Friday, October 16, 2009

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Silent Talkie - Soft for Digging (2001)

Most of you have probably never heard of J.T. Petty, but he has a couple of really interesting films under his belt. His second film, Mimic: Sentinel, has some pretty heavy Hitchcock influences, and I admired what he did with the material. Tonight, however, I watched Soft for Digging, his debut horror/drama outing, and what I found was something more akin to a movie from the first two decades of the 1900s as opposed to a work created within the past ten years.

Save for one speech near the end, there are only six words of dialogue spoken by anyone. The main character, Virgil, only ever says one word: "Murder!" Yes, this is a film about a nefarious deed done to someone probably undeserving of it. But the most admirable thing about Soft for Digging actually isn't its full-on horror aspects; it's also a film about one man's relative isolation and limited dealings with anything outside of his own affairs. There are title cards to introduce each "chapter" of the film, and all they do is describe or set up the group of scenes to follow. Each chapter usually has one major thing going on. For example, the first chapter is about introducing Virgil and showing his cat run away. The cat is important, but you get to watch the film to know why.

A simple man in a simple cabin.

Anyways, the silence in Soft for Digging is almost deafening, in the sense that it tells everything about Virgil and all that's going on around him without the need for spoken words. He's a simple man who lives out in a cabin in the woods of Maryland, and he seems to be pretty content with life until he sees something that understandably shook every fiber of his being. A girl is murdered out in the woods, and Virgil just happened to be there when it took place. From that moment on, he's tormented with dreams of the girl and her murderer, and those dreams eventually prompt him to leave the isolation of his cabin in search of answers. To be honest, up until a good while into the film, I wasn't sure that he even saw what he thought he did. I figured he's alone a lot of the time, his eyesight might not be as good as it once was, and his mind basically filled in the rest. Boy, was I wrong. A murder definitely took place, and it's thanks to Virgil's take-it-as-it-comes demeanor that anything at all got done about it.

This is not a family picnic.

Until the end, the horror elements only show themselves in the dreams/visions of Virgil, and they're always designated by a few seconds of blackness and creepy sound effects, followed by the sequences themselves. They're like short, choppy nightmares that only give enough information for you to see that something is wrong, and Virgil is the only one who knows about it. The way the mystery is unveiled is extremely simple, yet resoundingly effective. There's no big production about what's going on - it just is. The lack of dialogue is probably the main reason for the uneasiness injected into almost every scene once Virgil's on the trail.

Here, Virgil tells the cops that he found the girl's body, but when they all go to dig it up, of course there's nothing there. Notice how the film doesn't rely on any spoken dialogue at all.

I guess I'll begrudgingly say that Soft for Digging isn't for everyone. The whole film is a build-up to a modest ending if you've seen a lot of horror movies, but for me the ending is perfectly satisfying. That, coupled with just watching the simplicity of Virgil's existence and how that simplicity was intruded upon was worth the 74 minutes spent with the film. Give it a shot if you're in the mood for something completely different.

Monday, October 12, 2009

How About Some Horror Classics? Candyman (1992) and The Entity (1981)

In my opinion, both Candyman and The Entity are both classics, but for vastly different reasons. If you were to watch them back-to-back, you would come away with two totally unique experiences. In the spirit of the season, I'll briefly give you my two cents as to what makes each film so great, with accompanying video and pictorial evidence for your perusal. The odd thing is that my latest horror kick really has nothing to do with it being October. Honest, I'm not lying to you. Anyways, here are two examples of masterpieces that should be on the shelf of any self-respecting horror fan.


Candyman is great for a couple of reasons. For one, it's a maccabre, grotesque piece of psychological horror that doesn't treat anyone - viewers or characters - like they are idiots. The early '90s was home to a few horror gems that sort of blended the old school with the new. Jacob's Ladder is another worthy example. And with Candyman, you have a tortured soul who ends up becoming the stuff of nightmares: A seemingly immortal spirit who claims his victims for the sole purpose of keeping others afraid of him. Yea, there's nothing complicated about his motivations. He's a sick fuck who gets off on hearing his name mentioned when someone is scared out of their mind. If he really existed, we'd all be screwed.

The first appearance of Candyman. It doesn't go so well for Helen. Candyman seems to be having fun, though. And Tony Todd is fucking awesome.

How do you prove to a smarmy psychiatrist that Candyman is real? Split him open from the groin and then fly backwards out of a window. Durh.

I said Candyman is grotesque, and I really meant it. I don't think I've seen another movie with as many guttings starting at the groin area. That's fucked up. The atmosphere is almost dream-like for the most part, and for brief periods the main character, Helen - played to perfection by a gorgeous Virginia Madsen - can't tell reality from what she can only imagine is delusion. But as she gets deeper into the shit, it's pretty obvious to her that she's not hallucinating. Candyman is real, and he wants her to be some sort of eternal hellish bride. I guess that wouldn't be so bad, if only there wasn't the whole burning to death after being stung by about a million bees. In any case, Candyman is permanently on my list of great horror films. Based on a Clive Barker book, the maccabre doesn't get any better than this (and Hellraiser).

Is a sobbing Virginia Madsen, forced to strip while covered in blood, still hot?

How about now?

The Entity

The Entity is pretty much the polar opposite of Candyman. There's no blood, no murdered slave back from the dead to wreak havoc, and not nearly as "sad" an ending. The thing that sets The Entity apart from other poltergeist or haunted house-type films is the brutality of the thing doing the haunting. It doesn't just move shit around and slam doors. In addition to those things, it also likes to literally rape its victims, repeatedly and without mercy. That's not very nice in my book. Carla is a single mom with three children, going to school while working a full-time job. In other words, just like a lot of other women. The only difference between them and her is that some kind of supernatural asshole keeps raping and attacking her in her own home.

Yes, both films have a bath scene. But The Entity's has more nudity and rape. I'm all for the nudity. The rape, not so much. It's quite brutal, actually.

One thing that I absolutely love about this film is Ron Silver's character, Dr. Sneiderman. He's Carla's psychiatrist, and also the best portrayal of a skeptic I've ever seen in any film. From the way he goes about trying to help Carla to the actual conclusions he reaches, he is pitch-perfect in showing how someone with reasoning based in the real world works out problems. I love it.

Here is a fantastic scene (my favorite of the whole film) in which Dr. Sneiderman tries his best to show Carla that it's all in her head. In normal circumstances, I'd be behind the Doctor all the way. But he's obviously not in the loop in this story.

The only thing that The Entity has in common with Candyman is the similarly hot leads. Barbara Hershey, like Virginia Madsen in Candyman, simultaneously does an amazing job with her character while being easy on the eyes. One thing takes skill while the other comes naturally, but to have both at the same time makes it that much more special.

Initially, Carla goes back-and-forth in her belief that she's making it all up in her own head.

I'll also quickly mention another aspect that both films share (ok I lied about them only having one thing in common). The scores are uniformly excellent. They both convey the overall emotions of each film to a T, and without that quality, the content of both would suffer. I can't stress enough how important the music is to a film that is relying on emotional investment. Bravo to both films and the filmmakers who had enough self-respect to not shit all over themselves in that department.

Alright, so you've seen the clips and read about how awesome both of these films are. If you've already seen them, then you can just relish in what a good decision maker you are. If you haven't seen them, you now have an opportunity to give yourself a lot of blissful happiness. It's up to you, but I'd recommend blissful happiness over, well, anything else. So what's it gonna be?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Torture, and Then Some - Martyrs (2008)

French filmmakers, man. What the fuck. According to the director, Pascal Laugier, Martyrs is an experimental film. I can instantly understand what he’s talking about. It’s like there are two separate films – one for the first half, and one for the second. At this point in my thinking, I’m not even sure if that’s a bad thing. I’m going to go into plot specific points after this paragraph, so be warned. Normally I don’t go into spoilers, but the things I really want to talk about require a tad bit of spoilage. I won’t give a blow-for-blow account of things, but just be forewarned that I’ll be mentioning details that you won’t want to know without seeing the film in its entirety. Anyways, I’ll say this about Martyrs: it’s not afraid to express an opinion, and that same brazenness might actually do the film harm. As of yet, I’m undecided as to what side of the camp I fall in. Maybe by the time I’m done writing, I’ll have a better understanding of what my full opinion is. We shall see.

The story centers around two women – one has been horribly abused as a child, and the other befriended her during their stay in some sort of orphanage. The ordeal was obviously traumatic, as the abused girl has near-debilitating hallucinations that manifest itself in reality in the form of self-mutilation. The set-up briefly shows the two growing to know and trust each other. And by briefly, I mean about fifteen minutes. The length of character set-up isn’t a problem; it felt like just enough explanation for what was to come for me to be satisfied. But the story quickly ramps up, when, about fifteen years later, the abused girl somehow tracks down the people who hurt her so long ago. And by hurt, I mean locked her in chains in a dank, dark basement in order to physically beat her with no mercy while feeding her just enough to keep her alive. By some freak chance of momentary mental lapse on the part of her captor, she escapes and lives to tell the tale. Naturally, the girl has severe mental problems, and the single thing on her mind is to track down the people responsible and dole out a good bit of fuck you justice. Aided by her childhood friend, her punishment is exacted in a way that only a psychotic could envision.

An important part of the film is what happens after the deed is done. The girl still can’t get rid of her imagined demons; in fact, they seemingly grow in intensity. Despite that, her loyal friend is there to help her though her trying times. Trying times that include murdering four people in cold-blood, but trying times nonetheless. I don’t necessarily advocate the killing of anyone, but I can put myself in her shoes in order to see why she did what she did. For one, she’s so mentally fucked up that a shotgun is just as good a tool for justice as an arrest warrant. In her case, rationality is about as far down the list as what brand of toilet paper to purchase during her next grocery store run (I always buy Angel Soft). At this point in the film there seems to be two themes running through it: being so deluded as to warrant rampant murder, and the thickness of a friendship bond almost overriding personal morality. I say almost because the deluded girl’s trusted friend second guesses her during a crucial part in the story. In fact, her second guessing will have an impact on her immediate future. What future is that? The impact is for you to watch, my friend.

Regardless, the story moves on from there. And here is where the schism presents itself. Up until now, the film was about one person’s mental delusions and what they lead to. The root cause was external, but her mind is so weighted down that it can’t function properly anymore. A mental delusion is not the same as an actual outside force surgically guiding the outcome of a given situation. If you don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about at this point, that’s ok. But like I said, there are two different films vying for supremacy. In the end, I think neither one reigned supreme.

Once the deluded girl’s story is completed, her loyal friend’s saga is just starting. She is basically subjected to the same torture her friend endured, only now we as viewers have a better understanding as to the reasoning behind the fucked up human experiments. The long and short of it involves some kind of crazy fucking cult that is obsessed with finding meaning after death. Apparently, according to this cult, the meaning of death (and life after death) can be found through extreme suffering. They think that extreme suffering to the brink of death will result in some sort of insight into the afterlife. My first thought about this is that someone’s personal experience, regardless of the amount of suffering, will always be subjective. Truth has no bearing on these proceedings. Rather, each person’s individual suffering and revelation is unique to that person. To attempt to extrapolate an objective truth is patently absurd.

From that standpoint, the title Martyrs doesn’t sit right with me. In order to be a martyr, one would have to die for their own personal beliefs. The characters (or at least one character) in this film don’t live or die for any specific beliefs. Their situations are dictated by an outside force that doesn’t take into account their wants or needs. The whole point of being a martyr is that you die for your own beliefs in the face of contrary beliefs. The film offers up a definition of martyr meaning “witness”. If being a witness was the only attribute of a martyr, then the whole concept would be a lot less serious. However, another interpretation of the movie’s title could be that it comes from the point of view of the crazy cultists. They view their victims as martyrs dying for a cause, so in that sense I can agree with Laugier’s decision to name is his film after that.

I’ll quickly mention the gore and blood and all that, since, durh, it’s a French horror film, after all. It’s by far not the most graphic film I’ve ever seen. Inside, another French piece, is way worse on that front. Still, there are some truly shocking moments, and it’s definitely not light on blood. It’s a sick, twisted film, for sure, but it also doesn’t linger on about it as long as some other films. All in all, I think it has enough to satisfy the light to mid gorehounds among you. Oh yea, there is one holy shit moment towards the end, though. I’m not sure that anyone could actually survive it, but oh well.

[edit...] Maybe I'm full of shit about that, because the whole fucking thing is about getting tortured and beaten. Am I that desensitized? I do find this kind of shit gross and everything, but wow. I just said this film doesn't linger on about being sick and twisted, when that's exactly what it's about. Weird.

Anyways, life after death is something this film certainly concerns itself with. The only thing I come away with after the ending is that there is nothing after death. I happen to agree with that assessment, but being as objective as possible, that conclusion was artificially reached. The cult that tortures people only wants to find out what is out there once you die. When confronted with some kind of subjective perspective of what happens when the human brain suffers severe trauma, the leadership of the cult falls apart. Big fucking surprise. There were no scientific experiments that I saw, or anything that would constitute the scientific method. Just a bunch of crazies that had access to poor schmucks for their sick fucking fantastical experiments. Like I said, I’m not sure how I ultimately feel about Martyrs. But I would surmise that the simple fact I’m willing to entertain the ideas put forth in the film says something about its quality. In any case, I recommend you check it out and consequently contribute to the conversation. And hey, guess what? It’s light years better than fucking High Tension. Good lord, that ending blew ass.

[adding…] After having a day to think about it, I really do like every aspect of the film. I mentioned earlier that having two separate stories threw me for a loop, but I think the transition makes a lot of sense the way it was done, and it lets you see both main characters struggle through some horrendous shit. And when I was criticizing the cultists, I was doing so strictly in terms of how stupid and crazy cultists are, not because of bad writing or anything like that. So, basically, thumbs up all around for Martyrs. Woot!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The CREEPS invade your home.....October 27th!

The good news is the DVD and Blu ray is here, the bad news is that it took too damn long for this absolute gem of 80's horror to find its place in my movie library. Fred Dekker's 1986 cult classic "Night of the Creeps" is a delicious blend of zombie, B grade sci-fi, and slasher film love with an extra slice of velveeta thrown in for shits and giggles. This release is absolute paradise for fans of the flick with a bevy of extras including commentaries, cast reunion, and too many others to mention. How many times have you bought a DVD of an older movie and the special features boasted amazing things like interactive menu, or widescreen format? Geeks unite.......this one's for you! All I can say is that on October 27th...."THRILL ME!"