Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Kamitsukitai/Dorakiyura yori ai-0 (1990)

... aka: From Dracula with Love
... aka: I Want to Bite You
... aka: I Want to Bite You/From Dracula with Love
... aka: My Soul is Slashed

Directed by:
Shûsuke Kaneko

The still-virile blood of Count Dracula has been in Romania for centuries after the Count's death. Scientists have kept a tight reign on the precious and dangerous substance but because of a revolution, riots and the assassination of the Romanian president, a packet of the blood has turned up missing. Years later in Japan, female scientist Yuzuko (Narumi Yasuda) gets her hands on the blood and takes it to a hospital lab where she works to do research. Meanwhile, a toubled family are going about their daily routine. Overworked, moody and stressed-out dad Ishikawa (Ken Ogata) is so busy that he barely ever sees his family and can't even remember his own daughter's birthday. Even worse, the pharmaceutical firm he works for has just gotten into a lot of trouble for a "bogus medication" they've distributed. Mom Kimi (Hideko Yoshida) is being neglected by her husband and having a difficult time controlling their rebellious teenage daughter Saeko (Hikari Ishida). The night prior, Saeko had gone to a party and not even bothered to come home. Thankfully, it's now her 17th birthday, so her parents have to let her deliquency slide... at least for now. Just when he didn't think his day could get any worse, Ishikawa is struck down by a car while he's on his way to do some damage control with the press. He's rushed off to a hospital and given a blood transfusion. Guess whose blood he accidentally receives?

Ishikawa's family, friends and co-workers receive the bad news that he's dead. At the funeral, Yuzuko (who's also a vampire expert), shows up to inform Saeko that if she's still a virgin she can revive her father by dripping blood onto his cremated remains. Saeko does precisely that but nothing seems to come of it. An entire year passes and a lonely Kimi is back at work as a waitress, where a chef who also works there has fallen in love with her and vice versa. Saeko, who's grown up and matured since her father's passing, also keeps busy balancing school with work to help her and her mother get by. On a dark, stormy night, a bat flies out of Ishikawa's crypt. Next thing you know, papa is back home with no memories of the time that's elapsed or current events: his mind picks up right where it left off before he was hit by the car. Naturally, his daughter is so stunned she thinks it's just a bad dream until the next day. Ishikawa goes into work the next day and shocks even more people. As it turn out, after he died he became the scapegoat for the company's mistakes even though he is completely innocent of any wrongdoing. Guess they didn't figure he'd be returning to life any time soon.

Yuzuko shows up just in time to explain to Ishikawa what he is and what his options are. With assistance from his daughter, Ishikawa doesn't let his former wife know that he's back in the picture. He'd prefer her to move on with her life and if she's happy with the chef, so be it. Instead, he goes to stay with Yuzuko in her Gothic mansion. She promises to turn him back to a human using a machine her father invented if he'll put up with 10 days worth of tests and research. In the meantime, he'd like to make up for the year he just lost by patching up his relationship with his daughter. During a blood sampling, the vampire finds the blood from women with children sour, the blood from old women bitter and the blood from young and beautiful girls smooth and delicious. Yuzuko then takes the vamp to a gym, where he can run on the treadmill without getting tired, maxes out all of the weight on the machines and becomes distracted by all the young beauties in an aerobics class.

It's discovered that the hit-and-run accident that claimed Ishikawa's life was no accident at all. Kitaro (Takerô Morimoto), one of Ishikawa's co-workers, had it arranged so he could take the fall for the drug scandal. Since then, Kitaro has quickly moved up the corporate ladder to become the president of the entire company and has no problem risking people's lives by distributing the same tainted medication under a different name. When he finds out Ishikawa may now be alive, he sends a bunch of his henchmen after him with orders to kill. Little do any of them know what they're up against. After getting filled with lead, Ishikawa's hair turns gray and his powers reach their peak. He's now Count Dracula and ready for revenge. Yuzuko couldn't be more thrilled. She's been vampire-obsessed since she was a child and was exposed to pictures of Bela Lugosi, sighing "Maybe Japanese people don't appreciate Dracula." Screw Prince Charming, Yuzuko's personal idea of a Cinderella story involves getting transformed into a vampire by the Count himself. Sounds like my kinda girl.

A very pleasant surprise, this mixes domestic drama, vampire horror and comedy quite wonderfully. It's entertaining, well-written, often very funny and even touching at times, with a great music score and winning performances from Ogata, Yasuda and Ishida. Special effects are scant, but we do get to see Ishikawa flying around (some great aerial photography is used) and turning into smoke, a bat and a rat. Unlike in America, horror films can and do win major awards in other countries and this one scored a handful in its native Japan (particularly for newcomer Ishida), where it was a hit. Unfortunately, the acclaim didn't translate to a worldwide distribution deal and it's been completely forgotten since its release. Right now it has a very pitiful 27 votes over on IMDb. Finding reviews online isn't easy, either.

Video Search of Miami was the only place to offer an English-subtitled version of this film and sadly it remains the only place that offers one. It's sad because the quality of their version is awful as my screen caps probably attest. VSOM was an important mail order distribution company back in the day whose catalogue contained many very hard-to-find films; especially foreign-language films that were never officially released in America. The company's thunder has since been stolen by both internet availability of rare films via bootleg and torrent sites, and by legitimate distributors offering higher quality versions of the films only VSOM once carried. Either way, this film deserves way better and I think would be a very worth acquisition for just about any DVD company.

The original Japanese title translates to I Want to Bite You/From Dracula with Love. My Soul is Slashed, which this is most commonly known as here in the U.S. and is quite misleading, comes from the Mylène Farmer song over the end credits. Though usually listed as being a 1991 film, this is set in 1990, was filmed in 1990 and bears a 1990 copyright date in the credits. Director Kaneko is best known for his late-90s updating of the Gamera series. He also directed one segment of the disappointing American Lovecraft anthology NECRONOMICON: BOOK OF THE DEAD (1993).


Monday, July 30, 2012

Quella villa accanto al cimitero (1981)

... aka: Freudstein
... aka: House by the Cemetery, The
... aka: House Outside the Cemetery, The
... aka: Zombie Hell House

Directed by:
Lucio Fulci

New York City professor Norman Boyle (Paolo Malco) is assigned to take over where deceased colleague Dr. Petersen left off in his research. Dr. Petersen had been living at a secluded country estate near Boston called Oak Mansion and supposedly went crazy, slaughtered his mistress and then hung himself from a railing at a local library. Norman, his neurotic wife Lucy ("Katherine" / Catriona MacColl) and their "cute" (a-hem!) little mop top blonde son Bob (Giovanni Frezza) pack up and head off toward Oak Manor for a 6-month stay. Bob has been seeing visions of a ghostly little girl in a painting, who warns him and his family not to come to the home. The little girl, Mae (Silvia Collatina), materializes again once the family arrives in New Whitby to warn Bob. Naturally, Bob's parents don't believe he's seeing or hearing anything and chalk it all up to him having an imaginary friend. Real estate agent Laura Gittleson (Dagmar Lassander) takes the family out to their new home; a large Victorian place with a crumbling old cemetery right in the front yard and lots of even stranger things inside. You know, like a tomb in the hallway hidden under a rug.

The Boyle family start settling in and immediately bizarre and unexplanable things begin happening. Moaning and crying can be heard throughout the home, the floorboards creak, the doors rattle, little Bob keeps having encounters with the ghost girl, the ominous cellar is strangely boarded up and a suspicious-acting live-in babysitter named Ann (Ania Pieroni) shows up claiming to have been sent over by Laura to help Lucy out. Norman finally finds a key to the cellar and goes down to take a look, only to get attacked by a rabid bat which attaches itself to his hand and has to be hacked off with a knife. It's all enough to have Lucy demand that they leave and find a new place. Before that can happen, the real estate agent stops by and gets gored to death with a fire poker and dragged down into the cellar. Ann, who cleans up the bloody floors after the crime (uh, why?) is up next. When she goes down into the cellar she gets decapitated. And then it's the family's turn.

The killer turns out to be the home's former owner; turn-of-the-century surgeon Dr. Jacob Freudstein (Giovanni De Nava), who had a penchant for "illegal experiments" back in the day. He's somehow managed to stay alive all this time killing and cannibalizing people. We're informed he needs to renew his blood cells every so often. Freudstein may technically be alive, but he sure doesn't look it. He's actually more zombie-like than anything else and has a brown, distorted, melted-looking face. When he's stabbed, he bleeds maggots and worms. While the film does explain (rather sloppily) what Freudstein is and how's been able to keep on ticking, it does not bother explaining how he seems to be in possession of supernatural powers, such as being able to close and lock the cellar door without being anywhere near it. The ghost girl haunting the place isn't doing it either since her whole point in the film is trying to save the family.

I also didn't get why the cellar was always dry when the family went downstairs but at the very end it suddenly looked like a slaughterhouse with blood spatter, body parts and corpses all over the place. There are many other things that just don't make a lick of sense. When Norman finds an audio tape recorded by his colleague that explains what happened to him, he throws it into a fireplace immediately after listening to it (?) A pair of yellow eyes peering down in the cellar clearly don't belong to the killer since he doesn't have any eyes, so who did they belong to? What the hell is up with Ann, why does she clean up blood from one of the murders (she's not in cohorts with the killer) and why does Lucy see her cleaning up the blood and not do or say nothing about it? And those are just the tip of the iceburg as far as senseless character actions and sloppy, glaring plot holes go.

Though far from a great film, this still beats the hell out of THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979). It's overdone as only Fulci can overdo it. I mean, why slit someone's throat once when you can do it three times? And why shoot one close-up of a pair of eyeballs when you can do it 50 times? There's also an impalement (make that three impalements), several decapitations, a knife through the head, a ripped out throat and other gruesome FX stuff to keep it humming along nicely for spaghetti splatter fans, though one must have a tolerance for some slopping editing, nonsensical plotting and bad dubbing. Especially grating is the dub on the little boy... yikes! It's actually less gory than many of Fulci's other 80s films. Sergio Salvati does a decent enough job shooting it and I loved the music score by Walter Rizzati. It ends with a quote attributed to Henry James, but was actually written by the director.

The cast also includes Daniela Doria (who provides the sole grimpse of nudity before getting a knife driven through her head in the opening sequence), Carlo De Mejo and Fulci himself as Norman's boss. It was filmed in Massachusetts under the title Freudstein.


Twisted Nightmare (1988)

... aka: Ancient Evil
... aka: Au-delà du cauchemar (Beyond the Nightmare)
... aka: Danza di morte (Dance of Death)
... aka: Nightmare
... aka: Sueños tortuosos (Devious Dreams)

Directed by:
Paul Hunt
Charles Philip Moore

I guess this qualifies as a FRIDAY THE 13TH copy. You might even recognize the barn and main cabin because it was filmed at the same exact location used for the third installment in the Friday series. Judging by the credits, it appears to have been a somewhat troubled production. Paul Hunt received primary credit for directing, writing and shooting it but at some point additional scenes directed and written by Charles Philip Moore and shot by Gary Graver were added to the mix. Though it carries an erroneous 1982 copyright date (the same as FRIDAY III) in the opening credits, production was announced in a spring 1987 issue of Variety, it opened in theaters in 1988 and made its VHS debut (courtesy of TransWorld Entertainment) in 1989. A slasher flick and revenge tale with supernatural elements added to the mix, this involves seven young couples who receive an offer in the mail for a free one-week camping trip to the isolated "Camp Paradise." Two years earlier the same group of people (who all went to high school together) made fun of a retarded guy named Mathew (Cleve Hall). To escape their torment, Mathew ran into a barn, a light glowed red, he suddenly burst into flames and then ran off into the woods never to be seen or heard from again. The event drove Mathew's sister Laura (Rhonda Gray) - who witnessed part of this - a little crazy, so she had to spend some time in a mental hospital.

Upon arrival, "creepy" Indian caretaker Kane (Robert Padilla) closes and locks a gate behind them as they arrive and keeps showing up to try to get them to leave. At a party later that evening, one of the couples goes into the barn to make out and find a box full of kittens. Kane interrupts them and scares them off, but the girl returns to steal one of the mew-mews and gets hung from the rafters. When her boyfriend pops in he encounters a growling psycho (seen in shadow only) who rips his arm off. The next day, most of the couples venture out into the woods to go hiking or hunting. One girl left behind finds the bodies in the barn, tries to call a gas station for help (a gas station... really?) and the mechanic just hangs up on her (?) She ends up getting pulled through her car. When everyone else returns, it's their turn. Laura happens to be there as well with her new boyfriend and seems involved in the killings. She keeps lighting black candles and slices herself with a razor while taking a bath.

Kane finally explains what we pretty much already knew. The barn was built on top of an ancient Indian burial ground where Indians slaughtered by white man lie. The land was then cursed by a medicine man and Mathew somehow got himself possessed. He now has super-strength (enough to rip a head off with his bare hands at least) and supernatural powers that he strangely uses only one time to turn a regular fence into an electrified fence to kill one of the guys. There's also death by machete, a face slammed onto sauna rocks, a throat ripped out and several impalements. A couple having sex are speared together and one girl is picked up and slammed onto a pair of deer antlers. Most of the acting is terrible and the characters are all pretty much blanks with next to no personality.

Though there's a relatively high body count for one of these things, the death scenes themselves lack imagination and are so poorly staged and edited they're unable to muster up even the slightest hint of suspense or horror. There aren't even any jump scares. Though there's some visible blood, most of the kills take place in the dark and are difficult to see. Three of the actresses on hand are gracious enough to take off their clothes, but it's not enough to elevate this out of the "bad" category. And neither is the line "Eat me, white man." And neither are a dozen foggy, backlit shots of the killer standing off in the background.

The cast is comprised mostly of unknowns. The best-looking girl (and one of the first to get killed) is Devon Jenkin, who also had a small role as the first victim in SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE III but is probably best known as the skateboarder in Tom Petty's "Free Falling" video. Leading man Brad Bartram would become a Skinemax regular about 15 years after this was made. The original shooting title was Ancient Evil. It's not been officially released to DVD. Some of the same people who worked on this also made DEMON WIND (1990).

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