Thursday, 13 December 2018

100 Essential Films That Deserve More Attention - 27. The Vanishing

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to experience the escapism of a captivating story, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.

The Vanishing (Spoorloos)
Director George Sluizer
Country - Netherlands
Year - 1988
Runtime - 107 Minutes

The unexpected disappearance of a loved one is a familiar trope in the realm of the thriller. Critical successes such as Gone Girl, Frantic and Tell No One explore different aspects of this notion and all ratchet up the tension to almost unbearable levels. One film that crosses this threshold to provide audiences with an unforgettable and utterly blood curdling conclusion is the Dutch Thriller Spoorloos (The Vanishing), a stunning adaptation of Tim Krabbe's novel 'The Golden Egg' by director George Sluizer.

Rex (Gene Bervoets) is the unfortunate man who loses sight of the woman he loves, Saskia (Johanna Ter Steege) when stopping to refuel their car at a motorway service station whilst travelling together through France. This painful experience is exacerbated by the ambivalent nature of those nearby who offer little in the way of comfort or assistance, with a service station attendant explaining that the police can't investigate a missing person report until twenty four hours after the disappearance. His search ends up fruitless and the mystery of what happened to Saskia remains unsolved, becoming the sole focus of Rex's attention for the next few years; a ferocious obsession that leads him into a very dark place.

Aside this devastating story we are also given a glimpse into the life of Raymond (Bernard-pierre Donnadieu), the man who stole Rex's wife away; a chilling insight into the disturbing motivations that propelled him to act with such malevolence. We learn of strange events in this self-proclaimed sociopath's past that shaped his outlook on life but these cannot prepare us for the soul destroying brevity of his remorseless actions, and the twisted reasoning behind his involvement in Saskia's cruel fate.

Fate can be a very cruel mistress, and it is this notion that is explored in depth in Spoorloos; the simplest of actions or inactions can have a profound or life-altering impact on those involved. Here, the paths of Saskia and Raymond are intertwined due to a heartstopping and incredibly tense moment we are shown towards the end of the film, and it is perhaps the unassuming banality of the scenario that makes it feel so real and horrific. If either party had acted differently the shocking incident may never have come to pass - a thought that is shared by the villain of the piece as he elaborates upon times in his childhood where he purposely acted in an attempt to contradict his destiny.

Raymond is depicted as a relatively normal family man, and Donnadieu's subtle approach to portraying this calm and calculated sociopath makes his evil nature all the more difficult to swallow. There are no outbursts of anger or displays of an unhinged mind at work, in fact, his behaviour is quite the opposite you would expect for a man who commits such a vile atrocity. The interplay between Raymond and the unfortunate couple provides us with a dramatic edge that is heightened by his relatively cool demeanour, even when his callous actions are dangerously close to being discovered. We spend more time with Ramyond to understand his backstory than we do with Rex on his search, and it leads you to wonder who Sluizer believes makes for the more interesting character study.

Rex's dedication and desperation show as the years pass by in a bravura emotionally-charged performance from Bervoets that gives you a visceral sense of the inner torment his character suffers from, under the weight of not knowing what happened on the day Saskia vanished. A curious shot of a praying mantis after the terrifying denoument hints at the undying devotion Rex has for Saskia. The male mantis is renowned for being eaten by the female during copulation - how far would Rex go to find out the truth behind Saskia's disappearance - what would he be prepared to sacrifice for her? It is subtle moments like this that demonstrate Sluizer's attention to detail and further strengthen the impression that you are watching a magnificent film-maker at work.

A synthesiser laden soundtrack adds to the air of mystery that pervades the intricate storyline. At first it is evocative of the playful mood between Saskia and Rex whilst they are still together but it becomes discordant and unruly as the tension mounts up when Rex draws ever nearer to finding closure. Music is used sparingly throughout the film so as not to be come a distraction - Sluizer is clearly aware that an eerie silence can often be just as powerful as a loud noise.

For a film that hinges largely on its resolution, the fascinating build-up successfully draws you in, leaving you eagerly awaiting the devastating answer to one of cinema's greatest finales. It is reassuring to see that knowing the outcome of the film doesn't hinder its impact on a rewatch, and in fact it heightens your appreciation for the meticulous thought process and direction invested in the film. Playful nuances foreshadow what is to come but these tiny clues are unlikely to give any key information away when you are as in the dark as the main characters; trying to uncover the mystery of what has happened to Saskia in this shocking and unforgettable thriller.

If you take the time to watch The Vanishing then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!



For previous instalments in the series click here

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Top 10 Winter Horror Films

Bloodstains show up the clearest on a crisp, cold, carpet of pure white snow. Perhaps this is the reason why so many horror directors tangle with our fears by setting their genre films in the dead of winter, when the nights are long and the cruel weather is unforgiving to those who stray outside for too long. Here are ten chilling films taking place during our coldest season that might just leave you frozen in fear:

10. 30 Days of Night

This vampire film came along when comic book adaptations were surging in popularity, and was perceived by many be an improvement its sourcematerial. When an Alaskan town is plunged into darkness for 30 days during the winter, its inhabitants are attacked by a brutal gang of bloodthirsty vampires. Unable to escape due to the deadly creatures that lurk outside and the oppressive weather that isolates the town from the outside world, the survivors are forced to band together to make it through the ordeal in one piece. This is not the only horror film to combine cold weather with vampires to great effect, the chilling weather seems to be the perfect setting for blood-sucking creatures who shy away from the sunshine - as you will see further down the list - and whilst it is no classic, 30 Days of Night is still an entertaining ride from start to finish.

9. Frozen

Not to be confused with the Walt Disney film which unleashed Let it Go on the world, this Frozen is an altogether scarier ride. When three thrill-seeking youngsters get trapped at the top of a ski-lift, the perils of the cold weather are not the only danger they encounter. As night begins to draw in they are hounded by a group of hungry wolves that make escape seem impossible, and with the ski resort closed for the weekend it seems unlikely that the trio will be rescued any time soon. Stranded high up in the mountainside in freezing weather, it is not long before the icy temperature begins to take its toll with some of the skiers even becoming frozen to the ski lift. An original and inventive horror, Frozen proves that low budget films based in one unique setting can still be the perfect opportunity for a thrilling suspense ride.

8. Dead Snow 2: Red Vs Dead

Dead Snow 2: Red Vs Dead is that rarest of films; a horror sequel that manages to surpass the original as well as being one of the standout horrors of 2014. Treading the fine line between horror and comedy to great effect, Dead Snow 2 begins right where the first one ends, with a decapitated zombie arm being accidentally reattached to an arm-less survivor of the first film. Pushing the limits of bad taste to the extreme with its tongue in cheek humour reminiscent of that used in Peter Jackson's early outings in the genre, Bad Taste and Braindead, this is one of the finest zombie comedies of recent years. Whilst Dead Snow 2 spends far less time in the frosty mountains of Norway than Tommy Wirkola's first outing with the undead nazi hordes, the setting is still used to maximum effect, making this a must see for horror fans during the winter months.

7. Misery

A common theme throughout this list; Misery is another film that uses the snowy surroundings to represent the isolation and helplessness of its protagonist. This time it is a famous writer who is up against the elements when he swerves off an icy road during a blizzard and is rescued by his number one fan. Relief soon turns to fear when he discovers that he is being held captive. Unable to move due to his injuries, Paul Sheldon is at the mercy of his captor who drugs him and forces him to rewrite one of his novels. The first of two Stephen King adaptations to feature in this list, Misery is a taut psychological thriller, famous for its graphic depiction of a certain act of cruelty that will leave all but the most hardened of viewers reeling in shock.

6. Trollhunter

One of Norway's most popular horror exports garnered a cult following when it first hit the festival circuit, with its breathtakingly impressive effects enhancing an inspired take on the found footage genre. Trollhunter features a camera crew who are investigating a string of mysterious bear killings only to discover that there is something far more sinister occurring in the Norwegian wilderness. Although some of the humour may be lost in translation, the film still holds up remarkably well for those who aren't well versed in Norwegian folklore. Alongside the nail-bitingly tense scenes where the danger is hidden off screen there are also a number of awe-inspiring shots that showcase the trolls in all of their glory, with the effects making them appear as real as the enchanting snowy scenery they inhabit.

5. Gremlins

Gremlins may be more of a comedy than a horror, but it certainly isn't a film that you would let a child watch, as my parents discovered when it frightened me half to death as a young toddler! When the Gremlins are unintentionally unleashed on a small town during Christmas, we are treated to some hilariously unforgettable moments such as a brilliant scene where an old lady makes the mistake of opening her door to a rather strange sounding group of carol singers. Christmas wouldn't be the same without watching Gremlins, with the snowy setting making it perfect for winter viewing and the twisted humour offering the perfect alternative to the traditional Christmas films that are all the rage at this time of year.

4. Kwaidan

With the resurgence in Japanese horror at the turn of the 21st Century, it is easy to overlook the classics that influenced generations of film-makers, and Kwaidan's hauntingly beautiful stories remain as important as they were back in 1966 when it received an Oscar Nomination for the Best Foreign Language film. Only one of the four stories contained within the film takes place in snowy surroundings, but The Woman in the Snow is a fascinating short story and the entire film deserves to be seen by every horror fan. The story in question follows a woodcutter on the verge of death as he encounters a spirit who will keep him alive in exchange for his secrecy. Years later he forgets his promise and this mistake ends up costing him dearly. This macabre ghost tale will certainly remind you why the Japanese have had a long standing affinity with the horror genre.

3. Let the Right one In

Once again we return to vampires in snowy surroundings for this subtle Swedish horror that took everyone by surprise back in 2009. Let the Right One In follows the relationship between a young boy and a girl as one struggles to deal with the present, whilst the other hides dark secrets in their past. Although the film is not completely faithful to the source material, choosing to omit some of the more unpleasant incidents, it is still a superb adaptation, with a breathtaking scene set in a swimming pool that is guaranteed to leave you gasping for air. The captivating cinematography provides us with a mesmerising view of the cold winter nights and there are also stark moments of brutality that serve to remind us that ever since Nosferatu graced the silver screen, vampires will always be a part of our nightmares.

2. The Thing

Not to be confused with the similarly titled prequel from 2011, John Carpenter's standout film still remains the best adaptation of John W Campbell's story Who goes there?. Howard Hawks version of the story filmed in 1951 is also well worth a watch, despite the dated effects that cannot compare to the gruesome imagery Carpenter used to instill fear into an entire generation of horror fans. Set in and around an Antarctic research station, The Thing features an all male cast who encounter a mysterious object of unknown origins buried deep beneath the ice. In what is one of the best horror films of the eighties, all hell then breaks loose as it transpires that the research team have brought a shape-shifting creature back into their base, and no-one knows who has been in contact with the strange life-form or what it is capable of. Forget the prequel and go straight to Carpenter's classic - the hostile setting of the antarctic has never been put to a better use in film.

1.The Shining

No other director mastered as many genres as the almighty Stanley Kubrick, and his horror masterpiece The Shining is a perfect example of a technically brilliant director at the height of his game. Famously shunned by Stephen King for not being faithful to his source material, The Shining takes place in the vacant Overlook Hotel when the Torrance family take up residence as caretakers and become isolated due to increasingly bad weather that engulfs the area, quickly surrounding the hotel in deep layers of snow. Jack Nicholson has never been more terrifying as Jack Torrance, and although the child actor who played Danny Torrance has never acted again, his performance in The Shining will surely never be forgotten.This is easily one of the most terrifying films ever to be made that takes place in a snowy environment, with the climatic chase through the hedge maze still capable of leaving audiences frozen to their seats in terror.

What is your favourite winter horror film? Are there any films I have missed from my list? Let me know in the comments below or by tweeting me @filmbantha

Sunday, 9 December 2018

100 Essential Films That Deserve More Attention - 26. LFO

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to experience the escapism of a captivating story, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.


LFO
Director Antonio Tublen
Country - Sweden
Year - 2014
Runtime - 94 Minutes

Imagine if you discovered a way to hypnotise people to obey your every command. Would you use this ability to help others or to take advantage of them? This is the ethical quandary explored in Swedish sci-fi comedy LFO (Low Frequency Oscillator) when Robert (Patrik Karlsson), a man experimenting with sound waves in his home made basement laboratory, uncovers a method of hypnotising and controlling others by exposing them to a certain frequency. Initially, Robert tries to manipulate his own thoughts with simple and harmless tests such as reducing his habit of snacking on unhealthy foods. Once proven successful, he sees the perfect guinea pigs in the guise of his new neighbours, Simon (Per Lofberg) and Linn (Izabella Jo Tschig). As Robert’s experiments intensify, so too does the sinister hold he has over Simon and Linn, and they begin to fill the void left behind when his wife Clara (Ahnna Rasch) and son Sebastian (Bjorn Lofberg Egner) died in a crash that Robert may have caused by tinkering with the family car.

The idea at the heart of LFO is an intriguing one, and director Antonio Tublen chooses to traverse the darker side of what could be possible with this technological advancement. Robert is not afraid to exploit his hypnosis technique for his own benefit, with little concern for the detrimental impact it may have on others. Much of the black comedy is derived from the uncomfortable situations Robert places his neighbours in; Simon is instructed to do Robert’s household chores, whilst Linn is manipulated into developing feelings towards the sly widower. After the arrival of an old friend, Sinus-San, who used to collaborate on the project before Robert cut him out of the loop, we begin to see his cleverly concocted plans unravel at the seams.

With sound playing such a key role in the story, a lot of attention has been given to the sound editing and it certainly shows. The deep rumbling bass frequencies used in the hypnosis and the electronic bleeps emitted by Robert’s basement equipment create a quirky futuristic atmosphere that is best appreciated on a surround sound system. The synthesiser heavy soundtrack, created by director Tublen himself, sets the tone of the film by instantly transporting us into the strange realm of Robert’s world during the opening credits, as he spouts technobabble with Sinus-San and his other accomplices from the comfort of his secret sound lab.

Although limited by budgetary constraints, LFO is still an accomplished and playful science-fiction endeavour. Aside from a few small scenes towards the end, the entirety of the film is set in the house where Robert makes his incredible discovery. Any action that takes part outside of this location is cleverly alluded to through phone calls, sound recordings and Robert’s eavesdropping through the microphones he has secretly stashed in his neighbour’s house. We see the world that Robert sees, including the apparitions of his dead wife and son who come back to taunt him and question his actions. This glimpse into his past struggles provides us with a backstory that doesn’t condone his motivations but allows us to better understand his personal difficulties and the subsequent questionable choices he makes.

Intelligent and funny Science-Fiction is somewhat of a rarity, particularly when the humour doesn’t revolve around spoofing the genre, and it is refreshing to experience such an original approach to this under represented area of cinema. LFO sidesteps the disturbing implications of the hypnosis by tackling the subject with an unusual light-heartedness, and this humour takes the edge off the twisted situations that Robert orchestrates. This isn’t the kind of film that will have you laughing uncontrollably but there are numerous scenes that are likely to leave you amused at the inventiveness of the suggestive screenplay. The bizarre and outlandish ending is a credit to Tublen’s ingenuity and the perfect conclusion to this fascinating, one of a kind experience.

If you take the time to watch LFO then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!



For previous instalments in the series click here

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

100 Essential Films That Deserve More Attention - 25. Rapt

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to experience the escapism of a captivating story, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.

Rapt
Director - Dimitri Kirsanoff
Country - Switzerland
Year - 1934
Runtime - 102 Minutes

Set high in the Swiss Alps, Rapt was filmed on location where director Dimitri Kirsanoff used the impressive backdrop to create a visually engaging and arresting picture, befitting of such a beautiful location. Here is where two different cultures separated by the highlands collide; French speaking Catholics and German speaking Protestants, in an astonishing adaptation of a book by the Swiss author Charles Ferdinand Ramuz entitled La Separation des Races.

Hans and his fiancee Elsa reside in this stunning part of the Swedish countryside and appear to live a relatively peaceful Catholic existence alongside Elsa's younger brother. When Hans kills a dog who is terrorising his goat herd, the dog's owner, Fermin, kidnaps Elsa as retribution for the violent act and takes her far away from her idyllic life in the hills to his home village amongst his fellow Protestants.
Separated from her lover and held against her will, Elsa mourns for her past life and struggles to adjust to the loneliness of being held captive. Han's suffering is just as great; he is unsure where Elsa has vanished to - or even if she is still alive - and his initial attempts to find her prove fruitless. Fermin soon becomes infatuated with his captive, even though his ageing mother would prefer to see her son matched with a more agreeable Protestant lady, Jeanne. A village fool also falls for Elsa, with his affections providing her with an opportunity for the two lovers to be reunited, an opportunity that is aided further by the appearance of a travelling pedlar who frequents villages on both sides of the highlands.

Kirsanoff coaxes sublime performances from all of his cast and frames every scene with a keen eye for visual aesthetics. The awe-inspiring camerawork draws you deep into the story, with one standout scene where the camera erratically tracks the emotionally charged Jeanne as she runs back to her village being a personal highlight. Montage is also used to great effect throughout, with Kirsanoff cutting between characters and locations during crucial moments. This provides the audience with multiple views of simultaneously suspenseful events and heightens the tension close to unbearable levels.

Whilst Kirsanoff is renowned for his contribution to Avant-garde cinema (primarily the fascinating
short Menilmontant) his work on Rapt is equally as spectacular, if not more accomplished. It is a great shame that these two glimpses of brilliance were not accompanied by further ventures into the world of feature film-making, as his approach to storytelling is incredibly captivating and highly memorable.

Rapt is an unsung masterpiece that is revered by those familiar with it but is unfortunately known by too few. It is a film that deserves to be rediscovered and reappraised as its powerful and moving story still has the capacity to resonate with modern audiences. Kirsanoff's striking visual aesthetics are unusual for the film's era and its technical achievements in this area only serve to enhance the appeal of this first-rate melodrama, making it a must see for aspiring film-makers or those with a passion for vivid, evocative tales of love and revenge.

If you take the time to watch Rapt then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!



For previous instalments in the series click here

Saturday, 1 December 2018

100 Essential Films That Deserve More Attention - 24. O Fovos

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to experience the escapism of a captivating story, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.

O Fovos
Director Kostos Manoussakas 
Country - Greece
Year - 1966
Runtime - 102 Minutes

Fear consumes all of us at some point in our lives - ranging from the trivial to the profound. Director Kostos Manoussakas explores its all consuming impact on an impulsive farmhand, Anestis, in the aftermath of a heinous crime in his 1966 film O Fovos - The Fear. The farmhand's father, Dimitros, has taken a second wife after the failure of his first marriage, and Anestis lives with him alongside his step mum and step sister, Anna, in their countryside estate, that is also shared with a deaf and mute housemaid.

Anestis' feelings of inadequacy are exacerbated by an encounter with a neighbouring farmhand who regales him with tales of promiscuity, encouraging him to act upon his inner desire to be with a woman. Anestis' voyeuristic nature leads him to peering through holes in doors or leering through the undergrowth at women working the field, waiting for an opportunity to present itself. When Anestis' carnal instict kicks in he completely loses control and is subsequently wracked with guilt and shame over his actions.

The build up to this life-altering event and the ensuing fallout are both equally as thrilling to behold. Manoussakis uses stylistic choices that heighten the tension, such as abrupt and dramatic cuts and a pounding, tribal like musical accompaniment that tangle with the audiences nerves. We fear that something terrible is about to happen, and rightly so, but this doesn't compare to the fear that engulfs Anestis as he tries to cope with the consequences of his deplorable act.

The dynamics between the family members provide further dramatic tension to the story. Anna is set on marrying a mechanic, much to the chagrin of Dimitros, who detests the mechanic's father. This frustration increases the rift that is forming in Dimitros' second marriage, as his wife would happily allow their daughter to marry the mechanic. When Anestis' crime is discovered, this pushes the family to breaking point as they attempt to cover up his wrongdoings. Anna eventually learns of the incident and uses this as leverage against her father to agree to her marriage to the mechanic. The repercussions of this crime continue to have severe consequences on the rest of his family but it is ultimately Anestis who must shoulder the blame and the endless suffering for his grave mistake.

O Fovos is without doubt a minor masterpiece of Greek cinema, and one that has been criminally
overlooked outside of its native country. Its story imbibes the Greek culture of the time it depicts but does not depend on it, allowing the universal themes of fear and shame to be fully appreciated by film fans of any nationality. The striking imagery and pulsing soundtrack are likely to stay with you just as long as the tragic storyline will linger in your mind. The beauty of the Greek countryside and its alluring inhabitants will inevitably leave a lasting impression of a fascinating and stunning part of the world, even though Anestis' world is sadly torn apart by the profound fear that consumes him.

If you take the time to watch O Fovos then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!



For previous instalments in the series click here

Saturday, 24 November 2018

100 Essential Films That Deserve More Attention - 23. Symbol

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to experience the escapism of a captivating story, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.

Symbol
Director - Hitoshi Matsumoto
Country - Japan
Year - 2009
Runtime - 93 Minutes

If you ever reach the level of obsession with films that I have, you may find that it is possible to 'burn out' and lose interest in the world of cinema temporarily. Whilst experiencing this passing phase it can be difficult to pluck up the motivation to watch a film, and it usually takes a strange or unique film (that is unlike anything you have ever seen before) to remind you exactly how much fun the viewing experience can be. Enter Symbol, one of the most bizarre Japanese films I have ever seen, and one that reignited my passion for the wold of cinema. A film that defies description - though I will try - and takes you on a crazy and completely unpredictable journey.

Symbol opens on a dingy Mexican backlot where a lucho libre wrestler is preparing for an upcoming fight, whilst his family go about their daily routines. This fairly innocuous opening segues into a much stranger story in which a Japanese man (Hitoshi Mushimoto) awakes to find himself trapped in a large, empty, white room. The link between these two situations is not clear at first but, like all good storytellers, director and star Mushimoto weaves the two disparate threads together with a brilliant sleight of hand.

Although the Mexican family do have a part to play in the film's story, we spend most of our time alongside the confused man as he tries to figure out how to escape from his puzzling predicament. Those familiar with escape rooms will delight in the inventive methods of storytelling on display here. At times it feels like you are watching a friend complete a live action Nintendo game, with all of the craziness you would expect from such a prospect. The humour throughout is unashamedly silly, and this makes Symbol’s ascendancy to its philosophical leanings in the later stages of the film a welcome addition. Matsumoto is clearly toying with his audience and delivers some surprising food for thought after he reels you in with his comic madness.

Amazingly, Symbol was not well received in Japan but it has attracted a cult following from Western audiences who find themselves enamoured by the genuinely unique approach it takes to storytelling. Nothing is lost in translation as the surreal nature of the film means that it only briefly touches on cultural aspects that may lose relevance outside of its native audience. At times the special effects can appear slightly clunky but this actually adds to the charm of Symbol; if everything was too well refined the scenario could be in danger of exuding a sinister edge instead of the playful ambience that is paramount to the audience’s enjoyment of the picture.

It is rare for a critic to struggle in finding reference points to other comparable films either stylistically or plot-wise but Symbol really is one of a kind. The slapstick humour has its cornerstone in the visual comedy of silent cinema although this is given a compelling modern and absurd twist by Mushimoto, whose imagination conjures up all kinds of sensational plot devices to drive the story forward. For a film that takes place mostly in a single location, Symbol never loses steam, and remains an intriguing mystery until the very end. If you are ever in the mood for an uplifting, amusing and incredibly quirky film then look no further than Symbol. It may have you scratching your head in parts but is still likely to lift your spirits and remind you how much fun can be had when you take a punt on a film that is completely and utterly bonkers, in the best possible way. 

If you take the time to watch Symbol then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!




For previous instalments in the series click here

Sunday, 11 November 2018

100 Essential Films That Deserve More Attention - 22. Tetsuo: The Iron Man

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to experience the escapism of a captivating story, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.

Tetsuo: The Iron Man
Director 
Shinya Tsukamoto
Country - Japan
Year - 1989
Runtime - 67 Minutes

Every so often I stumble upon a film that leaves me completely stunned and utterly mesmerised by the sheer brilliance of its director’s vision. One such encounter was the first time I experienced the crazy cult classic Tetsuo: The Iron Man - a perverse exploration of body horror that was unlike anything I had ever seen at the time. Its nightmarish scenario boldly depicts an amalgamation of flesh and metal with the use of jaw-dropping practical effects that are as impressive as they are horrifying. This was clearly the work of a visionary genius and Tetsuo wormed its way into my list of favourite films as I was bowled over by both the audacity and insanity of the twisted imagination that brought this incredible story to life so vividly.     

Tetsuo tells the story of a disturbed man who cuts his leg open and inserts a metal rod into the wound. When he finds the wound festering with maggots he flees in terror and is run over by a young salaryman who enlists the help of his girlfriend to dispose of the body in a nearby river. Shortly after, the salaryman then finds his own body is slowly metamorphosing into a metallic form and he comes under attack from strange metallic humanoid creatures in a series of staggering set pieces that veer wildly out of control. Taking its cues from the darkest recesses of Lynch and Cronenberg’s work, Tetsuo ups the ante tenfold with its realistic representation of the gruesome operation that sets the stage at the start of the film and the bizarre metallic (and phallic) mutations that emerge from the salaryman and his aggressors as the carnage progresses.

By utilising stop-motion to bring his creations to life, director Shinya Tsukamoto enhances the sensation of the machine-like motions of his metallic monstrosities as they engage in ultra-violent and unsettling conflicts with the afflicted salaryman. These hyperkinetic sequences are astonishing to behold and display an array of talent in practical effects as Tsukamoto and his team’s production decisions were largely driven by budgetary constraints. He shot the film in black and white with expressionistic lighting used throughout and this adds to the cyberpunk sheen that permeates the film’s set designs, creating a truly unique and warped science-fiction horror.

The abrasive industrial soundtrack provides an intense backdrop to the visceral machinations of horror that invade the salaryman’s life. It pulsates and chugs like the workings of a factory shop floor only to fade away whenever the story (only occasionally) returns to a more normal semblance of reality. There are two instances where this thumping wall of sound is replaced by a curious playful jazz number that acts as a light-hearted prelude or coda to the proceedings, reminding you that Tsukamoto is toying with the audience as much as he is with his ever suffering characters. This stark contrast to the relentless assault of the heavy soundtrack allows for a brief respite from the onslaught of madness; its jarring effect acting as a welcome relief that enables you to gather your senses in preparation for that which is yet to come, or to reflect on that which has passed.   

The depraved sexual scenes push the boundaries of acceptability and cement the film’s reputation as a horror targeted at audiences with a liberal sensibility. Many of these extreme sequences are likely to repulse those who are squeamish and will certainly test the mettle of horror fans accustomed to graphic depictions of violence and gore. This is a violent and unrelenting descent into madness and the experimental cinematic techniques used to tell the story are as spellbinding as the practical effects. The care and attention taken to bring this demented tale to life is clear to see and - if you embrace the madness - it is an enthralling and unforgettable cinematic head trip that will inevitably leave you reeling in disbelief.

If you take the time to watch Tetsuo: The Iron Man then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!



For previous instalments in the series click here

Friday, 2 November 2018

100 Essential Films That Deserve More Attention - 21. Carriage to Vienna

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to experience the escapism of a captivating story, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.

Carriage to Vienna
Director Karel Kachyna
Country - Czechoslovakia
Year - 1966
Runtime - 78 Minutes

Czechoslovakian film-makers have contributed a great amount to the world of cinema throughout its exciting development over the past hundred years. Like many post-war European countries, the strife and hardship suffered by its people gave rise to powerful and important films being made that created waves throughout Europe and beyond or, in some cases, led to the films in question being banned due to their controversial nature.

Carriage to Vienna falls into the latter camp but was eventually released 23 years after its completion when the communist regime who banned it were finally forced out of power in 1989, and it has since been reappraised as a minor masterpiece of Czech cinema. It still has a long way to go before gaining the relative popularity which is afforded some of its closest contemporaries such as Closely Observed Trains or Diamonds in the Night but I am hoping that others who enjoy the film as much as I do will continue to spread the word of its brilliance and importance. 

Taking place over the last days of World War Two, Carriage to Vienna is set entirely in dense woodland where a young widow, Krista (Iva Janžurová) is accosted by two Austrian deserters, one of whom is seriously wounded, and she is forced to accompany them on their retreat home when they commandeer her horse-drawn carriage. Fearing for her life she attempts to dispose of their weapons along the journey, using each rest stop to her advantage by hiding a dagger or a gun in nearby thickets, relying on the knowledge that an axe is secretly stowed under her carriage for protection. Initial hostilities and language barriers eventually make way for a begrudged mutual respect but this, along with her loyalties to her country, is tested while they traverse a route fraught with danger.

If you have a predilection for bleak and depressing war films then Carriage to Vienna should strike a chord with you. Whereas war merely plays its part as a backdrop to the tragic events – there are no gunfights here – its presence is felt through the motivations and actions of the main characters who are torn between self-preservation and allegiance to their home nations. Brief glimpses of tanks and groups of partisans through the foliage serve as a reminder of the inherent threats that lurk close by, threats that are only avoided thanks to Krista’s skilful control over the two horses that draw her carriage.

Apart from Krista and the two soldiers there are only a handful of supporting characters, all with relatively little screen time, and the success of the film rests largely upon the astounding performances by the leads. The emotionally charged portrayal of Krista by Iva Janžurová offers a stark insight into a widow in turmoil and Jaromír Hanzlík’s depiction of the able-bodied Hans is an excellent rendering of a soldier on the verge of breaking point. Their characters both undergo a dramatic catharsis which is instigated when Han’s aggression turns full circle and he begins to make unwanted advances towards Krista. Alone and lost in the woods, they have no-one to turn to but each other, as the wounded soldier is largely unconscious throughout.

Every element of Carriage to Vienna is a work of fine art, with director Karel Kechnya demonstrating a masterful command of the medium that resonates throughout his unique vision. By using the natural borders of the woodland paths to frame the action, the film has a subtle picturesque quality. The camera is often placed on the carriage or behind it to put us firmly in the character’s viewpoint, encapsulating their isolation and sense of helplessness given the vast scope of the surrounding woodlands that fade into the seemingly endless horizon. An evocative classical organ accompaniment chimes perfectly with the downbeat subject matter, intensifying the impact of key scenes and enhancing the bleak mood that permeates the film.

Considering its short runtime, Carriage to Vienna still packs one hell of a gut punch, and also impressively transcends the focus of its political agenda, an agenda that can so often hold film-makers back from realising their true potential. This is a story that can be appreciated on many levels, and its sombre denouement is a striking and fitting closure that is likely to leave you shell-shocked as it comes full circle with a devastating blow.  

If you take the time to watch Carriage to Vienna then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!




For previous instalments in the series click here

Monday, 15 October 2018

100 Essential Films That Deserve More Attention - 20. Reflections of Evil

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to experience the escapism of a captivating story, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.

Reflections of Evil
Director Damon Packard
Country - USA
Year - 2002
Runtime - 138 Minutes

In 2013, Escape from Tomorrow enamoured audiences at the Sundance Film Festival with its audacious approach to guerilla film-making. Sequences of this fantastical horror were secretly shot inside Disney World, Florida, and although the film as a whole was flawed, this generated enough hype and publicity to garner Escape From Tomorrow a cult following.

It escaped my attention until a few years later that another bold and intrepid film-maker had explored this very idea before, albeit with scenes captured at Universal Studios over a decade earlier. The end result was Reflections of Evil, an unconventional masterpiece that subverts the film-making techniques used by so many Universal Pictures features to confront and provoke audiences in a far more effective way than Escape From Tomorrow did. I recommend this film cautiously, as its radical perspective is divisive among cineastes; some (myself included) claim it to be a breathtaking achievement, whilst others view it as worthless garbage. I would expect that those with an open mind set will surely revel in the warped world of Director Damon Packard.

The bizarre sensibilities of Packard are apparent from the very first scenes of his film. We are introduced to Reflections of Evil by none other than actor Tony Curtis whose voice has been dubbed over to convince us that the words of immense praise he is expressing are directed towards star and Director Damon Packard. When Packard's character eventually appears on screen - a larger than life bumbling watch salesman - he proceeds to fail miserably whilst selling watches, vomits intermittently and occasionally stumbles headfirst on to the floor, spraying blood over the pavement with every exaggerated impact. These are not the acts of a sane individual, nor are they the actions you would expect to see depicted by a credible film-maker, but the humourous delivery of Packard's encounters work well with the gross out elements and will certainly help to establish if this is a film you would be willing to sit through. At this point, my curiosity had been suitably enticed, how on earth would this deranged opening segment be sustained into a film that lasts close to two and a half hours?

The carnage continues in a similar vein for the next two thirds of the film, with little discernible plot to speak of - imagine if Lynch and Linklater collaborated on a Troma picture - and the onslaught of violence, foul imagery and erratic camera movements will inevitably leave viewers drained. Stick around for the ride though and you will reach the films crescendo into brilliance as Packard's character descends upon Universal Studios, the culmination of his constant beration of Spielberg's cinematic world through cheap imitations that showcase his perverted sense of humour.

Here we take a darkly hilarious journey through the E.T. ride and also see the directors own interpretation of a film related attraction that is so twisted I find it hard to believe that Packard followed through with it. The foul, disgusting character we are introduced to is finally superseded in repulsiveness by an abhorrent concept that is cruel and shocking yet utterly engaging. If you have the stomach to sit through the previous two hours of the film then there is a very high chance that you will appreciate the route Packard takes. This is black humour so close to the bone you will begin to question your own morality if you find yourself amused by his heartless creation.

There are only certain types of audiences who are going to enjoy this film - hell, I haven’t even risked showing this to some of my closest friends, but I can imagine it going down particularly well in the late night slot at a horror festival. There is nothing quite like it out there and films that tread a unique path will always appeal to me, particularly when they are pushing the boundaries of that which is deemed acceptable. If, like me, you get a kick out of the depraved side of cinema, then hopefully my praise for Reflections of Evil will be enough to convince you to take a punt on this crazy piece of guerrilla film-making.

If you take the time to watch Reflections of Evil then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!



For previous instalments in the series click here

Saturday, 13 October 2018

100 Essential Films That Deserve More Attention - 19. The Cremator

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to experience the escapism of a captivating story, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.

The Cremator
Director Juraj Herz
Country - Czechoslovakia
Year - 1969
Runtime - 95 Minutes

Cremating human bodies is a rather unappealing profession, which raises alarm bells when we meet Kopfrkingl (Rudolf Hrusinsky), a cremator who seems to take far too much pride and enjoyment in the self-proclaimed ‘crucial’ role he plays in society. Set during the build-up to the outbreak of World War Two, Kopfrkingl heeds the advice of an old war friend to be as ‘Aryan’ as possible in the pursuit of self-preservation and to further his career. This prompts a troubling conundrum for the cremator, as his wife is Jewish and they have a son and daughter who exhibit characteristics of the race he is eager to distance himself from.

For a man who burns dead bodies almost daily (and eloquently vents his frustrations that society doesn’t condone cremating on Christmas day), Kopfrkingl is incredibly relaxed and assured. He is a presentable and polite man, even if the views he develops are a huge cause for concern, and he remains calm in any given situation. When the cremator begins to demonstrate the behaviours of a psychopath it doesn’t come as a surprise; his demeanour is peculiar from the outset, and his morbid fascination with death leads him to believe that he is the saviour for all who enter into his sacred crematorium.

This is a dark and disturbing film that has perhaps been unfairly labelled with the horror genre over the years; yes - the situation is horrific, but the approach taken by director Juraj Herz is more akin to that of a surreal black comedy. Those expecting a traditional horror could be disappointed as this is not a scary film, even if the warped art house sensibilities do have their roots in the macabre and the storyline is deeply unsettling. The care and attention taken in the delivery of this twisted tale makes it a worthwhile viewing experience for those who approach the film with an open mind-set, providing you are not jaded by the labels given to it by others that can lead to inaccurate presumptions being made.

When the film starts the musical accompaniment is a sombre symphony; the perfect partner to the funereal atmosphere that pervades the crematorium parlour. This solemn sound evolves into a surge of pomp and circumstance, chiming with the cremator’s rise to power as his desire for success propels him into the limelight of the Nazis. From Kopfrking’s own perspective his character arc may be a crescendo of glory but it is a bleak and horrifying tale for outsiders. Thus the soundtrack is fitting for its main character but it is in stark contrast with the emotional journey experienced by the viewer.

At key moments in the film, particularly during stunning scenes inside the heart of the crematorium, Herz distorts our view with the use of a fish eye lens. This hints at the warped view Kopfrkingl has of the world and exaggerates the strangeness of his outlook on life, as well as emphasising the intensity of these unnatural moments by making the audience feel uneasy and off kilter. A sequence in which he heartlessly pursues an unfortunate victim through his stacks of coffins features mesmerising cinematography, combining a beautiful vision with disturbing actions in an amalgamation of contrasting moods that is both provocative and fascinating to behold.

With the story taking place in a testing time for the Czechoslovakian population, Herz delves deep into the political and social upheavals of the time, and does so in a manner that both intrigues and educates. It is frightening to witness the blind faith that guides those who believe in the final solution and the lengths that individuals will go to in order to secure their own successful future. The final haunting scenes evoke an overwhelming sense of dread; we have witnessed the full extent of the cremator’s insanity, and although it is a fitting finale, it is one that makes your skin crawl as it leaves a lasting impression of a cruel and unforgiving time in history.

If you take the time to watch The Cremator then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!



For previous instalments in the series click here