Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Arrow's Zombie Flesh Eaters Blu Ray

I've regularly questioned the adulation Arrow video have received for their blu ray releases of Italian genre movies from the likes of Fulci and Argento, many of which left much to be desired, not least their The House By The Cemetery disc. To redress the balance I wanted to highlight the quality of their latest release, Fulci's Zombie Flesh Eaters.

Previously released on blu ray in the US by Blue Underground, with an inconsistent transfer that suffered from overzealous DNR treatment, resulting in a lack of detail in many shots. While far from perfect I was reasonably happy with the disc and thought B.U's disc would probably be as good as it got for this old favourite. When Arrow announced their release of the title I assumed it would use the same master and follow the familiar pattern of looking worse than it's US alternative. How wrong I was, the new transfer Arrow have produced is a huge improvement over the B.U version, it's brighter, has better contrast and perhaps most importantly has much more detail. In addition the Arrow transfer has more picture information on all four sides of the frame. I understand this is the first transfer Arrow have actually had input into, and the results are very impressive. For Dvd Beaver screen captures click here.

Arrow's release is available as a limited edition (500) in their usual window slipcase version, as a steelbook and the standard release pictured here, which features a reversible sleeve, a booklet and two blu ray discs.

The movie disc is locked to region B, which is unusual for Arrow, presumably this is to comply with the licensing deal for the movie.

The plentiful special features come on a second blu ray which is coded for all regions.

If you're a fan of Fulci's classic and have a region B playback option, I highly recommend this Arrow release, regardless of if you already have the Blue Underground version. Not only is the image a significant improvement but the overall package is far superior. It's impossible to know if the improvement in this Arrow release will be a one off, or if this quality control will be carried through future releases, either way this is likely to remain the definitive release of Zombie Flesh Eaters for the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Best HK Movies Ever @ Reminder

Apologies for not being around much this month, couldn't be helped I'm afraid. Having said that I'm hoping to be back to normal very soon, with lots of new stuff, so please do stick around!

I just wanted to remind everyone that the closing date for entries to Kozo's poll of the best HK movies and performances ever is rapidly approaching. If you want to take part click here for more information. 

Until next time, Adios.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Vote Now For The Best Hong Kong Movies And Performances Ever Over @ LoveHKFilm.Com

After polls for the best HK movies of the 00's, 90's and 80's, webmaster Kozo is back for more mathematical punishment by running not one but two polls side by side, this time to find the 100 best Hong Kong movies ever as well as the greatest performances in HK cinema. Yep, this is the big one and it's all to celebrate the ten year anniversary of the website, so please join in with the celebrations and show your appreciation for Ross by casting your vote. He deserves it, not least for seeing all those (mostly) terrible new releases, and then rather than being able to forget them, having the motivation to write about them too! Forget Bruce Lee, there should be a statue of Kozo on T.S.T waterfront for services to HK film fans, anyone want to start the petition?

How would Kozo look in bronze?
For all the necessary information to make sure your votes count visit this page. Closing date for entries is the 30th of November.

I'm really excited for this, both to enter and to see the final results. The film choices shouldn't be too difficult, but the performances vote is going to take some real thinking about with so many iconic roles to choose from. I have a feeling my entry will go right down to the wire as far as that closing date is concerned.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Horror Europa With Mark Gatiss

Genre fan, actor and screenwriter Mark Gatiss follows up his highly endearing and entertaining 2010 series A History Of Horror with a one off companion piece entitled Horror Europa with Mark Gatiss.

As described on the BBC website "Actor and writer Mark Gatiss embarks on a chilling voyage through European horror cinema. From the silent nightmares of German Expressionism in the wake of World War I to lesbian vampires in 1970s Belgium, from the black-gloved killers of Italy's bloody Giallo thrillers to the ghosts of the Spanish Civil War, Mark reveals how Europe's turbulent 20th century forged its ground-breaking horror tradition. On a journey that spans the continent from Ostend to Slovakia, Mark explores classic filming locations and talks to the genre's leading talents, including directors Dario Argento and Guillermo del Toro."

I had no idea this was happening until today and it really brightened up a horrible day. Hopefully Gatiss will provide a similar balance of facts, personal memories (that I'm sure many of us of a certain age will share) and humour as he brought to his earlier series. You can catch the show on October 30th at 9pm, repeats will be shown at 2.10am on the 31st and 10.50pm on November 3rd.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Cool Crap : Dr Lamb Alternate Hong Kong Poster

Not quite as keen on this alternate poster for Billy Tang's Dr Lamb as I am on this one, but it's awesome all the same. How could you not love the insane look on the Yamster's face? What about the body parts strewn across the table, including the boob in the bottom right corner?

Remember though kids, don't mix beer with sharp surgical tools and chainsaws, Dr Lamb is a professional!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Cool Crap : Dr Lamb Hong Kong Poster

What better way to continue the horror theme than with the very special poster for Billy Tang's horrifying Dr Lamb. Long before seeing the movie I had already fallen in love with the film's fantastically lurid artwork. When I did eventually see the film and found the artwork bares little resemblance to the actual content, for once I didn't mind. Usually when a poster is misleading it promises something the movie cannot match, not with Dr Lamb though. This poster offers all kinds of terror and depravity but doesn't even come close to the (real life) horrors Simon Yam and Billy Tang actually deliver.

I never thought it would be possible for me to ever get my hands on this original Dr Lamb poster, and while the condition is far from perfect, who cares because the artwork itself certainly is!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Beasts

Hong Kong New Wave filmmaker Dennis Yu's 1980 movie The Beasts has a reputation as being something of a grim fest amongst Hong Kong cinema fans. So much so even the battle hardened Phantom Of Pulp said of the film "It's stuck with me for years like a sore that won't heal." If The Beasts should ever enjoy a re-release that quote should be on the poster, so perfectly does it encapsulate the feeling I was left with on finishing this gruelling experience.

Wah (Eddie Chan) and his sister Ling (Chong Jing Yee) go camping with friends in the New Territories, where they encounter a group of crazy locals (who the subtitles dub "The Disco Boys" and include a young Kent Cheng). The trip turns into a nightmare when Ling is viciously raped by the gang and Wah is murdered by them. Captured by the police, the gang escape justice when Ling proves too traumatised to testify against them. The siblings distraught father (Chan Sing) is left no choice but to go all Paul Kersey (by way of Ray Mears) on their ass.

Borrowing elements from many similarly themed films, but mainly Wes Craven's double of The Last House On The Left and The Hills Have Eyes, The Beasts is grim, humourless and uncomfortable viewing. Yu strips back the veneer of the moral compass this kind of genre film would usually have, and presents the events in a disturbingly matter of fact manner. It's through this lack of judgement on his characters and their actions the film gains it's real potency. It feels as though the director had only one intention with this film, and that was to make everyone suffer. Whether it be the actors or audience, no one gets an easy ride in The Beasts. Chong Jing Yee suffers more than anyone else and she deserves huge credit for her courageous performance.

Jack J gets around a bit
The filmmaking is of a surprisingly high standard, with the excellent photography in particular being at odds with the distinctly grindhouse feel of the rest of the movie. This polish (not a word I thought I would use for this film!) only increases the visceral grip the film holds over you. Definitely not a film for the faint hearted, less because of it's graphic violence and more for the nihilistic vibe it forces upon you. In addition the film contains numerous acts of animal abuse that are thoroughly repellent. Would I recommend it? Yes, but with strong reservations, consider yourself warned!

I saw the film via the (still in print) HK dvd, which I understand is slightly cut during the assault on Ling, and for violence later on, just as the original HK theatrical print was. A VHS version was also available which is uncut but dubbed, which I haven't seen. The film is more than strong enough in it's edited form that I'm not sure how much would be gained from reinstating the deleted footage at the expense of losing the original language track.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sadako 3D

Hideo Nakata's Ringu introduced genre fans to the scariest barnet in cinema via the manky haired, pale faced Sadako crawling out of the TV screen way back in 1998. The film based on a book by Koji Suzuki was a phenomenon, a triumph of concept and atmospheric execution. In it's wake came scores of copycat movies attempting to recreate the magic of Nakata's film, some good, some bad and the occasional one great. The net result being saturation of the market, in turn leading to the inevitable parodies of both the Sadako character and the trappings of the Asian ghost film. This left many fans, who initially championed Asian horror, with a been there done that , what else have you got attitude. Fourteen years on from the original movie, Suzuki comes back with a new book, and Tsutomu Hanabusa's film Sadako 3D, can this reboot breathe new life into the series and the Japanese ghost movie?

Teacher Akane (Satomi Ishihara) begins to hear rumours about a "cursed video" floating around on the internet, featuring someone commiting suicide, whoever sees the video also then kills themselves. Dismissing the story as just a rumour, she becomes concerned when one of her students who was searching for the clip inexplicably falls out of her apartment window. Akane investigates and finds the video and it's curse is all too real, and that she is somehow linked to the mysterious ghostly figure named Sadako.

The simple answer to the question I posed earlier is a resounding no. Where Nakata's original film played out as a mystery, with a slow drip feed of information gradually building a palpable sense of fear and dread, using the powerful image of Sadako to terrifying effect, Sadako 3D wants to be a roller coaster thrill ride. Unfortunately the filmmakers lack the basic skills and technique to achieve this proficiently, so out go the attempts to build mystery and atmosphere, and in comes an overkill of CG and 3D effects.

The concept of the film is interesting, by updating the technological aspects of the original story from a VHS tape to a viral video on the internet, it allows the horror to follow the characters almost everywhere they go, on computers, phones,  and even into the streets via advertising screens etc. Unfortunately the dreadful screenplay fails to explore this idea (or any others) sufficiently, instead choosing to concentrate on cheap jump scares and 3D effects. My viewing was in 2D, and this perhaps made it more obvious that the film was shot with it's emphasis on the 3D elements first and foremost rather than on what actually works for the scene at hand. To emphasise the visual issues, Sadako 3D has some of the worst CG effects I've seen for many years, for example the are multiple occasions of breaking glass that look truly terrible, like going back fifteen years or more. Worse still is the film's third act which descends into an uneasy mix of the depressing and the unintentionally funny. Concept aside, the only part of the film that works is lead actress Satomi Ishihara, who is significantly better than the material she is appearing in.

A generation on, clearly the series had to move forward but where Ringu was a horror film for adults, that had appeal for the teenage audience, Sadako 3D is a film for teenagers with little to no appeal for the audience that so embraced the 1998 movie. This in itself is not a crime, what is though is the gimmicky execution which is often embarrassingly poor, and could prove to be enough to kill off any renaissance of the series. This would be a shame as in my opinion Sadako still has scares to offer. Unfortunately in this film, just as Samson lost his strength without his hair, Sadako's power is completely muted, as if shorn of her long locks only for them to be replaced by an unconvincing CG fright wig!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Arrow's House By The Cemetery Blu ray

Arrow's blu ray release of Fulci's House By The Cemetery has been available since May, and Blue Underground's has been out for even longer, so why post about it now?

I ordered the Blue Underground version last Christmas time from Horror Movie Empire, during their infamous B.U sale, along with four other titles. Like many others who ordered from them, I am still waiting ten months later for either a refund or my discs, but that's another story! Anyway, I really wanted to watch the movie, and saw the Arrow version was reduced, so despite reviews suggesting the B.U disc was the better transfer I went for it.

Having never seen the B.U transfer I can't comment on it, but what I can say is the Arrow version is one of the worst examples of a blu ray I've seen. All the reviews I've read of the disc are quite favourable, and I just can't understand why. As an example the DVD Beaver comparison suggests the B.U transfer is "more robust" but doesn't criticise the Arrow version at all, indeed the screen caps on the link show only a subtle difference. This is a perfect example of how screen caps are not enough to judge the quality of a blu ray disc. When seen in motion the Arrow presentation is a real horror, far more terrifying than the murderous Dr. Freudstein in the movie! While I certainly wasn't expecting a reference quality disc, the least we should be able to expect from a blu ray is a "transparent" transfer of the best available elements. By transparent, I mean the disc should be free of visible faults introduced during the conversion from film to digital, so any faults that are there are down to the film itself, rather than the production of the disc.

A combination of video noise and truly awful video compression create an image that feels like it's alive, crawling with clumpy digital artefacts that just cannot be seen in a still shot. There are a number of possible reasons for this, the first and most obvious one is the video bitrate. As the DVD Beaver info shows the blu ray is a BD-50, yet the disc uses only around 30GB of the 50GB available, even worse the film itself uses only around 15GB. This makes absolutely zero sense, and makes me wonder if anyone even checked the encode prior to pressing the disc, so readily visible are the compression artefacts. There is simply no excuse when so much space is available on the disc. Another potential reason could be that the image has been tinkered with in regard to boosting contrast and brightness, making it appear that you can see a little more detail but instead it highlights the problems inherent in the transfer.

Rather than taking screen caps to try to highlight how poor the disc is, I've experimented with making a video of a comparison between the previously released Arrow dvd, which looks similar to the Anchor Bay dvd in the DVD Beaver piece. Turns out it wasn't very successful and is no better a way of highlighting blu ray quality than screen caps are. The compression of the camera and then youtube's compression makes it impossible to see what I'm getting at but I'm posting it out of interest anyway.

Click the link to see it on youtube House By The Cemetery dvd and blu ray comparison 

The two discs were played on the same player and projected onto the same screen, where I tried to capture roughly the same part of the image. The dvd is first, followed by the blu ray.

I'd be interested to hear the thoughts of anyone who has either the Blue Underground or Arrow blu rays. Are you happy with the quality of your version?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Island

Leung Po Chi's 1985 film The Island stars John Shum as Cheung, a geography teacher who takes a group of his students camping on an uninhabited island. Once there, they soon discover the island does have a population, a strangely behaving family of three brothers with a mother fixation, who are desperate to find a bride to provide the child to keep their lineage alive. Rather predictably the trip turns into a nightmare....

After we see the family in action at the beginning of the film and we know we could be in for a grim ride, we are introduced to the poorly developed student characters, and the movie becomes something of a tease. It seems to take forever to get to the point, however once the situation escalates the film kicks into gear and becomes the taut, grim and pretty nasty experience the opening promises. While never quite as graphic as you expect, the last half an hour still has plenty of opportunity to make the viewer wince. Shum's teacher is quite interesting as he shows cowardice through poor decision making before things get really tough, making his transformation into action hero when it really does kick off all the more important and believable. The desperate confrontations with Peter Chan Lung (the eldest of the brothers) are excellent, the choreography is given real life or death immediacy, important given how Shum is not the most physical looking of men.

This holiday destination's entertainment options are a little limited
Not your typical Hong Kong horror fare by any means, but an above average entry into the survival horror genre, The Island boasts impeccable taste in it's influences, the obvious ones being The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Deliverance. The film could have undoubtedly been improved with a little tightening up, but if you like the genre it has plenty to recommend it, not least of which is the fantastic island location itself, which manages to look beautiful despite the horrific events of the film.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tourist Trap

Made in 1979 and somewhat overshadowed by it's contemporaries, David Schmoeller's feature debut Tourist Trap is a definite oddity. Not only is it one of the more bizarre horror films of the seventies, it must surely also be one of the creepiest PG rated films ever made. At once impossible to take seriously, yet delivering the kind of unsettling mood and genuine scares many horror movies would kill for.

A group of friends (Including future Bond Girl Tanya Roberts) stop at an old rickety wax museum looking for their friend who is missing, where they encounter the friendly owner Mr Slausen (Chuck Connors). Despite being unnerved by the incredibly lifelike mannequins on display, the group stick around and soon begin to disappear, as the museum literally becomes the titular Tourist Trap....

Starting out as it means to go on, Tourist Trap's first set piece leaves you unsure of what you have just seen as a cacophony of laughing dummies and flying objects assault Woody (Keith McDermott), and from there events take a turn for the weird. Schmoeller's film borrows from a number of sources, including two of the very best in Psycho and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but blends all of it's influences into something, if not unique then distinctly individual.

In order to achieve this distinctive mood, Schmoeller employs some excellent, creative effects work (Impressive considering the film's obvious low budget) and more surprises than most horror franchises can muster in their entirety, alongside a committed central performance from Chuck Connors. All of these components are equally important, and they all produce spikes of fear throughout the film, contributing to a feeling of just when you think things can't get freakier, it can and does. The trump card of the film is the score by Pino Donaggio, who provides some of his very best work here. From bombastic horror to breathy female vocals, to the romantic love theme (don't ask!), this is a truly superb score and it's criminally unavailable on CD, various tracks were released on a compilation CD but that is now long out of print, and vinyl remains the only format the full score is released on.

Tourist Trap holds up remarkably well for such a low budget film, and it comes recommended to even the most jaded of horror fans. While it doesn't deliver much in the way of graphic violence, it's weird vibe and genuine scares should make Tourist Trap the kind of once a year Halloween treat any horror fan can get onboard with. If you have (a perfectly rational) fear of mannequins or freaky masks, then this film cannot be recommended anymore highly to you, but don't blame me if you can't sleep for weeks afterwards! Just one question, how did this get a PG rating?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Sleeping Dogs : Nightmare In North Point DLC

Yesterday at the New York Comic-con Square Enix announced the first major DLC pack for Sleeping Dogs, their open world action game based on the streets of a fictionalised Hong Kong and heavily influenced by HK cinema. I haven't posted about the game previously as I was a little slow in picking it up in the first place and then enjoying the thing too much to bother. Since finishing it, unlike most games I still find myself returning to it, tearing up the streets of Hong Kong as main character Wei Shen.

The eagerly awaited additional content will be available on October 30th, just in time for Halloween, and will be called Nightmare In North Point, and will have a distinct horror flavour. As a tortured and killed triad comes back from the dead with an army of zombies looking for revenge. Promising "a few hours" of additional content, and to homage Hong Kong's heritage of horror cinema, I really can't wait to get my hands on this. Look out for the Geung-Si!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The House By The Cemetery

Incoherent, illogical mess or Italian genre classic? In truth Lucio Fulci's The House By The Cemetery sits as comfortably in either category, and your opinion of it will very much depend on your tolerance for the strengths and weaknesses of director Fulci. Both are in full effect here, with wonderful atmosphere complimenting the usual stark Fulci imagery, while logic and sense all but abandon the "haunted house" plotting.

Dr. Boyle (Paolo Malco) moves his neurotic wife Lucy (Catriona MacColl) and his young son Bob (Giovanni Frezza) to the Freudstein house in Boston. Boyle is there to research why a colleague living in the house previously, committed murder and then suicide. While Boyle was eager to move, Lucy certainly wasn't, and Bob is less keen still after being warned not to go in the house by a mysterious young girl, who is of course ignored by his parents. Cue the strangeness, involving a weird babysitter, bizarre estate agents, something nasty in the basement and of course, this being a Fulci movie, copious gore and a few maggots....

The greatest strength of The House By The Cemetery is the rich, doom laden atmosphere Fulci and his team manage to generate. Beginning with the house itself, it's often said a location can act as a main character in a movie and nowhere is that more appropriate than here. The house is given a foreboding feel inside and out by the excellent photography and set design. This is only enhanced further by the creepy sound design and score. The weakest element is the aforementioned lack of logic and sense in the events of the first hour or so of the movie, the reason being if you get hung up on the details, you're going to be taken out of the film completely. If you can just go with it some of the events actually enhance the mood, with the strangeness giving a nightmarish feel to proceedings. However, there is one moment that completely breaks the mood, the infamous bat attack sequence. Common sense dictates if you have a poor effect shot, you use cinematic sleight of hand to cover the imperfections, not Fulci though. The camera lingers in loving close up on the bat attached to Boyle's hand as the audience howls with uncontrollable laughter. A serious misjudgement and one Fulci only just gets away with. Another serious error was the decision to have adults dub the voices of the two child actors, thankfully this doesn't prove to be as damaging as it could have, although it is a real irritant for many Fulci fans.

It may seem as though I have been hard on the film, but despite it's flaws, I love The House By The Cemetery and think it is one of Fulci's very best efforts. The first hour maybe relatively restrained by his own blood soaked standards, but the measured build up makes the gory hysterics of the "child in peril" finale all the more chilling and effective, and the haunting ending is truly excellent. Highly recommended.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Favourite Hong Kong Movies. The End.

So after around 70 days of Hong Kong movie lists, the curtain falls on Favourite Hong Kong Movies. I'd like to take the opportunity to thank every single person who has contributed to the project, obviously everyone who submitted a list, but also those who have supported the series on facebook and  elsewhere. I wasn't sure what kind of response I would receive when I first came up with the idea, I expected maybe 10 to 15 lists if I was lucky, so to get 30 plus was extremely gratifying.

I can honestly say I've had a blast doing FHKM, and I hope that everyone else has had a good time reading the lists and the thoughts of their fellow Hong Kong cinema fans. You may not always have agreed with the picks but it's fascinating how and why people make their choices. In addition, I've had a great time discovering and re-discovering movies featured on the lists and hope that you have all found at least one movie to fall in love with from this, either for the first time or all over again.

Before the final list of compiled favourites, a couple of quick stats. Across all the submitted lists there were a total of 191 different films chosen, and of those 191 choices, 114 were unique to individual lists. This is the aspect of the series I'm pleased with most, as it was always a possibility that it may be a very similar choice of films across the board, which was clearly was not the case.

Favourite Hong Kong Movies final 10 (actually 14), based on the number of appearances on lists.

10th = with 5 votes each.

Crippled Avengers

Drunken Master 2

Eastern Condors

Peking Opera Blues

Shaolin Soccer

5th = with 6 votes each.

Full Contact

In The Mood For Love

The Mission

Police Story

Wheels On Meals

4th with 7 votes.

Hard Boiled

2nd = with 8 votes each.

The Killer

Bullet In The Head

1st with 10 votes.

Chungking Express

For anyone new to the world of Hong Kong cinema, this list of movies would be an excellent jumping off point....

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