Ginger Nuts of Horror
By Alex Davis
Dir. Buddy Giovannazzo, USA, 91 min
Now, I must confess I found it hard to picture the day I'd be turning my attention to a Troma film here at Film Gutter. While I've never been an avid follower of the cult company, it's hard not to have stumbled across at least a few of their movies over the years and while some have been fun, it's hard to deny that many are absolute and utter trash. There are a handful of b-movies I have a fondness for, but on the whole I'm not a fan of that end of horror. Just because there's a low budget doesn't mean a movie has to be low quality or low brow.
Some people might argue that the nature of Troma's movies makes them ideal for Film Gutter, but I've tended to try and veer away from flat out 'bad horror' in order to focus very much more on the extreme elements. There might be a few more Troma features that could fit the bill, but there's plenty that would come before those on my list of preferences. However Combat Shock has been on my radar for a while, with many claiming the film features one of the most disturbing finales of all time. That's a privilege that still belongs to Megan is Missing, in my opinion, but it's sure big talk to put on the table. So how does Combat Shock stack up?
Well, I have to say this one was a pretty pleasant surprise. It is low budget, and you can see that it's low budget, but it is one of those gems that uses this fact to its advantage to develop a movie that is grimy, unpleasant and uses what it has in an ingenious way. The story follows Frankie, a Vietnam war veteran whose life has well and truly hit the skids after his dark experiences. We see a little of that to kick off with in flashback, and revisit them a few times throughout the story as rather broken memories. He's got no job, no money, a marriage to Cathy that is deeply struggling and a baby that is anything but normal (which gets attributed to all the chemical warfare he was a part of in Nam) and cries constantly, a pretty harrowing background to Frankie and Cathy's misery. The main part of the story follows Frankie as he wanders the desolate streets of town, bumping into drug addicts, pimps, prostitutes, crime lords (whom he happens to be in debt to) as he makes his way to the unemployment office looking for something, anything by way of a job. All the while we see splices of his experiences as a prisoner of war, and the building implications that come with his long recovery and the amnesia he suffers about the attack in one particular village...
For me, this one was pretty impressive and explored a lot of interesting ground. It's a story of urban decay, of what war can do to a person, or having no hope and no visible way out of the situation you're in. Ricky Giovinazzo does a good job in the lead role as Frankie – he's very believable and his various struggles are pretty well depicted – and the constant, hideous crying of the baby is cleverly employed as a background sound throughout a lot of the movie. Sure, some of the scenes and the acting performances around the wider city are a bit ropey, but many add to the scenes of grit and grind that everyone there is experiencing. It's a story that really embraces the underbelly of society.
And the finale? Yeah, I'm happy to concede it was pretty full on. It's not completely unexpected given what comes before it, but it does certainly pack a punch and is a suitable conclusion to what is a pretty nihilistic movie. Combat Shock has certainly built up a cult following, and remains weirdly current and prescient. There are still people struggling desperately at the bottom rung of society, and soldiers fighting in conflicts all over the world who simply don't have the support they need. I also think it's a good example of what you can do in a movie without a lot of money to do it with, so for me it's a real credit to all involved.
RATING: 9/10. Maybe enjoyable isn't quite the right word for a movie this bleak, but it certainly was compelling despite a few flaws here and there. But given what the movie is some of those more ridiculous performances from the minor characters don't feel so bad – in fact many seem to fit what is a dark but absurd scenario. I can certainly see why this one has built up a following – in fact it's no shock at all to hear. I'm happy to give this one a highly creditable 9/10.
By Alex Davis
Dir. Kasper Juhl, Denmark, 100 mins
Come on in, the water's beautiful...
The extreme horror scene is one where a new name can really emerge and make a great impression. In recent years we've seen fantastic talents like Phil Stevens and Arthur Cullipher come through, among many others, and a name that keeps circling onto my radar is Kasper Juhl. Still only 26, the Danish writer/director has just finished his seventh movie, Your Flesh, Your Curse, and here at Film Gutter we were lucky enough to have the chance to take a look at his latest.
Your Flesh, Your Curse follows the story of Juliet White, a beautiful but broken young woman who spends most of her life in a haze of either alcoholic binging or drug-fuelled paralysis. She has a few friends, all of whom encourage and share in this type of behaviour. There are hints from early on that Juliet has some pretty serious past trauma, which is confirmed in a video clip from her father apologising for the horrible abuse he inflicted upon her. This seems to see her revisiting – maybe even being unable to resist – abusive characters in her life, and we see her endure some pretty torrid sexual encounters in the opening of the movie.
Sounds pretty dark, right? Well, rest assured YF,YC is merely warming up at this point. When Juliet passes out in public as a result of her drug use, she's found by Max, who forces himself upon her before slashing her throat. And here begins a sort of hell for Juliet, who is forced to relive some of the most awful events from her history, as well as experiencing new aspects of nightmare.
There are three main things I want to say about this movie, two good and one not so good, and I'll endeavour to do so without giving any spoilers. First off, this one is beautifully shot – everything looks stunning and there's obviously been a great deal of thought about the look and feel of this film. There are a lot of fine details that add a lot, and even the grubbiest and filthiest of scenes are shot cleanly and with real precision. There's no doubt this is a skilled cinematographer at work – it's lavish and it's perfectly easy to get lost in its arthouse qualities.
Secondly, the lead actress in the role of Juliet, Marie-Louise Damgaard, is absolutely fantastic. Obviously a vast chunk of the story hangs on her performance, and she really delivers – it's not hard to believe that she's genuinely going through hell here. The whole thing looks like an extremely difficult shoot to put yourself through, as Juliet spends a great deal of the time going through either physical or mental abuse at the hands of many different characters. It feels like a real landmark performance for her – in fact I struggle to think of many better leading roles that I've seen in extreme horror. It just feels real, which is a true testament to it, and I'm sure there are bigger things ahead for her.
The last thing I have to say is that – for all that I think this movie is overall very good – it did leave me feeling pretty confused and a little uncertain as to what I had just witnessed. I'm not averse to a bit of abstraction or alternative storytelling – in fact I'm something of a fan of it – but I don't feel like I really had enough to grasp onto that was cogent. I couldn't really tell you adequately what Juliet's arc was, and I don't think we really have a suitable resolution of the dark story with her father – I thought that was going to be a key part of the film, but didn't really seem to go anywhere (unless you choose one certain interpretation of the pretty ambiguous finale). Our ending scene suggests some sort of character development, but other than that it's almost a montage – one that is in equal parts glorious and harrowing, but a montage nonetheless.
With the above said, don't make any mistakes, YF, YC is extremely good. I mentioned Phil Stevens earlier on and the comparison is practically an irresistible one – these two young directors are really exploring just how beautiful and arthouse extreme horror can be in a way that is rarely done. If your view is that extreme horror means that is has to be grimy and visually unappealing, I suggest you watch this film and prepare to eat your words.
RATING: 9/10. Your Flesh, Your Curse is stunning to watch, superbly acted and kind of washed over me (in a positive way!) as a watch – I was fully immersed, so much so that when the movie came to an end I found myself pretty surprised. The overall effect is impressive, and this is obviously a filmmaker delivering a singular vision really powerfully. The surprise came because in some way I had expected something more of the plot to reveal itself – the last scenes are pretty ambiguous, and it's a film that not just begs but basically requires some viewer interpretation. If that's your thing, then you should check this out for sure – in fact if you like your extreme with more of an artistic angle, I'd suggest this is essential viewing. It's the kind of bold and brave filmmaking that suits me to a tee as a viewer – 9/10 from me.