RIC MEYERS: Vacancy of Honor
Yes, I know you look out the window, check the weather, glance at the calendar. It’s still summer out there. But for the fine folk who work the service industries, its already fall, and their stores, movie theaters, and DVD shelves reflect that fact filling ever fuller of loss leaders and also-rans.
Thankfully, this pre-school/pre-new TV season/pre-Halloween period allows at least this columnist to ruminate on the similarities and differences between how diverse countries and cultures see this era. For example, Vacancy Screen Gems attempt to create a top shelf slasher film – oops, I mean grade A torture porn — which, like military intelligence, is a contradiction in terms.
Everybody knows (or should) that slasher films can be enjoyed en masse with crowds screaming and jumping in unison, while torture porn is best appreciated in the privacy of the home. Because, really, theres no surprises or shocks in torture porn, just gross-outs. And, while it can be fun to go ewwwww in unison, many t.p.s don’t even have that kind of sadistic imagination involved.
So, hedging their bets, Screen Gems found a suitable prozacritic* quote: It’s Psycho meets Saw, and went from there with the DVD release of Vacancy — the Luke Wilson/Kate Beckinsale suspense vehicle that borrows Norman Bates’ motel, the Two Thousand Maniacs town, the Snuff blueprint, and mashed them all together under the watchful eye of the unfortunately named Hungarian director Nimrod Antal.
There are really two kinds of t.p. flicks: the murder movie and the conflict film. In my book, For One Week Only: The World of Exploitation Films, I explained the difference between scripts that debased their characters and the ones that degraded them. The conflict film (Scream, Saw, etc.) degrades the characters with repeated abuses, but then the antagonists learn and fight back (sometimes successfully, sometimes not). The murder movie (Wolf Creek, Friday the 13th sequels, et al) debases their characters that is, robs them of even their basest humanity to render them as mere victims ripe for the slaughter which comes like clockwork every seven minutes.
Vacancy, thankfully, is a conflict film, and not a terrible one. The discs special features start with an extra that is unheralded on the packaging: an alternate opening which immediately clues you to where the filmmakers hearts were. Because, even in a conflict film, an audience has two basic choices: hope they live or hope they dont. You can enjoy their torment and/or enjoy their fight. The alternate opening starts at the end of the story, cluing you in that the bad guys didnt get away with it but leaving the pretty protagonists fates as yet unknown.
The real fun starts with the making of featurette, in which handsome, pretty, accomplished, slick, professional Hollywood A-listers attempt to rationalize, with straight faces, why they are catering to the nasty niche. They dont succeed, but, personally, I found their squirming far more entertaining than the actual film. I shrieked, I jumped, I ewwwwwwed.
There’s also a totally superfluous and wisely cut deleted scene of Luke getting spooked by a raccoon while pissing on a bush, but its all a lead-in to the special features piece de resistance: the extended snuff films that the audience saw glancingly when Luke and Kate discovered what kind of hotel they checked into. On the disc, these sequences (VHS [?!] tapes of previous slaughters that occurred in that room), are shown more fully, but, again, the producers hedge their bets by not showing them as filmed. Instead, they are constantly interrupted by digitally added static.
Even so, they reveal what must have been a really rough couple of filming days, as a bunch of future stars young and old, male and female, clothed and unclothed, attractive and not get attacked, abused, and killed for the benefit of plot motivation. Its a fascinating testament that made me wish the filmmakers had the courage of their convictions. Or maybe it made me wish that Im glad they didnt.
What a relief to head back to Japan, where exploitation films are glowingly, deliriously mainstream, without an iota of puritan guilt to get in the way. AnimEigo is trawling Nippon cinema history for the best live action films it can find. This month they’re unleashing Graveyard of Honor as a two disc special edition. It is quite an achievement a bold, unapologetic remake of a classic yakuza film, respectively helmed by two of the greatest extreme directors in the genre.
The original 1975 Graveyard of Honor was the work of the late Kinji Fukasaku, the man who made the magnificent Battle Royale. This down and dirty 2002 remake was the vision of Takashi Miike, the auteur who blasted audiences to the back of the theater with Audition and Ichi the Killer (the finest ewwww!!! movies of all time). Either production was the relatively true story of Rikuo Ishimatsu, an ex-dishwasher driven violently mad when drafted into the Japanese mob.
Ironically, the disc of special features makes clear that the Japanese film industry justified Miike’s bloody take on the story by allowing his producers to declare it a noble anti-drug treatise for students fifteen years or older. There’s also interesting interviews with the revered director and his stars, and two making of docs which just plunk you down on set to watch filming, then rewatch the finished scenes.
What could’ve been even more interesting was the notes section: illuminating explanations of the filmmakers, the true story, and the yakuza, which were designed to be interactive, but seriously balked, skipped, froze, and just generally hiccuped on my high-end player. Hopefully youll be more lucky, because, even without the notes, Graveyard of Honor is a cemetery worth visiting. Its not premium Miike, but its prime.
Or skip both the films and, if you haven’t seen them, grab Battle Royale, Audition, and Ichi the Killer now!
* Prozacritic (copyright Ric Meyers 2007) = a combination of the anti-depressant Prozac, and the film critic, resulting in a movie reviewer who never saw a film or performance he or she didnt like. In fact, they never saw a film or performance they didnt absolutely l-o-v-e!
Due to a rift in the technical time/space continuum, Ric’s column was supposed to be posted last Sunday afternoon. ComicMix regrets the delay, and curses the rift.