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.
The Exterminator: when his best friend, and fellow ‘Nam veteran, is killed by street punks one man goes on a vigilante rampage by baiting and killing the scum of New York. Unlike most of the ‘notorious’ video nasties this one feels like it ‘s actually worthy of the infamy; it gets pitch-black dark in places; the violence is slow and extreme; and is all the more effective for having such a baby-faced normal-looking everyman in the main role. There are however a couple of aspects that let the film down: in particular the comically stereotypical ‘street punks’ that have drug and sex parties in crack dens, and the action scenes feel very ‘budgety’ – particularly in the finale. The character development feels a touch over-egged as the plot focuses on the Anti-Hero and main policeman sharing some clunky similarities. It’s definitely a film of its era, with a thick layer of Post-Vietnam / ‘veterans in society’ commentary, as well as capturing the seedy streets of New York during its most dangerous period. Overall, The Exterminator is a film that has a message, and although it’s not particularly insightful, there are enough shocks and attitude to pull it off.
The Raid 2: Berandal (aka The Raid: Thug): following on directly from events in The Raid… after his brother is murdered the rookie SWAT member goes undercover in order to flush out the city’s dirty cops. It feels like director Gareth Evans is “doing a Tarantino” here, drawing from a lot of established Asian movie elements: the story is essentially Infernal Affairs; the themes feel like those of a fairly standard Japanese – notably Takashi Miike – gangster flick (internal power struggles, territorial battles, OTT Violence, honour, betrayal, black humour); and the visuals feel like you’re watching a modern Korean movie – e.g. Park Chan Wook – as it’s loaded with rich imagery and patterns (like the art deco ballroom and bar, sterile kitchen, snow fight) and some cartoonishly menacing enemies (‘Hammer Girl’, and the ridiculous side-combed, cane-wielding baddie) – there’s also a shitload of nods to A Bittersweet Life, from the Car/Warehouse fight to the impeccably dressed mobsters. The action scenes remain unbelievably entertaining, expertly choreographed and jaw-droppingly inventive – although shaky cam is used a lot more in this one. You never get tired watching Iko Uwais play human pinball with dozens of henchmen, exploiting the various locations, and through most of the big fights you can’t help but grab your equivalent body part that has just been mangled on-screen and shout “fuuuuck!”, every 20 seconds. Once again, there’s a good peppering of ultra-black humour to provide a little relief from the action. At 150 minutes there’s a lot that could have been cut out and not missed – from developing minor characters through to shots of nails, water, snow – although it is rigidly punctuated with big set-pieces so you never get the chance to nod off. The Raid was a powerful, gritty, relentless and raw 90-minute virtually dialoge-free history-making fight-fest that raised the bar for all action movies – and although I can understand why Evans didn’t want to just do the same again, in ‘beefing up’ The Raid 2 he has leaned a little too heavily on other director’s works, taking the edges off – and diluting – the 90-minute, 10/10 movie that’s contained in here. Niggles aside, the film is still packed with genre-defining action, cutting edge fight-choreography, and more hard-18-rated violence than you could shake a poorly-aimed shotgun at.