Ratings Key



★★★★
= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
★★★
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Kaidan Yuki Joro (1968)

...aka: Ghost Story of the Snow Witch
...aka: Ghost Story of the Snow Woman
...aka: Kaidan yukijoro
...aka: Snow Ghost
...aka: Snow Woman, The
...aka: Yukionna

Directed by:
Tokuzo Tanaka

Yuki-onna is a female spirit in Japanese folklore, often described as a tall, pale-skinned woman with long black hair who appears only during snow storms, dresses in a long white gown, has uncommon beauty and possesses the ability to freeze anyone who threatens to either harm her or expose her once she takes on human form. Not only a common presence in Japanese literature, anime and manga, Yuki-onna also had an entire opera based on her (that was around as early as 1911) and appeared in that famous Snow Woman segment in the Oscar-nominated ghost anthology KWAIDAN (1964). Here's another chance to see the same character in action in a more bloated form (well, just 75 minutes) and, quite frankly, I'd take the KWAIDAN version any day over this one. Not that this is a bad movie. It's actually a pretty good one when it comes to cinematography, art direction, performance and direction. Unfortunately, the middle portion has a tendency to drag, and where it drags to will be predictable to even those who know nothing of the Yuki-onna legend.

An elder sculptor and his young apprentice Yosaku (Akira Ishihama) locate a sacred tree in the snowy forest with plans on cutting it down, returning it to their village and making a statue of the Goddess Cannon out of it. Stranded by a blizzard, they decide to take refuge in an abandoned shack and wait out the storm. While sleeping, a ghostly, floating woman (Shiho Fujimura) arrives in a flurry of snow. She puts out their fire, freezes the sculptor to death and then promises to spare Yosaku under the condition that he never utter a single word about the night to anyone as long as he lives. He agrees and she goes on her way. Yosaku returns to his village and the home he shares with the sculptor's frail wife and is given permission to create the statue himself. A mysterious woman named Yuki (Fujimura again), who claims to be the daughter of doctors, shows up during a rainstorm, Almost as quickly as they meet, and because of a deathbed wish from the sculptor's wife, Yuki and Yosaku marry. Five years later (which is also how long the wood takes to petrify so the statue can be made) the couple even have their own son.

As is typical of films from this era and from this country, there's high-level corruption in the village as a brutish and sadistic bailiff (who has no issue beating elderly women and children) lusts for the beautiful Yuki and will stop at nothing - including exploiting his social standing - to get her. There's blackmail, attempted rape and eventually revenge enacted by Yuki as her - ahem - icy side comes forward. There's some spooky stuff at the very beginning and a little spooky stuff at the very end, but the entire middle portion plays out as romantic tragedy and the complications faced by our ill-fated love birds aren't really all that interesting.

Some of the shots are lovely to look at, the effects are very well-done for the time and the two leads are excellent. So while it's admittedly a 'well-made film' it's also a 'well-made film that has already been done better elsewhere with less filler.' Which begs the question: What exactly is the point?

★★1/2

Cannibal Mercenary (1983)

... aka: Jaguar Project, The
... aka: Jungle Killers
... aka: Jungle Killers: Cannibal Mercenary
... aka: Jungle Killers: The Jaguar Project
... aka: Mercenary, The
... aka: Mercenary Cannibals

Directed by:
Hong Lu Wong

Young war vet Sgt. Wilson (Lek Songphon) is haunted by flashbacks of Vietnam and of his polio-stricken daughter. He needs to come up with 100,000 dollars to get the proper medical treatment for his daughter and, as luck would have it, a Colonel offers him five times that to lead a top secret commando mission. There, he's to meet up with a woman named Jumper or Junpa or something and learn the rest of his assignment. Next thing we know, Wilson and his platoon (about half a dozen men) are heading through the 'Nam jungle toward their destination. The first group of vietcong they come across are quickly dispatched in a variety of gory ways... and they barely even use their guns! One guy is decapitated, a head is smashed in with a rock, a throat is cut and someone is chopped up with an axe. They also run across a distressed female villager who claims to be pregnant and in need of help. She turns out to be a spy who seduces and then castrates one of the men before being gunned down.

One of the other soldiers has frequent flashbacks to shooting his wife in the back as she has sex with another man. Another guy wrestles with a snake. There are loads of gunfights, explosions, karate fights and booby traps along the way, which take out several of the soliders. They also manage to get pissed on not once, but twice. One guy says "You know, it really smelled like champagne" (?!) afterward. Eventually, they find their female contact, who tells them to "Take a load off your feet" and that they've been brought there to snuff out a drug exporter and his vicious gang. As they near them, they're attacked, kidnapped and taken back to the bad guy's camp to be tortured. One guy is led over a line of firecrackers that explode at crotch-level and is then buried up to his head in the dirt and has a spike hammered into his head. The bad guy gang then eat his brains. Another has his eyeballs poked out, his arm cut off and is then eaten. Things lead up to more fighting and a surprisingly effective ending.

This film (which has a small cult following) takes a decidedly anti-war stance, looks at its hero, his fellow soldiers and innocent villagers caught in the crossfire sympathetically and is loaded with gore and action from start to finish. In fact, there's so much shooting, punching, kicking and hacking, and it's all so consistently loud, that it becomes a numbing viewing experience in no short time. Still, there's certainly enough going on here to make this highly appealing to action, horror, exploitation and war movie fans. The editing is amateurish and jumpy, but some of the flash cutting work wells, particularly at the end. Though the English dub is terrible, the actors aren't too bad, and neither are the blood effects, fight choreography or pyro work. Some of the score sound familiar? Well it should. Half of it was swiped directly from DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978)!

There are at least three different cuts of the film on the market. Surprisingly enough, the original U.S. VHS release from PVC Video (titled just The Mercenary) is uncut and runs the full 103 minutes. A bootleg DVD distributed by ZZD Visual Media (and sourced from the American tape) is also uncut. Unfortunately, this cut version has the laughably awful dubbing and is in full screen with middling picture quality. Still, it is the most complete version currently available. Other versions, including ones released in Germany and the UK, have nearly 20 minutes missing. Tomas Tang's Filmark International also acquired the movie, cut out most of the gore, added brand new (and completely irrelevant) scenes featuring three Caucasian actors searching for a valuable statue and released it under several different titles (The Jaguar Project and Jungle Killers are this Filmark version).

★★

Night of the Hunter, The (1955)

Directed by:
Charles Laughton

Review coming soon.

★★★1/2

Shock Cinema Volume Two (1990)

...aka: Shock Cinema, Vol. 2

Directed by:
Robert Hayes


Volume 2 (unfortunately) follows the same format of the first, so if you must watch be prepared to see nothing but a bunch of people (referred to as "renegade independents") sitting in front of posters, props, potted plants or in pitch black rooms talking about things only the most die-hard of horror fan is going to care about. Again, there are no film clips to alleviate the monotony of a full hour of yapping, but this one actually is slightly better put-together and has a more colorful array of interview subjects who I'd never seen interviewed elsewhere. Hostess and producer Brinke Stevens - whose name and image have always been plastered all over the publicity material for the series - has a little more face time this time out. She not only opens and closes the film (in a video store and on Hollywood Blvd., respectively), but also gets to conduct an interview with Famous Monsters of Filmland's Forrest J. Ackerman about his screen career and how his magazine influenced countless future genre luminaries, such as Joe Dante, John Landis, Stephen King, Wes Craven, Steven Spielberg and others.

A grumpy-looking and sarcastic Robert Quarry, arms crossed half the time, is pretty amusing to listen to as he talks about his start as an extra, how COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE (1971) started as a soft porn but (thanks to his suggestion) turned into a straight horror film and how most modern horror films are "garbage." 50+ year old actress Deanna Lund (of Land of the Lost fame) talks about how she felt the need to do her own nude scenes after being criticized for using a body double on the hilariously awful ELVES (1989). Gary Graver (possibly the most important cinematographer of the video boom era) discusses his terrorized-babysitter flick TRICK OR TREATS (1982) and how he didn't make a penny off it. Scream Queen Melissa Moore (who made her film debut in the shot-on-video SCREAM DREAM), director/writer Ted Newsom (who made the 1988 documentary MONSTERS & MANIACS, which was also hosted by Stevens), writer/actor Frederick Bailey (DEMON OF PARADISE), director/editor Joel Bender (THE IMMORTALIZER) and fx artists Steve Neill, Michael Burnett and John Goodwin are the others interviewed. Interestingly, many of the interview subjects seem to look down upon explicit gore and unnecessary nudity in modern horror films, though all of them actually work on films with explicit gore and unnecessary nudity.
.
Initially distributed on VHS by Cinema Home Video and now (priced rather cheaply) on DVD from Tempe. It was followed by SHOCK CINEMA VOLUME THREE (1991), which was just a rip off and nothing other than recycled clips from seven films with some bloopers from DR. ALIEN (1988) and NIGHTMARE SISTERS (1987) thrown in for good measure. SHOCK CINEMA VOLUME 4 (1991) dealt with the special effects from the movies covered in Volume 3.

★★
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