“Its like a drawing that has a second one hidden within it”
Don’t Look Back is the second film from writer/director Marina de Van. Her debut feature In My Skin really impressed me & I will admit I had a few doubts that Don’t Look Back would match In My Skin‘s high standards. I needn’t have worried, Don’t Look Back is a stunning movie & Miss de Van is rapidly becoming one of my favourite moviemakers.
Jeanne (Sophie Marceau) is a successful non fiction writer, happily married with two children. Despite her success she yearns to write fiction & is working on a semi autobiographical story of childhood, which is proving difficult since she has no memories of her childhood. Slowly at first she begins to notice small changes around her house. Layouts change, as does the decor. Jeanne becomes increasingly worried when she starts to see changes not only in the appearance of her husband & children but also in her own reflection in the mirror. These changes become stronger, her hair changes colour, one eye changes shape. She confides in her husband & later as they are having sex she looks up & her husband no longer looks like she perceives him to be. Frantic & scared Jeanne goes to see her mother, who after a brief conversation changes appearance too. By now Jeanne’s reflection in the mirror is no longer what Jeanne believes she looks like, instead she sees a completely different looking woman (Monica Bellucci). Jeanne looks at some old photos & sees a photo of her as a young girl with her mother & another woman taken in Italy. The photo triggers something in Jeanne & she travels to Italy in search of some answers.
Don’t Look Back is, to put it simply a wonderfully crafted, complex psychological horror movie. Marina de Van takes her time establishing characters & slowly draws you (the audience) in, keeping you gripped until the credits roll. If it wasn’t for some minor quibbles (more on those later) this movie would have made my Hall Of Fame. In Sophie Marceau & Monica Bellucci, de Van had two incredibly talented actresses who are both on top of their game in this movie. They both put in brilliant performances, effortlessly carrying their halves of the movie. The rest of the cast is good too. The film looks amazing, the cinematography is first-rate & the CGI used to morph Sophie Marceau into Monica Bellucci is subtle yet effectively done (even the hybrid Marceau/Bellucci), meaning for once you don’t get taken out of the movie by being impressed with obvious CGI. Don’t Look Back like its predecessor In my Skin does contain elements of body horror. It seems to be a recurring theme with de Van & while nowhere near as graphic & disturbing there are some strange elements of deformation in the movie. As i mentioned earlier I do have some minor quibbles (one majorish one if I am totally honest) The movies score is completely underwhelming, it just didn’t add anything to the atmosphere of the film. At the beginning of the movie Jeanne notices her family making strange hand gestures & movements. These scenes are incredibly creepy yet no explanation is ever given for them. Maybe de Van put them in just to unsettle the audience but that seems a cheap trick for such a talented writer. My last quibble & the most major one I cannot reveal here as it is a major plot spoiler to do with Jeanne’s husband.
If you’re looking for an intelligent slow burning horror movie, look no further than this. A wonderful movie from an obvioulsy talented director. I, for one am looking forward to seeing what Marina de Van does next. Until then Don’t Look Back comes highly recommended.
“Here rest all the precious things I’ve lost”
The Guinea Pig series has become almost legendary in the realms of extreme horror, aided in no small way by “The Charlie Sheen incident” Long before August Underground, the Japanese were shocking audiences worldwide with some of the most extreme images ever caught on celluloid. Mermaid In A Manhole is the fourth installment in the series & in my opinion by far the best. Flowers Of Flesh & Blood maybe the most notorious but MIAM actually has a coherent story along with all the grossness.
A painter called Hayashi is mourning the loss of his pregnant wife, he spends most of his time in the sewers sketching. It is a place of comfort he remembers from childhood, when it used to be a river. One day he finds a mermaid in the sewers & recalls meeting her once when he was a child. He spends the following days in the sewer sketching the mermaid until he notices she is in pain. On closer inspection he sees that she has an infection & is ill. He carries her from the sewer to his house were he places her in his bath. The infection worsens & spreads but the mermaid begs him to complete the painting of her he is working on. The infection spreads & covers the mermaids body in sores which burst & pus, the painter uses the discharge to paint with. inevitably the infection, which has by now ravaged the mermaid’s body claims her life & the painter is left to face reality & the brutal & shocking truth.
Directed by Hideshi Hino from his own manga, Mermaid In A Manhole is the cream of the crop of The Guinea Pig series. Unlike the straight forward torture porn of The Devil’s Experiment & Flowers Of Flesh & Blood, Hino gives the film a plot, well fleshed out (pun intended) characters & a fantastic ending whose imagery will stay with you long after the film is over. The movie actually has a lot of subtle undertones to it, loneliness, isolation, the corruption of the mermaid can be seen as a result of man’s impact on his surroundings. After all the mermaid used to live in the river until she was trapped in the sewer by the advancement of the city. The acting of the two lead actors is adequate, neither really shine but this isn’t that sort of movie. Shigeru Saiki manages to capture the lonley depression in the painter & Mari Somei provides enough in her performance to make the audience feel for her characters physical corruption. While the storyline may be a radical departure for the series, rest assured there are some particularly strong visual scenes in this film. As the mermaid’s infection spreads her body is covered in huge boils & blisters which burst in rivers of pus, slime & even worms! Nearing the end of her ordeal she vomits up what looks like part of her intestines. The ending is incredibly graphic & horrific but I don’t want to say anymore for fear of giving away a wonderful shock ending. Sadly the film does have one flaw which detracts from the overall horror of the piece. The neighbours of the painter seem to be in the movie for comic relief (much like the police in The Untold Story or Last House On The Left) I found these scenes really detracted from the movie & lost any atmosphere the story had created.
Mermaid In A Manhole is not a film for everyone. It is a very dark & grim film, filled with some incredibly graphic images. If you have a strong constitution & can handle scenes of an explicitly graphic nature, I highly recommend Mermaid In A Manhole.
“You would die for her, right?”
The sub genre of so-called “torture porn” has infiltrated the mainstream horror cinema in recent years with the likes of The Hostel & Saw franchises. This kind of movie has, in fact existed for many years in the far east with movies like Lolita Vibrator Torture, Tumbling Doll Of Flesh, Human Pork Chop & the infamous early Guinea Pig movies, particularly Flowers Of Flesh & Blood. Grotesque is the latest in this long line of shockers & has gained a huge amount of notoriety after being banned by The BBFC.
The plot, for what it is, is slim at best. A young couple are kidnapped & find themselves chained up in a basement by a lunatic who can only get his jollies by sexually abusing & violently torturing his victims. The captor begins to play psychological games with the couple as the torture begins. The young man is told that if he endures the torture the woman will stay unharmed, should he fail, the captor will torture & mutilate the woman. There is a slight twist midway through the movie which I won’t spoil here but that is in essence the plot.
Grotesque is directed by Koji Shiraishi who’s stunning debut movie Noroi impressed me no end, a fantastic creepfest which truly shreds your nerves. Yet he is also responsible for the frankly piss poor Carved. So it was with a certain amount of apprehension that I approached Grotesque, having said that once The BBFC banned the movie I was all the more determined to see it. So the burning question is, is it any good? Sadly the answer is no it isn’t. The problems with Grotesque are numerous. Firstly the movie doesn’t really have an audience, it is nowhere near as graphic as either the old Asian movies like the aforementioned Tumbling Doll Of Flesh or Flowers Of Flesh & Blood, nor is it anywhere near graphic as the movies coming out of the underground recently like the August Underground trilogy. Yet it is far stronger than the likes of Saw or Hostel & would send the casual horror fan running from the cinema trying to hold their popcorn down. The lack of plot truly hinders this movie. Flowers Of Flesh & Blood lacks plot, but works as it is a short film that clocks in at 30 odd minutes. Grotesque has a running time of 73 minutes & after 20 minutes it begins to become repetitive. The SFX are impressive enough & there is enough nastiness to keep most gorehounds happy & in that respect the movie is quite watchable. Yet I couldn’t help wanting more as I watched it. The Captor’s motivation seems lazily plotted. Which leads to another problem with Grotesque, its nothing new. This kind of movie has been made so many times & there is nothing in Grotesque to make it stand out. The acting is passable but there is very little in the way of characterisation or character arcs. Sadly all these problems doom Grotesque to be average at best.
Sadly Grotesque just doesn’t live up to its hype. While not a complete disaster, it’s heavily flawed. If you like a film full of graphic dismemberments, genital mutilation & humiliation, then you may find enough in Grotesque to entertain. Personally I like a bit more from a feature film. If you are in the UK, The BBFC don’t want you to see this so you will have to find other methods of seeing this film as I did.
“I feel my leg normally now”
In My Skin is one of the lesser known movies associated with the term New French Extremity. Writer/director/lead actress Marina de Van has produced a remarkable piece of body horror which is in ways reminiscent of early David Cronenberg. The difference being that unlike Cronenberg’s work, where the mutilation is on the whole a change for the better, becoming something new, de Van’s movie is a nihilistic piece with little hope of redemption.
The movie follows Esther (de Van) a woman who seems to have it all. Her career is on the way up, her relationship with her partner is going so well that they plan to buy a house together. Everything is going well until she goes to a party one night, while walking outside in the dark she trips over & badly gashes her right leg. She is unaware she has hurt herself until later in the evening. It is from this moment on that everything changes for her. She becomes fascinated with the wound as it begins to heal & in an almost trance like state she cuts at the wound with a piece of metal. Slowly this new compulsion begins to take over her life. While at an important work dinner, she hallucinates that her arm has detached & is lying on the dinner table. Once it is “reattached” she begins to cut & stab it under the table with a steak knife. This behaviour culminates when she books herself into a hotel overnight & lies on the bathroom floor with the knife, cutting, slicing & removing pieces of skin. Tasting her own blood, chewing her skin, lost in her own body. As the movie progresses Esther’s behaviour becomes more & more difficult to hide from friends & loved ones & starts to affect her work.
In My Skin is an incredibly powerful movie. A film of immense depth, Marina de Van should be congratulated for making a movie that truly makes you think. In My Skin is a multi layered movie. The compulsion to self harm could be seen as a metaphor for bulimia, anorexia & drug abuse. Echoing how the afflicted can hide their condition from their loved ones. At one stage in the movie Esther fakes a car wreck just to explain away her new injuries. When Esther is mutilating herself it is almost an act of withdrawal. A release from the world she lives in & the people she shares it with. Her compulsion is something solitary that she can never share. It is hers alone. It is also a time when she is completely happy in her own skin, her own body image. De Van’s performance is wonderful, as is her script & direction. The mutilation scenes are very graphic & disturbing. The scenes of a similar nature in Splatter, Naked Blood & Cutting Moments which are much stronger in what they show onscreen, but it is the nature of Esther’s mutilation which makes it so hard to watch. As she lies on the hotel bathroom floor sucking the blood from her own arm or playing with pieces of her own skin with her teeth, it is almost sexual. The very act of mutilation becomes almost calming & tranquillising.
In My Skin is one of those films that slips under the radar at first but is such a wonderful revelation when you finally discover it. If you have a strong constitution I highly recommend you watch this movie. A thought-provoking, intelligent piece of disturbing cinema.
“From now on, we will live forever”
My first reaction after watching this film was simply “what the fuck was all that about” This isn’t the first time I have had this reaction to a movie, after watching Teenage Hooker Becomes Killing Machine In Daehakroh that was my first reaction too. My second being to laugh & my third mourning the hour of my life I lost watching that movie that I can never get back! Splatter Naked Blood isn’t anywhere near as dreadful as THBKMID. Splatter Naked Blood is directed by the infamous Japanese pinku eiga director Hisayasu Sato, the man who gave the world films like Lolita: Vibrator Torture & Widow’s Peverted Hell. The movie was made after the era of popularity for the pinku eiga & Sato seems to be drawing an influence from early Cronenberg body horror films.
Trying to describe the movie’s plot is like clapping with one hand but here goes… A young scientist called Eiji has created a new drug that he calls Myson. It is a drug that turns pain into pleasure. Eiji’s mother is a scientist working on a new contraceptive, so during his mother’s drug’s trail, Eiji adds Myson to the drug. He then begins to observe & film the three women test subjects. One subject is obsessed by food, one is incredibly vain. Eiji finds himself drawn towards the third subject, a woman called Rika who spends hours hooked up to a virtual reality machine that she shares with a cactus, yes you read that right, a cactus! It turns out that Myson works too well & the more pain the women are in, the more pleasure they feel. This leads to some truly horrific acts of self-mutilation. The ending is just insane & even if I wasn’t worried about spoilers I couldn’t really describe it
Sato’s movie is a departure from his usual pinku fare. This movie has a plot (of sorts) & is not just an excuse for excessive misogynistic violence. Seemingly taking an influence from David Cronenberg’s early body horrors, Sato has tried to make something different & unique. In most respects he has succeeded. The problem is that the last 30 odd minutes of the film are so strange & bizarre that the film loses any conclusion & leaves the viewer in a state of utter confusion. For example plants dream but cacti don’t, hence the VR machine. It’s just a weird mindfuck of a movie. As you can probably guess from the movie’s title there are some strong scenes of gore & bloodshed. The film is infamous for one scene of self cannibalism. The problem is any power to shock or disturb the scene has is lost due to the awful sound effects. Even so, this film will shock some people & shouldn’t be seen by anyone with a weak stomach or low tolerance to bloodshed.
I cannot, in closing, recommend this film. It’s well made, the acting is ok. It’s just too bizarre (& I like bizarre) If you want to see something truly odd & strange, then by all means. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you!