Yuletide Terror – Christmas Evil (1980)

Christmas-Evil-Poster.png

This post is part of my Yuletide Terror season where I am reviewing various alternative Christmas movies.

Christmas Evil, sometimes also referred to as You Better Watch Out, or the completely irrelevant title Trouble in Toyland, is one of the more obscure Christmas horror movies out there, but over time it has gained a cult status, with its fans including controversial director John Waters who has declared it “the greatest Christmas movie ever made”. Certainly a big statement to live up to. Does it manage to, and does it deserve its cult status?

christmasevil3

I had to put an image of the split focus shot just because it’s cool

The film is often marketed as though it is a typical 80’s slasher. I went in expecting silly festive themed kills and hoping for nothing more than to be entertained. This in my opinion is a huge injustice. It turns out to be a really very dark character study taking the form of a slasher horror. In fact, the kills are quite few and far between, albeit very nasty when they do come around. The story follows Harry, who as a child witnessed his Dad dressed as Santa groping his Mum which causes some Christmas-related trauma in the young boy’s mind resulting in a twisted obsession with Christmas when he is a middle-aged man. Living alone in his permanently decorated apartment, like some sort of self-styled Santa he keeps watch on the children in his neighborhood, noting down their activities in his naughty or nice books. He also works in a toy factory; he’s by far the most enthusiastic employee but this is both mocked and taken advantage of by his co-workers. This Christmas he cracks entirely and he goes on a spree dressed as Santa, simultaneously dishing out gifts to children and getting gruesome revenge on those who have wronged him.

christmasevil2

I could make a joke about sliding down a  chimney but this is a classy site

This is a premise that could have gotten very silly in the wrong hands if overdone, but this film doesn’t take that route, instead risking being boring. Many scenes depicting Harry’s descent into madness are uncomfortably long and surprisingly understated. Far from being boring though, these drawn out scenes display the brilliant performance by Brandon Maggart; one scene in particular sees him cheerfully humming a Christmas tune to a little toy soldier. As he considers his revenge on a Co-worker who humiliated him the tune turns more and more dark and angry until, in his frustration, he breaks the toy. On paper it’s a very uneventful scene filmed in one static shot but Maggart’s performance makes it so powerful that I still get a chill thinking about it some days after seeing the film. He is able to switch from jolly Father Christmas-esque chuckling to empty, self-loathing scowl in a terrifying instant and I never felt his insanity was overdone to the point that it can become unintentionally funny, like many horror movies have a habit of, and it is certainly never played for laughs, even if the movie in general does have a fair share of dark tongue-in-cheek humor.

christmasevil1

The budget isn’t THAT low, it’s supposed to be a painted van

As would be expected, the madness grows as the film goes on, yet it never loses focus on the characters, also including Harry’s younger brother & his family. Everything builds to a crescendo that provides the film with what I think is actually one of my favourite movie endings. It’s a very brave choice on the makers’ part as it might feel at first like a drastic shift in tone but I think it actually fits perfectly to the themes of the film. Contrary to my expectations this is not a cheesy, trashy slasher, but a genuinely excellent film that left a lasting impression on me and one that I would recommend to many people, not just those who enjoy horror movies. Whether John Waters is correct and it is truly “The greatest Christmas movie ever” is something that very much depends on your personal taste; not everyone wants such a dark and nasty story to be associated with the season, but if you’re looking for a Christmas movie that is the total opposite to what we have come to expect from the genre, then I don’t think you can get much better than Christmas Evil. Personally, I’ll take John Waters’ side and agree that it’s up there among the greatest.

9/10

Yuletide Terror – Krampus (2015)

krampus.jpg

This review is part of my Yuletide Terror season where I am reviewing various alternative Christmas movies.

There’s a particular sub genre of horror that creates a very specific tone where you feel like you’re watching a family-friendly fantasy movie and a brutal horror at the same time. Different entries in this genre shift the balance between the fantasy fun and the more grim elements, such as the almost-family-friendly-but-a-bit-nasty Gremlins, all the way to the definitely-not-family-friendly-but-still-a-fantasy Pans Labyrinth. Either way, both of these movies remain favourites of mine in the way they touch on both my still strong childhood love of fantasy movies as well as my adult passion for horror movies. It seems to be the perfect fit, in the right hands, to make a Christmas themed movie that fits in this category, with the sentimentality of the season making a stark contrast against the darkness of horror. Michael Dougherty’s Krampus took on this challenge very recently, in 2015.

Krampus

Erm… *poke*

This fantasy/horror/comedy features Max, a little boy whose love of Christmas is tainted by the annual gathering of his dysfunctional family. When he allows his ‘Christmas spirit’ to die, as the rest of his family’s has long since done, it leaves room for Krampus, the dark alternate to Santa Claus to pay a visit. With a storyline that could have easily been drawn from a dark children’s book rather than a horror screenplay the film chooses the path of a true horror movie, with Krampus’ gifts to the family, and his eventual eventual visit being the centre of many gruesome setpieces, featuring awesome practical effects by Peter Jackson’s WETA workshop. Krampus’ ‘little helpers’ have some of the most original, creepy creature designs I’ve seen in a long time, and they work alongside the great visual style of the film that starts off like a perfect family Christmas movie before blending seamlessly with and morphing into pure horror movie. The cast are great, working with a script that is consistently very funny (only when it tries to be!), and actually genuinely affecting when called for. That brings me to the greatest strength of this film: despite the hilariously cynical opening sequence depicting the chaos and stress of Christmas shopping in a department store and the gory horror throughout the second and third acts, the core of this film is, without irony, a typical Christmas fable where a young boy & his family rediscover the meaning of Christmas.

Krampus

Oi nob did you get your licence in the mail yeah?

The plot suffers from the typical half-way lag when it reaches the the “we have to form a plan” stage, but it picks up again quickly enough to an action-packed third act that doesn’t lose track of the plot and point of the movie. It’s become almost standard in horror nowadays, after the threat has been banished and the story has come to an end, to have a tacked-on final scene where it suddenly returns with a smash cut to black and the credits roll. This scene is at best corny fun in the right hands but more often than not I find it incredibly tiring. This film however returns to the old-fashioned technique of actually having a good final surprise up its sleeve. I shall say no more of course, but the ending of this film is certainly one of the most effective in modern horror and rounds up an incredibly entertaining Christmas horror movie that doesn’t betray the cosy tone that we have come to expect from films made for this time of year while simultaneously proving to be a very effective, scary and bloody horror movie with fantastic creature design. This will remain a staple for future Christmases for me I am quite sure.

8/10

Yuletide Terror – Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

santa-claus-movie-poster

This post is the first part of my Yuletide Terror season, featuring all sorts of ‘alternative’ Christmas movies; it’ll mainly be horror, but I’m starting with this Sci-Fi oddity from 1964

There’s a special place in most nerds’ hearts for the Sci-Fi B-Movies of the 1950′; despite the often terrible acting, and often terrible effects, and often terrible storylines there is an innocent charm and defiant inventiveness about them that is rarely matched by any other genre and/or time period of films. There are of course some excellent examples of effects (Earth vs. the Flying Saucers) and some genuinely good films among this genre, but my point is that even those that fall short of the expected standard often have some lovable quality that makes them entertaining in a way that cannot be equaled. So, when this genre became rather mainstream if not over-saturated by the 1960’s it seems only natural that someone would think to make a Christmas movie in the genre. So was born Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Surely the combination of Christmas charm and B-Movie charm is a sure fire way to a cult classic? Well…

I don’t know which one we should be more afraid of…

The film’s opening credits are accompanied by the bizarre surfer rock-esque theme song performed by the Seventh Circle of Hell Children’s Choir. The few minutes the credits last ends up being somewhat like being punched in the ears repeatedly with concrete fists, but in retrospect I think that a further 80 minutes of exactly that may be more enjoyable than the film itself. These 80 minutes are stuffed with filler; people taking an uncomfortably long time to pull levers, long boring scenes of air force stock footage, and similar. However the moments that do contain a plot revolve around the inhabitants of Mars who are noticing their children become particularly despondent each year around the month of ‘Septober’ (yeah), which happens to be December on Earth. Because they are all able to watch TV transmissions from Earth (yeah) they are aware of Christmas and the excitement of Santa arriving so the Martian leader sets out to kidnap Santa and bring Christmas joy to his people’s children.

“For the last time Mr Clause; we are NOT children!”

In itself the plot allows for exactly what this says on the box; an weird, yet inventive and enjoyable Christmas-themed B-Movie; but the execution is just awful on every level without any charm or redemption. There isn’t an actor in the movie who I’d say is even acceptable; the children are unbearable, the ‘comic relief Martian’ merely waves his arms around all the time in a feeble attempt to make us laugh, while the other Martians are so flat-toned that it feels like it’s meant to make them seem scary in some way but it just makes everything they say incredibly boring (which is a real problem when they take up at least 90% of the movie). The real star should of course be Santa, but even he is played like a geriatric alcoholic who makes awkward and entirely unfunny jokes at every opportunity (even his own abduction), and who has such little wit & awareness that he ends up being saved more than a couple of times by the 8 & 10 year old children abducted from Earth alongside him who you’d think he really should be protecting.

santamartians2

There’s probably a Japanese mange subculture dedicated to this

I spoke previously of poor effects in B-Movies being accepted in their own way, but this really pushes the limit. Even though my cheaply produced DVD of the movie has an awful, perhaps even VHS-sourced transfer, I could see the awful sets, botched together costumes, and don’t even get me started on the Polar Bear that is CLEARLY a man in a suit. The Martians are people wearing far-too-tight green costumes with enormous helmets sporting tubes and antennae at various angles with green/silver paint roughly smeared on their faces with a coverage that varies depending on the sweatiness of the actor. The worst effects of all are hard to pick, but perhaps it comes in the scene set in one of Mars’ great forests; a too long, panning, establishing shot suggests they were proud of the work here but some red lumps resembling tree branches with fake spiders webs strewn over them would not be good enough even for Ed Wood’s Mars-based feature. Speaking of Mars’ great forests; any movie is allowed some passes from real-world logic, and any Sci-Fi movie some techno-babble, but that isn’t to say the script can be comprised of nothing but the above elements. At every stage it’s totally unclear how characters know certain things, such as one of Santa’s Elves exclaiming “They’re Martians!” when the green-paint-smeared humanoids walk in even though they are the first creatures on planet Earth ever to witness the aliens. I always work to avoid spoilers in my reviews so I can’t be more specific because most of the major plot points in this film require the writers to simply assume that a character knows something that is otherwise totally unexplained, or for a threat to suddenly have a fatal weakness that had previously gone unmentioned. The quote “It… it turned into a toy!” should be enough explanation for anyone who has already seen this film.

“Can I get my make-up redone?” “KEEP ROLLING!”

This film stands with one foot in the so-bad-it’s-good section of cinema that I adore so much, but never manages to remain for too long. The unintentional jokes wear thin after a while, when the intentional jokes remind us they did expect us to laugh at this film for entirely different reasons, and it all becomes rather tiresome after a while. It does remain good-bad enough in sporadic bursts however to be entertaining for the most hardy aficionados of crap cinema, just don’t expect to introduce anyone to the potential joy of terrible movies with this one. You have to WANT to find this one funny to have any chance of finding some dark enjoyment here. It’s a challenge, believe me.

1/10

ANNOUNCEMENT! – ‘Tis the season of Yuletide Terror

silent-night

It all of a sudden turns out to be December, and as such the Christmas decorations are all around our apartment, we’re figuring out what to buy for friends and family that they don’t already have, and in general having a really nice time in what would otherwise be a very cold and dark Norwegian Winter. This season brings in tow it’s own genre of movies, which I love, but among those cozy and delightful Disney films & heartwarming family films there’s a certain darker side to Christmas Cinema, one that intrigues me most of all. So I’m starting a mini season of reviews called Yuletide Terror where I’ll work through as many of these dark and strange Christmas ‘Classics’ as I can. There’s more information on the dedicated page for the season… HERE!

Carrie vs. Carrie vs. Carrie vs. Carrie 2 – 40th Anniversary

With November marking 40 years since the classic Brian DePalma film of Stephen Kings’s novel was released, it seemed a good time to revisit (and in some cases for me, visit for the first time) all the different screen versions of Carrie that have been produced over the years. I did write a review of the fairly recent Chloe Moretz-starring version where I compared it to the original but it doesn’t hurt to revisit things after a few years and it was particularly interesting watching the same story being told by different people over the course of two days. I still haven’t read the book so I can’t compare which version is most faithful, but this is my own opinion of each film. Here goes! The Clash of the Carries! The Ultimate Carrie Showdown! The… yeah I’m done.

Carrie (1976) Director: Brian DePalma

carrieposter

The “original” classic here, and after 40 years it would be ridiculous to say that it hasn’t aged, but it still holds up as an excellent teen/horror movie. DePalma’s visual flair is evident throughout, with his trademark split focus shots, wild camera movements, and split screen moments that in the wrong hands can be ridiculous but are used selectively, to awesome dramatic effect. Sissy Spacek sets the standard for all Carries to follow, a vulnerable outcast who is understandably terrified of being both school and home, Spacek looks utterly lost throughout the entire movie. It’s impossible to not feel sorry for her, and her expressions in the climactic prom scene are nothing short of terrifying. Rewatches of this film don’t seem to diminish the effect of the climax, because the prom scene pre-pig’s blood is so entirely dreamlike and perfect, and goes on for so long that even when you’ve seen it a number of times, you still find yourself wishing it won’t happen. My girlfriend said “let’s just switch it off here; it’s all fine” which pretty much sums up my feelings about it too. The film in general has very little to complain about in my opinion (other than the horrendous ’70’s hairstyles), and while I felt like I wanted to see a bit more about Carrie’s mother’s story I understand that the approach DePalma took allowed Carrie to take most of the audience’s sympathy and not to distract us from being terrified when her mother loses it (which really happens quite a few times). She’s still not entirely mindless though either, so she doesn’t become a villain characteur. This is an excellent movie that is deservedly considered a horror classic. Did we need any re-adaptations? Probably not, but if we must we must. The biggest surprise however, given the very much closed ending of this film, is the one that comes next in the chronology: a sequel!?

The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999) Director: Katt Shea

carrieposter2

If two decades seemed long enough for Carrie to have escaped the curse of the classic horror movie sequel, we were wrong. 1999 saw the release of the entirely uncalled-for sequel which somehow manages to balance being a terrible retelling of the same story  while also having nothing in common with the previous movie. A moody opening features a seemingly psychotic woman painting a red line around her living room before she is interrupted by her daughter. She slaps the paint brush in the daughter’s face. Now, whether this is meant to be artsy, as though the red paint is foreshadowing the pig’s blood, whether it’s a cheap way of avoiding showing a young child getting actually slapped in a movie, or whatever, did no one stop to think just how goofy this looks? I guess not. Well, smash forward to 1999 and Rachel (a.k.a. Carrie 2) is now at high school. She’s a bit of a goth, and every shot of her bedroom or locker shows a Marilyn Manson poster, so I guess this is the characterization we get to show that she’s “troubled”. As far as her school life goes she’s an outcast because she’s alternative, but she is hardly bullied, as opposed to screaming that she’s dying when she has her first period she’s discussing her best friend losing her virginity, and she seems all round a fairly normal high school emo kid, so there’s really very little to feel sorry for her about. But obviously things happen and tenuous links are made to the first movie to weasel in an explanation for the fact that Rachel starts moving things with her mind, and horrible pseudo-artsy black-and-white shots are thrown in at random points to make us feel like something exciting is happening. All this is wrapped around a tedious 90’s high school setting with all the unbearable elements that come with that. Now, we can’t blame the film for being made in 1999, but we can blame it for having obnoxious comedy moments with one of the guys from American Pie. He serves no purpose in the movie, just occasionally shows up to make a shit joke about what’s happening. Even during the climactic prom party scene which is actually a really cool setpiece, it suddenly cuts to this guy who makes a stupid joke along the lines of “we’re missing a killer party dude” killing what little excitement or tension that the climax of this otherwise pointless movie had managed to muster up. This film manages to be barely watchable and little more than that.

Carrie (2002) Director: David Carson

carrieposter3

This version of the story was made as a TV movie for NBC, one part a re-imagining of the novel, and one part a pilot episode for an upcoming TV series of Carrie. The TV series never came to be so we are left with this odd relic which follows the story almost religiously until the final moments (because obviously the title character kinda needs to be alive for a series right?). The film is told from the perspective of Sue Snell, who through the course of all versions of the story takes pity on and eventually becomes friends with Carrie. She is conducting a police interview to an incredibly skeptical officer who believes she is understating her part in the tragic events at the prom. Straight from the beginning I found the sharp-tongued Sue Snell incredibly irritating. She talks back to the policeman with such a sneering over-confidence that really falls flat & makes her an incredibly dislikable character. Even worse than Sue Snell is Billy Nolan, played by John Travolta in the first movie. DePalma showed this character was certainly not a nice guy, and hinted at being abusive to his girlfriend Chris, but in this version he’s “lock him in a padded cell” psychotic, disturbing to the point of being laughable. It seems to almost portray Chris as a sympathetic character, which I feel is defying the point of the story (a theme that will become more evident through this review). However, Carrie herself, played by Angela Bettis, is thankfully much more likable. She is actually the highlight of this retelling, rivaling but not quite outdoing Spacek’s performance in the first film. The extended runtime of just over 2 hours you would think should give us a bit more insight into some backstory about the mother or to expand on some aspects of the story but it really doesn’t do much of that at all. A flashback to Carrie’s birth and the resulting meteor shower should have remained omitted because the CGI effects in this scene are unspeakably bad. Even a TV movie shouldn’t get away with that! Somehow the same story is just stretched over a longer time, albeit with less edge due to a key producer apparently wanting this version to have less anti-religious sentiment (i.e. defying the entire point of the story), and the general blood & gore & bad language being reduced greatly (i.e. defying the point of re-making a classic horror). Interestingly Carrie’s powers seem a lot stronger from the beginning; whereas near the beginning of DePalma’s movie she simply smashes an ashtray sitting on the desk in the principal’s office, in this version her tantrum causes the whole desk to be shoved across the room. All the other early telekinesis scenes are re-hashed with this exaggerated effect. Some may find it more exciting, but it verges on looking more like a spoof than a remake at times. This is really as far as the film deviates though; the majority of the film just is a very polite, TV-friendly scene-by-scene retread. of the original with some 21st century tweaks. The re-write on the ending is what I was really excited for, and when it was revealed I was reminded that I was a fool for getting my hopes up. The only truly original part of the movie is extremely weak and makes rather little sense, purely a botched together setup for the series that never followed. It’s not entirely awful, with some good cast members making this revamp of the story bearable, especially the title character herself, but ultimately after a single viewing of this, if I ever want to see Carrie again I’ll definitely pick the superior-in-every-respect DePalma version.

Carrie (2013) Director: Kimberly Pierce

carrieposter4

Since a terrible sequel and a little-known-of and rather pointless TV movie weren’t enough to tarnish the reputation of the classic story, a big screen “reimagining” was announced in 2011 to the delight of practically no one. But, over time the unusual choice of director and lead actress garnered curiosity and threatened to be one of the few good horror movie remakes. Well, it’s actually very worthwhile in my opinion. You can read my full review from when it was released here and my opinion hasn’t changed all that much on revisiting it. To summarize it suffers the same downfall of any direct re-do of common source material that it follows the same main plot beats. It’s perhaps unfair to call it lazy for this reason because major changes to the plot would have probably ruined the purpose of the film. There lies the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” issue in continuously remaking and rebooting old horrors; changes or no, people won’t be happy with it! That said, there is enough added to give the film it’s own identity… a bit. Chloe Moretz is by far the prettiest Carrie of the lot, a choice that many criticized, but she isn’t bullied just because she looks weird (sorry, other Carrie actresses); she’s a total outcast who has a religious fanatic mother, and simply doesn’t know how to socialise. Pretty or not I think it’s fair to say she’d be bullied in the real world and Moretz plays Carrie brilliantly, from naive and insecure doormouse at the beginning to psychotic mass-murderer in the climax. Between Carrie’s portrayal and  Pierce’s 21st century updating of the story this film succeeds in making stronger points about bullying and even the reasons she is such an outcast than any other adaptation. Similarly, the backstory for the mother is better fleshed out than any other version, bringing together a more heartfelt rendition of the deeper emotions in the story, where DePalma’s version is much more effective in conveying and playing upon more raw, primal emotions. That’s not to say that the blood and violence has been omitted; plenty of blood is shed by many characters, especially in the extended scenes of carnage at the climax that special effects technology simply wouldn’t have permitted in the 70’s. I really do believe that this film stands strongly against DePalma’s first adaptation, even if it does prop itself up on DePalma’s movie. I like the changes that have been made, although there could well have been a few more perhaps to really make it stand on its own legs and really prove itself necessary despite the inherent risks.

I would happily have copies of the DePalma and Pierce adaptations next to each other on my movie shelf, entirely disregard all knowledge of the sequel existing, and to be honest I’ve already forgotten that the TV movie exists it was so pointless. while I really do have a lot of praise for the Kimberly Pierce movie, I feel it would be wrong to claim it matches, certainly that it outperforms, the first movie from 40 years ago. Pierce always steered clear of the term”remake”, stating clearly that it was a fresh take on the book but DePalma clearly got so many things right that Pierce had no option but to essentially remake at least certain moments in the film. DePalma’s version is not just the best adaptation to date, but it clearly lays the foundations for all future versions so far.

carriebirthday

Happy Birthday Carrie!

OBLIGATORY BLOGLOVIN’ POST

So, the relaunch of this site didn’t go quite as strongly as I meant to, but I promise I haven’t forgotten about it! Since my girlfriend has re-started on her blog (WARNING: it’s in Norwegian) perhaps this will give me the extra boost to get going with the reviews. Anyway, I am just posting this because I’m creating a bloglovin’ account and they need me to post this link:

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Thanks!

Warcraft: The Beginning (2016) – Review

warcraft

It’s hard to find a video-game-to-movie adaptation that truly stands on its own as a great film. I’ll always argue that Silent Hill is an excellent horror movie no matter what anyone else says provided we don’t speak about the sequel, Revelation, but it seems that this is my personal exception to the rule and was by no means unanimously successful among movie-goers as well as fans of the games. The hierarchy of video game adaptations goes down and down from here, through the campy but occasionally enjoyable Resident Evil, Mortal Kombat, and Tomb Raider franchises, landing at the bottom of the deep, dark pit where the downright offensive and grotesque adaptation of Super Mario Bros. lies. 2016 threatens to break the curse of the video game adaptation (a phrase that countless movies have proudly declared in the past before running away with their tails between their legs) with the releases of the hugely anticipated Assassin’s Creed movie and before that, this one; an adaptation of the ridiculously popular, ridiculously huge MMORPG video game World of Warcraft. Does it truly “break the curse” as many others have tried and failed, or does it land in the pile of at-best-near-misses with every other adaptation to precede it?

warcraft2_zps9zqwvp3d

Warcraft is rarely subtle

Warcraft is high fantasy, there is no way of avoiding that. The story follows various orc clans that have been united into a single Horde by the Shaman Gul’dan in order to travel through a magical portal powered by the life force of living creatures to the human realm of Azeroth because their realm, Draenor, is polluted and dead. Naturally the king of Azeroth is not too chuffed when the Orcs start raiding villages across the realm, and so sets out to stop them, assisted by the Guardian Mage, Medivh. The film doesn’t even take a modern Game of Thrones-style approach where it is a very human drama set in a fantasy world; director Duncan Jones dives headfirst into the fantasy, forcing us to accept that magic and monsters are very real and ever-present in this world. This works to the film’s advantage, because it doesn’t feel like it’s trying to dumb down the fantasy elements from the games to appease cynical audiences, and certainly doesn’t seem to be copying the style of other successful fantasy franchises from recent years.While Lord of the Rings certainly didn’t shy away from fantastic elements this movie is much more gleeful and action-packed. With a bright visual style that allows anything magical to glow neon colours and larger-than-life monsters to scatter humans like ragdolls in battle scenes that certainly don’t hold back on the violence yet still somehow manage to get the family friendly certifications, this really feels like what filmmakers of the 80’s would have created had they access to the visual effects of today.

warcraft2_zps9zqwvp3d

Power Rangers wished it looked this cool

These visual effects are what would always make or break this film. Many wished for an entirely CG movie of Warcraft, but after the lukewarm figures for Beowulf, Christmas Carol, and the most recent disaster of Mars Needs Moms I imagine producers are very wary of “realistic CGI”, motion captured films for some time. This left fans worrying about whether the makers could successfully sell live-action humans interacting with unearthly CGI creatures without it looking like a poor mime act, and for these creatures to display enough emotion to allow them to become main characters rather than plasticy dead-eyed mannequins (I refer you to every scene with Azog in The Hobbit trilogy for an example of both of these tasks going terribly wrong…) The first scene featuring our hero Orc, Durotan, puts all these worries to rest. A static, silent close-up shot of his face as he sits over his pregnant wife, tears are subtly brimming in his eyes. It’s astounding how touching this entirely computerized little moment is; Durotan’s face and eyes hold so much emotion and life. The effects never drop below this quality in fact. Whether by controlled firelight as in this scene or in broad daylight (always the true test for CG characters) the Orcs and other creatures really do seem to exist alongside and interact with the human actors. I’ve always championed practical effects in fantasy but have to begrudgingly admit that this movie chose correctly to do everything with CGI.

“I look good”

Where the effects are the strongest point of the movies its weakest point isn’t necessarily the plot itself, but in how the plot is put across. Many sources have quoted Duncan Jones on his original cut being a whole 40 minutes longer, and the cuts really do show. This film has an entirely new universe to establish, a rather dense plot with multiple lead characters to build up, and a number of epic battle scenes; all a lot to do in barely 120 minutes. All these things are managed, but only just so. Many scenes are reduced to simple, colour-by-numbers exposition. We sometimes even don’t get an establishing shot, and more often than not we have no room to breathe and explore this beautifully realised world, we just get a brief scene where characters explain what they feel or plan to do or so on, and we instantly cut straight to the next scene. It makes seemingly interesting and charismatic characters struggle to really capture our feelings, and causes confusion to uninformed viewers. It’s interesting that those I watched the film with didn’t feel things were so rushed and confusing when they are World of Warcraft veterans whereas I haven’t spent a single minute on the game (I play Hearthstone, a card game based on some WoW characters but I had no idea of their backstories or the world in general). It’s clear that those who already understand this world don’t need a guiding hand, but many other people, myself included, need this fundamental understanding to be taught to us. Even for established fans, it would be nice to see a wider world realised on screen. Brief glimpses of the detail that the film could have gone into, such as a Murloc visible in a stream, and a certain comical spell being used on a guard are small tastes of what could have been. Let’s just hope we one day see a Lord of the Rings-esque Extended Cut. It is either a cynical cash-grabbing move where the home video extended cut is inevitable, or it is a nervous studio hacking away in the belief that audiences can’t handle long runtimes despite every superhero movie of late seeming to last seven hours by which time the next sequel has already been released.

The editor, ready to do his work on Warcraft

All considered, the best way I can summarise my opinion of Warcraft is that it is a brilliant high-fantasy movie that has been unnecessarily cut down to its bones. Incredible visuals, brilliantly choreographed battle scenes, lovable leads (both live action and CG) all work together in an engrossing and entertaining plot that just runs by too quickly. I feel like Duncan Jones may have actually come closer to breaking the Video Game Adaptation Curse than any other has, but the curse came back to get him at the final editing hurdle, resulting in a movie that should prove very successful among established fans of the franchise, but risks alienating or confusing newcomers who don’t pay enough attention to take in new information in every minute of the runtime. PLEASE give us the original cut, Legendary! And if not, at least let the already-announced sequels spend a bit more time in the world.

7/10

I’m back!

Well, it’s been almost a year since my last review and a lot has happened. Long story short, when I last wrote here I was living in the Highlands of Scotland taking out boredom through complaining about bad films. I now find myself living in Norway with my amazing girlfriend. Nonetheless, I still need to moan and complain about the terrible films I force myself to watch and decided to resurrect this website for just that reason! I do hope some of my older readers haven’t unsubscribed; sorry for the absence, but I’m finally back to discuss/argue/debate/teach/learn and do whatever else we self-proclaimed “critics” intend to do.

medium_5151202699_WEB

Back from the dead

The Human Centipede 3: Final Sequence (2015) – Review & Retrospective

thc3poster

The main part of this review was written for the awesome folk at Acting Hour

Has there been a more divisive franchise in recent years than The Human Centipede? Tom Six’s 2009 original introduced us to the mad scientist Dr Heiter’s stomach-churning, “100% medically accurate” idea of attaching three people anus-to-mouth to form the continuous digestive passage of the titular creation. Filmed clinically and largely straight-faced some saw the film as body horror gone too far; a sick fantasy reserved for the darkest deluded souls; while others saw a sly humour weaved into the grossness. This divide couldn’t have been clearer in my local cinema where my friends and I sat laughing while others walked out in disgust. So too this image clearly reveals which side of the fence I found myself on. Never is anything played for laughs, but all through the film there seems to be a tongue firmly lodged in Six’s cheek. Also Dieter Laser’s Dr Heiter is a true horror villain: understatedly eccentric with a natural air of unhinged terror about him, he really makes the film.

“This was a TERRIBLE idea”

2011’s sequel seemed to be Six’s personal address towards everyone who commented on the first by defiantly raising two fingers – those who derided it as sick were shown just how bad things could be; those who loved it and wanted more were given something almost impossible to enjoy; and those who sneered that the original was too tame were taught to be careful what they wish for. A clever bit of meta-film-making saw the sequel set in the “real world” where Laurence R. Harvey plays Martin; a devoted fan of the original movie. Martin is severely mentally challenged, beaten and abused by all those who should care for him, creating a much darker and unpleasant character study than the first. Shot in dingy black & white, with filthy locations and unrelentingly brutal violence as Martin haphazardly mutilates and staples together now twelve individuals for his homage to Heiter’s fictional creation, it is among the most unpleasant films I’ve ever seen. It was initially refused certification by the BBFC, a rare decision effectively banning the movie in the UK; a decision that was soon overturned following public backlash and a swathe of cuts, but the franchise had already attained widespread infamy through the free publicity that only a banned movie can garner. Did I enjoy the Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence? No. But I love the sheer belligerence it displays, and I think you have to at least acknowledge the success with which Six fulfills his intent of creating a hateful, near-unwatchable experience.

“Oh god what have I done”

Finally, fast forward to 2015 and the much-awaited-by-some third and final part to the trilogy is finally released with a glitzy L.A. premiere, a number of famous faces in the cast, and a scope & production value far greater than its predecessors. Don’t get the idea that The Human Centipede has gone ‘mainstream’ though; the gleeful tagline “100% Politically Incorrect” suggests this films tone will be far from the tried and tested horror-by-numbers sensibilities of a Blumhouse Production. The main question that dampered the hype building up to release was whether, after two whole films, the concept of the Human Centipede itself had anything left to offer.

Set in the fictional George H.W. Bush Penitentiary in the middle of the Texan desert, the deranged, racist, and misogynist warden Bill Boss and his simpering accountant Dwight Butler are played respectively by Dieter Laser & Laurence R. Harvey, both of whom played the main characters in the previous two installments. Yes, this film pushes the meta styling of the second movie to Inception-style lengths by having both films existing in this fictional setting, making the original essentially a film-within-a-film-within-a-film. Unruly prisoners and sprialling costs (unaided by Boss’ tendency to inflict a few injuries on his patrols) prompt Eric Roberts’ Governer Hughes to insist on major changes else the duo are fired. After a string of failed schemes aiming to achieve Boss’ dream of domination over the prison, each involving some form of torture or dismemberment towards the prisoners, Dwight suggests they take inspiration from the infamous Human Centipede movies.

That’s… er, lovely

This film is not going to win any Oscars. In place of any strong characterisation or plot, each scene is intended to repluse and offend, with no taboo left untouched. Most people have a certain topic that hits a raw nerve & offends them. Rest assured that this film will certainly address it at least once. The thing is that it is done with such mindless glee, never hesitating for a second, that I found myself laughing at the most abhorrent things. I’m not sure how to defend the idea that a boiling waterboarding scene could be in any way funny, but it is, along with the countless unthinkable things that are done in this movie. Of course Six’s unflinchingly twisted screenplay and grindhouse-style direction are accountable, but I think a fair share of the humour comes from Dieter Laser’s performance that can only be described as insane. He’s a strange man to look at anyway; his skeletal features accentuated by a completely shaved head, atop a gangly frame that moves with such deliberate control, he seems more like an alien that’s doing a mediocre job at pretending to be a human. Every action is so overblown and expressive, and every line is screamed out loud with such manic passion. The combination of wild agression and his thick German accent results in a good portion of his lines being barely distinguishable, but some grotesque gesticulations tend to fill in any blanks as to what he was referring to. Laurence R. Harvey is not given the opportunity to steal the show in the way Laser does, but seems just as comfortable in this overblown comedic style of acting as he did in the brutally grim, straight-faced style of the second installment to the franchise. Just like Laser, though, he seems to really become his character – every action & intonation seems considered. Six has either had an enormous stroke of luck or has done a fantastic job (or probably a combination of the two) in searching out these two actors for his trilogy.

NO DEITER. PUT IT DOWN.

One surprising bit of casting comes in Tom Six, cast as himself. When the duo decide to form their prison human centipede, they naturally call on the director for advice. In brilliant self-parodying narcissism, Six gives himself his own theme music whenever he enters the prison, and allows a minute or two for characters to fawn over him & discuss the cultural impact of the two previous Human Centipede movies. In an answer to every cringeworthy director cameo (Tarantino, I’m looking at you…), Six creates a charicateur of himself in moments that are so deliberately cringeworthy they’re hilarious.

“… with barbed wire?”

This is the best looking film of the trilogy. After the simple, clinical look of the first, and the grimy, handheld, snuff-esque aesthetic of the second, this has a real American indie film look to it, with the Texan location offering wide, empty vistas, sweeping camera movements and a warm colour grade. If it wasn’t for every single moment of the movie being entirely inappropriate, this wouldn’t look out of place at Sundance or the like. Six has clearly realised his Human Centipede concept, no matter how many legs it may have, can only run so far: managing to squeeze two films out of it without it feeling unnecessary was impressive, but a third really would have pushed it too far. As such, the ‘pede itself is really a footnote to the wider story of the prison; merely the method by which Boss aims to take control of his prison. Little time is dedicated to the process of creating it, or even to the finished piece. An astute move when horror sequels often tend to repeat the same formula over and over until no one notices they stop making them.

He chose this over watching yet another Paranormal Activity sequel

The last thing I want to touch on is something only available on the DVD & Blu-Ray release of this film: the alternative ending. As always, I will give no spoilers, but rather than a different ending, this is an additional scene that plays after the final moments of the movie. True to the spirit of the franchise, it creates a canonical nightmare that is the most bitter, cynical and ultimately hilarious “Fuck You” to everyone. It’s the sort of ending that you’d see as a cruel joke on a forum somewhere. It’s fair to say I’m gutted this wasn’t kept in the final cut of the movie as I’d love to hear more reactions on it. I can understand it being cut as people who haven’t seen the first two films will have no idea what’s going on, but for those familiar with the series I consider this the “true” ending.

Both expressions sum up my reaction to the alternate ending

The Human Centipede 3: Final Sequence is an anarchic and outrageous film; it gleefully over-achieves on its clear-set goal of offending anyone and everyone and manages to be incredibly funny in the process. In case you had any doubts before sitting down to watch it, you will certainly realise you’re a terrible person for laughing at half of the moments in this movie. You’ll definitely want to carefully pick who you watch this with, but with a hand-picked group of equally twisted friends this is a hilariously disgusting experience with some magnificent performances that rounds off the trilogy with excessive, self-referential style.

8/10

Deadly Waters (2015) – review for ukhorrorscene

Another zero-budget British horror review here for ukhorrorscene.com – Deadly Waters is about a seaside town where men keep disappearing mysteriously. Is it a killer? Are they running away? Is it something to do with the legends of the bloodthirsty sirens living off the shores? There’s only one way to find out! See my review HERE & social media links are at the end the reivew to keep up with release information!

deadlywaters