Tag Archives: surreal

Marebito – Review

11 May

Takashi Shimizu us not a name that should not be unknown since his achievement with the Japanese Ju-on series and his subsequent remakes with the American Grudge has earned him international success. Between the filming of his Japanese and American entries in the franchise, Shimuzu worked on a film that has received little to now recognition. That film is Marebito. This is a very different movie from Ju-on: The Grudge even though it seemed to have been marketed as a straightforward horror film.What Marebito actually is is a  twisted sort of technologic fairy tale that gets weirder and darker as the story progresses.

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Masuoka (Shinya Tsukamoto) is a freelance videographer who has recently become obsessed with capturing absolute fear. He soon becomes disappointed after he films a man committing suicide in a subway station, and since then no one has shown fear like that. In order to learn why this man was so scared, Masuoka returns to the subway station and finds that there are creatures called Deros that have been living there in a sort of mystical world with the subway station being the link between them. While exploring the area, Masuoka finds a woman chained to a cave whom he calls “F” (Tomomi Miyashita). Masuoka brings F home and observes her very carefully and learns that she has a less than sane way to feed. As Masuoka begins treating F like a beloved pet, he begins to hear warnings from mysterious beings and starts to question how much of what is happening to him is real and how much is just a twisted fantasy.

Marebito is a very strange movie, but definitely not something I was expecting. If you’re looking for a run of the mill ghost story, this isn’t really one of them and you might be disappointed. What this movie is is actually a pretty surreal ghost story that delves even deeper into the realm of psychological horror. There are ghosts and creatures in this movie, but they aren’t the main point of horror in this movie. The horror, itself, stems from the character of Masuoka and his obsessive desire to understand fear, which is creepy enough. But the means he works with to understand it and take care of F at the same time are more unsettling than any creature that is in this movie.

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I really did enjoy the more surrealistic things that happened in this movie. It was sort of a pleasant. It took some getting used to at first, but once I started figuring out what the movie was all about, I started to get into it a lot more. The way Takashi Shimizu uses technology in this is creepy in that sort of “found on Youtube” kind of way. There are a lot of unsettling images that are made even more creepy by the grainy look of the video that Masuoka is filming on. Shinya Tsukamoto and Tomomi Miyashita are both really good in this, equally playing off each other in one of the strangest onscreen connections I’ve seen.

While this was a good movie, there are faults to it that really  make me groan just thinking about it. First of all, I was buying all of the strangeness while Masuoka was exploring the depths of the subway. It was creepy and atmospheric, but then something happens that really made me questions just what the hell I was watching. Anyone who has seen this movie must know what I mean. The creepy atmosphere is completely abandoned for something that makes no sense at all. Also, I feel like the story would have worked better if this was a half hour short film. As a short film, Marebito would have been perfect. I could rewatch this movie and make significant notes on what could be cut or trimmed in order to make this an excellent short.

Marebito is a pretty cool horror film that deserves a bit more attention than it has actually gotten. Sure, this movie doesn’t reach the heights that Shimizu set with his other works in the Ju-on series, but this movie does raise a couple of good points and also achieves a creepy atmosphere that is maintained in most parts of the movie. Don’t go into Marebito expecting jump scares and spooky ghosts. Go into it expecting an unsettling examination of a man’s psychological breakdown. This is a good movie, but with some cuts and trims, it could have been an excellent short film.

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Repulsion – Review

6 Mar

Horror movies don’t always have to be loud to be effective. In fact, sometimes the quietist of the genre turn out to be the most effective. Just take a look at Roman Polanski’s first English language feature, Repulsion, from 1965. What Polanski has created is a rhythmic descent into madness with a ticking clock working as chisel breaking into the protagonist’s fractured mind, and a soundtrack of piano scales that end in a discordant finale. Repulsion has a lot to say, and tries to accomplish this with as little dialogue as possible, and the result is a surreal trip down the rabbit hole and into the protagonist’s tortured head.

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Carol (Catherine Deneuve) is a young woman who earns her living at a beauty salon and lives with her sister, Helen (Yvonne Furneaux) is a London flat. Carol is frustrated by Colin (John Fraser), a persistent suitor who won’t leave her alone, and Helen’s married boyfriend Michael (Ian Hendry) who is acting like a monkey wrench in Carol’s life. Already a quiet and unstable person, Carol is concerned with being left alone while Helen and Michael go on holiday to Italy, but Helen insists that Carol will be fine. Carol is anything but fine, however, and soon she quits her job, barricades herself in the apartment, and begins being tortured by demon’s of the past that are real and unreal, which ultimately draws her to violence as a last resort.

I’ve seen this movie be called “slow” and “boring” but I don’t think those are appropriate. Sure, this isn’t a movie where there is a lot of exciting things happening, and I will say that it is slow but it’s for building suspense and character. There seems to be a whole lot of nothing going on for a good portion of the movie, but everything is important for building the character of Carol. This entire movie is one giant character study for her and her psyche, so if it wasn’t built on enough or didn’t have enough time dedicated to it, Repulsion would be a pretty pointless movie.

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While Repulsion does feel very surreal, it has a firm grounding in reality. Carol and Helen’s flat looks exactly how you would expect it to if it was inhabited by two younger women in the 1960s. There are even nice tracking shots following Carol around the city where we get a very distinct idea of where we are in relation to the real world. That just makes the hallucinations and experiences we have with Carol seem all the more weird, knowing that life goes on around her just outside her apartment. What really makes this work is the way Polanski and cinematographer Gilbert Taylor handle the visuals. Polanski creates strange, distorted visions while Taylor lights the apartment very harshly when Carol is experiencing her mind play devilish tricks.

As much time as I can praising Roman Polanski and Gilbert Taylor on their work with this film, I got to give a special nod to Catherine Deneuve, who accomplished acting in such a strange and difficult role at just the age of 22. She doesn’t have too much dialogue to say, and when she does have dialogue, the lines are very short. Sometimes just one word. What really is great about her performance is her facial expressions and reactions. There are different scenes, including the very opening shot, where Polanski focuses on her eyes, which are usually wide and full of paranoia. It’s and excellent performance and still amazing that she accomplished it at such a young age.

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Repulsion is an interesting exercise in psychological horror. The way Polanski frames certain scenes and deals with the sound design makes the internal struggle of the protagonist feel so concrete and perceptible. Catherine Deneuve gives a memorable performance, and she really is the only one onscreen for a good portion of the time. The pace may be slow and it may seem tame by today’s standards, but Repulsion is a must see for any fan of the horror genre.

House – Review

15 May

This may be one of the hardest reviews I’m ever going to have to write. House is a Japanese movie from 1977 that was directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi, who started as an experimental film maker and advertiser, but was asked by Toho to make a film that would resemble the American hit, Jaws. When Toho got House in return they were completely shocked and eventually pulled it from the theaters after it started doing well in the box office out of fear that people would think that this is the direction Toho would be going in. Is it as strange as this introduction has made it sound? Absolutely right it is, but that is just fine with me.

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Gorgeous (Kimiko Ikegami) is a Japanese school girl who invites her friends to come with her to visit her aunt’s (Yōko Minamida) house in the country. Her friends are appropriately named Prof (Ai Matsubara), Melody (Eriko Tanaka), Kung Fu (Miki Jinbo), Mac (Mieko Sato), Sweet (Masayo Miyako), and Fantasy (Kumiko Oba). Each girl’s name represents their different personalities. When they arrive at the house, they all get the grand tour and are very happy with what they see, all of them looking forward to their stay. Unfortunately for them, on the first night strange things begin happening and one by one they all start to go missing. The house turns out to haunted by the strangest apparition you may ever see on film.

I really can’t give a a summary of this movie and make it sound interesting. It’s a very cut and dry narrative to look at written out. On the surface, it would seem like a stereotypical haunted house movie. That couldn’t be further from the truth. This is a head trip, psychedelic experience, horror film, and dark comedy all mashed together in one film. There’s a piano that eats people, a cat portrait that shoots gallons of blood across a living room, a pair of disembodies legs causing all sorts of mayhem, and of course, my personal a favorite: a giant head that comes out of nowhere with a warning to the terrified girls.

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The real draw to this movie is the in camera and analog effects that Obayashi exploits. He really does not hold back when it comes to showing off what he can do. What one needs to remember when they are watching House is that it is from 1977. A lot of the shots outside used matte paintings to make the world that these girls inhabit very surreal and other worldly. The images seem almost too beautiful and artificial to be real, and that’s because they absolutely are. A lot of the effects are also done with a blue screen which are very obvious to notice. Normally, this would be a detraction, having special effects that look unreal. For this movie, however, it works just fine. Nothing about this movie is supposed to look ordinary, so the effects look very cartoonish and silly. This adds to the whole dream like vision that Obayashi wanted, even though he even said he wasn’t too thrilled with some of the effects. I personally loved them.

For the times where there wasn’t a crazy special effects happening, there was at least one or two boring scenes of the girls just sort of hanging out. This makes the movie feel a lot slower than it should feel, especially with the subject matter of the movie. This could be on account of sloppy writing, since some of the jokes seem to stretch on too long or there are plain and simply scenes where nothing really happens. Another contributing factor to the pacing may be that there are scenes that are so ridiculous that when it slows down, the change almost seems jarring. One second, possessed mattresses are attacking someone, and the next the characters are sitting around talking and laughing. It feels weird to me.

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House truly is a one of a kind movie for better or for worse. Some people will call this a masterpiece when it comes to cult classics. Others will say that it shouldn’t even exist and that it’s a blemish on the history of film making. Personally, I don’t see how you could possibly ignore this. It isn’t perfect, but then again it isn’t really anything that can be classified or labeled. It simply exists, and it is up to the viewer to decide what they make of it. Trying to say that it’s good or bad wouldn’t be doing the film justice. House is just House, nothing more and nothing less.

Gozu – Review

17 Feb

There are movies that exist that make me thankful to live in the world that I do. A good portion of these films fall into the sub genre of surrealism. Gozu, directed by horror icon Takashi Miike, is an example of a movie that pushes this genre to its limits and creates a blurred line between comedy and nightmarish terror. Is it the best this style has to offer, probably not, but it certainly has its fair share of memorable moments and insanity to keep your attention.

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Minami (Yûta Sone) is given a very difficult order by his yakuza boss to kill his mentor and best friend, Ozaki (Shô Aikawa), after it’s become clear that he’s gone off the deep end. After accidentally completing his task, all that is left is to dispose the body at the yakuza dump. All is going fine until Minami discovers that Ozaki’s body is missing from the car. In his odyssey through a Japanese suburban hell to find the body gets stranger and stranger, Minami begins to question his morals, his relationships, and his own sanity.

I consider myself an individual who loves surrealism, being a fan of film makers like David Lynch and Luis Buñuel. Gozu is certainly surrealism to its core, and for that I was pleased. The film still seems a bit off in a bad way. There were times where things got really weird and were supposed to be “interesting,” but I found myself checking the time or playing with my cat. This mostly happened in the scenes involving the motel employees, as strange as they were. Strange doesn’t always mean interesting though. It’s all about the execution and the overall atmosphere of the scene.

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There are still really great scenes of nightmarish surrealism. One of my favorite, and I think hysterical, scenes is when Minami goes into a diner and there’s a man talking on the phone saying the same thing about the weather over and over again. It’s not the most bizarre thing to happen, but it had me laughing and scratching my head at the same time. The goat head’s scene should really be recognized as an excellent piece of horror, if you can call it that. Finally, and I think most importantly, there is the most unconventional birth scene I have ever seen. Forget The Fly. This is the hardcore shit.

A thought that I had after Gozu was over was that there is no way that it would pass here in America. Sure, there are people who’ll get it on DVD and enjoy it, but if it was ever released in main stream theaters, people would be running home to their mommies and daddies. This might sound condescending, but I don’t mean it that way. What I’m trying to say is that America has become so strict with its censorship and its apparent laziness when it comes to certain summer blockbusters. There’s rehash after rehash of old shows or remakes of classic films when there’s films like Gozu that may never see the light of day.

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Like most of Takashi Miike’s work, Gozu is not a very easy film to get through both because of its form and context. It looks very cheaply made when it comes to image quality, even though the special effects look really cool. This certainly isn’t my favorite of Miike’s work and isn’t my favorite surrealist film. It sometimes relished too much in its own bizarre nature, when it was actually starting to get a little boring. Luckily there were excellent scenes in-between that made up for its uneven pacing. If you’re new to Takashi Miike, start with something else like Audition. If you enjoy movies that transport you to a world that you’re more than ready to leave when the film is over, and you can appreciate Miike’s low budget filming style, than you should check out Gozu. Good, but not great.

Twin Peaks and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me – Review

24 Aug

Diane, it’s 4:37 on August 24th. I’m laying in bed thinking about the best way to review Twin Peaks and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. There are some things in this world that go beyond words and traditional description, and I believe that I have found one of them. As a proper introduction, imagine you are reading 10 different books at once but they each are part of the same bigger picture, despite how different they are. Some are romance, comedy, horror, sic-fi, and drama. That’s how you feel while watching the television show and subsequent movie.

When a local teenage girl, Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) is found dead floating in the water, the quiet town of Twin Peaks turns into a beehive of criminal activity. FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle McLaughlin) is sent in to investigate Laura’s mysterious death, but no one in Twin Peaks is as innocent as they look and massive web of murder, love, lust, and supernatural occurrences  tangles the town into chaos.

To really say what the entire plot is about would take many paragraphs of detailed information and explanations that it would pretty much ruin the experience of watching this fantastic tv show for yourselves. I don’t consider myself much of a tv person, but I have seen my fair share of shows, and Twin Peaks is my favorite for many reasons.

The characters are all so memorable. Special Agent Cooper is one of the most confident and likable protagonists despite all of the crazy things he says about dreams, mystics, and Tibet.  Then we have villains like Leo (Eric Da Re) and Windom Earle (Kenneth Welsh) who are so easy to hate. Characters come and go, but are always remembered due to the unique mark that each one leaves on you. When something good or bad happens to them, you care very much. We want to see everything turn out ok despite all of the drama.

Special credit goes to Angelo Badalamenti who has created a score for this show that is just as important as the dialogue. If something seedy is happening, we are treated with an undercurrent of smooth jazz that perfectly complements the scene. If things get romantic or dramatic, then cue the strings because a sweeping song is ready to play.

This was not a show that lasted for too long. Only two seasons were made due to a decline of interest half way through the second season. Also, if you look at this show and any other show, you’ll find that Twin Peaks is on a whole different playing field. It’s so strange and twisted that I can imagine it really wasn’t for everyone.

Think of your favorite genre. Drama? Twin Peaks is a drama. Comedy? Twin Peaks is a comedy. Sci-fi? Horror? Twin Peaks is these as well. Get my drift? This show has something for everyone. To me, it is the perfect television show. But that’s not all. In 1992, David Lynch released a prequel to his show, the feature length movie Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

In the town of Deer Meadow, a seventeen year old girl has just been murdered. Special Agent Dale Cooper is sent to investigate, and soon begins to predict that this same type of murder will happen again. Cut to one year later. Laura Palmer is not your typical high school girl. She is in deep with all of the wrong people both of this world and not. In one week, she will be dead.

Again, that’s all I can say about the plot without ruining anything. The great thing about this movie is that it perfectly answers some of the questions that the show asked, and all the while creates a few more questions that can only be answered by digging deeper into the hell that is Twin Peaks.

This movie goes way crazier at times than the show ever could because of either the censors or just what people would want to watch on television. There are scenes that left me speechless because of how strange they were. One scene in particular features a whacked out David Bowie yammering on about who knows what. Only David Lynch can think up this kind of stuff.

A lot of the great stuff about the tv show is in the movie. For instance, we see some characters that we have come to enjoy and also the great music composed by Angelo Badalamenti. The story is all about Laura Palmer, so not everyone is in the movie, unfortunately. As much as I would have liked to see everyone, it would have been really hard to and keep the main story on track. That’s why the show was so great.

Look at the picture above this sentence. Yeah. Pretty freaky. This is a lot more intense than the television show could have possibly hoped to be due to what was allowed. This is no hold bars David Lynch. It’s violent, sexual, dirty, and raw in the most twisted and repulsive ways. It may not be Lynch’s best work, but it is certainly a perfect compliment to the show.

Twin Peaks and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me have one of the most addicting narratives ever put to screen because, I guarantee, you have never seen anything like it before. Prepare your mind, lose all sense of sanity, and enjoy the trip into dementia with these two excellent pieces. It’s one of the best trips I’ve ever been on.

Santa Sangre – Review

26 Jun

If you have read my blogs before this, then you know that writer/director Alejandro Jodorowsky is no stranger to the bizarre. Santa Sangre may not be Jodorowsky’s most strange and confusing film, but it is certainly his most disturbing. Let me put it this way: El Topo is Purgatory, The Holy Mountain is Heaven, and Santa Sangre is Hell.

A man finds himself in a mental hospital, and refuses to act like a normal human being. Cut back to his childhood. Fenix (Adan Jodorowsky) is a circus performer along with mother (Bianca Guerra) and father (Guy Stockwell), who is having an affair with the tattooed woman (Thelma Tixou). Fenix is abused by his father and hates the life he was given, but finds solace in the new mime, a deaf and mute girl named Alma (Faviola Tapia). One night, all of the conflict in his life collides, and we are then transported again to the present where the older Fenix (Axel Jodorowsky) is still in the mental hospital. He escapes to find his armless mother and lives with her to be her arms. Every chance Fenix now has at love is crushed by his mother who can now control his arms and uses them to kill the women, maybe even his original love, Alma (now played by Sabrina Dennison).

This is one of those movies that when the credits begin to roll, the viewer is forced to just sit  staring at the screen and contemplate what they just witnessed. So much happens in Santa Sangre that it’s almost difficult to take it all in. The movie is loaded with family dynamics, love deeper than the surface, possible incest, mental disorders, and the plight of mortality. Now that’s a fully loaded movie.

For fans of El Topo and The Holy Mountain, some people might be disappointed with how linear and down to earth this might be. In fact, I was on the IMDB message boards for this movie and people were complaining that it wasn’t “trippy” enough. If that’s the only reason you’re watching a Jodorowsky film, than yes, Santa Sangre won’t really be enjoyable for you.

For me, this was an incredibly moving and haunting experience. As I said before, this film is hellish in a surreal, but also very real kind of way. It shows sides of the world that I don’t particularly know a lot about, but does exist. There’s the side of living with a torn family and also a side of living with overwhelming guilt and shame. If you aren’t sympathetic towards Fenix, then you must have been born without any sense of feelings, because he may be one of the most tortured characters ever in a movie.

While Santa Sangre tries to keep itself down to earth, it still has a beautifully unsettling surreal atmosphere to it. I still feel distanced from this world the Jodorowsky created, but that’s fine because I never want to be there. It’s terrifying. Is it surreal for the sake of being surreal? Or is it because Fenix’s view of reality s distorted due to the abuse and traumas that he has suffered. I like to think that the answer falls in the latter category, especially since we get glimpses of reality throughout the movie.

Santa Sangre is a magnificent piece of film making that may be difficult to sit through for some and may bore others entirely. It is not a movie that is to be watched for solely pure entertainment, but to reflect on your own psyche and your impressions you leave on other people. The personal evils are brought to light in this haunting Jodorowsky film, and I can honestly say that what I have seen, I will not forget.

The Holy Mountain – Review

13 Jun

After seeing Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo, I knew that my next review would have to be The Holy Mountain. These two films can be considered cousins, as in they are both alike but also very different. Take the Zen and religion from El Topo and add a deeper layer of spirituality, condemnation of society, and, in my opinion, an infinitely more complicated storyline. This would make The Holy Mountain.

A Man (Horacio Salinas) wakes up after an unknown amount of time with flies covering his face. He soon meets up with a armless, legless man whom he soon befriends. After witnessing a hook drop out of a tower with gold in exchange for food, he climbs on and rides it back up. While in the tower he meets the Alchemist (Alejandro Jodorowsky). The Alchemist gathers seven other people who represent the planets and, also, his silent assistant and promises them immortality if they climb the holy mountain on Lotus Island and defeat the gods who are stationed there. Only after much spiritual training will they be able to undertake this task and achieve eternal life.

This film was an absolute marvel and made me think about who i am as a person. This pondering was done on a strange level that I never really explored before. I thought about what made up my being and what I truly believe in. The scary part was that I’m not 100% sure I know who I truly am. This and a message of reality vs fiction were huge messages amongst many in The Holy Mountain. Jodorowsky implores the viewer to go out and explore the world, and in so doing find yourself.

Those with a weak stomach may want to stay away from this film because the shock value has been turned up since El Topo. There are scenes in this movie that would make Takashi Miike cringe. I know I did. These scenes aren’t in the movie to simply shock an offend, though. If you see something that is trying to get your attention in this film, take note, because that means Jodorowsky is trying to say something important.

It’s fair to say that many people may be offended by the use of religious imagery. This is, indeed, a very controversial film and was called the “scandal of the Cannes Film Festival.”  Instead of condemning the use of these religious symbols, icons, and practices, open your mind a little more than usual and try to see past them. In other words, try to understand what their uses truly mean both in real life and in The Holy Mountain. What is Jodorowsky  trying to do with them? Getting offended by this movie would take away from the experience of it all, and even though it is a huge statement by Jodorowsky, it is just a movie and one man’s opinion. Get over it.

But, what did I think of the movie? It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before, and may never see again. Films aren’t made like this anymore, and that’s very unfortunate. Besides a few Indie gems and the occasional foreign film, audiences around the world are catered to just so the studio can make money. The Holy Mountain has messages on religion, war, big business, sex and its fetishes, spirituality, life, and death. Think about the blockbusters coming out this summer. Will they have even half of those messages, or just rehashed ones thrown in to give the movie some “depth?”

Bottom line, The Holy Mountain may be one of the finest films that I have ever seen. I truly loved everything about it, and I will love it more every time I watch it since it demands multiple viewings to be fully understood. Take a glimpse through the looking glass, ride the snake, or tune in, whichever one you want to use. Find this movie somewhere and watch it. Chances are, it will give you new insight on the world and yourself.