Tag Archives: torture porn

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Extreme Horror – Abuse of Power

The Last Knock

It’s part two of our EXTREME SERIES with the most excellent William Meeker discussing “Abuse of Power”! We’ll look at some of horror cinema’s most disturbing entries where arrogant bastards think they’re better than anybody else – and unleash the trauma. We dissect the stories, break them down into select parts, and throw the rest into the garbage – so you won’t have to. What EXTREME SERIES films made this list? Listen in and find out…

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@MelanieMcCurdie @shilohfernandez @ScreamHorrorMag @kidblue @RealJillyG @FangTheJester @JennySpain @dixiefairy @WoodyAllenDaily @DarkCorners3 @DavidKoechner @Israel_Finn @Sara_Paxton @TheNightGallery @Pat_Healy @RonGizmo @d_m_elms @EmbryEthan @BleedingCritic @Pascal_Laugier @ScarecrowVideo @AFiendOnFilm @Trent_Haaga @RSBrzoska and Paul J. Williams

The EXTREME SERIES always includes special guest, film aficionado, William Meeker! You can find his remarks and reviews on film, from horror to science fiction, at Loud Green Bird, and follow him on Twitter as well.

The 2000s: Horror’s Best Decade (Part 2) by Paul J. Williams

Please allow me to preface this article with a warning and a statement: Beware! Dozens of movies are discussed and spoilers will exist, so please keep that in mind as you read.

And, I’m not a movie historian or expert; I’m just a cinephile, probably like you, who enjoys horror movies. I also like to reflect upon times and situations in our history and ask: why? I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic, as well.

LIFE AND TIMES OF THE LATE 2000s: A (Very) Brief Summary

The late 2000s continued the trend of worldwide heartbreak and despair:

Hurricane Katrina ravished the southeast United States and other areas in 2005, making it one of the deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history, and the costliest in terms of damage.

The Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 became the U.S.’s deadliest mass shooting, up until the Orlando nightclub massacre in 2016, claiming thirty-two lives.

2008 brought the Great Recession, which was felt around the globe, with many still suffering from its fallout.

Haiti was nearly destroyed by an earthquake in 2010, killing over 100,000 of its citizens and leveling scores of buildings, including the Presidential Palace.

LATE 2000s HORROR: Let the Fun Begin

2005 to 2010 gave us some of the best movies in the history of cinema, and especially horror. Low budget, huge budget, foreign and domestic; every demographic is represented and we are lucky to have been alive to catch it all…

A NEW SUBGENRE IS BORN: Torture Porn

Well, admittedly, it’s not my favorite, but we have to talk about it, don’t we? Film critic David Edelstein is credited with coining the term for a new subgenre (sub to the Slasher/Body Horror genres, I suppose) that emerged in the mid-2000s called “torture porn.” These films emphasized nudity, mutilation, and sadism, and though movies associated with this subgenre are not personal preferences, I can’t not mention them.

Eli Roth wrote and directed 2005’s Hostel, a story about a group of American college students traveling across eastern Europe, and historically, the first movie assigned to the torture-porn subgenre. These poor vacationers become kidnapped and sold off to be systematically tortured and killed. Over the years, proponents of this movie have tried to extract bigger meanings from it, most notably the socioeconomic implications and the consequences of U.S. involvement in foreign affairs. Maybe; who knows? Quentin Tarantino, who was probably tangential to the production at best, smartly had his name plastered all over the promotion of the film that, despite mixed reviews, grossed over $80 million on a $5 million budget, and spawned two sequels: the second again being written and directed by Roth, who would then sit the third one out.

What followed was filmmakers trying more and more to gross out audiences:

Australia’s 2005’s Wolf Creek, using the tried-and-true promotion of being “based on a true story” has a Crocodile Dundee-type hunt and kill three backpackers in the outback. It received mixed reviews from critics, but was a hit at the box office, grossing $28 million on a $1 million budget. Wolf Creek 2 followed in 2013, but like most sequels, didn’t live up to the first film.

Turistas was released in 2006. This time harassing backpackers in Brazil, the film was received poorly by critics, but made a profit in ticket sales.

Captivity, from 2007, tried, mostly in vain, to ride the wave of success of Hostel and Saw, and ultimately grossed $11 million.

The Collector, released in 2009 from Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunston, winners of Project Greenlight a thousand years ago, is a distant cousin of Saw, and now considered a cult classic. It tripled its budget, despite negative reviews, and spawned the sequel: The Collection in 2012.

ELI ROTH

With a dearth of worthwhile horror, or any horror at all, really, in the late 1990s, the early 2000s was up for grabs for anyone looking to be the next horror maestro. Love him or hate him, Eli Roth was the someone who stepped up. Starting in 2002 with Cabin Fever, which has since been remade (more on that nonsense later), Roth followed in the footsteps of The Blair Witch Project with its online marketing, showed everyone who his influences are, became a hit with audiences, grossed $30 million on a $1.5 million budget, and even managed to get a lot of good reviews.

He followed with the aforementioned Hostel in 2005, also launching the “torture-porn” subgenre, and followed with Hostel II in 2007.

Since then, he’s mostly worn the Producer’s hat, being the man behind such films as The Last Exorcism and The Sacrament, and dabbles in acting, as well, with his most notable performance of him chewing the scenery as “The Bear Jew” in Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 fantasy, Inglorious Basterds.

His next film looks to be a departure from horror, remaking the 1974 Charles Bronson classis, Death Wish.

LOOK WHAT I FOUND: Another New Sub-genre is Born

Obviously kicking off the modern “found-footage” subgenre is 1999’s The Blair Witch Project (shout-outs recognizing Man Bites Dog and The Last Broadcast), but what’s odd is that it’ll take years before another recognizable film of this nature is released.

Fred Vogel starts his August Underground “franchise” in 2001, but these are extreme genre films only a select few can sit through.

Zero Day, from 2003, though not a horror, dramatizes the Columbine massacre of 1999.

Septem8er Tapes, also not a horror, was released in 2004, and makes use of every penny of its estimated $30,000 budget, and puts a War on Terror spin on the found-footage subgenre.

The U.K.’s The Last Horror Movie from 2003 is a very disturbing movie, sort of like the found-footage version of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.

2007’s The Poughkeepsie Tapes from brothers, John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle, has become more about whether people are ever going to see it or not than about the movie itself, and in some ways, this has given more longevity to the film than if it was widely released as originally planned in 2007. First, I’ve seen it, and surprisingly, it lives up to the hype: it’s very disturbing and odd. Second, when is this ever going to be released permanently to the masses? Hell if I know, but it’d probably be the worst thing for it.

What starts off, what I guess we can call the postmodern “found-footage” frenzy, is Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity. It originally premiered in 2007, then after a few ending changes suggested by Hollywood, and a fake story about Steven Spielberg being scared shitless of it, and we get the 2009 wide release, which you most likely viewed. If you don’t know what follows, then you must not be a horror fan: almost $200 million at the box office and, count them, six sequels to date. Not surprisingly, it has (almost) all the same ingredients that made Blair Witch a phenomenon: D.I.Y. filming and editing on a miniscule budget, amateur actors, more happening in the viewer’s mind than on screen, effective online and word-of-mouth marketing, and ultimately, perfect timing for a movie like this to come out.

[REC] is a 2007 Spanish found-footage/zombie film that shows just how much “fun” these types of movies can be. It doesn’t take long getting into the action with our attractive news reporter, watching the craziest 75 minutes of her life. [REC] became a huge hit and spawned a franchise.

Lake Mungo, from Australia, has several release dates between 2009 and 2010, but is ultimately a 2008 movie. More like one of these true-crime documentaries that are so popular today, the movie’s presented with interviews, news footage, etc. Ultimately a story about a family’s grief, Lake Mungo is very effective and downright creepy at times. I do see it listed on various “Top 10” lists every now and again, but I acknowledge it’s a divisive film and, admittedly, it’s a personal favorite.

Quarantine is the 2008 American remake of [REC] by the aforementioned Dowdle Brothers, and in my opinion, might actually be better. One thing I like about the movie is right from the beginning they shed the idea that this is actually real footage, using actors, including Jennifer Carpenter in the lead, that you have seen before. Just like [REC], we jump right into the action, following the reporter covering a local firehouse in L.A. Jump scares, creepy visuals, and claustrophobia follow, and it’s all a blast.

2008’s Cloverfield is what happens when you make a found-footage movie, which historically are independent and very low budget, by a Hollywood studio on a $170 million budget. A recipe for disaster, no? Nope. What you get is one of the best monster movies in horror cinema history. (Yeah, I said it.) J.J. Abrams and Co. make us hang out with a party of yuppies for a full half-hour before anything happens, but once it does, what a ride. Showing only glimpses of the monster throughout, he (or she) finally gets their close-up at the end (literally). A sequel has been talked about ever since, but it seems 2016’s 10 Cloverfield Lane and the upcoming 2017 movie God’s Particle, described as being in the “Cloverfield universe” is as close as we’re going to get…and that’s fine with me.

The Last Exorcism, produced by the aforementioned Eli Roth, is a 2010 “young girl possessed by a demon” movie presented in the same way as Lake Mungo in “documentary” format. It starts off great: perfectly casted and acted by Patrick Fabian as Cotton, a fraudulent Reverend, and Ashley Bell, as the aforementioned young girl. For me, the ending soured the movie, but it was received well by critics and movie-goers.

Though, not technically a horror, I feel I would be remiss not to mention 2010’s Troll Hunter from Norway. Another “documentary” where we follow some poor documentarians who wind up finding way more than they bargained for, the movie is a real fun take on Norwegian culture and folktales.

ROB ZOMBIE

Always a horror movie fan, musician, and former front-man of the band White Zombie, Rob Zombie started his filmmaking career with House of 1000 Corpses. Filmed in 2000, this movie would go on an odyssey before being theatrically released in 2003, after being acquired and dumped by one distribution company after another. The concern, not surprisingly, the content and potential for an NC-17 rating. Once released, you can guess the reception: critically panned, but it did manage to make a profit, most likely due to loyal Zombie and horror genre fans, and people finally getting to see a movie with so much mystique surrounding it over the previous few years.

Lions Gate Entertainment, seeing the financial potential they had with Zombie, quickly approached him inquiring about a sequel to Corpses. What follows is what is commonly regarded as Zombie’s best movie in his filmography, with Lords of Salem in the running as well: 2005’s The Devil’s Rejects. More grounded and visceral than Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects follows the Firefly Family who are on the run from just as crazy Sheriff Wydell. More successful with critics than Corpses and just as profitable in the box office.

When the Powers-That-Be decided it was time to remake one of the best horror movies of all time, they chose Rob Zombie in 2007 to do his take on John Carpenter’s 1978 classic, Halloween, and boy did he change things up. Despite my opinion about the movie (I prefer the original, to say the least), the film was a smash-hit with audiences and prompted the obligatory sequel in 2009, which fared far worse this time with both movie-goers and critics.

Zombie has remained in “the business” ever since, mostly with horror, but it seems he’s eager to reach out to other genres to write and direct.

KNOCK, KNOCK… Anybody Home?

Nobody was safe anywhere during the 2000s, and if you think locking yourself inside your house was the most secure place to be, you’d be dead wrong. The home invasion subgenre broke out big during this decade. Here are some victims:

2002 starts us off with Panic Room, though not exactly a horror. The famed David Fincher directs a stellar cast in this tale of a single mom, Jodie Foster, who protects herself and her daughter, the new Kristen Stewart, from a band of thieves. Ultimately not one of Fincher’s better films, the movie examines many themes and is still worth a watch.

Ils, the 2006 movie also listed in the New French Extremism category, opens with a great, Scream-esque prologue, then goes on to set-up a simple story of a young couple besieged in their huge home by a clique of criminals, who once their identities are revealed, turns out to have a pretty cool ending.

Funny Games is Michael Haneke’s 2007 American shot-for-shot remake of his 1997 Austrian movie, that does more than tell a terrifying home-invasion story, it plays with the audience. Characters break the fourth-wall, the movie rewinds to replay a scene giving it a different outcome, and ultimately, Mr. Haneke asks: If you think this movie is too nihilistic, then at what point did you stop watching?

2007’s Inside, also listed in the New French Extremism section, is a bloody revenge tale set on Christmas Eve as a very pregnant single mother fends off an intruder all night. The end reveal when the antagonist’s motivations are exposed is a really cool twist.

Strangers is a 2008 movie by first-time screenwriter/director Bryan Bertino, which also tells a depressing story of a young couple stalked and terrorized in their home for…well, just because. Taking inspiration from John Carpenter, the film is very effective and despite mixed reviews, grossed a sizable profit on its $9 million budget. Bertino was one of the rare spec-script stories of the 2000s, but oddly he has remained relatively dormant in the years since.

While, for whatever reason, Bertino did not produce any more low budget horrors for a while, other film-makers like himself sure did, which is where we’ll pick-up next time with Part 3 of 2000’s Horror…

(Photo of Lake Mungo from Pinterest.)

Crash Palace Support Team

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Paul J. Williams is an award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker, and his short films have appeared in numerous festivals. Although Paul’s the man behind Rolling Dark Productions, he’s also a detective in Morris County, New Jersey. Paul’s a Medal of Honor recipient from the City of Newark for actions on December 14, 2002

THE LAST KNOCK presents: THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES (2007)

The Last Knock

John Erick Dowdle’s The Poughkeepsie Tapes is one of horror filmdom’s “Unholy Grails” and a snipe hunt rolled into one. On its ten-year anniversary, we take a look at the film that came with a trailer but an ultra-limited release before being pulled from theaters. The only way to get feature is as a bootleg. So what’s this mockumentary about, and is it worth purchasing illegally until the Dowdle brothers give us a legitimate release? We’ll have some answers – and we invite John and Drew to come on the show and tell us why in Hell The Poughkeepsie Tapes is in distribution purgatory.

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@unclerayscrazy @MelanieMcCurdie @dvdinfatuation @SusanontheLedge @HershelGreene1 @GuyRicketts @JessicaCameron_ @AFiendOnFilm @IamMelanieWise ‪@ArtemisPics ‪@Artemis_FF @RealJillyG @RonGizmo @FANGORIA @dixiefairy @ScreamHorrorMag @Israel_Finn @SlaughteredBird @CrypticPictures @dkarner @TheFearMerchant @SpookyMovies @d_m_elms @RSBrzoska @jedowdle @DrewDowdle @Rodney_Ascher @TheNightmareDoc @LanceWeiler @TheTunnelMovie @allorange @TMZ @Scream_Factory @ArrowFilmsVideo @blunderground @JodorowskysDune @CANAL_Factory and Paul J. Williams

Crash Analysis Support Team: MARTYRS and the Systematic Torture of the Horror Remake – Guest Post from Jonny Numb

maxresdefault[2008. 99 minutes. Unrated. Director: Pascal Laugier]

[2016. 86 minutes. Unrated. Directors: Kevin & Michael Goetz]

*** This review contains SPOILERS for both films ***

Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs was a lot of things, albeit in a deceptive manner: blunt, brutal murders that seem nihilistic and unprovoked take on greater resonance late in the game; characters in the throes of psychosis are later revealed to be sane (or, at the very least, not uninformed in their actions); and scenes of systematic physical destruction are not executed without an underlying purpose. It was a film icy in its aesthetics, finding unexpected warmth in highly dubious characters that the viewer does not necessarily associate with until it is well on its downslope. As a cultural marker, it fit well within the surge of French horrors that defined a couple impressive years in the late 2000s, to say nothing of its inversion of the roles and responsibilities of women in regard to a genre that – to put it kindly – often seems confused as to what comprises a strong female character.

All that being said, we rotate back around to the eternal question: to remake or not to remake?

We’ve reached not only a saturation point with what producers will consider for the remake treatment, but an impasse where the meta implications of retreading old material is a rabbit-trail into an unanswerable void. I no longer question the rationales that drives the remake machine – I just react to the news accordingly, and watch at my own risk. I think the argument of a remake “ruining” the original is the hyperbolic flavor of many apocalypse-predicting critics, while the reality is actually much simpler: there is nothing in any remake (not even Psycho or Funny Games) that could render the individual films completely indistinguishable from one another.

And Martyrs is no exception. The rumors rumbled around for a while (initially – and unsurprisingly – at the Dimension Films meat grinder), but – like that long-mooted Hellraiser remake that got tossed around like a hot potato – never seemed to gain traction. Horror fans posited the notion that an English-language version of one of the most punishing, authentically brutal, and straight-faced horror films of the millennium could result in nothing more than a compromised, watered-down product.

If we’re being truthful, though, remakes like The Last House On the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, and Maniac have not only retained faithfulness to their forebears, but maintained – if not exceeded – their levels of violence (and, survey says, are mostly well-regarded among genre fans these days).

For its part, Martyrs 2016 maintains a grim tone that doesn’t flinch from the extremes of its characters’ actions, which is admirable. While the emotional consistency of the performances can be dodgy from scene to scene, I can’t deny that certain moments of suffering got under my skin in a manner not unlike Laugier’s original. Where the film is lacking is in its pacing, production design, and plot execution. Scenes that flowed with a hypnotizing, effortless power in Laugier’s film have been rendered clunky and overly explanatory here.

As before, the film begins with Lucie (played as an adult by the superhero-named Troian Bellisario) escaping from a white tent in a seedy warehouse where she’s been physically abused. Taken in by an orphanage, she slowly warms to the friendly advances of Anna (Bailey Noble as an adult), despite suffering PTSD and an unshakable sense of wanting vengeance on her tormentors. Flash forward a decade, and an idyllic breakfast (in what appears to be California wine country) becomes a blood bath as Lucie murders an entire family. When she informs Anna – understandably horrified by her friend’s actions – the duo becomes implicated in something far greater than covering up a crime scene and dealing with the resulting moral and legal fallout.

On THE LAST KNOCK podcast, Crash Palace site-runner Bill Prystauk summarized Laugier’s Martyrs thusly: “it’s torture porn with a philosophy.” And therein lies what separates it from the empty HOSTEL films, or the increasingly ridiculous (and hypocritical) treatises on “the value of life” doled out by Jigsaw throughout the SAW series. The film served a smorgasbord of abuse and very literal bodily destruction that found transcendence – and an odd redemption – in its quest to uncover the answer to that unknowable question of what happens after we die.

Unfortunately, the Goetz Brothers’ Martyrs is wonky on a variety of fronts. Running a scarce 86 minutes, the storytelling feels impatient, and there simply isn’t enough time to feel tremendously for the characters and their situation. While the performances of Bellisario and Noble are, well, noble, the former lacks the overtly unlikable coldness of Mylene Jampanoi, and the latter falls into hysteria before undergoing a less-than-believable transformation into a badass in the third act. The filmmakers also miscalculate in the decision to incorporate an imprisoned little girl (Caitlin Carmichael) as a bit of connective tissue to Lucie’s tormented past. Clearly intended to raise the stakes, this thread follows a standard arc that guarantees her safety in the end.

And in a story as thematically heavy as this, the remake loses the existential enormity of Laugier’s thesis, ultimately going through the motions and holding the viewer’s hand through rickety dialog and bad-guy performances that mistake inexpression for menace. The underlining and bolding of intent doesn’t get more transparent than, “It isn’t torture when it’s for a higher purpose.”

The most interesting divergence between the two films is the Goetz’s insistence on incorporating a religious subtext into the proceedings. Their use of crucifixion imagery is persistent and heavy-handed, resulting in more eye-rolling than insight. Whereas the creepy Madame (Catherine Begin) offers a tidy dismissal of religious intent during her compelling “modus operandi” speech to Anna (Morjana Alaoui) in Laugier’s film, there is a certain amount of logic to switching from the secular to the spiritual for the American take on the material. The use of religion as a narrative and thematic device could have deepened the remake’s interpretation of the material in a unique, fresh way – not to mention its potential to explore the hot-button fundamentalism that runs rampant worldwide. Instead, it becomes a surface-level bit of difference for difference’s sake. (Though in all fairness, it doesn’t fall into the same parodic silliness that damned Neil LaBute’s remake of The Wicker Man.)

Insofar as the films’ aesthetic qualities are concerned, this new version is crippled by a low-budget feel. The family massacre at the beginning has considerably less impact, stifled by corner-cutting CGI; and while the torture scenes have their share of jaw-loosening passages, there is a truncated quality to the carnage on display – which, in the case of the film’s ultimate point, robs it of an essential, visceral suffering. Furthermore, the mysterious, scarred-and-chained tormentor that pursues Lucie from childhood to her ultimate fate has been transformed from a frightening J-Horror specter to an oversimplified version of a bug-eyed witch.

While Mark L. Smith’s (The Revenant) script reshuffles the order of events and incorporates a few more speaking roles (including a priest complicit with the cult’s actions), the most curious alteration to the original Martyrs is its handling of the Lucie/Anna relationship. Laugier’s film was a ride of sharp, unexpected turns; none more surprising than the exit of Lucie at the beginning of the third act, and the escalation of Anna as the film’s true protagonist. Here, the Goetz’s maintain a buddy-movie dynamic up until the climax, which would be poignant if it weren’t so unpersuasive in its execution. (The suggestion that, by virtue of their own shared experience growing up in an orphanage – not the same shared trauma – qualifies Anna to join Lucie as a white-eyed member of The Beyond rings false, and comes across as a concession on the filmmakers’ behalf to make the final blow less despairing, which is its own despairing cop-out.)

Appraising remakes can be frustrating, and the task of comparison is often thankless. Something like Martyrs is especially difficult, since there are passages of assured filmmaking, serviceable performances, and a clinical – albeit shallow – devotion to the facets that gave Laugier’s film such a signature, sledgehammer impact. Where it falls short is the crucial connection required between tone and aesthetic to make an essential imprint…proving that some things just can’t be replicated.

Martyrs (2008): 4 out of 5 stars

Martyrs (2016): 2.5 out of 5 stars

Jonny Numb (aka Jonathan Weidler) measures his life in coffee spoons, and writes reviews once every couple years at numbviews.livejournal.com. He co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast, and can be found on Twitter and Letterboxd @JonnyNumb.

(Martyrs 2008 photo via YouTube.)

Crash Reports: Top Ten Most Disturbing Films

As always, a list of the most disturbing films ever made is highly subjective and open to much debate. Regardless, the ones listed below have intense emotional impact due to intense stories, riveting characters, and a visceral nature that permeates the atmosphere. Needless to say, the tone is unsettling for each. From this list, three find themselves free of the horror genre moniker, though many can make a clear argument for their inclusion.

Afterwards, I have two separate lists for other disturbing horrors and non-horrors. As behind-scenes-shooting-martyrs-movie-poster.w654you’ll see, there is only one, if not two, torture porn movies on the main list. Since this sub-genre usually caters to gore without the emotional attachment, the popular installments, like Hostel and Wolf Creek, failed to make the list. After all, if a movie cannot conjure one’s emotions, then they don’t work on any level.

These top ten films come with an emotional sledgehammer to annihilate gray matter, neurons, synapses, and any other gooey parts that remain. Enjoy.

The list is in order by date of release, though the best of the best is the last of the main entries:

 

Salo (Italy/France, 1975) – 3.5 stars

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s iconic and final film before his brutal death is not a horror, though fans have tried to claim his work since its release. The story involves a group of Italian fascists at the end of World War II who believe they are superior to the citizenry. Reinforcing the terror of totalitarianism, they kidnap teenagers off the street to use and abuse as they wish. The final fifteen minutes of the feature is some of the most gut-wrenching brutality ever filmed. Pasolini used actual teenage actors, many appearing on film for the first time, much to the chagrin of critics and movie-goers.

 

Cannibal Holocaust (Italy, 1980) – 3.5 stars

Considered to be the most banned movie of all time, Ruggero Deodato was arrested by Italian authorities because they thought he had actually created a snuff film. In a sense he did. During the production, actors killed, butchered, and mutilated live animals – the most disheartening and barbaric focuses on the slaughter of a giant river turtle. Animal rights activists have been calling for Deodato’s head for decades. The story revolves around a young film crew who disappeared in the Amazon, and the film canisters that reveal their undoing. Yes, this is horror’s first foray into found footage.

 

Men Behind the Sun (Hong Kong, 1988) – 2.5 stars

This film was sponsored by Chinese authorities to expose the hostile treatment of their people at the hands of the Japanese during World War II. The film features Japanese soldiers experimenting upon and torturing Chinese citizens at a camp called Squadron 731. Like Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, animals are dispatched, but something darker rues the day: Human corpses were used to provide realism in freezing experiments and an autopsy. Though many find the film distasteful and horrific, Chinese leaders felt director Tun Fei Mou hadn’t gone far enough.

 

Audition (Japan, 1999) – 5 stars

From the beginning, Takashi Miike’s film is unsettling, but nothing beats the incredible third act of human torture. Even Miike said in an interview that this was where screenwriter Daisuke Tengan must have been doing drugs to create something so nightmarish. Then again, when a man hosts fake auditions for a non-existent television show because he’s actually in search of a mate, the audience knows karma will rear its ugly head in big, bad ways. Some viewers abandon the film once the notorious third act starts to needle them.

 

Irreversible (France, 2002) – 5 stars

Though not a horror, Gaspar Noé’s landmark cinematic feat makes it hard to think otherwise. Like the acclaimed Memento, this tale of a merciless attack on a woman is told in reverse. An infamous scene involving the horrific assault on Alex (Monica Bellucci) lasts nearly ten minutes – uncut. When first shown to French moviegoers, many booed, hissed, and walked out. Bikers threatened Noé, yet many women thanked him for not cowering from reality. As a screenplay, Irreversible provides a master class in storytelling craftsmanship.

 

Grimm Love (Germany, 2006) – 4.5 stars

The last non-horror in the list is Martin Weisz’s biopic about Germany’s Rothenburg case: Where a man allows himself to be killed and consumed by another man. The atmosphere’s mountain heavy and full of sorrow, and the end may leave one in tears. Weisz even referred to police photos, which one can find on the internet, to make certain his film captured the cannibalistic reality of this subterranean like love story, and it is as grim as it is disheartening.

 

Borderland (Mexico/USA, 2007) – 4 stars

Based upon a Mexican satanic cult murder cartel, responsible for the death of at least twenty people, including Mark Kirloy, a student from the United States, the tension in this film never lets up. One of the very best in the “A Film to Die For” series, Zev Berman delivers the perpetually unnerving and near hopeless nightmare in grand fashion. This may make anyone second guess their spring break choices.

 

Grotesque (Japan, 2009) – 1.5 stars

This was certainly made with gorehound fanaticism in mind. In Kôji Shiraishi’s exploitation of innocents in agony, a crazed “doctor” kidnaps a young couple on their first date and tears them to shreds, piece by piece, over the course of 73 minutes. That’s it. Shear unadulterated brutality and degradation. The entire film is almost pornographic in the sense that one can’t imagine there being a script. Hold onto your private parts for dear life – and keep your therapist on speed dial.

 

A Serbian Film (Serbia, 2010) – 4 stars

Srdjan Spasojevic has a couple of scenes in this freakish horror show that might not be topped for years – as long as you get the true uncut version (not the pseudo-uncut trash sold through many a website). In A Serbian Film, a retired adult star is drawn by money to make one last film, which may endanger his relationship with his family. That may sound like a simple thriller but this movie’s far from simple. Plastered with strong acting, excellent cinematography, and a story that may leave you crying, the director’s movie serves as a metaphor for how one’s treated in Serbia – from birth till death. And what an unpleasant birth it is.

 

Martyrs (France/Canada, 2008) – 5 stars

This is the queen mother of disturbing cinema. Sure, other films may have more gore, more twisted premises, and more diabolical wingnut villains. But Pascal Laugier’s gorgeous ultra-bad dream serves as a traumatic taste for the senses – torture porn with a philosophy. The story, acting, special effects, cinematography, and editing are rock solid. But the crux is the tale itself, which one should never spoil with a plot summary. As far as horror films go, this has one of the most poignant endings of all time.

 

Other disturbing horrors of merit: Eraserhead (1977), Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986), Visitor Q (2001, Japan), Inside (France, 2007), Deadgirl (2008), and The Bunny Game (2012)

Other disturbing horrors: Shogun’s Sadism (Japan, 1976), The Human Centipede (Netherlands, 2009), and The Human Centipede II (2011)

Other disturbing non-horrors: Sunset Boulevarde (1950), 1984 (UK, 1984), The Cook The Thief The Wife and Her Lover (UK/France, 1989), Glory (1989), Saving Private Ryan (1998), Boys Don’t Cry (1999), Requiem for a Dream (2000), Dogville (Denmark/ Sweden/UK/France/Sweden/Germany/Netherlands/Norway/Finland/Italy, 2003), The Constant Gardener (UK/Germany/USA/China, 2005), Funny Games (USA/France/ UK/Austria/Germany/Italy, 2007 – and don’t forget the 1997 version), Antichrist (Denmark/Germany/France/Sweden/Italy/Poland, 2009), and We Need to Talk About Kevin (UK/USA, 2011)

Now, horror or otherwise, what are your most disturbing films?

(Photo from Movie Posters.)

Crash Reports: Hard-up for Halloween Horrors?

Halloween is so close you can smell the dead and taste the candy corn. But as you can see from your cable stations, quality horror on the small screen is few and far between. However, if you’re in the mood, I’ve watched nearly 1,400 horrors and have compiled a short list of the best. Granted, some are better than others, but cutting this list down to ten or some other ludicrous number would make my brain explode. Regardless, all have earned 4 to 5 stars, which should make them worthy for your television, computer or whatever screen you love to escape to…

Best Horror Films

Them! (1953)

The War of the Worlds (1953)

Peeping Tom (UK, 1960)

Psycho (1960)

The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

The Haunting (UK/USA, 1963)

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

The Legend of Hell House (UK, 1973)

Picnic at Hanging Rock (Australia, 1975)

Eraserhead (1977)

The Last Wave (Australia, 1977)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956/1978)

Alien (1979 – my all-time favorite)

The Changeling  (Canada, 1980 – best ghost story)

The Shining (UK/USA, 1980)

Possession (UK, 1981)

The Thing (1982)

Videodrome (Canada, 1983)

Lifeforce (1985)

Hellraiser (1987)

Lair of the White Worm (UK, 1988)

Vampire’s Kiss (1988)

Jacob’s Ladder (1990)

Dust Devil (UK, 1992)

Dracula (1992)

Cemetery Man (Italy, 1994)

Interview with the Vampire (1994)

Habit (1996)

Scream (1996)

Cube (Canada, 1997)

The Devil’s Advocate (USA/Germany, 1997)

Office Killer (1997)

Wishmaster (1997)

eXistenZ (Canada/UK, 1999)

The Ninth Gate (France/Spain, 1999)

Audition (Japan, 1999)

The Sixth Sense (1999)

Blood: The Last Vampire (Japan, 2000)

Ginger Snaps (Canada, 2000)

Visitor Q (Japan, 2001)

Earth vs The Spider (2001 – cable movie)

Frailty (2001)

She Creature (2001 – cable movie)

Dog Soldiers (UK, 2002)

May (2002)

The Mothman Prophecies (2002)

The Ring (Japan/USA, 2002)

A Tale of Two Sisters (Korea, 2003)

Gozu (Japan, 2003)

Identity (2003)

Dawn of the Dead (2004 – favorite remake)

Love Object (2004)

Shutter (Thailand, 2004)

The Uninvited Guest (Spain, 2004

Premonition (Japan, 2004)

Constantine (2005)

Isolation (Ireland, 2005)

The Skeleton Key (2005)

Grimm Love (Germany, 2006)

Head Trauma (2006)

30 Days of Night (2007)

Blood Car (2007)

The Orphanage (Spain, 2007)

Red Victoria (2007)

Paranormal Activity (2007)

Sublime (2007)

Deadgirl (2008)

Let the Right One In (Sweden, 2008)

Martyrs (France/Canada, 2008)

Pontypool (Canada, 2008)

Grace (2009)

The Skeptic (2009)

Suck (Canada, 2009)

Triangle (UK, 2009)

Tucker and Dale vs Evil (USA/Canada, 2010)

Now, if you’d share your list of favorites, that would be most welcome since great horrors seem to be in short supply – and I’m getting desperate.

Crash Analysis: MOTHER’S DAY (2010)

Ma Parker and her boys – but worse 

Criminal brothers crash a party with deadly results

There’s a lot of hype about this movie, and no, it doesn’t live up to it. For all you wishing and hoping MOTHER’S DAY fanatics, this will never receive widespread release since the DVD premiered in 2011 after the movie appeared in several festivals. However, it did find limited release in the United States in 2012. So stop the begging and pleading. It’s over.

Loosely based on the truly horrific “Wichita Massacre”, in which the Carr brothers invaded a home and ultimately brutalized and murdered two women and three men, MOTHER’S DAY brings us torture porn on a TV dinner tray. Granted, there’s suspense and tension, but the key problem is that one can’t buy the plot, and the worst: We’ve seen it all before.

Rebecca De Mornay plays Mother Koffin (yes, a hokey surname for such a tale), a woman who has raised her three sons and daughter to serve like grunts in the North Korean army. Her word is law and she is the one and only matriarch above and beyond all things. So, when her three sons fuck up a bank job and enter what used to be their childhood home with a wounded brother, they find the Sohapi family (another utterly ludicrous surname) and their friends. When momma and her family are together in the house, they collectively torture and brutalize to extract money to make their escape across the border.

The movie is cold, nasty, bloody and brutal, with wonderful effects by Allen Benjamin and company, and equally impressive cinematography by Joseph White. The acting is also solid throughout, from De Mornay and Jaime King on down, but even in such a movie, if the story doesn’t ring true, the acting can’t save the story. Regardless, the overused phrase of “tour de force” has come into play when discussing De Mornay’s performance. Yes, she was fantastic, but this is not one of those amazing performances for the ages – though it’s hard to get over the fact she’s now perfect to play Hillary Clinton in a bio-pic.

Story-wise, the movie is sorely lacking, and having an excessive amount of characters certainly doesn’t help (five Koffins and eight Sohapis and friends). Too many major players means everyone needs some screen time. This conundrum leads to shallow characters that many cannot connect with leaving the audience with an emotional void. From there, torture works on a base level and doesn’t draw the viewer in as deeply as it should. Instead of truly feeling for the character suffering on screen, more often than not, we only imagine ourselves suffering at the hands of a crazed family.

This is also one of those movies where you have characters not following through – on killing for instance. And we’ve seen it before in many a movie where a victim fails to finish off their attacker. This movie is no different. Time and time again, victims have the opportunity to take out the Koffins, and they always stop short in making certain their adversary is dead, which, of course, leads to more complications and consequences. Furthermore, when the victims do get the best of one of the criminals, the scene becomes comical since this is another tale where nail gun safety features are completely overlooked. And the “punch” after the climax, is all but predictable.

This is where director Darren Lynn Bousman’s SAW series influence comes into play, as he directed the second, third and fourth installments (with the second being the best of the series). He couldn’t shrug those SAW-like demons that left the series on the edge of campiness instead of true torture porn hell. Bousman and MOTHER’S DAY screenwriter Scott Milam, have joined forces for NINETY, which should be released sometime in 2013.

Finally, we’ve heard of lunatic families indulging in their own communal life of crime, but momma and her kids are something else. Granted, two of her sons are bonkers, but one, Ike (Patrick John Flueger) is well spoken and can analyze as well as keep himself in check. Hell, he can even reason as if he hasn’t lived in a bubble all his life – which he has. And since Mother Koffin uses heavy threats and punishment to keep her family in line, one would expect the four siblings to be far more emotionally unstable. This does not, however, detract from Flueger’s compelling performance.

Due to the shallowness of character and the fantastical nature of the family and story, the “disturbance factor” only goes so far. Most do for films of this ilk where one places bets on who lives and who dies between bites of popcorn. For some truly disturbing cinema, see my recommendations under the A SERBIAN FILM review. Regardless, I only hope to see more of De Mornay in anything, as well as King and Flueger. As for Bousman, I hope he makes the action/thriller NINETY with a serious game face instead of a smarmy, wry smile.

2 out of 5 stars