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Friday, 26 February 2016

I'm Famous... Kind Of!

Welcome Back,

A few years back, in my early days of writing reviews for  SexGoreMutants  I wrote a lengthy review of the infamous MONDO CANE series of films. It has come to light that genre author David Kerekes, who has written several books on this unusual and extremely controversial series of films for his Headpress Books series - notably Killing For Culture - which has just been reissued in a brand-new, wholly and extremely lengthily revised version, has mentioned my review in his book, and name checked me too. The book can be purchased from  here  and it's absolutely worth every penny! It runs over 600 pages in length, and the word "exhaustive" doesn't do the tome justice. The namecheck appears at the bottom of Page 157 and top of 158, for those who wish to see what is said.

For your edification, I thought I would post the original review I penned, from back in the day. Any errors remain as when originally written, for which I humbly apologise. That said, I still think this review is one of the better ones I've written. I shall be back soon, with the second part of my 2016 Arrow update. For now, enjoy this MONDO CANE review.

In October 2003, Blue Underground released what could well be the best ever DVD boxed set, for horror and exploitation fans, as well as for those of you who consider yourself to be true Cinephiles! "The Mondo Cane Collection" is a set of eight DVD's, of the works of Italian documentary directors Franco Prosperi and Gualtiero Jacopetti. However, if you are simply a horror movie fan, or a lover of exploitation films, or even, someone who just likes something "different", then read on, because I think you'll like what you see!

In the early 1960's Prosperi and Jacopetti created a series of films that sought to show the weird, the hilarious, the brutal and the frequently offbeat people, places and events that existed on our humble planet. They were a form of documentary films, which were intended to show to Western audiences what was going-on in the furthest corners of the globe. ("Mondo" being Italian for "the world".)

However, what the two men kick-started, was a genre of films that many have heard of, yet few have actually seen. These films are considered to be both high works of art, and the worst kind of exploitation film, often spoken about within the same breath. Indeed, sitting down to work my way through this stunning set, I had only rumours and other people's opinions on which to rely. What I saw, was truly eye-opening! To allow for adequate discussion of the entire set, I will cover each film individually

Mondo Cane (1962)
The first one in the series, and in the Mondo genre overall. And even now some 40 years later, this film is just as uncompromising to view as it's always been. As a hardened gore-fiend, I had psyched myself up for what I was about to sit through, but nothing prepared me adequately for what unrolled right before my eyes. Here was one of the most unrelentingly distressing films I've ever watched… period! Forget "Cannibal Holocaust" or "Nekromantik II". Throw away "Flower Of Flesh And Blood", "Autopsy" and "Subconscious Cruelty"! All of these pale into insignificance! In fact, I'd even go so far to say, that you may never sit through another movie as truly sickening as this throughout the rest of your life! Why can I say this? It's down to one simple thing: nothing is ever as disturbing as real-life. And here, we get almost two hours of material that will test even those of you with titanium for stomachs!

In 1962, I would have expected many audiences to have walked out of the theatres within minutes of "Mondo Cane" starting. In fact, I doubt there were many people at all who could comfortably cope with the first hour, let alone nearly two. You see, what Prosperi and Jacopetti deliver is probably the finest view of how sick we can be. What is it that makes us - supposedly the superior species - act so barbarically and so consistently nasty towards other human beings, and treat animals in the same barbaric way, yet we can happily keep a cat or dog as a pet, and/or treasure, love and devote ourselves to taking care of a tiny baby for over 18 years?

It's this striking and hypocritical dichotomy that plagues the movie, that makes it so valid as a documentary. We are forced to look head-on at how lovely we can be, how wonderful the planet is, and yet in a split-second, we can revert to our most primitive and violent instincts in order to make money.

The film delivers scene after scene, of horrific animal cruelty that we humans commit on a daily basis. Watching a scene of bereaved owners express grief at an animal cemetery, and then have it followed by the skinning of live snakes, solely for a rare and tasty nibble for evening dinner, will leave you shell-shocked.

As humans, we all know where some of our food actually comes from. We know, that our McWhopperXL burgers all come from the slaughtering of cows. We accept that on Christmas Day, we'll happily consume a large turkey, in the name of tradition. And, we also acknowledge that kittens, puppies, mice and guinea pigs look so cute and huggable when they're just a matter of weeks old. But, as the hypocritical swines that we really are, we accept that food is simply food. We don't think about where it comes from, or how we got it. It just magically arrives, ready for us to cook, sauté and then divvy-up between our family and friends. It's the inherent genius of the two directors, that they force you to look at what we do as human beings, in order for us to gain food! They take us by the necks, smack us around for a while, quite literally put a loaded gun to our heads, and tell us that this is what we do to animals, so that we can enjoy stuffing our faces with their bodies! Seeing a goose being force-fed, so that it can be turned into Foie-Gras, will churn your stomachs! Viewing in unremittingly graphic and bloody detail as an Asian woman chooses a snake for her family to eat, and then we see in one, lengthy, butt-clenching moment, as the salesman happily pulls the snake taught, (whilst it's still alive), skins and then decapitates it, before slicing it in half, and into edible chunks for the woman, will make viewers want to vomit!

Aside from the animal slaughter, there is the occasional moment of hilarity that feels out of place within the rest of the work. The Australian Lifeguard scene, memorably sticks out, and is laughable for all the wrong reasons. To 1960's audiences it would probably have been fairly amusing. In 2006, it's almost pitiful, because it's a pathetic scene, rather than enlightening to us. It's obvious that lifeguards need to practice on live people, to make certain that their techniques will work when the time calls for it. But being a spectator to about forty 1960's young women offering their male "victims" the Kiss of Life, is trite and jars with the rest of the film. Thankfully, such scenes are rare!
For me, "Mondo Cane" is sickening, but it is also superb! It's an intelligent, articulate and challenging piece of work. Admittedly, at close to two hours, it can be an endurance test. Ditto, with all the scenes of animal cruelty. Yet, it is this kind of material that we should be made to watch! As humans, we deserve to be shown why we are such a lousy species. We bomb neighbouring countries into submission without a second's thought. But looking on, at what happens to those who are hit by those weapons, should make you feel sick… …and rightfully so! This is the world in which we live! This is what goes on, most days of the week, around the world, and here it is, in all its gaudy, bloodthirsty detail. It's a sorry sight; a regretful and bleak view, after the rose-tinted spectacles have been pulled from our eyes, and crushed in front of us! And thought it's an abhorrent view, it's all real!

If "Mondo Cane" affects even a minute amount of its adult audience, and makes them think about who they are and what their role is within society, then the release of this disturbing film will have been truly worthwhile. You won't enjoy this film, and I would expect many to claim it should remain unseen, but in my eyes, this is the kind of video nasty that cinema was made for! See it at least once, and change the way you look at the world today, because, it's not a pretty sight!

Mondo Cane 2 (1963)
After the grotesqueries of the original, this quasi-sequel is a little easier to handle, but still offers up many harrowing scenes, that may edge you close to the STOP button on your DVD player on several occasions. "Mondo Cane 2" is less a sequel, and more a leftover collection of odds-and-ends from the original. In fact, the directors claim that this is exactly what it was always intended to be. Sadly, it's this slap-dash attitude that hampers the film's overall tone.

Starting off well, with a vicious attack on the BBFC, circa 1963, of course. At the time, the BBFC banned "Mondo Cane", because of the content. Their objection were - unsurprisingly - to the scenes of animal cruelty. In the opening scene of "Mondo Cane 2", the narrator makes an enjoyably snide swipe at our state censors, over the shocking images of dogs having their vocal chords severed, so that they can't bark, scowl or vocalise their suffering, when they are tested-on at a later date! The voice-over dares them to edit this scene, if they still object to such material, and go on to satirise that we do indeed live in a dog-eat-dog world! Yikes!

Also known as "Mondo Pazzo", this is still a hard-hitting movie, but the jars between light-hearted fun sequences, and the harsher realities of seeing man's inhumanity to man, (made even worse, because the scene in which this is demonstrated most effectively, is left until very close to the end of the entire film), throws you completely off-balance. You're never sure what is the serious documentary material, and what's been included purely for a Western audience to laugh at. (Ah, all those silly foreigners, eh?!) This is extremely noticeable when we are shown a clip of African people mixing-up animal dung in order to cover their huts. The narration alleges that the aroma given off as the sun bakes the roof of the dung-covered huts, is a form of aphrodisiac to the males. Hmmm… I somehow doubt that.

In spite of this jarring effect, the genuine scenes are as unrelenting as ever. Images of the illegal slave trade that still goes on, makes for angry viewing. The shock of seeing non-Whites being treated in such a demeaning way, will get your goat for sure, but it can only begin to prepare you for later discs like "Africa Addio" or "Goodbye, Uncle Tom", which accompany the set. Ditto, the sight of pink flamingos flying across a bright, blue sky, before we are thrust into a scene of birds and fish dying from toxic waste, courtesy of an English fizzy drinks company. It's nasty material, and even worse, is having to try and endure every agonising second of it, as the helpless creatures flounder and collapse in front of our eyes, nothing more than feathers, bones, and semi-desiccated corpses that their stronger brothers and sisters will eventually feed upon.

Both "Mondo Cane" movies offer us an English-language narration, or the original Italian voice-over, with optional English translation. Viewing the English-language versions, allow viewers to really become enticed into the on-screen material. Although there is a certain amount of light-hearted jovialness to it all, (specifically in number two), the narration seems more appropriate. Trying to view such difficult subjects as life and death, whilst listening to a fast-speaking Italian man, with even-faster moving English subtitles, makes viewing even more intense than it needs to be. Having said that, the English-narration and the English-subtitles are quite different, and each offer you a slightly altered version of the movies. The translation from the Italian, seems to be more literal and authentic, but the English-language narration, comes across as more free-flowing and natural. Ultimately, it's nice to have the opportunity to choose for ourselves, which audio option to select, rather than have it chosen for us. Just don't select the English-language audio and the English-subtitles, as you're head is likely to spin trying to follow what's going on!

Whilst not as effective as the first movie, it's still a pretty damn good disc, and makes for worthwhile viewing Just be prepared to examine what you see, before deciding if something is real or not. Not everything is as it seems, which hampers the film in my opinion, and removes some of the overall strength. Both titles are in 1.33:1 full screen, which - in my view - suits the first movie fine, but seems a little too tightly cropped for number two. I think that they should probably both be in 1.66:1, but I have no way of verifying what format either title was originally released in, in cinemas. Irrespective, no major damage has been caused by having a full screen print.

Women Of The World (1963)
Fact fans: if you think you recognise the voice-over, then you'll be shocked when you find out who actually performed it. It was narrated by English actor, raconteur, and all-round theatrical artiste, Peter Ustinov! Who'd have thought it, eh?! Having said that, his voice, circa 1963, sounds nothing like him. So make of that, what you will!

As the title spells out quite clearly, this third Mondo movie deals solely with women - in all their glory, both metaphorically and figuratively-speaking! It's also, alas, the weakest disc of the entire set, at least in movie-terms. (Picture and sound, are as before!)

For the first hour, the film is a fairly sexist, sleazy, (albeit in a low-key kind of way), showcase of women from around the globe, in all their forms. From tall and short, to fat and thin, black, white and yellow: all of them are given similar on-screen treatment. The film flits between exposing the harsh treatment that women in different countries are dealt, either because of their culture, their gender, or because of the way the world was in the early-1960's, through to a showcase of female beauty in all their weird and wonderful forms. I have to confess, that the constant shots of women, accompanied by what is going to appear to many, as a highly crass narrative commentary, seems to me to be somewhat boring! It's almost as if Jacopetti, Prosperi and Cavara wanted to indulge their own pervery, rather than make any genuine statement.

However, at about one-hour into the film, things take a really nasty change! For the remainder of the film, the directors appear to get a conscience, and look in a more investigative form, at how women in different countries deal with being female, and the contradictory nature that the world says they must all be tall, thin and ultra-feminine, in order to obtain (or retain) a man, or how they must simply accept that women are the "lesser" sex, and not only is it a dog's world, but a man's world as well! 

Depending on your own views of society, you may find this totally repugnant, or a strangely historically accurate depiction of how things were, and thank yourself that society is - more often than not - a more civilised place for women to be in.

The final half-hour or so, makes for harrowing viewing! We are shown plastic surgeons operating on Chinese women, to modify their bust-size. Whilst that might not sound extreme, this is the 1960's, and so implants and the such didn't exist then. Instead, women had their breasts physically sliced into, and then a one-way valve inserted into the flesh. The valve than had a tube connected to it, before the surgeon enlarges the bust by injecting large quantities of liquid paraffin! I kid you not! The camera refuses to shy away, and we watch in shock, as we see the woman's breasts physically expand, like a balloon being inflated slowly. Each breast is performed on individually, and the only way they are matched-up, is when the surgeon gropes the woman's breasts in his hands, and compares the way they feel. This was how such surgery was performed just 40-odd years ago! It makes the US TV drama "Nip/Tuck" seem like a piece of cake to sit through.

On top of this, we also get to see to what ends a woman is willing to go to, to make herself beautiful. In one, brutal and unrestrained sequence Western women, (from the USA), pay to have their entire faces covered in an acidic paste, that literally burns the top layer of skin off. After a week or so, and once all the dead skin has been burnt, we are shown the same womens' faces, with the red, raw flesh completely exposed, just like in George Franju's cult horror drama "Les Yeux Sans Visage" ("Eyes Without A Face")! According to the narration, it then takes another month or two, before a new layer of "skin" has formed, during which time, the woman have to have their flesh moisturised daily to stop the new "skin" from cracking! Seeing the depths that these women were willing to go to, in order to become "beautiful", truly shocked me! Why would anyone want to do this to themselves?! In my eyes, that single scene says more about us males in society and the media, than anything else!

Lastly, the film covers the raw power of child prostitution and the sex slave trade, in Singapore. It's amazing how relevant the issue still remains, but watching hidden camera's capture middle-aged men, paying for young girls in their early teens for sexual acts, is absolutely repugnant, despite the fact the film is very restrained in what it actually shows. Whilst I still stand by my initial opinion that this is the weakest film in "The Mondo Cane Collection" DVD set, the final 45 minutes or so, just about make this disc worth inclusion, and I can see why Blue Underground did include it.

In terms of audio-visual treatment, the picture is good. It's not the best remastering seen in this set, and there are some scratches, grain and brief moments where colour fluctuates, but it doesn't detract from the viewing in a major way. The audio is crisp and clear, and irrespective of whether you watch the English language or Italian language with English subtitling, neither seem to be inappropriate. I chose the English language option, and found that Ustinov's narration made the tone of the film a lot lighter, (despite some of the jokes he makes), than the Italian soundtrack, but ultimately, either track is worth a listen.

One other note I should mention, is with regards to the full screen print used. For the majority of the film's length, the picture seems fine. However, there are a few occasions when the picture appears to be cropped on the left and right hand sides, loosing small amounts of visual data. I suspect, that the true picture ratio should probably be nearer 1.77:1, but as with the previous films, there's no real way of checking if this would have been correct. I can only presume that no complete Widescreen print exists, because the film has Italian-language opening and closing credits, and as this disc has been restored from the original vault negative, then either the original negative was never in Widescreen, or the film was cropped before the master negative was created. It's a small issue, though, and nothing to really get fussy over.

Africa Addio: English Version (1966)
Africa Addio: Director's Cut (2003)
This longer and alternate version of "Africa Addio" comes to DVD for the first time ever, and as this extended cut has never before been seen, it has a 2003 copyright date attached to it. Like its shorter sibling, this is the controversial movie that Jacopetti was almost executed over! I won't go into the details too much, except to say that this is more of an alternative version, rather than simply an extended edition of the original movie. Scenes in this longer variant, appear in sometimes very different lengths and forms, and frequently in a completely different narrative timeline. For me, this version is a slight improvement and it should be viewed as an alternate print, only loosely related to the original Theatrical release.

Opening with an on-screen narrative statement, about "what the camera sees, it films pitilessly, without sympathy, without taking sides", you soon understand what you are about to be a witness too. "Africa Addio" is a mesmerising movie, depicting the state of Africa around the 1960's, as Colonialism collapsed, and a new Africa began to give birth. However, as we have come to expect, what emerges is not a wonderful new paradise, but something closer to Dante's vision of Hell on Earth!

As the film progresses, the viewer watches in horror as the country tears itself apart through bloodshed, barbarism and savagery, on a level never seen again until the Vietnam War - over a decade later. Certainly the film contains many of the DVD collection's most volatile imagery: scenes of Whites killing animals for their ivory or fur, without a single ounce of remorse, and relishing in the deaths of elephants, zebras, gazelles and lions; shots of local police officers and government approved soldiers taking the law into their own hands, and assassinating petty thieves and burglars; and a sequence of animal hunters with some of the their vast contraband which is quickly discovered by local authorities. This is Africa as you've never seen it before, and never imagined could be such a hotbed of outright atrocity! At turns, both heavenly and harrowing, it's an incredible two hour experience.

As with previous titles, the remastering is one of the finest jobs seen on disc! Apart from the rare, brief scratch or piece of dirt on the negative, every single scene is vibrant and as lifelike as you can imagine. Sound is clear and the balance between the audio and the natural sounds caught on the film, is just right. Ironically, US exploitation director Jerry Gross didn't like the original version of "Africa Addio", and so removed some 45 minutes of material, and retitled the remains as "Africa: Blood And Guts"! What he must have left in, was far inferior to the full-length version, and to my mind, an incredibly offensive and derogatory view of Africa and its population. Seeing both of the restored prints, Prosperi and Jacopetti outdid themselves! An accomplished masterpiece of documentary filmmaking that has rarely been bettered. This is probably the best film in the entire DVD set!

Goodbye, Uncle Tom: English Version (1971)
Addio, Zio Tom (Goodbye, Uncle Tom: Original Director's Cut (1971)
This is it! The film that became as incendiary and inflammatory as D.W. Griffith's 1916 black-and-white historical epic, "The Birth Of A Nation". In that film, the Ku Klux Klan appear to be seen as heroic. In "Goodbye…", the depiction of the slavery issue led to the movie being targeted as a movie that incited racial hatred, and was even labelled as "an unprecedented cry of Black rage and anguish"! Even to this very day, I can see why this film has been so-called!

If the original wasn't extreme enough, then maybe the extended version would do the job! Jacopetti was forced to cut and tone down much of the 1971 release, because of complaints from the distributors. Objections to the slave-trade atrocities were just one of many elements, they found reprehensible enough to warrant removal, before the film would be given public viewings. In 2003, Jacopetti personally restored this movie, back to its original 136-minute cut, in a painstaking fashion. Thanks to his hard work and tireless effort, we can now see this landmark film, as it was always meant to be - fireworks and all!

Irrespective of which version you choose to watch, this film is probably going to be considered the most offensive, denigratory and all-in-all unrelentingly distasteful film you are likely to have ever been a witness too! Of all the films in the "Mondo Cane Collection", this is just the absolute limit in what could ever be committed to celluloid.

Unlike the other titles in the series, "Goodbye, Uncle Tom" is a historically accurate, but dramatic recreation of events that took part from the 1800's through to the beginnings of the 20th Century. It is not a documentary, where the two directors simply pointed their cameras and filmed. As such, you have to bear that in mind, otherwise you are likely to find it even more offensive and distasteful! The film opens at the dining table in a stereotypical White Southern US household, circa 1800. Around the table are a set of Southerners, discussing their slaves, and what they each think of owning such accoutrements. As you'd partly expect, (if you've ever seen "Gone With The Wind"), their opinions are bigoted, antiquated and extremely dubious. In these peoples' eyes, Blacks were always meant to be slaves, with one man even going so far as to say that God created Blacks solely for White folks to use and abuse as they deemed fit! The racism in the movie is absolutely unrelenting! Being Black myself, I wasn't personally offended as I was able to distance myself from the film, but I can certainly see why so many viewers would feel so angry at seeing Blacks portrayed in such a disgusting fashion. I admit, that the white characters in the film are hardly unabashed or sympathetic, but still… For over 135 minutes, it's the sheer unrelenting bigotry that makes the film such a political hotbed! But - and get this - there is worse to come!

Yes: if racial offence wasn't enough to cause you to think twice about viewing this work, then maybe the issues of misogyny, incitement to racial hatred, and the overt sexualisation of children will do it for you! Scene after scene in this film, has the black characters being solely labelled as niggers, sluts, bitches, black bastards, and numerous other tasteful words! In a fictional movie, I could tolerate this. In a historical documentary that purports to be re-enacting history, I could understand that authenticity may be needed, but a recreation made in 1971 the language just makes you want to hit the eject button on your DVD player, and snap the disc in half! You could almost make a case that Prosperi and Jacopetti were unadulterated bigots themselves! They claim they weren't, and aren't, (see the "Godfathers Of Mondo" documentary), but it's very difficult to accept that, going from the content of this film.

Yet, putting the racism issue aside, the wallowing in the sexualisation of children of all ages - from babies, through to young teenagers - is just absolutely unforgivable! Such events may be historically accurate, but having the camera longingly gaze over a naked child discussing the rights and wrongs of having sex, whilst the male characters, (both black and white), abuse them, is just wrong on so many levels! One scene has a white man grope and fondle a naked black teenage girl. The young actress appears to be extremely distressed on-screen. Another scene, has a baby being voyeured over, clearly crying its eyes out at the noise, and its surroundings. There's simply no justifiable reason to include this kind of material! And, it's this aspect which makes the film so truly abhorrent! The racism can be seen as justifiable, because it was probably historically accurate. But the other material - no, no, no! There's absolutely no way in hell, that the BBFC could ever sanction any release of this movie, no matter how long or short you made the final edit. Simply put, this is as near to genuine obscenity, as film has ever got. Pasolini's controversial movie "Salo, or The 120 Days Of Sodom", would be seen as a piece of piss to get past the BBFC! But "Goodbye, Uncle Tom" takes things to a whole new level of extreme cinema, that I'd never thought I'd ever be a witness to, and to which people in the BNP would regard as their kind of pro-white pornography!

Thirty-five years have passed since this movie first came into existence, and it's lost not one ounce of the rawness and power to offend on every conceivable level! Trust me, when I say that this is the nastiest film I've ever seen! "Irreversible" was like watching "Play School" in comparison! Definitely for people with a very strong tolerance threshold!

Like the other titles before it, both the English Version and the Director's Cut have impeccable picture quality. It would be unjust of me to fault them, for the occasional glitch, and the sound appearing out-of-synch, when it was probably simply re-recorded by other actors at a later date. The audio/visual quality is better than some modern DVD releases, and as such, it's only fair of me to say that this is stellar work. If only the film itself, wasn't so unrelentingly nauseous.

The Godfathers Of Mondo: A Documentary (2003)
How could Blue Underground top this set? Well, including a 90-minute long documentary, would certainly be one way of doing things! The documentary interviews both Prospero and Jacopetti at their respective homes, and covers their work included in the collection you've just bought. As with Blue Underground, you get nothing but the best here: intelligent questions accompanied by details answers; appropriately chosen clips, and a thorough history of the significance these two men have had, on exploitation and horror cinema. If anything, it's not long enough for my liking. At the end, I wanted to know even more about their lives. One question that does go unanswered, is why these men refuse to be in the same room together now? Something that I'm certain even David Gregory and Co at Blue Underground must have been dying to know the answer too.

However, for a 90-minute piece, it does cover pretty much everything else you are likely to want to know about these characters. As the documentary was only made a few years back now, the picture is crystal clear, with not a single speck of dirt or dust on it. The audio is Dolby Stereo, and is loud, clear and perfectly balanced between the right and left audio channels. Optional English subtitles are available, should you need them, and it's nice to see a company supply them, even though the main language is in English anyway. Definitely a thumbs-up from me, for Blue Underground accommodating deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers! Other DVD companies around the world, please take note!

Overall, each disc is pretty much picture-perfect, given the ages of each of the films. In fact, I've seen modern films released to cinemas, in prints worse than these, which will hopefully give you a very good indicator of just how fantastic each disc looks. Apart from the rare scratch or single-frame piece of dirt, the picture-quality is nigh on pristine! Congratulations to Blue Underground, for what has to be one of the finest restoration jobs I've ever been witness too. Aurally, each film is in two-channel Mono. Expecting anything more than this, would be criminal, in my opinion. Having a pseudo-Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack specifically created, would probably serve the films less well, than the original, cleaned-up mono audio. The narration always comes through clearly and deeply, and no sign of hiss or other background noise was heard on any of the discs. Again, a stellar job by B.U.

I can't not mention the packaging! Here, for once, a company has gone for simple and effective, rather than glossy and flamboyant! Each disc is housed in a slimline DVD case, with the respective cover reproducing each movie's respective original theatrical image, over a single-colour background, and the requisite introductory notes on the back, along with each disc's running time, and other such information. Inside, the reverse of each movie's cover has around 25 chapter titles listed, which describe in simple and basic terms, what chapter you can jump too.

All discs then come, in a semi-flexible, blue plastic outer-sleeve, which houses the discs snugly, and comes with the main "Mondo Cane" image printed on the front, and back. The sleeve has some information about the entire collection, on the back, and simple disc information on the base. I have to say, that the set does look gorgeous on my shelf, and certainly stands-out against the myriad of dull, black cardboard cases that many other box-sets utilise.

With everything all said, and done, I have to admit that this is pretty-much a 100% perfect DVD set for any horror or exploitation fan! For the price, and for the content, this is just absolute perfection on practically every single level! If Blue Underground only ever released one DVD boxed set, this has to go down as one of the finest examples, I've ever seen anywhere in the entire world! William Lustig and David Gregory should be thoroughly proud of this collection!

If you can get hold of a copy, grab it, because you won't ever regret having this in your collection! Just don't expect any of these titles to appear in the UK, with BBFC approval! It just won't ever happen, unless you want a single, five-minute disc, with nothing but the Blue Underground logo on it. (Not even the extras, would escape unscathed, I'm afraid!)

Alas, this Limited Edition set of 10,000 copies sold out almost instantaneously, back in 2003, and the set is never to be re-issued in the same form again! (Each title is now being released as bare-bones titles, with English-language audio only, over a period of months. However, the documentary, is exclusive to the boxed-set reviewed here!) Most online DVD companies no longer have copies left, or are charging extremely silly prices, in excess of £100! Copies are, as always, available on e-Bay, but you buy these at your own risk!

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Have Arrow Video Finally Grown-Up? (Part 1)

Welcome Back, And A Happy New Year To You All,

Yes! I return very late, and I owe you all an apology for my extended sojourn from this blog. I've spent the last few weeks having to relocate, and also start a new job too. Not the best things to be doing, in the run-up to Christmas/New Year. I also need to apologise for the problems with images not fully working on Blogger. This seems to be an issue with Blogger themselves, rather than unique to myself or this blog. Despite several complaints to Google who own Blogger, nothing seems to be being done, which is all intensely annoying. So, if you've experienced problems with images not appearing, or you get broken image links appearing instead, I can only apologise most profusely, and ask that you bear with me. Hopefully, the issue will get fixed at some point.

That said, it's now 2016, and I'm back, and as promised albeit much later than originally planned, here's another Arrow article, and this one, I hope, will shock you, in a pleasant way. Enjoy!

In previous blog posts, I have been hard and vocally critical of Arrow's extremely suspect past, from shoddy releases, to questionable ethical and moral mishandling of complaints regarding faulty products, to a complete refusal for them to accept that what they did was wrong. So, have Arrow (Video, and Arrow Films - the subdivision who release mainly World Cinema/arthouse titles) finally grown-up?

The answer, it would seem, is actually, yes!

Putting aside the outstanding issue of the faulty release of David Cronenberg's SHIVERS from October 2014, which Arrow are still claiming to be "investigating" (Good grief!), the last 2-3 months saw some truly jaw-dropping releases. Specifically, these were:

2) Kiju Yoshida's LOVE + ANARCHISM set;
3) Jorg Buttgereit's NEKROMANTIK 2;
6) the DEEP RED set.

All were/are Limited Edition sets, and have/will sell-out. (Sadly, the scalper scum were out in force for the HELLRAISER set, with the 3000 copies all selling-out long before release date, for less than £50 each, only for release date copies to be on-sale across Amazon and eBay, for three, four or even five times that amount, from scumbags who had purchased multiple copies purely to sell-on for super-profit! Such action is extremely shameful, but sadly par-for-the-course these days, and is mightily common with Arrow's sets!)

The releases were all very pricey, and luxurient - more about that in a moment - but seemed to show that Arrow had finally broken away from its past shackles, and old bad habits, and had at long last matured into the competent, reliable and adult video label it clearly intended to be from Day One.

Having long-departed from their early Italian horror releases, from the likes of Argento, Fulci, and Bava, Arrow are now releasing many more obscure and lesser-known works, from the huge, underground selection of cult cinema. Kinji Fukasaku is more commonly known in the West, as the director of the notorious 2000 cult shocker BATTLE ROYALE. But to World Cinema fans, Fukasaku had already created an Asian filmic opus to rival that of THE GODFATHER TRILOGY. Sadly, outside of Japan, or the old US DVD release from Home Vision, way back in 2004, it was difficult to see these films in an English-friendly format. Arrow went back to Toei in Japan, and got access to their newly remastered prints, and were given permission to produce separate Region A and Region B Dual-Format (Blu-Ray and DVD) releases, with some new extras - namely a 200-page hardback book, and the first ever release of the "Complete" edition of BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR AND HUMANITY outside of Japan, plus the majority of the content from the Home Vision release, as well.

For the uninitiated, Fukasaku's epic, is a giant Japanese gangster series: five films, all loosely based on the articles composed by real-life Japanese journalist Koichi Iiboshi, who worked for the Yomiuri Shinbun newspaper in Tokyo. They follow Shozo Hirono (played by Bunta Sugawara), a young ex-soldier and hoodlumm, fresh from fighting in WWII, from the Hiroshima Prefecture over a 10-year period as he (and his gangster buddies) fight and feud with another Yakuza family, the Yamamori, over territory, and power-struggles.

The films - BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR AND HUMANITY; DEADLY FIGHT IN HIROSHIMA; PROXY WAR; POLICE TACTICS and the controversial FINAL EPISODE are lengthy, and epic in the biggest meaning of the world. The whole series is about 500 minutes in length, and extremely heavy-going too. Plenty of place-names, warring factions, and character names to get you to remember, and who is friends with who, and who is an enemy. This is cinema for people who want to really think deeply! No amount of writing can truncate this epic work, into a handful of sentences, and do it justice. This is one of the most ambitious film series' I've worked my way through, and it's tough-going at times. Not because it's boring - it isn't - but simply because there are so many people and places to keep in the viewers memory. The Arrow set has a handy Character Guide in the book, which features a list of who's who, and how they are related, but even that is complex. It's definitely something you should keep to-hand when watching these films.

As well as the five films, this set also features THE COMPLETE SAGA, a specially-edited, alternate version that tries to distill the first four films, into one, hefty, bum-numbing chronicle. Never released outisde of Japan, this 224-minute distillation originaly formed for Japanese TV, condenses, reorders and re-edits the films into a kind of "best of". On the one hand, the severely truncated work is messy to watch, when compared against the original five films, but on another, the distillation of it might make it a slightly easier, nigh better option, for newcomers to view, simply because it is a compressed, alternate version of the original. So, if you buy the set, it's really down to your own personal preferences, as to which version you wish to view first: the all-singing, all-dancing version, or the shorter edition. If you do start with the five films, I would only say try to watch them as closely together as you can, otherwise you will struggle to stay on-top of the numerous characters and plotlines.

This series is an amazing piece of Japanese cinema, albeit one that is not for everyone's tastes. It's not full of endless violence and extended scenes of fighting and battles, and if that is what you are seeking, then BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR OR HUMANITY will probably not be the film for you. If you, however, seek a more meditative exploration of gutsy Japanese cinema, and are willing to devote time and attention to this extensive piece of cinema, then you will find a lot to sink your teeth into! Just stay off the Sake!

The set comes with various interviews and audio commentaries, but I've not been able to watch or listen to these. However, I suspect they will be extremely informative, and will help new and seasoned fans of the series learn a few things. The other major extra, only available in this set, is the 200-page hardback book. Filled with interviews, information and behind-the-scenes photographs, this is another excellent bonus, and is - in my view - worth paying the extra for, if you can afford it.
Amazon UK and USA both still have copies of the set available, either as a Region 2/B or 1/A Blu-Ray/DVD Dual-Format release, retailling at about £80/$100 US. So, seek it out, as it's a very worthy purchase, and you'll certainly want to go back to watching this again and again.

Arrow Films (the parent label of Arrow Video) who specialise in World Cinema, have also released another excellent slice of Japanese cinema, for your delectation, which has some similarities to the previusly discussed set. KIJU YOSHIDA: LOVE + ANARCHISM release was released in November 2015, on a UK-only, Region 2/B Dual-Format set. Yet again, we have another rare work, from a director many have never seen, outside of his native homeland.

Kiju Yoshida's full name is actually Yoshishige Yoshida, but he is more commonly known by his affectionate monicker, Kiju. Born in 1933, he worked for the Shochiku studio, alongside Nagisa Oshima (director of the infamous 1978 film IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES, aka AI NO CORRIDA). In 1964, he left to start-up his own production company, to give him more freedom from the studio system he had previously worked under, and this is where he produced some of his best known works. The LOVE + ANARCHISM set contains three films, that form a loose trilogy: EROS + MASSACRE (1969), HEROIC PURGATORY (1970), and COUP D'ETAT (1973). EROS... is featured here in two versions: the original Director's Cut, that runs to just over three-and-a-half-hours, and a truncated Theatrical Version, running to about an hour less. A Japanese New Wave film, it follows the anarchist Sakae Ōsugi, who was assassinated by Japanese Military in 1923, after his relationship with three women, during a turbulent period in Japanese history. The women include his wife, Hori Yasuko; his third lover, Noe Itō, who died with him; and a jealous, second lover, Masaoka Itsuko, a militant feminist who made an attempt to murder him in 1916, in a local Tea House. The film follows his life and loves, as two students study at his espoused idealogies of political theory and free love. Through their studies, we witness flashbacks and scenes detailing who Ōsugi was, and where he fitted into the turbulent world of Japanese politics. Split into two time-zones - the 1920's and the 60's - the film uses two different styles combined, to flesh out just who this radical, freethinker was, and why he was so despised by the authorities.

Another complex tableau of work, for viewers to digest, the main film EROS + MASSACRE is certainly not for everyone. Anyone who has watched any New Wave films from France or Japan, know of their sometimes lyrical, overblown and/or free-flowing nature. Juxtaposing narrative and visual information, sometimes to the detriment of plot, but which produce a work that is nothing if not unique. In this case, Yoshida uses awkward and strange angles in his cinematography, to disturb and unsettle the viewer, sometimes focussing on the least-interesting thing in the scene.

It has been said, that those who watch this work, often feel drained mentally, psychologically, emotionally and physically, even after viewing the shorter Theatrical version. I have to agree. The film unravels at its own, belated pace, and in its own manner, sometimes to the detriment of a Western viewer unaccustomed to Japanese New Wave cinema. As such, the work is definitely not for the uninitiated. In fact, many Westerners may simply find the work far too languorous for their tastes, and I would certainly agree - in part. A film has to be seen to be allowed to unfold at the director's own pace, and the viewer should let themselves follow that pace, to gain the most from the work being viewed. But if you aren't used to languid film-making, then trying to stick with a film that runs to its own beat, can be a real pain. Whilst not without flaws, I do prefer the longer, Director's Cut. As is the norm, the extra material expands so much more, and offers the viewers a more cohesive narrative, that the Theatrical Cut can't, due to the time constraints most cinema films have to work under. That said, there were occasions when I found the film a chore to get through, and I struggled to get my head around what I was meant to be taking away from the film.

This is definitely a film for the arthouse/World Cinema crowd, rather than fans of Japanese cinema as a whole. It's a unique work, but a slow one, and it can at times feel like a chore. But, if you can stick with it, you will certainly feel like you have watched something genuinely unique and amazing.

The two other works in the set, HEROIC PURGATORY and COUP D'ETAT, I've not yet had time to watch, and thus, cannot comment on them at this time. With both running to a little under 2 hours each, they should certainly be a little more accessible, but if they're anything like EROS + MASSACRE, it will be a pair of films I'll need to devote both time and my brain too, when I can give them the effort they will probably need.

With the films, you also get a small, paperbackbook, detailing more about Yoshida's works, and the films themselves, plus cast and crew interviews. All are housed, in a bright pink (Japanese love pink?) box. The set is a Limited Edition Dual-Format release, restricted to 3000 copies, with the films on both Blu-Ray and DVD. Due to the nature of the films, sets are still quite easily available, for about £70 from Amazon UK or direct from Arrow themselves. The set is only available online, and as such, if you wish to get it, you will need to purchase it from either Amazon or Arrow direct! If you fancy something extremely arty, and want to take a walk on the wilder-side of Japanese cinema, you could certainly do far worse than this.

Part 2 of this article, will follow soon.