Archive for the Chainsaws! Category

EVIL DEAD (2013)

Posted in 2013, Based on Classic Films, Chainsaws!, Cinema Knife Fights, Cult Movies, Demons, Evil Spirits, Gore!, Possessed By Demons, Remakes with tags , , , , , , , on April 7, 2013 by knifefighter

By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Evil Dead poster #2

(The Scene: A cabin in the woods. L.L. SOARES is sitting at a desk, reading an ancient book. MICHAEL ARRUDA looks over his shoulder)

MA: You know you shouldn’t be doing that. It always ends badly.

LS: I know. But I feel compelled to do it.

MA: Whatever you do, don’t read aloud from it.


MA: I told you not to read from it.

(The leprechaun from LUCKY CHARMS cereal appears)

LUCKY: You’ll be after me lucky charms!

MA:  I beg your pardon?  I don’t think so!

LS: We summoned you by accident.

LUCKY: Accident? And me in the middle of me breakfast.

LS: Go play with Toucan Sam or something.

(LUCKY turns MA into a monkey and disappears)

LS: Well, that’s an improvement.

(Monkey MA starts screeching and running around the cabin)

LS: I might as well start this week’s review.

(Monkey morphs back into MA)

MA: Nice try.  What?  Is the leprechaun on your payroll?  Don’t answer that. Just get on with the review.

LS:  EVIL DEAD is a remake of Sam Raimi’s 1981 cult classic (the difference in titles is that the original had a “THE” in front of it).  That was the movie that put Raimi on the map—and just look how his career turned out? Now he’s directing stuff like OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL. But back then, Raimi was just some unknown kid trying to make it in the movie biz. Strangely, even though all this time has gone by, THE EVIL DEAD is still my favorite of Raimi’s movies.

MA:  Things work out that way sometimes.  Often the first thing an artist does—or at least the first hit—remains the best.

LS:  So when I heard they were giving it the remake treatment, I wasn’t surprised, but I wasn’t hopeful either. Raimi’s movie was low-budget, but incredibly resourceful. Despite the money limitations, the original EVIL DEAD introduced Raimi’s signature “stalking cam” where the camera shows the point of view of a creature running through the woods. Well, not exactly running. Sweeping through the woods at high speed is more the feel of it. And THE EVIL DEAD made a star of the very cool Bruce Campbell, who was Ash in the original and its sequels.

The trailer for the new version looked hopeful, and it started this ad campaign where it declared this to be “The most terrifying film you will ever experience!” Then the buzz started—a lot of it coming from the South By Southwest Film Festival earlier this year in Austin, Texas, where audiences loved this movie. So I started to get excited about it and really looked forward to seeing it.


But there was always the chance it could be a complete disappointment.

MA:  I don’t believe ad campaigns for one minute.  The most horrifying movie you will ever see? Yeah, right.  Anyway, like any ad, I didn’t give this one much credence, and I put it out of my mind since I didn’t want to have this movie hindered by too high expectations.

LS:  So let’s start off with the obvious question. Is this the most horrifying movie you will ever see? Nope. That’s a pretty big claim, and it’s just about guaranteed to fall short.

MA (laughing):  It sounds like an ad campaigns for a movie back in the 50s.  SEE the most terrifying monster ever to set foot on the earth!  An ungodly horror not meant for human eyes!  Too hideous!  Too horrifying!

Too much!

It’s a dumb add for a decent movie.

LS:  There was a lot of that kind of stuff in the 70s too. I remember MARK OF THE DEVIL (1970) had the ad campaign “Positively the most horrifying film ever made.” And I’m sure there were plenty of ads that copied that one.

But I’ll give the new EVIL DEAD this much credit: it sure tries hard to live up to that tag line.

MA:  It gets an A for effort.

(LS again reads from the ancient book.)


(This time CAPTAIN CRUNCH appears.)

CAPTAIN CRUNCH:  Hey kids, how about helping your captain eat a healthy breakfast by—hey, wait a minute.  You two aren’t kids.

MA:  How observant you are.

CAPTAIN CRUNCH: Are there any kids around?

LS (rubs his stomach):  Not alive, anyway.

CAPTAIN CRUNCH:  In that case, how about helping this captain fill his flask, if you know what I mean?  (Holds out an empty flask).

LS (pointing):  The bar’s that way, in the next room. Fully stocked.

CAPTAIN CRUNCH:  Mrs. Crunch is going to have a good time tonight!  (Exits with a skip in his step.)

MA:  He always seemed so innocent on those TV commercials.

LS:  Maybe, but I never did trust that Crunchberry Beast.

Do you remember back when we were kids and Captain Crunch had an enemy in those cartoon commercials named Jean LaFoot?  There was this whole storyline going on. They just don’t make commercials like that anymore.


Anyway, back to the movie.  This one begins promisingly enough. A bunch of college-age kids meet at a cabin in the woods. In the original, it was more for a fun weekend. Here, it has a more serious motivation. Mia (Jane Levy, also the star of the current ABC comedy SUBURGATORY) is trying to get off drugs for the second time in her life, after a recent overdose that almost killed her (actually, we’re told, she did technically “die” for a moment during it). Her friends Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), a cynical guy with long hair, and Olivia (the very stunning Jessica Lucas, who was also in CLOVERFIELD, 2008) are there, as well as the older brother Mia hasn’t seen in years, David (Shiloh Fernandez, who was also Peter in 2011’S RED RIDING HOOD) and his girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore). They’re all there to give Mia support during her attempt to kick drugs via the “cold turkey” approach. They’re there in that cabin in the middle of nowhere to see her through the rough times, keep her there, and make sure this time the “cure” takes.

MA:  I liked this premise a lot.  It really worked for me and made things more interesting in that these folks actually had a real reason not only for being there, but for staying there, in that they wanted to see things through to the end and truly help Mia kick her habit.

LS: Exactly. In these kinds of movies, there’s always a point where you say “Why the hell do they stay there? Why not leave?” It happens in this movie too—it’s inevitable in these kinds of horror movies—but for a little while there, everyone staying put actually makes sense. And that’s unusual.

Right away, Mia and David have issues. Mia is happy to see him, but also resents him for taking off on her when she was a kid, leaving her alone with their crazy mother, who died in a mental hospital a few years before this reunion. David clearly didn’t come back because he was trying to save his own sanity, but he’s trying to make up for his choices now, by giving Mia the support she needs.

So they go in the cabin, intent on seeing this through to the end. The friends make a pact to stay strong and not give in when Mia wants to leave. They’re going to make sure it works this time.

But the cabin has other plans.

MA:  I’ll say.

LS:  First off, they find a roomful of dead cats hanging from the ceiling in a secret room below the cabin (the reason the cats are there is explained in the creepy opening sequence of the film, which takes place in the past). They also find a book wrapped in barbed wire, which of course ends up upstairs with them, and of course one of them, namely Eric, has to cut the wires and open the book, and even read from it.

MA:  Gee, that sounds familiar.  (points his thumb at LS).

LS: As soon as he does that, he sets the demons in motion.

From here, EVIL DEAD takes on a relentless pace, as each member of the group takes turns being possessed by demonic forces. It begins with Mia, who has the main demon “attached” to her soul in the middle of the woods (with a special appearance by the ghost of the book’s previous victim), after trying to flee the cabin. When she goes back, Mia attacks the others, and then the fireworks begin.

I loved the pacing of this one. It doesn’t let up for a moment after the horror begins, and I really enjoyed that. There’s plenty of violence and gore and self-mutilation which is what you would expect from an EVIL DEAD movie. I am so glad they didn’t go the PG-13 route with this one. In fact, there are a couple of scenes that are downright amazing, including Mia using a razor to cut her tongue in half, the messy results of a shotgun blast, several people cutting off offending limbs in horrible ways, and an amazing “chainsaw to the head” moment that paints the entire screen red. So, if you happen to be a gorehound, this one is definitely for you.

In a lot of ways, this movie is almost perfect. It has a more serious tone than the first one —Raimi was famous for injecting funny moments to relieve tension, but this one is simply grim and vicious—which is in no way a bad thing. It’s also fairly faithful to the original, especially the key horrific/gross-out moments. Director Fede Alvarez (this is his first feature film, his previous movies were all short films) does a stunning job bringing this one to the screen. But there are a couple of minor gripes.

First off, the movie completely pushes its R-rating to the line, and past it, as far as the gore goes. This is not a movie for the squeamish. And yet it seemed to have a puritanical streak a mile long. From a character taking a shower in her clothes early on, to other key moments that would have had a lot more impact if there was some nudity involved. And I’m not talking gratuitous nudity—I’m talking logical stuff (do YOU take a shower with your clothes on?) This odd repression didn’t ruin the movie, but it did feel like it was holding back, and EVIL DEAD should be the kind of movie that is no-holds-barred. It just continues to amaze me that violence and gore is becoming more and more mainstream, but sex and nudity are still taboos that are to be avoided at all costs.

MA:  This didn’t bother me.  The movie’s pacing is so intense I didn’t have time to think about the fact that there wasn’t any nudity.  But something else bothered me about this one.

I agree with you that it pushes the envelope in the gore department, and I’ll even go so far to say that it’s nearly perfect with its handling of these horrific moments, in that in spite of the fact that it was in your face most of the time, it somehow didn’t go overboard.  Now, all this being said, for some reason, and this is the problem I had with it, it wasn’t all that scary.  I’m not sure why, because there were certainly scenes of suspense, and while I was enjoying these scenes, they really weren’t getting to me.  I think it’s because there was just a familiarity about the whole thing, as a reimagining of an old movie, that it somehow lacked freshness.

Also, and I’m not sure I can properly explain this, but it didn’t really hit me in the gut.  I was more entertained by this one than disturbed, which surprised me, because it is such a bloodbath throughout.  Another possibility I have to consider is perhaps the characters weren’t as fleshed out as they could have been, and I didn’t care as much if they had their arms lopped off.  I don’t know.  I enjoyed this one, but it didn’t really have me on the edge of my seat.

LS: I think it’s a mix of two things. First, we’re jaded old guys who have seen this kind of thing a thousand times before. Extreme gore just doesn’t shock us anymore. Secondly, because this is a remake, we’re familiar with the story for the most part, so there aren’t a lot of surprises—although, Alvarez does diverge from the original story a few times. Between these two things, it’s going to be pretty hard to scare us. But for some kid who never saw the original, this might really rock their world.

MA:  I guess that explains why the rest of the theater audience was screaming, while I wasn’t.  At least I wasn’t laughing, which says a lot for how good this one was.

(LS looks down at the Book of the Dead)

I just can’t help myself.  (Again reads from the evil book.  Toucan Sam appears.)

TOUCAN SAM:  I follow my nose.  Wherever it goes.

LS (points):  The bar’s that way.  (TOUCAN SAM exits.)

MA: What’s with all the breakfast cereal characters?  What is that you’re reading from, anyway?  The Book of Dead Breakfast Cereal Icons?

LS (his mouth full of cereal):  That’s a mouthful.

(CAPTAIN CRUNCH sticks his head back into the room.)

CAPTAIN CRUNCH:  That’s what she said!  (He burps).

MA:  He’s bad.

LS:  He’s drunk.

CAPTAIN CRUNCH:  I dare say.  That’s a Peanut Butter Elephant standing by the bar!  (Hiccups and exits).

MA: This is weird.  Let’s get on with the review.

LS:  The acting is mostly good, especially Jane Levy as Mia and Lou Taylor Pucci as Eric.

MA:  I thought Jane Levy was excellent as Mia.  She nailed this role.  She made for a very strong lead, and I liked that she has to fight to overcome her drug addiction, a fight that strangely disappears at one point when she’s fighting the main demon face-to-face.  Could this be a case where she was—scared straight?

LS:  My one acting complaint, however, is Shiloh Fernandez as Mia’s brother David. He’s ostensibly the hero of this movie, and thus the equivalent of Bruce Campbell’s Ash in the original film. But let me tell you, David is no Ash. Not even close. Campbell may have given an over-the-top performance in the original, but it was riveting, and fun as hell. In comparison, Fernandez is kind of a dud. He’s kind of one-dimensional for most of the movie, and isn’t very interesting. He just reacts to everything that is thrown at him, but doesn’t have much of a personality of his own. I just thought his performance was a letdown for such a crucial role, and that someone with more charisma could have knocked this movie out of the park.

MA:  I thought he was okay.

LS: My point exactly. Bruce Campbell wasn’t just okay in the original movie. He kicked ass!

MA: You’re right.  He’s kind of low key, but he didn’t really bother me.  However, I do agree with you that the movie would have been better with someone more charismatic, although I’m not sure if that’s simply Fernandez’ fault or a lack of good writing. The way the story plays out, the character of David doesn’t turn out to be the most effective hero, and I didn’t really like this all that much.  I would have preferred a stronger hero.

LS: I also had a few issues with the ending. There’s a kind of loophole that provided a glimmer of hope toward the end of the film, that didn’t make complete sense to me. I don’t necessarily have a problem with glimmers of hope, but this one seemed forced, and that, again, goes against the whole “no-holds-barred” ethic of an EVIL DEAD movie.

Despite these complaints, I liked this movie a lot, and thought it was pretty amazing. It may not be the scariest movie ever made, but it was one of the best horror movies I have seen in a long time, and I completely recommend it to fans of the genre. You’re going to have a lot of fun with this one, even if the basic plot (guy reads book and summons demons) still seems a little silly (and, sadly, cliché, since so many people ripped Raimi off after the first EVIL DEAD).

I give it three and a half knives.

Also, if you stay until the very end (after the end credits), you’ll see a final “surprise” scene that is strictly for fans of the original film (kids with no knowledge of the original film may completely not get it). So stick around, hardcore fans.

MA:  I didn’t stick around to the end, so I missed the final surprise.  I liked this one a lot too, although not as much as you.  And while I thought it was a very good horror movie, I wouldn’t put it above other very good horror movies of recent years. For example, I thought last year’s CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012) was about the same in quality.

LS: CABIN IN THE WOODS had a completely different agenda, and Joss Whedon’s script had a lot of fun with the tropes and clichés of the genre. It was smart and funny. The new EVIL DEAD is trying to do something completely different.

MA: But in terms of quality I thought they were about the same.  Both very good horror movies.

LS: By the way, the script here was by director Fede Alvarez, as well as Diablo Cody (who, you may remember, won an Oscar for her screenplay for 2005’s JUNO, and also wrote JENNIFER’S BODY (2009) and 2011’s YOUNG ADULT, the last one being a movie I liked a lot), and Rado Sayagues.

MA: I liked the acting, the pacing, and the intensity of the in-your-face gore, but something about this one lacked freshness, perhaps because it was a reimagining.  I also didn’t find the characters all that exciting or even likeable, with the exception of Jane Levy as Mia.  Horror fans will love it. Non-horror fans won’t.

I give it three knives.

LS: Just three? You must be smoking wacky tobacky or somethin’.

(MA looks around the cabin) I guess we’re done here.  So, just what is the connection between the book you’re reading and the breakfast cereal characters?

LS:  I dunno.  I just started reading it and the characters showed up.

MA:  Well, what’s the name of the book?


MA:  A reimagining?

(The door bursts open and CAPTAIN CRUNCH, TOUCAN SAM, THE LUCKY CHARMS LEPRECHAUN, TONY THE TIGER and SNAP, CRACKLE AND POP, and a bunch of other cereal characters stand there bloodied and crazed, holding knives, chainsaws, and various other brutal instruments.)

TOUCAN SAM:  We’ll cut off your nose!  Wherever blood flows!

MA:  I think breakfast is over.  Let’s get out of here.

LS:  I’m sticking to corn flakes from now on.

(TONY THE TIGER roars, his face full of blood,”THEEEEY”RE GREAT!”)

(MA & LS flee while the demented cereal characters pursue them through the woods.)


© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives EVIL DEAD ~ three knives!

LL Soares gives EVIL DEAD ~three and a half knives.



Posted in 2013, 3-D, 70s Horror, Cannibals, Chainsaws!, Cinema Knife Fights, Gore!, Indie Horror, Sequels, Serial Killer flicks, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2013 by knifefighter

By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares


(THE SCENE: a meat packaging plant. MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES are seated at a table.  LEATHERFACE slams a slab of meat onto the table in front of them and promptly slices into it with his chainsaw, spraying both LS and MA with blood.  He places dripping chunks of meat onto two plates and slides them in front of LS and MA.)

LS (grinning):  Oh boy!  (begins to eat raw meat.)

MA (frowning at plate in front of him):  I’ll pass, thank you.

(LEATHERFACE grunts and points towards plate.)

MA: Nothing against your cooking—(aside) what cooking?—but I ate before we got here.  Anyway, we’re here to review your new movie, so why don’t you let us do that, and maybe I’ll work up an appetite.  (LEATHERFACE nods).  Since L.L. is busy filling his face, I’ll start things off.

LS (wipes blood of his chin): Gee, thanks, buddy!

MA: TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D (2013) is the latest movie in the TEXAS CHAINSAW franchise, a series that started with Tobe Hooper’s original THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974), a classic of the horror genre, but a movie that I just have never been able to get into or appreciate.  In short, I’ve just never liked it.

LS (spits out his food in shock):  What kind of a horror fan are you?  How can you not like THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE? It might just be the best horror movie of all time.

MA:  If we were reviewing that one, I’d tell you, but right now we’re reviewing TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D.  Anyway, along the way, there’s been various remakes and sequels, including THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (2003) and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE:  THE BEGINNING (2006).  None of these movies did anything for me, but if you’d care to comment more on them, to give the folks a little history, be my guest.

LS:  Not really. As is usual with these kinds of things, the various sequels and remakes run the gamut of various levels of bad (or at least inferiority) compared to the original film. I thought the recent remake and its sequel were incredibly bland and sterile compared to the visceral power of the original film. The nominal sequels have been a mixed bag of wasted celluloid, with only the sequel Hooper made himself, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (1986) worth checking out at all, and that one is a train wreck of another kind, which is sad, considering the great cast involved. I think the one I hate most is TEXAS CHAINSAW: THE NEXT GENERATION (1994) which is like a really wimpy retelling of the original film with a younger cast that includes Matthew McConaughey and Rene Zellweger in early roles (let’s just say, they’re wasted) and a skinny Leatherface! Just pathetic! Nope, there’s not much to recommend about the franchise aside from the first movie. Unfortunately, Tobe Hooper’s career hasn’t been especially awe-inspiring since his first film either, he never did recapture the pure gut-punching adrenaline of TCM ever again, although he’s made a few okay films. I wish he had something to do with this new one, other than a “Characters created by” credit, though.

MA:  Which brings us to today’s movie, TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D.

The film opens with events from the original film

LS: In 3D no less! Looked….kinda goofy.

MA: …and then adds new footage showing the locals forming a lynch mob, surrounding the home of Leatherface and his family, and burning it to the ground, killing everyone inside.  Well, almost everybody.  A couple rescues a baby from the home, although you wouldn’t want these folks working as your local paramedics, as the man, once he takes the baby from its mom’s arms, kicks the mom in the head, killing her.  And of course, we never do see Leatherface perish in the fire.

LS: This first scene really set the wrong mood right from the start for me. The first film is so dark, almost subterranean in its spookiness, that a shootout in broad daylight seemed like a real letdown. This holed-up-in-a-house-with-the-police-outside scene also reminded me of a similar scene that started off another, much superior horror film – Rob Zombie’s classic, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS (2005)– which makes this one look pretty awful in comparison.

And we don’t really get to see any of the original characters in the shootout scene– Chop Top (Edwin Neal in the original and Bill Moseley in Hooper’s 1986 sequel) was hit by a truck before this, Leatherface is in hiding, and the Cook, maybe my favorite character in the original, isn’t shown at all (actor Jim Siedow died in 2003, but they couldn’t have had someone else play his character?). The only character from the original movie we see in the shootout scene is old, zombie-like Grandpa, sitting in a chair with his deathly white face (anyone could be behind that old man makeup). It turns out a bunch of relatives showed up at the house before the police, to defend their kin (including Drayton Sawyer, played by the previously mentioned Bill Moseley in a different role here). There are so many new faces, it doesn’t even seem like the same family or the same story, although it was cool to see Gunnar Hansen (the original Leatherface) as “Boss Sawyer.” But something about this whole opening shootout seemed too normal, too bland right from the start. The original cast and house made us feel like we were traveling through Hell itself. Here, it’s just another shootout with the police…

(A man holding a chainsaw and wearing a severed pig’s head over his own head enters the room)

LS: It’s Farmer Vincent from the movie MOTEL HELL (1980)

FARMER VINCENT: That’s right, boys. I’m here to make sure old leatherbutt here made the meat correctly. Did you use my special recipe?

(LEATHERFACE grunts and nods his head no)

FARMER VINCENT: The hell you say! How could you prepare these people a decent meal of meat and not prepare it correctly! DAMN YOU!

(FARMER VINCENT revs up his chainsaw, and LEATHERFACE revs his up in turn)

MA: Now gentlemen, there’s no reason for violence here.

FARMER VINCENT: Like hell there’s not!

LS (grin): Let ‘em fight, this might be fun.

(Suddenly the Sawyer family member known as THE COOK enters the room, flapping his arms)

COOK: Dang nab it! Don’t go making a mess in here.

FARMER VINCENT: I thought you was dead!

COOK: Well, I ain’t. And I prepared the meat. So you bet damn well it’s done right.

(FARMER VINCENT grabs a chunk, lifts his pig mask and tries it)

FARMER VINCENT: Mmmm. Pretty good.

COOK: Now get yer ass out of here before I kick it across the state of Texas!

FARMER VINCENT: I’m going, I’m going.

COOK: Now look what you done! (he slaps LEATHERFACE). Causing all this commotion. And me in the middle of my cooking! (LEATHERFACE cowers before him)

(COOK stops and turns to LS and MA)

COOK: Sorry, gents. I didn’t mean no harm here. Just go about enjoyin’ your meals.

(COOK goes back to the kitchen. LEATHERFACE is still whimpering in a corner)


LS: That was fun! It’s like dinner theater!

MA: Can we get back to our review…finally?

LS: Sure!

MA: After the shoot-out, where the Sawyer home gets burned to the ground, the story then jumps ahead to present day where beautiful young Heather Miller (Alexandra Daddario) receives a letter informing her that her grandmother has died, and that the woman left a home in Texas for Heather in her will.  Now, Heather wasn’t even aware that this grandmother existed, and so she also learns at this point that she was adopted, and that her true blood line lived in Texas.  Yep, Heather’s the grown up baby that was rescued from Leatherface’s home, making her Leatherface’s cousin.

LS: Woo-hoo! That sure is some looker, you’ve got for a cousin, Leatherboy!

(LEATHERFACE grins and nods his head)

MA: Heather and her hip friends decide to take a road trip to Texas to check out the new home.  Along the way they pick up a hitchhiker (an event which mirrors the original story) and once in Texas, they find that the home left for Heather is an elegant mansion.

The twentysomethings prepare to celebrate, but their plans are short-lived when it turns out that Leatherface still lives in the basement, and he’s none too happy about new folks moving into his home.

Further complicating matters is that the mayor of the town, Burt Hartman (Paul Rae), is the leader of the lynch mob who burned Leatherface’s home to the ground.  He hates Leatherface’s family, and he’s not above lynching Leatherface a second time, or his young cousin Heather.

It seems lovely Heather has more to worry about than just Leatherface.  In fact, Leatherface might even become her ally.  Aww, a kinder gentler Leatherface!  Just what we need.

(LEATHERFACE nods at first, then pauses as if thinking, then vigorously shakes his head “no.”)

MA:  I didn’t think so.  Honestly, I’ve seen worst movies than TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D, and I didn’t hate this one by any means, but that being said, boy, what a lame movie!  In short, this one’s awful.

The worst part of TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D, and why I called this one lame, is its story.  Its premise generates absolutely no suspense—Heather and her friends arrive at her new home—does anyone in the theater (and there were three other people there besides me, by the way) not expect Leatherface to be living somewhere inside that mansion?  A creative story would have taken us in a different direction, one that we didn’t expect.  Not so here.  You can see every move happening long before it does.  It’s standard horror storytelling all the way.

LS: Unfortunately, yes.

MA: And nice job, Grandma!  Way to go, caring for your long lost granddaughter by giving her a house with a homicidal maniac living in the basement!  Yup, as they say in the movie, blood is thicker than water.  What a boneheaded move!  I’m supposed to believe that a woman who cares for her family would bequeath a home with Leatherface living in it to her unsuspecting granddaughter?

LS: Yeah, Leatherface almost kills her a bunch of times, until he realizes who she is. But you can’t completely blame Grandma! She did leave Heather a letter.

MA: Yeah, she says in her letter to Heather that all Leatherface needs is a little loving and caring, and he’ll protect her.  How sweet.  Leatherface is a regular hero.  I don’t think Heather’s friends, all butchered by Leatherface, would agree.

LS: This is one major plot point that bothered me. Leatherface kills some of her friends (I’m not saying who) and suddenly it’s like it never happened and Heather has to make some choices about who she’s going to stand by and who’s the enemy. And suddenly, she’s able to forgive the murders of people she cares about without a second thought. It didn’t seem genuine to me.

MA:  I agree.

LS:  Although, they’re not the best friends. Her boyfriend Ryan (Trey Songz, who is okay here, but not very developed as a character) is cheating on her with her best friend, Nikki. (Tania Raymonde).  But Heather doesn’t know that.

MA: Adam Marcus, Debra Sullivan, and Kirsten Elms wrote the screenplay for this one. You’d think three writers would have come up with a better story.

LS: Maybe they should have gone with Arruda and Soares instead?

MA: I like the sound of that!

LS: Seriously, they have some good ideas. The script just wasn’t good about following through with them.

MA: Director John Luessenhop does an okay job at the helm.  The film looks fine and includes the expected gore, which I found both tasteless and fake-looking, not a good combination.  One guy gets his body sawed in half by a chainsaw, grisly and pointless, but expected, and yet it didn’t disturb all that much because it looked fake.  That CGI culprit again!

LS: I didn’t mind the stuff you’re calling tasteless. But some of the fake-looking stuff I could do without.

MA: But anything resembling genuine suspense is absent here, as are any real shocks.  And as you already know by its title, it’s in 3D, and no, I wasn’t impressed.

LS: I don’t know. It wasn’t worth the extra price, I’ll give you that. But there were some cool moments where chainsaws come right out of the screen at you, that I enjoyed. But it was just a gimmick. Over all, it wasn’t really worth seeing it in 3D.

MA: I did like Leatherface’s mask, as it was sufficiently gruesome.  But that being said, Leatherface himself didn’t make for the scariest villain.  I mean, he comes off as this overweight lump of a man barely able to run—I was half surprised he didn’t keel over and die from a heart attack.  His cholesterol level must be off the charts!

LS: Another big problem I have with the movie is that you’re right, Leatherface isn’t scary here. In the original, he was this big killing machine. Intimidatingly huge, and vicious. Here, he’s kind of like the smaller, less scary version. Sure, he’s supposed to be 20 years older, but not once did I feel like he was a force to be reckoned with. Not once did I think he could scare the hell out of anyone. The chainsaw—sure, that’s scary. Leatherface here, not so much. Gunnar Hansen in the original movie was SCARY AS HELL.

MA: For the most part, the acting was okay.  Alexandra Daddario holds her own in the lead role as Heather Miller.  She’s beautiful and she can act, so that’s nice combination to have.

LS: You’re right. She’s very stunning. Between those eyes of hers, and everything else (she wears shirts exposing her belly in almost every scene of the movie), my eyes were just drawn to her like a magnet. And she’s okay here as an actress. Nothing amazing, but she pulls it off.

MA: Her friends were fine, but reminded me of the same types of characters I’ve seen in countless other horror movies of this type.  I recognized Tania Raymonde from LOST, as Heather’s friend Nikki, who likes to flaunt lots of skin and cleavage in this one.

Also in the cast as a young police officer is Scott Eastwood, Clint Eastwood’s son.  He’s okay.

LS: Scott Eastwood as Carl is really wasted here. He’s actually really good in every scene he’s in. But then, toward the end, once the action shifts to the inside of a slaughterhouse, he is completely forgotten and we don’t see him again, which doesn’t make a lot of sense.

MA: Paul Rae as Burt Hartman makes a nice villain, and he’s actually the main baddie in this one, as he’s one big pain in the ass.  He seems to want to lynch everyone he meets. One other thing I’ll say is that this movie doesn’t paint a very nice picture of small town Texas either.  These folks aren’t friendly.

LS: Hartman is good, even if he never does seem like that big of a threat. He’s the leader of a lynch mob who became a crooked mayor in a small town. Somehow it seems like the enemy here should have been more formidable.

MA: And of course there’s Dan Yeager as Leatherface, wowing us with his multidimensional performance.  Yeah, right.  Sorry, Leatherface, but you’re about as multidimensional as a loaf of white bread.  In fact, at times in this movie, you resemble a loaf of bread.  A big fat loaf.

LS: He’s supposed to be Leatherface as an old man, so sometimes it worked for me. But as I stated before, he’s simply not intimidating or scary. They needed to get a bigger, scarier actor in this role. Yeager just seems like a mini version of the real thing.

MA: Sorry TEXAS CHAINSAW fans, but I can’t really find anything good to say about this movie, the latest silly chapter in a series that I just can’t warm up to.

I give it one knife.

LS: I actually liked this one more than you. But in the end, it is a disappointment. First off, I think the people who made this film had their hearts in the right place. You could tell they really wanted to pay respect to the original film. TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D states its goal early on with the footage from the original film. It’s meant to be a direct sequel to the 1974 movie. It simply dismisses all those bad sequels and boring remakes. In the remakes, by the way, the family’s name was changed to Hewitt for some inexplicable reason. Here, in this movie, we are told right off the bat that the murderers are the Sawyer family—the correct name—and that immediately got points from me early on.

I really think the people who made this film liked the original and wanted to do it justice, but  they just didn’t have the imagination to do it well. That said, there were scenes I liked, and things about the movie that worked for me. I just didn’t think it was scary, and I don’t think it’s very logical (especially toward the end). The fact that Leatherface is able to walk away without being arrested, after killing Heather’s friends, other people, and running through a local carnival with a chainsaw, completely puzzled me. It just wasn’t believable.

MA:  Not only that, but in a key scene, the sheriff just stands and watches a main character get murdered in front of his eyes without offering assistance.

LS: Well, he does kind of deserve it! Strangely, I liked this movie. I thought its flaws outweighed what was good about it, but I saw this as kind of a labor of love, and I can appreciate that. The original CHAINSAW deserves to be revered in the horror genre. And for once, this didn’t feel (completely) like a movie that simply wanted to cash in on a name brand and make some quick money.

I give it two and a half knives. Not a great score, but not a dismal one. And it’s at least as good as some of the movies I’ve given that score to in the past. This one has its problems, but it has just enough heart to come close to winning me over.

(LEATHERFACE pushes plate of meat back in front of MA and grunts.)

LS:  That’s right.  You said you’d build up an appetite.

MA:  I meant, like next week.

LS:  I think he wants you to eat it.

MA:  Oh well.  (grabs a fork and digs in).  (chewing).  Not bad. Rather spicy.  What kind of flavoring did you use?

(LEATHERFACE reaches into his pocket and removes what looks like squished guts and organs.  MA stops chewing.)

LS (laughs):  Sorry you asked?

MA:  I was thinking steak sauce and paprika.  Anyway, isn’t it time we move on?

LS:  What?  And skip dessert? He made us blood pudding!

(LEATHERFACE nods eagerly)

MA:  Well, folks, at least you get to leave now.  Thanks for joining us, and we’ll see you next time.


© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D ~one knife!

LL Soares gives TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D~ two and a half knives!


Posted in 2013, 3-D, Action Movies, Adult Fairy Tales, Chainsaws!, Comedies, Coming Attractions, Crime Films, Gangsters!, Horror with tags , , , , , , on January 4, 2013 by knifefighter

by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(The Scene: A hotel lounge, the day after a New Year’s party. Patrons are either passed out or drearily wobbling towards the exits. Hotel staff are cleaning the area, taking down streamers, putting away dirty dishes, and putting away food. MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES sit at a table, wide awake and ready to go, with a bottle of champagne and two glasses in front of them.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA: Happy New Year everybody! Welcome to 2013!

L.L. SOARES: We hope you’ve had a happy and safe New Year’s Eve celebration, and you’re ready to ring in the New Year.

MA (looks around them): Hopefully you’re feeling better than the folks at this party.

LS: And if not, go back to bed, take a nap, and catch us later, because we’ll still be here.

MA: That’s right. Cinema Knife Fight isn’t going anywhere, and we’re excited to be bringing you all kinds of movie reviews and goodies in 2013.

LS: Let’s get the ball rolling. (Kicks a shiny “Happy New Year!” ball across the lobby.)

MA: That’s the way to kick off the year.

(Off camera comes the sound of glass breaking followed by a loud scream.)

Today we’re bringing you our COMING ATTRACTIONS column for January 2013, where we preview the movies we’ll be reviewing this month.

LS: First up, on January 4, it’s TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D (2013). When I first heard about this, I wasn’t exactly thrilled to hear about yet another sequel, but supposedly this one is a direct sequel to Tobe Hooper’s original film from 1974, and takes place between that movie and Hooper’s THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE PART 2 from 1986. Even better, it pretends as if the incredibly tepid remakes never existed, which is fine by me. I’m still not expecting a masterpiece here – Tobe Hooper had nothing to do with this one – but maybe it won’t be so bad.


MA (shaking his head): I don’t know about this one— truth be told, I’ve just never been a fan of Leatherface and his TEXAS CHAINSAW movies, and along comes yet another one, in 3D no less— I don’t know.

LS: Not even the original? Man, you’re not much of a horror fan, are you? Maybe you’d prefer a nice little romantic comedy instead.

MA: Let’s move on to January 11. On this date we’ll be reviewing the glossy-looking gangster flick GANGSTER SQUAD (2013), a film I’m looking forward to—sort of.

I’m looking forward to it because I like Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin, Sean Penn, and Emma Stone, but I’ve seen the trailer for this one forever now, and I feel as if I’ve seen everything that’s going to happen in this movie already. Are there any surprises left?

Plus, it’s clearly reminiscent of Brian DePalma’s THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987) even though it is based on a different story. Its director, Ruben Fleischer, also directed ZOMBIELAND (2009), so that’s a good thing,

I expect that I will like GANGSTER SQUAD, but only if it offers more than what’s been shown in its ubiquitous trailer.


LS: I’m not all that excited about this one, and it may be for the same reasons. The trailer has been shown in theaters for months now, and to tell you the truth, I thought this one already came and went. The idea of actually having to sit through it sounds a little tedious to me. And Sean Penn looks kind of cartoony in the previews as an over-the-top Mickey Cohen. Maybe it will surprise me. I sure hope so.

Also, on this same weekend, John Harvey will be reviewing ZERO DARK THIRTY, and we’ll definitely be looking forward to his review.

On January 18, we’ll be reviewing the new horror movie MAMA (2013). It’s about a guy who takes in his two nieces when they’re found living a feral existence in the woods. Him and his girlfriend (played by Jessica Chastain, an actress I like a lot) seek to civilize them, but then there’s the issue of who, or what, their Mama is. Seems to be some kind of monster or evil spirit or something. A lot of people have been thinking, based on the trailer, that this one is directed by Guillermo Del Toro, but he was only the executive producer on this one. You’re going to have to wait until July for del Toro’s new movie as a director—the giant monster flick PACIFIC RIM.


MA: I’m looking forward to MAMA. The trailer looks creepy, and I have a feeling that after TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D I’m going to be in the mood for a good horror movie.

LS: Who’s saying they both won’t be good? Either way, what are you doing slamming a movie that you haven’t even seen yet? They’re going to be completely different kinds of horror movies to begin with, so you shouldn’t be comparing them.

MA: Yeah, one good and one bad. I’m just joking. Who knows? I might love CHAINSAW and hate MAMA. Anyway, I’m looking forward to seeing it.

Also coming out that weekend is THE LAST STAND (2013), the new action movie starring everybody’s favorite Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s the story of a small town sheriff (Schwarzenegger)—yeah, that’s believable!—who has to defend his town from a ruthless drug cartel, with only his small town “Barney Fife” associates to help him.

LS: Yeah, his sidekick in this one is Johnny Knoxville from JACKASS.


MA: Everything about this movie seems silly and ridiculous, but it’s Arnold Schwarzenegger, and I have so many fond memories of Arnold’s movies from the 80s and 90s, that I can’t help but want to see this one, and as goofy as it looks, I’m looking forward to seeing it.

LS: Yeah, you’re alone on that one.

MA: Interestingly enough, it’s directed by Jee-woon Kim, the South Korean director who directed the grisly, relentless horror movie I SAW THE DEVIL (2010). Something tells me THE LAST STAND isn’t going to be as intense as I SAW THE DEVIL.

LS: What the hell! Why is Jee-woon Kim directing crap like this??

MA: Also worth mentioning is the presence of Harry Dean Stanton in the cast. Always good to see him in a movie.

And we finish the month with another ridiculous looking movie, as on January 26 it’s HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS (2013). As much as I like Jeremy Renner, this one looks awful, and I’m not looking forward to seeing it.


LS: Yeah, it looks kind of awful. The trailer makes ABRAHAM LINCOLN, VAMPIRE HUNTER look great. I have no desire to see this one, but I guess we gotta.

The R-rated comedy MOVIE 43 (2013) also opens this weekend, and I’ll be reviewing this one solo. Hopefully it will clean my palette after HANSEL AND GRETEL. It looks to be in the spirit of old comedy anthology movies like KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE (1977) and AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON (1987). Lots of different skits, lots of big name stars, raunchy comedy. I hope it’s half as good as it looks.

MS: Yes, MOVIE 43 looks epic in its raunchiness. It has a huge cast. I’m guessing all those folks aren’t in it very much.


And on a very busy weekend, Jason Statham also has a new movie coming out, PARKER (2013), and I’ll be reviewing this one solo. PARKER looks pretty standard. Statham plays a thief, bad guys screw him over, Statham seeks revenge.  I like Statham a lot, and so it should be fun watching him do his thing, but again, this one doesn’t look like anything special.


That being said, it’s directed by veteran director Taylor Hackford, who’s given us such films as DOLORES CLAIRBORNE (1995), THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE (1997), and RAY (2004). And it has a screenplay by John J. McLaughlin, who wrote the screenplays for HITCHCOCK (2012) and BLACK SWAN (2010), based on a novel by Donald E. Westlake, a novelist and screenwriter who wrote among other things the screenplay to the original THE STEPFATHER (1987).

This one also features Jennifer Lopez, Nick Nolte, and Michael Chiklis in its cast.

Hmm. Maybe this one will be more than a standard actioner after all.

LS: Good luck with that.

MA: That wraps things up for us here. Thanks for joining us everybody, and we’ll see you next Monday with our review of TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D.

LS: So long everybody!

MA (offering glass to LS): Champagne?

LS: Are you kidding? They’ve got tequila shots in the next room.

MA: I’m with you. (puts glass down. They exit towards bar.)


© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

SAVAGES (2012)

Posted in 2012, Chainsaws!, Cinema Knife Fights, Crime Films, Gangsters!, Just Plain Fun, Torture, Vengeance!, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 10, 2012 by knifefighter

By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(The Scene: A California beach. MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES sit on the back steps of a luxurious beach house, facing the ocean. A beautiful blonde bikini babe approaches them.)

WOMAN: I love both you guys. (to MA) I love your sensitivity and your intelligence.

MA (holding a book and some flowers): Gee, thanks. (blushes)

WOMAN (to LS): And I love your boldness and your strength.

LS (puffing on a stogie and holding a chainsaw in his lap): You better believe it, baby!

WOMAN: It’s the perfect relationship.

MA (points to LS): Except he doesn’t like to share.

LS: Share? What, are you in pre-school? It’s only natural that she should like me more than you

MA: Well, I disagree. As usual, you’re missing the point, which is—.

LS: Which is I’m the better critic than you. (revs up chain saw) Hell, I’m better at everything than you!

MA: Them’s fighting words!

(MA squeezes the flowers and they squirt a thick green goo onto LS’s face.)

LS (drops chainsaw and covers his eyes): I’ve been slimed! Someone grab Slimer before he gets away!

WOMAN: Stop it! Stop it! You’re ruining the moment. Why can’t things be like in the movies? (She stomps away).

MA: Because movies aren’t real.

(Sad violin music fills the soundtrack)

MA: But the best movies are the ones that make you believe they’re real. Speaking of which, we have a movie to review, SAVAGES (2012), the new movie from director Oliver Stone. Shall I start this one?

LS: Be my guest while I wipe this slime off my face.

MA: SAVAGES is Oliver Stone’s latest movie, and if I may say so, it’s the best Stone film I’ve seen in a while. It’s an intense crime thriller about two young men who run a profitable marijuana business, and live with their shared girlfriend. Life is great until they run afoul of a Mexican drug cartel.

Ben (Aaron Johnson) is the brains behind the business, while Chon (Taylor Kitsch) provides the muscle, and O (Blake Lively)—named after Ophelia from “Hamlet” —is their shared girlfriend—the glue that holds them together.

LS: They actually have a believable relationship. And it’s nice to see a ménage a trois actually work in the movies!

MA: O also serves as the story’s narrator. Supposedly, they grow some of the best marijuana in the world, which makes their business both extremely profitable and noticeable, which is one of the reasons why a Mexican drug cartel is interested in moving in on their operation. The cartel offers them a deal, in which they promise to distribute Ben’s and Chon’s product and provide them with protection, in return for learning the men’s growing secrets and 20 % of the profits.

When Ben and Chon refuse the deal, the cartel’s leader, Elena (Salma Hayek, in a movie-stealing performance) orders her henchman, Lado (Benicio Del Toro), to kidnap O so that she can teach the men a lesson in “manners.” With O in her clutches, Lado is now able to dictate terms, but Ben and Chon decide to fight back, and fight back with a vengeance. To do so, they need to cash in all their chips and involve everyone in their organization, including a crooked Federal Drug Enforcement agent named Dennis (John Travolta), who plays so many sides it’s difficult to know who he’s aligned with and who he’s against.

In effect, Dennis is a lot like the entire movie. Everyone seems to be in it for themselves, and you don’t know who to trust; everyone, that is, except for Ben and Chon. You know exactly where they stand. They are completely loyal to each other and to O, and this solid bond is one of the many strengths of the movie.

LS: Yeah, they’re order, and everyone else around them is pure chaos.

MA: I loved SAVAGES. Other than THE AVENGERS (2012), it’s the best movie I’ve seen this year. It has a rich, literate story— you can tell it’s based on a novel, by screenwriter Don Winslow—fully developed characters, very strong acting performances, and superb direction by Oliver Stone. This one’s a winner from beginning to end.

LS: Yeah, since the book is almost always better than the movie, this movie made me wanted to seek out Winslow’s book right afterwards. If the book is better in this case, then it’s gotta be killer!

MA: The cast was excellent. At long last, I finally enjoyed a performance by Taylor Kitsch. While you liked him in JOHN CARTER (2012) and BATTLESHIP (2012) and I didn’t, I can’t say that here.

LS: Wait a minute! While I’ll admit I am a huge fan of JOHN CARTER—man, did that movie get a bad rapI never once said I liked BATTLESHIP. Kitsch does what he can with his role, but BATTLESHIP was pretty awful. I just want to set the record straight.

MA: I didn’t say you liked the movie BATTLESHIP. I said you liked Kitsch’s performance in the movie, or at least you said he was serviceable, while I didn’t like his performance at all.

Anyway, Kitsch is excellent here as Chon, the muscle of the partnership. But the most important part of his performance and his character, and the same holds true for Aaron Johnson as Ben and Blake Lively as O, is that he’s likeable. In effect, the guy’s a drug dealer, but that doesn’t stop you from liking the guy. One of his defining moments, in an argument with Ben, is when he’s talking about their commitment to getting O back, and he yells that he’s never left a man behind, referring to his days in the military. In that moment, you know what he’s all about. He feels personally responsible for protecting O, and he’ll stop at nothing to see that she’s safe again.

LS: Look, I’ve been singing Kitsch’s praises since he played Tim Riggins in the TV series FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS (2006 – 2011). So this just confirms what I already knew.

MA: Aaron Johnson is just as good as Ben. Johnson, who played Kick-Ass in KICK-ASS (2010) is about as far removed here from that character as one can get. He’s the sensitive one in the partnership, the brains, the man behind the incredible growing method they use for their weed.

LS: Yeah, I liked Ben Johnson a lot in KICK-ASS, and it’s nice to see him turn in another solid performance here.

MA: And while Blake Lively as O isn’t as strong as Kitsch and Johnson, she’s still very good, plus she’s beautiful to boot!

LS: Yeah, this role is a long way from THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS (2005) and the TV show GOSSIP GIRL—and yes, I know she was also in THE TOWN (2010)—but you’re right, she’s good here. Maybe not on the same acting level as Kitsch and Johnson, but, for the most part, she’s fine.

Which brings me to a new feature. “Does It Earn Its R?

(Two scientists bring out an oversized, clunky computer from the 50s)

LS: I even had a special computer created just for this segment. Let’s see. (he pulls out a punch card and slips it into a slot). Tell us, computer, does SAVAGES earn its R-rating?

(The machine makes all kinds of noises as its lights flash. Then a card pops back out)

LS: Hmmm. Well, it’s got plenty of graphic violence and language. And there are several sex scenes. So those things alone would prove that, yes, this movie definitely earns its R-rating. But what’s this about Blake Lively keeping her clothes on during every single sex scene she’s in? Who does that in real life?

MA: I knew that would bug you. Get over it.

LS: It’s just not an “R” thing to do, that’s all. Especially when her male partners show their butts. Hey, people care about these things!

MA: Well, it’s obvious you care about it. Jeesh!

LS: Anyway, the three main characters—who are all crucial to if this movie will work—are well cast. I don’t have any complaints. Except for the fully-clothed sex thing.

MA: I liked all three of these characters and cared about what happened to them, which is a major reason why I liked SAVAGES so much.

The supporting cast is outstanding as well, perhaps, even better. Benicio Del Toro is absolutely creepy as henchman Lado. I found him scarier here than as the Wolf Man! John Travolta is excellent as Federal Agent Dennis, and Demian Bichir turns in a strong performance as Alex, the lawyer for the cartel who eventually is set up by Chon and Ben.

LS: Yeah, Travolta is really good in this one. Although, I have to admit, as he gets older, he sure is getting awfully creepy-looking. Tony Manero did not age well! But he’s really good in character roles like this. He doesn’t always have to be the star.

(VINNIE BARBARINO, Travolta’s character from the old TV show WELCOME BACK, KOTTER (1975 – 1979) walks along the beach)

VINNIE: Did I hear you say that when I get older, I’m going to be be creepy-looking?

LS: Yes, hate to break it to you Vinnie, but someday you won’t be the heartthrob you were in the 70s.

VINNIE: I can’t believe that! I’d never let myself go.

MA: But you do. You turn into a creepy-looking fat guy.


MA: I said…


LS: Oh, he’s doing his Barbarino schtick.

VINNIE: Where?

MA: I think I hear the Sweathogs calling you.

LS: Yeah, I hear the waves are much better on TV Land.

(VINNIE walks away, singing his name over and over)

Demian Bichir is really good here, too. I first noticed this guy as the crime lord Esteban Reyes in the Showtime series WEEDS, and I thought he was amazing in that. Then he got nominated for an Oscar last year for a much more sympathetic role in the movie, A BETTER LIFE. And he’s terrific here.

But I have some issues with Benecio del Toro as Lado. It’s not that I didn’t like his performance. I thought it was a force of nature. I thought he was entertaining in every single scene he’s in, and I think del Toro is a great actor. But I thought it could have been even better if he didn’t play it so over-the-top and went for something more scary. As it is, Lado is almost like a cartoon. But if he’d toned it down a little, it would have made him more intense. And since this guy is a cold-blooded sadist, more intensity would have made the scenes of violence even more uncomfortable to watch. Maybe they let him have a kind of comic relief aspect to his personality to keep things from getting too dark, but personally, I thought some of his scenes were intense, and some made him almost look like a buffoon. If he’d been intense throughout, then there could have been some real scares in SAVAGES.

So I loved his performance, I just would have done it a different way.

MA: Really? I’m not sure which scenes you’re talking about in terms of his coming across as a buffoon. I thought he was pretty disturbing throughout.

But the best of all of them is Salma Hayek as Elena. She pretty much steals the movie as the cutthroat drug lord who, as she says, would slit Chon and Ben’s throats in a heartbeat. She’s amazing. That being said, my personal favorite performance in this movie belongs to Del Toro. He creeped me out throughout the movie.

LS: Hayek is great here. It’s nice to see her get such a meaty role she can really sink her teeth into. And Elena is complex; she is ruthless but she also has vulnerabilities that come to light. I especially liked her scenes with O. There was a real chemistry between the two characters.

MA: Yeah, there’s a moment in the movie where O and Elena bond over a discussion about Elena’s estranged daughter, and there’s another moment where Elena points out to O that her relationship with Ben and Chon is flawed, that it’s obvious that the two men care more for each other than her, because otherwise they wouldn’t be able to share her. These scenes are really good.

The screenplay by Shane Salerno, Don Winslow, and Oliver Stone is first-rate. It’s one of those stories where you really don’t know what’s going to happen, and that’s a rarity in most movies these days. The characters are all fleshed out, and the relationships in the movie work.

LS: Yeah, the cast and the script are perfectly in synch. I liked every single character here.

MA: I bought the three-way relationship between Ben, Chon, and O.

LS: Totally. It’s rare to see a believable relationship between three people, but it totally works here.

MA: There’s also an intense meeting between Agent Dennis and Lado where you’re not sure if Lado’s going to blow Dennis’ brains out. There are lots of key instances like this in the movie, where there’s more going on than what you usually see in a standard crime thriller plot.

LS: Yeah, you’re not always sure how different characters are going to react in certain situations, which is great. I love unpredictability!

MA: The movie even does a good job promoting the positive effects of pot without being preachy.

LS (hides something): What? Me? I wasn’t smoking anything. (exhales smoke)

MA: Oliver Stone does a masterful job directing this movie, from the elegant California beach scenery to the claustrophobic scenes of brutality and torture.

LS: Yeah, I’ve been a fan of Stone’s for a long time, but he is a very uneven director. Sometimes he makes great movies, like PLATOON (1986), the underrated U-TURN (1997), and my all-time favorite Stone movie, NATURAL BORN KILLERS (1994), but he’s made some duds, too. And even more movies that could have been great, but were flawed. I think SAVAGES is easily his best movie since the 1990s. And it’s nice to see him make something so strong again. He really is a terrific director when he puts his mind to it.

(KEVIN COSTNER and ANTHONY HOPKINS walk past them on the beach)

COSTNER: I tell you, I have proof that JFK’s death was part of a conspiracy!

HOPKINS (talking like Richard Nixon): I am not a crook.

LS: Get a load of those two weirdos. And why are they wearing suits on the beach?

MA: You see all types out here.

Yes, SAVAGES contains some disturbing scenes, but these scenes don’t get carried away.

LS: Including some scenes with my favorite power tool, the chainsaw!

MA: I was struck by the idea expressed in the movie that these “savages” all have their moments of humanity and vice versa, that those who are humane have their moments of savagery.

At one point, O mentions that she, Ben, and Chon are like Katharine Ross, Paul Newman, and Robert Redford in BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969), which sets the audience up with the feeling that Ben and Chon, like Butch and Sundance, will be killed by the end of the movie.

Which brings me to the end of the movie. The ending takes a turn that I can see many people not liking, but since I was about to dislike the ending before it took this turn, I have to admit that it worked for me.

LS: Yeah, in effect, the movie has two endings, and at first that kind of annoyed me. But the more I think about it, the more it works.

MA: All in all, SAVAGES is an exceptional movie, worth the price of admission and your time in the theater. It’s one of the best movies I’ve seen this year.

LS: You know how I was on the fence about PROMETHEUS, whether to give it three and a half knives or four (if I was reviewing it now, it would be 3 ½ )? Well, despite the fact that I thought it was visually terrific, and I liked the cast, the big problem for me was that I didn’t love it. I didn’t totally identify with all the characters and didn’t really care enough about them. In a lot of ways, it was an impressive movie, but it was just lacking something.

In comparison, SAVAGES had me from the get-go. I loved the characters, I wanted to see what they’d do next, and I genuinely cared about what happened to them. This doesn’t happen a whole helluva lot at the movies. So I have to agree with you. Easily one of the year’s best.

MA: I give it four knives.

LS: For once you and I are of the same mind about a movie. I give it four knives as well. And hell, if Benecio Del Toro had been more menacing, I might have even given it a higher rating. But, he’s very entertaining as is.

MA: So I guess we’re saying people should go out and see this movie?

LS: Absolutely! And you don’t even have to pay extra for 3D glasses. SAVAGES is one of the few movies lately that’s not in 3D.

MA: Even better!

(The blonde bikini babe is back)

WOMAN: What, you guys are still here?

MA: We had to review a movie.

WOMAN: Well, its’ time for you two to move out of the beach house. I’ve got a new boyfriend now.

LS: You sure did replace us pretty quick!

WOMAN: And he doesn’t go on and on about movies!

MA: So who is this guy?

WOMAN: Oh here he comes now.

(VINNIE BARBARINO runs up to them from the beach)

VINNIE (singing): Bar-bar-bar-bar-bar-Barino


© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives SAVAGES ~four knives.

L.L. Soares gives SAVAGES ~four knives.


Posted in 1970s Movies, 2011, Blaxploitation, Chainsaws!, Exploitation Films, Grindhouse, Soft-core, Suburban Grindhouse Memories, The Mob, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , , on June 9, 2011 by knifefighter

Hair Salons and Chainsaws!
By Nick Cato

Brooklyn’s “reRun Gastropub Theater” was the setting on Wednesday, June 1st for a screening of the 1976 blaxploitation classic, BLACK SHAMPOO. The reRun Theater is a fun little indie cinema, located in the back of a trendy restaurant. Its stadium-styled seating is made up of 60 seats ripped from mini vans (!), and a full bar with snacks are located right alongside them. A 12-foot screen features digitally projected, locally made films as well as independent features from around the world (so, if you’re ever in NYC I strongly suggest a visit). Back in January, I had the pleasure of viewing Alejandro Jodorowsky’s SANTA SANGRE (1989) here, and the picture and sound were phenomenal.

The BLACK SHAMPOO screening was actually part of author Mike White’s book tour (his collection of pieces from his long-running fanzine, “Cashiers du Cinemart,” has been compiled in a hefty volume titled IMPOSSIBLY FUNKY [2010 Bear Manor Media]—and although I’m only halfway through it I can HIGHLY recommend it to any serious film geek). Mike has a large section dedicated to the film BLACK SHAMPOO (his all-time favorite movie), featuring commentary and interviews with a few of the films’ stars, as well as director Greydon Clark (who is responsible for countless 70s/80s exploitation classics, such as SATAN’S CHEERLEADERS (1977), WITHOUT WARNING (1980) and the infamous arcade sex comedy, JOY STICKS (1983)). While Mike did a brief intro for the film and a reading/book signing afterwards, it was the film that was the highlight of the evening.

This was my first screening of BLACK SHAMPOO, and as a life-long fan of the blaxploitation genre, I can safely say you’ll be hard pressed to find a more entertaining, funny, violent and downright FUNKY film. While the first 20 minutes play out like a really bad 70s porn film (complete with some of the coolest music ever to grace this type of feature), BLACK SHAMPOO soon turns into a hybrid love/gangster/revenge story complete with everything we psychotronic film fans love about these types of films: stereotypical black men and women and stereotypical gay hairdressers that would probably cause a protest were they done this way today; a party sequence that’s so out of place it almost gives the film a surreal edge; insane violence that includes chainsaw mayhem, pool cue mayhem and a mob-orchestrated curling-iron anal rape shakedown (you read that correctly); deplorable acting; and so much more, it’s hard to remember half of what went down after just one viewing.

The film centers around Mr. Jonathan, the owner of “Mr. Jonathan’s” hair salon on the Sunset Strip. His reputation as the ultimate ladies man has caused an endless line of women to book appointments for his “services.” And while he’s in the private back room “shampooing” his clients, the front of the place features women having their hair done by Mr. Jonathan’s staff, which includes Artie and Richard, two gay hairdressers who are done so over the top you can’t help but laugh every second they’re on the screen (fans of “classic dialogue” would do well to keep a pad and pen on hand during the entire film).

Mr. Jonathan gets so much action he actually begins to find shagging a real chore (even when two seemingly underage rich white girls seduce him during a house call…only to get their butts whipped by their mom’s belt for stealing her appointment [in a sequence that brings the “roughie” films of the early 70s to mind]. The mother then goes on to shag Mr. Jonathan as the two girls watch from the pool!).

After all this opening soft-core madness, BLACK SHAMPOO gets down to business. It seems the new black secretary at the salon has actually run away from her white mob “boyfriend,” who has kept her in his mansion as a modern day sex slave. When Mr. Jonathan catches wind of this, he takes his new receptionist, Brenda, out on a date and the two quickly fall in love. When the mob finds out Brenda’s whereabouts, they come down to the salon and trash the place (after kicking Artie’s poor little white ass in one of the most unconvincing “fight” scenes ever filmed). Brenda’s ex-boyfriend turns out to be underworld kingpin Mr. Wilson (an amazingly non-stereotypical name for a gangster), who is now on a mission to get Brenda back. He employs three of the goofiest goons ever to grace a trash film (Maddux, appropriately nick-named “Schumck;” an unnamed, tall black guy who looks like he played for the Knicks in the mid-70s; and a hysterical chauffer who has a few scene-stealing lines and actions).

Feeling guilty over the beating Artie took (which left him in a neck brace) and the trashing of the salon, Brenda goes back to the mob’s mansion. Mr. Jonathan—by way of a mob “invite”—takes a trip to the mansion so Mr. Wilson can explain that Brenda’s now back where she belongs—and Brenda seems happy about it. Confused and pissed off, Mr. Jonathan heads out to his cabin in the woods to get his head together—and Brenda eventually meets him there with Mr. Wilson’s top secret book of money laundering information. Before long, the mob catches wind of this, and we’re all set for a bloody-good showdown in the woods.

BLACK SHAMPOO is unlike any blaxploitation film out there, mainly due to the character of Mr. Jonathan. He’s not a cop or pimp ala SHAFT (1971) and DOLEMITE (1975), just a heterosexual hairdresser who happens to be quite handy with a chainsaw and pool cue. And while his onscreen persona is actually quite boring (John Daniels has the acting skills of a parking meter), for some strange reason the audience revels in his booty-shaggin, belly-slashing schtick.

I mean, come on folks: what other film features a chainsaw-wielding black hairdresser dishing it out to the mob after laying pipe on half of Hollywood? Mr. Jonathan just may be the COOLEST blaxploitation character of all time (I’ll let you all know if this holds up to repeated viewings as good as DOLEMITE, the granddaddy of all blaxploitation films). Also, major kudos for a sonically-funky soundtrack that will stay in your head long after the film concludes.

I also recommend watching BLACK SHAMPOO with an audience of like-minded fans: while I’m sure I would have loved this had I watched it alone on DVD, I’m not sure how many non-fans of this subgenre will be won over by it.

But I still say give it a shot. Until next time, I’m off to the salon . . .

© Copyright 2011 by Nick Cato

NOTE: For more about Mike White and his book IMPOSSIBLY FUNKY, check out his site:


Mr. Jonathan (John Daniels) is seduced by two rich white girls, Meg (Kelly Beau) and Peg (Marl Pero) in BLACK SHAMPOO.