Archive for April, 2011

History of the Zombie Genre (Part 1: White Zombie)

Posted in Horror Showcase, Updates on April 28, 2011 by splatterpictures

So I’ve decided to take it upon myself to undertake something that I will probably regret. Since I was a kid, I’ve always been fascinated by the Zombie sub-genre of horror because it was always a good enough mix of action and horror to keep me interested. I never intended to become a historian of the genre (for lack of a better term), nor was I really interested in every single Zombie movie that I ever heard about. However, as the years roll on and I watch enough of them I notice patterns and then suddenly feel like I’m some kind of expert. For the record, I really wish I knew more about math or something.

I really racked my brain about how I was going to discuss this topic and not put people to sleep. It’s really one of those genres that has a lot of twists and turns but basically can be divided up in three parts. From each part I will try to include about two different films, some I’m sure you will have seen or at least heard of. It’s time for Horror History starting with the very first feature film about the undead: White Zombie.

White Zombie hit theatres in 1932 and, when it did, the world was introduced to the concept of Zombies. Now these weren’t the flesh eating, mindless zombies that everyone is now familiar with. These Zombies were the product of Haitian mysticism.

To start off, the film had some major production and distribution issues. Even though it stars Béla Lugosi and is a horror film in the 1930’s, it actually wasn’t produced by universal, but rather independently by United Artists. It isn’t a Universal horror picture, but it sure ends up looking like one. The reason for this is they rented old sets from Dracula, Frankenstein and the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

So what’s it about? Well, basically Lugosi plays Murder Legendre (Really? Murder?) who is a white Haitian (don’t question it) Voodoo shaman with his own horde of mind controlled Zombies. He uses them to run his sugar plant and cotton fields and occasionally murders people who get in his way. Enter Madeleine (hauntingly beautiful Madge Bellamy) and Neil Parker (John Harron), a soon-to-be married couple on their way to a lodging in Haiti to tie the knot. The master of the house is Charles Beaumont, a plantation owner and old friend of the couple who is desperately in love with Madeleine. So desperate, in fact, that he makes a deal with Legendre to make her his. As you can imagine, he gets more than he bargains for when dealing with a guy named “Murder”.

The acting is laughably bad despite many of these actors being legends of the silent film era. Beaumont’s butler, for instance, was played by Brandon Hurst who was incredible in the Man who Laughs. The issue with a lot of these actors is that they are masters of conveying emotion with body language, but when it comes to their voices… well let’s just say it’s unintentionally funny. Speaking of sound, there are several extremely annoying scenes with a vulture that just won’t shut up. Also, when they show the Zombies working in the sugar mill, it’s just this constant annoying squeak. I seriously wished it was a silent film at times. Lugosi is Lugosi, I’ve always considered him both an overrated and underrated actor. He is pretty much channeling Dracula the entire time, which makes sense because he was fresh-off that movie when he started shooting this.

When it comes to Zombie films in general, modern audiences already have an idea going into it what it will be like. I will say for anyone expecting a lot of action or flesh eaters rising from the grave, you won’t get that here. I do like the scene where Lugosi introduces each one of his troop of Zombies, each has a name and a story behind how they got there. It’s important to note that, in the very beginning, it was always black magic or mysticism that was responsible for the dead rising. Of course at the centre of all that there was a necromancer that had the undead do his bidding. This was basically the formula for the genre up until the 60’s. I highly recommend that anyone interested check this one; it’s a different kind of Zombie movie before the game was changed forever.


Posted in Horror Showcase, Updates with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 21, 2011 by splatterpictures

Well no sense in straying too far from the mark; we’re going to tackle another Tokyo Shock production. This time we’re looking at the very first Shock picture I ever saw, and boy was I spoiled. I used to check out this site, Veoh, and one day I happened upon a little Thumbnail that said “Versus,” and I had no idea what was in store for me.

A lot of both action and horror movies come out of Japan, and Versus is really one of those special combinations that shouldn’t be passed up.

The film was released in 2000 and was directed by Ryuhei Kitamura. Originally Kitamura intended to do a sequel to his film, Down to Hell, but somewhere down the line there was a disagreement regarding whether or not a Japanese action film could compare with an American one. The result was that Kitamura found a lot of inspiration from classic 80’s genre films such as Mad Max and Evil Dead. He felt traditional special effects were missing from modern action/horror and felt that traditional effects could bring impact and power to the screen without being overly expensive to produce. He also felt that filming with one or two cameras would make things a lot cheaper and allow more continuous shots with less cuts (in the style of older Asian cinema).

One thing that I found strange was that he claimed not to like a lot of Japanese animation or things of the sort. I find this odd because when I first saw it, I honestly felt like I was watching a live action anime or videogame.

Kitamura also has a reputation for disliking the film industry. He chose his cast based on their looks or if he had worked with them before rather than their skill. He works with story boards but never follows them completely and, furthermore, he’ll completely change an actor’s role in the film if he likes them and they are doing a good job.

He said he wanted to make a movie that was really simple, which might be why none of the characters really have names. There is not a lot of character detail or full explanations about why certain characters are even there. He felt that action and horror films from the 80’s had it right, that they were there to entertain and not try to be something they aren’t.

Okay, so the idea behind that film is that there is a forest known as the forest of resurrection. It’s essentially a gateway from this world and the “other world,” so I would assume they mean the afterlife. It starts off with two prisoners escaping into the woods to meet up with a bunch of gangsters. Things get tense quickly and people start dying, and then coming back to life. It seems that because they are in the forest of resurrection at this specific time, the dead will rise. The gangsters also have a girl in their possession for no reason other than their “boss” desired it. Prisoner KSC2-303 (Tak Sakaguchi) takes off with the girl after his partner is killed and they head into the woods… time to let the no-holds-barred action begin!

They fight off seemingly endless zombies with amazing gunplay and martial arts. All the gangsters are pretty badass because you think that the zombies would pose a challenge, but they just destroy them. My personal favourite is the Yakuza Leader (Kenji Matsuda) because he is just completely insane. His movements are wild and crazy but somehow get the job done.

The way he delivers his lines are great, too. Matsuda said that he wasn’t much of an action star, so he relied more on his acting to make it good. Two other great characters are the cops chasing them. They really have no roles other than comic relief and it’s great. The one cop with the Barrett just randomly spouts off lines about how he’s the best at everything such as being the ultimate martial artist (which leads to a hilarious scene). The other cop has his hand cut off at the start of the film and just walks around like he doesn’t even care!

The film takes an even more bizarre turn when the boss finally shows up. Everything starts to fall into place and we soon realize that it’s a film that is really about reincarnation. Also, just when you thought zombies were bad, they now have “Hyper-Zombies”. What are hyper-zombies? Well hyper zombies are like regular zombies but they know kung-fu. Honestly, you have to see this to believe it. This movie also has a great twist ending that I won’t spoil.

The special effects really shine in this one. These guys really seem to rip the undead apart with flashy sword and gun play and, I know I’ve said this before, but everyone could learn from this film. Traditional special effects are always going to just look great if done right and you don’t always need to do everything on a computer.

The actors and crew on this film had a lot of passion for their work and it shows in the film. They even all got together four years after the film was completed to film new scenes and expand upon others that they couldn’t because of cost or time.

Tak Sakaguchi did all of his own stunts and he ended up breaking three ribs and losing a tooth in the process. Another amusing note is that a lot of the actors pulled double or even triple duty cooking meals or doing behind the scenes work. It really goes to show that, although unconventional, Kitamura has some method to his madness. I highly recommend you all check this one out.

Tokyo Gore Police

Posted in Horror Showcase, Updates with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2011 by splatterpictures

Well it’s time to dive head first into another horror showcase, and do I have a twisted one for you today. We’re going to be Talking about Tokyo Gore Police.

Let me just preface this entire thing by telling you that you have never seen anything like this. I’ve tried countless times to explain this movie to a lot of different people and I usually get about half-way through before I get “the look”. You know the look I’m talking about, the “what the fuck is he on” look. I’ve talked a lot lately about older horror films and looking back on my blog as a whole, they are all pretty tame by today’s standards. (Obviously not including Cannibal Holocaust on that one)

I’ve lectured a lot of people on horror movies over the years and what I’ve learned is that most people just aren’t aware of the stuff that comes out of other countries. Italy, Japan, Brazil, and Mexico, for instance, all push the limits of gore.

Oh, but we aren’t talking about just any gory movie. We are talking about Tokyo -GORE- Police. It’s right in the title, so buckle up. Just a word of warning: the trailer I’m linking you is -not- safe for work.

It’s hard for me to even know where to start. Tokyo Gore Police was released in 2008 by the good people at Media Blaster. They were so impressed by Yoshihiro Nishimura’s special effects work on their previous hit, Machine Girl, that they asked him to hold the reins of this one. Media Blasters has a reputation of pulling out the stops of their films before. The really crazy stuff gets released through their Tokyo Shock label, and “Shock” is putting it mildly.

Alright so I bet you’re just dying to know what this movie is about, so I will try my very best to make it as simple as possible. It’s the not-too-distant future and the Tokyo Police have become privatized. There is a single mandate to all crime, and that is to kill the criminal as quickly and brutally as possible. Of course nothing is as simple as that. Among the people that have been targeted as criminals are what are known as “engineers.” These are people that have strange key-shaped tumours in their bodies, tumors that allow –any- injury to be reformed into a weapon. That’s right. Did you lose your arm? No problem, you now have a meat-like sword arm. Did you lose the top of your head? No problem, you now have an exposed brain with eye-ball guns. There is absolutely one scene I have to mention. A guy gets his dick bit off and yes, he gets a giant dick gun. No I am not kidding!

The main character is, as usual, a sexy katana-wielding cop named Ruka (Eihi Shiina). The actress has been in a couple of Media Blasters pictures that I can think of, but nothing major and performs well in her role. Her character has a dark past and a nasty habit of cutting herself that she seems to have gotten from her mother. Her father was killed by an unknown assassin and the movie shows her battling these engineers and piecing together who killed her father and why. It has a surprisingly solid story for this kind of movie that is easy to get into.

The actions scenes are intense. The first five minutes alone set the tone and, I promise you, they have things you’ve never seen before. Girls with blades for arms and legs, acid breast milk, flying chainsaw arms… I could go on and on. It is also important to note that, despite being a dark movie, it contains a lot of comedy. I find that the gore effects are so over the top that they end up being funny. You laugh just because it’s to so bizarre! They also have a lot of propaganda commercials and other ads throughout the film that are pretty funny.

One thing I really like about this film is that, for the most part, it uses traditional special effects. A lot of these Japanese grindhouse movies over the last few years have relied heavily on CGI and, while I get that some CGI is required to produce images that would be otherwise difficult, I would like them to return to the visual style of this movie. They have some CGI sure, but only in scenes where it would be nearly impossible without it.

Tokyo Gore Police has enough blood and guts to satisfy –any- gore hound (the last killing montage is just insane), and also has a good mix of story and comedy. Of all the Toyo Shock Films, it’s probably one of my favourites. Check it out if you think you have the stomach.

The Man Who Laughs (German expressionist films: Part II)

Posted in Horror Showcase, Updates with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 12, 2011 by splatterpictures

Now it’s time to wrap up our discussion about German expressionist films. We already took a look at the Cabinet of Dr Caligari from 1919, this time we’re going to jump almost a decade later and take a look at what could be considered the last of the great silent films in the German expressionist style: The Man Who Laughs.

It was difficult for me to really include this movie in our discussion; I mean it’s not really a horror movie at all. That being said, there are significant horror-like elements to it which I’ll shed a little light on.

The film came out in 1928 and was distributed by Universal Pictures who had enormous success with Gothic horror films like the Hunchback of Notre Dame and, of course, the Phantom of the Opera. They were interested in making another film of its kind, so producer Carl Laemmle decided to film The Man Who Laughs based on a book of the same name by Victor Hugo.

Laemmle was well known in the German film scene and worked to get people from his home country involved in the film. He acquired director Paul Leni who was well known for his ominous and Gothic style. Universal was interested in acquiring Lon Channey for the starring role but he was under a long term contract with MGM, so the role went to Conrad Veidt, who you might remember as Cesar; The killer Somnambulist from the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

I’ll try to break down basically what this film is about. It starts off with the evil king James II who sentences a young boy named Gwynplaine to be surgically altered to have his face in a permanent hideous grin. This is because the boy’s nobleman father offended King James. Although he was being sentenced to death anyway, the king’s jester Barkilphedro, who is a real sadistic bastard himself, suggests the boy’s disfigurement so that he can laugh forever at his fool of a father.
The boy is banished and finds a baby named Rae who is tragically blind. He takes the baby and they meet an old man, who takes them in and raises them as his own. Although he is nice, he also makes Gwynplaine and Rae part of a fair attraction and takes him town to town to make money. I just realized that Conrad Veidt basically played the same role in both this and the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari… weird.

Although Gwynplaine is happy with Rae, he is also obsessed with his appearance and hides it as often as possible. Everyone always laughs at him and it tears at his soul, so much so that he feels he has no right to love Rae because she cannot see his face.
The film’s plot picks up when they return to Gwynplaine’s homeland and, unknown to him, a rival of the old man notices him and essentially alerts the the Queen of England (by the time King James is long Dead). It turns out that Gwynplaine is the rightful heir to a large bit of land that is currently in possession of Duchess Josiana, who is a real 1690 party girl.

That’s pretty much all I’ll divulge of the plot.

Veidts performance and makeup cannot be overlooked when discussing this movie, the simple technique of turning up his face into a horrible grin with wire is truly effective for the camera. Not only is he able to convey emotion without the use of sound, he is also able to do it without the use of the lower part of his face. With just the power of his eyes you can see the true pain and torment through the twisted grin.

Although this isn’t a horror film, there are tonnes of nods to the genre within it. The classic beauty and beast scenario is the most obvious. Gwynplaine, like many classic monsters, is tormented by his appearance both internally and externally. The film even has the classic monster chased by mobs to a burning tower scenario, something that is synonymous with anything Universal produced in the 1930’s onward.

Just in parting, one of the things I found actually pretty funny about this film is that there is a dog named “Homo” in it. It’s not like he’s there for one scene, he is basically pivotal to the plot. Some of the title cards like “shut up Homo” or “Beware the homo-wolf” really struck me as funny. It’s also interesting to note that this film was the inspiration to the Joker Villain from the Batman comics. Although Gwynplaine is by no means a villain in this film, the look plus the personality of Barkiphedro really gets you to see how someone could conceive of the Joker after watching this movie.

Well that’s it for German expressionism for now! Next up we’re going to be touching on movies that put the word “Splatter” in splatterpictures!