Photo Credit Sara Cremer

Darke Reviews | Silent Hill (2006)

This review is specifically for one of the people in my life that I can say I love and it is wonderful to say that and it not be weird for anyone involved. The cover art today is a sign she made for today’s beautiful annual event. If you haven’t figured it out by now, this is my favourite holiday ever. Growing up as a child with the previous day as my birthday meant cake and presents one day and costumes and candy the next. How can that possibly go wrong? A night where we as children are allowed to be out at night and to celebrate the night. A night where our imaginations and creativity are rewarded. A night where we can become the nightmare or heroes of our own stories to face them or embrace them. What in the name of all the old gods and goddesses is possibly wrong with this?

So when we talk nightmares, let us talk then about a video game that has caused nightmares in many. My ex said this was one of the scariest games she had ever played or watched someone play. So eventually someone was going to make it into a movie. Video Games to movies do not have a particularly stellar track record. Mortal Kombat is probably the least offensive of them, with Resident Evil a close second, and Tomb Raider vying for third place. Of course Uwe Boll got his hands on so many games it hurts on a primal level. This isn’t to say the movies that are made from video games aren’t sometimes entertaining, Doom is positively entertaining, Need for Speed was entertaining; but rather that they aren’t just that good. Frequently this is blamed on the source material being “just a game”, to which I say rubbish. Yes, first and second gen games had the thinnest backstory possible. Hell some third, fourth, and even recent gen games are pretty thin excuses for their own existence in the story department. Then we have games like Mass Effect, Dragon Age, even Assassins Creed (II mostly…I hate 3 and 4), and the recent Tomb Raider game. Games these days probably have more plot and story than films do (thank you Bioware and SquareEnix). Somewhere along the way though, and I am no video game expert by a long shot, Konami put a game out.

Konami the studio who gave us Contra, Frogger, and Dance Dance Revolution delivered unto us a horror franchise. I know little to nothing about the game, so will only judge it as a movie, but I am told it is relatively faithful to the setting material. When I spoke of atmosphere in the Fog movie review I spoke of how important it is. The makers of Silent Hill understood this. I know that the game is inspired by real life Centralia Pennsylvania, a place on Jessica’s short list for urban exploring, a town almost literally swallowed into hell by a mine fire that is expected to burn for years to come – thats where the similarities end.

And you thought the roads in your town were bad?

And you thought the roads in your town were bad?

The movie focuses on the story of Rose Da Silva (Radha Mitchell) and her adopted daughter Sharon (Jodelle Ferland). Sharon has been having dreams of a place called Silent Hill, dreams of course being a light word for nightmares of extraordinary strength. Rose takes her daughter, without her husband (Sean Bean) Christopher’s consent. Whenever she mentions Silent Hill, people get weirded out, except curious officer Cybil (Laurie Holden), who chases the woman into Silent Hill. Driving faster than she can see proves a mistake and Rose wrecks her car at the entrance to the town. When she wakes her daughter is gone and she is in a grey scale landscape of ash and fog. Chasing a girl she thinks is her daughter through the streets of the seemingly deserted town she hears air raid sirens go off. Then the real nightmares begin.

Keeping with my normal rules of spoiler free, even though this one is past embargo range, I want people to enjoy this film. Enjoy the mystery of the truth of who and what brought Sharon to Silent Hill. The truth of what Silent Hill is and of course…the horror of what it is. Ok, one spoiler and a mystery all it’s own is …how did Sean Bean survive the film? This is Silent flippin Hill.

Lets talk about the writing for a moment, we have Roger Avary as the sole credit on the film. Avary has writing credits on True Romance, Reservoir Dogs, and Pulp Fiction, with an Oscar win for the last. He also has a BAFTA for it and a Saturn Award nomination for his work on the mo-cap Beowulf  with Neil Gaiman. What I am saying here is the man knows how to write. He took whatever the game had and wove a rather complex intertwining story of past, present, and future within Silent Hill. I am not talking time travel, but just the levels that the film operates on simultaneously. The story nails it and does something few do, it makes me uncomfortable at times. It also makes me sympathize with the bad guy in this one, but I think you should. Even the way the story progresses makes it still feel like a video game but a logical extension for a running plot as well. When characters find items, use them, or add them to “inventory” it makes sense and feels natural. If you are a gamer, you see it for what it is and it’s hard not  to smile at it.

Taking this script and making it a reality was the job of Christophe Gans. I love this man. I love his work. He doesn’t have much and I consider that a shame. Brotherhood of the Wolf was the first film of his I saw and was a beautiful piece of foreign film making. Five years after he was given this script; and just recently did a take on Beauty and the Beast (which I desperately want to see). We now return to our conversation about atmosphere and sweet ladies of the inferno does he create it. When it is light in the town of Silent Hill, there is the weight of fog and ash that surrounds everything. This place feels like it is on the edge of something dark already just from that alone. Then when it goes dark…you are made uncomfortable. It is wrong and you know it. This is Hellraiser territory at times and you can’t help but shift in your seat once or twice after those air raid sirens blare. The performances he elicits out of his actors are incredible, even if some of them reach campy at times, but the work with Mitchell and Ferland is excellent. Proof that yes, child actors work. Proof that a good director can turn great performances from children. His choices on camera work are also incredible as well, putting them in places and moving them in ways that truly inform the story and help push it and us along on this trip where I think even Dante would go “Pace!”

As for the actors, Radha Mitchell is our center of the story, a mother desperately trying to save her child mentally, physically, and spiritually. She is almost a typical last girl that we see in other films, except she begins strong and only gets stronger as the film progresses. The lengths the town (yes it’s a character all it’s own) drives her to are inhuman. The actress performs marvelously and I wish we got more of her in films. Sure we got her in Olympus has Fallen and Man on Fire, but we also saw her in the original Pitch Black – where she was also very fun to watch. Her…sidekick(?) for lack of a better word is Walking Dead’s Andrea Laurie Holden, so spoiler (rollover) you can watch her die horrifically here too? She is mostly a nick of time side kick of usefulness than anything else, but does fairly well here. Deborah Kara Unger (The Game, Payback), plays the mysterious Dahlia a figure who seems immune to the darkness for unknown reasons. Alice Krige (Star Trek: First Contact, Sorcerers Apprentice) plays the leader of the people of Silent Hill and I think may be channeling Piper Laurie from Carrie for the role. If the majority of the weight falls on Radha, then the remainder falls on Jodelle Ferland (Cabin in the Woods, Paranorman) for her minimal screen time. She handles Sharon well and has to do a lot with very little, but it works none the less.

Now, I talked about how Silent Hill itself is a character? Alright, I will say this first, the CGI here is kinda weak sometimes verging on SyFy weak. The practical though? Incredible. Production designer Carol Spier, who also gave us Pacific Rim and Carrie was a miracle worker. A black miracle perhaps, but miracle none the less. She took a Norman Rockwell town and in daylight it looks broken, in the grey ashfall it looks weighty and wrong, and in the dark is a special hell. The raw amount of practical choices here out weigh any horrific CG work for me. It is no surprise to me that I see Patrick Tatopoulos (Underworld, Stargate, Face Off, Solomon Kane) name on the Creature and Special Make up designer credit, specifically on the Nurses, and it – Pyramid Head. I had no experience with the game, but this thing was a monstrous force on screen that by careful choices of its creators carried real weight that made you know things were about to go terrifyingly wrong. Paul Jones appears to be the other creative lead, considering one of his first films were Waxwork, Hellraiser II, and Nightbreed I can see that he has specialties and they are only getting better. The town is a real thing here because of these people and their crews. It is a living, breathing, entity. It draws and drives the story forward on its own pace as much as any decision the characters make.

Before I get to the TL;DR on one of my longest reviews ever, I want to talk about the music. Pure atmosphere. In another film it could be lighter but when matched with the imagery here the word haunting comes to mind.

 

 

TL;DR

This would make my top 10 list of best horror movies. Many would disagree, but I distinctly remember walking from the theatre with my friend Kevin and looking at him going. “I feel…uncomfortable.”

I wasn’t scared, but I was disturbed. I think that counts for something special here. There is imagery, scenes, and shots in the movie that deliberately are crafted to be unpleasant and uncomfortable. It was just that kind of film where my skin was crawling a bit as I walked into a cool April evening. I cannot complain about a movie that I can so distinctly remember how it made me feel and the night as I left it.

I happily and eagerly recommend this film for October viewing, or viewing on a nice foggy night.

Should you watch Silent Hill? Absolutely, but keep the light switch handy.

 

PS Spoiler Rollover:

I agree with Alessa…and that which became Alessa. I understand her and was cheering for her. Rose’s decision would be mine.

Advertisements

Darke Reviews | The Thing from Another World (1951)

I am ending the month of reviews with the film that I answer the question: “What’s your favourite movie of all time to?” when asked. No it’s not what I put for security questions that ask the same. I am insane, not stupid. I have seen this twice on the big screen by pure luck and enjoy it every time. I avoid the colourized version when possible and suffer through it when not. It’s important to note, when looking at the genre of Sci-Fi this is one of forerunners of the modern alien movies. Coming out in 1951 it was part of the rise of cultural xenophobia and anti russian sentiment growing in the US during the post war environment. We were already at war in Korea during this and the Russians were the boogeymen. The boogeyman can’t be a man though, not really, not then anyway, it had to be something else, something Alien perhaps?

The Day the Earth Stood Still had not come out yet that year, and the genre of science fiction has been around on screen for as long as we’ve had screens. It’s been on the air since well we had airwaves to transmit for entertainment. Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, a little thing called War of the Worlds? Novels of such things have existed even longer with a mother of science fiction in Mary Shelley, and those who followed such as H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. The 30’s saw a rise in pulp fiction, with such literary greats as Robert E Howard and H.P. Lovecraft; or even a certain man (he might even be called super) created by Siegel and Shuster. Yet, with all of this background the idea of alien films was still very new and this is among the earliest and due to two factors more overlooked. The first factor is the Robert Wise production of The Day the Earth Stood Still, one of the top films of the same year. It would be like me asking you what other Sci Fi movie came out the same year as Independence Day, you probably can’t, and that’s ok. Some films are just so big they overshadow the rest.

The second factor leaving this one overlooked and underrated is John Carpenter. In 1982 he released his take on the same story. Both films are based on a story called “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell. While, per usual, I haven’t read the original story the Carpenter version is attributed to being more accurate to the xenophobic fear that the story espouses. Carpenters version is also widely praised by cinephiles and fans of both sci fi and horror. It’s practical effects are still a benchmark. With all of this in mind, I do prefer this film.

Let’s talk about the film in the usual way shall we?

The credited director is Christian Nyby, with this as his first film. He then moved to TV and never quite looked back with dozens of TV shows to his credit through 1975. IMDB indicates there is an uncredited director – Howard Hawks, who was also the producer. Hawks worked on some of the greatest war movies and most memorable westerns of all time, with Sergeant York (a joke in the movie I realize now), Air Force, Rio Bravo, and El Dorado; he was even the director on the Marilyn Monroe classic Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). So the sharp direction, wit, and conversations through the movie. For 1951 it has excellent blocking and timing with the understanding that editing was more difficult back then.

The script was written by Charles Lederer, who had been writing for two decades prior, and worked with Hawks on several films after. Probably one of the most famous films he worked on was the original Ocean’s Eleven and Mutiny on the Bounty. I think it was this man that probably inspired most of what I like about the film, the dialogue. While analyzing it as an adaptation of the source material it is a fail, for a standalone story it works. It captures the paranoia growing through the country well enough and again is one of the forerunners of alien invasion movies. It also brilliantly doesn’t demonize anyone as so many of the movies in Sci Fi from the 50s and 60’s do. There is a strong anti science sentiment, mostly due to the realization of the nuclear bombs power and that science delivered it, contrasted by scientists still saving us. It’s an interesting mix in film at the time with very strong fear of the nuclear age and those who delivered it to us. This movie lets science show it’s curiosity as much as it’s caution with several of the scientists arguing amongst themselves as to how to proceed, and I admire that. Along with this, we get a strong female who has a sexual identity of her own that helps drive the backstory/lovestory between her and the main protagonist. It’s not forced, in fact it feels very real and natural as written. The rest of the dialogue through the film almost reminds me of Aaron Sorkin on the West Wing, it is witty, quick, and relies on strong chemistry with the cast.

I wish I could say more about the cast beyond that strong chemistry. Everyone in the film is fantastic, don’t get me wrong. Kenneth Toney (Capt. Hendry), Margaret Sheridan (Nikki), Robert Cornthwaite (Dr. Arthur Carrington), and Dewey Martin (Bob..seriously); all of them were great. They played their parts well, felt like a real crew who knew each other and it was warm despite the climate. The relationship between Hendry and Nikki was absolutely believable and honestly a bit racy for the 50s; especially where he lets her tie him up for a date. Carrington’s obsession with science is portrayed as reasonable at first and grows less so, but at the same time you cannot help but appreciate his arguments – Cornthwaite is responsible for that.  Bob is every sergeant story I have ever heard since. He knows all, sees all, and a good captain and officers wisely listen. They do. They even joke about it. It works.

There is of course, James Arness, who is our visitor. His name, unlike the others who vanished in to relative obscurity even with long careers, is known as Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke. They used his 6’7″ (2.01 meter) frame to full advantage which made him an imposing monster on screen.

I can’t say much about the technical aspects, it’s 1951. What they do – works rather well.

TL;DR

This is one of the great sci fi movies of all time and it doesn’t get nearly enough love. If you want to check it out, I highly recommend it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Darke Reviews | Nightbreed (1990)

This is another by request review to fill out the month and one of the more schlocky films in this months set of reviews. First let me say I am going to be reviewing the newly released (as in today) directors cut of the film. This is also one of the few times I have read the original source material for the film. When it first came out fourteen year old me enjoyed the late 80’s awesomeness of this movie, even in how ridiculous some of it was. I wanted to escape to Midian, I wanted to be with the monsters, I belong there; so I did the most logical thing at the time and rode my bike over to the library and checked out Cabal by Clive Barker. I devoured the book in a night and then found the comics that expanded the universe later – still have the comics, lost a purchased copy of the book over the years and moves.  Now I have watched it off and on over the years and I realized nostalgia glasses needed to be removed, but the world it created was still something intriguing to me. I was delighted to see that a directors cut was coming out this year.

So, it is a film from the end of an era, the end of the 80’s – should it be watched now?

Loaded question, let’s get to the vivisection.

Based on the Novel by Clive Barker, screenplay by Clive Barker, and directed by Clive Barker. This can either be a colossal mess or a colossal success. Turns out that success may not be dependent upon the man, but rather the studio as well. Barker, shortly after the films release and its commercial and critical flop quickly decried the studio. The studio here is 20th Century Fox; now I wouldn’t say Fox was known for its meddling into films (Wolverine, X-3) or that it exerted influence to get what it wanted over the creators rendering the final project lesser or doomed to failure (Firefly/Serenity). I wouldn’t say Fox executives are known for making total hatchet jobs of good works…but then again I don’t have to say it. History has for me over the years. So when someone is quick to blame the studio and that someone is the creator of the original work and the film work, then well…doubts are bound to creep in and hard to ignore.

Barker is noted as saying that Fox wanted to make more of a slasher film riding the wave of the other slashers of the late 80’s. They couldn’t comprehend a story in which monsters could be heroes, which at the time was a fairly alien concept. Some of these decision makers were probably legacy holdovers from the 1930s and 40’s censorship boards that decreed, and I kid you not, that Monsters must die at the end of the film no matter how sympathetic they may be – they cannot win or survive. Obviously these are not the same men, but their influence was still strong and mostly likely had some impact in the botched attempt for this story. Barker, for his part wanted to tell a story about monsters a real story about monsters, one that speaks to a part of all of us.

“There’s a corner of all of us that envies their powers and would love to live forever, or to fly, or to change shape at will.” (Clive Barker / 1988 / Chains of Love )

It’s true and I think this is why the monsters attract us so, Dracula, the Wolfman? Don’t they touch on those loves and those desires? Wouldn’t you have wanted to see a movie about monsters that are beautiful, alien, and attractive on ways that speak to us at a primal level. I know I did then and would now.

“You call us Monsters, but when you dream, you dream of what we can do…you envy us.” – Rachel, Nightbreed

I know that I wanted to see the movie that the comics and the novel brought me, but instead we got Nightbreed. This is the story of Boone (Craig Sheffer), twice loser who has vivid dreams of a place called Midian. A place where the monsters live, a place where he feels he belongs. His girlfriend Lori (Anne Bobby) supports him, while his doctor Philip K Decker (Philip K Dick much?) seems to have ulterior motives. Boone does find his way to Midian and finds the monsters of his dreams. Only to find a worse monster chasing him. Lori follows close behind determined to save her boyfriends life and braves the monsters of Midian to do so. Boone ends up having to make a choice between the life he has or the life he had, with dozens of lives at stake either way. Which does he choose? Which should he choose?

Which would you choose?

The acting is almost painfully bad and sadly what we come to expect of horror movies of this period. Craig Sheffer (One Tree Hill, River Runs Through It) is too corny for words most times.  David Cronenberg (director of Videodrome, The Dead Zone, the Fly) as Dr. Decker is a special brand of sociopath that makes me wonder how he kept his medical license or anyone would be stupid enough to follow him. Anne Bobby (Bioshocks Brigid), pulling her best Jennifer Grey impression, is a highlight of the film with horror movie heroine strength throughout. I rather enjoy and admire her and how unflinching she is. She is a person some could aspire to be who finds beauty in the beast.  The rest of the cast is a mixture of those who can over act and those who can’t act at all. I can’t even begin to discuss how ludicrous act III of the movie gets with the “locals”. Watching this cut of the film it is even more painful.

Effects wise? The movie uses classic matte paintings for many backgrounds and I kind of love it for that. I miss that to be honest, the artistry of them was something to appreciate compared to some of the CG backgrounds we get today. Oh sure, the CG is certainly more photo real in many respects and can blend seamlessly over these matte backgrounds were something special. The computer effects when used are abysmal and that is the best word I can use. The make up effects on the other hand are a mixture of bizarre to disturbingly beautiful.  They can be comically laughable, heart wrenchingly sympathetic, and out right monstrous. Even the worst of them in all their silliness allows you to appreciate the range these monsters, these people can have. Not all of them have special gifts, in fact some are very much like the Morlocks of the X-Men universe, they just had the luck to be born different.

Danny Elfman’s score does not do this movie justice. The man’s use of horns is so completely unsubtle I can’t help but wonder if the movie is worse for it.

TL;DR?

This is not a good movie. Not by a long shot, but how I long to see what it could have been. Even the directors cut does not improve the film and I feel that had we seen what was intended vs. what was allowed to be filmed I could say otherwise.

If you have nostalgia for this movie, please please continue to enjoy it as I do, but I hope you are not blind to its epic badness.

If you need a beer and pizza horror movie that you can laugh at with your friends, now 25 years after this was made, I have a movie for you right here.

I cannot in good conscience say to see the film unless either condition is true, even the directors gut. If, you are a fan though, click here and help celebrate it.

SpoilerGive me the damn alternate ending any day where she becomes one of the Breed …

Darke Reviews | Constantine (2005)

So it is fortuitous that this review was requested. I had been wondering what I would review for todays post and this works out perfectly as the TV series just premiered friday as well. I am going on record saying when I first heard of this film – I refused to see it. Absolutely, Selene as my witness refused to even consider seeing this film due to the casting of Keanu Reeves as the titular character. I was a minor fan of the comic book character having enjoyed him in The Books of Magic and various other appearances with DC/Vertigo characters I knew and loved. I knew certain things of him were absolute.

  • Blonde.
  • Welsh/British
  • Chain Smoking
  • Bi Sexual
  • Witty

Of Keanu’s things he can do in a film to portray the character, chain smoke. He technically could be bisexual, but the film didn’t address it. We saw the british accent once…yeah and it was laughable. This was one of the worst possible castings I have ever come across. I was resolute in my not seeing of this film until I was one day – almost literally – tied down and forced to watch it on DVD.

So how does it do once I take off the glasses of raw seething hatred?

Let’s take a poke at the director a moment. This was his first feature film. He had just come from being a music video director and went right into this. Since then he has given us I Am Legend (I’ll review that some other time when I am feeling the need to cut myself and do that instead), Water for Elephants ( I have no comment on this, I haven’t seen it), and The Hunger Games Catching Fire. Ok, so its clear he has evolved, but did he do a bad job here? Honestly – no. He does a good job of getting performances out of his actors and controls the shot in rather inspiring ways at times. He lets angles distort our perceptions and appropriately uses colour and the visual effects to maximum effect.  There are a lot of good decisions here that show serious potential and I can see how he eventually directed Hunger Games. I can also sense a lot of studio interference.

When we talk about story we have characters created by Jamie Delano and Garth Ennis for the original comic and a story by Kevin Brodbin for this. Brodbin never got much work. He did the 1996 Seagal movie the Glimmer Man, this, and the woefully underrated Mindhunters in 2004. He took a stab at the screenplay and an additional writer was brought in to fix it up if I had to guess based on the second credit of Frank Cappello.  I can’t imagine why he was brought in having really only done Suburban Commando before. Yet by their writing powers combined they actually nailed the essence of Constantine and the hidden world within our own. The movie probably has one of the best representations of a world within a world that normal people don’t or can’t see. I could watch this, The Craft, and Mortal Instruments and they almost fit seamlessly.

Ok, now this is where we usually talk about cast. I will get to Keanu last. We have a young Shia LaBeouf, mostly being Shia, but not entirely terribad. Moving on. Djimon Hounsou plays Papa Midnite, a noted character in the Vertigo verse and he nails it with all of his usual charm and screen presence. He has weight and lets it go full throttle for this film. Rachel Weisz (The Mummy) is our catalyst as a LA Cop with a british accent, possibly adding to my fury at Keanu, since they were able to obviously get someone from the UK into the film. While some of these cast members are interesting and do their best, nothing really compares to these two: Tilda Swinton and Peter Stormare. Swinton (Narnia, Snowpiercer, Only Lovers Left Alive) is Gabriel, the archangel. She uses her vaguely androgynous looks to maximum effect and is both beautiful and offputting as an angel might be. She has some of the best dialogue in the film and devours scenery like someone coming off of a fasting. Peter Stormare as Lucifer? One of *the* best performances of this character I have ever seen. Talk about scenery chewing, nothing compares to this, nothing in this film anyway. Overall, he is up there against Viggo Mortensen in the Prophecy for raw creepy pasta levels.

The visual effects in the film are remarkable strong for 2005 as well. Only one real effect is an absolute fail with the bug guy on Figueroa, aside from that there is a definite elegance on how they choose to evoke effects. The fire looks good from the Dragons Breath. The wings of demons flying by windows look good. The make up effects are *really* good, but of course they came from Stan Winston Studios and had bloody Ve “Face Off” Neill as make up department head. Even their vision of hell and the demons is not something I’ve quite seen before. Even the flying tracking shots, while a mix of cg and real work fairly well.

Now on to Keanu. Whew. I didn’t hate it. There I said it. I Didn’t hate it. While he still lacks most of Constantines charm and wit I blame that on script as much as acting. He still isn’t John Constantine, but he is the american cousin if he had one. He gets the sarcasm, the nihilism, and the chain smoking down. He gets people around him, friends, dying as par for the course, but the reality is he isn’t a bad Constantine. He isn’t great, but I will admit he got as close as the script, the studio, and his talent could allow. That of course is the downside, he isn’t great and was limited by his talent. Keanu is not charming. He doesn’t really have much in the way of charisma, even in John Wick he isn’t charismatic or charming but fun. Here we are missing some of the fun, and all of the charm.

TL;DR time.

From a purely comic book loyalty standpoint, they got a good Constantine story here. It fits, but they fubar’d the casting so badly that it was nearly unwatchable by the fanbase that could have supported the movie. If you take off those fandom goggles and just watch the film as an adaptation of John Constantine Hellblazer, then …and only then you might enjoy the film.

It is a better film than most give it credit for and Keanu is its greatest strength and weakness. He does pretty damn well for the role, but misses it just enough that it doesnt work. I do think people should give it a shot, but for the love of all that is holy in your life do not compare it to the source material. Consider it instead a Supernatural Mystery with Religious overtones.

So do I regret not seeing it in theatres? No. I think I would have hated it out of hand and never given it a shot for a decent review, coming back later I think I can be honest in saying Constantine: Not too bad actually.

 

 

Darke Reviews | Hellraiser (1987)|

This film really feels like it came out earlier than it did. For some reason my brain kept thinking this came out in the early 80’s rather than the late 80’s. Granted some of the fashion in the film does actually date it fairly well. I recently had an opportunity read some interview transcripts regarding the making of this film, courtesy of io9. This makes the film yet another one of the classic great films shot on a low budget (less than $1mm) and considered an indie film. I think that is worthy of some commentary.

Some of the greatest horror movies come from what is not seen vs. what is seen. My best friend, generally dislikes horror, but much of it comes from having a face you can see. It stops being as scary. To quote an underrated movie, “If he has a voice he has a throat, if he has a throat, he has a body.”   These independent, low budget films, can’t afford to show much. The directors and crew need to get creative on how to build the tension and make things scary. Pinhead, by example, probably has less than 8 minutes on screen total out of the films 94 minute running time. Jaws, another example of a monster that is barely shown. Granted Jaws is due to technical issues, but the lack of vision of the monster forced Spielberg to get creative with other kills. This made the film scarier.

Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, Jaws, Hellraiser, Psycho, Friday the 13th, all of these films are considered iconic, classic, staples of modern horror. Every other film in their genre is compared to them and as you begin to add budget to them and sequels the quality diminishes.Is the secret to successful horror a distinct lack of budget?

Look at the modern day films, such as Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity, both extremely cheap to make and both insanely successful in the box office. Both rely on what they don’t show you and because of that are scarier. As they progress, ok lets focus on PA here, Blair Witch 2 was …godawful, they become less intense and less effective in arousing a fear emotion from us. The bigger the budget, the less scary movies become as the director is able to follow whim than be limited by it. Those limitations are what pushes the creative minds to achieve success. Even Michael Bay worked better with less budget, check out the video for Meatloafs I would do anything for Love as an example.

So Hellraiser? Is it scary?

Well, it is from one of the most beautifully deranged minds in horror, Clive Barker. Based on one of his own stories The Hellbound Heart, which was nearly the title but the studio was afraid someone would think it was a romance. Boy would they have been surprised. He is both writer and director, so any changes from the original story really are on him and those limitations I spoke to earlier.

The movie starts out with the story of Frank, a man so depraved that life itself holds no sensation for him and he explores something to find new heights of pleasure and pain. For this he pays a price, as all things come with one. We cut to some time later when Franks brother Larry and his wife Julia move into his old home. Though Julia has some very specific memories of the place and Frank. Larry’s daughter Kirsty is also moving back close to home and stops by for a visit. A small accident and a little blood later and Frank is freed from his prison and much like the Mummy needs to pull himself back together to be whole again. Julia agrees to help, but as all murder plots go things begin to unravel as the bodies stack up.

Notice, no mention of the monsters? There’s a reason for that. They play such a small part in the film, but are special to the horror. They are the Cenobites, the guardians of a place not dissimilar to hell, a place where pleasure and pain become one. They have such weight on screen their physical presence, even without dialogue tells you all you need to know. But then they do give them dialogue, the figure now known as Pinhead, but then Cenobite leader makes Hell almost tempting as it is terrifying. I don’t normally put quotes from films in a review but honestly…how do you not get chills from some of these lines?

“Oh, no tears please. It’s a waste of good suffering.”

“Explorers…in the further regions of experience. Demons to some. Angels to others.”

It’s just excellent. Sadly, most of the acting strength comes from those few minutes of Doug Bradley on screen as Pinhead. Andrew Robinson as Larry, Claire Higgins as Julia, and Sean Chapman/Oliver Smith as Frank do ok. They don’t sell me anything, other than the build up. I almost feel as if they are going through the motions. Frank probably is one of the more terrifying villains with his look through the movie. Kirsty is our typical Last Girl though, strong in ways she didn’t know she could be. She reminds me much of Nancy from Nightmare on Elm Street. She’s a survivor and when the cenobites show the first time, her mind saves her not any muscle.

From a technical standpoint, the movie is one of the more grotesque out there. The lack of budget forced much in the way of practical effects and we are thankful. Every effect surrounding Frank is a thing of exquisite grotesquery. The Cenobites are iconic images that at one point Barker thought might be too silly in bright light. Even the final creature, the machinist, while you can tell is a puppet by some respects is far more terrifying than a CG version of it ever could be.

TL;DR

Hellraiser is one of the scariest films ever made in the creature feature department. It gives us a manifestation of hell that we can understand and are afraid of. The thought of suffering is bad, but seeing a potential option for its outcome is unpleasant. It is a gore flick don’t get me wrong and some effects do not hold up all these years later (and some didn’t hold up then); but it is an iconic film of horror.

Should you watch it though? Honestly, this one is only for the fans of gore in their movies. Psychological horror fans probably won’t get nearly as much out of it.

Hellraiser is an icon for a reason and it will stand the test of time, but it is certainly not for everyone.

So…what is your pleasure?

 

 

 

Darke Reviews | Psycho (1960)

I have to admit, I had never seen this movie fully until this day. Oh sure, it was impossible to not be aware of all that comes with it. There’s no twist for it anymore, there’s no real surprise. While there is some argument over what a slasher film is, I will give my definition first:

A film in which the primary weapon used for murder is a bladed hand instrument that can be use in a motion that strikes across the victim (you know a slash). Stabbing is also a method in which the victims may be expirated.

We don’t call it the stabbing genre though. We call them slashers. While Halloween is sometimes attributed as the first Slasher, it’s body count can help support that, Texas Chainsaw Massacre came out four years prior. There had been films in the 40’s and 50’s that dealt with murder, but perhaps the one that inspired the rest since then – Psycho. Because of the nature of this film and it’s influence on modern cinema, I really want to spend some serious time discussing it. So I give you fair warning now, if you just want to know about seeing it – go to the TL;DR; otherwise, let’s talk Psycho.

Consider yourself spoiled. It’s been five decades.

I want to open this with the trailer. I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like it before or anything since. Let me share first –

Hitchcock himself, just talking on screen. He tells us about the motel, so unassuming, then moves to us to the house. Even the music is light hearted as he speaks about diabolical acts. He then tells us about the movie, I don’t mean lightly – HE DESCRIBES THE DETAILS; all of them, then…he stops. Teasing us with descriptions. He keeps hinting and how horrible it all is. How gruesome and even indescribable some events are. Through out this trailer he masters the concept of the tease, he begins to talk about something then cuts himself off – it is magnificent. The unfinished descriptions leave us wondering, but also tell us when and where to pay attention in the film. He also speaks of this as if it were real. It is absolutely brilliant. Again, to my knowledge nothing before, nothing since. I don’t know that anyone could do it now. I don’t know that anyone is that skilled a director to even try. I am sure some might consider it, but would the studios allow such a thing? Probably not, but I almost want someone to try.

Of course, the trailer just gets us in. Then there is a script by Joseph Stefano pretty much an unknown at the time, but would go on to write and produce for one of the greatest sci-fi/horror shows of all time, the Outer Limits. The script may have been written by Stefano, but it was based on a novel by Robert Bloch one year prior, thus proving Hollywood has always been basing their films on a book. Bloch would also go on to write for Hitchcock himself, on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Now, not having read the book yet, as is normal for me, I am going strictly by Wiki here. I know how dangerous that is, but the final screenplay is pretty much lock step with the story. It is worth mentioning the story could be inspired by the, at the time recent, arrest of Ed Gein, one of the most famous American serial killers. Texas Chainsaw Massacre was also inspired by Gein, as was Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs. Though it is said Bloch did not research the Gein case beyond the news, it does also prove how much art may imitate reality when the stories are locked at side by side. As an aside, I know way too much about serial killers.

To sell this sort of story you need good actors. We’ve seen in recent decades, now 54 years later, what happens if you try this without mediocre or bad actors. Let’s work up the chain shall we?

John Gavin (Spartacus,  is our start, playing Sam Loomis the fly by night lover of Marion Crane. He is a man we in the modern age that many can relate to. He has debts from his family, debts from an ex wife he needs to pay alimony to, and a woman he loves that he wants to be a better man for. For the 60s, this is fairly racy, as he is not quite having an affair since neither him nor his lover Marion are married, but there’s is a secret relationship which is at its tipping point. He is perhaps the catalyst for the story as much as anything else and it is because of him we reach a, I suppose the word here is, satisfactory ending to the film. He ends up being the one to stop our killer, but not alone. This leads us to Vera Miles, as Lila Crane, the sister to Marion. She is gorgeous, honestly one of the prettiest women I have ever seen. She is also, as Lila, single minded and focused in attempting to find her sister. She will do what it takes to do so and really only has a weak moment when she confronts something that is worth having a freak out over. She also reprised her role in the sequel twenty three years later. She was a force on screen in the film and able to drive those around her. Though this may be her only real characteristic, it is worth mentioning.

The two left of course are Janet Leigh, as Marion Crane. She already was a name in Hollywood having worked with greats such as Errol Flynn, Gary Cooper, Jimmy Stewart, Kirk Douglas, Frank Sinatra, John Wayne, and Tony Curtis.  Of course, as mentioned in The Fog, she is the mother of Jamie Lee Curtis. Much like Miles, she is also one of the most beautiful women to have ever graced the silver screen. The first 45 minutes of movie focuses on nothing but her. She owns it, every scene. Every bit of dialogue, internal monologue, and blocking. She dominates. She is a near perfect actress in this film, worthy of her Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination and Golden Globe win for this part. So much of the film relies on her and her expressions and it works. Even the opening with her in naught but a bra and a slip – racy at the time and rarely seen but she made it natural. Then..there is her exit stage right.

The shower. That magnificent scene which all other slashers must compare to at some level. Leigh, never took a shower again after viewing it, it was how vulnerable she felt, how vulnerable we are there that drove her this way. Not the filming as some report. She has to sell her death on screen and does so with the hand (or scream) of a master.

This of course leads us to the master of the house. Anthony Perkins

AnthonyPerkins

A face only a mother could love right?

 

It is impossible to not know that face and what movie he goes with. His performance is iconic. He is able to sell us both the dutiful motel owner, the loyal son, and of course Psycho. He is just so much the gentleman, but when the light hits just right you see the glint of madness. Of course, we all go a little mad sometimes, right? It’s both a reserved and manic performance. He demonstrates the insanity perfectly and because of this the final scene is *not* offensive. The police quickly go to “he’s a transvestite” and the doctor quickly corrects them saying no. This is often overlooked, the psychological break within his mind is shown so well, so perfectly by Hitchcock and Perkins that such distortion of the psyche is sometimes culturally benchmarked against this movie. This is what we go to, and unfortunately, as a culture it is for the worst. Despite the film saying what kind of madness it is, we associate the man in a dress one step away from a killer. I blame society not the script.

From a technical aspect, it cannot be understated that Psycho was filmed in black and white intentionally. We love our colour films these days, but there is an artistry to black and white. You have to understand colour to use it. The way to light things and how to make shadows fall on the face are so perfectly done. There is a reason this movie is such a classic and cultural touchstone decades later.

TL;DR?

The movie is a masterpiece. I’ve owned a copy of the poster for years, despite not having seen the film just because of how iconic it is. If you really enjoy the slasher genre and you want to see where it all began – watch this film.

If you celebrate classic cinema and have not seen it, as I had not, watch this film.

If such things are not your forte, I would say – try this film. Appreciate the art, but if you still don’t enjoy it there is nothing wrong with that.

This is a film great. It belongs in the top of any “greatest works of film making” list. It may not make someone’s favourite film list, but thats taste and preferences, regardless of artistry. I am glad I got to see it on the big screen, today.

Psycho – a must see film within anyones life time.

 

Darke Reviews | Scream 4 (2011)

The final (for now) installment of the Scream franchise. After 11 years of rotting, the producers, director, and studio thought it was time to resurrect Scream. Perhaps they thought they had something new to say? Perhaps they thought they had something new to satire? Perhaps it was about the money. If it was the last, then they failed miserably. With a production budget of $40 million (same as Scream 3) they made a whopping $38 million (domestic). It looked decent out of the gate with a solid $18 million opening weekend, then dropped 62% in the second weekend. Of course, it was against Fast Five that weekend, which pulled in an amazingly stunning $86 million. So perhaps it was the other two?

Well, actually it was. According to an interview Craven actually thought he had a new story to tell. The landscape of horror has changed dramatically over the decade, actually, that is an understatement, the entire landscape of the world has changed since the last Scream film. Not even getting into the geopolitical landscape, lets look at technology:

Remember these cellphones?

Remember these cellphones?

 

Facebook, Twitter, the deceasing size of camera’s, the increasing size and power of phones. Hell, my first two computers were less powerful than my last two cellphones. Horror has changed so much as well. We had the rise and fall of Torture Porn. For those not familiar with the genre, think Saw, Hostel, etc. These are the films that have an overwhelming focus of the gory deaths, pain, and screams for the sake of the gore, death, and screams but not story. The middle part of the decade was littered with these films and we (wisely) got tired of them quick enough, even if we did get SAW 9000. We also had the re-introduction of the low budget horror with films like Paranormal Activity where “everything” is recorded. Young teens absolutely litter the landscape, and morgues,  of nearly every horror movie coming out during this time; so much so that we’ve grown tired of it. It might be part of the reason for the lack of success as well. There is a lot we are tired of in modern movies, horror is no exception. So what do you do if you are a horror film maker since the beginning of modern horror and want to engage modern audiences.

Well, respect them.

You’ve got Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson returning to work together as director and writer. These two need to work more together on other franchises. Please. They actually do as promised and deliver, again, an intelligent thriller where there are stakes, there are risks, and you do worry someone may die. They don’t insult the intelligence of the returning characters. They successfully mock modern media again, modern movies, while making self referential remarks about how self referential movie characters can be within the movies. It’s a weird inception thing, but I approve of the continued awareness of the characters. We are also in the age of the reboot and reimagining, which is also referenced equally. We returned again to the deaths that have a level of simplicity to them.

A knife. A body. It’s not that hard.

They stick to that which becomes another reason the film works. They also went back to the roots by returning to Woodsboro and the highschoolers. They don’t weaken anyone in the film and the kills are not nearly as comical as they were in the last two. There is a driven intensity to the film. Even the lighting and score queues seem to know it with additional near natural looking lighting and shadows for many of the sequences; to the point where I didn’t feel as if I was on a set but instead my own home. This brought the feeling of the modern home invasion horror to play, while still playing with the stereotypical slasher vibe. Media outreach and inherent millennial connectivity were relevant plot points to the film as well as what it takes for 15 minutes of fame and how modern media responds to it. As much as the media was mocked, deservedly so, the millennial generation was not. Ok, there was some just due to the nature of stereotypes that come to play in a movie, but otherwise they were all (mostly) actually pretty interesting characters in their own right.

Good scripting, helps, but of course good acting. Neve Campbell, David Arquette, and Courtney Cox can probably play their roles in their sleep. Sidney is no longer a victim or on the verge of fraying, but has tried to reemerge through a book of her own. She is still as strong, still a survivor, and still a fighter. I am not disappointed in her. Cox, sadly has the weakest role and I am not sure why. Where Arquette who had been the comical role takes on the more serious part and Cox gets the comedy. We have our usual introductions of potential up and comers, such as Lucy Hale (Pretty Little Liars), Alison Brie (Community), Emma Roberts (American Horror Story), and Eric Knudsen (Scott Pilgrim, Continuum). It also features a host of names we do know (or at least I know). Anna Paquin (True Blood), Marley Shelton (Grindhouse), Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars, Frozen), Hayden Panettiere (Nashville, Heroes), and Anthony Anderson (The Departed, Law & Order). Sadly no horror movie great cameo’s as we’ve had in previous films.

The technicals work out in this one fairly well as I spoke before. They wisely didn’t go with shaky cam as many movies these day do and kept with steady cam. The deaths work. So no real technical flaws here and yes when people are severely injured – they go to the hospital!!

TL;DR

As it was a financial wreck, I don’t imagine we will get another. I hope that we don’t unless there is a new story to tell and the landscape changes enough for them to have something truly to satire within the confines of a serious slasher film.

It isn’t a great, but it was a really good send off. I do recommend it, not just as part of a marathon of Scream films, but as a standalone film. It doesn’t treat the audience as an idiot. Its simplistic and complex and it works. I have to say I actually like Scream 4 – I think you might too.

If you don’t, let me know why? I always welcome other opinions on films.