Friday, August 31, 2012

In celebration of the PAX convention

This weekend, the PAX game convention takes place in Seattle. Here's a computer game-themed short film from Drew Daywalter to remind all you out there to be careful what you play....

Polydeus (2011)
Starring: Timm Sharp, Karl Herlinger, and Hunter James
Director: Drew Daywalt
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

There will be lots more of Daywalt's shorts to be seen here during the 31 Nights of Halloween celebration in October.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Bingbing Li

Bingbing Li's star has been in ascendance both in her home country of China and internationally since her award-winning film debut in the 1999 drama "Seventeen Years". She is presently one of China's most popular actresses.

Li's horror resume is rather thin, as her career has comprised mostly of period pieces of the action/adventure or romantic variety, but she did have a spectacular turn as the iconic evil sorceress Woman with White Hair in 2008's "The Forbidden Kingdom", a cinematic tribute to Chinese mythology has its been translated to the big screen for the past 50 years. That year, she also starred in "Linger", as a woman who is visited by the ghost of her boyfriend who died three years earlier.

Next month, however, Li officially is added to the ranks of horror movie actresses, as she joins the line-up of zombie-killing beauties of the "Resident Evil" series in the role of the shadowy corporate spy Ada Wong.

"Resident Evil: Retribution" opens across America on September 14, 2012. Be sure to go and check out Li in glorious 3D. Meanwhile, come back here next Saturday for some bits of information about another of the Scream Queens who will be making sure the zombies stay dead this time.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Kaylee Williams

Kaylee Williams is an up-and-coming actress who was born, raised, and still lives in a suburb of Chicago. She has chalked up a number of appearances in short film, and is rapidly adding features to her resume as well.

Noteworthy film appearances so far include "Cut" and "Zombie Babies" (both in 2011). She is also seen in the framing sequence for the excellent "Slices of Life" anthology horror movie from 2010, which I watched last year and never posted the review for. That will have to be rectified this coming week.

Williams is currently involved with eight different film projects at varying stages of production, all of them horror films. Hopefully, we'll be seeing more of her around these parts. (At the very least, I'll see if I can feature some of her shorts during the big 31 Nights of Halloween event coming up in a few weeks.)

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Saturday Scream Queens: The Faces of Tomie

One of the few truly creepy comics book series is "Tomie" by Japanese writer/artist Junji Ito. It relates tales of its title character... a mysterious teenaged girl who all men become oobssesed with--so obsessed that they will kill anyone who they think stands between them and their possession of her, including Tomie herself. But no matter how gory and apparently final Tomie's death, she reappears again and again, always bringing madness and destruction to those she interacts with.

With the promise of blood and gore and a sexy girl at the middle of it all, it should come as no surprise that the "Tomie" comics have been become a long-running series of movies. While Tomie is always an exact copy of how she looked before--even when there are multiples of her running around at the same time, due to the way she regenerates from bits of her previous body--no actress has so far played her in more than once.

This post covers the first seven actresses to tackle the roll of the Girl Who Always Comes Back.

Miho Kanno: (Tomie, 1999)
In 1993, Miho Kanno rocketed to stardom as a J-Pop singer at the age of 15 when a musical group she was in won a national contest in 1993 and became a regular feature in variety shows. By 1994, she had launched a successful career as an dramatic actress with starring roles in television movies and series, and stage work followed shortly thereafter. In 1997, she posed for a "photo art book" titled NUDITY... and it became a Top Ten national best-seller in Japan.

Kanno was the first actress to portray Tomie, and she remains the biggest star to tackle the role. It wasn't her first horror movie, however. In 1995, she played a teen charged with defeating magical evils yet who yearned to just be a normal girl in "Eko-Eko Azarak: Wizard of Darkness". In the same year she played Tomie, she also appearred in the horror film "Hypnosis".

Kanno has left her pop-singer days behind her years ago, but she continues to be a busy and popular dramatic actress in Japan, with an ever-growing list of television, stage, and film credits to her name.

Runa Nagai (Tomie: Another Face, 1999)
Runa Nagai is primarily a model who specializes in "photo art books" which are collections of pictures of girls and young women in various states of undress. Given her main line, it is only natural that she should be cast as the supernatural temptress, Tomie. (And one of the story-lines in the anthology film in which she starred had Tomie becoming involved with a photographer, so perhaps there's some meta-referencing going on.)

Nagai had a handful of film and television roles during the early 2000s, with her biggest role being as Tomie in "Another Face".

Miki Sakai (Tomie: Rebirth, 2001)
Born in 1978, Miki Sakai got her start as a professional actress in the acclaimed drama "Love Letters" in 1995. Throughout the 1990s, she was very successful at playing "the girl next door"-type parts, so perhaps the reason hers was a Tomie performance that many rank among the best there have been so far--she had a good-girl veneer with the monster lurking beneath.

Sakai continues to be a popular actress on Japanese television, mostly appearing in comedies and lighthearted mystery made-for-TV movies and series, but "Rebirth" remains her only horror role thus far. The closest she's come have been a couple of dark thrillers made for theatrical release in recent years.

Nozomi Ando (Tomie: Forbidden Fruit, 2002)
Nozomi Ando got her start at the age of 17 with a lead role in the monster-fest "Gamera 3," in 1999 and she's been kept busy with roles in horror films and thrillers ever since.

Aside from her turn as Tomie, other noteworthy roles have been a teenaged demon-hunter in "Sakuya: Slayer of Demons" (2000), the love interest of a werewolf Ronin in "Werewolf Warrior" (2004), and a hapless college kid stalked by a demon deep within a forest in "Gurozuka" (2005).

Rio Matsumoto (Tomie: Beginning, 2005)
This actress can be said to have something in common with Tomie. She began her career in 1994 as a child actress and model, but retired from the business in 1999 because she wanted to attend high school as a "normal student."

Then, in 2002, In 2002 after her graduation from high school, she rose from the ashes of her past career, reborn and reconstituted like Tomie, or, to use a less sinister example, a Phoenix. Since her second debut, she has returned full-bore to modeling and acting. She has had recurring roles in numerous television dramas and appeared in several action films. "Tomie: Beginnings" is so far her only foray into horror.

In 2007, Matsumoto branched out into fashion desig with a line of wedding dresses. She continues to divide her professional life between acting, modeling, and fashion design.

Anri Ban (Tomie: Revenge, 2005)
Born in 1985, Anri Ban was 20 years old when she became the 7th face of Tomie. It was her first role in a horror film, but she had already appeared in key roles in several mysteries and action-oriented dramas.

The only other horror movie on her resume is "Woman Transformation" (2007) in which she plays one of three women who gradually transform into demons, but she has been featured in numerous mysteries since making "Tomie: Revenge".

Friday, August 10, 2012

'Tomie' Double-Feature

As I've previously mentioned, I'm a big fan of Junji Ito's "Tomie" horror comic book series. I keep watching the film adaptations of it when I come across others in the long-running series, even if it's a little like Charlie Brown and Lucy's football. More often than not, these films have been disappointments, and I've yet to see one that captured the feel of Ito's original work completely. (But I've yet to see them all... so there's still hope.)

Prevkously, I've reviewed four of the "Tomie" films here on Terror Titans. Today, I'm offering up two more--the very first in the series (which is so awful I originally posted the review to Movies You [Die Before You] See) and the prequel that was helmed by the same director six years later.

Tomie (1999)
Starring: Yoriko Douguchi, Miho Kanno, and Mami Nakamura
Director: Ataru Oikawa
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

Junji Ito created one of the few truly scary comic book series I've read--"Uzemaki." His other famous series Tomie is almost as creepy, although you'd never know it from this astoundingly boring movie adaptation.

"Tomie" is the tale of a teen girl who is the center of violent love triangles where everyone involved ends up dead, including her. And, yes, it's plural, because Tomie is so evil that even death cannot stop her--her body always regrows, even from dismemberment, into an exact replica of when she was at her most beautiful... and then she goes looking for more victims to seduce and lead to destruction.

"Tomie" is an awful movie in every sense of the word. It's slow-moving; it fails to take advantage of nearly everything that was truly creepy in the original source material, so it starts boring and it stays there; is filled with drab characters having inane conversations; spends too much time with characters talking about how horrific things are instead of showing the viewer the horror; and has gore and special effects so awful that Ed Wood is embarrassed on the filmmakers' behalf. Finally, the film seems to assume that the viewer is familiar with the Ito comics series, which is an unforgivable sin in my opinion.

The only reason I suffered through it until the end was because I wanted to review it for here and because I kept thinking it HAD to get better.

"Tomie" would have been a One Star movie, except the actors seem to be doing as good a job as can be expected with the awful script they're working with. I still recommend that you avoid this one.

There are at least six other Tomie movies that have been made since the release of this one, and this is one series where the films get better as they go. Sort of... the series has been hit-and-miss.

Tomie: Beginning (2005)
Starring: Rio Matsumoto, Asami Imajuku, and Kenji Mazu
Director: Ataru Oikawa
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

A transfer student (Matsumoto) brings obsession, murder, and madness to a Japanese high school. Only Reiko (Imajuku) stands unaffected by the horror... or does she?

"Tomie: Beginning" is a little misnamed, at least it was for me. It raised expectations that it doesn't deliver on--this isn't the beginning of Tomie and she remains as mysterious and alien at the end of the film as she is at its beginning--but rather a prequel to the very first "Tomie" film, by the director who made that first film, and he was more on the mark with this outing.

"Tomie: The Beginning" has its title not just because it's a prequel--that reveals the circumstances of how Tomie's head came to be in that grocery bag at the beginning of the first film--but also because it's based largely on Junji Ito's first "Tomie" short story. By staying close to Ito's work, Oikawa managed to correct the error of his first outing where he completely failed to capture the ever-growing oppressive mood and expanding darkness and circle of madness that ripples outward from where-ever Tomie appears. Also unlike the first movie, Oikawa also manages to stage some absolutely creepy scenes, such as the one where the entire homeroom class confronts Tomie in the woods with predictable results, and one where Reiko confronts a second Tomie that has grown from bandages soaked with Tomie's blood. There's also a very nice scene that effectively transmits the mood of Tomie at the center of her maelstrom of madness, with Reiko as the only island of sanity remaining--that, together with the scenes in the woods, are the most impressive moments in the film, as well as some of the most effective translations of Ito's graphic stories into motion pictures.

Unfortunately, Oikawa hewed a little too closely to Ito in this case. The main story, told in flashback, begins literally with the moment Tomie arrives in the classroom. The mounting chaos and horror and madness for the characters would have been more effectively conveyed and more impactful on the audience if a few minutes had been spent showing us how they were all typical teenagers leading typical lives. The in media res approach works for Ito's stories because we usually have a convincing narrator tell us that "we were normal kids" or we get to see glimpses of life without Tomie to contrast against life with her. Oikawa didn't give the audience any grounding in normalcy, and the movie is weaker for it.

I haven't said much about the actors in the film, because there isn't much to say. They all do fine jobs in their roles, with Rio Matsumoto providing one of the best Tomies yet. With this film, she is the sixth actress to play the part, continuing the tradition of a new Tomie in each film. (Even she is replaced for the seventh installment in the series, also written and directed by Ataru Oikawa and shot back-to-back with this one.)

If you like Junji Ito's "Tomie" comics, you will probably enjoy this film. If you're unfamiliar with the property, this might not be the best introduction to the Tomie series, despite its chronological placement. "Tomie: Replay" or "Tomie: Another Face" are far more friendly entry points to the uninitiated, in addition to sharing the honor with this one as being among the best in the series.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: J.C. Brandy

J.C. Brandy is an actress and musician who got her start in the horror genre in the mid-1990s by playing the adult Jamie Carruthers in "Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers" and a role on the "Kindred: The Embraced" television series.

Brandy is a self-described horror movie fan, but her career has consisted mostly of guest shots and bit-parts on various detective and drama televisions series. She can, however, also be seen in horror films "Devil in the Flesh" (1998), "What Lies Beneath"--barely, as the member of a band (2000), "Comedy Hell" (2006), anthology film "Prank" (2008), "The Victim"--barely, as a possible murder victim (2011), and the forthcoming "Tormented Souls", slated for release in 2013.