In The Deep (47 Metres Down)

in_the_deep_shark_horror_thriller_2016_poster.jpg

In my recent review of The Shallows I expressed my surprised joy at the film world finally making a decent shark movie;  because since Jaws there has been a dearth of well made movies featuring that great white fear we all share, and that was the 70’s for chrissakes!

Well guess what shark-o-philes – there’s not one decent shark movie this year, there’s two!

In the Deep is everything The Shallows wasn’t – dark and murky instead of broad daylight, gruesome graphic effects instead of Shallows’ more discreet thrills, big schlocky fun instead of introspection, and a hell of a lot more sharks.

Telling the story of sisters in their twenties on holiday in Mexico – one mousy and demure, with life embracing lessons to learn (Lisa – Mandy Moore), one more free-willed (Kate – Clare Holt) who decide (at the urging of their brand new Mexican paramours) to do a shark dive out in the deepest Mexican waters. Overcoming trepidation they take the plunge, only to find themselves in a world of trouble when through a series of technical mishaps they find themselves in the fallen observation cage at the bottom of the ocean, away from communication with the circling boat above and only those hungry cruising sharks to keep them company… and their oxygen is running out.

Performances are believable, the bond between the sisters well realised and tangible. The effects are great, the scares work, the music by Tomandandy wonderful as always and adds a dreamy feel to some parts of this high anxiety tale.

Trust me, if you were nervous about sharks, the ocean or scuba diving before, this film ain’t gunna help!

As written and directed by Johannes Roberts and featuring an integral turn by Matthew Modine as the captain (so so good to see him back on our screens!) this is taut stuff, a ‘what would I do?’ exploration of survival under the toughest of odds, involving and fearless.

This is an exercise in tension – indeed some parts I couldn’t watch, others I was yelling at the screen. This film sucks you in from the get go and then just tightens those screws.

Better, this story has a sharp little twist in the tail, a WTF ending I did not see coming that made it all the more chilling and memorable.

I was impressed by this one; its an adrenaline rush but has more to it than expected. A notable and nail-biting addition to the horror movie world.

See it.

But make sure you’re not planning on swimming any time soon.

8/10

 

Advertisements

Lights Out

maxresdefault-2

 

When did we start to confuse jump scares, the equivalent of someone pouncing at you and yelling boo, with real horror? When did we segue from true bone chilling, ‘stuff that haunts you for years’ horror to these bland homogenised horror-by-numbers productions? When did horror stop being the boundary crossing, censor-baiting, unexpected risk-taking genre it’s always been, and become this? 

Horror at its best, takes you places you aren’t sure you even wanna go, shows you things you know will stay with you and gives you the FULL gamut of emotions not just a temporary clang of discordant music accompanying a sudden appearance on the screen. Think of Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, Texas Chainsaw, Last House on the Left, The Mist, Carrie – horror that subversively tells you a deeper, more crushing and important story beneath the horror layer on top. And the horror itself is vicious or angry or filled with dread, the kind of stuff taken from our collective subconscious, the things we are REALLY afraid of. Nightmares.

Movies like those are now like hens teeth, things of the almost-past; and the insipid and impotent ‘horrors’ that have replaced them just make me sad.

‘Lights out’ is the latest horror to hit the big screen. It stars Theresa Palmer and Maria Bello and thus continues the new tradition of populating this generations horror movies with name actors.

It is also the feature film directorial debut of David F Sandburg, but is produced by James Wan, a name that is now (along with Blumhouse productions) starting to give me a lot of pre-movie trepidation – they seem to enjoy wallowing in the mediocre, just the bare minimum required to fit into the genre. They are not interested in expanding or even celebrating the horror genre, just making money from it.

 

It is the story of Sophie (Bello) whose mental illness has allowed a ghost from her past to infiltrate the present. This ghost (called Diana) can only exist in the dark, and is now intent on pursuing all those whom Sophie loves in order to have her to itself. On the chopping block are Sophie’s daughter Rebecca (Palmer) and son Martin (a mostly believable Gabriel Bateman). Along for the ride is commitment-hungry boyfriend of Rebecca’s, Brett (played by Alexander DiPersia)

This is based on the excellent and chilling short film of the same name (same director – check it out on YouTube). Is there enough there for a feature film? No there isn’t, and so we will expand it with exposition and over-egg the pudding.

 

First, the positives – the acting is uniformly good with Palmer giving an actually exceptional performance here, you buy her every emotion.

Some sequences were more effective than others and if you’ve seen the trailer you’ve already seen them but basically the tattoo sign red light scene and the opening mannequins/lights failing scene.

Diana crouched in the dark has a nice ominous feeling to it that was effective.

The ending was actually quite brave and I’m glad they went there though the abrupt sudden credits just after that scene and its wrap-up were a little jarring.

There were an unfortunate number of negatives that must be mentioned however. The backstory was muddy and frankly unbelievable; the convenient ‘evidence’ Rebecca finds so easily, including the tape recording set at just the right point and the drawing dangling tantalizingly from a bottom drawer couldn’t have been more clunky if they’d tried; the fact that they chose to give Diana’s child voice on the recording a demonic guttural sound was a serious miss-step, I mean c’mon! The jump scares were telegraphed from a mile away and the melodrama of who’s going to be looking after Martin was pretty day-time soapy. The dinner table scene where they discuss how to deal with the ghost (Brett just accepting all this like he’s being spoonfed baby food even though he hasn’t even seen anything at this point) is beyond absurd with the mother declaring “you don’t turn your back on a friend”, meanwhile Diana is trying to kill her kids – just stupid. Having said that, there are not nearly enough deaths here, the body count kept very very low which detracts from any feeling of danger the director is trying to generate.

I’m also not entirely sure I embrace what it says about mental health. Lights Out basically demonises people with mental health problems with even Sophie’s own children referring to her as ‘crazy’ on numerous occasions which is offensive and wrong. This film does weigh in on mental health and that is not a responsibility that the film-makers have taken very seriously here.

And don’t even get me started on that holier-than-thou boyfriend who’s just there to love and support and be general dogsbody for his girlfriend while looking gorgeous with his tousled hair and leather jacket but just the right amount of nerd in his rainbow striped socks – it’s ridiculous – men like him do not exist, period. I believe in a demon luring in the dark more than I believe in that particular figment of the film-makers imagination.

But the biggest problem once again is that old familiar one of horrors these days – ITS NOT SCARY!

Its easy to make people jump, its easy to play on familiar tropes and churn it out for the PG crowd to go along to and get cheap thrills from the jolts and say they’ve seen a horror but they are playing you people!

Things need to change for horror and quick because it seems the more accepted by mainstream it becomes, the less like horror it is; and we are losing what makes it so good.

 

Such a shame..

 

6/10

 

The Shallows

 

 

ChzwfIAXAAApDa5

Lets face it, there’s really only one shark movie, and we all know it. All the ‘Deep Blue Sea’s in the world will never erase our knowledge of the fact that Jaws remains undefeated in its title of THE shark movie – and I cant imagine any film ever toppling that masterpiece from its place at the top of that ladder. It’s just too perfect.

God forbid they ever attempt a remake – I’ll be the first one at the protest march I can tell you that.

But when I heard they’d released a shark movie that was good and held its own in the comparison stakes (mostly due to its almost diametrically opposing storyline) I was intrigued. Intrigued enough to shrug off my inbuilt cynicism and plan a viewing.

And so it was, one balmy Los Angeles evening, accompanied by my ex-‘not sure what we were’, the most brilliant Mr. Chavez and his equally marvelous wife Connie, I rocked up prepared to watch with an open mind what had already garnered sufficiently good word of mouth to warrant at least a small amount of hope for a scare-filled evening.

Having purchased my large popcorn and drink (I swear that large in America is at least 50% larger than large in Australia) and gotten a free refill of both (tip my hat to you Mr. C!), we settled in for the ride.

Essentially a one-hander, this movie concerns the recently bereaved Nancy, coping with the death of her mother by visiting a place that was once dear to her; the ‘secret beach’ a secluded oasis just perfect for a horror survival movie.

After surfing with two likable locals she decides to “just catch one more wave before going in” and thus seals her fate as all good horror heroes do, by managing to isolate herself in a harsh place that will, of course, test her smarts and tenacity.

The shark that had been cruising those waters manages to trap her on a small reef with only an injured seagull for company. How and if she survives from there is the bulk of the movie.

I like survival stories, its fun and interesting to imagine what you would do in those circumstances, so the film had me onside from the beginning though I must confess that I am not the biggest fan of Blake Lively and have always found her pretty bland. While she manages to hold her own here, and is sympathetic and believable, I have to admit that I still didn’t warm to her.

Steven the Seagull on the other hand had bags of screen presence and was easily the heart of this film; his propinquity was surprisingly effective in providing someone for Nancy to talk to and thus allowing the audience to get to know her, and his apparent fragility lent an extra element of danger to her precarious situation that only amped up the tension.

The film itself was a nice mix of jump scares (excusable in ‘monster’ movies), anxiety and “behind you!” yelling at the screen.

The danger was palpable, there were some deaths that did not happen in the expected way and the cinematography was stunning, particularly the underwater work. Nancy’s character was well drawn and though she was in a bikini for a lot of the film it never felt exploitive.

The shark was occasionally treated as a monster rather than an animal and for me that always lets these films down, but it did not happen nearly as much as previous attempts at shark movies and was forgivable

I did like this film; it didn’t overstay its welcome, told its story succinctly and chose not to tie up every loose end in a bow which I appreciated.

Was it as good as Jaws? I think we all know the answer to that.

But was it good? The answer is a resounding yes.

 

7.5/10

 

 

The Conjuring 2

 

maxresdefault

I guess it’s some sort of skill to consistently produce/write/direct ‘horror’ films that actually aren’t scary. This is the dubious title I am unceremoniously awarding James Wan, who once again presents us with a film featuring an impeccable cast, impressive visuals and is of sumptuous high quality, but that is completely devoid of scares.

 

Set in 1977, The Conjuring 2 is the continuing story of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, who this time travel to London, England, where single mother Peggy Hodgson believes that something evil is in her home. When Peggy’s youngest daughter starts showing signs of demonic possession, Ed and Lorraine attempt to help the beleaguered girl, only to find themselves targeted by the malicious spirit.

This is loosely based on the Warrens’ investigation of the “Enfield poltergeist”, and so can claim to be ‘based on a true story’.

 

Following in the tradition of his previous films, most notably Saw, Insidious, Annabelle and of course, The Conjuring, this ‘horror’ showcases the talents of his always talented cast; in this case we see the return of the brilliant Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as real life ghost hunters The Warrens, joined here by a mostly unknown group of stellar actors. The stand-outs being Frances O’Connor as mother to the poor possessed girl and Bob Adrian as the old man in the house.

 

There is a tangent featuring some badly misjudged cgi that draws the film to an instant standstill but they manage to bring the story back to more solid ground until its final denouement. Its just not scary.

This is the same issue I had with the first Conjuring and I was somewhat kinder on that grading based on the fact that it did so well at the box office (always good for horrors to sell tickets – more get made that way!) and because it was a quality film, albeit not much of a horror.

I will be somewhat harsher here.

 

As a film about a supernatural occurrence based in fact, it manages to make something that could have been quite silly, utterly believable, it creates 1970’s Britain faultlessly, is acted superbly (as expected) and maintains your interest throughout – I’d rate it highly as a thriller, perhaps even an 8/10.

 

But as a horror it does fail miserably; not a single chill or tingle, it also frequently went for cheap jump scares which are pretty much unforgivable for any real horror fan, and it only managed to create a almost imperceptible sense of dread, with no real fear.

No matter how well made it is, it really has one job – to scare us; and I’m afraid as a horror, it didn’t cut it.

 

5/10

Hush

3a95a4b736a3055105277ad88f3a34a7ba039e7dA few months ago I wrote an article on the top ten best feminist horrors, and though I stand by those choices, had I seen Hush before I wrote that article, it would have been in the top three. Hell it may have even managed the top spot.

Hush is the story of a deaf/mute writer finding solace in a secluded woodside getaway after the end of a relationship; only to find herself at the mercy of a sociopathic game-playing tormentor. It is a cat and mouse tale all the way with ‘who’s on top’ changing throughout the course of its less-than-90-minute run time.

With a miniscule cast of barely four, this film is an exercise in tension. Kate Siegel wrote and starred in this film as ‘Maddie’ the deaf/mute writer, and if this is anything to go by she will have a promising career in both acting and screenwriting. She is never anything less than believable.

As the tormentor, John Gallagher Jr. is menacing and unknowable without ever becoming a caricature – no mean feat when he wears a mask for at least the first third of the film.

The script is spare, with great use of the one location utilizing all aspects of this house and its surrounds. The direction is tight and maintains the tension throughout.

The main character is rational, wily and always real; an intelligent script knows its harder to dismiss the scares when the characters do what you would do. Its so much easier to buy into what’s happening when the cast aren’t empty pawns to be pushed into killing position, when the wounds they suffer aren’t just brushed off like a flesh wound, when they mourn for their fallen friends.

A horror with a smart script will get you every time.

But this film also reminded me of one of the things I love best about horror – women. Horror stands alone as the only genre presenting actual lead roles in film for women, the only genre that allows women to be anything, not just relegated to the girlfriend role; the only genre where it isn’t even an issue that she is a woman. Every other genre, with the odd exception, seems to make films, and then it makes ‘women’s films’. Horror consistently features nice juicy roles for women to sink their teeth into and they don’t necessarily have to be ‘sexy’ or desirable or harpies or whores. If they’re sexy its because they want to be, if they want to beat the bad guy they just have to be smart and brave.

This is why I love horror.

And Hush was great.

8/10

Btw. (spoiler) in case you were worried, the cat lives!

Hush

The Witch

THEWITCH_TEASER_03_halfsize

 

It seems to me as if horror has taken a more mannered turn of late – it wants to be taken more seriously, be accepted by the latte crowd, get a wide release and maybe even an art house release. This new direction does not work for me.

I think ‘It Follows’ was a fairly big pointer for where we were headed – languid shots, moody atmosphere, a not-quite-fully-realized storyline, it takes itself all very seriously while offering very few actual scares.

These films are almost thrillers to me (though not that thrilling) and am unsure why they have decided to ride the coat-tails of horror except perhaps to draw in our faithful brethren who would attend any film labeled ‘horror’ in the hopes of that one great discovery – a horror that works.

The Witch, set in the 1600’s, is the story of a family that decides to leave the plantation they live in as they feel the townsfolk aren’t ‘pious’ enough, and set up home on the edge of a forest that unfortunately is home to a witch. Once she succeeds in kidnapping the baby (this and the ensuing fate of the baby are the best scenes in this film and display a nasty creepy edge that unfortunately disappears at this point and is not seen again with the exception of one ‘breast-feeding a raven’ scene that was a true wicked surpris), the family unity starts to unravel and previously papered over cracks erupt.

I understand that this is supposed to be an exercise in tension, in slow burn, in atmosphere, and I am ok with that. I loved Wolf Creek, Rosemary’s Baby, Blair Witch, Paranormal Activity – all fairly slow films that were worth the work; but this movie didn’t pepper the stretches with anything but more stretches. There are long diatribes and religious texts spoken in an accent so thick that subtitles would not have gone amiss, scenes held so long it seemed the director (Robert Eggars) must’ve nodded off and forgotten to yell ‘cut’.

As for the scares? they were non-existent. I can forgive a horror almost anything but that – they must at least attempt to scare me, I felt the witch was so pleased with its near perfect rendering this historical era that it was satisfied to just play it all flat – even scenes that should have had more shock or creep factor (the kiss in the woods, the twins and Black Philip, the apple in the mouth) seemed to have been filmed by someone who didn’t understand the basics of building a horror scene and so they felt less impactful than they should have been.

I read that each character was supposed to represent a different sin and maybe not being religious meant I missed this aspect of the screenplay and its connotations, but I fail to see how this would have added any scares.

There should have been more made of the ominous foreboding of things such as the crops dying, the lack of food, the impending threat of the eldest daughter Thomasina being married off so the family could profit from her ‘selling’, but all these good ingredients were squandered in a muddy script and inaccessible dialogue.

 

I really wanted to like this film, the basic elements are good and should have combined into a creepy and cohesive whole, but I was disappointed and definitely not scared.

 

That being said – I loved Back Philip, he was a stroke of goaty genius in an otherwise lackluster effort that has pretty visuals but little else.

 5/10

Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension

 

paranormal_activity__the_ghost_dimension_poster_by_bloodyblake44-d8zf8mr

 

The Paranormal Activity franchise has been an undeniably successful one. Successful financially, successful in scaring us and successful in its manipulation of the horror landscape so that found footage films are such the norm now as to be almost ho hum. It didn’t create the found footage genre (that honor will go to The Blair Witch Project) but it did utilise it in a unique way with the static camera at the end of the bed documenting moments of terror unbeknownst to the protagonist until a later date if at all; which was different to the ‘main character carries around camera’ we saw on Blair Witch. In this way the scares were more subtle and the repercussions more drawn out. Very effective.

I have to admit that the original Paranormal Activity scared me in a way a horror film hadn’t since I was a kid, and each sequel provided its own scares also (albeit with slightly diminishing returns), it was a solid franchise of guaranteed chills.

Until this installment.

I approached this film somewhat optimistically, the story getting a tad long in the tooth but still reliably entertaining and reasonably creepy, the film-makers must have nevertheless felt it stull had more to give and that’s why they green-lit this – part six.

 

PA: The Ghost Dimension concerns Ryan and Emily who move into their new home with adorable child Leila in tow, only to discover an old camcorder that seems to film the ghostly realm unseen by the naked eye. Before you know it Leila has an ‘imaginary’ friend (Toby from previous installments) and is clearly being groomed for a trip to ‘the ghost dimension’. Ryan’s friend Mike is also along for the ride and to be the voice of reason (”Just turn off the tape!”) when Ryan seems to be all but inviting evil into his home.

 

There are some very thin straws holding this story to the others – the house is where young Katie and Kristi grew up (part 3), and suddenly Hunter’s blood (part 4) is not enough because Toby needs Leila’s blood too. I hate it when future writers go back and try to rewrite scenes and stories from previous films; it feels like a cheat, and a cheap way to shoehorn your own story into someone else’s.

 

This is well acted by all concerned with Dan Gill as Uncle Mike a clear stand out; but I almost felt sorry for the actors trying so hard to make this film scary when it clearly wasn’t.

The issue was the screenplay, it was too convoluted for a horror as it contorted itself into all different directions to make it coherent to the films thus far, in doing so it lost its own voice and any sense of clarity. It also seemed to forget what worked so well in the previous films. PA was effective and creepy as hell because of what it didn’t show, because of its ability to make a slowly closing door or a pool cleaner being found in the yard each morning, scary. These are the real fears we have, it isn’t the obvious monster in the room, it’s the simple footprints in powder leading to your room. In showing us (in cheap cgi glory I might add) the ghostly dimension itself, this film totally shoots itself in the foot – I don’t want to see the man behind the curtain, it just kills my imagination and dread.

 

It’s a shame to end this franchise on such a dud note but I truly hope this is the end of the run.

This horse is dead guys, stop flogging it!

 

4/10

The Green Inferno

Green-Interno

I was really looking forward to this film. After all, cannibals have always been one of those antagonists in film that have always given me the chills, and Eli Roth has a solid horror pedigree what with Hostel, Cabin Fever and Grindhouse in his movie-making history, inspired by classics such as ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ – this should have been a slam dunk.

So what went so terribly wrong?

It may be easier to start with what was right – shot on location in the amazon the green inferno itself is a lush albeit brutal backdrop, the plane crash scene was well done, a few of the characters weren’t completely obnoxious (particularly the lesbian couple), it drew attention to the abomination that is female genital mutilation, and the ‘natives’ looked…well, native.

That’s really all I can praise.

The story details the misadventures of a team of eco-warriors headed by the elusive Alejandro and their plans to fly to the amazon, chain themselves to bulldozers to prevent the inevitable march of ‘progress’ from destroying the forest and the natives that have made their homes there. They plan to live stream from their mobiles and feel this is all the protection they need. Now I’m just gunna stop there to examine how deeply stupid this is – 1. people have been beheaded on camera before, so film really stops nothing, 2. a mobile phone is not a remote beacon but a feeble communications device that can be combated with one quick destructive hand or boot, 3. They are now identifiable on camera blowing up property that doesn’t belong to them and taunting mercenaries – good work!

After a marginally successful protest our team, along with lead final girl – Justine (Lorenza Izzo) decide to light plane it back to Peruvian hospitality and safety before a crash drops them into the clutches of marauding cannibalistic natives.

 

There is so much wrong its difficult to know where to start but here go – spoilers ahead: It’s a full 20 minutes of blah blah blah before they even get to the amazon.

the tone flip flops between supposed horror and comedy which absolutely does not work in this genre so the horrors are neutered before they even make an appearance.

The death scenes feel muted as though what is happening is not really felt by the victims – when the first guy is facially mutilated before being dismembered his face is never seen clearly and its as if his screams have been muffled, his movements sluggish – I’ve had a more elaborate response to stubbing my toe!

Again the first death – you have just entered a village of people carrying machete-type weapons surrounded by heads on sticks, when the villagers start to lay you down on an alter, would you just lay there as if “ooh a nap!” for godsakes how stupid are these characters!? The whole scene is shot so close to the ‘action’ its hard to tell what part of him is being cut sometimes which also undermines any power the scene may have managed to generate.

The ‘comedy’ includes a diarrhea scene complete with comic fart sounds, a ‘stoned villagers’ scene that is completely ridiculous and not believable, and a masturbation scene that is so inappropriate its hard to accept Roth actually put it on film.

The questions throughout this film drove me crazy – If the villagers are cannibals then why are they torturing the students instead of just putting them in a pen and eating them when its dinner-time? Why impale some victims and leave them to rot? Why would they rip apart one victim as if they are zombies when we’ve already established that they cook and eat their food? Why would they think to do genital mutilation to one student if she is to be killed and eaten? If their protest really did ‘go viral’ then surely people would be following up what happened to them? Why would the cannibals induce death by ants for one victim rather than just kill and eat him? and what’s with that totally ridiculous ending??? And then the additional during-credit coda that was even worse?

 

This movie made me mad – it was a wasted opportunity, badly acted, scripted and filmed by people who should’ve done better by the fans that were eagerly awaiting this for years.

 

Poor form Eli Roth – I shall tread carefully around your films from now on.

And for the love of horror – don’t make the sequel!

 

3/10

The Visit

 

 

Some genres just don’t appeal to me, in horror, it’s the horror/comedy sub genre; mainly because, in my opinion, so many of them don’t get it right. There are of course, notable successes and they are among some of my favorite horrors – Shaun of the Dead, Scream, Severance and Rec 3 would be the ones that spring most readily to my mind. The failures outweigh them by a country mile. They either have too much horror and not enough comedy or vise versa, or they suffer from the worse crime of being ugly, loud and stupid. I like my comedy to be knowing and sly, a little smarts to go with the laughs, but they also must show the correct respect and reverence for the horror genre itself, spoofs are fine and dandy but don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
The trailer for ‘The Visit’ does not appear to be promoting a comedic film, it looks like a paranormal activity 4/insidious type movie, combining creepy goings on with the much maligned found footage format.

This was the film I was expecting to see when I attended the cinema with my friend, Mrs S on a cooling Melbourne evening in suburbia.

I got some of what I expected – shaky handy cam, jump scares, eerie sounds, characters talking direct to camera, but there was much more fun to be had and I was pleasantly surprised to find a horror that gave more than was on the outside box.

The plot details a visit to the estranged grandparents secluded farmhouse by a pair of city kids struggling to come to terms with the recent departure of their beloved father and hoping to reconcile their mother with the parents she ran away from in her teens. It was a more ‘human’ back story than we have come to expect from these types of films and added real heart to the proceedings.

Once in the farmhouse things escalate in weirdness to a truly shocking finale that had me laughing and cringing at the same time.

The acting here is really outstanding. Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie playing Nana and Pop Pop respectively, give fully committed performances, going anywhere the script demands with gusto, Kathryn Hahn as the mother gives as great as she always does – this woman needs a starring role like now! Olivia DeJonge as the daughter is good in a less flashy role, but the true standout is Ben Oxenbould as the son, he stole every scene he was in and was utterly believable as well as totally hilarious in this film – truly great, he’s come a long way from ‘Puberty Blues’ and his accent never slipped once.

As ‘The Visit’ was written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan (Unbreakable, The Village), there are audience members out there who will hate this purely by his association. He has made plenty of enemies since the heady ‘Sixth Sense’ days with his follow up movies and their diminishing returns; but that is all sour grapes and no reflection on how enjoyable, creepy, funny and unexpected this film was.

It should have been promoted as the horror comedy it is.

Don’t go expecting sleepless nights and you’ll have a great time with this one.

And next time I stub my toe I’m yelling “Katy Perry!”

 

8/10

Cannibal Holocaust

 

There are films, that as a horror enthusiast and connoisseur, I feel I must watch in order to call myself a true horror film lover. Most of those films I have seen and enjoyed – Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Exorcist, Last house on the Left, Psycho, I spit on your grave, Evil Dead and many many others that are seminal to the genre. One of the few ‘classics’ I had yet to see was ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ and the reason I chose not to see it was the animal killings. I’ll say now that I deeply disagree with anything real in horror films, no one should suffer for your entertainment and the thought of anyone enjoying footage of someone’s pain – human or animal – makes me feel sick to my stomach, and doubt the sanity of that particular individual; moreover, I do feel it damages societies collective psyche to indulge in something so morally bankrupt. So even though I have wanted to watch this film and have always hated that I couldn’t watch it, I was never going to cross the line and see it, more importantly, I didn’t want to.

So when I was recently supplied with a version that had all animal scenes edited out, I was overjoyed to finally be able to say I had seen this influential and notorious ‘video nasty’.

For the uninitiated the storyline is as follows – A professor and his guide go into darkest Amazonian jungle to find what happened to the small documentary crew who’d disappeared a year earlier in pursuit of filming a cannibal tribe.

Essentially the first half of the film is about the professor’s experiences and the second half is the footage from the documentary crew.

I liked the screenplay very much; it was unique how the film was basically two halves and your opinions of all the players changes and develops with new revelations and differing perspectives. I was tense for the professor, hoping he’d survive his trip and find what he came for; seeing his experience of the cannibals and how their society worked was intriguing.

The second half was, as the story demanded, mainly exposition, but seeing it unfold and learning the fates of the documentary crew was a harrowing experience.

There are things to admire here – the refusal to see anything as black or white, anyone all good or all bad, it asks who the real ‘savages’ are and its right to ask that question; the damning of the exploitation of sensationalist news stories – something that was just dawning in the world back in 1980 when this film was made – where’s the line? At what point are we encouraging and endorsing what we are supposed to be shaming?

The most obvious shock value here is the brutality of the horror which unapologetically bursts onto the screen and is captured in its every excruciating moment by a film-maker who refuses to look away and dares us to do the same. This is in no way a movie you pop in to watch with friends and eat popcorn, this is not ‘fun’ or cheesy or cool, its punishing and relentless almost to the point of over-saturation but it is effective, and I do feel that almost everything shown had a reason and did not exist merely to ‘scare’ you.

The acting is a little amateur by the unknowns, especially in the film crew, but Robert Kerman as the professor carries the film admirably and is well cast as the audience’s moral compass and stand in.

Director Ruggero Deodato and writer Gianfranco Clarisi had a juggernaut on their hands here, the themes are controversial to say the least, the violence and gore extreme enough to earn the film a banning in 31 countries, the director brought up on obscenity charges (and incidentally murder charges until he could prove that the ‘found footage’ feel of the film was all for show and the actors so gruesomely torn apart on film were alive and well). It damaged both their careers and was apparently deeply regretted by Deodato, particularly the animal scenes.

I cannot comment on them, my feelings about those things remain unchanged and I am glad he regrets them.

But he should not regret making this film.

I cannot say I enjoyed it, its not a film to enjoy, but I respected its contribution to a genre I love and I appreciated its commitment to use the genre in order to say something important about the darkness inside us, our willingness to denigrate those we don’t understand and our lurid thirst to exploit another’s pain for our own profit.

Themes worth exploring, done in a way that only a horror film could.

 

8/10

(but only without the animal scenes)