Tagged Black Comedy

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2: Dark Comedy and the Repression of Leatherface

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. 1986. Directed by Tobe Hooper. Screenplay by L.M. Kit Carson.
Starring Dennis Hopper, Caroline Williams, Jim Siedow, Bill Moseley, Bill Johnson, Ken Evert, James N. Harrell, Lou Perryman, & Chris Douridas.
Cannon Films/Golan-Globus Productions.
Rated R. 101 minutes.
Comedy/Horror

★★★1/2
POSTER Horror sequels are often unduly shit on. Many, in my mind, are actually worth their weight in blood. Some are most certainly worse than the originals, or they simply don’t bring enough to merit considering it as even a worthwhile sequel. But a lot are great, such as the often torn down Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, Psycho IIExorcist II: The Heretic, and I’m sure there are a few more.
One of those oft maligned sequels is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, from the director of the original, Mr. Tobe Hooper. Maybe part of why this sequel strays a little past where the original marked its territory is due to the fact Hooper only directs, and the writing duties are left up to L.M. Kit Carson (he did a great screenplay for Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas). Not saying this movie is poorly written. In fact, it successfully welds together the terrifying steel of Leatherface’s chainsaw with a good dose of backwoods Texas humour. One of the best aspects is the characters. Even Leatherface and his horrific appeal aren’t lost within all the black comedy, but rather we get doses of foolishness which lures us in, then the saw and the family do their work. Certainly not close to as nerve shattering as the original film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 at least tries to do something different instead of emulating the same style, over and over; a technique studios nowadays use too often, trying to capitalize on the money made from particularly successful movies. In straight up opposition, Hooper switches things up and leaves it all on the table. What else would you expect from a Cannon Films production?
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On the air during her radio show, Vanita ‘Stretch’ Brock (Caroline Williams) and L.G. McPeters (Lou Perry) overhear what may just be a brutal murder, when two young college age dude-bros encounter – unbeknownst to the DJ – Leatherface (Bill Johnson) and some of his clan.
In town is Lieutenant Lefty Enright (Dennis Hopper). He’s investigating yet another possible chainsaw killing. His brother’s kids were killed by the dangerous chainsaw family a decade before. For ten years, he’s searched for those killers. When Stretch finds Lefty at his hotel and brings him the tape that possibly contains evidence of the latest murder, he doesn’t seem too excited. But after awhile, Lefty wises up.
Only it may be a little too late. One of the other Sawyers, Chop-Top (Bill Moseley), goes to visit Stretch at the radio station. And he’s bringing along a nice dose of steel with him.
Can Lefty and Stretch hold their ground? Or will they become yet another set of victims to the killer Sawyer clan?
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As I said, this movie is all about the characters. Whereas the original Hooper classic focused on the terror, putting innocent young people in the way of murderous psychopaths, the sequel keeps on with the killing, only it shifts towards giving us more of the demented maniacs in plain view. The original kept things in the dark, sorts of closing the family off from society. In this sequel, Hooper and Carson let the Sawyer family loose into the world, as if they couldn’t possibly be stopped. Therefore, we get to see more of Leatherface and learn different things of his character; for one, he’s a horny bastard, or at the very least sexually frustrated to the maximum. Plus, now he does this weirdly creepy and simultaneously funny shake while wielding his chainsaw; it kills me every time, a crack-up, but still there’s something scary about his enthusiasm. Then we’ve got Chop-Top, played magnificently and to cult status by the ever impressive Bill Moseley. He is always a creepy guy, no matter what character he plays (aside from stuff like Dead Air), but definitely amps up his eerie qualities to play this guy; he seamlessly becomes a part of the Sawyer world, adding eccentricity and further questions about exactly how completely maniacal this family is truly.
Aside from the family, though, we’re treated to both Lefty and Stretch. Hell, even L.G. is a decent character thrown in there. Well the stars of this show, aside from Moseley, absolutely are Caroline Williams and Dennis Hopper. Williams is not only a gorgeous lady, she oozes charisma, and having her play the on-air radio personality here was awesome casting. She really makes the character feel like a DJ, she talks like one and acts like one, so there’s an authenticity to her character, instead of that occupation feeling like a vain attempt at making her interesting. Add in Hopper, channeling both a renegade lawman and also some of his Blue Velvet craziness, and this whole thing is a ton of fun. Hopper’s character is a little campy, a little wild, but always interesting. He makes for a good showdown with the family, Leatherface in particular.
Note: the first scene between Leatherface and Stretch is one of my favourites, in any horror film. Because it’s dark and funny at once, then there’s this extremely disturbing sexual angle to it. Most of all, it brings some of the issues surrounding Leatherface to the forefront. He’s essentially a mentally challenged man caught in a murderous rampage, so he doesn’t know how to talk to girls, or impress them, except with his big, hard, long saw. Genius scene, incredibly well-written.
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The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 contains a hearty dose of nasty blood and violence. One scene is just Chop-Top bashing a head in, over and over, cut back and forth with Stretch trying to get away from Leatherface. Just the sheer amount of blood spurting out onto the floor is enough to make some of the weaker, casual horror watchers uneasy. There’s something else about this though, as it calls to mind the first film where Grandpa tried to use the hammer; here, Chop-Top knows how to use that hammer, and he uses it well. Later, we revisit the Grandpa scene in direct parallel; not as good as Chop, though. Even early on in the film where two of the dude-bros in their car run across Leatherface, we see a nasty, beautifully executed practical effect – a head gets sawed through, a cut going down into the skull and the face. Very nice makeup effects. Not sure how much he did himself, but makeup legend Tom Savini is credited on this picture, so if he supervised this work there’s no wonder much of it looks gruesome, and perfectly horrific. You could never have a Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie with bad effects, or if you do then it’s sure to not live up to its predecessors. For all its faults, this sequel to the original at least matches its vicious brutality at certain times.
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With a lot to live up to, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is a 3&1/2 star horror. Never will it come close to its original. But Tobe Hooper crafts a nice, campy horror romp out of L.M. Kit Carson’s darkly comic, brutal screenplay. On the shoulders of Hopper, Moseley, and Williams, the characters come alive, and they’re able to carry much of the plot themselves. Maybe comedy isn’t exactly suited perfectly to Hooper’s creepy backwoods Texas world. But again, if anything you’ve got to applaud Hooper for not trying to carbon copy what he did previously in the original. If he simply slapped together another rehash, we’d all be complaining about that. Instead, be glad for his dare to be different, no matter the costs. This is still a lot of fun, has a fair share of blood and guts, as well as the fact Leatherface is weirder and wilder than ever. Make sure you toss this on next time you’re looking for a horror with comedy that’s not an outright comedy-horror flick. This can satisfy the need for kills and the need for some laughs in the right sort of way.

Chaos, Colourful Characters, & Paranoia in Oliver Stone’s U Turn

U Turn. 1997. Directed by Oliver Stone. Screenplay by John Ridley, from his book Stray Dogs.
Starring Sean Penn, Jennifer Lopez, Nick Nolte, Joaquin Phoenix, Claire Danes, Billy Bob Thornton, Jon Voight, Powers Boothe, Laurie Metcalf & Liv Tyler. Phoenix Pictures/Illusion Entertainment Group/Clyde Is Hungry Films/Canal+ Droits Audiovisuels.
Rated R. 125 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Thriller

★★★★★
u-turn.18819 Oliver Stone is an acquired taste. Always has been. I’m sure if I’d been a teenager when films like Platoon or later Natural Born Killers came out (almost made it for that second one), he would’ve been a filmmaker I’d flock to theatres for, over and over. He has a rebellious spirit. Perhaps why, when I was a teenager I eventually made my way into his filmography. In fact, going to film school when I did was partially inspired by Stone, whose movies and style I always found chaotic, vivid, and never less than incredibly interesting. So I devoured everything he ever made. Not to say each single movie is a masterpiece – no filmmaker is flawless – but he has an amazingly solid track record. His war-related pictures are rarely matched in intensity, and scope. Movies like Natural Born Killers and even The Doors are odd rides through madness, equally intense and every bit as intriguing as his political work.
U Turn falls into that second category – the weird and the wild. An adaptation of John Ridley’s novel Stray Dogs, this movie is quite different in story and plot than most of Stone’s previous films. Usually we see Stone take on, as I said, war or politics, often edging towards realism and many times based off actual true events. Yet this movie goes into completely fictional territory, though apparently the original book is loosely based on a real story about a drifter who wandered into a town and disappeared forever. Either way, Ridley’s story plays well with Stone and his style of filmmaking. Their forces combine into a fucked up movie that you won’t soon forget.
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With Russian mafia on his tail, Bobby Cooper (Sean Penn) is heading to Las Vegas. He needs to pay off a big debt, fast. Only trouble is, on the way over the highway Bobby encounters car trouble. This strands him out in a small town named Superior, Arizona. Even worse, the whole place is filled with quirky, and sometimes dangerous, characters with whom he has a varied number of encounters. Things start out weird enough, then slowly everything spirals into darkness. Coming across a beautiful young woman named Grace McKenna (Jennifer Lopez), Bobby believes he’s hit the jackpot. But then her husband Jake (Nick Nolte) arrives, catching them almost in bed together. Afterwards, Jake finds Bobby on the road and offers him a ride; as well as offers him thousands and thousands of dollars to kill Grace.
The nail in the coffin comes when Bobby ends up between a couple robbers and a grocery store clerk. His bag full of money gets blown away in the resulting gunfight, which puts him at even worse odds than the beginning. Expecting the mafia to find him, Bobby tries his best to get out of Superior.
Except it isn’t ever that easy, is it? Not for a guy like Bobby.


I’ve always love Stone’s frenetic, quick cut, quick edit style. Here, though, it may be on its best form. Honestly. The way he gives us the scene, but then edits and cuts bits and pieces around it from the same dialogue, the same scene, this technique almost puts us right in the place of Bobby Cooper. He’s seeing these people, talking to them. Simultaneously, Stone cuts these different reactions, often manic-like actions and laughter, which sort of paints these people as two-faced, strange, weird; all of which they certainly are. Sort of makes this a very unsettling movie, in that way. Each character is like a different breed, one you can never for sure get hold of, and at the same time you almost really know these people, especially if you come from a smaller area like myself. These small town, almost hickish people are recognizable, albeit strange and oddly curious, too. Either way, the technique Stone uses draws us into the web of these characters in an impressive, low-key sense.
The soundtrack and score, as usual for Stone, are lots of fun. We’ve got everything on the soundtrack from Johnny Cash to Peggy Lee, Sammi Smith (singing a song by Kris Kristofferson), to Ween and Gloria Lynne. Can’t forget the weird score to match all the other weirdness, by none other than Ennio Morricone. To be totally honest, I’ve seen this film about 20 times, or more, and I never once realized it was Morricone who did the composing. He’s a true talent, a varied and eclectic musician if there ever were one in the film industry. His music is a perfect addition to this plethora of oddities. At times, it makes things feel like a funhouse, right out in the open Arizona sun. Others, there’s a charming noir feel to the strings in the background, plucking away, ratcheting up the suspense and the tension. Great use of score and soundtrack, which again I often come to expect from a guy like Stone. He usually collaborates well with other artists.
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The acting is top notch. A dark and comic cast of characters comes to life here. Penn does a great down-and-out performance, Bobby Cooper on the edge of oblivion, already missing a couple fingers and hoping not to have to give up any more. Though I find Penn a bit nuts as a person, I dig his acting and he’s a favourite of mine. Then, Nolte and Boothe each add a sort of veteran feel to the cast, men who’ve been in all sorts of movies giving their best to these odd little small town folks; Nolte is vicious and conniving, while Boothe is tough and stand-offish. Even J-Lo gives us a decent effort. And Claire Danes is around for a little bit, playing a hilarious, cute character, which adds just another dash of flavour to the pot.
Above everyone else, I have to mention two special names for putting in incredible work, albeit in relatively small, not even supporting roles: Joaquin Phoenix and Billy Bob Thornton. First, Phoenix plays Toby N. Tucker – a.k.a TNT – and this is such a nice role, lots of quirk, plus there’s a simmering charisma to the character. Even if he is an asshole. Yet it’s Billy Bob who truly shines, packing on at least 20-30 pounds to play a mechanic named Darrell who may be a bit slow, but certainly ain’t stupid. He has a way of speaking, a way of moving. Really, for such a small character Thornton leaned in hard and brought this one off the page. Again, these are touches which add the right amount to an already interesting story.
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I’ve always considered U Turn a 5-star slice of cinema. It’s sort of trashy, and at the same time there is a great neo-noir thriller with a peppering of black comedy thrown in at every corner. While many probably dismissed this movie upon release, and plenty have/still do after, every time I get the chance I’ll watch it. There’s a sexy dangerousness about so many parts in the film. At the same time, the odd nature of the town, the characters, everything comes across completely, madly, and chaos fills just about every last frame. There’s not a single scene I don’t love and every watch of U Turn unsettles, disturbs and enthralls me. Leaving it ’till now to watch? Do yourself a favour. Pop this on, have a fucking weird night.

Not Everyone’s Cut Out for POKER NIGHT

Poker Night. 2014. Dir. Greg Francis. Screenplay by Dough Buchanan & Francis.
Starring Beau Mirchoff, Ron Perlman, Titus Welliver, Halston Sage, Ron Eldard, Corey Large, Giancarlo Esposito, and Michael Eklund. XLrator Media.
Not Rated. 104 minutes.
Action/Crime/Thriller

★★★★

Poker Night-thumb-630xauto-51561I’d anticipated this movie just because of the trailer. Now, sometimes this can come back to bite me in the ass. I’ve been known to be duped by an interesting trailer, or even a bit of great artwork from posters, covers, et cetera. However, Poker Night really surprised. It’s got a phenomenal ensemble cast while also containing a pretty good central performance by young Beau Mirchoff, who I’ve never really seen in anything particularly great. Not to mention, the story of the film is really fun, and the way director Greg Francis chooses to show it play out, how the plot unfolds sneakily at times in front of our eyes, really helps this become more than just a VOD film. This really deserves respect. It’s a pretty good crime-thriller with awesome bits of action, a drop or two of pitch black comedy, and a nasty villain.
PokerNightFeatPoker Night takes the form of a titular card game – a group of veteran detectives get together to play poker, as they have for a decade, and use this as an opportunity to not just bond with rookie detectives, but to also instill them with lessons in the form of them all telling a story from their career’s past. The young rookie, Jeter (Mirchoff), is not just the new guy – he was involved with Amy, the young daughter of one of the veteran detectives (played by the always excellent Titus Welliver) who has recently gone missing. Despite this, they get together for their card game, and the older guys on the force try to help Jeter become one of the elite. After the card game, though, Jeter ends up taking a call. This turns out to be a trap sprung by the man who has taken Amy. Soon enough, Jeter wakes into a world where he needs to use all the advice given to him and the stories told by the veteran detectives at poker night to make it through this situation. From here, the twists and turns come flying.
PokerNight-2134_rev-thumb-630xauto-51576I think this could have easily been a by-the-numbers thriller. Instead, this has a bit of everything. I realized this would be a pretty damn good movie once the villain was introduced. He has this great introduction when he explains himself to Jeter – the director throws in this really great dark comedic bit where the villain talks about his former life, and all the while in a flashback he’s dressed in suit and tie, still with his creepy mask on. I thought it was so funny, and also really disturbing; when he lays out his ‘2 rules’, I actually dropped my jaw a little because it was so forthright and brutally honest. Very dark subject matter at this point. Really dig it. There are times when films go for the dark, creepy vibe and instead it comes off more in a cheesy, typical way rather than being fresh. The fact Francis steers the villain into real vile territory works well because, coupled with his later violence particularly towards Jeter, he seems like an actual maniac. Even with an obviously fabricated mask, it’s still scary. He does seem funny at times, but intentionally. He doesn’t come away as a cartoonish type villain, like some of those included in franchises such as James Bond. There are a few moments with the villain that were admittedly a bit of a stretch imagination-wise. Overall, though, I really enjoyed this character.

POKERNIGHTEXCCLIPFEATThe most interesting part about Poker Night is how the stories become the framework of the entire film. For instance, while Jeter listens to each detective tell his own story/lesson, he himself actually goes through the memory; in this sense, he’s literally putting himself in their shoes cinematically. It’s a really effective technique. Not only do we watch Jeter experience these stories firsthand, as I mentioned before he has to put these experiences to use in order to escape the villain and hopefully save Amy. It could have turned out real cheesy had the director sort of carbon copied the stories into exact situations from which Jeter had to escape. On the other hand, he sticks with the moral behind each lesson from the detectives – example: never give up even when things are stacked against you, or when you’re on your own do whatever you can to get yourself out of a bad situation, and other such bits of advice. This prevents the movie from feeling too hokey. While Jeter uses all the advice, the situations he encounters where the advice needs to be used aren’t too on-the-nose. Not for me, at least. All of this really makes Poker Night unique.

Some may say the flashbacks within flashbacks, techniques like this, cause disorientation or confusion. My opinion is that if you can’t follow this movie, I don’t know what sort of plot you’re looking for to stay entertaining. This is not hard to follow. It’s a unique film, but it’s not confusing in any sense. Pay attention from the get-go and you will have no problems whatsoever following the plot. The flashback sequences and the bits involving Jeter walking through the detectives stories are refreshing. They keep things exciting and a lot of fun at times, especially depending on which detective is telling the story (Eldard & Welliver’s in particular are both cool but also pretty funny).
PokerNight-1563-thumb-630x423-51571I found the cast great. While not all of them had their rightful chance to do a whole lot, they were all pretty wonderful together. The chemistry between them all during the card game scenes is just fantastic. If any of you have ever sat around a card table, you know much of the banter, policemen or not, goes on just like this between a bunch of men. The way they ribbed one another and joked, it was all so natural that I couldn’t help but get attached to the characters. Mirchoff and Perlman had some pretty good chemist as well during other scenes. I just love Ron Perlman, anyways, so to see him play a tough, no nonsense type of cop is really great; he gives bits of his dramatic chops up, and also plenty of his comedic talent. Altogether, the cast really makes things work.  If there were a bunch of people who had no chemistry this whole thing would’ve come off very flat. Instead, it’s raw, fun, and exciting in equal doses. Plenty of great laughs.

Overall, this is a really good movie. Absolutely worthy of a 4 out of 5 star rating. There was a lot of darkness in this thriller. While we get some great comedy and drama mixed into the pot, the dark angles of the film really help this standout. At times, there’s a Tarantino-esque influence happening, and I can also feel a bit of Joe Carnahan’s influence in there at times, honestly. One of the best things about Poker Night is the villain. I really loved his flashbacks in particular, as they never once gave up his identity by keeping his weird mask on during those scenes, even when it’s downright awkward and hilarious. I sort of knew who would be the villain just because of the cast, and the guy who plays him is really great at darker roles, but regardless I thought it wasn’t so much about his identity anyways – it’s not like there’s a twist involving him (or maybe there is? Muhuhaha). The villain really made this something special. Lots of good dark comedy, but mainly a great deal of sadistic violence and mayhem. You should absolutely check this movie out! Great and dark crime thriller. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. It isn’t a perfect film, but in a sea of really average films, especially crime thrillers if we’re being honest, Poker Night stands above it with some exciting characters, good dialogue, and a wholly interesting premise.