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The essence of Seventies American horror-film-making.
Following the murder of her sister (played by a young Brooke Shields) twelve-year-old Alice Spages becomes the suspect in the ensuing investigation.
'Alice, Sweet Alice' is a heavily atmospheric part-slasher, part-psychological drama which successful maintains a disturbing undercurrent despite minor shortcomings in the technical department. The story is markedly if not abundantly complex despite a semblance of simplicity and the hastened pace in the final act elevates the tension and serves to give the film a distinctive, almost unique flavour. It is therefore unfortunate that the rather clumsy mishandling of pace at times detracts from the experience. However, in spite of this flaw the exhilarating, tense and powerful final stages of the movie greatly compensate for previous failings. Unfortunately, the most glaring failing with the film is the mediocre-to-inept acting abilities of the majority of the cast with Jane Lowry giving a particularly obnoxious, hammed and hard to tolerate performance (incidentally, Ms. Lowry would only appear in one further movie) and central performers Linda Milla, Paula Sheppard and Niles McAster providing only a minor guise of acting competence.
Perhaps the most accomplished aspect of this low-budget chiller can be found in Stephen Lawrence's masterfully ambivalent score which fuses the enchanting with the malevolent and the tepid with the zealous. The proficient, if not quite polished cinematography and presentation of director Alfred Sole readily coalesces with the haunting soundtrack to set the tone and ambiance of the movie in order to provide a great deal of thrills and chills as the captivating story unfolds. The atmosphere is heavy, brooding and inspires feelings of alarm and anxiety as the macabre imagery goads the senses and the grizzly occurrences provoke suitable revulsion which later become pure uncomfortable apprehension when the plot evolves to its conclusion. Alfred Sole's use of coincidence and camera-trickery aid in causing confusion and manipulating the thoughts and feelings of the audience, casting blame and doubt and leading to question after question. While the eventual climax seems forced and awkward it is not without power and is certainly unexpected. The various sub-plots assist in provoking strong emotional responses and even when all is said and done there is a lingering sense of discomfort as one considers just what has transpired.
It is perhaps impossible to ignore the all-too-glaring faults of this film but considering the budget will perhaps lessen negative feelings towards such faults. The overall film is strong and an admirable example of the essence of Seventies American horror film-making. Stylistically potent if lacking the elegance of similar movies and with a plot-driven approach, 'Alice, Sweet Alice' is recommended viewing for the horror fan.
Sergio Martino impresses with another giallo.
Oliviero (Luigi Pistilli) is an alcoholic, sadistic and despicable has-been writer, whom has recently lost his mother, regularly abuses and humiliates his wife Irina (Anita Strindberg) and engages in illicit relationships at any given opportunity. When one of his mistresses is found brutally murdered the suspicions of both the police and his wife fall on Oliviero whose problems are confounded by the arrival of Floriana (Edwige Fenech), his young and beautiful niece with an unclear agenda.
Following on from the success of his earlier gialli with the name being a reference to 'The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh (1971)', director Sergio Martino presents this sleazy, violent and thoroughly nasty film which experiments with new ideas and style while remaining true to the elements of his previous work that yielded such positive results. The story is awash with complexity and subtext, lacking the famed ambiguity of some similar films yet with a unique and pronounced outlandishness that serves to augment the resplendent qualities by providing distraction from the more orthodox traits of the story. Perhaps unusually for the genre, characterisation is fundamental as each character becomes progressively defined and both their motivations and psychological status come to be analysed and as such this aspect is as integral to the film as any other. Themes such as misogynism, sadomasochism, the treatment of sex as a weapon, voyeurism and most notably a trenchant concentration on the Oedipus-complex add substance and depth to the characters and story in an area of cinema often criticised for not having such and even the motivations of an ominous cat fittingly named Satan become important as the events unfurl. The narrative moves at a slow, deliberate pace, perpetually ripening, twisting and turning, leading us to believe one thing before proving the untruth and even changing genres to a point. All of this builds up to a rapid chain of events towards the end that seek to overturn everything we already know and this leads to a mostly satisfying, if somewhat predictable, climax.
'Vice' is also a stylistic treat. Martino collaborates with cinematographer, Giancarlo Ferrando and composer Bruno Nicolai and the three ensure that the visual and audible elements of the film are near perfect. The beauty of the film is predominantly founded upon the malevolent aspects of the storyline. The chronic use of darkness and shadow help to create a mesmerising yet distinctly intimidating and alarming atmosphere invoking uncomfortable feelings of trepidation while the tension and suspense is allowed to build to boiling point. Violence is filmed in such a way that the loathsome nature of the act is harnessed with erratic camera-work and quick splices of cruelty, while the bloody aftermaths are displayed to full, gruesome effect. Sex is treated ostensibly and despite a poetic presentation there is often an unquestionably vile and repugnant aura to the act which becomes more discernible as events progress. One particular stylistic flourish sees a quick insertion of the menacing cat's eyes during scenes, becoming more frequent to the end and perhaps used symbolically to represent the mental breakdowns of the characters and the relationship breakdown between Oliviero and Irina. Furthermore, these quick flashes of menace coupled with several darkened sequences involving the snarling and vicious cat add a disorienting effect and engender yet more discomfort from the viewer. The subtle use of the soundtrack, which mostly comprises soft, unostentatiously elegant music blends with the visuals in a pleasing manner and helps to control the ambiance unobtrusively.
The somewhat predictable conclusion is perhaps the most glaring shortcoming. Those who have seen Martino's earlier gialli may regard one particular aspect of the end as indicative of being formulaic while those who recognise the principal influence for the story will be less surprised at the eventual outcome. These are minor complaints but worthy of note. Vice could also be criticised for being a character-driven film that leaves several key questions unanswered. One could theorise as to why this is but perhaps the most likely explanation is that Martino wished for there to remain an element of mystery. Whether this is welcome or unwelcome will no doubt depend on the subjectivity of the audience. Criticisms aside, 'Vice' is fine film-making and certainly ranks amongst the genres elite as Sergio Martino once again excels.
An American Haunting (2005)
Perhaps the best American horror film of the last five years.
Detailing the supposed true events of the haunting of a family be a violent, supernatural entity in 19th Century United States, 'An American Haunting' follows the story of the Bell family whose lives are disrupted by this malevolent being.
It has often been said that the two most important elements to great horror are mystery and suspense and while 'An American Haunting' may fall outside of the remit of true greatness it certainly succeeds in offering up more mystery and suspense than nigh-on any other film of its era. Here we have a constantly progressive and evolving cinematic work that utilises these traditional elements of horror to evoke the purest feelings of trepidation, and at times, outright distress. The way in which the subject is handled shows an unequivocal savvy and appreciations for the nuances of horror as director, Courtney Solomon, cunningly opts to slowly but surely increase the intensity of the horror portrayed within the film until the production becomes more of an exercise in endurance for the viewer as much as the characters and through this hell that Solomon clearly wishes to inflict upon us we perhaps become more sympathetic towards the Bell family and the torment through which they must suffer in much the same way that one may sympathise with the plight of Reagan and Chris in the similarly themed, 'The Exorcist (1973)'.
These traditional methods of inducing uneasiness are blended with more contemporary methods of capturing them. Cinematographer, Adrian Biddle (who had previously worked as the Director of Photography on James Cameron's 'Aliens (1986)'), truly compliments Solomon's storytelling with some splendid sweeping shots reminiscent of 'Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001)', highly-stylised colour distorted images as popularised in 'Natural Born Killers (1994)' and featured prominently in the recent 'House of 1000 Corpses (2003)' as well as what may well be a nod to the pioneering film-making of Sam Raimi in 'The Evil Dead (1981)'. Perhaps because of this there is an inherent beauty about 'An American Haunting' that sporadically shines through before being savagely torn apart by the ferocious, supernatural assaults inflicted upon the Bell family and undoubtedly this helps to enhance the terror of the movie even more. Further to this, the superlative use of sound, whether it is from the soundtrack or from within the world we are presented with, embellishes the quality of the film further, reinforcing the dread and provoking further, visceral reaction from virtually each noise.
Donald Sutherland and Sissy Spacek were perfectly cast as the heads of the Bell family while the young Rachel Hurd-Wood is exceptional in her role as the daughter. In all, the acting throughout from the minimalist cast is of a high-standard with only a few (noticeable) instances of hammed-up acting. This is a minor flaw, however, and rarely detracts from the movie. On the other hand, despite praise for the progressive nature it does seem appropriate to also criticise what feels like repetition that eventually sinks in towards the end and the movie does struggle to justify what is actually a rather short run-time. Complaints aside this may well be the best American horror film for five years.
Pit and the Pendulum (1961)
Perhaps the finest Corman & Price collaboration.
Following the sudden death of his sister, Francis Barnard (John Kerr) travels to Spain to question her husband, Don Nicholas Medina (Vincent Price), son of a notoriously barbaric Inquisitor. Medina openly mourns the death of his wife but Barnard is unconvinced by his story and is determined to discover the truth.
Proceeding from 'The Fall of the House of Usher' (1960), director Roger Corman's second film in his now-famous cycle of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations was this delightfully lurid and lavish offering that can at once be both repugnant and resplendent. 'Pit and the Pendulum' is a uniquely and profoundly visual experience. Dazzling colour and abhorrent darkness coalesce to invoke the most unpleasant aura of trepidation. The luxuriant cinematography of Floyd D. Crosby coupled with the artistic eye of Corman merge eminently, ensuring that mood and atmosphere remain constant and that the viewer feels the agony of the events depicted on-screen. Furthermore, Richard Matheson's screenplay is both intelligent and eloquent and Corman makes full use of what he is gifted here. The pacing of the film is superb, constantly moving onwards, never lingering too long and remaining thoroughly enthralling throughout. Truly this film is perfect in presentation and direction.
Sadly, there are imperfections in the performances of the cast, most notably John Kerr whose continually wooden, dull and tepid acting is too explicit for a leading role. Similarly, while the linguistical talents of Vincent Price lend themselves to an almost Shakespearean delivery of his lines, he occasionally allows himself to sink into ham-acting which detracts somewhat from the more serious nature of the film. However, minus these minor distractions, the performances of the cast are more than adequate to support what is in essence a strongly visceral experience. Luanne Anders and Anthony Carbone offer masterful performances in their supporting roles and cult-favourite, Barbara Steele, makes short appearances as Medina's deceased wife.
If the Corman/Price collaborations are to horror what the Scorsese/De Niro collaborations be to drama then this may well be Corman's 'Goodfellas'. A sublime entry into the genre that offers numerous thrills and chills, inherent beauty and one of the strongest screenplays to grace Sixties horror cinema. What few flaws that there are cannot truly undermine the hard work that went into making this magnificent horror film.
Sergio Martino excels with his debut giallo!
Edwige Fenech stars as Julie Wardh, a beautiful woman with a colourful past, trapped in a dull marriage and stalked by her sadistic ex-lover, Jean (Ivan Rassimov). All the while, a series of savage murders are taking place in the city eventually drawing Julie into a twisted game.
Italian director Sergio Martino's first foray into the giallo is a luscious and vibrant picture, brimming with violence, subversive sexuality, misogynism and treachery. Perhaps the most endearing quality of Martino's film is the way in which it transcends the somewhat standard and overdone concept of the giallo's black-gloved butcher and is instead given a more plot-heavy approach. In essence, Martino takes the viewer by the hand and leads forth on a journey of discovery through a nightmarish world of both questionable and despicable characters culminating in one of the more impressive finales this particular brand of film-making has to offer. Ernesto Gastaldi's screenplay takes an imaginative and ingenious approach to relaying both common and unique themes and one cannot doubt that 'The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh' is all the better for it. Clearly, this startling piece of cinema adds new intelligence to this class of film-making and aims to supplement such positive points with a strong coherency in a genre notorious for incoherency and illogic and it is this story, with its serpent like twists and strong nightmarish qualities, which leaves such a lasting impression upon the viewer. Perhaps the conclusion lends itself to the fanciful but 'Wardh' is such a celestial experience that this matters little.
While gialli are often considered inherently visual experiences, 'The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh' is first and foremost a profoundly aural experience. Martino may lack some of the visual flair of genre auteur Dario Argento or Italian horror Godfather Mario Bava but the way in which he makes use of audio elements is virtually unsurpassed. Every footstep, door opening and creak is presented ominously; every shrill scream stabs at the viewer's soul; every slash of the killer's blade leaves a sickening impression. Such masterful use of simple auricular elements works to both thrill and engross as Martino seizes the onlooker by the throat and never once relents until the inventive and bleak climax and one cannot forget the enchanting musical score that impresses further still. This fine use of sound is accompanied sublimely by some truly alluring cinematography courtesy of Emilio Foriscot. With an emphasis on making the important sequences as absorbing as possible, Martino and Foriscot merge their respective talents begetting a thick atmosphere rife with a funereal gloom. Foriscot's photography fully aids and develops Martino's almost unique way of filming such harrowing scenes of violence and Martino also demonstrates a true understanding of the importance of suspense, creating almost unbearable tension while Foriscot ensures with aplomb that the director's efforts are fully supported.
'The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh' is not a beautiful film. There are no lavish shots of the breathtaking cities of Europe nor does one see any overt attempt to dazzle the viewer with style. Instead, we are presented with a sleazy, bleak and repellent film brimming with atmosphere and brutality and from which one can take a vulgar sense of enjoyment. A few minor pacing problems aside, 'Wardh' is perhaps as close to perfection as one may ever see from a giallo and unquestionably this film redefines the rules while Martino elevates this to the highest echelon of excellence. 9/10
La tarantola dal ventre nero (1971)
Another fine Giallo!
Inspector Tellini (Giancarlo Giannini) must investigate the bizarre murder of two seemingly unconnected women, paralysed by their killer so that they may be horrifically violated while conscious.
It has often been said that Italian cinema is all style and no plot but here is a definite example to the contrary. 'The Black Belly of the Tarantula' is indeed a stylish Italian offering laced with some truly exquisite photography and novel camera trickery but it also consists of a strong plot that surprises and captivates while maintaining a profound aura of trepidation. It is, however, perhaps the most apparent downfall in the film that the plot becomes the central focal point as several aspects to the story are left unexplored, subsequently leaving no acceptable closure of the respective plot aspect. Unfortunately because of this, the prevalent incoherency of Italian cinema is once again revisited and due to the nature of the film it is perhaps more difficult than usual to ignore. With this in mind, one should realise that the central storyline is stark enough to arouse and preserve viewer interest while only the sub-plots weaken the overall presentation of the film.
Despite the mainly superficial criticisms one can direct at the film, 'The Black Belly of the Tarantula' still takes a firm position as one of the finer examples of this particular brand of Italian film-making. Unquestionably, the opening thirty minutes are immensely powerful, offering some of the most intimidating murder sequences ever confined to the cinematic medium. The use of gloomy visuals, point-of-view shots, intentionally disorientating photography, a wonderful musical score blending both prominence and subtlety and a lavish use of dark colours and shadows creates an almost unsurpassed eerie and brutal ambiance to accompany the violent actions depicted on screen and the shrill, short, terrifying shrieks of the killer's victims seek only to underline the artistic craftsmanship of the picture. The brusque transition to silence that immediately follows the first attack of the murderer in each individual case is so overwhelmingly haunting that the following actions are immeasurably disturbing in their tranquillity. Undoubtedly, these sequences are the pinnacle of creativity from Paolo Carvara in this picture; sublime in their splendour and disconcerting in their substance.
The most apt way to summarise 'The Black Belly of the Tarantula' would be to simply describe it as flawed genius. Arguably too plot-heavy and with an unmistakably clichéd outcome, the superlative qualities fortunately shine through and leave the film as impressive, not disappointing. Perhaps those more highly versed in the Italian Giallo will appreciate the effort and artistry slightly more than others, but in any case, 'The Black Belly of the Tarantula' is worthy viewing for all fans of cinema. 7½/10
Blood for Dracula (1974)
Very good, darkly comic horror.
In this darkly humorous vampire offering directed by Paul Morrissey and Antonio Margheriti and produced by Andy Warhol, Count Dracula (Udo Kier), desperately requiring the life-force sustaining sustenance of virgin's blood travels to Italy on the advice of his servant, Anton (Arno Juerging), in order to take advantage of strong religious beliefs and pray upon innocent young women.
Bearing stylistic similarities with the cycle of Hammer vampire films of the time, Blood for Dracula differentiates itself from the former with sharp mood changes, graphic violence and a slight but notable change in traditional vampire lore. The result of this is a suitably distinct new direction for the perhaps now-tired Dracula formula, and consequently a more fulfilling experience than one might at first expect. Perhaps the most surprising accomplishment of Blood for Dracula is in the perspicacious use of dialogue, negating the requirement for tedious, protracted sequences to explain and develop and therefore allowing the film to progress at a steady pace. The explorative dialogue coupled with an adept technical ability succeed in producing a vastly altered image of the monstrous Count Dracula and contrary to conventional dogma, this incarnation of the inhuman abomination is actually a weak, feeble and pathetic specimen devoid of the awesome presence viewers are accustomed to; instead laughable in inferiority. It is in this singular likeness that horror looms, for this apparently vulnerable figure is still not without the ability to commit heinous acts of pure, malevolent evil and impatiently waits to strike.
Aesthetically the film is stunning, mixing gloomy, foreboding Gothic visuals with lighter, playful sequences and even in the darkness, there is still an unequivocal beauty to be found in the presentation. It is perhaps the most daring feat of this unconventional film that the truly horrifying actions undertaken by the demonic being are not confined to the dark. As haunting as the gloomy, brooding and atmospheric darkness may be, it is in the traditionally safe light, amidst the majestic splendour that the awesome and malicious power of Dracula can be felt the most. However, the horror can be unleashed at any time as the directors are happy to build the tension, misleading the audience and only when the end credits roll can one be assured that it is over. In essence, one has to look to Udo Kier as the foremost reason for this, as his performance blends extravagance with subtlety; occasionally subdued, occasionally forthcoming. He is complimented perfectly by the devilish Arno Juerging who is always forcibly commanding as the Count's malicious assistant. Sadly, a mixture of tragic overacting and horrible non-acting from the other cast members (particularly the highly annoying Joe Dallessandro) harm the atmosphere and production and seem to have prejudiced more than a few against an otherwise fine work.
To call Blood for Dracula a classic would be a misnomer, but to call it an accomplishment would easily be justifiable. In spite of some poor performances, comical pro-socialist ramblings and one or two poor effects, Blood for Dracula remains one of the foremost examples of how to create an intriguing and entertaining vampire film outside the confines of the traditional story. Those who want to see something a little different should certainly watch this one. Look out for a brief appearance from Roman Polanski! 7½/10
La setta (1991)
Another delight from Michele Soavi!
After nearly running over an ageing man (Herbert Lom), Miriam (Kelly Curtis), feeling responsible, offers the old man a place to stay for a short while. However, this innocent invitation triggers a series of events that would change her life forever.
'The Sect' is at once an enthralling, mesmerising and stylish offering from Michele Soavi, the protégé of writer and producer, Dario Argento. Blending several styles of horror, Soavi's own unique presentation of the subject matter succeeds almost in entirety at being haunting, atmospheric and compelling. While one can see the influence of his mentor, Soavi is daring enough to put forth his own, unique brand of directorial style and flair to give 'The Sect' a distinctive appearance that sets it aside from many similar works of the era. His respect for the story and viewer is clear for all to see, never once opting for a style-over-substance approach, instead offering the stylistic elements as an accompaniment to what is already a considerably impressive film. The slow-pacing is an advantage to the film rather than a detriment and is unequivocally intentional. Soavi's methodical approach to storytelling allows him to not only develop his central character, but to gradually increase the tension in a way that does not feel forced and thus makes the climax all that more meaningful. Surrealism, unsettling visual elements and intriguing POV shots are all used to add to the atmosphere but never to become the main focal point. Above all, the keys to the grandeur of 'The Sect' are subtlety and mystery; everything else is but a bonus.
To say that 'The Sect' is without flaws would unfortunately be inaccurate. However, the flaws are particularly minor in the scale of things and the negative effects of these lapses are virtually negligible. While great care has quite obviously been taken to ensure that the storyline remains rational, there are a couple of instances where illogical behaviour and actions are briefly noticeable. As mentioned, these have very little negative effect on the overall film but their use as plot devices is questionable to an extent. It is also worth pondering whether on occasion Soavi went into too much detail perpetuating the tension of certain sequences and disregarded the actual climax of the scenes? For the most part, Soavi took full advantage of the script, presenting an array of memorably shocking and surprising scenes, yet once or twice, the 'money shot' was lacking in the impact that one had come to expect and had a rather unsatisfying short-term effect. Despite these instances, it is worth considering that 'The Sect' managed to almost wholly steer clear of becoming predictable, almost as if Soavi and Argento could predict themselves how an audience would react and what they could expect.
For those who doubt that modern Italian cinema is capable of producing innovative and enthralling horror, free of the paper-thin plots and unnecessarily excessive gore that has scarred so many other genre productions, 'The Sect' is the film that can prove otherwise. An occult horror/thriller full of twists and turns, shocks and surprises, surrealism, nightmarish dream sequences, symbolism, mystery and style, 'The Sect' is a film that only uses a bare minimum of special effects and instead acts almost as homage to the suspenseful horrors of yesteryear, such as 'Psycho' (1960), 'The Innocents' (1961) and 'Rosemary's Baby' (1968). Almost a pure work of art, 'The Sect' is Soavi staking a claim as possibly one of the best directors of the modern era. My rating for 'The Sect' 8/10.
Legendary Swedish director, Ingmar Bergman's probable precursor to Wes Craven's notorious 1972 shocker 'The Last House on the Left' is a far more compelling and emotionally draining film that adroitly and continuously switches the viewers sentiments up until the despondent, tranquil and haunting ending. While one minute the viewer is laughing along with the youthful, if naïve, exuberance of the young Karin (Birgitta Petterssen), the following minute will encourage different emotions as Bergman plunges the viewer into the middle of a nightmarish crime perpetrated by nothing less than the evil inside man. Although the portrayals of the acts committed in 'The Virgin Spring' are far less graphic than the modern viewer may have become accustomed to, they still retain an immense power to horrify as one cannot ignore the great lengths Bergman has gone to in order to give his characters a base in order to harden the impact of what we see. With just the simplest of dialogue, the viewer continues to learn about the relationships and personalities of each of the characters so that we may appreciate the consequences and, in some ways, forgive the actions that we see. This film is, after all, a tale of morality and repentance and therefore, even while in some cases the actions may be evil, it is necessary to accept the goodness that is still there. This thought is made no clearer than during the solemn and subdued final scene which fades out abruptly and leaves the viewer in a state of quiet reflection.
Bergman's pacing and subtle direction which at one point leaves the viewer in suspense for what seems like an eternity is surely the reason for the greatness of this film. As if he were playing chess, he manipulates not only the characters, but the emotions of the viewers with intelligent and surprising maneuvers while pressing home his own sentiments regarding the story so that we may at least take into great consideration the events that we have seen. Bergman has an amazing ability to flip the atmosphere of a movie in a split second using various lighting and camera angle techniques as well as motivating his performers to follow suit. The simple expression changes on the faces of Birgitta Petterssen, Max von Sydow, Birgitta Valberg and Gunnel Lindblom at various points throughout the film quickly alter the mindset of the viewer and indicate that all is not well; so beautiful in undeniable simplicity.
'The Virgin Spring' is nothing short of a masterpiece and a film that few will be able to forget. 9½/10
Following the death of her parents, Staci (Amy Paliganoff), an aspiring young artist, begins a move across four states to start a new life with her little sister, Jodi (Andrea Johnson). Little does she realize the terror that she and her sister will soon encounter at the hands of a recently escaped mental patient.
Undoubtedly, 'Freak' owes a lot to movies such as 'The Texas Chain Saw Massacre' (1974) and John Carpenter's classic 'Halloween' (1978). However, 'Freak' retains enough of its own power to make the open-minded viewer refrain from cries of 'rip-off' and concentrate on the movie, which is certainly not without its own charms and horrors. Perhaps a stylistic influence for the following year's harrowing shocker, 'Scrapbook', relatively new director, Tyler Tharpe, displays directorial ability that could make him a huge name in the future. His use of location is powerful and the near-deserted, desolate back-roads of Fort Wayne, Indiana (although the setting is supposed to be Ohio) coupled with an isolated, decaying and mouldering house reminiscent of those seen in such films as Tobe Hooper's classic 'The Texas Chain Saw Massacre' and the more recent 'The Blair Witch Project' both provide shocking, repugnant and unsettling visual elements. Through this wonderful use of locations and settings, Tharpe is able to take full control of his film and create a haunting atmosphere equivalent in malevolence to some of the most renowned and revered horror films. Considering the budget and limitations, 'Freak' is almost a visual masterpiece.
Of course, the film is not without flaws. The acting performances range from mediocre to simply adequate and the film takes a few minutes longer to end than it really should. It is also likely that some viewers will find the truly brutal, barbaric and traumatic opening to be something of a red-herring when eventually considering the rest of the film's content. Following this beginning, there is also a ten or fifteen minute lull which may turn some viewers off, but may also attract some viewers to the film more so than other, similar efforts. One of the main criticisms that many have with the horror genre is the continual lack of character-development in such movies. However, Tharpe withdraws from the horror aspect for a short period of time to develop his characters and we learn enough about them to eventually care about them to some extent. Although Tharpe is not entirely successful in what he attempts to accomplish, one learns to care about the characters slightly more than they would while watching similar films. This, quite aptly, leads to some moments of truly heart-pounding later in the film when the protagonist's almost idyllic journey is shattered and the horror begins. This all leads up to a fantastic, nerve-wracking climax as the elements of horror truly combine to create a surprisingly memorable finale!
Although not without flaws, 'Freak' is an entertaining, modern, low-budget horror film that acts more as homage to its inspirers, rather than simple plagiarism of the classics. The poor performances are far less distracting than in similar movies due to Tharpe's surprising abilities in the director's chair. Perhaps not as violent and gory as one would expect following the opening, 'Freak' still manages to become an immensely suspenseful, haunting, disconcerting and thus enthralling movie if predicitable in a few places. Recommended for low-budget, horror fans. My rating for 'Freak' 7/10.