Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door-review

In 1965, teenager Sylvia Likens was tortured and killed by her guardian, Gertrude Baniszewski.  This case led to Jack Ketchum’s 1989 novel “The Girl Next Door” which depicts those events loosely.  In 2007, a horror film adaptation was made based on the book; a strange amalgamation of repressive themes, exploitation, and young romance.

 The movie follows an older man named David who is reminiscing about his life in the 50s.  Two young girls moved next door to him when he was a young boy.  One of the girls is named Meg. They develop a fast friendship. It turns out that both of these girls lost their parents in a car accident and are now living with their Aunt Ruth.  Ruth hates the girls, especially Meg. She finds horrible ways to make the girl’s lives hell, all the while encouraging other kids around the neighborhood to do the same.  What will happen to Meg and her sister if this abuse continues?

 The acting is really what sets this movie apart.  Meg, played by Blythe Auffarth, does an amazing job playing the friendly, yet vulnerable Meg.  On the other end of the spectrum, Blanche Baker plays Aunt Ruth incredibly well and is downright chilling at times.  She is controlling and methodical in just about everything she does.  It’s an almost devious and animalistic performance at times.

 The setting of 1958 is supposed to give it the feel of repression. I guess it’s supposed to make you understand why these boys kept these happenings secret for so long.  I find that a wee harder to swallow.  Some of the things the boys witnessed were things that would warp their minds. I highly doubt they could have kept their mouths shut for long seeing some things that would have made Dr. Mengele giggle.

 The movie falls flat due to so much exploitative violence. Not that the real story wasn’t awful enough, but this was just gratuitous.  I mean how much abuse can a young body take?  It ends with a strange explosion of happenings which is rather unbelievable.  Despite that fail it at least tries to end on a good note which is rare for modern horror movies. 

 “The Girl Next Door” is not a bad film.  The acting is decent and the story is worthwhile.  The only problem is that it’s got an excessive amount of torture gore weighing it down.  It’s worth checking out on Netflix if you are looking for something different.  The movie certainly is creepy knowing the true aspects of the story. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Loved Ones-review

“The Loved Ones” has been described as “Sixteen Candles” meets “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”.  This 2009 Australian movie has won the hearts of many critics with its good acting and humorously dark characters.  However, where it becomes a mixed bag is in the Eli Roth-style torture scenes that serve no purpose.  The movie is like a roller coaster, at times there are high points of originality and fun, then it takes you to into a dizzying low point of exploitation.

 Brent, played by Xavier Samuel, was in a car accident with his father six months ago.  His father died and Brent spends his days smoking grass and cutting himself to alleviate the guilt he feels.  He is asked to the school dance by Lola, played by Robin McLeavy.  He turns her down since he has a girlfriend. Brent then finds himself kidnapped and held prisoner at Lola’s house where he is tortured and forced to become Lola’s date for her private dance in her home. Will Brent escape this insane family?

 The positive side to this movie is that Robin McLeavy is really great at playing Lola.  She can be menacing and adorable at the same time and her interactions with her father are both funny and disturbingly awkward.  You can tell she is having fun with her role.  The interactions with Brent at the dinner table seem like a homage to “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” this time with a disco ball overhead and the insane Lola being crowned queen of the dance by her equally insane father.

 On the other hand, there are scenes of torture that really are too much.  Lola carves a heart on Brent and throws salt on the wound.  They pin him to the ground by hammering knives into his feet. They screw a hole into his head in an attempt to lobotomize him.  At what point is the gore just filler?  Often it comes off as exploitative and it takes you out of the movie. 

 “The Loved Ones” is a mixed bag.  It certainly has good acting and some original concepts that make it enjoyable.  Then there are scenes that are painful to watch.  It’s just not scary to watch another person get tortured. Because it’s a movie, and you know it’s fake, and movie tortures are always so over-the-top, it takes you out of the movie.  It’s worth a rental if you are REALLY into horror.  If exploitation film isn’t your cup of tea then I’d give this one a miss.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre-review

If I could pick one of the horror movies from the 1970 that really changed the way we look at movies today it would be “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” What makes “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” stand out above the rest is that it portrayed itself as a true story and was shot in almost eerie documentary style footage.  The look of the movie is unique and artistic, given the material.  The acting from both the family of psychopaths and young victims is solid.  It brought a new type of urbanoia (a term coined for urban characters coming to rural settings and getting their come-uppance for their transgressions) fear into the audience’s mind that they hadn’t felt since “Deliverance.”

Sally, Franklin, and their three friends load up the mystery machine and drive to rural Texas to find the farm house where they grew up.  They run into a psychotic hitchhiker who attacks them with a razorblade and a goofy BBQ chef who runs a gas station.  Eventually they find their old farm house. Unfortunately, the neighbors are on the homicidal side. A seven foot tall, chainsaw-wielding nutcase is inside and he doesn’t like visitors.  As the poster asks, “Who will survive and what will be left of them?”

The movie is portrayed as if it really occurred.  There are shots of bodies that were dug up and left to rot in the heat.  The footage is haunting and the brief squeaks of violin are quite spine-tingling.  There is an intro text crawl read to us by John Larroquette.  Most of the filming took place in the farm house where the furniture is made of animal bones and feathers.  Considering the limited budget, they had to use every trick in the book to make this as disturbing as they could. The box office rewarded them handsomely for their suffering.

Some actors truly make this movie a marvel.  Marilyn Burns steals the show as Sally.  She shows terror like no one I’ve ever seen on screen before.  The other notables are the family of psychopaths themselves. Gunnar Hansen, as Leatherface, is both terrifying and childlike in his mannerisms.  There is a scene at the dinner table with Sally and the whole family. In this scene she cries and begs for her life as they laugh and mock her. This dinner table scene has been ripped off in so many other movies that it has now become a cliché.

The genius of that scene is that it’s a mockery of the American family.  Leatherface is dressed in drag, so he plays the mother. The BBQ chef is the breadwinner, and he plays the father. The hitchhiker is the rebel teen, and even the elderly Grandfather is part of the insanity.  They all have murderous, cannibalistic tendencies, but they can still sit as a family and eat dinner despite their dysfunction.  There is a method to the madness of this movie. 

This movie will make you feel like a rural setting is where you will meet a rusty and bloody end. This feeling is odd since this movie did not have a lot of gore. The few deaths you actually see are really tame by modern horror standards.  It’s not nearly as exploitative as folks imagine by the title.

“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is a really great movie. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should. It’s a classic of the genre.  It showed that it was more than a lumbering idiot man-child with a penchant for the chainsaw.  It was also a mockery of the 1970s American family. Tobe Hooper clearly knew a thing about satire since even the sequel movie poster for “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II” is a spoof of “The Breakfast Club.”  It’s a slice of horror Americana.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Dark Shadows-review

“Dark Shadows” is a reimagining of the gothic soap opera from 1966-1971.  Tim Burton gives us his version of the Collins family with lots of humor and dark wit.     The acting is decent and the movie has the artistic charms that Tim Burton is well known for, however, it has a couple large flaws that weaken it drastically.

Barnabus Collins arrives in Maine and is unfortunate enough to have a witch fall in love with him.  She curses his family and his loved ones turning him into a vampire.  After spending roughly 200 years buried alive, Barnabus is freed and is now a fish out of water in 1972 Collinsport.  Can he get his family to accept him and remove this curse that has plagued the Collins family for so long?

The look of the show has always had a unique charm, and the movie is no exception.  Tim Burton has really focused on the colors and appearance of Collinswood to make it a memorable atmosphere.  The soundtrack is really memorable as well.  The makeup and costume only add to this fact.  The only problem is that on occasion, the movie seems to hammer the audience that it is the 70s.

The acting is pretty decent, however, two actors are really the standouts in my opinion.  Johnny Depp seems to be having fun.  The script is a full of unique anachronistic dialog.  In addition, Michelle Pfeiffer does a good job as Elizabeth Collins.  It’s a tough role to fill and she does it with the grace this role deserves.

There are three huge flaws to this movie that weigh it down in a big way.  The first is that Helena Bonham Carter’s part is absolutely useless.  She adds nothing to the movie and it feels like she got the part because Tim Burton wanted to give his wife a job.  The second is that the love story is not very well developed.  Sadly, the love story gets a fairly minimal amount of the screen time.  Perhaps if they cut Bonham Carter they could have added to give the love story a fuller part.  Finally, the climax is really disappointing. Had the movie spent more time building up to it, the climax would have been stronger.

As a whole, “Dark Shadows” is a pretty decent movie.  I don’t think it is really worth paying for a theater trip though.  It’s really more of a rental movie or at the very least a matinee, if you were a fan of the show.  It’s a fun movie that seems like it could have used another run through a script edit.    Otherwise, it’s a nice taste of dark humor.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Human Centipede 2-review

Dutch writer/director/producer Tom Six hit gold when he came up with the first “Human Centipede.” It was a gross movie with a fun over-the-top mad scientist and that made a ton of money.  It certainly wasn’t a great movie by any rights but it was a decent and original enough horror movie that will be remembered for years to come.  Tom Six claimed that he wanted to make the original look like “My Little Pony” compared to the sequel. What we get was one of the most exploitative movies outside of Hershell Gordon Lewis movie.

The story is about Martin Lomax, an obese, asthmatic, tollbooth attendant in his 40s who is obsessed with the film “The Human Centipede.”  He lives with a lot of abuse and he starts taking it out on people around him.  He begins collecting folks to make into a huge human centipede just like in the movie he idolizes. Will he succeed? What will he do if and when his mad experiment is complete?

There are a lot of things wrong with this movie. For one thing the protagonist is also the antagonist and he is a wretched creature.  At times the writer seems like he wants you to feel sorry for Martin. Why? He does horrible things to people. He is a disgusting man and there is no way to look at this character with no redeeming qualities as someone you can relate to or care if he succeeds. 

The violence in this movie is way over the top.  I can take a lot when it comes to violence, but they did it for no other reason than to shock the audience which makes it just another exploitation movie. Baby stomping, tongue pulling, teeth yanking, severing tendons, and that is the TAME stuff they show.   Even the ending is a huge middle finger which makes the movie a total waste of time.   They even decided to go black and white for the photography of the real world.  Why? Ninety percent of the movie is filmed in a dank warehouse.

I can’t help thinking that the way people will think about “The Human Centipede 2” will be like how people thought of “The Blair Witch Project 2: Book of Shadows.”  An instance where they had a movie that did really well with a couple sequels lined up, but shot themselves in the foot trying to do something else meta and different.  There are so much anger and bitter emotions wrapped up in the violence of this movie.  It’s a movie that gives you a hollow feeling to sit through, and it’s nowhere near the worst thing out there. 

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Avengers-review

It wasn’t until recently that I had heard of a movie like this. The Avengers takes the plot threads and characters from essentially four different films and combines them to make one big blockbuster.  The care of Joss Whedon’s script and careful direction, make this movie a great way to start the ride of summer blockbusters for 2012.

The Avengers team, comprised of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Hulk, Black Widow and Hawk Eye, band together to stop the otherworldly, Loki.  His plans are to take over the world by unleashing an army of bizarre space creatures onto planet earth and extend his iron-will over humanity.  Only by working together can the team of heroes find hope to defeat such a menace.

The characters are written with the same care as the movies that preceded them.  Captain America, played by Chris Evans, is still a kind-hearted, star-spangled, knight in shining armor.  Iron Man, played by Robert Downey Jr., is still a hilarious smart ass.  They all have fallen into their familiar roles very well.  I particularly liked Mark Ruffalo’s newer take on Bruce Banner.  He plays the role more frightened and vulnerable then Eric Bana or Edward Norton did. His take on the role reminded me a lot of the late Bill Bixby on “The Hulk” television shows.

The script is top notch.  There are fist-slamming moments of action intercut with wit and humor, which make a long movie seem to go by rather quickly.   Loki is a hilariously haughty villain.  It makes for some dynamic pieces of dialogue between him and the other characters, many of which are not used to such a bizarre yet powerful entity. 

There is no way that you have to watch ALL the movies that came first, which I thought was smart.  This movie gives you a taste of each character’s back-story, and allows you to piece it together yourself.  It showed a lot of care, and for a summer superhero movie, that sometimes is a tall order. 

The movie is a ton of fun.  I recommend staying until after the credits to see the extra footage.  I would definitely say you should go see this movie.  If you are at all a fan of any of the Marvel comics’ movies that make up the Avengers, you will enjoy this movie as an unofficial sequel. Otherwise, you’ll enjoy the fresh action and humor of “The Avengers”.