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Friday, April 20, 2018

Kuso


Kuso
2017
Steve Ellison

As the rapper Busdriver informs us during the opening musical number, a massive earthquake has devastated Los Angles and the survivors are diseased, mutilated and some have been driven mad. We then spend time with some of these denizens and their bizarre lives, are they still human underneath or have they become something much stranger?

Kuso is a towering edifice to the grossness of the human body. No fluid is left behind as this movie gleefully wallows in all the pus, excrement, blood and seminal fluid it can find. It is rare I see a movie that has no intention of holding back, and Kuso is quite pointed about challenging the viewer with the amount of bodily mess on display. Every so often a film comes along that is heralded as the next ‘endurance’ film, I Spit on Your Grave (1978), Martyrs (2008), A Serbian Film (2010), to name a few. Those movies usually engage in a certain grueling cruelty directed at both its characters and audience. Make no mistake Kuso is often cruel to both as well, but just as often it is absurdly funny as well.

"What do you folks at home think?"
The film is broken up into four vignettes that never fully intertwine but do carry some thematic similarities. These vignettes overlap and are occasionally interrupted by extended animation interludes. Smear, the tale of a young boy and the anus monster he befriends after getting laughed out of school is somehow both disgusting, contemplative, and shockingly rather beautiful at times. Sock tells of a young woman who eats concrete and is told by God to find her baby in a strange tunnel. It is the most horrific of the four, both engaging in Kuso’s now customary poop fetish as well as claustrophobia and body horror. Royal has all the incest and tumor sex you could want outside of a Cronenberg film. Mr. Quiggle is a story that contains mutants who look like they stepped out of Antibirth (2016), abortions, rapping, and a giant insect that lives inside the butt of Parliament-Funkadelic’s George Clinton.

Taco Bell 2099
The movie moves between stories at a pace that isn’t rapid but does keep things interesting. The mood of these stories ranges from haunting to ludicrous and creates a multi-textured kind of storytelling that shines through even all the gross-out muck and upsetting sex. The stories it tells are weirdly lyrical and underneath are driven by characters who are just as broken as their earthquake ruined city. So, despite all the horror and comedy there a definite melancholy tone that serves to unify all of these elements.

Kuso isn’t for everyone, and in fact, I’d venture to say it isn’t for most people. It is a deeply unpleasant film, but it is also a rewarding one those brave enough to venture into its wet confines. I can’t promise you’ll like what you find there, but I don’t think you will forget it any time soon.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Nightflyers


Nightflyers
1987
Robert Collector

A strange signal in space may or may not lead to contact with a mythical alien race. A contact team is assembled and placed aboard a ship that heads out in search of these beings, but little do these passengers know that their pilot, a man who never leaves the cockpit and only communicates via hologram has a terrible secret that might kill the crew before they ever meet any aliens.

Nightflyers starts with a lot of ground to cover and does so in the least interesting way possible. The film needs to convey a number of things, it is set at some point in the future, there are telepaths, there is advanced spaced travel, there may or may not be fabled aliens on the verge of being discovered, there are cybernetics, and there are advanced AI technologies. Rather than demonstrating all of this, Nightflyers indulges in a lengthy voiceover as a single character relates what all of the other characters do and what their personalities are like. It is simultaneously an overwhelming and underwhelming introduction.

"My unitard is bunching up!"
The movie continues in this vein through 2/3 of its run-time. It keeps introducing concepts by telling the audience, but never really ventures beyond that. There are some really intriguing ideas here too, the twisted notion of having a cross-sex clone made to serve both as lover and child, and the idea that rage and jealousy can continue on past the death of a physical body to exist in a machine form, just to name a few. This coupled with a sizable cast of characters is enough for a movie twice as long, but Nightflyers lacks the resources to work with all of its components.

The final third is given solely to our dwindling number of heroes attempting to put a dangerous computer mom to rest. The final act drags on too long, and while there are some inspired moments, including a delightful limb removal via laserbeam scene, mostly it’s a chore to watch. When the final explosion filled climax arrives it is a relief more than an exhilarating moment.

The ensemble cast is quite good, Catherine Mary Stweart, and James Avery almost save Nightflyers from being a complete waste of time. There are far too many characters who are barely sketched out as people to keep the audience engaged, but that fault lies in the writing and not the acting.

My skin is exactly like this in the winter.
Visually the film has an interesting look, the planetside city is an industrial maze, the exterior of the ship is a menacing black art-deco creation that would look equally at home in Alien (1979) or Flash Gordon (1980), the interior, however, looks like the world's most haunted mall complete with pastel colors, bright lights and plenty of fog. It is a combination of looks that could have only come out of the late 1980s and while it is not to everyone’s taste I enjoyed its oddness. Helping that eerie atmosphere immensely is the way that the world seems empty. We don’t see anyone outside of our main characters and the fact that such a vast ship is piloted by a single person is even brought up an issue.

Nightflyers as a concept and setting has a lot of potentials, but the movie continuously wastes them and it ultimately fails as both a science-fiction film and a horror film. The actors do the best with what they have but their efforts are unable to right this ship. The poster is great though, so there is that at least.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Sequence Break


Sequence Break
2017
Graham Skipper

Oz (Chase Williamson) works in a dying arcade game repair shop. While facing the end of his employment there, he meets Tess (Fabianne Therese) a fellow video game enthusiast. The two quickly strike up a romance. A mysterious package arrives for Oz. It contains an arcade motherboard. He places the board in a cabinet and is greeted with a strange game that seems to play with him just as much as he plays with it. Oz becomes obsessed with the game even though it begins to twist his mind and his flesh. Only a strange man who keeps breaking into the shop seems to know the truth.

Sequence Break’s parallels to Videodrome (1983) are obvious, but it also draws upon tales of the legendary Polybius arcade game which may or may not have been some kind of psy-ops experiment by the CIA to create a video game that could affect people minds. In both films, we have a main character who is repeatedly drawn to a form of electronic media that not only alters minds but bodies as well. Sequence Break indulges in some gooey body horror just like its predecessor. It takes a particular delight in presenting a machine made of wood, plastic, and metal then turning it into something pliable, soft, and sticky.

A bad case of vector acne.
Whereas Videodrome lived a world teetering on the brink of some kind of televised apocalypse, Sequence Break features a doom that is much more personal. Oz’s life is on the verge of collapsing, the safe space of his job is ending, he meets a woman who is pushing him out of his isolation, and now this strange arcade machine appears. It hangs in the background as a constant reminder that Oz feels trapped in his life, but at the same time, he doesn’t want to leave what he’s made.

I feel that story falls down in the third act as it begins explaining origins the mystery game. These explanations are delivered by a character referred to in the credits as The Man (John Dian). He is the typical wild-haired seemingly insane person who spouts things about the void looking into you and other such clich├ęs. It really drags on a film that was moving along with its dueling storylines of romance and infection. The game is intriguing enough on its own, it doesn’t need a rote mad creator.

The Final Boss.
Oz and Tess make a good on-screen couple, their interest in one another and their shared classic video game hobby feels authentic. There is a trend to try and overwrite or underwrite women characters who are into typically ‘nerdy’ pursuits and make them obsessive best-of-the-best superfans or girly girls who just like a thing in hopes of landing a man. Tess is neither of those, she likes old video games but it is not the entirety of her being.

Sequence Break has more thought put behind its human characters than you would expect, but it fails its central mystery ever so slightly. The film doesn’t cover new territory but it touches on the 1980s pop-culture revival in a way that reminds us that looking back and living in the past can be a nightmare just a much as it can be a wistful fantasy.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Monstrosity


Monstrosity (aka The Atomic Brain)
1963
Joseph V. Mascelli

Mrs. March (Marjorie Eaton) is an old woman in search of eternal life. To accomplish this, she has employed Dr. Frank (Frank Gerstle), a mad scientist with the knowledge and skill to swap brains out of bodies. Mrs. March has also hired three young women, Nina (Erika Peters), Bea (Judy Bamber), and Anita (Lisa Lang). These three women think they are employed as housecleaners, but what they really are doing is auditioning to be Mrs. March’s new host body. Also, there is a cat (Xerxes).

"I'm watching that hand, pal."
Monstrosity lets you know where its heart lies early in the opening scene. A seemingly nude woman is subject to a strange experiment inside of an apparatus while an ominous(ish) voice-over tells you more than you wanted to know. The movie is out to titillate just as much as it is out to horrify. I’m not sure it is particularly adept at either but it certainly puts forth the effort. Horror films had figured out that sexuality and horror had a strong connection (and more importantly sold more tickets), Monstrosity stops just short of being brazen enough to put full nudity on screen (this was filmed in 1958 but unreleased until 1963 due to money problems with the original production company), but it does manage to sneak in a little gore, which was far easier to get past censors (and sadly this is still the case).

One thing the movie never really seems to communicate is exactly how the brain swapping is performed. It involves radioactivity, and surgery of some kind, but how Dr. Frank is able to cram a human brain into the skull of a cat or keep a cat brain from bobbling around in the roomy skull of a person is never explained. It is probably an element that could have been hand-waved away with a few lines, but Monstrosity has no such interest in mere mortal things like making sense. It is far too busy letting the viewer ogle women and watch their encroaching doom at the hands of Dr. Frank and Mrs. March.

The aftereffects of watching Monstrosity.
You would hard-pressed to find worse fake accents outside of a comedy film. The three leads are supposed to be from various countries, Mexico, England, and Vienna. If the film didn’t inform us where the trio had come from, I wouldn't have been able to tell from their bizarre speech patterns. The three women are often put in positions to be stared at and groped by Mrs. March which adds some homoerotic subtext that you don’t normally expect in a film from this period. The narrator is no slouch either, he is happy to tell you exactly what he thinks about these women and their bodies.

For all it’s flaws, Monstrosity has a sense of fun about it, the movie takes a certain delight in its absurd premise. This becomes especially evident in the finale which sees everything Dr. Frank has created undone by one angry cat/old woman. The constant leering and objectification of the leads give the film a sleazy edge that sets it outside the average science gone amok film if anything this feels like a companion film to The Brain that Wouldn't Die (1963) since they both focus on similar themes in similar ways. The movie is short and doesn’t overstay its welcome. Monstrosity a (very) minor trash gem that’s guaranteed to remove your brain.

Friday, March 23, 2018

A.P.E.X.


 A.P.E.X.
1994
Phillip J. Roth

Nicholas Sinclair (Richard Keats) is a scientist working with others to locate and eradicate the source of a plague that has devastated the world. Their brilliant plan is to locate the origin of the disease at some point in the past and send back an Advanced Prototype EXploration unit (or a robot if you prefer) to blow it up. When an A.P.E.X. sent to 1973 threatens an innocent family, Sinclair travels back to stop it, but when he returns to his time the whole world has changed for the worse.

Initially, A.P.E.X. is mildly intriguing; the overarching threat is a mysterious disease that can apparently only be dealt with by sending killer robots through time. This flips the whole Skynet narrative on its head, ‘What if the evil force of the future is really trying to stop things from getting worse?’ The story jumps to 1973 and I thought that it would be novel to have a Terminator rip-off that spent some time in the early 1970s. None of this really matters after about fifteen minutes as we are whisked back to 2073 for a solid hour of marching around the same brown wasteland shooting at robots.

 A.P.E.X. could still salvage its transformation into yet another futuristic war movie by having some interesting characters that we care about, but it fails here too. Sinclair is saddled with a bunch grouchy whiners who really have nothing else to do but yell and threaten one another. I hoped that maybe they would bond in the face of adversity but they remain jerks to one another the entire time, and I eventually stopped caring if any of them lived. Thankfully most of them do not.

"SHOUT FORCE IS READY FOR ACTION!"
You are watching a killer robot movie mainly for the killer robots. A.P.E.X. only has one model of machine to offer and you only ever two on screen at the same time, but they are reasonably cool looking. They whir and clank like they stepped out of a 1950s movie, but that is charming in its own way. Any menace they might have is completely undercut by the fact they are terrible shots, and only manage to hit a target after a good twenty plus rounds are fired. To drag things out even further, it takes twice that many shots from our heroes to blow up an A.P.E.X. bot. So the majority of the movie feels like you are watching characters stand in one place and endlessly shoot at one another. It might pad the runtime out but it doesn’t make for compelling viewing.

An android stands alone somewhere in Nebraska.
If you’ve never seen a time travel movie before the ultimate revelation about the source of the mystery disease might come as a surprise, but even then I doubt it. To further insult the viewer, some potentially interesting paradoxes of the story are handwaved away quickly with a voice over.
A.P.E.X. had some potential but it falls down and just becomes yet another cost-effective action movie set in a desolate wasteland. If you are hard up to see some robots stomp around and shoot at soldiers you might find some enjoyment here, but I suspect that most viewers will want to spend their time more wisely.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Elliot


Elliot
2017
Craig Jacobsen

Elliot (Joshua Coffey) is a disheveled technician who works in the bowels of a strange power plant. A creepy face (Robert Pristine Condition Gammel) appears on a screen ordering him to do his job, while a calm voice echoes throughout the complex about numerous malfunctions developing in the system. Elliot would much rather spend his time jacked-in to a fantasy world where he is clean and handsome, waited on by a Butler (Jay Sosnicki) and drawn to a mysterious dancer (Anna Muravitskaya). Elliot’s dream life begins to infect his waking life and it pushes him towards a search for what is real.

It is pretty fascinating that in an age when technology companies are pushing large format 4k screens and 3D sound design there has been an equally strong push by creators to embrace older analog video formats.  Analog video provides an immediacy and an almost impressionistic quality to a story. This format has found its most use in horror, where it is what you can’t see or at least can’t quite make out that can provide the fright. Couple this effect with the natural glitchiness of videotape and older equipment and you have an engine for creating unsettling images.

"Something has gone seriously wrong with my Viewmaster™. "
If Elliot is anything it is unsettling. The viewer is thrown into Elliot’s murky claustrophobic world with no guide or time to acclimate. The only character we are given is a person who is isolated, frightened and seeks only escape. It is not a user-friendly environment, but I think people attracted to a film like Elliot will count that as a plus. To punctuate the anxiety-inducing location, Elliot’s moments of rest are short. Just as he settles into his fantasy world or seems to be on the verge of uncovering the mystery of his identity, his disembodied boss begins barking orders at him or a Sentinel appears to give him a disapproving shake of the head.

Elliot is filled with a mixture of color and gloom. Shot on VHS the smear of color and shadow can often make it difficult to discern exactly what you are looking at, but at other times it coalesces into some wonderfully beautiful looking scenes. The costuming and technology of Elliot consist of lumpy techno-organic stuff that feels like it wouldn’t be out of place in Tetsuo the Iron Man (1989). The scenes set in Elliot’s dream world are the opposite, they contain a simple sort of retro-elegance.

A screencap from Elliot or 1970s era Doctor Who? You decide.
The sound design and music of Elliot are raw sounding electronics and processing that create an atmosphere that feels as alienating as the world. Once again there are brief respites from the alarms and buzzing of the compound but these more serve to heighten the contrast when we are shoved back into Elliot’s post-industrial hellscape than to give Elliot (or the viewer an escape).

Elliot is barely over an hour long and that’s probably for the best; it is an alarming and exhausting film but is also a compelling and at times a touching one. Elliot isn’t the easiest character empathize with but he’s our only guide in this nightmare we share with him.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Nemesis 5: The New Model



Nemesis 5: The New Model
2017
Dustin Ferguson

[In the interests of full disclosure, I not only received a preview copy from the director, but he was also kind enough to cast me as an extra in this film.]

Nemesis 5 is the latest entry in the long-running action-science fiction series created by Albery Pyun, this the first entry not directed by Pyun, who turns the reigns over to Dustin Ferguson. The basic plot of the series involves humans and cyborgs, many of whom don’t get along, forming warring factions. The cyborgs invested in overthrowing humanity are the Red Army Hammerheads. Throw in some murky politics on both sides and a little time travel and you’ve got what feels like if Skynet had launched an attack on humanity with stealth and propaganda instead of nukes.

We are introduced to Ari Frost (Schuylar Craig) as a cyborg and terrorist hunter who was raised by Alex (Sue Price) a genetically bred warrior featured in Nemesis 2-4. Ari sent back in time to 2077,  and along with a small team, is on a mission to track down the leaders of the Red Army Hammerheads to end the conflict once and for all. Along the way, she faces enemy agents, drones, a killer nurse and even the most iconic villain of the Nemesis series, Nebula.

"Let me guess, you're here for the Kraftwerk concert."
With a nineteen year gap between Nemesis 4 (1996) and 5 the film begins with a lengthy opening text crawl that the sets the stage. Clocking in at 71 minutes including credits, Nemesis 5 doesn’t have any time to waste and it gets right down to business. Ari runs from shoot-out to shoot-out, gaining and losing allies along the way. At their heart, Nemesis films are action movies with science-fiction elements but, Nemesis 5 does put in the work to give Ari an internal life as she is drawn in between her humanity and her internal technology. This pays off in a surprisingly thoughtful finale. I would have loved to have seen the rest of her team been given some more moments of characterization as well, they are an interesting group.

On the technical side, Nemesis 5 is filled with bright neon colors, sterile offices, grungy bars, and vast open areas of land. Many smaller budget films confine themselves to just a few locations, but Nemesis 5 moves its story around to varied and different places keeping everything feeling fresh. This production really stretches itself with model work, CGI, and some practical effects.

Well now, who is that sexy cyborg in the back there?
Occasionally dialog is difficult to hear, this is especially problematic during the finale where the film takes a philosophical turn and Ari is tempted with a path to power over retaining her humanity. The soundtrack of Nemesis 5 is one of its strongest elements, it is a fantastic mix of old school synthesizer drones and beats, along with a few choice industrial tunes including a great theme from industrial music mainstay Velvet Acid Christ.

Nemesis 5 is ambitious and despite a few technical setbacks it harkens back to the best days of direct to video action films from the 1980s and 1990s. Despite being over two decades away from the original Nemesis (1992), Nemesis 5 feels right at home in the series.

Update: Director Dustin Ferguson informed that the official release will have an upgraded professional sound mix that will improve the Foley mixing and the hard to hear dialog!