Elizabeth Olsen makes her cinematic debut in Sean Durkin's 'Martha… MoreElizabeth Olsen makes her cinematic debut in Sean Durkin's 'Martha Marcy May Marlene', a psychological thriller about life after escaping (?) a cult and the paranoia that accompanies it.
MMMM is an accomplishment of atmospheric filmmaking, with first-time director Durkin managing to shroud every moment of regular life with a sense of unease and brooding tension that usually wouldn't be there. Some shots last for what feels like an eternity whilst others pass within seconds, some moments you think you see something whilst in others you feel it, you never know what is -or isn't- coming and its gripping.
The editing also adds to the sense of unease within the film, flitting between protagonist Martha's life at the cult and her current one without a moments notice. Everything within the way the film is made feels like it's out to get you, and, much like Martha, you don't know if it is or not.
As far as performances are concerned Olsen does an outstanding job, playing Martha with a sense of subtlety and fragility that is skill-wise unmatched by the rest of the cast. John Hawkes also does a great job as the cult's charismatic leader, blurring the line between kindness and cruelness in an always-interesting fashion. Perhaps the film's only flaw is the way some of its characters react, with Martha's sister and brother in-law in particular coming off occasionally as so plundering its silly.
Verdict: A great debut for both its star and director, Martha Marcy May Marlene is an intense ride.
Part of the 'New French Extremity' movement, Alexandre Aja's 'Haute… MorePart of the 'New French Extremity' movement, Alexandre Aja's 'Haute Tension' (High Tension/Switchblade Romance) is a heart-pounding horror that will have you at the edge of your seat...before slapping across the face for caring. CÚcile De France plays Marie, a young woman who is on a business trip with her friend Alexia (Maiwenn). Whilst on their journey the two stop off at Alexia's remote family home, only to find themselves as prey to a demented killer.
Haute Tension is very effective for it's first hour, managing to continually crank up the tension without ever stopping for a break or feeling drawn-out. In this respect, the film is masterfully paced, with Marie jumping from one set piece to another in a fashion that doesn't feel as forced as other films of the same genre. Music and sound is also used incredibly well throughout the film, with flourishes being added to moments of potential dread and heightening the sense of unease. Aesthetically the film feels as if it is a homage to the exploitation films of the late 70s, with realistic yet over the top Craven inspired violence being at the centre of the films narrative.
With everything being said it would seem as if Haute Tension was set up to be a classic, and it would be, that's if it didn't effectively ruin itself in the last 20 minutes with a twist that felt tacked on ridiculous, and rendered everything before it pointless.
Verdict: It's amazing if you pretend a quarter of it doesn't exist.
Released in 1987, Dario Argento's giallo thriller 'Terror at the… MoreReleased in 1987, Dario Argento's giallo thriller 'Terror at the Opera' perfectly blends the grandeur of the opera with his unmistakable brand of violence. Cristina Marsillach plays Betty, the beautiful understudy of a soprano who finds herself centre stage when the show's star is in an accident. With her newfound fame comes a cost, however, and Betty soon becomes entangled with a murderous stalker who forces her to watch him kill.
'Terror at the Opera' feels Shakespearian in essence, with ideas about love, obsession, and violence fuelling Argento's vision and immersing viewers in a world of tragedy and death. As well as this the film is very successful in building tension, utilising silence and unconventional camera-angles to great effect and keeping audience members on their toes, waiting for the patented violent Argento outbursts. When the violence comes its brutal and gripping, blood fills the screen and much like the film's protagonist, you'll find yourself unable to look away.
The soundtrack is used perfectly and the mix of Opera, heavy metal, and 80s progressive rock perfectly suits the film's unpredictable nature. Despite everything it has going however for it the film feels overlong in its final 2 scenes, becoming somewhat ridiculous and taking away from the experience that preceded them.
Verdict: an effective study of audience complicity and voyeurism, Terror at the Opera, despite being great, fails to live up to the high of Argento's earlier work 'Suspiria'.
Released in 1965, Nagisa Oshima's take on the then popular 'Pink'… MoreReleased in 1965, Nagisa Oshima's take on the then popular 'Pink' genre is a stylish thriller that explores the depths of nihilism, materialism, and the price of pleasure. Katsuo Nakamura plays Wakizaka, a teacher who having murdered the rapist of one of his students (whom he loves) finds himself blackmailed into hiding 30,000,000 yen of stolen money. When the student he murdered for decides to get married however, Wakizaka decides to spend all the money on his every sexual impulse and in doing so descends into a spiral of increasing paranoia.
A film noir in its very essence 'Pleasures of the Flesh' is a beautifully shot feature that uses its increasingly nightmarish cinematography to great effect. Moments of surrealistic editing become more and more frequent as the film progresses and increase the sense of claustrophobia and entrapment, making it feel as if viewers themselves are falling alongside the protagonist. As effective as this is the film does however stumble across moments in which it feels plodding, drawing viewers out of immersion and becoming slightly boring. The sequence in which Wakizaka attempts to win Keiko's love is an example of this, and although it houses one of the most beautiful moments in the film, it can't help but feel like it took too long getting there.
Despite supposedly being a 'pink' film the onscreen sex and violence is surprisingly tame, and the lacklustre ending feels as if it doesn't have the courage to live up to the other films of the genre or the increasing sense of immolation that preceded it.
Verdict: An interesting character study that occasionally strays off course and misses the mark with its ending.
Based on a story by acclaimed Japanese writer Edogawa Rampo, Noboru… MoreBased on a story by acclaimed Japanese writer Edogawa Rampo, Noboru Tanaka's 'Watcher In The Attic' is decidedly absurd erotic horror and a prime example of the ero-guro elements that began to grace the 'pink' film genre in 60s/70s Japan. Renji Ishibashi plays Saburo Gouda, a bored innkeeper who spends his spare time spying on his tenants through strategically placed holes in the attic floor. One day, whilst spying on the wealthy Lady Minako (Junko Miyashito) having sex with a man, he witnesses her, knowing that she is being watched murder him. This event sparks of an obscure relationship between the two in which the lines of pleasure and pain become blurred and increasingly violent murders become the norm.
'Watcher In the Attic' is primarily about voyeurism, and throughout the film viewer's themselves are often put in the seat of Saburo, gazing powerlessly upon the estranged tenants as they partake in even stranger activities; there's a priest who sexually assaults a girl via confession, a woman with a bestiality fetish, and even a man who dresses as a clown whilst having sex. It is during these moments that Noboru feels his most distinguished, successfully offsetting the films somewhat glacial pace with comments about sex and the bestial nature of man.
Despite this the film often feels as if it is being ambiguous for ambiguous' sake, taking moments past the point of relevancy and into the realm of forced unenjoyably drawn out art-house cinema. That's not to say that the often-powerful comments made throughout the film are irrelevant however (the ending especially being truly powerful), merely that they occasionally become lost among the director's own pretention.
Verdict: Full of intrigue and art, Watcher In The Attic becomes lost in its own sense of obscenity and a 78 minute runtime that feels almost twice as long as that.
Part of studio Nikkatsu's Roman Porno movement of the 60s/70s Tatsumi… MorePart of studio Nikkatsu's Roman Porno movement of the 60s/70s Tatsumi Kumashiro's 'Street of Joy' is an intriguing study of nihilism, prostitution and the depths to which desperation can plunge. Set on the final day before all brothels were banned in in Japan, the story follows four prostitutes as they reach turning points in their lives. Shimako, who is in love with a heroine addicted Yakuza, Kimiko, who dreams of escape but becomes bored when it is granted, Naoki, who is obsessed with breaking the brothel record for no reason and Shigeko, who is stuck in a life she can't escape.
What Kumashiro manages to do so well is capture the humanity of his characters without casting a judgemental eye on them; one of the film's greatest triumphs is being able to depict the power and will of its protagonists whilst showing the hopelessness of prostitution. The impartiality used when showing the most ravenous of the bunch Naoki -as she sleeps with man after man- is particularly impressive and will leave you feeling dazed and astounded.
Whilst producing these movies Nikkatsu had certain rules that directors had to adhere to: each film had to be filmed in just a few weeks and contain at least five sex scenes. What's interesting about this is the creativity that was deployed by the directors of the movement in order to create something that -while soft-core in nature- still had artistic merit. Street of Joy succeeds greatly at this and while other films of the time (such as 'Watcher in the Attic') felt somewhat forced in their sensuality Kumashiro manages to achieve storytelling through sex rather then with it.
Street of Joy is in no way perfect however, it's easy to become lost at times and some of the text and picture inserts used throughout the film feel like a rushed way of progressing the story in order to finish in time. As well as this, as is expected in a multi-stranded narrative, some characters pale in comparison alongside the others and become lost. Despite this however the film never becomes boring and the traditional Japanese themes of mono no aware and transformation shine like a guiding beacon of excellence.
Verdict: A beautifully controlled examination of its characters, Street of Joy is a powerful descent into the end of an era.
With a running time that barely breaks an hour, it would be fair to… MoreWith a running time that barely breaks an hour, it would be fair to assume that Doris Wishman's 'Bad Girls Go To Hell' is a straight through and through film that leaves little space for baggage, it would also be fair to assume that this cult 60s sexploitation earned it's status as a classic of the genre. In fact, it would be fair to assume many things about this film before watching it, none of which could prepare you for what you get. Overlong, meritless trash.
Gigi Darlene plays Meg Kelton, a housewife who is one day raped by her janitor whilst putting out the trash dressed in her nightie. Literally seconds after returning home Meg receives a note telling her that if she doesn't go to the janitor's apartment her husband will find out about what happened. For some reason that defies any explanation she decides to comply with the notes' request only to be raped again (God knows what she was expecting). During the second rape, however, Meg kills the janitor and instead of calling the police and telling them what happened (with the note as proof), runs away to New York.
Nonsensical plot aside, 'Bad Girls Go To Hell' has little to offer in terms of enjoyment. Sure, the 1960s beauties featured throughout may have enticed some extremely lowbrow form of enjoyment when it came out, but modern viewers watching for lewd thrills would be better off flicking through today's music video channels.
As well as this, the film shines a forgiving light on rape, seeing it as an act with no repercussions other then the victim fighting back. Throughout the film Meg is raped four times, beaten, and assumingly, if the end of the film is anything to go by, subjected to the exact same thing whilst the credits are rolling. All while the jolly soundtrack has you thinking, "Is this upbeat tune really fitting rape music?"
Perhaps the biggest insult the film offers is the ending, which, without going into too much detail, renders any investment you may (but probably won't have) made in the film for nothing.
Verdict: If bad girls really do go to hell, this tortuous film is presumably stuck on repeat.
Heralded as one of the first in a strain of sadomasochistic films to… MoreHeralded as one of the first in a strain of sadomasochistic films to come from Japan, 'Gate of Flesh' (1964) is renowned director Seijun Suzuki's strange cross-breed of exploitation and art-house. The story follows a group of prostitutes living in a burnt out house in post World War II Tokyo. This merciless group operate on a simple set of rules: no free sex (which is synonymous with love) and anyone who breaks this rule is to be tortured and left for dead, no exceptions. When an ex-corporal called Shintaro Ibuki (Jo Shishido) arrives however the group is sent into disarray as they become more and more enamoured with him. Affected most by this arrival is nineteen-year-old emotionally dead Maya (Yumiko Nogawa), who falls in love with Ibuki and begins to see him as the brother she lost in the war.
Gate of Flesh is a film about carnal desires and the inter-changeability of pleasure and pain, the films title itself is used multiple times in the script to represent passing through the realm of sex for money and achieving something you're willing to die for, love. This is not to say however that the film is empowering towards the idea of love, if anything the harpy like group of protagonists see it as a sign weakness, punishing those who give in. It is in this sense that 'Gate of Flesh' makes its most interesting comments about the way in which men use women and the price of living "are we eating to sell our bodies or are we selling our bodies to eat? - and either way, what are we living for?"
In a cinematography sense the film is very surrealistic, superimposed faces appear and disappear and at one point the face of a red demon (a representation of Maya's longing for pain) is seen sprouting from the top of Ibuki's head. One of the most notable instances of said surrealism however is when the film briefly cuts away from the back alleys of Tokyo and each of the four prostitutes appear against a background that matches their colour coded dresses, saying a sentence about the way they're feeling, it's as equally bizarre as it is beautiful.
The film is clearly anti-American and Suzuki has no hesitation when he comes to showing the negative effects of the occupation of Japan and the subsequent democracy. In many ways Gate of Flesh is about transformation, much like the traditional Geisha-style O-Machi is strung up and destroyed, so to is the old vision of Japan by America.
Verdict: Extremely shocking for it's time and equally as challenging, Gate of Flesh is a must see for those interested in Japanese cinema.
As an auteur Rob Zombie has established himself as a macabre force to… MoreAs an auteur Rob Zombie has established himself as a macabre force to be reckoned with; a wild card in the horror genre whose ambiguous morals challenge the codes and conventions of modern Hollywood cinema. His debut feature "House of 1000 Corpses" encapsulates perfectly his positioning as a maverick and opens up a door into a depraved and brutal world.
Set in the 70s and based on the exploitation films of the same time, the story follows four travelling writers Bill Hudley (Rainn Wilson), Stucky (Michael J. Pollard), Denise and Mary (Erin Daniels and Jennifer Jostyn) who are rescued by a family of sadistic serial killers whilst stuck in the rain; initially unknowing of their saviours evil intents, the group soon become subjected to a series of increasingly horrific torture.
Although the premise is the same as numerous other films' 'The House of 1000 corpses' sets itself apart with it's uncontrollable style and blunt force. Despite being told through the eyes of it's heroes, the real stars of the story are its villains 'The Firefly family', with Otis B. Driftwood (Bill Moseley) and Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie) in particular being the main points of attraction. It is apparent throughout the extent of the film that Zombie is in love with his deranged creations, giving them ample opportunities to spout their morally astray ideologies in nightmarish and often heavily sexualised montages made up of gothic imagery and visions of death ("Whatever you need to do, you do it. There is no wrong. If someone needs to be killed, you kill 'em. That's the way").
Such use of narrative fragmentation would appear un-immersive if not for the film's sporadic, maniacal and unpredictable editing, which often uses effects such as split screen and archive style footage to unrelentingly draw audience's into its dark world. Where the film falters however is with its ambition, causing the unpredictable to become predictable, an example of this is the way in which Zombie frequently fills viewers with hope for their protagonists only to take it away, and, although effective the first two or so times, this gimmick quickly becomes overused and is outwardly tiresome by the end of the film. As well as this HO1C fails where many other modern horrors do, in its climax, which is overlong and descends into an unbridled sense of absurdity and un-believability.
Verdict: A master class in technical and tonal horror, House of 1000 Corpses is let down by the pitfalls of most modern horror.