DARK (2016) Review

Directed by: Nick Basile
Starring: Whitney Able, Alexandra Breckenridge, Michael Eklund, Brendan Sexton III

Set in NYC during the blackout of 2003, Kate, a struggling 30-something model with a troubled past, has just moved into her girlfriend Leah's Brooklyn loft, but already doubts about their relationship have begun to loom. When Leah leaves for the weekend, Kate unexpectedly finds herself alone in the apartment in the midst of the worst blackout in North American history. As darkness falls over the city, Kate's paranoia grows and she begins to believe someone in the building is stalking her. With no one to help her and escape out of reach, Kate is forced to confront her deepest fears as she fights to survive through the night”

On August 14th, 2003 the Northeast Blackout struck the U.S and Canada. Large areas including New York City ground to a halt as the world's second most widespread blackout in history took down water supplies, transportation routes, oil refineries, cell towers and just about anything else you could think of. Wall Street, the UN Headquarters and emergency services all took a hit. City streets became parking lots and people flooded the streets on foot to avoid the gridlock. Power to some locations was restored within hours but, as the night settled in, most of New York City was left in the DARK.

Although the NYC blackout was a real life occurrence, the events that unfold in DARK are completely fictional. But fictional as they may be, they are also entirely plausible, and the realism of this story is what makes it so tense and frightening. How would somebody with mental health issues and a history of self harm deal with a situation where not only are they all alone in a new place, but now also in the dark with no cell phone or internet access? When the lights go out in a city of millions is the real danger lurking in the shadows? Among the strangers walking the streets? Or in your own mind?

Kate (Able) is a yoga instructor and former model who has just moved into her girlfriend Leah's (Breckenridge) NY apartment. Despite their obvious relationship issues Leah leaves the city to spend some time with family, leaving Kate alone in the apartment to finish unpacking and settling in. But after dropping and breaking a glass of orange juice, and a quick trip to the store to pick up some paper towel, the power drops out. Kate gets back home and discovers that not only is the power out in her apartment, it's out in the whole city.
After a number of run-ins with her strange neighbour John (Sexton), Kate is convinced that she is being stalked. But is it all just in her head?

DARK opens with a lesbian sex scene, which is a risky move that could so easily go wrong and so often does in films. But somewhat remarkably the opening minutes of the movie treat the scene in a totally organic, non gratuitous way. My girlfriend even noted how impressed she was to see a lesbian scene being used as character development, rather than just “tits slapping together”.
This opener shows the audience that the relationship between the protagonist and her partner is perhaps not going quite as smoothly as they might hope.
And since for the majority of its running time Kate is the only person on camera, the character development is incredibly important. There is barely a scene that goes by that doesn't in some way give you a glimpse of her personality, her history, or her state of mind. No matter whether she is unpacking her personal items or getting drunk and trying to pick up at a bar, the scenes all serve a purpose.

In respects to the technical side of the film, it's all pretty solid. The acting is good (Whitney Able's portrayal of a woman in the midst of a psychotic break is indeed impressive - and it's nice to Brendan Sexton as Kate's creepy neighbour, I swear I haven't seen him since SESSION 9) and the pacing is consistent (although I imagine much slower than a lot of people would like). The use of dark and light is handled well, and the slow burn pace does a good job of ratcheting up the tension.
As a package DARK is really well put together, and with shades of Polanski's REPULSION and THE TENANT, it's not the kind of movie that we see often enough these days.

Unfortunately I think the biggest issue with DARK is the way it's been marketed. From the artwork especially; DARK looks like it has its sights set squarely on the horror market, and although it certainly fits somewhat in the horror genre, I can just imagine people going into this movie and coming out disappointed because they expected something completely different.
If gore and jump scares are what you're looking for then you'll have to go elsewhere, but if you want a nice, brooding psychological thriller then DARK is well worth a look.



In late 2012 I was fortunate enough to receive a screener for an independent horror film called GUT, which turned out to be rather a nifty movie indeed (you can read the review here). One element of the film which stood out was the score, which was pretty minimalist and in my review I used words such as 'harsh' and 'jarring' - but in a good way of course. It was the perfect accompaniment to the disturbing imagery that was on offer. The man behind that particular soundtrack is a musician who goes by the name of Chvad SB and for the last fortnight I've been giving his new album a thorough listening to.

CRICKETS WERE THE COMPASS is an instrumental album comprised of six tracks and running for just shy of an hour. In the release which came with the CD it's described as 'a testament of loss' and despite the fact that the music is unaccompanied by lyrics the inner sleeve of the case has the track listing with each song followed by a line or two of abstract dialogue. By themselves the words don't make a whole lot of sense but when read all together and in order they make up something almost like a brief story or a poem. And this is where the 'testament of loss' quote starts to become more clear. There's something desolate about the album from the cover depicting a lone dog in some kind of post-apocalyptic wasteland to the track names which include 'It Haunts Her' and 'The Dust Cloud Permeates'. And (at least in my opinion) the music contained on the disc seems to continue the trend.

The album kicks off with 'It Haunts Her' - 7 minutes of undulating drone punctuated by discordant strings which ends in what I can only describe as the musical equivalent of a death rattle.
'A Hair Before Sundown' follows with some really squelchy sounding modulation and sparse percussion which fades away to make way for 'The Dust Cloud Permeates' - the longest track coming in at over 14 minutes. It may be a tad too long for most people but for me it was probably the centerpiece of the album. It's very layered and varies from harsh to melodic and then back again, it's the kind of track that you can keep listening to and each time you'll find something that you hadn't noticed before.
Rather than continuing to describe each track I'm going to stop right here. Let's face it, if you like what you've read so far then you'll enjoy the remaining tracks as well. Don't like what you've read so far? Then this album isn't for you, but just to make sure you should probably scroll down a little and listen to the album opener anyway.

 Excuse my pessimism for a moment but I have to be honest -  whenever somebody asks me to review their new CD I kind of expect to receive a recording from some kid's pop-punk garage band, or some generic metal. It's not often I actually end up being sent something that fits my musical interests so well. It's happened in the past with CAPA's SHALLOW TOWERS and it's happened once again with this album. Lately I've been listening to a lot of YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA, CABARET VOLTAIRE and EINSTÜRZENDE NEUBAUTEN and so in a way CRICKETS WERE THE COMPASS kind of fit in there comfortably for me. It's not an easy CD to recommend unless you listen to a lot of ambient / drone or old school industrial type stuff. It's also not an easy album to describe, but somehow I'm going to try anyway. Imagine for a second that Jean Michel Jarre got drunk on Absinthe and ended up writing the soundtrack to ERASERHEAD, because that's the only way I can describe this right now. It's a long, drifting sonic soundscape which can be as stark and aggressive as it can be soothing and melodic.
If movie soundtracks, experimental , ambient and/or minimalist music is your thing then do yourself a favor and check out CHVAD SB's CRICKETS WERE THE COMPASS. Listen to the track below and if you really like it you can head over to Siber Records and buy the album.

Official Chvad SB site.

Official Chvad SB Facebook Page.


SAMURAI ZOMBIE (2008) Review

Directed by: Tak Sakaguchi
Starring: Mitsuro Fukukoshi, Issei Ishida, Tak Sakaguchi

A lot of Japanese zombie films such as BIG TITS ZOMBIE, ONECHANBARA, WILD ZERO and a whole host of others tend to be in that really over the top goofy, cartoony style that the Japanese seem to love so much. As such they really present themselves as almost parodies rather than actual horror flicks. And when you look at the filmography of actor / director Tak Sakaguchi and see such films as DEADBALL, BATTLEFIELD BASEBALL and TOKYO GORE POLICE it would be easy to assume that SAMURAI ZOMBIE is going to be just another wacky Japanese zombie flick with gallons of blood. I was however surprised to find that it takes a much darker and more serious approach to the genre and as much as I love a batshit crazy splatterfest I found this to be a refreshing change.

A man and his family are on a road trip through the quaint countryside when out of nowhere a man appears in the middle of the road pointing a gun. Unable to stop, the driver ploughs through the gunman before skidding to a halt. Far from dead the man with the gun rises and takes aim once again when suddenly a volley of gunshots rings out and bullets rip through his back. A second gunman appears along with his female partner and they take the family hostage, forcing them to drive through the cursed countryside where the dead never really die.

The rest of the film is basically a siege with the handful of people trapped and being stalked by deadly Samurai zombies. The main zombie in full Samurai armor looks totally badass and acts as almost a Japanese Jason Voorhees, constantly getting up after being knocked down. He decapitates his victims and uses the blood from their severed heads to raise more zombies. All of the zombie effects here are surprisingly good and a far cry from the simply greenish grey facepaint I'm used to seeing in Japanese zombie flicks. And the zombies are only really zombies in the sense that they are resurrected corpses. They're not the usual shambling, neck chomping sort but a more aggressive and even intelligent type. In fact in a way the film plays out more like a ghost story.

The story which follows the main group of people is pretty weak and very confusing as not a lot is ever really explained. There is what I assume is supposed to be a twist at the film's end but it just made things even more confusing and felt tacked on in my opinion. There is also a bit of subplot involving two police officers which adds a little humor to the movie but not much else. The acting is not exactly what you'd call award-winning but it is a lot better than I expected and everybody does a decent job. Even though I mentioned this isn't as bizarre or over the top as something like TOKYO GORE POLICE or THE MACHINE GIRL you can see a bit of that Japanese trademark creep in during the decapitation scenes which are followed by an impossibly huge fountain of blood spurting from people's neck-holes. All in all though I actually thought that SAMURAI ZOMBIE was a decent effort if a little bland and quite confusing. But if you're expecting another Japanese splatterfest you will be disappointed.


BIG TITS ZOMBIE (2010) Review

Directed by: Takao Nakano
Starring: Sola Aoi, Risa Kasumi, Mari Sakurai

BIG TITS ZOMBIE. The title alone is probably enough for anybody to decide whether or not they really want to watch it. Alternative titles include BIG TITS DRAGON (which confused me because there isn't a single dragon in the entire film) and OSEN ZOMBIE VS. STRIPPER 5 (still confusing because I'm certain there aren't four previous flicks). Further investigation shows that director Takao Nakano is responsible for straight-to-video films with titles such as SEXUAL PARASITE: KILLER PUSSY and SUMO VIXENS. Still can't make up your mind? Well what if I told you that more than one of the female stars also work in the Japanese adult film business? In fact I remember reading the press release for this film and it went out of its way to promote Sola Aoi, pointing out her bust, waist and hip measurements and even her nickname "Baby Face Big Tits". I swear I'm not making this shit up. Oh and to top it all off the movie was filmed in 'tittylicious 3D' which turns out to be regular old anaglyphic 3D.

I'm sure by now you've realized that what passes for plot in a film like this is pretty much irrelevant but I'll run through it anyway. A troupe of strippers discover a hidden door which leads to a secret passage which in turn leads them to find an ancient tome which just so happens to be the Book of the Dead. Maria (Sakurai) is the only person who believes in the book's power and to prove it she reads aloud a few passages which are supposed to raise the dead. At first nothing happens but soon they find themselves surrounded by zombies. Cue a lot of titties, chainsaws, katanas and digital blood. Oh and a fire-breathing vagina (see below).

Now obviously this film is aimed at the male population and the big drawcard here is the three words which comprise the title. These three words bring up three questions. How many tits do we get to see? Just how big are they? And what's the zombie quotient?
As memory serves there are only two pair of tits which probably get a couple of minutes of screen time and at one point a thick drenching of blood. They're not considerably big I suppose but you won't hear me arguing that point. The camera does like to zoom in for lots of close-up crotch and ass shots but keeping with Japanese tradition we don't see any genitals. As for the zombies there is quite a substantial number and they range from geisha zombies to samurai zombies, nurse zombies and even a dried fish zombie and some fresh sushi zombies.

The main cast may be pretty damn hot but as you would imagine the acting is dreadful. At one point these strippers put on a stage show which is incredibly boring (strippers boring?) and all of the girls look extremely uninterested. The zombie effects are pretty amateur and the film is rife with CGI blood sprays. The silver lining here is that the movie is only 73 minutes long and a lot of that time is spent showing scantily clad women shaking their sexy bodies about. BIG TITS ZOMBIE is everything you would expect it to be but in a way it may be less than what you would expect. It's not nearly as perverted or bizarre as it could be but it does deliver on the title's promise and if that's good enough for you then that's all that matters. As for me I found it to be an entertaining way to spend 73 minutes but nothing special or worth revisiting. Four big tits out of ten.


Directed by: Yumai Yamaguchi
Starring: Tak Sakaguchi, Atsushi Itô, Hideo Sakaki

I have to admit that I have a bit of a man crush on Tak Sakaguchi. Every movie I've seen him in he plays an absolutely cool-as-ice badass. The kind of guy who will be confronted with ten other guys who want to kick his ass and with no problem at all he'll kick all their asses without even breaking a sweat. He's like a Japanese Clint Eastwood or something.

Like a lot of Japanese films this is an adaptation of a manga which unfortunately I have not read so therefore I can't say how close it is to the source material. What I can say however is that it shares more than a few similarities to the 2011 flick DEADBALL, and with good reason. Both films were directed by Yudai Yamaguchi, both star Tak Sakaguchi as the lead character Jubei, both have a character named Four Eyes and both are about a deadly variation on the popular sport of baseball. DEADBALL however is not a sequel but more of a re-imagining.

Principal of Sudei High School and manager of the school's baseball team has a star team and is ready to take them to the next level. Unfortunately he finds out that their first game is against the brutal Gedo High team who will literally destroy his team. The only hope he has of winning is recruiting transfer student Jubei (Takaguchi). But Jubei has pledged never to play baseball again after his amazingly powerful pitch killed his father. Obviously he is convinced to join the team but will that be enough to defeat the deadly Gedo High team?

Even though I haven't read the manga it's easy enough to see the influence. BATTLEFIELD BASEBALL is full of that kind of over the top cartoon violence, slapstick humor and cheesy sentimental scenes that you see in a lot of Japanese cinema. And the way it resurrects characters so matter of factly is both absurd and hilarious. Take this line for example:
 - "Head Teacher! You're alive!"
 - "Yes I've returned as a cyborg, thanks to advanced technology!"

That's what this movie is like. Completely absurd.
Contrary to the title there is little actual baseball played here. Most of the 'game' consists of the competitors brutally beating each other or playing 'fighting baseball' There's plenty of red stuff splashed around and some of the action scenes and fight choreography are pretty neat, but DEADBALL does all of this a lot better and it also has Nazis in it so if you have a choice go for that. Or you could just watch both. I'm giving this five bloodstained baseballs out of ten.