Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl (2009)

Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl is another wacky, over-the-top and ultra-gory film from filmmakers Yoshihiro Nishimura (Tokyo Gore Police, Meatball Machine) and Naoyuki Tomomatsu (Zombie Self-Defense Force, Stacy). If you are a fan of zany, weird and off-kilter horror films drenched in cartoonish gore, Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl might be right up your alley!

Monami (Yukie Kawamura) is just your basic love-struck high-schooler mooning over the dreamy Mizushima (Takumi Saitô). She professes her love with a chocolate candy she presents him on Valentine’s Day, but when Mizushima bites into it he discovers it is filled with blood…Monami’s blood. Turns out she is really a vampire and wants to turn him so they can spend the rest of their long lives together. However, Mizushima’s current girlfriend Keiko (Eri Otoguro) doesn’t take the news too kindly…but after she confronts Monami she meets a bloody end (but perhaps not in the way you would expect). However, she is soon resurrected by her mad scientist father, who patches her together with body parts from her schoolmates and resurrects her as Frankenstein Girl. Frankenstein Girl then faces off against Vampire Girl in the final battle for Mizushima’s heart.

Ok, how can you go wrong with gore so over-the-top it’s comical, butt-kicking chicks, weird Japanese fashion, melodramatic high school angst, a Dr. Frankenstein mad scientist, vampires, geisha Frankenstein monsters, and some of the most seriously disturbing high school clubs this side of Sweet Valley High? You can’t, that’s how! Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl is a seriously strange film, but that’s why I liked it so much!

The majority of the film deals with the love triangle between Monami, Mizushima and Keiko in the setting of their high school. During this part of the film we meet the main characters’ classmates, including a group of Japanese girls pretending to be black (complete with extreme caricatures/stereotypes like big lips, Afros, gold chains, etc.) who run a black power club and another group of girls who belong to the wrist-cutting club. Both of these clubs and their members were so over-the-top that you just can’t help but laugh! It also pokes fun at stereotypical Japanese schoolgirl and gothic Lolita fashions.  Then there is Keiko’s dad, who at first appears to be a mild-mannered science teacher and assistant principal…however, it is revealed later that he is a cackling mad scientist who is killing off students to try to bring them back to life, Frankenstein-style. He even has a wacky costume complete with traditional Japanese robes, long white wig and Kabuki makeup. Again, another outrageous character you can’t help but laugh at.

The film carries this comical tone throughout, even during the gory fight scenes. The opening scene alone, where Monami battles three Frankenstein monster-like girls, sets the tone for the rest of the film because it is just so gosh darn goofy! Monami strips the skin off the girls’ faces and in the midst of it raining blood she neatly stacks the clacking skulls one on top of the other. The rest of the gore is equally graphic, but still humorous. And you can’t beat the final battle that occurs on top of a fake Eiffel Tower!

My one gripe is that the film focuses too much on the teenage angst and drama (even if it is in a satirical, humorous way) and we don’t get to see the Vampire Girl and Frankenstein Girl battle until the very end. Keiko doesn’t even turn into Frankenstein Girl until nearly the end, which is kind of a let down since this means Frankenstein Girl doesn’t get much screen time. And for being a vampire, Monami doesn’t spill that much blood with her fangs (no attacks on fellow classmates, for example), not to mention that she can walk in the sun (though too much exposure makes her woozy).

Despite these quibbles, I had a very fun time with Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl. While it is not as shocking as other extreme Asian films, its silliness definitely won me over. And despite its ridiculous nature, the film spills quite a bit of grue. If you are a fan of bizarre and outlandish cinema, I highly encourage you to check out Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl!

Available from Amazon

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Absentia (2011)

According to Wikipedia, “Death in absentia (or presumption of death) is a legal declaration that a person is deceased in the absence of remains (e.g., a corpse or skeleton) attributable to that person. Such a declaration is typically made when a person has been missing for an extended period of time without any evidence that the person is still alive.”

Furthermore, in the United States, “The law calls people who disappear ‘missing’ or ‘absent’. There are several criteria for declaring someone dead by assumption. One, if he/she has been missing from his/her home or usual residence for a period of seven years (amount of years will vary state to state); or such absence has been continuous without explanation, or when those persons most likely to hear from him/her have heard nothing; and the missing person cannot be located by inquiry and by diligent search.”

The film Absentia bases its plot on this and tells the story of Tricia, whose husband has been missing for seven years. Tricia is now pregnant and trying to move on from her missing husband and is going through the process to legally declare him “dead in absentia”. Her younger sister Callie comes to stay with her to help her move on, but is drawn to an ominous tunnel near Tricia’s home. While Tricia is haunted by terrifying visions of her presumed dead husband, Callie begins to research the tunnel and comes to believe it might be linked to Tricia’s husband’s disappearance, as well as other missing persons cases in the area. Could the tunnel, or whatever inhabits it, have something to do with all the disappearances? If so, who or what is making people disappear? Can Callie and Tricia solve the mystery before they too go missing?

Absentia had an intriguing premise, but with most independent productions I was apprehensive that its low budget would hinder it in some way, whether it was bad acting, poor quality, bad direction and so on. However, I first noticed that the film was of an exceptional quality, with high production values. Not only that, but I could immediately tell that the direction and cinematography were top notch. Definitely a good sign for a horror movie, independent or not.

I was hopeful that the acting would be equally impressive, and again I was surprised. The acting was excellent and it was refreshing to see such strong female leads in a horror film. Actors Courtney Bell (“Tricia”) and Katie Parker (“Callie”) did a fantastic job with their characters. They were very believable as sisters and really pulled off the complicated emotions stemming from the stressful situations their characters were put through. Even the secondary characters, including some detectives (one who has a close relationship with Tricia), the brief (but powerful) appearances by Tricia’s husband and some others, including a victim played by none other than Doug Jones (Abe Sapien from the Hellboy flicks and tons of other genre films), gave very effective performances.

The film Absentia bases its plot on this to craft an unsettling, intelligent and unique horror film. It isn’t your usual horror film, but is far more subtle and character-driven. The “evil” within the tunnel is never explicitly shown, which actually works in favor of the film’s limited budget. One of the most effective scenes involves Callie in the bathroom brushing her teeth when she realizes something might be behind the shower curtain. Though we never really see anything, this scene was INTENSE! The horror is more implied than explicit, with the shower curtain slightly fluttering and the odd noise or so. The fear stems from the unknown, and not knowing what might be lurking behind the shower curtain sent shivers up my spine!

The story is a very slow-burn, and while I appreciated the character-development I do wish the film had gotten to the “good stuff” a little sooner. In the first hour the creepy moments are too far and in-between and I really wish more time had been spent on the history of the tunnel and the disappearances surrounding it. The tone also felt more melancholy and more like a drama rather than a horror film. The droning score could have had something to do with this, and I felt the score was used far too much and actually took away from the tension and scares of the film.

However, Absentia was an engrossing film that immediately drew me in and kept me engaged through to the downbeat ending. While it has room for improvement, it is definitely an example of a well-crafted, intelligent horror film and really shows that if independent filmmakers work within their budgetary constraints they can create an excellent horror film.

Buy it on Amazon!

Visit the film’s official site and Facebook!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Night of the Punks (2010)

Small town punk rockers The Brain Deads have their first out of town gig. But there are a few problems: The venue is totally deserted, the promoter is a creep, their bass player has gone missing, and the only kids in the audience are bloodthirsty monsters from hell. It’s gonna take a lot more than a few power chords and teenage angst to survive this night.

Night of the Punks is a sweet little slice of short film heaven packed full of gore, goo and groovy tunes! This is one of the most fun short films I’ve seen recently and it is a really fun throwback to films like Return of the Living Dead and Night of the Demons. It has such a manic, gleeful tone and perfectly balances horror and comedy. With a run-time under 20 minutes, the only flaw of this film is that it is not feature-length, because I would have loved to see the cast of lovable losers face off against more demons while trading witty lines.

Everything about this film was enjoyable, from the energetic punk soundtrack to the colorful characters to the direction to the gory effects to the overall high production value!! Director Dan Riesser (who also produced, edited and co-wrote the film) has created an instant cult classic with Night of the Punks. His direction really brought the story, written by himself and Mike L. Kinshella (who plays the lead singer “Spike” in the short and in real life is the singer for the horror punk band Murderland), to raucous life.

The cast also does a wonderful job with their characters and there wasn’t a bad performance in the bunch! I especially enjoyed Nick Mundy, who plays “Hooch”, the drummer, Luke Edwards as “Kenny” the guitarist and our underdog hero, and Aubrey Wood, who plays the band’s merch girl “Sarah”. Everyone else was wonderful as well, from the sleazy promoter played by Dominic Deleo to the band’s lead singer (Mike L. Kinshella) and bassist (John Bobek) to the actors that portrayed the gooey demons.

The gore displayed was also impressive, with the special effects and makeup design being done by Dizzworks Designs. You get your usual blood and guts, but there is also a gruesome face peel that was extremely well done! I also liked the demons’ makeup design, which makes them look like they’ve got a gangrenous skin condition. And their gooey green bodily fluids were pretty icky as well (I mean that as a complement, ya hear?).

Plus, the script is peppered with hilarious lines riffing on everything from the music industry to horror. Quips come fast and furious, and it’s worth a re-watch just to chuckle over the hilarious one-liners, such as:

Hooch: How do you stop a f*cking demon?
Sarah: I dunno Hooch, you’re the one who listens to Misfits!

Night of the Punks is an ode to ‘80s horror films filled with musical mayhem, demonic punks, gooey gore, colorful dialogue – all happening at a fast and furious pace. If there is one short film you see this year, make it Night of the Punks!

P.S. Word on the street is that the filmmakers are attempting to make a feature-length version of this film. My fingers are crossed that this happens!

Check out the film’s official site!
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