Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Teeth (2007)

"Alright, let's take a look at that bergina..."

You've probably heard the theory that slasher films are all about punishing women for their sexuality. When the killer is stabbing some cowering, promiscuous cheerleader with a big, fat knife he's actually stabbing her with a big, fat penis (in her metaphorical vagina). I guess Leatherface wins for most over-compensatory weapon, although I seem to remember Jason Voorhees using a weed trimmer at some point. He must have been feeling a bit insecure that day. I can buy that theory, but I still don't believe that slasher films are inherently misogynistic. Half of the victims are usually men, portrayed just as unsympathetically as the women I might add, and the hero is usually a woman. True she is usually a "good girl" character, but strong, capable and sympathetic as well. What's more, if a slasher film is doing its job, you should be siding with the victim anyway. You shouldn't be cheering when the victim is killed, you should be wincing. Aaaanyway, Teeth is a film that attempts to turn this whole slasher stereotype on it's head.

Dawn O'Keefe is playing in a kiddie pool with her new step-brother Brad, the twin stacks of a nuclear power plant looming behind them. A game of "doctor" turns sour and Brad gets a nasty cut on his finger. Cut to several years later and Dawn (Jess Weixler) has become one of those creepy abstinence kids, handing out "promise rings" to bible-quoting youngsters. She is wholly afraid of her own body, and can't even masturbate without visions of toothy maws spoiling the mood. Her brother, meanwhile, has turned into an unbelievable prick. I don't know if it's intentional, but the guy playing Brad (John Hensley) doesn't look like a tough guy at all. He's covered in tattoos and piercings, but he looks like a soft guy trying to look tough, rather than the genuine article. He spends his time fucking his long-suffering girlfriend and menacing his caged rottweiler.

It's only later, when Dawn is raped by one of her supposedly abstinent chums, that she discovers the true ramifications of her mutation. Vagina Dentata, the mythological embodiment of man's fear of female sexuality. The mythology is all explained in voice-over when Dawn does a web search on some phony generic search engine (come on people, just use Google), how the Vagina Dentata is something to be "conquered" by a worthy hero. I wish they hadn't spelled all this out so plainly, but there are also some really neat touches about gender politics, like the fact that their anatomy textbooks have diagrams of female genitalia censored with big stickers that Dawn has to soak off in the sink.

So with all this setup, I assumed that her mutation was going to be used as an allegory for a teenage girl coming to terms with her sexuality. Unfortunately, the film doesn't really take that path. Instead it meanders through a series of sexual assaults (each perpetrator receiving his gory comeuppance) with Dawn ultimately becoming some sort of agent of vengeance, seducing and punishing evil men. I suppose it's to the movie's credit that I really wished things had turned out better for her. I was a little sad that her reactions to the mutilations become increasingly glib and callous. I kept hoping that eventually she was going to meet a guy who wasn't a horrible rapist, and maybe come to terms with her "gift", but almost every guy she meets attempts to rape her. It's a pretty paranoid representation of men (especially the gynocologist, I bet the Ob-gyn Society is happy about that one), but I don't really see how else her mutation is going to come into play. Thankfully, the rape scenes are never graphic or played for titillation. We only see Weixler naked at one point and it's separate from any sex scene.

This film is well made and looks great, aside from a goofy looking computer composite here and there. Acting can get pretty broad and cheesy (this is a B-horror film, after all) but Weixler is great as Dawn. It doesn't hold anything back during the scenes of genital mutilation, so some of the guys in the audience might be wincing during a few scenes. I've never seen a film where a dog eats a severed dick before. Not since Hostel 2, anyway. So yeah, I really enjoyed this film. I wish it were a little more substantial (Dawn's relationship with her parents, for example, is never really explored), but as a horror film it's a lot of fun. I'd also like to point out that I got through this whole review without using a horrible tooth-related pun (a film with bite, something to sink your teeth into etc). Hope you appreciate it.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

A Boy and His Dog (1975)

Ever wonder what happened to Tiger after he
disappeared from the Brady Bunch?

The year is 2024, and Phoenix, Arizona has become even more uninhabitable, thanks to a nuclear apocalypse. Roaming this sand-blasted hellscape is a "solo" named Vic (pre-Miami Vice Don Johnson, trading his white suit and loafers for some tattered rags) and his trusty dog Blood. What makes this interesting is that Blood has a telepathic link with Vic, mainly used to provide withering sarcasm. I approve. At first I thought Blood was some sort of robot dog because this mutt is hella smart. I'm sure if my dog could talk it would be something along the lines of "Got any foooood? Got any more foooood?" but this dog knows all about world history and has all the US Presidents memorised ("Johnson, Nixon, Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy"). He's definitely the brains of the outfit, while Vic provides the opposable thumbs.

Aside from his intelligence, Blood has another useful ability. He can use his special dog radar to detect nearby human beings. Vic generally uses this ability to ferret out women to rape. After a daring act of thievery, Vic and Blood manage to gather up enough canned goods to buy themselves a night at the movies, a shabby desert camp where a lonely people sit around and watch scratched up copies of sex films. During their night on the town, Blood detects a female in their midst.

Following her back to her underground hiding place, Vic watches her strip down to her bra and granny panties (two luxuries I wouldn't think would be available post-apocalypse) before springing on her. Of course he ends up being charmed by her, but is interrupted when the gang who normally inhabit this underground lair return home. They fight it out, Blood is wounded and they are forced to hole up underground and wait it out. Between bouts of passionate lovemaking (ie fucking), Quilla tries to convince Vic to come with her to Down Under, the underground village where she lives (not Australia). Vic refuses, since he would have to leave Blood behind, so Quilla knocks him unconscious and run away.

When Vic awakes he is driven to follow her and while Blood is unhappy with his decision he agrees to wait at the entrance to the underground complex. The subterranean village is called Topeka, a bizarre parody of small town America, where white-faced people have picnics and preserve contests while loudspeakers blare conformist propaganda all day long. Topeka is run by the Committee, a group of individuals who are more than happy to "farm" anyone who fails to conform to their utopia. Aiding them is their Enforcer, a monstrous cyborg whose face is contorted into a permanent rictus.

Vic is quickly captured, and it is revealed that he was lured down here intentionally in order to act as a "stud" to refresh their gene pool. This doesn't sound too bad to Vic, but unfortunately it entails being strapped to a milking machine, his baby batter collected into vials and distributed to newlyweds right after their wedding ceremony. Eventually Vic is rescued by Quilla, who wants to use him to overthrow the Committee so she can take their place. Vic refuses and escapes, with Quilla in hot pursuit, but as he reaches the desert surface, he finds that his loyal dog has been waiting at the entrance the whole time and is now on the brink of starvation. Vic finds a rather creative solution.

As you might have guessed, despite the title this film isn't for kids. In order to lessen the confusion they added the subtitle "A rather kinky tale of survival", which makes the film seem like a cheesy sex comedy, which it is certainly not. Based on a Harlan Ellison short story, it's a very bleak and nihilistic black comedy. At one point Vic comes across the body of a woman who'd been slashed to ribbons, he's upset because she "could have been used a few more times." And he's the good guy. The only woman they trust ends up betraying them more than once, and in the end Vic chooses his loyal dog over female companionship. This is a moral wasteland as well as a physical one, quite misogynistic, but notions of gender equality go out the window once the bombs hit.

Another thing that makes this film work is the chemistry between Vic and Blood. Blood is voiced by Tim McIntire with the right amount of wry intelligence, and the animal is directed with enough care to make him as believable as any of the human cast. Contrasted with Vic's impulsive and sex-driven actions, it becomes apparent that he needs Blood just as much (if not more) than Blood needs him. I liked the team so much I wish I could see the continued adventures of Vic and Blood. Apparently there are some graphic novels that do just that, so I might try to track them down.

This is a post-apocalyptic film but this is no action-adventure flick filmed with bearded Italians in a disused quarry. There are no muscle-cars, mutants or mohawked punks. George Eastman doesn't appear anywhere in the cast. Instead it's a great piece of pre-Star-Wars sci-fi (back when genre fiction could actually be intelligent and thought-provoking) and essential piece of viewing for anyone who is into 70s cult films.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Legion (1998)

The Dirty... Ten

Dirty Dozen meets Alien was no doubt that was the pitch given to the gullible folks at the Sci-Fi channel. I've got to admit that movie sounds pretty sweet (Lee Marvin punching out an Alien etc) but put those dreams to rest, my friend. They will not be needed here.

It's several hundred years in the future and the world is a very different place. The United States is mired in a never-ending, unwinnable war with an ill-defined enemy and troop morale is at an all-time low.  Okay, maybe not that different.  However, unlike the present day (for now at least) the United States has taken to executing it's more unruly soldiers in order to build morale.  One of the fellows scheduled for incineration is Captain Aldrich (Parker Stevenson), a highly-trained soldier who disobeyed a direct order in order to save his troops and was charged with desertion and sentenced to death.

A last ditch escsape attempt brings him face-to-face with Colonel Flemming (Troy Donahue), who has chosen him for a special mission to infiltrate and capture an enemy base on a hostile planet. Joining him is a rag-tag bunch of death row inmates who hit every peg on the cliche board. You've got a religious nut, a nymphomaniac, a computer hacker (Corey Feldman!), an acrobatic mute, a homicidal maniac, a hotshot pilot etc. One guy is played by Australian icon Rick Springfield. Leading said group is Major Doyle (Terry Farrel) who should be called Major Hottie, am I right? Apparently she got a lot of nerds hot and bothered when he played some bald, spotty alien on Star Trek: Deep Space 9 (she's not bald and spotty in this movie, thankfully).

So pretty soon they're dumped on the surface of the planet and things don't look quite right. There's no sign of life, just a big ol' stack of bodies sealed up in a room. Plus all of the bodies are US Army prisoners, just like them. Tensions begin to fray, and pretty soon a mysterious, off-screen creature starts to pick them off one by one. Is it an alien life form that fails to show up on their life-scanners, or is it one of them?  So, despite the Aliens pretentions, this isn't really an action film. It's more of a thriller built on mistrust and suspicion. Unfortunately, you really don't care enough about any of the characters to lend it much thought, and when the killer is revealed I'd be surprised if it illicited more than a half-hearted shrug.

Why is it in these films that you can never do stuff like turn on generators or activate homing beacons remotely? You've always got to walk through a series of dark, conduit-lined, monster-infested corridors and get to some control panel and pull a huge switch that says "Make turn on now". Most of the plot is that kind of, get from point A to point B and pull switch C kind of thing.  Just an excuse to split people up so they can be picked off.  Meanwhile, Feldman's computer nerd creates a program to decrypt a found encoded audio file that takes about 40 minutes to process. The camera constantly cuts to the countdown timer but once the message is decoded it doesn't reveal who the killer is or really anything all that interesting. Thanks a lot, Feldman.

It should be noted that for a bunch of elite military commandos, they're about as dumb as a box of rocks. They are constantly squabbling and splitting up, leaving eachother unattended for long stretches. It's pretty pathetic. You almost feel sorry for Major Doyle, babysitting this bunch of morons and psychotics. Our main character, Aldrich, is the only half-intelligent one.  Throughout the fim the two of them engage in some half-hearted bonding, Doyle having been involved in the incident that led to Aldrich's execution.

So as I was watching this film I was getting increasingly frustrated. The monster and the deaths are usually off-screen. All you get is a yellow-tinted steadicam thrust in the faces of our victims and a scream, so there's not even a entertaining gory payoff. Towards the end, the only thing keeping me going was the idea that I would finally get a good look at the alien creature. Now, this is a terrible situation to be in. You know it's never going to live up to your expectations, especially since it's a made-for-TV Sci-Fi channel movie. Even if it was as awesome as the Alien Queen, the Predator and the Terminator combined, it would still fall short. And it does. He looks kind of like the Master from Buffy the Vampire Slayer actually, only with a much cheaper facial appliance and smeared with a bucket of slime. Considering how much talking he does you'd think they would make it so the mouth moves.

One thing that bugged me is that there was only one creature.  From a movie called Legion I'd expect them to be, you know, legion.  At one point the biblical reference is quoted ("Call me legion, for we are many") but it's pretty out-of-the-blue.  Really, that's about all I have to say about this film.  Unfortunately, it's not good or bad enough to be truly entertaining.  Just wrap yourself in tin foil (to give things a bit of sci-fi flavour) and re-watch Dirty Dozen.

Raptor (2001)


Roger Corman has carved out a nice little niche for himself, releasing low-budget versions of popular films that are often more entertaining than the film he is imitating. He has never seen a popular film he couldn't attach himself to like a cinematic lamprey, and of course the marketing blitz surrounding 1993's Jurassic Park didn't escape his inscrutible gaze. Carnosaur was produced and released just in time to coast in on the wave of hype. Any remaining potential stored in those rubber puppets and animatronic dinosaurs was wrung out in Carnosaur 2 and Carnosaur 3: Primal Species in 1995 and 1996 respectively. This may reveal a shocking gap in my cinematic knowledge, but I haven't seen any of the Carnosaur films. Luckily, I've seen 2001's Raptor, so I don't need to. Raptor recycles every last dinosaur-centric action piece from the Carnosaur series. These disjointed sequences are held together by the flimsiest plot possible. Only the barest of attention is paid to logic or continuity.

In what is the first of many to come, the film opens with a scene taken from Carnosaur. A bunch of teens ride through the desert in a jeep before stopping at the side of a cliff. One guy is attacked by a raptor-cam when he gets out to take a leak and the two remaining occupants are disemboweled by a hilarious rubber hand puppet. Well, at least they reused the good stuff. The next day, Sheriff Jim Tanner (Eric Roberts) and Animal Control officer Barbara Phillips (Melissa Braselle) arrive to investigate the grisly aftermath of the dinosaur attack. There is some sort of ex-lover tension between the two. Braselle is allegedly attractive but looks more like a makeup-caked, silicone-enhanced, tooth-whitened, tanorexic mockery of Western beauty. It's around now that the continuity errors start to surface like a plague of boils. The jeep is not only in a completely different location but bears only a passing resemblance to the jeep from the opening of the film. The inside of the jeep is relatively clean as opposed to splashed with blood as we saw minutes earlier. The corpses inside can't even sit still for their few seconds of screen time, which isn't a continuity error but is still annoying. Barbara also demonstrates her animal expertise by estimating the culprits size at about 150-200 pounds, at least 100 pounds heavier the tiny hand puppet we saw earlier. Their investigation is interrupted by an piercing roar from over the hill.

Meanwhile, at the Eunice Corporation, some scientists are busy crossing the line man was not meant to cross. In charge of the research is Dr. Hyde (Corbin Benson), a dude who looks kind of like the Alton Brown of advanced genetic research. The escaped dino has come to the attention of Dr. Hyde, and he is understandably upset and ranting to his two underlings and the chief of security. Tensions are no doubt exacerbated by the fact that they appear to be the only employees in the entire building. Even the security chief has been reduced to manning the front gate. Dr. Hyde's order to lock down the front gate isn't fast enough, and one truck full of chickens makes it out the front gate.

This is a surprising development. I'm not sure what the Eunice Corporation does exactly (something involving genetic research and poultry apparently) but I think they need to streamline their business activities, especially since we've only seen about four employees (five including the truck driver). With such a diverse portfolio of interests and a lack of staff and infrastructure to support it, quality control is bound to suffer, such as a hungry dinosaur stowing away in your shipment of live chickens. I don't know how he got in there but now that he's there he makes a hell of a mess and pretty soon the driver stops to investigate and he's munched too. Since we've got to link this chicken truck scene (which has been lifted from Carnosaur) to Sheriff Tanner somehow, a deputy immediately pulls up to investigate and he before he even realises that it's a completely different truck parked in a different location, he is munched too.

Meanwhile, in the back of a pickup truck, Tanner's daughter Lola is busy making out with her no-good older boyfriend. After giving us our requisite flash of silicone boob, her boyfriend goes off to investigate a Strange Noise(tm) and is subsequently munched by our surprisingly hungry dino. Lola manages to jump into the driver seat and escape, but plunges the car (or rather a different car from a scene taken from Humanoids From the Deep) over the side of a cliff. This is presumably because she's in a high-stress situation and not just because she's a woman. It explodes in a ball of flames, but Lola proves rather resilient and is taken to hospital in a state of traumatic shock.

One of Dr. Hyde's underlings decides to quit so Hyde, as a final request, asks him to go down and take a look at the T-rex. Nothing suspicious about that. It also appears that the laser-lined corridor where the dinosaurs are kept projects some sort of anti-aging field, as the scientist appears a good deal younger and slimmer than he did a few seconds ago. Unfortunately his new-found youth is cut short when the laser-grid is deactivated and the T-rex gulps him down. Soon after, Tanner and Barbara arrive to investigate the Eunice lab. They are turned away, but hear a strange roar emanating from underground.

Back at the hospital, Barbara plays her recording of the piercing roar from that morning, hoping that the sound will bring Lola out of her catalepsy. It does the trick, and soon Lola is unconvincingly screaming and crying about a strange "lizard". Afterwards, Tanner drops Barbara at home, where she prepares to take a shower. Disappointment awaits those of you hoping to catch a glimpse of her mammoth mammories (you know who you are), as she heads out to investigate a strange growling just as she's about to doff her brassiere. Her Golden Retriever, which should have been clearly visible to Barbara I might add, leaps up from just out of frame to give us a cheap scare. Damn you, Fido, you just cost us some boobs!

A convenient subplot about an escaped prisoner is trotted out to give one of the Sheriff's deputies an excuse to wander about in the dark and get impaled by a raptor claw. The next morning the Barbara and Tanner head out to identify his body (apparently the murder of a deputy didn't warrant contacting the Sheriff before now) and Barbara discovers a huge black tooth embedded in his body. Tanner then calls his buddies at the FBI to get some information about the Eunice corporation and find out about the barely-copyright-infringement-avoiding "Project: Jurassic Storm". After somehow getting the power company to agree to turn off the power at the Eunice building in exactly one hour, he grabs a search warrant (he conveniently keeps a stack of pre-signed warrants in his filing cabinet) and heads out with Barbara to confront Dr. Hyde. It's here that I was shocked by the appearance of not one, but four new Eunice employees. Two scientists are spotted leaving an elevator as they arrive and two security guards appear once Hyde decides he's had just about enough of their nosey questions and decides to lock them up.

Meanwhile, some Colonel Tanner talked to during his investigations has done some investigations of his own. On some fairly flimsy evidence he concludes that Eunice has resurrected "Project: Jurassic Storm" and sends in not one but two Special Ops teams to investigate, each with their own uniforms, transport helicopter and weapons. Why two teams? Well, that way they can use footage from both Carnosaur 2 and Carnosaur 3. What's more, Tanner's gambit has kicked in so there are no lights and the building is swarming with hungry dinosaurs. Good job, Sheriff! The next gruelling half-hour is spent watching soldiers walking through darkened industrial corridors, occasionally firing at some off-screen dinos. They also come up with the sensible idea of setting some explosive charges to level the building. Hyde gets munched by the T-rex as he attempts to escape, and the film shamelessly steals the climax from Carnosaur 2, a bulldozer vs. T-rex battle, that calls to mind the power-lifter scene from Aliens. Only much, much lamer. Eventually the T-rex is dumped down a massive shaft while Tanner and Barbara manage to escape just before the building explodes.

This movie is directed by B-movie regular Jim Wynorski. As well as directing monster features such as Komodo vs. Cobra he has also directed a string of hilariously named, breast-themed softcore porn films, such as The Breastford Wives, House on Hooter Hill and the Witches of Breastwick. Actually, I'm not even sure he deserves a "director" credit. Maybe "editor", but he didn't even do that particularly well. I've got no problem with some stock footage being used here and there. Sometimes when you're working under a tight budget you've got to make a few compromises. However, Raptor exists for the express purpose of reusing existing footage, milking a few cheap thrills from a trilogy of already-shoddy dinosaur flicks. Luckily I haven't seen any of the Carnosaur films, so the experience was not unlike a watching a greatest-hits compilation, plus it was fun to spot all the continuity errors. So basically, if you haven't seen any of the Carnosaur films you'll get your 85 minutes of dinosaur mayhem, but if you have seen them you'll probably experience deja vu followed by profound sense of being ripped off.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Versus (2000)

So, yeah, this is the kind of film where nobody has any names. Even imdb fails to elucidate, major characters are listed under "The Man" and "The Girl", so if any characterisation beyond "Guy with butterfly knife" is a priority for you, then look elsewhere. If, however, you like zombies, martial arts and gunfights you may have found your new favourite film. The film is directed by one Ryuhei Kitamura, his first feature length film, and after this film he really took off. He has directed a Godzilla film (Godzilla: Final Wars), a few period action films and recently released an English-language horror film based on a Clive Barker short story called Midnight Meat Train. Let's hope it's more like Hellraiser rather than… well… most other Clive Barker projects. Watching this film, it's easy to see why he became so popular.

The prologue of the film seeks to answer an age-old riddle: Who would win in a fight between a samurai and a bunch of zombies? The question is answered in the very first frame: the opening shot is a zombie getting split in half with a samurai sword. Lengthwise. The winner, of course, is the viewing public. Soon the nameless samurai has carved his way through a dozen zombies, and as he washes his sword in a stream he is faced with a mysterious priest. The samurai charges, but the priest is too fast for him, and the samurai ends up on the ground in two discrete halves.

Following this introduction we move to the present day, where two prisoners, KSC2-303 and some other guy, are escaping through the forest. They arrive at a clearing where a bunch of Yakuza have agreed to help them escape, and what a motley crew they are. Leading the pack is Biker Yakuza, awkwardly straddling a Harley Davidson, followed by the smartly dressed Knife Yakuza, the glasses-wearing Smart Yakuza and the twitchy Comic-Relief Yakuza. These gangsters also have a female prisoner in a fuzzy white jumper, for whatever reason, who they are holding until their boss arrives. KSC2-303 gets pissed off by her treatment (he's a feminist) and he shoots a Yakuza in an alligator-skin coat who I haven't bothered mentioning because he dies pretty much immediately.

Unfortunately this forest is more than just a cheap shooting location, it also happens to be The Forest of Resurrection, the 444th of the 666 portals to the "other side". What that means is that any dead bodies left here come back to life as indestructable zombies. So pretty soon the dead Yakuza comes back to life, KSC2-303's buddy has also been turned into a zombie, and in the ensuing chaos KSC2-303 manages to escape into the forest with The Girl. So a couple of zombies milling about, no problem, right? Well, it seems this particular gang of Yakuza have been using this forest as their own personal dumping ground for guys they've whacked. Not only that, but for some reason they were buried with their weapons, so pretty soon everyone has got to contend with a whole gang of gun-wielding zombies. This leads to a whole series of crazy face-offs and gunfights.

After floating around in the periphery of the film for a while, the mysterious Yakuza boss makes his eventual appearance. Knife Yakuza, along with a few accomplices, attempts a violent coup, but it is foiled when it is revealed that Boss Man is pretty much immortal. He takes out the traitors and turns some of them into Super Zombies who possess superhuman speed and strength. Remember the mysterious priest from the prologue? Yeah, this is him. It seems that KSC2-303 and The Girl are magical beings that reincarnate generation after generation, and Boss Man wants her so he can use her blood to open the portal to the Other Side. However, her magical powers can only be used once, so she tricks him by... oh, fuck it. It doesn't really make sense at all.

There are also a couple of bumbling cops tepidly on the trail of the two escapees. At the beginning the movie KSC2-303 sports a pair of handcuffs that still have a severed hand attached, and one of these cops is the unfortunate former-owner. These two characters are basically just comic relief. They don't add a great deal to the film, although they get into a few good fights and provide a couple of funny severed-hand gags that call to mind Evil Dead or Bad Taste.

I'm not sure the term action-packed adequately describes this movie. In fact, and this is an extremely rare criticism from me, it's a little bit too action packed. You couple probably cut a sequence or two out of the film and it'd still be leagues above most other action films. As it stands, action fatigue starts to wear in by about the 100 minute mark, and it's about two hours long. The movie pretty much coasts entirely on it's action sequences, skipping from fistfight to gunfight to fistfight like a stone on the surface of a pond. If the film rested for a just a few minutes then all of it's other faults would become glaringly obvious, but luckily it moves so fast that you don't notice. Kitamura uses dizzying and frenetic camera-work that's kind of like Sam Raimi on crack. Usually I find that kind of barrage-to-the-senses obnoxious more than anything, but Kitamura is one of the rare directors who knows how to combine it with skillful fight choreography. He also keeps things interesting by, say, shooting through an enormous hole punched through a zombie's head. The film is extremely violent and gory, but it's all very tongue-in-cheek. So basically the film comes down to it's energy, which shines through it's shabby production values. Don't watch it for the plot, the dialogue and certainly not the acting (KSC2-303 speaks in a bored monotone while everyone else overacts so broadly I thought I could smell ham). Watch it for some great horror/action tempered with some goofy comedy and you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Wild Zero (2000)

Warning: Watching this film may cause you to shout
"ROCK AND ROLL!!!" at every opportunity

Guitar Wolf is a three-piece Japanese punk band consisting of three members. They go by the names Guitar Wolf, Drum Wolf and Bass Wolf.  This film is their story. Sadly, in 2005 bassist Billy died from a heart attack at age 38, so I am going to capitalise every instance of the phrase "ROCK AND ROLL" in his honour. This is actually the second film to star the band, the first being a weird sci-fi exploitation film named The Sore Losers (not to be confused with the Billy Jack film The Born Losers) where they played the "Mysterious Strangers". In Wild Zero, by one-time writer/director Tetsuo Takeuchi, they play themselves and according to interviews with the band itself it's a true-to-life documentary of their exploits. Good enough for me. And now, it's time to ROCK AND ROLL!!

Ace is the number one fan of Guitar Wolf and, after lovingly combing his massive 50s pompadour, he jumps onto his tiny motorbike and heads off to see their latest gig. After watching their performance in starry-eyed admiration, he is imbued with power of ROCK AND ROLL and bursts into the manager's office so he can try out for a gig of his own. Unfortunately this ain't American Idol, and he bursts right into a gun point confrontation between the manager and Guitar Wolf. The manager is known as the Captain, and he is a weird fat perv with a pageboy haircut and a fondness for drugs, beating up women and, worst of all, shiny booty shorts. He has decided to dump Guitar Wolf for a more profitable J-pop act, claiming that ROCK AND ROLL is dead. Of course, this blasphemy can't stand, and it triggers a gun fight that results in fingers blown off and exploded heads. The band escapes, but before they do Guitar Wolf annoints Ace as a "ROCK AND ROLL blood brother" and gives him a little whistle that he can use to call them whenever he is in trouble. Wow, just like Jimmy Olsen!  It'll probably come in handy too, because what none of them know is that a zombie plague is beginning to spread nearby.  Maybe it has something to do with all of the UFOs flying about?

We now leave Guitar Wolf for a while, and unfortunately whenever they're off screen the movie starts to lose it. We first meet a trio of morons, who are driving cross country so they can see a meteorite that has recently landed. A couple's constant bickering, combined with their complete lack of money, drives the other to rob the nearest petrol station with a couple of butterfly knives. If this was the USA he'd probably be laughed at and/or shot, but this is Japan, so the attendant freezes in terror and a female customer passes out from fright. The robbery is accidentally foiled by Ace and the would-be robber escapes.  Ace then helps revive the unconscious customer, who introduces herself as Tobio.  Ace is smitten, as helpfully indicated by the cheesy music and heart-shaped framing effect. While on his way to Guitar Wolf's next gig he stumbles across a bunch of zombies and is visited by a vision of Guitar Wolf himself, ordering Ace to go back for Tobio.

It's only later, when the two of them are sealed in a building with hungry zombies outside, that Tobio reveals her "surprise", which is of a Crying Game/Sleepaway Camp nature, by which I mean that Tobio has a penis. Possibly testicles as well. Ace flees in panic, leaving Tobio to fend for herself against the zombies, but he is once again visited by the spirit of Guitar Wolf, who insists that "love has no genders or borders." This might be the only film where the spirit of a punk rocker convinces someone to have sex with a tranny.  Unless there was a scene I missed in Ghost.  Anyway, Guitar Wolf isn't about to abandon his ROCK AND ROLL blood brother and eventually they all join forces, along with two of the would-be robbers from earlier (the third having since become lunch for the undead).

While all of this is going on we are also introduced to an illegal arms dealer who is waiting in the desert to meet a couple of Yakuza guys. What she doesn't know is that they've been consumed by zombies, and it's only when she's back at home in the shower (naturally) that she's attacked by a bunch of the undead buggers. Luckily she keeps a pistol nearby, and a few exploded zombie heads later she dons a truly bizarre Burberry one-piece, jumps into her APC and tears ass out of there. She eventually meets up with the rest of the group and decides to help them out when Guitar Wolf convinces her that the zombies are full of gold balls. She's pretty gullible, I guess.

Back at the club, the Captain is in the middle of auditioning a J-Pop act straight out of my worst nightmares when he receives news of Guitar Wolf's location. Swearing revenge for his missing fingers, he loads up his car with guns and heads out to find them. The final battle between Guitar Wolf and the Captain starts to go poorly when the Captain inexplicably gains the superpower to shoot lighting out of his eyes, but the rest of the gang manage to blow him up with a rocket launcher.  There's also a bit where Guitar Wolf leaps out an exploding building, shouting "ROCK AND ROLL!!" as he plays a throbbing power chord, then as soon as he hits the ground he tunes his guitar.  Coolest guy ever.  Then Guitar Wolf pulls a hidden samurai sword out of his guitar and cuts the UFO mothership in half. So yeah, this is probably the best music documentary I've seen. You can keep your copy of Don't Look Back. Did that have electrified guitar picks, flaming microphones, zombies, transsexuals and rocket launchers? I don't know because I didn't see it, but I doubt it.

Despite the fact that the film is packed with awesome stuff, it's not a total slam dunk. The stretch in the middle where Guitar Wolf are absent tends to drag a little, and the editing and pacing is all pretty amateurish. Some of the characters are redundant and/or unbearable. Obviously, music plays a big role in the film and most of it can be found on their seventh album, Jet Generation. The record label claims it is the loudest CD in music history (exceeding the theoretical maximum volume limits of CD audio) and a sticker warns that it may damage your stereo equipment. Okay, so the music sounds like boiled ass played through a tin can, but Guitar Wolf rocks. Hard. They are the first to admit that their guitar work isn't fantastic (it's generally three chord progressions, played poorly) but they have an incredible energy. Also microphones that shoot flames. Like the movie, the band compensates for their glaring faults with a manic energy, buckets of style and a huge dose of ROCK AND ROLL!!

I'm back, bitches!

Sorry I haven't posted for a while.  I've been really busy with important stuff.  Anyways, I've got a big stack of crappy movies and Guy N. Smith novels here to review.  Huzzah!