Author Topic: Jon's October 2011 Horror... er... sprint? Brisk walk? But not marathon!  (Read 2383 times)

Najemikon

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Like those weirdos who still ring your bell on the 1st November to say "Trick or Treat", I'm a bit late for this years marathon. In fact, this still isn't a marathon. It's just that I did see a handful of horrors worthy of note, so I thought sod it. Give 'em a thread!   ;)

Najemikon

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Mother's Day ***
« Reply #1 on: November 02, 2011, 11:40:28 PM »
Mother's Day ***

Year: 2010
Director:
Rating: 18
Length: 111 Min.
Video: Widescreen 2.35:1
Audio: English: PCM: 2-Channel Stereo, English: DTS-HD Master Audio: 5.1
Subtitles: English

After a bank robbery goes seriously wrong, three sadistic, bloodthirsty, criminal brothers find themselves on the run. Their childhood home seems like the safest place to hide out. But a few things have changed, their mother has been evicted and the house is now occupied by a young couple and their birthday guests. Taken hostage, the new owners and friends are forced to endure a night of blood-drenched hell. Because mother's coming home to roost and her maternal instincts involve extreme torture and a taste for terror.

Pushing the boundaries of fear, MOTHER'S DAY is an intense horror from the director of SAW II, III and IV and stars the legendary Rebecca De Mornay (The Hand That Rocks The Cradle), Jaime King (My Bloody Valentine) and Deborah Ann Woll (True Blood).


Mother’s Day is basically another family-under-siege story, in the tradition of Panic Room or Hostage and if it had chosen to stick to the middle-ground like those films, maybe it would be more enjoyable. There is no denying that it is an effective thriller through to the end, but the early promise gives way to a messy second half that you have to disengage with to not get infuriated. If you invest in the characters, your commitment is cruelly rewarded with the film equivalent of a kick in the balls. It certainly isn’t all bad though.

The story proper starts with three brothers on the run from a robbery. One has been seriously wounded. Meanwhile a couple and their friends are gathering for a party, while news channels warn of a storm. Little do they know that the three men are racing to their house, because it’s where they think their beloved mother still lives. They quickly take the group of friends’ hostage. One’s a doctor so he is forced to tend to the wounded younger brother, while the others suffer the volatile and unpredictable violence of the other two. Meanwhile, they call Mother…

So far, so predictable, but it’s harmless stuff and entertaining enough. But when Rebecca De Mornay makes her entrance as the matriarch, it finds a new gear. De Mornay has never exactly set the world on fire since her star-making role in The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, but here she excels. Natalie Koffin, the boys “momma” is a fantastic character. When she arrives, she takes control and even sets the hostage’s minds at rest. For a while. Despite her icy calm exterior, she is unhinged and manipulative. The film is brilliant while ever she is simply talking and playing with emotions. She becomes gradually more dangerous, especially when she discovers that the couple might have been receiving parcels of money from the boys who didn’t know Mother had been forced out of her home.

As you might expect, the prisoners come to different ideas about how to handle the situation and the thought that one of them might be hiding a bundle of cash adds an interesting dynamic of distrust, but as the film continues, it loses focus. It becomes obvious that the group are simply stereotypes and different shaped torture fodder. It’s made worse with some horribly contrived plot points that seem to be done just for the sake of making the viewer squirm. What was a basic, reliable thriller with an awesome villain is nothing more than torture porn. I shouldn’t be surprised considering that director Darren Lynn Bousman is responsible for several of the Saw sequels, but the first half was so promising I was hoping he was taking the opportunity to show he could keep control of a plot without recourse to pointless violence.

Maybe I’m being unfair. I keep thinking of one scene where Ike (Patrick Flueger) is escorting Beth (Jaime King) to get money from an ATM. They are disturbed by two young girls, who Ike gives a choice to: fight to the death, with the winner allowed to live, with a knife he throws in front of them, or he kills both. I hated the scene. It’s clunky and out of character for the cold calculating Ike unless it’s an weird way of creating an alibi for murder, but it is at least an attempt to say something about human nature and what we would do to survive. This theme is extended throughout the hostages. But even if you can see more value in these scenes than I could, there is no escaping that it goes way out of control in the final act at least. Early setups are ignored, they play out without irony and the story loses structure, forgetting to treat characters as individuals and wasting them in ever more turgid nonsense. Even the storm doesn’t amount to anything! That idea worked really well in Lakeview Terrace, the psychological thriller with Samuel L Jackson, but if Bousman’s history is anything to go by, he is incapable of understanding narrative, even if his films pacing and editing is effective. Even the underlying theme of motherhood that extends in several directions becomes a pointless mess of empty platitudes while one of the most interesting characters, the younger sister Lydia (Deborah Ann Woll) who comes to realise she has been brought up in fear, is wasted by her story simply coming to nothing. Again, it’s just the viewer being manipulated by a short-sighted production, right up to a pathetic, illogical epilogue.

Mother’s Day is a loose remake of a 1980 exploitation film. How close it is, I can’t comment, but the exploitation genre had more of a point back then. This torture porn just leaves a bad taste in the mouth, especially when the characters are rather flat and insubstantial. Switch your brain off it works as basic entertainment while it wins extra points for a superb central performance from Rebecca De Mornay. Watch the film for a detached sense of entertainment and you’ll enjoy it. Look for anything meaningful or substantial and you will be sorely disappointed. Like me.

Full technical review available at DVD Compare
« Last Edit: November 02, 2011, 11:55:00 PM by Jon »

Najemikon

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Maniac Cop ***
« Reply #2 on: November 02, 2011, 11:50:48 PM »
Maniac Cop ***

Year: 1988
Director: William Lustig
Rating: 18
Length: 85 Min.
Video: Widescreen 1.85:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio: 5.1

Notorious video nasty creator William Lustig and B-Movie legend Larry Cohen return to the dirty streets for a unique high-speed collision of the slasher movie and police thriller in Maniac Cop, a blood splattered tale of brutal cop revenge from beyond the grave.

When reports came in of a man in a police uniform committing gore drenched bloody murder on the city streets, officer Jack Forrest (Bruce Campbell) stands accused. Now, with few friends, powerful enemies and a psychopathic slayer at large, it's up to Jack to prove he's not guilty and bring down the killer.

Now, Arrow video brings the Maniac Cop back from the 80s video vault to stalk the night-time streets once more, looking for fresh victims...


"Maniac Cop". Say that to yourself a couple of times. Isn’t that just a cool movie title? There were lots of its kind in the ‘80s. Predator; Robocop; Terminator; even Exterminator! That was one of the earlier ones, but still, those titles alone evoke memories of grown-up ultra-violent fantasy cinema that sounded even better when you were a kid and not allowed to see them, but you did anyway, even if you had to wait for a Friday night TV showing to sneak downstairs and watch it with the volume right down. The 18 certificate was a target not a warning, and you know what? Despite the violence, those films were far more innocent than the run of miserable and forgettable torture-porn horror we’re suffering at the moment. To add insult to injury, today’s kids are drowning in multimedia only aimed at them and have nothing to aspire to, with bloodless Terminator and Die Hard sequels getting 12A ratings anyway. Where’s the fun? The daring sense of abandon?

Luckily we grown-up kids can capture the nostalgia again with releases like this. In truth, Maniac Cop is only average, but the story is simple enough to help your imagination fill in the short-fall: innocent people are being murdered, for no reason at all, not even a serial killer pattern. And to make it worse, witnesses claim the killer is a police officer. Panic sets in and soon Jack (Bruce Campbell) is implicated when his wife is killed following her finding out he was having an affair. Now he, his cop girlfriend Theresa (Laurene Landon) and the unpopular detective Frank (Tom Atkins), who broke the story to the media, have to prove that the Maniac Cop is in fact supposedly deceased and disgraced hero Matt Cordell (Robert Z’Dar).

As you’d expect, the film opens with a murder and it’s straightforward nasty stuff. A couple more follow suite and get more outrageous (e.g., suffocating in wet cement!). The Maniac Cop is a big imposing fella and he doesn’t have to move much to scare the crap out of his victims or us. There are a couple of poorly paced lumpy moments when Theresa and Frank catch up with him though. Director William Lustig clearly struggles to inject excitement while trying to keep the killers face hidden. Luckily it picks up again following an attack on a police station where Jack is being held and the final act is a heck of a lot of fun because we can see Matt Cordell (not to be confused with last year’s X-Factor winner. That would be awkward!) in daylight and his low budget make-up is a satisfying mix of hilarious and horrific. Exactly what you want from a movie like this!

Bruce Campbell is a bit more subdued than in the Evil Dead films and he’s not a great actor, but he’s still reliably Bruce Campbell and that makes Maniac Cop 20% cooler than if he wasn’t in it. Tom Atkins too is great value. Most will know him from his small but memorable Lethal Weapon role and he strikes a good balance between being a dedicated hero and a nutty loner (the “you don’t smile” moment is a highlight!). I wish veteran Richard Roundtree had more to do as the Commissioner, but still, like Campbell, at least he’s there.

Even if you haven’t seen it, you probably already know what to expect from Maniac Cop. Aside from a couple of cracking lines and crazy but welcome plot developments trying to turn Cordell into a Michael Myers with a badge, the script is predictable and basic, like the rest of the production. But it’s great fun and it’ll make you want to dive into the hopefully still trashy sequels. Maniac Cop is a film of its time and this release does little to try and change that, thank goodness. It’s not a clever film, it’s not even that well made, but it is outrageous fun and should be embraced. And Hollywood should take note that maybe audiences don’t always want photo-real CGI, Oscar worthy casts and insightful metaphors. We just need a big bastard with a knife, daft dialogue and producers with a “don’t give a damn” ambition.

Full technical review available at DVD Compare

Najemikon

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The Woman ****
« Reply #3 on: November 03, 2011, 12:10:52 AM »
The Woman ****

Year: 2011
Director: Lucky McKee
Rating: 18
Length: 103 Min.
Video: Widescreen 1.78:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio: 5.1, English: Dolby Digital: Dolby Surround

From Lucky McKee (May) and Jack Ketchum (The Girl Next Door) comes the hugely acclaimed The Woman - an immensely powerful and brutal horror with a killer soundtrack and an unforgettably savage climax!

The Woman (Pollyanna McIntosh - Exam) is the last surviving member of a violent clan that has roamed the American wilderness for decades. Now she is alone, severely wounded... and vulnerable. When successful country lawyer Chris Cleek stumbles upon her whilst hunting, he decides to capture and "civilise" her - a decision that will soon threaten the lives of Cleek, his family and The Woman herself...


The Woman is an astonishing film and a breath of fresh air. Well… I say “fresh”, but by the end, it’s more “poisonous” and, I hope, toxic enough to leave a mark on American horror, because this sort of thing is essential for the genre to keep respect and relevance in the face of mainstream laziness, even if you don’t like it. It can afford comparisons with the original The Hills Have Eyes or Texas Chainsaw Massacre; a satirical and vicious attack on the notions of family and human nature, in particular the sexualisation of women, bolstered by a rich film production from cult director Lucky McKee that is often beautiful, if that doesn’t sound absurd. It’s somewhat at odds with what you expect from cult horror flicks. For a start, consider that much of the film, including the soon to be infamous ending, is in daylight and the preceding story is tensely psychological rather than shock tactics so that by the time the credits come up on that brutal finale, it’s been more like a release of pressure and you might find yourself thinking of the metaphors that Romero’s best zombie films played with. The zombie sub-genre has surely been all but lost to parody (albeit in excellent style) so The Woman might fill the gap.

It is the story of a family man who finds a feral woman living in the woods behind his house. He captures her and calmly recruits his wife and children in the task of civilising their new friend. Are his motives altruistic? His deluded personality and meek wife and daughter suggest not and the untamed prisoner becomes an unpredictable factor in their dysfunctional lives.

Apparently it is a sequel to Offspring, both films being written by Jack Ketchum, but I haven’t seen that and I highly recommend you too go into this blind if possible. I liked that I didn’t know where the woman came from or why she was living feral. It may be this film is going over themes already covered, but the story is so isolated (she doesn’t speak English, so can’t even give a line of dialogue hinting at her history) it doesn’t matter to new viewers. Plus, both the good and bad critical reception The Woman has received implies it is the more interesting of the two. Certainly McKee directs with a confident passion and focus, suggesting he was able to bring a great personal connection to the story, despite not directing Offspring. Seek that film out as a prequel instead.

The premise and some early sequences hint at torture porn (it isn’t), but while I’ve always leapt to the defence of Hostel at least (not so much the lazy Saw franchise), The Woman is leagues ahead in ambition with a concerted effort to creep under your skin and stay there for days. So much so, it makes an utter mockery of the current penchant for glorified violence that treats abuse like a set piece. The violence in this film is ingrained, necessary and even reserved for quite some time. The narrative seems to signpost many developments and makes them obvious, at odds with dialogue which contains zero exposition, and it has a tendency to be episodic if you’re looking for something wrong. But in fact I like the structure, as it relies on impressive editing and characterisation. This is a film that wants to be clear and needs you to understand even its most subtle tricks, because only with your eyes wide open will you see the big picture of what it’s trying to suggest. Still, it keeps you on your toes as you decide just who are the heroes and villains of this grimy tale. Don’t look for a mystery or cheap scares, but be prepared to wallow in a rich, occasionally humourous, yet always sinister attack on human nature.

Sean Bridgers plays the instigator, Chris Cleek. To all appearances, a successful business man and devoted husband and father, but you quickly realise the family aren’t as happy as he at least expects them to be. His wife Belle (McKee regular Angela Bettis) is subdued and weak, his daughter Peggy (Lauren Ashley Carter) depressed, hiding a secret, and his son, with whom he is closest (note the divide between male and female), seems the happiest, but has a cruel bullying streak against girls. Zach Rand who plays the quiet Brian possibly has the most interesting role, because his tendency to bully is done on the sly. It’s a delicate and vital character. The Cleek family also features Darlin’ (yes, that’s her name!), who is only five or six at most. She is played by Shyla Molhusen and is an absolute charmer. In many ways, she embodies the contrasts and absurdities in the film; her innocent acceptance of the prisoner gives the story some of its best moments.

In the early stages there is a great deal of nervous humour to be had from the bizarre manner in which Chris calmly secures his rabid prize and then introduces her to his family. He coolly explains it will be their project and responsibility to civilise her. If The Woman can be thought of as Romero-esque satire, and in turn satire is a bedfellow of comedy, it might help you understand the tone of the film when I say that Bridgers reminded me of Will Ferrell! Especially while he explains the “ground rules” to his shocked family and relates how he lost his finger (that’s a great moment, by the way!) to the amusement of Darlin’. While it would have been interesting to see Ferrell use his dumb expression to hide such vicious misogyny in a serious role, I doubt he’d be as believable as Bridgers, presenting us with a man convinced absolutely by his own screwed up views and maintaining an edgy balance of unpredictability. Much of the tension comes directly from him.

The Woman herself is played by Pollyanna McIntosh in an excellent performance as a “devil with a handsome face”, as McKee describes her in an interview included on the Blu-Ray. She has little to do in terms of an arc or dialogue, it’s all about consistency and patience. McIntosh is a lovely natured and attractive English actress, so her transformation into this feral creature is fantastic, especially because, despite her disgusting appearance, she retains her considerable natural sexuality. The film has a sexual undercurrent running throughout, perhaps most obviously embodied by the stunning Carlee Baker, playing Genevieve Raton, Peggy’s teacher, who worries about her pupil and wants to help her. Her casting as a very attractive lesbian borders on exploitive! But it’s just another thread of the satire and she is excellent as one of the most honest natured characters. The story could easily have featured a very religious family, but instead, by considering lust and perversion at the expense of women as the underlying factor, it adds some fresh dynamics and asks some difficult questions about how often the baser animal instincts are buried to appear respectable, and just what is important in a family. Even Darlin’ gets in trouble for kissing boys, and later, asks for her cookies to be shaped like little men!

It’s a challenging theory and part of the reason that The Woman has attracted controversy to the extent of critics abandoning the Sundance screening in disgust and accusations of it being nothing more than dressed up torture porn, but as I said before, it really isn’t. Instead, it is intelligent and playful, but with a sharply focused message that maybe scared the critics by being close to home. This film is essentially one very fucked up sitcom! But if by the time the bloody mess of the sickening final act has completed, you still haven’t made your mind up about the intentions of film-makers, watch right through the credits. There’s a wonderful surprise in an animation that might make you consider watching The Woman again, just to find where the perspective fits in…

This Blu-Ray had one of the most satisfying extras I've seen for sometime. Lucky McKee amongst others on a panel at Frightfest discussing the state of American Horror. The conclusion is quickly found to be that the state is not good and so follow some great anecdotes, such as the story of Michael Bay embarking on his production of a Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake and calling the original “naff”. Cue collective intake of breath from the audience! Also mentioned is the studio that wanted to use the title of Rosemary’s Baby on a film pitch that has nothing to do with a baby, and a discussion of why people follow the soulless remakes like sheep. There's also an animated short film on the disc called Mi Burro (the story of a young boy and his friend a grump donkey!), which is odd, but strangely moving.

Next time someone suggests going to the cinema to watch Scream 5 or some other non-descript, sanitised rubbish, persuade them to watch this instead. Chain ‘em up in your basement if you have to! On second thoughts, don’t do that… But as a package, the Blu-Ray is superb, because the film will continue to divide opinion –you might even just like it, but not consider it more than episodic- but the Frightfest panel should convince the angrier cynics that at least the film-makers intentions were far more honest than they may have first assumed. The Woman has an opportunity to improve the perception of what independent horror films are capable of.

Full technical review available at DVD Compare

« Last Edit: November 03, 2011, 12:22:56 AM by Jon »

Offline goodguy

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Re: The Woman ****
« Reply #4 on: November 03, 2011, 08:23:59 AM »
I remember loving Lucky McKee’s debut feature May (on which Rian Johnson worked as an editor before he made Brick), but I found The Woman to be a frustrating experience. Mostly this is because, despite my many misgivings, I did recognize an important film buried in there somewhere. I’m also not sure if some of the things that greatly annoyed me are simply incompetence or a deliberate choice to target (or better, talk down) to a perceived audience of which I’m no part of. It’s a bit like that famous quote from the often overly didactic Michael Haneke, who said regarding his Funny Games, "Anybody who leaves the cinema doesn’t need the film, and anybody who stays does." Although bringing Haneke into the mix probably gives McKee too much credit.

On the narrative side Jon mentioned the "signposting", and it did severely harm the film for me. The character dynamics are telegraphed from the very first scene and I did know exactly where this was going. Just consider the first time we see Chris talking to his wife as she approaches him during a party. Chris never appears as just a normal guy, his malice and male entitlement is so clearly visible that the entire premise of violence lurking behind normalcy becomes absurd. As a result, scenes that are supposed to be quietly shocking (such as the casual slap he gives his wife in the bedroom as she dares to question him) loose their impact. I focused on Chris here, but the same goes for every single character in the film.

As for direction and cinematography, McKee uses an hodgepodge of techniques that had me rolling my eyes constantly: The dissolves and overlaying images of the woman in the woods, the POV shots in some torture sequences, etc. All this doesn’t leave the impression of an assured filmmaker, but of someone who hasn’t quite a grip on his material and desperately tries on different things for size.
« Last Edit: November 03, 2011, 08:25:31 AM by goodguy »
Matthias

Najemikon

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Re: Jon's October 2011 Horror... er... sprint? Brisk walk? But not marathon!
« Reply #5 on: November 03, 2011, 08:53:49 AM »
 :thumbup: Nice response. It was difficult to explain, given the synopsis ("respectable family...", etc), that it was actually more obvious than that, but I did feel there was a point to it. One of the films questions is about how often we accept the status quo, so I think they were happy to show us exactly what the status quo was instead of trying to make it a mystery. I must admit, I liked the sequence in the woods. It was almost a pornographic technique (Chris sees her as topless, but it isn't clear she actually is) which suited the themes.

By the way, I did love the way he edited the slap. Again I think it suggests he wasn't trying to hide the overall situation, but in an effort to still cause a shock, I liked how Chris's arms were hidden from view, using a mirror so we could otherwise see him clearly. 

Offline goodguy

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Re: Jon's October 2011 Horror... er... sprint? Brisk walk? But not marathon!
« Reply #6 on: November 03, 2011, 10:03:01 AM »
But the film proceeds in such a typical and predictable horror film fashion that it becomes almost pointless. It simmers for a while, escalates to crazy and ends with cathartic revenge. The film is successful in some of the early stages; the clean and methodical approach to torturing/"civilizing" the woman together with the focus on technical appliances is downright chilling. But as both the torture and the family interactions escalate it becomes just boring, not terrifying. When the teacher finally visits, the film had already lost me for quite some time and I only thought, oh no, not that cliché too. It kept getting worse, though. The savage brutality of the ending is kinda efficient, but again completely plays within the established realms of the genre.
« Last Edit: November 03, 2011, 10:06:46 AM by goodguy »
Matthias

Najemikon

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Re: Jon's October 2011 Horror... er... sprint? Brisk walk? But not marathon!
« Reply #7 on: November 03, 2011, 10:46:59 PM »
But the film proceeds in such a typical and predictable horror film fashion that it becomes almost pointless. It simmers for a while, escalates to crazy and ends with cathartic revenge. The film is successful in some of the early stages; the clean and methodical approach to torturing/"civilizing" the woman together with the focus on technical appliances is downright chilling. But as both the torture and the family interactions escalate it becomes just boring, not terrifying. When the teacher finally visits, the film had already lost me for quite some time and I only thought, oh no, not that cliché too. It kept getting worse, though. The savage brutality of the ending is kinda efficient, but again completely plays within the established realms of the genre.

Well, I do agree, but you know me; I like convention!  ;) And I do think that core horror fans appreciate such moments, actually. They revel in the conventions and look for the twist. But this is why I mentioned it in my review because while I did enjoy it a great deal throughout and I do believe it was a strong creative choice, the end result is the same in that it is predictable and obvious and a fair target for criticism. I think this was to steadfastly create the idea that families like this do exist and are taken for granted, so the film takes them for granted too and doesn't try to trick you. The most metaphorical zombie movies do something similar in that they reflect our normality and seethe with anger that people lead unambitious lives, like shuffling zombies, so lets see what happens when actual living dead are dropped into the mix...

I always respond well to that kind of stuff and I really got a kick out of the ending. I know you dismiss it as efficient, but I found it riveting.
(click to show/hide)

By the way, did you see the animated sequence after the credits?