Thursday, May 21, 2015

Satan's Blade (1984)


“Satan’s Blade” is one of the many films from my childhood that I remember drawing me in on the video store shelf due to its eerie cover artwork of a devilish figure clutching a dagger. Being a child of the video store generation I knew that a majority of the time cover artwork was far better than the film lurking behind the cardboard sleeve and that is especially true with “Satan’s Blade” as it is not only a turd of a Slasher film but one of the worst slasher films I have ever seen.
The film opens with a lesbian couple robbing a bank, brutally killing the two tellers and driving up into the snowcapped mountains to hide out in a ski lodge. They end up being murdered by an unseen killer. Jump ahead to a husband and wife couple and a group of young women renting side-by-side sky lodges, one happening to be of the afore mentioned murder and according to the dialogue, a murder that  occurred 14 years prior. Of course they too become the target of our knife clutching stalker.
The non-existent plot could be workable for a slasher film if writer/director/producer L. Scott Castillo Jr. had any idea on how to make a film. His pedestrian directing is bland with poor shot setups and even the boom mike poking its way into the picture on multiple occasions. Also the film has literally 3 locations: the sky lodge, the check-in counter and the bank. This mixed with the sapless dialogue is guaranteed to cause utter boredom. Our two leading men constantly talking about passing the bar exam seriously almost pushed me over the edge into pure insanity and made me wonder if this film was ever used in foreign countries as a substitute for waterboarding torture.
Is there anything to keep this film from me giving it a zero blood drop rating? Well the synthesizer score is nostalgic, not particularly good, but it brought back good memories of 80s flicks and a short dream sequence a half hour in is rather creepy (though it really has no relevance to the plot). I also somewhat dug the supernatural twist to the plot, and though it may be a laughable, it at least tried to do something different from others in the genre (the Excalibur “lady in the lake” sequence is especially hilarious).
This incredibly low budget slasher is rarely talked about and there is a reason… it fucking blows. Everything from the directing, the acting to the writing is absolutely the lowest common-denominator of filmmaking. There's not even a gore quotent to help keep attention. Though shot on 35mm for theatrical release, the film ended on debuting on video to rot on video store rental shelves where it belonged. The production quality and all around effort of the output reminds me of shot-on-video tape slashers ala “Boardinghouse” and “Sledgehammer”… yes it literally sucks that bad. “Satan’s Blade” made its unwelcome debut on DVD and Blu-ray from a small time new company called “Slasher // Video” and they did a tremendous job cleaning the film up. Still it proves no matter how much you polish a turd, it still smells like shit.
Written By Eric Reifschneider

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Escape to Athena (1979)


Every once in a blue moon a DVD/Blu release of a film I have been dying to see escapes my radar. One of such film was of the 1979 World War II critical and financial bomb “Escape to Athena” which was finally released on DVD back in July thanks to Hen’s Tooth Home Video but escaped me until last week. Being an avid fan of Roger Moore, Telly Savalas, World War II, 70s Cinema, and viewing anything/everything that was a box office bomb I had to make this part of my collection. Like expected it was a lesser WWII film entry but definitely not worthy of all the shit that piled on it by the public and critics back in 1979.
The plot is simple, prisoners of war on a Greek island archeological dig (over seen by Nazi Roger Moore) team up with an underground rebel resistance army to take down a covert Nazi hideout and perhaps plunder some treasure along the way – very typical of films of this genre.
I love all-star casts and the cast is superb and diverse here, including but not limited to Roger “James Bond” Moore, Telly “Kojack” Savalas, Richard “Shaft” Roundtree, David Nivan and Elliot Gould. However many of the cast members are hopelessly miscast and none-more than Roger Moore as our Nazi camp commandant. He is just wishy-washy in the role, neither threatening nor likeable. Sonny Bono’s Italian chef, Richard Roundtree’s soldier, Michael Sheard’s sergeant and Telly Savalas’ rebel resistance leader are all low brow caricatures and nothing to set them apart from other characters in the genre. Elliot Gould however shines as a civilian USO entertainer whose plane gets shot down and unwittingly ends up in the POW camp.
Other than conventional characters and miscasting, another problem director George P. Casmatos (“Rambo: First Blood Part II”) has is he can’t seem to make up his mind to make this comedy or action/adventure WWII yarn. It starts off slow with emphasis on comedy and later on becomes a full blown action flick with impressive sequences towards the end. But even the good action sequences are predictable and seem to copy-cat other films of the ilk.
“Escape from Athena” is an offbeat war film, I will give it that, and it is well made with gutsy camera shots (shown by the opening title sequence), exotic Greek island locals and a rousing score by Lalo Schifrin but the filmmakers can’t make up their minds on the tone of the film and seem desperately to take bits and pieces of superior WWII pictures like “The Guns of Navarone”, “Kelly’s Heroes” and “The Great Escape” and mix them to no avail. Is it as bad as people made it out to be on its release? No, but it does have more than its fair share of flaws but should appease fans looking for a World War II flick that’s a little different.
Written By Eric Reifschneider

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Massacre Gun (1967)

Director: Yasuharu Hasebe

Notable Cast: Jo Shishido, Tatsuya Fuji, Jiro Okazaki, Takashi Kanda, Hideaki Nitani, Ken Sanders, Tamaki Sawa, Yoko Yamamoto

Arrow Video Features:
* Limited Edition Blu-ray (3000 copies only)
* Restored High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation, on Blu-ray for the first time in the world!
* Original uncompressed mono PCM audio
* Newly translated English subtitles
* Brand new interview with star Jo Shishido
* Interview with renowned critic and historian Tony Rayns
* Original theatrical trailer
* Gallery featuring rare promotional images
* Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Ian MacEwan
* Booklet featuring new writing on the film by Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp, newly illustrated by Ian MacEwan and featuring original archive stills

Reversible cover artwork on the Blu Ray.
If there is anything to be said about Arrow Video making its way to US shores, it’s that it will be introducing some delightful rare treats to a whole set of new eyes. Among those is the rather rare work of director Yasuharu Hasebe. While he was predominately known for his later work in the ‘violent pink’ genre that garnered just as much ire as it did acclaim in the world of genre films, Arrow Video deemed it fit to bring over one of his earlier yakuza films, Massacre Gun, beautifully restored for the first time on Blu Ray. Now most US residents are at least somewhat familiar with the film noir style popularized by gangster and detective films of the 40s and 50s. However, Japan had its fair share of success with the style for a brief stint and films like Massacre Gun are the pinnacle of what they had to offer. It’s drenched in atmosphere with plenty of torn characters, bluesy tones, and bursts of violence to make it a true underground gem.

Kuroda (Shishido) is assigned by his yakuza boss to execute his lover. After the fact, a state of apathy towards his position in life is fueled into rebellion by his brash brothers and the three of them look to start an all-out war with the gangsters. Those caught in the way may not survive their vengeance.

It's the smoky atmosphere...
If there is any one word to really describe Massacre Gun, I would be tempted to say it’s ‘efficient.’ The film is subtle in its world building with the three brothers and their various plots within the larger confines of the yakuza war that is escalating, but running at a sparse 89 minutes Massacre Gun is all about keeping the plot, dialogue, and action cut and dry on the base level. Rarely does the plot over-complicate itself with needless side characters or subplots that are left hanging by the end of the movie and it’s this sort of simplicity that allows director Hasebe and his impressive cast to build a lot of nuance into the film. The twists of the film are simple (and often time fairly predictable), but it’s the execution of these beats that makes it so effective.

"I'd but the red wire, but it's all black and white!"
If there were a second word for Massacre Gun, I would follow up that first one with ‘melancholic.’ Despite the fact that there are bursts of violence in the movie, particularly in the explosive and violent third act with its western inspired showdown on an unfinished highway complete with barrels and blowing debris, the film remains well grounded in an atmospheric forlorn state of regret for ghosts of the past. The film is driven by the oldest brother of the trio played with a heavy sadness by Jo Shishido who just happens to own a smoky blues and jazz bar that remains one of the major sets for the film. While he is countered by one hot tempered brother who lives in the moment (manically portrayed by Tatsuya Fuji) and an aspiring and decently na├»ve boxer (Jiro Okazaki), the film retains a sort of suffocating atmosphere of missed opportunities and a future that’s as grey as possible in a film crafted in gorgeous monochrome. In a shockingly artistic way, the three brothers represent the past, present, and future and it makes for some very unique character interactions to build the atmosphere. All of this is hammered home by a stunning score of blues and jazz music that’s perfectly set to punctuate the feeling of any particular scene whether it’s an almost dialogue free assassination scene to kick off the film or the eerily empty scoreless sound of the final shootout.

Sharp shooter.
Granted, Massacre Gun isn’t the kind of film for everyone. It’s slower pace for the first two-thirds might seem a bit too slow for a lot of modern audiences and there is a sort of overzealous dramatic flair to some of the characters that might seem a bit cheesy to those not necessarily familiar with the film noir genre or its various off shoots. However, if you are a cinephile looking for a film caked in atmosphere with plenty of gangster warfare and deep thoughtful characters then look no further than this long missed Hasebe classic.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

You need Massacre Gun in your collection. Immediately. Rectify this by picking up one of the limited amount of copies at the link below.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sword of Vengeance (2015)

Director: Jim Weedon
Notable Cast: Stanley Weber, Annabelle Wallis, Karel Roden, Ed Skrein, Edward Akrout, Gianni Giardinelli

At this point, the modern sword & sandals “style” that began with Zack Snyder’s 300 is getting a bit old. There are some films that can make it work by injecting some fun into the mix (see the remake of Conan the Barbarian), but other than that it’s a style that requires a lot of substance to work. For Sword of Vengeance, a medieval film that uses this same style, there just isn’t enough depth or fun for the style to rest on. For a rainy day movie it’s certainly entertaining enough with its simplistic structure and plentiful combat, but it rarely inspires the kind of dedication from its audience to lift it into being a modern cult classic.

Under the iron fist of a terrible and vicious warlord (Roden), the people of the North live dismal lives. It’s the appearance of a striking young warrior Shadow Walker (Weber), who man handles the best of the warlords minions, that inspires them to take action. Banding together under Shadow Walker and a young woman (Wallis), these rogue fighters will stand up once and for all…but is there a secret agenda by our wandering swordsman that will undermine the entire resistance?

They call him Shadow Walker. I call him Cornrows the Brutal.
Taking a massive page from the likes of classic spaghetti westerns and samurai film, Sword of Vengeance builds itself on some fairly well tread tropes. The ultimately silent anti-hero who saunters into town bringing hope with him. The townsfolk standing up for themselves. A massive standoff at the end. These are the basic building blocks of probably 20% of all genre films since the 50s and 60s and this medieval slash and crasher sticks to it…to a fault. While the film rides on some decent performances from Weber and Roden as the clashing ends of a familial feud, the bare bones script doesn’t inspire a lot of depth or dedication from its audience. It’s predictable and worse yet, almost boring. For an action film, you never want boring, even if it is predictable. Yet Sword of Vengeance is so remarkably formulaic it could have been basis for a 100 other films by only changing the location and names.

The lacking depth of the film hurts everything else about it. Director Jim Weedon really tries to layer on a lot of modern style to the film (with a low budget, it looks like it has some strong production values) but it’s built on a bad foundation and thus crumbles under any kind of critical scrutiny. The slow motion seems to lack the emotional punch to make it work artistically, the handheld edit happy style of the fights underscores some decent choreography, and Weedon seems to think that muted colors and grainy texture automatically mean a film is gritty. Just because it’s sepia tone for night and white washed for day does not make things gritty. It just sort of makes everything look the same here and limits what can be done visually. Partner this with a film that has maybe 4 to 5 lines of dialogue for its character building scenes and it’s a combination that simply doesn’t work.

As I mentioned, Sword of Vengeance is entertaining enough to make it worth a rental for those wanting to burn an hour and a half watching some mindless action. There are seeds of thoughtfulness in the script, style, and performances that might have blossomed into a much better film if they were planted in a much better soil, but as is the film comes off as all attempted style and little sticking substance.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

If the style of this film is up your ally though, here's a link to purchase the film for its May 26th release date!