As most readers are no doubt aware by now, Jonathan Demme has died. Taken from us aged 73 from a reported combination of heart disease and cancer, the director, writer, producer and documentarian leaves behind a remarkably varied and illustrious body of work. As can often be the case on these occasions, I come to the sad realisation that I’m really not as familiar with the length and breadth of that oeuvre as I should be. Beyond Caged Heat (whose praises I sang here several years ago), I haven’t seen any of Demme’s earliest films, and while I did see Something Wild and Married to the Mob, both were so long ago they’re hazy in my memory.
However, as a lifelong horror fan, the one Demme movie which will always be close to my heart is naturally his Oscar-laden 1991 classic The Silence of the Lambs. And yes, let’s make this abundantly clear straight away: whatever anyone says, of course The Silence of the Lambs is a horror movie, and any denial of this is absurd and rooted in anti-genre snobbery. That said, to play devil’s advocate, it’s understandable that some would declare it to be (wince) somehow ‘more’ than horror, as it was a film that pushed the genre to new heights of sophistication which few can really be said to have reached since; and God knows they tried, as its echoes can be felt in so much of the horror fare to have come in its wake.
After three attempts at bringing IDW’s Locke and Key to both the big screen and the small screen, fans might finally see their favorite supernatural mystery in a live-action adaption. The series is getting some headway with what I’ve been told is a promising script written by the comic co-creator, Joe Hill, and has garnered the interest of Dr. Strange director Scott Derrickson, who is set to direct the pilot episode. The adaptation has officially been picked up by Hulu, who have ordered the pilot episode, and, depending on reception, will order an entire first season.
Any contemporary example of extreme cinema, loaded with shocking imagery and structured in an unconventional manner to keep the audience on their toes, has one fairly sizeable obstacle to tackle: cinema has seen more than its fair share of extreme, indecipherable, shock-heavy fare over the decades. As such, while We Are The Flesh is specifically designed to defy straightforward explanation, I still feel like I can sum it up easily enough: if you felt that Refn’s The Neon Demon or the final act of Rob Zombie’s The Lords of Salem were just a little too linear and sedate for your liking, and didn’t feature nearly enough explicit sexual content, then this might be your cup of tea. On the other hand, if you think that sounds like 80 minutes of audio-visual torture, well, that’s just what you’ll get as well – and there’s no doubt in my mind that this is what writer-director Emiliano Rocha Minter is aiming for with his feature debut. Whatever your proclivities, this is not a film you can passively sit through; but just how great an impact it’s likely to have may vary according to how easily shocked you are, and/or how receptive you are to the near-constant use of shock tactics.
Back in 2013, actor Leslie Simpson made a foray into filmmaking with his directorial debut, the atmospheric short film Grandpa. Simpson is back with another short, written and directed by him, and it’s a wonderful step-up for the multi-talented filmmaker. Here he takes the lead as Joseph, a seemingly normal man, living in a nice house with his wife Stazi (Phoebe Ashford). Something goes bump one night, and the next morning, things in the house have moved. Stazi’s sure there’s a rational explanation. The next time it happens, more things move, and the detectives (Anna Burgess and Nicholas Politis) are even more sceptical. Joseph and Stazi become increasingly concerned by the goings-on in their home, and have to take matters into their own hands.
Zombies in cinema have gone from being one of my go-to good fun film monsters to something approaching a personal phobia. For that, I blame years of reviewing low-budget horror films. I mean, I know the earliest zombie films were low budget too, but they made the mistake of being modestly successful; this success has thereafter announced to every dick and his dog that they, too, could make a few quid off of unfussy horror fans who will be genuinely entertained every time they see a horde of bozos in bloodstained shirts shuffling around, groaning. Better still, if you’re a director, you can get your mates to pretend to be zombies, which saves even more hassle – like writing a decent script, or bothering to watch all the other films which have had the exact same idea as you, in order to avoid making the same damn film they did.
Tackling films dubbed cinematic landmarks can sometimes feel a bit of a minefield. There are any number of worthy, ‘important’ films which can be argued to have demonstrably changed the face of cinema, but in many instances this doesn’t necessarily equate to the film in question still being enjoyable to watch in the 21st century. However, this most definitely isn’t the case with Drunken Master. For some, it might be a bit of an eyebrow-raiser to see Eureka Entertainment releasing Yuen Woo-Ping’s low-budget 1978 kung fu flick as part of their illustrious Masters of Cinema series; yet while the film may have been introduced to the west via grindhouse cinemas and shoddy VHS tapes, it also breathed new life into Hong Kong martial arts cinema, which seemed to have focused its energies on trying to find the next Bruce Lee in the years following the action icon’s death. The way to advance, of course, was not to emulate Lee’s style, but to experiment with new approaches – and this was just what Woo-Ping and his leading man Jackie Chan did here, in what is widely acknowledged as the first kung fu comedy.
When an 80-minute film starts off with three whole minutes of grainy stock footage, you know you’re in for some sort of a treat. When it also includes the credit ‘Eurocine presente’ then you start to get a bit more of an idea of what kind of treat that’s going to be. And so, you’re a bit more forgiving of the bad cuts, bad editing, questionable acting and cheap costumes. Those minor details seem barely worth mentioning when considering a film that one shouldn’t really expect more of.
Elsa Fraulein SS is one of those many Naziploitation films that riffs off the Ilsa model – sadistic lady-Nazi tortures a variety of nubile ladies and grizzled Nazi-men. The exploitation of Ilsa as a pinnacle of the genre is evident in the title used here – Elsa Fraulein SS is otherwise also known as Captive Women 4 (4?!), Fraulein Devil and – surprise – Fraulein Kitty. This film’s other obvious influence is the wonderful Salon Kitty, only instead of a brothel in Berlin being used as a spy-den, the not nearly as professional spies are here based on a pleasure train, travelling all of Germany as reward for the Nazi’s greatest officers.
‘A passionate tribute to the cinema of Fulci’? It’s words like these which act like bait to writers like us, so when this statement was attached to the press release of a new film, Sexual Labyrinth, my curiosity was piqued. That the press release also mentioned paying homage to Joe D’Amato (ah yes, he) and Luigi Atomico (no idea) only made me wonder more what the film could possibly have in store. Well, spoiler alert: this ‘vision of female sexuality’, again words used in the press release, has nothing whatsoever to do with Fulci that I can see, from his early sex comedies all the way through to his horrors. Nada. Joe D’Amato? Not an expert on his stuff, though I’ve seen a few D’Amato films, and I suppose the rough-shod human flesh on display throughout wouldn’t have looked too amiss in some of his work – though I’m not sure that this is particularly ambitious on the current filmmaker’s part, or complimentary on mine. I think the best thing to do here is to say a bit more about what is on offer.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Raw is this year’s The VVitch or It Follows – that tentpole horror film that gets a big Spring release here in the UK. It seems to be a nascent tradition, and it’ll be interesting to see whether a contender for next year’s equivalent emerges from the upcoming festival season, or if the past two or three years have just been an accidental distribution model. Having played pretty much all the major genre fests – under tight security, no less – and gaining significant traction with stories of fainting and puking at screenings, it’s fair to say that Raw finally arrives with a fair bit of baggage.
There are horror franchises, there are horror franchises with a cult following, and then there’s Phantasm. One of the few properties of its kind to remain in the hands of the same creator right up to the present day (even if the most recent film was the work of another director), Don Coscarelli’s humble 1979 oddity somehow birthed a series which has endured for the better part of four decades. As an example of independent genre filmmaking done right, it might easily be mentioned in the same breath as such other titles of its era as The Evil Dead and Friday the 13th, and yet Phantasm clearly stands apart inasmuch as it has arguably proved to be a genuine, inimitable one-off. Well, a one-off that’s spawned four sequels, but hopefully you see my point. Combining elements of simple drive-in horror movie thrills, mind-bending Argento-esque surrealism, apocalyptic science fiction, and all-American, gun-toting, muscle car machismo, there’s no mistaking a Phantasm movie, and there really isn’t anything else quite like it.