Tagged Torture Porn

Keanu Takes the Brunt for All Men in Knock Knock

Knock Knock. 2015. Directed by Eli Roth. Screenplay by Guillermo Amoedo/Nicolás López/Eli Roth; based on the 1977 film Death Game, story by Anthony Overman & Michael Ronald Ross.
Starring Keanu Reeves, Lorenza Izzo, Ana de Armas, Ignacia Allamand, Aaron Burns, and Colleen Camp. Black Bear Pictures/Camp Grey/Dragonfly Entertainment/Elevated Films/Sobras International Pictures. Rated 18A. 99 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★
knock-knock-2015.36338
I’ve been a fan of Eli Roth ever since Cabin Fever. Say what you want about that movie, it’s a fun little modern horror; not for everyone, but it isn’t bad. Not in my mind, anyways. Then when Roth came out with Hostel, the game changed and I realized his brand of horror was the shocking sort – yet not for shock’s sake, rather it engages you viscerally to a point, mostly, where you find yourself immersed in the experiences of the characters. Every one of his feature films I’ve enjoyed so far – waiting patiently in my little nook of Easter Canada to see The Green Inferno – and even more so, I think Roth has great talent as a producer, having helped films like The Last ExorcismAftershockThe Sacrament, as well as most recently The Stranger and Clown each of which were pretty fun indie horror movies.
With his latest, Knock Knock, Roth takes the 1977 horror Death Game from director Peter S. Traynor and modernizes things slightly, giving our latest generation (of which I’m near the tail end) a home invasion film with plenty of sharp teeth and even one sassy, satirical tongue.
15347-2-1100There are plenty of differing opinions on Keanu Reeves and his merit as an actor. Honestly, from a completely personal point of view, I’ve always loved him. Partly that stems from my childhood love of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure/Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. But seriously, River’s EdgePoint Break (it’s not a great film but a solid action effort), My Own Private Idaho, these alone impress me enough to say Reeves is a quality actor when given the right material; then there’s The Matrix, to which I’d argue I honestly don’t know if anyone else could’ve done Neo in the cool, at times disaffected, and slick way Reeves pulled it off.
But right from the beginning of Knock Knock, I found myself drawn into his character, Evan Webber. In particular, the relationship between Evan and his wife Karen (Ignacia Allamand) feels so natural, very real. The way they acted with the kids, their little moments together alone, it was all great writing fused with proper acting from Allamand and Reeves.
Then once the girls show up, things get super interesting. At first I didn’t get into their performances, honestly. After a little while, Lorenza Izzo and Ana de Armas began to impress me, bit by bit. They really keep things feeling off-kilter, in a truly proper way. Both of them are creepy almost from the get go, though, subtly, not at all in an outright sense. Furthermore, the chemistry with Reeves and the girls is electrifying in certain scenes – the way his thumb shakes, hovering around his phone as he nervously checks to see how close the Uber ride is to the house, it’s just about perfect. Lots of good stuff in the little gestures.
knock-knock-keanu-reevesUltimately, Evan Webber brings dangerous and the unpredictable into his life. He could have thrown those girls out of his house once they started coming onto him. He could have walked away. So, in the end, Evan doesn’t deserve the extent of what comes to pass, however, he absolutely could have made sure he didn’t end up in the situation he did. When he wakes up into the madness of his infidelity’s aftermath, there’s part of me that feels bad because you can see, immediately, his regret is vicious. At the same time, most of me says “fuck him”.
And this is part of why Knock Knock is interesting and unnerving. Roth places us in the uncomfortable position of hating what Evan has done to his wife and family by cheating, while also not being able to reconcile his stupid act of infidelity with what these two girls inflict upon him. Things get even worse when the girls reveal they’re underage, threatening Evan with revealing his statutory rape; sure, he didn’t know, but Mr. Webber also made no attempt to stop what was happening, not knowing these girls, not knowing how old they were, what kind of people they are, et cetera. One reason I do enjoy this movie is because Roth plays with us, much like how the girls play with Evan.

sundance_knockknock2The film takes it turn from erotic thriller to dark horror once Evan drops the girls off and they eventually make their way back to his place, sneaking in, then knocking him out. I found the following scene immediately brings a sneaky, creepy factor, more than any point before, with Genesis (Lorenza Izzo) sitting at the vanity putting on dark makeup around her eyes while Evan struggles tied up on the bed in the background. Things get rottenly disturbing, in such a perfect way, after this point. Bel (Ana de Armas) strolls in and psychologically tortures Evan, wearing his daughter’s schoolgirl uniform, her panties, and calling him Daddy. It’s so perverse, so unnerving, it works wonders. All the while Genesis is still in the background, trying on makeup and jewelry, writing on Evan’s wife’s vanity mirror with lipstick (aptly she prints “It was not a dream!“). This entire sequence is great, it destabilizes the viewer and takes us into scary territory. One of my favourite small moments is when Genesis walks through the dark hallway, running her finger along the wall and slightly tipping the pictures, they swing back and forth a little and she walks on; something weirdly chilling about this brief shot.
knock.knock_.sundance.inside1Genesis: “How many family men have survived this game?
Evan: “None
Genesis: “What was that?
Evan: “None
Genesis: “Correct!
MruB_There’s not as much outright bloody and gore as you might expect for an Eli Roth horror film. While the disturbing, nerve wracking aspect of Knock Knock is almost perpetually present from the moment Bel and Genesis show up to the finale, there isn’t a ton of that Roth nastiness.
Although, I did find SPOILER ALERT how poor Louis (Aaron Burns) went out/how the girls papier-mâchéd his corpse was pretty raw! I’m not saying there isn’t any of that archetypal Roth style here, there certainly is. I’m just surprised. I honestly thought this would be another full-on bloodfest. Even during the finale, with all the psychological horror mixed with a few bits of very physical violence, I expected gore to start pouring out, and still Roth restrained himself from devolving into that sort of horror. Instead, I feel like the psychosexual nature of the plot, all the terrorizing of Evan, it made things more devastating than if Roth and his fellow writers had gone for something more vile, more “torture porn” (boy do I hate that label but it works). Because again, in the end, I didn’t want to see Evan be killed or even tortured. As much as what he did was wrong, his infidelity is awful, there’s still that part of me, of us hopefully, which does not want to condemn him to death; his situation is murky, full of all sorts of twisty, turning, messy bits.
Death, though? I don’t believe, despite all his flaws, his terrible mistakes, that’s the most fitting punishment. Having his infidelity revealed, even having him arrested and his wife leaving him, taking the family, et cetera – those are are appropriate. But death, no. In the process of Knock Knock, I think the film will reveal the sickness in the viewer: did you want him to die for cheating on his wife with two underage girls, or were you conflicted yet didn’t want to see Evan murdered? Very telling film, which dives into many aspects including how we as an audience judge the characters and their decisions within a filmic space.
I won’t reveal the revelations in the last ten minutes. Some of what I’ve said will change with those pieces, some won’t all the same. Find out for yourself and let me know what you think/feel!
maxresdefaultAll in all, I’m giving Eli Roth’s latest psychological horror-thriller a 4 out of 5 stars. This is a heavy, brutal piece of cinema, which is a remake of Death Game and also its own film. There’s something different about this movie than the other horror movies Roth has done. Bits of Knock Knock are straight up erotic thriller, while so much of the rest is downright disturbing horror. Most of all, Roth taps deep, far into extremely uncomfortable aspects of humanity, from sexuality to infidelity to the judgement we place on others before knowing all the facts, and more. The ending works so incredibly well, the last lines are perfection, and I can’t imagine this finishing in any other way.
My verdict is that Knock Knock is well crafted, it subverts expectations wildly despite other reviews and online comments telling you the movie follows a formulaic technique used by other horror-thrillers; it certainly does not. A few times I found myself genuinely surprised. Check this out for a good dose of steamy thriller and lots of psychological horror, terror, and straight up madness!

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Disturbing Horror for Halloween Season

There are tons and tons of disturbing horror movies out there. I’ve seen plenty of them, but the titles on this list are some of my favourites. Not saying these are the most extreme, the most hardcore, I’m not touting these as the most disturbing horror movies you can watch. Simply, I think these are a good dose of movies running the gamut from thematically disturbing to graphically disturbing, to downright weird.
Without further rambling, here are my picks for a bit of wild horror to throw on this Halloween season, if October really has you feeling like you need to test your limits on film.
Enjoy…?


Possession (1981)
ecfslbxawaseotypjpcl3ibd2prFor my full review and discussion, click here.

The title says it all.
This is probably the strangest erotic horror-thriller you could ever imagine. Even saying erotic horror seems strange, but god damn if this is not full of both horrific and at times erotic imagery.
You could say this is a character study of two people in a relationship and what the ideas of possession mean for both involved.
To say any more would be to truly give things away. Honestly, go in knowing only a very basic plot – a couple falls apart as the wife seems to be having an extra marital affair, which proves to be something far stranger. Just know that when the horror hits you it is going to smash your face into bits, it may even rock you sexually in the worst kind of way imaginable.

Inside (2007)/ Trouble Every Day (2001)
inside-1 You can be guaranteed that if Beatrice Dalle is in it, I’ll watch it! So here is an excellent Dalle double feature which you can indulge on Halloween to scare the wits out of you.
First up is the 2007 home invasion horror-thriller Inside, directed by Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo who also directed 2011’s Livid which was on another list I did for this October. This movie is just all out horror and highly female-centric: on Christmas Eve, a pregnant woman alone at home is attacked by a mysterious woman intent on getting inside the house, as well as inside that belly. If you’re pregnant, you may want to avoid this movie honestly, or if you’re super sensitive. Because this horror escalates, from a mild creep to a roaring scare. Be prepared. Also, this whole movie’s drenched in blood and gory bits. Excellently disturbing stuff!
Trouble-Every-Day_1 Second comes auteur director Claire Denis’ version of the cannibal film, Trouble Every Day. Starring Vincent Gallo and Beatrice Dalle, this is the story of sexual cannibalism in humans, as opposed to insects; starting with a husband and wife travelling to Paris for their honeymoon, the husband investigating a strange clinic, and ending with bloody horror. Hard to explain any of the ins and outs, I’d rather not ruin it any more than I already have with this explanation. Either way, Denis is a master filmmaker, someone of whom I’m a huge, huge fan, and this is a really gripping, unsettling movie out of her works. You won’t be sorry. This is disturbing, but it does have a great script held up by a couple solid actors like Gallo and Dalle in particular on whose shoulders the movie ultimately rests.
This is a solid double feature, which really shows off Beatrice Dalle’s talents. Also, it touches on two pretty touchy elements of human nature: pregnancy and sexuality.

The Devils (1971)
THE DEVILS - American Poster 1For a full review, click here.

Maybe this might not be totally considered horror. Honestly, though, if you don’t find Ken Russell’s The Devils horrific I’m not sure how your brain operates.
Both Oliver Reed and Vanessa Redgrave give terrific, agonizing performances in their own right; Redgrave particularly gives a transcendent performance full of religious fervour and Satanic mania.
If you’re going to see this, you need to be able to see it uncut, in its entirety, as even while the most attainable version out there is pretty wild, the uncut version of this Russell masterpiece is unbridled psychosexual horror in its finest.
Just to give you a taste: there’s a scene known as “The Rape of the Christ”. Craziest part is that this whole film, the story and its plot, is partly based on a real story. Need a nice dose of disturbing religious horror? You found it in Russell.

Three… Extremes (2004)
50aee982-8647-40fa-9644-e45f71fc4f42-3_Extremes With three short films in one, this entire anthology only runs around 118 minutes, so you’ve got a great triple feature for the price of one!
Starting off with Dumplings, from Fruit Chan, the Asian horror gets churning with the story of an ageless woman who makes her signature dumplings for other women attempting to capture the elusive fountain of youth and its secrets. Hint: there’s something in the dumplings that ought not be there.
Cut by director Chan-wook Park is the tale of, funny enough, a film director and someone with a grudge. With a trap-like setup surpassing the interest factor of anything Saw ever had to offer, this short is sadistic and incredibly intriguing.
Finally, the short titled Box comes via notorious (and awesome) Japanese director Takashi Miike. I’d like to say a little, but would rather not spoil anything. Let’s just say it involves two sisters who were contortionists, they belonged to a carnival of sorts doing a trick involving a box, and then something bad happened at the carnival. No more, or you’ll know too much! Go in knowing only this: Miike is disturbing, if you’ve not seen his other work you should maybe get ready for a tense ride. Though, each of these shorts has their own test, I find something unsettling about Miike’s approach to stories, like he knows something the rest of us don’t.
Great watch if you don’t mind subtitles. It’s a really disturbing film all over, but Dumplings and Box particularly have always stuck in my mind.

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)/ Tony (2009)

For my full review of Tony, click here.
For a full review of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, click here.
1990-henry-portrait-of-a-serial-killer-poster1 You’ll always hear about John McNaughton’s 1986 shocker when realistic horror is being discussed – raw and savage, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is one of the most unflinching portrayals of serial killers on film. With a central performance rivalling some of the best in horror, Michael Rooker embodies the loose, fictionalization of real life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas; also included is the recently deceased and wonderful Tom Towles as another loose fictional version of Lucas’ actual partner for a time, Ottis Toole. The very brutal and simplistic style McNaughton uses only serves to unsettle the viewer with such an up close and personal view of the inside of a serial killer’s mind and world.
poster23 years down the road, after the release of the McNaughton cult classic, filmmaker Gerard Johnson gives us Tony – another film loosely based on a real killer (this time it’s British murderer Dennis Nilsen the Kindly Killer), this 2009 dramatic horror follows the titular character, Tony: on the spectrum, he is quiet, shy, lonely, disaffected and disassociated. However, at home, Tony cuts up the bodies of those he kills, draining their blood down the drains and the toilet, putting body parts and organs into plastic bags which he later casually dumps into the Thames. The reason Tony is so chilling, and why it’s a great double feature with McNaughton’s film, is because the movie takes us right behind the eyes of the central character – the at times sympathetic yet horrible killer – and never once do we make our way out of his perspective. At certain moments, the film is a slow burning character study; at others there’s an ominous sense of terror. Either way, you’ll be surprised as the film goes on just how depraved this quiet man in his council flat is deep down underneath his unassuming exterior.
Put these two films on – one American, one British – you’ll get an interesting look at the two sides of one coin. Dive into the darkness of the murderous mind!

The Last House on the Left (1972)
the-last-house-on-the-leftFor a full review, click here.

With the lofty goal of making a horror-thriller version of Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring, itself based on a medieval Swedish ballad, Wes Craven (R.I.P) – at the time a self-professed young and angry man – brought a new style of horror to the screen. There were certainly disturbing movies before 1972, however, Craven effectively brought the ‘rape-revenge film’ to the spotlight with The Last House on the Left.
The first time you see it, something will happen. Regardless whether or not you think Craven’s movie is excellent, mediocre, or not worth the time of day, you cannot deny there is most certainly a lasting impact. After you finish this one, there is a part of you that won’t ever feel the same. I can guarantee you that. Even as, what I’d like to think is, a hardened horror veteran, having seen literally 1,000+ horror movies, there is still consistently something truly disturbing about this one; I own it on Blu ray, though, it doesn’t get played much. Only when I’m looking for a true shock do I throw this on. You may never want to watch it again, but give it one go this Halloween. You may just lock your doors and forget all about the trick or treaters.

Snowtown (2011)
snowtown-1-posterFor my full review, click here.

You may notice the prevalence of movies based on true stories over the course of this list. And here’s another: based on The Snowtown Murders in Southern Australia, Justin Kurzel’s Snowtown focuses mostly on the budding relationship between serial killer John Bunting and one of the sons of a woman he dated at the time of the killings.
A lot of reviews and comments on the internet have stated they find the movie boring, either it’s too slow all around or they feel as if nothing much spectacular happens over the entire course of the film. I just don’t get that. This is a deep character study, once more akin to the earlier Tony/Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, and we not only step inside the perspective of a serial killer, we’re bound to the perspective of Jamie – the son of Bunting’s quasi-girlfriend at the time – who did commit horrific acts alongside Bunting in real life. Here, the character of Jamie is mostly seen as sympathetic, both being abused by his half-brother and manipulated by Bunting, and through him the audience is able to both understand and be horrified at Jamie’s new life. Bunting is played amazingly by Daniel Henshall in what is – as far as I know – his first film role specifically; the performance is subtle and extremely unnerving. The whole movie is very involving, if you can forgive it’s at times slow pace. In the end, you’ll be thankful if looking for a disturbing horror, because this is one that really left its mark on me. I’ve forced myself to watch it a couple times and there are scenes in Snowtown burned into my brain; things I don’t necessarily want to see or think about, yet I’m drawn to, as the dark side of reality truly comes out in Kurzel’s film.

Excision (2012)
excision-poster1Anyone know AnnaLynne McCord? I didn’t, until this wonderfully macabre and disturbing bit of cinema. When I found out who she was, what she normally looks like, I was immediately impressed with her performance in this film – not only does she do a great job in her role, McCord physically transforms into another person. To say anything much would ruin the surprise, the sick, disgusting joy you’ll eventually take out of seeing all the nasty visuals of Excision come alive before your eyes.
Basically, this is the story of a young girl’s becoming – she is turning into a woman, mentally, physically. Yet the bloody beginnings of womanhood translate into something entirely different for this high school girl. She fantasizes about crimson waves, organs, tortured and mutilated male bodies, and so much more.
I’d never seen this movie, yet picked up the Blu ray because I found the description of the film, as well as its cover art, extremely intriguing. There’s not only disturbing horror here, the screenplay is full of sass, wit, and oodles of black comedy. Plus, John Waters, Ray Wise, and Malcolm McDowell all show up, so how is that not awesome? Choose this if you want to shake up your expectations, just make sure your stomach isn’t weak because a few moments in this movie really pushed my limit and that rarely, if ever, happens. Still, I love it and could actually throw this nasty little shocker on any time.

Grimm Love a.k.a Rohtenburg (2006)
grimm_loveFor my full review, click here.

Back once more are we to the reality of killers, the depraved and sick, twisted individuals lurking out in the material world, not simply characters banished to the abstract realm of film and television. 2006’s Rohtenburg (English title: Grimm Love) examines, not using the real names, the case of Armin Meiwes who was arrested in 2002 after police discovered he found a man on the internet, a willing participant, to eat; together, they attempted first to eat his penis together, after which Meiwes killed his companion, quartered him up, ate pieces and stored the rest in his deep freeze.
There’s a romantic aspect to the main characters of the film, mirroring the real life pair – even within all the sickness, the cannibalism, each of them and their intensely depressed states, these two men connected on a level most of humanity will never know. Still, no matter their intentions, no matter their feelings after meeting one another, these two men were fatally damaged, eternally flawed. While there aren’t too many graphic bits here, it’s the emotionality and intensity of the plot which makes things disturbing, very real. If you’re able to handle such a wild ride into some of the more twisted aspects of the damaged human psyche, then I suggest Grimm Love as an interesting way to spend an October evening.

Audition (1999)/ Contracted (2013)
audition-cover2 I want to preface this double feature by saying evil comes in all shapes and sizes, all forms, all ways.
The first of two evils is Takashi Miike’s Audition; not surprisingly, Miike shows up twice on this list, first in Three… Extremes. This 1999 psychological-horror starts off with a recent widow looking to start dating again, so with the help of a friend in casting he arranges to interview (or ‘audition’) women to become his new partner. However, after meeting the supposed new woman of his dreams, the man comes to discover she is not whom she appears to be at first. Beginning with a vague romance, this Miike film typically devolves into pure madness, controlled, but madness nonetheless. With some of the most unbearable torture in film history, this is not simply “torture porn” (hate that label; read other reviews to find out why). Rather, Miike brings psychological fear to life – from the fear of meeting someone new, to the thought of losing someone you love and having to start life over again – as well as touches the deepest, most visceral nerve possible in each of us.
contracted-posterFrom the story of a female torturer, we move to Contracted, starting its vicious and horrific descent into psychological/body horror with a cold and ruthless act committed by – this time – a man. People criticized the marketing of this film because it says “one night stand”, when clearly the young female lead is actually date raped at the start. However, unless I’ve not heard all there is in terms of press, I don’t think it’s intended this is meant as a LITERAL one night stand; merely, the tagline says “Not your average one night stand” in a dark, acidic way. Because once you get into this movie, you’ll realize England is trying to make you uncomfortable. Not simply for uncomfortableness sake: there is legitimate horror here. There are bits of David Cronenberg in here, with all the attention paid to the lead character’s body deteriorating after obviously having contracted a virus from the man who date raped her. Even more than that, I think England makes a few highly poignant points about the male mind, in terms of both the man who raped the film’s lead and the man who pines for the lead’s attention. I won’t spoil anything else.
This double feature is bound to leave you shocked, in awe, and maybe not in any kind of good way. Miike’s Audition came before the golden age of online dating, so I imagine it might touch more nerves today than even when it came out 16 years ago. Moreover, Contracted is the Eric England rape metaphor film we never knew horror could produce (the sequel leaves much to be desired) and while it has things to say the most of its power comes from the cripplingly nauseating visuals. If you want a downright unsettling double feature for Halloween or leading up to the special night, this one may be your Holy Grail.

Sleepaway Camp (1983)
Sleepaway-Camp-Poster By now, most anyone who is into slasher horror movies, even in the slightest, has definitely heard of the 1983 classic Sleepaway Camp. Not just that, they’ve definitely heard of, or have seen, the outrageous and terrifying twist finale. I will not spoil anything in the way of its big gem.
What I will say is that this movie is one of those genuine ’80s-era slashers which is deserving of its cult following and infamy. It isn’t perfect, nowhere near that, however, I’m a firm believer this is one of those top notch slashers simply because I NEVER ONCE SAW THIS TWIST COMING! I mean, fuck M. Night even on his best twist endings, this one is the RULER OF ALL TWIST ENDINGS. Sorry, I love Memento, I love The MachinistThe Sixth Sense was a whopper in its day, and there are plenty others… but SleepawayfuckingCamp just rocks all of them out of the water. Say no more. Want a good dose of by-the-lake horror and a finale that will haunt your dreams? You’re welcome.

Antichrist (2009)
1.inddFor my full review, click here.

Lars Von Trier is a name you can say in a room and find a hundred different opinions about from just a couple people: some think he’s trash, others (mostly those who’ve only seen his recent two-part Nymphomaniac) say he’s a pornographer, then there are those of us who think he’s full of unbridled, unadulterated genius. Sure, he doesn’t always hit the mark, but what filmmaker ever has? Not a single one in history has made a full catalogue of perfect movies. But Trier, each and every time at bat, steps up and delivers something, at the very least, worthy of endless hours of conversation.
His 2009 film Antichrist is the study of many things: misogyny + misogyny’s affects on womankind, relationship dynamics, parenthood, as well as so much more thematic material. Containing two of the bravest performances I’ve seen in the past 10 years, both Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg are captivating. Most of this movie touches on subject matter and themes many will find, in moments, almost reprehensible – from genital mutilation on the part of men and women, to the death of a child while his parents have sex. It isn’t all provocation and in your face, nasty horror, Von Trier touches at the heart of issues in all his films, whether people wish to recognize it or not. No matter what, Antichrist will pull you in, chew you up, then spit you out. Then lap you up and chew some more until all the grizzle of your brain is digested. You may never ever forget these 108 minutes, no matter how hard you scrub that grey matter.

Calvaire (2004)
calvaire If you weren’t sufficiently disturbed and left sleepless by Lars Von Trier, I present to you the final offering of my list: Fabrice Du Welz’s 2004 psychological horror-thriller, Calvaire.
The movie follows a struggling entertainer, a singer named Marc, whose latest and slightly sad tour takes him out into the backwoods of Belgium. When he breaks down, Marc comes across an inn through the woods, owned and operated by a Mr. Bartel, the seemingly friendly and welcoming host. After the first night, though, Marc discovers Bartel is not as friendly as once it seemed – the man first stalls on fixing Marc’s vehicle like he promised, then when he tears the battery out and other parts, it’s very clear Bartel is up to something more sinister. Trapped at the inn, Marc’s journey falls quickly into a darkness he could never have anticipated, not in a million years, and the stay at Bartel’s inn transforms into a fight for survival.
This is another one I purchased blind on DVD, not knowing anything more than the description and reading a couple reviews online, as well as based on the neat cover art. When I first saw this, I was completely floored and still, even when I’m in the right mood, Calvaire is full of uneasy moments. There’s a slow burn quality to this one and things don’t jump right out, often the pace is snail-like, yet if you can make it through and continue to watch up to the end of the finale. you’ll be well rewarded in terms of disturbed emotions. And after all, that’s why you came to this list, right? Welz’s shocking psycho-horror is full of chills, thrills, and unwanted uncomfortableness. Watch, but only if you dare.


Here ends another list for the Halloween season! I hope those of you who’ve come to find something fittingly full of shocks and super nasty will walk away satisfied. I’m sure many horror hounds have at least heard of all these, most likely they’ve also seen them, too. If you’ve got any of your own suggestions, at 4,100 films watched it may have been something I’ve already seen – regardless, I want to know what everyone else finds disturbing and what you’re watching to get the creepy October-Halloween vibe happening. Let me know in the comments what you think of the list, or if you have suggestions for other nasties I should include in my own viewing list this season.
Cheers!

Saw VI: Less Plot, More Guts

Saw VI. 2009. Directed by Kevin Greutert. Screenplay by Marcus Dunstan & Patrick Melton.
Starring Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor, Mark Rolston, Betsy Russell, Shawnee Smith, Peter Outerbridge, Athena Karkanis, Samantha Lemole, Tanedra Howard, Marty Moreau, Shawn Ahmed, Janelle Hutchison, Gerry Mendicino, Caroline Cave, and George Newbern.
Twisted Pictures.
Rated R. 90 minutes.
Horror/Mystery

★★
saw_vi_ver6_xlgIn this Saw outing, Kevin Greutert takes up the reigns of the series. He’s primarily been an editor, having worked on every entry in the Saw series up until now (those duties were taken over by Andrew Coutts). With another screenplay from writing team Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton, Greutert attempts to somehow extend the legacy of Jigsaw a.k.a John Kramer into another film.
Luckily, this one cuts back down to a 90 minute runtime, something other entries might have benefited from as well. Problem is, no matter how lean and quick things get there seems to be a progressive drop into full on gore for gore’s sake, which began a couple sequels ago. Even worse, the screenplay does not match up to what they’re attempting to do. There are good things here in Saw VI, but not enough of the original atmosphere and tone of the series remains for me to feel like this movie belongs anywhere near the top few.
With a couple interesting traps and a fun, plausible step in the story of Jigsaw, there’s enough to watch through once. But unlike the first and third entries of the Saw series, I can’t see myself putting this on again (this was my 2nd viewing and twice was too much). Going for too many characters, too many switches between subplots, I feel like this sixth entry of the franchise doesn’t do much except try to come up with more elaborate traps in which to toss more fodder characters for murder’s sake. Maybe enough for some? Not for my liking. There are gore films I enjoy, but this one doesn’t even go for scary, not really so much CREEPY either; it aims only for disgust and shock horror, nothing else.
SimoneArmSaw6Saw VI shows us what happens after the previous film, when Agent Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) makes it out of the house of horrors where Agent Strahm was crushed to death. Now the noose is slowly slipping around his neck, as the other law enforcement agents around him close in on the Jigsaw Apprentice; to Hoffman’s surprise, Agent Lindsey Perez (Athena Karkanis) is still alive after suffering terrible injuries in Saw IV. We get further flashbacks of Hoffman with Jigsaw a.k.a John Kramer (Tobin Bell) and his wife Jill (Betsy Russell), as well as Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith) who was the other apprentice to Kramer.
At the same time, a health insurance executive named William Easton (Peter Outerbridge) finds himself in the clutches of a new Jigsaw game – having been the one to effectively sentence Kramer to death, not providing him coverage for an experimental treatment to help his cancer. Facing most of the people he knows and loves, the few they are, locked into a whole crop of terrifying traps, he must face the gauntlet or watch them all, as well as himself, die.
saw_6_imageImmediately something I did enjoy was the first trap involving this film’s main character, the seedy insurance agent. Reason being is that, while gruesome, the graphic nature of that entire scene opted not to be too extreme – the most we get is a splash of blood, really. And that’s fine. Because sometimes, less is more. Particularly when the series has strayed wildly into the area of so-called “torture porn” (fucking hate that dumb label though). Giving us a creepy trap which works effectively without needing to go for complete blood and gore is something rare at the tail end of the Saw series, so I’ve got to give them props for that in terms of writing and production design, all around stellar job on this sequence.
Furthermore, while I do think stretching a series out is not always a great idea, there’s something genuine which strikes me about the plot and story of Saw VI, as a logical progression in the overall tale of Jigsaw. Bringing in the whole insurance angle is not far fetched. And though you can certainly still ask why bother to extend the series, I don’t think there’s much use in trying to tear down the logic behind the story. Not saying everything in the plot is plausible, not whatsoever, merely that I think the story of the insurance agent coming into play is sensible, as Jigsaw would’ve no doubt found their practices enough to warrant ending up in a trap. Which, of course, they do.
saw-6-saw-vi-04-11-2009-23-10-2009-19-gTo be honest, an aspect of this screenplay I could’ve done without is so much of John Kramer’s (Tobin Bell) wife. I know she’s part of the story, I know it needs to be sorted out, yet so much of it feels like it’s mashed in, tacked on for good measure. Again, the whole insurance agent plot is something I find pretty good, but all the stuff with John and Jill (Betsy Russell), even the stuff with Agent Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), it all feels INCREDIBLY TIRED. Mostly, I feel like they should’ve just kept the main focus on Jigsaw instead of involving so many other characters around him. Once more, I know the writers can’t simply ignore characters and start leaving them out, but at the same time this already trim 90 minutes could’ve probably been trimmed a couple minutes more for scraps.
There are some incredibly tense bits, for instance the STEAM TRAP involving William Easton (Peter Outerbridge) and his attorney Debbie (Caroline Cave), which I found pretty wild. It had me on edge watching Debbie trying to make it through that rough cage maze with the steam. Nasty. But then that tension gets ruined with too much switching back and forth between the traps and those characters involved, as well as showing bits with Jigsaw, Jill, Agent Hoffman, even Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith) is back for more action with new scenes for the first time since Saw II. There’s simply too many different things happening. Nobody can tell me I have a bad attention span or anything like that – check out the movies I love, and the sheer number of films I’ve seen over my 30 years on earth. There’s just TOO MUCH HAPPENING, not in a good way. Far too many characters for this 90 minute film to tackle; they’re just not needed, I don’t think. There’s no reason each and every last character here was essential to the film, not in any way. It’s a mess, in terms of how the screenplay flows, and throughout the film this throws the pace off to a point where it’s hard to recover. While I’m sure the back and forth between plots is meant to be intriguing, and also intense, when in reality it only serves to make this a jumbled sequel in the franchise rather than something well crafted and properly intense.
Hoffmanscars1Definitely one of the worst in this series, Saw VI is at best a 2 star film. There’s too much being thrown about in the screenplay by Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton, both of whom I do enjoy I have to say, for this movie to find a pace where it fits correctly. Instead, this movie sort of bounces all over the place from one scene to the next – very intense at times, others it’s sluggish and drags itself about with heavy handedness but under the guise of being full of mystery.
If you’re looking for a better entry in the series, I always suggest the first film and the third as my top choices. The second is decent, but those are honestly solid horror movies. Interesting, tense, and horrific stuff. This is just an excuse to try and make more money. Sadly, another franchise which has spiralled into the darkness in the worst sense.

Saw II Proves Bigger Is Not Better

Saw II. 2005. Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman. Screenplay by Darren Lynn Bousman & Leigh Whannell.
Starring Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Donnie Wahlberg, Erik Knudsen, Franky G, Glenn Plummer, Emmanuelle Vaugier, Beverley Mitchell, Wil Burd, Dina Meyer, Lyriq Bent, Noam Jenkins, and Tony Nappo. Twisted Pictures.
Rated R. 93 minutes.
Horror

★★★
saw_two_ver2_xlgJames Wan and Leigh Whannell created a brutal and mysterious horror film with 2004’s Saw, which went on to become a wildly successful movie at the box office, so there’s no surprise a sequel was coming. No surprise it went on to become an equal in series length to the likes of A Nightmare on Elm StreetFriday the 13th, and Halloween. The second film in the series is a little less mysterious and more full-on horror – not that the original was shy on the gory, bloody moments – but it’s also got a bit of a crime-thriller feel to it at times as the police and criminals feature heavily in the cast of characters along for the sequel.
While Saw II goes for a slightly different feel, opting for more shocking horror than building a specifically cultivated atmospheric grimness, I do think there are truly excellent horror movie moments that cannot be disregarded. However, the beginning of the slippery slope into the silly label of “torture porn” begins with this sequel and amplifies as the series goes on. Getting a look at the Jigsaw character more is one of the aspects which ultimately saves Saw II from being only focused on the torture and nastiness. Even further, I do feel that Darren Lynn Bousman works well with the tone setup in Wan’s film, allowing this essential aspect to carry through and sustain other elements of this sequel.
f99fd3d686884025aa85ea7513171b45Saw II sees Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) digging into the Jigsaw Killer case, along with Detective Allison Kerry (Dina Meyer). When they head to a crime scene, where several law enforcement officers are injured in the line of duty, they finally discover the killer himself, John Kramer (Tobin Bell), waiting for them. What begins is not only a game between the police and Kramer, a.k.a Jigsaw, it is also the fight for the lives of eight people whom the killer has trapped in huge house, stashed at some unknown location; one of which happens to be Daniel Matthews (Erik Knudsen), son of Eric.
Jigsaw reveals bits of himself, yet it’s always someone else and their transgressions which he is interested in. Things become even more confusing when Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith) wakes up in the house alongside the other seven, discovering herself trapped in another Jigsaw game all over again.
There is no telling who will make it through and out of the house, nor is there any comfort in knowing the police have Jigsaw in their grasp.
Because he also has them in his own.
image03 still-of-dina-meyer-and-donnie-wahlberg-in-saw-ii-(2005)The opening sequences in this sequel is a whopper. There’s a guy alone in a room, naturally greeted by a video of Billy the Puppet with the voice of Jigsaw speaking to him. But it’s the contraption on his head which draws the most attention: like an amped up iron maiden medieval torture chamber except confined solely to the head. I thought this was a perfect way for Darren Lynn Bousman to set the tone for his film; it’s obvious, right off the bat, this one is trying to extend that grim and macabre atmosphere that began in the first. While I don’t think this one holds up exactly to the standard James Wan’s original film set, this opener and many other scenes in Saw II definitely fight to keep up with its predecessor on the level of intensity.
SawII_Knudsen_1200_673_sA benefit to this film is that we discover more about Jigsaw, but more than that we’re getting treated to a full dose of Tobin Bell. He is a really fantastic actor and I think this character was almost MADE for him, like destiny. Honestly, when I think of iconic horror villains he is absolutely on that last, and he’s a person who – 20 years down the road – I just can’t see not being Jigsaw, you know? Much like other roles, I find it hard to see anyone else playing this guy because Bell does such great work. For instance, even with all the makeup Freddy Krueger will ALWAYS BE ROBERT ENGLUND (sorry Jackie; love your acting though), while Michael Myers can be inhabited by several actors because the body language is what’s mostly key about his character, same goes for Jason Voorhees. Now that we’re seeing Jigsaw more face to face, as opposed to the first film where we only discover who he is within the final few moments, there’s no way I can separate Jigsaw and Bell.
Not only his looks, his voice is unsettling; calm and creepy, very calculated, with purpose. He also has this weird eye contact thing I love, where he locks eyes with someone he speaks to and sort of holds them in his gaze. Works great for the character because he’s all about the humanity of everything, so Kramer strikes me as the type of guy who is interested in the connection between humans, as well; eye contact being a very intimate connection, which many are not comfortable with, which I think is what interests me about a serial killer (if you can call him that technically) who holds fairly close eye contact with most people to whom they’re speaking. Just an example of why I find Jigsaw/John Kramer an already classic horror villain, little bits like his way of watching people as they’re in conversation really give what could be a one-dimensional character much more depth.

Part of me finds the ingenuity in some of the traps out of Saw II innovative, in terms of horror movies, there’s also a part of me which tunes out to some of the nasty stuff happening. Anyone who has read my reviews, or knows me, understands that I do love a good gore flick as much as other hardcore horror fans. More than that, I’ve been a fan of a few terribly vicious films for years – something sick in me gets a thrill out of Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom, I recently discussed my enjoyment for cult classic Cannibal Holocaust, and then I love all sorts of other disturbing or gory movies, from American Psycho to Martyrs to Anthropophagous, and many more.
STILL – somewhere I draw a line to the limit of shock horror I find useful or sensible in one film. Certain movies can pull it off and there are many ways to do so. The aforementioned Anthropophagous is straight up madness, however, there are so many weird horror elements within it I find the movie underrated. In opposition, I think Saw II tries to simply go bigger on both plot and shock simply for the sake of it. Though I do find the premise of having Jigsaw throw these eight people into a house, there’s also the fact it’s a bit contrived, and that it seems at times like an excuse to amplify the amount of torture/traps shown onscreen. Saw went for a little more of a contained, smaller style all around from the gore and violence, most of which came offscreen and what didn’t relied on a tensely cultivated atmosphere. Just as I love how Saw III goes back to that dynamic; it still has plenty of torture and nastiness, but sticks with a more manageable amount of characters.
still-of-emmanuelle-vaugier-in-saw-ii-(2005)-large-pictureThis brings me to my biggest problem with Saw II. I don’t think the acting holds up. Most of all, there are too many characters being tossed around in the script from Darren Lynn Bousman and Leigh Whannell. Not entirely sure, in my opinion, so many characters were required. As I mentioned, part of this I think comes entirely from the fact the filmmakers, and no doubt the studio, wanted to include more gore, more torture, more violence, so adding more characters only seemed natural. MORE MORE MORE!
But more is not always best. I’m not saying less is more, either. I’m just saying: more doesn’t work all of the time. While Bousman tries to hold onto the atmosphere and tone which Wan came up with in this film’s predecessor, part of what hinders their build-up is having too much time dedicated on the many characters included. Especially considering the fact this sequel is exactly 10 minutes shorter than the first. In my mind, this one could’ve benefitted greatly from being ten minutes LONGER than the original Saw, as I could’ve used more reliance on that atmosphere and tone than on the excessively expository dialogue at times and the mounds of additional characters amped up significantly here.

This sequel is only about 3 stars for me. It’s a little better than mediocre, only because I love Tobin Bell so much and I do feel as if Darren Lynn Bousman did a fairly decent job with his first feature working off bits and pieces of what James Wan did in Saw. Added to that, Shawnee Smith’s return is both wonderful in terms of the plot and also for the fact she does great with the role of Amanda Young. I like where everything went thematically, as well as how Jigsaw’s methods become more and more clear now with the people he chooses to put into his traps. My enjoyment of this sequel doesn’t extend much further.
Unfortunately this movie suffers from two incurable problems: 1) the need to include a bunch of extra characters who are frankly not written overly well, and 2) relying too heavily on trying to shock and repulse us with nasty horror/gore than actually genuinely, effectively SCARING US. These prevent this movie from rising above most other horror out there and it’s no better than most of the non-Saw films trying to imitate its style. I don’t suggest this one as a good addition to the series. Like I said, though, I’m a fan of the third particularly above this one; I feel it returns slightly to the simplicity of the first, while also opting for plenty nastiness. See this entry in the series mainly for Tobin Bell and Shawnee Smith, as well as some grim trap designs.

Saw: Raw Modern Indie Horror

Saw. 2004. Directed by James Wan. Screenplay by Leigh Whannell, from a story by Whannell & James Wan.
Starring Leigh Whannell, Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, Ken Leung, Dina Meyer, Mike Butters, Paul Gutrecht, Michael Emerson, Benito Martinez, Monica Potter, and Shawnee Smith. Twisted Pictures. Rated R. 103 minutes.
Horror/Mystery

★★★★1/2
Saw_posterThere are plenty of people who say Saw is so-called “torture porn”. I can most certainly see how, as the series progresses, someone might find the movies a bit heavy on torture, fetishized torture almost. But here? There’s definitely a good heaping portion of horror, no doubt. What we get most of all here, as opposed to the other films afterward (a couple of which I do actually enjoy though), is mystery.
Granted there are certainly problems. I can’t say this is a perfect horror movie. However, I think that what Saw lacks slightly in logic at times, it more than makes up for with the atmosphere and tone James Wan creates in the film’s 103 minutes.
We also can’t ignore how Wan’s film, working off a grimly fun and intense script from Leigh Whannell, spawned an entire flock of copycat movies attempting to capture a glimmer of the success of Saw by focusing heavily on torture horror aspects to drive their stories. Not many, if any, were able to come close to what Wan and Whannell accomplished here, and it’s because – as I mentioned already – the horror is peppered in nicely amongst a primarily dark mystery story. There’s more than enough to satisfy many of the gory horror hounds out there, but Saw pays its dues as a great horror mystery that changed the game in 2004 by not being everything typical we expect from most horror movies. While it’s not perfect, I do think the first film in this series is worth its weight in BLOOD.

Saw begins as two men, Adam Faulkner-Stanheight (screenwriter Leigh Whannell) and Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes), wake up trapped in a small, dark, dirty room together. Each man is held by a thick metal chain to a large pipe in opposite corners of the room. When they get the lights on, a fairly fresh dead body is laying in the middle of the room, gun in hand, brain blows out on the floor. Over the course of their time together in the room, Adam and Dr. Gordon begin to discover a serial killer named Jigsaw wants to… play some games with them. Gordon is a doctor who was recently brought in for questioning, Jigsaw having planted an item of his for the police to find; Adam is a photographer, his own past revealed throughout the film, whom Jigsaw captured. Each of the men have their own demons to face, as the mysterious man named Jigsaw is less a killer and more a judge who places the job of executioner in the individual’s hands: his traps put the victim’s life at their fingertips, begging the question of how far will a person go to live?
Would you walk through Hell to come back to the light?
saw1There are numerous creepy things about this movie, so I’ll start first with the tone. One thing I’ve always enjoyed, which I found set this apart from so many other horrors of the early 2000s, is the atmosphere of Wan’s film. To start, there’s an excellent colour palette to the entire movie. For instance, I love the scenes when we’re seeing the flashbacks to Amanda (Shawnee Smith), the junkie, when she finds herself locked into the bear trap puzzle by Jigsaw; everything has a green hue, this wonderful tint and it puts you in that grimy headspace exactly where Amanda found herself. Works perfectly at some many different points. Even just the interrogation room itself where Detective Tapp (Danny Glover) is talking with Amanda, while Dr. Gordon (Elwes) watches on the other side of the glass, it has this blue filter that makes everything feel very stern, tense.
Then we have the majority of the film where Dr. Gordon and Adam find themselves stuck in that dirty room. That has a more clear look, however, the set itself (not sure if this was an actual location or a set; forgive my ignorance) has this palpably filthy feeling to it, so this plays the part of the filter, through a totally real aesthetic.
I find each of the different segments in Saw have their own aesthetic, even the flashbacks Dr. Gordon has to his family life; the house itself gives things a very dark, vibrant look. Wan could’ve easily gave each and every scene a similar look, instead they all find their own which adds something to the perspectives of the different characters and their respective situations. Even the camerawork itself is different, with Gordon’s scenes being much more steady while Adam had a more handheld, chaotic style feel. Something I love about this movie, which I think not enough people recognize. Much of what I find Wan did with this film did not carry over to many of the others, in the sense they went more for shock and awe while Wan builds up a macabre atmosphere and dark tone which gets under your skin with every passing scene.
Saw1_01Saw2MAJOR SPOILER AHEAD: for anyone who hasn’t actually seen the movie, you may want to not read this next bit.
The character of Zep Hindle, played by Michael Emerson (most know him as Ben Linus from Lost), works so perfectly as a red herring. Not that he’s a particularly innocent man, however, he has obviously been manipulated by Jigsaw. In that sense, he’s the killer’s own red herring, put in place with his own hand.
An intensely creepy scene happens as Zep takes Dr. Gordon’s wife Alison (Monica Potter) and daughter Diana (Makenzie Vega) hostage. The tension is thick while Zep puts a gun to Alison’s head, then puts a stethoscope against the daughter’s chest to listen to her heartbeat get faster and faster, thumping hard; I thought this was so disturbing in a way, there’s a sick pleasure Zep gets out of the act. Also, out of so many horror movies I’ve seen that’s a moment I can’t remember seeing too often – maybe it happened in Dr. Giggles or something equally horrible, but I think this little scary moment is a unique bit, albeit brief.
No more spoilers should come after this one.
LawrencePromisesAdamAnother awesome part about Saw is the fact this doesn’t rely on a ton of CGI effects in order to make the scares work. We get the scares, the strange creepiness of it all, then there are great practical special makeup effects that drive home all those feelings. My problem with so many modern horror films, even many which tried to capitalize off the success of Saw, is how the build-up to the scares, the blood, the gore, always gets spoiled by CGI; and the bad stuff, at that. With this film, Wan delivers on all the tension and suspenseful moments by giving the audience worthy practical effects on which they can gorge.
Added to the nice effects work, Charlie Clouser (who I know most from his work with my favourite musician Trent Reznor/Nine Inch Nails) gives everything an even creepier feeling with an at times brutal and other times unsettling score. His work is great and I’m surprised he doesn’t do more horror than he’s already done. Even on the lacklustre sequel The Collection he does some fascinating work with its music. Mostly, I love the unbelievably weird and scary intro music he did for American Horror Story. Here, there are times where the score just pounds relentlessly (think the scene where the detectives meet Jigsaw face-to-mask for the first time), others Clouser gives us that iconic Saw music with the little electronic riff which sort of floats around and haunts you after awhile, and there’s an overall great sound design too filling in the gaps between his individual pieces. Most certainly a huge aspect to the atmosphere in this film is his composing. Can’t get enough of the work he does here.
Saw (2004) Screenshot 3I think the performances are decent enough to hold all the tension, the suspense, and the horror together as a cohesive and effective unit: I’m always game for Cary Elwes, in anything, even when he’s not totally spot on there’s something interesting about his acting; moreover, surprisingly Leigh Whannell was good as you don’t often expect a screenwriter to also act well.
Above all, the atmosphere Wan is able to bring out, the bloody effects, and the mystery of the script carry this into the realm of a modern classic. There’s no doubt the rest of the Saw series strays into a ton of needless nastiness, regardless if I do like one or two of the half dozen sequels, but Wan uses atmosphere, ton, and the excellent screenplay Whannell wrote in order to make this a PURE horror film.
I can honestly say that, for me, this is a 4.5 out of 5 star film. There is enough solid creepiness that the screenplay feels well written, as well as the fact James Wan’s directing takes this to a higher level. As a team, Wan and Whannell have proved since this film, time and time again, they work wonderfully together and have the same horror movie sensibilities. Their projects usually try to challenge what’s happening in horror at that moment in time, Saw merely being their first big success (I’m a huge fan of the Insidious series), and I think that while many try to pass this off as “torture porn”, it is far more than that every step of the way.

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 Bleeding Religion of Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs

Martyrs. 2008. Directed & Written by Pascal Laugier.
Starring Morjana Alaoui, Mylène Jampanoï, Catherine Bégin, Robert Toupin, Patricia Tulasne, Juliette Gosselin, Xavier Dolan, Louise Boisvert, and Jean-Marie Moncelet. Canal+.
Rated R. 99 minutes.
Drama/Horror

★★★★★
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Martyrs is most definitely a bloody, gory, savage film from beginning to end. Of course those bits alternate, as well as the fact Pascal Laugier builds up tension very nicely at so many points. But there’s no doubt about the savagery contained within this horror movie.
There have been many gory movies in the history of horror film. From Herschell Gordon Lewis’s Blood Feast and Wizard of Gore, among others, to stuff like Saw, then classic horror such as many of Fulci’s films and Dead Alive from Peter Jackson. So there are many ways in which gore can play a part in a horror movie. It can either be so-called “torture porn” (those who’ve read my reviews before know my stance on this dumb label; I only use it for ease), or it can serve a purpose of some sort. What I’m saying is that gore need not be useless, just some element thrown in to make a horror more scary, more effective. It can be used as a means to an end, rather than an end in and of itself.

To me, Martyrs is one of those films with all the blood and gore to satisfy even the most desensitized horror hounds, but even further it has heart, character, and a ton of interesting, complex story to boot. Laugier has a masterpiece of horror here and I think that the writing helps to elevate this from simply another gore picture, to a profound horror which leaves its visceral, bloody mark on the viewer long after the credits stop rolling.
vlcsnap-2013-06-10-04h02m56s84The movie starts with a quick scene of a young Lucie running in a tanktop and underwear down the street, screaming for help. She’s brought to an orphanage where she comes to bond with a girl named Anna.
Years later, grown up Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï) goes back to the little house from which she’d escaped years earlier, running away bloodied and in a frenzy, then kills the mother, father, and the kids inside. Calling Anna (Morjana Alaoui), the two women then begin to try and pick up the pieces. Only Lucie seems to be having trouble with something inside the house. After the unthinkable happens, Anna is left to try and figure out how to proceed from then on. Only, the house hides more secrets, things Anna couldn’t possibly anticipate. As she goes down into the basement, discovering what amounts to a whole complex underneath its foundation, things are revealed which will shake her world and her beliefs forever.

Watching this again for the dozenth time or so now, I forgot how awesome the music was during the moments with the ‘thing’, as it first encounters Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï). It has this almost heavy metal, ominous, pounding rhythm. Very intense. Then the rest of the film there’s also more nicely composed score. Alex & Willie Cortés do the music in this film. They also did music for an interesting independent film called Eden Log, also worth checking out. This was the first time I’d noticed any of their work, and other than the aforementioned film I haven’t seen anything else with which they’ve been involved. Doesn’t matter; their work here speaks for itself. I thought it worked well with so many of the tense scenes. A good bit of music helps to increase the mood, which Laugier helps set through dreary atmosphere and even a bit of the unexpected in there, too.
947476557For the first half an hour when I saw Martyrs initially, I had no real clue what was going on. While I knew roughly that something obviously happened between Lucie and the family she slaughters, when the ‘thing’, the terrifying and hideous woman first showed up I couldn’t figure out what the hell was beginning to come out.
We get bits and pieces, slowly, then finally the plot starts to filter out. This is ultimately the greatest part about the film. Laugier puts the gore together with an innovative, refreshing story, and this makes the entire gorefest so much more worth it for the thoughtfulness on Laugier’s part.
And in the meantime, the gore and the effects are incredible! The first woman, the ‘thing’, looks out of this world. As if her outer layer of skin had literally been peeled off. I mean, kudos for that. Then comes the woman whom Anna later finds in the basement; when she’s trying to take the metal blinder thing off the woman’s skull, it actually made me cringe once or twice. I’ve seen a ton and that still got to me. Gnarly!
Perfect work in terms of special makeup effects. I have to mention Benoît Lestang – other work includes: The City of Lost ChildrenBrotherhood of the Wolf, and Amen. Then there’s also Adrien Morot whose credits range from Alejandro González Iñárritu’s upcoming film The Revenant, to NoahX-Men: Days of Future Past, to smaller work on indies like Rhymes for Young Ghouls and Canadian television series Durham County starring Hugh Dillon. In Martyrs, these two artists come together to make some truly effective, disturbing, and nasty work. Wonderfully macabre business!
martyrs-pascal-laugier-francia-canada-2008I don’t think there’s any possible way two actresses other than Morjana Alaoui and Mylène Jampanoï who could’ve done a better job with these two characters. There’s a true, evident connection between the two women. Even though there’s not a particularly massive amount of character development, nor do we get to know either of the women overly well, the deepened relationship between Anna and Lucie is clear, as they’re both there for one another. Particularly the fact Anna obviously loves Lucie, maybe more than just a friend. Yet either way, she did so much for Lucie, to try and help her get past whatever it was that happened to her as a young girl in that awful house. So with a small amount of time, Laugier is able to setup a perfectly believable and emotional relationship between the two women while not having to focus too directly on any expository dialogue, or even flashbacks of any sort.
Martyrs2008720pBluRayx264-CiNEFiLEmkv_20140712_234042243.png~originalThis leads to another aspect I loved – the backstory for what is going on in the house. There’s so much more going on than I’d ever imagined from the start of the story. Once things kick in, as Anna is left behind following Lucie’s tragic death, they really take hold of the jugular.
After a while, the story comes out that these people were a part of some larger, obviously heavily funded, operation in which people were essentially being groomed into martyrdom. This is martyr in the sense of being “witness”, or bearing witness; in this film, it is bearing witness to what lies beyond death in the afterlife. Like a sick type of experiment – well, not like, that’s exactly what it is: an experiment. They take humans – especially girls apparently because they’re even more resistant to the pain overall; tougher and built for martyrdom – then they subject the human body to everything, to and beyond the limits of what a person can handle. I think I found all the pictures of the previous martyrs especially chilling! First, we see them almost meaninglessly as Anna walks through the newly discovered, sterile-like environment in the basement. Then later on, it’s all explained, and the gorefest which preceded everything begins to truly mean something.
Now, whether or not you think that something is a load of crap or not, that’s another story. I thought it was twisted and depraved and perfectly suitable. In a way, it subverts our expectations of horror films that get labelled stupidly as “torture porn”. We expect this is all just sick pleasures and people getting off by torturing others. Yet the deeper Anna takes us into the house and its catacombs beneath, the chambers and labs and rooms below, there seems to be more and more to this supposed torture. I thought the script was an excellently refreshing horror on Laugier’s part and it’s nice to see something with all the earmarks of a typical gory horror, which ends up being more than a sum of bleeding and dripping parts.
martyrs-05There are a bunch of ways you can look at the film, if you want to dig deep into as a metaphor or analogy of some sort. Whatever way you cut it, I think there’s a lot to offer in the story of Martyrs. You can look at it as ultimately the story of what lengths some people, under the guise of “faith” will go to figure out if there is anything beyond the pale of death. You can also look at this as how society, many groups in particular, heap all the weight and harshness of the world onto women; as the villainous lady in the film says herself, women are better at taking the pain, they have a higher threshold and tolerance for it, therefore they make the perfect candidates for this imposed and supposed martyrdom. We’re able to digest Laugier’s work in any number of ways, but regardless it’s stellar. I think you can take from it what you will – at face value, or something with a little more value under the skin.

This a masterpiece of horror, as I’ve said before. Absolutely 5 stars. Pascal Laugier has an incredibly twisted eye for horror and I think he brought all this forward in Martyrs. Truly great horror movie. It has everything from an interesting backstory, well-written characters, great performances, and on top of all that there is a near non-stop gore machine pumping out the wonderfully macabre and nasty makeup effects.
If you’re a horror fan, you need to see this honestly. I think if you take the time to let the plot sink in, take the ride for the first 20 minutes to half an hour, this will really get under your skin. Plus, if you watch it on Blu ray the sound and visual quality is extraordinary. Couldn’t get enough.
There’s a good deal of interesting work here that doesn’t often come along in horror anymore. One of the best modern horrors I’ve seen. Period.