Horror

And Soon The Darkness (2010)

2010

Studio Canal/Anchor Bay Entertainment

Directed by Marcos Efron

Produced by Chris Clark, Lizzie Friedman, Karen Lauder and Deborah Marcus

Screenplay by Jennifer Derwingson and Marcos Efron

Based on the 1970 motion picture “And Soon The Darkness”

In the first thirty seconds of the 2010 remake of AND SOON THE DARKNESS we see a bound, near naked woman doused with water and then whipped with a live electrical wire until she collapses into unconsciousness.  That told me right there that the writers and the director of this remake were going to throw out everything that the writers and director of the original had done to make their movie unusual, unique and suspenseful.

This version of AND SOON THE DARKNESS follows the basic plot of the original, transferring the setting from rural France to rural Argentina and making the girls American instead of English..  Stephanie (Amber Heard) and Elle (Odette Yustman) are part of a bike tour of that country.  They decide to split off from the group and go their own way for a bit, intending to catch a bus the next day and rejoin the group. They stay the night at a hotel where Elle persuades Stephanie to come with her to hang out at the local bar.  Stephanie’s promiscuous behavior gets her the wrong kind of attention and she’s rescued by Michael (Karl Urban) another American staying at the hotel.

The next day, while biking, Elle wants to stop by a riverbank and sunbathe.  Stephanie reluctantly agrees.  After a couple of hours, she’s ready to go but Elle still wants to hang out there.  This leads to an argument and Stephanie angrily rides off, leaving Elle alone. After she cools off a bit, she returns to the riverbank to find Elle gone, only her cell phone still on the ground where she had been sunbathing.

Now, unlike the original where we never learn the fate of the kidnapped girl until the last ten minutes of the movie, the remake has no problem letting us know that Elle has been kidnapped by the guy she was foolin’ around with in the bar last night.  He’s the muscle of a gang who snatches girls and sells them across the river to a white slavery ring in Paraguay.

Stephanie frantically tries to get help from the local police chief, Calvo (Cesar Vianco) who poo-poohs away Stephanie’s urgent pleas for him to form a search party.  “A search party?” Calvo says with a chuckle.  “Where do you think you are? America?”

Stephanie finally gets help from (surprise, surprise, surprise) Michael who has been in Argentina for six months looking for his girlfriend who also disappeared. Together they decide to track down Elle themselves and maybe find Michael’s girlfriend as well.

Like I said earlier, everything that made the first movie unique has been ruthlessly stripped away to leave only a standard middle of the road thriller than doesn’t thrill at all. The way this movie unfolds and the way the story is told in such a blatant fashion I can easily imagine a group of suburban white families pooling their money together to finance this movie for the sole purpose of showing it to their daughters: “See? See? This is what happens when you go to foreign countries, get drunk and fool around with boys who don’t speak English!”

That nasty subtext is very strong in the movie and I also didn’t like how the script goes out of its way to depict Elle’s carefree indulgence in drinking and promiscuity as justification for what happens to her.  And unlike the original, many of the locals speak English.  Part of what added to the feeling of paranoia and isolation in the original was that none of the locals spoke any English.

Karl Urban does his best with what he’s given and like the professional he is, he comes out of this movie with the acting honors.  Karl Urban is on my list of actors who even if they’re trapped in a really shitty movie more than pulls his weight and delivers a good performance and he does so here.  And I’m glad that I saw Amber Heard in “Drive Angry” before seeing this movie as I might well have passed up watching that highly superior movie if I had watched AND SOON THE DARKNESS first.  If you want to see Amber Heard in a really good movie, go watch “Drive Angry” and leave the remake of AND SOON THE DARKNESS alone.  It’s a totally unnecessary remake that does not entertain one little bit. Go watch the 1970 original if you want to see a really good thriller.

Rated R

91 minutes

 

 

And Soon The Darkness (1970)

1970

EMI Films

Directed by Robert Fuest

Produced by Albert Fennell and Brian Clements

Written by Brain Clements and Terry Nation

AND SOON THE DARKNESS is regarded as a minor cult classic of 70’s British horror movies and now, after finally seeing it for myself I can see why.  It’s a neat, effective little horror/suspense movie that gets the job done with a subtle, intelligent script and solid acting.  It’s my kind of horror movie as the situation is one that could plausibly happen and the characters behave as I can see actual people in such a situation would act and as such I can take the movie much more seriously than say, the brain dead 2010 remake of AND SOON THE DARKNESS.  But that’s another review.  Let’s get back to this one.

Jane (Pamela Franklin) and Cathy (Michele Dotrice) are two young and very pretty English girls on holiday, biking through the French countryside.  They’re best friends but they have very different idea of how they want to spend their holiday.  Jane’s insistent they stay on schedule and she’s constantly consulting her stack of maps and checking their time against their itinerary.  Cathy wants to slowpoke it, take their time and enjoy the local color.

Part of that local color is Paul (Sandor Eles) a handsome young French man who catches Cathy’s eye in a café the two girls stop at briefly to get directions.  They go further on up the road and Paul passes them on his motorcycle, only to stop at a roadside cemetery.  In a blatant attempt to kill time and wait for Paul to catch up to them, Cathy insists that the girls stop to sunbathe at the side of the road.  This leads to a quarrel where Cathy tells Jane she’s fed up with being bossed around and that she’s going to have some fun.  Jane leaves Cathy and continues on by herself, stopping at another café a little ways up the road.  After a while, when she’s cooled off, she goes back for Cathy.

Except Cathy’s gone.  Jane finds her bicycle but except for that, there’s no sign of Cathy at all.  Jane frantically searches for her with no luck.  She runs into Paul, who claims to be a police detective and offers to help.  He certainly is more willing to do so than the local gendarme (John Nettleton) who treats Cathy’s disappearance with a laid-back casualness that frustrates Jane to no end. The locals are of no help because Jane doesn’t know any French and so can’t tell them what’s wrong.  And then it turns out that Paul has disturbingly graphic knowledge of a girl who a couple of years ago was raped and murdered near the same spot where Cathy disappeared…

If you have any knowledge of the careers of the writers and director of this movie then you know these guys aren’t amateurs.  Robert Fuest directed the two classic “Dr. Phibes” movies.  Brian Clements was a producer and main script writer of “The Avengers” as well as writing so many other classic British TV series and movies such as “Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter” which he also directed.  Terry Nation created The Daleks and if I have to tell you who they are then you’re in the wrong place.  He also created several notable British science fiction TV series including one of my favorites; “Blake’s 7”

Add to this the considerable acting talent of Pamela Franklin who starred in what I consider the second best haunted house movie ever made; “The Legend of Hell House” and was a standout in “The Prime of Miss Jean Brody” where she played the intellectually and sexually precocious Sandy. Pamela Franklin had a good career back in the 60’s and 70’s and if you see her name in the credits of a movie, watch it.  She’s a fine actress with terrifically expressive eyes who knows exactly what she’s doing in front of a camera and it’s a treat to watch her work.

The movie also is fun to watch because despite the title, 100% of AND SOON THE DARKNESS takes place during the daytime in broad daylight.  The events of the movie play out in the course of one day and just because it all takes place during the daylight hours doesn’t make it any less scary or suspenseful.  Increasing the suspense is Jane’s inability to communicate with anybody except the two people she suspects of having taken her friend.  It’s a smart move by the director to not subtitle when French is spoken and so as the audience we can share in Jane’s growing frustration and paranoia at her situation.

So should you see AND SOON THE DARKNESS?  I recommend so highly.  It doesn’t have graphic violence or gore but if you’re looking for a nifty little horror/suspense thriller that will keep you guessing right up until the end of the movie, this is for you.  It’s currently available for streaming on Netflix so enjoy.

PG

99 minutes

Better In The Dark #59

BETTER IN THE DARK #59

BLACK GLOVES ARE FOR MURDER: THE GIALLO STYLINGS OF DARIO ARGENTO

The Guys Outta Brooklyn go continental as we examine a quintet of giallo films by the man who helped originate the genre, Dario Argento! From the insanely plotted but compelling TENEBRAE to the insanely plotted and craptacular TRAUMA to the clip show love letter DO YOU LIKE HITCHCOCK?, Tom and Derrick examine the handiwork of this seminal Italian director. Plus Tom gets an excuse to trot out another accent, how the “Three Mothers” trilogy is like “Kill Bill” and a word from our sponsor, The Argento Decapomatic! You know it’s all like a dream brought on by too much Ziti Fra Diablo, so get to clicking!

http://www.betterinthedarksite.com/episode-archives/eps-51-60/

Silent Rage

1982

Columbia Pictures

Directed by Michael Miller

Produced by Anthony B. Unger

Written by Edward D. Lorenzo and Joseph Fraley

Chuck Norris is best known today for that Internet phenomenon known as “Chuck Norris Facts” which attribute all kinds of superhuman feats and godlike acts of toughness to him.  I think that if Bruce Lee were still alive or if Jim Kelly were still active in the movies and martial arts, they would be the subjects of that meme and not Chuck Norris.  But there’s no denying that for most of the 1980’s Chuck Norris was one of the most prominent action stars of that decade, faithfully cranking out one movie after another for Israeli filmmakers Menahem and Yoram Globus and their Cannon Films.  Matter of fact, it seemed as if Chuck Norris had a new movie coming out every week, so quickly was he making them.

I’m pretty sure I saw SILENT RAGE back in the day as during the 80’s I went to the movies at least twice a week and I’ve seen just about every Chuck Norris movie made during that period.  Yes, even “Invasion U.S.A.” and “Firewalker.”  But for every stinker he made, Chuck Norris also came out with some pretty damn good ones that still hold up today such as “Lone Wolf McQuade” and “Code of Silence.”  And then there’s the movie we’re talking about now; SILENT RAGE which for my money is the goofiest movie Chuck has ever done.  He never made one like it since, which is a shame because there’s a lot I like in this one.  The best way to describe SILENT RAGE goes like this; imagine if “Halloween” had starred Chuck Norris instead of Donald Pleasance.  SILENT RAGE blends martial arts and science fiction with the slasher movie genre better than you might think.

One bright sunny day in a small unnamed Texas town, mental patient John Kirby (Brian Libby) loses it and takes an axe to the family he’s been living with.  He’s subdued by Sheriff Dan Stevens (Chuck Norris) after an extremely brutal fight where John Kirby demonstrates his superhuman strength fueled by his bloodthirsty psychotic rage.  It isn’t until he’s beaten up half a dozen cops, broken his handcuffs and kicked his way out of a police car that somebody finally gets the bright idea it might be better to shoot the shit outta this sucker and get it over with.

John’s psychiatrist Dr. Halman (Ron Silver) shows up and takes the body back to the hospital.  Amazingly, John is still alive even after being shot numerous times.  Halman’s boss, Doctor Spires (Steven Keats) sees this as an opportunity to try out his experimental drug.  Spires believes he can genetically modify a human’s DNA so that a human’s natural healing process will perform an at accelerated rate.  Spires pumps John full of his homemade funky cold medina and indeed, John’s wounds heal themselves in seconds.

Halman isn’t so sure this is such a hot idea.  He recommends that Spires destroy John Kirby before he gets loose as there is no way to cure or curb John’s homicidal rage.  And now that he is for all intents and purposes, indestructible, he’s the perfect killer.  Quite naturally, Spires doesn’t see it this way and in fact, thinks that he can use John to get rid of a few obstacles in his way to being rich and famous and that includes not only Dr. Halman but Sheriff Stevens as well.

SILENT RAGE is quietly astonishing to me in that I could easily believe this started out as a straight up-and-down slasher movie because so many of the tropes of the genre are put to use.  You’ve got your indestructible killer who can seemingly appear and disappear.  And is apparently psychic since he can anticipate where and when his victims are going to be. You’ve got your sympathetic characters who get killed while trying to do the right thing.  You’ve got your false scares where you think the killer has jumped somebody only to be followed by the actual scare.  You’ve got your indestructible killer being put down by a hail of bullets only to get back up and resume his killing.  And you’ve got your idiots who even after they’ve seen this guy get shot and get up numerous times still insist on turning their backs on him.

What sets this apart is of course, Chuck Norris, who has no business being in the slasher genre yet amazingly plays all of this absolutely straight.  We do get to see him use his martial arts skills on a barroom full of rowdy bikers but that’s only the warm-up for the fight we really want to see: Chuck against this unstoppable killer who can’t be hurt or killed.

In order to eat up the running time until this final conclusion we get the subplot with the rowdy bikers and Chuck’s romancing of Dr. Halman’s sister (Toni Kalem.)  What’s really interesting about this romance is the strong suggestion that Stevens simply banged her for fun and just walked away without a word.  That’s a far cry from the usual Chuck Norris character who is virtually saintly in his dealings with women.  I also can’t remember a Chuck Norris movie where F-bombs were tossed around so carelessly and so many bare boobs were shown.  Chuck even gets a sex scene in this one.  Now, we’re not talking swinging from the chandelier here but let’s face it, in most Chuck Norris movies, romance and/or sex isn’t a priority.

Even the casting is eclectic for a Chuck Norris movie.  I’ve mentioned Ron Silver and Steven Keats.  Now, you may not be familiar with Steven Keats by name but go Google a picture of him and I bet you’ll slap yourself upside da haid and go; “I know that guy!” William Finlay who plays The Phantom in Brian DePalma’s “Phantom of The Paradise” is in this one as is Stephen Furst who we all know as Flounder from “National Lampoon’s Animal House” and Vir Cotto on “Babylon 5”.  There’s also Lillette Zoe Raley whose name you don’t know but who provides the movie with its best special effect.  If you see the movie you’ll know what I mean.

So should you see SILENT RAGE?  I certainly think so.  If you’re a Chuck Norris fan you probably already have seen this but if you haven’t, give it a try.  The sheer goofiness of seeing Chuck Norris in a slasher movie is worth your time.  I know I wasn’t bored and I don’t think you will be either.

Rated R

103 minutes

Altitude

2010

Darclight Films

Directed by Kaare Andrews

Produced by Ian Birkett

Written by Paul A. Birkett

 For the longest time I have believed that “Cursed” the werewolf movie starring Christina Ricci and Joshua Jackson was the worst movie I have ever seen.  Prior to that, the champ was “The Blue Lagoon “starring Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins.

Well, not that I was looking for it but I’ve found one worse than the both of them. All hail the new champion: ALTITUDE.

Five friends board a light aircraft, looking forward to a weekend of partying.  The pilot is Sara (Jessica Lowndes) who has recently got her license.  Within five minutes we know that she’s The Level Headed One.  Her boyfriend Bruce should have a sign on him that reads The Character With The Big Secret That Explains Everything since he’s so twitchy right from the first minute we see him that there’s no surprise later on when he does turn out to have The Big Secret That Explains Everything.  Mel (Julianna Guill) is an aspiring filmmaker who has the annoying habit of sticking her camera in everybody’s face.  Since Sara has claimed The Level Headed One title, this means that Mel is designated The One Who Comes Unglued When Things Go Wrong by default.  Sal (Jake Weary) is The Obligatory Dickhead while Cory (Ryan Donowho) is The Rock Steady Heroic Type.

Due to a freak accident, the plane flies into a storm, climbing higher and higher because the elevator mechanism that controls altitude is jammed.  What’s even worse is that Sara stupidly took off with the gas tank half full and the plane will run out of fuel in an hour.  First thing Sara suggests is that they throw everything out of the plane to lighten it and thus make the gas last longer and the second thing she suggests is that somebody climb out on the outside of the plane while they’re flying at top speed through a storm at twenty-four thousand feet to manually unjam the elevator mechanism.

I did tell you that Sara was The Level Headed One, right?  Right.  On we go.

It’s Cory who goes outside as he argues that his free rock climbing experience makes him the logical choice.  Beats the hell out of me how weekend rock climbing qualifies him to even attempt such a thing but hey, I didn’t write this brain dead mess.  The expected happens and Cory is lost.  But not before the others see what looks to be a huge, tentacled monster in the storm, following them.

Now here’s my beef with ALTITUDE: I dig the idea of a Lovecraftian monster living in the storm and terrorizing the plane.  But I also dig the idea of these four remaining people trapped in the plane turning on each other, becoming more paranoid and freaked out.  The problem with ALTITUDE is that it can’t make up its mind which movie it wants to be.  So it tries to be both and as a result, ends up being neither as it resorts to a final “surprise ending” to explain everything that even M. Night Shyamalan wouldn’t have dared try pulling off.

What can I say good about the movie?  I did actually like how inventive the cinematographer was in filming the actors inside such a confined space as 90% of ALTITUDE takes place inside a small passenger plane.  Even though there’s not much space to work with, I never felt as if I were looking at the same shot over and over again.  I did like Jessica Lowndes and admired her ability to sell her character and quite frankly, she’s the reason I hung in there with the movie until the end.  An ending that quite honestly left me sitting there with my mouth open as I could not believe what happened in the last fifteen minutes of the movie.

If you’re at all curious to see ALTITUDE, it’s on you.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

90 minutes

Rated R

Ganja & Hess

GANJA & HESS

1973

Kelly/Jordan Enterprises

Directed and Written by Bill Gunn

Produced by Chiz Schultz

If you’ve been reading my reviews here at The Ferguson Theater or listening to me pontificate over at Better In The Dark then you know full well that one of my particular bugaboos is how African-Americans are so poorly represented in horror movies.  Despite its reputation as a ground breaking horror movie that has a black man as the lead character, I can’t get behind the original “Night of The Living Dead” on that basis.  Oh, it’s a superior horror movie, I don’t dispute that.  But every decision Ben (Duane Jones) makes gets somebody killed.  Ironically, he survives the night by doing exactly what another character suggested at the beginning of the movie: he goes into the basement and stays quiet.  Earlier on, Ben had rejected that plan and insisted everybody stay upstairs while he nails all the windows and doors shut, keeping every light in the joint burning like its New Year’s Eve.  Naturally, every zombie for miles is attracted to the light and noise.  You know the rest.

When it comes to blacks in horror movies I always point to “The People Under The Stairs” and “Anaconda” in which not only does the brother (Ice Cube) live to see the end of the movie but a Latina as well (Jennifer Lopez).  Those two movies are superior examples of black leading characters in horror movies.  I’d also add the two “Blacula” movies, “The Omega Man” “The Beast Must Die” “Sugar Hill” (which is actually more of a superhero movie than horror) “J.D.’s Revenge”and “Candyman”

And then there’s GANJA & HESS.  It’s a vampire movie unlike any other vampire movie I’ve ever seen.  I’ve heard about this movie for years but it has been notoriously hard to find.  Once again I have to bow in respect to Turner Classic Movies and their Saturday night “Underground” as they have repeatedly come through in airing long forgotten movies I had given up all hope of seeing.  But hey, they aired “The Apple” and for that alone, they had me. They regularly show GANJA & HESS so keep an eye out for it there.

Duane Jones from “Night of The Living Dead” is starring in this one  He’s Dr. Hess Green, an archaeologist and geologist whose particular field of expertise is the ancient and long dead African civilization of Myrthia.  He’s breaking in a new assistant, George (Bill Gunn) who seems to be borderline manic depressive as he’s given to these long rambling stream-of-consciousness conversations that really aren’t conversations as he’s the only one talking.  Hess mainly smokes and listens to him in silence.  No doubt wondering if he shoulda checked out this cat a little more in depth before hiring him.  The camel that breaks the straw back is the night when Hess finds George sitting up in a tree, drinking wine and contemplating suicide.

That same night, George attacks Hess, stabbing him with a bone knife from Myrthia.  George kills himself afterwards but Hess amazingly has not died.  The bone knife has infected him with the curse of vampirism.  But it’s not the type of vampirism we’ve come to know from other movies.  Hess can be seen in mirrors.  He walks around quite comfortably in daylight and rather than shunning churches and the cross, he keeps crosses in his house, employs a minister as his chauffeur and actively professes his Christian beliefs.  But the bloodlust is there and to satisfy it, Hess is forced to steal from blood banks and prey on lower class street people.

The situation is complicated by the unexpected arrival of George’s wife, Ganja (Marlene Clark) who is broke and demands that Hess produce her husband so that he can give her the money he promised.  Instead, Hess offers her George’s accommodations in his palatial mansion.  It’s not long after that they begin a sexual relationship that develops into love and marriage.  It’s then that Hess decides to turn Ganja into a vampire like himself.  And that’s when things really start to get strange…

What sets GANJA & HESS apart from any other vampire movie for me is the clash of African blood rituals and American Christianity depicted.  Hess is plagued by visions of a Myrthian queen (Mabel King) but at the same time he is drawn toward Christianity as a means of curing himself or at least of saving his soul.  Ganja’s influence drives him in a new directly as she is motivated solely by material possessions.  It’s an amusing scene when she first meets Hess and assumes he’s a servant.  If and when you see the movie, observe how fast her attitude changes when she realizes that Hess is wealthy.  For her, wealth covers a whole lot of multitude of sins.  Even murder and vampirism.

But be advised that this is a movie shot on the cheap.  There obviously wasn’t much money to spend on this.  But that works in the movie’s favor as if has a gritty, realistic feel that adds to the horror, especially during one of the movie’s more powerful scenes where Hess kills and feeds on a whore and her pimp.

Marlene Clark walks off with the acting honors and well she should.  By the time she did GANJA & HESS she had already racked up numerous roles in blaxplotation films and TV shows.  What I like about her in this one is her naked lust for material wealth that in itself a form of vampirism.

So should you see GANJA & HESS?  Now that’s it’s also available on DVD I certainly think you should.  It is slow moving in spots and almost blatantly surrealistic at times.  But it’s a powerful exploration of the vampire that I found engaging and highly interesting and I’m betting you will, too.  Enjoy.

110 minutes

Rated R

Jenny Ringo And The Monkey’s Paw

2011

A Chris Regan Production

Written and Directed by Chris Regan

Produced by Andrea Regan

You do this reviewing thing long enough and eventually people will start assuming that you know what you’re talking about.  For better or worse.  Occasionally you may even get people who have made films on their own asking you to look at their movies and give an honest review of what you think.

And that’s where the rubber meets the road so to speak.  Oh, they’ll always tell you to give them an honest review and tell them exactly what you think.  But they don’t really mean that.  Seriously, they don’t.  Heed my words, people, for I pass this way but once.  And so, I tend not to review movies made by amateur/aspiring filmmakers the same way I do the professional movies.  I don’t take delight in kicking around like a decapitated head any artistic endeavor somebody worked long, hard hours on just because it doesn’t speak to me.  So if I think an amateur movie really isn’t any good, I’ll email the filmmaker privately and tell them why I think their movie didn’t work for me.

And then, you get a nice little gem like JENNY RINGO AND THE MONKEY’S PAW that I can recommend wholeheartedly.  No, it’s not going to make your teeth whiter or fatten your bank account.  But I do think it will give you some chuckles, one or two belly laughs and leave you with a smile on your face at the end and that’s not a bad return on the investment of thirty minutes of your time.

Jenny Ringo (Rosie Duncan) is fed up and disgusted with her slothful flatmate Gavin (Lukas Habberton).  The lazy no-good sits on the couch all day long zoning out thanks to cheap grass and “Friends” reruns.  Meanwhile, the flat is turning into a garbage dump.  Jenny takes off for two weeks to a Wiccan retreat and returns to find two strangers doing the horizontal bop in her bed.  Quite naturally she demands to know who they are and where they came from.  They strangers introduce themselves as Jeff Awesome (Scott Haney) and Candy Gorgeous (Dominque Bull).  And the names do fit as they’re quite awesome and gorgeous.  They’re ever so nice and smile all the time.  But they won’t leave.  And that’s not as placid as it sounds.  Trust me.

So where did they come from, Jenny wants to know.  Gavin simply holds up a monkey’s paw.

Uh oh.

Is there any one of you reading this who doesn’t know the story of “The Monkey’s Paw”?  I hope not because then you really need to shut your computer off and go pick up a book.  The rest of the short film breezes by as Jenny and Gavin try to figure out a way to circumvent the three wishes Gavin has already made to get rid of their unwanted houseguests and put everything aright.

I liked JENNY RINGO AND THE MONKEY’S PAW a lot.  It’s a British production and I’m a big fan of British humor.  And the humor here comes from the situation that the characters find themselves in and their interacting with each other.  It even gets in quite a bit of characterization and tenderness as in the scene where Gavin explains how he feels about Jenny and how that influenced his wishes.

Rosie Duncan is great as Jenny.  She’s got a Catherine Tate vibe about her I found adorable as I’ve got a huge crush on Catherine Tate.  Somehow Rosie Duncan manages to make sarcastic snark sexy.  Between her and Dominque Bull they more than fulfill my eye candy quota.  Lukas Habberton brings a world weary goofiness to Gavin that cracked me up.  Scott Haney and Dominque Bull are really good as the really nice friends who really, really don’t want to leave.  They manage very well to communicate with their eyes and their smile that there’s something not quite right with this pair.  They’re not so much smiling as baring their teeth nicely.

So should you see JENNY RINGO AND THE MONKEY’S PAW?  It isn’t a multi-million dollar production but director Chris Regan makes the most of what he’s got to good effect.  And he even throws in a musical number as well.  The actors look good and they give their characters personality.  It bops along at a breezy thirty minutes and there’s the promise of further Jenny Ringo adventures which I’m looking forward to seeing.  Good job, mates.

JENNY RINGO AND THE MONKEY’S PAW is available for viewing online at Vimeo  for those who bounce on over to www.jennyringo.com and sign up on the mailing list.  Enjoy.

http://vimeo.com/36578486

Better In The Dark #118

Episode 118: GATEKEEPERS OF CHILDHOOD NIGHTMARES–THE AMERICAN HORROR HOST TRADITION (Special Guest: Lord Blood Rah)

The Guys Outta Brooklyn return to their upbringing when they welcome modern-day horror movie host Lord Blood Rah to discuss the origins, history and resurgence of the American Horror Movie Host tradition! Of course, this being a guest host episode of Better In The Dark, it soon morphs into a freewheeling discussion of the state of horror movies in general. It’s almost two hours of fun and frights in the BiTD manner! Plus the forgotten blaxploitation mummy epic, why Dr. Frankenstein always has the upper hand when other mad scientists host tea parties, and why it might be a good thing that Guillermo delToro isn’t adapting Lovecraft. It’s time to cut up that giant ameba, so get to clicking!

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Saw

2004

Twisted Pictures

Produced by Mark Burg, Gregg Hoffman and Oren Koules

Directed by James Wan

Screenplay by Leigh Whannell

Based on a story by James Wan and Leigh Whannell

Before we get into the review of SAW I guess I should explain my feelings on horror movies so here it is put as bluntly and as honestly as I can: I find most of ‘em absolutely and totally stupid.  Oh, I can sit and watch ‘em on a pure entertainment level and derive a great deal of satisfaction from them but I’m not scared by them and I listen to people who talk about how terrified they were by “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” or “The Amityville Horror” and I have to ask them if they’re serious.  The first time I saw “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” I was shushed by my friends because I was laughing out loud in the theatre as I truly thought the movie was a spoof of the genre since I couldn’t honestly believe anybody would take the material seriously.  People in horror movies act entirely too stupidly to be believable and it’s because of lazy screenwriters who simply see their characters as objects to be used to achieve their ends.

Now that’s not to say that there aren’t horror movies I’ve seen and enjoyed but what I consider real horror movies are movies such as “Night Of The Hunter” “In Cold Blood” “Psycho” “The Out-Of-Towners” “Lady In A Cage” or “Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?” where the situations are presented in a logical and believable manner.  Real Life doesn’t have to make sense but Fiction does and when you present me with a situation that falls apart when I stop to take five minutes to think about it, you’ve lost me.  And that’s the main problem with SAW.

Two men awake in a filthy bathroom that looks as if it hasn’t been cleaned in twenty years and seems more like a slaughterhouse than anything else.  The two men are chained by their legs to secure pipes at opposite ends of the room and cannot reach each other.  Lying between them is a dead body, gun still in hand and it’s obvious the poor bastard has shot himself in the head.  One the men is Lawrence (Cary Elwes) a surgeon and the other is Adam (Leigh Whannell) a photographer and they are both the captives of a brilliant serial killer known as Jigsaw who plays games with his victims where he sets them up to bring about their own deaths.  The detectives assigned to the case (Danny Glover and Ken Leung) are relentless in their pursuit of the clues but Jigsaw has managed to evade them.  Indeed, Glover’s character believes that Lawrence is Jigsaw and after a terrifying confrontation with the criminal he basically loses his mind and his job but continues to work the case.

Lawrence and Adam have been provided with a number of items: two cassette tapes, a tape recorder, two saws, two cigarettes, a cell phone that can only receive calls and one bullet for the gun they can’t reach and it becomes apparent to them that Jigsaw intends for one of them to kill the other.  Jigsaw considerably amps up the intensity of the game because he’s holding Lawrence’s wife and daughter hostage and he’s imposed a deadline.  Lawrence and Adam have to work together to try and figure out why they’re there and hopefully escape from the trap they’re in.

And after the first thirty minutes I really didn’t care.  You ever heard a commercial on the radio for Geico where there’s this hardcore biker called Smokey who is complaining about the background music playing because as he puts it: “This doesn’t make a lick of sense”?  Well that’s the way I felt watching SAW: this movie doesn’t make a lick of sense and I’m going to give you a perfect example why:

There’s a character we’re presented with who we’re led to believe is the killer but we know that he actually can’t be the killer because we’re shown his face halfway through the movie and we all know that when we’re presented with someone as the killer half way through the movie he just can’t be the killer.  Okay.  This character has a scene where he apparently gets off from showing Lawrence’s daughter his gun (which she’s absolutely terrified of) and listening to her racing heartbeat with a stethoscope.

Now given what we find out about this guy later on why was he getting off of tormenting the daughter?  If indeed he was part of Jigsaw’s game then why didn’t he just throw down his gun when Glover’s character burst into the house and explain what was happening and why he was doing what he was doing?  Better yet, why didn’t he just go the cops when the whole sick game started and tell them what had been done to him and ask for help?

This is all after we’ve been presented with Lawrence and Adam who supposedly are strangers but find out 45 minutes into the movie that they actually do know each other in a really dumb scene where they each take turns saying: “Hey!  I do know you!” and by the time we get to the last half hour of the movie where Lawrence violently mutilates himself but doesn’t pass out from blood loss and shock and apparently is a good enough shot to wound Adam in the shoulder just long enough to knock him out but still leave him in good enough shape to have a  drag-out fight with Jigsaw I was all through with the movie.

That’s not to say that SAW doesn’t have its entertaining moments.  I liked the way the movie is photographed and the performances by Danny Glover and Cary Elwes.  And I liked how it put together the way the characters related to each other and how it was revealed to us.  And the last ten minutes of the movie are simply mindblowing with a final twist that is truly devastating.  But ultimately SAW is just an exercise by the screenwriters and director to just show off how clever they think they are and not to give us a story that makes sense or engage us with the characters.

So should you see SAW? (I just loved typing that) Most of you reading this probably already have so it’s too late.  You probably either love or hate it.  I don’t hate it but I don’t understand why people think this kind of stuff is scary.  I’ve got more of a chance of being killed by a drunk driver while crossing any street in Brooklyn and that scares me more than the thought I’ll be kidnapped by some deranged genius serial killer and forced to play some wildly improbably psychological head game.  But that’s just me.

102 minutes

Rated R

Cloverfield

Paramount Pictures

2008

Directed by Matt Reeves

Produced by J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk

Written by Drew Goddard

The premise behind CLOVERFIELD is a simple one: what if a giant sized Godzilla or King Kong type monster attacked Manhattan one night and the story was told not through the eyes of the military or scientists but ordinary people just trying to live through that night?  That’s the story in a nutshell and it’s related to us by means of a video camera found after the monster attack.  A group of close friends have gotten together to throw a going away party for Rob (Michael Stahl-David) who has landed a lucrative job in Japan.  During the party he argues with Beth (Odette Yustman) a girl he had a brief but passionate love affair with.  The argument, along with everything else at the party is documented on a video camera by Rob’s best friend Hud (T.J. Miller) who really didn’t want the job but was hustled into it by Rob’s brother Jason (Mike Vogel) who really didn’t want to do it either.  Hud makes the most of it and even sees it as a way of trying to get to know Marlena (Lizzy Caplan) better.  Hud’s got the serious whim-whams for the chick.  The fact that Marlena quite obviously doesn’t want to have a thing to do with him is lost on the poor guy but everything is put in its proper perspective when Manhattan is blacked out by what the partygoers think is an earthquake.  They soon find out that much worse has hit The Big Apple.

An honest to Gamera monster has attacked Manhattan and is doing an absolutely bang-up job at tearing shit up.  Panic stricken crowds are fleeing while the military is trying to contain and/or destroy it with little effect.  It’s as if Armageddon times ten has come to town.  Rob and the others try to escape via The Brooklyn Bridge but it’s an attempt that ends in tragedy and spectacular destruction.  Then Rob gets a phone call from Beth who had left the party after their argument.  She’s in her apartment.  She’s hurt and can’t get out.  She begs Rob to help her.  Unfortunately the monster and the United States Army are having their apocalyptic disagreement right between them.  Still, Rob figures that if he uses the subway tunnels he can get to Beth.  Marlena and Hud go along as does Lily (Jessica Lucas) Jason’s girlfriend.  Hud steadfastly records their harrowing night on video as they struggle to rescue Beth and then get off the island of Manhattan alive.

CLOVERFIELD has a lot of good things going for it and number one is the cast of unknowns who go a long way to selling the reality of the situation.  This movie wouldn’t have worked nearly as well if say, Shia LaBeouf and Katherine Heigl were playing the lead roles.  Since these are faces we’ve never seen on the screen before (well, at least I haven’t) it helps to sustain the conceit that these are just ordinary people caught up in an extraordinary situation.  I liked most of the cast, especially Lizzy Caplan who in an amazingly short amount of time creates a real character through her body language and expressive eyes.  T.J. Miller just gets to be annoying about halfway through the movie as his character really doesn’t lend anything to the story and apparently he’s along just to tote the camera.  But the rest of the cast steps up to the plate admirably.  There wasn’t a moment when they didn’t convince me of the reality of what they were experiencing.

What else is good about CLOVERFIELD?  Well, the special effects were better than I thought they would be, what little I saw of them (more on that in a minute: stay tuned) what with the scenes of destruction and panic being a little too realistic at times.  There were some scenes where I thought: “My God, that looks just like 9/11.” Which is okay if that’s what the filmmakers intended.  But it was a little jarring to see it in what I had expected to be a simple monster movie. Which brings me to what you really wanna know.  You probably want me to cut to the chase and tell you if we see the monster at all in the movie.   I won’t keep you in suspense.  Yeah, you do see the monster but to be honest most of the time it’s shown at a distance or in quick cuts.  There’s only one time where we get a really clear shot of it but still, I couldn’t describe to you what it looks like if you put a gun to my head.  Which brings me to my main problem with the movie: the jiggly cam.

I understand that the movie is supposed to be a recording on a video camera and so it has been filmed in nothing resembling a conventional manner.  There are very few moments in the movie when the camera is still.  There are even moments when the characters are talking but the camera is pointed at the floor or at something else.  As I suppose a real person would do with a real camera in such a situation.  During a tense scene in the subway tunnels where Rob and the others have to fight off these spider-like creatures that have apparently dropped off the monster it’s really a chore to have to follow what’s going on as the camera is whipping about wildly.  To give CLOVERFIELD it’s credit: it’s got a solid reason for why the jiggly cam technique is used but halfway through the movie I was wishing I could reach in, grab the cameraman and scream : “Hold the damn thing steady!”

So should you see CLOVERFIELD?  I don’t think it’s going to be known as a classic of the monster movie genre but it is well made and has solid acting and great special effects.  It’s a monster movie that’s not about the monster.  It’s about the destruction and horror the monster leaves in his path and it’s presented in an entertaining manner. I enjoyed CLOVERFIELD and I think you will also.

PG-13

90 minutes