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.

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The Dark Avengers recruit another member. Annabelle: Creation – movie review

After watching Annabelle (2014) I had little anticipation for this prequel that fits in The Conjuring universe and revolves around a possessed doll.

However, the direction by David F. Sandberg (Lights Out, 2016) and, mostly, an astounding 69% on RottenTomatoes, got me curious and slightly less negative about Annabelle: Creation.

What’s my opinion on it, then?

First, the plot: a group of orphan girls move to the house of Samuel Mullins and his wife, Esther, who, 12 years prior, have lost their beloved daughter Annabelle – killed in a hit and run accident.

Annabelle Creation 2When one of the girls, Janice, a young orphan who suffers from polio, sneaks into a locked room, she finds a creepy doll, unwittingly releasing the demon who begins to terrorise the girls, with a special interest in Janice.

The film is set in the 50s, in an isolated house a few miles away from a small Americana town. Compared to the first Annabelle film, Creation smartly chooses a location and an environment highly suitable for a haunted story.

Furthermore, Sandberg had the clever idea to untie its movie from the awful Annabelle, going for a prequel that guaranteed him more freedom rather than continuing with the ridiculous storyline of the 2014 flick.

Annabelle Creation 1Although driven by young actors, the performances in Creation are compelling overall: Talitha Bateman (Janice) and her best friend Linda (well portrayed by Lulu Wilson) are amazing in their roles. Yet, Sandberg decides to switch the lead between the two girls, making for a fresh storytelling in an otherwise formulaic horror flick.

Don’t worry, though, if you’re looking for the same, comforting bad acting that characterises the majority of horror flicks: Anthony LaPaglia (Samuel Mullins) drags himself around with the same facial expression he had while he was looking for missing people in 160 episodes of Without a Trace.

Besides some excellent performance, nice locations and good camera-work, Annabelle: Creation is as dull as Anthony LaPaglia in his role.

Without spoiling anything, this film doesn’t even have a plot twist: it’s predictable, the jump-scares are obvious (only one, in a staircase scene, got me) and the characters do what you expect them to.

Annabelle Creation 3Yet, Creation tries too hard to fit within The Conjuring universe and, simultaneously, to recreate Insidious (2010). The demon’s victims are all female (alike in The Conjuring), the jump-scares come from loud noises and hideous faces (Insidious), the prevalent colours are different shades of grey (The Conjuring) and the demon is the spit image of Lipstick-Face from Insidious.

The doll is just thrown in the mix, because, let’s be frank, the production company wants to fill up The Conjuring universe with spin-offs about the evil spirits that featured in the two Conjuring movie.

There is even a hint to the Nun in a scene of Creation. I expect Warner Brothers to come up with a Dark Avengers movie in a few years, featuring Annabelle, The Nun and The Crooked Man!

In conclusion, Annabelle: Creation is a massive improvement upon Annabelle. Although even a feature-length film about a dog pooping in the streets would be a better movie than Annabelle.

At the same time, though, Creation falls into all the stereotypical horror clichés we’ve seen tons of times before. It’s an enjoyable film based on a silly premise and unimaginative storytelling that, at the end, leaves you with nothing more than one hour and fifty minutes of mindless entertainment. Cheers!

The Classics of Horror #9 – The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

When I sat through and played The Texas Chain Saw Massacre last night, my expectations were really high.

Not only is this film about Leatherface and his psycho-cannibal family an iconic horror movie, but I also remembered watching it a few years ago, and being struck by its powerful scenes.

Unfortunately, it didn’t have the same effect on me last time I watched it. Simply, it wasn’t as good as I remembered it to be – or as I wanted to remember it to be, if that makes sense.

You all know the plot of Tobe Hooper’s film, even if you didn’t watch it and that’s because the same plot has been re-enacted in so many flicks since The Texas Chain Saw Massacre came out, in 1974.

A group of five youngsters in a van are travelling to visit the grave of the Hardestys’ grandfather to investigate reports of vandalism and grave robbing. When they run out of petrol, decide to stop in an abandoned property which happens to be located near the house of Leatherface and its crazy family.

Texas Chain Saw Massacre - 2The villains are, by far, the best part of this movie. In particular, Leatherface figures as both an unbeatable monster and a traumatised big kid who is bullied and forced to be evil by his twisted family.

In between the clever madness of Norman Bates and the pure evil of Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees, Leatherface is a complex character which gives compelling results without the need for dialogue or exposition scenes.

Although quite overacted, the other family members – mostly Leatherface’s dad and brother – are effective since they are depicted in a gritty way.

Other than that, though, this horror classic is, in my opinion, a very frustrating film.

The Texas Chain Saw MassacreThe Texas Chain Saw Massacre lacks entirely of compelling ‘good’ characters. The main guys are not only quite disposable, but also extremely annoying, in particular the lead girl who survives at the end. Her dialogue in the last 30 minutes or so consists of constant screams and moans.

I get that Hooper wanted to convey realism through her performance, but her endless stream of yells got to my nerves quickly.

Also, the first 30 minutes are dull and boring, whereas the ending is just laughably bad.

What’s left between 30 minutes of boredom and 30 of frustration is merely 20 minutes of good cinema. In my humble opinion, not enough to list The Texas Chain Saw Massacre among the best horror movies of all time.

Nevertheless, this film fertilised the ground for a very successful sub-genre, whilst keeping room for improvement – eventually, we got The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (this time around with the right spelling) we deserved with the 2003 remake.

All in all, I suggest you to watch this film only if you want to know more about the origin of various horror sub-genres or are interested in checking out for yourself all the classic horror titles. Besides that, I wouldn’t recommend to watch The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

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!

Pranks and revenge. Don’t hang up – review

Don’t hang up (2016/2017) is directed by Alexis Wajsbrot, at his debut, and features a group of teenage pranksters who mock people in vicious and controversial ways to obtain views on a YouTube-like website.

As their fame increases, so does the obsession developed towards them by a guy who decides to take his revenge in a very sadistic and violent way.

Although the concept can be considered quite silly, I found it to be interesting enough and also refreshing, even though similar stories have been depicted in previous movies such as Smile, #Horror and, most notably, Unfriended. In fact, I decided to check and review this flick – that came out in a limited release only few weeks ago – due to its intriguing premises.

Unfortunately, from the opening titles, the execution looks poorly realised, the main characters annoying and the score sounds off compared to the tone they were going for.

Indeed, the opening titles introduce the audience to eight pranksters running the channel, but throughout the runtime we get to know only four of them, two of which are the main characters.

untitled-1134In addition, the co-presence of two protagonists is an awkward choice, which can be made only if the characters are compelling and well-written, which they are not in Don’t hang up. Furthermore, the acting is so exaggerated and fake, the characters so annoying and hateful that results impossible to side by them.

3gwwg8gAt the same time, though, it’s hard to cheer for the villain, who is represented as a faceless voice that can’t be taken seriously by the audience, since he appears all-powerful and always one step ahead of the situation.

However, the movie is not pure rubbish. Wajsbrot, whose previous experiences were related to visual effects, tangibly puts a lot of effort in the camera work and cinematography, which look really well-crafted and carefully edited.

Sadly, the subtle atmosphere and the unsettling feeling provided by the visuals don’t match with the over-the-top, hysterical performances of the actors, especially Brady (Garrett Clayton), who is simply intolerable to the point that the audience wish he dies. Well, at least I did.

Moreover, the final sequence, beyond being extremely cliché, is very speedily and tiresomely executed and, I would say, disrespectful towards the audience, which is treated like a bunch of slow-minded people.

All in all, Don’t hang up is a low-budget disappointing flick, only saved by some random seeds of talent provided by the directorial efforts. Check it out only if you’re with friends or really bored. Cheers!

Back to Shyamalan’s universe – Split reviewed

Split (2017) is the latest M. Night Shyamalan’s film, starring James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy.

Being on my ‘most anticipated movieslist, I was really pumped up to watch Split but at the same time I lowered my expectations not to be disappointed as I was with The Visit (2015), the most recent Shyamalan’s movie. So, what are my thoughts on Split?

First, the plot. A man with 23 different personalities – Kevin, played by James McAvoy – kidnaps three girls – Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), Marcia (Jessica Sula) and outsider Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy from The Witch). While they are trying to escape from Kevin, they start to learn more about his split personalities, which are also under investigation on behalf of Kevin’s psychiatrist, Dr. Karen Fletcher – the ‘old crazy lady’ from The Happening, portrayed by Betty Buckley.

split-1Kevin, but mostly Dennis and Patricia – aka his most disturbed and twisted identities – have in mind to keep the ‘impure’ girls locked up until ‘The Beast’, the 24th personality, will be unleashed and will be able to devour them. Is ‘The Beast’ a real deal or it lives only in Kevin’s mind?

Where do I start? Well, to begin with, the plot, while being highly unrealistic, is executed in such a mature way that keeps the audience on the edge of their seats throughout the entire runtime. The locations are well-crafted and purposely claustrophobic, the soundtrack is always spot on and the camera work is really astonishing.

newg_6Furthermore, all of this cinematic structure is supported by compelling performances from the actors – James McAvoy is simply jaws-dropping, he gave an Oscar-worthy performance being able to deliver each personality in such a unique and terrifying way. Anya Taylor-Joy is, once again, eyes-grabbing in this movie. Her character’s arc is explored and developed so well throughout the film that, to me, Casey is one of the most compelling horror protagonists of the last years. You, as a viewer, really buy into her character and feel for her.

Yet, the dreadful atmosphere built masterfully since the very first moment, the abduction scene, is climatic and brings to a crescendo which makes the viewer more and more terrified. Split is a great horror movie, because it’s capable of combing scary moments with a general unsettling tone.

Nevertheless, the film has a couple of weaknesses, namely the long and unnecessary exposition scene, where Dr. Fletcher tells to a broad audience via Skype what the Kevin’s case consists of and what are the possible implications. Again, the characters of Claire and Marcia are not the greatest: played in a very derivative way, they get annoying after a while and the viewers cannot really feel for them.

I’m sorry, but a good review of Split cannot refuse to talk about the ending and the final twist. So, if you have not seen the movie, go watch it (and I mean, now) and come back here.

*Spoiler alert*

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This movie is a unique product and its ending could be either very disappointing or highly fulfilling.

Basically, ‘The Beast is real’ – as Dennis claims – and he appears as an under-steroids version of McAvoy. Toller, stronger, covered by pumping veins and immune to whatever physical attack.

Is it silly? I guess if you haven’t seen Unbreakable (Shyamalan’s movie starring Bruce Willis as an ‘ordinary superhero’) it is a bit dumb indeed.

However, if you have seen that movie, the ending puts Split in the same universe of Unbreakable, turning it into the building of a super-villain. The final Bruce Willis’ cameo/close-up proves it beyond the shadow of a doubt.

Either ways, Split doesn’t fall short at all. Inserted in the Unbreakable universe, with the doors open to a sequel, this movie is indubitably a first-class product. Otherwise, it’s an excellent motion picture filled with fantastic characters and a very tense, thrilling and dramatic story. Must see. Cheers!

Friday the 13th formula and how Jason Voorhees became a horror icon

Happy Friday the 13th to y’all horror fans.

As you might know, Friday the 13th is a franchise started off in 1980 by the director Sean S. Cunningham and revolving around Jason Voorhees, who after having drowned as a boy at Camp Crystal Lake, began to reappear decades later every Friday 13th night.

He’s one of the most iconic villain of horror cinema, who terrorized generations of children by wearing a hokey mask and brandishing a rusty machete.

It is pretty clear that the distribution company (Paramount Pictures) and the director decided to base this movie out of the Halloween success. Friday the 13th came out two years later and it amounted to the slasher genre, with a main character who resembled Michael Myers quite closely.

The plot of the first installment of this franchise is original and unexpected, though.

*spoilers from here on*

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In the first Friday the 13th the main villain is not Jason, but his mother who decides to seek revenge against a bunch of teenagers who reminds her of the guys bulling her deceased son.

Although the acting is quite amateur and the cinematography has nothing special to offer, this movie is still enjoyable for what it is – a disposable slasher flick surrounded by mystery and killings.friday-the-13th-movie-1980-i11

The grand finale, as you might know, keeps the door open for a sequel, by showing a monster-like Jason coming up from the lake to kill the last girl standing.

Eventually, in 1981 Friday the 13th II picks up five years after that first film’s conclusion. This second instalment is still pretty good: for the first time we get to see Jason Voorhees in action, five years after the events the first movie was based on.

And he is pretty damn cool. An enormous human-like apparently indestructible monster who mercilessly kills young teenagers in various ways whom is impossible not to love for a horror fan.

However, the ending with a dumb dream sequence ruins the tone and the enjoyment built throughout the film.

Unfortunately, the third Friday the 13th is where the things start to go dawn. Rapidly and disgracefully.

All the movies from the third to the ninth start to melt, carrying the same plot, the same bunch of dumbass teenagers, the inexplicable resurrections of the villain and the killings also slowly begin to get unoriginal and tiresome.

As you all know, the ‘original franchise’ is made out of ten movies. I left behind the tenth because it’s the one where even a die-hard Jason fan should throw the towel in – even though to me they could just have stopped with the third Friday the 13th, making Jason die once and forever. Anyway, the last instalment is located in space (!), 400 years in the future (!!) and stars a semi-robot version of Jason (!!!). It’s enough for me, also because the movie takes itself so serious that’s even impossible to laugh at it.

jason_x_06_stor

Since, I don’t talk about TV series and videogames in this blog, let’s jump directly to the last two movies we need to talk about: Freddy vs Jason and Friday the 13th 3D – a reboot/remake of some kind.

Both of these movies are an atrocity against humanity. However, Freddy vs Jason has the redeeming quality to contain some entertaining moments and a sense of desperation descending from the concept that no place is safe – the day is haunted by Jason, while the dreamful nights are dominated by Mr. Nightmare. Still, it serves no purpose other than being a fan service for those who wanted to see the epical face-off between two of the most iconic villains of all time. Something we’ve seen in Alien Vs Predator, with the same disappointing result.

Friday the 13th 3D is pure crap instead. I’m sorry guys, but this movie – if you can call it a movie – is just a money-grabbing piece of nothingness, where everything is done poorly and effortlessly. Also the CGI and the 3D are at their worst, which configures Friday the 13th 3D as one of the worst horror flicks ever made.

These are my thoughts on the Friday the 13th franchise, and if you guys are die-hard fan of all of these movie, I hope we can still be friends, even though I’m clearly not. Cheers and tonight stay away from Crystal Lake!