147 posts categorized "Horror"

December 08, 2011

Freaks - Classic Film Pick

FreaksIn spite of the tremendous success he enjoyed with "Dracula" in 1931, Tod Browning's directorial career was effectively ruined after he made "Freaks" the following year. Informed by Browning's youthful experiences working as a performer with a traveling circus, "Freaks" broke cinematic ground by being the first film to feature performers with deformities. It was banned in Britain for over 30 years. “Freaks” only enjoyed theatrical success thanks to its rediscovery in the early ‘60s by cult horror film aficionados whose appreciation enabled it to be discovered again in the ‘70s during the Midnight Movie craze.

This Pre-Code movie is set amid a circus sideshow traveling through France. The story turns on a romantic drama that plays out between Hans (Harry Earles), an engaged midget, and a cunning trapeze artist named Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova) whose warped sense of humor is matched by her twisted morals. Although Hans dearly loves his similarly-sized fiancée Frieda (Daisy Earles), he can't help falling in love with the full-sized Cleopatra when she seems to reciprocate his politely expressed affection. Little does Hans realize that Cleopatra is in league with the circus strongman Hercules (Henry Victor) to separate him from his from his vast inheritance.

After significant cuts by censors Browning tacked on an opening scene with a circus sideshow exhibit where a master of ceremonies introduces a curious group of spectators to a deformed woman in a cage that resembles a large baby crib. He calls the unseen woman the “Feathered Hen.” Not until the film’s end will a payoff scene allow the movie audience to see what the circus crowd find so shocking.
Although severely criticized at the time of its release as an "exploitation" film, "Freaks" takes every opportunity to humanize its characters. The story presents its group of human oddities-- a hermaphrodite, several microcephalics, conjoined twins, and several limbless characters--as performers whose real-life existence was hardly if ever addressed in the media. The real horrors in the story come at the hands of the "normal" people who attempt to take advantage of an oppressed group of people, who live by their own strict ethical code of conduct.

As happened to Michael Powell, whose brilliant filmmaking career came to an abrupt end decades later with “Peeping Tom,” “Freaks” is a unique horror film that was ahead of its time. It’s a testament to Tod Browning’s vision that even with 26 minutes removed by censors before its release “Freaks” stands up as a fully realized horror movie unlike any other.

November 14, 2011

Cannibal Holocaust - Classic Film Pick

Cannibal_HolocaustIn 1980, long before horror films like "The Blair Witch Project" or "Paranormal Activity" took up the "found-footage" trope, screenwriter Gianfranco Clerici and director Ruggero Deodato wrote the book on the subject with an exploitation horror film with a subtle name: "Cannibal Holocaust." Deodato proved himself a master of guerilla marketing by having his actors sign contracts agreeing not to appear in any type of media, to support rumors that "Cannibal Holocaust" was a snuff film for which the performers had actually perished. The filmmaker's ploy worked a little too well. Aside from grossing $2 million in the first 10 days of its release, the film was confiscated by Italian police in Milan. Deodato was arrested on obscenity charges, later amended to include an indictment for murder. Deodato avoided a life sentence after he proved the death sequences in the film were staged. Still, nothing could prevent censors in dozens of countries from banning the film outright. It took another three years before an edited version could be released in Italy. Years later the original uncut version was finally made available.

The genus for the narrative grew out of a conversation Deodato had with his son about news coverage of the Red Brigades in Italy at the height of the leftist group's kidnappings and bank robberies. Deodato believed that some of the stories had been staged by media outlets to fulfill their agenda of editorial history-shaping.

So it follows in the film that NYU professor Harold Monroe (Robert Kerman) is part of a rescue team that discovers reels of lost footage taken by a group of four New York journalists searching for cannibal tribes in the Amazon basin—also referred to in the film as the "Green Inferno." The ragtag group of hippie reporters consist of a director (Carl Gabriel Yorke), his girlfriend assistant (Francesca Ciardi), and two cameramen.

The rescue team’s discovery of a bug-infested human corpse precedes the film's first onscreen killing of an animal--a coatimundi that serves as the team's first jungle meal. Over the course of the film Deodato revels in the brutal murders of seven animals, including a monkey, pig, and giant tortoise. The gruesome animal deaths inform the tortures and murders of people that occur so that the viewer is immersed in an atmosphere of gory jungle hell.

The story frequently returns to New York, where researchers carry on a cheesy objectifying discussion of the found footage and what it says about contrasting morals between civilized and uncivilized societies. Indeed, every terrible act of sexual and violent transgression committed by the Amazon cannibal natives is matched by the "professional" journalists who similarly stage the murderous acts they collect on film. Apart from being a truly disturbing film, "Cannibal Holocaust" serves up a cold plate of scathing social commentary. That it does so with a self-reflexive end run that encompasses the whole narrative context is a stroke of genius. However insane that genius might be, it perfectly mirrors the horrors of the extermination of indigenous cultures.

October 24, 2011

Paranormal Activity 3

Paranormal Activity3A fresh competitor for the title of "most-boring-horror-movie-ever," "Paranormal Activity 3" is a student film gone wrong. It is definitely one of the worst movie’s of the year. Sticking to the obsolete found-footage formula of its two predecessors, this prequel story to the franchise’s first two films starts out with the discovery of some VHS tapes by the adult versions of sisters Katie and Kristi, who appear as tikes when the tapes are played for us—the snoozing audience. A date and time-code stamp is forever present in the lower right-hand corner as inexplicable jump-cuts interrupt the surveillance-camera footage of a haunted family home in Carlsbad, San Diego. Daddy Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith) is a wedding videographer who talks his wife Julie (Lauren Bittner) into letting him film them having sex. A ghost attack upsets the fun. Dennis is inspired to place surveillance cameras around the house to capture on tape whatever weird occurrences are going on. A ghost named Toby is Kristi’s not-so-imaginary pal of late.

Co-directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman won critical acclaim with their film "Catfish," but all that critical goodwill seems misplaced in light of their lazy efforts here. That so many newbie critics and callow audiences are falling over themselves about how “scary” they imagine "Paranormal Activity 3" is, speaks to a dearth of respectable horror movies. You're more likely to get indigestion than a nightmare from watching "Paranormal Activity 3." To pretend that this pathetic effort even holds a candle to a masterpiece of horror like William Friedkin's "The Exorcist" is pure folly of the most irresponsible kind. "Paranormal Activity 3" looks like it was shot for 20 bucks on a script that cost half as much. My cat could make a scarier movie. But then again my cat is a pretty scary little animal, unlike the helium-balloon-under-a-white-sheet ghost shown in "PA3."

Rated R. 84 mins. (F) (Zero Stars - out of five/no halves)

October 17, 2011

The Thing

The-ThingDebut director Matthijs van Heijningen’s update of the previously twice-made "Thing" horror movies is a completely respectable effort in spite of everything you’ve heard or read otherwise. Critics and audience members pretending that John Carpenter's 1982 version is better, or scarier, than Heijningen's film are in for a painful revelation if they ever take the time to actually compare the films in close succession. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a comely improvement over Kurt Russell as the story's protagonist. Winstead plays do-it-all paleontologist Dr. Kate Lloyd. Kate gets the call-up to travel to Antarctica after a determined Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) discovers an alien monster frozen in the ice. As with the Carpenter version, this gruesome looking Thing has the ability to infect the DNA of humans to explode spleens-a-go-go with a tentacled fury that is not something to look at on a full stomach. Winstead carries her character's sexy-librarian-hotness with cool restraint. She has no problem getting down and dirty with a flame-thrower when the time comes. The redoubtable Joel Edgerton ("Warrior") does his part to destroy the multiplying thing as helicopter pilot Braxton Carter. Better paced than Carpenter’s film and just as gory, this one has a much better double climax. Even with its plot holes this is an enjoyable monster movie that gets the job done. If you’re a fan of the genre, ignore the negative reviews and go have a blast at the cinema with this well-made picture that features an ass-kicking chic who can really go nine rounds with your worst nightmare.

Rated R. 102 mins. (B) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)

September 24, 2011

The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence)

Human_centipede_2 John Waters introduced a dog-poo-eating Divine as "the Filthiest Person Alive" in "Pink Flamingos" (1972). John Waters introduced a dog-poo-eating Divine as "the Filthiest Person Alive" in "Pink Flamingos" (1972). In 1975 Pier Paolo Pasolini merged the Marquis de Sade's "120 Days of Sodom" with the three descending levels of Dante Alighieri's "Inferno" in "Salo" for a terse satire about the world's implosion of force-fed consumerist debauchery after World War II. Eating society's shit served as the shocking height of bourgeoisie aspirations in “Salo.” It was Pasolini’s last film before he was brutally murdered on a remote beach on the outskirts of Rome.

It would be another 39 years before Tom Six would take the literal and metaphorical implications of eating shit to its most personal if asexual dimensions with a nasty little horror film entitled "The Human Centipede (First Sequence)" in 2009. Promise for the sequel was already writ large in Six's mind when he created the diabolical thriller that united three barely clad human beings ass-to-mouth as part of an evil German doctor's clinical experiment/fantasy. With its scat-sex element buried neatly inside a torture-porn horror thriller built on clichés of the genre, Six alluded to a brief if disturbing social commentary about issues of racist and nationalist ideas without hitting the nail on the head. The front of the human chain was a Japanese man. The back of the body-train included two nubile American girls. The film was set in Germany after all.

Human-Centipede The follow-up is much harder to read. Set in London, and clearly filmed on a considerably lower budget than the first film, the sequel is a self-referential bird-flip at the powers that postured toward banning "The Human Centipede 2" sight unseen. Cheap, raw, disgusting, and yet cleverly tipping its nightmare hat toward the kind of Halloween spook-house-movie that fans of the genre expect, the black-and-white sequel climaxes with a symphony of farting and diarrhea as it passes through ten people linked in an rough-hewn human chain by a sexually-abused man-child misfit named Martin. The bug-eyed geek works alone as an attendant in an underground London car garage where he continuously watches a DVD of "The Human Centipede" on his laptop. Martin treasures a carefully maintained "Human Centipede (First Sequence)" scrapbook which features things like a headshot of Ashlynn Yennie who appeared in the film. A telling comic sub-plot involves Martin's successful attempts at "auditioning" actors from the first film under the conceit that Quentin Tarantino is directing the sequel.

Anyone who has read Jonathan Swift will recognize the latent satire that bleeds and seeps from the story even if it seems written with notably less rigor than Swift applied to his work. Still, Tom Six's sequel isn't as lazy as, say, a typical Gus Van Sant movie. There is a certain Brechtian theory at play, however fortunate or unintentional it might be on Six’s part. The filmmaker toys with the idea of “what is seen cannot be unseen.” Victims are killed only to be revived so they can suffer greater tortures than their brutal death. Emotional detachment comes with the territory.

“The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence)" is a cinematic provocation in line with banned films such as “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Nekromantik.” It is meant as a right-to-passage movie for young audiences to marvel at, and endure without vomiting if possible. The movie doesn’t aspire to be anything more than a very uncomfortable cinematic experience. To that end it succeeds with flying colors. The viewer’s defense mechanisms flinch to laugh at brutal acts it cannot logically fathom. Will this movie give nightmares to more than a few of the audiences who manage to last through it? You bet. Will it give ideas to sick-fuck prison guards at Guantánamo about new ways to torture their prisoners? If they’re anything like Martin, the film will probably have that unintended effect as well. Does that mean “The Human Centipede 2” should be banned? I don’t’ think so.

Rated R. 96 mins. (B-) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)


September 15, 2011

Fright Night

Fright-night Inept plotting, a lack of pacing, and a criminal neglect of its primary antagonist--a promisingly diabolical vampire played by Colin Farrell--are a few of the nails that seal the lid on director Craig Gillespie's wayward remake of Tom Holland’s original 1985 “Fright Night.” There's an unspoken rule that states, the only reason to remake a film is to improve on the original. Crazy as that sounds, it can be done. David Cronenberg's remake of "The Fly" is a case in point. It was only a matter of time before the usually terrific Anton Yelchin got his turn to suck, and boy does he struggle here. Yelchin can't tell an objective from a super objective as high school nerd Charley. Charley has wised up enough to dis his douchebag childhood pal Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) in favor of hanging out with his steady girlfriend Amy (Imogen Poots). Las Vegas is the updated setting where Charley lives with his single mom Jane (Toni Collette). Collette adds some spark, as does Farrell, but not near enough to make an impact on a horror movie with no suspense and even less of a sense of humor. Sure, there’s some nifty special effects to make you feel like you’re getting your money’s worth, but the narrative barely has any shape, tone, or sense of urgency. As for character development, well you’d get more of that from a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

Rated R. 101 mins. (C-) (Two Stars - out of five/no halves)

September 11, 2011


Creature Everything about "Creature" screams B-movie. To that end this gritty little video nasty pulls out every low-budget stop toward sexing up and grossing out its audience. Using many of the exact same clichés as the currently running cheese-fest "Shark Night 3D," director Fred Andrews manages to at least have more fun along the way. There's something to be said for a dirty little horror movie that exists entirely to give pubescent teenagers something to blab about between gasps and groans. If you have to ask what "Creature" is about, you're probably not film's target audience. The remote back country of Louisiana hides a community with its share of secret history. A few generations ago a giant crocodile did a number on the wrong man’s incestuous mate. Our prototypical cave man took out his vengeful aggression in a fairly disgusting but transformative way. Now, the locals must feed the half-man-half-gator monster. Enter a half-dozen twentysomething brawny and bitchy tourists to provide some barely clad fodder for said hungry creature. Topless chicks--check; intimidating yokels at the gas station--check; would-be lesbians fooling around--check, lots of bloody mayhem--check. "Creature" should have gone straight to video. Since it's playing on a few big screens at least "Shark Night" could get some competition.

Rated R. 93 mins. (C-) (Two Stars - out of five/no halves)

September 10, 2011

Shark Night 3D

Shark-night3D You know you're in trouble from the start when director David R. Ellis ("Snakes on a Plane") resorts to fast-forwarding though opening sequences so that scenery and actors move at hyper speed. It's a cinematic cliché used by amateur filmmakers searching for something to say. Any temptation to associate "Shark Night 3D" with last year's R-rated guilty pleasure "Piranha 3D" is thwarted via "Shark Night's" lesser PG-13 rating. The movie falls into the predictable pattern of every other slasher flick with our group of nubile twentysomething college kids running into confrontation at a small-town gas station where a couple of local hicks make their baleful intentions known. Dennis (Chris Carmack) wears an impressive scar under his right eye as a testament to the volatile relationship he had three years ago with college squad leader Sara (Sara Paxton). Dennis's pal Red (Joshua Leonard) is several cards short of a full deck. Once at Sara's lakeshore house our party animals indulge in some hotdog water skiing that costs a member of the group a limb to a very fast swimming shark. A gigantic hammerhead swimming in the saltwater bayou is to blame. Attempts at getting said victim to a hospital meet with mixed signals from Dennis and Red as the only people around to assist in the desperate situation. Donal Logue plays Greg, the area's slacker Sheriff who takes his job about as seriously as he does his air-drumming hobby. For a shark horror movie, there are hardly any of the shocks or sustained suspense audiences expect from the genre. Most lacking is any sense of humor or style in a film that aspires to mediocrity and achieves it all too easily.

Rated PG-13. 91 mins. (D+) (One Star - out of five/no halves)

August 25, 2011

Final Destination 5

Final Destination 5 The "Final Destination" franchise settles into its comfortable shock horror rhythm in this latest outing. Notable is the film's proficient use of 3D--the best such example of any 3D movie so far this year. Debut director Steven Quale and his production team break the window with a purpose and regularity that puts other "3D" movies to shame.

As with its previous installments, the unfolding body-count of accident victims is predicted in a complex opening sequence of Rube Goldberg-styled outrageous disaster. Here, the Grim Reaper’s youthful targets are co-workers at a paper production company going on a work-related retreat. Needless to say, not much "team-building" is in store for the core group. A crumbling suspension bridge--not unlike San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge--sends our doomed twentysomethings fleeing their bus only to meet with gruesome deaths of blood-spattering, body-piercing, eyeball-popping variety. In keeping with the franchise's constant recipe, the sequence is a premonition envisioned by one member of the party who attempts to "cheat" death by sounding the alarm just before the actual calamity strikes. Sam (Nicholas D'Agosto) is the brief crystal-ball-reader. Sam's newly ex-girlfriend Molly (Emma Bell) is also aboard. Naturally, Sam does everything he can to save Molly. Since the condemned will die in the order that Sam predicted, he and Molly are far down the list.

There’s irony in how entertaining this 11-year-old horror franchise as compared with the torture-porn stylings of lesser efforts, such as the “Saw” films. The filmmakers and actors here all seem to be having a blast. If you start to become award of the inherent dangers constantly hanging over your head and hiding under your feet after seeing “Final Destination 5” then the filmmakers have done their job. Even if that doesn’t happen, at least you’ll get to experience a 3D movie that properly exploits the process.

Rated R. 95 mins. (B) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)

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