Madhouse (1981)

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There was a time in my early 20s when I discovered the video nasties. These were films banned in the U.K. in the early 80’s for being too extreme. In some cases the films were merely banned because of the box art, not because of the film itself. In all there were 74 films that were either banned or heavily trimmed. Madhouse was one such film and at the time when I was watching the Nasties, I couldn’t get my hands on a copy of it. It’s been a long time coming but thanks to Arrow Video, I finally had the chance to give it a gander.

Madhouse is about identical twin girls. One of them becomes diseased and disfigured and subsequently is sent to an asylum. Growing up, the disfigured twin hated her sister. She didn’t want to share her face, her house, or her birthday. She wanted to be an individual, not a twin. She would torture her sister mentally and physically. Her disfigurement and committal to the asylum were a very good thing for the good twin. Fast forward to a few days before they turn 25 and the evil twin has flown the coop. Terrified the good twin spends most of the movie trying to convince her boyfriend that her sister is very scary and should be locked up. Those close to her start showing up dead, horribly mangled by a dog or stabbed with a knife. It’s only a matter of time before her sister comes to kill her!

Directed by Ovidio G. Assontis (Beyond the Door, Tentacles), Madhouse is an early example of the slasher genre. It has that strange vibe of films made from this era that doesn’t quite feel like an 80’s movie, but it isn’t a 70’s film either. This era was a turning point stylistically, and the film tries to have one foot in each decade. The plot is slow with heavy amounts of dialogue that don’t do much to create mood or move the story. Characters are slain in graphic ways so the film delivers on the “nasty” aspect for films on the list of 74. And yet the scenes feel somewhat out of place, almost as if the film was meant to be more psychological and “classy,” like Carrie or The Omen. The scenes of graphic violence seem pasted in, in an otherwise straight horror film. For me, the film wasn’t particularly exciting though the acting is pretty solid all the way around. I found myself being easily distracted in between the violent scenes, but then again I could have been in a particularly distracted mood.

The film looks great though. It’s another fantastic transfer from Arrow and by now I wouldn’t expect anything less. Fans of the film will be very happy with the visual presentation. Again the supplements are also good. We get an audio commentary, interviews with the cast and crew, and an alternate opening title sequence.

For fans of Madhouse, this is a great package. For fans of slasher flicks, this would also be a solid pickup. For the rest of us, it all hinges on how much you enjoy films from this era. Personally, I prefer films from the mid to late 80’s or more solidly in the 70’s. Madhouse was fairly entertaining for me but it won’t be a new favorite.

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Brain Damage (1988)

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I distinctly remember renting Brain Damage on vhs when I was in junior high. I saw it at the video store and honestly thought the movie was going to star Jeff Goldblum because of the box art. I also knew it was going to have a monster in it and I’ve always loved creature features so I gave it a view. I didn’t know what to expect and what I got was a grab bag of weird. It stuck with me for many years though I never gave it another watch. Until now.

Brain Damage is about nice guy Brian. He lives in an apartment with his brother and he’s got a cute girlfriend. Everything seems to be going fine for Brian. That is until his neighbors lose an ancient worm creature and it ends up in Brian’s bedroom. Alymer is it’s name and it’s an ancient creature that has been passed down through many centuries by powerful rulers from around the globe. Now, it’s Brian’s turn. The creature looks like a phallic worm with an exposed brain with suction cups scattered about it’s body. It has a large mouth and from within that mouth extends a special needle-like appendage that injects a mind altering substance into Brian’s brain. High as a kite, he takes Alymer outside where he feasts on the brains of a human victim. Now Brian is hooked on the drug and has to help Alymer get victims, otherwise the pusher-worm will cut him off. Conflicted, Brian doesn’t know what to do.

Directed by Frank Henenlotter (Basket Case, Frankenhooker), Basket Case is possibly his most polished and least strange film, if you can believe that. Watching it now many years later, I’m struck by how the film is able to make dramatic tonal shifts effortlessly. We go from the movie being just a silly monster movie, to a film discussing the ravages of drug addiction, to a suspenseful film filled with moral conflict. These major shifts feel totally natural and although they kill the party movie vibe of the movie, it’s not a let down. It’s almost as if the film lures the viewer in by promising a gory good time (which is delivers), but takes a moment to get serious as well. Speaking of the effects, they are indeed graphic but no disgustingly so. Aylmer looks pretty goofy and I have to say i’ve never seen a monster design quite like him before or since. Most of the time he’s an animatronic puppet, but the film manages to sneak in some stop-motion work here and there too. One particular scene involving a woman in a punk club is particularly gross and could potentially turn off sensitive viewers, but for hardened horror fans, it’s a memorable and goofy scene. If you’ve seen any of Henenlotter’s films, you know what to expect. It’s crass at times, but it never revels in depravity. I really enjoyed this re-watch and I’m looking forward to showing it to some of my friends. It’s a film that has a solid cult status but has been difficult to see until this Arrow Blu.

Speaking of the Blu it looks fantastic. The film is completely cleaned up with a spotless presentation. It’s a film that really shines on Blu and for fans it’s the presentation we’ve all been waiting for. From what I can tell, the film’s more infamous scenes are intact as well. I’m not sure if the film is considered an Uncut version but it delivers on scenes I certainly don’t remember from watching it on VHS. As always, the blu comes with great special features but this release in particular is thick with content. We get a brand new documentary about the making of the film that runs nearly an hour (!), commentary by Henenlotter, a Q&A with Henenlotter, an interview with a superfan of the film, and more. This thing has a ton of goodies to dig into for fans of the movie.

Again, Arrow has released a flawless Blu ray. The presentation is fantastic, the film is great, and the special features are extensive. If you dig 80’s horror, this one is well worth picking up. If you’re a fan of Henenlotter, then it’s essential.

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Wolfguy: Enraged Lycanthrope (1975)

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I have to be honest and say that before Arrow Video put this movie out, I had never heard of it. The cover art plus the title plus Sonny Chiba attracted my attention and I was excited to check out this slice of 70’s action.

Wolfguy: Enraged Lycanthrope come from the same director as Sister Streetfighter and Wandering Ginza Butterfly 1 & 2. It stars Chiba as Wolf, the lone survivor of a clan of wolf people. At the beginning of the film he runsafoul of a yakuza looking dude who nearly gets hit by Wolf’s car as he runs screaming down the street. He fears a tiger, more specifically a woman who has turned into a tiger. Before Wolf’s eyes, the man is torn apart by some invisible force. Intrigued, he investigates the murder along with his newspaper associate and together they uncover a sleazy plot involving rape, drugs, the world of entertainment, politics, and that yakuza. Wolf infuriates the wrong people and they want him dead. Can he uncover the truth and destroy the bad guys before they get him?

Let me begin by saying that despite the title of the film, the movie is not a horror flick. Yes Chiba plays a wolfman but he never turns into a werewolf if that makes sense. There are no transformations and he doesn’t howl at the moon. He is more animalistic than a normal man and has bestial strength that grows until it reaches it’s apex at the 15th day of the moon where he becomes invincible. The film’s tone is one of action and mystery, not of horror. So, if you’re hoping for a 70’s horror flick with Sonny Chiba tearing people apart, you’re going to be disappointed. That being said, I really enjoyed this flick. It starts with a big bloody bang and the action continues through it’s tight run time. Chiba is at his roguish best and all the ladies in the movie can’t wait to make love to him. The camera work is shaky and raw which gives the film energy and a real sense of danger and menace. The music is super funky and could not have come from any other decade than the 70’s. It feels like a soundtrack that could have easily been on a blaxploitation film from the era. There’s no question the movie was meant to appeal to an audience that had a hunger for blood, action, sex, and a sense of cool. It has no airs and no pretensions. It gives the audience what it wants and does so in a fast and short run time.

The image is fantastic and so is the audio. Again, as always, Arrow has done a great job at presenting this film. From what i can tell this is a rare one and Arrow has saved it from obscurity looking like it was always well looked after. The film is supplemented with interviews with the director, producer, and Sonny Chiba, and a collector’s booklet. If you’re a fan of Sonny Chiba, Japanese cinema, cinema from the 70’s, crime, action, or the original Manga, you’ll have fun with this flick.

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Obsessions (1969)

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Believe it or not, a film co-written by Martin Scorsese with music from Bernard Herrmann (Hitchcock’s main composer, De Palma used him too) went unreleased in the U.S. until now. The film, Obsessions, was released in 1969 and is considered the first Dutch horror film and was the first Dutch film sold in numerous territories outside of the Netherlands. It’s landmark film, one that helped to establish the presence of Dutch cinema in the international lexicon. It could be said that without this film, we wouldn’t have the wonderful films of Paul Verhoeven (Robocop, Total Recall, Starship Troopers among others) among other Dutch film makers if Obsessions hadn’t made such a splash. There is no question of the importance of Obsessions in the Dutch film industry, but what’s it about, and is it any good?

Obsessions is about a young man whom is soon to become a doctor. He lives in a studio apartment and has many sexy lady friends. He also has a hole drilled in his wall that allows him to peep on his neighbor next door. Curious one day he watches his neighbor have sex with a woman but then things get rough and she becomes unconscious. The woman then vanishes and our doctor snoop becomes intrigued. He sneaks into the apartment and discovers the woman in the bathroom in a pool of drug spiked water. Hurriedly escaping, he becomes obsessed with the goings on in the apartment next door and gets involved in a situation outside of his comprehension. He’s joined by a lady-friend who works at a newspaper working on the disappearance of a woman and the murder of a man. She begins to suspect that there may be connection between the neighbor and her investigation and together they get embroiled in a strange and dangerous affair.

It’s hard to talk about Obsessions without point out the obvious: this movie reeks of Hitchcock. The score was made by Hitchcock’s maestro and the score sounds like something Hitchcock would have used. The story itself is too lurid and vague for Hitchcock’s razor sharp films but it still lives in the general universe created by Hitchcock. It’s a universe that De Palma would explore throughout his early career in a similarly vague fashion. With that out of the way, I can say that I did enjoy Obsessions. It’s plot was intriguing and characters, while not 3 dimensional, lived unique lifestyles that fascinated me. Aside from the mystery element and the score, the film is also Hitchcockian in its tight runt ime, with little time wasted on anything outside of the main thrust of the movie. The film’s plot starts from the very beginning of the film and thankfully we don’t get bogged down in melodrama between the characters, instead the lead of the film remains steadfast in his curiosity, in fact when extraneous elements enter the film, he’s pointedly distracted by his obsession with his neighbor. I don’t want to give the film away, but I will say the ending is rather shocking and the movie had me engaged throughout  its run time.

It’s a cinema miracle that this film can be released at all after many thought it was lost forever. Thankfully it’s been lovingly restored by Cult Epics with a sharp picture and clear audio. The Blu ray comes with some great special features including interviews with the director, actors, the original script notes from Martin Scorcese as well as a transcript of an interview with him about the film.

I really enjoyed Obsessions. It’s sleazy in places though not overly so, intriguing, unique and compelling. The special features are fantastic and the presentation of the film is rock solid. If you enjoy 60’s cinema, Eurohorror, crime, mystery, Hitchcock, or cinema obscurities, this one will be right up your alley.

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VHS Massacre (2017)

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I grew up in the glory days of small video stores with shelves stacked with wonderful (and terrible) films for me to salivate over. As a kid i spend my summers watching stacks of VHS tapes picked out from the local mom & pop video store so of course i’m a sucker for vhs era nostalgia. There have been a handful of interesting docs about VHS culture in recent years and i’ve enjoyed the ones i’ve seen like Rewind This and Adjust Your Tracking. VHS Massacre bills itself as another jouney through the world of VHS and so naturally i wanted to see it.

VHS Massacre is a documentary produced in New York that isn’t really about VHS as it is about home video in general. The film interviews cult favorites like Joe Bob Briggs and Lloyd Kaufman and Debbie Rachon about the impact of home video as well as independent video store owners, distributors (like Vultra Video), and the film makers themselves who apart from making this doc have made a few features themselves.

Unfortunately VHS Massacre lacks focus. It feels like a hodge podge of ideas tenuously linked together with a general sense of warm fuzzies for the good old days. The film (running only 71 minutes) feels more like a grab bag of ideas and information. There aren’t any coheisve segues between subjects, one scene crashing into the other. It feels as if the film makers didn’t really know what the end result of the film was going to be and decided to shoot interviews and segments with little regard as to how they would fit together to create and interesting whole. It feels unpolished and unfocused but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some tidbits that are interesting and some solid content, especially in the back end of the film. VHS Mssacre isn’t without charm, but it does suffer from lack of focus. It felt as if it should have either been much longer to fill in the gaps where segments don’t fit together or it feels as if it should have been cut into pieces and released as individual shorts.

VHS Massacre isnt the slam dunk i was hoping for. I’m an easy mark for this kind of film but it’s lack of focus and general rough around the edges vibe didn’t work for me. I enjoyed some of the interviews and perhaps with more development and additional shooting it could have been something special. Here’s hoping the film makers learned from the experience and crank out another doc with a clearer idea.

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House & House II: The Second Story Blu

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When I was a kid, I grew up watching a lot of T.V. I remember on weekends watching cheesy action flicks, sci-fi movies, and horror flicks that played on basic cable. Films like The Thing and Big Trouble in Little China, the Puppet Master movies, and more would play on lazy Saturday afternoons when my folks were busy with other things. House and House II were films that I caught under those circumstances and I fell in love with both. I mention this because House and House II have never been highly regarded within the horror canon, often times they have been missed altogether by horror fans. It may be the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia speaking but i really love these films.

House (1985) stars William Katt, a popular horror novelist, who inherits his aunt’s home that he grew up in. Wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, he moves into the house to begin working on a novel about the Vietnam war that his publisher doesn’t want. Once inside the home he’s reminded of the painful memory of his son’s disappearance from the home, years before. His aunt told him that it was the house that stole his child but he never believed her. Strange things start to occur as the house comes alive, tormenting him at every turn.

I remember distinctly watching House on a lazy weekend while my mother slept. It scared the hell out of me and i loved it. The film doesn’t play by traditional haunted house rules, with creatures vomited forth by the house, strange rooms that lead to different times and places, inanimate objects with a mind of their own, and a general sense that anything could happen at any time. I loved the imagination in the film and to this day i feel that it stands alone in that department. The film was directed by Steve Miner who also directed Friday the 13th part 2 & 3 as well as Warlock. The film was produced by Sean Cunningham and the music was done by Harry Manfredini and the story was written by Fred Dekker, so it’s a great grab bag of horror favorites all working together to create this unsung gem of the genre. True the film doesn’t feature much gore and the effects are cheap by today’s standards but what it lacks in gore and pricey effects it makes up for with creativity and a genuine sense of identity. I like this movie so much that i’ve dug into William Katt’s spotty filmography from time to time, hoping for another hidden gem. If you like your horror films unique, strange, and filled with creatures, House is your jam.

House II: The Second Story (1987) is a film I caught every time it aired. A young artist inherits his ancient ancestral home and moves in with his talent agent girl friend. Accompanying them are his goofy dufus best friend and his singer girlfriend. Together they dig up an old grave and find the artists’ great great grandfather still alive (though mummified), through the power of an ancient crystal skull. Once returned to the house, strange things start to happen that lead the pair through a wild adventure that spans genres. House was 100% pure horror but this sequel is a different beast entirely. None of the cast return from the first film, nor does the titular house. This time around instead of a Victorian abode the house looks more ancient, being built out of stone. House II is part comedy, part adventure, part buddy film, part sci-fi, part western, with a smidge of horror thrown in. It’s as if the writer (who is also the director, and served as screenwriter on House), used horror as a general framework and explored the many genres that could live in that space. Make no mistake though: this movie is silly from the beginning. It features more unique creatures, great make-up work, goofy comedy, cliche characters, and many surprising twists that although do not exude scares, are filled with child-like exuberance and wonder. If you walk into the film thinking you’re going to get more scares, you’ll be sorely disappointed. But if you can get with the silly and imaginative vibe of the film, you’ll enjoy it plenty.

Both of these films are worth checking out. They both are unique within the horror genre and unique when compared to each other as well. Both are fun, creative, and inventive, something that can be lost when horror films decide to play by genre rules. The pair were followed by two sequels, in fact the U.K. release includes these films but honestly, they pale in comparison to the first two. The third film is available as The Horror Show, and it stars Brion James and Lance Henrickson. Sadly, it lacks the creativity and vibe of it’s predecessors and honestly has nothing to do with the first film either thematically or spiritually. The fourth film brings back William Katt from the first movie and tries hard to re-live the vibe of the first movie. It does have some inventive scenes and is certainly more enjoyable than the third film but is still inferior to the first two films. Unfortunately the fourth film has be stuck in release limbo and isn’t readily available in the U.S.

Again, Arrow has done a fantastic job of restoring these films, they have never looked or sounded better. I was able to pick up on little things that previously i had never noticed before. The supplementals are also impressive with interviews and making-of featurettes. I watched the 57 minute documentary for House II and it was a wonderful supplement chock full of great interviews and information about the film. This is the definitive release for a pair of films (a group of films in the U.K.), often ignored by horror fans. Hopefully this new release will allow a reappraisal of the films and their proper place in horror history will be secured.

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Cathy’s Curse (1976)

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Severin Films is a distributor I always keep an eye on. They always do a fantastic job restoring the films they release and loading them up with special features. They dig deep to find funky flicks that more often than not have been forgotten by most. Canadian film Cathy’s Curse is one such film. Languishing on budget releases and multi-movie megapacks sourced from muddy VHS tapes, fans of the film can finally see what the movie was meant to look like thanks to this new Blu release.

Cathy’s Curse is about the Gimbles,  family of three that move into the father’s ancestral estate. The wife has recently had a nervous breakdown and so time away from the hustle and bustle of the city in the calm country is meant to be a soothing balm on her shattered nerves. That is until their daughter Cathy starts acting creepy and bizarre things start happening in the house. Is it Cathy? Or is it the Gimble house that is the source of the terror? Will anyone make it out alive?

I know this Omen/Exorcist rip-off has plenty of fans. I know it’s reputation has survived it’s terrible releases but for me, it just didn’t work. The film felt too threadbare and slight. Sure, spooky stuff happens but it all feels very chaste and not very scary. Perhaps in the 70’s it was really freaky, i don’t know. Maybe i’m too jaded but most of the scary scenes had me shrugging my shoulders. I had a hard time paying attention to the movie, I found myself lost in thought and having to re-focus on the movie. That’s not a good sign. I had a hard time caring about the characters or being frightened by Cathy. I should point out though that scary kid flicks do very little for me in general, even the bigger names in the genre. I just don’t find kids scary in any way. Annoying, sure. But scary? Not so much. Fans of the creepy kid genre may find more to chew on here, but for me it was forgettable. Nothing about the movie jumped out at me. None of the actors, the modest effects, the vibe, the direction, the music, none of it. It felt like a flick put together with a modest budget with modest expectations at the box office. Again, this movie has fans, I’m just not one of them. It doesn’t stink, it’s just not memorable.

Severin did a great job restoring the movie however. I know for a fact it has always suffered from terrible releases so this new polished presentation will probably be colossal for fans of the film. Special features include two cuts of the film, cast interviews, audio commentary and a trailer for the film.

If you dig creepy kids or Canadian films, Cathy’s Curse might be for you. To me it was bland, workmanlike, and unmemorable.

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Dream Stalker / Death By Love (2017)

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Intervision has built up a reputation for finding all manner of unique, trashy, and little seen genre cinema. From their gore-tastic release of The Burning Moon, to their low-fi WTF film Things, to their sexploitation flicks, they have unearthed some very interesting and entertaining films. They also gave a proper release to shot-on-video horror film Sledgehammer on a very early release from the company. Intervision has gone back to the well of low-budget, shot-on-video horror with their double feature Dream Stalker (1991) & Death by Love (1990).

Dream Stalker is about a young woman and her love for her dirt bike riding boyfriend. She loves to see him compete and he loves her dearly. An unfortunate dirt bike-related accident kills said boyfriend and now his lady love is crushed. She’s also having freaking dreams where she see’s her mutilated boyfriend killing people. Or are they just dreams? The people she sees murdered by her boyfriend end up being dead at the end of her violent dreams. Is it her boyfriend back from the grave or are her dreams homicidal?

Of the two films this is the better flick. It features some low-rent but fun make-up effects, bad acting, worse music, and it blatantly rips off Nightmare on Elm Street only without all that pesky budget, talent, and cohesive plot. On paper this seems like it would be a great film to watch with friends for a bad movie night. It has all of the hallmarks of a good bad flick but for me, it didn’t pan out that way. The movie just didn’t grab me and instead i had trouble sitting through it. The movie lacked anything bonkers or extreme. It also lacked the poor directorial/script decisions that often make regional films so much fun to watch with friends. Honestly the movie is pretty middle of the road. It’s adept enough that it doesn’t have any really silly moments, but too conservative to push it over the top. That being said it’s a solid flick for viewers that love SOV flicks, just don’t expect anything bizarre or memorable. It’s a journeyman horror flick that does what it sets out to do and does so frugally and competently. It doesn’t suck, but it doesn’t wow either.

Death By Love is about a guy who loves to make really bad sculptures of naked ladies and get paid the big bucks to do it. He’s suave, muscled, rich, and every woman he meets wants to get into his pants. All is not what it seems when he leaves a string of ladies behind him, murdered. Is he the killer? Or is there a psycho killer on his trail, killing all the women whom he sleeps with?

Death By Love also sounds like a perfect film for friends, on paper at least. The sculptor who every lady wants to bump uglies with is the director of the film. He also wrote and produced the movie. Vanity flicks like this are often chock full of fun (check out Road to Revenge for arguably the best vanity laugh fest out there). It isn’t though. The movie moves slowly and we get plenty of footage of the director humping in the movie but the murders are weak, the pacing slow, and the dialogue unimaginative. It’s a total stroke fest for the director for sure but it just feels bland. Again everything feels very workman like and for lack of a better word: beige. The scenery is beige, his hair is beige, the buildings are beige, and the vibe of this movie is beige. Not bombastic, over the top, or incompetent enough to have much fun with. It’s just there, like an uncle’s somewhat interesting but ultimately time wasting stories.

I was hoping these would both be fantastic flicks as Intervision usually delivers the goods, but for me, they’re both misses. If you are a SOV enthusiast then these are probably solid flicks, for the rest of us dabblers in the world of SOV, these flicks aren’t essential.

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Shinjuku Triad Society (1995)

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Takashi Miike is a devisive director. He’s spent his very prolific career cranking out hyper violent cheap yakuza films, bizarre and often highly disgusting personal films, dramas, a musical, family fantasy films, and high class respectable art cinema. He’s had a varied career to say the list. Best known for Audition, Ichi the Killer, 13 Assassins, and The Great Yokai War, Shinjuku Triad Society is an early effort. Though that’s relative when it comes to Miike. He may have only been making films for 4 years at this point, but Shinjuku Triad Society is his 13th film. To date he’s made 100 films and is still going strong. It’s an ugly film that gives a glimpse of the depravity he would be known for in the late 90’s and early 00’s.

Shinjuku Triad Society is about the invasion of criminal elements from Taiwan. They’ve come to make money any way they can in Japan including drug dealing, prostitution, assassination, and organ harvesting. Kiriya  is a detective in Japan. He’s the son of a Japanese man orphaned in China during the war. He’s a “half breed” and can speak mandarin. This means he gets crap from Japanese people and Chinese, but he’s a good person to investigate the Triad activities due to his ability to understand both Chinese and Japanese culture and language. His younger brother Yoshihito is training to become a lawyer when he works with Wang, a psycho gang leader, as his defense attorney. Turned on to the criminal world he vanishes into the underground of dark dealings. Kiriya has one mission: investigate Wang so he can bring him down and bring his brother home, away from the criminal world.

Shinkjuku Triad Society is bleak. It features brief flourishes of the sadism seen in Miike’s later work.  I won’t spoil it for you but there’s some Miike style carnage sprinkled throughout the film. The movie also features several homosexual characters who act up on their orientation graphically in the film. Again, is this commentary or just Miike pushing buttons in ’95? Miike seems to love making his audience feel uncomfortable and outraged so that could be the case here or perhaps he was trying, in a ham fisted way, to comment on homosexuality. The film doesn’t flow or wrap up as one might expect. The film meanders as we meet a variety of degenerate characters who work for the gangs doing their dirty work. From a plotting standpoint the film doesn’t hit the “sweet spots” we’ve come to expect from gangster films. This itself is frustrating for the viewer as it seems like Miike is withholding on the genre staples to avoid following convention as well as once again, pushing the audience’s buttons.

Visually the film looks great. Shot on film, it gives a rare peek into Japan and Taiwan during that era. Arrow, who never skimps on restoration, has done a great job with this film. It looks great and i highly doubt it’s ever looked better or will ever look better.

Overall Shinjuku Triad Society is an interesting early effort that beings to show the future promise of Miike. It’s dreary, grimy, and shocking, even now. While not a perfect film, for Miike fans, it’s a solid film in a rather patchy filmography. If you’re new to Miike’s films, I would recommend seeking out his better known films first. For yakuza fans, the film bucks convention enough to make it a worthy addition to a collection striving for unique films.

 

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Cinema Paradiso (1989)

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Cinema Paradiso is a film that I’ve heard and read about for years. It often lands on Best Of lists and can be found in many film books. For whatever reason I never checked it out. I never really knew what the movie was about and the poster art left me cold. Something about the passionate kiss on the original poster made me thing the film was romantic drama and readers of this site can understand why I would pass on a film like that: it isn’t really my bag. I was sent Cinema Paradiso for review and I figured now was the time to finally sit down and see what all the buzz was about.

Cinema Paradiso is an Italian flick that begins in the late 40’s. The war has ended and life is hard for the people of the village in Sicily. Most folks don’t own a car and in those days before television the only entertainment in town is the Cinema Paradiso, a movie theater. Toto, the son of a soldier, is obsessed with cinema. Every chance he gets he sneaks into the theater to watch movies and watch Alfredo, the projectionist. This obsession grows into a beautiful relationship with Alfredo who teaches him about projection and about life. We see Toto grow from a young child into adulthood and always through the Cinema Paradiso.

Cinema Paradiso is about community, film, and growing up. It’s a slice of life at certain time in history, in a unique place. These are integral to the plot. The film feels very personal and indeed the director has said that elements of the film are very autobiographical. The film won the oscar for best foreign language film in 1989 and a boat load of other awards so i don’t think there’s really much i can add. It’s considered a film classic and the best film about the joy of the movie theater experience. For me, the film was touching, though for my American sensibilities there were elements that were frustrating for me. I kept expecting a storybook ending but this is a realistic Italian flick, not a schmaltzy American film. But dammit i wanted my unrealistic fairy tale moments. That said it is a very good film, I just wish that it had more magic, more joy, instead of the realism. But i suppose that’s also the appeal for the film, it doesn’t take the easy way out, the way that would be satisfying but cheap. I can certainly respect and admire the film for that, even if i wanted more cheese.

The film looks fantastic. Again, Arrow has lovingly restored the film, this time it’s a ground up restoration, unique to this release. I doubt the film has ever looked better. Included are the Theatrical cut (the version i watched) and the extended Director’s Cut as well as lengthy interviews with the director about the film and a commentary track. Again, Arrow has stacked the release not only with a great restoration but with worthwhile and interesting extra features.

If you’re a fan of the film, look no further than this release. This is the definitive release out there. If you haven’t seen it, this is a great set to pick up. If you love film, and if you’re on this site you do, it’s a nice film about the love of cinema. Arrow has put out a great product for a beloved film. As always.

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