 'I'll really look forward to watching that again.' Of course, that's partly the nature of the beast – extreme horror tends to explore subjects that are darker and more taboo than horror in the mainstream, and leans towards the graphic and the shocking. However once in a while there's a movie that does leave me thinking 'that was fun'. But one that does fit that rare bill is Scott Swan and Fred Vogel's 2009 movie, Maskhead.
It's a strange movie, almost a film within a film, mostly following Syl and Maddie, who run a fetish film business – and their wonderful advert for models sold me in the first few minutes. They come across (if you'll forgive the expression) a range of male and female performers whom they employ in a range of sometimes disturbing and sometimes flat-out weird scenarios designed to titillate their viewers. The spectacle in places is so strange you simply have to laugh, and some of the stories and anecdotes we're regaled with by the characters are genuinely great. The whole experience is a bit crazy, a bit psychedelic and a little wonderful.
The titular character, Maskhead, is one of the popular characters in the film business' line of movies and is a pretty odd visual, all bandages and barbed wire. The genuinely nasty part of the movie comes rather later into the piece, when Maskhead's killings go from being staged and scripted to genuine and impromptu. The slightly meta style of film-making does leave you wondering if some of the earlier killings were the real deal to, but there's certainly no doubt at all as we get into the last half hour.
Don't get me wrong, it's not perfect. We get thrown all kinds of characters, most of whom are only in one scene and are sort of meat for the grinder. There's not a great deal by way of coherent plot either, so most of the movie ends up feeling something like a series of vignettes or in places comedy sketches. I was more than once put in mind of Frankie Boyle's Tramadol Nights so surreal and dark was the humour. But that humour is really cutting and really wicked – I never thought a scene featuring anal fisting could actually make me laugh, but I was proven wrong here. Then again, that might just say something about me...
I can't possibly leave this review without a mention for the real star of the show, The Cowboy, wonderfully depicted by Daniel V Klein. He's a fairly enigmatic figure who drifts in and out of the film almost at will, but when he's there things really step up a gear. The Cowboy just seems to have real charisma and stage presence, and his stories of debauchery are such a highlight here. It's worth watching just for his lurid tales of drugs and sex.
If you watch extreme horror because you really like your limits tested and your movies to be genuinely horrifying, then Maskhead probably isn't for you. No doubt it has some pretty hideous moments, but some of the video shoots are more like to promote laughter for this with that surreal sense of humour. Equally if you love a compelling plot this won't be for you – it's bitty, it barely goes anywhere and it has a whole host of throwaway characters without any real sort of arc or journey.
But in spite of that – or maybe because of that – I genuinely loved Maskhead. It's so out there, and the humour is so up my street, that I was more than willing to forgive some of the other problems the movie had. I was properly entertained from start to finish, which isn't always a familiar feeling around these parts. And I can genuinely see myself coming back to this one when I need a chuckle.
RATING: 8/10. I can't give it top marks, even though part of me was very tempted too, because I can't deny it has a few flaws. It almost feels like a showreel for the oddest, darkest comedy series you've ever seen. But seen in that light, it's very good, very funny and very much held my attention rapt. The characters are a bit disposable but there are enough gems in there – particularly the deranged Cowboy – to keep you hooked. Quite unlike anything I've seen in extreme horror – some readers out there might not take to it but this was something I heartily enjoyed, so I'm giving it a strong 8/10.
By Alex Davis
Dir. Frank Henenlotter, USA, 85 mins
The b-movie holds a strange place in the annals of horror history, with many being loved and enjoyed by those within the genre. Simultaneously these kinds of movies are all too often the reason those outside the genre have such a low opinion of horror as an artform. I've never been much of a b-movie fan, all things considered, but like a lot of people I have a few guilty pleasures that fit that particular description. Step forward Bad Biology.
You've probably already gathered I'm not going to make a case that this movie is particularly great in terms of characterisation or acting. It's not artistic, or challenging, or even scary. What Bad Biology is, however, is ridiculous, overblown and extremely entertaining. It absolutely embraces the concept at its core, never backing down from strangeness and absolutely going the whole hog in delivering its oversexualised premise. It's deeply weird, but it's a lot of fun too.
The story follows two characters with – how to put this – mutations in their sexual organs. Jennifer introduces herself to us the words 'I have 7 clitorises. That I know of.' That'll tell you pretty quick the kind of territory we're in. Not only does she have seven clitorises, but her whole reproductive cycle is accelerated, meaning that within two hours of sex she gives birth to what she calls her 'freak babies'. Our other lead, Batz, is having similar problems in that he has a massive steroid-addicted penis with a mind of its own.
I'd love to say I had made a word of that up, but Bad Biology follows our two leads as they try and deal with the issues brought about by their particular traits. Jennifer is out to find a man to satisfy her – 'I need dick like a junkie needs a fix' – while Batz is looking for just the right drug to silence his member and get his life back on track. It's almost inevitable that the two should cross paths, and they do when Jennifer goes to do a photoshoot at Batz's mansion (I have no idea how he affords living in a mansion mind) and stumbles upon him trying to quiet an out-of-control erection. She decides there and then that he is just the man for her – or at least has just the equipment for her – leading to a finale every bit as bizarre as I might have expected.
I can't help but love this movie. Charlee Danielson as Jennifer plays just the right kind of out there, with an innocent exterior lying above a maniacal sex drive, and there are just so many laughs to be had along the way, be it from absolutely outrageous quotes, way out there physical comedy or moments where you simply laugh because, honestly, it's hard to know what else to do. It's been a long time since I caught this movie for the first time late one night on the Horror Channel, and frankly it's lost nothing since. It takes an idea that if done by half would never have worked, but in pushing it all the way to its absurd ends creates something that will probably stay with you for a while after you've watched it.
RATING: 9/10. If I had to land on a favourite b-movie this would be it, and I should have expected nothing less from the man behind two other faves in Basket Case and Frankenhooker. It throws you in at the deep end of oddness and basically just swims into deeper and stranger waters from there. It's not going to be for everyone, and I expect there will be plenty of people out there who love it like I do and no small share of people who hate it. Most of the reviews out there are either terrible or very good, with precious little inbetween. If you've enjoyed Henenlotter's other work, or if you like surreal, gross-out humour, then this will almost certainly speak to you. You'll probably know pretty quick when you get stuck into it either way. For me, the opening piqued my interest immediately and I enjoyed everything from there, so it's a 9/10 from this reviewer.
by Alex Davis
Dir. Yukihiko Tsutsumi, Japan, 66 min
Ah, Japan. Where would extreme horror be without the weird and wonderful contributions from Japan? A vast amount of splatter cinema came out of the nation during the 80s especially, much of which was fairly missable, while more modern offerings of Audition, Ichi The Killer, Suicide Club, Red Room and many more have continued a proud tradition of extreme horror movies. And so we come to 2ldk, a movie I had never heard of before but the premise of which certainly sounded interesting. And I must say that this relatively short movie was a pleasant surprise.
2ldk follows the story of two actresses, Nozomi and Rana, who share a flat and are pretty much polar opposites. Rana is much more of a lively, social girl, while Nozomi is rather quieter, more studious and buttoned down. Rana also has a long history of succeeding in much she has done, leaving Nozomi feel somewhat inadequate in her shadow. But it turns out the two are about to be in direct competition for the same acting role, and their rivalry is about to explode in pretty spectacular fashion.
The early build in 2ldk is pretty steady, but that's one of its strengths. We get to know the characters pretty well in the present-day sense, and eventually get more into their backstories, especially Rana. The two actresses have a great chemistry, bouncing off each other well and really seem to inhabit their roles in a very organic way. One of the other wonderful things about this tense build is that we don't only heard the words they speak, but also have a lot of access to their thoughts. It has a certain element of black humour to it to hear one thing said and then another, much more unpleasant thing running through the mind of each character. The tension rises with a variety of smaller issues before we get to the real hard stuff, with both Nozomi and Rana needling and poking at ever more delicate and emotional areas.
From there, things get increasingly wild as the altercation goes from unkind words to a serious, full-on physical assault by each of the women. It's destructive, it's out there and it still retains a feel of dark humour all the way. It's certainly not the most extreme thing we've witnessed here at Film Gutter, but it does have some really great moments and there's a good feeling of polish and quality running all the way through. It's surprising to think this whole thing was shot in just eight days, with everyone working virtually through the night – one can't help but wonder if that contributes to the mood of tension that's practically palpable all the way through. Sometimes these quirks of how things are shot just feed in to the process, and for me this is a great example of this.
The film isn't perfect, and the ending for me was a bit of a bum note to close on. There are a couple of things that feel a little out of place or strange for the two girls to do, and as a slight jar to believability the two struggling actresses seem to live in an absolutely huge, lavishly appointed apartment. But I suppose I'm coming to a point of nitpicking because ultimately I really liked this movie – well worth a look if you can get a hold of it.
RATING: 8.5/10. 2ldk is a really interesting movie that blends horror and comedy pretty seamlessly, with a simple premise very well delivered by all involved. The lead performances are strong, the direction is good and the pace is tight and controlled. There are a few chuckles along the way as the characters' petty grievances start to take on a greater significance, although the comedy is of a pretty dark stripe. There are a few minor gripes along the way but there's an awful lot more to like than dislike. A very good entry into the Japanese horror canon that, for me, deserves to be much better-known than it is – very much worth your time, especially if horror-comedy is your thing. Well worth an 8.5/10.
"If awful were a zen art, you are witnessing it in action for 90 minutes here."
Dir. Chester Novell Turner, USA, 91 min
Now, I was roughly aware of what I was getting myself into with this movie. It's featured on a huge range of worst horror films ever made, and has even ranked highly among lists of the worst movies made in any genre. I was under no illusions there was a chance of this being a sleeper hit, or a low-budget film that far exceeded expectations with great writing, plotting and acting. This was and could only be awful.
Yet somehow Black Devil Doll from Hell feels like a movie in its own category of awful. If awful were a zen art, you are witnessing it in action for 90 minutes here.
Let's cover the essentials before we dig a bit deeper – Black Devil Doll From Hell follows the story of Miss Helen Black, a young, god-fearing, churchgoing lady determined to retain her virginity until she gets married. She leads a simple and lonely life until she heads into a local antique store and discovers a large doll, which she is immediately drawn to. In a grand horror tradition, the shopkeeper tells her that the doll is supposed to give you your most heartfelt desire, but that it has been bought four times and always returned to the store. Helen decides to buy the doll anyway, despite this dire warning, and it's not long before it's in her house doing creepy doll stuff, moving around the house of its own volition, moving its head and opening its eyes to watch her in the shower. You know, creepy doll stuff. Then it goes even further by given Helen her most heartfelt wish – taking her virginity in what is probably the weirdest rape scene you're ever liable to see, not helped by the bonkers cartoonish voice of the doll itself. This creepy-as-hell incident sparks off a sexual awakening in Helen, who tries to find a man to satisfy her, but nothing can make her terrifying wooden companion – who has of course wound its way back to the antique store to await its next unsuspecting victim...
Now that plot may not sounds great, but that summary doesn't do justice to how far it misses 'great'. It moves slowly and ponderously, there are huge scenes where remarkably little happens and you suspect any film editor worth their salt would be looking to move through things at a much better pace. The editing that does exist is choppy and messy, cutting to another scene or a different angle seemingly at random, or as though it was a surprise to the person involved.
To diagnose everything wrong with this movie would take a long time, so I'll try and give some of the highlights here. The opening credits are nothing but a list of names that run for nearly seven minutes over a soundtrack literally played on an 80's Casio keyboard – and that is what makes up the majority of the soundtrack, often overly loud and grating. To top that of, it's shot on an old VHS camcorder and nobody seems to have sorted out the tracking issues before putting this movie out!
And from that opening you are deeply into 'what the hell' territory – almost everything about this movie defies belief. The acting is atrocious, the direction is terrible and the story meanders around, spending most of its time going nowhere, the soundtrack is monotonous and irritating, the effects are laughable – when you do see the doll walk around it's obviously a kid in a costume, and there is one scene where you can literally see the arm of the puppet operator – and the whole thing is generally a trainwreck.
Despite all of the above, or perhaps because of all the above, this movie remains a firm cult favourite and has an audience that loves it to this day – it's not that long since it had a DVD release with the director's other movie, Tales From The Quadead Zone. In the vein of Troll 2 or Manos: The Hands of Fate, by getting everything wrong in a perfect storm of lousiness it has retained a place in film history. This will probably last even longer in the collective consciousness than many good or OK films from its era, mainly because of people's bad movie nights and the presence of a good many beers. Watching it alone of a quiet afternoon as I did is probably entirely the wrong arena in which to enjoy this movie, I'm happy to admit that. But even then there was a certain appeal – this is a miracle of bad filmmaking and you can't help but marvel at the terrible decisions that made it be. And if you're out there trying to make a film, there is literally no way you could do it worse than this.
RATING: 4/10. This movie is terrible, don't get me wrong. But there is a certain degree of entertainment to be had in watching Black Devil Doll From Hell because it somehow gets literally everything wrong. And in that respect it is spectacular. It'll have you shaking your head, it'll have you cringing, and it'll probably have you laughing at the most horribly inappropriate moments with its direness. I've never much subscribed to the 'so bad it's good' theory, so for me this is more 'so bad it has to be seen to be believed.' It gets 4/10 because other movies have bored me more, and there were chuckles there, just probably not where anybody meant them to be...
Dir. Nick McAnulty and Brian Allan Stewart,