Ginger Nuts of Horror
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.
"If awful were a zen art, you are witnessing it in action for 90 minutes here."
Dir. Chester Novell Turner, USA, 91 min
Now, I was roughly aware of what I was getting myself into with this movie. It's featured on a huge range of worst horror films ever made, and has even ranked highly among lists of the worst movies made in any genre. I was under no illusions there was a chance of this being a sleeper hit, or a low-budget film that far exceeded expectations with great writing, plotting and acting. This was and could only be awful.
Yet somehow Black Devil Doll from Hell feels like a movie in its own category of awful. If awful were a zen art, you are witnessing it in action for 90 minutes here.
Let's cover the essentials before we dig a bit deeper – Black Devil Doll From Hell follows the story of Miss Helen Black, a young, god-fearing, churchgoing lady determined to retain her virginity until she gets married. She leads a simple and lonely life until she heads into a local antique store and discovers a large doll, which she is immediately drawn to. In a grand horror tradition, the shopkeeper tells her that the doll is supposed to give you your most heartfelt desire, but that it has been bought four times and always returned to the store. Helen decides to buy the doll anyway, despite this dire warning, and it's not long before it's in her house doing creepy doll stuff, moving around the house of its own volition, moving its head and opening its eyes to watch her in the shower. You know, creepy doll stuff. Then it goes even further by given Helen her most heartfelt wish – taking her virginity in what is probably the weirdest rape scene you're ever liable to see, not helped by the bonkers cartoonish voice of the doll itself. This creepy-as-hell incident sparks off a sexual awakening in Helen, who tries to find a man to satisfy her, but nothing can make her terrifying wooden companion – who has of course wound its way back to the antique store to await its next unsuspecting victim...
Now that plot may not sounds great, but that summary doesn't do justice to how far it misses 'great'. It moves slowly and ponderously, there are huge scenes where remarkably little happens and you suspect any film editor worth their salt would be looking to move through things at a much better pace. The editing that does exist is choppy and messy, cutting to another scene or a different angle seemingly at random, or as though it was a surprise to the person involved.
To diagnose everything wrong with this movie would take a long time, so I'll try and give some of the highlights here. The opening credits are nothing but a list of names that run for nearly seven minutes over a soundtrack literally played on an 80's Casio keyboard – and that is what makes up the majority of the soundtrack, often overly loud and grating. To top that of, it's shot on an old VHS camcorder and nobody seems to have sorted out the tracking issues before putting this movie out!
And from that opening you are deeply into 'what the hell' territory – almost everything about this movie defies belief. The acting is atrocious, the direction is terrible and the story meanders around, spending most of its time going nowhere, the soundtrack is monotonous and irritating, the effects are laughable – when you do see the doll walk around it's obviously a kid in a costume, and there is one scene where you can literally see the arm of the puppet operator – and the whole thing is generally a trainwreck.
Despite all of the above, or perhaps because of all the above, this movie remains a firm cult favourite and has an audience that loves it to this day – it's not that long since it had a DVD release with the director's other movie, Tales From The Quadead Zone. In the vein of Troll 2 or Manos: The Hands of Fate, by getting everything wrong in a perfect storm of lousiness it has retained a place in film history. This will probably last even longer in the collective consciousness than many good or OK films from its era, mainly because of people's bad movie nights and the presence of a good many beers. Watching it alone of a quiet afternoon as I did is probably entirely the wrong arena in which to enjoy this movie, I'm happy to admit that. But even then there was a certain appeal – this is a miracle of bad filmmaking and you can't help but marvel at the terrible decisions that made it be. And if you're out there trying to make a film, there is literally no way you could do it worse than this.
RATING: 4/10. This movie is terrible, don't get me wrong. But there is a certain degree of entertainment to be had in watching Black Devil Doll From Hell because it somehow gets literally everything wrong. And in that respect it is spectacular. It'll have you shaking your head, it'll have you cringing, and it'll probably have you laughing at the most horribly inappropriate moments with its direness. I've never much subscribed to the 'so bad it's good' theory, so for me this is more 'so bad it has to be seen to be believed.' It gets 4/10 because other movies have bored me more, and there were chuckles there, just probably not where anybody meant them to be...
Dir. Nick McAnulty and Brian Allan Stewart,
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