Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Pyjama Girl Case (1977)

Director: Flavio Mogherini
Notable Cast: Ray Milland, Dalila Di Lazzaro, Michele Placido, Mel Ferrer, Howard Ross, Ramiro Oliveros, Rod Mullinar, Giacomo Assandri, Eugene Walter

The first thing that should be mentioned about The Pyjama Girl Case is that, while it is often lumped together with the genre, this film has very little in common with most other giallo films. Granted, the term giallo is one that is broader that people often give it credit for, but there are certainly tropes that go with the genre that most fans recognize. Previously I’ve reviewed films that I would consider ‘fringe’ giallo, most recently I reviewed What Have They Done to Your Daughters? and Sergio Martino’s overlooked classic The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail both of which were released on Blu Ray from Arrow Video as is this film, but even those films have specific elements that would indicate at least some connection to the style and approach that the genre is known for. Mainly, through its use of villains. The Pyjama Girl Case has essentially none of those elements outside of being a murder mystery. No leather clad, sharp weapon wielding baddies. No amateur sleuths out of their element in a strange country. If anything, The Pyjama Girl Case actively avoids any of those tropes and focuses on delivering the most realistic version of the story possible with only moments of style that pop up. In this regard, it’s hard for me to even refer to the film as a giallo although it is often widely considered part of the genre.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Diamonds of Kilimanjaro (1983) / Golden Temple Amazons (1986)

There are a lot of cult cinema fans that love to talk about how films can be ‘so bad, they’re good.’ Naturally, the writing staff here at Blood Brothers do often use this phrase to describe our viewing habits, but like with most films even this is subject to personal taste. For many people, the films of Jess Franco fall into this realm of thinking and that is most certainly a valid opinion. No one is going to speak about his films as award winning fodder any time soon, but for me it’s even hard to say they fall into the category of being so bad they’re good. There might be a few that fringe on that line, but in the case of his jungle focused adventure sexploitation film, Diamonds of Kilimanjaro (or Diamonds of Kilimandjaro if you use the spelling on the film itself) or his other adventure flick Golden Temple Amazons, it’s not even close. These films are, for lack of a better description, completely incompetent.

Director: C. Plaut (Jess Franco)
Notable Cast: Katja Bienert, Antonio Mayans, Aline Mess, Albino Graziani, Javier Maiza, Olivier Mathot, Mari Carmen Nieto, Daniel White, Lina Romay

At the core of the film, Diamonds of Kilimanjaro might have been a fun adventure flick as it follows the exploits of some questionable hired guns and a crooked rich family that are looking for their lost niece in the jungles of Africa. With the right outlook, this might have been a fun idea if it had taken the tongue in cheek route of a Cannon Films project or perhaps a dark and vicious drama had the execution any artistry to it. As is, the film tries to be both. Diamonds of Kilimanjaro is completely outlandish and silly with its exploitation and strangely serious as it goes about it. It’s a combination made through sighs of disbelief and eye rolls of frustration while the tone and atmosphere succeed at being neither.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Horrors of Malformed Men (1969)

Director: Teruo Ishii
Notable Cast: Teruo Yoshida, Yukie Kagawa, Teruko Yumi, Mitsuko Aoi, Michiko Kobata, Minoru Oki

As a cult cinema addict, it is always fun to find the strange and off kilter pieces of film that exists. If you want strange and off kilter, then Teruo Ishii has to be a staple of your queue. That’s just how it’s going to be. A lot of his material has become hard to necessarily find over time though and when Arrow Video first announced that their Blu Ray release of his cult classic, Horrors of Malformed Men, would be the first of a handful of new Ishii titles, it was a welcome announcement. This title, which is generally regarded as one of his classics in many film social circles, is a great way to introduce someone new to his material. It’s an insane film, one that starts off half cocked then seemingly finds a more traditional story telling groove before leaping off the cliff of logic at the end, but it’s also a film that can be appreciated for its abrasive tone instead of being completely off putting. Horrors of Malformed Men is a strange film, but charmingly so despite many of its issues. Ergo, the perfect kind of cult film. It’s a film that perfectly aligns with fans of Arrow Video releases.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

The Nun (2018)

Director: Corin Hardy
Notable Cast: Taissa Farmiga, Demian Bichir, Jonas Bloquet, Bonnie Aarons, Ingrid Bisu, Charlotte Hope, Sandra Teles, August Maturo

There was a lot of talk about The Nun leading up to its release. Not only about the titular demon, which was featured as a villain in the fantastic The Conjuring 2, but about the marketing. There was little known about the plot, the characters, and what The Nun would actually be about leading up to the release. Most of the marketing featured jump scares centered around the piercing eyed monster and plenty of gimmicky one-liners. Hell, we didn’t even really get a true trailer for the film. It was mostly bits and pieces of teasers. At first, I thought this was rather clever. The villain was enough reason to see the film, combined with the overall success of the franchise, but now that The Nun is unleashed in the megaplexes it was almost necessary that the film never unveiled its plotting or narrative. Why? The one it has is a fucking mess. The Nun is a film that has its merits, at least in moments, but it does not live up to being part of The Conjuring cinematic universe. It flounders around with its concept and mostly delivers eye-rolls for the audience rather than scares. 

Big Brother (2018)

Director: Kam Ka-Wai
Notable Cast: Donnie Yen, Joe Chen, Jack Lok, Yu Kang, Bruce Tong, Chis Tong, Gladys Li, Lau Chiu-Kin, Dominic Lam, Alfred Cheung, Wu Fung, Felix Lok, Benjamin Au-Yeung, Billy Lau, Lee Fung, Koo Tin-Lung

Donnie Yen is a huge star. Large portions of the world have no idea, which is a shame, but he really is one of the hardest working and busiest actors out there. Because of his insanely busy schedule, he has his pick of a variety of projects and it was a bit surprising that Big Brother was one of the films he chose to focus on. A family friendly drama/comedy/action film? Of all of his options, he chose this one. Now that the film is out, both in the US and China, it does make sense why he did. For all of the kinds of films he has done, dramas, comedies, action, he has yet to really make a film like this and that variety can be appealing. His fans, however, may not be as welcoming to the film since it does have a largely different tone than the rest of what gets a US release. The film takes a decidedly family friendly tone with its material, focusing on a handful of kids in a struggling school more than anything, and it doubles down on the ‘you can do it!’ catch phrase that Donnie Yen’s character repeatedly says with a huge smile on his face and a self-reassuring fist pump. As much as the film plays things in very predictable ways, it’s hard not to enjoy its charms on some sort of level. Big Brother is shockingly fun and if I was a kid, I would have been obsessed with this film.

Monday, September 3, 2018

The Young Vagabond (1985)

Director: Lau Shut-Yue
Notable Cast: Gordon Liu, Jason Pai Piao, Johnny Wang, Wong Yu, Ku Feng, Kwan Hoi-San, Kwan Fung, Wong Man-Ying

One can tell that the Shaw Brothers studio was panicking by the time the mid-80s rolled around simply due to the unfocused films they created. The 80s did produce some of their most entertaining (and solidly crafted) films too, but the majority of the material being produced seems to pale in comparison to the heights of the studio in the 1970s. The Young Vagabond is a film that had so much potential. Whether it’s the stellar casting or the ambitiously fun concept of telling the origin story of one of China’s best folklore heroes, Beggar Su, The Young Vagabond could have been one of those cornerstone Shaw Brothers films that fans fawn over for decades down the road. It could have been. It should have been. Instead, the film tends to stumble over its own feet in finding a tone and balance. Leaping from some drawn out subplots to dramatic emotional material with little in regard of fluidity. The Young Vagabond has some very intense and well executed moments, but they all sit in a film that doesn’t quite know how to put it all together.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Tideland (2005)

Director: Terry Gilliam
Notable Cast: Jodelle Ferland, Brendan Fletcher, Janet McTeer, Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Tilly, Dylan Taylor, Wendy Anderson, Sally Crooks

Terry Gilliam is a director who rarely sacrifices his vision of a film for anyone. That includes the audience. Sometimes it lends itself to a critically acclaimed film that finds a dedicated and enthusiastic audience (Brazil), sometimes it results in a rather intriguing cult film like Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, and sometimes it results in a film like Tideland. Even though the director has always pursued eclectic and unusual films for his filmography, Tideland remains the black sheep that never really found its audience. There are those out there that love the film, certainly, but for the most part this was a film that fizzled out due to diverse reactions from both fans and critics. This is also the reason that it was so surprising when Arrow Video announced that they would be releasing a new Blu Ray for the film. Gilliam has had his fair share of material released in iconic collectors’ releases (even the hit or miss Jabberwocky received a prestige Criterion Collection release,) but Tideland represents a film in his catalog that really does draw lines in fans. It’s also a film that is very much deserving of a reassessment now that the film is over ten years old.

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

Director: Peyton Reed
Notable Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michael Peña, Hannah John-Kamen, Laurence Fishburne, Walton Goggins, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, TI, David Dastmalchian, Abby Ryder Fortson, Randall Park, Michelle Pfeiffer

As much as I thought the first Ant-Man film was, you know, ‘just fine,’ the choice to drop the sequel, Ant-Man and the Wasp, after Avengers: Infinity War was inspired. The last Avengers film inherently took the Marvel formula and undercut it by inverting the role of the protagonist and taking the series into some shockingly serious and darker territory, but Ant-Man and the Wasp represents the polar opposite. This is a film that doubles down on the Marvel formula instead of trying to subvert it and the film changes the pace from the last MCU film. It's a welcome maneuver after the impact of the last film. Like the first Ant-Man film though, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a mixed bag of execution, once again being a film that’s certainly enjoyable, entertaining, and easy to consume, but it’s also a film that falters from some of the same problems that prevented its predecessor from hitting its potential heights. Fans will definitely find plenty of things to love in the light-hearted demeanor and outlandishly silly premise, but compared to some of the more intriguing paths of the MCU in the last handful of films it does pale in comparison.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich (2018)

Directors: Sonny Laguna, Tommy Wiklund
Notable Cast: Thomas Lennon, Nelson Franklin, Jenny Pellicer, Michael Pare, Barbara Crampton, Charlyne Yi, Matthias Hues, Udo Kier

Hype is a cruel mistress. When the Puppet Master reboot was announced there was general shock from the horror community. Not only was Charles Band still going strong with his own Puppet Master series, but he made it very clear that he would not be ending his series in light of this reboot. If anything, Puppet Master was a franchise that desperately needed the reboot retreat and probably has for decades. The announcement, along with inclusion of genre auteur S. Craig Zahler as the writer, was somewhat refreshing. When you add that the film was directed by Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund, who delivered the stylish if flawed Blood Runs Cold which was made for the amount of money someone might collect from couch cushions, then there was hype. Too much hype. As the credits rolled on Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich, it was hard not to feel a sense of disappointment. So much potential and the film was focused on delivering a silly, tongue-in-cheek experience that Band’s series is known for instead of delivering something a bit different.

Monday, August 27, 2018

What Have They Done to Your Daughters? (1974)

Director: Massimo Dallamano
Notable Cast: Giovanna Ralli, Claudio Cassinelli, Mario Adorf, Franco Fabrizi, Farley Granger, Marina Berti, Paolo Turco, Corrado Gaipa, Micaela Pignatelli, Sherry Buchanan, Attilio Dottesio

Although it is often paired up with What Have You Done to Solange? when being referenced by fans and critics, What Have They Done to Your Daughters? is its own beast of a film. Having not seen the film prior to its Blu Ray release from our friends at Arrow Video, my expectations for the classic Italian thriller were fairly lofty. Solange is one of my favorite giallo films, even if it’s more of a fringe giallo than anything, and coming from the same director and period, while being referenced in conjunction with Solange, it simply lifted the expectations. However, What Have They Done to Your Daughters? truly is more of its own thing and more of a spiritual cousin to the previously mentioned classic than a replication of it. Very little of the film is done in the stylistic and trope laden giallo formula and instead it ramps up the realism and grittiness of its concept to almost documentarian like levels. What Have They Done to Your Daughters? is shocking and surgically precise while backhanding its audience with its story and approach. It’s another truly cinematic and powerful film from this golden age of Italian cinema.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The Song of Solomon (2018)

Director: Stephen Biro
Notable Cast: Jessica Cameron, Scott Gabbey, David E. McMahon, Gene Palubicki, Mareen Pelamati, Jeff Shedden, Josh Townsend, Jim Van Bebber, Scott Alan Warner, Andy Winton
Also known as: American Guinea Pig: The Song of Solomon.

There was one key thing that I missed before sitting down to watch The Song of Solomon the other evening for this review. Despite the fact that the box art does not say it anywhere on it, The Song of Solomon is also known as American Guinea Pig: The Song of Solomon. What does this have to do with anything, some might be asking. Well, if you know what the Guinea Pig series of Japanese exploitation films is, then you absolutely know what to expect from the film. You expect it to push the limits of its exploitative nature and do its damnedest to make its audience gag with its content and realistic special effects. However, I did not know this until after the film ended. What I expected was another hum-drum exorcism film. What I got was a rip-roaring gore fest, loosely tied together with a thinly guised plot, and enough in-your-face exploitation violence to make die hard horror fans feel light headed. To say that I was taken back might be an understatement. This film has all of the subtlety of a of an 18-wheeler barreling down the interstate with the gas petal stuck to the floor while the horn remains blaring. Truthfully, that’s a compliment. The Song of Solomon, for all of its issues, accomplishes what it intends to do with little regard on whether or not the audience has the will power (or gag reflex) to keep up.

Monday, August 20, 2018

The Island (2018)

Director: Huang Bo
Notable Cast: Huang Bo, Shu Qi, Wang Baoqiang, Zhang Yixing, Yu Hewei, Wang Xun, Li Qinqin, Lee You-Lin, Teddy Chan

One of the stranger aspects of reviewing foreign cinema is that, as a regular consumer, a lot of the marketing and hype build for certain films may never reach over here. Outside of following some of the actors involved in this film, The Island, it was a film that generally never crossed into the areas of information that I frequent. Once Well Go USA announced the intention of releasing the film in limited theaters in the US, some marketing hit over here, but even then, it was rather minimal compared to some of the Asian titles that pop up in theaters. Expectations for the film were rather open for me as I sat down to finally see the film that was dominating the box office in China. To my surprise, not only did The Island work for me on both a dramatic and comedic level, but it took a surprisingly hard angle with the thematic and emotional lens of how people live their lives. Featuring some impressively ranged performances and a knack for sly comedic timing in a wholly heavy and dramatic film, The Island feels far more connected with its audience and intentions than the titular setting would indicate. It’s a film that works as well on an entertaining cinematic level as it does with its character and emotional throughways to create an impressive hodge podge of laughs and tears. The Island is certainly a cinematic delight that ought not to be overlooked this year.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Street Mobster (1972)

Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Notable Cast: Bunta Sugawara, Noboru Ando, Asao Koike, Hideo Murota, Kyosuke Machida, Mayumi Nagisa, Noburo Mitani, Asao Uchida, Takeo Chii, Mayumi Fujisato

Arrow Video has made a statement when it comes to bringing some of the best of old school Japanese action films to its fans. Most of these are attached to the more popular auteur cult directors and, as of recently, they have tripled down on the films of Kinji Fukasaku. If you’ve followed this site for any length, then you already know that Fukasaku is a regular staple here and we attempt to run coverage on new releases for the director as much as possible. The latest from Arrow Video – thus, the latest review for Blood Brothers – is for his groundbreaking film, Street Mobster. While the film is not quite the epic tale as his Battles Without Honor and Humanity and doesn’t hit the thematic and heavy levels of some of his later yakuza films like Graveyard of Honor, it does have this raw and energetic approach that allows it to flow. Featuring some fantastic performances and a devil may care attitude, Street Mobster is another classic to add to Fukasaku’s gangster classics that any fan of Japanese cinema will want to add to their collection.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Blast (1997)

Director: Albert Pyun
Notable Cast: Linden Ashby, Andrew Divoff, Kimberly Warren, Rutger Hauer, Norbert Weisser, Tim Thomerson, Yuji Okumoto, Sonya Eddy

The success of Die Hard left a tidal wave of knock offs and various action films that attempted to recreate the iconic film’s brilliance. As with most big cultural films, this is a trend that happens. Some of these replications were effective in their own ways, films like Speed or Sudden Death stand out as fun spins on the premise, and some of them, sadly, were not. In the latter category, we have films like Blast. While Blast is definitely influenced by Die Hard, it’s not the replication to the extent that the cover would indicate. Blast uses the basic concepts about terrorists and a one-man battle against them in a sealed off building, but the lacking sense of humor and a very dry and serious approach to the material does not necessarily do the film any favors. It hits a lot of the right ideas in the formulaic approach (and it does have moments of B-grade action awesomeness,) but ultimately Blast tries too hard to be too dramatic to effectively entertain.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Walking Tall (2004)

Director: Kevin Bray
Notable Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Johnny Knoxville, Neal McDonough, Michael Bowen, Kevin Durand, Kristen Wilson, Ashley Scott, Khleo Thomas, John Beasley, Cobie Smulders

There are some films that seemingly get lost in the shuffle of time. Usually, these are films that run the middle of the road, not bad enough to be spit on and not good enough to make the lasting memories, but sometimes these are films that do eventually find their audiences. 2004’s Walking Tall, starring Dwayne Johnson while he was still credited as The Rock, is one of those films. When it was released, Walking Tall received generally negative reviews, but the film garnered enough of an audience to make two sequels (neither starring The Rock, who was replaced by Kevin Sorbo (?).) Yet, time was not necessarily kind to the film and it eventually disappeared from the mainstream consciousness, despite the eventual mega-stardom that Dwayne Johnson would achieve as an action star. That is, until now. MVD’s newest distribution arm, MVD Marquee, has selected Walking Tall as one of their first releases and rewatching the film for the first time since it’s release was interesting. Although, it’s still obvious why the film was forgotten. It does have its merits as a fun and entertaining little film, but it’s hardly the action classic that The Rock now puts out almost on a yearly basis.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Shadowbuilder (1998)

Director: Jamie Dixon
Notable Cast: Michael Rooker, Leslie Hope, Andrew Jackson, Shawn Thompson, Kevin Zegers

I’m a bit of a sucker for late 90s horror. There’s something about the aesthetic of straight to home video or low to mid budget horror from the era that hits a nostalgic note for me, so when Bram Stoker’s Shadowbuilder (also known as Shadow Builder without the iconic author’s name attached) hit my review queue I was generally excited to dig into a film from this era that I had not experienced before. Needless to say, even though the film is hardly perfect by any definition of the word, it also hit all of the right marks for me. Shadowbuilder is an enjoyably off beat supernatural horror action flick with some fantastic casting. It’s a product of its time, particularly in its use of visual effects around its villain, but its combination of cult horror with supernatural slasher elements was charming and fun.

Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle (2018)

Directors: Kobun Shizuno, Hiroyuki Seshita
Notable Cast: Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Kana Hanazawa, Tomokazu Sugita, Yuki Kaji, Junichi Suwabe, Reina Ueda, Ari Ozawa, Kenta Miyake, Kenyu Horiuchi, Kazuya Nakai, Kazuhiro Yamaji

As a huge Godzilla fan, it was a shock that I felt so disconnected and disappointed with the first anime film Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters. If you’re curious about those feelings, as they do set up the context for this next review, I would suggest just going and reading my review for the film HERE. In summary, the film went very far away from the usual core Godzilla material and was essentially crippled by its structure. While its sequel, or more fittingly it should be called next episode, Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle does help the first film by actually adding some character depth to the story, but it’s also a film that inherently suffers from the same problems and only adds a few redeeming qualities to make for a better film experience. Fans of the first film will definitely love what City on the Edge of Battle is offering, but for those hoping for a lot more (i.e. me) it’s only slightly better than the first.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Sleepy Eyes of Death 9: A Trail of Traps (1967)

Director: Kazuo Ikehiro
Notable Cast: Raizo Ichikawa, Nobuo Kaneko, Toshio Kimura, Haruko Wanibuchi, Mikio Narita, Naoko Kubo, Kayo Mikimoto

One of the things that keeps rising to my attention, at least while I am working my way through the rest of the Sleepy Eyes of Death series, is that often my opinion of individual films goes against the popular one. I found that Sleepy Eyes of Death 8 was surprisingly effective and cinematic, despite it being one that was generally unpopular with fans, and for the ninth entry, A Trail of Traps, my opinion once again swung the opposite direction.  Where fans tend to find this one massively entertaining and above the usual quality of the series, as the film rolled to a close, there was a feeling that the potential of the concept did not equal the film that was delivered. Despite some fantastic moments, a strong visual approach by director Kazuo Ikehiro, and another set of really strong performances from the cast, A Trail of Traps is a film where the meandering script has no real sense of purpose and seemingly strings together a half dozen plot threads in an attempt to layer a film that doesn't have the nuance and momentum to make it work. It is entertaining, for sure, but the fun concept isn’t enough to keep the film from floating off on its own trail of narrative traps.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Unfriended: Dark Web (2018)

Director: Stephen Susco
Notable Cast: Colin Woodell, Betty Gabriel, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Andrew Lees, Connor Del Rio, Stephanie Nogueras, Savira Windyani, Chelsea Alden, Alexa Mansour, Douglas Tait

After the breakout success of 2015’s Unfriended, which was a surprise box office success, it wasn’t that hard to imagine Blumhouse pumping out a sequel or two for the film. As with so many other found footage horror films, they were cheap to make and even if it had half a decent marketing campaign it was going to be profitable. The fact that it took three years for Unfriended: Dark Web to hit theaters is something of a surprise. Particularly when it was revealed that the film would not be a direct sequel to the previous entry, but a stylistically thematic one that dealt with the hideous corners of the Dark Web versus a supernatural entity. Still, the film is out now and while it has hit the headlines by being a surprise box office letdown (it only made under $4 million opening weekend versus the original one which banked in over $15 million on its opening weekend,) Dark Web is hardly the massive let down that would indicate. It’s more of the same stylistically, but it’s a bit different in tone and approach to the style which means that there will definitely be mixed feelings about the film. Overall, Dark Web is a few shades lesser than its predecessor, but it’s still an intense little low budget horror flick worthy of a watch for fans. 

Monday, August 6, 2018

The Bloodthirsty Trilogy (1970, 1971, 1974)

Japanese horror films have always fascinated me since Ju-On haunted my life for about a year when I was around 16 years old. Enough so that, when available, I try to snag a few here and there to fit them into my viewing schedule. When Arrow Video announced The Bloodthirsty Trilogy, comprising of The Vampire Doll, Lake of Dracula, and Evil of Dracula, for a new Blu Ray set, I was stoked. These were films that I was rather unfamiliar with and after hearing that they were essentially Japan’s brief attempts at replicating the Hammer horror style, I was completely bought in. Eventually, we started receiving quite a few requests at Blood Brothers to review the set and with the new Blu Ray in hand, I’m happy to oblige. Below you will find each film reviewed singularly, in order as they appear on the set, and after that there will be a recap of the films and the actual release itself. If you’re already interested in the set, I might recommend that you just go ahead and make the purchase, supporting these kinds of releases only means that we get more of them in the future, but if you’re still wary of whether or not the films are worth it, just crack open your coffin and keep reading about each of the films.