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Part of the found footage explosion that's been rapidly gaining
strength since Blair Witch Project, the Poughkeepsie Tapes is a rather
brutal, joyless film that has achieved a reputation for its vile,
disturbing content. Essentially, it's a combination of two genres: the
aforementioned found footage genre, and the pseudo-snuff genre, an
offshoot of "found footage" that attempts to emulate the style and
content of what a real snuff film would theoretically present.
Both genres had already run their course by the time of Poughkeepsie's release (especially pseudo-snuff, which didn't have a course to run from its onset), and as such, it doesn't really offer anything different from other hardcore horror entries. Most of the originality comes from its frame story, which is a Dateline-esque documentary on a serial killer in the Poughkeepsie area interspersed with footage the killer shot while torturing or kidnapping his victims. Any semblance of a story would revolve around the police's investigation of the killings (which doesn't really go anywhere until near the end of the movie) and the fate of one of his victims, a young woman who was kept as a sex slave.
Like all pseudo-snuff films, the film's sole intention is to disturb the viewer, which it succeeds on some levels; the killer's footage is brutal, fairly realistic, and does emulate the footage of real life serial killers rather well. It survives on psychological torture, refrains from excess gore which would shatter the illusion of realism, and so perverse as to keep the viewer's attention. Lacking a plot, however, the "found footage" wouldn't be enough to sustain itself as a movie (to which August Underground is a testament).
To fill the void, the "Dateline" scenario is presented, which fails miserably from bad acting, melodramatic presentation, and a conscious awareness that the investigators seem to be the most incompetent group of crime fighters ever assembled. Why would hacksaw patterns be the sole determining factor to keep a medical investigator from connecting the murders? Why is one FBI agent the only person to have viewed all of the footage? Such scenarios, and more, are presented in an attempt to sound well researched and credible, but mostly manages to fall flat on its face.
Nonetheless, it does hold onto some sense of flow and progression, which at least makes the movie watchable in between the (mostly) non-progressing scenes of carnage. Even so, the most curious part of the film is the fate of the killer's kidnapped sex slave, whose story is mostly depicted through the found footage. What surrounds that is hackneyed, albeit brutal and disturbing, footage that presents nothing new to extreme horror enthusiasts. For the uninitiated, however, this will be the most brutal film you'll see until you reach the age of 14, I'm sure.
Films can have strong political messages, even those with messages
contrary to one's own culture (in this instance, American culture), and
still be considered a good films (The Battleship Potemkin, for
instance). Two Stage Sisters presents a similar situation, in which a
Communist political message was destined to be an integral part of the
film. Instead of maintaining its cinematic integrity, however, it
devolves into an overly-theatrical, cookie-cutter propaganda piece in
which enemies of the state are stereotypical, clownish villains, and
those with Communist ideals are heralded as angels of morality. This is
most unfortunate, as it begins as a film with a strong, emotional
situation with great potential. Instead, Two Stage Sisters becomes
diluted in its ambition, over-extended political message, and an overly
complicated plot line.
The film begins by introducing us to a family of stage performers and managers, namely Master Xing, his daughter Yuehong, and his assistant Ahxing. They find a runaway bride, named Chunhua, has stowed away with them, and Master Xing insists that she joins them to become an actress. Over time, she accepts Yuehong as her sister and Master Xing as a father figure. Such a situation, combined with the simplicity of the countryside setting, an antagonist within their group (Ahxing), and conflict with their outdated culture and surroundings (for instance, Chunhua is publicly tied to a stake as punishment for striking a police officer), sets the stage for an emotional drama based on the ties of unconditional kinship.
On the basest level, the film remains such a drama, as conflict is generated by the death of Master Xing and a move to the big stages of Shanghai. Yuehong sets her sights on stardom, fame, and wealth, and she parts ideological ways with Chunhua, who seeks artistic license and personal bonds with her fellow actresses. At this point, however, politics becomes the driving force of the story rather than personal conflict. This isn't to imply that political leanings weren't included earlier in the film. Indeed, a political agenda can be discerned, yet it is present in a much more subtle manner than in the latter half of the film. For instance, Master Xing defends his daughters' rights against a prominent local man who wishes to force one of the girls to stay the night with him. In the ensuing conflict, Chunhua strikes a police officer, leading to the aforementioned public humiliation. These circumstances are presented as being emblematic of an outdated culture that must be replaced with (what will be) a progressive, Communist ideal.
Once the girls move to Shanghai, however, the film becomes less of a case for Communism and more of a warning against capitalism. Yuehong is taken in by their new boss, Manager Tang, and accuses Chunhua of jealousy. She eventually marries Tang and flaunts her wealth in front of the other actresses. It is unmistakably suggested that capitalism is the cause of her corruption, and Tang, the main antagonist, is demonized as an exploitative boss who drives one of his actresses to suicide. Ahxing becomes an overacting puppet, his buffoonery presented as a subservient method to gain favor in the eyes of his superiors. Chunhua, meanwhile, explores political and artistic license as she becomes what the film eventually distinguishes as Communist. In reality, the only support the film shows for Communism is by demonstrating that it is the opposed to the Nationalists and the capitalists. Its only depicted advantage is that it is different from the other demonized political parties.
By this point, the film has fallen into the realm of pure, unadulterated propaganda. As Chunhua and the other actresses rally to support an ideologically Communist play that is suppressed by the government (an irony that such censorship is frowned upon by a Maoist-era Chinese film), Tang and his bosses become all the more perturbed by their growing public support. They order Ahxing to attack Chunhua, and when he is arrested, Yuehong is chosen as their scapegoat. This culminates in a climactic court scene that plays out like a bad episode of Chinese Law & Order. Yuehong is exonerated, and years later, Chunhua and her friends are given freedom by the liberation of Communism. Once again, no actual advantages of Communism are examined, and the anti-capitalist tirade concludes with Yuehong, fallen from grace, realizing her mistakes and joining Chunhua in a Communist wonderland. These tactics only turn the film into a political piece, not an artistic piece. Considering the poor arguments integrated into the story and the brash propagandist attitude utilized by the filmmaker, it succeeds at being neither.
Rob Zombie should have named his latest film "Kill-****ing-Everything,"
as it would have given audiences a better idea as to what to expect
when paying for a ticket. It also would've been a signal not to expect
any shred of respectability that Zombie was able to retain in his first
film. Unlike the first film, which was at least intriguing if not good,
Zombie relies on every horror-cliché imaginable in order to
unnecessarily pad the run time and the body count under the misguided
belief that greatness is measured in terms of sheer brutality.
Zombie must have decided that audiences needed an even greater reason to hate the main character after he turned her into a typically annoying teenage tramp in the first installment. As a result, Laurie has become a crust-punk vegetarian, no doubt altered by the events that transpired a year earlier. She has continuously suffered from nightmares and delusions since that fateful Halloween, and the audience is reminded of this every five minutes by dream sequences that litter the first half of the film. Meanwhile, Michael Myers has indeed survived the first film and is on a three day trek back to Haddonfield, killing any form of life that he encounters along the way. His arrival is precipitated by numerous red herrings in the form of dream sequences, and this back-and-forth pattern is continued throughout the film until he actually arrives and continues his habit of killing everything in sight.
In order to add another layer to a rather straight-forward plot, an examination of post-traumatic stress is included, as Laurie is shown coping with her life after it had been shattered the year before. This remains the greatest aspect of the film, as Laurie's battle, even with the saturation of unnecessary dream sequences, is a gateway for audience sympathy. Apparently not satisfied with this connection, Zombie also attempts an examination of Michael Myers's psyche, despite the perfect serial-killer development of the first film. This new examination centers on the dream interpretation of a white horse, which Michael constantly envisions alongside his deceased mother. In his visions, he is depicted as a child, and his mother instructs him to unite their family once again (meaning that he has to find Laurie).
In essence, Michael is instructed by his dead mother to kill, a blatant connection with the original Friday the 13th series that would have been impossible to have gone unnoticed by Zombie. These visions of Michael's are also the main contributors as to why the film is a convoluted mess. The constant appearances of the white horse motif are meant as an explanation for Michael's behavior, but they instead become a hindrance to the flow of the film. In addition, his insistence to kill everything he encounters is unexplained by his mother's desire to reunite the family, save for a brief instance in which his mother invites him to "have some fun." Of course, murdering everything in sight is the nature of the Michael Myers character, but as Zombie has focused on mental disease rather than the supernatural in his Halloween series, the new serial killer persona remains an insufficient justification.
By avoiding any supernatural aspect, Zombie also fails to sufficiently explain certain events in the film. It is never mentioned how Myers was able to survive a gunshot to the face without hospitalization, nor is it explained why it takes a year for Michael to return to Haddonfield. It is vaguely mentioned that the police misplaced the body in transport from the crime scene to the morgue (which is depicted in a scene that is dismissed as a dream of Laurie's), but this appears to have occurred in the outskirts of town. The delusions that Michael suffers are also shared by Laurie in the film's climax, which, barring any supernatural connection, simply doesn't make any sense.
Finally, in what may be the most unforgivable aspect of all, Zombie completes his transformation of Dr. Loomis from the beloved, heroic, and selfless figure of the first series to an arrogant, self-centered egotist. Loomis serves no function in Halloween II other than to inform Laurie that she is Michael's sister. Other than this development, he is meant as a spiteful center of rage that the audience is led to hate more than Myers, and as a result, his inclusion in the film is almost useless.
In between scenes of Laurie's breakdown, Michael's visions, and Loomis's asinine ego-trips, Zombie manages to saturate the remaining run time with close-ups of excessively gory wounds, unattractive bodily features, and every squishy sound imaginable. Zombie has never been subtle with his depiction of the macabre and grotesque, but in this film, it is so excessive that it becomes apparent that he isn't interested in any serious, albeit fictional, examination of mental illness. Rather, he seems more focused on making the audience ill. For seedy exploitation films of yesteryear, this is a perfect combination. In mainstream cinema, however, it has become a tired cliché that ran its course in the eighties.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's difficult for me to assign a rating for this film. Normally, I
choose my rating based on how well the movie entertained me. If it's
terrible, but is incredibly hilarious because it's so terrible, I'll
rate it highly. The problem is that I usually reserve this principle
for shoddy exploitation films that are so obviously terrible that such
a high rating should not deceive any reasonable person. Mainstream
films I usually hold to a higher standard as to avoid potentially
confusing readers and sending them to the theater to watch a film that
they're doomed to hate. Hence my difficulty with Orphan: it's a
mainstream film that was so ridiculously bad that I couldn't have asked
for a more entertaining movie experience. Therefore, due to this
contradiction, I have decided not to give the film a star rating.
Onto the movie proper. The film is essentially split into three parts. The first is the development stage, during which Esther, our titular orphan, is introduced as a slimy, evil bitch that manipulates all the characters around her into sympathizing with her. This part is a tinderbox of horror-clichés, and as such, it is really more frustratingly awful than entertainingly awful. Part two consists of our mother character, Kate, deciding that something is just not right with her newest addition to her family and begins an investigation into Esther's past. This part sees the movie actually become interesting and leads to some genuine suspense. During the third part, however, the cat is completely let out of the bag, as the film dives head-first into some of the most bizarre and laughable plot turns and events that left the theater howling.
First, onto the clichés. The first part is chocked full of these, yet they aren't as ridiculously entertaining as the events that transpire later in the film. Rather, it's frustrating, as the film first appears as just another Hollywood mess of the genre. Such clichés include the lone character who knows what's really happening, yet no one else believes her (including the character closest to the protagonist), despite the obvious and overwhelming evidence supporting her; the use of children in danger to extract sympathy from the audience; the concept that a child could never do such things; and my personal favorite of the bunch: the girl who is picking on Esther in school sees her disappear from a swing, so her first instinct is to become deathly afraid, and in her fear, she immediately heads to a place where nobody can see her and decides to climb to the highest point of said location so that the antagonist can push her off and break her ankle. Since the character was a total bitch anyway, not much sympathy is felt.
As said before, the second part of the movie actually becomes intriguing and creates some real tension. The mystery surrounding the origin of Esther piles on suspense as the unknown begins to unfold, yet it unfolds slowly enough that it leaves the audience asking for more. Simply put, it is a good, interesting, and engaging mystery, yet for all this progress, the third part decides to strap the film with a bomb vest and drop a nuke on it. For starters, the twist is the Manos: The Hands of Fate of cinematic plot twists. It is totally unexpected, totally mind blowing, and totally ridiculous. I mean, it's insanely ludicrous, hilarious even. The hilarity only begins there, too. The clichés that were abandoned in the second part begin to reemerge here. The highlights include:
-A completely awkward yet hysterical sequence during which the nine-year-old orphan tries to seduce her adoptive father. (This is explained by the twist, but as the twist is so stupid, it remains a noteworthy highlight of awkward hilarity.)
-The killer becomes invincible in the final minutes of the film, surviving a barrage of different assaults that are usually fatal, including having a grown woman plus large, jagged pieces of glass fall on her, hypothermia from a struggle in a frozen lake, and unconsciousness while sinking to the bottom of said lake, during which she would have inhaled a large amount of water.
-Although Kate calls the police on the way to her house, they arrive what seems to be an hour later, long enough for Kate to slowly inspect her house, look for Esther, be stalked by Esther, try to save her daughter from Esther, and seemingly kill Esther.
-Once the police arrive and the killer appears dead, instead of greeting the police and taking refuge with them (perhaps in a squad car), Kate instead inexplicably walks with her daughter into the middle of the woods where Esther can obviously have her final stand.
-Despite finally arriving at the house and hearing all the screams coming from a frozen pond not 100 yards from the building, the police never arrive to assist the victims until after the killer is dead.
-The completely unnecessary ploy in which Esther tries to gain sympathy from Kate by calling her "mommy," even though she knows damn well that Kate has been intent on killing her for over half the film. Kate's hilariously campy response is icing on the cake.
If I purely hated bad movies, I would've slammed my face against the back of the seat in front of me for nearly the entire duration of the film. Instead, I laughed my way through the worst of it (of which there was plenty), as did all of my fellow theater-goers. I've yet to determine if this is one of my favorite or least favorite films, which brings me back to my original quandary. As it turns out, I have decided to rate this film with two different ratings. It gets half a star for being so damn bad and three and a half stars for the absolute laugh riot that it becomes as a result.
This review is being posted here until The Flesh Farm is back up and
Made as part of AFI's Directing Workshop for Women, Death in Charge is just as the director describes it: a short cautionary tale about a little girl who gets Death as her babysitter. As such, it includes such timeless platitudes as, "The grass is greener ," "You can't always get what you want ," and, "Be careful what you wish for ," and although these life lessons have been beaten to death since the inception of storytelling, the short is still enjoyable enough that you won't want to put a shotgun in your mouth for losing fifteen minutes of your life that you can never have back.
The dominant motif of the film is that despite the immense irony, Death encounters the joys of life through her interaction with a little girl. Yes, Death is a she, which may give a clue as to why she becomes absolutely stricken with her young ward, Whitney. Why Death decides that she must take up the mantle of babysitting isn't revealed until the end, but I wouldn't dare spoil the surprise. Anyway, through Whitney, she learns the simple yet incredible joys of video games, macaroni and cheese, and dehydrated brine shrimp. As her appreciation of life grows, so does her unease about her job, which perturbs Death even more as Whitney is revealed to have a dark side of her own.
Taken at face value, Death in Charge is a rather humorous genre film that manages to include some subtext that film critics find masturbatory. Although this "deeper meaning" is a little more glaring than one may appreciate, it avoids being outright preachy, and let's face it, any movie that has a murderous nine-year-old wielding a Walther PPK against her own mother is pretty badass. It's this type of dark humor that propels the film, and unlike other, similar efforts, the humor isn't overdone to the point that it's obnoxious. Rather, the camp is nigh on perfect, particularly in the opening sequence reminiscent of the fifties.
Unfortunately, there were other slipups that made me want to slam my face into the screen. The most irritating was the pace of the film, which seemed incredibly rushed. While such a pace can sometimes support a comedic approach, in this case, it only comes across as a distraction. For instance, there is a point when Whitney is about to be electrocuted by some faulty wiring, but Death uses her scythe to break the circuit. The reactions and timing were so quick and awkward that I had to watch the scene three times to understand what was happening. Afterward, they immediately move onto something new as if nothing happened. The last I checked, nearly being electrocuted is something that one tends to ponder over for a minute or two. I don't blame the filmmakers too much for this flaw, as I'm sure some time restraints were also responsible.
Finally, some aesthetic choices were a bit of a hindrance. Why they decided to animate the establishing shot of a house is absolutely beyond me, and controlling a small fire in a waste bin wouldn't have been too difficult rather than using CGI. Again, this may be due to some safety regulations on AFI's part. Who knows.
Regardless, Death in Charge remains a competent and fairly entertaining production with solid performances that won't necessarily be embraced by all horror and comedy fans, but it's a fine example of short, aspiring film-making. Next time, however, they should just give the woman more than fifteen damn minutes to make something. To quote Roger Ebert, "I'm giving it a 2.5 in the silly star rating system and throwing up my hands."
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Note: read this while you can; as soon as The Flesh Farm is back up and
running, this review is going down.
Mainstream hardcore-horror films (or "torture porn," as Eli Roth puts it) have kept the horror genre off of life support for the better part of this last decade, but even now, the concept has begun to wear thin. Hostel struck out with its second film (and a third, direct-to-video film is still being produced anyway), and the Saw series has turned into another slasher franchise that refuses to die. The second film, however, had the fortune of being released while the novelty of this subgenre still attracted audiences, the ideas were still fresh, and the films had yet to degenerate into repetitive versions of one another. As a result, it is an unpleasant yet tense addition to the Saw franchise.
This time around, detectives have hunted down Jigsaw to an abandoned warehouse. Unfortunately, his mechanisms have trapped them inside the building, forcing them to watch surveillance footage of his newest experiment: eight people are trapped in a house filled with toxic gas which, in two hours time, will liquefy their insides. Worse yet, the lead detective, Eric Matthews, notices that his son is one of the eight trapped in the house. Jigsaw insists that if the detective merely talks with him for two hours, he will have his son returned to him safe and sound. The tension becomes too much, however, and the detectives scramble to get information that will lead them to the house, with Jigsaw's victims falling one by one to his traps all the while.
As is standard to the Saw franchise, the traps and mechanisms utilized by Jigsaw are both particularly ingenious and particularly gruesome, the most unnerving of which involves the pit of syringes, in which a key that leads to an antidote to the poison is hidden. As a result, each time another trap is found, it's another moment for the audience to gulp and think, "Here we go again!" As mentioned before, however, the public's sensibilities have yet to be jaded by the never-ending run of films (which is currently working on its sixth installment), so instead of falling into the same old run through, each scene is filled with palpable tension as to what bodily horrors must next be endured. Included in this natural paranoia to mutilation is conflict between the characters within the house and between the detectives and Jigsaw. The chase of Amanda and Detective Matthews's son, Daniel, by the bull headed drug dealer, Xavier, is reminiscent of the classic chase of Laurie Strode by Michael Myers in the original Halloween. In addition, Jigsaw's mental games that leave Detective Matthews jumping through hoops add further intrigue to the scenario.
With that said, Saw II isn't without its problems. As with most horror films that include large groups of people, there is a host of cliché characters: the traitor, the no-brained, testosterone driven bully, the dumb slut, the girl who cowers in the corner afraid of everything, and a few extra characters that aren't meant for anything but padding the body count. The only truly interesting characters are Jigsaw, Detective Matthews, and Amanda, who is, once again, masterfully portrayed by Shawnee Smith and remains one of the most memorable characters in horror-film history. Even the "true" victim, Daniel, remains unremarkable. More sympathy is given to the villains than to him.
Alongside this host of clichés are the nonsensical character decisions that appear too frequently in horror films. Xavier remains angry and tries to kill everyone just because... well, there is no reason given really. This is particularly obnoxious when he discovers the numbers on the back of each person's necks, during which cooperation with each character would've really helped him out. In a similar vein, the mandatory black character tries to reach out and connect with Xavier, which only ends in predictable fashion. Finally, the film lulls a bit in the middle, particularly with the constant interruptions back to the police's dilemma. Only once Jigsaw takes Matthews away from the warehouse does the action become truly tense once again.
In the end, however, the film's positive aspects outweigh the negative. It is meant to make the audience grimace and think about the direction of their lives, which it certainly does. Every person who sees this should think in the back of their minds whether or not they are the type of person who Jigsaw would target next. Like each Saw film, an outstanding twist is also included, which is particularly mind-shattering in this film. Having seen the third film before this, I knew the result of the twist beforehand, but it was so perfectly executed that it made me react as if I was watching each film in order. It really brings the film to a head, especially since the aforementioned lull threatened to bring it down completely. Instead, Saw II remains a perfectly satisfactory horror film that isn't exactly a masterpiece, but will keep genre fans entertained.
Not everyone is bound to find merit in a Mondo film. They're an
acquired taste, no doubt, and the new-age Mondo/death films are left
solely for sadists and sick extremists to get their rocks off on.
Generally, the mainstream movie critic will tear apart a Mondo film as
condescending, racist, and misinformative trash, not worth the free bin
at your local WalMart. While this is true to a certain extent, well
made Mondo films were still wonderfully crafted pieces of art that were
able to find beauty in even the most hideous and gruesome situations.
No other Mondo team (not even the Godfathers of the genre, Jacopetti
and Prosperi) was able to depict this beauty as well as the team of
Antonio Climati and Mario Morra. These two have an uncanny ability to
manipulate and exploit natural imagery to offset any and all ugliness
hurled at the viewer, achieving the perfect oxymoron of beautiful
ugliness. Their first solo project, Savage Man Savage Beast, is no
exception, and it manages to come across (at least visually) as an
The main theme that the film attempts to document is the different ways of hunting found around the world, and how humans and animals interact in the way of the hunt. This is illustrated in the very first scene, as a prolific hunter introduces himself and his craft and immediately heads into the woods in search of a stag. Mesmerizing slow motion shots of the buck fleeing through the forest accompany the opening credits, successfully fazing out the unconscious reality that the animal will be killed before us momentarily. Most of the film is presented in such a manner, making the whole ordeal feel like a fictional narrative instead of a document of reality (and, to a certain point, this is true, as a few scenes are indeed staged). Other than the opening stag hunt, noteworthy scenes include several wildlife encounters, consisting of wild animals hunting other wild animals. Though the fear and anguish of the prey can be unsettling, the visual impact of the cinematography manages to make the film seem less exploitative than it really is. This is particularly true in the scenes of Aboriginal hunting, as the slow motion shots of boomerangs and spears in mid flight heading towards their targets becomes a wonder, even though we're witnessing the animals die a painful death.
Of course, then come the infamous scenes of human death, the major highlight being the debated and controversial scene of the violent death of Pit Dernitz, who is tackled, maimed, and killed by a pride of lions he left his safari vehicle to film. All of this is witnessed by his wife and kids, whose tears and agony are also captured by the constantly moving camera. The debate on this scene is over the authenticity of the sequence. If real, it is a disturbing gem of Mondo exploitation and a sad reality of a man's poor decision making. If fabricated, it is another testament to Climati's cinematographic skills, providing quick camera movements, rough edits, and jump cuts to conceal whatever may expose the scene as a phony. Overall, the scene is marvelously exploitative and was no doubt an influence on Ruggero Deodato when he went to make Cannibal Holocaust. The other intense scene of human death is the torture and murder of a South American native man by mercenary killers. This scene is obviously a fabrication, yet it uses the same camera techniques as the lion attack sequence, and thus remains a disturbing and exploitative highlight of the film.
Mixed in with these stand out scenes are different customs and bizarreness somehow associated with hunting, and each scene manages to awe in the way of its set up (or the content itself). For instance, in the African tribal dance, the camera focuses on the men's hip region. The flopping of the men's penises becomes amusingly hypnotic, as is the pelvic rhythm of the African men fertilizing the ground with their own sperm. There are still less masterful scenes that take away from this wonder, however. The staged "race" between ostriches and cheetahs leaves a bad aftertaste, as the film makers admit to setting the birds up for slaughter. Also, the ludicrous (to the point of humor) anti-fox hunt sequence (involving the utterly generic and fictional "Wild Fox Association") constitutes the low point of the movie and is laughable enough to not be taken seriously, even though Alberto Moravia manages to keep a straight face throughout. Despite these few scenes of sloppiness, the film remains a unique look at the world of "hunting" that while exploitative and disingenuous (and perhaps offensive), is still a cinematic sight to behold.
Horror remakes in this day and age can be a dangerous thing for a
director. If you remake a classic, you're almost instantly hated for
"destroying" the film's legacy, even if your film hasn't been released
yet. If you remake a travesty, you're lambasted for destroying the
"B-movie charm" and "classic cheesy goodness" of the original, or are
drug through the dirt for reviving crap that isn't worth reviving. Rob
Zombie, however, has a pretty well-founded presence in the horror
world, even if one doesn't enjoy House of 1000 Corpses or The Devil's
Rejects. Not to mention that he has the directorial skills to make, at
the very least, a somewhat decent film. Besides, based on those films,
he seems like the perfect man to make the potential brutality of the
story of Michael Myers to go through the roof. And brutal the film is.
There is non-stop savagery and absolutely no pity shown in the two
hours of this film. However, one must remember that the lack of
brutality and the utter simplicity of the original Halloween is what
gave it its charm; it gave you a simple situation, no bull****. Rob
Zombie was ambitious enough to try and outdo that charm and manages to
outdo his own film.
There is no need to go over the plot; if you're over 10 years old, you know the story: Michael Myers kills his sister (and his step dad this time around), is institutionalized for life, and 17 years later, he breaks out of the hospital on Halloween night, looking for his lost baby sister, Laurie, to finish the job. And of course, the first thing asked by audiences is, "What's different in this film? How could someone POSSIBLY beat an all-time movie classic?" Well, Rob Zombie beats the original in many ways. First, the said brutality is on par with a Rob Zombie film. This, in many ways, makes the film scarier. In the original, there was no crying from the victims, there were no extended periods of pleading and mental rape that is expected (and sure as hell is present) in this film. While Carpenter's film is scarier, Zombie's film is more disturbing, and, of course, disturbing is scary in its very own way. The torment of well established characters over an extended period of time is horrifying and can make the audience numb from such intensity (to see what I'm talking about, re-watch the rape of Faye from Cannibal Holocaust).
Zombie also takes the initiative to change elements of the story, which is another refreshing element (we all know what a disaster the shot-by-shot remake of Psycho was). Most of the changed storyline is impressive (or at least not bad), and while you can recognize certain scenes from the original, there's also a hint of the unknown in each and every scene. Even if you recognize the victims from the first film, it doesn't mean what happened then happens now (getting dangerously close to a spoiler, sorry). Perhaps the biggest change in the storyline is the background story given to Michael Myers. This particular element is very well handled by Mr. Zombie, making the scenario totally foreign yet very traceable to the original story. It is also a better explanation to Michael's behavior than the ludicrous "Samhain" angle introduced in Halloween II. There is even plenty of humor in such a depressing setup (we all ultimately know what is going to happen with young Michael), as the rest of Michael's family is completely ridiculous, yet completely fitting for the situation.
However, changing perfection is inevitably making it worse, and as every horror fan knows, the original Halloween was perfect. For instance, the mystery element of Michael Myers is part of what was so scary in the first film. There's a grand total of 15 seconds of his face in the original, while Zombie not only shows his face for the whole first part of the film, he has him talk excessively. Adding the serial killer personality to Myers also ruins what interpretation the audience has to his mysterious behavior (which is present in the first film). Also, since Zombie dedicates much of the film to the development of another character, the development of the victims (which was perfectly formed before) is lacking. The body count from 17 years later began way too soon, and it seems like Zombie was relishing too much in death throughout the film, as a significant change to the body count is made. It is still left though as a very brutal and creepy film, two adjectives that normally don't fit well together. The extended ending was definitely well received, and hope shown for some of the victims is very satisfying (after the previously mentioned mental rape). In the end, however, Zombie's style got just a little too stylized, when it was just the basics that made the first film so incredible.
It's very rare when you find a film that so perfectly fits the
definition of "sleaze" and "exploitation" more than any other genre of
film, so, in a sense, Le Notti Porno nel Mondo is a bit of a
distinguished item. Of course, it's absolutely horrible, but it's still
very special in the fact that it is completely void of any kind
artistic merit, educational value, or cinematic value whatsoever. It
was made with only one intention in mind: quick profit off of horny
sexual deviants who are promised to see sex with gorillas and bleeding
virgins. And who else would it be to have made such a perverse
spectacle other than two godfathers of European exploitation: Bruno
Mattei and Joe D'Amato, and, not surprisingly, it stars the latter's
favorite starlet, the incredible Laura Gemser. Each person in the trio
is in rare form, as they collectively compile the most pathetically
staged snippets of sex show and titillation from "around the world", or
the back of their studio (you know, which ever is more interesting for
you to hear).
The film is supposedly a collection of segments documenting the world's most bizarre strip club and night life behavior, but this illusion is quickly shattered when the audience recognizes the same strip club set used in multiple scenes throughout the film. In between the clips, Laura Gemser is all smiles as she adds background information to the events on screen (and, of course, gets naked and changes clothes no less than seven times during the film's duration). During the scenes, she provides cheeky narration (well, what I assume to be cheeky, as the entire film is in Italian) to the already laughable displays before you. The first of said clips is of a strip club, in which a young woman performs a rather dull striptease for some disgusting old gremlins and middle aged men who look like sex offenders. Anyway, a guy in the worst looking gorilla suit this side of Philip Morris strolls out (much to the delight of the crowd) and proceeds to seduce the (at first) terrified young woman. And really, once you've seen the first scene, you've seen them all. Other "interesting" displays include a pathetic sex/magic show, display case strip teases, and New Guinea (I think) natives ripping the head off of a chicken.
Needless to say, this tirade of sexual bizarreness grows very dull very quickly, and one can consider themselves a real trooper if they stick around for more than thirty minutes of the ordeal. Each scene promises new showcases that you've never seen before, and though there lies the possibility that it could be very entertaining and intriguing if each scene wasn't so obviously staged for the camera, the only scene that appears to have the slightest hint of genuine footage is the bleeding virgin/chicken blood dance set somewhere in the Pacific islands. So the only real alternative option for this film is for one's own private reasons, but the juxtaposition of erotic strip show with old and decaying slime-balls and hairy sex addicts (plus some animals here or there) makes for an uncomfortable setting for personal gratification (unless you happen to be into old, hairy men, in which case, that is your prerogative). I have a sense that anyone who spent money to see this in theaters (or hell, even on video) walked away with the distinct feeling that they had been severely ripped off.
However, the film has one saving grace, and that is Bruno and Joe's dedication to pure sleaze to satisfy their own greed and lack of professionalism. These men were born for us wanderers of underground cinematic waste, and the fact that they dedicated their own time to bring us such a blatantly despicable and exploitative time waster is truly touching. And hey, not every segment is boring dreck; each scene includes some amount of very beautiful women (some of whom seem VERY uncomfortable in what they're doing, and some of whom really don't), and if you happen to be into canine cunnilingus, well, this is the film for you. Even if the scarring images of hairy old Italian men isn't really your cup of tea, the film is still left as an interesting (albeit very dull) mark in the history of (s)exploitation cinema, and is perhaps the most pure definition of (s)exploitation there is. As illustrated in the closing dialogue (where Laura Gemser "accidentally" has her left breast fall out of her dress, with the accompanying smile and "Oops!"), this is meant as nothing but guilty pleasure entertainment.
I've never come across a Lucio Fulci zombie film that I didn't like
until now. Fulci just has that perfect type of directing to make zombie
movies; he knows how to make it grotesque and outrageous while keeping
it smart and slick. That said, City of the Living Dead is one of his
sloppiest works, more of an experiment with supernatural zombie horror
before he perfects it in The Beyond. Its problem is that it's a film in
a huge package with very little inside, and what is inside isn't
impressive; I was reminded of the old popcorn movie Cannibal Curse,
which similarly tried to overcome its physical restrictions and
resulted in a laughable spectacle that really didn't amount to
anything. For those who don't want to read that review to know what I'm
talking about, it means that everything was so larger than life that it
became ridiculous. It was void of the simple charm that was present in
his other works, and instead, it became a cliché of gore and overly
complex plot points that succeeded in overdoing itself.
For whatever reason, a priest decides that he cannot live anymore and hangs himself in a cemetery. Again, for whatever reason, this makes an ancient prophecy come true, and a nearby gate of Hell was opened. I thought that the movie may explain why this suicide fulfilled this prophecy, but no. Apparently, if a holy man hung himself in a cemetery, the prophecy came true; this being quasi-mindless hardcore horror, I didn't mind too much. Anyway, this whole tragic event was witnessed by, of all people, a psychic in a Manhattan apartment who was having a séance. She (oh yes, her name is Mary) dies from a psychic overload (or something), but comes back to life after being buried (despite being embalmed). Our other hero, Peter Bell, a reporter looking for a story, unburies her after hearing her cries from under six feet of dirt. After unburying a woman who survived being embalmed and had super screams, I guess he was ready to believe anything when she tells him that the gates of Hell had opened and dead bodies in the area are coming back to life. I'm sorry, I have to stop now: it's just too ridiculous. Basically, they try to close the gates to prevent magic, reappearing-disappearing zombies from eating rednecks at a bar.
Now I've seen movies with completely ludicrous plots before and have enjoyed them fine (Massacre in Dinosaur Valley, You Only Live Twice...), but, unlike those other movies, City of the Living lacks any general appeal. Of course, it's a Lucio Fulci film, so you'd expect that most hardcore horror fans would appreciate. However, it's lacking the fundamental principles that makes Fulci's other films so easy to love (save Roger Ebert). For starters, there's the aforementioned complexity of the plot line. Fulci's greater films work because they give you a point: a killer, zombie infestation, whatever, and he plays it through to its logical conclusion, making an enjoyable, gory, and often scary 90 minute movie experience. In this, there are added plot points and story lines that aren't fully developed, leaving a lot of questions hanging in the breeze, questions which are never answered. With this sheer bulk of extraneous subject matter, the action in the story never really accumulates into anything but over extended periods of conversation. There is no opportunity for tension to accumulate, as the events of the movie are explained through excessive talking, leaving very little of the expected substance of the movie, the actual zombies, to take place, making a very tedious viewing experience.
Of course, there are eventually zombies, if one would call them that. They're more like spirits that look like zombies. Anyway, the small amount of movie time that they're actually present doesn't have any impact; many of the deaths in the movie aren't of the undead variety (in fact, one of the most infamous gore scenes in the movie comes from a vengeful father). The only mass slaughter by the walking dead is in a bar of rednecks, whose sole point in the film is hilariously underdeveloped and unnecessary comic relief that further takes away from the movie. If all this wasn't bad enough, these few scenes of action and gore are few and far between and only come into full force near the end of the movie, culminated in an ending that introduces new and puzzling questions instead of answering the ones already introduced. A horror movie should consist of an acknowledged threat that is quickly introduced, and the rest of the film is the subsequent stalking and terror that this threat unleashes. This movie, however, has half of its duration dedicated to the former portion, trying to develop an overly ridiculous plot that probably wouldn't work anyway. Fulci's genius doesn't shine here; his weaknesses that his detractors point out are the only things in full force.
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