onsdag 25 januari 2012

Die Farbe (2010)

H.P Lovecraft’s The Color out of space is in my opinion one of his best short stories, detailing the deterioration of a small farm after a meteorite contaminates the land. The alienness of the decay in both humans and everything around them is one of the most memorable events in any Lovecraft novella. There have been a few movie adaptions of it earlier, such as Daniel Hallers Die, monster, Die! from 1965 with Boris Karloff and Nick Adams (not a bad little flick but not very Lovecraftian), David Keiths The Curse from 1987 that starts out as a decent adaption but fails miserably when it goes for the old "We need a biiig climax" shtick. Italian filmmaker Ivan Zuccon had a decent go at it in 2008 with his Colour from the dark, a movie that benefitted from excellent visuals and a strong production design when it came to the decay of the land but changed the concept into something more supernatural and ergo, less fun than it could have been. Now onto Huan Vus adaption Die Farbe (The Colour), a low budget independent movie shot in yummy b&w and is quite faithful to the original story while having the audacity to expand upon it with a new narrative that opens and closes the movie. How does it fare compared to the earlier tries and more importantly, how does it fare as an adaptation of Lovecraft?

What Die Farbe does with the story is to start with an opening set in America where a young man travels to Europe to locate his missing father who left for a small village that he had some sort of connection to. He meets an old man who recognizes the father and starts to tell a story. In flashback we move to just after the end of the Second World War where a German farmer comes home from the front, only to find that his farm has been annexed by American soldiers to house wounded people. They need a guide to go further into the valley but the soldier refuses at first. We then go further back in time as the young man watches as a meteorite strikes the ground near a neighboring farm, melting into the ground and making their crops grow abhorrently large, and as it turns out, totally inedible. The meteorite also seeps into the well, contaminating the water and turning both the land as well as its inhabitants into something else. Something alien.

Is this the Lovecraft adaption we all have been waiting for, the one that finally will give us a glimpse into that strange world that grew inside H.P Lovecraft’s head? The simple answer is no and I doubt we will ever see anything resembling the images we create in our heads when reading the short stories. Die Farbe does give it a good go. The extended narrative is evocative and helps expanding the story into something more interesting for those of us that know the story by heart, though there is a totally unnecessary twist at the end that comes out of the blue and only serves to confuse the viewer. It should have been left out of the movie. The actors are serviceable as long as they speak in the native German but the actor that is supposed to portray an American never comes close to sounding like one. The film also feels a bit toned down, the alien horror excesses never even comes close to the delirium of the original story but I suspect that was for both budgetary and maybe artistic reasons. I can live with it, the overall atmosphere of the decaying German valley might not be straight out of the Lovecraft story but it is still chilling enough for me. Die Farbes greatest strength lies in shooting the whole thing in evocative black and white, with the entity the only thing that has a color, a fun effect although it works more in concept than on film for the reason that it is just an earthly color we are seeing.

So, was Die Farbe a disappointment? At first I thought so, a friend of mine had hyped it and since I am a fan of Lovecraft’s fiction I had high expectations. Maybe I expected something else but when I stepped out of the theatre I felt slightly underwhelmed. The movies focus on ambience over goo was maybe part of the "problem", maybe I wanted more. But after a couple of days I started thinking about it, there were images that would not leave my head. To me that is proof that a movie does what it should, that the creators had something to say. It might fail as a Lovecraft adaption but it does a pretty good job as an art-house excercise in mood and ambience. Other Lovecraft fans will want to see this, it is still a lot better that the cheesy Curse and has more alienness than Colour out of the dark. A nice try, well worth watching.

You can get it here

The Beast and the magic sword aka La bestia y la espada mágica (1983)

No matter what you think of this movie, no matter how much you may hate Paul Naschy, you must agree that we very rarely see ninjas and werewolves in the same movie! For that reason La bestia y la espada mágica aka The Beast and the magic sword is a masterpiece! This was the last Waldemar Daninskymovie (there were a few more low budget crappy flicks that utilized the character but they dont really count. Because I say so.), produced partly with Japanese money (the same deal also gave us the fun Human Beasts) and mostly set in Nippon as well (the concept is great, it's just a bit strange to watch samurai lords speaking spanish). This time Daninsky goes to Japan to find a cure for his lycanthropy, fighting ninjas, samurais and an evil witch intent on getting hold of his powers for her own use. Every woman in the vicinity falls in love with him, as usual and you know fairly soon who will be the one to kill him in the end. It's rather fun to see the Daninskymythology being rewritten in every movie, though mostly just in setting. And the movie has ninjas! And werewolves. Did I mention topless ninjas? Too bad there is no werewolf vs ninjascene, that could possibly have been the coolest scene in the entire universe.

If you have seen one Waldemar Daninsky movie you know what to expect, Naschy/Molina does not deviate from the formula one bit, instead deriving its strength from the novel setting of Japan and its myths and legends. The werewolf makeup even gets an upgrade, though I am still divided if I actually like it or not. Naschy also seems to have gotten a bit of extra cash since the movie looks quite good and makes great use of some excellent locations. If you have seen any of the earlier Daninskymovies you know exactly what to expect and it is all good fun. Good, yummy, furry, topless fun.

onsdag 18 januari 2012

Phase IV (1974)

Intelligents ants on the warpath? No, this isnt Bert I Gordon, this is Saul Bass superior scifimovie (his only full length movie). Bass was more known as designer for movietitles such as Psycho, Spartacus, Alien, Big and Cape Fear. Why he only directed one movie is unknown to me, he was a man with a great eye for design and judging on the basis of Phase IV he could have given us a lot of interesting movies.

During some sort of cosmic event an english scientist discover that ants all over the world have started to form some sort of collective intelligence, even between different species. He builds a laboratory in the middle of the Arizona desert and has the local population evacuated since the ants have exterminated their natural rivals and now begun to kill cattle. It doesnt take long before the scientists are under siege from the strangely intelligent ants.

Evil antmovies arent exactly numerous out there and succesful attempts can be easily counted, the only two being THEM! and this one (Yes, I know that Empire of the ants is entertaining as hell but it cant really be called good). Saul Bass has taken a concept that could be a sinking ship from the start and turned into an exciting and well made movie, thanks to an intelligent script and imaginative design. What impressed me the most is the microphotography where you get to watch the ants move around in their strangely geometricaly perfect world (the first sign that something is amiss). The scenes where you see the ants gather their dead in long lines are actually quite chilling. It might sound a bit odd but Ken Middlehams superior photography truly makes something extraordinary with it. The only real weakness with the movie is the somewhat weak characters which makes Bass direction give you quite a bit of sympathy for the ants as they go about their business.

The great cinematography and the setdesign (in particular the weird monoliths that the ants build outside the laboratory) is another strength of Phase IV, which brings the movie straight into the halls of fame of intelligent science fiction. The actors may not win any awards, especially since the characters arent that well developed but they do a servicable job. All of this moves forward to a spectacular ending which may raise more questions than it answers but it sure as hell looks awesome. So, Phase IV is well recommended to any fan of scifi and takes its subject seriously which is a big positive in my book.

Footnote: That poster. Wow. I would imagine quite a few people being dissapointed with the movie after seeing it.

And I would like to end this review with the conclusion that Mystery Science Theatre 3000 is a stupid concept since this is one of the movies they make fun of. Come on, I can accept Manos hands of fate, but this? You got to be fucking kidding me.

onsdag 11 januari 2012

Adam Chaplin

My first encounter with this movie was through this trailer which at a first glance (well, the first minute of it at least) looked kind of cheesy, that very particular cheese that so many low budget shot on video gore movies tend to be full of. You know, just a movie without ever reflecting on narrative etc, just pour on the gore. This can be good in itself but very straining on your patience. But then came a couple of really striking scenes and I knew I had to have this. I hopped on the filmmaker’s website and about five minutes after watching the trailer I had ordered it. It arrived yesterday (a bit smashed up due to the fucking post office but working just fine) and I popped it into the dvdplayer to hopefully get an entertaining experience.

And by God it is!

Adam Chaplin might actually be one of the best comicbookmovies I have ever seen. It is not based on a comic but the story, the visuals and most importantly - the violence, are all as if torn straight out an ultraviolent manga like Story of Ricky and Fist of the north star (the latter even appeared on the extras several times as major influence which just confirmed it for me). Adam Chaplin, our ultra-buffed hero (he is so toned and muscular that it almost looks goofy but then again, it is straight out of Fist of the north star) is in love but his girlfriend owes money to the ultra-evil mutant freak Denny and is doused with petrol and set on fire. Adam is consumed by rage and somehow summons a demon who grants him superhuman strength and superior fighting skills, something that will help him track down Denny and his two freak sons and get his revenge. All of this is set in murky hallways and ruined buildings in the fictional country of heaven Valley, a place that looks slightly post-apocalyptic at times but has a lot of normal looking traffic on its roads.

Ok, so the story offers nothing new, we have seen (and read) it many times before. What Adam Chaplin does with it is an entirely different thing. The budget was obviously low but Emanuele De Santi (Writer, director and star) and his team realized that to make this work they had to go all style. Heaven valley and its inhabitants are doused in great looking filters and small but significant visual aids, making the illusion complete and most importantly, making you forget that you really are looking at the same old abandoned buildings that we usually see in this kind of movie. The movie is full of these awesome little quirks that makes me applaud the filmmakers, things that shouldn’t work but does thanks to a bit of ingenuity. My favorite example of this is the demon that follows Adam Chaplin around, a sort of burned puppet that is constantly looking over his shoulder (or actually hiding in it), speaking to him and his victims all throughout his journey. Most of the people are in full makeup looking goofily mutated, another smart choice that at first feels strange but turns out to be very appropriate for the proceedings. The filmmakers have created their own style and look, slightly derivative of the before mentioned Japanese comics and animes, and this puts Adam Chaplin way ahead of similar low budget projects. The camerawork might be a bit claustrophobic at times, a lot of close-ups that can feel unnecessary but the photography is in general excellent. Another strength is the good editing, something other filmmakers should concern themselves with a bit more.

And then we come to the violence. Is this the bloodiest movie ever like the trailer promises? No, not really but there is plenty of it, long bursts of freaky splatter with liters of blood exploding out of torn limbs, impaled bodies and busted heads. All of this is mostly practical, some of it a bit cheesylooking but helped tremendously with a bit of cgi to make it look a bit better and more hard hitting. Gore hounds will be more than satisfied.

I really liked Adam Chaplin, it might look like the average shot on video gorefest on paper but it is really an exercise in what a bit of imagination and ingenuity can do when you go all out in the battle of style versus budget. Much recommended to all fans of gore and independent filmmaking. Buy it on the official website, the dvd has english subtitles. Well worth your money.