Tag Archives: j-horror

The Amazon Prime Horror Binge

I was never going to pay for Amazon Prime. But then I accidentally signed up for a month’s free trial so I didn’t have to. First on the agenda was, obviously, ordering lots of crap which had been in or around my shopping basket for ages to take advantage of the free next-day postage. Then, being a huge horror movie nut, it was over to Amazon Prime Video to see what was what.

Hide and Go Kill (2008, 72 mins)

Hide and Go Kill

Stumbling across this was a pleasant surprise, and something of a coincidence because I’d just finished writing a story based on the same weird Internet ritual, hitori kakurenbo, which roughly translates as ‘hide and seek alone.’ Search for it if you want the grisly details. If you’re a fan of J-Horror as I am, you’ll know that all the most twisted shit starts in Japanese classrooms, and this is no different. Here, there’s a girl remembering her absent friend who, after being jilted by her lover and bullied at school, becomes obsessed with a mysterious blog about the aforementioned Internet ritual. Word of the blog spreads, and soon the horror takes hold. The film is an anthology of sorts, each segment following a different person’s experience with said blog. True, it’s a somewhat familiar template and in places is slightly derivative of certain other J-Horror staples, but it’s still worthy of your time.

7/10

Countrycide (2017, 69 mins)

OK, I wasn’t expecting much from this. Especially after reading some scathing reviews online. However, nothing could have prepared me for just how bad this no-budget affair would be. It starts with a torture porn scenario lifted straight out of a dodgy exploitation flick as we see a woman running (or trying to run) through the woods sporting a nasty bear trap injury to her leg. The film then flashes back two days and we discover she was on her way to a wedding with her new boyfriend when they decided to stop off and camp for a night. And that’s where it all goes pear-shaped. Hallucinations, rampaging rednecks, local wildlife, and the afore-mentioned bear trap all conspire to piss on their parade before it properly gets started. If any of that is appealing to you, don’t be fooled. Nothing about this film is appealing. Not least the fact that it appears to have been filmed on someone’s iPhone. Total crap. The only reason it’s getting two points is because someone went to the effort of making it, and hard work should always be rewarded.

2/10

Death Valley (2015, 94 mins)

A few criticisms here right off the bat. Firstly, there have been at least three other films with the same title. Some imagination would have been nice. Also, the description on IMDB and Amazon Prime is just plain wrong. Four strangers aren’t on a ‘drunken wedding dash’ at all. Four strangers are going to a music festival. Sigh. Anyway, when said strangers’ car breaks down they blag a lift with some more strangers in an RV who think it would be a good idea to take the RV off-road and into the desert. Now I’m not an expert, but I do know that most vehicles like to be on roads. Obviously, the RV comes a cropper and then they all take peyote and party on down in the middle of nowhere. I mean, the desert must be a dangerous enough place as it is without compounding things by being stupid as fuck. Within minutes one of them drops dead of an overdose, another one gets bitten by a snake, and the rest are hopelessly lost. And that’s about it. From there, everything just fizzles out. A lame plot is salvaged only by some breathtaking cinematography and generally high production values.

5/10

Our Last Weekend (2011, 82 mins)

Four minutes in and I have no idea what’s going on. There are two people arguing, a threesome, and someone’s making a salad. Despite what you may think, the most entertaining of these three threads is the argument. It’s a Spanish language film, and Amazon’s subtitling skills are woefully exposed (“I’ll break your teeth and pull your eyes off!”). Google translate would do a better job. Twelve minutes in, there’s someone peeing in the woods, someone else has been caught cheating, and we’re all off to a villa for a party. Things are looking up. It’s freezing, though. Not even sunny. Everyone’s walking around in shorts and bikinis trying to pretend otherwise, but it’s obviously the middle of winter. Probably cheaper to film in the off-season. Back to the plot, and despite the hedonistic atmosphere, all is not well. A creepy dude in a blue onesie keeps popping up everywhere and a drunken local lets slip that there’s a secret military base nearby. Then the group accidentally runs someone over (shades of I Know What You Did Last Summer) and things take a very surreal turn indeed. I think the makers were aiming for arty, but what we get is more weird and confusing. They do deserve some credit for at least trying to be original.

3.5/10

Webcast (2018, 92 mins)

webcast-movie-poster

Let’s be honest, there’s been a few missteps in this experiment. It’s partly my own fault. I was choosing films primarily based on the synopsis, without factoring in other pertinent information like their IMDB listing notes or their score on Rotten Tomatoes. Any decent writer can make a film sound good in a three-line synopsis. But as it’s my last chance (the free trial is ending) I made an informed decision, and opted for this one. It’s picked up some good reviews, and I’m a huge fan of the found footage format. Shoot me. So here, a young couple researching a missing person cold case become convinced that one of their neighbours has kidnapped a(nother) teenage girl and decide to run a surveillance operation on him. As you do. And that’s just the start of the shenanigans. In many ways, this is a typical British film; small town paranoia, suburban secrets, clandestine cults, general weirdness. If this film were an album it would be by Pink Floyd or Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. Written and directed by Paul McGhie who, according to his website, usually specializes in wedding videos, this is another no-budget effort which has its moments but is ultimately let down by the ambiguous ending.

6/10

Conclusion: As a platform, Amazon Prime Video might be in its infancy and could well improve in the future but for now, Netflix doesn’t have much to worry about. The Zon would do well to invest in some real quality, rather than focusing on quantity in order to build their library. By the way, I was going to leave these reviews on the site, but apparently I’m not eligible to leave reviews, probably because I haven’t spent more than $50 in the past six hours and I don’t have a dog called Gerald.

So here they are.

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RetView #12 – Ringu

Title: Ringu (Ring)

Year of Release: 1998

Director: Hideo Nakata

Length: 95 mins

Starring: Nanako Matsushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Rikiya Otaka, Yuko Takeuchi, Hitomi Sato

Ringu-1998-movie-Hideo-Nakata-6

It would be a huge generalization to say that I love them all because like anything else, the genre can be a bit hit n’ miss. But I’ve spoken at length before about my fondness for Japanese horror movies. Ringu (the original version of the Ring, followed in 2002 by a big-budget and hugely successful American remake) is quite possibly the king of J-Horror. It’s without doubt the movie responsible for sparking a western fascination with Asian horror movies which was mined extensively over the next decade or so with varying degrees of success. Think Pulse, the Grudge and Dark Water, all of which were remade for western audiences.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to suggest that until Ringu burst onto the screens in all its grainy glory, western horror cinema was going through a notoriously bad time. We were still bogged down in the deranged serial killer/slasher genre, which was getting decidedly old by then. There are only so many cheap scares and bloody, increasingly imaginative kills an audience can tolerate before they get desensitized to the whole thing. We wanted something new. Something that wasn’t the same as everything else. Then came Ringu.

The film begins innocuously enough, giving barely a hint of the edge-of-the-seat creepiness to follow. Two cutesy teenaged girls, Masami (Sato) and Tomoko (Takeuchi) are messing around in an apartment and discussing a cursed videotape which supposedly kills its victims after they receive a phone call seven days after watching it, when one of them confesses to watching just such a strange tape a week earlier. Then the phone rings. Some time later, reporter Reiko Asakawa (Matsushima) learns that her niece Tomoko (Yup, thadda one) and three of her friends died under mysterious circumstances, and sets about investigating. The trail leads to a cabin in the Izu area of Japan. There, she finds an unlabelled video tape. Obviously, she watches it, thereby starting off a trail of events which might just be the death of her. She enlists the help of her ex-husband (Sanada) and together they attempt to break the spell and avoid Reiko’s imminent fate. More than two decades on, that unforgettable scene where Sadako the ghost girl climbs out of a well (and then through a television screen) remains one of the simplest yet most evocative slices of cinematic history ever committed to, er, videotape? Though many have tried to replicate the effect, it has never been emulated.

4.JPG

Adapted from the 1991 novel Ring by Koji Suzuki who, in turn, based the story on an urban myth , the movie has long been noted as examining Japan’s obsession with the clash between tradition and modernity. This is only one of the many subtexts critics have pointed to, another popular one being that ghost girl Sadako is a model for the modern woman and how independence conflicts with the traditional core values of motherhood. Whether you agree with any of that or not, it’s clear that Ringu is an extraordinarily complex film that works on many levels. It is a visually stunning piece of work, so heavily steeped in Japanese culture that as a westerner it’s practically impossible to grasp all the subtleties. It draws on many aspects of history, folklore, and even theatre, to create a mash-up that is much more about fostering a pervasive sense of dread rather than going for cheap jump scares. Much was made at the time about Sadako’s jerky, twisty, hauntingly deliberate movements. These were actually based on a kind of interpretive Japanese dance called Butoh, which became popular after the Second World War. Even Sadako’s classic look is no accident, having been based on a specific species of ghost called the yūrei, which invariably feature stark white faces, long black hair, and white kimonos. The reason yūrei appear this way is because that’s how Japanese women looked when they were buried.

In fact, everything about Ringu was designed to creep the viewer out. One way it achieved this was through use of a technique called ‘Ma,’ where sound effects and musical scores are deliberately punctuated with sequences of rapid pauses or even long, drawn-out silences. This was another way the film differentiates itself significantly from Western films. While Western horror uses sound to let the audience know how they should be feeling, J-Horror (and Ringu specifically), uses Ma as a way to keep the audience thrown off balance. This is just one reason the Guardian named it the 12th Best Horror Film of all Time. By the way, you can watch it in its entirety (with English subtitles) HERE.

Trivia Corner:

In what proved to be a shrewd and innovative move at the time, both Ringu and its sequel Rasen (not to be confused with Ring 2), were released in Japan on the same day, January 31st 1998. Both films had different writers and directors, yet shared many of the same cast members. Shrewd and innovative this may have been, but successful it wasn’t as Ringu was an international hit and Rasen a comparative flop.


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