Ginger Nuts of Horror
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.
By Alex Davis
Dir. Joe Maggio, USA, 95 min
Since we're just past the festive season, let's talk about food, shall we?
Eating and food seems to be a pretty popular theme in extreme horror. We of course have Blood Feast (original and pending remake), Feast and its two sequels, Eat, Gnaw, Bite and many more besides. Of course many of those movies touch on cannibalism – Eat played particularly well with the theme of self-cannibalism – but here is a movie that is far more about food in its wider sense. It's also a withering condemnation of the role of the critic and the reviewer, so I'd best tread a little carefully with what I say...
The movie follows two main protagonists, pretentious chef Peter Grey – who constantly espouses the virtue of local, natural ingredients on his TV show and at his restaurant – and marginally less pretentious food critic JT Franks, who writes a food blog called Gastropunk that evidently wields enough influence for his bad review of Grey's restaurant Feast to get Peter fired from it. With Peter's life falling apart and JT's life falling apart simultaneously, the two are about to cross paths in a very dark way...
What follows is a what many would call a 'torture porn' set up (although I genuinely despise the term) with Grey capturing Franks and dragging him to his cabin in the middle of nowhere to tackle a range of food challenges. With each failure, he suffers a brutal and often strange punishment from his captor. It's more interesting than I could have been for my money – starting with ducking the cannibal angle that I was absolutely ready for all the way through – as the characters aren't really clear-cut black and white or good guy and bad guy. It's hard to really root for either of them at any stage, which makes for a dynamic I personally didn't mind but many people might not find to their tastes. It's only when Franks's partner gets drawn into things there's a real clear good and bad delineation.
The other complaint I had with this film – and it's rare I pin things to one character or actor – is Larry Fessenden's turn as a private detective here. It simply drags the plot and his character is so cliché it's almost unbearable – with some good character dynamics elsewhere that whole part of things just feels unnecessary, almost padding in some places.
On the whole it's OK – it's perfectly watchable but doesn't really excel itself or differ enough from many similar films to be very distinctive, but there are some interesting ideas and as a reviewer it was quite fun to see an exploration at that, and the thread of 'creators' vs 'destroyers' than informed things was followed pretty well. The acting was generally decent as well, which helped things along, so overall it wasn't bad but a bit middling and also a little predictable – I've never been that great at guessing the endings to things but in this case I had it figured out from pretty early on.
RATING: 6/10. I can't really lay any heavy criticism at the door of Bitter Feast, but equally it's a movie that's hard to get hugely excited about. It does the subgenre decently enough, and hits all of its main beats well, but doesn't really depart as much as it could or do anything terribly startling to pull itself apart. To continue the food analogy, it's a decent pub meal rather then cordon bleu cuisine, so I'm happy to award this one 6/10.
By Alex Davis
It's that time of year again, a moment to reflect on everything that has come before in the last 365 days, including plenty of movies watched in that time. In that spirit, here's our annual top ten Film Gutter movies!
As always, there was plenty of challenging material this year, with some being flat-out disturbing, some being utterly weird and either even finding strange strains of humour in unexpected places. This year's list follows the tradition of looking at movies watched and reviewed in 2017, not necessarily movies released in 2017. It also doesn't necessarily follow a strict numerical order, as on reflection it can be common to see things that little bit differently.
With all that said, here goes...
ONE: IRREVERSIBLE (10/10)
This one was a rewatch after a fair break, and had lost nothing of its superb visual style, wonderful soundscape and utterly crunching impact. Launching itself at the viewer at full speed from the very get go, this story told front-to-back remains one of the finest examples of extreme horror ever crafted, capped by incredible performances from two of the continent's finest actors in Vincent Cassell and Monica Bellucci. Brace yourself, because it is bleak...
TWO: YOUR FLESH, YOUR CURSE (9/10)
Kasper Juhl has been on the scene for a few years now – having garnered a cult following with movies like Madness of Many and A God Without a Universe. But this stamps itself as his magnum opus, at least to date – a beautiful and visceral tale of torment, abuse and revenge. Every shot of this movie is stunning, and with a cracking lead role from Maria-Louise Damgaard this marked itself as one of 2017's must-see titles.
THREE: CAT SICK BLUES (9.5/10
Part disturbing serial killer movie, part insane comedy, Cat Sick Blues was a film I knew nothing about before watching and smacked me in the face with its energy, originality and lively performances. This Australian feature is bat-shit crazy (or should that be cat-shit crazy) and was a delirious experience from the very get-go. If you love classic slasher, but are feeling a little jaded with movies following the formula, then this could well be perfect for you.
Four: German Angst (9.5/10)
I've always loved anthology movies, and with three superb German directors involved – Jorg Buttgereit, Michal Kosakowski and Andreas Marschall – this one was unlikely to miss the mark. Whilst all three sections were very worthy efforts indeed, Marschall's surreal tale Alraune was a standout in closing this one. If you've been a fan of German extreme cinema, this one will feel like Christmas has come early for you.
Five: Kuso (9/10)
A stand-out for the most 'WTF' film of the year, Kuso emerged from the mind of Flying Lotus and its early reviews had marked it out as one of the most disturbing films ever made. If you've read my review you'll know I barely had words to describe it then, and I'm not sure I could do any better now. It is literally like nothing else out there, and for that alone I have to suggest checking it out – the most bonkers anthology you will ever see.
Six: Love Object (9/10)
This wonderful tale of a sex doll apparently coming to life in disturbing fashion is wonderfully told, a horror movie with a distinctly human angle and great performances from Desmond Harrington and Melissa Sagemiller. Everything about the telling and the style is slightly off-kilter, making this a compelling hour and a half. Love Object had stuck with me from a first viewing in the fairly distant past that was a pleasure to revisit.
Seven: Combat Shock (9/10)
Coming from Troma, there was a sense this would be more a b-movie than anything, but I had heard good things and wanted to give it a whirl. And Combat Shock was a very rewarding view indeed – while it's obviously made on a budget, and has a few limitation, it's very effective in what it does and paints a strong picture of desperation and the pure need to survive in the face of terrible circumstances. It's free to watch on Troma's Youtube channel, so check it out.
Eight: Black Mass of the Nazi Sex Wizard (9/10)
Like him or loathe him – and there are plenty on both sides – extreme horror has likely missed Lucifer Valentine. The fourth in the Vomit Gore Trilogy (Series?) is the best of the lot, shot and produced better than its predecessors while certainly losing nothing of the absolutely horrible edge of body horror, playing alongside an (un)healthy dose of psychological and verbal torment. If you like the originals, then you'll be in hog heaven with this one.
Nine: Bad Biology (9/10)
A fun favourite of mine, this utterly bizarre tale of a women with too many clitorises and a propensity to give birth just hours after sex and a man with a huge, mutant penis with a mind of its own and a horrible drugs craving manages to be funny as hell. I can't claim it has any great artistic qualities, but it certainly is a stitch of an hour and a half and if you like a b-movie or two then this is bound to appeal.
Ten: Maskhead (8/10)
And to close on another fun note, this weird and wonderful montage following the conquests of a serial killer taking place across a host of fetish shoots is again marvellous entertainment. It's a bit messy narrative-wise but has energy and enthusiasm in bounds, which makes up for many of those shortcomings for an experience filled with likely very inappropriate laughs. It's clear everyone involved was enjoying themselves, and I expect you will too.
The 'Why Did I Watch That' Award for Most Disturbing Film: Black Mass of the Nazi Sex Wizard
As I've already mentioned, the return of Lucifer Valentine was certainly long-awaited, but you have to really screw up your courage to stick these movies on and watch them. And the fourth installment of Vomit Gore did not miss its usual marks – drenched in vomit and urine and filled with genuinely unpleasant moments of psychological and physical abuse, this remains one for only those with the hardiest constitutions.
The 'Why Did I Watch That' Award for Worst Film: Black Devil Doll From Hell
Good. Lord. It's hard to imagine a movie worse than this could exist, and it remains a mystery to me how this terrible 'shot on shitteo' production (to quote the mighty Cinema Snob) ever got a release. Truly abysmal in every respect, this is a perfect storm of awfulness – the hideous Casio keyboard soundtrack is a marvel of bad music, the acting is lousy, the picture and audio quality are laughable, the plot is paper-thin and the 'scary' moments are nothing short of absurd. For all this, Chester Novell Turner's movie has somehow gained a cult following and earned its place in film folklore – if horror fans had their very own 'The Room', this would be it.
The 'So Long, And Thanks For The Memories' Award: Rampage, President Down
Wherever you stand on the man's work, Uwe Boll has been a unique and hard to ignore presence on the film scene for a long time. While his video game adaptations remain much-maligned, much of his more extreme work – features such as Stoic and the Rampage trilogy – stand on their own as very watchable movies. Boll announced his retirement from filmmaking with the conclusion of the Rampage series, and it was a pleasure to have the chance to interview the man himself to boot. Whatever Boll moves onto next I'm sure he'll have just as big an impact there as well.
Head on over to our Film Gutter review page to read the full reviews for all these films and loads more reviews of horror films from the darker side of the horror genre
By Alex Davis
Dir. Kazuo 'Gaira' Komizu, Japan, 72 min
I was debating how best to describe this movie, and here's the best thing I could come up with – can you imagine if someone at Hanna-Barbera absolutely lost their mind and decided to put together a really extreme, almost hardcore episode of Scooby Doo? You know, with the mystery gang breaking down in the middle of nowhere and hiding out in an abandoned warehouse before all falling into horribly mysogynistic sex and our lead characters each being hunted down by a badly-costumed demon with a huge erection?
Well, you'll be glad to know you don't need to imagine it anymore, because director Kazuo Komizu, or Gaira, has gone out and made it for you with Entrails of a Virgin. Of course it's not exactly that, but it feels like a fitting metaphor because this movie is about as believable and frightening as an episode of Scooby Doo. The plot centres on five men and women – whose names I simply cannot recall at all – who are in the process of shorting a softcore porn film. They're travelling to their next location when their van breaks down and they are forced to spend the night in an empty warehouse in the middle of nowhere. What could possibly go wrong there?
Well, alongside bringing out the worst in our male characters – each one of whom is a shockingly unlikeable chauvinist pig who takes great delight in humiliating their actresses – it seem them all one by one hunted down by some sort of crazed sex-demon who kills the cast in various horrible ways, his erection never seeming to waver once. I mean, two of the female characters he literally screws to death. But there is a survivor – one of the poor women involved – who just so happens to be pregnant, possibly with a quickly-made sequel...
There are two primary problems with this movie – first up, if you took out the atrociously unarousing sex scenes then this film would probably run to about half an hour. And I don't think there's really an argument to say they build the characters up in any way, it's far more about vulgar titillation and simply trying to keep your viewer watching by any means. I could happily have switched off, uninteresting sex or no. It also makes both the men and the women of the movie come across as absolutely awful. Maybe that's deliberate, and you're supposed to be rooting for the demon killing them off one by one, but I'm not sure if I honestly believe this little piece of Japanese exploitation is that clever.
Secondly, I just can't decide if this is a movie that wants me to take it seriously or not. There's not enough laughs throughout to think this is supposed to be a flat out horror comedy or a gross-out black comedy, but there are places where things are so laughably bad you wonder if it's actually on the level or not. If the aim was to deliver a sort of schlocky b-movie that in the 'so bad it's good' bracket I can't help but think it even failed in that respect. The constant near-pornographic content doesn't do anything to dispel the illusion this wasn't meant to be funny, but oftentimes is unintentionally so.
Suffice to say, this goes down in my book as nonsense of the highest order. It doesn't have any shock value about it you can take seriously, the effects look dated, the humour – if that was even the aim – is badly placed and unfunny, the sex scenes fail to garner any interest and all to often play to ridiculous male fantasies ('Oh! It's too big! I hope it will fit inside me!'), the monster is unconvincing and it's impossible to muster up a jot of like or dislike for any of the bland characters. A total car crash of a movie for me, yet somehow it did inspire a second part, which I suppose I should take a look at really...
RATING: 1/10. Rare that I come down this hard on a movie, and honestly the mark is only there because it did make me laugh out loud a couple of times, whether it actually meant to do so or not. There were a spate of similar types of movies made in Japan around this time, many of which have some sort of charm or hook of interest – be they genuinely shocking, utterly bizarre or riotously tongue-in-cheek. Sadly Entrails of a Virgin is none of the above, and crashes in at a lowly 1/10. In fact, now I think of it, I doubt anyone in this movie was actually a virgin at all...
By Alex Davis
Film Gutter's Alex Davis sat down with Kasper Juhl director of the rather excellent Your Flesh, Your Curse for a special Gutter Talk interview.
Born Kasper Juhl Pedersen in Roskilde, Denmark, on April 12th, 1991. He got his first camera at the age of 8 and has since been passionate about making films. He's known as the founder of controversial independent film company Hellbound Productions, where he has directed, written and produced several feature- and short-films. He has since written and directed the feature film "Gudsforladt" (english title: A God Without A Universe") which premiered on CPH:PIX film festival in 2015 and won the "Best Feature" award at the BUT Film Festival in the Netherlands, and the "Jury Award" at the Sadique Master Film Festival. He's currently one of the most active directors in Denmark.
First off, I wanted to say how very impressed I was with Your Flesh, Your Curse! What can you tell us about the inspiration behind this movie?
I talked with my producer, who’s also the composer/sound designer on the film, about making a beautiful extreme horror film. We quickly found out that we would like to do another film in the same universe as our previous film, ‘Madness of Many’ – this time we just wanted to make more of a visual stunning piece of art.
This movie sees some stunning performances, especially from lead actress Marie-Louise Damgaard in the role of Juliet White. How was it on set in putting her character through so many horrific events?
Yes, she went through a lot. We always talked about everything in detail before each shoot, so that she was 100% sure of what was going to happen. I did everything I could so she would always feel safe during the shooting. Between every shoot everything was fine, we were laughing and having fun.
The whole film feels extremely authentic, which makes it very hard to watch in places, How much of what we see on screen was real, if anything?
All of the torture/abuse, not involving blood and gore, is in some way real. The actresses I worked with were aware that they could get hit, scratched, spit at etc. but all under professional circumstances. No one was harmed under the shoot in any way and everyone had fun, even though the scenes are quite extreme.
The film very much eschews traditional narrative for a much more unusual style of storytelling – was that a conscious decision from the very start?
Yes it was. We set out to make an abstract/experimental horror film. To me film is about feelings and not so much about a narrative story. It’s like Stanley Kubrick said: ‘The truth of a thing is in the feel of it, not in the think of it.’
Were things shot in order, or did you look to create scenes and then put them together in the editing process?
Everything was shot in order and we followed a script.
The visual aesthetic was stunning, really finding a dark sort of beauty in the nightmarish chain of events. Do you have a particular process in creating the 'look' of your films?
On this film me and my producer really talked a lot about the visual look of the film. We used most of our funding to buy a professional 4K camera, as we wanted to make a visually stunning underground film. Before each scenes, we talked in detail about how we should shoot it. We chose to have everything handheld, as we still wanted a realness to the scenes.
Are there any other filmmakers or directors that have particularly inspired you? At moments it put me in mind of Lars Von Trier, if you don't mind me saying so!
Trier is my favorite director, so I am just glad you can see the comparison, even though I didn’t went out to make a Trier-style film. I’m inspired by a lot of filmmakers like Harmony Korine, David Lynch, Lukas Moodysson, Larry Clark, Gaspar Noe, Tobias Lindholm, Thomas Vinterberg, Martin Scorsese, Wes Craven, David Cronenberg, Park Chan-wook and Alfred Hitchcock.
Your Flesh, Your Curse is a really intriguing and very complex movie – even after watching it twice I don't feel as though I have got everything out of it yet! How would you describe the message of the film?
It’s all about what you feel when you watch the film. What message you get when watching the film is probably the right one. I have my own idea of what the movie is about, but your interpretation is probably just as correct as mine.
This is your seventh movie so far – can you tell us anything about what you're working on next?
I’ve just finished editing my next film ‘Forever’, which will be an avant-garde documentary about the loss of my dad, who died on the 23rd of February 2016. It will be my most personal film yet, but it has nothing to do with horror. As for 2018 I have some huge plans, but can’t say anything about that yet.
BY ALEX DAVIS
Dir. Lucifer Valentine, Canada, 2012
Coming back to the world of Lucifer Valentine isn't something you could really say you were looking forward to. The director of the infamous Vomit Gore Trilogy is likely one of the most singular directors around, horribly original and never copied or imitated. Those three films – now four with the addition of Black Mass of the Nazi Sex Wizard – are and absolute marathon of endurance. You almost have to tip your hat to anyone that's made it through them. And although this short film comes with the Vomit Gore boxset, it's pretty different in tone, though keeps many of what you would call the Valentine trademarks. And if watching Megan is Missing hadn't already firmly put you off meeting people online, then A Perfect Child of Satan is here to drive the point home once again.
Our lead is Sarah, a woman who is very excited to meet her perfect boyfriend she met in an alternative chatroom. The opening scenes of the movie are pretty endearing – while Sarah does talk about some of the slightly unsavoury things she does to and for her 'clients', in general the opening ten minutes or so are pretty sweet as she dreams about what he'll look like and the things they'll do together. It's a pretty realistic depiction of the buzz of being in the scenario, and actress Chelsea Chainsaw plays the part perfectly.
But before long it's on to meet her online dream man, and the meeting takes place in a fairly anonymous hotel room. The camera switches from Sarah holding it to her unnamed beau holding it, which gives a different perspective to the second half of the short film. Initially there seems to be a buzz and a chemistry, but it turns nasty quickly as the man gets uncomfortably close to her before dragging her to the ground. What follows is pretty unpleasant as he strangles her, beats her, rapes her and then basically leaves her for dead on the bathroom floor.
I say 'pretty unpleasant' where you might think to yourself 'that sounds deeply unpleasant.' But it's all about context, and if you've seen any of the Vomit Gore movies, and built yourself up for something that horrible, then this does fall short of those for pure shock value. It's a more psychological nightmare, even though it has a physical aspect – the final scene is intercut with romantic proclamations made online, and one of the most cutting aspects is Sarah realising what she has gotten herself into and that her dream man is actually a nightmare. The filming is a bit chaotic, which adds to the sense of reality, and the closing shot is Valentine through and through.
Ultimately it's a pretty simple film, one half of which builds up the character before a second half that fundamentally destroys that same character. That gives it something different to Vomit Gore, as many of the victims in those movies we know little or nothing about. It's a bit of a new road for the director but one that I'm glad he decided to explore. No doubt there will still be viewers who find this one too intense, but in relative terms this is a director softening his style slightly to deliver something that remains very effective.
RATING: 8/10. Nothing revelatory in terms of plot or concept – the dangers of online dating and interaction have been discussed in movies plenty before – but the delivery is tidy and clever, and the fact we get to know Sarah and just how happy she is with no idea what is around the corner is pretty uncomfortable. This is probably some of Valentine's best work, or at least the most palatable, and if you wanted an introduction to the director's world I would start here. Because if this is too much then you'd be well advised not to delve any further. This one has a bit more psychology and less physicality, and so gets a very worthy 8/10.
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.
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.
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