Antichrist

Year: 2009  Company: Zentropa Entertainment   Runtime: 109′
Director: Lars von Trier   Writer: Lars von Trier   Cinematography: Anthony Dod Mantle
Music: Kristian Eidnes Andersen  Cast: Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg
Disc company: The Criterion Collection   Video: 1080p 2.35:1    Audio: DTS-HD MA 5.1 English
Subtitles: English   Disc: BD50 (Region A)   Release Date: 11/09/2010   Product link: Amazon.com

Note: This Blu-ray review is an update of an article I originally published in 2009, and in which I discuss the film at greater length and in more detail than is the norm. As such I feel it pertinent to warn that this article may contain SPOILERS.  If you’re inclined to be bothered by such things I recommend seeing the film before proceeding further.

An unnamed couple (Dafoe and Gainsbourg) lose their child in a horrific accident (falling from their apartment window as He and She make love) and She, stricken with crippling grief, is hospitalized.  He, a therapist, disagrees with her doctor’s diagnosis of her grief as atypical and, convinced he knows his wife better than anyone, has her released into his care.

She is forced to flush her medication and confront her grief head-on, culminating in He taking her on a therapeutic trip to Eden – a cabin in the woods in which She and her son had spent the previous summer . . .

Continue reading

Paula-Paula

a.k.a. Paula-Paula: una experiencia audiovisual de Jess Franco inspirada en Jekyll y Hyde de R.L. Stevenson
Year: 2010   Company: CineBinario Films   Runtime: 66′
Director: Jess Franco   Writer: Jess Franco   Cinematography: Jess Franco   Music: Friedrich Gulda (posthumous)
Cast: Carmen Montes, Paula Davis, Lina Romay and some guy in a sweater who goes unnamed
Disc company: Intervision Picture Corp   Video: NTSC 16:9 1.85:1    Audio: Dolby Digitlal 2.0 Spanish
Subtitles: English    Disc: DVD5 (Region 0)   Release Date: 02/08/2011   Product link: Amazon.com
Reviewed from a screener provided by Intervision Picture Corp and CAV Distribution

Jess Franco is back, for better or for worse, and his budget is smaller than ever.  This shot-on-video effort, not even a year old as of this writing, sees the director working on what may be the smallest scale of his career, with all of the… ehem… action taking place in a handful of confined apartment rooms.  What’s it all about?  I’ll let the back of the DVD case do the talking:

An exotic dancer named Paula has been murdered.  Her lover Paula is the prime suspect.  But in a nightmare world of passion and perversion, could abstract desire be the greatest crime of all?

Helpful, eh?  Though the opening credits make a point to list Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde as an inspiration for the story, there really isn’t much of one to inspire.  The film opens with a detective (cult film personality Lina Romay in a very brief appearance) interrogating a disturbed young Paula (Carmen Montes, Killer Barbys vs. Dracula) after the death of her exotic dancer lover, also named Paula (Paula Davis).  The scene accomplishes little beyond letting us know that Paula the first has tried killing Paula the second a few times, and its end spells the same for the film’s negligible narrative aspirations.

Continue reading

Secrets Behind the Wall

a.k.a. kabe no naka no himegoto / Affairs Within Walls / Skeleton in the Closet
Year: 1965   Company: Nikkatsu Corporation    Runtime: 75′
Director: Koji Wakamatsu   Writers: Koji wakamatsu, Yoshiaki Otani   Cinematography: Hideo Ito
Music: Noboru Nishiyama  Cast: Hiroko Fujino, Kazuo Kano, Mikio Terashima, Yoichi Yasukawa
Product links: Amazon.fr (boxed set w/ French subtitles) / Amazon.co.jp (no subtitles)

There’s something oppressive about the setting for Koji Wakamatsu’s Secrets Behind the Wall - an anonymous and expansive apartment complex erupting from the Japanese countryside like a bleak monument to the nation’s post-war prosperity.  The opening shots of the film are from the perspective of a single voyeuristic eye that watches over building after indistinguishable building, impersonal stacks of windows, gutters, porches and clotheslines unique only in the numbers plastered onto their sides.  Director of photography Hideo Ito crafts a disorienting montage out of the flatly mundane, with Wakamatsu’s provocative spirit bursting into evidence as a final wide shot of the complex cuts to a hard close-up of a hypodermic injection.

It’s an unsettling start, possessed of subtle ferocity, and serves as an oblique introduction to the dual perspectives from which the story will progress.   The first is that of a middle-aged housewife who is perpetuating a years-old affair with a survivor of Hiroshima with whom she had become involved during the post-war student peace movement.  The man, a former leftist activist, has now grown into a prototypical businessman with only an atom bomb-gifted keloid scar to separate him from anyone else.  The housewife, who had herself sterilized out of devotion for her activist lover, is now strapped into a marriage of convenience with an uninteresting union chief who spends more time on the road than at home.

Continue reading

The Sexy Killer (1976)

If these crudely animated titles from Shaw Brothers don’t have you craving an old-school exploitation fix, nothing will. Sun Chung (Human Lanterns) directs this sleazy story of a nurse (Chen Ping, The Big Bad Sis) who takes violent shot-gun revenge against the drug lord (Wang Hsieh, The Super Inframan) responsible for the self-destruction of her sister.

You can read our review of the film here.

Screwballs

a.k.a. Screw Balls
film rating:
disc rating:
companies: Maurice Smith Productions,
Millennium, and New World Pictures
year: 1983
runtime: 80′
country: Canada
director: Rafal Zielinski
cast: Peter Keleghan, Kent Deuters,
Linda Speciale, Alan Deveau,
Linda Shayne, Jason Warren,
Jim Coburn, Terrea Smith
disc company: Severin Films
release date: October 13, 2009
retail price: $34.95
disc details: Region A / Single Layer
feature: 1080p HD
audio: Dolby Digital English [2.0]
subtitles: none
reviewed from a screener
provided by Severin Films LLC.
order this disc from Amazon.com

Plot: A motley gang of high school miscreants go on a quest to reveal the breasts of resident virgin Purity Busch.

I have to admit before delving into this review proper that I’ve never much been friends with the teen sex comedy sub-genre.  I’ve not seen Bob Clark’s Porky’s, any of the multitude of American Pie iterations, or even the seminal John Landis effort Animal House.  Aside from the long-ago experience of seeing Fast Times at Ridgemont High on television one very boring summer day, my experience with the sub-genre is practically nil.  Consider this review to be the perspective of a complete outsider.

My first impression of Screwballs, and this isn’t meant as an insult in the least, is that it’s a tremendously stupid film.  I would even go so far as to call it epic in terms of its stupidity.  The humor, from character names (Purity Busch, Melvin Jerkovski, Bootsie Goodhead, and so on) on up, is about as obvious as it gets.  None of this is necessarily a bad thing as far as the genre is concerned, and in the case of Screwballs the combination of obviousness and uncompromising idiocy are positive boons.

Continue reading

Maid-Droid

company: Gensou haikyuu-sha Ltd.
year: 2009
runtime: 66′
country: Japan
director: Naoyuki Tomomatsu
cast: Anri Suzuki, Akiho Yoshizawa, Mari Yamaguchi
writer: Chisato Ogawara
cinematography: Kenji Oyamada
order this film from Amazon.com

In a near-future Tokyo where human-like (and dog-like) androids are quite typical household appliances for the discerning otaku, an old man (Akiho Yoshizawa) reminisces wistfully to his beloved, now batteryless and unmoving Maid-Droid Maria (Anri Suzuki) about their shared life. A sexless life (at least in the Bill Clinton sense of the phrase), I might add, because Maria was a prototype of her kind and not fit to be updated for sex. Since the old man was pure-hearted and terribly in love with his android, this meant a pure virginal love with occasional blowjobs for them. Continue reading

The Alcove

a.k.a. L’alcova
rating:
company:
Filmirage
and Golden Hawk
year: 1984
runtime: 93′
country: Italy
director: Joe D’Amato
cast: Lilli Carati, Annie Belle,
Al Cliver, Laura Gemser,
Roberto Caruso, Nello Pazzafini
writer: Ugo Moretti
cinematography: Joe D’Amato
music: Manuel De Sica
disc company: Severin Films
release date: February 23, 2010
retail price: $29.98
disc details: Region 1 / NTSC / dual layer
video: 1.85:1 / anamorphic / progressive
audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 monophonic English
subtitles: none
reviewed from a screener provided
by Severin Films LLC

order this film from Amazon.com

Plot: A military officer brings an African princess home with him to act as a domestic servant, only to have her take control of the seedy goings ons at his Italian villa.

1984 was a slow year for low budget exploitation guru Joe D’Amato, with this and the infamous The Blade Master – the sequel to Ator the Fighting Eagle, best remembered for being MSTied under the title of Cave Dwellers – being his only releases for the year.  While The Blade Master sets the benchmark for zero-budget spaghetti in-adventure, D’Amato appears to have focused more than his usual share of attention to the direction of The Alcove. It ranks as one of the better of his nearly 200 films, not that those of you of more discerning taste will find much consolation in that.

The period story takes place entirely, with the exception of two or three brief scenes, at the isolated villa of Ello (Al Cliver, Zombie, Devil Huner), an officer just returned from duty in Africa.  Along with a hefty assortment of souvenir trinkets, Ello brings an African princess named Zerbal (Laura Gemser, Erotic Nights of the Living Dead), gifted to him by a chieftain, into his household.  Wife and mistress of the household Alessandra (Lilli Carati, Escape from Women’s Prison) is none too happy to have a savage in her midst, a view echoed by Wilma (Annie Belle, Black Velvet, Horrible), a secretary with whom Alessandra has been having a lesbian tryst in her husband’s absence.

Zerbal is equally unhappy with her new position in a “cultured” society, and wastes no time in making trouble.  She wiggles her way into her own relationship with Alessandra, using her new status as the mistress’ preferred pet to take more control around the household.  Wilma is spurned while Zerbal and Alessandra ride the high life on cocaine and champaign bubbles, ignoring the fact that Ello’s finances are teetering on the brink of complete collapse.

The story by Ugo Moretti (Orgazmo) slogs along at a snail’s pace, wading through poorly written melodrama to get to the all important naughty bits.  Things take a turn for the interesting only in the final half hour, when Ello comes up with a scheme to make money fast by producing his own pornographic films starring the women of the house.  D’Amato takes the opportunity to dress Alessandra up for some nunsploitation-by-proxy, spicing things up with a brief but hardcore vintage short.  Even the villa gardener (Nello Pazzafini, The Pumaman, Star Odyssey) gets in on the action, exposing his member while Alessandra’s nun squats over a restrained Wilma and Zerbal looks on with a whip!  It may not be sexy, but it’s more than enough to validate The Alcove‘s sleazy reputation.



I’ve never been a terribly big fan of D’Amato muse Laura Gemser, who has appeared in just about every sub-genre the director dabbled in but is most remembered for her turns in the Black Emanuelle series.  Her performance here is as bland and uncharismatic as I’ve come to expect, though I doubt anyone is coming to The Alcove to admire her acting chops anyway.  All fans need to know is that she bares her physical assets early and often, as does the rest of the female cast.  Al Cliver’s pants remain firmly in place for the duration, thankfully.

The Alcove makes its first appearance on domestic DVD in fine form, and is one of the better of Severin Films’ recent SD releases.  The 1.78:1 (listed as 1.85:1 on the case, which also says the running time is 97 as opposed to the actual 93 minutes) transfer may be cropped a bit too tightly for this European production, but D’Amato’s compositions don’t seem to suffer any ill effects.  Progressive and anamorphic, the transfer faithfully represents the diffused style of the film and presents with good detail when the situation calls for it.  Colors are strong, though contrast is a little flat, and grain (and some video noise, particularly in darker scenes) is present throughout.  I have no doubt that it’s a competent representation of how the film would have looked theatrically, and I’m pleased overall.  Audio is a decent Dolby Digital 2.0 monophonic English dub, though the mixing of the original master seems to have been less than stellar.  I found myself cranking up the volume to hear dialogue, only to have to turn it down again whenever Manuel De Sica’s score kicked in.  There are no subtitles.

Supplements are sparse, but Severin looks to have dug deep to find even this much.  The primary extra is a supplement listed as Talking Dirty with Joe D’Amato on the case, actually an unnamed 11 minute snippet of an interview with the director from the mid 1990s.  Quality is a little iffy on the tape-sourced interview, here pillarboxed into a 16:9 enhanced frame, but that’s not really a problem – fans of the director will want to see it either way.  The only other supplement is a tape-sourced trailer in pretty bad shape, blown up to no good effect to fit a 16:9 frame.

And that’s it, I think.  The Alcove is another in a long line of generally drab and occassionally raunchy Joe D’Amato softcore efforts, but it’s better than most of the same.  There are certainly moments to recommend – the absurd homemade pornography scene and the exploding film can finale in particular (remember kids, porn kills!) – and it’s worth checking out for those keen on the genre.  There’s nothing wrong with the Severin Films release, due out the 23rd of February, and Gemser fanatics will want to indulge.

The Sexy Killer

postera.k.a. Du hou mi shi / The Drug Connection
company: Shaw Brothers
year: 1976
runtime: 88′
country: Hong Kong
director: Sun Chung
cast: Chen Ping, Yueh Hua,
Tung Lam, Si Wai, Wang Hsieh,
Tin Ching, Chan Shen
writer: Ki Kuang
cinematographer: Lam Nai-Choi
limited availability
(IVL disc is OOP)

Plot: A nurse whose sister is destroyed by the illegal drug industry poses as a prostitute and infiltrates the upper echelons of a Hong Kong gang in order to get her bloody revenge.

While my taste in film has shifted more towards the serious as of late (not that my reviews here do much to evidence this), there are times when nothing hits the spot like a good, trashy exploitationer.  Shaw Brothers’ The Sexy Killer is just such a film, careening through such saucy subjects as drugs, prostitution, and sado-masochistic sex on its way to a shotgun-fueled finale that plays like a candy colored scope re-envisioning of Bo Arne Vibenius’ Thriller – A Cruel Picture.

The story concerns Wanfei, a nurse in Hong Kong who gets a nasty wake up call when her younger sister is tempted into the sordid world of heroine abuse and sex trafficking.  Wanfei involves herself with a shady celebrity, whose strong public posturing against the exploding drug industry makes her blind to the fact that he’s nothing but a paid cover for the cartels, while simultaneously seeking her own revenge against the gangsters who defiled her sister.  Her policeman friend Weipin is fighting his own losing battle against corruption in the department, realizing that a presumed friend is on the cartel’s payroll only after his reputation for drug busting almost gets him killed.

001 002
003 004

It doesn’t take long for Wanfei to find out that drastic action is required if she’s to move up in the ranks of the mob, and she begins moonlighting as a prostitute for the higher ups.  She’s found out when an attempt on the life of the Boss of the operation (a sexual sadist with a dungeon in the back of his bedroom) goes wrong, and dragged off to the edge of the city for disposal.  But it’ll take more than a few moronic henchmen to stop this lady scorned and it isn’t long before she’s driving right through the front door of the Boss’ house, blasting holes the size of dinner plates into every gangster she can find.

The Sexy Killer is a prototypical Shaw Brothers exploitation vehicle, of which they produced a slew throughout the ’60s and ’70s along with their better known martial arts product.  One can expect to see lots of bare human flesh by the end of things, much of it belonging to lead Chen Ping.  The company obviously understood the dual functionality of the heroine, and the intended audience should have no trouble getting behind Ping’s lust for vengeance while oodling over her extensive physical charms.  The highlight of the picture is inarguably her delivery of deliciously violent final justice, and I can think of few actresses capable of handling a shotgun so deftly while donning a pink polka-dotted dress.

Keeping things interesting in the dry spells between senseless acts of depravity are a stable of unusual characters made all the more unusual by the audaciousness of the performances behind them.  Wang Hsieh (the Professor in The Super Inframan) steals the show as the depraved Boss, gleefully twirling his cane betwixt the legs of his favorite whore and whipping her while who-knows-what spools through a collection of film projectors in his bedroom.  Just as memorable is Tin Ching as the happy-go-lucky sex trafficker Ma-Yuan, who gets his just deserves when Wanfei convinces the Boss of his usurptuous intentions.

005 006
007 008

Direction by Sun Chung is as adept as necessary for the material in question (scripted by Ki Kuang, Human Lanterns), and he keeps the material from becoming draggy even in the slower spots.  Cinematography by Lam Nai-Choi (director, The Story of Ricky) is questionable, and his overuse of wide angle lenses often gives the impression that we’re watching a film shot through a goldfish bowl – not that it does a thing to dampen The Sexy Killer‘s potential to entertain.

There’s only one DVD release of The Sexy Killer I’m currently aware of, from IVL’s extensive line of Region 3 Shaw Brothers titles.  The disc presents the film in a decent, if slightly soft, anamorphic widescreen transfer in the original 2.35:1 Shaw Scope ratio.  Audio is Mandarin, augmented with optional English and Chinese subtitles.  Extras are typical – stills, production notes, and a collection of trailers for other IVL releases.  The disc is currently listed as being temporarily out of print by the company, though copies are still easy enough to come by on eBay.

I enjoyed the hell out of this one, though my mindset at the time undoubtedly had a lot to do with it.  This is trash, pure and simple, but of the brightly colored and irresistible variety only the Shaw Brothers can provide.  Keep your expectations in check and know what you’re in for – the screenshots here should be enough to convince of whether or not The Sexy Killer is for you.  As for me, this one comes recommended.

009

The Beast in Space

poster

This locandina for THE BEAST IN SPACE is, in accordance with the film itself, rather derivative. Not only does the artwork rip-off that commissioned for the release of John Boorman's ZARDOZ, but the still images included are from the earlier Brescia space film STAR ODYSSEY.

a.k.a. La Bestia nello Spazio
companies: LU. MA. FIN and S.I.G.M.A. E. CO.
year: 1980
runtime: 92′
country: Italy
director: Alfonso Brescia
cast: Sirpa Lane, Vassili Karis,
Venantino Venantini, Lucio Rosato,
Robert Hundar, Marina Hedman
dvd company: Severin Films
release date: April 29, 2008
retail price: $29.95
disc details: Region 1 / Single Layer
order this film from Amazon.com:
unrated version
| xxx version
reviewed from a screener provided
by Severin Films, LLC

Plot: A group of astronauts are sent deep into space to a planet rich in the rare metal Antalium.  Once there they discover a world ruled by a megalomaniacal robot sex fiend, his groovy beast-man servant and an army of blond android warriors.

The first STAR WARS revolutionized the sci-fi fantasy genre in any number of ways, namely by placing a renewed emphasis on action and expensive special effects.  It’s runaway success ensured that imitators would be riffing on its formula for decades to come, and none of these imitators seem to have been so prolific as the low-end Italian exploitation director Alfonso Brescia.  In the span of three years between 1977 and 1980, Brescia managed to co-write and direct a tersely connected pentalogy of such knock-offs (along with a host of unrelated efforts).

His production ethic was simple and cost effective – create a single laundry list of props, sets, and special effects takes, and then write scripts for which they could be utilized time and time again.  After three serious efforts (BATTAGLIE NEGLI SPAZI STELLARI,  ANNO ZERO: GUERRA NELLO SPAZIO / COSMOS: WAR OF THE PLANETS and LA GUERRA DEI ROBOT / THE WAR OF THE ROBOTS) and one outright spoof  (1979′s SETTE UOMINI D’ORO NELLO SPAZIO /  STAR ODYSSEY), the well was running quite dry.  What were money-hungry Italian producers to do?

Why, rip off another popular film from the time period, steal its star, and dust off those props, sets, and effects for one more go.  One has to give the film makers credit for shear absurdity in this department as they found that inspiration in, of all places, Walerian Borowczyk’s bizarre erotic opus LA BETE from five years earlier.  Simply adding graphic sexual content to their space picture was obviously deemed too mundane, and THE BEAST IN SPACE opts to focus instead on the Borowczyk film’s most infamous moment – the rape of a young and prudish aristocrat by a randy and hugely endowed anthropomorphic beast.  A family friendly space adventure this was certainly not to be.

70′s sex icon Sirpa Lane (THE SECRET NIGHTS OF LUCREZIA BORGIA) was attached to be BEAST’s star attraction and doomed to a far less glamourous fate than in the Borowczyk production – falling victim to the lustful intentions of a lascivious man-beast and a world-dominating super-robot and a cocky starship captain named Larry who likes to compare the wonders of space to animal asses.  Needless to say, Lane’s professional career had seen better days, and its a pity to see her used here as nothing but an admissions booster.  Director Brescia approaches her (as well as the other) erotic moments with the same aesthetic barbary that renders the drama that surrounds them so lifeless and ineffectual.  There is certainly sex to be had here, though it’ll prove of little interest to even the most devoted of skin aficianados.

Aside from its adults-only classification and a handful of sleazy and salacious moments, THE BEAST IN SPACE is par for the course as far as Brescia’s science fiction efforts are concerned.  Characters sit around spouting all manner of ludicrous dialogue (“Sector two damaged.  The bastard hit the module!”) while the editor unspools reems of stock effects in a ramshackle fashion about them.  Many of these effects shots are rather well accomplished, with considerable attention paid in making them as believable as the budget would allow, though their presence in three previous films has exponentially lessened their novelty value.

001 002 003

Those trademarks of the previous Nais Film produced Brescia space pictures are all present and accounted for, including hordes of blond-wigged silver-suited android fighting men with clunky glowing swords, though that company’s name is nowhere to be found in the credits scroll.  Scripting (by Brescia and Aldo Crudo) is at least as convoluted and incoherent as in the rest of those films, and the effort is rendered even harder to follow by one of the most incongruous Itailian overdubs I’ve yet encountered.  That’s not to say that this low-tech patchwork of disparate genres is without its bizarre charms (the sight of women in space suits becoming hot and bothered by anamorphic stock footage of horses copulating is perversely hilarious), but you’ll need an unflinching adoration for cinematic awfulness to appreciate them.

The shaky distribution rights to Brescia’s previous space operas have fallen by the wayside, leaving us with nothing but shoddy bargain-bin releases of them to choose from.  Not so with the previously unreleased THE BEAST IN SPACE, which only recently received its stateside debut thanks to the due diligence and possible insanity of cult DVD distributor Severin Films.  The company has shown a remarkable dedication to the title, presenting audiences with not one but two separate releases of it – including one of the obscure hardcore cut of the picture.

The feature presentations for both discs, triple-x inserts and gigantic rubber man-beast penis aside, are pretty much identical.  BEAST is presented in 16:9 enhanced and progressive scan widescreen transfer that, in spite of frequent speckling and other damage, puts the digital representations of Brescia’s other space films to shame.  Colors and contrast are both well represented and the grainy image presents with good detail when the cinematography (frequently intentionally blurry and diffused) allows for it.  Audio is represented by a suitable Dolby Digital monophonic Italian track, augmented with English subtitles that, barring a few typos, are well translated.  An interview with actor and artist Venantino Venantini is included on the unrated disc, while the xxx edition gets just over two minutes of hardcore outtakes.  Both discs come with a  trailer, the sexual explicitness of which varies in accordance with which cut of the film is represented.

Severin Films is to be commended for finally giving this, undoubtedly the strangest of Italy’s science fiction offerings, a proper release on digital, though the high retail price will probably deter most casual buyers.  In this case that’s probably not so bad a thing, as THE BEAST IN SPACE is definitely not for everyone.  Its off-kilter blend of outer space antics and sleazy sex was enough to keep the Wtf-filmer in me casually entertained, but your mileage will definitely vary.

Antichrist

Zentropa Entertainments [2009] 104′
country: Denmark
director: Lars von Trier
cast: Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg
Visit the official site at IFC Films
Pre-order the film from Amazon.co.uk
ANTICHRIST opens in limited release in
the United States on October 23rd

A Warning: I plan on discussing this film, still new and unseen by many, at some length and in some detail – as such I feel it pertinent to warn that this article may contain SPOILERS.  If you’re inclined to be bothered by such things I recommend seeing the film before proceeding further.

An unnamed couple [Dafoe and Gainsbourg] lose their child in a horrific accident [falling from their apartment window as He and She make love] and She, stricken with crippling grief, is hospitalized.  He, a therapist, disagrees with her doctor’s diagnosis of her grief as atypical and, convinced he knows his wife better than anyone, has her released into his care.

She is forced to flush her medication and confront her grief head-on, culminating in He taking her on a therapeutic trip to Eden – a cabin in the woods in which She and her son had spent the previous summer . . .

Writer / director Lars von Trier’s latest is like little else that has come before, though its construction reminds of another polarizing effort – Pasolini’s SALO.  Both persue similar subject matter [death, sex, and sadistic violence] and push the same boundaries of what is and isn’t appropriate in a feature film.  Both also invited considerable controversy in their time.  While ANTICHRIST’s horror never matches the dizzying level palpable dread that permeates Pasolini’s film it does approach its content with the same unwavering honesty – half a decade of subjection to mainstream torture-porn can’t dampen its grisly effectiveness.

Von Trier was reportedly greatly offended when the executive producer of the film let known the original intentions for the ending – in which it was to be revealed that Earth was created by Satan, as opposed to by God – but the crux of his re-written screenplay, in the works since 2005, isn’t a far stretch from that.  The thesis of the production can be found in a conversation between He and She, in which the latter relates how her previous summer in Eden had made her aware of how hideous all the things she once thought to be beautiful really were – that “nature is Satan’s church”.   It is from this thesis that the entirety of the crooked mythology of the film is formed.

001 002 003
004 005 006

Eden itself is a bastardization of the garden in Genesis from which it takes its name, possessing a tree of death [huge, long dead and slowly rotting] at its center as opposed to a tree of life, with He and She being alternative takes on the traditional Adam and Eve.  Just as the Eden of ANTICHRIST is a reversal of the Biblical concept, so are He and She’s reasons for being there.  Their respective sin, her despair and his pride, draws them to the place rather than casting them from it.

There He learns the truth She already secretly knows – that nature, and human nature vicariously, is at its core deceptive and cruel.  He encounters a deer with a miscarried fawn hanging from its hind quarters and a fox eating another of its own kind as well as a crow that appears dead but is very much alive [the three animals each represent a stage of the grieving process - grief, pain, and despair - and are known collectively as The Three Beggars].  Even the lowly acorns are deceptive, sounding like rainfall one moment and footsteps another.  It is his pride that prevents him from seeing the cruelty and deception inherent in his own character [or determining the real cause of his wife's suffering].

Throughout the first half of the film He torments She in the name of therapy, cutting her off from her medication, denying her sex and condescendingly casting aside all of her concerns.  “That’s very touching if it was a children’s book,” He glibly remarks when she poetically describes her reasons for fearing Eden.  He remains blind to her most important revelations [such as the implication that She, herself, is evil and capable of evil deeds] until it’s far too late.

His comments and therapeutic exercises chip away at her fragile exterior until she can take no more, leading to the most infamous [and horrific] moments of the picture.  She, her despair turned to wrath, convinces herself that He neither loves her nor wants to help her and meets his psychological cruelty with a more physical variety.  In her first act of overt sexual violence She smashes his testicles with a piece of firewood and forces him to expel bloody ejaculate, then drills a hole through his leg and bolts it to a millstone to prevent him escaping.

007 008 009
010 011 012

Written as a sort of self-therapy on the part of von Trier, who had been depressed to such an extent that it prevented his working, ANTICHRIST definitely plays as a vision from a troubled mind.  Disembodied limbs rise from between gnarled tree roots as He and She fuck [whatever romance was present at the beginning of the film is long since lost at this point] and the forest distorts into masses of twisted human bodies in images evocative of Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights.  There’s an unnerving darkness present throughout and even the calmest of scenes carry with them an undercurrent of potential violence.

On the few occassions when that potential meets visceral fruition, ANTICHRIST is second to none in its capacity to disturb – unhinging its jaws and plunging its audience deep into the belly of the beast.  The controversial scene in which She, as self-administered ritual punishment for her involvement in her son’s death, removes her clitoris with a pair of shears is unmatched as clinical horror and doubled in its efficacy by our understanding of the character’s grief.  ANTICHRIST’s visualizations of the extremities of human despair are minutely precise and daring in their frankness – fictionalized suffering has rarely felt so real.

From a strictly technical standpoint there is no denying that this is a von Trier film.  From the hand-scrawled opening titles to the end dedication to Andrei Tarkovsky, the provocative director’s hand in the proceedings is unmistakable.  Willem Dafoe has said that von Trier was “deeply sincere and deeply vulnerable” during filming, and that the project was intensely personal for the director is obvious and welcome.  In spite of its unwavering darkness, ANTICHRIST is the most beautiful of von Trier’s productions to date with its super-stylized slow motion and superb choice of location – Charlotte Gainsbourg’s hypnotic walk through Eden is as fantastic as anything ever committed to film.

There are more than enough moments of extreme graphic imagery here to keep ANTICHRIST’s critics polarized for decades, as IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES, SALO, and others have polarized them in the past.  Prime example of its ability to divide can be seen in the results of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, in which the jury awarded Charlotte Gainsbourg with the award for Best Actress while simultaneously giving the film itself an anti-award for mysogyny [a move decried by festival director Thierry Frémaux].  Where I stand in the good / bad argument should be obvious from the above eleven paragraphs, but it shouldn’t matter.  Lars von Trier is, for better or worse, one of the visionary directors of our time and ANTICHRIST, love it or hate it, certainly deserves to be seen.