Archive for the Torture Category

THE COLLECTION (2012)

Posted in 2012, Cinema Knife Fights, Disturbing Cinema, Elaborate Murders, Extreme Movies, Gore!, Killers, LL Soares Reviews, Madness, Medical Experiments!, Mutilation, Psychos, Sequels, Torture with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 10, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT Presents:
THE COLLECTION (2012)
Review by L.L. Soares

The Collection (2012) Movie Poster

(THE SCENE: an abandoned hotel full of cobwebs. L.L. SOARES is climbing the stairs using a flashlight)

LS: I’m starting to think MICHAEL ARRUDA isn’t here at all. I’m sure this is all a prank.

(His cell phone rings, playing Bernard Herrmann’s music from the shower scene of PSYCHO)

LS: Hello?

MA: LL, is that you? I’ve been waiting for an hour now.

LS: What are you talking about? I’m here now, at the Argento Hotel, just like you told me. I can’t find you anywhere.

MA: Oops, I meant the Argento Steak House. My bad.

LS: That explains a lot.

MA: Well, while I have you on the phone, how was that new movie, THE COLLECTION?

LS: I was just going to start the review. I guess I have to do this one solo.

(SWITCH to Michael Arruda in a restaurant. A waiter brings a delicious meal to his table)

MA (making noises with his mouth): Oh no, I’m having phone problems. LL are you there? I can’t hear you?

LS: Yes, I’m still here.

MA (makes more noises): Oh no, you’re breaking up. I’m going to lose you. (MA shuts off his phone)

LS: Dammit! I hate bad connections. And it always happens when I’m in spooky places like this.

So where was I? Oh yes, I was going to review the new movie THE COLLECTION. I guess I’ve got nothing better to do.

(LS sits down on a comfy chair in the hallway of the old hotel. He brings the flashlight up to his face, turning it on, making himself look spooky)

LS: Gather round the fire, kiddies, and I’ll tell you the spooky story of THE COLLECTION. First off, it’s the sequel to the 2009 movie THE COLLECTOR, which was also directed by Marcus Dunstan.  He also co-wrote the screenplays for SAW IV (2007), SAW V (2008) , SAW VI (2009) and SAW 3D: THE FINAL CHAPTER (2010) as well as FEAST (2005) and its sequels, with his writing partner, Patrick Melton. This is a busy guy.

Anyway, in case you didn’t see the first one, it was a about a thief named Arkin (Josh Stewart) who breaks into a house to steal some money and valuables, and instead finds a house of horrors. Someone else has gotten there first, and has turned it into a booby-trapped filled torture chamber, and the family (who was supposed to be on vacation) suffers horribly at the hands of a masked murderer known only as The Collector. They call him that because, whenever he attacks someplace, he kills everyone except one person, who he kidnaps for his “collection.”

The first movie ended on a suspenseful note, as Arkin was captured by the Collector, and then the end credits rolled.

The new movie, THE COLLECTION, continues where the last one left off. Sort of. This time around, we find out that the Collector has been up to lots of mischief since the last time we saw him. Not only is he making random home invasions, now the number of people he’s killed is off the charts, and the police have no clue how to stop him. The city is in a panic. So what does teenager Elena  (Emma Fitzpatrick) do? She goes to a rave of course, in an abandoned building that no adults know about. When she finds out that her boyfriend is cheating on her, she runs away from the dance floor to an empty room, with a trunk in the middle of it.  She’s crying when suddenly the trunk moves and starts to make noise! There’s someone inside it. As we know from the previous movie, this is the Collector’s calling card, and if you open a trunk, it puts all kinds of horrible things in motion. So of course, she opens it, letting out Arkin (Josh Stewart again), our hero from the first movie. Only this time he is bloody from having been tortured for weeks.

His being set free sets all kinds of weird traps and pullies in motion, and a giant wheat shredding blade descends on the partiers, chopping them all to mulch. Another group of people, including Elena’s friend, Missy (Johanna Braddy) get locked up in a cage where the ceiling is crushing down on them.

Somehow Arkin escapes, and Elena gets nabbed by the Collector before he can save her. She is the only survivor of the massacre, and, as we know, the Collector always takes one victim away from the crime scene alive.

(LS gets up from the chair, just as a huge metal spike drops down from the ceiling and stabs where he was just sitting)

LS: Arkin wakes up in the hospital, where he is interrogated by a guy named Lucello (Lee Tergesen), who appears to be a cop, but isn’t. He works for Elena’s rich father (Christopher McDonald) and will stop at nothing to find Elena and bring her back to her father. Even if that means forcing Arkin to retrace his steps to find where Elena is being held (he has marks carved in his arm to determine where he was taken to last time).

Lucello and his team of Black Ops agents then invade the Hotel Argento (get the funny homage to horror director Dario Argento?) where the Collector rules over victims driven insane by their horrible treatment and who have been turned into crazed zombie-like creatures. Oh, and there are tons of booby traps and mazes and bear traps and time bombs. Let’s just say that Lucello has no idea what he’s in for, and poor Arkin is forced to go along for the ride, even though he’s endured these particular horrors before.

There are also lots of “collections” throughout the hotel. From the usual butterflies and insects in frames, to giant tanks full of bizarre sculptures made from human body parts.

There are bizarre sculptures made from human body parts throughout the hotel, like this one.

There are bizarre sculptures made from human body parts throughout the hotel, like this one.

(LS continues walking down the hallway. Hatchets are hurled at him and keep missing him.)

LS: THE COLLECTION is in limited release and its official release date was December 1st, except that week it was only playing in obscure movie theaters out in the ‘burbs, so I couldn’t see it. This weekend, it got a slightly wider release and made its way into the city. Because I enjoyed the first movie, I was looking forward to seeing this one, so I made sure to check it out before it disappeared.

Let me state something for the record. I like “torture porn.” That might be the first time you have ever seen a critic say this out loud in public, but the truth is, when the genre is done right, it can be pretty compelling. I think the first two HOSTEL movies, for example, are terrific. I was less-than-enthusiastic about all the SAW movies, because I had a problem with the Jigsaw character.

You see, our old friend Jigsaw had this agenda where his elaborate murder scenarios were meant to give the  bad people who survived them a second chance. He was  trying to change their lives. He was trying to redeem them, by making them thankful to be alive. This was all a bit hard to swallow, and I’m sure you found this all to be as much bullshit as I did. Also, Jigsaw didn’t like to get his hands dirty and watched the violence from a control room. His “victims” had to make decisions about which door to open, or which lever to pull, while he watched from safety.

The Collector isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. He is more than happy to resort to hand-to-hand combat when his more elaborate methods don’t finish everyone off. He’s a skilled fighter, knows his way around a knife fight, and is lethal as hell. And there’s no pontificating about changing people’s lives. The Collector simply thirsts for blood and uses his weird,  elaborate killing methods to quench that thirst. Plus, he wears a cool, black Mexican wrestler’s mask to keep his identity a secret. Let’s just say that the Collector would kick Jigsaw’s ass in a fight.

THE COLLECTION is gory as hell. It pushes its R-rating to the limit. And it’s very suspenseful. You never know what is going to happen next, and who will die. Which is just the way a good horror movie should  be. Sure, not all of it makes sense, and you really start to wonder how anyone can set up as many crazy booby traps as this guy does throughout  the hotel—it just doesn’t seem possible—and then you realize, “hell, it’s just a movie.” And there are lots of blockbuster action movies that make even less sense.

And the cast is top-rate for this kind of thing. Josh Stewart, who was so good in the first movie, does an equally good job here, reprising his role as petty thief  and “Collector expert” Arkin. Emma Fitzpatrick is tough and unflinching as Elena (she reminded me a bit of Natalie Portman). Lee Tergeson (who you might remember as Beecher from the HBO series OZ) is solid here as Lucello, and his team of mercenaries includes Andre Royo, who was so great as the homeless guy Bubbles on another excellent HBO series, THE WIRE (it seems like more great actors have come out of OZ and THE WIRE than any other TV shows put together). Believe me, the actors involved are above-average for this kind of thing.

And the ending is actually pretty satisfying this time around. So make sure you stay in your seat until those end credits roll, because there’s a kick-ass epilogue to the story.

(LS stops in front of a doorway, and a pie hurtles at him, hitting him in the face)

Beware! The Collector wants to add you to his COLLECTION.

Beware! The Collector just might want to add you to his COLLECTION.

LS (wipes cream off his face and licks): Mmmm, banana cream!

Sure there’s horrible violence. Sure, people get tortured. There’s blood and body parts galore. But it works. There’s this incredibly sadistic bastard trying to kill as many people as possible, and a group of people trying their best to stop him. If it’s “torture porn,” and it certainly fits the bill,  then it’s one of the better examples of the genre. Unfortunately, the genre itself is in decline, no doubt thanks to all of those SAW movies that amounted to a great big example of overkill. They milked that cash cow as long as they could. So there’s a good chance THE COLLECTION might be the end of this particular franchise.

I am not expecting THE COLLECTION to be a big hit. In fact, I’m sure it won’t do very well at all, especially since it’s in such limited release. But I’m telling you, if you’re not squeamish about this kind of stuff, you might just enjoy the hell out of it. I know I did.

I give THE COLLECTION ~ four bloody knives.

(LS dials his cell phone, and Michael Arruda picks up on the other end, enjoying his steak dinner)

MA: Hello?

LS: I know you gave me the wrong info on purpose. I hope you’re enjoying your dinner.

MA: Er…I am.

LS: And I hope you enjoyed the ground up glass in the mashed potatoes.

MA (touches his mouth and coughs up blood): NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

LS: What? I can’t hear you. We have a bad connection.

(FADE TO BLACK)

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives THE COLLECTION ~ four knives!

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

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SAVAGES (2012)
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.

VINNIE: Who?

MA: I said…

VINNIE: What?

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

-END-

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

Michael Arruda gives SAVAGES ~four knives.

L.L. Soares gives SAVAGES ~four knives.

HOSTEL PART III (2011)

Posted in 2012, Bad Situations, Disturbing Cinema, DVD Review, Gore!, LL Soares Reviews, Murder!, Sequels, Torture with tags , , , , , , on March 16, 2012 by knifefighter

HOSTEL PART III
DVD Review by L.L. Soares

As a big fan of the first two HOSTEL movies (2005 and 2007) that Eli Roth directed, I was more than a little leery about watching the third film in the series, which Roth had no participation in. But I had to at least check it out.

This time around, the action doesn’t happen overseas, but rather in Vegas. Four guys are on a road trip to celebrate the bachelor party of Scott (Brian Hallisay), who is about to marry his sweetheart Amy (Kelly Thiebaud). The friends include obnoxious Mike (Skyler Stone), disabled buddy Justin (John Hensley, who most people will remember from the FX series NIP/TUCK and movies like 2007’s TEETH), and Carter (Kip Perdue), who used to have a thing for Amy, but now is determined to give his best bud a good time before the wedding.

Once in Vegas, they meet up with two sexy girls, Kendra and Nikki (Sarah Habel and Zulay Henao respectively), who are escorts there to show them a good time. Or are they? They seem a little suspicious from the get-go, but then again this is a movie that’s not above inserting a few red herrings.

Everyone is having a good time until Mike disappears with Nikki, after a slightly unsettling party in a spooky warehouse far from the Strip, and the other guys can’t reach him. Things can only go downhill from there, as everyone is eventually drawn into the web of the Elite Hunting Club.

HOSTEL PART III differs from the previous movies in that 1) it’s set in America and there’s not an actual hostel to be seen, except for one shot when the guys are walking down a street and a neon sign advertises one building as a “Hostel” (but are there really even any hostels in Vegas?) and 2) once the torture and killing begins, we learn that every single act of violence is being watched by a roomful of spectators who bet on the outcomes. Will it take three arrows to kill a guy, or seven? Stuff like that. At least in the previous movies, you could get a little privacy when you dismembered someone and didn’t have to put on a show for an audience every time!

There are also the bad guys, Travis (Chris Coy) who likes to dress up like a typical college kid to fool people, and his boss Flemming, an Eastern European gangster type who you’ll immediately recognize as Captain Kurt Brynildson (Thomas Kretschmann) from the new ABC series THE RIVER. That is, if you watch THE RIVER.

There are a few good scenes, especially the one involving the lady wearing a weird mask and shooting those arrows I mentioned before from a crossbow (she even has the room filled with smoke for added creepy affect), but nothing that comes close to the Eli Roth movies, which seemed to revel in their violence a lot more. Here, it’s more business as usual.

One of the few interesting visuals in HOSTEL PART III is a woman wearing a strange mask and wielding a crossbow. Otherwise, it’s pretty much business as usual.

Say what you want about Roth, but the guy has an artist’s touch when it comes to torture scenes, and I still say the first two movies (especially PART II) were more (very) dark comedies than horror movies. There’s no such ambition here. PART III is ably directed by Scott Spiegel, who, you may remember, was one of the kids who grew up making Super 8 movies with a young Sam Raimi back in the day, and has directed such movies as INTRUDER (1989) and FROM DUSK TILL DAWN 2: TEXAS BLOOD MONEY (1999).He’s also acted in a bunch of movies like SKINNED ALIVE (1990),and lots of Sam Raimi movies, from EVIL DEAD 2 (1987) to DRAG ME TO HELL (2009).

Here, Speigel makes a very standard variation on the Roth films, that doesn’t try very hard to be fresh or different. The Vegas setting really doesn’t add much (the more brutal scenes still take place in a deserted warehouse), and the murder set pieces are okay, but nothing to write home about (no Elizabeth Bathory wannabes like in PART II, or cameos by great foreign horror directors like Takashi Miike or Ruggero Deodato).  And no kids playing soccer with a human head this time, either!

It’s just a so-so ride, and the ending is sort of fun, but pretty implausible. Not that logic plays much of a role in movies like this.

Is HOSTEL PART III horrible? No, it’s just nothing special. Worth a rental, maybe. But if you haven’t seen the first two movies yet, maybe you should rent those instead. I still say Eli Roth has a killer sense of humor that is underappreciated.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

Pickin’ the Carcass: BLACK DEATH (2010)

Posted in 2011, DVD Review, Michael Arruda Reviews, Middle Ages, Period Pieces, Pickin' the Carcass, Supernatural, Torture with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 13, 2011 by knifefighter

PICKIN’ THE CARCASS: BLACK DEATH (2010)
By Michael Arruda

 

Death by the plague is about as unpleasant as it gets.

It’s no surprise then that the movie BLACK DEATH (2010), now available on streaming video, with its black plague in the Middle Ages backdrop, is a major downer.

Yep, it’s the Middle Ages, 1348 to be exact, and everyone is questioning why there’s a plague. Is it a punishment from God? Or is it an attack by the Devil?

A group of religious warriors, led by a special envoy from the bishop, Ulrich (Sean Bean, looking like he walked directly off the set of the LORD OF THE RINGS movies) are searching for a village hidden deep in the woods rumored to be free from the plague because its inhabitants worship the devil and partake in human sacrifices. Their mission (cue MISSION IMPOSSIBLE music): to capture and execute the leader of this village, a purported necromancer.

Ulrich and his men visit a monastery in search of a guide. The Abbot (David Warner) doesn’t want to supply them with one, as he believes the mission is too dangerous, but a young monk Osmund (Eddie Redmayne) volunteers for the job, and Ulrich accepts the boy for the position. Though Osmund is a monk, he is also secretly in love with a young woman Averill (Kimberley Nixon), and he’s praying for guidance from God on which direction to take his life—the religious life, or a life with Averill. When Ulrich arrives in search of a guide to take him and his men to a village near where Averill has fled to escape the plague, Osmund concludes that God has spoken to him, and he knows now which direction to follow.

Led by young Osmund, Ulrich and his men travel through the dangerous woods where they encounter superstitious witch hunters and deadly robbers, and after making quick work of these threats, they eventually reach the mysterious village in the woods that is free from the plague. Ulrich and his men request shelter in the village, and the friendly villagers allow them to stay, and they make no secret that the plague does not exist within their community.

It doesn’t take Ulrich long to discover the necromancer and leader of the village, a strong-willed woman Langiva (Carice van Houten). Langiva eventually orders the villagers to round up and imprison Ulrich and his merry band of religious soldiers, and she tells her people that they must do away with the evil Christians, as they’ve arrived in the village to end her reign and, as a result, will give them the plague. Langiva gives the captured Christians a choice: denounce Christ or face torture and death. Of course, most of Ulrich’s band refuse to renounce their faith, which opens the door for some pretty nasty torture sequences.

Langiva develops a fondness for young Osmund, and to further entice him, after showing him the dead body of Averill, she restores Averill to life, and then offers him a life of lusty pleasure with Averill, free from the plague, in return for renouncing Christ. This is no easy decision for Osmund. He was deeply in love with Averill, and he suddenly finds himself dealing with a painful dilemma.

Eventually, some of the religious manage to escape, Osmund makes his decision, and there is a bloody final confrontation between good and evil, although it’s more like a battle between sad and evil, as the followers of “good” don’t exactly have a good thing going, because if they win, they’re just going home to the plague. Not exactly the most inspiring of stories.

And that’s really the major problem with BLACK DEATH. It’s a depressing movie. Not that I’m expecting a movie about the Black Plague in the middle ages to be a hoot, but without some semblance of brightness, some victory for the human spirit, or even some humor, it’s all pretty bleak, and as a result it’s not all that enjoyable.

I did enjoy the look of this movie. BLACK DEATH has above average production values. As I mentioned before, its story takes place in 1348—and it looks it. And while the sets and costumes may not be as impressive as we saw in SEASON OF THE WITCH (2011) earlier this year, the fact that they’re not so grand adds to the bleakness of it all.

I also enjoyed the plot. The story of a group of religious warriors in search of a necromancer caught my interest immediately and had me excited to see how this one played out. The problem here, though, is that the pacing for the first half of the movie is very slow. It takes these guys forever to reach the village, and the threats they meet in the woods, the witch hunters and the robbers, aren’t overly exciting. The slow pace almost put me to sleep.

Once they get to the village, things pick up dramatically, and the movie does get better at this point, but it takes a while. The village scenes have an almost WICKER MAN feel to them, especially once Ulrich and his men have been taken prisoner. It’s very uncomfortable watching these helpless men toyed with and tortured by Langiva and her villagers.

The acting is pretty good in BLACK DEATH. Sean Bean in the lead role as Ulrich is solid and watchable. He’s done this sort of thing before (as I said, he looks like he’s still in his LORD OF THE RINGS get-up) and he’s fine here, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen him do before.

The best performance in the movie, by far, belongs to Carice van Houten as the villainous Langiva. She’s one scary woman. She’s cold, earthy and heartless. Langiva would make the perfect wife to Christopher Lee’s Lord Summerisle from THE WICKER MAN (1973). We saw van Houten recently in REPO MEN (2010), and she was also in VALKYRIE (2008), but she’s much more memorable here in BLACK DEATH.

Eddie Redmayne is OK as Osmund. He’s serviceable, but he didn’t knock my socks off. The same can be said for Kimberley Nixon as Averill, though in her defense, she’s not in the movie all that much.

It’s great to see David Warner in a small role as the Abbot. The role is way too small, though. BLACK DEATH could only have benefitted from more screen time from David Warner.

The other performance of note belongs to John Lynch as Wolfstan, the only standout among Ulrich’s group of religious warriors. Wolfstan is sort of the second in command behind Ulrich, and there’s a sincerity to this character, provided by Lynch’s strong performance, that is enticing. Lynch gives the second best performance in the film, other than Carice van Houten as Langiva.

The torture scenes in this one are pretty grisly and earn the film its R rating. We see men gutted, tied to horses and then pulled apart, and other grisly tidbits. If you like torture movies, you might find BLACK DEATH of interest.

However, for the most part, the Black Death itself is far more disturbing and frightening than anything seen in BLACK DEATH, and this works against the movie. The whole plot is about an evil necromancer, but really, some of the scenes early on in the movie depicting plague victims are far more frightening than any of the supernatural shenanigans depicted later.

And while the second half of the movie does pick up steam and is better than the slow first half, the ending of the movie is just so-so. As a result, the pay-off doesn’t fully deliver.

Director Christopher Smith gets mixed results. The film looks good, and there are some good heavy hitting torture moments that are not for the squeamish, but the action sequences and battle scenes are standard at best, and they’re not memorable at all.

Dario Poloni wrote the screenplay, and while he presents a decent story and a plot that I liked, his dialogue is flat and dull. Compared to SEASON OF THE WITCH (2011), which created some likeable characters and had inspired dialogue, this script adds very little to the proceedings. Not that I’m looking for a “fun” movie about the Black Death, but this is one dreary flick. It’s really hard to enjoy.

All in all, BLACK DEATH is a mixed bag. There are elements I liked—the story, acting, the look of the movie, and the intensity of some its painful torture scenes—but its slow pace, uninspired dialogue, and so-so ending all weigh this one down.

So, if you decide to watch this one, be forewarned: BLACK DEATH is about as fun as the plague.

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© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda