Monday, May 31, 2010

VIRGINS FROM HELL (1987)

I'm really starting to fall for the cinema of Indonesia. MYSTICS IN BALI was fun enough and VIRGINS FROM HELL is similarly nutso-entertaining, if similarly no masterwork. The explanatory material on the disc calls VIRGINS a mishmash of genres—biker, rape revenge, gangster, sexploitation, and women in prison—and that's technically true, but this is also technically quite tame for a genre movie of 1987. Granted, VIRGINS is prominent in the title, but this is the least sexual sexploitation film of all time. People even BATHE with their clothes on. Who does this?

It's not a notably gory outing either. Director Ackyl Anwari gives us guns and explosions and more explosions, by the ton, but only rarely does blood seep into view. There are some inventive torture scenes to meet the WIP quota, but overall I'd feel more comfortable calling this an action film than anything else. An EXPLODEY AS FUCK action film.

The Virgins of the title are presumably an all-girl gang of bikers organized to exact revenge for—get this—the murder of an old couple in order to use their house as a lab for aphrodisiac production. They wear clothes made of Christmas-time Hersey's Kisses foils and have absurd names like Dena and Sheila. This might be a stumbling block for the viewer and I'm going to be cautious about this, because some of my best friends are virgins from hell. But there are lots of these ladies and they all sort of look alike (don't hit me). It's like Charlie's Angels, if there were twenty Angels, all of them Indonesian. Luckily, plot and character are not towering elements in this film.

After briefly establishing the ladies as tough chicks, they're immediately captured and imprisoned by the nefarious Mr. Tiger, who appears to have dressed for a spaghetti western instead of a whatever this is. VIRGINS is practically a sister to ZERO WOMAN: RED HANDCUFFS in that its ostensibly ass-kicking women spend most of the movie dominated and outsmarted by men (and a lesbian named Dutch). Dunno much about Indonesian society and how its women fare, but lines like "We're not a motorcycle gang at all, we're just a bunch of weakling girls!" are sure strange things to plant in your heroines' mouths.

I'm still a novice, but it feels like these films are a semi-modern equivalent to the exploitation films of old. The kinds of things that were created over a weekend, films which had titles and posters long before scripts. Rarely did these things make sense or display more than a skeletal level of foresight or logic. There were certain things that they HAD to have (like EXPLOSIONS~!!!) and the other scenes were sort of smushed into the script wherever they'd fit. Watch this movie and its A-Team-esque scenes of girls running full-bore at machine gun turrets with no damage and tell me that the script took decades. These virgins are so committed that not even bullets will penetrate them. That might feel like a flaw to some, but I love the chaos and illogic on display. The spectacle is what matters. From the completely unexpected (and copyright-infringing, no doubt) "Nights in White Satin" popping up during a sex scene to the use of a snake for bullet removal, the parts of this film that come from Crazyland make the duller stretches easier to stomach.

As said, VIRGINS isn't going to change your life, but it's worth a watch if you can appreciate the outlandish or love explosions or ponchos or dancing such as stroke victims would perform.

Friday, May 14, 2010

13 GANTRY ROW (1998)

Talk about a mixed bag. This made-for-TV Australian spookshow romp is just like when you were a kid and it was Christmas and the most elaborate present under the tree was for YOU. Wrapping paper like Silver Surfer skin, bows elaborately tied like sailors' knots. And then you opened it and it was slacks from JC Penney and you ran from the room crying and then your aunt (the gifter) started crying. And, twenty-five years later, you tell the story on a horror blog.

That is the best way to explain GANTRY ROW, a beautiful box full of disappointment. The film hits such occasional highs that it's impossible not to resent its ultimate failure to aim higher. Director Catherine Millar knows her craft—this is a well-shot film with lots of interesting visuals and camera gimmickry. Sometimes, it's a little too much, as with the repeated scenes of things being placed onto transparent surfaces, shot from below (this happens at least thirty times), but overall GANTRY is quite fun to watch.

But when you hear "TV movie", you probably have a set of preconceptions that show up and, in this case, your prejudice is warranted. You judgmental twat. The plot here is cut like cookies. The script was delivered in a can with a white label that read GHOST STORY on it. Even when a potentially interesting subplot is dangled right there (like wife Julie saying, "I don't believe in religion," after wearing a golden cross throughout the entire film), GANTRY doesn't pursue it at all. Instead, the movie keeps steadfastly to well-traveled paths, from bleeding walls to skeletons in the cellar. It's so frustrating to have a visually rich and adequately-acted film that forgets that films must tell stories.

I don't want to rake this movie over the coals because it has some endearing elements. But the pithy description for it ("moderately pleasant") is not exactly the kind of rave you want your ghost story to draw. Longer description: the kind of horror movie that people who hate horror watch on Halloween because they think that's what they're supposed to do.