Monday, November 30, 2009
Directed by: Joe Chappelle
Written by: Dean R. Koontz (adapted from his novel)
“I fall to pieces…”
I refuse to feel guilt for anything I enjoy, and you shouldn’t either. I’m the last person who cares about being cool or accepted or whatever. I just want to enjoy the things I enjoy without having to answer to anyone. Judgmental people and critics come and go, but entertaining movies, books, and music are constant companions. Since art is subjective, there have always been polarizing works that divide audiences. However, sometimes something comes along that is so universally despised you might wonder what makes you so different that you fly in the face of the critical flogging and, apparently, logic.
We at All Things Horror would love to hear from our readers what you consider enjoyable when it seems everyone else in the world would have you executed for thinking so. In the immortal words of The Dude "that's just like, your opinion, maaaan". In the scheme of things, it doesn't really matter what people like, and why even worry about it? Remember, this is a safe space.
In order to get things rolling, I’ll get us started by mentioning a particular favorite of mine. My ultimate guilty pleasure (again, I am very UNAPOLOGETIC for this) is 1998’s Phantoms. That’s right, I said Phantoms. Yes, the one with Ben Affleck and the incomparable Peter O’Toole trying their best to act like they’re not embarrassed to be in a horror film. Indeed, that is the Phantoms I’m talking about. It might not necessarily qualify as “art”, but I found it to be highly enjoyable piece of Hollywood horror. Where else can you see a very young looking Ben Affleck dressed in an oversized duster and sheriff’s hat looking very earnest and talking about destroying evil? How about Liev Schrieber creeping you out as a perverted deputy? What about the obvious riffs on siege horror like The Thing, The Mist (The Stephen King novella anyway), and The Blob?
From the get go, Phantoms, based on the fascinating Dean R. Koontz book, is riddled with horror clichés. In its defense, Koontz was probably responsible for creating a lot of these clichés when his book was published back in 1983 (Koontz also wrote the screenplay for the film version). Unfortunately, many films since have taken cue from some of the scarier moments in the book and now it all feels run-of-the-mill. A mysterious event has occurred in a sleepy mountain town which has caused the entire town to disappear leaving behind untouched meals, piles of metal, and a few preserved bodies. There isn't much evidence other than a few shell casings, and some curiously placed body parts.
Excuse me. Um, Mr. Ancient Enemy sir? May I finish rolling this out before you devour my soul?"
It all starts just before Dr. Jennifer Pailey arrives in Snowfield (Population: 500) with her sister Lisa (babley Rose McGowan) to spend a few days patching up their strained relationship. Dr. Pailey is a resident of the town and realizes immediately that something is horribly wrong. There are no people about, no evening traffic, no animals galavanting around even though it’s still daylight. Pretty soon they meet up with a group of cops lead by the so damn likeable Affleck and start receiving mysterious phone calls when the lines are dead. Soon they are attacked by weird creatures and learn that an evil presence dubbed “The Ancient Enemy” seeks the services of a Timothy Flyte (O’Toole). It seems Flyte has been reporting on the evil in rag gossip newspapers and has caught the presence's attention. It wants Flyte to write the Gospel According to Icky Ancient Underground Dwelling Monsters that can Make Dead People Walk Around and Look Menacing. What follows is an atmospheric, often ridiculous, always entertaining flick as the group try to figure out what the evil presence is and how to stop it.
Look, we didn't have portable computing devices back in 1998. Scrawling on mirrors was still the only way to get a message out.
So, a few reasons why I like this movie and can pop it in anytime:
1) I already mentioned Ben Affleck as Sheriff Bryce Hammond. Baby-faced but tough, he sports an amazingly large jacket and hat, but still maintains a cool presence. I KNOW. WTF it’s Ben Affleck and he’s on the list of high points?
An argument for gun-toting babes defending small-town America.
2) Pouty Rose McGowan fresh off of Scream grabbing a rifle, loading it, cocking it, and being like “that’s how we do on the mean streets of L.A.” because she is obviously very gangsta.
3) The scene in which Sheriff Hammond, two other cops, the doc, and Lisa unload like 500 rounds of ammo at a slight hint of noise at the window thereby blowing away the window, frame, and 75% of the wall never thinking this would make it easier for a flying creature to enter.
4) Liev Shrieber will make your skin crawl with his maniacal cackling. When he’s not inappropriately hitting on the girls (you know, because nothing makes you hornier than a town full of missing people and bizarre creatures), he’s feeling up dead bodies. Ick Ick Ick!
5) Creepy dog turning into a tentacled monster ala The Thing. This mutt gives you the willies when he’s just standing there staring, but then…
6) There really isn’t a dull moment. We are thrust into a pretty grim situation within minutes of the beginning credits.
7) Science and religion in horror is always pretty cool, even when it’s delivered in a hackneyed manner. The evil thinks it's god and will do anything to prove it.
Timothy Flyte: Man-About-Abandoned Town
8) Wide-eyed Peter O’Toole’s accent gives the ridiculousness some gravity. It is kinda chilling when he talks about the disappearing town, villages and cultures, such as the Mayans, attributed to the “Ancient Enemy”.
9) I’m a sucker for evil presences communicating with people through technology. When the presence uses the voice of legions of people to make a phone call, it is pretty scary, as well as when it sends 1998 style instant messages about its god-like stature using humans as mere cattle.
10) The monsters are pretty cool and thanks to some good use of lighting (or lack thereof) the CGI effects are never distracting. Even though CG effects were still in the infant stage, they are mostly convincing. Thankfully, practical effects were used for most of the creatures.
Maybe you’ve seen Phantoms already and have chalked it up as hack material at best. I say give it another shot. A lot has changed since the 90's and many terribly-made horror films have littered the theater. You may find an appreciation for it now. There are some really great moments, some genuine creepiness, and it’s kinda fun to revisit 90s style horror that was still rooted in storytelling and less on gimmickry. If you’re like me and do secretly enjoy this on the many possible levels, well, there’s a support group that meets every other Friday in a basement in Somerville. Bring your extra large sheriff’s hat and something for the pot luck!
Saturday, November 28, 2009
Okay, if you take nothing else out of this review, but are the kind of person that has said “What I need in my movie viewing repertoire are more films with a pelt covered, blowtorch mask wearing hulk of a man yielding an anvil hammer that he can use to pulverize human meat into tiny chunks of bone floating in a liquefied organ stew” then you have found your film.
The story is simple as it gets. A group of punk rockers are staging a rave in an abandoned sweatshop, and have arrived ahead of time to set up. Little do they know that this massive bulk of a man and his harem of disturbing looking female flunkies are lying in waiting, ready to maim, torture and kill each of them in turn. The film looks gorgeous, with exaggerated comic book colors that pop off the screen and a real gritty feel to the slaughterhouse areas of the ware house.
Friday, November 27, 2009
I’m not referring to the zombies in Resident Evil. I’m talking about the sea of humanity I braved earlier this morning in order to bring our beloved readers a nifty giveaway.
Resident Evil 5 is one of the highest rated video games of the year, and we have a copy for your Playstation 3 console to give away. The game looks gorgeous, and with horrifying visuals that make you feel like you’re in the middle of a voodoo influenced zombie massacre.
Even if you don’t have a PS3 (I’m one of the unfortunate ones that don’t, something I hope to rectify soon), think of this as a great gift for your game-loving signifigant other, Secret Santa or favorite cousin this gift giving season.
So how do you get your copy? Easy. It takes TWO simple steps:
FIRST-Follow our blog. If you’re not doing so already, it takes two seconds to click the Follow button on the right hand side.
Second-Leave a comment in this post telling us your all time favorite horror themed video game or gaming moment. Did you pee your pants in the original Resident Evil when the Hell Hounds crashed through the windows? Did you whip the controller at your screen at the impossible degree of difficulty of the NES Friday the 13th game? We wanna know.
What happens is this: If fifteen people leave a comment, I’ll ask the lovely Miss Clare to pick a number between one and fifteen. She’ll respond by asking me if I’ve emptied the cats’ litter boxes. This is a fair question, because if Samwise Wigglebottom’s box isn’t impeccably clean, he poops in the tub. After I clean the boxes, she’ll pick a number and whoever’s post corresponds with that number wins the game. Anyone who has won a past contest is totally eligible to win again.
Get your entry in by Midnight December 5th if you want a chance to win!
NYC Film Fest-Friday's Shorts (Death in Charge, Wheels of Death, Sinkhole, Abraham's Boys, Attackazoids Deploy)
Death in Charge (dir. Devi Snively) A wicked little short chock full of black humor and a pair of fantastic performances from Marina Benedict (Death) and Kylie Chafna (Whitney). The Grim Reaper herself gets hired as a babysitter when an impatient single mom can’t be bothered to take even a cursory glance as to who will be minding her little girl while she hurries out the door for a date. The dehooded specter of Death is revealed to be a young, curious woman. As the girl exposes Death to the simple pleasures of slaughtering hordes of pixilated zombies and Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, her reaction is both humorous and touching. Of course, the little girl has a pretty sadistic side running through her, and when she whips out her mother’s handgun and verbalizes her fantasies of killing her, it’s up to Death to scare the girl straight. Can she reach through to the girl/ Will it even matter if she does, or is death inevitable when it’s one’s time to go? This film is a joy to watch. There were moments that acted as a great takeoff of the Final Destination premise, where you waited for the mother’s ineptitude to do her in, but at the last moment Snively would pull back and spare her from an ignominious end. What struck me the most about the look of the film was how eye popping the colors were. The short had a very comic book feel to it, and also reminded me of the old Tales from the Crypt anthology show. I also loved how seemingly inconsequential moments led up to the climax’s payoff.
Wheels of Death (dir. Rob & Edward Kennedy) eight hundred kinds of awesome from Ireland. When a careless girl runs down a cop on a bicycle in her daddy’s luxury car, she’s more concerned about the dings she’s left in the fender instead of the man she obliterated. What she really needs to worry about is the cop managed to follow her, and now his body, broken and entangled in the remains of his bike, is shambling just outside her home looking to get in. Wickedly funny, the best bit involves the girl calling in the car as stolen to a bored dispatch officer, who then sends said mangled cop to the girl’s home to investigate. I’m not sure if he’s bent on revenge as much as he’s just stumbling and bumbling about but it’s hysterical, and the makeup work is awesome with lots of regurgitated blood and mangled limbs. Seriously, if you could see the grin I have just thinking about how much fun this little gem is you’d lift you raise your Guinness to the young Kennedys.
Sinkhole (dir. Eric Scherbarth) A smarmy lawyer braves his way through sinkholes and marshes to make a onetime “can’t refuse” offer to the owner of the wasteland-a living off the grid, shotgun toting hermit. Surprisingly, especially since the old man nearly took the lawyer’s head off with said shotgun upon first greeting him, the old man decides to accept the buyout, but only if the lawyer listens to his story about the history of the sinkholes. Seems that the marshes aren’t nearly as dangerous as what lurks just beneath them. Simultaneously tense and humorous, this is a great little sheep in wolf’s clothing tale. I could not find an embedded trailer, but the site does have one you can view.
Abraham’s Boys (dir. Dorothy Street) is a straight forward adaptation of the excellent Joe Hill short story of the same name. The sons of noted vampire Van Helsing are brought up in a no-nonsense household by a distant and taciturn father. If they disobey his rules (no coming in after dark, stay out of his study) they receive swift, brutal discipline or psychological warfare, such as locking his young son in the basement with a fresh corpse hen the boy refuses to desecrate the remains. The story and the film leave the existence of vampires ambiguous. The more likely scenario is the man is simply unhinged. The one piece of wisdom Helsing manages to impart on his boys is when you find true evil, you must find the strength to strike it down, and it is these words his elder son takes to heart. Literally.
Attackazoids Deploy (dirs. Brian Lorano & Jeff Jenkins) This short acts as more of a trailer for a hopeful feature or a chapter in an ongoing series rather than a self contained but it was damn cool. In the future the “Naturals” find themselves at war with an unknown enemy. This leads to the creation of might robot warriors known as the ‘Attackazoids”. This short calls citizens to lend a helping hand, much like the war bond films of WWII that this short clearly invokes. Combining green screen and stop motion effects, this five minute spot paid homage to the B movie sci-fi epics of yesteryear. It clearly has one cheek firmly planted in place, and elicits comparisons to Starship Troopers, which is an awesome thing in my book.
Make sure to check out the trailers below (and vote us up, because you know you us):
ATTACKAZOIDS, DEPLOY!! - TEASER TRAILER from Brian Lonano on Vimeo.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Maidenhead’s story is a simple one. Martin must care for his father, who has been turned into a vampire. Keeping him strapped to his bed, Martin must procure virgin’s blood in order to sustain the cursed old man. Torn between wanting to care for his old man and not wanting to commit evil acts, Martin comes up with a compromise. Each Sunday he meets a girl at church, chats her up over coffee, and then slips her a roofie in order to bring her back to his place. From there he drains enough blood for three feedings, and then brings the girl safely home. While this may alleviate his conscience somewhat, it makes for a lonely existence. His situation at home makes it impossible for Norman to lead a normal life, or form any sort of normal relationship.
Spanos accomplish two feats with his film. First, strips back the glamour and supernatural appeal of the vampire. He creates a very natural world in which his characters reside. Gorehounds will need to look elsewhere for their fix. Aside from the vocal effects on Michael Park’s voice-outside of one scene his vocals are all barks, shrieks and nonsense, there’s not a hint of the other worldly in the film. Spanos pays homage to both The Exorcist and Romero’s Martin in this film by providing a grounded setting, with realistic reactions from his characters. As I mentioned, this film compliments Grace extremely well. The image of Parks with his striped pajamas, tussled hair and grizzled, whiskered face reminds one of an elderly parent, on his last legs, totally dependent on others to take care of him. Vampirism acts as a symbol delicate subject of aging with dignity and the resentment a son would feels when he has to put aside his own life to act as an around the clock caretaker. Second, there is a timeless look to his film. Stylistically this film reminds me very much of the slow thrillers of the late 70s/early 80s, right down to the simple title credits. The colors are washed out a bit, representing the drabness of Martin’s existence. I don’t normally notice things like this, but it seemed like the camera stayed tight on all the characters, almost boxing them into the frame of the shot. If that was a conscious decision on the film maker’s part, it was a good one. It reflected the constrained natures Bowen’s situation had put him in.
I don’t think it’s any accident that AJ Bowen has appeared in three of my favorite films of the year. He continues to give very natural performances on screen and his portrayal of Martin is no different. With simple body language-whether it be the slumping of shoulders or a look of resignation on his face, Bowen does a fantastic job of conveying the physical and mental toll his caretaking task has exacted on him. In a repeatedly used visual, Martin wakes up to the bleating of his alarm clock, and for long moments lies sideways in his bed, broken and dispirited by the monotony and loneliness serving his father holds. Long before he pours his heart out to Meredith, we know exactly how hard the events have been on him. There’s an anger seething just beneath his surface, and Bowen only lets parts of it out when he feels cornered into conversations with Mandy and Meredith. I’m not sure if he filmed this movie before or after House of the Devil, but Bowen’s speech patterns in these scenes seemed influenced by Tom Noonan. They take the tone of an exasperated adult correcting a misbehaving child.
When Martin meets Meredith, the affection he feels for her comes into conflict with his moribund duties to his father. Shy and bookish, Meredith finds it within herself to pursue Martin even after she catches him with Mandy, the head of her local congregation’s “Love Saver” chapter (in one of the film’s funniest bits-the girl who runs the local virgin’s club is actually the town bicycle, causing the father to vomit on the whore’s blood). Lori Hamm-Wilson deserves a lot of praise for taking what could have been a one note, bookish character and making her into someone with lots of courage and empathy. At times she reminded me of Amber Benson when she was first introduced as Tara in Buffy’s fourth season. Of course, the more Martin begins to depend on Meredith, the more he neglects his tied up vampire father, and for the old man, this simply will not do. The scene where Meredith finds herself alone with Park is stunning. On one hand it chilled me to the bone as Parks taunted, charmed and wooed the young girl, manipulating her in a deadly game of cat and mouse. It also broke my heart, because I knew there was no way it would turn out well for her.
I don’t believe I can say enough good things about this film. It is definitely a thinking person’s horror movie. For those that are turned off by the melodramatic romance most vampire stories offer (Twilight, and yes, even Buffy) this film is the perfect antidote.
Saturday Short Films at the NYC Horror Film Fest: The Familiar, Humaos Con Patatas, Together, Thirsty, Sutphin Blvd
The Familiar (dir. Kody Zimmerman) is a fantastic blend of comedy and horror. It takes a behind the scenes look at what being a vampire’s personal assistant would look like. I like the two philosophical questions the short raises. First, for many of us, landing what we believe would be our dream job would one day be revealed to just more mundane work like anything else. The glamour of working for a vampire quickly strips itself away and is revealed as nothing more than being a glorified gopher. There’s only so many victims to be disposed of, whores to be paid off and eBay transactions one can handle before growing incredibly bored by the banality of it all. Second, I love the idea that vampires would struggle to keep pace with evolving social norms and technology. While one takes for granted that a vampire would simply adapt over the years, when you go home to your parents for Thanksgiving, take a look at how they struggle with a universal remote control and then come back and tell me how a centuries old creature would adapt to driving stick shift. The performances are great in the short and there’s no shortage of snarky dialogue. I’d love to see this concept blown up into a feature.
Together (dir. Gigi Romero) was a cool psychological short. A small time thumb breaker finds himself trapped in a mysterious time, where his actions are endlessly repeated. Is his family in danger from some unseen force or has he dealt with them already in some sort of grisly fashion. The lighting is gorgeous in this short, and the parallel apartments reminded me of the time shifts that occur in the Silent Hill games, when the normal landscapes warp into something far more sinister at certain times.
Thirsty (dir. Andrew Kasch) was a great short film that had a “Clerks meets Maniac” vibe to it. A travelling slacker finds himself travelling for hours in an unairconditioned vehicle dying for a cherry Slushy. I can’t blame him, because one you hear the slushy jingle-“Gotta get my slushy, get my slushy, get my slushy…” you’ll want your own mouthwatering concoction of sugar, artificial fruit flavoring and ice for yourself. Of course, if he were smarter, he’d pay more attention to the news alerting people that the thrill killer is on the loose. Starring director Joe Lynch (Wrong Turn 2…you know, the really good one) this short was hysterical.
Sutphin Blvd (dir. Ivan Cortazar) was a clever vampire short. A would be perv finds a sleeping girl in an empty subway train and decides to sidle up next to her and cop a feel. What he doesn’t know is she’s simply playing a game of cat and mouse with him, and he’s messed with the wrong girl. It was definitely humorous to see the sleaze bag get his comeuppance.
Humanos Con Patatas (Humans with Potatos) (dir. K. Prada & J. Prada) Unfortunately the cut of the film they brought didn’t have subtitles, but this Italian cannibal short was fairly easy to follow. In a town obsessed with meat, the most popular neighborhood butcher shop has a secret ingredient, and that ingredient is love. Or homeless stew bums. One of the two. I think its love, but I’m probably wrong. The butcher resembles a nervous sweaty Phil Collins, and he has another problem on his hands-his upstairs neighbor seems romantically obsessed with him and won’t take no for an answer. There’s a great little homage with the slow reveal at the end, some terrific gore from the cut up remains and a nice jump scare in the closing segments. I really dug this one. The short is up on vimeo.com and I've embedded it here as well for your viewing pleasure.
Trailers for the shorts below:
Humanos con patatas from Incortum on Vimeo.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
The Road (2009)
Directed by: John Hillcoat
Written by: Joe Penhall (adapted from Cormac McCarthy's novel)
When I arrived to a preview screening of John Hillcoat's adaptation of The Road, I had an interesting encounter with a few guys who wouldn't seem out-of-place in a post-apocalyptic setting. They were older gents hardened by age, weather, and probably many many cigarettes. They were a little disheveled, gritty, and had a few holes in their clothes here and there. I'm not trying to pass judgement or say that these guys are bad in any way. In fact, a few of these grizzled fellows are regulars on the free preview screening circuit. I have seen them more than a few times at these screenings, but never had the pleasure of standing beside them in line. I was happy to find out they were all jolly fellows who when not commenting on the sorry state of the world, were inquiring about the Christopher Moore book I was reading to kill time. They were mildly interested in the book, but thought I should stick with books that teach me something. I learned from one of them that his friend had recently moved to Eugene, Oregon to live off the grid. Fitting discussion prior to seeing The Road.
If you haven't read Cormac McCarthy's novel, then you may not be familiar with the story. A unexplained cataclysmic event has occurred leaving a devastated world. A father and son traverse the wasteland, cart in tow, desperately struggling to survive. They spend their days foraging for what little food is left and hiding from roving gangs of cannibals and assorted robbers. It's as simple as that. However, McCarthy paints a completely believable and quite probable scenario that will make you appreciate your cushy life once you've closed the final page. It is a story that revolves around a father's undying, uncompromising love for his son, a son that he will do anything to protect in the vast wasteland. McCarthy is one of my favorite authors, and if anyone's writing lends itself to cinematic interpretation, his does with language so visual you'd think you could reach out and touch the dead trees, kick the debris, and taste canned fruit on your tongue. The details are quite vivid and the hopelessness blankets you like the mysterious ash falling from the sky. This book, this author, is important to me. With that said, I will let you know that, yes, I did enjoy the film version.
There are many things I was worried about going in. For one, I was skeptical about the incorporation of a back story involving the man's long dead wife, their past life only hinted at in the book. I have to say that the flashbacks were handled very well, and I enjoyed Charlize Theron's portrayal. I was also worried that the music might be too obtrusive where minimal or even no music would have been perfect. The score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis is mostly appropriate and even excellent at times, hardly ever overwrought, which is a nice change of pace for a Hollywood production. I don't want a soundtrack that manipulates my emotions, but one that only enhances the film itself. So, second worry out of the way. Another apprehension was that the film would degenerate into a mindless action film with The Man fighting off hordes of cannibals. Again, Hillcoat did a great job of holding back and orchestrating plausible sequences with characters taking a more natural course of action. Nothing feels over-the-top, at least to me. Finally, I'm SO relieved there wasn't any explanation of the event that brought about the end of the world. The mystery is what gives it its potency.
I do have a few complaints. At times the film is heavy-handed in its treatment of themes more poetically explored by McCarthy in the book. This is something that is probably the most difficult to translate to the screen. For this reason, the film borders on being overly melodramatic, which is only reined in by amazing performances from Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee. I'm not sure if having the film narrated was the best possible choice, but it didn't distract me or make me gag. I'll have to ponder it in feature viewings.
Speaking of Viggo Mortensen, he gives a staggeringly raw and powerful performance as The Man. Mortensen is channeling some serious Christian Bale commitment here, and when we see his naked, emaciated body we can't help but feel his hunger and desperation. He has obviously suffered in health for this part which is the polar opposite of well-fed macho warrior king Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings. Viggo's face speaks volumes of the anguish his character has gone through and his tears seem genuine. Again, I must mention the strong performance of Charlize Theron, anchoring the brief flashback interludes that hint at who The Man used to be. A good choice for the part of the son, Kodi Smit-McPhee looks like he really could be the offspring of Charlize Theron, his expressive eyes finding the anger, sadness, hopelessness of the only life he's known. There are also a few smaller appearances by Robert Duvall and Guy Pierce who are barely recognizable, but for their eyes.
The movie ends on what many might consider a high note, but I think it's actually quite ambiguous. I won't reveal the ending, but would love to hear others' interpretations. This film is very much worth your time and revels in impressive visual poetry. It's very bleak, but scattered throughout are moments of hope, humanity, and dignity. Yes, the more I think about it, the more I like it.
THE ROAD TRAILER
Monday, November 23, 2009
Directed by: Hitoshi Matsimoto
Written by: Hitoshi Matsimoto & Mitsuyoshi Takasu
Big Man Japan is the story of reluctant hero Masaru Daisatô (solid and sympathetic acting by Matsimoto) as he is filmed for a biographical documentary about his rough and tumble monster fighting life. We find him living a seemingly mundane life in a humble home, eating noodles, and pining for his estranged wife and daughter. He is a pathetic shell of a person who appears really down and unexcited about life. The crew follows him around for a while and we’re able to learn about the origins of how he became a giant monster battler. Even though we don’t see much fighting at first, we are given insight into just why Masura becomes Big Man Japan. For folks expecting to see only mindless Kaiju inspired battles, it may seem to drag a little here, but that’s the point. Masaru is bored nearly all the time. He is tethered to his country by obligation handed down by generations of monster fighting heroes including his father and grandfather. He is resigned to it, depressed by it, but knows no other way of life. He is at the beck and call of Japan and also has the task of caring for his ailing grandfather. He has no way out and all he can do is kill time until the next big bout.
Once the monsters appear and cause mayhem, the film takes a surreal turn. These are no typical monsters, but rather, ones created by the imagination of a very creatively weird person. I don’t want to reveal anything about them because they each hold a surprise that is all part of the charm of this very odd and entertaining movie. Refreshingly, the monsters don't fight or destroy things in ways you'd expect. The special effects are very impressive with a quality that is otherworldly in its execution. Everything moves slowly as you would expect giants to move, but the impact is undeniable. The sound effects are also impressive as the horrible cries of monsters mix with the crunching blows of city destruction.
What I really liked about Big Man Japan is that it explores the downfalls of living a very public life even while presenting it in an absurd way. Masaru’s battling exploits are filmed as part of Big Man Japan: The TV Show, one that is suffering in its ratings. The public has become desensitized to giant monster fights and are more than blasé about it. They have turned on Masaru even though he risks his life to protect the city. Big Man Japan’s arguments with his agent over placement of tattooed advertisements on his body is simultaneously hilarious and sad. He has lost his wife and daughter because of the limelight. He is utterly alone even though he can't go anywhere without being recognized.
All in all, this was a solid, if slightly overlong movie with many great monsters, and heart for miles. One final caveat before you watch this: This is one weird movie that is fairly easy to follow until the final 10 minutes or so in which it becomes a free for all of bizarre. I definitely left asking “what the hell” over and over, but, as I said in the beginning, it was accompanied by a huge smile on my face.
BIG MAN JAPAN TRAILER
Sunday, November 22, 2009
“Must Love Death” was the feature film of the program. While I’m usually no fan of either genre, director Andreas Schaap’s movie marks the perfect blend of romantic comedy and torture porn. The end result is a film that easily fits right into my top ten of the year.
Norman (Sami Loris) is a sad sack everyman that has had his heartbroken one too many times. Deciding that he doesn’t want to live anymore, but lacking the intestinal fortitude to commit suicide on his own, he finds a like minded group of people. He agrees to meet up with them at a remote wooded cabin, where the group plans to commit suicide together.
Or so he thinks.
In reality, Norman’s fallen prey to a pretty sick group of folks hell bent on torturing Norman to their hearts content. Soon after meeting the group, Norman finds himself duped, tied to a weight bench and awaiting all sorts of bodily harm and disfigurement at the hands of the trio. It says a lot when the sensible one in the bunch argues she had signed up to make a snuff film not torture a helpless dude. Sean and Gary, the other conspirators, are simply sadists. Gary is borderline mentally retarded, and his sole concern seems to me making sure his guests don’t track mud on his floor. As Sean, Jeff Burell (Pandorum) brings a real sense of manic malevolence to his performance and I found myself reminded of Robert Carlyle’s breakout role of Bigby in Trainspotting. Sean obsessively films the mayhem for his own personal reality show: “Torture or Not Torture”.
The romantic comedy elements of the film are shown in flashbacks throughout the story, until the two storylines converge in the end. The love story between Norman and Jennifer (Manon Kahle) begin like so many great love stories do-she accidentally runs him over with her car. Awkward sparks then begin to fly between Norman and the cute diner waitress as they try to get a romance off the ground. The film does a nice job of hitting the typical beats of a lighthearted rom/com. Scenes involving Jennifer interacting with her zany waitress coworker and the grizzled old diner regular who orders ell soup every day could have been lifted from the Nora Ephron book of screenplays. Norman and Jennifer share some nerdily romantic moments when she takes him on a tour of her uncle’s sci-fi television show set, but she breaks his heart by forgetting to dump her douche bag actor boyfriend before pursuing Norman. There’s also a great sound track spotlighting blues and indie twee that fits these moments perfectly. Schaap knows how to tweak the rom/com conventions without them ever overwhelming the horror elements of his story. Will the two ever find their way back to one another or will Norman end up buried in a shallow ditch in the backwoods with his limbs hacked off and tossed into Hefty bags?
It’s a fair question to ask because the film does an amazing job of cutting back from the light romantic bits with some serious hardcore gore that your average French horror film maker would be jealous of. I find one of the things in film that gets my stomach upset is the sight of someone bound and helpless and completely at the mercy of their captors. The majority of the second act finds Norman tied up and tormented. Sean and Gary casually break each of his fingers as a warm up. Like a Weeble Wobble, Norman is burned, cut, impaled to the arms of a chair among other drastic devices, but the man won’t stay down. There’s a brutal and swift shotgun death. The most uncomfortable scene involves a white trash Britney lookalike having her ankle slowly pulverized by a vice. It’s slow and uncomfortable and gruesome to watch, and I believe I may have yelled myself when watching.
Kudos has to be given to the cast of this film. Each of them gave a bang up performance. Loris has a Paul Rudd-like everyman quality about him that made him instantly likeable. He managed to make his struggles with depression both sad and comical. He shared a great chemistry with Kahle that had me rooting for a happy outcome as opposed to an evisceration. You can see why Jennifer falls for Norman, especially as she struggles to accept what an asshole her current boyfriend really is. Burell nearly steals the film as the main villain. The scenes of him stalking Norman through the woods are scary as hell as the guy just exudes craziness from every pore. The best way I can describe him as a more toned down and rural version of the American businessman in Hostel. Plus, he has the best moustache committed on film since the heyday of porn in the 70's. The dimwitted character of Gary gives the gruesome sequences some much needed levity that keep the proceedings from devolving into what I like to call “hitting sacks of meat with a hammer” aesthetic that most torture scenes devolve into. Even when copious amounts of blood are dripping onto his otherwise pristine floor, all the lumbering hulk can think of is how the stains will come out.
I have the feeling this feature will make the festival rounds while hoping to get picked up. Definitely keep your eyes peeled for this movie as it really does make for a perfect blend of romance, horror and humor. I’m glad this played the opening night as it set the stage for some great films to follow. Check out the redband trailer below:
Friday, November 20, 2009
Most of the Full Moon movies aren’t anything to write home about, but they got these right. There is nothing sexy about Radu as a vampire. He looks horrific, with pasty, cracked skin, stringy hair and an emaciated look. He’s almost more of a ghoulish wraith than vampire. Add in his raspy, sandpapery voice and you have one of the more chilling portrait of vampires committed to screen. Shot on location in Eastern Europe, these films look gorgeous with real nourish visuals, especially early on in the second film when Radu stalks his prey through the city streets and his shadow seems to have a life of its own.
However, those of you who have successfully resisted adding to the billion dollars this shit is sure to make, we have one final plea to "watch this, not that": Tobe Hooper's LIFEFORCE.
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Written by: Dan O'Bannon & Don Jacoby (original novel by Colin Wilson)
Why do I keep typing LIFEFORCE in all caps? Well, because it is just that awesome and no lower case keys are going to drive my point. No, I'm NOT just saying that because Mathilda May appears naked through 99.9% of it. It is a glorious mess of a highly entertaining horror/sci-fi movie, and one that is cruelly ignored. Did it signal the agonizing descent of Tobe Hooper's career? Well, maybe. I think that has more to do with the poor box office return on the huge budget than the with the film actually being bad. LIFEFORCE (aka Space Vampires, aka totally rad space vampire movie) is something that could only be made in the 80's. Based on Colin Wilson's book Space Vampires, it is visually stunning with mind-blowing special effects from John Dykstra (Star Wars), amazing sets, and a great cast that includes Steve Railsback, the incomporable Patrick Stewart, and, of course, the stunning Mathilda May.
While exploring Haley's Comet, the crew of the Churchill find a mysterious umbrella-shaped spacecraft in the tail. They find the ship full of many large but dead bat-like creatures. They soon discover three mysterious beings preserved in a deep sleep state and take them aboard the Churchill for observation. They quickly regret it as the beings are revealed to be soul-sucking space vampires. I won't dwell too much on a synopsis, but what follows is mayhem on the ship as Mathilda May seduces the crew for their precious life energy, followed by more mayhem on earth as souls are sucked to a background of dazzling lights, resulting in an apocalyptic climax with the near total devastation of London by rampaging vampire/zombies. I told you, this movie rocks and there is never a dull moment.
Here are a few inticing stills to pursuade you that this is totally worth the 116 minutes of your time.
Ho hum, just hanging out in a spaceship in the tail of a comet. No biggie.
I seem to be very popular with these Earth men.
I could really use a nice refreshing soul on the rocks right now.
Ah, now that really hits the spot.
I always wanted to make love to a hot space vampire during a Pink Floyd light show.
So, you see that obviously this is less a movie and more a cinematic event. If you're not convinced yet, maybe you should check out the trailer from Cannon (RIP probably thanks to this movie).