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October DVD Roundup In a Glass Cage, Gurozuka, 42nd Street Forever, Thou Shalt Not Kill…Except, & More

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October DVD Roundup: In a Glass Cage, Gurozuka, 42nd Street Forever, Thou Shalt Not Kill…Except, & More

In a Glass Cage. Spanish director Agustí Villaronga delivers the grimmest of fairy tales for adults only: a perverse (and occasionally gorgeous) riff on ostensibly endless cycles of sexual and psychological abuse. Villaronga effectively transplants to his native soil the history of Gilles de Rais (a medieval French aristo who fought alongside Joan of Arc before being executed for the rape and murder of hundreds of peasant children), using a fugitive Nazi war criminal as his ambivalent embodiment of evil. After a failed suicide attempt, Klaus (Günter Meisner) is confined to an iron lung (the titular “glass cage”), a pathetic vestige of his former master-race self, left gasping for air like a landed fish every time the power dims. One day, the ironically named Angelo (David Sust) turns up at Klaus’s isolated estate, looking for a position as caregiver. Inevitably, it turns out that Klaus and Angelo have a prior history. But Angelo wants more than simple revenge. Villaronga’s film suggests at times a heady international brew of styles and themes, all the while remaining a distinctive individual vision: There’s a dash of Bergman’s stifling chamber dramas, heaping helpings of Pasolini’s Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom for its forays into homoerotic sadomasochism, and more than a soupcon of Polanski’s insidiously claustrophobic psychological horror. (Cult Epics)

Gurozuka. As its DVD case correctly asserts, this J-horror outing mashes up two otherwise far-flung franchises, tossing into the commercial Cuisinart Wes Craven’s Scream series and the Ring films. Unfortunately for Gurozuka, it fails to play to the strengths of either series: the former’s self-aware toying with genre conventions or the latter’s determined engagement with urban legends and other mass media. The setup is strictly by-the-numbers: A gaggle of teenyboppers gather at the isolated estate their movie club uses for vacation retreats, making it that much easier for a masked killer to terrorize them. Somehow or other, everything’s tied to a spooky videotape produced by an earlier iteration of the club’s members, several of whom are now (surprise, surprise) inexplicably missing. Despite its high-concept intentions, nothing much happens over the course of Gurozuka, save for some simplistic jump scares and the too-easy eerie imagery provided by the mysterious VHS tape, until the film’s final 10 minutes, that is, and even then a summation like “all hell breaks loose” promises far more mayhem than the film can actually provide. (Synapse Films)

Primitive London/London in the Raw. In the wake of Franco Jacopetti and Gualtiero Prosperi’s Mondo Cane, a sensationalistic investigation into shocking cultural practices around the world, Arnold L. Miller sought to do the same for Swinging London’s seamy underbelly with this matched pair of would-be exposés. The earlier film, London in the Raw, brings the travelogue with a club crawl around Soho, stopping in at a bewildering variety of watering holes, strip clubs, and model shops—where semi-nude women strike quasi-artful poses for their clientele. These sequences range in verisimilitude from fly-on-the-wall authenticity to more manifestly stage-managed encounters with “ladies of the evening.” Along the way, the officious narrator doles out punchlines and talking points aplenty. Primitive London even has a thesis; too bad it’s moralistic twaddle. Opening with a bloody birth scene, Primitive London sets out to delineate the newborn babe’s options suckling at the welfare state’s teat, an approach that amounts to conflating the sociological intent of Michael Apted’s terrific Up series with the lifestyle caricature evident in Ken Russell’s take on Tommy—complete with the requisite mods-versus-rockers scene, and even a Pinball Wizard or two. Worst of all, the desultory, patronizing “key party” scene suggests Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm remade as an Afterschool Special. (Kino Lorber)

The Wizard of Gore/The Gore Gore Girls. Last October, Something Weird and Image Entertainment unleashed Herschell Gordon Lewis’s Blood Trilogy on Blu-ray, a trio of proto-splatter films that unabashedly put the viscera in visceral, earning Lewis his sobriquet as “the Godfather of Gore.” This follow-up disc presents two of Lewis’s later gore odysseys, made just before he went into self-imposed exile from filmmaking. The Wizard of Gore sets out to “tear asunder your rules of logic and crumble your world of reality,” as its prestidigitator protagonist, Montag the Magnificent (Ray Sager), rather grandiloquently describes his pretty underwhelming stage act. Even though the film never manages anything remotely that extravagant, it’s still HGL’s most ambitious film. Lewis pulls the shag carpet out from under audiences with one of the wiggiest endings ever, replete with brimstone and bargain-basement Brechtian alienation, aligning The Wizard of Gore with another staple of the midnight movie era: the mindfuck film. In The Gore Gore Girls, gentleman detective Abraham Gentry (Frank Kress) is hired to solve a series of killings that involve a strip joint owned by Henny Youngman, perhaps the most frightening element in the film. Far more straightforward in its confluence of gratuitous nudity and outrageous gore (including sliced-off nipples and batter-fried facials), The Gore Gore Girls nevertheless brims over with HGL’s usual kitschy delights. (Redemption Films)

42nd Street Forever. These coming attractions may not always be that attractive (given the variable condition of their preservation), but they’re a ton of fun. 42nd Street Forever supplies nearly four hours’ worth of trailers from the glory days of the grindhouse circuit. Synapse’s Blu-ray presentation groups them into an ever-proliferating variety of subgenres that, to name only a select few, span blaxploitation, spaghetti westerns, sexploitation fare (including choice ads for vintage 3D erotica like The 3 Dimensions of Greta), Japanese chop socky and samurai flicks, Italian giallo thrillers and gorefests, the mondo documentary movement, an armada of low-rent Star Wars cash-ins, and—surely everybody’s favorite—the rape-and-revenge cycle (my personal favorite: Christina Lindberg in They Call Her One Eye). Above and beyond the intrinsic entertainment to be gleaned from the trailers themselves, there’s the added bonus of a commentary track from a triumvirate of schlock connoisseurs providing anecdote-packed introductions to these 57 flavors of exploitation fare, as well as delving more deeply into the production histories of notable films and filmmakers. Whether you’re looking for Bad Movie Night party favors, or a crash course on cult filmmaking, this set provides a little something for everyone. (Synpase Films)

Weird-Noir. Six sleazy slices of B moviemaking: Girl on the Run is “carny noir” of the Nightmare Alley stamp (albeit not nearly as interesting), padding out half its length with bump-and-grind burlesque routines. The other half involves an undercooked undercover murder investigation gone wrong. Still, it looks properly shadowy and incorporates its carnivalesque locale into some intriguing visual flourishes. Despite its title, The Naked Road takes place almost entirely indoors—the same gray concrete walls redressed slightly for each new setting. It’s a tawdry exposé of the sex-slave racket in which an overly polite William Conrad type kidnaps a fashion model, threatening to hook her on smack and turn her ass out. Things don’t work out well for the criminals. The Seventh Commandment charts the rise and fall of an amnesiac bible-thumper blackmailed by the floozy who shouldered the blame for the accident that wiped his memory. High-contrast cinematography, a high watermark for spiritual cynicism, and some nifty plot twists make for reasonably entertaining viewing. With a swift succession of psych-outs couched in its Lady Vanishes-lite storyline, Fear No More feels like a middling episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents extended to feature length. Luckily, Fallguy attempts some interesting camera movements (one serpentine tracking shot into and around a dive bar stands out); otherwise, this hit-man action/noir is more miss than hit. Abusive husbands, Native American “stomp dances,” and sexual assault in a graveyard: Stark Fear begins as a pretty bitter “Okie noir” variation on Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me and winds up a life-affirming Lifetime movie. (Image Entertainment)

Thou Shalt Not Kill…Except. Now dig this premise, man: Vietnam vet Jack Stryker (Brian Schulz) returns stateside only to have his on-again, off-again girlfriend Sally (Cheryl Hansen) kidnapped by a marauding band of deranged hippies who are committing all sorts of atrocities across rural Michigan. Teaming up with three former-Marine pals united by their desire to “blow some shit up,” Stryker declares open season on the killer cult. The distinctive fingerprints of Sam Raimi’s Renaissance Pictures are all over this production. Director and co-writer Josh Becker was a crew member on The Evil Dead. Jut-jawed icon Bruce Campbell contributed to the storyline. Scott Spiegel, who collaborated with Raimi on Intruder and Evil Dead 2, was the other screenwriter. Raimi himself plays the Mansonesque cult leader, and his brother Ted turns up as a cult member known only as Chain Man. Not surprisingly, Thou Shalt Not Kill…Except shares Raimi’s slapstick sense of humor (most of the grisly killings are handled with tongue at least partly in cheek), as well as his hyperkinetic visual style (lots of handheld shaky-cam on display). One particularly funny in-joke has cigar-chomping Stryker emulate Sterling Hayden’s Col. Jack D. Ripper from Dr. Strangelove. (Synpase Films)

 

Thou Shalt Not Kill…Except