I Spit on Your Grave 3: Vengeance is Mine

“Point made.”

Like much horror, the rape-revenge genre is one which overlaps with, rather than being wholly encompassed by, the action-heroine field. Some entries qualify: the awesome glory which is Ms. 45 being the most obvious example. But others appear to focus more on the rape than the revenge, and are far less interesting as a result. Such was the case for the first two entries in this series – and, indeed, the 1978 grindhouse classic which it rebooted. Here, however, in an interesting twist we bypass the assault entirely. This starts instead with the victim in the earlier movies (Butler) having adopted a new identity, that of Angela, and attending both one-on-one therapy as well as group sessions.

It’s at the latter she meets Marla (Landon), who shares Angela’s dislike for the whole touchy-feely aspect of recovery, and prefers a more… “hands-on” approach to working things out. When they discover that another member of the group is still being molested by her stepfather, it’s time to put their theory into practice. While apparently a success, at least initially, it turns out Marla has her own issues that still need to be dealt with. Additionally, the aftermath of their street justice is bringing the attention of the cops, in particular SVU Detective McDylan (Hogan). It’s kinda hard to explain why you’re in a bad part of town, fighting with a man in a back-alley, and carrying a knife, a Tazer and a can of lighter fluid.

I was sure I knew where this was going. Meeting someone called “Marla” at a support group, is such an obvious nod to Fight Club, I was certain she’d turn out to be a figment of Angela’s imagination, and there are fantasy sequences also pointing down that road. Happy to be proved wrong, and the film twists in some unexpected directions the rest of the way, right until the end. It’s most memorable feature, however, would be two absolutely – bold and capital letters please – BRUTAL sequences of Angela’s revenge. The first, in particular, is going to stick in my mind for a very long time, in part because it comes virtually out of nowhere. But once it begins, it delivers a one-two punch of almost unsurpassed magnitude: barely had the words “Holy sh…” begun to escape my lips, when it got ten times more savage.

It has to be said, having set the bar so staggeringly high in terms of carnage, I was left wondering how the movie could follow up. Truth is, it doesn’t, and that probably counts as a misstep, since it also distracts unnecessarily from what’s actually a solid performance from Butler. She gets to run the gamut from seductive to extremely scary, and is effective enough at both ends of the spectrum. Make no mistake, this is frequently vile and repellent; yet, it’s exactly how sexual assault should be depicted, because that’s what it is. Just be sure to find an unrated version, and if you’re male, you may want to watch from a spot where curling up into the foetal position is easily managed.

Dir: R.D. Braunstein
Star: Sarah Butler, Jennifer Landon, Doug McKeon, Gabriel Hogan


“A not-so fair cop”

pmscopBeginning with a jokey caption stating “The producers of this movie are in no way admitting to the existence of PMS,” this is a rather uneven B-movie, which has a potentially interesting premise. Unfortunately, it then does not enough with the concept.

Mary (Hall) is a police officer with anger management issues. After beating up a rapist dressed as a clown. she’s ordered to undergo counseling. Her therapist puts her in contact with a pharmaceutical company testing a new drug, Corybantic, aimed at reducing the impact of PMS. After consulting with the leader of the project, Dr. Sokolov (Skinner), Mary starts taking the drug, and is injected with a chip to track her body’s response. But after witnessing her partner being gunned down during a convenience store robbery, it triggers a violent psychotic reaction. The drug company re-capture their test subject, only for her to break out of their restraints and go on a brutal rampage through the facility. Turns out the chip wasn’t just for telemetry either; it came from an abandoned Soviet project into mind-control.

There a number of ways this could have gone. Social satire, as hinted at in the opening caption, or perhaps a modern version of the Frankenstein story. Instead… Well, there’s not much more than Mary, or her “PMS Cop” alter-ego (played by a different actress, Means), roaming the drug company’s building, banging heads together. The gore is enthusiastic and nicely practical; I particularly enjoyed the silicone implants ripped out of one poor victim’s chest, then used as the means of death for another. You don’t see that every day. However, there simply isn’t enough going on with the story-line to sustain audience interest.

It also shifts notably in tone. Early, it’s almost jokey – for instance, the clown rapist ties up his victim with balloons. Yet the humour is abruptly switched off as soon as Mary begins the drug trial; you’re left feeling like the rest of the film is a comedy without jokes. You can certainly check off the movies director Blakey is inspired by. Robocop, The Terminator and possibly Lady Terminator. Not that there’s anything wrong with influences. It’s just that those are all significantly better movies, and Blakey doesn’t bring sufficient new or interesting to offset this disadvantage. In technical terms, the lighting could certainly also have been better, with too many scenes painfully under-lit, in what may have been a misguided attempt as “atmosphere.”

While I’ve seen and enjoyed B-movies which have skated by on even thinner premises, they’ve been able to take their concepts and do more with them. This instead feels like a 15-minute short, stretched into a feature. I suspect it’s one which would have been more effective at the shorter length.

Dir: Bryon Blakey
Star: Cindy Means, Heather Hall, Elaine Jenkins, Megan Dehart

Sumo Vixens

“Su’mo money, su’mo problems.”

sumovixensYes, it’s a thinly-disguised excuse to see topless women grappling with each other. It’s from the director of Big Tits Zombie and the charmingly-titled Sexual Parasite: Killer Pussy. The budget appears to have been several thousand yen, at least. But, you know what? I didn’t mind this. There’s a sense of self-awareness here that helps defuse (though certainly not eliminate) the creepier elements. When the heroine proclaims, “People have dirty thoughts about women’s sumo, but I believe there’s something more than that,” you want to believe her. Well, at least until the lesbian canoodling starts, anyway, and you realize

Said heroine is Ruriko Sakura (Eba), whose aunt used to be a woman’s sumo champion in her day, which gives Ruriko the idea of reviving the sport. To this end, she recruits former master Szenjirou Arakami (Arase), who has just been relesed from jail for pushing a car loaded with Yakuza into a river. The women they recruit are a motley bunch at best, but Komasa (Mizutani) appears to have strayed in from a pinky violence film, so has promise. However, the Domino Group, a Yakuza-run “agency” has their eye on Ruriko and owns loans held by Arakami. A challenge match is arranged against the Domino girls, and if they win, the loans will be forgiven. If they lose, Ruriko must become their exclusive talent.

It’s the little things that keep this memorable, like the quirky characters, such as the tattooed, green-haired and pierced sumo who spends literally the entire film huffing paint thinner from a plastic bag – even for her bout, she’s like “Here, hold this” to the referee. Or Komasa’s one-eyed nemesis and former partner in a lesbian strip show, Oryu (Kudou), who I’m fairly sure is another pulp cinema tribute. Nakano also slyly subverts some of the obvious sports movie cliches. I trust I’m not spoiling this for anyone, when I tell you plucky underdog Ruriko loses her climactic match in about 0.3 seconds. I think he also takes pot-shots at cable TV – the final match is broadcast there – and its fondness for staged reaction shots.

The action is, as you’d expect, entirely woeful and the camera angles are particularly predatory, tending to focus on specific body parts to the exclusion of, say, the women’s faces. Yet the makers are clearly aware of the idiocy on view, and certainly cannot be accused of taking themselves too seriously. Ruriko somehow manages to keep her clothes on, when all about her are losing theirs, and though she has a boyfriend, he doesn’t turn up until literally the final scene. She’s goal-oriented, committed and you could make the case she’s actually a better role-model of independent womanhood than many depictions in more mainstream works. At heart, though, this could only be fully appreciated by the 16-year-old male audience, for whom it was apparently made.

Dir: Takao Nakano
Star: Eba, Arase, Kei Mizutani, Shouku Kudou

Women on the Run

“Letting the Cat III out of the bag.”

womenChinese teenage martial-arts champ Li Siu-Yin (Guo) is seduced into a life of prostitution by her boyfriend, but eventually snaps and kills him. She escapes to Hong Kong, only to be arrested there, and given a stark choice: help ensnare crime boss King Kong (Kim) or be deported back to China. Unwillingly, she takes the former and goes back over the border with undercover cop Hung (Cheung), who is also having an affair with colleague David (Lai). However, it turns out that David is in cahoots with King Kong, and the pair end up in Canada and in jail. It’s a long way back from there, before the two can take their revenge on the men who betrayed them.

It appears my memories of this were conflated with another “Cat III” (the Hong Kong adults-only film classification) kung-fu film, the considerably more sleazy Escape From Brothel. Aside from some nekkid kung-fu and a couple of scenes of sexual violence, this is mostly mainstream. And it’s kinda hard to take the gang-rape sequence seriously when the perpetrators are set up as being Really Bad People by punting a clearly stuffed dog, as they make their way into the warehouse where our heroines are hiding out. Elements like these deflate entirely apparently serious attempts at drama; see also a flashback to an apparently kinder, gentler era of airport security when you could not just take your stun-gun onto a plane, you could apply it to other passengers without anyone rushing you with a drinks trolley. Ah, those were the days, eh? There are also bad subtitles which translate the line “smoke some weed” in English as, “get some sweet meat,” and a really nasty portrayal of Canadian law-enforcement, that left me wondering if the directors got a traffic ticket in Vancouver or something.

Fortunately, salvaging proceedings are some decent to solid action, as you’d expect from Yuen, who has a long track record of such things. Both Guo and Cheung are more than credible; the former, in particular, to an extent where it’s a surprise that she never appeared in anything of significance again. As a villain, Kim lets his feet in particular do his talking, and he makes for a formidable opponent, particularly at the end. There are a number of solid sequences before that, that let both leads show their skills – though I could perhaps have done without the comedic drug addiction, Liu doing her best kung-fu after a little H. I guess it’s a variant on Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master? All told, this is more or less your typical Cat III film, containing both the good and bad the classification implies. Action, exploitation, comedy, brutality and nonsensical aspects all rub shoulders, with the end product being… Well, while I could point out any number of other flaws, let’s accentuate the positive instead, and just say. this is certainly never dull.

Dir: David Lai and Corey Yuen
Star: Tamara Guo, Farini Cheung, David Lai, Kim Won-Jin

We Are Monsters

“Swedish grindhouse: Some assembly apparently required.”

wearemonstersThe rape-revenge genre is a problematic one. Done properly, it can be awesome, and pack a real wallop. See Ms. 45, or Thriller: A Cruel Picture for examples where the makers got it right. But there are an awful lot of mis-steps possible on the way. Unfortunately, this proves the point, mostly by being remarkably… Well, “bland” is probably appropriate, and is also damning criticism. For these kind of movies should be offensive, because rape is. If its depiction isn’t hard for the viewer to watch, you’re not doing it right. On that basis, the makers here definitely get it wrong.

Emma (Oldenburg) is on a business trip, in her role as a PR advisor, when she gets in the wrong taxi. She regains consciousness, tied up in a remote cabin. There, she’s at utterly at the mercy of savvy psychopath Jim (Ralph Beck), and his simpleton sidekick, Pete (Andersson). It soon becomes clear she is not their first victim. And also, that they have no compunction about disposing of their left-overs. That’s just the start of Emma’s descent into hell, which is a necessary component of the genre. To be followed by her turning the tables and subjecting her attackers to equal brutality, to the cheers of the audience. In theory, anyway.

The first off-putting element is, it’s supposedly set in America, yet clearly isn’t, with accents roughly as convincing as Inspector Clouseau [Emma, bizarrely, is supposedly Australian – one presumes that was the only accent Oldenburg could do!]. There’s no reason beyond crass commercialism, why its location couldn’t be the real one, of Sweden. Then we get to the downswing, and there’s no emotional impact at all. We’re given no reason to care about Emma, except that she’s the victim, nor any reason to hate Jim and Pete, save they’re the perpetrators. Now, we don’t need any more reason, but it’s appallingly lazy film-making to rely on such a simply dynamic. The series of attacks are shot in such a superficial way they’re frankly boring, when they should leave the viewer shaken and stirred.

There’s also a thread where Pete spends a lot of time watching slasher films. If there’s an intended moral there, it’s a remarkably hypocritical one, given the genre in which this firmly operates. Eventually, after an aborted escape attempt or two, the inevitable happens. The makers do at least get that right, with Emma inflicting some truly brutal revenge, including one scene I defy any man to watch without squirming. Yet, the ineffective nature of what has gone before robs the revenge of any significant impact, and it instead falls into the category of “too little, too late.” Having shallowly enjoyed the directors’ previous effort, the “spam in a cabin” film Wither, their attempt here to recapture the spirit of the grindhouse era was severely disappointing.

Dir: Sonny Laguna, Tommy Wiklund
Star: Hanna Oldenburg, Torbjörn Andersson, Ralf Beck, Niki Nordenskjöld

Hell Fire

“A bastard love-child of Bitch Slap and The Evil Dead.”

hellfire2This is unashamedly and unrepentantly B-movie fodder, pitting four prostitutes against the Antichrist and each other. If you’re expecting anything else from a sleeve like that, more fool you. But for something made on a budget likely measured in thousands rather than millions, it punches way above its financial weight, and barely pauses in its savagery and energetically bad taste.

The four hookers decide to rob their pimp, hearing whispers that he’s plotting a big deal. Finding no money present, they kidnap the man he’s meeting and take him to a remote cabin to extract whatever value they can. Unfortunately, they’ve bitten off more than expected, as they are now holding the literal son of Satan hostage. He (Green) isn’t quite up on his powers yet, but can move objects, read minds and also turn the women’s darkest secrets into physical, demonic form. Though he can’t read the mind of Rosetta (Beretta), it turns out she’s enthusiastically on his side, in exchange for the usual, “selling your soul” type stuff. Turns out Mr A.C. was negotiating with their pimp to go kill the currently unborn son of God, which would give Lucifer a huge leg-up in the imminent war between heaven and hell. Only Justine (Marshall) stands between the Antichrist, his new ally, and… Well, it’s unlikely to be good for mankind.

Green seems to be aiming for a Charles Manson vibe, and does a good job there, even as he spends much of the film tied to a chair. This leaves the floor literally open for the women, and it’s them – particularly Marshall and Beretta – who deliver carnage that’s brutal, heads right for the jugular and doesn’t stop chewing until it reaches bone. Beretta, in particular, exudes “Zero fucks given” and, with her Antipodean twang, has something of a younger, pissed-off Zoe Bell about her [though Beretta is Australian, rather than a Kiwi]. Although credit to everyone involved here, as they go full-throttle into their roles, and their enthusiasm helps paper over occasional moments of weakness, probably most notably in its audio work, often low-fi at best.

Additionally, there is some cheating here: the “rules” by which the Antichrist has to operate, e.g. he can’t kill the son of God directly, exist purely for the film’s purpose, not out of any theological basis. However, I can only admire the way Fratto and his cast have taken a concept, twisted it into an appropriate form for their tastes, and then run with it, far beyond what I expected going in. Sure, you undeniably need a fondness for low-budget horror, in order to appreciate this in the slightest. I do, and having sat through my share of tedious offerings in that genre, have to say this is one of the best such efforts I’ve seen in a long while. Rarely have the words “bloody good time” been more appropriate.

Dir: Marc Fratto
Star: Katelyn Marie Marshall, J. Scott Green, Selene Beretta, Jennice Carter

Pearl: The Assassin

“Fake pearls.”

pearlI think perhaps the most memorable thing here was that, while doing my usual pre-review Googling, the search results returned with the warning that, “In response to multiple complaints we received under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, we have removed 35 results from this page.” I’m not sure whether I’m surprised or concerned that 35 sites apparently deemed this worth their while to rip and upload a bootleg copy of this, because it probably doesn’t deserve it. I may be particularly disgruntled due to the presence on the sleeve both of helicopters that don’t exist, and someone totally different from the heroine; half a star was docked from the grade for this. In reality, the star  (Patton, the director’s wife – he plays the florist she’s garotting in the picture, right!) looks more like Marilyn Manson, with a high forehead and close to no eyebrows.

Not that this is necessarily a bad thing – indeed, there’s something to be said for a heroine who challenges conventional notions of beauty, and Pearl does that, even if the distributor chooses to hide this behind a leggy, long-haired model type. She looks like a pissed-off killer, out for vengeance – not any longer on the people who killed her parents, for they were taken care of years ago, as others of that same type. Which would be criminals, drug-dealers, pimps, etc. She kidnaps meth scientist Erik (Morales), using his inside knowledge to work up the chain toward top boss Tre (Brown), while Detective Wyatt (Morafetis) follows the trail of bodies left behind Pearl, from the other end.

Even given my tolerance for independent, low-budget cinema, the action here was particularly poor, barely choreographed and possessing absolutely zero impact. Surprisingly, what worked better than expected were the characters, particularly Erik, who actually possesses something of an arc, going from a meth-head with few redeeming features into something of a tragic hero. By comparison, Pearl doesn’t move the needle very much: she starts off the film as a stone-faced killer, and more or less ends it as a stone-faced killer. You do get to see some of her backstory, but it seems more perfunctory, and it’s also simplistic in the extreme: someone killed her family, now everyone must pay. That might have worked for Charles Bronson forty years ago; now, audiences expect rather more nuance. Still, there was one genuinely shocking moment, demonstrating Tre’s utter ruthlessness, and I actually laughed at one of Erik’s lines. Overall, it’s a case of being able to see where the film-makers are aiming; unfortunately, the results fall significantly short of that target, and you’re probably better off sticking with the obvious sources of inspiration here, instead of this attempt to imitate them.

Dir: Guy Patton
Star: Dana Patton, Scott Michael Morales, Justin Brown, George Morafetis

Lady Ninja Kaede 2

“Secret technique, reverse dildo return!”

ladyninja2I am uncertain whether this is related to the other Lady Ninja series, or if it’s an entirely separate series. I’m leaning towards it being independent, as there appear to be magical overtones here, that weren’t present elsewhere. But just to confuse matters further,while this is on Netflix at the time of writing, there’s no sign of part one. Perhaps, if I’d seen that, this would suddenly become entertaining? Nah. Pretty sure it wouldn’t make a difference. This is slightly elevated over its predecessor by not being a po-faced ninja story with soft-porn sex scenes. It is, in fact, a barking mad ninja story with soft-porn sex scenes. What? You want specifics?

The heroine, Kaede (Akatsuki), is basically a member of the sex police, punishing those who are too lustful. There’s a religious sex cult who have combined the penises of three men into one supercharged dildo, leaving them with an apparent gaping void at the crotch. After fulfilling her first task, or retrieving the hyper-dildo, it’s up to Kaede to fix things, by finding the three donors and having sex with them, which restores their genitals. She is accompanied on her quest by a gay samurai.

Not included in this film. Any significant ninja-ing by Kaede; what action there is, is more carried out by the samurai. And, contrary to the sleeve, nor is she tied up at any point, so any bondage fans will be particularly disappointed. There is, of course, plenty of aardvarking, as Joe-Bob Briggs used to put it, and actually, I can’t say I minded the performances too much. The division of the population into those for whom sex is positive and those for whom it’s negative, reminded me (bizarrely!) of a Japanese medieval take on Cafe Flesh, Kaeda supposedly being on the anti-sex side, but in reality being the most active of anyone.

There are moments of twisted creativity that made this not unwatchable, and there’s a mad aesthetic here that could be appealing if you’re in an undiscerning mood. But if you’re looking for any kind of action beside the horizontal variety, you are going to be extremely disappointed. Finally, I did have to snort derisively at subtitles during the magic ceremony which referred to “Casper Howser”, who is presumably Doogie’s occult-inclined brother. I imagine that should instead have been “Kaspar Hauser”, a 19th-century German figure with mystical significance, about whom Werner Herzog once made a movie. Bit of a toss-up whether distributors Tokyo Shock did not know, or just did not care.

Dir: Takayuki Kagawa
Star: Luna Akatsuki, Kazu Itsuki, Yuka Sakagami

The Great Texas Dynamite Chase

“A movie packed with blow(-up) jobs.”

dynamitegirlsSorry. Couldn’t resist the above tasteless joke. I did try. It was the longest five seconds of my life. But, let’s face it, the late Ms. Jennings would probably have approved, as she shot across the B-movie firmament like a meteor, in other films reviewed here, such as Gator Bait and Unholy Rollers, before her untimely death at the age of 29.

This is an energetic and briskly-paced B-movie, with no pretensions, perhaps inspired somewhat by the Italian film Blonde in Black Leather, made two years earlier, which also had a downtrodden woman breaking free of the shackles of society for wild adventures alongside a rebellious friend. Here, the former is bank-teller Ellie-Jo Turner (Jones), who has just been fired when her branch is robbed by the dynamite-toting Candy Morgan (Jennings). in need of funds to save her family’s farm. The two meet each other again on the road, and Ellie-Jo convinces Candy that a life of crime would be fun, and so the pair – after scoring some non-fizzling explosives – begin a cross-Texas bank robbery spree. During an unscheduled diversion to a convenience store, they pick up a hostage, Slim (Crawford), who turns out to be rather happy in his plight. However, for how long can they stay ahead of the law?

I didn’t even realize this was an action heroine film, until a friend reviewed it on his site, so a hat-tip to Hal for that. The alternate title – particularly if accompanied by the over-enthusiastic French poster accompanying this piece! – makes this more clear.  I enjoyed the Thelma and Louise vibe here, with the two heroines playing off each other nicely, and while it is obviously exploitational, right from the moment Jennings gratuitously changes her top inside the first five minutes, these aspects are relatively restrained. To be honest, I could very easily have done without Slim entirely, as his character appears to add nothing of significance to the film, and Crawford’s performance is so blandly uninteresting, he sucks the life off the screen whenever he appears – quite a contract to Jennings.

There is also a sharp shift in tone for the final reel, where Pressman [whose subsequent directorial career include a pair of really bad sequels in The Bad News Bears: Breaking Training and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of the Ooze] apparently getting in touch with his inner Sam Peckinpah, and delivering a slow-mo blood-squibtravaganza that is not at all in keeping with what has gone before. However, I’m prepared to forgive it for one big reason, though unfortunately it’s too spoilery for me to provide more details. For the same reason, I have to remain vague in my approval of the ending, which went in a different direction from the one I was expecting, and was all the better for it. This is more evidence that Jennings’ early departure was certainly our genre’s loss.

Dir: Michael Pressman
Star: Claudia Jennings, Jocelyn Jones, Johnny Crawford
a.k.a. Dynamite Women

Ballet of Blood

“Bitchy ballerinas, being bitches.”

balletbloodWell, I will say this. If you start your film with a ballet class being interrupted by a former student, who rushes in – topless, for no readily apparent reason – and sprays the class with fire from her Uzi: you have my attention. Unfortunately, this early goodwill is utterly wasted, frittered away in a number of ways over the next 90 minutes that would be spectacularly impressive, if that were the aim of the film-makers. However, it appears their true intention was along the lines of, “Let’s do a micro-budget version of Black Swan, but one based on our obsessive watching of Suspiria, starring a cast of interchangeable Barbies rounded up from the strip-club nearest to the local community college.” Actually, that sounds rather more entertaining than this.

There are two intertwined threads here. One, is the aftermath of the shooting, carried out by mad dancer Nisa (Raye), which injured the school’s prima ballerina, Sylvie (Robinson). Nisa escapes, leaving the school on edge, and breaks her pal Ria (Knopf) out of the asylum where she’s being held – as, apparently, you are – in order to assist with an even more deadly assault. Meanwhile, the atmosphere at the school is becoming increasingly abusive and strained. Student Maren (Martinez) is disturbed to find that the novel she is writing is turning eerily predictive. Is her old typewriter somehow causing events to take place? Or is it all in her psyche?

There may be a bit of Showgirls, or perhaps cable series Flesh and Bone, to be found in here, Masters clearly having a fine appreciation of the trash aesthetic, which shines through in dialogue, particularly Sylvie’s, that is occasionally so dumb, it’s positive genius. The use of classical music for the soundtrack is not bad either. However, these don’t even start to balance the negatives: these begin with audio which often appears to have been recorded from the bottom of a nearby well, and continues into a slew of characters who look, sound and (fail to) act alike. This lends itself to viewer confusion, not helped by the fact your attention will likely be wandering to more interesting things – specifically, in my case, our cat playing in a cardboard box. There’s just too many scenes of the cast sitting about jawing tediously at each other, before Nisa and Ria kick things off.

Even though the grand finale is rather less than grand, the budget restrictions here being what they are, it does represent an improvement over the rest of the film, purely because something is happening. Quite what that something is, it’s harder to say, since this is where the giallo influence of Dario Argento really kicks in, meaning copious dollops of style, in lieu of substance. Except, Masters is not exactly Argento, and apparently forgets there’s more to creating cinematic style, than throwing a couple of filters on your lights. Much as I’m loathe to criticize micro-budget indie film, there just isn’t enough here to merit more than a clear warning.

Dir: Jared Masters
Star: Sydney Raye, Mindy Robinson, Marla Martinez, Jessica Knopf