Straight to VHS
In the Uruguayan documentary Straight to VHS (Directamente para video; 2021), director Emilio Silva Torres chronicles his efforts to locate fellow countryman Manuel Lamas, the filmmaker behind the 1989 direct-to-video obscurity Act of Violence in a Young Journalist that became an obsession with some of those who have seen it. Clips of the movie shown in the documentary make apparent Act of Violence . . .’s non-existent budget — as do Lamas acquaintances who remember him borrowing equipment and not returning it — and its sometimes laughable content. Yet still, some Uruguayan cinephiles are engrossed with locating the creator of the film. Lamas is a difficult person to track down, and Torres finds that almost everyone involved with the making of the film wants nothing to do with being interviewed about it. Torres does not give up easily, though, which makes for an engaging quest. One frustrating element about Straight to VHS is that almost none of the talking heads are identified, whether they are fellow film fanatics or people who actually knew Lamas. Another aspect that I found a bit distancing was a narrative flight of fancy that Torres takes during the last half hour or so of the film. If meant to be a trippy tribute to Lamas, it comes off as much better than anything the clips of Act of Violence . . . displayed and makes the latter’s work seem even more amateurish. Overall, though, Straight to VHS is a passion project that cult-film fanatics should find compelling.
Extraneous Matter – Complete Edition
Writer/director Ken’ichi Ugana’s Extraneous Matter – Complete Edition is a bizarre erotic science fiction/horror outing that initially seems like mere tentacle porn — a tentacle rape scene early on is bound to alienate some viewers immediately — but that eventually heads into decidedly loftier philosophical territory. Told episodically, the film begins with a young woman (Kaoru Koide) in a seemingly loveless, sexless relationship — her boyfriend basically stays at home long enough to eat and then heads out again — attacked by an effectively creepy octopus-like being hiding in her closet. As she begins welcoming the sexual pleasure that the creature has to offer, so do her friends and eventually her boyfriend. Humans are bonding with this entity, and soon, more and more such creatures appear in Japan. Another episode finds a young man trying to reignite a flame with his ex-girlfriend, saying that he feels they can take care of the alien he found in his apartment, which seems partially trained and craves sweets. The third episode — which without explicit explanation, seems to jump ahead to a time when the creatures are being rounded up and killed — finds two men whose job is to dispose of the aliens illegally harboring an injured one, and the final, poignant episode takes place in a bar with two strangers after the creatures have disappeared from Earth. Shot in monochrome by Masashi Komino, Extraneous Matter – Complete Edition looks and sounds great, with intriguingly composed shots accompanied by uncanny sound design and a complementary electronic score with occasional rock and blues music. Ugana addresses loneliness, alienation, xenophobia, and other societal issues, perhaps not something viewers would expect if merely focusing on the surface level of the erotic elements in the first episode. He takes an indie-arthouse-meets-anime approach to the film, and delivers a challenging, thought-provoking, divisive work that will horrify some and captivate others, but leave none of its viewers unaffected.
Straight to VHS and Extraneous Matter – Complete Edition screen as part of SLASH Film Festival, which runs online as a virtual event and as in-person event in Vienna, Austria from September 23–October 3, 2021. For more information, visit https://slashfilmfestival.com/en/.