Archive for the Please Do Disturb Category

Please Do Disturb: Combat Shock

Posted in Movies, Please Do Disturb with tags , , , , , , on September 27, 2011 by Scott Emerson

Nihilism as a theme is a fairly uncommon animal in film, especially in mainstream productions where the crowd-pleasing ethos makes it difficult to explore the meaningless of life. Even TAXI DRIVER, one of the most celebrated examinations of nihilism, has a redemptive arc. (And begs the question, how successful would Scorsese’s film be without it?)

Horror films of course get a free pass to delve into bleakness and despair, though they too can encounter resistence by going “too dark” (case in point: the reaction to Frank Darabont’s epilogue for THE MIST). Yet even with the recent spate of torture porn and such offerings as THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE and A SERBIAN FILM it’s hard to find a study of human suffering as unrelentingly and unapologetically downbeat as Buddy Giovinazzo’s COMBAT SHOCK.

Originally filmed as AMERICAN NIGHTMARES, the film was picked up by Troma in 1986, who retitled it, trimmed it, and slapped it with an ad campaign that implied it was a RAMBO clone. (Troma did go on to release a nice two-disc special edition in 2009 that includes both cuts, and is well worth picking up.) But even the tinkering for an R rating and palatable reception couldn’t blunt the edge of Giovinazzo’s shocking melodrama.

COMBAT SHOCK chronicles the final, miserable hours of Frankie (played by Giovinazzo’s brother Ricky, in a raw wound of a performance), an unemployed, impoverished Vietnam veteran living with his wife and Agent Orange-mutated baby in a Staten Island hellhole. When he’s not dealing with flashbacks to his stint in a Vietnamese POW camp, Frankie struggles to find a job while trying to keep his family from falling prey to the mafia goons to whom he owes money. If that wasn’t enough–and in Giovinazzo’s world, it never is–they’re about to get tossed from their squallid apartment. Frankie’s feeble, vain attempts to right the sinking ship of his life triggers a series of events that culminates in one of the harshest, most staggering climaxes the genre has seen.

There’s little in the way of traditional action, but what keeps COMBAT SHOCK from being a depressing slog is Giovinazzo’s strong narrative skills and keen eye for detail. (He also makes effective use out of a largely non-professional cast, giving the derelict setting a dingy cinema verite feel.) He never flinches in depicting this hell, be it the heroin addict who, lacking the works to inject his fix, gouges a hole in his arm to sprinkle in his junk or the cheerfully oblivious child prostitutes Frankie encounters. The approach peels back the characters’ grimy facades, making them instantly real and relatable, and which only serves to make its ending all the more brutal. (Though Giovinazzo also finds moments in which to inject slivers of pitch-black humor.)

But the film’s signature centerpiece is Frankie’s baby. Symbolic of the traumas he suffered in (and brought home from) the war, it’s the most unnerving cinematic infant since the one in ERASERHEAD. It’s such a disturbing visual that even its technical crudity can’t diminish its impact.

I’m tempted to write more in depth about the film’s climax, in which Frankie finally takes care of his family, but I’ll hold off. If you’ve seen the film you know what a shocking, tragic scene it is (made more so by its sheer inevitability), and if you haven’t–well, you’re in for a nasty little revelation. I will, however, say that Giovinazzo handles the moment just right, unafraid to follow events to their grim conclusion while keeping it from going unneccessarily over the top. And once the horrible moment has passed, Giovinazzo proves once again that things can always get worse, adding a brief metaphorical coda that suggests Frankie’s torments will continue in the afterlife.

Rivaling CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST for the title of Most Grueling Horror Film, COMBAT SHOCK is a grim and unpleasant picture, but too powerful and well-crafted to be missed. It’s a statement of anger and helplessness; one that, in this era of economic downturns and soldiers readjusting to civilian life, remains as relevant (and resonant) today, a quarter-century later.

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Please Do Disturb: Star of David: Hunting for Beautiful Girls

Posted in Movies, Please Do Disturb with tags , , , , , , , , on July 21, 2011 by Scott Emerson

(WARNING: It’s become common practice in the blogosphere to caution readers of “trigger words” when writing about works dealing with sexual assault. I’m not sure I understand the phenomenon myself, but I will say that if you are sensitive to such phrases, you’ll probably want to skip this entry; there’s a pretty good chance you’ll encounter such trigger words here.)

Wow. Where do I begin with this one? Directed in 1979 by Noribumi Suzuki (perhaps best known for SCHOOL OF THE HOLY BEAST) from Masaaki Sato’s manga–I believe there’s also an anime incarnation, as well–STAR OF DAVID: HUNTING FOR BEAUTIFUL GIRLS tackles some heady themes: man’s capacity for cruelty, nature-verses-nurture, the redemptive strength of religion, and of course the transformative power of rape–all studied through a vicious, fetishized lens with the potential to offend damn near everybody.

Suzuki sets the stage with a disturbing prologue in which a woman is raped by an escaped criminal in front of her husband during a home invasion. Like many such scenes it’s an exercise in power, namely the lack of the husband’s (it’s implied his white-collar, upper middle class status renders him inherently weak) as he’s forced to watch the degradation of his wife, but this is just the beginning, the catalyst. The rape is followed up with a brief montage as the husband takes his bubbling cauldron of newfound emotions out on his wife–further humiliating her by whipping her, trussing her in stylized BDSM restraints, and making her watch as he has sex with his mistress. Whether these actions are the result of impulses awakened during the assault or misdirected rage remain chillingly ambiguous, but in today’s climate it plays as “blaming the victim” taken to a skin-crawling extreme. And it only gets worse from here.

STAR OF DAVID concerns itself with Tatsuya, the young man (now grown) who was conceived during the opening rape scene. Living alone in his late parents’ estate, Tatsuya whiles away his days spending his inheritance and visiting his “sister,” whose innocent friendship is starting to mature . . . and possibly threaten. Tatsuya is obsessed with his biological father, poring over the copious (and detailed) notes left by his adoptive dad, and his obsession is one of curiosity and growing admiration. We learn that he’s fascinated with people of power, specifically the Nazis and those that dropped the A-bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (especially potent, given its Japanese origins). With plenty of money, privacy, and time to contemplate, Tatsuya sets out on a personal journey to discover his true legacy.

Suffice to say, said journey involves plenty of rape.

Inspired by his heroes, Tatsuya kicks off a series of vignettes in which he exercises his newfound power, starting with his adopted father’s mistress. Tatsuya assaults and humiliates her, but she saves her outrage when she learns she’s been left out of Tatsuya’s estate. Is this a case of severely misplaced priorities? An unsympathetic character showing her greed? Maybe. But how it appears is that rape has either no negative consequence, or is a wonderful gift bestowed upon the victim by the assailant, ended only when Tatsuya messily kills her. And this is no isolated event; it’s practically the theme of the damned movie.

Consider one of Tatsuya’s later victims, an overachieving schoolgirl he sees reciting an essay on television. He abducts and assaults her, keeps her prisoner in his dungeonesque basement, and gradually bends her to his will. After listening to her bemoan her struggles as a top-notch student he lets her go in an uncharacteristic act of charity. When he meets up with her later, he finds her a happy, well-adjusted girl, as if raping and degrading her was the catharsis she needed to relieve her stress. (I heard the Japanese school system is difficult, but goddamn, people.)

Rape as a subject in entertainment is always a tricky proposition, and unless we’re discussing a drama like THE ACCUSED, it can be difficult to defend. (Even when used as a plot point in revenge films such as DEATH WISH or I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, it can come across as crass and exploitive, and good luck explaining why you enjoyed it.) It’s one thing to feature an ugly, brutal sexual assault to set the story in motion, and to make the subsequent actions of the characters more resonant; it’s another to present rape as something that’s ultimately good for women. It goes beyond disturbing and into offensive, and even that may not be a strong enough term.

Worse, Suzuki is clearly a talented director, and his attention to detail and philosophical musings maintain the viewer’s interest in light of such tasteless material. Even during the convoluted yet inevitable third act when Tatsuya reunites with his biological father and shares with him his taste for degradation. (This includes a memorable sequence in which they slather a young girl in butter and subject her to the intrusive tongue of a German shepherd.)

And about that third act. In another inescapable twist of fate Tatsuya gives in to his urges toward his “sister.” Yet despite his desire to humiliate her, he’s unable to sacrifice her innocence and purity to his father. Tatsuya refuses to allow him to rape her; this must be Suzuki’s stance on the film’s central question of man’s innate goodness. (Which, now that I think about it, is a pretty laughable notion for a movie that offers practically no characters with redeeming qualities.)

And how does she respond? Passionate, beautiful, redemptive lovemaking with Tatsuya. All it takes is the loving forgiveness of a subservient woman to wash away one’s sins, apparently, as Tatsuya emerges from their encounter restored. Cured, even.

But alas, a happy ending is not to be. See, his sister has shamed herself by having an incestuous affair with her father. That is her Star of David (or, in the film, a symbol for one’s own shame and lack of self-worth. I bet Jewish film-goers will just love that). So she hangs herself, unable to live with her guilt–though Tatsuya can go on knowing he’s a serial rapist and murderer, and must contemplate the cruelties of man all by his lonesome.

STAR OF DAVID: HUNTING BEAUTIFUL GIRLS has a lot going for it on a technical level (it really is a well-crafted film) with decent performances across the board, and fans of traditional “pinky violence” may find some value in it. But as entertainment it steps over so many lines I don’t know whether to be disgusted or applaud its audacity. A difficult film, to be sure; a rewarding one I leave for you to decide.

Please Do Disturb: Defiance of Good

Posted in Movies, Please Do Disturb with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 5, 2010 by Scott Emerson

Like any facet of the entertainment industry, pornography has evolved quite a bit over the last forty years, and in many ways similar to its mainstream cinematic counterpart. The auteur-driven output of the ’70s (along with is revolutionary spirit) gradually ceded to marketplace demands and a “product” mentality that put formula ahead of artisitic expression, resulting in films that were more technically sophisticated or satisfying but bereft of directorial vision. (It’s not for nothing that the explosions which punctuate action scenes today are often referred to as “money shots.”) Even a casual viewer of porn films–or, for that matter, someone opposed to them–can see they don’t make them like they used to.

Consider the “roughie,” a particular subgenre that emphasized violence, despair, and all manner of abuse in its attempt to titillate the audience. Made popular by Lee Frost’s 1965 softcore outing THE DEFILERS, this type of film had numerous pornographic approximations–with varying degrees of intensity–throughout the ’70s with such films as SEX WISH, FORCED ENTRY, and THE VIOLATION OF CLAUDIA before becoming obsolete in the glitzy, silicone-enhanced VHS era. (Ironically, the porn of today–specifically that of the “gonzo” variety–has embraced many of the roughies’ attributes, though the point now is the humilation and endurance of the actress, and her various orifices, than any dramatic effect.) Among the most notorious of these pictures is Armand Weston’s DEFIANCE OF GOOD.

Echoing such films as THE SNAKE PIT, this 1975 picture stars Jean Jennings as a young girl institutionalized by her overbearing mother when she’s caught experimenting with cocaine. Exactly what kind of hospital she’s sent to is unclear (a mental treatment facility? drug rehab?), but we know for sure it’s bad news, as Weston presents it as a grim, almost desolate place populated by efficient but uncaring nurses and leering orderlies. Inevitably, Jennings is subjected to a cavity search upon her arrival, where we learn she’s, unsurprisingly, a virgin and dumped in a rec room filled with sex-crazed deviants. But her torment doesn’t truly begin until later that night, when she’s overpowered and raped by a trio of inmates.

What makes this sequence uncomfortable to watch isn’t the assault itself, unpleasant though it may be to witness the forced deflowering of a young girl as something sexually exciting, but the ways in which Weston portrays it. Draping Jennings’s cell-like room in shadow gives it an almost gothic atmosphere of dread, overwhich the soundtrack presents her muffled cries of discomfort and protest. Weston’s camera is blunt and unveering, focusing away from the shots of penetration just long enough to catch close-ups of Jennings’s tear-stained cheeks. And while there’s never any doubt that what we’re seeing is ficticious, performed by a consenting actress, the scene nonetheless has an uncomfortable documentary-like fly-on-the-wall feel. Curiously, the gang-rape (the first real sex scene in the picture) doesn’t occur until somewhere around the twenty-minute mark, which is heard of for a porn film, even in those narrative-friendly days; by delaying the moment Weston increases our dread–and, presumably, our excitement–as we wait for the inevitable.

(It also reminds me of how Meir Zarchi waited 25 minutes to present Camille Keaton’s attack in I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE; the audience has plenty of time to squirm because we know something awful is going to happen. Of course, that sequence is supposed to outrage, though I’m sure there are plenty of folks out there who find it gratifying. And if you’re one of those people, please don’t share that with the rest of the class.)

Oh, and did I mention the rape is capped off with a “joke,” as the orderly interrupts the proceedings only to quip, “Shit, I was hoping to be first.”

Jennings is granted a reprieve when she’s released into the care of Dr. Gabriel, a Mark Twain lookalike who wants to transfer her to his private clinic. Given that Gabriel is played by Fred J. Lincoln (best known to genre fans as Weasel from THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT), it should be no surprise that Jennings simply trades one hell for another. Gabriel’s idea of therapy is to initiate her into the world of sadomasochism (“In order to be free,” he intones, “we must unlearn all the moral values that your misguided parents have taught you.”), subjecting her to the stocks, bloody whippings, and the occasional orgy (which features porn legend Jamie Gillis and Sonny Landham of PREDATOR, looking extremely uncomfortable).

The remainder of DEFIANCE is not quite as harrowing, but it still maintains an aura of skeevy foreboding as Jennings slips further under Gabriel’s influence and begins to enjoy the degradation she’s put through. (It turns out that Gabriel’s actually a former priest now shepherding a new congregation toward spiritual enlightenmnet through pain; but other than justifying the story’s framework, not much else is made of his cult-like philosophy. One wonders what Weston’s motivation was, if he was making a statement about organized religion or was merely attempting to shock. Considering how little his “teachings” play into the overall film, I’m guessing the latter.)

To illustrate her transition, Weston makes each sex scene more enjoyable than the one before it (while keeping the kinkier edge, incorporating bondage, group sex, and other porn standards) until the climactic tryst, a tender coupling between Jennings and her teenaged girlfriend–the one she was snorting coke with, who’s also been placed in Gabriel’s care. Her transformation complete, Jennings is now so comfortable in Gabriel’s thrall that she refuses to leave him despite his permission to do so. She agrees to help her friend escape, setting up a downbeat twist (and very, very ’70s) ending that brings its creepy gothic ambience full-circle.

Filled with several unsettling touches–how many erotic films do you know in which the heroine offers blood-spattered sheets as evidence of rape?–DEFIANCE OF GOOD could just as easily fall underneath the “Horror” banner. (In fact, Weston went on to direct the legit supernatural yarn THE NESTING in 1981, which featured the ghosts of dead prostitutes. And John Carradine.) While not recommended for the overly sensitive (but then again, none of the movies reviewed under “Please Do Disturb” are), it’s still worth checking out by fans of vintage sleaze, both the hardcore and horrific variety. It has a great dark-old-house vibe that compensates for the unpleasantness of some of the sex–and, to be fair, it’s the same vibe that gives those unpleasant sex scenes their power–and the production values are surprisingly solid, given its origins.

(Excerpt SFW–well, nudity-free, anyway.)

Please Do Disturb: The Flower of Flesh and Blood

Posted in Movies, Please Do Disturb with tags , , , , , , , , on October 2, 2010 by Scott Emerson

One of Japan’s most notorious exports, Hideshi Hino’s THE FLOWER OF FLESH AND BLOOD earned its infamy not so much from its gruesome subject matter but rather a particularly significant screening. This shot-on-video movie is also known as SLOW DEATH: THE DISMEMBERMENT and GUINEA PIG 2 (and despite a number of movies circulating under the “Guinea Pig” banner–HE NEVER DIES, DEVIL WOMAN DOCTOR, et al–this is the only true sequel to that 1985 shocker), but you may know it best as “the movie Charlie Sheen thought was a genuine snuff film.”

While Sheen’s panicked call reporting the movie to the FBI is worthy of a chuckle or two, it’s easy to see the misunderstanding. (Personally, I think the mistake stems less from FLOWER’s stomach-churning effects than the amount of nose candy the actor is reputed to have enjoyed in those days.) The 1985 gorefest in question has all the perceived earmarks of what an authentic snuff movie might have: the action, such as it is, largely confined to a single location, the limited number of participants, and the voyeuristic, fetishized documentation of death on camera.

The premise, for those of you unaware, invovles an attractive young girl who finds herself drugged and abducted off the street. She then finds herself in a dungeon-like room where a pasty-faced dude in a samurai helmet sedates her, then dismembers, disembowels, and decapitates her in a systematic, ritualistic manner (each segment prefaced with a stitled soliloquy from our samurai on making beauty out of grue), all in order to transform her into a “flower of blood and flesh.”

Watching with a close eye (and non-coke addled brain) it’s easy to see the cracks in FLOWER’s verisimilitude. Unconvincing sound effects are used to “sweeten” the dismemberment scenes, and while the gore is as graphic as it is plentiful, it doesn’t quite hold up to scrutiny, revealing itself often to be awkward and medically inaccurate. And if you’re still not sure what you’re watching is fake, consider the movie’s production credits.

To be fair, THE FLOWER OF FLESH AND BLOOD never claims to be real, using the same air of illusory authenticity that accompanies found-footage movies like THE LAST EXORCISM and CLOVERFIELD. (It even comes with a text-based prologue explaining its nefarious origins.) Yet it’s the sense that what’s unfolding on screen might be real is what gives the movie its impact; by realizing it’s fake, it becomes overwhelmingly apparent that FLOWER fails as entertainment.

For starters, it’s boring. The movie’s lack of narrative thrust, serving as nothing more for a showcase of disgusting effects, quickly becomes leaden; any suspense comes from what body part will fall next beneath the samurai’s blade. Lacking any conflict, characterization (why is the samurai doing this?), or context, FLOWER has no objective other than displaying blood and internal organs to the audience. If there were a greater metaphorical meaning to this, such as in Kenneth Anger’s autopsy film THE ACT OF SEEING WITH ONE’S OWN EYES, that could be excusable, but instead THE FLOWER OF FLESH AND BLOOD operates merely on a freakshow level. It dares you to keep watching; not in order to understand a deeper, harsh truth, but to see what awful thing happens next. (And I don’t have a problem with that, in theory. Being shocking and disgusting is fine, but don’t test my patience along with my gag reflex.)

Nor are we allowed, or intended, to sympathize with the victim. She’s presented ostensibly as a canvas on which to convey the samurai’s intent, but FLOWER portrays her instead as an object, something to be discarded once she’s served her purpose. Her death has no significance, consequence, or impact, other than to satisfy the samurai’s urges. This I do have a problem with. Especially when her decapitaion–and subsequent eyeball-removal–is capped by a presumably lighthearted shot of the samurai enjoying a cigarette, his expression suggesting post-coital satisfaction.

Director Hino does attempt a few artistic flourishes, such as spattering the walls of the samurai’s dungeon with blood to suggest previous “episodes,” but prefers to keep the proceedings as no-frills as possible. He saves his more elaborate touches for the epilogue, in which he reveals the samurai’s “collection,” a room filled with decomposing body parts in jars or potted in soil like plants. It’s a creepy, unnerving sequence, that unfortuantely loses most of its impact when it goes on for far too long–unless you’re really disturbed by maggots squirming around in plastic skeletons.

It’s hard to recommend THE FLOWER OF FLESH AND BLOOD for more than its curiosity factor, just another item to mark off your “Notorious Gore Movies I Haven’t Seen” list. There’s little of value here, unless you’re a budding special effects artist (in which case, I urge you to track down the making-of doc, produced to prove the film was indeed a fake). Or maybe you’d like to screen it for your more gullible friends; just be prepared when dark-shaded men in suits turn up on your doorstep.

Here’s a taste (unless youtube pulls it for violating some policy or another):

Please Do Disturb: The Bride of Frank

Posted in Please Do Disturb on September 7, 2009 by Scott Emerson

“Too disturbing to watch. Too compelling to turn away.”

So says the tagline of this 1996 shot-on-video coal-black comedy from writer-director Steve Ballot (hiding behind the pseudonym Escalpo Don Blade). And unlike most horror-movie come-ons, it’s actually pretty accurate, just not quite in the way the filmmakers intended.

THE BRIDE OF FRANK lets you know upfront it’s not fucking around, starting off with its protagonist (a mush-mouthed scarecrow of an old man so unintelligible most of his dialogue is subtitled) picking up a little girl in a semi truck and, when she refuses to give him a kiss, clubbing her unconscious, only to run over her head. (The gloppy results are, naturally, lingered upon, right before Frank takes a nibble.) I think it’s safe to say this film intends to mine some seriously damaged territory.

The film is a portrait of sorts of the down-on-his-luck Frank; formerly homeless, he lives with a bunch of cats in the warehouse of the trucking company for which he works. He’s a hard worker, even if his body odor and explosive flatulence offends visiting dignitaries from out of town. Frank’s also lonely, so when he expresses a desire for a woman with “great big tits,” his warehouse buddies place a personal ad on his behalf and the ladies start lining up. It’s too bad Frank has a habit of graphically slaughtering anyone who gets on his nerves.

Despite its very shoddy production values, THE BRIDE OF FRANK is a frequently engaging film, due in large part to Frank Meyer’s star turn. It’s obvious he’s not a trained actor, and is quite possibly mentally ill. I’ve got a feeling the script was written around his skeevy mystique; it’s a raw wound of a performance, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that ol’ Frank didn’t have a clue what he was doing most of the time.

It gives the picture a sense of what BUMFIGHTS would look like with a narrative, and for nothing else Ballot could’ve easily made a queasy yet intriguing tale. But he decides to saddle his movie with excessive gore and sleazy comedy, undermining the production’s gritty nature. Most of the film is an episodic parade of potential dates who turn out to be obnoxious, rude, or (in one memorable instance) an incredibly aggressive transvestite–all of whom end up murdered in over-the-top fashion. These scenes are handled with sledgehammer precision with clumsy editing that makes them look ridiculous and amateurish.

More problematic is Ballot’s attempt at shock humor, but watching someone pull boogers out of their nose or Frank scrubbing his skid-marked undies with a toothbrush isn’t funny. It’s the equivalent of a child with a mouthful of chewed-up food, annoying more than amusing, and it all but destroys the seedy sensibility permeating the film.

Make no mistake, THE BRIDE OF FRANK is a bad, poorly made film. Yet, as the tagline suggested, I never felt compelled to shut it off. Probably because I was curious to see what disgusting hijinx Frank would be up to next–whether it was ripping off someone’s head and shitting down their neck, or skull-fucking a morbidly obese stripper. Say what you will, but at least Ballot makes up in audacity what he lacks in subtlety.

If you’re curious, Frank does find the lady of his dreams, and the carnival-hopping montage at the end of the movie counts as a happy ending, I guess; but Frank’s closing proclamation–“I can’t wait to have children”–ends THE BRIDE OF FRANK on a frightening note. Well, technically it ends with a godawful glam-rock song, but you know what I mean.

Recommended for die-hard sleazehounds, but you’ll probably hate yourself (and me) afterward.

Please Do Disturb Has Been Brought to You By . . .

Posted in Please Do Disturb on September 7, 2009 by Scott Emerson

Okay, that’s a bit of a cheat, as this really doesn’t have anything to do with Please Do Disturb (and isn’t exactly disturbing), but while watching TV the other night I came across one of those alarming–oh, I didn’t intend that groaner of a pun–home security commercials. For those who may not have seen it, here it is:

Now, I understand that a lot of commercials exploit people’s fears (a brief side note: why is it that so many of these Brinks spots involve intruders kicking down the front door? Is it a shock tactic intended to create brand recognition, or is the ad team just lazy?), but these ads–and this one in particular–don’t sit right with me. Whereas traditional home security advertising usually focuses on the protection of one’s property or personal space, the message Brinks so often seems to be sending is, There are men out there who want to rape you. It kinda takes the levity out of the FAMILY GUY rerun I’m watching, y’know?

But I think what unsettles me most isn’t the spot’s fuzzy logic (who the fuck answers the phone in the middle of a break-in?) but that in real life we all know, even with a state-of-the-art security system from Brinks-now-Broadview shrieking away, exactly how the above scenario would’ve actually played out.

Please Do Disturb: Dr. Lamb

Posted in Please Do Disturb on September 7, 2009 by Scott Emerson

THE KILLER’s Danny Lee stepped behind the camera to helm (along with co-director Hin Sin Tang) the 1992 serial killer melodrama DR. LAMB. Drawing its inspiration, as well as its namesake, from the mass murderer craze kick-started by THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, this Hong Kong Category III entry borrows little else from Jonathan Demme’s Oscar-winner. And while it certainly takes a less mainstream approach it just doesn’t have quite enough oomph, dramatically or narratively, to carry its grislier elements.

When the police are alerted to a series of photographs taken of dead females, their investigation leads them to Lam Gor-Yu (Simon Yam), a young taxi driver–not a doctor, as intimated in the title. Stoically refusing to speak, even when repeatedly abused in police custody, he finally breaks his silence when he unwittingly betrays his family (turns out he was snapping inappropriate pics of his underage niece as well); Lam found himself on a divine quest to rid the world of “bad and filthy” women by killing and, later, dismembering them.

In addition to the Hannibal Lecter/Buffalo Bill vibe that Lam strives to give off, DR. LAMB also plays like a gorier version of TAXI DRIVER (note the multiple exterior shots of Lam’s rain-spattered cab and the soft jazz that accompanies them); in fact, it may have been Travis Bickle’s prediction that “someday a real rain will come and wash this scum off the streets” that inspires Lam to kill his victims during torrential downpours. Whatever his motivation, Lam’s mission plays like the exploitation genre’s cake-and-eat-it-too method of punishing sex with violence, a tactic we’ve seen, oh, seven thousand times. Worse, Lam’s reasons never ring true–they’re merely a hook to hang some pretty gruesome flashbacks on.

And about those flashbacks . . . they’re easily the highlight of the film (and judging from the stylish way Lee and Tang film them, it’s obvious they know it). Shot in a cramped, claustrophobic room, with ethereal blue light bleeding through slats in the windows, Lam performs his psychotic business with unabashed, unhinged glee as he takes a circular saw to his victims’ limbs. (I particularly liked how he felt the need to tape over the girls’ eyes, a touch that turns his victims into slabs of meat, while hinting at Lam’s remaining humanity.) Though never explicit–we never see the blade slicing flesh–they’re queasily effective nonetheless, as Lam basks in the resulting showers of blood, as red chunks suspend in the water of a nearby fish tank.

The trouble is, we have to wade through a pretty slow first act to get to them, as the casual brutality of the police department (whether or not a statement is being made is unclear, as it’s presented as a normal part of police procedure with zero consequence) and harping, overbearing nature of Lam’s family (which contributed, if would seem, to Lam’s condition). The flashbacks do little to dispel the film’s overall leaden pace, conceding screen time to the cops’ frequent chest-beating and internal politics as well as some nauseous black humor that never meshes with LAMB’S downbeat realism. (There’s a very good reason SILENCE never featured a scene in which Jodie Foster and Scott Glenn juggled a pickled breast.) Nor does the movie’s garbled translation–I’m guessing English is not the first language of the person who transcribed the film’s subtitles–help navigate the torpid story.

DR. LAMB switches gears to segue into its final act, echoing William Lustig’s MANIAC as Lam stalks and eventually kills a “pure and innocent” girl in a jarring, but not entirely out of place, change in motivation. The murder’s aftermath, shown as the last flashback of the film, is an unsettling depiction of loving commitment (and necrophilia) that almost–but not quite–makes up for the time it takes to get there.

A slick bit of griminess that tries to outdo a killer who wears a suit of flayed female skin, DR. LAMB might’ve been more effective if it hadn’t soften its blows in the pretenses of true-crime docudrama. Much like the similarly-themed THE UNTOLD STORY (1993), it still possesses plenty of teeth when the time’s right. Though I would’ve preferred something a little harder-edged, I honestly don’t know if I’d want to spend a whole ninety minutes in that small blue-lit room.