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Taxidermia (2006)
8/10
The beautifully disgusting side of humans, brought under the microscope by exceptional sound design and photography
25 January 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Taxidermia is a beautiful film in many respects, and it never ceases to amaze me that this is only György Pálfi's second film. Having seen his first feature Hukkle previously, it is clear that Pálfi pays great attention to detail, and perhaps places the greatest importance on sound design. A great example of this would be the scene wherein Lajos (played by Marc Bischoff) extracts his own organs – the visceral image of each individual organ sliding out of the body becomes infinitely more repulsive accompanied by the appropriate Foley sounds, deliberately amplified to draw us closer to the 'action'. Amon Tobin's skulking score helps to identify the tone as dark and sinister.

Though I haven't read Lajos Parti Nagy's short stories, the source material from which each character originates, I loved the theme of animalism and the deadly sins. Each member of the Balatony family seemed to exhibit the physical and spiritual traits of an animal – Morosgoványi as the lustful rabbit (compare his hare-lip), Kálmán as the gluttonous pig (complete with truncated tail), and Lajos as the vainglorious bird (his gaunt face also brings to mind the skull traditionally seen in vanitas paintings). Pálfi enriches this theme by having each character physically deconstruct real animals - Morosgoványi has sex in the corpse of a pig, Kálmán gorges on various animals, and Lajos stuffs animals for a living. As each man dies as a result of his sin, one could suggest that Pálfi is criticising man's hypocrisy for judging others without recognising his own flaws.
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Yes (I) (2004)
5/10
A middling story fleshed out by cinematic limitations
25 January 2009
Sally Potter's Yes uses various cinematic devices in order to tell its story, but for the most part, they do not lead the film. The most obvious device to identify is the use of the iambic pentameter in the form of rhyming couplets, which Potter herself describes as a means of evoking the simultaneity of thought and feeling. For me, that every character speaks and thinks in rhymes conjures up an idea of everyone straining to fulfil the most basic expectations of a 'perfect' human being. This is best exemplified with the scene in which HE asks SHE: "From Elvis to Eminem, Warhol's art/I know your stories, know your songs by heart/But do you know mine?" This demonstrates his frustration at the differences between the two, and his displeasure at his culture being seen as subordinate to hers.

Perhaps the strongest theme for me was the cleaners as all-seeing, all-knowing witnesses, in particular the cleaner who breaks the fourth wall to become our narrator (played by Shirley Henderson). As she weaves comparisons with microscopic bacteria and the larger worlds in which they reside, her hands toy with various manifestations of dirt. In this way, she is showing us how well she can know a person through the evidence they leave behind. In echo of this idea, every character in the film who cleans by occupation also looks directly at the audience, perhaps to extend the idea of constant surveillance beyond the universe of the film.
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9/10
Perhaps not the most striking anti-war film, but definitely one of the best
25 January 2009
Warning: Spoilers
How I hadn't even heard of this film until now, I will never know. Here we see Kubrick establishing his knack for realising beautiful cinematic landscapes and giving depth to characters through the mise-en-scène. In many scenes, a character's position within the frame defines his level of power – men of lower ranks are visually lower down than their superiors, individuals are cut off from their peers by borders in the background. Perhaps the most conspicuous example of this is when the three accused soldiers are on trial. When each individual soldier is questioned, he is framed in a medium close-up, with his superiors a fair distance behind him. This allows us to relate more to him, as he is essentially nearer to us than the others.

The camera-work isn't limited to static framing. I was hugely impressed with a typically Kubrickian tracking shot wherein we see Colonel Dax walk through the trenches. The shot is intercut with footage of the same route, but from Dax's point of view, observing the soldiers as they cower and wince at every explosion. The two shots intertwine to contrast the reactions to war from different ranks – Colonel Dax puts on an unshakably blank front, while the inexperienced soldiers have a very immediate, natural response.

Towards the emotional climax, a few biblical connotations come into play. There is one scene where the soldiers are being given their last rites that brought to mind a Caravaggio painting, followed closely by their execution, where the audience's consistent empathy might have grown strong enough to see them as martyrs.
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The Edukators (2004)
8/10
An entertaining, moralistic film with a confused message
25 January 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Director Hans Weingartner has stated that this film came about partly to reflect on his own struggle to find a political identity as a young adult in Germany. This confusion is evident from the beginning, as all three of the young adults seem to have different motives for becoming 'Edukators'. In one scene early on, Jan finds a watch that Peter has stolen and throws it out the window of the van, to which Peter responds "you just threw away 5,000 euros", implying that he intended to capitalise on his 'find'. Jule also seems to have a rather selfish approach to being an 'Edukator', as she purely wants to cancel a debt so that maybe she could start a lucrative career herself. Both of the guys are willing to ignore the nature of her motives and help her (they even compare her situation to the debt of Third World nations) for their own selfish desires (i.e. her).

My problem with the film was that the ending was too facile. The set-up of the characters is somewhat idealistic, so the end message "some people never change" carries little of the gravitas it ought to (as does the clumsy, unauthorised cut of Jeff Buckley's 'Hallelujah' – was it *really* necessary?).
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Primer (2004)
8/10
Low-budget classic - perhaps future sci-fi directors should take note?
25 January 2009
Primer is not a work to be taken lightly. All-round filmmaker Shane Carruth must be applauded for the dedication that he put into his project. On a shoestring budget of $7,000, many filmmakers would end up producing an inferior mimesis of existing Hollywood films, substituting the more extravagant effects for cheap editing tricks. However, Carruth has designed a world that, while not overwhelmingly realistic, is certainly conceivable (thanks in part to some brilliantly restrained performances). Carruth has clearly thought through the paradoxes that the characters endure, something perhaps lost on larger-budget films that toy with chronology. The scale of the time travelled through by the characters presents the audience with a believable perception of time travel.

Without falling into the aforementioned trap of bombarding the viewer with fast-paced editing, Carruth's use of jump-cuts manages to engender a subtle sense of disorientation in the audience, similar to the confusion we imagine the characters are going through. As they try to unravel further paradoxes by tracking their multiple duplicates through time, we are lulled into a false sense of security based on our assumption that a film should be conclusive (i.e. we believe the characters will solve the mystery). However, when it is revealed that the narrator we hear from time to time does not seem to have all the facts himself, new possible interpretations are opened to us. I couldn't possibly profess to understanding the film down to its minutiae, but I feel I've been intrigued enough to watch it at least one more time.
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7/10
The exemplary mumblecore film, for all its flaws
25 January 2009
Without condemning the whole mumblecore movement, I think I sympathise more with its critics than its fans. The films certainly convey relationships between their characters realistically, and there are some scenes in each mumblecore film I've seen which I could almost recognise for myself, but I'm always overwhelmed by this slightly smug self-awareness that pervades many artists working under the 'indie' banner. It is easy to believe that the makers of these films are very similar to their characters – young, confused, directionless – but the fact that the focus most often falls on the progeny of the last bourgeois generation takes away the integrity of this gritty, frugal filming style.

Mutual Appreciation is as much a milestone of indie film-making as it is a victim of its own pretences. The observer paradox seems to pervade much of the dialogue, much of which feels calculatingly awkward – it is easy to distinguish between the improvised lines and premeditated lines. Having said that, I was struck by one scene where Alan is besieged by with women at a 'party' he wasn't certain about going to in the first place, and is eventually convinced to don a dress and make-up. Here it seems the actors were given the most room to ad-lib, and it's a brilliant piece of footage which seems to speak to the majority of young adults and their issues with projecting identity.
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8/10
Light-hearted true story carried by exceptional characters
25 January 2009
Not being a huge fan of comic books, I feared I would miss a lot of the intertextuality in American Splendor, or that I wouldn't 'get' the central themes of the story. However, the film concerns itself more with the life of Harvey Pekar as an individual, rather than flaunting an encyclopaedic knowledge of comics. The metacinematic device of having the story intersticed with interviews with the real Harvey Pekar echoes the relationship Pekar has with his own work – it is a facsimile of real life with the darkly humorous moments emphasised.

Pekar opens the film by commenting on himself in the third person, then warning the viewer that if they were expecting "romance or escapism or some fantasy figure to save the day... guess what? You've got the wrong movie." The directors couldn't have wished for a more succinct characterisation – a cynical self-criticism from the subject himself. From this, we began to sympathise a lot earlier with Pekar's pessimistic attitude.

Perhaps the most obvious feature of the film is its selective use of the comic book aesthetic. The entire film could have been carried out with in the confines of a comic panel, but this only happens when Pekar breaks the fourth wall, either by addressing the audience directly or when the real Pekar is being interviewed. This reinforces the idea that, through writing realistically about the world he lives in, he cannot escape his own comic book idyll.
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Buy It Now (2005)
4/10
Loses its grip on reality
29 December 2007
If taken as just the first half, this film is exceptionally convincing and sums up a lot about teen culture these days, the pressure kids feel and the emphasis placed on sexual experiences. Through only a handful of clips, all shot by our protagonist Chelsea herself, we see her habits and her downfalls, and learn a little about why she's doing this, even begin to empathise with this misguided teenager. By the end of the "documentary" half, the last words that crop up on screen provide little comfort for the devastating events that precede them.

However...

As soon as the "narrative" side kicks in, it becomes clear that this is just a film - the whole story is told again, this time presented as a hard-hitting drama. The lead actress reprises her role, but the narrative is played out with such uncharacteristic woodenness and forced scripting that it's difficult to believe this is the same story and, as a result, everything that Campos had achieved in the first half becomes a faded memory. Rather than show off his versatility as a director, he instead proves to us that he's far more suited to one style than the other in what constitutes an exercise rather than a feature. In other words, don't expect anything complete.

I gave this a four out of ten simply because it is a very uneven piece. The first half is very promising, but too short to make its impact; the second half removes all pathos in favour of forgettable scripting.
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Ghostwatch (1992 TV Movie)
9/10
A truly terrifying film, perhaps because it outdoes our expectations.
13 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
I was only three when this film was televised, so I slip into the category of viewers who knew this was a hoax before they watched it. For most of the film, beyond my wishes, I found myself evaluating the validity of the actors' performances, and debating how someone could have thought this was real (the performances are pretty good, but there are certain exchanges that sway more towards theatrical than realistic). However, halfway in, when the transmission starts becoming infrequent and begins cutting out, my skin started crawling. Even the knowledge that it was fictional couldn't suppress my nerves as the ghost manifested itself in more terrifying ways. The finale, with a possessed Michael Parkinson whispering a nursery rhyme into the camera, sends a lasting sensation through the viewers' minds, in spite of how amusing it sounds on paper.

As mentioned before, there are a few faults in the acting, but for the most part - especially during the scariest scenes where it counts most - it is utterly convincing and contributes to a rather shocking viewer experience. The visual quality of the "live" broadcast and the Crimewatch-esquire set-up of the studio lend the film enough credibility to have some viewers forget that this was just a teleplay for the BBC, but this is exactly what sets it apart from other horror films and, in a way, makes it so much creepier.
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7/10
Reminiscent of Ken Loach
21 October 2007
This is the earliest Béla Tarr film I've seen so far, and it's easy to place in his chronology - while the characters are honest and hold nothing back, they could just as easily have been found 'oop North' in an early Ken Loach film. This does not mean it bears no relevance to Tarr's development as a director - far from it - but as a standalone film, it is not particularly important. As in most of Tarr's films, the moments of joy are there if you choose to see them, but here they are easier to spot, perhaps because they stand out from the temperature of the rest of the film. One scene that sticks in my head is that of the chanteuse playfully picking a "real man" out of the audience for entertainment. It contrasts wonderfully with Judit Pogány's timid housewife character, struggling to hold on to a relationship with a far-from-perfect man. The performances are impressive and you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching a documentary. But in all honesty, it is not as compelling or fulfilled as his other films. I feel 7/10 is a fair evaluation.
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Volca nok (1955)
9/10
A hidden gem
19 October 2007
I'm surprised this film never had its day. The film spends a night following a group of Macedonian partisans, on the run from the Bulgarian authorities in control of the region. While the premise is relatively slight, the film itself is padded out with more than enough to keep the viewer enthralled.

One could possibly classify it as a war-thriller - I was on the edge of my seat for several scenes - but the interaction of the characters give it something more emotive. Masterly directed by France Stiglic, and featuring some highly impressive performances, Wolf's Night is possibly my favourite Macedonian film.
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Koyaanisqatsi (1982)
10/10
Transcendent
30 September 2007
I challenge anyone to watch this film and not get carried away by its cascading imagery and haunting soundtrack. Koyaanisqatsi breaks away from the confines of film convention in a way that many experimental directors in the years preceding failed to. Many compare this film to Dziga Vertov's The Man With A Movie Camera, a comparison which is not wholly unfair. But while Vertov's film flaunts the versatility of film and cinematic storytelling, Reggio's piece is more lamenting and emotional. Not that this mars the experience - many choose to watch it on a purely audiovisual level, which I would concede is a far more rewarding experience. Director Reggio and his photographer Fricke work flawlessly with musician Philip Glass to unite image and sound into a cinematic experience that is impossible to forget. Buildings collapse, traffic runs like rivers, the sun pulls light like a veil over cityscapes - Koyaanisqatsi is the ultimate in unconventional cinema and deserves to be seen by everyone.
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10/10
Horror for the 21st century
30 September 2007
Many horror fans complain that horror has scarcely progressed in the last twenty years. I was inclined to agree with this until the influx of Asian horror films, a trend which has admittedly grown dull. However, it has produced some true classics, and A Tale Of Two Sisters, for me at least, stands out as an exceptional piece of cinema, and perhaps the best horror film in a very long time.

Based vaguely on a Korean folktale, it tells the sad story of two mentally-troubled sisters residing with their father and stepmother. After experiencing a few problems on their first night back at home, they determine to stick together and deny their stepmother access to their close relationship. The tension rises and there is the inevitable snap. But what happens after this requires more than a pair of eyes, as the story takes several twists, and the scares become more emotional and quite real. By the end, you may need a few moments to absorb it all and piece it together in your own mind, but it is exactly this pairing of horror and mystery that pushes it beyond the definitions of these genres and makes it an instant classic. One to watch again and again, if only to work it all out.
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8/10
As foul as its reputation suggests
1 September 2007
This is yet another of those films that I had heard people talking about for a long time - I think even my parents told me about it when I was younger ("he actually eats dog crap!"). So, of course I had to see it. Not sure how to feel about it, really - it's stolen a lot of my innocence away (damn you, John Waters). One could easily define the film by a bullet-pointed list of disgusting moments (as I'm sure the BBFC and MPAA have done repeatedly); however, it is more than the sum of its parts. What holds it together is an array of characters beyond credibility. You could call them white trash, but they go so much further than that. And it's hard to predict what they will do in order to become the "filthiest people alive". Lying underneath all of this is a very dark sense of humour, but one evident enough for us to react by laughing.

To conclude, if you're cinematically green, or have never heard of this film, stay off until you learn a little more about the dark side of cinema; everyone else, give this a go. A filthy hoot.
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Happy End (1967)
10/10
Genuinely hilarious
29 August 2007
I haven't laughed this hard at a film in so long. I had always been looking for this film, but forgot about it until I saw it on offer from an independent company. It really does run 100% in reverse. Dialogue is mouthed backwards, tears run upwards - everything. The story line is a stroke of genius though. Forwards, it might have made a nice, if dull, murder mystery, but played in reverse it becomes a different story entirely - and almost conceivable. The copy I bought had very questionable subtitles, which only brought on more laughter, but it was still easy to understand. Why this never had its day is beyond me - bring it back!
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Ag-o (1996)
9/10
Spectacular, unadulterated Kim Ki-Duk
29 August 2007
I often quote Kim Ki-Duk as my favourite director of all time, partly because of his prolific output (I'm glad he numbers his films, I was losing count!) and his consistently emotional style. While I absolutely adore the "new-wave" Kim Ki-Duk (3-Iron, Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter...And Spring, The Bow), I also thoroughly enjoy his earlier, grittier films (The Isle, Address Unknown). This film, his debut, is possibly the best and grittiest of the early films.

In a setting that stands somewhere between urban and rural, and filled with Kim Ki-Duk's beloved water motif, we see three misfits (a boy, the title character Crocodile and an elderly man) inexplicably living together on a platform under a bridge. Crocodile is an aggressive character with the shortest of fuses, and storms around as if the world owes him something. But there's another side to him. Intercuts show him diving in the nearby river for respite. When a young woman is seen drowning in the river, Crocodile rushes to her aid, only to expect a lot in return. Horrified by her treatment, she nonetheless returns frequently to bond with the old man and the young boy who remains uninfluenced by Crocodile's irritable nature. Soon she becomes a fixture and it all looks to be coming together for the group, if very vaguely. Add to this the most thrilling ending to a Kim Ki-Duk film I have seen so far and the film is complete.

This may not be for those of you who prefer his later works, but keep in mind it does contain everything a Kim Ki-Duk fan could wish for.
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Vase de noces (1974)
8/10
A vile, depressing experience
28 August 2007
Warning: Spoilers
I have nonetheless given this piece an 8, if only to raise its profile. Many have compared this to Lynch's feature-length debut Eraserhead (which Vase De Noces predates by three years). Although I see some similarities - how males deal with childbirth, the heaving black and white cinematography, the eclectic soundtrack - I am loath to compare the two myself. Whereas Eraserhead is renowned for being the archetypal "midnight movie", it is umpteen times more accessible than Vase De Noces.

What drove me to watch this film? As with everyone else, curiosity. I had heard about the infamous moments in the film and thought that nobody would dare commit them to celluloid. When Wikipedia advertised it as a "lost film", a trigger flipped in my head and I had to find it. That the only copy available is a shaky nth-generation VHS lends the film the appropriate integrity for its infamy. While even the original may have been tough to sit through, the constant crackling and pitch-bending of the soundtrack makes it infinitely harder to watch, and the picture quality is so inconsistent that it can take a minute to work out what is being shown on screen (of course, once you have worked it out, you'll wish you hadn't).

On to the "plot". A Belgian farmer falls for a sow and engages in several sex acts with her. As a result, she falls pregnant and bears a litter of pig-children (supposedly mutants - it isn't instantly clear). When the pig-children favour their mother for affection, the farmer is devastated and hangs them all. The sow, on discovering this, drowns herself in mud. Remorseful, the farmer hangs himself, feeling he has nothing to live for. The end. No, really.

Many suggest that this is set in the future and that our protagonist is the last remaining human on Earth. While this could be true, I personally believe that it is a timeless piece, with very little to imply the time period (when were jars invented?). What matters is that this man is incredibly isolated and is, perhaps as a result, chronically depressed (this may explain his romance with the pig, and the coprophagia). Throughout the film, we see clips of him forcing dolls' heads on pigeons and arranging various foul substances in jars, maybe to pass the time, maybe as an obsessive mania, nothing is for certain. What is certain is that this man is a sad case (the actor too if some of the more unsavoury moments are played out for real), and we as viewers have a disturbing experience intruding on his life. In conclusion, this is a thoroughly difficult film to watch and, although I have a weakness for such experiences, you will need a strong stomach and a lot of patience. In no way is this film rewarding or enjoyable; nonetheless it stays with you and I will defend it on the basis that it is not exclusively exploitative and that there will never have to be another film like it.
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3/10
The death of Borat
3 November 2006
I don't want to sound overly negative, or striving to be different, but this was such a letdown. The Borat in this film is a dim shadow of his TV counterpart. There are a few moments which preserve the sharp hilarity of awkward encounters that the show handled so well, and I appreciate that they have to appeal to a wider audience, including those unfamiliar with the character, but this was hardly the way to go about it. I admit I laughed a couple of times, but mostly at the beginning - after the first ten minutes, the "story" became bitterly familiar and Borat's quirks were all but lost as he soon transformed into any other gawky teen movie protagonist.

I'm sure there are many people who disagree and found it enjoyable but I just thought those who haven't seen it should hear a negative reaction too. In my opinion, utterly missable. If for nothing else, avoid it to save yourself seeing *that* scene...(shudder)
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2/10
This film isn't just bad. It's a disaster and I am perplexed as to why people praised it.
15 March 2006
Absolutely no effort is made to give the characters any sense of reality. At the beginning, we're presented with a series of nauseatingly cheery family scenes - as if they are meant to mean something to us. Evidently, the director is trying to build up a form of security which breaks down through the course of the film due to some supernatural being. But it doesn't work. None of it does. We aren't given enough time to care about the characters. Maybe more time would have helped - or maybe the characters were so fundamentally loathsome that we were willing them to die as soon as possible. Only twenty minutes in, we get our first ghost, the token creepy little girl, accompanied by loud noises which were clearly intended to make us jump out of our seats. Ooooh, I'm terrified. And from then on, it goes downhill. The fridge magnets, the babysitter... dear god, I want those two hours of my life back.
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2/10
Really insulting to the intelligence
17 December 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I can tolerate "stupid" humour. I list Dude, Where's My Car? in my top 100. Why not? It's great to have a bit of pure entertainment now and again. I was somewhat expecting a repeat of this with Dodgeball - but ohhhhhhhh no. I realised something was amiss when I spent the first half hour not laughing. Though I anticipated the slurry of clichés, here they seemed more poorly executed than ever. Ben Stiller's performance was painful to endure - someone should tell him he's not untouchable. Jokes are rather sparse, but when they do appear, it is more often than not a woefully unfunny double entendre with the word 'ball(s)'. The stereotype of an East European woman is a joke that got old a long time ago, given that it was ever funny. I think the turning point (i.e. that which coerced me to turn the DVD off in place of getting my money's worth) was seeing Lance Armstrong's tastelessly misguided cameo. Whoever let him compare the fictional characters' struggle with his own real-life struggles should revise their sense of humour.

I'm tired of ranting so I'm going to wrap it up. In conclusion, dreadful beyond words. Please save your money.
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3/10
Neither gorgeously depraved nor emotionally affecting
15 December 2005
Having seen (and loved) both Lilya 4-Ever and Together in the same week, I decided to continue trawling through Lukas Moodysson's filmography with his latest offering, A Hole In My Heart. If I'm being completely honest, I've never been more disappointed by a film as much as this. It's not hard to see what Moodysson was trying here - set up a chaotic atmosphere with only a handful of characters, then turn things around by unveiling the raw emotion exhibited by these human beings - all on a DV camera. It was done so much better in Miike Takashi's Visitor Q. A Hole In My Heart just smacks of uncomfortable pretension. Had this been Moodysson's first film, I might have been a touch more lenient. However, this is the man who directed Lilya 4-Ever, one of the most disturbingly candid films available, and to go from that to this is just vexing.
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8/10
Surprisingly good
22 September 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I have to admit, I didn't know a lot about this film except that those who had seen it cited it as the most disturbing film they'd seen. So when I found one solitary copy at my local Virgin Records, I snapped it up immediately. The first half of the film is relatively violence-free, with a very memorable sequence where Masami dances in a mask. Considering how low the budget is, the film is impressive. The acting may be flawed, but the visuals more than make up for it. There are a few scenes where you feel the crew went a bit overboard (shotgun rape, anyone?) but I genuinely enjoyed it and am proud to have it in my DVD collection.
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2/10
Absolutely awful...
19 July 2005
As a fan of extreme cinema, I decided to buy Cannibal Holocaust to see how far it truly goes. Although it cost £18.99, I decided to buy it anyway because I heard it also featured Deodato's other film House On The Edge Of The Park, a film which I had heard quite a bit of hype about. Having watched them both, I have to say that by comparison, Cannibal Holocaust felt like an absolute masterpiece. Normally, I can watch B-movies and even enjoy them, but HOTEOTP bored me to death. There is actually nothing of merit. The razor cuts looked like Biro marks. And as for the acting...it was like watching a porn movie without the porn (except for a few scenes...) I was expecting a whole lot but received so little. There seriously is no redeeming quality whatsoever, and I advise fans of shock films, horrors, thrillers or whatever other sub-genre this film has masqueraded as to steer well clear of this faecal abomination.
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