It’s no coincidence that this week’s Retro Cinema choice is “Hellraiser.” Because in case you haven’t heard, the remake has been given a green light. Now, I know you hard-core horror fans like me are out there saying “Oh, God no, not another remake!” But fasten your seatbelts kids, because for once this is good news: Clive Barker is gonna direct and Doug Bradley is coming back as Pinhead.
When Barker first directed “Hellraiser,” he had a very limited budget and in fact, he confesses in the DVD commentary that he basically got the resurrection scene special effects done for much less than what it should’ve cost (only $25,000) because the studio liked what they saw of the film and threw a few more dollars their way. That scene wasn’t even in the original script due to not having a budget for it.
I think it’s fair to say that this time around, Barker won’t face those kinds of problems. Nor have to resort to the cheesy painted in special effects he did himself — those being my main criticism of the original as well as the pretty dreadful acting of Ashley Laurence (sorry, but it’s true.) Sure, there are a few things that went wrong, but a whole lotta things went right.
While I’m sure most people reading this have seen the film, I don’t want to give away too much just in case, but let’s just say after “Hellraiser,” people really didn’t look at hooks and chains quite the same way again. Nor their prim and proper British wives.
Long before The Midnight Meat Train, subways and the London underground have been the setting for horror, like the famous scene in American Werewolf in London. But 2004’s Creep stays down in the dark, with poor Franka Potente finding herself locked in after falling asleep and missing the last train home.
Yeah, I know, who would really sleep through the last train, but just roll with it on this one. Because this little sleeper is definitely one of the better examples of subterranean monsters run amok. Where is Jason Bourne when you need him?
After leaving a party, Potente finds herself wishing she had stuck with cocktails and boring small talk. She encounters an acquaintance who tries to take advantage of them being alone, and a homeless couple who she tries to help by paying the young man to help her find the next security guard station.
Emphasis on tries to help, because as you can imagine, this does not end well. Especially for the young woman in the couple, who is an integral part of a particularly gruesome scene for the women watching. Like we don’t hate going to the doctor enough already, thank you.
Instead of just going with a deranged serial killer, Creep twists its monster into some kind of lost boy lost boy born into the London underground tunnel system as a nocturnal creature who has never seen the light of day. And who tries to mimic the adults who “took care” of him with disastrous results.
Creep is definitely not a film for the squeamish, but is well worth seeking out despite being fairly rare and a bit hard to find. But isn’t that the fun in discovering those of secure films that none of your friends know about? Then scaring the shift out of them because they have no idea what they’re getting into. That’s what friends are for.
It’s so hard to find — and presumably make– a good werewolf movie. It’s certainly one of the most complex creatures to create realistically, with a varying rate of success in the past and present. For instance, you have the classic “American Werewolf in London” where the werewolf effects were done the old-fashioned way with animatronics, with a very good result, at least for it’s time. But looking back at it now, it’s obviously dated in the special effects department and with our 21st-century eyes, we see how unrealistic it is. On the other hand, you have the full-blown CGI werewolves like those in the “Underworld” series, where the CGI can pass in those fast-paced sequences where we can’t look at it too close, but under any kind of close scrutiny of pure CGI, any realism crumbles.
Enter one of the latest installments of the werewolf genre in “Wer.”
This film shows a third option, combining special-effects makeup with motion special-effects and a real-life disease to create a more realistic Wolfman for the modern day. In “Wer,” the filmmakers linked becoming a werewolf to the very real disease of porphyria, and kept their beasts in a primary manlike state. Hey, I love the hairy beasts just as much as anybody, but I have to say this approach was refreshing. And when done well, it was very creepy.
The premise of the film opens with the brutal murders of American tourists in France. If you’re starting to think of “An American Werewolf in Paris,” you’re going down the wrong track. The film delves into the murder investigation as the primary suspect is about to be put on trial, defended by an American expatriate lawyer named Kate Moore (A J Cook). With her support team of Eric Sarin (Vik Sahay) and Gavin Flemyng (Simon Quarterman), Kate is determined to defend the brutish, hairy man accused of the crimes, and is convinced of his innocence. In fact, she is convinced that local investigator Klaus Pistor (Sebastian Roche) is part of a local conspiracy to take over his family homestead for a profitable development proposal.
As often happens in horror films, those with the best of intentions have a way of unleashing hell on everyone, and unfortunately for the locals, that’s no exception in this film. What does that this film apart from other werewolf movies is the convincing way they presented porphyria as a plausible explanation for the condition, although some of their science is fictional, to put it mildly. In other words, you cannot get poorer for it by being bitten by someone who hasn’t, just for the record. But just go with it for the movie’s sake. Hey, it’s fiction.
The use of special-effects with the way characters move has become a bit of a cliché, but it’s pretty effective in this film. Quite honestly, the appearance of the werewolf in this movie when he wasn’t attacking wasn’t that frightening to me. The jerky, seizure-like movements definitely enhanced the fear as did the gore. And make no mistake, there are some very gruesome moments in this movie. On the other hand, the second werewolf that comes along creates an appearance that is quite chilling. And kudos to the actor portraying that role, who I won’t name here for spoiler purposes. As he shaved his head and body during his transformation — creating an interesting opposite to the Talan (Brian Scott O’Connor) character — I felt that was the most chilling moment of the movie.
The performances are fine, and director William Brent Bell redeemed himself from the awful ending of “The Devil Inside,” his last turn at the helm of the horror film. There are some irritating plot missteps, such as the previously mentioned scientific flaws, and some stretches of the imagination. That’s local police would allow an attorney and her team on site while they were doing a manhunt, plus the old cliché of their idealistic lawyer insisting that her clients, who has been accused of horrific violent crimes be taken out of his handcuffs while she speaks with him. Pretty far-fetched to believe either of these situations would actually happen. But overall, “Wer” Is an unusual and refreshing take on the werewolf mythology if you’re up for trying something a little bit different.
Renny Harlin’s latest film, “Devil’s Pass,” has a lot going for it. It’s based on the true story of a 1959 expedition of hikers in the Ural Mountains of Russia were found dead under mysterious circumstances: They were found outside their tents in various states of undress, with injuries including ripped out tongues and crushed bones… without any sign of external injury. And one with a massive dose of radiation. In the middle of nowhere.
Named after the expedition leader, the mystery was dubbed the Dyatlov’s Pass incident.
I first saw this story about the real expedition on some H2 documentary, and had thought it would make a killer story, so thanks Harlin for beating me to it. In this film, Harlin sets it up around a crew of five filmmakers and their outdoorsmen guides retracing the steps of the original nine who died, to try to get to the root of what really happened on that mountain. And there are a lot of good things in this movie, but a couple that rubbed me wrong.
First, it’s a “found footage” film, which is so overdone now that I groan a little every time I see a new trailer with shaky, night vision camera. Second, the premise involves an overly ambitious female filmmaker pushing the group to stay and take risks even when things seem to be going very, very wrong, and creating conflicts with other group members.
Sound familiar? Can you say “Blair Witch Project” in the mountains of Russia? I know there’s no such thing as an original idea, but the obvious parallels kept bugging me. I also noted some resemblance to the creatures in “Quarantine,” but it wasn’t so bad I couldn’t live with it.
But despite that (and a few less than stellar turns at directing in his past), Harlin knows how to spin and how to film a good story, and the cast of low profile actors adds to the believability.
Which brings me to the most important question of any horror film…. is it scary? Without giving too many spoilers away, yes, the film is very effective and scary at times, which makes me wish even more that Harlin had just gone for a straight narrative film instead of all the clunky “let me set the camera down in a way it can film us to keep the story going” moments.
Dear Hollywood directors: Just shoot a damn movie already, without “found footage” gimmicks. It’s so over. Dead. Done. Kaput. Move on.
“Devil’s Pass” is worth watching despite the gimmick, and here’s a hint if you go see it, with a bit of a spoiler, so don’t read on if you hate that kind of thing:
Be sure to pay attention to what’s going on in the background when they are filming. Just saying.
Guillermo del Toro has written, directed and produced some beautiful dark fantasy films such as “Pan’s Labyrinth” and comic-based movies such as “Blade II” and “Hellboy,” but his most recent producer project, “Mama,” is straight up horror movie. The film, which premiered Friday, eviscerated the competition at the box office to kick off the weekend, with a $10 million opening day. It also happened to be the second week topping the box office for star Jessica Chastain, who reigned supreme in earnings last weekend with her Oscar-nominated performance in “Zero Dark Thirty.” Not to mention that whole Golden Globes Award last week for Best Actress.
What a showoff that one is, don’t you think?
And she’s at it again with her performance as a brunette, garage-band bassist turned guardian angel in “Mama.” The film centers on two little girls who are abandoned in a cabin in the wild after a family tragedy, and have to survive on their own a few years.
Well… almost on their own. Enter the aforementioned “Mama.” And this is one bad mother.
Mama adopts the two orphan girls and doesn’t take too kindly when their uncle’s search team finds them, and takes them off to a psychiatric institute. And while the older girl seems to be adapting back to civilization, the younger one… not so much.
They eventually go home with their uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his other half, Annabel (Chastain) creating some friction in their formerly childless relationship. But they don’t come home alone, as Mama tags along, which creates a bit of another problem, such as Mama coming through the walls to play with the little girls when Chastain isn’t looking or hiding in the closet. And that rather nasty bit when Mama decides to push Lucas down the stairs to dispatch him to the hospital for awhile.
Someone did not learn to share or play nice with others in school.
Then Chastain incurs Mama’s wrath when she starts winning over the eldest daughter, and things start to really go downhill from there. Likewise, the relationship between the two sisters becomes strained when they begin to polarize into different camps of “Team Annabel” and “Team Mama.”
“Mama” has some genuinely creepy moments, and of course, those moments that’ll make you jump out of your seat a little. Hey, it’s mandatory for horror film to go for the quick scares. But there is certainly an artistry in the more subtle moments of the film, as well, with a dare-I-say-it “tearjerker” ending?
Hey, there’s no crying in horror movies — that’s just not right. But it is, for this movie anyway.
And that’s the quality that separates this film from many horror films, unfortunately. Most lack a real grasp of the human element, and real emotion, but instead, go for cheap “jump-out-and-go-BOO” thrills. Thankfully, “Mama” bucks that bad trend. Of course, it doesn’t hurt when have top-rate acting with the likes of an Academy Award nominee, and a great cast to fill out the rest of the roles. (It’s amazing the job Isabelle Nélisse does playing a feral six year-old that’s just too far gone to bring back from the wild.) But, sure enough, early reviews of the movie focus mostly on Chastain and are already hailing her performance, deservedly so.
But the primary critique of the film would be the CGI animation of the main character, which is not a very good example of the art, to say the least. And as any horror aficionado knows, there will be audience members who laugh inappropriately during horror movies under any circumstances, and bad CGI just encourages them and gives them an excuse.
But bad horror film etiquette is a whole other topic… don’t even get me started on that.
It’s particularly ironic about the bad CGI as producer del Toro began his career as a makeup artist, and this film screams for a more organic monster, made in real life with makeup. It begs for a monster with as much substance — and humanity — as its actors.
In that regard, “Mama” falls short. But it’s still a whole lot better than the usual horror fare.