Tag Archives: Gore

CAPSULE: PYSCHO GOTHIC LOLITA (2010)

Gothic & Lolita Psycho

Gosurori shokeinin

ゴスロリ処刑人

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DIRECTED BY: Gô Ohara

FEATURING: Rina Akiyama, Yûrei Yanagi, Misaki Momose, Ruito Aoyagi

PLOT: After the brutal murder of her mother, Yuki exacts revenge on the killers using a variety of deadly umbrellas.

COMMENTS: This movie was pretty stupid. Too stupid, alas, to nominate as Apocryphally Weird. But not too stupid (or, I suppose, stupid enough) to warrant my time. Having cut his teeth on the genre with Geisha Assassin, Gô Ohara leans into his strengths as a spinner of blood-spurty dreams with Psycho Gothic Lolita, an over-the-top vengeance tale of a young woman assassinating a series of criminals. (His third feature, An Assassin, forgoes any flowery title in favor of getting to the crux of what this guy seems to be about.) Blood spouts from severed limbs and heads; bad line deliveries spout from heads, too—sometimes even after they’ve been severed.

Yuki is on a rampage. On her birthday, she witnessed the gory and oddly ceremonial murder of her mother and the crippling of her father. Her father becomes wheelchair-bound; he also becomes (or, perhaps, was already) some sort of Christian priest. This covenant with piety and forgiveness does not stop him from putting together all manner of umbrellae for his daughter to employ in her crusade against the five nasties who did her mother in. Also, she trades her virginal-white, prim attire for an aesthetic of black lace and leather Victorian bondage gear.

Anyhow, Psycho Gothic Lolita. Er… Gothic & Psycho Lolita… Whatever this is, it’s strangely entertaining. Yuki’s battle with the second target involves levitation and a martial-arts mop. Right on the heels of that chuckle-fest, she picks a random fight with a gang beating up some beleaguered salaryman. How do we know they are beating him up? First, we see that they are doing so; and then we hear one of the goons threaten, “We’ll beat you up!”—twice. They are… very much beating him up. She throws a pair of bike handlebars to the ground near the fray, prompting one to turn and lament “My bike! That was expensive!”—twice. I briefly wondered if she was making a foray into vigilantism, but no: the salaryman was one of the Five, a safe-cracker hired to open the door to Yuki’s home. It’s after she dispatches (very non-compassionately) this rather apologetic lock-pick that she first encounters Elle. Ahhh, to be young, psychotic, and in love with firearms. Elle shoots appallingly badly, but revels in the joy of firing her bladed, twin-barreled twin guns.

Gô Ohara finishes in style with an ending that not only suggests that Yuki’s mom may have had it coming, but also that there may be more adventures for Yuki—especially now that she has discovered the full extent of her powers. A tip of the hat must be given to Ruito Aoyagi; not only for the longest villainous-laugh endurance test I’ve ever seen, but for playing a character dubbed “Viscous Man.” Let me assure you: he’s got a looooong reach with his electro-fist. When I reached the end of the film, I could not quite believe it; having now reached the end of the review, I still don’t.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The repulsive noodle-slurping has no real connection to the story’s plot. It’s a random touch, which feels more like a surreal art film flourish than like a genre exploitation trope. But that’s the reason to love genre exploitation crap... Freed from the tyranny of coherent plot or character construction, a lowest common denominator gore fest is committed to nothing but the next spectacularly vile gimmick.”–Noah Berlatsky, Splice Today

(This movie was nominated for review by Martin Canine. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: BLOODY ORANGES (2021)

Oranges Sanguines

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Bloody Oranges is currently available for VOD rental or purchase.

DIRECTED BY: Jean-Christophe Meurisse

FEATURING: Alexandre Steiger, Christophe Paou, Lillith Grasmug, Olivier Saladin, Fred Blin

PLOT: An elderly French couple enters a dance contest hoping to ease their debts, while a scandal-ridden politician schemes to rehabilitate his image, and a 16-year old girl hopes to lose her virginity.

Still from Bloody Oranges (2021)

COMMENTS: If you like movies about French pension reform with a side of torture porn, you’ll dig Bloody Oranges. There are lots of discussions of the French pension system (which, we learn, constitutes 13.5% of the annual budget) and the younger generation’s resentment towards funding it. Pension complaints are pillow talk, getting rid of pension fraud among the elderly is the centerpiece of a fiscal cabinet meeting, and pension reform is the subjet de tous les jours on ambient TV news broadcasts. Olivier and Laurence are deep in debt and their combined monthly checks can’t cover their expenses, so they’re hoping to win a rock n’ roll dance contest that would net them an SUV which they could resell and possibly cut their debts in half.

But perhaps the modern French have deeper problems than the pension system. In almost the dead middle of the film we get an epigram from Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci that ends with the line: “Now is the time of monsters.” And this is when the movie, which had been an ensemble comedy dry as a glass of Merlot, suddenly takes a turn for the bloody. The change in tone is jarring and won’t work for many, but you do have to say one thing: le patriarcat gets (by which I mean loses) theirs at the end.

Writer/director Jean-Christophe Meurisse has fashioned a well-written, if not necessarily pleasant or tonally coherent, third feature. Although the situations get a bit bizarre, the characters are generally believable. Much of the dialogue is delivered through complicated discussions full of counterpoint: the dance jury argues spiritedly about the role of diversity in the selection process, a family birthday party is full of subtle recriminations and resentments. Individual scenes are well-crafted: a lover takes little post-coital digs at her partner’s slight build, microagressive but delivered with such sweetness that taking offense would appear as a gauche overreaction; in another amusing incident, a gynecologist gives advice to a virgin (I like to believe all French gynecologists flippantly explain hand job techniques to their inexperienced teenage patients).

But the movie’s central shock scene, while perhaps cathartic, reveals none of the careful control or wit Meurisse displays throughout the rest of the movie. It makes narrative sense, sure, but its brutal over-explicitness makes it a mood-killer. Instead of sweet orange flesh, with are left with bitter pith.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a film with bizarre events strung up together with not real interest and barely any joy at all is what is presented here and unless one wants to watch something that is just blandly negative, this is not a film many will like watching.”–Emillee Black, Cinema Crazed (festival screening)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY (1991)

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DIRECTED BY: Ngai Choi Lam

FEATURING: Siu-Wong Fan, Mei Sheng Fan, Ka-Kui Ho, Yukari Ôshima

PLOT: While in prison for murdering a gang of drug peddlers, Ricky defies the tyrannical authorities as he pursues his freedom.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA LIST: I’ll get to that; let me gather my severed thoughts first.

COMMENTS: For those hand-wringing types out there, the future will always be filled with violence, drug use, and bizarre minor-coding. Everyone else, take some comfort: this future is already past. Among the details I only gleaned after the fact, Riki-Oh takes place in 2001, in a world where prisons are privatized, and the preponderance of superhuman resilience leaves contemporary (whether now or at the film’s release) witnesses agog. The enthusiasm behind its narrative ambiguity is the very same which renders what could have been a joyless scrap of torture porn into an eminently silly (and occasionally giddy) ride through a dozen-odd stations of the cross, with Ricky as the unflappable messiah preaching justice, hope, and ultra-violence.

Wrongful imprisonment is a well-worn trope, but Riki-Oh demonstrates individuality the moment its hero is processed for triple murder. After some bureaucrats read his sentence, he passes through a metal detector, immediately setting it off. Manhandling Ricky to a nearby x-ray machine, guards discover the alarm was triggered not by weapons, but by five bullets lodged in the murderer’s chest. When asked why they remain, Ricky answers, in his petulantly bad-ass tone, “I wanted a souvenir.”

Riki-Oh has all the finely chopped ingredients for a z-grade gore-house martial arts revengeance nonsense: an evil warden and his flunky, abusive guards, shower fights, yard fights, crack-thwack sound effects, and gallons of blood. But three factors prevent this film from being tossed aside as derivative. First: the tiny oddities that gather to the point of toppling into fully fledged weird. The assistant warden is missing a hand—a cutesy touch, in its way. But in the next shot, what’s this? Why, he’s missing an eye, too. And he drinks from the cup where he stores the glass prosthetic. And, since it’s hollow, this is where he keeps his mints. Not to mention his flanking lapel scorpion cameos, or the tall shelf of pornography behind his work desk that is never mentioned. The second touch brings Riki-Oh more assuredly onto weirder ground: a twist in the final fifteen minutes reveals the evil warden’s backstory, without any hint of reason. I won’t give it away, but it does explain why the bastard is so nonchalant when staring down the prisoner who has dispatched countless prisoners and other goons.

And the third thing. Brief research clarified that Riki-Oh is closely adapted from a manga (no surprises here), and it may be simply mirroring themes from that source. However, the ardor of its twin social justice philosophies manages to outdo its over-the-top violence. Oddly for a martial arts blood piece, it has something to say about the societal evil of drug dealers (with sympathy for users), and has a whole lot to say about treating prisoners humanely. In its way, Riki-Oh advocates for penal rights as fervently as Nagisa Ôshima‘s Death By Hanging did—but instead of ratcheting up sociopolitical surreality into an absurdist climax, Riki-Oh climaxes with the warden ground up into a couple hundred pounds of hamburger. That said, perhaps they’re more alike than I had thought.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…be warned: if blood and guts are not your thing, then avoid this film like ebola – for they do not come thicker, weirder or funnier than here… While not for the squeamish, this film is a cult classic – fast, silly, jaw-droppingly outrageous, and a true original, unlike anything else you will ever have seen.”–Anton Bitel, Projected Figures (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by “Horst,” who called it “An absolute must-see, really weird.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

 

CAPSULE: ORGAN (1996)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Kei Fujiwara

PLOT: Detectives investigate an organ harvesting operation.

Still from Organ (1996)

COMMENTS: As a collaborator of —she was in his earliest films, and served as costume designer, cinematographer and female lead in Tetsuo: The Iron Man—Kei Fujuwara boasted a promising résumé. Unfortunately, her two features as director, of which Organ was the first, have proved disappointing—though undoubtedly weird. Although many elements of the Tetsuo aesthetic carry over into her solo work, thematic consistency and narrative drive are not among them. Organ is, instead, a confusing attempt at shock-art cinema that fails to engage many viewers.

Although pitched as a straightforward B-movie/horror narrative, Organ‘s story is related confusingly, with lots of ellipses, flashbacks, scenes and players who are poorly established or cut off prematurely, dreams and hallucinations, and too much time spent on the antics of ancillary characters who add nothing (a toilet-cleaning sequence). Painfully close attention will reveal that the story involves two detectives investigating an organ harvesting cult. One of the cops, Tosaka, is caught by the gang and kept around as a kind of talking houseplant after his limbs are amputated. The other cop, Numata, is taken off the case, but hangs around maintaining a semi-cordial relationship with the kidnappers. Tosaka’s identical twin also starts searching for the newly-minted amputee. Meanwhile, one of the gang freelances as a serial killer preying on schoolgirls. Director Fujiwara herself plays Yoko, the one-eyed enforcer of the harvesting gang, and she’s pissed about the extracurricular killings and sadistically disciplines the culprit (who’s also her brother). A flashback shows how his mom attempted to castrate him (incidentally poking out Yoko’s eye), providing his serial killer motivation. And there are another couple of characters running around who are not properly introduced or explained. It all somehow leads to a drawn out bloodbath with a bunch of characters you don’t care about and can’t easily distinguish fighting each other for reasons you’re not entirely clear about.

Not only is the script a mess, the movie is visually ugly—not at all what you’d expect from Tetsuo‘s cinematographer. Much of the action occurs in deep shadows so that you can’t follow who’s mutilating whom. When it’s not too dark to see what’s going on, it’s garishly overlit, showcasing its dilapidated, bleak alleyway and warehouse sets. The film is full of gruesome, but dull, autopsy-style gore. One character has ridiculous fluorescent green oatmeal caked on him, meant to represent putrefaction. (This effect probably would have looked impressive were the film shot in black and white.)

Then, somewhere in the middle of the movie, Fujiwara stages a lovely opium-fantasy scene in which a schoolgirl claws her way out of a (vaginally-designed) cocoon, only to complain of caterpillars in her belly. This single scene can hardly redeem the entire film, but it does prove Fujiwara has a vivid and sometimes effective imagination, even if her best ideas get buried under muddled execution. Also, this one scene is probably just barely enough to save this ordeal from a “” rating (though potential watchers may want to take into account how close it comes to earning that dreaded designation).

I believe that Fujiwara intended to tell a story here, but an overstuffed script combined with poor editing choices scuttled the enterprise. But I could be wrong; it’s possible the confusion is an intentional strategy. Either way, it’s not much fun.  Organ could be pitched as a Japanese take on a  film with a bit of script doctoring by —but the end result is nowhere as interesting as that description implies.

Fujiwara’s second feature, Id (2005), is essentially a sequel to Organ, set in the same universe, but in the future. A featurette included on the out-of-print Synapse DVD describes Fujiwara’s play “Organ 2” or “Organ Vital,” which has basically the same plot as what would become Id nine years later, and includes what appears to be early footage shot for the film. Sets and settings (the plastic-sheeting draped laboratory, the ghetto-like industrial housing complex with its overgrown alleyways) are reused in Id.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Like TetsuoOrgan is more art film than anything else, but whereas Tetsuo has an energy and drive and visual and technical creativity that engages the viewer, Organ lacks everything but for an occasional shocking idea and some bizarre imagery… One could, were one feeling forgiving, say that the movie is ever-so-slightly reminiscent of a David Lynch film, but one would also have to add ‘on a very bad day.'”–Abraham, a wasted life (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by “Mondo,” who accurately described it as “a strange and dreary Cronenberg like Japanese film.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL CAPSULE 2021: FRANK & ZED

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DIRECTED BY: Jesse Blanchard

FEATURING: Voices of Jason Ropp, Steve Overton

PLOT: When the king’s line is severed, a demon’s curse comes to pass; meanwhile, Frank and Zed attempt to get through their days without too many pieces falling off.

Still from Frank & Zed (2021)

COMMENTS: Sometimes when you dip your hand into a swirling bucket of goo, you fish out something worth writing home about. Perhaps it’s not a traditionally worthwhile film, but there is plenty of diverting violence, clever visuals, and a suspicious amount of pathos to be found in Jesse Blanchard’s years-in-the-making fantasy puppet horror buddy comedy, Frank & Zed.

The tone is set with a puppet barbershop quartet in the opening short, “Shine.” The quad of dulcet singers croon in mighty harmony before slowly enduring a splat-stick massacre by unseen forces in the audience. The three minutes of chuckles, we are told, took two months to create; Frank & Zed took six… years. The scale of ambition behind this film boggles the mind, as does the occasional depth of feeling elicited by Blanchard and his gang of puppeteers. I was reminded often that effort of this kind translates to the screen in a way that movies made by committee—even those with exponentially larger budgets and a bevy of known actors—do not.

Frank is a (Frankenstein‘s) monster-style workaday minion, created from an unknown number of people and requiring a battery to recharge his heartbeat every day. This process allows for some of the incongruously sweet character interplay between the shambling monster and his differently shambling friend, Zed. Frank may be slowly falling apart, but Zed is in far worse way; we first meet this zombie when Frank chides him for trying to nibble on a piece of his own brain idly plucked from the large hole in his head. Watching gruesome puppet monsters with a near-wordless friendship feels odd, particularly when their interactions pull on the old heart-strings. The scene during which Frank lovingly reattaches Zed’s hand, donating some of his own reinforcing nails in the process, left me almost teary-eyed.

I shall pull no punches here, however. Frank & Zed nearly crumbles apart whenever the titular characters are not on the screen. While the pair is nailed to an adequate plot-frame, I couldn’t help but suspect that Team Blanchard would have done better keeping the film focused on the rickety duo. The Pavarotti-inspired baker was amusing as a victim, but the nearby villagers were (ironically) less fleshed out than Frank and Zed; time amongst them felt like time wasted. The gore that permeated was amusing until it went into overkill. (Possessed death-mice: good; forty minutes of puppet slicing-and-dicing, a bit less so.) Still and all, this was a great kick-off to the Fantasia 2021 festival; I find it unlikely I’ll find a sweeter friendship on display than Frank and Zed’s.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“As for the inevitable Muppets comparisons, this is a darkly beautiful Fraggle Rock, a perfect exploration of a weird and wonderful world brought to live by extraordinarily talented puppeteers… But that orgy of blood is where everything gets slippy, and the charm wears thin. It shows the downside of a passion project: that there’s no one around not so personally invested that they can say ‘no.'”–Richard Whittaker, Austin Chronicle (online festival screening)