Lung I & II (2016)

LungIt was a boring summer in 2015 with nothing to do, and one day the underground filmmaker Phil Stephens grabbed his 50mm camera, started taking some random photos around his house in Philadelphia and headed out to the local woods to film more random stuff. After hours and hours of footage, he handed the raw material to his friend and editor Ronnie Sortor, who did his very best to stitch it all together to resemble a feature film. Both films, Lung and Lung II, have the same runtime of 1 hour and 14 min.

 

Lung (also called Lung one) is in all black and white and starts off with a nameless young man with long hair, beard and glasses (played by the director himself) who dismembers body parts with a cleaver. After this warm and welcoming opening, we’re out in the woods where we follow the same person (I assume), credited as Unknown, as he wanders aimlessly through the woods. We can already guess he’s an escaped mental patient judging by his clothes and the ID wristband.

 

Mr. Unknown sees a baby carriage on a small bridge which holds a baby skeleton. Of course. He then sees some obscure person wearing a gas-mask. Okay. And he continues to stumble upon more corpses, skeletons and, if not dream logic, absurdities the further he goes from the next area to absorption. He walks through some hoods in the Philadelphia area where he enters his house, where he goes more insane and has a mental breakdown in the bathtub. He sees a collection of flyers and photos from Flowers (Stephen’s previous film) everywhere, which seems to trigger him. Not much hope for better days is to be seen on the horizon.

 

According to Phil Stevens, Lung was originally meant to be an autobio of the director who went insane after the traumatic experience of shooting his second film, Flowers.

 

Lung II is more or less the first film all over again just with the concept of an escaped killer on the loose. Much of the same footage from the first film is used while some new scenes are added. Some unused footage from Flowers is also stitched in. And if you don’t know beforehand that this is some sort of a prequel to Flowers, you’ll sit there with a big question mark while you’re scratching your balls. Lung II screws more with your head than the first one as it’s filled with more cryptic weirdness, more slimy skeletal corpses, the sweet smell of decay everywhere and all in a universe not too far from David Lynch’s Eraserhead. There’s also a gooey piece of flesh in Mr. Unknown’s fridge with a vagina and an erected penis, just so you know in case you’re hungry.

 

And if you haven’t already guessed it, we are talking about two very experimental arthouse films, the one more confusing than the other. So don’t expect any conventional story-telling here. I could tell just from looking at the DVD cover that it was far away from the ordinary, and that’s what I got. The mood and state of mindset is everything, of course. What Lung(s) provide really well are the visuals and atmosphere by Phil Stevens, who has a sharp eye for black and white photography. He filmed both films by himself, with handheld and static from different angles, and managed to create the sense of a bleak, nightmarish, dystopian world which we all are welcome to get lost in. Just remember to put your shoes on.

 

Lung is available on DVD from Unearthed Films which include both films with the director’s commentary track, plus some of his short films. You can also watch it for free on Phil Steven’s own YouTube channel.

 

Lung Lung Lung

 

Writer and director: Phil Stevens
Country & year: US, 2016
Actors: Phil Stevens, David Chopping, Bryant W. Lohr Sr., Samantha Coppola, Angela Jane, Colette Kenny Mckenna, Michael Kennedy a a lot of corpses
IMDb: www.imdb.com/title/tt23396630/www.imdb.com/title/tt5073690/

 

 

Tom Ghoul

 

 

 

Resurrection Corporation (2021)

Resurrection CorporationDottor Caligari is an undertaker who finds himself in an existential crisis since no burials are taking place in the city anymore. Why? Because “Resurrection Corporation”, a company run by a man named Potriantow, has found a way to bring the dead back to life. Caligari and his companion Bruta, a loyal young woman whose heart is a clockwork-mechanism which Caligari himself has inserted into her, decide to find out more about Potriantow and his death-defying business who has turned Caligari’s life and ambitions upside down. They visit the castle of Potriantow’s supposed mentor, but soon find themselves facing unexpected dangers.

 

Resurrection Corporation is an indie black and white animated movie from Italy, which pays an inspiring homage to films like The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, Nosferatu, Der Golem and Vampyr. The movie was completed in 2020, which fits perfectly with the 100th anniversary of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. It mixes Gothic expressionism with comedy, and oh boy, does it get crazy at times! The director, Alberto Genovese, is also behind a Troma-distributed film called Sick Sock Monsters From Outer Space, which from the trailer looks so mind-blowingly hilarious that we decided we just have to check it out sometime.

 

The animation is reminiscent of the South Park-style, which probably sounds a bit weird considering this is actually a pretty dark and atmospheric movie despite the comedic parts in it… but together with the more detailed and surreal backgrounds it actually fits pretty well. The voice acting is overall engaging and solid (we watched the Italian version). The protagonist, Dottor Caligari, is pretty much a very self-centered man who, to be honest, comes off as a bit of an asshole… in contrast to his companion Bruta, who comes off as the most sympathetic character in the whole movie. This does make for some interesting character interactions, and the viewing experience was anything but predictable.

 

Overall, Resurrection Corporation is a fun and unique ride, with amusing characters, a crazy plot, and a music score that together with the atmospheric graphics manages to set the tone in all the scenes. It is an inspired indie animated feature that pays homage to several black and white classics, while adding its own bizarre comedic elements.

 

Resurrection Corporation is currently available on streaming on Amazon (US and UK).

 

Resurrection Corporation Resurrection Corporation

 

Director: Alberto Genovese
Country & year: Italy, 2021
Voice actors: Antonio Amoruso, Alessandro Bianchi, Eliana Farinon Lazzarino, Erik Martini, Paola Masciadri, Marco Soldá
IMDb: www.imdb.com/title/tt9890120/

 

 

Vanja Ghoul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tetsuo (1989)

TetsuoHow to even start with this movie…Uhm, well…

 

It starts with a random, disturbed guy called “The Metal Fetishist” (played by the director himself) who’s wandering in some decayed urban area, barefoot. He enters a shack hoarded full of metal junk where he stabs himself in the foot, and injects himself with an iron pipe and goes through some kind of a metamorphosis. A glimpse of an everyday life of an extreme metal fetishist where it just went a little too far, I guess. He then screams and runs like a lunatic and gets hit by a car driven by a typical Japanese salaryman who then gets infected by a biomechanical virus. As the title screen rolls, he gives us the “Tetsuo Dance” before he wakes up in his apartment and gets ready for work. As he shaves, he notices a small metal point on his cheek, which pops out and starts shooting blood over his face as he touches it. Sounds weird, you say? You’ve seen nothing yet. I won’t spoil much more than this, other than our salaryman slowly transforms into a grotesque hybrid monster of flesh and metal with the desire to destroy the whole planet. And yeah, his penis also transforms into a big metal drill that no one would want to mess around with.

 

Tetsuo, aka The Iron man, is an explosive result of an inner frustration that the young director Shinya Tsukamoto had built up after an unstable relationship to his dad, growing up in heavily industrial surroundings, and the extreme pressure of the Japanese working culture. The environment is what makes a human, as they say, and Tetsuo is a prime example of that, and could be seen as a pretty alternative artistic view of the breaking point of the human mind, if you will – even though the film is open for countless interpretations. This is Tsukamoto’s fifth film, at the age of 29, after making some shorts and other projects he would never be satisfied with, and at the top of this his father kicked him out of the house right before the filming. Fortunately, due to the success and the cult-following of Tetsuo, he quickly became a prominent filmmaker in Japan with titles such as Bullet Ballet, A Snake in June, Nightmare Detective and also made two sequels to Tetsuo, called Tetsuo: Body Hammer and Tetsuo: Bullet Man, the last one with a soundtrack by Trent Reznor . He’s also known for his acting roles in Takashi Miike’s Ichi the Killer, Takashi Shimizu’s Marebito, and Martin Scorcese’s Silence. His dad should be proud by now.

 

Tetsuo is shot on 16 mm, in black and white, with a budget of his day job at that time. Mostly filmed in one of his co-workers cramped apartment over 18 months with hard and difficult conditions (which is not hard to imagine at all), where the cast and crew also lived during the production. The conditions came to a point where the actor who plays the salaryman got the urges to escape the set several times because of shooting days that never seemed to end, while crew-members just came and left. The whole production was such a nightmare, according to Tsukamoto, that he considered to burn all the negatives. And we should just be glad he didn’t, because Tetsuo is a truly insane, hyperactive, nightmarish cyber-punk/art-house/body-horror masterpiece that easily could be describes as Eraserhead on crack cocaine. Very aggressive, graphic, experimental and completely bizarre and truly one of a kind. It’s one of those “what the hell did I just watch-films“, and it’s clearly not for anyone, especially for those who’s epileptic. The technical aspects is from another planet (Planet Japan that is) with some really impressive stop-motion effects, camera work and costume designs. It has a great and sharp sound design and a really heavy, industrial soundtrack by Chu Ishikawa that fits the intense imagery perfectly.

 

So, what else is there to really say about this movie, other than: just watch it! Watch it on a big screen in a dark room with loud sound.

 

Tetsuo

 

Director: Shinya Tsukamoto
Country & year: Japan, 1989
Actors:Tomorô Taguchi, Kei Fujiwara, Nobu Kanaoka, Shinya Tsukamoto, Naomasa Musaka, Renji Ishibashi
IMDb: www.imdb.com/title/tt0096251/

 

 

Tom Ghoul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Call of Cthulhu (2005)

The Call of CthulhuA man is organizing the affairs of his recently deceased uncle, and accidentally comes across a series of notes and paper clippings which tells about the Cthulhu Cult and an ancient horror lurking beneath the sea. Intrigued by all of this, he continues to investigate, getting more and more drawn into the mystery of this cult and the creature Cthulhu, which is a gigantic entity worshipped by the cultists: a creature in the shape of an octopus, a dragon, and a caricature of the human form. There is an occult phrase that, when translated, says “In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming“, meaning that the cultists await its return. As he learns more and more about this cult and the cosmic entity they worship, he gets closer to losing his sanity completely.

 

H.P. Lovecraft is one of the most influential horror writers of all time, especially his Cthulhu mythos. His works have even created a sub-genre within horror that’s called “Lovecraftian horror“. While there aren’t actually that many movies that are fully based on his stories, there are a lot of them who are heavily inspired by his tales of cosmic horror.

 

The Call of Cthulhu is both a faithful rendition of H.P Lovecraft’s short story by the same name, as well as a homage to the black and white silent movie era. This, of course, means you get lots of gesticulation from the actors since the dialogue is shown only with intertitles, aka title cards, causing body language and facial expressions to have a much bigger significance in order to portray the character’s feelings and emotions.

 

The film’s highlights are, of course, the creative visuals. The soundtrack is also top-notch, fitting every scene perfectly and fulfilling the film like hand in glove. In such a nightmarish tale of cultists and ancient horrors, I think it hits the nail on the head with portraying the intended feeling of impending doom, where the protagonist’s investigations slowly reveals upon him just how insignificant humankind really is.

 

I dare say that you do not need to be a Lovecraft enthusiast in order to appreciate this movie. There’s a lot of mood and atmosphere to admire here, especially if you can value the 1920’s style.

 

The Call of Cthulhu

 

Director: Andrew Leman
Country & year: USA, 2005
Actors: Matt Foyer, John Bolen, Ralph Lucas, Chad Fifer, Susan Zucker, Kalafatic Poole, John Klemantaski, Jason Owens, D. Grigsby Poland, David Mersault, Barry Lynch, Dan Novy, Daryl Ball, John Joly, Jason Peterson
IMDb: www.imdb.com/title/tt0478988/

 

Vanja Ghoul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Titicut Follies (1967)

Titicut Follies (1967)

The year is 1967, and the place is Bridgewater State Hospital For The Criminally Insane in Massachusetts. The documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman, with his camera man John Marshall, was allowed to spend 29 days in the institution to film and witness the daily routines with its inmates and workers, filmed in black and white that sets an eerie tone from the first frame. The documentary starts with a light-hearted welcome, with a song number performed by the hospital’s talent show called Titicut Follies, but I guess it didn’t take long before the filmmakers were eternally grateful that they could leave this concrete hell hole at any time and never set their feet there again.

 

The documentary is completely free of narration, and the experience is like witnessing an absurd and sometimes very disturbing fever dream where the images speak for themselves. But this is far from a dream. It’s raw, unfiltered, claustrophobic and not far from a fly-on-the-wall feeling. We see a group of inmates who are constantly being ordered to take off their clothes in one of the gathering rooms. They also have only a small bucket to piss in, and possibly also shit and vomit in, which they have to take with them through a long corridor to empty. Several are stripped of all their clothes and have to stay butt naked in completely empty cells, while the guards humiliate and bully them like they were animals. We get a scene with an older guy named Jim, who makes the strongest impression. He’s in a psychotic episode. He’s probably sick and tired of walking around naked, so who can blame him. It also looks like he has blood around his mouth, judging from that blurry picture quality. Regardless, the guards think it’s funny. And this is just a glimpse of a completely rotten and corrupt industry that has not been much improved over the years, where fair treatment is as difficult to get as winning the lottery. And I think that what we see here is just the tip of the iceberg, and God knows what was going on when the cameras weren’t rolling.

 

Wiseman ended up with 80,000 feet of film, which I guess is several hundreds of hours of footage, and he spent a whole year to edit it down to an 84-minute film. Showing this to the public would not be easy when the bureaucrats (or bureau’rats, if you will) in the government of Massachusetts tried to ban the film for being screened at the New York Film Festival, claiming that it would violate the “privacy and dignity” of the inmates. As if their privacy and dignity wasn’t violated long ago already. It wasn’t until 1991 that the film was officially released to the public, since most of the inmates had passed away and  privacy concerns wasn’t longer an big issue. Little did they  imagine that even fifty years later, the film still feels fresh and manages to provoke as it’s unfortunately still relevant. The DVD is available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. And on YouTube.

 

Titicul Follies

 

Director: Frederick Wiseman
Country & year: USA, 1967
IMDb: www.imdb.com/title/tt0062374/

 

 

Tom Ghoul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Begotten (1989)

Begotten (1989)Time for a fun movie for the whole family to enjoy on a Friday night with some pizza. Or maybe not.

 

Begotten starts inside a cabin where we see a disturbed, horrifying figure sitting in a chair, filmed in a high contrast of black and white. While the soundtrack consists of crickets, bird-chirping and distant heartbeats, we see that the figure starts to cut himself to death with a straight razor. A great product placement right there (haha). Feces stream down between his legs while he’s sitting bloody and dying in his chair, gurgling his death rattles. This is God we’re talking about, by the way. Out of his fresh dead body comes Mother Earth who uses God’s semen to impregnate herself, where we get served some hairy close-ups where she rubs his juice into her vagina. She wanders into an obscure forest landscape where she gives birth to Son of Earth. She then leaves him behind to some faceless nomads who drag the poor newborn (who already has the body of a grown man) like a rag doll, through a desolate landscape until he supposedly starts spewing out some of his organs. And this is just the beginning of a horrendous, surreal odyssey of pain, suffering, torture and death, that can be described as witnessing a painful fever nightmare from the subconscious mind of a strapped schizophrenic mental patient.

 

By reading the plot synopsis you learn that Begotten is an alternative retelling of The Book of Genesis, but without knowing this beforehand, one could easily assume watching an underground snuff film taken straight out from The Dark Web. The distinct, strong visuals is truly remarkable here, filmed in grainy black and white that sets the atmosphere from the very first frame. Shot on 16 mm on reverse-exposure, which is a picture effect you get on most digital cameras today, but back in the late 80’s when this film was made with analog stone-age equipment, this was a real artistic achievement. Director E. Elias Merhige experimented like a mad scientist to get the exact, withered, aged look by using sandpaper to scratch up the reel before shooting. That wasn’t good enough, however, and he used the rest of the budget of 33. 000 dollars to construct an optical printer during a long, tedious period of eight months. And each minute of footage generated by the printer took on average between eight and ten hours to complete. Phew, that’s some real dedication and patience right there.

 

Some describe this as simple as a nightmare captured on film, and an extended version of the cursed VHS cassette from The Ring, which I can pretty much agree with. Certainly not for everyone, and as far away from mainstream you could probably get. But it’s surely a uniquely deranged avant-garde filled horrific, nihilistic atmosphere with haunting images that will probably stick with your forever. This is also Marilyn Manson’s personal favorite film, which made him so impressed that he hired director E Elias Merhige to direct the music video for Antichrist Superstar and Cryptorchid. Another guy who liked the film was Nicolas Cage, who hired him to direct Shadow of the Vampire for his newly established Saturn Films. A great, underrated movie, by the way. After his second Hollywood studio film “Suspect Zero”, Merhige went back to the underground and made the short film “Din of Celestial Birds”, which is considered an unofficial sequel to Begotten. His recent creation is a short called Polia and Blastema, a surreal love story about two alien creatures. And from the few previews I’ve seen, it looks completely mind-blowing.

 

An official, yet very limited DVD was released back in 2001 by World Artist, which included a souvenir booklet, the original theatrical trailer, rare and never-before-seen movie stills, and production photos. It’s of course out of print, but can be found on eBay at different prices. It’s also available on YouTube.

 

 

Begotten

 

Director: E. Elias Merhige
Country & year: USA, 1989
Actors: Brian Salzberg, Donna Dempsey, Stephen Charles Barry, James Gandia, Daniel Harkins, Michael Phillips, Erik Slavin, Arthur Streeter, Adolfo Vargas, Garfield White
IMDb: www.imdb.com/title/tt0101420/

 

 

Tom Ghoul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lighthouse (2019)

The Lighthouse (2019)On a remote New England Island in the 1890s, two lighthouse keepers have to stay there for four weeks. Thomas Wake, the oldest between the two, has been watching over the lighthouse for a long time and is used to the unfavorable conditions. His new assistant, Ephraim Winslow, does not settle in with ease however. Ephraim is getting more and more frustrated by the older man’s fussing and complaints, where he is being bossed around constantly. When the four weeks are over, and the boat still doesn’t come to pick up Ephraim due to very bad weather, they both realize they might be stuck on the island for far longer than anticipated. Plagued by bad dreams and hallucinations (or are they hallucinations?) Ephraim tries to keep his sanity on the forsaken rock – but this proves to be difficult as deeply sunken secrets are about to break the surface.

 

The Lighthouse by Robert Eggers (who earlier gave us the very haunting and creepy film The Witch) is a very atmospheric black & white film, and is actually loosely based on a real-life tragedy that happened in 1801. Two Welsh Lighthouse keepers, who were in fact both named Thomas, became trapped due to a storm. That incident is referred to as The Smalls Lighthouse Tragedy. The movie was also shot on 35mm black and white Double-X 5222 film, and due to this, they needed a lot more light, so they put up flickering 500-800 watt halogen bulbs in period-correct kerosene lamps. These lamps were just a few feet away from the actor’s faces, so the result is a lot of imagery that simply looks stunning, especially with the facial expressions and grimaces being heavily toned due to the contrasts. Plain and simple, it is beautiful to watch.

 

There is a good amount of claustrophobic dread to appreciate from The Lighthouse. And with Ephraim’s dreams and visions (or are they all just dreams and visions?) with mermaids and giant tentacles, we get a dose of some of the old and classical myths and legends from sea folk. Thomas tells supernatural tales of sea gulls and bad omens, but while Ephraim tries to ignore the old man’s ramblings, it’s evident that there are certain things laying under the surface that causes him to become vulnerable to the tales. It doesn’t take long before Ephraim is slowly descending into madness…whether it be from the isolation, Thomas and his bossy demeanor and tales, the past…or maybe a mix of it all, who knows. When the men realize they are stranded, possibly for a long time to come, they both start drinking their senses away, somewhat easing up the tension for a little while as the drunken men starts dancing and singing sea shanties – but it doesn’t take long until the songs turn into insults and aggressive behavior, and a battle for dominance as the cabin fever starts to creep in.

 

“Nothing good can happen when two men are trapped alone in a giant phallus”, is the line Robert Eggers have used to describe this film. And he has done a very good job of portraying just this concept!

 

The Lighthouse

 

Director: Robert Eggers
Country & year: Canada | USA, 2019
Actors: Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe, Valeriia Karaman, Logan Hawkes, and a lot of sea gulls
IMDb: www.imdb.com/title/tt7984734/

 

 

Vanja Ghoul