Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Saw II

--Reviewed by Lindy Loo

Saw II has the stupidest tag-line ever. Just needed to get that outta my system. Thank you. Carry on.

Plotline: Jigsaw is back: A group of people wake up to find themselves trapped in a house that has been booby-trapped with potentially murderous horrors. They must figure out "the game" within two hours, otherwise a gas that is seeping into the house will complete its course and kill each of them. One of the "players" in the house is the detective's son, so the detective struggles to figure out the location as he dukes it out with Jigsaw in an attempt to save his son.

Scariness factor: It's only scary in terms of the whole time-running-out thing, where the main characters are in a race against the clock. So I guess you'd say perhaps a bit more suspenseful than scary?

Gross-Out Factor: I remember reading in Fangoria that the impetus behind this sequel was the fact that so many people who saw the first movie commented that they would like to see more of the grotesque events AS THEY UNFOLDED rather than just seeing the aftermath. (That's somehow disturbing to me, but that's besides the point.) So this movie was intended to take you inside the actual events, and it's been touted as terribly violent and gross. It was, but not so much as I'd expected. There were some nasty-ass scenes, but apparently I was expecting a lot lot worse.

Complaints: The whole plot-line of this movie stinks. They try to infuse a back-story about Jigsaw (the serial murderer) into it, and it's just lame. Silly and lame. The premise itself is pretty lousy as well--I mean, how many more "group-of-people-trapped-inside-a-house-trying-to-get-out" movies can they make, really? It also seemed like a pretty cheap rip-off of Seven at times (the whole symbolic retribution thing).

High Points: I really have had absolutely no interest in seeing this movie, especially since I found the original to be really lame (read more HERE). And, as usually happens when I go into a movie with this attitude, I wasn't as disgusted with it as I'd expected I'd be. It's by no means a *good* movie. But it was better than I'd expected. It kept my interest--I wanted to see the characters make it out alive. And it had a bit of a twist ending that was both pleasantly unexpected and yet mildly irritating.

Overall: This is probably a movie I'd never suggest someone go out of their way to see (I rarely recommend a sequel with high-marks anyways), but it wasn't quite so bad as I thought it would be. Take that as a compliment or a criticism, as I'm not sure which it's intended to be.

Grade: C/C-


Monday, May 22, 2006

Angel Heart

I suspect there will also be debate over whether this flick is technically a horror flick or whether it's suspense or whether it's a film-noir wannabe. But I offer up a review anyways, and if you don't like it, I shall just sick Cujo on you.

--Reviewed by Lindy Loo

Plotline: Harry Angel, an old-school private dick, is hired to track down a fellow named Johnny Favorite who crapped out on repaying back a debt of his. The search leads him into the underbelly of New Orleans and into a world of voodoo and intrigue.

Scariness factor: This movie isn't heart-racing scary at all. At least in my opinion. It has its spooky moments, but they are not packed in tightly enough to make the scariness factor high.

Gross-Out Factor: There is lots of blood. There are lots of gross aftermaths. And there is lots of talk about (shhhhh) people being choked to death on their own penises. But other than that, you're cool.

Complaints: I decided to order this movie from the library after mentioning it in my review of Skeleton Key last week, and I was sorry to say that it wasn't quite so great as I remembered it (I realized upon watching it that the last time I think I saw it, I may have been in high school--hence my intrigue and awe of it). It tries a bit too hard to be film-noirish (though there are a couple of nice shots). It didn't interest me quite so much as I'd hoped--I wasn't pulled along by a desire to figure out what was going on. The ending was a bit laughable--at least Robert DeNiro's revelation. I remember why I liked it, but then I also find myself scoffing at my high-school self who really dug this movie and saying--YOU SILLY GIRL; THAT'S THE LAMEST TRICK IN THE BOOK. And it wasn't that scary or as spooky as I remember. Ah well.

High Points: I still like the sweaty Louisiana-feel to this movie. And it has a few creepy moments. You get to see what's her name (Lisa Bonet) from the Cosby Show nekkid, if you're into that thing (I think this was a hugely controversial movie because of that--the sex scenes as well as the fact that I think she was still on the Cosby Show when this came out, so there was uproar over that). You get to see Robert DeNiro donning long fingernails. And, as I'd mentioned before, I'm a voodoo-geek, so it had that going for it. Authentic, I'm sure it was. *Eye roll*

Overall: Eh. I'd imagine you could live a full life without ever having seen this movie. And it tends to lurch more towards suspense than horror at times. But hey, if you're looking to blow a couple hours, what the hell?

Grade: B-


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Haute Tension (High Tension)

--Reviewed by Lindy Loo

Plotline: A college student goes to stay with her friend and her friend's family in their country home in the middle of the boonies. The first night she is there, the house is broken into and the family is brutally and horribly attacked and tortured. Luckily the main character manages to evade the grips of the attacker, and the movie focuses on her struggle to rescue her friend from the grips of a madman.

Scariness factor: This movie is named High Tension with good reason. While it's not jump-in-your-seat scary, it is petrifying in the horrificness of its brutality and realism. Definitely haunting.

Gross-Out Factor: The complete opposite of yesterday's flick, this is perhaps the most violent, gory, and bloody movie I've seen in a while. And be forewarned: they show most everything.

Complaints: I have two major complaints with this film: 1) This movie is disturbing (and yet intriguing) in its depiction of women. The women in the film are both horribly brutalized and yet terrifyingly self-sufficient as well. The main character is an AMAZINGLY good actress (and her character is clearly a strong one), but I couldn't quite figure out whether I was supposed to find her character empowering or what. Fellow feministas, you need to watch this and let me know if you were bothered by it or what. I cannot say too much more without giving away parts of the movie. But I was intrigued. Very much intrigued. And while kinda being bothered by one potential feminist reading of this movie, I was also kind of blown away despite (or because of) that. So *GO SEE*! 2) Though I didn't see the direction this movie was going to take, I thought it was a bit of a cop-out. Without giving anything away.

High Points: For a horror movie (and even for a regular high-paced drama), the acting was fantastic in this film. Especially the main actress (Cecile de France)--she is *amazingly* impressive. And despite my complaints, I really thought this movie was quite good. And my complaints are also high points as well, to some degree: the main character's strength and self-sufficiency was strange but attractive within the context of the film. And quite interesting, once you get to the end. And despite the fact that I thought the ending was a bit of a cop-out, I also give it props because I *totally* didn't see the direction that this movie was heading *at all*. And despite finding the ending a bit irritating, I also kind of liked it at the same time. Other high points--the movie has a gritty realism to it that is scarily well-done. I mean, despite a few weak moments, what makes the movie so terrifying is that *you could actually imagine all the events happening as is*, and the characters' reactions to them (particularly the main character) are chillingly realistic. I can imagine going through the same mental processes as she does in reaction to what takes place. It is believable. And horrifying. There are also some startlingly well-done camera-shots and cinematic moments throughout the film. And, despite it being ridiculously violent, it totally drew me in. I was engaged, I wanted to see what would end up happening to the main character, I was rooting for her.

Overall: I liked this movie quite a bit, despite the fact that I'm not usually keen on horrifically violent films. It is gritty and real. And it is terrifying in its realness. I thought the ending was a bit weak, but I also found it intriguing and couldn't really imagine it ending any other way, so I suppose I don't mind it so much as I normally would. Overall, I definitely recommend. As long as you're able to stomach it.

PS. There is something strangely attractive about a woman with a chainsaw.

PPSS. Please to send me any good feminist readings of this film, as I am intrigued but too lazy to go searching at the moment. *COUyouheardmemicheleGH*

Grade: A/A-


Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Les Revenants (They Came Back)

--Reviewed by Lindy Loo

One could very easily argue that this is not in fact a horror movie, and they'd have a very legitimate case. However, Les Revenants *IS* technically a zombie movie (or has been promoted as one, though the term "revenant" can also mean "ghost"--yes, I was a child obsessed with all things supernatural, and I remember reading this when I was young). So I post a review here and if you see it, I'll let *you* be the judge.

Plotline: One day, everyone wakes up to find that the newly-dead have returned from the grave. But not in any sort of Dawn of the Dead or 28 Days Later kind of way. They are non-violent. They are non-decaying. They have just returned as though nothing had ever happened. The government takes the time to figure out how to deal with this, treating the awakened as though they were a batch of survivors expelled from their community by a tornado or some such thing--they reincorporate the revenants back into their old jobs, they study them, they try to reincorporate them back into their community. But there is something slightly-off with those who have returned. Just small things: lower body temperatures, the fact that they don't *actually* sleep (they just pretend to), their slow responses in situations. And soon the humans in the community start to grow leery as it becomes clear that the revenants are being drawn towards something.

Scariness factor: This movie will not make you jump in your seat at all. It will not make you feel the urge to flick on all the lights in your house. It is by no means scary in a traditional-horror kind of way. But it *is* spooky, in a quiet, careful way. The normalcy with which it treats the return of the dead (the "realness" of the movie) is frightening and haunting at times.

Gross-Out Factor: Nil. Absolutely not a gross moment in the movie.

Complaints: I really have none. The only thing I think one could legitimately get up in arms about with regard to this movie is the promotion--many will go in thinking it is a full-on zombie flick only to be sorely disappointed when they find absolutely no intense action, no bloodshed, no death. It *is* perhaps a zombie-flick, but it is perhaps arguably moreso a drama than a horror film. My only other miniscule complaint is one single shot towards the end of the movie--the "fading," if you will (you will know it when you see it, but I give nothing away here). With the strength of the rest of the movie, it seemed a bit weak.

High Points: I was transfixed by this movie. They treat the return of the dead with such normalcy and such delicacy that it seems bizarrely realistic and honest. The movie is truly haunting, though not in a traditional horror kind of way. What is haunting is the notion of non-violent, non-aggressive dead people returning from beyond to those still living--how folks who've gone through the grieving process must deal with the reintroduction of these people into their lives, and how it throws them for a loop to do so (for obvious reasons). There were many moments that actually gave me chills, they were done so well and were so poignant. And all in the realm of a very desperate realism.

And the actual scenes of the "zombies" moving through the city en masse were like beautiful pieces of choreography. The cinematography on this film was beautifully impressive.

And thematically, the movie was a very complex and interesting one. I am still wracking my brain to fully understand what it was trying to say, and that is (of course) rare for a horror flick. Many zombie movies seem to use zombies to hint at the notion of us living people actually being dead in our own way (that we walk like zombies through life, that we act like automatons at times, etc.), but this movie handled it differently. Instead of trying to use the dead to reveal our own deadness, it seemed to use the dead to reaffirm how fully fully alive we are. The final shot of the film seemed to cinch this thematically to me (at least in my opinion). The revenants are the same as other people for the most part, but there are some clear clear areas of differentiation, and this calls into question what makes us definitively human. It calls into question what reality is. It calls into question how and why death defines us. It explores the essence of grief. And that is one of the most beautiful themes in the movie--each person deals with the return of their loved ones differently. Each one deals with death differently. And how they do so, and how the film deals with the return of the dead, seems to explore the ways in which death defines us and reinforces the essence of human life.

Seriously, I could go on and on about this as the movie is beautifully deep and surprisingly touching for an alleged zombie movie. But I shan't. Just take from this that the movie has gorgeous cinematography, beautifully choreographed moments and heartbreaking, tender moments, and explores the notion of death and the living in complex and interesting ways.

Overall: I was impressed. This is a quiet, slow-paced, subtle movie. It is definitely no Dawn of the Dead. But it is exactly this subtle, slow pace that makes the return of the dead all the more haunting. It is the realism of the movie that is terrifying. But again, I warn you--if you go in hoping for something fast-paced, horrifying, and heart-thumping, you will be sorely disappointed. That being said, I highly recommend.

Grade: A


Monday, May 15, 2006

The Skeleton Key

--Reviewed by Lindy Loo

I HATE KATE HUDSON! Ok. Just had to get that off my chest. My hatred is unfair really, but it came once I found out she was Goldie Hawn's daugher. And I HATE GOLDIE HAWN! Now you know. Carry on.

Plotline: Kate Hudson's character moves into an old plantation estate to take care of an elderly man who has suffered from a stroke and is unable to speak or move. Strange things begin to happen in the house--she finds a mysterious room in the attic, the elderly man ends up out on the roof, scrambling to escape, she's told eerie stories of death and hoodoo that surround the house. As she struggles to unravel the mysteries of the home and its occupants, she is drawn deeper and deeper into the creepy past-life of the house.

Scariness factor: This movie isn't jump-in-your-seat scary, but it *is* successfully spooky at times.

Gross-Out Factor: Miniscule. Rated PG-13 if that tells you anything.

Complaints: This movie is slick and Hollywoodish. That is my only huge complaint. I suspect if I hadn't gone into this movie expecting to hate it, I probably would have a lot more to say here. But I think because I wasn't expecting much, I ended up liking it a lot more than I thought I would. It's a bit predictably unpredictable. And it's a bit lame at times (with a lot of those annoying gaps in logic), but overall, I was surprised that I didn't find myself with much to complain about. You will either love or absolutely abhor the ending, so perhaps that's a complaint as well, but take that as you will.

High Points: I've always been a sucker for voodoo-y-esque movies (like Angel Heart for example)--I'm not quite sure why (maybe because they're usually set in the beautiful and sweaty Louisiana and/or maybe because the whole voodoo thing is spooky and cool to me), but there's just something about them--so perhaps I'm not the utmost in objectiveness when it comes to reviewing The Skeleton Key. I think this helped out my opinion of this movie some--along with the fact that, as I mentioned earlier, I wasn't expecting much. But really though, the cast is a high-quality one (from Kate Hudson who, although I hate her, is a good actress, to Gena Rowlands, to Peter Sarsgaard). And there is a certain spooky atmospheric attractiveness to old Louisiana plantation homes that lends a wonderful creepiness to the film.

Overall: I was surprised that I liked this movie much more than I thought I would. It's slick and Hollywoodish, and it's kinda lame at times. But if offers up some good spookiness. And it leaves you wanting to figure out what the hell's going on and to unravel the mystery along with the main character. So all in all, when you're looking for something half-way decent to waste a couple of hours on (and if you go in not expecting a masterpiece), you'll probably be pleasantly surprised.

Grade: B


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Motel Hell

--Reviewed by Lindy Loo

Spoilers spattered throughout (though I doubt it matters)...

Plotline: Vincent Fritters sells the *best* dried meats within a 100-mile radius. People come from all around to try out (and sometimes even "be in") his meats.

Scariness factor: Considering 2/3 of the movie seemed like a bizarrely lame 1980's plotline from the Oh! channel, the scariness factor was indeed a bit low. The only things really creepy in the movie were the sounds that the "garden" makes and the pig's head scene at the end (and that just sorta fluctuated between incredibly creepy and incredibly laughable--and I couldn't decide which).

Gross-Out Factor: Very small. Chainsaw in the gut. Gross noises being emitted from "the garden." Some fake slaughterhouse shots. Most of the gruesomeness that takes place takes place off-camera.

Complaints: This movie had incredibly bad pacing and oftentimes seemed to forget it was a horror movie (like when the music would swell with tenderness and the main female character would find herself in a field, overjoyed by the abundance of life, or when it would swell again, and the main character would ask Farmer Vincent to marry her). It would stumble into moments where it seemed like it was trying to be much more meaningful than it really should've (or could've) been. Like Chopper Chicks in Zombietown, this movie kind of forgot that the crux of the viewers' interest lay in the horror aspect of the movie--the bodies planted in the backyard. There would be gratuitously long periods of the movie where only *normal* stuff would happen, and if you happened to be flipping channels and stumbled across this, you wouldn't even be able to TELL it was a horror flick at times. It also suffered from a complete lack of logic, but given its campiness I expected as much: wouldn't it just be easier to *chain* people up in your barn or something until you kill them, rather than planting them in the ground with their heads sticking out so that folks could easily stumble across them? Why not slaughter and harvest them immediately--does force-feeding them *really* put that much extra flesh on their bones that it makes it worth your while having to tend to them every day? Could they possibly have *thought* of any more of a convoluted, bizarre, and acid-trippy way to finally "slaughter" their victims? Really, these types of questions abounded, but I wasn't ultimately concerned becase, well, it's a fricking sub-B horror flick. And I can slough off bad acting and cheesiness because, well, I expected it from a movie called MOTEL HELL. But it's biggest fault was that is was terribly terribly boring at times.

High Points: There are some memorable one-liners in the movie (Farmer Vincent in a somber moment on killing people for his meats--"Sometimes I wonder about the karmic implications of these actions"), particularly Farmer Vincent's last words which cracked my shit up ("I'm the biggest hypocrite of them all. My meats... I used preservatives"). The pig's head, chainsaw-duel was pretty entertaining as well. Other than that, it was damn slow-moving.

Overall: Motel Hell had its campy moments, and its bizarre little footnoted commentaries on farming and slaughterhouses (something along the line of "I take better care of the people I kill than most farmers do their livestock") which I found weirdly ironic since *everything* seems to be coming up meat-related lately in my world were strangely intriguing... But overall, you won't (and shouldn't) lose sleep if you never ever set your eyes on this flick.

Grade: D

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