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Saturday, 8 July 2017

When Horror Becomes Too Much

Hi Everyone,

It's been a few months, since I last posted.  Part of that, is because I'm undertaking a Masters Degree, and part of the reason is - well, the reason I'm making this very post.

I'm becoming tired of the horror genre!

I know that's quite a shocking thing to say, especially on a blog designed to discuss and talk about all aspects of horror films and extreme cinema.  But, if I'm honest, the genre is leaving me more and more jaded.  I'm sick-to-death of the endless remakes, reimaginings, sequels, prequels and revisings of genre titles.  I'm finding the genre has started to completely get stuck up its own rear-end.

I admit, I don't see a huge amount of horror films these days.  I don't get to see as many as I could, as I have too much other stuff taking up my time.  However, it is rare for me to see a horror film trailer or TV show teaser, and go "Wow! That looks amazing!"

Much of the time, the trailers just bore me, or remind me of other, older, better works.  I saw the Spanish film LUNA DE MIEL (aka HONEYMOON) last night.  It's a 2015 film about a man who kidnaps a woman, in order to terrorise and persecute her into being his wife, via rape and torture.

Does that little review description ring any bells?

Does it sound similar to I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, or the Japanese gorefest GROTESQUE, or numerous other films of recent times?  It did to me!  And whilst I watched it, I became fed-up. The film bored me.  I didn't find the story particularly convincing.  The gore was fairly well executed, but was sadistic and redundant.  (What's the point of seeing a woman strapped to a chair, bound-and-gagged, only to have the skin of all four of her fingers on her left hand, peeled-off, in slow, savage detail?!)  I didn't care for the characters, who were just cardboard cut-outs, doing things that really didn't seem remotely plausible, and even at 93 minutes, the film just failed to excite any real interest.

What was worse, is that it was pitched as a jet-black comedy, which it absolutely is not.  EXCISION is a jet-black comedy.  BAD TASTE (1989, Peter Jackson) is a jet-black comedy.

LUNA DE MIEL wasn't funny, period.  It was just dull, and uninventive, and - if I'm brutally frank here - a waste of my time.  It wasn't a bad film, per-se.  It was just of no significance whatsoever.  It didn't do anything new or innovative, or have any kind of twist.  The big reveal at the end, was so spectacularly stupid, that I felt royally cheated!  Cheated by the trailer.  Cheated by the advertising and promotion on the DVD cover.  Cheated full-stop!

I watched KILLER'S MOON too.  A 1978 British horror film, with (alleged) script-work by noted author Fay Weldon, and described as "Britain`s answer to I Spit on Your Grave..... only nastier! Produced in the late seventies it mixes lurid scenes of rape with dollops of ultra-violence and Clockwork Orange Droog style menace... This is a true video nasty and is amazingly co-written by award winning author Fay Weldon."

The problem is, it's neither a British I SPIT, and it doesn't mix lurid scenes of rape with dollops of ultra-violence.  It's just a God-awful and outright pile-of-shit, with not one single redeeming feature.

And this is becoming a regular occurrence now.  The horror genre has gone past the tipping point, and all I'm seeing is the same-old, same-old!  Maybe its mainstream cinema, rather than the horror genre that is the problem.  Do we really need a FAST AND FURIOUS 8, STAR WARS IX, ALIEN: COVENANT, or another fucking superhero film to hit the big-screen, alongside a reinterpretation of another adaptation of a Stephen King novel from the 1980's (the forthcoming IT: PARTS 1 and 2 respectively)?!

Has cinema decided to completely cannibalise itself, to such an extent, that it is now feasting on its own excreta?  It fucking-well feels like it.

Maybe part of the problem is also because, living in Great Britain, many horrors don't get released here, due to potential problems over certification.  Regular readers of my blog will know that all films released over here, have to receive a BBFC rating, before they can be released for sale, for rental, or for streaming online.  Any film company trying to circumvent this, will find it's just not worth the hassle.

Obviously, in the USA, where films can be released unrated, and without any ratings/classification, means that a distributor can release anything, as long as it sits within the law, and they're happy to chance the release.  If they feel that it's going to cost them $50,000 to release a film, but they'll clear $80,000, then it's worth their time to risk releasing it.

In the UK, the film classification process means that to release a film here, you have to pay a certification fee - which is currently £76 just to submit a film, and then a per-minute fee of £6.14 - which means that a 90-minute film will cost the film distributor £755 (including VAT) and a two-hour-long film will cost you £976 - means that unless you're a relatively big distributor, it's going to cost you a rather big outlay just to get the film rated.  And we've not even considered all the potential problems classification might incur, e.g cuts to the film, to comply with UK laws, or cuts to gain a more financially-lucrative rating.  Then, if you do get your film classified, you've got to manufacture it, produce advertising/promotional material for it, and then get it sold in stores like HMV or Fopp, or via Amazon, and they'll want to give you as little cash as possible to do so.

Thus, if you retail your film at £9.99 (the usual retail price for most DVD's these days), you can expect HMV or Amazon to only be willing to pay you £5-£6 per copy.  If one of them, then wants to undercut the opposition, and sell it for £7.99 in the first week or month of release, you may end up with nothing more than £3-£4 per sale.  If your £3 title then sells, say 5000 copies, you'll make £15,000, and for some of the very niche, rare, or low-budget releases, that's a realistic figure.  Suddenly that near-£1000 BBFC Classification fee has taken 1/15th of your profit already. Take off the advertising, cost of stock, cost of staff (even if you're a one-man-band), and suddenly your £7.99 is making you around £2 per sale!

Just as an example, I've spoken to UK anime distributors.  Some of their big titles like AKIRA (1988, Katsuhiro Otomo) or GHOST IN THE SHELL (1995, Mamoru Oshii) might sell 40,000 or 50,000 copies in a year.  They will continue to sell again, when reissued with new prints, new extras, or in new formats (like 4k Ultra HD Blu-Ray).  Take a very niche title like THE SENSUALIST (1991, Yukio Abe) and you may clear 200 copies, if you're lucky, in one year.  Yes, two hundred sales in 12 months of being on-sale.

How can any distributor risk releasing niche or cult titles, unless sales can be guaranteed or driven upwards?

I've talked many times before about Arrow Video.  Sales of their Argento or Bava titles will be in the many tens of thousands, or even low hundreds of thousands.  But sales of something like their Herschell Gordon Lewis set, may be in the low thousands, and may not even break the 5000 mark.

Now, if you are Arrow, that's okay, because you risk the big-hitters that help you release the more niche titles.  One balances the other.  But what happens if all of your titles are niche, untested, and obscure titles that simply haven't been released before, and can never sell in large numbers?  What happens, if your titles are in a foreign-language with English Subs? Expect your sales to be even lower.

So the horror industry then has to deal with only stuff that is likely to sell in big numbers.   Anything too niche, too obscure, no matter how great it may be as a film, simply can't be risked.  There's been a rise in smaller, independent companies in the horror field, here in the UK.  Shameless, Screenbound Entertainment and Indicator are niche companies releasing niche horror titles.  Some of their titles are worthy of release.  Many, are not.

I know I'm going to sound like some miserable old curmudgeon when I post this message to my blog, but I've really just become tired of the genre.  I want to love it.  I want to see more of the great works that populated horror in the 1970's, 80's and even 90's.  But I am sick-and-tired of watching so much pedestrian bullshit, that is missold to me via trailers and poster artwork proclaiming a film to be the next big thing, and then when I spend my hard-earned money, I end-up with a film that is frankly total bollocks from beginning to end.

Is it just me, or are any of you similarly feeling this fed-up with the genre?

Post me a message.  Give me some titles that you think are worthy of my time and money.  But right now, I've had it with horror.  I wish things hadn't gotten this bad, I really do, but I don't know how much longer I can continue watching so much garbage.

It's all becoming very tiring.

For the record:  I'm NOT retiring this blog, just yet.  I want to keep at it.  I want to continue to post stuff about the horror industry, but right now, my heart has just become so fed-up with it all, that I'm really struggling to find anything worth posting about.

Surely this isn't right, is it?

Saturday, 4 February 2017


Welcome Back, One And All,

It's 2017, the World is slowly going to hell what with Brexit and Donald Trump filling our newspapers and social-media feeds every day, and whilst I've not updated this blog in a fair while, I can only offer my apologies - for the lack of updates, at least.  My MA degree is consuming most of my time, and that has to take priority above anything else.

For now, though, let me get on with posting this review of one of the best genre releases I've ever seen.

THE KILLING OF AMERICA (aka VIOLENCE, U.S.A.) is an infamous Mondo movie, and is notorious for being banned in the USA since its initial release, way back in 1980.  Thanks to Severin Films, it has now been remastered in HD, for both US and UK Blu-Ray, and it is the latter that I will be reviewing today.

This shocking and utterly rivetting polemical, is a raw and harrowing insight into US gun crime, as well as the people who commit such heinous acts.  Intended for a Japanese audience, director Sheldon Renan and writers Chieko and Leonard Schrader have crafted one of the finest documentaries I've watched in a long, long time.

Starting-off with footage of an unnamed African-American man, being shot by US police, the film discusses and debates the issue of why America suffers so much with gun crime, and why it loves its weaponry.  Covering many of the most well-known serial-killers and gun crimes over the past 20 years, via events like the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, via the Vietnam War, the Kent State University shootings in May 1970, and featuring interviews with John Wayne Gacy, Ed Bianchi, and the likes of Jim Jones, what features will upset, offend, and reach into you, in a way no other Mondo will. And for once, everything it features is 100% real, and genuine, with not a single "fake" attrocity featured.

In 95-minutes, the film covers a lot of material, and whilst it will shock many, it should shock you.  This is not a nicy, cosy, easy documentary.  Even now, watching it some 37 years on, it still has an authenticity to it, that is as powerful and resonant to what is happening in the USA today, as it was when the film was originally made.  In every sense, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Using unedited footage, culled from TV outlets around the globe, and often including material that was never originally broadcast - due to the material being extremely graphic or disturbing - you get a real insight into the whole concept of gun culture, Stateside.  Some of the statistics will repel you.  In the opening sequence, the commentary states:

"America is the only industrialised nation, with a higher murder rate, than countries with civil war. an attempted murder every three minutes. A murder victim every 20 minutes. Japan, England and West Germany, with a combined population equal to America, have 6000 murders a year.  America has 27,000.  Bodies, and more bodies, all-day, everyday!"

Even if you are pro-gun, this film should open your eyes to the senseless deaths of gun users, owners, and the victims.  A gun is not a self-defense tool.  It is a weapon, that will kill and harm anyone and everyone it meets, without discrimination.  Yet, millions of Americans endorse the Second Amendment, and believe that they have the right to bear arms, and that anyone or any government who attempts to control or overturn that right, is immediately seen as "the enemy".  Sadly, the USA continues to wallow in gun-deaths.  In 2017 alone, until 3rd February, there have been 404 deaths caused directly by gun usage or gun-ownership - be that civilian, criminal or the police.  That's roughly 100 people dying every day, every week, or more than 14 people every single day.  At this rate, more than 52,000 people will die this year alone.  The figures have doubled since the documentary was made!

Considering the unflattering nature of the statistics, as well as the material featured in THE KILLING OF AMERICA, it is hardly surprising the USA did not want its citizens to access this.  Outside of a few initial screenings in New York, the film has been banned until October 2016 when Severin Films finally decided to remaster and release it on DVD and Blu-Ray, in a truly sumptuous version.

The UK and US Blu-Ray's are identical in terms of content.  The UK release is Region B, and the US release appears to be Region A. So choose carefully, which one is best for you, before purchasing it.  Although the film is made-up predominantly of VHS and Betacam material, this is never going to look amazing.  However, Severin have done an amazing job, and I have to admit, that the image is far clearer than we should have any right to expect of it.  Presented in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio that it was filmed in, and is none the worse for doing so.  The sound is in English mono only, and sounds decent enough, considering the source material.  Bear in mind that the vast majority of audio is taken from old TV broadcast tapes, often shot on-the-hoof, and often edited, cut, censored and then re-edited, re-cut, and re-censored by different areas of the globe.  As such, it won't be crystal clear, and sound amazing.  There are occasional moments where dialogue can be hard to hear, due to the original source materials being of mixed quality.  However, the Blu-Ray's feature full English Subtitles, for anyone who wishes to access them, and they are all decent and error-free.  I would recommend watching the film with the Subtitles on, so that you can really get to hear everything, for the first time.  You can always switch them off, if you feel like it.

But what makes this an exceptional release, is that the rarely-seen, and even more brutalising Japanese version of the film, is included, also remastered in HD.  Running some 30-minutes longer than the US version, this is a completely alternate version of the film, with new material, different editing and pacing, and even more repugnant material, including scenes of real autopsies.  Be warned, if the US version is shocking, the Japanese version is positively grotesque, and may actually turn many viewers off.  However, both versions need to be seen, and both should be treated as two very different films.  Footage is shown in a different sequence.  Some scenes are extended, some shortened, and some omitted altogether.  The Japanese narration also adds a very peculiar tone to this edition.  If I'm honest, I find the Japanese version a little too dark, and a little too extreme.  Some of the points, it labours, and it's a less powerful and much more unfocussed version.  But, it's still worth a watch at least once, for novelty's sake!

On top of this, you also get some decent extras as well: a full-length audio-commentary on the US version of the film, by Sheldon Renan; a 20-minutes interview with Mr Renan; a 15-minute interview with the film's editor Lee Percy, plus an additional featurette with Mondo historian Nick Pinkerton.

Altogether, this is an exceptional package, and a Highly Recommended film that should be in every horror film fans library!  I cannot recommend this film enough!  Watch it, learn from it, and be appalled by it too! One of the finest releases in recent years, and probably my favourite release of 2016.  The US release is Unrated, but is absolutely NC-17 in terms of content.  The UK release is classified 18 by the BBFC, and fully deserves that rating!  Both releases are completely uncut and uncensored, and absolutely identical, except the region-coding, and minor artwork differences on the disc and case art.  You will not regret seeing this film, so please, go buy it, and be prepared for something absolutely jaw-dropping that will shock and educate as well as appal you in equal amounts.  If this doesn't shock you, then I don't know what will.