Thursday, July 31, 2008

"May all beings everywhere plagued with sufferings of body and mind quickly be freed from their illnesses. May those frightened cease to be afraid, and may those bound be free. May the powerless find power, and may people think of befriending one another. May those who find themselves in trackless, fearful wilderness-- the children, the aged, the unprotected-- be guarded by beneficent celestials, and may they swiftly attain Buddhahood."

The Buddha

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

HELLO. . . . IT'S ME.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

RIDERS TO THE STARS (1954). "Christy wants a millionaire/a miracle in the rain...." Oh sorry. That's a Barry Manilow song I was singin'. This here is SUPPOSED to be about the MOVIE called RIDERS TO THE STARS which most of you probably never even heard of. Hey, I'm a dyed-in-the-spacewool genre fan and even I'VE barely heard of it. And since no one's ever heard of it let me start off by saying it's a 50's science fiction movie that is more in the vein of DESTINATION MOON than THE ANGRY RED PLANET; that is, it yearns not to be fanciful but to stay realistic and true to REAL SCIENCE -- at least as it was known in 1954. That means you won't find any batratcrabspider monsters in this one. Now I for one really enjoy DESTINATION MOON and don't find it dull at all -- so be on your guard as concerns THIS movie. So here's the poop.
Rocket scientists of the good ole U. S. of A. are trying to come up with successful rockets but they keep getting splorfed (splorfed is a word I just invented meaning bashed up beyond all recognition -- say, wouldn't that be BUBAR instead?!?!) Anyway. The head cheese in the science brigade is Dr. Donald Stanton (Herbert Marshall looking quite a bit less debonair than he did in Lubitsch's TROUBLE IN PARADISE) and his assistant Dr. Jane Flynn (Martha Hyer) come up with the bright idea of coating their rockets with whatever it is that meteors are made of. You know, because meteors fly through space all the time and don't get bashed apart by cosmic rays. I know, didn't make much sense to me either but in 1954 I guess it made sense to them. So it is decided to rustle up a list of 12 astronaut candidates and run them through a battery of space flight tests. This will whittle the list down to three astronauts who can then be shot into space in rockets equipped with frontal scoops that will scoop up a meteor and bring it back to earth to be analyzed. And then they can coat their rockets with the meteor stuff. Yes, I know. While RIDERS TO THE STARS tries to be scientifically accurate it doesn't quite manage to be as correct as DESTINATION MOON was. I don't know about you but the more I look at it the more it appears RIDERS TO THE STARS is playing pretty fast and loose with scientific truisms.
One of those computers the size of a city block spits out the names of 12 candidates for astronaut college and among them naturally is Dr. Stanton's own son Dr. Richard Stanton (William Lundigan). Also in the group is well-known 50's monster-fighter Richard Carlson as Jerry Lockwood; not only has Carlson fought everything from the Creature from the Black Lagoon to the IT that came from outer space but he also manages to direct this here film! At least he PARTIALLY directs it; apparently schlockmeister Herbert L. Strock helped him without screen credit. Anywho, another of the 12 candidates is James Best (best known for having battled the KILLER SHREWS as well as later becoming Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane for Hazzard County). Unfortunately for us, James Best freaks out when they merely lock the door on the waiting room for a couple hours! I guess he wouldn't do to well sealed in a rocket, huh? So he's gone pretty early. However, Lundigan and Carlson (along with Robert Karnes as Walter Gordon) are the three selected to become astronauts after being subjected to "the rigors of space flight" endurance tests. I gotta tell ya, as low key as RIDERS might be, it's STILL a lot more interesting than that yawnfest called THE RIGHT STUFF!
However, don't get too complacent yet, my friends. So far, things have been rather sedate and technical. That's only until our three astronauts rocket off into space. Then, so abruptly it will take your breath away, the movie itself rockets off into Silly Land! Astronaut Gordon attempts to scoop a meteor that's too large for his rocket and gets atomized! We are then treated to the absolutely OUTRAGEOUS site of Gordon's corpse floating in space looking like the missing link from HORROR EXPRESS with a broken space helmet! Lockwood (who had earlier had his proposal of marriage rejected -- TWICE -- by his main squeeze) promptly goes into barking hysterics and starts ripping off his helmet, bumping into random control switches while thrashing about in zero G repeating his name over and over and over. This is made even more comical because "Lockwood" endlessly repeated sounds like Carlson is saying "knock wood" -- and I don't think that's gonna help you, buddy. Lockwood is even floating upside down weightless in his cabin while bellowing the most unconvincing and embarrassing scream since Darth Vader brought a close to that last STAR WARS movie. The knucklehead astronaut, in his abject terror and cowardice, bumps some switches which send him rocketing off (in the silliest model effect you've ever seen) into distant space.
Now, I know this is all pretty hard to top. And the movie doesn't. Lundigren naturally scoops up a meteor and, with quite a bit of discomfort, makes it back to earth. The scientists take a gander at the meteor and decide it's made of diamonds. If that's true, why the hell aren't we rushing up there right now with a bunch of scoops?!?!? We'd make quite a haul! But does all this really matter? The payoff of all this silliness -- after about an hour of the most serious and sedate goings-on -- makes it all worthwhile.

"Because woman did not fight back, man quickly took the advantage and made her the scapegoat for all his vices and fears.

He was abashed that his penis moved, unbidden, when he looked at Eve, and so he invented penis envy.

He was terrified by the prospect of his own demise, and so he invented God and His Son to resurrect and redeem him.

He was resentful that another man had preceded him and made love to his mother, so he invented the Virgin Birth and vasectomized his father.

He was intimidated by woman's sexual desire, and so he invented the mutually exclusive virgin and the whore.

He was worried lest woman, resenting his freedom, should want to live and work as he did, and so he invented and ordained the mother in honored vassalage to him.

He was ashamed of growing old and ugly, and even more ashamed of being ashamed, and so he invented female vanity to exorcise and account for these fears."

  • Molly Haskell

This quotation is the most "feminist" Molly Haskell ever gets in her excellent overview of the treatment of women in movies from the earliest days of the silents up until the seventies. So if you made it through THAT passage, fellas, you have nothing more to fear. The book is not a shrill feminist diatribe but an extremely readable and cogent examination of these themes. Haskell has described herself as a film critic first and a feminist second and this fact is demonstrated in this admirable film study that I heartily recommend for any and all film fans. And no, at no time does Haskell engage in any "male bashing" so really. . . fellas, don't be scared. Molly won't hurtcha.

Monday, July 28, 2008


Thursday, July 24, 2008

THE DARK KNIGHT: ALMOST PERFECT. Well, I finally broke down and saw THE DARK KNIGHT last night. As those of you who know me will attest, I am never affected by hype -- or, indeed, what critics OR others who have seen the film have to say when forming my opinion of a movie. All those things are helpful but the only criteria I use is the movie itself; what I'm seeing up there on the screen. All that Oscar buzz surrounding Heath Ledger's performance . . . well, that wouldn't colour my viewing of the movie. After all, CHARIOTS OF FIRE and FORREST GUMP both won Best Picture Oscars and look what crap THEY are. In addition, I have several friends who saw THE DARK KNIGHT before I did. Several of them said it was the greatest "super hero" movie ever made, a perfect 10; others have said the movie was OK and only shined when Ledger was on the screen. Having seen the movie myself, I can say that neither opinion is my own. THE DARK KNIGHT is a very, very good movie (even when Ledger is not on screen); however, it could have been even better. Here's why.
Heath Ledger is indeed wonderful in the movie. Superlative, in fact. It was not, as some would have you believe, the greatest and most mind-blowing acting ever committed to film -- as some lookyloos would have it. Is all the Oscar buzz about him justified? Well, that's a hard question to answer. After all, it depends on all the other performances that happened this year. One might ask whether half of the Oscar nominees we see every year are EVER justified. Or the winners, for that matter. I mean, I hate to keep going back to the obvious but does anybody . . . ANYBODY . . . really think Marisa Tomei deserved a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for MY COUSIN VINNY, fer goshsakes? Even Tomei herself? So having said that, yes I believe Heath Ledger should definitely be nominated. We won't know if he should win until we see all the other nominees next year, now will we? And while Ledger is indeed probably the best thing in the movie, he could have been better. And I don't attribute this to the actor himself but more to the director Christopher Nolan. Strangely, while Ledger's performance is essentially flawless, The Joker never really comes across as "threatening"; this despite the many despicable and violent things he does in the movie. I can only attribute this to the director or the editing (and probably both). I am no big fan of the first Tim Burton BATMAN but two comparable scenes appearing in both films (the Joker menacing Batman's squeeze). However, while Jack Nicholson's Joker does convey a strong, seat-squirming threat towards Kim Basinger, Ledger doesn't convey much threat at all -- even when he's holding a knife across Maggie Gyllenhall's mouth. Odd. Like I said, I can't really find anything in Ledger's performance to explain the absence of threat because he SHOULD be very threatening. So it must be how the director shot the scene or how it was blocked. But having said this very minor complaint, I much much MUCH prefer Ledger's Joker to the miscast martinet of Jack Nicholson.
Now, about the aforementioned Maggie Gyllenhall. She is, in my humble, the weakest performance in the film. The actress appears much of the time to be walking through the part; as if a superhero movie was somehow beneath her. She strangely lacks charisma and screen presence and (I can't believe I'm actually writing this) is less successful than Katie Holmes (whom I found perfectly adequate in BATMAN BEGINS). This is shocking. And while I'm apparently getting all my niggling little problems with the movie out of the way first, I also was slightly disappointed in Christian Bale's performance. The actor, who carried BATMAN BEGINS so confidently on his shoulders, is almost invisible here. His scenes as Bruce Wayne are perfectly fine but it's when he climbs into that bat suit that he seems to disappear; he seems unable to project himself through the costume and out of the movie screen. This owes something to the persistent use of the Michael Keaton "bat voice" -- you know, the raspy whisper which existed solely to give Michael Keaton some sense of weight -- and has been slavishly and unnecessarily carried through every other actor's performance as The Dark Knight. This vocal device should have been dropped when Keaton left the role. But here it is still. . . making the character of Batman appear to be like a little boy trying to appearing threatening to a bully in a schoolyard. Bale's got the goods; why can't they just let him show it without hamstringing the actor with gruff whispered dialogue. I was also quite disappointed with the "blink and you'll miss it" inclusion of Cillian Murphy's Scarecrow (who doesn't even appear in costume). The character is simply too good to throw away in one scene and should have been saved for a later FULL movie appearance.
Now all these problems are pretty minor and they are the only faults I can find in a movie which is simply one of the best of its genre ever made. Of course, it's no GHOST RIDER but what is!?! (You do realize I'm kidding here with that last statement, right?) Before seeing BATMAN BEGINS, I was very wary having heard that Christian Bale doesn't appear as Batman until two-thirds of the movie has passed. Normally, the main problem with these superhero movies is that they spend too much time with the civilian angle/setting up the pre-costumed hero. This is usually tedious and dull. But BATMAN BEGINS avoided that pitfall and made itself, in my mind, the best Batman film so far. But THE DARK KNIGHT surpasses it. Thankfully, there is no attempt to waste time providing an "origin" story for the Joker. That would indeed be a stupid thing to do because, since 1940, the Joker of the comic books has never had a definitive origin story. We still, after all these years, don't know his story or who he really is and they'd better keep it that way. The character works much better without a pat origin. This is nicely carried over into THE DARK KNIGHT when Ledger tells about 3 different versions of how he got his facial scars; all of them obvious lies. The perfect way to go.
The action is nicely paced throughout from the excellent opening bank robbery (Hi there, Sully!!!!) to the multiple chaotic Joker shenanigans. Chaotic is the word as Heath Ledger even speaks a line saying that he is an agent of Chaos. This Joker is not Professor Moriarty; he doesn't sit at the center of a vast web of criminal conspiracy. He works for Chaos and flies by the seat of his purple pants. Then we have the special effects which are quite wonderful; they serve the story and don't call flashy attention to themselves. Particular kudos go to the Two-Face SPX which are superb and, for the first time EVER, truly look like the comic book villain. This brings us to the fine performance of Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent. Eckhart looks, for much of the movie, like he's the star and he plays the part with authority, verve and charisma to spare. What a screen presence! The fact that his Harvey Dent is such a strong character throughout the movie, standing up for what he feels is right, and such a human, well rounded character as portrayed by Eckhart, makes his inevitable fall all the more tragic when it finally occurs. I really, really, really hope he's back for the sequel. And this time out, Gary Oldman as Lt. James Gordon is MUCH better than his rather inadequate and mannered performance in BATMAN BEGINS. Oldman seems to be taking things a lot more seriously this go 'round and his Lt Gordon is now a welcome presence in the franchise. Michael Caine as Alfred is Michael Caine. I'm still not buying him in the role but I suppose he's OK. There's not much he can do with the part (which is barely written at all). Morgan Freeman isn't given that much to do either but he comes across with more humanity in a more well-rounded character scene in which Lucius Fox threatens to quit when Batman takes some questionable ethical actions. It's also quite nice to see several great character actors popping up throughout the film: from the aforementioned Sully (William Fichtner from THE PERFECT STORM -- who was so good in THE DARK KNIGHT it's a shame he exits the movie so quickly) to the always-fun-when-he's-villainous Eric Roberts as a mob boss. Tommy "Tiny" Lister (immortal as "Deebo" from the movie FRIDAY) was a really nice surprise as a convict and even Anthony Michael Hall ("Chicks can't hold they smoke! That's what it is!") even makes a nice, if brief, appearance as a TV talk show host.
It is particularly gratifying to note that THE DARK KNIGHT is mercifully free of all silliness and "Batman TV show" humour which has ALWAYS creeped in to Batman movies up to the time of BATMAN BEGINS. None of that horseshit here which we were subjected to in the Tim Burton Batman movies and (God forbid) the ones that followed after. However, don't think there isn't some funny stuff here because there is. It just arises naturally and correctly from the events of the film and never appears stuck in or pasted on a scene. There are no tongues in cheeks but the film is not overly serious and staid either. Evidence of this can be found in the scene where the Joker makes a pencil disappear or when The Batman threatens Eric Roberts on a building ledge. The action sequences are done with a lot of skill and the film moves along with exemplary pacing. Really nice hardware on display as well: particularly the new and improved "bat cycle". DP Wally Pfister's cinematography is also REALLY nice to look at; particularly the frequent "high in the sky" shot which look magnificent on the big screen. All in all THE DARK KNIGHT is a fine achievement which comes oh-so-close to achieving perfection. Do I recommend it? Wholeheartedly. It's just lacking that little spark that would push it right over the top.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

"SHOULD WE GO OUT AND CLAIM MARS IN THE NAME OF BROOKLYN?" That's what THE ANGRY RED PLANET proposes we do. And even in 1960 this movie must have seemed old-fashioned. But it's hard not to love it. I mean, this flick seems much older than it actually is; I was convinced it was firmly entrenched in the mid-50's but the fact that it was released a full DECADE after DESTINATION MOON. . . ! For herein we find a spaceship crew of four that has to be the most stereotypical ever seen since CATWOMEN OF THE MOON (which, by the by, had been released a full 7 YEARS before this here movie). And to get you in the proper mood, you might want to listen to the wonderously goofy end title music here performed by Neil Norman & His Cosmic Orchestra.
This wacky crew is headed by Colonel Tom O'Bannion (frequent radio actor Gerald Mohr) who is so macho that I'm sure his chin blunts razor blades and he can caused hair to sprout from metal surfaces just by his mere touch. Nora Hayden plays the girl -- Dr. Iris Ryan; actually she has a doctorate in biology rather than let that deter anyone, the entire cast constantly thinks of her as "the girl". And one can hardly blame them. As the hilariously excellent Atomic Monsters website points out in their indispensable review of the film: "I believe she's the only female astronaut in history to take a break from her experiments to splash on a little perfume!" Whatever Hayden's shortcomings as an actress (and they are legion) she can't really be held THAT responsible for this; that must lay at the feet of director/screenwriter Ib Melchior and writer Sid Pink. Suffice it to say that Ms. Hayden is NOT Elizabeth Taylor in GIANT -- also ANOTHER much earlier film! Rotund, Brooklynese Jack Kruschen plays Lou Costello wannabe Sam Jacobs -- whose sole purpose on the flight seems to be to read pulp magazine, play with the ship's tape recorder and leave his spacesuits lying around so Iris can trip over them. Kruschen's character is also the one responsible for the "claiming Mars for Brooklyn" bon mot at the beginning of this article. It seems like every 50's (and I'm lumping THIS film in with the other 50's skiffy opussesses) needs either an annoying, overly proud Texan or a boisterous Brooklyn native among the flight crew. And rounding out said flight crew is yet our fourth 50's sci-fi stereotype -- the dry, academic brainy scientist Professor Gettell played by the best actor among the flight crew: Les Tremayne. Now, the professor is naturally supposed to be the slightly elderly academician (think Edmund Gwenn in THEM!); however, Tremayne looks about 20 years YOUNGER than so-called virile hero Gerald Mohr. This lends Mohr's constant attempts to hit on Ms. Hayden a creepiness bordering on seat-squirming discomfiture of the audience. At least THIS member of the audience. The running "joke" (ahem) of the film is that Mohr constantly refers to Iris as "Irish". Finally, the DOCTOR OF BIOLOGY protests saying she's not sure if he's calling her "by name or nationality". It's about time she protested. However, in probably the most laugh-inducing DUMB line I've ever heard in a movie, Mohr eyes her up in what appears to be meant to be a seductive leer and replies: "When I call you by name. . .(long pause). . .you'll KNOW it!" Brrrrrrrrrrrr. I can't really pick apart Nora Hayden's facial response to THIS particular line because. . .well, how would YOU perform a scene when responding to such a ridiculous line?!? She's dumbfounded and we are too! Anywho, there IS a plot so I'd better devote some time to it, I think. Said spaceship MR1 went to Mars with said wacky flight crew and Earth has lost contact with them; presuming them lost. Then they pick up the returning ship floating out in space between Mars and Earth. Naturally, they are able to return the ship to Earth by REMOTE CONTROL!!! Makes sense to me. You remember all those radio-controlled model airplanes when you were a kid, don't you. Well, I'm sure all THIS maneuver requires is a bigger battery. The rocket ship lands (thrusters DOWN, mind you) and out staggers Dr. Iris Ryan: renowned biologist and feminist icon. A nearby colonel cries: "Look! The girl!" Thanks, colonel. And in by-the-book response to this, Major General Treegar (Paul Hahn) bounds towards her shouting: "The hell with radiation. Let's go!" And they wondered why the Russians beat them into space. In even further disregard for prudence and public safety, they then cart out an unconscious crewmember (at first his face isn't seen but it turns out to be he-man O'Bannion) with his arm encrusted with green slime. Whahoppen?!?!?! That's the main body of the movie. And yes, if you're saying to yourself "This opening seems familiar" it's because much the same thing happened in Hammer's much superior (as well as a couple years EARLIER) science fiction classic THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT (known in the states as THE CREEPING UNKNOWN) in which a spaceship returns from a space mission with two of it's members vanished and one astronaut (much better actor Richard Wordsworth) returns afflicted with an alien growth . . . ON HIS ARM! The flashback (which Iris needs to be drugged in order to remember -- nothing like drugs to provide an accurate account) finds our four knuckleheads landing on the red planet -- and it really IS a red planet. All planetside scenes are filmed in something called "Cinemagic" which is supposed to make flat objects appear 3-D but is merely film stock with all the colours except red removed. I won't waste time delving into the many adventures (silly though they ARE) our crew meet upon the martian surface -- you really owe it to yourself to watch the movie for that pleasure. Suffice it to say that at first Mars appears deserted and eerily quiet; until the giant man-eating plants and peeping Tom hawknosed rubber aliens turn up, that is. There is also a huge lake-dwelling (yes, a Martian lake) sea monster with a swiftly-revolving google eye that may or may not be the large Jello monster that subsequently engulfs the rocket ship. However, the true star of the film (and the actor who steals all our hearts) is the famed "Batratspidercrab" which is 40 feet tall (actually a marionnette puppet) combination of those four creatures -- and cute as a button!!! The utter insanity of this film makes it so you can't take your eyes off it for fear of missing the next ridiculous moment. While THE ANGRY RED PLANET is certainly not a great movie, it is always entertaining (even if for the wrong reasons).

Sunday, July 13, 2008

MAREBITO (2005) - Shot in a mere eight days between the filming of "JU-ON" and "THE GRUDGE", justly celebrated director Takashi Shimizu tries to both "pull a Roger Corman" as well as conduct an interesting experiment in horror. The results, of course, are mixed and do not eclipse the director's masterly ghost film "JU-ON"; but "MAREBITO" is very interesting in its own right. It's been asserted that "Marebito" is an inverted adaptation of H. P. Lovecraft's short story "THE OUTSIDER" but I'm not so sure I buy that. HPL's story, which features a ghoulish creature who climbs up to the surface after a lifetime in the bowels of the earth, differs much too much from this film for "Marebito" to be called any sort of adaptation. However, there are some strong similarities and I think one can at least assert that MAREBITO was "inspired heavily" by THE OUTSIDER. There is also a pronounced Lovecraftian slant to the whole film which owes nothing to "THE OUTSIDER" but more to Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. This strong Lovecraftian bent is not surprising owing to the fact that the script was written by Chiaki Konaka; who also wrote the Japanese television adaptation of "THE SHADOW OVER INNSMOUTH" entitled "INNSMOUTH WO OOU KAGE" in 1992. There is a strong sense in "MAREBITO" of strange realities separated from ours only by a very thin membrane. Add to this mix the explicit mention in the screenplay of the Hollow Earth theory, science fiction writer Richard Shaver's "Deros" or "detrimental robots" as well as ghosts and disturbing phone calls from otherworldly voices and you've got one hell of a stew! Not only does the film remind one of "The Outsider" ("Marebito" actually translates as "The Stranger From Afar") and the Cthulhu Mythos, but there are also similarities with "PEEPING TOM", "MARTIN", "THE MOLE PEOPLE" and even a tenuous link to Dan Curtis' Kolchak telefilm "THE NIGHT STRANGLER" with its subterranean catacombs. But let's get on with the film itself.
Director Shinya Tsukamoto (TETSUO; ICHI THE KILLER) plays cameraman Masuoka who happens to film the suicide of a man in the subway. That man, Arei Kuroki (Kazuhiro Nakahara) was so afraid of something he saw that he shoved a knife into his own eye. Masuoka becomes obsessed with finding out what the man saw that so scared him and experiencing that kind of fear for himself. While revisiting the scene of the tragedy, Masuoka finds an access tunnel which takes him deeper and deeper under the earth into a World War II-era subterranean city of catacombs; during which he also glimpses a ghoulish albino creature scuttling amongst the darkness. In the catacombs, Masuoka encounters a homeless man who warns him of the "deros" who "if they find you, they will suck your blood dry." Masuoka journeys farther down and encounters the apparent ghost of the suicide Kuroki (who doesn't seem to think he's a ghost) who explains that all population centers on earth have similar underworld catacombs leading to a deeper "hollow earth" area in which the vampiric Deros dwell. But this hollow earth is certainly no Skartaris! Kuroki soon vanishes and Masuoka eventually emerges into that huge craggy "hollow earth" (a beautifully realized special effect) that the script literally calls "The Mountains of Madness" (another direct Lovecraft reference). Here, our traveler finds a naked female Dero chained by the ankle and brings her back with him to the surface world (i.e. his apartment). The bestial woman is played by the enigmatic actress Tomomi Miyashita who, according to director Shimizu spent days crawling around her apartment nude to get into character. The woman, who appears relatively human except for some rather nasty-looking teeth and claws, is dubbed "F" by Masuoka.
"F" will not take any food or drink. Masuoka, who is such an obsessive cameraman that he has camera's filming all over his apartment, sets up a remote camera on his cell phone so he can check up on "F" while he's out. One day, Masuoka returns to find "F" having some sort of seizure. When he examines his video equipment, "F" appears normal until suddenly the screen goes black for 12 seconds; after which "F" lies incapacitated on the floor. What happened during those 12 seconds, Masuoka wonders. So do we. Sadly, we'll never know because these 12 seconds are never mentioned again. One cannot assume "F" collapsed of hunger because the next scene finds her back to normal again without receiving any new nourishment whatsoever. Matsuoka gets a strange phone call from a payphone by a macabre, otherworldly voice warning him that he has someone there who shouldn't be there and he is slowly killing her. Before long, after he is slugged by someone in the street and cuts his finger on a smashed camera lens, Matsuoka discovers that "F" needs blood to survive. Given the homeless man's warning, Matsuoka is a bit thick not to have thought of this before. After "F" lunches on small cuts and animal blood, Matsuoka starts murdering people and draining their blood for his starving "pet". During the murder of a woman who may be his wife, Matsuoka films it with his camera as he stabs her. Director Shimizu sets up the shot in such a way as to remind one strongly of Michael Powell's "PEEPING TOM"; the film in which a murderer filmed his victims while impaling them with a knife concealed in his camera tripod. Now, I know Shimizu is familiar with films like "EVIL DEAD", "THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE" and "THE SHINING", but I'm not sure if his knowledge of Western horror extends to the relatively obscure sixties film "PEEPING TOM"; so this could be either an homage or a coincidence. Either way, the possibility of Matsuoka's first victim actually being his estranged wife and "F" his daughter concretizes in the viewer's mind the man's long-standing mental disorder as well as also providing another unexpected and disturbing twist to the proceedings. The director (as he did in JU-ON) nicely evokes a feeling of constant dread and creepiness; we never really know what our neighbours get up to. There is also a queasy feeling permeating the film; which of course is exactly what's called for. Add to this the occasional erotic charge; especially in the first scene where Masuoka first discovers "F" subsists on blood when she essentially fellates his cut finger. Heavy use of jittery handheld camera helps to up the unease quotient.
"MAREBITO" is indeed disturbing (particularly in the slashing/blood-drinking scenes which will cause the squeamish to squirm) but the film is also very interesting and thought-provoking in its themes and techniques. In fact, the viewer may find himself feeling like the real "stranger from afar" when confronted with this world in which no one appears to be normal or recognizable to us. As Matsuoka slides deeper and deeper into insanity, it is only a matter of time before he follows "F" back down into the bowels of the hollow earth once more to reside in those "mountains of madness"; for, in reality, it's the only real place they both belong.