Thursday, 20 October 2016

I still know what you did last summer (5 Stars)

This is my Halloween Challenge film #20. It's a sequel to "I know what you did last summer" and was made one year later in 1998. I've caught up with my schedule very fast after missing a film yesterday. It wasn't that difficult. I was desperate to distract myself from the current sorrow in my life. Apart from that, this is the third time I've reviewed this film since 2010, and every time I watch it I watch it back to back with the original film on the same day. The two films are worth watching as a pair.

I find it difficult to understand why critics have savaged this film. It has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of  only 7%. The critics call it "boring and predictable". Did they watch the same film as me? Nothing about it is boring. Even after watching it a dozen times I'm still sitting on the edge of my seat from beginning to end.

I call this film Iskwiddle, in contrast to Ickwiddle for the first film. If you want to know why I've picked these names check my last review. I'm not going to make it easy for you! Iskwiddle isn't as dark as Ickwiddle in the lighting. Many of the scenes take place on the bright beach of Tower Bay Island in the Bahamas. However, the film's subject matter is just as dark. There are no laughs in either film. This isn't "Scream", far from it.

The body count is higher, and the killing starts earlier. In Ickwiddle there were five deaths, of whom only one person (Max) was killed in the first half. In Iskwiddle there are nine deaths, including the unnamed person placed dead in the road, and four of the deaths are in the first half. This doesn't detract from the suspense in the slightest.

Alongside the Scream trilogy, this is one of the great slasher movies of the 1990's. In fact, it's one of the greatest slasher movies of all time. Why don't they make teen slasher films like this any more? It's time to reunite Kevin Williamson and Jim Gillespie to kick off a new teen slashes franchise for the 21st Century.

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I know what you did last summer (5 Stars)

This is my Halloween Challenge film #19. I'm a day late. The death of my faithful companion, my dog Buster, two days ago put me out of the mood to watch films. I didn't really want to watch anything today, but I forced myself, I told myself I had to. I can't let myself spiral downwards by sitting in my room crying all day. I need to distract myself. For a person as deeply emotional as me it's impossible to stop grieving after suffering such a loss. If I think about Buster I'll be sad. The only thing I can do is tell myself not to think about him all the time. I need to distract myself.

I'm happy that my friends, especially my Facebook friends, have shown so much sympathy with me in my time of sorrow. As I'm sure anyone who uses Facebook knows, a typical friends list is a mixture of close friends, casual acquaintances and people you hardly know. There were people from whom I expected sympathy, but I've also received messages from people from whom I wouldn't have expected it. I'm very thankful to everyone who has sent me messsages of support. I find it moving. It's also had an effect on this blog. My post about Buster, which I wrote two days ago, became one of my top 10 most read posts within 12 hours. That has never happened before. Within 36 hours it reached the top spot, maybe because I added extra text to the original post, but it's still something I wouldn't have expected. My top 10 list is based on the number of hits over a 30 day period, so even if nobody reads it for the next 28 days it will remain at the top of the list.

"I know what you did last summer", which I jokingly shortened to Ickwiddle in a previous post, is a dark film. Many of the scenes take place at night. The music is dark and gothic. It takes place on July 4th (in 1996 and 1997), traditionally a bright day full of celebrations, but Ickwiddle shows the other side of the day, away from the celebrations and the parades. The parades are only shown as a contrast.

The film's timing and suspense are perfect. It starts with the ominous music at the beginning and the seemingly irrelevant scene with the young boy on the cliff. I expect that most viewers won't realise who the boy is until the second time they watch the film. It's too subtle.

Overall it's a brilliant film. In the past I've called it the best horror film ever made, and I stand by that statement. It's not necessarily the scariest horror film -- for me that's "Dark Water" -- but it has a power that other films don't have. The murders are terrifying, but the terror is more in the scenes leading up to the deaths than in the deaths themselves. I know that the strength of the film comes mainly from Kevin Williamson's brilliant screenplay, but I'm surprised that the director, Jim Gillespie, has made so few films since. This was his first of only four films so far, and I haven't yet watched any of the others: "D-Tox" (2002), "Venom" (2005) and "Take Down" (2016). "I know what you did last summer" (1997) should have been enough to propel him into the big time.

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Tuesday, 18 October 2016

R.I.P. Buster

R. I. P. Buster. The best dog I ever knew.

April 10th, 2006 – October 18th, 2016

Addendum on Wednesday, 19th October, 2016

When I made this post yesterday I didn't intend to say more. I didn't think any eulogy would do my beloved dog justice. However, I've had a number of people asking me how he died, so I'll write a few extra words.

Buster was born on April 10th, 2006, the sixth in a litter of seven puppies. His father was a Red Staffordshire Bull Terrier, his mother was a Brindle Staffordshire Bull Terrier. I had already ordered a puppy from the breeder, so I went to visit her a few days later to select the dog I wanted. Buster came to live with me on June 20th, 2006. He was healthy for the next ten years. After his vaccinations and micro-chipping he never needed to go to the vet. He was still healthy on his 10th birthday, but shortly afterwards I noticed he was limping and took him to the vet. He had arthritis in his front legs, especially the right leg. It progressed rapidly, and within two weeks it was no longer possible to take him for walks.

On July 12th I was due to move to Germany. My daughter Fiona was unable to take Buster because she lived as a lodger in the house of someone who didn't like dogs. Fortunately my wonderful friend Rose Wright offered to take him until the end of August when Fiona's lease ran out. Buster was happy at Rose's house because she had various tenants, and everybody loved Buster. Who wouldn't love him?

In September Fiona found a new room and was able to look after Buster, but Rose still had him some days. Buster now had two homes. Despite the arthritis Buster was lively and happy. He was prescribed painkillers which he took daily.

On the evening of October 17th Buster seemed to be his normal happy self. The next morning at 7:15 Fiona found Buster on the sofa, and he was somehow different. He didn't appear to be in any pain, but he was lethargic. He didn't stand up to greet Fiona, which was highly unusual. She arranged to drive to the vet with Martin, Rose's boyfriend, but an hour later Buster died. He peed on the sofa, then he stopped breathing. Even though his body was stiff she hoped he was still alive, but the vet confirmed he was dead. The cause of death was impossible to ascertain without an expensive autopsy, and the vet didn't even venture a guess.

As everyone acquainted with Staffordshire Bull Terriers (Staffies) knows, they are the perfect family dog, but Buster was exceptional in that regard. He felt nothing but love and tenderness for everyone he met. He loved everyone, and everyone loved him. He loved all three cats in my house, even though the cats didn't get on with one another. He was one of a kind, and he will be severely missed.

In a dark place (3 Stars)

This month I've been interweaving two film marathons. On the one hand I'm watching 31 horror films as a Halloween Horror Challenge, or whatever it's called. I'm not sure of the official title, but a few people, including one of my friends, are also doing it. The horror films are my priority, because October is only once a year. On the other hand I started a Leelee Sobieski marathon earlier this year, which I've been stopping and starting all year, mostly due to personal changes in my life disrupting my film watching schedule, but I'm determined to finish by the end of next month. "In a dark place" is a film where the two marathons meet. It's Leelee Sobieski's 19th film, made in 2006, but it's also a horror film, making it the 18th film in my October Halloween Challenge.

"In a dark place" is a ghost story based on the short story "Turn of the Screw", written in 1898 by Henry James. The film takes place in modern day England. At least, I presume it's set in England, which is where the original story took place. Everyone speaks English, but it was filmed in Luxemburg, and there are brief glimpses of cars with Luxemburg license plates.

Leelee Sobieski plays Anna Veigh, an art teacher in a junior school. She considers her work to be art therapy, which is what she studied at university, but the school's headmaster disagrees and encourages her to leave. He recommends her for a job as a children's nanny looking after the nephew and niece of a friend of his, Mr. Laing.

Mr. Laing is the owner of a large international company. Due to a plane crash in which both parents died he has become the legal guardian of two children, Miles (10) and Flora (8). Miles is in a boarding school while Flora is being educated at home. Soon after arriving at the mansion where the children live, supposedly in Essex, Miles is expelled from the boarding school and sent home. The reason for the expulsion isn't disclosed, despite Anna's attempts to find out, but it's the third boarding school that has expelled him, so she assumes that something is wrong.

Apart from Anna and the children only Miss Grose, the housekeeper, lives in the mansion. However, other figures are seen lurking around the grounds. Anna recognises them in photos. They are Valerie Jessel, the previous children's nanny, and Peter Quint, the gardener. Both of them died recently. Valerie drowned in the lake, and Peter, who loved her, hanged himself as a result. The two ghosts repeatedly appear and seem to be threatening the children. At times the children even seem to be possessed by the ghosts.

There's an ambiguity in the novel which has been debated by literary critics who haven't been able to reach a consensus. I shan't say what it's about, because that would involve giving spoilers about the film's ending. All I shall say is that the film sides with the non-literal meaning. A previous film adaptation, "The Innocents" in 1961, interprets the film's ending literally, so the two films tell the story the same way but end differently.

This is an eerie ghost story, with a slow build-up of suspense throughout the film. I found the non-literal adaptation of the book's ending disappointing. Read the book and compare it with the film to see what I mean. However, it's yet another masterful performance by Leelee Sobieski.

If you're wondering why I've included so many photos of Leelee Sobieski, look at them closely. Isn't it wonderful how expressive her face is from one scene to the next? Isn't that the mark of a truly great actress? You can click on the photos to see even more screenshots of her from this film.

In case you're wondering about the sexual stuff in this film, there are passionate kisses between Anna Veigh and Miss Grose. That brings the total to one film that contains a simulated sex scene and three films with passionate kisses. That makes the percentage of films in her career so far with sexual stuff to either 5% or 21%, depending on whether the kisses are included.

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Monday, 17 October 2016

Lying (1 Star)

This is the 17th film starring Leelee Sobieski, made in 2006. When she looks back on her acting career this must be her biggest regret. How could she have allowed herself to be connected with such a piece of pretentious junk? I usually reserve my one star ratings for films that I'm unable to watch to the end. In this case I did hold out to the end, but only because it starred my favourite actress.

A young woman called Megan invites three of her female friends to stay at her house in the country for the weekend. They eat and drink, they talk, they bore one another and they bore the audience. Sarah (Leelee Sobieski) lives by herself in a large house opposite, spending her time reading old newspapers and practising semaphore flags in the garden. Eventually she visits Megan to find out why her friends are outside playing with black dolls. She gets bored and goes home. The other three girls leave and go to a yoga class. The end.

The film didn't have a script. All the dialogue is improvised. It shows. The actresses are obviously just as bored as the characters they play. The DVD has a commentary track with thoughts by the director (M. Blash) and two of the actresses (Chloe Sevigny and Jena Malone). That might help me to understand what the film is about, but I honestly don't care. My suspicion is that the film is the result of a wager. M. Blash was sitting in a bar with his friends, when someone staggered to his feet and said, "I have a great idea. Let's make the most boring film imaginable and call it art. The critics will praise us and we'll be famous". Fortunately, the critics weren't as stupid as they expected. The film was made on a budget of $150,000 and didn't even earn that much at the box office.

Child's Play 2 (4 Stars)

This is my Halloween Challenge film #17. It was made in 1990, a sequel to "Child's Play", made two years earlier. Judging by the reviews and the box office numbers, the critics and the public were in agreement that it wasn't as good as the original film. I have to disagree. "Child's Play" might have been good as a standalone film, but it was "Child's Play 2" that launched the franchise.

The main thing added to improve this film and the subsequent sequels -- there have been six films so far -- is a touch of humour. This fits well. After all, the idea that a child-sized doll is running around Chicago killing people is ridiculous in itself, so why shouldn't there be a comedic undertone? It improves everything. The production quality is also better in the sequels, due to the larger budget available. The music is also more pompous and exaggerated in the sequels.

Andy Barclay, now eight years old, returns from the first film. He no longer lives with his mother. She was locked up in a psychiatric ward because she insisted all the killings had been carried out by a plastic doll. He's now living with foster parents. An addition to the film's cast is Christine Elise, who plays his foster sister Kyle in the new family. (I thought Kyle was a boy's name). Unfortunately, this is the only film in the franchise in which she appears. She has an asexual look about her that reminds me of Jamie Lee Curtis.

You might remember that at the end of the first film the Chucky doll was burnt to a crisp. No sequel was intended. Something had to be done to make it possible to continue the story. After all, the serial killers in slasher films have to be immortal. In this film he's given a little help. The remains of the Chucky doll were salvaged by the Play Dolls company that made the Good Guys dolls. The company was supposedly suffering bad publicity because of stories of one of their dolls becoming a killer -- if people believed the story why was Andy's mother considered mentally ill? -- so they repaired the original doll, replacing all the damaged parts but retaining the core, to prove that it was just a harmless doll. Bad idea! Chucky escapes from the factory and the killing continues.

Chucky's first mission is to track down Andy, his only chance of becoming a human again. The family is soon killed, apart from Andy's Jamie Lee Curtis lookalike foster sister. She really should have returned for the other films. The final showdown is in the factory where the dolls are made.

So much about this film reminds me of "Terminator" (1984), in particular the final showdown in a manufacturing plant. If that were all we could accuse "Child's Play 2" of plagiarising, but it goes further. It also reminds me of "Terminator 2", which wasn't made until a year later in 1991. We have a monster chasing a boy and killing his foster parents to get to him. Is that just a coincidence? Maybe, but it's similar enough to be noticeable.

There's one small thing that I'm curious about. The film has an R certificate in America, which means it can only be watched by people over 17. However, the leading actor, Alex Vincent, was only nine years old when he made the film. Does that mean he wasn't allowed to see his own film on completion?

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Sunday, 16 October 2016

Hercules (4½ Stars)

"I pray to Zeus and Hera, Apollo and Artemis, Ares and Athena, to Poseidon, Aphrodite, Pluto, Demeter, and all the other Gods and Goddesses. I pray to them one and all and all as one, and to all Gods I make sacrifice; not a sacrifice of blood but of reverence to their nobility, their love, their honour, their courage, their kindness, their justice. But to their pettiness, their wantonness, their cruelty, their savagery, their vanity, their injustice, I make no sacrifice, I pay no reverence. I deny all that is ungodly in them. I will worship the beauty they have bestowed: my fellow beings, the animals, the mountains and seas and green earth, the sky, and the light of the sun and the moon and the stars that keep us from the darkness. I will worship and try to emulate all that is great in the Gods; nothing more. If that is not good enough for them, so be it. When my time comes, they can judge me worthy or not. But if they are truly great and truly just, then they can ask no more of any man than what I offer them".

This speech held by Hercules on the cliff is one of the most powerful speeches ever spoken in cinema. It touches the heart of an agnostic like myself. I don't deny that there is a God or Goddess or even a whole family of Gods. Maybe there's no God at all, but only the most presumptuous of atheists would say with certainty that there's no God when there's no evidence to support his claim. Hercules believed in the Gods, and he praised all that was good in them while condemning all that was petty and cruel. Today it's customary for followers of the world's major religions, Christianity and Islam, to accept everything that their God says as correct, even arbitrary commands, simply because He says so. If you follow one of these religions and you wish to accept God's word unquestioningly, so be it, but please be open-minded enough to accept fellow believers who think about what they're told and challenge it.

This is the 16th film starring Leelee Sobieski, made in 2005. If you've been following the posts in my Leelee Sobieski quasi-marathon you might think think that I've forgotten the 15th film, but that's not the case. I haven't been watching them all in order, so you can click here to find my review of her 15th film, "Max". Don't worry, when I finish I'll add a list of all the reviews of her films in the sidebar.

In this film she shares a few passionate kisses with her co-star, the Scottish actor Paul Telfer. That means that the total of her sexual stuff after 16 films is one film with simulated sex and two films with passionate kisses. That's either 6% or 18% of her films, far from the 90% that she claims. I'll update the total as I continue.

If you want to read a full summary of the film's plot, click here for my original review. I don't like to repeat myself. What impressed me today was the film's plot, as taken from the original tale of Hercules. Did Hercules really live? Probably he did, because Greek historians from the 13th Century B.C. write about him and his military exploits. Was he really the son of Zeus? That's a question for theologians to answer, but he was undoubtedly a very strong man. Did he really do all the things attributed to him in this film? I doubt it. It's such classic drama, a literary masterpiece, that it's too perfect a tale to be true. There are similar legends that are much older, so it's possible that there was a much earlier fictional character called Hercules, as much as 2000 years earlier, and the deeds of the fictional hero were attributed to the real man called Hercules.

This is the most faithful film adaptation I know of the life of Hercules, even though his 12 labours are reduced to six in the film. Even with this simplification of the story the film lasts almost three hours. Family drama is interspersed with the battles against supernatural creatures. Hercules marries a woman who hates him (an arranged marriage), he kills his own sons, and Hercules' mother, a priestess of Hera, is tricked into sacrificing her own son Iphicles, Hercules' twin brother. The family relationships and love affairs are so complex that you would need a flow chart to connect them all.

The premise for the whole story is that there's an ongoing war between Zeus and Hera, the king and queen of the Gods. The Greeks may have had one religion, but it was a divided religion. People decided whether they wanted to follow the way of Zeus or Hera. Often there was a division in the family, because husbands preferred Zeus while their wives preferred Hera. Problems like this were solved at the yearly Harvest Festival. Husbands and wives celebrated at night. The men had to stand blindfolded while the women danced. One of the men was selected as the harvest king. Usually the priestess selected a man who was known as a follower of Zeus. The priestess sat astride the man while the other women stabbed him to death as a sacrifice to ensure a good harvest.

In the film Leelee Sobieski plays the part of the wood nymph Deianeira. She's a servant of Hera who watches over the harvest festivals. She witnesses the conception of Hercules when Zeus rapes Alcmene. Despite her allegiance to Hera Deianeira feels drawn to Hercules, and she breaks her vow of celibacy to become his second wife after his first wife Megara leaves him.

There are different versions of this film available with different running times. Originally it was shown as a two-part mini-series on television, and when it was edited into a film cuts were made to reduce it to what was considered a suitable length. I own two versions, the American and the German version, and I find the German version superior. It's 37 minutes longer, but I suspect there are still scenes that have been cut.

The only fault I have about this film is that the low budget limits the special effects. Everything else is perfect: the acting, the story, the cinematography. Just compare this with the awful film that starred Dwayne Johnson in 2014.

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Tormented (1½ Stars)

This is my Halloween Challenge film #16. As you can see by my rating, I'm not very happy with it. It's very rare that I watch a film and then forget it. I mean totally forget it. I know I bought this film six years ago, in summer 2010, shortly before I started writing this blog. I remember that I bought it because it was filmed locally, most of the scenes set in Bishop Vesey's Grammar School in Sutton Coldfield. That's the school my nephew Chris went to. But if you had asked me a few hours ago what the film's about I wouldn't have been able to say a single word in reply.

Now that I've watched it again I can see why I forgot it. It's exceedingly dull, and if I don't write a few words about the plot I'll forget it again.

It's about five days in the life of a high school, in particular the life of the school's head girl Justine Fielding. A boy called Darren Mullet has just killed himself. She holds a speech at the memorial service saying that he was much loved and will be dearly missed by everyone, but the truth is that she didn't even know him. She's all the more shocked when she's given a suicide note in which Darren wrote that he loved her. She tries to find out about him. He was a fat boy who was always bullied by the other children. They even made fun of him because of his feelings for Justine. They knew about it, but she didn't, she was so wrapped up in her own little world.

Now the children who mocked and bullied Darren are receiving threatening text messages from his phone. They aren't empty threats. The ones who bullied or made fun of Darren are slaughtered one by one.

So what's wrong with the film? I have nothing against slasher films. They can be very entertaining if done well. The film has a reasonable body count for the genre: eight brutal deaths, including six of the children in the picture above. I think that the problem is that when someone got killed I just didn't care. The boys who got killed were bullies who deserved what they got. The girls were air-headed bimbos who were little more than love slaves of the bullies. The only good person in the film is Justine (second from the right in the picture), but she was so boring that I didn't care what happened to her.

The film was a total failure at the box office, earning less than $350,000. I'm surprised to see that it's still available on DVD when much better films like "Uprising" and "Tag" aren't on sale. In Germany there's even a Blu-ray release. I'll tell you where to buy the film, but I honestly can't recommend it.

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Saturday, 15 October 2016

Dark Water (5 Stars)

This is my Halloween Challenge film #15. My selection of horror films to watch this month has been rather random, but this is a film that I knew had to be in my selection. I consider it to be the scariest film ever made. The director Hideo Nakata is best known for making "The Ring", but I consider this to be his masterpiece.

The young mother Yoshimi Matsubara is in the middle of a difficult divorce battle. Her husband wants custody of her six-year-old daughter Ikuko. Normally the mother would have the advantage in custody battles, but in this case the husband claims the wife is unsuitable due to her mental instability. Yoshimi and Ikuko move into a drab apartment block in a large city. There are problems from the start. There's a leak in the roof, and the wet patch gets bigger from day to day. There are repeated sightings of a girl in a yellow raincoat who died five years earlier. Yoshimi finds it increasingly difficult to hold herself together under the strain.

Why is the film so scary? It's a masterpiece of suspense. The constant rainy weather sets the tone for the film. However peaceful a scene is the eerie music suggests something bad will happen, but when it happens it's still unexpected. This is brilliant film making. Why can't all horror films be this good?

One of my few criticisms of the film is that the picture is too fuzzy and indistinct. Even for a DVD the picture quality is substandard. I just found out that the film has finally been remastered on Blu-ray and was released four days ago. That's tempting. This is a film worth owning in high definition.

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Friday, 14 October 2016

The Idol (4½ Stars)

This is the 14th film starring Leelee Sobieski, made in 2002. As I wrote in my first review of this film five years ago, it's a film that's so different to any other film that it's breathtaking in its originality. It doesn't lose its appeal with repeated viewing. The film was made in French, which shouldn't surprise my readers who know that Leelee Sobieski speaks fluent French. Her co-star in the film, James Hong, speaks French less proficiently. Even as someone who only learnt French in school I can tell that his French is broken. He probably speaks French as well as I would if I had to make a French film.

This is Leelee's second film about a relationship between a young woman and an older man. In "My First Mister" it was a 17-year-old girl and a 49-year-old man. In this film the age difference is bigger. The ages aren't explicitly stated, but at the time of filming Leelee Sobieski was 19 and James Hong was 73, so we can assume that an age gap of at least 50 years is intended. Once more the topic of an unbalanced couple is dealt with very delicately. It's more than a friendship but not quite a romance. The only scandal is in the minds of their neighbours who imagine the worst.

The film takes place in Paris. Leelee Sobieski plays Sarah Silver, an Australian actress. James Hong plays Zao, a retired cook whose apartment is next to hers. Sarah's career is going nowhere and her love life is going nowhere. She's the stand-in for the leading lady in the stage production "La Nuit Obscure". She has to practise the lines, but will probably never get the chance to perform. She's having an affair with the husband of the leading lady, but he's made it clear that it's only sex and he has no intention of leaving his wife. Effectively, in her private life she's also standing in for something that will never happen. She's second best, and she doesn't like it.

Then Sarah meets Zao. He's the first person in her life who puts her first. He cooks for her, he washes her clothes, he brings her flowers, and he never asks for anything in return. Sarah breaks off her affair with the married man, because she now has all she needs. As in "My First Mister", it's a story of two lonely people drawn together by their loneliness. The difference is that it isn't a relationship between equals; Zao puts Sarah on a pedestal, he idolises her. That might sound negative, but it's exactly what Sarah needs. She wants to be the most important person in someone's life.

Leelee Sobieski

James Hong

Can a relationship like this succeed? In theory, yes. Two lonely people can make one another happy. But that's not what happens in this film. Two lonely people can also make one another even lonelier.

As I've mentioned before, one of the reasons that Leelee Sobieski has quit acting is because, in her words, 90% of acting roles involve sexual stuff that she doesn't want to do. I find this statement remarkably incorrect, so I'm keeping count as I go through her films. This is the first film she made in which there's a sex scene, simulated sex with the married man. That's only 7% of her roles so far. Even if the passionate kisses in "Here on Earth" are included it's only 15%.

Unfortunately, this is a film that's never found the acclaim that it deserves. The DVD is long out of print, but if you're lucky you might find a copy on Ebay.

Shikoku (4 Stars)

This is my Halloween Challenge film #14. This was one of the first films that I bought on DVD, but I haven't watched it for more than 10 years. It's weird when that happens. What I mean is, it's obvious that I'll forget about a film that I didn't like much, but it's strange that I should leave a film that I enjoyed on my bookshelf all this time. "On my bookshelf" is figuratively meant, of course. I've moved house three times since then, in 2008, 2015 and 2016, so that's three times I've picked up the DVD and held it in my hand, but still didn't watch it. I have to thank the Skip To The End Podcast team for inspiring me to watch it again.

I remembered that Chiaki Kuryama appears in the film. After all, it's her picture on the DVD cover. What I didn't know until today is that she was only 14 at the time she made the film. In her interview on the disc she says that it's her first film. IMDB lists three earlier films for her, but I assume she only appeared as a non-speaking extra in those films. This must have been her first major part.

The film's title is ambiguous, which might not be apparent to English speakers. Shikoku is the name of one of the islands that makes up Japan, with a population of four million. The Japanese word Shikoku means four lands, referring to the island's four prefectures Kochi, Ehime, Kagawa and Tokushima. Shikoku can also be interpreted as land of the dead, due to the ambiguity of the word "shi", which means both death and the number four.

Shikoku is a mostly rural island which is lagging behind the rest of Japan in industrial development. This is apparent in an early scene when Hinako is using a mobile phone on the bus after arriving in Ehime from the mainland. The other passengers stare at her in amazement because they've never seen one before. However, as the bus drives away from the coast towards Kochi the signal is lost. It's a journey into the past.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's describe the plot. Hinako and Sayori are two girls who grew up on the island of Shikoku, in Koichi. They went to school together and were best friends. Hinako came from a simple family, but Sayori was the daughter of a priestess. The religion of Shikoku is Buddhism, but it's mixed with older religions akin to voodoo. When she was 12 Sayori had a crush on Fumiya, which she only confided in Hinako, since she was too shy to tell him herself.

Hinako's family moved to Tokyo. Their family home was maintained in their absence by the next door neighbours. Shikoku is a traditional area where people don't sell their houses if they move away. The property and the land it stands on is part of who they are. Besides, even if they had wanted to sell the house, who would have bought it? Shikoku is a place that people move away from, not a place people want to live. Hinako wrote letters to Sayori, but never received a reply.

20 years later Hinako returns to Shikoku, with a mobile phone in her hand that soon proves to be useless. She meets Fumiya, who is still single. He dated Sayori briefly, but she died of drowning when she was 16. Since then he's never found anyone who lives up to Sayori. He tells Hinako that Sayori felt betrayed by Hinako when she moved away, so she burnt all her letters. Fumiya feels attracted to Hinako and feels he can finally move on.

Sayori might be dead, but her spirit is lingering. Both Hinako and Fumiya see her ghost. Sayori still loves Fumiya, so she's jealous and wants revenge. Worse still, Sayori's mother is planning to bring Sayori back to life. In Shikoku there is a traditional pilgrimage in which believers visit all 88 Buddhist temples on the island. It's customary to begin at the Ryozen-ji Temple, number one on the map, but the pilgrimage can begin at any point as long as all 88 temples are visited in a clockwise order. The purpose of the pilgrimage is to keep the gateway between the living and the dead sealed. Sayori's mother carries out the pilgrimage in reverse order, anti-clockwise, which will result in the dead being released and returning to the island in physical bodies; not just Sayori, all the dead will rise again.

In my opinion there's nothing wrong with raising the dead, especially when it's someone as beautiful as Chiaki Kuryama, but when she's an evil revenant consumed with revenge we can expect problems.

Even as a disembodied ghost she's beautiful. I would gladly be haunted by her.

When the film was first released it was criticised as a rip off of "The Ring", but that's unfair. Yes, it's a ghost story about a young girl, but all Japanese ghost stories are about young girls. That's part of the Japanese culture. I can strongly recommend the film. It's out of print in America and England, but if you hurry you can still pick up copies from marketplace sellers. In Germany it's still easily available.

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Thursday, 13 October 2016

Freezer (4 Stars)

This is my Halloween Challenge film #13. It's also been called "Freeze me" in some countries, presumably because the title "Freezer" has been used for various films over the years.

I have a question for my readers. When you kill someone, how do you get rid of the body? If you kill someone in the woods you can leave the body where it is, but what if you kill someone in your own apartment? In "The Sopranos" they used a butcher's shop to chop up bodies into small pieces. In "Snatch" the London gangster Brick Top uses pigs to eat dead bodies. In "Cold Fish" the gangster owns a crematorium, which is probably the most efficient way to dispose of a body. None of those opportunities are available to me. If I had a dead body in my apartment, a man who weighs 200 pounds, I wouldn't even be able to carry him down the stairs to put him in my car. That's enough to put anyone off killing.

This is the dilemma faced by Chihiro in "Freezer". When she was in her last year of school she was raped by three gang members who broke into her home. She didn't go to the police. Supposedly that happens a lot. Women are so traumatised by being raped that they don't want to have to talk about it for months in courtroom arguments, where the men will probably try to persuade the jury that the woman was a willing slut. Women prefer to forget. That's sad but true. The problem is, if a woman doesn't go to the police the rapists are convinced that the woman was willing. It's a twisted fantasy in the heads of many men that women want to be controlled, so they want to be raped.

Five years later Chihiro has moved on. She's working in a bank in Tokyo and she's engaged to marry one of her colleagues. She's never told anyone about what happened, but the past catches up with her. The three rapists decide to visit her. They think of her as an old friend, misinterpreting her silence as willingness. They arrive one by one over a period of four days. One by one she kills them. But what can she do with the bodies?

Chihiro does the best she can with what's available to her. She puts the body of the first man in her freezer. When she kills the second man she buys another freezer. Then she buys a third freezer. The freezers are soon cluttering up her small apartment.

As I've heard from several sources, killing changes you. It doesn't matter if you're a murderer or a soldier who kills legally, killing your first person changes you forever. The change is even more dramatic in the case of Chihiro who has killed three men in four days. She can't stop. She has to kill more. In a way it's understandable. Killing someone gives you a feeling of power, especially if you're a weak woman killing a strong man. The problem is that Chihiro needs more and more freezers.

Like all good horror/thriller crossover films, "Freezer" is at the same time horrifying and fascinating. It gives an insight into the steady progression of madness in a woman who has suffered the most terrible of all crimes.

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