Night of the Living Dead (1990)

starstarstarstarhalf
“Better head(-shot) than dead.”

Important to note the year here, because the original Night of the Living Dead, for all its massive influence (without it, there’d be no The Walking Dead or World War Z) was very, very far from an action heroine film. Though it started off focusing on its female lead, Barbara, after she reaches sanctuary in the farmhouse, she spends virtually the rest of the movie in a near-catatonic state, and the film switches focus to Ben, who becomes the film’s hero. The change for this remake is one of a number of alterations, which are likely both necessary and helpful: when you are redoing a film widely regarded as a classic, you’d better bring something new to the party. That’s something largely forgotten by many horror remakes.

Even to non-horror fans, the plot likely doesn’t need much description. On a visit to her mother’s grave with her brother, Barbara (Tallman) finds herself the target for first one, then multiple, crazed attackers. She takes refuge nearby, along with others seeking shelter. They include Ben (Todd), a no-nonsense type, who repeatedly and at increasing volume crosses swords with Harry (Towles) over whether or not everyone would be better off sheltering in the cellar. As the zombie hordes congregate, various escape plans are formulated and tried – but tensions continue to rise, and the biggest threat to collective survival may not be the undead, banging on the doors.

Largely done for financial reasons – creator George A. Romero made very little from the original, despite its success – this works unexpectedly well. Right from the start, it adjusts the story in small ways that will surprise those familiar with the original, on its way to an ending which twists sharply away from the source, not once but twice. However, it’s the change in Barbara which probably represents the largest shift. Initially, it looks like she’s going the same route, and will spend much of the film suffering from shock. However, she snaps out of it, and rapidly becomes the most sensible member of the group: her suggestions are credible, and she doesn’t engage in the bickering which threatens to tear the group apart, instead firing back, “You can talk to me about ‘losing it’ when you stop screaming at each other like a bunch of two-year-olds.”

She’s well ahead of the curve in terms to figuring things out, too. Witness the scene where there’s still some uncertainty about what they’re facing: she fires several shots into a zombie’s body, asking repeatedly, “Is he dead?”, before finishing the creature off with the archetypal bullet to the brain. No further questions. At the end, while still having some moral qualms – “We’re them and they’re us” – she is capable of putting them aside, and become a bandolier-wearing bad-ass. In the event of a zombie apocalypse, this version of Barbara is one of the people you’d most want beside you; she’s smart, ruthless and takes absolutely no shit from anyone, human or zombie.

Dir: Tom Savini
Star: Patricia Tallman, Tony Todd, Tom Towles, McKee Anderson

Naam Hai Akira

starstarstarstarhalf
“Finally, a 21st-century successor to Fearless Nadia.”

akiraThis is the first “true” modern Bollywood action heroine film I’ve seen, and has to be appreciated as such. While we’ve covered a couple of Indian films before, these have either been from outside the mainstream e.g. Bandit Queen, or have carefully corralled the action into socially-acceptable avenues, such as sport in Mary Kom. Neither is the case here, though the ending certainly has its share of hypocrisy, with the heroine being more or less sidelined, “for the greater good”.

Akira (Sinha) establishes her “take no shit” attitude early, stopping a local bully – unfortunately, his influential family mean she spends three years in juvenile correction while the wheels of justice grind on. After her release, she moves to Mumbai and starts college, only to bump heads with the local mean girl, after refusing to take part in a school protest. Meanwhile, corrupt cop Govind Rane (Kashyap) is tidying up after finding a suitcase full of cash at a car accident – and by that, I mean killing off the driver. However, it kicks off a convoluted series of plot twists, in which evidence of his crimes is used to extort him, then is stolen, and ends up in Akira’s possession. Rane will do anything to ensure she won’t be able to use it, including framing her as a delusional paranoid and having her committed to an insane asylum, courtesy of a friendly doctor.

That’s a slimmed-down synopsis, and there’s a lot more going on here; probably too much, to be honest, and I think half an hour less than the actual 137-minute running time would have been a good thing all round. However, it goes with the territory: two hours is close to a minimum for Bollywood. One pleasant surprise was the lack of musical numbers; I’ve seen these shoehorned into just about every genre, including horror, and sometimes they just don’t fit. Here would likely have been one such case, so we were grateful for their absence. Also worth mentioning: this is a remake of a 2011 Tamil film, Mouna Guru, with the sex of its lead character changed.

Sinha is definitely better than expected in the action scenes: the standout sequences are a full-on brawl in the student cafeteria, after she absolutely destroys her tormentor with a potted plant [you can see a fragment in the trailer below; no subs, but if you’ve read the above, it’ll be clear enough], and her escape from the asylum through a series of unfortunate and ill-prepared guards. Again, given the running time, the action is perhaps a little on the infrequent side, yet there’s enough going on between times to keep you entertained. Particularly notable among the supporting cart was SP Rabia (Sharma), the honest cop trying to piece together the truth; both heavily pregnant and smartly competent, she reminded me to a large degree of Marge Gunderson from Fargo.

All told, this was surprisingly accessible to our Western eyes, though some cultural aspects had to be taken on trust: for example, acid attacks are, apparently, an everyday thing in Akira’s hometown. Bollywood still has some catching up to do; while decent enough, no-one will exactly mistake Sinha for Milla Jovovich or Zoë Bell. However, this is a solid step in the right direction, and will hopefully pave the way for others to follow.

Dir: AR Murugadoss
Star: Sonakshi Sinha, Anurag Kashyap, Konkona Sen Sharma, Ankita Karan Patel 

Neerja

starstarstarstar
“Sticks to the plane truth.”

Time to set up GirlsWithoutGuns.org, perhaps. For this film brings home that among the most courageous of heroines are the unarmed ones – especially when facing people who are not. Such is the case with Neerja Bhanot, the 22-year-old head purser on Pan Am Flight 73 from Mumbai to New York in 1986. Just before takeoff after a stop in Karachi, the plane was taken over by hijackers from the Palestinian Abu Nidal Organization, who intended to divert it to Cyprus. Bhanot alerted the pilots, allowing them to escape and thwarting that plan. She then discarded the passports of American passengers, stopping the terrorists from targeting them. When they believed Pakistani forces were about to storm the plane, she opened the emergency exits, help shepherd passengers out, and sheltered children from the terrorists’ bullets.

Yep, there are good reasons she became the first female recipient of India’s highest decoration for bravery in peacetime, the Ashok Chakra Award, and the youngest ever. Wisely, the film opts for a largely straightforward retelling of the events of those 24 hours, beginning with Neerja’s exuberant attendance at a birthday party the previous evening, through her trip to the airport and the mundane processes of the early, peaceful leg of the flight, before all hell comes storming up the stairs into her aircraft. Against a solid background, the only element which rings significantly false is the note given to her by a friend at the airport: its clichéd contents perhaps explain the disclaimer before the movie, about “Any resemblance to persons living or dead…”

Otherwise, however, it seems to stick to the truth, as far as my post-film Googling has been able to tell. Yes, Neerja was a part-time model as well as an air hostess. She also had already been through an arranged marriage which failed, to an apparently abusive husband (though here again: “Any resemblance…”). But it’s her amazingly calm, yet smart approach in the face of the four hijackers that is most incredible, with death never more than a hair-trigger’s breadth away. This hellish and escalating claustrophobia of the incident is the film’s strongest suit. Madhvani plays it expertly to a crescendo, as the hijackers become increasingly irritated by what they perceive (not incorrectly) as stalling tactics by the authorities in response to demands for new pilots.

It’s likely one of those cases where less knowledge may be useful in appreciating it. For I’m sure most of the original Indian audience was already well aware of the story here; in contrast, as someone who hadn’t heard about it before, I found myself holding my breath on more than one occasion, with no clue of how it would end. As we enter the New Year of 2017, it certainly qualifies as one of the strongest entries of 2016, even if – or perhaps because? – the movie goes in a different direction from the more-traditional kind of action heroines, which we usually cover on this site.

Dir: Ram Madhvani
Star: Sonam Kapoor, Shabana Azmi, Yogendra Tiku, Abrar Zahoor

Nightmare Nurse

starstar
“Nurse shark.”

nightmarenurseThis Lifetime TV movie is the story of Brooke (Butler) and Lance (Good). The happy young couple get into an accident returning from celebrating her promotion at the restaurant where she works. The pedestrian they hit is killed, while Lance breaks his leg, and is confined to bed while he recuperates. To assist with that task, since Brooke has to work, they hire Chloe (Hartley). She initially appears perfect for the job, helping out with the household chores as well as her nursing work. However, it’s not long before strange little incidents suggest that not all is well in Chloeland. We see her life with an abusive boyfriend, and she develops an attachment for Lance well beyond the normal bounds of professional concern. Might this, possibly, be something to do with the accident?

Oh, who am I trying to kid. This is a Lifetime TV movie. Of course it has something to do with the accident, although the precise details are vague until the final 20 minutes. Which are actually when the film raised itself beyond the painfully humdrum, not least because of the return of Traci Lords. She plays “good” nurse Barbara, in what initially appears to be a glorified cameo, yet ends up an extremely pivotal role. Lords wipes the floor with the rest of the cast, and it’s a shame she is almost absent from the first hour. [It has to be said, knowledge of her past adds to the frisson here; she wouldn’t exactly be person most women would want caring for their boyfriends!] The final battle, as Brooke defends her territory like a lioness, is certainly the most fun this has to offer.

Unfortunately, you have to get through an awful lot of Very Obvious to reach that point. Naturally, it’s another sensitive and sympathetic portrayal of mental illness and the stigma faced by those who suffer fro… Oh, again – who am I trying to kid? Chloe is as batty as a fruitcake, whose direction appears to be the result of viewing Fatal Attraction. Except, Hartley isn’t exactly Glenn Close, no matter how wide she opens her eyes and stares really hard. She’d have been better off watching Nurse 3D, and taking lessons in scenery-chewing from Paz de la Huerta. Butler and Good are serviceable enough as the perfect couple with impeccable teeth. Though I’m surprised Lance remains faithful, given the Lifetime tendency for all men to be unreliable in the loyalty department.

It just about stays on the acceptable side of entertainment, until the final reel. However, the main thing you’ll take from that is how much more entertaining it all might have been, if the makers had Lords play Chloe instead.

Dir: Craig Moss
Star: Sarah Butler, Steven Good, Lyndsay Hartley, Traci Lords

New Adventures of Senorita Scorpion, edited by Percival Constantine

Literary rating: starstarstarstar
Kick-butt quotient: Variable

senoritaPulp Western writer Les Savage, Jr. (1922-1958) was short-lived, dying at 35; but he began writing at the age of 17, and managed to produce over 20 books, as well as a substantial body of short fiction. Though he’s not well-known today, genre critics who have taken note of his work agree that he was more enlightened in his view of women and of ethnic minorities than most pulp writers (and editors/readers) of his day. An example of his trail-blazing in both areas is his series heroine Elgera Douglas, a.k.a. Senorita Scorpion, who stars in a body of stories set in the mountainous Texas-Mexico border country west of the Pecos River. In 2012, through their Altus Press imprint, modern pulp publisher Pro Se Press have brought all these stories back into print in the two-volume collection The Complete Adventures of Senorita Scorpion. I’ve already reviewed that collection for this site.

Perhaps to whet interest for the originals, in 2013 Pro Se also brought out this short collection of three modern Senorita Scorpion pastiches, written specifically for this book by three authors who’ve published other work with Pro Se previously: Nancy A. Hansen, Aussie writer Brad Mengle, and Andrea Judy. I actually read this anthology (which I received as a review copy from Pro Se, with no strings attached) before I read the originals, but chose to wait until I’d reviewed those here before reviewing this spin-off. This was my first exposure to the work of any of these three.

All of the stories, in relation to the original corpus, take place before Savage’s second story, “The Brand of Senorita Scorpion.” Both Hansen’s “The Bells of St. Ferdinand” and “Wanted: Senorita Scorpion” by Mengel are excellent stories, that would earn five stars from me in their own right. They’re well plotted and constructed, with capably drawn characters, realistic dialogue and credible motivations, nice evocation of suspense, Western action that’s not too over the top to be believable, just the right level of detail, and (in one of the stories) a satisfying note of low-key romance. Each of the two authors has his/her own style; but both portray Elgera and her situation in a way that’s basically consistent with the original stories, as a good pastiche should be –though Elgera’s skill with using a whip as a weapon, which Hansen depicts, isn’t a feature of any of the original stories. (Chisos Owens, who in the originals sometimes threatens to eclipse Elgera, is mentioned here but doesn’t actually appear in person.) Both writers avoid use of bad language, with which Savage himself was restrained as well. Elgera comes across in these stories as the sort of “outlaw” the law-abiding can respect and admire: brave, caring, and sparing with lethal force.

Though having only three stories here is regrettable, it’s also understandable; Senorita Scorpion isn’t as well-known as some other classic pulp characters, so not many modern writers were lining up to want to write about her. That makes it doubly disappointing, though, that one of the three, Andrea Judy’s “A Woman’s Touch,” simply comes nowhere near the standard of the other two. It starts with an implausible premise and throws in a couple more, hangs its plot on an improbable coincidence, offers action scenes so over the top they read like parodies (for instance, no real human beings, no matter how athletic they are, jump in and out of a shot-out window when there’s a door right next to it!), is predictable from start to finish, and never generates any emotional response except irritation. Worse, the portrayal of Elgera and her situation here is markedly “off,” compared to the original stories: there, she’s fully in touch with social reality around her, whereas here, she and her dependents are practically totally ignorant of the outside world beyond their mine; here, she’s quite blase’ about shooting people, (except in the one case where she’s obviously foolish not to!), and here she uses “ain’t” where in both the other stories she speaks proper English. (Judy is also the only writer of the three that uses bad language –but that fails to make her dialog very lifelike.) I would seriously doubt that this author ever actually read the original stories.)

In my overall rating, I deducted a star for the one weak story, but I still felt the other two were strong enough to merit four stars for the book. I’d read more by both authors; and I’d even try more by Judy. She’s apparently the youngest and least experienced writer of the three, and I don’t think tried her best here. With more aggressive editing that demanded her best, her tale might have been much better. (Constantine’s role as editor here, I’m guessing, was just to compile the stories and to draft the short author bios at the end of the book –not to impose any quality control.)

Editor: Percival Constantine
Publisher: Pro Se Press, available through Amazon, both for Kindle and as a printed book.

A version of this review previously appeared on Goodreads.

Nikita – Sexy Killer

starstar

“French kissing… And rather more…”

[Note. This is a XXX-rated film, so while I’m being very restrained, the discussion of it is, of necessity, still for mature readers.]

nikita sexy killerI don’t have any problem with pornography, but the concept of porn with a storyline leaves me somewhat baffled: it’s a combination that doesn’t seem to make sense. Personally, I either want to watch people having sex or a movie with actual characters and a storyline; I don’t think I’ve ever been in the mood where I’ve thought, “I want 2 1/2 hours that combine hardcore pornography with more traditional elements of cinema,” but that’s what you have here. Actually, 2 1/2 hours of hardcore pornography alone, seems like serious overkill, by a factor of somewhere between five and ten. I certainly didn’t get through this in one sitting.

But I was intrigued by the concept. The porn parody has a long, disreputable history, from Skinemax fluff like Lord of the G-Strings through to hardcore entries like – and, I swear, I’m not making this up – Naporneon Dynamite. But this, dating from somewhere between 1996 and 1999, depending on which source you believe, is the first I’m aware of which was based on an action heroine. [Subsequent investigation turned up what appear to be multiple entries involving Lara Croft-alikes. I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for reviews here] The star here, Sarah Young, got her start doing Page 3 shoots at the age of 14 (!), and transitioned to hardcore later, under the care of her future ex-husband, Hans Moser. Last I could find out, she had quit the adult industry, and was studying to be a lawyer.

Anyway. This film may simply be titled “Sexy Killer”, going by the print – this would make more sense from a “not having Luc Besson sue your ass off” front, but the IMDb begs to differ, so I’m going with that. It certainly does follow the basic storyline of Nikita, particularly early on, though the crime which gets the heroine, Sarah Lester (Young) on her journey into Nikita, is a home invasion – albeit one which turns into a group sex scene between the actual invading of the home and the cops showing up. Then, as in the original, she shoots a cop while high, but is bailed out of the resulting life sentence, by Serge (Clark), who offers her an alternative: wet work and other operations for the organization in which he works. There’s a restaurant scene where she has to assassinate another diner, and another mission involves sniping from a window, both of which will be familiar to fans. But the film does divert at the end, where – and I trust I’m not spoiling this for anyone – Nikita lifts some incriminating documents she’s supposed to be recovering, and uses this as leverage to break free from her employers. Which is actually a kinda cool idea, I have to admit. I also appreciated the cat-fight between Nikita and her mentor/colleague, Jeanette (Sartori). Besson missed a trick there, I feel. And the subsequent lesbian canoodling.

Mostly, though, it’s about the sex. Lots and lots of sex, with the ratio of that to plot being approximately 3:1. And, since the running time is 152 minutes, that is an awful lot of multiple aardvarking, as Joe Bob Briggs used to call it. As for what happens in the remaining 38 minutes (approx), you have to cut the performances some slack, given dubbing where the voice actors are far more enthusiastic with regard to moaning and groaning, than the actual dialogue. But, actually, the actors aren’t bad: in particular, Clark is spot-on, as the world-weary agent tasked with keeping his rebellious underlings in line, and a good equivalent to Tchéky Karyo (or Gabriel Byrne, if you prefer the remake). But the action scenes are perfunctory, and little more than a token gesture – admittedly, it’s an entirely different kind of action in which the makers are interested, so criticizing them for this seems irrelevant. It is possible to make films that mesh hardcore sex with narrative in an interesting way: Caligula is perhaps the best-known example, and Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, by reports, also does so. Here? Not so much, and it’s probably of interest only to Nikita completists.

Dir: Mario Bianchi (as “Nicholas Moore”)
Star: Sarah Young, Christoph Clark, Stefania Sartori

Ninja Girl: Assassin of Darkness

starstarhalf

“Non-ninja, not noteworthy.”

ninja girlCall me picky or pedantic, but to me, a movie titled Ninja Girl: Assassin of Darkness, should contain a reasonable amount of girl ninjaing, along with, one would hope, some assassinations. Running through a dark room once with a sword doesn’t cut it. Unfortunately, the makers of this appear to take a different view, feeling that their story, about a ninja girl sitting around feeling sorry for herself and bumping uglies with her Manchurian Candidate boyfriend, is more interesting. They’re wrong.

The setting here is modern Tokyo, apparently now a hotbed of espionage. The Japanese government defends against these by using ninjas, whose skills are passed on, not through years of training, but by heredity. After their father – one such ninja – is killed, sisters Naomi (Shou) and Sayaka are left to fend for themselves, unsure which, if either, of them has received the ninja gene, because it will only be discovered when the recipient is “awoken.” Naomi is by far the less stable of the two. After being dumped, she spends all the time sitting around her apartment, blacking out and occasionally attempting self-harm: seriously, that’s it, she says, “I know my sister and my room.” But her life is changed when she bumps into Mitsuyoshi, who opens a window into her sorry, sad life. Except, every so often, he gets phone-calls which cause him to drop everything – including, amusingly, a naked Naomi – and go out on missions.

Eventually – and I’m talking about 70 minutes into an 80-minute film – things do eventually lead to some activities which at least border on the ninja-esque. However, Shou’s talents in this area are about as feeble as you’d expect from a porn-star whose works, Google informs me, include titles such as Openly-Displayed Squirting Orgasm. Though I suppose you could argue that’s a bit of a ninja skill, in and of itself. There is little or no information about this one, which doesn’t seem to have an IMDb entry: it was made in 2006, according to the copyright, and apparently on a budget consisting of the spare change left over after purchasing a bowl of ramen noodles. The actress who plays Sayaka is not bad, with one scene where she and her sister are talking, that does actually manage to put over some emotion. I also get the sense the next part, now Naomi is “awakened”, might not be so bad. But as is, the bulk of this opener is uninteresting talk, with occasional interruptions for bad action.

Dir: No clue
Star: Nishino Shou

Naked Avenger

starhalf

“Setting a new low, in just about every conceivable way.”

nakedavengerStar Jill Kelly is an adult actress. I mention this, because it seems highly likely that most of her 300+ other works – perhaps The Butt Sisters Do Philadelphia or Sodomania: Slop Shots 5 – are likely better scripted, filmed, edited and generally well-made than this dreadful piece of crap. I should probably have known, given Donald G. Jackson’s involvement – he’s probably the worst director I’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter, and I speak as someone fully familiar with the works of Ed Wood, Andy Milligan, J.P. Simon and Uwe Boll. They are all pretenders beside Jackson, and even though this barely runs an hour, your patience will be sorely tried. And by “tried”, I mean at the level where gnawing a limb off to escape will seems credible.

The threadbare excuse for a plot concerns an international sex trafficking organization. This is apparently run by about three people out of a junkyard in Hicksville, with the women acquired by hanging out in the parking lot of strip-clubs, or picking up conveniently hitch-hiking strippers. The latter is what brings our heroine (Kelly) into the picture, with her driver (LeBreck) opting to pause on the way back to “sample the merchandise”. She breaks free, which leads to the excruciating middle section of the movie. This intercuts the chief pimp (Mizrahi) on the phone, with her wandering through the woods, naked save for a pair of shoes, carrying a gun. Phone-call. Wandering. Phone-call. Wandering. Then, just for variety… Nah, I’m kidding. Another phone-call and more wandering.

Eventually, she makes her way through the woods and there are some horribly constructed gunfire sequences. I wouldn’t even call them “gun battles,” because you never get the sense the participants are in the same zip-code. There’s no logic or continuity here. At one point the heroine is recaptured, wearing a shirt and about to be locked up; the next scene, she’s back, wandering naked and free again, without explanation. There are no real performances to speak of either, because the amount of interaction between the participants is negligible, and as mentioned above, if you want to see Kelly naked, there are many, many places you can do so to a far greater extent. These offer the additional benefit, that you won’t be subjected to the pathetic excuse for film-making present here. Between them, Kelly and the occasionally catchy electro soundtrack give this half a star; these are absolutely the only redeeming features to be found, and utterly pale in comparison to the flaws.

Dir: M.T. Bird + Scott Shaw
Star: Jill Kelly, Robert Mizrahi, Daren LeBreck

The Naked Killers

starstarstarhalf

“Because ‘Topless killers’ wouldn’t sell quite as well, I guess.”

naked killersNot to be confused with the Hong Kong exploitation classic Naked Killer, this 1977 Spanish film is set mostly on a Pacific island inhabited solely by a veteran Japanese soldier, Yamato, who thinks World War 2 is still going on, and three women, whom he rescued from a plane crash when they were small children. He has raised them in military style, to defend the island against any “invaders”, and it’s not long before these show up. They come in the form of a boatload of treasure-hunters, who have heard that a Japanese freighter carrying gold wrecked itself on the island’s shoals. Adding an additional layer of complexity, the crew, a collection of ne’er-do-wells apparently chosen at random from the dockside, are planning a mutiny, unhappy with captain Paul, and old salt Walter, who knows the island’s location. This leads to a rather unusual alliance between Yamato and his adopted daughters with Paul and Walter, as they fight for survival against the latter’s former employees.

It’s more than a little bizarre, not least because the actor playing the soldier is very obviously not Japanese at all. I was thoroughly confused when he called himself a Japanese officer, until I realized this was made not long after the last Imperial Army holdout. Teruo Nakamura, having surrendered in December 1974. The other unusual aspect is making him more than somewhat sympathetic: perhaps this is due to Spain’s position in the war, which leaned toward the Germany-Japan Axis under General Franco, who had died not long before this was made. He’s shown very much as a father figure, loyal to a fault (which is why he stuck to his post for 30 years after everyone else gave up) and utterly honourable. Witness his face as one of the mutineers tells him the Japanese emperor is now shining the shoes of the American president every morning, or his embarrassment as he tries to breach the subject of s-e-x with his nubile foster family. It’s kinda endearing, despite this still being the worst case of yellow-face I’ve seen since Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

The film’s original title translates as The Island of Burning Virgins, which is one of the most awesome titles in exploitation history. Naturally, they spend an impressively hygienic amount of time frolicking in natural pools – though I do have to wonder, where the hell did they get their thoroughly modern bikini costumes? And they’re naturally delighted when the handsome captain shows up, happy to demonstrate to them what this s-e-x thing is actually about. However, they are not mere puppets, laying some rather nasty jungle traps for the “invaders”, and with hand-to-hand skills that are occasionally surprising. It is, of course, extremely silly, very dated and questionable in a whole number of ways. However, it certainly isn’t boring, and compared to certain jungle girl films I’ve seen, can only be appreciated for that.

Dir: Miguel Iglesias
Star: Sita Sadafi, Roxana Dupre, Inca Maris, Alejandro del Enciso

Nina: Crazy Suicide Girl

starstar

“Well, it’s certainly different. Note: different, not necessarily good”

NinaPosterThis micro-budget Italian offering seems to go about things almost entirely in reverse. Rather than establishing the characters, then dropping them into a scenario, this starts with Nina investigating a missing girl, Anna. The disappearee seems to have some connection to the dodgy “Xstasy” video company, fronted by Cesare Mazza (Guerra), and behind that, an apparent Satanic cult under the leadership of Marcus (Visconti), who is actually a woman. Apparently, they take the offcasts of illegal Eastern Europeans from the porn shoots, and sacrifice them to their demonic master.

But what’s never really addressed in any real detail is Nina. Is she a cop? A private detective? An assassin for hire? And what exactly did she do to merit the title of, and I quote, “Crazy suicide girl.” Must have been something pretty cool and interesting, right? We never learn. She does point a revolver at her temple and pull the trigger, but since we have no clue if it’s loaded or not, I’m finding myself underwhelmed there. She does torture someone with a blowtorch to extract information from them. But I had just finished watching 24: Live Another Day, and let’s be honest, that isn’t enough to turn Nina into Jack Bauer in a dress.

I did quite like the heroine, who has an off-center attitude to her and a look which is not conventionally pretty. But the film probably needs to decide what it wants to be, and stick with it, rather than trying to combine aspects of the hard-boiled detective thriller, Dennis Wheatley adaptation, soft-porn and action heroine genres. Because, the scripts doesn’t handle any of them particularly well. For instance, the “detecting” aspects are so conveniently simplistic as to be an embarrassment, right from when Nina discovers a porn DVD in Anna’s bedroom. Another problem is an almost total lack of motivation for anyone involved here, from Nina through Cesare and up to ‘Marcus’: they seem to exist purely because the plot demands they do.

There’s no shortage of nudity and the gore effects are fairly plentiful, if characterized more by enthusiasm than quality. But it’s only at the very end, which hints at a sequel with the potential to be more interesting than this film, that you get some idea of what this was trying to accomplish. It’s a shame there wasn’t less of a gap between intent and execution, pun not intended.

Dir: Christian Arioli
Star: Irene Giordano, Mauro Cipriani, Gabriele Guerra, Stefania Visconti