Ginger Nuts of Horror
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.
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