Thursday, October 6

Phantasm Ravager Deleted Scenes(?) End Credits Rundown

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Figured I'd go through and post descriptions of all the clips that play under the end credits that aren't in the final film. There's a surprising amount and I have no idea why all this was omitted. Possible deleted scenes on the Blu-ray/DVD? Possible signs of a re-edit midway through production? Maybe one day a fan edit could be created to slice out the "Reggie Dilemma" and un-bullshit the film's events with these scenes (if ever released as a Blu-ray extra or something, that is). I've tried to list them in keeping with the film's order, but a few scenes don't match at all.  
  • Opening Desert Road Scene: A shot of the Cuda thief yelling the "Get outta the road, asshole!" line out of the window.
  • Opening Desert Road Scene: The Cuda driving over and crushing a disabled sphere.
  • Dawn Death Scene: Reggie quickly grabbing a switchblade off a dresser and tensing up against a door after the sphere unlatches from her head.
  • Dawn Death Scene: Straight-on angle of Reggie crashing through a window while escaping (a side angle of this can be seen in the trailer).
  • Wooded Path Scene: Two spheres come up on both sides of Reggie's head and protrude their spikes, his eyes nervously dart between both.
  • Wooded Path Scene: Reggie being "beaten up" by spheres striking his chest, knee, and head. He drops his pistol in the process.
  • Wooded Path Scene(?): Reggie using his quad barrel to blast an approaching sphere.
  • Mausoleum Scene: The Lady in Lavender rising up after being shot by Reggie screaming as her eyes become demonic.
  • Mausoleum Scene: Shot of the Tall Man standing amongst the tombs (might be a composite made for the credits sequence).
  • "Cave" Scene: Reggie lying on the ground then suddenly slicing an attacking dwarves' chest open with his sword.
  • "Future" Hospital Scene(?): Three shots of Coscarelli and Hartman dressed as resistance fighters battling dwarves (also seen in the street scene in the film), an unknown man appears in one shot fighting along with them. Eventually the dwarves get the best of them.
  • Red Planet Scene(?): Reggie cowering trying to cover his face while a giant vortex swirls behind him.
  • Red Planet Scene(?): The Tall Man raising his arm to point and say something with the right half of his face ripped off.
  • Outside "Future" Hospital Scene(?): Quick shot of Mike firing his pistol directly at the camera.
  • Outside "Future" Hospital Scene: Two shots of the same scene where Mike and Reggie fire upon and slice up dwarves and gravers.
  • (Scene Unknown): Shot of a sphere blasting out through the face of an unknown man.
  • (Scene Unknown): Quick shot of Reggie firing his pistol.
  • *(Scene Unknown): Two unknown heavily dressed men in a snow-laden forest fire and strike a giant sphere in the sky with a rocket launcher.
  • *(Scene Unknown): Jet fighter "threading the needle" between two giant spheres just as they crash into each other.
  • *(Scene Unknown): Giant sphere crash landing and destroying a building as it rolls toward the camera.
  • *(Scene Unknown):Giant sphere blowing up a car with a laser, seen from the dash of the Cuda as it speeds toward the crash.
  • (Scene Unknown): Shot of the Cuda taking a turn on a road with a giant sphere hovering in the clouds (not the one seen at the end).
*Assuming the unused giant sphere stuff might be more flashbacks intended to show the Tall Man's takeover of mankind. 
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Wednesday, October 5

Phantasm Ravager (2016), The Biggest "F*ck You" in Horror History?

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*SPOILER WARNING, don't think I'll be able to talk about the film without spoiling key points, beware.

Flat out, the fifth and presumably final entry in Don Coscarelli's epic Phantasm series is an awful film and even worse sequel. The franchise has etched out its own special place and has maintained a dependable consistency over the decades. Incredible when considering the long waits between sequels filled with years of false starts and speculation. While other genre icons have branched into more mainstream crowds, even Ash, the apocalyptic yarn of Mike (A. Michael Baldwin), Reggie (Reggie Bannister), and Jody (Bill Thornbury) has always stuck to close to familiar waters of its extremely loyal fanbase forged from late night airings and rentals. This makes it especially hard to see what Coscarelli, and director/co-writer David Hartman, have decided to make of this last stand against the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm).

Getting the obvious out of the way, this is an extremely cheap production, shot here-and-there over several years, and shortcomings are constantly apparent. There's a heavy reliance on computer generated effects; everything from spheres taking flight, splattery gunshots, the creation of the (still) mysterious red planet, and even superimposing Scrimm's face on his Tall Man character at times. None of this is any real issue as it's been a minor miracle the series, with successively much lower budgets, has clawed to four sequels over three decades. Hell, the very existence of Phantasm II (1988) alone will forever defy all kinds of conventional film business logic. Although it probably would have been a good idea to launch a phantasmic crowdfunding effort a few years ago. I mean, if Tom Savini and Dario Argento can promise the world and not deliver a single frame, then why not?

"Fuck everything, man..."
What practically breaks this sequel's balls, and the entire series (if you let it), is how Coscarelli and Hartman allow an interesting concept to nullify everything that is Phantasm. It turns out, nearly forty years and five films can be chalked up to grand tall tales told to Mike by a now elderly Reggie in hospice suffering from dementia. That's right, all of the events in 1979 and eternal struggle since end up as bullshit since none of it ever happened. Thanks again phans for waiting all this time!

Watching in despair are Mike and Jody, who apparently still died in a car accident but appears alive in "reality" later on, powerless as their longtime friend mentally slips away. The various sequences of Reggie continuing the fight against the Tall Man are all just increasingly warped delusions colored by the worry of his circumstances. Early on Mike brings up the "possibility" of other planes of existence, but it's obvious that's not at play here. This might be the most insane case of sacrificing an entire premise for a silly concept film in all of genre history. Why?!?

"Really?"
Honestly, Ravager's wanton destruction of the series makes it tough to view anything in a positive light this time around. Suddenly learning the Phantasm universe was an excuse for a Lifetime Channel melodrama can do that. Still, if one completely disregards that aspect, the story tries to satisfy fans with an albeit rushed depiction of a world finally under the Tall Man's total dominion. Fun sequences for sure, but again, now rendered meaningless.

Everyone seems game here, especially Scrimm, who conveys more things of importance than the usual terse Tall Man one-liners. Series vet Christopher L. Stone's often lively score is excellent and helps hold together what usually feels like a patchwork of strung together scenes. Despite being hardly utilized, it's also nice to see Kathy Lester and Gloria Lynne Henry reprise roles. Curious also is what appears to be quite a few deleted scenes playing under the end credits. Many of which featuring special effects, even one that looks like the Tall Man with half his face ripped off. I can't help but wonder whether plans changed during this sequel's long production and the film took a detour into the heap before us today.

It's easy to imagine some longtime fans concocting half-assed explanations to make the "Reggie Dilemma" not totally negate the established mythos. However, it's impossible for me to get beyond everything literally being all for not. What's the point when three principal characters aren't who've they've always been across four previous films? They're suddenly just ordinary people whom we never actually knew. For all we know Reggie could have been a used car salesman, Mike a professor, and Jody a mechanic. So who cares what happens to them after it's revealed to be a grandiose lie. Ultimately, Phantasm Ravager just feels like some snide attempt by Coscarelli to take back his creation that's long rested under the care of a legion of fans. Something like "Oh, you think Phantasm has depth? Okay well suck on this twist." Not clever, nor interesting, just a tarnish on the silver sphere.
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Tuesday, February 16

The Return of Japanese AV Distributor MAD VIDEO?

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Details are sketchy, my Japanese is awful, but it appears the rebirth of one of the most notorious home video labels is imminent. During the late '80s to mid '90s, V&R Planning's Mad Video released a gamut of brutal shockumentaries mostly comprised of newsreel culled from Asia and South America. Their most proficient series, Death File, ran for fourteen volumes with a final omnibus completing the set. Mad also released several Faces of Death installments and the Guinea Pig compilation Slaughter Special in 1988. V&R became so involved in these shock films that studio founder Kaoru Adachi, who narrated the Death File series, acted as co-director and executive producer of Faces of Death 4 (1990). Even going as far as to travel to Brazil to capture footage firsthand.

Almost understandably, none of these have been officially made available on anything but their original VHS editions in Japan. Although now V&R is resurrecting Mad Video beginning in June. Adachi has been filming a new shot-on-video feature under the working title, よみがえり遊び ひとりかくれんぼ (roughly: Resurrected: Hide and Seek), for debut on the revamped label. It's unclear whether Mad is looking to re-release their prior catalog, but this blog entry seems to indicate they're waiting for a ban to be lifted later this year.

As to what this ban entails? I'm unsure since I always believed their brand of especially insane shockumentary was never formally "banned" even after the copycat crimes of Tsutomu Miyazaki and infamous Charlie Sheen/FBI incident cast shade upon the Guinea Pig series. Along with their blog above, Mad Video has been ramping up their social media presence on Twitter, interesting to note their header is from American Guinea Pig, and a new YouTube channel with a brief interview with Adachi. Japanese cult clothing outfit Terror Factory, that ship internationally, have also released a Mad Video logo t-shirt and hoodie. Guess it's fair warning to get those barf bags ready for summer...

(Kaoru Adachi on the set of よみがえり遊び ひとりかくれんぼ)

Friday, February 12

Some quick thoughts on Zombie Fight Club (屍城 / Dead City) (2014)

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A sudden zombie outbreak occurs in an "anonymous" apartment building in Taipei driving residents, including a SWAT team on a corrupt mission caught in the wrong place, to fight or die. Eventually, "fight or die" becomes the mantra as humanity falls and the living are forced to battle the undead with their bare hands.

Nothing like truth in advertising...or not. Joe Chien's far too serious Zombie Fight Club is godawful, falling terribly short of the light and fun standards of other Eastern zombie outings like fellow Hong Kong production Bio-Zombie (1998), Thailand's SARS Wars (2004), or Japan's Junk (2000). Still being my very-forgiving-toward-zombiedom self, this hyperactive piece of crap obviously aimed at the hollow-headed teen demo has to fail on several fronts to entertain, or make much sense, to earn this much damnation.

The worst sin Chien commits, that's actually quite reminiscent of Uwe Boll, is the flaky structure of even the most basic storytelling. Starting thirty minutes before the chaos, we're introduced to the principals, which only amount to three characters despite throwing in a slew that ultimately only appear important. Model Jessica C. is Jenny, a damsel in distress whose only job is to be attractive at the hip of our hero, the only moral police officer Andy (Andy On, True Legend). Jack Kao (Shinjuku Incident) appears as a father who turns to ruthless means to protect his infected daughter and Michael Wong (Beast Cops) is mostly wasted as the bastard captain of the SWAT team. Everyone else acts as nameless zombie chow in the same few apartments and hallways over-and-over to pad the ninety minutes.

Then suddenly, literally a few seconds into the exact one hour mark, Zombie Fight Club finally becomes a fight club with zombies (original!). On-screen text introduces us to the same world one year later. Kao's crazed father character has gone full Night of the Living Dead Harry refusing to admit the zombified state of his daughter while lording over living vs. dead brawls. Ridiculous, right? A tonal shift so striking it's tough to mentally wrap one's head around. Seemingly as of Chien purposely edited one hour of a film entitled "Emergency! Taipei Apartment Zombies!" to smashcut together with what originally was Zombie Fight Club. The last half-hour picks up after the redundancy of the first sixty minutes with a couple scraps of flashy fisticuffs. However, events play out as expected if you've ever seen Romero's 1968 classic as Jessica and Andy struggle to remain unbitten.

Major plot grumbles aside, Apartment Complex Fight of the Dead does something that will piss most aficionados off even more. Every splatterly squib, blown-off head, or ripped limb is completely CG. That shitty fast n' cheeseball CG too and not the more skillful touch often seen in The Walking Dead. There's a few great zombie make-up jobs, but the computer-assisted onslaught proves impossible to ignore. Nothing involving the red stuff remains untouched. This even extends into gunfire and explosions, so the visceral impact of both the horror and action simply isn't there. Of course, if you can get beyond this, you might be able to find enjoyment while also ignoring the structural frustrations.

Being too hard on what's knowingly popcorn junk? Nah, problem is there's plenty of other zombie flicks that also don't reinvent the wheel but are actually very entertaining. Zombie Fight Club is a mess that constantly prohibits your brain from shutting off. It's bad when the most interesting aspect is the odd choice of having ample English peppered randomly amongst the Mandarin. Sometimes even characters that at first speak Mandarin switch to English, that's not dubbed in, for no reason. For the curious, wait to pick it up used from all those Walmart impulse purchases and don't be fooled by the title, cover, or Scream Factory's straw grabbin' synopsis on the back cover.

...do you dare tread upon the staircase?
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