July 28, 2008

EXTE - HAIR EXTENSIONS (2007) - new Chiaki Kuriyama horror


EXTE - HAIR EXTENSIONS
(2007, Japan, Exsute)

It’s good to see Chiaki Kuriyama back in a Japanese horror film. But with Sion Sono directing, it’s not going to be a straightforward affair.

Sion Sono (Noriko’s Dinner Table, Strange Circus) also wrote and directed the infamous Suicide Circle (2002), with an unbelievable opening sequence where 54 schoolgirls join hands on the edge of a subway platform and then jump under a train. Despite the central plot of a detective investigating the serial suicides, the director ties in a bizarre subplot involving a new girl band. The opening is a great hook, the dramatic scenes are gripping and downbeat, but Sono is obliquely exploring other themes – the sort that only film critics seem to understand. The bizarre song and dance from the extremely nasty villain took me by surprise, and the movie flew over my head as I listened to a really bad song, apparently a tribute to The Rocky Horror Show. Nope, didn’t get that connection either – had to read about it later. But I don’t mind missing the point, just as long as it’s entertaining. Exte is his new film to get released on DVD, half which I love, half I didn’t.


I knew something wasn’t quite right during the opening scene, when customs officers open a dockside container only to find it full of human hair. When a corpse is discovered inside, one of the officers makes a comedy face before running away. Surely this was going to be a serious horror film?

Chiaki Kuriyama plays Yuko, a trainee stylist at a small hair salon. Her studies are interupted by her step-sister who dumps her daughter with her while she’s off partying with drunken businessmen. As if babysitting wasn’t problem enough, a weird guy turns up at the salon giving away hair extensions, cursed ones…


I love Sion Sono’s handling of the horror scenes and his directing of actors, but I don’t understand what else he’s trying to achieve. Exte is a fine horror film with strong performances from a good cast, but the story is almost non-existent, driven only by the whims of a completely insane villain. Not realistic insane, but comedy mad, like a 1960s Batman villain. Penguin likes umbrellas and birds, Riddler likes riddles, catwoman likes cats… in the same two-dimensional way, Yamazaki likes hair. That’s it. No complex backstory, no scheme, no plan. He just likes hair. This point is oft-repeated, especially when he sings a useless atonal ditty, the lyrics of which are just ‘my hair’. If Sono is trying to send up the horror genre, he needs to be funnier.

While actor Ren Osugi (Uzumaki, Nightmare Detective, Audition, Train Man and many more) is always reliable for creepy villainy, but here he’s asked to dress in wigs and silly sunhats. As Yamazaki, his day job is to sell the hair he cuts from corpses while on night shift in the mortuary. As a vaguely camp hair extensions salesman, or waltzing round his grubby apartment talking to a corpse, he seems to be playing for laughs. But not only isn’t it funny, these scenes are completely at odds with the rest of the film. There are gruesomely detailed deaths by hair, as it tries to rip itself free of its owner, or as it snakes around into ears, up noses and around eyeballs…


Despite the spectacularly painful hair murders, the only real horror is when the little girl’s mother tries to reclaim her abused daughter, banging on the door, trying to lie her way into the house. The characters in this storyline are well-rounded and expertly acted. It totally works as a grim drama. But as soon as we return to Yamazaki, the film becomes a comedy again.

There's so much that I like about Exte. The shame is that Sion Sono could make great horror films, if only he took them seriously. If you get his humour, the film may still work for you...


Exte is now on DVD in the US and UK.

July 27, 2008

GODZILLA FILMS ON DVD and BLU-RAY - an updated checklist


How to complete your collection of Godzilla movies outside of Japan

(Last updated in April 2014)


The picture above is of the 'Godzilla Final Box' collection. One huge Japanese DVD boxset, because in Japan all the films are owned by the same studio, Toho. Problem is, their DVD and Blu-ray releases don't have English audio or subtitles on them.

Outside Japan, the rights to release these films have been sold to a dozen different distributors, so there's no hope of getting all the Godzilla films in one big box, in English. In fact, you can't even get all the films from the same country.

Through the years, I've tried to keep this page up to date with all the new DVD releases. With a new Godzilla film due in America, over half of the Japanese films will also be available on blu-ray.

Older Godzilla films were often re-edited for the American release. I'll mention where the Japanese and US versions are drastically different, but to keep this concise I won't be listing minor differences. For that level of minutia you'll need to refer to the articles in G-Fan magazine or a thorough guidebook.

The US titles often differ from the literal English translation of the Japanese titles, meaning that the same film can be listed in IMDB and on DVD sites under differing years and titles. 


Another twist in the tail is that there can be two different English language tracks - one recorded to match the Japanese edit (refered to as 'international audio', usually for release in Hong Kong). The other is done in the US to match the re-edited release. I'll point out any releases where the English audio isn't the American version. (The Godzilla films shown on Channel 4 in the 1990s and then released on VHS in the UK all had this alternate 'Hong Kong' English language track, not used in the USA.)

The cover art is from the DVD release that I most recommend. All DVDs are US region 1 NTSC, unless otherwise stated. There have been 28 Japanese Godzilla movies in all, here we go...





1. GODZILLA / GOJIRA (1954)

There are two very different versions of this film. The original Japanese Gojira is longer and bleaker, portraying the equivalent of a nuclear holocaust. The US Godzilla includes cheaply reshot scenes of news reporter Steve Martin, played by Raymond Burr, talking us through the action. It favours monster action over the human devastation.

Both versions were shot fullscreen 4:3 (1.33) and in black and white.Classic Media released a two-disc set in the US that includes both versions, and is sold under the original Japanese title Gojira - complete with a couple of brief documentaries. This DVD set is the best release to date, though the scratchy source print could still do with further restoration. It was the first time the Japanese version was released in the US. The Japanese version is also available in the UK, released by the BFI on region 2 PAL DVD.

Classic Media also released a blu-ray of this version in 2009, not to be confused with the Criterion blu-ray (below).




The Criterion Collection released Godzilla and Gojira together on DVD and blu-ray (pictured) in January 2012 from a newly discovered print, which I believe offers much-needed, improved image quality.






2. GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN (1955)

The second Godzilla movie was also known as Gigantis the Fire Monster, and also recut for the US. This film was originally made fullscreen 1.33 and in black and white. Godzilla fights the spiky four-legged Anguiras, destroying Osaka castle in the process.

Cl
assic Media have released this on region 1 DVD as a special edition that includes the uncut Japanese version (with English subtitles), and the English language US edit.





3. KING KONG vs GODZILLA (1963)

The US version of this was cutdown, then extra scenes were filmed. It's now available on DVD and blu-ray in a beautiful 2.35 widescreen release in the US from Universal Home Video (pictured). This US version contains all the monster action of the Japanese version. (In addition, Universal have also released the non-Godzilla sequel King Kong Escapes on DVD and blu. It features King Kong, Mechani-Kong and Gorosaurus...).




The Japanese version of King Kong vs Godzilla is longer, with more dialogue scenes and humour. But it's only available in Japan and has never been released with English subtitles.






4. MOTHRA vs GODZILLA (1964)

This was retitled Godzilla vs The Thing in the US.Classic Media have released a US special edition as Mothra vs Godzilla, containing both versions of the film. However the US version is only presented cropped down to 16:9 widescreen, instead of the full 2.35 widescreen. This is OK if you want to see the Japanese version, but if you prefer the Americanised English audio in the full widescreen, get the older DVD releases (from Sony or Simitar).

The Simitar DVD has non-anamorphic widescreen 2.35, and with only the English language audio.





5. GHIDRAH THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER (1964)



Despite the title, this is also a Godzilla movie. Classic Media released this as a marvellous special edition, in 2.35 anamorphic widescreen in Japanese with English subtitles, with an option of the English language US version.






6. INVASION OF ASTRO-MONSTER (1965)

Classic Media released this as a US special edition in 2.35 anamorphic widescreen in Japanese with English subtitles (pictured). It includes the English language US edit as well. The opening title sequence says Monster Zero and is only 16:9 widescreen, before branching back to the correct 2.35 for the rest of the film.

The Simitar DVD is also watchable, presented in 2.35 widescreen (but non-anamorphic - not as good for widescreen TVs) with only the English language track.







7. GODZILLA vs THE SEA MONSTER (1966)

Also called Ebirah - Horror of the Deep. Sony Pictures released this as Godzilla vs The Sea Monster (pictured) with the original Japanese audio in 2.35 widescreen. The English language track is the International version, not the dub that American audiences will be familiar with from decades of TV broadcasts.

Kraken will also release this on blu-ray in May, 2014.





8. SON OF GODZILLA (1967)


Sony Pictures released a 2.35 widescreen version (pictured) with the original Japanese soundtrack in the US, but only the English International audio (not the US dub).






9. DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (1968)

Every Godzilla monster was in this film and it's one of the most enjoyable from the sixties. It wasn't available in the US for many years.


A new transfer from Media Blasters heralded an anamorphic widescreen release on DVD and blu-ray in the US in October 2011 (with the above artwork). While the anamorphic widescreen was welcome, the blu-ray transfer wasn't as sharp as I'd hoped, possibly because the film elements were several generations down from the Japanese original. 





ADV released this with two different covers in 2000 and 2004. It's only the US version of the film, in 2.35 non-anamorphic widescreen, and only has the American English audio track. 





10. ALL MONSTERS ATTACK /
GODZILLA'S REVENGE (1969)

Lots of repeated footage from earlier films makes this the laziest and shortest Godzilla film. But the plot, about a bullied little boy finding his feet, still has charm. Classic Media have done a special edition in the US (pictured) including both the Japanese and US versions.

The earlier Simitar DVD was released as Godzilla's Revenge in 2.35 anamorphic widescreen, but only with an English language track.






11. GODZILLA vs HEDORAH /
GODZILLA vs THE SMOG MONSTER (1971)

Usually called Godzilla vs the Smog Monster in the US, this is one of the best Godzilla films - best monsters, best nightclub scene! Very eco-friendly too.

Sony Pictures have released a 2.35 anamorphic widescreen DVD (pictured) , with the choice of English or the original Japanese soundtracks and English subtitles. The onscreen titles are in English.


Kraken will also release this on blu-ray on May, 2014.





12. GODZILLA vs GIGAN (1972)

Sony Pictures released a 2.35 anamorphic widescreen region 1 DVD (pictured), with optional English or original Japanese soundtracks and English subtitles.


Kraken will also release this on blu-ray on May, 2014.






13. GODZILLA vs MEGALON (1973)

>The first US DVD release was issued by Media Blasters in 2012, and it should also be on blu-ray any week now (due April 2014). The DVD has optional Japanese or English audio and English subtitles.

Beware the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 version - it's cropped to fullframe 4:3 and the team talk humorously over the entire movie.





14. GODZILLA vs MECHAGODZILLA (1974)

Sony Pictures have released a 2.35 anamorphic widescreen DVD (pictured), with optional English and Japanese soundtracks and English subtitles. Don't get confused with the other four films with MechaGodzilla in the title!





15. TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA (1975)

Non-stop alien superspy action in the best seventies Godzilla movie. Only time you'll see breasts in the series (sort of)!

Classic Media released this as a special edition (pictured) in 2.35 widescreen in Japanese with English subtitles. It includes the English language US edit as well, but the title sequence is cropped to 16:9 widescreen, before branching back to the correct 2.35 aspect for the rest of the movie.

BEWARE both the Simitar and Sony DVD releases, they are cropped to full-frame 1.33.





16. THE RETURN OF GODZILLA (1985)


Like the 1954 film, there were two very different cuts of this, with an awful (really awful) Raymond Burr version, shortened from the Japanese, dubbed into English, with more comedy and intrusive Dr Pepper product placement! The longer Japanese cut is by far the better version. Also called Godzilla 1984 (in Japan) and Godzilla 1985 (in the US).

This has never been on DVD in the USA. The Japanese version has been released by Universe Video in Hong Kong, on an NTSC region 3 DVD as The Return of Godzilla (pictured). It's widescreen, with Japanese audio and English subtitles (that share the screen with Chinese subtitles). The US version was last seen on VHS as Godzilla - The Legend is Reborn.





17. GODZILLA vs BIOLLANTE (1989)

This finally hit DVD and blu-ray in the US in 2012. Optional Japanese (5.1) or English (mono) audio, and of course English subtitles.






18. GODZILLA vs KING GHIDRAH (1991)

What's more fearsome than MechaGodzilla? Mecha King Ghidorah! Great slamdown finale among the skyscrapers of Tokyo's financial district, Shinjuku.


Sony are releasing this on blu-ray in May as a double-bill with Godzilla vs Mothra (1992). I've heard that it will also get a DVD release, but be careful not to get their 1998 version of this double-bill on DVD - it was a very tightly-cropped 1.33 fullscreen version (pan-and-scanned), with English language only.





19. GODZILLA vs MOTHRA (1992)

One of the best 90s' Godzilla movies for monster action. Sony are releasing this on blu-ray in May as a double-bill with Godzilla vs King Ghidrah (1991). I've heard that it will also get a DVD release, but be careful not to get their 1998 version of this double-bill on DVD - it was a very tightly-cropped 1.33 fullscreen version (pan-and-scanned), with English language only.






20. GODZILLA vs MECHAGODZILLA II (1993)



Sony Pictures released a 16:9 anamorphic widescreen DVD in the US (pictured) with both the Japanese and English soundtracks. 


They're now also releasing it on blu-ray, in May, on a double-bill with Godzilla vs Space Godzilla (1994).





21. GODZILLA vs SPACE GODZILLA (1994)

This old Columbia Tristar DVD double-bill (pictured above) is correctly presented in anamorphic widescreen, but with English language only.




In May, Sony are releasing Godzilla vs Space Godzilla on blu-ray, on a double-bill with Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla II (1993). That's rather confusing...






22. GODZILLA vs DESTOROYAH (1995)

The old Columbia Tristar DVD double-bill (pictured above) is anamorphic widescreen, but with English language only.



Godzilla vs Destoroyah will hit blu-ray in May, on a double-bill with Godzilla vs Megaguiras (2000).






23. GODZILLA 2000 (1999)

Godzilla returned (again), after the three-year break allowed for Roland Emmerich's Godzilla. Godzilla 2000 was also known as Godzilla Millennium.

The Madman Entertainment Australian PAL region 4 DVD (above) is almost the same as the US DVD, with 2.35 anamorphic widescreen and no Japanese audio. The advantage is a notably less grainy image.


The Columbia Tristar release in the USA (pictured) has only English (and French) audio on it, and is anamorphic widescreen 2.35. The letterbox looks too tight at the top, on this and all other versions that I've seen. This version is also slightly shorter compared to the Hong Kong disc. The American dubbing can't resist occasionally poking fun at the film in a bizarre and unfunny way, "Great Caesar's ghost!"


Universe Video released this in Hong Kong on region 3 NTSC. There are Chinese and Japanese audio tracks, but the 
English subtitles can only be selected with the Chinese audio track. The image is a tightly-framed transfer, the Japanese audio mix is muddy and therefore not recommended.







24. GODZILLA vs MEGAGUIRUS (2000)

This US DVD release (pictured above) marked the moment when Sony Pictures started listening to fans and releasing Godzilla DVDs with Japanese audio as well. There's also optional English audio and English subtitles. It's 2.35 anamorphic widescreen.



Sony will release this on blu-ray in May on a double-bill with Godzilla vs Destoroyah.





25. GODZILLA MOTHRA KING GHIDRAH - 

GIANT MONSTERS ALL-OUT ATTACK (2001)

Sony Pictures DVD (pictured) has Japanese language, optional English language or subtitles, 2.35 anamorphic widescreen.






26. GODZILLA AGAINST MECHAGODZILLA (2002)

The Sony Pictures DVD (pictured) has Japanese language, optional English language or subtitles, 2.35 anamorphic widescreen. Reviewed here.





27. GODZILLA TOKYO S.O.S. (2003)

The Columbia Tristar DVD (pictured above) has Japanese language, optional English language or subtitles, 2.35 anamorphic widescreen.




This will be released on blu-ray in May on a double-bill with Godzilla Final Wars (2004).





28. GODZILLA FINAL WARS (2004)

The last Japanese Godzilla film. Bigger budget, international locations, electronic soundtrack, and ALL the Toho monsters they could possibly cram in... Review here.

DVD released by Sony in the US (pictured above), with Japanese or English audio, and English subtitles.




Sony are releasing this on blu-ray in May, on a double-bill with Godzilla Tokyo SOS.









For lengthier analysis and interviews about Godzilla and his giant monster friends, try the regular, and professionally produced fan magazine G-Fan. They also organise annual conventions in the US.

For online news about Japanese giants,try August Ragone's
The Good the Bad and the Godzilla, and SciFi Japan.

Good luck, and happy hunting! The Hong Kong DVDs can be found here from
YesAsia. Thanks also to Ian W. (Killer Meteor on the Classic Horror Forum) for info about the Australian releases.


July 21, 2008

LONG DREAM (2000) - more Higuchinsky and Junji Ito

LONG DREAM
(2000, Japan, Nagai yume)

After the unique and surreal horror film Uzumaki, I quickly sought out Long Dream. It’s from the same director, Higuchinsky, it’s also based on a Junji Ito manga, and it also features Eriko Hatsune, the star of Uzumaki. Long Dream has finally been released on DVD in the US (by Tidepoint), but don’t expect another Uzumaki

In a weird psychiatric hospital, two doctors are struggling with two patients, one obsessed with her own mortality, the other with sleep problems. Actually, that’s a bit of an understatement, because when he sleeps, years of his life pass by. His 'long dreams' are getting longer, and starting to affect his physical appearance.

This is very low budget and shot on video. IMDB has it listed as a ‘TV’ project, though it's presented widescreen. The acting is good enough and there’s some interesting make-up effects, but most of the action, including a bloody murder, takes place offscreen, and the long dreams of the title, are only described...

While this should be the stuff of nightmares, the writer has tried to imagine some ghastly tortures, but ended up sounding comical, like a dream about living for years without a toilet! Add to that, the weird make-up may be faithful to the manga (which I’ve not seen), but it looks like a Mars Attacks alien with hair-loss. On top of that is a truly nasty, cheap ‘horror’ synth soundtrack.

While Long Dream tries to explore the consequences of endless nightmares, there’s too many flashbacks of a lost love. Eriko Hatsune (recently the star of Apartment 1303) is pretty enough, but in slow-motion twirling an umbrella, she’s completely wasted, and her mysterious scenes are over-repeated to deaden the pace further.

This is a curious companion piece to the phenomenal Uzumaki, if only to contrast how that film got everything so right. But Long Dream should have stayed a manga. It’s far too long, even at only 58 minutes.

The Japanese movie experts at Snowblood Apple liked it a lot more. There's a full plot description and plenty of screengrabs there.

July 18, 2008

THE NIGHT WALKER (1964) - vintage William Castle

THE NIGHT WALKER
(1964, USA)

Still Not On DVD...

Any horror movie directed by William Castle is worth a look, is only for the outrageous publicity gimmicks that he promised, to get audiences into the theatres. His House on Haunted Hill and 13 Ghosts both warranted recent remakes, his famous gimmicks are still constantly referenced, most extensively in Joe Dante's Matinee (1992). The bizarre claims of the trailers and unique poster campaigns need to be seen beforehand, in order to understand some of the strange events and preoccupations within the stories themselves.

Castle’s movies even riled Hitchcock into making Psycho the shockfest it is - Hitch wanting to outdo Castle at his own game of low-budget horror. Then Castle poached the writer of the original Psycho novel, Robert Bloch, to be his scriptwriter for this creepy tale.


The Night Walker was one of Castle’s last gimmicky flix, but still prepares the audience with a bizarre and unsettling prologue about the power of dreams and nightmares. The other lure was to cast Robert Taylor opposite Barbara Stanwyck, onscreen together for the first time since their divorce.


Stanwyck plays a woman trapped in a unhappy marriage with a blind scientist, played by Hayden Rorke (the psychiatrist in I Dream of Jeannie). After he disappears in a laboratory explosion, Stanwyck thinks that she can still hear him walking around the house, tapping his white cane. When she actually sees him, disfigured from the accident, no one believes her. She moves out immediately, but continues to have strange nightmares, in which she marries a tall dark stranger in a church full of creepy mannequins. She starts to confuse her dreams with reality, and begins to doubt whether her husband is really dead...


Her confusion actually played tricks on my own memory. I saw this as a teenager on TV, and then dreamt about it several times. After a few years, I only remembered the dreams and didn’t realise that my memories were also scenes from a film. It was another ten years before I saw the film again and could sort out where those dreams had actually started.

Like most of Castle's films, it's carefully shot in black and white - (the lobby cards photos you see here have all been coloured in). While visually and atmospherically very effective, this reminds us that Castle was on a budget and, in some of his films, it also disguised the use of blood, which might have been censored had it been in colour, like for instance the ghastly bathtub scene in The Tingler...


Another reason for seeing this, is the fantastic soundtrack by Vic Mizzy, who famously wrote The Addams Family theme tune. The central theme to The Night Walker is superbly catchy and harpsichordy, though it also effectively evokes an atmosphere of dreaminess. I was very pleased when the score was finally released on CD.


Barbara Stanwyck was initially famous as a bad girl in the 1930s (like in the scandalous pre-code Baby Face) then as a leading lady in film noir (Double Indemnity), westerns and adventure films (Titanic, 1953). Her last blast of stardom was as the matriarch of the Dynasty spin-off TV series The Colbys, opposite the late Charlton Heston. Here she has a chance to practice extreme melodrama, as well as trying to sell as many red herrings as possible.

Lloyd Bochner, as her dream lover, was a regular baddie in 1970s TV, and made appearances in most classic series from The Twilight Zone to The Man From U.N.C.L.E.. Occasionally he landed a movie like Point Blank or The Dunwich Horror. Later still, he was in The Naked Gun 2½ (shouting out a fantastic in-joke about his Twilight Zone appearance), and using his unique velvety voice for the character of Mayor Hill in dozens of the 1990s Batman: The Animated Series.

In 1964, William Castle’s greatest horror film was yet to come. He produced, appeared in, but was talked out of directing, Rosemary’s Baby


The Night Walker isn’t on DVD anywhere, one of the films I'd most like to see available again. The NTSC VHS release is worth seeking out - it’s a good transfer and can easily be enjoyed in its 1.33 presentation. But a DVD release is long overdue, especially considering the director's continuing cult appeal.