Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Bug (2006).

I have just finished watching...

Director William Friedkin denies it belongs to the horror genre and yet it has about ten times more frightening an impact than The Hamiltons - for which this DVD had a trailer, coincidentally.

Adapted from a play, with a small cast and practically one-room setting, Bug charts the descent into madness of lonely waitress Agnes White (the phenomenal Ashley Judd), after starting a relationship with a shy but odd drifter named Peter (Michael Shannon, who played the same role onstage and is as equally brilliant as Judd, here).

Peter is ex military and is bubbling with conspiracy theories and paranoia; Agnes is part-destroyed by losing her young son and having suffered an abusive marriage. She starts listening to and believing Peter's rants about a secret government experiment on soldiers during the Gulf War.

In no time at all, the pair have alienated the one friend Agnes had and are convinced their motel suite, then their own bodies, are infested with millions of tiny US government bred insects.

Peter ripping out a tooth he believes to harbour an egg sack. Tooth horror might be my least favourite kind...

The thing is, we the audience are never told the absolute truth. Yes, these two seem completely cuckoo, but there are many little signposts within the movie that actually corroborate Peter's stories.

By the end of the film, the suite has been covered in foil and bug capture devices.

There's no going back after some final conclusions are drawn. In two magnificently deranged monologues, connections are made between all of the information we have learnt about Agnes; and even to us, sitting in our non foil covered rooms, it kinda makes sense. The climax of the movie is heartbreaking, completely nuts, and perfect.

If you watch this and enjoy it, then I urge you to watch it again, as it definitely benefits from a second viewing. The director's commentary is also worth a listen for the hypnotic voice of mister Friedkin, guiding us soothingly through what is a dark, surprisingly moving film.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Hamiltons (2006)

Totally spoiler heavy.
Sorry, but I'm blowing this thing wide open.

My local film rental place is closing. It's sad but I'm a LOVEFiLMer, so it's partly my fault. Anyway, they are selling off all their stock, so I managed to pick up two films I was interested in seeing. The Hamiltons was one of them.

Slipped inside the case was a piece of paper, with this typed on it:
"Michael Recommends:
A rare beast this, with first-time directing team the 'Butcher Brothers' shedding new light on an old legend in a smart, uncompromising fashion.
While it's not exactly terrifying it is definitely original and unerringly brutal. Leagues ahead of 'gorno' pics like SAW and HOSTEL, this entwines its inherent nastiness with a web of American-indie smarts. The results are both surprising and strangely satisfying."

I don't know who Michael is - presumably an employee. What I do know, is that he's talking bollocks.

Having not paid attention when reading the above, the "new light on an old legend" went over my pretty lil' head. Therefore, I went into this assuming it was about a family of fucked-up homicidal teenagers - and this is how it is played, until the final reveal.

Before dealing with that however, let's talk about the film generally.

Four young adults - and whatever it is they keep locked in the basement - have to fend for themselves in a new town after both parents die (we aren't told how). David, the eldest, seems to have needlessly adopted a ridiculous side-parting in his hair since becoming the man of the house. The twins Wendell and Darlene, have an incestuous relationship which is only marginally more disconcerting than the girl's complete lack of acting ability. The youngest sibling, Francis, sees what is going on in his home and hates it, spending most of the film wandering around or laying on his bed looking tortured.

All of them know, if not are directly involved with the family's pastime of picking up people who won't be missed, taking them home and killing them.

However, within the household there are varying degrees of comfort with this arrangement. Francis wants to help the girls he finds strung up in the basement, David reluctantly goes about his murders with a sense of duty and the twins make their kills into games, enjoying and getting off on them.

This sounds like ample fodder, right? Wrong. The plot is paper thin, with nothing much of anything happening. The closest we get to tension is when Francis seems on the brink of going to the authorities... but then doesn't. Ah well!

And the closest we get to the "unerringly brutal" of which Michael speaks, is this shot:

I don't know about you, but that doesn't do an awful lot for me.

A lot of the worst crimes are committed off screen - which is fine, it's an indie film and the FX budget wasn't huge, I can understand that. Yet in order to make hidden atrocities work, the viewer needs to (a) care about what was happening, and (b) care about who it is happening to. Apologies, the Butcher Brothers, but this just wasn't the case here. It's not brutal, it's a series of faintly grisly scenes which punctuate an otherwise dull, poorly acted 86 minutes.

The most interesting thing about The Hamiltons, is the twist. Interesting in the sense that it made me yell: "WHAT?! Fucking vampires?!" as this happened...

Yup. They are a family of vamps. Or... humans with some kind of vamp/blood related disease. They aren't mindless killers man, they're just trying to survive. Oh jesus.

The big unveiling of "Lenny"? The thing that's been screaming and rattling the bars of its cage underneath the house for the entire movie? Well, judging by the heavily pregnant mother in early footage of the family, we assume it's the infant in some form. In what form though? I was hoping for some fucked up mutated foetus thing, some gooey effects if we're lucky. What did we actually get?

Aw, his little blood soaked bedroom.

Build build build aaaaaand...

Yeah, that's Lenny. I literally wrote "LOL @ Lenny" in my notes, which about sums it up I think.

So on a re-watch (NB: I wouldn't have bothered if I didn't have to cap it), the viewer picks up on Francis running his tongue across his teeth, being off his food and zoning out in a restaurant when faced with rare, bloody meat. Whereas previously we'd assumed he was in some kind of shock from the knowledge of what his family are up to, in hindsight it's clear he is undergoing a change.

Something like the vampire equivalent of puberty? I don't know, they don't tell us, we don't ultimately care.

By the end of the film Francis seems all of sudden fine with what he is, though. He's friends with his siblings again and they all pack up and move town. The last line is David greeting their new neighbours and introducing the clan as "the Thompsons". Please god don't let that be a set up for a sequel.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


I couldn't quite believe it when I crossed paths with the news that Dan O'Bannon had passed away, on December 17. Sadly, it was true.

Dark Star, the Alien films, Dead & Buried, The Return of the Living Dead (also directed), Lifeforce and Total Recall... to name but a few of the films this man had a hand in creating as a screenwriter.

Let's all watch at least one of his films and salute the genius that was mister O'Bannon. You will be missed, sir.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Wicker Man (1973).

Final Girl Film Club ahoy!

I believe this was chosen before the passing of Edward Woodward, so it was a sad and fitting tribute to be watching one of his films.

[As an aside, Edgar Wright's piece on Woodward was the best one I read. It can be found here]

The Wicker Man, directed by Robin Hardy, was another film that my Dad recommended to me when he realised I was becoming a horror film enthusiast.

I was relatively young when I first watched it and recall finding it quite... dull. I didn't get why a horror film would have songs in it and the subtle layering of the small town creepiness wasn't to my unrefined palate back then. I do, however, remember the ending sucker-punching me. It's odd thinking about how different and genre-naive my opinions were back then.

So, re-watching many, many years later was an interesting experience. Small town based chills are now one of my favourite types and bizarrely, during the opening act of this film I was very much reminded of Dead and Buried (review here) despiteThe Wicker Man predating it by eight years. The songs in the film I now see as adding to the eerie, rather than taking away from it.

The plot, if you somehow aren't familiar, concerns Sergeant Neil Howie (Woodward) a devoutly Christian police officer, who is sent to investigate a case of a missing child on the island of Summerisle.

Where is Rowan Morrison?

From the moment he arrives the locals act suspiciously cagey: denying facts Howie knows to be true, contradicting themselves and generally being aggravatingly unhelpful.

As the Sergeant's investigation progresses, he begins to not only uncover the truth and lies regarding Rowan's alleged disappearance, but also learns of the inhabitants' neo-pagan beliefs. His traditional sensibilities are increasingly horrified at what he witnesses: public copulation, Christian churches left in ruin, school children being educated about "phallic symbols". Then, at the film's shocking conclusion, all remaining mysteries are explained and Howie is led screaming to his sacrificial death as the islanders look on, singing merrily.

"Come, it is time to keep your appointment with the Wicker Man."
- Lord Summerisle.
The film unfolds more as a mystery to begin with, displaying instance upon instance of off-kilter behaviour from the Summerisle folk. The pace is steady, answering some questions but raising even more as we follow the trail of breadcrumbs along with Howie.

Whatever happened to traditional confectionery?

Why does the village chemist have a jar of foreskins? (And where did he get them from?!).

What's with the creepy animal masks?

What exactly do the May Day celebrations involve, apart from the island's owner prancing about in a long black wig?

Upon meeting Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee, impressive in all aspects including his hair and wardrobe) Howie encounters the apex of the island's weirdness.

Howie: "But, they're naked...!"
Lord Summerisle: "Well, naturally. It's much too dangerous to jump through fire with your clothes on."
Where he thought he would find co-operation from the owner and magistrate of the island, the policeman instead finds a charismatic leader who speaks of old gods, divinity lessons and appears as "raving mad" as everyone else.
Lord Summerisle: "Do sit down, Sergeant. Shocks are so much better absorbed with the knees bent."
No review of this film can pass without a mention of the infamous Britt Ekland nude scene.

In an attempt to seduce Howie, Willow (Ekland) the sexually liberated landlord's daughter, casts a spell by dancing around the room adjoining the one in which the virginal policeman is staying. She sings, bangs on the walls and he - who is engaged to be married and a believer in abstinence until the wedding night - is tested to his limits as he paces, sweats and presses himself against the wall in return. Somehow however, he ultimately resists Willow's charms. Unfortunately, he just should have gone for it, because his self control ultimately proves to be one of the nails in his own coffin.

I definitely didn't appreciate this sequence way back when. It's more than just a pretty woman dancing around with no clothes on; it is charged with eroticism and in a very simple, beautiful way shows the battle between sexuality and repression.

The spell, in song form, is named 'Willow's Song' and is rightly lauded as one of the best in the film. Watch the whole thing on Youtube here.

For something classed as a horror film, the horrific only comes into play right at the end, where Howie learns of his fate. I would be tempted, if it were not for this final scenes, to deny that this is a horror film at all. However, the building dread, from the ritual preparation of the policeman before his sacrifice; his anger which turns into begging for mercy that in turn becomes him screaming for his life; the islanders' terrifying conviction in what they are doing and the image of the Wicker Man itself are undeniably frightening elements. I may not have been convinced of the film's cult status when I first saw it, yet Howie's screaming stayed the fuck with me.

The Wicker Man is a quintessentially British film that may not make it onto everybody's 'ultimate horror' list, and yet anyone calling themselves a fan of the genre certainly needs to see it. I'm pleased I have had a chance to watch the film again, now that I am old enough and wise enough to "get it". Horror films may not be advised viewing for young'uns first and foremost due to potentially scary content, but it is also a case of needing a little life and genre experience to fully appreciate them, too!

Going to end on this image, because I capped it and adore it, even though it didn't fit into the review anywhere. It's too good not to include.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Dead Silence (2007).

Let's just get this out of the way: I ♥ Leigh Whannell. I caught Saw - his and collaborator and friend James Wan's debut movie, released in 2004 - just about as soon as I could. I came out of the cinema crushing on him and then learnt that he'd co-written it, as well as starred. 'Kabooom' went my female horror-loving geek heart.

In any case, my crush aside I love Saw and will always try to defend it to the best of my ability. Yes, the franchise is huuuge now and questionable... Whannell and Wan have shuffled back into executive producer roles since the third installment, yadda yadda. I very much doubt any other number will entertain me the way the first one did, but I'll watch them all because I am a completest and a fool.

But anyway, I digress...!

Dead Silence is Whannell and Wan together again, working on their own project. I remember reading about this film when it was in post production and not being too excited by the idea, because it sounded to me like a Buffy episode. This ended up being something of a prophetic first impression for me to have.

Okay so it's no Saw... it didn't leave me shaken; however it is entertaining tale, told straight and relatively old-school with an enjoyably twisty ending. Also, Donnie Wahlberg looks good with a 'tache. Why don't more men have moustaches?

I won't lie to you though: the best thing about this film, is the look of it. It's a feast for the eyes, 92mins of constantly arresting red accented shots.

Here for your viewing pleasure, I am going to show you some of them...

Pretty tasty, eh?

The look of the thing aside, it may not be wholly to my taste but it's a fine effort with which to follow Saw. I like that Wan had a very different, thematically strong little monster in mind with this one and still wanted to test himself creatively.

Give the film a rent, on the strength of the visuals alone. If you find puppets scary then it's also guaranteed to give a few chills. Personally, I find doll-horror to be an odd bird and one more suited to a shorter running time (so, Buffy got it right). Yes, the things creep me out, but after an hour they kind of lose their eeriness. They're just dolls...!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Last House On The Left (2009).

--This review has a cap from one of the more sexually unsavoury scenes of the film. Just a warning--

First, let's get the frivolity out of the way. People I recognised in this version of The Last House On The Left and where I found out they were from:
Okay now that's done, we can get serious.

To be honest, I wasn't even going to bother with this film until my LOVEFiLM list was a wee bit lighter. Nothing against remakes per se; I've come out the other side of the seething hatred for them and into numb acceptance, with the realisation that they can be good, on occasion. They rarely make it to the top of my films to-do list though.

Then a friend offered me his DVD on loan and ultimately, I liked it a lot more than I anticipated doing. Well, "liked" is perhaps an inappropriate word... "respected" is possibly better. Just so long as I never have to see the end sequence again - but more on that later.

This is a stunningly shot "re imagining" if you will, of Wes Craven's 1972 film. I've not watched the original in a while so this isn't going to be a comparison-based review, unless I can't help but draw parallels. The director this time around is Dennis Iliadis and yes, it was a new name to me, too. But if there's any justice in the world, this won't be the last we hear of him.

We know the plot, but in a nutshell this is a tale of three parts: Establishing the Collingwood family as a happy, supportive unit of three; following the daughter, Mari, as she meets with a friend but then falls into the hands of some truly fucked up villains; the final acts of vengeance committed by Mari's parents as they learn of her earlier ordeal.

The scene-setting shots of "normality" and family life reminded me very much of Sofia Coppola's Virgin Suicides. Such beauty, exquisitely framed and lit. They are almost otherworldly in their feel but also unnerving, somehow. Even if this were a film we didn't already know the outcome of, there is a distinct sense of foreboding hanging over every minute of this opening act.

Together with the outstanding score by John Murphy - an Englishman! - we are very aware that this lovely family, in this lovely house, is not gonna be so for very much longer.

Before Mari heads out to meet her friend Paige, there is a long sequence following her getting out of the shower and getting dressed. To start with, I found the inclusion of this confusing. If this were a slasher film or anything of that ilk, then the ubiquitous shower scene (and tit shot - although we don't get one of those here) is a given; but this film isn't like that and I wondered why we were being made to watch this girl being blatantly fetishised?

In the context of the whole film, all becomes clear. When the gang later attempt to force the youngest member and Krug's son, Justin, into sex with Mari, again we have close-ups of hands on her skin and clothes - but this time they aren't her own.

Justin succeeds in refusing to force himself onto her and so his father then steps up. The images that follow shed new light on the earlier collection of post-shower shots. We see them to be a direct reference and a forbear to when we are forced to watch Mari's clothes being ripped from her, first for Justin's benefit, then for Krug's.

It's really very clever and makes what is a harrowing scene of sexual assault all the more disturbing. We are a part of it, we become complicit, because we remember her underwear, for christ's sake, from earlier on. We regarded her dewy skin as she pulled on her clothes not minutes (our time, not hers) before - now we watch as she has those same items pulled from her. It's a brilliant and horrifying way of entangling the audience with the act.

This whole section of the film is difficult to watch, obviously. It is genuinely uncomfortable stuff. When Justin is being pushed towards Mari, screaming, when Paige gets stabbed before we, or indeed even she knows what's happening... and then Krug rapes Mari.

It's not graphic in the slightest, but it's one of the most prolonged rape scenes I think I've ever seen. Like Mari herself, we are given no get-out from this nightmare. We are forced (unless we turn off the DVD of course) to sit and endure every intensely awful moment. My god, IMDb trivia says that the rape scene took seventeen hours to film, I can't even imagine.

After this attack is when - what I took to be at least - an homage to the original takes place. Remember the post rape moment in Wes Craven's film? The villains survey one another sheepishly and wipe the blood from their hands, bringing to mind naughty children?

The equivalent here is when Krug stands up from raping Mari, Sadie (who had participated, in that she'd held the girl down and removed her clothes) slowly raises her eyes to meet his. She then smiles, awkwardly. It's a tiny thing but pretty much shattering in its inclusion.

Mari being shot at in the lake brings about more stunning shots that I have to include here:

The final act of this story always takes me by surprise, somehow. It's perverse really, as the whole weight of the movie is really behind the "middle class gone feral in vengeance" idea; and yet it always slips my mind for a second that there is more to see after we have witnessed the girls being tortured.

It is interesting to note that the earlier technique of laying civilised, wholesome groundwork is repeated here. When Krug and his gang take shelter in the Collingwood house, before either party know exactly how they are related, we are once again treated to scene-setting static shots of a cosy family home. Drink it in chaps, drink it in before the blood starts splashing the walls.

The tension resulting from the coming together of these six individuals is handled perfectly. It's an exercise in baby-step sized increments of suspense.

The gang initially remain just the right side of weird, provoking thoughtful looks and the odd comment between the Collingwood's, but not much else. The actors nail it to be honest. They are less histrionic than their 1972 equivalents - but that is what's needed here. Alternatively, they are quiet, menacing and most frightening of all: strange. Something about them is off. For instance, when Mrs Collingwood is showing them to the guesthouse, they cram into the bathroom behind her.

It's not psychopathic behaviour by any means, it just doesn't seem quite right. Nothing too out of the ordinary to set the alarm bells ringing but enough to wake the spidey senses.

And then comes the climatic bloodbath.

If Sadie's tight-lipped smile to her beloved is my first favourite moment of the film, then the glance exchanged between Mr and Mrs Collingwood, as they both realise they are about to commit murder, is my second.

No words are exchanged, because none are needed. We also know by their grim determination that neither want to, nor will, back down from this. This is the step they must take to avenge their daughter. "We have to be ready to do... anything."

It's a simple but powerful moment - which is quite something, coming from someone who can't usually look at Monica Potter without getting LeAnn Rimes stuck in her head.

The final dispatching of the gang is again, right on the money. Until Krug. Oh god, why. Heed my advice and turn this film off once you hit the 1:40:04 mark, because something ridiculous and uncalled for happens that just undermines all the great work before it. I get angry just thinking about it!

I'm not going to tell you what it is. All I am going to say is that it pissed me off this was allowed to be included and I hope that Iliadis' hand was forced into doing so. He cannot have made a movie this good, then thought that ending was a suitable way to finish it.

This movie comes highly recommended, however I repeat: turn off at 1:40:04 and save yourself from the jarring, superfluous final scene and the use of 'Dirge' by Death In Vegas (one of my favourite songs) directly afterwards. Putting a silly hat on a great flick is one thing... but don't soundtrack it with a song I adore as well, argh!