Ginger Nuts of Horror
BY ALEX DAVIS
Dir. Domiziano Christopharo, Italy, 80 mins
Often there's a trailer emerges that really catches your attention, and for me one of the most prominent examples of this recently was Red Krokodil. This one looked like it was going to be an absolutely crazy trip, and comes from a very established name in the shape of director Domiziano Christopharo. So, did that one have as much bite as it promised to from the first look?
Well, yes and no. The story itself follows an untitled lead – credited as 'him' – living in a post-apocalyptic Soviet state. Maybe 'living' should also have had inverted commas there, because our lead is suffering horribly from the physical ravages of what is happening in the outside world as well as enduring a large internal struggle against the effects of the dark drug concoction that gives us the title of the movie.
Let's say this first – Red Krokodil is bleak with a capital b. There's absolutely no ray of hope or optimism anywhere in this movie, nor is there ever any sense that our hero is ever looking for anything beyond the merest goals of survival. The colour scheme is largely composed of greys and browns, deliberately offering up a very unappealing colour palette that is pretty displeasing to the eye. When we do have brief cutaways to brighter scenes it almost feels like too much for the viewer to take in, but don't worry, those moments are rare.
In fact, I'd say I have a great respect for what the director was going for with this movie – I'm just not sure it's entirely successful in what it is trying to achieve. It is grim and grinding, no doubts, but it didn't really deliver the same wild imagery and crazed visuals that I had anticipated from the trailer – in fact much of what features there is barely used, frustratingly. I'd hesitate to call that nothing but trailer fodder – it's interestingly used and certainly not throwaway – but equally this film is largely not what the teasers promised. It's far slower, more reflective and uneasy than that.
The primary problem is that I think it is just too slow – nothing much really happens throughout the whole thing, and it's hard to find a huge amount to latch onto in terms of what you want for the character. There's never much of a goal to cheer him on to achieve, so the story often seems to meander, starting steadily and only really gaining any traction after half an hour or more. Even at an hour and twenty minutes it feels long, and maybe could have benefited from 10 or 20 minutes less.
There are a few other minor quibbles – the voiceover that features in the movie so much becomes grating after a while, the metaphor and themes are a bit too obvious and there are aspects that don't make much sense (and not in the good way I had hoped). On the upside I think the main actor is good, but I don't think he quite has the raw material here to work with to deliver something really sparkling.
I'd almost advise watching this without seeing the trailer – I think I went into this one with my expectations set a little wrong, and on reflection I am a little warmer towards it than I was initially. But even with that said, I would consider this one decent rather than anything more special than that.
RATING: 6/10. There are elements to like here – some solid acting, a splash of really good visuals and a handful of good ideas – but I think it's just too slim in terms of storytelling and doesn't really have the narrative drive that I would have liked. Slow and meandering in places, this one also had a voiceover I could have lived with less of. If you like your cinema grim and nihilistic, this one could be right up your alley, but for me it just didn't have the spark it needed to really ignite this one to a great rating.
BY ALEX DAVIS
Dir. Stephen Biro, USA, 85 mins
As someone who missed out on the original Guinea Pig movies when they were released – and probably for the best, as I was four when The Devil's Experiment was horrifying audiences for the first time – it's an extremely exciting experience to be able to watch the American Guinea Pig series. The US update of the classic extreme horror series has certainly brought a similar variety to the originals – from the out-and-out blood feast of Bouquet of Guts and Gore to the psychological torture of Bloodshock, and not forgetting last week's review, a ritualistic slice of self-mutilation in the shape of Sacrifice. Every movie brings something different to the table, but I feel each intends to bring to life another aspect of what extreme horror can be.
And that's no different for the third entry in the series, Song of Solomon. Pitching itself as an extreme exorcism movie, this one feels like it's the most mainstream of the series so far – and that's no criticism, more a compliment that this feels like an extreme horror movie that, like A Serbian Film and Martyrs before it, could reach a wider audience. The look and feel of even the credits is cleaner and sharper than previous, and there feels as though there is an extra layer of polish. It's impressively made on a tight budget and I think this could be a real breakout for the series.
The story follows the aptly-named Mary, who is inhabited by a powerful demon, and our opening sees her father killing himself in a pretty brutal fashion. There are numerous very gory scenes within the movie, and the practical effects never look less than great – the team has done a great job of things there for sure.
This opening scene leads to a host of priests coming to visit Mary in the hope of exorcising the demon, only one by one to fall to its tricks and temptations. Behind that there's a deeper story that is hinted at, with each priest visited by a mysterious figure before they attend to the possessed woman. It adds a nice layer of intrigue that is eventually paid off, and enables a host of actors to bring their own take to what a priest should be – particular stand-outs for me were Gene Palubicki's growling Father Corbin and David E McMahon's evocative Father Powell. It also drives home just how powerful the demon is in defeating one exorcist after another, which brings a great aspect of escalation to the story. It's not a prolonged battle of wills, more an uphill struggle for a host of hopeful combatants seeking to defeat the demon – and as each fall by the wayside you begin to wonder if evil will win out after all...
The other standout performance comes from the lead, Jessica Cameron, who is so believable in displaying the power of the demon and comes across as genuinely sinister on a host of occasions. It's a powerful, committed central performance that the film just wouldn't have the same impact without, and some of the visuals created for her character will stay with you for some time.
So yes, there is an awful lot good about Song of Solomon, and it's another high-quality entry in the series. But it is also fair to say that not everything is perfect. There are some performances from the lesser characters that weren't awfully strong, which did have the effect of slightly diminishing the significance of events at times. And while I was never less than entertained throughout its 85 minutes, I was left with a slight sense that we fell somewhere between two stalls – some of this movie was really chilling and psychological, and has lived in my mind ever since I watched it, while at other times it was absolutely outrageous gore, and there were times where I felt those two elements didn't quite mesh. If I can ever dare utter these words in this column, I think that Song of Solomon could have been ever better with some of the gore removed or toned down. There are enough strong performances from the central cast that there were moments I could have lived without it.
I know, I know, I suggested toning down the blood and guts at Film Gutter. That might just be a first...
In all seriousness, if you're a fan of extreme horror, or even if you just love exorcism movies, then Song of Solomon is well worth your time. It might be a bit harder to stomach than more mainstream entries into the subgenre, but it does get the fundamentals practically dead-on and doesn't rely too heavily on ladling on the claret for its effect. There are some great acting displays, the plot moves along at a good pace and has some layers to it, the exorcism aspects are very believable and the practical FX are really well-delivered. Even though at a few junctions it felt like it was trying to do two things at once, I was never less that riveted, and that's no small achievement in its own right.
RATING: 8/10. AGP really feels like a triumphant return for the Guinea Pig name – in fact, despite the original's undoubted cult value, I think these are largely significantly better, as my comparative review ratings will bear out. Sure, maybe the originals have dated since the mid-80s, but these new takes feel sharper, more on-point and more ambitious than their predecessors. This is certainly the most ambitious yet and I think the one that might just bring the series to many more people's attention. In taking a popular horror trope and making it more 'extreme', this is bound to attract more press and in delivering an effective story – it's certainly simple but it is also cleverly done – with strong performances at the heart. I think many horror fans will enjoy this more – and certainly find it a touch more palatable – than some of the other AGP movies, although a few keys scenes still require a strong stomach. Overall I think this could be a big film for extreme horror in 2018, and deservedly so.
by alex davis
Dir. Poison Rouge, 60 mins, Italy
All through March Film Gutter will be taking a look at some of the recent and upcoming releases from Unearthed Films. If you haven't heard of them, where have you been? Unearthed have long been bringing out some of the best modern and classic extreme horror movies, and you can check out all their releases at http://www.unearthedfilms.com/news.htm.
Sometimes I'll take a bit of time after watching a film to have a think about its plotline, its characters and its impact upon me. Other times it's to consider some of the complexities that might have been contained therein, giving me some time to unpick a multi-layered movie.
Sacrifice, frankly, I've had to take some time just to get over. In fact there's no way I could have reviewed it right after watching it because I was feeling a pretty shaky and a little faint.
Given some of what has come before at Film Gutter, this should give you an indication of just how brutal Sacrifice is. And I can't even say I wasn't warned – but then I've been told lots of time just how extreme a movie is only to be relatively unmoved. Surely this one couldn't be that bad? But when the head honcho at Unearthed Films himself, Stephen Biro, tells you just how full-on it is, you'd better be listening – the man knows of what he speaks.
Sacrifice follows the story of Daniel, a young man with some pretty serious psychological issues and some deep physical scars to go along with them. He's still struggling with the death of his father, who inhabits the story as a sort of ghost, a disembodied voice that often offers up conflicting instructions. When he returns to his old house, he's not there for a simple trip down memory lane – he's there to carry through a ritual, and one that will involve inflicting some truly hideous and grotesque acts upon himself...
The plot is pretty thin, but then again Sacrifice only runs to sixty minutes, so it doesn't need to be terribly complex. We do get a reasonable amount of set-up of the character and of the situation before we get to the really gruesome stuff, which I think is good – as much as I loved the second entry in the series, Bloodshock, we were rather thrown into that one at the deep end. At least here there's a slightly softer introduction to allow you to get you feet under the metaphorical table before the claret begins to flow.
And man alive does it flow – sure, there might have been movies out there with more blood pouring out of a whole lot more people, but this surely has to be the most blood shed by one individual. The effects in this one look really believable – horribly so, as this one would probably be a lot easier to watch if it didn't all look so authentic – and equally Roberto Scorza is very good in the lead role. It's a challenging part, no doubt, but the fact he is so committed to it and all the absolute carnage the character puts his body through is extremely commendable.
I think the only thing that helped me ultimately get through this movie was the fact that there are a handful of moments of relief, little glimpses into some kind of dreamworld that serve as something of a breather from the utter self-mutilation Daniel is determined to inflict upon himself. Those scenes are very nicely shot and a good antidote to the bloodstained bathroom in which we claustrophobically find ourselves for most of the film. The ending of the film doesn't come as a huge surprise, as well as containing what to me felt like a slightly unnecessary footnote, but those are minor quibbles really. If you consider yourself a proper gorehound, if you consider yourself someone who can absolutely watch anything without flinching, if you want to say that you have seen one of the most extreme horror movies of recent years, then Sacrifice is surely the film for you.
I would love to tell you that I didn't flinch, but I'd be flat-out lying. In fact, if you had my live reaction to this movie on webcam, it probably would have been absolutely hilarious. I was up and down out of my seat, shouting at the screen, head in my hands, gesticulating... I felt like I absolutely lived every minute of this hour, and that's no bad thing.
RATING: 7.5/10. My finger has only hovered over the stop button twice in the history of Film Gutter – once during Thanatomorphose and once during Vase De Noces. This goes down in history as the third, and god I wanted to stop it. But I managed to plough on regardless and survive this utter endurance test of a movie. And that's all you can do really – come out of the other side in one piece, but probably not unscathed. For all its genuinely shocking content, it generally looks very good and is well-shot, has strong effects, a solid lead performance and enough variety to keep it interesting. But it is not for the faint-hearted out there, or the extreme horror novice.
Brace yourself if you do decide to go in for this one...
By Alex Davis
Friday 12th September, 2014. Cast your mind back to an innocent time before Brexit, before President Trump, and before I had seen Nekromantik for the first time.
Of course Nekromantik itself had been around since 1987 – at which point I was a mere six-year-old – so I was distinctly late to the part. But with the movie getting a rating and a limited UK cinema release for the first time, my curiosity was piqued with a film I had heard a great deal about but never managed to catch. The fact it was a chance to see it on the big screen was a great part of the draw as well, so it was off to my home-town cinema at QUAD to check it out.
Darrell Buxton – a fantastic expert in horror and cult movies with a truly encyclopaedic knowledge – gave a great introduction to put the movie in context, how as one of the ‘video nasties’ Jorg Buttgereit’s debut had gained cult status and been a hugely sought after VHS throughout the late 80s and early 90s.
But I don’t think anything I had read – or heard that night – really prepared me for Nekromantik properly. The love story between man, woman and corpse remains unlike anything I’ve seen – other movies have tried, but Nekromantik succeeds where they all fail. In places it is grotesque and horrible, as you would expect, but in places its actually really beautiful and glorious. Buttgereit’s debut film is wonderful in its mix of shocking body horror, strange romance and outrageous black comedy. I don’t think anyone has ever blended those elements in the same way since, and it’s a heady experience.
Whoever said romance is dead may not have seen Nekromantik.
Given the cult appeal of the first movie, four years later a sequel emerged. Nekromantik 2 follows on Rob’s story – only this time there’s a pretty big difference in that Rob has become the corpse that is the focus of affection. If anything, Nekromantik 2 doubles down on its predecessor – it’s got more grim humour, more bizarre sexuality and even more lavish love at its core. And having seen the first, I was of course champing at the bit to see the sequel, which I did have to concede I would have to watch on the small screen.
Those kind of films don’t leave you, and nor has any of the director’s other output – Schramm is a tour de force of a serial killer movie, and Der Todesking (just released on Blu-Ray from Arrow Films) remains one of the darkest and most nihilistic films you’re ever likely to encounter. His recent return to the cinema was also a very worthy one, producing a strong segment of the excellent German horror anthology German Angst. Jorg Buttgereit has certainly built a name and reputation as a daring and challenging filmmaker for more than 30 years.
So you can imagine the great pleasure and excitement with which I look forward to welcoming Jorg Buttgereit to the UK!
Our first stop will be the Starburst Media City Festival in Manchester over the weekend of 16th and 17th March - https://starburstmagazine.com/filmfestival/ - which I gather has already sold out but you can still add yourself to a reserve list for tickets! I’ll be interviewing Jorg prior to a screening of Nekromantik, and we’ll also be having a meet and greet over the weekend.
Then we’ll be heading to Derby for a Sunday night screening of Nekromantik 2 on the 18th March, suitably enough at QUAD, the very place I first saw the first movie. There are still some tickets for this one for those readers wanting to come and hear from and meet the man himself - https://www.derbyquad.co.uk/film/fright-club---nekromantik-2--director-q-and-a--18--s.aspx - but they are proving popular so we suggest early booking!
Suffice to say, I can’t wait to have Jorg over for these two events and I hope some of our Film Gutter regulars will be able to join us over the weekend! It’s going to be good fun for sure.
By Alex Davis
Dir. Dustin Mills, USA, 50 mins
Sometimes you just read a title and think to yourself – now that sounds like a winner. This one drew me in right away for sure, and the sound of the synopsis also made this one sound very much like my kind of territory. I've also never minded a shorter film, as it can often be the case that the shorter running time enables there to be more packed into things. So would that be the case here?
Her Name is Torment follows the gruesome story of 'Patient 394', a woman convicted of 27 murders and now under psychiatric care. Our opening shot is a grainy vision of her stalking one of her victims – which runs a bit long for my liking – before we get the voiceover from her doctor during the opening credits. I like this way of doing this, as it did a lot of setting up in a short space of time without crashing into the main film. The thread of the story is largely composed of two parts – one of an interview being undertaken with Patient 394, whose face us blurred out to hide the apparently hideous scarring she has given herself, and the other an unflinching look at some of the crimes she has committed. This takes in our male victim having part of his tongue removed, an eye gouged out with a spoon, a wooden needle stuck into his ear and pushed far beyond that, and a whole lot more besides. It also introduced Patient 394's dead lover – only known as 'him' – in a scene that was uneasy watching but didn't ultimately seem to go anywhere.
That last line possibly sums up the main issue with the movie for me. Even for 50 minutes, the plot is relatively slim and it's more of an exploration of events we're effectively told about in the first five minutes. In fact the most interesting twist – and potential set-up for a sequel – comes in the last 60 seconds. We learn a limited amount from Patient 394 in her psychiatric assessments, which left a slightly frustrating feeling that we'd only really scratched the surface of things. The scenes are generally well done – be it the gore or be it the more candid interview sections – and I have to give a huge credit to director Dustin Mills for achieving what he has on such a shoestring budget. But I did feel this was perhaps a part of something rather than a full product.
The other aspect of the movie that was slightly questionable for me was the constant use of various visual and camera effects. We have lots of smash cuts, shots that are blurred, shots sped up, cuts from colour to black and white and back again, words almost subliminally flashed onto the screen... and don't get me wrong, there were places where I liked these and felt that had a good effect. But after 50 minutes there were times were the visual 'flashiness' just started to become a bit grating and feel like overkill.
With all the above said, there were many things I like about this movie. The lead performance was strong for sure, there were a few scenes that had be cringing in discomfort (for all the right reasons!) and the concept and framing were both good. Having initially said I've never minded movies being shorter than the industry-standard ninety minutes, I can't help but feel that this one would have benefited from being a bit longer. We get a sense and a flavour of Patient 394's twisted world, but we never really dip fully beneath the surface in order to get right into the murky depths. And that feels a little like an opportunity missed. To sum it up, I was certainly say watch it and enjoy what there is here. There is a sequel out there – released in 2016 – and given what I've seen here that's certainly one I will be looking out for and hopefully that will give a more rounded, deeper view into the events explored here.
RATING: 7/10. An interesting concept with some good ideas, but held back from a real top rating in the main by being rather too much of a 'tease' in various aspects of the story, as well as an overuse of gimmicky effects. With that said, hats off to all involved for actually getting the movie made at all on its restrictive budget and delivering something that did draw and hold my interest throughout. It's not unmissable but fans of Film Gutter would probably get something out of it, so it's very respectable 7/10.
By Alex Davis
Dir. Yoon Hon-Seung (AKA Chang), South Korea, 88 mins
It feels like it's about time Film Gutter made a stop in South Korea – while the series has visited Japan many times over the course of its existence, we've rarely dipped into Korea, which is a nation that probably doesn't have the same association with extreme cinema. However there are doubtless some offerings that are well worth our time, and Death Bell is among them. My main point of reticence is that the story is all set in a school, and given how terrifying I find the girl ghosts of Asian Cinema, I was a bit uncertain going into it. But blessedly there was nothing too Ringu-seque to truly keep me awake at night here. What there was, however, was a pretty decent horror/thriller with some more gruesome elements.
Death Bell begins with a pretty weird – and practically meaningless – dream sequence before introducing us to a class of youngsters getting ready for their final exams. With the stresses and strains of those vital tests behind them, the kids are looking forward to breaking up for summer – but for the brightest and best there's a catch, as they're expected to stay in for additional classes as part of an exchange with Eton. The mood at the beginning of this extra day's teaching isn't great, but is going to get an awful lot worse as a deranged killer begins trapping the students in deadly situations – giving their fellow students the chance to save their lives by answering exam-style questions correctly and unravelling something rather more sinister one answer at a time...
I described the movie as pretty decent as I felt this was something of a mixed bag. There were a number of things I liked and a fair few things I wasn't keen on as well. The story itself is a slightly uneasy mixture of a paranormal horror and a Saw-esque thriller that never really satisfyingly resolves whether there is a ghostly element involved or not. There may be something lost in translation from the Korean but some of the answers, and the logic to reach them, don't really make a great deal of sense to me. The acting is OK but some of the characters are pretty annoying, including one who evidently knows much more than he lets on about the haunting element but again there's not a full explanation given there. The ending is largely possible to work out, which doesn't make it ineffective but maybe demeans the ultimate impact.
With that said, some of the traps are pretty inventive and the visuals tend to be very good – the director has a strong background in music videos, which I think shows in the look and feel throughout. The atmosphere is tense and there are a host of scenes that do leave you uneasy, although some of the deaths do lack a bit of impact because you don't know the characters all that well. But it's twisty enough and stylish enough to be enjoyable, although I couldn't call it unmissable. If you're also looking for serious gore then there's plenty more gruesome offering out there than this one, and you might be better served elsewhere. But I think it's worth ninety minutes of your time to check out.
RATING: 7/10. Death Bell makes a lot more sense once you read that it's made by a director largely known for music videos. It has style, and gloss, and ideas for sure, but equally the story itself is a bit messy and has a few logic holes here and there that can make it a slightly frustrating experience at times. But overall it has enough atmosphere and enough energy to keep you watching, although it's hard not to be slightly in mind of better movies – the British Exam included – as you work your way through. So it's an endorsement for Death Bell, although not exactly a ringing one. (Ringing? Get it? Bell? Oh, forget it...) 7/10, or maybe I should better describe it as a steady B...
Dir. Tetsuya Nakashima, Japan, 118 mins
There's always a certain sense of excitement and anticipation when approaching a Japanese film. It seems almost whatever the genre, Japan and many of the countries surrounding it have a superb reputation and many great directors to boot. The same very much holds true for extreme movies, and with many iconic films to try and follow on from The World of Kanako had plenty to live up to. This was not one of those movies I knew a great deal about coming in, but from little I had read there were a number of comparisons to Park Chan Wook's masterpiece Oldboy. So no pressure then?
It's not the kind of comparison to be made lightly, and I can see why that parallel has been drawn. It has many similar themes to Oldboy and is shot is a similar way, as well as the story unfolding in a pretty unorthodox way to show one fresh layer of darkness after another. The story itself follows a number of leads in a couple of timelines, headed by washed-up ex-detective Akikazu as he sets out on a quest to find his missing daughter Kanako and – simultaneously he hopes – enable him to make amends with his ex-wife in doing so. He's your classic lead in many respects – drowning in self-pity and copious amounts of alcohol, violent and desperate in his quest but stoically determined to do everything in his power to find his little girl. The mystery of the 'world' of Kanako actually runs pretty deep as we find out that her estranged father, her rather more close-at-hand mother and indeed some of her friends really had very little idea of what Kanako was getting up to in reality.
While Akikazu is our main current-day storyline, we have a flashback storyline following the story of a bullied boy who is defended by Kanako – and some of her more dubious connections – and the journey as he falls in love with her. But it doesn't take long for that feeling of love to become warped into something else entirely over time, as her world truly opens up to him and he finds out exactly what Kanako truly expected from any would-be suitor.
If my description seems a little all over the place, that's because the telling of it is delivered in a very complex way – we have a host of characters that we engage with, many different storylines and flashbacks to various different time periods. And while all of that is pretty great to look at, and can be exhilarating in places – I'm not a big of action fan, but I did love the many action set pieces in this movie – it's also a pretty riotous mess. To delve further into that comparison with Oldboy, The World of Kanako employs lots of the same devices but Oldboy does it in a cleaner fashion that is easier to follow. With that said, I did enjoy the tapestry of horror that is unfolded and just how dark Kanako's story does eventually get – this seemingly innocent student is involved in plenty of pretty dank dealings up to her elbows, as we find out piece by piece. It's a little like someone putting together a jigsaw which looks great but I feel is ultimately missing a few pieces to make it a true masterpiece.
There are a few other quibbles too – the film does feel overlong to me, and there's a lot in the closing stages that I could happily have lived without. In fact the last ten-fifteen minutes in my opinion don't really add anything. Akikazu's character becomes pretty extreme, and for me the acting from him and one of two other individuals becomes a bit over the top. I'm sure that was part of angling for a bizarre, hyper-real sort of feel, but it ends up coming over distinctly overplayed. There's no need to try that hard for dark and disturbing when you have this kind of story playing out.
The World of Kanako is dark, imaginative, daring film-making and as any Film Gutter regular will know, I do tend to like originality. However in this case that originality feels like it's employed in a slightly scattergun way – it's rarely boring, but can be muddled, and for that reason I can't really award it top marks despite its doubtless ambition. But I do think it is worth some good marks, so it's a highly creditable 7.5/10 here. If you like your movies loud, lively and multi-layered, then this could just be the film for you.
By Alex Davis
Dir. Kasper Juhl, Denmark, 73 min
Having so recently been blown away with Kasper Juhl's most recent movie, Your Flesh, Your Curse – which earned the #2 spot on my Film Gutter Top Ten of 2017 – I was naturally curious to delve further back into the director's previous work. There are two films that I had heard the most about – A God Without a Universe (which I will be looking at in a future installment!) and today's focus, 2013's Madness of Many. This movie comes with a reputation for being pretty confronting, which it did live up to throughout its runtime.
I have to start the body of this review by saying it's hard to watch this one without drawing some comparisons to Your Flesh, Your Curse. The movie treads many similar aspects – the extreme suffering and pain of its female lead, the philosophical approach and voiceover, the similarity of some scenes from on to the next... the lead character even has a similar name. And while I stand by Madness of Many is a good film in its own right, I just feel as though it falls short of its more recent counterpart.
Our story follows Victoria White, a young woman trying to make sense of a horrific life of abuse and torture, first at the hands of her parents and then at the hands of a grim group of abductors. Much of the actual information comes in the form of voiceover from lead actress Ellen Abrahamson, who certainly brings the kind of strange and ethereal quality needed for this sort of project. With that said, her voiceover does become a little grating as her delivery is fairly monotone – this might be a deliberate decision, but it just seems to lack real emotion and inflection and somewhat diminishes the impact of what we see on screen.
The awful things that she goes through are very well presented and have the same quality as YF, YC, feeling very authentic and believable – often too much so for comfort. That's not presented as a criticism, more as an observation of the integrity and thorough approach of all involved. It's certainly not a pretty movie either, and things are presented in a gritty fashion that many times makes it feel more akin to the work of Lucifer Valentine than anything else, both in terms of its content and many aspects of its soundscape. It's a hard watch in a number of places, that's for sure.
It's ultimately a sort of bleak vision of a life blighted by pain and misery, presented in a very non-linear fashion as almost a montage overlaid with voiceover to explain some of the actions and indeed the effect of what is going on. Surprisingly, it actually has a strangely upbeat message to it and closes with one of very few rays of hope in the entire movie.
As I said upfront, Madness of Many is certainly a good movie. It doesn't hold back, presenting its more gruesome content in a very effective fashion, it has some interesting ideas and there are some beautiful shots amidst the horror. With that said, I would still point you to Your Flesh, Your Curse as the director's better movie – given the themes and style the comparison is irresistible. If I were to try and draw a suitable analogy, YF, YC is like being artfully cut to pieces by a skilled samurai, while Madness of Many is like being beaten to death with a baseball bat. MOM has a blunt intensity all its own, and it's well worth a look in its own right.
RATING: 7/10. Another strong offering from Danish director Kasper Juhl, whose stock in the field of extreme horror is rising and rightly so. There's lots to like here, but it just lacks a little bit of refinement in a few places. The voiceover becomes a bit overbearing, and the lead actress here – while solid – doesn't quite live up to the fantastic performance of Marie-Louise Damgaard in Your Flesh, Your Curse. There's plenty of very dark content and things that are difficult to watch, but it has an unmistakably strong impact and is certainly worth them time of any extreme horror fans out there.
Dir. Andreas Marschall, Germany, 112 min
This week we're going to be taking a second dip into the work of Andreas Marschall, an exciting German director whose work has propelled him to being one of my favourites. And, different from the other movies of his I have seen, this one is not an anthology movie – Masks is a single storyline and follows the strange goings-on at a remote acting school in the heart of Germany.
And yes, before you say it, there is more than a hint of Giallo here – in fact Masks does pay more than a little homage to Suspiria, in particular. However, even with that in mind, there's plenty here that feels fresh and interesting, as well as enough quality in the production to make it a great watch in its own right.
Our lead character is Stella, a young aspiring actress who doesn't seem to be getting terribly far when she is handed a flyer for an acting school. At first she'd dubious – as well she might be – but so determined is she to pursue her dream that she ultimately decides to go, leaving her boyfriend behind and meeting the strange brand of folks currently inhabiting the school. Naturally she doesn't fit in at first, and it takes a while for her to find a friend – who transpires to be a bit more than a friend – in the shape of Cecile.
In the background of this plays another story entirely, with rumours of a strange technique once taught by the previous tutor of the school, Mateusz Gdula. These stories of extreme methods to encourage students to access all kinds of buried emotions and bring them to their performance – to bring something much more real than acting – hang over the establishment like a pall, and are often whispered of among the students. Inevitably, Stella is eventually offered the chance to go to the part of the school that is usually shut off to most students and learn this method to enhance her skills. And it's here that we go from rumours to stark reality...
Like I've already said, there's no particular secret where this movie draws its inspiration from – it's a giallo through and through, but it also happens to be a very good one, with some decent modern touches. The atmosphere is laid on thick, but remains effective, and the colour scheme is well-chosen and pays a fine homage to its predecessors. The central concept is interesting – offering something of an echo to Marschall's previous movie, Tears of Kali – and is explored in a way that gives some interesting visuals as well as great tense scenes. There's one moment where the silence just goes on and on while you wait for something terrible to happen that becomes almost unbearable. And the finale – in true giallo style – is distinctly bonkers, featuring an excellent but twisted confrontation and some truly unexpected moments.
Regular readers here at Film Gutter will know I've always been partial to German extreme cinema, and it certainly had a very fine pedigree behind it with the likes of Jorg Buttgereit, Marian Dora and many more besides. Andreas Marschall certainly stands out as one of the most exciting names in the current generation, and while Masks may not be his most extreme work it certainly has some pretty bleak moments and keeps much of what has become his trademark in my eyes. The capacity to develop and keep breathless tension remains a powerful feature in his movies, and this tribute to the masters of Giallo is a worthy entry into the canon.
RATING: 8.5/10. The first full-length story I've seen from this director thankfully has all the assets I've enjoyed from his work on anthology movies, and is a movie that delivers in atmosphere, unsettling visuals and interesting character dynamics. The performances also hold up well, and it has a sense of energy and also skill behind it. I wouldn't honestly consider myself the biggest fan of Giallo, but when it's done well it can be fantastic – and I think Masks is certainly the form being done well.
Dir. Andreas Marschall, Germany, 106 min
Director Andreas Marschall certainly announced himself on my ‘talent to watch’ list with his fantastic instalment of German Angst, an excellent anthology film from 2015 in which his closing segment ‘Alraune’ was a real standout. It’s one of this bits of film with still lives in my head to this day, so I was coming to Tears of Kali with high expectations, if no real preset idea of what to expect.
I was not surprised and nor was I disappointed to find this was another anthology film, although in this case all three chapters were directed by Marschall. The trio of stories are held together by a linking thread of an extreme psychological experiment carried out in India, looking to delve deep into the human psyche. While that turned out not to be a real historical basis, it certainly felt pretty real and believable. The ‘linking’ sections feature another pretty creepy performance from German veteran Peter Martell (also known for Marian Dora’s deeply disturbing Melancholie Der Engel) and are ultimately pretty light-touch.
Each story also has a pretty strong link to religion, and whilst I enjoyed all three, I think the opener was my very favourite. ‘Shakti’ sees a reporter visiting a convicted murderer who was part of the Taylor-Eriksson 'cult' in an effort to get a fresh take on the events of that time. The chemistry between the two actresses in this portion is really great, and the final reveal – despite one slightly cheesy effect – did genuinely get to me. I don’t remember the last time I actually held my breath during a horror film, but that was the exact effect here.
Our second instalment, ‘Devi’, sees a young man on remand from prison attending sessions with a psychologist who studied under the Taylor-Eriksson group. It’s immediately apparent that the method will be unusual, but it soon comes to light exactly how extreme the method will be in order to save the patient from his own demons. It’s done without being gratuitous, and while the cast is again limited the two, the interaction there feels more than strong enough to carry the relatively simple story.
The final act of our movie is ‘Kali’, which features a man and a woman trapped with some sort of creature that they are trying to escape from. While it might start out as pretty standard fare, again the connection to the cult and its dark psychology does become apparent. Whilst there were elements to like here, I thought this was the weakest link of the three, not helped by a distinctly cliché finale.
Tears of Kali feels pretty tight and well-constructed, and it’s fair to say that the whole 105 minute runtime really shot by, to the extent when I was slightly surprised when the credits rolled – always a compliment to a movie when you barely notice time passing at all. What impressed me most about Marschall’s Alraune – and held true again here – was just how this director is able to build and then hold tension. The first part of that equation is not easy, but the second is even more difficult. There were moments where if you’d snuck up on me or rung my phone I would have absolutely jumped out of my skin, because I was waiting so much for something to happen. Marschall stretches tension like an elastic band and only lets it go when the band is on the very verge of snapping – there’s no desire for jumpscares even when lazier directors would pile them on.
Add to that some very solid acting performances, a strong mythology behind it – part of me was itching to dive onto the internet and read more about it, only to find it was never a real thing! – and some fine scares and it adds up to a pretty memorable film. My only criticism would be that a few of the effects don’t look all that great, but that’s simply a side effect of filmmaking on a budget, and you can bet you’ve seen plenty worse to boot. If you don’t like anthologies, you might want to steer clear, but other than I’d recommend this one to anyone who likes indy horror and extreme horror.
RATING: 9/10. Film Gutter’s jaunts to Germany have often paid dividends, and Tears of Kali is no different at all. A fascinating example of the anthology film, this single-director movie dips nicely into Hinduism and draws out some impactful threads. It’s nicely shot, and keeps things simple and low-key to great effect all the way. The minimal cast all perform well in their roles, and each section of the movie has good ideas and generally very strong execution. As such, it has to be a highly commendable 9/10 from me.
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