Trick r Treat (2009)

“My dad taught me tonight is about respecting the dead. All the Traditions – putting out Jack O’ Lanterns, putting on costumes,
Putting out treats- were to protect us. Nowadays, no one really cares.”
–Principal Steven Wilkins (Dylan Baker).

Michael Dougherty’s TRICK ‘R TREAT could be the best “Halloween” film of all time. Maybe that’s a heady pronouncement, but it is certainly the best horror anthology flick ever made. Now, given the spotty record of that black-sheep of the horror flick cannon, that might seem like a damning statement of faint praise. There is perhaps, no harder sub-genre to pull off in the land of filmic fear than the horror movie omnibus: the crafter of such a collection has to fight the hazards of the brevity and narrative compression for each patchwork piece; avoid the pit-falls of inconsistencies of tale, tone, pacing, performance; and the effectiveness of the Framing Device, a formula that often unravels like the straw on a witch’s broom. It’s a failing-ground for the minimally talented non-auteur: the mediocre filmmaker who can’t sustain a single, involving narrative can always turn to the Horror Movie Anthology format for a quick buck, right?*
So, when I saw the DVD cover for Michael Dougherty’s Trick ‘r Treat at DVD Planet, I squinted at it as fiercely as Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name. I knew that Dougherty had solid credits behind him (he co-wrote X-Men and Superman Returns), but I was dubious, given the genre’s modern-day track record. Yet, I decided to give it a try. After all, the anthology film was one of the first of frights I cut my teeth on as a young horror buff trooping to the Compton’s Allen Theater in the 1960s and ’70s with my brother Mark. I loved the British Amicus classics such as Tales from the Crypt, The House That Dripped Blood, and Asylum; it was only later permutations of the genre that instilled doubts as I plunked down my hard-earned cash for this new film. 
There are moments where Dougherty’s cheeky-creepy post-modern take on those omnibus films of yester-year (and not so long ago) seems almost a little too sleek, a little too smarty-pants insouciant for its own good, maybe too-well crafted, but it’s impossible to deny the savor and commitment of this blood-dipped candy-apple of a chiller, which returns the former pagan holiday back to the delights of old-school frights. Anyone who remembers what it was like to be young, trundling out into the dark night, mask on head, treat bag in hand, steeling the nerve to go up to a stranger’s Jack O’ Lantern-lit porch to ring the doorbell will make Trick ‘r Treat a featured favorite for future October 31st viewings.
Guided by the spirit of fairy-tales and such genre stand-bys as EC and DC Comics (“House of Mystery” and “House of Secrets” come to mind here just as much as “Tales From The Crypt” and “Vault of Horror”), Dougherty’s smartly crafted filmic paen to All Hollow’s Eve traditions (while adding a knowing nudge here and there at the holiday’s entrenched commercialism and adult-party posteuring) is one inspired little “boo!” of autumn night angst. Perhaps Dougherty succeeded all too well in bringing the fear down to an adolescent’s mask-eye view: Warners, maybe a tad unsettled by all the kid grue and jeopardy, opted to pass on a theatrical release, and chose the direct-to-vid route. It’s one of the two injustices that afflict a film which should have received theatrical distribution to the respect and acclaim it deserves. (The other injustice is the lack of Special Features on the DVD, but more about that later.)
One of the film’s irresistibly clever ideas is to ditch a straightforward narrative, interweaving the four tales of fear (ala Pulp Fiction) during a single Halloween night in the Ohio burg of Warren Valley, which takes the holiday very seriously. After a terrific prologue (which will wind up as a chunk of the epilogue) in which a premature Jack O’ Lantern snuffer is turned into a grisly “Trick” by a tradition-defending beastie, the movie splits its narrative into a series of interlaced plot-lines. These include virginal Anna Pacquin (garbed-up as Little Red Riding Hood in one of the movie’s ironic touches), searching for Mr. Right before heading out to an unspeakable woodland bacchanal where she and her hottie gal-pals are going to party with their “dates”; a high school principal (Dylan Baker) who is also a season-minded serial-killer; a quartet of cruel youngsters who visit the site of a grisly local urban-legend to play an gruesome “Trick” on a mentally challenged girl (Samm Todd); and a grumpy old Halloween hum-bugger (Brian Cox, looking very much like John Carpenter) who seems to have a real chip on his shoulder towards the meaning of the season. And, popping up every now and then there’s “Sam” (short for “samhain”) a monstrous little sprite in burlap sack-mask and orange pajamas, who takes serious (and murderous) umbrage to those who deny respect to the traditions of the All Hollows Eve holiday.
Though it’s not a stretch of the imagination to see some of the “tricks” and “treats” coming (it doesn’t mitigate the fear and fun factor), you cannot help feeling a voluptuous glee in the manner in which Dougherty plays with filmic time and confidently weaves the various plot-lines together, breaking up the action with the occasional bit of comic-book graphic transition and having characters reappear for random bits in other stories. This yields some fine pay-offs: there’s an early scene wherein Cox, as Dylan’s curmudgeonly neighbor, is hammering at his window trying to get the Dylan’s attention (he’s distracted by matters of his own, to use an understatement) only to be whisked away from the glass by something unseen, produces juicy dividends when the scene plays out later on. Ditto for Dylan’s unexpected reappearance later in the episode, when his storyline solidly intersects one of the other narrative pieces (it would be irresponsible to give away any more details but it provides satisfying closure).
This is all dished up with equal parts camp and terror, with minimal computer fuss (it’s hard not to smile at the cheesey fun of a simple fx fixtue like a murderous scuttling severed hand). The movie captures the holiday’s autumnal sense of death and dread: maybe the neighbor next door will give you a big handful of candy, or maybe he’ll plant you in a moon-lit grave in his front yard; maybe the mean old man next door has a good reason for scaring kids off his stoop when they beg for candy, or keeping a loaded shot-gun on the wall; maybe putting a scare into the “Strange Kid” with the pumpkin fetish isn’t the best idea.
The movie’s best segment, which follows the EC-Comic formula to a T, and would definitely earn a Crypt-Keeper Cackle of Approval is the “Halloween School Bus Massacre”, with Gaines-style twisted twist and all, about a group of tweens who suffer the consequences of mocking the dead on All Hollows Eve. The way the tale unfolds (“It happened 30 years ago,” the mean but angel-winged gang-leader begins) – going from growing creep-out to outright terror – is near perfect. The flashback to a school-bus full of disturbed children (which to me resemmbled an hommage to the fitfully effective and fairly cruel ‘70s low-budgeter Devil Times Five aka Peopletoys), is one of the most unsettling scenes in a recent horror movie – and it’s totally done through masks and costumes! Glen MacPherson lays an October garnish of diffuse gold over the cinematography, which perfectly limns the unease and nostalgia of a great urban-ghost story. Given contemporary cinema’s penchant for preternaturally glib children, or swooning adolescent vampires, the fact that this story so rightly nails Halloween terrors from a kid’s point-of-view, is one of the most refreshing elements of the movie, and this segment neatly encapsulates one of the true pleasures of the film.
Sadly, Dougherty’s decision to put the kiddies front and center is probably what led Warners to sentence the movie to its DTV fate: the studio heads who viewed the finished cut must have gone apoplectic at the sequence in which a pumpkin-smashing tubby kid gets his grisly comeuppance when he’s fed some “Bad Candy” by Dylan Baker’s season-sensitive psycho principal. This is certainly the movie’s “gross-out” set-piece and the overall nastiest bit (it certainly plays into one of the worst All Hollow’s Eve fears). What is hackle-raising about the scene is the casting of the dotty school administrator: in a perverse and funny-queasy stroke, Dougherty gave the role to Baker, who was the unforgettably disturbing pedophile psychiatrist from Todd Solondz’s Happiness, and it is squirm-inducing to see him cozying up to the hapless victim on the porch step, waving a carving knife and good-naturedly teasing the doomed victim (“Oh, don’t worry, it’s for the Jack O’ Lantern, not you”): mental flashbacks to that earlier film left me in little doubt about just what Principal Wilkins was going to do. Certainly, the violence in “The Halloween School Bus Massacre” is more of the suggestive sort, and (for the most part) takes place off-screen, but it certainly had to have contributed to the general release jitters.Then again, given the playing time of many films these days, it could be a mixed blessing: Trick ‘r Treat will definitely wind up as any horror buff’s choice of chills come the dark, dead-leaf-bedecked long falls nights; the film seems destined to profit from a reputation as one of those Overlooked Gems.
On a technical level, Trick ‘r Treat is amazingly assured for a first-time director, and the film’s color palette nicely compliments those baleful comic-book thrills from the past; Macpherson’s photography, Robert Ivison’s editing, and Douglas Pipes’ music (the soundtrack includes a blackly comedic rendition of the Eurythmics “Sweet Dreams Are Made of These”) compliment the film’s mood. Trish Keating deserves praise for the costume design (the masks of The Disturbed Kids of “The Halloween School Bus Massacre” episode are singularly chilling, while Anna Paquin’s chick support squad’s duds are a funny, ironic hoot.
The performers seem to all be clued in to the fun. Pacquin is quite good as the virginal miss who is well-prepared for any and all Big Bad Wolves, and the youngsters (especially Samm Todd) all deliver naturalistic, uninflected performances, giving their horrific scenes a greater sense of concern and investment. However, Baker and Cox are the stand-outs. Baker as the button-down, respectable town slayer (complete with a creepy son who loves “doing the eyes” on their “Jack O’ Lanterns”) does a terrific job; Cox steals the show as the movie’s “Scrooge” figure who has a good rationale (revealed in a fine twist) for his dislike of the season. Wearing a white frizzy John Carpenter mane of hair (he even gets to utter a choice line from Carpenter’s remake of The Thing), Cox gets a terrific Evil Dead-style battle with Sam that has a nice retro-effects feel and unexpected ending. If the film has a major weakness, maybe it’s the fact that the omnibus format has its own built-in Achilles heel: without a central conflict or identification figure, the empathy factor is a little thin at times (a good chunk of the cast are monsters, human or otherwise, thiough it’s hard not to root for Cox facing his own Trilogy of Terror-type beat-down in the latter part of the flick).
Sam himself is an endearing little boggart and one of the better monsters of the past few years. He’s actually a fairly complicated demon: pint-sized, in orange pajamas and burlap-mask, he’s seems rather vulnerable – until someone “disrespects” Halloween tradition, wherupon he launches into action (his main weapon is fairly cool and inventive) with results  that are fairly dire. His main screen time (he’s kind of the Ghosts of Halloween Past, Present, Future against Cox’s Halloween hating codger) is in the last third of the film, though he flits through the others inflicting damage, major and minor. That said, he’s no anonymous otherworldly avenger-slasher : there are definite Rules of Engagement on Sam’s mind, as well as propitiation. One of the movie’s smart points is that he doesn’t have a back-story, thus, dissipating his mystery and persona.
Aside from the injustice of not getting a theatrical release, the paucity of DVD Special Features is definitely a crying shame. The DVD offers both a Wide-Screen and Full-Screen version, and along with a set of language and subtitle selections in English, French, Spanish. The only real treat is “Seasons Greetings,” the director’s 1996 hand-animated short, which gives us our first glimpse of the burlap-masked Sam. The commentary by Dougherty on the short is actually more entertaining than the little film, which is a nice enough low-budget (albeit predictable) thrill, but it’s really a launching point for the future monster. Clearly, this was a labor of love for Dougherty and his small crew, laying down the creation of Sam (in Dougherty’s words,“9 months of blood, sweat and tears”) in hand-printed, hand-drawn, hand-colored frames, achieved by the director-writer with different-colored magic-markers. The short enjoyed success, playing a number of festivals as well as being featured on MTV’s Cartoon Sushi, and was scored by Evan Chen, with backgrounds painted by Dan KaNemoto, and “a lot of friends and students.”
One of the brightest revelations during the commentary by the creator, is how Dougherty came up with the “blood” on Sam’s face, following his triumph over his attacker: Dougherty had cut his hand while working on the ‘toon, and having an instant epiphany “flicked my hand and splattered blood over the art-work.” As nice as it is to have Dougherty provide narrative on this humble, chilly vignette, you are left craving more, like a trick-or-treater coming home with an empty bag: the Special Features begs for Dougherty’s commentary on the feature film, his take on the performances and effects, and, most of all, the travails that cheated Trick ‘r Treat from a full-blown film-release. Both the DVD, and horror movie buffs in general, cry out for it.
FOOTNOTE:

  • In compelling contrast, that Canadian indie fave, The Signal offered the terrific twist of one scary-brainy narrative helmed by three different directors.

The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (2009)

“ Love is a magic comfort food for the weak and uneducated.”—Connor Mead

Charles Dickens is surely rolling over in his grave over this non-romantic rip-off “comedy” of his hallowed holiday classic.
Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, a modern-day by-the-numbers serious-comedic spin on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, is such a smarmy, unfunny and hypocritical riff, that DVD-viewers will pound their own stake of holly through its heart by giving it amiss come the next round of rental picks. Maybe it’s a telling point that this “Holiday Movie” wasn’t even released at Christmas, but made an untimely arrival last summer. In any event, yours truly chose the Chick Flick assignment to stretch my range of cinematic scrivening, but five minutes into it, was already regretting that I hadn’t turned to the, say, infinitely more healthy romantic banter of Ed Lee’s Header.
Directed by Mark Waters (he of the fairly decent Mean Girls and Freaky Friday), and scripted by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (The Hangover, Full of It), the movie, like its repulsive, womanizing photographer protagonist Connor Mead (Matthew McConaughey), flashes a fair set of visual choppers, a decent cast, and well-scrubbed production values. But in the end, the flat, banal jokes, phony plot, and general mean-spiritedness wreck any chance of creating audience sympathy or selling its seasonal “All You Need Is Love” bromide. Ghosts of Girlfriends Past is a right nasty hum-bug, buoyed only occasionally by some decent turns in the minor parts.
Anyone familiar with Dickens’ novelette, and all its cinematic incarnations, will have no problem guessing how this version is going to play. Replacing miserly, X-Mas-loathing Ebenezer Scrooge with a heartless fashion photographer who earns $150K-a-year, the film presents its “hero” as a vile, womanizing jerk, who is so commitment-shy that he can’t even bring himself to consider “spooning” with any babe he dates and so contemptible in the cold exercise of his “love ‘em and leave ‘em philosophy” that he breaks up via conference call with his three latest victims – which is a fair indication of how superficial and smug the rest of the film is going to be. There is no doubt that a rude wakening lies ahead for Connor, and its easy to guess how the Dickens formula will sign-post each plot point before the inevitable happy conclusion.
McConaughey, who is one of the mainstays of the modern romantic comedy (How to Lose A Guy in 10 Days, and Failure to Launch to name just a few of his recent vehicles), is as tanned and toothy as a TV televangelist, and the actor essays Connor with reptilian, narcissistic style. The problem with McConaughey in the role is that the actor’s good-natured presence is totally at odds with the despicable character he is playing, and because of this, you can’t take him seriously as Lady Killer or Reformed Cad. He wavers between the two extremes, and never registers as anything approaching a real human being; Mead is so vile and off-putting that there is no way that one could believe for one tiny second that so many beautiful women would buy into his shtick. Credibility is strained from the onset with this hateful playa’ cypher, and it only gets worse. In fact, it’s hard to really envision this movie as a sought-for “Chick Flick” rental because it is so outrageously insulting to the distaff set. Renting Fellini’s City of Women would probably be a better use of time.
When Connor heads to New England for his brother Paul (Brecken Meyer)’s wedding to long-time girlfriend Sandra (Lacey Chabert), he wastes no time making the rehearsal as rancorous as possible by bashing on the institution of marriage and deriding love as “magical comfort food for the weak and uneducated.” Given Connor’s general attitude and predatory ways, you have to wonder why they invited him in the first place, let alone entrusting him with the wedding toast. Of course, you have to wonder why his nebbish brother is marrying Chabert’s Sandra – a shrill harridan who screams and bellows every line of trite dialogue. To complicate matters, Connor’s childhood love, and former conquest, Dr. Jenny Perotti (played with the usual awkward, coltish charm by Jennifer Garner), is the maid of honor. It should be no great revelation that Garner’s hottie doctor character believes that Connor The Conqueror, deep-down, is really a “sweetheart”: this character is another of the movie’s blatant and implausible elements: how could Dr. Jenny still believe in such an unrepentant, sleazy dog. The answer to that question is simple: because the dictates of the plot demand that she does.
Hashing through his ambivalent feelings toward Jenny (as shallow as Connor is, you can’t really say he’s wrestling with his conscience), and relishing the chance to bed the one bridesmaid (Amada Walsh) he hasn’t managed to seduce, Connor receives an unexpected jolt when he is confronted by the ghost of his legendarily libidinous Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas, having fun with the Marley role). He informs Connor that he will be visited that night by the Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Present and Future who will show him the folly of his self-centered ways, and that if he does not change his life, he will wind up as alone as Wayne was when he died. The aforementioned statement is actually rather misleading: strictly speaking only one of the “Ghosts” of Girlfriends Past is actually a “girlfriend” (she lasted 32 seconds!).
This is where the cinefantastique elements kick in, such as they are. When Connor repairs to his bedroom expecting a tryst with said bridesmaid, he encounters his first spirit guide, the Ghost of Girlfriends Past: brace-wearing, frizzy-haired teen Allison Vandermeersh (Emma Stone), Conor’s first sexual partner. Allison takes Connor back to the ‘80s and shows him how, after being rebuffed by Jenny at his senior prom, Connor apprenticed himself to his womanizing cad of an Uncle Wayne (“the power of a relationship lies in who cares the least”, Uncle Wayne advises). This is probably one of the movie’s finer segments because at least Stone’s Allison and Douglas’ Wayne are a shade fun and lively. The rules of Haunting are a little muddled as Douglas and Stone can go from physically substantial to phantom insolubility at any given time. Yet, Wayne is downright creepy in his committed misogyny: when he takes Connor to a bar to give him his first lessons in defeating the opposite sex, you have to wonder why Child Services isn’t tearing Connor away from such an irresponsible and dangerous guardian.
The next “spirits” on the horizon are a bit of a cheat: the Ghost of Girlfriends Present is neither a Ghost nor one of Connor’s conquests but Melanie (Noureen DeWulf) – Connor’s long-suffering assistant and the only healthy relationship Connor has with a woman (you almost hope that they’ll wind up together). Melanie takes the time to show Connor the emotional wreckage of his harem lifestyle by showing him the weepy aftermath of his three-way break-up. It’s indicative, however, of the sloppy writing that Melanie’s “ghostly” persona shows up at the Happy Ending as the same time that the Real Melanie makes an appearance. Still, these scenes do have at least one effective and poignant moment of fantasy when a torrential downpour falls on Connor – composed of “all the tears of the women who have cried over him.” Unfortunately, even this scene ends in a vulgar payoff.
That takes us then to the “Ghost” of Girlfriends Future (again, not a Girlfriend), personified by an anonymous, ethereal beauty (Olga Maliouk) who shows Connor how his life will go if he continues to reject these last opportunities for love. She also reveals the equally tragic consequences for his brother Paul (this character kind of serves as the “Tiny Tim” figure by default), who after he has spent most of the movie defending his lecherous bro (Connor pretty much raised him), is headed for his own downward spiral after Sandra has discovered that he had had a years’ past indiscretion with one of the bridesmaids (the news leaked by Connor of course). So, with Jenny slipping away and Paul and Sandra’s nuptials in tatters, will Connor sink fully into the slime or will he seize redemption, reunite with Jenny, and save his brother’s wedding?
The major problem is the strong whiff of toxic hypocrisy at the heart of this fluff that is totally at odds with the narrative’s feel-good message. As much as the Ghost of Girlfriends Past trashes the McConaughey character for his selfish, predatory ways, it also unabashedly celebrates his womanizing by parading as much femme eye-candy on-screen as possible, and relishing the fall of every vacuum-minded boy-toy. Aside from a couple discerning female characters (Melanie and Anne Archer, slumming here), the rest of the chicks in this Chick Flick are shallow, vicious ditzes who exist only to feather Connor’s bed. This is the kind of world where all bridesmaids and fashion models are brainless, masochistic sluts eager to throw themselves at any conscienceless seducer. You wind up shaking your head and wondering “Doesn’t this guy’s reputation precede him? Don’t the gals possess a whit of esteem or emotional self-preservation?” On the flip-side, with the exception of one male wedding guest Brad (Daniel Sunjada), who has been invited for Jenny’s benefit, the groom’s men are all homely, spastic dweebs. This really is the kind of film that will send the most committed feminists into a fury.
It’s hard to put a finger on what is more outrageous: the total cynicism, or the filmmakers’ hard-sell of the hateful main character’s change of heart. Piled on top of Jenny’s laughable assertion that Connor is really a decent guy, is the unconvincing bid to give Connor a “heart” by portraying him as an orphan who had to singled-handedly raise his brother. Even worse, though Michael Douglas’ Hugh Hefneresque Marley character (who calls everyone “Dutch”) has been sent back to earth to convince McConaughey to mend his hedonistic ways, he himself shows no signs of repenting his past indiscretions. He’s still a randy swinger’on The Other Side. This really indicative of the objectionable smirky wink-nudge nature of Ghost of Girlfriends Past and effectively deflates the moral dilemma here: How can you accept the hero’s transformation if the ghostly moral messenger still waxes nostlgic for his lothario days? Even after the Big Change, I was unconvinced that either Connor or Wayne truly repented their lifestyle choices.
That’s not to say that Ghost of Girlfriends Past is absolutely awful or without merit. The basic structure of the Dickens plot definitely has its appeal, and there are a clutch of decent supporting performances on hand. It’s good to see the usually fine Robert Forster in anything these days, and he gets a good chuckle as Sandra’s dad, a USMC sergeant-turned-minister who offers a wholly inappropriate wedding toast to the bride and groom. Stone is energetic, annoying and sprightly, and is, at least, a character that’s wholly alive. Noureen DeWulf brings some much needed level-headedness to her role as Connor’s go-to girl (“There’s apple, bubble gum and Tandoori. I know it sounds gross, but have two of them and you won’t feel your face,” she openes as she comforts a trio of Connor’s victims). Anne Archer, in a brief appearance as the bride’s sexy mom, is sweet and savvy as one of the few women who see through Connor’s games, though getting a laugh out of the chase. Garner is good as Jenny, despite the character she’s playing, and Douglas gets a number of decent laughs as Wayne. Daryn Okada’s photography and Bruce’s Green’s editing is brisk.
The DVD offers no special features: it includes Wide-Screen and Full-Screen versions, and language choices of English, English for The Hearing Impaired, and Spanish.
GHOSTS OF GIRLFRIENDS PAST (May 1, 2009). Directed by Mark Walters. Written by Jon Lucas & Scott Moore. Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Michael Douglas, Emma Stone, Breckin Meyer, Lacey Chabert, Robert Forster, Anne Archer, Daniel Sunjata, Noureen DeWulf.

28 Weeks Later – Film & DVD Review

“What if it [The Rage Virus] comes back again?”–Major Scarlett
“We kill it.”–General Stone

The geopolitical allegory is biting (no pun intended!), bleak and[mordant. A U.S.-led NATO force enters an England transformed by the “Rage Virus” into an empty, ravaged wasteland. The victims of the virus have all died of starvation, the infected bodies have been disposed of, and it appears the man-made pestilence has run its course. The military, now operating from a safe Green Zone, has brought in 15,000 refugees to repopulate the British Isles.
Alas, nothing exists in a vacuum, and in spite of the sleek sanctuaries, surveillance cameras, vigilant snipers, firepower and hi-tech security smarts, chaos lies in wait. The occupation forces – faced with a horrific viral resurgence and an inability, in a pinch, to distinguish “The Friendlies” from the rabid, slavering brutes – loses control of the situation which quickly turns into a quagmire of escalating horror, violence, and death. Sound familiar?

More rabid, plague-infected psuedo-zombies.
More rabid, plague-infected psuedo-zombies.

Even if 28 WEEKS LATER does tip its hat to current events, the chilling reverberations of the movie’s social commentary is actually secondary to director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s singular feat of crafting a sequel that is nearly as accomplished as the original 28 DAYS LATER  (helmed by Danny Boyle, who is on board as producer this time). Clocking in at a speedy and relatively trim 99 minutes, 28 WEEKS LATER is a compelling entry in the Apocalypse Cinema Sweepstakes, scoring as yet another frenetic, grieving meditation on the death throes of a civilization. Juggling themes such as cowardice, moral abrogation, selfless heroism, survival, government incompetence and hubris, Fresnadillo’s film (scripted by four writers, including the director himself) is more than just a bloody, kinetic zombie relay. Even so, horror buffs who are looking for no more than loads of gore are not likely to be disappointed.
28 WEEKS LATER is, if nothing else, a fairly affecting piece about Family. Germaine to that statement, the film’s prologue starts with a band of survivors holed up in a countryside manor (the ending of the first film). A married couple, Don (Robert Carlyle) and Alice (Catherine McCormack), and four other people, attempt to ride out the catastrophe as they hide from “The Infected.” A young boy arrives with the plague hordes in tow, and in the ensuing chaos – a terrifying, masterfully-edited sequence of rapid-fire hand-held shots – Don abandons Alice to the attackers, manages to outrace the virus-infected zombies, and grabs a motor boat to make his way to the U.S.-held Green Zone. Don’s act of abandonment will have unforeseen future consequences.
Later, Don, now a maintenance (or “Section”) officer in the militarized safety zone, is reunited with his two children, Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton) and Tammy (Imogen Poots), who had been sent out of the country by their parents. The kids want to know what happened to Mom, and Don gives his children a judiciously edited version of the truth (in other words, he lies). When the kids defy quarantine to go back to their old house for photos of their mother, they find Alice alive and hiding in the attic. Subsequently, the chief medical officer, Major Scarlett (Rose Byrne) discovers that Alice, though infected by the Rage Virus, is immune to its effects: she is a carrier who might carry the possibility of an antidote in her blood (this is a bit of a nod to CHILDREN OF MEN). When a misplaced act of contrition leads to a new outbreak of the virus, Scarlett and a sympathetic sniper, Sgt. Doyle (Jeremy Renner) try to save the kids (who might also be immune) from both The Infected and the army, who are now directed to enforce a “Code Red” plan to wipe out all remaining (non-occupation force) survivors.
This leads to what is without a doubt the film’s most potent, politically-charged scene, in which the army snipers, instructed to take out The Infected raging among the panic stricken refugees, start blasting into the crowd, trying to surgically remove the fleet-footed “zombies” (the speed of the disease’s turnover time is one of the nifty things about the original film’s conception: it takes less than a half-minute for force and law to come crashing down). In a short while, the chaos grows beyond their control, and the Green Zone’s General Stone (Idris Elba) upgrades the mission to Code Red, instructing the riflemen to take down everything that moves. The scope of the scene’s horror, waste and sadness seems so plugged into the current war in Iraq, that I kept expecting the film to cut away to a blond Fox Network talking-head talking about scheduled “surges” to bring the Rage Virus into check. It is probably the movie’s best moment, though the movie – as hi-charged as the running, snarling sickies – doesn’t make a misstep either in its action or bromides. The scene is a powerful summation of the horrors and atrocities that The Forces of Order can thrust upon those they are enjoined to protect when the veneer of that order starts to break down: the imposition of force always invites chaos.


The political jabs aside, the movie is, in its sum, less about drawing comparisons to The Iraq War, then delivering a ferocious, heart-thumping Survival Run that quickly limns a nation’s doom, snagging us as much via the finely drawn, sympathetic characters as the pace and cutting. Surprisingly, 28 WEEKS LATER, is touchingly, chillingly, Pro Family. One man’s (understandably) tragic moment of character failure, and subsequent desire for forgiveness, ultimately leads to his destruction, and insures that the only way he can reunite with his family, is through horror and death. The movie’s focus on one family, brings the apocalypse down to a human level, building to the only conclusion the film could truly reach. The shaky camera coda at the very end almost seems a little redundant: the movie could have ended with the helicopter ride over The English Channel. The first film’s sense of immediacy is nicely maintained by the contrast of the kids’ surrogate parent (Scarlett and Doyle)’s all-too-human efforts to save them, while real Dad (Don’s a cagey, resourceful zombie paterfamilias, capable of evading snipers and napalm strikes) dogs them in a combination of parental instinct and homicidal fury. Poor Don, riddled first by by guilt and then by a spirit-vanquishing contagion, just wants to see his kids.
28 WEEKS, while just as dismal in tone as Boyle’s film, is, much more fast-paced. Shorn of all those shots of Cillian Murphy wandering a deserted London, the story starts in turbo mode, builds tension within the sterile safety environ, goes into overdrive, and, in the main, never eases up. The use of shaky hand-held cameras to film The Infected attacks – a signature move since 28 DAYS LATER and the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake – may seem a bit over-used, but it still ratchets the suspense by giving us fleeting glimpses of the drooling, clawing, crimson-eyed marauders. Fresnadillo, whose first film, INTACTO, included a scene of blindfolded, hand-bound characters running through a forest to prove their worthiness to “The God of Luck” (Max von Sydow) sure knows how to film people running in mortal peril.
The visual effects by David Abbott and the digital crew convincingly portray a London bereft of human habitation. Enrique Chediak’s cinematography burnishes every scene, whether it’s a sudden burst of sunlight, bright as a solar flare, into a dark and boarded up haven, or the impersonal menace of flame-thrower-wielding soldiers materializing out of the white haze of a gas attack.
The performances are more than solid. Byrne and Renner are warm, likeable, human, and heroic, and even The Kids are great: there’s no Cute Factor in this film.
The occasional splashy, whigged-out sequence aside (there is a helicopter monster mow-down that apes the GRINDHOUSE “Planet Terror” ‘copter slaughter), the horror and the “Got Ya!” moments succeed when they’re presented on a more scaled-down and intimate level. The movie’s most terrifying scene, Don’s infection through Alice’s kiss of forgiveness, goes from the relief of reconciliation, to surprise, to grief, to violent horror – the emotions sold by the intimate staging and by composer John Murphy’s mournful scoring. There is real pathos in the way this flawed but caring man (Carlyle gives a nuanced, conflicted performance) has his soul destroyed in mere seconds.
The movie also offers a nail-biting suspense piece as the kids and Byrne make a pitch-dark subway journey, shot from the point of Byrne using Doyle’s sniper-scope to guide her charges through tunnels filled with decomposing corpses. While the scene is more than a little derivative of a similar sequence in THE DESCENT, it provides the chills and expected payoff. Maybe the defining, prophetic moment of impending societal collapse is neatly encapsulated at the start when the refugees, taking a tram to their new hermetically sealed haven, are reassured of its security and creature comforts by the cheery female U.S. soldier acting as tour guide. She tells them The Green Zone has a general store, canteen, and “even a pub” to the nervous laughter of the folks on board.
You know right then, that Doomsday is on the rise.

DVD DETAILS

The DVD is in English 5.1, with Dolby English, French, and Spanish Surround. Bonus features include deleted scenes, featurettes, and audio commentary by Director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo and co-scripter E. L. Lavigne.
The Deleted Scenes include:

  • THE CANTEEN (Scene 29). This fleshes out an earlier (silent), passed over encounter between Don, Andy and Tammy and Major Scarlett within the Green Zone’s canteen. The scene, cut by Fresnadillo because it was a “stop in the rhythm,” doesn’t add much to the overall story.
  • ANDY’S DREAM (Scene 166/167), is a fantasy sequence set in the subway near the end, in which Andy, having been attacked by Don, flees his sister and imagines meeting his mother on a subway train.

Other bonus features include:

  • THE INFECTED: Inter-cut with (mainly humorous) interviews with members of the cast, and “Movement Advisor” Paul Kasey, this behind-the-scenes segment showcases the preparation, training, make-up for the extras playing the victims of the Rage Virus. Commentary by Rose Byrne, Jeremy Renner, Catherine McCormack, Robert Carlyle, Imogen Poots, Mackintosh Muggleston, Idris Elba, and Costume director Jane Petrie.
  • GETTING INTO THE ACTION: This includes various action shots and commentary by members of the cast as well as Producer Andrew MacDonald and Co-Producer Danny Boyle, the director of 28 DAYS LATER. Boyle was actually injured filming some 2nd-unit footage, which included the film’s opening scenes, with the attack on the country manor and Don’s escape.

28 WEEKS LATER(Fox Atomic , 2007). Directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo. Written by Rowan Joffee, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, E. L.. Lavigne, Jesus Olmo. Cast: Robert Carlyle, Rose Byrne, Jeremy Renner, Mackintosh Muggleton, Imogen Poots.

Paprika – DVD Review

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‘It is man’s responsibility to control science and technology”–The Chairman
“The dense forest turns into a shopping district. The 24-bit eggplant will be analyzed!”–Victim of the DC-Mini

It is hard not to be decked by this film. The first few minutes blast past with such mind-bending, visual élan that it could almost, in itself, stand as an elliptical and enervating short subject. PAPRIKA, the latest anime film from Satoshi Kon (PERFECT BLUE, TOKYO GODFATHERS), loosely based on the serial-novel by famed Japanese sci-fi writer Yasutaka Tsutsui, is pure visual ambrosia. While the movie is sure to leave you scratching your head even as you careen from one 2-D, 3-D, CGI animated set-piece to the next, there’s no doubt the movie is one benevolent bully dressed to the cinematic nines. Whether anime/fantastic cinema buffs accept it as a psyberpunkish cautionary tale regarding the conflict of unfettered aspirations vs. soulless technology, or as a definitive statement on the endless possibilities of dreams and cinema, will depend on the viewer’s ability to deal with the overpowering “spice” of the end product’s neuron-battering bravura (this is very much a “head movie”).
The breathless prologue, set to composer Susumu Hirasawa’s bouncy, irresistible score, hurls us into the dreams of noirish haunted detective Captain Konakawa (Akio Ohtsuka), the dream imagery shifting breathlessly from a sinister circus (with a nod to BEING JOHN MALKOVICH) to TARZAN serials, to a spy sequence, to a romantic scene from the 1953 ROMAN HOLIDAY, before ending in a surreal, nightmarish chase. Konakawa is, in fact, having his anxiety neuroses treated by a peppy, fearless gamine named Paprika (Megumi Hayshibara), a “dream detective” aided by an (as-yet unapproved) piece of psychotherapy tech, The DC Mini.
The plot proper (which bears some similarities to Wim wenders’ 1991 UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD, Ridley Scott’s BLADE RUNNER, and the WILD PALMS mini-series) reveals that “Paprika” is the dream-avatar of the alluring but icy Dr. Atsuko Chiba (Hayshibara again), who works at the Foundation for Psychiatric Research. She and the rest of the DC-Mini team, including the grossly obese childlike creator of the device, Dr. Tomika (Toru Furuya), and Chief Shima (Katsunosuke Hori), are appalled to learn that two of the headsets have been stolen: even worse, security codes have not been programmed in. The device, created as a therapeutic aid by which physicians could treat patients through their subconscious dreams, can now be used as a weapon to control the dreams of others from afar (“Implanting dreams into other people’s heads is terrorism!” Tomika indignantly declares). Compounding their search for the offender is the knowledge that a colleague may be responsible for the theft. It’s not long before their co-workers, victimized by the “dream terrorist,” begin to lose their marbles.
As Atsuko/Paprika, Tomika, and Chief Shima, plunge in and out of each other’ s dreams attempting to discover the identity of the terrorist responsible for the dangerous collective dream threatening to subsume humanity , Konakawa discovers that his own dreams (chasing an elusive fugitive he never caught) might have tangential impact on the case. To complicate things further, Chairman
Inui (Toru Emori), who has been resistant to the development of the DC Mini (he is mouthing pithy platitudes like “there is always conceit and negligence behind misconduct”) is eager to pull the plug on the project.
The mind-boggling imagistic feast on display, epitomized by Kon’s surreal dream parade of Shinto statues, flute-playing frogs, appliances, giant geisha dolls, umbrellas and all manner of machines and bric-a-brac is a gorgeous, iconic image: it succeeds, helped by Hirasawa’s aural vortex, in balancing the right combination of sheer awe and terror. On one level, the image stands as a pure expression of the collective unconscious, yet, with its blend of the atavistic and contemporary, is it also a sly criticism of Japan’s fractious identity? A case could be made that it is just that: Kon, in one of his previous features (MILLENIUM ACTRESS) underscored this point by having his characters dive in and out of films that portray various epoch’s in Japan’s history.
The mix of awe and horror is also nicely encapsulated in the sheer mania of the scene where Chief Shima breaks from a serious dialogue on the stolen DC Minis to indulge in a lunatic monologue including lines such as: “Even the five court ladies danced in sync to the frogs’ flutes and drums!” He then caps this nonsensical rhapsody by crashing through the top floor window of the facility (he’s unharmed). Brief as it is, it’s a glorious, manic masterpiece that contrives to be funny, terrifying and exhilarating.
The film also makes the spot-on connection between dreams and movies, which makes sense as Film is the medium that bears the closest comparison to dreams. Captain Konakawa, who serves as the audience identification point, dreams in terms of various film genres, yet, due to his own internal traumas and a past, tragic friendship, can’t no longer enjoys movies (something that Paprika considers less than healthy). When he’s plunged into the disturbing circus venue of his reoccurring dream/nightmare, Paprika, dressed as a clown talks to him in cryptic camera composition terms, telling him he has “crossed the line of action” and “needs to narrow the line of exposure. This is Panfocus.”
This all ironically ties into Tomika’s assertion that those who implant dreams into other people’s heads “are terrorists.” After all, what is Film but the pursuit of planting dreams in other people’s heads? If the supporters/abusers of the DC Mini are “terrorists,” then the whole process of making films is a kind of consensual terrorism arranged between director and audience. The crackling culmination of this point comes as Konakawa, emerging triumphant from his “dream film” runs through the wall of a minor villain’s butterfly-hung “Sanctuary Room” to save Paprika/Chiba: Konakawa’s decision to “Finish His Movie” and in fact, become the hero, is mirrored by Chiba’s decision to reconcile her Chiba/Paprika selves. The seamless juxtaposition of disjointed dream imagery and movie mechanics is one of the movie’s high-points.
In addition to that, the movie makes telling points by addressing the connection between dreams and the Internet when Konakawa visits a cyberspace bar to compare notes with Paprika. Much like the main characters’ dream avatars, the Internet allows the user to create alternate personas and fantasy lives that may or may not mirror their true identity: cyberspace allows the psyche unlimited freedom to reimagine itself. (Consider the twit you run into on YouTube).
Paprika raises this question in her dialogue with Konakawa: “Don’t you think dreams and the Internet are similar? They are places where the respressed conscious vents.” Does the sanctity of the subconscious survive if technology, in the form of the Internet or DC Mini usurps that pristine dream state? That said, the film’s dizzying, sprinting mixture of hand-drawn and 3-D animation and CGI, is a staggering achievement. It’s hard not to physically cheer when Kon rips through a hyperreal action set-piece in which Paprika, trying to escape the Dream Villain’s tentacle barrage, runs into an office, jumps into a painting of The Sphinx and Oedipus, turns into the sphinx, is brought down by the spear of a villain who transforms into Oedipus, drops into the sea, changes into a mermaid, flees only to be swallowed by a anthropomorphic-faced whale, is expelled through the blow-hole as a doll-like figure, only to land into the middle of the dream parade. Beauty and horror zoom past the iris in bright primary colors, and it’s a testament to Kon’s total mastery that the viewer barely has time to think about the holes in the plot.
The movie is rich in the smallest details: check out the terrific credit sequence, with Paprika’s face reflected in a series of mirror shots in various expressions of disgust to a come-on; the fall of rain-drops on an auto’s windshield, making a set-piece of a simple two character dialogue. Is the movie at times too slick, too loose, and too philosophically opaque for its own good? Well, yes. The main villain declares: “The dreams are horrified that the safe refuge is destroyed by technology.” The argument is clear: that the dreamer loses the purity of the dream when science intrudes. Yet, isn’t the villain doing the same thing that he accuses the “terrorists” (Paprika, Tomika, Shima, etc.) of doing? The cure is as bad as the disease, and it’s confusing when, after the bad guy has apparently been dispatched, he resurfaces as a dark colossus bent on devouring Tokyo with his dream-delusion.
It’s hard to really get a fix on Paprika: to what degree does Chiba really control her dream self? There are times it seems like she can or can’t be independent of Chiba. It seems, also, that Kon, as much removed from the content of anime’s disreputable “hentai” genre, can’t resist at least one violation scene with the heroine (in both her guises), when Paprika, pinioned as a butterfly girl, undergoes a form of rape at the hands of a minor villain. The smashing coda to this scene is that the main villain, who is puritanical, takes control of his underling’s flesh to upbraid him for his lack of control (it’s also a nifty reference to the film THE INCREDIBLE TWO-HEADED TRANSPLANT). The capper to this almost reads like a rebuttal to all the salacious actions rife in Adult Anime, and carries a kind of self-reflexive irony.
The movie never really concludes the question of whether invading the dreams of others is morally questionable, but the city-wasting finale is a doozey – replete with giant dolls emitting glass-shattering, sonic shrieks, psychiatrists transformed into towering robos, and the odd and truly sublime image of grinning salarymen swan-diving off building roofs. It all climaxes with the uplifting image of Chiba accepting her Dream Self to battle The Chairman, rising from an egg, becoming a child, transforming into the perfect synthesis of the two halves to end the chaos.
As in his earlier work, PERFECT BLUE, which featured protagonist Mima zapping back and forth between real and “reel” life, Kon is fascinated with the image of Doppelgangers, and the dichotomy of Reality vs. Illusion. Characterization is strong and there is also a fairly understated, but affecting Love Story underneath all the sturm and drang. Kon, one of the most versatile anime talents working (a back-to-back viewing with his 2003 TOKYO GODFATHERS shows just how versatile he is), has crafted a visionary masterpiece that is beautiful, scary, funny, suspenseful, horrific, and like the best dreams, isn’t easily shaken or forgotten. Those hungering for more exposition in their movie might feel punch-drunk on the gorgeous, unlimited mindscape flying by, but everyone else should dive in without reservation.

DVD DETAILS

The Sony Pictures Classic Release (November 27, 2007) a single disc with a good widescreen print and fine Dolby stereo sound. The original Japanese-language soundtrack is set as default with subtitles in English, French and Spanish. Other audio tracks include English 5.1, French 5.1, Spanish, and filmmakers’ commentary from Kon and composer Susumu Hirasawa. The DVD also provides a number of Special Features that should be of particular interest to the viewer without diminishing the enjoyment of the original product.
The first, “Tsuitsui and Kon’s PAPRIKA: Making of-Documentary” is absorbing in delineating the original scribe and Kon’s attitude toward the source novel and the adaptation. Tsutsui, who retired from writing following the novel’s finish, called it “the summation of my career in terms of bothentertainment and psychoanalysis” and the tortuous process of writing it (he based the novel’s dream imagery on his own, and as a result, the writing process was attenuated). Kon, particularly, going for a loose adaptation (“Remaining rigidly true to the novel is pointless, because the novel will always be superior. It is tough to recreate visually”) details the formidable task of scripting the film: Kon began storyboarding before the final third of the script was completed.
“A Conversation About The Dream” features voice actors Megumi Hayashibara (Atsuko Chiba & Paprika), Toru Furuya (Doctor Tomika), and Kon and Tsutsui. The commentary is generally light-hearted with Hayashibara and Furuya discussing the challenges of their individual roles; Furuya especially found it hard to provide the right vocal timbre for the morbidly obese, childlike Tomika. Both actors offer favorite scenes. Among the highlights of the commentary, Hayashibara talks about the challenge of making her character fall in love with Tomika.
“The Dream CG World”: This is an overview by CGI director Michiya Kato on the use of 3-D CGI to achieve the disorienting, perspective-warping sense of dream-state. Perhaps 1/3 to ½ of the movie utilizes some form of CGI, which breaks down “to about 350 scenes.” Among the highlights: the rippling effect in Konakawa’s dream chase; which took 3 months to achieve; the reoccurring Parade Scene, which called for 5-6 angles of falling confetti (requiring 65,000 pieces being animated).
“The Art of Fantasy,” featuring commentary by Art Director, Nobutake Ike, who also worked on TOKYO GODFATHER (visually, a far more subdued film) details the challenges of providing a color contrast between the alternate states of reality and dream through which the characters bounce back and forth.
PAPRIKA (Sony Pictures Classics, 2007). Directed by: Satoshi Kon. Written by: Seishi Minakami and Satoshi Kon, based on the serialized novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui. Voices: Megumi Hayshibara, Toru Emori, Katsunosuke Hori, Toru Furuya.

The Tripper (2006) – Film Review

“A hippie is someone who looks like Tarzan, walks like Jane and smells like Cheetah.” –Ronald Reagan

Okay, I am ashamed to admit it. I’m a David Arquette fan.
There’s something about his grating, twitching, teeth-clenching performances that remain infectious, no matter how off-putting and obnoxious. There’s a gonzo brio behind them that’s hard to resist and the same applies to his directorial debut, THE TRIPPER(read: Trip and Gipper). This is a fairly flabbergasting genre first: The Political-Satire/Slasher Film. The movie is certainly no masterpiece, but it is often wickedly pointed and straight-out funny: it’s hard to entirely dismiss a movie that features a Ronald Reagan masked hippy-slaughtering psycho, who happens to travel with a killer dog named “Nancy” and keeps a human-limb-eating pig named “George W.” in a pen. Read More

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Singapore Sling (1990) – Borderland Film Review

singapore_sling1990.jpg“He smelled of blood, sweat and fear. He excited me.”
–Meredyth Herold, Singapore Sling

Occasionally, one comes across a truly original, cinematic one-off that has no genre antecedent. Such is the case with Nikolaidis Nikolaidis’ SINGAPORE SLING, his 1990 neo-noir nightmare, now released on DVD by Synapse Films. If one could wrap one’s mind around the idea of Pier Paolo Pasolini (SALO) directing Otto Preminger’s great 1944 film noir classic LAURA, (which this sends up!) with a generous assist by underground filmmaker Curt McDowell (THUNDERCRACK), with some cribbage from the Marquis de Sade, you may have an inkling of the cumulative yuck-factor of this high gloss sick-fest. Like the eponymous cocktail of the title, the movie’s stately concoction of horror, humor, and eye-dropping perv is an acquired taste. SINGAPORE SLING offers no comforting middle ground.
The catalogue of offenses almost seems like a dubious achievement: sadism, lesbian incest, erotic regurgitation, cannibalism, golden showers, bondage, fruit masturbation (I am not joking!), vagi-stabbing, necrophilia, torture, and murder. The film lets the viewer know what they are in for with its first shots of Mom (Michele Valley) and Daughter (Meredyth Herold), digging a grave in the rain, dressed in lingerie and garters. They have just knifed to death their chauffer: in an aside to the camera (both Mom and Daughter address the audience in turns), Daughter explains that, when he was alive “Father did the killing and mommy and I would plant decorative and aromatic flowers on the graves.” Singapore Sling, a gut-shot private eye, spies on the twisted duo, sure that his lost love Laura, a servant girl employed at their home, has, in fact, met with foul play.
It’s not long before Sling becomes the women’s prisoner, subjected to insane sex and torture games as the psychopaths (who possess his diary) attempt to ascertain the motives for his arrival. In between grilling the hapless gumshoe, Mother and Daughter vacillate between whether to bury him in the garden with their other victims, or keep him around, treating him to bouts of electro-shock sex, along with plentiful dollops of vomit and urine. The film also includes a squirm-inducing dinner scene that plays like a feminist take on THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.
singapore4.jpgThere are, as in many noir movies, a number of double and triple-crosses and fiendish plots before the film winds down to its Freudian PSYCHO-inspired finale. In between, we are treated to ghastly set-pieces such as the decidedly daft and erotopathic daughter (played with a truly chilling combo of innocence and cruelty by Herold) simulating sex with her mummified father as she talks to the audience about her abuse at the hands of murderous dad, and the fiendish duo eviscerating a freshly murdered servant girl on to the kitchen table, set to Rachmaninoff!
If the plot sounds like nothing but unabashed shock, it is, if nothing else, leavened by an absurd off-the-rails sense of play. The director, in past interviews, claimed he was making a comedy, and that is borne out by the over-the-top thesping. Herold, with her pixie-cut locks and ingenuous, little girl delivery (interrupted by constant pre-orgasm hiccups), and Valley, with her Egyptian garb and her eccentric propensity to repeat the overly arch dialogue in French, certainly seem to be in on the joke. Thanassoulis as Sling, spends most of the film silent and semi-comatose. It’s difficult to appraise the performances within the context of the loony, good-natured barbarism (some of the movie reminds me of the ultra black humor and sexual taboos of Underground Comics from the ‘60s and ‘70s), but you have to love a film where the protagonist, after a bout of water-torture with one of his captors, utters one of the movie’s best lines: “I’m beginning to think there might be something wrong with me.”
If there is a fourth player in this three-hander, it has to be Aris Stavrou’s striking chromatic black and white photography, which, no matter what jaw-dropping depravity is being enacted, provides the evocative look of the noir thrillers of the ‘40s. The lensing during many of the exterior night shots in the villa’s garden remains particularly impressive.
Mention should be made of Nikolaidis’ use of sound. Aside from a couple of classical pieces of music, the  audio track pretty much consists of the non-stop thunderstorm against which the action is set. This adroitly amplifies the general sense of mania and claustrophobia, given that the film’s action is, with the exception of a few exteriors in the villa’s garden, set within the confines of the mansion. A quibble: there is no doubt that the pace could have benefited from some tighter editing: some of the gross out sequences (such as Daughter’s masturbatory frolic with a kiwi) are just shy of being interminable. Even at a relatively slim 112 minutes, the movie occasionally feels a tad padded, and a little less self-indulgence might have helped the overall tone of nightmarish bravura.
With US shock-meisters like Eli Roth (HOSTEL PART II) threatening to become parodies of themselves, it’s a genuine pleasure to stumble across something so sensibility-shredding and outre as SINGAPORE SLING. As much of a pitch-black parody as it is, the film  (thanks to Nikolaidis’ complete control of the artifice) offers a warped and loving tone poem of lyrical, night-world connections with its heady juxtapositions of chains, lace, rain, quivering palm fronds, blowing curtains, blood and night. Even at its most heinously atrocious, you come away feeling the love that the director has for a bygone genre, its nihilism and No-Exit narratives. Buried in the excess, the film does seem to be making some muddled point about Freedom, but disturbing-movie buffs will likely cheer the narrative’s nasty voyeurism and the director’s preoccupation with the deification of death.
It is an honest to God mystery why this film was not packaged as a Midnight Movie: SLING cries out for an art-house revival, and some of the images and mise-en-scene are incredible: Daughter lying at the feet of her mummified father in the family tomb, exulting in a gust of autumn leaves, and a masterful piece of cross-cutting between Singapore Sling digging his own grave, and a three-way bondage menage’ all set to a haunting choral requiem. One can only hope that Synapse picks up Nikolaidis’ follow up ‘noir/psychological horror homage, SEE YOU IN HELL MY DARLING (1999).
The Synapse Flms DVD boasts a superior anamorphic widescreen transfer, with English/Greek Language and occasional English subtitles. Extras are slim: a theatrical trailer and still gallery. One of the problems with the DVD include the previous and new subtitles for Sling (whose narration is in Greek), and the new subtitles occasionally crop the action in the lower frame.
Nikolaidis passed away September 5, 2007.
SINGAPORE SLING (1990). Written and directed by Nikos Nikolaidis. Cast: Meredyth Harold, Michele Valley, Panos, Thanassoulis.