Scraping the bottom of the barrel… something decent came out. Jigsaw – spoiler filled movie review

John Kramer, star and saving grace of the Saw franchise had long gone, beaten up and violated by an endless stream of tiresome sequels rather than killed off by cancer as it’s claimed in Saw III.

Jigsaw 1However, he still manages to be brought back to life in Jigsaw. A movie that kicks off with five people held captive in a barn, each with a metal noose around their neck. If you’re familiar with this 14-year-long franchise, you’d expect this to be the by-now famous first trap that’s shown before the movie title appears on screen.

 

Continue reading “Scraping the bottom of the barrel… something decent came out. Jigsaw – spoiler filled movie review”

Advertisements

The Classics of Horror #15 – A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Being the intelligent filmmaker he was, in the early 80s Wes Craven decided to get out of the hole he dug himself in with his early exploitation flicks. Great quality exploitation, though, with The Last House on the Left (1972) being a genre-defining, twisted flick and The Hills Have Eyes (1977) being a fun, extreme ride.

As a consequence, A Nightmare on Elm Street hit theatres in 1984, challenging a market filled with slasher flicks and dominated by the Halloween and Friday the 13th movies. The result was one of the most loved movies by horror fans in cinema history, other than a unique take on the sub-genre.

Kicking off in medias res (in the midst of things), without any character’s introduction, Was Craven film sets itself apart from any other slasher back in the 80s.

Nightmare 1The plot follows four teenagers who are having recurring, similar nightmares about a disfigured man who wears a shabby hat and a glove made of knives. They soon discover than what happens in their dreams has a repercussion on reality and Freddy Krueger – one of the most iconic villains in cinema history – is not just a figment of their imagination.

Freddy (memorably portrayed by Robert Englund) is the show-stealer in this movie that went on creating a long-lasting franchise and an endless series of remakes and reboots. Unlike Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees, Krueger utilises a more psychological approach to hunt his victims down: with creepy sense of humour he winds them up and confuses their reality and dreams. He makes them terrorised, sleepless and weak; thus, more vulnerable.

The concept behind A Nightmare on Elm Street is what’s truly scary about the film: you can escape Myers and Voorhees, as long as you don’t cross path with them, but you can’t refuse to sleep and run away from your subconscious, your dreams.

Although many fans consider A Nightmare on Elm Street an entertaining movie (which, in fact, it is), the idea it’s based on it’s genuinely frightening and the backstory of Freddy (a child molester and killer, who was burnt alive by the families of his victims) make for a great horror, driven by a fantastic antihero.

Nightmare 3Yet, Craven is amazing at executing the concept, by melting reality and dreams from beginning to end. Because of that, the grand finale of Nightmare is one of the most satisfying in cinema history (in my opinion), because it gives the viewer food for thought and doesn’t betray the rest of the movie. Something modern horrors do a lot more than they should…

Nightmare 2In clever contrast to the dream-like vibe that permeates Craven’s masterpiece, the characters (among which there’s a young, but always charming Johnny Depp) are extremely relatable and feel like real people: similarly to Halloween (1978), dialogues and actions of the protagonists are believable. The best compliment I can make to the cast is that they don’t feel like actors.

Again, the parents of the main guys are aware of the things that are happening in their community and, to different extents, participate actively to the story, as opposed to being completely irrelevant or absent (which happened in most of the slashers back in the day).

As per flows, I’d say that the police reaction to the assaults towards the end of the film is a bit laughable – worst police squad ever! However, this doesn’t detract from the high-quality value of this flick.

Nightmare 4If you haven’t seen A Nightmare on Elm Street yet, this is the moment to check it out: besides all the features mentioned above, this film contains the right amount of jump-scares (a couple of them startled me even upon fourth viewing!), blood (a lot for the 80s standards) and comic relief, which make for a viewing experience that should please modern mainstream audiences as well.

“One, two, Freddy’s coming for you”! Thus, watch the film and be prepared: you never know what you might dream about tonight!

The Classics of Horror #14 – The Thing (1982)

The creature-feature obsession that had ruled the black and white sci-fi horror cinema, stopped almost entirely in the 50s, with audiences overwhelmed by crappy B-movies and tired of being thrown the same story inhabited by paper-thin characters.

A man alone, with a single film, changed everything at the beginning of the 80s. John Carpenter’s The Thing popped out of the blue in the pinnacle of the slasher era, ruled by Michael Myers (created by Carpenter himself) and Jason Voorhees, and blew everyone away.

A straight-up, nostalgic sci-fi film about a shapeshifting alien being hunting down a handful of scientists in Antarctica exploded at the box offices all around the world and broadened the horror genre boundaries.

The Thing 1What many people aren’t aware of is that The Thing isn’t just a 50s sci-fi exploitation; instead, it’s based on John W. Campbell Jr’s novella Who Goes There? (1938) which was more loosely adapted by Howard Hawks and Christian Nyby as the 1951 film The Thing from Another World.

Therefore, Carpenter’s masterpiece is probably the best remake ever made in horror cinema, besides being one of the most compelling and entertaining creature-feature movies ever made.

Needless to say, I love this amazing motion picture.

Firstly, the practical effects are top-notch. This movie came out in 1982 and, if it wasn’t for the characters’ outfit and a few “dated” editing choices, you wouldn’t notice it was made some 35 years ago! Every shot involving “the thing” is a feast for the eye: the practical effects are so brilliantly crafted that look more realistic than 99% of anything else I’ve seen in every other movie. Furthermore, the brilliant editing and colour scheme help to keep the fiction believable, making every action sequence flow seamlessly. Even the peaceful moments look compelling and entertaining, thanks to the gorgeous locations and smart utilisation of lighting.

Secondly, the music is a pure delight for the viewer’s ears. Ennio Morricone, the great composer finally awarded by the academy for Django soundtrack, delivers a constant sense of tension and impending doom that heightens the crucial moments and strengthens the calmer ones.

Finally, the story is compelling and its execution spotless. Contrarily to most of the older or newer creature-feature flicks (for example, The Void), The Thing benefits from a strong narrative and a plot that constantly makes sense. The scientific aspect of the story is therefore intriguing and believable, making for an experience that works as both pure sci-fi and straight-up horror.

The Thing 3If no movie is perfect, The Thing is one of those few exceptions that get ridiculously close to perfection. Reflecting upon the film, for a while I thought the overabundance of characters gave them less reliability and, therefore, the audience couldn’t really care for their faith. However, I recently came to the conclusion that this is a fundamental trait of the movie: a key feature of “the thing” is that it can take the appearance of anybody, which generates doubt and suspicion among the scientists within the facility. Thus, having many characters into play increases the feeling of uncertainty in the audience, as well as the sense of dread among the characters.

Besides, the acting is astounding and make the protagonists compelling even though they don’t have backstories or unique characteristics.

Overall, I think it’s a shame that The Thing doesn’t benefit from the same reputation as other genre-defining films, such as Psycho or The Exorcist. If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favour and give it a chance right away, because Carpenter’s masterpiece must be part of your horror knowledge!

The hunting game we were waiting for. Killing Ground – movie review

Has anyone seen Eden Lake (2008)? It is that British movie starring Kelly Reilly and Michael Fassbender go on a camping trip by the lake and get assaulted by a group of twisted teenagers who turn their love escape into a terrible nightmare.

Well, Killing Ground, written and directed by Damien Power, is the Australian counterpart of Eden Lake, although better executed and acted than the already very good English film.

Killing-Ground- 3By the clever usage of non-linear storytelling, Killing Ground tells the story of a couple who go to a remote location to find peace and spend a nice weekend away from the civilisation. Soon their expectations will be let down and they’ll find themselves immersed into a mortal hunt-and-pray game where the odds are extremely adverse.

Simultaneously, though, the movie tells another story, which happened before the main one.

Other than the particular technique utilised to tell the events (never left to exposition, instead always for the viewer to figure out), Killing Ground is a straightforward horror thriller which runs for 89 minutes without a single dull moment or a sequence that makes you feel relieved.

Everything but pretentious, this flick is a pure adrenaline ride filled with compelling characters (villains included), drama, action and an overall sense of dread and tension.

The biggest achievement Mr Power reached in this movie consists of the ability to give a new look to something we have seen before tons of times.

The direction is immaculate. The editing, only external interference to the story, perfectly connects the two storylines and is refreshingly clean and subtle. The soundtrack – or I better say lack thereof – is barely noticeable but fully part of the story development.

Yet, the restraint location and limited use of actors makes for compelling characters in Killing Ground. Every single one of them is well-rounded and, pleasantly surprising, none of them is formulaic.

Shot entirely on location, the movie doesn’t use CGI throughout the entire runtime. The practicality behind every special effect cooperates to create a greedy atmosphere, despite a colourful and vivacious cinematography.

Killing-Ground 1I found myself looking in pure delight at the lack of black and white in this film: the good guys are not heroes and the villains (although fairly depicted as sadistic psychopaths) appear normal to the rest of the community and, therefore, to the audience in the scenes where they are dealing with other people.

Unapologetic without being gruesome or needing to show extreme violence on the screen, Killing Ground ends with a blast. The grand finale is, indeed, very fulfilling (something I experienced only with Get Out this year) and profound enough to make you reflect upon it for a while.

Killing ground 2Killing Ground is a film that tells a story we’ve seen tons of time, but it does it including an unconventional form of storytelling and clever twists every here and there, proving that a movie can be (incredibly) good without overturning schemes.

With Killing Ground, Australia proves once again to be a fertile ground (sorry about the pan!) for great horror entertainment. I honestly can’t wait to see what Damien Power will come up with next. Meanwhile, I strongly recommend to watch this film, one of the best I’ve seen the whole year. Cheers!

Top underrated horror ‘gems’ – #4 Behind the mask: the rise of Leslie Vernon

*Skip the premise if you already read my previous posts on the list*

Premise – Horror movies have always been divisive towards the audience. From the 80s, the cult franchises have created a trend particularly appreciated by the viewers. The Nightmare movies, the Halloween franchise as well as the Hellraiser flicks have marked the path that walked us, the audience, to an overwhelming cinema market filled with non-original movies, remake, reboots, sequels and prequels.

The formula is basically this: a director makes a successful movie with a little budget and a big return at the box office. So that the Hollywood major labels exploit said success to make tons of sequels and prequels that hit the box office without telling anything new or original to the viewer (ehm ehm… Saw, Hostel… ehm ehm). Sometimes, even the first installment is disappointing by every means but the economical profit (ehm ehm… Paranormal Activity, Wrong Turn… ehm ehm).

All these franchises have something in common, i.e. poor writing, bland characters, jump scares, unoriginal villains, flawed cinematography. Why are they successful? Because the horror audience is now used to go to the movie expecting to have ‘a good time’ instead of being shocked and disturbed by an original, unsettling and brave script filled with good performances, relatable characters and true fear.

What are the consequences? Not just new masterpieces such as It Follows and The Babadook, among the others, are considered as boring movies. Not just the milestones of horror cinema are now considered worthless. But also quite good movies that came out in the last 20-25 years have been underestimated by both audience and reviewers. Here a list for you, hoping you guys can have some fun and meditation on something a bit more original and ‘out there’. Enjoy.

NOTE: some movie franchises are actually worth watching, please do not dismiss the first Saw movie as well as the well-directed Insidious movies. Both from the talent of James Wan. The guy brings it right home.


behind-the-mask-the-rise-of-leslie-vernon-02

Behind the mask: the rise of Leslie Vernon (2006) is a slasher mockumentary-style horror film written, directed and produced by Scott Glosserman. The movie consists of a television troupe that is filming and interviewing Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesel), a guy from Glen Echo (USA) who wants to follow the footprints of Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger.

Yes, because in the movie fictional world these three horror icons are real and they are world-wildly renowned for their murders. Leslie Vernon so decided to became ‘the next big serial killer’ and to be shot on camera so that I can be famous – or infamous, if you prefer – like his idols.

This is an amazingly original idea at its core but the movie progression is even more unconventional and the development is surprisingly excellent. Behind the mask is also filled with comedic sketches and Easter eggs which wink to tons of horror cults – from The Shining to Hellraiser, from Nightmare to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Plus, the film contains plenty of cameos, with Zelda Rubinstein and Robert freaking Englund to shine among the others.

Beyond the cameos, Nathan Baesel is suitable for the role, being able to combine a quirky sense of humor with a foolish look and a bit of meticulous craziness. What is even more satisfying, is the relationship between Leslie and Taylor – the crew leader played excellently by Angela Goethals. The two characters confront one another throughout the entire movie and complete each other by any means.

Speaking of the direction of the film, Behind the mask is able to avoid all the found-footage flaws and cliché – except from one small moment in the library scene, towards the half of the movie. Being a non-Hollywood production (so CGI-free), Glosserman’s work succeeds in dragging the audience into a fictional world in which everything look just absolutely real.

The only complaint I perhaps have towards The rise of Leslie Vernon is that the shooting style switches abruptly from mockumentary to third person, when we are 63 minutes into the movie already, backing up the huge plot twists occurring at this point. These first 63 minutes to me represent a movie on its own, which doesn’t need a completion to be fully appreciated. To be honest though, the other 28 minutes or so procure the horror-slasher element which is largely absent in the first part that can be considered as a unique product, unconventional if there is one.

Without spoiling anything, I just suggest you guys to watch the film until the very last word of the end credits comes on screen. It’s worth waiting. Also because the very last song of the movie – Psycho Killer by The Talking Heads – is something you can’t miss out.

Let me get a bit ‘ranty’ before I sum up the reasons why you must sit through Behind the mask: the rise of Leslie Vernon.

Ready? Ready. This movie made a $69,136 cash-in at the box office. Seriously? Are you fucking kidding me? Yet, the Leslie Vernon story is largely unknown among the horror fans. Everyone knows Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. None knows Leslie Vernon, even though he probably is the best slasher villain ever since the 80s! I’m not gonna play it safe: this movie is pure genius. It should have been advertised by word of mouth all over the freaking planet Earth!

Okay, I held my horses now. Sorry guys, I really needed to rant against the mainstream audience, production companies and horror world in general that panned this great movie. Now I feel way better.

In conclusion, comparing the quality of the movie to its box office return, Behind the mask: the rise of Leslie Vernon is quite the gem on this ‘underrated horror movies’ list. Recapping: the characters are compelling and the chemistry between the two protagonists is excellent, the plot is original and refreshing for the genre, the storytelling is unconventional, there’s plenty of amusing and chuckling moments, the cinematography is good, the photography splendid and the direction is brilliant.

You must watch this movie, sponsor it to your friends and spread the fact that Leslie Vernon is out there and it’s waiting for you horror fans to fall in love with him. Cheers.

Lights out, i.e. the reason why we are afraid of the dark

Lights Out (2016) is a horror movie directed by David F. Sandberg – who made his debut with this flick – and it came out last July. The film was overhyped due to the short of the same title, which has received tons of praises ever since it appeared on the social media in 2013.

The idea the movie starts from is pretty original. Well, I better say it is refreshing compared to the bunch of meaningless horror flicks realised in the last few years.

Still, the plot is rather simple. A family composed by a looney mom, a fragile – and good looking – daughter with her cliché boyfriend and a young kid are trying to figure out what is wrong with the mother herself. Because, of course, she is haunted by a demoniac presence. Cool thing though, the four of them can see the woman-like demon just when the lights are out.

And this is one of the movie’s strengths: the director and the cinematographer – Marc Spicer – did an impressive job managing the contrast between light and dark. Throughout the first two acts of the movie, tension and anxiety are implicitly connected to the dark while tranquillity and ease are linked to the light. However, said balance is screwed towards the end, which is a shame and it kind of ruined the previous part.

The other aspect I liked and I think it is worth mentioning is the whole look and feel of the movie. Mostly thanks to the mom’s performance – Maria Bello, thumbs up – a depressing and unsettling atmosphere is maintained through the entire movie runtime. Which is just 80 minutes – good job Mr. Sandberg.

However, Lights Out has flaws. Many flaws. First, the acting – beyond Maria Bello, the other characters are completely bland. Both the daughter and her boyfriend are not sympathetic characters and the audience do not care about them. This is never a good sign.

Unfortunately, the son is even worse. He is annoying as hell. Okay, I know it is not easy to hire young good actors and I am not even pretending to deal with the Haley Joel Osment – The Sixth Sense – or Noah Wiseman – The Babadook – kind of guys. Those two were Oscar-worthy actors and those movies are masterpieces also thanks to their performance. Still, the son was completely miscast.

Another issue is the one about the plot. The core idea could be considered somewhat original, but the fulfilment turned out to be cliché and clumsy. The worst thing is that, at the end, nothing makes sense, so that the mystery fairly built throughout the film ends up abruptly with no explanation whatsoever.

And then… oh gosh. The jump-scares! This movie was filled with corny and fake jump-scares backed up by lame score and unclear shots. In the movie defence though, there was almost no shaky cam and sometimes – but rarely – the jump-scares served a purpose.

All in all, I cannot suggest to watch Lights Out in all honestly. However, being the first feature-length Sandberg’s movie, it was entertaining and the short runtime made it never really boring.

Check out the short this movie got inspiration from instead – lights out short – which is way creepier and with a creature way scarier than the one portrayed in the film. Cheers.

Horror World & Reviews