Your Source for Foreign Horror, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy Films. Our Motto is Subtitles or GTFO!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Mutants? Meh

Share on Tumblr By Craig R.

This review was really hard to write. I didn't hate this movie, I didn't particularly like it, I'm aggressively ambivalent about it. When that's the case, it's really hard to praise it, yet hard to trash it. I watched all of it, so I figured that I might as well make an attempt to write a review. This is one of those movies that's hard to tell much about without any spoilers, but I shall do my best.

Mutants has promising start. It begins in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, where apparently most of the population has been infected with a virus, that has turned them into zombies (unfortunately, the running kind). Our main characters are Marco and Sonia, a couple who happen to be EMTs, who are attempting to make their way to the safety of a military base. They don't quite make it there, and have to hunker down in an abandoned building, after. Along the way, Marco becomes infected, and the rest of the film involves Sonia trying to cure him, while they are waiting for help to arrive, and some of the usual elements of this genre (an incursion by other survivors, and a zombie siege). 

Mutants attempts to do something different within the genre. Many of these type films are so packed with zombie attacks that they don't have much time to get into interpersonal interactions. This film spends too much of its run time, actually most of the time, doing that. This is an interesting touch, watching Sonia deal with Marco's gruelingly slow transformation into a zombie. However, the downside of that aspect is that about an hour of this film, except for Marco, is zombie-free. Either they had that much because they couldn't afford more zombies, or they didn't have many because of the story, whatever.

Before I get into what I didn't like about this film, I'll address what I actually did like about it. It is very well-made, the characters are well-written, and acted, the cinematography is great, as are the effects, most dealing with Marco. The aspect of dealing with Marco's transformation, and Sonia dealing with it are very effective, but did I mention that it takes up way too much of the movie? It does, and it becomes annoying. The reason that she goes to such lengths is explained late in the film, but I won't spoil that for you, in case you decide to give it a viewing. 

Now, let's review what I didn't like. First, for a zombie apocolypese, it was pretty meager. There were maybe twelve of them in the entire film. Also, our protagonists are able to drive for quite a while on roads, where there is not an abandoned car in site. This is the first time that I've ever watched anything that is zombie-related, where the characters do any amount of travelling, and the roads are not blocked at all. 

Also, there is a disappointing lack of carnage. Did I mention that there aren't many zombies? There aren't any burning buildings, and pretty much any structure they enter is pristine. The building Marco and Sonia end up staying in basically looks like everyone had just gone home for the day, and there are virtually no signs that anything is amiss in the rest of the world. There's also electricity. If the apocolypse has been going for as long as the hints that it has, would there still be electricity?

In this genre, of the first things that people usually do when they find shelter is to harden it, boarding up and blacking out, to try to keep zombies out, and not draw attention to their location. Do Sonia and Marco do this? Noooo, of course not. Not only do enter the structure, and not even appear to make a feeble attempt to secure themselves against intrusion, but they don't even attempt to hide their presence. I found myself getting distracted, looking for ways that I could secure myself, in that situation. When they first arrive inside of the building, there is no power, but after a search, Sonia finds a breaker box. When she turns on the power, there is an outside shot, and the building lights up like a Christmas tree. I doubt that she even bothered to go around to turn out any of the unnecessary lights, it's just that kind of movie. Unfortunately, as is shown later in the film, other survivors don't even attempt to harden their location either. What is it with the French?

Probably the thing that bothered me the most of all is that not only did Marco's transformation take place over a couple days, but Sonia's carelessness during the situation. Not only does she not kill him once she figures out that he's infected, she doesn't even bother to restrain him. Look, I understand the reluctance to kill a loved one when you know that in short order he'll be set on making a meal out of you, I can't say that I'd react any differently, but at least take measures to protect yourself. Good grief, how did she survive so long?

I also understand maintaining the hope that once help arrives, the military will have found a cure, and Marco will be okay. However understanding I may be, once the dude starts vomiting blood, and growling and snapping at me, he's either going to be put down, or at least restrained. Our female protagonist never attempts to restrain Marco, this, he's able to terrorize her throughout the film, until his change is complete. After he tries to gnaw on her, he tells her that he's sorry, and she forgives him. This reminds me of the parable of the scorpion and the frog.

Another issue with this film is the zombies. First, they run. It's sad that these days, I'm surprised when a zombie movie has ones that don't run. Outside of trying to make things more exciting, or the MTV influence, another possible reason for running zombies occurred to me while I was watching this film. When zombies run, it's more difficult to focus on their features, because of some blurring & shakiness of the picture. This possibly enables the filmmakers to use less detailed makeup for the ones that aren't featured. Using the right type of lighting and shadows also helps this. That being said, Marco's makeup is very effective.

Secondly, there just aren't enough of them in this film. There are maybe a total of a dozen here. If you you're going to portray a zombie apocalypse, try to make it convincing. While this film has good production values, it appears to be low-budget, which would explain the measly number ghouls. In films like Rammbock: Berlin Undead, it is possible to be convincing with a small amount of zombies, if the setting is in close quarters. Unfortunately, this film's setting is too wide open for that to be done.

Finally, the zombies stray far from the canon that most films of this type stick to. In most works in this genre, the transformation occurs quickly, in minutes or hours, if not instantaneously, so that the uninfected often don't have time to prepare or react. If a transformation occurs over several days, how did the apocalypse happen? You know there's no cure for the condition, you know if someone's infected, and will turn, make preparations, if that's not done, maybe zombies deserve to rule the Earth. Also, zombies only attacks are usually grabbing and biting. Here, our ghouls hit, even straddle a victim, and pummel them MMA-style. The final violation is the way they are killed. It's pretty standard with this type of undead that the only way to kill them is to destroy the brain. A couple of them in this film are killed by damage to their throats, and bleeding out. That's just unacceptable. A few are burned, but that's acceptable, since theoretically, the fire damages their brains.

In spite of my criticisms, this is a decent film. It's shot well, has decent effects, the acting is fine, and it had an interesting concept. Unfortuantely, I had too many problems with it, and it was too slow, for an extended amount of time, for me to fully recommend it. Did I mention that there weren't enough zombies?
It is in French, with subtitles. Its run time is 1 hour, 29 minutes, and it is rated R. It is available on Netflix Instant. 

I give it 2 1/2 out of four purple zombies.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Battle Royale

Share on Tumblr

By Craig R.

Some things are so horrific that it's hard to look away: Car accidents, train wrecks, Pauly Shore movies. Such is the case with Battle Royale. That isn't because it's a bad film. On the contrary, it's an excellent film. The problem isn't that it has a lot of graphic violence. The problem is that it involves children, specifically teenagers.

Originally released in 2000, Battle Royale was not released in the US until 2011. This is because it couldn't find a distributor, due to fears of legal actions resulting from the content. In the meantime, The Hunger Games books and movie were released. The similarities are so striking that fans have accused Suzanne Collins of stealing the idea for the story.

Set in a collapsing Japan (10% unemployment, teens going on strike by refusing to go to school), the government establishes The BR Program, where an entire Junior High class is randomly selected to participate in a fight to the death. As in The Hunger Games, this is supposedly to keep the population under control through instilling fear.

Not this kind
In the film, a class of forty students is gassed while on a bus trip, and wake up in a briefing room on a deserted island. They are greeted by heavily-armed soldiers, and their former teacher Kitano (played by the great Takeshi Kitano), who quit after being stabbed by one of them. At this point, he explains their situation: their class has been randomly selected to participate in that year's Battle Royale as a result of the BR Act, which was passed after 800,000 students walked out of school. They have three days to kill each other, until only one of them remains. If that does not happen, the explosive collars they are wearing will detonate. They will also happen to participants who resist the rules, or enter "death zones", which will be announced every twelve hours.  It is never mentioned, but the only prize for surviving is just that.


At this point, during their orientation, Kitano mercilessly kills a couple students who cause trouble during the orientation, to make his points. The students are then sent out one-by-one.  Each of them is given a bag of food and water, map of the island, compass, and randomly issued a weapon. The weapons are anything as lethal as a gun or knife, or seemingly useless as a pot lid or paper fan.

Within hours, twelve of them die, some by suicide. Two "exchange students" had been added to the group, one of whom is quite vicious. Presumably, I don't recall it being discussed much; the two were probably added in the event that many of the students are reluctant to kill. As The Hunger Games did later, all of the day's deaths are announced during each evening's announcements.

As the story unfolds, some of the students form alliances, and seek out others, in order to protect them, and express unrequited love.Unfortunately, this leads to multiple deaths, at one time. The stress also causes them to reveal their true character, with one even using the situation to settle old scores.

If there's an intended message to this film, I didn't see it, though I've read that it was to condemn television violence. That may be so, but I don't recall any mention that the events were televised. I got the sense that while the portrayal of the violence, while graphic, and unflinching, wasn't done for the sake of glorifying it. I expected that, because films of this type from Japan often seem to do otherwise.

If there was a message, in my opinion, it was that stress will reveal someone's true character, and can strengthen love and friendship, but that may just be me looking for something good. If there is a redeeming value, it is, as mentioned earlier, that alliances are formed, where the members do not turn on each other, and that the actions of some are motivated by love.

Although this is a well-made film, I hesitate to recommend it. I'll let you make up your minds about deciding to watch it. I almost didn't write this review, because the violence was a little unsettling, but felt that I should at least warn anyone who is considering viewing this.

I give this film three out of five pot lids, because of my reservations. It was made in Japan, and is available in Netflix Instant. The language is Japanese, with subtitles, and is Not Rated. Run time is 1 hour, 54 minutes.

Update 9/20/13: It is available on Netflix Instant and Amazon Instant. However, I found the whole thing on YouTube.

Note: I would normally post the trailer here, but I felt that it was a little too graphic. If you are interested in this film, I recommend that you watch it first.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

'Dead Snow' ain't a Oscar pic but it is fun.

Share on Tumblr

      Question: What is worse than Zombies and Nazis? Answer: Nazi Zombies!!! Dead Snow is a fun gore fest from Norway that tries not to have any deep meaning or pretty much any thinking whatsoever.  Most Scandinavian movies I've seen are more vignettes; i.e. stories that you might hear from your Grandpa around a fire.  Usually short and heavy on character development.  Well not Dead Snow no way.
     Dead Snow was very much like the old 1980's American horror movies.  But with a lot less plot, which is really hard to believe.  Jason Voorhies could have been freaking Gary Oldman after I saw it.
Where the hell is my hockey mask?!

      But hey, it's a gorefest and they don't try to make any pretenses that they're anything else.  Flying limbs, split open heads, brains falling out of heads, and more disembowelments than you have ever seen in any movie. That's including medical documentaries.  Nazis apparently love intestines.
      But overall it was funny and scary.  But extremely gory.  I give Dead Snow 2 3/4 Zombie heads out of 5.

VikingSamurai © 2012

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

We Are The Night

Share on Tumblr

By Craig R.

In recent years, significant damage has been done to the vampire genre. Vampires that sparkle in the daylight, instead of burning to a crisp, and don’t have fangs? Marrying mortals? Even Francis Ford Coppolla couldn’t resist, making Dracula long for a lost love. Vampires are blood-thirsty killers. They can be cool, and sexy, but in the end, they are killers. In general, many contemporary vampire movies ignore the traditional canon of the genre (weaknesses, appearance, etc.).

Not in this film

 We Are The Night is a German vampire film that sticks mostly to the canon. It is about a trio of female vampires: Louise, Charlotte, and Nora. Located in Berlin (I have a hard time using “living”, when referring to vampires), throw huge rave-like parties, (recklessly) drive expensive cars, seducing, and wantonly feeding on mortals, and live in a luxury hotel. One night Lena, a young criminal, attends one of their parties. In short order, Louise turns her.
Lena has a hard time adjusting to being one of the undead, which leads Louise to take measures to help her accept the reality sooner. Unfortunately this leaves behind a trail of bodies, which attracts the attention of the police, chiefly, Tom, an officer that had met Lena when she was still a mortal. This leads to him tracking her down, and them striking up a friendship, somewhat romantic, which further affects Lena’s ability to adjust to her new life, and eventually leads to bad things happening, for our ladies of the night.

Tom and Lena’s relationship is not obtrusive to the story, but flows quite freely into it. This film, unlike many that I have seen, addresses the longing for their mortal life, and those that they’ve left behind, as well as the reluctance to accept the new existence. For me, the most effective scene was one where one of the ladies visits her dying daughter, who was a child when she was turned, in a nursing home. There is also an interesting conversation of the group’s type of feminism, and creating new vampires.

The effects are done quite well, there is quite a bit of blood, though fangs are rarely seen. Lena’s transformation from a mortal to a vampire was done very well, unlike any that I can recall. The action sequences are done quite well, daylight car chases, with special cars, shootouts with the police, and of course vampire fights. Thankfully, even though the vampires perform superhuman feats (walking on walls, and ceilings, for example), there’s none of that Matrixy, Wire-Fu-type garbage. As far as possibly objectionable content, the only nudity is, unfortunately a (thankfully) a very brief glimpse of some dudes’ junk, and there is a moment when Louise kisses Lena.

My only real problem with the film is that rather than using subtitles, it is dubbed into English. While this is perfectly appropriate for Kung Fu, and Godzilla movies, that are watched purely for fun, it is not for a “serious” film. In the “fun” movies, the dialogue merely connects the action sequences, so the quality isn’t as important. Actually, bad dubbing (out of sync, inappropriate voice) makes those types of movies more entertaining.  However, when that happens with a more serious film, it can be distracting, and takes away from the seriousness. Unfortunately that is the case with We Are The Night. Lena’s voice actually sounds like one that one would hear in a Kung Fu movie.

I highly recommend this film. It is one of the most interesting vampire movies that I've seen in a while. It is Not Rated, dubbed into English, and has a runtime of 1 hour, 40 minutes. It is available on Netflix Streaming.

I give We Are The Night three out of four Hot German Vampires.