One of Hammer Horror's finest, if not their best of all. This Gothic bit of family horror takes us inside a deeply traumatised world of double crossing and death.
American History X. 1998. Directed by Tony Kaye. Screenplay by David McKenna.
Starring Edward Norton, Edward Furlong, Beverly D’Angelo, Jennifer Lien, Ethan Suplee, Fairuza Balk, Avery Brooks, Elliott Gould, Stacy Keach, William Russ, Guy Torry, Joe Cortese, Jason Bose Smith, Antonio David Lyons, & Alex Sol. New Line Cinema/Savoy Pictures/The Turman-Morrissey Company.
Rated 18A. 119 minutes.
The idea of racism is something that interests me to no end. Because I’ll never understand it. I can’t wrap my head around being a racist. I can understand people fed up with racism saying “Fuck white people” because after so long all you can do is hate the people that are perpetuating racist nonsense. Either way, the neo-Nazi subculture and the concept of white supremacy interests me. In the sense it baffles me. Being about 13 when American History X hit theatre, I remember seeing it shortly after on VHS. Tony Kaye’s stylised directing wasn’t immediately what hit me; that I came to appreciate later. Initially, the story and its plots concerning the heart of hate and the disease of racism, specifically white nationalist ideology, grabbed me at an early stage of my teenage years. Being from a small island off the far East Coast of Canada – Newfoundland – and from a semi-small town, I didn’t know many people of other races. However, that never made me feel separated. When I moved to Ontario to pursue film school for a couple years I met people from all walks of life, all religions, cultures, races. Two of the few best friends I made during my time there were of completely different upbringing: one was a black, London-born Canadian, the other a Canadian Sikh. So coming from a place where I’d known nobody, aside from a doctor I had, from a different race or culture, it amazes me that others somehow from the same type of place as myself managed to become racist. I’ve seen more “tired and hungry and poor” white people that Derek Vinyard (Edward Norton) speaks about mooching off the system than any immigrant I know of. So many of the people who come to Newfoundland particularly are hard workers, nice people, genuine and often interesting. Whereas I know an awful amount of white Newfoundlanders who only work 5 months out of the year then take the rest off on unemployment, working seasonally so they can spend their winters riding snowmobiles and going to the cabin. Take from that what you will.
American History X is a unique film about white supremacy. One which takes aim at the irresponsible and unavoidable consequences of racial hatred through the lens of Derek. Using a nonlinear narrative, Kaye tells a fascinating tale with the script from David McKenna, and tries to look at Derek in a neutral light while he transitions out of his hideous racist past. Again, the style is what you’ll find draws you in, but the ultimate journey on which Derek finds himself, the way McKenna’s screenplay reveals his past and how time in prison culminated in his realisation of a different way of life, these are the elements that are most interesting. This isn’t a plea to give white supremacists a chance. This is a plea to give those willing to change a chance. At the very same time, the film’s ending leaves us at a point where we must consider there’s a possibility Derek could, after all that’s happened, revert back to that old life. Regardless, Kaye and McKenna’s collaboration makes for a work of art, topped by a powerhouse performance out of Norton, giving it all he’s got in a role that could be monumentally difficult for a lesser actor.
The use of black-and-white v. colour in particular segments is more than a stylistic device. It is thematic in nature. All flashbacks to Derek’s time before being released, the past, his racist past specifically, are shot in black-and-white. Later, after his release from prison the story becomes colour, vibrant and vivid. This is because the colour change represents the very struggle through which Derek goes while in prison. He used to see the world only in black v. white. Now, once through the prison gates and back into the real world, Derek sees everything in reality, the way it is, as a colourful palette, one that’s incomplete without all shades of the spectrum.
That infamous curb stomp scene is one that’s etched in the minds of moviegoers around the world. Permanently. It isn’t simply the visual and the intense way Kaye sets up the scene, nor is it that fiery, Satan-like look that Norton gives while holding his hands up for the police. The sound design gets me, every time. The way that guy puts his teeth to the curb and they scrape lightly, an almost metal-like sound against the cement… yuck. Just rattles down my spine.
Something that makes the entire film more heavy, aside from Kaye’s directorial choices and the cinematography alone (also by Kaye), is the score. Anne Dudley (Say Anything…, The Crying Game, The Full Monty) gives the atmosphere a much more intense feeling with her various pieces. The classical sound of the orchestral work helps give the movie something extra rather than going with a traditional soundtrack, something you might expect from most movies about neo-Nazis; you can almost see another film in a similar vein using rock n’roll versus hip hop, making things tacky. Dudley does a lot of amazing stuff here that does wonders for the overall atmosphere. The suspense and tension is pumped up. In that curb stomp scene there is a beautiful, simultaneously ominous bit of choir along with orchestra that makes you feel as if you’re sitting in on a sermon at church. The way it plays underneath the action of the scene, the way Kaye slows things down and lets you see, feel everything, is impressively potent.
“Hate is baggage. Life‘s too short to be pissed off all the time. It‘s just not worth it.”
The character of Cameron Alexander (Stacy Keach) is highly interesting. Due to the fact these types of “chicken hawk” neo-Nazi, white nationalist phonies are all too real. They’re the types out there conning young men into the lifestyle, feeding them lies and filling their heads/hearts with the fertiliser of hate and racism. Keach plays him well: a weasel of a man, one that pumps himself up with the accomplishments of others and partly with embellished stories of his own past, a guy that uses a bunch of young people to do the dirty work he can’t manage himself, a lost and pathetic man that grasps onto whatever control he’s able to, wherever it comes. He’s a great parallel to Derek, as the latter has done actual real time in prison, whereas Cam only did a small bid before ratting on two younger guys and letting them take the big fall. This opens up the comparison, which is what much of Derek’s time after prison concerns primarily.
Derek knows the hardships of real time in the big house. Moreover, he’s seen his own white supposed brethren turn on him; not only did they hurt him, they straight up raped him. So there’s also the added fact Derek saw more than rough time in prison. He witnessed the hypocrisy of those beliefs while inside the walls of the penitentiary. Meanwhile, this eventually leads to his understanding the hypocrisy of white supremacy and the neo-Nazi ideology in general. Stemming from his experience in jail, especially his time working alongside Lamont (Guy Torry), Derek comes to see that he knows no black people, he doesn’t know their personal experience though he judges them and considers them all leeches on society, et cetera – just as many on the outside won’t understand his personal journey as an inmate, they’ll merely chalk him up as one of many. So through his terrifying, disturbing prison time Derek is able to get out of that racist mindset and discover another side to life. Norton plays the character incredibly well and he makes an ugly character into a human being, coming out on the opposite side of racism with a view that not enough in the real world will find on their own. His portrayal of Derek is one of the greatest from the 1990s. Better than that it’s the single best portrait of a white supremacist I’ve personally ever seen.
American History X weaves the tale of generational racism through the story of Derek Vinyard’s character, his personal experiences with neo-Nazi ideology and the consequences of going through the prison system holding onto his own system of belief while having it challenged at every corner. The epitome of this vein comes through Derek’s father, which is why his most important, major scene comes later at a critical moment in the finale of the film; almost at the very moment young Danny (Edward Furlong) pinpoints where their lives changed, when the racist seed found itself planted firmly in their hearts. A powerful moment, punctuated by nice directing.
All sorts of these moments happen. The movie is filled with them. We’re never asked to identify with hatred. We’re merely asked to look it in the eye, as the characters do. Derek looks hate right in the eye and his own mistakes in the scene where he looks in the mirror, seeing that symbol of hate right on his chest; he covers it up with his hand to try and imagine himself without it. This is a story of redemption, just as much as it’s also a story about the consequences of hatred. It’s ultimately a cycle that keeps on perpetuating itself, over and over until the end of time. Almost as if there’ll never be an end. The fire started a long time ago. At this point, it rages too hot and bright to ever fully be extinguished. We can only try as best we can to keep on keeping on in the face of its heat.
AMC’s Breaking Bad
Season 2, Episode 10: “Over”
Directed by Phil Abraham
Written by Moira Walley-Beckett
* For a review of the previous episode, “4 Days Out” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Mandala” – click here
Again, the foreboding pink teddy bear missing an eye floats in the pool. This time around, again in black-and-white aside from Mr. Ted, we start to understand more of what’s going on. Some kind of catastrophic event has occurred. Someone in a Hazmat suit. The baggies labelled, collected near the pool. Out on the street there are cracked windshields – in fact, it is the White family vehicle. Right in front of their house, something terrible has gone down.
And out front? Two bodies. Shit.
The anticipation is killing me, even if I’ve seen this series a couple times over.
Walter White (Bryan Cranston) is gradually having to come to terms with the fact he will likely live, instead of succumbing to lung cancer. Everybody around him is overjoyed, yet it’s not so easy to turn around from the brink of death that way. Nevertheless, Skyler (Anna Gunn) and Junior (RJ Mitte) feel like having a party on the weekend. In celebration of Walt’s new found lease on life. “You‘ve got a lot to celebrate, don‘t you think?” Skyler quips. She puts her husband on bed rest then leaves him be for the day. He won’t have to have his soul crushed teaching high school today!
Instead he goes to meet Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) at a little restaurant out of the way. They chat about life and how things are looking up for Mr. White. For his part, Walter says he’s out of the business. So it seems.
Over at Casa chez White, everybody is partying. Lots of margaritas, finger foods, Walt sort of sulking to himself and giving an awkward speech for everyone. Still, everybody has a great time. But what starts to come out is Walt consistently feeling as if he’s not the man, that he isn’t taking care of his own business, on his own terms. When he truly is getting things done, just illegally. Skyler mentions Gretchen and Elliott Schwartz being the benefactors of his treatment, and this just bites at poor Walt. Though I shouldn’t say poor Walt. Because later on, as he and Hank (Dean Norris) sit talking, drinking, he ends up going a little too far and getting Junior drunk off his ass on tequila. This winds up with the kid puking into the family pool. Not a nice scene at a party. Also, it brings out a primitive caveman battle of wits between Hank and Walt after the former is talking all about the cartel shit with Tortuga, talking tough as he does. It’s the fact Hank tries to take over fatherly duties that irks Walt and prompts him to act like a downright savage beast. Nobody’s impressed to say the least.
Jesse tries to make huevos rancheros for Jane (Krysten Ritter) in the morning like a sweetheart. It isn’t the greatest, but he really tried. They plan on spending the whole day together. Y’know, because he has a day of from being a meth cook and distributor.
Meanwhile, Walt has one hell of a headache and hangover. As well as the fact he made a complete asshole of himself in front of everyone at his house, and pissed off his wife hugely. Saddest is that Junior feels as if he had to keep up with his father. That makes Walt feel low, like it should. He did a shitty thing. Personally, I’m an alcoholic – recovering, sober now almost 6 years as of this writing – and I’ve never once let being drunk excuse my shit behaviour. So Walt deserves to feel terribly after treating his son as some sort of macho bargaining chip in a war with his brother-in-law. Petty.
So what he does to go about changing the situation, as well as to help himself feel like a man, is try to fix the hot water tank in his house. Plus the infesting rot he’s so concerned with apparently. At the store a poignant moment happens: Walt is paying in cash, obviously, and finds one of his bills with a bloody fingerprint on it. Classy, Walt. All class.
Jane and Jesse get much closer now, as she looks through his drawings. He used to do some serious doodling. Superheroes and such, like KangaMan, Rewindo, and other awesome creations. Too bad he never kept drawing. Could’ve had a career in comics, instead of being a meth dealer, and drug addict. Out of nowhere, Jane hears a knock at her door. It is in fact her father, owner of the property, Donald Margolis (John de Lancie). Jesse is taken aback when she acts professionally with him instead of like a boyfriend in front of her dad. He feels incredibly slighted actually. Later, she comes back and he isn’t thrilled that she acts like it was nothing. She totally disregards his feelings, so Jesse leaves.
Jesse: “I‘m talking about us”
Jesse: “Yeah. You and me.”
Jane: “Who‘s you and me?”
Walt is driving everybody a little nuts with his renovations. Mostly Skyler, whose unimpressed demeanour with his drunken performance doesn’t seem to be washing off too quick. Anyways, Walt has rot to deal with – “fruiting bodies” and rampaging fungus. He’s really just projecting onto the house. Trying to find something to make him feel useful again after getting out of the meth business. Now that he’s not cooking, all that time is filled with dead air. Space he can’t handle.
The first inkling of trouble with Ted Beneke (Christopher Cousins) comes when Skyler starts asking about a particular account. However, he brushes it off. Then she starts crying, bringing her personal life right into the office for Ted to see. This is definitely not good. For anybody. Bringing Ted in closer won’t help his massive, obvious crush on her. Doesn’t help that she later starts to egg it on purposefully by knocking things over for him to pick up and so on.
Rejected, Jesse crawls back into the pipe. He sits in his living room and smokes meth trying to forget about the pain he’s experiencing. I feel terribly for Jesse, out of all the characters in the show. He was never a great dude, but the life he’s led into now through business with Walt is excruciating. But Jane apologizes at least, via drawing. So that’s something in his dismal existence.
My favourite sequence in any episode of this series comes at the end here. Walt goes out late to a hardware shop. There he notices someone picking up… familiar supplies. He tries giving the young tweaker advice, but the dude runs off. Then Walt, new found bad ass, takes it into his hands to warn a man outside waiting for the tweaker: “Stay out of my territory.” It is one of the single most powerful moments of the entire series. He says fuck the renovations. Now, he’s back in Heisenberg business. When he says those words to the man, an obviously bigger and scarier guy, we finally see the dangerous confidence inside Walt clear as day. Never before is it more plain and palpable. Gives me goosebumps each time I see it. Just amazing, chilling, heavy at once. Add to that a great song called “DLZ” by TV on the Radio, a fantastic group of musicians; it has the perfect feel for this specific moment and those lines.
This episode builds up so much. The next one is titled “Mandala” and gets things energized even more heading towards the end of Season 2.
AMC’s Breaking Bad
Season 2, Episode 4: “Down”
Directed by John Dahl
Written by Sam Catlin
* For a review of the previous episode, “Bit by a Dead Bee” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Breakage” – click here
At the start of this episode we’re given a black-and-white flash forward. The only item not in black-and-white is a pink teddy bear floating in a pool. Above the water, someone in a Hazmat-like suit peers down at it. They remove the bear and bag it, alongside a ton of other things bagged, tagged, and laid out across the side of the pool. Including glasses which look strangely like those belonging to Walter White (Bryan Cranston).
Cut back to the current timeline. Jesse (Aaron Paul) stops his bike at a store where he says hello sweetly to a homeless man outside before heading in. Inside, he meets Walt. A real clandestine affair, as they chat across a magazine rack and other areas of the aisle. The big problem is that Jesse is broke, and waiting for Walt to get things settled at home before they can cook again isn’t flying well. Again, money is the great divider between the partners.
Walt’s busy at home trying to be the perfect dad and husband, making up for his strange episode. He’s making breakfast for the family, doing the dishes, trying to get everybody on his side. Not sure it’ll work for Skyler, though Walt Jr (RJ Mitte) is properly impressed, as we all know his fondness for breakfast foods. But the look on Skyler’s face says it all, never quite able to fully trust her husband after all the doubts that have crept into her head. Things are only negatively exacerbated when Walt comes up with a pitiful lie about his second cellphone likely just being an alarm he set for taking medication.
Out of nowhere, Skyler disappears. She just up and leaves, freaking Walt out and causing confusion. Maybe deserved, on Walt’s part. Maybe a little passive-aggressive, as well.
In other news, Jesse is meeting with his parents (Tess Harper/Michael Bofshever). Turns out they’ve discovered the meth making – well, they call it speed – what’s been going on in that house, so they’re kicking the poor guy out. Nowhere for him to live any more. Didn’t help Hank (Dean Norris) showed up to try finding him, which led his mother to the makeshift laboratory. Nevertheless, things aren’t looking good for Jesse. Suffice to say, if he didn’t have bad luck he’d have no luck at all. The relationship Jesse has with his parents deteriorates completely now, as they have no remorse whatsoever about throwing him out on the streets. Understandably they’re disappointed in him. Yet is it the best thing to do to toss someone out on the street when he’s got absolutely nothing left? Not so sure that’s proper tough love. At least make sure he isn’t homeless first.
Skyler eventually turns up at the house again, offering no explanations or condolences for Walt. This hurts him, though she’s sure of the hurt he caused her with his lies. It’s almost as if she knows the fugue state was a load of bullshit. Meanwhile, Walt feels a little slighted when he discovers Walt Jr likes to be called Flynn nowadays. Sort of slap in the face to the patriarch’s name. But as Skyler puts it, he simply wants his “own identity” instead of being a Junior all the time.
One of the saddest scenes yet sees Jesse looking for a place to stay. He goes to see an old buddy who used to play in a band with him. The guy has a kid that he’s trying to feed, a wife coming home not pleased to see Pinkman hovering around. It’s such a tragic sort of moment, especially when his buddy’s wife is clearly not having any of the situation. Just to see Jesse in juxtaposition with the family life, people moving onward and upward while he’s stuck cooking meth and getting booted out of his home onto the streets, it is a heart wrenching moment. Great writing that draws out more characterization and development in Jesse. Nobody will help Jesse, everybody either unwilling or holding onto past grudges, et cetera. Things get even worse when he discovers his bike stolen from the parking lot where he’s making calls.
This leads Jesse to the only place of which he can think – where the Winnebago is being stored by Badger’s cousin Clovis (Tom Kiesche). He breaks in through the gate climbing on top of a portable outhouse. Then he goes right through, into the blue liquid and the piss and the shit and who knows what else. Perfect. He’s stained blue, leaving a trail everywhere he goes right up into the vehicle where he spends the night crying with a gas mask on, trying to sleep, and dry heaving. This only leads Clovis right to him prompting an eventual getaway in the Winnebago. Although, Jesse does promise to go back with the cash.
An interesting scene sees Walt tell his son about “the easy way” and “the right way“, as if he holds some moral high ground. Such a scene can easily be watched as insignificant, but it shows us how morally corrupt Walt is in acting like he’s still able to claim a pride in what he does to support his family. Because never forget, part of why Walt’s career with Grey Matter never went ahead further was because of personal issues – ones that he ultimately let come between him and a bigger career. Not saying they were small issues, they were big, deep ones. But that’s just something I’ve always thought about while considering Walt and his actions. People think it’s admirable he lives so dangerously to provide for hi family. I find it reprehensible on a lot of levels, which gradually reveal themselves episode after episode. When Walt and Skyler chat later, their rift only opens further and threatens to swallow them whole. Even with Walt and his bullshit, her passive-aggressiveness does nothing to help. Though I side with Skyler more than a lot of people seemed to this behaviour is kind of childish, and not talking directly, openly to Walt in lieu of being cryptic only serves to make their problems larger. Things escalate before she can actually ask him what’s been happening. So by then, he’s further inclined to lie and deflect, just as she does. And the cycle perpetuates itself into a vicious spin.
Walt (to Skyler): “Do you know what I’ve done for this family?”
Jesse’s parked outside the White place in the Winnebago. This creates another conflict now, between the two partners. But the younger of the two is desperate, and Walt takes out his frustrations on him. It all builds to a fight between them. A sad fight. They’re both broken men in their own ways. You can never tell which one is more than the other.
My favourite moment comes nearing the end when, after the fight, Walt invites Jesse into his home and then soon asks: “You want some breakfast?” Because that’s the only way Walt can say he’s sorry. He doesn’t know how to actually repent, but rather tries to make it up in practical ways, even to Jesse.
In a car outside a store Skyler sits, pregnant visibly, lighting up a cigarette. A nearby woman is highly unimpressed. It signifies the fact Skyler is ready to throw caution to the wind, as Walt does with their family. To the point she is risking damage to their child. So the passive-aggressiveness continues long after their initial confrontation.
Another wonderful character driven episode. Next is titled “Breakage” and introduces some excellent plots to the second season.
Not considered one of his master works, Bergman's Hour of the Wolf is a shattering rumination on what it is mentally to be and live with an artist.
The Bunny Game. 2010. Directed by Adam Rehmeier. Story by Rodleen Getsic & Adam Rehmeier.
Starring Rodleen Getsic, Jeff F. Renfro, Drettie Page, Coriander Womack, Gregg Gilmore, Loki, Curtis Reynolds, and Jason Timms. Death Mountain Productions.
Unrated. 76 minutes.
Sometimes there comes along a film that is so dreary and needlessly graphic that I question why it was ever made. Now, before anyone says “Well if you can’t handle it then that’s not the film’s problem”, let me tell you this – I’ve seen plenty of disgusting, disturbing, outrageously graphic, gory, and beyond fucked up films in my time. I’ve seen a little over 4,100 movies in total. Many, many of those are horror. I’ve seen my fair share of good horror, as well as a lion’s share of terribly made, awful horror movies. I own Cannibal Holocaust, which is a nasty piece of work, and I’ve actually seen Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom one more than once occasion – don’t ask me why. Plus, I’d actually consider those good horror. Then there’s the type of stuff I’ve just about perished while trying to watch, like the absolutely terrible August Underground stuff; pure, utter tripe, does nothing for the genre except make it look awful. Realistic? Sure. Realism does equate to quality, though.
So when I say that The Bunny Game is a grim and dreary, nasty piece of work, I’m saying it in the sense that it is all that but nothing comes of it. It’s not a good film overall. Ultimately, this is one of those brutal horror films which goes nowhere with what it’s trying to accomplish, and by the end you’re just wondering: A) why didn’t I turn this off sooner?, and B) I hope nobody makes a sequel to this one.
Either way, the result of The Bunny Game is not, as some no doubt paid crew members have spouted off on IMDB and other sites, in any way the reinvention of the genre. No way, shape, or form is it anything close. I never like to rag too hard on a film, but unfortunately for this one I just cannot find the words to express anything enjoyable or positive about any aspect of this muggy turd.
Bunny (Rodleen Getsic) is an unfortunate soul, left on the streets – who knows what her sad story truly is – and resorting to prostitution.
She goes from one motel room to the next, searching for another meal, trying to stay high and alive. She squats and pees on the side of the road because she has nowhere else to go. She’s also so coked up that she passes out; one of Bunny’s customers goes ahead and has sex with her anyways, then proceeds to loot the bag she carries around constantly. After waking up to find the trust backpack empty, she loses her mind. But it’s just back out on the street once more, on to another miserable day.
Finally, she gets picked up by a trucker who wants to do some drugs with her; he needs a pick me up after a long stretch on the road. But that’s not all he wants – Bunny is taken hostage, thrown into the back of his truck, where a camera is setup, there are chains, and the trucker has plenty of sick games in mind for the poor, lonely girl.
At times we’re treated to these shots that go on for what feels like eternity, and I’m truly at a loss as to why they’re in film. I get that the trucker guy this insane dude, is supposed to be developed slightly before things get going into the brutality full-on. However, having this man just walk around a little, smoke some cigarettes, drive – I mean, what’s the purpose? Perhaps if there were some nuisance, subtlety in this character, or in the performance, there’d be a reason to focus so much on him in such a languid, boring way. The camera’s not doing anything interesting, we’re simply watching this man. There’s nothing going on much in his face, in his mannerisms, though, I suspect there should be. We’re just not seeing much.
Then he climbs into the back of the truck with Bunny, who is out completely cold, and the real misogyny and nastiness begins. I honestly loathe the stupid “torture porn” label because I think it’s stupid, although I realize what the label is meant to convey. That being said, I’d go ahead and say this is the concept of “torture porn” at its worst, at the most base and vile it can be on film. We’ve got to watch this mental trucker suck on Bunny’s nipples, play with her earlobes and other weird sexual stuff. It’s fine to have a character that deranged in the movie, but why do you have to explicitly show all this stuff? Only makes things disgusting. There’s nothing scary about what he’s doing, it’s the same as watching a badly lit, poorly shot pornographic movie that’s all about sadomasochism and extreme bondage. That’s pretty much what this whole section felt like, as he trucker revels in having Bunny captured in the back of his truck’s trailer. You don’t have to go subtle on every last creepy/scary scene. For me, though, I find there needs to be some sort of tension through not having to graphically see every last bit of the nasty business. Adam Rehmeier says fuck that. Leave nothing to the imagination.
Also, just the fact that the trucker does a bunch of nonsense supposedly “crazy” stuff, it really took me out of things. So much overacting. Awful, really. I thought it was bad, others think he’s some kind of amazing villain. Seriously? I couldn’t get into it. One bit of bad shlock after the other. Huff gas – go crazy – laugh – tell Bunny to shut up or shhhh – repeat.
The black-and-white also did nought for me. I honestly gave The Human Centipede II a star or so just because I found Tom Six’s use of black-and-white pretty interesting in some of the more tame scenes. They gave it a nice off-kilter feel that was very creepy. Here, The Bunny Game feels like it used black-and-white to try and force the idea that this is somehow an innovative or interesting film. There is nothing good about the movie and the use of black-and-white only made things more dismal; not in a good sense.
Ultimately, the whole movie is a bunch of perverse nonsense, mixed with Rodleen Getsic screaming at the top of her lungs a little, plus a ton of quiet, boring moments with the trucker doing nothing at all. Honestly, I don’t jump on a film for the sake of jumping on it. I’m actually one of the types who is often a fan of films people hate – not as a rule, there are just a handful or so of movies I love that others despise (like Exorcist II – fucking love it!). But I just simply can’t bring myself to like what Adam Rehmeier has done here. There’s nothing inspiring in terms of the horror genre, it’s a retread through territory we’ve seen before, just as nasty, but there are plenty of so-called “torture porn” films out there which aren’t this terribly made or as horrid for no purpose.
I also saw, maybe on Bloody Disgusting or a similar site, that someone said this was extremely well edited. Is that truly their opinion? My good lord Satan. If they think this is masterful editing, I don’t want to see what they find to be bad examples of editing. Because this is, at times, like a black-and-white music video on crack. There’s a frenetic quality to it that’s absolute irritating, as well as fairly useless in my opinion. I really hated the way this was edited, and to think others found that to be one of its best, probably its only, good aspect – I can’t fathom what other poor movies they think contain nice editing. There’s not a moment where I found myself impressed by any of the technical side to The Bunny Game. I’m not trying to be mean: there’s nothing here that’s any good.
In all good conscience, I cannot give this film a single star. On IMDB, you can’t give 0 ratings, so if you happen to come across my ratings page on there and see it has 1 star, versus my 0 here, just remember: they won’t let you do it.
There is not a solitary redeeming aspect of The Bunny Game. It aims to be terrifying and disturbing, and while it may come across as the later at plenty of moments there’s nothing overall scary about this film. There’s not an ounce of suspense or tension in the whole lot; that’s enough to kill any horror. The acting is bad. There’s mostly a lot of yelling and screaming and spitting and weird touching and sexualization at every near, but no good acting, the script is complete trash, and the thing is filmed poorly.
I suggest that you see this only if you’re a completist, or if you’re one of those people who gets off on terrible horror that borders on the line of being the recreation of a snuff film. Otherwise, pick up a better bit of horror and have yourself an enjoyably creepy view! This didn’t make me feel anything, not for a second, and if a horror doesn’t scare me, even in the slightest sense, I don’t see what the point of it is in the end.
The Human Centipede II: Full Sequence. 2011. Directed and Written by Tom Six.
Starring Laurence R. Harvey, Ashlynn Yennie, Maddi Black, Kandace Caine, Dominic Borrelli, Lucas Hansen, Lee Nicholas Harris, Dan Burman, Daniel Jude Gennis, Georgia Goodrick, and Emma Lock. Six Entertainment Company.
Unrated. 91 minutes.
I’d always known from the subtitle of First Sequence in the first film, Tom Six would continue on to do more work on sequels. I think that was always his plan because it seems that subtitle intended right away there would be further films in the series.
That being said, I’m not particular thrilled that Tom Six decided to keep going. While I do find the premise of The Human Centipede II: Full Sequence, I think Six would do far better moving onto something else and putting his unique touch on another film. That’s his choice, however, and I’ve got nothing to do with it.
It only frustrates me because the first movie was a decent horror, and the beginning of this movie sets up an interesting premise, yet Six squanders the potential.
There’s a bit of a deeper idea behind this sequel. Certainly it’s meta, beyond the concept of meta, which is actually something I love. Though it’s only a bit of shock horror, much unlike the method Six went for in the first film, I feel like Six has a bit of a message here. It’s still just blood and gore and depravity, but the main character sort of speaks to the obsession people have with horror. I don’t know if, ultimately, Six is mocking people who think horror/disturbing films have an overall negative effect on people, or if he’s saying there are some twisted fucks out there who might be sitting at home or at their dead-end jobs plotting to use horror movie scripts as their own M.O. Not sure, but regardless, I think beyond all the cheap horror Six brings for this lacklustre sequel, there is some kind of commentary on horror movies, and how we as viewers interact with that horror as either detractors or fans.
Meet Martin (Laurence R. Harvey) – he’s a loner, mentally ravaged by his parents, living with his mother in a terrible sort of flat on a dreary housing complex. He is a nightshift security guard in a below ground parking lot. There, he watches The Human Centipede: First Sequence, fantasizing about applying the fictional Dr. Heiter’s methods to real life and making himself a real Human Centipede. At home, he is plagued by his mother’s hatred, tough guy neighbours who want to play their music however loud they feel, and a creepy doctor who seems to take an affection to Martin, though, the wrong kind.
Slowly, Martin begins to collect victims so that he might eventually create the fabled Human Centipede. It isn’t only a will to kill and hurt. Martin is beyond turned on by the prospect of connecting all his victims, mouth to anus, anus to mouth. He is a vile, wretched human being.
Thus begins the vicious and menacing sequel which is: The Human Centipede II: Full Sequence.
Before I let loose on what I don’t like about this sequel, I’ll start with the few portions I actually really do enjoy about Full Sequence.
There’s something about the choice to film this in black-and-white that interests me. Not sure what Six was attempting to accomplish. Perhaps it’s because of how hardcore the gore and sick imagery is in the film, Six decided to go with black-and-white to try and counteract how vicious things look; if it were colour, I can only begin to fathom how brutal it might end up being. Black-and-white can really give off a natural feeling when used appropriately. I think Six does well with this concept, though, it does not help to really tone things down in the end because there’s just so much rottenness happening. Taking the colour out so that the blood and guts and nasty bits don’t look as vibrant and in your face, for this film, does nothing to lessen the blow. Maybe that’s not why Six chose to do this black-and-white, maybe he just imagined it would look a bit artsy and give the film some credibility. I don’t know.
I do think that at times this really works. The scenes at home with Martin and his mother, all those bits, they were spectacular as black-and-white. Honestly, if the depravity level weren’t skyrocketing into the outer atmosphere near Mars, this movie would have done well with the black-and-white scheme. I don’t think it hurts the horror, it does not detract. I just feel as if the horror here is for horror’s sake. I know that the story itself dictates how much blood and gore will come out – it’s all based around Martin’s obsession and sick lust over the original film. But still, I loved the first Human Centipede because, though highly disturbing subject matter, it felt like it was more restrained than I’d expected, and Six really put together a decent horrifying film.
The black-and-white idea is really something when it comes to a lot of scenes. Even that savage moment where Martin kills his mother, drags her to the table, then has a little bit to eat before egging on the musclehead upstairs and subduing him to add to his Centipede; I found this a chilling bit of horror. Honestly, if Martin hadn’t succeeded to even put together the Centipede, this might’ve worked. Then I guess that would defeat the purpose, there has got to be a form of the Centipede somewhere throughout the film. The end result doesn’t spoil the good black-and-white scenes, but I wish Six could’ve done something better with it all.
My big problems with The Human Centipede II: Full Sequence have to do with the excess of gratuitous EVERYTHING. Not only does Six go for more disgusting sequences of nasty gore, he pulls in a lot of sexuality. Now, I’ve just finished with reviewing the Wrong Turn series (I, II, III, IV, V, VI), and part of my problem especially with the later entries was that there was a lot of sex and nudity brought in to either fill time, or from some perceived notion that there needed to be some sex in order to be true to “horror roots” (which is nonsense; I won’t go any further on that). Six does exactly this with his sequel. While Martin (Laurence Harvey) could have been just as sick and maniacal without so much of the sexual aspects being played up, and graphically most of the time onscreen, Six still opts to pile it on when it comes to the sex, as well as nudity.
The whole aspect of Martin obviously being abused by his father is fine. That’s understandable, especially dealing with a psychopath like Martin; he’s bound to have a history of sexual abuse, or any abuse. But Six lays it on way too hard. There’s enough outright and graphic imagery here without having to full-on show us every last single little thing.
C’mon, Tom! You can leave bits to the imagination while still having your nasty fun.
Basically, I think it comes down to Six’s lack of worry as a screenwriter. I hate to say that, and it’s not to say he can’t write, but I just feel like too much of this sequel (as opposed to the first film) relies on shock horror and the “torture porn” aspect of his story instead of going for real tension and suspense. The first had some excellent moments of tension that worked, but here that’s almost non-existent. Six has the ability to write, it’s just as if he doesn’t want to at times.
This is one of those horror movies that goes way over-the-top with its excessive blood, gore, and overall nastiness. I know that’s probably exactly what Tom Six set out to accomplish, and perhaps that’s the total of his expectations for the film. Unfortunately, for me anyways, I really did think that the first Human Centipede was a good horror – for all its flaws, it was effective and it didn’t need to go far over the line. It gave enough to get enough of the reaction needed. Here, Six surpassed was is needed to effectively communicate the disturbed world of Martin, the loner security guard and Dr. Josef Heiter obsessive fan. I think the combination of all the ridiculous gore while Martin creates his Centipede and the depraved sexuality that’s going on at certain points (worst case: Martin humps on one of his victims collected for the Centipede and it is horrifyingly sickening) really made things too much to even enjoy. For the people who love shock horror, and dare I say it “torture porn” (again I fucking hate that label), I guess it’s really enjoyable.
But to me, this goes beyond shock horror, or whatever you want to call it. Martin shits himself, he farts and he makes disgusting noises, and at certain times during the film I was saying aloud, “Are you fucking kidding me?” Once again – maybe that’s the point Mr. Six is trying to get at, maybe that’s what he wants from me as a member of his audience. I just don’t find it to be good horror, nor is it enjoyable on any level when things get to the point of ridiculously staged debauchery and murder.
Don’t even get me started on the fact that, without all the proper medical equipment and knowledge, I don’t see how a guy like Martin, dumb and fucked up in the head as he is, could ever manage to successfully staple and tape together a Human Centipede. Not even touching the fact he had what, twelve people, ten? I mean, that’s just brutal.
I can only give Full Sequence a half of one star. Honestly, I really did dig a lot of what Tom Six did in the first film, but this one is just an absolute mess – as we say here in Newfoundland, Canada, it’s a real fuckin’ state. What a brutal movie – and in no way do I mean that as complimentary. I thought a lot of the black-and-white was great when it involved the scenes at Martin’s flat, with his mother, et cetera. Even a few of the moments with him in the parking garage complex, before his big creation began, I found fairly well done and the black-and-white helped its creepy atmosphere. However, that does not keep up long.
In the end, there’s too much gross-out horror at work. The shock horror, the “torture porn” is all too evident. Some might say, “What did you expect?”. Well, frankly, I expected Six to follow up his decent start of the series with something near equal to what he’d done. What he did was try only to gross us out – nothing more. Maybe that’s fine for some, but even with the gory horror (think more modern like Martyrs – tons of gore and a great story) I often like to have at least some semblance of well-intentioned writing and coherence. Here, Six cops out, and instead of writing something that could’ve worked terrorizing wonders on his captive audience, all we get is the full toilet humour most jokes about The Human Centipede films cover. There’s no attempt at creating genuine horror. Here you’ll only find the disgusting, the nasty, and the wretchedly vile.
BEWARE: in the last fifteen minutes there is some truly atrocious stuff happening – I’m not one to get disgusted, I have seen so many rotten and over-the-top disgusting horror flicks, but this one really took my stomach for a whirl. It’s not that which ultimately bothers me, it’s the fact this stuff has no real purpose other than shock. In the first film, there was at least an attempt on Six’s part to come up with something that was uniquely terrifying, this is just nothing but cheap gross-out horror and failed attempts at (crazily) dark humour.
P.S. Why does that mother step on her baby? Did I miss something? I get it – she wanted to get away. But would a new mother who’d just traumatically popped out her child really just go ahead and step on the gas pedal, crushing her infant child? Is that actually plausible? She couldn’t pick the thing up, toss it in the passenger seat with the umbilical cord and drive away?
Come on, Tom – you can do better. Or I don’t know, maybe the “What did you expect?” crowd is right – maybe I should expect nothing more than perversity and needless gross-out horror from you. I’m about to watch the third instalment, who knows what it holds in store for me!
The Babadook. 2014. Directed & Written by Jennifer Kent.
Starring Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, and Tim Purcell. Entertainment One.
This movie certainly has been hyped up a lot as of late. Several critics who’ve written about it all seemed to enjoy it a great deal. Most recently, William Friedkin (for the uninitiated – the legendary director of classics such as The Exorcist, Sorcerer, The French Connection, and Cruising just to name a few) said he’s “never seen a more terrifying film than The Babadook… it will scare the hell out of you as it did me“. If that isn’t praise of the highest order, I do not know what is – the director of one of the most, arguably the most, scary film of all time basically said this film is going to give you nightmares.
While I don’t disagree whatsoever with anyone saying this movie is an absolutely terrifying piece of modern horror, I sometimes wish people wouldn’t hype up a film too early before people are able to see it. Not that a film such as The Babadook can’t handle the hype – on the contrary, this movie can eat your soul if you let it. There are times hype can often dull a person’s opinion going into a viewing. Unfortunately, we live in modern times, and such a life, without hype, really no longer exists.
But like I said, The Babadook delivers what the hype has promised. In piles.
Jennifer Kent wrote and directed this film about a recently widowed mother Amelia (Davis) whose late husband died in a car crash while they were on the way to the hospital for her to give birth to their son, Samuel (Wiseman).
Smash cut to 7 years later. Amelia and Samuel aren’t exactly having an easy time with things. Even auntie Claire doesn’t seem to want to be around Sam; everyone thinks he’s weird. Soon, he has to be taken out of school awhile because of his behaviour. Sam doesn’t sleep much anymore. He also starts building weapons to fight off monsters. One night, Sam asks his mother to read him a book; it’s a strange looking, red velvet-ish covered book called “Mister Babadook”, and is filled with strange, twisted imagery. Try and try as she might, Amelia cannot seem to get rid of the book. Her first inclination is that somebody may be stalking her and Sam. Eventually she realizes there are more sinister forces at work.
The plot of The Babadook is really great because it poses as something we’ve seen before yet when things get down to the nitty gritty, this film stands out on its own.
The story is essentially about the darkness of our own minds; fear, guilt, rage. For instance, you always hear the best things about motherhood – aside from throwaway jokes, you never hear moms, especially a relatively new mom, talking about how terrible it can be sometimes when you’re alone, on your own, just you and a screaming, inconsolable child. Kent explores the frightening territory of such stories.
I don’t mean to say Kent is trying to make it seem like all mothers have homicidal thoughts concerning their children or anything. The Babadook is a story that comes down to the dark side of human nature.
The ending, though I won’t actually give it away, is a perfect example of how Kent uses Mister Babadook as a type of metaphor for the darkness and the ugly parts we hide; the things we stuff down, but eventually can, and will, boil up, and maybe even burn somebody. In the last scene when Amelia comes up from the basement and meets Sam in the backyard, her son asks how it went, to which she replies something along the lines of “not as bad today”. Sam looks brightly at his mother with a smile on his face, looking proud, and says “it’s getting better mum”. Right there, you can see how the ending (the basement, et cetera) is a metaphor concerning the darkness, the grief, all the rage and bad feelings – you can never get rid of it (just like The Babadook), it will always be there, however, you learn to live with it, you lock it away, feed it now and then, and go on with your life.
Or maybe it’s just a scary movie about a creepy, supernatural figure like something out of a German Expressionist film from the 1920s or 1930s. Who knows. Jennifer Kent wrote it, not me. Although I like how I interpreted it – works for me.
One of the things I really enjoyed was the acting on behalf of Essie Davis. She knocked out a powerhouse performance here. Without a strong female to play the lead here, the film would not be the same. Had a lesser actress been trusted to hold this up, I’m not sure it would have the same effect. She was spectacular. Previously I’d only seen her in the TV adaptation of The Slap. Here, she really impressed.
And honestly, I have to say the same for little Noah Wiseman who played Samuel. There were times I felt his terror was genuine. His face is very expressive. A lot of people online seem to give the consensus they were annoyed with his character; me, I loved it. He was at times the innocent looking little lad Kent wanted him to be. Others, he was able to convey pure terror and a lot of emotion. Good job on his part.
Another couple noteworthy aspects of the whole production I love include:
– Jed Kurzel’s score: this guy has fast become one of my favourite composers in film as of late. His often quiet, rhythmic scores are beautiful accompaniment to the movies he works on. Previously I’ve really enjoyed his scores for Snowtown, Dead Europe, and now of course The Babadook. There’s something about the way he scores which makes the music feel like an undercurrent to the film, carrying it along the way a proper score should, and adding to the intensity of emotional or scary moments. The score in this film was a nice and subdued addition I really thought made some of the frightening scenes work even better than expected.
– The look of Mister Babadook himself. The very first time we get a bit of a glimpse at him, I was jarred. As I said before, there’s certainly an element of German Expressionism from the early 20th century in there (think The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), which of course I really dig. Looks a lot different than most anything you’ll see nowadays. Instead of going for some demon-like creature, or a monster, Kent opts for a human-looking being with a sort of top hat, long black coat, and eerily long fingers. The face is what really gets me, and I think that’s the part that really reminds me of Caligari specifically. Even the way Babadook moves (the part where he descends upon Amelia in her bed from the ceiling scared the life out of me) reminds me of an old silent film. Very, very creepy.
Overall, I don’t hesitate in giving Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook a raging 5 out of 5. There’s nothing wrong with this movie. While I could’ve done without one part later in the film (a very brief moment in the basement where Amelia throws up; I felt there wasn’t much need of it really is all – not a dealbreaker by any means), everything is absolutely flawless. I can’t find anything I did not like about this film. The suspense and tension was there – that’s one thing I always love in a great horror. If there isn’t any sort of build, no tense moments leading to a greater fear, there’s just no way I’m going to really be genuinely creeped out, and certainly no chance the film will scare me to death. And that is what I’m looking for – I want to be frightened beyond belief.
The Babadook really scared me. There’s no blood and guts. In fact, there are only very quick shots where any blood or anything similar is shown. With this film, what you’re signing on for is truly psychological terror. This isn’t about death here so much as it’s about fear – it’s about the darkness in our hearts, in our minds. This film succeeds in bringing the darkness. Mister Babadook is a horror legend already, as far as I’m concerned. Kent really did a fascinating and unsettling job with this horror. Cannot recommend it enough to do the film justice.
The Babadook is now available on VOD through Amazon and iTunes, as well as finally on DVD and Blu ray.
Psycho. 1960. Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. Written by Joseph Stefano; based on the novel by Robert Bloch.
Starring Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam, and John McIntire. Universal Studios Home Entertainment.
Rated PG. 109 minutes.
★★★★★ (Blu ray release)
For those who don’t know, Psycho tells the tale of Marion Crane who decides to take off on a whim with $40,000 trusted to her by her boss. While tired on the road, Maron stops off at the Bates Motel to get a room for the night. There, she meets a young man named Norman Bates; he lives up on the hill in the big house next to the motel. Norman seems fine, albeit a bit quirky, so Marion even has a low key supper with him at the motel.
However, Norman isn’t quite fine. See, Norman lives with his mother, just the two of them, and their relationship is, well – a bit odd to say the least. Once Marion goes missing, her sister, lover, and the police start sniffing around, and Norman starts to see a little more traffic at the Bates Motel – much to his dismay.
This was my first introduction to Alfred Hitchcock. It’s funny – the movie is rated PG, directed by one of the most famous (arguably the most famous) filmmakers of all-time, contains definitely the most famous murder scene ever filmed if not the most famous scene period, and it’s classified as a horror.
In fact, a lot of people would say Psycho is the most influential horror film of all time, giving rise to the modern slasher in some respects (you can’t totally give this film all the credit because other films like Peeping Tom, and much later John Carpenter’s Halloween, really were a large part of that as well).
I just find it amazing how Hitchcock was able to put such a disturbing story on film, including the infamous shower scene (though the scene itself really isn’t graphic especially in terms of modern audiences and how desensitized we all are from not only film but the barrage of insane videos we now see on everything from CNN to YouTube), and yet still keep the rating PG. Of course, the ratings system has changed a little between now and then. It’s still rather amazing.
The story of Psycho itself is incredible. I continually find it exciting even though I’ve seen it dozens of times, I know how things will play out, and yet viewing after viewing it holds up. I still feel a rush of panic for Norman (even though I clearly shouldn’t – a testament to both Bloch’s novel and Hitchcock’s filmmaking) as he tries to clean up Marion Crane’s room after Mother has had her fun. Just the way Perkins rushes around and frantically tries to cover things up. Just thinking about the time it was written, the time it was set, I love to imagine what it must’ve been like for serial killers pre-media frenzy surrounding people like Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, the Green River Killer, et cetera. Poor Norman was ahead of his time. He didn’t know how these things were supposed to go. Watching him try to navigate the rough terrain of being a killer while still obviously being a fragile boy, almost a man-child, is really good stuff. It’s a disturbing tale, but Norman really does elicit both fear in us, as well as some form of pity; even on the most base of levels. And just the way in which Marion and Norman end up meeting, a real chance moment in time, is brilliant. The first time I saw the film, I was really surprised at how their two storylines converged, and suddenly it all became about Norman. Wonderful storytelling. No wonder Hitchcock was drawn to Bloch’s novel. Stefano really took the novel and turned into something his own, which Hitchcock in turn worked very well with; their picture of Norman Bates, as opposed to Bloch’s, turned the character into a much more sympathetic type person, and this really worked for the film’s plot quite well.
The entire film is one of those truly beautiful collaborative efforts. Everything here comes together to make a perfect movie. The cinematography, the sound, the script – I love it. Hitchcock weaved an intricate film here out of what could’ve been a simple effort from another lesser filmmaker.
For instance, on the Blu ray release from Universal there is a feature which looks at the infamous shower scene how it is presented in the finished film, and also a look at the scene without its music. Right there, it is so perfectly evident Psycho could not have been what it was if it hadn’t used all of its elements together to create the fear, shock, and tension. While the shower scene is still very disturbing without the score over top, there’s something extra that comes along with the score. In the quiet, you can hear Janet Leigh breathing, you hear the water falling from the shower head, all of it. With the score, you watch everything happen while the orchestral score behind the scene pounds out, creepy and loud, reinforcing all the stabs, the gasps, everything. Works so god damn well it’s fiendish.
As a film, Psycho is a perfect, flawless work of art. It isn’t hype. This is not a film you hear about all the time, being raved about and drooled over, just because it’s by Alfred Hitchcock, or just because it is considered classic. This is a magnificent piece of work, all around. There is no hype – what you see is what you get. Hitchcock was a master, no doubt. This film, while influential and all that, is just a cracking good piece of movie history. Full stop.
The Blu ray release from Universal Studios Home Entertainment is one of the better titles sitting on my shelf. It is packed to the brim with extras. Though I don’t care for the Truffaut interview (I think his films are wonderful but his opinions are often divisive in a negative way and, in my humble opinion, sort of bullshit at least when it comes to the original novel Psycho by Bloch), the rest of the features here are just so sweet.
There are the typical Making Of featurettes, however, the major one here goes through everything from the story, how it was adapted and found, et cetera, to pre-production, production, and post – the whole nine yards; it’s a 90-minutes documentary that is totally worth the time to watch. There’s a nice feature about the sound of the film, including how they restored everything for the Blu ray. My favourite, though, is the Shower Scene breakdown I mentioned before – you get to see the scene back-to-back in its finished form with the scene having the score taken out, as well as great little storyboards by Saul Bass. These are absolutely brilliant pieces of extras to include. Fascinating stuff. The commentary is done by Stephen Rebello, author of Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of ‘Psycho’.
All in all, this release deserves every single bit of 5 out of 5 stars. There’s no way it deserves any less; it needs more. There are enough features here to keep you long busy after purchasing Psycho. On top of that, the transfer is pristine, and you’ll marvel at how beautiful it looks in glorious black and white.
I recommend every fan of this movie, every Hitchcock fan, go get this Blu ray now, sit down, and love every last single solitary, picturesque moment of it. There is nothing like this film, even today, even when so many other great films are made. Psycho itself is a classic, and always will be. It deserves to be remembered until the end of human existence – it’s one of those films.
Read my review for the second sequel to the original, the underrated Psycho III.
Seconds. 1966. Dir. John Frankenheimer. Screenplay by Lewis John Carlino; based on the novel by David Ely.
Starring Rock Hudson, Salome Jens, and John Randolph.
Cinematography by James Wong Howe. Edited by Ferris Webster.
Rated R. 106 minutes.
★★★★★ (Criterion Blu ray release)
John Frankenheimer has directed a few incredible films, which includes Birdman of Alcatraz, The Manchurian Candidate, The Iceman Cometh, Black Sunday, Ronin, and the fabulous sequel to the amazing French Connection. Despite those fantastic offerings, I believe Seconds is his best. It is a horrific vision of the future brought forward by an excellent central performance thanks to Rock Hudson, and a tight script by Lewis John Carlino adapted from David Ely’s original novel. Frankenheimer does a bang up job directing this film with some great help.
Seconds tells the tale of Arthur Hamilton who has lost interest in life. He has everything, seemingly, and isn’t happy. He comes across The Company. They specialize in giving those wealthy enough to afford it a type of transplant: they effectively transform a person into someone else, transplanting them into a new life. Eventually, Hamilton wakes up after a long debacle as Tony Wilson (Rock Hudson). From here, things get especially strange. His adapting to the new life is strange. Eventually at a party he has too much to drink, and starts rambling about the man ‘he used to be’. Things start to spiral out of his control.
He wants out of this new life, this second chance.
I think the story itself is scary enough on the surface. There are so many different sci-fi horrors I can think of straight off; so many things could go wrong. It’s like how people think of being invisible as a great thing, making you capable of so much, but they forget that the capabilities can also be horrible instead of positive. In fact, the final seven minutes of Seconds gives us one of the more unsettling endings possible for such a story. As Hudson is being brought to his reassignment, after not being able to adjust to the new life he was given, we suddenly realize all the cruel implications of such a service. I think the last few minutes of the film are some of the more creepy and terrifying moments I’ve ever seen, in any film. It doesn’t need any outright horror, no blood or violence. All this finale needed was the talents of Hudson and the incredibly bleak, and wonderful, writing of its script.
One of the most notable things about Seconds is the cinematography. Right from the very opening scene we become aware this is a distorted view of reality. It is in our faces. The camera shows strange angles. Shots are edited at a fast pace. It’s evident from the start this film is anything but typical. There is no wonder James Wong Howe got an Academy Award nomination for Best Cinematography (Black & White) because for a film made during the 1960s the camerawork is astonishing, and refreshingly original. While a lot of filmmakers were going the way of Kubrick [not saying this is a bad thing – I love Kubrick’s films, as do many – this is simply his school of film thought, in my opinion], that is to say many of them were focusing on framing scenes symmetrically and the like, Frankheimer and Howe chose a unique way to present the film. It helps the themes found in Seconds. The odd angles come at perfect times.
For instance, at a party when Hudson’s character has too much to drink, he starts spouting off about his former life. Unfortunately for Hudson, others who’ve undergone the same procedure as him are there, and they are watching him, keeping an eye on things, as they say. A bunch of men try to silence him. They drag him away, pin him down, and tell him what’s what. This scene could have been filmed in a very traditional fashion. Instead, we get fish-eye type views of the men, all gathering around, holding Hudson down. The camera makes it all frantic. You feel as drunk as the character, you feel as isolated and held down, both figuratively and literally. All in all, the camerawork really lends itself to the atmosphere and mood of Seconds, and the feelings it produces of being an outsider, or better an alien in someone else’s skin, in their life.
As a film, Seconds is absolutely a 5 star classic of a film. No doubt in my mind. There is not one thing wrong with this movie, and this is a reason why Criterion has chosen to preserve it. This film provides a masterclass in several areas of film: directing, writing, cinematography, acting. The whole masterpiece is a testament to collaborative effort. Without the work James Wong Howe did, for instance, there would be a hole left in the film. Likewise, the adaptation of Ely’s novel by Carlino is a solid work of writing. Without it the film wouldn’t have moved and flowed the way it does. Everything here is here for a reason. The whole machine works flawlessly. The story is absolutely incredible. I would rank this up there with any other psychological horror. This can also be seen as a real sci-fi horror, but it works so well as a psychological & dramatic horror I can’t help referring to it that way. Not to mention the fact Hudson is in this film; his own identity feels tied up in the role he plays, very much, and I think that adds a whole other level to Seconds.
The Blu ray Criterion release for Frankenheimer’s masterpiece serves the film quite well. There are a few wonderful interviews including Frankenheimer’s widow, Evans Frankenheimer, Salome Jens, and a great new interview with Alec Baldwin who knew Frankenheimer well. Of course there is also a visual essay by film scholars R. Barton Palmer and Murray Pomerance, and in the case itself Criterion provides a booklet which features an essay on the film by David Sterritt. Most Criterion releases are amazing. This is no exception to that rule.
The release certainly gets a 5 out of 5 rating. They could not have improved on the film technically any more. The picture is absolutely incredible. Black and white can sometimes transfer over to look choppy, but the transfer here is pristine; the picture comes across beautiful, each and every image stays striking and noticeable. I cannot complain whatsoever.
Particularly I have to mention the camerawork and how evidently gorgeous it looks on this release. Frankenheimer’s wife actually discusses a few of the more brilliant moments. Howe uses really sharp focus in a few points that really blows me away. Also, she references the scene with the diamond-shaped hallway, the strange look of it all, the dreamy & nightmarish qualities within. All of these bits come out in beautiful picture. The look of the film is just a revelation here. That alone is worth the price of this Criterion title.
See this film. Seconds is a marvelous masterpiece. I rave about it. There are too many moments to discuss in writing. I could sit with a group of people and talk about this one for hours. Maybe even days. Not only the look of the film, the camerawork, and all of it, but the story and all its implications. See this immediately, and get the Criterion Blu ray – you will not regret it.