Venues: Cineworld Shaftsbury Avenue, Showcase Newham, Vue Shepherds Bush (London) and key cities
Distributor: Network Releasing
Director: Pang Ho-Cheung
Writers: Pang Ho-Cheung, Tsang Kwok Cheung, Wan Chi-Man
Original title:War dor lei ah yut ho
Cast: Josie Ho, Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Eason Chan, Michelle Ye
Hong Kong 2010
A young woman takes the problem of Hong Kong’s corrupt property developers and sky-rocketing rents into her own hands in this vicious black comedy.
In a series of rather mawkish flashbacks seen through the eyes of a child, the working-class, long-time residents of Hong Kong’s harbour-side apartment blocks are driven out of their homes by triad gangs working on behalf of ruthless developers after the 1997 handover. Twenty years later, these same locations are now far out of the reach of ordinary Hong Kongers and instead house adulterous, golf-playing yuppies, nihilistic, hedonistic teenagers and other caricatures of modern, moneyed China.
Enter Cheng Lai-sheung (played by rising megastar Josie Ho), a hard-working former inhabitant of a harbour-side block, who dreams of looking out over the same view that she grew up with. To live her dream, she becomes as cold-blooded as the water snake placed through her best friend’s door when she was a child, hacking and slashing her way through the new block’s inhabitants until the asking price on her future home finally takes a tumble.
It’s an engaging premise and in a manner that should be familiar to anyone well-versed in contemporary Hong Kong or South Korean genre cinema, Dream Home lurches from moments of blood-curdling tweeness to some outrageously gory and sadistic set-pieces that steer the film and Josie Ho’s character into the deeper waters of refreshing moral ambiguity - or is that total insanity?
Whether Dream Home is a slasher film with a strong vein of socio-economic commentary running through its core, or a political satire with a slasher film trying to hack its way out from the inside is ultimately hard to decide. I’d also wonder if there are deeper levels of Hong Kong references and in-jokes that will be lost on Western audiences. Even without such inside knowledge, however, this is an undeniably enjoyable, if at times emotionally unstable, film, which reminds us that however imbalanced the housing situation over here, it can always be a lot worse.
Don’t be surprised to see a heavily toned-down US remake, perhaps starring Kristen Stewart, looming, like a shiny new Hong Kong skyscraper, just over the horizon.
Cast: Dieter Laser, Ashley C Williams, Ashlynn Yennie, Akihiro Kitamura
As a rule, I try to hear/read/see as little as possible about the films I’m going to write about, but in the case of The Human Centipede - if one moves in sleazy circles - it was difficult to avoid the advance word, and the advance word was ‘yeeuch!’
The film’s selling point is a nasty idea - that a mad surgeon, Dr Heiter (Dieter Laser), will capture three human subjects and sew them in a row, mouth to anus to mouth, so that they effectively become one creature with one digestive tract. I sincerely hope you’re grown up enough to realise the icky connotations of this operation, because I’m sure as hell not going to spell it out for you. I also don’t think I’m spoiling anything for prospective viewers when I reveal that the operation doesn’t end well for anyone concerned.
Tom Six’s film is, in many ways, exactly what you expect. The set-up is perfunctory B-movie cheese, straight out of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and countless others, with two dumb American teenagers, Lindsay and Jenny (Ashley C Williams and Ashlynn Yennie), stumbling into a madman’s house after their car breaks down in the woods at night. It’s clearly cheap, the cast is small, locations are few, script and acting hover around porn movie standard, and, following the rules of exploitation, any characters that aren’t crazy are stupid. Audience sympathy for Lindsay and Jenny’s characters greatly increases post-operation, partly because of the horror of their predicament, and partly because they are now unable to voice any more idiotic dialogue. Anyone wondering why Dr Heiter has this elaborate, sick obsession will be disappointed. We know he doesn’t like people, he used to separate Siamese twins, and he’s crazy. That’s it, and without any real reason given for his insane desire, Heiter comes to resemble the arse-obsessed doctor in South Park. THC exists to show a number of horrible things happening to a number of people for 92 minutes. Pretty much everybody dies. That’s what it’s about, and you can’t say you weren’t warned.
This utilitarian gross-out approach actually makes the result more watchable. We don’t see the doctor kidnapping Katsuro (Akihiro Kitamura) to be the head of his centipede, because it’s only important to the tale that he turns up. In fact, we don’t see much of the world outside Heiter’s house at all - a motorway side road, some woods, an anonymous hotel room - because we don’t need to see more. When the cops inevitably turn up, they’re at the doctor’s front door at once; we never see a police station, or the witness that is overheard screaming ‘in an American accent’, because Six isn’t really interested in anything outside his hermetically sealed medical nightmare. It’s as if Heiter’s house, with its clean, ordered furnishings and bleached hospital cellar, exists outside of any recognisable place in the world. This, together with the unreal, stilted nature of some of the dialogue, gives the film an off-kilter weirdness, and good thing too. If we were convinced that any of this was happening to real people it would be unbearable.
How much of this weirdness is simply down to budget, and how much was through Six’s design is uncertain, but the film is designed, in a European minimalist fashion. This is not a Texas Chainsaw freakout, there’s none of your Rob Zombie hand-held nonsense here, the camera work has been composed: all tripod, pan and dolly, with none of Saw or Hostel‘s tricksy editing or industrial Gothic flourishes. This may sound crazy given its subject matter, but the film is actually pretty restrained. The expected sexual angle isn’t exploited, bar a little un-eroticised nudity. The soundtrack is unobtrusive and uncluttered. Likewise, anyone expecting fountains of gore and scatological filth will be surprised at how much the film doesn’t show.
While it’s cracked in concept it’s not entirely devoid of thought. There’s a recurring motif about communication; with the two girls unable to comprehend Heiter’s German, and no one speaking Katsuro’s Japanese, the doctor has, perversely, given his centipede a head he himself cannot understand (and oddly, Katsuro’s longest, most dramatic speech goes untranslated). What’s Six trying to say here? That perhaps, y’know, we might all learn to get along as a species if a mad doctor would only sew us together? Hell if I know. He was one of the original directors of the Big Brother TV phenomenon. Which seems to make perfect sense.
So, are there any reasons to watch The Human Centipede, other than grotesque novelty? Well, there’s Dieter Laser’s performance: he suggests absolute gibbering insanity through clenched body language and measured language, overacting and restrained at the same time, like Christopher Walken on Thorazine. He pretty much screams ‘mad scientist’ even before donning the regulation white coat and shades, and his utter impatience and irritation with every other character on screen make his scenes genuinely amusing. Then there’s the title creation itself, which is both a sick and unsettling idea, and an undeniably surreal spectacle, like something that’s crawled out of Bosch’s garden of earthly delights, or Pasolini’s Salí², or 120 Days of Sodom.
But, frankly, there’s not much to The Human Centipede, really. It’s as if once he’d conceived of the central idea (apparently as an appropriate punishment for convicted paedophiles), Six couldn’t come up with much to do with it. It’s better than it ought to be, I had some evil chuckles, and it will get a following. The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) is already on the way, god help us. Can I be the only one hoping for a whole new direction in which the human centipede comes to terms with itself as a new organism, learns to love its own body, and we end with a tap dance routine on Broadway that the audience will never forget? C’mon! Now that’s entertainment!
Opening with a brief history and contextual overview of the video nasties era, Ozgur Uyanik’s debut feature delves imaginatively into the world of the found footage sub-genre of horror movies, capitalising on the media-sparked paranoia surrounding these notorious 80s gems. James Powell stars as James R Parker, an enthusiastic film industry hopeful who gets his first step on the ladder as a runner for a Soho-based production company. Desperate to impress his friendly yet demanding boss Mike and to withstand the constant taunts and put-downs of his more established colleague Dorothy, he subjects himself to the most undesirable tasks in a bid to appear indispensable. When cleaning the understandably filthy basement he uncovers the reels of an unfinished film, The Street Walker, a low-budget nasty horror with which he becomes infatuated, an obsession that is driven further when he notices a reflection of the film’s director in one of the shots. Thus, with his boss’s blessing, he is prompted to finish the film himself in the hope that the complete picture will be his ticket to success. However, the more James uncovers and his fascination escalates, the darker his story becomes.
The use of faux documentary within horror is always a risky device. If used ineffectively, plot and budget holes will be magnified greatly, but if approached with care, it can make for a genuinely chilling and believable experience. Resurrecting the Street Walker walks a fine line between the two throughout the course of its slight 80-minute running time. The opening 20 minutes superbly blend a classic curse story and an account of breaking into the British film industry as seen from a typically inexperienced enthusiast’s perspective, which is instantly gripping and easy to relate to.
Much of the film is played out through talking head interviews of various characters affiliated with James, and this device hinders the film’s unpredictability, as early sequences clearly point to the film’s conclusion. These segments don’t really add anything to the journey documented by the footage captured by his friend Marcus, which displays James’s mental unravelling far more effectively. The film’s climax itself isn’t particularly thrilling or believable, but snippets of the found footage are suitably unsettling and the film contains some shocking moments, including a particularly nasty strangulation scene.
Resurrecting the Street Walker does succeed, however, in conveying the pain and passion of people working their way up from the bottom of the film industry, with James Powell giving a heartfelt performance as a young man who refuses to give in to his parent’s wishes for him to find a ‘proper’ job and has the perseverance required to triumph through unpaid internships. It’s an amusing and familiar tale to anyone who has been in his position and has faced real-life characters resembling Dorothy, brilliantly played with a wealth of creative put-downs by Lorna Beckett, and for this reason it is worth seeking out.
Writers: Charles Chiodo, Edward Chiodo, Stephen Chiodo
Cast: Grant Cramer, Suzanne Snyder, John Allen Nelson, John Vernon
For a trashy horror/sci-fi/comedy (thanks IMDB), Killer Klowns is inspired. It takes the simple (albeit done to death) idea of clowns being evil, but exploits that premise for all it’s worth. Victims are turned into candyfloss, inflatable balloon animals hunt people down while the Klowns fire popcorn guns where each grain turns into a carnivorous jack-in-the-box. This film is inventive, stylish and a joy to watch, just to see what crazy spin the directors are going to come up with next.
It’s the kind of movie you want to be mates with and it looks like it was just as much of a laugh to make as it is to watch. You can see that the Chiodo brothers put their hearts and souls into every detail, and the actors look like they’re having a great time playing their stock horror movie characters.
I say actors, but to be honest it looks like the brothers roped in a bunch of mates, whose only experience of acting seems to come from watching Saved by the Bell (especially the ice-cream double act, who really had to be the first to die). These performances could have polished a turd in a so-bad-it’s-hilarious kind of way, but here the hamming takes the shine off a genuinely funny script, which includes such deadpan lines as when Police Chief Mooney leans forward and growls, ‘Killer Klowns? From outer space?’ in true Police Squad fashion.
If only Lost would do this type of thing.
Bonus features on this new Arrow release include an audio commentary with the Chiodo Brothers, alongside behind-the-scenes footage and a making of feature, and interviews with stars Grant Cramer and Suzanne Snyder, composer John Massari and creature fabricator Dwight Roberts.
But all the popcorn guns and hilarious dialogue can’t hide the fact that the film is fundamentally flawed. It’s just not scary. Despite the Spitting Image-style animatronic Klown-heads and their fantastically diverse methods of destruction, they are ultimately soulless, superficial and dare I say it, boring. The wonderful gadgets gloss over the fact that these bad guys have the personality of an envelope. There is no feeling of triumph when the people start to fight back, and the climax feels like just another sexy set-piece rather than anything momentous. Hell, I even got the feeling that if only our heroes would just ignore them they’d probably go away on their own.
Which is a real shame.
It’s still a great romp though. And after a few beers and pizza, it’ll make a fantastic climax to any house party. It’ll give Anchorman a breather at any rate.
High-five for candyfloss.
This review was first published for Optimum’s DVD release of Killer Klowns in 2008.
Screenplay: Georges Franju, Jean Redon, Claude Sautet, Boileau and Narcejac
Cast: Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli, Edith Scob
‘Il faut se contenter de cette chiennerie’. As even Dr Génessier has to reluctantly admit, grafting bits of stray dogs onto each other is a lot easier than replacing your daughter’s face ruined in a car crash. If monstrous self-confidence made him a dangerous driver, it at least made him a brilliant surgeon, no? We first see Génessier delighting a respectable bourgeois crowd with solemn talk of the technical difficulties involved in skin grafts. For an audience caught up in the narrative of science’s heroic efforts to benefit humanity, the language of ‘irradiation’ and ‘exsanguination’ is as sterile, and bloodless, as the procedures it refers to. But the opening scene has already shown us how the messy stuff is disposed of: while the doctor is lecturing, Alida Valli’s Louise drives to a remote stretch of the Seine to dump the faceless body of an abducted girl. Louise is more than happy to do the doctor’s dirty work, for he has given her back her face; and harvesting suitable transplant subjects for Génessier’s poor daughter Christiane from Paris cinema queues is a small price to pay.
Franju’s film is not, however, about undermining the dry scientific façade with gore and violence. Eyes Without a Face (Les Yeux sans visage) presents a clinical Gothic: the horror is in the surface itself, in the calm and sterility of procedure. The encounter of scalpel and skin releases a little blood, but not an excess; only enough to sketch with icy precision a commedia dell’arte mask. Parting this from the poor girl’s face produces a rare moment of texture. Mostly, the surface of the film is as horribly smooth as Christiane’s porcelain mask. Flat middle tones dominate, producing a world seemingly without depth. One is sometimes surprised to see a character walk into a space one could have sworn was a backdrop, and location shots have rarely looked so airless. The only play on the surface of undifferentiated grey matter comes in peripheral disturbance; shadows from multiple light sources, and areas of glowing hangover white. Everything behaves like marble.
And the pace is funereal: the doctor paces around, expressionless, with painfully slow deliberation, a slave to his own self-esteem. Christiane, gliding about in white mask and even weirder white satin housecoat, with the jerking movements of a melancholic android, is of a piece with the backdrop, emerging out of it like a materialised genius of place. Until the very end, she has not a word to say against the destruction of other girls just like her. If only she can have a face again. And when she does briefly have one, actress Edith Scob manages to make it look like another mask. ‘Smile!’ commands the doctor, and the stolen face smiles; ‘Not too much!’ he adds, and it is impossible not to fear the flap of skin we so recently saw flopping into a kidney dish is about to come unstuck. Which of course it does, in the end.
Original title:Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens
Cast: Max Schreck, Alexander Granach, Greta Schröder
Hailed as a masterpiece of early German cinema and still regarded as one of the best horror films ever made, the 1922 classic Nosferatu has stood the test of time, despite a shaky start. Unable to secure the film rights to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, FW Murnau changed key aspects of the text in order to make his film. This subsequently led to the Stoker estate successfully suing the production company (Prana-Film) for copyright infringement, leaving them bankrupt. In spite of a court order for all copies of the film to be destroyed, worldwide distribution ensured copies would remain intact. Nosferatu has since influenced and inspired generations of filmmakers, spawning loving remakes and homages in the process.
Nosferatu stands independently from Dracula, yet the narrative structure is both true to the original and surprisingly complex. After cheerful businessman Hutter takes a seemingly innocent trip to the Carpathian Mountains to secure a real estate deal with the elusive Count Orlok, he falls ill, without ever suspecting that the cause might be the bite marks on his neck. Meanwhile Orlok embarks on a voyage across the sea to take up residence in Hutter’s town. The ship’s rat-infested cargo unleashes a plague upon the town, and though Hutter is reunited with his young wife Ellen, she realises she must succumb to the vampire in order to overpower him.
To consider Nosferatu simply as a key example of the German Expressionist style prominent in the early 1920s somewhat obscures Murnau’s leanings towards formal qualities, and his use of techniques heavily influenced by nineteenth-century gothic romantic paintings. Nosferatu‘s outdoor locations give a sense of realism, but camera tricks distort perceptions of time and space. Idyllic landscapes can quickly become fearsome, evoking the uncanny and obliterating boundaries between the real and unreal. Yet it is, perhaps, the expressionist elements that help make Nosferatu the iconic film that it is. Most striking is the now infamous image of the huge distorted shadow of the vampire; when he ascends the stairs to Ellen’s room his deformed figure calls to mind all incarnations of (childhood) fears, the terrifying ghosts and monsters which exist in the imagination.
Brought to life by Max Schreck, Count Orlok possesses an other-worldly presence not seen in cinema before or since. His features are grotesquely exaggerated: ears, nose and teeth protrude from a skeletal face, and his hands are claw-like as they delve at his prey: the bizarre physicality of Schreck’s performance complements the expressionist aesthetic of the film. Associated with rats and pestilence, Orlok is a world away from the charming and seductive Dracula depicted by Christopher Lee in the Hammer films. However, an undercurrent of perverse sexuality and desire runs through the film, and the predatory nature of the vampire is literally examined under a microscope by the scientists, as if it can be understood rationally. But this is to no avail.
Nosferatu was the first of many Dracula films, and its unique aesthetic reflects the level of innovation in the German film industry at that time. This definitive two-disc set is exquisitely restored, with painstaking resurrection of the original music and intertitles. With special features including a 96-page book and a making-of documentary, there’s plenty to sink your teeth into.
This review refers to the 2007 Eureka Entertainment ‘Masters of Cinema’ DVD release.
* Special features of the newly remastered BFI Blu-ray release include a video essay by Christopher Frayling and the two short films Le Vampire by Jean Painlevé and The Mistletoe Bough by early film pioneer Percy Stow, which features a new score by Saint Etienne’s Pete Wiggs. The disc also includes a fully illustrated booklet featuring film credits, film notes by David Kalat and an essay on Albin Grau and Nosferatu’s occultist origins by Brian J Robb.
A Deviant View of Cinema – Film, DVD & Book Reviews