Archive for twist endings

THE TALL MAN (2012)

Posted in 2012, Controverisal Films, Family Secrets, Indie Horror, LL Soares Reviews, Mystery, Plot Twists, Scares!, Surprises!, Suspense, Twist Endings, Twisted with tags , , , , , , , , on September 4, 2012 by knifefighter

THE TALL MAN
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

When I first heard about the movie THE TALL MAN, I thought it was another sequel in the PHANTASM series. For those who aren’t fans, the Tall Man is the main villain of that franchise. But this new movie has nothing to do with PHANTASM. So I thought, based on the title and the movie poster (with star Jessica Biel prominently displayed), that this was a standard horror movie. I was wrong on both counts.

Then I found out that THE TALL MAN was directed by French filmmaker Pascal Laugier, who previously gave us the movie MARTYRS (2008), which I consider one of my all-time favorite horror films. It had the same kind of effect on me when it came out as Takashi Miike’s AUDITION did in 2000. Needless to say, I was psyched and immediately sought THE TALL MAN out. It was supposed to be in limited theatrical release, but it wasn’t playing anywhere near me. Luckily, however, it was playing on cable OnDemand, so I was able to see it for myself.

I’m really glad I did.

THE TALL MAN is a movie full of twists and turns that are going to keep you off balance throughout, as you try to figure out who the good guys are, who the bad guys are, and what everyone here is up to.

It begins in a poverty-stricken small town called Cold Rock, Washington. It used to be thriving once, but the coal mines, the main source of work there, shut down, all the other jobs dried up, and people started losing their homes. Oh yeah, there’s one other reason why Cold Rock is such a sad place. Over the years, there have been several child abductions, and the children have never been recovered. A few people swear they got a look at who took their children, a dark figure that has taken on mythic proportions in the town. Everyone refers to the child stealer as The Tall Man.

It’s here in Cold Rock that Julia Denning (Jessica Biel, who we most recently saw in this summer’s big budget remake of TOTAL RECALL) tries her best to help people get medical care. Her husband was the local doctor, but he’s gone now, and since she was his nurse, she’s able to provide some basic services to those in need. It’s clear however, that even though her husband was respected and loved in Cold Rock, Julia will never be completely accepted by everyone in town. There are some people here who trust her, however, like the mute teenager Jenny (Jodelle Ferland) who will become more important as the film goes on.

Since she’s a widow, Julia has her friend (sister?) Christine (Eve Harlow) babysit her son, David (Jakob Davies) when she’s out making her rounds. David seems to be sickly, but lights up when his mother comes home.

Life is rough in Cold Rock, but Julia does what she can, until the day comes when she returns home to find Christine beaten and tied up, and a hooded figure running away from the house, carrying David in its arms.

While trying to retrieve her son David, Julia Denning (Jessica Biel) falls into a pit of mud in THE TALL MAN.

Julia runs after them, down the street to a large truck that drives away. Determined not to let them get away, Julia grabs on to the back door of the truck, and hangs on for dear life. She tries desperately to retrieve her son in a nightmarish sequence involving the truck, a vicious dog, and an accident. But eventually, she loses the trail, and collapses in the middle of the street, where Lieutenant Dodd (Stephen McHattie) finds her and brings her into his car. He drives her to the local diner where Sheriff Chestnut (William B. Davis) is, and tells him to get an ambulance, while Dodd goes back out trying to find the child stealer based on what Julia has told him.

It’s at this point that things get strange. While washing up and changing her clothes in the office of Trish (Janet Wright) who runs the diner, she hears the Sheriff and another man in a heated discussion, wondering what they should do next. It sounds like they mean to harm Julia. What’s going on here?

To give away any more of the plot would be unkind, but let’s say, at this point, THE TALL MAN stops being a typical horror movie and goes in a completely unexpected direction. This is business as usual for director Pascal Laugier, who is used to running us through a maze in his movies, MARTYRS being a perfect example.

The cast here is very good, especially Biel, who is turning into an actress you can count on to deliver a decent performance. She’s actually much better here than she is in TOTAL RECALL, partly because she’s the lead character, but also because THE TALL MAN is a more serious, intelligent film.

THE TALL MAN is out there.

M. Night Shyamalan might still have the reputation as the king of the twist endings – even if it’s no longer warranted and he’s become something of a joke. But Laugier proves here that he deserves the title more, and he delivers the scares along the way.

The other aspects of this film are finely tuned as well, including the score by Todd Bryanton, which compliments the film perfectly. I was very psyched when I found out that Barry Dejasu was interviewing Bryanton about his soundtrack for THE TALL MAN for his Scoring Horror column (this review is being posted as a companion piece to his interview).

THE TALL MAN is so different from the usual horror movies we keep getting, and is so much more ambitious in its storytelling, that it deserves a wider audience simply because it tries to do something different, and I was disappointed to see that this one has been getting such shoddy distribution. But if you look for it on cable, you would do yourself a favor to find it.

While I didn’t like THE TALL MAN as much as MARTYRS, which remains Laugier’s masterwork, I still thought it was head and shoulders above most of the horror movies Hollywood has been giving us lately. THE TALL MAN is in no way as visceral and nightmarish as MARTYRS, but it does deliver plenty of chills and it will surprise you.

One thing about THE TALL MAN, that you don’t normally get with horror films these days, is that you’ll be thinking about it long after it’s over.

I give it four knives.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives THE TALL MAN ~ four knives.

 

The French movie poster for THE TALL MAN calls it “The Secret” fittingly enough.

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KILL LIST (2011)

Posted in 2012, Bad Situations, British Horror, Disturbing Cinema, Hit Men, Killers, LL Soares Reviews, Murder!, Surprises!, Twist Endings, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , , on March 6, 2012 by knifefighter

KILL LIST (2011)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

Sometimes you find a movie that you don’t know a lot about, and you go in fresh, and it completely blows you away.

This doesn’t happen very often. With this age of media oversaturation, it’s almost impossible not to see the trailer for a movie a hundred times before it opens—not to mention countless ads on television. But every once in a while a little independent film, usually showing in a limited-run at an arthouse theater, slips through the cracks. You hear the buzz about it, and without too much effort you can avoid finding out too much about the plot, and you can have a fresh experience. Like I said, this is rare. The last time I felt this way about a movie was back in 1999, when Takashi Miike’s AUDITION had a very limited theatrical run (the theater I saw it in had it for two days!). I’d heard it was supposed to be good, but I avoided any reviews of it, and was amazed and surprised by it.

Well, sitting through KILL LIST was a very similar experience. It is nothing like Miike’s film, but it has been getting some buzz in the independent horror movie scene, and I was able to avoid reading too much about it, which is good, because it’s one of those movies that throws a few curveballs at you in ways M. Night Shymalan only wishes he could do. (Note: KILL LIST was made in 2011, but some people are only seeing it in the U.S. now, thanks to limited theatrical runs and services like OnDemand cable.Personally, I’m glad I got a chance to see it on the big screen.)

When it started, I thought maybe this one wasn’t going to live up to its buzz. It seemed like just another drama about British working people enduring hard times. Jay (Neil Maskell) has been out of work for months and his wife, Shel (MyAnna Buring) is getting more resentful with each passing day. Enter Jay’s buddy Gal (Michael Smiley) who comes over for dinner with his new girlfriend, Fiona (Emma Fryer) for some wine and chat, but the party turns ugly when Jay and Shel start screaming at each other in the other room. Meanwhile, their young son Sam (Harry Simpson) is taking the brunt of it all.

But things change when Gal offers Jay a chance to get his old job back. The two of them are veterans of the Iraq War and here’s where the first big story twist happens. It turns out that the two of them started freelancing as hired killers after the war ended. Jay has been out of work for a bit because of some mysterious mistake he made in Kiev (we never find out exactly what it was, but it must have been a doosy). But Jay gets a second chance and Gal seems genuinely happy to work with him again, “The Two Musketeers are back together,” as Gal puts it. They accept a job from an enigmatic man (Struan Rodger, who in the credits is simply referred to as “The Client”), who hands them money and a list of three people to kill, including a priest and a librarian. However, to seal the deal, the Client feels the need to take out a knife and make a deep cut in Jay’s hand, then proceeds to do the same to himself. Gal freaks out and pulls out his gun, but Jay seems able to overlook it and move on, even though he’s bleeding all over the carpet. Maybe he’s just happy to be working again and doesn’t want to blow it.

The people Jay and Gal are sent to whack are particularly unsavory types whose crimes shock and offend Jay, and he begins to take the job a little too personally, going after their accomplices as well. Gal starts to worry Jay is going to screw up again, and begins to seriously question the new partnership. Meanwhile Swedish beauty Shel decides to take their son and move out of the house to stay in a cabin they have in the country, leaving Jay alone to stew in his own rage.

It’s the final person Jay and Gal go to snuff that takes the movie in a completely unexpected direction. And about this twist I won’t say anything more, except that it reminded me a lot of two horror “classics,” one from the 1970s and the other much more recent. Needless to say, the ending is suitably disturbing.

The script is top-notch and the acting is equally good. You believe these characters are genuine people, and you care about them. I thought the camaraderie between Jay and Gal was especially good; these guys really do seem like best friends. The budget is clearly small, but director Ben Wheatley turns out a remarkable product all the same. Oh yeah, and there’s plenty of the red stuff for fans of gore. This is a movie that doesn’t look away when the rough stuff is happening. One scene involving a hammer is especially gruesome.

My only issue is that I couldn’t understand everything the characters said. In a few scenes, their Yorkshire accents get a bit thick, and I kind of wish the movie had given us some subtitles (which reminds me of another good but sometimes hard to understand movie, Gary Oldman’s NIL BY MOUTH, 1997). Don’t let this scare you off, though. You’ll get sucked in just the same and it’s pretty clear what’s happening at all times. You just might not catch a phrase here and there.

I’ve seen a few Hollywood movies lately where at the end, the audience feels the need to applaud. Most of the time, this is totally unwarranted (most Hollywood movies these days just aren’t that good). Besides, the people involved in making the movie can’t hear you anyway. But at the end of KILL LIST I wanted to applaud anyway. It was that good.

I can’t praise this one enough. I give it four and a half knives.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

L.L. Soares gives KILL LIST ~ four and a half knives!

 

BLOOD BATH!

Posted in 2010, Anthology Films, Campy Movies, DVD Review, Grindhouse, Just Plain Fun, LL Soares Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on October 13, 2010 by knifefighter

JOEL M REED’S BLOOD BATH: SPECIAL EDITION (1976)
DVD Review by L.L. Soares

I’ve actually been waiting a long time for the DVD release of BLOOD BATH (1976). The first time I saw this movie was back in the 1980s on the old ELVIRA syndicated movie show. At that time, I had no idea who Joel M. Reed was, but I did know that this movie was seriously messed up. It made me laugh out loud several times (and didn’t even need Elvira’s corny jokes to make it funny). It was about a year or two later that I discovered Reed’s notorious shock cinema classic BLOODSUCKING FREAKS (1976) in an old mom and pop video store and realized the guy was a demented genius.

It was a long time later that I put two and two together and realized Reed had also made this bizarre horror anthology movie I’d seen on ELVIRA. And it wasn’t particularly easy to find. It wasn’t on any of the tapes of the ELVIRA show that came out on video. And I wasn’t able to find a VHS copy on eBay. So when I found out – quite by accident – that  it was finally being released on DVD  by Subversive Cinema, I was overjoyed to have the chance to finally watch it again.

To start off with a warning, though. BLOOD BATH is no BLOODSUCKING FREAKS. You know that right off the bat when the PG rating comes onscreen. There won’t be much in the way of gore or nudity in BLOOD BATH, unfortunately. But there will be some entertaining stories, and lots of laughs.

BLOOD BATH begins with a wedding scene. Horror director Peter Brown (Harve Presnell) is about to marry what appears to be the devil’s daughter. Then we are transported to another scene, where Brown seems to be presiding over a human sacrifice. The devil appears and we suddenly realize we’re on a movie set. So what was real and what was an act? It’s not clear.

Brown then invites his friends and fellow actors to dinner. He is very adamant that while everyone else seems to be superstitious and to believe in the supernatural, he certainly doesn’t. His dinner guests then take turns telling him stories to try and change his mind.

The stories are pretty hilarious for the most part. At first I wasn’t sure if they were unintentionally funny –  but it’s clear as the movie goes on that Reed is in on the joke. All of the stories have “twist” endings in the spirit of the old Hammer and Amicus anthology films like TORTURE GARDEN (1969) and the original TALES OF THE CRYPT (1972).

In the first story, an infallible hired killer finally meets Fate head-on when he makes his first fatal mistake. In the second, a henpecked husband who fantasizes about living in the age of Napoleon buys a magic coin from a fortune teller – intent on using it to get rid of his wife. Instead it transports him to Napoleonic times, where he learns things are not as wonderful as he’d imagined. In the third, a ruthless slumlord and loan shark is accidentally locked in his own safe and is confronted by the jive-talking ghost of a man he had wronged. The slumlord isn’t scared, but he is trapped, and the ghost gets the last laugh. How the slumlord stays alive in his vault for two months while everyone else is on vacation provides for a particularly funny twist ending.

The fourth story, perhaps the most amusing of them all, deals with an American who goes to a monastary and learns the “Nine Secrets of Shao-Lin.” When no one will teach him the tenth secret, he comes back to America to open his own school, which is clearly against the rules. A Shao-Lin master comes to the States to punish the wayward student. This story features a particularly goofy flashback where a man cuts off his own arms and legs to get revenge on a ruthless warlord (think about it; how does someone cut off their own arms and legs??).

Once the dinner and the stories are over and everyone goes home, a monster breaks out of Peter Brown’s closet and he must try to stop it before it kills an innocent woman (P.J. Soles in her movie debut). The identity of the monster provides the final twist in a movie that’s full of  them.

BLOOD BATH is pretty much as bizarre and funny as I remembered it being. The performances for the most part are pretty good and it even features a few recognizable actors such as Presnell (who was also in FARGO and many television shows over the years) and Doris Roberts from EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND.

Reed only made a handful of films, and they’re mostly hard to find, except for his notorious masterpiece, BLOODSUCKING FREAKS (which went on to be distributed by Troma). While his other films do not live up to the promise of BF, they’re at least entertaining. Subversive Cinema should be lauded for finally bringing this BLOOD BATH out on DVD.

The DVD features a new 16 x 9 widescreen transfer (1:85:1) of the film, as well as an interview segment where Reed and members of his cast and crew talk about the making of this film, and what it was like turning out horror movies for the grindhouse theaters in Times Square in the 1970s. There’s also a feature-length commentary track by Reed.

For fans of Joel M. Reed and grindhouse movies, as well as fans of bizarre cinema in general, this one is worth checking out. It’s not a great movie by any stretch, but you certainly don’t see movies like BLOOD BATH every day. I just wish Reed had made more films.

© Copyright 2008 by L.L. Soares

(A slightly different version of this review first appeared in the magazine ULTRA VIOLENT in 2008)