Hor | Varied Celluloid

Seasoning House, The

Posted by JoshSamford On December - 18 - 2013

The Seasoning House (2012)
Director: Paul Hyett
Writers: Paul Hyett, Conal Palmer, Helen Solomon, and Adrian Rigelsford
Starring: Rosie Day, Kevin Howarth, and Sean Pertwee



The Plot: The Seasoning House is a war story of sorts, focusing on the events that transpire when a young deaf girl named Angel, who is ripped from her own home in Eastern Europe and taken to a brothel as a prisoner of war. It turns out that she is one of the luckiest girls to come through this brothel, as she is made to clean rooms, look after the girls, and keep hidden. This slavery turns out to be far better than what the other kidnapped girls receive as captures. Normally, most girls are chained to their bed and shot up with narcotics until they are submissive enough to be continually raped by random military personnel. Things are turned upside down for Angel, however, when she runs into Vanya, a young woman who also happens to be fluent in sign language. Finally having someone to speak with, Angel finds herself learning to disobey her rulers, but these are not men to be trifled with.


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Bay of Blood

Posted by JoshSamford On October - 9 - 2013

Bay of Blood (1971)
Director: Mario Bava
Writers: Mario Bava, Giuseppe Zaccariello, Filippo Ottoni, Sergio Canevari, Dardano Sacchetti, and Franco Barberi
Starring: Claudine Auger, Luigi Pistilli, Laura Betti, and Claudio Camaso



The Plot: Our film begins, as all great stories do, with an elderly woman being strangled with a noose by her husband. Although this may seem cliche, A Bay of Blood isn’t afraid to switch things up! So, we then watch as the deceased woman’s husband is killed by a faceless assailant immediately after he finishes the job. This new killer then drags the murdering son, Fillipo, out to the bay that their home sits upon, leaving the police to find a forged suicide note that tries to explain the elderly woman’s death. Meanwhile, Fillipo’s body is not found during the investigation. Our film then skips forward in time and we meet four young teens who are hoping to spend their weekend partying by the bay, unfortunately they are instead hunted down and murdered one by one. In a very violent sequence of events that are not foreshadowed in great detail, the movie dispatches all four of the teens as they become part of the bodycount building up around this bay. We then meet real estate agent Frank and his wife Laura who are interested in some property by the bay, and as the film unfurls, through them we will witness why all of this undue carnage has been taking place.


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Alien Opponent

Posted by JoshSamford On May - 21 - 2012

Alien Opponent (2010)
Director: Colin Theys
Writers: John Doolan
Starring: Jeremy London, “Rowndy” Roddy Piper, Adrienne LaValley, Ashley Bates, and Debra Jans



The Plot: When a young country wife is found cheating on her husband, the rich farmer husband proceeds to go ballistic. Unfortunately for him, he quickly catches a very bad case of “death.” You see, his trophy wife’s mother plants a hammer in the back of his cranium before he can dish out his own brand of southern justice. Looking at a massive inheritance, everything seems to be going right for this young trophy wife and her evil mother. However, things become complicated when an alien spacecraft crashes into their farm – and the body of the rich husband has come up missing. Seeing a nice alibi in this, and needing his body to claim the inheritance, this mother and daughter combo decide to stage a competition with their neighbors. They open up their land to any-and-all contestants who feel that they are able to both kill this monstrous alien (who they blame the murder on) and also retrieve this dead man’s body. This draws in a number of competitors, and ultimately leads to a number of dead bodies.

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Amer

Posted by JoshSamford On January - 9 - 2012

Amer (2009)
Director: Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani
Writers: Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani
Starring: Cassandra Forêt, Charlotte Eugène Guibeaud and Marie Bos



The Plot: At the beginning of our film, Young Ana arrives with her family to their summer/winter home. As she settles in, she spots her mother berating the house maid through a keyhole. As the daughter snoops around, she overhears her mother speaking about the house maid as if she were a literal withc. When young Ana sneaks off into the house maid’s room, she finds an elderly man who has died, and she tries to pry a special necklace out of this dead man’s hands. Before long, she finds herself being strangled by the hands of the house maid, but luckily Ana manages to escape. When she stumbles upon her parents room, she discovers them in the midst of having sex, which then scars her for life. Not having the mental frame to absorb all of this at once, the young girl grows up with sexual infatuation that grows deeper and darker over time. We catch up with her at two more points in her life, and we see how her sexuality grows and transforms as she becomes an adult.

The Review
It wasn’t until recently, when I started seeing all of these “best films of the year” lists popping up, that I realized just how few “new” films I have seen within the past couple of years. With this in mind, I decided that it was long past due that I finally sat down with one of the critical darlings (and critical punching bags) from the past few years. Amer is a title that I have been aware of for quite some time. Originally featured on the Varied Celluloid forums (before they died and facebook took over all of our social networking) when it was still being promoted, I followed the film right up until the point where it seemed to be catching on with film fans. With so many older films grabbing my attention, it becomes difficult to place newer titles in the front. Amer is one of those that looks to evoke the atmosphere of genre-cinema from years gone by. For those of you who are unaware of this film and its reputation, Amer is a recent French film that is made to directly resemble a extreme flashy and stylistic gialli thriller. If you aren’t familiar with the giallo genre, it is a Italian version of the thriller that was popularized during the seventies. If you want a direct comparison, it is the Italian version of the slasher genre. Taking direct inspiration from the early work of Dario Argento and Mario Bava, this is a blitz of wild and impressive visuals that will astound all audiences. I don’t care if you inevitably hate Amer, even its most ardent enemies must admit that this is a visually compelling piece of cinema. It is the parts that lay between all of the awesome visuals that unfortunately leaves Amer slightly cold.

From the very start, director/writers Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani look to evoke the purely visual style that many of the better giallo films of the past had. Although there were few that went to the lengths that Cattet and Forzani’s film does, it is wholly apparent what they were going for with his movie. Every aspect of the film seems to have a custom touch, and this is part of what I loved so much about the Italian way of doing things during the seventies. These were films that didn’t seem entirely interested in developing a realistic portrayal of modern life, but instead they were more about creating a ideal vision of what the filmmakers viewed as the Italian artistic or bourgeois society to be. So, sets were always well decorated even on the most elementary of genre films. The set-decoration side of cinema was treated as if it were the most important aspect on any title, whether it be base-level or high art. Every wall in Amer is beautifully decorated with fantastic wallpaper or insane patterns, every floor is decorated with texturized paint, and the lighting is at all times stunning. There are moments where red lighting fills up the screen on one side, but then a clashing royal blue is illuminated out of a bedside lamp. Does it make any sense at all? No, but when did that ever stop the Italians?

The film delves even further into the bizarre than the Giallo films that it takes its inspiration from. Similar to Lucio Fulci’s Lizard in a Woman’s Skin or Giulio Questi’s Death Laid an Egg, Amer casually refers back and forth to a state of dream logic that defies linear storytelling. So, as the movie presses along it becomes harder to decipher what is actually happening in “real time” and what seems to be happening in this dream state that our lead character falls into. This basically leads into one of the biggest flaws of he film. The style over substance debate, which is prevalent in any review for Amer. While I have no questions that the directors have very deep and earnest things that they want to say with their film, there are times where it seems that this dedication to recreating the idealized version of the “giallo” seems to take precedence over telling a engaging narrative. While there were numerous highly stylized Italian films made during the seventies that one could look to for inspiration, there are none that come to my mind that are wholly dedicated to their style insofar as they were willing to sacrifice their pacing in order to create interesting visuals. That is precisely what Amer does, as unfortunate as that may be. There are numerous times throughout the course of the movie where the story may slow down to a snail’s pace in order for the camera to make a slow pan of a neat looking visual. Closeups are used in a nearly fetishistic manner, to the point where the film becomes difficult to understand due to the insane number of times characters are introduced only via their eyes. While these are interesting, and dare I say “cool,” ideas on behalf of the filmmaker, in reality they slow the film down to a highly boring pace where the images start to lose their meaning.

There are moments where Amer is highly affective in every little emotional inkling it wants to demand from you. When it wants to be scary, it actually manages to do so. When the film looks to be sexy, it is downright arousing. It is in the small moments, where the audience is completely enamored by a particular scene, that Amer inevitably finds its greatest strengths. During the introduction, which follows around the youngest version of our lead character, we are lead on a rather frightening cat and mouse chase between this young girl and a hidden assailant. Filled to the brim with dark visuals and dangers that are just out of visual to the viewer, this particular scene is one of the most effective throughout the movie. As far as sensuality goes, the movie is spread more evenly. From scenes of brushing skin on subway trains to light glances at a short skirt, the movie manages to excite its audience without being overly profane. These small moments are truly what makes the movie as effective as it is. In a true case of “the sum not being as good as the parts,” Amer is a film that may very well have a brilliant piece of cinema hiding somewhere just below the surface.


The Conclusion
Amer has all the promise in the world. It features an amazing style that delivers something that is as purely visual as cinema can possibly get, but unfortunately it doesn’t prove to be the most absorbing watch you will come across. I like the film, but it certainly has a great deal of problems. It gets a solid three out of five from me, but I am desperate to see what these filmmakers do next.




Axe

Posted by JoshSamford On October - 27 - 2011
Review by Prof. Aglaophotis


Axe (1977)
Director: Frederick R. Friedel
Writers: Frederick R. Friedel
Starring: Leslie Lee, Jack Canon and Ray Green



The Plot: Our story begins with three criminals: Steele, Lomax and Billy. Steel and Lomax are two well-dressed violent thugs; while Steele is the leader and Lomax is the wheelman, Billy is just along for the ride. One night, after beating a man to death, the three take off to hide from the authorities until the heat blows over. They drive into the countryside and seek shelter in the farm house of Lisa and her grandfather. Lisa is a quiet teenage girl looking after her equally quiet wheelchair bound grandfather. The three men settle in with their trigger fingers ready. While a violence-shaken Billy clearly wants to escape from his cohorts, Lisa finds herself hiding behind lies and preparing for the worst as she tries to defend herself from the two violent men with her only moral support being her own twisted psyche.

The Review
I sometimes wonder if the days of the Herschell Gordon-Lewis/Drive-In Horror movies should have really died out. I know I’m not the only person who appreciates such styles of film, and I know others in the modern day have emulated the ‘70’s Drive-In Horror movies as well. However, there’s this rare Gothic feel to some of those movies I haven’t seen in what feels like forever; the kind of rural, psychological atmosphere that is captured with the help of a creepy, yet attractive, Southern State home and an equally creepy and attractive lead female. Such an atmosphere is captured in movies like Kiss of the Tarantula, Don’t Open the Door and today’s film, the surprisingly brutal Axe. Unfortunately, while present, the atmosphere is quickly lost due to the poor writing and editing choices… and the fact that this is a ‘70’s Drive-In Horror film.

Axe is a functional, yet oddly arranged movie that has a fittingly dark, bleak personality. Our main characters consist of three criminals who eventually meet up with our heroine, Lisa, and the events that transpire before and during the encounters makes for some top-notch exploitation. The movie opens with what can only be described as a Mafia style Gay Bashing, which is shocking in itself but is intensified given the build-up and well-shot brutality of it all. I have to say, Axe has its share of subtle but disturbing, and sometimes even vile, imagery. There’s one part where Lisa slaughters a chicken and she keeps its headless body near the sink for a really long time. The last shot we see of that sink, after the mess Lisa makes out of it, is enough to make me cringe just thinking about it. The director really played up the dark grittiness within the movie, and I honestly can’t help but commend him for it. This guy took his characters, found his actors, looked at the settings and said: “How can I make this movie disturbing as Hell?” The characters in the movie are all pretty memorable too, especially considering how sadistic they are.

What I love about the main character Lisa is that we don’t get into her back story. There’s a lot of unknown stuff about her, like why she’s alone with her grandfather, how she makes a living in the house (I’ll bet she lives off of grandpa’s Veteran/retirement pay), where her parents are, why she’s so messed up or what drove her that way. Lisa is one big mystery, and it makes her a scary presence here as intended. Played by little known actress Leslie Lee, Lisa is played convincingly enough as a responsible, but clearly insane, girl in a bleak mundane world. There’s only one instance where we remotely get into Lisa’s perspective and it’s probably the best, yet oddest, scene in the movie. The scene I am speaking of shows her locking herself in the bathroom, and just staring at herself in the mirror.

The characters of Steele and Lomax are very entertaining, and both are surprisingly well acted. The two are violent, well dressed, heavy smoking, perverted bastards who bring chaos with them everywhere they go. Now, a bad actor could make these villains seem cartoonish, and their actions would simply seem like feeble excuses for the audience to hate them. Jack Canon and Ray Green on the other hand come across as genuinely intimidating thugs and disgusting criminals, yet they manage to be lively characters in the process. They kind of remind me of the two thugs at the beginning of Cronenberg’s A History of Violence.

Billy, on the other hand… well, he’s no Junior Stillo. Played by the movie’s director, Billy is supposed to be the gentle thug starting out fresh in a life of vague crime, and not liking it much. However, it’s hard to sympathize with the kid: He shows very little emotion and despite trying to sound concerned ends up sounding bored throughout the movie. He has some physical range, but he doesn’t do much beyond sitting around. It’s like watching James Franco play a heartfelt, family-first scientist; the character depth is there, the actor just isn’t selling it. Maybe if the actor was younger it would be more effective, or maybe it’s the beard matched with that silly afro wig, dunno. I will say though, Billy is his most convincing as a character near the end of the movie when he finds out what happened to one of his cohorts. It’s a realistic verbal moment correlated to a mental breakdown I always like to see in Horror movies and the director plays it fairly well.

The cinematography isn’t too bad, as there are a lot of good shots and imagery. There are moments where the camera bobs too noticeably, however, and there are a lot of dark spots where the lighting fails to elucidate. The movie has an easy pace to it, but the flow is broken up by awkward editing choices. In one scene, Steele and Lomax are eating in the kitchen but Billy runs out. The two chase after him as he runs around the barn with some urgency in their actions. The next scene after that is of Billy and Lisa in the house, with Billy calmly apologizing to her. That scene is quickly followed by all five characters in the TV room. It would’ve been more efficient if they had simply faded out at the end of every scene to tell us that some time elapsed. It kind of reminds me of the transition in Hell of the Living Dead where Lt. Mike London’s squad jump from a completed mission in Spain to a parachuted jeep in New Guinea: new scene, just like that! It’s also funny how useless that scene is, because Billy’s clothes change color as he runs away!

I’ve called this movie violent, but it never goes as far as most Herschell Gordon Lewis movies. The gore effects really come down to just fake blood, off-screen hacking and one dead chicken. All of which is fine until we reach a scene that actually requires some gore effects, but instead we see a re-used shot of the now dead character from when he was being killed. And I’m not talking Tom Savini gore requisites here, that shot could have easily just been of the actor sticking his head out of fake blood and torn clothes! Also, I love how the back of a character’s neck is slashed with a knife, but it has the same affect as though the knife cut their throat. It’s especially funny how the slashed character screams multiple times in the middle of the night, and this brings NO attention to the sleeping criminals.

The soundtrack can be a little annoying at times due to its choice instruments. The title and main theme of the movie consist of some kind of flat wind instrument that gets painful to listen to, fast. In some cases, the instrument makes some of the subtly weird moments of the movie sour, like when Lisa is caring for her grandad. Sometimes even the most intense bongo drumming, or triangle tapping, sounds right, but is usually off cue. Overall though, the soundtrack manages to be effective throughout with its combined use of a rattling tambourine, thudding bongos and bass synth tone. An attempted rape scene is made especially hectic and frightening with the simultaneous clash of every instrument.

The only genuine problem I found with this movie is the abrupt and rather out of place ending. It comes up out of nowhere, offers no closure and only serves to raise more questions than the movie needs; in context, it feels like the kind of ending Coleman Francis would come up with. Hell, S.F. Brownrigg could write a better ending complete with all the lacking closure and lingering questions at the end. The movie itself is only 68 minutes long and the movie creeps past the sixty minute mark due to the extra long opening and ending credits. Was it really that hard to come up with a cohesive ending to this??


The DVD
But oh, Axe just wouldn’t be complete without some extras, would it? Brought to us by Something Weird Video, the movie comes packed with theatrical trailers for the movie under its several alternate titles (the funniest has got to be the one for Lisa, Lisa) as well as trailers for other movies. Oddly enough, the movie also comes with two Archival Shorts, one of which you’d expect to see on MST3K. Also, this is a Double Feature DVD. Axe precedes a J.G. Patterson movie called The Electric Chair with a similar runtime as Axe. Now if this were any other collection of Short Films, such as on the 2-Disc Limited Edition of Driller Killer, I’d comment on them, but those movies didn’t last 80 minutes, nor did they feel like an eternity to watch. I’m going to have to review The Electric Chair another day… whoo.


The Conclusion
Honestly, you could do a lot worse than watching Axe, maybe even buying it: it’s pretty well shot, decently played, violent and even psychologically creepy at times. I’d recommend it over at least one modern movie released this year based off a classic ’70’s film franchise, but the null writing talent rears its ugly head too often to get a full, hearty recommendation.




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Varied Celluloid is a film website intent on delivering views on movies from all genres. Started in 2003, the website has been steadfast in its goal and features a database of over 500 lengthy reviews. If you would like to contact us about writing for the website or sending screeners, please visit the about page located here.

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