Sunday, 23 February 2014

Review: Nymph()maniac (2014) Lars von Trier

Coming (there's no doubt going to plenty of these puns...) in with the wave of controversy that almost any Lars von Trier film achieves, the two-part 4 hour+ Nymph()maniac is set to divide audiences in the same way the story is split - right down the middle.
Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is found lying blooded and battered in an alley by bookworm Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård). He takes her to his grotty, stained apartment to clean her up, and offers a friendly ear for her to offload her woes as she sees herself as a terrible person who deserves everything she got. So, over the course of the two films she recounts her life story and her obsession with carnal desire. From her earliest feelings 'down there', the young Joe (played by newcomer - so to speak - Stacy Martin) decides on the person to take her virginity - an older boy, Jerôme (Shia LeBeouf), whose influence and entanglement in her life is profound.
Along with her best friend, B (Sophie Kennedy Clark), she experiments with her sexuality. Having contests to sleep with the most people on a train (the winner gets a bag of chocolate sweets) to forming a militant group whose agenda is purely based on the enjoyment of sex. She's appalled when B reveals she has slept with the same person three times (something against their rules), and even more horrified when she confides that the "secret to better sex is love".
The only love she has felt at this point is from her father (Christian Slater), a nature loving doctor who teaches her the beauty of trees and whose death forms the most harrowing moment of the film. But it's the re-emergence of Jerôme at key moments in her life that shapes her 'real life' destiny in many ways.
Listening to the stories throughout, and providing occasional digressions of his own, Seligman is the perfect confessor; a middle-aged virgin whose life has been lived through the words of others. Firstly, there are some incredibly controversial moments, but, coming after the relaxing of the way films are censored in the UK, are not as outrageous as one would imagine. Erections, genitalia close-ups and real sex have all lost their long held taboo status in the movies; although it is still only 'art house' films that tend to get away with them. The real shocking moments come from the frankness of the monologues and in the form of the story involving Billy Elliot himself, Jamie Bell. It's Bell's professional masochist K who elicits the most negative response from the audience, as the scenes of flagellation are more graphic and sickening than any of the sticky encounters Joe recounts (although the silent duck which ends that chapter is brilliantly funny).
In among the tales of lust there are several moments of great situational humour. Uma Thurman's showstopping scene as the wife of a conquest who has taken Joe's attention a little too seriously is superb. A planned threesome with a pair of non-English speaking Africans fails to happen when the brothers end up arguing (with the viewer just left to watch a giant pair of erect penises; almost the definition of a cock fight). Udo Kier and Willem Dafoe are on screen far too little, but both have a glorious impact. As do the occasional visual flourishes von Trier adopts to illustrate certain moments.
The climax (erm...) will divide the audience too, but does work perfectly (although no doubt many will reference the Woody Allen gag in Play It Again, Sam (1972).
The standout performance must be Stacy Martin, who as the young Joe steals the first film and provides a brilliantly naturalistic performance. We will no doubt see more of her in the future (ahem...)
Quite why the film is being released in a split Kill Bill style format, I really don't know. This isn't a multiplex film (which, let's be honest are actually quite used to the idea of a long film) and those seeking to see it are really being duped into buying two tickets. Of course, a four hour film is a hard sell, but it's not aimed at a mainstream audience.
I was lucky enough to see both films back to back, with a question and answer session streamed from London to cinemas up and down the country. Without giving any spoilers (Skarsgård's comments, while hilarious would unfortunately ruin the end), Stacy Martin revealed the wonders of the CGI department managed to make it appear that she had, in fact, had sex on screen. They did touch on von Triers directorial style, and it appears he is a joy to work with. Much of his earlier work has its detractors, The Idiots (1998) is a particularly difficult film and Antichrist (2009) alienated much of its audience by throwing so much in your face. But when he's at his best, in films such as Dancer in the Dark (2000) and Melancholia (2011) - and, indeed, Nymph()maniac, he's a brilliantly inventive and compelling writer/director. Unlike his previous film, the aforementioned Melancholia, this is not meant to look good. Whereas that was full of stunning visuals, here it is grim, and rightfully so. This is sex, not as a pleasurable experience, but as addiction; and like with heroin and other drugs, it doesn't produce an attractive outcome. As Skarsgård said in the Q&A, this isn't a film that you can jerk off to.  

For those interested here's the uncut, not suitable for kids trailer :

Nymphomaniac Official Trailer from Zentropa on Vimeo.

8 out of 10 (rated as the two films together)

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Review: 9 Days (2013) very low budget sadistic indie horror

With money raised on a Kickstarter campaign, Samuel M. Johnson promised "a scary-as-hell, "Dante's Inferno"-inspired "7" meets "Hostel." - well, that's some tall order and while the results are not terrible, it does fall short on several aspects.

9 Days: Whipped, Chained and Tortured by a Psychopath 9 Days: Whipped, Chained and Tortured by a Psychopath

9 Days: Whipped, Chained and Tortured by a Psychopath
18 year old Danielle (Maura Murphy) has run away from her abusive, adopted parents and is picked up hitchhiking by Virgil (Chris Schleicher). Despite coming across instantly as a wise-ass jerk, she accepts his lift and offer of some food at his house. Big mistake, as she wakes chained up in his basement. He tells her she will endure nine days of suffering and pain in order to cleanse her soul, and she will survive ("not like those others") if she's strong.

9 Days: Whipped, Chained and Tortured by a Psychopath 9 Days: Whipped, Chained and Tortured by a Psychopath
The premise is one that has been done to death; abduct, torture, humiliate, rinse, repeat. The added interest of elements (very loosely) taken from the first part of Dante's Divine Comedy don't actually add much more than the religious zealot. The sadistic torture isn't as graphic as one would imagine (not surprising giving the film's low budget) but is still fairly grueling.
Murphy does well in the lead, throwing herself into the part (and several nude moments - including a shower scene in black and white; whether this was as a homage to Psycho is anyone's guess) but the non-acting skills of Schleicher is where the film really falters. He is more annoying than terrifying, although his condescending tone suits the character.
9 Days: Whipped, Chained and Tortured by a Psychopath 9 Days: Whipped, Chained and Tortured by a Psychopath
The not-so-snappy DVD title of the film (not onscreen) is 9 Days: Whipped, Chained and Tortured by a Psychopath which makes it sound even more salacious and nasty. Although it's certainly not pleasant, the level of violence on display isn't too over the top, and certainly doesn't stray in August Underground territory so don't be expecting a gore-fest. Be warned, however there IS a jaunty song repeated several times which is very annoying and off-putting!
9 Days: Whipped, Chained and Tortured by a Psychopath 9 Days: Whipped, Chained and Tortured by a Psychopath
As a first feature, it's not badly put together; although the limitations of the skill/budget/experience show within the sound design and general direction (we didn't really need to see the close-up of the severed head in the fridge, it would have been far more effective and chilling just glimpsed - but, hey, they built a great prop so, why not?) , but there's many worse films out there and hopefully it will be a stepping stone for the director and crew.

5 out of 10

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Blu-ray Review: Corruption (1968) Peter Cushing

corruption film poster cushing

Unseen for many years, certainly in an uncut form, this is a welcome disc from Grindhouse Releasing. Peter Cushing, the softly spoken, gentleman of horror plays it nasty here as Sir John Rowan, a surgeon who is horrified when his younger girlfriend, Lynn (future Crossroads star Sue Lloyd), a former model, is facially burnt at a party. The fact that he is partly responsible due to fighting with an over zealous photographer (played by Confessions star Anthony Booth) no doubt spurs him on to commit some of his ghastly actions later. Using his medical skills, and access to the morgue, he acquires the pituitary gland of a recently deceased young lady, and concocts a serum, which he injects as well as using a high-tech laser, which works wonders at removing the burnt tissue, but burns through almost everything else! (this is several years before real-life laser surgery would become the norm) - an item which will play a large part in the action later.
corruption film sue lloydcorruption peter cushing tony booth sue lloyd
 corruption sue lloydcorruption kate o'mara
The operation is a success - although only for a short time, and Sir John soon has to find new donours - as fresh as possible. These include a prostitute (in the films most graphic and infamous scene - more on that later) and a lovely looking young girl on a train (Carry On and Hammer starlet Valerie Van Ost). Severing their heads in order to obtain the glands and keep his love looking beautiful.
corruption peter cushing
While away at their seaside holiday home in Seaford, East Sussex they come across a young girl who may fit the bill as a donor. Terry (Wendy Varnals) is seemingly alone, and accepts their invitation to stay. Unfortunately, she has a different agenda, as her husband Rik (Billy Murray, future star of The Bill, Dead Cert, Stalker and Strippers vs Werewolves) and his cohorts have their own plans. Which leads to a manic final act which pre-dates the surge of home invasion films seen in the 70s (such as A Clockwork Orange and The House on the Edge of the Park) and now prevalent in modern horror.
corruption vanessa howardcorruption peter cushing
There's a few more faces to watch out for, not least Kate O'Mara looking stunning as Lynn's sister, Val, Vanessa Howard (Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly and This, That and the Other) in the opening swinging party scene as a wannabe model who takes a shine to Sir John and king of the bit-parts David Lodge, who is completely out of place as a simple minded thug in Cosmo Smallpiece (*look him up if you're too young to know or not from the UK*) glasses (watch closely to see the holes drilled in the thick glass so he could see) but was cast as he was a friend of the director, Robert Hartford-Davis. His other films include The Black Torment (1964), Incense for the Damned (aka Blood Suckers, 1970) and The Sandwich Man (1966), a glorious comedy starring the cream of British talent and headlined by Michael Bentine, from his own story. It was written by the brothers Donald and Derek Ford. Derek later wrote scripts on his own, mainly in the sexploitation field and directed several including the aforementioned This, That and the Other and Keep It Up, Jack.
corruption film dollscorruption peter cushing
 corruption film corruption peter cushing
Despite being a very 60s film, there's plenty to shock and surprise here. Many people are horrified by Cushing's involvement in such a sleazy epic - he himself tried to play it down saying it wasn't as graphic at script level - but he is perfect as the acclaimed surgeon whose love and guilt make him do hideous things. The violence is startlingly effective, and repulsive. It is deliberately shot to provoke the most visceral response. Cushing's close-ups often through a fish-eye lens to distort his appearance. Making him a grotesque, sweating monster. The prostitute murder was filmed several times for the different film markets. The more common version, seen in the UK and US features Jan Waters, in bath robe and undergarments and killed swiftly but nastily by Sir John's hidden scalpel (the reveal is brilliant) while a much more graphic version has Marian Collins strip down to her tights before a brutal and bloody struggle with the surgeon running his blooded hands over her naked breasts before beginning to remove her head. For the first time, we get the chance to see both versions of the scene (and other differences) as this brilliant release features them as an extra on the DVD in the package, and as an option to view within the "continental" version of the film on the outstanding Blu-ray. Apparently another version was also filmed for Japan which had the violence but no nudity, but this seems to be missing from the vaults so is only alluded to on the excellent commentary (from horror historian/writer Jonathan Rigby and Cushing biographer David Miller).
corruption peter cushingcorruption valerie van ost
 corruption peter cushing uncut prostitutecorruption peter cushing uncut prostitute
The HD version is a revelation visually. The colours are so vibrant and lurid they literally pop from the screen. It's not a film for everyone (although I wouldn't go as far as the original publicity department and proclaim it's "not a woman's picture") but if you have a penchant for some sick thrills it will certainly satisfy. In keeping with the film, the Grindhouse Releasing Blu-ray has a reversible version of its sleazy cover; one with the victim clothed, one with her breasts on display. Bravo!
8 out of 10