Horror. Worldview. Faith.

Hellraiser – Review

Hellraiser – Review

Jan 30, 2011

reviewed by Hallo
directed by Clive Barker, 1987

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.

Click Here to purchase Hellraiser.

The Collector – Review

The Collector – Review

Jan 28, 2011

reviewed by Danny
directed by Marcus Dunstan, 2009

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

Tombs of the Blind Dead – Review

Tombs of the Blind Dead – Review

Jan 10, 2011

reviewed by hallo
directed by Amando de Ossorio, 1971

Tombs of the Blind Dead is a Spanish horror movie directed by the legendary Amando de Ossorio and is part of his famous “Blind Dead” collection of which there are four films:  Tombs of the Blind Dead, Return of the Blind Dead, Ship of Zombies, and Night of the Seagulls.  Created on a shoestring budget with limited to no budget for special effects, Tombs of the Blind Dead cemented Ossorio as a brilliant director with a creative spirit.

The movie is about a group of three friends, two of which are female and have a relationship that goes back several years to college, who discover that a love triangle can literally be a deadly thing.  When Virginia White realizes that the guy she is crushing on has a flirtatious attitude toward her best friend, Betty, she decides to take drastic measures.  During a train ride to a local vacation spot where the three were going to enjoy some relaxation, Virginia suddenly jumps off the train with her sleeping bag.  Betty and Roger watch from the moving train as their friend makes her way through a field toward an old, abandoned monastery.  Unfortunately for Virginia, this is the monastery where 13th century Templars were on a quest to secure eternal life by drinking blood from virgin women and offering them as sacrifices.  Put to death for their actions and hung from trees so that birds could pluck their eyes out, the Templars were nevertheless able to secure their immortality by returning from the grave every night at the ringing of the monastery bells.  From there, the story moves from Virginia’s death at the hands of the undead to the ensuing investigation and increased carnage.

Watching this film was a real treat for several reasons.  First, Ossorio’s creativity shines in the movie as he provides some clever working of the camera I have not seen in any other zombie/undead film.  For example, because the Templars had their eyes plucked out during their punishment, they are only able to move in on their prey by sound.  One victim picks up on this weakness of the zombies and stops dead in her tracks.  The ploy is working and the Templars lose her for a moment.  But then the soundtrack slowly builds on the sound of the poor girl’s heartbeat.  She is scared to death and the racing of her heart is enough for the Templars to once again pick up the scent.  To add punch to the scene, Ossorio moves his camera slowly into the heart area of the victim’s chest as the soundtrack continues to increase in volume.  It was a beautiful scene.  The setting of the monastery is also effective and comes across, to some degree, similar to the look of Dracula’s castle in Hammer’s Horror of Dracula.  Finally, Ossorio does quite well with what limited resources he has to work with.  Although the film is certainly not a gore-fest, it does provide a nice array of gruesome death and torture scenes.

Of course, a film like this has plenty of flaws.  The acting is brutal to watch as is much of the dialogue.  The love triangle plot at the beginning was pretty lame and for some reason they threw in a strange flashback to a lesbian encounter between Virginia and Betty during their college years which was completely pointless.  Some of actions taken by the victims toward the end of the film defy any logic whatsoever.  Add to that a incredibly awful subtitled film, 1/3 of which was not readable because it blended in with the film, and you have plenty to overlook while watching.

But, it really is pretty easy to overlook.  I finished the movie and was impressed with what I had seen.  I look forward to checking out the remaining three films in the series.

Click Here to purchase Tombs of the Blind Dead

Pelts (Masters of Horror) – Review

Pelts (Masters of Horror) – Review

Jan 5, 2011

reviewed by hallo
directed by Dario Argento, 2006

Pelts is one of the two entries by legendary Italian director Dario Argento (Suspiria) featured in the Masters of Horror series put on by Showtime television.  Running under an hour in length, these short-films feel a bit more like a Twilight Zone on steroids than an actual feature film.  They are a blast to watch when you don’t quite have time to sit down for a full 90 minutes.

Jake Feldman (Meatloaf) is a fur trader who is obsessed with an exotic stripper named Shanna.  After being denied his sexual advances time and again, he decides the way to her heart is to locate the greatest furs in the world and create the perfect coat.  He finally finds those furs after Jeb Jameson (John Saxon) stumbles across the all-time greatest catch of raccoons in what appears to be some kind of magical section of wilderness.  As he and his son are toting their treasure from the field, they are given an eerie prophecy by a local resident that the critters will have their revenge.  And boy, do they ever.

As best as I can tell, whenever anyone is touching the furs or is even near them, they end up going completely insane.  Jeb’s son crushes in his dad’s face with a baseball bat for no reason, followed by plunging his own face into one of the animal traps.  When Jake arrives at the scene to collect his furs, he is so impressed with them that he essentially overlooks the carnage at hand and gets to work making the best fur coat of all time.  Which he eventually gives to Shanna.  Unfortunately by this time, he has gone mad and decides there might just be a better coat than those luxurious furs; his own skin!  So, Jake makes incisions into his own body and “pulls off” his chest to proudly hand over to Shanna, who is rather disgusted by the gesture (big shock).  The film ends with Jake falling down an elevator shaft and Shanna dying due to blood loss.

This movie, apparently driven in part by Argento’s love for animals, has some visually effective and stunning scenes, which is not surprising considering it is Argento behind the camera.  As is typical for many Argento films, the lack of solid acting and narrative is more than made up by the stylish array of intense and bloody sequences.  Although fun to see Meatloaf in this role, he doesn’t really live up to the performance at hand.  The best role by far in the film is portrayed by John Saxon as the unfortunate fur trapper, and due to his untimely demise at the hand of his son, it is a brief role.  Still yet, it is easy to see how fast and deep the well of obsession can run and Pelts reminds us that the world of the grotesque is not too far removed from the common, ordinary, struggling life of the workingman.

This is a must see for the name Argento alone.  Take a look.

The Human Centipede – Review

The Human Centipede – Review

Dec 17, 2010

reviewed by hallo
directed by Tom Six, 2009

Some films are promoted and sustained by the high level of extravagant shock-value offered through its imagery and motif.  The Human Centipede (first sequence) is the definition of such a film.  Directed by Tom Six, who promises an even more graphic version with his “second sequence” to be released in 2011, relies on the horrid theme of the movie to expunge it of a host of problematic issues, such as acting, editing, and musical score.  None of those typically important aspects of a film are why any of us who are depraved enough to watch this movie dial it in.  We want to see if this film really delivers on the absurd and grotesque plot on which it is based:  a brilliant but crazy doctor who decides to create his own “human centipede” by surgically attaching the mouth of one victim to the anus of the next, making a three person centipede sharing one digestive system.  It really is hard to believe that anyone would watch this garbage.

It was about 30 minutes into the film that I realized I was watching something that had absolutely nothing to offer beyond disgust.  I am not of the camp that believes a horror movie always has some redeeming value simply because it succeeds in repulsing you.  I do believe for all of us horror fans, we enjoy a good kill scene or a great working of gore, but for the most part just shocking the audience with brutal images does not get the job done at the end of the day.  I finished this movie, just barely, realizing that I was in no part the better for watching it at any level.  And in fact, the reverse could be true.  I was thankful when the images were out of my immediate conscience.

Now, having said that, let me say this.  The movie is not near as graphic as one might think.  This is why Tom Six “held off” on the real gruesome stuff for the “second sequence.”  He wanted to get people used to the idea of a human centipede before showing more of what he really wants to show.  Due to the bandages that are used in the operation, you really never see much of the actual surgical point of contact between the parties.  It doesn’t matter though because the human mind is capable of filling in the blanks and mine did so all too well.  Case in point, the first time the “head” of the centipede has a bowel movement, nothing is shown except for the look of terror and disgust in the “second” part of the centipede.  Yet, it was at this point that I was tempted to turn off the movie.  And I probably should have.

So, all I can say about this movie is, well, not much.  I have at least now reviewed it as best I could for TheBlackestEyes, but that is all I really know to say.  I can’t recommend it, nor can I advise you to stay away from it.  Although if you were on middle ground, probably the former would be wise.

Jennifer’s Body – Review

Jennifer’s Body – Review

Oct 5, 2010

reviewed by Danny
directed by Karyn Kusama, 2009

As far as basic film making goes, everything about Jennifer’s Body is done fairly well.  The writing, though a bit precious, is better than the usual low-budget horror script.  The film is well-acted, for the most part, with Amanda Seyfried and Johnny Simmons putting in particularly good performances.  Everything looks great, from the washed-out, cool color palette to the gore.  There are a handful of fun, gruesome scenes that I really enjoyed.  Still, it seems to promise a lot more than it actually delivers.

Jennifer’s Body opens with a scene of the unfortunately named Anita “Needy” Lesnicki in a psych ward.   We see her flip out, attack a nutritionist, and get placed in solitary confinement.  The film then flashes back to the events that brought her to this point.  Needy is a bookish virgin who happens to be best friends– sealed, we will later learn, in blood–with Jennifer Check, a promiscuous beauty who cruises the halls of he high school like a shark cruises the shallows.  The fact that the film was directed by a woman, Karyn Kusama, and written by another, Juno‘s Diablo Cody, had me hoping that the film would dig beneath the stereotypes and provide some kind of insight into these two characters.  Sadly, that is not the case.  Other than a good deal of chewing into the guts of victims, the film never gets more than skin deep.

Fairly early in the movie, Jennifer is kidnapped by a band clearly intent on doing her harm.  I like how particularly clueless the band is (“There’s always that type of girl—they love to show it off, but they are not going to give it up”) It’s also interesting just how resigned to something bad happening Jennifer seems to be when she gets in to the band’s van after a fire in the bar has provided the needed distraction.  She looks more beaten down by life than any high school student has a right to.  When she turns up at Needy’s house in the following scene, bloodied and vomiting an evil-looking black substance onto the kitchen floor, it is clear that something bad has happened, though we don’t yet know what.

It soon becomes apparent that Jennifer isn’t herself anymore.  We see her using her feminine charms to seduce a football player who is mourning the loss of his best friend and lure him to the woods where she proceeds to eat him.

We later learn that Jennifer has been the “virgin” in a virgin sacrifice to bring the band success (guess no one just sells their soul to the Devil anymore)  In the movie’s folklore, the fact that she wasn’t actually a virgin means Jennifer’s body becomes the host to the demon for whom the sacrifice was intended.  This turns Jennifer into a kind of succubus who has to eat flesh in order to stay beautiful.

Is the film suggesting that she is just the perfected form of what she was before—a beast that chews men up and spits them out, so to speak.  I don’t know.  The film’s message seems pretty muddled. If Jennifer, pre-possession, is supposed to be the villain, why does she come off as so needy and sad during the scene at the bar.  If she is just supposed to be another victim, why not show her trying to fight the possession just a bit.  If the creature is just inhabiting Jennifer’s dead body, then nothing that happens after the sacrifice has much to say about her character at all.

Which leaves Needy.  Though a bit clueless at first, eventually Needy figures out what is going on and what needs to be done.  The final revelation about Needy does nothing to add depth to the story.  Instead, it just seems like the writer thought horror films always needed to end with a twist.  Ultimately, the film just seems kind of empty.  Well-crafted, but empty.

Click here to purchase Jennifer’s Body