Sunday, October 27, 2013

Hidden in the Woods


Hidden in the Woods
Original Title: en las afueras de la ciudad
Directed by: Patricio Valladeres
Horror/Drama, 97min
Mexico, 2012

Want to know where the new wave of horror is coming from? Well I’d say it’s Latin America! Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay… just a few of the spawning grounds for original genre fare right now – and has been for the past four—five years, amusingly just after the success of the Spanish wave. Still not sure that this is right? Well just look at your recent genre fare! Directors like Adrián Garcia Bogliano, Jorge Michel GrauFede Alvarez and others, are popping up in anthology flicks, getting big exposure for their domestic flicks, and in some cases even getting shots at and remaking their own films all over again but now with Yankee dollars in the USA! (where did Gustavo Hernandez go, and when does the third generation of Cardona’s break through? And No I haven’t forgotten the master of them all; Guillermo Del Toro, he just plays in a completely different league!)
Patricio Valladeres En las afueras de la ciudad (Hidden in the Woods) is no exception. This piece of savage but contemporary Mexpoitation trash did the festival circuit and then got picked up for a US remake featuring Micheal Biehn, Willam Forsyth and Robert Rodriguez regular Electra Avellan in lead roles.

Kicking off with a classic “Based on a true story” card, drug dealing drunk, Felipe [Daniel Antivil] is will stop at nothing to learn the name of his wife’s secret lover, and murders her in front of their two infant daughters. He buries her body in the woods and tells them that mommy has gone to heaven. The years pass and Felipe raises his two daughters, Ana [Siboney Lo] and Anny [Carolina Escobar] in his own disdainful way, complete with nightly visits and day after stories laying the blame on “the bogey man” for abusing the girls. Further down the road, Anny gives birth to his own grandson, an inbred mutated beast with sharp teeth and an appetite for raw meat.


Felipe makes his living by hiding drugs for regional Kingpin Costello [François Soto] who makes random visits to the cabin in the woods and looks the two young women over with an unhealthy stare and disturbing remarks about Felipe sending them over to him when they are old enough… Ironically despite all his terrible flaws as an abusive pedophilic, incestuous parent, Filipe will let no one else harm his little girls. 
The so far delightfully trashy and on spot exploitative plot takes a sharp turn when Felipe is sent to jail after attacking two police officers with a chainsaw! The girls grab their mutant child/nephew/teenager Manuel [José Hernandez] and make a dash for it. Out of the frying pan… into Hell!
Being all-alone with no money or a place to stay, makes it only a matter of time before Ana takes to giving random dudes blowjobs for cash, and for some reason blowjobs lead to cannibalism. Well at least it get’s the girls, and inbred kid off the prostitution racket! Felipe find himself in his own hell too, as he’s thrown in jail with a bunch of bad-asses who all work for Costello, who just for the sake of it want’s Felipe dead before he tells of his drug dealing affairs with Costello. Ironically Felipe is the only one who knows where Costello’s drugs are hidden and uses this fact as leverage against Costello in an attempt to force the drug lord into getting him out of jail…
In a counter move, Costello sends his goons out to find the girls, Felipe breaks out of jail to save his daughters, and after being beaten and raped the girls decide to confront Uncle Costello once and for all in what promises to be a bloody mess of family resolutions and rushes of harsh insight!
Hidden in the Woods is a fun, shit-kicking movie that is more or less a concentrate of everything that the Latin American horror films stands for! It brings it all to the park, dark violence, inbred freaks, incest, abuse, rape, cannibalism, death, revenge, oh and I almost forgot the birthing scene! One could sum it up as: find a taboo and push past it. Find a body and abuse it physically, sexually, demonically or any way you can. Find a character and make it suffer and bleed. Find the rules and break them! Hidden in the Woods is a feisty little mongrel and I loved every demented minute of it! If you want a provocative piece of trash that nurses a genre “taboo fetish” majestically and has a blood lust like none other, then Hidden in the Woods is the ticket for you!

 

Check out the trailer!




Monday, October 21, 2013

The Human Centipod - Episode 4: Deep Red, the Crimson Crimes of Dario Argento!


Here you go, a sneak peak of the new episode of The Human Centipod, here on Soundcloud before it pops up on iTunes.


/J

Monday, October 14, 2013

Last House on the Beach


Last House on the Beach
Original title:  La settima donna
Directed by: Franco Prosperi
Italy, 1978
Drama/Thriller, 86min


Franco Prosperi, no not the Mondo maverick, but the other Franco Prosperi, writer of such classic films as Jess Franco’s Mondo Canibale (White Cannibal Queen) 1980, Mario Bava’s La ragazza che sapeva troppo (The Evil Eye) 1963 and Ercole al centro della Terra (Hercules in the Haunted World) 1961 - which he co-directed with Bava, and director of low budget and exploitation films such as Un uomo dalla pelle dura (The Boxer) 1972 and this one, Last House on the Beach, serves up a decent home invasion rape revenge yarn with a solid set of actors like Ray Lovelock, Florinda Bolkan, Sherry Buchanan and Laura Trotter in the cast!
Basically, and vaguely, The Last House on the Beach is yet another take on Ingmar Bergman’s Jungfrukällan (The Virgin Spring) 1960, written by Ulla Isaksson. The same movie that inspired sardonic grit-fests like Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left, Aldo Lado’s L’ultimo treno della note (Night Train Murders) 1975 and Ruggero Deodato’s La casa sperduta nel parco (House on the Edge of the Park) 1980, and also this variant Franco Prosperi’s La settima Donna (Last House on the Beach).

Three bank robbers, under the lead of Aldo [Ray Lovelock], take to hiding in a summerhouse inhabited by Sister Christina [Florinda Bolkan] and half dozen young women. The men take the young woman hostage – after beating the maid to death with a hot iron.  Tension builds as the thugs start to rape and abuse the women one by one, eventually forcing Sister Christina to go against her faith, refuse to turn the other cheek and start to take revenge!
Romano Migliorini and Gianbattista Mussetto wrote a screenplay from the story by Ettore Sanzò. Ettore Sanzò had previously written screenplays to Aldo Lado’s Night Train Murders and Massimo Dallamano’s magnificent La polizia chiede auto (What have they done to Your Daughters) 1974, so Sanzó had been up the “young women in peril” street before. Despite being gritty, misogynistic and grim, the movie is still somewhat cheesy, possibly more due to the shoddy dubbing more than the actual performances or narrative.  But not all is lost, some effective passages of dialogue work in a timeframe that helps set a time limit and a tension builder in the shape of the returning buss that will arrive and pick up Sister Christina and the young women. In some ways it works as a reliever as we know help – or possible salvation – will be on the way, but when the Nuns at the convent call, without getting through, to tell them that the buss will be a da late, it works as a tension builder instead. Sister Christina is relying on keeping everyone safe until the buss arrives on the third day, but as this isn’t going to happen, tension builds to a boiling point… well kind of.
Characters are polarized; the male bank robbers are sinister, randy and somewhat dumb, whilst the girls are gentle, savvy and innocent– despite an early scene where they slip out of their tops whilst sunbathing, but quickly put them back on when Sister Christina approaches the pool area. This is simply Good versus Evil, with the exception of Lovelock who, in this mix, comes off as a dimensional character. (Which he isn’t really.)
Lovelock acts as something of a red herring, as he at times steps in to stop abuse, or help a girl out, but on the other hand provokes the two other kidnappers to go over the edge, holds a knife to Sister Christina and forces her to watch the other two thugs rape one of the young women. He also has a strange flirt with Margret [Luisa Maneri] who he bonds with and shows some form of affection for… but we all know that just below the surface it’s old school manipulation!
As all rape-revenge flicks, the main narrative is to push the god-fearing protagonist as far as possible until this character snaps and becomes a like worthy or equal force of antagonism towards the antagonists. In Last house on the Beach, a very symbolic act is used to show Sister Catherine's transition as she steps up and takes on the villains who have molested, terrorized, raped and murdered members of her young flock!
Early on you can hear a super weird Roxy Music sound-alike track “Place for the Landing” courtesy of Roberto Pregadio with Ray Lovelock blurting out vocals in his best Bryan Ferry imitation. But there’s a really neat title track with the great Edda Dell’Orso that adds the versatile mix of this movie. If nothing else, I take the great soundtrack with me from this film.
A lurid piece of trash that possibly becomes grittier as the groovy Roberto Pregadio soundtrack is blasted loud over almost every scene of violence and misogynist moments are depicted in surreal fashion mixing extreme close ups, victim point of view, and slow-motion whilst eerie dronish beats play over the sadistic acts. Last House on the Beach is rape revenge, home invasion cheapie done the book, worth the time, but not one that left an imprint in time.
Oh, and if anyone knows if there’s two or one Franco Prosperi, and if so, who made what, then please let me know. Personally I can’t decide if there actually where/are two or really just one. They both worked at the same time, in the same industry, in the same country in the same genre and at times on the same film it seems… Reading filmographies, their paths cross a few steps to close of each other on several occasions to be just coincidental. Right now, I’m leaning towards there being only one, as THIS Franco Prosperi supposedly edited Jacopetti & the other Prosperi’s Addio zio Tom (Goodbye Uncle Tom) 1971… it’s confusing, so anyone who actually KNOWS, you are more than welcome to let me know.


Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Only God Forgives


Only God Forgives
Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
Thriller/Drama, 90min
France/Sweden/Thailand/USA

Continuing his study of vengeance, human deterioration, moral grounds and violent death, Nicolas Winding Refn takes to the heat and fluorescent base colors to tell the story of a family constellation set against a bad ass cop and his henchmen.

Julian [Ryan Gosling] and his brother Billy [Tom Burke] run a drugs racket out of Bangkok, Thailand. Billy goes over the edge raping and beating a 16-year-old girl to death. When the police arrive on the scene, Inspector Chang [Vithaya Pansringarm] choses to brings in the father of the girl in instead, and tells him to take his revenge upon Billy. Upon his death, their mother Crystal [Kristin Scott Thomas] arrives and questions why Julian hasn’t taken the vengeance she claims Billy would have done if the issue where the opposite. Always in the shadow of his older brother – even in death – Julian tries to settle the scores in his own way, and possibly uses the situation to solve some unsettled family issues.
Not as violent as Drive, not as trippy as Valhalla Rising, not as out of the box as Bronson, but definitely a combination of all three. In a way one could chose to read Only God Forgives as a dysfunctional family tale and how the pressure to fit in and be accepted drives one to the darkest places of mankind. What Refn does though is to question morale and character positioning. We know that Julian and his family are villains – even though there is a chance that Julian is trying his hardest to stand outside of the smuggling racket and focuses his time on the Thai Boxing club he spends time at – and this creates a protagonist with dimension. At the same time Inspector Chang uses a profound over use of violence and alternative policing tactics in his fight against the drug smugglers – it doesn’t need to be spoken out loud, one can understand the frustration that has driven him to this point. We also understand that there can be no real winner (or can there?) to this tale of dystopia, hot nights and loneliness, but at the same time we end up rooting for characters that are questionable when it comes to their moral positioning.
Just as he does in Drive, Valhalla Rising, Bronson – and earlier films like Bleeder and the Pusher Trilogy – Refn presents us with complex characters who are on the wrong side of the law, classic anti heroes, and fascinating personalities that linger on in your head long after the film has finished. I find that Refn makes two kinds of films, the dark dramas that more or less play along the rules of classic narrative such as the Pusher films, Bleeder, Fear X and Drive and then the alternative experimental ones like Valhalla Rising and Only God Forgives. It’s almost one classic, one experimental.

Only God Forgives is a seductive, mesmerizing and provocative dark drama that mocks convention and dares question classic characters and narrative.
Nicolas Winding Refn is a genius and I will not stop crossing my fingers until he get’s his adaptation of the Jodorowsky/Moebius (Jean Giraud) epic The Incal written, shot, edited and on a screen near me. Long Live Nicolas Winding Refn!

Monday, October 07, 2013

The Human Centipod Episode 3: To the Devil a Double!


A sinister new episode of THE HUMAN CENTIPOD where Fred and I dive into two Hammer/Dennis Wheatley collaborations and reveal our favorite Christopher Lee flicks.



Enjoy!

Friday, October 04, 2013

You're Next



You’re Next
Directed by: Adam Wingard
USA, 2010
Horror, 94min
Distributed by: Scandbox         

Home invasion films are a sub niche that has grown strong and powerful these last couple of years! Personally it’s among my favorite as I once was a victim of home invasion. A woman I’d never met before was in my apartment in the middle of the night and even though I managed to get her out, call the cops and change all the locks to my doors, the scars left where deep, hence this being the genre that creeps me out the most, which in my book, makes You're Next one of the most tantalizing creep-flicks this year!

A family gathers in a remote house to celebrate the 35-year anniversary of their parents. Outside a band of homicidal predators put the house under siege and start to minimize the number of family members one by one.  What they don’t know is that one person on the inside knows more about survival than they had reckoned on.

It’s clear that Adam Wingard knows how to get an audience to invest in his characters and story, and he does it almost by the book. This is a good thing and a trait that serves Wingard well. It’s definitely one of the reasons this mumble core - horror filmmaker is considered part of the horror genres future. Well, OK, Wingard is a fucking great director, but kudos needs to be given to Simon Barret too, because Barret is a pretty important part of the Wingard success, as Barret writes the scripts to Wingard’s movies. A Horrible Way to Die, Autoerotic, You’re Next, V/H/S, V/H/S/2, all Barret.
You’re Next starts up with a raw initial attack to set the tone; a couple in their post coital state of sweatiness become victims of an off-screen assailant. When we finally get to see the killers, they hide their faces behind childish animal masks. This presents the threat in the outside world, a threat in the dangerous place outside the safety of indoors. The masks make the threat more inhuman, and it also plays on genre convention – , the masked monster, the confusion of an unidentifiable assailant, the defaced killer who we are supposed to guess the identity of. Most likely the use of animal faces made for children is a way to take a harmless object and fill it with danger, doom and death is an ironic decision. Something cute becomes an object of terror.

The title of the film is presented in an Apocalypse Now kind of fashion – scrawled across an object instead of classic graphic vignette, although this time it’s blood on a window. It all adds to building the threat and allows perfect polarization against  the presentation of our lead characters Crispian  [AJ Bowen] and Erin [Sharni Vinson]. Crispian and Erin are on their way to Crispian’s parents, and we quickly understand that this is the first time Erin is to meet them. We also learn that Crispians parents are filthy rich, that family gatherings are few and that there are “certain issues” within the family. Erin is secretive about her background, which will be put into focus later on in the narrative. Cut to mother and father who enter their new home, the same home where the family gathering is to take place at. Paul [Rob Moran] and wife Aubrey [Barbara Compton] step up to the front door of the house only to find the door unlocked! In the following ten minutes the house becomes something of a McGuffin as it groans and creeks, suggestive camera angles show POV shots out of door openings, and windows. The tension builds, eventually sending Aubrey screaming out the front door convinced that there’s someone in the house… Paul does an obligatory and half-hearted check of the house whilst Aubrey cowers outside, giving Wingard a perfect moment to build anticipation and toss the real first jump-scare at us. It’s an effective one and it’s needed as the next couple of minutes are going to be spent branching out the family and cast.
This is time spent building up the hierarchy and dynamics of the family unit consisting of elder brother Drake [Joe Swanberg], complete with bully mannerisms and narcissist wife Kelly [Sarah Myers], hipster chic little sister Aimee [Amy Seimetz], her boyfriend Tariq [Ti West – yes, director of The Innkeepers and The House of the Devil] and baby brother Felix [Nicholas Tucci] and his girlfriend Zee [Wendy Glenn]. Character traits are rapidly exposed and in a way this is almost similar to the obligatory archetype presentations found in generic slasher - and college films, we understand the dynamics and how Drake bullies and manipulates them all, holding an reign of terror upon his siblings, all with the support of mom and dad, who are smugly pleased and teary eyed over the fact the they finally managed to get their children all together – despite all their internal issues and conflicts.  

In all honesty, the family are perhaps not characters that get any sympathies from the audience – after all this is a horror shocker and we just want the carnage to start - but there’s some form of emotional recognition with Crispian and his constant underdog positioning.  We are also pushed towards feeling for Erin, who in contrast to all the others offers to help out I the kitchen and is the one to take command when the terror starts to intrude the privacy of their safe world. So with the basic structure, let us call it “The Ordinary World” established the tableau is set and it’s time to bring on the horror. 

After a bout of “brotherly love” and “guilt tripping” (all great devices to use in horror) the ordinary world is shattered as the chaotic dinner party turns to violent massacre when crossbow arrows start being shot through the windows at the family, who now are reduced to a bunch of sitting ducks. There’s a shot of an arrow smashing into the framed photograph of the family sending shards of glass allover the place, a great metaphor for the destruction of the family unit, which this film is a representation of in more than one way. The realization that there’s an antagonist on the outside of the house sees the inhabitants start their fight for survival, and this could have been good enough to get the game underway, and wind tension up. But we know that there’s someone inside the house too, which increases the threat and makes the narrative even more suspenseful… when will they pounce and how hard will they hit!? 

Oh, if they’d only listened to mother!   

The masked assailants hit hard and ferocious and at times the violence is really sadistic and grim. At the same time there's a dark comedic undertone that flows through the film, something that one could consider a trait of Wingard and the mumblecore horror scene. Not slapstick or schtick, but more small things in life that are funny in their everyday way... or absurdity such as a blender to the brain!

After the dining room attack the movie really shifts gears and goes “all in” on the Survival Horror themes. Classic protagonist vs. antagonist traits presenting characters to root for and others to question, and manipulating the audience into each now shock/gore/death scene. Our voyeuristic sadism gets what it’s craving and at the same time we find a strong protagonist in one of the characters. Perhaps it’s not all that original, considering the conventional genre roles in horror, although this one has a logic and backstory to it that I found satisfying. Nobody becomes a superhero in the flash of an eye, it’s all planted along the narrative, as is reveals of what really is happening to the family. Tidbits of dialogue dropped along the way and seemingly unimportant acts all tie into the movie further down the road, and this is where I find the skill of the Barret/Wingard cooperation as details all come together as rushes of insight hit the audience.

An interesting scene is found somewhere in the second half, where a specifically violent and sadistic axe to the head beating, sees the masked killer almost being nauseated by his own acts. He gags, grunts and has to sit down on the sofa after the deed. This was fascinating, as I never earlier have seen a scene of violence where the dark hearted antagonist almost instantly is quenched by his/her own guilt. That’s what I kind of liked with the way the movie climaxes to as it forces characters to question their morale and judgment, just as it makes the audience ask the same questions. How far can you go in doing wrong for a good cause?
You’re Next is a spectacular example of contemporary horror. It takes the familiarity of the home invasion sub genre and brings a number of interesting new ingredients to it, and for once I’m actually glad to knowing what drives the killers, why this is happening, and watch a movie that does deliver some kind of closure at the end. All truths are revealed, and the truth hurts! With that said, You’re Next is in no way a movie that holds back on the nihilism, rather the opposite, it is dark, unpredictable, ominous and will make you think twice about attending family reunions for the rest of your life!

A slice of horror cinema served up in the best possible way, You’re Next hits Swedish cinemas 15th of November! Go see it, because we don't really get this kind of genre fare on screens here all that often!