Graveyard of Honor (2002)

There are decades between the worlds of Kinji Fukasaku and Takeshi Miike, but this is the movie that unites both of their lengthy resumes. They’re very different filmmakers, so seeing them both tell the story of Goro Fujita’s book and the life of Rikio Ishikawa.

The original film takes place in the years following World War II, but this version takes place in a very different time, as the late 80’s economic boom is about to give way to the depression of the 90’s. It also changes how its protagonist enters the world of crime. Here, he bluntly — literally — saves the life of a boss when an assassin (Miike) comes in like he’s in a completely different film, double guns blazing, only to be knocked down with a chair.

But just like in the previous version of this story, Rikuo cannot be tamed. Or reasoned with. Or expected to act like a normal human being. He drags down everyone he comes near and turns on anyone close to him. He is a force of horrible nature and corrupts everything he touches.

This is perhaps the most restrained movie you’ll see Miike. Don’t take that as boring. Even a more dramatic version of the director is still more whiplash than three lesser talents put together.

You can get this movie as part of the Graveyards of Honor set recently released by Arrow Video. It comes with Kinji Fukasaku’s 1975 version, as well as audio commentary by Miike biographer Tom Mes, a visual essay by author and critic Kat Ellinger and archival features like interviews with Miike and the cast, making-of features, press release interviews and a premiere special.

Graveyard Of Honor (1975)

Kinji Fukasaku (Battles without Honor and Humanity, Battle Royale) adapted Goro Fujita’s gangster novel of the rise and fall of real-life gangster Rikio Ishikawa, a man who lives up to the lack of honor or humanity references by Fukasaku’s other film.

How horrible of a person is Ishikawa? Within minutes of the opening credits, he steals money from the Aoki gang, robs a Sangokujin gambling den with Imai, stashes his gun with a geisha named Cheiko, gets arrested and returns for his gun and to assault the girl.

Meanwhile, the leader of his gang is running for Japanese parliament and the out of control antics of the film’s protagonist are too much for them. Despite a talking to by the family boss, he blows up the leader’s car. This unpardonable crime leads to the gang telling him to slice his fingers off in the ritual of yubitsume. He refuses and goes to the cops before leaving Tokyo for 18 months, drifting to Osaka and a drug-filled haze.

Of course, the first thing he does when he heads back to Japan — ten-year exile or not — he comes back for a whole other round of mayhem, which includes battling two Yazuka families and the police all at the same time, followed by driving Cheiko to suicide and, inevitably, cannibalism, a sword battle in a graveyard and suicide.

Noboru Ando, who appears in this movie, was an actual mob figure for some time, saying “In Japanese, the only difference between yakuza and yakusha (actor) is one hiragana character.” Very noticeable by the knife scar on his cheek, he appeared in plenty of mob-related movies, including movies directly based on his life, such as his sexual experiences while hiding from the police (Ando Noboru no Waga Tobou to Sex no Kiroku) and life of crime in Takashi Miike’s Deadly Outlaw: Rekka.

You can get this movie as part of the Graveyards of Honor set recently released by Arrow Video. It comes with Takeshi Miike’s 2002 version of the movie, as well as new audio commentary by author and critic Mark Schilling, a new visual essay by critic and Projection Booth podcast host Mike White and an appreciation of the director. Like everything Arrow releases, this is a great set.

2020 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 21: Empire of the Ants (1977)

DAY 21: MURDER SHE ROACH: One about pesky varmints, pests or creepy crawlies.

If you love Joan Collins, you have to get used to her being abused. She gets a demonic baby that doesn’t want to be born, she’s choked out by Santa after getting that blood out of that nice white fur carpet and then, she gets gassed by a queen aunt. It’s not easy being Joan.

This American-International Picture says that it was inspired by H.G. Wells short story of the same name, but it’s really just a nature gone wild thanks to man movie, but I’m not saying that like it’s a bad thing. I mean, how many movies have giant ants that blast humans with clouds of fog that take over their minds?

We watch as polluted materials get loose in the swamp, just as land developer Marilyn Fryser (Joan Collins) brings a bunch of new clients to see her beachfront property. The land is worthless, of course, but then an army of giant ants busts in on the scene and everyone flees for their lives.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, it turns out that the ants use pheromones from the queen to take over an entire town and the sugar factory there, as they prepare to do the same to the world.

Beyond Ms. Collins, this movie also has Pamela Shoop (Nurse Karen!), Robert Pine (who was in The Day of the Locust, a movie that disappointed me as a kid because there were no giant locusts), Jacqueline Scott (William Castle’s Macabre), Albert Salmi (Superstition), Robert Lansing (who should know all about nature on the loose, thanks to being in Day of the Dolphin and Creature from Black Lake) and Robert Lansing (who was in a ton of TV, including playing Control on The Equalizer).

This was directed by Bert I. Gordon, the master of process shots to achieve giant creatures menacing actors. That said, he also used large rubber ant parts, which Joan Collins hated, as she said that they scratched her.

You can watch this on Daily Motion.

SLASHER MONTH: The Freeway Maniac (1989)

There’s no way that the Gahan Wilson that wrote this movie is the Gahan Wilson who drew all those cartoons for Playboy, right?

Because if he is, then this is a comedy and this movie makes a lot more sense.

And if not, then I have no idea what the filmmakers were going for in this one.

So after this movie completely rips off the open of Pieces and Nightmare, we move to an asylum where the inmates are being given cigarettes as some form of therapy. One of them escapes and kills everyone in his way and that’s Arthur (James Jude Courtney, who would go on to be The Shape in the 2018 Halloween). He nearly kills an actress named Linda (Loren Winters, who was a one and done actress in this, along with producing the film), whose experience ends up getting her cast in a cheesy science fiction movie called Astronette that will use her notoriety for publicity.

There’s no way Arthur would hunt her down, right?

I have so many questions for this movie. How did they get Robbie Krieger from The Doors to write the theme song? Why did they have Linda’s boyfriend cheat on her and suddenly become a sympathetic hero in the last act? Why is there no real freeway in this movie? Why does Arthur howl at the moon? Why is some of this movie well-shot with decent stunts and other portions have the worst acting you’ve ever seen? Are you surprised that this was released by Cannon?

There’s not really another slasher like The Freeway Maniac. It’s…something else.

You can watch this on YouTube.

SLASHER MONTH: The Last House on the Beach (1978)

Also known as La Settima DonnaTerror and Terror and The Seventh Woman, this is what happens when filmmakers dare ask, “What would happen if we mixed up The Last House on the Left with nunsploitation?”

In Roberto Curti’s Italian Crime Filmography, 1968-1980, he writes that this film was filled with “a succession of grim, misogynist and exploitative scenes: adolescent nudes, slow-motion sodomizations, vicious wounds, assorted killings.” I list this in case you are wondering why I decided to watch it.

Sister Cristina (Florinda Balkan, A Lizard in a Woman’s SkinDon’t Torture a Duckling) and the girls in her care (Sherry Buchanan from Tentacles and What Have They Done to Your Daughters?, Laura Tanziani, Laura Trotter from Nightmare City, Karina Verlier from Emanuelle In America, Luisa Maneri from Demons 6) are rehearsing A Midsummer Night’s Dream when three thugs, led by Rave Lovelock, show up to hide out from the cops. Of course, they also decide to terrorize everyone and probably kill several of the girls along the way. Can Sister Cristina renounce her Holy Vows and help the girls to escape?

Of course she can.

A movie that takes a disco scene from Eyes Behind the Wall and has a brutal murder occur in full view of a Scrooge McDuck poster, this is the Italian exploitation in its most undiluted form. Lovelock is a complete scumbag — and sings on the soundtrack — while there’s no way that Tarantino didn’t rip off the ending of this movie for Death Proof.

Francesco Prosperi — who wrote Hercules In the Haunted World — would go on to the next big craze, barbarian movies, making one of the better ones, The Throne of Fire. He also had his hand in a few cannibal films, like The Green Inferno and White Cannibal Queen. He should also not be confused with Mondo Cane director Franco Prosperi.

You can watch this on YouTube or you can try and hunt down the out of print Severin DVD.

SLASHER MONTH: The Witch Who Came from the Sea (1976)

We’ve talked about the charmed life of Matt Cimber before. This is perhaps the best movie he made that doesn’t have Pia Zadora in it. It was written by Robert Thom (who also wrote Wild in the Streets), husband of star Millie Perkins, and supposedly based on elements from both of their lives. If that’s true, they led some really wild lives.

Helping this movie look way better than it deserves? Director of photography Dean Cundey.

Perkins, whose debut was Anne Frank in The Diary of Anne Frank, is a revelation in this movie as Molly, a woman for whom television has created a fantasy world that reality can never match. She was assaulted by her father at a young age and the impact of that horrific act ripples across every terrifying decision she makes in this film. She still worships the man, claiming that he died for love while her sister Cathy (Vanessa Brown) detests his memory and will only say that he was lost at sea.

Molly leads a double life, as when she isn’t working at the bar owned by her lover Long John (Lonny Chapman, When Time Ran Out), she’s using her feminine wiles to lure men to their doom, much like the sirens did to sailors. Of course, they didn’t castrate them with straight razors, but let’s not quibble.

Her orbit leads her into a world of football players and aging actors who only work in commercials now. Despite brawling with one of the latter, Billy Batt (Rick Jason of TV’s Combat!) at a party after discussing Boticelli’s The Birth of Venus — and showing a high faluting sensibility that gave this movie its title — she’s able to bed and destroy a series of lovers while getting her body inked by Jack Dracula (Stan Ross) to resemble the tattoo her incestual father once had.

She also falls for handsome Alexander McPeak, who already has his own issues with his strange girlfriend Clarissa Jenks (Roberta Collins, who made everything from Death Race 2000 and Unholy Rollers to The Big Dollhouse, both Hardbodies movies and Eaten Alive better).

There’s no way that Molly can find love or a place to belong in this world. She’s a constant storm destroying and snuffing out lives, unable to find peace or even a place to be. Her story will not end well (not when George ‘Buck’ Flower — who also cast the film and put his own daughter Verkina into the disturbing father/daughter love scene flashback — is on her case).

Every setting in this film feels rotten and everyone in it feels diseased as if the end of the 20th century is a rotting piece of carrion left out at the furthest edge of the surf, unable to wash back into the tide. That said, I want to drink in the bar where most of this is set, as I can imagine the rum was high proof and the conversation was minimal.

While this was a section 2 video nasty, don’t come expecting gore. Do expect to be upset by its unrelenting dread and evil-minded script, however. Also, if the poster looks familiar, it’s a direct ripoff of Frank Frazetta’s cover for Vampirella #11.

You can watch this on Arrow’s American Horror Project. It’s also available as a single blu ray. It’s also streaming on Amazon Prime and Tubi.

Monochrome: The Chromism (2019)

Isaac Ward is the first “hue” in a world that has only been black and white, learning that he is filled with color after being shot. As he begins to turn multiple colors, he is not alone, and as society begins to reel from this new development, they start to capture these unexplainable colors and war seems ready to break out at any moment as the result.

Written and directed by Kodi Zene*, consider this film a somewhat post-apocalyptic Pleasantville. This is but the first of many films planned in this series, along with comic books and merchandise.

This film has a really solid and striking visual look, as the colors and Hues themselves break the black and white pallette that this film creates. I’m excited to see where this story can go with a richer budget and more time. It’s definitely worth a watch.

You can learn more at the official pageMonochrome: The Chromism is available on demand from Tempest Studios.

*Zene also shot and co-scored this movie.

J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius (2019)

As a young teen — with parent bought subscriptions to the National Lampoon and Spy — I was obsessed with all manner of strange religions and aberrant behavior, which starts as simply as Scientology and builds into lifelong obsessions with groups like the Jack Chick, Unarius UFO groups, the Process Church, the book Illuminatus! and, of course, J.R. “Bob” Dobbs. Sadly, as everything good has been destroyed, even indulging in fringe conspiracy groups just gets sad these days. I was hoping that this documentary would show me a glimmer of hope and how slack could prevail against an increasingly darker world.

Originally called Slacking Towards Bethlehem: J.R. ‘Bob’ Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius, director Sandy K. Boone (this is his first film, yet he has produced several) explores this kind of sort of a church that took some smart, nerdy and even weird folks to examine the various ways that conspiracy and religion were crashing toward one another — which is where we are today — and then do nothing but make fun of it.

With a vast mythology that explains how Jehovah 1 gave salesman J.R. “Bob” Dobbs the secrets of the universe sometimes in the 50’s while containing references to Lovecraft and the ability to poke fun at other religions and exlaim that greed is good, the Subgenius ideals were pretty strong to my young mind. It didn’t hurt that adherents included de Mark Mothersbaugh, Mojo Nixon,Paul Reubens, Negativland, David Byrne, R. Crumb, Penn Jillette, Nick Offerman and Richard Linklater.

This movie does a decent job of setting up the path of this group and shows how that pre-internet, it was amazing to find people who shared the same values and interests that you did. Personal connections, while harder to come by, seemed to mean more.

Where my sadness with this film comes in — and this is for me only, perhaps — is that it really presented no answers as to how Bob fits in with our Q-Anon world of today. But perhaps that’s just slack in action, the idea of inaction and meaning nothing meaning everything. Here I was hoping for an explanation of everything, when the truth is that answer is that there is no answer. Things just are.

J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius is available on demand. We were sent a screener to watch and review, but that has no impact on our opinion of the film. Want to learn more about the Church of the Subgenius? They have an official site ready to indoctrinate you.

2020 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 20: Don’t Look Now (1973)

DAY. 20: HINDSIGHT IS 20/20: This one’s gotta have flashbacks in it (since looking ahead doesn’t seem to be working amirite?).

Don’t Look Now is the kind of movie that people should talk about in the same hushed tone that they reserve for The Exorcist and The Bird With the Crystal Plumage and they don’t. That makes no sense to me, so perhaps these words will do something to change that.

Compared to Performance, director Nicolas Roeg’s directorial debut (he co-directed with Donald Cammell), this is a simple film. Compare it to anything else and it’s as complex as it gets. Roeg had already contributed to the horror genre with his director of photography work on The Masque of the Red Death, but this rumination on loss stands apart, using the genre itself to try and make sense out of the senseless.

In the same way that the giallo plays with themes of misinterpretation and mistaken identity often when it comes to sexual identity, this movie does the same when it comes to trying to get through the grief of losing a child and perhaps a marriage.

It’s also a deconstruction of how we perceive time through the lens of film. Instead of just flashbacks, this movie is filled with a fluid sense of time, in that we experience the past, present and the future almost simultaneously, as if we were Jon Osterman becoming the ubermensch Dr. Manhattan.

Real-life couple Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner (ironic, as this movie concerns a drowning death) were suggested for the leads of Laura and John Baxter, but Roeg only saw Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland in his film. Sutherland was worried that the film gave a bad name to ESP, but Roeg told him this was the story they were telling.

John and Laura have come to Venice after the death of their daughter Christine in a drowning accident. While working to restore an ancient church, he meets two sisters. One of them, Heather (Hilary Mason, I Don’t Want to Be Born), is a psychic and she reveals that a great danger is coming for John. This danger — in all ways that we see time in the film — hangs as heavy as the death of his daughter, who the psychic reveals that she can see around the couple.

That night, before dinner, John and Laura finally make love after a long period of coolness, as she is relieved that her daughter seems to be at peace. This moment — the love scene is intercut with them getting ready for dinner afterward — plays with our notions of time, making this entire scene feel like a dream. It could also very well be an actual sex scene, as it was rumored for years that the acting couple was really having sex, to the consternation of Christie’s boyfriend Warren Beatty, who was usually the one doing the cucking.

At dinner, the couple is briefly separated and John sees what he believes to be his daughter. This image of her in the red coat she died in dominates the movie, luring him into more foreign places and deeper dangers. As their son is injured at boarding school, Laura must return home. Despite this, John sees her as part of a canal funeral procession. And oh yes — there’s also a serial killer on the loose.

I know that I often discuss the spoilers of films that are half a century old here, but in the hopes that you haven’t seen this film, I want you to enjoy the mystery that it presents for yourself. Roeg emerges as a consummate filmmaker here and this English giallo shot in Venice deserves so many more words than it has received.

If you don’t already own this — and you should — it’s on Amazon Prime.

SLASHER MONTH: Houseboat Horror (1989)

Directed by Kendall Flanagan and Ollie Martin, the whole campaign for this movie pretty much seems to revolve around how bad it is. That said, I’ve seen plenty worse slashers, but I’m also someone who likes to eat the fruit out of the bottom of the broiler at the Melting Pot, as it were.

A rock band is making a movie on Lake Infinity and — as the title suggests — have a houseboat to live and work on. What follows is what you expect — red herrings as to the identity of the killer and what you don’t — a large portion of the movie is given to a hunt for mushrooms in the forest.

This is also pretty much Jason Vorhees down under, complete with a protective mom and harpooning lovers together just to make Mario Bava fans cry foul. It also uses plenty of music cues that sound exactly like they came from Crystal Lake. What it has that those movies don’t is a band that sounds like an Australian version of The Replacements at times and a killer named Acid Head.

What’s your tolerance for shot on video slashers? For movies where everyone has a mullet? Where continuity and lighting change within the very same scene? Allow this to determine whether or not you want to waste your time and watch this on YouTube.