Tuesday, 29 July 2014

An Open Letter to the Horror Community


For a long time now, I've been observing a lot of negativity in the horror community. This negativity has shown itself in a number of different ways. Public name calling, putting people's reputation and professionalism into question, boycotting of certain people's books and films (especially from people who have more of an online presence and clout behind them). The list goes on and on....

I've sat back and watched this all unfold, but I think it's time to have a say. I admit to being a coward for not coming forward sooner and putting my views across. Mostly this was due to fear of receiving backlash myself, but I feel that I let down a few people because I didn't say anything and didn't want to get involved.

But, I've seen the repercussions of this negativity and name calling. Paranoia, depression, the feeling that everyone is against you. I've even witnessed the online aspect filter into, and have an effect, on people's everyday lives. I know people who have had to phone the police to check on relatives because people have posted their personal details online. I know people who have had problems at their place of work.

Why does it have to be like that? I've barely read a horror blog this year that has written much about horror. It has mostly been negativity. "He said this", "she said that", screencaps of things people have said, etc, etc. Why does it have to be like that? What happened to the days that if you didn't like a blog or review you simply ignored it. When did everyone decide "I don't like this, therefore I'm going to destroy this and everything associated with it!". What happened to constructive criticism? "You suck and should die and burn in hell!!!", is never an appropriate comment to ever give. Everyone is doing it though. Just because you're online and can say whatever you like (which you're at liberty to do), doesn't mean you have to say it.

A community to me should support each other, help each other out, have respect for each others differences. The horror community should do this AND make sure that they don't give horror a bad name. All this fighting has to stop. It makes you look like a fool and it's bringing down horror at the same time. I guess what I want to say is, give up all this negativity and try settling your differences and work together for once. Who knows what you'll be able to achieve as a team.

Maybe I'm too much of an idealist. I doubt you'll ever get along. But you can at least tolerate one another.

This is my one and only cry for sense and some unity in the horror community. I'm just a regular guy, with no aspirations of making money out of this blogging stuff. I do it all for the love of the genre. But I think some people have forgotten why they do what they do.

Thank you,

Michael. (Some nobody blogger)

Monday, 14 July 2014

Grotesque (Gurotesuku)

Hello, and welcome to Left Field Films, which is probably the most inconsistent blog on the internet (my last blog was in January). But, I am still very much active. I just write when I feel like it.

Anyway, onto the film.

"Grotesque" is a 2009 exploitation film by Koji Shirashai. Some would call the film "torture porn" (a term I don't particularly like), but it definitely fits into the same family of films like "Hostel", "The Butcher", and the "Guinea Pig" series of films.

The story is quite minimal. A couple who are on their first date are snatched off the street by a man in a van. When they wake up they find they have been ball gagged and shackled up by a complete madman. They are subjected to physical and sexual abuse and forced to look at each other as these atrocities are inflicted on them for no apparent reason.

As the film goes on, it becomes apparent that the antagonist is quite refined. He wears good clothes, listens to classical music, eats fine foods, and is very proficient in certain medical practices. He is obviously a doctor and fairly wealthy to go with it.

As all this nastiness progresses, the antagonist's motives become clear. He wants to be sexually excited. He wants the couple to survive, but only by displaying a true will to live by enduring the most intense physical pain. He also wants to see someone who is truly prepared to risk their life to save someone they love. To achieve this, he gives the boyfriend a choice. Will he be prepared to risk everything to save his girlfriend and succumb to severe physical torture?

Things get even more extreme from there. I wont delve too much into the plot now because I hate spoilers but the film has everything, and never looks away from the violence depicted. It's pretty extreme, so be prepared for that if your not used to these kinds of films. The film also has a few twists and turns to keep you guessing how it's all going to end up which are all quite good.

I live in the UK, where this film was banned outright. What happens when a film gets banned here? I immediately buy an import copy online! I bought the Tokyo Shock uncut DVD/Blu Ray version from the USA and watched it in all it's HD glory! This is what the BBFC thinks of the film:

"Although Grotesque was for the most part considered to be a well made film, there is minimal narrative or character development." 

"The chief pleasure on offer in viewing GROTESQUE appears to be the spectacle of sadism (including sexual sadism) for its own sake. The work has minimal narrative or character development and presents the viewer with little more than an unrelenting and escalating scenario of humiliation, brutality and sadism."

"After careful consideration, it was judged that to issue a certificate to GROTESQUE, even if statutorily confined to adults, would involve risk of harm within the terms of VRA, would be inconsistent with our Guidelines and would be unacceptable to the public. The BBFC considered whether cutting the work might address the issues but concluded that as the unacceptable material featured throughout, cutting was not a viable option and the work was therefore refused a classification."

And finally,

"Grotesque is also markedly different to the Saw and Hostel 'torture porn' series, in that those films contain a more developed narrative and there is therefore more contextual justification for the strongest scenes. It is in fact more similar in tone and treatment to a film called NF713, which consisted of a lengthy torture scenario, mostly of a sexual nature, involving a female and a male doctor character. Cuts to NF713 were not regarded as viable and the work was refused a classification certificate in April 2009."

In my opinion, I disagree with the film being banned. I think that there is enough story in the film, and that the eventual motive for the antagonist gives the film as much merit as the "Hostel" and "Saw" films to get a UK distribution. The intent of the films are the same. And if the chief pleasure of "Grotesque" is the spectacle of sadism, then there are many films out there which have received a British release which I could easily throw into the same basket. To go with the dictionary definition of horror - "an intense feeling of fear, shock, or disgust." - which "Grotesque" has in spades, why do I have to be made to feel like I'm some sort of sick sadist to enjoy these kind of films? I simply watch horror because I enjoy the feeling of being shocked and frightened, but at the same time knowing it's all make believe. Does that make me a psycho? I appreciate the hard work and craftmanship which goes in to the effects and making everything believable. If a horror film doesn't get under my skin or make me feel a certain way, it isn't horror. But it's all subjective, and what isn't scary to me could be terrifying to others.

The director Koji Shiraishi has mostly been a hit or miss director for me. Though he most notably made my favourite J-Horror of all time, "Noroi: The Curse". Another popular film he has directed is "Carved: The Slit Mouthed Woman" ("Kuchisake-onna"), a film about a popular Japanese urban legend. Here is what he had to say about the banning of his film in the UK:

"I was happy. Since there was a reaction I was very happy, But of course if it can't be shown, and it can't be released, I'm a little disappointed, but actually that means the movie I've made has the power to cause a controversy, so I'm happy in that way."

"Of course, on the surface it's a violent movie, since I like that kind of stuff and since I'm making the film, I can see beyond that. Some people will only see violence and not the central parts of the story, it's a natural reaction, I accept that."

If you'd like to read the rest of that interview, it can be read here.

In my opinion, I feel like "Grotesque" is a spiritual sequel to the "Guinea Pig" films. In particular "The Devil's Experiment" and "Flower Of Flesh And Blood". It really just deals with the same subject matter in a more fleshed out and violent way, but it really retains the tone and the gut feeling you get when watching those films. Also the scenes of sexual abuse were the hardest scenes to watch for me, just the humiliation of it all was tough to take.

So, would I recommend this film? Yes I would but I would also take that recommendation with caution. It is VERY violent, completely on a different level to the "Hostel" or "Saw" films. If your easily offended by scenes of a sexual nature it's best to avoid it too. But if you have experience watching films like "Martyrs", "A Serbian Film", the "Guinea Pig" series, and things of that nature, jump right in!

Thanks for taking the time to check out and read my blog. Please feel free to leave comments or criticisms below, I'd love to read other people's opinions on this film.


Michael (Lefty).

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Combat Shock (AKA American Nightmares)

"I go back there every night, without fail, and the events will happen all over again. I know it isn't real, but the terror is real. It's part of me now and I can't escape it. Everything is exactly as I remember it. The same jungle, the same mess, the same victims."

And so begins the 1986 film "Combat Shock" (AKA "American Nightmares"), a 90 minute long kick to the nether regions directed by Buddy Giovinazzo, who also filmed the short promo for "Maniac 2: Mr. Robbie" with Joe Spinell (which you can read about here). The film stars Ricky Giovinazzo, who also composed the excellent soundtrack.

Ricky is a Vietnam vet who spent 2 years as a POW, then has came home to poverty stricken Staten Island and a life of squalor with his wife, and a child mutated by the chemicals he was exposed to during the war.

After a short flashback to the Vietnam war (which was shot in a grassy area of Staten Island), the film begins on the worst day of Ricky's life. Issued with an eviction order, no money, constantly berated by his wife to go and find a job, and to avoid listening to the constant crying of his baby, he leaves to walk the ruined, under-maintained streets.

On his travels he encounters a few of the local undesirables. First off there's a gang who want Ricky to pay back the money he owes, then there's an old friend who has a $100 a day heroin habit, also he has to contend with the prostitutes and pimps in the area. All that and the fact he spends half the day waiting in line at the unemployment office to be told that he has no chance of getting a job without skills.

"Sometimes I feel like I'm oozing out of my body, like I don't belong here, and my mind forces me somewhere else. I can't stop it because it's so real that I believe it. I hear it, I smell it, I can see it."

Add to all the pressure that Ricky is going through, the fact he is going through some really severe post traumatic stress. He has more cracks in his psyche than there are on the streets he walks. All these events are slowly building up inside him, and at some point things are going to boil over.

I first saw "Combat Shock" in a theatre 2010 at a film festival where Buddy G was a guest and introduced this film, and another similarly gritty film of his, "Life Is Hot In Cracktown" (based on a novel which he also wrote). My first impressions made me laugh as I had seen the trailer and was expecting something a lot more fun and cheesy than what I actually saw.

When the film was originally sold to Troma, who cut the film slightly to get an R rating and changed the name, as it's original name was "American Nightmares". This was so they could promote it as an action heavy film like "Rambo", "The Terminator", and "Commando". The film didn't go down well with the target audience, simply because it isn't an action film, it's a bleak insight of a man over the edge. The trailer really is a sight to behold though and hilarious!

If I could compare it to any films, it would probably be a combination of "Taxi Driver" and "Eraserhead", something a lot of other people have described it like. The similarities to "Taxi Driver" are easy to spot. A film about a man going over the edge, a voice-over of what Ricky is thinking, a scene with him talking to a child prostitute, and an equally bloody finale. There are a lot of surreal imagery reminiscent of "Eraserhead", quick multi-angle shots, and that "baby" is unsettlingly familiar.

The baby is very cheaply made and funny to look at, but with the tone of the film it feels right. Very other-worldly and truly a disgusting thing, it get's to you after a while, especially it's strange synth-altered wailing. Apparently Buddy G never actually wanted the baby to ever be shown in the film, but obviously his mind was changed at some point and I'm glad because it does add to the horror.

I can't overestimate how grubby and squalor filled this film is. It feels so filthy you want to pour bleach over your TV and in your eyes. Everything from the dirt stained walls and broken toilet of Ricky's apartment, the rubbish strewn streets, and the spray painted underpasses filled with grime and used needles, it all just adds to the nihilism of the film. And the street scenes were just shot as is, it all adds to the believability of the film. There's something about the way New York was on film in the 70's and 80's, everything was that much grittier back in the day and more realistic, everything is too clean looking now.

Okay I'll admit, the film has dated like most films made around the time, and is really quite cheap, but if you can get past all that then you'll find that it has a good enough main character and decent story. I think it convincingly throws you into another persons private hell. Pretty depressing, sure, but if you like films that challenge you then I think you'll enjoy it. That's what matters, and it's the reason I'd watch this over 1,000 "Rambo" clones..... and what an ending!

"We marched into the village after three days of intense fighting. Our casualty rate was enormous. We were expecting an ambush, but everyone was dead in front of their huts. They had killed themselves, the women and children too. Then we were ordered to pump rounds of ammo into the dead bodies, to scare the VC, and so we did. M16's, pistols, everything. A whole fucking squad just went crazy. Bodies were butchered till they looked like piles of meat. My friends became animals. They began to enjoy it. I knew I had to get out or I'd become one of them, so I started running. They called me a deserter, but what was I deserting? I'd never understood what it was, what it meant, but now it was so clear. You see, they wanted no part of us and took their own way out together. Their wives wouldn't be raped, nor their children tortured and mutilated. They cheated us, oh yes they did. They were the survivors. It was getting clearer all the time. The war is not over. The battlefield may have changed..... but the war is not over."

Thanks for reading.


Apologies. I can't get the theatrical trailer to load here. Instead, you get the serious 25th anniversary version. Sorry!