Movie Reviews That'll Put Yer Eye Out, Kid!

KatieBird: Certifiable Crazy Person

KatieBird: Certifiable Crazy Person (2005)

There are enough serial killer movies out there making a kerfuffle of video store shelves everywhere that, after looking both ways of course, I think it’s safe to venture forth and say that over the years, and with the accumulation of titles, a film sub genre has emerged. Most of these movies feature male killers, and more often than not, female characters inhabiting the role of the prey. As the title of the movie in question perhaps intimates, KatieBird: Certifiable Crazy Person is not one of those films. Rather, KatieBird has more in common with two other recent movies which serve as exceptions to this male killer stereotype, Audition and Monster, simply because all three revolve around a serial murderess that preys exclusively on male victims - in some surprisingly savage and sadistic ways.

KatieBird Wilkens meets with her therapist Dr. Richardson inside a dimly lit apartment. I doubt I need to clarify that Richardson is not a therapist of the physical variety, but even so, their ‘session” does turn quite physical rather quickly. Evidently KatieBird is very familiar with Dr. Richardson’s unorthodox bedside manner however, and seems willing to go along for the ride - so to speak. Regardless of how things may initially appear, it soon becomes abundantly clear that it is actually KatieBird who is in control of the situation, as she takes Dr. Richardson by the throat and leads him kicking and bleeding on a violent and hellish trip down memory lane.

Despite its somewhat silly title, KatieBird: Certifiable Crazy person is an excellent example of quality low-budget filmmaking - and no that is not a paradox. This is not to say that it is in anyway flawless, but even so, it exceeds its budgetary constraints, and given its limitations, excels in almost every respect.

Of all the film’s elements, easily the strongest are its visuals. The film’s director/writer/producer/editor, Justin Paul Ritter, employs an interesting and daring visual approach by using a split screen, multi-paneled image throughout the entire film. Sometimes the image is split in half, horizontally, then vertically - then reduced to thirds, appearing as strips, or blocks, both staggered and symmetrical. Occasionally with its fragmented visuals the film even resembles and attains the quality of a page torn from a comic book. I have no doubt that some viewers will find this element of the movie to be merely distracting or possibly unbearable, and while I didn’t feel that it worked all of the time, I never felt it was confusing or overly gimmicky. Rather, more often than not, it energized the film and heightened the overall viewing experience. Furthermore, it’s also in accord with the film’s subject matter and actually accentuates it quite well.

First time cinematographer Josh Fong does an exceptional job with the cinematography. His compositions are often dynamic, seizing your attention while fully complementing the story and drawing you into the world of the film. The movie’s overall image quality is really quite good. It’s difficult to say if Fong lit this digital movie as one would if shooting on film, or if it was some post production tinkering on the image, (or perhaps some of both) but this digital feature comes closer than most low-budget endeavors to emulating the depth of image tonality and range of visual quality common to film stock.

In terms of its visual merits, KatieBird also features some pretty damn good, old- fashioned effects work. The movie is exceptionally brutal and bloody, featuring two lengthy torture sequences in which KatieBird slices and dices her way towards ecstasy. It should please viewers who love it when their television screen drips with blood, while those who are squeamish might want to give KatieBird a wide berth.

Anyone who thinks low-budget movies and bad acting are inevitably linked, need not worry in this case. The actors do a fine job with material that is not without its difficulties. The cast features seasoned actors like Helene Udy (My Bloody Valentine, The Dead Zone) as the adult KatieBird, as well as newcomer Taylor M. Dooley who does a splendid job playing KatieBird as a teenager. Suffice it to say, the casting is really good and not the usual weak spot many have grown accustomed to, and wary of, when watching a low-budget movie.

If I have a major complaint however, it is with the film's story. There just simply isn’t enough story to constitute or propel a feature length movie. There is about an hour’s worth of material here, tops, but the film stretches this simple story out over 100 minutes. Consequently, the movie becomes a little thin in places, and despite its kinetic visuals, tends to lag now and again. In addition to this, at times the film and its characters had an offbeat tone that I liked, for the most part, and yet there were instances when the way characters responded to situations seemed artificial and the story began to feel slightly repetitive. Still the good outweighs the bad and KatieBird: Certifiable Crazy person is definitely worth checking out, and certainly recommended to adventurous viewers who like their horror movies bloodstained, extreme and willing to push at the boundaries of cinema.

Heretic Films does KatieBird justice by giving it a nice DVD release. As mentioned, the image looks good, with bright, saturated colors and only a few very minor imperfections. DVD extras include a commentary with the director and stars Helene Udy, Taylor M. Dooley and Lee Perkins, liner notes by the director, trailers for the film, a Heretic promo reel, and some DVD Easter Eggs. The DVD also has a featurette titled “Movies NOT Excuses” which could have been more aptly titled “Justin Paul Ritter: Certifiable Crazy Person.” I appreciate the director’s passion and go-getter attitude, but he comes off a bit like a crazed Tony Robbins for film industry wannabes. The last extra is an additional disc that features the film’s somewhat effective (barring the goofy growling) soundtrack.

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Satan's Blood

Satan's Blood (1977)

Which is sexier - Satanism or the 1970s? Yep, ignoring the un-sexiness that was 1978, it's a tricky question that once sparked many interesting debates and was responsible for more than a few Mensa meltdowns, I'm afraid. Thankfully however, and with the threat of another think tank riot looming, some prescient individuals foresaw the sexiness inherent in each of these elements, and like mixing chocolate and milk, had the genius idea of combining this most delicious of duos. Despite ongoing debate along the Canadian border, Satanic cinema henceforth became synonymous with the 1970s, and thus, this somewhat futile quandary was quashed forever. So why mention it and run the risk of rekindling the flames of this once-fiery debate? Because the posse of cineastes over at Mondo Macabro are releasing a sex-filled, Satanic-seventies romp from Spain titled Satan's Blood, that in addition to allowing me to write an S-filled sentence, should provide more answers, and perhaps quell any unrest that might require some much needed quelling (you know who you are).

The film opens with a Satanic ritual in which a group of men wearing black (surprise!) converge around a seemingly unconscious woman clad in a white, translucent gown. A grizzled man with a beard emerges from the pack of Satanists, unveils the woman's milk-white breasts, and begins mauling her mammaries with the gusto for which those who dabble in the dark arts are renowned. This devilish bit of groping is accompanied by what sounds less like organ "music" and more like the convulsive nightmare of a virtuoso using the organ's keys for his pillow. Amidst this orgy of nightmarish notes, the circle of Satanists watch as their lecherous leader pulls out a long dagger to penetrate and dispatch their long-legged sacrifice to the devil.

Following this attention-getter, we meet Ana and her fuddy-duddy hubby Andres. It's the weekend and Ana is bored silly, Spanish-style. She wants to go out dancing, but Andres who evidently doesn't and is running low on excuses, reminds Ana that she is pregnant and that dancing might harm the baby. Before Ana can perhaps quip that it is only her feet that risk being harmed, Andres lights up a cigarette, adding to his already doubtful smokescreen. Nevertheless, the young couple paint the town red - and even if dancing isn't part of the evening's palette, Ana and Andres appear to have a pretty good time driving, walking, smoking and drinking coffee like only two lovebirds uncaged really can.

However, all of this brakes to a screeching halt when stopping at a stoplight, Andres notices a male and female in the next car staring over at them. Andres forfeits the title to "stoplight staring contest champion" when he looks to his wife and asks if she knows the couple. Ana doesn't. However, the friendly mystery man claims to be one of her husband's old school chums. Thusly, Andres and Ana decide to join the couple at their remote and ominous country house with the slightly less ominous prospect of some wine and cheese in their future. True to their word, the hosts ply their guests with appetizers, but when the hosts themselves do not partake, it becomes quite clear that they are saving their appetites for the unsavory Satanic delights that the film's title blatantly promises.

While Satan's Blood isn't going to have anyone's head doing 360s, it is a decent little, largely unseen low-budget affair that's worthy of adding to the pantheon of Satanic seventies cinema. The story relies on an old formula that while shopworn, does manage to work fairly well, and Satan's Blood provides enough of a variation to keep things interesting - moderately speaking. In general, Satanic cliches most certainly abound, yet, it's all part of the fun for today's viewer and probably seemed slightly less stale in 1977 (or at the very least in Spain, due to that country's prior governmental constraints on cinema).

The characters are from the run-of-the-mill, dime-a-dozen variety, but are perhaps because of this, for the most part, serviceable. Logic is rarely something that troubles the film's protagonists, so viewers who are willing to follow their lead and let reason slide will have a better time than those who nitpick over the often willy-nilly nature that "characterizes" this type of film. To be honest, the film's labored attempts to keep the couple from leaving the house become somewhat farcical towards the end, but to take such things too seriously would be beside the point I think. To nitpick a little, however, there are ominous characters who exist at the edges of the film and its story, yet this is where they remain and I would have liked for them to have been integrated into the film proper at some point.

The large house in which much of the film and its action takes place works quite well. The trees that border the house seem to be vomiting an excessive amount of dead leaves into frame, but that's really neither here nor there (or is it?!?). The interiors are adequately atmospheric, and are decorated with the odd skull, Ouija board and creepy doll, which lend an unsettling air to the proceedings. The film is lit effectively, bolstering the eery atmosphere, and the camera work, which is understated but never stagnant, is also rather good.

While not overly violent or gory, Satan's Blood features a couple of nice moments in this regard. The film also has a decent dose of sex and nudity, my only caveat being that after witnessing it, I had to question whether I really ever wanted to see the participants bereft of clothing after all. Which brings us to the "scary" aspects of the film. There is no doubt that Satan's Blood is a horror film, but I would be hard pressed to call it a horrifying or scary film. There are a few creepy bits here and there and the film evokes a disturbing mood at times, but its entertainment value exceeds any chills and thrills it may have originally elicited.

Mondo Macabro does another excellent job with this release. Satan's Blood is presented using a "new Hi Def digital master" and with only a few minor exceptions, the film looks exceptionally good. The DVD comes with both English and Spanish language options and English subtitles. Additional features include a short Pete Tombs essay which describes the film and puts it into the context of the Spanish film industry of that time, and a very interesting documentary titled The Devil's Disciples, in which Gavin Baddeley (an expert on the subject of Satan worship, who is himself a Satanist) talks about the history of Satanism, and its place in many of the horror genre's most popular films. It's an engaging addition, thanks mainly to the intelligent and effusive Baddeley, and is far from just a throw-away extra.

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The Pinky Violence Collection

The Pinky Violence Collection

The first film featured in Panik House's sensational Japanese 1970s exploitation film collection, Delinquent Girl Boss: Worthless to Confess, opens appropriately enough with a bunch of rough-looking delinquent girls watching a movie inside the less-than-cozy confines of their reformatory. Within minutes a requisite girl riot ensues after the principal has the screening stopped, and the aforementioned authoritarian soon finds himself the target of a roomful of unfocused adolescent anger, in addition to a well-aimed pair of pink panties. This type of unruly behavior requires a proper chastening of course, so before you can say Marco Polo, the giggling gals are sent off to avail themselves of all inhibitions and clothing, before frolicking in a hot, steamy bath.

The following day the film's heroine, Rika, encounters an old man wandering outside the reformatory's chain-linked perimeter. Rather than being a pervert on the prowl for some of that sweet delinquent girl loving, he turns out to be the worried father of a girl named Midori, who refuses to see him. The old man hands Rika a childhood keepsake to give to his daughter, but when Rika attempts to fulfill the old man's request, Midori angrily and mysteriously refuses to accept her father's gift.

Months later, after being released from the reformatory, Rika struts her stuff (like only a delinquent fresh from the stir can), and wards off a group of gangsters with her patented dose of tough talk and sass, before finally arriving at Midori's father's house to say hi and return the keepsake. The old man learns that Rika is without a place to stay, so he kindly offers her a vacant room in his humble home, as well as a job in his busy auto repair shop.

After this everything is all lug nuts and laughter until Rika learns Midori, who was also released from the reformatory some time ago, is continuing to run slipshod on her poor old father's lonesome heart. It turns out that his absentee daughter's boyfriend is accruing some pretty substantial gambling debts, and out of love for Midori, the old man is paying off the gangsters who are keen on collecting. Having become something of a surrogate daughter, Rika wants to help the old feller, but as she becomes more involved, danger steadily escalates until it's only a matter of time before Rika trades in her tire-iron for a samurai sword, and we find out why exactly it's worthless for a delinquent girl boss to confess.

Japan's notorious Toei studios released a series of four Delinquent Girl Boss films (which fall into a genre known as Sukeban) at the dawn of the 1970's directed by Kazuhiko Yamaguchi and starring Reiko Oshida. Worthless to Confess is the final, and according to the DVD, finest film in the series. Although the film features more melodrama than mayhem, it is an entertaining film capped off by a violent, nicely "executed" climax that should satiate those ravenous for some bright red bloodletting. In contrast to this, Worthless to Confess is sturdily anchored by a familial kindness and sentimentality that juxtaposes and complements the violence inherent to the genre, making the eventual eruption of onscreen violence even more potent.

The film features a fairly large cast of characters, but apart from a few exceptions, most remain memorable, and there is little confusion to be had for viewers who pay attention, and who are not prone to unscheduled lapses into unconsciousness (if you've made it this far, pardon the redundancy). The story and its plot are cohesive, if at times slightly unbalanced, and while by no means overly sophisticated, the narrative is interesting and amusing enough to amuse and interest.

Like the violence, the film, on the whole, is also more restrained in its visual approach, again letting loose during the denouement. However, at points in the film, especially in the cabaret sequences, a Pop art influence is evident in the bright primary colors that are employed and which grab, or depending on sensibilities, possibly repel, the viewer's eye. There is a garishness that, while not as pervasive in Worthless to Confess, is a staple to the visual scheme found in Japanese exploitation films from the 70s, and while terms like garish and melodramatic are often connotatively stigmatic, these are the very cinematic attributes which distinguish and elevate many of these films, and make for a comparatively sublime viewing experience. So in short, while DGB: Worthless to Confess didn't knock my metaphorical socks off, it is a good film, well worth a look, and is an good, if atypical, introduction to The Pinky Violence Collection.

The second film in the collection, Girl Boss Guerilla stars Miki Sugimoto as Sachiko, the sexy but severe boss of an all-girl motorcycle gang. Sporting matching red helmets and red scarves, the group of girls, who call themselves the Red Helmet Gang (possibly because the much tougher-sounding Red Scarf Gang was already spoken for) travel from their hometown to the nearby city of Kyoto, making only one brief stop along the way to give a pack of easy riders the thorough drubbing they deserve. Shortly after arriving and realizing they're hurting for money, the girls waste no time in shaking down the Kyoto citizenry, whether it be luring lonely men in for sex, stealing from fundraisers, or overcharging bewildered young couples for having their pictures taken. When the Red Helmet Gang notices a local girl gang with a yen for yen rivaling their own stealing from a group of high schoolers, Sachiko confronts the local gang's leader and demands that they hand over the money. This confrontation sets off a fingernail-splintering series of fights between the ladies full of flying fists, torn tops, and bared breasts.

After the dust has settled, and the makeup is reapplied, Sachiko and her Red Helmet hellions emerge victorious. Usurping her nemesis, Sachiko becomes the new Kyoto girl boss, combines the local gang with her own, but in the process also takes on the unfortunate responsibility of answering to a powerful and greedy local chapter of yakuza. Being hot-tempered, headstrong and unwilling to share her gang's spoils, Sachiko finds herself in a constant struggle against the demanding yakuza. During one such struggle in an alley, a burgeoning boxer steps in to lend a fist or two in Sachiko's defense. In no time a love-struck Sachiko is down for the count, and mixing it up beneath the sheets with her deadly but dashing pugilistic paramour. The next day Sachiko and her girl gang escape to a seaside resort where Sachiko's boxing beau is training. However rain clouds in the form of vengeful yakuza soon gather over the idyllic locale, and Sachiko and her gang of ferocious femmes are forced to employ both toughness and trickery in an attempt to stay alive by at last destroying their meddlesome male oppressors.

Despite its many fine qualities, Girl Boss Guerilla flirts with being an excellent exploitation film, but upon its conclusion reveals itself to be merely a very good one. There are several sequences deranged enough to leave rabid exploitation film viewers rapturous, but a few snags in the plotting equal lags in the film, and a somewhat mediocre conclusion pales when compared to the trail of exploitative audacity leading up to it. This aspect is all the more disappointing since oft-times films of this ilk steadily whip themselves towards a frenzy-filled finale. Nevertheless, Girl Boss Guerilla is still a very entertaining entry in the realm of 70's crackpot cinema and is definitely worth watching.

Director Norifumi Suzuki (School of the Holy Beast, Sex and Fury) again proves that his reputation as one of Toei's most provocative talents is not unwarranted. In addition to the delirium of sex and violence, Suzuki peppers the film with his familiar prescription of blasphemous portraitures, which in Girl Boss Guerilla are more along the lines of humorous high-jinks than inflammatory religious indictments. Comedy is a primary ingredient in this film, and more often than not it works, inducing chuckles instead of groans - which is something that does not hold true for a lot of Japanese exploitation films from this period. The cast is again quite good featuring familiar faces to the genre, including Miki Sugimoto, Reiko Ike and Toru Abe. As with the other Toei films that I've seen, Girl Boss Gorilla belies its relatively small budget with a film that is also visually captivating thanks to some topnotch filmmaking.

The next film, Terrifying Girls' High School: Lynch Law Classroom, gets things off to a rollicking start with a torture sequence inside the science lab at an all-girls school. Clad in bright red surgical masks and gloves to match, a group of schoolgirls tie up a fellow classmate, who now struggles with more than just her grades as her assailants lacerate her exposed breasts with a glinting scalpel, and then begin slowly draining blood from her arm, into a bulbous glass tube. Believing she is on the brink of certain death, the captive girl breaks free of her restraints and flees to the roof, only to learn that death is indeed certain, and comes dressed in a cute Japanese schoolgirl uniform.

Officials at The School of Hope (an institute that prides itself on turning wayward girls into good wives and daughters) pad the pockets of local authorities who in return report that the death of the girl, whose name was Michiyo, was an unfortunate accident. Following this, three new delinquents are transferred to the school: a swinging sexpot named Kyoko Kubo, a toughie named Razor-blade Remi, and a crucifix-carrying girl boss named Noriko Kazama, aka The Boss with the Cross. Immediately this troublesome trio is butting heads and exchanging bitch slaps with the school's disciplinary squad - a clique of schoolgirls who are paid to terrorize and torture anyone who crosses them, or is foolhardy enough to run afoul of the school. When Noriko discovers that her chum, and once-lovable lieutenant in her girl gang Michiyo was murdered, she makes it her mission, however perilously torture-filled it may be, to destroy the kill-happy cuties and fiendish faculty members responsible for Michiyo's death.

Again, Norifumi Suzuki was at the helm on this picture, leaving one to speculate on the number of cinematic treasures littered amid his filmography that have yet to be experienced by Western audiences. The film boasts some indelible, nightmarish imagery and arresting compositions, elevating its stature to that of a formidable work of exploitative art. In this regard, it's interesting to note that the trailer for the film features some eye-catching moments (for example, over fifty schoolgirls wielding clubs and charging at each other in a dirt lot) that are absent from the film itself. While these expurgations are a mystery, the already over-the-top film has plenty of maniacal material to feast upon however, and should leave most viewers more than satisfied.

In addition to Suzuki, the regular suspects are present, most notably the seemingly ubiquitous Reiko Ike and Miki Sugimoto. Both inhabit roles similar to those they've already played in other films, however, both are a lot of fun to watch, bringing with them a couple of tough, charismatic screen presences that benefit the film. In all, Terrifying Girls' School: Lynch Law Classroom is brimming with the kind of eroticism, unbridled sleaziness and demented violence that will leave some mouths agape, and have exploitation fans all agog. Mix political overtones amidst a schoolgirl riot into this already heady concoction, (not to mention the funky 70's score) and I believe it's fair to say the film approaches exploitation nirvana.

The final film in this glorious girls-run-amuck collection is titled Criminal Woman: Killing Melody. The film stars Reiko Ike as Maki, a tough girl with a revenge-fueled grudge against a pack of local gangsters who kill her drunken, drug addict dad. As unnecessary as adding salt to a margarita made out of tears, the pack of hyenas then gang rape poor grief-ridden Maki, thus stoking the white-hot embers of her fiery vengeance. Unfortunately, when Maki, armed with a her aforementioned vengeance and a big knife, tries to eviscerate one of the gangsters at a strip club, she is outnumbered and winds up getting tossed into the slammer.

Now behind bars and with her thirst for revenge unquenched, Mika quietly bides her time, waiting for her release and retribution. Perhaps too quiet, several of Mika's fellow prisoners question her, but when she remains mum, the other gals find this disrespectful, which results in Mika fighting the toughest of the bunch, Masayo (Miki Sugimoto). With a tether between their teeth and long, jagged shards of glass in their hands, Mika and Masayo are encircled by the prison populace who watch with glee as the two pummel each other mercilessly. Mika loses the fight, but wins the respect of everyone by not giving up and fighting till she passes out. Soon thereafter, Mika gives up her silence however, choosing to open up about her past. This results in some girl bonding behind bars, and when finally released, Mika and her comrades in tight pants go after the gangsters who did her wrong.

Criminal Woman: Killing Melody is a great one-two punch of Japanese girl power that rounds out the collection quite nicely. It combines elements of both the infamous women in prison genre with the somewhat lesser known (in the West anyway) Sukeban, to make for an enjoyable, action-packed movie hybrid. Director Atsushi Mibori does a great job staging some compelling action sequences, and though his visual approach is less dynamic than Norifumi Suzuki's, his presentation of the material is not bereft of inventiveness and is rarely boring.

The only complaint I have is that the tough girl characters at the heart of the film are left out of many of the action sequences in the second half of the movie. This is due to a story element wherein the girls ignite a yakuza war between two rival gangs by tricking and fueling the paranoia of the unwitting gangsters. This inevitably puts the female characters on the periphery and makes it difficult for the girls to enter into the fray until later - which was slightly disappointing, even though the gang battles are a lot of fun. The film also features some funny moments, including a bizarre gangster who spits chewing gum with pin-point accuracy, and at a deadly velocity. The prerequisite torture sequences also run the gamut from using nipples as ashtrays, to the threat of a chain saw mastectomy. To put it simply, Criminal Woman: Killing Melody is yet another low-down and dirty high point in this superlative collection.

The four films come in a nifty and slick hot pink package that includes a twenty-four page booklet written by Chris D., author of Outlaw Masters of Japanese Film. The packaging is really nice, and I also liked the booklet - although some of the narrative details were incorrect. In addition, a CD entitled, Reiko Ike Sings! (which could be more aptly titled, Reiko Ike Moans While Someone in the Band Strangles Balloons) is included, and is sure to have you shaking a tail feather (or at least raising your eyebrows).

Each of the films are presented in beautiful anamorphic Widescreen prints, with optional English subs. Informative commentaries are included with each film and feature the likes of Chris D., critics Andy Klein and Wade Major, Panik House president Matt Kennedy and columnist Wyatt Doyle. Additional features for each disc include actress and director bios, original theatrical trailers (all of which have been re-mastered), poster and stills galleries, production notes, and the box set also comes with an insert sticker that is the same as the box set's cover. So with four films ranging from good to great, and a bounty of fine extras, this limited edition set is really a fantastic treasure chest of exploitation gold and I give it my highest recommendation!

This is a link to a trailer that a fan made which includes moments from films in the Pinky Violence Collection.
(Contains some nudity)

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