Get infected in Hong Kong with SARS Zombies!

SARS Zombies posterBack in July, I had the opportunity of attending a press screening of a film that I had never heard of before: SARS Zombies. The debut film of director, producer, scriptwriter, action director, special makeup artist, and actor Samuel Leong, SARS Zombies is quite possibly the very first serious homegrown Hong Kong zombie flick (at least in the Romero sense of the term). I recently interview Sam for SCREAM magazine, and the issue is available now! For now, here is the synopsis from my article, a trailer, and info on the screenings in Hong Kong taking place this weekend!

“The story begins 10 years after the 2003 outbreak of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in Hong Kong. A gang of thieves has decided to raid a jewelry dealer situated in a large industrial building, and after a heated face-off between the gang leader (also played by director Sam Leong) and the security guards on duty, it seems that the felons have achieved their purpose. While they search the premises, however, they accidentally stumble into another flat inhabited by a man and his young daughter. It turns out that the man is a doctor who, driven to insanity by the loss of his wife to the first SARS outbreak, has been working ceaselessly to find a cure ever since. Engaging in increasingly questionable experiments, the man eventually resorted to testing on cadavers and even his own daughter, who became the host of a mutant strain of the SARS virus, this time standing for “Sudden Aggressive Reanimation Syndrome.”

Of course, it isn’t long before the girl bites one of the gangsters as he attempts to force her out of the flat. In the inevitable mayhem that ensues, the robbers and hostages are progressively infected, with the entire building eventually becoming a hive of the undead. The film climaxes in a high-kicking, bone-crunching, head-drilling last stand against the living dead, finally revealing a twist that drives home some of the more subtle commentary that director Sam Leong has attempted to infuse within his neoteric effort at zombie cinema.”

SHOW DATE: October 25, 26, and 27, 2013

SHOW TIME: 19:30 ~

VENUE: Causeway Bay (Windsor UA Cinema)

Rape Zombie: Lust of the Dead 2 & 3!

Lust of the DeadI have arrived in Japan, and the first surprise of the day was finding Naoyuki Tomomatsu’s latest outré contributions to the burgeoning(?!) genre of rape/zombie films: Rape Zombie: Lust of the Dead 2 & 3. For those who have read my previous post on the maiden title in this series, and those who are aware of the fact that Japan has practically built up a porn industry based on non-consensual intercourse, this should come as no surprise. For the rest of you…well, watch the trailers below and consider yourselves warned.

Put Some Pants On That Zombie! A Review Of “LUST OF THE DEAD”

Some of you may recall my recent post about Naoyuki Tomomatsu‘s latest foray into the zombie genre, the appropriately entitled Rape Zombie: Lust of the Dead.  Well, the premiere has come and gone, and while I was sadly unable to attend, I did manage to purchase the DVD (actually released the day before the theatrical showing) and give the film a proper viewing.  How good can a film about undead creatures bent on violating the womenfolk of the world possibly be?  I probably shouldn’t answer that, but I will give you my thoughts and impressions of the latest attempt to send George A. Romero to an early grave.  Let’s get started, shall we?

The Story

Jumping right into the action, we see Kanae (Asami) going about her daily housework when she is suddenly assaulted by her abusive husband. While being raped, the television begins to broadcast news of mass rape incidents taking place across the city by unidentified assailants who seem to be no more than living corpses.  The incidents prompt Kanae to fight back and kill her husband, and we are treated to a crazily edited sequence of news broadcasts as various authorities attempt to make sense of the chaos.  It seems that radiation from space has somehow turned non-virgin men into zombified rape demons, whose only weakness is a certain part of their anatomy between their legs.  What’s worse, the women who are taken by these sex-crazed ghouls are killed almost instantly by the poisonous seed of their attackers.  We soon meet up with former office lady Momoko (Saya Kobayashi) and nurse Nozomi (Arisu Ozawa) as they seek shelter in a Shinto shrine not far from Tokyo.  In the shrine they meet up with Kanae and schoolgirl Tomoe (Yui Aikawa), who have decided to make a stand with a cache of assault rifles and explosives pilfered from an abandoned military jeep.  The two pairs are initially leery of each other, but it isn’t long before they come to an agreement and decide that mutual aid is in order.  A romance blooms between wrist-cutting Momoko and the older-sister-type Nozomi, both of whom had traumatic experiences at the hands of men.  Their sapphic interlude is punctuate by a new surprise: the head of the shrine has been there the whole time, but it seems that his otaku lifestyle and unbroken virginity have somehow protected him from the zombie plague, and he soon proves (somewhat dubiously) useful by providing changes of clothing for Momoko and Kanae, who take on the costumes of a maid and a shrine maiden, respectively.  All is not well, however, as North Korea blames Japan for the disaster and declares war, and it isn’t long though before the hordes of decaying deviants are knocking at the door.  Everything ends in an explosively confusing yet original conclusion that you’ll have to see for yourself!

The Good(?)

Something that keeps this film from being completely unwatchable is the enthusiasm of the four main actresses, and also the surprisingly well-thought-out televised commentaries that appear interspersed throughout as the four women watch the unfolding situation via PC.  The speakers are delightfully ridiculous and over the top (including an outspoken pundit with an eyepatch as a nod to Dawn of the Dead), and the twisted yet strangely convincing explanation of the rape zombie phenomenon as a natural step in the evolution of mankind and the Earth itself is certainly proof that some effort was made to create a unique contribution to the zombie genre.  The whole premise is also tied in (albeit shakily) with the Japanese mythology of the sun goddess Amaterasu, and together with the satire of Japan’s modern culture make this a uniquely Japanese take on the undead.  One of the funniest moments may be when a group of women are watching a North Korean missile soar through the skies toward Tokyo.  Rather than screaming or running for cover, they all pull out their cell phones and begin taking photos.  As a person living in Japan, I can honestly say that this also may have been one of the most realistic moments in the entire film.

The Bad

As low-budget zombie flicks go, this one certainly suffers a bit.  A lot of handheld cameras and uninteresting angles are to be expected from a director who is known for his adult videos, but when it comes to those sequences Tomomatsu certainly does shine, and he even manages to get some decent action scenes with Asami fighting off the zombies as well.  However, while the CG is used sparingly and to relatively good effect, the prosthetics and practical effects are sub-par at best, and sometimes just downright painful.  That said, the effects aren’t really distracting as the characters really drive the story forward, and the film is paced well enough to keep up the audience’s interest in what is happening.

The Undead

Trading in their traditional shambling gait in favor of the undignified waddle of a man with his pants around his ankles, Tomomatsu’s ghouls have about as much realism as they do regard for mutual consent during intercourse.  The general makeup effects look like something from a cheap Halloween store, while the poorly fitted latex masks appear to be leftovers from Helldriver‘s scrap bin.  Again, one can also choose to look at these shortcomings as a part of the film’s charm and, as mentioned above, the effects aren’t significantly distracting, especially since the camera is less concerned with showcasing the zombies than it is in getting as many breast shots as possible.  Is this something to complain about?  I’ll leave you to decide.  But the answer is no.

And so, in conclusion I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by Rape Zombie: Lust of the Dead.  While I expected a one-trick zombie, I found a unique little film that actually has a fair amount going for it in terms of social satire and comedy.  It’s a fun little romp through a perverted post-apocalypse world that only Japan could bring us, and so if you have the chance, grab your libation of choice and sit back for what might just be the guilty pleasure of the year!

Hang on to your ZOMBIE ASS! It’s Noboru Iguchi’s “TOILET OF THE DEAD!”

Night of the Living Dead began in a graveyard.

Resident Evil began with a virus.

And now, Zombie Ass begins from a toilet…

Noboru Iguchi, the mad genius responsible for The Machine Girl and bête noire of rectophobes around the globe, is forcing audiences to roll up their sleeves, take out their plungers, and dive down to where zombies have rarely gone before: the sh***er.

Yes, this is a real film, as if we could doubt anything to come from Japan after my recent report on the upcoming Rape Zombie: Lust of the Dead.  Offering ass-loads of toilet humor garnished with liberal amounts lots of flesh-ripping and feces-flinging action, Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead was shown at the Texas Fantastic Fest in September 2011, and just saw its Japanese premiere in Tokyo this past weekend on February 25th.

Zombie Ass stars Arisa Nakamura, Mayu Sugano, Asana Mamoru, as well as Iguchi regulars AsamiKentaro Kishi, and Kentaro Shimazu and tells the tale of Megumi, a young karate student and her friends as they find themselves confronted with the menace of a parasitic breed of intestinal worm that turns its victims into horrifying ghouls!  And what’s more, it seems that only the power of flatulence can possibly save humanity from these undying terrors of the toilet!  Remember, this is coming from a man who proudly proclaims himself as a “legendary ass-fetishist.”  I would attempt to make more toilet/anus-related jokes, but I have a feeling that I might just be beating a dead ass – er, horse, so I’ll leave you with the trailer.  Just don’t watch the film after eating.

RAPE ZOMBIE?!? Naoyuki Tomomatsu’s “LUST OF THE DEAD”

Well, the zombie boom continues around the world, and leave it to a Japanese director to come up with something so outrageous, so gauche, and so tasteless, that one can only wonder why someone hasn’t thought of it before.  The title says it all.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is Rape Zombie: Lust of the Dead.

Brought to us by Naoyuki Tomomatsu, the co-director of Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl and director of another Japanese zombie schlock film, Zombie Self-Defense Force, this horror/comedy film takes audiences to new levels of undead indecency and reverse necrophilia, featuring a cast of notable AV (adult video) actresses such as Asami (The Machine Girl, RoboGeisha), Arisu Ozawa, Yui Aikawa, and Saya Kobayashi (currently one of Japan’s hottest AV stars).  According to the Japanese description

Undying rape spirits that have taken the form of human men descend upon helpless women in this sexy/horror/action film. Incidents of rampaging men raping women break out across Tokyo.  Refusing to die even after their heads are lopped off and their hearts shot out, it seems that the only way to defeat these creatures is to sever the ****s from between their legs…

Well, if that doesn’t sound like a fun-filled romp for the whole family, then I don’t know what does!  An official selection of the Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival 2012 (February 23 – February 27), the Japanese DVD will be released on March 2, followed by a late-night theatrical event with several other films at Theatre Shinjuku on March 3, with some of the cast and crew in attendance.  More info (in Japanese) can be found on director/writer Tomomatsu’s blog.  You can also Like the film on Facebook here.

Sushi Is Hungry! Noboru Iguchi’s “DEAD SUSHI”!

Time flies by on leathery, bat-like wings here at Castle Skeleton, and a look at the cobweb-ridden calendar on the wall tells me that Candlemas has already come and gone without a single post here at my horror blog!  Well, to rectify the situation I decided to highlight one of the latest slices of cinematic WTFery to be spawned from the mind of delightfully demented director Noboru Iguchi: Dead Sushi.  Responsible for films that have gained loyal cult followings such as The Machine Girl, RoboGeisha, and Karate-Robo Zaborgar, Iguchi is sure to please once again as martial artist and actress Rina Takeda (High Kick Girl!, Dogoon V) takes on an army of killer sushi!  Shigeru Matsuzaki will also appear, along with Iguchi regulars Asami and Demo Tanaka.   This visual and gastronomical(?) delight will hit theaters soon, but for now check out the trailer and flyer, with English text supplied by my good friend Norman England.  Itadakimasu!

Looking into “The Beyond”

The season of Samhain and All Hallow’s Evening has come and gone, and I find that my pen has been long neglected, due in part to my recent journeys to South Korea to experience the cultural (and culinary) flavor of that nearby nation. And so, what better way to make a comeback than to discuss one of my favorite films of all time, Lucio Fulci’s 1981 masterpiece of the macabre, The Beyond (…E tu vivrai nel terrore! L’aldilà)!

Considered by many to be Fulci’s maleficent magnum opus, this follow-up to City of the Living Dead saw its first US release in heavily censored format from Aquarius Releasing under the title of Seven Doors of Death. Not only was much of the blood and gore lost to the cutting room floor, Fabio Frizzi’s haunting musical compositions were also completely replaced as well. One particularly egregious case of tampering even inexplicably credited the director of the work as one Louis Fuller! In spite of such wanton butchering (and thanks to the circulation of bootlegs from abroad), The Beyond maintained a cult following into the nineties, eventually culminating in its release on DVD under the auspices of Grindhouse Releasing and Quentin Tarantino’s Rolling Thunder Production Company in 1998. A Blu-ray version was made available earlier this year, much to the devilish delight of horror aficionados the world over.

Attempts to describe the plot of this particularly grisly slice of Italian horror often come off as mere exercises in futility, and querulous individuals who repine over incoherent storylines are advised to quit before the opening credits have ended. Those who are willing to be carried away by the raging gyres of Fulci’s cinematic storm, however, will find a phantasmagorical and oneiric haunted house thrill ride that takes viewers through surreal and metaphysical vistas that continue the themes introduced by City of the Living DeadCatriona MacColl, the previous installment’s female lead, takes on this time the role of Liza Merril, a young woman who has recently inherited the old Seven Doors Hotel in New Orleans, Louisiana, which she decides to restore and open up for business. What she doesn’t realize is that the hotel was built upon one of the seven doors of death described in the mysterious Book of Eibon (the Lovecraftian tome invented by Clark Ashton Smith), and that it was the scene of the violent lynching and crucifixion of an artist named Schweick (Antoine Saint-John) who had become aware of the hotel’s secret and thus labeled a warlock by the surrounding townsfolk. As violent deaths and unexplained occurrences increase in frequency around the ill-fated location, Liza is aided by pragmatic and skeptical local doctor John McCabe (David Warbeck), while also receiving cryptic warnings from an enigmatic blind girl named Emily (Cinzia Monreale), who seems to have some unspeakable connection with the hotel’s darkly shadowed past. The eldritch happenings and gruesome murders continue, eventually culminating in a final shootout against the undead (Fulci’s grudging concession to the zombie craze that was sweeping across Europe) who begin pouring through the steadily opening hell-gate. The ending is much too good to give away here, but I will say that the director doesn’t disappoint, and leaves audiences to form their own conclusions about the nature of life, death, and what lies beyond.

Bringing in regular collaborators like Dardano Sacchetti (screenplay [co-writer] and story), Sergio Salvati (cinematography), and Fabio Frizzi (music), The Beyond stands as one of the most technically brilliant and artistically pure visions to come from the wonderfully twisted mind of Lucio Fulci, who pays homage to French playwright Antonin Artaud through his own surrealistic “Theatre of Cruelty.”  If you haven’t already, be sure to check out this chilling classic, now available on DVD and Blu-ray.  You won’t regret it…or will you?

In other (somewhat unfortunate) news, my interview with Japanese actress Eihi Shiina in SCREAM magazine has been pushed back to the January issue due to circumstances beyond my control. For now, pick up the newest issue for the latest in all things horror, out now! Until next time, unpleasant dreams…

Interview with Eihi Shiina for SCREAM THE HORROR MAGAZINE!

By a strange and curious turn of events, I have found myself becoming the “man in Japan” for SCREAM, a UK-based magazine that is drawing fresh blood in the world of horror publications around the world.  According to the web site:

SCREAM is Britain’s premier Horror Magazine. SCREAM is your best source for horror movies, DVD and Blu-rays, reviews, previews, celebrity interviews, books, games, film festival reports, comics and pretty much everything else you can think of in the world of horror…

While the vicissitudes of my various activities have prevented me from taking up my quill and ink here at Castle Skeleton recently, I was able to take the opportunity to pen some thoughts on my participation as a zombie in a Helldriver (Yoshihiro Nishimura) DVD spinoff filmed this past summer, which you can read about in Issue 7 of SCREAM, available now at news agents and book stores across the UK, and for international order at their web site: http://www.screamhorror.com/

Not only that, I also had the opportunity to sit down and speak with Japan’s undisputed splatter queen, Eihi Shiina!  We discussed her roles in Audition (Takashi Miike), Tokyo Gore Police (Yoshihiro Nishimura), and, of course, the Sushi Typhoon zombie epic Helldriver, and she also shared with me some of her activities outside of the film world and her thoughts on life and love.  You can read the full interview (conducted and translated by yours truly) in next month’s issue of SCREAM.  For now, check out the post here on SCREAM’s home page.  You won’t want to miss it!

Revisiting the “City of the Living Dead”

After an extended vacation spent scaling Mt. Fuji, visiting various culture and historical sites across Japan, and consuming copious amounts of green tea, the kaidan (ghost story) mood of Japanese summer has inspired me to dust off an oft-neglected Lucio Fulci classic and enjoy the spirit of the season with one of my favorite directors.

Lucio Fulci’s Paura nella città dei morti viventi, or City of the Living Dead (1980), as it is more commonly known, came shortly in the wake of the director’s success with Zombi 2.  Bringing back writer Dardano Sacchetti, cinematographer Sergio Salvati, and composer Fabio Frizzi, City of the Living Dead took full advantage of the zombie craze to create a film that is as absurd as it is disgusting.  And let me tell you, I love every minute of it!

The film begins in a cemetery, as a priest named William Thomas (Fabrizio Jovine) makes preparations for suicide and abruptly hangs himself from a tree, presumably as part of a ritual intended to open one of the gates of Hell.  The town is Dunwich (a nod to Lovecraft’s fictional New England settlement), and spiritualist Mary Woodhouse (Catriona MacColl) witnesses the events there during a séance in New York City that literally scares her to death.   However, she mysteriously revives in her coffin shortly before her interment, and finds herself the recipient of increasingly terrifying visions of unspeakable violence occurring in Dunwich.  Together with Peter Bell (Christopher George), a reporter investigating the case of her mysterious “death,” Mary learns of the Book of Enoch, which prophecies that the world will be consumed by evil if they cannot close the portal to the other side by All Saint’s Day.  The ensuing carnage once again takes us further into Fulci’s gruesome imagination, a place where it is most certainly NOT safe for the weak of stomach.

With a simple plot that often feels like nothing more than a slightly padded reworking of Zombi 2 sans the Caribbean island setting, the real innovation of City comes in the form of some of the most gut-wrenching scenes ever to splash fake blood across the silver screen.  The unholy revenants spawned from the Hell portal possess supernatural strength, and there are liberal doses of crushed skulls and brains squeezed through rotting fingers.  One young woman, after being haunted by the specter of the deceased Father Thomas, begins to cry tears of blood and eventually vomits up her own entrails as the camera unflinchingly holds on the various organs flowing from her mouth.  Even more disturbing than the scene itself is the way in which it was filmed: while some portions relied on a puppet head for the more extreme instances of purging, a good deal of the footage shows actress Daniela Doria actually regurgitating real sheep entrails that she had swallowed, resulting in an unforgettable sequence that might just make you lose your appetite!  The infamous head-drilling scene hardly needs to be mentioned, but it should be noted that it was among the most consistent targets of censorship during the film’s release in countries like Germany and the UK. 

Ending with a dark twist typical of Fulci’s works, City of the Living Dead represents another evolution of Fulci’s cinematic techniques, using elements that he would soon perfect in his 1981 masterpiece, The Beyond.  As one of my favorite films of all time, I hope to speak about that classic film in detail at a later date.  Until then, sweet nightmares!

PS You can check out my latest Helldriver reports in condensed form on the blog of my friend and partner in crime, La Carmina, complete with new photos!  See it here!

Spaghetti Zombi: A Look Back at Lucio Fulci’s “Zombi 2″

With all of my recent posts on Yoshihiro Nishimura’s latest masterpiece Helldriver, and my 6-part Romero Retrospective in between, I thought that it was high time to take a look back at one of the other great directors of flesh-ripping fantasy, the inimitable Lucio Fulci (1927 – 1996).  Born in Rome, Lucio Fulci got his start in the comedy genre and later earned a name for himself with his shocking giallo features, perhaps most notably Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971).  It wasn’t until 1979, however, that Fulci truly took the international spotlight with his seminal horror masterwork, Zombi 2.  Known alternately as Zombie or Zombie Flesh Eaters in the US and UK, the film was marketed as a loose sequel to George A. Romero’s successful Dawn of the Dead (released simply as Zombi in Italian cinemas).  This connection is strictly denied by the filmmakers, but the fact remains that the opening and ending sequences were inserted later in an attempt to cash in on Romero’s Dawn, and the name was clearly a ploy to ride on the coattails of that masterpiece.  Marketing trivia aside, however, Zombi 2 represents a very different take on the zombie genre, with unique special effects and unforgettable sequences that have gone on to become the stuff of horror cinema legend among horrorphiles across the globe.

With Zombi 2, Fulci claimed that he meant to explore the very origin of zombies, looking to Voodoo rituals on cursed isles in the Caribbean.   A derelict yacht drifts into New York Harbor in the opening of the film, and the police who investigate discover that the vessel is not quite as abandoned as they suspected.  One neutralized zombie and a dead patrol officer later, we find that the ship is owned by the father of Anne Bowles (Tisa Farrow), who insists on going to find him on the tropical island where he was claiming to conduct research.  She is joined by newspaper reporter Peter West (Ian McCulloch), who has been sent by his editor (played by Lucio Fulci himself) to investigate the ghost ship and its origins.  Their search takes them to the cursed island of Matool, where the dead rise from their graves to feast upon the living, and a lone doctor (Richard Johnson) is driven to unlock the mystery behind the plague of revivified corpses.  The film builds up perfectly to its explosive conclusion, and is chock full of enough violence and gore to earn it censorship in multiple countries and an enduring place on the UK’s list of “Video Nasties.”

Openly deriding the “blue-faced” shamblers of Dawn, Fulci and his team used a unique mix of clay and various makeup products to create the numerous prosthetics for the ghouls in the film, lending them a putrefying decrepitude that remains chilling to this day.  Even if one hasn’t seen the film, the ubiquitous image of a cannibalistic Conquistador corpse (Ottaviano Dell’acqua) is surely recognizable, with living worms still slithering out from one of its hollow undead eye sockets.  Zombi 2 also marks the first instance of Fulci’s trademark eyeball gag, as a woman is brutally pulled by her hair ever closer to a large wooden splinter, with suitably excruciating results.  Often incorporating a clever use of mirrors and first-person camera views, Fulci and cinematographer Sergio Salvati solidify methods in this film that would go on to become the signature style of their later collaborations, and Fabio Frizzi’s haunting score sets the perfect macabre tone for the morbid proceedings.  And who could forget the famous underwater scene, where an aquatic ghoul faces off against a massive tiger shark?  Zombi 2 is a film that must be seen to be believed, and certainly deserves a place on the shelf of any self-respecting zombie fan.

And on that subject, it sounds like bloody good news is on the horizon for fans in the US, as according to horror documentary filmmaker Michael Felsher, Blue Underground intends to release both a Blu-ray and new DVD edition of Fulci’s classic, including brand-new, never-before-seen extra features.  This exciting version is slated to hit the shelves on October 25th this year, just in time for Halloween!

Check back later, when I take a look back at some more of my favorite films from Italy’s “Godfather of Gore.”  Until then, sweet nightmares!