bloodsucking-freaks-movie-poster-1975-1020198973

Part 4 of 13, excerpted from an essay entitled “Disturbo 13: The Most Disturbing Horror Films Ever Made” by Stanley Wiater.

This was reportedly first released as The Incredible Torture Show—a far more apt title to describe this truly sick film’s entire reason for existence. Produced, written, and directed by New York auteur Joel Reed, this very low-budget production tries to excuse its nauseating excess by purporting to be the blackest of black comedies. Unfortunately, the amoral filmmakers seem to be enjoying themselves far too much for Bloodsucking Freaks to be anything more than a sadist’s red wet dream.

Clearly inspired by the early gore films of Herschell Gordon Lewis, the film has a mad magician named “Sardu” running a Grand Guignol theater off-off Broadway. The theater is a cover so Sardu and company can torture and then slay their unfortunate victims. Not too surprisingly, the victims consist almost entirely of young, naked, attractive females.

When not actually killing women, Sardu passes the time by using their bodies as human dart boards, serving tables, and urinals. Every scene is meant, of course, merely as a huge joke. Check the laughs in this scene: A demented dentist friend of Sardu’s first pulls out a woman’s teeth with a pair of pliers, then drills a hole into the woman’s skull. Inserting a straw into her brain, he begins to suck the woman’s brains out. Get the joke? Reportedly produced by people usually involved in hard-core pornography, and it shows. Bloodsucking Freaks is that rare film that is completely without redeeming value: it’s not even “bad” enough to qualify as offensive camp.

annabelle


It’s finally October, the spookiest month of the year, and I am so freaking excited. The leaves are changing, Movie Bob is doing his annual “Schlocktober” series over at The Escapist, and this year’s horror movies are about to hit cinemas everywhere in an unassailable tide. This week’s Annabelle is kicking things off, though unfortunately not with a bang but with a whimper.

The film comes to us from cinematographer cum director John R. Leonetti and is indented to be a prequel to James Wan’s 2013 horror hit The Conjuring. Leonetti, having been Wan’s associate and cinematographer on nearly all of his films to date, takes a crack at a directorial role while Wan himself fills the position of executive producer. Wan, perhaps the hottest name in the horror genre right now, has certainly shared many of his techniques and approaches with Leonetti, and as such, Wan’s signature style and tone are omnipresent. As anyone who has followed Wan’s career with any attention can tell you, his approach is nothing is not formulaic, but, on the other hand, I suppose there isn’t much sense in fixing what isn’t broken.

Annabelle Wallis stars opposite Ward Horton as Mia and John Gordon, respectively; and, to be fair, to do a fairly decent job with the rag of a script that they had to work with. In keeping with the status quo of The Conjuring, Annabelle portrays the struggles of white, middle-class suburbanites, caught up in some freaky paranormal nonsense, as they are eventually aided by an a good samaritan who eventually helps banish the offending entity. It’s like a damn mad lib with these guys, honestly. You could basically run a search-and-replace program and substitute the names of the characters from Insidious or The Conjuring and get essentially the same, yet inferior, film. But why is that, exactly? Well, let me break it down.

The traditional problem with these generic, cash-in horror flicks (and a cash-it, this certainly is) is that the film startles, but doesn’t ever horrify, which, as one might assume, is kind of a crucial aspect to the whole ‘horror movie’ thing. There are jump scares abound, but that’s kind of all there is. I can point to maybe a single scene in which the audience is made to feel any kind of dread or anxiety, and even that tiny sequence takes way too long to build to, considering how small a payoff it actually is. Annabelle really strikes me as a kind of “baby’s first horror movie” and ultimately leaves the audience unsatisfied and angry at being metaphorically blue-balled for an hour and a half.

I find myself being pretty disappointed in Annabelle (although I can’t imagine why I let my expectations get so high in the first place) because I think there’s some really fertile ground to be tilled with the whole “Warren Files” mythos that The Conjuring had established. Indeed, I hope they keep delving into that cornucopia of possibilities, but, my God, they’ve got to quit phoning it in like this.

So, Annabelle turned out to be a bit of a dud, despite the fact that it made its money back about ten times over already, but that doesn’t mean we should give up the search for the year’s next great horror movie. We’ve still got The Green Inferno coming up in a bit, as well as Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead; but then again, we also had Devil’s Due earlier, so what do I know?

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

i-spit-on-your-grave-poster-1978

Part 3 of 13, excerpted from an essay entitled “Disturbo 13: The Most Disturbing Horror Films Ever Made” by Stanley Wiater.

Originally released—and forgotten—as Day of the Woman, this very low-budget revenge film received instant cult notoriety when critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert lambasted it on their nationally syndicated television show. Why? Written and directed by Israeli filmmaker Meir Zarchi, who shot it somewhere in rural New York, I Spit on Your Grave contains perhaps the most prolonged and graphic scenes of rape ever filmed. The plot is incredibly simple and direct: a young woman (Camille Keaton) rents a cabin out in the country. Alone, she is set upon and then brutally and repeatedly raped by four men. That’s the entire first half of the movie: scenes of this woman being raped and beaten and sodomized by four different men—one of them portrayed as a pathetic mental defective.

The second half of the movie is devoted to showing how this resourceful young woman takes the law into her own hands and fatally dispatches each of her attackers in the most lurid and cruel manner possible. When the last one is dead, the movie just ends.

Some critics have defended this unrelentingly cruel film as a feminist revenge fantasy in the sense that the victim gives her attackers just what they deserved, and then some. However, the fact that the protagonist is a very attractive woman who doesn’t hesitate to use her physical attributes to “seduce” the men into compromising positions before attacking them certainly muddies the moral waters. It is one ideal to make a brutal film condemning rape, it is another to portray the four rapists as exhibiting “acceptable” behavior toward women so that a female can later use her sexuality to “naturally” destroy the male.

Whatever I Spit on Your Grave is trying to say about rape, about the only conclusion that can be reached from viewing it is that both sexes are thoroughly violated and debased. It’s the kind of slimy cinematic experience that makes you want to take a long shower after its final, blood-drenched climax.

the-drop-movie-poster-12

This week in cinemas creates an interesting “point-counterpoint” type of situation between A Walk Among the Tombstones starring Liam Neeson, and The Drop, featuring Tom Hardy; these two films, both ostensibly crime dramas and starring well known actors, offset one another in narrative quality. As we’ll explore, the places where Tombstones falls flat are the same places in which The Drop succeeds—and then some.

The film is directed by Michaël R. Roskam, whose only other feature film was the Belgian drama Bullhead (2011) and is written by novelist Dennis Lehane. As the man behind the novelizations of Gone, Baby, Gone and Shutter Island (adapted by Scorsese in 2010), Lehane’s screenplay was inspired by one of his short stories entitled “Animal Rescue.” It’s abundantly clear that Roskam and Lehane make a great team, as Roskam’s careful, deliberate style of filmmaking lends gravity to and emphasizes Lehane’s beautifully paced, character-driven story.

Speaking of characters, the film’s central protagonist, Bob Saginowski, was masterfully brought to life by Tom Hardy, whose understated yet quietly intense performance reminded me, in the best of ways, of Ryan Gosling’s portrayal of the unnamed protagonist in Drive (2011). Continuing this positive trend, the chemistry between Hardy’s Bob and love interest Nadia, played by Noomi Rapace, felt amazingly natural and compelling; more importantly, however, the relationship between the two was vital in a narrative sense (as opposed to being strong-armed in, which we tend to see a lot of in Hollywood) as it provided context for the actions of the antagonist, expertly played by Matthias Schoenaerts, making him appear all the more dangerous and unpredictable. The Drop also features the final performance of the late James Gandolfini, who plays Cousin Marv, an ex loan shark with strong ties to the local organized crime syndicate. As expected, Gandolfini proves to be a perfect fit for the role, and gives a performance that I like to think he would be proud of.

No stranger to the crime drama genre, Dennis Lehane shows considerable restraint by omitting much physical violence—that is, until the final, bloody climax. Instead, the story progresses via the implication of violence and veiled threats as the protagonist is beset on all sides by forces which threaten to decimate the quiet, fragile life that he has created for himself. Throughout the film, the audience discovers that Bob, trapped in the center of an unstable and violent world, might be infinitely more complex than we might have first imagined.

One of the only real criticisms I can level at the film is that there’s an intrigue established early on concerning an ongoing investigation by a Detective Torres (John Ortiz). Presumably, the intent was to create a little more pressure to the event’s of the film and to add a sort of ticking-clock element to the proceedings. While it works well at the beginning and helps to establish the characters and events to a certain extent, it doesn’t really end up going anywhere by the end. I do think it’s a nice touch though, because the police investigation, which is external to the immediate events of the film, lends a bit of perspective and gives the impression that there’s a larger world outside of Cousin Marv’s bar and its denizens.

The Drop, in my opinion is one of the best crime dramas around and easily one of the best films of the year so far. Granted, it’s only just now the beginning of October, but before all the Oscar-bait starts hitting the screen, Roskam’s sophomore effort is, without a doubt, a very fun time at the movies.

Rating: 4 out of 5

MenBehindtheSun_ver1

Part 2 of 13, excerpted from an essay entitled “Disturbo 13: The Most Disturbing Horror Films Ever Made” by Stanley Wiater.

A very obscure Chinese film—the English credits list only the director (T. F. Mous) and the producer (Fu Chi): no other actors or technical credits are given. The title is also questionable, as the subtitles indicate the literal translation from Chinese would be Manchu 731 Squadron. Whatever the title, this is an incredibly grim film, one which purports to tell the true story of the 731 Squadron, a group of Japanese scientists experimenting with biological warfare in occupied China at the very end of World War II.

Just as the Nazi scientists used concentration-camp victims for their hideous experimental efforts to see how much punishment a human body could take and still survive, the scientists of 731 Squadron are shown using the imprisoned natives of Manchu province as their guinea pigs. This is the core of the plot—the vivid demonstrations of these various experiments in human endurance. The handsomely produced film is presented very much like a documentary. Watching this movie is very much like being taken on a guided tour of a factory designed to create hell on earth.

In one unbearable scene, a young boy (the only character the filmmakers have allowed us to develop any sympathy for) in injected with a biological plague. While still alive—to see how fast the plague travels through his body—the young boy is next taken to the operating room. There, a group of jovial doctors literally cut him into pieces and put his organs into assorted glass jars. The camera never once moves away from the sight of the scalpels shredding the flash as the strangers’ hands dip inside and cold-bloodedly remove the boy’s living organs.

How much of the story is historically accurate, I honestly don’t know, but the idea that any studio (for this is a major production, not a low-budget exploitation flick) would want to remind us of these unspeakable horrors is something almost beyond imagining.

tusk_xlg


At a conceptual level, Tusk sounds like it might fit snugly into the expansive subgenre of schlocky horror flicks that occasionally hit it big and garner a dedicated cult following, not unlike the relatively recent Sharknado, or the now infamous Troll 2. In practice, however, director Kevin Smith’s vision doesn’t quite make the memetic leap that might have otherwise catapulted it to “ironic pop-icon” status.

Smith, continuing to ride off the success his ultra low-budget comedy Clerks (1994), originally came up with the concept for Tusk during an episode of his personal podcast, and thought it might be a fun idea to see if he could stretch that spore of an idea into a feature length film. Also responsible for the writing and editing of the film, Tusk is nothing if not an auteur production. It’s strange, but under normal circumstances I might applaud auteurism like this, as it tends to ensure creativity and a rejection of the generic, committee-designed sludge that we see a lot of nowadays. In the case of Tusk though, I find my mind making unconscious connections to George Lucas and the Star Wars prequels, which, as we well know, is never a good situation to be in. As was the case with Lucas, it’s sometimes dangerous when individuals with such a massive degree of creative control are never told “no.”

The film stars Jake Long essentially playing himself, which I suppose he’s pretty good at, and Michael Parks, who’s been around for a good long while now, but whom most might recall from mainly cameo roles in assorted Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, and Kevin Smith movies. As in Smith’s 2011 pseudo-thriller Red State, Parks, for what it’s worth, really does know how to invoke his creepy, deranged side when he needs to. Tusk also features a cameo appearance by Johnny Depp, hamming it up as usual, as the eccentric, off-kilter ex cop Guy Lapointe; and yeah, it’s kind of an act that we’ve seen from Depp before, but that’s what he does now, I guess, and in retrospect I don’t know what I was thinking going into it and expecting anything else.

The fundamental problem with Tusk is that it’s trying desperately hard to be in on the joke; that is, the longer we spend in the the film’s universe, the more things begin to feel unreal and preposterous, but in a calculate, deliberate way. It’s almost as if the film is elbow-nudging the viewer every few minutes going “ha ha, oh man, isn’t this quirky? Aren’t you having fun?” If you refer back to those comparisons I drew earlier, you’ll notice that those films play their concept demonstrably straight and with a brazen lack of ironic eye rolling.

Tusk markets itself as a horror-comedy, but in a more practical sense, all notions of horror are kicked in the head by the end of the first act. Instead, the film focuses on the exploits of the protagonist’s two friends as they try to track him down after he seemingly disappears around Manitoba, Canada. Ostensibly, the film tries to establish some kind of race-against-time scenario, but upon finally tracking down their friend, there’s absolutely nothing for them to do when they get there, thus demolishing any sense of agency that the film had established.

Realistically, the rough horror framework of Tusk is just an excuse for Smith to hang the trappings of his trademark referential humor, which might have been a bit funny if Family Guy or any of its derivatives had never existed. That being said, I’m inclined to be a little generous to Tusk because of its admittedly original concept which continued to kick around in my mind after i left the theater, as opposed to being immediately forgotten. It’s not much of a tag line, but I can decidedly say this much: Tusk—It’s better than Atlas Shrugged!

Rating: 3 out of 5

atlas-shrugged-part-3-pstr01

As a self-proclaimed critic, I have seen many films is my life. Some have been good, most have been terrible, but let me be clear—Atlas Shrugged: Who is John Galt? might well be one of the worst movies that I’ve seen in my life. Say what you will about Ayn Rand’s works, but at least things happened in them. Doomsday machines, bloodthirsty pirates, shootouts, pain, love, and desperation all appear in Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, and it many ways it’s a uniquely American epic that can still be read and enjoyed today. The same, however, cannot be said for the film series, which has failed so spectacularly in the past few years that I can’t help but feel a little sad when I think of what could have been.

Directed by the incredibly obscure J. James Manera (whose body of work consists of a 2010 documentary an a single episode of Nash Bridges) the film, despite it’s massively influential literary and philosophical heritage, is really the brain-child of a single, delusional CEO named John Aglialoro, who spent almost two decades trying to persuade various studios to finance his dream project. Ultimately, Aglialoro, with the help of producer Harmon Kaslow, launched a Kickstarter to help fund the production. Though it seems like the film was stuck in development hell for nigh on twenty years, at least this much is clear: not a single individual involved in the production of this picture had the ghost of a clue what they were doing.

Let’s begin with the screenplay, which was penned by John Aglialoro himself, whom I know for a certainty has never written anything before in his life, Kaslow, who’s a lawyer by trade, and Manera, who, I can only assume underwent a lobotomy prior to joining the production. The writing in this film is so abortively bad, so mind-numbingly awful, that my face turned crimson within the first two minutes of the film from second-hand embarrassment alone. After seeing the film, I was left wondering how lacking in self-awareness one would have to be in order to look at the word-vomit that was the script, and think “yeah, this is a good idea.” Naturally, the writing also belies a fundamental misunderstanding of the core aspects of Rand’s philosophy, known as Objectivism, and instead focuses on the minuscule portion of it which seems to be popular with right-wing media pundits like Ron Paul, Glenn Beck, and Sean Hannity, all of whom have cameo appearances in the film. On a bit of a personal note, I always think it’s a bit ironic how some aspects of Rand’s philosophy are so popular with the “God and Guns” crowd, when Rand herself was a vehement atheist who abhorred the use of preemptive violence.

So, yes, the writing is shit, but that’s just one aspect of this many-faceted train wreck. I speak no hyperbole when I say that the film is tortuously boring to sit through, mainly because it tends to skimp out on the whole “visual” aspect of this visual medium. There’s a hell of a lot of telling without showing—which never bodes well, of course—but in this instance, almost every single scene in the film consisted of cringeworthy dialogue between two or more people while either standing in a room, sitting in a room, or driving in a car. It was ridiculous! This is supposed to be Film 101! Don’t just shovel exposition into our screaming, upturned faces, weave it into that narrative and show us how the characters interact and react with the world around them. Now, here’s the real punchline: the film is pathetically drawn out to achieve an artificially lengthened runtime, but the director chooses to do this via some truly awkward and out of place montages that end as abruptly and as awkwardly as they begin while very loudly and busily moving the plot absolutely nowhere. One in particular—which I found more laughable than the others, personally—consisted of perhaps one of the most awkward sex scenes ever put to film, with the possible exception of Tommy Wisseau obliviously pounding away in The Room.

And it gets worse. About two-thirds into the film, I noticed a significant decrease in production value—such as it was to begin with—which makes me think that the already paltry budget turned out to be surprisingly smaller that previously thought. It’s hard to put into words, but if you imagine one of the earliest Dr. Who episodes, when sets and monsters where just about made out of cardboard and glue, you might have a rough approximation of what the film began to look like. Strangely, the sudden qualitative drop off in this already bargain basement production made things begin to feel a bit surreal, almost as if they were playing the entire final act for laughs. Now, while I wouldn’t put it past someone like Charlie Kaufman (or equivalent) to pull something like that, such a supposition would be giving far to much credit to Aglialoro and Co.

As I mentioned before, if you haven’t read Atlas Shrugged, you might consider giving it a shot, bloated and ham-fisted as some parts may be. But do your self a favor and stay far, far away from any of the cinematic adaptations.

Rating: 0.5 out of 5

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,286 other followers