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DVD SAVANT
PAL Region 2 Guest Reviews:

The Vampires' Night Orgy
and
Zipang

Separate releases reviewed by Lee Broughton

When Pete Tombs isn't scouring the world in search of prime examples of 'wild world cinema' for the Mondo Macabro imprint, he's busy recommending titles of a similar persuasion to outfits like Pagan Films. In doing so, he's ensuring that some long-forgotten or inadvertently overlooked but worthy films are finding their way onto DVD. An effective Horror title from Spain and a totally unique adventure from Japan are two such titles recently rescued from obscurity.


The Vampires' Night Orgy
Pagan Films
1972 / Colour / 2:35 flat letterbox / 80 min. / La Orgia Nocturna de los Vampiros
Starring Jack Taylor, Dianik Zurakowska, Jose Guardiola, Charo Soriano, Helga Line, Manuel de Blas, David Aller, Luis Ciges, Indio Gonzalez, Fernando Bilbao
Cinematography Antonio Lopez Ballesteros
Art Direction Gumersindo Andres
Editor Antonio Ramirez de Loaysa
Written by Gabriel Burgos and Antonio Fos
Produced by Jose Frade
Directed by Leon Klimovsky

Synopsis:

A motley collection of support workers are en route to new employment positions at a remote country estate when the driver of their bus is taken ill. They are forced to take a detour and come across an uncharted village called Tolnia where they meet Luis (Jack Taylor), a lost traveller. The village is deserted but the hotel has been readied for guests, so the weary travellers decide to stay the night. The next morning, the hotel is buzzing with friendly locals who extend further hospitality to the group when it is discovered that both their coach and Luis's car have developed mechanical faults. However, it soon becomes apparent that the village is populated by vampires who intend picking the travellers off, one by one.

After previously noting the seemingly rushed and uneven quality of parts of Leon Klimovsky's Dr Jekyll vs the Werewolf, it's something of a surprise to find the director displaying a consistently good approach here. Although The Vampires' Night Orgy is a reasonably low budget affair it succeeds in being quite stylish in its presentation, boasting solid camera placements and fluid camera moves, a succession of well composed shots and virtually inch perfect framing throughout. Maybe the presence of veteran cinematographer Antonio L. Ballesteros, who shot both The Last Days of Pompeii and The Colossus of Rhodes for Sergio Leone, helped Klimovsky to up his game a little.

Either way, Klimovsky has put together an effective and atmospheric little frightener. An early sequence where the ominous creak of the hotel's front door at midnight prompts Ernest (Indio Gonzalez) to begin exploring Tolnia's deserted streets is right up there with the best of the genre: real edge of the seat stuff. And a scene where the vampire Countess (Helga Line) slowly emerges from her tomb is also pretty effective. The actual vampire attacks themselves are quite scary, too: with the exception of the Countess, the vampires hunt in packs, silently emerging from shadowy areas and shuffling along the quiet streets like zombies until they converge to collectively corner and overcome their victims. During these suspenseful scenes, Klimovsky chooses to generate fear through imaginative staging and suggestion rather than resorting to any gory excesses. That said, Klimovsky's noticeably determined efforts to present some totally original genre scenarios ultimately result in some particularly unpleasant and ghoulishly macabre ideas being played out.

The isolated setting, the communal conspiracy and a Lord Summerisle-like authority figure, the Major (Jose Guardiola), all combine to conjure up an oppressive air similar to that of The Wicker Man. And a sickly nod towards an EC Comics' Vault of Horror story can be found when the Major, pressed to join his guests for a drink in the hotel bar, opts to partake of the contents of a special bottle. Perhaps the nearest point of reference is the unsettling episode from Roy Ward Baker's Monster Club compendium that starred Stuart Whitman. There are some key similarities between the two stories, so much so that....(spoiler) when two cops appear at the end of The Vampires' Night Orgy you spend the last five minutes of the film really hoping that it isn't going to end with the same shocking twist as the Monster Club tale....(spoiler ends).

Jack Taylor is as reliable as ever as Luis but the whole show is surprisingly well acted, with all of the travellers being successfully presented as fairly full and well defined characters. They're a diverse enough bunch to be suitably interesting and involving. The film's soundtrack score is a bit of a mixed bag, with all of the music having seemingly been sourced from the Ediciones Phonorecord music library. The music itself is generally very good, and some of the selections are used in particularly effective ways. However, other selections play somewhat incongruously and their use adversely affects a couple of sections of the film slightly. Having said that, of all the films that have attempted to place elements of the vampire mythos within a modern day setting, The Vampires' Night Orgy must surely rank as one of the best and most original efforts.


While the print presented here is free from scratches and suchlike, it possesses quite a dark hue and some of the colours appear to be a little subdued. But such criticism might well be doing the disc a great disservice because Luis notes at one point that the sun never shines in Tolnia, suggesting that the film is perhaps meant to have a particularly overcast look? Either way, a few shots do play just a little on the soft side while the odd straight edge (like the side of the bus) is marred by a slight saw-tooth effect in a couple of places. The dubbing isn't too bad but the overall sound quality of the disc could have been better. This is a PAL disc but it is encoded for 'All Regions'.


Zipang
Pagan Films
1992 / Colour and B&W / 1.77:1 flat / 98m. / Jipangu
Starring Masahiro Takashima, Narumi Yasuda, Haruko Wanibuchi, Mikiyo Hira, Shu Ken, Mikijiro Taira, Kipp Hamilton, Haruo Nakajima
Cinematography Masaki Tamura
Art direction Takeo Kimura
Original Music Hidehiko Umeyama & Yoko Kumagaya
Written by Kaizo Hayashi and Noriyuki Kurita
Produced by Kouji Tsutsumi & Kosuke Kuri
Directed by Kaizo Hayashi

Synopsis:

In an alternative ancient Japan, a search for hidden treasure results in Jigoku (Masahiro Takashima) and his band of curious renegades unearthing a mythical golden sword and a mystical warrior (Shu Ken) who has slept for a thousand years. When the gold-obsessed Shogun's law enforcement agents subsequently attack Jigoku's gang, a notorious bounty hunter, Yuri the Pistol (Narumi Yasuda) and her brother become involved in the fight. Somehow the sword's magical powers are activated and Yuri and the Shogun's men are transported to Zipang, a legendary land of gold. When Yuri discovers a maiden (Haruko Wanibuchi) trapped in a prison of ice, she faces the wrath of Zipang's supernatural ruler (Mikijiro Taira) and his four fearsome guardians. Jigoku and company are left trying to find a way to access another gateway to Zipang in order to effect a rescue before it is too late.

Zipang's frenetic black and white prologue manages to effortlessly cram casual but effective nods towards the cinema of Akira Kurosawa, Terry Gilliam and David Lynch into its mere 100 seconds of running time. No mean feat. But in terms of this film's relentless but totally fun post-modern approach, said prologue is only the tip of a referential iceberg. Zipang is simply chock-full of interesting details, styles and themes that director Kaizo Hayashi expertly pulls together to form his own unique vision of how an outrageously bold historical-cum-action-cum-fantasy-cum-romance-cum-tongue-in-cheek-comedy film should play.

The quality of the cinematography present here is really quite superb. Imagine the kind of camera moves, edits and optical effects that produced the impressive comic book look of films like Sam Raimi's Crimewave or the Coen Brothers' Raising Arizona being applied to a Samurai flick and you're halfway there. But there is so much more to this film's approach than that. There's also some intricate fight choreography on display: one lengthy, extras-packed but impressive swordfight sequence is presented without a single edit. Then there are the equally great costumes, set designs and art direction, which give the detailed but stylistically unusual approach associated with Terry Gilliam a run for its money. Zipang would appear to have had something of a decent budget behind it yet the film manages to retain the independent ambience, and cutting edge feel, associated with cult titles like Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Delicatessen.

The weapons employed by Zipang's protagonists are also madly inspired. Yuri the Pistol's gun, a muzzle-loading, twin-barrelled pistol that she deftly feeds with bullets that she keeps stored in her modified hair clip, would fit perfectly into one of Gianfranco Parolini's equally baroque Sabata Spaghetti Westerns. Jigoku has a whole set of different swords at his disposal. They're numbered like golf clubs and are just as inventive as Lone Wolf and Cub's impressive Babycart weapons. And check out the anachronistic electronic binoculars that the law enforcers use to take digital snaps of Jigoku's gang. The micro chip holding the pictures is placed inside a strange throwing star that takes off and automatically flies back to the Shogun's palace! There simply seems to be no end to the creativity on display here.

But all of the above would be of little use if we couldn't engage with and come to care about the film's characters. Jigoku is a pretty neat hero. He's a confident and flashily theatrical Samurai warrior who is well on his way to becoming just as cool as both Bruce Lee and Elvis Presley at their coolest. He's also a little like Doc Savage in the way that he benevolently leads, and encourages the best from, his gang of strange, but likeable and worthy, assistants. Yuri the Pistol has to be the cutest bounty hunter ever to lift a wanted poster. But she's a tough cookie, coming on like a stylish-but-street-wise geisha girl while sporting a neat Louise Brooks-style bob haircut.

Running parallel to the impressive style and bluster of the action set-pieces are two convincing and affecting love stories. One involves a love that transcends a thousand years and the gulf between two different dimensions. The other involves a love that can melt a merciless bounty hunter's heart. Both have to be ferociously fought for, making our heroes encounters with the vicious king of Zipang, and his fearsome guardians, and the Shogun's law enforcers (kitted out in blue Ninja outfits!) all the more nerve wracking and exciting. This film really is in a class of its own and deserves a much, much wider audience.


For a flat presentation, the DVD's picture quality is pretty much excellent. And the sound quality is pretty good too, with Hidehiko Umeyama and Yoko Kumagaya's suitably rousing soundtrack score coming through loud and clear. The film is presented in Japanese with English language subtitles. This is a PAL disc but it is encoded for 'All Regions'.


Both discs are PAL Region 2, and are not intended for playback in the U.S.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Vampires' Night Orgy rates:
Movie: Good ++
Video: Fair
Sound: Fair
Supplements: Cast and crew info, stills gallery
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: October 28, 2002

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Zipang rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Cast and crew info, stills gallery
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: October 28, 2002



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Text © Copyright 2007 Lee Brougton
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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