FEBRUARY 19 , 2008

Already a strong contender for the sleaziest DVD release of the year, Impulse Pictures' Schoolgirl Report Vol. #3: What Parents Find Unthinkable ratchets up the shock value considerably after the first two engaging but hardly outrageous installments. The basic template's the same this time around, as a narrator kicks things off by wondering aloud what could possibly be left to cover in the sordid lives of loose-skirted German schoolgirls after the past two successful films, already "seen by millions." Well, apparently you ain't seen nothin' yet, folks! The first half of the film follows the formula with a few extra dollops of seediness, such as a vignette involving a high schooler who gets lured into a gangbang in the boys' bathroom only to be caught by the school janitor. No one believes she isn't a complete slut, so she decides to prove them all wrong by, uh, seducing the janitor so he'll back up her story. Turns out he's actually the one who set the whole nasty thing up, and soon the whole thing devolves into prostitution, arrests, and tragedy. Other bits involve some boys hiding out a bunch of girls in their dorm room, a nymphet jumping her best friend's dad after playing tennis, and the typically bizarre "girl on the street" interview segments. But that's nothing compared to what the film really has in store halfway through as it plunges into Maladolescenza territory with a joltingly graphic sketch involving a frisky girl's decision to get into the pants of a very, very young boy, whose on-camera enthusiasm pushes the boundaries of any other softcore DVD out on the marketplace. Not surprisingly, Synapse (who releases Impulse's titles in the U.S.) had to pull some distribution plans for this title and is now releasing it exclusively via Xploited Cinema, so be sure to grab a copy while you can! Kudos to them for going out of their way to release the longest version of this film available anywhere; hopefully the sales will spur on future installments despite any controversy. The transfer itself is definitely a few notches above the past two releases, looking quite a bit crisper and fresher; the optional English subtitles are just fine and often hilarious. For some reason the packaging gives two credits for the fantastic music to prolific series composer Gert Wilden, though this particular entry was actually scored by St. Pauli Report composer Siegfried Franz.

Another Synapse title inherited from the Panik House library of Asian exploitation classics, Snake Woman's Curse is essentially a Japanese horror version of Jean de Florette (no, really!) courtesy of director Nabuo Nakagawa, whose cult reputation in the West has soared in recent years thanks to the classic Jigoku. This ghostly yarn charts the damage both physical and supernatural wrought by vicious landowner Chobei, who destroys the life of one of his farmers, Yasuke, whose passing leaves a wife and daughter to pay off his debt. Chobei has big plans for his family, but the callous killing of a snake opens up the floodgates for a nasty supernatural curse which only amplifies with another death and a series of hauntings. Impeccably shot and decidedly anti-materialist in the best kaidan tradition, the film isn't as audacious as some of its more famous counterparts but is certainly worth a look. Surprisingly, the snake aspect is a fairly minor part of the story for most of its running time, though some of the scaly rascals come in for some physical abuse so prevalent in Eastern cinema at the time. (Don't worry, though -- this doesn't come anywhere near A Calamity of Snakes.) The provincial atmosphere is beautifully rendered, and the sparse but effective horrific effects during the payback portion of the film are skillfully executed. The anamoprhic transfer is a knockout, with rich colors and beautiful scope framing making this a treat to watch from start to finish. The optional English subtitles are well written and seem to convey the story nicely enough, making this a must for anyone who tried to puzzle this one out in the past without the aid of subs. Japanese cinema expert Jonathan M. Hall contributes the biggest extra, a feature-length audioc ommentary with a focus on the local customs and storytelling conventions which influenced the film and the social mores underpinning its more political twists and turns. Nice all around. Also included are the original Japanese trailer, a Nakagawa poster gallery and bio, and additional facts about the film courtesy of Alexander Jacoby's succinct and informative liner notes.

Now back to the Eurosex. Emmanuelle Goes to Cannes is a bewildering mess of a film using lots of random Cannes footage loosely tied together by the presence of sex starlet and future porn veteran Olinka Hardiman, a Marilyn Monroe "lookalike" (at least so her press claims) who basically strolls around the Cote D'Azur, hopping in the sack with strangers and doing impromptu striptease routines. Apparently this was released in 1985 (complete with video-generated opening credits), but it looks for all the world like something patched together with bits shot throughout the same early '80s period as another patchwork Cannes exploitation item, The Last Horror Film (aka Fanatic). Director Jean-Marie Pallardy specialized in French hardcore, and while some scenes here might have been shot a bit more explicitly than what's in the final version (particularly a menage a trois haflway through), this is softcore all the way. That makes this a bit of an odd choice for classic porn label Halo Park, who popped up here last month with their nutty release of the '70s smut classic, Blow Dry. The very short (77-minute) film is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen, roughly 1.78:1, and also includes a batch of sanitized trailers for upcoming, far more graphic titles.

And where can you possibly go after an incoherent French sex romp? Turkish Tarzans, of course! Something of an anomaly from Turkish cinema saviors Onar Films, Tarzan Istanbul'da delivers exactly what it advertises, a muscular Turkish vine swinger in the jungle. Of course, you'll have to wade through a lot of plot to get to him, as a journalist on holiday in Africa uncovers an elaborate backstory involving a tribe of vicious natives, an escaped boy who grew up in the jungle, and hidden treasure with a handy map for guidance all the way to "Death Mountain." With the help of his handy companion, Kunt (played by the ever-present and still regrettably-named Kunt Tulgar), he eventually runs into the animal-loving Tarzan (Tamer Balci), whose best friends are a chimp and an elephant. Those pesky natives turn up again, and the actors spend lots of time trudging up and down through the jungle and riverbeds. And that's pretty much it. A pretty standard jungle adventure lensed in black and white (just like the Johnny Weismuller classics), this Tarzan outing isn't remotely as outrageous as the superhero outings from the same period but might be worth a look for the curious. As usual Onar has done a fine job of resuscitating a lost Turkish oddity, this time looking very soft and worn but pretty typical for the time considering the few tape sources still surviving. Fortunatley it includes optional English (and Greek) subtitles, which are often as bizarre and fascinating as the elaborate (and incredibly racist) native fashions and make-up designs. This release (number to 1200 units - grab one fast!) is easily worth picking up for its most significant extra, a half-hour video interview with Tulgar in which he talks about his career at the height of Turkey's most outlandish cash-ins on international cinematic hits. He also gets a text bio and gallery, while other extras include a baffling, silent "lost check scene" (which involves one of the actors, well, signing a check next to a river), plus trailers for other essential upcomign Onar titles including Casus Kiran, Zorro Kamcili Suvari, Karanlik Sular and much, much more!

It's hard to ignore a movie with cast names like "Gentle Fritz" and "Alysabeth Clements," so anyone with a tolerance for soft-focus lesbian erotica posing as a vampire flick might want to check out Dracula's Dirty Daughter, another financially-impoverished but skin-rich offering from the folks at ie (Secret Key, Seduction Cinema, etc.). Apparently this one snuck out on video before under the title Mistress of Seduction, where it unsurprisingly went unnoticed. In any case, the story revolves around, yes, Dracula's daughter, Vampirina, a bloodsucking lesbian who feeds on town to town with the aid of her sapphic groupies. When she finds the beer-swilling reincarnation of the vampire hunter who killed her dad, she decides to throw a little sacrificial ritual in between same-sex sessions with all the nearby women. While Clements gives a pretty decent lead performance and the story idea is solid enough, the final result is something of a mixed bag, featuring a few too many scenes of people sitting dead still in the middle of the frame yakking or getting it on with each other under bleached-out, soft focus lighting. That said, the vampiric aspects are handled well enough by director Michele "Mike" Pacitto, and the final few minutes feature enough kinky mayhem and blood-dribbling to justify a rental. The transfer does what it can considering this was shot on a camcorder, and the audio ranges from okay to muffled. Extras include a reel of cast auditions (with almost everyone cracking up), some outtake footage (mostly from the sex scenes), and the usual barrage of cross-promotional trailers.

An earlier and very different effort from the same director, Bloody Earth's American Punks features no lesbianism but plenty of gross-out nihilism as it follows angry punk Bobby (Mike Passion), who thinks a snotty yuppie he persecuted earlier is responsible for killing his best friend and embarks on a vicious crime spree to even the score. Unfortunately he seriously miscalculates the full scope of his plan, which leads to a very nasty final showdown. Set in the backstreets and bars of Detroit, the film is unevenly paced but benefits from Passion's roaring lead performance and some welcome bursts of violence and grotesque comedy which at least come off better than if Troma had been responsible. A number of indie Michigan punk bands contribute to the lively soundtrack, including Shock Therapy, Lab ANimals, and Itchy Wiggle Christ. Part of the label's "Generation eXploitation" line of '90s DIY cult films, this release comes with a Pacitto audio commentary, some casting audition tapes, a particularly foul "Alternative Steak Hut Scene," a deleted monologue sequence, and trailers for other shot-on-video releases like...

Beauty Queen Butcher, a 1991 shot-on-video curio most distinguished by its unexpected female pedigree. Helmed by one-shot wonder Jill Zurborg and featuring a cast dominated entirely by women (and, uh, one really ugly guy in drag), it's the story of put-upon, dumpy Phyllis Loden, who's chosen by four snotty beauty pageant entrants to take the slot of "last place" so they all can avoid any humiliation. When the prank works, they decide to rub it in even further, sealing their doom as the the crown for "Miss Slough" becomes a bloody battleground. Though low on gore, it's an amusingly sick little item made years before Drop Dead Gorgeous and worth checking out if you want to see a campy horror outing made on a high school budget. Just be warned that the pacing goes slack quite a few times, and for better or worse, it indulges in a lot of '80s stereotypical shorthand, like a "nerd" stuck with those ridiculous big-rimmed plastic glasses no real human being would ever actually wear. The biggest asset (sorry) is easily Rhona Brody, who gives an appealing, committed and sympathetic performance as Phyllis that has you rooting for her even when she's knocking off the cast in a hockey mask. The only notable extra here is a vintage, crappy-looking VHS making-of promo from the time of the film's release, mainly showing the cast getting made up and clowning around. Too bad the director and cast have disappeared, as the stories behind the making of this girls' look at the slasher formula would have been very interesting to hear.

The umpteenth "serial killer confessional" movie released in the last few years, the 2006 British horror film Hurt is one of the few homegrown offerings from the UK horror specialists at Redemption. Presumably aiming for the same audience as past films like Behind the Mask, The Ugly, and Man Bites Dog, this one falls way short of its predecessors but might be worth a look on a slow evening. Director Scott A Martin also assumes star duties as a serial killer who decides to unload about his crimes, which have so far claimed the lives of 47 people. Various flashbacks (in a grating variety of video formats and aspect ratios all the way from full frame to scope) explore his misdeeds, though gorehounds lured in by the creepy cover art may be disappointed that nothing really all the harrowing or shocking actually happens. Some of the rough-hewn DIY video techniques are atmospheric and work well, while others are just chintzy and irritating. It would be interesting to see what Martin could accomplish with a stronger script and budget, however. Redemption's disc comes with the usual barrage of cross-promotional trailers, while the sole extra of real note is a commentary track by the filmmaker/star that's actually more engaging than the film itself. He talks about the challenges faced by mounting an indie horror project in the current UK market and explains what he was shooting for throughout, which isn't always clear in the finished product.

A considerably more ambitious and unorthodox Redemption offering is Nature Morte, a British-based mixture of psychological thriller and kinkfest using a variety of locales and subplots to craft something that feels like an cracked-out collision of Umberto Eco and Bruno Mattei. The suitably gimmicky plot revolves around a globe-hopping serial killer who's offed ten of the models who sat for a noted painter, and when the artist himself turns up dead, an American investigator and an art expert stumble from France to Thailand into a dark world of depraved sex, dominance, cavalier murder, and sadism. Surprisingly stylish given the very low budget, the film also sports a strange and sometimes striking score by Siouxsie and the Banshees vet Steven Severin, and director Paul Burrows shows a sure hand dealing with the disparate elements of the story which culminate in a wild and harrowing final act. Certainly one of the most notable of Redemption's releases under its independent American banner, the film suffers a bit due to the flat-looking, non-anamorphic transfer, but don't let that scare you away. The stereo audio fares better, and extras include a reel of disposable but interesting deleted scenes with an intro and commentary by the director, a trailer, a stills gallery, and a few minutes of inconsequential outtakes, as well as a promo for the soundtrack release. Definitely worth checking out if you like your chills splashed with a dose of erotica and art, and hey, it comes with an enthusiastic printed endorsement from Jess Franco!

Released in France the same year as the original Saw, the oddball "six characters in search of an exit" horror film Aquarium is our third Redemption offering now up at bat, and at least it's a huge improvement over their previous "hip" French outing, The Witching Hour. The packaging touts this as a sadistic mixture of the Saw series and Big Brother, though of course anyone familiar with Cube, My Little Eye, and even '70s offerings like Chosen Survivors should be able to pinpoint its inspirations rather quickly. The premise finds six strangers of various social strata awakening to find themselves in a glaringly white room with no visible windows or exits. A sinister disembodied spectator watching them via camera informs them that they must all perform in a variety of tests which will require teamwork and moral resolve, while anyone who fails to cooperate gets snuffed. While the constant blinding white of the interiors may give viewers a severe case of eyestrain, it's a stylish and interesting film that wraps up its mysteries with an audacious bit of soapbox moralizing that will either have you chuckling or hurling foodstuffs at the TV. In any case it's a fun and tight ride clocking in just under 70 minutes. Once again the non-anamorphic transfer is a letdown (as well as way behind the curve on what's acceptable for commercial DVD releases now), but the film itself is worth a look as long as you're not expecting much of a workout for your home theater setup. Extras include a surprisingly ponderous making-of documentary that seems to overestimate the film's importance quite a bit, as well as stills and behind the scenes galleries, a trailer, the usual Redemption cross-promotional stuff, and most rewardingly, two of the director's earlier short films, "Emergency Stop" and "Shit," both of which also look very, very white and revolve around people's bathroom functions.

And I really don't know what the hell to make of Visions of Suffering , a berserk 2005 experimental horror film from Russian director Andrey Iskanov (Nails), who apparently locked himself in a room for a week with some hard chemical agents and a TV running a constant loop of Tetsuo the Iron Man. The packaging attempts to explain the plot as such: "Demons stalk a victim in his sleep. They appear whenever the rain falls and threaten to break free from the land of nightmares into his conscious world. A drug-induced vision allows the demons to finally tear apart the veil that separates him from their nightmare world, and the victim is dragged into their hellish realm." In other words, expect lots of strobe lighting, naked chicks in S&M gear rubbing on anything in sight, gruesome make-up effects, and loads of abrasive industrial-style sound effects. For two hours. Fortunately most of it looks gorgeous (the gothic landscape tableaux in particular are terrific), but this is far more easily digested in multiple sittings as a string of avant garde short films rather than a coherent whole. As usual Unearthed has done an extensive job of bringing this twisted puppy to DVD; the transfer looks vibrant and colorful despite the monetary limitations, and the aggressive soundtrack comes across nice, clear and loud. The biggest extra is a making-of documentary running nearly an hour, with the director and star rattling off influences, discussing the meaning of certain scenes, and breaking down some of the bizarre special effects. Another completely unrelated but very cool extra is "El Kuervo (The Crow)," an amusing goth-style short film adapting the famous Edgar Allan Poe poem into the story of a tormented musician. Also included are multiple image galleries (accompanied by the film's soundtrack), a trailer, and additional promos for Nails and other highly recommended Unearthed titles like Frankenhooker and Rock & Rule, which may not share much of an audience with the one for this film.

If you prefer your horror more linear and Americanized, nothing says DIY camcorder bloodletting clearer than a film by the Polonia Brothers. Finally available from the enterprising folks at Camp Motion PIctures, Splatter Farm is one of the gore brothers' first outings, years before they assaulted the world with classics like Holla If I Kill You and Peter Rottentail. Yes indeed, it's another gem from the golden age of '80s homemade video gore obscurities, sharing shelf space with the likes of Goremet Zombie Chef from Hell (where's that DVD?) and Woodchipper Massacre. The brothers also star in the film as Alan and Joseph, two brothers holed up for the summer at a farm run by their old Aunt Lacey, an incestuous, necrophilic biddy whose loco handyman, Jeremy, gets his kicks by chopping up townspeople and stashing their remains under the house. Then the gore really starts to fly. Completely amateurish yet strangely compelling, this beloved relic from the VHS era comes to DVD with all of its fuzzy camcorder lensing, dropouts and bad sound intact, which is just as it should be. The liner notes explain that the original VHS version was actually arough cut shopped around distribution without any funding provided to finish the actual movie, so this DVD in essence marks the first officially-sanctioned release. The entire disc is basically a Poloniapalooza, complete with a new "Back to the Farm" featurette (with the brothers talking about the making of the movie and its creepy farm location), a hilarious and very self-aware audio commentary pointing out the shortcomings and challenges of the DIY project, and a huge heap of Super 8 splatter shorts (all silent with the brothers' audio commentary), nine total, including such titles as "GI Joe Versus the Alien," "The Mad Slasher," "A Toast to Death" and "The Killer." Of course, you also get trailers for Camp's other essential '80s cheapo classics like the Video Violence and Zombie Bloodbath series, all of which would make perfect co-features to the genius that is Splatter Farm.

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