Welcome to a newish, somewhat irregular, but totally awesome feature, From Region Beyond! We commonly review home video releases from all over the English speaking world, but it's about time we started letting you guys know that there's a whole galaxy of discs out there to melt your mind. With help from our buddies at Diabolik DVD, we'll be exploring some of the more obscure, crazy, and awesome cinema of the past and present. Part of the challenge for cult film collectors is to find English friendly releases of films without editions from the big four markets, the US, UK, Australia, and Canada; but they are out there, and we're going to start in France with a pair of classically absurd Gallic gore films whose reputations precede them, Ogroff - Mad Mutilator & Devil Story.
Ogroff is an angry guy. He lives in the French countryside waiting for people to enter his forest so that he can mutilate them. Madly. Any attempt to synopsize 1983's Ogroff - Mad Mutilator is pure bullshit, the film is a stream of consciousness slasher that seems to exist outside of any realm of reality. From his half-assed leather mask which shows just enough of his face to creep us the fuck out when he licks his lips, to his maniacal murder dances when he comes upon his prey, hatchet in hand, ready to hack them to bits. There is no plot to speak of, just a series of mad mutilations and sadistic torture performed to an inept background score and a plethora of truly bizarre foley effects that rarely match the onscreen action. In other words, Ogroff - Mad Mutilator is a nightmarish masterpiece of outsider art, akin to such SOV slaughterhouses as Sledgehammer and Things.
If looked at through modern eyes, Ogroff - Mad Mutilator may appear to be little more than a goofball in a shitty mask hacking mannequins to bits while playing with butcher shop offal and poorly disguised doll parts. However, if one can divorce oneself from reality and expectation, there is so much more here to enjoy. The film is obviously one made purely by passion, because it appears to have been made for about $9. In addition to the titular madman, the film adds in an equally sadistic love interest and an unexplained horde of zombies toward the end, just in case you hadn't quite lost your mind yet. Eighty-seven minutes later you'll be changed, awakened to the potential of genre cinema, and digging furiously through your own attic, searching for your old VHS camcorder, ready to make your own masterpiece.
Presumably made as an attempt to cash-in on the slasher fad of the early '80s, Ogroff stands alone as a film completely apart from that cycle. Yes, we have a madman, and yes, we do seem to have some teenagers in peril, however, there is absolutely no characterization of either set. The film features no more than a dozen lines of poorly dubbed "dialogue", mostly of the "run!" and "no!" variety, making an English subbed edition almost entirely unnecessary. However, this film seems to exist outside of time, both influenced by and influential to any number of avant garde horrors, either intentionally or unintentionally. The works of Calvin Lee Reeder (The Oregonian, The Rambler) come to mind in particular. Whether or not this film has penetrated the genre film vocabulary to that extent, it certainly deserves a look.
French DVD company Artus Films was gracious enough to gift the universe with this 30th anniversary edition DVD earlier in the year. The image quality is fucking rough, but is far better than any other edition I've had the opportunity to sample. This is never going to look good, so the fact that you can see anything at all is a plus. The sound is equally atrocious, however, the dubbed lines come through loud and clear, and so much of the film is either silent or comprised of grunts that the sound is of little consequence. There are several bonus features, including an interview with the director and a series of interviews with the out of place zombies that total around an hour, but are not subtitled in English, so if you're fluent in French, have hat them. The features round out with some behind the scenes photos and a trailer (seen below). If you think you've seen it all, Ogroff might be the next stop.
Released just two years after Ogroff in 1985, Bernard Launois' Devil Story is an epic and legendary entry in the French gore boom of the early '80s. Unlike Ogroff, Devil Story does appear to have a story, though it isn't particularly clear what it is. The beauty of the film is its kitchen sink nature, in spite of a rather traditional opening, the film goes places that make absolutely no sense and yet never fails to entertain. In the end, Devil Story is a superlatively bonkers film that is both intricately constructed and completely balls out insane at the same time.
The film opens in a fairly typical, if amusingly inept, fashion with a monstrously deformed man in full Nazi regalia emerging from a tent at a camp site having just eviscerated a hapless victim. From there, the beast goes on to hack, slash, and blast his way through a few more nameless, faceless victims on he way to establishing his insanity. Once again, the man we believe to be our main villain cannot speak, but we soon learn that everyone else in the film can, and do at length. We hear stories of insanity, deformed children, curses, shipwrecks and wreckers, and all manner of bizarre lore to help explain the craziness going on around us, but nothing can prepare you for Devil Story.
When I said that Devil Story employs a kitchen sink approach to horror filmmaking, I was not exagerrating. In addition to our blood-crazed, deformed Nazi slasher, there are also vampires, witches, zombies, a nasty cat, a mummy, a cursed horse, and a massive ship plowing through cliffs. It's all in there, and none of it makes a lick of sense, but there is never a dull moment. I presume that all of these story lines are designed to intertwine in some way, but the way the film is constructed, while obviously very intentional, makes it difficult to connect the dots. At least with Ogroff the lack of plot made the film fairly simple to follow, with Devil Story the opposite is true. The film is bursting at the seams with plot, and yet makes no sense, often leaving the viewer perplexed, but never bored.
When compared to Ogroff in the production value department, however, Devil Story looks like fucking Avatar with its multitude of sets, characters, monsters, and well, a script, however nonsensical. It's blatantly clear that director Launois had a vision, but what that vision was is still a bit foggy. If anything, Devil Story could probably be described as a gorier, slightly less goofball cousin of Obayashi's House. A film where anything can and will happen and you'll never seen any of it coming. House's inherent "Japanese-ness" may make it more palatable for the midnight movie crowd, but Devil Story certainly paints with a lot of the same colors, only less focused on crazy FX and more so on the craziness among the characters. I feel as though it's difficult to give Devil Story its proper due, it's a film that has to be seen to be understood, and thankfully there is a way to do so now without too much trouble.
French company Sheep Tapes has just released what is surely the most comprehensive edition of Devil Story on the market with their digipak special edition. The image is an astonishingly clear 1.66:1 anamorphic transfer, a major step up from the Greek VHS rips that have been making the rounds on the bootleg circuit for some years now. The disc is also provided with both French and English audio options, I chose the English dub (which sounds really good, and like it may have even been newly recorded), because the French audio does not have optional English subtitles. This is a film, unlike Ogroff, where the dialogue adds to the madness.
In addition to the truly surprising A/V, Sheep Tapes and Nanarland have provided a huge mess of bonus features that will impress anyone, even if your French is shaky. The main feature being a critical overview of the film with various Frenchies and good old Frank Henenlotter, they appear to talk not only about the film's place in French horror, but also the director and star are on hand to go over the film's genesis and even tour some of the shooting locations. Unfortunately, again, Henenlotter's is the only English friendly part of the extra material, but there is a lot to go through. A fake "True Hollywood Story" featurette is included, some trailers, a piece about the horse in the film, a selected scene commentary from Launois, and an interesting live reaction track from the film's screening at the Cinematheque Francaise in 2010, as well as some behind the scenes footage showing the making of the film. Really more than I'd ever expect, a truly comprehensive document.
This was a mind-altering double feature, let me tell you that right now, and I'm proud of myself for having endured both films in a single evening. Either one on its own would be enough to change the way we look at humanity, but both together were enough to make me question my own humanity. Buy them.