April 07, 2006

THE EXTREME SIDE OF CINEMA; MEN BEHIND THE SUN (1987) REVIEW 10



‘The Extreme Side…’ section covers’ movies that will never see screen time in the United Kingdom, especially in their uncensored state, even in liberal times these films are total forbidden fruit.

Should the morals of society change even further and become less ‘uptight’ we may see this on these shores but I would imagine thoroughly truncated.


When I first stumbled upon this film, and was told it was a gory ‘war movie’ I hasten to add – that is all!, at intervals throughout the film I found my jaw dropping to the floor, I was about 17 and watched it on nth generation bootleg. This didn’t spoil my enjoyment of it though; if anything it added extra gruel. I will never forget the first time viewing it and it still manages to make me wince today, especially the cat sequence.

This notorious little sick puppy was also mistaken for a 'snuff' hybrid where ultra conservative moralists got their facts completely and utterly wrong in moments of uninformed hysteria. What twats they were, we can look back and laugh at such naieviety and sheer dumbness that made part of the 80's what they were.

The film plays as a catalogue of atrocity committed in one of several of Japans bacteriological/experimentation units on the outskirts of China in World War II. This intense and shocking experience has to be one of the most ‘extreme’ forms of cinema and the nearest one we'll get to a real pseudo documentary about the atrocities inflicted; mainly on the Russian military prisoners of war and selected Chinese ‘guinea pig’ villagers from nearby.


To understand the movie we need to look at history and return to one of Japans blackest periods , this is a little known ‘don’t mention’ that the Japanese have been trying to ‘shoosh’ for ages, I feel it should never be forgotten and is just as imperative to know about as much as The Holocaust.

Appalling it was, but dare I say , morbidly fascinating also. Evidence that only humans could sink this low factually.

The most uncomfortable thing about M.B.T.S is the film is all based on fact. What we witness actually took place, the diabolical methods used for these experimentations are mentioned in our history lesson of UNIT 731………..

A TINY HISTORY LESSON

UNIT 731 was a germ warfare research centre created by the Imperial Japanese Army and was built on mainland China. These were the brain children of micro-biologist Ishii Shiro. Ishii built the Zhongma Fortress in 1932, in 1935 a jail outbreak forced him to shut it down, he relocated to Ping fan where he created his new facility - in 1936 UNIT 731 was a reality.


This wasn’t the only research complex; several were erected around China all striving to achieve the self same thing, a safeguard for Japan via biological and germ warfare.

At UNIT 731, disguised initially as a water treating establishment, unfortunate Chinese and Russian prisoners of war were used in cruel medical experimentation. The majority were captured during the Sino- Japanese war but according to various sources many Chinese men, woman and infants were farmed in from the nearby rural villages. These were referred to by the inhabitants of UNIT 731 as ‘Maruta’ (blocks of wood)

The only reference to western people undergoing vivisection on Japanese territory happened when a B-29 bomber was knocked down in Southern Japan on May 5, 1945. The crew were taken to Kyushu Imperial University where they were dissected , there organs removed one by one, whilst still alive. This was the only known instance of Americans being used for research and the only time this was ever carried out within Japan.

The germ-warfare programme began in Japan in the early 1930’s this was due to the banning of germ warfare by the Geneva Protocol of 1925. The banning made the Japanese military rationale that if there was something so powerful and so deadly that caused the ban in the first place, why shouldn’t it be investigated and developed for the welfare and protection of the Japanese state.


Although germ warfare is an abomination in its own right, what is just as harrowing are the vivisections that were carried out. These all took place without any form of anaesthetic; the disease was administered to the victim and then after a period of time the internal organs were extracted and studied. Nothing was used to render the person unconscious and they usually died in sheer agony.

Female prisoners were impregnated by the resident doctors at the establishment, the unborn would then be removed and along with the mother would be vivisected and studied for effects and progress of disease. There again no anaesthetic was used, the surgeons believed that such drugs could impair research findings and may produce false results.



Human blood was removed and replaced with animal to see the effect. Sea water was injected into the bloodstream to see if it could become a saline substitution, air bubbles were injected to emulate strokes. Starvation took place to study the bodies’ integrity and lifespan when without food or water. Prisoners were placed in centrifuges and revolved until haemorrhage, arms, hands and legs were frozen then amputated, burns were inflicted as well as pressure experiments usually resulting in a long protracted death for the victim.


Arms were cut off and placed on opposite sides, bombs and grenades were tied to prisoners to measure range effects, people were exposed to severely high x-rays to register the results. Plague, cholera, botulism and anthrax were all used in creating flea bombs. The bombs, which had a porcelain shell, could be dropped on areas to easily spread infection. Rural Chinese villages and communities were used for this; the length of time the disease took to spread and its’ effects were duly monitored.


Small village water supplies and ponds were also infected with disease to test the spread of a plague throughout the area. It has been estimated that between 4-10,000 men, women and children were used in these hideous experiments. Approximately 20,000 villagers died of biological warfare related infection courtesy of the unit as well.

In areas of
China unoccupied by the Japanese food parcels contaminated with botulism and dysentery were dropped and agriculture infection were carried out for scientific research for country and emperor.


It is also known that Prince Mikasa once toured around UNIT 731 and was shown ‘films of prisoners marched off for gas experiments’ as noted in his memoirs.

Premier Tojo also awarded Ishii with an award for his bacteria weapon research.

At the end of the Second World War attempts were made to destroy these hideous legacies, fortunately it was unsuccessful. Enough evidence existed that lead to the opening of a memorial museum in Japan and compensation for the relatives of the victims.

The perpetrators of these crimes were let off as long as they handed all the experiment research project findings to the Americans. The states believed that this would push them further than the Russians in germ warfare development.


Even recently containers of deadly chemicals are being re-discovered on Chinese development sites where such camps had existed.

One of the largest cover ups along with;’The Rape of Nanking’ that must never happen again…….


THE PLOT



1944/1945 and the Japanese are doing all they can to stave off the impending allied victory. UNIT 731 in Manchuria has been the intense focus of the military as germ warfare is being seriously considered as a last resort.

Dr Shiro Ishii returns to his camp with seven new recruits. The recruits are seven young boys of teenage years due to the lack of older persons available. These are collectively known as the Youth Corps.


Ishii intends to bring the glory back to a failing Japan with his technical and biological skill. Any moral concerns he has have been put aside for his work to be effective.


The soldiers go about their business and carry out their merciless duties on the new guinea pigs. A mother has her child snatched away from her and watches in horror as it’s buried in the snow to suffocate. She is then taken to a freezing outland where water is ladled over her bare forearms and hands. Every now and again we check up the victim and her progression of decay. The flesh changes varied colours throughout the experiment as the frostbite takes a grip turning from pink, to purple , to green , to black in the latter stages.


As the soldiers are undergoing their ‘desensitivity’ training they are informed that the guinea pigs are the lowest of the low and are referred to as ‘Maruta’ – blocks of wood, nothing more or nothing less and ripe for the scalpel.


The woman of the ice experiment is ushered into a room full of the trainee troops, her hands are plunged into boiling water the woman becomes hysterical in pain. The Doctor removes her hands and rips the flesh and muscle - they slide off like elbow length gloves from the woman. Her exposed rotten fat , boiled bone and dead sinew left where her arms used to be .

A man is lead in and his hands are frozen solid, he then has his fingers smashed to bits screaming in frenzy often associated with the asiatic movie gross- out death.


A man is then thrown into a pressure chamber as the pressure increases so the thin gentlemen begins to sweat and swell until ‘POP’ his colon , faeces and intestinal tract expel throughout his anus onto the chamber floor.

We witness gassings, a visit to the unit crematorium where the old man in charge has gone completely off his head, drinks to numb the pain and sings pissed songs from a tortured memory. There is despair everywhere!

The shocking ‘live’ vivisection of an adolescent boy really is the ultimate and more than likely any movie has gone too for realism.


Inmates are tied to crosses in a huge field then huge explosions are detonated around them at various ranges, the smoke clears and we witness the aftermath of the explosions. Eyes have been blown out of sockets, faces have been partially melted and limbs scattered about as seed is by farmers.

The final instances focus on the inmate ‘uprising’ and eventual escape as pandemonium breaks out within the camp on its last days , this is after we see the allegory filmed before , a live cat thrown into a pit of thousands of hungry rats. We witness unflinchingly, for what seems an eternity, the cat being torn to pieces and devoured partially alive.


The film concludes, as expected by now, on a cold, dark and foreboding note.

CRITIC

Fuck! – What a movie this is. T.F Mou shows us as it was, there is nothing ‘exceptional’ about his direction but it is a major contributor as to why we become entranced in all of this. A pure warts and all exposure of unbelievable inhumanity.

Men Behind the Sun is more powerful than Schindlers List ‘sympathy out of misery’ technique. It’s moviemaking at a nasty, grubby, exploititative level. The early gross out scenes which due to their shock impetus have made this a cult movie, are indeed effectively achieved.


Although we know its sfx because it’s based on historic fact this makes it most uncomfortable to view – I felt the same as I would if I witnessed footage of gas chamber annihilation, rumoured also to exist.

The chamber sequence was achieved by real human, dummy and offal, and contrary to popular belief is not real, just clever and disturbing cinematography.

The more ‘controversial and ‘disturbing’ aspect was the use of a real young adolescent boy for the autopsy scene. This was achieved with effective cutting of sequences. The ‘real’ child’s’ body was used with the parents consent and the coroners were willing to ‘dress up’ as they carried out the procedure before the cameras. The beating heart was achieved via a pump attached to a prosthetic that gives us the impression that the organ was still functioning at the time of vivisection.


The most notorious and really uncalled for piece of gruel is the destruction of the live cat. I understand that it symbolises the Chinese uprising (the mice) against the ruthless perpetrator (the cat); or a parallel from where the youth corps bash and beat an adult guard, but with this aside I couldn't help wonder why further special effects were not used. Obviously the talent is already there and has been demonstrated with previous gruesome instalments so to use the torture of an animal is quite harsh.


Men Behind the Sun seems to fall into varying camps as to what it actually is and whether it is actually liked or not. It seems to me to fall into a ‘grey area’ where it pushes towards exploitation and sensationalism and pulls towards ‘cautionary ‘short, sharp, shock’ warning’. I truly believe it is subjective to the viewer.

Not all the Japanese are portrayed as purely evil; there are some humanistic moments between the youth corps as they come to terms with their own fate as well as their country.

The voyeuristic harshness towards the victims is also replicated in direction, as the victims name, age, place of origin are superimposed over the unfortunates ‘death throws’ .


Whether your view on this and conclusion is that this is a ‘cult’ classic reflecting on human behaviour in one of Japans bleakest periods, or as an unpleasant propaganda vehicle- it will be a revelation- and should be sensibly approached as such.

Rumour has it that this film was funded by the Chinese government, this is an alleged statement as I do not recall this being denied or agreed upon in any article I have seen about the film.


Commercially this achieved high revenue at the Chinese box office and was considered successful enough for two sequels, the shoddily inferior ‘Men behind the Sun pt. 2; Laboratory of the Devil’ and ‘Men Behind the Sun pt.3; Narrow Escape’. Where the original used the pseudo-documentary style of film making the second and third opted for more sophistication which didn't seem to 'gel' in my opinion.

Tun Fei Mou did return behind the camera for ‘Men Behind the Sun 4; Black Sun –The Nanking Massacre’, this shifted the horrors from the concentration camp to the massacre of Chinese villages and the fate of its inhabitants.


Some movies are powerful and they leave an impact in the mind long after the last frame has faded - this film is one example of such.

Watch with caution………………………………………..


I am known as ; Men Behind the Sun / Man Behind the Sun/ Hei tai yang 731 / Squadron 731

My Relations; Ilsa She Wolf of the SS (1974), Men Behind the Sun 2 - Laboratory of the Devil (1992), Men Behind the Sun 3 - The Narrow Escape(1994), Men Behind the Sun 4 - Black Sun ; The Nanking Massacre (1995), Womans Camp 119(1977).

The players; Hsu Gou, Gang Wang, Andrew Yu

The year; 1987/1988

The country; Hong Kong





April 02, 2006

HAMMER HOUSE OF HORROR ; THE TWO FACES OF EVIL (A 1ST CLASS EXAMPLE)








TX Date; 29th November 1980 (ITV Regional) Friday 9.15 p.m

A contender for the prize of the best, ‘The Two Faces of Evil’ was Hammer House of Horror at it’s’ most accomplished.

Along with other gems namely ‘Silent Scream’, ‘House That Bled to Death’ and ‘The 13th Reunion’, this is also fondly remembered by the British Public but many do not know where they remember it from.

The sinister yellow oil skinned figure is pure nightmare imagery and was even used as the imagery for a ‘Beware of Picking up Strangers’ public information films.

The 50 minutes is crammed to the brim with sheer desperation, paranoia and psychological delirium. The ‘unusual’ premise is that everyone has a doppelganger (a double) which was popular in early European fables.

The ‘doubles’ in this episode are pure evil embodiments and can only be identified by two flaws , a long brown fingernail similar to that of a heavy smoking octogenarian and foul teeth the sort I have only witnessed in Egypt and on run down council estates. They have the most unsettling mannerism of behaving like a threatened swan (that horrid hissing sound) when they attempt to kill their double.

The family are the stereotypical ‘nuclear’ family and when the episode starts they are travelling in their nice car, along a nice country lane, singing nice songs – ultimate suburban humans.

Then things take a turn for the worse as we can see in the synopsis, this ‘snug’ suburban shield is shattered into a million fragments as supernatural negativity takes a hold and manifests.

The ‘hitch-hiker’ is wonderfully iconic and to give credit where due, the writer must have run through a million nightmare images until he settled for the most disturbing.

The rain coated menace stays long in the memory and doesn’t really fade although utilised right at the beginning of the story. What happens is so unexpected and unsettling this jolts the nerves and jangles the soul right from the premise and doesn’t really let up until the credits roll on a disturbing conclusion…………..

The Twisted Premise

An inclement wet day but this doesn’t spoil the family outing for the Lewis’s clan.

‘Happy days’ are soon quashed though as Martin Lewis nearly runs over a man dressed in yellow oilskins.

Feeling responsible and a little guilty Martin asks the mysterious stranger if he requires a lift. The son David moves to the back with mum Janet and the stranger takes front seat.

Unexpectedly the hitch-hiker has a demented fit and attacks the father, resulting in an accident where all four are rendered unconscious.

Janet wakes up in a quaint country hospital; she is told she is very lucky to be alive. Her son is fortunately unscathed bar a few bruises. She learns that her husband has a sustained neck injury and is undergoing surgery.

The police inform her that they have a found a body believed to be the hitch-hiker and the cadaver needs identification.

She is taken to the mortuary to identify the ‘attackers’ identity although she cannot recall visually what he looked like she can recall the deformed fingernail; claw like in it’s appearance. .

When the body is unveiled – the hand is missing making identification impossible.

Although Martin returns home something just isn’t right and although the village is providing all the best facilities possible Janet and David feel isolated.

Something most sinister is enveloping reality; replacing familiarity with unease and all things positive with the blackest negativity…………..

MOST OUTSTANDING MOMENT

The near climax in the barn……………………..

CONCLUSION

Brilliant acting from the main cast and unusually angled direction make this one of the best of the 13.

Calder Marshalls performance is most intelligent and her hysterics so believable we really feel for her.

The way we find ourselves waiting for any ocular indication that Martin Lewis is about to go loco also deserves a big mention.

This among others still has a timeless ability to put the willies up most modern day viewer whether mature or much younger and sets out to remind the viewer that what they are watching is something exclusively for ‘adults only’.

Availability;

Part of a Region 2 and Region 1 DVD box set which I believe is still in print

*I have also noticed that repeats are being shown on ITV3 but judging by the description in a recent TV mag; it looks as though its run is reaching its end though.

Personally I advise buying the box set, it is most reasonable and although isn’t ‘saturated’ with extras the quality of the episodes are worth the purchase alone.


NIGHTMARE STUFF T.V – HAMMER HOUSE OF HORROR (1980)


I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of response I got from the Sapphire & Steel review, so keeping with the Teapots theme I thought I would dust off a truly original anthology series from the days when television was quality and thought provoking.

We are all familiar with the Hammer film, I intend to write a separate article on Hammer as I feel it is most poignant in influencing trends and styles replicated all over the world.

In the winter of 1980, despite Hammer finishing on a bum note in approx. 1974/1975, it was remarkable to see that finance was utilised for a project of 13 (how apt) fresh dramas being unleashed on Friday nights.

Fortunately Roy Skeggs and Brian Lawrence who had been with the Hammer studios since it’s early days formed Cinema Arts in an attempt to save the Hammer brand as the production arm was in receivership.

Lew Grades’ ITC came to the rescue and provided further cash flow enabling a 13 part series to be an absolute reality and enough to bring a film version of the successful ‘Rising Damp’, ITVs’ smash comedy series.

The small screen movies were produced solely for television and feature elements that successfully formed the old Hammer style and surprisingly for a prime time slot (9.15 p.m Friday Nights) a new injection of gore, sex, nudity and violence.

Unusually nearly all endings happen negatively with evil overcoming good, I am pleased to the producers didn’t pander to the mainstream, the mainstream like happy endings otherwise they are faced with reality and get scared. Consequently if the director is defiant to appease the masses and then endings haven’t been moralistically brightened then the film can lose big revenue at the box office and also ratings could suffer on the small screen.

We are not used to our protagonists becoming eternally trapped, cannibalised, murdered or conquered by malevolence but with these thirteen tales the rule is a total exception.

There are 13 episodes in total, I have rated them on a five star basis with * = shoddy (as they all have individualistic merits whatever the play) and ***** = super.

Many focus on sheer nightmare stuff, who could not forget the hitchhiker in the yellow oilskins, the werewolf at the window, the baby being basted in oil as it’s about to be put in the oven or the couple ‘wired up’ in eternal entrapment from an ex-nazi pet shop owner and we mustn’t forget the house that would not stop bleeding.

Elements of claustrophobia and desperation are paramount to these stories as you realise, and even more so towards the end of the drama, that the evil whether supernatural or human orientated will ultimately win over all. There is a feeling of complete lack of control for the ‘goodies’, as their worst nightmares unfold before them with frighteningly ‘downbeat’ consequence – marvellous stuff!


With such a wonderful representation of all things spine chilling I will ultimately review all. There are really only two ‘flunkers’ in the set of stories , they may be gems to others but I found ‘The Carpathian Eagle’ and ‘ Rude Awakening’ pretty samey with the latter becoming a confused mess despite Denholm Elliots' do-lally performance stealing the show.

These films were all created at Hampden Manor House – the new ‘House’ of Hammer and features in the wonderfully enchanting opening credits. The theme music too is a focal point and highly memorable.

Many of the settings, costumes and props were utilised throughout the series that owe much to Hammers cinematic tenure than any other ‘type’ of this film.

There were also very talented actors ‘guesting’ , Diana Dors, Denholm Elliot, Prunella Gee, Pierce Brosnan and the wonderful Peter Cushing all brought the’ grand guignol’ schematics to crimson life.

Usually old Anthology series can be ‘hit’ and ‘miss’ with some of it being ‘masterpiece’ and the other part of it being a plodding bore. Hammer House stays very clear of this. The stories appear to be well thought out indeed and still can supply the odd ‘jolt’ and ‘surprising’ twist when viewed again.

Nearly all 13 episodes are a winner and all concerned should be proud of creating a triumphant example of the anthology series crafted correctly.

The series is available on DVD as part of a box set in the U.K and Stateside and is worth every penny.

When this ended the gap was filled with ‘Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense’, this had a few quality episodes but the rest is a bit dry and certainly inferior to its wonderful predecessor.

The thirteen were;

I . Witching Time (*****)

II. The Thirteenth Reunion (*****)

III. Rude Awakening (**)

IV. Growing Pains (***)

V. The House That Bled to Death (*****).

VI. Charlie Boy (****)

VII. The Silent Scream (*****)

VIII. Children of the Full Moon (*****)

IX. Carpathian Eagle (*)

X. Guardian of the Abyss (*****)

XI Visitor from the Grave (***)

XII. The Two Faces of Evil (*****)

XIII. The Mark of Satan (***)

My earliest memories are of Charlie, House, Witching and Silent Scream, which I recall watching ‘petrified’ when I was about 4 or 5.

Revisiting them all on DVD was a sheer delight. For those without this opportunity or just simply for a moments nostalgia enjoy the following reviews of ‘Children of the Full Moon’ and ‘The Two Faces of Evil’. Two classic examples of the programme;


VIII. Children of the Full Moon (1980) (ITV Regional)

TX. Date; 1st November 1980 Friday 9.15 p.m

SUMMARY

THE CLASSIC OPENING;

A small child has her back towards us; she is singing ‘All things bright and beautiful’. It appears she is calming down a small lamb. Further panning reveals the lamb has had its throat ripped open, the sweet little girl turns sharply - grinning, her smile is caked in blood……….


THE TWISTED PREMISE

Tom and Sarah Martin (played by Christopher Cazenove and the beautiful Celia Gregory (Ruth from BBC’s Survivors (1975-1977) )) decide it’s time for a honeymoon.

Driving through the countryside their car (mysteriously?) goes completely out of control. The accelerator sticks causing the vehicle to swerve and nearly causes a fatality. Quick thinking, courtesy of Tom results in the car finally grinding to a halt, unfortunately for Tom and Sarah they are stranded in what appears to be a rural no mans land.

Eventually taking the route of a ‘hidden’ pathway they end of a secluded manor house owned by Mrs Ardoy (played superbly by Diana Dors). They ask if they can use the phone, pleasantries are exchanged and Tom tries to ring round for a local garage in the area.

Sarah chats to Mrs Ardoy and finds out that she lives in the manor with her husband and their eight ‘creepy’ siblings.

When Tom ‘backtracks’ through the woods in the evening , he encounters something he later describes as ‘’half human ……covered in grey spiky fur’, naturally petrified it looks as though that they will be based at the manor for the rest of the night.

Mrs Ardoy kindly offers both of them to spend the night but there is a much more sinister motive behind her kind offer as the Martins’ discover at ultimate cost…….


REVIEW

A thoroughly enjoyable story. Although the plot is a tad convoluted and strays into ‘predictable’ territory it offers a new (by 1980) slant on the werewolf theme.

Some padding is demonstrated by the slightly messy ‘was it all a nightmare’ part of the plot where Tom wakes in hospital and returns home with Sarah etc, etc. This does not spoil the episode however as it gives an insight into Sarah’s’ gradual descent into Lycanthropic behaviour. This provides some tantalising moments from gross- where this stunning looking woman devours raw liver to sexual - where she becomes almost bestial in the bedroom (lucky Cazenove!)

The ending still provides a twisted kick and is fantastically downbeat. I love these stories as the people affected are so blissfully happy whether friend, family or relationship and then are thrown into a supernatural living hell.

Diana Dors is perfectly cast as the busty matriarch and exudes sheer menace underneath the ‘mumsy’ façade. The use of children is also another aspect of this story that works ever so well, their innocence is stripped as angels are in fact demons ; this challenges societies perceptions of ‘all children are innocent’ upping the discomfort factor past several notches.

MOST OUTSTANDING MOMENT

Tom sets out to find a garage leaving Sarah alone at the manor house. She retires to the bedroom.

After a short while she begins to hear ‘unnerving’ noises from outside, she edges nearer to the window-the source of the sound, bravely she reaches out to the curtains to pull them back and find some answers ……………………………………..


COMPLIMENTARY REVIEW TO FOLLOW WHEN WE FIND 'EVIL' HAS INDEED , 'TWO FACES' !