Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Welcome to Snowtown, next door to hell...


This indie drama based on the true multiple murder case in Australia that came to be known as the “Bodies in the Barrels Murders” A case where one charismatic killer led several other blue collar people to kill with him.

The film is very careful to establish mood and character long before getting to any violence. The movie more or less follows teenager Jamie (Lucas Pittaway) as he makes his way through the very disturbing stress of his day to day life. The neighborhood he lives in is a complete shithole (Shades of GUMMO abound) and his mother is doing everything she can to raise four boys, of which he is the middle kid. Within the first five minutes of the movie she has unwisely left the three youngest boys home along with her then boyfriend from across the street. He proceeds to sexually abuse all three of them (the youngest kid seems to be mentally handicapped or has some sort of autism), taking nude pictures of them (the rest of the abuse left up to our imagination thank god). Mom finds out when the local transgendered Queen Davey has heard the rumors. Naturally the police do nothing about the abuse.

Into their lives comes John Bunting (Danial Henshaw in a frightening performance) who is wooing the now single mom. He is charming, he is a good cook, and he is good with the kids. He takes a particular liking to Jamie, taking him under his wing and teaching him to stand up for himself. At first it seems like John is justifiably upset about the pedophile living across the street and takes it upon himself and Jamie to run the man out of town. But soon it is obvious that John has a much more pathological lust for violence. His raging homophobia being one element of it, he sees no difference between a pedophile and any other local gay man, and has several rants to prove it. But when Davey vanishes, leaving a voicemail claiming to have run away, everything seems to suspicious. But by this point John has ingratiated himself into the family, and has Jamie under his wing. It is only a matter of time before much more violence rears its ugly head.

Originally just titled SNOWTOWN (after the small town where the actual bodies in the barrels where found) this film is a pressure cooker mood piece, that wraps you up in the complex and unsavory characters and before you know it, you can’t get away.  It is a film where violence happens suddenly, but lingers like burnt flesh. This movie is all about characters that just exude pain and frustration, and it is that overbearing sense of ugliness that makes the movie both so powerful and so hard to watch.The movie leaves a stain on your mood that will be hard to shake for a long time afterward.

Review © Andrew Copp

Those filthy people in Serbia!!!


LIFE AND DEATH OF A PORNO GANG is undoubtedly going to be one of those films that gets knocked around as a challenge for viewers. A movie so extreme that it practically is spitting in your face to watch it. Or so the hyperbole will go, invariably comparing it to the “other” Serbian made horror/porno/snuff movie that made everyone loose their lunches. But the big difference here is that PORNO GANG is actually a very thoughtful, albeit downbeat, film that trades on a lot of interesting characters. It is violent and gory, and extremely sexually explicit, but it is the fact that the movie bearing those traits is so damn well done that makes it memorable. 

The movie opens with film student Mark (Mihajlo Jovanovic) realizing that he is not exactly going to have his dream of making thoughtful art films, or horror movies with political overtones. He quickly is sucked into the world of porno and before he knows it a year has passed, he is now jaded beyond belief and owes money to the mafia. He blew their money trying to make a politically charged horror/porno hybrid. To get out of town he bands together a group of misfits to make a traveling porno carnival and heads into the mountains and back roads of Serbia. A few shows go ok, but they are not making money. Soon he is approached by a secretive old man who wants the gang to start shooting snuff movies. Only with people who want to die and have some money to give. The gang is reluctant at first but after a nasty gang rape, they find themselves motivated enough to kill. 

PORNO GANG takes a long hard look at how things like lack of opportunity, war, and poverty can mold one’s vision of life. The particular detail that makes the movie work is that the people they are killing are willing to go. Making the gang executioners, Dr. Kevorkians in outrageous outfits. The film is careful to outline these scenes to make both the “victims” and the “killers” sympathetic. For example there is a scene where a Soldier is brought out for them to kill and he confesses his horrific war crimes on camera. The horrors of war are what specially drove this man to end up here. But interestingly enough after they kill him they end up on a slippery slope themselves ultimately succumbing to the same depressive evil. The movie makes a strong connection between being a Soldier who carries out war crimes to the band of outcasts carrying out snuff murders. Both degrade your humanity and shatter your soul.

There is another interesting scene where they are asked to kill an old farmer. When they arrive he tells his story so we find out his grand daughter has radiation poisoning, as does his livestock from the  bombings. He wants to die on camera to get enough money to save his family. Once again war and politics have driven the characters to the ultimate degradation.

PORNO GANG treats the violence and loss of life with a straight face. The most memorable scenes are the quietest, such as after the young, cute, chubby girl has killed the soldier she disappears. They find her standing alone in the forest in the rain just trying to rid herself of what she has done. The act of killing has weight in this film. 

So LIFE AND DEATH OF A PORNO GANG is always interesting, shocking and deeply heartfelt. Approach with caution, but for those who can stomach it, this is a fine film.

The Blu-Ray release that I reviewed here comes with a goofy behind the scenes featurette, some largely unneeded deleted scenes, trailer and the most interesting a feature length documentary on the Serbian Porno world called MADE IN SERBIA. This documentary is structurally somewhat similar to PORNO GANG as it follows a filmmaker who once dated a porno star as he travels through the underbelly of the Serbian Porno world half-assedly looking for her. That is the bare thread of plot that movie has laid on it, what it really does is interview all kinds of people from that world from shop owners to film producers, all of whom think Serbian Porno is crap. 

Interesting side not for me personally: On this blog is a review for what I called THE WORST PORNO EVER MADE. I had no idea what it was when I watched it, or where it came from (you can read the review HERE) and had thankfully forgotten it. Well low and behold during MADE IN SERBIA we meet a porn director and his wife who stars in his films. And sure as shit as we go behind the scenes of one of the shoots I don’t recognize her and the outdoor location they are shooting in! Turns out that terrible porno I saw a couple years back was a classic piece of Serbian erotica! Yikes!

MADE IN SERBIA is overlong at 101 minutes but it is still pretty fascinating stuff. Getting to look at how smut is looked at and made in such a remote place is interesting, though at the end of the day everyone’s reasons for doing it all end up being the same.

The DVD version does NOT have MADE IN SERBIA on it as an extra. 

Review © Andrew Copp

The Life and Death of a Porno Gang - Red Band... by ohmygore

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Naughty Twins


This Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack from the fine folks at Synapse Films represents the first time this Hammer Production has seen the light of day uncut in the US, and what a sight it is fully restored. Eye popping gorgeous in full High definition this is one of those discs that horror fans have been waiting for.

The movie revolves around the village of Karnstein in the 1800's where witch burning has become a contact sport. Any woman who doesn’t tow the party line can and will be branded a witch or heretic and burned alive in the name of God. Heading the burnings is one Gustav Weil (Played by Hammer regular Peter Cushing, bringing great gravitas to the role). He leads a gang of “holy men” that are basically repressed church goers looking to find their kicks by abusing women. Into town comes Gustav's orphaned twin nieces Maria and Frieda (Playboy centerfolds Mary and Madeleine Collinson) to live with their uncle. Maria is the virginal one, while Frieda is the more outrageous and daring one. She catches the horny eye of the evil Count Karnstein (Damien Thomas) who practices Satanism and debauchery in his castle on the hill. But because he is a count and basically owns the town he is off limits to the witch hunters. Soon he has cast his spell and turned Frieda into a vampire leaving her to leave a trail of blood across the countryside, and her sister holding the blame.

The film is the third in Hammer's lesbian vampire trilogy that are all very loosely born from the novel CARMILLA. Though oddly enough no one involved in any of the films would admit to any of the lesbian overtones. Of the three films this one is actually the tamest of the three, though it is still pretty outrageous for both Hammer, and 1971. More interesting is how a majority of the movie is very anti-authority, and calls out the church in particular, and makes some very strong comments about repression. Even though the Count Karnstein is the villain of the piece, he is often portrayed is just a free willed person. For the first half of the film he is actually a preferable evil to the witch hunters. Naturally by the last reel the film comes back around to making the church the hero, but it almost feels like an after thought. The movie is truly subversive in dealing with everything up to that point. There is even some off handed discussion of incest thrown into the mix. 

The BLU RAY/DVD is jam packed with extras including a featuring length documentary on the trilogy called THE FLESH AND THE FURY X-POSING TWINS OF EVIL which is actually worth the price of the disc. Easily one of the most in depth films of these types I've seen. There is also TV Spots, trailers, an Isolated music and FX track, Deleted scenes and a fun featurette on props and effects from Hammer films.

If you are a Hammer fan, vampire fan or just like great horror films, there is no good reason to let this one get past you.

Review © Andrew Copp

Those wacky Eccentrics!

Author – Chris Mikul
Headpress Books
Illustrations by Glenn Smith

The title of this book is not a misnomer, it is indeed an encyclopedia. This thing is the size of a phone book and had to have taken author Chris Mikul years to research and produce. Mikul has been seeking out the odd, unusual and just plain outrageous people for years from all the way back when he produced his fanzine BIZZARRISM. So this is an accumulation of years and years of his work in one massive volume. He sets up some rules from the get go; there is a thin line between mental illness and eccentricity, so he divides them into several categories: visionaries, entertainers, contrarians, and theorists. In using these categories he also steers clear of famous people with well known moments or foibles (as Mikul puts it) instead concentrating on people whose entire lives encompassed their eccentricity.

The book is just a huge compilation of people from that point on. Some of the expected names are here, such as SALVADOR DALI (His film work, his voyeurism, his move towards signing blank paper and canvases and reselling them as artwork all discussed) or CRISWELL from PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, who had an 86 % success rate in his psychic predictions, (though apparently he did predict JFK was going to have some sort of trouble in 1963), HENRY DARGER the recluse Janitor who turned out to be a brilliant artist who made entire worlds with his art, and DIVINE (If you don't know who Divine is, then why are you reading my blog).

But there are hundreds of less known people in THE ECCENTROPEDIA and that is where the fun lies. Such as Australian actor FRANK THRING who you may know from MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME, you get you discover stories of him smuggling whole roast chickens onto film sets, or his manager having to break into his home when he vanished for a few days only to find him bound and gagged naked. Or DELIA BACON who was among the first to challenge the Shakespear;s legitimacy as a writer. Or how about DR. CHARLOTTE BACH aka KAROLY HAJDU Transsexual Evolutionary Theorist who believed that sexual deviation was the engine that powered evolution. And posed as a man and woman at various times in her life.

When I got this book I was entertaining friends, so the first thing I did was crack it open and just start reading out loud various profiles. It is that kind of book, you can dip in at any point and find something fascinating to share. Every page has a great story, so you can literally flip it open anywhere and start reading. In fact that maybe the best way to handle it, due to the unyielding length, attempting to read it front to back might be too much of a challenge.

Quite simply an unprecedented work. 

Here is an extract from the book