Tagged Howard Berger

Texas Chainsaw 3D: Blood, Sex, and the Saw

Texas Chainsaw 3D. 2013. Directed by John Luessenhop. Screenplay by Adam Marcus, Kirsten Elms, & Debra Sullivan.
Starring Alexandra Daddario, Dan Yeager, Trey Songz, Scott Eastwood, Tania Raymonde, Shaun Sipos, Keram Malicki-Sánchez, Thom Barry, Paul Rae, Richard Riehle, Bill Moseley, & Gunnar Hansen. Lionsgate/Millenium Films/Mainline Pictures/Leatherface Productions/Nu Image/Twisted Chainsaw Pictures.
Rated 18A. 92 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★1/2
POSTER
For anyone who doesn’t know me, or hasn’t read many of my reviews, I’m a huge fan of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The original film is still, and always will be, one of the scariest movies to me. Always. Sheer terror and absolute chaos that rarely, if ever, lets up until the end of the last reel. It was a movie my mother even told me about before I’d seen it, likewise frightening her when she was young. So despite the varying quality of the series, I’m always interested in seeing any films bearing this title. Just to see.
Texas Chainsaw 3D begins with a great premise – to start with the events after the original film, then hop ahead a couple decades. But it’s the execution of the film that really draws my ire, and that of many other hardcore franchise fans. No longer is the horrific nature of Leatherface and his clan built on anything the first two original films had going for them. In this one, it’s all about sexy young bodies, a screenplay that doesn’t think hard enough to justify its aims, and above all else a plot that goes to a ridiculous extreme, so much so it destroys any of my interest in what might happen next. Because that’s the other thing – this semi-sequel to the original still can’t cut off and cauterize the Leatherface wound. It leaves things on a note that could quite possibly spawn a sequel, y’know, later on down the road when they need a quick buck.
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Heather Miller (Alexandra Daddario) was taken as a baby from the Sawyer home, after Burt Hartman (Paul Rae) and a crew o men disobeyed the orders of Sheriff Hooper (Thom Barry) and laid siege to the infamous house of horrors.
A couple decades later, Heather’s grandmother Sawyer dies. She leaves an old Texas plantation-style house to Heather, on the strict orders she will not sell the place.
Well after Heather and some of her friends head down there for a housewarming expedition, she starts to understand why the house ought not be sold. That’s because down in the basement there’s a special room. And inside that special room there’s a really, really special person.
So put a smile on your face: the saw is back, and the saw is most definitely family.
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This semi-sequel follows a Michael Bay-ish trend of making horror try to look sexy. Don’t get me wrong, there is a nice dose of blood and gore in this one. They didn’t sanitize anything particularly. But they did load the cast down with a bunch of late-20s-looking young men and women, the kind who wear tight and revealing clothes, the sort who look good from behind in a close-up, and so on. Some of the shots in the movie defy logic, as I don’t understand why they’re included, other than to make things tantalizing for dreary, mopey moviegoers who require ‘eye candy’. And then there’s the typical writing of boyfriends cheating with the best friend, just so Trey Songz and Tania Raymonde can get half naked, greased up with Crisco so all of their curves and creases show off well under the lighting. So I’m not knocking the main cast. In fact, Daddario particularly is a talent, she was good in her tiny role on True Detective (when she didn’t have to take clothes off). Even Songz isn’t that bad for the role he plays. There’s just a bunch of character fodder sitting around Daddario’s Heather; I can even let slide some of the nonsense shots of her here because she actually plays the character nicely. The only other person in the film that doesn’t come off as overacted, hammy, or downright stupid, is Thom Barry. His Sheriff Hooper is good, conflicted, and Barry gives us a nice performance for what little time he’s really in there. Mostly, though, the blame is on the writing. This is another Texas Chainsaw movie rushed into production, using the same formula, doing the same things, repeating history. Yes, there is a little twist to the story, and I dig the family angle. But so many things could be done better.
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Let’s talk about the 3D. Totally unnecessary. Some shots really play up the whole format, such as the chainsaw getting tossed and moments similar to that. I’ve always hated 3D in horror. It’s gimmicky anyways, but even worse in the horror genre. Practical effects are always the last bastion of any mediocre to crappy horror flick. Even some of the worst written screenplays can come across as decent if practical makeup effects help the horrific elements look properly scary. There are scenes in this one where practical effects make the blood and the nastiness look rightfully gross, disturbing even now and then. But relying on ways to push the 3D, the filmmakers ignore the good effects. The worst part is that Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero, masterminds of horror for the past few decades with their shop KNB, do the special effects here, and they’re totally underused. They don’t get to really pull out all the stops. Some of the best stuff is when Heather flicks through old crime scene photos and we get a couple burned bodies, et cetera. Berger and Nicotero shine in these pieces. On the contrary, so many other moments are marred by the ugliness of CGI rearing its head and this does nothing to help the film overall.
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For the blood and gore we do get, and the terrifying savagery of Leatherface (he’s still got it even in this turd of a film), Texas Chainsaw 3D gets a 1&1/2-star rating. There isn’t a whole lot of anything to enjoy here. The unnecessary dialogue at many points, the dumb script and its many holes, the ridiculous need to try and flash Alexandra Daddario’s body (and others, too) – all this adds up to a movie that just can’t hold its own in a franchise that already has some stinkers. While it’s not the absolute worst of the whole series – that honour is saved for the entry graced by the presence of Matthew McConaughey and Renée Zellweger – this is one modern horror that can’t possibly cut the mustard. Not even with Leatherface’s big, bad chainsaw.

Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained: Slavesploitation

Django Unchained. 2012. Directed & Written by Quentin Tarantino.
Starring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins, James Remar, David Steen, Dennis Christopher, Don Johnson, Franco Nero, Bruce Dern, M.C. Gainey, Jonah Hill, Tom Wopat, Don Stroud, Russ Tamblyn, Amber Tamblyn, and Tom Savini.
The Weinstein Company/Columbia Pictures.
Rated 18A. 165 minutes.
Drama/Western

★★★★★
POSTERRecently I saw The Hateful Eight. Taking a step back in time, in that same universe, I went back to Quentin Tarantino’s brutally honest, raw Western (or “Southern” as he likes to call it), Django Unchained. Sometimes I actually forget how good Tarantino is. To me, he’ll always be a truly great director. A master, in fact. My favourite film of his is still, and always will be, the adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch that Tarantino did, Jackie Brown.
But I do believe Django Unchained is one of his most impressive works out of the entire filmography. Let’s face it – there are rarely as interesting, influential and weird writers as Quentin out there. He brings that to the world of slavery and America in its former days, its worse days.
Editing by Fred Raskin, cinematography from D.P. Robert Richardson, practical effects courtesy of KNB wizards Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero (fucking legends), plus a load of other talented people, it all compounds to make Django Unchained into a great Western/Southern for the modern day confronting America’s historical race issues, specifically slavery, topped with the usual wit and style of Quentin Tarantino.
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Down around Texas in 1858, a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) is being transported, along with a bunch of others like himself. Soon enough, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) shows up. He offers to buy Django, but things end up going bad. Schultz murders the men carrying the slaves, and then takes Django with him; now a free man.
With Django riding side by side with Schultz, they set out to find the Brittle brothers – whom the doctor seeks, being a bounty hunter and all. This is how Django purchases his freedom, tagging along to help track and kill a few wanted men. Perfect for the newly freed slave. He’ll have his revenge. Better yet, Schultz agrees to help Django track down and free his wife: Broomhilda von Shaft (Kerry Washington). Only problem is she belongs to the notorious slave owner Calvin J. Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) at the Candyland Plantation. Encountering various wild and nefarious characters, Django and Schultz work their way towards Candie with death, madness and terrifying racism always nipping at their heels in an American Southern Hell.
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One thing I love about this film is the fact it boasts an incredible amount of characters. Better yet, they’re Tarantino characters. Now, for those who do not like his style, or his characters, whatever – then they’re probably not for you in general. But I dig the way he gives us characters, often not diving too deep into their backstory – especially depending on if they’re big or small characters – which sort of intrigues me. Here, it’s not simply an ensemble cast, there really is almost an entire Southern U.S. filled with characters in Django Unchained. From Big Daddy (Don Johnson) and his nasty group of pre-Klu Klux Klan bagheads, to James Remar’s awesome Western-homage double character Ace Speck/Butch Pooch, to M.C Gainey as Bible thumping hypocrite Big John Brittle and Bruce Dern as Old Man Carrucan, to a Franco Nero cameo and a tiny appearance by Walton Goggins. So many different characters occupy the space of Django Unchained. And I know that all of Tarantino’s films are ensembles, there are often a bunch of characters. It feels to me, though, this one takes the cake. It doesn’t introduce too many either, not in the sense that too many are there to be touched on. Even Jonah Hill gets in a cameo with the bagheaded mob led by Big Daddy.
Best of all are the main cast. Foxx gives Django a ton of charisma, the likes of which no other actor could’ve given him. Hands down. Sure, maybe he wasn’t Tarantino’s first choice on the list. But he makes this film what it is, without him it doesn’t matter how well Walt dances over the wonderful screenplay. There’d be no movie without Django the character, and Foxx makes it worth every last second. From the first to the last, he gives it his all. Then alongside him, Waltz impressively characterizes an odd yet charming man in Schultz – both a bounty hunter and a gentleman, a liar and a straight shooter (in more than one sense of the term). No doubt he deserve his Academy Award. He also brings to life the other half of the film. Perhaps others could have played Schultz, though, I’m hard pressed to think of anyone whose abilities rise to the level of capability required to sell this character; Waltz has a hokey-ness about him that isn’t cheesy, it works so well, it makes Schultz who he needs to be, the perfect counterpart to Django.
I can’t not mention DiCaprio’s Calvin Candie and Stephen, played by the ever fabulous Samuel L. Jackson. They both give terrific performances in two very tough roles. Again, as I said recently while reviewing The Hateful Eight, as a white man I’ll never understand how it feels watching a film about race, especially slavery, and even more so considering this one is laced with the word “nigger”. Sadly, this is historically accurate, as the mid-1800’s were a viciously racist time in many parts of America. Candie is a savage representation of the young men who were brought up on plantations, raised into the family business of their fathers, the type of person who molds himself into the best possible version of a terrible person. DiCaprio performs this despicable man in the most terrific way possible, giving his all in a role that couldn’t have been easy. Likewise, though Jackson pulls off a magnificent performance it’s a sad character – Stephen has been bent and broken by white men, turned into a true slave, less free than any of the ones in shackles even while he roams free himself. It’s a wildly entertaining role, albeit tough to watch. Can’t imagine Jackson relished playing him, but in a way it had to be exciting, bringing to life an awful piece of history.
All these people together? How can you not find the cast beyond amazing?

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The conversation about Django Unchained is never complete without talking about aesthetics, from sound to cinematography to set design to effects. I won’t bore you too long. Although, certain names need mentioning.
In particular, there’s editor Fred Raskin. His other work as editor includes the recent (and fantastic) Western-horror Bone TomahawkGuardians of the Galaxy and others, plus he worked in various editorial positions on films like Tarantino’s Kill Bill films, Punch-Drunk Love, Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia remake, Hard EightBoogie Nights, and much more. His editing shows greatly in this one. There are times the way scenes are cut from one to the next are very Tarantino-esque, others it’s typical Western, and some are just odd; it all works. There’s a reason Raskin and Tarantino have worked together several times now. They compliment one another. Bad editing can really kill a movie, and fortunately this one is done well.
Another Tarantino regular, cinematographer Robert Richardson, makes the look of Django Unchained so slick and beautiful. Each sequence is almost done in its own style, but always captured crisply by Richardson. His eye brings to life all the colours of the South, the costumes and the set design all look so vivid under the care of Richardson as director of photography. Many great films have been captured under this guy’s lens from work by Scorsese to Stone. This is but one of those titles.
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Full stop, a 5-star film. This is one of my favourites out of the Quentin Tarantino collection thus far, but still doesn’t top Jackie Brown for me. Either way, an amazing movie. It takes on a period of history many Americans would sooner forget. Instead, Tarantino’s whipsmart screenplay goes head-on at all the ugliness. At times it may be tough to digest. Although, the actors take each character and breathe into them a wild amount of life. Everything here is working on all cylinders, from the writing to the acting, to the wonderful aesthetics brought out by all the artists on the production. I cannot recommend this enough. To the naysayers: let them keep naysaying. This is a destined-to-be classic in the Western genre, though it takes place in the South. I’ll always love this movie. When it first came out I saw it several times in the first couple weeks. Can never get enough of Tarantino.

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

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

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

The Hills Have Eyes II: Horny Mutants

The Hills Have Eyes II. 2007. Directed by Martin Weisz. Written by Jonathan Craven & Wes Craven.
Starring Cécile Breccia, Michael Bailey Smith, Archie Kao, Jay Acovone, Jeff Kober, Philip Pavel, David Reynolds, Tyrell Kemlo, Lee Thompson Young, Danielle Alonso, Eric Edelstein, Jessica Stroup, Joseph Beddelem, Jacob Vargas, Ben Crowley, Michael McMillian, Reshad Strik, and Derek Mears. Dune Entertainment.
Rated R. 89 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★
hills_have_eyes_two_ver7Funny, as much as I find myself a Wes Craven fan, I didn’t realize until watching this again while reviewing it that he wrote the screenplay with his son Jonathan Craven. I think it’s a slight touch better than Papa Craven’s original The Hills Have Eyes Part II from 1985, which despite being a guilty pleasure of mine is still a horrid film; not in the right way, either. However, this version of The Hills Have Eyes II is still nothing great or special in any way, shape, or form. There’s little to enjoy.
I say that with a little sadness. Honestly, the original The Hills Have Eyes is a favourite horror classic of mine, as well as the fact I loved Alexandre Aja’s remake a tiny bit more even. So I expected, or more so I hoped, that maybe Aja would be involved. At least Craven was, though, his script is not very good.
When Martin Weisz was announced to direct, I’d actually anticipated something halfway decent. Personally, I am a big fan of his previous movie based on the real life case of Armin Meiwes – Rohtenburg a.k.a Grimm Love. That was a different and also horrific piece of horror mixed with drama. The real case is wild enough, but the presentation of a script written by T.S. Faull by Weisz makes things even more intense.
Unfortunately I don’t feel as if Weisz brought much, if anything, from the style he cultivated in Rohtenburg to add to this film. There are a few decently creepy moments, most of which come very early in, but there’s not enough of this or any solid script to make this into a decent movie. Rather, The Hills Have Eyes II is one of the worst scripts Wes Craven has had his hands on, and I’m left hoping Martin Weisz will recapture some of what he did with his previous film later on down the road.
21478_1Starting off we come to see how the mutants in the hills from the first film are holding a woman captive. Once she has birthed a child for them, she is killed. Afterwards, some scientists and members of the U.S Army are murdered by more mutants.
Cut to a group of National Guardsmen in training with their sergeant. They’re out on a mission resupplying scientists working in a camp in the desert, there from the U.S DOD doing surveillance; those same scientists from the beginning scenes. When a group of them head up into the hills after finding the camp abandoned, Napoleon (Michael McMillian) and Amber (Jessica Stroup) are left with the communications in punishment. In the hills, the soldiers find the mutilated bodies of the people they’re there to help. Back down near camp, Amber is attacked by one of the mutants who quickly runs off when Mickey (Reshad Strik) is returning to camp with a sprained ankle. But when Mickey gets hauled through a crack in the rocks, virtually eviscerated in one brutal pull, Amber and Napoleon realize there is something sinister at work.
Up on the mountain, everyone else is cut off from contact, and this gives the mutants plenty of things to do. What began as a routine re-up mission devolves into a fight for survival, as only a handful of the soldiers wind up alive and in good enough to shape to try and make it out of the hills alive.
the-hills-have-eyes-ii-shared-picture-china-1386828415Was there ANY need of such a disgustingly graphic opening sequence? I mean, I’m not saying the story is a bad idea. There’s no reason not to believe the hill mutant clan wouldn’t be kidnapping women in order to make babies. First of all, they’re mutants; they probably have no control over their impulses, whether to kill or to rape or whatever. Doesn’t surprise me. Second, they’re mostly concerned with survival. They kill to eat, so as primitive, basic humans – though mutated – they’re probably hardwired to try and procreate. They’re essentially cavemen.
But all that said, why show us right off the bat such an explicit birthing scene? Personally, I think there’s a way to be effective , then there’s this: hitting us over the head with gory nastiness immediately. It’s not even so much that it disgusted me – I’ve seen more than my fair share of gore and savage horror – I feel like it’s heavy handed. Even in the opening scene of the 2006 remake, there’s still brutality and a scary beginning. This one is a load of tripe.
I think had the Cravens decided to just go with the opening being the whole sequence where the National Guardsmen and the scientists from the U.S Department of Defense get attacked by the mutants, this movie would’ve opened much better. The way things start out here makes me think “Ew”, but not in the sense of being good for horror. It’s all shock without any substance.
lAgain later on in the film, there’s more mutant sex. This is something I’m really bothered by because there’s no need of it. At all. I am totally fine, as I said previously, with the plot having partly to do with the mutants in the hills carrying on their family, breeding, kidnapping women to do the deed. It’s nasty, but as a plot it’s understandable. But there’s no condoning having to show actual shots of a mutant raping a woman. Certainly there was no point to showing a GRAPHIC mutant baby birth at the very start, so it doesn’t surprise me that there was more useless shock horror down the line.
There’s a potentially creepy film in The Hills Have Eyes II. One of the big problems I had with Craven’s original 1985 sequel to his film was the fact there seemed to be a tenuous link to why everything was happening; from the dirtbike team to Ruby becoming Rachel, and so on. I like the idea of this movie as a premise – the whole National Guard angle and the DOD scientists in doing surveillance is good. Plus, I usually enjoy horror films that mix in a military storyline/action. However, with too much of the mutant sex being a focus and a much less defined atmosphere in comparison to Aja’s remake, both the Cravens and director Weisz fumble a solid opportunity to make a terrifying sequel.
The-Hills-Have-Eyes-2-DI-1There are a couple aspects I do like, honestly. To start, I did find a couple of the mutants and their makeup effects pretty awesome, as well as the fact they were unsettling. Derek Mears plays a mutant named Chameleon, whose ability to blend into his surroundings are obviously a perk for him. While it was different to see a mutant who has an ability, as opposed to merely a deformity or hideous appearance, I enjoyed it all the same. There’s an added bit of danger, obviously, when a cannibal killer can blend into rocks and walls.
Moreover, I found one of the mutants – the blind one – was a creeper. Very weird and scary! His look/face eminded me of one of the Cenobites from Clive Barker’s Hellraiser and that’s always a good thing. The way he sniffed around everywhere in the darkness was terrible, in the best way possible.
So I have to say that while most of this movie is hugely disappointing, the mutants themselves and the makeup effects, their overall design, it was all pretty well executed. Doesn’t hurt that Greg Nicotero (who appeared as Cyst in Aja’s remake) and Howard Berger, along with a bunch of others from K.N.B EFX, were responsible for the makeup department, from the special effects to the hair to on-set makeup and design. These guys are classic. Even in shit films, I’m always pleased to see Berger/Nicotero & Co. in the credits because their work is usually pretty phenomenal. It’s no wonder they’ve become a staple in the horror movie business.

In the end, what hurts The Hills Have Eyes II most is that Jonathan/Wes Craven did not write a good script. I’d love to say this father-son team knocked one out of the park, because that’d be cool. Sadly, I cannot state anything so cool. The dialogue at times wasn’t too bad, yet most of the time I felt as if I was listening to a walking bunch of cliched U.S Army soldiers; the character of Crank especially made me want to punch holes in my eardrums. Even more damning is the fact that the characters themselves are pretty stupid. They make pitiful decisions. Now, I’m not one to criticize for little mistakes, or even the things people do when they’re scared – I’ve said more than once I put myself in the shoes of characters to try and feel their fear – but there’s no excuse for some of the behaviour these characters exhibit throughout the film.
What I did enjoy about the script was that Wes used little bits from his original sequel to throw in. Such as the whole hills location itself – in his first 1985 sequel, Craven had the mine shafts and all that happening. So here, there’s a much more elaborate version of that going on. Not sure if that was intentional or if the plot they wound up using simply lent itself to using the shafts, et cetera, but either way it’s one thing I liked about the film. There’s great atmosphere once down in the darkness there, as opposed to not much of anything going on before then.
Fun note – the shaft system was done by the same crew who worked on the excellent British horror The Descent, so no wonder the atmosphere and tone amped up once the film shifts to being mostly set down in the mine.
1348829106_1081550When it comes down to the nitty gritty, all the set pieces and makeup effects and interesting premises in the world do not an effective horror movie make. Although, I have to give The Hills Have Eyes II a 2 out of 5 star rating. I can’t deny there is some creepiness, from the suspenseful moments in the mine to the K.N.B makeup effects which made a couple new mutants look scary as hell.
But this Wes Craven script, written with his son Jonathan who has never written anything good honestly, is one if his worst. In fact, I’d almost say it is definitively his worst. I’d honestly put My Soul to Take, a near equally bad film, above this one; and that’s saying something! Mostly it saddens me because I hoped that with an absence of Alexandre Aja for the sequel to his remake Craven as screenwriter would make up for that. It did not, in any way.
My suggestion? Watch the original, or the remake, but this doesn’t have much to offer outside of some nicely executed effects and an eerie setting in the last half hour.

Jack Bauer v. Supernatural Forces in MIRRORS

Mirrors. 2008. Directed by Alexandre Aja. Screenplay by Alexandre Aja & Grégory Levasseur; based on the film Into the Mirror by Sung-ho Kim.
Starring Keifer Sutherland, Paula Patton, Cameron Boyce, Erica Gluck, Amy Smart, Mary Beth Peil, John Shrapnel, Jason Flemyng, Julian Glover, and Ezra Buzzington. New Regency Pictures.
Rated 18A. 110 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★
Mise en page 1 (Page 1) For starters, I’ve been an Alexandre Aja fan for a long while now. Ever since I first saw Haute Tension (English titles: High Tension & Switchblade Romance) I thought that Aja had a sense of old school horror in him.
I continue to feel that way. While some people really might not agree, I think even his lesser films have things worth enjoying, worth taking away – sometimes that may just be the effects, parts of the script, or the story. Regardless I think that Aja carries with him some old school horror movie sensibilities in terms of his use of practical effects (though at times he does opt for some shitty CGI I must admit), as well as the stories he chooses to film.

Mirrors is the most supernatural horror that Alexandre Aja and Grégory Levasseur have written together. It still has a bit of a realistic feel because of where the story goes eventually, however, there’s always that strong supernatural vibe going on from start to finish. In this way, it’s a little different from almost anything else that Aja himself has directed (of course since then he’s also done the fantastic Horns).
While it is not particularly great, I think the movie has merit mostly because of a creepy and weird story, and at times amongst some bad CGI effects we’re treated to a handful of really awesome practical make-up effects shots courtesy of Howard Berger, Gregory Nicotero, and some other wizards from KNB.
Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 11.55.32 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-31 at 11.55.56 PMBen Carson (Keifer Sutherland) is a former NYPD detective. He killed a man in a shooting some time ago after falling into a downward spiral of alcoholism; disgraced, he retired from the force. He’s cut off from his children most of the time, as his ex-wife Wife (Paula Patton) has custody of them both.
To try and make ends meet, Ben works as a security guard. Now he has a new job as the nightwatchman for the Mayflower Department Store which had been partly wrecked with fire years before. There, he begins to experience strange phenomena. Worse is the fact the last nightwatchman cut his own throat with a piece of glass from a mirror in a subway station bathroom.
Eventually Ben starts to feel as if the mirrors aren’t being looked into – they are looking out. And he does not like what they’ve started to project, as it slowly begins working its way out of the Mayflower Department Store, into him, into his life. Things get worse, until soon enough the things in the mirrors are following Ben home, to the home of his ex-wife and children. Unfortunately for Ben, at first nobody believes him because of the medication he takes while trying to stay off the booze. That all changes once the things in the mirrors reveal themselves to everyone else around him. Then, nobody is safe.
Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 11.57.54 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-31 at 11.58.18 PMI really do love the opening sequence. An unwritten horror movie rule is that you need one of those opening scenes that POPS, usually a murder – maybe even the murder that begins the whole story. Doesn’t have to be that, but you know what I mean. There are many variants, yet a ton of horror movies all start out that way with a scene that’s meant to get our adrenaline going, getting the terror started. Mirrors does a fine and bloody job of starting things out. A worthy opening scene to the many that have come before it.

Throughout the movie there are definitely a few instances of terrible looking CGI shots. I think that’s overall one of my biggest problems. When you’re doing a supernatural film, especially, you really need to either do practical effects the whole way through, or you’ve got to be able to put up some quality CGI that doesn’t make things feel so fake and awkward.
Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 11.56.58 PMOne of the worst, to me, is when Ben Carson (Sutherland) thinks he’s on fire, looking in the mirror; he drops and rolls around, the fire consuming him all over the length of his body. Though, he is not on fire it’s meant to look and seem very real. In opposition to that, it doesn’t look any bit real. I’m not saying you’ve got to put someone in danger by lighting them on fire to get the shot, but does the alternative have to be awful effects? Either do it right or forego doing it at all. It was like watching Keifer Sutherland wriggle around in a green-screen blanket or something. Really rough to watch.
I don’t want to lay any blame for this scene on Grégory Levasseur especially. Unfortunately for him, Aja had to leave set to be with his wife who’d prematurely gone into labour, so Levasseur took over duties on this scene. I guess ultimately he didn’t have either control or say over the special effects in that scene, but either way he could’ve been part of the problem. He only recently directed The Pyramid, which I enjoyed yet was not great, so at this point in 2008 he probably didn’t have too much experience behind the camera as a director.
Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 11.57.44 PMWith that being said, I’ve got to commend the really well-executed make-up effects on the part of Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger, as well as other artists from the KNB EFX shop. These guys have done so many films and shows, everything from The Walking Dead to Day of the DeadMiseryEvil Dead IIPhantasm II, and so many more between them all.
A great and classic horror movie death happens in this film. BRIEF SPOILERS AHEAD!
Angela Carson (Amy Smart) dies while in the bathtub: her reflection grabs the top and bottom of her own jaw, starts ripping, tearing it open, upward until the whole thing just starts hanging loose, tongue out, bloody and gore everywhere. The water is full of blood. One of those real gory horror scenes that is enough to satisfy a lot of gorehounds out there! The effects in the beginning as she starts tearing involve a slight drop of CGI, however, the after effects and midway through the process are all practical; looks amazing. I thought so, anyways. Some true gore.
Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 11.58.32 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-31 at 11.58.54 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-31 at 11.59.41 PM
Not a huge fan of the acting, I must say. Mostly it’s only Sutherland who impresses me, and even he doesn’t exactly swing for the fences in a full-fledged, honest effort. I’m not saying he’s bad, at all, I just think that at times he’s a bit too flat. He plays that broken down guy well, there’s no doubt. But it feels like he doesn’t go from one place to another, there’s always this stagnant feeling to the Ben Carson character. Neither is he meant to go and turn into some new person, I just feel like there’s not much range here in Sutherland. Maybe that isn’t his fault, either. Could just be the script from Aja and Levasseur didn’t give Carson enough life on the page. Because I certainly think Sutherland is a good actor – not a fan of his Jack Bauer turn but I love him in Stand by MeFreewayA Time to Kill, and more. So he’s capable of range, I just don’t see much of it in the character itself, therefore we don’t see much out of Sutherland. Though, what he is given he plays well. As I said, I buy him as that sort of broken down, washed up/disgraced former cop figure. With that bit, he does what he can.
Otherwise, as I said, no one else truly grabbed me other than a couple of the supporting actors with creepy parts to play. Paula Patton certainly did not do anything for me; I find her bland and could take her or leave her, preferably she’d be left.
Screen Shot 2015-08-01 at 12.03.37 AMScreen Shot 2015-08-01 at 12.04.05 AMBy far, my favourite part about Mirrors is the backstory of what’s going on inside the Mayflower Department Store. Once the film gets to the 1 hour 20 minute mark and Ben Carson is starting to unravel the Esseker mystery, this is where things get fairly creepy and unsettling. Not that it’s like blow your socks off scary, I just enjoy the mystery, the creepy moments when Carson goes to see the nun, tracking down information, it’s all pretty disturbing. I dig that whole final half hour. It’s by no means perfect, but it has that macabre backwoods element which I really love. To tell you the truth, I could’ve gone for a prequel where Aja explored the origin story in fuller detail, showing the Esseker girl and the lead-up to everything, her ‘possession’ or what not and that whole angle. The execution leaves something to be desired, all the same I thought Aja and Levasseur did a decent job with the story as opposed to the lacklustre work they did with dialogue and character development.
Screen Shot 2015-08-01 at 12.03.24 AMScreen Shot 2015-08-01 at 12.04.44 AMScreen Shot 2015-08-01 at 12.05.36 AMIn the end, I’ll give Mirrors a 3 out of 5 stars. It’s not the worst of what Alexandre Aja has to offer, however, I also can’t say it’s one of his best. A mid-range effort on his part. Mostly, it’s the CGI and nonsense in the plot that throws me off, coupled with not a whole lot of stellar acting. The writing could’ve been done much better. There’s not only bad dialogue, there is a major lack of character development, as well as just some parts that didn’t feel to make a whole lot of sense even when it comes to the movie’s own internal logic. The finale was my favourite part, yet even some points there I said to myself “Hmm what?” and didn’t exactly feel like things went where they needed to go ultimately.
Also the ending sets things up for a sequel. I hate that. You can go for a downbeat, horrific ending that doesn’t have to be a lead-in to a sequel, which it feels like here. This would’ve worked with a haunting, open end but instead it’s like Aja just wanted to set it up so that someone else could spin this into another film.
Screen Shot 2015-08-01 at 12.06.51 AMAside from those points that I thought were lacking, or were downright bad, I do enjoy the backstory of the film. There’s a lot of creepy things going on in that story and even if they were not represented as accurately and effectively as possible to maximize the horror/terror in the final product, I still think Aja did a decent job at trying to draw out some of the creepiness that was there. All in all, this is not something I’ll probably watch again, though, I did enjoy it enough to seek it out to review it and then watch it for a second time. This will be my last. I much prefer Aja’s remake of the Wes Craven classic The Hills Have Eyes, his French gore horror masterpiece High Tension and his film adaptation of Joe Hill’s novel Horns, and still there are a good deal who think the latter of those two is garbage; maybe some even don’t like the first. But me, I love Aja, and even though this is far from a great horror, I still give him credit for trying to instil a bit of old school-ness into his films, whether it be classic style supernatural ghost story stuff or the presence of some wild practical make-up effects.
Just search elsewhere to find his best work, you aren’t going to find it in this film.