Review: I was a Teenage Ninja

I Was A Teenage Ninja (DVD)

Switchblade Pictures

The tragic history of Christianity’s early attempts to gain a foothold in Japan set the stage for this story of a young woman who unknowingly becomes the pawn of the cruel Shogunate who killed her father, and has now been sent to assassinate her mother.

A young woman, who shows her breasts a lot.

The original title of this film is ‘Christian Kunoichi Aome’s Story.’  Kunoichi means ‘female ninja.’  It’s 1549.  Years ago, a Christian missionary, Xavier, arrived in Japan and started preaching the gospel.  He amasses a few followers, most notably a middle-aged Japanese woman named Kiara with whom he has a daughter.

About this time, the Shogunate (the warlord ruler of Japan) begins to crack down on the new religion, sending his samurai to slaughter them in the mountain enclaves.  Xavier is killed and his wife escapes; but his daughter Aome is spared by one of the Shogunate’s men.  She is taken in and raised by the man, and trained in the art of ninjitsu.

Aome knows nothing of her parents, except for the crucifix necklace they left behind.  As such, she follows the Christian faith, while carrying out assassinations for the Shogunate.

At this point, the story gets odd.  Aome’s mother is obsessed with freeing Xavier and the other Christians from Hell.  Why are Christian martyrs in Hell?  I don’t know.  Anyways, Kiara turns to the non-Christian black arts to accomplish this goal.  With the help of her hermaphrodite assistant, Shizu, she abducts pretty young women to serve as blood sacrifices.  Unfortunately, their latest victim is Aome’s best friend, a blind girl.

Remember in Back to the Future Part 3, where Doc gives Marty that stupid, colorful cowboy costume because he saw ones like it in the movies?  The costumes in this film reminded me of that scene.  Like someone’s understanding of Shogunate times came from campy movies; either that, or they went to the costume shop and bought the first ‘sexy ninja’ outfit the came across.  The special effects are bad, predictably, but I’ll give them credit for at least trying.

The premise and setting give this film a bit more substance than others in this genre; but in the end, it is what it is.

The film is presented in anamorphic widescreen in Japanese with removable English subtitles.  It was shot on video, so it looks clean, but cheap.  There are no extras.

Review: Twins of Evil

Synapse Films (Blu-ray)

Twins of Evil was the third and final film in Hammer’s ‘Karnstein trilogy,’ which was based, very loosely, on the 1872 novella Carmilla, by J. Sheridan Le Fanu.  The source material, written 25 years prior to Stoker’s Dracula, is about a young woman who falls under the thrall of a female vampire.  The exploitation film potential of such a set-up is endless.

Former Playboy models Mary and Madeleine Collinson star as the titular twins, Maria and Frieda.  They are sent from the cultural mecca of Venice to the intellectual backwaters of Karnstein shortly after the death of their parents.

Their uncle, Weil, played by Hammer-staple Peter Cushing, leads a band of witch-hunters called the Brotherhood that spend their nights chasing down pretty girls to burn at the stake.  Despite this, we are told repeatedly that Weil is a ‘good man,’ because the torture and murder of an innocent is okay so long as you meant well.  Cushing is a great actor, but even he can’t do anything to redeem this character; even after he’s had his revelation, it hard to get past the fact that he has murdered people for no reason what-so-ever.

The only man who speaks out against Weil is Anton, a music teacher and basically the hero of the film.  He speaks often of how horrible Weil and his gang is, and fully recognizes the innocence of the victims; and yet, when he finally gets a chance to confront him, all he chastises Weil for is his methods, saying that burning won’t kill a vampire, you have to cut off its head.

The two twins take separate paths; Maria falling for Anton, and Freida for Count Karnstein, the vampire in the castle on the hill, and the results are pretty much what you’d expect.

The theme of cowardice comes up a lot in the film; both from Anton, who is unable to stand up to Weil; and from the Brotherhood, who will not strike against Karnstein, despite knowing that he is the source of evil in the town.  This theme makes for some solid character development; but it doesn’t tie together quite as well as it should at the end because WEIL IS STILL A MURDERER.  Seriously, people.

Despite the inclusion of Playboy models, this is the tamest of the films in the Karnstein trilogy, both in sex and violence.  In fact, I can’t recall any real on-screen killing at all (vampire deaths aside).

Overall, Twins of Evil is Hammer doing what Hammer does best, a beautifully filmed Gothic horror story with tight plotting and well-established characters.

The Blu Ray from Synapse films is quite good.  Video quality is solid, but not revelatory.  Some scenes, especially in the beginning look a little hazy, and the rest just lacks that extra bit of sharpness I hope for in an HD transfer.  There are quite a few extras, most notably an 84 minute documentary about the Karnstein trilogy, which is very impressive.

Review Mad Bull 34

Discotek Media (DVD)

Is Mad Bull 34 violently misogynistic, or just incredibly juvenile?  The answer is yes.  Or maybe it’s a brilliant satire of ’80s action movie machismo, crossed with a distorted view of America as seen through the eyes of someone who only knows the country from what they’ve seen in said action films.

Idealistic new cop Daisaburo joins the 34th precinct in New York City.  He’s teamed up with a seven foot tall, six foot wide man nicknamed ‘Mad Bull,’ though he’s more often called Sleepy despite the fact that his real name is John Estes.  Sleepy loves two things:  Gunning down suspects, and having sex with hookers.

The killing is somewhat justified.  As we see in the series, the criminals in this version of New York are not afraid of jail (especially seeing as most of the force and judiciary are on the take); so, Sleepy’s tactics arguably serve the greater good.

As for the hookers, well, that’s more complicated.  In the first episode, we learn that after finishing with a girl, Sleepy takes all the money out of her wallet before leaving.  Sounds horrible, right?  But then we find out that he uses the money to pay the hospital bills and living expenses for ex-hookers and rape victims.  Does paying to help women leave the prostitution business make up for supporting that business?  Probably not, but whatever, the plot point only exists as an excuse to show frequent, if non-graphic sex scenes.

There are some intelligent, capable women in the series, in particular fellow officer Perrin.  However, all the women in the series suffer some form of abuse, which usually involves their clothes being torn off.

The animation is just okay, but the character designs have a slightly realistic edge to them that makes the show seem to look better than it actually does.  The four episodes on the disc are 45 minutes each; so whether the show is good or bad, at least it’s a decent value.  The video is unaltered from its Japanese release, with original credits and titles.

The closing credits of the series include a special thanks to the 34th precinct.  I looked it up and there actually is a 34th.   Did they know about this?  Were they sent a script or the original manga for approval and decided that this was something they wanted to put their name on?

Oh, and did you know that that original manga was written by Kazuo Koike, who’s previous work includes Lone Wolf and Cub?

Review: Intruder

Synapse Films (Blur-ray)

A mysterious killers is stalking the aisles and storage rooms of a second-rate, small town grocery store.  The unusually large night crew, which includes two cashiers for some reason, falls victim one by one in a series of bloody, gory death scenes.

This film is most notable for the fact that it stars, amongst other people, Sam Raimi (Director of Evil Dead, Spider-Man), and Ted Raimi (Joxer the Mighty from Xena: Warrior Princess), and has a brief cameo from Bruce Campbell (Evil Dead, Burn Notice).  None of them are the actual stars, of course, (they were just friends of the director, Scott Spiegel), but their inclusion does give this film a ‘get into cult-fandom free’ ticket.

Intruder is pretty by-the-books are far as slashers go.  We start with our red herring, a biker-guy ex-boyfriend of a cashier who shows up at closing time to cause trouble.  He’s the too-obvious suspect when things start going wrong.  After the excitement of biker-guy’s visit, the night crew spread out to their own distant corners of the store, where they can be killed an dismembered at leisure.

The murders are very good.  There’s a lot of variety, as the killer uses the tools and industrial equipment found in the store to handle his victims in gruesome and graphic ways.  The cut-up body parts are very realistic, and despite the whimsical nature of the kills, don’t come off looking comedic.

The killings continue until only one person is left.  Of course, he or she hasn’t noticed anyone dying up till this point, but the bodies are discovered in rapid succession, leading to the final reveal of the killer.  I’m not sure I buy the killer’s motivation.  That’s the risk you run with a slasher movie when you try to explain why the killer killed.  Given the nature of their crimes, the reasoning has to be pretty extreme; but that’s not the case here.  I do give it credit for trying; and even if it’s not totally satisfying, the explanation at the end does give it a sense of closure.

Unlike most slasher movies, the teenage cast doesn’t spend most of the movie having sex or drinking, maybe because they’re at work, I don’t know.  While not very deep, at least they aren’t faceless cannon fodder.  They all have very distinct character traits and mannerisms, some more likeable than others, but at least it’s something.  You care when they die, either because you miss them, or from relief that you won’t have to hear their awful voice any more.

Intruder doesn’t bring anything new to the genre, but it plays the cliches well.  It has a decent cast, and the super market setting allows for some fun and interesting kills.  If you like ’80s slasher movies, you’ll probably like this one as well.

Review: Buried Alive

Dimension Extreme (DVD)

Zane’s ancestors used to own a gold mine; but despite taking millions of dollars worth of metal out of the ground, the money never materialized.  It seems that great grandpa mined the gold only to hide it away somewhere.  Zane, who has mental problems and was just kicked out of college, thinks that finding the gold is his best hope for a future.

Rene, Zane’s cousin, with whom he shares a near-incestuous closeness embarks with him on a road trip to the family mine (though she doesn’t know his true intent).  They take with them Danny, Rene’s douchy boyfriend; Phil, the computer nerd who Zane conscripted to research his grandfather (because googling something requires the rarified intelligence that only a geek can provide) and two dumb girls (dressed as a cow and dog) who are pledging to Rene’s sorority and provide most of the film’s nudity.

Cow is the dumbest of the lot.  In an early scene, she’s shown to be unable to distinguish between live and stuffed animals, even after petting them.  She has a sex scene shortly there after that, which just comes off as creepy and exploitative given her issues.  Rene likewise creepily orders her to undress several times, and you can’t help but think, ‘Rene’s a bitch, I hope she dies soon.’

I’m not quite sure what the plot is.  I take it the grandfather’s first wife was ‘buried alive,’ then came back as a ghost, killed his family, and continues to kill his ancestors (and anyone else that happens to be around).  The one thing that can stop her is a Native totem symbol, which is carved into a necklace once owned by wife number one, and now by Rene, and also happens to be tattooed on the back of Dog’s neck (which we discover during a lengthy scene in which she dances in her underwear).  Dog is the only remotely likeable character in the movie; her only real character flaw is that she associates with such terrible people.

The ghost kills with an ax, usually cutting people in half.  The effects are graphic, but I’m not sure if they’re anatomically accurate (there’s just a lot of indistinguishable red stuff inside the kids).

It’s unoriginal, and as a horror film, not terribly effective; but Buried Alive looks okay, the acting is tolerable, and the make-up is detailed (if not always believable);.

Review: Class of 1999

Vestron Video (Blu-ray)

Class of 1999 was directed and co-written by Mark L. Lester, who also made Class of 1984.  Both films posit a near future in which youth gangs (which everyone was really afraid of in the ’80s) would continue to grow until they turned schools into virtual war zones.

Much like Harold Camping, once 1984 passed without incident, Lester pushed his predicted date for the gang-pocalypse up a few years, adopting a suitable advancement in technology in the process.

In Class of 1999, schools are basically prisons for the kids that haven’t been sent to real prison yet.  They have their own security forces (as the police have abandoned the ‘freefire zones’ that surround them), high gates, and timed door locks.  But even that isn’t enough to keep the kids in line, so the school principal (Malcolm McDowell) and a mad scientist (Stacy Keach with a mullet) hatch a plan to re-purpose three, terminator-like military androids into teachers.  The teachers, one of which is played by Pam Grier, soon find their war-instincts rekindled by the unruly kids, and retaliate in way wholly inappropriate for a school.

The hero of the film is Cody Culp.  In the opening scene, he is let out of prison, as the officials believe he will be a good test case for the new class of teachers.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem all that interested in getting back into his old life, nor does he want to change.  He’s actually pretty detached and listless (I don’t know if that’s the character or the actor).  His actions have clear motivations, but they are simple and immediate; someone he cares about is hurt, so he fights.

The world created in the film is neat, but confusing. There are some nice details in how the school operates, the use of robot teachers, who can fight and be programmed with subject expertise, makes sense given the situation.  That said, we never really get a sense that the gangs are all that bad.  They have occasional gun fights in the streets, but nothing a competent police force couldn’t handle.  Inside the schools, they’re mostly just disruptive or bullying, hardly a justification for robo-killers.

The movie starts out pretty well, introducing an interesting world with a lot of potential for creative kills and social commentary; but the last half ends up being a meandering, half-hearted gun fight, albeit with some nice, practical special effects.  It actually got boring by the end.  Kid motorcycles in, shoots at teacher, teacher shoots student, student runs away.  Over and over again.  In the end, it’s just Class of 1984, with a few additions ripped off from Terminator.

Review: Street Trash

Synapse Films (Blu-ray)

Manhattan winos war with society and each other, as a bad batch of hootch starts killing them off one by one.

Two homeless brothers:

Fred, whom the Blu-ray case says is 18, but looks 35 (either inspired makeup or poor casting) is a rascally wino, a sneak-thief pocketing cheap liqueur and small amounts of money. I suppose he likes the life he lives; or at least prefers it to the alternative of getting a job and having to do what other people tell him to.

Kevin, the younger brother, is trying to be good.  He lives in an awesome fort made out of tires located in a junk yard.  He, along with a group of other homeless kids (whom I don’t think we ever see) are cared for by a kindly young woman named Wendy.

Wendy is the secretary at the junkyard, and is constantly fighting off the advances of her sweaty, would-be-rapist boss.  She’s pretty much the only likeable character in the movie.

Also living in the junkyard is a gang of homeless people led by a Vietnam war vet who keeps a one-woman harem.  These particular homeless people are bad, and spend a good five minute of the film playing keep-away with a man’s severed penis.  The homeless people in this film, Kevin aside, are not exactly shown in the best light.  For the most part, they’re barely civilized.

But I suppose the movie is mostly about Tenafly Viper, a brand of booze that the liqueur store owner finds in his basement.  It has the advantage of costing only one dollar, and the disadvantage of causing people to melt into a puddle of purple goo several seconds after digesting it.  This is kind of going on in the background as we watch the two brothers living their daily lives.  Fred actually comes into possession of a bottle of Viper several times throughout the movie, but tends to lose track of it.

The effects are pretty good, in a low-budget horror film sort of way.  It’s clearly home-made, and involves a lot of off-camera action and indistinguishable anatomy; but I respect the effort.

The plot is kind of all over the place. I can’t help but think the whole exercise was just a cover for someone’s desire to make a movie with melting people and occasional nudity.

But despite (or because) of it’s refusal to follow any of the rules of conventional filmmaking, it’s really fun to watch.  I mean, if you buy a movie called Street Trash, whose cover features a man flushing himself down the toilet; what exactly are you expecting?

Review: Night of the Living Dead 3D

I have very little to say about this movie.  It starts the same as the original, with Barb and Johnny driving to a graveyard.  Upon arrival they find zombies.  Johnny flees, leaving Barb to run for her life.  Instead of going straight to the farm house, she makes a detour to a funeral home (what better place to escape the walking dead?) where she meets a grumpy Sid Haig, who tells her to piss off.

Then it’s on to the farmhouse, which now grows pot (cause this remake is like, totally edgy).  Ben, the African American protagonist of the original, is now a twenty-something white guy (because…).  You can tell that the people who made this thing were trying to ‘improve,’ or at least ‘modernize’ the original; but all they managed to do was make it dumber.

The DVD was 2D, so I can’t comment on the technical merits of the 3D, though there were a number of ‘Obnoxious 3D Shots’ throughout the film.  You know, like when someone holds something out to the camera (remember that old SCTV bit?)?

The acting ranged from monotone to okay, and the makeup effects were fine…ish.  The basic plot structure rips off that of Night of the Living Dead; though it manages to strip out all the tension and tack on an awkward ending.

Perhaps if they had created an original story, I would judge it less harshly, and commend it for its effort, if not the results.  But when you choose to remake a classic, you invite comparisons, and by that criteria, this movie failed.  It takes everything that was good about Night of the Living Dead and kills it; and then it injects a bucketload of terrible new ideas.

Review: Attack the Block

Sony (Blu-ray)


Moses is the 15 year-old leader of a kid’s gang.  He has what is best described as an ill-defined concept of morality.  He speaks often of protecting the block (the apartment complex they all live in), while oblivious to the fact that it is he, and those like him, that are making it a terrible place to live.  This is illustrated by Sam, a nurse whom the gang mugs in the first scene of the film.  The gang runs into her again later on, throwing her in the path of the man-eating aliens, and then becomes miffed when she won’t thank them for saving her temporarily from the problem they caused.

Ultimately; the film is about responsibility.  Past and circumstances do not define Moses; he does.  As it is stated explicitly in the film, choices have consequences. If Moses is to find redemption, it has to come from his own actions.

The aliens; which are described as gorilla-wolf-like things, have a very interesting and unique look to them.  The concept is that their black fur reflects no light; making them as black as space (kind of like vantablack).  This, aside from looking great on screen, is also a smart way to save on the effects budget.  The animal-like creatures are suitably threatening and present a believable challenge for the gang.  There’s some pretty good action in the movie; despite a lot of it being off screen (again, probably for budgetary reasons).

Attack the Block is a lot of fun.  It takes the old ‘kids versus aliens’ genre and gives it an edge and grittiness that it usually lacks.  It looks great, is nicely paced, and features some great performances from its young cast which includes John Boyega (Star Wars) as Moses, and Jodie Whittaker (Doctor Who) as Sam.

Review: Chopping Mall

Vestron Video (Blu-ray)

A bunch of oversexed mall workers decided to lock themselves in a store one night for a party followed by awkward sex in adjacent beds.  Unfortunately, they decide to do this on the same night the mall is testing out its new robot security guards.  And wouldn’t you know it, the robots malfunction and start killing people.

The robots are the standard ‘what people in the ’80s thought robots would look like’ variety; boxy, with spindly arms and Stephen Hawking voices.  They’re they kind of villains that are only as threatening as the heroes let them be.  You can always tell when a character is about to die because they have to stand in the open and wait for the robot to lumber into position.

The kills aren’t very graphic.  A lot of laser blasts and people falling down.  There’s a cut throat, electrocutions, and one instance where a laser blast causes a victim’s head to explode, but it’s a very fast cut, so you don’t see much.

The eight protagonists are decent enough cannon fodder.  Kelli Maroney (Night of the Comet) plays the innocent girl; Barbara Crampton and Karri Emerson play the more sexually liberal girls.  Guess which one dies first?

Chopping Mall Kelli Maroney.pngThe teens find out about the robots and make a break for it, but not before a stop at the sports store to buy a variety of guns.  (As a Canadian, it’s odd to think that people can assemble an arsenal at a mall, but whatever).  What follows is a lot of terrible strategic mistakes on the part of the kids, as they constantly put themselves in the line of fire rather than going straight for an exit, or finding a hiding place to wait out the night.  It can’t be that hard considering that the robots run on treads and thus can’t climb stairs.

Basically, Chopping Mall takes a conventional ’80s horror movie cast and plot structure, and adds a conventional ’80s sci-fi action movie villain.  The resulting chaos is a lot of fun.  It’s not scary enough to be horror, or intriguing enough to be sci-fi, but I liked it anyways.

Review: Meridian

Full Moon (Blu-ray)

Meridian (A.K.A. Kiss of the Beast) opens with Gina, an American artist just out of school, and now living in Italy.  A man from the church donates a mediocre landscape painting to a gallery and Gina is tasked with washing away the ugly painting to find the older but equally mediocre one underneath.

This has little to do with the story.  Gina isn’t even the protagonist, she’s just friends with her.  Anyways, Gina goes to visit her friend Catherine (played by Sherilyn Fenn, who that same year would star as Audrey Horne in Twin Peaks).  Catherine has just inherited a castle from her father.  While discussing what to do that day, a Gypsy circus shows up at the front gate.

The two girls watch the show and invite the performers in for dinner.  Of course, like all traveling circus people, they drug and rape the two girls.  Though they don’t seem to mind that much.  Actually, the official plot synopsis for this film describes it as ‘drug and seduce.’  Catherine even falls in love with her attacker, while Gina just goes back to work until the climax.

The rapist turns out to have a curse that turns him into a werewolf when in the presence of someone he loves, the only cure to which is being killed by that same person.  I think.  It gets very convoluted very quickly.  The rapist has a twin or something, and there’s some ghost hanging around.

Meridan is another effort from Charles Band (Puppet Master, Evil Bong).  While the story is an icky mess, it does show more effort than most of his filmography.  Of course, you could pick it apart and show it to be the pastiche of classic horror films that it is, but it is a colourful pastiche.

I think it was filmed in an actual castle, and the movie looks fairly nice as a result.  The monster in particular looks pretty good (at least compared to my expectations); and the whole thing has a low-rent Hammer horror atmosphere.  All in all, it’s a respectable effort.

Review: Demoniacs

Redemption (Blu-ray)

Two innocent girls fall prey to some pirate ‘wreckers,’ and then seek demonic help to exact their revenge.  It’s all typical euro-sleaze horror fare, until the clown shows up.

The film opens with head-shots and descriptions of the four wreckers; the captain who is haunted by his victims (then why does he keep doing it?); the hot woman who takes her clothes off a lot; the second in command, who’s plotting against the captain; and the other guy who’s playing both sides.

In the case of the captain, his defining character trait (guilt) plays a large roll in the film.  It imbues every aspect of his personality, and leads to the ultimate climax.  As for the other two male wreckers, their secret plots are never mentioned again after the first two minutes, except in the form of some tepid muttering when the captain makes a scene at a bar.  The wrecker woman just nags the others a lot, and provides much of the film’s nudity.

The two girls are rather vacant as characters.  After some screaming during the initial attack, they never speak again.  I suppose that’s a legitimate way to depict trauma, but in the context of a story, having main characters that don’t emote in any way makes it hard to connect.  You can understand their mission on an intellectual level, but there’s nothing to grasp onto emotionally.

The girls make their way to some old ruins that are feared by the locals for reasons no one quite remembers.  There, they meet a female clown (a classic circus clown with a big red afro), who leads them inside.  The girls then free Satan, who has been held prisoner in a dilapidated church, and have sex with him to gain his demonic powers, which seem to be limited to telekinetically nudging statues.

I’ve never seen a Jean Rollins film before, but from what I gather, this emphasis of style over substance is common, though this film in particular is credited for having a stronger storyline than usual.  I guess it does have a storyline, but it’s very, very basic. There’s nothing flawed in its structure; but it has no detail, nuance, or originality..

The Demoniacs comes to Blu Ray from Redemption films.  The video quality is okay.  It looks like the source material has aged poorly, leaving the movie washed out and dull.  I’m not sure it’s significantly better than a good DVD transfer.

Extras include a deleted scene that consists of nothing but film of a ship burning, and two extra sex scenes; one an extension of a scene between the captain and the wrecker woman, and the other involving two recurring background characters.


Review: School of the Holy Beast

Cult Epics (DVD)

Christianity is not all that popular in Japan.  Apparently less than half a percent claim membership.  But Christian iconography is popular (which you would know if you watch Evangelion), so it’s no wonder that when making a sexy, violent exploitation movie, they’d pick a convent as the perfect setting.

School of the Holy Beast is about a new nun named Maya.  She was born in the Sacred Heart Convent, but never knew her mother or father.  When she grows up, she joins the nunnery hoping to unravel the mystery of her birth.

Turns out the church is rife with nun-lusting priests and institutional cover-ups. It must have seemed outrageous at the time; but with hindsight, we know that it’s a pretty tame representation of what was actually going on in the church in the ’70s.

As Maya says in the opening of the film, a convent is, ‘where women aren’t women,’ and that’s becomes a constant theme in the movie.  The idea that sexuality is normal, and that suppressing it is not only abnormal, but impossible, and hypocritical (as the priests and nuns who enforce the rules are the most egregious in breaking them).

Of course, School of the Holy Beast isn’t out to make social commentary.  It’s a nunsploitaion movie.  Everything scene has a veneer of sexuality over it.  When the nuns are punished, they’re topless, when they’re initiated, they’re topless; the movie never forgets what it’s there for.

And yet, you can’t help but think that this is a more accurate portrait of convent life than you normally see in movies.  If not outwardly, perhaps as a glimpse of the burning hormonal desires that rage under the surface.  Sacred Heart Convent is what a convent would look like if the nuns were allowed to be honest, and express their humanity; to be women, as Maya said.

The film was produced by the movie studio Toei, which is famous for their classic samurai movies, like Lone Wolf and Cub, and Lady Snowblood. School of the Holy Beast shares a lot of visual characteristics with it’s samurai siblings; the bright red fake blood, the topless nuns in bondage, the giant ‘end’ kanji to finish the movie, etc.

And it’s beautifully shot.  It looks like it was filmed in an actual church and the camera work shows some artistry.  One scene in particular has a nun chained to a chair.  The other nuns surround her and begin whipping her with bouquets of roses.  The petals fly off, as bright-red blood sprinkles her body, all in slow motion.  Okay, it’s not a ‘nice’ scene, but it looks good.


Review: Venus Wars

Discotek Media (Blu-ray & DVD)

vw.jpgJapan had an infatuation with teen biker gangs in the ’80s.  Such hoodlums were the heroes of the classic anime film Akira, the OAV series Megazone 23, and Venus Wars.  In all cases, the bikers rebelled against an overly-oppressive and authoritarian government.  Perhaps it was social commentary.

In the west, especially at that time, the heroes were more likely to be fighting to restore order from a populous of outlaws (like Mad Max).  Of course, fiction aimed at teens has always had its rebel heroes, rejecting authority speaks to that age group; but that has more to do with taking responsibility for one’s self, and not fighting to free society from dictatorship.  Indeed, in anime such as this, the average person has no value; they are only a cog in a machine, to be replaced and discarded at the slightest sign of trouble (which come to think of it, is pretty much how we all live these days anyway).

Venus, having been terraformed following an asteroid collision, was quickly colonized, but humanity can not seem to leave its problems behind, and the two nations that popped up on the new planet, Aphrodia and Ishtar, were soon at war (ironically, we’re told that Earth has established world peace since the colonization of Venus; maybe by sending all their riff-raff away on a rocket).

The people don’t seem all that effected.  The war is mostly cold, and flares up only in far-off places; also, the government does an effective job of hushing up any unhappy details.  Their ability to hide the truth, however, comes to an end when Ishtar, using some high-tech tanks called octopuses (really) invades the capital city of Aphrodia, Io.  It’s not so much a war as a minor skirmish.  The enemy forces roll in with little resistance and the local government quickly surrenders.

The people are placed under curfew, which does not sit well with Hiro Seno and his ‘gang,’ the Killer Commandos.  I say ‘gang,’ but they’re actually a team in a sport that involved racing single-wheeled motorcycles in a group (kind of like roller derby); but it’s not a respectable sport and they’re scoff-laws in their daily lives, so the term ‘gang’ applies.  Meanwhile, a reporter from Earth, Susan Summers (really) gets tangled up with the gang; and finds that the local press is just as disinterested in helping the people as the local government.

The gang, spurred on by their female member, Miranda, decides to stage a protest action, which brings them to the attention of the Aphrodia military, who sees potential in their racing skills.  Hiro turns down their offer to join, and by doing so brings to the forefront the truth of his character: he just rejects authority blindly; regardless of the value of its cause, or his own self-interest.

What I liked about Venus Wars was that it didn’t try to tell more story than was needed.  It wasn’t a giant war chronicle; it was the story of one boy and the few minor battles he was a party to.

The animation is quite nice; this was made back in the day when anime studios thought they had to earn their ticket price, and didn’t depend on the blind allegiance of otaku.  The Blu Ray from Eastern Star is beautiful, using a newly restored master.  It looks like it was made last year.  The disc includes the dub released by CPM back in the day, but no other extras.

Review: Hammer’s Last Foray into the Vampire Genre, Vampire Circus

Screen Shot 2018-04-20 at 6.41.51 AM.pngVampire Circus was one of the final Gothic horror films produced by Hammer Films.  The 1970s saw audiences’ tastes moving towards gorier fare, which made the atmospheric costume dramas offered by Hammer seem downright quaint in comparison.  Still, this late effort was one of their more imaginative vampire films, even if its production values were a little weak.

The film opens with an old-fashioned castle-storming.  Count Mitterhaus, a vampire, has seduced the schoolmaster’s wife, Anna.  She in turn picks up little girls in the woods to present to her new master.  As the count says, after feeding on one of the children in a very creepy scene, ‘one lust feeds the other,’ upon which he takes Anna to his bed.

Anna’s husband rallies the townsfolk into an uproar, leading them on a mission of vengeance.  It doesn’t go quite as planned, as the townsfolk make no distinction between Anna and her master, despite the schoolmaster’s attempts to save her.  In the end, the count curses the people of the town that the blood of their children with revive him.

Fifteen years later, the town still lives in the shadow of its past.  It is besieged by a plague (though we never really see that in the film, it’s only talked about, and the healthy townsfolk don’t seem all that concerned).  The surrounding towns have set up roadblocks to quarantine the infected, which makes acquiring medicine somewhat more difficult, and the Burgomaster is fretting.  In these dark days, comes a traveling circus.

‘Circus’ is probably too strong a word.  It’s a small troop of performers; some acrobats, a lion tamer, dancers, a strong man, and a little person.  It’s more of a carnival sideshow, really.  But it is impressive, almost magical.  Of course, it’s all black magic intended to distract the townspeople as their children are taken.

Anna is the Ring Mistress of this circus.  She’s joined by Mitterhaus’s cousin Emil, who’s more odd looking than scary.  He seduces the schoolmaster’s daughter, though I can’t imagine how.  Anna has also brought twins, a boy and girl, her children (presumably with Mitterhaus).

Vampire Circus includes a lot of the features of Hammer’s classic period horrors, but feels a little less substantial.  The sets are simpler, the costumes aren’t as nice, the visuals are less lush.  It’s still a big production compared to most horror B movies, but a step down from Hammer’s heyday.  The plot structure is familiar, but the set up is more original than the typical Hammer film.  The circus breathes a lot of life into the old formula.