Saturday, March 26, 2011

IMAGES: Revelations

Revelation [revəˈlā sh ən]

1.) a surprising and previously unknown fact, esp. one that is made known in a dramatic way.

2.) the divine or supernatural disclosure to humans of something relating to human existence or the world.

There are many moments in cinema that make us sit up and take notice, but there are specific instances when these spectacular happenings change into something else entirely. These are the revelation moments of cinema. The ones where either the main characters of the film or the audience themselves are presented with something that shatters the films very existence and turns their fictional world on its head. 

I've been thinking a lot about these moments and the films that comprise them and I thought it would be kind of interesting to show some of these inspirational occasions in the form of one single image. The films that I'm going to list are by far not the definitive example, but when scouring my library of films these were the ones that first came to mind.

Proceed with caution because this is a spoiler ridden mine field that reveals some pretty big plot points of the films involved. Keep that in mind and if you think of some great examples of mind altering revelations in cinema, feel free to comment. I know there are tons of instances like these in the film world, so I might have to continue the series as more come to mind. Enjoy.

EVIL DEAD 2 [1987]

Oh Evil Dead 2, how I love thee. This was always one of my favorite "what the hell" moments. The main character Ash, played by the legendary Bruce Campbell, goes through such turmoil and physical abuse throughout the whole movie as he battles one evil possessed deadite after another, that you think he would catch a break at the end of the flick. Nope, not happening. He gets sucked into a vortex and is then shit out into the medieval times, only to be praised as, "he who has come from the skies to deliver us from the terrors of the deadites." Talk about not catching a break.

At this moment, we realize that Ash was in fact the hero depicted in the Book of the Dead, who fought the evil in ancient times. The ending is perfect, because it gives us another layer of appreciation for Ash's plight by praising him as a hero, but dooming him to battle evil for literally all time. "Hail, Hail, Hail!"


Just when you thought things couldn't get any worse for poor old Ash, director Sam Raimi comes up with another way to torture the unlucky bastard. This depressing moment is from the alternate ending of Army of Darkness, that was actually the real ending for anyone outside of the United States. It shows an aged Ash waking up in a real life nightmare of apocalyptic proportions. Having taken too much of the serum that was supposed to send him back to his own time, he has slept too long and wakes up in a future hell where everything has seemed to go shit.

Whether this is from the evil that was let loose from the Necronomicon or just the aftermath from World War 3, we don't really get the details, but I love the bleakness of it all. It would have been a perfect set up for a rather interesting sequel. I'd love to see our smart ass hero roam the futuristic wastelands, spewing off some harsh one liners, while at the same time dealing with a new throng of deadite masses.


Lucio Fulci brings us one of the most atmospheric horror flicks in genre history and one of the most surreal endings known to man. In The Beyond, our two main characters Liza and John, struggle to come to terms with what is happening to them. They've been experiencing what can only be described as a living nightmare throughout the entire run time of the film. As the story escalates, the dead begin coming to life, calling for them to passover from the world of the living to the world beyond.

In one of the most bizarre endings that I can recall, the two main characters stumble into a barren landscape that seems lost in some lifeless void of nothingness. They hastily search for an exit from this nightmare, but finally succumb to the awful truth that they are in fact the inhabitants of the world beyond our own. Who knows if they were already dead from the very start of the film, or if somewhere along the line the border between the world of the living and the world of the dead had been severed, we don't really know for sure. Either way it's just a fascinatingly weird story that provides a great moment and one hell of a creepy revelation.


Now this might be a film that has crept by most cinema radars, so if you haven't seen The Dark Hour I'd stay clear of this short summary because this really is a doozy of a revelation. In a world that has gone to complete shit, a group of survivors struggle to stay alive in an abandoned complex that is constantly attacked by zombie like creatures and ghostly apparitions. They live out a miserable life that is slowly revealed to the audience in bits and pieces on how things had come to such a state.

The mixture of horror and science fiction elements is really quite awe inspiring and the crazy closing moments of the film is simply unbelievable in its out of left field sense. I really didn't see that one coming and I love the fact that it's just insanely unexpected. Other then showing you the image above, I'm not going to go into any more detail about the ending, because it really is something you need to experience yourself. I know there are tons of reviews that both love and hate the ending, so it really could go any way depending on your tastes. Either way I love it.


Say what? In one of the most puzzling conclusions to a film, Dellamorte Dellamore, also known as Cemetery Man, shows us the exciting world of a cemetery worker as he deals with the strange fact that once a corpse is buried in his cemetery, they don't stay buried for long. This unconventional zombie film is really out there in both concept and execution, that it really shouldn't surprise the viewer that the ending is anything but routine.

In the conclusion, both Francesco and Gnaghi come to a shocking realization that they are at the edge of their known universe, a universe that seems to be enclosed inside the glass encasing of a snow globe. Yeah, I said it was out there. Whether this is inside Francesco's mentally fractured mind or if this in fact the way his world works we're never given a definitive answer, but I love the ambiguity of it all. The film really is in a league of its own as it plays with the notion of blurring reality while mixing love, death, life, and hate into one beautiful and confusing concoction.


In one of Robert Rodriguez's most accomplished works, From Dusk Till Dawn brings an interesting mixture of genres to make a unique combo of horror goodness. The film follows the infamous Gecko brothers as they attempt to cross the border into Mexico, along with a kidnapped family. The premise is simple and straight forward, but once we hit the halfway mark, things get turned upside down. The film plunges into horror territory as the group makes a pit stop at a local bar, only to realize that it's a feeding ground for a coven of vampires.

The hellish event at hand is ingenious and inventive, but we're never shown the history of these vampires and how long they've been feeding on truckers. That is until the closing moments of the film when we are shown how deep this bloody frenzy has played out throughout the scope of time. It's actually a pretty simple revelation and one that could have been guessed upon earlier in the film, but to see that mayan temple protruding out the back of the Titty Twister, it's just curiously morbid and intriguing as all hell.

KNOWING [2009]

From genre-master Alex Proyas, creator of such dark films as The Crow and Dark City, comes a tale of impending apocalypse and the possible extinction of the human race. Nicholas Cage brings the crazy as he attempts to figure out a way for himself and his son to survive the literal cooking of the Earth. I actually really liked this polarizing film and thought that Proyas did an excellent job in portraying the doom of planet Earth and at the same time combining so many different genres into one film. He experiments with horror, mystery, drama, and science fiction elements to convey a tale that is in more ways then one, out of this world.

This only helps to establish the very science fiction heavy ending that boarders on fantasy. The conclusion is so out of this world that it actually is quite entertaining to let yourself go and have fun with it, allowing the unbelievable revelation that aliens can predict the demise of planet Earth and reseed the human race on a distant planet seem plausible. I just love the wonderful depictions of the alien planet that just scream fantasy and wonder.


Speaking of reseeding a planet, the revelation of Mission to Mars offers that very same explanation for the origins of life on planet Earth. It's a concept that is just so out there, yet so intriguing at the same time. The way that Brian De Palma unfolds the mystery of Mars unto both the unsuspecting astronauts and the audience, is so delicate and beautiful that it really gives some credit to the concept and solidity to the unfound notion.

The big reveal that happens inside the large structure, that functions much like a giant IMAX theater, is breathtaking. We are given a visual history of Mars' ancient inhabitants as they flee their dying planet while at the same time sending the essential DNA of their people down to planet Earth. It's conveyed in such splendor and succinct brilliance that I always get a kick out of watching it play out. It's just a shame that not too many people appreciate this film.

THE MIST [2007]

Talk about one of the most depressing endings ever. Every single person that you've rooted for in the movie decide to off themselves over their overwhelmingly bleak predicament only to show the audience that if they held on for just a couple more minute they could have been saved. It's a moment that just kicks the audience right in the nuts and that horrible pain really stays with the viewer long after the credits role.

The film is a masterpiece in my opinion, filled with so many great performances and wonderful special effects. The fact that we never truly see one of those large lumbering beasts until the closing moments of the film, really speaks volumes for Frank Darabont's sensibility and restraint as a director. To be able to hold back and provide such visually stimulating images in very small and gradual hand fed pieces is really quite an accomplishment. And to do this while at the same time ending the film on such a downer is really courageous on his part. I love Darabont for giving us the tough love treatment and I wish more directors showed that kind of bold and fearless disposition when rounding off their stories.  


Pandorum really took me by surprise when I first saw it a year after its release. I didn't realize that it was as ambitious as it was or as sprawling in scope, nor did I expect the film would have such a rich and vivid history packed within its fast paced runtime. There really are so many things going on in this well conceived movie that it begs for repeated viewings. In an interesting moment of revelation, the crew escape the maddening confinements of the now ancient space ship only to find that they have crash landed at their destination and have been there for some time that its almost unimaginable.

I love the irony of this savage and entrapped world, that was so close yet so far from where they wanted to be. As generations succumbed to barbarianism inside their hull, forming into a twisted amalgam of human existence, salvation lie just outside their hard metallic casket. The very fact that the last hope for humankind went through such hell for nothing, gives the film a dark and overtly demented tone. I really can't get enough of the ending.


Here's the grandaddy of them all and one of cinema's most iconic moments in revelation history. An astronaut named Taylor, played by Charlton Heston, comes to the horrifying realization that the ape planet that he has crash landed on and is now an inhabitant of is in fact the future Earth. Destroyed by man's lust for power and control, the planet is in ruins. Heston belts out those now famous lines, "You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!" His voice echoing out into eternity, condemning the people that brought the Earth to its knees and allowed for the rise of a race of apes to inherit the Earth. This bleak ending is just phenomenal and will probably go down as one of the most memorable endings in cinema history. All I have to say is, "It's a madhouse! A madhouse!


Stranded, is a little known film by first time filmmaker Maria Lidon and what a wonderful debut it is. This mysterious film is about a group of astronauts as they make a pioneer voyage to Mars. Once there they find that their return is easier said then done, making their primary focus to be surviving the harsh conditions of Mars' unforgiving climate and terrain.

Stranded is a calm and slow paced film, relying on its characters to convey the story and desperate situation that they all find themselves in. Using this gradual tempo to push the story along allows us to gather our wits along with the rest of the crew as they figure on a way off this cursed rock. In the concluding moments of the film, we're given some strikingly chilling realizations that these astronauts weren't the first beings to step foot on the planet and in fact a superior race might have actually inhabited its red rocked surface. The alien structure thats carved from the mountain walls is just mesmerizing in its functionality and the reveal at the end of the film that somehow makes life sustainable on Mars is quite magnificently eerie and hopeful. A great a rare flick.


Rounding out the list is the exceptional film, The Thirteenth Floor. Directed by Josef Rusnak, the film follows the lives of two virtual reality programmers as they stumble upon the realization that the world that they have created is more real then they intended. Pure brilliance unfolds as we're transported back and forth between worlds separated by both time and space, inherently mixing up the two and providing some exceptional moments in both revelation and self discovery.

One of the most compelling moments occur when Douglas Hall comes to the stark realization that he is in fact a creation of someone else. He comes to this earth shattering conclusion when he reaches the end of the world of his digitally created universe. It's probably one of the top most unsettling experiences that I've seen on film, watching a character come to the understanding that they are not real. The moment is disturbing and perfectly conveyed making you sympathize for the characters plight. The poor dumb bastard.

Well that rounds out my revelation moments in cinema and I'll try to think of some more great moments to add to another segment in the future.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

REVIEW: Demons

Director: Lamberto Bava
Year 1985

Demons is a gore filled and highly entertaining italian horror flick that shows just what would happen if the movie that you are watching springs to life and reeks havoc in the real world. The film is brought to stylistic life by Lamberto Bava, the son of one of italian horror cinemas most prolific director Mario Bava. Lamberto shows that he has just as much visual flare and gothic sensibilities as his father providing a technicolor nightmare that mirrors some of Mario's most prolific films. Borrowing heavily from collaborator Dario Argento, Bava presents a bloody film where demons make cemeteries their cathedrals and cities your tombs. Sounds like fun. Let's get started.

Lets have a gay old time at the Metropol theater.

The film begins when a pair of friends attend a premiere screening of a mysterious film at a mysterious theater that has just now opened for the first time by a mysterious staff. It's all very mysterious. Anyways, once inside the theater, we are introduced to a motley crew of diverse characters ranging from an old hate filled couple, to two young love-struck teenagers, to of all things a pimp and his two hoes. As the film progresses, strange things begin happening and life begins to imitate art as the demons played out on the large theater screen begin to walk amongst the moviegoers taking them out one by one. This is italian horror at its finest as we see the blood flow in buckets and are served stylistic visual cues in hefty portions. It's enjoyable and the offbeat cast only adds to the unusual flavor.

The calm before the demon shit storm.

The great thing about this film is the mechanic of putting a film within a film and having that inner film manipulate the outcome of the world of the real. It sounds very high brow, but don't worry. The technique is hidden under a ton of gore and an unabashed amount of violence, but the fact that Lamberto Bava and company were able to create such surreal yet believable films in one story gives me a warm tingling feeling inside. In all seriousness though, the execution of this duel existence that's sustained in the film is rather accomplished in sense and tone. It's a crazy notion to think that a film can effect the real world and then infect the inhabitants of it, but they somehow make it happen and we invest in that absurdity as truth in this cinema world. That's a pretty big accomplishment for an italian splatterfest, yet there are the usual illogical turns that always crop up in the italian horror genre that both take away from the believability of the moment but at the same time add so much to the overall atmosphere of the piece.

Damn Rick James! That's one hell of a pimple!

All in all, if you're looking for logic, then all I have to say to you is get the hell out of here. This is an italian horror flick that focuses on demons possessing people from inside a movie. It's 80's, it's gory, and it's entertaining as all hell. Take it for what it is and run with it, because this is a roller coaster ride of demonic proportions. That being said, you'll find everything that makes these italian gore-fests the amusing spectacle that they are. Eye sockets are gouged, flesh is torn, and gruesome practical effects are celebrated with full and utmost enthusiasm. Not only that, but you'll get the ever so dumb decisions made by all the main characters and some dialogue that will have you scratching your head in bewilderment. Man I love this genre.

This can't be happening. It's illogically illogical.

The people that stand out in this flick are the ones that really go for broke with the crazy lines and over the top actions. Take my main man Tony, the cold ass pimp with an attitude played by Bobby Rhodes, for example. His character just steals the show every time he opens his mouth, spewing classic lines left and right. In one of his most compassionate moments, he sees one of his hoes come bursting out from behind the movie screen after being attacked by a demon. She's covered in blood and basically on death's doorstep, and what does he have to say? "Oh shit! That's a friend of mine!" Priceless. I couldn't have said it better myself. Another perfect execution of hilarious proportions comes when they are trying to break down the projection booth's door. After a few choice hits, it bursts open. They charge into the room only to encounter another door and what does he yell? "Oh shit, another door!" You just have to love it and if you don't get the humor in that, then I would suggest watching something else.

Demon Rick James says, "Talk to the hand!"

Now it's not the films entire fault for these absurd sounding exclamations and I don't think any less of the film for the inclusion of said dialogue. Italian horror films are known for their strange dubbing and the unusual fact that half of the cast usually spoke separate languages from the other half, resulting in recording a new audio track for the entire speaking cast. For me it adds a certain charm to these movies that make them their own. It's like stumbling into a world that doesn't really exist anywhere else but up on the screen and in our imaginations. It adds another layer to the film and for me it's a welcome change of pace from the norm. I don't really see it as a fault of the film, because the artistic visuals and outstandingly atmospheric soundtracks of these movies more then make up for the lack of sensible dialogue. Bring on the weirdness.

Tony says, "Smash everything! SMASH EVERYTHING!"

As for the soundtrack, we have a beauty. The creepy synth tunes are provided by keyboardist Claudio Simonetti of Goblin fame. For those that are new to the italian horror scene, Goblin is a band that frequented many italian horror flicks of the 70's and 80's, mostly providing the surreal and haunting soundtracks of horror maestro Dario Argento's films. Claudio's credits include Deep Red, Suspiria, Dawn of the Dead, Tenebre, Conquest, Sleepless, and the list just goes on and on. His contributions to the sound of this genre is unparalleled and his work on the music from Demons stands right up there at the top of his macabre soaked library of memorable soundtracks. Pulling his rock influences to the forefront, Claudio is able to bring something fresh and new to the world of italian horror cinema that also has a catchy groovy beat that's perfect for watching people get slaughtered to.

The freaks come out at night.

There's also some pretty goretastic set pieces on display in this film. Especially when it comes to the transformation of normal everyday moviegoers into full on possessed demons. While all done practically, the outcome is grotesque to say the least, as we're witness to the horrific sights of bloody gums replaced by razor sharp teeth and puss filled wounds as they burst like giant white head filled zits. Barf. It's messy as hell and the special effects department in charge of creating these monstrosities, really did their homework in making us want to toss up our lunch over the horrific sights presented to us. As italian horror movies go, Demons has a rather large amount of gross out effects that all do their job in frightful fashion.

This movie will make you scream like a little girl.

What's also impressive with this film is the amount of use they're able to get out of the location of setting the entire story inside a movie theater. The complex is massive, consisting of a balcony, endless staircases, expansive lobby, and a complicated maze of inner air ducts. The characters cover the whole gamut in their ongoing struggle to survive the growing demon horde. There's even an interesting sequence in which the group find a secret room that leads to some ancient tunnels and sarcophagus like chambers. It doesn't make a lick of sense and leads to a dead end in both the survivors escape and the flow of the narrative, but damn is it interestingly weird. Though that's really not the end of the weirdness.

Demon zoos would be one hell of an interesting concept.

The story also takes another u-turn when it introduces a group of punks led by a tremendous douche named Ripper, played by Lino Salemme. We follow them as they drive around the city, snorting coke from a Coke bottle and basically being assholes to each other. It really is a scene that comes out of left field and you're left wondering what the hell this has to do with the people trapped inside the movie theater being slaughtered by countless demonic creatures. Eventually the punk's story leads them to the theater, but the decision to introduce their story during some of the most frantic moments of the survivors fight remains to be justified. Still it doesn't really bother me that much and goes back to that previously mentioned notion that this special genre always has those quirky moments that make you scratch your head in disbelief, but so is the world of italian horror cinema.

I'm sorry but you Miss are disgusting.

Demons is a rip roaring ride of demonic violence that literally rips your mind apart as it proceeds to delve into some insane and bloody territory. Following the footsteps of past genre efforts, Demons stays close to the formula of blood, guts, and rock n roll. Goblin's Claudio Simonetti infuses an immensely demented score to the atmospherically ferocious visuals and keeps the audible tension of the film intact. Toppled with grotesque special effects that bring the demons to strikingly disturbing life, Demons brings the pain when it comes to the over abundance of gore, crazed characters, and no holds barred entertainment. I highly recommend this film to anyone who enjoys a good old italian horror flick and to those who like your entertainment fun and bloody.

5 out of 5 stars           Demons! Demons! Demons!

Friday, March 18, 2011

REVIEW: Shanghai Express

Shanghai Express
Director: Sammo Hung
Year 1986

Shanghai Express, also known as Millionare's Express, is a dense action comedy film that has so many memorable and entertaining characters within its entangling storyline, that you can't help but be swept up in all the craziness that ensues within its glorious hour and forty minute runtime. Director Sammo Hung, of such cinematic fame as The Prodigal Son, Dragons Forever, and Wheels on Meals, presents us with one of his most diverse and ambitious films of his illustrious career. There's enough amazingly choreographed fight scenes and hilarious comedic moments to entertain any lover of asian cinema.

Welcome to fun town.

The story of Shanghai Express is something of a beast, relying on the many fascinating characters to enrich the narrative and fill out the film's world. One of the main characters of the piece is Fong-Tin Ching, played by director and action super star Sammo Hung. Fong is a man without a home after being exiled from his village years ago, but he is determined to return and bring prosperity to the village and respect to his families name. He plots a grand scheme, which at first seems selfish not to mention reckless, that includes buying up a large hotel in the center of town and having his new found women friends sell their companionship to the local gentlemen. To top that all off, Fong adds a little bit of insanity to his plan by sabotaging a passenger train called the Millionaires Express while it's on its maiden voyage, so that it will stop at his rundown town and force the passengers to visit and hopefully help jump start the failing economy there. It's an absurd plot, but one that works within the confines of Shanghai Express' world.

One of the most conspicuous bank robbers in history.

What makes this seemingly simple story so confusing, is the inclusion of the multiple factions of characters who are plotting their own devious plans against the Millionaires Express passenger train or are caught up in the heist by just being in the general area of the train. We have two groups of train robbers, one of them being the bumbling head of security at Fong's home town, who along with his security crew set fire to a building in order to rob the bank across the street and then high tail it out of town. If that's not enough, there's the handful of wacky characters that are passengers on the train including a downright hilarious gentleman named Han, played by Richard Ng, who juggles the affections of his oversized wife and his sultry mistress with some side splitting results. Not to mention a badass group of Japanese samurai, a militia of horse-riding ass kickers including Cynthia Rothrock and Richard Norton, a mob like group of men sent to keep watch on the already mentioned group of samurai, a rival father and son pair of kung fu masters, and the new head of security and all around acrobatic marvel Biao Yuen as he tears up the screen. As insane as this all sounds, I've actually left out tons of other memorable characters. This movie is that crazy.

All aboard the fun train. Destination, fun town.

In the early beginnings of the film, as you can imagine when dealing with so much craziness, it can get rather confusing on what is really going on at the moment seeing that there are so many factions and groups vying against each other, but if you stick with the expansive story line you'll be happily rewarded when all the pieces begin falling into place. What really holds everything together is the inclusion of the train. Once we are introduced to the Millionaires Express, things begin to connect with the narrative and we're able to follow everyones intentions a bit easier. It's also at this moment that we really get to see the films comedic side thrive and boy is it a sight to behold.

Homeboy Biao Yuen in full effect. Word to your Sammo.

There's so many moments of comedic perfection in this film, that it would take a while for me to list all that the movie has to offer, but I'll skim over a few of my favorite scenes. As soon as we are introduced to the train and its passengers, we get a clever scene of two kung fu masters as they greet each other at the Millionaires Express' inaugural extravaganza. Both men have young sons near the same age and at first it seems like a happy meeting, but as the conversation moves on you can tell that there is a long standing rivalry between the two men that even trickles down to their offsprings.

This subplot really kicks into gear as they sit across from each other in one of the train cars. The comedy really hits a high point when every time the train enters a tunnel we hear the sound of someone getting hit and when the lights come back on, we see that one of the two pairs has a black eye. This sequence repeats itself a few times and results in a lock up between the two families. The pacing of the scene and overall functionality really works and I found myself laughing out loud at how fast the situation between the two men escalate.

Yeah that's right. He's about to jump off that damn building. Crazy!

One of my all time favorite comedic moments in the film actually comes in two separate scenes that play off of each other. Richard Ng's character named Han, is trying to balance his time between his wife and mistress throughout the entire run time of the film and this constant juggling act gives way to some rather memorable moments. During the train run, Han decides to visit his mistress, but in order to get around his wife's suspicions he pretends that he has to go to the bathroom. Now traditionally in an American film, the character would leave out the door and go visit his girlfriend, but in this Chinese flick, he vies to go out the window and climb up onto the roof of the train. Say what?

Now this isn't the funny part, at least the part that had me cracking up. As he's moving along the top of the train and making his way to the front of the cars he passes one of the mobsters as he is walking in the opposite way in order to keep an eye on the group of samurai. The mobster looks astonished as Han skips past him like he's taking a stroll down a sunlight field without a care in the world. It's priceless and Richard Ng and his mannerisms get all the credit in nailing the moment. He is a comedy genius and really gets to shine in this film. They also get to reenact this very same moment later on in the movie, when both men are walking across the roof of the hotel, both on their opposite ways to start some mischief.

Just out for a nice leisurely jog.

Frankly, I was surprised that with such an enormous cast filled with so many dynamic characters, that Sammo was able to bring them all together and makes something coherent out of it all. Especially that he was able to create something that flowed so nicely together. Half of the satisfaction of the comedic moments had to do with the realization that this was really working out and paying off for the viewing audience. I was happy just from the understanding that so many scenes just nailed what they were going for and that the over ambitious nature of Sammo's wacky comedic epic wasn't just all fluff and no substance. In reality I should have known better because Sammo has yet to let me down when it comes to his comedy, action, and martial arts, which brings me to the film's other amazing aspect.

I think we might need one more room.

These fights are stupendous. Expertly choreographed and painstakingly executed, there's so much detail in each fight scene that Sammo sets up. Having fine tuned his craft over a series of films, Sammo really is able to thrive in Shanghai Express, while both performing and directing in the intricate battles. Not only is the fight choreography exciting and breathtaking to see play out, but Sammo presents a great number of varying styles that spring to life up on the screen. There are so many experts in the field of martial arts in the movie and each of them are given their chance to thrive in their specific fields. The distinct feel of each international flavor shines for all to see, giving the film an epic scale to unfold unto the audience. It really is a who's who of asian and american cinema of that time and I'm so glad that Sammo went the extra mile to get everyone who was in this movie involved. It really is a credit to his popularity and genuine pull in the martial arts world.

Hey, high-five buddy!

On top of both the expert comedic moments and the extravagantly executed fight scenes in this film, we're also given some of the most impressive stunts that have ever graced the silver screen the world over. In fact there are two instances that occur that make you question your sanity after seeing these masterful daredevils in action. In one unbelievable scene, Hou Hsiao jumps from the rooftop of the hotel down onto a railing of a balcony and then down to the ground, all in one fluid movement that makes the death defying stunt seem like child's play. The scene is so quick and effortless on Hou Hsiao's part, that you quickly forget that he just plummeted almost fifty feet in a matter of seconds. Another spectacular stunt and the highlight of Shanghai Express, is Biao Yuen's awe inspiring flip from the top of a burning three story building. The stunt is by far one of the most demented things I've seen on film and the fact that he was able to get right up from that jump and run off in order to continue the scene is frankly nuts.

Sammo Hung vs. Cynthia Rothrock. Entertaining as hell.

Lastly, one thing I'd like to mention is the wondrous location of the village where most of the film takes place. From the statuesque and classical look of the hotel to the surrounding buildings, the decision and execution of creating this town is quite special. The detail is appreciated, for much of the difficult set pieces that occur throughout the majority of the movie takes place within this special location. Especially in the last battle filled moments of the film where all of the factions finally clash, forcing people to choose sides with unlikely foes in order to fend off the large army that has just captured the town and is holding the citizens captive. It's just a great location to see on film and it makes Shanghai Express that much more enjoyable and worthwhile to visit again and again.

The way every movie should end.

Shanghai Express is an epic comedic masterpiece that really never lets up throughout its entire runtime. There's so much to offer the viewer in this stupendous piece and so many detailed aspects of the film that include striking fight choreography, remarkable stunts, intriguing and entertaining characters, and breathtakingly interesting locations. I really haven't seen anything like this in Hong Kong cinema or in the world for that matter. Shanghai Express is definitely a unique beast that melds so many perfect elements and creates something so memorable that you really want to revisit the craziness of it all multiple times. I highly recommend this film to anyone who basically wants to see something special. This is cinema uniqueness at its finest. Check it out!

5 out of 5 stars         A Sammo Hung Masterpiece!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

MY FILM: Among the Fallen Synopsis

I've recently written up an official synopsis for my film Among the Fallen, as I get closer to finishing and then eventually releasing the movie. The summary gives a relatively straight forward idea of what the film is about and what my inspirations were in creating the final piece. I thought I'd just pass this along for those of you who are a little bit curious on what the film is about. Enjoy and there's more info and updates to come.


Among the Fallen is a compellingly deep film that delves into the unexplored inner workings of the human mind, by balancing both the physical and mental horrors that a person experiences when dealt a horrible loss of a loved one, and combines that with the gruesome visual decadence of a zombie film. Combining the reflective aesthetics of art-house cinema with the gory and primitive nature of zombie films, Among the Fallen brings about an original story of a grieving writer named Will Ashford, as he struggles to come to terms with the tragic death of his wife and unborn child.

Breaking off from the rest of the world, Will journeys to a secluded cabin to both finish his novel and cope with his depression. It is here that Will must battle his inner and outer demons as he descends into a downward spiral of haunting memories, ravenous creatures, and startling truths. With its violent nature and uncompromising portrayal of a man struggling to survive both bittersweet memories of what once was and an onslaught of mysterious watchers that begin appearing in the surrounding woods, Among the Fallen is a heavily atmospheric film drenched in zombie lore.

Gathering inspiration from such filmmakers as Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, and George Romero, the film combines a plethora of unconventional themes to create an unorthodox and surreal zombie story with a human soul and a lot of bite.

REVIEW: Zombie

Director: Lucio Fulci
Year 1979

Zombie, directed by the legendary italian filmmaker Lucio Fulci, is an absolutely perfect zombie film that has so much atmosphere and morbid overtones to it, that it constantly maintains a heavy sense of macabre like wonder that never seems to let up throughout its runtime. Lensed in 1979 and promoted as a sequel to George Romero's 1978 film Dawn of the Dead, which it never was intended to be according to the director, Zombie brings the decrepit genre back to its roots by bringing about a tale steeped in voodoo lore and exotic and beautiful caribbean locations. Fulci juxtaposes both the decaying masses of walking corpses against the idilic venues of shimmering crystal clear waters and sandy beaches to introduce the zombie genre back to its origins while at the same time reinventing the constructs of the reanimated mob and their inherent place in horror cinema.  

Ahoy there big fella!

The film follows a young women named Anne Bowles, played by the doe eyed Tisa Farrow, as she travels to the island of Matul in search of her missing father. After her fathers boat was found adrift off the coast of New York City, harboring a mysterious stowaway in the form of a bloated walking corpse, Anne decides to travel to the secluded island where her father was last reported working on his research.   Accompanying her on this journey is journalist Peter West, played by the legendary cult actor Ian McCulloch, whose been in many cult status horror films including another zombie opus, Zombie Holocaust. Rounding out the main players of this film is Dr. David Menard, a colleague of Anne's father
who is desperately trying to find a cure to the island of Matul's recent outbreak of walking corpses. Menard is played to perfection by character actor Richard Johnson, whose resume is immersed in genre classics and b-movie royalty such as Deadlier Than the Male, Some Girls Do, Beyond the Door, and The Island of the Fishmen, just to name a few.

Welcome aboard the zombie watching tour.

The ensemble cast does a great job of treating the material with respect and they never dumb it down because of its fantastical subject matter. Richard Johnson especially does a tremendous job in projecting the doom that has befallen the island. He is as serious as a heart attack in the majority of his scenes and he never plays down the seriousness of the situation. In fact the film opens up with a very dramatic scene where Johnson's character has to callously put down a reanimated corpse as it slowly tries to rise from its covers. This simple scene and its colossal impact in the opening moments of the film, carries on throughout the movie and is reenforced by Johnson's impeccable pull as an established actor.

Matul calling Gwadelupa one. Get me off this damn island!

Another scene that establishes the overall tone of the film and sets us off on the right note, occurs right after Richard Johnson's zombie style execution and presents us with the odd mystery of finding an abandoned boat with a grotesque zombie onboard. The pacing and framing of the introduction of what these undead creatures will look like in the film, is presented masterfully by Fulci. He leads us into the narrow and cramped cabin of the sailboat, focusing on the rotted meat and maggot infested leftovers of an unfinished feast, only to jolt us into the realization that we are indeed the main course when the lumbering zombie enters the frame and takes a chunk out of a New York City police officer. It's disgusting, grotesque, and absolutely perfect in its realization. When I first saw this film years ago, this scene completely sold me on whether Fulci had what it took to take on George Romero for the zombie crown. I still love watching that lumbering slab of rotting flesh as it emerges from the cabin doors and slowly begins to approach the remaining officer, with the idea of a second main course lambasted on its lifeless expression.

A perfect place for a zombie uprising.

The zombies really are just top notch in this film. Fulci really wanted to go for that decayed and diseased look, supporting that wholly sound idea that these were in fact dead hollowed out shells of human flesh bounded by their only desire to consume the living. The practical effects that they applied to the zombies is really sickening, yet simplistic. This combined with slow and lifeless movements of the actors resulted in some strikingly effective moments. The most memorable of these moments occurs when a single zombie is spotted walking down the middle of a deserted dirt road in between rows of abandoned huts that looked as war worn as the creature itself. It slowly walks towards the camera and Fulci just revels in the hideous glory of it all as we get an up close and personal look at this deformed being. Its face, a contrasting mirror of life and death, as portions of its left facade struggle to stay together while dangling flesh and melted features are exposed to the viewing world in all its repugnant glory. This scene is superbly demented and wholly entertaining, displaying one of the most convincing zombies that ever graced the silver screen in my opinion.

I think she gets the point.

Of course it wouldn't be a Lucio Fulci movie without a heavy dose of gore accompanied by the vivid executions of said gore. With Zombie, we are given one of his most memorable gore filled moments when Dr. Menard's wife is attacked by a zombie in her home. The creature slowly drives her face towards a shattered wooden splinter in uncompromising detail as we're granted a front row seat on what it looks like to have the worlds worst splinter in one of the most sensitive parts of the human body. Now I wouldn't say that the overall look of the effect is realistic, but damn is it close. It's excruciating to watch play out and even though the special effects don't sell the move to its fullest, you can't deny the overall disgust you feel after seeing an eyeball cave in under the pressure of such tense and expertly manipulated editing that Fulci proudly displays in the scene. He is definitely the master of gore and I love to see his maniacal creativity up on the screen in any way, shape, or form.

Your face looks like an old catcher's mitt. Look away, I'm hideous!

The music and soundscapes of Zombie also plays a big part in providing the overall atmosphere of the film. From the cheery Caribbean synthesized tunes playing in the beginning half of the main character's journey to Matul, to the use of tribal drums that frequent the later portions of the movie, the musical palate is rich with sounds that only serve to enhance the already abundant atmosphere that lingers in this film like the stench of a walking corpse. What is most commendable in the choice of its sound landscape is the decision to keep it simple and integrated within the story. You'd be hard pressed to recall a single specific ambient track during the second half of the film, because it is so embedded within what is being displayed on the screen. It often mimics the movements of its dilapidated and soulless creatures, cueing the moans and relying on a more obscure soundscape that emphasis the macabre aspects of dealing with death and the undying. It's almost naturalistic in its abstractness and pretty much lays out what would be the blueprints for any subsequent zombie film to come out in the next ten to twenty years.

The entire cast was disgusted over the working conditions.

Of course I can't forget the amazing contributions of italian composer Fabio Frizzi to the memorable soundtrack to Zombie. As far as I'm concerned, Frizzi is Zombie. He is that much needed ingredient that specifically lifts this film up into a whole other level. His work on Zombie is so effective that you can't even listen to the soundtrack without mentally picturing the film and all its disturbing imagery. Fabio Frizzi captures the raw nature of the entire film and manipulates it into a series of synth scores that bring the visual impact of the film to stark life. A regular collaborator of Fulci's, Frizzi has stacked up a rather impressive resume with such classic films as Four of the Apocalypse, The Psychic, City of the Living Dead, The Beyond, and Manhattan Baby. The distinct flavor that he brings to each production is unmatched and with Zombie, he really has constructed a masterpiece of dread and deathly infused thematic tones. I really can't say enough on how much his work has added to the feel of Fulci's movies and he deserves as much credit as the director in bringing these films to the cult statuses that they have inherited.

Just another one of those lazy sunday afternoons on Matul.

When it comes to the pivotal look of a zombie film, Zombie is at the top of the list. It has everything that I'd ever want in a zombie movie from its exotic Caribbean locations, run down primitive villages, and its overabundance of zombie mobs as they creep across the frame. The world feels lived in and at the same time void of life, which is a really hard thing to accomplish and balance out throughout an entire run time, but Fulci was able to make it look seamless. Every aspect of the film seems dingy and worn and the color palate relies heavily on a subdued brownish tone that ages the primary presence of this cinematic masterpiece. What this achieves in doing is it combines the idea of the decaying human body of the zombies and relates that to the cinematography of the film giving off a depressing and gloomy representation of the subject matter itself. The concept plays off well and integrates perfectly.

In your face zombie scum!

Out of all of Lucio Fulci's many accomplished horror films, I'd say that Zombie is one of my all time favorites tied only with The Beyond. He creates such a powerful atmosphere in his films that it really grabs a hold of you and sets you within these otherworldly realms of unbelievable nightmares. With tension as thick as a haze filled foggy landscape, Fulci unabashedly leans more towards his surreal and accomplished imagery then with his coherent storytelling, but that's what makes his films so original. There's nothing out there that even comes close to his own unique style of filmmaking. I would say that Zombie is one of his most competent accomplishments, narratively speaking, compared to his long list of films. It is a simple story, but ingrained with the bizarre thematic undertones that make his films so enjoyable to watch. He has an eye for detail in both the look and feel of the worlds he creates and Zombie is the cream of the crop when it comes to his uncompromising vision of a zombie apocalypse.

Oh Shit! There goes the neighborhood.

Zombie is a masterpiece of the zombie genre and one of Fulci's highest accomplishments in his diverse cannon of films. Hitting every essential note needed in a zombie film, the movie has a sense of dread that seeps into every flesh ripped wound that exposes itself unto the viewer. Its ghastly portrayal of the very idea of a walking corpse, is brought to the screen so vividly and believably that this surely must be the highest of standards that all zombie films must strive to reach for.

Given the seriousness of the overall production from the actors, composers, and all that were involved in the creation of this epic, you really have to hand it to them. They created a film that wholly embodies the spirit and animalistic nature of rotting corpses as they hunger for the warm flesh of the living. I highly recommend this film to any and all zombie movie lovers, be it newcomers or hardened veterans. This is a zombie film that stands high above the rest as a crowning example on how these gruesome tales should be told.

5 out of 5 stars      Lucio Fulci's Zombie Masterpiece!