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The Maid Freed From The Gallows Pole is another one of those relentlessly morbid tales in folklore. The legend of the accursed maid has translated into some of the most harrowing cases any musician has pleaded for on behalf of a lady in distress. The story has been sung with different twists and turns, and often with a catatonic, fucked-up precision, sort of like the many versions of In The Pines or House Of The Rising Sun. Wikipedia tells us that it is about “a condemned maiden pleading for someone to buy her freedom from the executioner” and the smug bastard is right for a change. The more famous interpretations are by Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan and Peter Paul and Mary. But they aren’t that great (no offence to Robert Plant or that Mr. Middle-aged, Long-haired, Vagrantly Gay, Seventies Rocker Dude in Peecos).

Lead Belly’s Gallis Pole is an obvious choice since his awesomeness knew no bounds back then, but certainly knew how to scrape every dried, crusty patch of blood from blackened hearts. Then there was American folk composer and an enthused nut for Appalachian music, John Jacob Niles, who recorded Hangman, a fantastically potent interpretation for Harmony Korine’s Mister Lonely. He sounds like the Blair Witch on a severe guilt trip, mopping the floor with her tears and blood trickling from the cellar, and it sounds mesmerizing. Der Galgen is an interesting twist of the original by German Folk Metal outfit In Extremo; sounds catchy as hell with something in there for industrial metal aficionados.

The year 1963 saw a young Judy Collins performing Anathea, a mesmerizing Grecian version of the song, at the Newport Folk Festival; check out Judy putting June Carter and the entire cast of Glee to shame with her delicate harmonies. A bunch of YouTubbers have done the legend of the cursed maid proud too; especially 11-year-old Sorcha rocking the violin like a sullen feign and her grandpa who’s obviously a bit self-captivated. Good stuff though.

Through the decades, the song sometimes metamorphosed into a variant called Prickly Bush, but it wasn’t very haunting at all and therefore ripped the tune of its soulfulness.

Brrrr…

Damn I didn’t realize the weather was different up here.

Anyway, move along horsey, nothing to see here but a fairly decent cover by Nic Jones.

I said, move along!

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Jacob John Miles – Maid Freed From The Gallows

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Leadbelly – Gallis Pole

Judy Collins – Anathea

Peter, Paul and Mary – Hangman

Led Zeppelin- Gallows Pole

In Extremo – Der Galgen

Insanely intense grandpa & his granddaughter – Maid Freed From The Gallows

Over expressive dude with the guitar – Maid Freed From The Gallows

Extremely weird dude who makes insane grandpa look normal – Maid Freed From The Gallows

The kickass clip from Mister Lonely

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Your guy/girl/mom/dad/boss/pet something nice and win some favours

Did you know….

that Nolan’s Inception was mind-blowing? I mean, it was just awe-inspiring. My favourite part was when the ninja rabbits had a bloody Kung Fu showdown with the Nazi jazz guitarists on a giant Lotus leaf. I would rather have had the rabbits win, but hey, that’s just me. Anyway…good for Nolan, and how delightfully cute of us to kindly take time from our busy schedules and intellectually over-analyze a Warner Bros production.

I love you.

Hollywood too.

Six stars out of five!!!

Sheitan (Satan): I’m becoming more and more convinced that everything that folks do online is directed at making themselves appear more fuckable. I doubt if there any real atheists, radicals or poets out there; just a bunch of guys and girls trying to fake being dark, hysterical and ambrosial. Giving up on religion to appear emotionally wrought and sexually adventurous to the girl next door. Trying to make sense of Hendrix solos, hoping to get laid with the hipster aunt down the street who’s sick of virtually fucking her husband in Dubai. Wasting precious broadband time on downloading obscure films just to have something to tweet about and then maybe… just maybe… somebody might want to cuddle with them later that night. There are even those who diligently brand themselves as cranky introverts, and wait as long as half a decade to get something useful out of it, for instance, a handjob from someone who’s just as traumatized as they pretend to be.

Kim Chapiron’s Sheitan reminds me of one of these kids. While it isn’t nearly as annoying as the little fuckers, it keeps dropping sexual innuendos at every turn. Sexually repressed kids, sex-crazed teenagers, sexy French women with sexy accents to accentuate even sexier double entendres. Goddamit Chapiron, you had a bunch of prissy college jocks, a kickass killer character played by a perennially ass-kicking actor and the gorgeous-looking French countryside and you came up with this? The slow-burning build-up was a bloody waste of time, without any suitable spillage of blood either and the dialogues just laid to waste any chance the film’s characters have to sustain our interest. The conversations between Thai (Nico Le Phat Tan) and Bart (Olivier Barthelemy) made me feel like one of those priests who visit pedophiles in prison because apparently they are God’s children too. No, I didn’t mean they turned me on, you pervert, they just made me feel like inconclusively embarrassed. Roxane Mesquida and Leïla Bekhti just stand around and look like they are waiting for bohemian girl scouts to distribute hash brown cookies to them.

The director owes his firstborn or at least his grandma’s necklace to Vincent Cassel, who single-handedly makes Sheitan worth a second watch. The rest of the crap cowers like subliminal swines when compared to Cassel’s superlatively entertaining essay as Joseph – the deranged sheepherder/caretaker. His intrusiveness is funny as hell as he sports a smile that would make Two-Face’s angry face look like Hello Kitty having an orgasm. The ‘hot springs’ conversation he has with Bart deserves to be YouTubed to death for its hilarity. The half-hearted twist in the climax is a necessary distraction and the final frame would make for an awesome screenshot for desktops. Twitpic this fucker too. You’ll never know, it just might make you more fuckable.

La Horde (The Horde): Yannick Dahan and Benjamin Rocher should have named this one as Zombie Apocalypse because a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, medicine go down medicine go dooooown. If David Ellis had titled his cult classic as Venom In Transit instead of Snakes On A Plane, I doubt if it would have been as perversely entertaining. If these French directors had came up with a righteously campy name, maybe it would have prepared wankers like me for the inexplicable amount of cheesy violence. Simply put, La Horde‘s Indiran (from Thillu Mullu) to Robin Campillo’s Les Revenants‘ Chandran. This isn’t a moody psychological study about the undead, it’s just a balls-to- the-wall, run-for-the-fucking-hills thriller.

See, the film starts as a showdown between cops and gangsters before the undead show up and turn it into a Towering Inferno meets Day Of The Dead scenario with the world’s tallest building replaced with the France’s dingiest crackhouse. There certainly isn’t any time for characterization or emotive plots as the body count and bullet-spray are just as befuddled as they are slickly executed. Big, tough guys with errr…big, tough guns battle big, tough (continuity) zombies into the night while sub-grouping themselves into a bloody mess. Eriq Ebouaney, Jean-Pierre Martins and Claude Perron chime with a occasional bouts of intensity and maintain a level of toughness that seems plausible. The zombies have some gnarly makeup on that warms my heart, but are way too quick on their feet for my liking. I prefer the slumbering ones; they just seem scarier.

There’s a tribute to one of the scenes in Gaspar Noé’s Irréversible, which again, makes my sun shine a little brighter. Don’t worry, I’m talking about the fire extinguisher scene, not the vile subway one. An entertaining way to spend an hour and half of our meaningless weekends.

Calvaire (The Ordeal): Fabrice Du Welz’s Calvaire is a very watchable backwoods thriller because of Benoît Debie’s cinematography and Manu de Meulemeester‘s set designs. Shot in the Belgian province of Lièg, the film appears so brilliantly wet, dark and dingy that you react to its inherent violence like a junkie kept away from his/her drug of choice for months. The film’s premise is rather familiar as it keeps track of lounge singer Marc Stevens following his car’s breakdown nearby a creepy village. He seeks lodging with the local caretaker – Mr Bartel (Jackie Berroyer) – and pays for it dearly. Apparently, Bartel’s a psycho who thinks the singer is the second coming of his dead wife and takes to him like no dude should to another dude. Jackie Berroyer is in fantastic form here, grimacing and scowling with peculiar intent, taking us through the contours of his delusions.

Some of the stuff in here really doesn’t work at all. Laurent Lucas‘ acting, for instance. Sheesh man, if I were attacked by hog-humping sodomites, I’d think twice about pouting my lips. The arty side of Calvaire ends up looking visibly pretentious because it isn’t backed by anything substantial; the crucifixion imagery and romanticism of tragedy stand out as the worst of the lot. Phillipe Nahon is criminally underused too. The director should have given him a solo performance at that polka song-and-dance sequence at the bar, which (by the way) is the most surreal fucking thing I have seen all year.

The Human Centipede, The First Sequence: The mixed response to director Tom Six‘s latest addition to the genre has obliterated the ‘no shit’ barometer with such velocity that Captain Obvious might come out of retirement. Poor fellow hasn’t had a gig since everybody and their brothers from different mothers loved and subsequently hated Zack Snyder’s 300. The high-brow mainstream critics sure despised the concept behind The Human Centipede, The First Sequence; they called it a derogatory excuse for film-making and an ultra-cheap substitute to Italian barf-worthy films of yore. Hell, even Roger Ebert took the time to channel Don McLean for his dear readers through one of his starry, starry night routines. Most of the underground-dwellers had a hard-on for the film and hailed it as one of the nastiest masterpieces ever. Well, minions, the barometer didn’t fuck around this time.

The malevolence in this film does have its moments. Veteran actor Dieter Laser, who plays Dr. Heiter, is creepy to the point that it distracts us from his ridiculous sunglasses. Also, his moment of euphoria upon creating this twisted Siamese Triplet is very touching; as he sinks back into the couch, the gleaming in his eyes comes across as being scarily genuine. Later on when he snarls, “feed her, feeeeeeeed her”, goosebumps cried themselves to sleep at back of my neck. Akihiro Kitamura is quite possibly on another planet as the head portion of the centipede. The director/actor brings the kitsch like a Tobe Hooper character would and hypnotizes us with his ridiculous delivery of dialogues. Maybe the subtitling was ill-conceived, but for fuck sake, it really doesn’t  get any more gloriously kitschy than this. The highlight being his confessional towards the end. “Hey girls! Hey mister! What an insane world we live in”. Oh Akihiro..you, wonderfully weird centipede, you.

Ashley Williams (Lindsay) and Ashlynn Yennie (Jenny), who play the other two victims/parts, are irritating as hell and almost give us no room for feeling sympathetic towards them. Lindsay even snatches the proverbial ‘defeat from the jaws of victory’ cricket headline and makes us violently shake our fists at the screen. The quality of gore is overshadowed by the lack of quantity. The first time the good doctor brings the scalpel to skin, I was ready to cringe like never before, but ended up feeling distraught about the execution, considering the crisp eloquence and disquieting aplomb with which he describes their impending doom. The dissection of his victims’ kneecaps in particular left a lot to be perversly desired.

The concept of stitching people ass-to-mouth and parade them around like a domesticated pet seemed grotesque to me until I heard that it was based on a joke that Tom Six once shared with his buddies about punishing child molesters. I’d much rather believe that Tom was just insane or had experienced a head trauma as child that led to him wanting carnival folk as pets.

He does make it up with a non-gimmicky ending that works itself into the film’s lack of poetic justice. Even the poorly choreographed swimming pool shoot-out blends in nicely. The high angle camera zoom-out in the last frame (I don’t know what people who study films call it) is probably the single factor that keeps The First Sequence away from the category of extremely forgettable torture porn films.

Haute Tension (High Tension): In 2003 Alexandre Aja first took a stab at the horror genre with this film. It turns out that he didn’t just stab it, he stuck a knife in it and watched it die as Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues blasted in the background. Yes, Haute Tension is about women being stalked by a madman and no, it isn’t without clichés. But director Aja has turned the volume so way up that even the most tediously obvious aspect of the film is viscerally played out. Unwittingly, we go along for the ride and unexpectedly, we relish every bit of it.

The film’s storyline follows two women and their desperate fight for survival to avoid death by mutilation. See, Alex (Maïwenn Le Besco) and Marie (Cécile de France) just wanted to spend a quiet weekend at the latter’s house, hoping to do a bit of studying and subtle teasing of erotica. Unfortunately Alexandre Aja‘s all like “fuck that shit” and lets loose the meanest motherfucker I’ve ever seen. Sure, there have been mean motherfuckers in other films who have been just as vicious with their intentions, but never as much in their actions. Every stomp on the head, every shove towards the wall and every backhanded slap served by the psychotic trucker (Philippe Nahon) had such visceral energy in them. Nahon also played The Butcher in Gaspar Noe’s Seul Contre Tous, which makes me doubly sure that his agent is one sick fuck.

His introduction in Haute Tension is just a flat out brutal sequence with Pierre André‘s bone-crunching sound effects and Sophie Vermersch‘s slick-as-fuck editing that really builds the tension up, shifting beautifully between the killer’s thirst for blood and Marie’s realization that the situation is completely fucked up. Maïwenn and Cécile are respectable as hapless victims looking to survive a nightmare; not as great as the ladies from Wolf Creek, but still, nothing offensively bad like the teenagers in remakes of American horror films. Andrei Finti briefly brings us to the theater of dramatic acting as Alex’s dad, but is quickly disposed off in a moment that makes the curb stomp scene from American History X look like one of the auditions for the lost sitcom – So You Think You Can Bitchslap.

Then there’s the climax, the revealing of the truth, the opening of Misty Beethoven. Oops sorry, Seventies porn flashback. The innocuously tender twist at the end looks almost apologetic, considering Dario Argento has been scripting such false endings for forty years. No prizes for guessing either. In fact if you were expecting something else, you simply haven’t watched enough slasher films.

Martyrs: Ever since its screening in 2008 at the Cannes Film Festival, Martyrs has bludgeoned through the hearts and minds of every other self-fashioned gore aficionado. With director Pascal Laugier bringing copious amounts of paroxysmal violence, the stench of blood and nihilism is almost too beautiful to resist. Moreover the ferocity with which this film transforms from a typical revenge slasher into a dadaist case of spiritual buggery is like a vicious punch to the side of your neck; you don’t exactly get knocked the fuck out, but rather your limbs gently collapse, muscle by muscle, cartilage by cartilage, as you crumble to the floor like a newborn giraffe would if its mother accidentally (or intentionally if it had a sense of humour) tripped it. This isn’t your standard El Roth‘s dorky horror picture show where the violence doesn’t go beyond oohs and ahhs. This is the newest new wave of French cinema bringing the oh fuck nos and oh god whys. This is Layne Staley singing, “you’d be well advised not to plan your funeral before the body dies”.

Matter of fact, Martyrs would have worked just as well either as a supernatural or a slasher film; the director would have had us by the balls no matter what, chewing nails and colouring happy thoughts in our heads like rainbows or waterfalls. It wasn’t just the feral progression of the plot that made the film an affecting piece of art, its relentless pacing and showcasing of violence was almost sacred considering how quarantined our television sets are from the true nature of evil.

Actresses Morjana Alaoui and Mylène Jampanoï, who play Anna and Lucie, make us care deeply about their characters, as they dig deep to appear as transcended through anathema as humanly possible. Lucie’s personal demons manifesting as a shrieking phantasm is one of the scariest I’ve seen in horror films. It makes the onryō in Ju-on look like Charlie Brown after a severe limb severing accident and a lifetime of crack addiction. Catherine Bégin as Mademoiselle and her motley cult go Henry David Thoreau on us with their ‘more than spittle, than tears, than entrails, than dry blood, give us truth’ shenanigans; anyone of them could easily walk into the set of a Nazi exploitation film and seek gainfully employement.

Now, if you’re the sort who desperately needed to know what Bill Murray whispers to  Scarlett Johansson, then Martyrs‘ final dialogue might drive you up the wall. You might start theorizing cinema and shit, making all sorts of weird faces, trying to figure out what was it that Mademoiselle heard. Is there a soul? Is God a woman? Can Batman actually kick Superman’s ass? None of these questions are actually answered but when the premise is so unflinchingly brutal, do we really need to care?

Koroshiya Ichi 1 (Ichi The Killer): This isn’t kitschy like normal people who pretend to like abnormal cinema might want you to believe. Even Takashi Miike asking for barf bags to be distributed at the theatre during the film’s release doesn’t make it tacky fodder for erstwhile gorehounds. Based on the original Manga series created by Hideo Yamamoto, (he’s also the cinematographer here) the film spits and cusses out a tale about two killers who respond only to pain, but in very different ways.

On one side, we have Kakihara – Yakuza’s kamikaze rogue and sado-masochist extraordinaire. He’s a practitioner of extreme physical pain, both self-inflicted and on anyone who wrongs him/spills his coffee/call his mother a whore. On the other side, we have Ichi, a man child whose past trauma has imbibed in him such a repulsion towards pain that it drives him to destroy every single fucking thing in the most brutal, unimaginable ways on his path to serenity and quiet masturbation. These two remind me of Batman and Joker in the sense that pain motivates them more than anything else does. Kakihara feeds off it to feel alive while Ichi begrudgingly needs it to live another day; their inclination towards it however is similarly perfunctory. Of course, my minions, there is a showdown and yes, it is gorgeous in a ‘hey, are those black swans with broken necks dancing in a pool of their own blood?’ way.

Actors – Tadanobu Asano, Suzuki Matsuo (the rogue detective) and Susumu Terajima (Funaki gang) – brilliantly play off their nonchalance towards bloodshed. This was almost necessary considering the film’s excessive misogynistic overtones. It could have so easily degenerated into an Asian art-house splatter fest, but the actors put on such a good show that we expect some of the scenes to be inexplicably more graphic than they actually are. Matsuo is especially great and sometimes scarier than the other two. He doesn’t treat violence as a luxury or deviancy, but as chore and that makes him more dangerous because he never has an off day. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Nao Omori as Ichi though. He could have easily slipped into a less menacing suit and walked right into a buddy comedy with Jet Li. The rest blends in nicely with the overall decadence, be it through sound, sight or a tiny scream. The most memorable gore sequence was the one with the badass yakitori skewers and a pissed-off Kakihara. Poor Mr. Suzuki. Poor poor fellow.

From the deliriously intoxicating music that Karera Musication and Boredoms whip up in the shape of unearthly jazz and muddy psychedelia to the Yamamoto’s hideously chic visuals, Takashi Miike has given us plenty to chew on here. If Ôdishon (Audition) was his most stylish and visceral work as an artist and Visitor Q his most outrageously vivid, Koroshiya Ichi 1 falls somewhere in-between, gazing at our innermost perversions with lovingly bloodied eyes. Somewhere in there, love lurks amongst the shadows like that bald dude playing Satan in Passion Of Christ. You won’t feel it unless you look past the obvious. You can’t deny it because the type of porn you have downloaded over the years has a different story to say.

I am kidding. I’m sure you’re respectably normal…but that transsexual midget porn sure is a kick in the head, eh?

Gurotesuku (Grotesque): Kôji Shiraishi’s Gurotesuku is sort of like a nasty accident on the highway. You don’t want to look, but you do anyway. You tell the person sitting next to you, “oh man I wish everyone’s ok” but your sick mind is secretly wondering “Is that a piece of brain? Please tell me it’s a piece of brain. Oh how I wish that was a piece of brain”.

I wrote a paragraph on how grotesquely pointless this film was before realizing that maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it was the ultimate ‘fuck you’ to stylized Asian slasher films. The strike of vengeance by an underground director who’s frankly sick of all the pansy-excuses for gore that his emotionally crippled peers have put out over the past decade. I can picture Kôji Shiraishi downing his eleventh shot of Saki, wiping the spittle from his pornographic moustache and preaching to his choir of obese geishas and Yoshihiro Nishimura’s illegitimate children, “blutality for blutality’s sake, there isn’t any other way, my childlen”.

Of course, the truth could so easily be that Shiraishi was in fact secretly and simultaneously fathered and mothered by Jerry Springer and Ilsa – the evil Nazi warden. We’ll never know, I guess. One thing I do know is that the film has one of the nastiest and most predictable twists I’ve seen. It’s just wrong on two or three levels at least. Thankfully, the all-round shitty acting pushes it into a surrealist territory where the bad is good and the horrible can be terribly entertaining. It’s also cute that Hiroaki Kawatsure and Shigeo Ôsako try their bestest in the whole wide world to go beyond the clichés and allure us in with method shrieking/wailing/pleading, but it works as well as the dumbasses standing near the literature sections at our local bookstores with misleading ‘I Can Help You’ badges. Ôsako’s final speech to her captor is comical to the point that it comes across as being weirdly existentialistic. I half expected Peter Sellers to drift along and whack her in the head with a hardbound copy of Jerzy Kosinski’s Being There.

Kawatsure is convincing as the sadistic killer, but then again, very few people aren’t. No, really. Pick anyone you know. I bet most of them would fit the profile of a deranged sociopath. We’re all pretty fucked up when nobody’s looking anyway.

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