From August 2015

Fear the Walking Dead – Season 1, Episode 2: “So Close, Yet So Far”

AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead
Season 1, Episode
2: “So Close, Yet So Far”
Directed by Adam Davidson (Hell on WheelsThe FollowingLow Winter Sun)
Written by Marco Ramirez (Sons of AnarchyOrange is the New BlackDa Vinci’s DemonsDaredevil)

* For a review of the next episode, “The Dog” – click here
* For a review of the Pilot episode – click here
IMG_1827This second episode begins directly after the Pilot. Madison Clark (Kim Dickens) and her boyfriend Travis Manawa (Cliff Curtis), along with her son Nick (Frank Dillane), are speeding away in the truck after seeing the beginning of an epidemic; what we know is the zombie apocalypse.
Worst part is, Alicia Clark (Alycia Debnam-Carey) went to check on her boyfriend Matt (Maestro Harrell) who stood her up previously. He’s sick, running a massive fever, so something is certainly not right.
When Travis checks on him, Matt seems to have a bite in his shoulder. Though when they saw Calvin (Keith Powers) turn into a zombie in the finale of the Pilot he’d been shot, there’s still something suspicious about it. Alicia doesn’t want to leave Matt, but he begs her to leave because he loves her.
IMG_1828I knew it would happen – in this episode, we’re beginning to see everything go to hell, as well as the fact Nick is going to go through severe withdrawals. No more heroin. He’s on the couch sweating, rolling around, he’s hot then freezing cold. Worst time ever for it to happen, however, he’s lucky enough to have a tough mother like Madison by his side.
IMG_1831Here we’re also seeing lots of him and his sister Alicia together. She is clearly resentful of her junkie brother, whose addiction has obviously affected the whole family and her in particular. I can see how him being an addict, as well as having a completely understanding mother such as Madison, would take most of the attention up. Not saying Alicia is selfish, not whatsoever, but she’s felt the effects of the strained family dynamic due to Nick’s seemingly constant battle with addiction. There’ll be more of this to come up, as the zombie apocalypse takes hold more and more. I’m interested to see how the whole mixed family situations between Madison and Travis will work as things get tense with the zombies rising up.
IMG_1830At the same time, Travis’ own son Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie) is out in the middle of the streets where things seem to be already rapidly breaking down into chaos; police officers are in the streets, paramedics everywhere. Someone was taken down by police in a ton of bullets. True to the modern day we live in, people were of course down there protesting about what happened. Chris moves in with his video camera and a bit of trouble starts, as the crowd supports him and the police officer at the crime scene tells him to shut off the camera.
Travis heads out to find him. Bad idea? Sure, but you don’t realistically think a man would leave his son out there in the midst of everything, who knows where, if he knew some epidemic was on the verge of happening, do you? Not at all. So off Travis goes.
Madison heads out on an expedition of her own to the school to try and find some drugs in order to keep Nick from going cold turkey. There, in an otherwise deserted building, she meets Tobias (Lincoln A. Castellanos) who is looking for the items Madison confiscated in the last episode. He’s stocking up on food and other things, understanding what’s coming, while Madison is a little more apprehensive to give in and accept an apocalypse is about to rain down on them.
IMG_1832We get the first real personal zombie attack in this episode, in the sense that Madison watches her colleague at the school Art Costa (Scott Lawrence) attack her and Tobias. They both end up keeping him off and Madison has to bash ole Artie’s brains in to keep him from coming. Vicious and we’re also seeing how this is truly the beginning: can’t easily bash a person’s head open when they’ve only recently turned into a zombie. That’s part of why I’m interested in Fear the Walking Dead, we’re getting to see all these situations from the beginning; things we already know like how easy or not it is to kill zombies change. Fun!

One thing I’m sure many noticed but I need to mention before moving on.
Travis notices a police officer at a gas station stocking up on cases of water, loading them into the back of his cruiser. This is a highly intense moment because, as I see it, Travis realizes there’s something officially wrong. Not only that, it seems perhaps the police (and no doubt other higher-ups on the social chain) are being made aware of how serious the situation actually is, as most of the people on the streets of Los Angeles and in their homes have no idea exactly what is commencing. I think the look in Travis’ eyes says it all: pure fear. He understands there’s a terrible epidemic about to rock their city, possibly more than just L.A, and constantly throughout the episode we can see this over and over, that look on his face as he watches things fall apart around him.
IMG_1829That’s the scariest part of the zombie apocalypse scenario for me, that the government and law enforcement would take care of themselves first, then whoever else they could spare the room for afterwards. Even further, I’m terrified they would specifically quarantine and blast zones out to rid it of the infection, or that they’d systematically murder citizens in order to wipe it out hopefully. Part of that is what drives the tension in this scene.

Travis meets up with his ex-wife Liza Ortis (Elizabeth Rodriguez), who is less than thrilled to see him. But he warns her of what may be on the rise. When they go to the protest where their son Chris is filming, Liza sees the man who was shot by the police, then witnesses men in Hazmat suits exiting a vehicle; promptly this makes her revise any ideas about going against her husband. From there, anarchy starts to break out like wildfire amongst the crowds, as another zombie shows up behind the police and a SWAT Team marches in on the people. Travis and his family manage to hole up in a barber shop with Daniel Salazar (Rubén Blades), his wife Griselda (Patricia Reyes Spíndola), and their daughter Ofelia (Mercedes Mason). This is a bit of a tenuous situation, though, the Salazars seem to be good people.
Outside of the barber shop fires and riots have erupted in full force already. As Tobias says to Madison at one point, when the end of civilization comes it comes quick. That’s exactly what’s begun to happen in “So Close, Yet So Far”.
IMG_1833 IMG_1834The finale of the episode starts showing us how the virus is spreading. Already, out in the Clark neighbourhood, zombies are wandering and beginning to attack. As one of the neighbours is attacked by another neighbour, Alicia tries to go intervene but her mother stops her. It seems Madison is starting to heed the warnings of young Tobias, who as kids are these days is prepared for a possible apocalypse, or at least wants to be prepared and is willing to accept things might be collapsing.
What’s most telling here is the way Madison shuts the door and she sort of leans back against it, a close-up lingering on her face as she doesn’t want to have to stop her daughter from helping another person – however, this is the new world they’ll be living in. She accepts it partly and by closing the door she’s ushering in a new law of acceptance in her own home, in her mind and heart, that civilization is collapsing and doing so like they’re skiing down a collective slope into oblivion, picking up speed.
IMG_1835 IMG_1836 IMG_1837I’m happy with how the show is starting. Naturally we’re not directly in the midst of everything, it’s the actual start. So things in this episode have actually begun to devolve. Anticipating the third to have a bit of intense violence and zombie madness. There’s a slow burn aspect to these first two episodes that I’m enjoying. Surely there are people who’ve had their share of problems. Me, I don’t see anything to complain about.
Another part of what I like is that it’s not completely copying The Walking Dead. Even the aesthetic is proving different. One thing I noticed watching “So Close, Yet So Far” is the music. LOVING the score! It has a similar edge at times, yet totally different. An interesting electronic vibe going on throughout this episode. Paul Haslinger has been doing the music for this season of Fear the Walking Dead, he’s also scoring the AMC series Halt and Catch Fire. Other films he’s done I’m not overly keen on, so I’m glad to be hearing some work of his that’s pretty awesome so far. Great score helps a horror film/show in an enormous way.
IMG_1838 IMG_1839Dig this episode a good deal. Looking forward to the next one titled “The Dog” which is again directed by Adam Davidson. I’m enjoying that he’s directed the initial three episodes of this show because it offers a bit of continuity. Would’ve obviously been better to have one person direct the whole six episode season, however, it’s still awesome to have him start the season off with three solid episodes. Sets things up nicely moving along.
Stay tuned for next week, Deadites!

Red Dragon Tells Harris with Little Flavour

Red Dragon. 2002. Directed by Brett Ratner. Screenplay by Ted Tally; based on the novel Red Dragon by Thomas Harris.
Starring Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel, Emily Watson, Mary-Louise Parker, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Anthony Heald, Ken Leung, Frankie Faison, and Tyler Patrick Jones.
Universal Pictures.
Rated R. 124 minutes.
Crime/Thriller

★★★1/2
0d6a134caa608fef2f1b56c4cebfa44e I’m a big fan of Thomas Harris and his Hannibal Lecter-centric novels. Everything about them appeals to me, though, I’m not particularly fond of Hannibal Rising. My favourite, an unpopular view, is actually Hannibal – I think it’s an intensely savage, relentless piece of work with a wild twist at the end. But close by equally are Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs. The Jonathan Demme version of the former is one of the best movies ever made.
In opposition, I’ve got to say that I prefer Michael Mann’s Manhunter over this version. Regardless of how well this sticks to the story in comparison, I still love the way Mann treated that adaptation; incredibly different and cool.
Part of why I’m not huge on Red Dragon, even though it’s a good movie, is because I don’t really find Brett Ratner all that interesting as a director. I can honestly say this is the only movie he’s directed I genuinely enjoy. Everything else he’s done is so ridiculously generic. There’s nothing I find appealing about his work. I think the only reason he succeeded in making me enjoy his work here is because Thomas Harris provided the backdrop. Plus, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Kietel, Emily Watson, Anthony Hopkins, Philip Seymour Hoffman, a returning Anthony Heald and Frankie Faison – could it really have gone terribly wrong?
While I do like this movie, I don’t think there’s anything overtly incredible other than the performances. Ratner is a mediocre director at best, in my mind; plenty of people love him, I have no doubt. He is a successful man. Just not my cup of tea. Overall, the lack of a really palpable style is the only thing I find truly lacking about Red Dragon. The reason I loved Manhunter so much was because, aside from the excellent William Petersen and Tom Noonan performances, Mann injected the story with so much of his style that it came off so interesting and beautiful to watch. With this version, Ratner merely shows it to us. It looks good enough, but I don’t feel as much of the story as I do while reading Harris, or when I watch other incarnations of Hannibal Lecter on television and film.
35a1b1092ef44b60aa2d748f56f6fccbI’ve always thought the opening scene to Red Dragon showing Hannibal Lecter (Sir Anthony Hopkins) watching the orchestra was an impressive way to show why he kills. Part of him hates rudeness, another part of him also love the finer things of life – anyone who gets in the way of that is subject to being on his plate, as well as the plates of his dinner guests. With this sequence, we’re introduced to a piece of Lecter then also Will Graham (Edward Norton) shows up.
So it works in two ways, by both introducing Hannibal – though we’ve already seen him plenty on film – and simultaneously introducing his relationship with Graham. It’s an effective opener which draws us in immediately. Even more than that, the script starting from the beginning sets itself apart from Michael Mann’s Manhunter; I don’t know if you’d call this a remake, or more so simply another adaptation of Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon. It’s an exciting, intense, and very wide opening in scope.

Being a fan of Edward Norton, he’s honestly one of the weakest links in this film. I think he has the potential to be a great actor, but some times he just looks to be phoning things in. There are moments in Red Dragon when he does excellent stuff. Other times he might as well be toeing a hole in the sand with his shoe. The character of Will Graham is complex. I think William Petersen brought something to the role in his own way, certainly Hugh Dancy has done a fantastic job with the 39 episodes of the NBC series, but Norton sort of feels generic here in the role. He’s not bad, I don’t mean to say that. There’s definitely a likability about Norton’s Graham, what I feel like I’m missing is the tortured side, the apprehensive man who doesn’t want to have to go back into what Jack Crawford (here played by Harvey Keitel) is asking him to do; something which nearly killed him before with Lecter. In Norton’s performance there doesn’t seem to be as much of that wary Graham, the one whose mental capacities allow him to feel and understand things no one ought to ever feel or comprehend.
35zXKpI do always enjoy Sir Anthony Hopkins, particularly as Hannibal the Cannibal. He has a highly quirky charm and chill at once. Some say it’s overacting, I say it’s an excellent fictional serial killer who has an odd affectation. It’s silly to me people will accept Hannibal and all his cannibalism, all the wild stuff he’s gotten up to over the course of his character-lifetime, yet then they’ve got a problem with how Hopkins is a bit hammy at times. Really? You’re going for that?
The only thing bad about Hopkins here is the fact I don’t really think he and Norton have much chemistry together onscreen. Their scenes are decent enough because Lecter is always creepy, but the back and forth between Hannibal and Will here is nowhere near as good as it was between Hannibal and Clarice in The Silence of the Lambs, and certainly doesn’t come close to touching the Hugh Dancy-Mads Mikkelsen energy in Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal series. It just doesn’t work as well as any of that, so it comes nowhere near some of what Harris did either. I think, again, this mostly has to do with Norton. He’s a fine actor, just not in this movie. There’s nothing impressive to me about his performance here, as say opposed to American History X or his debut performance opposite Richard Gere in Primal Fear.
reddragon3Ralph Fiennes is the actor who shines most of all in this good yet slightly dull version of Red Dragon. Francis Dolarhyde has always been a morbidly fascinating character, to me and to many out there. Even if Red Dragon is not my top favourite of Harris’ novels – though still amazing – there’s something about Dolarhyde in particular, even above Buffalo Bill, which terrifies me. Fiennes is one talented man beyond a shadow of a doubt. Here he brings a ferocious intensity to the role.
While it’s easy nowadays to forget this great performance due to Richard Armitage’s fabulously involving turn as Francis Dolarhyde on NBC’s Hannibal, Fiennes still knocks this role out of the park and into the lot. There’s a difference between Fiennes and the other incarnations, just as they’re unique in their own ways. What I like about Fiennes is that I find him highly unpredictable. He’s the type of actor who doesn’t telegraph his emotionality, he sort of springs into action so suddenly, which really comes through here. Truly, every single frame of the film in which you find Ralph Fiennes he is incredible. There’s a physical aspect to the character on several levels – he’s physically fit and actually a handsome guy, but inside he feels hideous, deformed, and like a monster. So what I enjoy is the fact that Fiennes is an attractive man, however, the makeup work for Dolarhyde’s hairlip gives him an unsettling feeling – not because of the scar, merely because of how Fiennes portrays Dolarhyde and the way he feels about his outer appearance. He’s at times equally sad and sympathetic, and also frighteningly savage.
Still, my favourite moment with Dolarhyde has to be his official introduction, a little over 40 minutes into the film. It’s such an unsettling view into his world, where we see him lifting weights and yelling at his dead grandmother whose voice scolds him – as a child and still as a grown man. Even creepier is the way he opens his big scrapbook, full of articles about Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham – it’s when he sort of strokes Lecter’s picture, specifically his smiling mouth, that you get this awful feeling in your gut. What an effective first look at Francis Dolarhyde here. Impressive sequence from Ratner, I must say.
reddragon4While I don’t find the movie to be poorly written, by any standards, for some reason I do not get the same feeling about Ted Tally’s script here as I did with his work on The Silence of the Lambs. Not sure exactly what it is about this screenplay, there’s not the same impact as his previous adaptation of Harris’ work. I do like plenty of scenes, but there’s less tension and suspense than in the Jonathan Demme directed film. Now, I’ve never actually read the script itself, so maybe there’s bits and pieces of Tally and his writing which didn’t make it through to what Ratner did onscreen. I’ll not know until I read the screenplay someday. But still, there’s an overall lack of the tensely cultivated atmosphere from Demme’s 1991 Harris adaptation, and I think there must be part of the problem there lying in the screenwriting. Then again, I’m not particularly big on Tally overall, as nothing else he’s done particularly impresses me other than The Silence of the Lambs.
2 vlcsnap-2010-09-04-08h34m49s254In the end, I can only give Brett Ratner’s Red Dragon 3.5 out of 5 stars. I know some will surely call me crazy. It’s not as simple for me to say this is an amazing movie. It’s just… not. Better than average? Sure. There are great performances, from Anthony Hopkins, Ralph Fiennes, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Emily Watson both of whom I forgot to mention – she does a fantastic job playing the role of Reba McClane, the blind woman who falls in love with Dolarhyde. Even further, the story itself is good enough to carry this even if the actors weren’t so great.
But the lack of style, a few little mistakes here and there, as well as a bit of a yawning performance from Edward Norton, all makes it hard for me to even feign agreement when people say this is SO AMAZING. I remember seeing this in theatre – I was so pumped, beyond excitement. It didn’t live up to the hype then, it still doesn’t now. I do own this on DVD, because I’m a completist; even own Hannibal Rising which isn’t the greatest either. I just really can’t get onboard with people saying this is incredible or that it’s better than Manhunter. Nah, not for me.
Still a decent adaptation of the Thomas Harris novel, Red Dragon is a good movie. Don’t think it’s better than it is, there are plenty of flaws and not enough style to Ratner’s direction to forgive them. See it and be your own judge, but do not get sucked into the hype. There are better visions of Will Graham, Hannibal Lecter, Jack Crawford, and Francis Dolarhyde elsewhere.

Cannibal Holocaust: A Documentary of Hell on Earth

Cannibal Holocaust. 1980. Directed by Ruggero Deodato. Story by Gianfranco Clerici.
Starring Robert Kerman, Francesca Ciardi, Perry Pirkanen, Luca Barbareschi, Salvatore Basile, Ricardo Fuentes, and Carl Gabriel Yorke. F.D Cinematografica.
Rated R. 95 minutes.
Adventure/Horror

★★★★ (Film)
★★★★★ (Grindhouse Releasing DVD)
cannibal-holocaust-poster
Nearly two decades before The Blair Witch Project horrified audiences with its low budget realistic techniques, Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust shocked horror filmgoers to their core; the first found footage horror movie. While this movie is a solid horror, much of its legacy comes from controversy – where it be from the graphic onscreen violence depicted throughout its runtime, or the explicitly depicted killing of real animals, this movie is infamous rather than famous.
Plenty of famous horror filmmakers have expressed their love for Deodato, this film in particular. Most notably as of late is Eli Roth whose film The Green Inferno is finally making it into theatres and is heavily inspired by/an homage to Cannibal Holocaust.
However, aside from the controversy and praise of other filmmakers, as well as the cult following it has developed consistently over the years, I think the realism of Cannibal Holocaust succeeds due to its use of found footage (the whole thing is not done in shaky cam style as has become the trend in the past 15-16 years), the inclusion of Native peoples in the Amazon, the makeup effects, and the ability of the actors to make everything feel very visceral.
why-cannibal-holocaust-is-an-essential-horror-movie-looks-like-the-film-crew-made-a-go-293867The plot of Cannibal Holocaust sees an American film crew disappear while filming in the Amazon rainforest. They were there to do a documentary on an indigenous tribe, one that still engages in the act of ritualistic cannibalism, as well as violent acts of torture used for punishment.
Harold Monroe (Robert Kerman), an anthropologist, takes on the task of travelling to the Amazon and encountering the tribe in order to determine what exactly happened to the original film crew.
Eventually, once Monroe is able to in effect assimilate himself slightly into the Ya̧nomamö tribe by imitating some of their behaviour – mainly bathing naked in a river with some of the women – he ends up coming across the picked clean remains of the film crew, along with some of their remaining equipment. Monroe is horrified, as well as disgusted. Through participating in a cannibalistic ritual with the tribe, they agree to give him reels of footage.
But the real horror lies in what happens with the footage, as Monroe brings it back to New York where executives from the Pan American Broadcast Company say they’ll be making a documentary out of the footage; one which they hope to have him host. Unsure whether the true atrocities lie in the jungle or the city, Monroe shares footage of what the film crew experienced at the hands of the Ya̧nomamö and no one is close to prepared for what they will see.
FoundfootageCannibal-HolocaustI can’t say that I enjoy the animal cruelty bits. While I believe a lot of it ended up being eaten by natives – I know for sure the monkey brains did because the tribe actually requested those not be faked because they’re considered a delicacy in their tribe – there’s still no way to feel good about watching the animals killed onscreen.
That being said, part of me does believe it served a purpose. Not condoning it, so don’t fucking jump down my throat or anything over it. But the film crew were there watching this tribe, they were exploiting every moment of their existence, anything they could film, so I see the whole movie as dealing with how the media loves to glorify and sensationalize violence, atrocities, murder, blood, death, et cetera. Plenty of other films do this in a way that does not involve animal cruelty. However, it comes to bear on how the film crew are just as savage as they deem the Ya̧nomamö to be. They want to film every last bit, they want to see it and have it put on television back in America and have everyone enjoy their documentary.
Seeing them both film the animals being killed, and in the case of the turtle consuming the meat for dinner, we’re led to understand how little difference there seems to be between these indigenous tribes and the curious, exploitative American film crew.
Worst of all is when their guide Felipe (Ricardo Fuentes) gets bitten by a snake. The amputation does not save his life. Still, the camera rolls on and captures everything; Felipe’s dead face in a nicely framed shot. They don’t even seem particularly upset that Felipe dies, only determined to continue on into the jungle.
1280x720-cuMSo let’s forget about the animals for now. I don’t like that this is included, but hey – on the DVD release I own, you can actually watch an Animal Cruelty-Free version, so that’s a plus!
The makeup effects used in Cannibal Holocaust are really something to behold. There’s no wonder people were actually under the impression that people were killed, or died during the making of the film, because for 1980 this looks INCREDIBLY REALISTIC. Very raw, very gritty. You’d swear it was a documentary. We can’t see that now, most of us anyways, because our society is incredibly deep into found footage and we’re so used to it that nothing seems to phase us any more. But in 1980, man – if I were a little older and had seen it when released, I’d probably have been blown away. I’m still blown away today.
Even the scene where Felipe has his leg amputated, it looks as if it were a true documentary watching a man have his snake-bitten leg cut off. The blood, the noise and the feverish movement of everyone around him trying to help, it’s extremely raw and serves to make things feel terrifying.
Of course there are a ton of instances where the makeup effects really get the visceral nature of the film pumping in our veins. The now infamous woman impaled on a spike scene is VICIOUS! I mean, some say they don’t understand how it could’ve appeared so real to an audience, but I say they’re blinded and can’t look at things in hindsight. There are many images, such as the poor impaled lady, which appear torn right out of reality and that’s ultimately why so many people find the movie unsettling. Even when you watch this on the Animal Cruelty-Free version, you realize that aspect isn’t what’s so upsetting about Cannibal Holocaust: everything just looks so god damn real.
big_thumb_7804f4ee5bb0b1fc731a0eefe69ade55Most of all, I think people look solely at the controversy of Deodato’s film and they don’t pay enough attention to the social commentary behind all the blood, horror, madness, and mayhem onscreen.
This all culminates when the film crew actively decides to start messing with the tribe, in order to illicit some type of reaction. A misguided notion all around, and disgusting, which is what leads to the film crew’s disappearance, as well as the hostile Native reaction when Professor Monroe (Kerman) and his team initially arrive as the search party.
When the crew burns down all the huts, with the villagers screaming and trying to escape, you can see so blatantly how Deodato is aiming his horror film at the media. It’s already obvious, but this scene has such a scary aesthetic: that beautiful music playing in the background, the fire, the sounds of the tribe screaming, the film crew each laughing and having fun terrorizing these people; all that makes for a heavy impact.
We’re seeing something that has become even MORE prominent nowadays, more so than even when Cannibal Holocaust was filmed and released – certain pockets of the media (and also religious groups) want to go in an antagonize cultures, peoples, and they want to try and spread their ways of living to supposedly uncivilized places. Of course the film crew here is a bit of an extreme example, but these are the types of vultures we see more and more with the new forms of media erupting.
Most telling in that regard for me is when Alan Yates (Gabriel Yorke) and his film crew stand by and watch a pregnant woman have a tiny child, barely older than a fetus, ripped out of her belly – it’s put in a hole in the mud by the river, drowned, suffocated, then the woman is beaten bloodily to death. All the while, Alan gladly films and gets the best shots of the so-called ritual on film, all the misery. Yet it’s constantly described as some sort of informational process, as if they’re learning great stuff that’s worth sitting through the horror to see. All the horror captured on tape in the name of anthropological knowledge, except really it’s aiming towards ratings, views, money, funding, and so on.
Even worse than that, the film crew – aside from Faye (Francesca Ciardi) – rapes a member of the Ya̧nomamö tribe while filming. It’s bad enough they sexually assault this poor young Native girl, they go ahead and film it all. They went far beyond even just terrorizing this tribe, they actively assaulted and raped a member, which then prompts the infamous impaling. Sickest of all is how Alan turns on the horror for the camera, pretending to have no idea why this girl would’ve been executed in such a fashion when obviously being raped is what precipitated her death, sadly. Another moment where you can see how Deodato is taking hard shots at the media and how they wish to sensationalize pain, suffering, and certainly violence.
cannibal-holocaust-e1380713512864Something I forgot to mention but cannot: the score. It is beyond unsettling. There’s something both very 1980s and also incredibly effective about the score. At times they have the beautiful score playing, even juxtaposed with brutal acts of savagery by both the tribe and the film crew; a technique I enjoyed a ton. Then we get deep, dark electronic sounding bits where it makes your pulse pound thick. I think without the score, many of the moments wouldn’t have properly come off, so this goes to show how a horror can effectively use a score and music to push along a feeling. Such is definitely the case here, as the music really gets under my skin; I always noticed it and each time I see the film I make a comment, to someone, anyone who will listen, that I find the score one of its best elements.
Cannibal_Holocaust_1I’m going to give Cannibal Holocaust a 4 out of 5 star rating. If Ruggero Deodato hadn’t opted to include such graphic and horrifying animal cruelty onscreen, I’d be more inclined to say this is near the perfect horror film. So many incredible makeup effects are included here and the gritty, raw nature of the look makes everything work better than I’d ever have imagined. While it is a tough movie to sit through, even for some of the most initiated horror hounds out there (of which I include myself as a card carrying member), I do think Cannibal Holocaust belongs amongst the most classic horror movies of all-time. It is nasty and at times unnecessary, however, Deodato has a message behind all of the terror and the gore about how the media derides violence yet at the same time choose to focus in on it, zoomed, close-up and tight on the horror for your viewing pleasure.
The DVD, which is a double disc set, from Grindhouse Releasing is a spectacular release! 5 stars all the way. There’s a good few hours of extras, including behind-the-scenes featurettes on the filming, as well as interviews, and everything from the music to the effects. I have to say I’m more than pleased with the DVD. I hadn’t gone through all the Special Features until now, but it is well worth the $25 I paid a few years back. You can dive in and learn all sorts of stuff about Deodato’s film with the second disc of the set, totally dedicated to the extras.

I recommend that if you’ve not seen it, and think you can handle it, watch Deodato’s notorious horror classic. As I said, on the DVD release I own you can watch a version completely devoid of the animal cruelty. So if possible, I’d say view it and judge for yourself whether this is exploitation at its worst or if it is a cult horror that deserves all the recognition it gets.

The Hills Have Eyes II: Horny Mutants

The Hills Have Eyes II. 2007. Directed by Martin Weisz. Written by Jonathan Craven & Wes Craven.
Starring Cécile Breccia, Michael Bailey Smith, Archie Kao, Jay Acovone, Jeff Kober, Philip Pavel, David Reynolds, Tyrell Kemlo, Lee Thompson Young, Danielle Alonso, Eric Edelstein, Jessica Stroup, Joseph Beddelem, Jacob Vargas, Ben Crowley, Michael McMillian, Reshad Strik, and Derek Mears. Dune Entertainment.
Rated R. 89 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★
hills_have_eyes_two_ver7Funny, as much as I find myself a Wes Craven fan, I didn’t realize until watching this again while reviewing it that he wrote the screenplay with his son Jonathan Craven. I think it’s a slight touch better than Papa Craven’s original The Hills Have Eyes Part II from 1985, which despite being a guilty pleasure of mine is still a horrid film; not in the right way, either. However, this version of The Hills Have Eyes II is still nothing great or special in any way, shape, or form. There’s little to enjoy.
I say that with a little sadness. Honestly, the original The Hills Have Eyes is a favourite horror classic of mine, as well as the fact I loved Alexandre Aja’s remake a tiny bit more even. So I expected, or more so I hoped, that maybe Aja would be involved. At least Craven was, though, his script is not very good.
When Martin Weisz was announced to direct, I’d actually anticipated something halfway decent. Personally, I am a big fan of his previous movie based on the real life case of Armin Meiwes – Rohtenburg a.k.a Grimm Love. That was a different and also horrific piece of horror mixed with drama. The real case is wild enough, but the presentation of a script written by T.S. Faull by Weisz makes things even more intense.
Unfortunately I don’t feel as if Weisz brought much, if anything, from the style he cultivated in Rohtenburg to add to this film. There are a few decently creepy moments, most of which come very early in, but there’s not enough of this or any solid script to make this into a decent movie. Rather, The Hills Have Eyes II is one of the worst scripts Wes Craven has had his hands on, and I’m left hoping Martin Weisz will recapture some of what he did with his previous film later on down the road.
21478_1Starting off we come to see how the mutants in the hills from the first film are holding a woman captive. Once she has birthed a child for them, she is killed. Afterwards, some scientists and members of the U.S Army are murdered by more mutants.
Cut to a group of National Guardsmen in training with their sergeant. They’re out on a mission resupplying scientists working in a camp in the desert, there from the U.S DOD doing surveillance; those same scientists from the beginning scenes. When a group of them head up into the hills after finding the camp abandoned, Napoleon (Michael McMillian) and Amber (Jessica Stroup) are left with the communications in punishment. In the hills, the soldiers find the mutilated bodies of the people they’re there to help. Back down near camp, Amber is attacked by one of the mutants who quickly runs off when Mickey (Reshad Strik) is returning to camp with a sprained ankle. But when Mickey gets hauled through a crack in the rocks, virtually eviscerated in one brutal pull, Amber and Napoleon realize there is something sinister at work.
Up on the mountain, everyone else is cut off from contact, and this gives the mutants plenty of things to do. What began as a routine re-up mission devolves into a fight for survival, as only a handful of the soldiers wind up alive and in good enough to shape to try and make it out of the hills alive.
the-hills-have-eyes-ii-shared-picture-china-1386828415Was there ANY need of such a disgustingly graphic opening sequence? I mean, I’m not saying the story is a bad idea. There’s no reason not to believe the hill mutant clan wouldn’t be kidnapping women in order to make babies. First of all, they’re mutants; they probably have no control over their impulses, whether to kill or to rape or whatever. Doesn’t surprise me. Second, they’re mostly concerned with survival. They kill to eat, so as primitive, basic humans – though mutated – they’re probably hardwired to try and procreate. They’re essentially cavemen.
But all that said, why show us right off the bat such an explicit birthing scene? Personally, I think there’s a way to be effective , then there’s this: hitting us over the head with gory nastiness immediately. It’s not even so much that it disgusted me – I’ve seen more than my fair share of gore and savage horror – I feel like it’s heavy handed. Even in the opening scene of the 2006 remake, there’s still brutality and a scary beginning. This one is a load of tripe.
I think had the Cravens decided to just go with the opening being the whole sequence where the National Guardsmen and the scientists from the U.S Department of Defense get attacked by the mutants, this movie would’ve opened much better. The way things start out here makes me think “Ew”, but not in the sense of being good for horror. It’s all shock without any substance.
lAgain later on in the film, there’s more mutant sex. This is something I’m really bothered by because there’s no need of it. At all. I am totally fine, as I said previously, with the plot having partly to do with the mutants in the hills carrying on their family, breeding, kidnapping women to do the deed. It’s nasty, but as a plot it’s understandable. But there’s no condoning having to show actual shots of a mutant raping a woman. Certainly there was no point to showing a GRAPHIC mutant baby birth at the very start, so it doesn’t surprise me that there was more useless shock horror down the line.
There’s a potentially creepy film in The Hills Have Eyes II. One of the big problems I had with Craven’s original 1985 sequel to his film was the fact there seemed to be a tenuous link to why everything was happening; from the dirtbike team to Ruby becoming Rachel, and so on. I like the idea of this movie as a premise – the whole National Guard angle and the DOD scientists in doing surveillance is good. Plus, I usually enjoy horror films that mix in a military storyline/action. However, with too much of the mutant sex being a focus and a much less defined atmosphere in comparison to Aja’s remake, both the Cravens and director Weisz fumble a solid opportunity to make a terrifying sequel.
The-Hills-Have-Eyes-2-DI-1There are a couple aspects I do like, honestly. To start, I did find a couple of the mutants and their makeup effects pretty awesome, as well as the fact they were unsettling. Derek Mears plays a mutant named Chameleon, whose ability to blend into his surroundings are obviously a perk for him. While it was different to see a mutant who has an ability, as opposed to merely a deformity or hideous appearance, I enjoyed it all the same. There’s an added bit of danger, obviously, when a cannibal killer can blend into rocks and walls.
Moreover, I found one of the mutants – the blind one – was a creeper. Very weird and scary! His look/face eminded me of one of the Cenobites from Clive Barker’s Hellraiser and that’s always a good thing. The way he sniffed around everywhere in the darkness was terrible, in the best way possible.
So I have to say that while most of this movie is hugely disappointing, the mutants themselves and the makeup effects, their overall design, it was all pretty well executed. Doesn’t hurt that Greg Nicotero (who appeared as Cyst in Aja’s remake) and Howard Berger, along with a bunch of others from K.N.B EFX, were responsible for the makeup department, from the special effects to the hair to on-set makeup and design. These guys are classic. Even in shit films, I’m always pleased to see Berger/Nicotero & Co. in the credits because their work is usually pretty phenomenal. It’s no wonder they’ve become a staple in the horror movie business.

In the end, what hurts The Hills Have Eyes II most is that Jonathan/Wes Craven did not write a good script. I’d love to say this father-son team knocked one out of the park, because that’d be cool. Sadly, I cannot state anything so cool. The dialogue at times wasn’t too bad, yet most of the time I felt as if I was listening to a walking bunch of cliched U.S Army soldiers; the character of Crank especially made me want to punch holes in my eardrums. Even more damning is the fact that the characters themselves are pretty stupid. They make pitiful decisions. Now, I’m not one to criticize for little mistakes, or even the things people do when they’re scared – I’ve said more than once I put myself in the shoes of characters to try and feel their fear – but there’s no excuse for some of the behaviour these characters exhibit throughout the film.
What I did enjoy about the script was that Wes used little bits from his original sequel to throw in. Such as the whole hills location itself – in his first 1985 sequel, Craven had the mine shafts and all that happening. So here, there’s a much more elaborate version of that going on. Not sure if that was intentional or if the plot they wound up using simply lent itself to using the shafts, et cetera, but either way it’s one thing I liked about the film. There’s great atmosphere once down in the darkness there, as opposed to not much of anything going on before then.
Fun note – the shaft system was done by the same crew who worked on the excellent British horror The Descent, so no wonder the atmosphere and tone amped up once the film shifts to being mostly set down in the mine.
1348829106_1081550When it comes down to the nitty gritty, all the set pieces and makeup effects and interesting premises in the world do not an effective horror movie make. Although, I have to give The Hills Have Eyes II a 2 out of 5 star rating. I can’t deny there is some creepiness, from the suspenseful moments in the mine to the K.N.B makeup effects which made a couple new mutants look scary as hell.
But this Wes Craven script, written with his son Jonathan who has never written anything good honestly, is one if his worst. In fact, I’d almost say it is definitively his worst. I’d honestly put My Soul to Take, a near equally bad film, above this one; and that’s saying something! Mostly it saddens me because I hoped that with an absence of Alexandre Aja for the sequel to his remake Craven as screenwriter would make up for that. It did not, in any way.
My suggestion? Watch the original, or the remake, but this doesn’t have much to offer outside of some nicely executed effects and an eerie setting in the last half hour.

The Gallows: Wasted Opportunity & Wasted Youth

The Gallows. 2015. Directed & Written by Travis Cluff/Chris Lofing.
Starring Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos, Cassidy Gifford, Travis Cluff, Price T. Morgan, Theo Burkhardt, David Herrera, Gannon Del Fierro, Mackie Burt, and Adrian Salas. Blumhouse Productions.
Rated 14A. 81 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★
the-gallows-posterFound footage is a sub-genre I do enjoy, honestly. That being said, there is still a fine line between what I enjoy and what I find crap. Some people say it’s all crap; that’s just dismissive, to me. I’m a fan of Cannibal Holocaust, unapologetically I love The Blair Witch Project, and then there’s newer stuff I’ve enjoyed like the V/H/S trilogy (I got a ton of online shit on an IMDB message board for my love of all three especially the third), Lovely Molly, and the terrifyingly unsettling Home Movie. There are other titles, I just don’t want to go on. You get the picture: if something is done right using found footage, I believe there’s no reason it can’t be enjoyable. Certain people seem to think the whole sub-genre is useless, but again, I say that’s nonsense. Found footage needs to be used effectively, otherwise it’s simply another gimmick. To say there’s no good found footage is ignorant.
The Gallows has a fun premise and I haven’t seen any found footage so far to use this setting. The majority of what I enjoyed about this movie is the atmosphere, most of which came from the location of the school’s auditorium/theatre. Otherwise, I found almost all the characters to be stiff; the high school dramatics felt real, I did think Reese Mishler and Cassidy Gifford were pretty decent throughout the movie, but overall the cast wasn’t very solid. With only a little to enjoy, The Gallows feels more like a wasted opportunity than an absolutely useless horror.
1280x720-bgLStarting with a recorded home video from 1993, we see a boy named Charlie Grimille accidentally hang to death during a high school play. Worst of all, it happens in front of an audience who watch on in absolute fear and horror.
The present day in The Gallows sees a new production of the play being put off. In one of the main roles, a jock named Reese Houser (Reese Mishler) tries his best to play his part opposite a girl he has a crush on named Pfeifer Ross (Pfeifer Brown). At the same time, Reese’s jock budy Ryan Shoos (that’s also his real name) films everything behind the scenes, supposedly helping but doing nothing except make a mockery of the production while others work hard and passionately to make it the best they can.
In an effort to supposedly save his buddy Reese the shame and failure of going onstage, Ryan suggests breaking into the school’s theatre at night and trashing the set. That way the production would be halted and Reese could ‘comfort’ Pfeifer. Misguided and foolish, Ryan, Reese, and Ryan’s girlfriend Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford) head into the school through a door said to never be locked, due to it being broken for years.
However, once they run into Pfeifer inside – who wonders why they’re even there in the first place, as they wonder the same about her – they discover the door is now locked, out of the blue. What follows is a horrifying night for the group of friends while they begin to figure out all about what happened 20 years ago to Charlie Grimille, and why he’s still lurking in the shadows of the school.
the-gallows-movie-image-1There’s certainly an innovative aspect to The Gallows in its premise. I think beyond that, there’s not much to distinguish it from other found footage horror movies. However, the whole concept is pretty fun. Theatres in general all have their own spooky nature; there’s something eerie about a theatre, all the history and the many people who’ve graced both the stage and the seats. Add in a school and it’s even creepier, as old schools all have their own history, many lives passing through its halls and corridors, as well.
Unfortunately, I don’t think the filmmakers used this premise enough to their advantage. As I said, most of The Gallows sticks to the bargain basement techniques of Found Footage 101. For instance, there’s an early and needless jump scare – that you can’t even fully call a proper jump scare – which involves Ryan (Shoos) just popping up in front of his camera in his bedroom; not even horror, simply him trying to pull a gag. Stupid, and also gets your heart pumping for no good reason. A jump scare is effective if there’s a reason, if there is purpose to it, however, if you simply make people jump without any substance whatsoever then it’s a piss off. For me, anyways. There’s always the “trick jump scare” in horror movies, but this is not one of those at all. It’s just a dumb addition; in fact, the scene in which it’s involved serves no purpose itself, so the whole 1 minute or so could’ve easily been trimmed out of the film.
Horror-2015-The-Gallows-MovieEven though the movie uses so much of the shaky cam style, there’s still a decent atmosphere all the same. As someone who acted a great deal from a young age up until my early twenties, I spent a massive amount of time in theatres; specifically the big one at the Gordon Pinsent Centre for the Arts back in my hometown, which partly resembles the auditorium of the school in this film. There’s something inherently spooky about the cold, sterile like hallways in the basement, the darkness of the theatre behind the stage, which immediately makes things unsettling.
If this were done in straight style, using some more steady handheld work even, I think it would’ve benefited greatly. Now I know, Blumhouse most likely wanted to try another lower budget found footage effort and try to make big bucks; the estimated budget is only$100K, which by industry standards in Hollywood is a minuscule production. But still, this is where the concept of the entire film becomes wasted. I’m confident had the filmmakers chosen to do this without found footage, a ton more emotion would’ve come through, the backstory might’ve benefitted – as well as the ghostly presence of Charlie – and the scares could’ve been ten times more effective.
Sadly, The Gallows comes out much like so many of the low budget indie efforts in the found footage genre – the ones unable to rise up to the weight of their premise.
maxresdefaultOne particular scene I did find effectively creepy, regardless of the found footage style (mostly because the phone camera being stationary for the shots), was when SPOILER ALERT Cassidy (Gifford) is in the red lighted hallway; behind her in the dark creeps the figure, hooded like the Hangman from the play. What I find most scary here is how there’s a moment where you don’t see anything, then all of a sudden – as if magic – the noose is around her neck. An unseen force drags her away through a door in the background of the shot, and it slams shut behind her. Very good and creepy scene, I found it wasn’t jumpy it was simply a nice shock to the system. A solid scare.
Furthermore, there’s a scene where Reese (Houser) and Pfeifer (Brown) are running from the ghostly presence of Charlie, clad in the suit of the Hangman, and they’re climbing up a ladder – we get an excellent, terrifying look at the Hangman mask/suit up-close. It’s again not a jump scare, so much as it’s one brief look that gives you enough to make you go WHOA. I’d almost love to see a slasher now set in medieval times, or before, with a hangman as the slasher – it’s just the first thing that popped in my mind when I saw the mask. Awesome little shot, not too long and not too short.
1280x720-uqwA part of the plot I did like was when everything returned in a circular fashion to the stage, as Reese and Pfeifer act out their scene together, and the camera turns on. The lights go up  as well and the stage is set.
However, after that sequence I found things started to fall off. What I don’t like is how Blumhouse is basically setting things up right at the end for another movie. That’s essentially what happens, can anyone disagree? It’s like a mash of things happening right at the end. There’s simply too many reaching connections. So SPOILER ALERT AGAIN we’re meant to believe that Charlie’s girlfriend – the woman who continued to sit in the same seat and watch the practices, waiting for another performance of the play which killed her boyfriend 20 years ago – is also Pfeifer’s mom? I’m pretty slick most of the time, so I apologize if I’ve misunderstood. But the finale is pretty much tell us all that. I found it very mixed and matched, like puzzle pieces not intended to fit together which were simply mashed into a pile for the sake of trying to turn The Gallows – and Charlie – into an iconic style horror movie.

But this is another problem I have, I feel like Charlie is made out to be this slasher type killer. Instead he’s a ghost with a noose. That’s fine. At the same time, the movie is being marketed in a sense that Charlie’s supposed to be aimed toward becoming the next Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers. I think not. First of all, the movie itself is nowhere near good enough to become anything like either John Carpenter’s Halloween or Friday the 13th. Second, Charlie just doesn’t come across in that way. There are most certainly a couple creepy scenes, there’s not enough viciousness for me to say Charlie is a bonafide slasher. Maybe had he really done a psychotic job on one of the high school kids, I could give in and say there are elements about the character which fit the bill. I can’t say that at all because most of what happens is ghostly creeping in the background, supernatural deaths, and nothing in the way of any blood. It’ all about the noose. Certainly no gore anywhere to be found. Is there really any way we can call Charlie a SLASHER if he did no slashing? Something to think about. I guess that’s partly the marketing’s problem. Still, I feel as if the filmmakers were also pushing towards that, particularly with the ending. There’s just no way I can get with that.
qjtA9NJI can give The Gallows a 2 out of 5 star rating and feel okay with that. Some people say this is utterly trash. That’s fine, I respect anyone’s opinion as long as they’re not trying to force it on me as if I should feel the same way. However, I don’t think every last piece of this movie is bad. There are spots I thought were incredibly unsettling – one scene where Ryan slowly discovers there’s a body hanging up in between the walls in this tight crawlspace-like room I found to be VERY CREEPY. Ultimately though what makes The Gallows fall short is a reliance on horror cliches and tropes to the point of retreading too deeply through the footsteps of so many other found footage horror efforts, as well as the fact I found much of the acting (aside from Cassidy Gifford and Reese Mishler) extremely wooden. Not to mention I found the ending poor, beyond rushed, and it felt as they were forcing everything down our throats. While I did find parts of it scary, that finale did nothing for film overall and only served to make me actually say aloud once the lights came up: “Oh wow – that end was rough”.
Like I’d mentioned before, I think The Gallows would’ve made a better film if it went without found footage. Alas, Blumhouse – while doing exciting things on other ends – loves to go for the low budget shots in the dark like this after their huge success with bleeding dry the premise of Paranormal Activity. So it’s no wonder they went for a found footage style here instead of filming it regularly. Maybe more money would’ve been pumped in, but it still could’ve told the story more effectively, creeped people out in a much more visceral way than they accomplished here, and perhaps the performances might’ve also benefited from having a solid style. I can’t recommend this much, however, it isn’t as terrible as some critics and people online are making it out to be.
See it if you want to judge for yourself, and I urge you to do so – I’m no one to be listening to, really. Just don’t believe all the trashing, while at the same time you need to remember you won’t find anything more than a generic found footage horror. There are tons of better found footage movies out there to get you creeped out.

Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes Part II: A Bad Acid Trip

The Hills Have Eyes Part II. 1985. Directed & Written by Wes Craven.
Starring Tamara Stafford, Kevin Spirtas, John Bloom, Colleen, Riley, Michael Berryman, Penny Johnson Jerald, Janus Blythe, John Laughlin, Willard E. Pugh, Peter Frechette, Robert Houston, David Nichols, Edith Fellows, Lance Gordon, and Suze Lanier-Bramlett. VTC.
Rated 18+. 86 minutes.
Horror/Thriller


hills 2 2When it comes to The Hills Have Eyes Part II, I can’t say in any way that it’s a good movie. By the same token I like it, as in it’s enjoyable for me. Do you know what I mean? It’s one of those guilty pleasure films. Wes Craven shot a bunch of this before A Nightmare on Elm Street, but it got slowed down because of budget issues, then after Freddie Krueger rocked the world the studio got Craven to put together a film for this; except only using the footage already shot. The reason there are a ton of flashbacks used in The Hills Have Eyes Part II is due to the fact he didn’t have enough footage to make a full feature, so filling in all the gaps were bits and pieces from the first. Now, it’s not that which makes everything a mess here. Well… it’s not only that.
In comparison with the original 1977 horror classic, this sequel is not nearly as well written. Not sure what else Craven had planned originally for the movie. Because even some of the initial plot is truly hazy. There’s no real explanation for some of what continued from the first movie, as well as a good few scenes that come off as eternally cheesy, so much so it’s hard to even care about the characters because they’re mostly walking cliches and tropes. Perhaps had the studio allowed Craven to go back and reshoot, plus shoot more, there’s a possibility this sequel could’ve turned out much better. Unfortunately we’ll never know. What we’re left with is a bargain basement horror, filled with nonsense. It’s one of the handful of blemishes on an otherwise impressively terrifying horror movie career on the part of Wes Craven.

The Hills Have Eyes Part II begins with Bobby Carter (Robert Houston) seeing a psychiatrist, trying to work through the traumatic events which happened eight years ago in the first film. He and Ruby (Janus Blythe), now called Rachel, run a dirtbike team. They’re headed out into the desert for a race, nearby where the massacre from the first film took place. Bobby doesn’t want to go, though, his psychiatrist urges him to try and do it. Instead, Ruby/Rachel goes in his place with the team.
But out in that desert, after their bus breaks down, strange madness begins to take hold in the desert. Pluto (Michael Berryman) shows up out of nowhere, attacking Ruby/Rachel, but no one will believe her at first. Despite her warnings they head out into the desert on their dirtbikes, jumping and racing about. What follows is more murder and mayhem from the cannibal family in the hills.
Heroes - Beast - The Hills Have Eyes (1977)A part of this movie I always thought was just way too excellent, amongst the foolishness, is when Beast has his own flashback. After Pluto (Michael Berryman) attacks Ruby/Rachel (Janus Blythe), we go back to when Beast and Pluto met in the original. There’s just something about this sequence I find both hilarious and also amazing at the same time. I can just see Wes behind his writing desk, cackling to himself, thinking that the dogs ought to have their day, too.
large-screenshot1There’s nothing much to enjoy about this sequel. Sure, it’s fun to see Michael Berryman again. He’s an excellent character actor in horror movies. His condition – not sure what it’s called but I believe one of the things it causes is no sweat glands – lends a bit naturally to playing an outsider, so I love that he willingly takes on these weird, psychotic roles, or just the strange and outlandish ones. He’s absolutely a treasure of the horror genre and continues to be.
However, seeing him is not enough to make any of the film worth sitting through. Not to mention the fact so much of the other acting here is downright terrible. I’m not even sure what the one guy’s name is – the loud mouth one always cracking jokes and laughing and being obnoxious – but I cared so little about him I didn’t bother to remember who he was – Harry? I’m going with Harry. His acting was incredibly bad. I don’t know if it was mostly him or mostly Craven’s writing. Certainly overall, the script does not help in any way.
TheHillsHaveEyesPart2-2That’s another thing. I happen to think Wes Craven is a pretty solid writer, most of the time. He has a few scripts I don’t find particularly intriguing, but I think a lot of his stuff is great horror. The Hills Have Eyes Part II is in no way a representation of his best writing, not in any shape or form. The dialogue is all stilted, as opposed to a lot of fun and creepy stuff which came out of the first film’s script. The characters are beyond generic; even worse, I happen to think Craven is decent enough at writing black characters most of the time, but his attempt to write the character of Foster (Willard E. Pugh) here is laughably bad.
My biggest beef is that we’re never fully explained anything concerning Ruby/Rachel and Bobby. It just makes zero sense to me. Why does Ruby bother to change her name? As if the census taker is going to come around wondering why Ruby from the hillside cannibal clan is now living in the city? I think not. It’s sort of silly, as if she’s escaping her past in a Witness Protection Act. Meanwhile, she goes back out into the desert with the dirtbike team. Why? She knows what’s out there. Bobby was smart enough not to go, I just don’t see in what universe Ruby would subject herself to going back out there; she clearly would realize if Pluto or any of the other mutants found her, they’d be pretty pissed, I think. Regardless of how the studio made Craven go back and work with things he’d already shot without being able to film additional footage, there’s no excusing a lot of lapse in intelligence that can be found in even some of the most basic elements of Craven’s script.
I can’t say there’s no way he would’ve been able to make this into a decent film, but it’s unlikely either way. The script is far too weak to start. Unless he planned to do rewrites if given the chance, I think we can certainly chalk this one up to a badly formed script on his part and that perhaps it would’ve been better off – on ALL fronts even his and the studio – just to leave The Hills Have Eyes as a standalone film.
The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 (2)Having gone through all the awful aspects about this movie, I can still put it on and enjoy it. Isn’t that strange? I’m not sure what it is. There are just movies I can sit through and get enjoyment out of even while they’re virtually useless. I like some of the music in the film, as well as the fact there are a couple genuinely creepy scenes. Outside of that, there’s nothing I can say is good. There’s simply a quality to this horrible and needless sequel that I can’t seem to shake; it sticks on me like a wet fart. But it’s a wet fart I happen to love, as bad as it is for me to enjoy.
This is a 1 star film simply because there’s a glimmer of something here, whatever it is I can’t tell but it is THERE. I’m telling you. Perhaps it’s the fact Beast is so prominent throughout a couple scenes, maybe I’m too attached to animals – dogs in particular. I’m not sure now, never have been, and I can’t be positive that I’ll ever figure it out. I think, above all, my lament for Wes Craven’s sequel takes precedence: I wanted this so badly to be a decent movie. There are a couple eerie moments, enough to make things creepy from time to time, but ultimately not enough for anyone else to call this even remotely a mediocre horror.
Don’t waste your time unless you’re a completist. Most likely you’re not crazy like me and you won’t find anything endearing about this dog turd of a Craven flick.

A Family Terrorized: Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes

The Hills Have Eyes. 1977. Directed & Written by Wes Craven.
Starring John Steadman, Janus Blythe, Peter Locke, Russ Grieve, Virginia Vincent, Suze Lanier-Bramlett, Dee Wallace, Brenda Marinoff, Robert Houston, Martin Speer, James Whitworth, Michael Berryman, and Lance Gordon. Blood Relations Co.
Unrated. 89 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★ (Film)
★★★ (eOne DVD release)
tumblr_mwzabkMwCR1qh35m6o1_1280 I want to start off this review by talking solely about Wes Craven. It’s hard to pick a top director in horror for me because there are many different, talented individuals in the genre who have put out a ton of great work. But at the top of the list, you’ll always find Craven.
With his first feature in 1972, the now infamous The Last House on the Left, Wes Craven announced himself to the world as a young and angry filmmaker with not just balls, but with a vision. I truly think many of his movies can be looked at as more than just horror, they often have a bit of message buried deep down; sort of in the similar way George Romero instills his zombie films with a bit of political/social commentary from time to time.
He went on to do The Hills Have Eyes, but his career was only beginning to cook with gas around this time. Another 7 years in, he had movies like Deadly BlessingSwamp Thing, and a much hated (but a movie I actually enjoy a bit) sequel The Hills Have Eyes Part II. Then came A Nightmare on Elm Street, and from then on it was Master of Horror Wes Craven, not simply Wes Craven.
Also just to note, I’m a big fan of his movie The People Under The Stairs. If you feel like it, check out my review here. I’ve got a lot to say about it and I won’t take up your time any more here than I already am!
So needless to say, in regards to Wes, I love a bunch of his movies. Even despite what others might say and how they may feel, I’m a big fan of the first three Scream movies; the fourth wasn’t terrible or anything, just not my cup of tea. Most people I know hate the 3rd, sort of like the 2nd. Some I know don’t even like the very first one. For me, they came at a time when I was just on the verge of high school – the first came out when I was 11 years old. So I’m not sure, maybe nostalgia plays a part in it. But I still watch Scream at least a couple times a year, plus the other two usually get a view not long after.
Back to The Hills Have Eyes, though. This is one of those 1970s horror movies that hits you right in the gut. I know that Craven is a big fan of Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, so there’s no surprise to me even the cinematography is a little similar. Above all, I think Craven probably meant bits of his film to be – at least in small part – an homage to Hooper’s movie. I don’t know, but it feels that way to me. Not at all saying Craven rips TCM off. This is its own beast. Comparisons probably come from a few of these minor points: 1) Carter family is out in their car/camper driving on a roadtrip, 2) they’re in an unfamiliar place, and, 3) a family (of sorts) descends upon them and terrorizes each one. Other than that I don’t see anything else similar, totally different stories. Each a great horror in its own right.
What The Hills Have Eyes has going for it is a genuinely dreadful atmosphere, in part through the cinematography and direction, as well as everything from the music by Don Peake to the locations Craven used while filming. A truly horrific movie that smacks of realism while also drawing in almost urban legend-like fears to make the audience experience the terror of the Carter family in a visceral fashion.
eis5The Hills Have Eyes sees the Carter family on vacation – Big Bob (Russ Grieve) and his wife Ethel (Virginia Vincent) driving their car along with their teenage kids Bobby (Robert Houston) and Brenda (Susan Lanier); in the camper out back is the oldest daughter Lynne (Dee Wallace), her husband Doug (Martin Speer), and their baby Katie, as well as the dogs Beauty and Beast. At an old gas station, they stop and meet a man named Fred (John Steadman). He advises to keep on the main road, but the Carters further on end up running off the road and crashing the car. Once they’re stranded, Bob leaves for the gas station to find Fred and get help. At the same time, one of the dogs – Beauty – runs into the hills where someone attacks her. When Bobby finds Beauty’s body, torn up and bloody, he’s terrified, but falls and knocks himself out. Coming to, he’s afraid to scare his family.
Meanwhile, Big Bob witnesses Fred killed and hung in an outhouse by a crazed lunatic: a hideous looking man named Mars (Lance Gordon) hiding in shadows. Once all hell breaks loose, the rest of the unsuspecting Carter family lays in wait out in the darkening desert, unaware that Bob will not be returning.
But somebody will. And he’s bringing his brother.
hillshaveeyesI honestly love this film. Though, I do love the remake by director Alexandre Aja a tiny bit more. Shoot me, whatever.
Reason I say this is because one thing I do enjoy more in the original is the scene involving Big Bob Carter (Grieve) and the old man at the gas station, Fred (Steadman). First of all, their acting is solid. Each of them holds their own. What I like most is how Fred lays out a little bit of the history about the people in the hills; he makes mention of whacking the “devil man”, as he calls him, right in the face with a tire iron. Not that it’s anything earth shattering, I just like how later when we get our first good look at Papa Jupiter (James Whitworth) there’s that noticeable, jagged split in his forehead. Mostly, I think John Steadman does a fantastic job with the short supporting role of Fred; it’s brief, but the story he tells Big Bob at the gas station is creepy, sort of unsettling. An awesome bit of drama with the horror to follow.
The_Hills_Have_Eyes_(1977)_2Much of what I think appeals to a lot of horror fans, like myself, is the fact Craven gives the film such a low budget style and it effectively brings us into its realism. Sure, the story is out there. At the same time, parts of it are so very raw and realistic that it’s hard to deny how scary The Hills Have Eyes can be at times.
For instance, one real perfect scene in terms of being unsettling is when Bobby (Robert Houston) first hears a bunch of noise out in the bushes in the dark. It’s an eerie few moments. The way the camera tightens in on his face, the darkness around him. We see little glimpses of Papa Jupiter making noise out in the desert bushes.
But then the worst of all happens, as Bobby goes back to the camper where he finds himself locked out. Rattling at the door, Craven gives a peek inside where Pluto (the amazing horror actor Michael Berryman) is waiting with his hand right by the handle. The Carter women – Ethel and Brenda – sleeping soundly. Highly effective scene, and the way in which it’s presented really makes it work. Craven served as editor on this one, so I love some of the techniques he used. In my mind, if he’d chosen to let Bobby go on and wake up Doug/Lynne, then went back to show Pluto inside, this would’ve been far less shocking. It’s the way we watch the camera almost move through the door, Craven cutting from Bobby outside, to see Pluto’s hand, and then the camera slowly crawls up to reveal his face. Amazing example of how editing can do all the work in terms of an effective creep-out moment.
large_hills_have_eyesl_blue_blu-ray_6Another part of why this movie is a hit amongst horror hounds has to do with the viciousness of it all. This came even a year before John Carpenter’s Halloween, but films like Peeping TomPsycho to a certain extent, and most certainly the fantastic Black Christmas had already begun the slasher trend; even if it was in its early stages at that point. What The Hills Have Eyes does is take away the slasher gimmick. In turn, it tries to aim for that real life feel, as I’d mentioned before. I’m glad Craven didn’t go with everything he’d initially planned, as it was meant to be a modernized version of Sawney Bean. Apparently it would’ve been nearly 20 years into the future, and honestly it all sounds like a real mess.
With the film we know today, Craven brought a sense of reality to it all. I think Alexandre Aja did a good job updating things and including other real life situations into the remake. But here, there’s very much a gritty, visceral atmosphere throughout the entire movie. It’s a savagely emotional horror, as we’re watching this normal family on a roadtrip together become fodder for a bunch of cannibalistic serial killers living out in the desert. And I think that’s another aspect of what takes The Hills Have Eyes away from the slasher sub-genre more than it already is – the whole family is involved. Not only do some of them get killed, it isn’t one sole survivor left as is so often the case in the typical slasher horror movie; Doug, Brenda, and Bobby are the three last bastions of civilization left out in the desert once their loved ones are killed and the baby is stolen. I find that a neat aspect. Particularly in 1977, I think though Craven went on to do some slasher stuff he did a nice job of not doing the same old thing everyone else was doing. Even some of the nasty stuff in Black Christmas, a favourite of mine, doesn’t compare to the brutality of Craven. Furthermore, while we do get a bit of explicit terror here, there is an excellent use of shadow in all the locations in which Craven films, adding a mysteriously creepy quality. Just goes to show also what you can do on a budget. Not everything in horror requires tons and tons of cash being thrown into special effects and whatever else; part of it requires innovation and a keen eye for natural lighting, as seems to be the case here.
hills6Producer Peter Locke does a good commentary on the DVD release from eOne Entertainment, alongside director-writer Wes Craven. Pretty enlightening stuff. Also, it’s fun to hear these two guys watch the movie and be captivated by it. Funny because so many artists, filmmakers particularly, don’t actually like to sit and watch their stuff much. Or at least that seems to be the gist of opinions and even more so with actors. Craven and Locke both admit at one point they forgot to say much because they were sucked in watching; Locke had recently watched it again to prepare, Craven says he hasn’t watched the film in years.
Moreover, I think Craven puts a point on what I’d said earlier about his films. One line from Mars has him say “I’m in yer out!”, as he gnaws on Big Bob’s forearm and rants at a dead, burned Bob. Chilling scene. But what Craven says is that this is the white man’s ultimate fear, that the outsiders are going to get in and then they’ll be ousted. So again, I think behind even some of Craven’s most outrageous horror there are poignant pieces of knowledge. Maybe they don’t always come across perfectly, especially for those who aren’t deeply into horror. However, I don’t think you can deny it once you look at it long enough and think about what Craven says. Of course you can always make your own subjective meaning out of movies, but this one really does fit. Aja picks up on this aspect of the original and amplifies it during the remake, which is a reason why I enjoyed it even a little more.

Finally, the acting is all solid. From Michael Berryman, always a treasure onscreen in horror, to Papa Jupiter played by James Whitworth who is extremely unsettling each time we see him. Most of all, I thought Susan Lanier as Brenda did an impressive job with her character. As Pete Locke says on the DVD commentary, you actually feel for her situation and you feel that she’s beyond broken, it’s sadness you get out of her in so many scenes. The one scene with Susan Lanier and Virginia Vincent, as her mother Ethel who is all but fully dead, is heartbreaking and amazing all at once.
All over, I think the acting helps this film’s script, as the actors all put in their good work to help everything off the page come alive.
hills_have_eyes141Overall, I love this movie and it is most certainly a 4 out of 5 star horror. Some of the acting could’ve been a little better, but most is excellent. My biggest problem is with a bit of the costuming and the makeup. Naturally, the budget was less than a quarter million dollars, which in terms of movies is a very low budget independent project. So I can’t knock them terribly. All the same, it still could’ve been better.
Either way the little problems I have with the movie don’t take away from its greatness. This is a classic of terrifying horror cinema. Wes Craven has created so many memorable horror characters and films that it’s sometimes impossible to believe it. There’s seemingly no end to it at times. The Hills Have Eyes, no matter if it’s one of his first, will always be one of the best Craven movies and I can watch it again and again. Solid horror with creepy performances and an unsettling premise.
Check it out if you’ve never seen it, I always recommend it as a classic horror from the late ’70s. The DVD from eOne is nothing spectacular, though, it does contain the commentary which I enjoyed thoroughly. I’d love to pick it up on Blu ray soon to see if there are any further features. I’d love to see some of what was cut because it sounds vicious and pretty wild horror fun!

Fear The Walking Dead: Series Premiere – Review

AMC’s Fear The Walking Dead
Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”
Directed by Adam Davidson (The FollowingHell On Wheels)
Written by Robert Kirkman & Dave Erickson; based on the graphic novel series by Charlie Adlard/Robert Kirkman/Tony Moore

* For a review of the next episode, “So Close, Yet So Far” – click here
IMG_1738The opening scene of Fear The Walking Dead is a doozy to me. A nice open throat, a man stumbling around in a worn down church, zombie woman eating a face with a knife sticking from her belly. I found the atmosphere of the scene combined with a tense chase pretty awesome, plus the guy playing Nick (Frank Dillane) ejecting himself from the church and into the street where he’s hit by a car looks genuinely frightened.
So this initial moment makes things exciting. Nothing like starting things off on a wild and creepy moment to get viewers interested. Furthermore, I found for at least a few minutes I wasn’t totally positive if Nick was a junkie, or if he was in the first throes of becoming a part of the walking dead horde. Very cool how they played with that whole angle.
IMG_1739There’s a bunch of family drama at the start of this pilot. A lot of people online seem to be lamenting this, wanting more of the zombies. But what you’re not getting, if in that camp of viewers, is that this is NOT The Walking Dead. We’re beginning at the very start, not in media res of the apocalypse like Rick Grimes in the initial episode of the original series.
So if you’re not interested in that – fine. Just don’t say it’s a bad show; first of all it is the pilot, second you can’t judge it badly because you don’t like drama and want zombies. The zombies, at least in the pilot, are not the first and foremost element of what is happening. We’re watching the world as it is about to plunge into the darkness we’ve come to know on The Walking Dead.
IMG_1740There’s a big mix of families happening. We’ve got Madison Clark (Kim Dickens) whose son happens to be Nick, from the start, so that’s enough trouble for her as it is. But then she’s involved with Travis Manawa (Cliff Curtis) whose ex is Lisa Ortiz (Elizabeth Rodriguez). Then amongst them of course is Nick, as well as Alicia Clark (Alycia Debnam-Carey), plus Travis’ son Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie). At first I found it a little confusing, mostly because it was introduced quick and brief upfront. After a little time, though, I settled in and it was interesting to me. The family represents that sort of mixed racial family that I’m sure is fairly prevalent nowadays in a place like Los Angeles; where this spin-off is set. Some I’m sure will cry that Robert Kirkman, the creators, the writers are all trying to be a little “PC” by making it such a family, but I think it’s more realism than pandering.
IMG_1741What I enjoy in this pilot episode is how Travis (Curtis) tries to listen to Nick (Dillane). Unfortunately for him, the things Nick is saying are far too real. When Travis goes to the church Nick crawled out of – a place where it’s essentially “junkie communion” as he puts it himself – there’s little to verify his story, however, the mood and tone are ominous. He doesn’t necessarily think the zombie apocalypse is upon the all, but Travis does tell Madison (Dickens) he thinks something terrible happened there. Mostly, it all speaks to him wanting to help himself as a father, a stepfather, and just feeling the need to given Nick a hand.
IMG_1742 IMG_1743Looks like there are complains about how Fear The Walking Dead has such a junkie-centric thing happening in its first episode. Although, if you look at it wouldn’t a junkie den like that church be a place an epidemic could start? Who knows, really. To me, it’s a place nobody cares about; they are the throwaways of society. So if a guy like Nick shambled out of a place like that, no doubt people would toss off anything he says. Especially if he’s saying someone ate another person. Nowadays it would spread around social media, everyone would claim BATH SALTS, then move on to the next thing. By the time anyone turned around, the apocalypse would be in full-swing and the cities would begin to fall all around us as we’d be in no position to head anything off. So, to me, I found this beginning fitting because it feels genuine, from the relationships to the entire situation of Los Angeles.

I love the scene with Travis as he’s teaching the class about Jack London and his story “To Build A Fire”. Highly ironic when one of his students says he doesn’t care about learning how to build a fire; when asked why not, he replies “I got a stove”. The irony, of course, lies in the fact we already know what’s coming. We’ve seen The Walking Dead, we’ve seen all the zombie horror movies, we can understand that eventually all of these people we’re seeing right now will NEED those skills. If not, their furthering survival is at risk of a quick extinction. So maybe some might say this scene is heavy handed. To me, it follows a great tradition of horror films – from classics like John Carpenter’s Halloween to newer films following it such as It Follows – in which there are these wonderful scenes that speak to thematic/plot elements we’ll see as the story progresses.
IMG_1744There’s solid atmosphere throughout this whole pilot, honestly. From the grim opening with Nick in the church, spilling into the street, to scenes in the hospital – an old man in the bed next to Nick goes into cardiac arrest or something similar; moments later an eerie older woman smiles at Nick, staring. Small bits like this, as well as the look and feel of the scenes themselves, really make for quite a bit of tension.
Moreover, Nick takes off from the hospital, so in terms of plot things get suspenseful. We’re already aware the zombies are out there; the apocalypse has begun officially, whether the characters realize this or not. While Nick saw it, he is a junkie and does not know for sure if he saw a zombie, or if it was the drugs, or if it was drugged madness on the part of the other junkies in that church. So he’s out on the streets, he picks up a burner cellphone, and there’s this wretchedly ominous feeling to the scenes. We’re left wondering exactly how this sad junkie will make out once things start to get insane out in the streets of L.A.

Another thing I love is that the setting is Los Angeles. So while we as the audience hear helicopters and sirens going around, thinking this is the beginning – knowing it – these sounds are commonplace to the characters, as L.A is one hell of a busy city at all times. Never stops, even the helicopters flying over different neighbourhoods. Those characters would not automatically assume that the apocalypse had begun simply because of sirens and helicopters and police cars and ambulances going mad.
Then after a scene with Madison and Travis, once they’ve sped off from the highway, the next day at the school everyone watches a clip from the nightly news, where they’d been near the highway; EMTs are attacked by people on stretchers. Most assume it was drugs, maybe shock as Travis points… but us? Well we know the difference already, even before the characters themselves come to understand what is happening.
Enjoy the inclusion of cellphones, with a bunch of the high school characters watching online videos of the events from the previous night. It seems like a joke to some, yet school is let out early. There’s a sense of chaos brewing. Everything from the music, to the evacuation of buildings, the sound design with more choppers flying about and voices in the air. It’s a great build up towards the episode’s finale.
IMG_1745A scene between Calvin (Keith Powers), who is obviously a friend and dealer both, and Nick is incredibly well done. There’s a genuine terror in Nick; he’s not simply addicted to drugs, he has seen something terrifying and it’s rocking him. Not just that, Calvin is clearly paranoid because Nick’s mom came to him, he’s afraid that Nick has been saying things that ought not to be heard. Very foreboding feeling to the car ride Calvin takes Nick on, as we’re pretty much expecting him to blast the poor junkie away, which we fast discover to be the truth.
Though, it isn’t a drug dealer and a gun Nick needs to be most concerned about. When his mother and Travis show up to get him – after he’s killed Calvin in self-defense – Nick takes them down to where it happened. However the body is not there.
Do you see? DO YOU SEE?
Nick is looking crazier and crazier. Still, we know something is going to happen, something is already going bad.
THEN THE SCORE KICKS IN! That music we know well from The Walking Dead – deep bass, distorted, heavy. In the dark red tunnel, Calvin reappears and he is zombified. Thus begins the zombie apocalypse, which ushers in Fear The Walking Dead.
IMG_1746 IMG_1747 IMG_1749 IMG_1750This episode, while slow to some, is a solid opener to the series. Others wanted a ton of zombie action right away. I stress again: this is not the show you’re looking for! We are getting a slight prequel, once that begins right on the cusp of the apocalypse we’ve already been smack dab in the middle of during The Walking Dead. So it’s only natural to see a lead up to the actual zombie epidemic breaking out.
I guarantee the second episode will pick up in pace and intensity, as well as there’ll be more gore and zombies for everyone. I’m a fan of all that stuff, too! For those who’ve not read this blog, most of what goes on here involves horror one way or another. So I am a massive horror fan, love the gore and the blood where I can get it. At the same time, I do love the drama involved in a good horror series or film. It’s what makes the horror more real, more visceral.
For me, this pilot was great. An incredible mix of family drama, tension, and bits of horror. Really felt like the world going on as normal, right before the zombies descend on Los Angeles. Even more, not a moment did I find myself checking the time; in fact, I had to stop and see how much time was left simply because I hoped it would be at least 15-20 minutes more, as I’d been enjoying the episode that much. Looking forward to a second episode – it’s titled “So Close, Yet So Far” and is directed by Adam Davidson (Hell on WheelsThe Following). One thing I’m sure of – poor ole Nick is going to have some rough withdrawals as the zombie epidemic commences. It’s gonna prove pretty interesting, if anything.

Stay tuned! I’ll be keeping up with each episode of AMC’s Fear The Walking Dead. I’m also soon starting to review The Walking Dead from its first season onward, and I’ll do each episode of the new season once that comes on, too.