The Spanish Chainsaw Massacre (2013) review

spanish chainsaw massacre posterDirector: Manolito Motosierra

Starring: Pedro García Oliva, Óscar Gisbert, Nereida López

Also known as: Carnívoros

OSCAR – “Before we have sex, I need to know your name.”

YOLANDA – “They call me… Spain’s bitch.”

OSCAR – “Oh! Yeah! That’s right. Ole to your father. Not Maria, or Theresa, but Spain’s bitch. Direct and patriotic, I like it.”

In my view, it’s all well and good making a gore movie as long as there’s a half-decent plot to back it up. The Spanish Chainsaw Massacre sticks two fingers up to this notion, before presumably chopping them off.

When the story’s so basic that the entire film can be summed up with a single sentence that speaks volumes, so here goes:

A band called The Metal Dicks have problems with their van while on the road, so they head to the nearest village, which is populated by cannibals who set about eating them.

That’s really all there is to it. There are no twists and – unless you count the ones an unwitting viewer’s stomach will take while watching – no turns. Continue reading “The Spanish Chainsaw Massacre (2013) review”

Cannibal Holocaust (1980) (Video Nasty review #8)

Cannibal Holocaust posterDirector: Ruggero Deodato

Starring: Robert Kerman, Francesca Ciardi, Perry Pirkanen, Gabriel Yorke, Luca Barbareschi

TV EXECUTIVE – “Today people want sensationalism. The more you rape their senses the happier they are.”

PROFESSOR MONROE – “Ah, yes, that’s typical western thought. Civilised, isn’t it? That’s what Alan thought and that’s why he’s dead. The Yacumo Indian is a primitive and he has to be respected as such. You know, did you ever think of the Yacumo point of view? That we might be the savages?”

Note: Other then the official film poster above, the rest of the images in this review have deliberately been chosen to hide some of the film’s gorier, more offensive scenes. Despite this, the review still features descriptions of these scenes and as such those with a weak stomach may wish to just give this film their own score of zero and move on.

The story goes that when Sergio Leone – the legendary Italian director of Once Upon A Time In The West and The Good, The Bad And The Ugly – first saw Cannibal Holocaust, he felt compelled to write a letter to his friend Ruggero Deodato, the film’s director.

It read: “Dear Ruggero, what a movie! The second part is a masterpiece of cinematographic realism, but everything seems so real that I think you will get in trouble with all the world.”

He was right. Cannibal Holocaust was eventually banned in numerous countries (the unofficial estimate is around 50, including the UK and its native Italy), and such was the realistic nature of the on-screen deaths that Deodato was actually arrested and held on trial under suspicion of murder of the four main actors – a charge he was only able to drop after getting all four actors to appear at the courtroom. Continue reading “Cannibal Holocaust (1980) (Video Nasty review #8)”

Faces Of Death (1978) (Video Nasty review #6)

Director: John Alan Schwartz

Starring: Michael Carr

“During the past 20 years I know that my compulsion to understand death was much greater than just an obsession. My dreams have dictated my mission. But now it is time to witness the final moment, to discover the circle that forever repeats ifself. The end of the beginning or the beginning of the end? I’ll leave that decision to you.” (Dr Gross, Faces Of Death)

I’ve been putting off watching Faces Of Death for years but I knew that my pledge to eventually watch all 72 video nasties meant that one day I’d have to grin and bear it. With my fiancee on holiday in France, I figured there was no time like the present. As I expected, Faces Of Death is fucking horrible.

Ironically, this is actually a real drowned corpse that a member of the film crew came across by pure chance during the film's production

This gruesome ’70s film is part documentary, part mockumentary, a film that claims it wants us to consider death and make us question the ways in which we kill and be killed, but in reality it’s just an excuse to show scene after scene of grotesque footage. It’s since been admitted that around 40% of the footage was faked, but that of course means around 60% was real and that’s just macabre.

Of course, even if it hadn’t been admitted that much of Faces Of Death was fake, these days it’d be much easier to tell anyway. The film originally gained notoriety and popularity in the early days of VHS, where people would rent and copy the taboo tape, passing it around their friends and constantly degrading the already fuzzy picture quality in the process. This made it easier to believe all the footage was real, because the detail lost in the tape quality would be filled in by the viewer’s subconscious and made “realistic” in their heads.  Continue reading “Faces Of Death (1978) (Video Nasty review #6)”

Urban Explorers (2011) review

Director: Andy Fetscher

Starring: Nathalie Kelley, Nick Eversman, Klaus Stiglmeier, Max Riemelt

Also known as: Urbex: Urban Explorer

“Now, boy, let’s make you a genuine Mujahideen bride!” (Armin, Urban Explorers)

I know this is a film review site rather than a travel blog but take my advice anyway – if you ever go to Berlin, don’t pay a local €300 to take you on a tour of Germany’s forgotten complex of underground bunkers. This might be hard to believe but it turns out it’s actually not that safe.

Despite this, that’s exactly what four young tourists decide to do in Urban Explorers. Together with their tour guide Kris, they begin a tour of the abandoned labyrinthine passageways and tunnels lying in decay underneath modern Berlin. As you’d expect, this being a horror a film and all, things don’t go too well.

Hull city centre had seen better days

The odd thing about this film is it throws a lot of red herrings your way throughout. Be prepared to forget about a lot of things that occur in the first half of the film because, ultimately, they’re never seen or heard of again.

Take the scene early on where the group encounter a trio of nasty chaps with a vicious dog. After a tense encounter they leave, never to reappear. Same goes with the impressive story Kris tells the group about Hitler’s obsession with UFOs, and his desire to build an army of super soldiers, ideas that are given a lengthy monologue as if to suggest that’s what’ll be turning up later, but never do. And then there’s a pointless lesbian relationship that begins to form between two characters, shortly before they leave to get help after an “incident” and don’t return.  Continue reading “Urban Explorers (2011) review”

Beware: Children At Play (1989)

Director: Mik Cribben

Starring: Michael Robertson, Rich Hamilton, Robin Lilly, Lori Tirgrath

“Tear her to pieces! Bite through the bone! Gulp the blood! Gobble the flesh!” (Glen Randall, Beware: Children At Play)

The fine people at Troma specialise in making and distributing incredibly low-budget films that, while lacking in spectacle, certainly aren’t lacking in ambition and sheer balls. Beware: Children At Play is one such movie, one with a plot so taboo there’s no way it’d be distributed by a big studio.

It tells the story of John DeWolfe, an author who specialises in crime and the paranormal. He travels to the countryside with his wife and daughter to visit his friend Ross, who’s a sheriff in a tiny country town. Ross’s daughter has been missing for weeks, as have many of the other children in the area, and he wants to know if John has any ideas on how to find them.

It's so much like Children Of The Corn they've even got a corpse up on a cross

What they don’t realise is that all the missing kids – Ross’s daughter included – have formed an odd group of feral children who, under the leadership of an older, manipulative teenager, roam the woods killing and eating anyone who steps onto their turf. Sometimes one of them will head back to the town to lure adults into following them into the woods and to their death, or at times if it’s a woman who’s been trapped the older teen will rape her to try and keep the evil seed going. Or something, I dunno. It’s just an excuse to get some baps on the screen, though it’s pretty dodgy.  Continue reading “Beware: Children At Play (1989)”

The Exterminator (1980)

Director: James Glickenhaus

Starring: Robert Ginty, Christopher George, Samantha Eggar

CIA AGENT – “This Exterminator is the most dangerous serial killer in the United States and he’s in New York City! What do you think about all this?”

DALTON – “I think you need to take a shit. It’s coming out of your mouth instead of your asshole.”

One of the more popular vigilante films to hit during the grindhouse era, The Exterminator tells the story of a man out to clean up the city’s crime by dishing out some pain of his own.

John’s best friend Michael saves his life while they’re both fighting in Vietnam. After completing their service they return to New York to try to return to some sort of normality, but shortly afterwards Michael is mugged by a gang and left paralysed from the neck down. John vows to repay his friend by hunting down the gang and making them pay for their crime.

He doesn't look like your typical action hero but he means business

This should be a fairly straightforward movie, but after John deals with the gang he decides not to stop there. Instead, he decides to take on all crime and clean up New York by dishing out punishment to every sleazeball around. The media start calling him The Exterminator, the police want to catch him and the CIA start hunting him down because they think he’s working for a rival party to expose the government’s inability to deal with crime. Can John stay on the run from those who want to stop him?

The Exterminator gained a cult following in the grindhouse cinemas of the ’70s and early ’80s, and was also one of the more notorious films released on VHS in the early video boom. It’s unsurprising then that The Exterminator‘s most memorable moments are the more violent scenes, which are mostly executed (no pun intended) with style.

The Vietnam scene is effective stuff

By far the most notable example of this is the Vietnam prologue where special effects guru Stan Winston (The Terminator, Jurassic Park, Alien, Predator) was drafted in to help create a chillingly realistic decapitation scene. It’s a truly shocking moment and one that no doubt contributed a great deal to the film’s cult success.

While the rest of the film never quite manages to match this prologue in terms of shock factor, it comes close at times. A scene involving a giant meat grinder doesn’t look very convincing but is made so by the screams emitted by the victim, whereas a moment involving a prostitute and a soldering iron is still wince-inducing even though it mercifully takes place off-camera.

Robert Ginty is decent as the titular Exterminator. He plays the role completely straight, without any over-the-top rants or ridiculous ‘action movie’ facial expressions. He’s got one or two cheesy lines (“if you’re lying, I’ll be back”) but for the most part he’s a good lead.

The Exterminator is grindhouse cheese but it’s entertaining grindhouse cheese. The set-pieces are effective, the acting is understated but spot-on and the whole film’s got an unashamed seediness and grit to it. The final scene ruins what could have been a powerful ending, but that aside it’s one of the better-made films of its era.

The Exterminator has just been released in the UK on Blu-ray by Arrow Video. It comes with a commentary and a couple of documentaries, and you can get it by clicking here. It’s currently out of print on DVD but you can find it used in a two-pack with the similarly awesome Maniac Cop by clicking here.
The US has its own special edition Blu-ray/DVD combo, so if you’re on that side of the Atlantic you can click here to get it.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Director: Tobe Hooper

Starring: Marilyn Burns, Gunnar Hansen, Edwin Neal, Jim Siedow, Paul Partain

“I just can’t take no pleasure in killing. There’s just some things you gotta do. Don’t mean you have to like it.” (The Cook, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre)

Though it was never technically a video nasty, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was refused a certificate for a theatrical release by the BBFC and as such remained banned for an astonishing 25 years in the UK. It actually wasn’t until 1999 that the film was finally given an 18 certificate and finally got a British cinema run. Quite a result for a film whose director was initially aiming for a PG rating.

This lengthy ban is particularly interesting when you consider that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is actually fairly tame by today’s standards, at least in terms of graphic content. Indeed, there’s actually very little on-screen violence at all – instead the film relies on the power of suggestion to terrify audiences. In a way its real downfall was that it worked too well.

Say what you will about Leatherface, he could give Gok Wan a run for his money with a sewing machine

The film tells the story of Sally, her brother and their three friends who are taking a trip to Texas to stay at Sally’s grandfather’s house out in the countryside. There have been reports that some ne’er-do-wells have been robbing graves, so after a brief stop at the graveyard to check her granddad’s grave is still intact, Sally and chums head on down the road. They pick up a hitch-hiker who turns out to be a bit mental, but it soon turns out that’s just the start of their problems when they happen upon the Sawyer house.

You see, it soon emerges that all the graverobbings have been committed by a weird, possibly in-bred family who live together in a huge country house decorated with their own macabre creations. There are lamps made with human skin, chandeliers made out of bones and armchairs that quite literally have arms on them. That’s what happens when you live too far from an Ikea.

She couldn't believe how bad The X Factor was this year

One by one Sally’s friends discover the Sawyer house while out wandering, and one by one they encounter Leatherface, the huge mentally troubled son of the household who’s taken on the “mother” role. Being the “mother”, Leatherface is in charge of preparing the dinner, and being that the family are a bunch of cannibals, that means capturing his new guests and turning them into that night’s dinner.

This leads to some of the more infamous scenes in ’70s horror, including one in which a young chap is smacked in the head with a mallet, his legs convulsing as the skull fragments enter his brain. Then there’s the notorious ‘meathook scene’ in which a girl is dragged into the kitchen and literally hoisted up and onto a meathook through her bare back, then writhes around screaming while Leatherface cuts her boyfriend’s head off with a chainsaw.

Bob's Princess Diana joke didn't go down all that well

Incredibly, despite the gruesome descriptions there is very little blood spilled in these scenes. You never see the hammer hit the head, you never see the meathook going in the back, you never see the chainsaw actually touching anyone. Using the same principle that The Human Centipede would copy 35 years later, the film relies on the audience’s ability to fill in the gaps themselves. Whereas actually seeing a meathook pierce the victim may not have worked out so well because the effect could have been hokey and unrealistic (especially given the film’s shoestring budget), by cutting away just before impact the viewer imagines the worst possible outcome in their head and it becomes far more powerful than it ever could have had it been shown.

The final scene is almost hypnotic to watch. It's both terrifying and oddly beautiful at the same time

Despite its incredibly low budget (the whole film cost around $83,500 to make) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is an impressive looking movie at times. It’s clear that director Tobe Hooper (who would go on to do Poltergeist) had a good eye for effective shots at this early stage in his career, and some – such as the van picking up the hitch-hiker and Leatherface’s frustrated tantrum at the end of the movie – are breathtaking.

The cast are also believable too. The five teens each have their own distinct personalities and although it’s clear that Sally and her brother are the main characters and given more opportunity for character development, you can ultimately relate to all five. Meanwhile, the Sawyer family are all as mental as a washing machine filled with bacon and this really comes across well in their performances, particularly Gunnar Hansen as the neglected, scared and yet terrifying Leatherface.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a classic in the horror genre. It may not be to everyone’s tastes, and while it’s tame by today’s standards some many still not like the unrelenting nature of the horror (the final 30 minutes in particular are essentially non-stop screaming, mental torture and noise). If you can stomach the insanity though you’ll find yourself stunned at how such a low budget could produce such an effective film. Essential.

British would-be Texas Chainsaw viewers with a Blu-ray player can get the stunning “Seriously Ultimate” edition for less than a tenner by clicking here, otherwise you can get the three-disc DVD by clicking here. Both have the same features (hours upon hours of great documentaries), but the Blu-ray fits it all on a single disc and naturally looks a lot better too.
American peeps, meanwhile, can get the Blu-ray here and the DVD here.

The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009)

Director: Tom Six

Starring: Dieter Laser, Ashley Williams, Ashlynn Yennie, Akihiro Kitamura

“Do you already regret your little escape? In fact, I’m thankful for it, because now I know you are definitely the middle piece.” (Dr Heiter, The Human Centipede)

(Short note: this is a particularly nasty movie, and while there are no overly offensive screens in this review there’s a little colourful language explaining some of the more controversial scenes. If you get queasy just reading about bodily fluids and medical experiments, let alone seeing them, it might be best to give this one your own zero-star rating and move on.)

There are plenty of positions in life that it would be best to avoid. Being in goals for San Marino when you’re playing Brazil at football would be one of them. Being the man in charge of cleaning up after an orgy would be another. There’s one position however that’s probably worst of all, and that’s being the middle piece in a human centipede. The reason for this will become obvious later.

Christopher Walken just didn't suit white

The Human Centpiede opens with two attractive young American women getting lost on the way to a party in Germany when suddenly their car breaks down. They wander through the woods until they finally reach a huge house and when they ring the doorbell an odd chap answers and lets them in. So far so shamelessly stolen from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but what follows makes Rocky Horror‘s transvestite shenanigans seem about as shocking as someone blowing their nose.

The man, a stony-faced German chap called Dr Heiter (Laser), offers the girls some water. They accept and realise it’s been spiked, but it’s too late and when they wake up they find themselves strapped to hospital beds.

In fairly graphic detail, the doc explains to the girls along with a third prisoner (a Japanese man) that he wants to create a human centipede – a single organism made up of three people. He’ll do this by joining up one person’s mouth to the anus of another, and then joining the other’s mouth to a third person’s anus. In that way, all going well, the three will work together as one functioning body.

Good job he doesn't know PowerPoint

Surprisingly, despite that previous paragraph, The Human Centipede isn’t very disturbing to watch, at least not with regards to what actually appears on screen. Much like Psycho and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Human Centipede plays on the notion that the viewer’s imagination is much more powerful than anything film can show. In actual fact, the film shows nothing graphic relating to the experiment other than around 20 seconds of operation footage where the doc cuts a slice out of someone’s bum. Movies like Saw and Hostel, which explicitly show body parts being sliced, stabbed and crushed, are a million times more visceral and graphic.

Indeed, mercifully (or more likely simply thanks to budget constraints), each person in the centipede wears a sort of nappy so as to block the view of the actual mouth-to-rump connection, leaving what it looks like entirely within the confines of your own mind. This extends to the most grotesque scene in the film where the Japanese chap, having eaten some food laced with laxatives earlier, realises he suddenly has to (to put it politely as possible) dispose of his waste. Though you never see anything, the thought of what’s going on in that poor middle woman’s mouth is enough to put a bad taste in your own. Simply put, this film is more likely to shock you if you have a vivid imagination.

"We'll get that panto horse gig if it kills us"

Dodgy content aside, The Human Centipede is actually a fantastically shot film. The lighting is moody, the outdoor shots are atmospheric and Dr Heiter’s house is so geometrically unusual it’s almost a character in its own right. Had it not been for the small matter of people with their gums wrapped round each other’s arses it could even be considered beautiful. While it seems the soon-to-be-released-unless-you’re-British Human Centipede 2 may not be quite so artistic (we’ll see in a future review… if I can get hold of it), there’s no denying it would be unfair to pass this first film off as low-budget trash simply because of its tasteless subject matter.

Also stunning is Dieter Laser’s performance as the insane doctor. He’s like Christopher Walken with the intensity turned up so far the dial has broken off, and is simply terrifying to both see and hear.

If the mere thought of what happens in The Human Centipede makes you feel physically ill then this film clearly isn’t for you. Many of the scenes, while not graphic, will still give enough information to get your mind working and make for very uncomfortable viewing.

If, however, you’re intrigued by the concept but are simply worried about what you may see than by all means watch it. It is nowhere near as visually horrifying as you may have heard and if the only thing holding you back is the fear of what is shown rather than what is simply implied then there’s very little to be concerned about. Either way, this is a far more accomplished, professional film than some of its critics would have you believe.