Tag Archives: Direct to video

CAPSULE: LIFE BLOOD (2009)

AKA Murder World; Pearlblossom

DIRECTED BY: Ron Carlson

FEATURING: Sophie Moon, Anya Lahiri,

PLOT: As they head home from a 1968 New Year’s Eve party, God stops two lesbian fashio nmodels on a deserted highway and turns them into vampires so they can do Her will on earth.

Still from Life Blood (2009)


WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Life Blood squanders its weird premise and settles for being just another undistinguished B-movie.

COMMENTS: The literal message of this Ron Carlson film is that vampires are God’s avenging lesbian angels. (Pause for a moment and try to wrap your mind around that weirdness). Returning from a 1968 topless New Year’s Eve party, two lipstick lesbians meet the super-sexy Supreme Being on a deserted highway. She turns them into vampires, dresses them in lingerie and buries them by the side of the road to ripen for forty years (?), after which they rise to do their holy duty (which is never fully explained, although it has something to do with selectively killing off the wicked so She won’t have to flood the world again). The movie plays this wacked-out premise with a straight face, but something sad happens to Life Blood on its march to psychotronic immortality: it wimps out on weirdness and abandons originality.

Besides lots of lesbian tongue kissing and a grisly hairpin murder, in the first half-hour we also get a dwarf deputy, a truck stop inexplicably named “Murder World,” and a wonderfully wacky TV show called “Chics Chasing Chickens,” wherein bikini-clad babes stalk the titular poultry. But then, rather than exploring the interesting idea of vampires as avenging angels, the script simply has one of the pair go rogue, turning into a standard bloodsucking baddie. The movie holes up inside a mini-mart, dispatching the occasional customer but more importantly killing off the burgeoning weirdness and the dramatic thrust. B-movie cliches take over, a major character disappears, and after a couple of desperate-for-work actors are sacrificed, a deus ex machina in a see-through negligee shows up to send the plot hurtling to an anticlimax.

Pouty Sophie Moon tries to have fun playing a villainess, but hearing her purr repetitive threats wears thin fast; the rest of the acting is serviceable. Editing, camerawork, and sound are pro. The movie went through three name changes before distributor Lionsgate finally selected the most generic title it could come up with. Apparently, the average person knows who someone named “Scout Taylor-Compton” is, because she gets co-top billing on the DVD box (although I couldn’t guarantee she was in the movie). The lesbian scenes are sparse and not hot. All in all Life Blood ends up being a watchable (in a train-wreck sort of way) disappointment, a movie that makes you wonder “what were they thinking?” on many different levels.

Life Blood‘s mystical lesbian hook is so outré it’s hard to imagine the movie’s not conscious of its own ridiculousness, but it never becomes clear whether writer/director Carlson falls on the Ed Wood (clueless fetishism) or the Russ Meyer (deliberate exaggeration) end of the B-movie self-awareness spectrum.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The movie is a (CGI) total black hole, sucking in your time and energy…and unfortunately, no negligée-wearing God-broad is going to emerge from that black hole when it’s over to make out with you.”–Stacie Ponder, Final Girl

CAPSULE: SAMURAI PRINCESS [SAMURAI PURINSESU: GEDÔ-HIME] (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Kengo Kaji

FEATURING: Aino Kishi, Dai Mizuno

PLOT:  In a timeless mystical forest, a rape survivor takes on the souls of her eleven

Still from Samurai Princess (2009)

dead sisters and becomes a cyborg to avenge them.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Samurai Princess is a relatively unambitious attempt to cash in on the biohorror/splatterpunk formula established in Meatball Machine (2005); fans of this stuff will be probably be reasonably entertained, but newcomers would be better off checking out the aforementioned Meatball Machine or Tokyo Gore Police instead.

COMMENTS: In a few short years, the works of an incestuous group of Japanese writers/directors/FX gurus have created a new Japanese splatterpunk formula focusing on slim but fantastic storylines; extreme, absurd gore effects; and the modification of body parts into bioweapons.  This phenomenon is only five years old, but it’s already reminiscent of what happened with Troma: the studio had a hit, and spent the rest of its existence remaking The Toxic Avenger over and over under different names.  Samurai Princess is a lesser entry in this new genre, and at times it feels like the square peg of the splaterpunk formula is being forced into the round hole of a gentler, more reflective fantasy.  The idea of a justice-seeking living vessel infused with the souls of eleven raped virgins feels like an old Japanese legend, but making that instrument of vengeance a cyborg with detachable boob-bombs is a faddish approach that doesn’t click.  The movie’s setting—a primeval forest haunted by brigands, loners and mad scientists, a place that’s even “out of Buddha’s jurisdiction”—is promising.  It’s a place out of time; the kimonos and katanas suggest feudal Japan, but there are plenty of anachronisms like chainsaws, cameras, and novelty sunglasses with blinking Christmas lights on the frame.  The cast that romps through the forest is nicely bizarre: besides the main character (who’s neither a samurai nor a princess), there’s one mad doctor who collects body parts to build “mechas,” a rival cyborg-building maniac with a pair of female sidekicks who speak in unison, a Buddhist nun with Continue reading CAPSULE: SAMURAI PRINCESS [SAMURAI PURINSESU: GEDÔ-HIME] (2009)

CAPSULE: TRIANGLE (2009)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Christopher Smith

FEATURING: Melissa George

PLOT: The mother of an autistic son reluctantly goes on a pleasure cruise with five other

Still from Triangle (2009)

young adults; the yacht capsizes in a freak electrical storm and the party is “rescued” by an abandoned ocean liner.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Triangle is weird, and frankly entertaining, but like Stay, it kept reminding me of other, slightly better, movies I’d seen before.

COMMENTSTriangle depends so much on its plot twist—which you will be highly unlikely to see coming until about the midpoint of the movie—that it’s difficult to talk about the film without spoiling it, though I’ll do my best.  Melissa George does a creditable job and was a good casting choice for the lead: she’s easy on the eyes, tough yet vulnerable, anguished in her misplaced guilt over “abandoning” her autistic son to go on the ill-fated pleasure cruise, and generally likable, all of which makes the film’s ultimate revelation about her easier to take.  The rest of the cast does a decent job in supporting roles, but it’s entirely George’s picture.  The direction is good: dramatic, suspense and action scenes are handled well, although there’s no single scene that sticks out quite far enough for the movie to hang a hat on.  The abandoned steamer—it’s never clear whether it’s a commercial ship or a luxury liner, although it does have a theater and a banquet room—makes for an atmospheric location on a mid-sized budget.  As noted, the mystery of the opening builds until about the midpoint, where things begin to get clear; then, it’s mostly a question of details, of following the premise where it will inevitably lead.  Unfortunately, where it leads is to a coda that creates more questions than it resolves.  It’s safe to say that the movie is more satisfying on an emotional level, as a metaphor for the difficulty of escaping a pattern of self-destructive behavior, than it is on a plot level.  Eventually, the script becomes too clever for its own good, gliding casually past the difficult paradoxes it creates, hoping the audience either won’t notice or won’t care.  That’s not always a problem in a movie, and along with the fact that the movie never tries to explain where it’s supernatural rules originate, it certainly adds to the weird factor.  But Triangle gives off the vibe that it wants to provide a satisfying and complete resolution, something that closes the loop, but can’t quite manage it.  When you get to the end, you may wind up asking yourself, where does this story actually begin?  With it’s cyclical structure that appears to wrap the plot up in a self-contained ball but actually falls apart on closer inspection, Triangle reminded me of a poor man’s Donnie Darko.  Compared to that adolescent angst flick, it’s more coherent but less original, less aggressive in its outrageous plot devices, less emotionally affecting, and lacking in star turns and impeccably orchestrated individual scenes.

Triangle is worthy of a recommendation.  But the film compares unfavorably not only to Donnie Darko, but also to the little seen Timecrimes [Los Cronocrímenes] (2007).   (To make things as twisted as one of these psychothriller plots, the original Timecrimes is being remade in English and is scheduled for a 2011 release, meaning soon enough we will see people complaining that Timecrimes is nothing but a Triangle rip-off).  It shares its central plot idea with the low-budget Spanish picture, and maybe even a little more than that: Continue reading CAPSULE: TRIANGLE (2009)

BORDERLINE WEIRD: VISITOR Q [Bijitâ Q] (2001)

Due to popular demand, Visitor Q has been re-evaluated and certified weird, and the review has been updated to a full entry. This initial review is left here for archival purposes.

DIRECTED BY: Takashi Miike

FEATURING: Ken’ichi Endô, Shungiku Uchida, Kazushi Watanabe, Jun Mutô, Fujiko

PLOT: A bizarrely dysfunctional Japanese family—dad is a TV reporter on haitus after

Still from Visitor Q (2001)

being sodomized by interviewees on camera, mom is a heroin addict and part-time hooker, son is bullied at school and beats his mother at home—becomes even stranger and more antisocial after a mysterious stranger shows up in their home.

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE: It’s bizarre indeed, but Visitor Q is more interested in grossing out its viewers than it is in weirding them out.  It’s more a shock movie that’s incidentally weird than a weird movie that happens to be shocking.  The film doesn’t lack for surreality, or its own peculiar kind of quality within its type, but it seems to fit more comfortably into the shock genre than the weird genre.

COMMENTS:  Watching Visitor Q, I found myself wishing Miike had the courage to make the hardcore porn fetish movie that he really wanted to make, instead of pulling his punches by wrapping the psychological nudity in gauzily transparent strips of art and satire.  After all, the movie’s prime showpieces are father-daughter for-pay incest, sodomy by microphone, insanely copious lactation, rape, and necrophilia, all shown with as pornographic a level of explicitness as Miike could get away with (there is genital fogging, though unfortunately in a key scene there is no anal fogging).  In a virtually unshockable age, it would have been truly audacious for the bad-boy director to make an out-and-out porn film without artistic pretensions; as it is, by sprinkling his fetish video with a little redeeming surrealism, all Miike risked with the project was being hailed as the Japanese Passolini.

Visitor Q doesn’t lack either for weirdness or technical quality.  Starting with the latter, Continue reading BORDERLINE WEIRD: VISITOR Q [Bijitâ Q] (2001)

CAPSULE: S. DARKO (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Chris Fisher

FEATURING: , Briana Evigan, Ed Westwick

PLOT: Samantha Darko goes on a cross-country road trip and learns along the way that, once again, the world will end at a predetermined time unless she figures out a way to stop it. Where’s Jake Gyllenhaal when you need him?

Still from S. Darko (2009)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: In a way, S. Darko is an oddity itself; its very existence is questionable to anyone who has ever seen the original. But the only weird thing about this movie is how much it missed the mark. It’s a cheap teen thriller looking for a quick direct-to-DVD freak-show buck, not a captivating look at angry youth, mental illness, and time travel.

COMMENTS:  In this direct sequel to Donnie Darko, a movie that couldn’t have needed a sequel any less, we follow the exploits of Samantha Darko, Donnie’s little sister, who lost interest in the preteen dance group Sparkle Motion and went about growing up. She decides, or perhaps her BFF Corey decides for her, that she wants to become a professional dancer. They take a road trip from Virginia to California seeking this lofty goal, but their car peters out in rinky-dink 90s Utah. From there, they meet a couple locals, and everything seems peachy until BAM! time travel stuff happens again; not because of some real world-shattering drama, but through the power of friendship (???) The whole concept is somehow more bogus than before, and the suspension of disbelief is infinitely harder to maintain. It’s a bland pastiche of ideas presented in the first film blended together with sexy ladies and 90s slang that weakly mimics Richard Kelly’s original like a parrot without a beak. There’s none of the spirit of Donnie Darko to be found here that would even qualify this movie as a spiritual successor. S. Darko has a hollow concept that could have been designed to boot up a franchise involving time traveling teens with washboard abs. I’m not a slavish follower of the original, but Kelly had inspiration, and at least a vague idea of where to place a camera to make the most of a scene. S. Darko is all textbook pap, and while I don’t think I would travel back in time to un-watch this movie (as that is the single lamest reason to time travel ever) I won’t look back on it fondly, to say the least.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“S. DARKO is intriguing, and its actors come off well, but there’s no way of escaping comparisons to DONNIE, a truly special film…While you can tell it’s trying as hard as it can, and takes things a little further and into weirder territory in the process, the soul just isn’t there.”–Samuel Zimmerman, Fangoria

CAPSULE: CUBE ZERO (2004)

DIRECTED BY: Ernie Barbarash

FEATURING: Zachary Bennet, Stephanie Moore, Michael Riley

PLOT:  Audiences return to the cube from Cube in this prequel, only this time

cube_zero

we see the diabolical prison from the vantage point of its bureaucratic overseers as well as the poor souls trapped inside.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  While the first Cube sequel (Cube 2: Hypercube) tried unsuccessfully to ratchet up the weirdness factor by throwing in more effects and a hyperbolic, reality-twisting plot, Cube Zero instead chooses to focus on a standard rescue narrative.  It also purports to answer (although unrealistically) pretty much every question one might have as to the cube’s design or purpose, thus completely exorcising the mysterious atmosphere of the original and leaving nothing left to be said or done in the Cube universe.

COMMENTS:  Unlike its predecessors, which showed b-movie influences but had higher aspirations, Cube Zero is an unapologetic action/sci-fi vehicle.  The paranoia of the previous entries only arises sporadically: once when drone Wynn asks a co-worker about his memories, and once in a highly effective scene that poses a surprisingly literal theological question.  Otherwise, the movie is more interested in the cube’s traps, imbuing them with gleefully gory capabilities (in an early scene, a victim startlingly dissolves into a pile of gooey grue before our eyes).  Add to this formula a cartoonish villain in the person of Jax, who sports not only a cane and an ironically genteel cadence but also a glittering metal implant where his eye once was, and you get an effective (if standard issue) b-movie, but a highly ineffective weird movie.

Some Cube fans (who apparently missed the major point of the movie) yearned for answers to the riddle of the Cube’s existence.  They finally got them with this installment.  Unfortunately, since these revelations destroy the fragile mystery and deliberate ambiguity that made Cube special, Cube Zero probably deals a fatal blow to the franchise.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… if you enjoyed the last two ‘Cube’ movies, then you’ll feel right at home. True, there’s nothing overly original in ‘Cube Zero’… [although the] movie does offer a lot of answers, there’s that unshakeable sense of [deja] vu. Introducing Wynn and the other operators marks the sequel’s best decision, but adding the wacky Jax and his two black suited underlings takes away some of the film’s gloomy disposition and makes ‘Cube Zero’ something of a comedy, with a lot of ‘Brazil’-esque kooky bits and set scenery that seems to exist for the singular purpose of being kooky.” —Beyond Hollywood

CAPSULE: CUBE 2: HYPERCUBE (2002)

DIRECTED BY: Andrzej Sekula

FEATURING: Kari Matchett

PLOT: Just as in the 1997 surprise hit, eight strangers wake up stripped of

cube_2_hypercube

their memories in a mysterious, deadly cube composed of indistinguishable rooms–but this second generation “hypercube” has some new tricks to play on its captives.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LISTCube 2: Hypercube can get pretty weird, especially when the film throws in gratuitous alternate realities in an attempt to up the original Cube‘s ante.  The sequel also does a fair-to-middling job of recreating the atmosphere of paranoia and existential anxiety from the original.  The first movie is a classic, but if there is to be room for more than one Cube movie on the list of 366, Hypercube needs to take the series in a startling, original new direction.  This, it fails to do; the sequel merely attempts to provide this audience more of what they loved about the first movie.  It can’t possibly achieve this feat, however, because what people loved about the original was it’s originality: the shock and surprise of finding a low-budget independent science fiction gem that was thoughtful, exciting, and weird.

COMMENTSCube 2: Hypercube is of interest mainly to fans of the original who want to revisit the cube and hope only for a few new twists.  The CGI special effects are mildly upgraded, and the cube has a new gleaming white color scheme, which may make some happy.  One of the things that made the original so exhilarating, however, was the varying reactions of characters to the predicament of being trapped inside the bizarre structure: some fight to survive, some give up hope, some become paranoid and suspect their fellow travelers know something about the cube and are trying to deceive them, some simply go mad.  The way the trapped inmates bounced off one another made Cube at times seem more like a character-centered play rather than an effects-centered movie.  Although Cube 2 tires to recapture this interplay, wooden acting from several of the leads frustrates the attempt.

Cube 2: Hypercube also stumbles when it takes baby steps towards trying to explain why the cube exists.  In the original, although the structure exhibited signs of order that suggested a diabolical intelligence behind it, there was no unambiguous hint to its origin or purpose; this made the cube a powerful metaphor for brute existence.  While trying to recapture the ambiance of the first movie, Cube 2 deliberately takes steps towards demolishing its essence.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…Cube 2 is somewhat more gimmicky and certainly less conceptually neat than the first Cube was. There’s lot of fascinatingly weird happenings and these are all eventually given an explanation – alas not one that comes with the beautiful sense of a puzzle falling into place that we saw in the first film. The disparity can clearly be seen in comparing the story structure of the two – the first film has the logic of a detective story unfolding, whereas Cube 2 is merely a flight through a collapsing labyrinth.” –Richard Scheib, Moria: The Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Movie Review Site