IT'S A LIVING... BUT IT'S NOT A LIFE #13.97
J Church and Honey Bear Records - Shocktober!!!
Death Cannot Be Put On Hold...

 

TOUR DATES

We're hitting the road again with the purpose of getting to and from The Fest. It's gonna be wild. I assume a lot of you are gonna be there. Okay, here's what I know so far...

NOVEMBER

16 Jackson, MS ­ The Red Room w/ The Urchin (Japan), Toys That Kill
17 Pensacola, FL ­ Sluggo's w/ The Urchin (Japan), Toys That Kill, Sexy, This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb, Bent Outta Shape, Bloodbath and Beyond
18 Gainesville, FL ­ hanging at the Fest
19 Gainesville, FL ­ Common Grounds w/Ted Leo, Radon and a million more
20 Gainesville, FL ­ probably starting to get a little sick of the Fest
21 Atlanta, GA ­ tba w/ The Urchin (Japan), Black Cougar Shock Unit
22 Chattanooga, TN ­ Ziggy's tba w/The Urchin (Japan), Sexy
23 Denton, TX ­ JJ's Pizza w/The Urchin (Japan)

Come check it out as I'm not going on tour again until we get this next album finished!

 

EBAY

I'm keeping that Ebay auction going. I just want to make sure everything I've got is available even with the website not updated. As soon as I'm done with the book, the website will be my next task to fix up. To look for my E-bay auctions, search under "HBR". Keep checking as I'll try to update it regularly.

 

TOP TEN

Here's a new list getting into the season's spirit. This top ten is going to focus on contemporary Asian horror films. I've decided just to list them in alphabetical order as it was really too hard to put one over the other. There are a couple that probably deserve more mention as they were the first and sort of set the standard. But I think it's better just to keep this list alphabetical. I've also combined some of the franchises as one spot so I can talk about more movies.

DARK WATER - Hideo Nakato is making some good movies. He did the first two Ringu flicks, Chaos and Dark Water. Why does Hollywood have to ruin horror films from around the world? I guess they've always been doing it. The first one I remember was when the great Danish film Nightwatch was remade with Ewan McGregor and Nick Nolte and a dreadful Chemical Brothers soundtrack. Now they've done it to Nakato's films. Just close your eyes and ignore the American version. The original Japanese Dark Water, or Honogurai Mizu No Soko Kara is great and scary as hell. Yoshimi is a young woman in the middle of a horrible divorce from her creepy, older, businessman husband. She's trying to find work, find a place to live and take care of her six-year-old daughter, Ikuko. Among other things, she's constantly running late, leaving Ikuko alone at her school. The apartment they move into is bleak enough only exasperated by a damp spot in the ceiling above the bed that seems to be coming from the apartment above. From here, the movie gets downright eerie as we soon learn that a girl Ikuko's age, who not only attended her school but lived in the same complex, had disappeared never to be found. Yoshimi keeps finding evidence of the girl's presence as well as what seem to visions of the girl. The cinematography, the sound, the acting, it's a great film and a classic in the same way that Ringu was before it.

EYE, THE - I saw The Eye 2 AKA Jian Gui 2, as well and I really can't see what it's got to do with the first. But they're both pretty good in their own ways. In the original film, a blind girl receives a cornea transplant. From the very first moment she opens her eyes, the viewer knows more than she does. At first, her vision is blurred and there are blurry apparitions of people in the background and everywhere she goes. As the viewers, we already know that those people aren't there and she has the ability to see ghosts and they've everywhere. In addition to these visions, she has nightmare-ish flashbacks to some sort of incident that she can't quite piece together. This becomes the real plot of the film as she, with the help of her young dude therapist, try to unravel the mystery of her visions. In the meantime, there are a lot of great ghostly images that are very, very disturbing. Even when they are totally outside of the plot, there are extras in the background that are clearly meant to represent spirits. It's like a much creepier version of Sixth Sense. The apparitions are great too. Remember the first time you saw an ad for The Exorcism of Emily Rose and you didn't know it sucked and you were psyched by the ghostly images? Imagine a whole movie of that kind of shit! In the sequel, a young woman (played by Shu Qi) is going through a devastating break up. In an over-dramatic attempt to bring attention to herself, she makes a half hearted attempt at committing suicide. While the suicide doesn't take, she does find that she went further into death than expected. The result is that she can now see spirits in everyday life. The story gets much more complicated when she finds out she is pregnant. Her visions are intertwined with the viewer learning more of the back-story of her relationship that went bad. By the end, rather than a twist ending, you have been gradually turned around from your first perception. It's a good flick, well acted, and with more nice looking special effects. The Pang Brothers did both flicks as well as Ab-Normal Beauty and The Eye X which I haven't seen but I heard is great. Like everything else great in the international movie world, Hollywood with its total lack of ideas are re-making this Hong Kong classic with fucking Renee fucking Zellweger. What the hell is wrong with this country?

JU-ON - Wow, there are five of these flicks and even the first two, shot on video for Japanese TV, kick ass over the US version. Buffy let me down! The first two films, the ones made for TV, are sometimes known as Ju-On: The Curse 1 and Ju-On: The Curse 2. But they're really just one long feature. In fact, the first segment of part two is merely a replaying of the last segment of the first. Is that confusing? This is an almost Godard-like non-linear approach to storytelling. The tenses go back and forth and their immediate relations to who is living at this one particular house only define the characters. Let me try to explain. There is a house and it's haunted. It's hard to say what event started it. The story starts with a schoolteacher one of whose pupil hasn't shown up for school in a few days. He decides to go check up on the family. He finds the kid there alone with the house in shambles. The movie then goes on to explain several stories at once only coming together with each ones bloody conclusion at the end of the film. Especially with the first three films (films three and four are often referred to as Ju-On: The Grudge and Ju-On: The Grudge 2) it's almost like a Peter Greenaway film with a meditation on supernatural death. The deaths can range from extremely creepy to sort of funny to totally sickening. What's most unnerving about the film is that it treats every character like a protagonist, so you really don't expect them to get killed. But there is a lot of death and you are constantly being caught off guard.

The third film was the first meant for theatrical release, so it's got seriously higher production values. Starting not too far from where the TV version ended, Rika (played by Megumi Okina who was great in Red Shadow) is a volunteer social worker dispatched to the house of the original series. She finds an elderly woman in shock and alone. She also finds a young boy there but not the parents. From there the curse continues killing everyone who even tangentially comes in contact with it. One of the best sequences involved Hitomi, daughter of the old woman and sister of the husband living in the house. By just stopping by, she is cursed and the deadly spirit tracks her down in a completely creepy sequence.

The fourth film breaks from this style of overlapping storytelling in favor of an almost traditional type of plot. In this film, a crew from a shock TV show decide to do a story on the haunted house, so they take an actress known for her horror flicks as guest host and spend a day shooting on location. From the moment they leave, the cast and crew start dying off one by one. Like the other films, the story goes back and forth in time, keeping you attentive and also making the shocks unexpected. The ending sequence at the hospital is totally fucked!

A fifth Japanese film in the series is now out in Japan. I can't wait.

MEMORIES OF MURDER - What I like about this new crop of Asian horror flicks is that they don't give a shit about the western market. They don't try to appeal to the lowest common denominator. They make movies that are real and do it almost going out of their way to include motifs and myths of their culture and history. Memories of Murder or Salinui Chueok is a true story about the first serial killer ever documented in South Korea. The film starts out like it's gonna be a buddy-cop farce. It's the country bumpkin detective dealing with the more sophisticated city guy brought in on the case. It's amazing how quickly this film shifts gears. Even as they are trying to secure a pretty gruesome crime scene, there are a few sight gags that had me laughing out loud. Even the destruction of evidence by some unwitting farmer is played for laughs. At the same time, there is the real story. The killer raped and murdered 10 women and was never caught (this is not a spoiler as it's the first thing you read at the start of the film). Some of the crime scenes are sickening as they accurately show the decay depending on how long it took the police to find them. Aficionados will know director Bong Joon-Ho from his anxiety ridden thriller Phantom: The Submarine and in this film he certainly can switch into that mode when he needs to. A lot of this film is also quite beautiful. It's nice to see the often-maligned South Korean country with its fields and small town life. Even the subject of police brutality, which is pretty common, is over-compensated for with more comedy.

NIGHTMARE - Another great one from South Korea, AKA Gawi, this one is more common to current Japanese horror cinema. The film starts at the morgue with the body of Kyung-Ah, a college girl who committed suicide. We get to see the mortician sew her eyes shut which both sets the tone as well as partly explains the plot of the film as seconds later, the eyelids pop back open and refuse to close. Several years later Sun-Ae has run away from a mental institution to find her old college friend, Lee Hye-Jin. She is terrified that she has seen Kyung-Ah. It turns out that all three were part of a small secret university group called A Few Good Men. Each member of the group has suffered some sort of major disappointment or failure in their subsequent lives. Suddenly they start dying off one by one and Hye-Jin needs to revisit the night of the suicide to find out just what happened. The result is a complex back-story that is perfectly told with sudden flashbacks that help blur reality. The effects are pretty good; especially the opening scene of an eye being sewn shut, and the story is complex and smarter than your usual one dimensional story with a predictable twist at the end.

ONE MISSED CALL - I'm not one of those people that go crazy for Takashi Miike. I think he's cool and I loved Audition and Visitor Q. But of my two favorites of his, one is a TV show that I'll get to later and the other is this. First things first, I like the idea that cell phones can kill you. I like the idea that just having one means you can die from a weird curse. What a great premise! If they would only make a movie where a supernatural force kills people that don't clean up their dog's shit… The film starts with some friends out for dinner. While in the bathroom, one of the girls misses a call. When she checks her messages, it seems to be her voice leaving a cryptic message and then screaming. The make it more mysterious, the return number is her own phone and the call is dated two days in the future. You can imagine where this is heading and the first kill of the movie is fantastic. It's sudden, mostly unexpected and looks amazing. As all the friends from that first dinner shared phone numbers, they all start having the same thing happen to them, phone message from the future and death. Each way is more complicated and surprising than before. In Miike's own way, the deaths can even be sort of funny in a really dark way.

RING, THE - The Ring or Ringu is really the film that got the whole craze in the States for Asian horror. Then there was the half-assed Hollywood version with the poorman's Nicole Kidman, Naomi Watts, which everyone thought was so great because they don't know what the hell they're talking about and are too obsessed with MTV style editing and pacing to deal with shit like subtitles. What the hell is Gore Verbinski's problem? His version of The Ring looks like a fucking Subaru ad. Anyway, you know the story. There's bootleg tape floating around. If you see it, you get a phone call telling you you're gonna die. No matter where you are, guess what, you die. It's a great idea especially when you consider how many bootleg versions of this movie there are out there. Reiko is a reporter who gets involved in the curse through her niece who died after seeing the tape. The story is more complex as her personal life is confused raising her son, Yoichi and dealing with an accommodating ex-husband, Ryuji. Ringu is methodically paced, very well acted (as opposed to the totally obtuse performances in the honky version) and really fucking creepy. It's really the only one you need to see including all remakes and sequels. I did just see most of them, so I thought I'd run them down for you just so you have some idea what they're about while you look blankly at the photo-copied bootleg version in your local video store…

Ringu 2 is a lot less frightening as you already know the punch line, but is a fascinating look at the extended relations to the first story. I think this is a lot of why American audiences didn't get into it as much. The second volume is only tangentially related to the original as seems to be common with Asian horror. The film follows Mai Takano, the graduate student only briefly in the first film. She tries to track down Reiko and Yoichi to try to get to the bottom of what happened to her professor, Ryuji. She goes by Reiko's old work and winds up meeting another reporter who is trying to do a story on the tape. There are some scares along the way especially when visiting a survivor from the first film in a mental institution. But from there the film fails by trying to hard to scientifically explain the phenomenon. It's fun in a bullshit sort of way.

The real sequel is Rasen or Spiral. Made virtually at the same time as the original, it's totally incompatible with Ringu 2! Starting with Ryuji's autopsy, it turns out that the tape is somehow linked to a virus that is suffocating people everywhere. Take the supernatural element from Ringu and you've got more of a convoluted, vaquely sci-fi thriller that pretty much leaves you wanting scary, wet ghosts with Manson Girl hair in their faces.

Ringu: Saishuu Sho was Ringu stretched out into a 12-part TV series in '99, a year after the original hit theaters. This one is clearly made for TV and it really is 12 hours long. It's hard to say if it's horror at all. It's more like a pretty well done soap opera with a suspenseful edge. It's not brilliant. But if you can get into the characters and are fairly obsessed with the original flick, it's addictive.

The last Japanese flick in the series was 2000's Ringu 0: Basudei. This prequel the whole back-story of Sadako and you view her as a sympathetic character, a misunderstood teen trying to get by in a competitive Tokyo dance company. But after her arrival, the student's begin having nightmares followed by unsolved murders. While not strictly a horror film except for it's relationship to the franchise, this film still works as a drama with some very scary supernatural moments.

Not as good as the original, but better than the whitey version, South Korea's Ring Virus is a pretty good adaptation of the story. The film isn't just Ringu with Korean names. There is a strange quasi-sexual angle to the whole affair with Eun-Suh (this version's Sadako) condemned ultimately out of refusal of some sort of lascivious liaison. Oh, there's a hermaphrodite too. Also, the psychic angle is heightened in this version. It's still moody as hell and has atmosphere to spare. The soundtrack is minimal which is great as the space helps balance the complicated story.

TENNEN SHOJO MAN NEXT - Unfucking believable! What would Takashi Miike do if asked to make a vampire movie? This is your answer. An evil modeling agency is collecting teen female virgins. The agency is lead by a group of gay teen boys who only use the girls as sources of blood. Why? They're all fucking vampires! No shit, an army of teen, supermodel vampires lead by a council of gay, hot boy vampires. Who could possibly stop them? Man Koda and her army of super-powered schoolgirl fighters known as the N-Girls. This made for TV movie is fucking unbelievable. One of the best moments is when these two dudes harass one of the schoolgirls. They are clearly Americans and they're scamming on Asian teens. The girl tries to ignore them and eventually kicks the crap out of them. It's fucking beautiful. I think that scene is the reason why this film gets rated so low by American fans of the genre that are basically exercising their Asian-fetish in a non-porn way with these films. Seriously, best Miike ever!!!

THREE - There have been a couple of these now with Three being the first and Three... Extremes being the more recent. I really like this idea of getting three different directors to each make a short horror film and stick them together for release as a feature. It's like Two Evil Eyes or even Creepshow or something.

The first one is probably my favorite even though it's a much lower profile film. The first segment comes from Kim Ji-Woon from South Korea. He's known mostly for the fantastic Tale of Two Sisters which would be on this list if it were a Top Eleven and The Quiet Family. His portion is called Memories which is a creepy story about a guy whose wife has left him. In his delirium, he begins having visions making him believe something horrible has happened to her. The second story is The Wheel by Nonzee Nimibutr from Thailand. While this may be the simplest story, a small village is cursed with only a young boy who can reverse it, it ends up being the most interesting with its completely different approach to horror. The film is edited almost psychedelically with interesting shot selections and vivid colors and images uniquely Thai. The final chapter is Going Home from Peter Chan who is actually mostly known for his romantic farce He's The Woman, She's The Man a great film of a very different variety. In this story, a man and his son move into an almost entirely abandoned building. It's a massive complex with every few residents. In the style of Dark Water, the boy begins to see visions of a little girl his age. The story takes a completely bizarre twist from there that would be really wrong for me to give away.

The second film in this franchise is Three... Extremes. The first segment is Takashi Miike's The Box. A psychological mystery, a woman is haunted by the memory of her sister's death. When they were both children, she locked her sister in a box, who was burned to death when a fire broke out. The second segment is by Fruit Chan who I think had one of the best movies of 2002 with Public Toilet. In Dumplings, an aging actress lets vanity get the best of her as she travels from Hong Kong to the mainland in search of a woman who makes bao that have a magical de-aging affect. The question is, what exactly does she use for the meat? Shot by Christopher Doyle famous for his work with Wong Kar-Wai, this amazing short is also available separately as a feature on it's own. The last segment is by the amazing Chan-Wook Park who made the incredible Old Boy. A famous director is knocked out and held prisoner, along with his wife, in their home. The kidnapper is a former extra on a couple of his films. Jealous of the director's success, he begins cutting off the wife's fingers in order to get some demands met. Yeah, it's a lot more gruesome than the first collection. I wonder what they'll do for the next?

WHISPERING CORRIDORS - South Korea's Yeogo Goedam series may not have nearly the Western recognition of Ju-on or Ringu, but it's one of the first and best with the original coming out in 1998. The entire series takes place at a girl's high school; involving various secular events so painful they create a supernatural response that haunts.

In the first film, a teacher, Mrs. Park, is found hanging from a bridge. Everyone assumes that it was a suicide. But the viewer knows that some unseen force is what killed her. She is replaced by a young, beautiful (which, if it wasn't obvious already, the dialog reminds you) alumni, Miss Hur, who herself has some sour memories of the school. At the same time, there are two student relationships that the film follows. The first is Lim Ji-Oh and Yoon Jae-Yi. Ji-Oh is an artist and is somewhat outgoing while Jae-Yi is a quiet introvert. The two are brought together when they both show up early for school and discover Mrs. Park's hanging body. The other two are class competitors, Park So-Young and Kim Jung-Sook. The two used to be best friends but have drifted apart with So-Young become head of the class and Jung-Sook the brooding outsider. Mrs. Park, as it turns out, is only the first to die in this school as Mrs. Hur tries to find the answer while untangling her own past connection to the school. The story is often more sentimental and sad than actually frightening which is actually a relief. It keeps you from thinking that this is just another run of the mill horror flick and it also leaves you unprepared for when something really scary does happen.

The second flick, Whispering Corridors 2: Memento Mori doesn't revive any of the original characters. But it does follow a very similar structure. In this story, we follow two different stories again. The first is that of a young girl, Min-Ah in school who discovers a diary written by two girls together. The book tells the story of their growing romance and Min-Ah is slowly engrossed by it to the point where she hides it from her friends, as she seems slightly embarrassed by her excitement. She soon figures out that the book is written by Shi-Eun and Hyo-Shin, two older girls at the school. Shi-Eun is a popular athlete and Hyo-Shin is something of an outcast. Hyo-Shin kills herself at the school throwing the place into chaos. Feeling like she's somehow connected to the event, Min-Ah starts to find out more and more about the complexity of Shi-Eun and Hyo-Shin's relationship and what might have been a suicide pact. This is actually my favorite of the three films. I think western fans of Asian horror largely ignore them as they go well beyond the scope of horror. In hindsight, this film is as much of a love story as it is anything else and that element is what makes it so excellent and engrossing. It's actually quite sweet and genuinely romantic at times.

Whispering Corridors 3: Wishing Stairs is actually the first in the series that I saw a few years ago. The story follows two girls; rich kid So-Hie who is sort of a pain in the ass with her set life and carefree existence. The other is Ji-Seong who lives in the dorms and is constantly filled with anxieties about the future. Both of them are in competition for some sort of ballet scholarship that would get them out of the school. For Ji-Seong, it's her only chance for a better future. This leads her to the films title. On the totally haunted school campus (aren't they all?) is a creepy set of stairs that leads to a creepy tree where a girl had hung herself years ago. The stairs have 28 steps, but if you walk up them and count 29, you can make a wish and it will come true. That's pretty much what Ji-Seong does, her wish resulting in the death of So-Hie. Like its predecessors, you can't watch this film expecting some sort of slasher flick. It's a real movie and there's more to the characters than just a bunch of set-ups for dismemberment. Song Ji-Hyo, who stars as Ji-Seong, gives a great stoic performance and has a lot to do with why this third installment is so fascinating despite the weakest script of the three.

A fourth film in this series came out this summer and I can't wait to see it!

 

IN THE J CHURCH VIEWING ROOM

HABIT (dir. by Larry Fessenden)

I don't know if it's because a few fairly mediocre actors surround him, but Larry Fessenden is really good in this. Man, I was really blown away by this movie.

It's been said so often that it's sort of corny. But this is like a Cassavettes type of take on the vampire story, which in itself it something opposite of his ethic. But imagine the street, uh, "realism" of something like Shadows but used for a pretty well written horror movie.

Habit is the story of Sam, his father recently died, his long-term girlfriend just moved out and he's got this on again, off again bender. It's Halloween and he's heading to a party thrown by his best friends Nick and Rae. There he meets Anna who is fascinated with him and essentially picks him up. The two leave together only to be separated when Sam realizes that he has drunkenly grabbed the wrong coat. They mysteriously meet again at a street fair and their affair begins.

Sam begins to physically fall apart and with the kinky blood play, both he and the viewer start to get suspicions that Anna may be a vampire.

What's great about this movie is that it's still a great indie drama even if you took out the vampire element. It's a beautiful looking film. When they are on the streets of New York it really looks like New York. The Halloween party really looks like a party I'd go to. It seems very real. It's also got some good dialog, and like I said, Fessenden can act. So can some of the others around him. When he starts to consider Anna being a vampire, it's as shocking to him as it is to us. Sam is so real as a character that even he knows how preposterous the accusation is.

For me that complication and the ways the director overcomes them is what makes this movie outstanding. It's certainly not like any other horror movie I can think of. It's smart and avoids all the fantasy that people assume are imperative to the genre.
(Fox Lorber)

 

MURDEROUS MAIDS (dir. by Jean-Pierre Denis)
SISTER MY SISTER (dir. by Nancy Meckler)
MAIDS, THE (dir. by Christopher Miles)

I think it's fantastic that over the past 30 years there have been three great films made all about the Papin sisters. Christine and Lea were two real sisters who worked as maids in France back in the `30s. The story is complex and there are many ways to look at it. Here's what we know for sure: they murdered the woman of the house and her daughter; they were lesbians; they engaged in incest.

The most recent version of events is the French film Murderous Maids. The most accessible, it's also the most complete version of the story dealing with the two's oppressive family situation, abuse in the one sister's failed attempt at becoming a nun and finally the stifling reality of being a maid for an utterly uncompassionate family. The brilliant Sylvie Testud stars as the older sister Christine. She is really the focus of the movie as we watch her start to crack and finally go over the edge. She is so totally powerful in this role we have no problem over 2 hours believing an innocent girl with dreams of being a nun could be transformed into a crazed killer. Even her love for her sister is more intense than you could even imagine, more intense than the lesbian incest they committed. The reality for these girls is horrendous as the only other option is prostitution. So they endure the mental abuse as indentured slaves, forced into this role by their mother.

The film is a powerful statement. By the end I was feeling sympathy for Christine and her sister. But the worst was yet to come for them. Separated once arrested, it drove Christine further into madness eventually ending with her death just a few years later at a mental asylum.

Sister My Sister came out in the mid `90s as a project based on a play by Wendy Kesselman. In this version of the story, we start with Christine already living in the Danzard's residence who arranges for her sister Lea to join her. Whereas Murderous Maids is event after event over a longer period of time, with Sister My Sister time almost stands still and feels more like water coming to a boil. In fact, a slow dripping tap seems to be the constant reminder and timekeeper. Daughter of Vanessa Redgrave, Joely Richardson is brilliant as Christine who seems more jealous and only a little less crazy than the Testud version. In fact, there are moments of this film that seem like they were cut from some long lost Merchant/Ivory lesbian erotica. Its soft lights and white garments. But that delicateness has a big pay off when the violence occurs. Though shot fairly simply, the murders come off as incredibly brutal and unexpected. Even the final moments of the film leading up to their capture is in massive contrast to the rest of the film. What's really unique about this film is that there are only four characters, the two sisters, the woman of the house, and her daughter. It's an all-female cast from a female director and a female writer.

The earliest film of the Papin sisters was 1974's The Maids. Based entirely on the Jean Genet play, it was made for the American Film Theater which is really a seal of great quality. Glenda Jackson and Susannah York star as the two Maids and the entire film takes place over one night. The Mistress is not so much physically demanding as in other films. But her arrogance and pretentiousness are so dense that even though she is only in part of the film, it's enough to understand the maids' hatred for her. From there it's a lot of hair-raising psychodrama with the maids taking turns dressing in the Mistress's clothes with the other verbally castigating her and vice versa. Glenda Jackson is brilliant and dominates the film as much as she dominates York's character. Neither insanity nor jealousy, they are fueled by complete frustration and dysfunction.

The true story is quite brutal. The Papin sisters beat to death their Mistress and her daughter. They gouged their eyes out and bashed their heads in beyond recognition. It was a first in French history that a servant would in any real way stand up with violence. Even Sylvie Testud has said in interviews that it was a kind of class struggle. But it could have easily have been adapted into a violent film more interested in the titillation factor. Fortunately, we have three generally fair case studies. If there were only a fourth film that covered the corruption of their trial…

 

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