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.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Kamp tawanan wanita (1983)

... aka: Day of the Escape
... aka: War Victims
... aka: War Victims of Camp Tawanan Wanita
... aka: Women's Prison Camp

Directed by:
Jopi Burnama

I've always defended controversial films like SALO (1975) and MEN BEHIND THE SUN (1988) because I genuinely think they have something important to say. Sure, they could conceivably be much more subtle and still get the same points across, but would those points have the same gut punch of an impact? Probably not. Though some puritanical critics out there would like to state otherwise, sometimes going the graphic route is absolutely the right way to go, especially when you don't have such uplifting things to say about the human race and are aiming to elicit disgust and anger from your audience. Let's face it, subtlety is lost on a lot of people, so sometimes you're better off being explicit. The controversy films like SALO stir up will entice people to see them. The bursts of depravity and violence will cause an immediate reaction. And because the film has implanted uncomfortable thoughts and images in the viewers mind, it will drive people onto the internet looking to affirm their opinion on the film, whether it be positive or negative. Either way, the viewer is almost certainly going to learn about the director's *intentions* in the process. Whether or not they feel the filmmaker has made a good film, or even care about about their opinion on certain subjects is in the first place, is irrelevant. The message has still been delivered.




So what does all that have to do with an exploitative low-budget women-in-prison flick from Indonesia? Simple. Like the two much more famous films I mentioned, it amps up the sadism and violence levels to hammer home its theme. In this case, the theme happens to be 'war sucks.' Unlike many other w-i-p films from the 80s (such as the same year's famously sleazy CHAINED HEAT), this strives for more than just providing cheap thrills. Sure, it provides those too, but its pretensions are front-and-center right from the opening narrated monologue: War is a thrilling and glorious thing only to those who have never experienced it in reality. Those who have never fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded, or the cries of innocent women and children. War is a barbarian atrocity which reduces all mankind to its lowest animal state. War is misery, despair, hunger, suffering and death cloaked in a shabby disguise of honor and courage. War dehumanizes all; the victor as well as the victim. It is a visitation of hell upon Earth.




While this isn't exactly new territory and it's not always well-executed, I do at least see where they were trying to go with this. And I truly hate slamming sincere, well-intended movies, especially ones where negligible English-language dubbing clearly detracts from the overall effect. With that factored in, I'm giving this a slightly higher rating than some may think it deserves.



Things center around a female freedom fighter named Amelia (Marisa Haque), who witnesses her husband being gunned down, is captured by the Japanese Imperial Army and is thrown into a brutal P.O.W. camp, where she and the other female inmates undergo the usual tortures before the obligatory revolt and escape. The film is violent, bloody and packed with sadistic torture. When Amelia first arrives at the camp she's pregnant. They beat her, strip her naked and force her to ride a donkey around the camp in the buff until she miscarries her baby. She and others undergo constant beatings, are fed "slop," kicked in the shins, forced to do slave labor and are routinely raped, tortured and killed. Well, all except our heroine. She manages to get away with being mouthy and defiant, physically fighting with her captors and helping to stage breakouts, while the extras get filled with lead for simply looking at the guards the wrong way.




The girls plot a daring escape that involves finding out why two of the guards are nicknamed "The Stallion" and "The Love Machine." The attempt is botched, leading to dozens of women being shot, blown up, electrocuted and, in one instance, being eaten by a snake! The ones who don't die are dragged back to camp and tortured. They're whipped, beat, strapped to some contraption that quickly spins them around, forced to stand on blocks of ice, are burned with a torch and some are hung. There's also several instances of hara-kiri, an outbreak of malaria and "sun torture," where the ladies are forced to stand outside all day and are refused water.



Amelia's pal on the inside is Siti, whose father is planning to raid the camp's ammunitions surplus and save her and the others while they're at it. There's another woman named Ita who's jealous of Amelia, but other than that the female prisoners aren't well-definited (if at all). The film concentrates as much time on the mostly-evil male guards than it does on the ladies. Lieutenant Nakamura (Boy Tirayoh), camp commandant, is the only one who seems to have anything of a conscience left. To champion for better treatment of the ladies, he goes to his superior and is informed that women are "prizes of war" and that "In war, the only morality is patriotism." Nakamura eventually falls for Amelia and knocks her up, leading up to an predictably tragic ending.




As much as I appreciate what this movie has to say about how minds of once-good and decent people are warped by war, I've always found it a bit counterproductive how so many anti-war movies resort to exciting action setpieces at the finale. We're told that there are no winners in war and to stop glorifying it all... So why wrap it up with thrilling combat action between the 'good guys' and the 'bad guys...' and screams of "Freedom!" ringing out from all the shots of stuff blowing up real good. The last shot of the film is an interesting one; a Japanese flag is lowered and an Indonesian one is raised. "The Beginning" then appears over top. (Clearly alluding to the Japanese armies invading lesser-developed Southeast Asian countries during wartime.)


Leading lady Haque has had a very full and interesting life. Educated in civil law and education in her home country, she also attended Ohio University in Athens, Ohio (also the alma mater of yours truly) at one point to study film and television. She worked as a model and an assistant lawyer in between acting gigs and went on to produce and direct feature films and TV shows. In 2004, she was elected to Indonesian Parliament as a member of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle. Nowadays, she's still involved in the entertainment industry, teaches hearing impaired children and is a guest lecturer.

Released theatrically by Atlas International. The VHS I watched was from the Dutch company Van Gils Video, who have, for some moronic reason, blurred out all of the nudity (though all of the violence seems intact).

★★

Shock: Diversão Diabólica (1984)

... aka: Shock
... aka: Shock: Devilish Fun
... aka: Shock: Evil Entertainment

Directed by:
Jair Correia


Early 80s slashmania in the U.S. and Canada ended up eventually infecting other countries. This one is from Brazil and was clearly influenced by the hundred or so North American slashers saturating the market at that time. There's a good reason you've probably never heard of it before. It's simply not that good. It also forgets one crucial element that makes these kind of films tick: blood. For the most part slashers are typically lacking in the plot department, so the more loaded down with gore they are, the better they usually are. Throw in some nudity and provide a high body count and you've usually got yourself some fine brainless entertainment for the evening. Have a sense of humor about how tired and overworked the subgenre is, and even better. While Shock doesn't bother with much of a plot itself, and throws in one gratuitous sex scene (which is a bit more graphic than what's found in most others of its type), it completely forgets about the red stuff. All of the kills are dull and repetitive. Everyone (aside from an unfortunate rat) is... strangled. Even worse, half of the movie is spent in one damn room!



At a São Paulo hot spot, the patrons prove that the fashions, hairstyles and music were just as bad in Brazil in the 80s as they were up North. Twenty-minutes slowly pass and all we've basically gotten to see so far is people dancing horribly to a lame rock band. At some point, the action relocates to someone's home and we're briefly introduced to three couples. Shy, virginal teenager Sara (Mayara Magri) isn't wanting to put out for her boyfriend Gil (Taumaturgo Ferriera). He tries to convince her with the usual "sex is natural" speech, but it doesn't fly for the thick-eyebrowed prude. Gil smokes a joint and passes out. Suddenly, Sara gets in the mood, starts touching herself and then can't wake her man up (even offering him "fellagio" doesn't help). Interestingly, the film bucks the moral code found in some of these other films by making the most virtuous girl one of the first victims. Her boyfriend soon follows suit. As does another woman who gets strangled in her car.



The other two couples consist of teens Stefana (Aldine Muller) and Lucas (Kiko Guerra), who *do* get to have sex, and Zamor (Elias Andreato), who is (I think) the owner of the nightclub and his girlfriend Lara (Claudia Alencar), a singer in the band we saw perform. [For the record, don't quote me on any of these character names; the film is in Portuguese and was never dubbed or subbed, plus the credits were too blurry to read...] After Lara discovers the body of her friend in the closet, the four barricade themselves in a bedroom upstairs. There they sit, bicker, wonder who the killer could be and behave like they're going crazy simply by sitting in a room for a few hours. The killer makes a ham sandwich and tries to annoy them by beating on the drums over and over again. Instead of just waiting it out in the room until morning, one of the guys attempts to leave and get the police. He doesn't come back and the police never show up. The other guy then goes downstairs for some idiotic reason and is easily killed whil a strobe light flickers. The psycho then heads upstairs where the two remaining girls are and discovers that... they've left the door wide open for him.



Now I must admit, I did like the ending, but it's not good enough to justify sitting through the rest of this bore to get to it. There about about 50 shots of the killer's black boots walking around, but we never actually get to see him. And I can't say that I really enjoyed seeing a real rat getting stabbed with a butcher knife, either. All in all, it falls pretty low on the slasher totem pole. Leg warmers, sunglasses at night and ripped off-the-shoulder sweatshirts don't even help matters.

It was never released in America... and I seriously doubt it ever WILL be.

★1/2
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