Ginger Nuts of Horror
Dir. Guy, Japan, 40 mins
Fresh from the fabulous experience of Starburst Film Festival in Manchester, Film Gutter is going to have a small hand in another film fest this May, namely Derby Film Festival. The opening weekend of the event from 4th-7th May is the Paracinema weekend, celebrating and highlighting films from outside of the mainstream, and the 5th May sees a very exciting night for fans of extreme cinema, with five movies screening throughout the night at the Paracinema All-Night Takeover!
Over the next few weeks we’ll be bringing the focus to the movies on offer, which will include two we’ve already reviewed (and loved!) on these pages – Kasper Juhl’s stunning Your Flesh, Your Curse as well as the wild experience that is American Guinea Pig: Song of Solomon.
Which leaves us three very different movies indeed to look at – Ron Bonk’s She Kills, Jonathan Lewis’s Black Devil Doll and today’s focus, Guy’s fascinating short, Difficulty Breathing.
Now any of our regular readers will be aware that we dip our toes into Japanese cinema quite a bit, because it has a huge repertoire of movies to select from and a reputation for producing some of the darkest, most challenging and flat-out strangest movies out there. Difficulty Breathing is certainly a worthy entry to that pantheon – simply shot, and following a single unnamed female lead, this is a distilled tale of one woman’s descent into insanity.
In the opening we see her out on the street, but as she goes on her way she finds herself drawn back to dark memories of a rape that she suffered. Haunted by those events, she rushes back to the safety of her house – and only rarely for the rest of the movie does she ever leave it. As she begins to run out of food, and suspect she is pregnant as the result of her sexual attack, her mind begins to unravel and the darkness that she felt she could keep outside soon enough inveigles its way into her home…
There’s no doubt that Difficulty Breathing is film-making on a very small budget, but it is generally effectively done. The lead actress gives a strong performance and her fear and paranoia is believable from start to finish, and the camera angles are certainly interesting also – at times they get extremely up close and personal, which just adds to the discomfort for the viewer. There’s very little dialogue, but it’s not really necessary at all in a story focused on isolation and reclusion. You also have to give a tip of the hat to the sound design – the first thing that rolls across the screen is a message saying ‘Play Loud’ and that’s certainly a piece of advice worth heeding! There are lots of simple but clever little devices in play here that genuinely added an audio element to the horror.
For all that, there were a handful of reservations. The beginning of the movie is certainly a slow build, and it’s only really in the last 15 minutes that we begin to build a real head of steam – I wonder if it could have potentially been a touch shorter and tighter all things considered. Some of the effects don’t look all that great, although that’s a relatively minor quibble in a film that is much more about psychology. The ending felt a little abrupt to me as well, although to some audience members it might feel like the perfect fit. I felt like a bit more steering in that direction would have been beneficial personally though.
With all the above said, what you have here is certainly a worthwhile way to spend forty minutes, especially for those who love their extreme cinema dark, disorienting and a little abstract. In fact, that might just be three things that Japanese horror cinema does better than anyone…
RATING: 7/10. A movie with effective atmosphere, a good central performance and some well-chosen sounds and camera angles, Difficulty Breathing shows plenty to like and is likely to appeal to fans of Japanese horror in its wider sense. It’ll certainly be interesting to see what kind of reaction it gets in front of an audience!
The Paracinema All-Night Takeover offers five extreme horror movies as well as a host of 80s action movies, all for one great ticket price! For more information, visit The Derby Quad Website
You can also get a ticket to see Song of Solomon individually, which is the first movie in the all-nighter, at Song of Solomon at The Derby Quad
By Alex Davis
All through March we had the chance to focus on some movies from Unearthed Films, who have always been one of the leaders in the extreme horror field. Of late the company has continued to expand and grow, blazing a lot of exciting trails, and it has just announced its latest venture – the Unearthed Films Extreme Horror Channel on Vimeo.
For those of you unfamiliar with Vimeo, it's a video streaming service on which independent filmmakers can showcase their work across a wide range of genres, either for free, for rental or for you to buy. I've used it a number of times in the past – in fact it was the first place I saw the incredible Tras El Cristal – and always found that it runs like a dream.
What's especially exciting about the Unearthed Channel is that it allows the films to be presented in an uncensored and uncut format – something that is rarely achievable on other popular platforms, who shall remain nameless here. So if you want the full glory of the Unearthed back catalogue, then this is the place to get it.
There's a good amount to choose from to begin with, and lots more content – taking in both new films and bonus features – will be going live as time goes on. But here's a few recommendations from me to get you started...
Flowers: I lose track of how many times I have raved about this movie, and I'll basically evangelise for Phil Stevens' incredible feature at every chance I get. So here goes again – if you haven't found a way to watch this yet, you can rent is for about £3.50, and you should really treat yourself. This is a sinister experience in sepia, claustrophobic, nightmarish, darkly beautiful and all delivered without a single line of dialogue.
American Guinea Pig – Bloodshock: My personal favourite of the four so far, Bloodshock is a dystopian torture experiment in black and white. Using a host of subtle but clever effects to crank up tension, and with one of the most breathtaking finales I think I've ever seen, this is a tough watch in places but well worth the effort. The physical and psychological suffering depicted in the lead by Dan Ellis was a great factor in this movie working so well – be sure to check it out.
Collar: Ryan Nicholson's sleazy, grimy feature is wonderfully shot and tells the various tales of a completely dysfunctional and almost utterly unlikeable cast. A strong and unflinching vision of the darkness lying at the fringes of urban life, Collar catches something that fans of bleak cinema might well like.
Lung: It's that man Phil Stevens again! This is a sort of spiritual sequel to Flowers, if not necessarily bearing any direct resemblance, it follows much of the style and flavour of its predecessor whilst bringing something new to the table. This confusing and abstract journey of a man through a broken city – and his broken memories – is another wonderful offering for fans of arthouse with an extreme edge.
Madness of Many: Another very arthouse feature, this time from Danish director Kasper Juhl, MoM might not quite be up to the incredible standards of Your Flesh, Your Curse, but it is very good in its own right. This dark fable follows a young girl into the afterlife, showing us more of the suffering that she had to endure in life – often beautifully shot despite so much challenging, confronting content, I feel like this one marked the start of a really exciting phase in this director's output.
There's numerous films I'll be checking out myself – Dreaming Purple Neon and Lilith's Hell certainly stand out as ones I'm excited for – although recommending them pre-watching might be a bit too bold! However there's bound to be something for an fan of extreme horror, so it's worth checking out an parting with a few quid for some of the very best contemporary work in the field.
Just drop by https://vimeo.com/channels/unearthedfilmsextreme/ to see more!
BY ALEX DAVIS
Dir. Domiziano Christopharo, Italy, 80 mins
Often there's a trailer emerges that really catches your attention, and for me one of the most prominent examples of this recently was Red Krokodil. This one looked like it was going to be an absolutely crazy trip, and comes from a very established name in the shape of director Domiziano Christopharo. So, did that one have as much bite as it promised to from the first look?
Well, yes and no. The story itself follows an untitled lead – credited as 'him' – living in a post-apocalyptic Soviet state. Maybe 'living' should also have had inverted commas there, because our lead is suffering horribly from the physical ravages of what is happening in the outside world as well as enduring a large internal struggle against the effects of the dark drug concoction that gives us the title of the movie.
Let's say this first – Red Krokodil is bleak with a capital b. There's absolutely no ray of hope or optimism anywhere in this movie, nor is there ever any sense that our hero is ever looking for anything beyond the merest goals of survival. The colour scheme is largely composed of greys and browns, deliberately offering up a very unappealing colour palette that is pretty displeasing to the eye. When we do have brief cutaways to brighter scenes it almost feels like too much for the viewer to take in, but don't worry, those moments are rare.
In fact, I'd say I have a great respect for what the director was going for with this movie – I'm just not sure it's entirely successful in what it is trying to achieve. It is grim and grinding, no doubts, but it didn't really deliver the same wild imagery and crazed visuals that I had anticipated from the trailer – in fact much of what features there is barely used, frustratingly. I'd hesitate to call that nothing but trailer fodder – it's interestingly used and certainly not throwaway – but equally this film is largely not what the teasers promised. It's far slower, more reflective and uneasy than that.
The primary problem is that I think it is just too slow – nothing much really happens throughout the whole thing, and it's hard to find a huge amount to latch onto in terms of what you want for the character. There's never much of a goal to cheer him on to achieve, so the story often seems to meander, starting steadily and only really gaining any traction after half an hour or more. Even at an hour and twenty minutes it feels long, and maybe could have benefited from 10 or 20 minutes less.
There are a few other minor quibbles – the voiceover that features in the movie so much becomes grating after a while, the metaphor and themes are a bit too obvious and there are aspects that don't make much sense (and not in the good way I had hoped). On the upside I think the main actor is good, but I don't think he quite has the raw material here to work with to deliver something really sparkling.
I'd almost advise watching this without seeing the trailer – I think I went into this one with my expectations set a little wrong, and on reflection I am a little warmer towards it than I was initially. But even with that said, I would consider this one decent rather than anything more special than that.
RATING: 6/10. There are elements to like here – some solid acting, a splash of really good visuals and a handful of good ideas – but I think it's just too slim in terms of storytelling and doesn't really have the narrative drive that I would have liked. Slow and meandering in places, this one also had a voiceover I could have lived with less of. If you like your cinema grim and nihilistic, this one could be right up your alley, but for me it just didn't have the spark it needed to really ignite this one to a great rating.
BY ALEX DAVIS
Dir. Stephen Biro, USA, 85 mins
As someone who missed out on the original Guinea Pig movies when they were released – and probably for the best, as I was four when The Devil's Experiment was horrifying audiences for the first time – it's an extremely exciting experience to be able to watch the American Guinea Pig series. The US update of the classic extreme horror series has certainly brought a similar variety to the originals – from the out-and-out blood feast of Bouquet of Guts and Gore to the psychological torture of Bloodshock, and not forgetting last week's review, a ritualistic slice of self-mutilation in the shape of Sacrifice. Every movie brings something different to the table, but I feel each intends to bring to life another aspect of what extreme horror can be.
And that's no different for the third entry in the series, Song of Solomon. Pitching itself as an extreme exorcism movie, this one feels like it's the most mainstream of the series so far – and that's no criticism, more a compliment that this feels like an extreme horror movie that, like A Serbian Film and Martyrs before it, could reach a wider audience. The look and feel of even the credits is cleaner and sharper than previous, and there feels as though there is an extra layer of polish. It's impressively made on a tight budget and I think this could be a real breakout for the series.
The story follows the aptly-named Mary, who is inhabited by a powerful demon, and our opening sees her father killing himself in a pretty brutal fashion. There are numerous very gory scenes within the movie, and the practical effects never look less than great – the team has done a great job of things there for sure.
This opening scene leads to a host of priests coming to visit Mary in the hope of exorcising the demon, only one by one to fall to its tricks and temptations. Behind that there's a deeper story that is hinted at, with each priest visited by a mysterious figure before they attend to the possessed woman. It adds a nice layer of intrigue that is eventually paid off, and enables a host of actors to bring their own take to what a priest should be – particular stand-outs for me were Gene Palubicki's growling Father Corbin and David E McMahon's evocative Father Powell. It also drives home just how powerful the demon is in defeating one exorcist after another, which brings a great aspect of escalation to the story. It's not a prolonged battle of wills, more an uphill struggle for a host of hopeful combatants seeking to defeat the demon – and as each fall by the wayside you begin to wonder if evil will win out after all...
The other standout performance comes from the lead, Jessica Cameron, who is so believable in displaying the power of the demon and comes across as genuinely sinister on a host of occasions. It's a powerful, committed central performance that the film just wouldn't have the same impact without, and some of the visuals created for her character will stay with you for some time.
So yes, there is an awful lot good about Song of Solomon, and it's another high-quality entry in the series. But it is also fair to say that not everything is perfect. There are some performances from the lesser characters that weren't awfully strong, which did have the effect of slightly diminishing the significance of events at times. And while I was never less than entertained throughout its 85 minutes, I was left with a slight sense that we fell somewhere between two stalls – some of this movie was really chilling and psychological, and has lived in my mind ever since I watched it, while at other times it was absolutely outrageous gore, and there were times where I felt those two elements didn't quite mesh. If I can ever dare utter these words in this column, I think that Song of Solomon could have been ever better with some of the gore removed or toned down. There are enough strong performances from the central cast that there were moments I could have lived without it.
I know, I know, I suggested toning down the blood and guts at Film Gutter. That might just be a first...
In all seriousness, if you're a fan of extreme horror, or even if you just love exorcism movies, then Song of Solomon is well worth your time. It might be a bit harder to stomach than more mainstream entries into the subgenre, but it does get the fundamentals practically dead-on and doesn't rely too heavily on ladling on the claret for its effect. There are some great acting displays, the plot moves along at a good pace and has some layers to it, the exorcism aspects are very believable and the practical FX are really well-delivered. Even though at a few junctions it felt like it was trying to do two things at once, I was never less that riveted, and that's no small achievement in its own right.
RATING: 8/10. AGP really feels like a triumphant return for the Guinea Pig name – in fact, despite the original's undoubted cult value, I think these are largely significantly better, as my comparative review ratings will bear out. Sure, maybe the originals have dated since the mid-80s, but these new takes feel sharper, more on-point and more ambitious than their predecessors. This is certainly the most ambitious yet and I think the one that might just bring the series to many more people's attention. In taking a popular horror trope and making it more 'extreme', this is bound to attract more press and in delivering an effective story – it's certainly simple but it is also cleverly done – with strong performances at the heart. I think many horror fans will enjoy this more – and certainly find it a touch more palatable – than some of the other AGP movies, although a few keys scenes still require a strong stomach. Overall I think this could be a big film for extreme horror in 2018, and deservedly so.
by alex davis
Dir. Poison Rouge, 60 mins, Italy
All through March Film Gutter will be taking a look at some of the recent and upcoming releases from Unearthed Films. If you haven't heard of them, where have you been? Unearthed have long been bringing out some of the best modern and classic extreme horror movies, and you can check out all their releases at http://www.unearthedfilms.com/news.htm.
Sometimes I'll take a bit of time after watching a film to have a think about its plotline, its characters and its impact upon me. Other times it's to consider some of the complexities that might have been contained therein, giving me some time to unpick a multi-layered movie.
Sacrifice, frankly, I've had to take some time just to get over. In fact there's no way I could have reviewed it right after watching it because I was feeling a pretty shaky and a little faint.
Given some of what has come before at Film Gutter, this should give you an indication of just how brutal Sacrifice is. And I can't even say I wasn't warned – but then I've been told lots of time just how extreme a movie is only to be relatively unmoved. Surely this one couldn't be that bad? But when the head honcho at Unearthed Films himself, Stephen Biro, tells you just how full-on it is, you'd better be listening – the man knows of what he speaks.
Sacrifice follows the story of Daniel, a young man with some pretty serious psychological issues and some deep physical scars to go along with them. He's still struggling with the death of his father, who inhabits the story as a sort of ghost, a disembodied voice that often offers up conflicting instructions. When he returns to his old house, he's not there for a simple trip down memory lane – he's there to carry through a ritual, and one that will involve inflicting some truly hideous and grotesque acts upon himself...
The plot is pretty thin, but then again Sacrifice only runs to sixty minutes, so it doesn't need to be terribly complex. We do get a reasonable amount of set-up of the character and of the situation before we get to the really gruesome stuff, which I think is good – as much as I loved the second entry in the series, Bloodshock, we were rather thrown into that one at the deep end. At least here there's a slightly softer introduction to allow you to get you feet under the metaphorical table before the claret begins to flow.
And man alive does it flow – sure, there might have been movies out there with more blood pouring out of a whole lot more people, but this surely has to be the most blood shed by one individual. The effects in this one look really believable – horribly so, as this one would probably be a lot easier to watch if it didn't all look so authentic – and equally Roberto Scorza is very good in the lead role. It's a challenging part, no doubt, but the fact he is so committed to it and all the absolute carnage the character puts his body through is extremely commendable.
I think the only thing that helped me ultimately get through this movie was the fact that there are a handful of moments of relief, little glimpses into some kind of dreamworld that serve as something of a breather from the utter self-mutilation Daniel is determined to inflict upon himself. Those scenes are very nicely shot and a good antidote to the bloodstained bathroom in which we claustrophobically find ourselves for most of the film. The ending of the film doesn't come as a huge surprise, as well as containing what to me felt like a slightly unnecessary footnote, but those are minor quibbles really. If you consider yourself a proper gorehound, if you consider yourself someone who can absolutely watch anything without flinching, if you want to say that you have seen one of the most extreme horror movies of recent years, then Sacrifice is surely the film for you.
I would love to tell you that I didn't flinch, but I'd be flat-out lying. In fact, if you had my live reaction to this movie on webcam, it probably would have been absolutely hilarious. I was up and down out of my seat, shouting at the screen, head in my hands, gesticulating... I felt like I absolutely lived every minute of this hour, and that's no bad thing.
RATING: 7.5/10. My finger has only hovered over the stop button twice in the history of Film Gutter – once during Thanatomorphose and once during Vase De Noces. This goes down in history as the third, and god I wanted to stop it. But I managed to plough on regardless and survive this utter endurance test of a movie. And that's all you can do really – come out of the other side in one piece, but probably not unscathed. For all its genuinely shocking content, it generally looks very good and is well-shot, has strong effects, a solid lead performance and enough variety to keep it interesting. But it is not for the faint-hearted out there, or the extreme horror novice.
Brace yourself if you do decide to go in for this one...
By Alex Davis
Friday 12th September, 2014. Cast your mind back to an innocent time before Brexit, before President Trump, and before I had seen Nekromantik for the first time.
Of course Nekromantik itself had been around since 1987 – at which point I was a mere six-year-old – so I was distinctly late to the part. But with the movie getting a rating and a limited UK cinema release for the first time, my curiosity was piqued with a film I had heard a great deal about but never managed to catch. The fact it was a chance to see it on the big screen was a great part of the draw as well, so it was off to my home-town cinema at QUAD to check it out.
Darrell Buxton – a fantastic expert in horror and cult movies with a truly encyclopaedic knowledge – gave a great introduction to put the movie in context, how as one of the ‘video nasties’ Jorg Buttgereit’s debut had gained cult status and been a hugely sought after VHS throughout the late 80s and early 90s.
But I don’t think anything I had read – or heard that night – really prepared me for Nekromantik properly. The love story between man, woman and corpse remains unlike anything I’ve seen – other movies have tried, but Nekromantik succeeds where they all fail. In places it is grotesque and horrible, as you would expect, but in places its actually really beautiful and glorious. Buttgereit’s debut film is wonderful in its mix of shocking body horror, strange romance and outrageous black comedy. I don’t think anyone has ever blended those elements in the same way since, and it’s a heady experience.
Whoever said romance is dead may not have seen Nekromantik.
Given the cult appeal of the first movie, four years later a sequel emerged. Nekromantik 2 follows on Rob’s story – only this time there’s a pretty big difference in that Rob has become the corpse that is the focus of affection. If anything, Nekromantik 2 doubles down on its predecessor – it’s got more grim humour, more bizarre sexuality and even more lavish love at its core. And having seen the first, I was of course champing at the bit to see the sequel, which I did have to concede I would have to watch on the small screen.
Those kind of films don’t leave you, and nor has any of the director’s other output – Schramm is a tour de force of a serial killer movie, and Der Todesking (just released on Blu-Ray from Arrow Films) remains one of the darkest and most nihilistic films you’re ever likely to encounter. His recent return to the cinema was also a very worthy one, producing a strong segment of the excellent German horror anthology German Angst. Jorg Buttgereit has certainly built a name and reputation as a daring and challenging filmmaker for more than 30 years.
So you can imagine the great pleasure and excitement with which I look forward to welcoming Jorg Buttgereit to the UK!
Our first stop will be the Starburst Media City Festival in Manchester over the weekend of 16th and 17th March - https://starburstmagazine.com/filmfestival/ - which I gather has already sold out but you can still add yourself to a reserve list for tickets! I’ll be interviewing Jorg prior to a screening of Nekromantik, and we’ll also be having a meet and greet over the weekend.
Then we’ll be heading to Derby for a Sunday night screening of Nekromantik 2 on the 18th March, suitably enough at QUAD, the very place I first saw the first movie. There are still some tickets for this one for those readers wanting to come and hear from and meet the man himself - https://www.derbyquad.co.uk/film/fright-club---nekromantik-2--director-q-and-a--18--s.aspx - but they are proving popular so we suggest early booking!
Suffice to say, I can’t wait to have Jorg over for these two events and I hope some of our Film Gutter regulars will be able to join us over the weekend! It’s going to be good fun for sure.
By Alex Davis
Dir. Dustin Mills, USA, 50 mins
Sometimes you just read a title and think to yourself – now that sounds like a winner. This one drew me in right away for sure, and the sound of the synopsis also made this one sound very much like my kind of territory. I've also never minded a shorter film, as it can often be the case that the shorter running time enables there to be more packed into things. So would that be the case here?
Her Name is Torment follows the gruesome story of 'Patient 394', a woman convicted of 27 murders and now under psychiatric care. Our opening shot is a grainy vision of her stalking one of her victims – which runs a bit long for my liking – before we get the voiceover from her doctor during the opening credits. I like this way of doing this, as it did a lot of setting up in a short space of time without crashing into the main film. The thread of the story is largely composed of two parts – one of an interview being undertaken with Patient 394, whose face us blurred out to hide the apparently hideous scarring she has given herself, and the other an unflinching look at some of the crimes she has committed. This takes in our male victim having part of his tongue removed, an eye gouged out with a spoon, a wooden needle stuck into his ear and pushed far beyond that, and a whole lot more besides. It also introduced Patient 394's dead lover – only known as 'him' – in a scene that was uneasy watching but didn't ultimately seem to go anywhere.
That last line possibly sums up the main issue with the movie for me. Even for 50 minutes, the plot is relatively slim and it's more of an exploration of events we're effectively told about in the first five minutes. In fact the most interesting twist – and potential set-up for a sequel – comes in the last 60 seconds. We learn a limited amount from Patient 394 in her psychiatric assessments, which left a slightly frustrating feeling that we'd only really scratched the surface of things. The scenes are generally well done – be it the gore or be it the more candid interview sections – and I have to give a huge credit to director Dustin Mills for achieving what he has on such a shoestring budget. But I did feel this was perhaps a part of something rather than a full product.
The other aspect of the movie that was slightly questionable for me was the constant use of various visual and camera effects. We have lots of smash cuts, shots that are blurred, shots sped up, cuts from colour to black and white and back again, words almost subliminally flashed onto the screen... and don't get me wrong, there were places where I liked these and felt that had a good effect. But after 50 minutes there were times were the visual 'flashiness' just started to become a bit grating and feel like overkill.
With all the above said, there were many things I like about this movie. The lead performance was strong for sure, there were a few scenes that had be cringing in discomfort (for all the right reasons!) and the concept and framing were both good. Having initially said I've never minded movies being shorter than the industry-standard ninety minutes, I can't help but feel that this one would have benefited from being a bit longer. We get a sense and a flavour of Patient 394's twisted world, but we never really dip fully beneath the surface in order to get right into the murky depths. And that feels a little like an opportunity missed. To sum it up, I was certainly say watch it and enjoy what there is here. There is a sequel out there – released in 2016 – and given what I've seen here that's certainly one I will be looking out for and hopefully that will give a more rounded, deeper view into the events explored here.
RATING: 7/10. An interesting concept with some good ideas, but held back from a real top rating in the main by being rather too much of a 'tease' in various aspects of the story, as well as an overuse of gimmicky effects. With that said, hats off to all involved for actually getting the movie made at all on its restrictive budget and delivering something that did draw and hold my interest throughout. It's not unmissable but fans of Film Gutter would probably get something out of it, so it's very respectable 7/10.
By Alex Davis
Dir. Yoon Hon-Seung (AKA Chang), South Korea, 88 mins
It feels like it's about time Film Gutter made a stop in South Korea – while the series has visited Japan many times over the course of its existence, we've rarely dipped into Korea, which is a nation that probably doesn't have the same association with extreme cinema. However there are doubtless some offerings that are well worth our time, and Death Bell is among them. My main point of reticence is that the story is all set in a school, and given how terrifying I find the girl ghosts of Asian Cinema, I was a bit uncertain going into it. But blessedly there was nothing too Ringu-seque to truly keep me awake at night here. What there was, however, was a pretty decent horror/thriller with some more gruesome elements.
Death Bell begins with a pretty weird – and practically meaningless – dream sequence before introducing us to a class of youngsters getting ready for their final exams. With the stresses and strains of those vital tests behind them, the kids are looking forward to breaking up for summer – but for the brightest and best there's a catch, as they're expected to stay in for additional classes as part of an exchange with Eton. The mood at the beginning of this extra day's teaching isn't great, but is going to get an awful lot worse as a deranged killer begins trapping the students in deadly situations – giving their fellow students the chance to save their lives by answering exam-style questions correctly and unravelling something rather more sinister one answer at a time...
I described the movie as pretty decent as I felt this was something of a mixed bag. There were a number of things I liked and a fair few things I wasn't keen on as well. The story itself is a slightly uneasy mixture of a paranormal horror and a Saw-esque thriller that never really satisfyingly resolves whether there is a ghostly element involved or not. There may be something lost in translation from the Korean but some of the answers, and the logic to reach them, don't really make a great deal of sense to me. The acting is OK but some of the characters are pretty annoying, including one who evidently knows much more than he lets on about the haunting element but again there's not a full explanation given there. The ending is largely possible to work out, which doesn't make it ineffective but maybe demeans the ultimate impact.
With that said, some of the traps are pretty inventive and the visuals tend to be very good – the director has a strong background in music videos, which I think shows in the look and feel throughout. The atmosphere is tense and there are a host of scenes that do leave you uneasy, although some of the deaths do lack a bit of impact because you don't know the characters all that well. But it's twisty enough and stylish enough to be enjoyable, although I couldn't call it unmissable. If you're also looking for serious gore then there's plenty more gruesome offering out there than this one, and you might be better served elsewhere. But I think it's worth ninety minutes of your time to check out.
RATING: 7/10. Death Bell makes a lot more sense once you read that it's made by a director largely known for music videos. It has style, and gloss, and ideas for sure, but equally the story itself is a bit messy and has a few logic holes here and there that can make it a slightly frustrating experience at times. But overall it has enough atmosphere and enough energy to keep you watching, although it's hard not to be slightly in mind of better movies – the British Exam included – as you work your way through. So it's an endorsement for Death Bell, although not exactly a ringing one. (Ringing? Get it? Bell? Oh, forget it...) 7/10, or maybe I should better describe it as a steady B...
Dir. Tetsuya Nakashima, Japan, 118 mins
There's always a certain sense of excitement and anticipation when approaching a Japanese film. It seems almost whatever the genre, Japan and many of the countries surrounding it have a superb reputation and many great directors to boot. The same very much holds true for extreme movies, and with many iconic films to try and follow on from The World of Kanako had plenty to live up to. This was not one of those movies I knew a great deal about coming in, but from little I had read there were a number of comparisons to Park Chan Wook's masterpiece Oldboy. So no pressure then?
It's not the kind of comparison to be made lightly, and I can see why that parallel has been drawn. It has many similar themes to Oldboy and is shot is a similar way, as well as the story unfolding in a pretty unorthodox way to show one fresh layer of darkness after another. The story itself follows a number of leads in a couple of timelines, headed by washed-up ex-detective Akikazu as he sets out on a quest to find his missing daughter Kanako and – simultaneously he hopes – enable him to make amends with his ex-wife in doing so. He's your classic lead in many respects – drowning in self-pity and copious amounts of alcohol, violent and desperate in his quest but stoically determined to do everything in his power to find his little girl. The mystery of the 'world' of Kanako actually runs pretty deep as we find out that her estranged father, her rather more close-at-hand mother and indeed some of her friends really had very little idea of what Kanako was getting up to in reality.
While Akikazu is our main current-day storyline, we have a flashback storyline following the story of a bullied boy who is defended by Kanako – and some of her more dubious connections – and the journey as he falls in love with her. But it doesn't take long for that feeling of love to become warped into something else entirely over time, as her world truly opens up to him and he finds out exactly what Kanako truly expected from any would-be suitor.
If my description seems a little all over the place, that's because the telling of it is delivered in a very complex way – we have a host of characters that we engage with, many different storylines and flashbacks to various different time periods. And while all of that is pretty great to look at, and can be exhilarating in places – I'm not a big of action fan, but I did love the many action set pieces in this movie – it's also a pretty riotous mess. To delve further into that comparison with Oldboy, The World of Kanako employs lots of the same devices but Oldboy does it in a cleaner fashion that is easier to follow. With that said, I did enjoy the tapestry of horror that is unfolded and just how dark Kanako's story does eventually get – this seemingly innocent student is involved in plenty of pretty dank dealings up to her elbows, as we find out piece by piece. It's a little like someone putting together a jigsaw which looks great but I feel is ultimately missing a few pieces to make it a true masterpiece.
There are a few other quibbles too – the film does feel overlong to me, and there's a lot in the closing stages that I could happily have lived without. In fact the last ten-fifteen minutes in my opinion don't really add anything. Akikazu's character becomes pretty extreme, and for me the acting from him and one of two other individuals becomes a bit over the top. I'm sure that was part of angling for a bizarre, hyper-real sort of feel, but it ends up coming over distinctly overplayed. There's no need to try that hard for dark and disturbing when you have this kind of story playing out.
The World of Kanako is dark, imaginative, daring film-making and as any Film Gutter regular will know, I do tend to like originality. However in this case that originality feels like it's employed in a slightly scattergun way – it's rarely boring, but can be muddled, and for that reason I can't really award it top marks despite its doubtless ambition. But I do think it is worth some good marks, so it's a highly creditable 7.5/10 here. If you like your movies loud, lively and multi-layered, then this could just be the film for you.
By Alex Davis
Dir. Kasper Juhl, Denmark, 73 min
Having so recently been blown away with Kasper Juhl's most recent movie, Your Flesh, Your Curse – which earned the #2 spot on my Film Gutter Top Ten of 2017 – I was naturally curious to delve further back into the director's previous work. There are two films that I had heard the most about – A God Without a Universe (which I will be looking at in a future installment!) and today's focus, 2013's Madness of Many. This movie comes with a reputation for being pretty confronting, which it did live up to throughout its runtime.
I have to start the body of this review by saying it's hard to watch this one without drawing some comparisons to Your Flesh, Your Curse. The movie treads many similar aspects – the extreme suffering and pain of its female lead, the philosophical approach and voiceover, the similarity of some scenes from on to the next... the lead character even has a similar name. And while I stand by Madness of Many is a good film in its own right, I just feel as though it falls short of its more recent counterpart.
Our story follows Victoria White, a young woman trying to make sense of a horrific life of abuse and torture, first at the hands of her parents and then at the hands of a grim group of abductors. Much of the actual information comes in the form of voiceover from lead actress Ellen Abrahamson, who certainly brings the kind of strange and ethereal quality needed for this sort of project. With that said, her voiceover does become a little grating as her delivery is fairly monotone – this might be a deliberate decision, but it just seems to lack real emotion and inflection and somewhat diminishes the impact of what we see on screen.
The awful things that she goes through are very well presented and have the same quality as YF, YC, feeling very authentic and believable – often too much so for comfort. That's not presented as a criticism, more as an observation of the integrity and thorough approach of all involved. It's certainly not a pretty movie either, and things are presented in a gritty fashion that many times makes it feel more akin to the work of Lucifer Valentine than anything else, both in terms of its content and many aspects of its soundscape. It's a hard watch in a number of places, that's for sure.
It's ultimately a sort of bleak vision of a life blighted by pain and misery, presented in a very non-linear fashion as almost a montage overlaid with voiceover to explain some of the actions and indeed the effect of what is going on. Surprisingly, it actually has a strangely upbeat message to it and closes with one of very few rays of hope in the entire movie.
As I said upfront, Madness of Many is certainly a good movie. It doesn't hold back, presenting its more gruesome content in a very effective fashion, it has some interesting ideas and there are some beautiful shots amidst the horror. With that said, I would still point you to Your Flesh, Your Curse as the director's better movie – given the themes and style the comparison is irresistible. If I were to try and draw a suitable analogy, YF, YC is like being artfully cut to pieces by a skilled samurai, while Madness of Many is like being beaten to death with a baseball bat. MOM has a blunt intensity all its own, and it's well worth a look in its own right.
RATING: 7/10. Another strong offering from Danish director Kasper Juhl, whose stock in the field of extreme horror is rising and rightly so. There's lots to like here, but it just lacks a little bit of refinement in a few places. The voiceover becomes a bit overbearing, and the lead actress here – while solid – doesn't quite live up to the fantastic performance of Marie-Louise Damgaard in Your Flesh, Your Curse. There's plenty of very dark content and things that are difficult to watch, but it has an unmistakably strong impact and is certainly worth them time of any extreme horror fans out there.
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