What The Hell Is Chris Watching Now? – Belladonna Of Sadness (1973)

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A couple of years back, I started doing the “HoopTober Challenge” created by user Cinemonster over on Letterboxd because I love horror (obviously), making film lists, and being challenged to watch new stuff. During that time, there was one film that popped up on numerous lists in the category of “Films From Another Country”: 1973’s Belladonna Of Sadness. Given the fact that I’m also doing the “Horror x52 Challenge” and the “Birth Year Challenge”, both created by user kynky, waiting until now to watch it helped me kill two birds with one screening.

Belladonna Of Sadness (aka Kanashimi no Belladonna; La Sorciere, Tragedy of Belladonna, or Belladonna) is an animated Japanese production written by Yoshiyuki Fukuda and
Eiichi Yamamoto, and directed by Yamamoto, based on Satanism and Witchcraft by Jules Michelet. It tells the tale of young Jeanne and Jean, lovers preparing to wed in medieval France. Seeking the approval of the local Baron on their wedding night, the Baron instead demands a tax from Jean that he knows cannot be paid. Going beyond claiming “prima nocta”, the Baroness encourages her husband to share Jeanne with the entire court.

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Follow this, Jeanne vows her revenge, and in doing so sows the seeds to allow the devil in. Jeanne rises within stature and wealth within the village only to be struck down by the envious villagers and the wicked Baroness. When she has hit rock bottom after being cast out of the village, the devil manifests in his full power and seals the pact with Jeanne that brings her into her full powers as well.

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For the rest of the story, I encourage you to go watch this for yourselves, Fright Fans. This film is visually stunning and quite beautiful at times with the primary use of water colors for the animation. Most of the animation is actually camera pans across still paintings, but you let that go as the story draws you in as you cheer for Jeanne to gain her vengeance. The score by Masahiko Satoh is dead-on jazzy 70’s but not to the point of being obnoxious and fits perfectly.

The obscurity of this film is one of the reasons I picked it for this post, but there are some definite WTF?!? moments within it as well, dear readers. The animation depicting Jeanne’s rape is visually shocking in the way that it combines symbolism with the literalness of this violent assault. There is also nudity and fairly graphic sex many times throughout the film, including the devil looking (and acting) very phallic whenever he appears, growing larger with each appearance. And at about the 19 minute mark, I think I witnessed the birth of tentacle hentai when Jeanne’s torn dress kind comes to life.

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But the capper for the sex scenes? Well the orgiastic magical rites that Jeanne enacts with the villagers, of course. I’ve been mulling over how to best describe these scenes for the last day or so, and here’s the best I can come up with: Picture Yellow Submarine and The Electric Company (yes, the 70’s kids show with Morgan Freeman and Rita Moreno) dropped acid with shrooms and formed the largest gang-bang daisy chain you’ve ever seen. … You want to go watch it now, don’tcha? Wait! I left out the bit that looked like someone giving a shocker to a greyhound. Don’t worry. You can’t miss it.

The witchcraft, possession, murder, and devils make this an amazing Asian art-house entry into the sub-genre of animated horror, and I highly recommend watching this wherever you can. It’s currently up on Shudder and has been played on Turner Classic Movies “Underground” block on Saturday nights in the past. Let me know what you think when you do. It does cast quite the spell on a viewer.

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[Film Review] Cold Skin

by Joe Meyers

COLD SKIN

Not Rated – 1 hour 48 minutes – Release Date: September 7, 2018 (USA)

Directed by: Xavier Gens

Written By: Jesús Olmo and Eron Sheean (screenplay)
Based on the novel, of the same name, by Albert Sánchez Piñol

Starring:
Ray Stevenson as Gruner
David Oakes as “Friend”
Aura Garrido as Aneris
In 1914, a man named “Friend” (David Oakes) arrives at a remote island in the Antarctic Circle to replace a meteorologist, who died of typhus. The only other person living on the island is Gruner (Ray Stevenson), the lighthouse caretaker. Friend’s first night on the island proves eventful, as he discovers typhus may not have been what killed his predecessor, Gruner is keeping secrets from him, and they’re not alone on the island. *Mild spoilers will be contained beyond this point*

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I actually saw COLD SKIN at Monsterpalooza back in April, but I wanted to hold off on writing a review until we got closer to its release date. I also wanted to have time to clarify my thoughts on the film. Some are comparing this film to Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar winning THE SHAPE OF WATER. I guess that makes sense in a “barely scratching the surface” sort of way. Both films do contain humanoid amphibious creatures, but they couldn’t be more different. The comparison really does a disservice to Xavier Gens’ COLD SKIN. If you’ve seen the same being said, don’t let it cloud your expectations for the film.

The story premise is great, and what I will say first and foremost about the film is that it made me want to read the novel, however I found the script to be lacking. It does start with a bang, and Friend’s first night on the island is tense and enthralling. We learn of the creatures’ existence as he does, so the viewer is caught up in his surprise, panic, and invested in his survival. I think that set up is what deflates the middle section of the film for me. Large parts of what comes after feels overly repetitive, and dull. That includes several scenes of the creatures trying to storm the lighthouse, which should be as terrifying as Friend’s first night. Sadly, they lacked the tension and sense of dread that was present for the initial attack Friend survived.

What this film does have going for it is Aura Garrido’s turn as the creature named Aneris. Her performance under makeup effects was memorizing, exceptional, and heartbreaking. The creature design by Arturo Balseiro and the makeup effects by Cesar Alonso were absolutely wonderful. Aneris looked amazing, and Garrido was able to convey emotion beautifully via expression through the makeup. David Oakes did a fine job for what he was given, but I thought Ray Stevenson was the most underserved by the script. I generally enjoy him in everything I see him in, but his character was flat and one-note for the majority of the movie.

While I found the middle of the film frustrating the ending was amazing. So, I can say it began and finished strongly. On top of that Cinematographer Daniel Aranyó turns in some haunting and dreary visuals. However, that isn’t enough for me to recommend this as a cinema viewing or even a V.O.D. option to a general audience. There is enough there to recommend a watch via streaming platform or cable, once it becomes available, if you’re looking for something a bit different. I respect what all involved attempted to do, but ultimately COLD SKIN didn’t come together as I had hoped it would.

 

[Film Review] The Night Eats The World (La nuit a dévoré le monde)

By: Joe Meyers

THE NIGHT EATS THE WORLD

Not Rated – 1 hour and 33 Minutes – Release Date: July 13, 2018 (USA)

Directed by: Dominique Rocher

Written by: Jérémie Guez, Guillaume Lemans, and Dominique Rocher
Based on the novel, “La nuit a devore le monde”, by Pit Agarmen

Cast

Anders Danielsen Lie as Sam
Golshifteh Farahani as Sarah
Denis Lavant as Alfred
Sigrid Bouaziz as Fanny
David Kammenos as Mathieu

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THE NIGHT EATS THE WORLD opens with Sam (Anders Danielsen Lie) attempting to pick up his box of remaining belongings from his ex-girlfriend during a party at her place in Paris. He ends up locking himself in the study, and falls asleep while waiting on her to come talk to him. The next day Sam awakens to an empty, blood splattered apartment, and he quickly learns there’s been a zombie outbreak.

The rest of the film explores how Sam stays alive as the world around him seems dead and gone. This reminded me of a cross between CASTAWAY and IT COMES AT NIGHT. While there is a bit of action here and there, this entry into the zombie genre is way more concerned with delving into the human condition, and contemplating the meaning of life. To say it’s a slow burn is an understatement, but I found the movie fascinating and Anders Danielsen Lie’s performance kept my attention the whole way through. Dominique Rocher shows great promise based off his first effort directing a feature length film.

This won’t be for everyone (it’s currently at 76% on Rotten Tomatoes, but only at 44% for the audience rating, and at 50% on Metacritic) like most recent, atmospheric and introspective horror films have been. I specifically mentioned IT COMES AT NIGHT earlier because this film has that same, plodding tone and feel. If that sounds like it would bore you to death, I’d advise you skip this movie for a ride on TRAIN TO BUSAN for your next zombie fix. If THE NIGHT EATS THE WORLD sounds like it might been in your wheelhouse, I do recommend it for a viewing. It’s, without question, not your typical zombie fare and I appreciate that more than I can convey here.

 

 

[Film Review] PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH

by Joe Meyers

PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH

Not Rated – 1 hour 30 minutes – Release Date: May 17, 2018 (in cinemas and VOD)

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Directed by Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund
Written by S. Craig Zahler
Based on characters created by Charles Band and Kenneth J. Hall

Starring:
Thomas Lennon as Edgar
Jenny Pellicer as Ashley
Nelson Franklin as Markowitz
Barbara Crampton as Carol Doreski
Michael Paré as Detective Brown
Charlyne Yi as Nerissa
Udo Kier as Andre Toulon
Anne Beyer as Hedwig Wagner
Alex Beh as Howie
Skeeta Jenkins as Cuddly Bear

I have fond memories of Charles Band and David Schmoeller’s 1989 cult classic PUPPET MASTER, so I was excited when I heard that PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH was rebooting the franchise. That phrase makes some people’s blood run cold, but fear not. The deal in place allows the original franchise to continue on while this film is the beginning of a whole new, and separate franchise. Think of it as a Puppet Master series beamed in from an alternate universe. Last night I attended the Los Angeles premiere of PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH at the American Cinematheque Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, and it pleases me to say the film is a horror fan’s dream.

The plot revolves around Edgar, a newly divorced comic book writer and artist played by Thomas Lennon, who is forced to temporally move in with his parents. While going through his deceased brother’s room he runs across a strange puppet. Research reveals it’s a collector’s item because it was made by Andre Toulon, played by the always great Udo Kier, an infamous murder killed thirty year prior. It turns out the 30th anniversary of Toulon’s death at the hands of the police and the discovery of his murders is coming up. A huge convention is planned, also containing an auction, and down on his luck Edgar decides to take a road trip to sell the puppet. Of course, evil plans have other ideas and all of the Toulon puppets come to life and wreak havoc of the convention attendees.

The script was by S. Craig Zahler (BONE TOMAKAWK and CELL BLOCK 99) was so well balanced. There were bits of pure horror woven in with character moments, and some great comedic bits, while never feeling cheesy or tongue in cheek in any way. Additionally the directing by Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund was stellar. From what producer Dallas Sonnier, and co-producer Amanda Presmyk said in the post-screening Q&A this really was a labor of love from all involved with putting the film together because nearly all of them were huge fans of the original PUPPET MASTER.

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The cast was amazing across the board. Thomas Lennon played Edgar with a real world earnestness that was great to see. Jenny Pellicer as Ashely, in her first horror film role ever, nailed a perfect balance in the co-lead as Edgar’s girlfriend. She’s smart, funny, quirky, cool, and totally badass. The other main character is Markowitz, played by Nelson Franklin. He’s the wise-ass friend, and boss, of Edgar who manages to not just be a snarky punchline machine. The before mentioned Udo Kier is joined by fellow legend Barbara Crampton, playing Carol Doreski, the retired officer who helped take Andre Toulon down thirty years ago. Michael Paré, playing Detective Brown who is investigating all of the sudden murders at the convention hotel chews the scenery in the best way possible. Cuddly Bear, the scene stealing character played by Skeeta Jenkins, shows up around the mid-point of the movie and is my favorite in the film.

Tate Steinsiek, the creature and puppet designer and special effects coordinator, and his crew deserve all the praise in the world. They did an incredible job with all the practical effects and the puppet redesigns were outstanding. It really is breath taking what they were able to accomplish on a low-budget. There were two kill scenes in particular that were mind-blowing, and stuff I’ve never seen done in all my years of being a horror fan. I promise you’ll know which two I’m speaking of, and I’m positive everyone else will be talking about them once they see the movie.

This is a perfect example of a film to see with a crowd. So, either catch it at the cinema or buy it on VOD gather fellow horror loving friends and family to watch. Order some pizza, have a few beers, stock up on chips and dips and have a fun night. Watching PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH brought back great memories of being in middle school, renting a ton of horror movies from the local mom and pop video store and spending the weekend hanging out with friends watching them over a Friday and Saturday night. I truly enjoyed this movie, recommend it, and look forward to buying it this Friday so I can watch it again. Also, stay/watch through the credits!

PMTLR2Post-Q&A photo with panel moderator Jonah Ray, stars Udo Kier, Thomas Lennon, Nelson Franklin, Jenny Pellicer, co-producer Amanda Presmyk, and producer Dallas Sonnier

What The Hell Is Chris Watching Now? – Alien Contamination (1980)

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Pop quiz: What do you get when you borrow from Lucio Fulci, Ridley Scott, and Cronenberg and use Columbian drug money to help finance it? That’s right, Fright Fans! You get this sci-fi horror production, Alien Contamination (aka Contamination).

Following his success of the 1978 “space opera”Starcrash, Luigi Cozzi wanted to stay in the realm of sci-fi for his next film. After seeing Ridley Scott’s legendary classic, Alien, Cozzi decided he wanted to make pretty much his own version but on a fraction of the budget. Keeping the eggs, the acid, and an alien creature, but keeping the setting to just Earth, Cozzi was underway. Shot in just 8 weeks with locations in Rome, New York City, Florida, and Columbia (we’ll get back to that one), Cozzi had his film.

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“Da suits! Day do nothing!!!”

Now granted, also because of the budget, the big alien creature wasn’t stop motion and was animatronic instead, the creature wasn’t what Cozzi wanted. As the viewer, you only get to see random quick, poorly lit shots of the entire creature. But by that point you don’t really care.

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This is where the Cronenberg influence comes in. The acid from the eggs? Well, it’s actually spores released by the eggs when they are in a hot and moist environment. When the spores explode from the eggs, anyone that is splattered by the eggs also explodes!!! In a few of the shots, you get the impression that Cozzi spent a good chunk of the budget on the sternal and gut explosions that happen several times throughout the film. Some are slightly laughable but others are fairly impressive. The graphic nature and slow motion filming of the bodily explosions actually earned Alien Contamination a spot on the “Video Nasties” list for excessive blood and gore.

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Crap. I just realized I hadn’t even mentioned an important thing: the plot! A derelict cargo ship coming into the harbor in New York City doesn’t answer any hails. Upon searching the boat, the harbor patrol, a scientist, and a cop find a few dead bodies and a curious collection of pulsating eggs, that look like footballs made from alligator hide, in the boiler room by some steam pipes. Now remember what I said makes the eggs go boom? Yep. Welcome to the game, Victim #1!!!

Bring in more scientists and more government agencies, and we learn the eggs came from space (dun-dun-DAH!) when two astronauts (one played by Ian McCulloch of Zombi fame) returned to Earth. Someone has been hiding and producing more eggs on a Columbian coffee plantation for their own nefarious plots (or are they??) for world domination!

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Talk about “walking on eggshells”!

Okay. All the Columbian stuff? Yes, this film was partially financed with Columbian drug money. Hell, a couple of the gunmen that greet the cop and the scientist at the plantation probably weren’t even actors and provided their own guns! Cozzi did say that the drug smugglers where pleased when the film turned a profit on their investment, though.

In the end . . . oh yeah. The ending. This hits the Fulci influence home for me. With the derelict ship floating into the harbor and an ending shot showing NYC again and a potential threat within it, I thought I was watching Zombi again. Seriously, fright fans, this is not a great movie by any means, but it was fun to watch it for what it is. Watch it with friends, have a few laughs, and be surprised by the bodies going *BOOM*.

Trailer for “Contamination”