Duke Tries A Halloween Marathon…Part Three

So, I have made it 11 days! I am going to try to keep it up, but there are some personal changes, job wise, possibly going on in the next week or so and I might not be able to continued watching 1  horror film a day. I will still continue to watch as many as possible, and keep posting the reviews in parts such as this – there just might not be as many films, or they might not be as frequent.

Duke Tries A Halloween Marathon…Part One

Duke Tries A Halloween Marathon…Part Two

October 7th: ‘Willow Creek’ (dir. Bobcat Goldthwait)


‘Willow Creek’ is a found footage horror film that is essentially ‘The Blair Witch Project’ meets Bigfoot and it is pretty damn effective…for about 20 minutes.

The story here is simple, a couple is filming an excursion into the Six Rivers National Forest to find the site of the infamous Patterson-Gilmin film (you know, that grainy footage of some dude in a fur coat). Before trekking into the wilderness they interview locals of Willow Creek, a town that is filled with believers and non-believers, both of which pretty much make their living off the Bigfoot image. Things begin to get fishy when a group of locals start to threaten the couple and tell them to go home. Of course they don’t take this advice, and instead head into the woods. Things turn from bad to worse pretty quickly as something, or someone, starts to terrorize them during the night.

This is a film that takes a very long time for anything to really happen. Much of it is just spent trying to build some level of suspense, and set up some possible mystery about what or who is in the woods. It doesn’t really work for a few reasons.

Mainly, because like most found footage films this one has a lot of scenes that have NO real reason to be filmed. Many of which just involve the two characters driving, talking about whether or not they believe in Bigfoot. They are supposed to be making a documentary apparently. Most of what they are filming is interviews; so why the hell would they be filming conversations that aren’t interesting footage in regards to either the film, and aren’t worth recording even if they are possibly trying to remember the trip? It seems like the sole purpose of it is to show tension building between the couple…but it kills the logic of the style, taking you out of the “reality” they are trying to create.

Once things do get going it basically just becomes another ‘The Blair Witch Project’, with characters in a tent hearing noises and movement outside – but are the scares during these scenes effective? Hell yes. There is one incredible 20 minute long shot of the characters just sitting in a dimly lit tent as something outside is making noises and throwing things at them. It is quite an unsettling scene that gets right under the skin. Unfortunately it doesn’t last. By the time the next morning arrives things become a little too familiar, going from homage to straight up copying, and it isn’t hard to predict where things are going from there as the characters find themselves going in circles and losing their cool.

Other than that 20 minute stretch the film doesn’t really have anything else going for it. Sure the leads are likable and manage to keep you invested when tension is low. But that is only until their personal problems come to the surface. These two really need a whole different film to work things out. This is a bit of a spoiler, but like, yeah dude, really smart to propose to your girlfriend in the woods after receiving weird threats and finding your camp ransacked…oh, she rejected you? She says it is too soon? Maybe cause YOU DON’T EVEN LIVE TOGETHER? Why this scene is even included makes no sense to me. We don’t care enough about these characters to want to see their romantic life. And this minor conflict has NO bearing whatsoever on what came before it or what follows.

It all ultimately resulted in a film that is worthy of admiration for one great and truly eerie scene, but nothing more. It was just impossible for me to get over so many of the glaring character and film making issues to consider it anything special. And as the dust settles, I find myself now more annoyed than anything by how just disappointing it was. Because it DID have something there for a few minutes. If only. So I don’t really recommend it. Honestly, you are probably better off just checking YouTube for the long take I mentioned.

October 8th: ‘Re-Animator’ (dir. Stuart Gordon)


‘Re-Animator’ is an utterly ridiculous horror “comedy”, in the vein of ‘Dead Alive’, that relies almost completely on some crazy visual gags to create a fun and bat shit crazy – but also totally hollow – viewing experience.

The film is about a medical student whose new roommate is secretly working on a formula that he believes can bring the dead back to life. When he finds out – after a hilarious mishap with a zombie cat – he gets caught up in the weird experiments his roommate is doing in their basement. As they progress, their target for test subjects grows from cats to humans; at the same time their egotistical professor discovers their work and wants to claim it as his own.

There isn’t much to say here. The story is rather simple and moves at a very fast pace. This leaves no room for any sort of reasonable character development. I understand this isn’t trying to be some serious horror film, but the gore, effects and humor alone weren’t enough to keep me truly invested. With so much on the line for the characters, I just wished I cared at all about any of them.

Still, it is a fun watch, mainly because of how cartoonish it gets at times, so I’d recommend it if you are looking for something with a light tone, simple narrative and plenty of gore.

October 10th (Watched two to make up for missing the 9th): ‘Hellraiser’ (dir. Clive Barker)


‘Hellraiser’ is at times a grisly horror film with some great truly grotesque visual effects. It is almost completely ruined however by a lackluster and poorly paced first hour.

The film is about a man who moves into his childhood home with his wife; a wife who had a secret affair with her husband’s brother. Little do either of them know that the brother died in the house’s attic while opening a mysterious puzzle box, known as the Lament Configuration, disappearing without a trace. After an accident, the blood of the husband lands on the attic floor causing the brother’s body to re-materializes as a bloody skeleton. He uses the wife to secretly bring men to the attic so he can kill them and slowly regenerate his body. All the while, the husband’s daughter Kirsty suspects something weird is going on and tries to find out what. She discovers that the puzzle box opens a portal to some other dimension filled with “demon” Cenobites – who essentially dabble in the most extreme forms of sadomasochism one could imagine. They want to take the brother back, and also have their eyes on Kirsty.

Practically nothing eventful happens throughout much of the story. I understand a lot of it is to set up the finale, but it could have easily been condensed to allow for more to happen in the third act. There is no development of the characters in the first hour. We know fairly quickly who the adult characters are, as well as their intentions, and so did not need so much time focusing on them. The first hour is literally just the wife bringing men to the brother to be killed. Instead, the film should have focused more on Kirsty, the young daughter, who is the focus of the film in the final 30 minutes. She is the only character anyone could really care for in the whole film and yet she is thrust into danger with so little time spent developing her that any real sense of suspense over her safety is absent.

I think why I found this so disappointing was that it sets up such an interesting horror universe that did intrigue me. There is definitely a lot more to these Cenobites than we are told; and they are frightening enough to have been present and a source of scares for more than the little screen time they get here. These are all really personal gripes, and the film is not a failure. As a whole I quite enjoyed it, I just think it missed a chance to be truly great. With that said, for what seems like one of the first times in a while, I am actually now interested in seeing what the sequel of a horror film has in store.

October 10th: ‘Hellbound: Hellraise II’ (dir. Tony Randel)


‘Hellbound: Hellraiser II’ is the sequel to the first ‘Hellraiser’ film, and like the first is a wonderfully sick, twisted and gory horror flick that luckily, in my opinion, puts the focus were the first should have.

The film takes place right after the original left off with Kirsty in a mental ward. She tries to explain to the doctors and police what happened to her parents, but of course no one seems to believe her. No one except one doctor who has studied the Lament Configuration, the puzzle box that started it all. Based on the information he gets from Kirsty’s story, he uses the bloody mattress of Kirsty’s mother in law to bring her back to life and open the Lament Configuration. In doing so he, Kirsty and another girl at the ward – Tiffany – get trapped within the realm of the Cenobites, essentially a labyrinth of horror. Kirsty tries to find her way out with Tiffany, while also fighting off her evil mother in law, and the doctor who is turned into a Cenobite.

The first half hour was truly disappointing. It spends pretty much the entire time flashing back to the events of the first film. Considering this came out shortly after the original – and because I can only imagine those that saw this were people who already saw ‘Hellraiser’ – there was absolutely no need for any of this. Plus, because the ending to the first was were all the action was, I was hoping that would have carried over. Sadly, it was just more waiting around for something interesting to actually occur. Luckily this time it didn’t take an hour.

Once things did get going, the film turns into a twisted and warped mind trip, with the Labyrinth using nightmarish memories and gruesome visuals to confuse and frighten Kirsty and Tiffany. It is not really at all scary, but the craziness of it all is so fun to watch. Plus, it expands on the background of the Cenobites, actually making them more than two dimensional villains.

As with the first, the visuals here – specifically the make up and costumes – are very well done. In particular, I love the way the muscles were constructed when there is ever a skinless body. With all the detail that went into them, along with the creativity of some of the demons, it offset how grotesque the gore could be. In other words, I’d have been more grossed out if not for the fact that I admire it all so much.

Despite the issues I had with the first half hour the film works. It works even better when watched back to back with the first. I do ultimately think I liked this one more, but I highly recommend both ‘Hellraiser’ films…a sentence I didn’t think I’d ever say. Now I have to decide whether I want to delve deeper into the franchise…

October 11th: ‘Les Diaboliques’ (dir. Henri-Georges Clouzot)


‘Les Diaboliques’ is a cold, dark, clever and meticulous horror thriller. One that slowly lays out its plot, piece by piece, reaching an unnerving level of confusion and suspense. All ending in a wonderfully twisted, and at one point quite terrifying, finale.

To go into much detail about the plot would ruin the experience, and to give away the ending would be criminal – the film actually ends with a plea from the filmmakers for the audience to not give anything away. So I will just say that it has to do with the wife and mistress of a barbarous school Headmaster, plotting to rid themselves of his cruelty. But things do not go as planned, and a mystery filled to the brim with suspicion and fear slowly unfolds.

It might sound simple or familiar – and I am guessing at the time it wasn’t viewed that way – but ignore that, because the film is neither; instead it is truly quite brilliant and near perfect. It contains a totally adsorbing narrative that requires, and earns, every bit of the viewers attention. It creates a genuine atmosphere of suspense and uncertainty that is hard to shake.

It does it all through its technical excellency. The direction, fixating on certain locations or items to ratchet up the tension of already thrilling situations, is phenomenal and sets the tone very early on. The performances are also very good, as is the writing, with almost every character having some flaw or secret, which may or may not implicate them in the mystery at hand. It does its best to keep you guessing, and it works right up to the very last frame.

Looking back, I guess I should not be surprised by just how great the film is. It was directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot who also made ‘Wages of Fear’ – arguably the tensest film ever made. It was also a masterpiece, and although I might not yet place ‘Les Diaboliques’ in that category, it is definitely not far from it.

Duke Tries A Halloween Marathon…Part Two.

This is part two of my attempt at partaking in a October horror marathon. The first part of which can be found here.

October 5th (Watched two because I didn’t have time on the 4th): ‘Frankenstein’s Army’ (dir. Richard Raaphorst)


‘Frankenstein’s Army’ is a WWII found footage film with a weirdness and creativity that makes for one fun, goofy and clever experience…if you can get past the headache inducing sound design.

The film is about a small squad of Russian soldiers, behind enemy lines, who stumble upon an eerily abandoned church. What they find inside is a lab of a decedent of Victor Frankenstein, who has been experimenting with the bodies of soldiers (friend and foe) and turning them into mindless monsters mixed with machinery of all sorts.

The film is shot in a found footage style and it actually works. The explanation behind it is essentially they are trying to make a propaganda film. There is the usual question as to why they are still filming during certain scenes, but I actually think the film as a whole would not have worked as well had it been filmed conventionally.

The best thing about the film is easily the production, at least visually. There are some really well done long takes, often with characters in the background doing things that one might miss if they aren’t paying attention. The costume/monster designs are wonderfully weird and creative. They definitely had fun with the concept, and it shows.

The only issue I had was the sound design, which was mindbogglingly annoying. I mean really bad. So screechy, scratchy and just plain irritating. I understand that because of the nature of some of the monsters and their machine parts that it would require these sorts of sounds, but ultimately they add nothing to the experience except a headache. However, this might only be me. Others might not have the same response, so I won’t really hold it against the film – I just probably will never watch it again.

Overall this is a fun, if hollow, film worthy of at least one viewing. The performances aren’t great, and the dialogue is exactly what you’d expect from this sort of film. There is no subtext and no real scares. Still, it is so creative and so bat-shit crazy at times that it would be a shame to pass it up if given the opportunity. Especially when it is a lean 84 minutes.

‘The Midnight Meat Train’ (dir. Ryûhei Kitamura)


‘The Midnight Meat Train’ is a brutal and violent horror film, that is unfortunately dragged down by some scripting and pacing issues.

The film stars Bradley Cooper as a photographer who, after being told to be a bit riskier in his search for great photos, finds himself face to face with Vinnie Jones, a butcher who is brutally murdering people on a train. Cooper begins to follow Jones in an attempt to gather evidence of the murders, all the while the darkness of the situation taking its tool emotionally on him.

The biggest issue I had was the pacing of the story as well as the characters. It is a weird situation in which I simultaneously wished it would slow down in terms of character development, while also picking up the pacing for the horror. There is such a rapid shift in the emotions of the characters that – although valid – happen way to abruptly. What is worse is that it isn’t like they don’t have enough time to draw this out. Because they do…almost too much so, to the point that I was also wishing they’d hurry up with the horror elements.

This wouldn’t have been too big of an issue if not for the fact that it made me lose interest in a lot of what was happening. I wasn’t invested in the characters or the horror because of it, and so any attempts at creating suspense were lost of me – leaving me with only the graphic and brutal kills on the train, which just aren’t my thing. I can handle gore, but find it utterly pointless – and distasteful – when there is little to no meaning behind it.

It wasn’t all bad though, with the stand out being the direction. There is some really great camerawork, especially in a scene set in an apartment. I also liked the visual contrasts between the surface and train scenes; and Vinnie Jones was cool, calm and terrifying. The ending was also great, where there is a reveal of a mythical plot line that is alluded to throughout most of the film. It is a very weird tonal shift, and goes a long way towards adding meaning to a lot of what came before it…sadly it is a case of too little too late.

Overall I didn’t hate it, but an hour in I was just ready for it to finally be over…and imagine my dismay when I realized there was another 40 minutes or so left. It is the sort of horror film in which its failings are harder for me to ignore, as I might in another film, given the content. If you are looking for just a gory horror film in which the shock value is simply the brutal violence, then this might be for you. If you are looking for something with a bit more substance, than you may want to look elsewhere.

October 6th: ‘Black Christmas’ (dir. Bob Clark)


‘Black Christmas’, considered to be one of the first ever slasher films, is an efficient, effective and highly enjoyable horror film – one I will definitely revisit often.

The film is set during Christmas at a sorority, the members of which are being harassed by someone making creepy prank calls. As many of them leave for the holiday break, one goes missing, setting off a search for her and the person calling the house. As the remaining sorority sisters try to deal with this, they begin to be killed off one by one by a killer who may potentially be someone very close to them.

The only issue I had was with a particular mannerism of the killer. The film took on a first person perspective whenever he appeared – which was effectively spooky- but there was quite a lot of moaning and weird grunts coming from him at the same time. They were meant to be eerie, and in the end worked because of the nature of his mania and the calls to the house – but it was ultimately more annoying than unsettling.

But I can easily overlook this minor issue because of just how well made the film is. There is a genuine feeling of suspense here, partly because of the whodunit nature of the murders; and also because of the closeness of the killer throughout the events of the film. You never know who it is, what will set him off, or who will be killed next – but you do know he is there, waiting.

That said, it isn’t necessarily a scary film per se, but an unsettling and bleak one. The sort that gets under your skin and sticks with you. However, with that, it has to be said that through all the bleakness, there is also a great sense of humor to the story. There is also actually a maturity and depth to the script that I wasn’t expecting. This might be set in a sorority, but it isn’t about partying and dim witted topless girls, like so many slashers that came after it. The women here are smart and mature, dealing with important family and relationship issues. This added a lot to my investment in the characters, and so made the fear of their potential demise all the more suspenseful.

The direction is great – Christmas makes for a perfect setting, at least visually. There is solid pacing and an effective slow build throughout. I was surprised how well the mystery it creates in its first few scenes holds up so well even when things slow down a bit halfway through. I think this has a lot to do with the fact that even when it might not be focused on its creepier slasher elements, it instead is focused on those previously mentioned characters – again making the suspense as the killer stalks them all the more effective. There is no real resolution to the story, but the film is less focused on the actual killer and more focused on building an atmosphere and a story that is almost mythical.

Lastly, as someone who isn’t too knowledgeable in regards to the genre, it was easy to initially think that a lot of the tropes in play were cliche…but once I took into consideration the fact that ‘Black Christmas’ came out in 1974, and was really the start of most of these, they actually added a level of admiration to my already high level of enjoyment. It might not be as good as something like ‘Halloween’, which clearly drew some influence from this, but it deserves to be considered just as much of a classic. This is easily the best film I’ve watched so far for this horror series, and one that I’d add to my list of favorite horror films of all time.

*Side note, it is absolutely hilarious that director Bob Clark also directed ‘A Christmas Story’.

Anime You Should Be Watching Horror Edition: Another

Being the time of year that it is, I felt I should stay on the horror theme for my rare contribution.  Last year I presented to you all my thoughts on the Higurashi series.  This year I’m focusing on an anime that came out at the beginning of this year by relative newcomer studio P.A. Works called Another.

Horror anime are rather difficult to do well.  That’s because unlike with live action, you are acutely aware that what is happening is not real.  Sure, with live action if you sit back and look at most of the horror shows, you can’t necessarily take them seriously, but at least for me there’s a difference in my mind between watching something with real live people in it, and watching 2D drawings moving.  So, horror anime either try to pretend they’re still live action and hope you can immerse yourself in them despite it obviously not being real, or they just go for the crazy, over the top exaggerated sequences with lots of blood and gore and just hope the mood feels right.  Another takes the second approach.  It’s not a constant bloodbath, but it seems to take much delight in coming up with the craziest, most unrealistic deaths it can think of.  I think of it almost like an animated version of the Final Destination films.  I’ll try and avoid too many spoilers here, but the first death we see should give you an idea of just how crazy and over the top they can get.

So, the basic premise of the show is that many years ago a student in class 3-3 died during the school year.  Some classmates, unable to really deal with his death decided to pretend that he was still alive.  Soon the rest of the class, including the teachers joined in.  This was all well and good, except that when they took their class photos, the student who was supposed to be dead appeared in the photo.  Since that time, class 3-3 has been like a portal to the afterlife, allowing the dead to come back and join the class.  This has resulted in class 3-3 always having one extra person in it, although during the time which it occurs nobody is aware who the extra person is.  They know there is one, but their memories have been altered so that the extra person seems like they’ve always been there.  Also, the person who is dead, or the Another, also is unaware that they are dead.  Fast forward 20 some years and we come to where the story starts, with transfer student Koichi Sakakibara joining class 3-3.  There he meets the girl with the eyepatch, Mei Misaki.  However, the rest of the class seems to not acknowledge her existence.  The reason for this is revealed later on, but since it’s a mildly important plot point, I’ll leave that up to the readers to watch and see for themselves.

The character designs and the attention to detail in this show are fantastic, as is pretty much par for the course with P.A. Works.  The character designs were based on concepts by Noizi Ito, who’s probably best known for her work as the illustrator for the Haruhi Suzumiya novels.  What’s also par for the course for a P.A. Works show is that it meanders a bit and almost gets lost in the middle.  We’ll set aside the ridiculousness of the deaths because this show isn’t trying to be ultra serious.  It’s not going for the camp appeal, but it is using the gore as a sort of fanservice for people who are into that sort of thing.  Don’t get too attached to any secondary characters, because there are a ton of deaths in this show.  I’ll admit, one or two of the deaths did sadden me a bit, mainly because I liked that particular character and had hoped that they’d survive the curse.  This particular class year seems to be extra unlucky, since they showed previous class records and there didn’t seem to be quite as many deaths from the curse as there was in this year.

A complaint that was tossed around when the show finished was that the identity of the Another, which is revealed at the end, was too difficult to figure out.  Much like with The Sixth Sense, all the clues are shown once their identity is revealed, and there are quite a few red herrings thrown in there to keep you off the track, but it’s certainly possible to figure out who it is.  I’ll say that I was wrong in who I thought it was, but at least my guess wasn’t eliminated until the very end.  In fact, I largely suspect that the person whom I thought it was was who the creators wanted us to think was the Another from the get go.  In that aspect, I can only tip my hat to them and say they did a good job in getting me to dance to their tune.

All in all, love it or hate it, P.A. Works deserves a lot of credit for not just sticking with a single genre of anime and trying something different to diversify.  How true they were to the source material, I’m not entirely certain as I have not read the novel, written by Yukito Ayatsuji however I can say that if I see that P.A. Works is doing another horror anime, I’ll certainly be tuning in.  The ride may be a little rocky in the middle, but it’s still a fun ride.

[REC]2 Red Band Trailer

While the sequel to the so-called “one of the scariest horror films ever made” has already been out in Spain since 2009 and seen in other countries it still has to make its way over to the North American territories of the US and Canada. I know that many think this Spanish-made horror film is the scariest thing to be seen since ever I’m in the minority who just thought it was good horror that got lots of hype and praise due to its first-person camera narrative style.

The US remake of this film, Quarantine, only made people think the first [REC] truly was great due to the remake’s level of awful. This sequel follows the first film just minutes after it ended and looks to add more action to the mix. When I say action it looks like a live-action version of Doom 3 but minus the demons and sci-fi trappings. Instead we get SWAT team members and a secretive government official going in to handle the escalating crisis.

Some of those who have seen this sequel make an apt comparison to the Alien franchise. This sequel is this franchise’s Aliens.

Whether it make a theatrical release here in the US or just straight to video I will most likely end up watching it, but with a tempered sense of expectation. It takes a lot for a film to make my greatest horror list and this franchise just doesn’t cut it.

Review: Ichi the Killer (dir. Miike Takashi)

Filmmaking in Japan has always been one of extremes in storytelling and technique. A country whose cultural and artistic history includes the vibrant and impressionistic stylings of Noh theater was bound to influence it’s filmmakers throughout it’s film history. One such filmmaker who has made a career at showing off his own brand of impressionistic and extreme film styles is the eclectic and mad genius Miike Takashi.

It’s difficult to try and find a Western comparison to Miike as he has jumped from genre to genre while sticking to no one particular. One year he would make a traditional horror film while the next he’ll make a gangster flick reminiscent of 60’s Peckinpah and 70’s Scorsese. He’s even done film musicals, westerns, fantasy and thrillers. To watch Miike’s work is to always be prepared for the unexpected and the extreme. One such film which fully shows Miike at his most extreme, unrestrained and controversial is his 2001 adaptation of a Japanese manga (Japanese comic book). Ichi the Killer (aka Koroshiya 1 in Japan) is a tour-de-force of excessive violence that outdoes even the gialli masters like Argento, Fulci, Lenzi and Bava. Miike’s use of violence in this adaptation puts it in the realm of nightmare surrealism that’s still to be surpassed and only matched in artistry by another auteur of film violence: Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch.

The film at it’s most basic core is a tale of a vigilante, the titular character, and his opposite number, the equally dangerous and sadistic Yakuza enforcer, Kakihara. Ichi the Killer makes some changes from the original manga source, but keeps the convering two storylines of Ichi and Kakihara as they both wreak havoc on the Yakuza underworld of Tokyo until their bloodstained path intersects and the two finally confront each other on a Tokyo rooftop. To try and explain the rest of what Ichi the Killer was all about would be an exercise in futility. While the manga keeps the story pretty simple and easy to follow, in the hands of Miike the story took on a hallucinatory bent.

Storytelling has never been Miike’s strong suit. Only in Audition has his penchant for stylistic scene arrangement and directions been subdued enough to allow for a straightforward story. Miike shares alot in common with Dario Argento in creating dream-like (some would say nightmarish) sequences of images to propel a story from one violent encounter to the next. Throughout Ichi the Killer whatever semblance of a plot — one of revenge and depravity — gets heavy doses of moments where the story takes on the surreal. The ending in of itself really adds to the surrealistic tone of the film.

The characters in the film are very developed despite the over-the-top nature of the film. Every character in the film seem to have an inherent predilection to cause violence and pain. From the prostitutes to the children, violence and pain are the common denominator that everyone shares in this film. Of particular note is the character of Kakihara, the sadistic Yakuza killer who goes on a spree of torture and killing to find the person or persons who killed his mob boss. His “Glasgow Smile” predates Heath Ledger’s Joker smile by a good 6-7 years. Where the character of Ichi (played with an almost bi-polar quality by Nao Omori) takes on an almost superheroish role, Kakihara is a character study in the nature of sadomasochism at its most extreme. By film’s end Kakihara seems to be more of the hero of the film than Ichi. Kakihara’s enjoyment at inflicting pain and receiving it wa made more compelling by the performance of Tadanobu Asano. He gives a chilling and intriguing performance that’s infused with the rockstar-worship mentality that some Japanese action-stars are known for. Before Capt. Jack Sparrow, Asano’s Kakihara took the rockstar persona to new genre heights.

To say more about the film is really irrelevent since it’ll just be to point out that Miike’s film is ultra-violent. I must say that Ichi the Killer continues Miike’s visual commentary on the nature of violence and how despite its distasteful nature people will try to experience it to sate their personal curiosity. Ichi the Killer doesn’t so much as desensitize the audience to violence but shows them that we all have the capacity for infliciting and having it inflicted on us. Just watching the film could count as being both. The film is really not for a majority of the filmwatching community, but rest assured more people will have seen this film not because they’re fans of this type of film, but because they were curious.

The violence comes quick and lingers. This film is definitely not for everyone, but just like a carwreck many will be tempted to check it out just to see what everyone has been talking about. To call the violence in this film excessive is an understatement. Blood flows in this film in almost the same amount as those in Peter Jackson’s Dead-Alive. And just like in Jackson’s ode to Romero, Miike’s use of violence is cartoonish to the point that I expected Itchy and Scratchy and Tom and Jerry to make an apperance. The term arterial spray takes on a new meaning with Ichi the Killer and people who have seen Tarantino’s Kill Bill can see where his inspiration for the Tea House sequence came from. The film is definitely not for everyone and bound to be the cause of much heated debates from those who actually see it. In the end, Ichi the Killer will entertain and repulse in equal measure as, I honestly think, Miike intended the film to do.

The Daily Grindhouse: The New York Ripper (dir. by Lucio Fulci)

I’ve decided to share my love of grindhouse films by posting periodical daily grindhouse choices. To inaugurate this new feature I’ve chosen a favorite early 80’s grindhouse flick straight from the mind of the maestro himself, Lucio Fulci.

The New York Ripper is one of Fulci’s contribution to the Italian cinema genre of gialli films. Giallo (gialli – plural) films have a colorful, no pun intended, history in Italian filmmaking and it’s Golden Age last from the 70’s all through the mid-80’s when the public’s appetite for them started to wane. This  Lucio Fulci entry into the giallo genre was not his first but it was one of his most infamous one’s for the fact that many people thought it’s depiction of women and their deaths on-screen was labeled as extremely misogynistic and cruel. The New York Ripper wasn’t even one of the better films in Fulci body of work, but the label of misogynism and having been banned from many countries or being shown only as a X-rated feature film brought it attention and made it a staple in the so-called “grindhouse” cinemas that were prevalent in the 70’s and 80’s.

The film liberally lifts its ideas from the famous “Jack the Ripper” true-crime investigation and transplants it, where else, but New York City. The killings were brutal to the point that I understood the outrage many had over them. What made this film a favorite of mine is not the controversy revolving over calls of misogynism or the near-pornographic scenes of violence, but the killer himself. As you shall see in the attached trailer for the film the duck voice and quacking you will hear is not a joke added into the trailer but part of the film’s titular character’s personality.

Yes, ladies and gents…Donald Duck is the New York Ripper!

Review: Repo Men (dir. by Miguel Sapochnik)

In the beginning of 2010 a scifi-horror film arrived in the theaters to much internet hype. This film showed a future world where a massive societal change and the resulting health crisis following it was described in detail. It was a film which cleverly built a world so different from out very own yet still very similar in its foundation. This film was Daybreakers and for all the wonderful world-building it did to establish a foundation for the story being told the film couldn’t find it’s way to having the film’s plot match what the filmmakers’ established in the beginning. I say this because it is now late March 2010 and another film has done another wonderful job of establishing a future world so very different and yet so very similar in many ways. Where the Spierig Brothers failed in more ways than one to have the rest of Daybreakers live up to the world established in the beginning and a premise that was quite new, Miguel Sapochnik did a much better job — albeit still flawed — in allowing the plot for Repo Men live up to the world established in the opening minutes of the film.

In the near future of Repo Men medical science and technology has advance far enough that most organs and parts of the human body can be artificially replaced when they failed. While this detail of the film sounds like the makings of a future utopia it’s actually much closer to our own reality in that these organs, despite being mass-produced, are still only affordable to the rich. Artificial organs (artiforgs in this film’s vocabulary) sold to the rich like luxury items. Those not-so-rich, but desperate to try and find a way to change a fatal health situation, also offered these artiforgs on a monthly payment plan suitable to their current expense situation. It’s mostly these payment plan artiforg owners who experience the skill sets of the so-called “repo men.” These are individuals employed by the artiforg company called The Union who sell the products. When someone misses too many payments on their artiforgs and goes delinquent on their payment plan then the repo men will be knocking on their door to take back the synthetic organ. It’s similar to banks repossessing cars and homes when payments are not made.

The film’s told in the point of view of one of these repo men. Jude Law’s character Remy is one of The Union’s top repo men who we see enjoys his work despite the ultimate consequence of what he does to the people whose artiforgs he takes back. His partner is Jake (played with childish glee by Forest Whitaker). The two have been friends since grade school and both share a similar sense of sociopathy when it comes to violence. To say that they’re like brothers minus the shared genetics won’t be too far off. The first third of Repo Men shows the audience these two organ repossessors in their element as they hunt down those delinquent in their plan and those who have turned to the black market for their artiforgs. The film’s touches upon the current public hysteria of the two sides in the health care debate. While the film touches upon this current debate it does so without being too broad or preachy. It’s done subtly and without having it distract the audience from the film’s story.

The film does sing and move at an entertaining pace during the first third, but inevitably it does reach a point where the conflict of the story shows itself to add a dramatic ingredient to the film. It’s during what was to be Remy’s final repo mission before he heads over to a less paying, but safer job as sales in The Union that he goes from the repossesser to potential possessee. The switch in roles soon has Remy unable to do what he’s been so good at as cutting into someone delinquent on their artiforg when he himself now has one keeping him alive. It’s a common storytelling telling idea of the insider getting a taste of their own medicine and seeing how the other side lives. Avatar used it late last year and Daybreakers did it clumsily earlier this year.

This second third of the film has some character development flaws which could be attributed to some of the script’s weakness. While Remy’s sudden inability to do his job as a repo man after his own artiforg surgery makes sense the one-note characterization of his wife (played by the Black Book‘s Carice von Houten) who leaves him during this crisis of faith adds an unnecessary factor to his problems. In actuality the roles of the wife and Remy’s son could’ve easily been left off the film and just had the story be about Remy and his long-time friend and fellow repo man Jake. This would’ve been enough conflict and drama to power the rest of the film. This is where less would’ve definitely more and keep the story lean, mean and definitely more efficient. But even with this misstep in the film’s script it doesn’t sink the film. This could be attributed to some strong performances from Jude Law who manages to credibly transition from what amounts to be a paid serial killer to one having his eyes opened to the devastation he has wrought on individuals and families. Even the scene-chewing done by Whitaker as Jake doesn’t diminish Law’s performance and instead just shows that despite some of the horrible things Remy’s done he’s actually the sanest person in the film w/ everyone else close around him playing certain caricatures whose roles are to push him one way or another to picking a side on the issue of artiforgs and their repo issues.

It is in the beginning of the third act which may make or break the film for those who have stayed with it through the first acts. A particular even happens which transitions act to three which ramps up the action to it’s bloodiest and, at times, quite Cronenbergian level. It is this third act which pays homage to several great action-thrillers of the past decade. One scene in particular tries to emulate the classic hallway fight scene from Oldboy. This time around more weapons are used from knives, guns and all the way to a medical hacksaw. This scene leads up to another which pays homage to another Jude Law film of the past with a Cronenberg pedigree. While bloodier than similar scenes in eXistenZ there’s no denying that Sapochnik sure loves his Cronenberg. The climactic finish to the film before a sort of epilogue of a twist just builds and builds throughout the third act. For some the epilogue’s reveal may and will ruin the rest of the film as it seems like a cop-out of a plot twist, but I thought it was actually well done and gives a new meaning to the conventional Hollywood happy ending to an action-thriller.

As a first-time feature-film director Miguel Sapochnik has a deft and keen eye for visuals. The artistic design of the near-future world of Repo Men shows influences from the consumeristic dystopian future of Blade Runner up to the grounded in futurist science of Spielberg’s Minority Report. He’s quite adept at blocking and handling the many action setpieces which helped keep the film from being bogged down by flaws in the script and some uninspired characters. Sapochnik does need to get a better feel for how his cast interacts with each other. As stated earlier with the exception of Law’s Remy character and Liev Schrieber’s delicious turn as a gleefully amoral example of corporate evil at its best, the rest of the cast seem uninspired from von Houten’s role as Remy’s wife right up to Alice Braga’s performance as Beth, the artiforg addicted singer Remy hooks up with halfway through the film.

Repo Men could’ve easily gone highbrow in addition to keeping to it’s genre trappings the way the Spierig Brothers tried to do with Daybreakers. Fortunately, Sapochnik w/ writers Eric Garcia and Garrett Lerner kept things focused on Remy’s journey from hunter to prey to “savior” without trying to overly explain his motivations. While they weren’t subtle in all things they tried to tell with the story they gamely tried to stick to the rule of showing and not telling everything. For his directing debut Sapochnik does a good job despite he flaws and shows promise.

In the end, Repo Men is a very good scifi action-thriller which delivers on its title. Despite missteps in the writing and some uninspired characters the film still turned out to be quite entertaining. It was a fast-paced film with several bloody, gore-filled action setpieces timed to pick up the film when dialogue and exposition starts to drag it down. Miguel Sapochnik’s debut feature-film could easily have turned off the rails and went in so many different directions but he kept things on the straight and narrow. While for some the ending will infuriate and negate what fun they were having through most of the film it also would be seen by others as an inspired take on the Hollywood happy ending. Repo Men won’t be mistaken as the next Brazil and Sapochnik won’t be mistaken as the next Cronenberg or Park Chan-wook, but both filmmaker and film is better than it should be and wholly entertaining from start to finish.

Review: Daybreakers (dir. by The Spierig Brothers)

In 2003 there was this little zombie flick from Down Under which flew under the radar of most film-goers, but definitely not of horror fans everywhere. The name of this film was Undead and while the film was a nice little genre mash-up of a romp it showed just how new to feature-lenght filmmaking it’s brother directors were. The Sprierig Brothers’ film seemed to have done well enough in the box-office and in the dvd market that they were soon offered by genre studio Lionsgate to make another film from their very own script. It was a vampire story which once again shows the brothers’ penchant for culling a story of different genres to create something familiar but with some originality peppered throughout. With a reported budget of $20-21million dollars, the finished product of Daybreakers arrives in the theaters in the early going of 2010 as a nice, albeit very flawed, change of pace from the so-called “Twilight”-style of vampire films.

The Spierig Brothers have set their vampire film in the near future of 2019 where it’s been 10 years since an unnamed vampiric virus has turned most of the world’s population into vampires. It is in the early 20-30 minutes of the film where Daybreakers really showed some genuine new blood (pardon the pun) in the vampire film genre. We’re shown a world which has adjusted to the turning of society from a human one to a vampiric one. While society has turned it’s people still clung to old habits they practiced when still human.

Schools are still in session but instead of morning and afternoon they’re now held at night. There’s still coffee stands for business people to get their cup of joe, but now spiked with real human blood. Even corporations have adjusted from their former human interests to one much closer to their new existence. Blood has become a rare commodity and traded as such on the world markets. One could see the filmmakers attempt to allegorize mankind’s addiction to oil and it’s finite supply to this new society’s need to harvest fresh human blood from human’s captured and turned into living blood banks. But like all precious natural resource this blood supply has begun to run low thus threatening not just the survival of a human race close to extinction, but damning those who turned into vampires into something mutated by blood-deprivation.

While the story had some definite merits to them. From the world-building by the Brothers to try and make the audience invest some interest in the film right down to the very Rated-R violence sorely lacking in most vampire films nowadays. Still with those to help garner interest in the audience, Daybreakers manages to make too many misses to the hits which tried to keep the audience’s attention.

Most filmmakers have a tendency to spell out to the audience what they’re watching. The skill to show rather than tell the film is a skill very rare in most filmmakers which is probably why we have many average-to-good ones and very rare great ones. The Spierig Brothers tried to show rather than tell, but they seem to have went a bit extreme in trying to show the story and forgot to add a semblance of a tight screenplay. The dialogue wasn’t bad, but what little there was seemed disjointed and almost tossed in to add a semblance of an explanation to what was happening. Characters and motivations were handled as if the audience should automatically understand when at times it just seemed like they came out of nowhere and were suddenly important to what was occurring on the screen. One particular character, who gets billing on the Daybreakers ad-campaign one-sheets, gets a mention in a passing bit of dialogue between two main characters and appears midway in the film only to be used as a plot-device to show how evil and heartless the main antagonist was. This is twice in less than a year where Isabel Lucas’ character gets this treatment. It happens more than once and shows just how much more work could’ve been done to the screenplay to really advance the original ideas the brothers wanted to film.

As with most films with a less-than-stellar screenplay the actors cast to act it out need to work double-time to salvage something very good to be presented in the final cut of the film. I couldn’t honestly say that there were any bad performances from all involved. While the overall acting performance from the cast wasn’t awful, or even bad, there was a sense of disinterest from several of the main characters which didn’t really help in trying to explain the motivations of why they did what they did on-screen. Ethan Hawke as Dr. Edward Dalton (vampire hematologist working on a blood substitute) almost sleepwalks through the entire film. We know soon enough that he hates being a vampire and won’t touch human blood, but he brings little life to his character and most of the cast do as well. It’s almost as if they couldn’t decide how seriously they should take the story they were filming and end up being one-note in the process. The only two actors who seem to realize the ridiculous, albeit fun premise, of the story was Sam Neill as head of the corporation providing human blood to the vampire population and Willem Dafoe as the human with a past secret who holds the key to finding a cure to vampirism.

Neill plays Charles Bromley with a certain amount of oily, snake-like panache we like to equate with captains of industries willing to sacrifice their own blood if it means turning a profit. He doesn’t stay immune from the script’s flaw, but he gamely trudges on to try and fully realize a well-rounded character. We could see why he does what he does even though we probably won’t agree with them. Willem Dafoe as the other bright star in an otherwise one-note character really got the best bits of dialogue in the film. His Lionel “Elvis” Cormac scene-chews through every second he’s on the screen. Dafoe’s own quirkiness and brand of craziness salvages from Daybreakers a semblance of a fun time.

I would say that despite the many flaws from the script and how it affected the performances of most of the cast in the end this was still a vampire film and a gruesome one at that. The year’s since Undead and the upping of a budget for this film hasn’t dulled the gorehound in the Spierig Brothers. Daybreakers was definitely not Twilight in every drop of blood in its celluloid veins. Blood really flows in this film and they flow a-plenty. The brothers don’t just stop in blood being spilled. He has the red liquid sprayed as if from intense pressure. But in addition to that particular brand of red nasty they add a bit of the zombie influence in the film as limbs are ripped asunder, heads torn off and flesh bitten and chewed on. This awesome display of gore and grue was a great cure for a case of the Twilight bug. It was in the last reel where the brothers ramp up the vampire violence where I truly felt like they were in their element. Maybe this was the film they should’ve gone for instead of trying to add some societal undertone to the film. Not every vampire film has to be an arthouse darling like Let the Right One In. Sometimes a filmmaker needs to realize their limitations as storyteller and stick to what they do best.

In the end, Daybreakers was definitely a missed opportunity to showcase a new fresh take on a horror genre being diluted by PG and ten-marketing sensibilities. It was a film with some very new ideas to add fresh blood in a staid vampire genre but these early hits were soon to be hampered by a weak screenplay and a cast that seemed truly disinterested in giving a spirited performance with a couple of exceptions. The film does salvages a bit of fun which made me enjoy enough of the film. The brothers take of their gloves in the final reel as the gore and violence almost reaches fun, goofy territory. It was this final reel which made me wish that Spierig Brothers had concentrated on right from the start. It definitely would’ve cut down the film into a much leaner and faster-paced film and maybe, just maybe, got everyone else to have fun on-screen the way Sam Neill and Willem Dafoe seemed to be having. The Spierig Brother definitely have a sense of style when it comes to horror, but they still have some ways to go before they could truly say that they’ve arrived as fully-rounded filmmakers.