The Bottom Shelf: Society, Van Damme and more

This month we have Action Jesus and Jean-Claude Van Damme. And that... person, right there...

The phrase “face like a slapped arse” gets a somewhat literal treatment this month as we are graced with cult filmmaker Brian Yuzna’s Citizen Kane (well, Citizen Kane with a healthy dollop of hideous satirical mutation, at least), the unremittingly glorious Society, out on Arrow Blu-ray and DVD.

Starring Days Of Our Lives and Baywatch actor Billy Warlock riffing on his lunkhead high school jock image, Yuzna’s 1989 class satire sees our hero, also called Bill, start to question his privileged upbringing as it turns out those around him punctuate their society engagements with bouts of eating the poor.

With great performances from a wonderfully dumbfounded Warlock alongside fellow TV soap star Charles Lucia as a cartoonish square-jawed patriarch, plus a brilliantly silly script from Woody Keith and Rick Fry, this is a joy from start to finish. Splendidly out-there (complete with some of the most WTF special effects of the eighties), ridiculously gory and about as subtle as a rhino with a sledgehammer, this tale of the waspy US rich is undoubtedly Re-Animator producer Yuzna’s finest hour.

Also playing the dual-personality card (though less for laughs and more for titillation) is Polish director Walerian Borowczyk’s own eighties headfuck, The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Miss Osbourne, getting a worldwide Blu-ray debut this month, nicely restored in all its grotty beauty.

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In case you hadn’t guessed, this French/West German co-production is an erotic take on Robert Louis Stevenson’s far more wholesome source material, seeing Udo Kier weirding it up once again as our titular doctor, whose mysterious fluid seems to have more in common with Viagra than anything else.

With full-frontal rape, torture and, erm, more rape, this is a difficult film to like. Still, Borowczyk’s direction and the hallucinatory nature of the script, tackling man’s bestial core alongside female sexuality and all the usual gubbins about sex and death, makes for a woozy, disturbingly vivid cheese-laced-with-crack nightmare.

Thankfully, we now wander more toward the less sinister stoner end of the spectrum with the Dread Central-endorsed portmanteau pick ’n’ mix, Zombieworld. A DVD compendium of indie film-makers’ short zombie films from around the world, thrown into one feature and shaken about a bit, this, by its very nature, is a mixed bag of sometimes funny, sometimes scary, always bloody, high concept cinema.

Though the undoubted highlight has to be Spaniards Adrian Cardona and David Munoz’ hilariously blasphemous biblical action pic Fist Of Jesus, sadly, for the main part, Zombieworld is the horror equivalent of The Kentucky Fried Movie: patchy, occasionally brilliant, but mostly just cinematic offal.

Far classier is Aussie crocodile thriller Black Water, out on DVD this month. Based loosely on the true story of three friends terrorised by a killer croc in the remote Northern Territory, the obvious comparisons with Jaws have to be made (it is, after all, that film’s fortieth birthday in June). Writer/directors Andrew Traucki and David Nerlich may lack that Spielberg golden touch, though they do create an oppressively suspenseful atmosphere, with our should-be handbag a scary, toothy bastard.

A cast entirely made up of former Home And Away stars offer the requisite shrieks and blood-curdling gurgles as skilful camerawork and editing ensure you’ll spend every second cursing those idiots on screen for carelessly dangling their feet in the water. A quality ride from start to finish, this is thankfully more Open Water than the lumbering sewer silliness of the eighties’ Alligator.

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Continuing the trend for decent independent films June has managed to inexplicably hurl our way (who knew this would ever happen?), up next, we have Iain Carson’s dystopian vision of a post-apocalyptic-future America (is there ever any other type?), RZ-9, released on DVD. With drone patrols and right-wing politicians turning patriotism and state security into tools of dictatorship, the targets in Carson’s film are obvious, though thrown together with enough panache to make this bleak allegory work.

Ambitiously tackling big issues, from religion through to family, we follow rebel drone pilot Patterson Endcott (Joshua Marble) on his existential path when his employers outlaw him as a potential terrorist. Sadly hampered a little by its low budget (this would have been great with Terminator-level effects and actors), RZ-9 is nonetheless a satisfyingly thoughtful slab of sci-fi.

Now, we couldn’t really finish this month’s roundup without mentioning Jean Claude Van Damme’s late eighties cold war relic Black Eagle, could we? Well, yeah, that would have worked just fine on the merits of this occasionally intriguing snoozefest.

It’s a bit disingenuous to talk of Van Damme as the star (he’s the villain of the piece, Russian shit Andrei), though we do get plenty of neck-breaking, splits, erm, splitting JCVD ridiculousness in 101 Films’ latest Blu-Ray re-release. Here, he’s pitted against Japanese martial artist Ken Tagi (Sho Kosugi), inexplicably working for the US military and interrupting a family holiday to Malta with high-kicking violence.

Now, this is all well and good, but Black Eagle really stands out for its downright weirdness throughout. Kosugi as our action lead is almost unbelievably awkward in a kind of Asian Tommy Wiseau way as he somehow achieves the feat of making his real-life sons (who appear here as his on screen family) seem like someone else’s children.

Occasional flashes of intelligence thrown into the mix (our all-American cliché hero croaks early on, killed by what would be the new breed of bad-actor star) just go to confuse the bewildered audience even further. With a balsa Jean Claude deadpan throughout, this peculiar film feels like there’s a good movie deep in its subconscious waiting to burst out in a scene of bloody vengeance that never materialises.

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