Movie Reviews - Apocalypse Now, Apt Pupil, Arhats in Fury, Asylum of Satan, At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul

Apocalypse Now (C, 1979)
Francis Ford Coppola went overbudget and had a lot of production problems making this Vietnam epic, but it was worth it because he turned out one of the best movies ever made. Troubled special ops soldier Martin Sheen is given a mission that's more than he bargained for when he's sent upriver to terminate the command of a certain Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando at his weirdest), who's been out in the jungle too long and has gone insane, forming a cult of natives who see him as a god. As Sheen travels upriver with the crew of a PVC boat, the war gets weirder, crazier, and more surreal, the physical environment becoming a metaphor for the mind. The boat itself becomes more primitive (the roof catches fire and they replace it with palm leaves, one soldier drops acid and sheds most of his clothes, paints his face, and acts kind of monkey-like, people are killed with spears instead of bullets, etc.) and Sheen becomes less sure of his mission, because how can anyone be called insane in a war that has become little more than a free-range asylum. All-around genius film-making, with a great cast - be sure to look for a young Lawrence Fishburne as "Mr. Clean." It's an adaptation of Joseph Conrad's novella, Heart of Darkness, and is an improvement on the source material. This movie gets better every time you see it, so it's worth investing in a good copy. Highest recommendations. -zwolf

Apt Pupil (C, 1998)
Ultra-dark and daring adaptation of Stephen King's novella about the seductiveness of evil. Honor student Todd Boden (Brad Renfro), who has a fascination (or even a fetish) for Nazis and the Holocaust, figures out that his neighbor, old Albert Decker (Ian McKellen), is actually Nazi war criminal Kurt Dussander. Dussander has adapted to American life and tried to live quietly and forget his evil past, but Todd blackmails him into telling him all the gory details of the death camps, all the "stuff they're afraid to teach us in school." These stories not only disturb and corrupt Todd's mind, but they awaken the buried monster in Dussander, and soon the two have a sick, mutually-parasitic relationship going on (kinda reminds me of The Hitcher). This is a pretty surprising film for Hollywood, in that there's no good guy and no happy ending potential. Some critics weren't impressed, but I think that maybe they couldn't handle the darkness and the unpleasant nature of the plot, and wanted to distance themselves. This is as close as an American film will get to something like In a Glass Cage. -zwolf

Arhats In Fury (C, 1985) AKA Baat Baak Law Hon
Better production values than usual and a complex plot elevate the class of this kung fu flick. Monks in the temple keep breaking rules by using their skills to help the local populace fight off invading Jins, instead of just bowing to them as the antiquated temple rules dictate. Despite being punished, they still desire justice, because the invaders are raping women and beating up kids. The monks fight back, resulting in some intense acrobatic battles. But if the temple finds out, they'll cut the monks' tendons. The invaders start gathering nitre to make gunpowder and plan to kill all the monks, and (as evil invaders will) they finally go too far and push even the stubbornly-misguided monks out of their pacifism, and you've got a kung fu movie on your hands. Imagine Billy Jack with a couple hundred Billy Jacks instead of just one. Get it? Amazingly the monks get help from armies of birds and monkeys! Seems nobody's fond of evil invaders. Another bizarre thing: this movie has one of the most gorgeous girls you'll ever see, and the monks think she's a man! And at one point an invader sings the Irish traditional "Wild Rover" song! Incredible on more than one level. The director also happens to be the writer of Instant Kung Fu Man, which may be familiar to some. -zwolf

Asylum of Satan (C, 1972)
Sort of a self-taught student film, this is the directorial debut of William Girdler (The Manitou, Three on a Meathook, Grizzly, Abby) and it's a pretty amazing terrible movie. A young woman is transferred to an obscure hospital run by a "Dr. Spector" (no relation to the guy from the Gold Key comics in the '70's), for reasons she's not told. The hospital is full of white-robed unmoving figures in wheelchairs, and her few regular inmates all have handicaps - they're blind, mute, etc. To make matters worse, there's a mutilated zombie running around and sometimes Dr. Spector acts like a lunatic (he's played by a local Kentucky TV horror-host who has several roles in the film... including dressing up in drag to play Spector's assistant!). Meanwhile the girl's boyfriend is trying to rescue her, but when he brings help to the asylum, it's abandoned! At times the movie manages a creepy, surreal atmosphere, but then it does something goofy, like attacks by snakes in a swimming pool (some were real, some were obviously from the dimestore) or by rubber bugs dragged along on strings. And wait'll you get a look at the devil, who appears during a ritual at the end! It's the same devil suit that was used in Rosemary's Baby, but it sure ain't the mask! Church of Satan (and now Temple of Set) member Michael Aquino re-wrote some ritual scenes to make them more Satanically-authentic. Amazingly enough, he still admits it! Made in Louisville, Kentucky. Girdler was independently wealthy, but you can't tell it from the production values here. "Love Slaves Of Satan Tortured To Blood-Dripping Death!" -zwolf

At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul (B&W, 1963) AKA À Meia Noite Levarei Sua Alma
One of the first horror films from psychologically-disturbed Brazilian director Jose Mojica Marins, who stars as evil, sadistic bastard Ze do Caixo, which translates as "Joseph The Grave" or, more commonly, "Coffin Joe." Coffin Joe terrorizes people in the town where he lives, and spends much of his time going to funerals. He also visits a bar and gorily amputates several of a guy's fingers using a broken wine bottle. Later he terrifies a tied-up girl with a tarantula, because he wants the perfect woman to bear his child and she's not up to snuff. He commits more atrocities - stabbings, rapes, eye-gouging, and blasphemies - until his victims return to take him to Hell... Weird, dark, and disturbing film made by a man who is definitely talented but probably a bit mentally sick as well. The levels of gore and sadism are pretty shocking for a film made in '63 and remain disturbing today. Other Marins sickie-film-manifestations include The Strange World of Coffin Joe and Hallucinations of a Deranged Mind. -zwolf

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1 comment:

  1. Yar and amen to Apoc Now. Every time I watch this film - which is often - it's like I've never seen it before even though I clearly have much of it memorized. I got the "Complete Dossier" edition for my birthday a few years ago, and it's a treasure trove of goodies, ESPECIALLY the outtakes reel that has as its soundtrack Marlon Brando reading "The Hollow Men" in its entirety. Stunning and creepy. Also delicious (though not part of the Dossier) is Hearts of Darkness, the making-of documentary made by Coppola's wife. The scene showing Coppola completely fucking with Martin Sheen during the drunken hotel-room scene is difficult to watch, and I mean that in the best way possible.