Crikey! "Wolf Creek" is a Disturbing Aussie Horror Trip!


9/12/2019

Writer/Director Greg Mclean has created a charismatic and memorable Australian serial killer in the form of Mick Taylor for the 2005 film “Wolf Creek”.  While the plot and storyline are minimal and quite familiar, Mclean takes time to develop the characters for max effect when things start to go south.  Similarities could be made to the “Crocodile Dundee” films of the mid to late 80s, “Wolf Creek” spins the story of your classic outback survivalist in a completely different direction, but they do make a few nods to it in the film.

“30,000 people go missing in Australia each year, 90% are found within a month” Theses are the words displayed on the screen as the film opens.  We are taken into the lives of 3 college friends Liz, Kristy, and Ben who are in the midst a wild drunken party.  When the sunrises the next morning everyone is in hangover mode.  The three friends get into a car and head off on a road trip to the Wolf Creek Crater site.  This is when we finally see the films credit sequence.  Throughout the film we are treated to several wide-angle shots that showcase the beauty of the Australian outback, that juxtaposed with the nastiness of Mick.

Once they get to the site they have to take a three-hour hike in the rain to visit the awe-inspiring crater.  Since this is a horror movie we are treated to some scary campfire stories of UFOs and strange supernatural occurrences that supposedly happened at the site.   There is also a budding romance between Ben and Liz.  It’s dark when they get back to the car and wouldn’t you know it the car won’t start.  I don’t think there would be cell service even if they did have phones.  After contemplating what they should do next they are approached by two giant lights in the distance.  No Ben it's not a UFO, but a big truck coming to help them out.  Mick gets out and introduces himself, he is charismatic and a bit eccentric.  After some hesitation, they agree to have their car towed back to his place, which a quite far away.  Back around the campfire, Mick tells some gory stories of his life being a pig hunter and a chorus of awkward laughter hangs over every word.  Liz, Kristy, and Ben all drink from the same water jug and wouldn’t you know it was drugged.  

Liz wakes up with her wrists and ankles zip-tied, she is able to break free and heads to the barn where Kristy is tied to a post screaming and crying.  2005 was the start of the short-lived torture porn era in horror as Eli Roth’s Hostel was also released the same year.  Liz is able to get the drop on Mick and shoots him in the neck.  She unties Kristy and they try to make their escape.  Of course Mick is far from dead and the hunt is on.  The girls try to outsmart Mick, but they never stay hidden for very long.  We get to see more of Mick’s vast camp that includes a graveyard of old cars and one of bones and rotting corpses.  The girls almost get away a couple of times but it was never meant to be.  We then finally get to see what happened to Ben, although he is nailed to a cross he manages to escape.  As he looks for a way back to civilization he is caught in the middle of a full solar eclipse.  Ben is eventually able to find a road and flag down some tourists who take him to safety.  

Before the end credits, we get a few paragraphs that say that this was based on a true story and the girls' bodies were never found.  Ben was not found to be guilty of any crime and now live in a mental facility.  No trace of Mick has ever been found either.  “Wolf Creek” is better than your average horror film with its character development, truly nasty gore effects, brilliant cinematography, and the wonderfully insane Mick Taylor.  Greg Mclean also directed the sequel “Wolf Creek 2” in 2014 which is a less successful carbon copy of the original.  


"Cry Wolf" Will Make you a Believer


9/5/2019

The late 1990s and early 2000s were all about the teen horror movie, a sub-genre that was reinvigorated by Wes Craven’s 1996 film “Scream”.  Although “Cry Wolf” doesn’t rewrite the rules of the modern scary movie, it is a low budget film with a clever script and Jon Bon Jovi as a teacher? Say what!

The story takes place at West Lake Prep school, a repository of rich and over-privileged teens who keep themselves entertained by playing elaborated games of lying and deception.  We enter the film through the eyes of new student Owen (Julien Morris), who is way too innocent looking and also happens to be British.  He is introduced into the world of West Lake by the resident popular girl, Dodger (Lindy Booth). Then Owen meets the popular kids and is invited to sneak out after dark to join them in playing the lying game.  He leaves an impression and obviously develops a crush on Dodger.  While in the library together they instigate a prank in creating a campus serial killer.  The technology used in the film is period-accurate so by today’s standards is quite outdated.  The students use AOL Instant Messenger to pass around rumors about “The Wolf” and his recent victim, a girl who was actually murdered in the woods by the school.  The Wolf becomes a viral sensation before the term viral was even a thing.  Smartphones were still a few years away and social media was still in its infancy.

Things then start to get real when Owen and a few other students are attacked by a person dressed up like the Wolf (Camo jacket, orange ski mask, large hunting knife).  The search is on to find out who this person is and everyone on campus is a suspect.  As I mentioned in the opening, Jon Bon Jovi plays Mr. Walker a teacher who is found out to be having an affair with Dodger.  She has broken it off, but Owen isn’t so sure.  At one point Owen loses his book bag while running from the killer and when he gets it back the killers hunting knife if found inside implicating him.  The students in the lying game circle start to disappear and the remaining students are freaked out and want the game to be finished.  The third act involves betrayals, double-crosses and a surprising murder or was that the plan all along?  Without giving away too many spoilers the puppet master is revealed and we find out all the intricate details.  This movie takes full advantage of the shocking twist ending that was popularized by “The Sixth Sense”.  “Cry Wolf” is an entertaining horror film that while not earth-shattering rises above your average scary movie.

"The Howling" is an 80s Horror Classic!


8/22/2019

1981 was a full moon when it came to werewolf movies as two classics of the genre were released.  In the Springtime we saw Joe Dante’s “The Howling” and in late summer John Landis’s “An American Werewolf in London” came out.  Both films offer similar groundbreaking visual effects but this review will focus on “The Howling”.

Prolific actress Dee Wallace stars as Karen White a television reporter who is hot on the trail of a serial killer named Eddie the Mangler.  When she arranges to meet a source in a shady red light district porno shop.  As you might expect things go terribly wrong and she is attacked by Eddie.  She survives and Eddie is shot dead by the police.  Her husband Bill is supportive with his great hair and porn star mustache, but Karen still struggles with debilitating PTSD.  Dr. George Wagner, a psychiatrist plugging his latest book on television tells Karen about a backwoods retreat he runs called The Colony and invites her and Bill to check it out.  When they get there it looks like a hippie commune filled with a number of strange characters.  All of the residents stare at Karen and Bill and you know something is up.  Even when they get settled in their cabin Karen hears howling noises at night.  So her and another women go out to investigate and as you would expect in a horror movie her flashlight dies.  They then run into a mutilated cow and a couple of hunters and all is good.

Back in the city the police along with two other reporters Chris and Terry, who are friends of Karen, investigate Eddie’s apartment and find all kinds of weird pictures, drawings, and objects.  Drawings of wolf-like people that foreshadows what's to come up at The Colony.  They then come to find that Eddie’s body is missing from the morgue.  Chris and Terry go to an occult bookstore and get a history lesson on werewolves, then they decide to go to The Colony and try to save Karen and Bill. 

The mythology of the werewolf is of the beast that resides in all of us.  It’s about deeply repressed feeling and emotions that try to claw their way out of us.  Another great example is the movie “Ginger Snaps” about two teen sisters coming to grips with their burgeoning sexuality.

Bill is the first one to be bitten and changed as he is seduced by the sexy vixen Marsha.  Once Chris and Terry arrive all hell is breaking loose.  Eddie is back for some unfinished business with Karen and we see him fully transform into a wolf.  For 1981 these practical special effects are amazing and still look great every by today’s standards.  It gives the film a look that you just can’t get with CGI.  We also see Dr. Wagner as the Alpha wolf attacking Terry.  The fight for survival is on.  Just when Karen gets to a car and drives away she comes to a barricade put up by the kind old Sheriff Sam, but he too is a wolf.  Karen then is attacked from behind and bitten by none other than Bill.  When they get back home things seem to be normal as Karen is ready to get back in front of the camera for the first time since the initial attack.  Although she has a plan of her own when she transforms into a werewolf on live T.V. to make people believe they are real.  This all falls on deaf ears as the public thinks it’s a hoax or some kind of publicity stunt.  This movie is also jam-packed with in-jokes and ironic props.  Wolf Chili anyone?  All through this film launched a franchise of about 8 sequels the original is the only that should be ever be watched.  

"Dog Soldiers" is a Howling Good Movie!


8/20/2019

British director Neil Marshall’s debut feature was the 2002 werewolf film “Dog Soldiers” which is now regarded one of the great werewolf movies since the 80s classics “The Howling” and “An American Werewolf in London”.  What’s more is that the film was very low budget and didn’t have a U.S theatrical release, although it did hit the festival circuit.

Taking place in the highlands of Scotland an army platoon is going through training exercises when they realize that they are ones being hunted and not by other soldiers, but by a pack werewolves   We spend some time getting to know the soldiers.  The main guy is Pvt. Cooper (Kevin McKidd) who when approached by a special forces commander and ordered to shoot a dog he refuses.  This scene is also echoed at the end of the film.  The army platoon reaches their camp and they tell stories around the campfire when a mutilated animal crashes the party.  The morning after they find that the special forces team was completely wiped out with only one survivor the commander.  On the run from the wolves, they are picked up by a woman in a Jeep and brought to a farmhouse that is still miles and miles from civilization.  With no phones or radio, the house is soon under siege from the pack and they must fight for their lives and barricade themselves inside.  The fear and paranoia that is created is real and consistent for the remainder of the film.  We also get P.O.V. shots of the werewolves when the film switches from color to high contrast black and white.

Megan, the women who rescued them, starts to come off as a person who seems to know a lot more than she is telling everyone but still helps the team in their attempts to get help and also cares for the injured.  The third act is jam-packed with epic explosions, brutal combat and a major double-cross. 

The filmmakers fully embraced using practical effects in creating everything from the blood, guts, and gore to the werewolves themselves.  All of the locations are real and not done on a soundstage, which is essential in creating the feel and atmosphere of the film.  It is ridiculous how good this film looks and feels for the reported 2 million dollar budget.  This film will definitely satisfy those hardcore horror fans and is worthy of a buy at add to your disc collection.


Brian De Palma's "Sisters" is a Classic!


8/15/2019

*Contains Spoilers”

The 1973 film “Sisters” was director Brian De Palma’s Hitchcockian murder mystery starring Margot Kidder and Jennifer Salt.  Released a few years before his breakout film “Carrie” “Sisters” deals with a woman in the grips of severe psychological trauma and a female reporter trying to get her big break.

The film opens with a close up of a growing fetus inside a womb then revealing conjoined twins Danielle and Dominique.  Margot Kidder plays both parts but primarily as Danielle a French Canadian fashion model who is consistently stalked by her weaselly ex-husband Emil.  While on a hidden camera game show she strikes up a relationship with Phillip and after a dinner date they go up to her apartment.  The whole feel of the film is one of voyeurism, especially from the point of Grace Collier (Jennifer Salt), the newspaper reporter who lives in the next building over.  The morning after Phillip goes to the pharmacy to pick up Danielle’s medication and also gets her a birthday cake at the bakery.  When he gets back he is rudely greeted by a sleeping Dominque who stabs him to death.  

Alfred Hitchcock has been a huge influence on De Palma’s career and you can see allusions to several Hitchcock classics like “Rear Window” and “Psycho” within “Sisters”.  While Danielle and Emil frantically clean up the murder scene, Grace Collier witnesses the whole thing and is hot on their trail and calling the police to investigate.  De Palma is also known for using split screens in a  majority of his films.  It’s a unique and clever device when used correctly and he has perfected it.  The police find nothing out of the ordinary (of course) as the body is hidden within a sofa-bed.  

What we see next is a cat and mouse thriller between Danielle and Grace.  Grace hires a private investigator as this story could be her big break.  But her dogged tenacity has dire consequences when the tables are turned and she’s accused of being the crazy one.  In a big exposition dump, we learn about Danielle’s troubled past and that of her twin sister.  We end up with a rather anti-climactic ending that is none the less quite chilling.  Although not completely satisfying in the traditional sense it seems to fit quite well for a De Palma film.


"Hellbound: Hellraiser II" A sequel worthy of the Original


7/9/2019

Read my review of the original “Hellraiser”

Released about a year after the original, Kristy is back as well as Pinhead and the Cenobites, which could also be the name of an awesome 80s metal band.  Nevertheless, like most women who survive a horror movie, Kristy is now confined to a mental hospital.  She is being treated by Dr. Channard and his young assistant Kyle.  As a hobby, Dr. Channard has been obsessed with death and searching for a doorway to hell.  After hearing Kristy’s story he thinks she is key to him finding it.

We get a number of flashbacks to the original, Kristy’s father Larry is now stuck in hell while her evil stepmother Julia is looking to be reborn and take revenge on Kristy after being killed off.  A lot hinges on the bloody mattress that she died on and the infamous puzzle box used to summon the sadomasochistic Cenobites.  Dr. Channard steals this mattress and bare with me, feeds it one of his patients.  This starts the resurrection process as we saw in the first film with Frank.  This time Julia comes back to life as a skinless, bloody mess looking for more victims to make her whole again.

While in the mental hospital Kristy makes friends with a quiet blonde girl named Tiffany who is about her age who has a talent for solving puzzles.  She could definitely come in handy when it comes to the puzzle box.  Kyle tries to help the girls but Julia gets rid of him pretty quick.  Tiffany is then able to open the puzzle box and the doorway to hell.  The girls not only need to fight off the evil Dr. Channard and Julia, but Kristy is hoping to also find her father.  Not to mention Pinhead and the cenobites who just love to dole out equal amounts of pain and pleasure to everyone.

Similar to the first film the practical special effects are amazing, but we do get another dose of cheesy optical and lighting effects which in this case can be forgiven.  I would have liked to have seen more of Pinhead and Cenobites as most of the story revolves around Dr. Channard and Julia.  In that area, I can help but feel a little cheated but overall it’s a decent sequel worthy of the “Hellraiser” name.


"Sinister 2" Another Unasked for Horror Sequel


6/21/2019

Before getting into this review please take a moment to check out my thoughts on the first film “Sinister”

For the sequel, we have a new family and this time a female protagonist in the form of a single mother named Courtney, played by Shannyn Sossamon.  Her and her twin boys, Dylan and Zach, are on the run from her abusive ex-husband and have found a place to lay low for a while.   The only returning character from the first film is Deputy So and So (James Ransone), who is now credited as Ex-Deputy So and So.  They keep up the running joke of never giving us his actual name.  He’s been on the road trying to stop the string of murders caused by the Pagan Deity Buguul.  

“Sinister 2” seems to fall into the horror sequel trap of rehashing what worked in the first film.  The filmmakers resort to investigating strange noises and more creepy 8 mm films that were created by the supernatural kids under Bughuul control.  The whole supernatural dead kids angle is a little strange as only Zach and Dylan can see them.  They choose Dylan and force him to watch the grainy and choppy 8 mm films showing families getting murdered.  Courtney and Ex-Deputy So and So start to develop a sort of relationship when her ex-husband Clint comes roaring with his truck trying to gain custody of the kids.  So and So stands up to him and cop he brought with him and they eventually leave.  It seems like this story really has nothing to do or anything important to say.  While it tries to explain the origins of Bughuul is just not at all scary or all that interesting for that matter.

The ending gets a bit of a twist as Zach is now the one who has been brainwashed into killing the family and how he gets them all tied up on crucifixes like scarecrows I do not know.  Anyway, things fizzle out and we are left with more nonsense.  By the way who develops the 8 mm film? No to many labs out there and for snuff films? Just a few holes in this swiss cheese of a film. 

"Super Dark Times"


5/25/2019

“Super Dark Times” delivers what it promises.  The film is dark and honest look time at the lives of a few teenagers living in suburban America and an event that will change all of their lives forever.  Although this promising film does suffer from a third act breakdown all of the stuff beforehand is well executed.

The story is grounded in a typical suburban American reality, Zach and Josh are best of friends who spend their days at school and riding bikes around their small rural town.  They hang out with a few other kids Charlie and Daryl.  Daryl is a character that everyone can probably remember knowing growing up.  He is the foul-mouthed fat kid, who tries way too hard to be liked.  With not much to do the teens wander around on their bikes usually ending up at someone's house.  The characters and dialogue feel extremely naturalistic and true to life which sets this film apart.  Stereotypes are held to a bare minimum and the characters feel lived in.  While at Josh’s house, they go into his older brothers room, who is currently in the Marines, and find some weed and a samurai sword.  Josh tells them to leave the weed, but they go outside and horse around with the sword.  What could go wrong right?

Daryl’s constant harassment of the others and the fact that he actually stole the weed pisses off Josh and they get into it a little bit.  But when Daryl sucker punches Josh, who is currently holding the sword, an unfortunate accident occurs.  Daryl is stabbed deeply in the throat and everybody freaks out.  This scene is hard to watch and its graphic realism is something that cuts to the core of anyone who sees it.  All three teens panic and cover up the body, they get rid of the sword and make a pact not to tell anyone.  This obviously creates a heavy sense of paranoia, guilt, and anxiety that takes this film to its ultimately unsatisfying ending.  Also at this time, Charlie’s girl crush at school starts to show interest in him.  Charlie is the heart of the film and the character the story primarily follows.  His journey is our journey.  His friendship with Josh quickly spirals into paranoia and fear of each other.  Although it's hard to say what a person would do in this situation you assume one if not both of the kids will crack under the pressure.  What Josh does seems to betray the strong sense of realism that the film has built up.  I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, but it just felt wrong.  This is a film about morality and doing the right thing and when you’re a teenager this can be very tricky.

“Super Dark Times” draws comparisons between 2001s “Bully” and 2004s “Mean Creek” although to me “Super Dark Times” feels more authentic while “Bully” like its title is more mean spirited.  Both films involve a sort of misguided revenge, while “Super Dark Times” revolves around an accident.  While made for under a million dollars “Super Dark Times” looks and feels like movies ten times its budget, as the characters really shine.  This is definitely a film to see despite its wayward ending.

REVIEW - "Mean Creek"
REVIEW - "Bully"

Bill Maher's "Religulous" is a Laugh Riot!


5/16/2019

Comedian Bill Maher is a man who doesn’t shy away from taboo subjects, he once has a TV show called “Politically Incorrect” and currently has a long running talk show on HBO called “Real Time with Bill Maher”.  The 2008 documentary “Religulous” takes a hilarious and unflinching look at religion and all its forms.

Maher had an interesting upbringing himself with his father being roman catholic and his mother Jewish. Obviously, when you start questioning peoples beliefs you’re going to run into some resistance, but Maher approaches this as a person with an open mind and doubt at its core.
Maher’s trademark sarcasm and quick wit have made him both a champion for his far left leaning supporters and a lightning rod of controversy for conservative America.  “Religulous” makes the point that “Religion has been detrimental to human progress”.  

Maher visits with numerous religious leaders and followers primarily in the American Midwest (the Bible belt) and asks simple questions that usually end up in laughs and awkward silences. Religion is quite the business and is very adept at exploiting peoples beliefs to fund lavish lifestyles for clergy members.  Maher travels to Florida to a Christian themed amusement park called “The Holy Land Experience” and interviews Jesus, who is some dude on a summer job. The park re-enacts the crucifixion and of course has a gift shop.  Maher’s presence alerts the staff and security similar to when people see Michale Moore with a camera crew.  In his travels, Maher brings up the very real issue of God and Nationalism.  While America is supposedly a melting pot of cultures, ideas, and freedoms it has always been fully enmeshed in Christianity.  

Maher interviews a number of Muslims who defend their beliefs and characterize their wrongs and denials as “politics”.  When it comes to Scientology and Mormon’s Maher has a field day in pointing out the eccentricities of these newer religions and their truly bizarre origins.  No matter what religion a person is affiliated with, how do these people come to believe the things they do?  Is it indoctrinated at youth like in the documentary “Jesus Camp”?  To take everything on blind faith is quite dangerous and detrimental to society as a whole.  All too often beliefs are forced upon people and this also very troublesome.  Religion and politics always get mixed up together and are usually dealt with in a serious and contentious manner.  That’s why it's such a breath of fresh air when a guy like Bill Maher can bring some humor and levity to such subjects.  Sure he can be a pretentious smart ass but he is not afraid to ask uncomfortable questions.  It looks like he could’ve made a good lawyer since he is so good at making other people look like idiots.

I found “Religulous” to be a laugh riot and Maher to be a lot more palatable than Michael Moore.  Larry Charles, who directed “Borat” a few years earlier, directed this film as well.  Although Maher is not Borat, he still gets the same amount of laughs.

The Controversial and Thought Provoking "Jesus Camp"


5/8/2019

It’s been true since the dawn of time if you want to stir up intense debate and controversy just bring up religion or politics.  The 2006 Oscar nominated documentary “Jesus Camp” is full of both.  Directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady focus their attention on the far right Evangelical Christians of middle America.  No matter what your personal beliefs are this film stirs up passionate responses on both sides.

We meet Becky Fisher a Pentecostal children’s preacher who holds these camps that indoctrinate children into a way of thinking.  They are told they are soldiers in a war to reclaim America for Christ.  Becky and the other adults in the greater scheme of things are using children as pawns to actively recruit others.  This whole practice sounds similar to how Nazi Germany used the Hitler Youth to push their agenda.  It’s a sickening practice that desperate and fearful extremist use to serve their own twisted ego’s.  Kids of course just want the love and attention of their parents and will do anything to get it so they just go along with it not really knowing what they are doing or what it all means.

The families involved in these camps look to be lower middle class families and this is punctuated by a young boy that the filmmakers choose to follow.  Levi is a 12 year old boy and a stereotypical trailer park kid with baggy clothes and a long rat tail running down his back.  He has bought into all of these teachings and preaches himself.  While most of the kids interviewed seem either extremely nervous or extensively coached, Levi has confidence and belief in what he says.

The filmmakers also make it abundantly clear the beliefs of the Evangelicals.  The theory of evolution is heresy and global warming is a political myth.  That Harry Potter is the anti-christ meant to lure kids to Satan (seriously, I’m not joking here).  It is mentioned that 75% of homeschooled children are evangelical, which points to a deep mistrust in society at large.  The filmmakers then follow Levi and some other kids as they visit Colorado Springs and the church of famed minister Ted Haggard.  Hagged also happened to be the President of the National Association of Evangelicals.  The camera follows him on stage as he makes a number of off-color remarks about gays.  But wouldn’t you know a little after this film was released Haggard found himself embroiled in a scandal with his own gay lover/drug dealer.  The Hypocrisy just doesn’t get any better than this.  Religion is just a business like any other with usually the poorest of people giving money to the rich for “salvation”.  

In conclusion, the way a person chooses to live their life is totally up to them, but when it comes to extremists and using children to fight your battles is cause for concern no matter what you believe.  The question of whether these Jesus Camps actually do harm to these kids is up for debate like everything else.  Is it child abuse?  Where Becky Fisher’s methods a little too intense?  Religion is one of those topics that raise existential questions like Mankind’s attempt to rationalize its own existence an will continue until we as a people finally destroy ourselves or as Evangelicals believe the return of Jesus Christ. I won’t be holding my breath.


"The Miseducation of Cameron Post"


5/7/2019

Winner of the 2018 Grand Jury prize at the Sundance film festival “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” is a powerful and heartbreaking drama that is based on an all too real tragedy that is being put upon many young people still to this day.  The concept of the gay conversion camp where parents send their kids to “become straight” is ridiculous, barbaric and just plain wrong on every conceivable level. 

Taking place in 1993, Chloe Grace Moretz plays Cameron Post a teen girl who has found love with another girl named Coley.  Their relationship is kept quiet until they are found making out in the back seat of their car at the prom.  Cameron’s Christian parents send her to a place called “God’s Promise” a gay conversion camp run by Reverend Rick and Dr. Lydia Marsh.  They really don’t seem to know what they are doing but Lydia is very strict and determined to “heal” these kids at any cost.  Cameron’s meets up with Jane (Sasha Lane) upon arrival and then with Adam (Forrest Goodluck).  This trio bonds over smoking pot in the woods and their collective desire to live their own lives with dignity, respect and freedom to make their own choices.  

This concept of gay conversion therapy is so infuriating, this prison camp brainwashes teenagers into thinking that they are these horrible diseased people who are no different from drug addicts who need rehab.  All of this under the guise of religious “love and understanding”.  Cameron and the others are told they are gender confused and suffer from SSA or Same Sex Attraction.  Their treatment revolves around the metaphor of an iceberg and they must find out what lies under the surface that has made them this way.  Basically, if you're a girl who loves sports you're an obvious lesbian and boys who spend too much time with their mothers will turn up gay.  The tragic consequences of these teachings are emphasized by Mark, Adam’s roommate after he is denied a chance to come home by his father he has reached rock bottom.  Rejected by his family and constantly told he is unworthy, he attempts suicide by genital mutilation.  When Cameron is asked by an investigator about what goes on in the camp and if people are being abused, she sums up everything in one sentence. “How is programming people to hate themselves not emotional abuse”.  After these events, Cameron, Jane, and Mark decide enough is enough and plan their escape.  Reverend Rick is in a state of shock and denial and basically allows them to leave on a hike deep down knowing they’re probably not coming back.  They hitch a ride in the back of a pickup truck and for the first time feel the freedom to be their authentic selves without shame and embarrassment.


"Donnie Darko" The Modern Cult Film Phenomenon!


 4/21/2019

“Donnie Darko” is writer/director Richard Kelly’s debut film and is a modern day cult phenomenon.  This mysterious puzzle of a film has an otherworldly graphic novel feel to it.  It’s a mind-bending trip into the surreal as seen through the eyes of high school student Donnie Darko played by Jake Gyllenhaal.

The film was unfortunately released during a very troubling time in America, about a month after the events of September 11, 2001.  With its dark themes and a disturbing plan crash at its heart, the film never took off (so to speak).  Cast off as a disaster and a flop the film found its audience when it came to video.  Now it’s considered one of the great cult classic films of the new generation.  Some films just strike the right chord and have this magical quality to them that keeps you entranced even after several viewings.  While books and essays have been written on this film, I will keep this review relatively short and not go into detail as to what every single scene supposedly symbolizes.  Simply put “Donnie Darko” is a teenage love story involving time travel (and a six-foot bunny named Frank).

Donnie is a quiet young man who has “emotional problems” he sees a therapist and even though we see him act up at school there is this sensitivity to him.  The question of whether he is on a path to becoming a dangerous man is still up in the air.  He seems likable and very true to life.  The mystery begins with the films first scenes.  Donnie wakes up on a mountainside road next to his bike, seemingly unsure of how he got there.  As he rides home he sees that a jet engine has fallen from the sky and has destroyed his bedroom, although no planes have been reported damaged.  Donnie has an older sister, Elizabeth (played by real-life sister Maggie Gyllenhaal) who came home from a party just as the engine crashed into the house.  She’s alright but this scene is revisited near the end of the film.

Donnie is woken up in the middle of the night by visions of a man in a bunny suit, we find out that his name is Frank.  Frank tells him that the world is going to end at a certain time in about a month.  Frank seems to be controlling him and has him commit a series of crimes.  Donnie floods the school by taking an ax to the water main.  The next day he meets Gretchen, played by Jena Malone and they develop this great relationship over the course of the film until things come to a head at the end.  There are so many great characters in this film and all of the performances are spot on.  From Patrick Swayze’s cheesy but true to life self help guru Jim Cunningham to Drew Barrymore’s small role as English teacher.  Barrymore was a huge supporter of the film and a producer that helped it get made.  Each and every character has their own place and function in the world of Donnie Darko.  It seems that every question that is answered just leads to more questions.  This mythology of time travel is developed and a book called “The Philosophy of Time Travel” helps guide Donnie.  We eventually find out more about Frank and what is happening to Donnie but there always seems to be this missing piece of the puzzle that remains a mystery. 

A few years after its release on DVD, a director’s cut version was released with an extra 20 minutes or so added.  The commentary tracks do provide some answers but ultimately the film still holds up.  Richard Kelly also mentions that he pays great attention to the music he uses in his films and this could be part of the allure of the film.  When the song “Mad World” is playing over the climax of the film it just feels like the perfect song at the perfect time.  I love this film but for Kelly, it seems to be a double edge sword.  Since its release in 2001, he has directed two films, the bloated and incomprehensible “Southland Tales” and the decently mediocre adaptation of a Richard Matheson short story “The Box”.  That is it.  His is still a fairly young guy so maybe he’ll make a comeback of some sorts, but we’ll always have “Donnie Darko”. 


"Misery" is a Horror Masterpiece

3/17/2019

The novels of Stephen King have been made into several movies and TV shows with varying degrees of success and quality.  “Misery” is one of the good ones second only to “The Shawshank Redemption.”  “Misery” gathered together the best talent in all aspects and created a modern horror masterpiece.  

Kathy Bates’s role of Annie Wilkes won her the Best Actress Academy Award for 1991.  Her portrayal of an unhinged and delusional super fan of romance novelist Paul Sheldon was simply amazing and terrifying.  James Caan, who is usually cast as the tough guy, plays a sensitive writer who upon finishing his new novel crashes his car in the snowy Colorado Mountains.  This setting made me think of the “The Shining” another King masterpiece.  When Paul comes too, we hear Annie’s words echo “I’m your number one fan”.  Paul’s injuries leave him bedridden, but Annie, a former nurse, takes care of him.  She seems sweet and innocent wearing a gold cross around her neck, but her behavior gets increasingly erratic.  Upon reading Paul’s new manuscript and the fact that he has killed off Misery, the female heroine of his romance novels, Annie goes a little berserk.  She has Paul burn the pages and re-write “a better story”.  Paul needs to build up his strength and formulate a plan to get out.  He has Annie go to the store to get a certain kind of paper which allows him and his wheelchair to get out of his room and explore the house.  Although when she finds out this leads to one of the best and most cringe-inducing scenes of the film.  Annie Wilkes is one of the great female horror icons for which there are very few.  She is right up there with Mrs. Vorhees from “Friday the 13th”.  She is a very human and complex character who is extremely disturbed.  

Buster the local sheriff is an old-timer played by Richard Farnsworth.  He and his clerk/wife Virginia pretty much make up the police force of the small sleepy town.  They have some really nice scenes together, but when he goes to investigate the Wilkes house he is in for a few surprises.  It’s up to Paul to save himself and when Annie has reached the end of her rope its do or die.

The movie is about these two characters and the cat and mouse game they play.  Both actors turn in brilliant performances.  The script was written by the legendary William Goldman and directed by Rob Reiner.


"The Eyes of My Mother" is a Must See!

3/2/2019

The art house horror film has really flourished in the last few years with several filmmakers making really great films that hope to breathe new life into the often tired and overworked horror genre.  “The Eyes of My Mother” is the debut film from Nicholas Pesce and is a searing look into one woman's grief and loneliness.  The film is presented in black and white not as a cheap gimmick, but as the best way to tell this quiet, stark and stripped down story of its characters.

Set in a country farmhouse in about the 1950s or 60s a young girl named Francisca is fascinated by a butchered cows head, her mother an eye surgeon indulges in her daughter's curiosity.  Later while playing outside a drifter comes by the house and starts up a conversation with little Francisca.  The man looks to be in his twenties and is dressed like a bible salesman, but as they say, he don't look right.  Francisca’s mother comes out right away, the man then asks to use the bathroom and she reluctantly agrees.  The man is outright creepy and as one might think he is a psychotic killer, who drags the mother into the bathroom at gunpoint.  When Francisca’s father comes home, he finds the man in the bathroom with his dead wife.  Although Francisca is still alive she is deeply traumatized.  Instead of calling the police, they hand out their own form of justice and keep the man, who they call Charlie, chained up in the barn.  Flash forward about 10 years and Charlie has become this blinded feral beast and Francisca’s pet and only friend.  Her father is a very quiet and reserved man and when he finally dies it is the last straw in Francisca’s desperate life.

In some ways, this movie is a female version of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”.  Unable to deal with her father’s death she keeps his body and bathes it and sleeps with it.  She does make an effort to reach out to others as she goes to a bar one night and brings a woman back to her house but in short, time creeps the hell out of her.  As the woman tries to leave Francisca smacks he over the head.  We then see her putting little wrapped packages into the refrigerator.  This film can be subtle in its depiction of its nastiness, but also very overt when it wants to be.  Francisca is a very complex character with tremendous internal struggle.  Her fear of loneliness and abandonment has been eating away at her for years with no way to express herself.  In another attempt at intimacy, she unchains Charlie, bathes him and has sex with him.  She wakes up and finds him gone, she finds him staggering along in the fields outside the house.  She catches up with him and kills him.


Now is where the story gets even more disturbing.  She needs a new pet, so she hitches a ride from a young mother with a baby.  When they get to the farmhouse she asks to hold the baby and takes off with it.  The mother runs after her and into the house, where Francisca sets a trap and knocks her out.  She then blinds her and chains her up in the barn.  We flash forward again and the baby, Antonio, is now about five.  His is curious about what is in the barn and despite Francisca’s warning about going in there, he must investigate.  Although he is frightened, he shows love and compassion for this dirty long haired creature who is his real mother.  One night he leaves the barn door open and she escapes.  This is the downfall of Francisca and the end to her painful and tortured life that started at the hands of a mad man.  Although this is a very short film, about 75 minutes, it doesn’t waste a second in telling its sad and disturbing tale.  


"Piercing" Gets Right to the Point

2/22/2019
*This review does contain Spoilers*

This short little film, barely running 80 minutes, is the second film from director Nicolas Pesce whose debut film “The Eyes of My Mother” was a dark and disturbing art house horror film that won rave reviews.  “Piercing” is based on a book by Ryu Murakami, who also wrote “Audition” which was made into the celebrated cult classic film of the same name.  Both novels and films lie in a sort of taboo world of sex and violence.  Pesce also adapted the novel for the big screen and although I have not personally read the novel, his film has this sort of retro stylization aesthetic that reminds me of a young Tarantino.  Although it seems like most young filmmakers go through a phase like this, Pesce’s use of this style creates a unique world that these characters live in.

As we pan through a vast forest of high rise apartment buildings of what looks to be Tokyo or some other megacity we are introduced to Reed, played by Christopher Abbott, a young husband and father who we notice is a little unbalanced as he holds on ice pick above his infant son, only to be startled by his wife, who is none the wiser.  Reed is going off on a “business” trip in which he plans on killing a prostitute with the aforementioned ice pick.  He is quite delusional in that his baby speaks a line in a demonic tone, “You know what you have to do”.  It’s hard to decipher the time period that the story takes place in.  It looks like to be an ultra-modern future but with old technology.  There are no cell phones or computers and the use of touch-tone phones and phone booths are widely used.

Reed checks into his room and goes through the motions of how he is going to kill and dismember his victim.  He even tests out the bottle of Chloroform that he brought.   He is very cautious about touching things which could be to eliminate fingerprints or as it turns out he is a bit of a germaphobe.  He gets a call from the escort service that his girl will be there within in the hour.   We then meet Jackie, played by Mia Wasikowska, who lives alone in another modern looking apartment, she gets a call from her pimp to packs up her things to meet with Reed.  As we come to find out Jackie and Reed are not all that different and his carefully thought out plan goes to pieces almost from the start.  Jackie looks to be the one in control right from the start and you start to wonder exactly who is playing who.  These are tortured characters who look fine on the outside, but start peeling away the layers are you find something dark and deeply disturbed.  This is the start of an intense S&M relationship that sees Reed drugged and beaten (by a can opener) and Jackie abusing herself all in the service of some greater need to feel.  In one of the films final scenes Jackie pierces her nipple “as a way to remember this”.  The last scene is of a ball gaged Reed finally giving into Jackie and a sort of communal relationship and understanding is formed.