Psycho II (1983) d. Franklin, Richard (USA)
Being a dead-icated young pup, I dutifully read Robert Bloch’s 1982 literary follow-up to Psycho before seeing its celluloid counterpart on cable during its HBO run, even going so far as to ask the local bookmarm to conjure it via interlibrary loan. I found it satisfying enough, including its key twist of leaving Norman Bates by the wayside early in the narrative. However, with Anthony Perkins returning to the role that had loomed large over his career for the past two decades, it was even money that screenwriter Tom Holland would not be following Bloch’s game plan – even as a lad I knew that Hollywood couldn’t squander an opportunity like that for the sake of a clever plot twist. (Then again, Hitchcock had done something mighty similar 22 years earlier, to memorable success, so who knew...?)
As the film starts, Norman has finally been released from the mental institution where he’s been incarcerated since Lila Crane (Vera Miles) discovered him running around in Mother’s housedress. Despite Lila’s protests and petitions to the contrary, Bates does indeed seem to be rehabilitated and ready to return to the world – his conscientious psychiatrist (Robert Loggia) has wrangled him a job at the local diner and while he certainly has trepidations about returning to the house on the hill above a certain motel, Norman’s future seems filled with possibility. He even meets a cute young waitress (Meg Tilly) who is sympathetic to his plight. But then he starts seeing a certain female shape in the window, receiving ominous phone calls, and soon the bodies start piling up....
Under the direction of rising Australian director and Hitchcock scholar Richard Franklin (Patrick, Roadgames), Psycho II was SO much better than it had any right to be when in premiered in the summer of 1983 and continues to hold up to a modern eye today. On the audio commentary for Shout! Factory’s upcoming 30th anniversary Special Edition, Holland repeatedly lavishes praise upon his collaborator, crediting the film’s critical and commercial success to the care given and the skill displayed by the focused cast and crew. Watching the stately crane shots dipping high to low, one senses Franklin’s great respect for his idol and the commitment to getting it right, a sentiment that colors every onscreen moment.
For his part, Perkins is nothing short of brilliant, imbuing his iconic protagonist/antagonist with pathos, warmth and shy humor. (While it’s nearly impossible to imagine anyone else in the role, back in the early planning stages – when a modest made-for-cable production was in the cards – Christopher Walken’s name was reputedly bandied about as a possible successor.) The fresh-faced Tilly is equally wonderful to watch (as is her body double during a lovingly staged shower scene); despite reports of friction with her elder co-star halfway through filming, the two have incredible chemistry and their scenes together sing with longing and potential for what could be...barring madness and the cruelty of others, of course. Loggia, Miles, Hugh Gillen as a sympathetic sheriff and a very young Dennis Franz (as the skeeviest hotel manager one could ever hope not to meet) round out the superb supporting cast.
Holland, whose screenwriting credits at that point included The Initiation of Sarah, The Beast Within, and Class of 1984, crafted a superb mystery within the core of his character piece – is it possible that Norman has returned to his murderous ways or is someone else setting him up for the fall? There are endless possibilities, and the filmmakers tease each one out to its full potential. But in spite of the genre trappings and occasional gory bloodletting, our focus and sympathy remains with Norman, a testament to Perkins’ skill as a performer.
It’s easy to lose sight of what a magnificent creation Bates is – all the stutters and nervous glances are not present throughout Perkins’ large body of screen work. Though Norman might have eventually overshadowed his creator, the fact remains that it was a performance and a brilliant one at that. It’s also worth noting that franchise fever hadn’t yet set in at this point in time; the notion of revisiting a classic, while undeniably ambitious, didn’t generate the same note of cynicism it would in the latter half of the decade. With endless remakes and sequels in our collective rearview mirrors, the achievement rendered by Franklin & Co. now seems nigh miraculous.
The enjoyable and informative audio commentary track shared by Holland and Robert V. Galluzzo, writer/director of 2010’s stellar documentary The Psycho Legacy, is filled with enthusiasm and tantalizing trivia. (Watch quick for Holland as a sheriff’s deputy, Perkins’ son Osgood as young Norman, or the Hitchcock cameo around 25:10.)
As they point out Franklin’s elegant staging and callbacks to the 1960 original – as well as Albert Whitlock’s remarkable traveling matte shots – one’s appreciation continues to grow for the well-crafted and honorable tribute this is as opposed to a coldly calculated studio cash grab. Shout! Factory’s BR release also features a number of vintage video and audio interviews with Franklin, Perkins and Miles, as well as several trailers and TV spots. Plus, the 1080p hi-def presentation is absolutely gorgeous – you can almost make out the face in the window of that ominous house on the hill....
Psycho II hits streets September 24, and is available for pre-order now.
--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine
AUGUST 28, 2013
Not as much as I'm sick of found footage, but thanks to HMAD I've gotten pretty tired of movies that start off with a guy with amnesia and/or locked up somewhere with no idea of how he got there. Saw of course was the one to kick this trend off (thanks to Cube, a terrific movie, not getting a big enough release to be ripped off much), and thankfully it's mostly died down now in favor of, well, found footage movies - but as Ritual proves, there's still some life left to the sub-genre. Note - there will be vague-ish spoilers ahead, so stop reading if you want to go in as blind as I did! Just know that it's more thriller than horror, and have fun!
So once again our main character doesn't know who he is or why he's been buried alive in the middle of the woods, and spends a good chunk of the movie getting those answers. He finds his wallet fairly quickly so he can at least know his name (John, of course) and that he has a family, but the rest of the answers are always eluding him. When he stumbles across his home he finds his wife dead, but his children seem to be missing, and thus goes about trying to find them before whoever has done this to him comes back and finishes the job. It's pretty much a one-man show for most of the runtime; the sons show up on occasion to give us a little more context, but otherwise it's just John, running around and evading his pursuer. The movie is admirably almost completely free of dialogue - apart from his occasional "Where the fuck am I?" type shouts, we really only hear lines when the sons show up - without these scenes the movie might be incoherent. In a way, it's the glut of such films that helps inform us of what is happening early on (his amnesia, for example - not an easy thing to get across when there's no one to say "I don't know who I am" to), because you will probably be familiar with the behavior of someone in that situation from other
But that's the first hour. In an unnervingly slow reveal (again, with almost no dialogue to speed things along), we discover what's going on, and it's pretty damn sinister. I actually was on the right track with my theory, but I chalk it up to having seen too many movies and thus catching little "cheats" that a casual viewer might not pick up on (or think much of if they do). And I was still wrong, so kudos - and the way that the English title comes in once that final piece is in place is kind of awesome. Interestingly, the original title (Modus Anomali) translates to "Anomalous Mode", which would sort of be the OPPOSITE of a ritual, no? Either that translation I got is wrong or they actually have the better title now.
Now, as I said, it's not much of a horror film. There's a bit of a home invasion aspect to it once some of the backstory is revealed, and on occasion John's attempts to elude his pursuer feel like something out of a Friday the 13th stalk scene, but it's closer to something like The Vanishing or Kidnapped (2010) than any Saw/Strangers type movie. Plus, expecting a horror film does a disservice to its best shock moment, as it's the sort of thing you would probably expect in a horror film (it's actually similar to a moment in The Descent), but in a thriller is a drop-dead "Holy shit" moment. However, in terms of "How evil can someone be?", it's scarier than most films, so there's that.
On that note, if you're the type to hate a movie that doesn't explain why a villain does a particular thing, skip it. The movie offers about as much motive as the original Halloween did - "just because" seems to suffice for its screenwriters, and that's fine by me. As with Kidnapped, a big part of the film's appeal isn't so much the cleverness of its screenplay, but in how they use the basic language of cinema to do something a little off-kilter. In that, it was the long takes (and occasional split screens - that one where the two shots join up in real time still impresses me), and we had to just connect a few dots ourselves, like the opening scene that we just have to assume is the group's previous victim. Here, without any dialogue, and pretty much only one character, director Joko Anwar requires you to pay close attention to the clues, and just trust him in a way - everything makes sense (except, again, the possibly "Why?") but every single thing is conveyed with images, not a line of dialogue telling you. I guess the best way to explain it would be to imagine the big scene at the end of Usual Suspects, with Chazz Palminteri seeing all the names on the board and putting it together, but WITHOUT the voiceover and flashback footage actually linking those things up.
In other words, it's not a movie that you can tweet or text during if you want to follow everything (it's almost funny to imagine someone running to grab a drink or something and coming back after the first big reveal). I bring it up because while I was watching, I paused for some work stuff and figured I'd check Twitter before resuming the movie, only to discover yet another misguided and selfish goon had written an op-ed about how "e-screenings" should be encouraged (best was that she pointed out 46% of people admitted to tweeting at the movies - even if that number was true, which I highly doubt, that's still not even the majority, so how does that help your cause?). I'd actually pay money to have a bunch of entitled assholes playing with their phones throughout this particular movie give a thorough plot synopsis after. Memento would be a good one too. Maybe Inception...
The point is, most movies are meant to be paid attention to, not something you have on in the background. And in this day and age, I applaud Anwar and his crew for making one that absolutely requires the viewer to be immersed in order to keep up, rather than spoon-feeding the important info. Thus, an easy one to recommend when it comes your way (it just hit physical media, and I believe it's going up on Netflix Instant soon).
What say you?
AUGUST 27, 2013
Between the fact that it's about a monster that comes and goes out of a dude's butt and that it had Gillian Jacobs, Peter Stormare, and Ken Marino (I doubt I've laughed as hard all year as I did at his "Maybe he picked the locks" line in We're The Millers) in its cast, I'm a pretty easy sell for Bad Milo. Add in scene stealers like Patrick Warburton and Kumail Nanjiani and the fact that said monster is PRACTICAL and not a goddamn CGI effect? It starts to seem like a movie made to entertain me specifically - basically it's just missing a Meat Loaf song and maybe a shoutout to Fletch (actually, Marino DOES get a hand up his butt. Mooooooooooon riverrrrrrrrrr).
That said, I do wish the movie was a bit funnier. It's a horror comedy that leans heavily toward the latter genre; it's only at the very end that Milo's antics are played for suspense and scares (the fact that he purrs and whimpers like Gizmo when he's not killing folks makes him kind of lovable), and even the kill scenes are sort of played for laughs, like when Marino purposely lets Milo loose in order to kill someone who has been an annoyance in his life. There's a slight Little Shop of Horrors feel to the material, as Milo needs to be fed (and refuses traditional food), but the hook is that Marino can't simply walk away or even kill the damn thing, as it's a part of him. Any pain Milo feels, he does as well, and since it's the living embodiment of his emotions, if he killed Milo he'd turn into a vegetable.
So the concept is hilarious, but once you get used to it, the movie doesn't take the opportunity for as many big laughs as you'd expect given the plot and cast. I was chuckling a lot, but rarely did I laugh out loud - something that might be an issue if you can't even get past the admirably batshit idea behind it. The production value is painfully low at times (rarely have I seen a faker news station graphic than the ones shown here after every kill), but that wouldn't be an issue if they just kept us laughing more often. Jacobs in particular gets very little to do beyond being the wife, which is a shame as she was even able to shine during the 4th season of Community. The best bits are between Marino and Stormare (as his shrink), because Stormare can make anything funny and Marino's deadpan responses never stopped amusing, though I also quite loved the fertility doctor (he gets the best line in the movie, after performing what appears to be very good oral sex on a girl who asks if he learned how to do that at school, his reply is "Yeah, in a way.").
Otherwise, it's a delight. Stormare is tasked with giving much of the exposition, and sells it beautifully, without ever even suggesting that it's ridiculous. If anything I wouldn't have minded SOME disbelief from the characters - at the end Milo runs around a party and even then folks just sort of react as if it were nothing more than a rabid squirrel, and Jacobs barely even blinks when Marino asks her to help him put Milo back up his ass (the movie gets some mileage out of the fact that this seems to be impossible, as Milo is about as big as a pillow - we never actually SEE the process, just hear it). But it's admirable that they have the entire cast play it straight(ish) and not waste time on people saying things like "That's ridiculous!" - why bother, when we know it's already true? Plus, I liked that there was a minor psychological aspect to it, as Milo is "summoned" from stress, and thus of course Marino is having the worst week of his life: his job is in jeopardy, his wife wants a baby, his mother is dating a guy younger than he is, etc.
Another thing that impressed me was the puppetry for Milo. Again, he's a practical creature, so the interactions are superior than they would be with some lame CGI effect (the spooning scene as seen on the poster is a particular highlight), and the animation is quite good as well - considering how small he is relative a human, there's a surprising amount of detail in his facial expressions and mannerisms. It's a shame that the focus on that didn't apply to the blood - his first kill contains some of the lamest looking CGI splatter I've seen in quite some time - but if that meant more time/money spent on making sure the title character looked perfect, so be it. I want a toy!
The pacing is also spot on, with Marino's doctor discovering Milo (he thinks it's a polyp) in the first few minutes and the little guy claiming his first kill by the end of the first reel (I'm saying that with irony - there are no "reels" anymore). There's some padding to get it up to (almost) 90 minutes, including the dreaded "Let's start at the end to give you a taste of the horror to come" gimmick, which I truly hate (and even more so here as they inexplicably try to make a "twist" out of it by editing a character out of the scene the first time we see it? I didn't get it at all), but it's forgivable, and never wears out its welcome. And, thankfully, there's not a lot of poop humor - I was worried there would be a surplus of jokes at the expense of his constant trips to the bathroom (or dumb sight gags, like taking "War & Peace" with him to read while he went), but there's actually almost none of that. Most of the humor stems from dealing with the reality of a completely gonzo situation, so while it doesn't always land, it's the most respectable approach to take, and thus it's fine by me.
But seriously, don't waste Gillian Jacobs on "the wife". She should be in starring roles by this point as it is. At least give her her own little subplot (or, even, identify what she does for a living or what those pills she takes before bed are for).
What say you?
In 1980, David Cronenberg continued to expand his "body horror" oeuvre, following up the rage dwarf/child custody drama The Brood with his most financially successful effort to that point, Scanners. Thanks in no small part to Chris Walas’ literal mind-blowing special effects and a ferociously menacing turn by Michael Ironside, Cronenberg’s flick changed the face of the horror landscape; we’d seen telepaths and telekinetics before, but the Canadian auteur imbued the fanciful tale with a combination of impressive biochemical gravitas and onscreen carnage that elevated it above the likes of Escape from Witch Mountain and Bewitched. However, somewhere along the line, he also signed away the creative rights to his story and characters, laying the path for original producer Pierre David and partner Rene Malo to line their pockets with a pair of belated and unrelated sequels (both released in 1991), now available on a DVD/Blu-ray pack from Shout! Factory.
Scanners II: The New Order features David Hewlett, star of the previous year’s intriguing and underrated psycho-thriller Pin, as one of the next generation of Scanners, a veterinary student with special gifts for healing. Our mentalist Dr. Doolittle suffers from increasingly painful headaches, but this doesn’t stop him from falling for fellow classmate Deborah Raffin (still looking terrific 15 years after her Nightmare in Badham County breakout).
Hewlett soon comes to the attention of villainous police superintendent Yvan Ponton, a hardnose moralist with designs for curbing the criminal element via a scheme involving a team of telepathic enforcers kept under control by the experimental (and highly debilitating and addictive) drug F2. Less psychotic than his psychic brethren, Hewlett becomes Ponton’s prime candidate to alter the city’s political fate and help realize his vision of a “new order.”
It probably goes without saying that director Christian Duguay is no Cronenberg, but even on purely escapist sci-fi/action terms the enterprise never really takes flight, struggling tonally between dicey acting and splattery set-pieces. Part of the problem is that Duguay seems unsure whether to take things seriously a la his predecessor or just go full tilt loosey goosey; as a result, things range between silly and soporific.
The mopey Hewlett lacks the charismatic star power or unnamable weirdness to hold our attention, and his villainous foils are so cardboard in nature they ought to have dry cereal inside.
Raffin is cute, but she’s given little to do except offer game smiles and puzzled/distraught looks in equal measure. Lacking Ironside’s deep-seeded menace, Raoul Trujillo plays the Wild n’ Crazy Card hard, working his rolling eyes and tongue overtime as Ponton’s resident psychic heavy. The opening scene in which he seemingly discovers videogames for the first time (in 1991?) is unintentionally hilarious and indicative of the uneven tone that pervades throughout.
Any movie about telekinetics is going to involve a healthy portion of watching people making weird faces at each other, performing some patented form of eyebrow martial artistry to fling their opponents about. Here, the scanners’ abilities have broadened in range; in addition to numerous crowd-pleasing instances of cerebral judo-induced nosebleeds and exploding heads, thanks to f/x man Mike Smithson they can now apparently turn people into silly putty, puffing up and/or contorting their victims’ bodies like EZ-Bake pretzels.
There are also a few interesting subplots – such as the late introduction of Hewlitt’s sister Isabelle Mejias and revelations about their bloodline – and some enjoyably gooey nonsense, but it’s a lesser “fun but flawed” effort all around.
Things pick up considerably for Scanners III: The Takeover, which does a much better job of embracing its schlocky shocks and wackadoo plotline. Lovely Scanner lass Liliana Komorowska’s father Colin Fox concocts a new drug (F3, naturally) to combat the migraines and omnipresent inner voices that accompany the condition, administered via a snazzy little blinking plastic piece that rests fashionably behind the patient’s right ear.
Unfortunately, side effects include the problematic blockage of the subject’s conscience, meaning moral codes start dropping faster than a cheerleader’s undies on prom night. Under the influence of F3, Komorowska begins exhibiting blatant megalomania; bumping anyone off who stands in her way, especially once she discovers that the mind-controlling Scanner signal can be transmitted through television waves. (Three guesses as to what industry she’s in.)
Meanwhile, her brother Steve Parrish (following an unfortunate New Year’s Eve stunt) has sought solace in a group of monks in Thailand, but once news arrives of his sibling’s bizarre exploits, he heads for home and the stage is set for the requisite vein-popping, brain bulging battle royale.
Duguay again takes the helm, with a clearer eye toward crowd-pleasing set-pieces (Mike Maddi handles the splatter this time around) over character development and the film is all the better for it. Sure, there’s no denying the cheesy 90s hairstyles and screaming electric guitar riffs on the soundtrack, but Komorowska is undeniably watchable; erotically sneering as she mentally pummels any puny human that dares challenge her, she’s the primary reason behind the film’s entertainment factor.
Parrish can’t touch her vampy appeal, but he’s a serviceable enough hero and knows how to throw a cranial right cross with the best of them.
I could have done without Komorowska’s inexplicably goofy gang of fellow Scanner henchmen (and Claire Celucci’s busty henchwoman), throwing hitch-kicks and unfunny witticisms (complete with accompanying koo-koo sound effects) with abandon, but they don’t consume enough screen time to sink the ship.
The usually generous Shout! Factory unveils an oddly bare bones DVD/Blu-ray combo pack release, lacking any extras or even root menus – the only choice one has is which movie to press “play” for (no chapter menus, no supplements, no subtitles or language selection). It’s a bit of a surprise, as is their decision to provide an opening bumper of the selected movie’s goriest splatter moment; I suppose it’s a little late to cry “spoiler” two decades on, but hey, I hadn’t seen them before. Despite these minor complaints, it’s still a fun little beer n’ pizza double feature and kudos to S!F for bringing it out.
Scanners II/Scanners III is now available for pre-order, with a release date of September 10, 2013
--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine
AUGUST 21, 2013
I don't come up with too many horror movie ideas, but I had one about a slasher/survival horror hybrid centered on a bus crash that I thought was pretty good, so I was curious to see Evidence, which seemed to be along the same lines but with a found footage element, and also in the desert (mine was in the harsh winter, limiting how far anyone wanted to go from their shelter). That it wasn't a traditional found footage movie is the only reason I watched it (see HERE), though it did little to change my mind that there are more of these movies than we ever could have needed.
The gimmick here is an inspired one; it's literally about found footage, as our (traditionally shot) heroes are sifting through the evidence of a massacre, trying to figure out who their killer is before they can get too far away (if they're still alive at all). Luckily for them, nearly every person involved had a camera or a cell phone to shoot video with, and thus things like fingerprints and DNA are of no use to them - they can watch the crimes themselves and use high tech video equipment to do impossible things, like zoom in and enhance shaky/blurry cell phone footage to get a pretty clear shot of someone's name on a duffel bag, or invert the color of an image to pull shadow highlights and create a crystal clear shot of their killer. Stephen Moyer plays the cop who designed this software, and thus spends most of the movie staring at a monitor and shouting things like "Increasing the DPI detail and adding a de-blur filter!", while Radha Mitchell looks on, occasionally gasping at the sight of someone being killed (luckily, half of the people shot their own deaths, giving us a nifty perspective on the proceedings).
There are two benefits to this, the obvious one being that it doesn't have as many "Why are they filming?" moments or downtime - the bus crash occurs about 10 minutes after our first video shot (there are 10-15 minutes of setup before the found footage aspect kicks in), and things are pretty frenetic for the rest of the runtime. The other benefit is that the videos aren't edited yet, nor do they know which order they go, so we occasionally get to see things happening out of order, layering in information that we already saw other characters reacting to. I almost wish they did more with this idea, but it would probably get confusing since it's all dark (and glitched - a fire has rendered a lot of the footage corrupted), and they also make the peculiar choice to cast same sized, similar looking women to play three of the female leads (the 4th is Dale Dickey, playing yet another white trash weirdo). With a lot of the footage presented in detail-light "negative" vision (as opposed to the more traditional green-tinted "night vision", for some reason), it's often very difficult to tell which one is which, and same goes for the two not-very-imposing male characters with short hair. One died and I thought for sure it was the other guy, and then couldn't understand where he went. PLEASE, I know casting is beyond control in some cases, but you can at least give the characters plenty of accessories and hairstyles to differentiate if you're taking a lo-fi approach to the movie like this one does.
So that, the over-reliance on glitches to provide scares (via the sudden ZZZZT! noise), and the ridiculous resolution that managed to be even stupider than the intentionally dumb one I theorized as a joke (that Moyer was the killer and did all this to show off his awesome "Enhance!" skills*), unfortunately kills what could have been a cool movie, and certainly one that extended "found footage" lease on life for another month or so. In fact, one might recall another movie that blended mock-doc and traditional footage, which also had a lot of promise but was sunk due to lousy execution - The Fourth Kind, and they might do without even realizing that it's from the same director: Olatunde Osunsanmi. He didn't write it this time, but it's almost criminal how he seemed to have learned nothing from last time - both films suffer from a failed attempt to make the footage and the narrative scenes equally compelling. With no personal stakes in the case and almost zero time spent developing them, there's no real reason to care much about Moyer/Mitchell's story, and since the killer isn't threatening to strike again or whatever, it doesn't make much of a difference if they solve the case or not.
Likewise, since it's after the fact, it's obvious to anyone who's ever seen a movie before that one of the two (unnamed for an hour or so) survivors is the killer, limiting the options as there isn't a big cast to begin with and two of them are dead almost as soon as they arrive at the junkyard. A lengthy chunk of the movie is devoted to figuring out Dickey's character and listing her husband as a suspect, but this is just a waste of time, something Osunsanmi (or screenwriter John Swetnam) must have realized himself as it ends on a shrug with 25 minutes of the movie to go. Hilariously, Dickey's character seemingly teleports onto the bus (despite filming everything, her arrival is MIA, though the final twist could explain this if you want to put some thought into it/give the killer's intelligence even more credit), and rarely interacts with the cast (her big scene is a self shot bit in a bathroom mirror), so lopping her and her husband's storyline out of the movie entirely wouldn't take much effort, nor would it make any difference to anything but the runtime.
Oh well. It's not unwatchable, but with the gimmick mostly just providing frustration and the mystery a complete bust, there isn't much to recommend here beyond the gonzo kills (the killer uses a blowtorch to dismember one victim - points for creativity!); Moyer and Mitchell are both engaging performers but they were clearly only hired for 1-2 days' work, so fans of theirs will walk away disappointed by their limited screentime. Even the similar Surveillance at least kept me more engaged before getting to its own (somewhat obvious) ending, and that had a weirdo threeway scene to boot.
What say you?
|Some days it's good to be the Doc...|
Wow, we’re actually caught up again. Amazing what a few quick rounds of Fool’s Views Haikus will do, combined with the fact that I haven’t been turning and burning the flicks the way I have during summer months of yore. Thanks to the good folks at Shout! Factory for providing most of the thrills and chills during the three week period covered herein, although Kitley’s Krypt provided a couple highlights as well. (Razorback, Yor)
Let’s see what kind of mischief we can get up to. As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.
Cockneys vs. Zombies (2012) d. Hoene, Matthias (UK)
‘nother damn zom com
So badly wants to be Shaun
Catchy credits tune
**CLICK HERE FOR FULL REVIEW**
Dark Angel (aka I Come in Peace) (1990) (1st viewing) d. Baxley, Craig R. (USA)
Drug runners from space
Dolph talks tough, busts chops, spins kicks
Fun nostalgia piece
**CLICK HERE FOR FULL REVIEW**
Human Centipede II: Full Sequence, The (2011) (2nd viewing) d. Six, Tom (Netherlands)
Meta gore galore
Even better than the first
Earns its nasty rep
**CLICK HERE FOR FULL REVIEW**
Razorback (1984) (2nd viewing) d. Mulcahy, Russell (Australia)
Titan tusked terror
Mayhem follows in its wake
There goes my TV!
**CLICK HERE FOR FULL REVIEW**
Schizoid (1980) (2nd viewing) d. Paulsen, David (USA)
Psycho targets group
Killer cast but stodgy pace
Kinski in fine form
**CLICK HERE FOR FULL REVIEW**
Tale of Two Sisters, A (2003) (2nd viewing) d. Ji-woon, Kim (Japan)
Evil new stepmom
Has it in for the siblings
Creepy clever class
Truth or Dare (2013) (1st viewing) d. Cameron, Jessica (USA)
Lamebrains seeking fame
YouTube scheme has tables turned
**FULL REVIEW COMING SOON**
X-Ray (aka Hospital Massacre) (1982) (1st viewing) d. Davidson, Boaz (USA)
Not your routine exam
Zany Babs slasher scores high
What the Doc ordered
**CLICK HERE FOR FULL REVIEW**
Yor: The Hunter from the Future (1983) (1st viewing) d. Margheriti, Antonio (Italy)
Young lad’s fever dream
Babes, dinos, spaceships, mutants
**CLICK HERE FOR FULL REVIEW (NOT MINE, BUT SO MUCH FUN)**
2013 Totals to date: 197 films, 176 1st time views, 112 horror, 58 cinema
Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) The (2011) d. Six, Tom (Netherlands)
Centering around Laurence R. Harvey’s rotund, bug-eyed misfit’s unhealthy obsession with 2009's notorious midnight movie sensation, Six’s follow-up knowingly goes further in every respect than its predecessor and this glorious excess brings the film’s black humor to the fore. It’s hard to recall the last time someone married such vile screen imagery with such a sense of glee, including the viewer in the joke instead of merely assaulting us.
Harvey (in his screen debut) proves incredibly adept at mining both the empathy and villainy of his monster – all the more impressive considering he is given no dialogue to work with. A legitimately great sequel to a wildly divisive film.
Human Centipede (First Sequence), The (2009) d. Six, Tom (Netherlands)
Even before its release, the jaw-dropping premise behind this notorious horror flick from the Netherlands had already made its way into the public vernacular. Roger Ebert even felt it necessary to reveal the entire plot as a “public service announcement” to his readers in one of his rare “un-starred” reviews. For myself, I never felt this necessary; in fact, the ideal scenario would be for someone to see the film without knowing anything about it, so it could deliver the true impact that writer/director Six deserves.
Some critics dusted off the tired old “torture porn” label and lazily slapped it on, but Centipede goes beyond that, and the intellect and skill on display are worthy of more than an easy dismissal or categorization. Six serves up a truly disturbing set piece that would ordinarily act as the crime to which the antagonist - in this case a spectacularly riveting Dieter Laser - aspires, and which he nearly achieves before the heroes make their daring escape. But instead, Six allows the heinous act to occur...as the end of his first act. We, along with hapless victims Akihiro Kitamura, Ashley C. Williams and Ashlyn Yennie, are then forced to live within this nightmarish scenario for another 45 minutes.
It is from this that the true nature of horror emerges. This is no easy jump scare nor gross-out tactic. Six is after something far more dangerous, and it’s no wonder that he had people scrambling for adjectives (or the exits). The audience I saw it with sought escape through nervous laughter and catcalls at the screen, but it was clear they were attempting to avoid real contact with the subject matter. Those willing to sit and seriously commune with this brave work will find something special, and though I can’t recommend this film to everyone, I do recommend it.
Cockneys vs. Zombies (2012) d. Hoene, Matthias (UK)
En route to its home video debut, this scrappy undead flick with the dubious title has stirred up a passel of goodwill at a multitude of festivals on both sides of the Atlantic and so arrives on Scream Factory’s shiny silver Blu-ray disc (their first non-revival release) with a fair amount of buzz and expectations attached. While Hoene’s zom-com may not be the gut-busting gut-munching game changer you’ve heard, it does manage to deliver some well-earned chuckles and more than its fair share of eye-popping splatter gags.
The main criticism to be leveled at Cockneys vs. Zombies is that it’s neither as clever nor as funny as Hoene and screenwriters Lucas Roche and James Moran perceive their high spirited shenanigans to be. Granted, in the ten years since Shaun of the Dead set the high water mark for spoof/homage, scores of imitators have staggered by, seeking to capture the same finessed yuk/yuck formula with wildly mixed results. Considering that Edgar Wright’s modern classic and CvZ share similar terrain, geographically and tonally speaking, it’s impossible not to draw comparisons. Moran and Roche have the innovation of having their moldering monsters crossing paths with a feisty bunch of old age pensioners, but strive for little more than the sight gag of seeing senior citizens arming themselves to their (false) teeth and blowing away some zombie ass.
The film’s other storyline – following a younger bunch of clumsy criminals lousing up a bank robbery – barely treads any new ground at all. The secret of successful horror and comedy alike is surprise, and it’s here that CvZ often comes up short. Yes, the characters and situations are outrageous, but they’re also shockingly conventional in their unfolding. Even the picture’s funniest gag – the world’s slowest foot chase – is so predictable considering the participants that the biggest wonder is that we haven’t seen it before now.
If it sounds like I’m being harder than necessary, it’s because I sense the potential for true greatness that lies beneath the sitcom stylings and wish that Moran and Roche had taken the time and pains to mine a little deeper. For instance, the lazy catalyst for the zombie plague is an excavation crew in East London breaking into a sealed tomb…that apparently has at least one zombie still kicking. Yawn. Along the same lines, the assemblage of mixed nuts that make up the robbery crew feels completely manufactured. The two brothers (Rasmus Hardiker and Harry Treadway) heading up the plan (to save their granddad’s retirement home, no less) are likeable ruffians, good-naturedly bickering throughout. Their cousin Michelle Ryan is a tough talking hot chick straight out of Tough Talking Hot Chicks ‘R’ Us, and their dopey overweight companion Jack Doolan and resident psycho Ashley Thomas (there to provide the firepower but has been advised that there won’t be any actual shooting – yeah, that plan is totally going to hold together) round out the generic hand of colorful cards.
Things are considerably livelier at the old geezers home, since these seasoned actors bring their combined decades of life and performance experience to the fray. Alan Ford, best known to Western audiences as the ferocious Brick Top from Snatch, is the leader of the aging pack, and he does the steely old codger bit to perfection. He’s well matched with golden age Bond girl Honor Blackman who plays sweet and saucy with equal aplomb, especially when toting heavy artillery. Veterans Dudley Sutton, Georgina Hale, Tony Selby and Richard Briers round out the group, each given at least one moment to shine.
Speaking of shining, the gore effects by Jenna Wrage and Paul Hyatt are where CvS really exceeds expectations. From the first building crew member’s unfortunate apprehension via his lower lip to several juicy exploding heads and squishy undead offings, there are a wealth of sanguinary gags on display bound to please. Lord Savini would be proud.
Despite minor moaning over what might have been, there’s no denying that Cockneys vs. Zombies provides ample entertainment for the hardcore horror fan as well as the casual shambler, and Scream Factory have done themselves proud for their first theatrical release, jamming the disc full of goodies including two audio commentaries (Hoene, Moran), a generous array of behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes and promotional trailer. Special mention must be made of the zippy animated opening credits and use of The Automatic Automatic’s song, “Monster” – the damn thing is so catchy I had it stuck in my head for weeks afterward.
Cockneys vs. Zombies is available for pre-order now at Shout! Factory with a release date of September 3.
--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine