DVD Stalk: Horrors of Malformed Men, Dexter: S1, and DVD Stalk Giveaway
-Horrors of Malformed Men-
This week we have a special giveaway from Synapse Films for Horrors of Malformed Men - an excellent Cult Cinema classic that's finally made its way to DVD. Here's your quick synopsis: After escaping from an asylum, young medical student Hirosuke assumes the identity of a dead man in order to solve the mystery of a weird doppelganger whose picture he sees in the newspaper. Traveling to faraway Panorama Island, he discovers a mad scientist surgically remaking normal human beings into misshapen monsters...but that is only the beginning. Hirosuke soon learns the horrible truth about the island and his own family's shameful past, and finds himself plunged into the depths of incest, murder, and madness. Synapse Films has really given fright fans something to cheer about with their stacked release of Horrors of Malformed Men. Here are just a few of the features on this fantastic disc: *New, fully restored, anamorphic widescreen transfer mastered in high-definition from Toei's original vault elements *Japanese language with newly-translated, removable English subtitles *Audio commentary by film critic Mark Schilling *Malformed Memories, an all-new, half-hour documentary *Ishii in Italia, the director's 2003 visit to the Far East Film Festival. This is one disc you don't want to miss! Enter now for your chance to one of 5 copies of Horrors of Malformed Men. Check out our contest page for all of the official rules and enter now for your chance to win one of 5 copies of Horrors of Malformed Men.
We kick off this week's batch of horror DVD reviews with Francis Rizzo III's take on the release of Dexter: The First Season. Here's some of what Francis has to say about this excellent Showtime series: "I got a copy of Darkly Dreaming Dexter when it came out several years ago, and though I never finished it (I'm an awful reader) I was fascinated by the concept of a serial killer working for the police; understanding how to murder someone and get away with it. That the whole thing is presented with a wickedly dark sense of humor just made it that much more attractive to me. Obviously, the announcement of a TV series based on the Dexter's books excited the awful reader in me, even if I didn't know how it would end...Once I caught the series though, it was quickly clear to me that I would never go back to the printed page for my Dexter fill, as it's impossible to think that there could be a better interpretation of the character than the one delivered by Michael C. Hall as part of this outstanding Showtime series...Though Dexter murders people, it's easy to let a sense of vigilantism overtake you, giving you a chance to cheer for the bad guy. It's freeing to side with someone who does the wrong thing, mainly because he does it for the right reasons, but also because he's played by Hall...As Dexter, Hall is stunning, switching from suburban everyguy to cold-blooded assassin like you would flip a switch, revealing the lack of soul inside though his face, never overplaying into a scowl, or underplaying with a goofy grin. A slight manipulation of his voice reveals a cloaked demon, where was once a concerned boyfriend. It's the kind of subtle performance that was needed to sell the series' main concept: the truth that lies beneath the surface. Hall is the prototypical homicidal maniac with a heart of gold. Just try not smiling from ear to ear as he slides a knife in a similar manner, or feel your heart break as his does. You will never once doubt that he is Dexter...The perverse love/hate relationship between Dexter and the killer, which ties into Dexter's battles with his own reasons for being, is just one of several threads in the show's deep plot, including corrupt cops, departmental politics, family drama and sociology...Though each episode is basically self-contained, you'd have a tough time watching one here or there, as the overarching storyline is the most entertaining aspect of the series, with the mystery of the Ice Truck Killer unfolding over the 12 hour-long episodes, mirroring the mystery inside of Dexter. Utilizing a very witty, noir-like internal dialogue by Dexter, the show delivers a mix of detective story and primer on serial killing, as if Sam Spade was a sociopath. It's the rare serial killer story that let's you see the slayer's world unravel the way Dexter's does, as he evolves and grows, while learning about himself and why he kills. His origin story is handled gracefully and meticulously and above all organically, fitting perfectly with the progression of the story. Nothing about it feels forced or out of place...A great concept is one thing. A great concept played out to chilling effect with a talented cast is another thing. Make that concept work in what is essentially an 11-hour movie, and you have something akin to pure genius. That's exactly what you get with Dexter."
"The publicity for Synapse's Horrors of Malformed Men leads one to expect at the very least a transgressing gross-out epic, something that crawled out from under a rock after being kept in obscurity for almost forty years. The adventurous (for lack of a better word) director Teruo Ishii unleashes a horror film that's actually an absurdist collage of weird ideas from various stories by legendary Japanese author of the uncanny Edogawa Rampo. Described as a twisted combination of Freaks and The Island of Lost Souls, the seriously-played Horrors of Malformed Men is actually an absurdist pageant of sadistic delights...Horrors of Malformed Men combines exploitative sex, giddily perverse relationships, experimental perfomance art, sadistic ambition on a grand scale and a perfunctory detective story. The movie makes no apologies for being artificial, tasteless and occasionally revolting. Yet it repeatedly inspires laughter - laughter of the, "Oh, no he can't be serious" variety...The plot resembles a Louis Feuillade adventure as imagined by a pervert humorist...Director Ishii pulls the rug out from under his audience when Hirosuke finally goes to the island to learn the rest of the family secrets. The balance of the movie alternates between shocking discoveries and feverish back-stories...The artificial effects are mostly theatrical in nature, with art direction that suggests twisted bodies rather than depicting them in naturalistic manner. Hands and faces are covered with a material that looks like a spider's web and women stand with odd tubes attached to their genitals, as if participating in some kind of obscene medical experiment. Some of Jogoro's freaks are man-made, making us remember the final transformation of Olga Baclanova in the Tod Browning classic; Hirosuke has been spared so that he can continue with Jogoro's grandiose plans to create more monstrosities. Jogoro ambition is for Hirosuke to cut the flesh from a bunch of people to make a giant mass of organic matter with a live horse's head on top. As they say, a sick fantasy is its own justification!...The publicity for Horrors of Malformed Men say that it was effectively banned soon after its release. As plenty of other transgressing Japanese thrillers didn't have this problem (Teruo Ishii was himself a leading proponent of 'sexy torture' films), the cause for the film's banishment seems to have been its mockery of deformities, a subject unworthy of public mention in polite Japanese society. Patrick Macias' essential liner notes explain that a conservative cultural swing in the 1970s made the very words of the film's title unpalatable..."
"Magic is considered 'in' these days, thanks in no small part to Harry Potter, though the supernatural has always enjoyed a healthy audience from what I've seen. From the Anne Rice novels to horror movies, to the multitude of lighter uses of special abilities and powers, our culture seems almost fixated on the ability to circumvent the laws of physics so shows relating to this idea tend to appeal to me more than a little (though I admit that I'm no cultural barometer given my track record at picking winners in the TV show ratings game). Purely by chance, I came across a show earlier this year when the updated Battlestar Galactica series was foolishly moved to late Sunday night, a show I enjoyed bits at a time until I was hooked; a show that I am now reviewing as The Dresden Files: The Complete First Season; about a wizard named Harry Dresden in the windy city of Chicago...The Dresden Files was originally a series of novels (Storm Front, Fool Moon, Grave Peril, Summer Knight, Death Masks, Blood Rites, Dead Beat, Proven Guilty, and White Night) by author Jim Butcher. The novels detail a wizard for hire in Chicago that solves crimes as a private detective with a dark past, using his special abilities to stumble into answers while avoiding the fate of his gifted relatives, most of whom met their untimely demise thanks to various schemes. The television show is not perfectly faithful to the novels though at this writing, the show has been cancelled and fans would do well to check out the books as they are more carefully constructed, using less of the corporate mentality the broadcast medium is known for, and the darker Harry certainly has more depth thanks to the written medium of the books...The history of modern television is replete with shows cancelled before their time, especially after getting lame time slots or having the running order of the episodes monkeyed with (both factors in the demise of Firefly) and this type of show is the kind that needs to be nurtured in order to reach its fullest potential but the limited run on the Sci-Fi Channel was as predictable as the low end budgets on the Canadian sets it was shot in so it is lucky that the creator of the books is still churning them out at a decent pace (I have yet to read more than a little bit of them but all indications are that he is a very talented guy and the books are "better" by a wide margin). The actual use of magic was downplayed in the series and as much as I liked the show, there were always plot holes or unexplained breaks with the established set of supernatural rules as the writers probably did not have a cannon of guidelines to follow as with other series in science fiction/fantasy to go by...In short, The Dresden Files: The Complete First Season was the latest result of corporate decision makers dropping the ball but given the time slot and lack of promotion, I doubt many people really expected the show to continue past this set of twelve episodes. I just hope that a future release will include the unaired pilot episode and even more commentaries seeing as how this one offered up so much potential compared to shows that were really lame but given ample time to develop. Give it a look if you're a genre fan though and I think you'll be happy."
"If you're a fan of Euro-horror in general or Spanish genre star and screenwriter Paul Naschy in particular then Exorcism (Exorcismo, 1975), made during the stampede to cash in on the huge success of the William Friedkin/William Peter Blatty The Exorcist (1973), will likely appeal to your tastes; most everyone else will want to give this moody fantasy thriller a pass. Naschy claims to have come up with the story for the film long before the film of The Exorcist was released and there's little reason to doubt him: although its eventual production was clearly prompted by the Hollywood movie's success, until the last few minutes Exorcism and The Exorcist have very little in common. The last reel, however, is a lot like The Exorcist, though even that adds a few new wrinkles of its own...The bulk of Naschy's film, which he wrote under his birth name, Jacinto Molina (the IMDb seems to think Naschy and Molina are two different people), is closer in spirit to Hammer's The Witches/The Devil's Own (1966) than Friedkin's film...Exorcism departs from The Exorcist's premise in one key respect: it's not a tale of faith (and, specifically, Catholicism) and possession by Satan himself...The picture blatantly rips off The Exorcist only at the very end, during Father Dunning's exorcism of Leila, which is executed much the same way though the make-up effects are impressively creepy for such a modestly-budgeted film, especially its use of demon-eyes contact lenses and the vividly conveyed implication that Leila's body, fully-possessed, is rotting into putrid meat like a corpse...Hardly the blatant Exorcist rip off on the scale of such films as The Antichrist and the bastardized reworking of Lisa and the Devil, The House of Exorcism, Paul Naschy's Exorcism is less derivative, milder, and more like a supernatural mystery. It's no lost classic, but fans Spanish horror films will find it interesting and enjoy Naschy's sincere performance, though the pointless full-framing of the transfer significantly hurts the overall presentation."
"After a too-long absence, Mondo Macabro is back with The Blood Rose (La rose ecorchee, 1970), an alternately ambitious and absurd jumble of art and commerce about a famed artist's determination to restore his once-beautiful wife's monstrous face, horribly scarred in an accident. The film attempts to lift this old chestnut of a story to Georges Franju artiness - it bears more than a passing resemblance to the acclaimed but somewhat overrated Eyes without a Face (Le yeux sans visage, 1960) - while meeting the commercial demands of early-'70s horror but the results are erratic in the extreme. The opening reel or two suggest an unearthed lost treasure, a heretofore unknown classic of the genre, but then monster midgets in caveman-style skins show up and, well...Alternately impressive and ridiculous, The Blood Rose is all over the map, at times tasteful with a poetry approaching Franju while at other moments closer to the lunacy of Ed Wood. Touted, at least in its thunderously unimaginative American advertising, as "The First Sex-Horror Film Ever Made," its oh-so-French adult sexuality now seems rather tame, with frequent but almost demure nudity (contractually required but its producers, as it turns out), generally limited to an exposed breast here and there. Less tasteful is its depiction of burn victims and midgets as horrible psychopathic monsters...The absence of logical storytelling and sloppy production errors also bring the film down several notches. Though set in the present and despite the presence of electricity in the manor house, everyone walks around with unwieldy candelabras. When one of the kidnap victims goes missing, Igor and Olaf go searching for her carrying one of these heavy things. Why not use a flashlight? Frederic has no better sense than to hire a voluptuous Ann-Margret type (Michele Perello), in a miniskirt uniform no less, to look after his wife, and seems genuinely surprised by her jealous, bitter reaction...Conversely, the acting is generally good all-around (even Seiler almost pulls off that strange monologue, goofy in any language), and the delicate, low-key approach to the material nicely contrasts that crass exploitation that was fast becoming the genre's mainstay...The Blood Rose is both unusual in its approach and emblematic of the commercial demands of such productions, demands that within a few years pretty much killed off the modesty-budgeted, gothic-style Euro horror film. Despite its wildly disparate elements, genre fans will find it fascinating, and Mondo Macabro's respectful presentation and extras make it especially attractive."
"The makers of Bloodlines may not have made a great movie, but it's clear that they had a vision of pushing a certain genre and they've made a memorable film...At first glance, Bloodlines may look like yet another Texas Chainsaw Massacre clone, as the innocent are kidnapped from lonely roads and held captive. However, the movie is actually a throwback to 70s sicko-shockers as Three on a Meathook and Invasion of the Blood Farmers, or the notorious 1980 nasty, Mother's Day. Bloodlines isn't particularly gory, but it doesn't pull any punches when it comes to heinous misogyny and violence towards women. There are multiple scenes of women being raped and beaten throughout the film, and of course, there are the scenes where the women are forced to fight. And then we have the very graphic portrayal of the deformed inbred members of the Hackford family, who can't speak and are covered in sores. Honestly, I didn't think they made movies like this anymore...And in refusing to pull any punches, directors Stephen Durham and Masao Kingi have at least made a movie which isn't boring and demands attention. (Actually, on the audio commentary, Durham admits that they did pull back on the gore for fear of getting an NC-17.) Despite the fact that the movie can be difficult to watch, there's something happening in every scene...I've grown tired of the "innocent person accosted/assaulted by rural people" genre, and I'm really not into torture-porn. But, for what it is, Bloodlines is successful. The movie is rarely dull and will definitely create a response in the viewer. If you love indie horror and thought that Wrong Turn was too pedestrian, then Bloodlines may be for you."
"Known for such women in prison nasties as Barbed Wire Dolls and Love Camp, Jess Franco has been pumping out films steadily since the late 1950s and at this point in his long and storied career has over two hundred films under his belt. While the content and premise of Women Behind Bars might make it seem like an ideal project for Franco, sadly it's not nearly as remarkable as the sensational title would lead us to believe...Shot in France with a nifty cast of Franco regulars, Women Behind Bars looks nice even if the director's over reliance on the zoom lens is in full swing throughout the picture. The locations are pretty and the cinematography, while not particularly remarkable, is at least competent and somewhat stylish in spots...While the locations are pretty enough, believable they are not...Unfortunately, the film itself is quite dull. Yes, there is the notorious scene where poor Lina has her girl parts electrocuted and there is some softcore girl on girl coupling as well as a whole lot of nudity but not a whole lot happens in the film. It's too dull to be a good film and it doesn't offer enough exploitative thrills to work very well as a trash movie and as such it sort of fizzles out. That's not to say that the picture is completely without worth, however. The electroshock theme does leave a lasting impression and Lina is smoking hot throughout the film. Additionally, Franco is fun as the private investigator and his many fans will enjoy seeing him in a prominent action her role here. Unfortunately, that's just not enough to make this one essential, at least for the casual viewer - the Franco completists will likely find much more of worth here than anyone else...Die-hard Franco fans and women in prison film completists are definitely going to want this one even if Women Behind Bars is far from the best film in the director's vast filmography."
"Lost By Dead is a debut indie by model turned actor, now writer/director/actor Masato Tsujioka. Story goes, he moved from Osaka to Tokyo and found work in Shinja Tsukamoto films like Bullet Ballet and Vital. The experience not only gave him his first forays into acting but served as a deeply felt inspiration to make his own film. He gathered together a like-minded, small crew whose passion unfortunately equaled their inexperience and together they undertook an arduous year long process of fits and starts, learning as they went, before finally finishing the film...Masato Tsujioka helms the film in an assaultive, high octane fashion very like Tsukamoto, Sogo Ishii, or any NYU student piece after a class about underground film makers like Richard Kern. From the start, the film comes blasting at you. What little plot it contains is there only in a sketchy fashion: Akira's bandmate's stand around with their girlfriends complaining about his unbalance. Kana follows him here and there hoping her unwavering devotion will somehow magically cure him. Shinya simmers with resentment. Evolving into the finale is a subplot that involves a pissed off punk gangleader and a deadly drug dealer. As for Akira, he does the typical underground punk film stuff, like wander around dark, desolated, decaying alleyways at night shooting smack, screaming, and getting punched in the face. As a matter of fact, there is quite a lot of people getting punched and beaten in exaggerated and cartoonish fashion, at times Tsukamotolike symbolic but mostly kind of comical and purely for shock...I am loathe to lob too much criticism at the film because the biggest knocks against it are all understandable. It's a first timer film, done on a minuscule budget, with a crew of untrained amateurs. The fact that they finished the film at all is a miracle. While a more coherent story or, at least, a little more stylistic originality wouldn't hurt, Masato Tsujioka does succeed with rebel spirit. For the first two thirds of the film, I was not very won over. By the second gratuitous drug taking montage and fifteenth scene of Akira stumbling around in an alley feeling sorry for him self, I began to find the repetition and slapdash nature annoying, but the final third of the film really picks up in terms of both story coherence and stylistic execution. I imagine, this is the kind of film where they could allow to shoot it in a near linear fashion, thus, by the end, they really started to get their act together and it shows."
"Some movies want to be more than they seem. Much like literature, these movies are full of symbolism and it's up to the viewer to dive in and find the story within the story. And then, there are movies which hide nothing and strive to be exactly what they are. This "what you see if what you get" approach definitely applies to Forest of the Dead...When a movie features a white character who has a huge afro, you know that it's not asking us to take it seriously. Forest of the Dead is a zombie movie, plain and simple. It offers no explanation as to why the characters become zombies, and apparently that's not important. The movie has only two purposes; it wants to make us laugh through some very bizarre humor and it wants to scare us with the zombie scenes. It's admirable that such a clearly low-budget movie have not one, but two goals...Writer/director/jack of all trades Brian Singleton has put a lot of effort into Forest of the Dead, and he's made a movie that tries to distinguish itself from other zero-budget direct-to-video entries...Is Forest of the Dead good? Is it supposed to be? This odd movie is very hard to judge. It's never really funny and never scary. The film's low-budget is apparent, from the pre-existing locations to the fog machine which makes it look like a fire is burning out of control somewhere. But, the movie's odd, playful nature does make it somewhat charming. The odd-ball characters certainly don't fit the stereotypical molds that we usually see (save for Keith, the nerd) and the lack of any real plot helps to keep the movie moving...Fans of DIY movie making will most likely get a kick out of Forest of the Dead. Don't go in expecting a serious zombie movie and you're bound to have a little fun."
We here at DVD Stalk are incredibly proud of all the great horror news, reviews, and commentary we've been able to bring you over the past year or so and we've grown by leaps and bounds, but we're not done quite yet. DVD Stalk Blog is the latest part of that equation, and an important one at that. Some of the things you're likely to see in the new DVD Stalk Blog include: Shorter, capsule reviews of films (and DVDs) that might not quite fit into the column. News and press releases from all across the world of horror. Interaction with you, the DVD Stalk readers, including giveaways, contests, polls, etc. And, most importantly, a forum for the people behind DVD Stalk to voice their thoughts on current horror films, books, comics, and pretty much anything horror related. We hope to make this blog a place that you'll not only check every single day (as we hope to have new content up daily - or at least nearly daily), but also pop into your favorite RSS reader, tell all your friends about, and link to like crazy little horror freaks.
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