Thursday, February 28, 2013

'Blood' is a fine anime adaptation

Blood: The Last Vampire (2009)
Starring: Gianna Jun, Allison Miller, Liam Cunningham, JJ, Field, Masiela Lusha, Larry Lamb, and Koyuki
Director: Chris Nahon
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

The battle between a secret society and their demon opponents comes to a head in 1970s Japan when the latest seek-and-destroy mission for 400-year-old immortal Saya (Jun) uncovers a demonic infestation on an American Army base is being coordinated by the most powerful demon of all, Onigen (Koyuki).

"Blood: The Last Vampire" is a live-action adaptation of the Japanese animated series "Blood", and those roots show most clearly in a roof-top chase sequence where Saya is trying to save a hapless American girl from the winged demon that is carrying her off -- with camera angles and the framing of shots feeling as if they were meticulously matched with whatever might have been in the original source.

we get everythig but speedlines coming off the her feet as we see them in close-up as Saya is running along the roof. However, the film is a veritable smorgasbord of genres and styles, all jumbled together in a fun stew of action/adventure, espionage, martial arts, historical melodrama, and, of course, gory bloodspattered horror. Its particularly fascinating the way the hues of the lighting and sets change when the film shifts from action to horror mode and back again.

There are some aspects of the film that don't make a whole lot of sense, such as why an ancient and super-secret demon-fighting society is so poor at planning that they don't have cover IDs that stand up to even the slightest scrutiny, or are so inept at inserting undercover operatives that they send their agent into an American school on an American military base wearing a Japanese high school "sailor suit" uniform--but in the big picture of this fast-moving and exciting film, those are minor complaints.

The acting is all-around decent, with stars Gianna Jun and Allison Miller being both energetic and likeable in their performances. I suspect that both fans of the original cartoon and those who can't stand anime will like this movie equally. There's enough of an anime look and feel that I suspect this is a faithful adaptation, but there's more than enough slicing and dicing of demons and weird conspiracy action that the anime haters will be happy, too. Heck, even if you don't like reading subtitles, this is an Asian film that you'll enjoy as most of the dialogue is in English.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Saturday Scream Queen: Gianna Jun

South Korean model and actress Gianna Jun (aka Ji-hyun Jun) is best known for her starring turn in the romantic comedy "My Sassy Girl" (2001), but the horror-tinged films she's starred in are equally worthy of notice. So far, she hasn't made any straight horror films, but the supernatural romance "Il Mare" (2001), the creepy thriller "The Uninvited" (2003), and the genre mash-up, live-action anime adaptation that is "Blood: The Last Vampire" (2009) are well worth checking out by horror fans. ("Il Mare" was the point of origin for the Sandra Bullock/Kenau Reeves vehicle "The Lakehouse".)

Friday, February 22, 2013

Coming soon: Voices from the Grave

My love of anthology films is a matter of public record--as you can see by clicking here if you didn't already know. Walter "Scarlet Fry" Reuther recently called my attention to a forthcoming horror anthology film, he got me looking forward to summer!

"Voices From the Grave" features three shorts, which seems to be close to the perfect number of segments in anthology films as the best of them seem to have three tales., One of them is based on a story from Gary Brandner, the author of "The Howling". (Yeah... I know Mr. Brandner's cinematic track record is a bit up and down, but we all have our low points.)

The three tales of supernatural terror promise to be“Invitation” (in which a sad sack loser attends a party he'll remember until the day he dies), “All Hallows’ Eve” (where a vengeful ghost turns a bitter man's Halloween night upside down), and "Re-Possessed" (in which ghostly road hazards endanger the young owner of a used car owner. "Voices From the Grave" is slated for a 2013 August release.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Saturday Scream Queen: Jeanne Tripplehorn

American actress Jeanne Tripplehorn's horror resume is a little thin, but it is thick with psychopaths. Her first major screen role was in "Basic Instinct" (1991) and she later portrayed the target of a serial killer in "Office Killer" (1997). More recently, she has co-starred in the television series "Criminal Minds" (since 2012) where she is an FBI analyst who catches serial killers.

Although the majority of her other roles have been in comedies--including horror-tinged dark ones like "Very Bad Things" (1998)--along the way Tripplehorn has appeared in a handful of thrillers, such as "The Firm" (1992), "Paranoid" (2000), and "Brother's Keeper" (2002).

She presently remains a regular cast member of "Criminal Minds."

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Saturday Scream Queen: Ashley Laurence

Born and raised in Southern California, Ashley Laurence gravitated to a career in acting at a young age. Her first big break came when she starred in the 1987 horror classic "Hellraiser". She went on to appear in the first two sequels of the series and several other horror films in the 25 years that have followed.

Among Laurence's other horror films are "Lurking Fear" (1994), "Warlock III" (1999), "Hellraiser: Hellseeker" (2002), and "Chill" (2007).

Laurence is curently filming "Vendetta," a film about two sistres being stalked by a homicial maniac.. A release date has yet to be announced.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Terminating workers... literally

Office Killer (1997)
Starring: Carol Kane, Jeanne Tripplehorn, and Molly Ringwald
Director: Cindy Sherman
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

After a mousey, put-upon copy editor (Kane) accidentially kills an obnoxious staff writer, she embraces her inner serial killer and sets about cutting the work force at her office to the bone.

"Office Killer" is a very dark comedy that gets darker and transitions into a horror film as the psychotic nature of the main character becomes clear and her list of victims grow. It's one of those movies with sciens are equally horrifying and hilarious. You will find yourself feeling a little ashamed over laughing at some of the scenes--but I am certain you will laugh.

Carol Kane, as the titular office killer, does an excellent job of transitioning from eccentric to evil as the film progresses, and she has enough charisma that the viewer continues to feel a connection with her even after she sets her sights on the character that comes closest to being the film's heroine (played by Jeanne Tripplehorn).

Kane's performance is one of the things that makes this film fun to watch, Another is the way the script starts turning slasher movie tropes on their heads as the story progresses. In fact, one of the characters you expect to see die early on remains alive until the very end... and Molly Ringwald does such a fine job of playing this bitchy character that you may keep watching just to see her get taken out.

Unfortunately, as with so many movies, the writer/director had trouble ending the film. There are few movies that I've liked that have blown their endings as completely as "Office Killer" does. After a wild and creative build-up, the film peeters out with a hackneyed and unsatisfying resolution that neither successfully ties up the story nor gives the sensation of "the saga continues" that I suspect it was supposed to.

Aside from the final couple of minutes, though, this is a very entertaining film that is worth checking out.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Saturday Scream Queen: Pola Negri

Can a silent movie star be a "Scream Queen"? If she can be a "Screen Siren," I don't see why not, especially when she starred in the first mummy move ever made.

Pola Negri spent her childhood in crushing poverty in Warsaw, Poland, but as a teenager she found success first as a ballet dancer and later as a celebrated stage actress. The coming World War I also saw the dawn of Negri's career as a screen siren--and after a string of box office successes in collaboration with German director Ernst Lubitsch, Negri was offered contracts in Hollywood. Negri's popularity in America in the early 1920s initially rivaled that which she had enjoyed in Europe, but when increasing film censorship limited her ability to play the sexy temptresses and sultry vamps she specialized in, and a series of publicity stunts she staged around the funeral of Rudolph Valentino which caused the public to sour on her, crippled her success. The arrival of the talkies was the final blow to her American film career, as her thick accent did not play well with audiences.

 Negri went back to Europe in 1933 with hopes of reviving her flagging career. She worked for a time in Germany, but, despite being one of Hitler's favorite actresses, was troubled by the violent and oppressive Nazi regime, In 1941, she returned to the United States. Her film career, however, was at an end.

Although most of her films were romances and dramas, Negri did star in a few of the earliest horror films. Among these are "The Dead Eyes" (1917), "The Devil's Pawn" (1918), "The Eyes of the Mummy" (1918), and "The Charmer" (1925).

Pola Negri passed away in 1987.

Friday, February 1, 2013

This nerd's revenge is no laughing matter

Slaughter High (1986)
Starring: Caroline Munro, Carmine Innaconne, Simon Scuddamore, Gary Martin, Billy Hartman, Michael Safran, Donna Yaeger, Kelly Baker, Josephine Scandi, and Sally Cross
Directors: George Dugdale, Mark Ezra, and Peter Mackenzie Litten
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Ten years to the date after an April Fool's prank gone bad leaves a kid scarred and maimed for life, the clique of bullies who were at fault (led by Innaconne and Munroe) are invited to a class reunion at their now-closed high school. By the time they discover they are the only ones invited, they are locked in the building and being stalked by a homicidal maniac in a jester's mask.

"Slaughter High" belongs to a family of films that are as old as horror and thriller film genres themselves--a collection of more or less unlikeable characters are gathered together and made the subject of revenge by someone they wronged in the past. It's actually a plot that pre-dates film, but it's one that continues to be the driving force in so many films because it is an easy skeleton upon which to build a story that everyone can relate to.

This particular version of the very old story was, in 1986, a mix of hoary tradition and newer trends. It's got the mysterious masked figure, who's been around since silent films, with an uncanny ability to kill and vanish without a trace until he returns to kill again; and it's got the gory and sometimes bizarrely creative and unlikely murder methods that are the hallmark of the then relatively new Slasher Film subgenre. And just like the old time thrillers, the cast of victims are a bunch of louts who deserve some form of justice to be meted out against them. This mix of old and new resulted in a film that remains fun to watch even now... and which feels fresher and more original than the majority of modern slasher films and revenge thrillers you may be unfortunate enough to catch of cable television or, God help you, during an overpriced visit to your local movie theater. Even the gratuitous nudity that you expect in a film of this type and vintage turns out to not be quite so gratuitous, as it leads to one of more shocking double homicides you're ever likely to witness. (And it's also one of those moments where you may feel a little bit of guilt over laughing at what you're seeing unfold.)

One particularly strong point about the film is that it has a "surprising shock twist ending" that actually is just that. Not only that, but the mail story resolves itself in an unexpected fashion, which would have been a satisfying end all to itself, but the fact the filmmakers then give us an honest-to-God good twist ending denoument makes the film all the stronger and causes me to forgive what minor missteps I noticed along the way.

The fact the film has a strong cast lifts the film even further than the well-written story and fun kill scenes already did. The performances are even more noteworthy when one considers that this is a British film with British actors pretending to be Americans and yet there is only one dodgy accent in the bunch.

All in all, "Slaughter High" is an underrated classic of the Slasher Film genre. It's well worth checking out.

Trivia: This film's original title was "April Fools", which explains why the title song reference April Fool's Day, why the victim of the prank gone wrong is born on April Fool's Day, and why the action takes place on April Fool's Days ten years apart. The title was changed prior to release so as to avoid confusion with the Paramount Pictures release "April Fool's Day" which came out the same year.