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

The Uninvited

The Uninvited (2003)

Aboard a subway and on his way home, Jung-won dozes his way through several stops, at last startled awake as the train rumbles to its final destination. Collecting himself, the weary traveler exits the train and notices two young girls seated across from each other, apparently asleep and unattended. Still befogged by the residue of sleep, and the surprise and confusion of finding the two children, Jung-won is uncertain what to do and can only watch from the platform as the subway train speeds away, plunging into the darkness with the two little girls still aboard.

With a successful career as an interior designer and a loving, if somewhat domineering, fiance, Jung-won appears to have a stable and comfortable life. However, when he learns later that the children on the train were found dead, he becomes haunted by the two girls, whom he finds seated, much as they were on the train, in his kitchen. Frightened he flees his apartment, but to little avail as the dead girls haunt his dreams and ultimately stir up horrific memories that Jung-won had long-ago buried.

As the delicate threads of his life, sanity and future continue to unravel, the puzzling fragments of Jung-won's past begin to fit together after he meets a young woman named Yun who suffers from narcolepsy and is susceptible to psychic phenomena. With Yun's help Jung-won is able to at last unearth the past that haunts him - but as it turns out, some memories, like those on the train, are perhaps better left undisturbed.

The Uninvited is the type of horror film that, rather than conforming to any strict definitions that dictate the genre, illustrates what a varied and expansive genre horror really is. I'm certain many viewers would not even consider The Uninvited a horror film. However, as I see it, those viewers have cast the genre into a rather strict definition that restrains and limits horror cinema's inherent potential and scope.

These limitations seem to be more staunchly enforced by viewers of horror films than say, readers of horror literature (even when these people are one and the same). Horror literature is extremely varied and wide-ranging, and enjoys a far more liberal definition than its filmic counterpart. In this regard, The Uninvited has more in common with the elegant horror stories of Shirley Jackson than it does with the majority of movies that, for many today, define horror cinema.

In The Uninvited, ghosts serve as the catalyst that propels the main character into his own past - a childhood scarred by a series of haunting and disturbing events that, as a common survival mechanism, he has blocked from his mind. As with many great ghost stories, the main character is haunted by what appear to be both literal ghosts, in the form of the girls on the train, as well as the figurative ghosts from his tragic childhood. To a large extent the film successfully weaves the two together, leaving the viewer to decide if the ghosts are real, allegorical, exist solely due to the character's mental state, or perhaps even all of the above.

The film's story is filled with a lot of interesting ideas and subtle touches, and the writer/director of The Uninvited, Su-Yeon Lee, does an admirable job creating a compelling and sophisticated film that visually complements the material. In particular, Lee, with the help of cinematographer Yeong-gyu Jo, excels at creating images and composing shots that mirror and make visible the inner workings of his characters. The somber and somewhat austere look of the film also serves this function, in addition to creating a convincing and palpable atmosphere.

A foreseeable problem for some viewers will be the film's pacing. The Uninvited is rather slowly paced - some might even go so far as to call it downright sluggish. However, the interesting and compelling story, bolstered by strong performances and first-rate filmmaking, should be enough to carry thoughtful viewers through some of The Uninvited's slower passages. In fact, the deliberate pace of the film actually lends a startling contrast to those moments which are punctuated by some truly unsettling and horrific imagery. In and of themselves, these scenes are quite strong, however, that the film slowly builds to these shocking moments makes them all the more effective.

The dedicated people at Panik House Entertainment have brought The Uninvited to DVD in what is being called "the world definitive edition." Given the packaging, presentation and immensity of extras, it would indeed be difficult to argue with this claim. The film has been digitally remastered and the DVD features the uncut version of the film. Special features include, a behind-the-scenes featurette that documents the making of the film, an interview with the stars of The Uninvited, Ji-hyun Jun and Shin-yang Park, an abridged fifteen minute version of the film titled The Uninvited Condensed, two commentaries (one in English, the other in Spanish), a trailer for the film, poster and still galleries, production notes, an essay on Korean horror written by Art Black, storyboard comparisons, bios, soundtrack samples, and lastly, a collectible sticker.

In short, The Uninvited is an admirable film that rewards careful viewing, and which will hopefully find a wider audience now that it is being released on this excellent DVD from Panik House.

Originally published at

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42nd Street Forever

Long gone are the halcyon days of stumbling into a dingy, rundown movie theater and being treated to a diverse selection of equally unwholesome films, ranging from trashy sleaze-fests with titles like "The Three Dimensions of Greta" to bizarre hybrids like the biker film / monster movie oddity "Werewolves on Wheels." Sure, afterward you might have to disinfect your clothing and take a long hot shower in an attempt to wash away all the foreign bacteria and guilt - but of course, no matter how vigorously or liberally you applied that bar of Ivory, there was just no chance of washing those damn coming attractions out of your head! So sooner, rather than later, you would find yourself once again seated in the same soiled seat, ogling that cinematic sleaze with a big grin smeared across your face.

Unfortunately, as usual I have no idea what I'm talking about, but this is how I imagine it might have been going to see movies in one of those theaters for which 42nd Street in New York City was so well known. However, the clever lads over at Synapse films have seen fit to give us a tempting little taste of this bygone era by releasing their first volume of exploitation trailers entitled, 42nd Street Forever.

This nifty compilation DVD really runs the gamut and gives the viewer a good idea of the eclectic mix of exploitation films that graced the screens of many a seedy theater. Sexploitation, science fiction, mondo cinema, crime films, horror, martial arts, blaxploitation, Japanese monster movies, thrillers, and even a sword and sandal epic are all present and accounted for. As anyone who has watched some of these films knows, more often than not, the film's trailer usually far surpasses the film itself - so it's good fun to be able to just kick back and watch a bunch of these sleazy cinematic snapshots one after another. And what's more, that pesky post screening shower is now purely optional.

Synapse films has compiled nearly 50 trailers for your viewing pleasure, and thankfully they are presented in all their scratched up, gritty glory, thus retaining their nostalgic value. There are no extras (perhaps a documentary on the 42nd Street theater scene, or something along these lines would have been welcome) however, with 128 minutes worth of trailers, there is enough to keep most exploitation junkies happy until Synapse releases Volume 2.

Originally published at

CasaNegra Entertainment

Here is some information about a new division of Panik House Entertainment called CasaNegra that will focus on Mexican cinema. As with Panik House, CasaNegra is endeavoring to give films that are largely unknown outside of their native country the deluxe re-mastered, bonus-brimming DVD treatment, for today's movie watchers in search of little-seen cinematic delights. Thus far 19 films have been secured for distribution by CasaNegra, the first 4 of which are horror films. So, here is the info on these four forthcoming releases, with images and a couple of trailers. Enjoy!

Curse Of The Crying Woman (1961, Mexico)

Based on the Mexican legend of La Llorona, The Curse of the Crying Woman After a phantom figure attacks her horse-drawn carriage in the woods, young Amelia (Rosa Arenas) flees to the gothic mansion of her Aunt Selma (Rita Macedo). Soon thereafter, Amelia uncovers dark family secrets, including rumors of torture, murder and witchcraft! Each sinister revelation exposes a more diabolical mystery. Whose charred corpse lay buried in the family crypt? Why does Aunt Selma cast no reflection? And finally: What terrors will be unleashed by The Curse of the Crying Woman?

CasaNegra Entertainment is proud to present Curse of the Crying Woman in an all-new world definitive edition. Digitally re-mastered, uncut and uncensored.

• Completely Re-mastered Picture & Sound from Newly Restored 35 MM Vault Elements
• Original Un-cut Spanish Language Version
• Optional English Subtitles
• Bilingual Menus in English & Spanish
• Audio Commentary Mexican Cinema Expert Michael Liuzza
• Full Color Booklet: The Legend of Llorona by Entertainment Weekly’s Peter Landau
• Six Newly Designed Loteria Cards from CasaNegra’s Exclusive Mexican Horror Film Set
• Essay on Legendary Actor, Filmmaker Rafael Baledon by Film Historian David Wilt
• Exclusive “No Strings Attached” Re-digitized Version of the Film
• Cast Biographies
• Poster and Stills Gallery

Film Info
80 Mins.
Not Rated
1:33 Aspect Ratio

Technical Info
Region 1-NTSC
Spanish Dolby Digital Mono 1.0
Optional English Subtitles

Curse of the Crying Woman trailer

The Witch's Mirror (1960, Mexico)
Urueta's The Witch's Mirror is an exercise in pure cinema, in which countless allusions to previous movies and a virtual catalog of special effects techniques are used to illustrate a delirious tale of witchcraft vs. mad science." - Mexican Film Historian David Wilt

A benevolent witch (Isabela Corona) enchants a magic mirror to
protect her adopted daughter Elena (Dina de Marco) from her cruel husband (Armando Calvo). When the incantation fails and the girl is murdered, the witch vows revenge using every unholy principle of the supernatural that she can conjure. An unforgettable foray into black magic, high spookery and dazzling storytelling, CasaNegra is proud to present The Witch’s Mirror restored and re-mastered for the first time on DVD in a brand new transfer – including the blasphemous resurrection of the slain Elena!

CasaNegra Entertainment is proud to present The Witch’s Mirror in an all-new world definitive edition. Digitally re-mastered, uncut and uncensored.

• Completely Re-mastered Picture & Sound from Newly Restored 35 MM Vault Elements
• Original Un-cut Spanish Language Version
• Optional English Subtitles
• Bilingual Menus in English & Spanish
• Audio Commentary by IVTV founder Frank Coleman
• Essay: Chanovision: The Films of Cult Filmmaker Chano Urueta.
• Six Newly Designed Loteria Cards from CasaNegra’s Exclusive Mexican Horror Film Set
• Cast & Crew Biographies
• Poster and Stills Gallery

Film Info
75 Mins.
Not Rated
1:33 Aspect Ratio

Technical Info

Region 1-NTSC
Spanish Dolby Digital Mono 1.0
Optional English Subtitles

The Witch's Mirror trailer

The Black Pit of Dr. M (1958, Mexico)

Misterios de Ultratumba
“A Ma
sterpiece! Plain and Simple....”

By day, Dr. Mazali (Rafael Bertrand) runs an insane asylum. By night, he lashes out at the veil between this life and the next, desperate to contact his former partner, Dr. Harrison Aldeman (Jacinto Aldama), who was executed for a crime he did not commit. What follows is madness, tragedy, agonizing violence and the unrelenting horror of infinite damnation.

The Black Pit of Dr. M is a masterpiece of gothic filmmaking punctuated by shocking jolts and beautiful imagery that render it years ahead of its time. It is also a major accomplishment in chilling tone, unsettling atmosphere and wildly inventive storytelling.

CasaNegra is proud to present this much sought-after classic digitally remastered and uncut for the first time on DVD.

Special Features:

* Original Uncut Version
* Completely Re-Mastered Picture & Sound from Newly Restored Vault Elements
* Bilingual Menus in English & Spanish
* Photo Essay: Mexican Monsters Invade the U.S.
* Exclusive Black Pit of Dr. M Rock Video composed by 21st Century Art
* Biography on Director Fernando Mendez By Film Historian David Wilt
* Audio Commentary by IVTV founder Frank Coleman
* Exclusive CasaNegra Loteria Game Card
* Cast Biographies
* Original Theatrical Trailer
* Poster and Stills Gallery

FIlm Info
82 Mins.
Not Rated
1:33 Aspect Ratio

Technical Info
Region 1-NTSC
Spanish Dolby Digital Mono 1.0
Optional English Subtitles

Brainiac (Mexico, 1962)

El Barón del terror
“A landmark in cult film history.”

~Rob Craig -

CasaNegra Entertainment presents Mexico's all-time horror classic Brainiac.

The year is 1661. Baron Vitelius (Abel Salazar) stands accused of consorting with the devil. The penalty: death. Cursing his inquisitors as they burn him at the stake, the Baron’s revenge comes 300 years later, in the form of a horrifying fork-tongued incarnation of the Baron, hellbent on devouring the brains of the descendents of those who killed him. As bodies pile up, the police become mystified. Who is draining the skulls of local call-girls and well-to-do banquet-goers alike? And, more importantly, how many flamethrowers will it take to stop him? Brainiac is the supernatural cult classic that has been beloved for decades by fans of spook-show matinees and late-night monster movie marathons.

Famously imported to the U.S. by exploitation icon K. Gordon Murray in the 1960s, Brainiac is at once lurid and loony, unnerving and uproarious, spellbinding and surreal.

CasaNegra is proud to present this milestone of Mexican cinema digitally remastered and uncut for the first time on DVD.

Special Features:

* Original Uncut Version
* Completely Re-Mastered Picture & Sound from Newly Restored Vault Elements
* Bilingual Menus in English & Spanish
* Essay: Keep Repeating, It’s only the Most Bizzare Horror Film Ever Made. By Casamiro Buneavista
* The Official Brainiac “Interactive” Press Kit
* Audio Commentary by Kirb Pheeler, Creator of the Brainiac Interactive Press Kit
* Original 1969 U.S. Theatrical Release Radio Spot
* Exclusive CasaNegra Loteria Card Game
* Cast & Crew Biographies
* Poster & Stills Gallery

FIlm Info
77 Mins.
Not Rated
1:33 Aspect Ratio

Technical Info
Region 1-NTSC
Spanish Dolby Digital Mono 1.0
Optional English Subtitles

The Black Pit of Dr. M and Brainiac will be released on August 29th. Until then The Curse of the Crying Woman and The Witch's Mirror can be purchased at Amazon.

Synopses, images and trailers courtesy of CasaNegra Entertainment


MirrorMask (2005)

Review by Michelle Lopes

In 2005 a brilliant illustrator co-wrote, designed, and directed a live action film of unspeakable beauty and an inscrutable nature. Mirrormask, directed by Dave McKean and co-written by his colleague Neil Gaiman, is a treasure worth unburying and taking a good close look at. The wealth of this film, uncommon in a world of straight-forward plots and images, does not lie in a story that is easily digested, but in its plethora of metaphoric storytelling and the emotional impact raw symbols can carry - if well-crafted. Every symbol in Mirrormask is deliciously honed - a treat.

The general plot the film uses is very simple, but deceptively so: a girl (Helena) just blooming into adolescence quarrels with her mother and speaks the fatal wish - that she wants to be the death of her mother, literally. Her mother is soon after rushed to a hospital, where it is discovered that she has a brain tumor. The night before the operation, Helena falls asleep and enters a world that she has created in drawings previously. While in her dream-state, she embarks on a symbolic quest to cure her mother and come to terms with her encroaching age. During the quest Helena encounters flying books, toothsome sphinxes, orbiting giants, betrayal, and creatures and plants of considerable imagination and beauty. Whether she will succeed in her quest, or whether the dream world will fully impact and change the course of the real world, is the driving question.

However, the story the film engages in is not nearly as simple as the naked structure of the plot. The story is rich with mystery, obfuscation, and symbolism; much of which is purely a delight to mull over. Interestingly enough, the differences between story and plot are reflected in the very design of the film’s art direction - where simple lines and flatness is often projected onto three-dimensional surfaces that are either animated, or part of costume and set design (i.e. masks, walls, and other props).

What is important about this film is not to lose yourself in the film’s obfuscations, but to enjoy being lost. Space in Mirrormask’s dream world is often indistinct, floating, both spatially flat and deep. So too are multiple, smaller stories often given in the course of the tale - a creation myth for the dream world, for example, is told to Helena by a librarian - acting as an indistinct component that may never become completely clear, but adds to the film’s atmosphere. Small stories overlap and pull the mind into a heavy state of symbol upon symbol that can often be explained by themes. For example, duality, which is liberally found in Mirrormask, is evidenced very simply by the dream world’s geography - it has two halves, light and dark.

Accordingly, it also has two Queens - light and dark. Both of the Queens are played by the girl’s mother, and indeed do represent two aspects of the mother character. The light Queen is the girl’s incapacitated mother who lies still in the hospital, who she hopes to save by curing her with the mythic object she must quest for. The dark Queen is all of the negative aspects of the girl’s mother - she is the possessive caricature that Helena created when she quarreled with her mother before she fell ill. When the light Queen falls ill and the dark Queen scours the dream world with darkness in pursuit of a lost daughter, the dream world is threatened with destruction.

The dark Queen’s lost daughter, a dark Princess as it were, is the fulcrum for the chaos in the dream world. At her disappearance, the dark Queen becomes distraught. The dark Princess, or Anti-Helena as the credits dub her, is really Helena’s evil doppelganger. With Helena trapped in the dream world, Anti-Helena wrecks havoc in the real world. What is most delicious is that Mirrormask is ultimately a coming-of-age story, and the two Helenas neatly represent the warring factions adolescence evokes. The “good” Helena can only watch helplessly through windows at Anti-Helena’s bad behavior, perfectly illustrating the adolescent feelings of futility and disembodiement as hormones and emotions take over the body, forcing the ego to temporarily surrender to chaos. As Helena watches Anti-Helena yell at her father, Helena cries out in frustration: “Dad that’s not me! I’m right here!” And Helena is indeed “here,” inside the thoughts and therefore the body of Anti-Helena, but unable to stop herself from inflicting her growing pains on her parent.

The quest itself, appropriate as it takes place in a dream world, is rife with dream-logic. One image leads to another image, and clues are merely reflections of past images, unpredictable and yet fluid. The mythic object that Helena quests for is a Mirrormask, something that reflects and yet hides, and will grant her every wish. That is because the importance of the quest lies not in some easily discerned riddle, but in the conscious realization of her quickly changing body and desires. Early on in the story she scorns kissing and sexually defining forms of dress, but as Anti-Helena embodies these actions and modes of sexuality, Helena must acknowledge their encroaching presence. This is a story about self-discovery, too, and encountering the fear that as you grow up, you endanger the worlds of thought you created as a child. It is up to Helena, then, to literally and figuratively save her own world, to preserve her own self despite the onslaught of growth and all the traits a growing girl will come to possess, willingly or unwillingly.

In the tradition of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Tetsuo: Iron Man, Mirrormask is a stylistically conscious combination of animation and live action. Often the world the characters inhabit is completely created within a computer, and to handsome effect, with few exceptions. Particularly disappointing were the flying schools of fish, which were too perfectly shaped - resembling the Jesus fish found on the bumpers of Buicks with bad transmissions - and would have been benefitted by mimicking the illustrations of fish that Dave McKean obviously drew and photographed on Helena’s wall. In fact, the weakest points of the film lay in a lot of the 3D animation, but overall it’s not so distracting as to provoke any real dismay. One 3-dimensional character, a sort of quilled platypus lackey for the dark Queen, is extremely well animated and comes across as not only believable, but very well-acted. A lot of the texturing was quite good, and obviously slaved over in Photoshop, and looks great. The lighting, equally embellished in the world of the machine, is delectable.

The most damning, and hideous aspect of Mirrormask, is the godawful music. For the majority of the film you are trapped in some musack-y nightmare that would force jazz fans to excuse themselves for a brief trip to the restroom before the first fifteen minutes were over. Any good filmgoer, however, can easily tune bad music out when forced to - as you will be if you watch Mirrormask. If you want to sacrifice the beautiful foley and other sound design elements, you could always watch it subtitled, but the rest of the sound composition really is quite good, so that would be a shame. No, better to face the demon in the eye and give it a good slapping. You won’t be scarred for life, just for the length of the film.

Pacing in Mirrormask is slow, but delicious. It is slow in the sense that thinking is slow and growth is slow - the film deliberately gives you time to relish the spirals each new symbol can send you down. Impatient viewers who do not enjoy getting spatially and intellectually lost will encounter problems with the pacing because they are not throwing themselves into the nature of the film. Mirrormask is, easily, more art than diversion.

Lose yourself within a rare genre - that of the stylistically emphatic live action/animated film - a personal favourite, and a fine way to spend an evening or two. The DVD offers a commentary by Dave McKean and Neil Gaiman, and some really interesting interviews with the duo as well as the Head Henson at Jim Henson studios. You will only regret you didn’t see it in the movie theater.

Reviewed by Miss Meat

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Funny Man

Funny Man (1994)

The term cult film, just like the label independent film, has been co-opted by major media pimps who have used it so much and so often that it's now just another loose, meaningless advertising slogan. In fact, nowadays when I hear the term cult film, I'm reminded of a 48 year-old hooker named Ruby from Carson City, Nevada - the only thing either of them can arouse are my suspicions. It's fair to say that in either case, I'm just not feelin' it anymore.

How many times have you heard silly advertising quotes like, "a cult classic in the making, or "a certifiable cult classic," for crap movies that have just been released, or worse, haven't even come out yet? Seriously... whoever's doing this certifying in advance should simply have their wrists broken. That's all I'm sayi... uh, hold on just a sec while I check something...

For a film to gain any kind of cult classic status, it would seem that perhaps the movie should at least be released so people can watch the damn thing first! After this important step, let the film's small group of devotees jig in the theater aisles, and with prescient tears streaming down their faces proclaim, "By God friends, I believe we have a cult classic on our hands!"

Or even more important than this, it seems necessary that a film be around for a few years before it's dubbed a classic of any kind. After this, if the film has aged well - unlike our friend Ruby - and has gained rather than lost its appeal, then by all means, let the classic-christening commence.

Which at last brings us to the end of my finger-wagging and to the film in question, Funny Man.

From what I gather, Funny Man is something of a minor cult classic, particularly in its country of origin, England. The film, which was released in 1994, and therefore does have a few years under its belt, has had a sketchy release history in the United States. However, the cult-classic-loving cineastes over at Subversive Cinema have set out to change all of that with a snazzy, extras-packed, uncut DVD release of the movie.

So is Funny Man deserved of the label cult classic? Well, I suppose that depends on the viewer, really. It has what some might consider "cult classic" ingredients; a small number of devoted fans, an offbeat humor and sensibility, outlandish characters, winks and nods aplenty, cartoonish violence, a willy-nilly narrative, plenty of camp value, and an appearance/cameo by horror/cult icon Christopher Lee. And so, with all these elements in place it should be a done deal, right? Um... not so fast. Put it this way, I have just about everything I need to make Baked Alaska in my kitchen, but there isn't a frozen prayer's chance in Hell I can make it.

To put it more clearly, and without the clutter of a baking or hooker analogy - if the Funny Man is a classic, I simply don't belong to its cult.

The set-up for Funny Man is extremely run-of-the-mill: a not-so-funny man and his family enter a strange house with a secret (which in this case, said man has won playing high-stakes poker) and bad things (in the form of said secret) befall the family.

The good thing about the Funny Man is the film takes this mostly pedestrian premise and does some unlikely things with it. Make the father a record executive with a fiendish cocaine habit; kill off the rest of the family real quick-like; incorporate some snippets from Alice and Wonderland and have Christopher Lee read them; introduce a batch of new, outlandish characters - for example, record exec's wanna-be rock star bro, a woman dressed exactly like Velma from Scooby Doo named Thelma, and an afro-coiffured psychic with commando skills, a mutating hand and lots of Jamaican jargon - and let the fun times begin. (I think after that sentence I either owe everyone an apology, or a complementary bookmark. Your choice).

The bad thing about the Funny Man is that it's just not that funny, man (those doubting my qualifications to judge "the funny" have just been properly chastened I believe... zing!). The film has its fair share of smiles and chuckles, and one line that made milk come out of my nose (and I wasn't even drinking milk!!) but unfortunately, a lot of the humor just isn't very humorous. All the same, the film is somewhat amusing and diverting enough, and is continually unpredictable - all of which helps hold one's interest, of course.

The film also deserves some additional credit. There is no shortage of imagination, even if the scarcity of a budget sometimes detracts from some of the film's more creative aspirations. However, overall the filmmakers were quite inventive and resourceful and managed to make a film that, at least in terms of its visuals, surpasses what one might expect given the monetary limitations with which the film was bound.

As for the titular terror, the Funny Man is a demonic jester that kills off characters in some entertainingly elaborate and moderately ghastly ways. The Funny Man's shtick does wear rather thin at times, and some of the jokes might very well leave you groaning and feeling like the victim, but his murderous methods are often comical, and at the very least, amusing. Think of the Leprechaun, slightly taller, but with a sizeable codpiece. Add to this some well-done low-tech special effects, and it all combines to make for a decent amount of fun.

The Funny Man actually began as a short film which approached the material in a far more serious manner. A demonic jester as the baddie seems more than a bit silly, so perhaps it was a good idea to play it all for laughs. Nevertheless, the DVD contains the original short, so viewers can judge for themselves.

This addition is kind of a mixed blessing however, because honestly, in terms of story, the feature length film doesn't add much to the short film. Rather, it uses the same story and then merely incorporates the outlandish characters which allows the killing spree to be extended for over an hour. Considering that the film doesn't become a complete bore is certainly something, and yet, anyone looking for a good story or plot might want to look elsewhere.

Subversive Cinema has proven to be another exceptional DVD company that takes a great deal of care with its under-the-radar releases, and the Funny Man is a fine example of their dedication. The film, which looks very good, is accompanied with an optional commentary track with writer/director Simon Sprackling, and the Funny Man himself, Tim James. Additional extras include a featurette entitled "Sorting the Funny Man" which gives viewers an eye-opening, humorous look at the making of the film, and includes interesting facts, such as the filmmakers wrangling their way into using the village set for Kenneth Branagh's Mary Shelley's Frankenstein at Shepperton Studios, repainting it in primary colors, and then nearly burning the whole thing down!

As mentioned, the DVD also includes the original short film, as well as a short interview with Christopher Lee, a "Pop Promo" in which the Funny Man makes merry at the Cannes Film festival (set to a silly tune that has Christopher Lee and a chorus of children singing about that silly ol' Funny Man), the theatrical trailer, a trailer for the short film, and a seriously funny 8-page production diary that the director kept during the making of the film.

In all its a special edition DVD that should have fans of the film bowing at the altar of Subversive Cinema, and allows those curious to see the movie an opportunity to finally view the Funny Man in all his codpiece-thrusting glory.

Originally published at

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For Your Height Only

For Your Height Only (1979), Challenge of the Tiger (1980)

The third volume in Mondo Macabro's "Dick Randall Collection" trumpets the arrival of Weng Weng as Agent 00 in the whacky spy spectacular "For Your Height Only." As a second feature, the DVD also includes the Bruce Le vehicle "Challenge of the Tiger." Although the DVD is humorously touted as being a "Low Kicking, High Kicking Double Feature," the emphasis seems slightly more focused on For Your Height Only (as is this review), and rightfully so, as this movie proves to be a truly zany, ridiculously funny piece of filmic absurdity.

For Your Height Only opens with a group of thugs kidnapping a doctor whose plane has just recently touched down in the Philippines. The panic-stricken doctor pleads for his release, reminding his vicious captors that he is merely a guest in their country - but alas, the doctor protests too much. See, these men are not simply rowdy street rascals! Rather, they are members of a crime syndicate led by the mysterious Mr. Giant who is bent on doing stuff that is really bad and oft times equally mean.

Thus enters Weng Weng as the dapper white suit-wearing, "small" talk-hating, three-foot-tall ball-smashing secret agent known as 00. When he's not proving to the ladies that "size doesn't matter," or shaking his moneymaker at the local dicotheque, Agent 00 attempts to bring the syndicate to its knees (usually with a swift kick to the testicles) so that he can then rain a barrage of tiny bitch slaps upon any fool who crosses him in his search for the aptly named, Hidden Island. Perhaps outnumbered, but never outsmarted or outclassed, Agent 00 breaks bones without breaking a sweat, leading him closer to his inevitable showdown with Mr. Giant, and leaving his bruised and battered foes to wonder whether they'll ever manage to get their hands on that slippery little Weng.

Anyone attempting to watch a movie about a midget spy titled For Your Height Only and expecting "great cinema" will surely be disappointed. However, if this is the case, you're obviously not the smartest dress in the shop window and certainly all too familiar with the sharp sting of disappointment. For the rest of you, this is some really sublime stuff. The numerous fight sequences are silly, but fun (there's enough crotch violence to give even Bob Saget pause) and are usually highlighted by Agent 00's many gadgets (boomerang hat, x-ray glasses, mini jet-pack...) and his very unorthodox fighting "technique." Suffice it to say, if you think the only thing worthwhile to ever come out of Manila was envelopes, then you're in for a small surprise named Weng Weng and a really fun time with For Your Height Only.

As mentioned, the disc also includes the Bruce Le (one of the many Bruce Lee knockoffs) in Challenge of the Tiger. The film teams Le up with costar Richard Harrison as an unlikely couple of globetrotting agents attempting to retrieve a stolen formula designed to kill human sperm, and save the world from a madman who's attempting to "blackmail the human race!"

Despite the whacky premise, Challenge of the Tiger is a far less entertaining than For Your Height Only and I had a hard time staying interested. The fight sequences are fairly pedestrian (apart from an early scene in which Bruce Le faces off with an angry bull) and for the most part, are photographed and edited in a really lackluster fashion. While this film probably doesn't deserve its own DVD release, it's nice that it is included as a second feature (with no major price increase) and I'm sure there are those who do, and will, enjoy the film.

Mondo Macabro does another great job bringing these two curios to DVD. Both films have been digitally restored and remastered in widescreen, and feature stills galleries and bios, in addition to the ever expanding Mondo Macabro trailer highlighting their past and present releases. So if you haven't already, be sure to check this disc out for big laughs from cinema's original little bad-ass, Weng Weng.

Originally published at:

Recommended links:

For Your Height Only
The Deathless Devil/ Tarkan Vs. the Vikings
Lady Terminator
Virgins From Hell

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The Italian Connection (La Mala Ordina)

The Italian Connection (1972)

Inside a plush New York high-rise office, a bald-headed bigwig sips at a J&B on ice, while nearby a couple of equally cold-countenanced mafia hit men are chilling between killings. More than a social call, the dour duo tune in as their high-rise higher-up gives them the lowdown on a dirty-rotten double-crosser from Milan named Luca Canali. It’s believed Canali swindled the mafia on a major drug deal, so the hitmen are sent to Milan to kill Canali in gruesome grand fashion, sending a message that, lest anyone forgot, the New York mafia is not to be trifled with.

As it turns out, Luca Canali is really just a small-time pimp, his lack of wealth and lowly status compensated for with a heart of gold. Shortly after visiting with his little daughter and estranged wife, Luca is plucked off the street by a couple of mustachioed mafioso who are full of tough talk and taunts. Little do they realize however, Luca knows how to use his fists in addition to his head, literally, as the prince of pimps makes quick work of his adversaries (and a telephone) with his patented cranium-shattering head-butt.

A slightly bruised and deeply bewildered Luca soon discovers that in addition to the local mafia, a couple of mysterious men from New York are after him - but for what, he has not a clue. With bad guys and bullets chasing him down every street in Milan, clues begin to fall into place, and Luca discovers that he has been set up to take the fall for a mafia drug deal gone shady. No mere pushover pimp, Luca Canali proves to be much more than just the lowlife peddler-in-poon everyone thought by fighting back, hard, and with a bloody head-butting vengeance.

Made in 1972, and known under multiple titles including La Mala Ordina, Hit Men, Manhunt in the City, and most bafflingly, Black King Pin, the film remains a lean, high-powered action picture brimming with energy and electrifying entertainment. Directed by Fernando Di Leo with plenty of gritty gusto, the film marks the second in the director’s “Milieu Trilogy” that began with the excellent Milan Calibre 9 (Milano Calibro 9) and ended on an audacious note with The Boss (Il Boss). Of the three, however, The Italian Connection is simply superb and the very best in the trilogy.

As per usual, Di Leo is credited with having written the bulk of the screenplay for The Italian Connection, which is an exceptional, airtight exercise in running a protagonist through a nerve-splintering gauntlet. A common screenwriting analogy for this equally conventional approach to heightening conflict, is to put your protagonist in a tree and then hurl rocks at the poor sod - which in the case of The Italian Connection is more like Di Leo lobbing grenades at Luca Canali and trying to blow the analogous tree to tiny proverbial pieces. In all, the director’s no-holds-barred story and aggressive filmmaking techniques add up to an exciting film that escalates relentlessly towards its memorably ferocious finale.

To be certain, one of the film’s finest moments is a beautifully executed, seven minute pressure cooker chase sequence wherein Luca Canali wildly pursues one of the mafia’s goons. The energy and rage actor Mario Adorf, who plays Canali, exudes during this pursuit is truly extraordinary and powerful, packing a real visceral wallop. The chase itself is a crackling, car-mangling, windshield-shattering set piece replete with frenetic camerawork, potent editing, and a score by Armando Trovajoli that intensifies the mounting action. The entire sequence is a highlight of not only this film, but Italian genre cinema in general, and is an unforgettable example of bravura filmmaking at its breath-stealing best.

The Italian Connection features genre faves Henry Silva and Woody Strode as the two nefarious New York hit men, but as Luca Canali, this is undoubtedly Mario Adorf’s movie. With a lengthy career, that still continues to this day, Adorf was often featured in smaller roles. However, in The Italian Connection, given the rare opportunity to play the lead role, he seizes fortune by the throat and never lets go, giving an accomplished, winning performance, full of honest intensity. This extremely likeable character is the heart of the film, and it’s thrilling to see a neglected actor transform the part into the role of a lifetime.

I was fortunate to see The Italian Connection in a theater with a packed crowd, which by film’s end, was all abuzz. Although the movie loses some of its impact and power when viewed on a television screen, the film stands up extremely well today. Not currently available on U.S. DVD, Raro Video has an excellent PAL O Region two DVD collector’s edition spawned by the film’s recent revival at the 2004 Venice Film Festival - which was also aided by the support of Fernando Di Leo devotee Quentin Tarantino.

Featuring an uncut version of the film, with its original title, La Mala Ordina, the DVD’s digital transfer is exceptional, restoring the crisp, saturated colors and Franco Villa’s skillfully understated cinematography. In addition to a fine presentation of the film - which for English speaking viewers can be viewed with either its original Italian soundtrack and English subtitles, or in an English dubbed version - the Raro DVD’s extras include a documentary about the film (which is in Italian and quite frustratingly does not include any subtitles), a photo gallery and a Fernando Di Leo filmography.

While it’s not a flawless film, The Italian Connection does completely deserve its reputation as one of the finest Italian crime films of the seventies. It’s an undoubtedly great piece of pulp cinema I highly regard, enjoy, and wholeheartedly recommend!

Here is the chase sequence.

This DVD, along with the other titles in the trilogy, can be purchased at Xploited Cinema.

Recommended and related products:

Milano Calibro 9
Il Boss
Slaughter Hotel
Gambling City
Almost Human
How to Kill a Judge
The Big Racket
The Heroin Busters

The Proposition

The Proposition

Australian director John Hillcoat's new film, The Proposition, erupts in a burst of bloodshed and bullets as a gang of "bushrangers" engage in a shootout with a raggedy band of policemen led by British law officer Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone). It's Stanley's job to rid the region of all good-for-naughts and he has his blazing gun-sights set on the notoriously brutal Burns brothers, who are recently most wanted for the ghastly rape and murder of a local pregnant woman.

After weathering the hail of bullets, Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) and his fourteen-year-old brother Mikey are forced to surrender to Cpt. Stanley, who ultimately offers Charlie an intriguing proposition: if Charlie finds and kills his savage and elusive older brother, and leader of the Burns Gang, Arthur (Danny Huston) a pardon will be given to Charlie and Mikey. However, if Charlie fails to kill Arthur, on Christmas morning Mikey will be removed from the jail, ensuring that on that day - much to the delight of locals hungry for revenge - more than just mere stockings will be hung.

That's the basic setup for The Proposition - a film that is fueled more by brutal realism than nostalgic romanticism, and is simply the best Western to come down the pike in many a moon.

Director John Hillcoat has fashioned a Western that, while specific to the Australian Outback of the 1880s in which it is set, is also rooted in the Western traditions which many moviegoers, and you can count me among them, are yearning to see stirring up dust on the big screen once again. The Proposition is not merely a retread however. The film scripted by singer/songwriter Nick Cave (in a purported three weeks no less!) is an unabashed throwback to classic Western archetypes and themes, but the material has enough imagination and originality that it never feels tedious, or simply redundant. Without giving away details which might compromise the film, suffice it to say, at times the story also seems to use familiar setups as a way of playing with genre stereotypes and audience expectations, which it then slightly subverts, to somewhat surprising, if not altogether "rousing" effect.

As mentioned, Cave and director John Hillcoat seem to have approached the material with a focus on realism over artifice, or any old-timey romantic notions about violence. The Proposition is an often brutal and ugly film. All the same, the jarring in-your-face bloodshed is not poured on for entertainment value, but rather, as the grisly and unsettling outcome of men destined to clash in an awe-inspiring yet unforgiving landscape ruled by ruthless brutality.

The look of the film complements the story perfectly, balancing the oft-times beautiful and harsh elements that are prevalent to both the Outback, and the story in which it is set. Cinematographer Benoit Delhomme does an excellent job capturing the glorious beauty of a multi-hued sunset, or a sparkling, star-dappled night sky against a silhouette of naked tree branches. He then contrasts such eye-catching imagery with the deadly, rippling blaze of the sun, or an immense buzzing cloud of flies - an omnipresent harbinger of death that crawls into mouths and literally covers people's clothing. In addition to this, the radiating heat of the desert is almost tangible throughout The Proposition - the fiery eye of the sun seemingly unrelenting as it beats down on the film's sweat-soaked, grime-caked characters.

Thematically the film makes good use of the contrast between the emerging civilization and the "uncivilized" violence that is a result of that burgeoning community's attempt to tame an "untamed" land. To be sure, much of the film's conflict relies on this balance, which proves to be anything but harmonious. As refinements of modern civilization tend to give way under the strain caused by the harsh desert locale, a clash with primitive survival instincts emerges, and violence appears to supersede any notions of civility.

The character Arthur Burns, an intelligent, educated man who is also perhaps the most savagely violent character in The Proposition, is also the one person who appears to have reconciled the two, attaining a personal balance by embracing his primitive violent tendencies with the cultural refinement he obviously possesses. The fact that many of the Aboriginal tribesmen in the area believe that Arthur is a man that transforms into an animal underscores this concept.

In relation to this, the characters Cpt. Stanley, a civil authority, and Charlie Burns, a criminal, might appear to be at opposite ends of the struggle between civil order and barbarous acts, but both epitomize this conflict for balance, their parallel story arcs mirroring each other, and effectively dovetailing by film's end. Overall, this conflict at the heart of the film and its characters is an intriguing aspect of The Proposition, and one which enriches the overall viewing experience.

Another of the film's highlights is a truly remarkable cast. Apart from the lead actors already mentioned, and who all do great work, Emily Watson plays the role of Emma - Cpt. Stanley's genteel British wife who has been transplanted to the inhospitable Australian desert environs, and whom Cpt. Stanley struggles desperately to shield the violent realities of his occupation from. Also, the great John Hurt appears as a grizzled bounty hunter named Jellon Lamb, patiently biding his time in an attempt to eventually nab the elusive, verging on mythical, eldest Burns brother, Arthur. Last, David Wenham, most famous for his role as Faramir in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, does an outstanding job playing Cpt. Stanley's despicable, bloodthirsty superior, Eden Fletcher.

To be certain, The Proposition is obviously not for moviegoers hoping for light entertainment, nor does it aim to be a feel-good shoot 'em up crowd-pleaser. Also, Western fans hoping for lasso tricks and campfire sing-alongs simply need not apply. Instead, The Proposition offers a really well-made, engrossing film, with interesting and believable characters, and some excellent performances. The subject matter is dark, at times verging on nihilistic, and the filmmakers are unflinching in their approach to the material and violence without being excessive. While I don't foresee the film doing a "dough-si-dough" at the box-office, The Proposition is a damn fine movie that will hopefully find an audience. For fans of the Western genre's more uncompromising films, it's a movie not to be missed.

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