DVD Reviews For 9/29: Gee, Halloween Must Be Near
By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 09/29/06 14:13:01
In which your faithful critic looks at the DVD debut of one of the most disturbing and depraved films ever made--no, not "The Lake House"
When Showtime announced last fall that it would not be airing “Imprint,” an episode of their “Masters of Horror” anthology series directed by Takashi Miike, the Japanese cult filmmaker who made his name with such brutal works as “Audition,” “Ichi the Killer” and the “Dead or Alive” series, there were cries of outrage on the Internet from genre fans who accused the network of cowardice and censorship in their refusal to show the episode in America. My personal feeling was that it was basically a publicity stunt meant to stoke interest in a series that hadn’t quite lived up to audience expectations (thanks to more than a few uneven episodes) and in the eventual DVD releases of the entire series, including Miike’s contribution. Now that I have finally seen “Imprint” in its full uncut glory, I can assure you that the hype about it being too much for most audiences is not just a lot of hot air meant to prop up a less-than-successful enterprise. This is one of the ickiest things that I have ever seen in my life and I am not surprised in the least bit that Showtime would choose not to air it–what surprises me is that they bothered to approve material this disturbing and audacious for production in the first place. <
Set in 19th-century Japan, “Imprint” stars Billy Drago (still best known for being the guy that Kevin Costner tossed off the roof at the end of “The Untouchables”) as Christopher, an American journalist who has been obsessively searching for Komomo (Michie), the sweet prostitute whom he left years earlier with a promise that he would one day return to her. As the story opens, he believes that he has tracked her down to a remote island governed by mysterious forces and filled with hookers and their creepy customers. When he arrives, she is no longer there and he instead spends the evening with a deformed courtesan (Youki Kudoh) who offers to tell him the tragic story of what happened to Komomo–a lurid tale of cruelty, jealousy and a missing jade ring–as well as the details of her own life.
I will not go into the details of the tales that she relates–partly because to do so would ruin many of the surprises of Daisuke Tungen’s screenplay and partly because I don’t know how to describe the events in a way that could pass muster with even the loose-to-nonexistent standards of this column. Suffice it to say, Miike has chosen to tell a story in which virtually every major taboo that one could think of is portrayed in the most graphic and brutal manner possible. I am not just saying this to sound hip–I have seen more than my fair share of savage cinema over the years and even I found myself recoiling at some of the imagery presented here. (This is the kind of film that feature an extended sequence of torture-by-needles and it isn’t even close to being the most off-putting moment.)
The strange thing is that, unlike many of Miike’s previous forays into shock cinema, the edgy material on display here comes across as more as an integral part of the story (as it did in his best work, the truly unnerving “Audition”) and not just as a cheap way to attract attention from audiences who still mistake buckets of blood for truly transgressive cinema. Although “Imprint” is hardly perfect–it takes a while for the story to kick into gear and Drago’s performance is fairly dreadful–it is a truly unnerving work that not only lives up to the high expectations brought about by its backstory, it actually exceeds them. That said, if you are even the least bit squeamish about anything, you should probably give this one a wide berth because just when you think it can’t get any more depraved and disgusting, it figures out a way to do just that.<
Like the other DVD’s of the “Masters of Horror” episodes, “Imprint” is loaded with bonus features. Although Miike doesn’t provide an audio commentary–those duties are passed on to Miike experts Chris D. and Wyatt Doyle–he does sit down for an extended interview, ironically titled “I Am The Film Director of Love and Freedom.” In addition, there are interviews with the cast and crew, a feature on the elaborate special effects and make-up seen in the film, a still gallery and, for those with DVD-ROM capabilities, a copy of the screenplay.
Written by Daisuke Tengan. Directed by Takashi Miike. Starring Youki Kudoh, Michie, Toshie Negishie and Billy Drago. 2005. 63 minutes. Unrated. An Anchor Bay Home Entertainment release. $16.95.
NEW AND NOTABLE
BEOWULF & GRENDEL (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $29.98): Despite an abundance of incompetently staged fight sequences, slumming actors (including Stellan Skarsgard and Sarah Polley) and hilariously awful dialogue (“Beowulf–it’s a fucking troll!”), this camp classic adaptation of the legendary epic poem wasn’t directed by Uwe Boll. Instead, it was helmed by the usually reliable Sturla Gunnarsson, who will presumably be challenging his critics to a boxing match any day now.
CHAOS (Razor Video. $24.99): Simply one of the worst horror movies ever made, this deeply cynical and misanthropic exercise in sadism is nothing more than a blatant rip-off (right down to the “It’s Only a Movie” tag line) of Wes Craven’s “Last House on the Left” (although the filmmakers hilariously still insist that it is an original work) that offers nothing new other than an extended scene of female genital mutilation. One deluded critic went so far as to describe this film as the first real post-9/11 horror film–a claim that would be difficult to swallow even if it had been release on Sept 12, 2001.
CURIOUS GEORGE (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): Although very small children might enjoy this fairly lifeless film version of the adventures of everyone’s favorite inquisitive monkey, parents would be far better off leaving it on the shelf and using the money to buy some of the original books instead.
THE DEAD ZONE–SPECIAL COLLECTORS EDITION (Paramount Home Video. $14.99): While this may well be the closest thing to a conventional motion picture that director David Cronenberg has ever made, this 1983 film, an adaptation of the Stephen King best-seller about an ordinary schoolteacher who wakes up from a five-year coma with the power to see the future of anyone he touches, is still a haunting and worthy work thanks to Cronenberg’s steady directorial hand, a touching and restrained performance by Christopher Walken in the lead and a full-throttle supporting turn from Martin Sheen as the psycho politician who may one day destroy the world. Warning: If you own the “SNL-Best of Christopher Walken” DVD, do not attempt to watch this film after seeing the “Ed Glommer–Trivial Psychic” sketch.
DOWN IN THE VALLEY (Thinkfilm. $27.99): A number of strong performances–especially by Edward Norton as a seemingly amiable modern-day cowboy and Evan Rachel Wood as the young girl he becomes obsessed with–are fatally undone by a film that starts off strong but eventually collapses under the weight of one of the silliest final acts to come along in a long time.
DUST DEVIL (Subversive Video. $29.98): Barely released in 1992, and only then in a version that was radically recut by the producers, Richard Stanley’s intriguing horror fable, loosely based on a Nambian folk legend about a shape-shifting killer who preys on those who have already lost all hope, gets its due at last in this mammoth 5-disc set, containing the director’s preferred version of the film, an extended work-print version, a CD of the soundtrack and a trio of documentaries made by Stanley.
THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): Yes, this in-name-only sequel to the drag-racing franchise, this time set in Japan and featuring the art of “drifting” (i.e. skidding your car around as if you were driving in Wisconsin in January) is as silly as silly can be. That said, it is an undeniably amusing chunk of cheese that is far more entertaining than it has any right to be.
FRANKENSTEIN (Universal Home Entertainment. $26.98): Yet another DVD version of the legendary 1931 adaptation of the Mary Shelly horror masterpiece that made Boris Karloff a star. This time around, the 2-disc set features a newly restored picture, a commentary track from scholar Christopher Frayling and a documentary on the horror legacy of Universal Pictures hosted by Kenneth Branagh as well as all the extras from the previous editions. “Dracula” (Universal Home Entertainment. $26.98) also gets a similar revamp this week but, unlike “Frankenstein,” this is a title that, aside from the classic performance from Bela Lugosi in the title role, has not really stood the test of time.
HUGO POOL(Sundance Home Video. $14.95): This weird and not particularly successful 1997 effort from cult filmmaker Robert Downey features Alyssa Milano as an L.A. pool cleaner who, during the course of one long day, tries to deal with her weirdo father (Malcolm McDowell), her growing affection for an ALS-afflicted customer (Patrick Dempsey) and a mobster (Richard Lewis) who wants her to fill his 5,000-gallon pool in the middle of a drought. Recommended only for fans of Sean Penn and Robert Downey, Jr. (both of whom contribute memorably unhinged cameo appearances) and fans of Alyssa Milano shower scenes.
LADY VENGEANCE (Tartan Home Video. $22.95): The conclusion to the trilogy of revenge-oriented films (following “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” and the great “Oldboy”) from Korean provocateur Park Chan-wook, in which a seemingly reformed woman is released from prison for a horrible crime that she didn’t commit and proceeds to plan a hideous revenge on the man who was actually responsible, is easily the least of the bunch–despite a few quirky moments off and on, there is little to this riff on “Kill Bill” that you haven’t seen before in Park’s earlier films.
THE LAKE HOUSE (Warner Home Video. $28.98): One of the dumbest romantic fantasies to come along in a while, this was a ridiculous melodrama in which a 2004-era Keanu Reeves falls in love with a 2006-era Sandra Bullock, through the help of a magical mailbox at the titular house that each occupies in their own particular timeline. Wonderful together in “Speed,” Reeves and Bullock display virtually no chemistry here and the storyline is so convoluted that even those with a taste for sentimental sap are more likely to break out in hysterical laughter than sobs by the time it comes to its merciful end.
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (New Line Home Entertainment. $26.98): Wes Craven’s 1984 smash hit, the film that launched both an enormously successful franchise and the career of horror icon Robert Englund, gets the double-dip treatment in a two-disc set that includes a new commentary track from Craven, cinematographer Jacques Haitkin and stars Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon
THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE (HBO Home Video. $27.98): Although Mary Harron’s biopic on the life and career of the 1950's fetish model-turned-feminist icon isn’t particularly satisfying from a dramatic standpoint–it never really attempts to give us an understanding of its subject or why she served as an object of admiration, contempt or lust to so many–it does have its virtues, chiefly an amusing recreation of the erotic subculture of the day and a winning lead performance from Gretchen Mol as Page.
RIPTIDE–THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Universal Home Entertainment. $39.95): I’m sorry–was there actually enough genuine nostalgic interest out there for this barely remembered mid-80's “Magnum P.I.” rip-off–in which a trio of Vietnam vets form a detective agency in Southern California and solve cases with the aid of a pink helicopter–to warrant this DVD set? What’s next–a complete series set of “Gavilan” or “240-Robert”?
RUSSIAN DOLLS (IFC Video. $24.95): In this loose sequel to the international hit “L’Auberge Espagnol,” ladykiller Xavier (Romain Duris), who has seen his literary ambitions devolve into writing for a soap opera and his romantic life consist of a series of one-night stands, tries to change his life around after turning 30. Imagine “The Last Kiss,” only funny and charming instead of pointless and irritating.
THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (Dark Sky Films. $29.98): Tobe Hooper’s 1974 horror masterpiece–a still-unnerving symphony of blood, sweat, tears and terror–gets the lavish special edition treatment with this 2-disc wonder from the good folks at Dark Sky. Disc One contains a High Definition transfer of the film, the previously-released commentary (recorded for the laserdisc version) featuring Hooper, now-deceased cinematographer Daniel Pearl and star Gunnar Hansen (a.k.a. Leatherface himself), a new commentary with co-stars Marilyn Burns, Paul Partain, Allen Danzinger and production designer Robert Burns. Disc Two contains two extensive documentaries–the vintage “Texas Chain Saw Massacre: The Shocking Truth” and the newly-produced “Flesh Wounds”–that illustrate that the aforementioned blood, sweat, tears and terror occurred behind the camera as well as in front of it, a tour of the house where much of the film is set (led by Hansen), deleted scene and even a blooper reel. If you are even contemplating spending your money to see the upcoming prequel to the abysmal 2003 remake, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of this disc to get a load of what real chain saw-based horror looks like.