When is comes to paranormal and supernatural flicks, and among those foreign in origin, there are few selections better than Ju-On: The Grudge. This movie became a kind of renaissance for me. I’ve dabbled in foreign horror films before, such as the likes of Amando de Ossorio, Dario Argento, and Lucio Fulci to name a few. Mostly all European horror. Those were the classics though. End of the world zombish supernatural and entertainingly dubbed in English. And then came my experience with the Ju-on series. It was around 2004. I was in the Army and on my second deployment to Iraq. And to help pass the time when we weren’t out on mission, a bunch of us would buy bootleg DVDs from a local Hajji on base. One of us (I can’t recall who) bought a DVD with the entire series of Ju-On movies on it. One day we watch them all. And let me tell you, even on that tiny screen, huddled together with a bunch of badass fellow soldiers, I still got freaked out. I was instantly sold on Japanese horror. Continue Reading
[65 minutes. Unrated. Director: Jorg Buttgereit]
Sometimes – okay, a lot of the time – I question the logic that drives my physical-media collection. Why are some DVDs more disposable and trade-worthy than others? Why are others as immovable as Stonehenge? There are films that sit on my shelves, never leaving the shrink-wrap; and others that are so mood-specific, I only re-watch after a passage of years. Salo is a great film, no question about it, but two hours of feel-good vibes it most certainly ain’t.
The same applies to the work of director Jorg Buttgereit.
After a string of shorts, his career began proper with the worldwide-controversial Video Nasty Nekromantik, which took a semi-comedic approach to a young couple’s desire to bring a rotting corpse into the bedroom. While a fine showcase for Buttgereit’s low-budget ingenuity (including some sick – and sick-funny – practical gore effects), the film was little more than the sum of its shock value (and I liked its labored, cheap-looking sequel even less).
The director fared much better with two other efforts: 1990’s actively oppressive Der Todesking (English translation: The Death King), which follows a group of unfortunate souls who fall victim to a lethal chain letter over the course of a week. The film is devoid of hope, and its experimental nature (more anthology than conventional narrative) creates a detachment from the characters that is deliberately cold. One can imagine Buttgereit’s intent: “This is humanity with the forced pleasantries and rule of law removed – see it and weep.” Continue Reading
Zombie fans come from every walk of life and every zombie fan has their own tastes when it comes to zombie movies. In fact, you could say that there are even sub-genres within the sub-genre of flesh eaters. Just this month alone during this year’s Fright Fest we have seen a wide variety of zombie flicks (saving the best for last, which will be tomorrows review). The only sub-genre within the sub-genre we did not allow into the mix were voodoo curses and “anger” viruses, like 28 Days Later which is not technically a “zombie” movie at all, just like The Crazies were not zombies, they’re “mad, insane, and otherwise still living.” Feeling very much like a bouncer at some classy (or not so classy actually) nightclub, we’ve allowed in a certain clientele. “Are you dead and are you eating the flesh of the living? Yes. Okay. You’re cool, come on in.” That’s right folks, we’ve got standards at this joint.
Be that as it may, even folks who consider themselves “fans” of flesh eating walking corpses are not necessarily all that well versed when it comes to the cabinet of zombie movies. Nowadays I’d say that’s a fair statement given the popularity of The Walking Dead and Z-Nation (not sure if that’s still popular, but I tossed it up anyway). There are some zombie fans who watch TWD and that’s about all she wrote. And there are others who delve into the Romero films, such as Dawn of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead, and I shall’t not name that dreadfully last one made. And some Romero fans haven’t even seen all the named and unnamed movies. And then there are the truly indoctrinated flesh eating fan, those who’ve peered into the depths of foreign film and came back to tell the tale. You think only the Americans have zombies in the bag, well…you are sadly mistaken. As Winston Zeddmore so aptly put it, “I have seen shit that’ll turn you white!” Continue Reading
Directors: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza
Writers: Jaume Balagueró (screenplay), Luiso Berdejo
Release Date: 23 November 2007 (Spain)
Since its release back in 2007, REC has since become something of a modern horror classic, and is no doubt destined to be in the pantheon of greats in the many years to come. Like it’s found footage forebear The Blair Witch Project it elevates its limitations to enormous strengths – creating a building and palpable tension throughout that will have you creeping closer, and closer to the edge of your seat as it reaches its horrifying conclusion.
Co-written and directed by Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza, REC presents itself as ‘real’ footage recorded when a local TV reporter Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman Pablo (Pablo Rosso) cover a fire crew about their day-to-day lives, and join them when they respond to a vague emergency call about an elderly lady in a local apartment building. Continue Reading
Godzilla is one of the best examples of how science fiction and horror can relate certain fears within society and that they (the movies) are not just kids movies or nonsensical. I mean, sure, there are plenty of nonsensical movies out there, especially within the genre of horror and science fiction, but if I could be so brash as to say that a majority actually do serve a purpose. Storytelling has always been our way of relating concern or passing on wisdom, teaching the new generation our fears and our struggles and what threats, missteps, whatever, to look out for. Watching the original televised trailer for Godzilla (1954), it definitely begs the question of what Godzilla really symbolizes. The very first screenshot shows audiences a “once peaceful city of Tokyo, now laid in ruins…,” but given the historical context, I had to ask myself just what city was I really looking at, a fictional Tokyo, or a literal Hiroshima or maybe a literal Nagasaki? What is it that Japan seems to be afraid of? Thankfully, our guest author is here to help explain some of these things in his review. Please welcome, Kurt Thingvold.
Two notable things stand out in World War II: the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the attacks on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Why should they stand out? Easy, they were the beginning and the end point in our conflict with the Japanese. Both conflicts ended in multiple deaths, a beginning, and an end to the horrors of war. Millions dead—countries in shambles. America recovered, Japan recovered, but not before having to surrender their military forces in order to prevent Japan from re-arming and starting another war. This marked the end of World War II, the world remained in peace.
When Japan surrendered their forces it made the country feel weak and they feared invasion, while the invasion would never come—the fear remained—only in the last twenty years, or so have the Japanese fought to regain a glimmer of military presence. A second horror remained in the eyes of the Japanese people. Two Atomic bombs had obliterated their fellow countrymen and woman. The horrors of the war had never escaped the small country. Even through the decade following the war—the fear of nuclear weapons haunted their dreams—who was to defend their country, now, that a small defense force was in charge of keeping the invaders out, what if, they had to deal with a situation that had never become the small country?
In the1950’s, a Japanese film company wanted to make a film about the horrors of war— the original idea never came to fruition (based on the invasion of Indonesia, the Japanese refused visas). When producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was flying back to Japan after failed negotiations with the Indonesian government to shoot the film, he looked out at the ocean, and thought about a monster that comes from the sea and attacks the mainland! While the idea seemed to be a ludicrous idea, it would serve the film company well. The film company was known as Toho Studios. The Film would come to be known as Gojira (Godzilla).
The movie starts out in the ocean, we see a boat, the crew seems to be having a grand old time, singing, dancing and joking around, suddenly, a flash of lights, the boat begins to sink in a fiery mess, slowly, sinking below the ocean floor. Shortly after the sinking, a second boat is sent to investigate, the same flashes are seen, and the second boat has a meeting with the ocean floor, with few survivors. A fishing boat from the nearby island is also destroyed, causing the residents of the nearby island to venture into Tokyo to seek aid and relief as the fishing near the island have plummeted down to near threatening levels. Once the locals arrive they describe a large creature destroying their villages, the Japanese concerned they decide to send renowned paleontologist Dr. Kyohei Yamane to investigate the islander’s claims. Once he and his team arrive on the island– they discover the village in almost ruins—Dr.Yahmane discovers a giant footprint of the massive creature, with a trilobite embedded within the footprint, which turns out to be radioactive. The village bell rings out and the creature finally reveals itself—the villagers dub it Gojira (Godzilla). After this horrifying discovery Yamane returns back to Japan and presents his findings that “Gojira” is a remnant of dinosaurs slumbering beneath the waves and the testing of atomic bombs have disturbed his sleep. The Japanese government responds by sending a fleet of ships to deploy bombs and try to destroy Godzilla. Which, causes the creature to rise and head towards the mainland.
Dr. Yamane’s daughter Emiko, who is engaged to a colleague. Dr. Serizawa, she does not love the man as she loves a young trawler operator Hideto Ogata, a young reporter arrives to interview Serizawa and he refuses. He does show Emiko, a secret project he is working on. In which, the air is removed from the water, causing fish and sea life to disintegrate. This Horrifies Emiko. “Gojira” begins to attacks the mainland, after a few short minutes the attack is over and he returns to the ocean. After the attack, the government consults with the Japanese Self-Defense Force (JDSF) to build a 100 ft. electrical tower to kill the creature. Dr. Yamane is distraught that they plan to kill the creature rather than studying it. Emiko and Ogata are waiting for her father, so they may have permission to wed. Ogata and Dr. Yamane, engage in a fierce vocal battle about the fate of the creature and Yamane orders Ogata to leave. “Gojira” Emerges again in Tokyo bay and attacks the city a second time. Ripping through the trap the JDSF had set, breathing his radioactive, melting the steel like wax. Godzilla continues his rampage destroying and killing thousands of citizens. After, the attack, we are introduced to the horrors of the previous night. The dead and wounded overcrowd the hospitals. Emiko runs to Ogata and tells him of Serizawa’s weapon the “Oxygen Destroyer” Both go to Serizawa and plead with him to use the Oxygen Destroyer on Godzilla and stop him once and for all. Serizawa hesitant to use the weapon, he decides to use the weapon, but not before destroying the documents. Ogata and Serizawa travel to where Godzilla was last spotted, both of them dive to the bottom of the ocean. Once they spot Godzilla, Serizawa plants the bomb, he motions for Ogata to surface. Serizawa cutting his own oxygen supply detonates the bomb. Destroying Godzilla and the secrets to the weapon with him.
We catch a glimpse of Godzilla rising from the ocean as he melts away. We are left with a quote from Yamane, as they mourn for their friend, Serizawa.
“I can’t believe that Godzilla was the only surviving member of its species… But if we continue conducting nuclear tests, it’s possible that another Godzilla might appear somewhere in the world again.”
While the plot may seem silly, it portrays its dark tones rather well—Godzilla being an allegory for nuclear threat/invasion, the characters interact with the creature with either horror or admiration. And a key scene that plays into this is where Yamane is describing the creature and its possible origins, and why it is so intent on destroying Tokyo. While, other players in that scene want it destroyed with no question. We see people struggling in awe on how to deal with a threat that seems new, but now have to deal with it at half their normal strength. Another scene that shows a real struggle and emulates of the idea that something of this magnitude (using nuclear technology) is where Emiko tells her father she plans to marry Ogata, and he agrees that Godzilla should be destroyed. These two scenes show a man struggling to convince others that what he wants is for the best. Knowing the power of what has occurred and what could occur. A nuclear attack was still a possibility in the 1950’s—not by intention, of course. Americans were still close enough to the country to accidentally cause more damage, an incident did occur, The Lucky Dragon No.7 was close enough to Bikini Atoll during a test to receive fallout from the explosion, causing major concern for the Japanese. (The first boat attacked in the movie was based on Lucky Dragon No.7). Another scene, which, we should play close attention to is when Godzilla first starts attacking Tokyo, setting the buildings on fire, destroying everything in his path. The JDSF is useless in stopping him. This plays homage to the attacks on Nagasaki and Hiroshima; there is even a brief mention of the attacks. A mother holder her children and trying to comfort them tells them in sobbing words. “We will be with father soon.” Indicating he was one of the victims of the bomb. Godzilla is a powerful force that relentlessly attacks the people of Japan, and themselves feel useless in stopping him.
Two years after the first film was made—an Americanized version of the starring Raymond Burr was released. While this version of the film feels is not as dark as the Japanese version. It still shows the horror of the Atomic bombs through the view of an American reporter, while the plot is the same, this version is still rated highly. The American version is a great companion, for a different view of the film. Just two years ago, we released another American Godzilla film, dealing with a different nuclear threat, plants going into meltdowns—this version also plays into the social effect of how we as people are ignorant to the dilemmas and threats that happen across our globe on a single day.
The music also emulated the themes of the film. Heroic and dingy sounds to expand the scenes, and draw you into the moment. While most of the music is accompanied by the monster’s roar, and footsteps it has the rare ability to summon the emotions and fears of the viewer. (Akira Ifukube went on composing for the series up until the mid-90’s). The scores themselves are memorable and are a joy to listen to on their own.
Godzilla is a movie everyone should see, regardless if you’re a historian or film buff. The movie portrays a lot of themes dealing with the atomic age and war, in general. While Godzilla has spawned off from the original message and horror of the first film, it still portrays a message of anti-nuclear weapons. During the sixties and seventies, the Godzilla films took over as a protector of people. All Godzilla films portray a message whether it’s from one of the sillier movies, or the dark depressing atmosphere of the first: We need to find a way to protect ourselves, we need to take a look at what we do on a daily basis and think about how it is going to affect ourselves, or the land and people around us. Overall, Godzilla may have changed over the last sixty years, but the message itself still remains the same.
Kurt Thingvold, no stranger to Machine Mean, was born and raised in IL. He finds passion in writing, that helps calm his demons. He grew up in a tough household that encouraged reading and studying. He spends his time writing in multiple of genres. His published short story, Roulette, can be found on Amazon. When not writing he can be found playing games, reading, or attempting to slay the beast known as “Customer Service”, which, he fails at almost every day. As mentioned, Kurt is a frequent flyer here on Machine Mean, you can also check out his previous review on Ridley Scott’s legacy movie Alien here.
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Kim McDonald is no stranger to Machine Mean, having reviewed for us during our Fright Fest series back in October, The Thing (1982). Kim will also be with us during our Creature Features series coming up in 2017. Kim lives in Charleston and loves all things horror. especially foreign horror. Kim also publishes reviews for LOUD GREEN BIRD, tackling some of horror’s greatest treasures, giving readers a deeper retrospective and often introspective on films like “The Iron Rose,” “Baskin,” “The Conjuring 2,” “The Witch,” and much more. As you can see, she is no stranger to the art of movie reviews. You can follow Kim @dixiefairy on Twitter and you can follow her blog, Fairy Musings, here.
The best part in being a horror fanatic is the large pool of horror a nerd like myself can dip his toes into. When asked, “whats your favorite scary movie?” how can I give but one answer. If the jerk from Scream called my cell, we’d be talking for hours. There are genre’s within genre’s in the horror genre. “Whats my favorite scary movie? Umm…which genre? There’s slashers, there are indies, there are supernatural stories, there are zombie flicks, there are monster B movies, there are comedy-horror movies, psychological thrillers, possession-demonic-religious horror movies, sci-fi horror, action-horror, Universal Studios monster movies, silent film era horror, splatter-grindhouse movies, vampire (not bloody Twilight), and last but not least, there are foreign horror movies. This is what makes being a horror aficionado so exciting; there are so many different avenues to take.
With all this being said regarding the enthusiastic world of horror, foreign horror has been weighing on my mind recently. To be honest, only within the last eight or so years has foreign horror been worth watching. This, of course, is my own opinion; you might have been watching foreign horror for decades and i’m just now jumping on the bus. But maybe not, maybe its true and no ones has really been paying much attention overseas, not until at least within the last 8-10 years or so. The last time foreign horror was so popular was when all there was was foreign horror, i.e. the silent film era with Metropolis and Nosferatu. But once directors started flooding over here from Europe during the span between 1920 through the 1940’s (most escaping Nazi Germany) American silent horror, like The Phantom of the Opera and other Lon Chaney films, started to flourish. Only until recently, at the dawn of the new millennium, have macabre seekers sought out, once again, tales of terror from abroad. But why?
Perhaps this new found enthusiasm has something to do with a desire for originality. Lets face it folks, American horror has been suffering for some time now regarding this issue. Reboots are nice when done sparingly, but it seems that’s all we have to offer anymore. Nothings original. No ones taking risks. And so, we’re pushing past what we’ve already seen and looking into new dark corners for fresh new stories. What really turned me on to foreign horror was the Ju-on series. Dang, just when you thought supernatural flicks have all but dried up, Ju-on gives new life…or death, depending on how you look at it. With simple traditional methods, Ju-on terrifies and keeps you wanting more. After watching this, I started to give other foreign films a fairer shake. If your interested in looking for a new avenue in horror, consider the following five movies:
If you’re going to start anywhere, start with the film series that hooked me into foreign horror. Released back in 2000 as a direct to video movie, director Takashi Shimizu takes audiences deep into a twisted story about an angry husband, his wife, son and family cat and their house. Shimizu ties several stories together, connecting each of them to the house and the family that once lived there. The graphics are subtle but effective. After watching the entire franchise, it feels like the entire island of Japan will one day be killed off by this ghost. If you’re starting out or haven’t seen it, give this movie a go, you will not be disappointed.
At some point, you’ll need to watch what began it all. Released in 1922, Nosferatu is one of the most celebrated movies in horror, and for good reason. Despite having anti-Semitic undertones (see German cinema between 1919-1945), Nosferatu is the pinnacle of German expressionist films. At the dawn of cinematic horror, Nosferatu plays with shadowy atmospherics to bring home the frights and some of the most creepiest hands you’ll ever see in a movie. This image of the count is so much better than Stoker’s vision. The only vampire movie that comes close to the coolness of Count Orlok is 30 Days of Night and….
3, Let the Right One In
The movie that won the Founders Award for Best Narrative Feature and many other acclaims, Let the Right One In was, as you might have guessed, an amazing movie. As another foreign vampire flick, the violence was actually rather spread out and subtle. I wont give away any of the plot, but my favorite scene has to be during the swimming pool act when young Oskar is being bullied during a late night swim. Leave it to the Swedes to do a modern vampire movie right. The recent American rendition of this film comes no where close to the sheer awesomeness of the original. If you’re not into Japanese supernatural flicks, give this more recent foreign horror film a go! You can watch it on Netflix instant streaming.
2. Dead Snow
I’m not a huge fan of spoof zombie flicks. Call me a snob if you will, but I prefer Romero styled undead. However, a friend talked me into watching this and since it was already on Netflix instant, I gave it a shot. Dead Snow actually turned out to be a lot of fun and despite its satire, there are a few scares to be found and plenty of gore to go around. The film centers around a group of stereotypical students having some naughty fun up in the mountains, the same mountains, unfortunately, where a bunch of Nazi zombies live. The premise of the film is based off the draugr from Scandinavian folklore concerning the undead greedily protecting its treasures (and probably, but not confirmed, still pissed of Norwegians wanting a little cinema payback for the Nazis invading their country during Operation Weserübung in 1940). If you’re looking for a good laugh and to watch teenagers, and Nazis alike, die in horrible ways, give Dead Snow a chance, you might not be disappointed.
1. The Devils Backbone
Back before Guillermo del Toro was mainstream, the Mexican born director produced some of the best in supernatural horror with vivid imagination. Released in 2001, during the onslaught of American reboots on beloved franchises, The Devils Backbone is an original story based on the classic haunting motif. As folks back home were getting hammered with hyper-violence in American cinema, del Toro used the less-is-more approach to win audiences. The Devils Backbone was my first Mexican-Spanish horror film and it wont be my last. Guillermo del Toro is a unique storyteller with the ability to create memorable horror. The movie was both elegant in its presentation and dreadful in its atmosphere. There is little doubt why this film made my number spot for best in foreign horror.
UPDATE (August 6, 2013):
Gotta love the edit option on these blog websites! Can’t believe I left off my horrible mention in best of foreign horror. And its a good one too! This particular movie didn’t make the numerical list because I never finished watching it, but at the same time, because of the fact I couldn’t finish watching, and also because I would never recommend in good company to ever watch this movie, The Human Centipede deserves some recognition. Why couldn’t I finish watching this movie? Well…it wasn’t the production value; the acting and camera shots were professional enough, The Human Centipede wasn’t B-movie-ish; I’ve watched and enjoyed many a B-movie without complaint. The real reason why I never finished this movie was because it was completely loathsome, and also perhaps because my first screening of the film was with my wife; we had both entertained the idea of watching it simple because of all the rumors we’ve heard regarding its…unique cinematography; its hardcoreness. And the rumors were true…oh so very true. We stopped right after the “surgery.” Leave it to the Dutch to come up with something so sickening! I’ve seen plenty of gore movies, I’ve screened my share of savage cinema, but there was just something about this movie, the degradation of the people in it made me cringe. There was something very real about this. So, in light of how nauseous this movie made me, The Human Centipede deserves horrible mention, but as I said before, I’m not recommending you watch it.