July 30, 2014

DEVIL'S MILE

DEVIL'S MILE

Working Title:
The Devil's Mile

USA / Canada, 2014
Direcor: Joseph O'Brien

4/10








Now THAT was weird. Not exactly good, but definitely weird as hell. "Devil's Mile", the debut feature of director / writer Joseph O'Brien is a strange mix of road movie and supernatural horror-thriller, following a trio of kidnappers trying to deliver their hostages (2 Japanese girls) to their mysterious employer. Problem: on their way, they enter an abandoned road that seem to be haunted by evil forces...

The experience of watching this movie could be described as "déja vu overload" because it is so cobbled together of other movies' elements, it felt more like a guessing game, at least to me. The first half hour has some kinda well-trodden and stale Rodriguez/Tarantino vibe, large parts of the movie seem to be inspired - or ripped off - by/of "Dead End" or "Reeker" (without the oh-so-shocking twist endings), certain elements / plot points reminded me of "Dead Country", "Lost Highway" and "Blood River", and - worst of all - there's a wraithlike ghost-thing that looks like a remix of Kayako ("Ju-On"). Hell, it even makes the same croaking noises as Kayako *grrr*


The first half is pretty tense and atmospheric, while the second half is at times quite dull and tedious. The acting is decent - especially Casey Hudecki ("The Vampire Conspiracy") and the pretty handsome David Hayter, screenwriter of "X-Men", "X2" and "Watchmen"(!!) - though none of the actors is able to deliver a stand-out performance. Make-up, blood and CGI effects all look rather good and the cinematography is solid.

 I'm not sure if O'Brien was aware of how unoriginal the whole thing looks. Maybe this was his way to pay homage to several of his favorite films. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like a homage, it just looks like a lazy and unimaginative
rip-off mash-up. Whatever he wanted to achieve with "Devil's Mile"... he failed.


Imdb

July 29, 2014

"HORRORS OF SPIDER ISLAND" (Chilling Classics 50 Movies Pack, #46)

HORRORS OF SPIDER ISLAND

Original Title:
Ein Toter hing im Netz

Alternate Titles:
It's Hot in Paradise / The Horrors of Spider Island / Girls of Spider Island

West Germany / Yugoslavia, 1960
Director: Fritz Böttger
(as Jaime Nolan)

2/10




"Ein Toter hing im Netz" (=A corpse / dead body / dead one hung in the web), better known under the gonzo title "Horrors of Spider Island" is a really bizarre German low-budget curiosity, and together with "The Head" (1959), one of the very first German post-World-War-II horror films. It's widely considered as one of the worst horror films ever made, it was spoofed by MST3K in 1999, and it's in the Bottom Top 100 of IMDB for many, many years.

The movie tells the laughable story of a talent agent and a couple of hot dancing girls who crash-land on a remote island. There, they come across a weird-looking spider-creature that sinks its teeth into the agent and turns him into a blood-hungry and supersilly-looking werewolf monster...


Yes, I admit: it's a pretty terrible mess of a movie, but I don't hate it because... well, it's so bad, it's good. The filmmakers tried their best to create a mixture of monster-flick and beach-party-film, but they failed horribly because... well, the film's producer Wolf C. Hartwig nailed it when he said "At that time, we had no idea what we were doing." - and it shows.

Director Fritz Böttger started as an actor in the 40s and became a quite successful screenwriter of German comedies, romance flicks and Heimatfilme in the 50s. His adaptations of operettas like "The Forester's Daughter" (1952) or "The Count of Luxembourg"(1957) became huge box-office hits.
Unfortunately, his 'career' as a director was sparse (only 3 films) and ended after "Spider Island" which was a critically panned box-office bomb back then.
Hardly surprising...



The whole thing is a terrible mess, thanks to the clumsy and maladroit direction, and the god-awful mess of a script which is so all over the place it hurts [written by Böttger, Eldon Howard ("The Tell-Tale Heart") & Albert G. Miller ("Around the World with Fanny Hill")]. The character developent ranges from one-dimensional to this-character's-behavior-makes-no-fucking-sense, there are tons of unexplained plot points and unanswered questions
(How did they actually survive? What's with the radiation experiments? Why does the guy transform into a werewolf? And where does he hide half of the movie?), and it's packed with absurd and unintenionally hilarious dialogue lines like
"There's absolutely no reason yet to fear the worst. Until now, we only know that the plane caught fire and we've lost radio contact."
or this one
"A hammer! There must be someone on this island! A hammer... with a long handle... It must be for the purpose of excavating some sort of metal, most probably Uranium."


The three-teeth-werewolf make-up looks embarassingly bad, the spider (yes, there's only one spider and we only get to see it a few times) looks more cute than scary, and the huge spider web in the cabin... purely ridiculous. The girls all seem to be pretty dumb, but at least, they all look damn hot. Highlights: a badass catfight-scene, some nice dancing and the performance of Austrian hotness-goddess Barbara Valentin who became a big star in the 70s and starred in several movies of legendary German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder ("Ali: Fear Eats the Soul", "World on a Wire", "Effi Briest", "Fox and his Friends", "Martha" & "Lili Marleen").

As I mentioned, it's a really bad film, but due to all the hot girls and goofy monsters, it's worth a watch :-) Oh btw, I forgot to mention one of the dumbest use of stock footage (burning plane). Another reason to check it out! :)

"THE LEGEND OF BIGFOOT" (Chilling Classics 50 Movies Pack, #47)

THE LEGEND OF BIGFOOT

USA, 1976
Director: Harry Winer
(as Harry Stuart Winer)

3/10










Another Bigfoot flick, another bummer. "The Legend of Bigfoot", the directorial debut of "Felicity"-director Harry Winer, is an unbelievably boring mock... um, documentary about animal tracker Ivan Marx, his fake Bigfoot sightings & his hoaxed Bigfoot films, starring and narrated by Marx himself.

Starts out quite interesting and about as atmospheric as "The Legend of Boggy Creek", but ends up as something that could be described as 'lame-ass National Geographic outtakes'. We get to see a super-weird Bigfoot-like creature that moves as if it's disabled, or has deformed extremities which obviously looks pretty hilarious. There's also various Bigfoot statues and some tourist stuff from the town of Willow Creek, stuff I first saw last year in Bobcat Goldthwait's "Willow Creek", which is undoubtedly the best Bigfoot-flick I've ever seen.


Due to lack of footage and imagination, most of the film is packed with wildlife-scenes of bears and squirrels and cats and mountain lions and goats and birds and et cetera, et cetera. *yawn* as well as countless beautiful but ultimately boring images of forests and mountains and landscapes et cetera, et cetera.

The music is pretty cool and highly effective (Don Peake, "The Hills Have Eyes"), and the photography is gorgeous, but there's nothing tense, nothing creepy, nothing that keeps your interest up. After 76 minutes, it's finally over.
The very last images show Bigfoot limping into the sunset. Well, I guess that's where he belongs...

July 27, 2014

"THE PURGE: ANARCHY" (2014) + "THE PURGE" (2013)

THE PURGE: ANARCHY

USA / France, 2014
Director: James DeMonaco

7/10











As you can see below, I wasn't exactly a fan of "The Purge". In fact, I hated it and it even made it into my "Worst of 2013" list (see here!). Yet, due to the fact that the trailer for the sequel looked strangely compelling (and far better than the trailer for the first part), AND due to the fact that  I once again had way too much time on my hands, I decided to check out a "Purge Double Feature" in the lovely "Artis" movie theater in Vienna with two of my festival friends (Hi Flo! Hi Lena!).

Okay, "The Purge" still sucks, but... holy shit, "The Purge: Anarchy" was really, really fun! It's still not the badass over-the-top exploitation masterpiece I hoped for, but it's at least a fabulously entertaining, superbly action-packed violence-romp and a MAJOR improvement over the first part. Massive kudos to director / writer James DeMonaco. It seems as if he listened to all the complaints and really tried his best to deliver the movie we all hoped for when we first heard of the ridiculous-but-cool "Purge"-concept - and he succeeded.


Nearly all of the good characters are likable and sympathetic. You care for them and don't want them to die. The bad ones are all assholes, but they're all far more interesting (at times even fascinating) than every single douchebag in its predecessor, doesn't matter if good or bad. The acting ranges from decent to damn awesome; loved the performances of Frank Grillo as tough and taciturn Sergeant, cute Carmen Ejogo as anxious waitress, Jack Conley as gun-crazy Big Daddy and Michael K. Williams as some kinda Samuel L. Jackson imitation ("Motherfuck the Purge!") - plus: a nice cameo of Edwin Hodge, the homeless stranger
from the first part.

Nathan Whitehead's score is impressive and sooo much cooler than what he composed for the first part, the editing is terrific and effective (Todd E. Miller, "Joy Ride" & Vince Filippone, "I Am Number Four") and the entire production design looks just fabulous (Brad Ricker, "Bad Boys II"). Also: gone is all the 'Murica pathos crap, replaced by a strong, powerful and believable political rich-vs-poor | pro-Purge-vs-anti-Purge | Republican-vs-Democrat message,
and some thought-provoking stuff about terrorism, faith, fear, humanity and necessary/unnecessary heroism.



Yet, the best thing about it is obviously all the action. Holy mop, now that is what I wanted! [SPOILERS!] There's the huge truck with the insane gatlin-gun-guy on the loading dock, the chubby girl on the roof with her machine gun, screaming that she is "the virus", rich people buying poor old people to chop them up at home, the flame-thrower hunt in the subways, the ass-cool gang with their ass-cool masks, the rich-kill-poor hunting-ground hall etc. etc I cheered and applauded everytime we got to see some serious purging - which obviously makes me a bad person, a Purger, a dirty scumbag. Damn, I'm so easy to manipulate ;)

A few scenes in the middle are clearly too slow, too dull, several plot points are a bit far-fetched, and I think the whole film should have been 15-20 minutes shorter. Other than that, "The Purge: Anarchy" is definitely a step into the right direction. A very well entertaining potboiler that makes you forget about the shitty original. Bravo, Mr. DeMonaco!




THE PURGE

German Title:
The Purge - Die Säuberung

USA, 2013
Director: James DeMonaco

2/10









(Review from June 2013)
Half an hour into the movie, my friend Jue said: "This is probably the most American movie I've ever seen.", and I think this describes this piece of 'Murica-dreck almost perfect. It's not that I had any high expectations for it, since the basic concept is so ridiculous and so absurd, but I thought that this could be at least 90 minutes of good, silly fun. I mean, the "New Founding Fathers of America", "1% Unemployment", "Annual Purge", "All crime is legal for 12 hours once a year" - this all screams out for a good ol' exploitation romp.


Imagine this would have been directed in the early 80s by, let's say, Sergio Martino or Mark L. Lester. It would have been a badass and over-the-top exploitation potboiler. Unfortunately, it was made in 2013 by writer/director James DeMonaco ("Staten Island") who took the whole thing WAY too serious, and filled it to the brim with utterly stupid moral / ethics crap, semi-subtle and unnerving 'Murica-pathos, and pointless, senseless black/white | rich/poor
| left-wing/right-wing dilemmas.

Every single character is the very definition of a "superfluous cardboard character": they're all unlikable, they're all stupid, they're clichéd as hell, and you wish them all to die. The good guys make one terribly ridiculous decision after the other, while the bad guys wear rather stupid-looking masks and act like they're demented circusclowns (for no apparent reason).
Ethan Hawke delivers the worst performance in his entire career, while Lena Headey constantly looks as if she has no idea what she's doing here (at least, she's still hot as hell). The other actors: all weak, especially the awfully bland Adelaide Kane. Also, horrendously amateurish editing, a super-boring score, god-awful pacing and a completely shitty ending.


The settings all looked pretty good and the performance of Rhys Wakefield was entertaining ("Tootaloo!") - aside from that, "The Purge" is an utter trainwreck that made me wanna "purge" the shit out of the filmmakers.

Guts & Grog's David Lynch Week: "INLAND EMPIRE" (2006)

Just two months after the "Two Extremes" blogfest, "Guts and Grog" mastermind Eric Martin a.k.a "God of Blogfests" came up with a new theme week: the DAVID LYNCH WEEK, one week centered around the weirdest, yet most fascinating filmmaker of all time.

For "Two Extremes", I already did a little write-up about Lynch's debut feature "Eraserhead". This time, I dedicated myself to Lynch's last feature so far: "Inland Empire", one of the most un-understandable, yet absolute most fascinating mindfucks in history. [GutsAndGrog.com/Maynard-enters-Inland-Empire]




INLAND EMPIRE

Alternate Title:
Inland Empire: A Woman in Trouble

Alternate German Title:
Inland Empire - Eine Frau in Schwierigkeiten

France / Poland / USA, 2006
Director: David Lynch

9/10






"I can't seem to remember if it's today, two days from now, or yesterday."

In some kinda way, that's almost exactly how I felt when I saw "Inland Empire" for the very first time. After I completely and utterly fell in love with his uber-masterpiece "Mulholland Drive" in 2001, I just couldn't wait for a new Lynchian mindfuck. 5 years later, David Lynch delivered - oh boy, how he delivered!

"Hey! Look at me and tell me if you've known me before."

Hmm. Hard to tell. Is ist the same Lynch as always? I'm not sure. "Inland Empire" is basically as Lynchian as all of his more uber-bizarre movies, like "Eraserhead" or "Lost Highway", though it's surprsingly even more convoluted, complicated and fucked up than everything he has ever done. It's not easy or pleasant to watch, it's not fun or entertaining... hell, at times, it's really tedious and painful. It's three hours long and only the first hour seem to make sense, while the remaining two hours penetrate and rape your brain with an eagerness that is almost disturbing - but at the end, the very end, you realize that you just experienced another piece of Lynchian awesomeness, maybe not as sastisfying as previous efforts, but satisfying enough to make you cry everyday for the fact that he hasn't made another feature since 2006.


"I figured one day I'd just wake up and and find out what the hell yesterday was all about."

I hope that one day, I will wake up and understand every single second of this movie... this nightmare of a movie. This bizarre phantasmagoria. This somewhat traumatising succession of inexplicable events that happen to a woman in trouble... or is it two women? or even more? There is Nikki Grace (stunningly played by the great Laura Dern), an actress who makes her comeback in a film called "On High in Blue Tomorrows" which is actually a remake of a German film called "47" which was never finished because its lead actors were murdered. Nikki goes so far into her film character Susan "Sue" Blue that it not only changes and confuses her life, no, she eventually "transforms" into Sue!

As Sue, her life falls into a downward spiral. She becomes involved with drugs and alcohol, disastrous relationships and a husband who has weird connections to a mysterious Polish circus, as well as to a Polish organisation that consists of pimps who deal with prostitutes. In the end, she herself accompanies a group of prostitutes on Hollywood Boulevard where she gets stabbed by Doris, the wife of her film lover Billy (wonderfully played by Justin Theroux). And suddenly, we're back on the set of "On High...", Sue somehow transforms back into Nikki (or not?) and then, some more REALLY weird shit happens.


But that's not all: there's "The Phantom", a dangerous and slightly creepy hypnotist who often walks around with a light bulb in his mouth. A sad woman, called "Lost Girl" who constantly watches an unsettling semi-sitcom where a family of humanoid rabbits talks in riddles. American hookers flashing her boobs, dancing to Little Eva's "The Loco-Motion". Polish hookers in Łódź during the 1930s. A Hispanic and a Japanese woman talking about bus stops and drug addicts in Pomona. Nastassja Kinski, Ben Harper, Laura Harring, a lumberjack, a monkey and a one-legged man singing and dancing to Nina Simone's "Sinnerman".
Oh, and a freaky Polish woman rambling about "brutal fucking murders", telling two old Polish folk tales:


A little boy went out to play. A little girl went out to play.
When he opened his door, Lost in the marketplace,
he saw the world. as if half-born.
As he passed through the doorway, Then, not through the marketplace
he caused a reflection. - you see that, don't you? -
Evil was born. but through the alley
Evil was born, behind the marketplace.
and followed the boy. This is the way to the palace.

If you think I have any idea what this is all about, you're wrong. It could be "simply" a complex mix-up of various stories centered around Laura Dern's character, it could have something to do with parallel dimensions or Möbius strips, it could be a dream/nightmare within a dream/nightmare within a dream/nightmare - or maybe it's just something that I am too stupid for.
There are many, many nods to his earlier films, especially to "Mulholland Drive" (struggling actors, Hollywood clichés, red lamps & curtains...), but obviously that doesn't explain anything either. Doesn't matter. It's as Lynchian as it could get and that alone makes me love the hell out of it.


"I've been going around, meeting my new neighbors. I think that it is important to know one's neighbors. To say "Hello!" to them."

Lynch's direction is excellent. He gave a fuck about everything, didn't care about filmmaking rules, didn't care about a proper plot or narrative, didn't care about the audience. He just did whatever the hell he wanted to do. The digital camera work is at first pretty awkward, but once you get used to it, you realize how well it works, you realized its surreal effect on all the weird shit that is happening.

As I already mentioned, Dern and Theroux are both excellent, but there are other great performances too, like Grace Zabriskie as the eerie old woman, Jeremy Irons as nice director, Harry Dean Stanton as the director's strange assistant or Krzysztof Majchrzak as the Phantom.

The soundtrack consists of fabulous tunes like Beck's uber-cool "Black Tambourine", Etta James' wonderful "At Last" or Nina Simone's breathtaking "Sinnerman", as well as some awesome classic stuff from Krzysztof Penderecki and Boguslaw Schaeffer.


When the police came and they asked what happened, I told them: "He's reaping what he's been sowing, that's what.
They said: "Fucker been sowing some pretty heavy shit."


"Inland Empire" is the very defintion of a Lynchian mindfuck. It could be described as a masterpiece - it could be described as utter rubbish. It may be cinematic perfection - it may be amateurish bullshit. It's art - it's crap. Some love it - some hate it. Whatever.

If you try to enter "Inland Empire" expecting it to be a "simple" film - go away.
If you try to enter "Inland Empire" expecting it to be Lynchian a.k.a weird as shit through and through - hello and welcome, enjoy your stay!

Wiki ~ Imdb

July 24, 2014

ANNA (a.k.a Mindscape)

ANNA

Alternate Title:
Mindscape

USA / Spain / France, 2013
Director: Jorge Dorado

6/10









Even though "Anna" is radically different from what I expected, it's sadly not the film I wanted. The debut feature of Jorge Dorado (third assistant director of "The Devil's Backbone), produced by Jaume Collet-Serra ("Orphan", "House of Wax"), follows a 'mind detective' with the ability to observe people's memories who gets assigned to a case that is much more difficult than he expected: Anna, a 16-year-old girl that seems to be deeply traumatized and desperately needs help - but there is more than meets the mind...


What starts out as almost "Inception"-like mystery-thriller with a unique plot and a few fascinating characters, soon descends into familar thriller territory, at times a bit in the vein of 90s cinema (yay!), at times as meh and disappointing as slightly similar-looking films like "Julia's Eyes" (nay). Dorado's direction is pretty solid, but the screenplay is a god-awful, frustrating mess. I guess Guy & Martha Holmes were so busy coming up with super-surprising plot twists, they simply forgot about creating smart characters, an intelligent story and an ending that makes sense.

The twist ending... oh damn... not only is it dumb and pointless, it's also COMPLETELY foreseeable, thanks to the lazy and unimaginative writing, as well as to some weird editing in combination with clues that are so obvious, it's laughable. [MILD SPOILERS] You don't need to be a film expert to recognise two really important elements around the 21-22 minute mark (the appearance of a weird character + the main character says a significant sentence to Anna) that actually reveal the entire twist! It's shocking how obvious it is.


On the plus side, we get to see some excellent acting by Mark Strong (who somehow reminded me of the great Luis Tosar), Taissa Farmiga (superb performance, even though her character is quite unsympathetic)
and cutie Indira Varma. The violin-driven soundtrack by genius Lucas Vidal ("The Raven") is as great as everything I heard from him so far, the editing is pitch-perfect (Jaime Valdueza) and the entire production design is simply awesome (Alain Bainée, "The Machinist").

An original story + ok direction + a horrible screenplay = "Anna", a mixed bag that could... no, that should have been so much better. There is a modern classic hidden within, but the filmmakers weren't able to bring the movie's true potential into the light of day...


Thanks to Kelly Williams (Greenleaf + Associates) for the screener!

July 23, 2014

THE QUIET ONES

THE QUIET ONES

UK / USA, 2014
Director: John Pogue

5/10











Seriously, when John "Big Brother" De Mol restarted the legendary Hammer Film Productions in 2007, did anyone expect Hammer 2.0's then-upcoming output to be as awesome as in the 60s? I guess not.
Now in 2014, we can wholeheartedly say: nope, the new Hammer didn't exactly deliver. Aside from the breathtaking "The Woman in Black" and the eerie "Wake Wood", the new Hammer films are all rather meh. Same for "The Quiet Ones".


Based on a screenplay by Craig Rosenberg ("The Uninvited") and Oren Moverman ("I'm Not There") - [which was based on a script (draft?) by Tom de Ville ("Lexx"),
loosely based on the parapsychological Philip Experiment (1972, Toronto)]
- director John Pogue, the man behind the highly underrated "Quarantine 2: Terminal", created an interesting but ultimately underwhelming and rather forgettable supernatural horror thriller following a charismatic university professor and three of his students who conduct an experiment on a young girl that is able to generate inexplicable paranormal phenomena.

Boston Globe critic Peter Keough perfectly nailed it when he said that "The Quiet Ones simply has nothing to say." The entire film feels as if it wants to be something really special without actually delivering anything special. The plot is thinner and more shallow than it seems at first, the characters aren't as interesting as they appear in the beginning, and the ending... as unforeseeable as it is, it's far from being outstanding. It's just another plot twist ending, no more and no less.


The movie's 70s look is gorgeous and could be described as mixture of "The Legend of Hell House", "Audrey Rose" and "When the Lights Went Out", at least that's how it looked and felt to me. The acting is sublime (especially Jared "Moriarty" Harris, Olivia Cooke & Sam Claflin), the music is at times absolutely fantastic (Lucas Vidal, "Sleep Tight"), especially the insane part during the scene where Erin Richards lies in the bathtub, cinematography / camera work is very solid (Mátyás Erdély, "Southcliffe"), and most of the special effects look rather good, especially the Ectoplasma attack.

Nevertheless, "The Quiet Ones" is far too bland, far too unspectacular to go down in history as classic. It's watchable but not exactly recommendable.

Wiki ~ Imdb

July 22, 2014

THE CEMENT GARDEN

THE CEMENT GARDEN

German Title:
Der Zementgarten

UK / France / Germany, 1993
Director: Andrew Birkin

9/10









British author Ian McEwan's debut novel "The Cement Garden" (1978) is my favorite book of all time (next to "American Psycho" and "Less Than Zero").
I first read it in 2002 and since then, I must have read it at least 15 times. It's an incredible book that possesses an incredible atmosphere without equal; depressing, chilling and haunting. I've never read anything like it. McEwan is a splendid writer and most of his output is simply fantastic (especially "First Love, Last Rites" and "Atonement"), though IMO nothing comes close to the intriguing splendidness of his very first masterpiece.


In 1993, director / writer Andrew Birkin ("Omen III", "The Name of The Rose", "Perfume"), brother of Jane Birkin, turned the novel into a feature - and thank goodness, he did an absolutely excellent job. "The Cement Garden" is an impressive and breathtaking adaptation, almost as great as the source material, thanks to the fact that it follows the book very closely, very faithfully and totally captures the unique atmosphere that makes the book so fucking awesome. Only a few minor changes and a handful of added scenes. Other than that, it's a near-perfect adaptation.

"The Cement Garden" tells the story of a strange family - father, mother, two boys, two daughters - living in a deteriorating environment outside of an English town, almost cut off from the outside world. Over a short period of time,
both parents die.
The father's death is barely noticed, but the mother's death has an incredible impact on the children, especially because Mom constantly warned them of orphanages and Foster families before she died. So instead of reporting her death, the children decide to bury/hide her dead body in cement down in the cellar, and try to continue their lifes as normally as possible...


Yes, the story is disturbing and scary, but also pretty sad and somber, highly thought-provoking and deeply fascinating; at times, even a tad entertaining and funny. The film is as excellently paced and constructed as the book, due to the very well developed screenplay and Birkin's super-striking direction.
The cinematography is eye-gasmic and perfectly captures the bleak semi-post-apocalyptic area with all its torn down houses (Stephen Blackman), while the haunting and somewhat surreal orchestral score with its recurring horn-theme creates an incredible eerieness (Ed Shearmur, "The Skeleton Key").

Best of all, especially for fans of the book: the tremendous cast. Damn, every single actor was fully able to bring McEwan's strange characters to life: the outstanding Andrew Robertson (who did only a handful of feature performances) as the aloof and awkward Jack, the strangely beautiful and totally adorable Charlotte Gainsbourg ("Antichrist") as the strong-willed Julie, Alice Coulthard as the bookish Sue, and Ned Birkin (the director's son) as the family's youngest. Also worth mentioning: Sinéad Cusack ("Eastern Promises") as the mother and Hanns Zischler ("Ripley's Game") as the father.


Highlights: the family's bizarre-looking house with its even more bizarre cement garden, the powerful opening with the father's slow-motion death, the nerve-tingling scene where they bring the dead mother into the cellar, Jack outside in the rain, the gardening-gloves attack, and of course, the infamous incest-scene which is actually much more beautiful than you may expect.

"The Cement Garden" is certainly not for everyone, but true arthouse fans and Ian McEwan aficionados will love the hell out of it.

July 20, 2014

REINCARNATION (2005)

REINCARNATION

Original Title:
Rinne

Alternate Title:
Reincarnation: Death is Only the Beginning

Japapn, 2005
Director: Takashi Shimizu

9/10





Before Japanese director Takashi Shimizu ("Ju-On 1+2", "The Grudge 1+2") decided to destroy his career by shooting 3D films about flying plush bunnies and shit, he created one last J-Horror masterpiece, and undoubtedly one of the greatest and most impressive Asian horror films of the late 00s: "Rinne" (="Reincarnation"), a twisted and incredibly complex tale about a young and hopeful actress who gets the leading role in a horror film based on a brutal real-life massacre that took place in an old hotel. When the cast and the crew arrive at the now-abandoned place, the present suddenly collides with the past and the horrible events start to happen again...


I'm surprised about the vast amount of reviewers who compare "Rinne" to "The Shining" which is rubbish. Just because there's a girl running through an old hotel doesn't mean it's Kubrick. Duh! "Rinne" is something completely different. It's a very Japanese, very Shimizu-esque horror film, packed with creepy close-ups of eerie faces, unforeseeable scares that make you go shriek or jump, bizarre and highly fascinating plot twists, and many, many haunting-looking locations.

Contrary to many of Shimizu's other movies, "Rinne" stays in a somewhat linear time, though that doesn't mean it's easy to watch: the first time I've seen it, I was slightly confused and didn't understand the whole thing. After seeing a few more times, I realized how damn complex this chiller is. It's not a mindfuck, but there's just a whole load of stuff going on, past and present overlap, dream and reality interweave, people die, people resurrect, people reincarnate. Difficult at first, but once I figured it all out, I started to adore this movie like crazy.


There's a killer who kills his victims in a ruthless and clinical way, always carrying a Super 8 camera with him, filming the kills. He could be described as modern-day "Peeping Tom" and his appearances are very eerie. The camera makes loud buzzing sounds, almost like a chainsaw. Whenever I hear that sounds, I get shivers down my spine.
There's also an immensely... IMMENSELY scary doll popping up several times throughout the movie. Forget Chucky, screw Annabelle. THIS is the real shit. Seeing her sitting on a book shelf, slowly turning her head... seeing her slowly walking up the stairs... BRRR!!

In the "Ju-On" & "The Grudge" movies, Shimizu perfected his very own scare-technique by showing us a ghostly character, a pale hand, a bunch of black hair that suddenly "pops up" and scares us half to death. Here, he takes this technique to a whole new level: we get to see something popping up, but before we can clearly see it, Shimizu switches to a completely different scene. So, the scare never "materializes", but the viewer remains in a state of dread, a state where even the unscariest things can frighten the shit out of the viewer. There was a scene where we get to hear a mobile phone's vibra-call - christ, this sounds came so sudden, I almost got a heart attack!


As I aready mentioned, the settings are marvellous, especially the awesome design of the hotel with the red rood and all its eerie corridors. Ok, I admit there's at least one eye-catching reference to "The Shining": a room with the number 227 - um, Room 237 anyone? ;)

However, the hotel wouldn't be as eerie without Takahide Shibanushi's ("Ring 0") insanely amazing cinematography that has a certain "European" feel to it. The tracking shots, the panning, the camera angles, the steadicam... it all reminds me of late 70s / early 80s Dario Argento. Massive kudos to Kenji Kawai's ("Ip Man 1 & 2") subtle and super-creepy score, and the superb editing by Nobuyuki Takahashi ("Ringu 1 & 2"). Also, terrific acting by Yûka, Karina Nose, Atsushi Haruta and Kippei Shiina.


"Reincarnation" is a fantastic J-Horror film and one of the few examples that Shimizu needs no Ju-On, no Kayako, no Toshio to create a clever and marvellously creepy feature.

Wiki ~ Imdb

July 18, 2014

Urban Legend Double Feature: KILLER LEGENDS (2014) + CROPSEY (2009)

This review was written for Film-Arcade.net (click here!). Thanks to Anthony Thurber for the screener.

KILLER LEGENDS

Original Title:
The Urban Legend Project

USA, 2014
Director: Joshua Zeman

7/10








It's five years since direcor Joshua Zeman impressed us with his excellent documentary about the urban legend "Cropsey" (see below!) and the real life serial killer Andre Rand. Now, he has a new documentary out, and unsurprisingly, it also deals with urban legends, though this time with a few of the better known and more 'popular' ones.

"Killer Legends" (I somehow like the working title "The Urban Legend Project" more) focuses on 4 different legends: the killer with the hook, the Halloween candy-poisoner, the babysitter murderer and the killer clown. Together with researcher Rachel Mills, Zeman travelled all over America to find out the shocking (or not-so-shocking) truths behind these modern myths.


Segment #1 deals with the "Moonlight Murders" that took place in the town of Texarkana in 1946, murders that were probably the origin of the legends about the 'hook man' who threatens teenagers on lovers' lanes, which later got turned into the faux-documentary horror-classic "The Town That Dreaded Sundown". Zeman compares the real kills with the fictionalized ones in the film, goes into details about the film's impact on Texarkana itself, and explores the originations of the killer's nickname "The Phantom". Very solid segment!


Segment #2 is about Ronald Clark O'Bryan, better known as the "Candy Man" or "The Man Who Killed Halloween". A father who took the legend of the poisoned candies to cover up the fact that he killed his own son with Cyanided "Pixy Stix", only to claim his son's life insurance money. Starts out strong, but ends up rather dull because it's simply too long and gives us too much boring footage
of O'Bryan talking.


Segment #3 is undoubtedly the strongest one and deserves to be expanded into a full-length documentary, as well as into a fictionalized film version. As infamous as the legend of the "Babysitter Murder" is, we get to know that it's far more popular in Hollwood ("When A Stranger Calls", "When A Stranger Calls Back", "Halloween"...) and hardly ever happened in real life - aside from one forgotten case in Columbia, MO in the late 1940s, where two babysitters have been raped and strangled with an electric cord. Back then, a mentally handicapped man was found guilty and eventually executed. Case closed. However, Zeman and Mills now found out that this man was probably innocent, and the rapes/murders could have been committed by someone else, some guy who knew both women personally. This segment kept me on the edge on my seat. The scene where the German profiler brings up a previously overlooked clue... goosebumps!!!


Segment #4 tells us everything we need to know about killer clowns - which actually isn't too much. Some stuff about Wayne Gacy Jr., some Chicago-based child abductions done by clowns with white vans, and some footage from "It" and "Poltergeist". The most interesting facts we get to know are the ones that deal with Chicago's very special clown-history, as well as with the "Showmen's Rest", a mass grave in Illinois where the bodies of more than 60 clowns lie buried, clowns who were killed in the "Hammond Circus Train Wreck", one of the worst train wrecks in history.

"Killer Legends" is a worthy "Cropsey"-successor, though it could have been way better if Zeman skipped the Halloween part and focused on the three other legends. Recommended to fans of urban legends and documentaries per se.




CROPSEY

USA, 2009
Directors: Joshua Zeman & Barbara Brancaccio

9/10










When I first heard of "Cropsey", I thought it's an homage to 80s slashers or a prequel/sequel/whatever-quel to "The Burning", the legendary slasher classic about the horribly burned killer "Cropsy".
Far from it! "Cropsey" is actually a chilling documentary about an urban legend I haven't heard of before, even though it was the main inspiration for "The Burning".


The directorial debut of filmmaker Joshua Zeman explores the origins of "Cropsey", a New-York-based urban legend about a boogeyman-like figure that kidnaps and kills children, and connects it to the real-life serial killer Andre Rand, an ex-custodian at the infamous Willowbrook State School (an institution for disabled children) who supposedly raped, kidnapped and killed several children on Staten Island during the 70s and 80s, even though it's not entirely clear
if he really was the culprit.


By doing tons of interviews with parents/relatives/friends of the dead kids, police officers, witnesses and people who live/lived in or around the area, and by visiting all the case-related locations (abandoned buildings, creepy forests), we get great insight into the whole scenario. Things that happened, might have happened or didn't happen at all. Rumours and speculations about wild stories of satanic cults, weird people that live in underground tunnels and bizarre necrophilia, as well as hard facts about actual incidents and evidence. Was Rand guilty? Was he innocent? Was he a lone perpetrator? Was he the leader of a whole gang of murderous perverts? Or was it someone else, someone who had nothing to do with Rand? It's all up to the viewer.


Zeman's direction is simply fantastic. He creates an eerie atmosphere that captivates and mesmerizes you, drags you in and throws you into the darkest and most frightening places all over Staten Island. The scene with the kids in the woods feels a little staged, but it's so well made, I was really, really scared. Also, the disturbing 70s footage of the desolate sanitarium, Rand's weird letters, as well as the images of his drooling face - scary shit!

"Cropsey" is a fabulously made documentary that will creep the hell out of you, better than anything I've seen about usual serial killers like Gacy or Dahmer so far.

July 16, 2014

CRAWLSPACE (2012)

CRAWLSPACE

German Title:
Crawlspace - Dunkle Bedrohung

Australia, 2012
Director: Justin Dix

7/10








If I wouldn't have checked director Jamie Blank's Imdb-site, I probably wouldn't have seen this nice little Oz-gem. No, Blanks didn't direct, but he composed the score for it and that's reason enough for me to check it out, because I'm a big fan of his work and try to see everything he's involved in - and glad I did!

"Crawlspace" (not to be confused with the 1986 Klaus Kinski horror-thriller of the same name) is a pretty cool horror/sci-fi thriller that evokes a glorious 70s/80s vibe, thanks to shitloads of scenes and settings that look like / reminded me of / pay homage to "Alien", "Aliens", "The Thing" and the early works of David Cronenberg (plus: certain scenes somewhat reminded me of the little-seen "Death Warmed Up", but I guess that's just me).


The movie takes place in the top-secret underground military base Pine Gap (a.k.a the Australian Area 51) where a group of elite soldiers tries to save a science team that came under attack from unknown forces. Little do the soldiers know about the paranormal experiments that took place here, and before they even know, they're in the middle of a frightening paranormal psycho-battle.

According to the reviews, not everyone enjoyed the way "Crawlspace" develops, but for whatever reason, that's exactly why I liked it so much. It starts out as semi-creature-feature with a Gorilla-monster attacking the soldiers, but soon descends into a slightly absurd but highly entertaining parapsychological/paranormal chiller, filled with powerful and claustrophobically intense crawlspace-sequences, ghastly images of gore and creatures, [SPOILER] and one of the coolest head-explosions since "Scanners".


Several scenes are a bit far-fetched, a bit implausible, and the ending is rather underwhelming, but other than that, I had a great time with this flick. The cast is fairly good (especially hottie Amber Clayton, team leader Ditch Davey and Eddie Baroo who looks more like a biker than a soldier), Justin Dix' direction is great, Blanks' score is - as expected - terrific, the gritty production design is a treat for the eyes and the special / make-up effects all look very well.
"Crawlspace" rocks!

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