Archive for April, 2010

The Hills Have Eyes II (2007)

by on Apr.23, 2010, under Daily Review

Hot on the heals of Aja’s amazing re-imagining of the Wes Craven classic, Martin Weisz knocks out an obvious, uninspired sequel. Using all the same mistakes that most sequels make, the film flows well, looks quite nice and has quite a lot of gore, but it’s bloody boring.

Set a few years after the first. A team of scientists are working in the New Mexico desert. Its not long before they fall victim to the desert mutants. The Marines are called in to investigate. Not just any Marries, these are half trained squadies, stereotypical in character and team design. One by one, they are crushed by monstrous hand or swinging pickaxe. The story takes the Marines underground, into the mining lair deep under the hills in the desert and attempts to build an Aliens style feeling, failing at the first hurdle, that being characters, and script which are obvious and drab. I must say, even the gore was so predictable.

It’s so easy to take the approach, ‘Lets send in the military’ when making a sequel and very few succeed with this plan. Here, it does not work, although it’s not the lack of unoriginality, it’s the execution and poor direction of actors who struggle with a bland script and characters which have been created with zero emotion and essence. ‘You play the smart marine, you play the idiot, you the hunk, you the greedy one;’ it’s Snow white all over again. That’s not to say Weisz is a bad director, its just a matter of time before he learns how to direct actors whilst shooting a great looking film and also not to compromise on a poor, obvious script. A final note would be regarding the ending being exactly the same as part 1’s! Ridiculous.

Watch with beer, popcorn and a pizza and it’ll be a great night in, but don’t expect a true sequel to what Aja rebuilt.

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The Hills Have Eyes (2006)

by on Apr.22, 2010, under Daily Review

I have a real soft spot for this film, as it brings back some cool memories of the outdoor cinema in Dubrovnik where I first saw this gorefest.

This is as close as it gets to the perfect remake. It’s a re-envisioning of Craven’s ’77 classic, which takes the basics and works on the back story to build a complete picture. Wes Craven produces with a perfect choice of director, Alexandre Aja, who works his magic here creating visionary eye candy with glorious colourful nightmares for the mind.

A vacationing family take a field trip across the New Mexico desert only to take a wrong path, one which leads them into a deadly trap as they stumble upon a town of crazy, wild, mutated, savages living in a ‘50’s nuclear test town. A torturous bloodbath follows.

The cast here are perfectly hand picked. It would have been easy to re-jig the plot and have a bunch of beautiful college friends out in the desert, a basic selling point for the film market as everyone loves beautiful people being massacred in terrific ways. Here, we stick far closer to the original with a fine balance of every-day-looking actors collected as the family. Aaron Stanford, Dan Byrd and Emilie De Ravin are outstanding here, carrying a variety of emotions throughout the film which adds real depth of character. The film is gruesome and horrific, mentally and physically with Greg Nicotero excelling himself here in the effects department; some of the best I have ever seen.

But, it’s Aja’s vision and artistic eye that makes this film the success it is. Glorious looking with a stunning aggressive pace which rockets along, dipping only to offer some creepy moments of suspense. This is edge of your chair stuff which offers no mercy. Expect to be shocked, expect to experience the terrifying ride of your life.

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Deadly Friend

by on Apr.21, 2010, under Daily Review

Another odd event this. Deadly Friend is of a time and place and if you are willing to go back there, its quite a good place to be. Films are not really made like this any more.  For the most part, it’s a situation teen drama, with some comedy and quirkiness, but there are some dark undercurrents, reinforced with some very good performances.

New kid on the block, Paul (Matthew Laborteaux), is a compute and bionic wiz. He has a pet robot and teaches brain surgery at college. Not bad for a young lad who should have still been at school. After a brief romance with the cute chick from next door, she’s attacked by her crazy abusive father and ends up brain-dead. Paul steps in, to turn Samantha (Kristy Swanson) into an android with deadly results.

I think Wes Craven was looking at moving into a more mainstream market after his early success in the horror genre, he probably struggled to find funding in a time when ‘Horror’ was not really the popular. As always, Craven looks for a new direction to experiment with cross genre fields with a young cast, once again, Swanson takes the favourable lead female, girl next door role which Craven champions. Swanson is a great choice from the John Hughes stable; she later took the lead as the original Buffy in the movie (prior to Sarah Michelle Gellar). Its great to see Craven working as always with a cast of semi unknowns and getting great results. Swanson and Laborteaux carry the film with brilliant performances, supported with some great veteran actors: Richard Marcus and Anne Ramsey. The film is a success for what it is, as I say, it’s from a time and place which needs to be respected. The film also carries with it some great dream sequences (or should I say, Nightmare sequences as many are terrifying) and many scenes which look dreamy, obviously something working subliminal for later creative input.

When the gore comes, it’s pretty damn impressive too. The famous basketball scene is the highlight, which stands up against Scanners in its execution.

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by on Apr.20, 2010, under Daily Review

No more Mr Nice Guy!

I hadn’t seen this film since it’s release back in ’89 and my memories were not good. It’s a good job I’ve revisited it as it’s far better than I remember. Made on a shoe string budget, unknown cast, Craven attempts to recreate the magic and success he conjured with Elm Street and although the film has some strange plot direction it works and actually stands up better after 20 years than it’s more successful sister movie, Elm Street.

So the plot involves a crazy cable, TV repair man, Horace Pinker (Mitch Pileggi) who has a savage hobby, massacring young women. Jonathan Parker (Peter Berg) is the local jock, on the football team, who seems to have everything. Beautiful girlfriend, (Camille Cooper) nice house, even a cool waterbed (super 80’s) but in his mind, he’s disturbed by crazy visions of Pinker murdering folks. He can contact the psycho in his dreams and act and contact, but soon wakes up. It’s all a bit odd. So Pinker gets caught, preys to the got of cable shouting ‘Give it to me’. TV demon says ‘You got it baby!’ After the electric chair, Pinker survives, escapes and has the power of electric and other weirdness, including possession of other people.

I know, it sounds nuts, but it’s actually enjoyable. It looks and feels like a real ‘80’s TV film, but it’s vicious in dialogue and some nasty gore sequences. Craven films in a solid style with dream themes dropped in all over the place so the viewer is unsure what’s real and what’s not. But it’s the credence of Craven which propels this affair which could have easily fell flat.

Pileggi is the start of this film. Is performance is stunning and although he’s had a steady career mainly in US TV, he’s never had anything as meaty to get his teeth into since this role. Legendary. I’d like to say the same about Peter Berg who’s mainly lame throughout, interesting though, if this role went to Johnny Depp, (Who started in Elm Street) how different the film could have turned out.

It’s a crazy and fantastical horror flick, which can provoke some negativity, but stick with it and take it at face value as to what it is. It’s pretty damn good.

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Deadly Blessing

by on Apr.19, 2010, under Daily Review

An interesting film this, which showcases Wes Craven’s talents. He’d already had success with Hills Have Eyes and Last House but this is something different taking his style in a new direction, one which has been present with him throughout his 40 year career.

The story involves some shenanigans with a religious community, Amish types by the name Hittites who are convinced of a demon in the camp taking the form of a female. The son of the order is murdered, suspicion falls on his wife who invites two friends from the outside world to visit and console her in her time of grief. Bodies start stacking up with murder by a black gloved hand. The plot also, based loosely on ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ by Lorraine Hansberry.

This has some really inspiring set sequences, later used in the Elm Street and Scream franchise. Female lead role, here played by Maren Jenson taking on a whole community with people either not taking her serious or ignoring the truth, who takes on the villain single handed which shows up in many forms. Chickens, demons, knife attacks, gun toting, spiders and snakes. It’s a real mixed bag of murder and intrigue. There are dream scenes which are stunningly good. One with a young Sharon Stone, held by hands around the head as she is forced to choke on a spider is dramatic stuff, beautifully filmed. Another scene has a bath sequence, later used in Elm Street, frame for frame.

Notable performances from a great cast include Susan Buckner, Ernest Borgnine and Michael Berryman. Sharon Stone shows some real promise. Maren Jenson is perfect in the lead, a fine talent. This is a great film, cheap on production, big on imagination and ambition. Odd ending though.

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The Last House on the Left (1972)

by on Apr.18, 2010, under Daily Review

This is a shocking film, even by today’s standards. (I still cannot believe this can be bought in ASDA, how can it not still be on the DPP list?) It’s harsh and brutal in cinematic style, content and delivery. Hideous even. So why would you actually want to watch this and why is it respected throughout the cinematic world, as one of Wes Craven’s finest moments? I’ll try to explain.

The plot involves two girls, heading into town for a night on the tiles. The parents are concerned letting their daughter lose on her 17th birthday and they’ve got every reason to be. There are a lot of weirdoes out there. It’s 1972, and America has gone through some changes. Summer of Love is over and a darker feeling has filled the country with a sinking feeling, the rise of murder, killings and abuse, and the search for the American Dream. So we have four dropouts, looking for fun and fighting against the system. Mari and Phyllis (Sandra Cassell and Lucy Grantham) fall into the wrong company and things start to go terribly wrong.

The psychos, Krug, Weasel, Sadie and Junior (David Hess, Fred Lincoln, Jeramie Rain and Marc Sheffler) are a nasty bunch, creating a realm of terror through humiliation, depravity and violence, but this is carried through dramatic performances, realistic, shocking and horrific which is one of the films strengths. It’s a film of characters, good and bad, but brutally real and at the time, this would have been ground breaking stuff.

Further strengths are the cinematography. Beautiful framed scenes, some which depict shocking images. The moment on the lake as Mari takes a gun shot to the shoulder is stunningly well filmed and edited with perfect music. The score is also a winner here. A mixture of American folk, Hillbilly and Psychodelia works well with the subject matter. Incidentally, the music was composed by the amazing David Hess, famous mainly for his brutal crazy character in this film, and also Deodato’s ‘House on the Edge of the Park’. He also wrote Speedy Gonzales. But it’s interesting, as within all of this extremity, aggressive characters creating highly disturbing viewing, we find ourselves watching the parents, and this is why this film works so well. The films aim is to focus the viewer on the uncomfortable situation that John and Estelle (Gaylord St.James and Cynthia Carr) find themselves in, dealing with unprofessional Police, the emotion of a missing daughter and later, facing the threat in the cold light of day and dealing with a revenge situation. This is their film and the performances are perfect.

There is also an odd balance here between the comic, quirky characters of the Sheriff and his Deputy, something of Russ Meyer feeling here, especially with the scenes with them hitching a lift. It’s a perfect balance against the brutality of the rest of the film. Lastly, let me point out the groundbreaking use of the chainsaw. This is two years prior to Chainsaw Massacre and what an impact it has on this film. Also, on that point, would that make this film the first in its class, paving the way for Chainsaw, Hills etc?

Brutal, harsh, ground breaking and totally mesmerising with charm. This is Craven’s masterpiece.

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The Last House on the Left (2009)

by on Apr.17, 2010, under Daily Review

This, in my opinion, is a strange film to remake. It’s a difficult task, not only to live up to the original, but also to deal with the complex balance of making a revenge film, which in the essence, holds some truly vicious rape and torture scenes; to do this and aim at a mainstream cinema audience. Tricky or impossible?

Lets start with the basics. Two teenage girls end up in a motel room with four crazy criminals. Wrong place at the wrong time. Things turn bad. Real bad. After some nastiness in the woods, a storm forces the criminals to find shelter in a nearby holiay lodge, unknown to them, the residents are non-other than the parents of one of the girls they’ve just abused. Its not long before all becomes clear and revenge is on the cards for the parents.

Director Dennis Iliadis took the basics and dissected every scene, reassembling with a fine recreation of the original from ’72. Events and characters are fleshed out to create a rounded bigger picture with background and history for all involved. Its shot in a nice exciting glossy way with some glorious depth of field used, especially during scenes in the motel room and forest. The actors are all pretty good too with no real stars here, Spencer Treat Clark (as Justin, Krug’s son) and Martha MacIsaac (Paige) standing out in lesser roles really. Although, the plot has changed subtly here, Iliadis has created quite a good film here, but as I mentioned earlier, the entertainment value in revenge films is difficult when faced with rape and torture and semi realistic characters in a semi realist environment.

The criminal characters here though are quite flat and stereotype, which is a major flaw in the film. Justin is the only one with any real essence and it’s this, which really differentiates from the original. Even comparing them to the bad guys from the likes of ‘Devil’s Rejects’ or ‘Dusk ‘til Dawn’ films which show how villains can be hideous yet have real character, here, this is lacking.

A final point. No chainsaw?! Disappointing, but the use of a fire extinguisher was fun and a microwave oven of all things added some freshness to the story.

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