Friday, June 29, 2007

Review of The Place Promised in Our Early Days

Japanese animator Makoto Shinkai came to prominence with his 24-minute short “Voices of a Distant Star” (2002), famed for being a well-regarded anime made entirely by Shinkai on his household Mac. His follow-up feature “The Place Promised in Our Early Days” (2004) also met with acclaim from the few who saw its Japanese satellite television release. The film failed to get theatrical distribution abroad, but it has been released on DVD. The low-profile distribution and lack of fanfare have made the film an instant victim of neglect, a sad fate for a film that is remarkably unique and beautiful.

The film tells the stories of Hiroki and Takuya, two young friends in an alternate history Japan divided by the Alliance (US) and Union (presumably the Soviet Union). The boys live out their “early days” (8th grade) in the sunny countryside near the border, just across the water from the Union’s enormous Hokkaido Tower. The mysterious building rises so high that it’s top brushes the limits of atmosphere and transcends the camera frame in every shot (until the finale). As the story progresses, we learn that the tower was built by a brilliant scientist (now dead) and pulls in matter from a “branch” universe to replace an expanding radius around it.
Hiroki and Takuya are both prodigies and work diligently at constructing a plane during their off hours at a guided missile plant (yes, one that hires junior high students). They dream of one day visiting the tower and even promise to invite Sayuri, their mutual friend/girlfriend. It’s a promise they can’t keep, however, when Sayuri abruptly disappears.

Three years later, Takuya is working as a scientist on parallel universe applications while Hiroki is a high school student in Tokyo where he wanders around as a melancholic, unfulfilled husk. The approaching outbreak of war and the rediscovery of Sayuri trigger a chain of reunions and a plan to visit the tower before it is destroyed forever.
One can’t talk about “The Place Promised in Our Early Days” without first mentioning how gorgeous it looks. The artistry, while somewhat different in style, easily rivals the best of Miyazaki’s better known films. The images, particularly the relatively realistic landscapes, really capture one’s attention and sustain audience interest. Where many animes rely on fantasy and science fiction to create wonderment, Shinkai focuses first and foremost on the natural beauty of ordinary places often quite familiar to the world we know.

Though the setting (excepting the tower that overlooks many a scene) is realistic, one must admit the lighting tends to be magically idyllic and conspicuously rapturous at every hour of the day. The use of lighting effects (particularly with sunlight) dominates the film in the way that material properties (specular shine, reflectivity and transparency) dominates “Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence” (2004). “The Place Promised in Our Early Days” in virtually a crash course in pretty lighting phenomena. Here are some of the many effects you’ll be treated to:

1) Filtered shafts of light.
2) Lens glare (upper left) and lens flare (lower right).

3) Atmospheric effects like haze and cloud glow (note the way the lightning in the second example illuminates the nearby clouds).

4) Saturation (reduced contrast under strong rear lighting).

Much of the visuals are simply keen artistic expressions rather than CG modeled demonstrations of an actual physics engine (such as in “Ghost in the Shell 2”). As such, the effects aren’t very dynamic. You won’t see many whirling dust motes in the shafts of light or shifting shadows or drifting clouds like you would if the system was really using radiosity (dynamic illumination). So while realism tends to give way to dramatic effect, the upside is that the film comes really close to reality and ends up looking even better courtesy of a little artistic license. The lack of a killer physic engine does mean that some materials like smoke and water don’t look as good as they could. You do get a hint of sparkle on choppy water, though, which is a nice quick fix.

I’ll stop talking about the graphics in a second, but I did want to mention that the character design is not nearly on the same level. The characters aren’t off-putting or drawn badly, they just lack much originality and detail. They are a bit too stereotypical (cartoon uniformity of color, big-eyes, etc.) to draw us in through verisimilitude or individuality and so I feel Shinkai misses a chance to make us identify with and remember his characters.

This is a shame, considering that despite the visual splendor, this movie is really about personal encounters with growth, hope, friendship and love. It’s misleading because we have all the signs of a sweeping, momentous epic: vast political entities fighting each other on an international scale, a mysterious looming structure, heady metaphysical dalliances with dreams and parallel universes and, of course, a giant explosion. By the time one gets to the finale, one might easily experience it as an anticlimax. The lack of explanations, a 50-50 mix of pleasant ambiguity (how were the tower and Sayuri connected?) and plot holes (why didn’t the Union get rid of the tower themselves when they realized it was dangerous and out of their control?) disappointed and angered many viewers.

However, I’m not of the popular opinion that the film is utterly opaque and too confusing to understand. While I admit that I still have some unanswered questions, I don’t think the outmost layers of meaning are that obscure. The tower served as a target of mystery and wonder for the young characters. Their dream of visiting the tower was barred by the military-guarded border while its power within their imagination was diminished by a scientific understanding and years of frustrating inaccessibility. As they entered the adult world, they no long experienced the wonder, enchantment and awe that once held them rapt. Giving up on the trip to the tower was a form of despair and a symbol of their missed opportunity for adventure, romantic fulfillment (Hiroki) and sated curiosity (Takuya).

The film deals with plenty of other motifs too, although I hesitate to probe too deeply. Is the Miyazaki-esque lesson about keeping your promises at all costs that interesting? Should one bother to dig up the obvious phallic potential of the rising tower or the equally obvious connections between the atomic bomb and the climactic explosion? There seems to be less point in doing so the further it gets away from the scope of character development.

[Image: Religious iconography, irony or just more fun with lighting?]

One certainly can’t claim that the film does not offer up enough food for thought, however many would argue that the real meat of an anime is the action scenes and plot twists and those are quite utterly lacking. If you can’t tolerate drama and dialogue without a giant robot or a samurai showdown, this film probably won’t go over well with you. For me, it was a pleasant alternative to your typical anime clichés and compares well with “Wings of Honneamise” (1987), though somewhat below the ingenuity and originality of Satoshi Kon.

[Image: An interesting takeoff point for a montage digression about technology and biology.]

If the film has a major flaw, I’d say it was the difficulty reconciling the tight-focus character drama and the wide-focus “big picture.” Shinkai keeps the camera far back to soak in the masterfully-painted settings (often leaving the subject matter completely behind) when he should be keeping us grounded to the characters and giving them enough facial detail to distinguish some expressive nuance.

The titanic scale of the tower and the global conflict seems extraneous considering that they are hardly exploited as elements of tension, action or adventure. Then there is the matter of the dream worlds and parallel realities which are ultimately left unexplored. It seems to work on a thematic level by suggesting that the missed possibilities and alternatives of the past still hover invisibly around us, but little comes of it. Shinkai needed to make up his mind about whether he was making a film about emotions, identity and relationships or about society, technology and war. Sometimes he feels like he is going down one path, sometimes the other and the result is that neither gets the fullest possible treatment.

Oh, and as always, avoid the dub. Although it isn’t terrible, it cakes on the cheesiness and melodrama a little bit thick.

Walrus Rating: 7.5 (Leaning higher)

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Hall of Strangeness Part XV

The Incubus – (Leslie Stevens) Sex, horror, William Shatner (pre-Star Trek fame) and Esperanto. This movie has it all! The cocky tagline declares that “Time can not fade the brilliance that is… THE INCUBUS!!!” The ambition is matched by the director’s attempt to do for Esperanto what The Jazz Singer did for sound and The Wizard of Oz did for color. The only problem is that the so-called “universal language” thing never caught on, and neither did the movie. Earnestly tries to borrow from Ingmar Bergman to hilarious and awkwardly mixed results. Creepy goat thrown in for free.
Artistry: *** Fun: *** Strangeness: ****

Irma Vep – (Olivier Assayas) Irma Vep (anagram alert) is the story of a French director intent on remaking a Les Vampires, a silent 7-hour vampire jewel-thief film (it’s a real movie) with Hong Kong martial artist Maggie Cheung as the lead. Cheung agrees and although she is initially unsure of whether she shares the director’s vision (which includes donning a skin-tight leather outfit and moving like a cat) she begins to hypnotically incorporate the character’s larcenous behavior into her real life. The cast and crew suffer from the usual plague of backstage difficulties, but when the director’s rushes are finally revealed, everyone is in for a surprise. Cheung is superb and the final five minutes are divine.
Artistry: **** Fun: **** Strangeness: ***

The Isle – (Kim Ki-Duk) A mute woman rents out color-coded boathouses to fishermen and prostitutes. When a murderer on the lam hides out in one of the boats, she falls in love… sort of. One of the most stomach-churning love stories ever told. The simple image of a two fishhook making a heart shape stays with the viewer for an uncomfortably long time.
Artistry: **** Fun: * Strangeness: ****

Johnny Guitar – (Nicholas Ray) This 1954 Joan Crawford/Sterling Hayden western was several decades ahead of its time in sheer weirdness and guts. The main plot concerns the bitter rivalry between saloon owner Vienna and cattle rancher Emma. Vienna has hired eccentric bodyguard Johnny Guitar to help her but most of the men in the film are so weak and indecisive that they take a backseat to the women’s formidable performances. Vienna’s outfit served as the blueprint (redprint?) for James Dean’s in Rebel without a Cause.
Artistry: *** Fun: *** Strangeness: ***

Kamikaze Girls – (Tetsuya Nakashima) This absurdist female buddy-film became a surprise Japanese hit upon its release. Our narrator is the emotionally detached Momoko (“I felt like crying when I saw her delight. I, who coldly watched wild animals die. Was it lack of sleep?”) who flaunts her obsession with the rococo era by wearing frilly custom-designed dresses and avoiding anything resembling work. She meets Ichigo, a talkative head-butting member of a motorcycle gang and the two form an unlikely friendship. Funny, fashionable and almost touching.
Artistry: **** Fun: ***** Strangeness: ****

Monday, June 25, 2007

Review of Death Walks at Midnight

At the very fringe of my early memory, I recall having read a young adults book by James Howe called “The Celery Stalks at Midnight” about pets that fight a vampire bunny and some supposedly evil celery. Reflecting on the cute pun title, I can’t help but wonder if the benign children’s author was a fan of “Death Walks at Midnight” (1972) and was consciously making the reference. Certainly, the film had an early, though minor, cult status and the two books do share a certain amount of silliness in addition to their horror elements.

Anyway, “Death Walks at Midnight” (also titled “Death Caresses at Midnight,” but both titles are equally irrelevant) was Luciano Ercoli’s follow-up to “Death Walks in High Heels” (1971). The two gialli share at least five cast members that I could tell: Susan Scott (as the lead), Carlo Gentili (as the inspector), Simon Andreu, Luciano Rossi and Manuel Muniz. Despite this, accusations that the film is virtually a repeat of the earlier movie are entirely unfounded. The plot, setting and character dynamics are utterly different.

Ercoli seems to have learned from a few of his past mistakes, and starts the film off without the somewhat tedious voyeuristic camp that tripped “High Heels” before it even left the starting gate. Instead, we open with Valentina (Susan Scott) inviting over pack of sketchy fellows bearing a camera and drugs. They pay her 300 grand (Italian). Are they shooting porn? Arranging an orgy? Better. They are testing a new psychotropic hallucinogen and filming her, masked, as a demonstration of its effects! Once she gets high, her unethical friends remove her mask and ask her to describe her visions. She reports seeing (and the audience sees with her) a brutal murder taking place in the neighboring apartment with a spike-covered iron fist as the weapon.

When she awakens the next day, she has the added stress of discovering that her face is strewn across every tabloid cover. The embarrassing notoriety gets her fired from her job and when she confronts Gio Baldi (Simon Andreu), the journalist who filmed her, the ensuing property damage gets her arrested. Police inspector Seripa (Carlo Gentili) begins to take more interest when he discovers that Valentina’s description of the crime matches one that took place in the apartment directly across from hers… six months ago!

[Image: The empty room where the brutal slaying took place is expertly filmed. The sheer lack of mise-en-scene works to make the crime feel surreal, cold and modern.]

At this point in the film, I was absolutely hooked. Screenwriter Ernesto Gestaldi (veteran of “Death Walks on High Heels,” “The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail,” “The Case of the Bloody Iris,” and “The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh”) has fashioned a perfect giallo premise with some help from Sergio Corbucci (director of “Django”) and a parade of other writers. Things do eventually suffer from too many recipe-writers in the kitchen leading to a prairie dog colony of plot holes. We’ll get to all that, but a little more on the story.

Valentina sneaks over to the apartment where the murder took place and finds nothing. From the balcony she can see over to her place where her boyfriend is listening to loud music and working out. She shouts to him, but he can’t hear. Almost immediately afterward (oh, the tragic irony), the killer returns and attacks. When she locks him out of the room, he starts beating his way through the door with the spiky metal gauntlet. The whole scene is pure giallo magic. Consider:

1) A maniacal fiend, looking like a dropout James Bond villain, wearing a white trench coat and dark shades and wielding a monstrous weapon.

2) Susan Scott screaming, prancing about and then screaming some more.

3) The wicked irony of her boyfriend being so close (if he would just turn around!), but unable to hear her.

4) The clever solution wherein she breaks a piece a glass and reflects a beam of sunlight into her apartment, finally getting the boyfriend’s attention.

5) The conclusion, where the boyfriend arrives (scaring us since we are expecting the killer to bust in) and proceeds to not belief her again while on the left half of the frame (see screenshot below) we watch the villain slip out.

[Image: A homage/revision of “Rear Window” (1954) that is far more successful then Argento’s version in “Do You Like Hitchcock?” (2005).]

Poor Valentina can’t get anyone to believe her, but for once there are some pretty good reasons. Everyone knows she was on hallucinogenic at the time she “witnessed” the murder and the police think she is staging another publicity stunt because of her still-fresh tabloid debut. The typical giallo pattern has the female victim assisted by a police inspector or a reporter, but while both roles are present in the film, Valentina is strangely alone. She gets to head the investigation and inflict some feisty justice largely without the agency being horded by the male characters. While she’s not exactly a feminist icon, one must admit that she’s less passive then the typical Edwige Fenech role.

After Valentina meets Verushka Wuttenberg, the best friend of the iron-glove victim, she starts to do some serious sleuthing. Verushka shows her pictures of the dead girl and it isn’t the person Valentina saw murdered! The two women head to an asylum to see the man already arrested for the six-month old crime and he isn’t the killer Valentina saw! Things just get more confusing when, in a quick chain of events, Verushka disappears, a nun comforts the supposed killer rather then the distressed Valentina, an inmate starts dances a manic jig in circles around her and the asylum director makes an intimidating entrance.
Hitchhiking home from the unpleasant experience, Valentina sees the killer once again, driving behind a hearse. She asks her driver to speed up and does get away from her apparent stalker only to contend with the driver’s unwanted advances. She meets up with Verushka several times later at locations ranging from a cemetery to a villa overrun by houseplants. She begins to get closer to the truth, no thanks to an elaborate series of disconcerting red herrings. If you liked the ridiculous extremes of unmotivated fake-outs in “Death Walks on High Heels,” you’ll love the random distractions found here, exemplified by cat with a cut throat that is never even partially explained.

Writer Gestaldi marshals one of his trademark all-out awesome endings. There is a series of successive twists that succeed more due to the enthusiastic delivery then their clarifying or revelatory qualities. You get a pair of new villains thrown in at the last minute, including a knife-throwing drug dealer who compulsively giggles with sadistic madness. The inevitable rooftop chase finale is an irresistible combination of action, horror and excess that will leave a smile on the face of any cult cinema lover. Sadly, though, the confusing plot is never satisfactorily wrapped up.

There is nary a single positive review of the movie that I can find, but I am a definite big fan. There are two major complaints: the plot holes and the pacing. The former problem I must heartily agree with. While starting off in high form things just get so jumbled that it’s clear the writers have no idea how to unravel all their narrative threads and dramatic knots. There is so much that goes unexplained, or that is outright inconsistent or totally based on coincidence that I can’t argue the script ends up making much sense.

However, I disagree with most critics about the pacing. There is a twenty minute lull in the middle of the film but nothing like the dry stretches in “Death Walks on High Heels” or the main body of most Fulci films. The beginning is 30 minutes of thrilling rising action that is far above the typical giallo mold of single opening crime and then sluggish “mounting tension” filler. I found the ending so captivating, in fact, that the plot holes just rushed passes me, making the enjoyment of the experience quite high despite retroactive disgruntlement with the story.

Though no one is surprised by high-minded art house critics and middle-brow newspaper reviewers panning a giallo, there is little support for this film even amongst Eurotrash fans and internet reviewers. Many complain that the film isn’t sleazy enough (there is no nudity), but by contrast I found that the restraint had a positive effect. It prevented the often-questionable narrative halts of dancing/stripping/sex scenes (not that the giallo would be the same without them) and the boring romantic entanglements which never get developed anyway. It also makes the film more interesting to see a female star overcoming a cadre of male characters who lie, exploit, humiliate and try to kill her with the focus being, for a change, more on “overcoming” then on the exploitation, humiliation and murder. I’m not arguing that Scott isn’t still used as a sexual draw for the film; her hair is so styled and bouncy that shampoo commercials wilt with jealousy as she walks by. The difference is that Scott gets to keep her blouse on, kick a rapist in the crouch and shoot a character you’d never expect her to kill (I won’t spoil it, see the movie).
[Image: If Nancy Drew were an Italian model…]

The acting in this movie is not exactly what I call “good,” but it won me over with the minor roles. Much like “The Bird with the Crystal Plumage” (1970), the type of character in mysteries that are usually used as disposable connective tissue to provide clues from one local to the next, are instead given distinct personalities and quirks. Everyone from the concierge, the hearse driver, the gay photographer (an ubiquitous giallo stock character it would seem), asylum inmates, the giggling knife-thrower and the obvious red herrings is given enough attention to provoke amusement if not sympathy. Gio Baldi, the reporter, gets a nice little chain smoking habit that makes “Do you have a light?” his something of his personal tagline. It actually gets integrated into the plot with laudable wit and variety.

[Image: (top) The Italian Steve Buscemi and (bottom) a killer who can’t stop giggling.]

As for style, Ercoli lives up to his reputation as a second-tier, but not untalented, director. I enjoyed the constant presence of the killer in reflections (including the giallo staple sunglass reflection) and through glass, making him seem always vague, transient and perhaps even a figment of Valentina’s imagination. I liked the use of inappropriately jazzy elevator music during some of the violence and chase scenes, but it isn’t particularly great and certainly not good horror material. Then too, Ercoli isn’t a master of framing or color experiments, but his camera placement is occasionally inspired. I think that “Death Walks at Midnight,” despite the fact that the focus is a little off in many normal shots, excels most at its pervasive focus pulls. Here are three favorites:

So while I don’t think Ercoli is necessarily on the verge of (or deserves) a major rediscovery/revival, I have really enjoyed his films. This one did convinced me to buy the Luciano Ercoli “Death Box Set” and it gets a hearty thumbs up from me.

Warlus Rating: 7

I haven’t done an art comparison in a while and this film really begs for one considering that Valentina’s boyfriend is a sculptor. His work looks influenced by Henri Moore’s use of negative space (possibly one of his disciples), but for my example I’ve chosen the classical image of the reclining female. Plenty of examples from art history to choose from, but Valentina sleeping beneath a picture of herself reminded me of Man Ray photo of his own painting. It also reminds me of shot from Tarantino’s “Death Proof” (2007). Coincidence or not? You decide.

[Image (from top to bottom): “Death Walks at Midnight,” “Death Proof,” and Man Ray’s “Observatory Time – The Lovers.” Screw Saussure; I can take my referents from anywhere I want.]

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Review of Tarkan Versus the Vikings

Not long ago, my experience with “The Turkish Star Wars” (1982) turned me on to the wonderful world of Turkish 70’s cinema, a golden age of outrageous no-holds action and adventure films. With modest budgets, by American standards, and freedom from censorship, copyrights, good taste and artistic ambitions, Turkey put out a wealth of cheap entertainment aimed at the young male audience. Masked heroes, lone killers, swashbuckling pirates and intrepid treasure hunters ruled the day.

“Tarkan Versus the Vikings” (1971) is an archetypical example of those carefree days. The movie is based on a popular Turkish comic book series about Tarkan, an adventuring swordsman who was raised by wolves. In this installment (5th of 7), often considered the best of the batch, Tarkan visits Princess Yonca (Attila’s daughter) at the encampment of the Huns. Soon after, the settlement is invaded by Vikings led by the evil Tora. Tarkan is knocked unconscious and nearly killed while his beloved wolf, Kurt (which he claims is “my everything” and “more than kin” whatever that means), is killed.

Kurt’s pup, also named Kurt, nurses Tarkan back to health. Meanwhile, Tora betrays the Viking chieftain, but is in turn betrayed by Lotus, his sexy “Chinese” ally. Lotus, with Yonca secretly in tow, crosses paths with Tarkan who is now on a mission of revenge and rescue. Tora sends an army after Lotus, but must also deal with Ursula, the daughter of the former chieftain and the angry leader of an all-female Viking faction. And so on and so forth.

[Image: (villains from left to right)
1. A guy clearly wearing a fake bald-cap
2. Tora complete with giant mustache, winged hat and mittens
3. Lotus, a treacherous Chinese woman
4. The obligatory eye-patch-wearing right-hand man]

The plot is packed with memorable scenes and really quite well structured, but it’s too complicated to really discuss in detail here. I can guarantee rollicking battles, not-too-shocking betrayals and the indispensable histrionics where everyone looks about ready to fire lightning out of their faces. Everything is deliciously overwrought and a bit arbitrary in a way that is at once incompetent and daring compared to today’s comic book adaptations. I mean, why is that Viking chopping a little girl in half during the battle. Was the child participating in the fight? Was there no one else more strategically of value? Did he bring the child himself to kill in a demonstration of his intimidating blood-lust?

[Image: This seems gratuitously mean even for a Viking.]

The action and adventure (not to mention the violence) has a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and vigor. Even pacifists will doubtlessly find themselves caught up in the low-budget mayhem of “one-shot, one-stunt” filmmaking that features more gratuitous brawling, clashing and chopping than you can throw a tomahawk at. Though there are plenty of deaths involving pathetic minor henchmen getting shot by silent blow-darts and weakly falling to the floor (BORING!), director Mehmet Aslan adds thrills to his kills whenever possible. Hanging over a snakepit by your hair not frightening enough? How about getting menaced by a giant octopus!

My favorite kill is the film’s final one. While duking it out in the long-anticipated vengeance battle, Tarkan throws Taro from a rooftop into the water below. How does it end? Scroll to the final screenshot for a hint.

The violence is mostly all in good fun, more like an old “Sinbad” movie than today’s uncomfortably visceral gore and savored cruelty. Aslan likes his black and white unmarred by grey; the villains tend to be so deliciously evil as to be downright lovable. Who doesn’t love it when someone lets fly their hawk to gouge out they eye of a failed henchman? In most of the swordplay it is laughably obvious that the only body part in any danger of being skewered is the armpit and although you might find more women, children and elderly at the end of the blades (which are likely to be conspicuously more bloody as well) than in your average American PG film, no harm is meant.

[Image (lower): Taro pets his hawk in preparation of feeding it quavering victim meat.]

However, your typical Bible belter would probably not be pleased by the number of breasts on display and it should be noted that the film is not aimed at children despite the silliness. Aslan doesn’t shy away from the more lascivious half of the Viking’s “rape and pillage” campaign nor does he shy away from the obvious box-office potential of stocking the cast with Amazonian-like warriors and belly-dancing seductresses. Progressive this movie is not, but at least equality can be given lip-service when it comes to storming the ramparts with bravery and gusto.

Does Aslan go too far by having the Vikings inexplicably torture their captured women by bouncing them on trampolines? Yes, but… well actually I don’t have any way of defending that. So, on to the screen captures:

Like “One Million Years B.C.” (1966) one can’t help but be won over by the campy, shameless costume design. I can understand why the women wear animal furs to keep warm, but why do they dye them pink, red and purple? And wouldn’t the miniskirt cuts and revealing cleavage defeat the protective and insulating qualities? The boots, to my untrained eye, look like they’d be useless for hiking or fighting and only practical in the off chance of a go-go dancing skirmish.

[Image: Ursula, leader of the Viking rebellion]
[Image: Yonca, daughter of Attila]
[Image: Lotus (Seher Seniz looking a little like Edwige Fenech and equally as Chinese) is only as Oriental as satin gowns, 60’s eye-makeup, dark hair and lots of imagination can make her.]

For the men, every strapping young lad gets to vicariously experience their ultimate dream: wearing a cape, eye-patch and winged helm in an awe-inspiring display of masculine glory. Ultimately, the belle of the ball is neither man nor woman, for no costume could possibly rival the enormous octopus outfit. Though under-inflated and over-used (the effects team was zealously proud), he dominates every scene with tentacle thrashing might.

As is probably obvious, this film’s greatest advantage is its low (but not absent) budget. While there was clearly enough money to hire a huge cast, outfit them in outrageous costumes and then film them swatting at each other with wooden weapons, there was thankfully not enough to bestow any dignity or artistry upon the proceedings. The result is extremely watchable since the minimal production values never lead to drabness or narrative lulls. You won’t find much technical know-how or deep meanings but there is a crude sense of framing and an admirable lunge at fight choreography.

The music consists almost exclusively of three tracks. Two of them are stolen from other movies (the third one might be as well) and all of them surge with grandiosity, ensuring that every battle gets boss battle treatment.

Propelled by enthusiasm, indulgence and ingenuity (one of the “special effects” involves turning the camera sideways to show Kurt climbing out of a deep pit) “Tartan Versus the Vikings” makes for an excellent roll in the Elysian fields of adolescent male fantasy and Euro-trash kitsch. Mondo Macabre, a dedicated distributor that is one of my fast-rising favorites, has released the film as a double-feature (with the far inferior “The Deathless Devil”) so there is no reason to miss out!

[Image: Little Jimmy falls in the well. Lassie goes running for help (the coward) while Kurt dives in, ties a harness around the boy and scales the wall!]

Walrus Rating: 7.5