Tag Archives: Confusing

CAPSULE: HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB [EL ESPANTO SURGE DE LA TUMBA] (1973)

DIRECTED BY: Carlos Aured

FEATURING:

PLOT: The head of a medieval warlock possesses the bodies of young people staying at an isolated country estate, turning some into zombies and causing them to kill each other.

Still from Horror Rises from the Tomb (1973)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Horror Rises is a worthwhile, but not quite exemplary, illustration of the tendency of 1970s Eurotrashy fantastique horror to elevate atmosphere and effect over sense and logic. Made out of equal parts camp, decadence, and incoherence, it’s a decent choice for a midnight viewing some evening when you don’t want to think too hard while getting some pre-bedtime chills.

COMMENTS: Most of the plot developments in Horror Rises from the Tomb need to be prefaced with the phrase, “for unclear reasons…”  When invited to a seance with a medium, swinging playboy Hugo suggests they contact an ancestor of his who was hanged for practicing witchcraft (and vampirisim and lycanthropy), then decapitated so his head and body could be laid in separate graves to prevent him from rising from the tomb.  The same warlock ghost has been haunting Hugo’s artist pal, dripping blood from his severed head on his canvases.  After successfully contacting the spirit, Hugo, the painter and their girlfriends travel to Hugo’s isolated country estate to go digging for the head but are waylaid by bandits, then rescued by vigilantes who execute the criminals on the spot.  Upon arriving the foursome hires village locals to dig up the head, or buried treasure, whichever they find first.  Halfway through the movie, after the cast is mostly dead or possessed, the caretaker’s daughter remembers that her father hid a magic talisman that would protect them from any evil spirits that would rise from the nearby tomb in a well.  Besides possession, the warlock also creates a mini-army of walking corpses, and when daylight comes Hugo goes to dredge up their corpses from the river (where he dumped them earlier—for unclear reasons) and burn the bodies, even though he already incinerated them the night before.  And so it goes. The storytelling is jumpy—characters are killed off before you even realize who they are—and awkward editing exacerbates the problem.  According to legend, star Naschy took anywhere between two days to a week to write the script, and it’s easy to believe.   You go into every story segment presuming it’s not going to make sense, and you’re surprised when, on reflection, there’s a hidden logic to some development.  Besides writing the script, Naschy is also credited as playing three roles (the warlock and Hugo are two of them, but somehow I missed the third one). Horror Rises gets by on atmosphere—beautiful, misty Spanish scenery; gorgeous doomed women in gauzy nightgowns; floating heads; zombies; Paul Naschy flinging his black cape about and keeping his bushy arched eyebrows flying at full mast.  There’s also a screechy organ score that is irritating but effective in keeping you on the edge.  The decadent exploitation, in combination with the disjointed storytelling and jittery editing, produces a comic-nightmarish effect typical of 1970s Eruohorrors; it’s a style that can become addictive if you give yourself over to it wholeheartedly.

The version of Horror Rises from the Tomb reviewed here is the edited, full frame version, likely compiled for television broadcasts, that’s commonly found in multiple-movie bargain packs.   This edition cuts out the abundant nudity and most of the gore (including, reportedly, heart-eating) and runs 10-15 minutes shorter than the uncut film.  The frequent edits to produce a TV-friendly, PG-rated product likely increase the incoherence factor, but given the movie’s edited in the purely expository scenes, I don’t believe the complete version makes significantly more sense.  The out of print but widely available BCI/Eclipse DVD contains both cuts of the film, along with a third “clothed” version intended for European distribution that substitutes alternate takes for some of the nude scenes but keeps the blood and guts intact.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…there was no denying the strange, unsettling otherness of this film as I watched it in a dark room, illuminated only by my portable black-and-white TV set.”–Troy Guinn, Eccentric Cinema (remembering a 1970s TV broadcast)

LIST CANDIDATE: AFTER LAST SEASON (2009)

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Mark Region

FEATURING: , Peggy McClellan

PLOT: Although it’s fairly incoherent, the core of the story involves two medical students working on a project and a serial killer who is stalking the area; telepathy and ghosts also play significant roles, and clunky “special effects” are added courtesy of primitive CAD software.

Still from After Last Season (2009)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST:  “Huh?,” “um…,” and “whah?” are all equally valid responses to After Last Season.  This movie may go down as this generation’s Beast of Yucca Flats: stultifyingly dull at times, but so full of misguided directorial choices and  failed attempts at cinematic poetry that it takes on a dreamlike character.  Watching After Last Season is like trying to follow a old timey radio monologue on an AM radio station with fading reception: you can tell there’s a voice trying to make itself heard, but the transmission is so garbled that the basics of the story become lost in static and long stretches of dead air.  It’s difficult watching, for sure—thus the “beware” rating—but for intrepid curiosity seekers looking to experience the worst of the worst, it’s a must see.  It has potential to become a The Room-like cult item.  Time will tell if After Last Season gains enough of a following that its devotees storm 366 Industries World Headquarters and take the staff hostage, demanding this anti-masterpiece take its rightful place on the List.

COMMENTS:  There’s a concept in cinema theory called “film grammar;” it refers to sets of filmmaking conventions that  have been proven over time to work to tell a story to an audience in a coherent fashion.  A director breaks these “grammatical rules” at the risk of confusing and losing his audience.  Here’s a very simple example of a “grammatical” movie “sentence”: a two way conversation starts with a shot of the character who’s speaking, cuts to a reaction shot of the party who’s listening, then cuts back to allow the speaker to finish his thought.  In After Last Season director Mark Region consistently exhibits atrocious film grammar: he will have his speaker deliver a line and then pause awkwardly, then cut to a shot of the listener Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: AFTER LAST SEASON (2009)

CAPSULE: CITY NINJA [TOU QING KE] (1985)

AKA Ninja Holocaust; Rocky’s Love Affairs

DIRECTED BY: Yeung Chuen Bong or Liu Li Shen

FEATURING: Cassanova Wong, Chen Wei Man, Chia Che Fu?

PLOT:  Two men, one a boxing champion and one a destitute but talented up-and-comer, seek two necklaces, each with half of a Swiss bank account number engraved on it, for two different criminal organizations.

City Ninja

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  This is one crazy chopsocky, but “over-the-top,” “shamelessly exploitative” and “incoherent” are more accurate adjectives to describe it than “weird.”

COMMENTS: From the opening scene where a wandering farmer fights off a horde of ninjas who randomly disappear or explode when defeated, you can be sure that this is a movie that places action and violence far above coherence and logic. You may have seen that coming, but what might surprise you is how much sex gets thrown into the mix. Both of the dual heroes gets several sweaty couplings with his main or subsidiary squeeze, and the flick even throws in a gratuitous Caucasian stripper groupie hired for her cultural willingness to show skin (the Asian girls demurely cover their naughty bits behind a frosted shower stall, soaking wet kimono, or a lover’s flailing limbs). The sex scenes are extra steamy for this type of movie, and even lead to some soap-opera style histrionics when one of the fighters is confronted by the girlfriend he dumped in front of the Other Woman; she pulls a gun on him while informing him she’s pregnant. The director views plot as a necessary evil that gets in the way of fight and sex scenes, yet he tackles a complicated story with two different strands and many moving parts. The result is that he rushes from fight scene to sex scene and back, and fits in exposition when he has a spare moment; there are several times when the viewer gets totally lost because the movie fails to establish which plotline it’s exploring at the moment.

Though the sex makes it stand out from the pack, chopsockies rely on flying boots, not heaving breasts, and City Ninja delivers memorable melees in spades. The combatants are lightning fast, the fight choreography is excellent, there’s comedy that actually works, and the mini-scenarios can be delightfully absurd. Best is a brilliant billiard room brawl with a kabuki-faced acrobat/poolshark that morphs into a mud-wrestling match; there’s also a remarkably executed scene where a boxer fights off attackers by manipulating his girlfriend’s stockinged legs as she sits on his shoulders. It’s far from high art, but it’s crazy and fun, and you have to admire the pure devotion to exploitation movie principles.

The IMDB credits Godfrey Ho as writer of Ninja Holocaust. Godfrey may or may not have been involved, but it certainly has that convoluted Ho vibe. The plot description and reviews make it clear that City Ninja and Ninja Holocaust are substantially the same movie, but the listed credits for the two films differ. I don’t feel particularly compelled to do the detective work necessary to straighten the credits out. Though it has two different heroes and can be difficult to follow, City Ninja does not appear to be spliced together from two different movies, as some assume based on it’s rumored association with cut-n-paste master Ho.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…this movie is dumber than a box of dog biscuits, but it’s also a lot of fun. You never have to wait for something ridiculous to happen and the flick is never boring.”–Mitch, The Video Vacuum (DVD)

CAPSULE: NINJA CHAMPION (1985)

Ninja Champion has been voted onto the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies of All Time. Comments on this initial review are closed. Please see the official Certified Weird entry to comment.

DIRECTED BY:  Godfrey Ho

FEATURING: Nancy Chan, Bruce Baron, Richard Harrison

PLOT: The hard-to-unravel plot involves a raped woman seeking vengeance, her relationship with the ex-fiance Interpol agent who deserted her, diamond smugglers, identical twins, and ninjas.  No champions appear.

Still from Ninja Champion (1985)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LISTNinja Champion is like manna from heaven for bad movie fans, who will want to check it out posthaste.  Its only weirdness, however, comes from the utter incoherence of its cut-n-paste plot, and this chopped-up chopsocky needs more than that to escape out of the kung fu jungle and crack the List of the best weird movies of all time.

COMMENTS:  Godfrey Ho is a director who believes that basic continuity is a luxury only big-budget productions can afford; he’s confident that the meat-and-potatoes masses won’t care if a movie makes absolutely no sense, as long as there are frequent ninja battles in it.  You must turn off your rational faculties to enjoy Ninja Champion. Otherwise, you will be rewinding the DVD every five minutes, trying to solve riddles like “where did that actress’ new blouse come from?,” “who was that guy and why he just disappear for no reason?,” and “how in the heck did she get those handcuffs off?”  The film seems to be simply another cheesy, cookie-cutter kung fooey, until the first really wacked out scene appears.  To prove her smuggling cred to an opium-smoking crime boss, our heroine Rose opens her blouse wide to display the diamonds she has been hiding.  It’s obviously a cheap ploy to smuggle some nudity into the film—but—the actress’ breasts (and the pilfered jewels) are blurred so that nothing can be seen. (It’s not a case of censorship, as a naked breast does appear in the film later, courtesy of a body double). It looks like someone smeared a thick wad of Vaseline on the bottom half of the camera lens. We are even treated to leering, full-frame closeups of her smudged, impossible to ogle chest.  This begs the question: is Godfrey Ho the first director in exploitation movie history to manage the oxymoronic feat of including a gratuitous topless scene with no nudity in it?  Hot on the heels of this bungled attempt at smut comes the badly integrated ninja storyline, wherein a Caucasian ninja randomly hunts and kills other ninjas (sometimes wearing headbands helpfully describing themselves as “ninja”) while they are practicing their circus tricks.  In between trying to follow the twisted, ludicrous plotline and watching for continuity errors, you can thrill to sparkling lines of dialogue:

“OK, you can help me kill them if you like, but I’m still going to kill you!  It’s over, George!”

“We ninjas are getting bored.  Can we start now?”

And of course, this immortal exchange:

“The wine, there must have been something in it!  Oh God!”

“Not the wine, my nipples, you jerk!”

Ho “directed” over 40 movies with “Ninja” in the title.  His method was to buy up cheap footage from unreleased Hong Kong movies and to intercut them with film he shot of American actors playing ninjas, then dub the older movie to incorporate a ninja subplot.  The results were then dumped into U.S. video stores in an attempt to cash in on the minor 1980s craze for ninja movies.  Without having seen any of his other efforts, I’m going to declare Ho’s Ninja Champion his weirdest, because the diamond smuggling/rape revenge/identical twin plot is so bizarre and confusing on its own that I doubt he could have found a more incompetent film to use as the base movie.

Although Ninja Champion is sold separately or packaged with various other kung fu, the best deal is Mill Creek’s “Martial Arts 50 Movie Pack,” which also contains the borderline weird Kung Fu Arts and 48 other silly butt-kickers.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…simply one of the most insane so-called ‘movies’ that I’ve ever seen.”–Keith Bailey, The Unknown Movies (DVD)