(Criterion/Paradox, 1960) D: Nobuo Nakagawa, w/ Shigeru Amachi, Utako Mitsuya. Rating:NNNN
Masters Of Horror: Imprint
(Anchor Bay, 2006) D: Takashi Miike, w/ Youki Kudoh, Billy Drago. Rating: NNN
In the excellent documentary ac companying Jigoku, noted director Kiyoshi Kurosawa says every current Japanese horror director has been influenced by the way director Nobuo Nakagawa presents the supernatural. "Nakata copies him, I copy him, Shimizu copies him." (That collectively represents the Ring films, Pulse and the Grudge films.)
Jigoku, or Hell, is both a loopy supernatural exploitation film about a guy who is sent to hell as punishment, and an at least half-serious philosophical investigation of Buddhist concepts of hell. Nakagawa's one of those Japanese directors who's made dozens of films and worked for decades but is completely unknown in the West.
Jigoku is an interesting enough ride. I don't think it holds together, but it has some stunning elements, notably the confrontation on the bridge and the visualizations of hell, made on a shoestring budget. I'd like to see more of his work, particularly The Ghost Story Of Yotsuya, which is featured prominently in the documentary.
Imprint, the Japanese contribution to Anchor Bay's Masters Of Horror series, is infamous as the one that Showtime refused to air. Let's see. It's got sexual torture, incest, bloody fetuses being tossed in a river, pretty much your giant combo platter of hot-button stuff for the guardians of cable decency.
It doesn't really work, for five or six reasons. At his best, Takashi Miike's stuff, like his excellent 1999 film Audition, coheres magnificently, but here he's working from a script that verges on incoherence. At his worst, his movies just throw one damn thing after another at the audience. It would have helped if they'd filmed it in Japanese, rather than having all the Japanese actors struggle with English dialogue.
The DVD extras are superb, for those who are interested: the making-of and director interview are twice the length they've been on other instalments in the Masters series, and it's worth looking at the screenplay and comparing it to the film.
Extras Jigoku: Building The Inferno, 40-minute documentary on director Nakagawa and the making of the film, theatrical trailer, booklet essay by Chuck Stephens, poster gallery. Japanese soundtrack, English subtitles
EXTRAS Imprint: critical commentary, 40-minute making-of, extensive interview with director Miike, featurette on makeup and design, DVD-ROM - screenplay. --
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: The Ultimate Edition
(Dark Sky/Paradox, 1974) D: Tobe Hooper, w/ Marilyn Burns, Gunnar Hansen. Rating: NNNNN
Thirty years after its initial re lease, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre remains an astonishingly viable commercial property. As Hollywood keeps doing pallid remakes of 70s horror classics, it's nice to be reminded of what a director could do with a take-no-prisoners attitude, an inspired art director, a cast willing to take an unreasonable amount of abuse and about $40,000. Still a great and terrifying ride; accept no substitutes.
This is the fifth or sixth DVD issue of Chain Saw, so let's catalogue what comes from where. The transfer is from the same print source as the Pioneer/Geneon SE from 2003, with the same commentary by director Tobe Hooper, cinematographer Daniel Pearl and star Gunnar Hansen, which I believe comes from the old laserdisc. The documentary The Shocking Truth comes from the 2000 Blue Underground issue.
A cast/crew commentary with Marilyn Burns, Paul Partain and art director Robert A. Burns, who died mid-2004, was done in late 2003 and early 2004, since it references the 2003 remake. I'm not sure it's appeared on a disc before.
Flesh Wounds: Seven Tales From The Saw is a new series of retrospective interviews, including ones with Hansen, who played Leatherface, and cinematographer Pearl, who shot both the original and the remake, and some tributes.
Extras director/cinematographer/star and cast/art director commentaries, two documentary features, tour of the house, deleted scenes, blooper reel, theatrical trailers and TV spots, stills galleries. English soundtrack. English and Spanish subtitles.
The Notorious Bettie Page
(HBO Films/Alliance Atlantis, 2005) D: Mary Harron, w/ Gretchen Mol, Chris Bauer, Lili Taylor. Rating: NNN
The basic justification for this film remains Gretchen Mol's astonishing, out-of-nowhere performance as 50s pin-up queen Bettie Page. I can't imagine anyone who heard Mol was cast in the title role who didn't think, "They've got to be kidding."
The film covers Page's life from her departure from Tennessee and discovery in New York to her retirement from modelling. Director/writer Mary Harron and co-scenarist Guinevere Turner are so determined to be sex-positive that they've managed to make a blandly inoffensive, painfully tasteful film about dark underground sexuality. The good supporting cast includes Chris Bauer and Lili Taylor as Irving and Paula Klaw, who shot many of Page's most famous layouts, and David Strathairn as Senator Estes Kefauver.
Extras Director/screenwriter/star commentary, making-of featurette, Bettie Page short film, theatrical trailer.
Coming Tuesday, October 3
X-Men: The Last Stand
(20th Century Fox, 2006) A variety of editions, including a three-disc, of the apparently final film in the X-Men series.
MXC: Most Extreme Elimination
Challenge Season 1 (Magnolia, 2003) For those of us who find twice-daily repeats on Spike aren't enough, an essential DVD of Japanese game show contestants doing face plants in mud.
(First Independent, 2005) Horror director Stuart Gordon (Dagon, Re-Animator) started his career at Chicago's Organic Theatre directing David Mamet. Edmond is Mamet's own adaptation of his play, with a cast of Mamet vets like Joe Mantegna, William H. Macy and Rebecca Pidgeon.
Thank You For Smoking
(20th Century Fox, 2005) Jason Reitman's political satire, with Aaron Eckhart as a tobacco lobbyist. Remember, the red package is the wide-screen edition.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb