Ginger Nuts of Horror
BY ALEX DAVIS
Dir. Fred Vogel and Scott Swan, USA, 88 min
As much as I love watching so many great extreme movies with Film Gutter, as well as having the chance to write about them, I do occasionally wish there was something a bit more fun to take in. Probably once every forty or fifty movies is there something that genuinely makes me laugh, or that I can look back at with real fondness and think 'I'll really look forward to watching that again.' Of course, that's partly the nature of the beast – extreme horror tends to explore subjects that are darker and more taboo than horror in the mainstream, and leans towards the graphic and the shocking. However once in a while there's a movie that does leave me thinking 'that was fun'. But one that does fit that rare bill is Scott Swan and Fred Vogel's 2009 movie, Maskhead.
It's a strange movie, almost a film within a film, mostly following Syl and Maddie, who run a fetish film business – and their wonderful advert for models sold me in the first few minutes. They come across (if you'll forgive the expression) a range of male and female performers whom they employ in a range of sometimes disturbing and sometimes flat-out weird scenarios designed to titillate their viewers. The spectacle in places is so strange you simply have to laugh, and some of the stories and anecdotes we're regaled with by the characters are genuinely great. The whole experience is a bit crazy, a bit psychedelic and a little wonderful.
The titular character, Maskhead, is one of the popular characters in the film business' line of movies and is a pretty odd visual, all bandages and barbed wire. The genuinely nasty part of the movie comes rather later into the piece, when Maskhead's killings go from being staged and scripted to genuine and impromptu. The slightly meta style of film-making does leave you wondering if some of the earlier killings were the real deal to, but there's certainly no doubt at all as we get into the last half hour.
Don't get me wrong, it's not perfect. We get thrown all kinds of characters, most of whom are only in one scene and are sort of meat for the grinder. There's not a great deal by way of coherent plot either, so most of the movie ends up feeling something like a series of vignettes or in places comedy sketches. I was more than once put in mind of Frankie Boyle's Tramadol Nights so surreal and dark was the humour. But that humour is really cutting and really wicked – I never thought a scene featuring anal fisting could actually make me laugh, but I was proven wrong here. Then again, that might just say something about me...
I can't possibly leave this review without a mention for the real star of the show, The Cowboy, wonderfully depicted by Daniel V Klein. He's a fairly enigmatic figure who drifts in and out of the film almost at will, but when he's there things really step up a gear. The Cowboy just seems to have real charisma and stage presence, and his stories of debauchery are such a highlight here. It's worth watching just for his lurid tales of drugs and sex.
If you watch extreme horror because you really like your limits tested and your movies to be genuinely horrifying, then Maskhead probably isn't for you. No doubt it has some pretty hideous moments, but some of the video shoots are more like to promote laughter for this with that surreal sense of humour. Equally if you love a compelling plot this won't be for you – it's bitty, it barely goes anywhere and it has a whole host of throwaway characters without any real sort of arc or journey.
But in spite of that – or maybe because of that – I genuinely loved Maskhead. It's so out there, and the humour is so up my street, that I was more than willing to forgive some of the other problems the movie had. I was properly entertained from start to finish, which isn't always a familiar feeling around these parts. And I can genuinely see myself coming back to this one when I need a chuckle.
RATING: 8/10. I can't give it top marks, even though part of me was very tempted too, because I can't deny it has a few flaws. It almost feels like a showreel for the oddest, darkest comedy series you've ever seen. But seen in that light, it's very good, very funny and very much held my attention rapt. The characters are a bit disposable but there are enough gems in there – particularly the deranged Cowboy – to keep you hooked. Quite unlike anything I've seen in extreme horror – some readers out there might not take to it but this was something I heartily enjoyed, so I'm giving it a strong 8/10.
By Alex Davis
Dir. Frank Henenlotter, USA, 85 mins
The b-movie holds a strange place in the annals of horror history, with many being loved and enjoyed by those within the genre. Simultaneously these kinds of movies are all too often the reason those outside the genre have such a low opinion of horror as an artform. I've never been much of a b-movie fan, all things considered, but like a lot of people I have a few guilty pleasures that fit that particular description. Step forward Bad Biology.
You've probably already gathered I'm not going to make a case that this movie is particularly great in terms of characterisation or acting. It's not artistic, or challenging, or even scary. What Bad Biology is, however, is ridiculous, overblown and extremely entertaining. It absolutely embraces the concept at its core, never backing down from strangeness and absolutely going the whole hog in delivering its oversexualised premise. It's deeply weird, but it's a lot of fun too.
The story follows two characters with – how to put this – mutations in their sexual organs. Jennifer introduces herself to us the words 'I have 7 clitorises. That I know of.' That'll tell you pretty quick the kind of territory we're in. Not only does she have seven clitorises, but her whole reproductive cycle is accelerated, meaning that within two hours of sex she gives birth to what she calls her 'freak babies'. Our other lead, Batz, is having similar problems in that he has a massive steroid-addicted penis with a mind of its own.
I'd love to say I had made a word of that up, but Bad Biology follows our two leads as they try and deal with the issues brought about by their particular traits. Jennifer is out to find a man to satisfy her – 'I need dick like a junkie needs a fix' – while Batz is looking for just the right drug to silence his member and get his life back on track. It's almost inevitable that the two should cross paths, and they do when Jennifer goes to do a photoshoot at Batz's mansion (I have no idea how he affords living in a mansion mind) and stumbles upon him trying to quiet an out-of-control erection. She decides there and then that he is just the man for her – or at least has just the equipment for her – leading to a finale every bit as bizarre as I might have expected.
I can't help but love this movie. Charlee Danielson as Jennifer plays just the right kind of out there, with an innocent exterior lying above a maniacal sex drive, and there are just so many laughs to be had along the way, be it from absolutely outrageous quotes, way out there physical comedy or moments where you simply laugh because, honestly, it's hard to know what else to do. It's been a long time since I caught this movie for the first time late one night on the Horror Channel, and frankly it's lost nothing since. It takes an idea that if done by half would never have worked, but in pushing it all the way to its absurd ends creates something that will probably stay with you for a while after you've watched it.
RATING: 9/10. If I had to land on a favourite b-movie this would be it, and I should have expected nothing less from the man behind two other faves in Basket Case and Frankenhooker. It throws you in at the deep end of oddness and basically just swims into deeper and stranger waters from there. It's not going to be for everyone, and I expect there will be plenty of people out there who love it like I do and no small share of people who hate it. Most of the reviews out there are either terrible or very good, with precious little inbetween. If you've enjoyed Henenlotter's other work, or if you like surreal, gross-out humour, then this will almost certainly speak to you. You'll probably know pretty quick when you get stuck into it either way. For me, the opening piqued my interest immediately and I enjoyed everything from there, so it's a 9/10 from this reviewer.
by Alex Davis
Dir. Yukihiko Tsutsumi, Japan, 66 min
Ah, Japan. Where would extreme horror be without the weird and wonderful contributions from Japan? A vast amount of splatter cinema came out of the nation during the 80s especially, much of which was fairly missable, while more modern offerings of Audition, Ichi The Killer, Suicide Club, Red Room and many more have continued a proud tradition of extreme horror movies. And so we come to 2ldk, a movie I had never heard of before but the premise of which certainly sounded interesting. And I must say that this relatively short movie was a pleasant surprise.
2ldk follows the story of two actresses, Nozomi and Rana, who share a flat and are pretty much polar opposites. Rana is much more of a lively, social girl, while Nozomi is rather quieter, more studious and buttoned down. Rana also has a long history of succeeding in much she has done, leaving Nozomi feel somewhat inadequate in her shadow. But it turns out the two are about to be in direct competition for the same acting role, and their rivalry is about to explode in pretty spectacular fashion.
The early build in 2ldk is pretty steady, but that's one of its strengths. We get to know the characters pretty well in the present-day sense, and eventually get more into their backstories, especially Rana. The two actresses have a great chemistry, bouncing off each other well and really seem to inhabit their roles in a very organic way. One of the other wonderful things about this tense build is that we don't only heard the words they speak, but also have a lot of access to their thoughts. It has a certain element of black humour to it to hear one thing said and then another, much more unpleasant thing running through the mind of each character. The tension rises with a variety of smaller issues before we get to the real hard stuff, with both Nozomi and Rana needling and poking at ever more delicate and emotional areas.
From there, things get increasingly wild as the altercation goes from unkind words to a serious, full-on physical assault by each of the women. It's destructive, it's out there and it still retains a feel of dark humour all the way. It's certainly not the most extreme thing we've witnessed here at Film Gutter, but it does have some really great moments and there's a good feeling of polish and quality running all the way through. It's surprising to think this whole thing was shot in just eight days, with everyone working virtually through the night – one can't help but wonder if that contributes to the mood of tension that's practically palpable all the way through. Sometimes these quirks of how things are shot just feed in to the process, and for me this is a great example of this.
The film isn't perfect, and the ending for me was a bit of a bum note to close on. There are a couple of things that feel a little out of place or strange for the two girls to do, and as a slight jar to believability the two struggling actresses seem to live in an absolutely huge, lavishly appointed apartment. But I suppose I'm coming to a point of nitpicking because ultimately I really liked this movie – well worth a look if you can get a hold of it.
RATING: 8.5/10. 2ldk is a really interesting movie that blends horror and comedy pretty seamlessly, with a simple premise very well delivered by all involved. The lead performances are strong, the direction is good and the pace is tight and controlled. There are a few chuckles along the way as the characters' petty grievances start to take on a greater significance, although the comedy is of a pretty dark stripe. There are a few minor gripes along the way but there's an awful lot more to like than dislike. A very good entry into the Japanese horror canon that, for me, deserves to be much better-known than it is – very much worth your time, especially if horror-comedy is your thing. Well worth an 8.5/10.