Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Revenge: A Love Story

Revenge: A Love Story
Original Title: Fuk sau che chi sei
Directed by: Ching-Po Wong
South Korea, 2010
Thriller/Romance


Hong-Kong… it’s been a long time since I saw a good Hong-Kong movie that moved me in the same way that this one did. I sort of drifted away from their movies when the South Korean’s started taking over with their wave of eye-opening movies. Sure, Hong-Kong Cinema will always hold a special place with me, as I grew with Kung-Fu flicks and enjoyed the Hong-Kong children’s show Monkey Magic 1978 like hell when I was a kid. Well actually it was Japanese, directed by among others Godzilla sequel director, Jan Fukuda… but it was about Chinese’s mythology, and when Jeffrey Lau made his Chinese Odyssey films 1994 - bought at on VHS dupes at the amazing backstreet shop "Lisas Smink & Video" (Lisa's Makeup and Video) a week or two after it was out on tape in Hong-Kong, I was right back to being a kid. Not to mention the later revolution of bullet ballet’s directed by Ringo Lam, John Woo and fantasy actioners by Tsui Hark and Siu-Tung Ching at the end of the eighties.

If I didn’t know better I’d have thought that Revenge: A Love Story was a South Korean flick as it shares the same stunning imagery, cryptic narratives, and extremely nihilistic themes as the movies of Chan-wook Parc, Kim-ki Duk and Jee-woon Kim. What ties them together is that no matter how grim the story may be they are all told with the same passionate beauty. Although there are themes that I find recurrent in a lot of hardboiled Hong-Kong action films at play here too, the scenario of the bad cop and the little man out to set things right.

A spoiler free quickfix would read something like this; a serial killer is attacking pregnant women, tearing up their abdomens and removing their unborn children. At first the murders seem random, until the police realize that the killer has been targeting pregnant women related or married to police officers. A band of coppers, obviously a bunch of friends are Rapidly they apprehend their main suspect, Kit [Juno Mak – who wrote the original story and has released several albums of his singing in Hong-Kong] and take him in for a severe beating and interrogation when yet another victim is called in…

Ching-Po Wong’s Revenge: A Love Story is an impressive, touching and haunting movie, which I’m sure will bring with it yet another wave of stunning Hong-Kong thrillers. I welcome them with open arms, because this movie grabs it’s audience in a tight grip and then smacks them in the face with a sack of hot steamed buns as the rush of insight comes hammering down.

This movie stayed in my head all day, and I couldn’t shake it, no matter what. Not because of the rather hard violence, occasional moments of grotesque gore, and really dark narrative, but because of the gentle beauty of the love story that drives the pendulum forth. Yes, love is the driving force of this movie, and damn does it do so in a brilliant way. Kit is head over heals in love with schoolgirl Wing [Japanese former AV actress Sola Aoi] and his love for her knows no limits. Despite his unlimited emotion, he still acts in such a noble fashion that he even leaves the apartment whilst she takes a shower.

After an attempted rape of Wing, Kit rushes to her defence, his actions still can be seen as honourable as he’s doing what the majority of us would Defend our partner. Although the aftermath of this situation leads to a terrifying ordeal, an ordeal which only can result in Kit taking vengeance, a vengeance we too would want but probably due to moral issues never fulfil. Raw, brutal vengeance. But never the less, Kit’s actions are driven by the love for Wing. He need’s to take revenge for the events because of his love for her, and the viewer finds it acceptable it despite the terrible crimes he commits. The audience accepts it as we have a primal urge to see people in love live happily ever after. That’s just the way it is, it’s a human trait we all have. Which is why we become empathetic towards the story of Kit and Wing… even if she goes to extreme lengths to prove her love for Kit too. You won’t believe what she does, but within the context of the narrative it all makes logical sense. This all becomes apparent after a while when the movie starts to retrace its backstory.

Ingeniously told through a non-linear narrative much like that of Christopher Nolan’s Memento 2000 or Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible 2002, what at first seems to be a dark and cold serial killer flick, holds a completely different story when the movie ventures backwards through the backstory that explains Kit’s raison d’etre. A discourse unexpected and one that makes me change my judgment and opinions. A movie that engages and activates its audience.

I really like films that play games with my mind, Revenge: A Love Story, is definitely one of them, as it uses the Doing bad for doing good approach. We know that Kit shouldn’t be committing the crimes, but after that harrowing rush of insight we want him to take his vengeance, and we are somewhat at ease with the way he goes about it. We certainly can’t blame him. Which is a big step away from the first impression we get of that coldblooded killer.

It also uses the love story to justify the violence and the actions of Kit and Wing. There’s an emotional recognition in the narrative, which the audience can identify with. I may not actually murder people for revenge, but I can definitely connect to the emotion of wanting to murder someone who has done me or mine wrong. This emotional recognition makes us empathise with Kit – and Wing – on their journey of destructive vengeance. It’s the same triggers that create the emotional recognition in something like Let the Right One In 2008, and its remake Let Me In 2010, where we want the children to kill their antagonists. We even welcome their acts of violence as long as it results in Eli and Oscar [Abby and Owen] can be together. Yes – take the knife, use the stick, kill them all, let love reign. It’s the same emotional recognition that works there as in Revenge: A Love Story.

The finale of Revenge: A Love Story, may seem cryptic and like many other areas of the film, the interpretation is left up to the viewer. You may chose to read it as a dark destructive finale which lives by the thesis that violence breeds violence, or you can interpret it as a fantasy which takes place in Kit’s mind. This is merely two of my suggestions, and in turn you will have to come to your own conclusions of the movies ending.

If you enjoyed Sion Sono’s Cold Fish 2010 or Jee-woon Kim’s I Saw the Devil 2010, then you have to see Ching-Po Wong’s Revenge: A Love Story. It’s one of the most moving, cruel and haunting pieces of Hong Kong cinema in a long while. Fascinating, riveting, and a complete kick in the gut, Revenge: A Love Story is fucking awesome and original, one of the best Asian movies I’ve seen this year!


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Attack the Block

Attack the Block
Directed by: Joe Cornish
England/France, 2011
Horror/ Sci-Fi/Drama, 88min



A bunch of young kids… bully’s, thugs, roughians. You know them, you have seen them, and to some extent you may even fear them. But these are merely movie characters, although you judge them from first sight. You recognize them from movies like James Watkin’s Eden Lake 2008, Daniel Barber’s Harry Brown 2009 and Johannes Roberts F 2010 – those movies where the nasty little bastards hide their faces behind their hoodies as the toss insults at people and pose a threat to mankind. You know they are trouble, and a sudden knife in the back wouldn’t surprise you.

At the same time these kids we see on screen in Attack the Block are our version of Goonies, our Eliot trying to protect his extra terrestrial friend or even the kids from Super8. But this isn’t a Hollywood action adventure, this is British horror drama Attack the Block and the kids are merely doing what they do everyday, looking out for their mates and protecting their block.

A young woman, Sam [Jodie Whittaker] walks home from work late one night. In a dark backstreet, a band of kids circle her, pull a knife and mug her. Something falls from the sky, smashing through the roof of the car parked on the street. Sam uses the moment to run to safety whilst gang leader Moses [John Boyega] checks out the car to see what loot may be found. Instead of booty, he finds a hairless small being that attacks him, scratching his face in the process. The creature escapes and the gang, Jerome [Leeon Jones], Dennis [Franz Drameh], Biggz [Simon Howard] and spunky junky Pest [Alex Esmail] all lead by Moses, chase the creature, forcing it to hide in a playground shack… from which escape is impossible. The band of lads cockily wanders into the shack and beat the naked monkey werewolf alien like creature to death. They take it back to their block of flats, showing it off, and boasting about their feat to friends along the way, with the intention of hiding it in the back of the dope room, belonging to their mate Ron [Nick Frost].

That’s when more things start to fall out of the sky… things determined to reclaim that one of their kind that has fallen victim to the earthlings. Hence starts the battle of the block.

Attack the Block is the English equivalent of J.J. Abram’s Super8 2011, but instead of the stereotypical American cute and innocent adolescents, the UK once again goes for a harsh realism that portrays the kids of today as victims of circumstance. These lads are no innocent little boys, they are rough, tough thugs… or at least that’s what we are supposed to believe in the initial setup and presentation of character.

Because where we are led on to believe that these lads are hardened criminals, they are all fruit of the council blocks. They do what they see, and strive to become what they know. The lads look up to resident gangsta Hi-Hatz [Jumayn Hunter] just like the comic relief found in the shape of Probs [Sammy Williams] and Mayhem [Michael Ajao] look up to the lads in the gang. During the narrative, Moses is made (a dealer for Hi-Hatz) and Probs and Mayhem are made too when they save Biggz. Yet another thing that separates this movie from the nice fuzzy cosy American counterparts is that Cornish dares to let the alien invasion have an effect on the gang of kids… Let’s just say that not all the kids will be going back to mom’s cooking at the end of the flick. Which brings a rather dark tone to the movie despite several comic relief moments. But overall, this is a dark movie.

The child characters are intriguing and filled with dimension, which make them interesting for us as an audience. On the one hand they are threatening thugs, in the next they are really only little kids who on any given moment would stay at home and play video games. This shines though on several occasions, like when Biggz calls his mom, or when Jerome explains that the knife used in the opening mugging merely was to scare her. A token of power over an adult situation. As I mentioned earlier, the kids are the result of the situations they have been forced into. There is a social commentary within the movie no matter how apparent or deliberate it may have been. Rough areas breed rough kids, and as the lads say on several occasions, the fuzz never listen to them, but merely judge them upon sight as crooks. Nothing positive can come out of prejudice.

Obviously Moses is the most intriguing of the characters. Where he has a real hard façade, director, writer Joe Cornish waits until the very last moment to let us in behind that rock-hard brick front. The scene where Sam enters Moses apartment, realizing that he lives alone, and in reality is only a kid forced to become an adult, is tender. Short and brief, but still a tender moment – Moses is merely a kid and we feel for him. It gives an insight into Moses life – keep in mind that his apartment is the only one we don’t tag along into when they all scoot off home to suit up their weapons early on – so he’s the enigma of the piece. It also validates Moses as a character to root for. With the insights that he’s come to and the insight the audience now have into his character, we empathise with him and accept him as the hero of the piece.


Being a lifelong fan of English sci-fi, the referents to great English genre authors really pop off the screen for me, [John] Wyndham Tower, [Alan] Moore Court, [J.G.] Ballard Street are smart – just like the several movie referents to Joe Dante’s Gremlins 1984, Spielberg’s E.T. 1982, Reitman's Ghostbusters 1984, all are dropped as he pop-culture referents they are and not as desperate nods at other stuff. As I mentioned this is the modern English version of something like Donner’s Goonies 1985, and the other mentioned films above, although in England we are all shoved together in suburban housing projects, which gives a perfect setting. This also gives for a great opportunity to call upon all those post-apocalyptc flicks that the filmmakers enjoyed as kids, because the movie does ooze John Carpenter. It almost feels like watching Assault on Precinct 13 1976 mixed with Escape From New York 1982, but with kids in the leading parts instead. With this in mind, Attack the Block is one of those movies which will be equally entertaining upon repeated viewing as you will spot more referents the more times you watch.

All right so the monsters may not be scary – there’s still a few good shocks and jump scares in there though – but they look fucking awesome, totally believable and work terrific in the setting which is presented. Terry Notary’s title of movement choreographer may sound ever so lame, but damn does he bring those creatures to life in the most amazing way.

Finally music. Stephen Price’s original score is terrific but the real delights are the stunning tracks by house music legends Basement Jaxx (Simon Ratcliffe & Felix Buxton) who give the movie the perfect tone. And perhaps I feel this way as the majority of their tracks are like updated John Carpenter soundtracks… remember those two movies I mentioned earlier… well you get the idea of what this soundtrack sounds like then don’t you.

Attack the Block is a brilliant movie. It’s not horror, but it does rely on horror motors to drive it forth. It’s really a classic hero’s journey flick. As Moses goes from an outcast – reflected in the way Sam, a metaphor for society, first reacts to him – to neighbourhood hero – as Sam speaks up for him and the neighbours cheer his name in the final moments of the movie. This one is a keeper mates, and a movie I'm already wanting to watch again.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Maniac Cop

Maniac Cop
Directed by: William Lustig
USA, 1988
Horror/Crime, 85min


I don’t quite know why I always think of this one as one of the great eighties splatter classics, because it really isn’t when it all comes around. Sure, it has some fun moments of violence and gore, but nowhere near the level of Lustig’s previous Maniac 1980. Although Maniac Cop is a cult classic, but perhaps more of a frantic cop flick with some violent murders than the splatter flick I recall it to be.

But I don’t want to take anything away from Maniac Cop, because it’s still a rather entertaining movie, with a fantastic cast of cult actors, some great moments, but it would be fair to say that Maniac Cop is almost a bastard offspring of Maniac and Vigilante 1983, as all three movies move in the same sphere and
Maniac Cop combines the themes of the first two in it’s narrative, a vigilante cop who is a psychopathic monster.

Innocent people of the big apple are being violently murdered buy a killer dressed as one of New Yorks finest. Detective Frank McCree [Tom Atkins] sees a connection between the killings and forces his bosses to act when he spills the news to a news-anchor friend who breaks the story of the Maniac Cop later that night. Paranoia hits Manhattan and nobody trusts the police, a lack of trust and a state of fear that ends with police men begin shot dead during a routine assignment. After having his cover up busted wide open, the Mayor approaches Commissioner Pike [Richard Roundtree] and rough neck cop Captain Ripley [William Smith] to quickly close the case. Things all fall into place when young police officer Jack Forrest [Bruce Campbell] is incarcerated for the violent murder of his wife. After meeting Forrest’s alibi – fellow police colleague Theresa Malloy [Laurene Landon] McCree starts to search for the killer elsewhere, and pretty soon all leads point towards police officer Matt Cordell [Robert Z’Dar] who supposedly died in prison several years ago…

What I find most fascinating upon this return to Maniac Cop is the brilliant script by Larry Cohen. Now this shouldn’t really come as a surprise to me as Cohen is and always will be one of the best un-acclaimed screenwriters of our time. You cannot, not like Cohen’s movies or the movies he’s scripted, there’s something about his movies that really appeal to me. To point out a few details that prove what great a screenwriter he is, I’ll present the following theory, and regular readers will note that there are two ingredients I would say are vital to making the movie believable.

Jack Forrest is a complex character to say the least! I love the dimension that Cohen has given him: a man who seemingly is down and low over the failing marriage counselling that he and his depressive wife Ellen [Victoria Catlin], leaves home to walk his beat and surprisingly is caught in bed with a lover, having an affair behind the back of his wife! To make things worse his wife pulls a gun on them, runs away into the night and falls into the hands of the Maniac killer… who lays her almost decapitated body on the bed in the motel room Jack was unfaithful in.

Obviously this magnificent dilemma creates dimension in the Jack character. He’s not all goody two shoes and becomes a more complex character than just a good cop sad for loosing his wife. That entire initial scene with her becomes an obvious lie and an act. He was lying to her, and there’s nothing to say that he doesn’t lie about other things.

On the other side one would think that our old dear friend guilt would rise it’s ugly head and motivate Jack to take revenge for his murdered wife… but no it doesn’t. I love the way Cohen uses Jack’s desire to be with Theresa as the motivator to go after Cordell, not vengeance or revenge, but sheer lust. Hell Jack hardly mourns his wife; it’s all about sticking it to Theresa. Completely fascinating, and again something that makes Jack (and in some ways Theresa too) very much more than the average serial killer movie protagonist that horror flicks usually churn out.

Returning to the comment that Maniac Cop is more a cop flick than a straight horror story is terribly obvious as the movie uses a whodunit motor and a lot of the plot concerns finding the real killer/freeing Jack Forrest. Not to mention the last act when there’s a lengthy car chase that goes on forever. For real, a chase that just goes on and on and on, as Jack is locked in the back of the Police truck Cordell has stolen whilst McCree and Therese chase him through the back streets of New York. There’s always some pleasure of seeing old New York complete with the twin tower skyline and a seedy 42’nd street Broadway. Images of a time long gone, before the Disney clean up of N.Y.

I can find a paranoia theme in the a lot of Cohen’s movies and scripts, here the obvious one being that the people of New York stop trusting the police after the news of the cop clothed killer is broke. It’s a pretty neat moment when an old woman reaches for her gun and blasts the brains out of the young cop who innocently knocks on her window. It’s also why the fishy Mayor demands the fuzz to shut this case down and put someone behind bars, so that the calm can return… after all it’s he who refused to connect the clues McCree so blatantly pointed out earlier.

There’s a sublime political message in most of Larry Cohen’s work. Here, just like the magnificent, God Told Me To 1976, there’s a dodgy mayor running the show It’s never really said out loud that he’s bad or corrupt, but you simply feel it, and you know that he’s a slippery bastard. Which gives for a great last scene, when Justice – despite how warped it may be – is served.

Is it just me, or would it be fair to claim that Cohen seems to have something of a fetish for St. Patrick’s day? The New York St. Patrick’s day Parade is recurrent in several of his movies and is even found in Maniac Cop, where Sam Raimi is seen as one of the news reporters giving his report on the festivities.

All in all, Maniac Cop still makes for a good nights entertainment. Somewhere between the hard grimness of Maniac and the cynicism of Vigilante, you find Maniac Cop, a movie that did so well that Lustig, Cohen and Robert Z’Dar made two sequels, and the characters all returned in a 2008 remake.

Keep an eye out for Maniac Cop on BluRay in just a few weeks, The Synapse disc is the way to go, as it’s filled with extra features and all the booty that makes it worth while picking up these gem’s on BluRay.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

La herencia Valdemar

La herencia Valdemar +
La Sombra Prohibitda: La herencia Valdemar II

Directed by: José Luis Alemán
Spain, 2010
Horror

If legendary Spanish actor Paul Naschy hadn’t have passed away whilst this movie, and it’s sequel, where in production, I most likely would never have paid any attention to them. But researching this “last movie” – and the animated feature he was working on when he passed – the few stills and the teaser trailer definitely sold me the movie. Because not only do I love EuroGoth, I’m a sucker for anything remotely Lovecraftian, which there is plenty of in the La herencia Valdemar movies.

Shot as two separate movies, with two separate story line arcs, the movie could easily have been one long epic three hour. Both movies do hold their separate arcs, but are also linked together through longer storylines that flow through them both. There’s a wrap around found in the first film which in the second becomes the main narrative, and vice versa. In the second movie the past tense main narrative of the first instalment becomes the secondary plot in the “sequel”. As mentioned above it’s more of a continuation of the despite the La sombra prohibida: La herencia VAldemar II title.

An old Victorian building, the Valdemar House, sits on top of a hill uninhabited for an unmentioned – but long – time. Several real estate agents have vanished when attempting to value the place. Luisa Llorente [Silvia Abascal] ventures into the house in an attempt to value the place, but pretty soon shit goes astray and a drooling monster is chasing her through the corridors…

A private investigator, Nicolás [Óscar Jaenada], is sent out to locate Llorente, and finds himself on-board a train heading towards the Valdemar house for the entire first movie. On this train he meet’s Dra. Cerviá [Ana Risueño] who starts to tell him about the story and curse of the Valdemar Family.

The Valdemar family is obviously where the major part of the movie’s narrative is played out, with crosscuts to the two external stories every now and again.

Lázaro [Daniele Liotti] and Leonor Valdemar [Laia Marull] run the local orphanage, and more than anything they long for a child of their own. Circumstances lead to them almost accidentally come up with a way to make money off arranged séances where they take photographs of the visiting spirits – and giving Alemán an opportunity to stick in one of the finest nods to Naschy’s Waldemar Daninsky movies I have ever seen. But as all good stories nothing good comes without something bad, and here it presents a classic dilemma, which creates dimension in characters – it’s the age-old “Doing Wrong for Doing Good” question. Remember that Trier debacle from the last Cannes Film Festival, well that kind of thing. It’s the same reasoning, people doing bad things for a reason they believe to be good. All of the Valdemar actions are driven by passion and that yearning for a child of their own, which also brings logic to Làzaro’s actions later.

An obnoxious and scrupulous bastard – a journalist - figures out their racket and want’s part of the action. The Valdemar’s refuse which lead’s to Làzaro being tossed in jail facing a lengthy trial and a harsh punishment… until Alastair Crowley [Francisco Maestre] arrives and gives Làzaro a proposition of how they can get him out.

It’s also within the Valdemar family where we see Paul Naschy in his final performance. And it’s a delicate part for the obvious frail actor, who gives one of his most sincere performances. Jervás is all good, there’s not an evil bone in his body and it’s with real concern for the family he has served for presumably his whole life, that he comments and questions the events that he bears witness to.

Safely landing and ending several arcs there’s still several questions posed at the end of the movie, and there’s an obvious feeling that the Valdemar story isn’t ended, but merely a chapter closed, despite the main arc landing in the last act. Subplots are set in motion – like Luisa Llorente’s storyline, Nicolás and Cerviá on that train ride to the Valdemar house, which demand the sequel, and the sequel, demands to be seen. If you do choose to watch this movie, make sure to have the second part near at hand as the teaser for the second movie is will have you drooling.

The second movie takes place in modern time, with the odd flashback to the past woven in and to give further depth to the legacy. Here we see classic horror come face to face with old school Spanish EuroGoth. There’s a subplot with an old witch – and the ultimate Grimoire, The Necronomicon and even an appearance by H.P. Lovecraft [Luis Zahera] who’s woven into the story in a brilliant way. Yes, this is fantasy horror, and you have to accept it, just like you accept Alastair Crowley, Bram Stoker and Lizzie Borden in the first instalment. It works and there’s no reason to question it.

The subplots from the first movie come into play, Lusia Llorente’s capture escape and teaming up with Nicolás who’s been travelling towards this point for the whole first movie. Even secondary subplots such as the assistants – colleagues at the real estate agents - arrive at the house to help in the search for Llorente, but little do they know that they are walking right into a trap. A trap which will make them the 666th victims of the Cthulhu cult intent on bringing their god back to the face of the earth.

Yeah, the second movie takes on a complete different approach than the first, answers questions, picks up subplots and comes round full circle to complete the saga of the Valdemar Legacy.

I love the Spaniards. They have done more for European horror than anyone else has in the last ten-twenty years. A whole new wave of genre directors and movie companies – primarily Julio Fernandez Filmax - have emerged and in my opinion, they have been producing some of the best hits in the last decade.

One thing I find terribly annoying when watching generic horror is that awkward moment when they have to pick up their cell phones and deliver the mandatory “Oh golly I have no coverage!” moment… It bugs the hell out of me. La herencia Valdemar is the like the third of fourth Spanish flick recently where the cell phone has coverage and get’s the protagonist in trouble. Luisa’s cell signal buzzes off and her location is painfully obvious to the monster. Having seen this on so many different occasions now, I’m starting to feel that there’s a critique towards cell phones and the fact that you never really are alone or “out of touch” anymore. Which works great in horror!

Half hour into the first movie I reacted to the line of dialogue “You know what’s going on here, don’t you… how do you expect me to sleep if I don’t know?” – “If I told you, you wouldn’t sleep again for the rest of your life!” It’s one of those lies that completely sell me the movie. That single line made me fall in love with the flick, as it’s sheer concentrated Lovecraft. It’s the sort of dialogue I’d expect to find in his writings and the way it is used here is magic. Lovecraft’s texts often avoided giving detailed explanations of the creatures that inhabited his world, instead he hinted and suggested which left it all up the reader to fill in the blanks… and what ever we come up with is always so much more intimidating than whatever he could have put down in writing.

This is a brilliant flick, a two-parter that brings fear, excitement, adventure and horror to the same arena. It’s like a perfect concentrate of old school Spanish EuroGoth in the vain of Leon Klimovsky, Carlos Aured, Amando de Ossaroio, the Goth of Jess Franco and Jacinto Molina, combined with the new wave of Paco Plaza, Jaume Balugero, Juan Antonio Bayona, Guillem Morales and others. I for one will be eagerly looking forward to seeing where José Luis Alemán goes after this.

Among the extras you will find trailers, making off featurettes, filmographies and a very heart-warming tribute to the late Paul Naschy.


Now if these trailers don't make you want to see these movies, then I don't know what to say...


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Äkta Skräck

I don’t usually plug books here… but if you can read Swedish, then you really want to check this book out.

Magnus B., (Yes Jack, a real Swede called Magnus), and I worked together years ago on some retarded project, and the one thing that united us against all others in the office was our passion for Jean Rollin, odd documentaries and extreme genre movies.

Where I still sit on my ass complaining and dreaming of shit that never will happen, Magnus B. wrote a book on the topic. I read it from cover to cover last night and it’s a fucking brilliant piece of work. Filled with enthusiasm, a thirst for insight and a dedication unlike any other book in this niche that I’ve read. Magnus B. never once measures his dick and force-feeds his reader with a “larger than thou” attitude that so many other writers of niched movie books do. He’s driven by his curiosity and yearning to understand these extreme horror movies, and he never once backtracks to repeat himself or change his mind between chapters like another recently published author does. He simply keeps it fascinating with his humble approach.

And best of all, almost all interviews come with a little story that puts them into context, how anticipation grew towards the watch, after buying videotape dupes as a young man, or the one how he sent a script to Jörg Buttgereit only to be shot down in flames and my favorite, the one of how he ventures into the offices of cold offices Contra Film in Belgrade to go face to face with Srdjan Spasojevic.

ÄKTA SKRÄCK, an awesome book that I highly recommend to anyone with an interest in those movies that stretch beyond the mainstream conventions.


Marianne

Marianne
Directed by: Filip Tegstedt
Sweden, 2011
Horror/Drama, 100min


I’m probably going to shatter a few illusions, loose some friends and most likely end up backtracking and being apologetic with this one, as I really don’t enjoy tearing movies apart. In any way you look at it, any movie is after all more movie than anything I’ve made in my two and a half decades of making shitty TV entertainment… But I can't hold my silence for any longer.

Marianne simply isn’t all it is said to be. I see it being hailed here, there and fucking everywhere, receiving praise from each poster tagline poser after another, and that really scares me because there are serious flaws with that movie.

I’ll be the first to acknowledge the fact that Filip Tegstedt has made an interesting movie, it’s a ambitious project which avoids some of the pitfalls that low budget horror/thriller’s usually slip into, but in some places it falls like a ton of bricks right on it's ass, and ultimately into that pit of familiarity. In all fairness though, and as far as Swedish genre movies go, this one does kind of stand out. I’ll get back to that in a moment, because as said, there are some problems with this film.

One- The movie looks terrible; I’m pretty much cringing already as the crispy digital credits fade in and out of the opening montage. This is merely cosmetic style, and movies never will look good to me when shot on the common system camera, if you are a regular reader, you will know of my grain fetish.

Two – the acting is really bad. Really, this is only slightly better than the amateurishly poor acting that inhibits most other Swedish productions from making an impression. This could go two ways, either the director cant direct his actors to perform authentically or they simply can’t act. Unfortunately this goes missing on a non-speaking Swedish audience and that get’s me thinking about all those other movies I’ve seen with subtitles… where they just sucky actors too, was it the power of story that ensnared me, and that’s an uncomfortable feeling. I’m quite sure anyone else who speaks Swedish will say the same thing about the acting, despite it being pretty fucking cool that they got Peter Stormare to take a small but important part in the movie.

Three – it’s not scary. Although it does have a decent atmosphere and I appreciate a movie that goes for a more suggestive approach than cheap scares, tame effects and stale payoffs. It does build slowly and does reach some sort of climax, but it just goes on for way to long and I’m already seeing where it’s going way before the movie culminates.

Four – I found it more complicated to follow than necessary. Too much artfuck, crosscutting and non-linear arcs doesn’t make up for a bad performances, lack of character development and shoddy narrative.

Five – it’s too long, has subplot problems, and is too long. In all honestly there’s too little going on and as mentioned I’m ahead of the movie on several occasions and I find it sloppily edited. Tighten that thing up and loose some of the uncomfortable pacing problems between action and reaction lines. Marianne could easily have lost ten-twenty minutes and still have been an effective movie.

So why am I wasting my time writing about this movie which I didn’t really like, struggled to get through and really resisted writing something about?

Well it’s quite simple really. Despite all the annoyance and irritating flaws – which I’m sure I react stronger to than others because of the fact that I live in Sweden – there is a driving force in the movie which may seem pretty obvious, but at the same time is an ingenious tool at use – Guilt!

If I where to sum the movie up in one word, it would be guilt. This is what the movie is all about it’s what drives Krister [Thomas Hedengran] into his nightmarish state. Yes, it’s kind of predictable, and the non-linear approach to things is an indicator of what is haunting Krister. Or should I say what guilt is crushing him. I’ve frequently pointed out just how effective guilt is, to use a MetaQuote of my own “How the hell do you get a man who is terrified of water to get on a small boat and hunt down the biggest fucking shark of them all…” well that’s the driving force guilt has, it makes people do stuff they never through possible, but it can also be a reason for a characters state. Such as Krister's state. There’s something withheld from the backstory – told through fragments non-linear snippets – but it will all be revealed in the final act. And in my opinion it works. It works because it’s combined with Maran! [The Mare]

I really get a kick out of movies that use their own folklore to tell their stories, because this is where you get to bring something unique to the stage. Trollhunter anyone!? Stuff that isn’t mainstream, meaning that you know all the rules, regulations, tradition and conventions and don't need to think. It brings something new and uncanny to the scene. In Swedish folklore Maran is commonly a female spirit who sneaks into bedrooms at night, mounting the chest of whoever is sleeping in there and thrusts the air out of their lungs. There’s also a pungent sexual tone to the Mara too, men could very well find themselves being sexually molested by the Mara and becoming ensnared in nightmare worlds, and it’s no surprise that the Swedish word for nightmare is Mardröm. As times changed the word Mara became a synonym for asphyxiation, crushing chest pains, sudden awakening from sleep. It’s what we in modern times call an anxiety attack. Such as Krister in Marianne suffers from, as well as that devious Mara…

These two ingredients alone make Marianne worth the effort.

I really wish Tegstedt all the best in future movie making ventures. He’s obviously given some thought to his script, what he wants’ to put his characters through, and pulled it all together through psychology, folklore and old school eeriness. With the buzz going round, I wouldn’t be surprised if he get’s an offer to direct something for a indie studio over there. In some way I’d almost welcome it as I’d enjoy seeing where he goes with some serious resources, creative minds to bounce idea’s off and perhaps a better stable of actors.

Occasionally I feel that the horror/cult movie community - at least the acknowledged big boys of the game - have become so fucking obsessed with becoming the ones to discover the next emperor and his transparent clothes, that they loose focus of what is what. Instead they become a thread of beads, plopping out of a collective anus, where each and everyone cheer each other on, coming up with an escalating rant of praise for something that really isn’t all that great after all.

At the same time I do find some satisfaction in the praise Marianne receives, as every pat on the back this movie get’s, is a kick in the bollocks of the police state movie system in Sweden which keeps movies in the horror genre from being funded and developed. They still shit their pants when you point out that horror (and serious drama re-edited into exploitation flicks) was once the genre that set Sweden on the map, and fucking Bergman didn’t breakthrough because of his light entertainment. He made horror films that explored the darkest fucking holes of mankind, and movies in Sweden will stay retarded if you don’t let them evolve, which needs the funding they deserve.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Breaking rule #4 and AudioExperiment

I’m too damned tired, busy and low to keep this thing alive right now. Posts are spontaneous as my daytime job is draining me of too much energy, I have deadlines for the magazine to meet next week, and in between that I’ve dissipated my time kissing ass and turning tricks for people who don’t appreciate it when it all comes around. I'm though doing favours for nothing.

So fuck it, no more breaking rule #4

SATAN REPRESENTS KINDNESS TO THOSE WHO DESERVE IT INSTEAD OF LOVE WASTED ON INGRATES!

Until next time, feed off my bones and enjoy THIS Audio Experiment I’ve made from using audio from Andrej Tarkovsky’s SOLARIS, looping, and fucking it up in Audacity.

Be warned - it get’s loud, distorted, and may damage your hearing, but it tells a story if you make it that far.

Out.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Let Me In

Let Me In
Directed by: Matt Reeves
USA/UK, 2010
Horror, 116min


I cannot start to tell you how much I wanted this movie to suck. All the pre-talk indicated that they where going to go in a certain way that would contradict the magnificent original movie. I even threw a hissy fit after seeing the first trailer which showed that moment I feared most of all, the debunking of the mystique concerning Abby – or Eli, as in the original – and spelling it out: Are you a Vampire? This kind of determined it for me, Let Me In was going to suck ass…

…but I was wrong. Boy, oh boy was I wrong. I was so wrong that my 4 out of 5 rating and the quote “Incredibly Exciting” was used on the Scandinavian DVD and BluRay covers. And I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m pleased to have been wrong. I just watched this movie for the third time, and it is a fucking great movie. It really is the horror version of John Ajvide-Lindqvist’s book Låt Den Rätte Komma In.

Before I get into this one, I just want to make a note of the fact that after seeing the film at a press preview last year, before writing that piece for the magazine I write for, I contacted John Ajvide-Lindqvist, as I have interviewed him a few times before, and I asked him what he though about the movie, as I was surprisingly finding that I really liked it. John too really likes the movie. Really likes it. He liked it so much that he wrote a long letter to the distributor to make sure that there was no “writer didn’t like the big budget version” bullshit left to linger afterwards. With John’s acceptance of the movie, it was easier for me to accept the fact that it is a great film and that I really did enjoy it. He more or less sanctioned the piece I wrote on the movie after that conversation.

Anyways dealing with remakes is a tricky business, but Reeves does a great job with Let Me In, mainly because he imitates the emotions, moods and atmosphere of the original. Where the original relies heavily on music, pop-cultural references and fashion of the eighties I grew up in here in Sweden, the American one goes more to the core and uses a little thing called Religion.

There are several referents to what was the numero uno fear in America during the eighties – Satanism and Satanic Rituals. Richard Ramirez, aka The Night Stalker was roaming in the mid eighties and used to draw pentagrams on his victims and later carved one into his hand when he was caught. Geraldo Rivera Exposed Satan’s Underground on his 1988 TV special, Judas Priest where taken to trial for hiding satanic suicide messages on their 1978 album Stained Class, and perhaps most famously the West Memphis Three where jailed for life (but recently just released) after being convicted of Satanic ritual murders. Satan was the bearded terrorist of the Eighties and Reeves taps into that underlying fear in the movie.

He also uses it to pose the question what is good and what is evil? Owen [Kodi Smit-McPhee] even asks his father the same question in one scene. It’s an age-old dilemma, doing wrong in the name of good. We know that you do not kill, or hit our fellow man. But when Owen strikes back at Kenny [Dylan Minnette] we cheer him on, even when the Detective [Elias Koteas] is about to expose Abby in her makeshift casket, we root for her and even feel satisfied when she takes him out. Not to mention that final magic sequence during the movies climax that takes place in the bathhouse. Brilliant, this is exactly how you create an effective and empathetic anti-hero.

I mentioned that this is the horror version of Ajvide's book, and perhaps even more so than Tomas Alfredsson's Låt Den Rätte Komma in (Let the Right One In) 2008, and that is seen in the fact that special effects are more mainstream horror meaning that they are not suggestive and off screen as in the original, but right there in your face, graphic, gory and scary as hell. Another detail that set’s the genre horror more than the drama is that Reeves chooses to cut up the narrative structure of the original and toss things around in a non-linear fashion. By having the movie open with the aftermath of The Father [Richard Jenkins] accident and capture which leads to his death in the hospital, Reeves actually opens his movie with an initial attack. This is what you do when you want to establish genre, and set the element of threat. Something just tossed a terribly scarred patient out of a hospital window… yeah this is horror.


The movie retains the vulnerability of the two young characters from the original, something that gives the movie a sensitivity that most other vampire horror movies lack. This one taps into the same vain that Richard Donner's The Goonies 1985, Spielberg's E.T. 1982, or even J.J. Abrams Super 8 2011 uses – the naïve vulnerability of the child characters set in adult situations.

But then there’s the key to the film. We talk about this when we give lectures with Constructing Horror. The movie manipulates us and through using emotional identification, the audience empathise with Owen and Abby. We may not be able to know what it’s like to fall in love with the vampire who moves into the flat next door, but we can identify with the feelings that Owen has. Being an outsider, a loner, the desire for revenge and the yearning unconditional love that Owen experiences.


Moving it closer to America, Romeo and Julia are also referenced at quite a few times, an obvious metaphor for “forbidden love”. Abby says to Owen that they cant be friends, and this is also the same backbone that Shakespeare used in Romeo and Julia – their love is forbidden, just like Abby and Owens, although they make it work, and kill everyone else instead.

Another detail I like about taking some mainstream conventions is the sequence when Abby’s father makes his last kill. Already when reading the book a few years back I was spellbound by this sequence and lustfully imagined how it would play out in a movie version. Reeves brings bin bag liners to the plot and uses them in what is easily one of the most exhilarating and captivating moments of the movie. The killer lies in the back seat as obstacle and obstacle are tossed at him almost as if fate is taunting him and making the last kill an impossible one. It’s a nail-biting sequence that lacks a counterpart in the original movie and text.


Reeves and crew have obviously taken time to find a tone and style that mimics the original, Grief Fraser’s cinematography, Ford Wheeler’s production design and Wendy Ozols-Barnes set design certainly looks like the cinematography and production design of Hoyte Van Hoytema and Eva Norén. Some scenes even look identical, something that really works for Let Me In, as those scenes have become iconic images of contemporary horror. Finally Stan Salfas' editing which brings some great juxtaposition to the piece has to be pointed out. There are some really smooth and effective transitions in there.


Being part of Hammer's grand comeback to the genre, Let Me In is a beautiful, emotional, engaging, effective and superb piece of horror cinema that despite coming off as mainstream is a movie that will become a modern classic and one that future directors will refer to in years to come.

I’m glad that I was wrong on my expectations of this film, and this is a film you should check out if you are into low key, engaging horror films with a bite.

Here's an Interview I did with John Ajvide Lindqvist a while back, as we talked on the pro's and con's of using children as a dramatic tool in Horror film and fiction.


I still feel that the question scene shouldn't have been in, but here the trailer again anyways,

Friday, September 02, 2011

Come one Bill, buddy! Hang in there!

Come one Bill, buddy! Hang in there!

Read THIS.

Our good friend and patron saint of lost Yesilcam movies, Bill Barounis is in trouble again as his health has taken a devastating turn for the worse again.

So sad as Bill is undoubtedly the most eager, enthusiastic and easy going guys I have ever had the pleasure of buying movies from and working with. There's a lot of other assholes out there who only get into the movie distribution game to make a quick buck and screw buyers... Bill does it for love. Love of Turkish cult cinema.

Everytime we've made ad's for ONAR FILMS together, the love for his trade and movies has been what always has impressed me. It's not just for fun or to make cash, it's because he really loves the titles he's brought forth to us. They are all just as important.

Stay strong Buddy! I'll be thinking of you and sending positive vibes your way.

You can support ONAR, and keep up to date by joining the Facebook group here.

J.