From Gory

Saw: Raw Modern Indie Horror

Saw. 2004. Directed by James Wan. Screenplay by Leigh Whannell, from a story by Whannell & James Wan.
Starring Leigh Whannell, Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, Ken Leung, Dina Meyer, Mike Butters, Paul Gutrecht, Michael Emerson, Benito Martinez, Monica Potter, and Shawnee Smith. Twisted Pictures. Rated R. 103 minutes.
Horror/Mystery

★★★★1/2
Saw_posterThere are plenty of people who say Saw is so-called “torture porn”. I can most certainly see how, as the series progresses, someone might find the movies a bit heavy on torture, fetishized torture almost. But here? There’s definitely a good heaping portion of horror, no doubt. What we get most of all here, as opposed to the other films afterward (a couple of which I do actually enjoy though), is mystery.
Granted there are certainly problems. I can’t say this is a perfect horror movie. However, I think that what Saw lacks slightly in logic at times, it more than makes up for with the atmosphere and tone James Wan creates in the film’s 103 minutes.
We also can’t ignore how Wan’s film, working off a grimly fun and intense script from Leigh Whannell, spawned an entire flock of copycat movies attempting to capture a glimmer of the success of Saw by focusing heavily on torture horror aspects to drive their stories. Not many, if any, were able to come close to what Wan and Whannell accomplished here, and it’s because – as I mentioned already – the horror is peppered in nicely amongst a primarily dark mystery story. There’s more than enough to satisfy many of the gory horror hounds out there, but Saw pays its dues as a great horror mystery that changed the game in 2004 by not being everything typical we expect from most horror movies. While it’s not perfect, I do think the first film in this series is worth its weight in BLOOD.

Saw begins as two men, Adam Faulkner-Stanheight (screenwriter Leigh Whannell) and Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes), wake up trapped in a small, dark, dirty room together. Each man is held by a thick metal chain to a large pipe in opposite corners of the room. When they get the lights on, a fairly fresh dead body is laying in the middle of the room, gun in hand, brain blows out on the floor. Over the course of their time together in the room, Adam and Dr. Gordon begin to discover a serial killer named Jigsaw wants to… play some games with them. Gordon is a doctor who was recently brought in for questioning, Jigsaw having planted an item of his for the police to find; Adam is a photographer, his own past revealed throughout the film, whom Jigsaw captured. Each of the men have their own demons to face, as the mysterious man named Jigsaw is less a killer and more a judge who places the job of executioner in the individual’s hands: his traps put the victim’s life at their fingertips, begging the question of how far will a person go to live?
Would you walk through Hell to come back to the light?
saw1There are numerous creepy things about this movie, so I’ll start first with the tone. One thing I’ve always enjoyed, which I found set this apart from so many other horrors of the early 2000s, is the atmosphere of Wan’s film. To start, there’s an excellent colour palette to the entire movie. For instance, I love the scenes when we’re seeing the flashbacks to Amanda (Shawnee Smith), the junkie, when she finds herself locked into the bear trap puzzle by Jigsaw; everything has a green hue, this wonderful tint and it puts you in that grimy headspace exactly where Amanda found herself. Works perfectly at some many different points. Even just the interrogation room itself where Detective Tapp (Danny Glover) is talking with Amanda, while Dr. Gordon (Elwes) watches on the other side of the glass, it has this blue filter that makes everything feel very stern, tense.
Then we have the majority of the film where Dr. Gordon and Adam find themselves stuck in that dirty room. That has a more clear look, however, the set itself (not sure if this was an actual location or a set; forgive my ignorance) has this palpably filthy feeling to it, so this plays the part of the filter, through a totally real aesthetic.
I find each of the different segments in Saw have their own aesthetic, even the flashbacks Dr. Gordon has to his family life; the house itself gives things a very dark, vibrant look. Wan could’ve easily gave each and every scene a similar look, instead they all find their own which adds something to the perspectives of the different characters and their respective situations. Even the camerawork itself is different, with Gordon’s scenes being much more steady while Adam had a more handheld, chaotic style feel. Something I love about this movie, which I think not enough people recognize. Much of what I find Wan did with this film did not carry over to many of the others, in the sense they went more for shock and awe while Wan builds up a macabre atmosphere and dark tone which gets under your skin with every passing scene.
Saw1_01Saw2MAJOR SPOILER AHEAD: for anyone who hasn’t actually seen the movie, you may want to not read this next bit.
The character of Zep Hindle, played by Michael Emerson (most know him as Ben Linus from Lost), works so perfectly as a red herring. Not that he’s a particularly innocent man, however, he has obviously been manipulated by Jigsaw. In that sense, he’s the killer’s own red herring, put in place with his own hand.
An intensely creepy scene happens as Zep takes Dr. Gordon’s wife Alison (Monica Potter) and daughter Diana (Makenzie Vega) hostage. The tension is thick while Zep puts a gun to Alison’s head, then puts a stethoscope against the daughter’s chest to listen to her heartbeat get faster and faster, thumping hard; I thought this was so disturbing in a way, there’s a sick pleasure Zep gets out of the act. Also, out of so many horror movies I’ve seen that’s a moment I can’t remember seeing too often – maybe it happened in Dr. Giggles or something equally horrible, but I think this little scary moment is a unique bit, albeit brief.
No more spoilers should come after this one.
LawrencePromisesAdamAnother awesome part about Saw is the fact this doesn’t rely on a ton of CGI effects in order to make the scares work. We get the scares, the strange creepiness of it all, then there are great practical special makeup effects that drive home all those feelings. My problem with so many modern horror films, even many which tried to capitalize off the success of Saw, is how the build-up to the scares, the blood, the gore, always gets spoiled by CGI; and the bad stuff, at that. With this film, Wan delivers on all the tension and suspenseful moments by giving the audience worthy practical effects on which they can gorge.
Added to the nice effects work, Charlie Clouser (who I know most from his work with my favourite musician Trent Reznor/Nine Inch Nails) gives everything an even creepier feeling with an at times brutal and other times unsettling score. His work is great and I’m surprised he doesn’t do more horror than he’s already done. Even on the lacklustre sequel The Collection he does some fascinating work with its music. Mostly, I love the unbelievably weird and scary intro music he did for American Horror Story. Here, there are times where the score just pounds relentlessly (think the scene where the detectives meet Jigsaw face-to-mask for the first time), others Clouser gives us that iconic Saw music with the little electronic riff which sort of floats around and haunts you after awhile, and there’s an overall great sound design too filling in the gaps between his individual pieces. Most certainly a huge aspect to the atmosphere in this film is his composing. Can’t get enough of the work he does here.
Saw (2004) Screenshot 3I think the performances are decent enough to hold all the tension, the suspense, and the horror together as a cohesive and effective unit: I’m always game for Cary Elwes, in anything, even when he’s not totally spot on there’s something interesting about his acting; moreover, surprisingly Leigh Whannell was good as you don’t often expect a screenwriter to also act well.
Above all, the atmosphere Wan is able to bring out, the bloody effects, and the mystery of the script carry this into the realm of a modern classic. There’s no doubt the rest of the Saw series strays into a ton of needless nastiness, regardless if I do like one or two of the half dozen sequels, but Wan uses atmosphere, ton, and the excellent screenplay Whannell wrote in order to make this a PURE horror film.
I can honestly say that, for me, this is a 4.5 out of 5 star film. There is enough solid creepiness that the screenplay feels well written, as well as the fact James Wan’s directing takes this to a higher level. As a team, Wan and Whannell have proved since this film, time and time again, they work wonderfully together and have the same horror movie sensibilities. Their projects usually try to challenge what’s happening in horror at that moment in time, Saw merely being their first big success (I’m a huge fan of the Insidious series), and I think that while many try to pass this off as “torture porn”, it is far more than that every step of the way.

Eli Roth’s Hostel is a 21st Century ’80s Gore Flick

Hostel. 2005. Directed & Written by Eli Roth.
Starring Jay Hernandez, Derek Richardson, Eythor Gudjonsson, Barbara Nedeljakova, Jan Vlasák, Jana Kaderabkova, Jennifer Lim, Keiko Seiko, Lubomír Bukový, Jana Havlickova, Rick Hoffman, Petr Janis, Takashi Miike, Patrik Zigo, and Milda Jedi Havlas. Raw Never/International Production Company/Next Entertainment/Hostel LLC.
Rated R. 94 minutes.
Horror

★★★★1/2
MPW-16778I’ll not back down from the rating and love I give Eli Roth’s Hostel. He’s honestly one of those younger horror directors that’s pushing the envelope for genre filmmaking. Continually to this day, Roth is pumping out the good stuff. Not everything is perfect, however, he’s one of the few directors that truly goes for shock and awe. But not simply that, regardless of how people feel about this movie, or any of his movies, there’s always a care for building character, developing tension, and on top of all the gory horror he offers I can always manage to find myself involved in the characters and situations happening in his movies.
Not the first gore film ever made, not by a LONG SHOT – that being said, something about Hostel struck critics and viewers enough in the rightwrong spot it ended up coining the label torture porn; something which I hate, I find it stupid, and though I know what it’s meant to insinuate I don’t particularly find it at all a useful label. The only reason people initially came up with that label, I believe, is because Roth’s movie has this beginning segment where the characters have sex, they party, girls are half naked and fully naked, and so on. Then, once the fun is over, all the nasty horror begins. THAT, my friends, is why we have torture porn. Really, I think the label means to say the torture aspects of these films (Saw is another film/series labelled this way – better deserving of the title than this film) are, in a sense, fetishized. I just can’t see it in this movie.
Reason being, this is – plain and simple – a gore film. Eli Roth came up with an interesting premise, something which has set off a number of other horror movies basing themselves on the TERROR OF TRAVEL TO UNKNOWN PLACES FAR AWAY FROM HOME, and on top of his initial idea he piled on the horror, mostly in bloody, gory form.
But it’s exactly what I’ve just said which makes Hostel more than a bunch of gore and torture scenes. The fact it was successful enough it created a new label (for a sub-genre of films which already existed long before), a ton more films (such as Turistas and The Chernobyl Diaries) based on horror while vacationing, and launched the career of Eli Roth to new heights, all goes to show the influence and importance of Hostel.
Because like it or not, this one changed the game.
fhd005HST_Derek_Richardson_005Hostel tells the story of Paxton (Jay Hernandez), Josh (Derek Richardson), and Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson) who are on vacation together; the first two being old friends, the latter being a new friend they met while travelling. Heading to a hostel in Amsterdam where they’re staying, very late one night past curfew, the friends are attacked in the streets by people throwing bottles from their windows. A young man named Alex (Lubomír Bukový) opens his door and saves them from the flying bottles. While there, Alex reveals a hostel where they ought to stay, a Slovak village – it supposedly has many horny, willing women who particularly love Americans.
After arriving at the hostel, and a strange encounter on a train with a Dutch businessman (Jan Vlasák), the guys meet some beautiful women, they party.
However, one by one the friends disappear into thin air, until finally only Paxton remains. When he’s able to convince one of the girls they met to bring him where she claims Josh and Oli are, Paxton finds out there are things better left unknown in the sleepy little Slovak town.
544ceb51670d0d784894dea9I think Roth’s screenplay here deserves more credit than people give it. They toss several scenes off early on as if they’re nothing except a way for Roth to whittle away the time. But if you pay close attention, or not even, if you just WATCH the damn movie you’ll see he actually bothers to set up a bit of character development.
For instance, I think when Paxton (Hernandez) tells Josh (Richardson) about the experience when he was young, seeing a girl drown, it’s a wonderful scene on its own. Then later, it comes into play as Paxton refuses to walk out of the factor and leave the Asian girl behind to die (even though we all know what happens later). Everything comes to bear here in this script and I feel like people don’t pay this enough mind. It’s not as if the screenplay is revolutionary, I’m just trying to instil the idea that Roth isn’t simply rolling through torture scenes and not worrying about dialogue, character, and overall plot. There are still great moments like these.
That SUPERBLY CREEPY scene when the Dutch businessman (Jan Vlasák) first shows up on the train and he eats the salad with his fingers is, to me, a scene that will be viewed as classic horror from the 2000s. When you look at that scene, first glance it comes off as a quick and unsettling moment. Then, as the Dutchman shows up again and again, his connection to Josh grows a little, that scene with the salad becomes something much more telling than a ploy towards awkwardness and a way to make us feel uneasy. It becomes more and finds further weight as the movie wears on.
fhd005HST_Petr_Janis_002So now I’m mostly going to talk about the makeup effects, as well as certain scenes I thought were amazing.
To start, I love when the Asian girl is about to have her toe chopped, then Roth quick edits to her friend cutting her toenails. MAN – such a tense moment. Because for all he ends up showing later on, as well as the severed head not long before that, you’d almost assume he would go ahead and show us a nasty piece of blood and gore. Or a taste. Instead, he ramps up the tension with such a simple, easy cut from one shot to another. Simple yet so damn effective.
Also, in one of the next scenes Josh (Richardson) is in a bar and there’s this excellent song playing. While he watches Paxton (Jay) dancing out on the floor, there’s this fog splitting open all of a sudden where Oli (Eythor Gudjonsson) appears standing triumphant out of nowhere. It’s not even a horror moment, it’s simply an awesome bit. There’s something about that moment which strikes me, every damn time. Merely a passing dream image to the character, but for the audience it’s this weird and cool sort of shot out of the blue. Certainly couldn’t go without mentioning it.
One INCREDIBLE SCENE sees Takashi Miike as a tourist – or should I say a customer of Elite Hunting – and though Miike does not speak English, he took a role in Roth’s film, speaks one line, gives a VERY SINISTER GRIN behind those shades he always wears, and then gets into a car, driving off.
jjonb24e1xvz4jbo-e1381021600733I think, ultimately, I can’t decide which is my favourite scene in terms of makeup effects and blood/gore. There are too many fun, nasty moments in Hostel for me to say for sure, personally. It’s a real hard go of it to come up with some definitive scene, in terms of any of those qualities.
What I can say for sure is that the final half hour is UNREAL! There’s nothing but savagery, a dose of black humour, bloody and gory special makeup effects, as well as a ton of creepy and effective acting. Starting with the German Surgeon (Petr Janis) toying with Paxton, who is handcuffed to a chair, there’s just an absolutely gritty, disturbing tone. This shifts everything into gear, as Paxton eventually gets himself out of the room.
But it’s downright horrifically perfect how Roth executes the finale of this film. There’s so much going on and we get all these excellent makeup effects, one after the other. Naturally, Kings of the Horror Industry Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero, as well as the other artists over at their K.N.B EFX Group, had their hands in all the nastiness involved here. Their special effects, the makeup, their casting and moulding, it’s GENIUS! Every time. I’ve never seen bad stuff from them, honestly; they’ve done work on bad films, but their work is almost always perfect. It’s one of the highlights for sure out of this one.
IF I HAVE TO CHOOSE ONE: the eyeball effect, all around, it is a killer bit of work. I mean, if you’re not disgusted and totally thrilled by that, I don’t know where your pulse is at.
fhd005HST_Jay_Hernandez_011I’m not changing my opinion, not matter what anyone says, because I don’t think Eli Roth’s Hostel is just a trashy gore horror picture. It isn’t, at all. While a lot of fans might love it merely for that, and rightfully so there’s a TON of wild gory stuff, there is plenty more to enjoy about this movie. It’s a 4.5 out of 5 star horror, I have no doubt in that.
With all the effects to boot, Roth comes out with a nice screenplay that gives up a decent bit of character development, sets a dark mood from tension to humour to gritty atmosphere, and the actors all do their best in order to make Hostel an entirely effective experience. If you don’t think so, too bad, because for me this is one solid piece of work in the post-2000 world of remakes, reboots, rehashes, and re-blahblahblahs. Roth did something daring, which paid off. His brand of horror is his own, though, he’s definitely inspired other indie horror filmmakers to do their BEST by doing their WORST to the human psyche via terror.
hostel_eli_roth_horror-5See this if you’ve not, and if you have: watch it again. Maybe if you focus on something other than the gore and the blood and the nasty bits, there’ll be something else to catch your eye. Or maybe not.