A Serbian Film (2010)

a_serbian_film_posterThere isn’t one definitive list out there of the most disturbing films ever made and the lists that do exist vary greatly in both quality and authority. One consistency though is you’re sure to find A Serbian Film right near the top of any of them. If you don’t see it, stop reading that list immediately because this is without a doubt one of the most shocking and disturbing films of all time and once you’ve seen it you know why.

The plot of the film is actually very simple. Milos (Srdjan Todorovic) is a retired Serbian porn star who has a loving relationship with his wife and young son. Money is tight so he agrees to come out of retirement at the behest of a former colleague for a mysterious and lucrative job making one last film for a strange, shady director (Sergej Trifunovic). And then, well there’s just no other way to say this, shit gets fucked up.

Before I get into it, I have to mention that you absolutely must watch the uncut version of this film. This is a trip most people won’t take more than once (I have, of course, but then I’m not most people) so you owe it to yourself to see it exactly how it was intended. The other thing I’ll mention is that this isn’t exactly a horror film by classic definition. The intention here isn’t to scare the audience but rather to shock them with levels of sexual violence rarely seen at all on film and certainly not seen to this extent. In fact it is described by director Srdjan Spasojevic as, “A drama that ventures down into Hell”. That being said though, the brutal, horrific nature of this film does make it sit more comfortably in the Horror genre than anywhere else.

In an age when real death clips and extreme pornography are only a click away online, it’s very hard to find a movie that is truly shocking. It’s been awhile since a film came out that felt this legitimately edgy and dangerous. Although the graphic scenes are not the primary reason that this film is so shocking, it’s so shocking because it’s so well made. Any filmmaker can throw copious amounts of gore gags at you but if they’re not realistic they merely come off as laughable. This film on the other hand is shot with the kind of professionalism you’d expect from an Oscar-winning Hollywood film. The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous and the acting and directing are pitch-fucking-perfect! This makes the actions the characters take infinitely more powerful as you are not only connected to them as characters but can’t simply dismiss the violence as a gag. It looks real.

Still, this is not the most violent film ever made. Another reason that it feels so shocking is that the violence is built up to and not over-used to the point of making the audience feel numb to it. What is truly shocking, above all else, is the sexual nature of the violence in this film. All of the most brutal moments occur in a sexual context (and are perpetrated against both females and males, by the way).

Beyond that there is also the incredibly deviant nature of the acts themselves. Rape, necrophilia, pedophilia as well as other horrifying acts of violence that most people would never even have conceived of are all present as though the film itself was birthed from the darkest corners of the Deep Web.

But don’t worry, it wasn’t. Everything here is of course simulated and that is the true genius of this film, that it can manage to be so horrifying without anything bad actually happening. This is precisely why I am not impressed by movies like Cannibal Holocaust that, while indeed bloody, earn most of their notoriety simply because they include actual animal cruelty. A Serbian Film on the other hand is disturbing and shocking solely because of the ideas it explores and the realities it brings to light.

What makes this such a significant and vital film is that it unflinchingly portrays the kinds of horrors that happen in the real world every day. Whether we want to think about it or not, we have to open our eyes to the fact that no matter how horrific a fictional scene in a movie might be, humans have done just as bad or worse in real life, many, many times before. (Just read the fucking news for proof of that.)

It is essential that art is allowed to provide a true reflection of society and the darkest parts of human nature that we pretend don’t exist. This is especially true in this case as Spasojevic made this film as an artistic reaction to his feelings for his home country, one that has an exceptionally violent past. This was discussed during a 2010 interview with Rue Morgue Magazine which delved deep into the artistic intentions of this film and shed light on how it came to be (issue 106 if you want to track it down, and you should).

In conclusion, this film is a triumph of daring free expression that unabashedly displays the darkness, pain, and rage of human suffering into an essential art piece that must be experienced to be believed. An unequivocal contribution to Horror and film itself that reminds us that horror should be horrifying and vile human acts should be presented in a way that makes us feel disturbed and repulsed rather than excited and elated.

5 Stars Red

Adrenalin: Fear the Rush (1996)

Adrenalin_Fear_the_RushI first saw Adrenalin: Fear the Rush back in the late 90s and at the time, I was blown away. I remember thinking it really lived up to it’s title (not so much the subtitle though, that’s just fucking stupid.) Naturally I was very curious to see if it still held up because let me tell you, a lot of shit has changed for me since then. For one thing, I’m watching a lot more horror and a lot less (ahem) Brendan Fraser films…..

The film takes place in 2007 after an epidemic has wreaked havoc on Europe (you all remember the great European outbreak of 2007 right?). Natasha Henstridge (Species) plays Officer Delon, a cop in an internment camp in Boston for new European immigrants set up to keep them quarantined and prevent the epidemic from spreading. When an infected man goes on a killing spree it is up to her and a small group of officers to track him down and kill him before he becomes highly infectious and starts an outbreak that would have catastrophic results. Christopher Lambert (Highlander) shares top billing (back when he could do that) as one of the other officers who joins Delon in pursuit of the infected maniac.

The first thing I’ll say about this film is it doesn’t fuck around. You get just enough exposition to set-up the story and then you’re off with Delon chasing the deformed madman through claustrophobic tunnels and dilapidated buildings. Relationships between characters are established but the film doesn’t dwell on them in an overly-sentimental way which helps keep the pacing tight.

I do have to mention that clearly this is not a high budget film but director Albert Pyun wisely plays to the film’s strengths by focusing on a small cast in a confined environment rather than attempting extravagant scenes that he couldn’t pull off with the available budget. Now, I know that Pyun is someone who has been savaged by the internet over the years (even compared to Ed Wood, the ultimate insult) and while I can’t speak for his filmography in general I do have one thing to say about this one….it works.

There is without a doubt a palpable sense of tension and dread as Delon and company chase down the killer through effectively creepy sets. This definitely looks like a case where Pyun found existing locations that worked for the film rather than trying to build something that just looked dilapidated and ultimately came off as fake. The use of shadow and lighting also works very well and this is certainly a film best enjoyed alone in the dark.

The antagonist is mostly shot from the back or in shadows which works well as a method for making him more ominous and is also good because his contacts look incredibly fake when seen in a close-up. There are of course other aspects of the film that are less effective as well. Christopher Lambert is, well, about as good as he ever is and there is sometimes an inconsistent sense of space within the buildings. This is most apparent when characters freak out because they are being locked in a room only to casually walk out in the next scene as though it never happened. It should also be noted that the image quality, prop design and supporting cast keep you reminded that the film was made on the cheap.

All in all though this is a solid film that’s well worth watching despite some flaws. It has what it needs where it counts and regardless of any preconceived notions you may have about Pyun, I would certainly recommend this journey into the dilapidated depths of the city.

3 Stars Red

Prince of Darkness (1987)

Prince of DarknessQuantum theory, sentient liquid, 80’s synth scores and Alice Cooper. Today I discuss Prince of Darkness which is quite possibly John Carpenter’s strangest film, and that’s saying a lot. By the way, some minor spoilers ahead.

When an old priest belonging to a secret sect tasked with protecting the world from an ancient evil dies, another priest (Donald Pleasence) has to unravel the mystery of what he had been guarding humanity from. He enlists the help of Quantum Physics professor Howard Birack (Victor Wong) and his group of PhD students to try and discover the true nature of the swirling green liquid that the old priest had been guarding before it destroys the world.

Now, the script that Martin Quatermass (aka John Carpenter) created is certainly unique, especially where the antagonist is concerned. The evil, self-aware liquid (that’s right, you heard me) soon forces itself from it’s container and into the mouth of one of the students where it is then transmitted via direct mouth-to-mouth-vomit (!) into the bodies of other students, possessing each of them along the way.

So, credit where credit is due, that is certainly an interesting concept and the film does do a good job in the first act of creating a sense of dread and the feeling of a powerful, otherworldly menace threatening our very existence. In addition to this there were some discussions about quantum theory and the nature of reality itself that I found really interesting. However, that sense of dread and intrigue dissipated as I began to have far too many questions that should have been addressed.

For instance “why doesn’t anyone call the cops when people are blatantly murdered outside in the open or turn into giant piles of living bugs?” I mean, other than the groups of possessed hobos wandering around with Alice Cooper, the “evil” doesn’t appear to affect anyone else outside the abandoned church where the students are conducting the research. Also “why would a group of scientists be so quick to wholeheartedly believe in a bat-shit crazy story about the liquid in the basement being a manifestation of pure evil and Jesus being an alien based on the translated text from one source?” Now, to be fair one of the students does remain highly skeptical but that’s not nearly enough to counter-balance the ridiculous behavior of the others.

I feel like Quatermass (as he sometimes like to be called) is operating under a very vague understanding of how scientific research works. That’s why the so-called scientists of this film can declare an object that could only have been made by modern era humans is seven million years old without having to clarify it with a statement like “but of course that’s impossible!” Or extrapolate a profoundly crazy theory that the liquid is conscious and able to move objects psychically based on nothing more than a fucking seismograph reading!

The situation is not helped by the mediocre performances from the cast complete with some terrible attempts at comic relief that only succeed in exacerbating the inherent lack of realism. I will say that Donald Pleasence certainly does the best job in portraying a convincing character but others (I’m looking at you Dennis Dun) are distractingly bad.

All in all, an interesting and original idea that was poorly executed and not really worth tracking down to watch. A few scenes offer some interesting scares (the man into bugs one was actually incredibly creepy) but there just isn’t enough here to make up for the frustration of the shoddy plot. Maybe that’s why John Carpenter chose to hide behind a pseudonym with an esoteric sci-fi reference in it rather than use his own, highly recognizable, name.

1.5 Stars Red


Tetsuo 2: Body Hammer (1992)

Tetsuo 2When it comes to sequels, making one for Shin’ya Tsukamoto’s original cyberpunk masterpiece Tetsuo must rank up there as one of the most difficult to pull off. How to stay true to the unbridled insanity of the original while at the same time taking the story, such as it is, in new and interesting directions? I will say, there certainly were some big changes here. So how did it fair when stacked up against the classic first entry to this insane universe? Well, let’s discuss Tetsuo 2:Body Hammer.

First off I should mention that this isn’t actually a sequel but rather a reimagining of the original story. Tomorowo Taguchi is back, playing another “salaryman” who this time goes by the name Taniguchi Tomoo. The film actually abandons the gleeful insanity of the original to follow a more standard plot structure this time and, even more shockingly, is in color.

Taniguchi is simply a meek businessman who lives a normal life with his wife and son and, other than not having any memories from before he was adopted at the age of eight, has nothing particularly unusual about his life. His normal life is shattered (obviously, otherwise there’s no movie) when skin-head thugs kill his son and shoot Taniguchi with a strange metal gun. He is then taken to an industrial building where his mind is experimented on to provoke the release of the metal-morphing powers, that he now possesses, in a controlled environment. That is until things get out of control.

There is actually a lot going on with the plot in this film and rather than the balls-to-the-wall mania of the original the pacing this time goes through a series of lulls and sprints. Tsukamoto provides more explanation into the origin of the powers as well as the characters’ backstory . He also delves into the motivations and back-story of a secret society of skin-heads, a new addition in this outing, that wants to possess the metal-transforming powers for themselves. And indeed it makes sense to want to use it as a weapon as the transformation manifests as controllable protruding guns this time around rather than the metal-tumor chaos of the first one. So, the transformed are more Terminator, less metal-plagued monster.

There does seem to be an attempt to widen the audience as the plot more closely resembles that of a standard action film rather than an abstract art piece. There is even a (possibly unintentional) homage to the first Alien film. Ultimately, this shift in style is to the detriment of the film itself creating a very different experience from the kinetic madness of the first film.

That’s not to say there isn’t a lot to love about Tetsuo 2. The film is still far and away much more interesting than the vast majority of films out there and there are many scenes where Tsukamoto uses time lapse effects and stop-motion animation to remind you that you are still in fact watching a Tetsuo film. He also takes advantage of the fact that the film is in color to guide the emotional journey of the viewer from the muted, dark, metallic blue of the skin-head’s industrial lair to the brighter yellows of the calmer outdoor flashback scenes. And the story itself is complex and unsettling with interesting twists and without clearly defined heroes and villains or easy answers. It may follow more of an action plot structure than the first film but is far weirder and more interesting than anything Michael Bay will ever direct.

The largest challenge that Tetsuo 2 faces is it’s inevitable comparison to the original, superior film. That being said though, it’s certainly a trip worth taking, if you can find it. But track it down you should because Shin’ya Tsukamoto has once again taken us down the rabbit hole into a dark, fascinating world of metal-infused insanity.

3.5 Stars Red