Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2017 - Barry P ""

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Film Discoveries of 2017 - Barry P

Barry P. runs the eclectic movie blog Cinematic Catharsis, focusing on the little films that slipped through the cracks, with an emphasis on genre titles. Some regular features include: classic spotlights, capsule reviews and overlooked gems.
Find Cinematic Catharsis here:
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See his discoveries from last year and the year before here:

1. Belladonna of Sadness (1973) 
Eiichi Yamamoto’s visually stunning, tragic tale is unlike any other anime film I’ve seen. The film lives up to its title, depicting the story of a young woman who’s raped by a sadistic king on her wedding night, and continues to experience a cascade of tragic events. She finds a way to climb up in status, only to be shunned by the kingdom and her fellow villagers. She’s seduced by the devil, who promises her prestige and the power to heal, but at a terrible price. Yamamoto incorporates multiple styles to illustrate the heroine’s personal journey, as she explores her sexuality, and uses sex as her only leveraging tool. It’s a meditation on gender inequality and social injustice that seems more relevant than ever.
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2. Human Lanterns (1982) 
Leave it to the Shaw Brothers to present a kung fu film with an Ed Gein-inspired twist. Chao Chun-Fang, a lantern craftsman (Lieh Lo), plots revenge against all who have oppressed him, pitting two rival noblemen against each other. Meanwhile, he perfects a secret method for creating his decorative lanterns, fashioning them from human skin. As with many Shaw Brothers movies, the set and costume designs are top notch. The makeup effects aren’t quite as convincing, but it’s still unnerving to watch Chun-Fang peel the skin from his victims. It’s a crazy action/horror hybrid that works in spite of itself. If you’re tired of the same old thing, this movie will likely scratch that itch.
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3. Black Belt Jones (1974) 
Director Robert Clouse’s follow-up to Enter the Dragon is a real hoot, starring Jim Kelly (who also appeared in Enter the Dragon) as the kick-ass, take-no-prisoners title character. He’s a one-man wrecking crew, working with the cops to take down a powerful mafia don. When the crime lord’s goons rough up and accidentally kill Black Belt Jones’ mentor, Pop Byrd (Scatman Crothers), you know there’s going to be hell to pay. Byrd’s estranged daughter Sydney (Gloria Hendry) shows up to join in on the chop-socky action. Kelly strikes the right balance between charisma and conceit, to keep us engaged throughout. Black Belt Jones is full of fast-paced, high-energy fight scenes from start to finish, leading up to an inventive soap suds-infused climax in a truck wash. Check it out!
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4. Encounter at Raven’s Gate (aka: Incident at Raven’s Gate) (1988) 
If David Lynch directed an ozploitation movie, it might look something like this. This curiosity, directed by Rolf de Heer and filmed in South Australia, won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s ideal for those who enjoy more questions than answers. Eddie (Steven Vidler), a recent parolee, lives with his brother and his wife on a farm in a dusty town tucked away in the outback. Strange things are afoot when the town’s residents succumb to a host of erratic behavior and unexplained occurrences, which could be the product of (unseen) alien intervention. A shady government researcher (Terry Camilleri), seems to be part of a conspiracy (perhaps in cahoots with the aliens) to incite fear and paranoia. Incident at Raven’s Gate belies its small budget with an assortment of inventive camera tricks, editing and lighting, creating an experience unlike anything else.
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5. Haruko’s Paranormal Laboratory (2015) 
I really wasn’t expecting much from Haruko’s Paranormal Laboratory, which appears to have been shot for less than $500, but ended up pleasantly surprised. This charming comedy/fantasy from writer/director Lisa Takeba focuses on Haruko (Moeka Nozaki), a lonely young woman who becomes so involved with her television shows that her TV turns into a man (Aoi Nakamura). Haruko ponders her new dilemma, as she pursues an unconventional romance with her new boyfriend. Takeba’s film is an absurd commentary about how the lives of people on television become more real to us than the outside world (the TV brand is “Videodrome”). Much like the films of Mamoru Kawasaki, you get used to the fact that there’s a guy with a TV head, and move on. There’s also a freak show, space aliens and a Jason Voorhees cosplayer. How does it all fit in? You’ll just have to wait and see.
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6. Cash on Demand (1961) 
Hammer stalwarts Peter Cushing and AndrĂ© Morrell star as a banker and extortionist, respectively, in this taut thriller from director Quentin Lawrence. Cushing displays great range in his role as Harry Fordyce, a fastidious man, forced into a situation that will test his values to the limit. Morrell is also excellent as the ruthless but charming criminal master mind Colonel Gore Hepburn, who holds Fordyce’s wife and son as collateral for the 93,000 pounds resting in the bank safe. You can practically see the wheels turning inside Cushing’s head as his character looks for a way to save his family and his reputation. The tension is palpable as the two match wits. Most of the film works so well that it’s easy to forgive Cash on Demand’s hasty ending, which wraps things up too neatly. Otherwise, it’s a solid effort by all involved.
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7. Deathdream (aka: Dead of Night) (1974) 
Director Bob Clark and writer Alan Ormsby (the same team that worked on Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things) best collaborative effort uses the real-world nightmares of the war in Vietnam as a backdrop for their horror film. John Marley and Lynn Carlin play Charles and Christine Brooks, parents mourning the loss of their son Andy. They’re elated when he suddenly appears on their doorstep, but puzzled to discover he’s not the same person they knew. His arrival also coincides with a series of strange deaths in the small town.

Richard Backus impresses as the blank and impassive Andy, who spends much of his time sitting in a chair, staring into space. When he smiles, it’s truly unsettling. Deathdream really gets under your skin, exploring the effects of PTSD, and how grief can manifest itself with maladaptive coping mechanisms (Andy’s father turns to alcohol, while his mother shields herself with denial). The film also features sparing but effective makeup effects by a young Tom Savini, which add to the disturbing experience.
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