Mutant Action, Dr. Lamb and Blue Sunshine are screening as part of the Fantasia Retro series at the 2022 Fantasia International Film Festival.
Acción Mutante (Mutant Action)
Álex de la Iglesia’s Mutant Action looks like it owes a debt to the works of Paul Verhoeven. The tale of a fringe terrorist group made up of “mutants” is set against the backdrop of media sensationalism, upper crust excess, and oppressive policing. The film bends satirical in the same dark vein as Verhoeven’s Robocop, Starship Troopers, and others. But it doesn’t adequately describe De la Iglesia’s film to compare it to its forebears (of which there are many). Yes, the sets occasionally feel like a cheap knockoff of Alien. And the third act has a desert planet and a bar reminiscent of Star War‘s Tatooine. But the film also has its own energy.
Now, it is not an energy I fully jumped on board for. But the film is commendable for its anarchic tone and various idiosyncrasies. My enjoyment of the film begins and ends there, however. The first act does a good job of establishing this sci-fi world and the oddball group of “mutants.” But the second act quickly pushes us away from this world and its inhabitants as it pivots to focusing on a character’s backstabbing plot. Then, the third act skids to a halt as it changes focus again to an ill-conceived Stockholm syndrome subplot and an overlong ransom exchange sequence. Ultimately, the unique world De la Iglesia creates for Mutant Action is undercut by these final two acts, leaving me with little to chew on as I watch unseemly characters doing unseemly things.
Mutant Action: C+
A member of Hong Kong’s Category III, a rating designating a film too explicit for those under 18, Billy Tang and Danny Lee’s Dr. Lamb sits in an uncomfortable place between sleazy exploitation and broad comedy. Following the exploits and capture of an unstable serial killer, the film retells in gory detail the man’s murders while also interjecting with comedy from the buffoonish police force investigating the crimes. It is a combination that altogether did not work for me. The sharp pivot from depictions of assault and violence to a slapstick bit involving a dismembered body part was too jarring for my liking.
But this is the morbid charm of Dr. Lamb, if we can call it charm. The humor presents a reflexive acknowledgement on behalf of the filmmakers that they are pushing to absurd lengths the boundaries of what can be put on narrative film. For some, this will read clever and appropriate. And there is something to the way the flashback sequences are shot that is queasy yet aesthetically pleasing. Not to mention Simon Yam’s excessively dialed up performance as the killer, which really makes the film. All in all, though, the tone did not sit right with me.
Dr. Lamb: C+
Jeff Lieberman’s Blue Sunshine has the type of plot you hear about and think, there’s little chance this will be as wacky on-screen as it reads on paper. Some bad acid, taken years earlier, sends a group of people into a violent rage, leaving behind a body count in their wake as they lose their hair and become insane.
And Lieberman does play this premise off fairly straight. The wild B-movie antics come in spurts, or they can be glimpsed in the details. The first major incident of violence in the first act is a zany set piece that starts with a weird Rodan reference (the monster, not the painter) and ends with a man desperately screaming of his innocence. From here, the film becomes a mystery for this man, Jerry Zipkin (Zalman King), now on the lam, to solve. Save for the sheer intensity of King’s performance, this act of the film levels off. It is not without its moments of intrigue, though, and the horror movie premise ultimately gives way to something more akin to a paranoid crime thriller.
Frankly, I preferred this crime mystery to the horror set pieces, which are few and far between and pretty standard fare for a low-budget ’70s horror film. Perhaps one does not work without the other, but King’s manic performance and Lieberman’s clever use of scene transitions propel the mystery forward better than how the film utilizes the horror elements.
Blue Sunshine: B-
Mutant Action (Severin Films), Dr. Lamb (Unearthed Films), and Blue Sunshine (Synapse Films) have all received new digital restorations, and they all look fantastic. If you enjoy any of these films, the restorations are definitely worth seeking out.
As always, thanks for reading!
—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)