Horror. Worldview. Faith.

Hellraiser – Review

Hellraiser – Review

Jan 30, 2011

reviewed by Hallo
directed by Clive Barker, 1987
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Horror legend Stephen King was quoted saying, “I have seen the future of horror and his name is Clive Barker.”  Offering a rather different interpretation, famed film critic Roger Egbert retorted, “Maybe Stephen King was thinking of a different Clive Barker.”  I find the name alone of Clive Barker to be one of the most interesting in the horror industry.  I think most horror fans would be surprised to know that Barker has only directed 6 films.  He has written and produced many more, but several of those, especially from a producer standpoint, was more for name recognition than it was anything else; we wonder how much influence Barker has actually had with many of the films his name is attached to.  Even those he has written and directed, the only two that really come across as “legendary” from an all perspective view is Hellraiser and Candyman.  I don’t find Lord of Illusions or Night Breed to be talked about near as much as the other former two films.  Still yet, regardless of the merit, the name Clive Barker carries with it a powerful punch and a heavy factor playing into his legacy is the fan reaction to one film:  Hellraiser.

The movie, starring Andrew Robinson as Larry (who is very good, but unfortunately was the police captain in Stallone’s Cobra, the all-time cheesiest movie ever made, and I have trouble getting those images out of my mind) and Clare Higgins as Julia, is about a married couple who moves into a house that has a rather unfortunate history in its attic.  Larry’s brother Frank, who was having an affair with Julia, took the love of sadomasochism a bit too far after stumbling upon a puzzle box that, once solved, would open the door to another world (hell?) and summon the arrival of the cenobites, the most famous of which being Pinhead (a name that was attached to him by fans of the film, he is never called Pinhead in the movie).  The cenobites ultimately torture and kill Frank, dragging him into their cenobite world forever.  However, when Larry and Julia move into the house, Larry cuts his hand and drips blood on the attic floor.  That blood is “soaked up” by Frank and partly resurrects him.  The more blood Frank receives, the more human he becomes.  This is where Julia enters the picture.  Upon learning that Frank is still alive, even in a horrendous, disgusting body, she is once again captivated by his strong will and agrees to lure men to the attic so Frank can feast on them, bringing him closer to the world of the living.  The conflict arises when the cenobites learn of Frank’s escape, thanks to the tattle-telling of Larry’s daughter, from their grasp and decide they want him back.  The rest of the film centers around that pursuit.

Hellraiser is a movie all about obsession.  Human nature as it is, a little of a good thing just isn’t enough.  We demand more and more until the good thing become our worst enemy.  This is why the cenobites rightly say about themselves, “angels to some, demons to others.”  That, of course, reminds me of the great Metallica song “My Friend of Misery” with the all-too-true lyrics, “one man’s fun is another’s hell.”  Barker does a convincing job of trying to provide a window, even if a small one, for the viewer to partly understand the attraction of the sadomasochist lifestyle and how Frank wound up in a horrific setting.  That, I think, is what Barker should be most applauded for with this film.  Despite the gore and over the top torture scenes, I am still left with a bit of a strange attraction for what Frank was privy to.  I am always appreciative of a director who can shows us the most ruthless of acts and still leave us a bit sympathetic with the antagonist.  I get that from Hellraiser.

Although the special effects hold up pretty well (until the very end where they become nearly unwatchable), the movie does have some “what was Barker thinking” moments, the most absurd being a ridiculous looking creature who chases Larry’s daughter through a hospital wall.  This creature unfortunately reappears at the end of the film and leaves a bit of a distaste.  I also was a bit put out by the ease at which Julia meets her end at the hands of Frank.  After spending the entire movie luring guys for Frank’s resurrection, he nonchalantly puts a switch blade into her tummy, as if this was just another peripheral character.

Fan reaction to Hellraiser was strong, creating a slew of sequels (7 to date with an 8th coming) and a remake (big shock) that is to be released in 2012.  I think it is a must-view for horror fans simply because it is Clive Barker’s essential movie and has had lasting impact on the horror genre.  Don’t believe the hype though – the film is not quite as good as its reputation would lead you to believe.

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An American Werewolf in London – Review

An American Werewolf in London – Review

Jan 29, 2011

reviewed by Skot
directed by John Landis, 1981
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I really want to love the werewolf horror movie sub-genre.  I love wolves.  I even investigated getting a wolf for a pet one time.  Shape-shifters, that is, human beings who can physically change into animals, are a part of folklore traditions the world over.  Hey, the notion of human beings who transform into animals is very cool.  And of all the animals, wolves are among the coolest.  Which animal would you like to become, a platypus?  The trouble is that while I like the idea of werewolf movies, I have not seen many that I truly like.  So often, either the effects are cheesy or the plot is weak.  There are certain werewolf films that horror movie fans tend to like which leave me unmoved.  There are great vampire flicks, great ghost story flicks, great zombie flicks, great slasher flicks, great monster flicks and great exorcism flicks.  But I am still waiting to find a really great werewolf picture.  An American Werewolf in London does not quite fit that bill, though I do like the movie quite a lot.  From what I’ve seen, it’s as good as they get.  It’s a fun ride, and yet falls short in an important way.

The werewolf myth is powerful.  What is the core of human nature?  What makes us civilized beings?  Are we really just animals at heart, underneath the clothes.  Some of the films that do try to take these philosophical questions seriously happen to be dull or overly predictable.  Others, such as American Werewolf in London, do not fail to entertain but cannot manage to scrape the narrative very far beneath the surface.

Two young American men, David and Jack, are backpacking through Europe, traipsing across the north of England before heading to Italy.  One of the best scenes is at the beginning when, on a damp cold night, the Americans stumble upon ‘The Slaughtered Lamb’ public house.  Clearly unwelcome, they are sent on their way with dire warnings such as, “Keep to the road,” “Stay off the moors,” and “Beware the moon.”  Paying no attention to the warnings, David and Jack soon find themselves lost under a full moon being terrorized by an unseen howling beast.  Jack is killed by the monster.  David is injured but is rescued and taken to a hospital in London.

As David recovers, he enters a romance with English nurse, Alex, played by Jenny Agutter.  At the same time, an investigation is started to find the truth about his friend’s death and other mysterious slayings.  David’s deceased friend, Jack, makes a couple of post-mortem appearances to him in order to warn him that he will transform into a werewolf at the next full moon and the only way to prevent himself from slaughtering many innocent people is to take his own life.  Apparently, part of the werewolf’s curse is that all whose lives he takes are doomed to wander the earth as the undead, lost souls, until the werewolf is killed.  Jack pleads with David to prevent further suffering and free those already affected by doing himself in.

David remains unconvinced, until it is too late.  Then to prevent himself from harming Alex, he unsuccessfully attempts to get himself arrested. The high point comes when he transforms and brings havoc upon the public in Piccadilly Circus in London.  His nurse/lover Alex goes to find him.  The police and medical establishment are after him.  Finally, David in wolf form, gets chased and trapped in an alley.

**SPOILER BEGINS**

Some reviewers have expressed dissatisfaction with the abrupt ending.  It does conclude sort of unexpectedly.  David is killed; you see Alex weep for a few seconds, and then BOOM, it’s the credits.  Director John Landis chose to end the movie right at the moment of climax, without allowing time for the repercussions to unfold.  The more I think about it, the less the suddenness of the ending bothers me.  Jack has been trying for the bulk of the movie to convince David to end his own life.  David considered it a few times; tried to say goodbye to his family; even put a Swiss Army Knife to his wrist at one point.  When David is trapped in an alley and Alex appeals to him, there is a moment when the eyes of the werewolf may recognize her.  But then it lunges to attack and is pumped full of bullets by the police.  And BOOM, it’s over.  Maybe some viewers see this as nihilistic.  We’re often trained to think by the cinema that the love of a good woman can rehabilitate a wayward man.  But here the bestial nature seems to win out.  That’s not how I read the picture, however.  I do think wolf-man David has at least a spark of recognition when Alex says his name.  His lurch to attack her is not the triumph of animal ferocity.  It is David doing the most civilized thing he can.  He gives his life, suicide by cop, to save the life of the one he loves.  He cannot be changed or fixed or improved.  A werewolf cannot be domesticated.  He can only kill or be killed.  To protect Alex, to end the cycle of violence, and perhaps to liberate the lost souls he has imprisoned by earlier attacks, he forces the police to put him down.

**SPOILER ENDS**

The transformation effects were exceptionally good for their time and actually hold up rather well.  For my money, they still beat the CGI wizardry you get today.  It’s not scary, but it is disturbing.

Director John Landis understands that horror and comedy are not antithetical.  In fact, they often work well together.  It takes a clever storyteller to find the right balance between horror and humor.  Too much either direction can fail.  An American Werewolf in London is a premium example of horrible ideas presented with just enough tongue-in-cheek to keep the audience from tuning out, either by revulsion or boredom.  Hand-in-hand with the light touch is the movie’s soundtrack.  It features three versions of Blue Moon, Moon Dance by Van Morrison and Bad Moon Rising by Creedence Clearwater Revival.

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The Collector – Review

The Collector – Review

Jan 28, 2011

reviewed by Danny
directed by Marcus Dunstan, 2009
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With a box that boasts that it is from the writers of Saw IV, V, and VI, The Collector pretty well announces who its target audience is.  I knew going in that I wasn’t likely part of that target group, but, even though “torture porn” isn’t my favorite sub-genre, I can usually get enough thrills from a well-made example to make it worth a rental (or, in this case, a used DVD purchase).  For about forty-five minutes, The Collector delivered enough of those thrills to keep me interested.  Unfortunately, things go pretty far downhill in the last half of the movie.

The Collector is primarily the story of Arkin, a locksmith, safe-cracker, and ex-con who, in a desperate attempt to help his ex-wife pay off a loan shark, accelerates a scheduled burglary.  In the first of what will become many coincidences, that night also happens to be the night that “The Collector,” a vicious killer and Rube Goldberg enthusiast, has picked to capture and torture the family that lives there.

When Arkin arrives, he finds himself trapped in a house that has been booby-trapped with the most elaborate, physics-defying, and deadly traps ever seen outside a Dungeons and Dragons adventure.  Many of the traps truly are ridiculous and require incredibly specific things to happen before they would actually work.  Still, they all work just fine, except for the one that the plot needs not to work.  That one, which at one point activates on the villain, is a simple pulley and needs only gravity and the collective pokiness of a chandelier made out of blades in order to work.  It, of course, does no damage to the bad guy.

From the first moments in the home, The Collector establishes a pretty depressing structure.  Arkin discovers a family member, tries to rescue them, and, often through no fault of his own, gets them killed in the process (via the elaborate traps).  When he heads back in to the home near the end of the movie to rescue the young girl he had bonded with over a tea party during one of the film’s two unnecessary prologues, I couldn’t help but think that she might be better off on her own.

As silly as the film is, it has its moments.  The creepy opening features a “what’s in the steamer trunk?” moment that reminded me of one of the best moments in Audition.  Arkin is played well by Josh Stewart, who shows no sign that he knows how ridiculous the film’s plot is.  The gore is vast and well-done.  I’m sure special effects guys love working on films like this.  Where else can you show off your ability to make it look like a man is chained to the wall using fish hooks?  The editing and cinematography are likewise excellent.  Still, none of these high points make up for the giant pile of absurdity that is the plot.

As silly as things eventually got in The Collector, it became impossible for me to continue to invest any real emotion in the film.  When the “surprise” ending finally came around, I could not have been less surprised or more disinterested.

So, is The Collector beneath any recommendation?  Maybe the answer is, yes.  But, I suppose the kills themselves are enough to interest those that mainly watch horror for the gore.  Also, anyone who has the ability to suspend his or her disbelief no matter how ridiculous a movie is could maybe find some interest in Arkin’s plight.  As for me, I don’t regret watching the film, but I won’t be lining up to rent the inevitable, The Collector II.

Click Here to buy The Collector

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House of Fears – Review

House of Fears – Review

Jan 18, 2011

reviewed by hallo
directed by Ryan Little, 2007
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Let’s be honest, is there any better genre of horror than the “break into a dark ride to spend the night with a group of teenagers?”  Funhouse by Tobe Hooper is the dark ride movie by which all others are judged.  Interestingly there seems to be a revival of these movies in the last few years and I am pretty pumped about it.  House of Fears is exactly that.  A new local haunted house is holding their grand opening, but the night before the big event a group of young people decide to spend the night inside the creepy haunt.  The trespass is made possible because one of the participants actually works at the haunt doing odd jobs, so he has a key.  Once inside, it doesn’t take long for them to realize that things aren’t quite right.

The owner of the haunt had purchased an ancient small statue that apparently carries with it the power to animate your worst fears.  When this statue came in contact with the atmosphere of the haunted attraction, it was a match made in heaven.  The group begins to see their fears materialize right in front of them and from there it is a race to find a way outside the haunted house and avoid the worst kind of death.  Fears that are included among the group are clowns, being buried alive, scarecrows, suffocating (similar to buried alive), and electrocution.

Director Ryan Little certainly takes cues from Hooper with the direction of the film, even going as far as to create a bit of tension between daughter and father at the beginning of the film, just as in the movie Funhouse.  However, House of Fears carries with it more of a supernatural undertone than do most movies of this sort.  Whereas the villain in most “locked in a dark ride” movies are just psychotic killers, House of Fears uses the presence of this unholy statue as the source for all things creepy.  Toward the end of the movie, we get a feeling of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” as the lead character, Samantha, boldly tells her fear (a scarecrow) that she is not afraid of him, thereby severely limiting the power of the scarecrow.

One of the weaknesses of the film, and something I probably should have gotten over quicker than I did, was the lack of exits in the haunted house.  Being someone who has a fairly broad knowledge of haunted houses and their creation, I kept chuckling at the idea that these kids had to “go back to the front” to get out of the house.  In reality, there would have been 25 exits leading outside in a dark ride attraction like this.  The finally do discover a blueprint of the facility and locate another exit in the very back!  The film managed to get around the solution of simply calling for help on their cell phones by allowing one of the members of the group to notice how thick the walls were in the attraction; there was no cell service.

This is a fun, humorous, entertaining horror movie.  It certainly isn’t great or even very good, but it is a great movie to watch with a date and a bag of popcorn.  The ending is unbelievably predictable, but it is the only way to make possible a sequel!  My guess is we won’t be seeing one any time soon.

Click Here to purchase House of Fears

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Jenifer (Masters of Horror) – Review

Jenifer (Masters of Horror) – Review

Jan 16, 2011

reviewed by Hallo
directed by Dario Argento, 2005
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Jenifer is one of the two short films directed by the “Italian Hitchcock” Dario Argento for the Showtime television horror series “Masters of Horror.”  I have reviewed his other film, Pelts, here.  Between these two offering by Argento for Showtime, Jenifer is clearly the stronger film and provides a great experience on multiple levels.

The story is about a married cop, Frank Spivey (Stephen Webber), who is taking a break with his partner during their beat to eat some Chinese food in their car.  After exiting the vehicle to use the bathroom, Spivey notices a crazed-eyed man dragging a bound and helpless blonde down to a deserted area by some water.  Just as the man is about to decapitate the lady with an ax, Spivey shoots him.  The last words uttered by the dying man to Spivey were simply, “Jenifer.”  When Spivey turns his attention to the battered girl, he is shocked to notice her face extremely deformed and disgusting.  Instead of trying to describe her deformity, I have simply provided a picture of her below.  After getting over the initial disgust, Spivey carries the lady back to his car and to the police station.

For whatever reason, Spivey is unable to get Jenifer off his mind.  His wife and son suddenly become uninteresting to him and his mind is occupied with the images of this girl who is beautiful in all ways other than her deformed face.  After learning that they sent the girl to a mental institution because she was “retarded”, Spivey shows up and checks her out.  The only place he can take her is home.  Jenifer is unable to speak, but shows her appreciation to Spivey by licking his hand, a gesture that weirds out the cop, but intrigues him at the same time.  From there, things get crazy.  After Spivey’s wife demands that Jenifer be taken somewhere, he unsuccessfully attempts to find a home for her.  Discouraged by his lack of success, he pulls the car over and stops to think.  Jenifer takes advantage of the pause and makes her move on Spivey, an advance that he is willing to accept.  The two become intimate in the vehicle.  From this point, Spivey is hopelessly lost in Jenifer’s trance.  Soon, the girl starts doing very strange things, like eating the cat and even killing a local child and using her organs for dinner.  Although this disgusts Spivey, he cannot bring himself to desert Jenifer.

Finally, Spivey takes Jenifer to an isolated cabin in the woods where he hopes she can’t hurt anyone.  His has lost his position on the force and takes a minimum wage paying job cleaning up a gas station.  When Jenifer lures the gas station son into the woods and kills him, Spivey snaps.  He binds Jenifer and drags her by the hands into the woods.  Just as he is about to kill her, a deer hunter shoots Spivey.  His last words to the deer hunter are, “Jenifer.”  The movie ends with Jenifer rubbing the hand of her new hero.

By far the best part of the movie was the incredible nod given to the original classic Frankenstein when Jenifer kills the local child.  The kid is playing in a puddle of water and Jenifer is shown watching her with great interest from behind.  It was a beautiful scene.  The movie is downright creepy and even scary in parts as Jenifer’s presence provides an ongoing sense of uneasiness, never knowing exactly what she is going to do or what her motives are.  She never turns on Spivey, even up to the very end, but instead ruins every part of his life and things he cares for the most.  In this way, Jenifer represents a multitude of desires, different for each one of us, that can consume us and drive us away from the things we love the most.  This is particular interesting to me as a pastor since it tells the ongoing struggle as portrayed in the Bible for all people – Romans 7 says, “the evil I do not want to do, this I keep on doing.”  Spivey is aware that this relationship is destroying everything he loves, but he is unwilling to break away from it.  As is typically the case, Stephen Webber provides a strong performance and the film looked wonderful.

The film, of course, is not without its faults.  The most blantant being predictability.  I am not a very good “figure the movie out” person, in part because  I don’t try to figure movies out, I just enjoy them.  But I had this one pegged from 10 minutes into the film.  Although the specific actions of Jenifer were intriguing and unpredictable to a degree, the overarching plot and ending were obvious.

Coming in at 53 minutes, Jenifer is certainly worth the time to watch.  It is nice to see Argento continue to provide some quality material and the movie speaks to an inner demon living is us all.  Sin.

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