JANUARY 4, 2008
Already notorious as one of this decade's most berserk thrillers, the Lindsay Lohan career-ender I Know Who Killed Me should be reason enough for any crackpot cinema lover to pony up for a hi-def player. Lohan stars in two roles (or does she?) as Aubrey Fleming, a pampered high schooler with writing aspirations who gets kidnapped by a sadistic serial killer, and Dakota Moss, a skanky stripper who turns up missing a couple of limbs and who may hold the secret to Aubrey's disappearance. Toss in bionic limbs, a blood-smeared stripper pole, a fairy tale glass coffin, psychic stigmata, and an utterly confused Julia Ormond and Neal McDonough, and you've got one of the weirdest movies to get a major studio release since Color of Night. Though written off as some sort of slasher film/torture porn/erotic thriller, this is anything but. The DVD and Blu-Ray versions from Sony look spectacular, making the most of the heaviest blue and red lighting this side of Suspiria and wonky 2.35:1 compositions. (The DVD also offers a disastrous full frame alternative if you're feeling masochistic.) Unfortunately the extras don't add much clarity to the film's intentions; you basically get a bunch of deleted footage (with an additional ending suggesting it might all be some weird creative writing exercise), a few bloopers, and some trailers, but a double dip release seems highly unlikely.
Subtitled "Adventures in Psychotica," The Three Trials is a near-indescribable trip of a film revolving around the delirious misadventures of Catherine (Molinee Green), a former nun and housewife who experiences narcolepsy during moments of intense ecstasy. Her personal savior and husband, a plastic surgeon, used to be a big hairy yeti, and members of the Church (including a fat masochistic priest and a giggling thug priest) as well as a mysterious meat cult keep trying to drag her back into their fold. The very colorful and imaginative imagery is really the film's reason for existence; you literally have no idea what kind of eye-popping scenario will turn up next on the screen, and the grinding, atmospheric soundtrack (from groups with names like Nurse with Wound, Rapoon, Controlled Bleeding, and Lustmord!) is enough to approximate an acid trip in the safety of your own home. The film itself isn't really all that explicit, but the tone is extremely horrific and erotic throughout and director Randy Greif shows a sure hand at mixing avant garde sensibilities with baroque classicism, with a welcome dash of self-deprecating humor that automatically makes this more fun than your average cult item in the making. The film itself is presented widescreen (non-anamorphic) at 1.78:1 and looks very good considering the source; colors are punchy and vivid throughout, while the stereo audio works very well. Extras include three very abstract short films ("A Fist Full of Stars," "Paraliminal 2" and "Paraliminal 3"), all more or less adapted from footage from the main feature, as well as a reel of deleted scenes (the weirdest involving a screening of a vintage Popeye cartoon), and two different trailers. Freaky fun all around. For more information, visit the official website here.
However, if that doesn't sound delirious enough for you, feast your eyes on The District, a head-spinning 2004 Hungarian animated feature (originally entitled Nyócker!) that cleaned up at various festivals around the world including Sitges. Fans of Adult Swim should be the most receptive to this coke-fueled outing presented by Atopia, definitely a company to watch. The basic story's a self-acknowledged riff on Romeo and Juliet, but you'd barely guess it as the plot veers between a trashy cast of characters in Budapest, all rendered in a freaky animation style which places captures of real actors' performing heads on jerky, animated 3-D bodies, with the backgrounds rendered in a psychedelic painterly style. Anyway, the hero, gypsy brat Ritchie, leads a gang of his friends on a bizarre journey wherein they travel through time and arrange to bury a heap of mammoths under the future location of their city, so in the present day they can all strike oil, become rich, and resolve the conflict that keeps him away from the arms of his true love, Julia. Unfortunately their hijinks draw the attention of the world, with George W. Bush, Osama Bin Laden and Tony Blair popping up for cameo appearances. Hookers, bar fights, and Hungarian rap music add even more weirdness to the mix, all subtitled in a slangy low-rent British style that seems somehow appropriate. You've never seen anything like it, for sure; crank this up along with Team America for any friends who can appreciate a completely rude take on current events. The packaging touts the film's similarity to South Park, though the approach is actually a whole lot closer to Ralph Bakshi (Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic) as it hurls ideas and big boobs helter skelter at the viewer with little regard for a coherent structure or point of view. Based on a Hungarian TV skit and expanded with hit-and-miss results to over an hour and a half, The District may aggravage some viewers but at least looks phenomenal on DVD, with a bold and often eye-searing transfer and room-engulfing 5.1 mix that will amply show off any home theater system. The optional English subtitles are fine, though the choice of dialect is not the easiest. Extras include some sample clips from the original TV show, a half-hour documentary covering the animation techniques used for the film, and a promotional trailer for this film as well as other Atopia titles (and you should definitely check out their Missing Victor Pellerin, one of the great undiscovered releases from this past year; watch for more on that one in this space shortly...)
Bearing the intriguing series title of Legends of the Poisonous Seductress, Synapse Films in conjunction with Japanese exploitation mavens Panik House have released a trio of extreme, eye-catching epics which fuse swordplay with elements of the still-nascent pinky violence genre. The first film, Female Demon Ohyaku, is a 1968 black-and-white tale of degradation and vengeance centered around Ohyaku (Junko Miyazono), a circus performer bearing a scar from her mother's ill-fated murder/suicide attempt. A local councilman falls for her, and when she spurns his advances, both she and her samurai lover are framed for a gold robbery, with her beau eventually losing his head for his trouble. In prison she's pawned off as a prostitute by the warden, whose wife decides to cover up the inmate's scar with an ornate dragon tattoo -- an unintentional symbol of the wrath Ohyaku plans to unleash on those who have mistreated her. Director Yoshihiro Ishikawa manages to effectively balance clear, powerful storytelling with jolting bursts of bloodshed, as well as some weird kinky touches like the aforementioned lesbian tattooing sessions. As with most Japanese directors, his skillful use of scope adds immeasurably to both the action and atmosphere, and the transfer here brings this previously obscure title to life for what will likely be a most appreciative audience. Expert cinema scholar Chris D. provides a typically informative commentary track, covering the lead actress' career as well as that of formidable co-star Tomisaburo Wakayama (Lone Wolf and Cub) while laying out the influences which found their way into this film. Then we shift gears with the second installment, Quick-Draw Okatsu, with Miyazono returning this time in full-bodied color as the title character, whose family runs afoul of a corrupt magistrate with an affinity for torture. Teaming up with a pair of swordsmen, she concocts a plan to avenge her father with the obligatory bloody showdown finally tying everything up. While the storyline may be by the numbers, director Nobuo Nakagawa (Jigoku) reveals an engaging comic book sensibility here as he showcases his star in a series of dynamic action scenes, most of them confined to the exciting second half of the film. Arriving one year after the prior film, this one already displays a more sadistic bent with such sequences as a bloody man suspended from a ceiling having his feet scorched by candles, and the red stuff spews bright and furiously in several scenes. Once again the scope visual are top notch, and Miyazono really shows herself coming into her own with this entry. Wakayama returns, too, which can only be considered a good thing. Again Chris D. provides a commentary track, with an understandable emphasis on Nakagawa's career and his own approach to directing this film. Finally, the series wraps up with Okatsu the Fugitive, the only direct sequel in the batch, with Okatsu and her father attempting to bring to light the corruption which has already scarred their lives. Unfortunately her wedding plans are thwarted when more corrupt officials snatch and kill her parents, while her fiance turns out to be in collusion with the bad guys. Turning to the only people who will help her, a mysterious swordsman (Tatsuo Umemiya) and some orphaned kids, she once again finds herself pursuing justice against insurmountable odds. Nakagawa's direction again makes the most of the revenge scenario, amping up the violence to even more exaggerated extremes with some pinky-style sexual assault thrown into the mix. Miyazono runs the show again here with her iciest performance out of the trilogy, and the film arranges to fling as many attackers as possible at her in a series of ever-escalating attack scenes. It's all thrilling to watch and perfectly shot; swordplay fanatics looking for a new heroine should be quite satisfied. Again the scope color transfer looks immaculate, and the optional English subtitles are literate and well-written. No Chris D. commentary this time around, however, since any relevant territory was pretty much covered in film #2. All three releases include theatrical trailers for all three features, an insert booklet with notes by Chris D. about the female swordplay genre, and reversible cover art containing new, shelf-friendly designs as well as the original Japanese poster designs-- a very nice touch.
I'm still not quite sure what to make of 2005's Frog Song, one of the most romantic and - believe it or not - cutest pink films around. This title comes under Salvation Films' Sacrament line, which proclaims, "Pink Cinema - Erotica for the mind as well as the body." (So should one presume the same doesn't apply to their "Satanic Sluts" line? Hmmm.) Anyway, this one centers around Akemi, a very young woman who ditches her cheating husband and shacks up with a lesbian comic book artist, Kyoko, who subsidises her artistic career by turning tricks. Oh yeah, and she likes to dress up in a big fuzzy frog suit. And sometimes they have three-ways. Needless to say, the crowd of "furries" will find plenty to embrace here, and while there are a few kinky scenes, there's little of the viciousness or ridiculous sadism which characterizes much of the later pinky titles; instead this one climaxes with a big musical number in a public square. Really! Clocking in at barely over an hour, this could very well be a video cult item in the near future and marks one of Salvation's most interesting releases to date. The letterboxed (1.85:1) transfer is non-anamorphic, which is typical for lower-end recent pinky films aimed for the home video market; picture quality is soft but watchable, with optional English subtitles. The limited extras include a tiny stills gallery, a completely incoherent and crappy-looking short film by Tobias Tubbel called "Japanese Box," and the usual Salvation crossover items like trailers and book promos.
Continuing the ongoing project by Secret Key (aka Seduction Cinema/ei Cinema/Shock-o-Rama) to document America's sordid cinematic past, Skin in the Fifties represents their most "vintage" compilation to date and represents something of a mixed bag. On the positive side, it contains two DVDs packed with a charmingly naive "nudie cutie" loops, most in scratchy but watchable condition and thankfully presented full frame without any of the phony matting that's compromised other releases like this in the past. Plenty of familiar smiling faces and figures appear here like Virginia Bell and Stacy Farrell in 23 loops, with titles like "African Frenzy," "Bumper Lil," "Girl in a Cage," "Nudes on a Bed," and so on. Basically it's lots of footage of girls smiling, stripping, and flashing bare breasts here and there; needless to say, the kitsch value far outweighs any erotic potential. The major promotional gimmick of this release is a "never-before-seen" and "restored" version of The Flesh Merchant, a grimy little one-hour 1956 quickie about two girsl who wind up getting sucked into the skin trade in the City of Angels, with several moments (especially the climax) which prefigured the roughie movement to come. Also released as The Wild and the Wicked, this is vintage '50s trash with plenty of weird mobster characters, teasing almost-nudity, hilarious fashions, and sexy girls who can't act worth a flip. It's been available for ages in various public domain editions, most widely as a dire cheapo DVD from Alpha Video. On the positive side, the film presented here is mostly taken from film elements and, despite an avalanche of scratches and debris, looks much sharper and fresher than prior versons; unfortunately, a few minutes here and there have been sourced from an obvious VHS tape, and even worse, the film has been "spiced up" by inserting quick nudie "hot shots" from the other loops contained in this set! The liner notes contend this is in keeping with exploitation practices of the period when producers would randomly insert skin shots to make their pictures more commerical, but in this case the tactic really works against the film and is more of a distraction than anything else. Still, if you can look past the tacky monkeying with the main feature, this set is recommended as a valuable look at America's libido during the atomic decade.
A more startling discovery lies in store with another Retro-Seduction Cinema title, The Sexperts, a 1965 exploitation oddity from infamous showman William Mishkin (best known for his tumultous distribution history with Andy Milligan) that has inexplicably never seen the light of home video until this DVD release. A weird mixture of gritty black and white footage and gaudy color inserts, it tells pretty much the same story as The Flesh Merchant albeit in Greenwich Village, which automatically gives it a very different feel. Two roommates, Liz (Lana Lynn) and Connie (Rusty Allen), discover what it takes to get ahead in New York, and Liz takes to opportunism and screwing around like a fish to water, while good girl model Connie isn't too keen on jumping into every orgy she sees. Director "J. Nehemiah" (aka Jerald Intrator, Satan in High Heels and The Orgy at Lil's Place) keeps things percolating nicely with lots of vintage '60s sleaze, and best of all, "Olga" herself, Audrey Campbell, pops up near the end for a very special guest appearance. It's not quite deranged enough to be a full-on trash masterpiece, but this should satisfy anyone itching for a dose of vintage T&A with a Big Apple twist. Image quality looks very clean and sharp, and the mono, narration-heavy audio sounds fine. Incredibly, this film gets a double-disc treatment, with the feature housed on the first disc along with four full-on color bonus scenes as entertaining as the film itself. Then buckle down for the real coup of the set, a trio of TV commercials featuring Madame Olga pitching floor wax, upholstery, and "Vulcan Waterproofing." Perfect for your next party compilation, of course. Disc two, entitled Naughty Nudes '65, offers 11 vintage loops (inexplicably not mentioned anywhere on the packaging) with anonymous girls stripping, bumping and grinding through routines like "Milky Thighs, Bedroom Eyes." As usual, the set also includes a huge helping of trailers from the Retro-Seduction catalog.
An Austin Powers parody (if such a thing could exist) about five years past its expiration date, Cloak and Shag Her is easily the most lightweight offering yet from inconsistent but sometimes talented zero-budget sexploitation director William Hellfire. Not surprisingly, the whole spy parody angle is basically an excuse to show the usual stable of softcore starlets pulling off their clothes, rubbing their mammaries about an inch from the camera, and liplocking each other. The "plot" follows curvy agent April Flowers (Julian Wells) and her dimwit sidekick, Basil Shagalittle (Dean Paul), as they time travel from '69 London to 2019 (why?) to stop a scheming archvillain, Dr. Mean (Darian Caine), who's trying to take over the world by, uh, making everyone uncontrollably horny (shades of Flesh Gordon!). Much lesbianism ensues. Most of the full-frame film (an oddity given ei's penchant for 16x9-ing everything these days) is shot in extremely soft focus for some reason, so brace yourself for major eyestrain by the half hour mark; on the other hand, a few of the gags are mildly amusing, and it's hard to totally knock a film that stars "Mike Roszhart as Kung Po the Karate Chimp." The best thing is easily the funky soundtrack by "Trigger Finger," which sounds like Iron Butterfly mashed up with a blaxploitation score. It's a hell of a lot of fun, and thankfully the DVD comes with a bonus disc of the CD soundtrack. Hellfire provides another commentary track that's lively and interesting, offering a primer on how to stage an ambitious, time-hopping sexploitation epic on limited funds. You also get an "extraordinary behind-the-scenes" reel that's much longer than usual, showing how the green screen effects were accomplished and how silly everyone acted on set. An avalanche of cross-trailering is also included.
The growing appreciation for '70s porno chic (when hardcore actually had a plot, a budget, attempts at real acting, and lensing on actual film) has resulted in some welcome special editions, and another company, Halo Park, tosses its hat (among other things) into the ring with a decked-out edition of Blow Dry, a lesser-known porno spoof from 1976. Obviously modeled after Shampoo but a heck of a lot weirder, it begins with enterprising hairdresser Warren (played by short-lived stud "Pepe") tearing through a string of fantasy conquests before settling into his everyday job, where he has to contend with a swishy rival stylist, Percy (Jamie Gillis in a non-sex role probably drawing on his experience from Boynapped), as well as a host of colorful clients and contacts like Maggie Glitter (industry vet Helen Madigan) and cameoing players like Ultra Max, Crystal Sync, and the ubiquitous Richard Bolla (aka Robert Kerman), who was bouncing between hardcore projects and stuff like Cannibal Holocaust. It's all short (74 minutes), lighthearted fun from one-shot director Joey Vincent, with a few stylish flourishes to keep things interesting (watch for those neon interiors!) and some amusing comedy with Warren basically romping from one dirty situation to another. (The lengthy stable sequence is a particular standout.) The transfer looks pretty soft but colorful and is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen (1.66:1). The biggest extra here is a feature-length Bolla commentary; he doesn't talk too much about this actual film (not surprising since he probably worked on it for a day), but he goes into great detail about his career and the state of the burgeoning industry in the mid-'70s. Also included is a quick trailer reel for familiar titles like Skintight and Ultra Flesh.
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