Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Who thought I'd ever appreciate Mu Zan E?

I never thought I'd grow to appreciate Mu Zan E... but how times change.

Mu Zan E (who's full translated title is something like "Without A Trace"), for those unaware, was the first Daisuke YAMANOUCHI film I watched. Yeah, the guy who directed both Red Room and True Red Room, a pair of sadistically hilarious cheap-as-hell gore films that are sorta' like The Real World after getting raped by a snuff/porno video. 4 players enter for a 1 million yen prize, and try to scare/gross out/kill each other until everybody says "uncle!" and they're the last sicko standing. It's a shame he only made two... the potential is limitless for the series. Oh well. Years before I ever laid eyes on that pair of awesome videos, I made the mistake of watching Mu Zan E... and damn near never wanted to see another Yamanouchi film ever again.

The sad part is I dug Mu Zan E for a while. The story is set-up like a typical 20/20 or 60 Minutes expose sort of thing, in which a perky female reporter and her cameraman research the story surrounding the life, and sudden disappearance, of a popular AV Girl (Adult Video Girl - or, if you prefer, porn starlet) . This leads them on a trail of less than charming interviews, on-the-set experiences with menstrual blood eroticism, and inevitably, the rumored snuff video of the star actually being tormented and killed onscreen. The fake snuff footage - in part obscured by the censorship typical of the Japanese porn industry - is about as realistic and nauseating as you could hope for.

The problem with Mu Zan E, however, is that after playing it to the hilt for so long... it falters in the last 5 minutes. Yes, much like my first time through Haute Tension, sheer adoration and euphoric glee were shattered in an instant when, after watching the lead character getting force fed her own clitoris - that's right, fed her own goddamn motherfucking clit! - the actress stopped, spit out the chunk of latex, and started complaining that the prosthesis tasted like shit. Yep', feverish, horrific sexualized violence thrown back in the face of a viewer for a post-vomiting inducing laugh in the name of post-modern comedy. This leads to the revelation that the news reporter and the censored face of the missing pornstar were actually one in the same - a fact that the lead actress becomes bitter and mean about until, in a last ditch effort to redeem itself, the director who puts up with her abuse for about 10 minutes finally picks up a box cutter and gives her a taste of what he really wants to achieve in his moo-vay. It's a cheap ploy, it in no way makes up for having made the single most horrifying act of sexual violence on video in 2000 a throw-away gag, and it almost made me destroy the VHS copy in anger.

But I'm a bit more forgiving of it... not because seeing more Yamanouchi has made me magically change my opinion of Mu Zan E. Far from it: I still think it's a cheap, awful piece of crap that had the last scene not taken such a hard nosedive, could have been something great. No, the reason I'm more forgiving of it is that, my friends, I've finally watched the single most painful grindhouse film the infamous 1970's had to offer...

I now know my enemy, and it's name, is SNUFF.

For a while I'd thought to myself, Snuff isn't the worst movie I've ever seen. And this is true: I've seen worse writing, worse camerawork, worse special effects... worse everything, basically. But it dawned on me that I couldn't think of a film that was even remotely as boring as Snuff turned out to be. Bad cinema is fine by me since often it's incompetence breeds unintentional hilarity. Unfortunately Snuff was so pitiful at every single turn - sans the grand finale - that it was never funny. It was just... boring.

A soundtrack that plainly and clearly rips the riff out of Steppenwolf's Born to be Wild? Check.

A plot of crazy hippies killing well to do rich folk for no obvious, or discernible reason ala Charlie Manson? Check.

Lots of moderately attractive women willing to take their tops off, even when there's absolutely no reason to? Check.

Gratuitous flashback scenes to pump up the runtime? Check.

15 goddamn minutes of stock footage from Carnivale? Check. Fucking hell.

Hammy and unrelated "Oh my God, a German is making guns that kill Jews?" social commentary? Sadly, check.

Several deaths, most of which are poorly staged and utterly boring shankings? Sigh, check.

A couple shootings, including the elderly and children, all of which are boring and bloodless? Uh-huh.

Nighttime scenes accomplished by shooting scenes in the shade on high contrast black and white film while clearly taking place during the day? You've got to be kidding me...

...etc.

There's no one sole thing about Snuff that makes it the worst piece of crap I can remember seeing in at least a year. The acting, dubbing, camerawork, "gore" effects, script, editing... everything is so lazy and slapped together that instead of making you giggle and point, it just makes you groan and wish you were watching something else. For a moment, I thanked my work for giving me The First Party Splatter Movie, because after this 75 minutes of non-stop lame, even feeble and misguided attempts to amuse my black heart brought about appreciation. Not joy, perhaps, but it made me feel good inside knowing that Heiko and his friends set out to make a movie they thought was funny and amusing. Snuff, in comparison, has one shining moment... which I'll get to in just a minute.

History time, kiddies: Back in 1971, a man named Michael Findlay and his wife Roberta shot a movie... a really, really bad movie. They called it Slaughter. Based hand-over-fist on the murder of Sharon Tate and her friends in 1969 by the Charles Manson Family, the film was a wretched and boring piece of shit, probably set in Argentina solely because they had access to waaaaaaaay too much Carnivale footage. The project was shelved in 1971 for good reason by the film's distributor, Alan Shackelton. Shackelton, himself a low-budget horror and porn film maker, decided to release the film in 1976 after the success of fare like Last House on the Left and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. He decided to release it with a brand new ending he himself shot and directed, in which at the climax of the film, it suddenly cuts out to show a film crew making the movie. It's a wrap everyone's cool... but they keep shooting. A pair of crew members start to get a little frisky, and as the woman starts to get nervous, the crew turns on her and cuts her to pieces with the cameras rolling. No credits, no "ha, just kidding"... the footage was presented as authentic snuff footage. The film was released with the new title - Snuff over Slaughter - and several dramatic posters citing hyperbole like "The film they wouldn't let you see!" and "Made in South America, where LIFE is CHEAP!" He even went the extra mile and paid some protesters to show up and picket the film's opening on New York's infamous 42nd Street.

It got the audience reaction it wanted.

It wasn't genuine, of course: about anyone who's ever watched the making of Day of the Dead or The Guineapigs can figure out how they accomplished sawing off her still-twitching hands, or pull all those gooey intestines out of her belly. Yet it's good shit: the special effects are nearly a decade ahead of their time, and the way in which the sequence was pulled off - with a nervous film crew and a cackling sadistic star - probably mirrored Shackelton's usual BDSM loops of the period. That 5 minute effects reel has more love, passion and personality than the other 75 combined, and truth be told it's a damned shame Shackelton didn't make Snuff a full-blown porno horror. It'd probably have been something amazing, as opposed to 5 minutes of pointless awesome tacked on the end of 75 minutes worth of boring. The Findlay's were pissed that their film was being used - particularly with a new ending - without their permission and without seeing a dime for it, so they were eventually paid a settlement by Shackleton.

The story doesn't get wilder, though it is interesting to note that, according to teh Wiki, shortly after the disputes between the Findlay's and Shackelton, Roberta left her husband for the pornographer that ripped off their movie and later made hardcore porn films with him. (No word on if she was in them, but it seems as likely a story as any.) Michael's filmography, which goes back at least as far as 1965, is mostly porno films including Funk, a 3-D sex picture. Let's see that get released at the IMAX... or, let's not, if Snuff is the general quality of his usual output. (Snuff was a god-awful horror film, but I think it's even worse as an erotic film, despite never-ending scenes of the Manson wannabe - did I mention he was named Satan? Yes, Satan. But pronounced "Sah-Tan" - plugging one of the girls from behind while she gives her life story.) He died in 1977, decapitated in a helicopter accident. Dunno' if that's true, but if so, I wish Wiki were a person, or even a fuzzy animal, so I could hug it and tell it that I love it. Not that I want the poor incompetent jackass to die, but that his life ended more horrifically than the one movie he's remembered for is ironic as all shit, and makes me laugh.

Snuff would later be pretty much forgotten entirely until the 1980's, when it was released on VHS in the UK, and was banned a few years later in 1984 under the "Video Nasties" act. As with most of the films on that banned list, they really aren't all that gory, or good, or... well, anything. They're just... banned. Being banned doesn't instantly make something good, and it's a shame that banning does make people - myself included - actively seek out the film to see what the big deal is. In most cases, particularly in Snuff's, not even worth the effort of watching it.

Snuff has also had a problematic video release up until recently: the film was released on a single-layer DVD in it's negative 4:3 aspect ratio by Blue Underground in 2002 or so. It was "limited" to 10,000 copies, each and every one of them made to look like a video bootleg, with a cover wrapped in a brown paper bag and a DVD with the title hastily written in simulated sharpie point. It contained no chapters, no menus, no trailers, no inserts... and it cost $30. Simply put, it was the single worst "Something"-Editions ever made. Even the 'Snuff' edition of August Underground movies includes exclusive in-character commentary tracks. The film was recently released in Germany by New Productions, with no less than 3 awesome covers (including the terribly misleading porno-looking cover under the German video title 'American Cannibale'... wait, who got eaten in this film?), and their new release includes menus, chapter stops, the uncut English and German dubbed versions of the film, a still gallery, a trailer (the American trailer featured on the Blue Underground website, maybe?), and even an alternate dubbed in German version called BIG SNUFF, which cuts the ending scene down, but includes alternate scenes and different music. Short of this version featuring the real-life decapitation of the film's director, I honestly couldn't care less. At least you can collect different covers, the 'Big Snuff' box (with the Statue of Liberty on it?!) version appears to be out of print, and the copy of the UK Video Nasties cover won't be very far behind. That's all right though... I happen to like the American Cannibale cover the best, what with a naked woman tied to a tree while men descent upon her with a whip and a knife. A shame the scene in the flick has the genders swapped and is completely uninteresting.

So while Mu Zan E did start out good and then killed it's groove in the last 5 minutes, at least it wasn't like Snuff that only had it's groove in the last 5 minutes. It's obvious that the former patterns it's switcheroo ending off of the latter, but they both get such different results from it that I can't help but wallow in the folly and hilarity of it all. One pulls a stunt to get audiences talking, and the other pulls the same stunt and gets everyone to stop caring. Too funny, and so very sad, don't you think?

A few random thoughts before I go... why? 'Cause I'm typing. That's pretty much it.

- I don't like Michael Bay very much... but I do adore his Transformers. The silly computer hackers and retarded MIB agents could have been trimmed down a bit without hurting anything, but good god, not even animation has ever done Big Honkin' Robots this much justice. See this, if you haven't. It'll make you happy in a way that only giant robots can.

- I really need a JVC DVD Recorder. The Sanyo isn't dead (yet...) but the ability to record LD's with PCM sound, and the option to choose how long my recordings are in 5 minute intervals would mean I stop either A) recording a 65 minute movie on 2 discs, then editing them together, then re-encoding them through DVD Shrink, or B) recording said 65 minute movie in 2 hour mode, winding up with a movie that only takes up slightly over half a DVD-R and end up wasting potential encode quality in the process. Or... at least older JVC models let you do this. Looking at the newer ones, this feature may be dead. Crap. Crap in a hat. Crap on the world. Etc.

- TANI Naomi-sama, the veritable queen of Nikkatsu Roman Porno, is hot. Everything with genitalia knows this. She's even hotter with bondage ropes tattooed across her body. It's a scientifically proven fact. Here's a screencap for any non-believers.

Told 'ya. God I love my work.

EDIT: For anyone fool enough to care what the differences in the US cut of SNUFF and the German theatrical cut of BIG SNUFF are, SB.com - your number one resource for looking up what German censors are denying you - posted a comparison between the two HERE. Basically, a whole bunch of footage nobody cares about was ditched, and a random chunk of the American biker movie "Wild Riders" was put in it's place. Tragically, the awesome finale (ie: the only good part) was also cut heavily by German censors back in the 70's. Why did distributors AB-FILM do this? ...I don't really know. German distributors were crazy fuckers back in the day. I'd say this makes "Big Snuff" the inferior edit, but even just looking at those goddamn screencaps (and not understanding more than a couple words of the edit report itself) I'm willing to bet Wild Riders was far more interesting than the not-exciting footage missing from Snuff.

Maybe if Big Snuff was the final scene tagged onto the end of Wild Riders we'd have a movie worth buying. A shame, too... dig that hardbox, baby.

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