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Otis (2008)

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Otis reviewReviewed by Johnny Butane

Starring Bostin Christopher, Ashley Johnson, Daniel Stern, Illeana Douglas, Kevin Pollak, Jere Burns

Directed by Tony Krantz


Other than Joe Lynch’s Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, I can’t think of any movies made by a major studio specifically for DVD release that ended up getting festival play. That’s saying something, no? This past weekend I got to see Otis on the big screen thanks to the Boston Underground Film Festival, and I can see why Warner Bros. is so damn proud of this strange little film.

Otis follows a very troubled man, the titular Otis (newcomer Christopher), who has some serious issues involving the high school prom he apparently never got to experience and keeps capturing beautiful young girls to enact his perfect prom night scenario until, eventually, they end up dead. As the film opens, five girls have already been found dismembered, scattered across the city, and the police and FBI are no closer to figuring out who did it than they were after the first.

Otis sees beautiful young Riley (Johnson) when he delivers her a pizza, and realizes she’s the perfect girl to be his dream date … again. He kidnaps her in broad daylight and pretty soon her parents (Douglas and Stern) are loosing their minds trying to find her, the ineffectual and perpetually full of himself Agent Hotchkiss (Burns) being of no help whatsoever.

Meanwhile Riley learns the benefit of playing along with Otis’ sick game, which unfortunately for her means having sex in the back of a hollowed out Trans Am (which he has in his basement, of course) until she finds her chance to escape him before it can go too far.

She tells her parents where he lives and her mother, completely fed up with the ineffectiveness of the FBI to this point (understandably so) convinces her husband and teenage son that the only way to make sure Otis is punished for what he did to their little girl is to torture him right back. They break into his house, wait for him, and … well, let’s just say they should’ve got a description before heading out to take some rogue justice.

Tony Krantz’ second directorial effort, following last year’s Raw Feed title “>Sublime (DVD review) shows a filmmaker with an astute concept of what works in genre cinema and what’s wrong with it as a whole. He’s able to tell a story about a pedophiliac sociopath whom you can’t help but feel some sympathy for, especially when he’s being smacked around by his brother (Pollak).

Otis is a black comedy of the darkest variety that’s helped immensely by the ingenious casting. Christopher turns in a fantastic performance as Otis, a role that I’m sure wasn’t easy to get just right. Stern and Douglas have great on screen chemistry and their relationship is just fucked up enough to be believable. They work off one another well, as unlikely a duo as they may look from the outset, and their quipping during the protracted torture scene makes it all hurt a bit less. For us, anyway. It’s hard to make torture funny, and Krantz certainly pulls no punches in making sure his victim suffers, but by this point in the movie you’ll have a solid grasp on its tone and won’t be able to help but laugh when they send a shitload of electricity up the torture victim’s ass.

Krantz took an overdone idea and gives it a sick little spin so that the end result is something you’re laughing with instead of at like, say, Captivity. Otis is smart, too. Like Sublime, Krantz made put in political subtext throughout to point out issues with our government and their tendency to overact without enough information. Unlike Sublime, though, the pokes aren’t subtle at all, mainly coming from the behavior of Agent Hotchkiss, easily the most outwardly comedic role in the film. His bumbling efforts to find the killer before anyone else can are over the top and his dismissal of the feelings Riley’s family has is exaggerated to an absurd degree, but it works in the context of the film and he ended up being my favorite character.

Only issue I would take with it overall is that sometimes it does try a little too hard to be funny. A lot of the comedy does come naturally through the performances and a tight script, but there are some moments where the attempt to ellicit laughs comes off as a bit desperate. Thankfully they’re few and far between, though.

I can see now why Warner is so happy with Otis, it’s certainly not some generic torture porn rip off, I just wish they would give it a chance in theaters, however brief it might bed. It’s a great movie to see with a crowd, to hear the laughter and groans of sympathetic pain throughout. But, it was made for DVD and for DVD it shall stay, I’m just glad I got to see it in a theater when I had the chance.

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4 out of 5

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Desolation Review – The Joy of Being Rescued and All the Surprises That Come With It

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Starring Raymond J. Barry, Brock Kelly, Dominik Garcia-Lorido

Directed by David Moscow


It’s those random, once-in-a-lifetime encounters that only a select few get the chance to experience: when we as regular participants in this wonderful thing known as The Rat Race, stumble across a soul that we’ve only witnessed on the big screen. I’m talking about a celebrity encounter, and while some of the masses will chalk the experience up as nothing more than a passing moment, others hold it to a much larger interior scale…then you REALLY get to know the person, and that’s when things get interesting.

Director David Moscow’s thriller, Desolation follows shy hotel employee Katie (Lorido) and her “fortuitous” brush with Hollywood pretty-boy Jay (Kelly) during one of his stops – the two hit it off, and together they begin a sort of whirlwind-romance that takes her away from her job and drops her in the heart of Los Angeles at the apartment building he resides in. You can clearly see that she has been a woman who’s suffered some emotional trauma in her past, and this golden boy just happens to gallop in on his steed and sweep her off of her feet, essentially rescuing her from a life of mundane activity. She gets the full-blown treatment: a revamped wardrobe, plenty of lovin’, and generally the life she’s wanted for some time.

Things return to a bit of normalcy when Jay has to return to work, leaving Katie to spread out at his place, but something clearly isn’t kosher with this joint. With its odd inhabitants (a very creepy priest played by Raymond J. Barry), even more bizarre occurrences, and when one scared young woman cannot even rely on the protection from the local police, it all adds up to a series of red flags that would have even the strongest of psyches crying for their mothers. What Moscow does with this movie is give it just enough swerves so that it keeps your skull churning, but doesn’t overdo its potential to conclusively surprise you, and that’s what makes the film an entertaining watch.

While Lorido more than holds her ground with her portrayal of a woman who has been hurt in the past, and is attempting to place her faith in a new relationship, it’s Barry that comes out on top here. His performance as Father Bill is the kind of stuff that wouldn’t exactly chill you to the bone, but he’s definitely not a man of the cloth that you’d want to be stuck behind closed doors with – generally unsettling. As I mentioned earlier, the plot twists are well-placed, and keep things fresh just when you think you’ve got your junior private investigator badge all shined up. Desolation is well-worth a look, and really has kicked off 2018 in a promising fashion – let’s see what the other 11 months will feed us beasts.

  • Film
3.0

Summary

Got your eye on that shining movie star or starlet? Better make sure it’s what you really want in life – you know what they say about curiosity.

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Wolf Guy Blu-ray Review – Sonny Chiba As A Werewolf Cop In ’70s Japan

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Wolf Guy UK SleeveStarring Sonny Chiba, Etsuko Nami, Kyosuke Machida

Directed by Kazuhiko Yamaguchi

Distributed by Arrow Video


As virtually every American adaptation has proven, translating manga to the big screen is a job best left to Japanese filmmakers. There is an inherent weirdness – for lack of a better term – to their cultural media that should be kept “in house” if there is to be any hope for success. Ironically, the stories are often so fantastical and wildly creative that a big American studio budget would be necessary to fully realize such a live-action vision. But I digress. Back in 1975, Toei Studios (home of Gamera) adapted the 1970 manga series Wolf Guy into a feature of the same name. Starring the legendary Shin’ichi Chiba (a.k.a. Sonny Chiba), who at that time was in his prime, the film combines elements of crime and psychedelic cinema, delivering less of a werewolf film (despite the title suggesting otherwise) and more of a boilerplate crime caper with a cop who has a few tricks up his hairy sleeve. I should stress it is the story that plays fairly straightforward, while the film itself is a wild kaleidoscope of strange characters and confounding situations… mostly.

An unseen killer, known only as “The Tiger”, prowls the streets at night slashing victims to death and leaving behind no trace. Beat cop Akira Inugami (Sonny Chiba) is on the case, and he has an advantage over his fellow brothers in blue: being a werewolf. As the opening credits flashback shows, Akira is the sole survivor of the Inugami clan of werewolves after a slaughter wiped out the rest of his kind. Now, as the last of his brethren, he uses his acute lycanthropic skills, under the auspices of the moon, to track down underworld thugs and solve cases uniquely tailored to his abilities. As the lunar cycle of the moon sees it growing fuller Akira’s powers, too, increase to superhuman levels.

Searching for this mysterious “Tiger”, Akira is led into a subterranean world of clandestine government organizations, nightclub antics, and corrupt politicians. One night, Akira is attacked and taken prisoner by a government research lab that wants to use his blood to create werewolves they can control. Only problem is – which they don’t realize – Akira’s blood cannot be mixed with that of a human; the only end result is death. Miki (Etsuko Nami), a drug user with syphilis, comes to Akira’s aid and proves to be quite useful. She holds a secret that has the potential to vastly change Akira’s world but, first, a showdown with the criminal underbelly looms on the horizon… as does the fifteenth day of the Lunar Cycle, when Akira will be made nearly invincible.

First, some bad news: Sonny Chiba never attains full werewolf status. This is not that movie. Sure, he growls and snarls and sneers and possesses many of the traits of a werewolf but in terms of physical characteristics he more or less remains “human” the entire time. Yes, even during “Lunar Cycle Day 15”, a.k.a. the moment every viewer is waiting for, to see him turn into a wolf. Instead, he just winds up kicking a lot of ass and taking very little damage. To be fair, a grizzled Sonny Chiba is still enough of a formidable presence, but, man, to see him decked out as a full-on kung-fu fighting werewolf would’ve been badass. The film could have done better at tempering expectations because it builds up “Day 15” like viewers are going to see an explosion of fur and flesh, instead it’s just plenty of the latter. Aw, well.

Lack of werewolf-ing aside, the film plays out a bit uneven. The opening offers up a strong start, with The Tiger attack, wily underworld characters being introduced, and a tripped-out acid garage rock soundtrack (which I’d kill for a copy of). But Second Act Lag is a real thing here and many of the elements that may have piqued viewer curiosity in the first act are scuttled, and although the third act and climax bring forth fresh action and a solution to the mystery it also feels a bit restrained. Then again, this is Toei, often seen as a cheaper Toho. Wolf Guy serves as a good introduction to Akira Inugami and his way of life, which makes it a greater shame no sequels were produced.

Presented with a 2.35:1 1080p image, Wolf Guy hits Blu-ray with a master supplied by Toei, meaning Arrow did no restorative work of their own on the picture – and it shows. Japanese film elements, especially those of older films, are often notorious for being poorly housed and feebly restored. This transfer is emblematic of those issues, with hazy black levels, average-to-poor definition, minimal shadow detail, and film grain that gets awfully noisy at times. The best compliment I can give is daylight close-up scenes exhibit a pleasing level of fine detail, though nothing too eye-popping. This is a decidedly mediocre transfer across the board.

The score fares a bit better, not because the Japanese LPCM 1.0 mono mix is a beast but because the soundtrack is so wildly kinetic, exploding with wild garage rock and fuzzy riffs right from the get-go. Dialogue has a slight hiss on the letter “s” but is otherwise nicely balanced within the mix. Subtitles are available in English.

“Kazuhiko Yamaguchi: Movies with Guts” is a September 2016 sit-down with the film’s director, who reflects on his career and working with an icon like Sonny Chiba.

“Toru Yoshida: B-Movie Master” is an interview with Yoshida, a former producer at Toei who oversaw this film and many others.

“Sonny Chiba: A Life in Action, Vol. 1” covers the man’s career up to a point, with the remainder finished on Arrow’s other 2017 Chiba release, Doberman Cop.

A theatrical trailer is also included, as is a DVD copy of the feature.

Special Features:

  • Kazuhiko Yamaguchi: Movies with Guts
  • Toru Yoshida: B-Movie Master
  • Sonny Chiba: A Life in Action, Vol. 1
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Wolf Guy
  • Special Features
2.8

Summary

While the film might be a bit of a letdown given what is suggested, fans of bizarre Japanese ’70s cinema – and certainly fans of Chiba’s work – should, at the least, have fun with this title.

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Inside (Remake) Review – Is It as Brutal as the Original?

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Starring Rachel Nichols Laura Harring

Directed by Miguel Ángel Vivas


While the directing duo of the cringe-inducing and original 2007 French grand guignol thriller Inside have gone on to refurbishments of their own—Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo recently helmed a retread of Leatherface’s origin story—their flick now has an American stamp on it with the release of the remake, also titled Inside.

A cheerless Christmas eve sets the stage for heavily-pregnant widow Sarah’s (Rachel Nichols) oncoming ordeal. It’s a frigid and snowy night. She’s got a huge house to herself, following the accidental and violent death of her husband. She wants to sell the home that was meant to hold a family, to forget the nascent memories it once held. But she’s got to ride it out until the baby is born. While Sarah is lonesome, she won’t be alone. She’s got her genial gay neighbor nearby, and her mum is going to come and stay with her for a few days. Oh, and there will be an unexpected visitor too.

When a shadowy, seemingly stranded stranger (Laura Harring) knocks on the door pleading to be let inside, Sarah instinctively balks. She even calls the cops. But the woman leaves and all seems well. Crisis averted. Sarah puts the housekeys in the mailbox outside for Mom, and goes to bed. Big mistake.

Mystery Lady shows up at Sarah’s bedside armed with chloroform, an IV bag, and a case full of sharp-and-pointies (sorry, ’07 fans… those implements do not include a pair of scissors). The horror unfolds and the expected yet lively game of gory cat-and-mouse ensues. Then the tete-a-tete becomes a body-count chiller featuring one shocking moment after another.

Nichols is fantastic in the role, giving it her all. When the original Inside came out eleven years ago, she was starring in another French-helmed horror, P2—also set on Christmas eve—and she stole the show. She does the same here but with a less-intense adversary. Harring’s killer character, unlike her European counterpart, has a lot to say—which takes away from her initially mysterious manner as the minutes tick off. Still, the girl-on-girl action is a welcome change from the usual gender dynamic one sees in these things. Both deserve kudos for their performances.

While Inside isn’t a died-in-the-wool “Hollywood” remake (Miguel Ángel Vivas directs, while [REC] co-creator Jaume Balagueró wrote it) it feels like one. For those who’ve seen the original, there will be mild disappointment (which turns to major letdown at the very end). However, Inside is still a serviceable thriller that’s well-acted, beautifully shot, and effectively scored. Folks coming in fresh, and casual horror fans, will more than likely enjoy it.

  • Inside (Remake)
3.0

Summary

Inside is a serviceable thriller that’s well-acted, beautifully shot, and effectively scored. Folks coming in fresh, and casual horror fans, will more than likely enjoy it. For those who’ve seen the original, there will be mild disappointment (which turns to major letdown at the very end).

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