Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Celebrate Halloween the 4DK way!

Halloween movie lists have become a staple of the season. But one has to admit that there's a numbing amount of overlap between them. I mean, does one really need to cram that much Vincent Price into their cinematic diet all in one go? In response, I have called shenanigans, emerged from my sharecropper's cabin, stumbled down the hill and perched myself in front of the community center's battered old Mac to do something that I should have done long ago. Below is a list of movies that, if you can find them, will guarantee you a Halloween like no other. (Please note that, where I have provided links, they are, in most cases, to unsubtitled versions of the films).

Da Khwar Lasme Spogmay, aka Cat Beast (Pakistan, 1997)

One owes it to oneself to, at least once in their life, watch a Pashto language horror film... before, of course, solemnly swearing to never watch one again. Da Khwar Lasme Spogmay has all of the hallmarks: fat ladies twerking in wet spandex; sound effects that are as incongruous as they are deafeningly loud, men with echoplexed voices pointing and shouting at each other. The works.

Plenilunio (Uruguay, 1993)

Uruguay comes through with that rarest of cinematic unicorns: a shot-on-video horror film that is not only well directed, well written and well acted, but that also provides some genuine scares... even if its creature effects are as ridiculous as they come. READ MY REVIEW

Sumpah Orang Minyak (Singapore, 1958)

The Oily Man rises from the swamp of Southeast Asian folklore to provide, not only an exotic addition to the usual cast of Halloween creatures, but also a simple and easy costume idea. All you need is a body stocking and a can of STP. READ MY REVIEW


The Savage Hunt of King Stakh (USSR, 1979)

Highly recommended by a well-meaning idiot who wrote: "The Savage Hunt of King Stakh luxuriates in gothic atmosphere, putting it in good company with the Italian thrillers of Margheritti et al, the AIP Poe films, and Hammer’s horror friendly take on The Hound of the Baskervilles. In contrast to those, however, it also boasts elements of stark modernism." READ MY REVIEW


Nyi Blorong, aka Snake Queen (Indonesia, 1982)

What would a 4DK Halloween be without Suzzanna, the queen of Indonesian horror?--here seen in one of her most iconic roles. As an added bonus for the ladies, we also get a shirtless Barry Prima. READ MY REVIEW


Ghost of Guts Eater (Thailand, 1973)

What? You say your seasonal gallery of ghouls does not include an entrails-trailing flying severed head? You are obviously a racist. READ MY REVIEW


Haram Alek, aka Ismail Yassin meets Frankenstein (Egypt, 1954)

That oldies-loving friend of yours insisting on yet another Halloween viewing of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein? Why not shake things up and switch it out with this charming Egyptian remake. READ MY REVIEW


And finally...

Pyasa Shaitan (India, 1995)

...if watching all of the above in short order does not completely blow your mind,  here you go. The film that will spontaneously give you the ability to spout "WHAT THE FUCK, JOGINDER?" in flawless Tamil, not to mention every other language spoken by sane, decent minded human beings. READ MY REVIEW


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Kulla Agent 000 (India, 1972)

Up to this point I have paid scant attention to the Kannada language cinema of Karnataka; this likely because a film with the singular allures of Kulla Agent 000 had yet to roll into my path. The film, a combination spy spoof/stunt film, is a vehicle for its diminutive star, multi-hyphenate (star-director-producer) Dwarakish, who was affectionately known to his many fans as Kulla due to his small stature. Such was his popularity that, like Egypt’s Ismail Yassin and Singapore’s Mat Sentul, it led him to star in a series of name-in-title productions, of which Kulla Agent 000 is inarguably one.

In a plot similar to none you have ever seen recounted on this blog before, Dwarakish stars as “Kulla”, a pint-sized nebbish who dreams of being a secret agent. This leads to such comical business as him showing up at the CID recruiting office with a pair of stilts hidden under his extra-long pants. Of course, he finally gets his chance when he bumblingly foils the latest scheme of an international smuggling ring. Because there is no way around such things, officials in charge of India’s national security have no choice but to hand him a sensitive position as an undercover government agent, giving him the designation 000 (“Personality: zero, Qualifications: zero, Experience: zero”—thanks, Kannanglish!).

At this point you’d expect the film to proceed as a comedy or errors, with the pathetically overmatched Kulla making a hash of the job due to his lack of ability, but you would be wrong. Instead, Kulla trains rigorously and becomes just the masterful man of action that the film’s stunt-heavy plot demands, albeit in miniature. Granted, Kulla is not so small that he could get away with routinely punching his opponents in the balls, but you could nonetheless be forgiven for seeing Kulla Agent 000, in combination with Filipino micro man Weng Weng’s Agent 00 pictures, as establishing the midget spy film as a genre in its own right.

Also starring in Kulla Agent 000 is Telegu actress and noted “South Bomb” Jyothi Laxmi. As is traditional, Laxmi, whose character is named “Jyothi”, is introduced as a sort of man-eating nautch girl, but then comes a twist. Kulla’s superiors, wanting to test his mettle, throw him into a cell with Laxmi and let the two fight it out in a savage row. It is almost as if Laxmi is their personal Rancor monster. Once the two have fought to a standstill, however, it is revealed that Jyothi is on Kulla’s side, and that, in fact, the two are going to be partners. Indeed, the pair end up making an appealing team, with Jyothi proving herself an unfailingly loyal and fearless ally to Kulla while at the same time stoking the implied sexual tensions that one has come to expect from such screen pairings.

Jyothi Laxmi's turn in Kulla Agent 000 is at once the most domesticated and the most interesting of her performances that I've seen. As usual, she's allowed a brute physicality that one would never see exhibited by a Western actress of her era. It’s the same quality that gives her performances in Telegu films a discomfiting air of freak show novelty. But here she is also allowed all of the sophistication, charm and humor of a full-fledged heroine. The model here is obviously Diana Rigg's Emma Peel, whom I predictably endorse as the ideal model for any worldly women of action regardless of context. In keeping with that, Laxmi, in addition to modelling a striking array of black cat suits, takes to all of her rough and tumbling with conspicuous joi de vivre. It is in fact possible that this usually grim faced actress is actually having fun. My god, she even smiles!

Kulla Agent 000 does not subject Laxmi to the voyeuristic upskirt shots typically seen in her Telegu films, but nonetheless fetishizes her plenty, thanks to its inclusion of more gratuitous yoga than an Elsa Yeung movie.

The high point of Kulla Agent 000 occurs during a section of the film in which Kulla has gone missing and Jyothi is assigned the task of finding him. At this point the film is essentially handed over to Laxmi, and wisely so, as we are immediately thrilled by a scene in which she has a fight to the death against an axe-wielding giant in her hotel room. She then tears off in her sports car in search of her partner, a grotesque kewpie doll trinket with blinking eyes serving as her tracer. It’s such an enjoyable episode that one might wish she hadn’t found Kulla so quickly.

Thankfully, Kulla Agent 000 proceeds at a mean clip from this point on. In an unusual twist on the old “infiltrating the villain’s lair in the guise of dancers” gambit, Kulla and Jyothi crate and have themselves delivered to the gang’s leader disguised as dancing automatons. (I should mention that this particular Mr. Big, in a welcome echo of James Bond 777, comes accompanied by a pair of friendly-looking canines who are nonetheless portrayed as being lethally vicious.) In a surprising instance of verisimilitude, the crook quickly sees through the agents’ masquerade, forcing them to interrupt the robotic dance number they are performing to start dusting the floors with the assembled minions. All leads to a pretty harrowing fight between Laxmi, Dwarakish and the villain atop a speeding jeep that is careening along a treacherous mountain road with not a stunt double or rear projection in sight.

Though undeniably a “B” production, Kulla Agent 000 speaks well for the Kannada film industry of its day. Its director, Ravi, and cinematographer, Prakash, never fail to come up with evermore inventive angles from which to film the action; the stunts are plentiful and often spectacular; and its score, by Rajan-Nagendra, has a thrillingly rough-edged, garage rock quality, with twangy guitars and trilling Farfisas wrestling over jazzy riffs like misleadingly docile-looking dogs over a bone. Not to mention that it has a dead catchy theme song.

But, for me, the film’s most welcome attribute was the texture it added to the portrait I’ve been assembling of its star, Jyothi Laxmi, over these many years of blogging. For it is with Kulla Agent 000 that Laxmi finally began to emerge for me as something more than just a human cartoon, but instead as something else: a perhaps critically under-recognized performer whose body of work deserves much further examination.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Back from the pit

Judging by the fact that it's taken me this long to post the transcript of last Tuesday's Monthly Movie Shout Down here, you might conclude that it's something I'd rather forget. But know this: I would sooner forget my own name than Bloody Pit of Horror. It's my jam.

The 4DK Monthly Movie Shot Down: Bloody Pit of Horror on Storify

And now here's a trailer for next month's attraction.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Podcast on Fire's Taiwan Noir Episode 15: The Ghost HIll and Fly Dragon Mountain

Call me crazy, but my favorite podcasts to do are those in which the films discussed are actually, you know, good. Take the latest Taiwan Noir, for instance: I would say that, given all we've been through,  Kenny B and myself rise admirably to the rare challenge of discussing a couple of films with real class--a pair of wuxia gems from the vaults of Taiwan's Union Picture Company that actually inspire us to make comparisons to the work of Sergio Leone, King Hu, and Chor Yuen. As we rhapsodize, you can actually hear our minds taking flight, giddily free of the mental prison of Richard Harrison ninja movies and IFD rape revenge sagas in which we'd kept ourselves. Listen to the episode here.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Tonight! The 4DK Monthly Movie Shout Down stares in... and BLOODY PIT OF HORROR stares back!

Bloody Pit of Horror is a film for neither the faint of heart, the weak of spirit, nor the irritable of bowel. Nay, it is a film instead for hardy he-men and she-women, like the sturdy men and women folk of the 4DK Monthly Movie Shout Down. That is why I have chosen it to kick off the Halloween season, 4DK style. It's that special.

Above is a link to the full feature. Join us on Twitter, using the hashtag #4DKMSD, at 6pm PT sharp, rev up the film, and join in the mockery... erm, I mean SHEER TERROR! We'll be waiting for you.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

This Tuesday: The 4DK Monthly Movie Shout Down plunges into BLOODY PIT OF HORROR!

For the next Monthly Movie Shout Down, we'll be getting in the Halloween spirit with Bloody Pit of Horror, a lurid little slice of Euro-trash about a gaggle of underwear models being terrorized by a masked maniac in an old castle. The trailer below would have you believe that it was ripped from the pages of Marquis De Sade, but that would only be the case if De Sade wrote for True Men magazine, as no other film in my experience has captured so completely the visual aesthetic of 1960s men's adventure magazines. YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS ONE, PEOPLE!

The Shout Down crew and I will begin digging the Pit at 6pm PST, this coming Tuesday, October 7th. Please join in the excavation on Twitter, using the hashtag #4DKMSD. A link to the film will be provided both here and on the official Shout Down site. And if your roommate, spouse, or better self criticizes your choice of viewing, just tell them, "Hey, it's European!"

Friday, October 3, 2014

If this nugget offend thee...

If you're not too careful while listening to Pop Offensive, you might actually learn something. Case in point, this past Wednesday we had a fascinating conversation with Alec Palao, West Coast Consultant for Ace Records. Alec is behind many of the finest compilations of classic garage rock, Northern Soul and psych pop to be released in recent years, including the Grammy nominated San Francisco and Los Angeles Nuggets box sets, and has anthologized any number of great artists, including Sly Stone, The Zombies, and The Chocolate Watchband, to name a few. Along the way he has rescued a great many worthy but under-recognized performers (Powder, The Stained Glass, The Appolas) from obscurity.

In short, Alec's is the coolest job in the world, and our chat with him gave the rest of us losers a tantalizing glimpse behind the scenes. Of course, along the way we also played a whole lot of great music. You can download the archived version of the episode here and view the full playlist on our Facebook page.