Gozu: Grand Theatre of Perversion and Fear: Cow’s head

(Originally written as a Filmpipe review)

It’s amazing the number of milky white fluids there are in this movie.

My friends and I used to have a weekly Fucked-Up Film night. Each week, one of us would bring something to the table new to the others, and when it was done, would shout, “Top THAT!”

This was how we discovered Holy Mountain, Inland Empire, Forbidden Zone, Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter, and Gozu.

Gozu was the last one. No one could top it.

Director Takashi Miike has been called the Japanese David Lynch. I can see that. Parts of Gozu are as teeth-clenchingly disturbing as Eraserhead, and as confusing as Mulholland Drive. Of course, this is served up Japanese-style, and we know how weird that can be at the best of times.

Reportedly, this movie has mythic elements, a retelling of Japanese mythology: a modern-day Japanese Ulysses (I don’t even know if I mean the Greek myth or the inpenetrable novel by james Joyce). More fucked-up than America’s version, O Brother, Where Art Thou?  Waaaay more.

Let me try to give you an idea:

The protagonist is Minami, a junior Yakuza who is ordered by the boss of his Yakuza crew to take Ozaki, an older Yakuza “brother,” to a Yakuza disposal grounds in the backwater town of Nagoya. Presumably to be killed.

You see, Ozaki is bug-nuts insane, which is bad for business. In an early scene, Ozaki claims a chihuahua is a trained killer of Yakuza, and procedes to batter it to death, finally swinging it around his head on its leash and splatting it against the window.

On the way to Nagoya, there is an accident, and Ozaki is killed. Minami tries to bring him to Nagoya anyway, but once in the town, the body of Ozaka mysteriously disappears. The locals prove unhelpful, and increasingly bizaare.

On his quest to recover Ozaki’s body, Minami meets a trio of transvestites who run a restaurant, and who, it is implied, jerk off into the food. He meets a half-albino who seems to want to stay cuddled up to him. A Yakuza boss who riddles like Gollum in the cave. An old woman who clearly wants in his pants (especially after she spies him bathing, and says he has a “Fine and Dandy” unit), and who tries to get him to drink her breast milk.

And then it gets weird.

And they all lived happily ever after.

You’re welcome for the nightmares.

This movie doesn’t exist because it’s fun to watch. No, what’s fun about it is inflicting it on your friends. Watch them slowly come to realize just what you’ve done to them.

I’m sure they’ve done something you want to get back at them for.

This is Scix in the Back Row, a bit worried about the glass of milk he was just served.

Gozu: (極道恐怖大劇場 牛頭 GOZU, Gokudō kyōfu dai-gekijō: Gozu, literally: Grand Theatre of Perversion and Fear: Cow’s Head) (2003) Japanese, directed by Takashi Miike.

Battle Royale (2000)

Battle Royale (バトル・ロワイアル, Batoru Rowaiaru) (2000) Japanese film directed by Kinji Fukasaku based on the novel of the same name. It was written by Kenta Fukasaku, and stars Takeshi Kitano and Tatsuya Fujiwara.

In a dystopian Japan, fear of the teenager has reached an extreme, and classes of high school students are periodically selected to be shipped off to an island to fight to the death. Forty students enter, one student leaves. To ensure compliance, they are fitted with electronic collars that will explode if they escape or if they survive past three days without having killed off everyone else. One person survives or no one survives.

Oh, and they’re each given a survival pack and a weapon.


Another spin on Lord of the Flies

Half the interest in a movie like this is wondering, “What would I do?” and further, “How well would I do?” I think this is one of the big draws to modern zombie apocalypse movies, too — though I think this has not always been the case. Night of the Living Dead had no real Badass-survivor appeal. That came later in the genre.

People who look forward to apocolyptic scenarios always seem to assume they’ll be one of the survivors. This game is rigged, though. In the place of the kids in Lord of the Flies, we’d like to think we’d not only survive, but survive without losing our civilization. In Battle Royale, you don’t have that choice. Either you choose to opt out through suicide, or you fight. Even if you successfully hide for three days, if there’s more than one survivor, everybody dies. And then, of course, there are those that try to break the system, either through disruption or escape. Factions will naturally form, but they gotta know it’s temporary. Unless the system collapses, there’s only an advantage to teaming up until the end, when all-but-one must die.

We also root for our favorites. There are 42 kids to start with, and by the rules of the game, 40 must die. Mostly, it’s the slow and naive that die first, not the bad, cocky or slutty ones, which would have been the case if this were made in America.

The randomizing of the weapons is an interesting concept, a more encyclopedic version of Clue’s assortment: one student gets a machine gun, one gets a pot lid. One gets a GPS, one gets binoculars. Or a crossbow, a paper fan, a sickle, a knife, an axe, apistol, a bullet-proof vest, a taser, a vial of poison. No candlestick, but I bet there’s one on the island.

For those of us fantasizing about how we’d do, the first step is to hope really hard for one of the good ones. Failing that, finding some way to gain value from what you have, including the skills you go in with. Resourcefulness and determination will beat out weakness and a machine gun.

The island itself has some resources, and the cleverer ones find and secure them early in the game. Some hunt, some defend. What would you do?

They’re still teenagers: even in the face of death, they’re gossiping, falling in love, getting jealous, being stupid. We’d like to think that wouldn’t be us. But 41 out of 42 have to die.

This is Scix in the Back Row, with the exploding collar.

Next up: Gozu.

Clue (1985)

Clue (Cluedo outside North America) (1985) directed by Jonathan Lynn, starring Tim Curry, Eileen Brennan, Martin Mull, Lesley Ann Warren, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Madeline Kahn, and Lee Ving. Based on the Parker Brothers board game of the same name.

Pretty much everything Tim Curry does is good fun, from The Rocky Horror Picture Show to Stephen King’s It and everywhere in between. Casting him as the butler, who holds the cast together, was the right choice.

Not that he’s the only one pulling his weight! Comedy greats Madeline Kahn (Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles), Eileen Brennan (Laugh-In, Murder by Death), Michael McKean (Laverne & Shirley, Spinal Tap), Christopher Lloyd (Taxi and Back to the Future) and Martin Mull (Roseanne, Family Guy and his own comedy records) in particular kept the energy high and the laughs frequent and frenetic.

It’s smart, highbrow comedy mixed liberally with pratfalls, raspberries, puns and hysteria. Makes one think of a Stephen Sondheim comedy, perhaps A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

Like the game it is oh, so loosely based on, this film is timeless. Notionally it’s set in the 50’s, but beyond some reference to the Red Scare, it could be any time at all. It ages well, and I think it will continue to do so for generations.

The multiple endings is not something that has been done, or done well, very often in film. The nature of the movie makes it possible, as if it is showing the ending of three different plays of the game.

You know, I’ve never gone back to see if all three make sense. Not sure I’d want to breach that mystery.

This is Scix in the Back Row, with the candlestick.

Carrie (1976)

Carrie (1976) directed by Brian De Palma.

One of the things I noticed right off the bat was the music (Original Music by Pino Donaggio), which was somewhat overwrought, with a lot of screechy violins, stings reminiscent of the famous Pyscho shower slashing scene, but appropriate for 70s horror, I suppose. Most directors had yet to learn to trust their audiences to react to subtlety. It comes across a bit like a laugh track: a sign telling us to be scared, instead of when to laugh.

The next obvious things is that DePalma is sure in love with teenage girls — from the long, slow lingering of the camera in the showers to the long, slow pans across the exercising girls in their extremely short exercise shorts.

But that’s not what this is about.

On the surface, this seems to be a horror flick about a girl with psychic powers, but it isn’t, really. It’s about the cruelty of teenagers. It’s like the Lord of the Flies kids grew up and went to high school.

Carrie’s mother, deluded and cruel as she is, has a lot in common with the mother in Tennessee Williams’s plays, like The Glass Menagerie: she’s trying, in her own deluded fashion, to protect her child by keeping her as childlike as she can, which means locking her up and deflating her self-confidence so much she’ll never have the strength to leave.

But Carrie does — she just needs to be pushed really hard. And the Lord of the Flies, Beelzebub, Satan, at least metaphorically, does a great job of pushing. In a way her Mamma was right in that. And she dearly loved being right.

Carrie (1976) directed by Brian De Palma and written by Lawrence D. Cohen, based on the novel Carrie by Stephen King. Starring Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Betty Buckley, Amy Irving, Nancy Allen, William Katt, John Travolta, P.J. Soles and Priscilla Pointer. Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie received Academy Award nominations for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress.

Review:
The Maltese Falcon (1941) A Film Noir classic based on the novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett. Written and directed by John Huston, starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Gladys George, Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet. Nominated for three Academy Awards.
Dashiell Hammett pretty much invented the hard-boiled detective, slinging street lingo and not allowing his emotions get the best of him lest somebody get hurt. The Maltese Falcon, to a modern viewer, may seem rife with cliches — but they weren’t cliches then, not until Falcon started to be copied. The dead partner, the deceitful vamp, the mysterious object of desire, the P.I. harried by police while trying to get to the bottom of the caper.
Hammett’s words translated well to the silver screen, harsh black-and-white cinema perfectly reflecting the protagonist’s attempts at sorting right from wrong in an increasingly muddled world. Bogart himself did a beautiful job of bringing Sam Spade to life. He wasn’t pretty, and neither would a street-wise P.I. be pretty. And yet he had presence and charisma enough to be a sex symbol of his day (despite those awful high pants). The fedora, I think, has a lot to do with it.
Sam Spade is tormented by the death of his partner, a man he had to avenge, even though he was a womanizing cad and Spade was two-timing with his wife. Moreso because of it, perhaps. In the face of all that, he doggedly searched out the truth, and played the bad guys — who were not so cardboard as they might first appear — until everyone got the justice they deserved.
Leaving him alone and heartbroken.
This is Scix in the Back Row, smoking and drinking scotch.
Next up: Carrie.

Review:

The Maltese Falcon (1941) A Film Noir classic based on the novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett. Written and directed by John Huston, starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Gladys George, Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet. Nominated for three Academy Awards.

Dashiell Hammett pretty much invented the hard-boiled detective, slinging street lingo and not allowing his emotions get the best of him lest somebody get hurt. The Maltese Falcon, to a modern viewer, may seem rife with cliches — but they weren’t cliches then, not until Falcon started to be copied. The dead partner, the deceitful vamp, the mysterious object of desire, the P.I. harried by police while trying to get to the bottom of the caper.

Hammett’s words translated well to the silver screen, harsh black-and-white cinema perfectly reflecting the protagonist’s attempts at sorting right from wrong in an increasingly muddled world. Bogart himself did a beautiful job of bringing Sam Spade to life. He wasn’t pretty, and neither would a street-wise P.I. be pretty. And yet he had presence and charisma enough to be a sex symbol of his day (despite those awful high pants). The fedora, I think, has a lot to do with it.

Sam Spade is tormented by the death of his partner, a man he had to avenge, even though he was a womanizing cad and Spade was two-timing with his wife. Moreso because of it, perhaps. In the face of all that, he doggedly searched out the truth, and played the bad guys — who were not so cardboard as they might first appear — until everyone got the justice they deserved.

Leaving him alone and heartbroken.

This is Scix in the Back Row, smoking and drinking scotch.

Next up: Carrie.

Silent Hill (2006 movie)

Silent Hill (2006) directed by Christophe Gans and written by Roger Avary.
Starring Radha Mitchell, Sean Bean, Laurie Holden, Deborah Kara Unger, Kim Coates, and Jodelle Ferland as Sharon

It was one of those love-it-or-hate-it movies. Fan reviews ranged from breathless “Oh my God” panty-wetting to nose-holding, vitriol-barfing derision. Not so much in between. Oddly, some complained that the movie was not faithful enough to the games while others loved that it created something new in the Silent Hill universe. Some hated it for being slavish to the games, while others adored its faithfulness.

I like to think of it in Silent Hill terms: Some of us were in the daylight world when we watched it, and some were in the dark world. Not sure which one would breed a better review. But just as Rose and her husband can be in the same place yet worlds apart, so can we. And if we think of it that way, it actually makes it easier to deal with people with radically-different worldviews. It makes sense to them, or they wouldn’t believe it. Trying to convince them otherwise is akin to Vincent asking, “They look like monsters to you?”

I think Gans did a great job of keeping faithful to the atmosphere of Silent Hill, and really, the town is the star, always has been. People pass through, it sort of shrugs into slightly different shapes, and then when the people die or leave, Silent Hill endures. Even deities seem to have little effect. Pyramid Head and Valtiel are the police force, and all the rest of life is like a parasitic infection.

As always, music played a big part in the atmosphere, and as always, it was excellent. Monster design was just gorgeous. And the plot, while a bit silly, is no sillier than the game plots.

Overall, it was a wondrous experience watching this film. My only complaint is that I really hoped there would be alternate endings on the DVD, because Rose clearly didn’t get the good one.

She made some mistakes and choices along the way that probably got her that ending. If only we could replay, and maybe explore more, especially in that garage where the camera drastically shifted POV.

Dream on, friends.

This is Scix in the Back Row, lost in the fog.

: Film Review - Gozu: Grand Theatre of Perversion and Fear: Cow's head

This is a review I wrote for Filmpipe for the very weird Japanese film, Gozu.  We return to Silent Hill shortly, but I wanted to share this with you.

I have plans to do a full stills set for Gozu later this month.

Next Filmpipe review in two weeks.

filmpipe:


It’s amazing the number of milky white fluids there are in this movie.

My friends and I used to have a weekly Fucked-Up Film night. Each week, one of us would bring something to the table new to the others, and when it was done, would shout, “Top THAT!”

This was how we discovered Holy…

Blue Velvet (1986)


"In dreams, I walk with you. In dreams, I talk to you. In dreams, you’re mine, all the time. Forever." Quite sinister when crooned to you by a psychopath.

This was the first movie I ever saw where I noticed the cinematography. It seemed every shot was beautiful, composed like a photograph.

According to an interview with VH1, Stephen King is quoted as saying, “A lot of times, filmmakers don’t really seem to understand ordinary people. I think there’s a reason that David Lynch has never made a Stephen King film, or John Waters, because they don’t really get ordinary people.” I could not disagree more. They both load lots of love on ordinary people — with all their ridiculousness, eccentricites, and secret horrors. King does this too, though most of that happens internally in his characters, which is, in fact, part of why adaptations of his books so often seem a bit flat.

Lumberton, U.S.A. is the quintessential normal town. In many ways it resembles Bedford Falls in It’s a Wonderful Life. And like any normal town, it has its deaths, its accidents — and its murders. Within the first few minutes, a man has a stroke and the terribly innocent and buttoned-up Boy Scout Kyle Maclachlan finds a severed ear in a vacant lot. Lynch then spends the rest of the two hours exposing the seamy underbelly of Anytown, USA, through the eyes of a newcomer to that parallel world, much as any science fiction or historical romance introduces its world to the reader by introducing it to a character unfamiliar with its ways and nuances.

Like Roman Polanski, Lynch is in love with duality; it comes through in most everything he does. The duality of the pleasant vs the dark in the same town. The duality of the innocent and the corrupt in the same person. The duality of the vicious killer crying like a baby.

Hitchock's heroes are often ordinary people caught up in extraordinary, terrible circumstances, often spurred on by their own curiosity. When Jeffrey (Maclachlan) says, “No one will suspect us because no one would suspect two people like us to be crazy enough to do something like this,” that just reeks of Hitchcock, very Strangers on a Train. Rear Window is another example: when Jimmy Stewart (2nd Stewart movie I’ve mentioned) decides to be a peeping Tom, he never expects to witness a murder. Lynch also explores this concept in Twin Peaks and Mulholland Drive.

The two teenagers’ fairly innocent curiosity is all the door the underworld needs to slurp them up like Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks, another simple, ordinary town with a decidedly dark shadow self.

Silent Hill explores the same themes, taken to horrifying and literal extremes (not that Blue Velvet doesn’t get downright nightmarish at times).

The face of innocence, whether it be a town or a teenager, often hides something darker, and curiosity is all it takes for the facade to begin to unravel.

Inland Empire (2006) — Review

Inland Empire (2006) directed by David Lynch, starring Laura Dern, Justin Theroux, Harry Dean Stanton, Grace Zabriskie, Jeremy Irons and Diane Ladd.

I feel like I didn’t watch this, I survived it. I have no idea what’s going on. I have an idea the whole thing may be a sort of near-death hallucination, but that doesn’t even begin to explain it. One of the common interpretations of Mulholland Drive is that the whole story is a fantasy in the mind of a woman in the process of killing herself. Very The Incident at Owl Creek Bridge. The same could be an explanation for this movie, but it’s more confused than that.

Mulholland Drive has two levels, basically, but Inland Empire has many more. If it’s a fantasy, or the brain’s last gasp before dying, it is unclear which variation of reality is the “real” one. Is it the homeless woman bleeding out in the alleyway? She seems the most likely candidate, but it doesn’t quite fit.

This movie is like a math equation where the parentheses are miss-nested, and the levels get confused with one another. Or a bit of HTML with the <open> and </close> tags are paired wrong. The levels bleed through — and not just when you look through a cigarette-burn hole in a piece of silk, and not just when you dream.

There is time travel in this, too, somehow. The woman near the beginning who says “Brutal Fucking Murder” in one of the previous screenshots even sets the movie up, saying she gets confused between yesterday and tomorrow. Laura Dern’s character seems to flip beck and forth, and in and out of the movie world, and, I suspect, is also one of the Rabbits,  who, I suspect, are dead people waiting in limbo for something. Godot, perhaps.

Lynch’s red curtains play a role, so otherworld influence is almost certain. Maybe it all makes sense if folded properly, like the fold-in pictures on the back of Mad Magazine. Only, folded through many more dimensions, within the space of the White Lodge.

This is Scix in the Back Row, making this face:

A Dirty Shame (2004) — Review

A Dirty Shame (2004) written and directed by John Waters
Starring Tracey Ullman, Selma Blair, Johnny Knoxville, Chris Isaak, Suzanne Shepherd, and Mink Stole.

I fell in love with this movie from the first few frames. John Waters always has a view of the weirdness of ordinary people. In that, he’s kind of on par with David Lynch. This film takes on Waters’s beloved Baltimore, and stars Johnny Knoxville as a sexual messianic figure building a benevolent cult of perverts (I use the term lovingly). Each of his 12 followers specializes in one particular fetish, from adult baby to splosh. Tracy Ullman plays the super-uptight 12th apostle, who, after a head injury, becomes a hyper-sexualized “cunnilingus bottom.”

The movie seems at first blush to be ragging on the normals, but Waters clearly loves them just as much as the weirdos, and portrays them with a fondness I find quite endearing. Everybody has some degree of eccentricity, and the normals in this film are not immune.

Toward the end, it becomes a sort of zombie flick, except we’re on the zombies’ side, and instead of zombies, they’re perverts. And their sexiness is contagious.

This is Scix in the back row, bopping heads with David Hasselhoff.

Next: David Lynch’s Inland Empire

Session 9 — Review

Session 9 opened to mixed reviews, some finding it wonderfully creepy, others finding it confusing or unintelligible.

It is, without reserve, one of my favorite horror films ever. The setting takes center stage, as it is filmed in and around the old Danvers Asylum in Massachusetts. The decayed old building (in the film) is being remodeled into city offices, and the team of protagonists are called in to clean it of asbestos. Due to financial pressures, their boss agrees to do the job in one week — a third of what it should take.

Each character arrives with his own ghosts, no need for a haunted asylum, but the interplay of the asylum’s hauntings and those of the Haz-Mat team creates something bigger.

No one is innocent, but no one is deserving of what they find there. Not really. The one with the heaviest ghost gets the heaviest burden.

Just like in life, maybe?

This is Scix in the Back Row, haunted in a haz-mat suit.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension! (1984) — Review

Millionaire Nuclear physicist brain surgeon rock star. What more could you want in a man?

After “The Apartment Trilogy” of Polanski, I needed a break. Some cotton-candy celluloid, though still cultic and weird, as is my wont. Buckaroo Banzai fits the bill nicely.

Everyone, especially John Lithgow, plays this over the top, but completely straight. One does not sense the actor smirking behind his lines like many modern post-SNL comic actors (or post-modern SNL actors?). The plot is ridiculous, the premise is ridiculous, the costumes, oh my God the costumes are ridiculous. It is a comic book of a movie (lampshaded by the existence of actual Buckaroo Banzai comics within the movie!) with all the quirky charm of Peewee Herman, but with aliens and slime and secret twins and synth-heavy poppy 80’s rock & roll.

Just try not to think about it too hard.

This is Scix in the Back Row, laughing while he can.

The Tenant (1976) — Review

And we wrap up with Roman Polanski’s 1976 film, The Tenant, the final movie in his “Apartment Trilogy” along with Repulsion (1965) and Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Polanski himself stars as a mild-mannered little nebbish who just has a hard time in his new apartment. As with the others in the trilogy, this movie played with themes of madness, duality, paranoia, the occult, and creepy old people.

In fact, it is a close parallel with Rosemary’s Baby in that he is systematically destroyed by the machinations of neighbors with an unnatural hidden nature. When he seeks asylum, he “discovers” that everybody is in on the conspiracy. His friends are useless, boorish and meddlesome. While they are different sexes, they both cross the line in the course of the film — Rosemary with her severe, masculine haircut, and Trelkowski with his more plot-central transformation. The only real difference is that Rosemary was right.

Although, don’t write Trelkowski off as a simple lunatic just yet. There are many questions unanswered, and his version may actually hold together better than what is presented as the “real” version of events.

What I want to know is, how did he find out about the apartment? He was coy about it when asked, and it was never explained. He didn’t know any of the tenants, they never advertised.

There was a time, not long ago, when cross-dressing of any sort, if not played for laughs, was a clear indicator of Psycho. Thankfully, those days are mostly past, or at least gone subtle. On the surface, The Tenant looks like one of these psycho-tranny films. The protagonist goes mad at about the same rate he goes female.

But it’s not quite the same. For one, he’s only dangerous to himself. For another, his outrage is always about being turned into someone else, never about being feminized. He shows no disgust or loathing at the idea of wearing a dress or heels or makeup. He is horrified that he seems to be turning into someone else against his will.

If the previous tenant had not been a woman, the story would change very little — as long as the previous tenant had a style, carriage or habit sufficiently distinct from Trelkowski’s that the transformation is strong and clear.

I try not to judge movies by the personal lives of their creators, and surely Polanski’s private life does not look good from what one reads in the papers. I am more interested in why he chose the main role for himself. Why he returned to the trilogy after nine years. Why he envisioned it at all?

And yet, like the mystery of why the tenants stand in the loo for hours, staring into space, some mysteries are better off staying mysterious.

Stay tuned for lighter fare with The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension.

This is Scix in the back row, and you’ll never turn me into Simone Choule! 

Rosemary’s Baby (1968) — Review

The best-known piece of Roman Polanski’s “Apartment Trilogy,” and the middle one. In Repulsion, the heroine goes mad in isolation in her apartment. In Rosemary’s Baby, the heroine goes mad (or does she?) in large part due to the meddling of the neighbors in the next apartment.

The third movie, The Tenant, wraps it up. I haven’t seen it yet, but I am imagining a heroine going crazy due to leaving her apartment too much.

I’ll let you know.

I am really enjoying this trilogy so far. Polanski knows how to tell a tale, that’s for sure.

This is Scix in the Back Row, with his father’s eyes.

Repulsion (1965) — Review

Honestly, I had never heard of this film, and that’s a damned shame. I recently watched Ninth Gate, which I enjoyed quite a bit. One of the reviews I saw for it derided it as trying to recreate Rosemary’s Baby and doing a poor job of it. As often happens with articles on Wikipedia or TV Tropes, I clicked a link and read more about Rosemary’s Baby, which I have seen before and enjoyed. 

Imagine my surprise when I read the words “Apartment Trilogy”! so naturally, I looked up the other two. I intend to watch the whole thing in order over the next couple of days.

Repulsion was dark and dreary, and despite being 46 years old, still managed to scare me, in large part because it took me with it, and when Carol was scared, I was right there with her. It reminds me a little of Silent Hill 4: The Room, actually, in that as Carol slips into madness, the apartment — at least as we see it through her eyes — grows more and more mad and frightening.

Very good stuff. I look forward to watching the rest of the trilogy.