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Grotesque – Review January 11, 2010

Posted by Cello in Asian Horror Reviews.
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This is it guys. If you follow my blog and and have a yearning for a true 18+ viewing experience, here you go. I can safely say that Grotesque certainly raises the bar as far as cinematic violence and sexual sadism is concerned.  In the finest tradition of Japanese gore cinema, the plot is minimal, it is basically just a gross piece of work.  A young couple are snatched off the street and wake up shackled in a basement. With no explanation, a sadistic madman tortures and mutilates them. As the torture progresses, it is revealed he is simply doing this for sexual stimulation, and that he wants the two to survive.

Grotesque pretty much got banned everywhere claiming that there was no plot or redeeming qualities of the film. The reception in Japan was a bit better but due to all the controversy, all major outlet chains have stopped selling Grotesque on DVD. It certainly does make for hard going at times, with the gore being administered in such a dark approach, offering not even a glimmer of hope for the victims.  Our madman also delights in the revelation that he is in fact a skilled surgeon, if you hadn’t already guessed from the way he yields his chainsaw (see picture below). Man, I actually feel a bit ashamed to say I sat through this whole film, it is just wrong on all fronts.

Trust me, I know where a lot of you extreme cinema buffs are coming from. Sure, gore fans are well served here, but without any justification of the killer’s motives, you feel like you are just watching acts of random torture.  All extreme nastiness aside, what really helps to lift the film from the bottom barrell is that although the budget was low, and the movie is short, the highly talented director makes good use of his limited resources.

Although well made there’s a lot of quick edits & shaky hand-held camera movement which gets annoying. To those of you who read my blog who think Saw is the pinnacle of horror films, I feel for you. I really do. There’s blood splatter, needles are stuck into people, hands are cut off with a chainsaw, severed fingers are seen, an arm is chopped off, a head is chopped off, a woman has her nipples cut off with scissors, someones guts are pulled out and this guy hammers nails into his victims testicles. Oh, and a penis gets cut off. Still interested? Well, then I recommend you see this film.

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Nightmare Detective – Review December 29, 2009

Posted by Cello in Asian Horror Reviews.
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I like this director’s style, this film may have the largest budget given to him, but this director stands by his art, never for a moment does he give in to the pressure of making a studio-approved/influenced film.  Nightmare Detective follows a detective named Keiko who is summoned to investigate supposedly two separate suicide cases. The suicides have a common denominator; the victims dialed the same number on their cell phones just minutes before their demise.  There are also a lot of themes and Christian motifs that involve birth and baptism, rebirth and redemption, damnation to hell and eternal suffering. While these complicated thematic style may be its strength, it may also frustrate those looking for the usual scary thrills.

As this is a new kind of homicide, the police have to take a new route of investigation, using someone gifted in supernatural occurrences with experience in delving into the thoughts and dreams. Viewers looking for a fast-paced horror thriller may find their interest beginning to wane after the dream world begins to take center stage.  The dream sequences are pretty damn intense. Nightmare Detective is a classy endeavor that resists cliché and categorization.

Like most dreams, what happens in the final conflict is surreal and difficult to grasp from a story perspective, but if you can weather the storm of the convoluted execution, you’ll probably come away with a positive enough experience to feel satisfied. This is an incredible cerebral horror and a breath of fresh air amidst the deluge of long-haired ghosts that have been plaguing Japan over the past decade. There is some alternately beautiful and horrifying cinematography with lots of varying color filters, and a bit of Sam Raimi-esque camera craziness to boot.

I like to have some semblance of a story to help me comprehend what I’m seeing, and at some point I felt like Nightmare Detective got off track and just sort of gave in to the madness. However, the director proves once again that he is still ready and willing to take chances with his movies, and has lost none of his dedication to making sure that cinema stays dangerous. The film starts of extremely strong, creating a tangible sense of dread and oppressive danger, the likes of which most American horror films only hope to attain. In closing, Nightmare Detective wasn’t anywhere near as good as I thought it would be, but the premise was interesting enough to keep me trudging through to the end of the film.

Death Bell – Review December 7, 2009

Posted by Cello in Asian Horror Reviews.
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The story of Death Bell is a mix of various movies, with Saw being the more prominent for me, just without all the excess gore and lengthy torture.  The film is set at Chang Ahn High School, where a special class of the top twenty students has been put together for the coming exams. A disembodied voice announces a student will die for every test question the class gets wrong — and the first will be the girl in the tank (seen below). Anyone trying to leave the premises will also die a horrible death.  Yes, the movie takes a Saw-ish turn as we witness one student after the other somehow get kidnapped and put in front of a camera with some new death-device. Aside from the identity crises, the movie was fairly decent.

After a fairly conventional half-hour setup, the pic keeps the tension high with tight cutting and a no-flab script that ups the student body count in some especially inventive ways. Thankfully, the film is packed with shocks, and whilst most of them are fairly familiar, there are a few genuine surprises and some imaginative scenes with some good use of special effects. The film starts off as a ghost flick, which turns into a semi-torture feature and ends up as a standard who-done-it slasher.

But it’s a horror film. Build some decent atmosphere, give me some good acting, and I’ll go home happy. One death in particular had me yearning for the keyboard right away.  A student is wedged in what seems to be a mattress wire frame.  Above him are burning candles.  I thought maybe the candles were holding up spikes and that their diminishing height would bring his impalement.  Nope, just wax.  Wax that covered his mouth, suffocating him. Pretty cool stuff. The identity of the killer and his reasons might be fairly predictable, but then again, this is a film that primarily relies on inventive shocks, outrageous gore and slick cinematography.

None of the students is equipped to handle the life-or-death tension created by this exam.  The characters themselves are typical and they make the same boneheaded decisions that everyone does in horror flicks. As bloody bodies start dropping through ceilings, banging around in clothes dryers, and showing up with cryptic messages carved into them, the group members behave badly, suspecting each other and narrowing their perspectives. If watching someone die drowning in melted candle wax is your thing, this is a good asian horror movie to put on your radar.

13: Game of Death – Review October 22, 2009

Posted by Cello in Asian Horror Reviews.
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13: Game of Death is a must-see for the uncommon people who have strong stomachs and great appreciation for worldly cinema. The film revolves around a down on his luck guy names Phuchit who has problems with work, money, love, and just life in general. One day after losing his job, he receives a mysterious phonecall telling him that he has been selected for a gameshow and offering him the chance to win 100 million baht if he completes a series of 13 tasks. Our main character begins to be involved in an underground reality game.

The person running the game is pretty much all knowing and seems to be able to control everyone’s actions. All consequences become an afterthought in the quest for that permanently life changing 100 Million. Phuchit must overcome games as basic as those you might see on Fear Factor but also extremely violent ones which are set up to break him down emotionally and physically. However, the plot is weakest when it tries to be elaborate, but as a horror film it doesn’t hit all the right spots.

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13: Game of Death was particularly hard to track down on the net with English subtitles. Having English subtitles on the film itself is the main selling point for this disc, and it’s likely the only one available anywhere in the world is on DVD which is your best bet. The effects weren’t great and felt like it was trying too hard to act like Saw or Hostel. If it wasn’t for the great acting performances, it would have took me out of the story.

After loving the first half, the latter half was a disappointment. Half an hour in, I was saying to myself that this is a great premise worthy of a franchise. It’s not overly gory, it’s not that scary, but it is a good tense story. This film Will make you flinch and thats about as good as a reaction I can get out of a film thats marketed as a horror film. The icing on this delicious slice of sadistic cinema is the film’s knockout conclusion: it’s the kind of twist that should leave everyone properly shocked and deeply awed. Horror fans of the site need to track this film and watch it, it comes highly recommended.
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Onibaba – Review October 13, 2009

Posted by Cello in Asian Horror Reviews.
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Onibaba opened up in theaters in a time where people didn’t rely on special effects to get their point across. It is categorized as a a psychodrama with some mild horror elements. Onibaba (which means Demon Woman in Japanese) is set in Medieval Japan and focuses on two women protagonists.  These two women survive in a sea of grass by killing stray samurai. When a friend of their son and husband returns, a tale of lust, jealousy, and mysterious supernatural forces unfolds.

Shot in black and white, this Kaneto Shindo film deals with the selfishness of humanity, where relations exists because of advantages to be gain, mutual or otherwise. This is how two women scrape an existence in a time of anarchy in Japanese history. Men seem to be marginal to their lives, and exist only as potential threats. Their lives appear to be nothing more than eating, retrieving water, laying in wait, and bargaining with their stolen goods. The film features some for the time very daring nudity and sexuality which resulted in it being censored the world over, even in Japan.

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Horror films affect people in different ways. Whether they strike fear into the hearts of those who watch them, or those that just are not interesting. Narratives aside, the film is a successful combination creepy atmosphere and simple camera work. The only mark I can say that goes against Onibaba is that although it is a unique experience, it lacks the raw intensity of modern Japanese horror films, and may not be as visually horrific as modern horror films.

Something I wish was addressed more in the film was characterization. We don’t see enough form the characters. Essentially, it leaves a lot to be desired. Frankly put, Onibaba delivers shivers based on its perfect fusion of atmosphere, character, and setting. For a powerful experience in real terror, see this film. It is a masterpiece of the supernatural.
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