140 words: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

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Abraham Stoker’s 1897 gothic novel, Dracula, has been adapted for screen more times than I can count while at work. A story of blood-sucking Transylvanians and naive Victorian Londoners, the book packs a subtext of repressed sexuality, yet delivers that with mindless parasitic violence and uncanny death. Coppola’s Dracula, while being a movie that is steeped in atmosphere and Gothic imagery, is far too self-aware; each scene dripping with filmic techniques (frames within frames; film layered dissolves) to take seriously as a Dracula film. Gary Oldman as the titular character hams his way through each scene, and for some reason, rather than being a blood-lusting, mindless monster, is a little bit too concerned with his broken heart. Hopkins and Ryder were just passable, however Keanu Reeves’ English accent was piss-poor. It has to be said….Universal did this story better in 1931.

 

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The Sacrament

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When a Vice documentary crew discover that one of their own’s sister has fled the US, they embark on a journey to a remote jungle in an undisclosed location to find her. Once they are on the ground in “Eden Parish”, their initial warm reception soon fades away, revealing something entirely more sinister.

In the past I have not hidden my love of Ti West’s style and directorial ability. The way he manipulates his audience with camerawork and sound is second to none in the horror genre, and I would definitely class him in the school of “soon to be auteurs”. That is why, when I discovered he was directing a found footage movie, I was slightly shocked.

The Sacrament, on paper, is certainly West’s most conventional movie. There is no vintage 80s aesthetic (The House of the Devil); there aren’t any ghosts (The Innkeepers) and we actually get to see some plot, unlike his short in The ABCs of Death. Instead of the lingering self-awareness he has shown in the past, we are treated to the traditional structure and pacing one would expect of a found footage movie. Maybe in the hands of another director that description could be used to show the film in a negative light, however West’s direction brings to The Sacrament a touch of class rarely shown in found footage movies. Not only are the performances of A.J. Bowen and Gene Jones absolutely stellar, but the story is entirely believable. Other commentators have pointed out the undeniable similarities between the infamous Jonestown Massacre and The Sacrament, which, upon researching, seem to be more than poignant, however these parallels should take nothing away from how this movie is constructed.

From the outset you can feel a creeping dread hanging over the film, even when things appear to be going well for our protagonists. The silence seems deafening at points, especially as the film beginnings to ramp up towards the final act. The way West marries his use of silence with his camera, to dictate pacing in scenes, is extremely compelling; we are treated to static mid shots cut with frantic steadicam chase scenes that all feel very organic. One particular scene in the final act is framed beautifully despite its shocking content. We also get treated to “film school shots” but they never feel pretentious within the context of the film; instead it just appears that West knows exactly how to create mood with form.

Another aspect of the movie that is very politically relevant at the time that this review has been written, particularly in Britain, is the topic of religious fundamentalism and extremism. Both of these terms denote acts of brainwashing the vulnerable, which is a theme that runs thick in this film; long, compelling speeches from the mouth of “the Father” seem to have everyone hanging on his every word, which, in the climactic scenes, proves horrifying and chilling (I really cannot do justice to how brutal, yet real, the end of The Sacrament is).

Beyond what has been discussed, I think the similarities The Sacrament has to Jonestown will either put people off or drive them to learn more. I knew of the event by name but had no idea the history of Jim Jones, and I do feel West has made a film that will prove a gateway into further reading for a lot of people. As for West, I am in no doubt that this director will go on to make a serious name for himself, not only in the horror genre, but in film as a whole.

 

Robocop (1987)

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Dead or alive, you’re coming with me.

With the impending release of the Robocop reboot, I thought I would pop my nostalgia boner and revisit the 1987, Paul Verhoeven original. Oh, and spoilers for a 26 year old movie. Though you really should have seen this…

In a dystopian and crime-ridden Detroit, a terminally wounded cop returns to the force as a powerful cyborg haunted by submerged memories. (Source: IMDb)

One of the main reasons I absolutely love this movie is the amount of horrifying brutality, and almost Manga-style violence and gore throughout; a cop gets shredded with a shotgun and his head blown apart; a perp gets shot in the the genitals; and my favourite kill…a gang member ends up doused in radioactive material, after which his deformed and sagging skin and body explode on impact from Robocop’s car. I remember watching this as a child and feeling a huge void, and almost nauseous, when Peter Weller (Murphy/Robocop) gets ripped apart in a hail of shotgun blasts. Oddly enough, I still feel a little bit repulsed upon viewing it today, but that’s quickly overridden by my love of horror movies and fictional gore.

Despite Robocop being an 80s, macho-action flick, I always enjoy the way the film deals with memory, repressed or submerged. It’s interesting that the relationship between man and machine is implicit in the resurrection of Murphy, with their manipulation if his memories going wrong later in the film, and resulting in some rough justice. Also, allegory-wise, Verhoeven confirmed it was a modern day telling of the story of Jesus, which can be confirmed in this set of pixels and by this 2010 quote;

It is about a guy who gets crucified in the first 50 minutes, and then is resurrected in the next 50 minutes, and then is like the supercop of the world. (source: Uproxx)

It’s important to note that, apart from the visuals on the displays as well as Robocop’s HUD, the look of the movie stands up on viewing even today. Detroit probably looks better than it does today, the cinematography is gritty and set design has the standard Verhoeven playful-cum-dilapidated aesthetic seen throughout his dystopian sci-fi products. And much like Total Recall, this movie also has an amazing, industrial soundtrack, and one of the best theme tunes for any character in 1980s cinema.

Onto the reboot; I agree with Verhoeven that it is going to lack the soul that is obviously present in this version, which will mainly be due to the over-reliance on CGI. That and it won’t half as gory!

Robocop is an action/sci-fi classic, which not only has an interesting allegory (and fantastic style), but contains an awesome amount of horrific imagery, which should tickle the bloody-bones of any horror fans out there.

Founder’s Day trailer

As with Crying Wolfhere at Frame Rates we love being able to provide a platform to any independent filmmakers. That’s why we are proud to present the trailer for the forthcoming horror flick, Founder’s Day!

MainFrame Pictures is proud to announce the release of the official concept trailer for their forthcoming feature film Founders Day.

The quaint, suburban town of Fairfield is shaken by the shocking murder of high school student, Melissa Thompson. The prime suspect is jailed, and the residents look to the town’s bicentennial celebration to provide a sense of strength and normalcy. When more bodies turn up, however, the citizens of Fairfield grow increasingly suspicious of one another. With no clear motive, everyone is a suspect.

Founders Day is written, directed and produced by Erik C. Bloomquist, a Connecticut-based actor and filmmaker. His recent film, Midnight Brew, starring Kyle Edward Cranston and Greta Quezada, played the Trinity Film Festival and took home the Screener’s Choice Award. Another project, Laundry Night, will soon enter its third year on international television on ShortsHD TV.

Bloomquist and his team expect to shoot Founders Day in Connecticut in Autumn 2014 and release the film in Autumn 2015.

External Links

Official Website: www.FoundersDayMovie.com
Facebook: www.Facebook.com/FoundersDayMovie
Twitter: www.Twitter.com/FoundersDayFilm
Instagram: www.Instagram.com/FoundersDayMovie
YouTube: www.YouTube.com/FoundersDay

The Frighteners, Pet Sematary, Scream 3 (Ernie’s Horror Compendium #1)

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The Frighteners

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…is the film that put Peter Jackson on the map, but not my favourite Peter Jackson horror (stand up and be counted, Brain Dead). Before Parkinson’s Disease really fucked over MJFox, he starred as Frank Bannister, a psychic con artist that finds himself in the centre of a serial killer’s posthumous killing spree. It’s rare for a horror comedy to be both horrific and comedic, and while some of the humour comes from mild stereotyping, the mid-nineties CGI had my nostalgia boner popping, and watching this was a fantastic way to spend an hour and a half. Great stuff!

Pet Sematary

Despite having one of the best New York-based punk rock theme tunes, Pet Sematary also possesses an uncanny narrative and one of the most gut-wrenching scenes of loss in horror history. There are numerous scenes in this adapted Stephen King novel that are very creepy, and while I wouldn’t call it ‘scary’, it goes beyond your average treatment of horror movie families; I would hate to be the dad in this, put it that way. Some of the practical effects hold up to this day, and Pet Sematary is definitely one to add to your list if you are a fan of classic horror.

Scream 3

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What’s your favourite scary movie? Because I would say Scream is up there in at least my top 10. Unfortunately, Scream 3 doesn’t come close to the brilliance of the original. That’s not a detraction from the film, as it is still a lot of fun, but there comes a point when your self-referentiality has gone full circle at least twice and it gets very contrived. I felt this was a lot more action-based, and the kills were somewhat half-arsed, especially compared to the first in the franchise, but I still enjoyed the 3rd installment as a genre movie. I will get to Scream 4 sometime in the near future!

Resolution

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When Michael (Peter Cilella) decides to intervene to save his friend, Chris (Vinny Curran), from the throes of methamphetamine addiction, he chains him to a pipe in a cabin to induce withdrawal. However, as the days pass, the pair begin to question their collective sanity after some uncanny events.

Resolution might be the most thought-provoking horror movie I have seen in a very long time. Many commenters point towards films such as The Shining or OldBoy when discussing ‘thinkies’, but I feel that Resolution more than deserves its place among these classics. Nevertheless, my eulogising of this independent horror film should come with a warning; Resolution is not for everyone. In fact, I’d argue the paths which the film take might put this in a micro-category of its own.

Artfully shot, fantastically acted, and completely void of music, this creepy meta-tale of friendship, loyalty and absolution will be hard to digest for some. Unconventional is a word I will use to describe the final act of the movie, and when the credits appeared, my initial thoughts were ‘is that it?’. However, I have been thinking about this movie since Wednesday, and I would group this with Primer, insofar as I am still trying to piece together the mystery and story.

Throughout the movie there is a thick, heavy sense of dread, which intensifies as we hit the third act, yet the ‘monster’ is not ever truly established or revealed. Glitches on screen are used to alienate the audience, which is postmodern in style; the director has knowingly employed clichéd genre tropes to a stunningly original effect.

[Spoilers paragraph]

Over the course of the movie, the pair begin to see into the future via a series of video clips and audio recordings, at each time managing to avoid their impending murder. Throughout this story, Chris is adamant he will not go into rehab when they get out of the situation; the character arc is satisfyingly rich and brilliantly acted by Curran.  When the final conflict occurs, he decides that he needs to turn his life around and check into rehab. As this happens, the glitches we have been seeing over the whole movie flash and a shadow appears over the characters. They look directly into the camera and state something along the lines of ‘…have we done it wrong? Should we do it differently?’. I believe that this line turns the audience into the monster, and that the director is making a statement about horror movies and our relationship with the archetypal characters with whom we are all so familiar. At each step, Chris and Michael make decisions based on logic, while at the same time learning about themselves and each other. It’s possible to forget you are watching a ‘horror’ movie at points, yet the feeling of dread undercuts moments of humour and drama, which keeps reminding us of the horror genre and it plays on our expectations; by addressing us directly I believe it’s an admission that we were expecting them to die due to the nature of the genre. It’s a play on the ‘give the audience what they want’ type of thinking in movies.

[Spoilers over]

Resolution was a difficult beast to dissect and I feel I have only scratched the surface of this postmodern, meta-horror. It was funny, tense, wonderfully shot and excellently scripted (despite an overkill amount of the work ‘fucking’). I don’t want to come across as a hipster for liking this movie, because it honestly is not for everyone, but if you watch it, you’ll definitely have something to think about for a long while.

Devil’s Pass [The Dyatlov Pass Incident]

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When a group of documentary filmmakers set off to the Ural Mountains in Russia to investigate a 50 year-old mystery, surviving in the freezing landscape becomes less and less likely, as they discover something sinister lurking beneath the snow.

Renny Harlin, director of Die Hard 2, returns with Devil’s Pass, a found footage horror that feels slightly out of place, and late to the party, among recent releases; The Tunnel and Lake Mungo spring to mindBoth of these horror films were different, exciting and contained great elements of horror, resulting in a rewarding cinematic experience. Right from the outset of the film you can see what Devil’s Pass was going for in its tone. Unfortunately, this promise falls apart quite quickly.

Harlin has constructed a visually compelling piece, capturing the beautiful snowy vistas as well as tying in some good post-production effects, however it was confused storytelling that caused this movie to fall flat. There are a number of changes in tone, at the beginning of each act, which are quite jarring. The beginning of the movie was presented in a similar way to the aforementioned The Tunnel, which was a clever hook. Nevertheless, this ended, and the found footage in the second act came across as too polished and glossy, unlike the news reports prior. We also visit some themes in the third act that question the very use of found footage as a storytelling device, and made me wonder why this wasn’t a conventional fiction film, rather than ‘found footage non-fiction’.

The acting is decent, and there are some tense moments of natural peril, but again, once the third act hits and the antagonists are revealed, I couldn’t help but laugh at its impotence as a horror. And then there is the final, almost confusing aspect of the movie: it has almost nothing to do with the Dyatlov Pass incident upon which the film is ‘based’. The beginning of the movie has the standard ‘based on a true story’ spiel, and then throughout we are drip-fed information about the real story, but the Wikipedia page is actually more interesting than anything seen in Devil’s Pass; the final mystery twist feels about as tepid as monsoon rainwater and it’s all just very silly, for want of a better word.

Unfortunately, while being competently made, Devil’s Pass has too many huge storytelling flaws that result in the movie being only slightly better than your average 5/10 found footage horror.

First Look: British horror comedy “Crying Wolf”!

2014 is going to be a year with more bite than bark.

Crying Wolf, a British horror comedy from the mind of Tony Jopia (Deadtime, Cute Little Buggers), tells the story of macabre and gruesome events in the quaint English village of Deddington. When a local girl, Charlotte, gets ravaged by a mysterious beast, teams of desperate reporters, crazy detectives and revenge-seeking hunters try to uncover the truth before it is too late.

Crying Wolf stars Caroline Munro, Gary Martin, Joe Egan, Kristofer Dayne and Ian Donnelly, it is released in March 2014 and you can check out the trailer and first pictures here!

We are both very excited by this low budget movie. From the trailer it seems to be perfectly toned as a British horror comedy, clearly has a sense of knowing, and some great makeup, CG and gore effects. Watch this space…we certainly are.

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Maniac

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Frank, troubled mannequin shop owner, struggles to repress his sexually-motivated, murderous urges as he wanders the streets of New York City. When he meets a beautiful female photographer, what begins as a friendship, quickly escalates into something dangerous and sinister, and his urges become increasingly more uncontrollable.

Maniac, a remake of the 1980s William Lustig slasher of the same name, smashed me in the face right from the opening moments, even before the big red letters above this review proclaim the film’s name. In recent violent horror movies, I haven’t been that abjectly affected by the scenes of gore; Evil Dead and The Loved Ones, while being enjoyably graphic, both teetered on the edge of over the top. Maniac, on the other hand, contains multiple scenes of heightened violence, gore and torture, all of which are bowel-churningly effective. There were points during this horror film where I felt physically sick, which may have been the first time that’s ever happened, and it is almost certainly due to the point-of-view (POV) angle through which we are subjected to the scenes of violence.

Not only is this cinematographic decision executed fantastically – we often have shots of Elijah Wood looking at himself in mirrors seamlessly stitched together with POV mid shots – but this stylistic choice helps enhance the thematics of the movie. Some critics have understandably flagged the film as being gratuitously violent, misogynistic and a sign of the humanity we are evidently all losing thanks to films like this one. The main reason for this backlash is that the POV shot puts us as the murderous voyeur; we see everything, we see the blood evacuating freshly cut human flesh, we hear the panicked screams of helpless women, and in any other straight to VOD schlock it would be designed to titillate our inner id. However, in Maniac, Woods, who is fantastic, plays his character as a severely troubled soul. At points we see the ghosts of his childhood as visions of the night, and it’s becomes as sad as it is brutal. Ultimately we never fully sympathise with the killer, as the ending veers into the darkness at a rate of knots and we are complicit in some horrific killings, but it does make you question the past lives of people that feel compelled to commit horrific acts.

Maniac is not without its flaws. The female lead’s audio has clearly been ADRed, which becomes quite annoying at points; the sound recordist needs to learn how to mix down the audio better. There is also a killing near the beginning where Frank’s hands are bloody and bruised, yet he still manages to pick up a woman in a bar. I’ve met some freaky ladies in my time, but I am sure even they would have the wherewithal to turn down the advances of someone with literal blood on their hands.

Overall, I found Maniac to be one of the most effective serial killer movies I have seen in a very long time. It’s brutal, a hard watch, and has enough moments of hard-hitting violence to turn the most ardent horror fan’s stomach.

 

Off-topic: We are fully back now. San Francisco was a fantastic experience, and Lauren had a great post-wedding summer, but it’s autumn now, and we actually have some news for y’all that we will announce this weekend!

140 words: Hausu

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After Oshare discovers an unwelcome guest on her summer trip, her and her friends change their plans and visit her aunt instead. As the group settle into the house, they soon find their lives in grave danger.

I missed the film showing of Hausu while at university, but heard many great things about the movie; it was subversive, bizarre, but more importantly, bloody good horror fun. I agree it’s bizarre and subversive, but unfortunately it was also quite a chore to behold. The first act plays out as an arduous slog, and whilst there are some funny moments of dialogue and interesting uses of animation, I’m disappointed that I didn’t enjoy Hausu more.

Hausu has cult status among fans of Asian cinema. I can’t liken it to another movie, so you’ll have to watch it and make up your own mind!

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The Conjuring

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Insidious, I think it’s fair to say, was a movie that chilled a fair number of people out there. Unfortunately, it was on my ‘Meh’ list of last year. It held me for an hour, and, although it didn’t completely shit the bed, I felt the ending was weaker than a Smirnoff Ice. Regardless, being a fan of the first Saw movie, and liking James Wan’s general style and the way he tells a story, I jumped at the opportunity to see The Conjuring.

Based on true events: When a young family move into an old farmhouse, their lives get turned upside down by forces only a married couple of paranormal investigators can seem to understand. As things get more intense, the relationships between the family, their gifted helpers and the local police get tested to breaking point.

And that, in a nutshell, is the story of most ghost/paranormal movies you’ve seen in the last 43 years.

However, and that’s a big however, The Conjuring may be the tipping point for commercial horror…in a hugely positive way. In my opinion, this movie was almost a complete success! It was genuinely scary and unsettling, the likes of which I haven’t felt since I was a young kid, and trust me, I have been searching. There were points in this movie during which my skin tingled with terrified euphoria, and it felt so fucking great.  The scares were lingering and not persistent, they were all varying degrees of terror, and although there were few moments of original horror, what was on show was absolutely engaging and never felt pointless. And the trailer didn’t reveal some of the best moments, which was refreshing!

Wan has constructed a movie that pays subtle homage to 70s cinema in general, especially when you look at the camerawork. Within the first 20 minutes we have a rapid zoom from the foreground, across the garden and onto one of the daughters who is playing at the foot of a tree about 100 metres (109 yards) away. This trend of self-aware zooms and exciting pans really enhanced what was on screen, and along with the costumes and set design, the movie was a thoroughly satisfying visual treat.

Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson play the Warrens, a real-life husband and wife paranormal investigation team. While the subject matter lends itself to scrutiny, their performances were completely believable and I never questioned their relationship. The tour de force on show was complemented by the rest of the cast, with standout performances from the dead pan Ron Livingston and his family, especially one of the youngest daughters (Joey King). Moments of light humour peppered the runtime, which actually enhanced some the scares, and I feel James Wan employs comedy as a tool to break down audience suspension of disbelief enough to get people emotionally invested in the story.

It was not without its flaws, however, as was evident when the ending ramped up. What I felt could have been a fantastically dark ending was hampered by the ‘true story’ elements, and it did almost get into cloying Disney territory. The big strings and bright sunshine felt like I was watching the end of Who Framed Rodger Rabbit, regardless of the Inception-esque final shot.

All-in-all, The Conjuring was a shining example of how you make a mainstream horror movie without the need for torture porn or slasher villains. While elements were directly referencing the demonic movies of the 70s, it was paced well enough, looked beautiful enough and was directed adeptly enough for it to hold the attention of a mainstream audience. It won’t be considered a classic, but it’s absolutely worth your admission money.

Ernie’s 10 overlooked genre picks

Lauren is away enjoying her honeymoon (wooo), which means I’m holding fort for the week! So, without further ado…

10 overlooked films. 10 genres. None of these movies are mentioned in previous lists (but two I have reviewed: cheating, right?)!

1) Action: Tropa de Elite

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City of God is often lauded as the greatest Brazilian film of recent years, and deservedly so. That said, Tropa de Elite pushes it a close second, in my opinion. The sweaty, vibrant Rio is once again under the spotlight, but this time the focus is a team of expert urban police named the BOPE: Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais. It’s violent, funny, poignant and just fucking great. The sequel is as good as the original, and the final film in the trilogy is rumoured to be in production! Excelente!

2) Animation: Sword in the Stone

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As a child, there were few things as exciting and magical as watching the song Higitus Figitus (all the shrinking household objects!) in Sword in the Stone. Merlin was my favourite Disney character after Genie from Aladdin, and if you haven’t seen this 1963 classic then where have you been?

3) Comedy: Kenny

The proper use of sanitation equipment, as explained by Kenny (Shane Jacobson).
“There’s a smell in there that will out-last religion.”

A charming, sincere and heartwarming mockumentary about an Australian shit-shoveller called Kenny. The writing, although being very culturally-specific to Australia, delivers a universally-relevant protagonist; Kenny has a slight speech impediment but a huge heart. Much like Homer Simpson, Kenny is one of those characters you wish was a real person. It’s an utter success as a comedy, too, with some laugh-out-loud scenes milestoning the few touching moments throughout the narrative. You must see this movie; it doesn’t have 100% on Rotten Tomatoes for nothing.

4) Documentary: Restrepo

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We love documentaries here on Frame Rates (Blackfish, McCullin, The Summit, Searching for Sugar Man, The Cove), and Restrepo is no exception to this rule. Focused on a platoon of US soldiers, Restrepo is a visceral study on the effects of modern warfare; losing friends, winning battles and leaving loved ones are elements put under the microscope here. It’s harrowing, hard to watch but also exhilarating (if a bit “‘Murica, baby”, and is one of the more honest documents about the War on Terror.

5) Drama: The Hunt

The Hunt (Jagten) film still
Click for full thoughts

6) Horror: Excision

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Click for full thoughts

7) Sci-Fi: Westworld

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Click click click click click. That is the sound of the killer cowboy hunting you. This is not a case of mistaken identity, but rather a case of machines going wrong. Westworld is a dystopian take on future theme parks, in which you can take vacations in bygone day; drinking in saloon bars, shagging disease-ridden hookers and gallivanting around the Wild West. That is until the wiring in one of the machines goes wrong and you are left fighting for your life! 1970s sci-fi at its depressing, paranoid best.

8) Thriller: Leon

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I don’t think this is that overlooked, however it is one of my all-time genre favourites. What starts life as a lone wolf thriller quickly falls into buddy territory, however the buddies are a middle-aged Jean Reno and a young Natalie Portman. Luc Besson’s best movie, alongside The Fifth Element, is a joy to watch, has some laughs juxtaposed with some epic violence and a turn from Gary Oldman that will require you make change of underwear upon finishing the movie.

9) War: Brotherhood

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It’s not cool to cry at movies, right? Well, regardless of the fact I don’t think that’s true at all, fifteen year old me was extremely shocked when salty stuff started coming out of his eye sockets after watching Brotherhood. A story about two brothers that find themselves on opposite sides of the Korean conflict, Taegukgi is hearthbreaking. I haven’t actually seen this in years, but I remember being absolutely astounded by the movie, and this is a reminder to myself to hunt this down and have a second viewing.

10) Western: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

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Gotta be honest; I haven’t seen too many Westerns. Rango, 3:10 to Yuma, The Searchers, TGTBATU and True Grit come to mind, however what Andrew Dominik has achieved in Jessie James is nothing short of phenomenal. It’s like watching a series of perfectly-framed photographs, and the script is alright as well! Sam Rockwell, Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck are brilliant, and even the often monotone Jeremy Renner pulls out all the stocks for this movie! It’s very slow and requires your undivided attention, but if you are in the right mood this will wash over you wonderfully.

140 words: The Pact

PACT

140 word reviews are normally saved for impromptu flicks that we like or films that we feel fall short of the mark. The Pact unfortunately falls into the latter category.

Beautifully shot, the movie looks absolutely stunning. However, that’s not enough to carry the mediocre acting, pretentious tone, and final act that could have been half an hour shorter had the lead character been written as a person with more than 4 cells in her brain. Slow movies are sometimes the most satisfying, especially if there is a good climax. The Pact almost grinds to a halt in the middle and offers little resolution to the story.

Plodding, boring, contrived and just immensely frustrating, the ambition and technical talent is clearly there but unfortunately it fails somewhat. If you want smart horror, avoid The Pact and watch Lake Mungo or Martyrs.

Les diaboliques

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It’s the Hitchcock movie that never was.

Les diaboliques tells a tale of love, lust, oppression, revenge and loyalty. Set in a boys boarding school in post-war France, the story centres around the wife of an oppresive headmaster, the headmaster’s mistress, and a conspiracy to commit murder. No longer willing to receive the physical and mental abuse from her husband, Christina enlists the help of old friend, Nicole, in a plot to kill her husband, Michel, and make it look like suicide. After the dastardly act has been committed, things almost instantly take a turn for the worse for Christina, and her life quickly spirals into a living nightmare.

Crash, bang, wallop.

When a film moves this fast it’s easy to understand why keeping track of all the individual story elements becomes so difficult. This may sound like a derision, however it’s quite the opposite; Les diaboliques may be one of the most complete cinematic experiences in the history of the medium. It has everything you could want from a murder thriller; suspense, twists, fantastically-drawn characters and with realistic motivations, an exciting final act and some decent allegory/subtext. It’s common knowledge that Hitchcock, the “Master of Suspense”, actually tried to purchase the rights to the movie but was pipped at the final hurdle by the French director Henri-Georges Clouzot, and it is testament to the French director’s vision that the film is a resounding success.

The sinew that tightly binds this story together is the triangular relationship between Christina, Nicole (Papa?) and Michel. There is an odd, mutual respect between the married couple, however she hates him regardless. He’s the ultimate patriarch and seems to represent archaic, sexist attitudes towards women. The disregard he shows to the females in the movie ultimately results in the heinous plot to end his life. He also strikes me as the allegorical representation of Nazi regime France, with his attitudes and dialogue; “What is this Bolshevism?” he barks at the children as he orders them around. He rules that school with an iron fist.

All of the scenes of murderous preparation pay off in some way as we gallivant deeper into the plot. Characters are introduced, some with fantastic cynicism and humour, which juxtaposes the horrific imagery and almost supernatural narrative nuances in the third act. It becomes easy to emotionally invest in the characters, even the lesser ones, and the way the story is constructed means we are always guessing where it will end up; the audience is one step behind and it feels damn good to be there because you can play detective.

Another thing that works so well in Les diaboliques is how the characters are blocked on set. Classic movies have a richer repertoire of camera movements, yet a much quieter way of editing shots together. This feels much more compelling because we aren’t made aware of the filmic techniques as easily; it’s the best Fourth Wall and helps enrich the story and characters.

The words timeless and classic are often bestowed on movies that still divide critical and popular opinion; here is the only rotten review on RT…written by ‘Variety staff’ aka King of the Plebs. Les diaboliques, despite being nearly 60 years old and subtitled in French (which is a problem for some people), is definitely a proud owner of the phrase “timeless classic”. It’s flawless storytelling, looks fantastic and has some twists and turns that have been emulated many a time yet not half as well. I would gladly watch this again today, and I strongly recommend any fan of film to get hold of this movie. If we did ratings here it would get the highest possible. SEE IT!

140 words: Lake Mungo

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Lake Mungo is not just another Australian found footage horror movie.

Alice, 16, disappears while swimming in a local dam. When her body turns up, her family begin their grieving process but discover something sinister lurking in Alice’s past.

Lake Mungo is an amazingly unsettling movie. The slow pacing and the use of grainy digital recordings and photos (we become the detectives) gets increasingly uncomfortable to watch. The compelling twists ground Lake Mungo in reality despite it being a supernatural tragedy, making it entirely believable and more scary. And yes, this movie is genuinely scary. The acting is second to none, with tour de force performances from Alice’s parents, and the Kubrickian camerawork/shot choices and editing style/transitions make it a visual feast for the smart horror fans out there.

Lake Mungo was absolutely excellent. Thanks to The IPC for the recommendation!

American Mary

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I gave it a really big chance.

American Mary is not terrible. The production values are definitely adequate, and the beginning of the movie had a decent tone, with a mixture of cartoony humour and gross cinematography. The plot is original and interesting as well; Mary, a medical student, excels at her studies but is constantly in debt. After a horrific incident, she becomes disillusioned with her profession and hones her skills in the underground body modification scene. As she gets deeper into her role as a body mod surgeon, she begins to fall deeper into the darkness of her psyche. Catherine Isabelle as Mary is a phenomenon on screen among a sea of mediocrity. There is a fantastic character who has moulded herself to appear like Betty Boop, who does bring some sick surreality to a number of scenes, which was really great. And regardless of some other decent, horrific imagery – some scary plastic surgery is on show – there are some aspects that I cannot forgive.

I honestly don’t think I have the vocabulary to properly describe how utterly terrible the script is in American Mary. The dialogue was the worst aspect of this movie; it felt like this was the first or second draft and not good enough for a final draft. The first rule of scriptwriting is to establish the genre and tone of your movie and to place your protagonist within this setting.  American Mary could be two different films by the end. Almost all the men in this movie are one dimensional, sex-mad misogynists, and there is no satisfying character arc on view here. Mary goes from a light-hearted, funny student to the opposite without any progression, and it’s a huge jump to make, regardless of what happens to her.

A few other nitpicks would be the first scene where she is suturing a turkey is incorrect; a pig cadaver would have skin more like a human’s. Also, if I have to sit through a film with the iPhone marimba ring tone going off every 5 minutes, I will punch someone. The ending of American Mary is hugely unsatisfying and doesn’t resolve any of the (terrible) character development, and confuses the plot a bit more. Finally, directors, if you can’t act, don’t felate yourself with a role, let alone a speaking role, in your movies. It was extremely hard to watch.

American Mary, while having positives – one of them being it’s not a generic slasher movie – has a few negatives that were unforgivable. If you are a horror fan definitely check it out because it’s an original plot, but don’t blame me if you cringe for 90 minutes at the dog shit dialogue.

IH

140 words; Nightmare on Elm Street (2012)

A Nightmare on Elm Street

“If you die in your dreams, you die for real”. Please, get these kids some Valium.

Another year, another remake. This time it’s the 80s classic, Nightmare on Elm Street; the original, a film about rich, suburban families living in a class bubble. However, any allegory here is lost.

Instead we get the Saw-esque, green-tinted, post-industrial griminess. A slasher movie trope is leering at the female form, however this just takes it to new, lurid levels. It’s horrible and valueless.

The movie is just lazy jump scare after lazy jump scare. We are thrown in the deep end without any character development, and nothing happens throughout. Kids get killed, and by the end I wanted everyone to die, even the ‘final girl’.

Nightmare on Elm Street has extremely high production values, yet it has absolutely zero cinematic value. Avoid.

140 words; Tod Browning’s “Freaks”

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Released in 1932, Freaks tells the story of a family of circus ‘freaks’ alongside their ‘normal’ counterparts. It centres on a marriage between group leader, Hans (a dwarf), and Cleopatra, who is the circus beauty. What appears as a coming together of two people in love, is actually for something entirely different. When Hans’ troupe of ‘freaks’ discover her motives, things take a turn for the worse.

A tale of love, acceptance and honour, when considering the time, Freaks is extremely progressive. We are never laughing at the afflicted; it even addresses this within 2 minutes; Hans states, when asked why people laugh at him ‘…most big people do, they don’t realize that I’m a man with the same feelings they have.’

It’s only 64 minutes, but Freaks tackles contemporary issues of acceptance in a more breathtakingly honest way than anything released since.

The Loved Ones

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Can you hear that? That is the sound of an immensely satisfied horror fan. I watched The Loved Ones this week and, even 48 hours later, I feel like the cat that got the cream.

A feature length debut from Australian writer/director Sean Byrne, The Loved Ones is a demented coming-of-age tale of loss, jealousy and revenge. On paper, a movie that mixes tropes from torture movies, teen comedies, revenge narratives and female melodrama sounds like a complete mess, but somehow Byrne has found the perfect blend thanks to mature storytelling, humourous yet terrifying imagery and main characters in whom you believe.

Brent, troubled by the belief he caused his father’s death, struggles to cope at the end of his final year at high school. Unbeknownst to Brent and his loving girlfriend, Holly, a classmate, has a sinister plan to make Brent her date for the high school prom. At any cost.

In recent horror successes, rather than follow the exhausted tropes of their specific sub-genres, these movies involve a warping of expectations and an understanding of the audience. The Loved Ones begins with all the trappings of an indie, high school teen movie; characters are setup with their specific archetypes; the goofy best friend, Jamie, is established as the comedic release, and the music choice evokes memories of John Hughes at his peak. Act One isn’t without its visceral imagery – Brent self-harms, which we see on one occasion – but it never looks like it’s going to go down the route in which it ends up going.

Then it ramps up significantly. Daddy’s little princess should be a phrase everyone is familiar with, and it is pretty much the main narrative premise of The Loved Ones. One stylistic aspect of the movie I think deserves major credit is the use of the camera and sound/music to convey emotion. We see extreme close ups and POV shots when things are getting crazy, yet the next shot will be a Polanski-esque objective, fly-on-the-wall angle from one corner of the room. The camerawork and editing choices go the distance in their pursuit for laughs or cringing, and it definitely achieves this. Nevertheless, you could have the best director, sound designer and cinematographer in the world, but if your actors are sub-par then your movie will be a failure, and that this is not.

Every single member of cast becomes their character, and the most notable being Robin McLeavy as the psychotic, Lola. The director got her to watch Misery, Tarantino’s catalogue, Natural Born Killers, and research Jeffrey Dahmer as preparation for the role, and she absolutely nails it. There are points in which it becomes almost impossible to watch what is happening solely because she is so believable in her role. This movie, once it hits top gear, does not let up, and turns from what could be described as ‘torture porn’ into a revenge narrative. There are various twists and turns that will not be spoiled here, but are so satisfying as well as damn fun!

While all this insanity is being inflicted on Brent, and while the police are looking for him, we repeatedly see Jamie’s endeavours at his prom night; smoking pot, drinking vodka and trying to win over his school’s quiet, goth girl. While this becomes the comic relief, it also introduces some of the important plot points and character motivations. There are many things that on the surface may look unimportant, but everything is shown for a reason in The Loved Ones, ultimately making for a fantastic movie experience while you are trying to piece it all together.

The Loved Ones is one of the most complete horror movies I’ve seen in a long time. It’s clever, treats its audience with an obvious respect, and contains a perfect amount of gore, fucked up twists and an ending that leaves no stone unturned. We don’t do ratings here, but you can bet if we did this movie would be adorned with many twinkling stars.