Video ReviewsShadows on the Tube

Things I caught on video or DVD or airplanes or in a rerelease...
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If you have an film you want me to review - just ASK
last update 15.Aug.03

back to the top RING [Ringu]
dir Hideo Nakata; scr Hiroshi Takahashi
with Nanako Matsushima, Miki Nakatani, Hiroyuki Sanada, Yuko Takeuchi, Hitomi Sato, Yoichi Numata, Yutaka Matsushige, Katsumi Muramatsu, Rikiya Otaka, Masako, Daisuke Ban, Kiyoshi Risho
release UK 18.Aug.00 98/Japan 1h36 3 out of 5 stars
REVIEW BY RICH CLINE See also: SPIRAL (1998) | THE RING (2002)
I don't know why it took me so long to see this now-classic, but watching the 2002 American remake sent me looking for the original, and I wasn't disappointed. Even after seeing the new version, this film has the ability to freak you out--and it also has enough of a different plot to keep you on your toes. It follows a young Japanese journalist (Matsushima) looking into an urban myth about a videotape that will somehow kill you exactly one week after you watch it. She teams up with her ex (Sanada) to follow the trail to a creepy island where the ugly truth becomes a bit more apparent, involving the turbulent spirit of a very angry young girl.
Director Nakata gives the film both a terrific look (nothing like Japanese films we've ever seen) and an almost unbearably unsettling tone, drawing on themes of shame, regret and revenge in ways that get way under your skin. The characters are played with understated authenticity that lets us identify with them ... and fall completely into the story ourselves. The plot itself is fairly straightforward--no sideroads, just a direct path through a series of events and discoveries. The imagery and editing are first-rate, as is the sound mix, which has the ability to make your skin crawl. This is also one of those rare thrillers that takes on an additional level of horror when you watch it at home--it's about a cursed videotape, after all! But mostly, it's just an expertly assembled little horror film that goes straight for the jugular. [15 themes, grisliness] 1.Jan.03
back to the top SPIRAL [Rasen]
dir Joji Iida
with Koichi Sato, Miki Nakatani, Yutaka Matsushige, Hiroyuki Sanada, Nanako Matsushima, Hinako Saeki, Tomohiro Okada
reissue Japan 31.Jan.98; UK 27.Sep.03 DVD 98/Japan 1h37 3 out of 5 stars
REVIEW BY RICH CLINE See also: RINGU (1998) | THE RING (2002)
Produced and released alongside Ringu in 1998 (same cast, different writer-director), this sequel was never released outside Japan, perhaps because it was supplanted in Ring-lore by Ringu 2 the following year. Anyway, this picks up immediately after the first film, at the autopsy of Ryuji (Sanada), during which the medical examiner Ando (Sato) realises something is not quite right. Ryuji's girlfriend (Nakatani) is understandably terrified, and then his ex-wife (Asakawa) is involved in a mysterious car crash, at which point her colleague (Matsushige) gives the suicidal Ando a copy of the fateful, murderous videotape, which he of course watches! But things get increasingly bizarre as the curse of Sadako (Saeki) becomes a prowling, consuming virus.
Creepy and quite emotional, this film has a vivid flashback style that's very unnerving. In many ways it's more of a mystery than a horror movie, as it follows Ando's quest to find the physical reasons why people die after watching a videotape. But there are more than a few moments of sheer terror as well! Intriguingly, the plot digs deeply into each of the characters' lives (the cast is superb), taking things much further and finding all sorts of new wrinkles. The viral mutation adds a strong echo of HIV, while the story grapples with regrets, guilt, forces beyond our control and recognising a larger purpose in life. It's also full of surprisingly thoughtful scenes, including a moody and touching romance. This is a beautifully and cleverly made thriller, somewhat confusing as it closes in on the rather outrageous ending, but also tapping deeply into the subconscious in a startlingly haunting way. It's well worth hunting around to find a copy. [themes, suspense, gore] 14.Aug.03
back to the top CLAY PIGEONS
phoenix and vaughn
dir David Dobkin; scr Matt Healy
with Joaquin Phoenix, Vince Vaughn, Janeane Garofalo, Georgina Cates, Scott Wilson, Vince Vieluf, Phil Morris, Monica Moench, Nikki Arlyn, Gregory Sporleder, Jeff Olson, Kari Petersen
release US 25.Sep.98 Intermedia 98/US 1h44 3 out of 5 stars
Writer Healy and director Dobkin pull off a difficult trick with this film, effectively blending black comedy and a real creep-out thriller. So why has it gone straight to video here in the UK? Hmmm! Anyway, it's about a guy named Clay (Phoenix) whose best friend (Sporleder) has just committed suicide in front of him because he found out that Clay was sleeping with his trampy wife (Cates). A tad on the vulnerable side, Clay finds friendship in a stranger named Lester (Vaughn), but starts getting suspicious when the body count starts growing around him. And when a tenacious FBI agent (Garofalo) arrives in town.
There's a jazzy tone sustained nicely throughout this film that keeps it from ever becoming awkward or stupid. Dark humour helps, as do characters we can identify with, most notably Clay, who's played by Phoenix with just the right balance of innocence and dawning horror. Vaugh overdoes the nice-guy charmer role a bit, losing believability in the process (no one who grins this much can be trusted!); and it's odd that he played virtually the same role in Gus Van Sant's Psycho remake the same year. Meanwhile, Garofalo provides both the plot's driving force and the comic relief. As the film progresses, it gets more and more like a thriller--scarier and more sinister--while never losing its comedic subtext. This is no mean feat, and Dobkin has some nice tricks up his sleeve to keep us engaged. [15 themes, language, violence, sex] 13.May.03
dir John McNaughton scr Richard Fire, John McNaughton
with Michael Rooker, Tom Towles, Tracy Arnold, David Katz, Kurt Naebig, Ray Atherton, Lisa Temple, Lily Monkus, Erzsebet Sziky, Waleed B Ali, Anne Bartoletti, Monica Anne O'Malley
release US 5.Jan.90; reissue UK 2.May.03 86/US 1h30 3 out of 5 stars
This notorious film finally gets its uncut UK release after 17 years, and you wonder what all the hubbub was for! But even after all this time it's hard to watch this dispassionate examination, loosely based on fact, of the serial killer next door. Henry (Rooker) lives with his ex-con buddy Otis (Towles), whose sister Becky (Arnold) arrives after leaving her abusive boyfriend. Otis and Becky don't have a clue that Henry is killing women all over Chicago, but they will know soon enough! And Otis is rather taken by the idea. The film is so simple and matter-of-fact that it chills you to the bone. Even the clunky, amateurish filmmaking and a couple of really bad performances can't let us off the hook. Rooker is so good--so charming and creepy at the same time--that he becomes one of the scariest murderers ever put on screen. Especially as what we witness gets more and more gruesome as the film progresses. Complete with a growing tension about when (not if) he'll kill Becky, accompanied by a cold, heartless romance and an ironic twist at the end. [18 themes, language, strong violence] 29.Apr.03
back to the top TRACK 16
billy franks shoots, sings, loves and ponders
dir-scr Mick McCleery
with Billy Franks, Bobbi Ashton, Mick McCleery, Abby Lazur, Mike McLaughlin, Larry Schneider Jr, C Fox C, Alan Pratt, Kyle Ober, Tom Woodson, Renee Nocito, Rob Taylor
release US 1.Aug.01 (video) 01/US 1h30 1 out of 5 stars
This ultra low-budget drama is based on that enduring myth that the screams you can hear in the background of "Love Rollercoaster" are the result of an actual murder. This story is set in New Jersey, where a British musician Paul (Franks) is recording in his studio late one night, hears screams on the tape and finds a body in the corridor. The police think he did it, so it's up to him to clear his name with the help--or hindrance--of an undercover cop (Ashton) who was the victim's best friend. Paul's clueless band (McCleery, Lazur, McLaughlin, Schneider) seem utterly out of it ... or are they? And will the two detectives on the case (Fox and Pratt) sit still enough to listen to reason? The story is intriguing, and as a director McCleery has some nifty tricks up his sleeve. On the other hand, he uses some of those tricks a few times too often, most notably some rather tacky video effects and lame chapter headings. The home-video quality actually helps make it feel more authentic, augmenting the somewhat spotty performances. Franks is easily the standout in the cast, with a Springsteen meets Sting presence (he wrote and performs his own songs, most of which are excellent). On the other hand, there's a kind of slow, under-directed and too-loosely edited quality to the film that makes it feel amateurish. And if you begin to think about the story it falls to pieces, especially as the plot screws itself into a frenzy of illogical scenes and even more unbelievable conclusions. For some reason McCleery loves splattered blood and an improbably high body count, while he shies so far from the film's abrupt sex scene that you hardly feel that anything happened, never mind why. This uneven quality fills the entire film; some of it is quite promising, but most is fairly painful to watch. [themes, violence, language] 9.Apr.02
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2003 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall