Archive for serial killers


Posted in 2013, Art Movies, Bad Behavior, Dark Comedies, Independent Cinema, Serial Killers, Unusual Films, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , on May 21, 2013 by knifefighter

Movie Review by L.L. Soares

Sightseers Poster NZ.inddBen Wheatley’s 2011 movie KILL LIST was my favorite film in 2012 (of course it took a year for it to finally get a theatrical release—and a very limited one at that—in America). So when I saw that his next movie, SIGHTSEERS (2012), was coming, I had to check it out. While I don’t think it’s in the same league as KILL LIST, I enjoyed it a lot, and was happy to see it get a real theatrical release, even if it will be hard to find for people who don’t have access to art house theaters.

SIGHTSEERS is Wheatley is a slightly more jovial mood. While it’s a comedy, it’s a very dark one. It’s the story of Tina (Alice Lowe) and Chris (Steve Oram). They’ve been dating for about three months when they decide to pack up the RV and go on a sightseeing tour of the countryside for a week.

Tina lives with her mum, Carol (Eileen Davies), an unpleasant old woman who still blames Tina for the unfortunate death of their dog, Poppy (when the movie opens, Carol is looking at pictures of Poppy and screaming in a shrill grief-stricken voice). Carol pretends to be much more frail than she is, to keep Tina close, and since Tina is Carol’s caretaker, it’s amazing that she’s allowed to go on this holiday at all, considering how guilty old Carol makes her daughter feel about just about everything. But once Tina gets out on the open road with Chris, things go smashingly…

Well, not really.

The trouble begins when Chris backs up and purposely hits a litterbug who earlier shared a tour bus with them. This kind of a casual murder shocks Tina at first (Chris claims it was all an accident and that he was horrified by it all, when they speak to the police), but she eventually warms to his way of dealing with annoying people. As they hit the various points on their itinerary, they also leave a trail of bodies in their wake (a man who says he will report them for not cleaning up after their dog; someone who is rude to them; a girl who comes on to Chris when Tina is in the ladies’ room, etc.), and we slowly realize that Chris may have been a serial killer all along, and Tina is more than happy to become his apprentice. After all, the people they kill deserve it, don’t they?

Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe) go on their first vacation together in Ben Wheatley's SIGHTSEERS.

Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe) go on their first vacation together in Ben Wheatley’s SIGHTSEERS.

Along the way, they acquire a new dog that looks an awful lot like the deceased Poppy (the new one is called Banjo) and a nice new camera. And Tina realizes that she may have just found her soul mate after all.

SIGHTSEERS has a pretty simple premise and carries out its carnage in a light-hearted way. Whether you find Tina and Chris amusing or annoying may vary, but I found myself really liking the duo, even if I often disagreed with their actions. At first, it seems like they’re doing what they do for clear-cut (if extreme) moral reasons (well, Tina might be a little bit dumber than Chris, so it takes a little bit for her to catch on), but as their reasons for killing become more and more petty, it’s more difficult to root for them. But they’re so likable, you just might find yourself cheering them on, despite yourself.

The script is by lead actors Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, with Amy Jump (she also co-wrote KILL LIST with Wheatley). It’s a pleasant enough way to kill 90 minutes, and Lowe and Oram are quite good in their roles here.

While I do not consider it to be a major work like the still amazing KILL LIST, I do think that SIGHTSEERS makes Wheatley a director still worth watching, and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.


© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives SIGHTSEERS ~three knives.



The Geisha of Gore Says, “I SAW THE DEVIL!”

Posted in 2011, Asian Horror, Geisha of Gore Reviews, Horror, Psychological Horror, Psychos, Serial Killer flicks with tags , , , , , , on August 18, 2011 by knifefighter

By Colleen Wanglund

One of my favorite movies is the Korean horror film A TALE OF TWO SISTERS (2003), which was written and directed by Kim Ji-woon, and is still the highest-grossing film in Korea. Kim has developed quite a cult following among fans of Asian horror, but not just because of his movies. When Kim puts out a DVD, he oversees the process himself and loads it with extras and commentary. Kim has also directed the segment “Memories” in THREE EXTREMES 2 (2002) which was the best segment, in my opinion, and he directed the Sergio Leone-inspired THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE WEIRD (2008), which is a bizarre western with a cool twist ending. The movie that just may catapult Kim Ji-woon to the top of the list of best Korean directors is I SAW THE DEVIL (2010).

I SAW THE DEVIL stars Min-sik Choi, who was brilliant as the main character in OLDBOY (2003) and also starred in LADY VENGEANCE (2005). Choi plays Kyung-chul, a serial killer who has managed to evade arrest and prosecution. On a snowy night, Kyung-chul spots a young woman in her car on the side of the road. The young woman, Joo-yeon (Oh San-ha), is waiting for a tow truck to fix a flat tire. Kyung-chul stops and offers Joo-yeon help; she refuses and he returns to his vehicle. A few minutes go by when Kyung-chul then attacks the woman, knocking her unconscious and dragging her, bloody, through the snow—symbolic of the loss of innocence. He loads her into the school bus he drives (another symbol of lost innocence), taking her to a hidden room in his home. Joo-yeon, now stripped naked and tied up, begs Kyung-chul not to kill her but he does it anyway. He then dismembers and disposes of her body.

The movie then cuts to a scene of a boy finding a severed ear near a river (a nod to David Lynch’s BLUE VELVET (1986) no doubt), and the police force is out en masse because Joo-yeon’s father is Section Chief Oh (Ho-jin Jeon) of the local police department. When Joo-yeon’s head is found, the scene becomes total chaos with police trying to get the head to the CSI team as quickly and discreetly as possible and reporters swarming the area hoping to get a picture. After all, the more sensational or controversial the picture, the more money they make—it’s a disgusting display; like sharks on a feeding frenzy. Then we see the utter despair on the face of Chief Oh and on the face of Joo-yeon’s fiancé, Secret Agent Kim Soo-hyeon (Byung-hun Lee, who also starred in THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE WEIRD). Cut to the funeral and the grief suffered by everyone.

Soo-hyeon takes a two-week leave of absence from work and with the help of Chief Oh decides to go find Joo-yeon’s killer on his own. He is given the files of the four main suspects and seeks them out one by one until he hits on Kyung-chul, who has another victim in his clutches when Soo-hyeon finds him; that victim was one of his charges on the school bus. Soo-hyeon has his chance to avenge his fiancé’s death but in an odd twist, he doesn’t kill or capture Kyung-chul. Instead he forces a capsule down Kyung-chul’s throat and breaks his wrist. The capsule is a tracking and listening device. It seems as though Soo-hyeon wants to play with his prey. Soo-hyeon has yet another chance at Kyung-chul and beats him to a bloody pulp, and in a difficult scene to watch, Soo-hyeon severs Kyung-chul’s Achilles tendon. He then leaves him to get medical care and continue the intricate cat-and-mouse game.

Soo-hyeon follows Kyung-chul to a house where a friend—and fellow serial killer and cannibal—is hiding out. This is a weird but important turning point in the movie. It is here, after telling his friend what has been going on, that Kyung-chul figures out who it is that’s chasing and torturing him. There is another violent confrontation between the two men, but this time things are different. Soo-hyeon has underestimated Kyung-chul and he will pay for that mistake. The cat-and-mouse game continues, but who is the cat and who is the mouse?

I SAW THE DEVIL is an amazing movie. Kim Ji-woon manages to push boundaries in this genre-bending epic about the effects and consequences of unrestrained violence. And make no mistake, the violence is extremely graphic and at the heart of this story. It is what motivates Kyung-chul and what results from Soo-hyeon’s grief. DEVIL is part horror, part revenge fantasy, part action flick and all psychological thriller, and Kim takes every opportunity to delve into the darkest parts of the human psyche.

Kyung-chul is one of the most frightening characters since Michael Rooker’s Henry in HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (1986). Choi Min-sik, who had proven his acting ability in Park Chan-wook’s OLDBOY, plays Kyung-chul brilliantly and with a charisma that keeps the viewer thoroughly interested in him. He is repulsive and evil to the core and yet engaging—you are disgusted by Kyung-chul yet you cannot look away. Kyung-chul commits violence because he can and he enjoys it. He is very matter-of-fact about his actions. There is no emotional response of any kind—he is a man without a moral compass.

On the other hand, Soo-hyeon’s violence is the result of a devastating event in his life. He is responding the only way he knows how to an extreme emotional upheaval, and Byung-hun Lee brings that across effortlessly. His expressions, and at times lack thereof, tell the viewer what he’s feeling. The subtext of I SAW THE DEVIL is the twisted relationship between Kyung-chul and Soo-hyeon. And it is a relationship of co-dependency. Soo-hyeon needs Kyung-chul to feed his rage at the loss of his happy life. Kyung-chul eventually needs Soo-hyeon to get his thrill, especially after the tables are turned in this dangerous game of revenge. At one point Soo-hyeon’s would-be sister-in-law says to him “Revenge is for the movies.” What Kim shows us in DEVIL is that the need for revenge can potentially lead to the loss of one’s soul.

As I’ve said, the movie is quite violent, but in no way is the violence gratuitous. What I find interesting is that Kim gives us an up close and personal view when victims of both killer and agent are beaten into unconsciousness. The camera doesn’t flinch when Kyung-chul is beating a woman with a lead pipe or a hammer, nor does it flinch when Soo-hyeon breaks Kyung-chul’s wrist or when he slices up his Achilles tendon. These scenes of violence are prolonged and squirm-inducing in their intimacy.

What I do find interesting is that Kim takes that intimacy only so far. For example when Kyung-chul has Joo-yeon naked, bloody and begging for her life, the scene of her murder and dismemberment is framed very differently. We don’t see the cleaver slice into her flesh….although we do hear it. We see the blood flow and the body parts briefly in a basket but the act of her murder is never shown. Kim leaves the act itself up to the viewers’ imagination, which in my opinion makes it far more disturbing. In some respects DEVIL is reminiscent of Takashi Miike’s ICHI THE KILLER (2001), although without the black humor.

Another aspect of DEVIL that I enjoy is that Soo-hyeon starts out the “hero” but slowly becomes an anti-hero. He seems to believe that even though he is hunting and torturing an evil and remorseless murderer, he has the moral high ground. The capsule he uses to track Kyung-chul is almost symbolic of Soo-hyeon playing God. Ultimately Soo-hyeon is nothing more than an angry man who is capable of the same level of depraved violence as his quarry, and at times it’s enough to make your skin crawl. The only thing that actually makes these two men different is what motivates them. And just when you think that Soo-hyeon may be able to redeem himself, the unnerving end of the film makes you wonder—where is the line between good and evil? It can get quite fuzzy at times and Kim makes that glaringly clear.

I SAW THE DEVIL is a long movie, clocking in at 144 minutes, but it is definitely worth the time. There’s plenty of gore and violence to satisfy most horror fans, but the real driving force of this movie is Kim Ji-woon’s unflinching look into the dark souls of two men. Kyung-chul is an emotionless monster, while Soo-hyeon’s emotional response to his loss can potentially turn him into a monster. If you have the stamina to sit through this gut-wrenching and polarizing future cult classic, then I strongly suggest you do so. Between Park Hoon-jung’s script, the beautiful eye of cinematographer Lee Mo-gae, and the stylized directing of Kim Ji-woon, I SAWTHE DEVIL has easily made it into my top ten best Asian horror movies list. While definitely not for the squeamish, I highly recommend it.

© Copyright 2011 by Colleen Wanglund


Posted in 2005, Cinema Knife Fights, Sequels, Serial Killer flicks with tags , , , , , on April 8, 2010 by knifefighter

(For those observant readers who notice this one is out of sequence – originally I was going to put this one aside and run a bunch of SAW reviews all in one week, but then I realized there were only reviews of about half of them in our repertoire. And this is the only one we did together (the rest are solo reviews I did). So here it is, our Cinema Knife Fight review of SAW II. I still can’t believe Michael saw this one ~LLS)

by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(Lights come on to L. L. Soares and Michael Arruda in a filthy abandoned restroom, chained to the walls)

MA: How did we get here?

LS: I don’t remember. But slide me that hacksaw. I want to cut my leg off, so I can get out of here.

MA: Here’s some salt.  Why don’t you gnaw it off?  (slides him a salt shaker).

LS:  Actually, we’re here to talk about the new movie SAW II, the sequel to last year’s hit horror film, SAW. The first film took place in an abandoned room just like this one. It featured two men, chained to the walls, being tormented by an unseen psycho called Jigsaw. This guy was a different kind of serial killer. Instead of actually killing you himself, he’d make a game of it, and make you do the dirty work yourself.  Like giving you the option of dying or sawing off a limb.

This time around, Jigsaw (Tobin Bell)  is finally caught by hard-ass cop Eric Matthews (Donnie Walhberg). But Jiggy has the last laugh since he’s kidnapped several people and trapped them in a house of horrors. And one of the unfortunate victims is Walhberg’s teen-age son. Walhberg has to watch TV monitors of his son and the others being tormented, while trying to get answers out of Jigsaw as to where they are being kept.

The movie jumps back and forth between scenes of Walhberg and Jigsaw talking and Jigsaw’s victims being subjected to more and more bizarre tortures as the movie unfolds. Our killer actually has a reason for his bad behavior. He’s dying of cancer and feels that too many people take life for granted, so he wants to put them in situations that will make them appreciate being alive – if they can live through them. At least that’s what he says. In reality, he’s just a psychopathic sadist with a messiah complex.

The scenes between Bell and Walhberg are intense and effective. The scenes of the people trapped in a mysterious abandoned house are pretty effective too, as you wonder who will come to a horrible end next. We learn they’re all breathing in poisonous nerve gas which will rot away their insides unless they get out in time and get an antidote. This sets the stage for some very desperate and violent behavior on the part of those trying to survive. One scene, where a person is forced to dig through a pit full of syringes for a key, is especially wince-inducing.

The movie feels like a hyperactive rollercoaster ride. It doesn’t let up for a minute, and you’re sucked into it, wondering what will happen next. SAW II is a popcorn movie, and for what it is, it works just fine.

It’s not going to make it on my list of best horror films ever. But it was an intense hour and a half, and it did exactly what a horror movie is supposed to do. It screws with you as it doles out the scares.

Will you throw me that hacksaw already?

MA: No.  You have to listen to me first.  Yeah, it’s just a popcorn movie, if you like your popcorn drizzled with blood!

LS: (Licks lips) I do!

MA: I prefer butter. SAW II is yet ANOTHER serial killer movie filled with lots of bloody mayhem and mutilation.  Sure, the film looks good, and there’s some decent acting, especially the aforementioned Tobin Bell as Jigsaw, so there’s some obvious talent behind this thing. But it takes talent to create computer viruses, too.  And who likes those?

Why are serial killer movies a genre, anyway?  We don’t have rapist movies.  We don’t have pedophile movies.  Why are these sickos different?

LS: (Reaching for saw):  Because in our society, murder isn’t considered as taboo as those other crimes.

MA: I wish we didn’t have to glorify this sort of lunacy time and time again.  Hey, I love PSYCHO (1960) and I love SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991), but a genre?

I’d rather suffer a week long migraine headache (which I do get, by the way) than watch another movie like this.  It belittles the human condition.

SAW II is about as much fun as having your eyelid’s sliced with a scalpel.  Woo hoo!  Yeah, right.

LS: You’re totally missing the boat on this one, and showing your conservative streak.

MA (Wearing an elephant mask):  Huh?

LS:  SAW II isn’t really a serial killer movie. It’s a cartoon.

MA:  I’m sorry, I must have missed the animation credits somewhere!

LS:  While the movie pretends that these are real people and what happens to them is of consequence, the truth is that nobody except Tobin and Wahlberg is developed on any level to be a fleshed-out human being. These aren’t people who you can really care about or root for. They’re cannon fodder. And that’s exactly what they’re supposed to be. If this movie had any real meaning beyond a fun 90 minutes, then it would delve deeper into the repercussions of violence. But it doesn’t. It’s an amusement park ride.

MA:  One that makes you throw up.  And you’re right- the characters aren’t fleshed out, which is another reason not to like the movie.  If I’m going to spend 90 minutes watching people suffer brutal tortures, at least let me care about them first!

LS:  Look, the SAW movies aren’t cinema classics, but they aren’t exactly an affront to humankind either.

MA:  That’s your opinion.  I obviously disagree with you there.

LS: It all comes down to the basic argument of whether violence and gore have a place in horror.   The old subtle horror vs. extreme horror debate that’s been going on for decades. Which is better? Well, personally, I think there’s room for both if they’re done well.

MA:   I agree. I just think there’s too many serial killer movies.

LS (Finally reaches hacksaw):  Got it!  Now for my leg! (starts sawing).

MA: (Pulls out a key) Should I tell him?


(Originally published in the HELLNOTES newsletter on November 23, 2005)

© Copyright 2005 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares