Get ready for a lot of blood.
This is the (supposedly) bloody tale of Erzsébet Báthory, the Blood Countess, who might have killed over 600 people.
Alexandre Aja's remake of the 1970s Wes Craven original has big, scary, political balls.
The infamous Ozploitation flick BODY MELT is a gory satire of the fitness industry as just another modern horrorshow.
The endlessly unnerving SLEEPAWAY CAMP was more ambitious than other slashers, opting to take on psychological damage and gender roles.
STREET TRASH is just a B-movie with nothing to say. Or, maybe it says a lot of things about NYC in the 1980s. Maybe?
The House by the Cemetery. 1981. Directed by Lucio Fulci. Screenplay by Lucio Fulci/Giorgio Mariuzzo/Dardano Sacchetti, from a story by Elisa Livia Briganti.
Starring Catriona MacColl, Paolo Malco, Anioa Pieroni, Giovannia Frezza, Silvia Collatina, Dagmar Lassander, Giovanni De Nava, Daniela Dora, Gianpaolo Saccarola and Carlo De Mejo. Fulvia Film. Rated R. 87 minutes.
I came to Lucio Fulci about ten years ago, after seeing City of the Living Dead. His classic look, the effects, an insanely nasty sense of style – how could I not enjoy his films? After that one, I found The Beyond, which is tied with A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin as my favourite of his work. So I made my way through everything by him I could find. Though his movies aren’t perfect, I find them perfect for me, for horror. They’re not full of grand metaphor, they aren’t even particularly complex in plot. What Fulci offers is a visually pleasing aesthetic, crossed with the brutal qualities of his own personal horror movie madness.
The House by the Cemetery isn’t his best, though, it’s nowhere near his worst. While many might have you believe it’s overrated, or that it’s “typical Fulci”, I say that’s nonsense. Especially those who think it’s “typical” of him – what’s wrong with typical Fulci? He’s a classic horror filmmaker, his style is all his own. Added to that, there are always solid gore effects, you can count on that. This film has all the earmarks of Fulci with a bit of inspiration from H.P. Lovecraft and other sources.
Essentially, this is Fulci’s version of the haunted house horror.
Norman and Lucy Boyle (Paolo Malco/Catriona MacColl), along with their young boy Bob (Giovanni Frezza), move into a home belonging to a colleague of Norman’s who committed suicide; he plans on researching the house itself, as well as the other previous owners. Soon enough, Bob sees a young girl named Mae (Silvia Collatina), but only he can see her. She tries to warn him of the danger in the house. No one will believe him, certainly not his mother. Eventually a woman comes to take the position of babysitter for Bob – Ann (Ania Pieroni) shows up out of nowhere for the job.
Things slowly get scarier in the old house, as Norma and Lucy discover a Dr. Freudstein once lived in their new home, around the turn of the century. He was a Victorian era doctor who performed illegal surgeries and experiments. This leads to more gruesome discoveries around the property, as the past comes alive and tears its way into the present.
When the movie’s filmed in English, yet still dubbed in post-production for some odd reason, you can’t expect it to be an outright masterpiece. Can you? No. So, when you watch The House by the Cemetery I’m not saying you’ll be blown away by all the technical aspects. Nor am I saying the story makes perfect and complete sense. Not in the slightest. What I am saying is that Fulci manages to do excitingly eerie things with atmosphere, as well as the fact he does his best to include some proper gore to wet the whistle of all those gore hounds out there.
My favourite part of this film is that atmosphere. The overall tone is grim. There’s something common to Fulci, I think. Every movie feels hopeless, not an ounce of actual happiness and figurative light manages to make its way into these stories he tells. Which is perfect for horror, and why I’m always inclined to enjoy so many of his films. The House by the Cemetery has the pretense of having those happier moments in the beginning, but the immediacy in Fulci’s presentation of the horror going on inside the house sets the tone quickly. It reminds me of how George Romero starts Day of the Dead with that neat, brief little dream sequence; sets us on edge from the start, almost like a visual manifesto. From there, Fulci works on us with his imagery alongside an unusual and exciting score from Walter Rizzati. The aesthetic of the film is, again, very Fulci.
I mean, even the scene where Norman (Paolo Malco) gets attacked by a bat becomes something intensely horrific. It latches onto his hand for what seems like ages. Finally, after a tough wrestle with it as everyone watches in horror, Norman stabs the things, blood pumping everywhere. The mark it leaves is savage. Such a normal event like finding a bat in the basement – something which happens plenty to people around the world – transforms into the stuff of nightmares. Such is the power of Fulci. He doesn’t have to be doing anything extraordinary in terms of plot or story in order to make things interesting, or in this case pretty nasty.
I’ve seen a lot of people complain about the story, like the plot is completely nonsensical. Not sure why so many complaints. There’s not much going on here to really need to comprehend. It’s a haunted house style horror movie, there are reanimated corpses in the house – chaos and supernatural terror ensue. What’s so tough to get? Not saying that everything is tied up into neat little packages and the screenplay rounds off every edge it fashions. But seriously – I don’t get the labels of incoherent other reviews have put out there. Does not make sense. There’s a surreal nature to this creepy house of Fulci’s, I feel The House by the Cemetery is like a fever dream full of haunting images. As I said earlier, this is like the past meets the present. The visceral entities of the house’s past come alive to keep taking lives, to keep Dr. Freudstein in business and corpses for experimentation, surely. Is that not the whole point? Just can’t get my head around why people feel the need to criticize Fulci here when the movie isn’t trying to be anything more than it is: a creepfest with nasty kills and a grim tone.
Despite all my love for this Lucio Fulci film, I do find a lot of the acting – aside from Catriona MacColl who is always fabulous – pretty damn bothersome, and tiring most of the time. Regardless, I still say this is a 3.5 out of 5 star horror movie. It’s got a nice dose of gore, the typically awesome and gnarly horror expected of Fulci. Not only that, the story is creepy enough to keep things going; no matter what people say about its supposed incoherence. Mainly, it’s just not an overly complex plot or anything. It has the goods to satisfy a haunted house movie craving, on top of that the blood and vicious bits will keep the hounds at bay. Not Fulci’s top horror, but like I said it’s light years away from being the worst. This is a good flick for Halloween and it’s a generally good one to take in if you’re getting into Fulci, or if you’re into him and have yet to see it because of Negative Nancies and Davie Downers saying this is overrated, or yadda yadda whatever else they say. Judge for yourself! Let me know what you think in the comments, I’d love to hear other perspectives, as long as you’re civil – then this Dude abides.
With a list for the disturbed, one for zombies/living dead/infected, a 31-day map of horror and even a list for Halloween-ers who aren’t horror fans, I’ve come to one with a special disturbing dedication: blood and gore and uncomfortable pains!
While the other disturbing list is a bunch of general unsettling movies, this one is based mainly around effects and the visual nastiness. Now, these aren’t meant to be the BLOODIEST, or the wildest gore imaginable, nothing like that. The movies on this list are some of the ones with the effects I enjoy most, the nastiest depictions of violence, and so on, which I’ve found throughout the 4,100 films I’ve seen in the past 30 years.
Hopefully you hardcore horror fans will enjoy some of these and you’ve probably seen a few, if not all. Either way, let me know what you think and if there are any others you enjoy that ought to be shared.
Anthropophagus (1980)/ Absurd (1981)
A perfect double feature if you want a big helping of senseless violence, relentless terror and creepy atmosphere. These two landed on the Video Nasty list during 1983; they were also prosecuted successfully.
Joe D’Amato’s Anthropophagus sees a group of friends on a Greek island terrorized by a tall cannibalistic man of mysterious origin. No more explanation needed because there’s honestly nothing much else to say. It’s the way D’Amato shows everything, his style, which really makes this something to see. Truly nasty bit of work. Goes well together with a want for blood, guts, and flesh wounds of all shapes and sizes.
Moving on to 1981, D’Amato comes back with a spiritual sequel to his earlier Anthropophagus from 1980 – Absurd is the story of a priest chasing down a monster whose blood coagulates incredibly fast, rendering it near impossible to kill, and its killing is unstoppable.
This isn’t near as good as Anthropophagus, still it is some more savagery from D’Amato whose nastiness knows no bounds at times.
A ton of head action here: no, not a blowjob, I’m talking heads being drilled, heads being sawed, et cetera. If you’re in need of a bit of rough violence, this is certainly the ticket. However, as I said, D’Amato doesn’t come back near as good with this film as he did with the previous.
These two films make an interesting, nasty double feature. Don’t say I didn’t warn you – not plot heavy, but definitely thick with murder!
Blood Feast (1963)/ Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964)
The second double feature (out of 4) on this list, it’s another one with both titles from the same director. This time, it’s the Godfather of Gore, Mr. Herschell Gordon Lewis.
The entree: 1963’s Blood Feast.
While this is by no means a great film, it’s definitely ambitious in terms of the blood and gore. With Blood Feast – the story of a killer slaying women in order to get blood to appease an Egyptian goddess – Lewis began introducing the world to his vibrant brand of gore horror. Right from the very beginning of the film, its first sequence comes off totally awesome and bizarre; a proper portion of H.G. Lewis signature style gory makeup effects. So pretty much immediately you’ll know whether or not you’re in for his type of filmmaking. I dig it and think it’s nasty as hell. This is one ridiculously fun and equally rotten bit of gore horror.
After Lewis shocked with the previous little blood & guts flick, he came back swinging with a much better film the next year: Two Thousand Maniacs!
This one is the story six people who find themselves trapped in a town, deep down amongst the Southern U.S. and one by one they’re killed, as part of a celebration/their revenge for the town being destroyed in the Civil War.
Talk about bloody! The poster does not lie. Early on in the days of splatter horror movies, H.G. was rocking it hard. Furthermore, there’s a real dreamy quality to Lewis’ filmmaking and I feel that’s a part of appreciating what he does; sure, it’s kind of cheap, yes it is also tame compared to things today. But is it really tame? I don’t think so. Either way, there’s a certain atmosphere Lewis creates which not a lot of people take into account. Sort of an avant-garde-trash mixture. Bless him. This is a wonderfully fun and bloody piece of work.
These two Hershell Gordon Lewis movies work so well together, though, the second is much better. This gives me my fill of organs and bleeding cuts and slashed throats and more. A perfect Halloween splatterfest!
My full review is here.
One of my three favourite Davids – another one comes later (and the third is my dad) – Lynch dropped his first feature film onto the midnight circuit in 1977 with the existentially horrifying and viscerally churning Eraserhead.
The story… ah, if you don’t already know what this movie is, there’s no real point trying to explain it. Maybe best put: the story of a man living in an unbearable industrial landscape, whose girlfriend gets pregnant and then they both must deal with it after coming out a tiny monster. Oh, and don’t forget the woman who lives in the radiator.
A whole mind trip of a film, this Lynch masterpiece has tons of the existential dread happening, from start to finish. But the visuals – holy fuck, the visuals! There are moments even some hardcore horror hounds find nauseating, simply because of the way Lynch shows us his imagery. I won’t ruin anything for those who’ve not seen it. Needless to say, you may never look at a turkey or chicken again in the same way once you’re ready to carve it up.
Fun note: Lynch still says to this day no one has ever really pinpointed what the film is about, for him.
Dans Ma Peau a.k.a In My Skin (2002)
This French film is the story of a woman who experiences a bad injury while at a party, then becomes increasingly obsessed with self harm – serious cutting.
A lot of people might find themselves flinching throughout large portions of this one. Honestly, it’s a tough piece of cinema. The amount of nasty cutting and self-violence here is extraordinary. Perhaps what makes the blood and makeup effects here so devastatingly effective is the fact we get inside the headspace of the main character – also the director and writer, talented woman – and come to actually care about her, maybe some of us will identify with her. So this takes it to another level. Go into this expecting you may turn it off due to discomfort.
Hostel (2005)/ Hostel: Part II (2007)
For my full review of 2005’s Hostel – click here
For my full review of the sequel – click here
Another double bill, again each from the same director. This one would actually make a great quartet feature with H.G. Lewis, come to think of it.
Say what you want about Eli Roth, he’s effective. Can you honestly say the special makeup effects in Hostel aren’t well executed? If so, you’re kidding yourself. You might not like how Roth plays out his film, you may not even like the content. There’s just simply no fucking way you’re convincing me the blood and gore here isn’t properly nasty.
Hostel came out and turned up the label “torture porn” (get what it implies but hate the term). The whole thing, to me, is a sleazy masterpiece of bloody horror. Its first half plays like a roadtrip comedy with the three dudes, cut with bits and pieces of murder. Once the second half begins, Roth takes us on a gory ride. That eyeball effect? Come on… don’t let whatever your opinion of Roth/the movie overall may be cloud your judgement: this is some hardcore brutality. There are plenty more bits to “enjoy” when it comes to all the bloody goodness, the eyeball is my favourite.
I wasn’t expecting a good follow-up, honestly. Regardless of that, though, Hostel: Part II is one hell of a sequel from Roth. Of course the end turns out to be a nice little feminist twist, but most of the film sees a trio of women in peril, as opposed to the three dudes from the first. The savagery is just as prevalent here. Love the homage to Erzebet Bathory with the bloodletting bath scene. Also, I’m always a big fan of piece of shit men getting their dicks cut off. So there’s that.
Both of these films are incredibly horrific, in their own ways while still being similar. Even better than that, I find the sequel Roth came up with did well with creating an entire universe with the story, going deeper into the global club of psychopaths who round up victims for murder tourists to have a go at. On top of all the bleeding and the screams and the terror, there’s also a cherry of a decent plot, too.
Island of Death (1976)
Back to another of the infamous Video Nasties. And I’m not putting this on the list all due to it being on there, either. Only awhile ago did I actually get the chance to see this, but christ… what a doozy.
In 1976, director Nico Mastorakis put out Island of Death after seeing how well Tobe Hooper did with his indie shocker The Texas Chain Saw Massacre only two years before. Except without much of an intent, as I feel Hooper had with his own film, Mastorakis only wanted to bring the awe with a sadistic and perverse plot based around a British couple – who say they’re recently married yet are actually later revealed to be a brother-sister incest duo – wreaking absolute havoc on people while visiting a Greek island. Strangely enough, for two inbreeding siblings, they kill people who they deem sinful.
You’ll find yourself, most certainly, struggling to get through this because it’s not particularly good, in regards to plot or story. Neither is it overly well-acted. It’s the brutish violence and boundless depravity which will take you in. The blood flows and the gory scenes will make you understand easily how this ended up on the Video Nasty list.
Masters of Horror: “Imprint” (dir. Takashi Miike) (2006)
My vote for most disturbing segment ever made for television – Takashi Miike’s Imprint from the horror anthology series Masters of Horror.
Miike has turned up on another list I did for Halloween this year (for his 1999 horror-thriller Audition). He comes back here again with a vengeance.
Without giving away too much, an American traveler who once visited Japan for a time goes back for another trip. When he looks to find the geisha with which he connected so emotionally on his first visit, she is nowhere to be found, and he soon begins to unravel the devastating mystery surrounding her disappearance.
Think it sounds okay? One of the most disturbing movies I’ve ever seen, and it was a television episode; though, it wasn’t allowed to air if I’m not mistaken. I bought the two seasons of this show and found myself blown away by this one in particular. Lots of nastiness from one of the true masters, Takashi Miike.
For my full review, click here.
A personal favourite of mine, David Cronenberg’s Videodrome is similar, in a few respects, to what he was doing in eXistenZ later down the road. However, they’re definitely different, vastly so, as this 1983 classic goes much harder and more metaphorically at the body horror sub-genre.
Sleazy TV producer Max Renn (James Woods) searches for the ultimate in raw, real content for his channel. In his search, Max comes across an ultra-real show named “Videodrome”, featuring what seems to be actual snuff and torture, et cetera. Slowly drawn in, his quasi-girlfriend Nick Brand (Deborah Harry) goes to audition for the show, having an interest in masochism particularly. What happens next takes Max to the brink of reality and sanity at once.
Cronenberg is one of the genius filmmakers of cinema, even better that he’s Canadian (as I am one; he’s a national treasure). He’s very much an auteur, I would say he’s pretty much the king of body horror. Even further than that, I’d definitely say Cronenberg is at least ONE of the godfathers of the sub-genre. Lately he’s moved a little bit away, which is fine. You just cannot deny his power. Some of the effects here, provided by maestro artist Rick Baker, are simply unforgettable – the fleshy VHS tape, the mutilated/deformed bodies, and so on. Plus, on top of all the body horror, as is his style, Cronenberg also gets into how we relate to media, whether movies or television, what have you. Very interesting movie and also harrowing in terms of its body horror imagery.
Haute Tension (a.k.a High Tension a.k.a Switchblade Romance) (2003)
For my full review, click here.
Alexandre Aja is a favourite of mine, in terms of modern horror filmmakers who have emerged over the past 15 years. He’s vicious, funny, he’s displayed – in some of his films – that practical special makeup effects still have a place in post-2000 horror, it isn’t all about CGI. Most of all, I think he wears the biggest and best of his influences on his sleeve.
The story of Marie and Alexia, two college friends – they head for a vacation back to Alexia’s parents home in the country, deep in the cornfields. On their first night, a killer comes knocking at the door. Systematically he murders the family, except for Alexia – all the while, Marie is hiding upstairs in a room at the top of the house. Marie manages to slip into the killer’s creepy truck before he whisks Alexia off. This begins an intensely vicious night of cat-and-mouse maneuvering, swimming in blood.
I never once saw where this horror movie was going the first time I saw it. Then when you watch it over and over again, which I’ve done (because I fucking love it), it’s interesting to watch knowing where it will go and still find yourself enthralled. There are some of the most perfect special makeup effects in High Tension. It has such a great 1970s/1980s horror sensibility, one of the biggest reasons why I can’t get enough of this Aja masterpiece. Some will tell you the twist is something you’ll see coming. I don’t believe that; people who say those things, some of them anyways, are usually just naysayers unable to point out anything particularly bad about a movie they don’t like (for whatever reason). You’ll be blown away, or in love depending on how sick you are like myself, by all the blood and gore from start to finish. Plus, the performances are incredible, even the near mute killer. This one is a definite shocker you need on the Halloween movie marathon list. If you don’t dig subtitles, get over it or miss out on a fantastic piece of modern horror-gore cinema.
Macabre (1980)/ Demons (1985)
Moving on to our next – and fittingly final – double bill: back to back Lamberto Bava madness!
To start, the 1980 horror (amazingly it is loosely based on a true story) Macabre. This one is insanely fun in the sickest horror sense. A woman is reeling from the death of her extramarital lover; they were in a car accident and he was decapitated. After a 12-month stay in an institution, she gets out and heads back to the apartment where she and her lover would meet to make love and be together. Soon, her landlord begins to suspect there’s still something going on between the woman and her lover.
So that description alone should intrigue you + the poster art there! To tell you the truth, the poster itself I’ve got there is a bit telling. But still, not like my description wasn’t either. If you want some nasty horror dealing with dead bodies and psychosexual tension, this will make any Halloween properly disturbing with a nice spate of – you guessed it – macabre imagery.After Macabre‘s more subtle story, believe it or not, is the 1985 cult classic Demons. For those who don’t know, Lamberto Bava is the son of revered Italian horror/giallo director Mario Bava (see: A Bay of Blood & more). So while his father was an absolute powerhouse overall in cinema, not someone I would banish to simply being a great genre director but a true artist, Lamberto doesn’t quite rise to that height. That being said, he is still an amazing horror director. Demons is an all-out barn burner: a bunch of people are trapped in a theatre, home to demonic entities, and they proceed to kill/possess everyone possible inside. Honestly, there’s nothing else to say about the plot – it is what it is, and that’s all right. This is one wild piece of horror, similar to a zombie film yet these are demons; the more they possess people, the greater their numbers. Not only that, the special makeup effects in this one are gnarly and awesome as hell. You have to put this one on if you’re watching Lamberto Bava, it’s a wild ride, and a nice contrast piece to Macabre, a very different sort of horror. These two movies together will really get your blood flowing. Turn Halloween into a night of terror with this double feature full of depravity and utter chaos.
It’s strange because so many people seem to have seen Lucky McKee’s The Woman from 2011, yet inexplicably ignore its predecessor – the 2009 indie Offspring.
Based on a novel by Jack Ketchum, and subsequently his screenplay for the film, this is a tale of the remaining cannibals from an old clan who move in on a nearby town and begin to wreak havoc on its people.
There are some intense bits here, especially with the inclusion of the feral children in the clan; one scene immediately comes to mind when a woman walks into her kitchen, only to find blood and body parts and kids nibbling on the tasty little bits they’re holding. This is one really macabre story and its execution I find pretty damn good; not perfect, but good enough. Not sure why this one has a super low rating on IMDB, perhaps some might find it cliched or overdone, I don’t know really. The mind of Jack Ketchum comes out pretty nicely, to my mind. He is a unique and terrifying writer.
Either way, I do know this has enough satisfyingly disturbing bits of gore and morbidity in it you might spend a few minutes before bedtime making sure no cannibals are hiding out in the kitchen.
For a full review and examination of this shocker, click here.
Loosely based on the real murderer Werner Kniesek, Angst is the tale of a madman released from prison, after which he brutalizes and murders a family in their small home.
Truly, to me, this 1983 cult horror film out of Austria is actually an examination of institutionalization crossed with an already violent psychopath, almost the meeting of two immovable forces crashing against one another. Right from the first scene, we know how madly gone the psychotic (Erwin Leder; best known from Das Boot) has become in his time through the prison system.
And that’s part of why Angst is so powerfully disturbing – aside from the messy, bloody bits, the entirety of the film has us knocking around in the head of this man. We’re never given any of what’s going on outside of him, anything from a different perspective, but rather this depraved killer is our guide, our sherpa into the heart of utter darkness.
If your Halloween season hasn’t been viscerally disturbing enough, get ahold of Angst. It’s becoming better known over the past few years, particularly with the Blu ray release, however, it’s still not widely recognized enough in my opinion. There are easily drawn comparisons between John McNaughton’s Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Though, trust me: this movie is far different, it gets deeper into the brain matter of its killer and really tries to strip things down to push us into the main character’s uncomfortable headspace.
Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)
This 1975 Pier Paolo Pasolini-directed shockfest is one you’ll undoubtedly see turn up on most of the disturbing horror lists out there. Anybody in their right mind will find this completely raw and hateful nasty, no doubt about that. The most hardcore horror fans readily admit this is one insane piece of cinema.
While I do think there’s a major part of this movie speaking to fascism, et cetera, the majority of what you’ll find incessantly horrifying here is the imagery. And it’s not subtle, not even for a hot second.
Think – have you ever thought to yourself “I’d love to see a movie where people commit sodomy, eat human faeces, then throw in some violent torture/murder and a suicide to boot”? If so, this one is for you!
Okay, I don’t make this one sound in the slightest appealing. Because it’s not and I’m not trying to fool you here. This is a list of disturbing horror to do solely with imagery, effects, and so on. You won’t find a more visceral piece of cinema ever, maybe. Many argue this has no purpose, but under all its nasty and in-your-face nausea, Pasolini had something to say with Salò and after all these years – four decades later – people are still debating it, still fighting it, the controversy surrounding the film and Pasolini himself continues to burn in the public heart of film lovers. So can you say, either way, love it or hate it, that Pasolini’s movie is not effective? You’re kidding yourself if the answer is no.
Putting this one on could ruin October for you; the entire month. But if you’re adventurous, and a little messed up, pop this in and rock out to the Pasolini mindfuck machine.
Thanks for reading another of my Halloween lists this year. Once more, as always, I’m hoping you’ll find at least one flick to put on during October. Especially the closer it gets to the 31st. This list will induce shock and awe, I know it does for me. These are all pretty wild movies, to me. If you have any other suggestions for blood, guts, skulls and assorted nasty stuff, please drop a comment and let me know in what sort of madness you’ll be indulging over the next couple weeks.
The Last Horror Movie. 2003. Directed by Julian Richards; screenplay by James Handel from an idea by Julian Richards.
Starring Kevin Howarth, Mark Stevenson, Antonia Beamish, Christabel Muir, Jonathan Coote, Rita Davies, Joe Hurley, Jamie Langthorne, John Berlyne, and Mandy Gordon. Prolific Films/Snakehair Productions.
Rated R. 75 minutes.
I’ve talked a lot in my reviews about found footage. It’s a sub-genre which I happen to love, though, there are certainly tons of bad ones out there. Having said that, are there really any more than bad horror, drama, comedy, thriller, et cetera? Nope, not at all. It’s merely the fact that, after The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity later, this sub-genre was reinvigorated after cult classics such as Cannibal Holocaust or The McPherson Tape, and naturally when a type of movie gets popular there are always other filmmakers looking to capitalize. Maybe this brings about more dreck than needed, but it also brings out quite a few excellent films in the lot which are more than worth the time to sit through.
The Last Horror Movie takes found footage, even a concept which we’ve seen before, and uses it to create a chilling, horrific bit of film. Certainly the, as I see it, overrated Man Bites Dog has stomped through the territory Julian Richards takes us into. However, it’s in the charisma and energy of the lead actor Kevin Howarth, playing a savage, voyeuristic serial killer, where the true horror of this movie lies and it is him, through every last scene, that will terrify you endlessly.
Using a cheesy horror video rental, naughty serial killer Max Parry (Kevin Howarth) tapes over the bad film on a VHS tape and lets other unsuspecting people rent it from the store. He’s even recruited an unnamed assistant (Mark Stevenson) to record all his murders and assaults on videotape.
Max goes on killing and doing terrible things, as the assistant films on. At one point he even attempts to involve the young, naive assistant in his work, putting a knife directly in his hands in order to experience the thrill of the kill.
Will Max Parry keep killing? Will he be caught? Can he successfully indoctrinate his assistant into a world of serial killing and depravity? With the tape wearing on, Max and his assistant find themselves in a scary, voyeuristic world where it almost feels as if the camera’s red light is our own eye, Max’s eye; and even scarier, we may come to discover that Max is not unlike a great many of us, terrifying and unsettling as the thought may be.
There are several amazingly chilling moments which deserve to go down in the horror history hall of fame. Honestly, there’s a wealth of horror in this short feature. I’ll discuss a few I think are particularly awesome and which deserve recognition.
The first happens very early, around 15 minutes in, as Max (Howarth) goes by a school, picking up a young boy. My heart started pumping as we watch Max, his video assistant taping the whole time, as he goes over to the boy, talks to him – you’d never suspect it was his nephew. There’s an undeniably pulse pounding lead up to this, until you see him at a door with the boy; his mother, Max’s sister, opens up and the terror is finished for the moment. But heading into this, even on a second viewing – and beyond – I’m consistently terrified by this part, though I know the outcome. Still gets me because the tension is there.
Other excellent, similar scenes happen as we often forget Max has an assistant following him with a video camera. Such as when we see a woman getting into her car in a parking garage, I actually lapsed and forgot Max wasn’t actually filming his own murders: then we see the woman in the car get strangled from behind, as Max sits in the backseat and his assistant films outside the car. Little bits like this make the tension and suspense of The Last Horror Movie draw out and last nearly the entire, scant 75-minute runtime.
What scares me most about the character of Max is how he, through this film and his own film within a film taped onto another film, sort of confronts us with madness, murder, and violence in order to make us confront the concept of voyeurism. How much should you watch? How much will you watch?
When Max kills two people separately in the same room – turning the camera away for the actual murder – he then asks if we’re waiting to SEE THE VIOLENCE – curious about what happened, hoping to have seen the savagery up-close (edited with quick cuts briefly of the stabbings full-on). What he says afterwards chills me entirely to the very core of my being: “If not… then why are you still watching?”
It begs the question, for the supposed person actually watching the VHS tape which Max has recorded over with his murderous rampage, why would you continue watching if you know what he’s doing is real/wrong? If that person, us the viewer, waited through those stabbings, we were waiting in order to see some bit of the blood and gore, to see the effects, the “realism” that apparently we’re craving terribly. The overall theme of this film is set in stone through this scene, as Max basically gives us his manifesto RIGHT HERE. Not only effective in making his actions and intentions known, it is downright fucking creepy and horrifies me each and every time I watch this scene.
I think there are obvious comparisons to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, which I do believe are warranted. However, while there are certainly similarities I believe The Last Horror Movie goes further in certain aspects. There’s a similarly disturbing angle concerning video cameras: here we have Max; with John McNaughton’s cult classic, Henry and Otis use a video camera to record some of their nasty doings. There’s the whole essence of voyeurism and how the audience relates to what they’re seeing, whether it’s CNN news footage showing war and death or serial killers like these guys traipsing around, killing, savaging people and capturing everything on video.
Max Parry goes further than Henry and Otis in the sense of recording every last killing. They, often times, would do lots of terribleness outside of the camera’s frame. Not Max, though. He and his assistant carry the camera everywhere, anywhere, to get each single solitary moment of pain and torture recorded for the unsuspecting next viewer of the VHS rental. Max strangles, stabs, bludgeons, and even lights people on fire! His methods are completely barbaric. Whereas Henry and Otis in Henry videotape in order to get their rocks off later – sort of a substitution for having to physically revisit the scene of a crime like many serial killers do – Max records his murders in order to make the person SEEING THEM respond in a visceral way; they are either disgusted, or they find themselves drawn in (for any number of reasons). Either way, Max shows us this absolutely frightening display of serial murder and makes us accept the fact we are voyeurs – as citizens in a media dominated world and also as viewers, as an audience, sitting and watching the horror of a “realistic” movie. This is what rocks me so hard about The Last Horror Movie.
This is one of my favourite found footage horror movies. Absolutely at the top of the list, there aren’t many others which find themselves above this one; 4.5 out of 5 stars on my radar. Some may say it’s boring, that there’s nothing happening: to those people I say, are you serious? There’s a ton happening, as well as the fact The Last Horror Movie boasts a great deal of commentary on how we relate to horror/watch it and the voyeuristic tendencies which come along with seeing videotaped murder (doesn’t stop at fiction; think of the beheadings which have been filmed, the supposed tape of Saddam being hung, and tons of other real life death captured in realtime on video).
If you’ve not had a chance, do see this film as soon as you can. It’s not even that long, either. Both an excellent example of modern British film, British horror to be exact, as well as just a plain ol’ heavy horror film. If you’re a big fan of found footage done correctly, as I am, then you HAVE to see it! Necessary viewing for those who love this sub-genre. If you have any comments or theories of your own concerning Max, the film, then leave a comment and put in your two cents. Always love a good civil discussion or debate.
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.
Funny, 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.
Starting 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.
Was 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.
Again 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.
There 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.
When 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 Texas Chainsaw Massacre. 2003. Directed by Marcus Nispel. Screenplay by Scott Kosar; based on the 1974 screenplay by Kim Henkel & Tobe Hooper.
Starring Jessica Biel, Jonathan Tucker, Eric Leerhsen, Mike Vogel, Eric Balfour, Andrew Bryniarski, R. Lee Ermey, David Dorfman, Terrence Evans (R.I.P), and Lauren German. Platinum Dunes.
Rated 18A. 98 minutes.
Now before I get into anything about this film specifically, I want to start by saying I’m one of the most staunchly loyal fans of the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I saw it when I was about 12 years old and it totally frightened my balls off. It still does because, ultimately, can you say you’d stand emotionless, cool and calm as a six and a half foot man dressed in the skins of others, wielding a chainsaw, ran at you screaming like a lunatic? No, you’d shit yourself, or run for your life. It’s putting myself into the positions of the characters which gets me scared and what makes the suspense and tension feel real and palpable to me. Putting myself into that position, trying to imagine how I would feel and react, there’s a more visceral response to a horror film. But that’s just me. It doesn’t always work, as some horror movies are plain terrible. However, that’s the way The Texas Chain Saw Massacre continues to strike me up to this day, and each time I watch it there’s that visceral mounting fear inside my chest and throat I got the very first time I’d seen it, on a scratchy VHS tape.
In 2003, Platinum Dunes gave director Marcus Nispel the reigns to tackle a remake of Tobe Hooper’s indie horror classic. Though not modernized, there is most certainly a modern look to the film. Simultaneously flashy and also gritty, this new Texas Chainsaw Massacre does have a nice set of vicious teeth. Problem is, so much of what could’ve been excellent in this remake turned out to be just a cash grab. There’s no real interest in the original, there isn’t much care to preserve anything significant outside of the bare bones and structure. Mostly, this remake is a needlessly sexualized film which substitutes young glistening bodies, mainly Jessica Biel with her tights jeans hugging and hanging on for dear life against her hips, for anything either really innovative or overly impressive. Boasting some fun horror and well-executed gore, as well as general nastiness, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre isn’t a total waste of time. Just don’t head into this expecting you’ll find the greatness of Hooper lurking anywhere significant.
One thing that truly bugs me to no end about this remake is how Platinum Dunes seems to want to try and teleport cinematically back to the 1980s. What I mean is not in a good sense. The whole angle of DRUGS/MARIJUANA = MARKED FOR DEATH becomes a tired cliche. In the remake of Friday the 13th, an incredibly misfired piece of horror, the same type of trope comes into play. I get that part of the whole subplot between Erin (Jessica Biel) and Kemper (Eric Balfour) is the fact she didn’t know about his smuggling pot along the highways in their van, neatly packed into a piñata. However, having Erin be the only left at the end – just so happens to be the only person who didn’t wanna join in and smoke some weed in the van – is a dumb touch. Maybe intentional, maybe not. Someone along the line should’ve said “This feels too much like old and outdated horror tropes we have to write something better”. They didn’t, and Platinum Dunes seems to want to keep repeating that whenever possible.
It’s like the old slasher movies: if you drink, have sex, smoke, do drugs, you DIE! Frankly, I’m done with those cliches. Worked well for the slasher films of the ’80s, I love so many of them, but now unless it’s a meta-like situation, or postmodern commentary on the sub-genre, I’m just finding it tiring. New films need to find new ways in which to operate. Plus, the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre never went by any of those rules, preceding all the ’80s slashers by a half dozen years almost, so I don’t see why they felt the remake needed to lean in that direction.
Even further, it’s as if the screenwriter wanted to make this version of the movie into a world where the travelling group of young friends somehow deserved whatever they found. At every turn there’s a way to make the group out to be a bunch of city folk coming into the rural communities, acting bigger and better than everyone else. In the original, it was just these regular young guys and girls who ran into absolute horror at the hands of Leatherface and family. For the remake, we get the scene where they stop their van at a gas station in order to call local law enforcement so they can report the girl who killed herself. In this bit, the guys are pushy and they get heated when the woman seems a bit too laid back over everything. Although this might be slightly realistic, there’s still this need for the movie to point and say “THESE ARE THE ONES WHO WILL BE KILLED”. In fact, the only one who cares about not dumping the dead girl like a piece of trash is Erin – and though this does end up drawing them further into the world of Leatherface, it’s still screaming of a dumb morality the remake tries to impose on us.
I’ve griped quite a bit now about what I don’t like, so let’s electric slide into something I’ve enjoyed about this film.
The gore stands out as being fairly vicious. A few amazing horror movie kills in this one and I don’t think anyone would disagree. While not all the aspects of this remake hold up, I do think they seal the deal with a nice amount of blood and guts.
And it isn’t only the gore, I find there were a few truly unsettling moments. For instance, one of the parts in the original which terrified me is the hammer to the head, then Leatherface wails his creepy voice into the air and slams his metal door. I thought that was SUPER CREEPY! In this one, there’s a very similar bit that makes me feel almost the same. As Kemper (Balfour) walks around the house they’ve come across looking for the sheriff, he knocks something off a door. While bending to pick it up, Leatherface slides in behind him looking so depraved and then he sledgehammers Kemper to the floor – he drags the body away, out to where a big sliding metal door is fixed on the wall. Disappearing inside with the body, Leatherface quickly comes back and slides it shut. So reminiscent of that scene in the original and it’s a genuinely scary bit. Dig it, so hard.
Even further, once Erin (Biel) goes back to the house with one of the other guys looking for Kemper who, of course, has disappeared, there’s another pretty wild and jumpy moment when Leatherface finally and fully reveals himself to the young people. I thought it worked great, as the addition of wheelchair-bound Uncle Monty (Terrence Evans) made it extra weird and creeptastic. His pounding on the floor with the cane, almost a call to action for his little/giant creepy nephew Leatherface, it gives things a real nasty excitement.
Not to mention, the whole hitchhiker scene was subverted from the original in fine fashion. They found a way to make that whole scene fresh for their remake, as well as extremely grim. I couldn’t believe it the first time I saw it. One of the biggest things the movie has going for it is the shock you’ll receive during that scene. Disturbing bit. Plus along with that comes some a good little bit of blood and brains, all around nastiness.
One thing I both hate and love is the way the film looks, the whole aesthetic in general. While there’s this gritty, dirty feel to the cinematography (courtesy of Daniel Pearl who coincidentally did the work on the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre), it also has that overall glossy edited style Platinum Dunes like to force on its remakes. It focuses more on the sweaty bodies of the muscles of the guys, the exposed and glistening midriffs of the women, than truly trying to make the entire atmosphere and tone of the movie into something dark, something nasty. It’s as if everything is working towards that grimy feeling – they almost want you to feel the grit in the back of your mouth on your tongue – and yet still, there’s a television commercial-like quality to so many of the scenes that it’s almost embarrassing at times. I think a lot of that comes in the exterior scenes – especially when the camera rides along right behind Biel’s ass in the purposefully low low cut jeans. Inside the house itself, so much of the scenes are extremely dark that it becomes hard to give it that glossy look. Though, it is still there in certain parts and it bugs the hell out of me. If they’d gone totally head first into that dark and filthy atmosphere, I’d be sold almost 100%. Instead, there’s this weird quality to the cinematography where it balances on this thin edge, often coming too far down on the wrong side for me to fully enjoy the movie.
Overall, I give this a 2.5 out of 5 stars. It’s by no means a great movie, not even close. There were elements of the script I felt added something fresh to this remake, however, what ultimately hurts this as a movie is that it confuses the gritty atmosphere and tone at which it aims. Coming out of the Platinum Dunes remake machine, this looks too flashy at times and throws itself off course. There’s nothing that bad about the acting – especially when you throw the fascinatingly creepy R. Lee Ermey into the mix. So mainly, I find it’s the weird and off-balance feeling of the entire film that detracts from this becoming a good movie. Moreover, the focus on Jessica Biel’s ass and body parts, as well as the implication that DRUGS ARE BAD KIDS MMKAY, make so many scenes in this movie laughable. Especially if you compare it then with the first. There’s not near enough to make this a fitting tribute, so if you’re looking for a good remake look elsewhere – Platinum Dunes haven’t got any of those.
Martyrs. 2008. Directed & Written by Pascal Laugier.
Starring Morjana Alaoui, Mylène Jampanoï, Catherine Bégin, Robert Toupin, Patricia Tulasne, Juliette Gosselin, Xavier Dolan, Louise Boisvert, and Jean-Marie Moncelet. Canal+.
Rated R. 99 minutes.
Martyrs is most definitely a bloody, gory, savage film from beginning to end. Of course those bits alternate, as well as the fact Pascal Laugier builds up tension very nicely at so many points. But there’s no doubt about the savagery contained within this horror movie.
There have been many gory movies in the history of horror film. From Herschell Gordon Lewis’s Blood Feast and Wizard of Gore, among others, to stuff like Saw, then classic horror such as many of Fulci’s films and Dead Alive from Peter Jackson. So there are many ways in which gore can play a part in a horror movie. It can either be so-called “torture porn” (those who’ve read my reviews before know my stance on this dumb label; I only use it for ease), or it can serve a purpose of some sort. What I’m saying is that gore need not be useless, just some element thrown in to make a horror more scary, more effective. It can be used as a means to an end, rather than an end in and of itself.
To me, Martyrs is one of those films with all the blood and gore to satisfy even the most desensitized horror hounds, but even further it has heart, character, and a ton of interesting, complex story to boot. Laugier has a masterpiece of horror here and I think that the writing helps to elevate this from simply another gore picture, to a profound horror which leaves its visceral, bloody mark on the viewer long after the credits stop rolling.
The movie starts with a quick scene of a young Lucie running in a tanktop and underwear down the street, screaming for help. She’s brought to an orphanage where she comes to bond with a girl named Anna.
Years later, grown up Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï) goes back to the little house from which she’d escaped years earlier, running away bloodied and in a frenzy, then kills the mother, father, and the kids inside. Calling Anna (Morjana Alaoui), the two women then begin to try and pick up the pieces. Only Lucie seems to be having trouble with something inside the house. After the unthinkable happens, Anna is left to try and figure out how to proceed from then on. Only, the house hides more secrets, things Anna couldn’t possibly anticipate. As she goes down into the basement, discovering what amounts to a whole complex underneath its foundation, things are revealed which will shake her world and her beliefs forever.
Watching this again for the dozenth time or so now, I forgot how awesome the music was during the moments with the ‘thing’, as it first encounters Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï). It has this almost heavy metal, ominous, pounding rhythm. Very intense. Then the rest of the film there’s also more nicely composed score. Alex & Willie Cortés do the music in this film. They also did music for an interesting independent film called Eden Log, also worth checking out. This was the first time I’d noticed any of their work, and other than the aforementioned film I haven’t seen anything else with which they’ve been involved. Doesn’t matter; their work here speaks for itself. I thought it worked well with so many of the tense scenes. A good bit of music helps to increase the mood, which Laugier helps set through dreary atmosphere and even a bit of the unexpected in there, too.
For the first half an hour when I saw Martyrs initially, I had no real clue what was going on. While I knew roughly that something obviously happened between Lucie and the family she slaughters, when the ‘thing’, the terrifying and hideous woman first showed up I couldn’t figure out what the hell was beginning to come out.
We get bits and pieces, slowly, then finally the plot starts to filter out. This is ultimately the greatest part about the film. Laugier puts the gore together with an innovative, refreshing story, and this makes the entire gorefest so much more worth it for the thoughtfulness on Laugier’s part.
And in the meantime, the gore and the effects are incredible! The first woman, the ‘thing’, looks out of this world. As if her outer layer of skin had literally been peeled off. I mean, kudos for that. Then comes the woman whom Anna later finds in the basement; when she’s trying to take the metal blinder thing off the woman’s skull, it actually made me cringe once or twice. I’ve seen a ton and that still got to me. Gnarly!
Perfect work in terms of special makeup effects. I have to mention Benoît Lestang – other work includes: The City of Lost Children, Brotherhood of the Wolf, and Amen. Then there’s also Adrien Morot whose credits range from Alejandro González Iñárritu’s upcoming film The Revenant, to Noah, X-Men: Days of Future Past, to smaller work on indies like Rhymes for Young Ghouls and Canadian television series Durham County starring Hugh Dillon. In Martyrs, these two artists come together to make some truly effective, disturbing, and nasty work. Wonderfully macabre business!
I don’t think there’s any possible way two actresses other than Morjana Alaoui and Mylène Jampanoï who could’ve done a better job with these two characters. There’s a true, evident connection between the two women. Even though there’s not a particularly massive amount of character development, nor do we get to know either of the women overly well, the deepened relationship between Anna and Lucie is clear, as they’re both there for one another. Particularly the fact Anna obviously loves Lucie, maybe more than just a friend. Yet either way, she did so much for Lucie, to try and help her get past whatever it was that happened to her as a young girl in that awful house. So with a small amount of time, Laugier is able to setup a perfectly believable and emotional relationship between the two women while not having to focus too directly on any expository dialogue, or even flashbacks of any sort.
This leads to another aspect I loved – the backstory for what is going on in the house. There’s so much more going on than I’d ever imagined from the start of the story. Once things kick in, as Anna is left behind following Lucie’s tragic death, they really take hold of the jugular.
After a while, the story comes out that these people were a part of some larger, obviously heavily funded, operation in which people were essentially being groomed into martyrdom. This is martyr in the sense of being “witness”, or bearing witness; in this film, it is bearing witness to what lies beyond death in the afterlife. Like a sick type of experiment – well, not like, that’s exactly what it is: an experiment. They take humans – especially girls apparently because they’re even more resistant to the pain overall; tougher and built for martyrdom – then they subject the human body to everything, to and beyond the limits of what a person can handle. I think I found all the pictures of the previous martyrs especially chilling! First, we see them almost meaninglessly as Anna walks through the newly discovered, sterile-like environment in the basement. Then later on, it’s all explained, and the gorefest which preceded everything begins to truly mean something.
Now, whether or not you think that something is a load of crap or not, that’s another story. I thought it was twisted and depraved and perfectly suitable. In a way, it subverts our expectations of horror films that get labelled stupidly as “torture porn”. We expect this is all just sick pleasures and people getting off by torturing others. Yet the deeper Anna takes us into the house and its catacombs beneath, the chambers and labs and rooms below, there seems to be more and more to this supposed torture. I thought the script was an excellently refreshing horror on Laugier’s part and it’s nice to see something with all the earmarks of a typical gory horror, which ends up being more than a sum of bleeding and dripping parts.
There are a bunch of ways you can look at the film, if you want to dig deep into as a metaphor or analogy of some sort. Whatever way you cut it, I think there’s a lot to offer in the story of Martyrs. You can look at it as ultimately the story of what lengths some people, under the guise of “faith” will go to figure out if there is anything beyond the pale of death. You can also look at this as how society, many groups in particular, heap all the weight and harshness of the world onto women; as the villainous lady in the film says herself, women are better at taking the pain, they have a higher threshold and tolerance for it, therefore they make the perfect candidates for this imposed and supposed martyrdom. We’re able to digest Laugier’s work in any number of ways, but regardless it’s stellar. I think you can take from it what you will – at face value, or something with a little more value under the skin.
This a masterpiece of horror, as I’ve said before. Absolutely 5 stars. Pascal Laugier has an incredibly twisted eye for horror and I think he brought all this forward in Martyrs. Truly great horror movie. It has everything from an interesting backstory, well-written characters, great performances, and on top of all that there is a near non-stop gore machine pumping out the wonderfully macabre and nasty makeup effects.
If you’re a horror fan, you need to see this honestly. I think if you take the time to let the plot sink in, take the ride for the first 20 minutes to half an hour, this will really get under your skin. Plus, if you watch it on Blu ray the sound and visual quality is extraordinary. Couldn’t get enough.
There’s a good deal of interesting work here that doesn’t often come along in horror anymore. One of the best modern horrors I’ve seen. Period.