Same idea as Serpent’s Path – this time Sho Aikawa’s daughter is the victim, and he dispatches some guy he assumes to be the killer within ten minutes of movie time. Now what?

A guy who looks suspiciously like Creepy but is another actor – somebody Sho presumably killed horribly in Dead or Alive, and the star of Kitano’s Getting Any? – offers the directionless Sho a job at his “import/export” company. The business of this company involves Sho stamping an endless pile of documents in a shabby office while the other guys have some kinda shakedown/blackmail/hitman thing going on. These guys appear small-time, so the boss gets involved, and the boss’s boss, and they want to recruit Sho and put down the others, but they don’t go down so easy. Similar look and tone to the other movie, but goes in a more traditionally yakuza direction.

In here somewhere is Chief Ren Osugi of Nightmare Detective… Ren’s Sonatine and Fireworks costar Susumu Terajima… Kill Bill boss Shun Sugata… but I didn’t catch character names, so I’ll sort it out during the next Kitano or Miike binge.

Kurosawa is a White Dog fan:

Great writeup by John Lehtonen. A small piece:

Eyes of the Spider is a film of emptiness, its protagonist hollowed at the outset. Empty time and empty people, and what is projected onto and, eventually, out of this emptiness. Tonally and generically dynamic, it moves its cipher hero (and Aikawa’s iconographic image) through a variety of generic scenarios and roles: the husband, the salaryman, the yakuza.

I had watched either Serpent’s Path or Eyes of the Spider (I forget which one) in the pre-blog era on VCD so after enjoying Chime (and before this year’s Serpent’s Path remake) it’s time to re/watch these in HD. They both hinge on a kid’s abduction/murder, and each main character’s plot spirals out of control, in very different ways.

Creepy Teruyuki Kagawa kidnaps gangster Yûrei Yanagi (Boiling Point) with the help of Creepy’s math professor friend Sho(w) Aikawa. But the gangster says another guy did the crime, and they have to keep kidnapping gangsters. The second guy (the husband in Door) fingers a third guy (a minor player in early Miike films), who takes them to the room where they’ve made torture videos for profit (these rooms were common in late 90s/early 00s horror).

Sho and Creepy:

Why is Professor Sho capably handling all the details and abductions here, what’s his deal? And why is he privately coaching the abductees on what to say? I guess he’s just trying to help kill as many members of this organization as possible – including Creepy, who it’s revealed used to work in their organization and therefore thought his own family would be exempt from the business. Darkest subject matter given a matter-of-fact tone with an absurd edge.

Michael Sicinski:

Formally, we can already see Kurosawa’s primary style taking shape; the clinical viewpoint and tendency toward long shots emphasize both an objective, godlike perspective as well as a sense that the film frame is a container, trapping its characters in culture and history. If the overt narrative of Serpent’s Path is somewhat vague, Kurosawa fills in all the crevices with a pervasive dread. Considering Kurosawa’s earliest work was purely genre based, here we see him breaking away from those strictures in a fairly dramatic fashion.

Starts as a decent movie with great music, then a bereft revenge dad comes into the defunct police station pursued by a gang of killers, their initial attack kills the lesser actors, and the second half of the film is nothing but perfection.

That first attack: seemingly infinite guys getting blown away trying to climb through windows, like a zombie invasion. When the cops start tossing guns to their prisoners to help defend the station, you know Carpenter means business. Afterwards, the gang hides the bodies outside and lays low waiting for the next wave, while passing patrol cars get reports of gunfire but can’t see anything. Prison transporter Starker is among the dead, and the sick prisoner, and a police secretary – we’re left with her coworker Leigh, Death Row Wilson, Lt. Bishop, and Prisoner Wells, who makes it underground to a getaway car but gets blown away by thugs hiding within. The other three, low on ammo, hold off the second attack with the help of a mobile barricade and some explosives.

Remade, reportedly not very well, with Laurence Fishburne and Ethan Hawke in the 2000s. The late Starker was rewarded for his service with roles in three more Carpenter pictures. Leigh starred in a Jean Eustache movie of all things, then disappeared so hard that there was a documentary about the attempt to locate her. Wilson was a TV non-regular with a small part in Eraserhead. Wells became a regular in the Rocky franchise the same year. And I hope Bishop had a fine theater career because his other movies looked terrible, until 40+ years later when Carpenter fan Rob Zombie cast him in 3 From Hell.

On Oscars night I thought we should watch something that never* won an award, and so, Conan.

Painted-up horseback killers arrive and destroy young Conan’s town, kill his dad first, then James Earl Jones (with beautiful long hair and named Salsa Doom) beheads Conan’s mom and takes all the town’s kids to be millwheel slaves. Our kid grows into Arnold whilst pushing the millwheel, then gets thrown into gladiator battle where he caves in the other guy’s head, leading to a montage of him killing a lot of guys and “realizing his sense of worth,” haha. After the one-on-one fights in Universal Soldier 6, the chaotic action mishmash of this was bound to disappoint. Impressed, his slavemasters send him to fighting school but some redbeard randomly frees him then he immediately finds a kickass Earth God sword.

The Empty Man, Earth God:

Arnold doesn’t know how to socialize properly, so he has sex with a sorceress while she’s in the middle of reciting his prophecy, then hurls her into the fireplace. He meets Gerry Lopez (thief, archer, and surfer in Milius’s Big Wednesday) and they run around Spain to the lovely adventure music of Basil Poledouris (later a Verhoeven accomplice). Soon after he punches a camel, they meet a cute lady thief (Sandahl Bergman of Hell Comes to Frogtown) and together rob a snake-cult tower and behead the snake god within.

King Max von Sydow congratulates them and sends them on a mission to unkidnap his daughter from the snake cult. Conan ditches the others and runs the rescue mission solo for some reason, asking directions from some hippies, and meeting wizard Mako (The Bird People in China) who lends him a camel, which he learns should be ridden, not punched. Arriving in snaketown, Arnold seduces some guy to steal his cult robes, but he’s not very sneaky and Salsa Doom’s men crucify him on the tree of woe. Really shouldn’t have come alone.

His buddies arrive belatedly and Mako kwaidans him back to life. They sneak in and massacre the palace guards, getting green soup everywhere, while Salsa Doom transforms into a snake and crawls off. The cute girl thief dies of snake wounds before Arnold can find a fireplace to hurl her into. Arnold heals up and goes back to slash his way through more guys, with help from buddies Gerry and Mako and the ghost of his dead girlfriend, beheads Salsa Jones and all the cultists go home. Ends slowly, with a sequel setup, but instead of Conan the Destroyer (a Richard Fleischer/Jack Cardiff joint, shorter, with Grace Jones) I think I’m supposed to watch the Lucio Fulci ripoff Conquest.

*This lost Saturn awards to Star Trek II, Tron, E.T., The Dark Crystal, and Poltergeist, a pretty good lot, but in 2001 it won a DVD commentary award. I listened to a couple minutes of commentary around the camel-punching scene, and nah, I would’ve gone with Charlie’s Angels.

Guess this was technically a rewatch since I remember catching it on cable at Brad’s house in 1983… now that it’s fresh in my mind, bring on the new Mandico version. Milius had recently cowritten Apocalypse Now and 1941, I guess he was into warfare in every era. Producer Dino de Laurentiis also made Halloween III and Amityville II this year, and Edward Pressman and Oliver Stone had just made The Hand.

There’s this idea going around on Vulgar Auteurism Twitter that some godforsaken JCVD/Dolph Lundgren action series got revived in the 2010s by the son of the director of Timecop, starring the 12th-billed actor in Expendables 2, as a straight-to-video 3D (?) fifth sequel shot entirely in nondescript strip-mall locations, and it was actually great. Still buzzed off The Doom Generation, I watched it to set the record straight, and it was actually great.

Not a normal DTV sequel – dank Damon Packard vibes, the scenes linger weirdly, the strobe effects more intense. Apparently I was supposed to watch Regeneration first to make any sense out of this. Scott Adkins’ family is killed in first-person oner-cam by culty home invaders. Evil plumber Magnus is freed by Dolph Lundgren in a red Mario hat, prompting a strobey JCVD appearance in a strip club bathroom and a full-house slaughter. Scott Adkins finally comes alive and destroys the plumber, then meets mystery woman Mariah Bonner and another Scott Adkins who works for JCVD, and learns we’re all clones who never had families. Murderous rages are flown into, everyone dies.

Daniel Goldhaber decodes it: “A movie about a man trapped inside of a genre movie, programmed with a stock motivation.” More from Josephine and Josh.

Speaking of John Woo… it would appear that he’s back. Slick transitions between scenes, locations, time periods as he sets up the dialogue-free story of Joel “kill-a-man” Kinnaman getting revenge for the death of his son. Half the movie is a training montage, as the sweater-wearing family man practices shooting and stunt driving and knives, and he’s still unprepared, as the first guy he kidnaps proves to be dangerously tough. Joel finds time for some normal vigilante work, gets his first couple of kills. Then he starts a Christmastime gang war and assaults the HQ of the head-tattooed supervillain. Gets very videogamey in the final assault, and Joel is belatedly joined by cop Kid Cudi. Tattooed guy was in a Liam Neeson disabled-guy revenge movie the year before, and Kinnaman played Neeson’s endangered son in Run All Night, so Neeson is the godfather of all revenge films now.

The Thirteenth Chair (1929)

After London After Midnight came three more Lon Chaney pictures including West of Zanzibar. Now, Browning’s love for headscarves leads him to India, and his love for Hungary leads him to Bela Lugosi. This is quite good for a 1929 sound film, but it hurts to exchange the long, lingering silent facial expressions for inane upper-class British conversational pleasantries. There’s no transitional period, the movie is crammed wall-to-wall with dialogue as if spectators were paying by the word.

Madame LaGrange is played by an actress named Wycherly, which would’ve been a cooler name for her medium character. Yes, we’re back in Mystic territory, and to prove her authenticity she explains the mechanics of the usual tricks used by mediums, then proceeds to her spiritual work uncovering a murderer. Someone dies during the first of two lights-out seances (during which the movie achieves maximum talkie-ness, becoming a radio play) so Inspector Lugosi arrives, and star Conrad Nagel’s girl Leila Hyams emerges as chief suspect, but it turns out some other blonde lady killed both guys.


Dracula (1931)

Written about this before… watching now with the Philip Glass / Kronos Quartet score, hell yes. The music is mixed higher than the dialogue, as it should be. Now that I’ve seen Thirteenth Chair I have to say this is extremely awesome in comparison, dispensing with the constant dialogue and returning to beautiful image-making with big Lugosi close-ups.


Freaks (1932)

Wrote about this before, too. More movie-worthy characters in this hour-long film than in Browning’s whole pre-Dracula career combined. Over 50 years later Angelo had a plum role in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Before Dracula, Browning made that Outside The Law non-remake, before Freaks came boxing drama Iron Man, and afterwards was Fast Workers… a comedy?


Mark of the Vampire (1935)

John Fordian Dr. Donald Meek busts into an inn just as idiot tourists are getting the talk about why we don’t go out at night (bad idea to watch the same night as Dracula since it’s all the same vampire explanations to incredulous people). Inspector Atwill, a large mustache man, arrives to investigate a mysterious death. Fedor and Irena are survivors, swoop-haired Otto is her guardian. Meanwhile, Dracula himself (played as a wordless zombie monster with no suave dialogue) and his undead daughter Luna lurk in a nearby castle. Professor Barrymore arrives to do some Acting, a welcome diversion, while Irena’s dead dad Sir Karell has become a zombie Drac-follower, and Irena has begun acting vampy herself.

Somehow the plot gets even more convoluted, and Browning and Lugosi’s involvement becomes an in-joke, because the “vampires” have only been performers in Barrymore’s Holmesian plot to make swoop-haired Otto confess to killing his friend, hypnotized into re-committing his crime. Good performances in this, though nothing else really works, and the rubber-bats-on-strings technology hadn’t improved since ’31. I liked how no two people manage to pronounce the character names the same way.

Clanker, the Jump-Scare Cat:


The Devil Doll (1936)

Nobody told me this would be a Bride of Frankenstein ripoff cowritten by Eric von Stroheim. Maybe bitter that another director remade Tod’s Unholy Three with Lon Chaney, he goes ahead and rips that off too. Lionel Barrymore is a banker who got backstabbed by his partners and sent to prison, escapes to get revenge – wrongly(?)-accused man becoming a murderer on the run.

First stop is scientist Marcel (Henry Walthall, the yellow shut-in of Griffith’s House with Closed Shutters) to borrow his shrinking formula. He’s working on miniaturization to alleviate world hunger (isn’t this the plot of Downsizing?) but has a heart attack while shrinking the maid, so his devoted wife Malita (Rafaela Ottiano, who’d worked with Barrymore on Grand Hotel) comes along to continue his research by shrinking some bankers, Lionel hiding in plain sight as an old woman running a doll shop.

First off is nervous mustache banker Arthur Hohl (a cop in The Whole Town’s Talking), then they use a devil-doll to rob the house of Robert Greig (who played butler-typed in Preston Sturges movies). The dolls are mind-controlled by their masters (I missed Marcel’s explanation for this) and this doll-heist setpiece is cool enough to justify the entire movie.. Barrymore wants to see his beloved family members now that he’s out, so he pays disguised visits to his blind mom (Lucy Beaumont, who’d played Lionel’s brother John’s mom in The Beloved Rogue) and his lovely grown daughter (Maureen O’Sullivan started acting at the dawn of sound cinema and died in 1998 in Scottsdale, so she may well have watched Fargo in Arizona like we did).

Malita and tiny assassin:

The third banker is Pedro de Cordoba (a circus player in Hitchcock’s Saboteur), who surrounds himself with police then sweatily confesses that he railroaded Barrymore right as his doll-sized colleague was about to stab him with paralysis/shrink syrup. Malita helpfully/fatally blows up the lab/shop because Barrymore’s mission is done but she wants to go on shrinking things. Happy-ish ending for Barrymore, who meets his daughter and her beau Toto atop the Eiffel Tower, but after all the murdering he’s got to stay on the run. Browning’s penultimate film – he’d turn in one more comedy before forced retirement.

RIP Anthony Hickox – on the day he died, I watched a film by his father. Vincent Price is in disguise as a fake cop, not helping some housing bigwig evict murderous squatters. Turns out Price is back from the near-grave, having suicided in front of the critics association after losing an acting award, rescued by cartoonish winos and become their king. Daughter Diana Rigg handles his above-ground affairs while Price contrives new ways to kill his tormentors (beheading in sleep, being fed their own beloved dog on a fake game-show set) in connection with his Shakespeare roles. They don’t necessarily deserve to die for thinking Price is a cheesy actor, but for other reasons, they mostly do. In fact it’s annoying that the boring critic Ian Hendry gets to survive, but I can’t stay mad at a movie that stages a swordfight on trampolines.

I forget which Shakespeare play this was:

One of those movies (see also: The Game, Hypnotic) where people have to behave exactly as predicted by the supervillain for the plot to work – though there is a hitch in the plan when our man on the run (Choi Min-sik, who’d return in Lady Vengeance) and his sushi chef girlfriend/daughter (Kang Hye-jung of Invisible Waves) discover and remove their tracking devices, and the bad guy (Yoo Ji-tae, the married guy in Woman is the Future of Man) kills one of Choi’s friends with a “you made me do this” sort of speech that I didn’t buy, figuring that killing all of Choi’s friends was part of the deal. The deal is that Young Choi spotted Yoo smooching his sister in high school, told others then forgot about it, she killed herself, so Yoo becomes a rich maniac devoted to tricking Choi into fucking his own daughter. Good ending: they end up happy together after he gets the illegal prison’s house hypnotist to make him forget the girl’s identity. I can forget things just fine without hypnosis, so I’ll happily rewatch this in theaters every 20 years and be surprised each time.