That time of year has arrived once again, where we usher in the New Year by blocking out all that cold weather and proceed to warm the cockles of our hearts with a lot of grotesque violence and nightmare visions. What a selection there is to choose from, whether it's Italian gore or madcap visions of 80s America there is never a short supply of features that include pouring blood, dissolving skin and eye popping effects.
Hausu (House) is a 1977 horror feature from Japan, not to be confused with the American film from the 80s, which we will get to soon. At some point the director saw Spielberg's Jaws in theatres and thought hey that's pretty good - what can we produce which will have a similar result? Naturally they talked to their young daughter about what is scarier than sharks and came up with a haunted house story with evil spirits, blood spewing clocks and monster pianos. It's a slight leap in creative thinking to say the least... but the results are pretty unique. Like other movies which feature Japanese folklore there's a vengeful ghost involved, but this one is packed with surreal visual choices and weird editing effects that make it stand out.
A band of teenage girls head off to the countryside to visit one of their groups Aunt, and right away there's a whole lot of crazy matte paintings, animation and scene transitions. Even normal daytime skies and background locations have been replaced by cartoon like mattes as they travel out of the city by train. Some of this stuff was done during production, without anyone really knowing how the end results would look. Adding to this weird atmosphere the girls all have silly nicknames like Melody, Gorgeous and Fantasy which note their character traits. Of course they all get picked off slowly as the Aunt starts to act more and more strange, although the deaths and how things unravel into madness is anything but predictable. There's a lot of blood, a lot of music, and a lot of silly humour but it's all strange and charming enough to work.
Jumping over to Italy, Lucio Fulci's The Beyond (L'Aldila) features another haunted house of sorts, but one with even less plot. The main location this time is a hotel which the heroine inherits under suspicious circumstances, and unfortunately the whole place is in pretty bad shape. As well as coming packaged with some rather creepy and unhelpful employees called Martha and Arthur (really), it's also the location of what is one of the seven gateways to Hell. Typical. It's very similar to City of the Living Dead, not only in terms of this story outline where events allow the dead to rise, but also the random horror and violence scenes which are hung onto this vague plot. Fulci's Zombi 2 must have had an effect on both of these as they continue to feature shambling corpses, but whether they are ghosts or the actual walking dead is never clear. Sometimes bodies appear after being moved to separate locations, sometimes they materialise out of thin air. Sometimes they awake in morgues and wander around... so it's hard to say.
In the 1920s an artist is brutally murdered after being accused of witchcraft. What exactly he did besides create a sinister painting is never explained, but it's a great intro with dark and moody monochrome visuals. In the present day the place has fallen into disrepair and the inhabitants vanish, until the new owner arrives. There's a blind woman trying to ward them off the place, and a subplot about a mystery book which tells of the building's secrets. But the rest is all just random shock sequences and violence, with the kinds of lengthy gouging and stabbing you would expect. You get spiders, exploding heads and accidents with acid amongst many others. As far as Fulci's output goes this is one of the better ones in terms of style and wacky sequences but is still not exactly a great film. Viewing it as a surreal nightmare in which the underworld begins to cross over into reality is the only choice.
Street Trash on the other hand has too many plots. The main part is what they show on the poster so you'd expect it to be central here right? A shopkeeper finds a box in his basement, it's filled with something called Viper which he assumes is liquor. It's years old, so of course he puts on sale at a discount. The local winos soon find out that the stuff has a nasty side effect - not only is it poison, but it's also a flesh melting acid of some kind which reduces people into multicoloured slurry minutes after they drink it. It's a bizarre starting point and offers some crazy special effects scenes as people dissolve in different ways; the sub-genre of melting movies lives up to it's name here. But ... everything else is less clear. To start with there's a gang of homeless people led by a Vietnam war scarred psycho causing mayhem in the streets. Large portions of the film divert to his grim existence and the nightmares he lives with. As an antagonist I guess this works but way too much time is spent away from the booze storyline.
Elsewhere our main characters are a separate pair of hobos trying to avoid his violent companions while narrowly missing the effects of the circulating bottles, and there's also a cartoonish cops versus mobsters story playing out as a detective comes across all of this. There are some particularly grotesque moments peppered throughout, some being more comical than others. The film is notorious for a drawn out scene where a game of catch is played with someone's dismembered genitals but it also features a paralytic woman being raped by some of the titular street trash and left for dead. This part is off screen but adds to the overall gross factor. To make things worse her body is violated by a sleazy scrap yard proprietor who owns the land where the hobos live. Considering everything that transpires during the running time he is just the worst character of all, it sort of derails the movie even with all this other stuff. This is a movie that ends with a My Way style musical number about someone drinking the mystery liquor (Yes, really). What else can I say. It's sometimes funny, it's often gruelling, it's ... an experience. Only those with strong stomachs need apply.
Time to change gears and see what else the 80s has in store...