Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Island of Death

Title: Island of Death
Director: Nico Mastorakis
Released: 1977
Staring: Robert Behling, Jane Lyle, Jessica Dublin, Gerald Gonalons, Jannice McConnell, Nikos Tsachiridis

Plot: Christopher (Behling) and Celia (Lyle) are enjoying a break on a small Greek island, while pursuing their favourite pastimes, which unfortunately for the locals are sex and violence, meanwhile Inspector Foster (Gonalons) is hot on their heels.

Review: Probably the least well known of the video nasty list, yet arguably the most notorious seeing how it only got taken off the list here in the UK last year, still good things come to those who wait which this film might be anything but, but still I think it’s easy to say that this is possibly one of the most explicit movies to have made the list, especially as it is essentially a constant stream of soft core porn, nudity and violence, with only the most paper thin of plots to string the scenes together, which is hardly surprising when Director Mastorakis seemingly had two goals when he set out to make the movie and that was to first make himself as much money as possible, while the second was to make the most violent and perverse film possible after after being inspired by “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974), well more specifically he was inspired when he found out just how much money Tobe Hooper was making from it.

Opening with Christopher buried up to his waist in what will later be revealed to be a pit of lime while Celia watches and laughs mockingly we get our first taste of Christopher’s travel documentary esq voice over which continues to appear randomly through the film as the film now cuts back to a few days earlier as Christopher and Celia arrive on the unnamed small Greek island looking like any normal happy couple. Needless to say we are just about fifteen minutes before they are having sex in a phone box while he phones their mother…..yes that’s right they are also brother and sister (though confusingly at times she is also referred to as being his cousin) and really don’t seem to care much about the incestuous nature of their relationship. So after that surprising opening, you would think that Mastorakis might have blown his load early, until Christopher having had his attempts at getting some morning fun rejected instead relives his frustration with a passing goat before graphically killing it in what is unsurprisingly the most talked about moment in the film.

This murderous duo are almost polar opposites to each other when it comes to thier motives, with Christopher murderous tendencies being drawn from his own twisted religious beliefs, making him prone to ranting about his role as the angel of purification and how his victims have sinned as he kills, while these zealot esq beliefs of course makes the residents of the island prime targets for his campaign to purify them of their sins, especially when everyone is prone to spontaneous nudity and so sexually open. Celia meanwhile plays things like his trusted accomplice though seemingly minus Christopher’s religious rants, as she sets up the majority of the murders, as Christopher voyeuristically enjoys watching her having sex and frantically photographing her in action, which seemingly seems to be the only cure for his own impotence, especially when each of the murders are usually followed by frantic sex between him and Celia and more frantic photography of their handiwork.

There is barely a moment wasted here which is not being filled with death, gore or sex or some amalgamation of the three, with the sound of a camera shutter between each scene, creating almost an unintentional feeling that each scene is like a little violent and nasty short, a feeling only further reinforced by the beyond minimal plotting on offer here, which is pretty much abandoned by the final quarter as we lead up to the moments were we first joined the murderous duo, though don’t expect anything to be any clearer by the time we get to were we first started the film, as Mastorakis instead leaps even further into the randomness void of pure cinematic insanity which has Celia making the nasty (literally in this case) with a inbred looking famer, after he beats up and farts (yes you read that right) on Christopher which is around the same point that you realise that Mastorakis really doesn’t care anymore, let alone has any idea how to end the movie.

The death scenes are all explicit and filmed with an almost voyeuristic glee, as Mastorakis unleashes a variety of interesting deaths from the traditional stalk and slash, to the slightly more creative such as a bulldozer blade and memorably using an aeroplane wing to hang one of their victims during flight. Still none of these are shot with any sense of fun are largely just gratuitous violence and gore, which frequently makes for uncomfortable viewing.

“Island of Death” is another key example of a film which made the Video nasty list and which no doubt otherwise would have long since been forgotten like so many of the titles on the list and furthering the belief that the list did more harm than anything regarding protecting the movie going public from these kinds of movies, instead providing exploitation fans and gore hounds with a shopping list of titles to hunt down. Needless to say you can go through life having not seen this film and be all the better, especially as you won’t have wasted an hour and half of your life on this film, which left me with the same feeling I had after watching “The Human Centipede” an equally ghastly experience, which equally was all shocks over substance and like this film also soon realised that it has nowhere to go and no matter how low you sink the moral standard it still doesn’t make up for the serious lack of plotting and as such, I would recommend this only for video nasty completists and celluloid curiosity seekers only.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Boxset Binges #4 - Dead Set

Currently here in the UK, they are attempting to flog a dead horse as thanks to zero public demand whatsoever “Big Brother” has been brought back from the TV Graveyard for yet another series, as fame hungry wannabe’s sit around and become voyeur fodder for the general public….well this would usually be the case if anyone was actually watching. Still what better time to finally watch Charlie Brooker’s satire of the Big Brother phenomenon as he brings a horror twist to things by introducing hordes of frenzied zombies.

Set during a fictional season of “Big Brother” (the makers of which bizarrely are also behind this satire), we open on eviction night were the latest housemate is set to leave the house, while meanwhile the Britain is being rocked by widespread riots. Struggling to keep the show running smoothly, show runner Kelly (Jaime Winstone) also has to deal with her foul mouthed and abusive boss Patrick (Andy Nyman). Things only get worse when a man bitten earlier by a zombie breaks into the crowd causing mass infection to breakout as the crowd are quickly infected turning them into a rampaging horde which soon breaks into the studio and turning the Big Brother house into the sole sanctuary from the zombie hordes, while the housemates continue with the show unaware of the chaos erupting outside of the house.

Originally shown weeks after the end of the ninth series of “Big Brother”, Charlie Brooker’s take on the show not only manages to satire the show with his usual sharp humour and keen eye for the smallest of details, but he has also managed to find an original zombie plot, which is certainly no easy task especially with so many zombie films being churned out in the last few years, usually as direct to video efforts and more often than not recycling for the umpteenth time the same tired storylines.

The fictional housemates are very much like their real life counter parts, with Brooker drawing inspiration from several of the more memorable housemates, while the group on the whole are the usual group of fame hungry wannabe’s with perhaps the exception of Joplin (Kevin Eldon) whose is attempting to use the show as his own soapbox for his own views on society. Meanwhile the rest of the group are happily playing up for the cameras while they live blissfully unaware in their own little world, which has been created by the show. Due to their lack of contact with the outside world, they are quick to dismiss Kelly as another task that the producers have set for them and it’s only after Kelly turns a zombie’s head into a pancake using a fire extinguisher, that they finally except that something might be not quite right.

Outside of the housemates, the series also follows Kelly’s boyfriend Riq (Riz Ahmed) who having been left stranded at a train station after his car is stolen is attempting to make it to the studio to reunite with her, also unaware of the chaos erupting at the studio, were Studio boss and general selfish bastard Patrick and recent show evictee Pippa (Kathleen McDermott) are holed up from the zombies currently roaming the studio hallways after the initial rampage has subsided. The three storylines soon becoming entwined into a single story once the groups reunite, but help to give a full picture of the outbreak with Riq teaming up with a fellow survivor Alex (Liz Mae Brice) who certainly is more clued up on the situation than most of the characters, having already gotten hold of a firearm and running on full blown survivor mode, especially shown by the fact she has sourced a rifle which seeing how this is England is certainly not an easy thing, especially with the Firearm laws making guns anything but readily available to members of the general public, which is an aspect sadly not highlighted further, a minor plot niggle not only with this series but any of the previous British Zombie films which came before it.

Brooker has seemingly wrote “Dead Set” to be made on a small budget, especially with the action taking place mainly in two key locations, which are the Big Brother house and the studio, though we do get a few moments of the world outside the studio, via Riq’s own journey with Alex from the train station which takes him through abandoned villages and woods and it’s almost refreshing to not see another attempt at the epic abandoned cityscapes of “28 Days Later” (2002) and by keeping the action in a decidedly rural setting it gives the audience something they haven’t seen done a hundred times before, which when it comes to the zombie genre is no easy task. Still little focus is given to the so called real world outside of these glimpses with the few scenes outside of the studios only furthering the impression that it might be the safest place for them, while helping to give a real sense of isolation from any form of uninfected humanity, while seemingly automated radio broadcasts try to maintain calm amongst the general public, while advising of the country being evacuated to France.

The biggest surprise here though is just how visceral the violence is, especially when it was originally shown as a five part TV series, which would normally mean holding back on the violence, only here it pretty much pushes it way beyond anything we have seen in recent zombie films as these zombies are a real throw back to the gut munchers of the 80’s, as bodies are torn apart as entrails are pulled from torsos with sadistic glee with Brooker openly admitting that he drew inspiration from George A. Romero’s Dead saga, as clearly homaged by one of the characters expletive heavy death which is almost a straight copy of Capt. Rhodes’ death from “Day of the Dead” (1985). The majority of the heavy violence is saved for the rampage finale, which again has a similar feel to the finale of “Dawn of the Dead” (1978), yet Brooker has still managed to craft enough original shocks to make this more than a George Romero highlight reel, as Fire extinguishers, scissors and hatchets are just a few of the makeshift weapons used in the fight against the undead hordes, while also answering the question “Do Zombies enjoy hot tubs?”
Unsurprisingly these are not the same shuffling hordes that Romero favours, but instead the more modern frenzied kind, with “28 Days Later” being a big inspiration clearly for the visual style of the series, especially with the heavy use of handheld cameras and shakily shot footage during the attacks, which proves frequently more distracting than dramatic, but with the amount of gore on display throughout it does at least make up in spades for what your not getting to see.

My main gripe here is with the pacing which might work well when shown in it’s episodic form, but when put into it’s feature length really struggles in the first half with certain scenes feeling more like filler than anything essentially, leaving it feeling in need of trimming down especially with a run time of around two and a half hours making it unintentionally possibly the first zombie epic.

Despite feeling alittle bloated in it’s run time “Dead Set” is still certainly one of the better entries in the Zombie genre in the last couple of years, especially with so many direct to DVD entries only watering down the mythos in much the same way that Paranormal romance is for Vampires, but this series reminds us that there is still life left in the shuffling corpses of the undead.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Kiki's Delivery Service

Title: Kiki’s Delivery Service
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Released: 1989
Staring: Minami Takayama, Rei Sakuma, Keiko Toda, Minami Takayama, Keppei Yamaguchi

Plot: Having turned 13, witch in training Kiki (Takayama) leaves homes with her talking cat Jiji (Sakuma) as is traditional for all witches to leave home for a year on their thirteenth birthday. Despite processing almost no witch skills beside her ability to fly on a broom, which she is still not overly great at doing, she arrives in the city of Koriko were we is soon using her skill to setup a delivery service.

Review: For the longest time when I was starting off my own personal Anime obsession, this film was seen almost like a secret handshake between Anime fans, were a fan’s status was largely judged on if they had seen certain films, a list of which this film was one of those titles. Now while it might be hard to realise it now, with such a huge variety of anime titles easily available, back when I started collecting anime, the only label which was putting out anime titles here in the UK was “Manga Entertainment” who tended to favour the more violent and graphic titles like “Fist of the North Star” and “Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend” giving the misguided impression that all Japanese animation was like this, though in their defence they were also responsible for bringing two legendry anime titles “Akira” and “Ghost In The Shell” to Western audiences so it's hard to question if thier influence was detrimental to the cause or not. Still it would be much later that a lot of Anime fans got to discover the simple and innocent beauty of Studio Ghibli’s movies, which showed a polar opposite side to anime than most fans had been used to and ultimately has paved the way for less violent anime to gain distribution outside of bootlegs and late night showings on TV.

Out of the Studio Ghibli’s back catalogue “Kiki’s Delivery Service” is certainly one of my favourites, despite the fact that fan’s tend to frequently over look it, opting for the colourful characters of “My Neighbour Totoro” or the nature versus industry epic “Princess Monoke”, which is a shame as it’s certainly one of their best with its childlike (but not childish) innocence and curiosity, while also proving shockingly for a lot of western audiences at the time that Anime doesn’t have to be all giant robots and fan service schoolgirls.

“Kiki’s Delivery Service” differs from a lot of the Ghibli title, bar perhaps “My Neighbour Totoro” in that it has no real set course and instead starts off with the idea of Kiki leaving home, eager to prove to her family that she can make her own way in the world and is essentially just watching her daily progress towards this goal, with no major crisis or big evil to combat, the closest the film gets to either of these things being with the climatic Zeppelin chase which in itself comes almost out of nowhere, much like Kiki suddenly loosing her powers in the third quarter, which in itself is essentially more of a moral lesson in believing in your own abilities even when you feel like a failure. Still Kiki’s abilities are portrayed less as magical and more like an artistic skill, meaning that this loss of her powers could also be seen almost as a kind of writers block.

While Kiki going about day to day tasks as she goes about settling into her new life and unexpectedly setting up a delivery service, might not sound like the most gripping of viewing, it surprisingly is never dull and even more amazingly gives these things an almost magical feel. It could also be argued that for these reasons, that the film would seem almost intentionally aimed at a female audience, but somehow director Miyazaki still manages to keep the attention of both sexes a fact best highlighted in a comment one of my friends made, were he pointed out that he was knowingly watching a very girlie anime yet still strangely gripped by what he was watching.

Miyazaki’s obsession with flight is fully on show here from Kiki on her broom, to the Zeppelin and plane filled skies and her nerdy friend Tombo’s flying contraption (essentially a bicycle with a propeller) and the feeling of flight is truly captured from the gentle flights across the countryside to the thrilling climax which see’s Kiki whizzing through the streets and alleyways in pursuit of the runaway Zeppelin, while still maintaining the detailed crowed streets of the city packed with onlookers, rather than switching to the plain background as the character moves slowly towards the screen, as more traditionally seen as Miyazaki never risks losing this sense of flight, by scrimping on the finer details and these only make this finale only all the more chaotic and exciting to watch, event after repeated viewings.

Being a Ghibli film there are several options available when it comes to watching the films, with purists no doubt options for the subtitle track, while dub fans get a choice of two equally great dub tracks, with Disney providing a more star studded cast which see’s Kirstin Dunst take on the role of Kiki, while Phil Hartman provides the voice of Jiji, with this trend for star studded dub tracks continuing into future Ghibli releases. Still there isn’t much difference between the subtitle version and the dubbed version really outside of Jiji who in the dub track comes off as more of a wiseass than he does in the original subtitled version.

“Kiki’s Delivery Service” truly deserves to have it’s place amongst the best titles in the Ghibli back catalogue, especially with Miyazaki here on top form, with a project which was seemingly made with him in mind, especially seeing how it allows for such freedom to include his various trademarks, while also providing a gentle introduction to Anime for newcomers to both the genre as well as the films of studio Ghibli and Miyazaki.
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