READ
PREVIOUS COLUMNS HERE!

Okay,
so this edition is a little late, but that’s because I was
busy enjoying the new Lost Skeleton of Cadavra DVD.
If you like purposely cheesy tribute (homage fromage?) to
cheap 50’s sci-fi flick, you ought to dig it.

I
should probably point out that the discussion of films in
this column may contain minor SPOILERS. I do avoid it whenever
possible, but it’s pretty difficult to discuss movies in
even minor detail without giving a few little things away.

Got an interesting
film suggestion? Know of something good in the works? Just
want to tell me I’m rubbish?  Drop me a line at dave@chud.com, and
I’ll respond to any letters in future columns.

FRENCH
THRILLS

A
lot of recent horror films are heralded as a return to the
"roots" of the genre, but even flicks from devout horror
fanatics (House of 1000 Corpses, Cabin Fever,
etc.) have presented decidedly uneven results. Who’s to
say other countries can’t get in on the act, questionable
filmmaking choices and all?

The
French slasher-thriller flick Haute Tension (which
translates literally and rather incongruously as "High
Voltage
") starts with a simple premise and
a brimming bucket of bloody promise. Marie (luscious pixie/Vulcan
hardbody Cecile de France) is accompanying her friend Alex
(the not-as-hot Maiwenn le Besco) on a retreat to her family’s
secluded farm, where the two plan to get some serious studying
done. But once they arrive, Marie finds the country life
a little too quiet, and decides to occupy her first evening
listening to music and masturbating (the girl strums more
banjo than a Deliverance revival).

Alas,
the tranquility and self-pleasure is shattered with the
late-night arrival of a Jeepers Creepers truck
and its foul sweaty driver (veteran Philippe Nahon of
Irreversible, Le Pacts de Loups
and dozens of others),
who enters the residence and summarily hacks his way through
Alex’s family before loading the terrified girl into his
horrific vehicle. Having successfully hidden from the murderer,
Marie manages to tag along, briefly losing the killer and
her bound friend at a gas station before ultimately tracking
him down for a vicious confrontation.

And
then… comes the twist. An infuriating, almost contemptible
twist. A twist similar to having a live grenade jammed down
your trousers — surprising, sure, but not the best way
to get your giggles. A twist that demands a second viewing
of what preceded it… which won’t really matter, as although
it clarifies motivations, it still makes absolutely no logical
sense (never a strong aspect of the horror genre, sadly).


And
yet, remarkably, this irrational shortcoming can’t cripple
the fundamental effectiveness of the flick. Outside of Asian
horror films, I can’t think of a recent movie that took
such potent advantage of music and sound to create, maintain
and intensify a level of unsettling terror, going so far
as to practically dispense with dialogue altogether for
vast stretches. Young director Alexandre Aja wrings solid
performances from his cast, and inestimable atmosphere from
his saturated visuals. The sadistic killer strikes with
uncompromising brutality, serving up some ghastly limb removal
and sanguine geysers for the gore enthusiasts, while the
film builds suspense nearly as taut as de France’s lithe
frame.

With
an affinity for flowing crimson and an ability to craft
genuine frights, it’s no surprise that Aja was recruited
to helm the remake of Wes Craven’s mutant-cannibal "classic"
The Hills Have Eyes (which was already sorta-remade,
and rather competently, as Wrong Turn). I
only hope he maintains his daring tactics while keeping
the shocks to a more coherent scale.

Haute
Tension
hits the States later this year.

TABLE
OF CONTENTS

Recent
Asian flicks have taken different approaches to a variety
of sports, including soccer (Shaolin Soccer,
of course), baseball (the disappointing Battlefield
Stadium
), wrestling (The Foul King)
and even synchronized swimming (Waterboys).
What’s left?

Young
Asian boys slapping balls for two hours may sound like just
the latest perversion in the increasingly disturbing Japanese
porn industry, but Ping Pong is actually a
whole lot more. As the title implies, the film is set in
the ruthless world of competitive high-school table tennis,
and follows two best friends named Peco (Yosuke Kubozuka)
and Smile (Arata).

Peco,
a homely hyperactive kid in a bowl-cut, loves the game but
lacks the ambition to reach his potential, while the sullen
Smile (so nicknamed because he never does) has applied himself
to actually become the superior player. The new coach at
school recognizes and attempts to tap Smile’s talent, but
the teen fears revealing his true ability to Peco, his personal
hero who rescued him from bullies as a boy. The movie explores
their friendship as well as ongoing rivalries with challengers
from other schools, including a cavalier "ringer" from China
(recurring Hong Kong sidekick Sam Lee), and toothy tormenter
Akuma (Koji Ogura) and the sleek, fierce Dragon (Shido Nakamura),
two schoolmates who approach the game with intensity and
determination.

It’s
difficult to believe that something so assured comes from
first-time feature director Fumihiko Sori, who approaches
the material (based on a manga) with enthusiastic maturity.
While it could have been little more than Rocky
with paddles, Ping Pong never follows the
expected path, its characters revealing more layers and
inner demons as the film progresses. The heated tournaments
themselves remain grounded in reality (no bullet-time or
flaming ping-pong balls), yet manage to remain exciting
(thanks in part to the spry soundtrack) and incredibly cinematic
with a minimum of discernable digital zow.

But
the relationships are the heart of Ping Pong,
a relentlessly charming and almost perfectly balanced concoction
that’ll make you feel like a triumphant Stallone at the
top of the museum steps.

ASPHALT
MASTERS

Recent
flicks like T3, The Fast and the Furious
and Torque, while hugely amusing to
that minuscule portion of the brain reserved for the creation
of remedial tools, are nearly offensive in their disregard
for authentic car-chase excitement (though movies
like Ronin, The Bourne Identity
and BMW’s online "The Hire" series seem to
be rare exceptions). As soon as a camera blasts out of an
exhaust pipe, whips 360° around a vehicle and zooms back
through the driver’s nostril, you know full well that the
scene is more a result of overcaffienated mouse-jockeys
at a bank of monitors than skilled stuntmen in rigged automobiles,
which disconnects me from any real thrill and makes me long
for the analog days of Bullitt, The French Connection
and Road Warrior… along with a few other less
famous car chase flicks.

Take
The Driver, for example, which is almost
brilliant in its simplicity. Walter Hill’s little-known
noirish 1978 vehicular thriller centers around a professional
getaway driver (Ryan O’Neal), an enigmatic beauty (Isabelle
Adjani) and a persistent detective (Bruce Dern) — none
of the players have proper names, instead known only by
their description: The Driver, The Player, The Cop. The
movie defies convention by virtually discarding exposition,
instead focusing on the reticent wheelman and his occupation
(when prospective employers question his talents, he wordlessly
offers a punishing driving demonstration), which often finds
him nonchalantly barreling through dense traffic.

The
film’s byzantine business dealings, twisting morality and
unlikable obsessed cop who all but ignores police procedure
on his unflinching pursuit all serve to facilitate the Hitchcockian
guilt transference (the "hero" bad-guy). With
its spectacular chase scenes, unpredictable plot and French
new wave/Western flavor, The Driver cements
Hill as one of my favorite directors — maybe someday we’ll
get his director’s cut (with more than a half-hour of footage
reintegrated) on DVD.

If
Easy Rider had a jaded cat in a supercharged
Dodge Challenger instead of Hopper on a chopper, you might
get Vanishing Point. Director Richard Sarafian
rolls his social commentary down the road with Kowalski
(Barry Newman), a taciturn world-weary Vietnam vet who drives
vehicles cross-country for a living. One night he bets that
he can make a muscle-car delivery from Colorado to San Francisco
in a less than a day. Kowalski’s amphetamine-fueled odyssey,
with assistance and running commentary from a funky small-town
deejay named Super Soul (Cleavon Little, our Blazing
Saddles
sheriff), brings him into encounters with
an assortment of eccentric social outcasts that include
a snake wrangler, a preacher, a drag racer and a pair of
gay crooks. But most importantly he runs afoul of the law,
which is what kicks the whole thing into gear across country
roads and desert highways.

With
its existential nature and vague attempts at relevance (for
some bizarre reason Kowalski is described by his radio comrade
as “the last free man on Earth”), Vanishing Point
(remade for TV in the 90s with none other than Viggo Mortensen
behind the wheel) is unquestionably a product of the rebellious
early 70s. But it’s the dynamic stunts during Kowalski’s
extensive flight from oppression (e.g., "The Man",
represented by the countless redneck cops on his trail)
that still hold any real significance, and a lot more personality
than its driver.


And
then there’s the monarch of all car chases, Gone in
60 Seconds
. Ignore the Nic Cage catastrophe that
puttered into theaters a few years ago — I’m talking about
the original 1974 film. The storyline is nominal: notorious
and unlikely named car thief Maindrian Pace (writer/director/stunt
king H.B. Halicki) and his team of experts (all amateur
actors in the distinctive hair-helmets of the period) are
hired to swipe a lot of exotic cars in a short period of
time. Despite the fact that they only steal from the insured
(I guess there is honor among thieves after all), this task
is promptly achieved, but with one complication: one of
the cars is loaded with drugs and a replacement is required.

With
little time remaining, Pace tracks down a similar vehicle,
an elusive Mustang he’s codenamed Eleanor. But by now the
police have caught on, triggering what is likely the longest,
most destructive car chase in the history of cinema. Literally
the entire second half of the film is composed of the Mustang
evading practically every cop in California (with the hairstyles,
horrendous acting and wukka-wukka soundtrack, it’s like
a porno with one everlasting vehicular cum shot). Halicki’s
antihero demolishes innumerable cars during the hypnotic
chase while battering his own stolen ride out of recognizable
shape (perhaps the biggest compliment ever to Ford’s engineering
is the impression that a Mustang could survive such a thorough
thrashing), but shows a few repercussions and feeble stabs
at humor along the way.

Halicki
followed Gone in 60 Seconds with The
Junkman
, a weak pseudo-sequel that found him playing
stuntman/actor Harlan Hollis, the supposed star of Gone
in 60 Seconds
(confused?). Someone has taken out
a hit on Hollis, and a gang of hitmen in Cadillacs and biplanes
are trying to erase him from the planet. Unfortunately with
The Junkman Halicki makes a reverse of his
first film, frontloading it with a prolonged overblown car
chase before the second half devolves into a Hollywood murder
mystery not worthy of Matlock. But this does not diminish
his accomplishment of Gone in 60 Seconds (its
second half, anyway), an exhilarating journey of automotive
mayhem that has yet to be duplicated.

DRIBLETS

Some
interesting miscellany from the CHUD message boards and
beyond:


The full schedule for this summer’s Fantasia film
festival in Montreal is now online, and it’s very disappointing…
mostly because it doesn’t look I’ll be attending this year,
meaning I’ll miss out on seeing tons of great stuff on the
big screen, including some of Japanese whacko Takashi Miike’s
works, a lot of high-profile Korean films, lots of Shaw
Brothers kung fu classics like 8 Diagram Pole Fighter,
the Stephen King adaptation Riding the Bullet, the
remake of The Toolbox Murders and the new
Ginger Snaps movie. Damn.

You
can check out the complete lineup RIGHT
HERE
.

My
depression continues as I look toward Europe, where the
remarkable Fantasy Filmfest has a killer schedule of genre
films that I want to see right this minute. A handful of
buzz flicks from the States such as Saw, Open
Water
and The Machinist are blended
with all sorts of Asian and European films that make me
wish a trip to Germany was in the budget. Sigh.

Check
out the complete lineup RIGHT
HERE
!

(Thanks to Jakob for the info!)

Now
that they’ve only sat on the goddamn thing for about three
years, Miramax is finally getting around to releasing Stephen
Chow’s wonderful kung fu sports comedy Shaolin Soccer
on DVD, even though most smart people have already
imported the excellent Hong Kong disc. The DVD, which hits
shelves on August 24th, will reportedly have both the original
112 minute subtitled film as well as the shorter dubbed
Miramax hack job. I see they’re also using that wretched
US poster for the cover art, which depicts the beautiful
Vicky Zhao looking absolutely nothing like she appears in
the film. What you can’t see is me rolling my eyes with
Weinstein contempt.

A
few columns ago, I mentioned that Hong Kong director Wong
Kar-wai (In the Mood for Love, Chungking Express)
was planning a biopic of martial arts master Bruce Lee for
his next film after the sci-fi epic 2046,
but that may not actually be so. Word has it he’s instead
considering a project about life of
Zhou
Xuan, a famous
singer in Shanghai back in the 1930s. Wong Kar-wai regular
Maggie Cheung (The Heroic Trio) is set to
play the "golden throat" at one point of her career.


(source: Kung
Fu Cult Cinema
)

If
you developed an infatuation with the unsettling beauty
of Chiaki Kuriyama with Battle Royale and
her show-stealing

appareance in
Kill Bill,
this should appeal to you: an "Idoru" DVD of nothing
but Chiaki, now available from Viz (RIGHT
HERE
). Apparently popular in Japan, these packages
(Idoru translates to "idol" in Japanese) feature
photo montages of famous stars in various compromising positions,
although a Viz representative assures
us that there’s no soft-porn in this one. But Go-Go Yubari
fanatics ought to love it.

(Thanks
to ‘David S.’ for the info)

STEAM

Thanks
to all for your letters of non-hatred.
Send
me more comments, suggestions, and coupons for Russian brides
to dave@chud.com, and
I’ll reply to any letters in future columns. Thanks for
reading and writing!

Dave,
Great column! It’s good to know that I’m not the only one
who’s waiting for the dvd release of Monster Squad!!
That movie rules! If you are able to find out anything more
about when it may be released can you let me know or at
least put it in the column? I’ve heard everything from Sony
Tristar to Paramount to some small company called Pacific
Family Entertainment owns the rights to this. Here is a
little reply to another fan’s email to PFE that I found
it a forum somewhere:


Pacific Family Entertainment (PFE) has released "The
Monster Squad" and "Night of the Comet" on both DVD and
VHS. They are in major stores nation wide. Because of contracts
with PFE’s marketing companies, the titles must be in retail
outlets first.


Most retailers, including PFE will be selling these DVD’s
for $14.95 per title.

You
may want to check the PFE web site for more information
in the weeks to come. Thank you for your interest in PFE.

Sincerely,
Tim Cook Pacific Family Entertainment timcook@pacificfamilyentertainment.com


The above came from this website.
As for the legitimacy of the above statement, who knows,
but I know that I have not seen Monster Squad
anywhere and am still looking for it! Like I said, any info
you can let me know I would greatly appreciate it!

Thanks
again!

-
Mike

DAVE
SAYS
: Yep, I heard about that a while back… supposedly
this company had the rights and was going to release the
films on DVD last year. They never did, despite what they
may be telling people who write to them. The films have
never been released on (legitimate) DVD, and no one even
seems to know where the rights currently rest (see next
letter).


And even if PFE did release the films, I wouldn’t
buy them anyway after their absolute shit treatment of The
Final Countdown
.

Hi
Dave,

Just
thought you might be interested in a rather in-depth recent
interview we did with Fred Dekker. In it, he briefly discusses
the DVD situation for The Monster Squad and
Night of the Creeps.

http://diabolical-dominion.com/Interviews/Dekker/

Hope
you enjoy it as much as I enjoy your new column.

-Mike

DAVE
SAYS
: Thanks! Great interview indeed. Dekker talks pretty
candidly about the difficulties he’s had with Hollywood
(and even takes a jab at The Goonies), but
it’s a little heartbreaking that even the filmmaker can’t
find out who has the rights to those fun flicks. At this
rate we’ll never get an official release…

I
don’t know how underground this is since they sell HTF stuff
at Hot Topic these days, but Happy Tree Friends
is pretty hilarious shit, along the lines of "Forklift
Driver Klaus
." It’s available at:

www.happytreefriends.com

I
own the two DVDs, and they are fucking hilarious. Nothing
like gratuitous violence against cute cartoon bunnies and
skunks!

-Dan

DAVE
SAYS
: I have the first volume of these gloriously malicious
little cartoons (they originally appeared online), and they’re
a blast indeed. I was a little disappointed with the brevity
— if you don’t count the credits on each episode, there’s
only about 15 minutes worth of content, but it’s a good
DVD to throw on at parties and worth tracking down for all
those sick minds who read this site (and, more specifically,
this column).

Hey
Dave,


Right after I read your column and the resulting letters
I found out as part of the Museum of TV and Radio’s exhibit
on superheroes they’ll be screening "Heat Vision and
Jack
" sometime during the summer. The timing couldn’t
be better.

Keep
up the good work!

-
EJ

DAVE
SAYS: It’s true! Heat Vision and Jack is part
of the "Superheroes on Television" exhibit currently
running at the Museum of TV and Radio in L.A. and New York
(apparently these are popular artistic towns). It looks
like Heat Vision and Jack is scheduled for
September, but you can check out the whole program RIGHT
HERE
!

hello,
i have not seen this discussed on Chud before as i read
this site every single day but i saw a trailer for a movie
that is coming out this Friday called Kaena- The Prophecy.
it appears to be France’s first cg movie.

here
is a link to the trailer

not
sure if it has been talked about before but if it has, sorry
bout that.

-
Jesse

DAVE
SAYS
: Thanks for the heads up. I’ve been hearing about
this film for quite a while now — it features the last
work of the late Richard Harris, as well as the rumbling
vocals of Keith David. The design work and animation look
impressive (if a bit reminiscent of videogame cut-scenes),
but it’s probably unlikely it’ll make it to too many theaters
here. Which is unfortunate as I’d prefer any alternative
to Shrek 2, which deserves nowhere near the
attention and revenue it’s generated.

DOWN
BELOW

I’d
like the UNDERGROUND to also be an environment for smaller
filmmakers (in budget, scope and height – I don’t discriminate,
wee folk) to publicize their wares, particularly genre material. 
Everyone deserves a chance, yeah? After all, even Oscar
winner Peter Jackson started with an independent sci-fi
horror flick that featured spilled brains and vomit tasting. 
So if you’ve got an independent film and you want to expose
yourself, drop me a line at dave@chud.com
Put some pants on first.

Thanks
for digging into this edition of DAVE’S UNDERGROUND, be
back soon with more treats from beneath eye level. Feel
free to send any suggestions or comments to dave@chud.com!