Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Viewings: January 2024

Crammed almost the entire run of Nu Who (stopped at Chibnall's reign of terror) along with bouncing around the classic era. Thus, January’s films took a significant hit.

Burt Lancaster’s quest to swim his way home in the psychological drama The Swimmer was the best film discovered this month.

Another notable highlight was the Japanese thriller Door, which has made me curious for Banmei Takahashi’s other films.



The Violent Years (William Morgan, 1956)

Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967)

The Swimmer (Frank Perry, 1968)*

The House by the Cemetery (Lucio Fulci, 1981)

Door (Banmei Takahashi, 1988)*

Gleaming the Cube (Graeme Clifford, 1989)*

Doctor Who (Geoffrey Sax, 1996)*

eXistenZ (David Cronenberg, 1999)

At Dawn They Sleep (Brian Paulin, 2000)*

Shredder (Greg Huson, 2001)*

Visible Secret (Ann Hui, 2001)*

It Follows (David Robert Mitchell, 2014)

Project Wolf Hunting (Kim Hong-sun, 2022)*



Doctor Who - Various Episodes (Sydney Newman, 1963 - 2023)*

Mastermind - episodes 18 - 22 (Bill Wright, 2023/2024)*

Masters Snooker Final (2024)*


*First time viewings.


Dada Debaser Notes

  • Other than seeing Christian Slater pretending to perform skate tricks, the funniest thing about Gleaming the Cube was seeing him thirsting for his dead brother's girlfriend. Couldn't be arsed to dress appropriately at his own brother's funeral, but made the effort for her, though. 
  • Spent the majority of my time drunkenly explaining Project Wolf Hunting's plot to my confused mate. The action horror hybrid narrative didn't really work, but its ultra gory violence kept us entertained.
  • Snow based slasher Shredder was a decent time waster. Hardly original, though.
  • Copped the 4K of It Follows and I couldn't spot a blind bit of difference with the picture quality from my old blu-ray. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  • Paul McGann’s performance as the Doctor and the cozy interior design of the TARDIS were the best things about the lacklustre and lore breaking 1996 Doctor Who.
  • Biggest highlight about the disappointing Visible Secret was Anthony Wong getting decapitated by a tram, and that was at the very start of the film.
  • Easily the weakest in Fulci's Gates of Hell trilogy, The House by the Cemetery still has a lot to like about it:
The House by the Cemetery (Bat scene)
Lucio Fulci, 1981

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Demoness Souls

eXistenZ (David Cronenberg, 1999)

Amongst film critics and cinephiles, Crash (1996) is largely regarded as Canadian director David Cronenberg's best film from the nineties. As good as it is, personally, I prefer eXistenZ (1999) over it, as its subject matter is more appealing than a feature focusing on a bunch of pervs turned on by being involved in car accidents. That's just me, though.

The tragedy of Cronenberg's sci-fi body horror was it being overshadowed by the Wachowski's popular blockbuster The Matrix (1999) at the time. Both films tackle the concept of simulated realities; it's just one had Keanu Reeves in school-shooter trench coat swagger and the appeal of bullet time visual effects (a gimmick which would be nauseatingly copied and parodied throughout the following decade), while the other was either remained oblivious to most people, or seen as far too niche for mainstream crowds.

You've got to admire Cronenberg unique artistic vision; eXistenZ has his indelible mark all over it. Aesthetically, the film has the worn, post-modern dystopian look about it which is synoymous with many of his films. Love the organic looking consoles made from mutated amphibian organs with what look like umbilical cords plugged into a bio port at the base of the spine. That's unmistakably so Cronenberg. This is all coming at a time when the Sony PlayStation had shifted the cultural belief that gaming was only meant for a very young demographic. There was also the popular influx of virtual worlds; notably the MMORPGs which were growing popular at the time, where players were completely sucked into.

The plot is a fairly linear affair; security guard Ted Pikul (Jude Law) is tasked with escorting to safety games guru, Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh), after a botched assassination attempt on her life by a fundamentalist. From that point, the film goes down a rabbit hole of Cronenberg's perception of what immersive gaming might entail and extremes of industrial espionage. It's a meta affair, where our leads traverse through the realms of reality. Hardly a unique concept in a Cronenberg film as it's familiar territory for the auteur with the surrealist techno, body horror Videodrome (1983) as it also blurs worlds.

Despite its modest budget, eXistenZ boasts an impressive cast - Ian Holme, Christopher Eccleston and Willem Dafoe as a dodgy mechanic/bio-porter, makes some of the supporting cast. Both Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jude Law display great chemistry together. The highlight for me is when the pair order a special platter of mutated amphibians at a restaurant. Jude Law instinctingly assembles a high powered pistol from the bones of his disgusting meal, capable of firing human teeth for its bullets. It's also worth noting that eXistenZ might be the only film where I've found Jennifer Jason Leigh remotely hot.

Can't help but admire the uniqueness of Cronenberg's grotesque gaming pods parasitically leeching off its human host to be powered. The umbilical cord is also a nice touch. There's also the casual manner of having a bio-port jackhammered into the base of your spine and being compared to having your ears pierced in this dystopian setting. There's also the religious like fervour of Allegra's enemies who see her game as a threat to our world - "Death to the demoness Alllegra Geller!" Everything about it so distinctively Cronenberg, innit?

Sadly, Cronenberg's film was a commercial flop. That might have been the reason why he took an extremely long hiatus from making sci-fi body horror and broadened his wings with A History of Violence (2005) and Eastern Promises (2007). He didn't return back to the fold until relatively recently with the impressive evolutionary tale Crimes of the Future (2022). Still, can't knock any film maker for branching out whilst not selling out.

Today, eXistenZ is something of a cult film. It's aged incredibly well. The subject matter is still relevant today with tech lizard moguls like Mark Zuckerberg championing virtual reality and trying to make the Metaverse a thing. Lord knows how much money he's pumped into that. eXistenZ also serves as a more palatable precursor to Christopher Nolan's metaworld concept from Inception (2010). Proof eXistenZ was way ahead of its time.


Friday, January 26, 2024

These Creatures Are Nothing but Pure Motorised Instinct

R.I.P. David Emge, who recently passed away! Horror nerds might have been familiar with the actor for playing Stephen "Flyboy" Andrews in The Empire Strikes Back of horror film trilogies, Dawn of the Dead (1978).

The tense finale, where a zombie Flyboy shuffles his way to his former hideout, was effectively forshadowed earlier in the film when his desperate comrades set up base in a shopping mall. Peter Washington (Ken Foree) yells, "Hold it, Flyboy! Don't go into the stairway! Don't open that door, baby, you'll lead them right up with you." which he inevitably did in his zombie state.

The news of Emge's death has once again triggered the age old question for horror geeks like myself: did Flyboy betray his friends? Much like his skin complexion, it's a grey area. To some, his zombie state might have made him exempt of responsibility; to others, his final goal while alive was to reach his girlfriend Fran Parker (Gaylen Ross) and their unborn child, which persisted in his undeath.

Romero made it clear in his zombie films that the undead occasionally exhibited lingering memories and actions in their past lives, hence the answer as to whether Flyboy is on the same level of despicable characters from a previous post related to traitors, is clouded like a zombie's eyeballs (except Flyboy's for whatever reason).

Monday, January 22, 2024

Let's Do the Time War Again

Doctor Who - The Day of the Doctor ("Gallifrey Stands" scene)
Nick Hurran, 2013

Fan-servicing is occasionally considered a lazy practice by some critics, although it really shouldn't; after all, if you're not catering to your fans, where would any creative property be without them? 

Having binged an obscene amount of Doctor Who episodes over the last couple of months, a good example of fan servicing executed well is its 50th anniversary episode - The Day of the Doctor (2013).

Despite some convoluted subplots, like the shapeshifting alien Zygons storyline, there is a lot to like about The Day of the Doctor. It successfully bridges the past, present and future of the franchise, along with tackling the often hinted epic backstory of the Time War between the Time Lords and the Daleks. A favourite example from this episode is seeing eleven incarnations of the Doctor, along with John Hurt cast as the War Doctor - an offshoot in between the eighth and ninth Doctors - all working together to save the planet Gallifrey from obliteration. That scene alone, represents the fifty years of the show to marvellous effect. There's also a brief glimpse of Peter Capaldi as the future twelfth Doctor well before officially beginning his tenure as the titular protagonist; a stroke of genius from its writer Steven Moffat.

Was inspired to revisit this particular episode after returning show runner Russell T. Davis's 60th anniversary fell flat in comparison to its spectacular predecessor.

It was also Tom Baker's 90th birthday a few days ago, so a Doctor Who blog post felt appropriate.

Friday, January 19, 2024

The Wish List: Criterion Edition

Fair to say that 2023 was one of the best years for physical media since the COVID-19 lockdowns. It was also the year which redeemed Criterion, the label of choice for annoying cinephiles. Personally, I've always found its reputation as the arbiter of the crème de la crème of film unwarranted and pretentious, but its 4K releases of Martin Scorsese's After Hours and Tod Browning's Freaks earned it some positive points from me after its censoring of William Friedkin's The French Connection on its streaming channel.

And so, here are six films (I ended up doing one extra by mistake and spent too long writing it to delete it, but I'll pretend it was intentional) which would further elevate my approval of the "prestigious film label" by simultaneously catering to degenerates such as myself and its horrible fanbase consisting of poncey snobs: 

The Sadist (James Landis, 1963)

How is Critierion going to have Terrence Malick's Badlands (1973) and not include the film which started the trend for murderous psycho couples?  James Landis's The Sadist is a shocking film, laced with levels of nihilistic violence that feels well ahead of its time. If that's not enough, it's blessed with stupendous levels of suspense and tension to satisfy the Hitchcock crowd, too. The Sadist might fall under the juvenile deliquency umbrella of exploitation cinema, but it definitely deserves to be evaluated as a legitimately finely honed thriller by all the kino heads. One of my favourite discoveries from last year.

Looking for Mr. Goodbar (Richard Brooks, 1977)

Admittedly, I haven't watched this film since catching it on TV sometime in the mid-eighties, therefore, I really don't know how well it holds up today, but I do remember being intrigued by it. Also, I’m convinced the LL Cool J song serves more as a reference to the film than the actual candy bar of the same name. I do remember the ending being unexpectedly brutal, however. Diane Keaton plays a goody two shoes school teacher by day, who rebels against her strict Catholic upbringing by getting involved with various dodgy blokes in smokey bars at night. Apparently, the film forever changed bar culture by women no longer commonly frequenting watering holes alone It's a shame the film is out of print after casting such a spot light on the perils of hooking-up.

Nineteen Eighty-Four (Michael Radford, 1984)

How weird is it that so many words and phrases originating from George Orwell's classic dystopian nightmare have made it into the English lexicon, and yet, you can barely find Michael Radford's adaptation of it anywhere? A real shame, as it's not only amongst the best British films to have come out during the eighties, but it also boasts the last great performance of the legendary Richard Burton along with John Hurt's brilliant portrayal of protagonist Winston Smith. Nineteen Eighty-Four has been released by Criterion in the US, but it's way too expensive to import it over here, sadly.

Man Bites Dog (Rémy Belvaux, Benoît Poelvoorde & André Bonzel, 1992)

Unlike the August Underground trilogy, this is how the cinéma vérité style should be when realising serial killer(s) on film. Man Bites Dog accomplishes a remarkable feat by simultaneously having me laughing and being disturbed by it. It's an entertaining mockumentary where a roaming film crew become complicit accomplices with their subject matter, a Beligian serial killer. It's a powerful commentary on film violence and how we're desensitised by it. A criminally forgotten film today which had a lot of contoversy upon its release with the tabloid press screaming for it to be banned.

Fresh (Boaz Yakin, 1994)

Thankful for Criterion having released Deep Cover (1992) as it has aged remarkably well today; working well as both a nineties neo-noir and as part of the collective of rapsploitation films which were common during that era. Boaz Yakin's Fresh is another film worthy of the same treatment, as it also straddles the thin line of typical rapsploitation and NY indie cinema. The film contains an impressive cast, which includes Giancarlo Esposito, Samuel L. Jackson and the best child actor since Fool from The People Under the Stairs (1991). Fresh follows the same plot template as Yojimbo (1961), A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and The Warrior and the Sorceress (1984) as they're all based on Dashiell Hammett's novel, Red Harvest.

The Chaser (Na Hong-jin, 2008)

Much like that saying about cunninlingus: for everyone who won't, there's someone who will. South Korean cinema has risen in popularity due to American films not being able to or unwilling to make films they were once lauded for. Na Hong-jin's debut is a fantastic film which feels like the missing link between Old Boy (2003) and I Saw the Devil (2010); that already puts it in good company. It's a shame it doesn't get the appreciation it deserves as it one of the shining offerings which really put Korean cinema on the map for me in the noughties.

Couldn't care less which label releases these films on blu-ray; I just care about making these films easier to get hold of, in all honesty. As mentioned earlier, I don't agree with the echochamber of Criterion being the purveyors of great cinema; they're more of a status label more than anything else, but having more films like the ones listed above might have me improving my opinion on the label.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

289 Days to Halloween (Silver Shamrock)

Welcome to the annual John Carpenter birthday post, where I briefly write something about the gawd and fake it like I planned it.

The great man might not have helmed Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), but he certainly had his hand all over it; from writing, producing and scoring it. Much like his remake of The Thing (1982), folks hated on the film, largely because of the notable absences of Michael Myers, Laurie Strode and Dr. Loomis. Personally, I always thought the haters were fools as it's the second best film in the entire franchise. Audience approval has been much kinder since then, thankfully.

John Carpenter & Alan Howarth - Main Title/Chariots of Pumpkins
Halloween III: Season of the Witch OST, 1982

The soundtrack is completely stellar, thanks to an incredible synth score from both John Carpenter and Alan Howarth; Personal favourites being the Main Title and Chariots of the Pumpkins which perfectly compliment one another as one epic track, in my opinion.

Can't believe I've not done a  proper dedicated post on one of Carpenter's films yet.

Sunday, January 14, 2024

There's Somebody at the Door

Door (Banmei Takahashi, 1988)

Like politicians and Piers Morgan, you can add cold callers and door-to-door salesmen to the list of awful people who ought to be publicly flogged. Banmei Takahashi's 1988 psychological thriller, Door AKA Doa in Japan and Essex, does little to dissuade this personal opinion.

Yasuko Honda (Keiko Takahashi - Banmei's other half) is a young, yuppie housewife living in an apartment block, faced with daily harrassment by aggressive traders. Door is fundamentally a stalker thriller; a popular theme for its time. However, Door possesses idiosyncratic features which distinguishes it from its peers. As far as Japanese thrillers go, there's a distinct European aesthetic; Yasuko's appartment is decorated with western style art and sculptures such as Greek statues. Its cinematography, courtesy of Yasushi Sasakibara, lends a distinctive De Palma/Argento flavour to it, too.

Yasuko falls victim to the wrath of one particular pushy door-to-door salesman who crosses the line by trying to barge his way into her home. Instinctively, Yasuko slams the door and injures the hand of  Yamakawa (Daijirô Tsutsumi). Feeling insulted and sexually motivated, our antagonist launches an epic campaign of harrassment against Yasuko. These actions result with scrawling obscenities on her front door, singing to her on the phone and leaving cum soaked tissues in her mailbox. Absolutely no chill.

Sound also plays a major part in the film. Takahashi incorporates it to reflect Yusuko’s isolation from the outside world. When she reports her disturbing experiences to a police officer, he responds in this weirdly distant voice, like the bad reception on a telephone. A clever way of exemplifying Yasuko's isolation from the world beyond her front door, in my opinion. There's also the incredibly catchy theme which becomes torturous the more times it's played in the film. Not sure whether that's intentional or not, but it does lend to the insanity of the film as it progresses.

The film employs a slow burn style for its first two acts before switching into fifth gear with its blood splattered pay-off. Here's where my biggest grievance of the film lies; Yasuko's sudden about turn to slasher character imbecile. She doesn't immediately leave the apartment with her son when an all important chance arises, nor does she even bother checking the premises before putting her son to bed. I suppose this dumb oversight does lead to the ensuing carnage. However, as great that is, it does tarnish my overall opinion of the film somewhat, as Door plays out as a smart thriller with its previous acts. Still, you can almost forgive it as it does lead to the incredible overhead chase sequence in Yasuko's maze-like apartment.

Copped the Third Window Films blu-ray of Door which also contains the sequel as a bonus feature; apparently, there are three films altogether. The first film is the only one directed by Banmei Takahashi. Considering how much I enjoyed it, I'm keen to check out his other films, but judging by the titles on IMDb they read like they're part of Randall's video tape orders in Clerks which is somewhat offputting. He helmed a lot of pinku (softcore) films back in the day.

Monday, January 8, 2024

Lancaster Bomber

The Swimmer (Frank Perry, 1968)

Although largely unsung, we can add The Swimmer to the list of gems from 1968 that was a bumper year in cinema. Frank Perry's drama revolves around Ned Merrill, (Burt Lancaster) a middle-aged man with a bizarre obsession of wanting to make his way home by swimming his way home in the pools of his neighbours and fellow residents (regardless of whether they know him or not). Named after his wife, Ned calls it "the Lucinda river", which in turn becomes a fascinating odyssey for its protagonist and the viewer.

Adapted from John Cheever's short story, first published in The New Yorker, it's somewhat mindblowing that this unconventional and largely surreal film was picked up by a mainstream company like Columbia Pictures for distribution. Its doubly bizarre that Burt Lancaster, an actor synonymous with a tough guy on screen persona, would dive completely into this after the likes of George C. Scott and Paul Newman passed on the project. The Swimmer transformed into a personal film for Lancaster. He underwent immense physical training to get in shape for the role by putting on twenty pounds of muscle for his physique. He also ended up spending his own money to fund the last day of filming as the Horizon Pictures could not or would not spend anymore on the film. With such a troubled production which say Sydney Pollack playing an uncredited hand at directing reshoots after Frank Perry was fired from the film, you would think The Swimmer would have spelt an absolute disaster. It kind of did as it sunk without much fanfare, until it was rediscovered years later.

Despite The Swimmer's strange premise, it's an effective way in learning more about Ned during his journey home. Each one of his pool treks serves as a short story in itself, and reveal invaluable details about him. It's obvious from the very start of the film that there's something strange about Ned. The way some of his neighbours react to him seems to tell there's much more going on with Ned than we're let on. That's the beauty of the The Swimmer  – you're picking up these fragmented pieces about Ned's past and playing armchair detective. Despite being such an old film, delving deeper into Ned's journey would effectively spoil the experience. Also, The Swimmer deserves the benefit of not being ruined by anyone as it contains a superb final act with an unforgettable ending.

Don't mean to use such a clichéd description like "multi-layered", but it's wholly appropriate here: on one hand, The Swimmer poses as a psycho drama about a man's fractured past; while on the other, it's a satirical critique on the upper middle-class. The latter portrays Ned's neighbours as lazy and hungover good for nothings. While piecing together the jigsaw puzzle that is Ned's past, you're seeing him mingle with people who were once like him. The more you learn about Ned, you start to think that maybe he wasn't always such a great guy afterall; especially when he winds up visiting the home of his former mistress. There's also the distinct contrast he faces when he meets the working classes at the claustrophobically cluttered local swimming pool.

As mentioned earlier, Lancaster wasn't the first pick to play the role of Ned Merrill in The Swimmer, but it  might be one of his best performances, in my opinion. For a middle-aged actor wearing only navy blue swimming trunks for the entirety of the film, he does a stellar transformation of turning from this mildly eccentric suburbanite into a darkly disturbed individual. It's physical too, as his confident posture is  eventually subsitituted with him cowering and limping as the film progresses.  To a certain degree, Ned Merrill might come across as a spiritual precurssor to the likes of Travis Bickle and D-Fens. Personally, I interpret The Swimmer as a critique on the American Dream and on the male machismo.

Found out about the film about a decade ago when Grindhouse Releasing acquired the rights for it which was odd at the time since their catalogue contained notorious horror titles like Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and Cannibal Ferox (1981). Consequently, this stark contrast allowed for The Swimmer to earn a spot on my watch list. However, it wasn't many years later that I finally got off my arse and watched it. An absolute gem that I should have checked out much earlier, but better late than never.

Monday, January 1, 2024

One Max and His Dog

Happy New Year!

We finally hit the same year as L.Q. Jones's now defunct futuristic period in A Boy and His Dog (1975). The film stars rapey wanderer Vic, played by Don Johnson, and his telepathic dog Blood. Don't care if it inspired the Fallout videogames, as far as post-apocalyptic films go, it's never been one I've been particularly fond of, but I do consider its ending superb, regardless.

Weren’t familiar with L.Q. Jones as a director, only knew him as the actor who played Pat Webb, the Clark County Commissioner in the film Casino (1995).

R.I.P. Dog!

A Boy and His Dog also makes me feel gutted that the greatest four-legged companion featured in dystopian cinema (and for that matter, cinema in general), 'Dog' from Mad Max 2 (1981), didn't get such a pleasant ending. Thankfully, the actual blue healer dog, which was rescued from the pound when cast for the film, lived the rest of its years with a crew member. Now that truly is a happy ending.