For many of us found footage is a great way to say “I don’t want to watch this.” The sub-genre has had little innovation and there have been far to many cheap-o flicks that use the “style” to make a film from nothing, and more often then not it also involves zero planning and zero talent in front of or behind the camera. Many film fans shudder at the mere mention of the trope, but let me tell you Toad Road is a film that uses the style very well, without cheesy tricks or nausea inducing camera shaking.
Toad Road is about a group of friends, dope fiends all, partying and “enjoying” their own little place in hell. They’ll do any drug as long as it means they don’t have to be responsible and can just have a good time. Our main character is a man who’s had enough of the lifestyle of partying and no future. He meets Sara, a straight A good girl, just as she gets accepted into the fold. Having done no drugs previously she’s curious about this alternative lifestyle. He wants out, just as she’s going in, and they fall in love. Or at least in lust. He tries to protect her from the dangers of the lifestyle as she wants to dive deeper. He finally feels some responsibility in his life and wants to steer her away, but of course he can’t help but indulge in the drugs himself. He tells her of a local folktale, the seven gates of hell. They’re located in the woods, and cannot be seen with the naked eye. Passing each gate makes you feel or experience some new painful emotion or a loss of time and place. No one has made it all the way through all seven gates, and she wants to be the first.
My first reaction to Toad Road as I hit play was, jeez that’s kinda crappy video quality. See the film has Elijah Wood’s stamp of approval on it as this is the first film his Spectravision production company has produced. I was expecting something slick, something smooth, something probably shot with a DSLR. Not the case. But you know what? It didn’t matter. I got sucked into the characters of the film and their genuine comradery. I felt like I was a fly on the wall in a room with real people going through their real interactions and emotions. The style is much more cinematic than most found footage type flicks. It’s a unique stylistic hybrid that blends found footage, documentary, and traditional narrative. It never feels cheap or gimmicky. We’re never told the footage is real or that the story is based on a true story. 3/4 of the film is just the friends hanging out talking and doing drugs, and I’m ok with that because it all felt very real. I didn’t find the film particularly scary or horrific, so I think calling it a horror film is a bit of a misnomer. It’s certainly dark and involves some fantastic elements but for those hoping for demons and gore, you won’t find it here.
Toad Road is a very realistic portrait of drug use amongst a group of 20 somethings that may or may not involve some horror, depending on your interpretation of the film. It’s a solid flick with great performances. Jason Banker, the writer/producer/director is a guy to keep your eye one. If he can make a film this compelling with a shoestring budget and a less than stellar camera, imagine what he can do with a solid budget and some good gear? Artsploitation does it again with great packaging, reverseable art, and a very nice booklet. I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us in 2014!
There was an era in movie poster art during the 80′s that I loved. The posters were all painted and helped tell the story of the film in one image. Some of my favorites were the Indiana Jones films, Back to the Future, Star Wars re-release, Blade Runner, Goonies, Big Trouble in Little China, and The Thing. As it turns out they were all done by the same person! Drew Struzan was the artist that did all of these posters and many many more memorable ones as well.
Starting out in the 70′s doing music art, the most notable of which were Sabbath Bloody Sabbath by Black Sabbath and Welcome to my Nightmare by Alice Cooper, he graduated to movie posters and knocked them out of the park from the beginning. Doing poster for iconic films as well as lesser known crap-fests, Drew was the man who helped fill video stores with eye popping box art that promised a good time. The Documentary is about him and his art and the history of his career. How he got started and some of the pitfalls he encountered during his career. A favorite of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, both of them are interviewed for the documentary as well as Frank Darabont, Guillermo Del Toro, Thomas Jane, Harrison Ford, Michael J. Fox, and few other folks as wells as Drew himself and his wife.
The doc is well produced and in interesting ride though it is a bit superficial. The doc does reveal some about Drew but fails to dig deep about who he is as a person and what really drove him to work so passionately for so long. Hell, the doc doesn’t even reveal if Drew even likes film at all. Everyone interviewed has nothing but glowing praise for him as an artist and as a person. Which after a while the point becomes belabored. That being said I did enjoy the documentary and it was great to learn more about such an important person in the world of film art. It would be great if the producers of the film went on to do another film about the other artists that helped define that generation as well as other older generations of film art. An all encompassing film about the history of film art would be great! For now we can all settle for a documentary about Drew Struzan, a man that helped define what movie art should be for 3 decades.
A few years ago I saw a film that blew my mind. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I needed to watch any and all films from the director. The film was The Boxer’s Omen and the director was Chih-Hung Kuei, who also directed the nasty film Corpse Mania. He was a Shaw director for many years before he left to find his fortune in the U.S., which of course didn’t happen. Most of his films are unavailable in the states so when I found a copy of Hex, I jumped on it.
Hex is about a formerly rich family that has fallen on hard times. The husband married into the rich family to live the life of luxuary and when the money runs low he takes to drinking and abusing his sickly wife. Along comes the daughter of an old servant who decides to take care of said wife. The husband beats and rapes the new servant and in a rage she fights back, pushing him into a huge rice container filled with water. She puts the lid on and he drowns. The wife and the servant hide the body in the pond but now they’re haunted by his ghost.
There’s a lot more to the film then that but going further would spoil the plot. Let’s just say there’s some twists and leave it at that. I’m not going to lie, I was a bit let down by this film. The Boxer’s Omen is for me the high water mark in funky HK cinema so I guess it was unfair to expect anything that bonkers. The film is however, competently done. There’s some good gooey gore in the film, though it certainly isn’t a gore flick. It’s a ghost story for sure but with a twist. The end of the film features 15 solid minutes of a naked woman writhing around while an exorcism is being performed. The lighting is very giallo-esque here and it really helps elevate the film from run of the mill to wtf. It’s a solid story with a well written plot, certainly much better that many Shaw story lines. It’s a serious film, dealing with abuse, betrayal, and ghosts. It’s a shame it isn’t available here in the states as it would make a good addition to anyone’s HK horror collection.
The ending of childhood is a powerful time in all of our lives. The subject has been explored in many many films to varying degrees of success. Most often the films either lament the loss using nostalgia or to embrace the bright future of young adulthood. Animals is a very interesting film. It tackles this subject without really taking a side. Filmed in Catalan, the language spoken in northern Spain, the film is about a 17 year old boy with one foot firmly planted in his childhood with the other foot hovering between adulthood and childhood. He talks to his stuffed bear Deerhoof who just happens to speak English. His friends are all striving to be as mature as they can be. Smoking, drinking, and having sex, our lead hasn’t been interested in any of that. That is until a new student joins his school which confuses him further.
Our lead must contend with the possibility of being gay on top of not wanting to join the world of adults. His friend Deerhoof the stuffed bear is the perfect companion for him. Supportive, understanding and kind, he’s everything his friends aren’t. He enjoys rocking out on guitar while his bear plays drums, pretending he’s the center of attention in the limelight. He enjoys comic books but has found interest in darker more challenging graphic novels. His female friend loves him and wants him but he doesn’t know what to do with her. Is he attracted to her? Is he supposed to be? He’s very very confused. It’s that confusion of self identity that permeates the film. A film that was made intentionally vague. Reading the interview included in the impressive booklet for this release, I found that the director wanted to remain vague and not spell anything out for the audience. Does the bear really talk? That’s up to you. Is our lead gay or straight? Again, up to you. Does it matter? Up to you. There are other animals in the film which clearly represent elements of the narrative and again, it’s up to you what their significance is. After finishing the film and reading the interview I was relieved that the director had specific messages but he was keeping mum. He wants his audience to interpret the film and make up their own meanings. After reading this I felt set free. Instead of trying to piece together what the director had intended, he has allowed his audience to dissect it and come up with their own ideas. This means the film will be rewarding upon re-watches and discussion with friends. It’s not a straight line film and I appreciate that. The direction, acting, cinematography, animatronic effects, and the score all work together harmoniously to create a singular vision, but one open for interpretation.
Animals is a difficult film. The themes the film explores are ones that complex and deeply personal. But the execution of the film is one that had my attention totally throughout it’s run time. Another home run for Artsploitation, complete with great booklet and art. At this point they’ve gained my trust so much that I would gladly watch anything they put out.
I’m fascinated with magic, more importantly magicians. There’s something about dedicating your life to making people believe the unbelievable that appeals to me. I myself have never attempted any kind of magic but it’s something that has hovered around the edges of my interest. The problem is the media sanctioned magicians of today hold little appeal to me. You’d have to tie me down to watch Chris Angel’s “magic” for instance. I don’t need a character when it comes to magic, I need tricks. Enter Ricky Jay and this fantastic documentary.
I’ll admit despite my interest in the subject my knowledge is below humble. Honestly I wanted to see this documentary because I remember seeing Ricky Jay on an episode of the X-Files. If he’s good enough for Mulder, he’s good enough for me. What we get is an interesting documentary that tells Ricky Jay’s story by telling other magician’s stories, his mentors. It’s a great history lesson that helps to reveal the importance of presentation, delivery, technique and style. No two of his mentors were the same on virtually any level. It was this amalgamation of so many influences that ultimately created Ricky Jay. Part magician, part magic historian, he has tried to resurrect long forgotten tricks to show to the masses. He’s a master of card tricks and small tricks of every kind. There’s a kind of beauty in that. His mastery of something deceptively simple that only fellow practitioners could really appreciate. I mean what do I know about trying to do a card fan? What does your average Joe? It’s this passion for the purity of the trick that comes through strongly in this documentary. It helps inform us non-magicians on what is truly difficult and great. It isn’t big flashy stunts that take tens of thousands of dollars to pull off. It isn’t tigers or showgirls. It’s endless hours of practice. It’s dedication to the craft. There’s no way to throw money at a card trick to get it right. Only time, and practice. I like that a lot. It appeals to my DIY nature. But the question remains, is this documentary any good?
In a word, yes. I was fully engaged in the history lesson this film presents throughout it’s duration. We get to see plenty of fantastic tricks from Ricky and we get to see what brought him to this point. It’s one thing to just show great tricks and get a biography on the person being covered. It’s quite another to truly understand where his magic comes from, who he learned from and what they taught him. It’s a unique way to present a bio-doc and it works very well here. I had a good time watching the film and it even has sparked an interest in reading some of Ricky Jay’s books on magic. Who knows, maybe even I could learn a bit of magic?
It’s that time again folks. Episode 3 is live and ready for you. This time we cover Maniac (2012) starring Elijah Wood. Did we like it? Did we hate it? Give a listen to find out here.
Can I be honest and admit something to you? Ok. Here I go. I’m not a fan of Jess Franco. There. I said it. I’ve seen a handful of his films, probably not the high water marks, but all the films I’ve seen have been for me dull. Not enough action, and too much nudity if there could be such a thing. Nudity in film should be a treat not an ever present thing. Pretty soon, I get tired of seeing people naked and that’s a terrible thing. Of the films of his I’ve seen, and I know he has a HUGE catalog, they have been dull as dishwater. Characters walking around, talking, having sex, over and over again. No real plot or action. But my opinion on Franco may have just changed after seeing the hugely entertaining Countess Perverse.
I’ll cut to the chase and say this is essentially a reworking of The Most Dangerous Game. A rich couple live on an island and hunt people for sport and then eat them. I don’t want to give too much away so let’s just say there’s a couple of good twists in there too.
I had a lot of fun watching this one! Franco filmed 12 movies in ’73 and my guess is this is probably the best one. There’s some great cinematography here using fish eye lenses in a house whose architecture is spectacular. I think they spent their whole budget securing this amazing block building. And they shoot it beautifully. Bright greens, reds, and cool whites dominate the film. At 78 minutes the film moves quickly from scene to scene, never devolving into dullness. The soundtrack is also wonderful, utilizing a grungy guitar and some organ music. I absolutely love the guitar work here. It being a Franco film there is a boatload of nudity and sex, the sex being as graphic as it could possibly be without being hardcore. The film is in french which gives it an air of sophistication that it certainly doesn’t deserve. The acting, from what I can tell, is great hammy scenery chewing that I enjoyed as well. The print also looks fantastic. It looks pristine and clear. It holds up to any major release I’ve seen from the era. It truly is a beautiful thing to behold. I was amazed at how great the film looked to be honest. The bottom line here is this is one sleazy fun flick. It’s nothing new or revolutionary but it is a well done, streamlined thriller. For Franophiles this is a must own. For sleaze fans it’s a must own. And for people like me that don’t dig Franco, please check this one out. It might just change your mind.
The world of Mondo Macabro is still alive and kicking, and they continue to bring funky rare flicks for us film fanatics. A newish release, the cult Italian/US film The Girl in Room 2A is indeed a rare one. The world of Eurohorror is one less often ventured here in the States. We’ve always had a strong history of horror and it was tough for European imports to penetrate our already saturated market. Because of that many films went straight to vhs during the home video boom, and were quickly forgotten. The Girl in Room 2A is one such film. Never before released onto dvd, and for the first time available uncut thanks to Mondo Macabro. But is it any good?
The Girl in Room 2A is about a young woman, who is as always beautiful, released from jail into a halfway house by her probation officer. The room is in a creepy old manor with creepy old manor type things going on. There’s a blood stain in her bedroom that despite her efforts to clean it, continues to reappear. One night she sees a mysterious masked man in her room. She attributes it to a dream until she meets a man, the brother of another woman who stayed in that very room and disappeared. They then band together to find out where his sister is and just what exactly is going on in the manor.
The film plays a bit like a giallo, with the masked killer, and also a creepy cult film, mixed with a mystery thriller. It’s got a weird masked torturer/killer that looks like a luchador and a catholic cardinal had a baby. It’s got some sleazy nudity and S & M going on, and some cold blooded murder. It’s a pretty breezy film that doesn’t dip too deep into depravity but does certainly have is nasty moments. The pace is medium and never spirals into tedium. It’s a minor film that’s enjoyable, but isn’t a forgotten gem. It’s a film that would appeal to eurohorror enthusiasts but not to the casual viewer. There isn’t enough style or sleaze to really make it stand out. Don’t get me wrong though, I enjoyed watching the film and had a good time with it. I was afraid it was going to become boring and a chore but it never did. There’s enough meat on the bone to keep the viewer interested, but not enough to call this one an essential buy for newcomers to eurohorror. I appreciate the amount of work that went into the release. The film had to be spliced together using different sources, much like Anchor Bay used to do in their heyday and that sort of dedication to the material and to the customer goes a long way for me. The print looks clean and clear as well. This is another labor of love for Mondo Macabro, nothing less than the best seems to be their motto so you can pick this one up without reservation if eurohorror is your thing.
Asian Horror. Those two words are enough to keep many genre fans far far away from a film. After the huge breakout J-Horror hits of the early 00′s, there was an overabundance of little girls with black hair creeping around the corners of screens everywhere. The sub-genre burned out very quickly for most and for many of us the idea of Asian horror doesn’t pique our interest anymore. Too many copies and too little innovation. South Korean cinema has been blowing up here in the states for the last 10 years, so why not Korean horror? Well, again the interest is for the most part is very low. We love South Korean thrillers and action films but the bitter taste of spooky ghosts is still to fresh for most of us. My love for Korean cinema transcends this distaste and so I jumped without reservation into this new Korean horror anthology. So, is it any good?
Well, it has some knockout talent behind the camera, the director of Epitaph Beom-sik Jeong, and Kyu-Dong Min of Mememto Mori are two of the 4 directors on tap here. The others I’m unfamiliar with, being a novice at Korean cinema but I’m sure they’re heavy weights in their own right. The wrap around story is about a killer who kidnaps a girl. He wants her to tell him a scary story so that he can sleep. He’s an insomniac and can only sleep when his blood is chilled by a scary story. We then see a story about two of the cutest kids in film history being terrorized by a delivery guy, which then somehow turns into a political film about the harshness of the corporate world. I’m still scratching my head over that one. Then we hear of a plane that is transporting a serial killer and of course he breaks loose and terrorizes the crew. The third story is about a modern day cannibal who uses his wealth to eat pickled human. Finally we have the ubiquitous zombie tale, but this time it’s about an ambulance crew out in the wilds of zombiedom transporting a little girl that may or may not have been bitten.
The stories on display here aren’t exactly new for western audiences. Perhaps in Korean this is new-ish but here they’re all pretty stale on paper. In practice however they are quite good. The first story is especially effective. I’ve got kids and seeing kids, especially cute ones, in peril freaks me out. The odd tacked on end about a heartless corporate company was very odd. I honestly thought it was the beginning of the second story, perhaps I missed something? That being said, it didn’t bother me. It was just odd. The second story though is certainly stale. In execution and in plot. The third one is a great window into the marital/power culture of Korea. This one I enjoyed quite a bit. A rich president is marrying his 6th wife, who couldn’t be happier at a chance of the easy life. The lack of choice and the sacrificial nature of the marriage was very compelling. The fourth story, which should have been the worst was indeed the best of the set. I’m bored to tears when it comes to zombies but this story brings the goods. Confined space. Hysterical mother. Sympathetic child. Middle of the night driving a desolate road. A doctor that wants to dump the girl and a nurse that wants to take her to the hospital. Mix and let bake for about 20 minutes of entertainment. Good special effects, and a suspenseful plot that focuses on some major ethical quandaries. This one is a winner for sure. As for the wrap around, it works fine to move the plot along but it’s nothing spectacular.
Again Artsploitation delivers on the packaging. Reverseable art, interviews, and a 12 (!) page booklet with interviews with the directors and essays. This helps give cultural context and relevance to the films. This is how to produce a high quality release. For those that love South Korean cinema this is an easy buy. For those still burned from the endless J-horror knock offs, this one would be a great refresher on what Asian horror has to offer outside of creepy ghosts. Another solid release from Artsploitation.
Hey there fiends and foes we’ve got a fresh episode of the Toxic Graveyard Podcast! In this episode we cover the John Carpenter classic Prince of Darkness. Download it here.