Descending from above into the depths of grotesque terror and suffering, The Assassin steps out of the drop pod with a gas mask, industrial armor, a suitcase, and a crumbling map. Bearing witness to the surrounding horrors – cruel experimentations, enslaved beasts, tortured manufactured slave laborers, dog-eat-dog atrocities – The Assassin sallies forth, descending deeper into the primordial pit. The missioned at hand is to set an explosive charge that will eradicate out the ruinous, oppressive filth that aims to corrupt the everything, but there the darkness won’t be so easily wiped away and The Assassin must stay in the shadows and out of sight or else become a tortured fixture in the fray.
“Mad God?” More like mad genius! Phil Tippett’s 34-year, stop-motion, pet-project “Mad God” is the purest Hell I’ve ever seen. Tippet, famed stop-motion and puppeteer effects artist responsible for the iconic visual effects and stop motion work in fan films such as the original “Star Wars” saga and the “Robocop” franchise as well as cult favorites “Howard the Duck,” “Piranha” and “House II: The Second Story,” started “Mad God” in 1987 that become more of an ambitious project than originally thought and once the 1993 saw a computer generated effects revolution with a little prehistoric dino-disaster film called “Jurassic Park”, a film Tippett also did work on as dinosaur movement consulting supervisor because of his expertise on the short “Prehistoric Beasts,” the gifted animator had shelved “Mad God” for about 20 years with the though a newer, shiner, computer-driven animation would be the next best thing studios would ardently desire. This two-decade span gave Tippett time to outline objectives and really expand upon ideas of how “Mad God” should look and feel when conveyed. Tippett co-produces the film with Jack Morrissey under Tippett Studios and presented by IFC Midnight and AMC’s Shudder.
Just because “Mad God” is dialogue-less doesn’t make the “Mad God” voiceless. All around, in every scene, is a disturbing commentary or an unhinged metaphor bred mostly out of the animatable inanimate, but there are some live action performances weaved into the mad tapestry of monstrous titans and despot of cruelty. The most clearly discernible face of the lot comes from a director, “Repo Man” and “Sid and Nancy” director Alex Cox to be more exact. Cox plays the long nailed and regime-driven “Last Man,” representing divine leadership of a modest, dieselpunk heaven above a more organic and grotesque hell-type world. Only on screen for perhaps a total of 5-to-10 minutes, Cox grunts and gestures with precision articulation to give off a fair and just ruler impression. Niketa Roman plays the next real person to have some substantial screen time. Less of an actress and more of an animator by trade, with credits including “Blade II,” “Jurassic World,” and “Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker,” Roman finds an expressive talent in her striking, heavily made-up eyes overtop a surgical mask and gown when whisking away one of the Assassin’s souls to be studied and experimented on by a broodingly ethereal entity. Other micro-performances include minor roles of tortured monkeys, various iron-cladded Assassins, witches, and gnomes from Satish Ratakonda, Harper Gibbons, Arnie Hain, David Laur, Chris Morley, Anthony Ruivivar, Tucker Gibbons, Tom Gibbons, Hans Brekke, and Jake Freytag.
“Mad God’s” possibilities and interpretations are endless. Phil Tippett pulls from a motley of inspiration that includes, but is not limited to the fantastical, sometimes hellish, paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, the wacky, often gonzo animation of Tex Avery, the stop-motion titans of Nathan Juran’s “The 7 Voyages of Sinbad, and Dante’s Inferno. The mind is a deranged and wonderful creator of the macabre and of the aberrant and as a receiving device, the mind can also, if opened up enough, accept such visceral visuals of bowel fluids being jettisoned out by electric shock and into the mouth of an organic machine that manufactures fibrous, lumbering humanoids for slave labor. Like lemmings in a way, these exploited shadows of human beings will succumb under their own demise or at the gnarled and unforgiving hands of their master’s gargoyleish work-whippers. “Mad God’s” eye for detail is greatly disturbing to see cities in monolithic cities and cultures in ruins, the composite depth between foreground and background action in one scene reminds me a lot of older works like “The Neverending Story” or “Clash of the Titans” that create a vast scale with smaller objects, and the playful irony of a nightmare netherworld being commanded over by a baby’s babble doesn’t nearly seem to a stretch from the truth. As the multiple Assassins trek through the chaos and the insanity, an overwhelming sense of life is meaningless scores the landscape as there isn’t an ounce of compassion or empathy to be had or displayed for any of the malformed creatures and wretched humans. A laborer is crushed by a stone – no biggie. A cute and cuddle animal is attacked and whisked away for food storage – all in the day of cruelty. A man is stripped of his armored gear, injected with a mysterious substance, and prepped for exploratory surgery – all for show in front of a live clapping and cheering audience. The only compassion I can make sense is the Assassin’s mission to blow up this God-forsaken world of eternal suffering to restart the heart. Madness grinds bones, fillets spirits, and crushes souls in Phil Tippet’s Godless underworld and can haunt you even while you’re awake.
A surreal stop-motion wonder and excruciation, “Mad God” brings all the horrors of the subconscious mind to the surface with a high-definition, 1080p Blu-ray. The region 2, PAL encoded release from UK distributor Acorn Media International presents Tippet’s tour de force in a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio and the image is purposefully varied to exhibit different strokes of craft as students would assist Tippet with contrastive topographies to carve out an apocalypse-riddled world that’s in a state of a violet retrogression. Tippet and Tippet Studio visual effects artist, Chris Morley, pivot to “Mad God’s” cinematography appearance with brooding, darker tones that illuminate and are erratically sparked with warm neon glows or brilliant voltage streaming through highly conductive bodies. Some earlier scenes from the late 80’s have natural grain from the 35mm stock and then later, more recent scenes have a cleaner, sleeker look with the digital recording. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound mix has an all-embracing range, mostly with sudden and alarming blazons of guttural roars, unnerving baby babble, elongated zaps and shocks, and the indistinct yips and yaps of a mad world, that sustains on a line of being lesser than crisp, which might be contributed to the inexact capture of depth as sometimes all sounds casts like from inside the reverberations of a fishbowl. Descriptive SDH subtitles are available. Bonus features include audio commentary with Phil Tippett and “Pan’s Labyrinth’s” Guillermo del Toro, cast & crew commentary, an interview with Phil Tippett, “Mad God’s” various painter, cartoonist, animator, and psychology inspirations, the making-of “Mad God,” Maya Tippett’s Worse than the Demon – Phil Tippet’s daughter’s 12-minute thesis documentary of her father’s 34-year passion project journey, Academy of Art & “Mad God,” a behind-the-scenes montage, and a behind-the-scenes photo gallery. “Mad God” has a runtime of 84 minutes and is UK certified 18 for strong violence and gore. A motion picture diorama of Phil Tippett’s neoteric psyche, “Mad God” is wrath wrapped in heart and soul, two descriptors not topmost on the surface but are meticulously integrated into every frame of pain, suffering, and despair.
Private school art teacher Anne Hutchinson faces an alien tribunal on the set of circumstances surrounding the sudden disappearance of her younger sister. Anecdotally going through the chapters of her life, beginning with her parents perishing when the sisters were young into growing up in a confrontation household between the sisters’ warring personalities to Anne’s desperate search for her younger sister after an ugly fight one night. Still reeling from the abrupt disappearance, a new student joins her class that ensues a sudden fascination from Anne. When the student shows up one night at Anne’s house, unloading woes of being kicked out of school due to lack of funds, Anne offers sympathy and suggests staying in her sister’s room that’s now been vacant for some time, but Anne’s new roommate hides a secret as she must feed on raw meat to combat of a body-covering boil sprouting illness. Little does the art teacher know that there’s a connection between her sister’s disappearance and her former blood-thirsty pupil that will shock her very core.
What happens when a promise to another person can’t be kept because that person’s will and commitment is so strong it’s becomes a severe fault? From an not from this world alien perspective, the contradictory and irrational nature of humankind has a profoundly illogical pattern to it that bears hardly any understanding to an unlike mind. There’s fragility to interpersonal relationships and to the people devoted to those relationships that force unforeseen, sometimes fatal, consequences when expected coherency and harmony turns into irrational chaos from seemingly arbitrary means. This is how Joe Badon’s genre-bending “Sister Tempest” expresses that conundrum of curious conscious with a surrealistic sci-fi-horror-drama that teeters on the edge of deadpan. The 2020 released “Sister Tempest” is the second written-and-directed feature film from Badon, following his 2017 experimental horror “The God Inside My Ear,” which falls upon similar “Sister Tempest” lines of emotionally distress-induced bale. Filmed in New Orleans, Louisiana, “Sister Tempest” is a produced by Badon, editor/sound designer Joseph Estrade, Dustin Rosemark (“Inferno”) and cinematographer Daniel Waghorne with visual effects artist Clint Carney (screener of “Dry Blood”) and Miles Hendler serving as executive producers.
After a series of prefacing introductory and non-linear story scenes, Anne Hutchinson, a debut feature role for New Orleans based actress Kali Russell, sits in negative space wearing an orange jumpsuit and being introduced to her alien tribunal council. Dazed and confused, but not totally in shock and frightened about being in the presence of otherworldly extraterrestrials, Anne recounts events surrounding the disappearance of her sister, played by Holly Bonney (“Bird’s Eye). As sisters, a defined line between the older responsible and the younger immature is contentiously formed between Anne and Karen as they deviate from earlier promises after their parents’ untimely death to take care of each other. Through Anne’s retelling of her life, her mother, though hard and disciplined, had a conditioning care that burdened the eldest child with a sense of duty and care at a young age and this really is no different from most firstborns who shoulders already a ton of responsibility regardless in taking on even more when the parents are no longer around. You love them to death is great idiom that rings true in Badon’s subversive-cinema standards tale when the sisters can’t see eye-to-eye on matters and there’s a loss of connection, accountability, and gratitude that the audience can relate to. For much of the picture, Holly Bonney takes a backseat to Kali Russell’s spiraling disconnect that affects her relationship with love interest Jeffrey the Janitor (Alex Stage, “Eat Brains Love”) and new life-entangling pupil Ginger (Linnea Gregg). The latter Greg played character has a little more layers to peel back that involves directly with Anne. Ginger’s is venom in disguise as vampire of sorts who requires raw meat and to keep her human appearance intact. There’s a representational duality in Ginger, reflecting both a monstrous quality and a sweet innocence that ties into Anne personally and into the search for the sister. “Sister Tempest” rounds out the cast with Clint Carney (“Dry Blood”), Lucas Boffin (“Return to Sender”), Andre LaSalle (“The God Inside My Ear”), Cami Roebuck (“Children of Sin”), and Sarah Rochis.
“Sister Tempest” has a foundational design we’ve all likely seen before with breaking points, dualities, and downhill-racing mystery unfathomable to the naked eye, but the Josh Badon story inexplicitly feels different from the others. Perhaps because of Badon’s unconventional storytelling style that throws the normal perceptions for a loop, literally and figuratively, with a 50’s-ish callback to science fiction films or its glamour of 70’s-ish British horror in color and macabre or an unsane mixture of both. I’m not going to sugar coat “Sister Tempest” as an easy to follow, low-hanging fruit film that simple, straight-forward, and is everybody’s cup of tea. That would be a waste of peddle spiel. There’s a zaniness quality that can’t be ignored that surrounds the principal Anne character as if she’s experiencing an ersatz world normally. Some would say that Anne’s caught in a maelstrom, or tempest, of unclear thought and her ordeal is catalytically charged by the work and the love that is poured into her sister’s wellbeing only to be thrown back into her face. Badon has a flair for the unusual, an eye for the odd, and can extravasate an uneasy air from a capsule of seemingly randomized happenstance and beyond the already preternatural events to aggregating the wayward tension.
“Sister Tempest” is the very definition of independent movies with a take it or leave it spellbinding archetype that’s unlike anything ever seen before. You can bear witness to Joe Badon’s mesmeric madness and melancholy with a brand-new Blu-ray from Darkside Releasing. Presented in two aspect ratio formats, a 2.39:1 and 1.33:1, the screen really runs the side-to-side gamut. Image quality shows zero sign of issues from the high-definition digital video, shot on a 4K black magic pocket cinema camera. The blacks are deep and rich as well as the coloring through Daniel Waghorne’s versatile cinematography involving gel lighting, color reduction, and spotlighting. The English language 5.1 surround sound shows no sign of slowing down this A/V wonder with clean and lively multi-audio tracks that come through every channel definitively. Bonus material includes an audio commentary with the director, produces, and actors, a blooper reel, a deleted scene, and trailers for Darkside releasing surreal and giallo films. “Sister Tempest” Lynchian style is not going to please the masses, but it’s certainly the wildest ride in the theme park of contemporary indie cinema.
A wealthy educated man is arranged to marry the beautiful and sexually naïve daughter of a high scholar. After persuading her sex being a cornerstone to a healthy marriage, she quickly concedes to his insatiable desires. Yet, the man wants more and decides to venture out into world seeking passionate sexual escapades and when he happens upon a distinguished scoundrel, who’s good at swordplay, martial arts, and as a carnal adviser, the man is schooled about his insignificant manhood needing to be the size of a horse’s. The obvious thing to do, transplant his penis with a horse’s. The comical insanity pursues from then on out with the man falling for not only the brutish fabric maker’s wife, but also a bisexual noblewoman with a jealous lady lover. When the scholar’s secret is found out, the jealous lover imprisons the man’s stay-at-home wife into prostitution, spearheaded by the seduction of the vengeful fabric maker posing as the house’s new gardener.
Attuned to the same idea as war and peace, “Sex and Zen” is a delicate balance of control between the two and the dire consequences suffered if the sanctity of matrimonial fidelity is not respected. Hailing from Hong Kong under the infamy of the Category III rating and with surprising staggering budget of approx. 4 million USD, director Michael Mak’s artfully erotic 1991 sex-comedy is by far one of the most entertaining of its genre ever to be produced into the world. Michael Mak, the director of the three sequels following the “Long Arm of the Law” after taking over the franchise from his brother Johnny Mak, helms a script penned by “To Be Number One” writers Alexander Lee and Ying-Chiet Lee, based loosely off the drama-tragedy novel “The Carnal Prayer Mat” by Yu Li. While definitely not a mirror dramatization of Li’s novel, “Sex and Zen’s” melodrama is in full-frontal effect with outlandish sex organ transferring and fiendish-flings and betrayals that make this slapstick an absolute riot. Raymond Chow’s Golden Harvest (“Game of Death,” “The Man from Hong Kong”) and Michael Mak’s brother’s company, Johnny Mak Productions,” build “Sex and Zen’s” luxurious sets and wardrobe, bright with colors and backed by phenomenal talent.
“Sex and Zen” is only as good in its absurdity as it’s actors and actresses and, fortunately, Lawrence Ng and Amy Yip, and amongst the others, infuse and imprint themselves to the carnally comically characters with pleasure. Ng (“The Underground Banker,” “Madame Q”) plays the travelling sex alcoholic husband Mei Yeung-Sheng to “Erotic Ghost Story’s” Amy Yip character, Huk-Yeung. Huk-Yeung is an in the closet nympho taught to be disgusted by sex from her father’s puritanical stance. Though Ng. and Yip’s scenes are few, they sizzle as explorers of each other’s bodies with Ng portraying shameless lust for the flesh against Yip’s innocent purity. When Mei Yeung-Sheng ventures out into the world seeking erotic flings, that’s when Kungfu superstar Lieh Lo (“Fiver Fingers of Death”) enters the fold as the famous masterful thief Choi Kun-Lun who not only steals from the rich and gives to the poor as a Robin Hood-esque martial arts bandit but also becomes the sexual advisor to a hapless Yeung-Sheng and his itsy-bitsy trouser snake problem. Lo’s hilariously cavalier and unpredictable in his performance that offers a divergent against the constant yearnings to follow the graphic depictions of pornographic picture art. The scholar becomes entangled with an abused fabric seller (Japanese-born actress Mari Ayukawa, “Groper Train Hurry Up and Come”) and, in consequence, the fabric seller’s husband Wong Chut, a ultra-physical ruffian played vigorously intensive by Elvis Tsui (“The Boxer’s Omen”), who has a vendetta against the scholar and has an affair with the scholar’s wife that leads to prostitution, frail health, and immense guilt in an parable about the misconduct of unchecked sexual liberties. “Sex and Zen” rounds out with a solid cast in Hong Kong comedian Kent Cheng (“Dr. Lamb”), Isabella Chow (“The Nocturnal Demon”), Carrie Ng (“Angel Terminators”), and Feng Tien (“Fist of Fury”) as the Sack Monk who warns about lust-induced karma that pulls the story into a full arc.
“Sex and Zen’s” mighty price tag is beyond being obvious with elaborately detailed set designs and structures, equally elegant and era appropriate wardrobe and makeup, elevated stunt work that blends highflying Kungfu with softcore eroticism, a physical and omnipresent choreography, and a few complicated shots, especially the one involving the back-and-forth editing of above and below the surface of a steamy hot tub sexual assault-to-fantasy fornication. The inexplicit story can be difficult to follow at times without much being conveyed to what the characters are doing, especially in the first act that jumps from a licentious Mei Yeung-Sheng debating with a temple-residing Sack Monk on the principles of polyamorous relationships, to the scholar fulfilling his engagement to and the slow deshelling into wanton exercises of the aristocracy daughter, to finally his sudden departure from her as he ventures out into the world for untamed carnal delights with strange women. From that point, “Sex and Zen” becomes a little more cohesive and coherent, building upon the scholars need for a bigger penis at the suggestion of his newfound friend Choi Kun-Lun and bedding the wife of a loutish fabric maker while paralleling a forbidden lesbian love affair of two stepsisters without the meddlesome of man in the mix. As Mei Yeung-Sheng and the lesbians’ paths collide, stiff and unforgiving karma catches up to each and every one of them with the welting sting of tit-for-tat cuckolding. Yet, Mak’s depiction of the story is wilder than the slapstick and melee humor with a stark contrast of, or maybe a complete overshadowing all together of, the perversion of foreign sex toys. From the hilt of a scroll brush to both ends of a golden flute (I’ll let that visual sink in), the women of “Sex and Zen” have a knack for insertion talents in this Hong Kong Cat III sideshow of debauchery and comedy.
Coming in at #2 on Umbrella Entertainment’s Sensual Sinema label, “Sex and Zen” lands on a sleek Blu-ray home video from the Australian distributor. Presented in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the “Sex and Zen” Umbrella Blu-ray has impeccable full high definition, 1080p quality that pops right off the screen. The original 35mm transfer has a healthy amount of good grain and the colors lavishly seize control over every scene with a full-bodied range of hues. Blacks are inky and unaffected by any major artefact issues and the skin shades are poor-riddles and hair-laden in every since of the detail spectrum. Umbrella’s Blu-ray offers two audio options with a Cantonese 5.1 DTS-HD master audio with optional English dub or a Cantonese 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo with optional English dub. The dubbed-dialogue overlay is slightly asynchronous with the image, but there’s robust dialogue amplification centralized out of the five channels coinciding with isolating individual ambient sounds, such the swooshing of the swordplay or the chains clinking during acrobatic coitus. Special features are a little slim and of yore for a second title on a new sublabel, but the release offers an achieved, English-subtitled interview with director Michael Mak diving into the budget, working with the actors, and creating certain scenes. The theatrical trailer is also available on special features. The hot pink Sensual Sinema cardboard slipcover has a retro impression with various posters of the film on the slip and the snapper case surrounded by also a hot pink border. The film is listed as region B coded but played on my region free player without issue, runs at 95 minutes and is rated R+ for high level sex scenes. “Sex and Zen” is, by far, one of the best and most fetishized sex comedies ever produced and though a notorious Hong Kong CAT III production, the film is absolutely riotous and one-of-a-kind, deserving of praise from hedonistic crowds around the globe.
Sylvia Kristel. A name that is synonymous to eroticism. Kristel paved the way in mainstreaming seductive romances of softcore exploits, helping to elevate the provocative genre out of the depths of sleaze and into a more exotic trashy novel for the big screen. In her titular role in the “Emmanuelle” franchise coursed an arousing path of sexual freedom, uninhibition, and became the sumptuous and worldly window in private fantasies. Playing the role for nearly two decades didn’t stop Kristel from other high profile and lucrative projects with an array of filmmakers as well as her roles pre-“Emmanuelle” that molded the Netherlands actress into a sexual icon rather than object of male fantasies. Cult Epics acquires four films – “Playing with Fire,” “Pastorale 1943,” “Mysteries,” and “Julia” – that even though didn’t have Kristel set as a principal lead still showcased her range within the constraints of a minor, but certainly not insignificant, performance.
“Playing With Fire”
In a madcap Paris where sex trafficking is something of a sport, a wealthy French banker learns his daughter has been kidnap and threatened to be tricked out or burned alive if the kidnappers’ ransom isn’t paid. Quickly learning that another woman has been mistaken for his daughter, a wave of relief bestows him to be cautious about future attempts on his daughter’s safety. The banker hires a private detective to protect his loveliest of assets, offering to escort her to a local safehouse with the promise of sanctuary, but the P.I. is operating incognito being really one of the leaders of a surreal and lavish brothel who now has the banker’s beautiful daughter in his possession. Or is it her who possesses him?
Unlike any other exploitation-comedy you’ve likely ever seen, the 1975 released “Playing with Fire,” aka “Le jeu avec le feu,” is a wacky deep-dive of surrealistic sex trafficking from French writer-director Alain Robbe-Grillet whose obsession with prostitution rings and other filmic eroticism pursuits extends back within a decade later with “L’Immortelle,” aka “The Immortal One,” and “Successive Slidings of Pleasure.” A French production of Arcadie Productions, Madeleine Films, and Cinecompany, “Playing with Fire” masters the avant-garde art of making light of a grim topic that results in a pull of emotions. Robbe-Grillet draws out the shocking aspects of sex slavery while also encouraging a smirk or a chuckle at the whimsical characters and shooting techniques weaved throughout a burlesque narrative. Robbe-Grillet also plays with the theme of dualities with a number of the principal characters having two or more versions of themselves: Philippe Noriet plays not only the banker father Georges de Saxe but also a voiceless sleaze erotically interacting with the banker’s daughter in a very Freudian concept between father-daughter relations. His daughter, Carolina (Anicée Alvina), disguises herself as the thin-mustached private detective to thwart future any attempt at an abduction and there’s also the identity mishap with the similar looking woman mistakenly kidnapped by the ringleader. Leading us into Jean-Louis Trintignant as the ringleader Franz constantly in a revolving door switch-a-roo façade into the private detective. The presence of duality doesn’t stop being a present throughout, continuing with the banker’s butler who is also a whorehouse patron without affirmation that they’re the one and same person. Before their illegal banishment in the mid-20th century, Brothels were widely dispersed throughout Paris, but not until the Nazi occupation absorbed the houses of ill-repute that seared a bad taste of deviant humiliation and sordid disgust into the mouths’ of the French populace and Robbe-Grillet taps into that once time of unrest by splicing in a pair of isolating scenes of goose-stepping Nazi soldiers with one of the moments garmenting Anicée Alvina in uniform and marching in the ranks, suggesting a more sinister subplot afoot in the storyline. Kristel plays one of the women snatched by Trintignant’s efficiently devious Franz with virtual a voiceless performance in what’s only a symbol of strength and beauty that sets perversion ablaze as she’s taken through the motions of essentially onboarding her into slavery whoredom. “Playing With Fire” can be at times difficult to keep up with the Alice in Wonderland-like surrealism and the character dualism but persists unwaveringly with a multi-faceted narration of deceit, eroticism, and comedy full of perversions and random outbursts akin to satirical skits that make this film unpredictable yet enjoyable to behold.
During the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, a quaint Dutch farming village lives day-to-day alongside soldiers and German sympathizers known as National Socialists (NSB) to the Nazis, traitors to their fellow Dutch countrymen. When the Nazis learn of and round up all the dissidents and Jewish heritage people living in hiding on an adjacent, ferryboat island, a small band of unorganized resistant fighters determine the local pharmacist, a NSB member, to be the Nazi collaborator responsible for the treacherous leaking of information because his son impregnates an island village girl, teetering toward the fascist movement when mocked by her peers for her involvement with the pharmacist’s son. Inexperienced in the execution of traitors, the bungling resistance fighters learn just how difficult planning a murder can be when their scheme falls apart in a small village where everybody knows everybody.
On this second of four Sylvia Kristel features is the Spieghel Filmproductiemaatschaappij of “Pastorale 1943” which makes more prominent the Nazi regime, is set with a backdrop of a Nazi occupied Netherland town and has a cameo role of young and dashing Rutger Hauer (“Blind Fury,” “The Hitcher”). Netherland writer-director Wim Verstappen, whose had a few titles released previously from Cult Epics, such as “Obsessions” and “Blue Movie,” develops a script out of the World War II drama novel from author Simon Vestdijk with black comedic undertones and a tinge of corrosive sexuality and released the film in 1978. Pastorale, or Pastoral, refers to the typically calm and idyllic country life which the complete opposite in 1943 Netherlands with all of Europe and East Asia engulfed in war; however, this story takes place in its own corner of the world with a mini, damn near microscopic, war waged between the Nazis occupation along with domestic NSB collaborators and the inhabitants resisting against the encroaching fascism that has plagued revenue crops and instilled an authoritarian culture, such as mandating the teaching of the German language to students in Dutch schools. Kristel’s involvement with Verstappen’s “Pastorale 1943” is about as much as her involvement in “Playing With Fire” with a minor role that’s still a keystone piece to the narrative. She plays Miep Algera, a local schoolteacher disparaged by her neighbors and colleagues for having romantic relations with a Nazi officer, but has she really fallen for the officer or is she secretly conducting counterintelligence for the resistance? “Pastorale 1943’s” two-part story plays heavily embroiling and embroidering characters in the first half to the point of instituting a cornerstone character but when the narrative pivots, to the darker side of implied Nazi exterminations and the fumbling through the execution of a rightfully innocent man, Verstappen homes in on Frederik de Groot as the artist Johan Schults whose Germanic surname causes him much strife amongst his Dutch brethren but to prove himself, Schults takes charge, along with an equally green execution squad of resistance politicians, to murder the NSB collaborator, a local pharmacist Poerstamper (Bernard Droog). The Academy Award submitted “Pastorale 1943” can be light and funny then turn quickly on a dime into wartime darkness and director Wim Verstappen’s vision pops with epic World War II fascism atrocities, confined to one part of the world and without the explicit voyeurism of genocide.
After the strange suicidal death of a man named Karlson, Johan Nagel arrives to the coastal town where the death occurred. Immediately, Nagel stands out from the supercilious eccentric residents with his mustard yellow suit and fur coat, dispensing small cigars and money to everyone and every service as if they were infinite, and exhibits his own brand of strange behavior, especially with amorous feelings between two women and an unlikely friendship with a dwarf who has accepted his neighbors’ belittling jabs for humorous pleasure. As his behavior declines, Nagel’s presence unravels the coiled, seemingly impenetrable, barriers around his friends, his enemies, and his romantic pursuits that reshape their properties for the better at the dangers of his own sanity and life.
Finally, we’re at a point in the Sylvia Kristel collection where the titular star is in a lead role with this demolition of concrete idiosyncratic personalities melodrama entitled “Mysteries” from Dutch filmmaker Paul de Lussanet, based off a novel “Mysterier” by Knut Hamsun, with Sigma Film Productions as the production company. Kristel plays the steely Dany Kielland who becomes the infatuation of Nagel in an oppositional performance beautifully deranged and conducted by Rutger Hauer. The hot-and-cold and on the brink of frustration relationship between Kielland and Nagel is as resolved as an unfinished breakfast left to waste and void of complete nutrition as both characters digest morsels of desire only to explode in a frenzy of loathsome disgust in an unsavory, brittle dynamic only Hauer and Kristel could produce on screen. The other love interest involved, yet hardly feels as such until the last half hour, is an aged and more humble Martha Gude portrayed by “Last Night in Soho” British actress Rita Tushingham complete with a poor-looking frosty-colored wig. Kielland and Gude represent the two-side of society – rich and poor respectively – stuck mastering a stanch stance of an indeterminate state that Nagel barrels into and knocks down the status quo, like a bowling ball to ten pins, for the better of the coastal town. None of what Nagel does seemingly makes any sense and that’s very true to Hamsun’s novel in the unconventional, and probably unintentional, methods of Nagel’s erratic influence. “Time Bandit’s” David Rappaport debuts in his first feature film as Grogard, an achondroplasia character bulled by most of the town’s residents due to his disorder. Grogard anecdotally tells the story as “Mysteries” narrator, as if reading straight from Hamsun’s novel, the recollection of Nagel’s dichotomic behavior and, at the same time, Nagel also being a mentor, protector, and a friend that pained Grogard to watch his friend whither to death in fit of emotional exhaustion. “Mysteries” borders arthouse cinema, adaptive faithfulness, and pristine melodramatic performance that sound good in theory but not always translate well to the screen, leaving more of a perplexing impression on the whole purpose of rendering Knut Hamsun’s novel into film in the first place.
Every year, Patrick departs his boarding school for a short holiday with his father and relatives at his grandmother’s idyllic lakeside house. While riding the train en route to his grandmother’s, he encounters an older, yet beautiful, blonde woman inside the passenger carriage car and before he can firm up courage to act upon his sexual brimming hormones, the blonde is swept up by an older gentleman right from under his nose. Come to find out, the blonde woman is actually his father’s girlfriend in a completely open relationship when it boils down to sex. Anxious about his own insecure sexual appetite, Patrick finds himself surrounded by the perversions of his family and friends, leaving the young man hesitant and nearly impotent in bedding the woman he actually cares about, a longtime friend Julia who lives next door to his grandmother.
On the heels of “Emmanuelle,” Sylvia Kristel follows up with another licentious freedom film in Sigi Rothemund’s “Julia.” Also known as “Summer Girl” or “Die Nichte der O,” the German production from the Lisa-Film company is the earliest film on the 1970s collection with a release in 1974 and is the only other screenplay on the collection next to “Playing with Fire” that is not adapted from literature. Instead, “Julia” is a wild romp ride of young sexual exploration and the anxieties that accompany it from an outlandish and witty script by Wolfgang Bauer. “Julia” might not be based off a book, but the story is certainly an unapologetically open book about the insignificance of virginity, polyamorous affairs, lesbianism, voyeurism, and the sexual rite of passage into adulthood with the young and naive principal Patrick, or Pauli as credited, played by the late Ekkehardt Belle who passed away in January of this year. Opposite Belle, Sylvia Kristel obviously dons the titular role of Julia. Inexplicably voluptuously different from the other three films on the collection, Kristel radiates a sexual aurora perhaps infected by proxy of its release soon after “Emmanuelle” as Kristel obvious branches out to more sensible dramatic roles rather than the decor of a German sex comedy such as “Julia” that galvanized by its free-for-all eccentric caricatures including an operatic, overweight, and perverse uncle Uncle Alex (Peter Berling, “When Women Were Called Virgins”), a highly aggressive lesbian in Aunt Myriam (Gisela Hahn, “Devil Hunter”), the house maid Silvana who Myrian seduces with whipped cream and has piano-top sex (Christine Glasner), and his polyamorous father Ralph (Jean-Claude Bouillion, “The Sextorvert”) and girlfriend Yvonne (Teri Tordai, “She Lost Her…You Know What”). Comparatively flimsy next to “Emmanuelle” as a sexual journey and coming of age film but “Julia” is a hot-to-trot sex comedy with funny bits as well as sultry naught bits too.
Beautifully curated for the first time ever release in the United States of all four films is Cult Epics’ “Sylvia Kristel: 1970s Collection” on Blu-ray and DVD. The 4-disc, uncut Blu-ray, which was provided for coverage, is region free, limited to 2500 copies, and perfectly packaging to extol praise upon the robust early career of Sylvia Kristel. Presented in European widescreen 1:66:1 (with the exception of “Playing with Fire” which is displayed in an anamorphic 2:35:1), each film is newly scanned in 2K from the original 35mm elements as well as been restored. Transfers for the most part are exquisitely pristine, each harboring their own mise-en-scene mélange, but some are better than others with “Mysteries” sitting at the bottom rung of showing slightly a few more scratches and one-or-two single frame damages that flame up through the reel briefly. “Julia” also has minor scratches, but that’s really the extent of the issues with the image quality on this restored visual released with a rich color palette and textures redefined for a better palpability. Compression issues are virtually non-existent and there are no tinkering enhancements or cropping used to skirt transfer limitations. I am in awe of the audio output of the 1920kps bitrate, transmitting the highest audio quality possible for each release through either DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 or a LCPM 2.0. Dialogue clarity comes through cleanly with French in “Playing with Fire,” Dutch and German in “Pastorale 1943,” and German in “Julia.” “Mysteries” sounds a bit muddle sometimes due to the consistently background popping interference, but the Dutch language still pulls through strongly and discernibly. Each film comes with optional English subtitles. Special features are aplenty with audio commentaries by Tim Lucas, Jeremy Richey, and Peter W. Verstraten, new and vintage interviews and promotional footage with cast and crew on ‘Playing with Fire,” “Pastorale 1943,” and “Mysteries,” a poster and still gallery on each release, and original theatrical trailers. Outside the disc contents, the collection’s rugged cardboard boxset housing unit consists of a 4-disc snapper case with vintage-still collage cover art, a 40-page illustrated booklet with color pictures and an essay on all four films written by Jeremy Richey, and a cover art poster by Gilles Vranckx. Total runtime is 429 minutes, enough to get your Syliva Kristel fill and then want more…much more. The “Sylvia Kristel: 1970s Collection” lauds the actress’s versatility of performances and ability to work with any director from any country and fans who love “Emmanuelle,” or of just Kristel, will undoubtedly fall in love with this Cult Epics comprehensive look at the Dutch icon’s outermost filmography.
Ai doesn’t believe she is not good at anything. Her youth and beauty provide the early 20-year-old financial means of survival as a high class, Japanese prostitute with a fetish niche for clientele desiring sadism, masochism, or both. Eccentrically demanding and various in age customers range their likes from total self-humiliation by pain and punishment to rape and necrophilia fantasies. Unable to stop herself from accepting jobs because of her self-loathing cycle, Ai continues to endure most of the sexual whims no matter how outrageous or aggressive they may be during the sometimes hours long sessions. What keeps her knocking on strangers’ doors is the pining for a former lover, a now famous celebrity she at one time dated pre-stardom, who has since married and left the memory of a fragile Ai in his life progressing wake. After taking a gig alongside a fellow mistress in humiliating a real estate mogul like a dog, Ai’s invited back to the mistress’s elegant home where she’s exposed to a long night of unlabeled drugs that sends her into an uncontrollable high, looking for her former lover on the quiet streets of Japanese neighborhoods.
“Tokyo Decadence” makes “50 Shades of Gray” look like an inexperienced couple’s first time fumbling into cutesy foreplay. Though both films are adapted literary works made into controversial features surrounding sultry nipple clips, whips, chains and other playthings, the 1992 Japanese psychosexual drama is the only one out of the two where the novel’s author, Ryu Murakami, has total creative control of his tale of one woman’s squirming through perversion land as the screenwriter and director. Titled Topâzu in its originating country’s language, “Tokyo Decadence” opens up a carnalized world rarely seen amongst the daylighting fray and the price paying struggles of someone as meek as Ai in that position’s lustfully gripping vise that begs the question, is S&M obscurity an insatiable erotic hunger or is it a choking dangerous fantasy? Shot mainly in the titular city of Tokyo, the film is a production of the JVD (Japan Video Distribution) with JVD’s Tadanobu Hirao (“High School Ghostbusters,” “Celluloid Nightmare”) as producer alongside Chosei Funahara, Yousuke Nagata, and Akiuh Suzuki.
“Tokyo Decadence” is a sure-fire way to start the beginnings of an actress’s career with a rousingly provocative and difficult role that garners attention. For Miho Nikaido at the very start of her career, the lead role looked like a Tuesday. The then 26-year-old Nikaido, playing a 22-year-old Ai, stuns as a sympathetically shy S&M prostitute with underlining conflicting issues surrounding her social position, personal interests, and mental status. The opening scene with her legs lifted and spread strapped into stirrups and her bold colored red lipstick mouth buckled with a black open mouth gag complete with matching blindfold diverts eyes away from the usual nudity focal point. Instead, we’re more attuned to the happenings of a mild manner, smiling man, who we assume bound her down under professional servicing, as he stands over her, gently stroking her, and telling her to trust him and that he won’t hurt her. Then, out comes the drug pouch and needle. The jab sends shock waves of pleasure down Ai’s submissively fastened naked body, ending with Ryu Murakami’s extreme close up on Nikaido’s face after being released from the facial constraints. Her slightly crooked teeth shiver just past her stark red lips, agape by ecstasy, and the single tear drops from her soft eyes express the gargantuan amount of pleasure coursing through her helpless corporeal temple in a look that says, I am inpure, undiluted heaven. The opening sets the tone. Funny enough, Nikaido would go on to have a role in another underground S&M inspired drama “Going Under,” but instead of acting like the subservient dog or humiliating customers by having them suck on her stiletto heels, Nikaido steps aside as the girlfriend to Geno Lechner’s dominatrix role. Sayoko Amano, Tenmei Kano, and Masahiko Shimada co-star.
Perhaps one of the most noticeable or mainstream pink films from Japan because of its titillating and iconic cover art of Miho Nikaido arched forward and hands pressed high on the glass above her head, leaning against a tall and large window pane in a skimpy black lace and leather getup and overlooking the city lights and bustling residents, The very image epitomizes erotica and taboo acts and the narrative itself is nothing short of that slight zing of sordid pleasure we all experience in our minds, bodies, and especially in our more private areas. Pulled straight from Ai’s first job encounter, post-opening credits, with a wealthy business type Mr. Satoh’s and his perversion in dominating and humiliating without much physically contact in the first few couple hours of their session. The long-standing stint pushes Ai’s sexual limits without breaking her spirit that solidifies a baseline for what’s to come and what came crushes Ai’s sexual stimulation beyond the means of pleasure with a petri dish of distinctive peculiarities outside her already fringed tastes. Ai’s self-dismissiveness keeps her plugging away at a profession that’s eating away her, coming close to death in many various forms involving clients’ perversions. When she’s hired by another mistress in a co-op of dominance on a client, an unveiling of empowerment and a lavish lifestyle promises potential happiness away from her fairytale dream of reconnecting with her former lover, but that ultimately becomes a hard pill to swallow after swallowing an unidentifiable pill popper provided by her newfound friend in the trade, a pill that inebriates her into wandering the streets in search for her ex-lover. “Toyko Decadence” is as somber as it is sexy with a paralleling dark trip down delusional happiness and demented fantasy for a young woman clinging onto a past that has completely forgotten her.
Landing in at number seven on the spine is the Unearthed Films release of Ryu Murakami’s “Tokyo Decadence,” receiving a Blu-ray release on the label’s Unearthed Classics line in a widescreen 1.66.1 aspect ratio. The region A release has a runtime of 112 minutes and is plainly evident in exhibiting no rating listed on neither the back of the Blu-ray case nor the cardboard slipcover. After doing some light digging, there is a longer cut of the film with more explicit scenes, especially with Mr. Satoh, that would have adorned the U.S. release with a X-rating. The Unearthed Films release is not that cut; nonetheless, the film before us is still just as decadently beautiful in content and in quality. Stable image and color under the 35mm stock, Tadashi Aoki flipflops between mood lighting and natural light, contrasting the duality of Ai’s worlds with a lightly softness reflecting off the focal subjects. Details extend the same softness as skin textures appear overly smooth most of the time albeit the design of natural color tones. One instance of continuation concern is a prominent scene miscut left in during post at the editing room table. Though the miscut, of a closeup on Miho Nikaido, doesn’t cause a continuity error in the narrative, it does break the integrity of the scene. The Japanese LPCM 2.0 mono sound has a phenomenal, 1920kps bitrate, sound design created around a lite soundtrack that doesn’t leave room for ambient and dialogue tracks to hide behind, as if this release needed to hide behind its brawny audio output. “Tokyo Decadence” is all about the experience and every breath and movement is as felt as it is heard with a discernible dialogue well synched with the English subtitles. An optional English dub track is also available. The Blu’s special features include a release-party featurette/promo trailer that has snippet interviews from the Ryu Murakami during the event, gallery stills, and trailers. An absolute ideal upgrade for one of the best pinksploitation films to ever walk that thin line between sadism and masochism; however, I do believe Unearthed Films insisted upon the safe word by not, whether by choice or other circumstances, retrieving, updating, and releasing the fully uncut and unedited “Toyko Decadence.”