Archive for January 12, 2017

Cult Obscurities on Amazon Prime (UK)

amazonprimeIf you are an Amazon Prime subscriber you are automatically able to stream thousands of films through Amazon Prime Video. A number of apps are available on mobile devices, game consoles and set-top boxes – or you can directly stream from Amazon’s website. What is common to all these options is a menu system which offers a series of recommendations based on your watch history and other categories such as genre. When searching, titles are listed based on a default “recommended” category, which tends to favour popular films – you will see fairly mainstream fare.

However, browsing using the website and using other options such as the ability to order by “latest arrivals” – or just scrolling through the thousands of results leads to some treats hidden away from the casual viewer. Those interested in more obscure, cult, exploitation and world cinema would be recommended to spend some time in the lower reaches of the menus – there are some surprising, strange and delightful rewards in store. Here are a few of my discoveries.

[Note: this is the UK store – other stores may differ and the US store, for example, has many more titles. Also, titles come and go as and when streaming rights expire or are renewed.]

dead-man-1995A number of titles from art-house darling Jim Jarmusch are available, including Dead Man, Down by Law, Stranger than Paradise, Only Lovers Left Alive and Mystery Train.

There are a large number of Spaghetti Westerns, including titles from respected directors such as Sergio Martino, Sergio Garrone and Duccio Tessari, starring the likes of Giuliano Gemma, Klaus Kinski and Anthony Steffen. A whole host of Django and Ringo sequels!

Cult horrors including Jim Wynorski’s Chopping Mall, Bob Clark’s Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things, Don Dohler’s Nightbeast and a whole host of films from Troma.

killer9seatsHorror and exploitation from around the world: Mystics in Bali (Indonesia), The Killer Reserved Nine Seats (Italian giallo), Snake Girl and the Silver-Haired Witch (Japan), Bedevilled (South Korea), El Camino de los Espantos (Mexico) and World of Crooked Mirrors (Russia).

Also heavily represented is the Italian cop movie genre of the 1970s, known as Poliziotteschi, with a number of classic titles featuring Maurizio Merli, John Saxon and Henry Silva, from directors Umberto Lenzi and Fernando di Leo. Accompanying these is the feature documentary Eurocrime! which does a great job of explaining the genre and interviewing surviving participants. Highly recommended.

blue-paradise-posterAnd there’s more: lots of obscure martial arts films, weird curios such as the Italian Blue Lagoon/cannibal film mashup Blue Paradise, Errol Morris’ documentary Tabloid, Hong Kong action and horror such as City on Fire, Black Magic and Hex, not to mention the astounding Mighty Peking Man.

Though some of these films may be available on youtube a large number appear to have been properly mastered – with some even in HD. I suspect that a number of these have been licensed from companies which have bought packages for future release on DVD and bluray (indeed a number of the HK horrors have recently been released by 88Films here in the UK), but a large amount of the above are not currently available on any home format in the UK.

samuraicopFor some reason, Amazon Video have acquired a package of streaming rights which include the complete American films of Iranian film-maker Amir Shervan. A director in his home country since the late 60s, Shervan moved to the US after the revolution of 1979 and latterly became a director of low-budget action films. These have developed a sizeable cult following due to recent DVD releases, and their further dissemination in HD on streaming platforms will surely only increase their notoriety.

Shervan’s films are appalling. His direction is slapdash and his editing incompetent. Even the bare minimum requirements of a feature film such as scene continuity and synchronous dialogue and sound effects are casually dispensed with. The dialogue is terrible and borderline offensive when it handles race or gender. They’re also a lot of fun to certain kinds of modern audiences, as examples of a kind of kitsch and campy 80s aesthetic. Even though they do share certain similarities with late 80s action movies, the films they more closely resemble are the modern works which seek to emulate the look and feel of “bad” 80s action cinema – Kung Fury (2015) and the films made the “Astron-6” collective, such as Manborg and Father’s Day (both 2011).

Given that such retro-cinema efforts are designed to parody a genre, rather than individual films for the most part, it’s curious that one film-maker so embodied the tropes and foibles which became the hooks on which future homages were hung. If we’re looking for reasons beyond the limitations of budget (for example, Shervan doesn’t shoot at night – no lighting; doesn’t record sync sound – no equipment), we may be tempted to assign credit for these qualities to cultural differences. As a middle-eastern emigree with apparently limited English, Shervan may have had difficulty working with cast and crew, but also in understanding the demands of contemporary US action cinema. Shervan’s films are extremely reductive – they feature a dumb lunk battling racial stereotypes, killing them all and remaining bafflingly attractive to a collection of blonde, Playboy-esque female characters. While Shervan can’t afford stunts or spfx his films are extremely violent and his cop heroes display a casual disregard of life and law which would have made Dirty Harry gag.

In Electric Boogaloo (2014), Mark Hartley’s excellent documentary on the rise and demise of the Cannon film group, the point is made on several occasions that the Israeli duo of Golan and Globus continually misjudged the audience. Despite initially thriving in a market set afloat by demand in the early days of home video, these Hollywood outsiders misread the appeal, approach and market for genre cinema – leading to expensive decisions such as paying Stallone $13m to appear in a film about arm-wrestling. There’s something implicitly racist in these kinds of accusations – that foreigners are incapable of understanding the cultural works and practises of indigent film-makers. However, perhaps it’s instead the case – as Clive James has claimed – that foreigners can better read foreign cultures. The likes of Cannon and Shervan just took at face-value the ridiculous excesses of US action cinema. Their crime was to replicate it without any of the hypocritical neutering of the hard ages of racism, sexism and jingoism demanded by Hollywood, the MPAA and, ultimately, audiences. Shervan’s further crime was that he, unlike Golan and Globus, couldn’t afford explosions.