The Villainess(aka Ak-Nyeo, 악녀, 惡女). an elite assassin goes on a rampage to win back her freedom. This opens with one of the most intense and enjoyable rip-roaring action sequences in recent memory, where no fewer than 50 henchmen are dispatched in a 6-minute point-of-view frenzy of shooting / stabbing / and kick-punching – think of the Oldboy‘s infamous corridor scene, but from Hardcore Henry’s perspective! The film also ends with an equally-impressive action finale involving a bus and a lot of great stuntwork / choreography. It’s peppered throughout with shorter bursts of ultra-violent, and undeniably ‘cool’ blood-spurting over-the-top moments. As you’ve probably guessed, the action scenes are second-to-none… however, they only total around a quarter of the 120 minute runtime; which is a shame as the film if being sold as purely an action film in the same vein as The Raid (the UK poster namechecks Kill Bill, Nikita, John Wick, Hardcore Henry, and Hong Kong Era John Woo!!!). The problem with these comparisons are that – as an overall film – The VIllainess nowhere near as strong as those classics. It’s also lacking in originality in that you can see where shots / scenes / characters have been lifted wholesale from the aforementioned movies; for example, the lead’s backstory is identical to Oren Ishii’s of Kill Bill. The story jumps around the timeline in a manner that is unnecessarily confusing until the final act, where it all kinda (?) fits together. Despite being built from bits and pieces of other action flicks, the action scenes in The Villainess are still inventive, great fun to watch and the spectacle (+ “how did they do that!?” factor) of these alone should entice genre aficionados. It makes it all the more frustrating that these scenes are lost in a flabby, overlong, underwhelming, and melodramatic plot – which could have done with losing around 30 minutes to make it a tighter and more focused / straight-forward action film.
De Palma: two directors plonk a camera in front of legendary director Brian De Palma, and he discusses his turbulent career, warts ‘n’ all. This kicks off with a brief history of his journey into cinema; starting as an indie director through to his studio system break alongside Lucas, Spielberg, Scorsese, and Coppola. The rest of the documentary feels like De Palma defending his stinkers and bigging up the films that initially underperformed, but have been subsequently lauded. My main issue with this documentary is that I don’t know who it’s supposed to be aimed at: the 2-5 minute recap of every single film is too high-level for De Palma nerds like me – even with the odd anecdote – yet it pretty much spoils the best parts of every film that ‘De Palma n00bs’ won’t have seen yet. As it’s just De Palma talking, it feels a touch self-indulgent – massaging his own ego – and coming over as a tad weird, bitter, & unhinged by the end. This is capped off with a final few minutes that turn into the biggest self-congratulatory handjob; where De Palma states that he is the only director keeping Hitchcock’s notions of “pure cinema” alive! This is the only time I’ve ever though that what I was watching could have benefited from more talking heads lending different perspectives and additional context. Don’t get me wrong, De Palma is one of the most under-rated directors out there; and although he’s had some stinkers, he’s also made some of the greatest movies of their times… but this isn’t the tribute that I was expecting; or that a masterful director like Brian De Palma deserves.
If you really want to explore De Palma, scrap this and go watch Blow Out, Femme Fatale, Scarface, or The Untouchables to see the damage this guy can do with a camera.
The Wailing (aka 곡성, 哭聲, Gokseong): when a remote Korean village sees a spate of mysterious infections and violent murders all fingers point to an outsider from Japan that has recently moved to the area. This starts off as a darkly funny black comedy for the first 30 mins or so – that isn’t above fart jokes – but it slowly pivots 180-degrees into an intense, slow-burning, atmospheric supernatural mystery. The films doesn’t limit itself to one particular horror genre either; crossing possession (difficult to watch seizures) with slasher gore, demons, ghosts, and hints of zombies. One of the film’s climaxes involves a claustrophobic cutting together of three separate scenes involving two nauseating pagan rituals and a girl being exorcised; which reaches sustained levels of doom that are rarely seen. At around the 2 hour mark it does start to feel like a long film, however, the multi-layered ending that keeps folding in on itself is extremely satisfying, serving up a superbly tense and sustained showdown, with the kind skin crawling creepiness that Hollywood just can’t zero in on. There are also some very strong performances in the lead (a flawed bumbling cop), his daughter, and the entertaining shaman – who all shine in their roles. My only real fault of the film is that western – or even non-Korean – audiences will probably want to Google the film to the pick up on a lot of the significant cultural details that add to the film’s intricate plot – although it does still make plenty sense watching it cold. Very few films reach the sustained intensity of The Wailing; only the claustrophobia of Kill List, and the violent madness of something like Cold Fish come to mind. Chalk it up as another film which proves that Korea has one of the strongest film industries in the world.
Everly: after four years as a Yakuza sex slave Everly wants to be back with her family – and she’s willing to kill anyone that stands in her way. Welcome to Titty City: population 2, Salma’s girls. This film is ‘bootay central’ as Salma jogs around in silk nightgowns, low cuts, yoga pants… and the sprinklers even come on to give us a sexy wet-look finale! (classic move). She gets shot, burned, stabbed, tased, tied, tortured… but never looks less than fantastic. Being set in a brothel there’s also a long line of leggy babes dressed like all the fantasies! Not content with misrepresenting just women, this throws every Japanese stereotype you can think of in the mix: intelligent Asian man full of wise “my uncle once told me” proverbs; full theatre costumes with geta shoes; samurai sword / sai dagger wielding yakuzas; sprawling back tattoos, etc etc. On the upside, the film is very well made – looking as good as most big-budget pictures – and the SFX team does some great work with buckets of blood, severed limbs, and loads of new creative ways to kill people. I was rather enjoying it all until a nasty acid torture moment, which seemed to dip briefly into torture-porn territory and haul me out of the film. This type of movie isn’t for everyone, but Everly combines the story elements of an old-school rape-revenge rampage with modern over-the-top ultra-exploitative action; and it does both of those very well. Salma’s acting and director Joe Lynch’s enthusiasm raise this above the shlocky B-movie that it truly is.
B-Movie Score: 8/10
Gladiator: an army general turned slave must rise from the pits of the Colosseum and take down a false leader who murdered his family, friends, and previous employer. The cast is a jaw-dropping mix of ‘classic’ thespians, up-and-comers, bodybuilders, and comedians but everyone feels completely at home in their roles. The plot is simple, but packed with so much Shakespearean betrayal and deception that feels hypnotic in parts. Action scenes are huge, flashy, and bloody – but remain visceral & entertaining, and stand up against anything coming out today. It’s hard to find flaws in this: In fact, my only minor niggle is that some of the setup feels rushed and clunky; like how you can pick anyone off the ground and make ‘em a slave. You know a film is special when even after a handful of viewings and years of TV re-runs it still grips you, and the 155 minute runtime flies by. Everything about Gladiator feels truly ‘epic’ in the classic Hollywood sense – the sets, the action, the plot, the acting, the score – and it all comes together perfectly to create what’s arguably the perfect swords and sandals film.
NEKRomantik 2: The Return of the Loving Dead – follows a Berliner called Monika who’s torn between two boyfriends: a corpse and a porno-dubbing ‘normal’ guy. This is easily the weirdest and most contradictory film I’ve ever seen: it’s a cine-literate, ultra arthouse picture that contains more explicit gore, shocks and taboo than the top horror and most notorious exploitation films. It’s stylistically directed, with an increasingly surreal tone, some ‘auteurial’ touches like a 4:3 Academy Ratio, long ‘silent movie’ sections, a musical number, outstanding dolly & time lapse shots, and a film-within-a-film ‘My Dinner with Andre’ parody – director Jorg Buttgereit clearly knows what he’s doing. Not all choices are solid however, most scenes linger on longer than they should (fun fair / zoo), and especially towards the end it feels deliberately slowed down and padded out. Then there’s the small matter of gore and taste: from the opening frame – a grotesque suicide and spunk moment – this is an assault on your senses. Do you want to see a hot chick get off straddling the chest of a slimy grey corpse…or intimately dismember and gut said corpse with a hacksaw… or the skinning, butchering and decapitating of a seal? Then look no further than this. The elongated and graphic nature of these scenes test even the most hardened gore fans, and make it feel like more of an endurance test than a film. It’s a movie so notorious that it was the first film since Nazi Germany to be confiscated and outlawed by the police; it’s clearly the blueprint for Human Centipede 2 – and it’s the only film I’ve seen that surpasses it on the crazy gore spectrum. NEKRomantik 2 is explicit, depraved, stomach-turning and completely unforgettable – it could well be the pinnacle of notorious shock cinema.
B-Movie Score: 9/10
As with all of their specials, Arrow have given this the ultimate VIP treatment: a director approved pack with Blu Ray, DVD, OST CD, Postcards, a booklet, and a phenomenal stack of bonus material.
Blood Rage (AKA: Slasher. AKA Nightmare at Shadow Woods. AKA Complex): an evil child frames his twin brother for murder – 10 years on, when the sane brother escapes from an asylum, he finally has an excuse to kill again. The clunky dialogue and bog-standard horror scenarios really emphasise the wooden performances – championed by the mum, who is drunk in one scene, then normal, then catatonic, then madly cleaning, then scoffing food off the floor… she’s laughably terrible. Strangely, the direction itself isn’t bad; conjuring up some striking and iconic images, and the ‘twins’ aspect (both played by the same actor) is well done; arguably the most impressive thing about the film. Despite the catalogue of unintentional missteps it’s a fun enough film to watch – namely due to the comically extreme and over the top slashtastic gore: entire sets are painted red, and limbs & bodies end up everywhere. Mash this all together and it kind of works in a weird, HDTGM type of way (nothing about the story makes sense). While Blood Rage isn’t a great film in anyone’s book; it’s the best type of bad film, for having a high body count, and being knowingly bad (like the Cranberry sauce zinger!). it can still be enjoyed, and is prime for cult viewings and drinking games.
B-Movie Score: 7/10
The Arrow Blu Ray 2K restoration is great: the film looks cleaner and brighter than it has any right to be, and – as always – there are shedloads of behind the scenes, extras and interviews with the cast. Making this a must-have for B-Movie aficionados.