H6: Diary of a Serial Killer (Diario de un asesino) (2005)
Dir. Martin Garrido Baron, Spain, 92 mins
Ah, Christmas. That time of year when everyone exchanges fabulous gifts to warm the heart and brighten the spirit. Hmm. Well, in the Davis household that may not be 100% true, because Santa decided to bring me a copy of the Spanish horror movie H6: Diary of a Serial Killer. And there was not a lot of joy or goodwill contained in that particular gift, even for someone who absolutely loves Spanish cinema. Maybe I was on the naughty list after all?
Anyway, festive ramblings aside, H6 follows the story of Antonio Frau who, as a young man, in a very voyeuristic opening, kills his girlfriend. It really looks like we are watching the whole thing unfold through a spyhole and it's a pretty uncomfortable first five minutes for sure. However, the main thread of the story takes place 25 years later, when Antonio is released back into the wider world from prison to discover he has inherited a run-down old guesthouse from a distant aunt. It's a pretty valuable piece of real estate, despite its decrepit state, but he has no intention of selling it on – oh no, his plans are entirely different. Inspired by a long-dead French serial killer who made a detailed diary of all his victims, Antonio decides to turn the guesthouse into his own paradise of murder and mayhem.
There's not really much of an explanation of his motive beyond that – something fairly unclear about cleansing the women of the street that inhabit the area around the guesthouse – and if there's a thing that holds this movie it's that real paucity of plot. Antonio is married, but there never seems to be any genuine threat of her finding out about his nefarious activities – he carries out most of his grisly misdeeds while she is working night shifts as a nurse – and it's only in the last half-hour that we even introduce a police character who might actually find him out. For the most part it's a slightly drifty tale of a lunatic loner who brings in the prostitutes of the area with grand promises before tying them down, raping them and then starving them before carving them to pieces with a chainsaw. There are plenty of sinister moments and, although it's not as graphic or as hard to watch as some of the entries we have watched over the last two years of the series, there's plenty of unpleasantness implied alongside what is seen.
What does go a long way towards redeeming the movie is the performances, which all around are very good. Fernando Acaso is brilliantly sinister in the lead role, and even the performances from is victims – of which we only really encounter three in any depth – are also very good, lifting them from the usual cardboard cut-outs we see in horror. The visuals are interesting, and the diary concept is nicely delivered – although was done better in Eric Stanze's hypnotic Scrapbook. The ending is also a little frustrating, which I am knocking off another mark for.
So, H6 is a movie with a somewhat familiar concept, and a somewhat slim plot, but it is certainly lifted up by some good direction and strong central performances. It's very watchable, and will keep you watching keenly for its 90 minute runtime, but it's hard to say it treads new ground or breaks down any cinematic boundaries. Ultimately, what this movie does is provide a good example of this particular subgenre, and is ultimately worth a look for those of you that enjoy serial killer movies.
RATING: 7/10. There was potential for this one to rank a bit higher, particularly if we had a better motive to our killer or a bit more threat of him actually getting caught, but there's certainly that sheen of quality to it in terms of production and acting that Spanish cinema so often has that makes it a worthwhile entry into the pantheon of serial killer movies. All told, it's a very solid 7/10 for this one.
The Corpse of Anna Fritz (El Cadaver de Anna Fritz) (2015) Dir. Hector Hernandez Vicens, Spain, 76 mins
Make no mistakes – Spain is absolutely one of my absolute favourite patches of cinema. Some of my very favourite films – including the likes of The Orphanage and In a Glass Cage – have emerged from the nation. So having just signed up as a member at Shudder I was pretty pleased to see a few new and newish Spanish films, among them The Corpse of Anna Fritz. In my mind I had this a little confused with The Body – another movie well worth a look – but once I had finally established that this was a different film entirely, I thought this one was well worth a look. It had the Film Gutter feel from the title alone – and lived up to that, at least to some extent.
So, we begin our story in the morgue of a hospital with the cadaver of the aforementioned Anna Fritz being rolled in. As a huge international film star, her whereabouts in death are kept secret – but one of the morgue attendants, Pau, simply can't help telling (nay, bragging) to his friends about the body's presence there. So much so that he does down to show his mates – one of whom, Ivan, insists on taking his chance to have sex with the dead body. Pau even goes on to admit that he's done it before – pretty remarkable scenes all round. The third friend, Javi, is horrified by this particular discussion, which leads to a disagreement and his unfortunate death. To further complicate matters, as Pau takes his 'turn' after Ivan, Anna Fritz wakes up – still barely able to move or speak, but umistakably alive all of a sudden.
Now, I would say that, for me, that set-up was kind of a stretch – for two of three men to take the decision to have sex with a dead body, albeit a very famous one, is something you might just have to live with as an idea if you want to enjoy this movie. The necrophilia itself is not shown in the same detail as Aftermath – another Spanish film – but it's pretty clear what's going on. The question that comes after that central conceit is what to do with the body of Javi, and also the slowly awakening Anna Fritz – who could ruin both their lives with her testimonies of the murder and the abuse of her corpse. What follows is a taut and tense thriller, probably aided by its relatively short running time of 76 minutes in keeping things sharp and to the point. The unease between friends Ivan and Pau is very much evident throughout, threatening to explode on many occasions, and the plight of Anna herself – able to move only very barely – looks increasingly desperate as the movie wears on. The ending is simple but clever enough, the performances are generally pretty good and it did keep my attention all the way through. With all that said, the very idea at the heart of the movie requires a certain amount of suspension if disbelief, and it doesn't truly have the disturbingness or real impact of many of its cinematic compatriots.
RATING: 7/10. Probably unfair to expect this one to live up to some of the very best of Spanish cinema – the bar is set pretty damn high – but this was certainly a decent enough thriller that kept me wrapped up and brought some distinctly uncomfortable moment all the way through. If you're a fan of cinema from the area, or just like a slightly unsettling thriller, then The Corpse of Anna Fritz could be worth a look for you. Not unmissable but a worthwhile viewing experience.
Now, regular readers round these parts will know that if there's one patch of horror that affects me more than anything, it's body horror. Thanatomorphose remains one of Film Gutter's hardest watches on a personal level, and movies the likes of Contracted were no picnic either. Which brings us to Bite, a more recent entry in that subgenre that first came to my attention with reports of people fainting in the cinema at first festival screenings. That's not something entirely unheard of – it's no doubt a great marketing ploy, and something the laughable Green Inferno also tried to employ in the lead-up to the movie's release. But even taking that sort of thing with a pinch of salt – I mean, has anyone ever fainted just watching a movie, really? – I was excited if not a little nervous to be checking out Bite.
We Are The Flesh (Tenemos Le Carne) Dir. Emiliano Rocha Minter, Mexico/France, 79 mins
Having seen the trailer for this independent Mexican production some time back, I was very curious to get around to watching it. Even better, I was able to go and see this one at QUAD in my home town of Derby on the big screen to get the full impact of this artistic, psychedelic and disturbing production. Mexican cinema is something I have always enjoyed a great deal, so I was certainly approaching this one with high expectations. Honestly, after watching the trailer I couldn't really have told you what it was all about, and I must admit I can still say the same having watched the movie.
So, back again, and this time we're counting down from five to one and giving you the finest of what Film Gutter enjoyed this year. To have Baskin – a film I rated 10/10 – missing out on the top five is a testament to the quality of the movies enjoyed this year, and all of the movies below were serious contenders for the top title. If you love your horror from the very edge, then all of these are well worth your time.
FILM GUTTER'S TOP TEN OF 2016 – PART ONE Well, 2016 was another epic year here at Film Gutter, with some phenomenal films to enjoy from the range of extreme classics as well as some stunning new releases. Last year's top ten list was hard enough to develop, but taking into account the fact that I dished out full marks to no less than six movies, this is going to be a seriously thorny task ahead. Once more into the breach then... The criteria, as always, is for movies watched in 2016 and not necessarily movies made or released in 2016. The ratings are also based on the overall quality of the film rather than its shock value or 'disturbingness'.
ILSA: SHE WOLF OF THE SS (1975) Dir. Don Edmonds, Canada/USA, 96 mins
Time for another delve and dive into the strange world that is Film Gutter, and this week we're travelling back in time just over forty years for one of the best-known entries in the short-lived but popular Nazispolitation subgenre. Sure, we still have the likes of Dead Snow and Nazis at the Centre of the Earth coming out these days, but there's not quite the sinister undertone and gruesome stylings that we 'enjoyed' in the 1970s.
Guzoo (Or The Thing Abandoned by God) (1986) Dir. Kazuo 'Gaira' Komizu, Japan, 40 mins
Japan is a country that has always had a proud tradition of extreme cinema, and has always been extremely prolific in producing movies that would give plenty of people cause to pause. We've had some great experiences – well, let's say unforgettable – with Japanese film, but we've hardly touched the tip of the iceberg in terms of what was produced in the 80s. In a bid to remedy that, I've just sat and watched Guzoo – also marvellously known as The Thing Abandoned By God, and will be settling in for a bit more 80's madness from Japan in the coming weeks.
A Garden Without Birds (Kotori Tachi No Inai Hanazono) (1992) Dir. Akira Nobi, Japan, 22 minutes
Of late, I find myself on something of a short film kick. I’ve always been a big fan of short stories in my reading, so there’s a certainly logic that I probably would like shorter, snappier movies, right? What’s interesting is that – because short films don’t always get the same fanfare and coverage as their longer counterparts – very often you go into a movie with no idea what it’s all about.
That was very much the case with A Garden Without Birds.
Well how could you go wrong with a title like that? After all, we've had great fun with the likes of Nekromantik and Nekromantik 2 around these parts. There's also a Japanese movie by the very same name, which I will be coming to some time, but this is the cult 1998 short film from the US. And of course the clue is rather in the title...