I JUST SAW… Baskin (Turkey, 2015)

Here we are, starting a new series in which I’ll be taking a look at some random movies that went overlooked or are just plain unknown.

Most of the movies I’ll be watching and talking about are foreign (as in non-American), therefore I hope you don’t mind reading subtitles! Obviously, these are all going to be films that I highly recommend, so check them out if you’re intrigued by what you are going to read. Starting off with…

Baskin 1Baskin (Turkey, 2015, directed by Can Evrenol) revolves around five Turkish police officers who receive an emergency call from a secluded location and go check out what the fuss is all about. On their way, they get into a terrible car accident which, anyway, happens not too far from the mansion they were headed to. When they enter the unsettling mansion, all hell breaks loose (literally).

Continue reading “I JUST SAW… Baskin (Turkey, 2015)”

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The Classics of Horror #17 – The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Regarded as one of the greatest films ever made, Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs is the only horror movie to be awarded for Best Picture by the Academy and third to be nominated in the category after The Exorcist (1973) and Jaws (1975).

When I personally think about this masterpiece, I feel like this is the first modern entrance in the Classics of Horror list, which is probably due to the fact that I was born the year The Silence of the Lambs was released.

Silence of the Lambs 1The film is obviously centred around the infamous Hannibal Lecter (played masterfully by Anthony Hopkins), a brilliant psychiatrist with a bit of an obsession for murders and cannibalism. In prison for his crimes, Lecter is approached by young and inexpert FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), who needs the serial killer’s help to put behind the bars another psychopath: Buffalo Bill, portrayed by Ted Levine.

This inventive set-up (based on the 1998 novel The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris) makes for an enthralling cat and mouse game, where it’s unsure who’s in control and two great villains (Lecter and Buffalo Bill) create nearly unsolvable puzzles.

In all honestly, I don’t know what to say about this movie that hasn’t been said tons of times before: after all, The Silence of the Lambs represents only the third case in cinema history in which a movie received all the “Big Five” Oscars – best picture, best actor, best actress, best direction and best screenplay!

Therefore, I decided to provide you with some ‘fun facts’ (curiosities, if you will), about the movie.

1)   Gene Siskel, one of the greatest movie reviewers ever (and a very inspirational figure to me) dismissed the movie as a “star-studded freak show” in a 1992 interview.

2)   Gene Hackmann was meant to be directing the movie and starring as Hannibal Lecter. Although I’m sure he  would have done a great job, this sliding door scenario would have deprived us of one of the most iconic performances in horror/thriller history, by Hopkins.

Silence of the Lambs 23)   The infamous scene in which Doctor Lecter creepily hisses to Clarice behind the glass of his cell was improvised by Hopkins, who meant it as a comic relief! Now, please tell me that Anthony Hopkins is not a creepy person in general…

4)   Daniel Day-Lewis (who I’m in love with as an actor) and Sean Connery were also considered for the part of Hannibal Lecter. We would either have had an eccentric, lunatic killer or an extremely polite and manipulative murderer: Hopkins mixes these two aspects perfectly.

5)   Hopkins used people’s common fear of doctors and dentists to ramp up the scares.

6)   Scott Glenn, one of the actors involved in the project, was taken to Quantico, Virginia to listen to tapes of serial killers raping, killing and torturing their victims, in order to have him more immersed in the character and story. As a result, he allegedly walked out in tears and, soon after, became a strong supporter of the death penalty. This anecdote should make rethink everybody who doesn’t consider The Silence of the Lambs a horror movie!

7)   Buffalo Bill’s character was shaped around three notorious serial killers: Ted Bundy, Gary H. Heidnik and Ed Gein.

8)   Bill’s dancing scene was not in the screenplay. But it’s terrifying nonetheless, unlike some scene we’ve seen recently in a M. Night’s movie, right?

Silence of the Lambs 39)   The skull of the moth in the movie poster is borrowed from a Salvador Dalí’s photo

10)                  The amazing title of both novel and film comes from a dialogue in the book (reused in the movie) in which Lecter compares the screaming of lambs to that of his victims.

The Classics of Horror #4 – Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

PREMISE: as you might know if you have been following my series on the classics of horror, I’m tackling 20 milestones of the genre chronologically.

Does it mean that I’m skipping Psycho (1960)? No way, I would never commit such a crime against humanity. I just decided to switch the two movies – Psycho and Rosemary – around, because my girlfriend bought us tickets for an outdoor screening of Hitchcock’s film on Friday 14th, which means I can make a ‘special’ review for it that will come out on Monday 17th.

 

With all of that said, let’s dive into what is considered one of the best (if not the best) horror film of all time – Rosemary’s Baby.

In all fairness, though, the definition of ‘best horror of all time’ has been labelled to half of the iconic movies on this list.

Anyway, directed by Roman Polanski, Rosemary’s Baby tells the story of a wealthy couple – Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow), a bright but naive young housewife, and Guy (John Cassavetes), her husband, a struggling actor – that move into a new apartment in New York City.

However, what seems to be just flowers and unicorns, soon turns into an ocean of awkwardness, angst and fear, with Rosemary and Guy being surrounded by macabre events and nosy neighbours who seem to have an obsessive curiosity for ‘Ro’ and her future kid…

rosemarys-baby-blu-ray-screenshotFirst addition to the series originally made in technicolour, Rosemary’s Baby is a journey within fears and concerns of a woman who’s about to get pregnant from a self-centred husband all wrapped into his career and aspirations. It’s a maternity story told through the lens of mystery and horror, since the troubles Rosemary goes through in the film are either caused by her unstable psychological health or witchcrafts elaborated by people around her. Which one of those if for the viewer to figure out throughout the runtime.

According to modern standards, this film appears more as a psychological thriller – with supernatural elements in it – than a pure horror. Nonetheless, the audience back in the 60s was shocked by Polanski’s movie.

In fact, me and my girlfriend (who I re-watched the film with) struggled to believe the director got away with so many naked scenes, considering how puritan America was in the 60s.

Other than that, Rosemary’s Baby manages to be highly unsettling for its themes and some gross and gut-wrenching scenes – according to the standards at the time.

Rosemary's baby 1The effectiveness of such crucial moments in the movie is guaranteed by the performances – Ruth Gordon as Minnie Castevet (the nosy neighbour) won a well-deserved Award for Best Supporting Actress, for example.

The cast should be praised for that, obviously, but Polanski and his ‘awful behaviour on set’ (according to Mia Farrow) played a massive role in the film and its realism. For instance, Farrow was vegetarian when the film was shot but the director forced her to eat real rabbit liver in front of the camera to make the sequence more realistic – which brings me to believe that her throwing up in the sink straight after wasn’t in the script but more so a genuine reaction…

RosemarysBaby 4Yet, another prime example is the scene where Rosemary walks into traffic, which was spontaneous and genuine: Polanski told Farrow that “nobody will hit a pregnant woman”!

Besides all of that, I believe Rosemary’s Baby is the first ‘modern’ horror on this list, in terms of scare factors and enjoyability. However, although deemed as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry, the film isn’t flawless.

Being two hours and fifteen minutes long, the first half hour drags a bit too much – it develops the character and takes its time to set up the story, but could have been cut shorter by getting rid of a few unnecessary sequences. Or, alternatively, could have been utilised to better explain the frustrations and anxieties of Guy, silent protagonist of this motion picture.

Also, the ending is a bit disappointing, even though it doesn’t ruin the movie even in the slightest.

Apart from these little flaws, Rosemary’s Baby deserved the title of masterpiece, featuring a great and purposely earing soundtrack that completes each scene masterfully.

Definitely a must-see for all horror fans out there, don’t miss it out. Cheers!

The long-time waited – and deserved – sequel to Regan’s story. The Exorcist – TV series review

The Exorcist (2016-2017) tells the story of Angela (Geena Davis), a mother in a wealthy family overwhelmed by tragedy and issues: her husband Harry is recovering from serious brain damages, her older daughter Kat is dealing with a serious trauma and consequent depression and her younger daughter, Casey… well, she’s possessed by a vicious demon.

The Exorcist TV 2Father Tomas Ortega (Alfonso Herrera), their community’s priest and “rising star” within the Church’s hierarchy, investigates on the case and tries to help the family go through their troubles, whilst being backed up by outcast exorcist Father Marcus Keane (Ben Daniels).

Meanwhile, a satanic cult – led by demons who reached the fully possession of their hosts – is trying to take over Chicago and kill the Pope in visit to the city.

Divided in 10 episodes, each one of them directed by a different person and based on the William Peter Blatty’s novel of the same name, The Exorcist is a sequel to the movie The Exorcist (1973). Which, mind you, I was completely unaware of, since I went into this series without knowing anything apart from the cast members.

So, if you have not seen it yet, I recommend you to go watch it immediately, without proceeding further in this review – which is going to contain minor spoilers and hints to the plot twists. I would only say that The Exorcist is probably the best horror series since AHS: Asylum (2012-2013).

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As was made obvious since the synopsis of the series, Father Tomas and Father Marcus team up to defeat – i.e. exorcise – the demon that’s possessing Casey, which seems to have a grudge against Angela’s family.

The demon itself is an entity that horror fans got to know already 44 years ago: Pazuzu, who, after having haunted Regan MacNeil in the movie, is now craving for the Rance family’s souls in the TV series.

Pazuzu – masterfully played by Robert Emmet Lunney – is a pivotal character in the series and is given a backstory and in-depth explanation of his behaviour which make him a very compelling villain.

Thus, the series perfectly links to the original film, enriching the characters and providing different outlooks to the story.

Moreover, contrarily to many TV series, all the actors have been cast appropriately, with Ben Daniels and Hannah Kasulka being the standouts. Geena Davis instead, who plays Angela Rance, seems quite an unlikable and unreliable character throughout the first 5 episodes. However, once her motivations and backstory are revealed, she becomes arguably the best, most rounded character in the series and she carries along huge chunks of the plot in the final episodes.

the-exorcistThe chemistry between Tomas and Marcus is also astounding. It reminds me of the contrasting relationship between Rust Cole and Marty Hart in True Detective (2013) – although such high levels of perfection could hardly be reached, in my opinion. Marcus (Ben Daniels) gives the required physicality to his role and avoids to going for the over-the-top route, which in some sequences must not have been easy.

Casey (Hannah Kasulka) is also a pleasant surprise: her character ranges from adorable and defenceless to unsettling and terrifying – in the first episode, for example, she’s absolutely frightening in the scene in the attic.

Despite the high-budget to their disposal, the directors decided to rely on CGI only in a few, minor scenes, whereas the practical effects and, especially, the makeup are always spot-on. Which is something worth-praising.

To be fair, I was a bit afraid when I’ve seen that every episode would have been directed by a different person. I thought the continuity could have suffered from it. Instead, the plot flows seamlessly and The Exorcist looks more like an 8-hour-long film than a series of 40-minute-long episodes.

Even though the series flows well, three episodes stand out in my opinion: the first one (captivating and suspenseful), the fifth (action-packed and intense) and the last (powerful, fulfilling and, surprisingly, emotional).

I can’t end this review, though, without mentioning the score: jaw-dropping! My ears were in pure delight listening to the remake of the original soundtrack from The Exorcist – the movie.

Overall, The Exorcist is an intense and satisfying ride that humbly pays homage to the film and novel of the same name. It also rarely holds back and combines horror elements (including bloody, violent and hyper-sexualised scenes) with intriguing sub-plots and interesting social commentaries, carried along altogether by a top-notch cast. Highly recommended. Cheers!