Life Is a Game So Fight for Survival: A Look Back at Battle Royale - Dread Central
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Life Is a Game So Fight for Survival: A Look Back at Battle Royale

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This weekend marked the release of The Belko Experiment, the long-awaited collaboration between genre stalwarts James Gunn and Greg McLean which pits a group of office workers in a scenario where they’re forced to kill each other at the behest a corrupt authority figure hiding behind a telecom system.  

In the film, the staff are equipped with explosive chips that will blow them into smithereens should they fail to comply with the sinister order.  However, it isn’t the first movie to employ a scenario where a group of people are forced to slaughter their peers for the sake of their own survival.

 In 2000, Japanese auteur Kinji Fukasaku would unleash his 60th film, Battle Royale, which would mark his final full-length feature before losing his battle with cancer three years later.  But with his swan song he delivered a bold, provocative masterpiece that ensured his parting gift was a memorable one.  To this day, Battle Royale is one of Japanese cinema’s most daring and influential crowning achievements.  Let’s look back at it.

Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by author Koushun Takami – which he developed into a popular manga the following year – the property was controversial from the outset.  Despite the judges unanimously agreeing that the novel was the best entry at the 1997 Japanese Horror Fiction Awards, it wasn’t given its accolade due to the extreme nature of the subject matter depicted within its pages.  However, that didn’t stop it from being a hit in its homeland and overseas, with Stephen King himself even placing it on his list of personal favourites that year.  Taking cues from disturbing dystopian stories like “Most Dangerous Game’’ (1924) and “Lord of the Flies’’ (1954), Battle Royale would adopt similar concepts and crank the insanity up to 11.  And it’s just glorious.

When it was time to adapt it for the big screen, Kinji Fukasatsu was the perfect choice.  While the director was already a household name in Japanese cinema after 40 years of making movies which tapped into the country’s cultural zeitgeists, it’s only fitting that his farewell feature would cause an almighty shit storm.  At 71-years-old, he delivered a film that incurred the ire of the Japanese government, caused a media frenzy and brought the media violence debate to the forefront of national conversation.  That said, the motivation for Fukasaku developing the project in the first place pre-dated Battle Royale’s inception by decades.

During the final days of the Pacific War, when Fukasaku was only 15-years-old, he was drafted to work in a munitions factory alongside his classmates and others belonging to their age group.  During his tenure, the factory was bombed by Allied forces and Fukasaku was forced to watch his friends and classmates die before his very eyes. To survive, he had to hide under the dead bodies of those caught in the blast, and afterwards, he – along with his classmates – were forced to bury them.  Hardly a positive experience, though it would shape Fukasaku’s vision as an artist distrusting of authority.  He’d go on to release a slew of film’s throughout his career containing such themes; from his early crime films to his very last cinematic statement.  Watching Battle Royale, the director’s traumatic teenage experience is at its most gut-wrenchingly visible, while still reflecting some of the modern concerns pertaining to the socio-political climate in Japan at the time.  

Battle Royale took contemporary issues and channelled them to depict a bleak vision of potential dark times that lay ahead. Taking place in a dystopian future where unemployment and youth crime rates are on the rise, the government has introduced the controversial Battle Royale Act in a bid to drum some discipline into young people.  Every year, a high school class is chosen to partake in deadly elimination game of survival of the fittest until only one remains, with the last person standing allowed to keep their life.

On paper, Battle Royale is peppered with all the ingredients for a mindless splatter fest.  The film opens with a young girl clutching a soft toy covered in blood and a look of sheer gleeful mania smeared all over her face.  It’s a disturbing image to say the least – and one which encapsulates the harrowing feeling of lost innocence that permeates throughout the movie.  And while the film is chock full of brutal violence, visceral action and gallows humour, there is plenty of depth to the whole affair.  In addition to being an excellent satire and social commentary regarding youth crime, unemployment, the government and the education system at the time, Battle Royale does a fantastic job at exploring the psyches of every character and how they’ve reacted to the difficult situation they’ve found themselves in.  Some are quick to let their inner monster manifest, while others succumb to their own dooms to avoid killing their peers or being killed by them.  In lesser hands, it might have been a body count picture.  But under the guidance of a master like Fukasaku, we got a movie with all the thrills and excitement of a violent action-horror yarn, while still packing a disturbing punch.  

The film also poses the question: “What if?’’  Now, while the situation seems entirely implausible to us living in a society that is yet to impose legalised death sports on its citizens, you can’t help but wonder what you’d do if placed in the same situation as the unfortunate Year 9 class.  Could you slaughter your pals for the sake of your own survival? Would you just throw yourself off a cliff and be done with it? Would you hope to band together with some comrades and devise a solution? If you’ve seen the film, then these thoughts have probably crossed your mind at least once.  I know my friends and I have had long conversations about it, culminating in the conclusion that we’d be history.

However, another question to ask yourself is just how far could government go down the line?  Granted, the idea of politicians getting together to create genocidal legislation to cull off its own citizens might be somewhat outlandish in advanced society, but when you strip away the hyperbolic nature of the film, its message can be interpreted as the simple notion that government is corrupt and has too much power.  This anarchic spirit is present in a few of Fukasaku’s movies after all, beginning with his masterful early yakuza epics like the iconic Battles Without Honor and Humanity series, which saw him use a story of mobsters to deconstruct Japan’s political post-war reconstruction.  

Upon its release, the film was hit with the R-15 certificate as it was deemed potentially harmful to youth audiences.  Some members of government even called for it to be banned altogether.  Funnily enough, Fukasaku made the film with a teenage audience in mind as a way to impart some of his wisdom on them, encouraging the future of the population to be distrusting of the political bodies governing them – the authority figures he lost faith in when he was forced to bury his friends due to a war they didn’t want.

At the end of the day, Battle Royale has more layers than an onion should you wish to peel them back.  At the same time, it also excels as pulpy entertainment of the edgiest kind.  Brimming with satire and thought provoking themes, populated with characters each with their own lovable quirks no matter how sinister they might be, and possessing an intoxicating energy that comes with motion pictures unwilling to compromise, it remains one of the finest treasures to ever grace genre cinema.  

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Graham Humphreys Reveals His Poster For An American Werewolf In London

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Graham Humphreys continues to cement his position as one of the top horror artists in the business with his stunning new poster for An American Werewolf in London. This piece was created as a private commission, and fans of John Landis’ 1981 classic are going to love it. You can view the final design of this incredible poster below.

Final design with text.

Graham also provided us with a detailed statement about the creation of the piece, along with a bunch of screen grabs taken throughout the process. If you scroll down to the bottom of the page, you can see how the final image looks before the text was added. In case you missed it earlier, you can also check out our extended interview with Graham here.

Exclusive Statement from Graham Humphreys
As a commercial artist and illustrator, there is only limited scope to make a job entirely your own – so with each project you are answering a brief in order to fulfill the needs of a client. Of course, the client may choose to give you free reign, though this is with the understanding that you are acknowledging their needs and thus expected to work within certain unspoken parameters. Mostly, these confines are defined by how a product is to be sold, licensing instructions and an understanding a market. With this in mind, the client is paying and thus nominally always right… though it would be unprofessional not to make them aware that other options might work better for them!

Without these commercial constraints, a private commission can remove the barriers because no market is to be met and there is only the artist and the private client to answer to. Creating a poster for a familiar and heavily licensed title is an entirely different prospect if it is not going to be generating money in the public domain and is thus essentially ‘fan art’. Unlike say, a T-shirt company ripping off someone elses art and charging money for the printed image, or perhaps a poster reproduced without permission by either the license owner or artist, then sold for profit.

Here, Dread Central have asked me to talk through one such commission, ‘An American Werewolf in London’, painted as a private commission for an individual that wishes to own a unique image that they themselves have made happen. NB: All likenesses and specific imagery (including the title and names etc) are subject to license and copyright and not for any use other than as examples of a work in progress (and of course, all rights are reserved!). Just need to make sure that it absolutely clear!

The client had commissioned two previous posters from me (as well as numerous poster designs from fellow artists), so a basic understanding of expectations had already been established.

My work begins by watching the film from beginning to end – to re-establish my own connection to the film (if one already exists). I saw ‘An American Werewolf in London’ (in London!) on it’s first run and the proximity to many of the locations (Tottenham Court Road tube station, Piccadilly Circus, being the obvious ones) made it instantly impressionable for me. Existing posters, in particular the official theatrical versions and various home-entertainment sleeves, focused on a limited image pool. My job was to find new ways of representing the film, free of the past baggage, but also to listen to my clients requirements.

Looking for a fresh perspective means avoiding the familiar stills that have defined the past marketing, this is achieved by making screen grabs from the DVD or blu-ray. As with most commercial jobs, I generally make a selection of about 40 images, then review these reducing the number to about 15 that have the best narrative potential, including a good visual range of actor expressions and reactions. My client required the Werewolf, London references, the moors, David and Jack, a full moon and the ‘Slaughtered Lamb’ pub sign… then whatever else I chose to include.

On the basis of the selected screen grabs, I make necessary light and contrast adjustments in photoshop, make them greyscale (removing the distraction of colour) and print them out at a size I can easily trace in pencil onto paper. All the pencil sketches are then scanned into photoshop, so that I can rearrange, resize and move around in order to determine the best layout, one which tells a story and has a visual impact. (I find it’s better to present sketched layouts rather than a photocomp’s, partly because the photographic material is usually of varying quality, but also because a pencil rough is more fluid and does not dictate the final impression).

Selected screen grabs.

Selected screen grabs 2.

My first idea involved a portrait of David looking lost and frightened (I felt this was essential to the story), the Werewolf with it’s head bursting through the cinema shutters/signage (the idea of breaking the fourth wall), the decomposing Jack (a perfect metaphor for David’ s own life falling apart), his nightmare of the home invasion (one of the most effective and horrific moments in the film, I felt), plus Brian Glover’s ‘Slaughtered Lamb’ local – a look that defines rednecks and racists the word over when confronted by ‘other’!). I also wanted to add the tube attack victim to open up the carnage. Although Jenny Agutter’s nurse added the romantic dimension for an audience that expects the convention, I wanted to concentrate on David’s story, so chose to only include her face as if she were painted on the shutters, ie. a film poster element.

I was surprised that the client didn’t want the home invasion creatures, nor the reference to the sleazy cinema hordings (which I thought made a good location gag – obviously not!), they also did not want the rotting Jack. It was disappointing to lose these great horror elements, especially as they’d particularly wanted ‘horror’! But a compromise was reached by including the transformation scene at the bottom, and reinstating the moors (which I’d thought unnecessary).

Fortunately, my second sketch was well received and the painting could commence.

On the basis of the selected screen grabs, I make necessary light and contrast adjustments in photoshop, make them greyscale (removing the distraction of colour) and print them out at a size I can easily trace in pencil onto paper. All the pencil sketches are then scanned into photoshop, so that I can rearrange, resize and move around in order to determine the best layout, one which tells a story and has a visual impact. (I find it’s better to present sketched layouts rather than a photocomp’s, partly because the photographic material is usually of varying quality, but also because a pencil rough is more fluid and does not dictate the final impression).

Once I have my sketch approved I reintroduced the photographic source material over the sketched parts, so that my layout remains exactly as approved and so that I’ll have the best possible likenesses to trace onto the watercolour paper.

Early sketched elements.

I usually have a basic idea of what colours I’m going to use. In this instance I knew that I wanted a silvery blue moonlight to bathe the entire image, but also the contrast of the orange glow of artificial lighting, the pub and cinema foyer. I knew the big splash of red in the wolf’s jaw would jump out, becoming the focal point. This painting took about three days to complete, the sketch process (including the grabs) about a day upfront.

Composition design.

The final painting was scanned and all the text added in photoshop.

My client will now make a full size poster print, to be framed, from the file I send him. Next up, ‘The Thing’!

Final painting before text was added.

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Syfy Renews Z Nation for a 5th Season; Season 4 Finale Airs Tonight!

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Syfy’s popular zombie series “Z Nation” just keeps shambling on, and tonight the two-episode Season 4 finale, “Mt. Weather/The Black Rainbow,” airs. If you’re a fan of the show, we have good news for you… it’s not over yet as David Latt of The Asylum has announced on Twitter the pickup of “Z Nation” for a 5th season! So you can expect lots more adventures with the gang in 2018.

Below is the official word from David along with a brief synopsis of what’s ahead tonight in the finale, which kicks off at 9/8c.

Synopsis:
In the mind-bending two-hour Season 4 finale, Warren and the team must stop Zona from launching operation Black Rainbow, which will cleanse the landscape of both zombies and humans. In Part 2 the secret of Warren’s Black Rainbow dream is unlocked when they reach their final destination. The cast includes Kellita Smith as Roberta Warren, Keith Allan as Murphy, Russell Hodgkinson as Doc, Nat Zang as 10K, Gracie Gillam as Sgt. Lilley, DJ Qualls as Citizen Z, Ramona Young as Kaya, Justin Torrence as President Donald Trump, Michael Berryman as The Founder, Micheal Daks as Mr. Sunshine, Anastasia Baranova as Addy, Sydney Viengluang as Sun Mei, Joseph Gatt as The Man, and Natalie Jongjaroenlarp as Red.

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First Look at Chris Alexander’s Space Vampire

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Who says all vampires have to be all extra-broody or sparkly or take up residence in Transylvania? Certainly not indie filmmaker Chris Alexander, who has just unveiled the first images and posters for his latest foray into film, Space Vampire!

The movie stars Ali Chappell as a beautiful female alien parasite who falls to earth with an intent to drain women of their life forces. As if women don’t have enough problems in this day and age!

Alexander wrote, directed, edited, filmed, and even provided the score for this intergalactic terror tale. Talk about a jack of all trades, eh?

Enough talk! Dig in!

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