Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Director: Chan-wook Park Running Time: 133 min Year of Release: 2009

Those who go into Thirst expecting a straight-up horror film or a gritty-white knuckle thriller will be sorely disappointed, more than anything, Chan-wook Park's latest is a offbeat, brutal black comedy. A catholic priest presiding over a hospital volunteers for a series risky, controversial medical experiments after he becomes deeply troubled with the death he sees around him and the sense of powerlessness it evokes in him. He ends up the sole survivor of the nefarious tests due to the fact that somewhere along the way he was transfused with vampire blood. Struggling with his new identity and the less than saintly implications it has, he meets a young woman whom he knew in childhood;now living a hellish existence with her adopted family; a clan of utterly despicable people to say the least. It isn't before long they strike up a intense, dangerous love affair that consumes them both; with bloody consequences.

First of all Chan-wook Park is a truly gifted filmmaker and his talents behind the camera are on full display in this film. Thirst is gorgeous to look at with Park contact filling the screen with lush, rich detail, moody atmosphere and some breathtaking shots and set pieces. The acting is stellar as well, Kang-Ho Song giving a passionate, riveting performance as the protagonist and Ok-vin Kim's erotically charged turn as Tae-joo, his lover. Thirst's packs a mean bite(pun intended) with it's undercurrent of black humor while at the same time offering a poignant, intelligent reflection on themes such as guilt, religion, lust, love, family, sacrifice and mortality. It's a shame Thirst suffers from some rather sloppy pacing and its noticeably over-long. If park structured the film more rigidly and efficiently, the film would have considerably more punch. Though flawed, Thirst is still a memorable and at times thought provoking experience.

Rating: 3.5/5

Thirst is widely availiable on dvd.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Night Porter

Director: Liliana Cavani Year of Release: 1974 Running Time: 118 min

The Night Porter is a polarizing picture; a steamy, noirish potboiler set against the horrors of the holocaust. To be more precise, the affects the holocaust had on those directly involved; both the victims and the tormentors. The film is set in Vienna more than a decade after the end of WWII. A Jewish woman who survived the concentration camps by carrying on a sadomasochist relationship with a SS officer is now touring Europe with her successful husband. The couple stop at a sleepy hotel and the woman is horrified to discover the hotel porter is none other than the SS officer who abused her. It seems the hotel is a meeting place for a group of fugitive Nazi officers who scheme to have records(and witnesses) of their crimes erased. In this hostile environment, the two damaged souls resume their warped relationship and begin a headfirst plunge into self-destruction.

After watching The Night Porter, you will likely be divided into two camps; the first sees this movie has a complex, challenging look at the darker aspects of human nature and sexuality as well as the lifelong suffering of such traumatic events like the holocaust inflict on their survivors. To the second, this is a exploitation picture that disguises itself with the guise of a arthouse film and crudely uses a truly horrific moment in history as a gimmick or for a chic aesthetic. Both are valid view points. As for myself, I thought The Night Porter tried to examine some weighty issues, but did so largely unsuccessfully, it bites off a bit more than it can chew and as a result it comes across as somewhat exploitative to its subject matter. Well artfully made and sometimes thought provoking, the Night Porter is also poorly dated and dreary, and in the end doesn't rise to meet it lofty ambitions, leaving a rather sour taste in ones mouth.

Rating: 2.5/5

Available on DVD form the Criterion Collection

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Hour of the Wolf

directed by: Ingmar Bergman Year of Release: 1968 Running Time: 90 minutes

Hour of the Wolf refers to the hour between night and dawn, the time when most people pass on and infants are born. This title suits Bergman's very personal vision of an artist giving in to insanity, an insomniac unable to sleep due to his fear of the unknown or his own demons that stalk him during this hour. Shot in black and white, the art-house film follows a painter and his young wife who move to a isolated, densely wooded island where the only neighbors are ghoulish, sinster aristocrats who reside in Gothic mansion at the top of the island.
Hour of the Wolf is perhaps the most pure representation of a nightmare I have seen, it's sometimes very freighting but also highly surreal, bizarre, deeply personal, confusing and disorienting. Real life nightmares aren't perfectly linear,easy explained, easily accessible, flashy, thrill a minute rollarcoasters that horror movies about nightmares often are. Bergman's film is the complete opposite and a thus challenge to watch, it's not entirely audience friendly. While its frustrating at times, it's hard to ignore Berman's genius. Hour of the Wolf is still a unique, unnerving and quietly freighting film that is best watched in the semi-lucid state that comes in the wee hours of night to get the the full effect.

Rating: 3/5

This film is avalible currently on DVD from MGM which is out of print, but also avliable in-print in a Bergman Boxed set.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Man Bites Dog

Director: Remy Belvaux and Andre' Bonzel Year of Release:1992 Running Time: 95 min

Man Bites Dog a chilling look at the media's fascination and sometimes symbiotic relationship to violent crime. Set in modern day Belgium, the film follows a group of aspiring filmmakers who follow around Ben, a vicious yet charismatic serial killer and document his horrific exploits. Has the filmmakers become more personally involved with Ben's personal life and take a more active role in Ben's activities, the line between observes/reporters and accomplices becomes blurred and finally shattered. Shot in stark black and white, the film's low budget feel adds greatly to its realism, but it's unmistakeably well made and acted, with Benoit Poelvoorde giving a magnetic, bloodcurdling performance as the chilling, talkative Ben. With it's pervasively bleak, somewhat nihilistic worldview and cold, savage scenes of brutality and cruelty, Man Bites Dog is a disturbing and sometimes tough film to watch, but viewers who choose to do so will find this to be a thought provoking, unflinchingly visceral, if sometimes a bit exploitative look at our collective voyeurism.

Rating: 4/5

Availability: Man Bites Dog is available from the Criterion Collection.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

City of the Living Dead

Director: Lucio Fulci Year of Release: 1983 Running Time: 93 min

Widely considered to be in the top tier of gorehound favorite Lucio Fulci's work, City of the Living Dead is a supernatural horror film laced with bouts of explicit gore. Set in the sleepy New England town of Dunwich, a local priest commits suicide and opens he gates of hell, unleashing all sorts of ghastly chaos upon the residents as a psychic tries to seal them and put a end to the horror. One of Fulci's strengths as a director is creating an appropriate atmosphere to suit the film and in that regard COTLD is one of his strongest efforts. The film oozes Gothic style and a feeling of impeding doom permeates. Another strength and claim to fame is his incredible use of gore, in that respect, COTLD has several set pieces that are notorious among gorehounds, particularity the nauseating entrail vomiting scene. Has a horror film the result is less successful; there are some genuinely frightening moments and the atmosphere is top notch, but the pacing is painful, leading to quite a few boring, shoddy stretches; likewise, while Fulci films are rarely known for their compelling characters, the ones featured here, not to mention the acting are particularly wooden and completely uninteresting. All in all I didn't have an enjoyable time watching City of the Living Dead, it was pretty dull save for the aforementioned strong points, although die hard fans and Fulci devotes will want to check it out.

Rating: 2/5

The most widely circulating and available edition and is the Blue Underground dvd.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Boy and His Dog

Director: L.Q. Jones Year of Release: 1975 Running Time: 91 min

A numskull human teenager and his telepathic, intelligent canine companion brave the post nuclear holocaust wasteland in this quirky, black humored science fiction tale . The two share a telepathic bond with each other and their relationship is one of necessity; the dog helps the male locate women while the boy, in turn plays the hunter/gather role, finding food and water for the pair. However their relationship and lives are put in jeopardy when a mysterious young women, whom the boy becomes infatuated with, joins them on their travels.

A Boy and His Dog has held up well over the years, the limited budget was put to good use; the bizarre nuked out world our protagonists inhabit is convincing and the sporadic outbursts of violent action are still rousing. Above all its the clever writing and solid acting(particularly of the dog) that make this film so compelling. A Boy and His Dog is a well made, original and thought provoking piece of sci-fi and there is nothing else really quite like it. Defiantly worth tracking down.

Rating: 4/5

With this film quite a few different dvd editions exist, some out of print, some not.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Fellini Satyricon

Directed by:Federico Fellini Year of Release: 1969 Running Time: 128 minutes.

Adapted from the written work, Satyricon is Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini's exploration and personal visualization of the depravity and hedonism that was pagan Ancient Rome. The film condenses the source material into episodes which are loosely tied together by two men who each rival for the affections of a young boy. Thus begins a hallucinatory journey that starts in the crampt bowels of Rome and progresses through the many facets of Ancient roman society. Our protagonists seem less like characters than they do travel guides, taking the audience through the strange and nightmarish land where we meet the cruel, indulgent aristocracy, slave traders, a hermaphrodite goddess and a ritualistic matriarchal society with many other surreal stops along the way. Satyricon is one of the last great old fashioned, exquisite period pieces that combined with the unabashedly self-indulgent filmmaking pretty much died off after the 70's. Fellini's visual prowess is on full display in Satyricon, with lavish art/set design and stunning, unforgettable set pieces creating a cinematic netherworld that is by turns grotesque, violent, profane, erotic and beautiful. Fellini's film is also by turns muddled, frusterating, overtly self indulgent and sometimes frankly, boring. Dont let these flaws discourage you though because Fellini's often brillant jouney through his countrys infamous past is still a trip well worth taking, save for the faint of heart.

The DVD is currently avaliable from MGM's World Film collection

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Directed by Dario Argento, 1977 , Running time:97 minutes.

Suspiria is Italian horror Maestro Dario Argento's masterpiece, and is regarded as one, if not the best Gallio films. Suspiria is the first film in Argento's "Three Mother's Trilogy", which tell the tales of three powerful, ancient witches who reek havoc and death on the modern world. The story involves an American ballet dancer who transfers to a prestigious dance academy located in the remote, densely wooded wilderness of rural Germany. She immediately senses something sinister within the mysterious academy, her feeling of dread is only escalated by the student's bizarre behavior and string of horrific, grisly murders. In slowly uncovering the dark, occult past of the academy and it's owner, the girl begins a terrifying descent into the demonic bowels of the academy to confront the evil lurking there.

Suspiria is one of the most aesthetically stunning films I have ever experienced, Argento's brilliant use of color and lighting make the movie look like a grim brother's fairy tale brought to life, a masterful sequence near the beginning of the film captures this perfectly, showing the heroine arriving at the airport and getting into a cab to take her to the academy. This is shot normally with bland everyday colors and lighting, but as the cab enters the deep woods near the academy, the the whole film's aesthetic and visual palate slowly begins to change, it feels like she is Alice going down the rabbit hole as her surroundings become nightmarish and strange things appear out of the corner of her eye. Add too this the deft editing and cinematography, not to mention the iconic, haunting soundtrack by Goblin and you are left with one of the most vivid nightmares captured on camera. Dario Argento has always been famous(or infamous) among hardcore horror and gorehound film goers for his sensational, incredibly gruesome death scenes. Suspiria features some of his best work in this regard, there are three elaborate set pieces in particular that are simply jaw dropping, unforgettable and genuinely freighting.
From the gangbusters opening scene to the surreal, nightmarish climax, Suspiria is a truly terrifying classic, it's is a shame so many people haven't experienced this movie, it is one of the best horror films ever made.

The DVD exists in a rare, out of print Anchor Bay addition and easier to find, high quality 2-disk set from the wonderful folks at Blue Underground.