Tagged Blood

Grimm Love Bites at the Heartstrings

Rohtenburg (English title: Grimm Love). 2010. Directed by Martin Weisz. Screenplay by T.S. Faull.
Starring Thomas Kretschmann, Keri Russell, Thomas Huber, Rainier Meissner, Pascal Andres, Axel Wedekind, Tatjana Clasing, Horst D. Scheel, & Nils Dommning.
Senator Entertainment Company/Atlantic Streamline.
Rated R. 87 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Horror

★★★★
POSTER To preface my review, I’ll start with the real story.
In the early 2000s, Armin Meiwes went looking in the dark corners of the internet, eventually finding The Cannibal Cafe, a site for people with a fetish for cannibalism. Meiwes posted an add to find a man willing to be slaughtered then eaten. Bernd Jürgen Armando Brandes responded to the ad and the two met on March 9th, 2001 in Rotenburg where Meiwes lived. When they met, Brandes got drunk and took pills in order to dull the pain. They started by cutting of Brandes’ penis, frying it with wine, garlic, salt, and pepper, before trying to eat it. The dick was too chewy, so after frying it too much Meiwes tossed it to the dog. After Brandes couldn’t eat any of his own penis, having lost too much blood, Meiwes went about hanging him like a deer, draining his blood, quartering and chopping the human meat. He was only later found out because of going back online, looking for more meat, and ultimately getting reported. The cops found more Brandes meat in the freezer stored away for future use.
Grimm Love is a fictionalization of the story, concerning two men so lonely they seek out the ultimate way of both consuming someone and also being consumed, each man with their own compulsion. The framing narrative is that of a graduate student doing her thesis on the two men and the wild case. This is not a perfect film. Although it dares to be different, to tackle something altogether inhuman and violent and transgressive, to look at a story many might not wish to undertake. At its heart, the film is an intense character study that involves a heinous crime, one of the most heinous to have ever been committed, and the horror of a psychological depth to which two men plunge in a quest to connect with another person, even if it means doing the unthinkable. Grimm Love is about how some people can love another person despite the rotten core existing within them.
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The tragic element of the film is what compels me most. Through the framing narrative of Katie (Keri Russell) and her thesis we’re able to look into the lives of Oliver Hartwin (Thomas Kretschmann) and Simon Grombeck (Thomas Huber). Horror is on display, no doubt. The main focus is a character study on these two men who eventually collide with one another on their path towards finding a true partner, the one thing which they’ve missed so long, a permanent bond and unbreakable relationship.
First, Oliver is shown in great detail, as a young boy who grew into a man domineered constantly and brutally by his mother. The influence of her dangerously powerful love (“Never leave me alone, Oliver. Ever. Were all we have.”) keeps him shackled to a familial pattern of love, one to which he can’t relate as he grows, his interests widen, to the point a lust in him awakens and something ugly rears its head. Because of such a long time suppressed, Oliver then breaks out into psychopathy. The repression of his needs and his inner desires manifest into an altogether monstrous appetite. The loneliness he feels is due to his mother, connecting him so firmly to her in an unhealthy manner. After she’s gone, he needs to find someone to replace her, but also he only knows one way to love: consume the person you love, the object of your affection. It’s what his mother did, so it becomes the only thing he knows and the only way in which he understands how to love another person.
This brings us to Simon, whose lifelong search for a lover who will, effectively, consume him. Part of this is due to urges he feels are unnatural. Part of it is born of self-hatred, depression, the will to die. Yet that loneliness drives him, and even in death when he discovers Oliver he finds a way to be loved, to be consumed by his lover, and to truly find that two becomes one type feeling with another human being. His devotion is ultimate. Sick and loyal alike, too willing to give himself over to another person wholly.
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Grimm Love has a thick air of atmosphere throughout, built on nice cinematography that captures everything in shadows. The overall look of the film is gritty: the interiors darkened and gloomy, lit low, colours saturated and mute; the exteriors vibrant, sweeping. Particularly once things move forward plot-wise, the tone of the movie keeps grim, as the camera consistently draws us to the eeriness of the story. Scenes where we see Oliver and Simon respectively at their computer screens, a heavenly glow cast up over their faces, you can almost see the bare joy which they get out of the internet right in those brief shots.
There’s a nice separation of time periods within the film’s appearance. Each one has a different colour palette, each feeling slightly different from the others. When we’re focused on Oliver there’s a sepia-like visual aesthetic, a nearly foggy blanket over the frame. In his youth, the lens is almost greasy in sepia toned scenes. Simon’s scenes are more slick, they have dark but vibrant colouring and they’re clear, almost painfully so to illustrate how deeply he feels everything, how emotionally present he is, as opposed to Oliver whose feeling is one of repression, of being closed off and shut to the world in a fog drenched trance. For the scenes with Katie, the aesthetic is between the two – dark, moody, richly shot. This is what allows for a continuity amongst all the jumping to and from events, from past into the present. Otherwise, without a continual aesthetic divided into sections director Martin Weisz risked losing people. He still did, but not for any fault of his own. The visuals make this horrific tale more compelling than if it were shot in a bland, flair-less style.
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I feel this is a 4-star film. It has huge dramatic, tragic elements in the screenplay. Of course the horror is evident, even only in the basic description of the fact this film is based on a true crime case. What makes everything so intense are the performances. Thomas Kretschmann and Thomas Huber each make their characters come alive, to the point of being wildly uncomfortable. There are scenes where some actors might either fall into overly melodramatic spectacle. Instead, both Kretschmann and Huber stay subtle, they crawl under your skin and make these equally disturbed men into painful portraits of lonely humans. There is so much to enjoy out of their performances. Huber in particular is a powerhouse in his role, often drawing out your pity with the slightest ease.
In the end, you’ll be disturbed to the bone. If you have any humanity inside your heart. Grimm Love attempts to show us the human roots of the real case of Meiwes, through a fictional representation of both him and his victim. This is an impossible mind frame to discover in oneself, so a movie such as this tries taking us inside these sort of terrifying emotions and headspaces while remaining neutral. Nobody’s saying you have to feel bad for either of these characters, not at all. What the film tries to say is that even the biggest monsters once began as human beings. It’s that somewhere along the line humanity becomes monstrosity, even out of something as simple as loneliness. There’s no telling to what deep abyss the human heart can go, and will if the world and the people nearby let it.

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Schramm’s Visceral Psychological Terror

Schramm: Into the Mind of a Serial Killer. 1993. Directed by Jörg Buttgereit. Screenplay by Buttgereit & Franz Rodenkirchen.
Starring Florian Koerner von Gustorf, Monika M., Micha Brendel, Carolina Harnisch, Xaver Schwarzenberger, Gerd Horvath, & Michael Brynntrup. Barrel Entertainment/Jelinski & Buttgereit.
Not Rated. 65 minutes.
Horror

★★★1/2
POSTER Really good or great serial killer films are few and far between. Because directors and writers often either don’t go deep enough, or sometimes they descend too far into the tortured psyche of a killer that their crimes and murders can end up sensationalised. There’s a truly fine line to making these types of movies. One of the more contemporary examples of which I’m a huge fan is David Fincher’s Zodiac; it tackles a true story, and it also makes a known case into interesting material for a dark crime-thriller. Then there are others which go for realism in examining a fictional killer, though sometimes they end up too far from anything poignant and fall into the sensational representation of violence.
Schramm is an odd case. All at once there’s an attention for the psychological mess inside the heads of serial killers, as well as the inclusion of bloody scenes to keep the interest of the most twisted horror hounds. While I’m not inclined to love this movie, though I do own it, there’s a certain quality that makes me find it a good serial killer character study. This can be extremely difficult to stomach. One specific scene is a truly hateful thing to watch, especially if you’re a guy and feel squeamish about anything genital-related. But outside of the controversy and its rough exterior, Schramm offers an effective look at the deranged life of a serial killer, the introverted pleasures of madness, and never once lets you forget what you’re watching.
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There is a hideous amount of blood and gore that will please the most hardened genre fans and disgust the less able to cope with such brutality. One of the first (which is presented in non-linear fashion so it actually comes later in the plot’s timeline) is a brutish double murder. We start with a throat cutting – even worse, while the man tries to drink himself a nice little, tasty glass of Cognac – and then ends with a head getting whacked by a hammer. Right afterwards, we see Schramm taking pictures of the dead, posed in terrifying sexual positions for his delight; some by themselves, other photos of them together.
The single most savage scene is the infamous penis moment. If you’ve ever read about this movie in any capacity, you’ve probably heard about it. This is like watching something out of the Pain Olympics, as Lothar’s self-hatred and his disassociation with reality comes forward tenfold. His unique mix of personality disorders makes him susceptible to self-harm and extreme behaviour, plus it explains his ritualistic manner of killing and what he does with the bodies.
Perhaps more frightening, somehow, than all the bloody imagery are the flashbacks and the snippets of memory from which we begin to glean a sense of the killer himself. They are eerie. Particularly, one early cut to a flashback simply sees children running in the distance through a field, the unsettling atmosphere of an 8mm tape rolling, catching them in their natural habitat. This also leads into the fact Schramm wears a large, complicated brace on his right leg, so right away there’s the idea that something happened to him all those years ago, an event which not only shaped his physical life, but also likely did the same for his mental life, too. Within many scenes we hear heavy breathing. Furthermore, the director edits in shots of Schramm running, other feet running in a group, at times as if he’s dreaming of running again, or maybe they’re memories, who knows. There’s an ever increasing sense that Schramm has been traumatized by his apparent leg injury. He even wakes up, supposedly, to imagine his leg’s been cut off below the knee, savage and bleeding, only to discover it’s all a dream. Most of all what this does is plant us firmly in the perspective of the serial killer whom we are about to examine in full.
So much of the camera work is impressive for a production that’s mostly low budget and fairly simple. There are several key points I find wildly interesting. The first comes after Lothar picks up his friend, a prostitute, and they’re driving – out of nowhere appears this swirling shot that makes you feel as if the car is going around an off-ramp, only there is none to be seen and they’re in the middle of a road; the car spins several times as they chat, neither of them noticing, except us, the audience. This is a disorienting moment that again throws you into Lothar’s world where you feel just as estranged and disconnected to real life as him. Later, in his apartment Lothar works out and the camera sort of follows along with his movements, then soars up over him giving us a bird’s eye view down on the apartment. We constantly get the sense of inhabiting the world he knows, and this only makes things scarier.
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Living with Schramm, in his headspace and seeing his actions from day to day, can be psychologically horrifying. And it is, undoubtedly. This film has gained comparisons to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, and to a certain extent they are both quite alike. However, aside from Ottis, the main focus of that film was not sexual deviancy (even though the real Henry Lee Lucas was all manners of insane and although the character does commit horrible crimes against women), but instead honed in on the pure hideousness of Henry’s evil, the perpetual killer inside him unwilling to be tamed. Our main protagonist/antagonist, if you want to see it that way, Lothat Schramm is both a killer and a complete sexual deviant. The way we spend our time in the other film with Henry watching him commit one murder after another, we likewise spend our time during Schramm with this man, no matter if he’s having sex with a blow-up doll while listening to his neighbours fuck or if he’s doing incredibly masochistic things to his body. We experience all of it, and fall deeper, farther down the pit of his abyssal mind.
The blurring of reality and nightmare is one significant aspect to the psychological elements. A most evident sequence is when Schramm is with the dentist (or imagining it at least), and as the doctor begins removing teeth, he seems to notice something else: all of a sudden Lothar has his eyes pried open like A Clockwork Orange and the dentist begins slicing open his eye socket, a dental assistant comes in to help and removes his whole eyeball. Reality and the nightmare world in Schramm’s head often collide in the most awful ways, from techniques used by the director in shooting a scene to the way things ar edited from time to time.
The most disturbing break from reality? Schramm wakes up naked in bed to find a strange vagina-like creature between his legs, squirming, its lips opening to reveal a set of ugly teeth. Honestly, this one frightened me. Repulsed me, too.
It isn’t my favourite serial killer film. Schramm isn’t easily digested. There are intensely nasty sequences which will push the boundaries of even the most hardened veterans. Myself, I’ve seen 4,200 films and many of those horror, at least one third or more maybe. And still, I find myself squeamish during a couple of overly vulgar scenes. The best part about the whole thing is that this is a quiet, more subdued serial killer tale than most you’ll find. Not subdued in its blood or willingness to show the inner workings of a sick, rotting mind, but quiet in its process. There are no jump scares like other contemporary works of horror cinema. There isn’t a masked or unknown killer. Director Jörg Buttgereit forces us to spend just over an hour (thankfully a short runtime) with Lothar Schramm, until we’ve had our fill of depravity, running blood, murder. Until no more can you deny that evil is entirely human, not a supernatural element by which people feel themselves overtaken. In the end, you’ll need a cozy blanket and a warm beverage to start heating up the cold heart you’ll be left with awhile after seeing experiencing Schramm.

Black Swan: Dark Hearts, Tortured Artists, and the Transition to Womanhood

Black Swan. 2010. Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Screenplay by Andrés Heinz, Mark Heyman, & John J. McLaughlin.
Starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder, Benjamin Millepied, Ksenia Solo, Kristina Anapau, Janet Montgomery, Sebastian Stan, Toby Hemingway, Sergio Torrado, Mark Margolis, & Tina Sloan. Protozoa Pictures/Fox Searchlight Pictures/Cross Creek Pictures.
Rated 14A. 108 minutes.
Drama/Thriller

★★★★★
POSTER
There are filmmakers I cannot help but love. Darren Aronofsky wowed me first with Requiem for a Dream (later I saw Pi). Immediately, I found his style and willingness to explore tough stories something exciting. His style, no matter the subject, is psychological and worms its way to the core. It makes you feel connected, even if that’s an uncomfortable position in which to find yourself. Regardless, he is undeniably effective at getting to the heart of darkness, of struggle, of pain.
Black Swan is all style and all substance, mixed into a sinister dream of what goes in inside the head of an artist. Natalie Portman gives what may likely end up being the greatest, most defining performance of her career. I’ve always enjoyed her, though in this role she shines; physically and mentally. Barbara Hershey and Mila Kunis each add their own wonderful elements to the cast, as does Vincent Cassel. A wonderful cast is one thing. Impeccably captured cinematography, beautiful choreographed dancing, solid writing to boot? This is what makes Aronofsky’s film unforgettable. You get to experience all sorts of wonders. There’s the dark heart of artistry, beyond what people see on the outside; all the pain and torturous psychological wear/tear behind the curtain. There’s the often scary, rocky transition from being a girl to becoming a woman, one which Nina (Portman) discovers unnervingly. Finally, this psychological descent in which Nina finds herself twirling becomes our own, as Aronofsky and cinematographer Matthew Libatique draw us inside a terrifying headspace until coming out on the other side. Whether that’s in tact mentally, you be the judge.
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One major element of why I find Aronofsky’s film so interesting, in an odd sense, is how he incorporates a quasi-body horror into the psychological journey of Nina. There are several key moments where fingers, toes, they get bloody and our mind is drawn to the strain on Nina’s body. Slowly, we begin to suspect there’s a dark fantasy portion to this story, and that things are becoming supernatural, as if Nina is literally transforming into a swan. So with the body horror, Aronofsky combines the psychological elements in there to make things surreal, blurring the thin line between reality and nightmares.
The psychological aspects further come out well through the use of doubles as a theme and mirrors or reflective surfaces. Nina’s character is all about expectations, personal or otherwise. She feels her mother (Barbara Hershey) bearing down, constantly. Her own mind is against her all the time, always asking for more just like dear ole mom. Then there are the expectations Nina perceives from the eyes watching her, dance instructor Leroy (Vincent Cassel), so on. All the reflections serve as a reminder that ballet, her dancing, they are a judgement on her physical qualities; how well she can dance, how thin is her body, how lean are her legs, et cetera. Moreover, the doubles Nina sees – one early on walks right past her under some scaffolding on the street, her face appearing visible briefly before it morphs back into some other unknown person – reflect the idea of being an artist as a sort of egotistical space, at times. It’s not a general statement. However, when it’s coupled with the obsession in the screenplay, this concept of artistry plays into Nina’s visions. Seeing those doubles, reflecting her face, these are points of narcissism. This leads slightly into further themes of the film. As Nina journeys from being a girl to a woman, she moves away from the narcissism and literally has to smash her identity to pieces, destroying the old narcissistic little girl and becoming a confident, more accomplished woman comfortable in her own skin, along with all its flaws. Up until the climactic moments of the script Nina sees her reflection everywhere. Even if nervously, all she can see is herself. Everywhere. In every thing, everyone. By the end, she’s decided this is enough, and along with the blood (a little bit symbolic in that part of it appears period-like), the smashed mirror represents a gateway to her life beyond girlhood.
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Another major element to why Black Swan is so interesting has to do with this theme of womanhood, or even simply adulthood in general, and the passage one takes from being a child to being a genuine adult. But definitely the heavy element of female perspective is here, obviously. This is why when some people question the sex scene between Nina and Lily (Mila Kunis), I wonder if they understand that part of this entire story is the fact Nina is discovering herself, her sexuality, her power as a woman, every last little thing in between. So the sex scene represents that side of Nina wanting to explore, the repressed girl in her ready to see what womanhood is all about and open to discovering her own choices, and it didn’t happen. The fact is she has fallen into a fantasy world. Nina lives in a dream world, one afforded by her slightly crazy mother and perpetuated by her own act of allowing her infantilization. So it makes sense she’s diving headlong into a lesbian fantasy, one she’d never dare act out in real life because of her own repressed sensibilities and the overbearing presence of her mother. Problem is, her mind is so fractured – driven to mad lengths by her getting the role as Swan Queen – that she doesn’t realize this is only a dream she’s conjured up. And the awkward situation later when she believes it to be real, bringing it up to Lily is where we can truly see her disoriented reality.
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With so much beautiful camera work, the mind bogglingly gorgeous dance choreography by Benjamin Millepied, the always intriguing direction of Darren Aronosfky, Black Swan was completely enthralling from the first time I saw it. Even now six years later as of this writing, I cannot get enough. The entire thing is this elaborate, dreamy tale. All the ballet and the dedicated dancing, that whole world, makes this a unique story we’re not often going to see. Certainly it’s reminiscent of the famous anime Perfect Blue, to which Aronofsky owns the rights, but there’s enough of his own elements to not make it one big rip-off. All around this is an astounding psychological horror/thriller, one that incorporates body horror, surrealism, among other things. No matter how you view it, Black Swan is a dangerous story about obsession, dedication, artistry, all wrapped into a kind of coming-of-age scenario about a girl finally becoming a woman after a long gestating period of being a child. By the time the credits roll you’ll either love it or hate it. But no doubt, you’ll find yourself reeled in, and the dark beauty of the film as a whole will take you away to some magical places. They might not be soft, sweet, rosy places. Yet magical nonetheless.

Take a Tense Little Ride with Trigger Man

Trigger Man. 2007. Directed, Edited, & Written by Ti West.
Starring Reggie Cunningham, Ray Sullivan, Sean Reid, Heather Robb, James Felix McKenney, Seth Abrams, & Larry Fessenden.
KINO International/Glass Eye Pix/Scareflix/CCR Productions.
Unrated. 80 minutes.
Drama/Thriller

★★★1/2
POSTER This is a slightly unusual film out of Ti West’s filmography. He is a great director, in my opinion. You either dig him, or you don’t; no middle ground. And that’s fine, if everybody liked the same thing we’d be a boring lot of humans. For those of us who enjoy West and his brand of horror, Trigger Man comes as a surprise. I remember listening to an interview he did talking about how this film sort of came up on a whim. He wrote a script, brought it to Larry Fessenden, and then they had time to shoot it, so a real indie shoot came about. Ultra low budget. Almost rogue-style filmmaking.
Apart from the visual feel and the actual use of digital rather shooting on film, West looks at a more dramatic thriller angle than anything horror. Sure, the horror of humanity comes out. That’s a huge element. Most of his movies, aside from recently with The Sacrament, tend to go for classic horror elements while he does his best to subvert expectations, keeping with the spirit of indie film. Trigger Man works because it doesn’t necessarily try to change anything. It works by building up an atmosphere of dread, each scene slowly, steadily amping up the feeling that at any moment a horrible event is about to take place. True to what later became signature to his personal directorial style, West slow burns through his plot before reaching a nicely executed finale. Then if the terror isn’t enough for you concerning real people and their sometimes hideous actions in this raw look at a story that’s not unbelievable in the slightest, maybe I’m weak. Maybe I should hang up the ole horror hat.
Nah. I dig this one. It isn’t near perfect. However, West makes me sweat enough throughout this sparse flick that I can’t help watching it now and then. It’s a tough one to find on DVD, but luckily I picked it up last year. I’ll always support West’s films and I can admit when there are faults. I refuse to not acknowledge a solid low budget thriller when it’s in front of my face. You shouldn’t expect his best, though don’t sell West short here.
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This movie was never intended to be on a grand scale. West had the time and wanted to make something with a very minimalist take, so instead of opting to shoot on film (as he usually does) he went digital. The entire film is much different from any of his other work, even his early feature The Roost. With a handheld and kinetic style, West uses this feel to create as much tension possible. If anything, this is a nice exercise in suspense. You can judge this for being low budget and all that, but it wasn’t ever meant to be anything more. Larry Fessenden, a mentor of West’s in the industry, gave him about $10K to make it. They found some nice locations, kept the cast to a bare minimum. West had a small story that worked for the basic needs. Nobody’s expecting a reinvention of the genre. Part of me enjoys Trigger Man because West isn’t exactly swinging for the fences, as he so often does with his other brilliant features. Here, he does his best at cultivating a specific mood of tension that worms its way through the short 80 minute runtime. Many might not find the finale rewarding. I do. The tension pays off in an excellent way and I find it properly horrifying. Along the way we’re treated to a couple smatterings of blood, one particularly chunky, gross practical effect honestly looks real. I found that one unsettling, in the best kind of horror way.
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Ultimately, I don’t know if there’s even a lick of truth to the concept that West claims this is inspired by a true story. If so, I’d love to see what the real scenario was, how it played out, what exactly went down the whole time. But forgetting all that this is still a real-feeling situation. These guys essentially wander into the path of something over which they have no control. Then it’s a sort of city dweller v. backwoods story that descends into utter nastiness. Part of the ultra-realism is the sound design by Graham Reznick. When these guys are out in the midst of the forest, near the river, running for their lives, we get the feeling of being right next to them, as the river rushes and their voices carry. Some likely find that annoying, which I totally understand. To me, these elements only add to the extremely raw atmosphere. There’s also not so much a score as there is this wonderfully ambient noise from Jeff Grace . At times that does morph into something more musical in terms of short pieces that accompany specific moments. Still, the best parts Grace offers up are these brutish shrieks and hypnotizing swirls of sound that wrap you up then rattle you; almost representative of the mental processes going on in someone’s head were they in such a life threatening, insane situation as these guys. Everything is minimal. The story is contained. The blood is gruesome when it comes, but only comes in a couple little bursts. The camera work consists of digital handheld shooting, nothing fancy; only once or twice do we get shots that are motionless, everything else keeps the chaotic pace by wavering and keeping on the move with the characters, zooming from the landscape to their faces and expressions of fear. The music is kept down to a handful of places where it’s nearly perfect. Through and through, Trigger Man is a utilitarian production that if anything knows how to use its bare necessities and structures itself accordingly.
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You’ll either dig it a bit, or find it unappealing. There’s really nothing halfway about Trigger Man. Similar to the way people seem to feel about its director. Personally, Ti West is someone I find incredibly talented. He and I are close in age, so part of my affinity for his work has to do with the fact many of the movies he seems to admire and have grown up watching are the same ones as myself. Because of that they reflect in his own work, in turn capturing my attention. Not only that, though. West is simply a great director. He makes interesting choices, as well as the fact he’s an interesting writer. Preferring to take things slow, his films are sometimes categorized as being boring. A word I’ll never use in reference to any of his features. But to each their own. For me, he’s a fascinating artist that often takes a genre story we know and brings his unique vision to a story in order to freshen things up. Trigger Man doesn’t necessarily liven the survival thriller sub-genre. It does excite and keep you on edge, or at least it does for me. Give this one the chance, it’s a taut piece of work. Ignore the flaws and get past the handheld stuff. West is a scary guy, no matter if he’s working within the walls of a haunted hotel, dealing with vampire bats that turn people into the living dead, or wandering the forest with people running for their lives. It’s all spooky.

Scarce is Finger Lickin’ Bad

Scarce. 2008. Directed & Written by Jesse Thomas Cook and John Geddes.
Starring Steve Warren, Gary Fischer, Chris Warrilow, Thomas Webb, John Geddes, Jesse Thomas Cook, Stephanie Banting, Gavin Peacock, Matt Griffin, Jaclyn Pampalone, Jackie Eddolls, & Jason Derushie.
Bloodlife Films/Two Door Four Door Pictures.
Rated 18A. 93 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★1/2
POSTER Some movies are so bad they’re good. Others are just downright bad, to the point you’re unable to enjoy anything about them other than fleeting moments. Often times you can find enjoyment in a bad film because it’s fun to laugh, poke fun, point out all the bad effects, performances, and whatever else makes you chuckle a little. In certain situations depending on the film, this can make for a so-bad-it’s-good cinema experience.
Then there are horror flicks like Scarce, which cross over into the so-bad-it’s-embarrassing category. This little Canadian horror is never quite able to find its footing. A few scenes are creepy, a bunch are gory and nasty. Other than that it’s poor acting, uninspired directing, and a general mash of ill conceived attempts at tackling the backwoods cannibal horror it so clearly reveres.
Funny. I had a better time watching the Making Of documentary included on the DVD than I did watching the film. That’s only half a lie. I always try to find the good in each movie I watch, no matter how bad it gets. Problem being that there just is not good in every movie. Not all art is art – some of it’s pop, some of it’s art, some of it’s trash. Those are the odds. And odds are, you’ll also agree with me on this one.
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One of the immediately awful parts about Scarce is the fact it’s a Canadian production, clearly filmed in Canada and with Canadian actors, yet they’ve insisted on making it out as an American setting. First off, the accents of a couple actors give away this whole fact. Secondly, I’m not entirely sure why they would bother doing this when there are plenty of backwoods locations across Canada where you can set an isolated film such as this one. Often it’s to appear more commercial, though I’m still not sold on that being of any use.
Later, it isn’t just the performances that are weak. Even little moments that are meant to be scary or dramatic come off as weakened thuds, rather than landing with any impact. For instance, at one point Ivan (Steve Warren) whacks Dustin (Thomas Webb) as he exits the outhouse, and this not at all any type of large stunt, it’s not expensive or intricate, but it looks like absolute dog shit. Small moments like this come off as poorly conceived and executed, which does nothing for the film overall. Only makes the amateur, low budget feel of the movie more evident – this doesn’t always detract from independent cinema, only when it’s painfully obvious, almost pathetically so like here.
The acting is what really does Scarce no justice. While certain elements of the plot and a couple nasty bits of blood are intriguing enough, there’s no good acting to be found. And I don’t care how interesting of a story, or how creepy any of the scenes can get, without solid acting there’s no way any movie can rise above its flaws and feel enjoyable. Although, I have to give it to Steve Warren. Sometimes he can be the worst of them, in terms of performance. All the same, in comparison with his murderous counterpart played by Gary Fischer, his work is decent. In a couple scenes he’s terribly cheesy and forced, but every now and then he’s eerie beyond belief. So even if his acting isn’t close to great, he’s certainly one of the better parts about the performances even if he shits the bed in his role from time to time.
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The backwoods cannibal sub-genre in horror has been done time and time again. Many of us horror fans love a good dose of cannibalism, especially if it’s going down in the isolation of secluded, wooded areas. Right back to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a personal favourite of mine (and so many others), and all the way up to the mostly yawn inducing Wrong Turn franchise. Most of Scarce just feels lazy. As if the writer-director pair opted to take many of the cliched elements in the sub-genre and jam them into the single plot. A lot of the writing itself is lame. There are absolutely unsettling qualities. However, dialogue such as when Ivan talks about how they’ll soon be “nothing but [his] shit” and other of his/Wade’s ramblings make the story and the its characters more laughable.
Visually, there are some moments I enjoy quite a bit. The biggest is when Ivan and Wade take the guys out in the morning to let them free in the woods, before hunting them with a rifle, and there’s this excellently eerie piece of music from the score along with a stylized, brief sequence of Wade hauling the two victims by their chains, them bloody and worn down. This was a solid, if not too short scene. A little while later once the guys are running through the forest, there are some nice shots. It’s too bad this couldn’t have extended to the rest of the sequences where everything felt overwhelmingly bland. These couple minutes actually look great and then we quickly return to the film’s laziness.
Finally, it’s the hole blown in Ivan that takes the cake for best effect. They probably blew a large portion of budget on this one gag alone, as it’s a combination of CGI and practical work. Nevertheless, it definitely works, and the hole in his torso looks genuine. A nice dose of gore in the the final ten minutes to really try and impress us. Too little too late, but a noble effort indeed.
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I can’t give this any more than 1&1/2 stars. Even then I’m not totally sure it deserves that much. Still, there are little elements in Scarce that give you enough to hold onto, if only for a little while. You certainly won’t be blown away, by anything. Not once.
At the same time, give it a chance and at least see the effects. There’s a bit of sloppy gore, some wild blood. I own it simply because  I bought it on a whim for $10 somewhere. Definitely not something I’d seek out to buy otherwise. At least there’s partly some spirit of horror alive in this flick. Underneath so much less than mediocre fare.

The Shining: Kubrickian Horror v. Stephen King’s Supernatural Evil

The Shining. 1980. Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Screenplay by Kubrick & Diane Johnson; based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King.
Starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers, Barry Nelson, Philip Stone, Joe Turkel, Anne Jackson, & Tony Burton. Warner Bros./Hawk Films/Peregrine/Producers Circle.
Rated R. 146 minutes.
Drama/Horror

★★★★
POSTER1 Let’s get one thing straight: I love this movie. Fanatically.
I’ve also got problems with it.

There are vast differences between the source material of The Shining and Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation. For a man who mostly got close to horror in a psychological sense before this 1980 horror classic, it’s a strange pick for the master director. At the same time, it’s also a good fit. While this is mainly a ghost story, the clinical way in which Kubrick attacks the subject matter and thematic material really brings out the horror of the human drama at its core. Famously, Stephen King has said the movie is “cold” whereas his book was “hot“, and that Kubrick wasn’t capable of telling the story how it was meant to be told.
And in part I agree with Mr. King. Because the book is better. However, I do find Kubrick’s film a slice of terror. Further than that, to me the supernatural element of King’s original novel is still there amongst everything. It’s simply that Kubrick takes that all and envisions it in very human terms. We absolutely see the haunted elements of King here, there’s just a completely different element to this film and how it perceives the story of Jack Torrance’s madness.
If King’s novel is about the supernatural forces of The Overlook Hotel taking its toll on the Torrance family, Kubrick’s film is a ghost story that’s most of all an allegory for personal family troubles, the failure of people to face their problems head on until they all but literally haunt them, as well as the attempts of many to bury the dark secrets of their past like the various murdered souls haunting the halls of The Overlook.
Perhaps a straight adaptation, such as the lesser but still enjoyable TV version King had a hand in, is more enjoyable to some. And though there is a part of me that faults this movie for not going directly at the source material, because there’s some great stuff there that didn’t make this cut, Kubrick most definitely made an impressive horror film that not only contributed to the genre as a whole, it also left an indelible mark on many moviegoers. To this day, I can close my eyes and almost imagine the entire film front to back because of how many hundred times I’ve seen it.
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One of my biggest beefs is the change to the character of Wendy Torrance. I find Shelley Duvall an intriguing actor, and she gives a knockout performance here. Still, the character bothers me. In the book she is nowhere near as waif-ish and frail as the Wendy which Kubrick and Diane Johnson wrote. And that boggles my mind, really. Because there’s absolutely no reason to change her character into such a “dishrag“, as Mr. King so eloquently puts it whenever asked. What gets me most is that this Wendy does not seem the type to stand up to her husband. She talks of having asked Jack to stop drinking, or else she would leave, and this doesn’t strike me as genuine with this character. She can barely hold steady ground in a conversation with her husband. Let alone confront his violent temper and alcoholism. In fact, the way Kubrick and Johnson have written Wendy is, as King again has noted, fairly misogynistic. There are barely any moments of strength in Wendy, which bothers me. It is so far from the character in King’s novel that it makes no sense. Changing the themes and focusing more on the human drama of alcoholism, the effects it has on a family, the bad decisions of the patriarch looming over his family, so on, all that makes sense to me. An adaptation doesn’t always need to follow copy-for-copy the source material. Many adaptations do well to stray a little. But this character change doesn’t come as genuine, as if Kubrick and Johnson solely wanted to focus on Jack and his son, and so they let everyone else fall to the wayside.
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The character of Jack remains virtually the same across King and Kubrick’s respective visions. Again, though, I do agree partly with King. I love Nicholson here. He kills the performance, no doubt. I just can’t help imagining the role with someone less Nicholson-like. In that Jack definitely looks a bit off right from the beginning. That signature Nicholson look, the eyebrows, the sly smile, it reeks of insanity too early. This takes away part of the impact, in my opinion. Furthermore, the screenplay as opposed to the novel doesn’t give us a lot of time with Torrance before he’s going mad. He’s very quickly a dick and then soon a real terror in this movie. It’s no less shocking how insane Jack Torrance gets over the course of the film. However, if a lesser known or different-looking actor were given the part it might’ve been an even larger surprise when he goes off the deep end later. Still, I can’t fault Nicholson; that’s all in the casting. For his part, he turns Torrance into a deeply troubled man, one whose intentions are good but whose execution leaves something to be desired. And regardless of Nicholson’s crazyface, he is able to draw us in. Specifically, the scene in the big lodge room where he backs Wendy up the stairs is EPIC. During a theatre class in high school, I recited that whole speech and had great fun. It is a superb, small monologue that Nicholson really nails, allowing us to fall headlong into the madness of Torrance. As the film picks up faster and harder towards the end, Nicholson definitely frightens and his performance will always rank high on any list of spectacular acting from horror movies.
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The macabre beauty of The Shining is part of its everlasting appeal. All of the imagery is so well shot by Kubrick, photographed by John Alcott. Having a horror film captured through the eyes of Kubrick is magical. From the sets and the meticulously composed shots to the score and soundtrack, this film is every bit a classic. Maybe it doesn’t follow all the rules of horror set before it. Maybe it doesn’t follow King exactly. But I’ll be damned if it’s not amazing. And the horror itself is almost vicious. That scene where Jack finds the woman in the bathtub is something that has scarred generations of film fans. Even as a seasoned horror veteran I find that one moment intense and scary. There are moments of dreadful suspense throughout The Shining that, no matter how many times I’ve seen it, still hold me in fear. The elevator of blood is an iconic piece of imagery because it essentially sums up The Overlook, as a hotel completely immersed in blood, so much so it pours down from the floors above. Just the fact they accomplished that shot is enough to make it utterly mental. But over and over, Kubrick manages to derive absolute horrific madness out of his scenes through the way he captures things, right down to editing; the bathtub woman scene is so profoundly shocking because of how it repeats itself like a memory several times as the corpse reaches out after Jack and he backs away. There are so many fine touches which make this a work of horror that stands the test of time.
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Much as I love The Shining, there are certainly issues. Some can pass off Stanley Kubrick’s mistakes by saying certain things to point to his hidden meanings, the deeper layers. Bullshit. As great as this horror is, as much as its done for the genre overall, there are faults. You can still find a movie incredible while admitting to its mistakes. And I don’t always agree with Stephen King, though here I do and find the book much better. Still, Kubrick’s The Shining is chilling, it is meticulously drawn out with great cinematography, practical special effects, and the eerie sounds sitting below all the engaging, terrifying imagery. Despite its flaws, this is and always will be one of the classic pictures in horror bringing Kubrick and his sensibilities to an unlikely genre.