Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Bunny the Killer Thing (2015)

Director: Joonas Makkonen
Notable Cast: Gareth Lawrence, Veera W. Vilo, Enni Ojutkangas, Joonas Makkonen, Roope Olenius, Katja Jaskari, Jari Manninen, Marcus Massey, Olli Saarenpaa, Maria Kunnari, Hiski Hamalainen

Directing nothing but shorts up until now, it seems like Joonas Makkonen got the funding and freedom to make the film that he wanted. If you weren’t expecting it to be about a raging horny man/rabbit hybrid out to fuck any human vagina or anything that looks like one up in the Finnish mountains, then well I think that I need to be the bearer of some quite awkward news. Bunny the Killer Thing is a Finnish/British co-production that you’d probably compare more to a 80s Troma film than anything that has come out in the last ten years. Sexually depraved is not enough to describe how over the top and morally corrupt this film is. And how could anyone even come up with something this insane? If you find yourself complaining then this is just not your type of film and you best take your prude self over to some vanilla Hollywood brainless blockbuster. But for us trash lovers; Makkonen’s feature is more akin to a masterpiece of schlock.

Bunny the Killer Thing first quickly gets our story of the source of the creature out of the way and then moves on to meet our main cast. You are greeted by a group of young Finnish individuals and an underage teenager who sneaks in the “borrowed” ambulance from work looking to travel to Tuoma’s (played by Hiski Hämäläinen) uncle’s cabin for some drinking and sex. On the way up they stumble upon a stalled car with a multicultural group of three British men with an awful secret hiding in the trunk of their car. The Finns don’t notice and kindly decide to harness the vehicle to bring the visitors up to the cabin to hold up for the night. It’s not long until Tuomas himself is the first to encounter the monstrous human/rabbit hybrid with a huge dick that he proudly waves around. We are then treated to havoc, gratuitous nudity, death galore, bestiality, and our director’s sick sense of humor. We later learn why bunny was created and the survivors get their own run in with another new breed of criminals.

Because of the clash of the British and Finnish cast, the subtitles might confuse you at first since it switches from English to Finnish in an instant but luckily one can adapt to this. One of the various treats that Bunny the Killer Thing gives us is the rather large cast. We have the psychos who created bunny, the young Finnish folk, some bumbling policemen and the English crooks along with some extra characters with a short appearance near the middle and the end. We get to know our main cast surprisingly well. For such a depraved film where nothing is deemed sacred, one scene in particular is presented in the absolute opposite which contrasts to the entire film, taking the subject of rape seriously (and no it isn’t by the horny bunny man either). Otherwise expect to see many of mutilated penises, heads blown off, themes of homosexuality and pukey kisses. One can only imagine how many fake cocks were even made for this feature! Makkonen might be lucky if he even gets to stay in the country after this creation comes out in theaters in his homeland. The director isn’t scared however as he already has another hopeful film in the works and is even willing to return to the Finnish mountains for Bunny the Killer Thing 2.

Whether Bunny the Killer Thing is a film well worth your cash is well up to the viewer. Any Troma fan who thinks that there is no line to cross will lavish their praise and will find themselves dying in laughter. If you’re more a fan of serious, atmospheric and suspenseful horror, then you’ll find none of that here. With a name like Bunny the Killer Thing, can you really expect that anyway? Bring your sick friends and weed out the prudes because sexual depravity and chaos is best enjoyed with liked minded individuals and Bunny the Killer Thing takes no prisoners.

Written By Elise Holmes

Elise Holmes is not your average writer. Dedicated to her Evil Dead fan site The Deadite Slayer, she is doing Fantasia Fest coverage this year for Blood Brothers! Check out her site HERE!

Tales of Halloween (2015)

Directors: Darren Lynn Bousman, Axelle Carolyn, Adam Gierasch, Andrew Kasch, Neil Marshall, Lucky McKee, Mike Mendez, Dave Parker, Ryan Schifrin, John Skipp, Paul Solet
Notable Cast: So, so many.

In 2009, the Halloween horror anthology Trick ‘R Treat, which has reached cult status, closed the Fantasia Film Festival to a roaring audience. Now this year the festival has been host to the world premiere of yet another Halloween horror anthology film simply named Tales of Halloween to a practically sold out crowd looking for more. With a helping of ten stories by ten directors instead of the more developed four that was in Trick ‘R Treat, we find ourselves with names such as Big Ass Spider’s Mike Mendez, Saw III and Repo! The Genetic Opera’s Darren Lynn Bousman, Autopsy and Night of the Demon’s (2009) Adam Gierasch and none other than Dog Soldiers and The Descent’s Neil Marshall. The enormous cast includes horror veterans and directors ranging from John Landis, Joe Dante, Adam Green, Lin Shaye, Barbara Crampton and even Adrienne Barbeau. But does the star power in this flick shine or simply burn out too fast? With the less amount of time per short, more creativity is required to keep the attention of the hardened horror fans. Thankfully the film does just that. 

Tricks are for kids.
Tales of Halloween takes place in an unidentified American suburb on Halloween night. Instead of starting right up, we have a montage identifying our roster of directors with their respective shorts with each one having a quick depiction of what we can expect. We are then greeted by the sultry voice of a female radio host ironically played by Adrienne Barbeau as if she was reprising her role as Stevie Wayne from The Fog. She is our main link between the tales as she counts down to midnight or so she mentions it to be “The Witching Hour”.  We are then treated to each short which runs on average to anything between ten to fifteen minutes each until the final short directed by Neil Marshall. Everything occurs on the exact same night and we can even recognize reoccurring characters in the background as the film progresses. We are treated to a variety of characters and creatures including some killer kids, kidnappers, a witch and her deadbeat husband, the demon of Halloween, aliens, and even killer pumpkins. 

What I found to be notable of the feature is that not one short was ever dull. The film keeps you engaged throughout the entire run-time. While there are no shorts in particular that will make you roll your eyes in regret, there are some that stand out the most. Out of all ten of these, the festival audience clearly made their voice clear with choosing Mike Mendez’ Friday the 31st. What obviously looks like a Jason Voorhees or Victor Crowley clone going around doing what slashers do best takes a comical turn when the brainless killer gets an unexpected visitor. While this short seems to come right out of left field (literally, they ran out of a corn field!) the directors did a solid job on keeping a consistent tone from beginning to end. Unlike some of the previous films at this year’s fest, there is less comedy employed and more camp. Fans will definitely be comparing the anthology flick to Trick ‘R Treat but in a way, we would still then be comparing apples to oranges. There is, in a way, more of an actual storyline in Trick ‘R Treat laced with humor and atmosphere while Tales of Halloween follows a campier linear path with less overlap then the anthology’s predecessor. Maybe because there are ten of them, it was important to fill in each one with their own storyline first and then move on to the next. It was indeed a treat to play a point and identify game with the notable cast, but it doesn’t just stop there. Legendary composer Lalo Schifrin came out of retirement to write Tales’ main theme which does the film justice. 

Treats are for whatever the hell this thing is.
The last question that we need to ask ourselves about Tales of Halloween is will it stand the test of time? No doubt, the film’s talent and creativity will get fans keep a slot open once a year on All Hallow’s Eve to dive into a new tradition alongside John Carpenter’s Halloween and Michael Dougherty’s Trick ‘R Treat.  Tales reminds us that every October 31st, the ghouls and gals come out to play so keep your lights on, beware of strangers, and always check your candy...

Written By Elise Holmes 

Elise Holmes is not your average writer. Dedicated to her Evil Dead fan site The Deadite Slayer, she is doing Fantasia Fest coverage this year for Blood Brothers! Check out her site HERE!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

For the Emperor (2015)

Director: Park Sang-jun
Notable Cast: Lee Min-ki, Park Sung-woong, Lee Tae-im, Kim Jong-gu, Jeong Heung-chae

“I need some popcorn. So many plot twists.”

At each turn, it seems that the now infamously high quality of the South Korean thriller is adding a new twist or new influence to spice things up. Earlier this year I wrote about the strange genre bending of The Divine Move, but in the gangster film For the Emperor one is going to see a bit more cohesive – if not more excessive – film that blends various gangster film styles into one. At its core, the film is most certainly a South Korean thriller with plenty of subtle acting and sharp writing to go around. In its execution, For the Emperor is slightly more extreme as it blends in a bit of 60s/70s Japanese new action and 80s Hong Kong excess into the mix. The results are pretty impressive. For the Emperor is a vicious ride filled with subtle striking performances and bursts of side-stabbing violence. Genre fans will be pleased.

Lee Hwan (Lee Min-ki) had a promising career in baseball, but fate was not kind to him and he quickly found himself at the end of his rope, broke and out of a job when a match fixing scandal came to light. While awaiting for a comeback, he finds himself working for a rather well suited loan shark (Park Sung-woong) as an enforcer. His boss takes him under his wing and he quickly rises through the ranks. However, his greed and power hunger make him suspicious of his boss and a series of events suddenly make them bitter rivals.

Walk softly and carry a big stick.
If you take the gangster aspects of the Korean thriller New World, place them on top of a Scarface style plot, and then slather it in the violent upheaval of the A Better Tomorrow films, then you are beginning to understand just how For the Emperor plays out. Never does the film feel like a knock off of any of these films, but it simply samples elements from each to build a modern tale of power corruption and the rise and fall of a young man with big ambitions. So needless to say, the film treads some pretty dark material. Plotting wise, For the Emperor plays things fairly straight for the first two acts. Outside of a bit of time jumping, it works its way along a subdued performance of Lee Min-ki as our protagonist – not necessarily a hero as he tends to pursue most of the wrong personality traits to fit that description – and we are introduced to the world of big business gangsters. As a side note, Lee Hwan is not the most upstanding of protagonists so don’t expect some sort of big turn of redeeming qualities. You’re not going to get them. The film also utilizes some generic secondary characters along the way, including a fiery romantic lead that tends to be more of an excuse for nudity than a lot of character building, but it’s the unique way that many of these characters interact that works. Stellar performances are in abundance here and it makes every scene, whether it might have worked or not, fascinating to watch within the context of the film.

However, when it comes to the third act, the film gets a bit muddier. As the opening line suggests, in an odd almost prophetic way in the film, there is a series of rapid fire twists to the plot that erupt out of the progressions. Most work, thanks to some brilliant direction and acting, but it loses a lot of steam in the meantime. It’s not that most of them don’t make sense in that sort of manner, but it takes away from of the sleek and deadly efficient storytelling that is presented up until that point. It was expected there would be at least one solid twist to the proceedings, but not the handful that show up.

As bonus points to cover for the occasional flaws in the darker presentation of characters or the overwhelming third act, For the Emperor has some striking action set pieces. The film might retain some of the darker Hong Kong excess of violence (there is definitely some bloodshed), but there is a remarkable art form to how it’s presented – which is where some of the parallels to 60s Japanese ‘new action’ films come into play. In particular, the opening sequence features a raid on a complex with a group of killers armed with knives that is lit only by the flashlights they carry. It carries a strong resemblance to a similar chaotic fight sequence in the Japanese yakuza film Retaliation that I reviewed not too long ago. It’s this sense of art to the brutality of the film’s violence that carries some weight and impresses so much.

It's a cutting edge fight.
For the Emperor is not quite a perfect film. It’s a bit darker and more genre classified to be the true dramatic force that was New World, but those same excessive elements are handled with notable artistic merit by director Park Sang-jun. The rather off beat script is carried by his vision and the powerhouse performances of the entire cast maks up for a lot of the flaws that bubble to the surface as the story plays out. While some more discerning South Korean cinephiles might find the film a bit underpar compared to the many classic thrillers that have found their way here, but for the genre fans it’s a welcome bleak and vicious twist on the standard.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal (2015)

Directors: Peter Pau, Zhao Tianyu
Notable Cast: Chen Kun, Li Bingbing, Winston Chao, Yang Zishan

In the effort of being upfront, the intense focus on rivaling Hollywood in spectacle by some of the bigger films coming out of Hong Kong has been underwhelming. In the case of Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal, the blend of classic Chinese story and CGI slathered spectacle heavily caters to the latter and forgets to focus on the former leaving a film that has potential, but rarely lives up to it. Even fans of epic fantasy films are going to find it a bit hard to digest. It’s not for lack of effort, but Snow Girl just doesn’t have enough time or budget to get out what it needs to be a great film.

Zhong Kui (Chen Kun) is a legend in the local city. He’s a demon slayer trained by a god in heaven to keep the Earth safe from the demon hordes of hell below. When a mysterious woman named Snow Girl (Li Bingbing) shows up after he steals the powerful Dark Crystal from hell, he begins to remember a past life that will set him on a course to shake the vary foundations of the three realms and uncover a conspiracy to annihilate mankind for good.

The white color scheme of innocence is a bit heavy handed in this scene.
Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal (which is really titled Zhong Kui: Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal according to its title sequence) is a film that, like it’s narrative and lead character Zhong Kui, is caught in multiple realms of reality. On one hand, the film is an epic fantasy film hinged on a romantic character struggle with ties to classic wuxia films and stories with a slew of characters and tons of intrigue built into the narrative. On the other hand, the film so desperately wants to obtain an epic Lord of the Rings feeling that it will sacrifice everything to be on the cutting edge of being grand. This leads to some lofty problems of ‘too much shit in one bucket’ for the film to properly handle itself.

This culminates to a battle of visual storytelling versus script in the film. Directors Peter Pau and Zhao Tianyu, who handle the cinematography of this film like a bad ass, obviously are very visual storytellers. They throw everything they have into creating a visceral experience for the audience. The background CGI is phenomenal (even if the CGI characters within those are exponentially more hit and miss – including Zhong Kui’s demon form which never feels as smooth or effective as it could have) and the directors have a knack for great camera work with the landscapes. Even the visual effects riddled battle sequences are something pretty to look at with enough sparkles, bits of debris, and motion to obtain the ‘epic’ look that the film desperately attempts to achieve. The highlight of such is a fun underwater demon battle that, outside of the silly Zhong Kui demon form, looks and feels like a Hollywood production. A huge step considering some of the terrible CGI that has riddled the last few years of Chinese big budget productions.

The plot itself harkens backs to the core of a lot of great Chinese storytelling. Gods and romance, demons and morals, action and emotion. The story is so massive though that often many of the elements are thrown out there and then have to be sacrificed for its attempts at being a blockbuster. The romantic subplot is often overlooked for the visuals as actors Chen Kun and Li Bingbing are only in a handful of scenes together as real actors and the rest is in their CGI demon forms which takes a lot of oompf out of the emotions. Even some of the more intriguing plot twists, like finding out just who is the real villain of the film, fall flat as there wasn’t quite enough time to develop the character relationships that didn’t serve the pacing or the visual grandeur. Too much of the interactions and the character growth is thrown out for the sake of those big epic visuals and massive CGI monster battle sequences that the depth needed to actually hold up those same elements is forgotten. Subsequently, Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal sinks like a rock as the audience desperately tries to grab onto anything worth taking away from the film when it comes to the story.

Balrog who?
Granted, the intent of this film was obviously two things: visual opulence and the kick off of a possible franchise. In those things Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal does succeed. The cinematography is stunning and the plot builds some great threads that it can’t actually use in this film, but would be perfect for sequels. However, as a stand-alone film experience Snow Girl fails to resonate with its classic themes, characters, and emotional relevance. Which are all keys to raising this film above and beyond its own execution. In the end, it’s a very pretty film with all kinds of deserving praise for shots, costuming, and design and yet…it remains a hollow cinema experience that won’t be remembered in the years to come. Balance is everything. This film sorely lacks it.

Written By Matt Reifschneider