Sunday, March 30, 2014

Necromentia: NecroDon't Watch It

I saw Necromentia on a list that someone had written of newer disturbing movies, and I was interested from the preview that I watched. I added it immediately to my Netflix queue and was sad that, upon watching it, I was once again reminded that almost any movie can have a very interesting 30-second cut made from it. Honestly, that's pretty much all this movie was. Close to 2 minutes of entertainment, an hour and 15 minutes of nonsensical filler. I was really not impressed by this movie, but I felt I should give it a full review anyway. So here goes.

Necromentia is an intertwining tale of three different people who are being connected to the afterlife for different reasons, with an overseeing omniscient presence named Mr. Skinny navigating between all of their stories. Hagen is a man who is attempting to revive his dead "wife", and who spends his days alternating between working at a barbershop and tending to her dead corpse. And by tending, I mean sometimes having sex with. Travis is a sexual sadist by trade, and a drug-addicted caretaker of his younger physically and mentally handicapped brother in his down time. His brother has disappeared after murdering his babysitter, so Travis is trying to find his way through the underworld to bring his brother back. Morbius is out for revenge, attempting to bring himself back to our world to wreak havoc on those who have wronged him. Mr. Skinny... well, Mr. Skinny is a freaky looking dude that really seems to have no other purpose in the movie than to be freaky.

This is Mr. Skinny. Note the pig mask.
Travis has learned that by tattooing a Ouija board into someone's back, he can open the gates of hell, so with the guidance from his biker-looking pal, he enlists Hagen in this service. They drug him under the pretenses of being able to reclaim his love from the underworld, and tattoo a large Ouija board on his back. They are then able to move to Hell, and meet a freaky looking dude in a gas mask, and another that looks like something from Resident Evil.

Pictured here: The unexplained but fairly cool monster from Necromentia's file of good ideas. Note: this was pretty much the only one.
At this point in the review, its really hard to develop too much more page space to plot, because, to be honest, there wasn't a whole lot more to discuss. There were a lot of jump cuts back and forth in time, and it was very amateurishly acted and directed. The writing wasn't great, and it seemed like a fairly good idea that was pretty poorly executed. Look, I've got nothing against amateur and independent filmmakers. I think its great for the industry and the genre. It's truly where we're going to be getting the Peter Jacksons, the Wes Cravens, the John Carpenters of the future. I just don't think that Pearry Reginald Teo, the director of this steaming pile of Clive Barker ripoff, has any of those accolades or comparisons in his future.

One of the quotes on the movie poster for this was something to the effect of "a mixture of Hellraiser and Saw, but better than both!" or some such nonsense. Sorry, that's not correct. That must've been a paid review. This movie was crap. It meandered through its story like a lost little kid, leaving some decent monster effects in its wake of shit. The sad thing is, it comes SO close in some respects. It's got a decent plot, but poorly executed. It's got some great and fairly scary creature effects, but wasted them on limited screen time and nonsensical explanations. The premise is interesting, but doesn't hold your interest. Overall... not worth a rental.

That being said, one scene that definitely needs to be seen is the Mr. Skinny Show. THAT part of the movie was, I thought, very well done, and genuinely creepy.
 


 
The movie is 1 hour, 22 minutes long, and this YouTube clip is 1 minute, 9 seconds long. It shows the only creepy part in the entire movie. That's something like 1% of the movie. Them ain't good odds. This particular scene doesn't really seem like it belongs in the movie, nor does the extended scene with the gasmask guy near the end. Maybe you enjoy watching a movie for over an hour and getting around two minutes of enjoyment, but I don't. I'd rather... I dunno, watch baseball or something.
 
Bottom Line: Check out the YouTube clip, skip the rest. If the director is reading this, do yourself a favor: change your name, and use this clip in another movie where its least expected. It's decently effective, it doesn't belong in this waste of time.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

I Stand Alone: A Work Of (Disturbing) Art

I recently watched Gaspar Noe's Seul Contre Tous, or I Stand Alone, and I gotta say, for once I managed to catch a flick worth the hype. The movie was about an unnamed horsemeat butcher known simply as "The Butcher", who served a prison stint for almost killing a man who had tried to take advantage of his daughter. He was released from prison, his daughter was put in a home, and he tries to start a new life, without his daughter, upon release. Prior to this, in a very quick montage that summarizes the man's life up to now, we also learn that he harbors secret sexual desire for his daughter. As the movie really gets started, we have learned all we need to know about The Butcher: that he is a sexually repressed, lonely, fucked up human being. Unfortunately for him, as his release from prison coincides with a terrible downturn in the economy, he is left dependent on a rich mistress that allowed him to work in her shop. This is where things start to take a turn for the worse for our antihero.
The Butcher: Philippe Nahon in  a brilliant performance.
His mistress is pregnant, so they decide to move together from the city to the suburbs, where she will give him some of her fortune to open his own butcher shop. However, as he finds what he believes to be the perfect shop, his mistress puts her foot down, telling him its too expensive. This leads him to feel that he's being controlled, and leads to a particularly vitriolic view of his new woman. As things progress, and he feels more and more bitter towards her, he eventually views her as the enemy, culminating in him beating her in the stomach and inducing the miscarriage of their child. He discovers that his mistress keeps a gun in their apartment, and he takes it and runs away, knowing that this act of violence will lead him back to prison. The last act of the movie is his subsequent return to the city, where he tries and fails to set himself up with a new life, discovering that all of his friends from his old life either can't or outright refuse to help him, further fueling his despair, desperation, and loneliness.

The Butcher, seen here on the far right... not alone, interestingly enough.

Much of the dialogue of this film is made up of the internal ramblings of The Butcher, and we are led down the rabbit hole of madness and anger that develops his character throughout the movie. He is clearly disturbed, and is full of anger and blame for everyone he comes into contact with. It is here that our character development really leads to how I personally view The Butcher. I think that he is a narcissistic, nihilistic, prick that doesn't take any responsibility for his actions. He blames everyone else for his own mistakes, and truly seems to believe that there's nothing wrong with his actions because they serve him, and he deserves it. He seems to be a true sociopath, only concerned with his wellbeing, and seems to lead himself to believe that what suits his wellbeing will also suit that of others around him, especially those he cares about. There is no better example of this than the way he treats his daughter. He has abandoned her for many years, and, as his life is reaching its ultimate depression, he decides that everything will be better if he "rescues" her from the institution that she is being kept in and takes her home to fulfill all of his desires, allowing both of them to happen, and fuck the world if they don't like it. Obviously, this is a terrible decision, but the film ends before we ever see him have to be held culpable for anything he does during the movie.

Gross.
Gaspar Noe is, quite frankly, a genius. Now, don't get me wrong: he's absolutely a pretentious director. It's clear in the art of his movies that he thinks much more highly of his work than even his fans do. Here's the interesting thing about those who are described as avant garde: If you describe yourself as avant garde, you are incredibly pretentious and egocentric. If someone else describes you as avant garde... well, that's pretty much one of the best compliments you can ever receive as a director. It means you're artsy, but that your art has meaning. And honestly, I believe that Gaspar Noe is avant garde at its best. He is artsy while still meaningful and, most importantly, watchable, and I Stand Alone is a perfect example of that.

This film, with its subtexts of pedophilia, incest, and murder/suicide (a brilliant sequence near the end of the film that is preceded by an actual on-screen warning with a countdown to leave the theater if you're easily offended), truly disturbed me.

Like this: Pretty cool, and one of the first of its type I've ever seen.
I'm not disturbed easily, as my movie choices on this blog attest, but this film did it. The ending is so nihilistic, while at the same time being so hopeful about all the wrong things. He finally sees a bright future for himself, yet he, out of all of the other characters in this movie, is the least deserving of any future of all. He is the hero, yet the antihero. Noe allowed us the look inside a madman, and we are left supposing to feel pity for him. The only thing that was left unclear to me was the direction that Noe was leading my emotions: was I supposed to pity the Butcher? Or was I supposed to be disgusted? Or both? I guess I was left feeling a little of both. I definitely was disgusted by his attitude and his actions, but I suppose that anyone who truly feels that way, who truly feels that nihilistic, that alone, should be pitied.

Bottom line: This movie is brilliant, and will leave you with a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach. Absolutely worth a watch for anyone who can stand subtitles, and unless you speak French you'll need them. As good as his other masterpiece, Irreversible in my not so humble opinion.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Butcher: A Unique Take On Torture

Sometimes, even if a movie isn't good, it can be innovative enough that its worth it. Whether its worth watching, or worth making, sometimes its just worth it. That's the best way I can think to describe The Butcher. This little known flick from South Korea was definitely a unique take on the torture porn genre, largely because of its use of helmet cams to give a first person view of the action. In fact, quite a lot of the movie is seen from these cams, giving us a peek inside what its like to be a torture porn victim.

The movie is about a director who makes movies for "an audience" that is apparently full of sickos. His movies largely feature the rape and torture of random people by a weird freak in a pig mask, which appears to be just a pigs head sewn into a mask. Now, a pig mask is not something I would ever think of. I don't particularly find pigs scary, but it seems like everyone and their brother are making their horror baddies into pig-masked weirdos nowadays. And, apparently, there really is something scary about a dude in a pig mask.

This guy.
The crazy pig man (or CPM, as he will heretofore be known) was really the only scary thing about this movie. So apparently the pig mask works, I guess? I dunno, I'd go with clowns, personally. Much scarier to many more people. Maybe its just the outright weirdness of a guy in a pig mask. I dunno, I'm kinda going off on a tangent here, but an interesting one nonetheless. Perhaps I'll do a clown vs. pig poll later or something.

This movie used something called cinéma-vérité, a new style of film that most people equate to found footage. Literally cinema-truth, it is, essentially, footage that is shown from a real-life perspective, or something that is experienced without the presence of a director to guide the footage. Now, obviously, there generally is a director, but its meant to make it feel as if there's not one. One interesting thing about this film is that, while it used this technique, there was a director, who was intentionally using this technique to produce his movies. Kinda meta, I suppose.

There were some decently extreme moments in this movie, as any movie that contains anal rape by a pig monster tends to do. One scene that I found fairly disturbing was a scene in which the director tells the man that he's torturing that if he can last for something like two minutes without giving up, he will let the girl that he is also torturing, who happens to be the first man's wife, go free. The victim agrees, and can't last after the aforementioned rape. Then, in a twist of fate, he is allowed to be freed after he comes up with a new and unique way for his significant other to be tortured that they have yet to film. He runs away, all viewed through his helmet cam, and then, of course, the torturers and CPM come after him. He ends up escaping when the director's assistant blows his ass up with a homemade gun (there's more to this in the movie, but its not really interesting outside of the token comic relief), and he actually makes it to the road, where he kills a random man who may or may not be part of the snuff ring. He then takes a car and drives off, leaving CPM to dance around in a field with his chainsaw, a la Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The inspiration for that was pretty clear to anyone who's seen both, as its almost shot for shot at that point.

This movie was... eh, interesting, innovative, but fairly boring. A lot of the things that the torturers do is seen off-screen, so that kinda takes away from the gore factor. But the helmet cam thing was pretty cool, although allowed for less gore than you'd usually see from these types of films. Obviously you can't helmet-cam film what's happening to yourself, so we really only see it first person view. But, again, I really think that the innovation in this was worth it being made. I'm not aware of any other film that has done this with the camera. Innovation will, eventually, lead to someone doing it right, even if this wasn't it. And that, my friends, is a good thing no matter how you look at it.

Bottom line: Worth a watch if you're a cinéma-vérité fan, and worth a watch if you like innovation in your movies. Not worth a watch if you don't like poorly done innovation, or only watch these movies for the gore. You'll be disappointed. True cinema fans will probably enjoy it, true horror movie fans probably won't.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Awakening/Aftermath/Genesis: The Silent Nacho Cerda Trilogy

Aftermath is another film I had heard a ton about. I had always heard it as Aftermath/Genesis, and it wasn't until I got my disc in the mail from Netflix that I became aware that there was a third movie on the disc, the opening short "The Awakening." These three shorts were released together, and while they span a period of 8 years, they're quite ambitious for the beginning of a directorial career. That being said, there is a vast difference between the style of The Awakening and Aftermath. As such, I'd really like to split these into three separate reviews. So here goes.

The Awakening was Ignacio "Nacho" Cerda's debut short, and its certainly a rough cut. It's the same quality as a student film, but it really was quite entertaining. The production value was certainly limited, but the story was there, and, being a silent film, the dialogue was not the struggle that it can be for young and inexperienced directors. The story is about a teenager who awakes from a nap in class to discover that the entire world around him is frozen in time. He wanders around the classroom, and eventually realizes, as things start back up again, that he actually died during class. What was really interesting about this short to me was that I had literally never heard of it when I watched it. I was aware of the other two films, although admittedly very little about the third in the lineup, but I didn't even know this film existed. And to be honest, for an opening film, it wasn't half bad. I mean, it wasn't amazing. It's really hard to hit amazing in like 8 minutes, but it was really well done for what it was. Entertaining, and the perfect length for the idea, Cerda definitely did a great job for a first outing.

Aftermath, the second film in the self-contained trilogy, was also eye-opening. It follows the story of a morgue worker who is, lets say, a little too involved in his work. The movie opens as he and a fellow worker are performing autopsies on two corpses, and Cerda makes the film sufficiently gory for their job. He moves on to a woman who clearly strikes his fancy, and as he takes her apart piece by piece, removing most of her innards in the process, he gets aroused and does his business with the corpse. He sets a camera on the table to record his indiscretion, and when he's done, he sews her back up and takes her heart back to his house to feed to his dog. It's simple, straightforward, and pretty disturbing. And, again, all without saying a word. Gotta say, Cerda is either really good at his use of sound without dialogue, or he just can't write for shit. Either way, Aftermath is pretty effective. The coroner, who did a wonderful job of being as skeezy and creepy as possible, was fantastic in being a believable necrophiliac. It was pretty disturbing conceptually, but it was also very realistically gory. You could've actually been watching an autopsy, and you could've actually been watching the dude have sex with the corpse. It occurs to me as I write that that if you are just a standard horror movie viewer, and you don't go out of your way to watch the sickest and most disturbing movies you can, that I sound pretty fucked up. But I promise, it really is good! It's a wonderfully shot movie, concise in time and plot, and very well done for, again, a second effort. Cerda's limited catalogue is kinda sad, as he's clearly a pretty effective filmmaker at this point.

The third and final film in the trilogy is Genesis, and is, quite frankly, the most beautiful and well-done of the three. It had the feel of an Oscar-nominated short film, and while not as famous as its younger brother Aftermath, was quite possibly the best of the three. The story revolves around a sculptor who loses his wife in a car accident, and his love for her leads him to make the most realistic sculptures possible, and he eventually sacrifices his life as he transforms into a sculpture, breathing life into his statue, which becomes a physical manifestation of his wife. The anguish that the man feels is tangible, and you can see the sorrow that he feels as his statue begins to crumble away, not knowing that it is actually coming to life. The actor, Pep Tosar, who portrayed a complete reversal of his previous role as the sicko who molested the dead girl in Aftermath, did a stellar job of bringing the antagonist through the death and rebirth of his wife, as well as his subsequent evolution into a statue. The score, a soft classical movement, matches perfectly the flow of the short, and at 30 minutes, its easily digested even though the pacing is fairly slow. Masterful work, and I again am left lamenting that Cerda has yet to really advance his filmography. It's a shame, and I'd really love to see more from him.

I've always been a huge fan of Stephen King, but for my money, nothing speaks to me and interests me as much as his short story collections. Short, easily read in a sitting, and never too wordy or involved, they were the perfect way to experience King's genius without being undone by his immense word count. These movies, to me, fit the same mold. I watched all three back to back, and it totaled roughly 1 hour and 8 minutes of footage, as the first movie clocked in at 8 minutes and the second two at 30 minutes apiece. I was surprised that I enjoyed these as much as I did for how basic they were, and I was shocked that they were as genuinely well done as they were. I've seen a lot of short films from budding directors, and I have rarely been as impressed as I was by this impressive trilogy. I feel like its a must-see for gore hounds, and I believe that it appeals to non-hardcore viewers as well.

Bottom line: Nacho Cerda is the short silent type. And he's really good at it. Check it out if you ever get the chance, and I think you'll come away from it with a desire to see more from him and Spanish filmmakers in general.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A History Lesson: Men Behind The Sun

I'm a huge history buff, and I absolutely love the interesting things that your teachers never taught you in school. History is full of fascinating facts and stories, interesting anecdotes that never seem to fit into the standard curriculum in most schools. Maybe if you were really lucky, and managed to get a true student of history for a teacher, then maybe you got to learn some really cool stuff. If not, then you've probably had to do what I've done and find your own way to learn about our past. For many, Men Behind the Sun was an introduction to the atrocities committed by the Japanese during World War II.

One of the things that I found most interesting about the concept of this movie is that, quite frankly, most people don't seem to focus on the Japanese side of things during the Second World War. We hear, obviously, about the Holocaust, or Germany's invasion of Poland, or about Stalin's murder of millions in Russia. Almost everyone has heard of the terrible and inhuman experiments performed by Josef Mengele's group of scientists and soldiers in Europe. Hell, in Salo, the first film I reviewed on this site, we were given a look behind the curtain of the fascist movement in Italy during that time period. The actions of Japan's Unit 731, however, get little to no acknowledgment as one of the most horrific war crimes in history. This is, in large part, because there were never any charges pursued against them, and most of their work remained a secret to the general public.

Men Behind the Sun showed us a graphic and dramatized version of atrocities committed by Unit 731, the Japanese research team dedicated to studying biological and germ warfare. Their experiments ranged from exploding grenades at varying distances from their captives to study the damage done to their bodies, to the vivisection of living subjects to study diseases and the effects they held on the body. Another scene showed a woman and her daughter, who were tied to a chair in a room that was flooded with poisonous gas. The most famous scene involved a temperature test, where a woman was forced to have her hands frozen, standing outside in the snow as buckets of freezing water were poured onto them. Once her hands were sufficiently frost-bitten, she was brought inside the laboratory and had her hands stuck in boiling water. Then, the lead doctor pulled all of the skin off of her arms, revealing her bones. Another involved a man being subjected to a decompression chamber, which forced his intestines out of his body. All of this was explicitly shown, and, supposedly, based on actual experiments performed by the real-life Unit 731.

The movie's plot revolved around a group of Japanese teenagers who were brought into Unit 731. They were forced to take part in the experiments, and were trained by the doctors and soldiers to view the captives as "maruto", or logs. This is a real practice that was used by Unit 731 to dehumanize their subjects and allow the soldiers involved to feel a lack of remorse. The cover for the facilities they operated in was a lumber mill, so by calling their subjects "maruto", they could kill two birds with one stone, achieving the aforementioned dehumanization, as well as making it easier to hide their true intentions in official documents. The extent to which even the young boys buy into this line of thinking is fairly disturbing, and is also clearly fairly effective.

This film was interesting because it was a cross between a disturbing exploitation flick and a historical documentary. It was clearly a re-enactment, so it wasn't along the lines of Faces of Death, which had portrayed itself as real (and some of it was). That being said, while it was interesting, it was also a little boring. It was fairly well acted, at least for the type of movie it was, but it really didn't hold my interest. For a movie that showed everything from baby murder to a "real" scene of a cat being eaten alive by ravenous rats, that's truly saying something. But it really was kinda boring. It moved along at a kind of boring and monotonous pace, and I found myself reading more about the movie online than actually watching it. I made it through the whole thing, but more because I wanted to honestly say I had seen it than for any other reason.

At the end of the movie, the camp is destroyed to erase all evidence of its experiments. After the fact, though, we learn that the lead doctor, who had at one point advocated for the mass suicide of all involved to protect the camp's secrets, had given all of his notes to the United States in exchange for immunity to prosecution for war crimes. This ultimate act of hypocrisy led to his continued service in the Japanese military, where he used a lot of what he had learned to continue to wreak havoc on the war front. It also led to a lot of what we know about the extents of human endurance, as did the work of Dr. Mengele. While there is nothing that is worth the human lives and suffering that these experiments cost, one can argue that the invaluable information that we have learned could not have been documented any other way. Who knows the countless advances in medicine and warfare that have come to pass because of these horrible experiments. While we certainly want to learn our lessons from history (lest we be doomed to repeat it and whatnot), how far are we really willing to go to advance human learning?

Bottom Line: Must watch, but don't expect to be enthralled. Rather boring storyline, but important.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Grotesque: Aptly Named

I watched Grotesque a few weeks ago, adding it to my Netflix queue after seeing it mentioned on many lists as the "King of Torture Porn." I was intrigued, especially since from the reviews I read it seemed devoid of plot, dedicated solely to being a gross-out flick. On my quest to find the most disturbing movie ever, viewing Grotesque seemed to be a natural course of action. For those who said that it was solely about the gore with little to no plot, they were generally right. There was very little plot. A doctor who is not easily sexually excited gets off on the hope that others have as he tortures them. Aaaaand that's pretty much it. Alright. I'm sure I've seen worse. And if the gore really was as good as people said, then it could still be a worthwhile flick.

 I gotta say, I was pretty disappointed. It seemed kind of run of the mill to me. It wasn't terrible, and it definitely had some decent scenes, but it also seemed really forced to me. There's a scene near the beginning of the movie that showed the couple the doctor abducts out on their first date, and the lady turns to the man and asked him if he would die for her.

Is this a normal thing to ask on a first date? Have I been doing it wrong all these years? Who the fuck would ask someone else if they would die for them on a first date? See, if this had been any other movie, her bizarre line of questioning would've resulted in a black widow scenario, where the creepy-ass girl takes the man home and kills him(which would've been WAY cooler). Nope, not this time. The mad doctor abducts them, and uses his affirmative answer against them. Oh yeah, by the way: the guy says yeah, he would totally die for this chick. What the hell is that? Is that a pickup line in Japan? Yeah baby, I'd totally die for you. I just didn't feel like it fit the movie at all, and was just a bizarre and extremely convenient line the writers (if there were any) threw in there just to give the main villain something to base his attack on.

 As far as the gore goes, it was pretty tame. I mean, at least as far as some of the recent movies I've watched go. The scene with the chainsaw to the fingers was fairly extreme and realistic, that was one of the highlights of the film. I dug the whole "hope" aspect, how the doctor promised to let the couple go if they showed him their will to live, and how he took it away with one final test of their love. But overall, the film was pretty meh. There's a scene at the very end of the movie where the killer decapitates his female victim, and her head flips into the air and comes down to bite the doctor's neck. It was reminiscent of a similar scene in Peter Jackson's Dead Alive, which I (unfortunately) only got the chance to watch even more recently than Grotesque, the difference being that Jackson's at least had the excuse of being about zombies. Ya know, those things that still can move around after they're dead? Yeah... no such excuse with live victims.

 Not your best effort, Japan. I mean, sure, it scores points on the disturbing scale for not having a plot and focusing solely on the gore, but in my opinion, that's really the only place it scores. The acting was barely capable, the doctor was sufficiently creepy but not overly so, and the gore was decent but not even Hostel-level extreme. It was decent, but honestly not worth the watch for me. As far as I'm concerned, it was just a waste of three days of my free Netflix-through-the-mail trial.

 Bottom line? Watch it if you want to "see them all." Don't if you want to "watch good movies."

Sunday, March 16, 2014

I'm Perplexed By Cannibal Holocaust

I decided to watch Cannibal Holocaust largely because it is a true classic of the horror genre. I've read about it for years, and I always heard that it was one that should not be missed. It's supposed to be one of the most disturbing movies of all time, and was originally thought to be a snuff film because of its realistic portrayal of violence, rape, and torture. I don't know about you, but it sounds fun to me!

For all (or any) of its flaws, Cannibal Holocaust was a milestone in horror cinema. It was the first found footage movie (or at least the first that mattered), which means that many of today's horror movies owe it a great debt of gratitude. We wouldn't have movies like the Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, Rec, or any of the other "new classics" without Cannibal Holocaust. It was also notable as one of the few movies that has resulted in legal charges against its filmmaker. Director Ruggero Deodato was brought up on murder charges after the movies release because it was deemed "too real to be fake." The members of the cast had signed a contract saying that they would stay out of public for a year after the film's release, in a Blair Witch-esque hype generator. Needless to say, when they reappeared for Deodato's trial, all charges were dropped. I would also think it ruined some of the mystique surrounding the film for later viewers.

I honestly think that I went into Cannibal Holocaust with too much of an expectation. I expected it to knock my socks off, and to be a "masterpiece of exploitation cinema," as some have called it. Well, I was honestly a little disappointed. Don't get me wrong, it's truly a masterpiece of exploitation cinema, there's no doubt about that. A lot of the film is practically senseless. Or is it? I'm still a little undecided, honestly. Every time I try to think of an example of something that was unnecessary, I find myself reasoning through how it was necessary to the plot or the point. For instance, there is a scene where two of the main characters have sex in front of the native tribe. They didn't know that it was being recorded at first, and acted all offended when they found out that it was, but they knew that the tribe members were all around them. I first thought that this was just an example of a way to throw some boobs into the movie. But really, I think that it showed the dehumanization of the tribe to the filmmakers. Another scene involves the real killing of a giant turtle. Not for the queasy among us, this to me was the worst and most disturbing scene in the movie. A lot of people have said that this was realistic, and that the fact that the filmmakers ate the animal made for a more realistic piece of the movie than faking the animal's death. Out of all of the disturbing scenes in the movie, this is the one I felt was the least necessary. That being said, I do get it. I get what he was trying to accomplish. I just don't know that it was worth going to the extreme that he did.

Prior to watching the movie, as I said, I had read a lot about it. I knew of the plot, a lot of the specifics, and most of the back story. One thing I wasn't aware of before viewing was how Deodato portrayed the filmmakers themselves. The faux film's director and cast were all terrible human beings. They deliberately raped and murdered members of the tribe to get more "real" footage for their documentary, obviously planning on leaving their involvement in the incidents on the cutting room floor. Of course, since this was footage found and shown to a group of television executives, we were privy to their dirty secrets. This to me was the film's strongest message, showing exactly how far the cast and crew of the fauxtumentary were willing to go to get their footage. Besides the turtle scene, this was the one aspect of the movie that I found the most sickening. On the other hand, is it really that far-fetched? I mean, we've seen directors like Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock go to the complete extreme to get the most out of their actors and set pieces. Is it really that hard to believe that documentary filmmakers would exploit and manipulate their surroundings to make their film more interesting and enjoyable? I don't think it is. I know that some have done this very thing, though few, I doubt, to the same extent that they did in this movie. All in all, in the end, I couldn't help but completely side with the tribes on this one: those douchebags got exactly what was coming to them.

What I didn't agree with, however, was that this movie was one of the most disturbing ever made, nor did I find it scary in the slightest. Of course, in that day and time maybe it would've been more impactful, but even the real animal killings were nothing compared to a lot of the things that PETA passes around. I found it to be more enjoyable for its (barely) underlying message than for its value as a horror or exploitation flick. We are, as a society, more interested in the entertainment value of a piece than its newsworthiness. Obviously this holds true, tenfold, today. We're a society full of reality TV stars that are famous simply for being famous, with all of our news media outlets talking about Snookie's baby, and The Bachelor's stunning slap in the face of his rose-receiver, or what have you. We no longer seem to care about what is actually news, and have taken to creating our own. Isn't that essentially what these filmmakers were doing, just on a grander, life and death scale? I think it is.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why Cannibal Holocaust absolutely perplexed me. I wanted to hate it. I didn't think it was particularly well made, particularly interesting, particularly scary, or even particularly disturbing. But the message was real, and no more real at any time in our history that today. When I can turn on the television and see more about who got kicked off of Dancing With the Stars most recently than how many of our soldiers died overseas, or the current unemployment rate, or the decline of our currency, or whatever hot button issue is the cause du jour, then something is fucked up in the system. And that's, to me, what Cannibal Holocaust was about. And, for all (or any) of its flaws, Deodato did an amazing job at that. He somehow managed to get me to side with a backwards tribe of bloodthirsty cannibals over a group of American professionals.

Bottom line: It's a must watch, even if it's not your cup of tea. It's horror history, after all.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Beautiful Destruction of Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom

I finally watched Salo. I've literally spent years reading about this movie, and about both how everyone should see it at least once, and how nobody should ever watch it. It's supposedly one of the most disturbing movies ever made, and is also supposed to be a piece of cinematic history. Not one to miss, burn all the copies. There really only seem to be two mindsets about this movie, and it intrigued me to the point that I really wanted to make it my first review, even though it doesn't fit the typical definition of horror.

That being said, I, for one, am glad I watched it. It was a beautifully filmed movie, and the points director Pier Paolo Pasolini wanted to make are crystal clear. It condemns fascism, particularly the brand practiced by Mussolini during World War II, but it also engaged the viewer in a voyeur role, watching something that was both obscene and heart-wrenching. It wasn't a train wreck, one where you couldn't look away. It was more of a bizarre piece of art, something that you really have to see to believe. He managed to somehow draw us in, to fascinate us with the scenes that he put together, while also condemning us for watching, and feeling distraught that we can't do anything to help. At least that piece of it was masterfully done. It managed to be artsy and absurd, without being unwatchable or unrealistic.

The influences of the Marquis de Sade were evident all throughout the movie. The movie is, as previously said, set in World War II-era Italy, where a group of rich men and women held a group of teenage boys and girls captive to be their sex slaves. Near the beginning of the film, the rich folk read a list of rules to those invited to the bacchanal. The rule that really set the tone for the film was that while anything at all was allowed, even the most devious sexual acts, the straight-up standard male on female sex was completely disallowed. In fact, anyone seen committing such a "heinous crime" would be immediately put to death. So, essentially, this group of men could do anything at all that they wanted to do to these teenagers, but "sex", as most of us view it, was illegal, punishable by death. It was clear at this point, even without foreknowledge of what was to come, that things would not be getting better for our group of captives.

There were many sick and disgusting acts that Pasolini was determined to commit to celluloid, including sodomy (duh, it's in the title), violence, masochism, and even coprophagia. That's eating poop, for those not completely damaged in the head. The legendary banquet of poo scene, where the libertines forced their 18 captives to eat literal shit. Some of the kids were completely disgusted by the act, while some sort of did as they were told without really seeming to be bothered. To be honest, I think that out of everything that was forced upon them in this movie, this would've been something I'd have had a hard time keeping quiet about. Nevertheless, they persevered, as they did through the rest of the movie.

One of the things I've noticed while reading numerous reviews of this movie is that most people keyed on the fact that there were four men who lead the depraved party, as well as several experienced whores who would tell stories to incite their fancies. However, I was more disturbed by the women throughout the movie. Maybe it's the whole "women as serial killers" thing that most in America see as unnatural, but to me, they struck me as the most uncaring of the bunch. I think that when anyone who is depraved, especially sexually, to the point where they enjoyed some of the things these men enjoyed, it's not that far of a reach to see them commit the acts that they did. I would think it rare to find people willing to commit such acts in the general public, so is it really that much of a stretch that they would force people to do these things? They themselves were getting the sexual pleasure from the acts, and we all know how far men will sometimes go for sex. But the women? They didn't get anything from these acts, other than maybe the pleasure of their men. They weren't a part of most of the depravity, and most of them weren't even present for a lot of the scenes. But they were picking the girls and boys that they felt would please the men the most, while not achieving anything for themselves. That disturbed me more than most of the other things about this movie.

Now, this movie was disturbing. I don't deny that. But let me get to the beautiful for a few. The ending in the courtyard, while brutal, was quite a scene to behold. As the time in the castle comes to an end, all of the youths, save one that was nominated to join the libertines' guard, are taken into a courtyard where they are tortured and killed by the guards in various messed up ways. From the heights of the castle, their captors watch through binoculars, getting a bird's eye view of the happenings below. The scene didn't leave much to the imagination, though of course there are much harder scenes in modern horror cinema. But the enjoyment these men received from just watching, while music played in the background, and several of their guards just sat around talking... it was a perfect commentary on the fascist rape of Europe during that time. The men whose bidding was done, the men who ran the whole show, sat and watched from a distance as the final, most horrific acts were done to their subjects. You could draw a parallel between the leaders of the Axis powers and these men, getting their jollies from the pain and suffering of others.

Finally, when all was done, two of the guards danced a waltz, oblivious to the suffering in the courtyard, and then the movie was over. And that was that. The utter finality of these final scenes, leaving us with a bleak "evil over good" ending, was my favorite part of the movie. There was no uplifting final scene where the bad guys got what was coming to them. There was no final flight, where the virgin runs through the woods away from the masked killer chomping at her heals, finally finding redemption and freedom as the bad guy is vanquished. No, the bad guys completely and utterly won. They destroyed their victims, and they were left standing at the end, to either return to their lives outside of the castle, or to gather another round of victims. And their guards, young men not much older than those who had been held captive, lived life, and were seemingly unaffected by what had gone on in the previous two hours. Out of all of the shocking scenes, this was what affected me the most: Pasolini's nihilistic view of how the world really is.

Pasolini asked that we learn from the past, that we never allow these things to come to pass again. Since then, we've had many dictators, many fascist regimes, many genocidal maniacs running rampant throughout the world, but nothing to the extent that we saw during the 1940's. So maybe we did learn our lesson. Maybe we did see the error that Pasolini seemed to desperately want to show us.

Or maybe not.

I'm interested to know what others think. Was this a good movie, or was it a pretentious pile of... well, dinner? Comment and let me know. This movie's nothing if not fodder for good discussion.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Welcome

Welcome to my new blog!

The purpose of this blog is to review all things cinematic, particularly those that interest me, and specifically more focused on horror movies. I have amassed a rather large collection of horror movies (203 and counting!), and thanks to the good folks on reddit, I have been introduced to even more to watch online, Netflix, and other avenues.

Horror movies fascinate me. I've always been very interested in the concept of fear. Fear is one of the few emotions that is not only not the same in everyone, but often wildly different. The only other part of the human psyche that I feel compares is sexual desires. I also find it very interesting that sexual sadism/ psychopathia is often present in many of the most disturbing films that I have experienced. My goal on this blog is to share with you, the reader, my observations and opinions, and hopefully to encourage debate and discourse about movies that are valuable to our collective experiences.

Also interesting to note: during conversations with many people I know, I have gathered that most people are not exposed to movies outside of the American influence. Maybe some British films, maybe a couple of Asian horror pieces here and there (like Ringu or Ju-On), but nothing in the way of non-massively popular movie franchises that were not produced in this country. And that, my friends, is a damn shame. Some of the best movies currently being produced are coming from France, Japan, China, Spain, Mexico, and even as far way as Australia. I believe wholeheartedly that if you are unwilling to watch cinema from other parts of the world because they have subtitles, you are missing out on some of the best movies being made today. That's unfortunate, because movies are one of the only things in the world that are truly for everyone.

Movies, to me, are a lot like music. I believe that just about everyone has moments where a piece of music, either a song, a melody, or even a snippet of lyrics, can transport them to another place in time. It's a memory from childhood, or that moment you remember riding in your car and hearing Freebird for the first time. It's emotion. It is, quite frankly, art. The best auteurs are artistic in nature, but can also express their feelings to others, and allow them to be in the same frame of mind as they themselves were when the composed the piece. I'm a firm believer that anything can be art, and that movies and video games are the last great bastion of art in our world. And that's exactly what I love about movies. They are constantly evolving, constantly changing to reflect the times, or in remembrance of days past. They can transport you through their soundtrack, their ambience, their scenery, to a place that you've never been, but also allow you to relate to things that you've never personally experienced. A good movie will let you feel for the characters as if they are friends, to the point that you relate to them, you grieve with them, and, ultimately, you fear with them. Their emotions become your emotions.

Of course, this is not always the case. One of the mainstays of horror movies is the B-Movie, a movie with a smaller budget, generally a less complete script, and sometimes downright incompetent actors, all coming together to make a damn fun ride. What other genre of movies can you really say that about? Are there massive groups of people with the same loyalty to terrible action movies that there are to cult horror movies? Rocky Horror Picture, a for all intents and purposes terrible movie, has a following of loving fans who dress like the characters, dance with them, and act out scenes on a regular basis. These movies are quoted, they're imitated, and they're truly beloved. You don't hear the same reverence for Death Wish 4 as you do for movies like Thankskilling, or The Evil Bong. I mean, come on, could those types of movies even exist in other genres?

So that's what I'm here to do. I'm here to love these movies, and to hopefully share my love a little with you, the reader. Hopefully I can show you some movies that you otherwise would've never heard of, or if you're a horror buff, or gorehound, like me, then maybe I can show you some that you might've missed. I hope that you enjoy this journey, and I hope that we can all become a part of this newly evolving, constantly changing, and completely entertaining Horror Revolution.

Chris