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Tired retread bringing nothing new to the table......
Yet again we are fed the same old treatment for a new decade. (The American Nightmare treaded much the same ground previously). Watching this latest 'historic' instalment of how cinema's arguably finest and most effective genre came into fruition, feels like a retread, nothing new, nothing challenged. Granted the first half of the 20th century is covered with enthusiasm, but it is when contemporary American horror cinema is tackled does this documentary fall flat, with an approach almost like first year academia.
However, John Carpenter makes a perfect point mid-way through in that we give directors like Craven (for Last House on the Left) too much credit by saying that films like Last House on the Left was pure social commentary. Or like Eli Roth's criminally over rated Hostel. These are not great social comments on America.
Indeed, Last House on the Left is an excellent film, but it is an excellent exploitation film and a film that can only be a product of its time - i.e. US cinema became more independent following the mid-60s boom, of which European cinema had been for many years. Before that, it had been controlled implicitly by a studio system. The horror genre will always thrive through independence.
With Hostel, it is again a product of its time (okay it has trite, spoon feeding themes in it, but still ). It is a reaction to how desensitised audiences have become with the genre, a marketable push again by Hollywood studios to cash in on real issues - it's painful really, and a reason why the sludge of American horror cinema at the moment is truly woeful.
Another point made here also was that the barrage of updates/remakes of 70s horror has become more gory and violent linked to events in the world .don't give me that, it is purely that we are used to dumbed down violence, not just from news reports but by the need to shock and go one step further with what has previously been made, typified again by the US studio system (can you imagine a remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre with no blood in it, ironically like the original - the studios wouldn't take the risk). The US studio system would remake anything if they could, but the marketable agenda is largely ignored. If the point was that these remakes reflected social ills, why is it that the slew of far Eastern horror, mainly from Korea and Japan, are tame versions of their original sources, not bloody, shocking versions. It is studio tactics, nothing more, nothing less. It is of no coincidence that the far Eastern originals are far superior, particularly as effective examples of the horror genre.
Ultimately, the real depth to US contemporary horror was missed here again with this doc. We've heard the same trite academic stances before, over and over, with no counter argument. It is worth noting, and ignored in this documentary, that 70's US exploitation cinema is just as important in the history of the American horror film. Exploitation cinema exists outside of the studio system, away from franchises, pushing boundaries and normal expectations, much in the same way that there is a wealth of amazing European exploitation films (Italy, Germany and Spain being obvious sources of origin, yet many more beside). This brought to American cinema, certainly through the advent of the drive-in cinema and grindhouse picture house, a tidal wave of cinema free to explore any avenue, upping the ante of what audiences consumed.
Despite its enthusiasm, and with the usual suspects (Carpenter, Romero, Dante et al) being interviewed, all this documentary really tells us is the historic arc of marketing the horror film
.and for that motivation, misses the point entirely.
Temnye vody (1993)
Well worth checking out for the concerted horror aficionado....
The first and only feature thus far from Italian filmmaker Mariano Baino clearly wears its influences on its sleeve. The story involves an English woman, returning to the island of her birth where her mother died following the delivery, and then discovers a strange sect steeped in Gothic worship and bizarre mystery.
Following his short film, the much lauded Carancula, Baino embarked on what many believed would be a modern horror masterpiece in the making. Financed by the US, the UK, Russia, and Italy, and filmed on location in the Ukraine, it is of no surprise that the production ran into trouble (see Mark Kermode's account of his own on-set experiences). Yet it is to Baino's credit, and indeed obvious talents as a director, that he manages to pull off something credible, if not quite the epic its promoters (Fangoria magazine being a keen follower) would quite have hoped for.
Mixing in moments of contemporary horror of the likes of The Evil Dead and 80's Italian horror, it strives for much on a clearly evident low budget. Whilst also attempting, to varying degrees of success, to convey the atmospheres of directors like Bunuel, Bava, or prime-time Argento, whilst H P Lovecraft influences seemingly dominate the ending. Some imagery is truly unique. Sequences such as a nun dying on a rock as waves wash over impress, as does a brilliantly surreal scene as the protagonist, Elizabeth, walks across a shore strewn with dead fish. Add to this ambiguous soundscapes throughout the film (a crying baby, demon-like roars) that connect the films narrative, and the cinema of Jean Rollin may spring to mind.
For all the positives however, Dark Waters seems to suffer from similar failings that the other lauded hope of post mid-eighties Italian cinema, Michelle Soavi, suffered. Poor acting, trite scripts often poorly delivered, and over ambitious narratives.
But it is this ambition to make something uniquely visual, to create an atmosphere rarely seen in the genre over the past thirty years, certainly on such a small budget and filming constraints. And for that Mariano Baino, may you one day have the budget to make something else. There is no doubt that he possesses the talent to do so.
August Underground's Mordum (2003)
Anti-cinema may not be for me.......but
Now let me get this straight. I love extreme cinema.
The August Underground trilogy is something of a revered thing amongst lovers of gore, horror, and extreme cinema. Mordum, the 2nd part of the AU trilogy, is considered by many to be something of a milestone in those three areas.
Filmed in an ultra-real fashion and seeming like a 'snuff' film, it follows the paths of a gang of three who terrorise and murder various people over the course of a night (?). The film contains a constant barrage of abuse (sometimes the verbal shockingly more disturbing than the physical) as we witness numerous forms of torture and depravity. The protagonists portrayed are possible some of the vilest characters I have ever witnessed; the violence is amongst some of the strongest I have seen (baring in mind that at times the excellent special effects are sometimes exposed due to the zero budget here); and the tone and atmosphere is continually grim. And it is this constant atmosphere that made me revile this film like no other I have seen before it. Having witnessed, and often appreciated, the many examples of extreme cinema, I seemingly have found my limit. Even with last year's controversial A Serbian Film being a million miles away from being this disturbing. Possibly the closest feeling I have taken away from a film to this would be Salo: 120 Days of Sodom or the hard-to-find Snuff 102.
And that is exactly the point of the filmmakers' intentions, who clearly have a talent for this sort of thing (in fact, the latest from co-director Fred Vogel, Sella Turcica, is making ripples in the underground horror scene). But it is nasty and will ruin those not akin to this sort of thing. Although there is clearly not a chance of ever getting a release here in the UK anytime soon, and a cut form would be pointless.
I'm not saying that August Underground: Mordum is a terrible film, it's very effective indeed. I just don't think I have the stomach I clearly thought I had. It certainly shouldn't be banished away by the powers that be just because people can't 'handle' it. It has a place in cinema whether you or I like it or not.
So job done then, Toetag Pictures! Just keep telling yourself: "It's only a movie, it's only a movie, it's only a movie
Well worth the trip........
Criminally mis-marketed, Friedkins Bug came and went without trace under the horror radar. By no means another Exorcist or French Connection (yet a stratosphere away from the likes of 1990's The Guardian, also directed by Friedkin), this strangely compelling character study of two individuals (played insanely by Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon) on the point of meltdown, holed up in an Oklahoma motel room, is well worth the entrance fee.
Both characters seemingly have a past history, which they come to trust each other with, but are equally unable to prevent their own paranoia and personal demons from taking over. There are subtle asides added to the mix (Judd's ex-con husband returning; military conspiracies), which are amusing but act as slight distractions from the main duo and their increasingly off-kilter actions.
Adapted from his own stage play (of which Shannon predominantly took the lead), Tracy Letts has brought an almost Mamet-like feel to the script, aided further by the film mainly taking place in one locale. This allows for some truly original acting, with Shannon twitching and stuttering in all the right places. Despite a slow beginning, Ashley Judd shows she is an under used character actor, perfectly descending into her characters madness with a crazed glee.
Yet what really impresses with Bug is the direction. Friedkin employs frequent jump cuts and camera zooms, as the madness begins to creep in. A real sense of timing is conveyed with the techniques used. Ambiguity is also suitably thrown in, with many questions raised left open to interpretation. What is real and what is delusion, further complicated in the fact that the narrative time-line becomes blurred (again, further accentuated by the editing used here).
Ultimately, Bug serves as a reminder to the ability of a great director, who one wishes would be more prolific. Bug is not among his best, but a worthy addition to Friedkins body of work.
Black Swan (2010)
Pretentiously stylistic director gets found out in 'lack of depth' bust.........
Aronofsky couldn't direct depth and emotion if it fell from the sky and pirouetted in front of him All style, no substance (which suited Pi), and very much self indulgent (which suited The Fountain). Black Swan is as shallow as Requiem For a Dream (completely over rated). Aronofsky's continued pilfering of his beloved Tsukamoto continues, with BS helping itself largely, also, to Satoshi Kon's outstanding anime Perfect Blue.
The sexual nature of BS was trite, at best. Vincent Cassel criminally misused. Portman was okay, but a million miles away from best performance of say Jennifer Lawrence in Winter's Bone. At least Clint Mansell provided again - but a good soundtrack does not maketh a good film.
That was your last chance for a slow dance Aronofsky
Animal Kingdom (2010)
Tough, somber drama with a distinct air of menace......
All the praise that has been heaped on this Australian crime drama is justly deserved.
Beginning in a slow, somber style with introspective 17-year old Josh Cody reporting the death - heroin overdose - of his mother, forcing him to live with his 3 uncles and grandmother who are heavily involved in crime. The Cody family's criminality comes back to haunt them and others around them, as violence takes its toll.
Excellent performances by all involved here, particularly from James Frecheville, who plays Josh. Even more so, Ben Mendelsohn as the elder brother 'Pope', full of repression, instability, and menace. Guy Pearce brings even further conviction to the film as the lead Detective on the trail of Pope, empathetically using Josh as his pawn. The outstanding score further conveying the intensity and emotions of the characters throughout, with the threat of danger and corruption never far away.
Loosely based on a real-life Australian crime family, the gritty, character-driven approach works perfectly. If you are tired of substandard crime dramas regurgitated by the American market and want more substance, then take sanctuary in this solid study of family loyalty and the devastating effects of violence.
Outstanding exercise in modern giallo....and so much more too!
Cinema can be a powerful thing to behold. Not only as a means in which to express whatever saga it may desire, but also to provoke feeling and thought in its viewer. Much has been made, certainly in academic terms, of what the audience perceives through cinema, and this unique and astounding Belgian gem conveys this like no other piece of film in a long time. The triptych story, following the life of Ana through her childhood, her coming-of age adolescence, and her eventual becoming as a 'woman, is clearly focused on using cinema as a medium in its purest form. Dialogue is sparse, images are vivid, the editing poignant, not a shot goes by without meaning. As a reference point, we can cite the giallo movement as an immediate connection, yet AMER is so much more than a mere homage. Recalling the great works of Franju, Bava, and Robert Weines' 'The Cabinet of Dr Caligari', to name but a few, modern menace and eroticism is also adopted here to startling effect. A lot has been expressed in terms of a lack of narrative as a main cause for concern. For this viewer it is the complete opposite, in that we are made to feel the fear, the sexuality, the loss, of our vulnerable protagonist, not too dissimilar to Jires' Valerie. A film to experience, interact with, rather than simply allow. Enter and take pleasure in the real power of this medium. Unfortunately all too rare in modern cinema.
Stylised and punchy homage to the cinema of Tsukamoto
Great little short film that pays its dues to contemporary Japanese cinema, particularly that of Tsukamoto Shinya and the punk aesthetic of Ishii Sogo.
Not much in the way of narrative here save that of a photographer being stalked by a swordsman amongst urban decay. But narrative is clearly secondary here, all music video styles clearly checked off.
With great editing, manic camera work, and definitely cool, give this director some money and let him go off and make a full feature that would have potential to inject some vital energy into the cinema of today.
ANGST (aka FEAR, dir. Gerald Kargl, 1983)
This barely seen study of psychopathology may well be the mediums final word on the subject. Those who think a film such as Silence of the Lambs ticks the serial-killer boxes should be warned of this astounding Austrian shocker.
Having been released from prison, we are invited to spend a night with a truly terrifying and different kind of monster, as his compulsion to kill (and therefore achieve a long-time repressed sexual climax) becomes too much and we witness/endure the torment he inflicts on a random family.
There is no glamour to be found here. No preordained set pieces to guide us through. The killers actions clumsy and cold. The minimal soundtrack, lack of on-screen dialogue (the killer's voice-over provides background detail throughout, however), repetitive use of location, and outstanding kinetic camera work, all add up to what is an undoubtedly intense viewing experience. It is to Kargl's credit (and talent) that it never once descends into exploitation.
This goes beyond Henry:Portrait of a Serial Killer, more akin to Zulawski's Possession in as far as presenting mental instability on screen. This portrait will freeze you to the bone.
TAXIDERMIA (dir. György Pálfi, 2006)
This brilliantly twisted triptych of three generations of related men may well be like nothing you have ever seen.
Beginning with a low-ranked officer situated in a rural farmhouse in WWII, who despite being regimented to his cause, struggles to keep his sexual fantasies at bay. When he one day has (seemingly imaginary) rampant sex with the Lieutenants wife on top of butchered swine, she later gives birth to a baby boy with a pigs tail. We then see the boy as a grown adult, an internationally renowned speed-eater no less, and thus the second story unfolds. Circumstances dictate, producing the birth of another baby boy, which in turn leads us into the final act. To give further narrative detail away would be harsh, as there is much amusement to be had here.
Stylistically reminiscent of the work of Jean-Pierre Jeunet (particularly his collaborations with co-director, Marc Caro) and the recent output of Roy Andersson. Yet this is an altogether darker fare. Imagine a more gross-out version of the BBC's League of Gentlemen series. With the themes and messages seeming to highlight societies desire to consume and control (and indeed to control our own urges), this has more in tone with the more subversive offerings of Bunuel, or Pasolini's Salo even (particular in the middle segment).
Frequently hilarious, often stomach churning, Hungarian director György Pálfi has given us a surrealistic pillow to put our heads down upon.
Just don't expect to eat very much immediately afterwards.