Tagged Retro

Ti West’s The House of the Devil: A Slow Burn Satanic Panic Period Piece

The House of the Devil. 2009. Directed & Written by Ti West.
Starring Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, Greta Gerwig, AJ Bowen, Dee Wallace, Heather Robb, Darryl Nau, Brenda Cooney, Danielle Noe, Mary B. McCann, John Speredakos, Lena Dunham, and Graham Reznick. MPI Media Group/Constructovision/RingtheJing Entertainment/Glass Eye Pix. Rated R. 95 minutes.
Horror

★★★★★
house_of_the_devil_ver2Ti West is one of the modern horror directors I think you could say is an auteur in his own right. All of his films have a similar feel, maybe all aside from The Sacrament, as in they’re all done on film (again aside from the aforementioned last of his films to come out), they have the full, rich look of movies from the 1970s and 1980s. Not only that, West is great at drawing out the tension of a film to create atmosphere and to setup excellent uses of suspense.
The House of the Devil is no exception. I’d actually seen this before any of his other work before, and loved it so much I went back to see anything else he’d done I could get my hands on. The Roost is a highly underrated indie horror gem, even Trigger Man – an early attempt at shooting digitally – has its merits. Since then he’s done The Sacrament, of which I’m a big fan, and another fun little spooky flick called The Innkeepers. Loves titles starting with The!
With this movie, West throws back to the ’70s/’80s Golden Age of Horror, not deliberately making a period piece but still harkening directly back to that time by use of similar techniques, camerawork, music, and aesthetic filmmakers were in the habit of using. Essentially, The House of the Devil ends up as West’s scary love letter to movies he grew up, the vibe of filmmaking happening at the time which influenced him, as well as he gives us a slow burn horror rooted in the false Satanic Panic especially prevalent during the 1980s. If you don’t like a slower paced film, this won’t be for you at all. If you don’t mind letting a horror build, letting it grow on you, then give it a shot; you will not regret it.
the_house_of_the_devil_18Trying to get out on her own, away from terrible roommate living, college student Samantha Hughes (Jocelin Donahue) ends up taking a mysterious job babysitting for Mr/Mrs. Ulman (Tom Noonan & Mary Woronov). Mysterious due to the fact the Ulmans don’t have a child. The job is, in reality, for Mrs. Ulman’s mother who lives with them. After some negotiating, Samantha gets a massive payday all for a single night. Her friend Megan (Greta Gerwig) tags along to make sure everything is fine, and though not entirely satisfied she leaves Samantha at the house, almost literally in the middle of nowhere with the Ulmans.
And once they leave, Samantha slowly begins to feel as if something isn’t quite right in the big old house. Not to mention a young man named Victor (AJ Bowen) blasts Megan’s face off just a little ways down the road.
Nobody ever told Samantha babysitting would could be so hard.
houseofthedevil_still2_cmykThere are lots of things to admire about The House of the Devil. While big films often try to go for period looks – such as how Martin Scorsese for instance did the different portions of his Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator according to how films looked at various instances throughout the 20th century – it is’t often an independent movie, horror at that, will try and emulate the particular look of certain decades. West not only shot this on film, but 16mm film, which gives it a great look that was very popular in the 1980s. Other ways West achieves his retro feel is through the zooms, nowadays a technique you’ll mostly see done through use of a dolly shot. Even right at the beginning with the freeze frame on Samantha, music playing, movie title in big block letters; totally ’80s style, through and through. Down to the fact this was the only movie since A History of Violence in 2005 which got released on VHS in one of the clamshell style cases, this is a unique and fun indie horror. So there’s a quaint charm about West’s film I feel gets lost on a lot of people who don’t care about any of that. Should you care? Well, that’s totally subjective. Me, I think there’s a certain artistry involved with all the care that goes into making a movie into more than just a movie, but instead making it become an experience. The House of the Devil, for me, has always been a solid horror while also very much being a horrifying experience all around because of its style.
tumblr_le86wpjc6p1qcc83zo1_1280When Samantha puts her ear close to the door, asking if “everything’s all right in there”, the slow and brief reveal West gives us of the Satanic-like markings, the bloodied corpses on the floor is shocking. It’s not shocking like the scene is going to make you gasp, or lose your breath and hide away. This shot and the scene is shocking in that you’re not expecting such blatant nastiness right behind the door. Even how slow West shows us what’s in the room is incredible, as I was expecting something more along the lines of the ‘mother’ in the dark, looking sinister in the corner, or anything close to that. Instead, it’s a pretty ballsy visual, such that West announces at this moment things are definitely going to start getting savage. At some point, anyways. Afterwards there are more moments of horror later like this, and also some key shots of very dreamy imagery in certain scenes. Generally, West strikes a nice balance between these two methods.
2394_5 158868544_9aea38When Samantha discovers the full extent of what’s happening in the house (think: drinking blood from a horned skull), the plot takes us into the depths of horror. Mixing subtle creepiness with plenty solid doses of nasty violence, the finale of the film plays out with pumping adrenaline in a sequence washed with blood. In particular, a few shots remind me of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, almost homage-like cuts to a hooded demonic character much like how Friedkin made several subliminal cuts to the Pazuzu demon in his film.
Most of all, I found the atmosphere of the film combined with the characters pretty damn eerie. Such as the Ulman family themselves. First there’s Tom Noonan whose creepiness knows no bounds, never once calling back to his stint as The Tooth Fairy a.k.a Francis Dolarhyde in Michael Mann’s Manhunter, which is an unfair criticism of his acting I often see when he plays in horror movies; here, his character is all its own and he plays it quietly with great nuance. Then Mary Woronov does a spectacularly unsettling job with the character of Mrs. Ulman, even in the brief time she’s actually onscreen. Of course, Jocelin Donahue as Samantha is a perfect fit – she’s an ongoing yet at times quiet sort of person, but there’s a strength Donahue gives the character which is really great and adds something to the story. Throw in AJ Bowen and Greta Gerwig as interesting, smaller characters, and I’ve got to say West’s screenplay is a tight one with plenty of intrigue and none of the heavy, sagging exposition of other horror movies trying to spell every last thing out through dialogue.
hero_EB20091111REVIEWS911119997ARThis is a great film, 5 stars in my book. Ti West could’ve done a typical slasher with this, however, he opts to draw on his biggest influences from the ’70s/’80s and some of the real life yet fake claims of Satanic Ritual Abuse from decades ago, crafting a unique indie horror experience. Great and classic sensibilities show in the way West handles his directorial duties, as well as his writing. I can’t say anything else except for: watch it. Maybe you won’t dig it. But those who are into a slow burn, atmospheric type of horror, it’s full of that and it’s only a little over an hour.
Let me know what you think of the movie in the comments below, as long as you can be civil and have a proper talk!

Advertisements

Turbo Kid: Blood, Nostalgia, Video Games, & a Whole Lot of Fun

Turbo Kid. 2015. Directed/Written by François Simard, Anouk Whissell, & Yoann-Karl Whissell.
Starring Munro Chambers, Laurence Leboeuf, Michael Ironside, Edwin Wright, Aaron Jeffery, and Romano Orzari. Epic Pictures Group/Timpson Films.
Rated R. 93 minutes.
Action/Sci-Fi


★★★★★
new-turbo-kid-poster-unveiled
Always interesting to see the different 1980s (& further) throwbacks coming out now over the past 8 years or so since Grindhouse brought the whole concept back. Ever since Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive especially, there’s been a want for the retro 80s style soundtracks, or the entire aesthetic. Even before that with stuff like Ti West’s The House of the Devil, film fans have gotten a taste for the homage films being made by directors and writers who grew up watching movies in the 1980s and that’s where they cut their teeth in terms of influence. What’s even cooler is a lot of these retro homages are coming from indie filmmakers, bonafide genre filmmakers, and so it’s exceptionally cool that these are being made outside of the Hollywood system mostly. Furthermore, even with the heavy dose of homage in films like these, the concepts and premises are often innovative and fresh compared to so much of the recycled, rehashed, rebooted, remade material we’re being fed in theatres nowadays.
While some of these movies opting to go for a throwback retro aesthetic don’t actually do a period piece, or particularly set things in the 1970s or 1980s, Turbo Kid is straight out of both the ’80s and ’90s. At the same time, it’s futuristic. Set in 1997, it’s as if things stopped in the 1980s and everyone’s stuck.
Probably what excites me most about Turbo Kid is the fact this is a film spun off from the short segment “T is for Turbo” that was meant to be in The ABCs of Death. Though the segment did not make it into the film, I’m super happy it ended up being made into a film. Now out on iTunes and other VOD platforms, this is a new indie film that deserves much attention. Not simply because of its origins from the horror anthology in which it was hoped to be included, Turbo Kid is also an example of how neat, interesting movies can get made with the support of film fans. Paying a few dollars to see an awesomely original, independent film ought to be a privilege, and this is one of the latest new films that will hopefully remind people how indie filmmakers are still thinking outside of the box, not following all the latest trends to the letter and still thinking for themselves. Because like I said, while this is pure retro homage filmmaking, there’s a highly original quality to Turbo Kid which evokes equal parts hope and nostalgia.
IMG_1849Turbo Kid takes place in the year 1997, in a post-apocalyptic vision of the world. The Kid (Munro Chambers) wanders around in the wasteland, fending for himself, reading salvaged comic books of Turbo Rider. Along the way he meets the chipper, upbeat Apple (Laurence Leboeuf). She attaches herself to him immediately and tags along for the ride. The Kid is reluctant at first, however, he warms to her quickly.
Meanwhile in other parts, an arm wrestler named Frederic (Aaron Jeffery) is also fending for himself across the barren lands plagued by drought and acid rains. He’s trying to find his brother, fighting against a one-eyed man named Zeus (Michael Ironside), Skeletron (Edwin Wright) and a band of other insane henchman. Zeus kills people, feeding them to a contraption built for extracting water from human remains.
After The Kid saves Frederic and Apple from Zeus, captured in his savage fighting arena, the fight and the chase are on. Across the wasteland Apple and The Kid venture, Zeus on the warpath, and there’s no telling what might happen in the unstable post-apocalyptic world amongst the dirt, the blood, and the acid rains.
IMG_1859Naturally one of the greatest parts about Turbo Kid is the incredibly authentic retro ’80s score. With original music from Jean-Philippe Bernier, Jean-Nicolas Leupi, and Le Matos, there’s an incredible part of the aesthetic in this film that’s built up through the music. Particularly during some of the small intense sequences, like when The Kid (Chambers) is pedalling fast as he can away from a villain on his bike, there’s this amazing synth chase piece that blew me away. I expected lots of this, however, to hear it composed so well and fit so perfectly with the scenes and sequences is a damn treat!
The score’s individual pieces are so fitting when it comes to the ’80s homage because we get a bunch of great little montages, typical of that era of filmmaking. So not only is the score awesome, it plays into the film in so many ways I think work directly towards cultivating that super cool throwback feeling. You’d swear this was done back in the ’80s, all around.
My favourite part of the score is during a massive fight involving Frederic and The Kid versus Skeletron and the rest of Zeus’ henchman crew. It’s just PUMPING the whole time and it makes you want to kick some ass. Coupled with the incredible practical effects, all the blood and gore we’re treated to, the music makes this section full of adrenaline and a hell of a lot of fun to watch.
IMG_1851The apocalyptic angle of the film comes off really well. Particularly I love their use of locations and the sets; not sure how much of this is on location and how much, if any, was done on a set/soundstage. Either way, the post-apocalyptic feeling comes across excellently simply through virtue of how they use their locations. We get the post-apocalyptic settings and sense from everything together, as well as the very palpable sense on top of all that of when the apocalypse happened through the ’80s costuming.
Not only is there a science fiction-ish aspect to Turbo Kid with the apocalypse’s destruction of civilization, this movie has BUCKETS OF BLOOD and PLENTY OF GORE. I thought there’d definitely be a fair share, but man was I pleasantly surprised! Not only that, the practical special makeup effects were out of this world. Just absolutely something to behold. The gory moments get even better once The Kid discovers the Turbo Rider’s gear in a crashed plane; he picks up the glove and begins to blast away at the villains threatening him and his friend Apple.
IMG_1854 IMG_1856Inarguably, one of the best gory scenes is when a friend of The Kid, Bagu (Romano Orzari), is captured by Skeletron and Zeus. They tie a hook into his guts, which are ripped slightly out of his abdomen, attached to a bicycle then Skeletron proceeds to pedal hard and haul a big string of intestine out. It’s an awesome practical effect that’s pretty savage and awesomely gnarly. Hard to say the ULTIMATE BEST, because there are just so many unreal gory, bloodletting moments.
We get a bunch of real awesome bloody shots when The Kid blasts people with the Turbo Rider glove. It’s so video game-like that I can’t help love it. Even the glove itself sort of reminds me of the Nintendo Power Glove, as well as how Apple’s little heart monitor is pretty much (wonderfully) torn out of The Legend of Zelda. But the head shots and the torso blow-ups from the glove look perfectly like something you’d see in a video game, it adds tons of flavour to the retro ’80s feeling. Brings me right back to childhood.
IMG_1850 IMG_1853 IMG_1857Almost all the performances in this movie are spot on. Incredible talent, especially in the younger actors.
Munro Chambers plays The Kid and I found him both charming and funny. He’s got a likeable quality to him instantly, but seeing him rock out to a Walkman and painting his helmet, just hopping about the post-apocalyptic wasteland, it’s a lot of fun. The charm he brings to the role of The Kid helps because there are moments in the script which are purposely cheesy, and he sells these scenes and little brief bits. The performance he gives is awesome. The best thing, though? He actually seems to be having a ton of fun, while still playing his character.
I’ve loved Laurence Leboeuf ever since her turn on the wickedly dark Canadian show, alongside Hugh Dillon playing her father, Durham County. Here she is quite different than that character, which is fun to see. She has a lot of range. Here, Leboeuf plays a beyond quirky, hyper young lady named Apple who turns out to be a synthetic human being, or a robot; whatever you prefer. I cannot count how many times she made me laugh out loud, over and over. There’s energy in her performance unparalleled in this film, maybe unparalleled in most of the roles out of 2015. Honestly, she’s a joy to watch here, as a character who is slightly familiar but plenty innovative. Well cast in this role, there’s no doubt about it, and Lebouef – like Chambers – seems to revel in a chance to do something different, fun, and a bit wild.
Along the edges there’s Aaron Jeffery, whose character Frederic is the typical badass yet with his own square jawed charm and intensity, on top of a rough machismo so familiar from the films of the 1980s. Plus, legendary actor Michael Ironside shows up here as the villainous Zeus, controlling the water sources amongst the desert-like lands of the post-apocalyptic landscape; as usual, Ironside gives a solid performance with the right material and this is one sci-fi/horror I hope he’ll be known for in these later portions of his career. Even the eternally silent Edwin Wright as Skeletron does a fantastic job with a fun, video game/cartoon-ish character who is also a solidly creepy villain alongside Ironside’s Zeus.
IMG_1852 IMG_1858This is a 5 star film. I know some may roll their eyes, but whatever. Fuck those eye rollers. This is an incredibly retro 1980s throwback, which is not simply full of homage and an attempt at capturing a nostalgic feel but a very fun, innovative movie in its own right. Part of what works in its favour is absolutely nostalgia. However, this is not all that works for it. The performances are worth a good deal of enjoyment, the blood and gore are ABSOLUTELY PERFECT with the practical effects to make everything worthwhile, and the original music for the score is something I can’t truly describe that’s how much I love it to the core.
So PAY for this because it is one amazing example of how the dreams of filmmakers can come alive when a bunch of people work towards a collective and unique vision; there’s so much effort behind every bit of this film, I was impressed. Watch it and support indie film. Maybe you won’t love it as much as I did, but I guarantee you’ll walk away with at least some degree of respect for how well all its retro elements work together to make an outstanding homage to a simpler time in filmmaking, as well as it makes for a super enjoyable to spend 90 odd minutes. Kudos to the filmmakers for giving it their best effort and pulling out ALL the stops.
Check it out – available on iTunes (not sure if it’s out on VOD anywhere else yet) – and tell me what YOU think! I dig it so hard that it’s not even sensible. You may or may not. Either way, I’d love to hear your opinion, too.