Thursday, September 30, 2010

Top 10 Favorite Asian Horror Films

Well, holy hot damn, y'all. Color me gore-soaked! It is September 30th, the last day of Asian horror month here at Cinema Somnambulist. 30 days are NOT ENOUGH to cover all of the splendors of the eastern world, let me tell you. The best thing about this month was getting to all those unseen titles that I have been putting off for one reason or another. The other best thing is the weirdness is settling in. I have just been just a little off since the first week of The INVASIAN. I feel strange and that is very good. For some reason, I’ve been having more vivid dreams this month as well as some totally insane nightmares. I have no choice but to blame my cinematic diet this month (or those York Peppermint Pieces).

So yeah, ANYWAY, I was inspired by Aaron's (of The Death Rattle) rad post of his top 5 Asian horror films to make my own list. Copy cat! I'm going to go for 10 because it is impossible for me to narrow it down to just 5 titles.

#10 The Stewardess

This comedy horror film about a lecherous moron who cheats on his flight attendant girlfriend with another (hotter) flight attendant who turns out to be a murderous psychopath is a dang riot. The film has a little gore but the scenes are so cheap, that it feels almost blood free. What’s more important is the quirky vibe this one has. Its broad slapstick will appeal to just about anyone and it’s political incorrectness will please anyone who is even remotely aware of the racial tensions between China and Japan. Add in a gang of moronic Triads, a lot of slow motion, and comedic actor Sam Lee (of Biozombie), and you’ve got yourself a party. The Stewardess is oh so wrong and it’s all oh so right.

Full review here.

#09 The Red Shoes

In a genre flooded with generic bullshit and tired, formulaic plots, a film comes along that stays well within the acceptable plot constraints of what Asian horror came to be known for in the millennium –long haired ghosts with greenish skin and impossibe body contortions – but what it does with those same elements feels very different. What makes The Red Shoes special is that it takes the cursed item bit that Ringu, One Missed Call, Ju-on, and countless other films have done and runs it through an overdrive pedal and a Marshall stack. Everything about The Red Shoes is amped the fuck up. When you think you’ve seen it all, turn this movie up really loud one night and see if you see what I’m talking about. While it ain't exactly original, I have to give props to The Red Shoes for trying too hard and succeeding.

#08 Pulse AKA Kairo

I’ll never forget getting my cheapo copy of Kairo on VCD from eBay and watching it alone one night. I looked down and my pants were gone. They had been scared off of me and haven’t returned since. And that was my last pair of pants. Some people have told me they don’t think this movie is scary or they don’t get it. If this movie doesn’t get to you, even just a little bit, I don’t know what to tell you. What I love about Kairo is that it has one of the most important things that continues to scare me to this day: the thing that should not be. A character turns around and sees something impossible. It doesn’t jump at the screen and it doesn’t require a blast of nu-metal or some hyper editing to get your attention. The thing that should not be is there and it is not in a hurry to get you. It slowly makes its way across the room because it knows that it’s too late. You’re done for.

#07 The Heroic Trio

The Heroic Trio seems like more of an action flick but trust me, the horror elements are there. I have no idea where director Johnny To was going with this one but I’m glad he went there (wherever that is). Three lovely heroes played by Michelle Yeoh, Maggie Cheung, and Anita Mui are trying to stop a supernatural force from sacrificing babies (one of which will grow up to be the next emperor). This movie is just so bizarre and so unlike anything I’d ever seen before that it forced my mind to open up to all the freaky deaky that is Hong Kong cinema. Also, The Heoric Trio is so melodramatic that its syrupiness has its own atomic number (I don’t think I know what atomic numbers are.) and it has many, many plot threads going on at once. The breakneck pace guarantees a second or third viewing to catch all of the insanity. Highly, highly recommended.

#06 One Missed Call

Leave it to Takashi Miike (Japan’s gift to the world of extreme cinema) to make one of the best films of the “cursed item” genre. This time, it’s a phone call that you DO NOT want to receive. One Missed Call is a very interesting flick. It shows us an ultra modern world where everything seems safe and normal but lurking just around the corner are ghosts, especially angry ghosts, who still inhabit that world. Oh and these ghosts will fucking kill you. Themes of child abuse, neglect, and an ending that will definitely leave you scratching your head (even if it is twisted around backwards) are all contained in this excellent film that gets better with every viewing.

#05 Suicide Club AKA Suicide Circle

The only thing keeping this film so low on the list is its ending. What can I say? Suicide Club has a confounding and artsy ending that defies expectations (which is good) and doesn’t really deliver what the rest of the film has been building up to (which is less good). Enough whining! What you need to know about this movie is that when I watched it, I felt as though Asian horror had suddenly changed forever. It felt like horror movies were important again. Some folks tried to tell me that Battle Royale gave them the same feeling but for my money, this delirious bloodbath got under my flayed skin and stayed there.

(Had to do a screenshot. This movie has the worst poster/DVD art ever.)

#04 Mr. Vampire

I can’t believe I’m doing this. Somehow, Spooky Encounters starring the amazing Sammo Hung got knocked off this list by Mr. Vampire. I felt like I had to choose one kung-fu horror flick so I went with this one. If I made this list tomorrow, I’d probably do the opposite. There’s just something magical about Mr. Vampire. It makes me laugh really hard every time I watch it and there’s a lot to love about this splendorous film. Despite some its cheap make-up and cheesy effects, this kung-fu horror comedy flick is a classic thanks to its bevy of amazing stunts, big laughs, and a final showdown of epic proportions. Mr. Vampire is followed by an army of dry sequels and unworthy imitators. I can't really recommend any of the ones I've seen.

#03 Tomie: Replay

There are a whole bunch of Tomie movies. In fact, I just heard that the ninth in the series is being filmed right now. Tomie: Replay is not the best one. However, it is my favorite one. If you’ve never seen a Tomie film, don’t start with this one. I just really love the hospital setting and the sheer insanity of this flick. While Takashi Shimizu’s Tomie: Re-birth is the best of the series, Tomie: Replay wins my heart because it feels like a bad dream from start to finish. If you’re looking for something with a freaky mood, an unpredictable storyline, and horrific imagery, then check this out.

More about this here.

#02 Ichi the Killer

Ichi the Killer is one of the sickest films ever made but under the gore and the weirdness, there is a great deal of thought and imagination behind it all. Take a typical yakuza film plot and throw in hypnotism (I can’t stress how important this ingredient is), psychosexual trauma, sadomasochism, and enough blood to flood a small city, and you’ve got this film. The first time I saw Takashi Miike’s splatter classic, I was sick with the flu. Some friends stopped by and one of them was repulsed by what I was watching. He asked me to please turn the movie off. Through my feverish haze, I smiled at him and said, “No.” My friends left soon after that and I was left alone in my happy stupor. For gorehounds, Ichi the Killer is totally essential because it’s funny, disgusting, deeply sad, and smart.

#01 House AKA Hausu

I was in a rut. I wasn’t in one of those moods where I felt like I’d seen everything good there was to see (I’m not that stupid). No, I felt like all the movies I wanted to see were just beyond my grasp. It was either shell out $20 or more for bootlegs or just forget it. Then I was checking IFC’s schedule as I usually did every week to see if there was anything I wanted to record. And there it was: House. Not that friggin’ limping doctor show! House from 1977, a movie I had been reading about for years but had never been able to track down. And IF-fuckin’-C was just playing it out of the blue. I freaked out. I set my DVD recorder to record this fine flick and then told anyone who would listen to be sure NOT to miss this movie.

A few days later, the alarm went off and jumped out of bed to finalize the DVD-R of House. Sure enough, it was there. Work that day was agony. All I wanted to do was go home and watch the movie. When I finally did get home that afternoon, my wife and I sat down to watch what has become my favorite Asian horror film of all time. I lost track of how many times I had to push my eyes back into my dang head during this trippy, dreamy, riotous, and inexplicably wonderful masterpiece of weirdness. The Criterion DVD comes out this October. Buy it. Buy it. Buy it. Buy it.

More about this here.

Honorable Mentions and Runner-Ups

A Tale of Two Sisters
A Chinese Ghost Story
Eko Eko Azarak: Wizard of Darkness
Witch Board Bunshinsaba
Mermaid in a Manhole
Sick Nurses
Dark Water
Lao Mao AKA The Cat

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Mystics in Bali

Mystics in Bali
Directed by H. Tjut Djalil
Released: 1981
Starring Ilona Agathe Bastian, Yos Santo, Sofia W.D., W.D. Mochtar, Debbie Cinthya Dewi
Running Time: 86 minutes
Country of Origin: Indonesia

Cathy (played by Ilona Agathe Bastian) wants to learn Leak (pronounced “lee-ack”) magic for her book on black magic. Her boyfriend Mahendra (played by Yos Santo) introduces Cathy to the Leak Queen (Sofia W.D.) who begins to teach Cathy the ways of Leak. Mahendra starts to worry about his girlfriend so he approaches his uncle Machesse (W.D. Mochtar), a white magic mystic who can has the skillz to counteract the evil queen’s powers. Once Cathy is well versed in Leak magic, the Leak Queen uses her to suck blood from unborn babies so that she can achieve immortality. Mahendra and Machesse step in to challenge the Leak Queen before Cathy becomes her slave forever.

First things first, don’t watch Mystics in Bali alone. For the rough spots full of meandering, hilariously dubbed characters speaking outrageously stupid dialog, you will need a friend or three to lend their heckling support. The other reason you’re going to want someone else around while you’re digging on this Indonesian freakout is that you will feel, with some intensity, an urge to show Mystics in Bali to somebody, anybody, just so you’ll know that something this insane really exists. Did you eat a Buffalo chicken sandwich with sweet potato fries dipped in wasabi mayonnaise too soon before taking nap or did you actually just witness this film in real life? You will need confirmation, trust me.

Director Djalil is known for some pretty outlandish films like Lady Terminator and Dangerous Seductress. One of the things he’s not known for is a cohesive story and interesting characters. Performance wise, most of the cast of Mystics in Bali are terrible but the dubbing is so bad that it hardly matters anyway. Take, for example, Ilona Agathe Bastian. She is not charismatic at all and is actually rather homely. Not that an attractive woman would have done any better in the role but jeez, there are some scenes that require at least a baseline level of sexiness. At least prolific actress Sofia W.D. shoots it out of the park with her insane portrayal of the blood-drinking and jewel-licking Leak Queen.

Mystics in Bali is grotesque, macabre, wildly funny (thanks mostly to the script*), and just plain nuts. Oh and it’s confusing too but the film is dumb that it will make you feel embarrassed for being confused. Any movie that feels a little slow at less than 90 minutes and also introduces new characters DURING THE CLIMAX has got some problems. And yet, it’s all worth it if you like schlocky foreign cinema. The silly synth-driven music score, disturbing transformations sequences, flying heads with guts hanging from the neck-hole, talking fireballs, and dubious special video effects, will warm your cold, lifeless heart. So make sure you and your drunken friends check out this mesmerizingly weird film. You will/won’t be sorry/glad you did.

*My favorite moment in the movie happens right after Cathy pukes some green stuff and a couple of very confused, and very much alive, white mice. She talks about how she dreamed that she was at a banquet eating strange food. Mahendra suggests that perhaps she just ate something that upset her stomach! Trust me, every time I swallow live frickin’ mice, I feel a little funny in my tummy too.


“Mm, delicious! This is good blood!”

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Takashi Shimizu

When the American remake of Ju-on came out, I really wanted to like it for some reason. It could be my inexplicable love of Sarah Michelle Gellar (even though I'm not a fan of Buffy in the least). Whatever the reason, I was pretty freakin' pumped when I saw The Grudge the same night I saw the first Saw film. Looking back, it was not a good night for horror. If I'd had a blog back then or Doomed Moviethon had been born a year earlier, I would have given the Ju-on remake a positive review and skewered Saw for its glaring faults (which I'll probably talk about some other time). Now I can't even watch the American Grudge or its sequels without feeling embarrassed.

After re-revisiting the original film and its sequel, I have to say that there is no excuse for me ever liking the remakes. Granted, the Sam Raimi produced versions are not the worst remakes of Asian horror films by any means but the magic of the originals cannot be recaptured, even with the same director, Takashi Shimizu, on board. Now there are some good moments in The Grudge and The Grudge 2 and even some striking visuals but the films almost feel like parodies. Some of the scares are telegraphed and dumbed down for American audiences. That's bad, okay. I've never seen The Grudge 3 but the trailers are laughable.

(Wait a second, why is the American DVD artwork for Ju-on 2 better than the Japanese?)

What's interesting about the first theatrically released Ju-on film is that Takashi Shimizu either takes for granted that everyone has seen the original movies he made that went straight to video or he is simply experimenting with how to reveal the double murder (triple if you include the cat) and suicide that started the curse in the first place. In the 2003 film, the flashbacks are shown in such an abstract manner that you have to use your imagination to fill in the blanks but technically, it's all there. One of the best things about Ju-on and Ju-on 2 is their chapter-like structure. It is fun to put these things together like in your brain.

I've seen the original made for home video films (released in 2000) and they are amazing. The shot-on-video feel adds to the scares immensely. The films feel even more disturbing than their theatrical counterpart. Now that the whole found footage genre is kind of exploding, it is getting harder to appreciate or explain what makes these little cheapies so special.

Shimizu is definitely more hit than miss. He directed what is probably the best (though not my favorite) of the Tomie series, Tomie: Re-birth. It is one of those films that despite its formulaic origins, it goes off on even more disturbing and unique tangents. It features some of the most iconic scenes of the entire series like a mother and her son bonding while they are chopping up Tomie's body with a meat cleaver. It's bizarrely heart-warming and lovely in its gruesomeness.

I was not overwhelmed by Shimizu's 2005 film, Reincarnation, but I know that I need to give it a second look because it felt at the time I watched it like it would grow on me. Marebito is an excellent yet slowly paced film filled with dread and packed with more dark and freaky ideas than scares. It's definitely worth a look. As for his American remakes, they aren't terrible really, I just wish he'd had a chance to make something totally different for American audiences instead of adapting the older material.

Though he has directed a few things outside of the genre, Shimizu continues to work in the horror genre. He has made two 3D horror films, one of which has not come out here in the States and a second one that is still in post-production. These will probably be disappointing on DVD when they finally come out over here if only because 3D doesn't translate so well when it finally hits home video. Hopefully, the stories to these films will be good enough that it won't matter. As for the Ju-on series, I recommend watching the original home video movies if you can find them. I also recommend watching the theatrical films Ju-on and Ju-on 2 back to back. They work very well together even though the second film is a little weaker than the first.

Some Ju-on screenshots

Some Ju-on 2 screenshots

Monday, September 27, 2010


AKA Hell,The Sinners of Hell
Directed by Nobuo Nakagawa
Released: 1960
Starring Shigeru Amachi, Utako Mitsuya, Yochi Numata, Hiroshi Hayashi, Jun Otomo
Running Time: 101 minutes
Country of Origin: Japan

[There are some minor spoilers in this review that I don't believe will affect your enjoyment of this film. Honestly, I’d rather you go into this one completely blind and experience it for yourself. But hey, I’m a blogger! I got kids to feed? Wait. Who do I work for? Could it be… SATAN!??!! It’s not Satan. Satan isn’t this cruel.]

Shiro Shimizu (played by Shigeru Amachi) has got some real problems. While hanging out with his “friend” Tamura (Yoichi Numata) one night, he takes part in the hit and run of a gangster. This gangster’s mother (Kiyoko Tsuji) witnesses the crime and vows her revenge on both Tamura and Shiro (even though he wasn’t driving) with the aid of her son’s girlfriend Yoko (Akiko Ono). As if this weren’t bad enough, Shiro’s fiancée Yokiko (Utako Mitsuya) is killed in a taxi accident the night she was going to tell him something very important. While falling into Yoko and the gangster’s mom’s trap and shunned by his future in-laws, Shiro gets a letter from home that his mother is dying.

While his mother (played by Kimi Tokudaiji) lay dying in a cheap and corrupt rest home, Shiro’s father (Hiroshi Hayashi) is living in the next room with his mistress. Shiro meets Sachiko (Akiko Ono again), a girl who reminds him an awful lot of his dead fiancée and who he immediately has a crush on. She lives at the rest home with her drunken artist father who sells his paintings of hell to get by. Tamura shows up in town to cause more trouble for Shiro as does Yoko and the gangster’s mom. Someone serves some bad fish at the rest home’s tenth anniversary (plus there’s a bottle of poison sake going around) and next thing you know, pretty much every single character we’ve met up to this point goes straight to freakin’ hell.

But wait, there’s more! Now in hell, Shiro discovers some disturbing revelations about his family and is forced to face all of his earthly sins. Oh and Enma, the king of hell, is going to get his money’s worth torturing him for all eternity. In the underworld, Yoko reveals to Shiro that she was going to tell him she was pregnant the night she died and that their unborn child is trapped somewhere in hell. Our whiny miserable “hero” decides to get his shit together and go rescue their child so that she won’t suffer along with all the lost souls who totally deserve to be there. But will this young man’s will be enough to challenge the will of the king of hell? Wait, why is Sachiko in hell? She’s a nice girl? Oh man, why is there a river of pus and excrement? That’s just nasty! These questions and many more are answered in Jigoku!

What’s the most fun you could ever have going to hell? With legendary wacko director Nobuo Nakagawa’s 1960 film, Jigoku, you silly! The cacophonous and sensual opening credit sequence alone is enough to make this one of the strangest film about H-E-double hockey sticks. Jigoku is as much about the tortures of hell as it is about guilt and what spectacular failures human beings are. There’s also melodrama so overwrought and irony so ironic it’s almost too ironic for me to even be talking about it. Either way, I bet you haven’t seen anything quite like this before.

I’ve rarely enjoyed a movie that was this hard to sit through. Its two sections, the earthly plane and the world of hell, are both filled with agony and misery. The second half just has more screaming. The feeling of dread is excruciating as everything just keeps spinning out of control. Lives are wrecked and people just keep making stupid ass choices that land their butts on the griddle. The tortures awaiting them, though cheesily staged, are brutal. There’s a demon whose job it is to smash yer dang teeth in. Hey, it’s a living! The compositions by cinematographer Mamoru Morita are striking and the film’s wild score by the prolific Michiaki Watanbe is simply mind-blowing.

All of the actors are totally devoted to this piece of insanity. You know you’ve got an excellent cast when the viewer is willing to die and go to hell with them. And it takes a great actor to make an unpleasant character into a fascinating portrait and that is just what Shigeru Amachi does with Shiro. The funniest aspect of this character is how he is a magnet for women. Yukiko, Yoko, Sachiko, and even his father’s mistress, all go for this friggin’ guy.

However, for me, the shining star of Jigoku is Yoichi Numata (of Ringu). I think it was around the second time that Tamura materialized out of thin air that I realized this character had a little more up his sleeve than just a sleazy prankster. It is quite clear that this roguish gentleman is a catalyst for a sin, a mad soul from hell on an unholy mission, a total dickweed trying to make everyone suffer as much as he, etc. Numata’s performance is wildly over-the-top, spastic, and totally perfect.

Is Jigoku a classic film? Oh yeah. Is it also shrill as hell (really, duder, like "hell"?) and a little (read as: a lot) exasperating during some of its running time? Mm-hm. It’s a fairly obvious art movie that is trying to hide behind its tawdry tapestry of misery and horror. I urge you to watch this film as soon as you can but I must warn you: You will go to hell and your screams of perpetual torment will go unnoticed in the chaotic din of eternity. Bring your friends! Jigoku is a great date movie as well. But you're not getting laid after it's over.

More screenshots

Friday, September 24, 2010

300th post? Seriously? Horror anime!

I am the Boy from Hell (in man form)!

Oh my goodness. Hello everyone. We have less than a week left in this month long Asian horror spectacular and I somehow managed to reach Cinema Somnambulist's 300th post. Thanks to my guest bloggers for doing all the work! Okay, maybe I wrote a few things. And, of course, thanks a million to any of you who are reading this. If you've been following little old CinSom and Doomed Moviethon, you rock harder than Jimmy Page's sternum. I'm not sure how much that rocks but I'm guessing that it's like way lots of rockin'.

Today, I have a horror anime double feature for you and yours. So without further a-duder... On with the show.

The Curse of Kazuo Umezu
AKA Umezu Kazuo no Noroi
Directed by Naoko Omi
Released: 1990
Starring (no info)
Running Time: 43 minutes
Country of Origin: Japan

Horror manga master and general lunatic Kazuo Umezu introduces a pair of horror tales from the comfort of a swing in a park after midnight. The first story is about Masami, a young girl who thinks that Rima, the new and beautiful girl at school, is a vampire who is attacking her at night. Every morning she wakes up screaming from a nightmare with a small hole on her throat. A friend at school offers to let her use his video camera to record her bedroom while she is asleep to see what is really going on. Bad idea.

The second story involves two ditzy high school friends, Miko and Nanako. Nanako likes horror movies and being scared while Miko is a bit of a scaredy cat. The two of them and a couple of their girlfriends from school decide to explore the supposedly haunted mansion. After some creepy weirdness happens, Nanako decides to taunt a ghost. Really bad idea.

One of the most frustrating things about horror manga artists like Kazuo Umezo is that it is almost impossible to adapt their work for film or TV. When it comes to anime however, there’s a greater chance that something magical can happen. And that’s just what happens here in The Curse of Kazuo Umezu. These two stories have a very corny yet dark ironic thing going on and there’s lots of blood. It feels exactly like the artist’s twisted manga and the animation style (though a little clunky and cheap) really shines here. You need to track down this two episode one-off wherever you can find it because it’s just a silly, spooky, and gory good time. My only complaint is that it’s too short! I wanted more.

Digital Devil Monogatari Megami Tensei
AKA Digital Devil
Directed by Mizuho Nishikubo
Released: 1987
Starring Yuu Mizushima, Saeko Shimazu, Takurou Kitagawa, Houchu Ohtsuka
Running Time: 45 minutes
Country of Origin: Japan

When Yumiko (voiced by Saeko Shimazu) transfers to a new school, she is immediately drawn to antisocial computer geek Akemi Nakajima (Yuu Mizushima). She seems as though they have met somewhere before. She decides to stay after school and spy on this jerky loner. Akemi is obsessed with conjuring demons using his computer. He’s using his hot teacher as a love offering to the demon Loki (Houchu Ohtsuka).

Unfortunately, Loki wants more and the more he wants is Yumiko. The demon breaks out of his computer chip prison, possesses the hot teacher, takes over the school, and tries to make Yumiko into a nice little snack. Akemi tries to fight back but come on, he’s kind of a wuss. Luckily, Yumiko is the reincarnation of a god and she might be able to help put Loki in his place.

When it comes to old school anime, I have a big old soft spot. So if the story is weak and the art is cheesy, I can be swayed if I get that nostalgic feeling of my youth spent tearing through Blockbuster’s lame ass anime section looking for something, anything of value. Based on a popular role playing game (which itself is based on a novel), Digital Devil Monogatari Megami Tensei does indeed deliver the goods despite its faults. Another important factor is that my copy of this flick is a little under the weather. The grubbiness adds to the feeling that something just ain’t right. I would share this experience with you if I could but the clips of this one on Youtube are too clean, damn it!

Digital Devil is bloody, horrific, a little trashy, and violent as hell. The story definitely does some meandering and goes down some convoluted paths. For instance, why did the demon need to infect that bank’s computers and kill everyone there? Was the writer pissed off about those bounced check fees? Did the director have an ex-girlfriend who was a bank teller? I don’t know, just enjoy the spurting blood, I guess. The music is also quite good in this one and the artists use some awesome colors.

(Is it just me or does the chick at the computer look a little like The Baroness?)

I’ve been waiting for this anime my whole life, I just hadn’t found it yet. But it’s not all roses, my friends. Before you go looking for this one, keep in mind that I did fall asleep at least once. I woke up, got confused by the plot, and tried to back track but it didn’t really help. It’s just not clear what’s going on and it really doesn’t matter. Digital Devil is a pretty great horror anime but story wise, it’s got some serious issues that it makes up for with a dark atmosphere and some blood and guts.