Bone Tomahawk (2015)

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WARNING – THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!

Given how intrinsically compatible the Horror and Western genres are, it’s surprising how infrequently they’re combined.

And unlike combinations like Comedy and Horror (see my blog post entitled, ‘No Laughing Matter’), neither aspect. has to be compromised to accommodate the other. Thus, Bone Tomahawk is both a really good Western and a really good Horror.

Shot across 21 days in Malibu, California in late 2014, the film has a nice raw low-budget feel to it.

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We start off with a cameo from Horror icon Sid Haig who obligingly gets murdered by a savage tribe of Native Americans, the Troglodytes. Its previously shown that Haig and his partner-in-crime make a living by murder themselves, killing and robbing travelers, though, so he probably has it coming.

From there we move to the town of Bright Hope, where we get a swift introduction to tight ensemble cast, Sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russell); Deputy Chicory (Richard Jenkins); local womaniser and dandy, Brooder (Mathew Fox); foreman O’Dwyer (Patrick Wilson); and his wife, doctor’s assistant, Samantha (Lili Simmons).

When Samantha and deputy Nick are abducted by the Troglodytes overnight, Hurt, Chicory, Brooder and O’Dwyer undertake a rescue mission to the clan’s dwelling place, the Valley of the Starving Men.

Despite a warning from a local Native American that the Troglodytes are savage cannibals.

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What ensues is a grittily brutal journey into a barbarous and deadly wasteland from which only three of the main cast will return.

There is a grisly sequence towards the end that has earned the film some notoriety – deputy Nick is scalped and then bisected alive by the tribesmen, in front of his fellow captives. All Hunt can think to do as it happens is promise bloody vengeance to the dying man.

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But actually, for me, there is an image that is arguably even more chilling right at the end – the escaping protagonists pass by some of the Troglodytes womenfolk…pregnant, blinded, and missing their arms and legs reduced to nothing more than breeding machines.

IMDB gave this 7.1 and three and a half stars – I’d go closer to 8 stars.

Recommended.

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Muck (2015)

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WARNING – THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!

I will say that the title tells you very much what you’re about to watch.

This is not just the worst horror film ever made- and bear in mind, I’ve watched, Razor Blade Smile – it may actually be the worst film that has ever been made.

I really am going to struggle to express how mind-numbingly, soul-crushingly bad it is.

Let me try:

  • If aliens saw this and it convinced them to attack planet Earth I would side with them;
  • If I had the choice of throwing only one of Stephen Sommers, Michael Bay, or this film into a live volcano, I would choose this film;
  • If I took this film to a beach on a Sunday afternoon, and threw a stick, I am pretty sure it would fetch it.

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Where to begin?

Okay, so its premier was at the Playboy Mansion and it stars former Playmate Jacklyn Swedberg; does that give you a hint of one of the things that may be wrong with it?

It’s basically a soft-core porn film dressed up as a horror film.

And it’s a really really bad soft-core porn film, too.

The opening sequence is some busty young wench, topless, covered in dirt – so there is a thematic reference to the title there – wandering around pouting, being terrified, and caressing herself.

That goes on for about five minutes, and she doesn’t even get a credit in the titles.

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And there is an ongoing theme throughout of people’s sexuality displacing their sense of fear.

When initial protagonist Noah goes for help, after two of his friends have been killed, he stops for drinks in the first bar he finds…..because a cute girl chats him up.

Well you would, wouldn’t you?

Before long we meet his cousin Troit, who is clearly supposed to be an ass-kicking all-American maverick hero.

He’s not; he’s a massive tosser.

His girlfriend is the afore-mentioned Swedberg – who nips off to the ladies at one point to try on and model a range of lingerie, as you do in life and death situations -but his bessie is Chandi.

Because she’s Asian American, he repeatedly calls her a ‘terrorist.’

Inexplicably, rather than kicking him in the balls and calling him a bigot, she finds this endearingly funny and explains that she is a Hindu.

He repeats that she is a terrorist and when they do cocktails, he suggests the bartender provide her with a ‘curry.’

She thinks that’s funny, too.

I’m not sure which of them needs counselling most.

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Later on, when they have had their first encounter with the white-skinned marsh marauders (don’t ask), he gropes her arse. When she rebukes him, he points out that he’s saved her life, so now he’s allowed to molest her.

Rolling her eyes, she concedes that, ‘I hate it when you’re right.’

Did I mention that just before this sequence, his girlfriend has been crushed to death under a car?

The characterisations are not that good, really.

The final battle is between the team of Noah / Troit and Kane Hodder (of WWE fame) as the generic monstrous killer. I was totally rooting for Hodder and disappointingly he loses.

Noah gets killed in the process, though neither Troit nor Chandi seem especially bothered, keen as they are to return to sexual flirting and quips.

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I assume director Steve Wolsh is a thirteen year-old, who’s been bullied by his sisters, and has really bad acne. Otherwise there are no excuses.

This is the first of a trilogy too, so I assume humanity is now doomed.

Rotten Tomatoes gave it a rating of 0% and frankly I think that’s ludicrously generous.

If you have the choice of watching this film or having your face eaten off by piranha, choose the latter.

You will thank me for it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Horns (2014)

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WARNING – THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!

This contains a fair amount of surprises, not least of which that despite the superficial elements of mythology and religious satire, it is at heart a powerful love story about the sacrifices people will make for the one they truly love.

So that was unexpected.

I was aware of French director Alexandre Aja’s reputation, having been very impressed with his New Extreme film, ‘Haute Tension’ (see my blog post entitled, ‘L’Horreur’ for more details).

Set against that was the god-awful performances that star Daniel Radcliffe routinely turns in – but based on this, young ‘Arry is actually showing signs of starting to be able to act.

So that was unexpected, too.

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Aja takes the wise decision of taking a mythic approach to the subject matter, such that we never get an explanation for why protagonist Ig grows Satanic horns, following his becoming the prime suspect in the rape and murder of his girlfriend, Merrin.

He grows horns – that’s not even a spoiler, okay, because you’ve already seen that in the promotional material.

What is a spoiler is that the horns convey upon him the power to elicit from anyone their darkest secrets and desires.

He doesn’t even have to ask and he usually doesn’t, as a string of people tell him things he doesn’t want to know and the screenplay relishes in the everyday depravities of ordinary people:

  • Veronica, the waitress whose ‘evidence’ looks likely to convict him gleefully admits to making it all up to become famous
  • A bunch of reporters are easily goaded into a brutal brawl, initiated by their unscrupulous ambition
  • A pair of cops who he has known since childhood admit to a lifelong sexual infatuation with each other
  • Ig’s mother confesses that she doesn’t want him as her son, whilst his father asserts that Merrin was actually the better part of him

It’s all a bit harsh.

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There is a very competent plot twist around the end of the second act (which I’m not going to disclose because I’m not all about the spoilers) and a satisfactorily dark conclusion.

Oh, watch out for Heather Graham as Veronica – didn’t she used to be a big star rather than a bit player?

IMDB gave this 6.5 and three stars – I think I’d go for 7.0 and three and a half stars, but then I likes my myth and I likes my demons…..

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Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead (2014)

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WARNING – THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!

Bonzer!

This little Australian gem gleefully discards a whole load of classic zombie conventions and invents a handful of new ones.

Firstly, we have the cause of the outbreak being a meteor shower (which is later tied in with the Biblical prophecy of the Wormwood fallen angel);

Secondly we have transmission via air (rather than the usual bite) – these zombies breathe out a contagious gas;

Thirdly, we have a record-breaking speed of conversion – forget the Walking Dead’s period of hours, or even 28 Days Later’s thirty or so seconds…..zombie conversion in this film happens mere seconds after infection (and indeed a plot device in the final scene relies upon that).

Fourthly, at the same time that all existing fuels cease functioning, zombie blood is discovered to function as a flammable gasoline substitute (leading to zombie-powered vehicles).

Except not at night.

I didn’t say it made sense.

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Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead cleverly makes a virtue of its micro-budget (officially £160,000), eschewing big scenes and special effects in favour of well-considered set piece scenes, an example being a scrape between heroine Brooke and two just-converted zombies in the cramped confines of her photographic studio.

And speaking of Brooke, W:ROTD (like Jeepers Creepers before it) gives us the more unusual dramatic pairing of brother / sister protagonists (Brooke’s brother, Barry, is the other lead) although the two of them do not meet up until over an hour into the film.

There are clear nods to Mad Max here (or the Road Warrior, if you’re in the States), from the cobbled-together armour made of sports gear to the bloody, gritty combats to the stark setting of the Outback.

We also have some areas of commonality with television’s Z Nation, in that Brooke, having been subjected to experiments, becomes a part-zombie herself, with the ability to telepathically control other zombies (like Z Nation’s Murphy).

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Congratulations to Writer / Producer / Director / Editors brothers Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner on an original and distinctive contribution to the zombie genre and one that I heartily recommend – but then I would, as I have A Negative blood (watch the film to find out the significance of that).

Oh and a sequel is scheduled for 2017.

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My Hellbound Heart or Why I Love Hellraiser

I didn’t see Hellraiser when it first came out in 1987; I remember it being on my radar, of course; the (eventually) iconic Pinhead staring out from the VHS cover but there was nothing about it that really appealed to me. At the time, the horror genre was dominated by slashers (the Halloweens; the Friday 13ths etc) and the monster-supernaturals (Day of the Dead; Evil Dead; American Werewolf; Nightmare on Elm Street etc).

Hellraiser wasn’t either of those but when I did eventually catch up with it in the early Nineties, it instantly became my favourite horror film, and to this day, possibly my favourite film. It also established Hellraiser’s creator, Clive Barker, as one of my favourite writers (his Books of Blood series are really unlike anything else written in the horror genre).

Hellraiser had an advertised budget of a million dollars (though it’s an open secret within the industry that budgets are routinely lied-up and lied-down). The inside gossip though is that the original budget was much lower and Barker tactically chose to blow a huge amount of it immediately when shooting started, on the Cenobites and their dark dimension (as created by effects designer Bob Keen). When the dailies went across to New World Pictures in the States they immediately saw the potential and agreed to expand the budget.

Even so, the budget was severely limited for a story that was so ambitious in scope, and the limitations show through in places (for example the sketchyanimation of the skeletal dragon at the end that hardcore fans will know to have been the fifth Cenobite, the Engineer.)

We have such sights to show you!

There’s no denying that a lot of the power of the film comes from the visuals. The production design of their home dimension – explored more extensively in the sequel – is a master-class in creating powerful imagery on a low budget – creaking rotating columns, decorated with strips of skin, blood spattered everywhere, body parts scattered on the floor, ominous chains hanging in the blue-black gloom. But it is the Cenobites who are the real visual hook of the film. A mixture of punks, fetishists (the film’s working title was, ‘ Sadomasochists From Beyond The Grave’), bikers and torture victims, each is depicted with injuries that would cause extreme pain if they were alive.

But of course they’re not.

Interestingly, none of the names by which they have become known – Pinhead,Butterball, Chatterer, and the less imaginatively-named Female Cenobite – derive from the source material; all are the creations of fans , subsequent to the release of the film.

The iconic Pinhead is played by Barker’s childhood friend and long-time collaborator, Doug Bradley, and it is his mesmeric performance and curiously-idiosyncratic voice characterisation that gives the character the eerie gravitas he needs. The origins of the character were laid in an improvised performance of a South American despot that Bradley created while he and Barker were in a travelling theatre company in the early Eighties.

But the real genius of the Cenobites is not in their appearance or their performance, it is in their concept. Like all Barker’s ‘monsters’ (Candyman, even Rawhead Rex), the Cenobites are creatures with a rationale, a raison d’etre, a perspective. They are not evil for evil’s sake, they are, as Pinhead says, ‘explorers in the further regions of experience -demons to some; angels to others’. They offer enlightenment through agony and crucially only to those who seek them out (in the sequel, when a mute girl is tricked into summoning them, Pinhead leaves her alone because she didn’t want them to come).

And a consideration of what sort of person would want to contact the Cenobites leads us to consider the rest of the cast……

No tears, please. It’s a waste of good suffering 

Much of the power of a horror film is in how strong the human characters are. How much do you care if Janey the Cheerleader gets chopped up by Lenny the Lunatic if she seems vacuous, one-dimensional and uninteresting? And Barker presents us with a deliciously rich supporting cast here: Kirsty Cotton, our heroine, is for me one of cinema’s great, and under-rated, female leads. She is by turns feisty, moody, sexually-assertive, resourceful, loyal, spirited, and brave. When first confronted by the Cenobites (having accidentally summoned them in hospital), despite being terrified, and traumatised by the experience of having her fleshless Uncle Frank make a pass at her, she has the wit not only to work out that they have a connection to her uncle but also to bargain with them for her own release. A true survivor!

Then we have the duo of villains – for me, it is Frank and Julia who occupy this position, rather than the Cenobites. Frank Cotton, experience-junkie, a man for whom no experience, neither of the flesh nor the mind, can ever be enough. His insatiable desire for sensation leads him to the Cenobites, but his subsequent actions prove him to be far more of a monster than they. Deprived of the majority of his flesh (which has presumably been flayed off him by the Cenobites) he has no qualms about recruiting his brother’s wife, Julia, to murder a series of men to provide him with the materials to remake his body. And ultimately even his own brother makes an acceptable sacrifice to his needs. He’s not bothered much when he accidentally kills Julia either. And Julia herself makes for a refreshing villain, particularly in her motivation: lust. She has nothing to gain from betraying her husband and murdering innocent men, other than Frank himself. And her sheer desire for him blinds her to what a monster he is. Lust is a really unusual motivation, especially for a female antagonist and kudos go to Barker for deploying it.

We’ll tear your soul apart!

The finale of the film sees Kirsty’s Faustian pact with the Cenobites starting to fall apart: Frank is returned to Hell – ‘Jesus wept’ he says, partly smiling, as chains rend him apart – and Hell starts to leak into the real world. Again showing her resourcefulness, Kirsty works out that the Lament Configuration (the iconic box that both starts and finishes the film) is a device capable of dismissing, as well as summoning, the Cenobites. But Barker offers us no happy ending: Kirsty survives (though with what memories!) but her father is still dead. And when she seeks to destroy the box, it is reclaimed from the fire by a tramp-like figure who transforms into a skeletal dragon and flies off. Clearly the Cenobites will continue to perform their dark work!

Your suffering will be legendary, even in Hell

It is perhaps disappointing that none of the material that followed Hell-Raiser quite lived up to the initial film’s potential (though I was quite fond of HellBoundand some of the stories in the comic series). But for me, the original remains aclassic, one of the best horror films ever made. Barker is currently involved in a re-working, so we will shortly see if he can improve on his own masterpiece: personally I doubt he can.

At the time of Hellraiser’s release, Stephen King hailed Barker, saying ‘I have seen the future of horror and his name is Clive Barker’.

For me, he still is.

 

Article originally published at https://www.tumblr.com/blog/earthworksmovie