El topo: a surreal wild-west-type cowboy tale that’s heavy on the religious symbolism and appeared to have been conceived (& filmed) whilst on all of the drugs. The biggest thing this film has going for it is reel after reel of top-shelf insanity and phenomenal imagery: attempting to put some of the scenes into words wouldn’t do them justice – but suffice to say that the locations, landscapes, characters, and overall visuals are absolutely remarkable. Beyond the aesthetics, the rest of the film feels like a hodgepodge of themes, styles, and ideas. The tone continually bounces around from jarring “Texas Chainsaw” style, straight into to a Russ Meyers type shoe-sniffer: from po-faced religious moments through to Blazing Saddles levels of stupidity. It’s also – unfortunately – a film of two halves, that gets tangled up after the initial “mission” and really loses the head of steam (and patience) that the first have had built up. The foley work is particularly terrible – the film is shot outdoors, but most of the speech and effects appear to have been recorded in a boxy echo chamber. There’s also a lot of violent (although reddest blood ever) and exploitative stuff in here too, like the misuse of religion, lesbians, and midgets & disabled people for no real reason. Bizarre and easily one of the strangest & most overlooked cult movies ever made, El Topo is the most peculiar of beasts, that’s only worth watching for it’s sublime and visionary aesthetic.
Satan’s Blade: the evil spirit of an ancient and violent mountain-man terrorises tourists at a secluded ski lodge. At 80 minutes, you expect a punchy slasher, and with the first ten minutes only consisting of women getting undressed then shot in the tits, it’s half way there… however it all goes south very quickly. Released in 1984, this has more of a 50s/60s feel due to very basic camerawork, acting, editing, and a very poor sound mix – people talking inside a car, but no car noises; missing screams; shouting through walls but sounding crystal clear; silent shower curtains etc. Also, for a slasher, the deaths are fairly disappointing, with dabbed on blood and lots of cutting/editing; but very little gore. The acting isn’t much better, with ‘studenty’ performances, and stunted delivery of very stale dialogue. You know a film’s amazingly bad when the IMDB page is full of its actors/writers tearing it to pieces and apologising for it! Regular viewers will be disappointed by Satan’s Blade; but as a formerly rare, no budget b-movie, the Blu Ray release is a treat for hardened collectors and VHS nostalgists looking to upgrade their copy, and learn about the film through the plethora of new extras and features.
Standard death acting in this picture
Tenebrae (Unsane): the author of a string of successful-but-violent novels goes to promote his latest book in Rome, but someone is stalking and killing his fans & entourage. From the opening scene this is like watching the essence of the 1980s – it’s all very stylish, with flashy direction, bold wardrobes, striking locations, and modelesque actors. Most impressively, there’s a lot of impeccable camerawork – like a completely unnecessary, but nonetheless beautiful, elongated single-take crane shot (with Bonus double-kill!!) that circles a building for minutes. It’s also one of the most bright and colourful slashers you’ll ever see, with phenomenal lighting and particularly eye-popping greens and reds. The soundtrack is dominated by a catchy synth rock earworm, which may sound familiar as it was more recently sampled by Justice (original by Goblin.) It’ feels smarter and better planned than most other slashers as it sets everyone up as a potential suspect, then slowly kills them off one by one, ending on a stunning finale with around 10 minutes of sustained blood, gore, and multiple plot twists – which plays out like a precursor to later and more aware horror films like Scream. Other than being almost exclusively suspiciously sexualised nudey babes that are being butchered right left and center there isn’t much to complain about here. Tenebre sees a visionary Italian (and Horror) auteur crafting one of his most mainstream movies – a dual language whodunnit – at the height of his notoriety. A truly classic and top-drawer horror / giallo film that’s a crimson blueprint for subsequent slashers; it’s still great fun to watch, and easy to admire.
Maniac (Original – 1980): A psychopathic killer is on a spree in New York, terrorising and scalping the public. This one bursts out the gates with two pretty graphic murders, and is evenly punctuated with some full-on eye-opening, jaw-dropping gore throughout. Once scene in particular had me completely shocked – which is a total rarity. Joe Spinell puts in a top shift as the unhinged lead; switching from feral, deranged and demented through to normal, vulnerable, childlike, and charming. The audio helps emphasise the unsettling vibes the movie gives, with creepy internal dialogue and an off-kilter synth/electro track for tension building. It’s visually strange too, with creepy mannequins, seedy New York locations, and a bizarrely open ending. Put this all together and you have a film that’s way above the standard of the genre, and arguably beyond the taste of other slashers from this era. Dark, completely bonkers, and still genuinely shocking 35 years on; Maniac is a thoroughbred slasher film that’s difficult to enjoy, easy to appreciate – but ultimately hard to recommend to anyone that doesn’t like video nasties.
Lone Wolf and Cub – Baby Cart in Peril (AKA – 子連れ狼 親の心子の心 Kozure Ōkami: Oya no kokoro ko no kokoro, Shogun Assassin 3: Slashing Blades of Carnage): Ito’s latest contract is to assassinate a killer of many samurai, but to his surprise it’s a lady with outstanding short-blade skills, and in a similar situation to himself… Oyuki presents a very strong female lead, something that the previous movies have had – but not taken this seriously. The very first frame is a tattooed boob, so it starts off great! But soon after there’s a bit of silly magic (face mask magic guy), some sizable flashback sections, and a lot more talking than previous installments. However, as good as the story and premise are, the Babycart films are never better than their action set-pieces: with Wakayama hacking, slashing, and literally flying around the frame – he can’t half move around for a big bloke. The now customary ‘final battle’ with dozens of enemies and a few ‘bosses’ is also great, and for the first time we see him properly injured/vulnerable too. More than anything, the film is a little confused about who the baddie is: the girl? Her nemesis? Itto’s old foe? The big hairy guy? By the fourth movie it does feel a bit like more-of-the-same but the film still pushes the boundaries, and does well to set up the one-armed swordsman myth.
Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades Review
Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx Review
Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance Review
Yuuuuuup – that’s someone’s head that’s just been sliced in half!
Lone Wolf and Cub #2 – Babycart at the River Styx (AKA: 子連れ狼 三途の川の乳母車 and Kozure Ōkami: Sanzu no kawa no ubaguruma) – a disgraced executioner lives on the road with his son as a mercenary, avoiding about five assassination attempts per day. While it feels like more of the same, this film expands on much of the first outing – pushing the larger story forward, upping the action, and having even more stylish and poignant moments – like a slashed-up guy appreciating the sound of blood flying out from his neck. Shots like the sword dripping blood whilst tearing down a fusuma wall, and frozen bodies synchronously hitting the deck – are just fantastic to watch, pure cinema escapism, soaked in cool – it feels decades ahead of its time. Tomisaburo Wakayama further expands his role as the dangerous, effortless, perfectly timed slayer of baddies. This also pushed the boat out by having a crew of super-dangerous female ninjas – which isn’t seen too often in the genre. Simplified, it’s essentially about a guy that walks down a road, mows down some killers (baby sometimes mucks in) then carries on walking down the path – yet this film gets away with it because it’s got so many layers. The biggest disappointment is that all of the scenes filmed at night (around 60% of the film) are terrible and you can’t make out a thing for the most part. This film’s great, and I’d love to give it a 7 or 8 out-of-10, but because such a large chunk of it is just a black frame with something moving around in it, it’s often frustrating to watch.
Lone Wolf and Cub #1 – Sword of Vengeance (子連れ狼 子を貸し腕貸しつかまつる, or Kozure Ōkami: Kowokashi udekashi tsukamatsuru): when his wife is killed by ninjas and he is betrayed by a rival clan, the Shogun’s lead executioner becomes an assassin for hire, wondering the country with his infant son. The film opens with the lead character beheading a child… which lets you know exactly what to expect from the film, and what the lead, Itto Ogami is capable of. Despite this, being played so well by Tomisaburo Wakayama means that you still relate to, and feel for the character and his situation, as he transforms from obedient executioner, to a masterless badass – even if he’s out-of-shape. He is another one of Japan’s surprisingly complex – well acted – anti-heroes. The action scenes are second to none; heads literally roll across the screen, limbs fall to the ground, jets of blood spray everywhere – it’s completely over the top, yet so ridiculously stylish and meticulously planed; it was the first of the more extreme, exploitative Chambara movies. There’s also surprisingly good period detail for an out-and-out exploitation movie; the weirdest part however is that there’s a strangely high volume of scenes involving suckling on teats (OK, only two, but that’s still two more than most films). Sword of Vengeance is over 40 years old now, but it’s crammed full of everything that most modern exploitation films can’t even do right – the main difference is that it’s filmed by an absolute auteur – the film looks like art at times, which is a testament to the story’s manga roots.
NOTE: Some people will be familiar with this from the Shogun Assassin movie – which takes the bloodiest bits from the first two Lone Wolf and Cub films and mashes them together to create an even bloodier samurai slasher film aimed at Western audiences. That banned VIPCO vault of horror DVD was my first exposure to the series, and god was it brilliant.