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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Godfather of Gore (2010)

Herschell Gordon Lewis is a man driven by a burning desire to make money. He’s not worried about artistic integrity, moral opinion or even a decent camera angle; all he wants is to make viewers part with their hard-earned and by any means necessary. The fact that the man is very open about that makes it all okay; in an odd way, he’s giving us what we want by way of getting what he wants: everyone’s a winner. Frank Henenlotter is a filmmaker I respect greatly, he’s a man who can make a film about anything and make it work; dead hooker brought back to life? Check! Deranged Siamese twin-thing? Big Check! Giant killer penis vs multiple clitted sex kitten? Piece of cake! So what better man is there to chart the lows of one of American Grindhouse’s greatest players? Simply put: no one.

Charting Herschell’s entire career, starting with his early foray into film-making with titles like Living Venus (1961), The Adventures of Lucky Pierre (1961) and B-O-I-N-G (1963), it sets the tone perfectly. Lewis openly states he wanted cash and had little in the way of it himself, so collaborating with another Grindhouse legend, David Friedman, they produced numerous screwball comedies and nudie cutie movies to cash in on the boom created by Russ Meyer’s The Immoral Mr. Tees. As the market started to saturate and loose public interested the duo decided that something new was needed to part cash from their punters, hardcore porn wasn’t an option at this point; so what else could they offer a market that seemingly has it all? Hardcore violence the likes of which had never been seen!

It’s hard to believe that before 1963’s Blood Feast, gore didn’t exist in the horror genre. It’s so engrained in modern horror that its still hard to believe it has traceable roots! The duo decided that if they couldn’t show peoples no-no regions, then they’d show what guts and brains look like instead! Making the move from nudist camps to sleazy motels was clearly the greatest achievement in Lewis’ career and a move that has granted him immortality amongst the horror community. The documentary and the makers don’t shy away from the fact that during the filming no one had a clue what they were doing or how it would all turn out. Real entrails were used for the ‘money shots’ and na├»ve actresses were expected to play their 'character' while trying not to spew from the terrible smells emitting from the animal guts!

This could explain why the actresses are seemingly omitted from the documentary, plenty of the actors are on hand for questioning but as to where the leading ladies are is a mystery; though it’s made clear that Herschell was less than impressed by some of his actresses! The actors however have nothing but good things to say about their experiences, all had a rollicking good time making a small piece of trash history in their own right and aren’t afraid to critic their own, admittedly abysmal, work. The documentary also offers up all the goriest, sleaziest and most outrageous moments from each of Lewis’ gore sagas, so those unfamiliar with the levels of depravity found in his works may be in for a surprise! Others will relish the nostalgic trip of the gore effects of yesteryear!

Frank Henenlotter has created one of 2010’s must see documentaries for horror fans. It’s a passionate love note to one of genre cinemas true mavericks and a testament to the skills of low-budget filmmakers who have nothing but a desire to make their pockets a little fatter by capitalising on avenues that wouldn’t be explored by the mainstream, who can begrudge David for robbing Goliath? A must-see film indeed.

Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Godfather of Gore was given its UK premier at Sinister Sunday of Shock in the Glasgow Film Theater. A BIG thank you to Calum Waddell, Noami Holwill and Nick Frame for putting that together and to everyone who turned up for a great day of movies and Q&A's with the likes of Sergio Stivaletti and Francesca Ciardi!

The Loner (2008)

The Korean horror genre is a love-it or hate-it affair for most, their reliance on black-haired ghosties got old 10 years ago; but they seem intent on further including them in their genre films. Few horror films stray from the formula set-up by break-out Korean horror Whispering Corridors in 1998; schoolgirls being haunted by a dead friend. Those that have strayed from the path have been greatly rewarded (Tales of Two Sisters, Acacia and Save the Green Planet spring to mind) but there are others that remain under-appreciated, such as Black House, Epitaph and Possessed (A.k.a Living Death) three such films deserving of more attention from Horror fans. The Loner however, tries it’s hardest to be different and manages to succeed… for the most part.

Life is tough for Su-na, her best friend kills herself after a humiliating public beat-down and her Uncle, Se-jin, is in love with Yoon-mi, a psychiatrist she can’t stand. The pressure drives Su-na into reclusion, or as her Uncle's missus calls it ‘Hikikomori’ – a Japanese term for shut-ins. As Su-na’s condition worsens, an imaginary friend and totally disregard for her own hygiene; it appears that Su-na is destined for the same fate as her friend unless Yoon-mi can help get to the bottom of her condition before her condition takes a violent turn not just for Su-na, but the whole household.

Where The Loner succeeds is where other genre entries have failed; is in its characterisation. The film is smartly paced and allows character development to mature naturally, Su-na’s condition doesn’t kick-in until the half-hour mark, that’s not to say its slow paced, as it’s far from it and there’s plenty going on within the narrative to keep viewers entertained as well as a few nasty shocks up its sleeve along the way. There’s obviously a big secret being kept from us, but it’s not hard to guess what it is, but thanks to the story revolving around three protagonists instead of one; the emotional level of the reveal hits harder than it would have if Su-na had been the story’s sole protagonist.

This is where the film eventually falls down. After the big reveal the films gets lost in itself and the final sprint to the ending feels exactly that; rushed. It’s not bad enough to ruin what happens before it, but with a little more thought on the finale maybe The Loner could have been a special little shocker, as is though it’s a worthwhile entry in an already uneven canon. Korean horror certainly has potential and maybe sometime soon we’ll see more classics in the vein of Tale of Two Sisters and Black House. Director Park Jae-sik shows a flare for some lush visuals and has a talent for creating a distressing atmosphere which points to a talent that may well go on to make something far superior to what’s seen here.

It’s disappointing that such a strong film manages to fumble the ball in the final third, but for fans of Korean horror this is well worth checking out. If you enjoyed other middle-tier genre entries like The Wig, A.P.T and Death Bell then you’ll find yourself entertained for the films duration, though the likelihood of frequent re-visits is unlikely; which is a shame as the first half of the film really is gripping stuff. Maybe next time Mr. Park; I for one will be interested in this directors future projects.

Sadly, The Loner is now out of print and has not been acquired for UK or US distribution as yet.

Frozen (2010)

Adam Green is something of an oddity in today’s genre climate. On one hand he’s a horror geek who produced the fun, yet shallow, Hatchet movies; on the other he’s given us top-quality character based horror like Spiral. As disposable horror go, the Hatchet movies are very much top quality entries, but they aren’t going to be remembered for originality or stand as a testament to his creativity skills. Green’s career took an interesting turn with Grace, which he produced. Grace is a highly original and equally disturbing horror film that proved that the man has an eye for a good script. Now comes Frozen, a small little movie about a group of friends stuck on a ski-lift… doesn’t send chills down the spine does it? But you’re in for a damn unpleasant surprise.

Three friends, Dan, Joe and Dan’s girlfriend Parker, are enjoying a day on the slopes. After cutting a deal with the ski lift operator for a reduced fare they further push their luck and demand one last run down the slopes as the park is closing. Reluctantly, the operator agrees and they go on their way. As they get further up the mountain, down below a serious of blunders result in the park getting shut down, while they’re stuck up in the mountain, 100 feet from the ground. Panic immediately sets in, but as time passes the horrifying realisation that they are stuck up there for five days kicks in and they have to figure out how to get back down to safety.

The simplest stories are often the most effective, and in the case of Frozen it certainly holds true. Three characters attached to a chair 100 foot above ground, hardly a complex scenario for a labyrinth-like narrative, but that’s where Frozen excels, it’s this stripped down approach that holds our attention for the films runtime. Due to the stories self-imposed limitations director Green has time to develop his characters and our affections for them before piling on the risk and danger. With its cold visuals playing off the icy landscapes perfectly, tension and danger are constantly assaulting the audience subconsciously. It’s this menace that truly haunts us as the film plays out.

Green’s appreciation for the films limitations truly pay-off. As the scenario grows increasingly worse, we share the characters despair because like them, we have no idea of what to expect. We know what they know, we have no insider knowledge of how things will play out and we suffer the ordeal every bit as much as the protagonists. It’s this cold, even heartless, approach that may alienate some viewers – this is by no means a enjoyable film in the traditional sense – but as an exercise in fear, tension and desperation the film is a triumph.

Those looking for a truly frightening film will find more than they bargained for here, those looking for the thrill-seeking jollies of Green’s previous effort, Hatchet, will sorely be disappointed; here he displays a true maturity as a filmmaker and as a great talent worth watching in future. That is, if he can stay away from the goofy elements of his debut that made him an overnight success: fun as that may be, there’s no merit to them and are forgotten within minutes, Frozen however, will stay with you long after watching and hold up to repeat viewing. Frozen is without a doubt one of the finest horror films to see the light of release in 2010 and comes highly recommended.

Frozen is out now to buy on Blu-ray or DVD.