Horror Film Review: Underworld (dir by Len Wiseman)


Underworld is one hell of a confusing movie.

I saw Underworld when it was first released in theaters, way back in 2003.  And I’ve rewatched more than a handful of times since then, mostly because of my huge girl crush on Kate Beckinsale.  And every time that I watch this movie, I find myself wondering what the Hell’s going on.

I mean, I get it.  There’s a centuries-old war between vampires and Lycans and the Lycans are basically werewolves but they’re called “Lycan” because Lycan sounds better than werewolf.  The Death Dealers are vampires who go around and shoot Lycans on dark rainy nights.  And apparently, the vampires think that the Lycan threat has been neutralized because the leader of the Lycans, Lucian, is dead but maybe he’s not because Lucian’s body was never found.  And meanwhile, there’s three vampire rulers and two of the rulers get to sleep while the other one reigns and they switch out every few centuries.

Oh!  And the vampires and the Lycans are not really supernatural creatures.  Instead, they’re people who have been infected by a virus that causes them to live a really long time and have a craving for blood or something like that.  So, that explains why none of the vampires turn into a bat or anything like that during the movie.  Instead, everyone just runs around and does parkour and shoots guns at one another.

Also, the vampires don’t have to prey on human beings because they’ve learned how to clone blood because cloning is the solution for everything.

And also, everything happens at night while it’s raining because the vampires and the Lycans are secretly living in the same world with humans, they’re just living underground.  They’re living in an underworld, if you will.

Also ….

Well, listen, there’s a lot of plot in this movie.  Underworld lasts for 121 minutes and there’s really not a slow spot in the entire film.  In fact, that’s probably one of the film’s greatest strengths.  The nonstop action keeps you from thinking about how the plot of the film just seems to be something that the filmmakers made up as they went along.  Instead of wondering how everything fits together, you’re too busy watching as the movie flies from violent set piece to another.

Underworld‘s other great strength is that it stars Kate Beckinsale.  Nowadays, the action girl who kicks ass and defeats evil while looking good has become such a cliche that it’s easy to forget just how exciting it was when we first saw Kate Beckinsale, clad in leather and effortlessly dodging bullets and ruthlessly killing Lycans.  Though its impact may have subsequently been diluted by too many sequels and imitations, watching Underworld for the first time was a very empowering experience.  Watching Underworld for the first time, I wanted to be Kate Beckinsale. If Kate could defeat both vampires and Lycans without breaking a sweat then I knew that I could defeat my own insecurities.   Of course, unlike Kate, I didn’t have the advantage of movie magic to help me down a backflip off of a wall and I ended up spraining my ankle but still, Kate Beckinsale in Underworld was the perfect antidote to years of previously watching women in horror and action films be treated like either disposable victims or damsels in need of rescue.

In Underworld, Kate Beckinsale played Selene, a Death Dealer who tries to figure out why the Lycans are all after a human named Michael (Scott Speedman).  Selene also falls in love with Michael, which leads to some complications after Michael gets bitten by Lucian (Michael Sheen), the Lycan leader who wasn’t really dead after all.  Meanwhile, Kraven (Shane Brolly) wants to take over the vampires and a vampire elder named Viktor (Bill Nighy) is woken up early and then ages backwards through the film, which is actually a pretty clever idea.

And, as I said before, it never really makes much sense.  But, as incoherent as Underworld may be, it’s still an undeniably addictive viewing experience.  The movie is pure style.  It takes place in a world where it’s always night and it’s always raining and where everyone is beautiful and deadly at the same time.  Whether they’re a vampire or a Lycan, People in Underworld movies don’t merely enter a room.  Instead, they throw the doors open and allows blue light to flood in as they make a grand entrance.  At times, the film’s style is so kinetic and overwhelming that it threatened to get a little bit silly but, again, that’s a part of the film’s appeal.  While Kate Beckinsale thrills you with her empowering performance, the visuals grab you and say, “We’re going on a trip and don’t worry about whether it makes any sense!”

That’s why I’ve watched Underworld several times.  It doesn’t have to make sense.  It just has to kick ass.

 

 

Horror Film Review: From Hell (dir by The Hughes Brothers)


Who was Jack the Ripper?

That’s a question that people have been asking for 129 years.  Arguably the world’s first famous serial killer, Jack the Ripper killed at least five prostitutes in the Whitechapel section of London.  Some claim that he killed as many as twenty.  He may have also written several taunting letters to the police.  Again, some say that the letters are authentic and some say that they were hoaxes.  Hell, there’s even some people who say that Jack the Ripper himself is a myth and the five murders attributed to him were actually five unconnected crimes.  It was speculated that Jack the Ripper was a butcher, a surgeon, or maybe a midwife.  Just as suddenly as the murders began, they ended.  The London police claimed that he had committed suicide by jumping into the Thames.  Few people believed them then and even less now.

The reason that there is so much uncertainty is because Jack the Ripper was never caught.  He was never identified.  There were stories of confessions, though many of them came from the mentally infirm or they were heard by someone who was a friend of someone who claimed to be the Butcher of Whitechapel.  At one point, there was even a claim that Jack’s diary had been found.

As a horror fan, a true crime fanatic, and a lover of history, I’ve read quite a few theories about who Jack the Ripper was.  Nearly every prominent (or, at the very least, remembered) Victorian has been accused of having been Jack the Ripper.  Oscar Wilde has been accused of hiding a confession in The Picture of Dorian Gray.  Various members of the Royal Family have been fingered as the culprit.  Even Lewis Carroll could not escape accusation.  The true crime author Patricia Cornwell wrote an entire book where she (wrongly) accused the painter Walter Sickert.  Cornwell’s case could basically be summed up as follows: “Walter Sicket’s paintings were weird.  Walter Sickert must be Jack the Ripper.”  Apparently, she managed to destroy one of Sickert’s paintings while looking for clues.

The truth of the matter is that Jack the Ripper was probably some guy who no one has ever heard of, most probably one of the unknown men who lived and worked in the shadows of Whitechapel.  For all the talk of Jack being a doctor, it can be argued that the surgical precision of his murders has been overstated.  He didn’t get away with murder because he was particularly clever.  Instead, he got away with it because, in 1888, even fingerprinting was considered to be a radical science.

But, honestly, that’s not very intriguing.  For those of us who have researched the case, it’s far more interesting to speculate that Jack the Ripper was either a famous person or that the murders were all the result of a huge conspiracy.

That’s certainly the appeal of From Hell, the 2001 film from The Hughes Brothers.  Making the same basic case as Bob Clark’s Murder By Decree, From Hell argues that the Jack the Ripper murders were the result of a royal conspiracy.  In reality, that theory has been discredited but it certainly is the most cinematic of all the possibilities.

And, speaking of cinematic, it must be said that From Hell is very stylish movie.  Though the title comes from one of Jack the Ripper’s letters, From Hell also could just as easily be used to describe the film’s vision of Whitechapel.  Whitechapel is full of shadows and secrets and the blood flows freely.  If Mary Kelly (Heather Graham) isn’t killed by Jack the Ripper, it’s just as likely she’ll be killed by one of her clients.  Even as the murders are committed, life and business in Whitechapel goes on.  What other choice is there?  It’s either risk being killed or starve.

It falls to Frederick Abberline (Johnny Depp) to solve the murders.  The real-life Abberline was an almost legendary detective who lived for decades after the final Jack the Ripper murder.  The movie’s Abberline is an opium addict who always seems to be on the verge of a breakdown.  When he and Mary Kelly fall in love, you’re not really sure if it’s something to be happy about.  Abberline seems just as likely to go crazy as everyone else.

From Hell is an uneven and somewhat overlong movie but I like it.  Heather Graham and Johnny Depp give somewhat odd performances but the oddness fits right in with the Hughes Brothers’s vision of a world that’s been turned permanently upside down.  It’s a movie that’s full of atmosphere and the story is intriguing even if it’s never exactly convincing.  For obvious reasons, I can’t reveal who plays Jack the Ripper but I will say that he gives a very good performance.  When he says that, “One day, men will look back and say that I gave birth to the 20th century,” you believe him.

Trailer: Transformers: Age of Extinction (Official)


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I know, I know, another Transformers extravaganza coming this summer. As if the last two wasn’t enough to swear me off the franchise. Well, guess what this one doesn’t have any of the actors from the first three and drops in a whole bunch of new ones to play war with the aforementioned robots who are more than meets the eye.

Instead of Shia LaBeouf in the lead role screaming like the most unheroic lead ever we get the manly man Mark Walhberg himself playing a Texas dad out to protect his daughter from the men in black while jump starting a rusted Optimus Prime on his spare time.

This fourth film looks to be a new start for the franchise that we all thought ended with a bang and a whimper with Transformers: Dark of the Moon, but there were still more Transformers that never made it to the bigscreen and what better way to do that than make a fourth. So, it looks like fans finally get Grimlock and the Dinobots plus a Decepticon that looks to be Galvatron.

Again, I will be seeing this (it’s like the scifi blockbuster version of Saw) just for the fact that it doesn’t have Shia LaBeouf for people to listen to scream shrilly every two or three minutes. Plus, it has Optimus Prime wrestling and then riding Grimlock.

Transformers: Age of Extinction is ready to make our eyes explode on June 27, 2014.

Super Bowl Trailer: Transformers: Age of Extinction


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Yes, it is another Transformers film about to descend on the population this coming summer.

Could we finally get a quality one after the last two which got worse and worse with each new entry? I can’t say for sure, but this fourth entry does have one thing going for it and that is the lack of Shia LaBeouf. Instead we get Mark Walhberg in the lead human role. Optimus Prime and Bumblebee return with new robots filling in the rest.

If there’s one thing about Transformers: Age of Extinction that will get me to see it once it comes out is the fact that it has Grimlock and his merry band of Dinobots finally making their appearance. Yes, Grimlock and that’s all I need.

Transformers: Age of Extinction is set for a July 27, 2014 release date.