Office rage breaks loose and it’s loads of fun! Mayhem – movie review

Whoever has had any kind of experience in an office job would know the feeling of being the unhumanised part of a soulless corporation.

Luckily, as an employee of Sky Sports Italia, I don’t get that sensation, but I both experienced it first hand in previous jobs and heard constantly about it from friends and family. Continue reading “Office rage breaks loose and it’s loads of fun! Mayhem – movie review”

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The Classics of Horror #13 – Poltergeist (1982)

When Steven Spielberg’s name is attached to a project, every single moviegoer in the world expects a unique cinematic experience. If, alongside Spielberg’s talent, Tobe Hooper (RIP) works as a director in a horror flick, the result should be pure gold.

Poltergeist 1.jpgThese were the premises behind Poltergeist, a paranormal horror film about the average American family living in a haunted house – precisely, affected by a poltergeist, which is a type of ghost or other supernatural entity that is responsible for physical disturbances.

After a portal between two dimension is opened in their house, Carol Anne (the youngest of three children in the Freeling family) disappears, sucked up by the titular poltergeist. The rest of the film follows the family pattern to rescue her, with the aid of a few paranormal experts and investigators, among unwanted presences and demons.

As Roger Ebert said in his original review of Poltergeist, “the film begins with the same ingredients; it provides similar warnings of doom; and it ends with a similar apocalypse (spirits take total possession of the house, and terrorize the family)”.

Although plot and storyline didn’t bring anything new to the table when the movie came out, the show stealers were the special effects, both CGI and practical, combining Spielberg’s ground-breaking use of new technologies and Hooper’s mastery with good old makeup creations.

Poltergeist 2And here comes my biggest issue with Poltergeist: it doesn’t hold up. Don’t get me wrong, this movie has many features to be praised for and deserves its good reputation among horror fans.

However, it shows the signs of the time in a much more evident way than most of the films on this Classics of Horror list.

Indeed, it took me a couple of views and research work to truly appreciate this paranormal family thriller, because the scare factor connected to the CGI-driven sequences has been completely defeated by the test of the time and newer techniques.

Poltergeist 3The practical effects, however, are still highly effective and, therefore, impactful for modern audiences. For instance, the mirror scene in the bathroom genuinely gives me shivers; the skeletons towards the end (with actual corpses utilised by Hooper and Spielberg) are highly entertaining.

Yet, so many sequences have been executed in amazing ways: single takes, awesome camera angles, great shots and so on.

In regards to the characters, there aren’t standout performances, but each family member gives a solid representation of their traits and you must have a heart made of stone not to sympathise with Diana Freeling (JoBeth Williams) or Carol Anne – portrayed by Heather O’Rourke, who sadly died, aged 12, a few years after the film release.

Yet, Spielberg’s hand clearly emerges both in the character development and look and feel of the movie. The fact that he was the uncredited director of Poltergeist (he was working simultaneously on E.T. and wasn’t allowed to actively participate in another project that same year), is widely known, but even if you are unaware of the production history of this film, it’s impossible not to notice Spielberg’s influence.

In particular, Poltergeist could be seen as journey in and analysis of an average middle-class, small town family. The comedic dialogues and situations blend in the paranormal atmosphere very well and make this movie enjoyable to these days – more as entertaining mystery than straight-up horror, though.

If you follow my blog, you’d know that I come up with some unpopular opinions from time to time. Thus, I have one ready for Poltergeist as well: regarded as one of the scariest films ever made, to me it appears as one of the least frightening movies on this list.

poltergeist 4.jpgThis statement doesn’t want to imply that Poltergeist has never been scary: most probably it terrorised certain audiences upon its release, but it’s lost impact throughout the years, since it relies too heavily on CGI and features many “childish” scenes and monsters.

With that being said, Hooper’s and Spielberg’s collaboration remains a great watch, an extremely entertaining 80s horror suitable for the whole family, since a good horror flick doesn’t need to be scary in order to be enjoyable or interesting.

If anything, I don’t see Poltergeist as a classic of horror, since its impact shied away slowly but surely and it didn’t bring anything new to the game, other than some impressive special effects that aged quite a bit lately. I still recommend to watch it and apologise to those who consider it a really scary film (probably out of nostalgia).

Classics of Horror #7 – The Last House on the Left (1972)

The Last House on the Left is the first, and probably most, controversial entry on this list.

This film – directed by a then-young guy who went on making flicks sank by obscurity (sarcasm alert) such as The Hills Have Eyes (1977), Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), The Serpent and The Rainbow (1988), The People Under the Stairs (1991) and the four Scream (1996-2011) movies – is an exploitation horror that received humongous criticism when it came out and have been rehabilitated only in recent times.

Last House on the left 1Written, directed and edited by a young Wes Craven – one of, if not the best horror filmmaker of all time – The Last House on the Left tells the story of two naïve teenage girls who, in search of drugs, end up kidnapped by a band of maniacs who just escaped from prison.

It’s a 40-something year old movie, so I imagine nobody will complain if I insert some spoiler every here and there. I need to, in order to explain where the controversy lies.

Once kidnapped and taken into the woods, the two girls get raped, tortured and, eventually, killed.

As a consequence of its themes, the film was censored in many countries, and was particularly controversial in the United Kingdom, where The Last House was refused a certificate for cinema release by the British Board of Film Censors in 1974 due to scenes of sadism and violence.

I wonder what would have happened if A Serbian Film came out back then…

Anyway, Craven’s debut motion picture was inserted among the ‘video nasty’ list in 1984. In summary, ‘video nasty’ is the colloquial definition ascribed to a list of films that were criticised for their violent content by the press, social commentators and various religious organisations.

Last House on the left 3Due to the consequent implementation of the Video Recording Act, a stricter code of censorship has been imposed on videos than was required for cinema release. Several major studio productions were banned on video, as they fell within the scope of legislation designed to control the distribution of video nasty.

Despite many reviewers (among which Roger Ebert and Mark Kermode stood out) praised The Last House and used it as a symbol against the censorship of ideas and free art, the film had been presented to the BBFC (British Board of Film Censors) for theatrical certification throughout the years and it’d constantly been refused. Until 2008 when, upon numerous investigations by the BBFC itself, it was classified uncut for video release.

At this point, you might wonder if the movie is worth its reputation.

To begin with, the violence is quite in your face, although some weird editing choices and poor practical effects (Craven had only some $87.000 budget available) make it looks dated and less effective.

However, The Last House came out in 1972, a time when audiences’ maximum level of gore was represented by the slow-ass zombies of Night of the Living Dead (1968) and the hints to violence in Rosemary’s Baby (1968).

Due to its themes and implications, the film had an impact on me in terms of uneasiness (I must admit I consider rape as the worst crime, sin and cruelty a person could ever commit, alongside with paedophilia). So, I can just imagine how people perceived it back in the 70s.

Besides the controversy, Craven’s debut feature is an iconic rape-and-revenge exploitation that inspired an entire sub-genre with an endless list of titles and made room for a horror field that has little to do with the paranormal or supernatural.

Its grounded and down-to-hearth nature is what I appreciate the most about this film.

On the contrary, an aspect I didn’t like about it is the comic relief. In all fairness, to my knowledge, The Last House was one of the first horror flicks to introduce comedic features, a revolution that still influences horror cinema nowadays.

Unfortunately, in Craven’s film the comic relief – provided by two clumsy policemen – falls short and distracts the viewer from an otherwise dark and depressing story.

The sound design fails as well in creating a suspenseful atmosphere, being filled with tracks more suitable for a hash house than a dramatic situation as the one our teenagers are experiencing.

Last House on the left 2In terms of characters, the criminals are depicted very well and their traits emerge through dialogues and actions more than exposition. The girls and the other protagonists, instead, are flat and victims of the events, therefore not very interesting.

All in all, The Last House of the Left is worth a watch, especially if you are looking for some 80 minutes of ‘twisted’ entertainment. Craven’s debut will not be the only director’s entrance on this list and, perhaps, the next ones will justify his title of Master of Horror. Cheers!