Luca Guadagnino carves out his own territory in horror cinema history with his remake of Dario Argento's SUSPIRIA
Alexandre Aja's remake of the 1970s Wes Craven original has big, scary, political balls.
After seven days, the search for the missing girls is called off.
In the 1st edition of "Make a Case," Father Gore discusses the 1990 GRAVEYARD SHIFT, an adaptation of a Stephen King short story.
Cronenberg and his body horror transform Vincent Price's original into remake heaven, as man's reach exceeds his grasp in this nasty modern classic.
Not all remakes are bad. Some are great. This one isn't great, but it is a lot of damn fun!
TNT’s Animal Kingdom
Season 1, Episode 2: “We Don’t Hurt People”
Directed by John Wells
Written by Jonathan Lisco
* For a review of the pilot episode, click here.
* For a review of the next episode, “Stay Close, Stick Together” – click here
After a wild pilot, things continue on for the Cody Gang.
Well they’re certainly a good lot for hedonism. Smurf Cody (Ellen Barkin) hangs poolside with her boys, Andrew a.k.a Pope (Shawn Hatosy), Craig (Ben Robson), Deran (Jake Weary), the new addition Josh (Finn Cole), and their close man Baz (Scott Speedman). Pope gets a bit too heavy, not playing nice with their nephew Josh. At the same time, he’s not exactly playing nice with anyone else either. Inside Smurf asks J’s girl Nicky (Molly Gordon) if she were shipwrecked and could only pick one Cody, aside from Josh, who would it be? She replies Baz is “pretty cool” and it’s easy to see that Mama Smurf is testing this young woman to see if she’s got what it takes to hang with the rough crew. Even Josh is finding it hard keeping up with his uncles and big Baz.
Speaking of Baz, his significant other Catherine (Daniella Alonso) is pissed. Rightfully so. There’s a casualty from the job the Cody Gang pulled recently. Furthermore, we see how Baz considers Smurf’s place “home” as opposed to their own place. I can see all types of trouble from a mile away.
When Smurf gets wind of the death due to the robbery you can be sure nothing’s going to go too smooth. In other news, Craig’s wound is festering and he is getting pretty hooked on painkillers. He says it’s because he’s a big dude, but you can clearly tell he is falling down the rabbit hole. Not a good thing with the dead cop on their hands.
Smurf lets Josh know there’s a bit of serious business about to come up. He’s being slowly brought into the fold. “There are no secrets in this family. Not from one another. Especially not from me,” says Grandma Smurf. We also see the strange, quasi-incestuous relationship she has with her men, making Josh strip down his dirty clothes right in front of her. Awkward, and telling.
Then Josh witnesses an incredible moment that nobody can know about – his uncle Deran is getting a blowjob from another man. When he sees his nephew, Deran beats the man down claiming he was trying to steal a wallet. Whoa. Just… whoa. No family secrets? Yeah, okay, Smurf. Deran has his nephew join in on the beating, though you can see the young guy is apprehensive. Poor Josh, he just gets deeper and deeper in every way. And worst of all it’s as if there’s danger from some of his uncles at every corner. First Pope and his machismo, now Deran and his closeted secret. There’s a lot of danger being a Cody.
Smurf and the boys are having a meeting about what to do next. Of course Pope is not happy with any of them. Baz tries to quell Smurf’s worries about any witnesses. Then she finds out the boys took off their masks when dealing with the tweakers for the robbery. Uh oh. Well, that’s not too big of a deal, seeing as how those were addicts and they probably don’t remember much. Not well enough to rat. Meanwhile, everything else is going to shit – their vehicle is still out there, cop’s bullets in it along with Craig’s blood. Moreover, there’s dissent between Smurf and her boys. She doesn’t blame Baz, but rather her own blood, and they don’t like that. Also you have the fact Deran is now quietly pissed with nephew J for finding out his secret, so he tries to pile the grunt work on him. Afterwards, J reveals to Baz what Pope lied to Smurf about, and they start forming a subtle bond. Because let’s face it, the uncles are aggressive with their nephew, whereas Baz is more welcoming and gentle despite being a hardened criminal himself. Still, Baz lies about what “kind of family” the Cody Gang is truly.
We see how everybody is weary of Pope and exactly how his mental health is doing. Particularly Baz and Smurf, as they have a little conference together on his well-being. It’ll be interesting to watch this play out further.
Deran and Craig start tearing apart the vehicle from their robbery. The former rages against his mother and how the split goes for them economically. Craig agrees, mostly. Neither of them are too happy with Baz or Pope, either. But what’s most intriguing is seeing how Craig hides his pill intake from even Deran, as he doesn’t want anybody questioning his state of mind. None of these guys are open in the family. Secrets are everywhere.
When Josh finds his room torn apart he also finds Pope. Looking for the watch he gave his nephew. They’ve got to clean up loose ends. The uncle is convinced his nephew is hiding things; secrets, who knows what else. Then he goes on a brief nostalgia train about his days, hiding things from Smurf. Not much has changed. I like the relationship between Pope and Josh in the series. In the film, it was great, as well. Here, we’re able to get more of a look at the antagonistic behaviour of Pope towards his nephew and that is more fleshed out with an extended series, as opposed to a film under two hours.
Even worse, there’s Pope influencing Nicky. I’m afraid for her. Those who’ve seen the movie know there’s danger for her involved with the family. So it’s only a matter of time before there’s a serious threat to her safety. The more we see of Pope, the more I worry about what he’ll soon do.
Baz and Smurf are so much like actual mother and son. We hear more talk about Pope, that he’s off medication and that it might be worth trying to get him back on some soon. Although neither of them are too optimistic about that. And then they burn up the watches, so that’s a loose end cauterised, literally in fire. More worry about Pope when he shows up suddenly at Catherine’s, playing with her daughter, and no sign of Baz. Yikes. He’s a creepy bastard.
Now we start to hear about Pope sending letters to Catherine. There’s a love for her that Pope has held since they were young. She apparently got drunk and something happened between them. Baz knows nothing of it, and Pope wonders if maybe he should tell him about it. Oh, man. There are so many nasty things going on within the walls of the Cody Gang and the family itself. Only so much can build up before it breaks. Is Catherine’s little girl of Baz, or of Pope? That’s one to think about.
Mama Smurf is up to a few tricks. She smashes a heel of her shoes, scratches up her hand until it’s bloody. She lies to a guy so she can get into an apartment, then into a bathroom. She steals pills. Are those for Pope? We get a quick flash of what looks like Smurf as a little girl, doing the same thing with her own mother. A very great moment. In the meantime, Craig is strung out on pills and not getting any work done. Deran notices. He notices the wound in Craig’s shoulder is getting hideous. Then they decide just to burn the rest of the vehicle. Bad move? Sure is, at least for the fact Smurf won’t be too happy about it. Josh arrives just as they’re doing the dirty. More secrets for him to keep.
Baz is cleaning up after someone, an older man. Likely his father. For a moment, he contemplates shooting him in the head. There’s lots more to why Baz is a member of the Cody Gang, and the family as it stands. I want to see more about that, so I look forward to exploring his backstory throughout the series. I was always curious about that in the film, as he seemed like such an integral part of the gang. He is even more so here. Later we see Mama Smurf is crushing up pills to sneak into Pope’s food. Real good idea there. Also, we hear more about Baz being taken into the house. Smurf talks about when he first came to them. He hid food, not sure he’d be fed there. Terrible parents at home. “I don‘t know how you survived,” Smurf laments.
When Baz goes home he finds Catherine not herself. She worries about the dead cop, all the commotion on television. Baz assures her nothing will come of it for them. Everything’s taken care of, as he says. Don’t be so sure of that. Mostly, Catherine worries for her daughter, and what could happen if the SWAT team bursts in. He promises to lay himself down if that’s the case. Then he discovers the doll Pope brought her and Catherine lies, saying it came from a store somewhere. Ah, the lies are EVERYWHERE!
And Craig, he keeps chopping lines and pushing back the pain. That’s because he’s preparing to do some homemade surgery. Smurf, she’s upstairs watching her insane son Pope outside, naked, staring into the moon. When she hears a bunch of noise downstairs she finds Craig, mutilating himself. So it’s off to Mexico for a bit of low-key surgery. But what else? Baz has a woman down south of the border. Jesus. The lies are seeping out from every crack.
A great follow-up of a second episode. Next up is “Stay Close, Stick Together” and it promises plenty. This is an excellent series in addition to the film. I know many, like myself, were wary. But this is proving, with each chapter, that Animal Kingdom has power as a television show. All the acting is so spectacular, loving Ellen Barkin, Shawn Hatosy, and Scott Speedman, but everyone else is just as good, too.
TNT’s Animal Kingdom
Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”
Directed by John Wells
Written by Jonathan Lisco
* For a review of the next episode, “We Don’t Hurt People” – click here
David Michôd’s 2010 film Animal Kingdom was a tour-de-force in acting, tension, and the story of a family’s widening darkness. Of course set in Australia and telling the story of a crime family coming up violently against the police, Michôd did a great job drawing out an impressive drama that was riddled with secrets, power struggles, and so much more.
This new series from TNT begins right where the film did, too. Joshua Cody (Finn Cole) watches his mother overdose, and die. The paramedics come for her. Later, he’s forced to call his grandmother, Smurf (Ellen Barkin), to tell her the bad news. When grandma arrives she goes through her daughter’s things, y’know, in case there’s anything worth taking. Or anything that needs to be taken.
So Josh ends up having to go live with Smurf. They’ve been estranged for a decade. Over at grandma’s the place is like a palace, with nice vehicles outside, all the toys, a pool table inside. On the table next to some strawberries are stacks of cash, bundled. Looks like the Cody family are definitely into some shady shit.
So now we’re introduced to some of Smurf’s boys. Close family friend Barry ‘Baz’ Brown (Scott Speedman), plus two of her sons Craig and Deran Cody (Ben Robson/Jake Weary). They’re ready to party, as it seems is the norm. Grandma is busy getting cupcakes and other grub ready. For the time being, Josh is in the room where his uncle Andrew – a.k.a Pope (Shawn Hatosy) – usually stays.
But outside, the gang are a little at odds. Deran wonders if they can trust their little nephew. The others aren’t so sure, either. They’re wary of him because they don’t know what their now dead junkie sister Julia “put in his head“, but Smurf lays down the law and tasks them with figuring it out. “The kid is in until I say he isn‘t,” explains the matriarch.
Meanwhile, Josh’s mother is still on the hook for money to a local dealer. He knows Josh, he knows where they lived, so what’s stopping him from tracking the kid down? If he really wants that cash. So there’s a lot for the guy to deal with, right after the death of his mother. Lots of feelings delayed. At the same time, Smurf’s house is a veritable party place where her sons frolic. It’s a very free, weird atmosphere. Even more than the original film, which was odd enough re: the relationship between mom and her sons. Smurf wears a revealing gown, showing off her body, as Craig storms out from his room naked. No secrets, though. That’s the strange message that does come across here. There is nothing hiding anything between Smurf and her boys, even if it ventures over the semi-incestuous border.
The uncles take their nephew for some surfing, to try and “suss him out“, as commanded by their mother. And after a confrontation with some other surfers, Craig puts a piece in Josh’s hand. He runs them off and they end up with a couple new boards for themselves.
Life is a general party for Smurf and the boys. A life too good to be true. Baz and his lady Catherine (Daniella Alonso) are usually around, their little girl, too. Big pool parties, all the time. Joints, beers, liquor, women. Lavish lifestyle on the regular. Josh slowly tries to become a part of the clan and get used to this new way of living.
Then, out of nowhere, Pope arrives, almost clandestine. He frightens Josh a little. And now we’re introduced to Pope, his history of bank robbery, jail, so on. There’s a bit of resentment in the air, as he makes clear the time served, out loud, for everybody to hear. His disposition is quiet, subtle. But anyone who knows actor Shawn Hatosy knows he can be volatile, so I look forward to him picking up on the role Ben Mendelsohn played so well in the original.
Josh is on the precipice of becoming part of a dangerous group of individuals. There’s obviously a good person in him. He doesn’t quite fit right in, even holding that gun with his uncle Craig at the beach. But it’s obvious there is a disconnect between him and the things his family are doing.
Speaking of fitting in, Pope isn’t happy with how things are after his jail sentence. Things have changed. Not that they’ve moved on, but naturally a criminal enterprise has to switch things up a little after one of its major players goes to jail. He wants back in, though, Smurf and Baz have to keep him slightly distant.
The worst part is that while Josh is part of the family, by blood, the rest of the family and Baz are not sure about him because he has this total other part of him, a life outside the family. This makes him a liability.
Meanwhile, Baz and the Cody brothers are out preparing for a job. They round up a bunch of junkies, lock them in a vehicle overnight to get it smelling terrible. What are they up to?
Later on with Uncle Pope, Josh talks awkwardly. Well Pope goes on about Josh’s mother, how they were twins, shared a room, all that sort of stuff. He genuinely seems to reach out in their moment together, even if Josh isn’t sure what to think. Either way there’s a budding connection between this uncle and his nephew, maybe that will go somewhere. I wonder how they’re planning on adapting things, so it’ll be interesting to watch the plot and the characters develop in a series.
At the cemetery, Josh finds his family confronted by a neighbour, Dina (Karen Malina White). She knew Josh and his mother, warning him about the family, what Julia did to keep him away from them all. A tense moment. We’ll surely see more of Dina at some point. I only hope nothing bad will happen to her at the hands of the Cody brothers.
Nobody’s all too upset over the death of Julia. The brothers aren’t torn up much. Smurf seems a little thrown of, but not as much as most mothers if their daughter died. Although, it’s obvious Julia pushed away from the family and their ways.
More of Pope trying to get back into the organization. On the side, away from everyone, Baz agrees to let him in on their job a little, without telling Smurf. The arrival of Pope is bound to bring about trouble, in many ways.
Josh gets to hanging out more with the family, his girlfriend Nicky (Molly Gordon) along for the fun. There is a lot of awkwardness which hangs over the crew. At times, Pope eyes Catherine – is there some sort of previous relationship with them? Then there’s Uncle Craig, who plies Nicky for money into catching food in her mouth; this sets up an underlying sexual tension, especially after she tucks the money into her bra afterwards. With all the odd, incestuous behaviour at grandma’s place, this only makes things more tense. A little later Craig is snorting coke in front of everyone, tempting Nicky, though, she opts not to go ahead; in her eye, a sparkle flickers, and there’ll be more to that eventually.
There is a truly eerie presence to Hatosy’s Pope here in this first episode. He even carries Nicky off to bed quietly before Josh finds him standing over her, breathing heavily. Jesus. This doesn’t totally shake Josh, but it obviously gives him an eye into some of the deviousness of his uncles. Next morning, Josh encounters more of his family and their weird behaviour. Pope just walks on in and stands there with his nephew, who is naked in the shower. We constantly see there are no boundaries, no hidden secrets or moments between any of these people. It’s discomforting, unnerving, and yes, downright frightening at times. There’s not even a sexual nature to the semi-incestuousness I’ve mentioned. It’s more like an absolute disregard for any individuality, they’re all just a collective, and nothing is kept secret; not actual secrets, nor the body.
But now we figure out what the junkies and their fluids were for – the boys are pulling a job and want to “keep the crime lab busy“, so aside from being absolutely disgusting for them to endure, it is a rather genius idea forensically.
At home, Smurf is not happy about Pope taking Josh out for some criminal fun. Pope gets very physical, both with Josh and even his own mother. There’s an awful, ugly tension between son and mother here in this scene. Nevertheless, he tells Josh: “You pass.” What a fucked up family, man. Their relationships are incredibly strange, extremely close. Josh doesn’t want much part of it right now. But with the death of his mother there isn’t anywhere else he has to go.
Baz and the Cody brothers pull off their heist. It’s a real smash and grab, which works perfectly with the piss and shit and puke covered SUV they prepared. Only they never expected a run-in with police. This puts a bullet in Craig’s shoulder, too.
Simultaneously, Josh discovers his inner bad ass. When the drug dealer from earlier tries to collect on his dead mother there’s trouble. Josh knocks the gun from his hands, turning the tables, and ends up walking away fine; piece and all. So while there’s a part of his family that can be useful, to teach him not to lay down and take shit, most of it is a dangerous mixture that will prove toxic. Still, he doesn’t see that. All he gets right now is the glamour, the fun, the excitement, all the wild partying.
Then he sees Craig being patched up. Both sides of become more clear. It’s even creepier, too. With Uncle Deran crying in his mother’s lap in the next room. So many angles. When Josh and Pope have a talk later, the uncle tries to make him more at home in the family. Will Josh slide further into their grip? It’s tough to tell.
Excited to see where the series goes from here. The pilot is promising. Not perfect, and nowhere near as amazing as the original film, but it has things to build on. Lots of intriguing plot to mine, great characters to develop. And the acting is stellar to start, especially from Hatosy and Barkin. Stay tuned, we’ll see more again soon enough.
Halloween. 2007. Directed & Written by Rob Zombie; based on the original screenplay by John Carpenter & Debra Hill.
Starring Malcolm McDowell, Brad Dourif, Tyler Mane, Daeg Faerch, Sheri Moon Zombie, William Forsythe, Richard Lynch, Udo Kier, Clint Howard, Danny Trejo, Lew Temple, Tom Towles, Bill Moseley, & Leslie Easterbrook. Dimension Films/Nightfall Productions/Spectacle Entertainment Group/Trancas International Films/The Weinstein Company.
Rated 18A. 109 minutes.
I never imagined, listening to White Zombie in the ’90s, that Rob Zombie would go on to be one of my favourite horror directors working. He always appeared imaginative, but I couldn’t have guessed his love of the horror genre ran so deep. He’s given the keys to the slasher horror castle here, reinterpreting the original screenplay for Halloween in 1978 from John Carpenter and Debra Hill. Instead of providing lackluster jump scares and unnecessary gore to overcompensate, Zombie crafts a new vision of Michael Myers. No more is Myers so much a force of evil, like some wandering, unkillable spirit. Now, he is a boy with a face, a child not just hidden behind a mask, who eventually grows into his skin and becomes the ugliest, most vicious serial killer in America (well, the fictional one anyways).
Switch the subtle techniques of Carpenter for a throwback aesthetic mixed with gritty realism, and you’ve got Zombie’s film in a nutshell. Although many want to try and pick one over the other, they’re different movies, different stories centered around the same characters. You can say what you want. But for me, Carpenter and Zombie both have their merits. No matter if the original is my favourite, and a perfect piece of horror cinema, Zombie brings savagery to the table, plus an interesting style of directing. This makes it more than worth the watch.
Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch) is a young boy with a fairly awful life day to day. Although his mother Deborah (Sheri Moon Zombie) loves him, her sleazy boyfriend Ronnie White (William Forsythe) treats him like shit, all the while sizing up Debbie’s daughter Judith (Hanna Hall). At school, Michael gets pushed around and harassed, specifically about his mother being a stripper at a local club. But at home, alone, Michael dissects animals, getting blood all over his hands. Then once a kid at school finally pushes him over the edge, Michael beats him to death in the woods. The transition begins.
On Halloween night, Michael kills Ronnie, then Judith and her boyfriend. This shocks the town of Haddonfield. The law puts Michael in an institution, where Dr. Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) picks his brain to try and determine why evil lies in such a young mind. There’s also orderly Ismael Cruz (Danny Trejo) who talks to the boy often, trying to relate with him.
Only after 17 years go by, an older Michael gets a visit from a new, less friendly orderly by the name of Noel Kluggs (Lew Temple). He and his equally disgusting hillbilly cousin take advantage of having keys to the place. They rape a female patient after bringing her into Michael’s room, when Noel underestimates the now 27-year-old man. Michael kills the men and then begins on a path of destruction carrying him back towards Haddonfield, where his reign of terror is about to begin. As if it already hadn’t.
Love the metafictional quote from Dr. Loomis’ book. Like a post-modern version of Carpenter and Hill’s classic, early slasher. The whole character of Loomis is much different from that of Donald Pleasence’s version, and of course that’s mostly the way it’s written. In the original film(s), Loomis is an underrated psychiatrist whose knowledge of evil, and particularly that of Michael, is unparalleled. Here, McDowell’s Loomis is a good man initially. Then he morphs into a fame-seeking, fame-whoring doctor who made his fame and fortune off the dead corpses of a bunch of people in Haddonfield. He’s treated as such, too. So apart from the other liberties Zombie takes, or should I say aside from the expanded history Zombie creates, there’s this totally new role for Loomis, which I love. Pleasence is a classic, though, Loomis is a completely new beast under McDowell and I dig him, as well.
I don’t agree with the stance of people saying oh well we don’t want to see Michael Myers as a child, that’s the scary part. But wait a minute? Doesn’t the original Halloween, which I adore, start with that POV from the perspective of a young Michael? We already see that. Far as I’m concerned Zombie doesn’t really leap too far in reimagining Carpenter here. He takes what we’ve already seen, then elaborates largely. So yeah, maybe you don’t want to see the childhood of Michael completely played out, but the seeds were there in the original. So honestly, if Carpenter really wanted to keep his Myers as the almost supernatural, mythical Shape, then there’s no need to even show us the beginning of the child Michael; may as well jump right in. Not a criticism against him – I love that film, and it’s perfect. Period. That’s a criticism against those trying to rationalize their need for a theory on why Zombie shouldn’t have done it this way. For me, the best thing Zombie does here is humanize Michael. Because for all those people saying something is scarier about an unstoppable force of almost supernatural strength, I believe there’s nothing scarier than human evil, it never stops either. And personally, imagining Michael as a human killer, a kid who grew like weed out of hatred, is far more terrifying.
Carpenter wins overall, obviously. The techniques he used directing, some of those shots they achieved, plus the writing from him and Hill; everything in that movie is perfect. While Zombie’s film is not perfect, it wins on horror. There’s a more brutal aspect to this Halloween that hooks me in. It’ll never beat the quality of Carpenter’s original, but Zombie does a fine job crafting a gritty, raw remake. One of the better remakes that’s come out of the big Hollywood machine. Probably because Zombie isn’t exactly a Hollywood director, he just has the popularity to draw the Weinsteins and such. Regardless, this is miles better than the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street remakes, and that glossed over Texas Chainsaw Michael Bay-produced affair.
As I’ve mentioned, there is a stern brutality to many of the kills in this remake. Part of why I still enjoyed some of the later Halloween sequels is due in large to the fact they started to up the pure strength of Michael. In one, he simply jams his thumb right through a victim’s forehead. After that, he became relentless in power. So even better that he’s a real humanized type killer here, coupled with the way he straight up just beats a few people to death. And I’m talking absolutely demolishing people. When he kills the orderly Noel, he repeatedly slams him against the concrete wall until blood starts to fly. It is a savage death. Then he drowns Danny Trejo’s character Ismael, which goes to show how brutal he is – no longer does Michael even care for people who show him any compassion. His heart is dead: “I was good to you, Mikey,” sputters Ismale while trying not to drown. Then a television gets dropped on the guy’s head. So if you didn’t already know this is a remorseless killer, he does not discriminate. Doesn’t matter who or what is in his way, not anymore. Since his mother died, the last of his humanity left, too. Lots of great kills after this, which Zombie captures in perfectly nasty fashion.
Some of my other favourite moments – the fight with Big Joe Grizzly (legendary Ken Foree) that is just pure unadulterated hypermasculinity, though oh-so-horror-good, and once more showcases that sickly strength in Myers; when Michael makes his way into the neighbourhood and goes mad on the young people it gets bloody and unruly; and when Michael goes to see the Strodes awhile before that, things are pretty rough, as well as creepy, and sad.
On top of everything there’s Scout Taylor-Compton in the old Jamie Curtis role. She does a solid job, as she’s cute and personable and she plays a nice good-girl, at the same time she’s got attitude and can be funny. Also, proper at showing fear. Danielle Harris is great, too, even if she doesn’t have a massive role; nice to see her back after the performances she gave as a child in a couple of the original movies. Then there’s a bunch of cameos, such as Ken Foree, Zombie alumni Bill Moseley, Sid Haig, Leslie Easterbrook, Sheri Moon Zombie (though hers is more than a cameo really), William Forsythe, Micky Dolenz of Monkees fame. Brad Dourif is awesome as the sheriff in all his scenes, too. Love seeing him anywhere, solid character actor.
All in all, I’m giving Zombie’s remake a 4&1/2-star rating. I don’t care, man. Dig it so hard. Lots of brutal violence in slasher tradition. Good, old school style filmmaking that both technique-wise and design-wise throws back to the 1970’s. But it’s the reinvention of Michael Myers and his story that draws me in consistently. I can always watch this, right alongside the original. And while I love Carpenter’s Halloween most, this one is a solid modern remake that gives us blood, thrills, and even some sly laughs.
Martyrs. 2016. Directed by Kevin & Michael Goetz. Screenplay by Mark L. Smith; based on the original characters from Pascal Laugier’s film.
Starring Troian Bellisario, Caitlin Carmichael, Kate Burton, Bailey Noble, Toby Huss, Diana Hopper, Lexi DiBenedetto, Taylor John Smith, Peter Michael Goetz, and DaJuan Johnson. Blumhouse Productions/The Safran Company/Temple Hill Entertainment.
Unrated. 81 minutes.
I always try to give remakes a fair shake. Slightly different story when you have to push through a favourite film being remade, especially if it comes out poorly. Though I love Spike Lee, as a filmmaker, his remake of Oldboy is one of the worst in recent memory. And that’s been a favourite of mine for years. When I heard Pascal Laugier’s frantic, bloody, wild movie Martyrs was being remade, it didn’t exactly excite me. Sure, I love when a fresh take or update can be done on a film, such as Alexandre Aja and his efforts on The Hills Have Eyes. But more often than not, an excellent foreign language film gets turned into nonsense by way of North American directors and writers.
Sadly, this new version of Martyrs is not up to the task of making things fresh, exciting, or even much different. It is definitely not a shot-for-shot remake, but it also doesn’t have a lot of what made the original French film so impressively visceral and continually interesting. This re-imagining, remake, or whatever word you choose to employ, didn’t have to go for big gore and get as graphic as Laugier. What it did need, though, is the emotional resonance, the quality techniques of Laugier and the original team, and generally a better screenplay if it were meant for glory. Not near being one of my favourite remakes. Another great film gets an unjust treatment for North American audiences, many of whom are probably too lazy to read subtitles and watch the original, evident by how many foreign films get remade here in the West. If that weren’t the case, if the demand weren’t so high, I’d assume people were seeking out the original pieces of work. In this case, I certainly suggest you watch Laugier’s movie. It’s leaps and bounds better than this mediocre, run of the mill dishwater.
Two young girls come together as orphans at a young age, Lucie (Troian Bellisario) and Anna (Bailey Noble). Lucie escaped from a terrifying, abusive situation of captivity, which Anna helped her get past.
Cut to years later. They’re grown young women. Lucie finds the family who supposedly held her captive, then shotguns them all, including the kids, to death. She calls Anna frantically, telling her what happened. Her friend arrives to try and help things go smoother, as far as is possible. But Lucie spirals out of control. Soon, Anna is in the house, bodies everywhere, and a group of armed people take over.
Brought to room and tortured, Anna discovers what Lucie went through. The two girls are pitted against their captors. Although, the past comes back to bear on their present situation. As things are revealed the capture of Lucie as a young girl becomes more clear, the movie behind it all unearthed. Can they survive this? Will Lucie be able to make it out of the horror a second time?
*SPOILER ALERT: TURN BACK OR THOU SHALT FOREVER BE SPOILED!*
One thing I quickly disliked about this version is that the screenplay from Mark L. Smith (The Revenant, Vacancy) decides to keep both of the main women alive. Whereas in the Laugier original, the Lucie character dies. What I love about that original screenplay is that the Anna character is then forced to deal with the aftermath of the situation, as well as the group who come to find her, forcing her to also suffer the torture her friend once did years ago. In this film there’s this sense of a bunch of subjects captured at once, while Anna and Lucie then also find themselves captives. Part of why I enjoyed the original French film is that Laugier went for a definitively tragic and truly epic plot. Smith, though he did amazing stuff with The Revenant, makes the mistake of going for something more hopeful. Realistically you have to look at the group doing these experiments; they are obviously massive, a solid organization, so to just do another escape thriller with this setup is wasting a lot of potential. The original capitalized on all its brutality, as well as emotions, and went for a dark ending. Without spoiling anything, this remake cops out. Some say the original was all nihilistic. Except for the fact the people torturing the hopeful martyrs, for all their faults and bloody terror, are seeking a way to discover what makes someone into such a portal to view what’s in their eyes, seeing beyond life and into the chasm of death. So, it’s not really nihilistic, not in true terms. But any of the impact of the film is taken away in this screenplay. Not at all impressed with Smith’s choices.
The execution isn’t a whole lot helpful either. Tons of exposition that the original never needed, as well as so much sanitized horror. It all combines into a real mess. There are, yes, several moments of decent blood, and also several intense sequences. Yet none of this adds up to even half the impact Laugier came off with, which does nothing to make me enjoy this needless remake. There was a grim, moody atmosphere and a gritty tone to the original. Here, most of the movie feels glossy, bright even in the darkness, and overall there is nothing technique-wise that ever grabs me. Kevin and Michael Goetz did 2013’s Scenic Route and I actually enjoyed that a good deal. It was entertaining, gritty at times, funny even. Lots of good stuff. Their follow-up film is nowhere near as good. Hopefully next they’ll go with an original film with a better story because they’ve proved themselves on the previous movie. Martyrs is a step backward.
I’ll give the film a 1&1/2 star rating, solely because I did enjoy aspects of Bailey Noble’s performance, even if I wasn’t a fan of the plot. Likewise, Troian Bellisario is decent enough to keep your attention particularly later when the torture commences once more. But this is an unnecessary remake. Honestly, I try to give these remade films a chance, however, they more often than not let me down big time. This one is no different. Over the past few years this is one of the worst. Again, I hope the Goetz brothers go forward and make something better. As I hope Mark Smith pushes on and finds better success with another movie. These are better artists than the movie suggests. Martyrs, the original, is worth your time. Despite what others say about a totally boring, gory film, Laugier made an impact with that one, which I will never forget. Skip this, see his original. You’ll thank me.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. 2006. Directed by Jonathan Liebesman. Screenplay by Sheldon Turner; from a story by Sheldon Turner & David J. Schow.
Starring Jordana Brewster, Taylor Handley, Diora Baird, Matt Bomer, R. Lee Ermey, Andrew Bryniarski, Lee Tergesen, Terrence Evans, Kathy Lamkin, Mariette Marich, and Lew Temple.
Rated 18A. 91 minutes.
As I’ve mentioned time and time again, I will always consider The Texas Chain Saw Massacre one of the scariest films of all time. That original Tobe Hooper movie is just terrifying to me. It’s fine if others don’t agree, but something about that horror movie absolutely gets to me right at my core. The whole family and Leatherface himself, they’re creepy. Almost the definition of macabre. Plus, there’s the fact Leatherface is VERY loosely based on serial killer Ed Gein, whom I’ve read a ton about. So I think my own interests play into part of why the movie scares me so deeply.
I’m not a fan of the 2003 remake, but honestly I do dig Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. It is nowhere near being a perfect movie, however, I found it a hell of a lot scarier than the remake to which this is a prequel. While there’s still a little of that flashiness from the 2003 film which I complained of in my recent review. Luckily for this movie, it doesn’t try to focus too much on the sexualized females as that one, either. I’m not saying there isn’t any seemingly obligatory sexualization from serial culprits Platinum Dunes – there are bits of half nudity and such, focus on the gleaming wet bodies of young people – but compared to the remake in 2003 it is nowhere near as foolish in that sense.
What I do like is a peek into the history of Leatherface, here named Thomas “Tommy” Hewitt, and his adopted family. This is a nasty bit of horror, that’s for sure. While there are some problems, I think it’s a more interesting movie than the one to which this acts as a prequel, and the script is much better, as well.
I found the whole Vietnam War angle pretty intriguing. Brothers Eric (Matt Bomer) and Dean (Taylor Handley) have an intense dynamic, as the former – the oldest – clearly cares about his country, in the sense he’s willing to go back over after already clearly experiencing horrors his first time. On the other hand, younger brother Dean burns up his draft card, knowing the post traumatic stress his brother suffers having already served in the army over in Vietnam. So I like how they clash, as well as the fact the climax of their situation comes right at the biggest moment of tension when a biker is chasing them down, gun drawn, and they end up smashing into a cow crossing over the road.
Furthermore, it plays a bit into the brothers’ confrontation with Charlie Hewitt (R. Lee Ermey), a.k.a Sheriff Hoyt after he killed the last bit of law enforcement in their tiny, dying Texas town. When he finds the burned draft card, things get super intense.
What I love about this one, as opposed to the 2003 remake, is that the four main characters on the road trip kicking everything into gear feel genuine and real. There’s still a bit of that ‘sex sells’ nonsense here like the previous movie, a couple beer ad-like moments. But overall I feel we get to know and care for these characters, as opposed to the 2003 film where it’s just a bunch of sweat glistened young people who have little to no personality, and the whole tired pot angle played into things making it worse. Here, I honestly feel – for all its flawed bits – Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning gave us a nice dose of character, both in terms of the victims and the Hewitt family themselves, a.k.a the bad guys.
Almost more than Leatherface, I really wanted to see more about Sheriff Hoyt after the first remake in 2003. Most of that movie is pretty mediocre to crap, but R. Lee Ermey does such a terrifyingly fantastic job playing the character he drew me in. Then, of course, with this sequel to the remake we’re finding out deeper, even darker secrets about Hoyt. So while I love Leatherface, Hoyt – or Charlie, whatever you want to call him – is a huge part of the interest I have here. To my mind, things get way more disturbing after the opening events of this film, once we find out what Hoyt is really all about. Watching his mental state sort of go from ‘dealing with things’ to ‘scorched earth’ is pretty chilling.
Several parts of the screenplay make this Texas Chainsaw entry better than others. First, I like how there’s an inclusion of different themes from war – what people will do in one while they’re fighting, or what they’ll resort to in situations simply to survive (which further leads into the cannibalism aspect of the story) – to staying true to one’s roots and holding on to one’s culture, to the bonds people people whether blood and family or not. Between all those elements there are so many things happening. Not a groundbreaking work of art, this screenplay, but I think compared to its predecessor this movie has great stuff going on. Because ultimately, we know what’s going to happen – this is a prequel, we get that part. So the writers did a few neat things in order to make the journey more exciting.
Secondly, most of the Texas Chainsaw films – good or not – tend to see one group of people fall into the trap, ending up at Chez Leatherface and then they’re killed. Part of why I enjoy this movie as much as I do is because we see the brother duo and their girlfriends have an altercation with bikers, leading to a crash and that leads into the meeting with Sheriff Hoyt. All the while, this allows for the story to flesh out the backstory of Tommy Hewitt and his adopted family. I’ve always found there was a fun mixture in the plot, which allows for interesting developments – leading to prequel bits filling up/bridging the gaps to the previous remake – and some wild characters + situations.
This is a 3.5 out of 5 star horror film, for me. It could’ve definitely improved on a few things, mainly losing the glossy 21st century remake look so apparent in many Platinum Dunes productions. However, I can honestly say this is much better and more worthy of your time than the 2003 remake. The acting is better, the characters are more developed and less hateable, as well as the fact you’ll find it cool to watch how things evolved from Leatherface’s meager beginnings to where he horrifically stands now. You can do far worse in terms of remakes, though, it still could’ve done Leatherface and the legacy of Tobe Hooper more justice. But I’ll take what I can when it comes to prequels. I love them, they just don’t turn out the best all the time. This one is good enough to make me recommend it to those wanting more TCM.
Knock Knock. 2015. Directed by Eli Roth. Screenplay by Guillermo Amoedo/Nicolás López/Eli Roth; based on the 1977 film Death Game, story by Anthony Overman & Michael Ronald Ross.
Starring Keanu Reeves, Lorenza Izzo, Ana de Armas, Ignacia Allamand, Aaron Burns, and Colleen Camp. Black Bear Pictures/Camp Grey/Dragonfly Entertainment/Elevated Films/Sobras International Pictures. Rated 18A. 99 minutes.
I’ve been a fan of Eli Roth ever since Cabin Fever. Say what you want about that movie, it’s a fun little modern horror; not for everyone, but it isn’t bad. Not in my mind, anyways. Then when Roth came out with Hostel, the game changed and I realized his brand of horror was the shocking sort – yet not for shock’s sake, rather it engages you viscerally to a point, mostly, where you find yourself immersed in the experiences of the characters. Every one of his feature films I’ve enjoyed so far – waiting patiently in my little nook of Easter Canada to see The Green Inferno – and even more so, I think Roth has great talent as a producer, having helped films like The Last Exorcism, Aftershock, The Sacrament, as well as most recently The Stranger and Clown each of which were pretty fun indie horror movies.
With his latest, Knock Knock, Roth takes the 1977 horror Death Game from director Peter S. Traynor and modernizes things slightly, giving our latest generation (of which I’m near the tail end) a home invasion film with plenty of sharp teeth and even one sassy, satirical tongue.
There are plenty of differing opinions on Keanu Reeves and his merit as an actor. Honestly, from a completely personal point of view, I’ve always loved him. Partly that stems from my childhood love of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure/Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. But seriously, River’s Edge, Point Break (it’s not a great film but a solid action effort), My Own Private Idaho, these alone impress me enough to say Reeves is a quality actor when given the right material; then there’s The Matrix, to which I’d argue I honestly don’t know if anyone else could’ve done Neo in the cool, at times disaffected, and slick way Reeves pulled it off.
But right from the beginning of Knock Knock, I found myself drawn into his character, Evan Webber. In particular, the relationship between Evan and his wife Karen (Ignacia Allamand) feels so natural, very real. The way they acted with the kids, their little moments together alone, it was all great writing fused with proper acting from Allamand and Reeves.
Then once the girls show up, things get super interesting. At first I didn’t get into their performances, honestly. After a little while, Lorenza Izzo and Ana de Armas began to impress me, bit by bit. They really keep things feeling off-kilter, in a truly proper way. Both of them are creepy almost from the get go, though, subtly, not at all in an outright sense. Furthermore, the chemistry with Reeves and the girls is electrifying in certain scenes – the way his thumb shakes, hovering around his phone as he nervously checks to see how close the Uber ride is to the house, it’s just about perfect. Lots of good stuff in the little gestures.
Ultimately, Evan Webber brings dangerous and the unpredictable into his life. He could have thrown those girls out of his house once they started coming onto him. He could have walked away. So, in the end, Evan doesn’t deserve the extent of what comes to pass, however, he absolutely could have made sure he didn’t end up in the situation he did. When he wakes up into the madness of his infidelity’s aftermath, there’s part of me that feels bad because you can see, immediately, his regret is vicious. At the same time, most of me says “fuck him”.
And this is part of why Knock Knock is interesting and unnerving. Roth places us in the uncomfortable position of hating what Evan has done to his wife and family by cheating, while also not being able to reconcile his stupid act of infidelity with what these two girls inflict upon him. Things get even worse when the girls reveal they’re underage, threatening Evan with revealing his statutory rape; sure, he didn’t know, but Mr. Webber also made no attempt to stop what was happening, not knowing these girls, not knowing how old they were, what kind of people they are, et cetera. One reason I do enjoy this movie is because Roth plays with us, much like how the girls play with Evan.
The film takes it turn from erotic thriller to dark horror once Evan drops the girls off and they eventually make their way back to his place, sneaking in, then knocking him out. I found the following scene immediately brings a sneaky, creepy factor, more than any point before, with Genesis (Lorenza Izzo) sitting at the vanity putting on dark makeup around her eyes while Evan struggles tied up on the bed in the background. Things get rottenly disturbing, in such a perfect way, after this point. Bel (Ana de Armas) strolls in and psychologically tortures Evan, wearing his daughter’s schoolgirl uniform, her panties, and calling him Daddy. It’s so perverse, so unnerving, it works wonders. All the while Genesis is still in the background, trying on makeup and jewelry, writing on Evan’s wife’s vanity mirror with lipstick (aptly she prints “It was not a dream!“). This entire sequence is great, it destabilizes the viewer and takes us into scary territory. One of my favourite small moments is when Genesis walks through the dark hallway, running her finger along the wall and slightly tipping the pictures, they swing back and forth a little and she walks on; something weirdly chilling about this brief shot.
Genesis: “How many family men have survived this game?”
Genesis: “What was that?”
There’s not as much outright bloody and gore as you might expect for an Eli Roth horror film. While the disturbing, nerve wracking aspect of Knock Knock is almost perpetually present from the moment Bel and Genesis show up to the finale, there isn’t a ton of that Roth nastiness.
Although, I did find SPOILER ALERT how poor Louis (Aaron Burns) went out/how the girls papier-mâchéd his corpse was pretty raw! I’m not saying there isn’t any of that archetypal Roth style here, there certainly is. I’m just surprised. I honestly thought this would be another full-on bloodfest. Even during the finale, with all the psychological horror mixed with a few bits of very physical violence, I expected gore to start pouring out, and still Roth restrained himself from devolving into that sort of horror. Instead, I feel like the psychosexual nature of the plot, all the terrorizing of Evan, it made things more devastating than if Roth and his fellow writers had gone for something more vile, more “torture porn” (boy do I hate that label but it works). Because again, in the end, I didn’t want to see Evan be killed or even tortured. As much as what he did was wrong, his infidelity is awful, there’s still that part of me, of us hopefully, which does not want to condemn him to death; his situation is murky, full of all sorts of twisty, turning, messy bits.
Death, though? I don’t believe, despite all his flaws, his terrible mistakes, that’s the most fitting punishment. Having his infidelity revealed, even having him arrested and his wife leaving him, taking the family, et cetera – those are are appropriate. But death, no. In the process of Knock Knock, I think the film will reveal the sickness in the viewer: did you want him to die for cheating on his wife with two underage girls, or were you conflicted yet didn’t want to see Evan murdered? Very telling film, which dives into many aspects including how we as an audience judge the characters and their decisions within a filmic space.
I won’t reveal the revelations in the last ten minutes. Some of what I’ve said will change with those pieces, some won’t all the same. Find out for yourself and let me know what you think/feel!
All in all, I’m giving Eli Roth’s latest psychological horror-thriller a 4 out of 5 stars. This is a heavy, brutal piece of cinema, which is a remake of Death Game and also its own film. There’s something different about this movie than the other horror movies Roth has done. Bits of Knock Knock are straight up erotic thriller, while so much of the rest is downright disturbing horror. Most of all, Roth taps deep, far into extremely uncomfortable aspects of humanity, from sexuality to infidelity to the judgement we place on others before knowing all the facts, and more. The ending works so incredibly well, the last lines are perfection, and I can’t imagine this finishing in any other way.
My verdict is that Knock Knock is well crafted, it subverts expectations wildly despite other reviews and online comments telling you the movie follows a formulaic technique used by other horror-thrillers; it certainly does not. A few times I found myself genuinely surprised. Check this out for a good dose of steamy thriller and lots of psychological horror, terror, and straight up madness!