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Dracula père et fils (1976)
Next to "The Fearless Vampire Killers" perhaps the best Vampire-comedy, if you consider that this is a mix of horror and comedy
Transylvania, 1770: young, beautiful Hermine is on her way to meet her fiancé, but her coach is intercepted by the minions of a nameless vampire-count. She soon finds herself not only the interest of said count but, before being turned into a vampire herself, pregnant with his child. Soon after giving birth to her son Ferdinand, Hermine accidentally succumbs to the rising sun, leaving the count to raise his son on his own. Alas, Ferdinand is not only a reluctant vampire but a bit of a goof, who's rather help people rather than suck the blood out of them. In the mid 1970's a lot has changed: Romania is now under communist rule and the vampires have to abandon their castle, trying to seek refuge in the West. Unfortunately, due to a botched burial at sea (naturally the two gentlemen travel via coffins), father and son get separated. Ferdinand lands in France, where some friendly Arab guest-works take him under their wings and he is forced to "make a living" as good as he can. The elder vampire is more fortunate, landing in England, where he soon is discovered by a film-company as leading man in vampire-movies. Eventually father and son reunite, but the harmony only lasts that long, after falling in love with the same woman (who happens to be the spitting-image of Hermine).
French comedies are not everybody's cup of tea, especially among the English-speaking audience, which has less to do with the humoristic quality than the (usually) horrible dubbing that (usually) sucks the last grain of charm out of the films. However, especially here in Germany, one virtually grew up with the comedies of Claude Zidi, Louis de Funes, Pierre Richard and countless other comedians and directors.
Director Edouard Molinaro (a veteran of the comedic genre, who would later produce the celebrated "The Birdcage"; the original as well as the American remake) obviously understood that a Horror-Comedy doesn't necessarily means spoof a la "Dracula Dead and Loving It" or "Love at First Bite". Rather he combines elements of the classic Hammer-Horror-flicks and harmless, often satirizing French comedies into one entity. The mix works rather well. There are moments of chill and gloom, especially during the first quarter of the film, set in Transylvania, despite better knowledge that you're watching a comedy. The jokes are generally subtle, satirizing the genre but never venturing into slapstick. To mention just a few examples: the vampires being driven from their castle with a hammer and sickle turned makeshift crucifix, Ferdinand being forced donate blood after being caught trying to feed at a blood-bank or the Count accidentally biting into the neck of a sex-doll (the incredulous, undignified look at Lees face is worth the price of admission alone).
Sir Christopher Lee seems to have a ball with his performance, which seems a little surprising since the actors disdain for having been typecast for years in the role is legendary (and this was his 10th outing as the blood-thirsty count). Indeed, Lee only accepted the role under the condition that the name Dracula would not be mentioned and that his "Count" - a Baron in the original version - should be a completely different figure. The director honored that wish - the distributing companies didn't, as we can see from the title (and in the English dub he is even identified as Dracula by name). But at least Lee pulls his full repertoire: He can be regal, charming, even amiable, is able to show his comedic talent (which has often been neglected in other movies) and, as to be expected, is at the same time raise some scares when necessary. Not to mention, Lee has more lines in this film than in all his Hammer-Draculas combined, which may have been a factor of comfort.
I'll end the review with a word of warning: if you come across this film in it's English dubbed version, save your time and money. What this hack job of synchronization has done to the movie can only be described with the German word "kaputt". Not only are the speakers completely incapable, managing to make Ferdinand sound like some dorky version of Woody Allen, but much of the dialog has been changed completely, making it seems like your watching some vulgar sex-comedy from the 70's. As if to add insult to injury, Vladimir Cosmas atmospheric, excellent soundtrack has been deleted and replaced with some silly Disco-tunes. Do yourself a favor and stick to the French version (if need be with subtitles) or, if necessary, the German-dub, which catches the original spirit rather well and has some excellent speakers.
Kitchen Nightmares: Dillons (2007)
Easily among the most amusing episodes of the "Kitchen Nightmares"-US-edition (perhaps for all the wrong reasons)
More than once have I voiced my opinion that the US-version of "Kitchen Nightmares" is vastly inferior to the original show, mainly due to the template-like format. A restaurant in dire straits, generally run by a family. Ramsay will have a meal, generally deem it disgusting or inedible, to much protest of a delusional chef. Problems and dysfunctions within the families will be revealed, followed by accusations, tears, etc. However, the "Dillons"-episode varies slightly. For one, this is not a family-run restaurant, for the other, it is easily among the funniest and at the same time disgusting episodes on this show.
Ramsay's first meal in a restaurant usually counts among the highlights of each episode, mount amount to the standard segment in any James-Bond-movie, where 007 picks up his new weapons and gadgets. This one didn't disappoint: Rotten tomatoes on top of a Biryani, fritters that looked like a "fried turd", in Ramsay's own words, and there was meat to be found inside a vegetarian dish. The Beef Bhuna was of course lamb, though it could have easily been mistaken for pork, due to the fact that - as one of the cooks admitted - they had cooked "some of the old lamb". Perhaps the only solace might have been that the salmon served was not "fresh" but frozen, sparing our host a potential bout with food-poisoning. Not to mention that the place looked more like a morgue than a restaurant, the plates were filthy and that the flies were a constant pest for both employees and (non-existent) customers. Perhaps Ramsay was a little to harsh on the last points, since it did indeed give an authentic atmosphere - if you're eating a bowl of food in a back-street of Calcutta, that is.
Rightfully one of the many managers of this place deducted that, "maybe Gordon Ramsay's standard is very high" - and whether that observation scored him the only point of the evening or just added shame, I leave for the beholder to decide. I must admit, I already had a few cheap laughs during this five minute segment, but from here on it would go downhill fast.
Another highlight is general the kitchen-inspection, though many participants have had the good sense to clean their kitchen, organize the store-room and not have the freezer look like a pit of hell before Gordon would begin to inspect. No such precaution was taken in the case of "Dillons". Ramsay is greeted by a rat-traps ("rats are all over the place", so the apologetic manager), rat-droppings, more flies, a veritable army of cockroaches, rotten vegetables, green meat, putrid chicken, in short: the whole program. All followed by the questioning eyes of one of the Indian cooks, who at least didn't commit the fatal mistake to blur out "what's the matter?" Needless to say that Ramsay unleashes his righteous rage on all involved and closes down the joint for the night. Again, I must admit to having laughed, while at the same time tasting bile and vomit on my tongue.
The rest of the show continues as expected, revealing mismanagement, overcrowded staff, squabbling among the managers and general incompetence. Nothing different from most other "Kitchen Nightmares"-episodes, but this particular case highlights the most common problems that plague this business. If anything, I can recommend watching it to aspiring chefs and restaurant-owners as a template of what not to do. Everybody who enjoy food, dining or cooking has probably played with the idea of running a restaurant. Perhaps not necessarily serious, but as in a "what-if"-scenario. How difficult can it be, when you know what's good? If you have the right staff, the right equipment and products, what could go wrong? Very sure that the managers of "Dillons" thought just that and had to learn the hard way.
Kitchen Nightmares: Peter's (2007)
From this episode on, the food had become a mere side-dish and the show went downhill
I've been a fan of the original "Kitchen Nightmares" since the beginning, but hadn't realized that the new episodes were solely filmed in the United States. But it dawned on me very fast when I heard the narration (that somehow always sounds like an over-eager used-cars-salesman), the rapid editing, commercial breaks, censoring of profanities (since nobody uses them outside of television) and nerve-wrecking music. None of it forebode well.
But the format wasn't the worst part. Compared to the "real deal": in the UK-version we had real people, obviously struggling with keeping their restaurant alive but never-the-less often interesting, even colorful characters. In the US-variation, it's a completely different ballgame. That starts right from the first episode: the "main-character" (aside from chef Ramsay himself) is some character, that obviously is trying to confirm every American-Italian cliché, who not only likes to hear himself talk but desperately wants to be in front of the camera. Indeed, production even treats this person like an antagonist-figure, that the viewer is essentially goaded into disliking. Not that this isn't partly his own fault. Picking fights with bill-collectors, treating his co-workers as if he had just climbed out of some "Godfather"-movie, caring more about his suits than his kitchen - I dare say, had this been a British episode, Ramsay might probably walked out before the show was finished.
It got worst. Ask me what dishes were served on this episode and I'll answer honestly, "I cannot remember". Sure, Ramsay was disgusted by the gunk served to the customers but food had taken second place. From now on, we'd watch this show not for the food or the cooking, but for Ramsay's reaction to it (generally disgusted, though he cannot be blamed for that), the tantrums thrown by all involved, wait for the cockroaches to crawl out of the freezers, etc. Indeed, from now on the show was on it's way to become somewhat of a freak-show.
And yet the worst of all: By the first episode Chef Ramsay seems to have stopped caring. Think of the man what you want, but he in the UK-editions he had always been passionate about the food, passionate about the art and perhaps most important, caring about the people he is supposed to help get through dire straits. Here he merely goes through the motions.
Easily the most hilarious episode of the show (though you'd have to be a bit of a snob to enjoy it to the fullest)
Right, Penn & Teller are usually about picking out the BS and the BSters out, but on this season finale they are virtually turning the tables around, handing out some BS of their own. "The Best", as the title already says. The episode focuses on the general obsession with getting "The Best". Sure, who doesn't like good things? You'd have to be a monk or suffer from some other cerebral delusion if that wouldn't be the case. Question is: how many people can appreciate the best? Or, in another context, tell "The Best" from BS? We get a whole range of people, who take the concept of having and owning "The Best" there is, but since I don't care much about IPhones or technical trinkets, I'll focus on the part that I know a little about: the food. For one, we get some millionaire (cloth, body-language and language speak "new-money ", but the wallet says "rich person") at his caviar-breakfast. Indeed, it should break any gourmets heart to see him slurp $100 Dollar per spoon caviar straight from the tin, just like he would from a 99 cent can of tuna. Lesson: expensive caviar can be bought, taste or style cannot; it can only be acquired.
Highlight of the show is the candid-camera-scene in a "fancy" restaurant. Like the old routine, where the "polite French waiter offers the American tourists dishwater instead of champagne, since they cannot taste the difference anyhow" (to which the tourists routinely reply "merci", since they don't speak the language). Only that the "tourists" aren't actors this time round. These self-proclaimed gourmets are served only the choicest foods and drink. Bruschetta, baked with fresh flour ground in Tuscany, 5-Star wine with an unctuous texture, a hint of liquorish and cassis, Belgian White Chocolate Mousse. The waiter (a damn fine actor, I might mention) lulls his prey in with words and foods that they've never heard of and places that they couldn't find without the help of Google Earth. Our connoisseurs gobble it up with a gusto, that almost has you believe that this meal is anything else but what it really is: the cheapest you'll find on the deepest rack of your local supermarkets (or, in some chases, petrol-stations). Stale, toasted bread, the alleged lobster is monk-fish, the mousse not mousse but Cool-Whip, plonk-wine at $1,99 a cork, and so on, and so forth.
A little mean-spirited, I agree. The show tries to downplay it with the psychological factor, that, if you expect "The Best", you'll probably taste "The Best", no matter what slob they may feed you. Of course, there is no argument that there are distinct differences between Japanese Kobe-beef and your store-bought steak, between fish-roe at the all-you-can-eat and Beluga caviar, Château Montelena Estate wine and a bottle of Wild Irish Rose, etc. But people also tend to forget that taste-buds are like muscles: they need to be trained, educated and refined to function at "their best". Still, I'm not ashamed to admit, that there was more than just a little Schadenfreude involved, when we try to imagine how in the future, some of the unwilling participants here will probably be served choicest Ravioli (no doubt prepared by Chef Boyardee himself) and 5-star wines, grown in the outskirts of Washington - much to the mocking delight of their friends.
Lesson learned: It is not all gold that shines, even if the media keeps telling you
The Penn & Teller show may not be to everybody's taste. Not because one disagrees with the points that are being made, but because of the style of presentation. Yes, I do admit: I find dear Penn often rather annoying, too loud and often reminding of a drunk redneck waving a flag in some backwater bar. But when it comes to the content, there is not much in his trains of thoughts that the rational mind could dispute. "Holier than thou" is among the more interesting episodes of the BS-show. True, like many other episodes it preaches to the quire and offers little insight, that most people wouldn't consider common-knowledge or even common-sense. Then-again, thinking about my own school-time, where historic figures were often painted with a broad brush, generally in black & white (Mother Theresa = good; Hitler = bad, etc), one would wish that they would present shows like that in public-schools.
In this episode, Penn & Teller take on three of the more iconic contemporary religious figures, who some would consider - thanks to carefully marketed reputation - Pop-icons. Namely Mohandas Gandhi (whom his followers have bestowed the title "Mahatma" or "Great Soul"), the Bulgarian nun Anjezë Gonxhe Bojax (who went under her nome de guerre Mother Teresa) and the current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. Of course, mentioning those names will make most people automatically associate them as "the good guys", and true enough, all three have had their share of accomplishments, be it in liberating a nation or charitable ventures. But Penn & Teller remind the viewer, that there are always two sides to a coin, that these were and are only people who, like any other person, also had / have their dark sides. Like Gandhi, who was an unapologetic racist, who harbored nothing but disdain for black people and had a rather questionable fascination with underage girls (and their bowel movements). Indeed, had Ghandi lived longer and implemented his "spinning-wheel-program", he might have turned India into a backward nation. No doubt that Mother Teresa has built up numerous hospices where India's poor could go to die. But at the same time this nun spent most of her time traveling the world, being somewhat of a fashion-accessory for the rich, the powerful, and cared little about taking money from dictators like the Duvaliers of Haiti, who had stolen their wealth from the poor in the first place. We also learn that little of this often ill-begotten money went to the poor, but rather at establishing nunneries, which more often than not produce religious zealots. Or the Dalai Lama, whom we all know for his perpetual grin, well-meaning platitudes and shaking the hands of many-a Hollywood-celebrity (even bestowing sainthood on them at a whim). Here many people tend to forget, that the peasants of Tibet had lived for centuries under a regime of Lamas, that considered themselves gods and would hand out the most draconian punishments (eye- and tongue-gorging are just two that are mentioned in the show) with the same easy whim with which Tenzin nowadays bestows his blessings. Whether one agrees with communism or not (I for one don't, but that's a personal issue), one cannot deny that the Chinese have freed the Tibetans from this scourge, and replaced it with something new: education, electricity, health-care and many other things that Tibetans under the Lama-rule weren't acquainted with.
In short, once again Penn & Teller remind us that all that shines isn't necessarily gold. Indeed, we'd be hard pressed to not find a supposed evil person that has not done some good deed in his or her lifetime. People might tell you that Germanys unemployment-rate in the Third Reich was virtually non-existent and that the Führer was kind to children and pets, which no doubt is true. That doesn't make Hitler a philanthropist and is no excuse for nothing.
Easiest the scariest BS-episode
Considering the theme of the show, it isn't surprising that the sad issue of P.E.T.A should be among the first to be tackled by the producers. After all, P&T's BS is essentially all about rationality and common-sense loosing out to fanaticism and narrow-mindedness. And what better examples for the last two mentioned could there be? Why would I consider this episode scary? For one, it shows us time and again, how close a good cause is to fanaticism and how easily the lines can blur. For the other, I too had my experiences with P.E.T.A and like most people (who are not part of P.E.T.A), this experience wasn't pleasant or good. I too had to watch friends, who once they got into this organization, showing all trademarks of a cult, as Penn and Teller put it aptly, turn from mild, intelligent people to zealots. Starts like any other addiction: small and seemingly harmless. From becoming vegetarian out of conviction, to berating other people on their eating-habits; from harassing people, who are eating a burger in public, to eventually convincing themselves that comparing chicken to people murdered in Auschwitz is reasonable and justified. Such is the typical metamorphosis of a fanatic, be it with P.E.T.A or I.S.I.S.
We all know that one should be kind to pets and animals, not to kick stray dogs and to treat (and eventually kill) cattle as humanely as possible. Common decency dictates this and you'd have to be a psychopath not to understand that. It really shouldn't take some organization like P.E.T.A or a mentally deranged lady like Ingrid Newkirk. However, how far would you go, if the devil would tell you to do a good deed? From praying in church to firebombing abortion-clinics it's sometimes just a small step. Such was the case with former beer-hall-parties like the NSDAP in Germany, such is the case with clubs like P.E.T.A.
The one criticism I might have about the reasoning, is the old trend of pulling of Hitler as a straw-man. Sure, the dictator was a vegetarian, which most likely has something to do with him having a weak stomach. It's like saying, "Hitler started the war because he was an atheist and killed the Jews because he was a devout Christian" (though I do agree in one point: Newkirk has studied and imitates the Führers body-language exceptionally well). If anything, it's a small blessing, that things like P.E.T.A are a luxury, that only the most First-World-countries and jaded students, who have the time to dream about imaginary human-rights for animals, can afford. At least I haven't seen any similar organization in Africa yet, that advocates that the people should not use cattle as animals of labours and abstain from eating anything but vegan products. Or threaten to burn a farmers field down, if their demands are not met.
Another scary aspect: when Ted Nugent starts to sound like the sole voice of reason in a 30-minute documentary about an organization that supposedly is there to help animals, something is definitely "rotten in the state of Denmark".
L'etrusco uccide ancora (1972)
Don't be fooled into believing it's a zombie-film or a Edgar Wallace film; this is as "yellow" as a Giallo comes
The reason this being one of the more obscure Giallos (or as purist would say: Gialli), can be blamed on "clever" promoters, who had hoped to cover more bases than were available. In the US they tried to market this off as a Living Dead flick. Needless to say that those expecting zombies were none too happy when no walking corpses appeared in the film. In Germany on the other hand, the film was marketed under the Titel "Das Geheimnis des Gelben Grabes" ("Secret of the Yellow Grave") as a Edgar Wallace movie. True, this novel was written by AN Edgar Wallace but not THE Edgar Wallace, and similarly, the fans of "Kraut Krimis" were disappointed, even though the film counts as final Edgar Wallace flick that was produced by veteran Artur Brauner.
So we better stick with the alternative English-title, "Etruscan lives again", and yes, the film has all the hallmarks of a Giallo: a mix of Psycho-Thriller, Who-dunnit, mix with gratuitous nudity, sex and violence.
The story itself is rather simple: An archaeologist Jason Porter discovers an ancient Etruscan grave in Tuscany. The grave features frightening wall-painting to Tuchulcha, an Etruscan demon of death and destruction. The excavation-sight happens to be under the property of the despotic musical-director Samarakis. This creates a great deal of tension, since Samarakis is married to Porters Ex-wife Myra. But jealousy and sexual tension takes a back-step, when a mysterious killer stalks the area, killing couples whom he catches in the process of love-making and disposes his victims with an Etruscan mallet. Soon everybody finds himself on the list of suspects and everyone seems to have their own skeletons in the closet: Jason, who still battles with the demons of alcoholism and having been confined to a mental-ward, the shady Samarakis, the gay Theatre-director Stephen and many other, all who seem to share some seedy background.
Like with most Gialli, "seedy" is one of the keywords. The Gialli was always considered the dirty cousin of the squeaky clean Kraut-Krimi, laden with lurid psycho-sexual images and sadistic violence, that's constantly pending between art and Slasher. "Etruscan lives again" makes no exception. The cast is well picked, all do a fine job and, as suitable, the viewer is never quiet sure if and which figure deserves any sympathy at all. That includes protagonist Alex Cord, whom the American audience will likely best remember for his role as one-eyed Michael in "Airwolf". Horst Frank, although only having a relatively minor role, steals the show as we had often done in this type of movie. Despite his character being a homosexual, Frank with his burning glare comes across as menacing and threatening as ever. Wonderful soundtrack, as is to be expected from veteran Riz Ortolani (though his sometimes schmaltzy sound isn't everybody's cup of Chianti) and Crispino does an admirable job, despite not counting among the big Giallo-directors like Bava or Argento. Crispino utilizes the wonderful landscape of Tuscany almost like a second actor, making the best of the locations (again, another trademark of any good Giallo).
Within the confines of it's genre, I'd give it a well-meaning 7/10, as a pure Psycho-Thriller perhaps a little less, since not everybody is comfortable with the Giallo-style, lurid storytelling and choppy structure. Again, I'd like to point out to whoever added the line "The first zombie movie to be filmed in anamorphic wide screen" in the trivia-section, I assure you: there are no Undead to be seen and those who get killed in "Etruscan lives again", stay as dead as a corpse can be.
Madventures: Hindustan (2009)
Not for the faint-of-heart: Two Finns visit a very specific type of "holy men" (we'd call them ghouls)
This may well be the most infamous episode of "Madventures". Our happy-go-lucky hosts Riku and Tunna venture to vast and mysterious India. They sacrifice a goat, Freddy, (and eat it in conclusion), partake in religious celebrations, including washing themselves in the Ganges (which probably must have had their health-insurance spinning on their heads), indulge in drinking a few cups of Bhang-Lassi (a form of milk-shake or yogurt, the main ingredient being hemp or better known as Marihuana), literally 'chilling' with the Sadhus, the holy-men of India, while sharing more of the holy weed and watching the Sadhus perform their tricks. In this case wrapping ones penis around a razor-sharp sword (no Sadhus were harmed during the filming). However, highlight of this episode is the visit that Riku and Tunna pay to a specific brand of Sadhus, namely the Aghori.
The Aghori happen to practice a specific form of tradition in Hinduism, which teaches that everything created by the gods is sacred and perfect, and hence do not subject or believe in any form of taboo. Usually found around the "Ghats" (riverfront steps that lead to the Ganges) of the city Varanasi, Aghoris are known to live and meditate around the cremation-grounds of this area. What has given this particular creed a sense of infamy, is not only that Aghori drink alcohol, smoke the "bhang" in abundance and will mate with women of castes lower than their own, but they will on ceremonious occasions eat the flesh of semi-burned human-carcasses that float down the Ganges. Riku and Tunna are allowed to film one particular ritual in this "public cemetery" and I dare say that the scenes they film would have driven off seasoned BBC-documentary-crew at godspeed. Armed with only a camera and the stoicism for which the Finns are renowned for, the duo witness as those "holy madmen" smoke and drink themselves into a frenzy, bite off the heads of live chicken, gnarls at the corpse of a dead dog and eventually pee into human skullcaps (let's just say, crystal-glasses were not available on this occasion) and at the presenter. Before the party becomes too rough, our presenters are ask to leave and one can only speculate, what other "wonders" this evening would have held in store. On the other hand: perhaps it's best not to speculate.
Let's just be conservative and say, that this isn't your usual catholic Sunday-service (or Presbyterian, or Baptist or Amish, for that matter). One has to give credit where credit is due: Even seasoned horror-film-directors and even Italian Mondo-producers would have been hard-pressed to dream this up in a fever-dream, let alone sit through it as stoically as our presenters. Having studied the matter a little myself, this may well have been one of the few occasions where a (western) camera was allowed to witness at least part of a Aghori ceremony. And yes, "sensationalism" is a big key-word here, something that the "Madventures"-crew has often been accused of. Then again, this isn't "National Georgaphic" and the duo has never contested, that they wanted to shoot anything but the most obscure, shocking and unusual aspects to be found in the world. We'll hence have to leave it to theologians, anthropologists and psychologists to decide, whether the Aghori are "enlightened gurus" or just mentally deranged ghouls. The show and particular this episode still stands as evidence, that occasional "amateurs" (meant in the most positive terms) like "Madventures" and "VICE News" are more often than not beating the Pros at their own game. A solid 8/10
Proudly taking on the flag of Mondo-documentaries, while beating many "Pros" at their own game
I must admit, I remain a skeptic when it comes to amateur-shows, which usually end up on YouTube or similar channels, be it traveling-, cooking- or whatever-shows. There's usually a good reason why few of those shows or participants will remain on these channels for evermore, because not everyone has what it takes to work for BBC or National Geographic. However, there are always exceptions to the rule. Such as "VICE News" or "Madventures", which are capable to compete with the big names and seem just fine to have kept their artistic freedom at the price of remaining relatively obscure.
When one thinks about Mondo-documentaries, one automatically thinks of Italy, the late 60's and early 70's and of course a rather seedy reputation that this genre has gotten. Not undeservedly, I might add. Not that most Mondo-material wasn't authentic, (even if there have been instances of fake- or staged-footage), but the patronizing tone, often bordering on racists and the voyeuristic approach made sure, that the Mondo-trend soon died off, or at least disappeared into obscurity. Finland isn't exactly the first place that comes to mind when thinking about Mondo and we would do "Madventures" a disservice, if we'd merely write them off as pure Mondo. But the main elements are present: Two average guys, presenter Riku Rantala and his camera-man Tuomas "Tunna" Milonoff, are vagabonding around the glove, armed only with a camera, always searching for the exotic, shocking and unusual. In one episode they may be dining on platters of penises and dog-meat in China, visit a rather friendly tribe of headhunters in Papua New-Guinea or witnessing a ritual of a cannibalistic sect of Gurus in India. They travel along rather care-free, without making pretensions of deeper, anthropological observations, something like a mix of Mondo, backpacker-travel-show and a home-made version of "Jackass". One of the trademark of the show is the "Mad Cooking"-sequence, which would make Andrew Zimmern blush and turn towards vegetarianism (an example would be Tunna frying and eating his sister-in-laws placenta in one episode that that focuses on cannibalism).
While, as said, the shows lacks the depth of more "professional" travel-documentaries, but compensates with a fresh, tongue-in-cheek approach and a keen eye on the obscure and shocking, that many other shows may shy away from. Another downside may be, that Riku often comes across as slightly annoying and chatty, rather unusual for Finns, which prompted a friend of mine from Finland to speculate, that Rikus ancestors may be Swedish. Indeed, it is this kind of show that makes you want to throw a few shirts and underwear into a rucksack, stick a needle in the globe and take off to some place without bothering about hotel-reservation or googling for tourist-attractions. An 8/10 might seem a little low, but those two points are solely deducted for small technical flaws. As far as travel-shows go, "Madventures" is rather unique.
It wishes to be more than the sum of its parts but, in the end, remains only over-rated and pretentious.
I was not particularly fond of this film. Or perhaps I should say, wasn't all too impressed. Don't get me wrong. Occasionally I do enjoy watching the harder, if not hardest, variations of Horror-flicks. In other words, I don't mind blood and gore, have seen the most extreme of films that the market has to offer and if it comes to the subject of Torture-Porn, well, as long as they are only movies, I have no problems with the genre. My complaint about "Martyrs" comes from another corner.
First of all, the director and his film isn't able to built any tension up whatsoever. How could he, when the story is so utterly predictable? I'm not going to detail the whole storyline, this has been done already by many another writer, but let's view the structure of the story as such. The first half is pretty much a variation of the Home-Invasion-sub genre, made so popular by the Exploitation-films of the 70's. Lucie, having been abducted and tortured by some cult during her childhood, later identifies her former tormentors and wipes them (and their innocent children) out with a shotgun. This is done bloody, but rather quickly, if not to say routine-style. Her best friend (and, this being filmed after "Haute Tension), supposed lesbian lover Anna, a young Arab girl, aids Lucie at disposing the bodies. But Lucie is still tormented by her memories and inner demons, which come to her in the form of a ghostly corpse, that seems to have climbed straight out of a "Ring"-movie. Much time is spent in the families home-turned-slaughterhouse, where Lucie battles her inner demons and the corpses of the slain family are endlessly dragged from one spot to another. Lucie succumbs to her demon, killing herself by slitting her throat. Anna discovers, the Lucie was not mad at all and that the house is indeed the dwelling of a torture-cult. Of course Anna becomes the next victim of said cult, but one objective: to create a "martyr" (literally somebody who "witnesses") by torturing her to death.
Let's compare "Martyrs" to the other notable films of this genre: "Saw" (whether you like the series or not), with it's intricate twists and torture-devices, "Hostel", working as an extension of the 80's slasher-flicks, albeit more gruesome in it's execution or "A Serbian Film", perhaps so far the toughest to watch, yet having a distinct message regarding Yugoslavia and what people went through during the civil-war. "Martyrs" wishes to go another direction. Here the director would like to have us believe, that there's a deeper philosophical meaning behind the mayhem. Pseudo-intellectuals will be quick to pull out names like Georges Bataille from a certain orifice (or shall we say "L'Anus Solaire"?) or quote some other syphilitic coffeehouse philosopher that they value. It's an old ailment all too common in highly stylized French cinema. The French intellectual elite is often accused of enjoying to hear themselves talk a lot, all the while actually saying very little. In regard to horror-flicks, this is nowhere as true as in "Martyrs".
As to what differentiates a "torture-porn"-flick from your common horror-, gore- or splatter.flick? Primarily the unrelenting, harrowing and realistic violence. Here too "Martyrs" lacks behind above mentioned films. Sure, the slaying of a family including kids is violent and messy, but nothing that we haven't already seen in 70's exploitation-films. Sure, the skinning of the protagonist at the end of the film is pretty graphic (although the act itself takes place off-screen), but that too has already been seen elsewhere, at times even more graphic. The rest of the torture of Anna consists of her being chained to a chair, being slapped around until her face becomes a living haematoma and being forced, again and again, to eat some sort of Quakers oats from a tin plate (sure a matter of taste, but if I'd be given the option, I'd opt for the skinning instead). Definitely tough on the average viewer, but again we're talking about the confines of a genre.
The final scene raises an interesting question, which has opened debates among the viewers, but that can't turn a mediocre film into a masterpiece either. Essentially, that is what "Martyrs" remains in the end: an average torture-porn-flick, handsomely filmed but filled to the brim with its own hype. One further word of warning: The film is best watched in it's original form (French) with subtitles if need be. The English dubbing, as is often the case, is atrocious (and probably the reason why most of these films, be it "Ring" or "Martyrs" are often enough copied and rebooted as American films, which generally should be avoided likewise).