Archive for October, 2011
IN TIME (2011)
Film Review by Dan Keohane
IN TIME (2011) is an interesting, if not completely well-executed, science fiction story from Andrew Niccol, writer/director of one of my favorite sci-fi films, GATTACA (1997), and writer of another favorite: THE TRUMAN SHOW (1998). Niccol spins an interesting story in most everything he does but… well, though I found the premise of IN TIME very cool, and it was well-acted for the most part, it was no GATTACA.
Here’s the poop for you folks who never read the entire review: the movie felt too long. Though it clocked in at under two hours, and I’ve watched all twelve hours of the LORD OF THE RINGS (2005+) trilogy without blinking (granted, no-blinking is one of my movie-watching quirks, but here I’m being metaphorical), so being long is not a problem, having a film feel too long, well, that’s not a good thing.
The movie is broken into three interesting blocks of plot, any two of which could have been culled out of the script and the third expounded upon to make a great, in-depth science fiction film. Smooshed together as they were into one flick, it was a lot of stuff to watch on the screen without ever getting too interested in any one aspect. Each “chapter,” as we’ll call them, was almost-interesting.
In the future (I guess it’s the future – doesn’t rally say and the only way you can really tell is that the cars are electric – but more on them in a second – let’s just say it’s a What If world), we’ve tapped into the aging genes of humans so when anyone turns twenty-five years old, they stop aging. Yikes, you say, won’t that cause overpopulation? No, because we are born with a bio-electric timer shining from our left arm, reading 0001:00:00:0:00:00—one year. When you hit twenty-five, you stop aging and the clock starts ticking. 0000:11:30:6:23:59 and so on. Months, days, hours… and when it hits zero, you die, but death is staved off as long as you work, or your spouse or friend or parents work, and earns more time. No money in this world, only time: the most precious commodity in this world because once you run out of it—system shutdown. No restarts. (Though a sequel could always be done: IN TIME 2: ZOMBIE RESTART.. hmmm).
One plot point which is key to the entire film: you can exchange hours. A small girl walks up to someone in the street and says, “Got a minute, sir?” She’s not looking to talk, but begging for a spare minute. If you own too many days or years on your arm and find yourself in a tough part of town, someone can jump you and steal all of them, draining your life from you. This time exchange is clever. How they actually do it is silly, but I can’t think of a better way without everyone walking around with a bio-reader on their belt.
Justin Timberlake (BAD TEACHER, 2011, THE SOCIAL NETWORK, 2010, ‘N SYNC: IN THE MIX Documentary, 2001) plays Will Silas, twenty-eight years old and hasn’t aged a day in three years. Will lives with his mother, Rachel (Olivia Wilde – COWBOYS & ALIENS, 2011, HOUSE M.D., 2007-2011), who still looks twenty-five, though plans to celebrate her fortieth birthday when the film opens. At first I thought it odd that a twenty-eight year old still lives with his mother, but people have little time for much else than work in their neighborhood, known as a district. Prices are inflated unexpectedly by some unseen governmental agency (unseen by the residents, at least). A cup of coffee costs 4 hours (you pay in hours, days, etc). Bus fare has jumped from 1 to 2 hours (yes, I’ve stopped spelling out the numbers in this review, taking a break from Strunk & White for now). People live hand-to-mouth (or arm to mouth since their arms are always displaying the remaining hours of their lives).
I found this world fascinating. Will and his mom trade a few hours so one of them can make it to work and back without dropping dead. Will’s job has increased his quota so when he gets paid it’s only a pittance. Suppression of the masses is the obvious goal here, and the picture being painted by the filmmakers. I would think that these ghettos would be boiling pots of angst, with riots being common occurrences, but they aren’t. Everyone is docile and seems resigned to their fate of scraping enough time together to live another day. Not sure how accurately this would play out in the real world.
One cool behavior of the poor folks in this district is the constant, repetitive act of checking their arms to gauge how much time they have left. Always aware, and wary, of the clock. At one point, Will says, “In this neighborhood, you learn not to sleep in.”
Quick shout out to Johnny Galecki (THE BIG BANG THEORY, 2007-Present, ROSANNE, 1992-1997) as Will’s frumpy best friend, struggling to support his wife and new baby. His story is brief but the few scenes he plays in are powerful, and I would have liked to see him more. Galecki has a good screen presence.
When Will encounters a stinking rich guy played by Matt Bomer (Bryce Larkin from CHUCK, 2007-2009, THE GUIDING LIGHT 2001-2003) flaunting 115 years shining from his arm, he saves the stranger from a marauding gang which terrorizes the district and wants to take the century of life for themselves. This rich guy, Henry Hamilton, explains that he’s lived over a hundred years and people shouldn’t live this long. He wants out, and gives all of his time to Will while he sleeps except for 5 minutes, enough time to wander out to a bridge and die to his own terms.
“For a few to live forever, many more must die,” he tells Will. This line is repeated later and is the crux of the story, of the world they live in.
The next “chapter” comes when Will, after trying to use his money to help his best friend, mother and a charity mission on the corner, but mostly failing, decides to see how the other, richer half live in order to find a way to fix the problems in his district, to stop the insanity, and to avenge those who have died needlessly.
This world is also interesting, in a snobby, boring kind of way. Centered in the downtown of a nameless city, it is populated exclusively by black and grey-clad rich people with centuries glowing from their arms. They have an almost unlimited supply time. There are people who “come from time” (instead of coming from money), but time is also squeezed from the poorer masses. There is no middle class, you are either poor and on the edge of death, or are virtually immortal. If there is a middle class, it is the police force, called Timekeepers, which enforces the “balance” of time-ownership amid the lower class, investigating when one person’s supply spikes suddenly. In effect, they enforce the upper class requirement that the poor stay poor and the rich become richer.
Oh, let’s mention the cars again. I said above that the only sign this was a “future” world were the cars. The rich and the timekeepers all drive cars. Slowly, lest someone bumps into something and gets hurt. The cars are electric because they whine, no motor noises. And the doors close with a hissing “fwoop!” This is a real nit-picky thing, but this is a sci-fi movie, and us fan-boys always nit-pick details. Everyone has by now seen at least one Hybrid and/or electric car. They don’t make noise. A Prius could sneak up behind you and the only sound to give it away are the tires rolling over pebbles. They don’t whine, at least not like these cars. And, there’s no need for doors to hermetically seal themselves. If there was, make all the doors do that in the film, not just every now and then when the sound effects person remembers to. OK, I’ve given voice to my geekie-ness. Back to the film review.
One of the big shots in this world is Philippe Weis, a flush-faced, quietly sinister man, well-played by Vincent Kartheiser (MAD MEN, 2007 -Present). He owns most of the banks and controls many of the prices charged for services and products—well, he and a cartel we meet only on audio conference call. There doesn’t seem to be much of a government here, just wealthy people controlling all. Weis’ daughter, Silvia, is a spoiled, bored rich girl who finds her time with Will more exciting than her last 27 years combined. She becomes infatuated with him, even when Will escapes the police using her as a hostage to save himself from being falsely arrested for killing Henry Hamilton. Silvia is a pretty convincing bored, rich girl, played by Amanda Seyfried (RED RIDING HOOD, 2011, AS THE WORLD TURNS, 1999-2001), with her constant, narrowed-eyed look of intense angst.
In this world of wealth, and especially the scenes where there is a large crowd of people, the sheer scope of casting this film became apparent. Seriously, everyone in the world stops aging at 25 years, so no forty year-old actors could get a job here. Everyone is not only 25, but pretty. Many of the extras wore make up, I’m sure. But to find a primary cast who can act and carry a film, actors had to be pulled from film and television. Kartheiser’s most recent success was television, as was Bomer’s, not to mention a lot of folks were once actors in soap operas (hence my seemingly-odd choices in parenthetical credits above, but I do this to make a point). This isn’t a bad thing. In fact, I like it, it’s good (ok, what song did I just quote? Anyone?).
What isn’t convincing in this film is the love affair between Silvia and Will as “Chapter 3” kicks in, where they pull a Bonnie & Clyde/Robin & Marion crime spree, stealing time from her father’s grip and giving it to the poor. Seriously, after losing all the time he’d gotten from Bryce, Will is down to a few hours remaining. Yet he and Sylvia in this short span fall in love with each other and have sex—or almost manage to a couple of times. Their whole relationship felt like a Hollywood requirement for a love story in every film, even if it needs to be crowbar-forced into the script.
Woven throughout the three components of the film, two groups are in pursuit of Will and his time. The Timekeepers, led by Officer Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy – INCEPTION 2010, THE DARK KNIGHT, 2008), look like refugees from the MATRIX (1999) movies—long black coats, overly-serious expressions, sunglasses. This look did not work. It worked in THE MATRIX because it was new and stylish, but here it looks a bit pompous. Murphy’s early scenes tracking Will and trying to catch him are dull – I mean dull… I was not impressed at all with how they did up these cops. Until the last third of the film, when the pursuit of Will and Silvia becomes a personal thing to Officer Leon, then Murphy breaks his character out of the stereotype and acts human again. It’s rare for a character to seem so dull and one-dimensional at first, and then become one of the better players in a film at the end, but that is the case here.
The other group, the “mob” which terrorizes the poor district, is led by a pretty dude named Fortis (Alex Pettyfer – I AM NUMBER FOUR, 2011, BEASTLY, 2011). Initially they are pursuing Will after he rescues Hamilton from their clutches, then they fade into the woodwork of the film, forgetting about Will except for an occasional moment when they accidentally come across him again, eventually leading to a final showdown—but this is more a scene to show the bad guy (one of them at least, there are quite a few in this movie) get his comeuppance, rather than any actual plot resolution.
That’s the thing with IN TIME – there are so many threads and stories throughout this movie, it was hard as a viewer to become fully vested with any of them, because there wasn’t enough time spent in any of them.
As a way to close out, let’s compare IN TIME to GATTACA one more time. Not everyone liked Niccol’s 1997 masterpiece, but GATTACA works, with a background story that was huge, and similar in theme to IN TIME, where this new movie falters. In GATTACA, genetic engineering at conception produces perfect people, and those born naturally are considered a lower caste in society. Niccol focused on one story about a natural-born man who wants to be an astronaut and what he is willing to do to accomplish this. Granted, the three primary actors were Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman and Jude Law, and that had a lot to do with the film’s power, but the story was also narrowly-focused, so the viewer could hold on and relish it.
With IN TIME, an entire film of the poor district, the daily struggle just to stay alive, the gangs terrorizing the people for their time and thus their life, the Mission run by a young man collecting time a minute at a time only to give it away every day, would make for a pure, simple and fascinating story. The world of the rich, with their slow movements and eternal life, built on the backs and the lives of the poor, yet who lead an empty existence, could be another (though less emotional). The crime spree of Timberlake’s and Seyfried’s characters might also make a good story, if you keep the pursuit of them by the Timekeeper and the angry reaction of the gangsters to their giving away of stolen time to everyone: also an interesting story.
Together, though, it becomes a meal overloaded with too many rich ingredients, fighting for your taste and attention, dulling the impact of each. Sometimes three smaller meals over time makes for a better, richer experience.
I’ll give IN TIME 2.5 Knives out of 5… ok, back to Strunk & White’s rules: I give IN TIME two and a half knives out of five.
© Copyright 2011 by Daniel G. Keohane
Dan Keohane gives IN TIME ~ two and a half knives.
QUICK CUTS – Halloween Fun, Part 2
Wherein the Cinema Knife Fight staff has even more Halloween fun!
This time, the question is:
Okay, CINEMA KNIFE FIGHTERS, what’s the scariest costume you can imagine showing up at your door?
The scariest costume that could appear at my door would be the Cemetery Zombie (Bill Hintzman) from George Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968). He scared the crap out of me when I first saw the movie and continues to scare the crap out of me.
The scariest costume I can think of would involve a mask of Michael Arruda after he’s just watched the remake of PROM NIGHT (2008) for the 15th time.
A band of dwarves, pinheads, half bodies and Siamese twins dressed-to-the-nines and chanting, “Gooble gobben, gooble gobben, we accept her, one of us, one of us.” Plus, we all know I’d totally give in to their goblet of champagne.
Not that I want to promote this movie, but the scariest costume I can imagine at my door would be the CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT team dressed as THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE.
QUICK CUTS – HALLOWEEN FUN PART 1
Tonight on QUICK CUTS we ask our panel of Cinema Knife Fighters: what do you want to find inside your Halloween trick or treat bag this year?
In my HALLOWEEN GOODIE BAG, I’d like to find:
– A lost reel (or reels) of LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT (1927) in its entirety
– A cold 6-pack of Yoo-Hoo
– A set of original 1963 BLOOD FEAST lobby cards
– Chrisopher Lee’s cape from TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA (1970)
– A year’s supply of fresh, new Reggie! Bars
Oh, easy! I want a bag full of those orange wax harmonicas we used to hope for every year “back in the day” when I was a kid. Not much in tune, but always a joy to play a little song while walking house to house, until I just couldn’t resist any longer and chewed the thing to pulp. Haven’t seen those buggers in decades.
My family pretty much stopped celebrating all holidays after my father died, so they all feel weird. I always want to do something for Halloween, but have had a hard time coming up with things for the past decade.
I wrote about my favorite corny pumpkin patch in the Cemetery Dance Halloween anthology OCTOBER DREAMS, which is a bittersweet remembrance peppered with Great Pumpkin references. I could probably write another piece about Halloween at Ed Debevic’s.
The one thing that always makes me feel like it’s Halloween is Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s Monster Mash. It just makes me happy. Ray Parker Jr.’s Ghostbusters works too.
On Halloween, you’re more likely to catch me clutching a copy of Martha Stewart Magazine’s Halloween issue while watching SE7EN (1995), DEAD AGAIN (1991), HOSTEL (2005), FREAKS (1932), or SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991). I recently grabbed copies of my favorite horror movies from my childhood, MOTHER’S DAY (1980), MOTEL HELL (1980), and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974).
Halloween candy for single people would always be nice. I miss candy. Just a handful of candy corn, please? And the candy corn pumpkins? And a few fun size candy bars? Just a little? Not a whole bag? Please?
I love Halloween and I love horror….but Lord help the person who gets between me and my favorite candy! My dream goodie bag would most definitely be loaded with the biggest bag of candy corn, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Peanut M&Ms, and lots of Snickers bars. One extra treat I would love to have in my goodie bag is the chainsaw katana wielded by Kika in HELLDRIVER (2010). It’s easily the most bad ass weapon I’ve ever seen.
In my Halloween trick or treat bag, I’d like a giant bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, a bag of Hershey miniatures candy bars, a CD collection of every movie soundtrack composed by John Carpenter, and a DVD of the “lost” version of Hammer’s HORROR OF DRACULA (1958), supposedly sealed in a vault in Japan somewhere.
In my HALLOWEEN GOODIE BAG, I’d like to find:
– A real “face-hugger” prop from ALIEN (1979)
– A cold 6-pack of BASS ALE
– Thick stacks of hundred dollar bills
– A giant syringe full of the green stuff that brings the dead to life in RE-ANIMATOR (1985)
– The original Leatherface mask from Tobe Hooper’s TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974), and a functioning chainsaw
– Some Oh Henry! bars, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Peanut M&Ms
HAPPY HALLOWEEN EVERYONE FROM THE STAFF AT
CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT!
This IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, on the Peter Cushing/Christopher Lee anthology movie THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD is from 2004, and it was actually reprinted in October 2010 in the HWA NEWSLETTER, so this marks the third time this particular column has made it into print. Not sure why I chose this one today, except that I figured now was as good a time as any to finally review a Peter Cushing/Christopher Lee movie for CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.
—Michael Arruda, October, 2011
IN THE SPOOKLIGHT
THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1971)
By Michael Arruda
There’s a lot to like about THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1971), the third anthology movie by England’s Amicus Productions.
Amicus is England’s lesser known horror film company, having operated in the shadow of the more famous Hammer Films. Amicus made horror movies during the same years as Hammer, and even used some of the same stars, such as Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, but never quite made it as a phenomenon.
Yet, Amicus churned out quality horror movies in abundance throughout the 1960s and 70s, and THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD is no exception.
There are four tales in THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD, plus a linking story, all of them written by the great Robert Bloch, which is one of the main reasons why the film is as enjoyable as it is. It goes without saying, it’s a well-written movie! The stories all take place in the titled house, each chronicling a different owner’s experience within its walls.
The first story, “Method for Murder,” is a neat little tale in which a horror writer (Denholm Elliott) creates a sinister murderer in his latest novel, a strangler by the name of Dominick. The writer is excited about his latest work, until the strangler he created shows up outside his window! A very creepy tale that works surprisingly well.
The second tale “Waxworks” starring Peter Cushing is probably the weakest of the movie and involves strange goings-on inside a wax museum. Director Peter Duffell said the story was basically a “contrivance to get Peter Cushing’s head on a plate” which is one of the more famous images from the film, and later immortalized on a cover of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND magazine.
The third story stars Christopher Lee and is called “Sweets to the Sweet.” It’s about Lee’s strange relationship with his young daughter. He’s terribly frightened of her, and as we find out in the story, with good reason.
The last tale, “The Cloak,” is the story of a horror movie actor (John Pertwee) who buys a cloak for his role as a vampire. When he puts on the cloak, he becomes a real vampire. He has the best line in the film when he’s talking about classic horror movies, he says “That’s what’s wrong with your present-day horror films, no realism! Not like the old ones—the great ones! Frankenstein, Phantom of the Opera, Dracula—the one with Bela Lugosi, of course, not that new fella!” This tale also stars Ingrid Pitt who also gets to wear the cloak and strut her stuff as a vampire. Mostly played for laughs, “The Cloak” is the most fun tale of the movie.
First-time director Peter Duffell does a very good job, imbuing the film with both atmosphere and genuine shocks, though he wanted to call the film DEATH AND THE MAIDEN, because he felt THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD was too trashy. Personally, I kinda like THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD.
But the main reason the film succeeds so well is the same reason why so many of the Hammer/Amicus films work, and that is, the people involved take them very seriously. Actors like Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing play it straight, so when Lee fears his young daughter, as silly as it seems, you see the look on his face and you believe it too.
THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD is a good Halloween movie, spooky, well-made, well-acted, well-written, and fun.
This Halloween, why not stop by for a visit? I hear they’re looking for new tenants.
© Copyright 2004 by Michael Arruda
Bill’s Bizarre Bijou
By William D. Carl
This Week’s Special Double-Feature Presentation:
THE STONE TAPE (1972) and
SHALLOW GROUND (2004)
Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made. If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk-till-awn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it. Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open. Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.
Ah, Halloween. How can you not adore a holiday centered around candy, dressing up in costumes, and getting the crap scared out of you, usually by a horror movie? It’s my favorite time of the year, but I’ve found myself in a bit of a rut. Every season, we want to be terrified by a great scary movie, but if you’re anything like me, you’ve seen every variation of HALLOWEEN that exists. You’ve worked your way through the classics like THE HAUNTING (1963) to THE LADY IN WHITE (1988) to this year’s creepy INSIDIOUS. It’s hard to get creeped out by a movie when the shocks have become so familiar. So, I’ve delved into the vaults and discovered two very good ghost stories that will chill you this howliday season, one a classic British tale of science and apparitions and one, a bloody cocktail of spirits and serial killers. I present a haunted double-feature for your Halloween viewing pleasure.
First up, is THE STONE TAPE, a made-for-BBC chiller from 1972, written by the great Nigel Kneale. Now, if you aren’t familiar with this terrific screenwriter, then you owe it to yourself to check out his accomplishments. Kneale liked to tell a good science fiction tale, usually with horrific undertones such as THE QUARTERMASSS EXPERIMENT (1953) and the terrifying and supremely intelligent FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH (1967). He also adapted the book THE WOMAN IN BLACK (1989) into an ultra-eerie TV-movie, which is being remade this year starring Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe. He is a very smart writer, never going for cheap thrills when a slow, steady burn can lead to a nerve-shattering ending. He even wrote the screenplay for HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982), but he had his name removed when the director changed his entire concept. He was twice nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Screenplay for LOOK BACK IN ANGER (1960) and THE ENTERTAINER (1961).
THE STONE TAPE is about a think tank of inventors who set up a new office in an old Victorian house. The group is led by Peter Brock, a pragmatist, businessman and misogynist, played by Michael Bryant (THE RULING CLASS – 1972, A NIGHT TO REMEMBER – 1958). His lover, Jill Greeley, is their head computer programmer, played by Jane Asher (THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH -1964, ALFIE – 1966). The computer room is still empty, the workers sensing something wrong in the place. They did manage to uncover several cans of Spam and a note to Father Christmas that simply reads “For Christmas I want you all to leave.” As Jill is setting up her computer (and in 1972, a computer was a blinking, beeping, tape spinning monstrosity that took up an entire room), she hears and sees a woman screaming from a set of stone stairs that lead nowhere, a vestige of the Saxon castle razed to make way for the house they are inhabiting. Soon, others are hearing the woman while still others can see the ghost woman being strangled and falling to her death. Jill remains the focus of the haunting, becoming more hysterical the more the spirit keeps repeating the same fall from the staircase with everyone observing or hearing different parts of the woman’s replayed death. Could this horrific scene been somehow ‘recorded’ by the Saxon stones of the stairs? The scientists, you see, are trying to develop a new way of recording sound, something sturdier and more compact than analog tape (this IS 1972, remember, pre-compact disc), and this seems to be a breakthrough in the trapping of sensations and the replaying of certain dramatic moments. Is a haunting merely a recording of past events? And can you erase such a recording? Jill does research with a local vicar about exorcisms conducted within the old house and people who have died there over the years. Soon, the team is working through the nights, while Jill gets more and more disturbed and Michael discovers it’s dangerous to interfere with things he doesn’t understand.
THE STONE TAPE was efficiently directed by genre favorite Peter Sasdy (TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA – 1970, HANDS OF THE RIPPER – 1970, DOOMWATCH – 1972). Although it was shot on flat-looking video tape, the thoughtful script and terrific performances by a talented cast more than make up for the low production values. Some of the other wonderful, accomplished cast members are Iain Cuthbertson (GORILLAS IN THE MIST -1988, SCANDAL – 1988), Michael Bates (A CLOCKWORK ORANGE – 1971, FRENZY – 1972), Tom Chadbon (TESS -1979 and personal favorite, THE BEAST MUST DIE – 1974). Everyone works well together, and the supernatural tale grows spookier by the minute, until the very chilling final revelations.
This is a thinking person’s horror film, low on body count but high on scares. You’ll definitely get goose bumps as you watch THE STONE TAPE. It reminded me of a short story by M.R. James or Algernon Blackwood, only with a Seventies scientific twist.
I found it on a decent DVD-R from Sinister Cinema.
I give THE STONE TAPE three screams out of four.
Our second feature, SHALLOW GROUND (2004) also tells a tale of a haunting, but it couldn’t be more different from the subtle horrors of THE STONE TAPE. This low budget film is gory, bloody, violent and – unusual for a modern horror movie – actually scary as hell! Don’t watch this one alone, folks.
Our story begins with someone sewing a corpse’s mouth shut. Immediately, a naked teenage boy, covered from head to foot in blood and carrying a huge hunting knife, is discovered in the woods outside a small town, Shallow Valley, that’s being evacuated. Soon, the dam will be completed and the whole town will be flooded. The sheriff’s department is packing up without the help of the sheriff, Jack Sheppard, played by strangely accented Timothy V. Murphy (APPALOOSA – 2008, NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS – 2007). He’s still having nightmares about when he found his girlfriend, Amy, strung up by her hands, topless, in the woods last year. He went for help, and she disappeared while he was gone, and he is haunted by his bad decision. Meanwhile, the mute, naked, bloody boy is freaking out the deputies at the nearly empty station, so they get Jack to try to interrogate him. The boy seems to be able to control the blood on his filthy skin, even writing ‘No One Leaves’ in his bodily fluids on a door when he is handcuffed across the room. The police try to fingerprint him, and each finger brings up a different missing person in their computer, including the sheriff’s lost girlfriend. Bloody smudges cover the faces of everyone except the sheriff in all the photographs in the station. When the blood is tested, the cops discover it’s from many different people. Then, the kid’s knife goes missing. When anyone touches him, they get flashes of past crimes, rapes, murders, horrific stuff. Soon, more women are disappearing and being slaughtered and the boy conveniently disappears.
It appears the boy is the conglomerate ghost of all the serial killer’s victims, dispersing clues in crimson to the identity of the murderer. Is it the deputy with a past who’s just a bit too trigger happy, Stan Kirsch (from the TV series INVINCIBLE)? Could it be the local boarding house owner who doesn’t want to leave, played by Patty McCormick (THE BAD SEED – 1956) or is it Amy’s vengeful, drunken father portrayed by Chris Hendrie (THE LANGOLIERS – 1995)? Or is it the creepy hunter stalking through the forest played by John Kapelos (THE BREAKFAST CLUB – 1985 and TV shows like DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, QUEER AS FOLK, and FOREVER KNIGHT). As the body count mounts, the ghosts cause a bus to wreck on the only bridge out of town, and Sheriff Jack is forced to confront his past to seek out the true killer.
The acting in SHALLOW GROUND can be a little overwrought, with the exception of Rocky Marquette, who plays the mute bloody boy. Marquette was also in Tobe Hooper’s MORTUARY (2005) and is also Tobey Maguire’s double in the SPIDER-MAN movies. Hmmm … from Tobe to Tobey. It’s a fearless, imposing, very physical performance. He’s simply terrifying.
The movie is truly scary with several jump-outta-your-seat moments, plot twists, and a musical score by Steve London that makes your pulse pound even faster and harder. Written and directed with style galore by Sheldon Wilson, the movie looks like a big-budget film with great yet simple, practical special effects and a real sense of pacing that pulls you to the edge of your seat so you can’t look away or pause the damn thing. Sadly, Wilson has fallen into the SyFy TV-movie circuit family, plopping out rather boring fare such as KAW (2007), MOTHMAN (2010), and KILLER MOUNTAIN (2011). I suppose it’s nice that he’s still working, but the man obviously has a ton of talent, and it’s sad that he’s fallen so far below his initial promise.
There’s a subplot involving another set of murders that doesn’t really work, and the killer’s identity is a bit too easy to guess, but the shocks keep coming one after another until the gruesome finale in the killer’s lair that is truly sick and twisted. There’s also a little epilogue that comes off as a feeble last minute ‘BOO!’ moment, but that can easily be forgiven when your heart rate is still escalated. SHALLOW GROUND delivers the gory goods and then some!
Our second feature, SHALLOW GROUND, is available on DVD from Screen Media Films.
I give it three and a half nekked boys out of four.
© Copyright 2011 by William D. Carl
Criterion After Dark: HAUSU (1977)
DVD Review by Garrett Cook
The Haunted House story is one of the oldest, most archetypal horror narratives. We’ve always felt certain places are weird, or frightening, or that history has not yet cleaned up the ground on which we’re treading. This narrative has been used to great effect many times, in Henry James’s “The Turn of the Screw,” in Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House,” in Robert Marasco’s “Burnt Offerings,” in Stephen King’s “The Shining,” and in too many other horror novels for me to list. The Haunted House is a cliché environment that nonetheless encourages writers and filmmakers alike to innovate. Interesting how an old, hokey, primal story has given birth to so much creativity and can always find new ways to generate fright and shock.
And although there have been more than enough duds in the genre, such as the atrocious NINE LIVES (2002) starring Paris Hilton and the rather dull TV mini-series, ROSE RED (2002), I personally am always excited when I get a chance to see a new, unique Haunted House story. Hearkens back to the first shudder-inducing time I saw POLTERGEIST (1982), or the first time when I stared in wide-eyed awe as Robert Wise reminded me just how beautiful a horror film can be when I first saw THE HAUNTING (1963) on TV. You too should be excited. Because the haunted house movie I’m going to discuss here is a fresh take among fresh takes, a film that holds the distinction of not only being an innovation in Haunted House narratives, but one of the weirdest damn cult movies in history.
Nobuhiko Ohbyashi’s HAUSU starts with the Haunted House narrative. Seven plucky teenage girls go on a trip to the country to visit one girl’s aunt. The house is not what it seems to be. The aunt is not what she seems to be. And maybe the girl is not what she seems to be. Not a bad start. It’s a movie most horror fans would shell out to see around Halloween. It doesn’t necessarily scream “Criterion Material” though. As with THE HAUNTING (1963), THE INNOCENTS (1961) and THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL(1959), HAUSU only starts there, at a place where too many horror movies are content to stop.
From the moment HAUSU begins, you know you’re not going to get what the film’s premise says you’re going to. The eccentric sequence coupled with a cryptic flashback should be a hint. This, coupled with the overly schmaltzy music and the ridiculously caricatured girls make you immediately wonder what’s going on. The tone is confusing. And also quite disquieting. If this isn’t a put-on of some kind, then Ohbyashi has not seen a horror film before, or for that matter, has not seen high school girls. These girls and their school are a cartoon, a sanitized, simplified, padded version of reality meant for children.
When Gorgeous, the protagonist, goes to see her father, you really get a sense that something is not right. For one thing, the view outside his window is a blatant matte painting, a bright, cheery falsehood that makes no pretense of being real. But things start going south for gorgeous immediately. Although her new stepmother looks angelic, Gorgeous has been living in a fairy tale and stepmothers get the short end of the stick in fairy tales. Gorgeous flees to return to her creepy shrine of a room to bathe in the idyllic light of her memories and talk to her dead mother’s photo. And she decides to inquire after her aunt.
Her aunt okays the visit, so she heads out to the country, with her teenage friends Sweet, Fantasy, Mac, Kung Fu, Prof and Melody, each one named for a single prominent characteristic that defines their character. Their journey is cloaked in mellow saccharine rock, a la Scooby Doo or The Banana Splits. They’re also treated to a black and white flashback…for which the girls provide running commentary. The flashback goes on right outside the bus windows, which is an unlikely place for a flashback. Of course, haunted houses are all about those stuck in the past. Like Gorgeous. You’re left wondering, are they heading for a country house or heading into the heart of her memory? Regardless of what goes on, you can be certain this is not a movie about creaking Gothic mansions, or about teenage girls roaming around having fun. While HAUSU engages the core of the haunted house movie and the core of the Saturday morning cartoon and the teen comedy, it is completely different from any of these genres and something sinister is floating around in it.
At the house they meet Gorgeous’ sinister witchy aunt. And from here things go madder. A weirder film unfolds. A film that’s actually something of a horror film. Not a horror film that will meet any kind of expectations you would have of a horror film, but a horror film nonetheless. It’s funny, scary, eerie and wildly unpredictable. The transition occurs when the perpetually hungry Mac’s head comes out of a well to try and eat the supposedly over imaginative Fantasy. How someone’s imagination can be overactive in a world as strange as that of HAUSU is a baffling question, but nonetheless, the girls simply assume that Fantasy is hallucinating, having an acid trip within this acid trip.
HAUSU’s transformation is similar to that which occurs in Takashi Miike’s AUDITION (1999). AUDITION starts off as a romantic comedy and then transforms into brutal torture porn. HAUSU starts off as a cartoon and turns into something that defies description, a movie composed almost entirely of surprises, with a resolution as surprising as it is cryptic. You watch these very pleasant girls faced with many ironic but weird perils that will surely kill them all. The movie has, by this point already made you forget what you signed on for. If AUDITION’s genre-bending ways did not offend or annoy you, then you’re probably sharp enough to play along with HAUSU. HAUSU is one of those movies where you might as well be staring at static if you’re not willing to play its game, accept the mutability of reality and genre and the lack of convention. If you’ve got smart, adventurous friends, it could be a nice addition to your Halloween party.
HAUSU brings out truths about films, artifice, memory, growing up and the horror genre. It reveals a lot about Haunted Houses and the Haunted House narrative without pandering, without characters openly discussing the movie’s themes, which is something that happens a little bit too often in Haunted House narratives. As great as Elisha Cook’s introduction to William Castle’s HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL is, it could be argued that it’s a bit preachy and smacks you in the face with the movie’s message. As great as THE HAUNTING is, the handy dandy parapsychologist somewhat spoils things. HAUSU has no handy dandy parapsychologist. Only very confrontational expressionism.
Criterion has given this movie the DVD release it deserves. Its menu, packaging and booklet are attractive and contribute to the movie’s cult mystique. It’s something you should be proud of owning and a badge of honor for the weird film buff. Included on the disc is a “Making of” type special that includes an interview with the director and a short film. For those of you who own Blu-ray players, this bright, colorful explosion of art horror chaos would be a nice thing to own. I’m sure it looks fantastic. This cult classic does not disappoint, especially if you’re some kind of freak. It haunts my DVD shelf and should have a chance to haunt yours as well.
© Copyright 2011 by Garrett Cook