Oh no, they say she’s got to go, go go gorezilla. On no, there goes Tokyo, go go gorezilla…zilla…zilla…zilla.
Although director Yoshihiro Nishimura’s TOKYO GORE POLICE, essentially a remake of his earlier film ANATOMIA EXSTINCTION (1985), does not have any men running around in rubber monster suits, it does have men and women looming around covered in latex prosthetics that are as nutty as they are creative.
“Blood, squirt, artery, homicide, gore.” These are the words pouring out of the mouth of Michael Palin during his rendition of a sadistic barber in a Monty Python skit. It also happens to be a fair description of TOKYO GORE POLICE (2008), Nishimura’s over-the-top blood lusting freak-out film that gives this Gore-Asia genre a comedic lilt with a horror tilt.
With last year’s successful U.S. Film Festival run of Nishimura’s co-directed Gore-Asia release of VAMPIRE GIRL VS FRANKENSTEIN GIRL (2009), Tokyo Shock’s May 18, 2010 re-release of TOKYO GORE POLICE is yet one more strategy to drain our very souls – and pocketbooks – dry. The two-disc set is touted as a “1.5 version” that includes a bonus disc of follow-up short films, which is intended to “extend the TOKYO GORE POLICE cinematic experience.”
However, I think that those who have seen any of the other released versions of the 109-minute twisted TOKYO GORE POLICE (such as the single-disc DVD released in January 2009) will agree that any additions (barring unseen footage or extended play) are as needed as an extra hour on Peter Jackson’s KING KONG (2005), a film that would have greatly benefited by removing about 40 minutes of the first hour.
Anyhow, for those who came in late, the thousands of gallons of blood gushing out all over the screen, on the camera lenses and the various slice ‘em and dice ‘em up actors are the result of a futuristic gore war between Tokyo’s newly created privatized police force versus the Engineers. Not to be confused with someone who drives a train or builds cars, these Engineers are a sometimes randy, rowdy or raunchy bunch of genetically created mutant murderers who when maimed morph into maniacal machinations of maliciousness.
Enter the Ruka (Eihi Shiina; the piano-wire wielder in AUDITION (1999)), Engineer hunter extraordinaire, whose goal is to find and finish off the head Engineer (Itsuji Itao), in order to railroad and derail his dreams of humankind domination. But the “key” to unlock her success goes beyond the door of damnation to reveal the reality of what and who she is.
As many Japanese, female driven action-gore films depict, Ruka wields a samurai sword. However, the film only contains six hack-and-whack fight scenes cumulatively lasting a poultry four minutes, which reflect action scenes featured in the Meiko Kaji starring LADY SNOWBLOOD films (1973 & 1974) and the FX influenced fight scene between Yuen Biao and the freaky creature in PEACOCK KING (1989). In a very obscure fashion, Ruka acts, dresses and looks a little like Beatrice Chia’s Silver character featured in the Hong Kong actioner short LOST TIME (2003).
Nishimura’s scatological sensibilities border on pee-thetic bathroom humor that are not just a bunch of croc but are influenced by Shintaro Katzu’s HANZO THE RAZOR films (1972, 1973 and 1974), which probably breaks every penile code this side of the Pecos. In this case, the words of Eric Idle from another Monty Python sketch will suffice, “Wink, wink, grin, grin, blink, blink. Know what I mean? Say no more.”
Jack the Giant Killer starts in July
Filmonic.com points us to a ProductionWeekly.com report that director Bryan Singer (X-MEN) will start filming JACK THE GIANT KILLER in July, with shooting planned to take place in London and Iceland, for a planned 2011 release.
Singer’s involvement with JACK THE GIANT KILLER could prevent him from rejoining the X-MEN franchise, despite recent overtures from producer Lauren Shuler Donner, asking him to consider X-MEN: FIRST CLASS and/or X-MEN 4.
The original JACK THE GIANT KILLER (1962) is basically a rip-off of THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, with director (Nathan Juran), leading man (Kerwin Matthews), and villain (Torin Thatcher) reprising their respective duties in a fairy-tale fantasy. The missing ingredient is the special effects magic of Ray Harryhausen (who later went on to craft the 1981 version of CLASH OF THE TITANS, also the subject of a recent remake).
Ponyo – DVD Review
A gentle fable that beautifully demonstrates the artistry of classic hand-drawn animation.
One of the nicest perks of reviewing DVDs is the occasional arrival of a title that you may well never have sought out on your own. It might be because of the genre or the subject matter, or simply because it slipped under the radar. Master animator Hayao Miyazaki’s PONYO definitely falls into that category: a gentle fable inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Little Mermaid” that beautifully demonstrates the artistry of classic hand-drawn animation.
When we first meet Brunhilde, she’s just one of many tiny goldfish living under the strict thumb of her father, Fujimoto, an unusual Nemo-like figure with magical powers who operates out of a flipper-powered submarine in a quest to “keep the oceans in balance”. He carries a deep mistrust for mankind, and keeps his children as far from human influence as possible. One day, the ever-curious Brunhilde strays from the rest of her family and winds up being trapped in a glass jar that floats to a coastal fishing town, where it’s spotted by 5-year-old Sosuke, who frees the fish but cuts his hand in the process. Sosuke renames Brunhilde Ponyo; she repays his kindness by licking the wound, causing it to heal almost instantly. This forms an unbreakable bond between the two, leading Ponyo to summon up all of her magic to transform herself into a human, separating herself from the sea forever.
The plot might sound paper thin, but Ponyo is as much about the fine details as the big picture. Miyazaki clearly takes great pleasure in illuminating small moments: Ponyo’s excited first reactions to the world in her new human body all center around little things, whether being hot or cold, or squealing with delight at each flavor of the simple meals prepared by Sosuke’s mother. There is a notion that Ponyo is one of Miyazaki’s lesser efforts; this feeling could have its roots in the common ground it shares with the Disney hit of 20 years ago, THE LITTLE MERMAID (based on the same source material), or the fact that the plot has little in the way of the traditional good vs. evil conflict that we expect in children’s fare.
Ponyo is a film about wonder and discovery, and so gentle and sweet that one half-expects it to evaporate before our eyes. Amazingly, Miyazaki doesn’t let Disney’s immensely popular film of Anderson’s tale influence ether the animation or characterization – a much more difficult task than it sounds – but instead creates his own world, as far from the 1989 Disney film as it is from the large mass of cheap-jack Japanese anime (though certain character designs – particularly the gaunt, long-haired Fujimoto, do have their roots in the more traditional elements of the genre).
The story is seen through the eyes of the children, creating a film with somewhat unique worldview. This isn’t a story fraught with danger, nor are there plots to kill or kidnap; when Ponyo’s father comes looking for her, it’s out of love and a genuine fear for her safety among the humans who have been polluting the oceans. Miyazaki also earns points for his tactful handling of the story’s “green” messages: he never bashes you over the head with hectoring diatribes about ecology; a simple shot of the tons of man-made pollution that is drudged up from the ocean floor does it all without saying a word.
Disney’s Blu-Ray is, as expected, absolutely breathtaking. While traditional “analog” animation is never going to “pop” in HD the way that Pixar’s all-digital films will, Ponyo’s hand-drawn images have a depth and weight that few other animated titles can match. Obviously, water imagery plays a central role, and Miyazaki’s use of different variations of the color blue is astounding. The film’s most technically impressive scene – Ponyo’s return to the seaside town riding a series of magical, rolling waves (trust us, it makes sense when you’re watching it) – should be enough to drag Blu-ray resisters happily into the HD arena.
The main audio track is a lossless DTS English dub track, with a French language track present in a lower quality 5.1 mix. Now, we’ve seen other reviews that mention a Japanese 5.1 mix as well (and the disc jacket seems to confirm its presence); however, we were unable to locate it, either within the menu or by cycling through the tracks using the audio button. Unless we hear different from Disney, we’ll have to count this as a very unusual defect. The furor over the dubbing of animation is, for us, one of the ultimate non-issues of home video. While we understand perfectly the desire to preserve the performance of the original actors in a live-action film, we can’t imagine anyone getting their knickers in a twist over dubbed animation. The idea of watching a film with this level of visual artistry and spending most of the time concentrating on the subtitles at the bottom of the screen feels utterly ridiculous to us. Great care has obviously been taken with the English cast, and one would never know that they were not the original voices.
As with other premiere animated titles on Disney Blu-Ray, Ponyo is outfitted with quite a few special features, most of which are presented in HD. We enjoyed the optional opening, “Meet Ponyo,” which briefly outlines the relationship between Disney and Miyazaki’s home, Studio Ghibli – something that’s even further fleshed out in “The World of Ghibli,” an interactive look at some of the studio’s other titles, including Kiki’s Delivery Service and Castle in the Sky. As for the rest:
- “A Conversation with Hayao Miyazaki and John Lasseter” is exactly what is says, a 4-minute long chat between the Pixar chief and Miyazaki, in which they discuss some of the specific design elements of Ponyo.
- “Creating Ponyo” features Miyazaki discussing his intentions in making the film, specifically tailoring it to younger children. “Ponyo and Fujimoto” concentrates on the relationship between father and daughter.
- “The Nursery” focuses on the real nursery that Miyazaki opened at the studio.
- “Producer’s Perspective” gives an overview of the entire production process.
- “The Locations of Ponyo” – the longest featurette – takes us on a Ghibli retreat to a small seaside town that helped inspire the artwork and tone.
- “Scoring Miyazaki” walks us through the scoring process for Ponyo and several other Ghibli titles.
- “Behind the Microphone” gives us a BTS look at the performance of the English dub track.
The extras are rounded out by an assortment of trailers for Ponyo, including several from the original Japanese release.
Outpost (2008) – Horror Film Review
It’s not often that I see a film, particularly a horror film, which is lit so well as Steve Barker’s OUTPOST. Stunning greys and shadows are used to great effect, bleaching out the brighter colours and leaving behind a bleak and atmospheric work of art. This stylish cinematography isn’t wasted on a bad film, either, and I’m already looking forward to the sequel.
Somewhere in war torn Eastern Europe, a group of hardened mercenaries, led by DC (Ray Stevenson) agree to do a job for an engineer named Hunt (Julian Wadham). The job description is sketchy, to say the least, but it involves facilitating the safe inspection of a ‘property’. The ‘property’ in this case is an old Nazi Bunker. Which we later learn was used for all manner of macabre experiments. As the macho group of soldiers explore the bunker, not yet knowing what they’re looking for, they discover a pile of fresh bodies, one of them is still alive, though in a catatonic state.
Later, gunshots erupt from the woodland surrounding the bunker; they return the fire, and feeling certain they must have done some damage, go to investigate; however, their recon mission reveals not one wounded man. It is now apparent that this is no ordinary enemy. In fact they are under attack from Nazis; I’ve heard these Nazis described as ‘zombies’, but they are not Zombies. Whatever they are, they can shift through space and time, and these ominous looking men with their grey faces and sinister uniforms, springing up when they least expect them are enough to scare the bejesus out of DC’s men.
I won’t give away the plot, but suffice it to say that most of the scares in Outpost come from the lighting and shadow effects: there’s nothing there; then suddenly – he’s behind you! It’s a shame that later in the film the shifting through space and time is abandoned in exchange for plain old walking, because it is the speed at which the Nazis come and go that makes them frightening. Gore fans will probably find this film a bit tame, though there are a few cringe worthy moments. There’s some shoot ‘em up action and the claustrophobic setting of the old bunker coupled with the bleak, eerie lighting sets us up perfectly for some good jump-scares.
DC and his sidekick, redneck buddy Prior (Richard Brake) have the most character; the rest of the men are more easily distinguishable by their array of strong accents than their diverse characters.
The Nazis look really threatening with their dull gray faces, and of course, that Nazi uniform doesn’t hurt! Shame about the lead Nazi, who for some reason looks like he’s scribbled on his face with a biro – well, this isn’t a high budget film, and as the rest of it is a visual delight, I’m prepared to overlook it.
Outpost 2 is currently in production.
OUTPOST (2009). Director: Steve Barker. Writer: Kieran Parker, Steve Barker, Rae Brunton. Cast: Ray Stephenson, Julian Wadham, Richard Brake, Paul Blair, Brett Fancy, Enoch Frost.
Trailer Park of Terror (2008) – Horror Film Review
With a name like TRAILER PARK OF TERROR, I was certain Steven Goldmann’s 2008 horror was going to be a diabolical shambles. I figured I’d sit through it anyway, so I could warn you good people to use your precious time on other things, because, well, that’s the kind of selfless gal I am! The thing is, though, this isn’t the stinker I thought it’d be. It isn’t brilliant by any stretch of the imagination, but this over-the-top outlandish horror is surprisingly entertaining.
Based on the Imperium comic series [of which I have no knowledge], Trailer Park of Terror takes us to 1981 and introduces us to pretty girl Norma [Nichole Hiltz] who lives in a dirty, trashy, and downright disgusting trailer park. The inhabitants of the trailers are every repulsive stereotype you can possibly imagine: Thuggish Marv, who fancies his chances with Norma; Miss China Girl, the ‘masseuse’; Stank, a road-kill jerky maker; Roach, a drug addict and rockabilly guitarist; and Larlene, a morbidly obese woman with a passion for Stank’s meat. Desperate to get away from this hell-hole with its scumbag inhabitants and pink flamingo gardens, Norma sets off to leave with her new fella who she believes can give her a better life. Unfortunately Marv and his redneck buddies don’t take too kindly to him, and when their bullying gets out of control, Norma’s clean-cut boyfriend is accidently killed.
A distraught Norma storms down the road full of rage, where she encounters a mysterious stranger [country singer Trace Adkins]. Little does she know she’s striking a deal with the devil when she takes his gun and returns to the trailer park to have her revenge. She kills everyone, and then burns the park to the ground; she too perishes in the fire.
Jump forward to present day, and many people have gone missing in the area. A pastor and his bus full of wayward teenagers arrive during a terrible storm; the teenagers include the usual caricatures that we see so often in horror films: an addict, a slut, a gay guy, a goth, a klepto – all deeply troubled kids, but the pastor believes he can bring out the good in them. When their bus crashes, they are forced to seek refuge in the nearby trailer park, which is run by a very young and alive Norma. At night her old neighbours, now zombies, haunt their neighbourhood offing any visitors they find in strange an imaginative ways [ever fancied being skinned and then deep fried!?]. They’re still up to their old tricks, making jerky, making love, making music, and it is all done in an amusing and off-the-wall way.
Trailer Park of Terror didn’t make me laugh, but it did bring a smile to my face. Roach, the rockabilly guitarist, will either irritate you or delight you; I hope it’s the latter, because he’s given a big chunk of screen time and even his own full length song.
The acting of the teenagers is pretty one dimensional, but the screenplay doesn’t require fantastic performances from them, so it doesn’t matter too much. If you’re looking for a serious, stylish and classy horror, then avoid this film like the Black Death! Everything about Trailer Park of Terror should be taken with a pinch of salt. It doesn’t take itself seriously at all, and neither should we.
TRAILER PARK OF TERROR (2008). Directed by Steve Goldmann. Screenplay by Timothy Dolan. Cast: Nichole Hiltz, Trace Adkins, Matthew Del Negro, Ed Corbin
Fire & Ice: The Dragon Chronicles (2008) – Fantasy Film Review
Released on Monday 7th September on DVD in the U.K., FIRE & ICE: THE DRAGON CHRONICLES was made by MediaPro Pictures and The Sci-fi Channel, and directed by CATWOMAN director Pitof. Anyone expecting a fantastical spectacle of fantasy and adventure, with amazing mythical dragons and state of the art special effects is going to be sorely disappointed.
I don’t know what they were thinking when they created the dragons, but I can guess: the clue is in the title The Dragon Chronicles – someone, somewhere must have misunderstood, because what we’re presented with is ‘chronic dragons’, and I mean diabolical. They look more like stingrays than mythical monsters! The first dragon appeared within a few minutes of the opening, and at that point I was tempted to switch off. How I wish I’d gone with my gut and flicked that switch.
Fire & Ice: The Dragon Chronicles is not bad enough to be declared rubbish, but it could have been so much better. It has all the ingredients for a good, if unoriginal, action adventure: a good King, a bad King, a corrupt advisor, a wilful princess, and a brave knight, not to mention two battling dragons – not a bad concoction at all. Unfortunately added to this mix are bad acting, average CGI, and those god damned flying stingrays! That’s not to mention the missing ingredients of a handsome and believable hero, good, gritty action sequences, and an exciting final showdown with the dragon.
When their kingdom falls under attack from a Fire Dragon, they have two choices, surrender to the evil King, who has the means to protect them, or look for the valiant knight who saved them during their last dragon attack. The good king is reticent to ask for help, and would rather bury his head in the sand than actually make a decision! Fortunately, after eavesdropping, his wilful, tomboy of a daughter, Princess Luisa (Amy Acker) sets off in search of their saviour. Sadly, he’s no longer with us, so his son, Gabriel (Tom Wisdom) reluctantly takes his place. His father taught him everything he knew, so the kingdom should be in safe hands. The first thing Gabriel does is summon the Ice Dragon; known to be more powerful than the Fire Dragon, it should rid the kingdom of their fiery enemy. Great plan, except for now they’re stuck with the wrath of the mighty Ice Dragon! Duh!
I could talk for England about all the problems with Fire & Ice: The Dragon Chronicles, but suffice it say that it could have been brilliant, but instead is flat, bland and boring. I don’t know how a knight fighting a dragon can be boring, but they managed to pull it off somehow! The action scenes are a total let-down. Everything looks way too glossy and clean. Yes, this is a family film, but even children know that if you stab someone you get blood on your sword! Where’s the grit?
Their press release compares The Dragon Chronicles to The Lord of the Rings and Stardust. I’d compare it to a cheesy made for T.V. fantasy film which only eight year old children will love – because that’s what it is!
THE DRAGON CHRONICLES: FIRE & ICE (2008). Directed by Pitof. Screenplay by Michael Konyves and Angela Mancuso. Cast: Amy Acker, Tom Wisdom, John Rhys-Davies, Arnold Vosloo and Rasvan Vasilescu.
Ponyo – Animation Film Review
Hayao Miyazaki’s latest film, PONYO (“Gake no ue no Ponyo” or “Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea”), could be nicely summed up as charmingly innocent. I wasn’t even sure they still made films like it. It’s just a simple slice of pleasant storytelling. And you know what – audiences very much enjoy it. You might think the younger set so jaded and – and, yes, cynical – that they couldn’t or wouldn’t sit still for an animated story of PONYO’s nature. However, one of the greatest pleasures in watching PONYO was to experience the joyful sounds of laughter and “aaaahhhs” coming from both old and young alike. It restores one’s faith in the universal sensitivity within the hearts of that which we call humankind.
I’ve enjoyed—and written about—the laughter of children before while watching “children’s” films, but this felt different. There were no wisecracking donkeys or hip jungle animals constantly reminding us through timely (and one day dated) jokes about our modern society. The characters in PONYO were likeable and refreshing partially because there were really no pretensions involved. In a loud, posturing summer (anyone see the mess that was TRANSFORMERS 2?) this little film is a welcome reprieve. It might make for nice comedown to take in after watching INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS over the August 21st weekend.
I wouldn’t say PONYO is one of Miyazaki’s masterpieces—it’s not quite up there with PRNCESS MONONOKE, SPIRITED AWAY or HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE—but it is so very nice to relax with as to make one wish one could share it with others. As I say, it’s not a complicated story: a five-year-old boy (Frankie Jonas – English version) finds a “goldfish” trapped in a bottle along the shoreline, near where he lives. He’s captivated by the unique little “fish” and decides to keep her, naming her PONYO (Noah Lindsey Cyrus – English version). Ah, but PONYO is not what you’d call a normal “fish.” She is, in fact, the offspring of a powerful water wizard (Liam Neeson – English version) and sea goddess (Cate Blanchett – English version).
As Miyazaki would have it, PONYO is every bit as captivated by the young boy. She winds up falling in (puppy) love with him and so desires to become human that she uses some of her father’s sorcery to make the leap…literally, as we come to see. But the use of this powerful magic upsets the balance of nature and all must be set right one way or another if the world is to be saved from the effects of an ever-approaching moon.
The delicate balance of nature is a recurring theme within PONYO. The imbalance created by Ponyo’s use of a powerful magic needs to be acted upon, but proper care of nature is also brought up several times by the wizard, Fujimoto, in relation to the manner in which man treats the world that surrounds him. So one could say that little Ponyo’s predicament may be a metaphor for mankind’s current state and what we should all be mindful of in our own environment. These points are made in a subtle, friendly fashion. There is no bludgeoning like, oh, say, Oliver Stone might do (I’m sure no one out there thinks Stone’s probable sequel to WALL STREET is going to lightly dance among the tulips).
No, this is a buoyant, happy tale. And the animation holds true to that sense in a lovely way. Some of it is bold, magical & colorful, and some of it is soft, wispy and painterly, even to the point of showing us what look like the master’s brush strokes. It is all truly a restful treat for the eyes. And in Miyazaki’s animated world everything has life to it.
It’s all well supported by Joe Hisaishi’s music score too. Though it stands out just a tad too much at a couple of junctures, it’s a lush work, as inspired by more traditional classical music. It very much fits the lyrical pace and artistry of the film.
Hayao Miyazaki is one the greatest and best loved animators & storytellers that Japan has ever produced, and his country knows it well. He’ll most likely go down in film history as the Akira Kurosawa of animation. In 2002 the Japanese (film) Academy honored him with its Lifetime Achievement Award. He has essentially become a national treasure, and his films do tremendous box-office business in the Land of the Rising Sun, not to mention elsewhere. Over here he won the coveted Oscar for Best Animated Film in 2003 (hint: it was for one of the three I mentioned earlier), and he has won and been nominated for numerous other film related awards.
What this all boils down to is that Mr. Miyazaki’s work is worth taking note of. One will always find something creative, sincere and of merit within it. And though PONYO isn’t his grandest work, it is a sweet breath of fresh air, as soft and caressing as a gentle ocean breeze.
PONYO(Studio Ghibli/Walt Disney Pictures/Buena Vista, 2008/2009; 103 min.) Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Screenplay by Hayao Miyazaki. Produced by Steve Alpert (English version), Kathleen Kennedy (English version), Frank Marshall (English version), and Toshio Suzuki. Executive produced by Koji Hoshino, John Lasseter (English version), and Hayao Miyazaki. Co-Executive Produced by Naoya Fujimaki, Ryoichi Fukuyama, and Seiji Okuda. Cinematography by Atsushi Hisaishi. Art Direction by Noboru Yoshida. Chief Animation by Katsuya Kondo. Music by Joe Hisaishi. Edited By Hayao Miyazaki and Takeshi Seyama. Cast (English version): Cate Blanchett, Noah Lindsey Cyrus, Matt Damon, Tina Fey, Frankie Jonas, Kurt Knutsson, Cloris Leachman, Liam Neeson, Jennessa Rose, Lily Tomlin, and Betty White. Cast (Japanese version): Yuria Nara, Hiroki Doi, Joji Tokoro, Tomoko Yamaguchi, Yuki Amami, Kazushige Nagashima, Akiko Yano, Shinichi Hatori, Tokie Hidari, Eimi Hiragi, Tomoko Naraoka, Nozomi Ohashi, and Kazuko Yoshiyuki. MPAA Rating: G – for the whole planet.
Martyrs (2008) – Horror Film Review
Pascal Laugier’s disturbing, brutal, French horror movie is not always comfortable to watch, but in contrast to the other recent torture-porn films, the torture in MARTYRS has a point.
At the beginning we see young girl Lucie escape from a facility where she has been chained to a chair and brutally tortured. Unable to speak of it, even to her close friend Anna (who takes on the role of both friend and surrogate mother), Lucie is tormented by the image of a girl she couldn’t save. She believes this girl is with her, and means her grave harm. At one point during their childhood, Anna finds Lucie in the bathtub alone, covered in cuts and gashes, cowering in the bloody water and saying “It wasn’t me, it wasn’t me.”
Fifteen years after her escape, Lucie has managed to track down those responsible, and she is determined to have her revenge. With her ghoulish and disfigured imaginary foe never far away, she bursts into an ordinary looking family home with a shotgun. When things gets out of hand, poor Anna gets involved, and the unbelievable decision to help her friend leads down a very frightening path. This is one of the major problems with this film. Anna’s decisions throughout are completely ridiculous. I was utterly bewildered when she rang her mother from the scene of a horrifying blood bath and told her she was fine! Calling the police, would surely have been the better option!
I don’t want to spoil the plot by saying too much, but suffice it to say that this is not your ordinary torture flick. There’s enough strange and shocking imagery to keep even the most hardened horror fan happy; in fact, the film is nothing but blood and shocks from beginning to end. It’s hard to believe that there can be a valid reason for anyone to treat another human being the way some of the people are treated in this film, but there is a reason and that’s what makes MARTYRS more than just another torture flick….but not necessarily better.
The filmmakers let us know that the word ‘martyr’ is derived from the Greek word ‘witness’ and in MARTYRS the point of the torture is to find a true martyr who can bear witness to the pain, the blindness that follows, and move through it to tell what lies beyond. Whilst this is a very interesting topic and I’ve no doubt there’d be many people curious to know what does lie beyond, I wish the reason had been more believable. It would surely take more than this curiosity to make seemingly ordinary people turn into sadistic torturers, and it is this nonsensical reasoning that weakens the film.
Unlike some shock horrors that have tongue-in-cheek moments, MARTYRS is dark and relentless. It doesn’t ease up, and it is not a pleasure to watch. As Anna is tortured she goes into her own world, and we don’t even have her screams to break the silence.
If you’re just looking for horror movie with shocking imagery and plenty of action that’s a little bit weird, then you will enjoy MARTYRS. Be warned, however: you could spend a bit of time shouting at the screen ‘call the police, for god’s sake, call the police!’
MARTYRS (2008). Written and directed by Pascal Laugier. In French with English subtitles. Cast: Morjana Aloui, Mylene Jampanoi, Catherine Begin, Robrt Toupin, Patricia Ulasne, Juliette Gosselin, Xavier Dolan, Isabelle Chasse, Emilie Miskdijan, Mike Chute.
Mum & Dad (2008)- Horror Film Review
Steven Sheil’s 2008 British horror MUM & DAD – shot in seventeen days, on a micro-budget of only £100,000 – stands up as one of the best British horrors in recent years. Not since THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE have we seen a family this insane.
When young Polish airport worker Lena is stranded at work after missing her bus, she goes home with a friendly co-worker Birdie, who lives close by with her adoptive parents. As soon as Lena sets foot in Birdie’s home, her nightmare begins. She is coshed over the head and injected in the throat, so when she wakes up chained to a bed, she can’t scream for help. A woman tells her ‘I’m Mum; he’s Dad; you live with us now.’ Mum and Dad are no ordinary parents: Dad is a psychopathic serial killer, who gets his kicks from masturbating into the flesh he’s hacked from his victims in a very uncomfortable-to-watch scene. Mum is a seemingly gentile woman, but has a predilection for torturing her ‘children’.
It is made very clear to Lena, that she is now a ‘mummy’s girl’ and as such she should keep mum happy, or suffer dad’s consequences. From here on in, we are on a knife edge as we watch poor Lena endure horrendous acts of torture; we want her to escape, but we know if she gets caught trying she’ll suffer, and we won’t be able to stop ourselves from watching.
Steven Sheil has done a brilliant job of creating this bizarre, macabre, family who appear completely normal to the outside world. That’s the disturbing thing about this film: in many ways they are your average family, and some scenes play out almost like a soap opera. There’s an adoptive son, who is encouraged to walk in his Dad’s rather troubling footsteps, and Birdie is showing signs of wanting to be like Mum. They are a close knit family who in a very, very strange way love each other. The main difference is that, if one of the ‘children’ upsets their parents, the consequences will be a mite worse than going to bed with no supper! The Christmas Day scene displays just how far over the edge this family have gone, but at the same time shows how normal they are – ordinary, yet fantastically insane.
The lack of any musical score only makes the insanity more intense; the only real background noises are the planes flying overhead and the electrical buzzing we hear in times of acute tension. This is real edge-of-the-seat stuff, difficult to watch, but impossible to switch off.
The casting is fantastic. One couldn’t imagine anyone portraying a more convincing, loving and sinister Mum than Dido Miles, and Perry Benson’s Dad is terrifying, but also strangely amusing – which is an almost impossible balance to achieve. Olga Fedori is fantastic as the terrified but headstrong victim, and Birdie is perfectly acted by Ainsley Howard.
An uncomfortable watch, Mum & Dad will keep you on tenterhooks from beginning to end.
Mum & Dad is available on Both Region 1 and Region 2 DVD from Revolver Entertainment. Special features on both discs are identical:
Commentary with Director and Producer
Interview with Director Steven Sheil
Frightfest Q & A session with cast and crew
Short film – ‘Through a Vulture Eye’
On-set Film London interviews with cast and crew
Behind the scenes
B.T.K. – Horror Film Review
Recently released on region one DVD, Michael Feifer’s B.T.K. describes itself as ‘a fictional film based on a real character’. That character is the serial killer Dennis L. Rader, who was arrested in March 2005 for the murder of ten people, in a killing spree that spanned two decades. Rader was known as “B.T.K.” because of his penchant for binding, torturing and then killing his victims. He was perceived by those who knew him, as an ordinary, law abiding, family man. He was President of the Congregation Council at his church and Cub Scout leader. Married, with two daughters, no one suspected he had another, more sinister side.
B.T.K. does not tell us the story from the beginning, but picks up after Rader has been killing for many years already. The film shows us how, whilst working as a compliance officer (the perfect job for such a control freak), Rader chooses his victims by accusing them of minor offenses and seeing how they react. Those who argue don’t live long enough to regret it: Rader goes back to their house later and kills them. He gets his sexual kicks by watching them suffer, seeing the horror in their eyes as he suffocates or strangles them. There are a few gruesome moments, but the sheer terror of these doesn’t come across because of the unrealistic reactions of the victims.
I was curious to see how Kane Hodder, most famous for his role as Jason Vorhees in some of the FRIDAY THE 13th movies, would fare without his hockey mask. There is no doubt he can pull off a machete wielding, maniac; unfortunately, as Rader, his performance is average at best. Luckily for him, alongside Amy Lindon as Rader’s wife Susan, he almost looks good!
B.T.K. does not tell us much about what makes Rader tick. Feifer does make the odd clumsy attempt to put us in the picture, such as when Rader tells his victim about his urges and explains why he feels the need to do what he does, but it is patently apparent that this is the only way Feifer could get his message to us, and it feels as if he cheated by writing it in such a blatant way. In fact the screenwriting is below par throughout the film, which is surprising since this isn’t Feifer’s first serial killer film.
Feifer’s direction can only be described as average. There are moments that should have supplied the jump-scares; however, there is no build up of tension, and the musical score is weak, adding nothing to the atmosphere, so these potential moments pass by, unnoticed.
This is such a shame, because B.T.K. could have been a very frightening film. The story has potential. There’s nothing scarier than an average guy, living an ordinary life, who in his spare time tortures and brutally kills, before going home to his family and carrying on as if nothing has happened. Unfortunately, the story is not well told, and as a result the film is awasted opportunity.
NOTE: This film is not to be confused with B.T.K. KILLER, which was also released by Lionsgate Home Entertainment.
Lionsgate Home Entertainment’s website lists no special features for its Region 1 DVD (released in the U.S. on May 12). The Region 2 disc features an Audio Commentary with Director Michael Feifer and Actor Kane Hodder, and a Behind The Scenes featurette.