The Visit

hack-fraud filmmaker shames literally everyone, including self


Oh dear, oh dear, oh dearie me. I wanted a horror film, and for my sins, they gave me one. Of course, in this case the word “horror” has to carry almost tangible sarcastic connotations. The horror genre doesn’t need defending, obviously—but to call this unmitigated piece of shit a horror film is nothing but a cruel charade. Still, you can’t say it’s off message though: it’s certainly psychologically and emotionally painful for the audience to sit through.

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Insidious: Chapter 3

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I’ve gone on the record as saying that Insidious is probably one of my favorite horror movies of the last decade. Sure, it doesn’t really have that much to compete with, but still. Sadly, Insidious 2 shat all over the success of the original in a misguided attempt to wring a few more dollars out of the property. So, here’s Insidious: Chapter 3 to complete the process and turn the franchise into another Final Destination or Friday the 13th or whatever.

Horror icon James Wan steps away from the director’s chair for this entry in the series to be replaced by his long-time writing partner Leigh Whannell. Wan and Whannell have been collaborating for years, and their combined efforts have yielded some modern-day horror paragons like the Saw and Insidious series. However, as I said way back in my Insidious 2 review, the story was well and truly over even after the first film and just continuing to tack on more installments was just blatantly unnecessary.

The first Insidious is a bit of an odd duck for me, because while it really doesn’t do anything new or advance the genre to any great degree, it executes its tight, self contained story so well and with such undeniable style that I didn’t really care. There was such a constant atmosphere of oppression and hopelessness, temped with a beautifully slow-boil kind of tension that built to an emotionally harrowing climax.

While Insidious 2 let itself down on pretty much every one of those points, Insidious 3 at least maintains that methodically building tension, but really missteps when it comes to paying it off. The highlight of the experience for me came around the midpoint when our protagonist, Quinn, lies in her bed with two broken legs, immobile and incapable of defending herself. The monster of the hour appears in a nerve-wracking sequence, and essentially begins toying with Quinn, throwing her out of bed and slowly, methodically moving around the room, closing the curtains, shutting her laptop, and really eliciting the kind of psychological torment that we don’t see enough of these days. I was kind of stunned; the Insidious 3 cash-grab was the last place I expected to find such a beautifully crafted and genuinely frightening sequence. That’s horror, my friends: being absolutely alone and defenseless against something that hates you and is determined to gradually wear away your resolve until you’re little more than a quietly weeping mess. It is not, however, a super-powered granny using a Dragon Ball Z super stomp attack during the film’s climax.

Yes, things really fall apart at the end as the film kicks any notion of a tense and emotionally satisfying climax in the head. You were doing so well, Insidious 3! It turns out that all that tense, atmospheric intrigue that had been building up is pretty much thrown out the window in the final act, in favor of Lin Shaye’s Elise Rainer running around a slightly dark maze and performing the super-stomp on the bad guy at the end. That ain’t my Insidious, I can tell you that.

The recurring “comedy” characters in the series, Tucker and Specks, played by Angus Sampson and Whannell, respectively, also make an appearance, but I find their necessary inclusion kind of misguided. Whenever these jokers show up, the tension automatically dissolves because it’s hard to maintain the proper tone with Laurel and Hardy bumbling around. As far as the plot is concerned, their presence is hardly necessary and it seems like they were just included because that’s what the first Insidious did.

Look, either be a horror film, or be a comedy. When you try to be both at the same time, you end up with a movie that so schizophrenic in tone that it ought to be in a straight jacket. I can appreciate the desire to include some moments of levity to juxtapose with the horror so that the really dark moments are more emotionally impactful, but horror and comedy are such opposites that a major tonal shift half way through the movie is going to undermine everything you’ve been working for up until that point.

Insidious: Chapter 3 is marred right off the bat by being an unnecessary sequel, but if you can manage to look past that, it’s competently paced and builds up to a frightening moment or two around the midpoint. After that though, it’s all down hill. The atmosphere and tension whither away into nothing when Jake and Elwood show up, leaving the film to potter around for another hour before winding up with the incredibly disappointing granny super moves. If you look closely, you can see glimpses of the original winning formula, but the original vision has been exploited for coin twice now, so it’s not entirely surprising that the idea well is running dry.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

 

Poltergeist

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Between this new Poltergeist remake and the upcoming Jurassic World, I guess 2015 is the year we collectively set aside to lavish Steven Spielberg with tongue baths. I mean, I’m glad we can all agree that Spielberg is a great director, but is there such a drought of new ideas that we have to go about recycling like this? Of course not! It’s just that if it doesn’t carry enough name recognition to make a guaranteed return on investment during opening weekend, then the cynical, ponderous Hollywood mechanism wants nothing to do with it. So then we get soulless, transparent cash-grabs like this.

From a critical standpoint, the film shot itself in the foot from the word “go” by having the temerity to call itself Poltergeist, necessarily inviting comparisons to Spielberg’s original film from 1982—a far superior movie, incidentally; but you didn’t need me to tell you that, did you? For those of you out of the loop, the original Poltergeist was a surprisingly intelligent little supernatural horror flick with an undercurrent of satire aimed at the shallow, superficial suburban decadence that consumed the American middle class in the 1980s, and perhaps still does today. Vitally, that theme was an essential element of the plot, whereas in the new Poltergeist, the “blind consumerism” angle is replaced, in a rather conciliatory way, with an “over-reliance on technology” angle, and even this half-hearted nod to the original is quickly dropped when the writer can’t think of anywhere to go with it.

And speaking of writing, the one responsible for this floundering, go-nowhere knockoff is none other than David Lindsay-Abaire. “Who?” you might ask. Well, he’s the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2007 for his play Rabbit Hole, since you’re so curious. I’m told that it’s actually pretty famous as plays go, but that being said, it’s baffling how tepid and all-around bland this screenplay is, considering the acclaim of the author’s previous work. Not even Sam Rockwell, who really hasn’t had a bad performance to date, can save the script from being just generally drab and uninspired.

My main problem with the film is that it’s so overwhelmingly safe. It takes no risks and pushes no boundaries; you know, exactly what you shouldn’t do if you plan on remaking a beloved staple of the horror genre. That new Evil Dead that came out a few years ago—also produced by Sam Raimi, incidentally—was at least something that took a few chances, regardless of it’s overall quality. But what we have here is basically the same points as the first Poltergeist with vastly worse execution. No anthropomorphic trees, no dead-body swimming pool hijinks, no apparitions, no “gotcha” twist ending because the pacing was all wrong, no classic Speilbergian face-melting, and perhaps most importantly, no Tangina Barrons (or equivalent).

While we’re drawing parallels between the two films, allow me to draw another. Remember that little old lady in Poltergeist who came to “cleanse” the house? The lady with the high, squeaky voice and a face like an English bulldog’s? Well, what if I told you that the eccentric medium in question, Tangina Barrons, was basically Spielberg’s answer to Lucas’s Yoda; that is, a physically small and frail being possessed of immense spiritual power. Needless to say, that whole genre-subverting element is lost when you cast someone like Jared Harris in her place.

Likewise, the decision to show the interior of the iconic dead-world wasn’t one that should be taken lightly, as the decision to avoid showing it in the original film and simply portraying it a mysterious, cloying blackness afforded it a certain mystique. While the imagery they decided to go with in the remake is admittedly quite striking—a horde of bodies crawling over each other in a scrambling mass—but to immediately put pay to any good will the film may have built up, they decided to do it in fake-looking CG that comes across as more laughably low-budget that frightening.

Not helping matters at all is the fact that literally every single one of the film’s even remotely scares were given away in the trailer. See, I was always under the impression that a trailer was intended to set the tone of the film, maybe get the audience exited to meet the characters or intrigue them with a unique setting—not, as it’s apparently done nowadays, to serve as a substitute for the film itself.

Frankly, I don’t have much more to say about this disappointing mess of a film. On the bright side, it’s relatively short, so you won’t have to endure it for too long, and “endure” really is the right word. The film does nothing to set itself apart from the veritable stampede of similar “baby’s first horror movies” that get released periodically throughout the year. It’s disappointing because even with a metaphorical cheat sheet—the first Poltergeist movie—Abaire and director Gil Kenan seem to have decided to tackle a remake without a thorough understanding of what made it a good movie in the first place. Ah, but what’s artistic integrity when there’s the movie-going public to fleece, right?

Rating: 2 out of 5

 

Disturbo 13: Eraserhead

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

Although writer-director David Lynch has gained a considerable reputation in recent years due to such projects as Blue Velvet and the television series Twin Peaks, his first feature film will forever be his most twisted. Shown originally mostly in art houses and at film festivals, Eraserhead is so unfailingly creepy that no one can completely forget it. The movie is structured with the logic of a nightmare, its characters are abnormal people who consume meals that may or may not be still alive, and its protagonists are the parents of a grotesque little baby that is definitely not human. At ninety minutes in length, the movie nevertheless seems to go on forever for anyone trying to anticipate what’s going to happen next, any why.

Shot is stark black-and-white, the movie shows Lynch at his most outrageous, as unsettling image after unsettling image unspools across the screen like the loosening bandages of a critical accident victim. Cineteratologist Richard Meyers has called it “a live action Monty Python animation made in Hell.” Whatever Eraserhead may be, it can be truly considered one of those films that forever changes your perception of “reality.” At the very least, you get the incomparable sensation of being awake in the center of a truly disturbing, bad, bad dream.

Disturbo 13: Combat Shock

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Part 12 of 13, excerpted from an essay entitled “Disturbo 13: The Most Disturbing Horror Films Ever Made” by Stanley Wiater.

An extremely personal, overwhelmingly depressing, low-budget film written, produced, and directed by New Yorker Buddy Giovinazzo. Originally American Nightmares, it was retitled and reportedly toned down by the notorious exploitation film company Troma, so as to secure and R rating and a videocassette release. Even “toned down,” the movie is still one of the most uncompromisingly bleak examinations of a person’s dead-end existence ever made. (In a critique, Chas Balun states that the movie has been “thrown out of over fifty film festivals.”)

Combat Shock is the tragic story of a wasted Vietnam veteran, living in abject poverty in the Bronx with his wife and baby. Every day is a battle to stay alive; every night is a battle to retain what’s left of his steadily eroding sanity. If this weren’t bad enough, the couple’s baby is not quite human (can you say Eraserhead?), having been genetically damaged by the aftereffects of Agent Orange brought home by Dad as an added legacy of lifelong despair.

The film is so painful because the filmmakers make absolutely no pretense to soothe us with even a moment of happiness for anyone in the story. Every pitiful character is shown to be hopeless, knowing only drugs and violence and suffering. Incredibly, the man’s situation gets even worse—finally concluding with an extended murder-suicide bloodbath after putting the baby into the oven and turning it on high. Nearly unbearable in its raw intensity, Combat Shock makes the violence and nihilism of Taxi Driver seem like a Walt Disney production.

Disturbo 13: Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS

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Part 11 of 13, excerpted from an essay entitled “Disturbo 13: The Most Disturbing Horror Films Ever Made” by Stanley Wiater.

Not the first motion picture to exploit the sadism of the Nazis during World War II, and certainly not the last, what is so disturbing about Ilsa is that it has become a cult classic. What the attraction may be of a beautiful female commandant (played with gleeful relish by Dyanne Thorne) in a camp where only female prisoners are endlessly tortured as part of ghastly “scientific experiments” is certainly open to question. Just the idea of using torture as a form of entertainment is reprehensible enough, but when one realizes that all the tortures depicted in the movie may have actually occurred in the concentration camps, the mind if not the stomach certainly reels. (Add to this the report that the film was shot on the standing set of the television series Hogan’s Heroes, and the stomach reels as well.)

There isn’t a single likable character in the movie—and when Ilsa isn’t whipping some naked prisoner, she is shown as a nymphomaniac fucking a different man every night. And any man who doesn’t satisfy her insatiable sexual desires is summarily tied down on the operating table and castrated the next morning. Fortunately—if that is the right word—the acting a direction are so over the top that Ilsa can perhaps be thought of as “camp”—a Nazi version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Amazingly enough, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS is only the first in a series, each movie placing the immortal Ilsa in a different time period and section of the globe. For those who need to know: Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks, Ilsa, Tigress of Siberia, and Ilsa, Wicked Warden. (Originally titled Wanda, the Wicked Warden and later transmogrified into an official Ilsa movie.) Like the first film, each is filled to vomiting with well-staged scenes of sexual perversion and torture to titillate the fancies of any true sadist.

Disturbo 13: Nekromantik

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Part 10 of 13, excerpted from an essay entitled “Disturbo 13: The Most Disturbing Horror Films Ever Made” by Stanley Wiater.

This German film by Jorg Buttgereit may well qualify as one of the most repulsive movies ever made. The basic plot is enough to turn away all but the most jaded: a young ambulance driver named Rob brings home unclaimed accident victims to show off to his wife. At first he simply collects pieces of the bodies in glass jars.Later on, the couple try to bring some joy back into their listless love life by going to bed with a recently discover corpse. Since the penis has long since rotted away, they trim off a broom handle, slip a condom over it, and stick it into the groin of the corpse. Then it’s a sweaty ménage a mort.

For some strange reason, his wife leaves him, and Rob unsuccessfully attempts to find sexual release with other women. When he can’t, he’s forced to murder his lovers before he can become sufficiently aroused to conclude the act. Finally, suicide seems like a sensible turn-on when all else fails.

Nekromantik is such a black hole of nihilism that if it weren’t for the second-rate special makeup effects, it would be all but impossible to sit through.