Sunday, July 29, 2012

Matango- Attack Of The Mushroom People (1963)

A group of seven pleasure seekers take a trip on board a sailing yacht to escape the noise and craziness of Tokyo for a while. The group consists of the yacht owner, a writer, a famous singer, a young female student and a sailor and captain. A violent storm threatens to sink the boat  and after a night of trying to weather it the boat is left badly damaged with no sails or rudders and a fried radio. After several days adrift at sea the crew lands on a seemingly deserted island that is lush with mushroom growth. While searching the island for possible inhabitants and food the group sees a small pond that seems to be man made to catch rain water and a beached shipwreck. The group finds the ship tattered and weathered and covered in mold and fungus, with signs of radiation testing. With the ship as their only shelter, and supplying their only source of food in a couple cases of canned goods, the group cleans the fungus and decides to live there until they can fix the yacht and attempt to get rescued.

Shortly after moving in to the boat the group is attacked by a mysterious being but they are unable to capture him before it flees. The group becomes increasingly on edge with their situation. Hunger, isolation and several of the men fighting over the women leave the group at odds with each other. As alliances are made and plans hatched the captain of the yacht leaves with the slightly repaired ship to try to reach help. Days later the ship returns to shore abandoned with a note written on the wall informing whoever was to find it proclaiming the deaths of the group and the captain's own inability to reach help and his demise at sea. The group begins to break down totally at this point and some run off into the mushroom forest and begin to eat the mushrooms which were left alone due to the threat of being poisonous. The addiction of the mushrooms consumes the group and the true horror, and beauty of the island is revealed.

MATANGO is a finely crafted piece of fantasy. Director Ishiro Honda, best known for creating and directing Gojira (Godzilla), shows his talents again here with a tense and surreal experience. What begins as the classic tale of survival that covers many human conditions such as greed, the search for freedom and happiness, jealousy and love and lust turns into a dreamlike, monster filled nightmare that touches on the deepest of human emotions and desires. The acting from the entire cast is on par with each actor playing their roles fine. There is little doubt in my mind that the shipwrecked plot with this group of characters had a huge influence on the character ensemble for Gilligan's Island. The special effects and makeup for the Mushroom People is really good and the creatures have a great, true fungal look to them. I think The Toxic Avenger may owe a small debt of gratitude to one of the designs. My biggest problem with MATANGO is that the real selling point is the mushrooms and how long it took for them to come in to play in the film. The payoff is great when it happens I just wished they had introduced the effects of consuming the 'shrooms earlier and given us a bit more of them.

All in all, Toho has another cult classic with MATANGO that is much more than a "man in rubber suit" type of monster movie. The themes touched on involving the ultimate search for serenity give the film a much deeper and personal meaning than most fantasy movies can even dream of. There is a significant cultural impact that reached deep with the Japanese community at it's time of release as it was almost banned due to a resemblance in the design of the makeup to the victims of the Atomic Bomb in WWII. I can only see this film getting better with subsequent viewings and I recommend it to anyone looking for a visually entertaining and thought provoking piece of fantasy horror.


Friday, July 20, 2012

TWINS OF EVIL (Blu-Ray Review)

Directed By: John Hough
Written By: Tudor Gates
Starring: Peter Cushing, Damien Thomas, Madeleine Collinson, Mary Collinson
Color/87 Minutes/Not Rated

The Film
By 1971 Hammer had become a huge name in the world of horror and were arguably the most important studio for our beloved genre at the time. They had much success with their Dracula and Frankenstein franchises and launched the career of Christopher Lee to international fame while giving veteran actor Peter Cushing perhaps his most notable roles. TWINS OF EVIL is another great piece of gothic horror from the British film company.

Frieda and Maria (Playboy centerfolds Madeleine and Mary Collinson) are twin girls sent to live in the village of Karnstein with their uncle Gustav Weil (Cushing) after the death of their parents. They find Karnstein is far different from their home of Venice in how uptight conservative and strictly puritanical it is. Weil is the leader of a local witch hunting group called "The Brotherhood" who is well known around the area for hunting down young women and burning them at the stake for their pact with Satan, which they usually have no proof of. Weil is also at odds with Count Karnstein, a sadistic man who secretly practices black magic and seeks the darker pleasures that only the devil can offer.

After growing tired of the superstitious, uptight nature of her uncle Frieda pays a visit to the Count and falls prey to him and his vampire ways. Frieda now tries to keep her condition secret from her sister and uncle so she can continue to see her lover and stay free of her uncle's lynch mob. The Count has a plan to switch the girls in order to allow Freida to live freely as her more innocent sister and have Maria burned at the stake. A local musician named Anton who studies the history of superstition uncovers the diabolical plan and gets The Brotherhood on his side to save Maria and take down the vampire lovers.

TWINS OF EVIL was directed by John Hough who is probably best known as director of the classic exploitation film Dirty Mary Crazy Larry. This was only Hough's second feature film before he went on to a very busy career during he 70s and 80s and continuing even to today as a producer. Hough skillfully handles the characters, especially Cushing's Gustav Weil who will do a complete 180 on you and it is totally believable with Hough's direction. Aside from Cushing the acting is all very good, never being too hammy which many genre films of this era can be guilty of. Even our twins who are realistically there as gorgeous eye candy for the most part play their respective roles with grace and play very well off of each other. David Warbeck (Fulci's The Beyond) plays the musician Anton with a great sense of urgency and it works out well.While being rooted in the gothic horror that Hammer is best known for, TWINS OF EVIL also reaches a deeper level with it's work within the witch-hunting area and the obvious questions it raises towards how the church handles certain situations. This is very reminiscent of the excellent Witchfinder General aka The Conqueror Worm. The most surprising thing about this film is how the finale really ramps up the violence and gore factor. Hough really made our lynch mob scene violent and awesome.

The Video
Synapse Films releases TWINS OF EVIL on Blu-Ray in beautiful 1080p High-Def. The original aspect ration of 1.66:1 is maintained and it looks phenomenal. Skin tones look lively (or... undead? ha!) and natural while the blood reds pop off the screen. The blacks are deep and dark and you can feel the murkiness of the European countryside and the dampness of the Count's castle. Simply an outstanding transfer.

Please note that screen grabs are from the DVD copy of the film. 

The Audio
The DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono track is a pleasure to listen to. Dialogue levels never have to compete with Harry Robertson's excellent score. No hissing, crackling or any other noise debris to report. There are English subtitles available. 

The Extras
The Flesh And The Fury: X-Posing Twins Of Evil - This feature length documentary chronicles the history of Hammer all the way back to Sheridan Le Fanu's story of Carmilla up to the production of  TWINS OF EVIL which owes a certain bit of gratitude to the "original lesbian vampire story". Clocking in only a couple of minutes shorter than the film itself, this is chock full of information and history from historians and cast and crew. We'd be better off if every film released on disc had this sort of supplement.

The Props That Hammer Built: The Kinsey Collection - Author and Hammer historian Wayne Kinsey gives us a tour of his collection of props from various Hammer films, which of course is filled with all sorts of information on the pieces and films they come from. This is a very cool featurette that all of us geeks will enjoy and make us all jealous. 
Deleted Scene

Isolated Music and Effects Track 
Theatrical Trailer
TV Spots
Motion Still Gallery
DVD Version of the Film

The Bottom Line
A year and a half after I learned of it's planned release I finally get to see the final product. Yes, I've been waiting for TWINS OF EVIL on Blu-Ray since December of 2010 and I have to say that Synapse Films not only made the wait worth it, they blew my expectations out of the water. The documentary alone is worth the price of admission, and it's a special feature! This is a packed release of an expertly restored film and I have no doubt it will be among my favorite releases of 2012. 

TWINS OF EVIL is available HERE

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Directed By: Koyu Ohara
Written By: Koyu Ohara, Akira Momoi
Starring: Kozue Hitomi, Arikawa Mihoko, Yoshii Akiko
Color/70 Minutes/Not Rated

The Film
In this follow up to the previously reviewed True Story Of A Woman In Jail: Sex Hell, Mayumi (our resident badass from the first) is released from solitary confinement and housed in a cell where the other inmates have decided to bully a new, shy girl. Mayumi doesn't tolerate it and stands up against the girls which sets up a series of fights, lesbian sex scenes and torture throughout the movie. At various points some of the guards get in on the nastiness and the Yakuza come in to play with their plots and schemes. All of which also piss off Mayumi and send her in to a violent streak. It all leads to the boiling point of the entire prison losing it's collective cool in the finale. 

There isn't much depth to the plot, just enough to advance the story so that it makes at least a little bit of sense. That isn't to say this is a bad film, director Koyu Ohara, who directed all 3 parts of this series, uses a lot of style and flare. There are more than a few times it seems obvious he was influenced by the Female Convict Scorpion films of 1972 and '73. While Ohara doesn't achieve the level of artistry present in those cult classics, he is able to make good use of the dingy, dark interiors of the prison with some lively direction. The perversity on display in TRUE STORY OF A WOMAN IN JAIL: CONTINUES is astounding, with a bit of a... surprise... for you at one point. If you are a fan of the Women-In-Prison genre this is something you will want to check out. 


The Video
The DVD from Impulse Pictures boasts an anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) transfer that looks very nice. Flesh tones look natural and warm while reds really pop. The brighter scenes along city streets are quite striking. 


The Audio
The Japanese Mono 2.0 track sounds fine and is free of any outside disturbances like hissing and crackling. The optional English subtitles (newly translated) are spot in in their delivery.

The Extras
You know what this part will say by now, don't you? Only liner notes from Jasper Sharp are included as an extra but at this point you could get a question about the Nikkatsu studio on Final Jeopardy and you'd probably get it right. They're that good.

The Bottom Line
Spine #6 in the Nikkatsu Erotic Thriller line from Impulse Pictures is another winner. What it lacks in depth of plot it makes up for in cruel, cruel, entertainment. This is deserving of a spot on your shelf right along with spines 1-5.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012


 Directed By: Naosuke Kurosawa
Written By: Chiho Katsura
Starring: Erina Miyai, Youko Azusa, Yuuko Ohzaki

The Film
Saeko is a woman with a somewhat mysterious past. After her boyfriend leaves for a trip to "win and come in first place" she is attacked in a barren field by a man in a black mask and black gloves with a rock. She is raped in the field but her life is spared. Shortly after she decides to pay a visit to a man from her past who she recently ran in to and that gave her a key to his apartment in the Kibougahara building. Intending to simply return the key, the couple ends up having sex and she stays with the man. Shortly after a string of incredibly gruesome and violent murders befall the residents of the building. Saeko has suspicions on who the murderer may be but with a madman on the loose who rapes, beats and burns victims alive will she be able to stay alive long enough to figure it out?

ZOOM IN: SEX APARTMENTS caught me totally off guard. The artwork and title revealed nothing of what this film ended up being. Director Naosuke Kurosawa makes his debut here and shows that he is probably too talented to be making the Nikkatsu porno films that really don't require the skill or style on display here. What could have easily been a bland film about a murderer filled with sex is a pleasant surprise filled with surrealism. Kurosawa is an obvious horror fan and if the heart thumping soundtrack, and posters from Hammer horror films around the apartments don't tell you that than the obvious homages and influences from the Giallo film and Dario Argento certainly will. The black gloved, sex crazed maniac is a staple of many of the Italian thrillers that Argento helped make famous a decade before this film and with very similar violence and style. Kurosawa gives such a dream like (or nightmare) feeling to much of the violence within the film that you are able to look passed the disgust you may very well be feeling in your gut and appreciate it as something more. From the chase scene where the passing apartments black out in a sign of foreshadowing to the finale, the entire film could be viewed as images inside a crazy person's head. 

 ZOOM IN: SEX APARTMENTS is 68 minutes of sheer depravity and pure nastiness, and I love it. The obvious Giallo homages, that are well done, pull at my heart strings as they are among my favorite films. The stylish direction, surrealism about the whole thing and attractive naked women make this one a winner.

The Video 
The anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) transfer from Impulse Pictures is crisp and clean and generally looks solid. There are plenty of vibrant colors on display from blood reds to bright fire orange, which really pop. The English subtitles are easy to read and presented nicely. A nice presentation overall. 

The Audio
The Japanese 2.0 Mono track, available with or without the English subs, is free of any hiss, crackling or pops. The levels are mixed nicely so you won't have to go reaching for the remote while watching. 

The Extras
The only extras are a theatrical trailer for the film and liner notes from Jasper Sharp. As I've said before (and will probably say again) the liner notes are simply fantastic and provide a ton of insight into these films in just a couple of pages. 

The Bottom Line
If I had to file a complaint with this one it is that ZOOM IN: SEX APARTMENTS is just too short. That isn't a complaint I've registered with any of the other Nikkastu Roman films released in this series of films that all have rather short runtimes but this one could have used another ten to fifteen minutes to really get a bit more in depth with the story. As it is, the film works and it is a minor complaint. The 5th entry into the series by Impulse Pictures is without a doubt my favorite to date.

ZOOM IN: SEX APARTMENTS is available to order HERE