Category Archives: Midnight Madness

Midnight Madness – Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

(Authors note: Here, I revive a long dead section of my blog, since, fittingly, this film, Shin’ya Tsukamoto’s cyberpunk nightmare Tetsuo, seems to have rekindled in me a love for the bizarre, the grotesque and the outright horrific.)


Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)
Directed by Shin’ya Tsukamoto

We see a man, known only as The Fetishist (Shin’ya Tsukamoto) walking down the street. He walks into a warehouse, and we then see him impale a piece of metal into his leg, gaining a sickening gratification from the act. And so begins the bizarre horror that is Tetsuo: The Iron Man. And it only gets weirder from here, so fasten your seatbelts.

After the Fetishist is finished stabbing himself, he walks into the middle of the street, and is run over by a Salaryman (Tomorowo Taguchi), possibly killing him. After this, narrative goes out the window, and the film descends into a kaleidoscopic nightmare.

Shot in stark black-and-white, Tetsuo presents a bleak, dystopic vision of a world that may be so reliant on technology that it’s very populace are succumbing to it in the form of transformations that are in equal parts fascinating and grotesque.

All of Tetsuo is very visceral and VERY graphic, and so it isn’t exactly an easy watch. I’ve seen plenty of extreme cinema in my time, but there were still some scenes in here (namely the infamous rape scenes) that were awfully difficult to watch. The film indulges in very sick and deviant sexuality, toying with sadomasochism; with the Fetishist impaling himself at the beginning of the film, and the Salaryman’s girlfriend (Kei Fujiwara) gaining gratification after stabbing the Salaryman in the neck. Sexuality, here presented in a bizarre, violent, cyberpunk fashion, is a key theme that runs throughout Tetsuo, with one of its most popular readings being one of the Salaryman’s metamorphosis into the titular Iron Man being metaphorical of his discovery of his own sexuality, something that can be seen in the way a nightmarish rape scene (his girlfriend, possessed by what is seemingly the spirit of the Fetishist, gains a bizarre phalic extension and rapes him_ being then mirrored in a heterosexual context.

From its editing to its use of music, the film carries with it a fascinating kinetic energy, something is always moving or happening. It manipulates time in a unique and interesting way, ending some of its nightmare sequences by literally moving time backwards, showing characters running backwards and returning to their original positions, even further skewering any kind of narrative logic. This kinetic force is carried into the films visual effects as well, which, while not having aged gloriously, are still effective and unsettling. Stop-motion is used in order to show the Salaryman’s metamorphosis into the Iron Man, with each jarring moment being punctuated and powerful.

Of course, it’s not a perfect film. As I’ve already mentioned, the visual effects don’t always stand up, and the script has some issues, with some of the dialogue sounding weak and forced (something that often feels reflected in performances that veer into slightly over the top territory at times), which can detract from the sheer intensity of some scenes. And it’s also quite obviously not a film for everyone; with it’s extreme physical and sexual violence, bizarre structuring and some equally bizarre thematic exploration, if you’re not exactly intrigued by it, I can’t say I blame you.

Visceral and difficult to watch, Tetsuo is not an easy sell. A stark nightmare of bleak dystopia and savage sexuality, you will know if this is the kind of film for you; a surreal piece of horror that runs on nightmare logic, perhaps a little akin to Eraserhead. If you feel you’ll be interested in Tetsuo, I wholeheartedly recommend you watch it. But you’ll have to be prepared for very extreme cinema. Tetsuo is nothing short of a kaleidoscopic tour de force in the nightmarish, and the spirit of the Fetishist may well burrow his way into your consciousness once the final credits have rolled. 



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Midnight Madness – Jaws (1975)

Jaws Poster

At the end of last week, Jaws, the original summer blockbuster, was re-released in cinemas. Needless to say, this made me incredibly happy, as it finally gave me a chance to see a film that I loved on the big screen, as well as making me think that, there was a time when summer films weren’t 3D, sequels, directed by Michael Bay, based on a line of toys, or any combination of the above. Apparently, and long before my time, there was an era where summer blockbusters were actually… Good, believe it or not.

To say the least, the film remains as tense, thrilling and entertaining as it was when I first saw it, and I can only imagine the impact that it had when it was originally released back in the 70’s.

For the minimal number of people out there who don’t know what Jaws is about, it’s simply about a shark attack. Perhaps I’m selling it short by that, but that’s the essence, a group of people attempt to kill a giant great white shark that’s terrorizing the people of the idyllic Amity Bay.

From the ominous opening notes of John Williams’ Oscar winning score, the film immediately lurches into life, throwing the audience into the action through the eyes of the shark. The film wastes no time as it begins to rack up its body count, but it’s more than just gore and summer teenagers being eaten, these attacks are genuinely tense, and still provoke great audience reactions.

The ensemble are uniformly solid, particularly the three men who go out to kill the eponymous shark, played by Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss, all of whom have excellent chemistry, and the scenes that they share, particularly on the boat in the film’s last act, truly come alive. The best among them is Scheider as Chief Brody, who, from his dedication to catching and killing the shark, to his ironic fear of water, is fully rounded and wonderfully portrayed, and the audience can’t help but cheer for him.

Perhaps one of the film’s greatest assets is the sheer level of energy that  Spielberg, in one of his first outings directing features, brings to the table. From the pace of the characters of the dialogue, to some exceptional shot choices, it truly feels like a young director truly in love with his craft is creating this film, which of course makes it all the more enjoyable.

Much to my surprise, and considering the strides made in visual effects just a short time after this film was originally released (Star Wars was released in 1977), the shark itself did not look at all dated, and although far from being hyper-realistic, its appearance in no way detracted from my enjoyment of the film, or the aura of menace that the shark has. The shark is made a character just as much as Brody or his wife or Hooper, or anyone in the cast. We are shown sections of the film through the shark’s eyes, and they work wonderfully, creating wonderful tension, particularly when in counterpoint with simple, lingering shots of the people of Amity in the water.

Jaws is, simply put, an endlessly enjoyable and masterfully crafted thriller, embedded with wonderful energy and a high calibre ensemble. If you are in the minority that hasn’t seen it, you simply must, and if you have seen it already, watch it again. If nothing else, Jaws should be required viewing every summer as a reminder for how blockbusters could, and should, be made.

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Midnight Madness – Videodrome (1983)

Videodrome (1983).
Directed by David Cronenberg.

Videodrome Poster

After much deliberation and laziness, I recently ordered and watch the early David Croneneberg film Videodrome. It’s something I’ve been told to watch for ages now, as it’s apparently something I’ll like. And needless to say, I was not disappointed and it was in fact quite brilliant.

It tells the story of Max Renn (played very well, with an injection of sleaze and magnetism by James Woods) who begins to go mad after acquiring the eponymous TV show for his cable network. A show that slowly drives him mad. Woods’ performance is in fact excellent, he brings, as well as the aforementioned magnetism, a strange sense of humanity to the role, highlighting that Max Renn is a flawed, not evil individual.

Deborah Harry is surprisingly good as Nicki, who provides a strange love interest for Renn, as their relationship explores deranged dynamics and a strange sense of sexuality. The two of them share excellent screen chemistry, even during the surreal set piece where Nicki is only present in a TV screen.

It’s fairly short at under an hour and a half, and it does admittedly take around an hour for the film to truly step into the surreal, but when it does, it runs into it kicking and screaming, in truly spectacular fashion.

Croneneberg however is not simply creating a gore fest (although the gore effects by the peerless Rick Baker do stand the test of time quite well). Where Videodrome is at is best is through the satirical eye that it casts on modern media, showing TV as being more than capable of brainwashing a man, as it does to devastating effect on Renn. It even goes so far as to proclaim that “television is reality and reality is less than television”, something that arguably carries a great deal more weight in modern time, and one really has to wonder if this theme would be explored, particularly in such a violent fashion.

Cronenberg’s flair for the visceral and psychosexual is on full display in this film, in the odd sex sequences, including a particularly strange scene wherein James Woods whips a TV, to do the mutations that he goes through and the blood and gore that comes with it.

Renn’s descent into madness is truly excellent to behold, it brings out the best in Woods’ performance, and the character is used wonderfully as an unreliable narrator, and the true ‘reality’ of the situation is never established, with reality and fantasy blurring as the film’s final act roars into life.

As Renn does descend into madness, Videodrome takes hold of him. He is brainwashed by the network into believing what may be a government conspiracy to have Videodrome ‘purge’ sections of society that become fixated on sex and violence. This biting commentary is realized in equal parts through, blood, excellent writing, and Croneneberg’s flair for body horror, even having a VCR slot mutate onto Renn’s body, where tapes are literally inserted into him in order to brainwash him and have him carry out Videodrome’s orders.

As mentioned before, the Rick Baker’s effects are truly excellent in this film, and along with John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), it is arugably one of the pioneers in terms of well applied special effects in horror and science fiction. These landmark visuals stand the test of time exceptionally, including the gore, and Renn’s mutations, which remain nauseating and disturbing even when compared to the effects available today.

Arguably of the most visually influential horror films ever made, Cronenberg’s commentary on TV is disturbing, visceral and has more intelligence than most horror films that have been released in the 21st century. A landmark in the genre, and a well told, surreal story of a descent into madness. “Long live the new flesh”. 


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