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Save the Green Planet

Posted by Josh Samford On March - 11 - 2010
The Plot: Byeong-gu (Shin Ha-kyun) is an expert on extra-terrestrials, but his convictions far out-do those of your average internet conspiracy buff. He believes aliens are walking amongst us and have taken our form, but he alone has been able to spot those who come from Andromeda. His simple and slightly dumpy wife has recently been brought on board for his conspiracies, and believes anything that her honey tells her. Byeong sets his sight on a corporate CEO who seems to fit all the right aesthetics of being one of these Andromeda beings, and without too much trouble manages to kidnap the man and lock him up inside of his basement. When the man awakens, he is angered and has no idea what Byeong-gu is talking about, but that doesn’t stop the subsequent testing that appears more like torture. Byeong can not be bartered with and simply refuses to believe anything other than what he perceives as the truth. Outside of the basement, a pair of police officers who are generally laughed at within the station are actually making some progress in the hunt for this kidnapping foe. Will they be able to make it in time to save the man or will Byeong-gu do something that might get him into even worse trouble?

The Review
South Korean cinema really exploded into world wide fan consciousness in the late nineties and has been on a rampage ever since, with the genre-film market being fully covered. There have been art house flicks (The Isle), romantic comedies (My Sassy Girl) and of course there have been horror pictures (A Tale of Two Sisters). So, with all of the bases loaded, there would have to be a Science Fiction film mixed in the bunch! Yet, in much the same way that every genre has been turned on its head within the South Korean film market; Save the Green Planet is about as far from a conventional Science Fiction flick as you are going to find. Truthfully, it’s arguably not EVEN a work of Science Fiction. So, just what does that make Save the Green Planet? Since finishing the movie thirty minutes ago, I’ve been trying to piece that together in my head as well. Although not a surrealist piece of arthouse cinema, the complexities and strange ingredients that make up the film are enough to confound any viewer.

Partially a thriller, partially a comedy – Save the Green Planet is another sterling example of what I have enjoyed so much about South Korean cinema. The more famous, or popular, films from South Korea often take ideas or themes from Hollywood productions and twist them in such a way that not only do they reflect a socially valid view of contemporary Korean life, but they also twist and turn the limits of what is permitted within the confines of whatever genre they are working in. Rarely will you see a South Korean movie appear as bland or run-of-the-mill as your average Hollywood production, even amongst the most mainstream of work. This comes from a base, or maybe even a market of receptive viewers, that simply refuses to conform to cliche territory. Films like Shiri took on the Hollywood pot boiler, My Sassy Girl gave the romantic comedy a swift kick in the backside by being appealing to both sexes and Save the Green Planet takes the world of Science Fiction and mixes it in with both a comedic twist, as well as a distortion of the serial killer genre. What you’re left with is a compelling, and epically strange, piece of cinema.

I have mentioned it considerably at this point, but this isn’t a movie that can be held down into any one genre. It is a strange ride that takes you on a strange voyage through so many emotional states. The cover art for the DVD elicits the idea that you’re in for a joyous or light hearted affair, but nothing could be further from the truth. The first twenty minutes might also clue you into this fact, because it comes off as a quirky little title about a confused man who kidnaps an executive. However, confused or not, quirky or not – when driven by an idea, no matter how silly it may be, people can be monstrous. This turns out to be one of the main themes, as we watch this character who obsesses over UFO’s make the switch from being a likable protagonist who has got himself mixed up in something that seems above his head – into something that is considerably less likeable. Something almost evil, but at the same time pathetic. This is where the power of the film comes into play and this crux that it rests upon is solid enough to support these wide range of ideas that the filmmaker throws at those of us in the audience.

This character and the emotional ride that he goes along with, is reflective of what we the audience are forced to endure. Save the Green Planet is a dark film. The cinematography is dark, there’s brutal violence and it covers some very disturbing themes. However, it is engaging in every twist and turn. With a split narrative that follows the police as they hunt down our UFO tracking protagonist (who may very well be our antagonist as well), the film crafts a nearly two hour length that does fall to a few lulls in the action every now and then, but the blitzkrieg of information that abounds the audience in the final reel and the speedy opening sequence will keep your attention easily.

The Conclusion
I can’t say that this is a film for anyone but a very select audience, but for those who are open minded enough and can recognize honest and interesting cinema; this is absolutely worth searching out. I feel ashamed that I have had it sitting around for years now without having watched it. I give it a solid four out of five, and hope that you’ll take this bizarre South Korean trip… somewhere, over the rainbow!

Hanzo the Razor: Sword of Justice

Posted by Josh Samford On March - 2 - 2010
The Plot: Hanzo the Razor: Sword of Justice is essentially a warm-up title, full of introductions and kind of a summary of the character that is Hanzo “The Razor” Itami (Shintaro Katsu). A policeman in feudal Japan, Hanzo is an officer with several distinguishing features. For one, he’s covered from neck to foot in scars that are self inflicted in attempts at practicing his torture techniques. The way Hanzo feels, if he can find the end levels of human endurance; he can push all men to their breaking point when interrogating them. Another thing to note about Hanzo is that he is earnest in his convictions, he can not be bought or bartered with when it comes to enforcing the law. A stickler for the rule book, the only thing that enrages him more than crime is the corrupt officers and officials who accept bribes in reward for allowing fugitives to run free. The other thing you might want to make a mental note on is his gigantic penis. Yes, that’s right, he sports a massive rod that he uses when interrogating women. No, I am not making this up. Hanzo, while being forced to pick up vagrants, stumbles upon a troublemaker who informs him that Kanbei the killer is no longer on the prison island that he was exiled to. In fact, he may have never even been incarcerated in the first place! With his two assistants, two former criminals (Devil-Fire and Viper) who have cleaned up their act and have committed themselves to Hanzo, the hunt is on for Kanbei the Killer and what they soon find out is that the reason this killer is now walking the street; may in fact be due to police corruption. As the heat is put on Hanzo, he is forced to solve this mystery and dispatch of Kanbei once and for all!

The Review
Hanzo the Razor has the most unusual start for what, without any further knowledge mind you, would appear to be a traditional period piece. The movie starts and immediately you’re clued into the fact that something just isn’t right in this picture. The opening sequence features this split screen camerawork ala Brian De Palma, then you’ve got the funk-rhythm soundtrack ala every blaxploitation movie ever made and on top of this you’ve got Shintaro Katsu wandering the streets looking incredibly funky. He is even rolled on a track in front of a solid background, as if he’s floating on air. Where things get awkward is that this really IS a period piece! Samurais, shoguns, ronin, geisha and all! With horns blaring over the soundtrack! Welcome to the wacky world of Hanzo the Razor! Things just get considerably more weird as the movie goes along, but that’s what has endeared it to so many genre fans it would seem. Made just one year after the release of Dirty Harry and Shaft, you can’t tell me that such films didn’t have an impact on the style of Hanzo the Razor: Sword of Justice. Obviously the film takes the classic action film cliche of the “cop who does his job on his own terms”, but it’s surprising how well the concept transfers to a more classical setting. We actually get Hanzo calling his boss a “idiot” within the first thirty minutes! His disrespect for authority is pretty well established from the get go. It’s also a disrespect based on a well displayed lack of actual order within the higher ranks of the police system. Reflecting the social climate of the seventies, where Shintaro Katsu may have made his name playing a very noble man with his Zatoichi series (for those unaware, the Zatoichi series is based on a blind swordsman, played by Katsu, and it spawned quite literally dozens of sequels) the Hanzo series is in direct conflict with both that character as well as the majority of Jidaigeki (Japanese period dramas, featuring samurai and ronin) from the time. This character, while also featuring some trademark decency to him – is much closer to Katsu as a person, which is to say… a man with faults!

I actually feel bad for comparing anyone to the character of Hanzo the Razor, boorish drinker or not, Hanzo Itami is not a good man and few men not serving a life sentence in prison deserve to have their name sullied with such a comparison. What is so wild about this series is how the character of Hanzo Itami is portrayed. He is a self righteous man who feels superior to his fellow officers who all accept bribes in one way or another, but this character who vows to fight injustice and claims to be incorruptible, is essentially just a rapist! The moral mixed signals that the film sends could be offensive for those with thin skin, but for the rest of us its such an odd and perverse little title that it can elicit a lot of entertainment. I can’t even fathom what the movie says about women. Essentially, when a woman says NO in Hanzo the Razor it just means “I assume you have a small penis”. However, due to the gargantuan size of Hanzo’s unit, when he gets to thrusting these women become mere putty in his hands. So no only means no to those of us who don’t have a rod built like a baseball bat. When your member can actually be considered a kickstand or a smaller arm, then essentially the laws of rape no longer can relate to you because apparently all women want to be forced into sex by a man with a very large member. Made as Katsu’s Zatoichi series was winding down, Hanzo is filled to the brim with extreme violence and sexual content, this newer and more hip series for Katsu seemed to miss out on the feminist movement entirely. At face value, for women in particular, I’m sure this will be a bit too much and incredibly offensive. However, if you step back from it and remove the veil of reality that surrounds you and just look at the piece as something from a different time and a different place; what you have is a movie that doesn’t directly adhere to any correct morality or decency but instead confounds your expectations and deliberately throws you into a man’s world. This will either offend or entertain, I just ask that you give it the benefit of a doubt in that sense.

In Japanese erotica there has definitely been some exploration of the rape fantasy in popular culture, it is something that has littered erotica since its inception really. A relatively common fantasy, even amongst women, the Japanese rumination on the idea is something from a completely different angle. From the famous shunga painting “The Dreams of the Fisherman’s Wife”, where the tentacle-rape fetish was born up to the Pinku genre which helped solidify rape within the erotic realm of Japanese cinema – it’s certainly a fetish with both roots and growing room within the Japanese market. Often in Hentai or animated pornography, the idea of a dominant male pressuring a woman for sex only to have her turn around and enjoy it by the climax is something that has certainly thrived within the realm of erotica. In recent years it’s been said that violent rape play in Japanese pornography has been tuned down, due to laws abroad that would censor the videos when exported, but the softer kind of “pressured sex” as in Hanzo has remained pretty popular. As complex as women are, so is this issue dealing with rape, but I actually enjoy the way Hanzo… spearheads the issue and all but makes a joke out of the moral implications of this characters actions. The sexuality of Sword of Vengeance, while not as explicit as you might actually imagine, on the whole is an odd assortment of fetishes and taboos – and I’m talking about the issues outside of just the forced sexual encounters. Hanzo’s self inflicted torture that he goes through is apparently both for the sake of those who he would torture as an officer of the law, as well as his own sexual gratification. His explanation to his immediate authority is that he wants to know the limits of human tolerance so that he can better understand the torture that he puts criminals through and although the masochistic elements are toned down, he is shown to have an erection after first torturing himself. He explains to his chief that it sometimes becomes erect due to the pain. Later on there is another sequence that shows him hammering away at his member with a hammer, like a blacksmith crafting a sword and afterward he jams it into a bag of rice shards inside of a bag that has a very vaginal looking entrance. Such scenes really show the character of Hanzo’s own masochistic urges and his treatment of women show he is also sadistic in his sexuality as well. Unfortunately the film doesn’t explore this area to its furthest degree, but the infamous “net” sequence is one hundred percent pure bondage on film.

Sword of Justice is unapologetically crass and exploitative in its nature. There are few minor details to the plot that don’t revolve around sex or at least some perversion of it. When we’re introduced to a female who is witness to the wherabouts of a criminal, the person who identifies her doesn’t do so by her actual appearance like you would expect in just about any other movie. No, there’s no “oh she was about yay tall, had darker skin, wore a purple kimono with a leopard on the back, had a hunchback, had six eyes and had a chainsaw for an arm”. Nothing that simple. The only recognizable trait that Hanzo has to go off of, in accordance to the witness who saw her making love, is the fact that she lacks pubic hair. We then follow our characters as they hunt for a woman with no hair down stairs. When she’s found, she is of course raped into submission by our hero’s sword of justice, but that’s neither here nor there. The fact is that the movie is generally crude in every direction it goes. From Shintaro’s hand to hand combat (which surprisingly leaves a lot to be desired, his punches look more like he’s pushing objects over than smashing them with his fist) to the gory violence that erupts from out of nowhere. Eyeballs are punched out, geysers of blood erupt from the neck of villains and Hanzo stabs through (and breaks) the nose of a simple beggar in what has to be one of the most brutal and realistic looking effects in a film this old. The big “moment” of the film that tends to get the most press is a bit of rope sex. Another one of Hanzo’s “torture” devices, he has his assistants strip an accused woman nude and placed in a net suspended from the ceiling where he then has her lowered up and down on top of his Sword of Justice. The sequence is as utterly ridiculous as you might expect, but at this point did you expect anything less?

The Trivia
  • Produced by Shintaro Katsu through his own Katsu Productions company.

  • Based upon the Manga (Japanese comicbook) by Kazuo Koike, who is also responsible for another popular manga series: Lone Wolf & Cub, which was also serialized on film by director Kenji Misumi with Shintaro Katsu in the producers chair and starring his brother Tomisaburo Wakayama.

  • The original title for the film is Goyokiba, which as you may suspect does not translate as Hanzo the Razor: Sword of Justine. The closest translation found is “Fangs of the Detective”.

  • Hanzo the Razor is referred to in the film as Kamisori Hanzo. “Kamisori” is of course directly translated as “Razor”, but Kamisori is also likely a small nod towards the legendary Hattori Hanzo, a famed samurai of the Sengoku era.

  • The Conclusion
    I am personally of the opinion that you really can’t defend Sword of Justice from being anything other than a button-pusher full of seedy sex and violence, but for purveyors of trash cinema that makes this a veritable goldmine! It’s sleazy, nasty and so far over the top that John Waters might have even gasped when watching this one. I personally had a great time while watching and burst into laughter on more than a few occasions and I do think that was the point. It’s a really awesome four out of five. If you’ve read this review so far and thought “wow, I have got to get my hands on this flick!” then you’re likely going to love it regardless of what anyone says so go out and pick it up!

    Snake of June, A

    Posted by Josh Samford On February - 23 - 2010
    The Plot: Rinko Tatsumi (Asuka Kurosawa) is a phone operator at a mental health center, where she talks to those on the brink of suicide and persuades them to do the right thing. Her home life is extremely plain, her husband continually cleans around the house and seems disinterested in any kind of sexual relationship. Her life, as boring as it may be, seems content. Things are turned upside down though, when she receives a package in the mail that holds photographs of her. Photographs of her pleasuring herself in her apartment. The same man continues to send her packages in the mail with other lurid pictures before revealing himself to her as one of her callers from work. The man claims she has saved his life and now he wants her to have the sexual awakening she has always dreamed of. However, his methods are less than conscious of her feelings. He buys her an earbud and a cell phone so that he can direct her without the world catching on. He then has her visit the mall, wear an extremely short skirt that she made but never had the audacity to wear and then he has her visit an adult novelty shop to buy a vibrator. Driving her insane as she humiliates herself in public, her anger builds. However, who is this man really and what secret does he hide?

    The Review
    Despite the fact that I count him as one of my favorite filmmakers, the films of Shinya Tsukamoto haven’t been thoroughly delved into here on Varied Celluloid. My original reviews for Tetsuo and Tetsuo II: Body Hammer were written seven years ago and are no longer available on the site. As you can guess, my writing ability (which isn’t exactly academic at this point) wasn’t at its finest point; so why embarrass a quality product with such an improper review? So, with my sleeves rolled up and my thinking cap on; I am ready to tackle at least one film from this man’s impressive oeuvre. A Snake of June is vintage Shinya Tsukamoto, which is to say it is a mind blowing and a fresh bold look at what filmmaking should be. Sound like some pretty high honors to be throwing out there? Not if you know Shinya Tsukamoto. Hiding somewhere in the midst of Tokyo, a city he once described as a place that part of him loves, but also a place that another part of him would love to see destroyed. He’s an artist with some quirks to him, but there’s one constant fact that never changes about a Shinya Tsukamoto picture and that is; his work looks like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Visually, he may be the most impressive and consistent filmmaker since Andrei Tarkovsky. The two filmmakers couldn’t be any more drastically different in their content; one filmmaker a Russian catholic with lots of Christian imagery and slow moving meditations on death and the human struggle. The other, a Japanese artist who makes chaotic and adrenaline filled films about the alienation of the human spirit in confrontation with the technological movement in modern society. Two very different filmmakers who both make films that couldn’t possibly have been made by anyone else and who deliver(ed) breathtaking and bold new ideas with every single film.

    When you watch a film directed by Shinya Tsukamoto, there’s a guarantee that is so apparent it might as well come with a label on the front of the box. This guarantee is directly from Tsukamoto himself to you as the viewer. It says that when you watch one of his films, he will bombard you with new and amazing visual ideas that you probably never would have even thought were possible. With A Snake of June not only does Tsukamoto deliver a visually compelling film with innovative set-ups and uses of framing (as is his usual), but he essentially crafts his own color palette! Originally shot in black and white, the film is given a blue tint like that of the rain that consistently pours on our characters throughout the entire movie. The film is a mix of dark blues and light grays, crafting this concrete world where shadows mix with the dark and new horrors lay behind every corner. Although this film does deal with similar motifs as previous Tsukamoto works, such as Tetsuo, but it’s also an entirely different kind of beast. There’s that same fear of technology and industrialization but at the same time this is a Tsukamoto who wants to deliver a truly human story. Where Tetsuo was a shout out for all of humanity, in recent years Tsukamoto has tackled much more personal fair. A Snake of June is a film, like much of Tsukamoto’s work, that you can derive multiple ideas from but the one constant message seems to be: enjoy life. It’s a simple idea for a Tsukamoto film, but he does it in such a complex and grand way that it takes this simple principle and shows just how huge of an effect it can have on one persons life. Along the way he tackles things like Gender roles within marriage, sexual repression and societal guilt placed on sexual expressions within Japan. He takes on some very heavy issues in a film that has a very straight and linear structure. This may be Tsukamoto at his very best.

    There are some really interesting character relationships throughout the film. Tsukamoto himself plays the role of the stalker character, who at the start of the film comes across as a monster due to the extreme trials that he puts our heroine through. However, and I won’t say that he becomes an angel or anything like that because I don’t think Tsukamoto ever comes out and says that what he does is the RIGHT way of doing things – but we learn that what he does do, is out of his own genuine love for the main character. Although he may not be expressing himself in a safe or constructive way, it is his way of showing that love – by allowing her to express her internal desires that she has kept locked away for so long. The relationship she has with her husband is tumultuous at best, with their home life being spent away from one another as much as physically possible. His character spends the majority of his time cleaning their house, a task that his wife takes offense to. The way in which he cleans as well, through the lens of Tsukamoto, is done so in what can only be described as a sexual fervor. The way that he scrubs their tub and other objects is highly frictional and you can’t help but see the sexual nature of it. Their love life however, is non-existent, with his energy and zest for life essentially being sucked dry from work. Then what little energy he reserves, is being used to satisfy his neat-freak mentality. So there’s this situation going on at home where the wife character is not being loved by her husband and she can’t even clean their apartment; so there comes a point in the movie where she will have to do something to her body that will result in her appearance seeming less feminine – but his character fights her on it! This husband character who essentially will not allow his wife to BE a woman within their home, is distraught to find that she might not actually bear the resemblance of one anymore. There’s so much going on with these characters and throughout the course of the film we get these games that are played over and over again.

    A Snake of June is that perfect blend between artistic technical merit and literary depth. Although the script was apparently written originally by Tsukamoto some twenty years before ever being filmed, it remains an incredible breath of fresh air and remains current. Although knowing the perfectionist that Tsukamoto is, I’m sure there have been plenty of edits to the script over the years. You have the great script, which is a necessary ingredient for any great film but the visuals in Snake of June… I know I’ve already ranted on about them enough at this point, but I just want to make it abundantly clear: this is a visually arresting film. There’s a sequence, that is prominently featured in most artwork pertaining to the film, that revolves around the husband character being forced to be a voyeur of sorts. He’s kidnapped and placed in a room with several other men in suits, but all have their faces covered with a mask that resembles a cone. Through the end of it, everything appears in a blurred sphere but our character is able to see a young couple making love followed by their immediate deaths. An intense and nightmarish sequence that is made even more confounding by Tsukamoto’s assault on the senses. The music takes on this massive industrialized sounding orchestra of sounds, while Tsukamoto uses a wobbling camera that shakes and tilts as if it were at sea. He zooms in on his subjects quickly, without warning and uses his editing as a tool of violence, throwing us about left and right and damaging the audiences equilibrium. These scenes where the director takes us back to his hyper-kinetic past are all the more powerful because of the lull and conventionally shot (but still beautiful!) sequences that precede it. The technique is animalistic in its approach and that fits just fine alongside the intense performance of Asuka Kurosawa. A bold and incredibly brave project for the young actress, she reveals herself for the entire world to see. She exudes feminine charm when necessary, shows her weakness in times but is ferocious and sexual when unleashed. An amazing role that might just define her career. The sequence where Tsukamoto’s stalker character torments her inside of a mall is enthralling to sit through, because there’s so much to read into with her emotional rise and fall. An absolutely stunning performance to match a stunning film.

    The Trivia
  • The snake penis apparatus is very similar to the one The Woman had in director Shinya Tsukamoto’s breakout film: Tetsuo.

  • To be a social worker in Japan, you must have a “home helper” license. Coincidentally, Asuka Kurosawa had recently acquired hers before filming. Part of the course to obtain the license is learning to communicate and talk with people in similar situations as those in the film, and so she was able to comfortably fit right into the role. So much so that Tsukamoto felt no need to direct her when she talked on the telephone within the film.

  • Yuji Kohtari, who plays Shigehiko the husband, says one of his onscreen influences is that of Marlon Brando. During the scene where Shigehiko is beaten upon, his character is seen faintly laughing/smiling – which he says was something he took from the climax to On the Waterfront.

  • In preperation to play his character, who is terminally ill, Shinya Tsukamoto lost eighteen pounds in order to look the part of an unhealthy man. Due to the weight loss and the immense physical demands of carrying around the camera on-set, Tsukamoto was actually taken away in an ambulance after filming one day.

  • The Conclusion
    Featuring some of the most amazing visuals of Shinya Tsukamoto’s career and a incredibly powerful script that delves heavily into themes and ideas that are both abstract and poignant at the same time, A Snake of June is the definition of cinematic power. Truthfully, I have a hard time discerning anything I may have disliked about the film or anything I would change. It’s certainly not a movie that is going to be for everyone. It deals with some taboo subjects and it’s still a bit on the abstract side at times – but an open minded film fan will be regaled with so many beautiful ideas that I’m sure most will find the incredible film that I did. Absolutely worth a look and deserving of my 5 out of 5 rating. Great cast, great direction and beautiful visuals. Hey, there’s even some famous actors appearing in cameos! See if you can spot Tsukamoto regular Tomorowo Taguchi and Takeshi Kitano regular Susumu Terrajima! Both are in there and were fun to spot. Now get out there and check it out!

    Get Mean

    Posted by Josh Samford On February - 16 - 2010
    The Plot: Tony Anthony plays The Stranger, a drifting cowboy who finds himself wandering from one adventure to the next in this classic Spaghetti Western series. After literally being dragged into a town by his own horse, he stumbles into a saloon that is being looked over by a gypsy family. They beg The Stranger to help their daughter, who is a Princess, as she makes her journey across the ocean back home to Spain in order to claim her kingdom. The Stranger, ever the opportunist, asks for a lump sum of $50k dollars and they reluctantly agree. The Stranger and the princess make it across the ocean, but once on her old stomping grounds it becomes apparent that things have changed quite a bit. Their family’s enemy The Barbarians now control a great deal of the countryside, the two of them are ambushed and the princess is taken by the Barbarians and to top things off the princess’ father is dying. The Stranger, despite losing The Princess to the hands of her mortal enemy, still simply wants his money – but for him to get that he’ll have to help the Princess find an ancient stash of gold. So now The Stranger will have to sneak into Diego’s (the Barbarian King) palace, save the Princess and then have her lead him to the treasure. However, as you may can guess, things can never be so simple!

    The Review
    Ferdinando Baldi is a filmmaker I am fairly familiar with. Although he first made his name with sword & sandal movies in the early sixties, his best known works here in North America would probably be his Westerns. Films such as Viva Django! and Texas, Addio helped cement him in the minds of Eurocult fans the world over. However, his pairing with actor Tony Anthony also proved to be quite fruitful as he would go on to direct some popular movies, some written by Anthony himself, as well as help kickstart the popularity of 3D movies during the 1980s. Get Mean falls right between the most critically successful of the Anthony/Baldi partnership, a film called Blindman, and then what I have to assume would be their highest monetarily successful film, Comin’ At Ya which was a 3D western that helped reboot the dead technique in the 1980′s. Get Mean is actually the fourth film in Tony Anthony’s The Stranger series and it has to be the weirdest of the group. Setting the stage for the film in Europe, while actually shooting in Europe, tends to be an area of some controversy amongst Spaghetti Western purists. Although I am a Spaghetti Western fan, I suppose I’m not obsessed enough to be bothered by the issue because I actually think it’s a great idea and a novel concept amongst these films. However, I think what generally rubs most viewers the wrong way about this one, aside from it’s location and historical inaccuracies, is the general strangeness of the film. A cowboy taking on strange Barbarian clans, thinly drawn caricatures of them at that, you can get more than a little perplexed while delving into this one. It’s reminiscent of older martial arts film fare, because the foreign characters tend to be quite outlandish. Unfortunately, with this one we don’t get any Japanese ninjas. A mistake on the part of the filmmakers if ever there was one!

    Get Mean starts off in such a drastically different direction than which the film ultimately ends up going. Although it’s slightly humorous that The Stranger is actually dragged into town, by his own horse, the scene doesn’t really play out for laughs. After the horse eventually drops him off, he enters into the bar where he meets the gypsy family (as mentioned in the plot synopsis) – but everything seems so dark and foreboding. There is a really excellent shot in this first section that kind of initiates this mood, where it shows The Stranger reflected in silhouette as he opens the swinging doors to the saloon, but this shot in turn is revealed as simply a reflection from a Crystal Ball. The lighting and the idea both work to an incredible degree and sell you on the atmosphere of this possibly being a moody and artistic western. However, these illusions are soon shattered by the dialogue alone. Get Mean is a comedic western, not totally unlike the kind that Terrence Hill made famous with his Trinity series, but only slightly less broad. Where Terrence Hill often played the comedy up in his films to the point where it resembled the work of Benny Hill, Get Mean shows slightly more tact in my opinion. Granted, My Name is Trinity would undoubtedly be the better movie in comparison, I just think that the comedy here is slightly less in your face and in that regard it works better for me as a fan of more traditional Spaghetti Westerns. Do not get me wrong though, Get Mean is still pretty broad and low brow in its comedic fare but ultimately what I’m getting at is it is a lesser of two evils. It’s hard to say this isn’t broad, when you’ve got Tony Anthony tied to a spit and ready for barbecue with an apple in his mouth! I’d also be a hypocrite if I didn’t mention the slightly annoying banjo music that plays throughout, as I couldn’t help but get a rather Benny Hill vibe from it!

    Tony Anthony generally doesn’t seem to get the respect that other greats of the genre seem to receive, and the reason for this tends to allude me. It could be his distinctly American delivery, which doesn’t come from a gristle-bearing pair of clenched teeth like a Clint Eastwood nor a happy go lucky younger kid voice like the one that Hill was often saddled with. He delivers something completely different from the rest of the Spaghetti Western genre greats, but I’ve found that I like what he does. Nobody delivers a one-liner like this guy does and Get Mean really puts this quality on display. I think my favorite line of the movie really shows how good the man was. In the written form, “Listen. Business is business, and I happen to be a business man” comes across as completely redundant and more than a little silly, but Tony Anthony’s inflections on the words give it a slightly quizzical feel and it causes you to pause and re-evaluate the words. He takes something that should have seemed ridiculous, but instead makes it seem just a tad bit off. When you recognize this, you start to think about it and before long it’s stuck in your head. I like this about Anthony and he delivers through the whole movie, one liner after one liner. It gets ridiculous how many funny bits he throws out there. “Oh dear god they got some ugly lookin’ women in this country” and “Little sister, you are going to find out that I am the biggest god damn liar you have ever met!” are two other really amazing and star-creating lines thrown out there from Mr. Anthony and if you weren’t sold on the film by this point, then I don’t know what I can do for you.

    The cast aren’t universally great or anything like that. David Dryer’s henchman character is patently offensive as a blatant and effeminate homosexual. Lloyd Batista as Sambra/Richard is inspired, as his villain character might have the most going on for him dimensionally. Sambra is a Shakespeare junkie and often recites lines of dialogue from his plays and thus The Stranger takes to calling him Richard, after Richard III. The back and forth that these two have is one of the better pieces of character action that the film has going for it. The “main” villain Diego, played by Raf Baldassarre however is generally pretty plain. He makes up for this fact by screaming for the majority of the picture – or at least in every single scene he takes part in. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Diana Lorys as Princess Elizabeth Maria. Although she doesn’t do much, she is a stunning woman and is saucy onscreen. With all of that said, this isn’t a character study. It’s an action movie. So action, is what it delivers. There are a lot of gunfights throughout and the explosions are massive in the final act, to the point that you wonder just what kind of a budget this movie had. There’s a brilliant shot in the final minutes where The Stranger stands with seemingly an entire fort exploding behind him as he coolly walks toward the camera. It’s a make or break moment and Tony Anthony sells it to perfection without so much as a flinch. The movie is a mix of varying elements that seem like they should represent a disjointed and ridiculous movie, but for some reason it really works for me!

    The Trivia
  • David Dryer, who plays the homosexual right hand man of Diego’s – is actually writer/star Tony Anthony’s brother

  • The forth and only film in The Stranger series not directed by Luigi Vanzi.

  • The film’s historical context is illogical, as groups like The Moors (depicted in the film) were vanquished hundreds of years before America had been discovered.

  • The Conclusion
    It’s not a perfect movie by any chance. It is incredibly weird. There are so many odd elements throughout. There’s some strange supernatural things that happen in the final half, where for some reason or another The Stranger’s body is being taken over by spirits and they cause him to howl like a wolf! There’s a moment of black-face comedy like that of a minstrel show and it’s really hard for some people to get over the fact that we’re watching a cowboy duel with Barbarians. As much as I should probably take the high road and call Get Mean dumb and lacking in any intelligent thought – I can’t help but like this movie. I think for every “what the?” moment that there is in the movie, there’s an equally funny sequence that seems intentional and genuinely witty. The mix of elements worked for me as a viewer, but I suspect others might walk away puzzled. I give it a three out of five, but this one is dangerously close to a four. Check it out if you can get your hands on it!

    Exterminator, The

    Posted by Josh Samford On February - 10 - 2010
    The Plot: Robert Ginty plays John, an ex-Vietnam veteran who has come back to the real world with his one close friend Mike (Steve James), as very different men. In the war they saw a great deal of brutality but learned to depend on one another and that carried on once back at home. The two work alongside one another at a packing plant and look after one another whenever necessary. When Mike finds a few punks stealing cases of liquor from their storage building on the job, he and John tool the young guys quickly. They think their troubles are over, but the punks find where Mike lives and decide to teach him a lesson. They choke him with a chain and plunge a stabbing object into his back, after everything is over Mike is left paralyzed with a broken neck. John swears vengeance on the punks who did this and tracks them down, killing them one by one. His problems don’t stop there however, as now John feels it is his responsibility to earn some kind of money in order to look after Mike’s family. He finds himself now tracking down gangsters and criminals in order to take the cash necessary to keep Mike and his family afloat. However there is a detective on John’s tail, but will he put an end to this extermination of the criminal element?

    The Review
    The Exterminator is, without question, the definition of a cult movie. Taking place within strong genre stereotypes, it’s the sort of flick that doesn’t flirt around with pushing things over the limit. It jumps head first into the darkest edges of reality that it can find, then somehow manages to make these things seem… dare I say it, fun? The Exterminator is an entertaining movie, there’s no getting past it. In the same way that we gleefully watch Charles Bronson blast some young hooligans into next week – there’s that same level of satisfaction in watching Ginty go to work on the vermin of New York City. It’s a fantasy that we’ve all had in some form or another, but The Exterminator is interesting in the lengths that it takes in showing the depravity and utter lunacy taking place on the streets. Kicking things off with the brutality of the Vietnam war, where we’re shown a scene featuring Ginty and his friend Mike captured and forced to watch as their buddy has his head quite literally slit from off of his shoulders. The scene is a punch to the liver, because no one walks into an “action” movie expecting brutal gore such as this. It completely throws you into a new element when you’re watching and causes you to step back for a second. It’s a punchline to end the scene, but it starts off our movie with a bang and causes you to re-evaluate just what you were expecting in this movie. It also shows us that the violence in this movie can and will be ugly. Within the realm of “action” cinema, it might be the goriest and most disturbing scene I can think of. Coming so early in the movie, it just makes all of the future violence seem that much more brutal.

    That introduction is also interesting for the fact that it’s the most we ever see of the world outside of this decaying version of America. The budget for this sequence alone had to probably eat up the majority of the film’s money too. Literally the movie opens with an explosions that catapults a GI roughly eighty feet into mid-air. It’s quite something the dramatic turn we take when the film hits America, as we’re lead to believe that this is going to be a much larger movie than could have been expected. However, once it’s back at home in the states, the movie turns into the psychological revenge film that you might have imagined it to be. That is to say, it scales back down quite a bit. As we watch John’s transformation from an every day Joe into The Exterminator, we are able to get into his mind better due to the stripped down nature of the movie from this point out. Mind you, we still have car chases and squibs galore – but The Exterminator is a low budget take on genre cinema and it can’t help but look and feel a lot smaller than a movie like Death Wish. Certainly not a bad thing, as it brings with it that vibe of Punk Rock cinema. Where things are done by limited means, but with far greater intentions. The movie keeps itself together by a strand of narrative, which being so bare kind of fits with the stripped-down aesthetic. There’s a nearly legendary sequence in the film where John discovers that his friend is paralyzed and must then confront his friend’s wife, after consoling the poor woman we immediately cut to John with a flame thrower and one of the punks responsible. It completely breaks the mold in terms of what a “revenge” movie is supposed to be. Normally, you would expect this character to start small or spend days tracking down those responsible – but not in The Exterminator. Here, the quest for revenge lasts roughly a nano-second. You just have to love it. It’s confrontational, it’s different and it once again changes the perspective that you’re watching the movie from. At this point, who knows where it might go?

    The Exterminator is a mixed breed of varying genre elements. It has its moments of visual intrigue and artistic flare, such as a moment where John flashes back to killing the Vietnamese leader who was responsible for his torture – while essentially recreating the event and shooting a gang member in much the same way. An interesting idea that works in the context of the movie and makes you see the world from John’s point of view for a second. A world where people chain you up and butcher you and your friends. A world where a loving father is beaten and maimed without a reason. At this point the character sees his enemies all around him and he chooses to vanquish them. Maybe that’s a little too deep for this movie, but it’s there if you want to see it that way. As well as having possible dreams of artistic integrity, you have to take note of all the fun little moments that surround the movie. There’s that exploitation level of “coolness” that the movie looks to bring about with it. Things like John adding poison to the heads of all of his bullets. Such a thing would be redundant, superficial and likely wouldn’t even work in real life anyway: but in the context of this movie, you just have to shake your head and say “that’s awesome!”. There’s also a positively amazing moment where John kidnaps and threatens a mafia boss while hanging him over a meat grinder! I won’t spoil the conclusion of that scene, but let’s just say it’s probably everything you expect!

    Although, The Exterminator is not a perfect film. Not by a long shot. As much as I loved it for its cult appeal it does suffer from some rather tedious plotting and to be honest, I wonder if the “police investigation” angle was completely necessary in the first place. This film, unlike Death Wish, doesn’t actually deal too heavy into the politics of the vigilante – so you would at least expect the officer on the opposite side of the law would offer some exposition while maybe fleshing out a hard boiled character. That is not the case here. Christopher George, who most of us remember from Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead, plays the cop James Dalton who is hot on the trail of Ginty but unfortunately his character is running around in what could be a completely different movie. His character becomes embroiled in a love affair with this female nurse and the point of it all is lost on the audience. These scenes just add nothing to the story. The character of James Dalton has no real character growth because of this love affair, the nurse never gets involved in The Executioner plot line, the two never join forces to discover The Executioner’s identity… the subplot is just there and ultimately doesn’t feel necessary or pertinent. I say this as a fan of Christopher George too! While on the other hand I had never seen anything else from Robert Ginty, but absolutely loved the man in this film. It has been said a million times over in a million reviews for this movie – but the guy really does not LOOK the part of a vigilante out for justice. However, through sheer charisma and bravado, he takes command of this role and really makes it his. His quiet but cool performance holds the entire movie together and his every-man appearance adds so much to the movie.

    The Trivia
  • Writer/Director James Glickenhaus has had a working relationship with another well known genre film personality, that of Frank Henenlotter. Glickenhaus produced the two Basket Case sequels as well as Frankenhooker and even had a cameo in his most recent film Bad Biology.

  • Bares a strong resemblance to The Executioner series of books originally written by Don Pendleton throughout the 1970′s. The series follows a Vietnam vet who becomes a vigilante when the mafia intimidates his family back at home. The series is said to have also inspired the Marvel Comics character The Punisher.

  • The opening “Vietnam” sequence was shot in the Indian Dunes desert, just outside of Palm Springs California.

  • In territories outside of the US, the ending of the movie was changed to a more somber affair. This was due to legal issues in certain countries that refused any film that glorified illegal activity without showing direct consequences.

  • The Conclusion
    The Exterminator isn’t a perfect movie. Not by a long shot. The moments that drag, mostly from the love affair that Christopher George has, takes a lot out of the movie. It is still a very solid revenge/vigilante flick, even with these negatives. That’s why I’m giving it a four out of five. It’s humbled, but not stumbled by these goofy moments. It’s still the sort of movie you really HAVE to see as a genre fan and I’m glad that I was finally able to do so!




    About Me

    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.