*/**** starring Leigh Whannell, Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, Monica Potter screenplay by Leigh Whannell directed by James Wan
by Walter Chaw Pushed along by an inexplicable tide of buzz, James Wan's Saw is flat-out terrible. It features a career-worst performance from Cary Elwes--remarkable given that Elwes had already reached unwatchability in everything from Liar, Liar to Twister to Kiss the Girls to Ella Enchanted. (You can only ride the Princess Bride wave for so long before it falls out from under you in a crash of "it wasn't that great in the first place.") Between its hyperactive direction and hysterical script and performances, Saw locates itself as somewhere south of Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses and, yep, even the much-maligned FearDotCom. The film isn't scary in the slightest, thinking that epileptic camerawork is a canny replacement for actual anxiety, and though there's some John Dickson Carr pleasure in the locked-room conundrum that opens the piece, by the end the film has become something like a wilting hothouse melodrama about the importance of family. Saw is outrageously stupid and, in its heart of hearts, more than a little desperate. Your slip is showing, boys.
Turist ****/**** starring Johannes Bah Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Clara Wttergren, Vincent Wettergren written and directed by Ruben Östlund
by Walter Chaw As so few people saw the magnificent The Loneliest Planet (including a few who actually reviewed it), it's hardly a spoiler to say that Ruben Östlund's Force Majeure is essentially the droller, married version of Julia Loktev's masterpiece of relational/gender dynamics. Set at an exclusive ski resort in the French Alps, the picture follows handsome workaholic Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) and his beautiful wife, Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), as they spend a week with their two adorable children in what should be a winter paradise. On the first day, something terrible happens and, more to the point, Tomas doesn't act or react in the way one would expect of a husband and father, leading to a series of increasingly awkward conversations between not only the couple, but also their friends Matts (Kristofer Hivju) and Matts's much-younger girlfriend, Fanny (Fanni Metelius). The brilliance of Force Majeure is how carefully it builds itself to the "big event" and then, after, how perfectly Östlund captures the way people talk to one another, whether married with children or just starting off. It's a withering essay on masculine roles and ego--one, too, on the parts women play in easing or exacerbating those expectations. It's amazing.
***½/**** Image B+ Sound A- Extras B+ starring Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, Michael Rooker, Gregg Henry written and directed by James Gunn
by Walter Chaw Paying tribute to his Lloyd Kaufman roots with a shot in which The Toxic Avenger is on TV in the background, James Gunn's Slither is more in line with the hipster revisionism of his screenplay for Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead. Postmodernism its point, then, drying up the musty cellars somewhat of the films it riffs on, Slither misses when it does only because it has little resonance beyond the basic Cronenbergian sexual-parasites thing and the shopworn idea that Americans are voracious, disgusting, ignorant swine. (In truth, the one moment that really bugs me is a fairly demented rape sequence (involving more infant-menace than anything in the new The Hills Have Eyes) and its played-for-giggles fallout.) In place of useful sociology, it does for redneck archetypes what Shaun of the Dead did for workaday slobs, poking fun at the thin line between slack-jawed yokels (initiating deer season with a barn-busting hoedown) and beef-craving, slug-brained zombies (recalling that NASCAR now boasts its own brand of meat). The biggest surprise is that Gunn appears to have seen and liked Night of the Creeps, and that, like that film, Slither does what it does without sacrificing too much of its good-natured, self-deprecating sense of humour along the way.
Necronomicon - Geträumte Sünden **/**** Image C+ Sound B- Extras B- starring Janine Reynaud, Jack Taylor, Howard Vernon, Adrian Hoven screenplay by Pier A. Caminnecci directed by Jess Franco
by Alex Jackson Jess Franco's Succubus begins with heroine Lorna (Janine Reynaud) torturing and molesting a man chained to a stake while his similarly bound, bloodied, and partially-nude lover watches. The lover protests, so Lorna tortures her some until she passes out. She then goes to the man and plays with him a bit before skewering him with her ceremonial knife. The lights fade up and an audience applauds. The snuff scene was simulated. It's part of an act Lorna performs at a chic nightclub. This opening is the most eloquent and lucid scene in the film, for it establishes that director Jess Franco no longer has a responsibility to be eloquent and lucid. Succubus is going to be told subjectively through the perspective or Lorna, who is going schizophrenic (or something) and is increasingly unable to distinguish between reality and fantasy. Thus, whatever we see might actually be happening--and then again it might not be. We never really know.
****/**** Image A Sound A- Extras A- starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crothers, Danny Lloyd screenplay by Stanley Kubrick & Diane Johnson, based on the novel by Stephen King directed by Stanley Kubrick
by Alex Jackson SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. The Shining has perhaps dated the most of Stanley Kubrick's films. It's not as stylized as Dr. Strangelove or Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick pictures set in the "present" that nonetheless feel as foreign as those set in the future and distant past. Particularly with the earthy orange-pinks and piss-yellows dominating the Overlook Hotel's lobby in the opening sequence, not to mention the child star's shaggy head of hair, the film has deep roots in the late-Seventies to early-Eighties. However, I'm beginning to think that the aging process itself has provided the necessarily alienating "timeless" quality.
***/**** Image B+ Sound B Extras A+ starring Richard Carlson, Barbara Rush, Charles Drake, Russell Johnson screenplay by Harry Essex, based on the story by Ray Bradbury directed by Jack Arnold
by Walter Chaw The first Universal International science-fiction release, the first motion picture to be shot in 3-D "Nature Vision," and the first genre film to primarily use the theremin in its score (by an unbilled Henry Mancini, Irving Gertz, and Herman Stein), Jack Arnold's It Came From Outer Space is influential in so many ways that it would take twice and again the space allotted for this review to list them all. (A short list includes Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind and his statement to (again unbilled) screenwriter Ray Bradbury that it would not exist without this picture (Dreyfuss's profession in that film pays homage to Russell Johnson's profession in this one); The Abyss and its watery fish-eye point-of-view; and countless "desert" sci-fis, including such recent incarnations as Evolution and the opening sequence of Men In Black.) It Came from Outer Space is a prime example of how nuclear terror and the red scare informed the B-horror films of the Fifties, and that genre movies today would do well to take a few lessons from their predecessors.
Virus */**** Image C+ Sound B Extras B starring Margit Evelyn Newton, Franco Garofalo, Selan Karay, Robert O'Neil screenplay by Claudio Fragasso, J.M. Cunilles directed by Bruno Mattei
Rats - Notte di terrore *½ Image C- Sound B Extras B starring Richard Raymond, Janna Ryann, Alex McBride, Richard Cross screenplay by Claudio Fragasso, Hervé Piccini directed by Bruno Mattei
by Bryant Frazer It's quite possible there is no better-known director of truly terrible genre movies than the late Italian filmmaker Bruno Mattei. Though I've not seen any other Mattei films, I feel comfortable making that assessment based solely on the "blood-soaked double feature" assembled here by the B-movie mavens at Blue Underground. By any rational measure, Hell of the Living Dead and Rats: Night of Terror are cheesy barrel-scrapings, budget-starved and blandly offensive horror counterfeits. But by the standards of Mattei's oeuvre--which also includes nunsploitation, Nazisploitation, women-in-prison flicks, and mondo-style "documentaries"--they are the cream that rises to the top of the milk. Unless you're willing to make a case for his nunsploitation flick The Other Hell, or maybe one of the early Nazi sexploitation pictures, these two films seem to form the cornerstone of Mattei's reputation, such as it is, among genre buffs.
Eliza Graves *½/**** starring Kate Beckinsale, Jim Sturgess, Brendan Gleeson, Michael Caine screenplay by Joe Gangemi, based on a story by Edgar Allan Poe directed by Brad Anderson
by Walter Chaw Brad Anderson has made a few interesting movies that seem to be more interesting to other people. I like Session 9 well enough, The Machinist is fine, Transsiberian's fine; they're all fine. His latest, Stonehearst Asylum, based on a short story by Edgar Allan Poe that's been adapted a couple of times already, is fine, too, I guess. It's the literalization of inmates running the asylum, following young Dr. Newgate (Jim Sturgess) as he travels to the titular nuthatch to begin his tutelage under good Dr. Lamb (Sir Ben Kingsley), who has some pretty unconventional ideas about how the best way to treat psychotics and the like is to not treat them at all. Also, there's a beautiful noblewoman with people-touching-her issues named Eliza (Kate Beckinsale), after whom the European version of this film is still named, which says something about what distributors think audiences will tolerate in our respective markets, methinks.
**/**** Image B Sound B+ Extras B starring Rory Calhoun, Paul Linke, Nancy Parsons, Wolfman Jack screenplay by Robert Jaffe and Steven-Charles Jaffe directed by Kevin Connor
by Bryant Frazer SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. If you give Motel Hell credit for anything, score it full marks for its infamous abattoir-set climax, in which an overalls-clad farmer wearing a grotesque pig mask and wielding a chainsaw battles the local sheriff--also wielding a chainsaw--over the body of a damsel in distress bound to a conveyer belt feeding an industrial meat slicer. Motel Hell wasn't particularly original, even in the annals of American B-movies of the era, and it's not especially scary or creepy--director Kevin Connor doesn't have much of a taste for horror. But he was certainly able to recognize a spectacle. During a long career, Connor directed Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and Mickey Rooney in a fantasy called Arabian Adventure, shot on location in Japan another horror film starring Susan George, and even helmed a TV biopic of Elizabeth Taylor starring Sherilyn Fenn. It's the signature image of Farmer Vincent wearing a hog's head and brandishing a power saw, though, that has followed him through the decades.
***½/**** Image A Sound A Extras B starring Stellan Skarsgård, Sverre Anker Ousdal, Bjørn Floberg, Gisken Armand screenplay by Nicolaj Frobenius & Erik Skjoldbjærg directed by Erik Skjoldbjærg
by Walter Chaw A rather astonishing feature debut, Erik Skjoldbjærg's Insomnia is dour, surreal, nihilistic, and steadfast in its theme of masculine self-reflection. It's as slippery to pin down and single-mindedly purposeful as its protagonist--a procedural only inasmuch as Oedipus Rex is a procedural. It's a work of Expressionism, in other words: its exteriors are projections of its interiors in all their canted, perverse, blighted ugliness. An essential misnomer to call it a "noir," Insomnia in its best moments is an absurdist nightmare that pinions male behaviour as these constant vacillations between violence and frailty. (This choice to discuss the world in terms of gender relationships is likely why it's considered a noir at all.) It's the movie that brought Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård to international prominence via a role that suggested a departure, hot on the heels of Breaking the Waves, though a quick peek at his earliest work (especially Zero Kelvin) hints at the volatility of Insomnia's Det. Engstrom. He's the centre of a dark universe. Setting the film in a place above the Arctic Circle where the sun doesn't set has the interesting effect of lighting Engstrom, as he commits his many black deeds, like a particularly ill patient in a doctor's examining room.
**/**** Image B Sound B Extras A starring Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence, Kenneth Cranham, Imogen Boorman screenplay by Peter Atkins directed by Tony Randel
by Walter Chaw Taking up right where the first film leaves off (and a familiarity with Clive Barker's Hellraiser is probably necessary for its enjoyment), Hellbound: Hellraiser II, which still lists Barker as an executive producer, boasts of a new director (Tony Randel) and a new screenwriter (Peter Atkins, working from an idea by Barker). Although it's pretty good as far as sequels go, owing a great deal of its creepiness to Christopher Young's superlative score (appropriated by Danny Elfman in Batman), Hellraiser II only occasionally captures the dank decomposition of Barker's literary and cinematic sensibility. That it's a disappointment is not a surprise; that it is not as much of a disappointment as one would have every right to expect is an even bigger surprise. While Hellraiser II is not the atmospheric brood-fest that the original is, it is still a horror film admirably reliant on a slate of unusual (and different) ideas.
Die Frau hinter der Wand **½/**** directed by Grzegorz Muskala
THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY ***/**** written and directed by Peter Strickland
by Walter Chaw Grzegorz Muskala's moody, sexy Whispers Behind the Wall updates Matthew Chapman's little-seen but well-remembered Heart of Midnight. Both films are about a young, vulnerable, single person in a new space, discovering Monsters of the Id hiding behind the walls. Where Chapman's film tossed literal apples at a quailing Jennifer Jason Leigh, Muskala introduces vaginal holes in his hero Martin's (Vincent Redetzki) new flat, the better to hide illicit diaries and, ultimately, ease egress into the climax. More, Muskala fills Martin's never-draining bathtub with red sludge, and hides in its drain, in one of several nods to Hitchcock, the key to the whole bloody affair. It seems that Martin, a student who looks just like Ewan McGregor in Shallow Grave, has secured his new, coveted lodgings on the strength of his willingness to allow a creepy caretaker to take a shirtless picture for hot landlady Simone (Katharina Heyer). It also seems former occupant Roger has disappeared, leaving Martin to eavesdrop on Simone banging her insane boyfriend Sebastian (Florian Panzer) before finding himself in Simone's eye, in her clutches, and in her bed.
***/**** Image B+ Sound A- Extras B+ director uncredited
by Alex Jackson My cardinal rule about documentaries: they shouldn't just coast on the gravitas of their subject matter. They have to have some kind of perspective and work on their own terms. With that said, documentaries about movies are a bit of a blind spot for me, as I have a particularly strong difficulty separating my affection for the film and my affection for what it's about. I know that This Film Is Not Yet Rated isn't very good--it's childish and doesn't mount a terribly convincing case against the MPAA. But come on, I could talk for hours about the MPAA if I could find somebody who would want to listen. Cinemania? Yeah, the filmmakers didn't do much more than point and laugh at those guys. God help me, though, I had a little envy for them: I only wish I could theatre-hop in New York City, exclusively watching the films that interest me without worrying about money or having to review them. I could feel that my critical capacities were being tested in these cases, but I survived. However, when you have a documentary that isn't about merely the movies, but about slasher movies specifically--well, shit, any pretense of objectivity on my part has officially gone out the window.
**/**** Image A Sound A- Extras C+ starring Julianna Margulies, Desmond Harrington, Isaiah Washington, Gabriel Byrne screenplay by Mark Hanlon and John Pogue directed by Steve Beck
by Bill ChambersGhost Ship is better than its director Steve Beck's previous film for Robert Zemeckis and Joel Silver's "Dark Castle," the repugnant Thir13en Ghosts--but we're talking incrementally. Somewhere in-between the two pictures, Beck learned that even though the AVID editing machine makes an infinite number of cuts feasible, he shouldn't take that as a dare, and in Ghost Ship, he embraces the démodé in a way that he ironically didn't in Thir13en Ghosts, the one of them that's a remake. Ghost Ship opens with large, dissolving titles drawn in pink cursive script that would be at home in a Fifties movie with Vic Damone on the soundtrack. It's a striking touch (if not entirely appropriate for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre aboard a sinking, possessed ocean liner), and it precedes a dazzling, disgusting prologue wherein the passengers on the deck of the Antonia Graza are slaughtered like so much cattle.