Mai-chan’s Daily Life (2014)

Mai-chan’s Daily Life brings to mind questions I never thought I’d ask such as “what if instead of being a badass superhero Wolverine was a tortured sex slave?” That’s essentially the central plot of this film, where a maid with infinitely regenerative powers (who can still feel pain) is used by her sadistic “master” to fulfill his violent, brutal fantasies. Loosely based upon the 2003 Manga Mai-chan no nichijô by Waita Uziga the film was adapted and directed by Sade Satô in 2014. While the story may deviate quite a bit from the source material, it maintains the same spirit of gleeful brutality thanks in large part to direct supervision of the process by Uziga himself.

The storyline in this adaptation centers around a new character created for the film named Miyako (Miyako Akane) who starts work as a maid at the remote house where Mai-chan (An Koshi) already works. Once Miyako dons her short, fetishistic maid outfit, Mai-chan starts showing her the ropes. This includes how to dust the jars filled with dead puppies, as well as how to be appropriately subservient to their wheelchair-bound employer known only as “Master” (Shôgo Maruyamawho) and the cruel head maid Kaede (Soako Roman). After witnessing the brutal punishment Mai-chan receives for daring to spill the milk that she was forced to lap up from a bowl on the floor, Miyako becomes aware of Mai-chan’s special ability. Rather than horrifying her, this seems to awaken something in Miyako who becomes obsessed with the idea of “devouring” Mai-chan.

Despite its incredibly brutal violence, the film actually feels toned-down from the Manga as it contains none of the graphic sex or (thankfully) pedophilia of the source material. I can’t say that there is really a lot beneath the surface here, as both the film and the Manga seem primarily created to indulge the Torture Porn fantasies of the audience and the lingering shots of bent-over maids and sadistic violence certainly work to support that idea. Don’t get me wrong though, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that and it’s great when a film knows what it is and owns it. Despite all the violence, the film has a lightness to it and doesn’t take itself too seriously. There’s something about Mai-chan that just makes it so damn engaging (dare I say fun) and the experience is reminiscent of the similarly graphic yet lighthearted Guinea Pig 3: He Never Dies.

It helps that the acting and special effects are both excellent which serves to keep you immersed in this strange, twisted story. The film does (for some reason) alternate between black & white and color at seemingly random intervals which may have been an homage to the B&W source material, but I found to be a needless distraction. Even though it originally came out in 2014 the film is getting a proper re-release courtesy of Tetro Video in July of 2021, which is great news for fans who can no longer get a hold of the OOP edition that Redemption Films put out in 2016. Connoisseurs of twisted, splatter cinema would do well to check this one out because at just over an hour, it goes down real easy and has a great rewatchability factor. It may not be the most complex thing on the menu but it’s a satisfying treat that Extreme Cinema fans will want to devour over and over again.

Short Film Review: Family Bond (2019) Duration 12 min 49 sec

A successful story is one that develops as it progresses, bringing new twists and revelations as it builds upon itself. When the story in question is a short, then it’s important that the movement occurs quickly and meaningfully. Director/co-writer Chris Guzzo finds that balance with Family Bond which starts out on a tense but innocuous domestic scene and develops into something far more menacing before long. Its difficult to really talk about the short’s plot without giving spoilers but there are other things to discuss. The acting for one is good, it’s not the best I’ve ever seen but it still manages to bring the characters to life and gets the job done. Within its brief run time the film is able to throw in some major twists and surprising revelations which is difficult to do within such a limited space. Those twists however do rely heavily on the acceptance of a certain fact that, while possible, is unlikely enough to remain dangerously close to implausible. Still, an overall interesting story that efficiently sets up the characters and the world and will take you on an engaging ride that builds to a fittingly dark climax.

Short Film Review: Filtered (2021) Duration 5 min 39 sec

As we rely more and more on technology to make connections (especially as the ever present quarantine isolation marches on) it makes sense that tech based horror would become more prevalent in the genre in new and interesting ways. Just as Host did last year, Filtered is able to effectively communicate horror and anxiety in the simple yet brilliant format of video chat. With a runtime of less than six minutes, writer/ director Vincenzo Nappi doesn’t have a lot of time to establish characters or backstory, yet is able to make both Jasmine (Jasmine Winter) and Marco (Marco Carreiro) immediately feel genuine and real with the sparse information provided. This goes a long way to making their initially mundane conversation all the more familiar at the start and therefore more frightening by the climax. With simple yet effective imagery that recalls the classic David Lynch shortThe Alphabet at times, this is an amazing piece of bite-sized horror that feels very apropos to the moment.

Short Film Review: Forced Entry (2021) Duration 24 min 24 sec

Typically in short films it’s best to dive right into the action and Forced Entry does just that as it plunges you into the world of psychotic drifter duo Arthur Maddox (Tom Lodewyck) and Donovan Hatche (James Bett Jr). The film follows the pair on a brutal killing spree over the course of a couple of days and was inspired by real life murderers Lawrence Bittaker and Roy Norris who raped and killed five young women in 1979. Even though brief footage of the real killers is shown at the end, the connection they have to the film probably wouldn’t have been clear to anyone who didn’t have the luxury of reading the highly detailed press kit. Even so, the shots do still serve to illustrate the point that our real world is filled with brutal, sadistic violence that usually occurs without much motive or rational explanation.

The story here is definitely pretty bare bones as most of the twenty-four minute runtime is taken up with extended scenes of mean-spirited violence. That’s not at all a bad thing in this case though, because even without a more robust narrative, the film still manages to be highly compelling with some truly impressive practical gore effects and excellent performances from the victims. It also makes sense given the fact that K.M. Jamison (who co-wrote/co-directed with James Bett Jr) said in a statement that the film is intended to function as a kind of showcase for what will hopefully be turned into a feature someday. In that regard it’s highly successful and I’m very on-board to see this nasty little story get fully fleshed-out in all its blood-soaked glory.

Nightmare Symphony (2021)

It’s interesting that the review for Nightmare Symphony would come directly after my review of Undergods since both films play with ambiguity and surreal imagery but achieve nearly opposite results. In this case, the Giallo-inspired film takes a big swing at meta commentary and the nature of reality with its story of an American director Frank (Frank LaLoggia) who goes to Italy to finish the edit of his film. Before long people all around him seem to be dying at the hands of a mysterious killer in a bird mask, who leaves no trace behind other than a peacock feather as their calling card.

Clearly this film is a love letter to Giallo itself, which is apparent long before the dedication to Lucio Fulci during the closing credits. On this front it succeeds wonderfully and the color-saturated scenes where the bird masked killer slashes up their victims with a straight razor to a pulsating synth score are a thing of beauty. In fact, I want to especially shout out all the FX work on this film because it is far and away the best part of the entire experience and every gory scene that features it is a work of brutal, bloody art.

What’s less successful is the story itself, as well as LaLoggia’s lackluster performance which never quite rings true, especially when paired with some of the actors in minor roles that are really bringing their A-game. It’s frustrating because I can see what writer Antonio Tentori (Cat in the Brain, Demonia) is trying to do but it simply does not come together. The ending (which I won’t reveal here) attempts to be very clever with a big meta reveal but falls utterly flat due to the fact that the preceding story in no way supports it.

Ambiguity in films can be a great thing, but a story that actively contradicts itself and feels like there are key scenes missing isn’t the same as not understanding a surreal film that’s filled with metaphor and symbolism. If you are going to play with the concept of reality itself in a film then you need to clearly establish what the reality of the world is and really understand when and how you are breaking with those conventions.

In this case Nightmare Symphony feels as confused as the viewer but attempts to cover its plot holes with stylized theatrics that it hopes will somehow congeal into meaning. Still, the film has a lot of style and a few carefully crafted re-shoots might be all it takes to fill in the missing pieces and tie the ending to the film that preceded it.

Blind (2020)

Horror films like to play with our sense of vulnerability by showing characters in a weakened or disadvantaged state, whether it’s due to being trapped somewhere out of their element, trying to fight off supernaturally strong enemies, etc. When a character has a disability that already puts them at a physical disadvantage, it can be an opportunity to crank the tension up even further as their fight for survival becomes even more difficult. We saw this concept play out to great effect in 2016’s Hush, so I was curious if this version of the single-disabled-woman-being-terrorized-in-her-own-home-by-a-sadistic-killer story would work as well in Blind.

At the start of the film we see Faye (Sarah French), a Hollywood actress still trying to adjust to her new life a year after a botched Lasik procedure caused her to lose her sight and her career along with it. As difficult as her life has become, things get considerably worse for her when a deranged killer in a Ken doll mask begins terrorizing her and murdering her friends.

First of all, I’d like to point out that to date there has never been a reported case of a patient losing their sight as a direct result of a Lasik procedure, so that pretty much deflates the central concept right from the start. Regardless, I was more than willing to move past that as I watched the beautifully shot scenes unfold and waited for the horror to kick in. Turns out I would be waiting for what felt like an eternity as the first third of this film is almost entirely devoted to watching Faye wallow in depression, attend group therapy, and start up an awkward will-they-won’t-they relationship with her mute friend Luke (Tyler Gallant).

Any well-made film should be able to establish an empathetic protagonist in a short amount of time and if you need to spend thirty minutes just trying to make the audience care about your characters while the central conflict remains jammed in neutral, then you’ve already lost them. There are some decent kills to be had once things get rolling but the film lacks any kind of real tension which makes the majority of it feel boring rather than engaging.

Part of the issue may be that Faye spends so much time being completely oblivious to the killer lurking around her house that he no longer feels threatening. It just kept bringing Hush to mind for me since that film had such a similar concept yet was able to keep things tense and exciting the whole time. I also cared a lot more about those characters with far less time devoted to trying to force me to do so and none of the melodramatic love story crammed in.

The strangest thing about Blind is that it has all the ingredients of a film that should work, they just fail to come together. The acting is solid all around, there’s great sound design, and there is no question that the film is beautifully shot. I like the look of the killer “Pretty Boy” and there is one scene in particular where he is sitting there in his doll mask and blood-soaked white tux that is truly iconic. Director Marcel Walz is clearing aping Nicolas Winding Refn’s style a bit with his use of red and blue saturation and dreamy 80s style synth but has nevertheless created a piece that is very visually appealing. I’m sure that with a tighter, more horror focused script he could create something that is truly great.

Short Film Review: Duérmete Niño (2019) Duration 9 min 38 sec

DNShortifilm_PosterClocking in at under ten minutes total (only about seven of which is the actual film) Duérmete Niño (Rock-a-bye Baby) is an interesting little slice of horror. Inspired by a real, sleep deprived nightmare that director Freddy Chávez experienced after the birth of his daughter, this short captures the horror and anxiety of being a new parent in a very creative and unusual way.

In the film Piercey Dalton plays a single mother of twins (a terrifying enough prospect in and of itself) who begins to hear strange noises through the baby monitor that connects to her children’s room. Text in the beginning lets us know that the use of baby monitors can actually be traced back to 1937, an interesting fact that also properly justifies the 1940’s setting. The retro feel adds an extra layer of creepiness to the film as technology from that era was so inherently clunky and prone to dangerous malfunctions. It also allows for the inclusion of an animated faux commercial for the monitor that serves as a fun bonus during the credits.

When viewing this film it is clear that a lot of care and effort went into crafting not just the atmospheric setting but also the tense, well paced story that leads to a horrific and immensely satisfying conclusion. Dalton is essentially a one woman show and does an excellent job in conveying real pathos and emotion through a dialogue-free performance. The skillful use of special effects really seals the deal and makes this one short that is well worth your modest time investment. A must-see film that was inspired by nightmares and will certainly go on to inspire quite a few more.

4-5-stars-red

Audition (1999)

audition-cover-11If you’ve only seen one film by the brilliant Japanese auteur Takashi Miike, then it was probably Audition. Not only is it Miike’s most well known film outside of Japan but it is also his most accessible. That’s not to say of course that it’s something that’s easily digested by the mindless masses, it is still a Miike film after all, and if it didn’t have some incredibly violent, disturbing scenes I wouldn’t be reviewing it here. Although, it’s not the violence alone that makes this film interesting, what really sets it apart is the brutal sucker-punch it gives the audience.

After his wife dies of an illness, Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) must raise his son Shigehiko (Tetsu Sawaki) on his own. When Shigehiko becomes a teenager he begins to encourage his father to find a new wife and Shigeharu takes his advice to heart, in a rather unconventional way. By staging sham auditions for a movie that won’t be made, he is able to screen potential mates and quickly falls for one of the beautiful applicants, Asami (Eihi Shiina). But despite her sweet, meek demeanor, Asami is holding a very dark secret that threatens to unravel Shigeharu’s entire life.

Typically, when a film has a significant tonal shift, the end result is a story that feels unbalanced and poorly crafted. However, in this case, Miike uses that very concept to deliberately lull the viewer into a false sense of security before violently pulling the rug out from under them. The entire first half plays out as a well-acted relationship drama with no indication of the horrors that are in store. I can only hope that there are people out there who actually watched this expecting a drama and were scarred for life by what they witnessed in the final thirty minutes.

Audition sittingWhat really makes Audition work is that even with the tonal shift, the two halves of the film never feel like disparate ideas awkwardly stitched together but instead function as one cohesive story that is purposefully and methodically laid out. The dramatic, character-focused beginning fleshes out who these people are and makes the viewer truly invested in their fate. The fact that the violence is intense but used sparingly also gives it a far greater impact when it’s shown.

For the most part, the narrative of this film is quite straightforward and only really veers into surreal territory during a particular montage where a character seems to be aware of details he couldn’t have known without some kind of supernatural ability. It’s possible this may have been a slight oversight in terms of the perspective of the scene but it’s also possible that it was intended to be ambiguous and represent the character’s fears of what the potential truth might be. Either way, the scene plays out incredibly well with some gloriously grotesque imagery that will stick with you long after the credits roll.

As far as Miike films go, this one represents an essential entry into his canon and makes a great stepping stone for viewers into his more unhinged masterpieces such as Ichi the Killer and Visitor Q. It also serves as a cautionary tale that when relationships seem too good to be true, they usually are.

4-stars-red

Murder-Set-Pieces (2004)

msp coverTo anyone who has taken so much as a cursory glance at my reviews it should be abundantly clear that I am an incredibly strong supporter of free speech. I’ve made it my mission to track down and review the darkest and most fucked up films ever made and I revel in witnessing cinema’s most disturbing creations. This is all to say that it’s extremely rare that I come across a film with parts that even I find problematic, but it does happen. A classic example would be the unsimulated animal killing in Cannibal Holocaust whose artistic value is superseded by the real world suffering caused by their creation. It had been a long time since I’d seen Murder Set Pieces, so I was surprised to find a similar moral predicament as I wondered to myself “Wait, is this a fucking pro-Nazi film?” More on that in a minute.

The film itself is very light on actual plot and essentially just follows around an unnamed professional photographer (Sven Garrett) as he brutally murders women in Las Vegas. Despite the fact that he’s racking up a substantial body count, the only person who is even remotely suspicious of this obvious sociopath is his girlfriend’s little sister, who is determined to find out what is really going on. MSP 3

Now, if you are going to have a villainous, evil character, a Nazi or Nazi sympathizer is certainly a good choice and as such have been used effectively in many other films. In the case of MSP though it feels very…..different and not just because the protagonist is openly supportive of Nazis and screams in German while he kills people. By themselves these traits could be passed off as simply being used to enhance the evil nature of the character, but when you also start your film with a strange quote about “the Jews” and use a production company named Third Reich Ventures (!) shit starts to add up.

To be fair, this film was made in a different time, years before a peaceful frog was co-opted into an official symbol of hate speech by armies of trolls seeking to make racism “great” again. If I was to play devil’s advocate I could say that it is possible that writer/director Nick Palumbo was perhaps using the imagery more in service of shock value than promoting an ideology. MSP 5However, this more generous read of the subject matter is a tough sell considering how the entire film feels like little more than a vicarious indulgence of Palumbo’s darkest fantasies.

In scene after scene the strong, good looking protagonist is able to effortlessly pick up beautiful women and viciously fuck and murder them in a seemingly consequence-free environment. In addition to this, this unnamed photographer uses nearly all his non-German dialogue on misogynistic rants or fawning praise for Nazis. This is of course when he isn’t busy working out while Triumph of the Will plays in the background. It’s really unfortunate that these things had to be so pervasive within the film because despite the numerous problematic elements there is actually a lot that MSP does very well.

MSP 6

From a visual standpoint this film is absolutely stunning and Palumbo makes excellent use of his two million dollar budget to create mesmerizing visuals on 35mm film stock. Side note, this film also has the bizarre distinction of allegedly containing the only known 35mm footage of the WTC towers going down on 9/11, for whatever that’s worth. Anyway, horror fans don’t just come for the pretty pictures though, we come for the gore and on that front MSP delivers incredibly well. So well in fact that the film was thrown out of three labs before finally being processed.

Thankfully, it was eventually processed because the director’s cut of this film has some of the most gorgeous and gruesome gore effects ever put to celluloid. Each murder scene is exquisitely crafted to showcase the raw, visceral bloodshed in all it’s glory. MSP 1The chainsaw to the head scene stands out as a particular highlight but whether it’s a brutal throat slitting, bathtub drowning or vicious beating each violent scene is filled with a raw, vicious energy that makes the kills much more realistic and disturbing. Throw in some corpse eating, severed head fucking and a brutal on-screen child murder (!) and what you get is a truly unfiltered example of Extreme Cinema that goes well beyond where conventional horror films dare to venture.

The glorious gore effects were courtesy of Fred Vogel’s Toetag Pictures production studio and Vogel himself even cameos in the film. He is also joined by horror legends Gunnar Hansen and Tony Todd, who’s disgruntled porn store clerk character is a highlight of the film. MSP 2So, in the end there is a lot to like about MSP and if it hadn’t been infested with Nazi propaganda it would be an easy film to recommend to fans of hardcore cinema. Overall I’m left feeling conflicted because as much of a fan as I am of the gorgeous, unhinged violence I just can’t fully endorse a film that seems like it would be a top pick for a neo-Nazi movie night.

2-stars-red