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Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion

Posted by Josh Samford On November - 10 - 2010



The Plot: Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion begins with Nami Matsushima, aka: Matsu the Scorpion (played by Meiko Kaji), trying to escape from federal prison. During the attempt however, her friend’s menstruation gives away their location to the dogs that are chasing her. When she is returned, the warden decides to make an example out of Matsu and punishes the rest of the inmates in an attempt to turn the population against her. Matsu herself is locked away in solitary confinement, with her hands and feet tied behind her back, as the rest of the prisoners are routinely tortured. During this time we learn of Matsu’s past and the reason for her imprisonment. Matsu once loved a man named Sugimi who was a narcotics officer on the Marijuana squad. Using Matsu for her good looks, he decided to place her undercover in a sting operation at a nightclub. The sting didn’t go well and Matsu was raped for her troubles, but Sugimi simply shrugged it off and made it known to Matsu that she was entirely disposable in his eyes. Feeling scorned, Matsu attempted to murder the evil Sugimi but was taken down by the law in the process. In contemporary time, Sugimi still worries that Matsu will actually get out and finish the job she once started. So a plan to kill off Matsu within the prison is established, but unfrotunate for them Matsu is as tough as nails and thwarts every plan that they put into action. Will Matsu the Scorpion have her sweet revenge or will this hardened prison reduce her to rubble?




The Review
When one talks about the Pinky Violence genre inevitably someone has to bring up Female Prisoner Scorpion #701. It was never an atypical example of the pinky violence genre, but its place in history is sealed as one of the more intelligent personifications of the self made, and empowered, female in this genre of Japanese cinema. This first film by director Shunya Ito would show all of the bravery and creativity that would define all subgenres of the pinku film. Similar to my beloved Yasuharu Hasebe’s introductory film Black Tight Killers, from five years previous, Ito took the film as a challenge to put all of his imagination to work. Having Nikkatsu’s biggest female star in the lead certainly didn’t seem to detract from his gumption as a filmmaker, as he deftly maneuvers through pretension and wades competently into the world of artistry.

Having recently read through much of the history involving production companies Toei and Nikkatsu, I find Female Prisoner Scorpion #701 to hold a very interesting place in Japanese cinema history. At the time, facing inevitable bankruptcy, Nikkatsu had decided to move away from action and charge directly into their roman porno line. Roman porno, or romantic porno, were softcore sex films targeted towards couples. These films took their inspiration from the very popular, but independent, pinku films of the day. This move by Nikkatsu left many of their top stars and directors feeling rather left out due to a lack of interest in the material. Meiko Kaji had grown into one of Nikkatsu’s biggest stars, but the inevitable charge into roman porno ultimately pushed her into the waiting arms of Toei who were more than adequately equipped to continue Kaji’s image of a tough and independent woman. Meiko Kaji had never shown any skin in any of her productions for Nikkatsu, but it is interesting to note that in this, one of her first features for Toei and a film that was directed by a new artist, she shed her clothing. One can only deduce that Kaji’s exodus from Nikkatsu was based more on principal, fearing that her roles would be reduced to rape victims and pressured women, than the inevitable sexual undertakings that these films would entail.

The history proves to almost be as interesting as the film itself, but the start of the Scorpion (or sasori) series proves to be a blend that is almost impossible to top. A chaotic mix of style and substance, director Shunya Ito throws everything and the kitchen sink at his audience. During a time when productions generally lasted three or four weeks on average, Female Prisoner #701 took a whopping 90 days to complete and the incredible attention to detail shows in every frame. Not simply another addition to the women-in-prison genre, Scorpion completely demolishes the sad pastiche and completely rebuilds it using an endless series of visual techniques that recall the horror movie patterns of Teruo Ishii (who Shunya Ito worked under before his debut film). With wild camera angles and a bleak and dark atmosphere, Scorpion creates an imposing gloom upon the audience. The prison that the majority of our film’s time is spent in may top the list for most disgusting and grimy cinematic prisons ever shown. The walls are caked in a mildew-esque green, mixed with black soot, and brown dirt. The movie never lacks in believability as we see just how sorrowful and evil this incarceration really is.

During a time of great social change in all countries, not just the US or in Japan, this Scorpion character could be seen as a parable for the injustice of all women. She is a woman done wrong by the male-dominated system, and during her time spent in prison she learns her own inner power. Some might point out that this wasn’t the first, nor the last, women-in-prison title that would follow many of these same stereotypes. Ito however makes it very clear that his movie is speaking directly to (or more vividly, wagging an angry finger at) his audience. The use of the Japanese flag during the introduction and the close of the film is not the most subtle way of pointing out the blame that his nation would have in such actions, but it grabs the audience by the collar and shows the anger of a challenging filmmaker. The phallic comparison of the prison guards with their billyclubs is very physically present throughout, as well. During a scene where the guards beat Matsu to get information, they indeed hold their clubs in the position of literal penises and try to stick them in her mouth and in between her legs. These are very obvious examples, but Ito manages to craft a complex story that doesn’t necessarily berate the audience with loud neon signs that proclaim “subtext”.

What will immediately command the attention of the audience however is the visual style and complexity of the film. It is experimentation with style throughout, with Ito running a triathlon of visual devices at all times. Not interested in telling a flat or dry narrative, the movie continually amazes with its visual power. Ito mixes dream logic, strange otherworldly lighting, and non-reality into one wildly entertaining mixture. The most talked about and innovative sequence would have to be Matsu’s retelling of the origins of her imprisonment. A series of visual concepts that blur into a strange mix of styles, we see the horror movie earmarkings of Mario Bava as Meiko Kaji’s face is lit brightly in orange and green while Ito defies all logic. The scene takes a theatrical cue by involving moving-sets that switch around in mid-shot in order to begin a new scenario. Female Prisoner Scorpion #701 is at no point boring from a visual standpoint or a narrative one.


Trivia
  • The first and last time Meiko Kaji would go topless in any film.

  • When shooting the film, Meiko Kaji had issues with the rude language that was called on for her character as it was stated in her contract that this would be changed. She and director Shunya Ito ultimately resolved the situation by removing much of Matsu’s dialogue.


The Conclusion
Although it is generally agreed that Jailhouse 41 may be the best film in the Female Convict Scorpion series, I can’t help but confess a true love for Prisoner #701. Mind you I have not seen Jailhouse 41 in years but I absolutely adore this first entry in this poignant and important series. If you like action and tough heroines, then this is the film for you. If you like strange and beautiful filmmaking, then this is the film for you. I give it my highest rating, a five out of five. If you’ve never experienced this series, track them down but start with this first!



Black Tight Killers

Posted by Josh Samford On November - 3 - 2010



The Plot: Hondo (Akira Kobayashi) is photographer covering the Vietnam war. While on leave and heading home he meets a lovely young stewardess named Yoriko on the plane. The two hit it off well enough and Hondo manages to talk her into a date at a local restaurant later that night. They soon notice a man standing in the background watching them. As Hondo approaches the mysterious stranger, Yoriko turns up missing. When Hondo heads outside to find Yoriko, he finds the mysterious man and heads to confront him but instead witnesses him being murdered by a group of three women wearing black tight leather. With Lopez dead, Hondo attempts to fight with the women only to be thwarted with their Ninja Chewing Gum Bullet (I’ll get to this shortly). Hondo is at first taken in by the police for suspicion of murder, but is released after a friend speaks up for him. Hondo now has to find out just why Yoriko was kidnapped, who has her and who are these black tight killers?




The Review
Yasuhara Hasebe is a filmmaker that despite anything you say about him, definitely did things his way. A creative force within the Japanese exploitation film world throughout the seventies, he worked in all facets of genre film but his primary focus was in the sexy-girls-doing-bad-things market. Black Tight Killers actually marks the debut film for Hasebe, and would showcase many of the strengths of the director. Made in the mid-sixties, there is a marked difference between the culture and atmosphere that permeates Black Tight Killers as opposed to what can be found in Hasebe’s later Stray Cat Rock series. The psychedelic ideas and laid back atmosphere make the film quintessentially groovy. The differences between the sixties and seventies from an aesthetic level are not that drastic, but when you watch something like Black Tight Killers the differences really do stand out. Here we have a budding and less world-worn Hasebe delivering this kitschy little adventure tale, and it works for all of the right reasons!

Produced by Nikkatsu before they eventually went full steam into their Roman Porno line in the early seventies, Hasebe deftly delivers this spy romp with all of the gusto and enthusiasm one would expect from a filmmaker who had spent the better part of the decade working as an assistant director (to Seijun Suzuki no less) and now had the chance to really prove himself. Often lumped together in the Pinky Violence genre, it is both deserving of the title and not in many regards. For one, the film is produced by Nikkatsu which immediately sets it at odds by many definitions of the Pinky Violence genre. Toei, by all consensus, is considered the one true “Pinky Violence” studio as they created and established these films. These ninja women who wear the black tights that our title comes from are also secondary characters, and are ambiguous in their motives throughout the first half of the movie as well. Hardly what we expect from our Pinky Violence bad girls. In an argument for its inclusion however, I will say that all of the color, style and fashion from the genre is present and accounted for with the female ninja gang showing all of the youthful defiance and energy that the genre would certainly bring about.

There are many great elements that combine and make up Black Tight Killers, but one of the first I should mention has to be the cinematography. This film looks amazing! Despite the obvious age, all of the style and visual motifs still absorb the viewer instantaneously. The lighting throughout continually defies all logic and instead places us inside of a hyper stylized cartoon world. For instance, the wallpaper in a room may be orange but the overall lighting could be dark green and our two main characters standing in the foreground could be covered in a light pink spotlight that shines down on them. These colors shouldn’t work together, but they are so differentiated that they actually do and we as the audience are left with a smorgasbord of visual treats. The camera work is rarely static throughout, with Hasebe and cinematographer Kazue Nagatsuka (a cinematographer regularly used Seijun Suzuki) trying to make a unforgettable impression. The camerawork is at all times fluid, jumping between techniques and odd angles and making great use of depth. Cramped hallways turn into sprawling and claustrophobic caves that we track in and out of, the camera flips around with a steady stream of whip pans and zooms that dazzle the eye and there’s even some excellent handheld work to be found.

Part of the reason that the film ends up looking as beautiful as it does comes down to the amazing set design used throughout. The Tokyo streets at night are pitch black aside from neon signs that burn, rooms are painted black with white couches glowing in the darkness and inside of alleys there are dozens of barrels stacked to the ceiling in the background with each one painted green or yellow. There are so many set pieces in this movie that I loved. The black room just mentioned, I love it for the amazing staircase in the center of the room that has no conventional steps but instead features glowing white discs that stand out amidst the darkness. We also have the awesome single-colored backdrops, similar to the opening sequences in many Shaw Bros. films where martial artists would show their forms with red or orange backgrounds. During the introduction of the film we see our ninja Go-Go dancers doing some unison dance moves, but it also comes back into play during an amazing dream sequence where we watch as each layer of these single-color backdrops are ripped apart like paper in a desperate chase sequence.

Black Tight Killers is so over the top that it is amazing that the studio wasn’t disappointed with Hasebe’s effort. They had wanted a very James Bond style movie from what Hasebe has said, and it is kind of interesting that Hasebe went so far as to directly reference a myth perpetuated from the set of Goldfinger – the concept that if one is completely painted, the skin can no longer breathe and thus the person dies. This is brought up several times during the course of the movie and even though it has no basis in reality (as we have all seen via Mythbuster), it is easy to forgive due to how outrageous the rest of the movie is. Did I mention that the film has ninja Go-Go dancers? The audience HAS to realize that this picture does not take place in anything that resembles reality. The ninja weaponry used throughout the movie essentially replaces James Bond’s gadgets. The Go-Go dancers surely have the best and most insane weaponry/ninja techniques used, especially in comparison to Hondo’s simplistic laughing gas. There are hairbrushes that quickly reveal themselves to be knives and tape measures that are razor sharp that are used like swords. When it comes to ninja techniques… these girls have it all! The previously mentioned Ninja Chewing Gum Bullet shows one of the girls spitting two lumps of chewing gum into the eyes of our leading man Akira Kobayashi, which of course leaves him temporarily blinded. These girls also have the ability to disguise their voice in any way they choose, even taking on exact duplication of a man’s voice! Notably these girls can also use 45RPM records as ninja stars, impaling them several inches into hard walls. Did I mention the fact that this movie was a little over the top?

Throughout the movie, which is already fantastical and lighthearted, there are some great bits of comedy that are carried by our leading man Akira Kobayashi. In the opening moments of the movie, while on the battlefield in a life or death situation, this Hondo character (Kobayashi) lifts up a beer in order to have the top shot off in a humorous little moment. It perfectly encapsulates Hondo as well as the heights of absurdity our feature will ultimately end up taking us. Hondo has the answers for everything, but Kobayashi plays the character raw and is so charismatic here that you can’t help but fall in love with this guy. His martial arts technique on the other hand is… interesting, to say the least. The fight choreography within the movie isn’t what I would call the most labored or technical, but it gets the job done and shares that same “sloppy but effective” look to it that Sonny Chiba and Jimmy Wang Yu primarily created. In the dramatic, most of the cast acquit themselves well but ultimately this is Akira Kobayashi’s show and he makes good in every scene.


The Conclusion
I really loved this movie, I don’t know if I have made that clear enough at this point. It is a spy caper that isn’t afraid to be silly, but the craftsmanship that went into the visual style shows an insane amount of creativity behind the scenes. For fans of Japanese cinema during this era, you really owe it to yourself to track this one down. I give the movie a solid four out of five stars and I actually thought about going higher! Black Tight Killers is pure adrenaline driven fun from start to finish. Make sure to check it out!



Gruesome Twosome, The

Posted by Josh Samford On October - 31 - 2010



The Plot: Cathy Brown is your run of the mill every day college girl. She has her boyfriend, she has her friends and she likes to stay in touch with fashion! She and her friends all like to buy and wear wigs when they go out and recently the girls have heard about the very best little wig shop in town! The store is run by an elderly woman who lives with her stuffed pet jaguar and her son Rodney, but what no one else in town realizes is that the wigs are made from the real hair of several co-ed girls who have went missing recently! Cathy, who is inquisitive by nature, decides that she wants to track down the culprits responsible for the disappearance of these girls – much to the chagrin of her boyfriend. As Cathy draws closer to Rodney and his crazy mother, the stakes grow higher and it may very well be her life on the line!




The Review
Herschell Gordon Lewis divides audiences. That’s what he does and he has been doing it ever since Blood Feast, which gives him fifty years worth of experience in the art at this point. If you are unfamiliar with the man or his work, I suppose the quickest description for him would be: he is a filmmaker who thrived in the 60′s making drive-in movies that featured explicit gore. He is often referred to as “the godfather of gore”, a name that is equally bestowed upon Lucio Fulci, and there is no getting past the fact that H.G. Lewis was a tremendous pioneer in terms of on-screen violence. However, my problem with the man is that he did not make good movies. No matter how you want to twist it or what manner of respect you have for Lewis, his movies were by and large pretty awful. Ed Wood laid down his immortal stamp in the b-movie history books, and before Lloyd Kaufman came along and made a career out of taking awful cinema and making it ‘art’, there was H.G. Lewis to carry the torch. A filmmaker with an incredibly weak hand in narrative, visual pastiche or in controlling his actors, he made up for it with his fans by having an excellent eye for gory special effects. He certainly has his audience and fans who simply crow on about his work, but I have never really felt that kind of affection. Indeed, there have only been one or possibly two titles from his filmography that I have even “liked”. I can’t explain why I keep coming back to his work, but here I am once more.

What did I think about Gruesome Twosome? That is a good question. The answer is actually pretty easy: its awful. End of review… who really needs much more than that for a movie like this? Easily one of the worst films I have seen from Lewis, Gruesome Twosome shows all of his worst traits in dominating fashion. First and foremost, I’ll go over what completely and utterly killed this movie: the padding. Some films throw in superfluous content every now and then to get their movie up to full length, even some good films are guilty of this act. It’s nothing new to cinema, especially within the independent horror film world. Lewis, who has made some tedious and boring movies in the past, takes forty minutes worth of content and somehow pads it down so heavily that he stretches the movie out for a tad longer than seventy minutes. Having such a short running time as it is, it would almost be impossible to make the movie feel exceptionally long, but Lewis nearly accomplishes that feat in the levels of boredom that attack the viewer.

The film actually opens up with a elongated sequence that features two mannequin heads talking to one another about… well, nothing really. Lewis tries to tie it in with the rest of the picture as if one of these mannequins actually belonged to one of our leading ladies, but that never really factors into the story. The scene ultimately serves no real purpose and gives us the first indication of how poor the tacked-on content is going to be. The movie doesn’t stop there! There is a sequence where Cathy follows the local weirdo Mr. Spinsen home, as she believes he is the killer, but we are forced to endure every single frame that Lewis must have shot for this “cat and mouse” chase game. We spend five minutes on this sequence easily and when you consider that this is only a 72 minute movie, that means nearly seven percent of the entire movie is focused on this throwaway sequence! Finally, I’ll mention the scene where Cathy and her boyfriend go to the drive-in and Lewis splices in a incredibly long bit of “comedy” that focuses on two characters shot entirely from the neck down. The male character is named Terrance and we watch as his girlfriend talks in voiceover narration about how much she loves him, but all Terrance wants to do is eat potato chips in graphic close up detail. What does this have to do with anything that has happened in the movie? Nothing. The scene is apparently taking place at a restaurant of some sort, so it isn’t even at the drive-in where Cathy and her boyfriend are! Do we ever get to meet Terrance or find out why he ignores his girlfriend? Nope, the movie doesn’t even try! Just more stuff that shouldn’t even exist!

Cathy is ostensibly the only “likable” character throughout the entire movie. Not because of any written depth or the performance of our lead actress, but simply because she is such a vanilla bland amateur-sleuth that at least we as the audience shouldn’t feel so annoyed with her. Her boyfriend however comes across as a selfish jerk throughout the majority of the movie. He reacts violently to any mention of Cathy’s obsession with these missing girls and instead of simply hearing her out, he goes so far over the top that he is out of the stadium and heading towards the nearest star. The acting that Herschell Gordon Lewis inspired has been mimicked but never quite duplicated. The over the top theatrical idiocy that Lewis mastered has been seen in the work of John Waters and Lloyd Kaufman, but within Lewis’ work you really get the feeling that the cast is trying as hard as they possibly can and Lewis is likely goading them into over-acting even further. Gruesome Twosome has that certain level of acting that only Lewis could inspire, with the cast being full of those either trying to emote far too much or with those who are simply reading lines of dialogue off of cards. The character of Rodney, who has the mind of a child but the killing habits of a fully grown man, is probably the furthest from subtle. Annoying but still humorous, he carries the only performance even worth mentioning.


The Conclusion
The gore effects are ultimately the only reason to watch the movie. There is a pretty nice scalping scene near the intro and another bit later on with Rodney rooting around in some poor girl’s stomach and pulling out one of her kidneys (or a liver?). The gore is nasty and although it also looks pretty fake at times (with actresses obviously blinking after they are supposed to be dead), it still remains fun. I can’t say I liked The Gruesome Twosome, but it certainly has elements that I am sure would draw in some viewers. Heck, the gore drew me in, what can I say! I give the movie a two out of five. It was danger close to getting the dreaded 1, but I figure it has two or three interesting aspects of it that make it worth seeing for gorehounds. I would say avoid it unless you’re a diehard gore or H.G. Lewis fan!



Ghosts of Sodom, The

Posted by Josh Samford On October - 31 - 2010



The Plot: A group of Italian teens traveling through the backwoods of France stumble upon an old abandoned villa where they decide to hold up for the night after becoming lost on the roads. Everything seems fine at first, as the group enjoys the food and wine that was left out for them. After the first night the group heads back out onto the roads but soon finds that they’re traveling in circles and end up right back at the villa. Thinking they’ll stay just one more night, they head inside but soon find that many of them are having visions. You see, this is no regular villa. This is a home of debauchery that was used by the SS during the World War II occupation by the nazi party, so that they could stage their wild orgy parties for top SS officials. Apparently our teens are actually seeing the ghosts of these dead nazis. What could they want and will they run off our teens… or even worse, kill them all?




The Review
Going through Lucio Fulci’s later works can almost always land you a guaranteed failure. Truthfully, his last notable film would arguably be The New York Ripper which was released in 1982, so you have an entire decade’s worth of material between that film and his inevitable retirement. Going through these progressively lower budget affairs can be rather damaging to your opinion of the filmmaker, if you had a rather high regard for his work in the first place that is. Without the visual properties that made so much of his work exceptional, you’re left with a rather plain horror movie without any kind of gusto. After films such as Touch of Death and The House of Clocks, I had put my exploration of Fulci’s later films on the backburner. After reviewing and discovering the very good Door Into Silence, I decided it was time to finish off my ventures into this area of my hero’s career. What can one really say other than, you never know how great a filmmaker can be until you see him reach his very bottom. While I won’t go so far as to say that The Ghosts of Sodom AKA: Sodoma’s Ghost is the very bottom of Lucio Fulci’s career, it shows a tremendous lack of ingenuity on the part of the director and is a clear example of him stepping out with the wrong foot forward.

The Ghosts of Sodom is what I’ll continue to refer to this movie as throughout the course of this review, despite the DVD packaging calling it Sodoma’s Ghost, mainly for nostalgia reasons. When I would look through various bootleg catalogs back in the day and when I would read reviews for the film in the pre-DVD age, Ghosts of Sodom seemed to be the consensus title for the film and seems to be a better and more direct translation. The movie in question is probably best known to those who have searched out Fulci’s epic gorefest (but relatively poor in quality, as it was a mish-mash of several later films) A Cat in the Brain. There is a sequence late in that movie where Lucio Fulci (playing himself) stumbles upon a vision of a nightmarish nazi orgy that was lifted directly from The Ghosts of Sodom and shown out of context. It was certainly the first experience I ever had with the film and I am sure it is the case for several others out there. Of these two films, I would have to venture a guess and say that A Cat in the Brain is the more popular film without question, and I think there is a valid reason behind that. Although A Cat in the Brain may be a poor collection of bits and pieces ripped directly from Fulci’s more recent films at the time, at the very least it is fun and incredibly campy. Even at its worst it is still so goofy that you can actually have fun at its expense. Ghosts of Sodom unfortunately breaks one of the golden rules set forth for any horror movie: it is boring.

Don’t get me wrong, things do happen in Ghosts of Sodom. This isn’t a boring feature in the conventional sense, because it does manage to hold your attention for the most part. The plot is very direct and there’s no excess subplots to fill up room and make it a convoluted mess or anything of that sort. With this very straightforward narrative, the movie manages to pander entirely to audience expectations at every given opportunity. If you are an astute viewer and you want to try and guess what every little twist is that the movie might throws in your direction, I have no doubts that you’ll be able to do it with this movie. The Ghosts of Sodom is what you would probably get if you completely neutered Night of the Demons and took away any chance for the filmmakers to actually use their imagination. While I do think that Fulci is a filmmaker who did great things without gore, his best work usually came with moderate budgets during a time before television killed off the Italian film community. Dealing with a smaller budget, less experienced crews and likely facing new time constraints we see Fulci at his most banal with this film. Although it has its moments (which I’ll get to shortly), it bows to every genre film cliche that you can dig up and doesn’t bring enough wild violence or new ideas to the table in order to make the project more appealing for the fans.

Amongst the things that Ghosts of Sodom tends to get right, I have to commend Fulci for the visual style of the film. Despite the fact that the DVD transfer looks like a straight VHS duplication and despite the fact that the movie itself looks like it was shot on home video grade cam-recorders, Fulci manages to get some interesting visual flourishes throughout. The opening Nazi orgy sequence is definitely one such sequence. There is a nice tracking sequence throughout that shows off the depravity at hand in all of its glorious detail, but Fulci really manages to do a lot with the frame during these moments. He then follows it up with some hypnotic editing that shows off the mass drug use during this party where apparently all of these nazi soldiers are in the midst of having an overdose. Their violent drug induced shivering is matched by the violent editing which splices in footage of bombers dropping explosives. This all goes down while we watch a nazi prepare to shoot a a cue ball directly into the crotch of some unlucky woman on the pool table. The sequence, although base, is probably the best looking sequence throughout the entire movie. Fulci does spruce up the film throughout with some imaginative ideas. Another favorite of mine shows a conversation between two characters where the camera focuses on the man talking and then pans over to the right where we can see the female that he is conversing with and she speaks her lines directly in flow of the camera movement. The sequence is very nicely done and although the movie may look terrible, I get the feeling that Fulci did the best with what he had.


The Conclusion
As far as gore goes, if you’re expecting much then this movie will utterly disappoint you. The violence is generally fairly tame, aside from a few rotten ghost-bodies (including the body of the lovely Zora Kerova of Cannibal Ferox fame!), but its nothing worth writing home about. Then there’s that ending… which simply defines “anti-ending”. I could write up another entire paragraph about how cheap, low and ridiculous the ending to this movie is but I think my negative comments have already kicked it in the dirt. Chances are if you’re a decent horror fan, you have seen most of what The Ghosts of Sodom can offer you. However, if you are a big fan of Lucio Fulci’s, then you’ll probably track this one down no matter what I say. I give the movie a two out of five. Worth seeing if you’re a Fulci completest, but that’s about it!



Dark Water

Posted by Josh Samford On October - 31 - 2010



The Plot: Yoshimi is a young woman dealing with a bitter divorce and trying to retain custody of her sweet young daughter Ikuko. Yoshimi’s husband is doing everything that he can to sabotage her custody however and is using her mental breakdown from years back against her. This mental fatigue came at a time when she was a proof-reader for a large publisher, but was forced to go through many disturbing and violent books. So many that her mind began to run away from her. Yoshimi is forced to find an apartment for her and Ikuko quickly, if she is to impress the board put in charge of her case. The only apartment that she can seemingly find is in this creepy building that suffers from a growing leak in the ceiling. As Yoshimi and Ikuko start to settle down in their new home, they begin to notice peculiar things going on. There is a red children’s bag that shows up which may very well have belonged to a young girl who went missing in this very same apartment building several years ago. Yoshimi returns the bag to the Lost & Found, but the bag soon comes back and Yoshimi fears that her ex-husband may very well be playing a game to try and force her to lose her mind. As Yoshimi balances her new job, these court proceedings and these mysterious circumstances that continue to pop up, she begins to look into the missing girl named Mitsuko who used to live in their building. Apparently the young girl was a product of divorce, like Ikuko, but when she went missing her father stayed and waited on her but she never came back. Will a similar fate fall upon Ikuko? Is Yoshimi simply going mad? You’ll have to tune in and watch in order to find out!




The Review
When Varied Celluloid was first conceived, back in 2002 and 2003, there were few names hotter than that of Hideo Nakata. As a viewer myself, I was there for his string of huge successes and I considered him one of the greatest voices to come out of Japan’s new wave of genre cinema. We fast forward eight years down the line and his name is almost obscure at this point. After directing the disappointing sequel to the American remake of The Ring, he has remained rather low key in his choice of projects. What few projects he has worked on, have received minimal praise (Kaidan) or zero distribution (Foreign Filmmakers’ Guide to Hollywood). I know that he as a filmmaker has tremendous talent and it pains me to see him being so unfairly forgotten. When I go back and revisit Ringu, Chaos (which I LOVE, but am in the minority) or Dark Water I am always reminded of what a talent this guy really is and then I think of The Ring 2 and am left woefully sad.

With Dark Water Nakata grabs you by the collar from the very start and points you in the exact direction that this movie is going. Early on he establishes this water motif that is going to encompass the entire film, by showing off this rainy weather that dominates the mood. Few filmmakers handle gloomy weather in the same way that Nakata does. He establishes mood very well with his rain-soaked backdrops and it is continual throughout much of his work. When his movies open up and you see the green foliage soaked with light misting rain, there is no mistaking his hand being involved. Rain can evoke so many different feelings, from being fresh and renewed to being stagnant and cold. Nakata seems to land somewhere in the middle, often delivering a unmistakable sadness in his work that seems pressured by his rainy backdrops and his use of somber music. Although this is just a light touch from his work, it is an important part of the atmosphere that Dark Water establishes early on.

From a technical standpoint, Nakata keeps his crew on their toes here. The filmmaker runs a triathlon in terms of techniques throughout the film. There are moments where the camera moves from a series of very steady tracking shots to a jumpy handheld camera, which gives the entire film a very different feeling. The film doesn’t over do it so the different ideas and textures sort of blend together and creates a steady visual flow. Nakata, showing his experimentation in the project, even plays with some early digital effects here that thankfully are used only sparingly. Going back to the purely visual appearance of the film, I love the look and atmosphere of this worn down apartment building that our two main leads find themselves living in. All turns within lead to areas that look identical, but the white walls with their smokey/dingy look evoke a sickly feeling that works very well in creating this sense of dread that is established throughout the picture.

Hideo Nakata’s work, even when the colors look rather drained out, usually looks pretty good. There’s no questioning that. It is the story and the way he tells it that makes Dark Water something more than a pretty looking J-Horror. From a dramatic standpoint, what Dark Water does that similar films from the time didn’t do is establishes a true bonding link between our main characters. This is helped by fantastic performances from both Hitomi Kuroki and the young Rio Kanno, who create these highly believable characters who we as the audience feel a connection with. There is a scene in the movie where daughter turns to mother and says “Mommy, I don’t need anyone but you” after a traumatic experience where Kuroki’s character was late in picking up her daughter yet again, and while watching you can’t help but melt in much the same way that Kuroki’s character does. Such a sweet and sentimental moment that comes off very sincere in the midst of this dark ghost story. There is a heart within Dark Water, and it keeps it afloat within the sea of films made with very similar content.

It is quite effective in its creepiness though, I must confess. Watching the film again for the first time in several years, I couldn’t help but feel genuinely freaked out during several scenes. I think my nerves were possibly more amp’ed up during this re-watch than on my initial viewing of the film. There is a sequence where Ikuko (Rio Kanno) and her mother Yoshimi (Kuroki) head to the roof and we see as Yoshimi catches a glance of some sort of apparition, through the crack of the door that leads to the roof. The ghost sort of hovers past the crack and we see very little, but it works so well due mainly to that mystique. While watching in the dark and alone, you can feel the lump in your throat grow as Yoshimi pushes her way through the door to get a better view of what just passed. As the two make it onto the rooftop you’re just hammered with this dread as they discover the little red bag has once again appeared despite being left in the Lost & Found section earlier. This is conventional stuff, without a doubt, but Nakata’s handling of the music and the buildup to the scene really gives the sequence tension. The movie itself probably doesn’t feature a LOT you haven’t seen elsewhere, but it is generally done to perfection here.


The Conclusion
Dark Water will hammer away at your nerves, as you hate seeing Yoshimi having to go through the Michigan J. Frog routine with an elusive ghost but at the same time you have to respect the film for having you so involved in its storytelling. Dark Water does have some issues within it. There are a few things here and there that I imagine could be trimmed down or even cut out to get it down to a slightly shorter run time which would help it in some areas, but I still highly recommend the film. It’s a definite four out of five picture and I hope those of you who may have missed Nakata’s heyday can go back and discover one of his best works. Check it out!



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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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