Crash Analysis: A SERBIAN FILM (Serbia, 2010)

One hell of a metaphor

A retired porn star comes back for his big finale

The hype surrounding this movie has brought it to such mythical status that actually finding the truly uncut and uncensored version was equivalent to finding lost treasure (beware the “uncut” version that has definitely been cut). Then, deflation set in because a part of me longed for it to be some sort of Holy Grail I could never find. Regardless, the journey ended and I had the movie in my hands.

I’d seen enough disturbing films (list to follow review), and I not only wondered how this one would stack up against the rest, but why the hell I wanted to watch it at all. Yet, like the car crash one can’t pull their eyes from, I threw the DVD in the player and paid attention to the screen.

Milos (Srdjan Todorovic) is a lanky and aging former porn star with an attractive wife (Jelena Gavrilovic) and a cute four-year-old son. Like any family the world over, it seems, money is an issue, so when Milos’ former porn queen, Lejla (Katarina Zutic) says he can star in one last film that will put his family on easy street, he pulls down his pants one last time. But it’s not that simple – of course. The man behind the camera, the master of puppets, Vukmir (Sergej Trifunovic) wants more from his star than any other director in porn history – much more. From there, the movie escalates the torrid sex, violence and destruction to a fever pitch.

In the director’s introduction, which I did not watch until the movie ended, Srdjan Spasojevic (who cowrote the script with Aleksandar Radivojevic) talked about creating something without the “sugarcoating of political correctness” and he did just that.

What Spasojevic brought us was a fantastical tale of utter taboo to drive home the simple point that the world is fucked up. More important, that we’re all raped like whores (to paraphrase the director) by people in power that assault us from birth to death, even after rigor mortis has set in. Naming the film after a people who have been targeted for committing atrocities during their post-Soviet conflict with Croatians and Bosnians would be a very bad move for an international audience, but this is Spasojevic’s point. His nation has major issues and he’s angry. As a filmmaker, he’s disgusted by his country’s bureaucrats and their abuse of power, and his notorious movie serves as the mirror he has held up to the political horror they’ve unleashed. Whether the metaphor works or not is up to audiences. But one must ask: If Spasojevic had filmed a documentary about Serbia’s lament, would the world have paid attention? Well, two years after its release, A SERBIAN FILM comes up repeatedly among horror fans and anyone out to watch infamous or banned movies. At the risk of physical harm and having his reputation destroyed, Spasojevic has traveled to far off lands to show his movie and meet with audiences, and he’s often interviewed about the movie and its allegory – if one believes there is one at all. In his interviews, the writer/director has also stated his work is a stand against boring cinema in Serbia as well as the “fascism” of political correctness, and the corrupt authorities that control art and theater.

Regardless of Spasojevic’s reasons and whether audiences buy his logic, does not change the fact that he went right to a person’s core by choosing sex as the central topic. After all, whether we deem ourselves to be free or not, we can only really control our thoughts and our bodies. Yet, by hitting us in the groin, this movie makes it perfectly clear that even the freedom of choosing whom to have sex with and how can still be stripped away by authoritarian abuse. That thought alone, even beyond the violence and disregard for humanity in this movie, is enough to make one squirm.

As for the censorship that has blocked the widespread distribution of the movie, I’m dead set against it. After all, this is a feature for adults and adults can certainly make their own choices when it comes to seeing any such film. We don’t need governments or angry mobs to try to stop us from indulging if we choose to, dammit.

The problem with A SERBIAN FILM, however, is that fantastical element of utter taboo. Not once did I think what was actually taking place in the movie could happen anywhere, even with the megalomaniacal Vukmir at the helm unleashing cinematic destruction like a rabid Orson Wells. Then again, any time there is a wealthy and powerful soul going crazy beyond logic in a cinematic feature, the emotional side of my brain shuts down just enough to keep me grounded. Yes, this movie was unsettling on many levels for many reasons (to offer further details would unleash too many spoilers), and I bit the hell out of my nails, but the visceral impact that is the driving force behind IRREVERSIBLE (France, 2002), BORDERLAND (Mexico/USA, 2008), AUDITION (Japan, 1999) or MARTYRS (France/Canada, 2008) is lost to a degree. With those four films, I could not catch my breath or turn off my mind for hours. And although Spasojevic’s movie has left me with a lot to think about, my blood pressure is quite steady. Furthermore, if the director’s intent is to spotlight the plight of his people, and people under the grueling thumb of any government, there should have been at least one victim far above the age of thirty-five.

At first, I contributed my utter lack of a flight response due to over-desensitization, until I realized I had known what was coming in almost every scene. As each scene grew progressively darker and more intimate, each master shot made the segment quite clear and it was easy to prepare for what was to come. There was definitely far too much telegraphing. One scene, however, did catch me by surprise, and it’s one of the major reasons why the movie is so despised. Initially, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (Italy, 1980) and SALO (Italy/France, 1975) had shared the pedestal for Most Disturbing Film, but that scene comprised one outrageous taboo that’s so illicit, A SERBIAN FILM may have just joined them in a twisted trinity.

Beyond the talk, outrage and pontificating, it cannot be denied that Todorovic is brilliant in the role as the porn star that unknowingly sold his soul and put everyone around him at risk. The rest of the cast poured themselves full-blown into their respective roles, though it’s obvious Trifunovic enjoyed playing the god-like master tormentor, and he did so with great aplomb. And don’t think for a second this is some run-of-the-mill low budget exercise hellbent on offering up shock value. Nemanja Jovanov’s cinematography is outstanding. Lighting, color, shadow, sound and the majority of effects would make Hollywood proud. Moreover, Sky Wikluh’s score is solid and rocking, and you can sometimes hear those little touches of what would be the platform for porn music tracks on occasion.

But you have to make the decision to see it, digest it and talk about it. As for me, I’ll continue to ruminate – and keep this disc in my collection, though I’m uncertain if I’ll want to ever see it again. Enjoy. I think.

Other disturbing movies of note: MARTYRS (France/Canada, 2008), AUDITION (Japan, 1999), SALO (Italy/France, 1975), IRREVERSIBLE (France, 2002), CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (Italy, 1980), ERASERHEAD (1977), VISITOR Q (Japan, 2001), BORDERLAND (Mexico/USA, 2007), MEN BEHIND THE SUN (Hong Kong, 1988) and GROTESQUE (Japan, 2009).

4 out of 5 stars

Crash Analysis: NIGHTMARE (2005)

A head scratcher – which may not be a bad thing

A film student directs his next great venture – or is someone directing him?

Writer/Director Dylan Blank, admittedly a horror junkie, and co-writer, Morgan Pehme, went full force with blood, guts, nakedness, thrills and a real brain-twister when putting NIGHTMARE together.

Taking place in New York, The Director (Jason Scott Campbell) just had a killer one night stand with Natalya (Nicole Roderick), until the pair wake up to find that someone had filmed them during the night – killing three women. Of course, they don’t remember a thing, and they must uncover what the hell happened. From this point forward, The Director gets the bright idea to make a film of this crazy experience – and continues to do so when the tapes keep coming.

Campbell certainly challenged Christian Bale’s portrayal of Patrick Bateman in AMERICAN PSYCHO (2000) when he needed to – and that’s not a bad thing. In fact, Campbell hit the mark every time as his character underwent an emotional rollercoaster, along with the audience that must struggle to put the pieces together. Furthermore, most of the acting was solid, including Roderick, Omar’s Amin Joseph and Raymond Russell Hamlin certainly stood out as Wes.

With low budget horror, solid acting is vital, but great lighting and cinematography definitely goes a long way, and Valentina Caniglia delivered on a grand scale. Caniglia’s two-shot of The Director and Natalya walking towards the camera down a New York street is fabulous as well as her well-framed shot of the pair along the river. Then again, she pulled off every scene beautifully.

But if all movies come down to the important detail of story, Blank and Pehme certainly wanted to deliver something a bit different – maybe with David Lynch in mind. In the behind-the-scenes video, Blank announced that he set out to do something different. Furthermore, he wanted the nakedness, and there are tons of it, to add to the horror instead of serving as gratuitous T-and-A fair, and he accomplished his goal without a doubt.

The ending, however, may prove too abstract for some moviegoers. Thankfully, the filmmakers have given us an out. Although you can indulge in their comments to determine their intent – though they encourage audience members to come to their own conclusions – the alternative ending puts things in perspective. So why didn’t they choose the alternate ending? My guess: They probably felt leaving a bit of mystery behind would be a good thing. Yet the alternate ending added that extra bit of “Oh, damn!” to my psyche and actually raised more questions. Then again, check out and see for yourself – and let me know your take.

4 out of 5 stars

Crash Analysis: 2.13 (2009)

Fell apart

A profiler gets back on the job after a breakdown and nearly loses his mind – again

This is one of those horror/thrillers that makes me angry. This movie, written and staring, Mark Thompson (who was fabulous), has some all too blatant errors that force what could have been a great tale to fall apart in every plot driven way. Directed by Charles Adelman, this character study and police procedural leaves much to be desired due to poor plotting and casting.

First, the cast was excellent (though Teri Polo seemed far too reserved at times), however, I wanted to see more of Jere Burns (Jeffrey) and his relationship with partner Russell Spivey (Thompson). Regardless, the pair is called to a murder scene where a woman is found nailed to a ceiling. And this is Spivey’s first case since coming off “forced” leave since he had trouble dealing with the near death of his girlfriend, fellow detective, Amanda Richardson (Polo). But as the mystery unfolds, Spivey steps up and leads the way to expose the killer who appears to be on a serial rampage. The problem, however, is that Spivey seems to be a target of the killer, who uses Shakespearian references in his crimes.

The dialogue and interchange between characters is excellent, and the suspense is quite solid. Sadly, as with most thrillers, they come apart because we can either see the identity of the killer from a mile away, or genre-based clichés reign supreme, or the writer takes us down a path of unbelievability – sadly, this movie has all three.

 ***Spoilers abound concerning major flaws***

Continue reading “Crash Analysis: 2.13 (2009)”

Crash Analysis: DEADWOOD PARK (2007)

Could have been a contender

Dead kids + return of surviving brother = mystery solved

Eric Stanze was certainly ambitious when he wrote and filmed this near miss. After all, he got a group of “living historians” to recreate an extensive WWII scene with genuine equipment – though why he had a girl in a 1945 flashback wear modern sneakers is beyond goofdom.

The story follows Jake Richardson’s (William Clifton’s) return to his old family home in a dying town. Many years before, his twin brother had been kidnapped and murdered by a mysterious somebody who had claimed two dozen victims. In any event, like all films of this ilk, Jake soon learns that “you can’t go home again” – yawn – and that the local sheriff (Bryan Lane), doesn’t want him around – yawn. Oh, and Jake and Olivia (Lindsay Luscri), work together to solve the mystery of the murdered kids, and she just happens to be the good sheriff’s daughter – double yawn. Timeless clichés aside, Jake’s old family home seems to be haunted by all the slain children.

For horror lovers, this is the point where anger sets in. The ghost kids giggle, appear and disappear, and leave little clues behind for Jake to unravel. Now, since they can obviously communicate, why doesn’t one of them just write on the wall the name of the damn killer? But no, we must be tortured by ghosts that seemingly want human help while mindfucking said humans in the process.

The problem with DEADWOOD PARK is that one can see the scares coming a mile away. And even though some of Stanze’s cinematography is fairly decent, the multitude of scenes have that “sterile” feel that automatically hints at bad ultra-low budget. Worst still, except for Bryan Lane, the acting is stiff and not memorable. Oftentimes, William Clifton seems to mimic Jack Webb’s Joe Friday from “Dragnet”. And once again, actors spend too much time standing around to talk, stalling the action and putting us to sleep – and that is the directors fault.

Did you ever see Byron Mabe’s SHE-FREAK (1967) where he films a carnival for about an hour and throws in bits of a story with some sexy shots of Claire Brennen? Stanze does the same thing here, except that the amusement park has been abandoned – and there are no sexy shots of anyone. Instead, I was left wishing I had been there to get some great still photos in black and white.

Regardless, the story at one time weak, becomes mashed-up-crazy as Stanze takes us back and forth through time to deliver a killer that leads to a jarring sub-genre turn late in the third act.

If the story had been mapped out better, with stronger actor and direction, this could have been something worthwhile.

The 1.5 stars goes to Bryan Lane, the abandoned amusement park and the living actors for bringing WWII to the fore. It’s a shame that after working in independent film for twenty-five years that Stanze couldn’t have put something stronger together.

1.5 out of 5 stars

Crash Analysis: THE CAT (Hong Kong, 1992)

What the hell?! 

Good aliens versus bad aliens in Hong Kong – with a cat…

If you like weird and trippy horror films that defy description, such as Nobuhiko Obayashi’s HOUSE (Japan, 1977), then this is the bizarro follow-up you’ve been waiting for.

The movie begins with a narrator divulging a strange story, though he’s not a no-neck teller of tales and we don’t jump into a musical number. The narrator’s friend had discovered blood and guts in the apartment above him – and until that morning, the place had been occupied by a man, attractive young woman, and of course, a kitty. Then the movie gets beyond strange and all hell breaks loose with flying cats, expanding mushroom-tree-blob mega-hybrids, an attractive alien woman, fleshless victims – and glitter from the sky. Stir that up and that’s THE CAT.

You see, this blob like entity is a “star killer” and the cat, also known as “The General” is out to destroy this monster that can kill people and reanimate them. Well, Wisely (Waise Lee) is just the Earth-based good looking hero to get caught up in the mess, and help save the day with Alien Girl, Gloria Yip.

Although some of the makeup effects are worthwhile, the visuals will suck your eyes from their sockets due to their innate hilarity. And with a crazed and disjointed story by Gordon and Hing-Ka Chan, you’ll wonder what the hell the pair was on as they crafted this outrageous monstrosity. The last picture directed by Lam Ngai Kai, who French film critic, Xavier Debarats perpetually compared to Ed Wood, this is clearly the foul smelling icing on his ill constructed cake.

Lam directed thirteen films and what happened to him is a mystery. Rumor has it that his 1991 venture, RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY, was equally as bad as it was trippy. As for the rest, well, it seems as if we can have a film fest to rival the body of work put forth by Mr. Wood.

The 2.5 stars is for sheer entertainment value. One will find it hard to take their eyes off the screen, and the movie is so wild, it’s hard not to enjoy. Unlike bad horrors that clog the genre, this sci-fi/horror has that something special that will make most aficionados of the genre exclaim, “I must own this!” – which may bring THE CAT to cult status. Enjoy.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Crash Analysis: PSYCHIC EXPERIMENT (2010)

So bad it made me hostile

A mad scientist’s psychic experiment is underway in a small town…

This movie is such a complete mess, there is no place to begin.

Regardless, a psychic experiment that turns on crazy people’s telekinetic powers to kill and destroy those around them – for no apparent reason – comes on full force against anybody within spoon-bending striking distance.

Writer/Director Mel House delivers an excruciatingly sub-standard script comprised of far too many characters and enough of a convoluted plot to give one a headache within the first ten minutes. Worst still, this movie has some of the worst dialogue I’ve heard since Ed Wood’s PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, which was funny at least.

Though this is not from the movie, you’ll get the idea about how awful the dialogue sounded at every damn turn: “Give that file to Tommy. You know, the guy in research with the three kids and the drinking problem. Oh boy, I hope he doesn’t lose the file because he was on a bender or we’ll all be in real trouble.” Yes, it was that spot-on atrocious.

As for the story, everyone in town seems to know that the scientific research lab has led to the disappearance of many, yet a group of twentysomethings are determined to get inside and expose the facility all over the internet. Of course, they easily get by security and find their evidence. But lo and behold, the FBI is on the case and wants these meddling kids to expose the lab’s horrors as well. Seems that the FBI has known how evil the organization has been, but apparently needed a higher body count to do anything about it. And the FBI in this movie is the dumbest group of slow moving individuals you’ve ever seen. In fact, this heavy dialogue laden monstrosity has scene after scene of talking heads with actors just standing around as their world crumbles – while the FBI hides out until the dust settles.

Why the beautiful Debbie Rochon and horror fan favorite, Reggie Bannister appeared in this mess, along with PARANORMAL ACTIVITY’s Katie Featherston, is beyond comprehension. And Bannister, like some of the makeup effects department, gave it their all. Others, however, seemed to be waiting for direction from Mel House who seemed to provide no guidance whatsoever.

Stiff deliveries, too much standing around, no subtext, and an over-abundance of non-sensical mutterings will leave you wanting that ninety minutes back.

Without a doubt, PSYCHIC EXPERIMENT is one of the ultra-worse horrors ever made. There is no redeeming quality and it isn’t even worth laughing at. Instead of renting this tremendous pile of fermenting shit, have a laugh with any Ed Wood film – at least you can create enjoyable drinking games from his lackluster work.

No stars awarded

Crash Analysis: BLACK CAT (2004)

So bad Poe is pounding to get out of his grave

Did a man kill his missing wife and son or…whatever

Whenever a DVD starts in my player and has the feel of a very low budget horror, a part of me dies every time. Quality is usually sacrificed for over-reaching directors that do not have the cash or experience to pull off the movie. This convoluted, poorly shot and poorly acted take on Edgar Allen Poe’s tale is a travesty – and a waste of time.

The entire movie, about a police investigation into the possible murder of a mother and her child is stiff and flat to the point of sheer boredom.

The actors are stiff, especially lead Stephanie Leon, though Shaun Kurtz does his best as the tormented husband. However, Writer/Director Serge Rodnunsky didn’t help him go all the way. As for the rest of the cast, he didn’t do them any favors either. Only one cast member, Shawna Erikson (a Halle Berry look alike) truly delivered (hence the half-star).

Beyond the sterile scenes and an overall lack of energy, the music of Kurt Oldman was used, abused and overwhelmed many of the scenes. In fact, when it came to abstract images of blood spatter and dead cats, the blast of music only created a bit of laughter instead of provoking fear.

Furthermore, the story fell apart many times because Rodnunsky manipulated police procedure at every turn: A man asks for his attorney and never gets one, “the lab” boys find nothing but a detective pulls evidence at every turn, and the husband is held by police indefinitely without charges when he may not even be a suspect. Worst still, the CSI team couldn’t anything in a place where the murders had actually taken place. Hmm… Even if they used Luminol to located DNA, they’d soon realize the location had been cleaned with a million gallons of bleach – and that would leave any investigator suspicious.

This movie could have appeared on television as a late night fill in, though I doubt viewers would have stayed for long. BLACK CAT actually had the feel of a soap opera – though that would be insulting to soap operas everywhere.

Other than Erikson, there is no reason to tune in – ever.

0.5 out of 5 stars