Monday, July 24, 2006

Raped by Demon Beasts

So, remember DEMON BEAST INVASION (Yojuu Kyoushitsu)? The 1990 MAEDA Toshio OAV series about horny aliens who impregnate human women and the whole thing ends with utter retardation and hawt Manta Monster Sex? Yeah. I just saw the US print of episodes 1-4, and I'll watch 5-6 later.

Episodes 1 and 2 do look a bit like shit. It's not nearly the unwatchable crap that happened with damaged digital masters like ADVENTURE KID (another Maeda "B" title), just that the bitrates are too low and there ends up being a lot of MPEG noise and blocking uglies in the many night scenes and space scapes. It's a watchable transfer... just not mind blowing. It's also the 100% uncensored edition, same as the LD MEMORIAL set I watched, and has the original title cards and original credits. Only downside really are a bunch of "hard" subtitles on title cards, subtitles and the like. Should have had a higher bitrate, but otherwise good.

Episodes 3 and 4 are... wow, this is bad. First off, there's only 1 hard subtitle between them, so yay. The title cards this time are replaced, using an ugly ass font than can only be described as atrotious. Seriously, while I sometimes question my friends' devotion to original credits on anime, these are so bad I want to buy the Japanese DVD's - and I don't even LIKE half the show! Yuck... seriously, these are the absolute worse looking title cards I ever saw. They're even gayer than the VAMPIRE HUNTER D crap Streamline stuck on their master in the early 90's. *Shudder* Best part though? The unmosaiced tentacle pr0n footage was taken from a washed out VHS master.

WHAT THE FUCK?

Anime 18 clearly had uncensored masters to have released the VHS uncensored - all things considered maybe 3 or 4 minutes worth of footage was ever mosaiced to begin with, and once the soft, washed out footage kicks in it's pretty noticable. I'm usually forgiving of composite prints, having made plenty myself for a variety of reasons... but what happened here? Were they given an uncensored workprint to release and the difference was negligable on DVD? Were the uncensored digital masters lost even in Japan? Did Anime 18 send the encoding house the wrong footage? Seriously, what the hell happened here? This doesn't make ANY damned sense... but at least I can properly wank to uncensored tentacle penetration, I suppose.

Incidentally, Episode 5 and 6 have a few fugly-ass title overlays, the same hideous font in episodes 3 and 4 for the title cards... but at least the uncensored Hawt Manta Secks and trilobite rape is the same quality as the rest of the episode. I almost hate to give Anime 18 credit for the eyesore footage in my favorite episodes (3 and 4), but the colors and detail on the R1's are actually better than the Japanese LD's. The Japanese DVD's probably look better than anything else out there (apart from the penis pixelation, of course...), but the real question is "do I care"? I love Maeda, and while the third and fourth episodes are at LEAST on par with stuff like Urotsukidouji 3 and Gedou Gakuen, the other 4 either bore me or leave me in fits of retarded laugher. And I usually only do that to INJUU KYOSHI (Angel of Darkness). So... yeah. It's a good thing when bad hentai makes me laugh, but not as good as when good hentai makes me smile in sadistic glee.

All things considered, the R1 is a decent package, and one I'll actually pay for eventually... it's just far from perfect, and I really wish people would mention when uncensored VHS footage was used. I dare anyone at Anime 18 to tell me something else was used. Sorry guys... I've encoded VHS. I know what it looks like compared to Digibeta.

Time to see what misery Kiseki Films and Anime 18 managed to make of ADVENTURE KID. I can't rightly blame Anime 18 for this one: the release has looked awful since it was sub-licensed from the UK, and there's not much they can do to fix horrendously damaged/fux0red up digital tapes. But... seriously. Something went very wrong there.

I've offered to help Anime 18 with special editions of UROTSUKIDOJI in the past. They weren't interested. It's a shame: between my partner in crime Zuba and I we probably know as much about the show as is humanly possible without having been in the production process. I don't know nearly as much about Demon Beast Invasion, mostly because... well, I don't like it nearly as much as other Maeda shows. But I -do- know better transfers were possible than what Anime 18 has given us. Still, these DVD's feature subtitles, are uncut, and you can get it for dirt cheap if you try a little... *CoughHKFLIX.COMHack* It's just a shame that, much like the rest of Anime 18's back catalog, a special edition - or even a notable remaster (as in, using new master materials... not just a new encode) - is likely to never happen.

Truth be told, I'd be amazed if we got the last episode of YAKIN BYOUTOU from Anime 18... I have a feeling they're going much the way of Soft Cel. And that's not good, considering how many good titles they own the rights to. They may not have been perfect, but Critical Mass cuts loli, and Media Blasters is about the last "anime" studio doing hentai alongside mainstream titles. The new guys - Amorz, Japan Anime and whoever - seem to be all right, in that NuTech No Money No Effort sort of way - though with HOT STORM cutting credits I'm starting to get just a wee bit worried. No matter... I don't buy much ecchi anyway, and Angel Core is the only great looking show they have right now.

Urg. My head hurts. Time to go watch pinku methinks.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Lion's Gate and the Maw of Rejected Bullshit

Seriously... this whole format war crap has made me hate Blu-Ray.

In theory it sounds awesome. 50 gigs on a dual layer disk, support of every major Hollywood studio but Universal (so far), the PS3... and of course, the fact that some films that I adore, from Devil's Rejects to Kill Bill and Kung Fu Hustle were all due on the format.

Then the players and disks actually came out. Sure, the Blu-Ray players are capable of a much nicer picture than DVD players... but using only single layer disks (25 gigs - versus DVD's 8.5), the old standby codec MPEG-2, and with the majority of the extras once present on the DVD's now missing in the name of better video (which doesn't hold a candle to HD-DVD's current codec, VC-1)... well, the releases are unimpressive at best, and total bullshit at worst.

The upsides are few and far between; for one thing, there's generally less compression than sattelite or cable HD feeds - which are pretty damned unimpressive, I think - and best of all, Sony's first releases have tried in vain to make up for the sub HD-DVD video quality and general lack of extras by filling the disks with uncompressed LPCM 5.1 audio (which supposedly has dropouts... wtf?!). LPCM is badass stuff, to be sure, but is it worth sacrificing extras for? I say no. Others who have spent more on their home theatres than I have my car or rent for the past 5 years would bitch-slap me for it. Whatever. I know what I like.

But Lion's Gate... oh, Lion's Gate, what the fuck? First off, the majority of the films they're releasing now I could give a rat's ass about. Crash, bah! Wait, is that Cronengerg's crash or Racism for Dummies Crash? The latter? Fuck it then. Lord of War... nah, I'm good. Terminator 2... maybe. But lacking the wealth of extras that were on the previous DVD-18 edition, and the "Extreme" cut from the budget minded 2 disk set... nah'. Not now, anyway. I like T2, but not at the expense of cool shit to go with it. (Plus the Extreme Edition has a 1080i HD video file as an extra on disk 2... ha.) There are others... but I'll bring up the two relevant films.

First is SAW. I didn't buy SAW when it first came out, knowing the uncut version was also available internationally, and instead of springing for the German or UK DVD's I waited for the R1 "Special Uncut Edition", which featured more footage, less lame numetal, and a shit load of new extras. (Not to say the original was a total slouch in the extras department; we did get commentaries and a short documentary, which is better than nothing.) The 2 disk edition has a bunch of crap, including the short film the director and writer sent in to Lion's Gate to prove they weren't just a pair of chumps, psuedo-documentaries that lead in to the suprisingly fun SAW 2, a feature length making-of, and even a nifty little DVD-ROM game where you can build an evil puppet. What can I say, they gave us everything there was, and a few things that probably shouldn't have. This, dear friends, is how you do a special edition. Plus the first run was packaged in a giant CD jewel case with a blood bag inside that you can poke. How cool is that?

So, what's the Blu-Ray for SAW feature? The film, R-rated cut only. Chapter stops. DTS and Dolby 6.1/5.1 tracks. That's it.

Wait... huh?

And now Devil's Rejects, probably my favorite film of 2005 in it's entirety, is getting a Blu-Ray release. The DVD that was released was something of a beauty, including the unrated version of the film (extended only slightly, much like HOSTEL), 2 commentaries with Rob Zombie and the titular characters' actors Sherri Moon, Bill Mosley and Sid Haig (yay!), several deleted scenes, a TV commercial featured in the film itself, a TV show that's in the film itself, a vintage country music video that was - you guessed it, totall relavant for once, some interesting make-up tests (including the cut-from-the-film Doctor Satan proethstetics), and finally, one of the best extras compiled for any DVD of any film, ever: 30 DAYS IN HELL, a 2 and a half hour documentary about the creation of the film. That's right, 2 and a half motherfucking HOURS. It's longer than the film by a wide margin, and in some respects is arguably even more interesting - but that's always the way, isn't it?

I can't remember any other documentary that's this down and dirty, partly because of the shoestring budget and harsh conditions the movie was created in. Devil's Rejects has much more in common with the 70's grindhouse films of yore, and a big part of that is the film was shot with nothing but creativity and freedom, which is exactly why 70's horror films - and action films and westerns, which this film actually has more in common - were the unpolished masterpieces and misfires they were. They were rarely perfect, but they were never compromised... and this documentary is the perfect way to show that fact off. 30 DAYS IN HELL is the sort of making-of that could have been sold on it's own at full price and I'd still recommend people buy it. It's honestly that interesting, and shows how bright a man who's made a living wearing Devilman pants and playing blood-filled guitars actually is. Zombie's a very smart man, and he could have Hollywood on it's ass if he ever decided he was bored with genre films... lucky for me, I think he likes them too much to just up and give them up like Raimi and Jackson did so long ago.

So, what's the Blu-Ray have? The 2 commentaries, and deleted scenes. Yeah, couldn't even be bothered to chuck on an original trailer for fuck's sake.

So while my original plan was basically "buy Blu-Ray, down-convert to standard definition, profit" (minus the last part)... Blu-Ray can officially go fuck itself until it seriously gets it's act in gear. The transfers CAN be excellent (and theoretically will be once they get the codec issues worked out... maybe), the audio glorious (if your reciever can do anything with it. Mine can't.), and while everyone who's bought the same movie more than once for a prettier picture or a beefed up audio track (yo!) says "that's what really matters"... at what cost? I agree that the presentation of a film is the most important aspect you can get on home video, but if we're getting badly compressed MPEG-2 video, the same DTS tracks on the current DVD, and the R-rated version of a film we can buy unrated on DVD... where's the reason to upgrade? For a long time I've hoped that home theatre was really there to experience films the way they were meant to be seen, uncompromised and larger than life, the same way the directors' indended. More and more I'm seeing it's a way for studios to eek out a few bucks and for douchebags who don't have to worry about buying food the next day to show off where all their disosable income has gone. I'm not saying gorgeous picture and amazing sound is a bad thing.... I'm just saying that if Blu-Ray can't do what DVD can do in terms of presenting a film, why the fuck should I care?

If it were JUST Lion's Gate, maybe I'd let it go. But it's not. Sony has deleted some of the extras from the Terminator DVD to make the new Blu-Ray fit. They've deleted all the suppliments from disks like House of Flying Daggers and XXX - which has 2 totally DIFFERENT sets of extras! Granted I own the R1 of Kung Fu Hustle (with subtitled commentary and all), and the Blu-Ray release will be edited (as the R1 is)... so once more, I look at all of these studio suit jackoffs and wonder. Should I give a fuck? Yes, 1080p is the tits and should make the movies I watch come ALIVE and once we get dual layer Blu-Ray working (which won't happen for a year or better... PS3 games don't need more than 25 gigs worth of space.) and once we switch to the codec's that HD-DVD so horribly beat us to and...

etc., lather rinse, repeat. Same old story, Same old song and dance.

Lion's Gate was the only studio with a lot on BD that I really had an interest in, so if they're not going to deliver on some of my favorite films (Haute Tension in HD? HELL YES!), then I'm not going to buy them, simple as that. And as far as the whole format war crap goes, it's pretty simple; Blu-Ray is twice as expensive as HD-DVD. It doesn't look as good as HD-DVD, and the difference is sound will be negligible by the time I can get to it. Really, much as I wanted Blu-Ray to be the next wave of what I spent all of my nonexistant money on, I've just given up. Oh, and the fact that you can't down-convert over S-Video? Great job there, guys. Not that I have a grand for a massive first gen player anyway, but if I was interested you pretty much just killed it right there. (HD-DVD downconverts just fine. Of course.) Even if I had a damned HDTV, this is bullshit, and something I'd rather not support with the money I could use to buy DVD's at half the cost of their extra-less BD cousins. Backwards compatable my ass.

Now, don't get me wrong... someday, I'll own a PS3. I've said it before, Microsoft has Halo, Sony has Final Fantasy. 1337 gamers can bitch back and fourth over which of these systems is more powerful, more convienant, more fun... it doesn't fucking matter. The fact that they each have a stake in two of the largest video game franchises alone guarantees that they'll both sell, and sell well. Period. I want the new Final Fantasy Player 3 as much as every other loser who's spent weekends at home leveling up and unlocking hidden players instead of getting layed or getting drunk or curing cancer or whatever, and if I have a box that plays Blu-Ray, hell, I'm sure I'd theoretically buy Devil's Rejects again to see how spiffy it looks on it. (If the PS2's performance as a DVD player is any indicator, it'll look like shit regardless of how perfectly encoded the Blu-Ray is.)

But I gotta' tell you... sticking with normal DVD's is sounding better and better. At least HD-DVD is backwards compatable with SDTV's, and that very fact might just convince me to finally buy Jackson's LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, which is exactly the sort of reason these scary players exist in the first place.

So this will be the last time (for now...DUN DUN DUN!) that I bitch about Blu-Ray vs HD-DVD. At this point I've said all there is to say; Blu-Ray looked like it was gonna' be a champ, but it's not delivering, and until it does I'll stick with normal DVD 'till an HD-DVD player is under $300. After that I see no reason to go with the HD version, even if it's an extra $5 or so. Even on my cheesy Wal-Mart TV less noise reduction and edge enhancement on the HD version would look better.

...I'm still not buying FULL METAL JACKET on HD-DVD though. I need to stick to some basic scruple.


And on an unrelated note, the IVTC for Vampire Hunter D seems to be fixeed. Viva la progressive!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Neon Blooded Vampire Hunter D + I'm Kranke these days...

I'm torn between my love for releasing films the way they were originally... and the way they "probably" should be.

Case in point, the 1985 theatrical anime movie Kyuuketsuki Hantaa D - or as it was released in English, VAMPIRE HUNTER D. This was officially the first anime I ever saw at the ripe old age of either 9 or 10 (honestly not sure which), and yes, it changed my life. For the better? That's a matter of opinion to be sure. But I watched it, loved it, and I've needed more ever since. Vampire Hunter D is also, alongside films like Ninja Scroll and Akira, one of the 90's "gateway" anime. It was an anime you could show to people who weren't in to animation and they'd love it anyway. Everybody loves vampired; horror movie fans, dirty romance fans, and all of those self hating emo bastards I just find myself wanting to punch. Vampires are both the classic cool and the modern age sexy... or at least that's the theory. Truth be told, I like zombies and werewolves and cannibals better. But nothing beats watching Christopher Lee or Bela Lugosi doing their immortal schtick. I even like Gary Oldman in his granny jammies doing his thing... but at the end of the day, I'd much rather be watching Romero making headless zombies try to eat Asia Argento.

So now I have yet another project only I give a rat's ass about. Vampire Hunter D: The Final Edition. The point is to take the positive attributes from all previous editions - Japanese DVD, German DVD, American DVD and UK DVD - and combine them in to a single set that will mean I don't have to flop through a crap load of cases to see... something. The ideal presentation would be the original fullscreen print with English, Japanese, and German 5.1 tracks... but that's just not going to happen. For a multitude of reasons. But I'll start with the video end:

The US DVD looks like crap. Sure, it's progressive scan... but it's a perfectly encoded transfer of a black screen with occasional flashes of orange skin. I understand that the original English film print is probably in wretched shape by this point*, and that the only telecine was done for the laserdisc in the 1990's, and I can forgive the R1 DVD for looking the way it does... but forgiveness doesn't make the English print LOOK any better. The UK DVD clearly used a different master, but I'm not too interested in spending $40 on a dub-only master that's a PAL-NTSC edition. The commentary track by famed anime "expert" Johnathan Clements hardly seems worth the effort either...

*For the record, I'm not sure if the bi-lingual film master has actually dissapeared or if it's in pristine shape in a vault or whatever, but the progressive-ness of the R1 makes me think the credits were added to an actual 35mm print. FIST OF THE NORTH STAR had a limited theatrical release in the US during the early 90's, and Robot Carnival DEFINATELY has a 70mm bi-lingual film print floating around... so who the fuck knows? Either way, the telecine used on the Urban Vision DVD - which was in turn licensed from Carl Macek and what ever is left of Streamline Entertainment - was a composite master, probably the same digital tape master used for the Streamline laserdisc. It was bi-lingual too, incidentally, though it lacked the R1 extras (the only great extra being the original making-of from the Japanese LD, which isn't on the Japanese R2 DVD.)

The Japanese DVD is adequate. It was also struck back in the days of LD goodness, so it's composite; analogue grain, dot crawl and rainbows included*. It's also very soft, with indistinct outlines, faded print damage and no film grain whatsoever. It's not just a lovely shade of black like the R1, and the encoding is adequate... just not spectacular. The colors seem dark and faded, and while it's clear it's a very old telecine, there's nothing overtly "wrong" with it.

*Yeah, probably the same master used for the Japanese laserdisc. Don't know, and truth be told I really don't care.

Then we have the German telecine. For one thing, the telecine itself is GORGEOUS. It was done as a component transfer, so there's no rainbowing or dot crawl to be found. The detail is spot on, very sharp and with crips lines and limited print damage and NO edge enhancement. It would be the best looking print of VHD ever... if it weren't for the problem that the new telecine was made as 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. True, Vampire Hunter D -was- a theatrical film. And equally true that if you saw it on the big screen some 20 years ago, it was probably cropped... but that doesn't mean that the original fullscreen aspect ratio doesn't have a LOT of detail that was clearly supposed to be in the film itself. This isn't like Kubrick where everything's centered so when it's cropped you can still see more or less everything; you can't even see D's eyes in the widescreen print half the time.

The other problem is the color ballance made on the German print. Yes, the print is very bright and lets you see a lot of details that were once lost totally on the Japanese film print. However, this makes the day-time scenes totally blown out (the ground when D rides to Count Lee's castle goes from brown and tan to pretty much white), Dan and Lee's flesh tones go from rich and tan to pale and ghastly (fitting in the latter case - not the former...), and perhaps most telling is that the ample squirts of flesh (and vampiric) blood on display are pretty pink in some shots, and downright neon-orange in others. I'm talking Tom Savini Dawn of the Dead neon zombie slime here. You could cite the difference being the "colour warmth" difference that's inherint in both NTSC and PAL video - where NTSC has a slight red tint to it's TV sets and PAL has a slight blue tint, and the video is mastered accordingly to accomidate for it - but I don't care WHAT set you view the disk on, the colors are simply too bright to represent what the original animation cel's looked like... whatever hue of red vampire blood may have been. It's a little unfair to say what the film "should" look like unless it's the director or the DP talking... but something isn't right in the state of D, and even his name goes from a dark crimson on the Japanese DVD to an off-colour neon pink on the German remaster. I'm willing to bet my left nut that it was supposed to be red, so gorgeous as the German master looks at first glance, something is definately off all the same.

So what have I done? I've given up and created my own color corrected, properly IVTC'ed video master based on the Japanese DVD. I'm going to synch the 5.1 Japanese and German audio tracks, and I'll try my damndest to make that stupid English track synch up too... we'll see about that UK commentary track for it's comedic bullshit factor. Christ, if any guy who says Plastic Little is about gang-rape can be called an "expert" than the average kid who watches Naruto must be an anime God in this day and age. All the same, the UK print appears to be the same version as the Japanese master, at least if the title card can be trusted...

...can you trust a title card? ...or the BBFC website listing? Hmmm. Definately an NTSC-PAL transfer (yuck...), so who knows. Or gives a fuck besides me.


So, enough bitching about 20+ year old vampire anime. Time to bitch about porno!

Yakin Byoutou is dead. Not dead to me. I'll always love it and hug it like some feces covered teddy bear from my comparative youth. Yakin Byoutou (or NIGHT SHIFT NURSES, if you prefer... henceforth YB) was an interesting beast, a combination of the old stand-by of bishoujo porno games for some years now; rape simulation. The story was a simple one; an upcoming gyno quietly dissapeared from the medical scene after an unorthodoxed "experiment" left his willing assistant a shattered woman. Several years later the doctor, HIRASAKA Ryouji gets a letter from the St. Julianna Hospital seeking his employment. Shocked to find that the director, SHINGUJI Narumi is none other than the woman he violated years ago, his fears of revenge are replaced with an interesting new job; to violate and destroy the wills of selected nurses to be used in a private wing who's VIP clients would be serviced in any and every manner they saw fit...

Okay, quit rolling your eyes. First and foremost, Hirasaka is head and shoulders above the rest of the losers in these roles; mostly sad ISAKU wannabe's who uncreatively rape and torment schoolgirls and inevitably recieve some sort of ironic punishment. Not only is the evidence he uses to entrap the girls pretty serious stuff - information that could ruin careers, even destroy lives - and there is a distinct level of seduction in the violation of each girl. When he attacks NANASE Ren, the first girl, she becomes his live-in lover... perhaps his wife had the series not ended the way it did. Ren clearly loves him. Hikaru is afraid of him. And Remi hates his guts logically, but finds she needs his attention - horiffic as it may be - to feel she's worth something. And Fujusawa... well, she's hot as hell, but retarded. I know there are people (not just women) who are that fucking stupid, and it's the presence of characters that make these rape shows almost believable... and it's both the interactions with the girls, and how Hirasaka tailors each of their indignities to their personalities, that makes the show as interesting and successful as it is.

First and foremost, the reason the show was a hit was the controversey; while not the first hentai OVA to feature unilonga and scat as a central theme, it was the first to graphically SHOW it - and that the sequel from D3, YAKIN BYOUTOU NI, mosaics over the fecal matter as well is a testament to how far Discovery pushed the animated adaptation of the popular PC game. Another aspect of the show is just how creative it gets... certainly, marbles and hard boiled eggs aren't standard items in any sex game, but that the show finds interesting uses for them that the game didn't even consider shows how amazingly fucked up the whole staff was. While discovery is capable of much more bizarre and "artistic" animated pornography - the psychadelic masterpiece BLOOD ROYAL and the freakshow of abuse TEMPTATION (Yuuwaku) in particular - YB remained their most believable show to keep up that level of intensity, both psychologically and physically. If you can still watch pornography once the spooge is spent and be curious what's going to happen to the characters therein, you're watching good porn. Needless to say, this doesn't happen often, not even in the works of the great Joe D'amato... sure, it's funny as shit watching Robinhood: Thief of Wives fight the evil and black Sheriff of Nottingham who's locked all the women's chastity belts and is keeping the townsfolk from the vagina's of their various bitches... but "thrilling" or "unpredictable" isn't exactly how I'd describe it.

Anyway, it was that combination of genuine character development and believability that made YB the powerhouse that it was. There has been a lot of bad rape hentai both before and since, and while a hand full of them have had decent characters and storylines... more often than not you're left with wank fodder like SHUUSAKU which may be great to crank one out to, but is so retarded that you'd wish he'd rape them and then kill them graphically just so you didn't see the innocent retarded sex objects act any more stupid. ("Sure, I'll give you the photos I made of you pissing... but first masturbate with this dildo while I videotape it." Good god... didn't Shuusaku actually do that in one of the sequels? Does anyone even remember? Or care?) Plus, Hirasaka is a fairly charming man; not to say I'd fuck him on a bet, but he's soft spoken, intelligent, manipulative, and suprisingly well built for an out of work doctor. It's almost suprising that he'd be such a loner before being employed as a rape machine... but then, it isn't. He's but a pawn in Narumi's game, and not a sympathetic tool at that. The opening of the first 5 episodes was Hirasaka, drenched in his own blood, falling to certain doom and remembering what led him to such a fate... he wasn't screaming words of remorse, nor was he apolagetic in any way about what he did to the 5 women who's bodies and hearts he violated. He was a scientist, a doctor in the truest sense of the word; trying to figure out where he went wrong not morally, but logically. His story is not a confession. It's a factual account, nothing more.

And herein where the problems lie. The first 5 episodes do have sudden moments - a personal favorite is the scene in which we see Ren drooling over the sink and Narumi walks in - that were not explained. They were not incidental filler sequences meant to draw out the runtime. They were quite vital in setting up episodes 6-10, in which Hirasaka's murder is investigated and the four surviving nurses who were all victims of his abuse tell their side of the story. On the one hand, it's a way to squeeze in more humiliating and unsanitary scenes of love making, this time involving house pets, public pools, defibulator pads (*Shudder*) and so much more... all building to the single most bizarre and fucked up sequence a non-guro hentai has ever delivered. I won't tell you what it is, just to say that if Anime 18 actually has the balls to release episode 10 unedited, they are surely men who can't wear pants like you and I. The characters we grew to love and want to molest ourselves are given more of a background - particularly Ren, who's accounts of being his lover rather than his victim are as creepy as they are believable. After all, Stockholm Syndrome is a documented fact of humanity (in which those who are captives or abused by those in control of them will show affection, love and companionship for their controllers), and no matter how horrible a man Hirasaka is, how many retarded white trash women stay with woman beating redneck assholes who remind them of daddy? Stupid Electra Complex. Anyway, Yakin Byoutou 1-5 is an understated masterpiece, one that got a lot of attention for episodes 1-3 being edited so badly that their 90 minute runtime was a svelte 76 minutes after all of the scat and piss footage was removed. (Oddly enough, bleeding vaginas were OK.) By episode 4 cutting the scat would probably bring the runtime of each episode to under 10 minutes, and so episodes 4+ were unedited, and as a sort of apology Anime 18 included the "Deleted Scenes" from episodes 1-3 as an extra. It's better than nothing, but hell, I'd buy a Director's Cut DVD for episodes 1-3.

Since YB, there have been 3 sequels; one by D3, and two by Discovery, the studio which released the original series. I'll give a brief rundown of each sequel, and why it sucks:

YAKIN BYOUTOU NI: Okay, new production company, new cast, new everything. It's based on the second game in the trilogy, and as such you have to approach it as something else entirely. The only returning cast memembers are NANASE Ren and - in a much castrated role, HIRASAKA Ryouji. The new lead, a bishounen med school graduate who fell in love with Ren in times gone by, has signed up with a new hospital (led by a hawt futanari!) with the same goal as St. Julianna... and he's enlisted to do much the same, though he doesn't even know it. His rape of the girls is part of a big plot he doesn't have a clue about, and that aspect makes buying it a lot harder to swallow... that the rape scenes are admists psychadellic backgrounds and speed lines also take the cold, calculated steel-and-lights theme of the original and hides it in the shadows of shame, something the original series was very indignant on not doing. Nothing was taboo, and everything was to be shown in the name of medical science. Here, we have a punk kid who draws blood and screams at his victims, treating them like cattle rather than as experiments. There's no class... no de Sade inspired charm to make the girls love him, other than he's good looking. I suppose you could argue that's good enough, but I like Hirasaka a whole lot better than this little ass. Also, the show swings from sachrinne sweet cuteness to all out scary rape in which you fear for the safety of the victims... it's a hell of a feat, but it's not enough to save it. It's watchable, just not a masterpiece like the original.

YAKIN BYOUTOU KRANKE - While the original series was 'Yakin Byoutou KARTE 1" (or 2, etc.), which is an old German word for 'Medical Chart', the new episodes are under the title KRANKE, a German word which in and of itself means nothing, but adds "sick" to words... for instance, KRANKEBUS (Kranke + Bus) is "Ambulance". Got it? Now, these episodes are a combination between the memories and fantasies of the lead girls post Hirasaka's violation... and in plain terms is basically YB for women. It's romantic, it's full of seemingly consensual (if overtly dominating) sex, it even has Ren being violated by an army of magical Hirasaka clones. Yeah... it's also very "cute". And when I say "cute" I mean young loli-esque faces, flowered panties, and almost no onscreen poop - unless it's for comedic effect... the latest episode ending on a 3 foot enema gag sort of sums it up. YB has become a joke, and Discovery's going to tell it right. It's not TOTALLY unwatchable, but seeing Hirasaka slip on feces is just a bitch-slap to the whole series before it.

YAKIN BYOUTOU SAN - O-kay... now I give up. Not only do the cast watch the original YB and complain about how retarded it is, the whole story is about a sickly patient who's having freaked out halucinations about being "cared for" by the nurses. Role reversal isn't always a good idea, and while it IS interesting... it's still wiping it's ass on all that I held holy for the first few episodes. Sadly, I've only seen ep. 2, but that had a Princess Tutu outfit and a whip involved... that's all I needed to see.

Finally, there is Soft on Demand's own NANASE Ren OVA: basically a POV porno with an animated Ren doing whatever you tell her to do. It's cute, really... but I can't say it's giving me hope that the series will ever get good again. There's also the live action cosplay series... yeah, what can I say? Yakin Byoutou's greatness has forced it to be absorbed in to Japanese pop culture, and as such the focus will get softer and less experimental, but more expensive and cute. In short, my favorite post-Urotsukidoji hentai's own success has basically turned it in to what I hate; glossy, safe wank material that has no substance.

And yet, I love that wacky country.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Salaryman Kintaro: The other face of Japan's most shocking film-maker.

So this is old news by all means, but I finally sat down and watched SALARYMAN KINTARO all the way through. If you asked the average American viewer in to horror and exploitation films - the only average viewer in to Japanese cinema to any real degree - what director MIIKE Takashi was involved in, you'll get a few expected responses:

ICHI THE KILLER - the out of control comic-book adaptation about a teenaged cry-baby with blades strapped to his heels. As violent as it is sexual, it's combination of gore and rape would make any censorship board freak out, and infact both the R-Rated and Cat III (Hong Kong) editions are trimmed from their 128 minute runtime to a meager 113 minutes. Rape, gore, blood, semen and so much more drench the screen in one of the most suprisingly original and introspective films to tackle the existance of masochism yet, in which the sadistic anti-hero of the film Kakihara and the almost totally unseen title character use sexual violence as the only way they can communicate in Japan's polite and restrained society. Sure, it's about as subtle as a kick in the nuts, but that people STILL don't get it just amazes me.

AUDITION - Reviled the world over, the film isn't as graphic as Ichi, but it is a "better" film taking visual cues from Dario Argento's psychadellic giallo and disturbing scenes of mutilation that look like a more polished version of the student masterpiece KICHIKU DAI ENKAI, Audition begins as the sweetest romance film ever made and by the final reel has degenerated in to a feminist remake of the infamous GUINEAPIG: FLOWER OF FLESH AND BLOOD. Having done poorly in Japan is no surprise; the idea of a beautiful woman of class torturing a man who was genuinely infatuated with her is probably Japanese society's most deeply seated nightmare come to life.

VISITOR Q - Perhaps Miike's most lovable "extreme" film, Visitor Q works largely - despite it's shoestring budget - because of ENDOU Kenichi's willingness to do anything and everything for the camera, be it get smacked in the head with a rock, prematurely ejaculate on his own daughter or suckle his wife's breast milk in a frighteningly somber sense of rebitrth. Once more tackling the restrictive and falsely polite and gentle Japanese society - and the modern concept of "family" which has become so openly dilluted over the centuries - Visitor Q one of my favorite movies ever, simply because while it should be shocking and horrible... it's not. It's every person's guilty pleasures and frustrations made a reality by the mere presence of a stranger who doesn't care what we do. We can blame Kenichi's character for going insane if we want... but we can't. He is every man who's struggled to make everyone around him happy and only been treated like garbage for it. Why shouldn't he have his day? Even if it involved massacring highschool bullies in his underpants.

There are more recent, and yes, more esotoric films you could add to this list; the dreamlike and Lynch inspired GOZU (Minotaur), the difficultly minimalistic and overtly homo-erotic JUVENILE A: BIG BANG LOVE, the short-changed and impossible to define samurai trip that iz IZO, and his own personal distain for Memoirs of a Geisha put to digital video in his first English language production, an episode of Showtime's MASTERS OF HORROR series (IMPRINT) which had to be cut for it's US premier - AFTER Miike's co-producers begged him to pre-cut it, AND after Showtime had told directors do do anything they wanted! All the same, when asked about the controversey over his epicly gruesome (and badly acted) entry to shis new and varried series, his reply was "me, a Master of Horror? I directed Salaryman Kintaro!"

And so he did. Salaryman Kintaro was originally a manga, about an ex-yakuza who works as a manager in a medium-sized contruction company in Japan. He lives with his inlaws who own the company, his lovely wife and his adoring son. He looks like a typical salaryman, but when he sees trouble and injustice he acts like anything but, relying on the tenacity and passion of his youth to save children from burning buildings, or saves some poor schmuck from being beaten up by pink kids. His live is different, but pretty average... until he crosses a crooked company who's in with a senator to co-op every construction company in to a single government run organization with no plans to support all the currently existing workers. Kintaro stands his ground, and when his boss and son are both wounded in bombings Kintaro calls on his old pals to teach them a lesson...

It should be noted that, despite his internationla reputation as a horror maestro, Miike is if anything a yakuza director by nature. From shounen manga inspired action films like FUDOH and FAMILY that focus on organized crime structure as a backdrop to it's mayhem to films that only feature yakuza as a starting point like GOZU and FULL METAL GOKUDOU, Miike also has a vast array of titles that are straight up old-fashioned yakuza-eiga, including BLUES HARP, THE BLACK SOCIETY TRILOGY, AGITATOR, DEADLY OUTLAW REKKA, KIKOKU, THE NEW GRAVEYARD OF HONOR and even surreal, extreme spins on the genre like the D.O.A - DEAD OR ALIVE trilogy and the captivatingly weird CITY OF LOST SOULS, among many, many others. The cinematic adaptation of Salaryman Kintaro doesn't even HINT at Kintaro's former nature until over an hour and 20 minutes in, and even when we see him riding on his bike with hundreds of bikers in tow, it's a heroic and cheesy visual, not the gritty and grim imagery we'd usually associate with the fatalistic and tragic yakuza genre. Indeed, the presence of Kintaro's gang is almost secondary to his singular struggle with the men who hurt the people he cares most about, and Kintaro's at the fore beating punks in the face with his goons, acting more as a pawn in this war than a celebrated general. Kintaro, like many other Miike films, is yakuza in nature for a narritive purpose, not because it's the focus of the story.

But what is the point of Salaryman Kintaro? The answer is simple; to make audiences feel good. In much the same way Hollywood makes different films for different demographics, Japan has an underground for the fucked up gore and sex filled stuff I eat up with chopsticks, a quiet fandom for late nite anime, a rabid love for "big" American movies, and an equal hunter for films that are predictable, inauctious and are meant to leave the audience with a smile and a sense of wellness at the end. This is personified by the New Year's Movie - something Miike tried his hand at with his black comedy remake of a Korean film in HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS - which are made to leave families cheerful on the holidays. Salaryman Kintaro is the story of a good man who works hard and changes his world for the better despite difficulties in his path; in short, it's Japan's way of making a film in which a mild mannered man picks up a gun and blows some invading force's brains out. Different approach, same goal. Salaryman Kintaro is also at a disadvantage to most American viewers, since the manga has never been published in English (not legitly at least), and the anime TV series, which amazingly IS available in the US, has been seen by very, very few Americans. Lacking the background on the characters isn't nessicarily a flaw in the film; it's expected if you're willing to spend $20 on a ticket you kind of know the back story anyway. This puts a LOT of Japanese films at a disadvantage, but it's better than Americans who always -have- to tell origin stories in adaptations, even if every single person in the theatre knows damned well where so-and-so came from.

But the real problem Kintaro faces in the West is tryin gto understand why the film got made by Miike, the madman himself. The answer is simple; Miike likes making movies. Certainly many of his films get extreme, and ridiculously so, but that doesn't keep him from being a compitent commercial artist none the less. While his film ANDROMEDIA - a "band movie" mad for a sticky-sweet J-pop group named Speed - used to be considered something of a black sheep by many of Miike's fans, he's since made some very mainstream and family-appealing films, including the sweet natured ode to the sentai hero ZEBRAMAN, the suprisingly sedate shoujo-horror film ONE MISSED CALL, and the recent sequel to the 1960's fantasy series GREAT SPOOK WAR. Every one of these films are well made, and contain seemingly out of place touches or creativity which Miike infuses in nearly everything he created; even Salaryman Kintaro has it's share of exciting brawls set to the variable flashing lights of a pachinko parlor, and the final rush the hero makes against an armed SWAT team shot in the P.O.V. of someone in the throng itself is every bit as stylish and surreal as the best footage you'll find in anything in Miike's more "extreme" films. Miike makes "normal" commercial cinema just as well and easily as his over the top gross-out extravaganzas, and to really appreciate Miike as more than a shockmeister, you really should look at more than just his most out there films.

I'm not saying I'd take SALARYMAN KINTARO over IZO. I happen to like slightly pretentious and gore filled surrealism films in which Bob Sapp throws oni through walls and the hero's feminine side picks bugs out of his hair. That's just the kind of guy I am. But if you're in the mood for something that ISN'T meant to stick it's cock straight down your brain stem, you might find yourself liking it.

Personally I can't wait to see JUVENILE A: BIG BANG LOVE, which is ironic. Because I fucking HATE Dogville. (I'm still morbidly curious to see what KINGDOM is like, but otherwise Lars Von Trier can go fuck himself.) I also can't wait to see Miike's remake/sequel/whatever to DAIMAJIN. Yes, I like giant robots (even when they're made of stone) and anyone who doesn't has no soul. Simple as that.

Tune in next time when I lament about the loss of the last great hentai series of the 20th century.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

VC1 or MPEG2? How about WTF? + Kumu-Kumu!

Here's something that's been really, REALLY irking me for a while.

HD-DVD and Blu-Ray both support 3 different codec's; MPEG-2, MPEG-4, and VC-1. Despite the names, they should be pretty familiar. DVD's have used MPEG-2 for a decade now, MPEG-4 is the codec used by DIVX/XVID video's (recompressing DVD rips in shitty quality for 5 years and then some!), and VC-1 is none other than Windows Media Video 9.

For some time Blu-Ray has said that they're sticking with MPEG-2. They think it looks great on DVD, they say that it takes only a fraction of the time to encode that VC-1 does, and so far absolutely no-one seems to be interested in MPEG-4, quite possibly due to it's reputation for said awful looking DVD rips. So, the warring formats have warring video codec's. All players can play both, so the real question is this; which looks better?

That's easy. HD-DVD looks better than Blu-Ray, with HD providing a consistently sharp and detailed image while BD creates the same artifacted "digital grain" that has plagued DVD's since the format came out in 1996. It looks "natural" at this point, but that doesn't mean it's how it's "supposed" to look. VC-1 has it's own issues, in particular a certain artifact in which fine details - like the desert sand or the pores in someone's face - will sort of "crawl" around slightly. It's hard to explain, and I'm sure there's an actual word for it, but I don't know it. It looks like film grain at first, but it's more like seeing tiny spots of grain showing up in an otherwise solid plane. Still, it looks way better than the competition most of the time.

Now, here's my problem with all the Blu-Ray demo material I've seen so far (and the reviews for the feature films sound like they're about the same): they don't look very good. They're about on par, maybe a bit better than HD cable, but they still aren't gorgeous... the trailer for Kung Fu Hustle is though. Ultraviolet, Chicken Little, Pirates of the Carribean, the DVD vs BD demo... all pretty unimpressive. Lots of artifacting, not a lot of "wow" which for a lot of people is the reason to buy something in HD. I've heard people say over and over again that MPEG-2 simply isn't suited for High Definition, and that Blu-Ray should switch to VC-1. While the proof is in the pudding, someone tell me this; why does Kung Fu Hustle look just as good as HD-DVD and none of the others if they're all using the same damned codec?

The answer is simple: MPEG-2 is adequate. The problem is that Sony's (and Lions' Gate) encoding and mastering people don't really know what to do with it. Whatever they did with Kung Fu Hustle - at least as far as the trailer goes - was right. None of the other promos - aside from the bit with the watch maker - look half this good, and if a high bitrate promo doesn't look good, well, your codec is worthless. Plain and simple. But Blu-Ray is capable of great image - and nobody with the power to play 5.1 LPCM has bitched about it's audio quality, that's for damn sure. So, my question is this... what is everybody doing wrong?

I'll be honest, though I've been authoring DVD's for a couple years I don't know the first thing about encoding High Definition video. Not something I can capture or rip; just not something that I need to worry about. After experimenting with Windows Media 9 - the same thing as VC-1 - I'm convinced that it's, at the very least, comparable to MPEG-2 using far less space at DVD resolution. Much as I try not to bend over for Bill Gates in any way, I'll give in and admit he's got a hell of a codec. All the same, not every HD-DVD has been amazing, and word is that Full Metal Jacket looks pretty crappy. (This is also partly due to the way the morons at Warner de-interlaced it instead of doing a proper IVTC... fancy talk for saying "they made it softer and jerkier than it should be, damnit.") All the same, I stand by my theory; MPEG-2 is fine. Sony and Lion's Gate need to get their shit together and figure out what they're doing wrong. Warner too with that stupid de-interlacing crap, but that's another rant for another day.

I think that Blu-Ray could still survive HD-DVD kicking it's ass, for the fact that the PS3 (ie; Final Fantasy Box 3) will support it, and thus give an entirely new group of people access to 1080p playback. Movies are also selling fairly well while players rot on retail shelves, telling me that some people are buying movies and waiting for that sweet, sweet $600 player. Still, if the PS2 is any indication the PS3 will probably be a pretty crappy player with or without the optional remote. It'll play, and play well enough for a while, but in time it's output will be topped by bargain bin Shinco players. And that's OK. Like I noted above, it's the Square Soft Bitch Box, same way that the XBOX 360 is really just the HALO 360. Yeah, we know better. Plus Korea has already said "fuck HD-DVD, we're supporting Blu-Ray from now on". So if you want to play that 3 disk edition of Oldboy with Park Chanwook masturbating on video commentary as Oh Daesu is performing dental surgery with a claw hammer, you'll need a BD player one way or another. In the same way that freaks who liked special editions kept small print numbers of $100 collectors editions laserdiscs around, Blu-Ray's got some time to do so.

But will it actually beat HD-DVD? With no extras, sub-par transfers and expensive players, does it stand a chance against "DVD 2.0"? To be honest... I don't think so. Once dual layer BD's are in working order (assuming they CAN work) and you can stuff those 4 disks worth of KINGDOM OF HEAVEN on a single-sided BD, maybe it'll be able to stand up to HD-DVD, even with it's video mastering problems. And who am I kidding; the worst looking Blu-Ray so far, THE FIFTH ELEMENT, will get a dual-layer VC-1 encoded ultimate edition BD by late 20008. If it's still soft then... well, what can I say, the film must have been fuzzy in theatres too. But don't tell that to HD fanboys.

So enough theoretical BD vs HD bullshit, let's talk about some anime shall we? AINCENT NAUGHTY KUMU-KUMU is one of many tapes that snuck it's way in that massive box of smut my partner in crime Zuba sent me last time. It was on German TV in the late 70's, and when he was lucky enough to find a video of a fond childhood memory he sent it my way for some VHS to DVD action. (He also used to watch some Chibi Viking show that I hope he sends me sometime in the future.) I have to say that I'm glad he did. As you should all know, I like cartoons. I don't just like gory devil porno cartoons either; old school Warner Brothers 'toons, insane heavy metal infused Canadian art projects, slightly pretentious Korean CGI, even gay ass Disney flicks about lions with Hamlet issues ripping off old Tezuka shows make me happy. I like the visual creativity and freedom animation allows creators, and I like knowing that cartoons have -always- been very un-child friendly since the late 30's if you're old enough to "get it". Cartoons on cable today generally suck, at least in terms of animation. I like Family Guy, but it's the most rigid and uninteresting art on television. And don't get me started onm shit like Aqua Teen Hunger Force... damned flash cartoons being passed off as actual animation. ATHF is funny as hell... but the animation is an atrocity. Now I like my devil porno too... but if it's animated, I'll give it a curious glance. And so it's with this theory that I popped in Naughty Aincent Kumu-Kumu in to the VCR.

Released in 1975 and directed by none other than RINTARO (X: The Movie, Metropolis) the show is about a clan of cavemen and their day to day struggles and triumphs. Before you think it's just a Japanese version of The Flintstones, let me say that the show is suprisingly mature and thoughtful. Now it was still a show made for young grade school students, but it's a show that regardless lets it's characters exist in a vast and at once scary and amazing world full of water buffalo and dinosaurs and fuzzball... things. No, I don't know what they are, but they're pretty cute anyway. And I know that primitive man and dinosaurs never actually fought each other against bad bluescreens, but who cares? If it's a cartoon - Japanese or no - caveman and dinosaurs are probably gonna' do their thing. Suprisingly, while there are a hand full of dinosaurs on display, Saurus-kun is the only one who seems to be a big part of it, and the ol' apatasaurus is mostly just whimsically cute window dressing. Zuba remembers an episode in which Kumu-Kumu and his dad were attacked by a giant bear, and is part of why the show stayed with him to this day; the episode was quite cool, and a lot scarier than anything else on Austrian kiddie TV back when.

Anyway, Kumu-Kumu is one of the harder to see vintage anime out there; FAST AND FINAL was a label that released tapes in Japan for the mere price of 3800 yen (around $34 US) which included the first, and last episode of the series. It's an interesting way to see it, but seriously, somebody release a DVD box already! The show is exceedingly cute without crossing in to the cotton candy colored kawaii/moe shit Japan produces on a regular basis. And yes, I like cute things; Risky Safety is lovable, I could watch more of Ai Yori Aoshi than my wife could, and Elfen Lied rocks even when people aren't pulling themselves apart Cronenberg style. (Yeah, I'm a fag. I don't care.) All the same, there's also TOO cute, and Kumu-Kumu never gets there. It's also interesting to see how the family lives. The kids run around and do whatever they want while dad wanders around looking for food and mom keeps the communal stew pot going. While Kumu-Kumu himself is just a child, he has contests with his friends trying to spear fish in the river. (He fails, adorably.) When his friend's brother is left on lookout in a storm, Kumu-Kumu's dad and company run out in to the storm to try and find him, with their very lives at stake. It's no horror series, but it's grounding in the real world lets the occasional fluff ball with eyes and dinosaur take their place in the long run; they're to make it familiar and comfortable so it can try and take itself more seriously without feeling overbearing to the target audience. It's an interesting ploy, and one that largely makes Kumu-Kumu a lovable bit of animation. It's for kids, but it's not the uber-sweet plotless dreck that you see so often. Kumu-kumu is a character drama through the eyes of a wide eyed boy in a fuzzy loin cloth, and there should be more cartoons that have that sort of drive.

Plus the last episode ends with Kumu-Kumu getting the crap beaten out of him by his drunken dad and getting locked in his room with a big ass rock Jesus style. Just after a sweet wedding of Kumu-Kumu's sister. Yeah, this show rocks. And I want more of it damnit. Shame there were some tape rolls in the last 5 minutes or so... hey, I take what I can get.

Joy! Honeamise has the rights to GUN BUSTER: AIM FOR THE TOP!

...sorry. That's all the otaku wanking I have the energy for right now.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Eyeing them there Hills

So I got the HILLS HAVE EYES remake for my Birthday about 2 weeks ago. It's fascinating... the film I mean, not so much the day I was born. It's one of about 3 remakes I can stand to watch for more than 3 minutes at a time, and in some ways it's one of those oh-so rare remakes that, at least in some ways, ends up being far better than the original.

Let me start off by saying that I love 70's horror films. I love The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I wank to A Lizard in a Woman's Skin with both hands, and if anybody ever lost my copy of The Evil Dead - very much a 70's horror film despite it's 1981 copywrite - I would have to beat them to death with a frozen leg of lamb. Often these films were badly shot, badly acted, badly edited... and, well, they're just bad. By all rights nobody should love them, and unlike the older creepy dudes at horror conventions I don't have any nostalgia having seen them at a grindhouse as a child. What I love about 70's horror, at least I think, is that I like seeing how the genre evolved over the decade; how it abandoned the "safe" gothic era of Universal Monsters and began to be filled with realistic horrors like serial killers and animals gone haywire. Not all 70's horror films were good, and for every 1 that was awesome there were a half-dozen immitators that weren't worth their weight in the celluloid they were shot on... but the "gems" of the era have survived thanks to the magic of DVD. If it was good (or at least infamous), and if there's so much as a crummy VHS print left in the world, somebody's released it on a 5" disk somewhere in the world.

THE HILLS HAVE EYES is one such film. For those of you who haven't seen it... well, shame on you. Reading my blog and not having done your homework. It's pretty basic; the All American Whitebread Family is driving cross-cuntry (giggity!) to Californ-i-a, and along the way their car breaks down. They split up and seek help, about the same time one of the two family dogs are killed. After nightfall, when Big Bob hasn't returned, the family is one by one attacked, raped, kidnapped of killed by a pack of ruthless inbred mutants who live in the desert hills. The once nice down to earth family has to shed their decencey and morals if they want their baby back, and in the process they become just as brutal as the people that ruined their lives...

Released in 1977, and the second film by now legendary director Wes Craven, THE HILLS HAVE EYES helped along with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to create a new breed of horror in which a van full of innocent people would run in to blood thirsty maniacs and need to do everything in their power to survive. It seems incredibly cliche` by now, but back when Hills was scary shit. Films in which innocent people were preyed upon and then got their just deserts were also pioneered in Craven's earlier (and somewhat lesseffective) THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, a film which in turn was a modern day remake of THE VIRGIN SPRING (Jungfrukallan), which in turn was a sonnet about a girl who was raped and killed and the vengance her parents visited upon them when they ended up spending the night in their house. While Last House on the Left was the first film to get the gut reaction the evolution of 70's horror was known for - I've heard stories of people storming the projection rooms and roiting in the theatres - it wasn't a particularly GOOD movie. It gets the job done, but it's not all that sleazy anymore. Even uncut the film lacks the gut punch it's infamy may leave people to hope for, and when I originally saw a heavily cut version I was less than impressed... the uncut version of HOUSE is somewhat better, and the ironic Charles Manson inspired tunes as sung by the villain, David Hess, are some of the best scenes in the genre... but the problem that Last House on the Left is just a very amateurish and experimental film don't make it any more disturbing. Just frustrating.

Forget HOUSE's failings though, because HILLS got it more or less right. While the film has flaws - the acting isn't always convincing, and some of the practical effects and and death scenes have a bit of a "theatre" vibe to them (if you follow me) - the film is regardlessly a lot better made, and lacks long goofy scenes of fat cops riding on chicken trucks that sort of kills any chance the film has of being taken seriously. For one thing, Hills has none other than Michael Berryman who plays the freaky sunovabitch Pluto, the poster boy who's natural deformities make him one of the scariest looking men on the planet. He seems very inelligent and sweet in interviews, which is reassuring... but damn does he make an awesome inbred simpleton who just wants to eat and fuck. The film is also aided greatly by James Withwirth who plays Jupiter, the inbred clan's father and leader. While not as visually stunning as Berryman, his prowess as a commanding actos outshine almost everything, leaving a mean spirrited and bitter (but not quite heartless) monster who's roaring voice and leering face make you forget that the nose proethstetic he's wearing looks phony as hell. And therein lies where the original HILLS excells; it doesn't matter quite how "convincing" the film is. It isn't real, and you won't be fooled for a second in to thinking otherwose. But you can still take it seriously at pretty much every level. Particularly it's subtext.

Ah, the subtext. Here's where I get back to the remake. I sincerely believe that every director has something to say in his film... wither he realizes it consciously or not. I don't like to throw the word pretentious around, because that's hardly fair. Making a movie (or writing a book or singing a song or whatever) isn't easy, and short of being a strictly commercial artist, you need to have some reason for making it. Even directors who admit their films were made solely for profit often leave very interesting and subtle touches that they themselves didn't even realize, or perhaps didn't intend. Every story has to exist for a reason, and more often than not it's to prove a point, or look at a subject that fascinates the storyteller. In the case of Wes Craven, no subject seems to fascinate him quite like family. In HILLS, we meet a sweet natured, well rounded, and not quite perfect family on a communal trip. We don't know that bad things are going on for a good half hour, and the siege on the family trailer isn't until 45 minutes in. Where a lot of modern horror films have decided "people yell when they're upset - let's make all the characters assholes so when they die, you want to see it!" Wes did his best to make the characters likable and more than one dimensional. It's because of the fact that we like the Carter family that once Mars and Pluto and Jupiter start fucking things up, we care... but that family isn't the only one we care about.

Certainly it's harder to feel sympathy for Papa Jupe's clan of inbred cannibalistic freaks. Jupiter tries to rape Brenda, but not because he's a filthy hateful bastard; he does it because he wants to feel superior to his big brother Mars who not only has done it before, but also teases his brother for his virginity. Ruby is pretty easy to like, an almost adorable feral girl who's paternal instincts and distrust for their stagnant lifestyle makes her try to leave her family a few times. And once more, we have Papa Jupe, a bitter and distrusting soul who's hatred for the world that scorned him for his appearance and personality has made him want to strike back at the comfortable middle class existance he can never have. Holding aside cannibalism and murder, it's not really a stretch to see this family as a strugging lower-class family living in a trailer park who are bitter towards the white collar worker's who's lives seem so much better from afar. Perhaps most important in liking (or at least understanding) the family in HILLS comes from the scene in which they feast on Big Bob's limbs and Jupiter screams at his charred head. Not for the dialogue so much, but for the clapping and adoration, followed by nervousness and fear in the murderous Mars for his daddy. The morals of these two families may differ, but they really aren't so different. Man is a creature that needs to be around himself to be happy. To exist. The inbred cannibals in HILLS aren't a "good" family in the way that the Carter family is, but they're a family none the less, and they care for each other and do what they can to survive. It's this realization that makes the final scene (Spoiler alert!) in which Doug stabs Mars to death (done...) all the more important: the Hill family HAS to kill to survive. The Carter family did the same thing when their own survival was on the line.

The subtext of family and the lack of communication (something I didn't cover in detail... but seriously, if Bobby had said something about Beauty being gutted like a thanks giving turkey, maybe they'd have been okay. Maybe.) is where the remake differs totally, and why it fascinates me so. Most remakes are made for the sole purpose of generating money with both a name brand and a tried and true formula, and in a sense this film is no different. But it's also not only produced by Wes Craven and Peter Loche (the producer of the 1977 version), but it was also directed by Alexandre Aja, who made a hell of a name for himself with the 2003 French "oldschool" horror film HAUTE TENSION - a film which, shitty twist ending aside, is easily the best horror film of the last 5 years alongside his own version of HILLS and the stunning British production THE DESCENT from last year. (The SAW franchise and HOSTEL are both good fun, but they have their own deep flaws I may bitch about at a later date.) While - ending aside - Haute Tension was an amazing piece of cinema, HILLS 2006 was his first "Hollywood" film... and that comes with it's own baggage, both good and bad for a genre director. Aja's film adds some new twists and story elements that weren't at all present in Craven's '77 original, but the actual story is unchanged in virtually every way. So in short it's a remake that's done right; it's a film that takes the exact same story but adds enough of it's own twists that it's simply not the exact same film over again. (The PSYCHO remake remains the most painful waste of effort I've ever layed eyes on... and no, I can' stand the TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE or DAWN OF THE DEAD remakes either, even if they're worlds above the general competition.)

The remake once more features the Carter family being stuck in the desert by bad directions, and has the family attached by a bunch of freaky inbred creeps living in the desert. The difference now is that they've been upgraded to post-nuclear fallout mutants who's extreme deformities and hatred for the American Dream are even more justified than the mean spirited loners in the original. It also takes the action from a small cave and the desert plains and puts it in miner's tunnels and a town in the middle of nowhere that hasn't been touched since the 1950's save by the smelly deformed freaks living therein. It's a fascinating take on the same story, and for once justified remaking the story for a new generation. Rednecks aren't scary anymore. "Squeal like a piggy" is a big a joke to Generation Y and on as "here's Johnny!", but tell me getting raped by Chunk from THE GOONIES isn't the stuff that fever induced screaming and cold sweat nightmares aren't made of.

The most important aspect of these fallout mutants is the society they exist in. Gone is the ideal that they're a loving but dysfunctional family. Now they're a badly organized pack of seemingly super powered monsters who strike back at The Man out of misguided malice. The Carter family didn't have shit to do with bombing them and taking away their homes, but they will suffer as scapegoat anyway. The all will suffer for the few responsible. It's a misguided, but understandable rage... and it's one that I can't liken to anything better than the terrorist attack of September 11th, 2001.

Really, think about if for a minute. We have an American family, innocent and unaware of everything going on behind the scenes. They wind up in the wrong place at the wrong time and their entire lives are shattered in a few minutes by filthy, desert dwelling people who hate them for something they didn't even do. If you need any further proof, just look at the scene in which (Spoiler time!) Doug takes an American flag out of Big Bob's mutilated head and then pierce's Pluto's throat with it. If this isn't American patriotism at it's most basic level - short of blowing shit up with fireworks made in China - I don't know what is. Not to say that other countries don't do the same dilluted self-servicing flag waving... it's just that Americans are so good at it. It's brougth full circle once Aja's Doug fights with Lizard. Whereas Craven's confrontation was a sudden fit of rage that ended with Doug starring at a man he just killed in shock and disgust, Aja's doug has no trouble blowing the living hell out of Lizard, the man that raped his sister in law and kidnapped his baby daughter. Craven's Doug killed because he needed to and regreted it. Aja's became just as brutal as his "enemies" and didn't for a second look back. Granted, the poor bastard was pretty out of it too. Craven's film was a film about family. Aja's film is a family about strangers who only know that they want each other dead. It's hard to be mad at Aja's Doug for doing to them what they did to his family, but it's equally interesting seeing a French director create a film with such overtly right-wing American overtones.

A frenchman who agrees with invading Afghanistan... now I really think I HAVE seen everything.

Political subtext aside, the new HILLS is also full of great camerawork, massive creepy locations, cringe inducing hyper-realistic gore, and a possibility for a sequel which wouldn't suck nearly as bad as Craven's HILLS HAVE EYES 2. It's not a perfect film; if anything it's strict adherance to the original is what hurts it from being it's own unique beast. Sure, Papa Jupe is still there... but in name only. (For that matter, what's so mutated about Billy Drago? He looks like a strung out Rob Zombie to me...) And while it's good to see that Aja takes Jupe out in the same way Craven did, it doesn't fit with the new versions of Bobby and Brenda nearly as well as it did in the original. It's also a twist that smells of BS... but this is true in both films, and I guess I'm happy Aja's kept the bullshit and stayed faithful to the source material rather than making up his own. It's also a bit harder to swallow that an entire TOWN of mutant cannibal hillbillies could exist in this day and age. For god sakes, Area 51 is -still- protected by armed guards, do you think the US Government would not only not know they existed, but let them kill off travelers and not say a word about it? Then again, if a college kid can send an eMail to an airport SAYING he's smuggling weapons and not get caught 'till 2 weeks after he did it with "beefed up security" in effect maybe America's just too comfortable with it's illusions of control and safety.

So, what does Cannibal Apocalypse mean under it's exterior of gore and bad dubbing? What is Angel's Egg getting at? Does Massacre in Dinosaur Valley have any deep seated moral to teach us?

The answers are; Italians like cheesy action movies, not a friggin' clue, and...no. Just, no.