Murder-Set-Pieces (2004)

msp coverTo anyone who has taken so much as a cursory glance at my reviews it should be abundantly clear that I am an incredibly strong supporter of free speech. I’ve made it my mission to track down and review the darkest and most fucked up films ever made and I revel in witnessing cinema’s most disturbing creations. This is all to say that it’s extremely rare that I come across a film with parts that even I find problematic, but it does happen. A classic example would be the unsimulated animal killing in Cannibal Holocaust whose artistic value is superseded by the real world suffering caused by their creation. It had been a long time since I’d seen Murder Set Pieces, so I was surprised to find a similar moral predicament as I wondered to myself “Wait, is this a fucking pro-Nazi film?” More on that in a minute.

The film itself is very light on actual plot and essentially just follows around an unnamed professional photographer (Sven Garrett) as he brutally murders women in Las Vegas. Despite the fact that he’s racking up a substantial body count, the only person who is even remotely suspicious of this obvious sociopath is his girlfriend’s little sister, who is determined to find out what is really going on. MSP 3

Now, if you are going to have a villainous, evil character, a Nazi or Nazi sympathizer is certainly a good choice and as such have been used effectively in many other films. In the case of MSP though it feels very…..different and not just because the protagonist is openly supportive of Nazis and screams in German while he kills people. By themselves these traits could be passed off as simply being used to enhance the evil nature of the character, but when you also start your film with a strange quote about “the Jews” and use a production company named Third Reich Ventures (!) shit starts to add up.

To be fair, this film was made in a different time, years before a peaceful frog was co-opted into an official symbol of hate speech by armies of trolls seeking to make racism “great” again. If I was to play devil’s advocate I could say that it is possible that writer/director Nick Palumbo was perhaps using the imagery more in service of shock value than promoting an ideology. MSP 5However, this more generous read of the subject matter is a tough sell considering how the entire film feels like little more than a vicarious indulgence of Palumbo’s darkest fantasies.

In scene after scene the strong, good looking protagonist is able to effortlessly pick up beautiful women and viciously fuck and murder them in a seemingly consequence-free environment. In addition to this, this unnamed photographer uses nearly all his non-German dialogue on misogynistic rants or fawning praise for Nazis. This is of course when he isn’t busy working out while Triumph of the Will plays in the background. It’s really unfortunate that these things had to be so pervasive within the film because despite the numerous problematic elements there is actually a lot that MSP does very well.


From a visual standpoint this film is absolutely stunning and Palumbo makes excellent use of his two million dollar budget to create mesmerizing visuals on 35mm film stock. Side note, this film also has the bizarre distinction of allegedly containing the only known 35mm footage of the WTC towers going down on 9/11, for whatever that’s worth. Anyway, horror fans don’t just come for the pretty pictures though, we come for the gore and on that front MSP delivers incredibly well. So well in fact that the film was thrown out of three labs before finally being processed.

Thankfully, it was eventually processed because the director’s cut of this film has some of the most gorgeous and gruesome gore effects ever put to celluloid. Each murder scene is exquisitely crafted to showcase the raw, visceral bloodshed in all it’s glory. MSP 1The chainsaw to the head scene stands out as a particular highlight but whether it’s a brutal throat slitting, bathtub drowning or vicious beating each violent scene is filled with a raw, vicious energy that makes the kills much more realistic and disturbing. Throw in some corpse eating, severed head fucking and a brutal on-screen child murder (!) and what you get is a truly unfiltered example of Extreme Cinema that goes well beyond where conventional horror films dare to venture.

The glorious gore effects were courtesy of Fred Vogel’s Toetag Pictures production studio and Vogel himself even cameos in the film. He is also joined by horror legends Gunnar Hansen and Tony Todd, who’s disgruntled porn store clerk character is a highlight of the film. MSP 2So, in the end there is a lot to like about MSP and if it hadn’t been infested with Nazi propaganda it would be an easy film to recommend to fans of hardcore cinema. Overall I’m left feeling conflicted because as much of a fan as I am of the gorgeous, unhinged violence I just can’t fully endorse a film that seems like it would be a top pick for a neo-Nazi movie night.


Parallel (2016)

Parallel alternativeThe idea that alternate realities could simultaneously exist in the universe is certainly an interesting one and a concept that has become ever more pervasive in the popular consciousness of late.

However, much like the concept of time travel, it can also become somewhat of a quagmire for writers seeking to apply logical explanations to a concept that defies conventional logic. Regardless of it’s setting though, good storytelling is always king and the films that maintain a compelling, character-driven core while exploring unusual concepts are the ones that are really worth your time. Conversely, films that don’t, will simply collapse under the weight of their facile ideas and today we’ll see where Parallel falls on that spectrum.

After formally meeting at a party, co-workers Heather (Faye Sewell) and Neil (David Magowan, also the screenwriter) begin their seemingly perfect relationship. After a chance meeting with a self-proclaimed psychic named Machlis (Brian Carter) the couple soon finds themselves voyeuristically peering into a parallel version of their lives, to see what much darker versions of themselves are up to.

The very concept of this film is based upon the idea of there being “light and dark” versions of each of our lives playing out in simultaneous timelines, which is exactly the kind of intellectual quagmire I was referring to earlier. The very idea that there could be a “good” reality and a “bad” one is the kind of thing that sounds cool at first and then completely unravels as soon as you start to think about it. Sure, you can show a few isolated characters with alternate versions of themselves engaging in more morally questionable behavior, but what about the world at large? The implication seems to be that the protagonists exist within our normal reality, not some kind Utopian version, so are we supposed to swallow the idea that we live in the good version!? At this point I would like to introduce Magowan to a little thing called the news….

Despite all the real world horrors that plague our planet, it makes just as little sense to say we are collectively an amalgamation of all the worst versions of all the people who have ever lived. The concept of infinitely branching parallel universes is interesting but the idea that they could be distilled down to two oversimplified versions is just ridiculous. Frankly, it takes a very privileged perspective to look around at the world we have and think “wow, what if there was a bad version of this….”

Now, concept is a big factor but so is execution and in the case of this film the results are varied. Overall, the most positive aspect of the production is the acting. Carter especially shines as the somewhat put-upon psychic who may have more up his sleeve than he initially reveals. Sewell also does a very solid job with the material she is given and handles her character’s emotional range skillfully. From a technical standpoint, the film is decently shot but does run into some the classic pitfalls that plague inexperienced filmmakers such as occasionally clumsy edits and some noticeably bad instances of sound design.

Those issues aside, the film as a whole does a decent job of holding your attention, especially as the more debaucherous elements start to come into play. It’s a creative concept with a decent execution that simply suffered from a series of rough edges through all aspects of production. A few tweaks to the central concept, some more natural dialogue, and a smoother edit and this could have been a very interesting film indeed. Too bad we don’t have that cut of the movie, maybe it exists on a separate timeline.


Dreaming Purple Neon (2016)

Dreaming Purple NeonWhen determining how well a film works it’s important to first understand the type of film the director is trying to make and judge accordingly. Dreaming Purple Neon wasn’t released by Troma but given the copious amounts of low budget gore, nudity and general cheesiness, it’s something that could’ve fit right into their catalog. That is to say this is not a film that seeks to astound you with mesmerizing acting or a profound storyline but instead hopes to entertain with over-the-top visuals. This is a perfectly valid position for a film to take and one that is harder to successfully achieve than you’d think. So the real question becomes, does it pull it off?

When Dallas (Jeremy Edwards) threw on his duster and decided to roll back into town to settle some unfinished business, the last thing he expected was to become wrapped up in a crazy scheme involving demons, human sacrifice, an experimental new drug, and a dentist’s office. Now he and his unlikely group of allies may be the only thing standing between a demonic cult and the destruction of the human race.

As I said before, there’s nothing wrong with a film that’s simply over-the-top entertainment, but it’s important that it recognize what it is and commit to it. It’s this self awareness that makes films like Hectic Knife and Father’s Day so successful as they strap the viewer in for their brand of gleeful insanity. DPN does get there, but the first third of the film drags along slowly and painfully until it does. Character development scenes are important, when they work, but in this case neither the writing or acting is up to the challenge of fleshing the characters into empathetic and believable people worth giving a damn about. Writer/director Todd Sheets would have been better served by skipping the melodrama and embracing the drug-fueled demonic mayhem sooner.

Once said mayhem does kick in, the film becomes a lot more fun and really starts to earn it’s Extreme Cinema stripes. The special effects may be low budget but what they lack in quality they make up for in quantity as they assault the viewer with the kind of glorious, explicit carnage you can only see in a non-Hollywood production. Gruesome disembowelments, brutal decapitations and even a graphic crotch-drilling (!) make for a lot of fucked-up fun once it hits it’s stride. In the end this is the kind of over-the-top B-movie that’s best enjoyed with a few friends, and more than a few drinks, by gore hounds who have the patience to make it over the initial hump.


The Forces of Horror Anthology: Volume I (2017)

Forces of HorrorIt wasn’t that long ago that horror anthology films were far less common than they are today. They never went away entirely of course but once the 90s rolled around they were pretty much relegated to cheap, straight-to-video cash grabs, most of which have been deservedly forgotten. That all changed with the success of modern anthology horror like Trick ‘r Treat and The ABCs of Death which revitalized a subsection of films that seemed destined for irrelevancy. As someone who is a big fan of anthology films, I couldn’t be happier with the unprecedented quality and abundance of these films today. Of course not all films are created equal and today we’ll see if The Forces of Horror Anthology feels more like a product of the modern anthology renaissance or a throwback to the dark days of the ’90s.

As so many anthology films do, TFoHA uses a wrap-around story as a framing devices for the shorts contained within. In this case, it centers around a 7th grade girl named Libby (Gracie Whitton) meeting with her therapist Dr. Svengali (Lance Eakright). The short films themselves consist of the four disturbing dreams that she discusses with him throughout the session.

Putting aside, for the moment, any discussion of the actual quality of the writing or acting, the first issue I need to address here is the film’s length. Clocking in at the incredibly awkward fifty-six minutes, this can neither be considered a short nor a feature, which tends to add an unnecessary level of additional difficulty when trying to distribute a film. Honestly, at this point writer/director Roger Sampson would be better off shooting additional footage to expand it to feature length or even chopping it down to short film levels of under thirty minutes. As it is, it doesn’t feel like there’s enough there to be satisfying as a feature but is still too long to pick up and watch as a short.

I wish I could say that the length of this film was the only significant issue here but unfortunately that’s just not the case. I wouldn’t say the acting is bad but as so often happens with indie films this one is yet another example of “everybody’s trying but nobody’s killing it”. TFoHA isn’t exactly killing it in terms of cinematography either, as the flat lighting and static camera give the film a look that’s more ’90s than modern day. Given that the core of the story is focused on dreams themselves, it would have been nice to see Sampson apply a bit more experimentation and creativity to the visual style, especially during the dream segments. This would have also helped to juxtapose them with the visually stark office of the therapist.

On a positive note, this film does get some important things right. I was initially skeptical about the seemingly low-stakes concept of having all the central action being confined to a series of dreams but the wrap-around story actually ties them in in a way that justifies the concept. The effects here are clearly DIY but solid overall and result in some nice use of blood and severed body parts.

In any anthology there is bound to be a range of quality and this one is certainly no exception. The first dream may start out a bit slow but builds to the best and most horrific ending of the four. The second dream, involving zombie parents, is the weakest of the group while the fourth, featuring a man and young girl whose car breaks down, is merely adequate. However, the third segment does utilize the concept of a little girl being terrorized by a monster in her room to create the most effectively ominous and creepy moments of the entire film. So, while it may not exactly be The Theatre Bizarre or V/H/S it’s not Snoop Dogg’s Hood of Horror either, and there’s something to be said for that.


Three Tears on Bloodstained Flesh (2014)

Three TearsIt takes an unbelievable amount of work to make a feature length film and of course the longer your film, the more work it requires. This is why it’s unusual to see films venture past the standard ninety to a hundred five minute window, and downright rare for scrappy indie productions to attempt it. But this is exactly what writer/director (Jakob Bilinski) did with his ambitious and, uh, interestingly titled Three Tears on Bloodstained Flesh. Now, ambition is good, but it’s only half the battle so the real question here is, “how well does he pull it off?”

When a young woman named Lexie (Sidney Shripka) is murdered near her small town home, her last act is to get a letter out to her uncle Dominic (Bill Gobin) asking him for help. Now Dominic, with his unwilling teen daughter in tow, must return to the place he thought he’d left for good and figure out the truth about what happened to Lexie.

The title seems intended to evoke the idea of this as a kind of American giallo. However, this doesn’t so much read authentic giallo to me as just “revenge thriller with a dusting of horror.” Still one thing that’s apparent right from the beginning is that this film has a real visual flair. Some scenes feature quick cuts and use handheld to great effect to give a stylish and authentic sense of movement. Other times the scenes are appropriately stoic and carefully framed but throughout, the film maintains a rich quality image with excellent and inventive use of color.

I also appreciate that this film doesn’t shy away from violence and a couple of scenes in particular that feature graphic disembowelment and fingernail torture stand out as delightfully grotesque. However, for a film so willing to go all in on the blood, it remains perplexingly chaste about the nudity. Despite featuring multiple sex scenes and spending a significant amount of time in a strip club, TToBF never quite manages to get up the courage to bare any flesh, bloodstained or otherwise.

Of course, the amount of nudity in a film is a minor factor, but length and pacing on the other hand are major ones. While there are certainly a lot of positive aspects to this film, the most significant issue it bumps up against is the runtime. Clocking in at a staggering two hours and twenty minutes (!) this is one film that is absolutely begging for an aggressive re-cut. The story itself is interesting and enjoyable to watch unfold, which is why it’s frustrating to see it weighed down by an excessive amount of scenes that are redundant and/or don’t advance the plot in a meaningful way.

Gobin puts in a solid effort as the lead but just isn’t quite able to get to the point of coming across as a genuine character rather than an actor going through the motions. This makes the multiple scenes of emotional torment that Dominic goes through feel more like a chore than a journey and I wish that Bilinski had taken a leaner, subtler approach and trusted the audience more to connect to the story without being led by the hand. In general though, a lot of solid casting choices and Jim Dougherty’s portrayal of the abrasive small town sheriff stands out as a highlight.

Overall, certainly a film worth watching and viewers who do take the journey will be treated to a great visual experience with some satisfying, brutal kills. This is a solid movie with an even better movie buried inside, just waiting to shed it’s fat and come out.


The Hallow (2015)

HallowCreating a film that inspires a genuine sense of dread and tension, with a small cast and limited locations, is no easy task. There is no sure-fire recipe for success with this, but there are two components that are required if a film is to have even a remote chance of working. The first is a genuine sense of realism, regardless of how fanciful the story, and the second is characters you can truly connect to as human beings so you are invested in their struggle. It sounds simple yet it’s amazing how rarely it’s pulled off effectively. So, does director Corin Hardy (great name btw) manage to succeed with his Irish folktale inspired film, The Hallow? Well, let’s discuss.

The film centers around Adam (Joseph Mawle) a British scientist whose work with plant and fungal life requires him to move to a remote Irish village along with his wife Clare (Bojana Novakovic) and their baby son. Adam is initially dismissive of the locals’ warnings about the supernatural presence inhabiting the woods near their house, but before long finds himself and his family in a fight for survival with malevolent forces they can scarcely comprehend.

Right from the opening shots, this film does an excellent job transporting the viewer into the world of the story, through the gorgeous cinematography that showcases the emerald forest of Ireland in exquisite detail. As I previously mentioned, realism is an essential part of immersing the viewer in the experience and the rich, detailed image quality found in every shot is largely responsible for the excellent sense of realism that Hardy brings to the project. Of course, a quality image is only one piece of the puzzle but luckily the entire cast, down to the smallest role, is able to deliver top-notch performances that keep the viewer thoroughly engaged in the story as it unfolds.

Since the film itself is built on such a strong foundation, the scares have far more impact and I felt myself genuinely invested in the horrific ordeal the characters were facing. I am a firm believer that practical effects should be utilized over CGI whenever possible and this film is a shining example of how well that can work. Because of this, the creatures have a tangible, living quality to them that is far more menacing than the cartoony CGI abominations that pollute so many other films.

On top of all these other important attributes, this film has the most important of all, a tight, well-paced script that will keep you engaged and entertained throughout and makes you care about the characters without resorting to cheap, melodramatic dialogue. Overall, a great film that hits all the marks and will make you think twice the next time you want to take a walk in the woods.


Hectic Knife (2016)

HK PosterSome films throw logic and reason right out the window and subscribe only to the bizarre new reality they have created. Films like that can be difficult to critique because the acting, continuity, special effects and even the plot itself are so askew that you can’t judge it’s success or failure by any standard measurement. As someone who loves unconventional, surreal cinema, I’ve seen a lot of films in this category and have found that they inevitably fall to one side of the quality spectrum or the other. Either a film succeeds wildly as an innovative, daring work of creative brilliance or it quickly becomes clear that the filmmaker has simply slapped together a bunch of nonsensical images without any meaning or intention. So, where does the utterly surreal insanity that is Hectic Knife fall on that scale? Well, let’s discuss.

The plot, such as it is, follows Hectic Knife (Peter Litvin), a knife wielding vigilante in a long blonde wig who has become completely frustrated and disenchanted with his brutal and relentless life of crime fighting. Things get even worse for Hectic when one of his only friends is murdered by the sinister Piggly Doctor (J.J. Brine), a super villain who seeks to dominate the world itself. But first he will need to get through a blonde maniac with a pair of knives in his belt and a score to settle.HK 1

Even though the summary sounds (mostly) like your standard anti-hero action flick it doesn’t even begin to describe the surreal madness that permeates every frame of this movie, and that’s what makes Hectic Knife work so incredibly well. Director Greg DeLiso commits so fully to the unhinged lunacy of the world he’s created, that the movie isn’t simply weird, it’s authentically surreal, nearly reaching Japanese Splatter Cinema levels of gleeful insanity. There are just so many little touches that keep the viewer unbalanced but utterly engrossed and curious to see what unpredictable direction the film will veer off into next.

HK 3From the small things like the living room couch that’s inexplicably vertical, the deliberately strange and repetitive dialogue, a character stopping in the middle of a fight to do a stand-up comedy routine complete with a laugh track, this entire experience feels like a stream of consciousness dream that only kinda obeys the laws of reality. One of my favorite scenes is when this black and white movie pulls out to reveal a random couple in full color watching and disparaging it. They in turn have their own scene that is just as intensely bizarre and violent as the rest of the film, but otherwise serves no purpose but to add yet another level of insanity to the experience.

In a film full of strange and surprising scenes, by far the most surprising of all, is how effectively funny it is, and I don’t mean in an unintentional The Room kind of way, either. Hectic Knife knows exactly what it’s doing and it’s fucking hilarious! This is not something I say lightly, as I am rarely amused by the antics in most films that are attempting to be funny, but the humor in this was so goddamn absurd and unpredictable that it had me laughing out loud the entire way through.Hk02

Of course, this film is what it is, and while the ride is an incredibly enjoyable surreal trip, there isn’t anything here that’s going to shatter your reality with its depth and significance. Still, I could go on for pages about the multitude of wonderfully strange touches in this movie, but truly there is no way to do them justice on the page, and this is one experience that has to be taken firsthand. This film is certainly not for everyone and definitely not something that mainstream movie goers are going to be able to appreciate. But for those of us who want to strap in for a unique experience of creative insanity, get the fuck in line for this one because Hectic Knife has “underground cult classic” written all over it.


Once Upon a Time at Christmas (2017)

OUTAC UK Poster 3 - Santa & Mrs Claus (2)When a horror movie has a holiday-themed premise, especially holidays other than Halloween, that’s often a sign that the audience is in for a campy ride that is going to play up the novelty to extreme proportions. Of course, that’s not always the case and some notable exceptions include the well-crafted, emotionally developed slasher Silent Night, Deadly Night as well as the incredibly creative and bizarre Rare Exports. Today, I discuss whether or not Once Upon a Time at Christmas falls into the category of holiday classics or if it’s just another poorly crafted product that falls apart almost immediately.

The story is set in the small town of Woodbridge New York where a maniacal couple in Santa suits (Simon Phillips) and (Sayla de Goede) begin a murderous rampage a few weeks before Christmas. Now it’s up to the local sheriff (Barry Kennedy) and a group of high school students to try and find out the reason for the killings and stop them before it’s too late.

When judging whether or not a film works, you really have to take into account what the director was going for in the first place. Clearly, in this instance, this is a film that’s intended as a fun holiday slasher, so judging it in terms of it’s realism isn’t a fair assessment. But even when viewed through that lens, there are some significant issues that prevent this from succeeding.OUaTaC 2

I don’t require a lot from a campy slasher to be entertained, but if you are going to ask me to sit through a silly premise with flat, generic characters that only exist to be slaughtered, then you at least need to bring the fucking blood. There are a lot of kills in OUaTaC, but for some baffling reason, director Paul Tanter takes a very timid approach to the violence. Even though numerous people are axe murdered, burned alive, or dispatched in other brutal ways, most of the violence occurs off camera or with very little blood. When the blood splatter does come, the film commits the egregious sin of using cheap CGI in place of a simple practical effect.

These kinds of half-measures are indicative of the film’s general approach to any remotely edgy content. This is perhaps best exemplified in the strip club scene that features zero nudity. Why even have it in there? I honestly don’t understand these half-hearted attempts at adult content that stop short of anything even slightly provocative. Why not just bleep out the fucking swears too, while you’re at it?

These issues of self-censorship wouldn’t be glaring if the overall film had a more solid foundation. Unfortunately, with so much cringe-worthy dialogue and uninspired characters, the film doesn’t really have a leg to stand on. Even for a slasher, the Claus’ near supernatural ability to appear wherever they need to is pushed to utterly absurd levels, and when the primary concept is finally revealed, it’s so goddamn silly that you’ll want to stab your eyes out with a candy cane.

OUaTaC 3

It’s not all bad though, from a technical standpoint the film is well-crafted and some of the characters do put in solid performances, the sheriff and his deputy among them. The Claus’ also clearly get it and commit to their scenery chewing mayhem with the kind of unhinged enthusiasm that perfectly fits the tone of the film. And that’s the thing, there is fun to be had here and I wish there was a re-cut version that leaned into the gruesome madness instead of shying away from it. Had that version existed I would have wholeheartedly recommended it as a fun Xmas slasher, but as it is, this feels like the film equivalent of unwrapping a pair of socks on Christmas morning.


Martyrs (2008)

Martyrs posterOne of the defining films of the New French Extremity movement, Martyrs, is a brutal endurance test that is not even remotely concerned with appealing to mass audiences or casual horror fans. Inspired in part by American Torture Porn films of the time like Hostel and Saw, writer/director Pascal Laugier has also credited the severe depression he was experiencing at the time he wrote this for its incredibly dark and nihilistic tone. While the raw, visceral depictions of suffering on display mean that Martyrs easily earns its Extreme Cinema stripes, the more important question is, of course, how well it actually works as a film.

The movie opens with a young girl, Lucie, who is bloodied and clearly abused, escaping from a building in an industrial area and running screaming down the street. She is subsequently rescued and raised in an orphanage but the bulk of the film takes place fifteen years later. Now, adult Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï) aided by her best friend Anna (Morjana Alaoui) is hell-bent on seeking revenge on those who abused her and believes she has finally found the culprits.

Since one of the best parts of this film is how unconventional and unpredictable the plot is I am going to give an official **Spoiler Warning** here for the remainder of the review. This is definitely a film that is best watched with fresh eyes and if you haven’t taken the time to watch it in the nine years since it’s release you should absolutely stop what you are doing and immediately experience it. As far as Extreme Cinema goes, this one is essential viewing.

Many films depict violence, but what sets Martyrs apart from most is how effectively it depicts suffering. Lucie herself is besieged by a demonic woman, a literal embodiment of her emotional anguish who repeatedly attacks her in viscous, horrifying ways. martyrs2Although represented as a separate entity, the film does eventually make it clear that she is a manifestation of Lucie’s internal pain and Lucie’s desire to be rid of her is the central driving force for her to murder those responsible for her abuse.

Another example of exquisitely represented suffering, comes in the form of the severely abused woman that Anna finds in the secret facility under the house. Seeing Anna trying to help someone whose life has been reduced to a state of severe and prolonged agony is perhaps the most upsetting part of this extremely disturbing film. Even though many films feature kills that are graphic and gory, the fact that Laugier dwells on the aftermath of extended suffering (both physical and emotional) makes the scenes in this film far more effectively disturbing.

It should also be noted that, in and of itself, graphic, brutal violence in a film is not necessarily something that is disturbing to see. When it’s done cheaply and poorly it ends up creating the opposite effect and comes across as laughable and silly. For violent scenes to deliver the proper impact on the viewer they have to be well done and the expert craftsmanship of this film is exactly why it ranks up there with disturbing masterpieces like A Serbian Film and Salo. This is due in large part to the incredible cast, every one of which down to the most minor parts delivers absolutely flawless performances. Laugier clearly understood that, regardless of how talented your leads are, amateur acting from ancillary characters can completely shatter the illusion of reality that has been so painstakingly crafted.

Another major reason that the violent scenes are so effectively disturbing is because Laugier wisely relies on expertly made practical effects rather than CGI. The result is a film that was not only shocking when it was made but still holds up perfectly nearly a decade later, and will for years to come. martyrs 1This is all within the structure of a brilliantly crafted script, which boldly bucks the conventions of a standard narrative, to keep you on your toes as the unpredictable plot develops. It even goes as far as (remember, spoiler alert) shifting protagonists halfway through, a risky move that completely pays off. The script also features one of the best sucker-punches in cinema history when the normal, affluent family is brutally gunned down by Lucie, seemingly out of nowhere. This is an outstanding example of a filmmaker carefully establishing a sense of safety and normalcy for the viewer, only to shatter it in the most jarring way.

As well written as this film is though, there is a glaring issue with the script that absolutely should have been resolved prior to shooting. After Anna meets Lucie at the house where she has just murdered an entire family that she believes was responsible for her torture, the two women don’t leave. I understand how from a plot perspective it was important that they remain in the house, but I fucking wish Laugier had devised a solid, logical reason for them to stay. It just stands to reason that anyone committing a quadruple homicide would try to get the fuck out of Dodge as quickly as possible and not, ya know, hang out, make phone calls…..take naps. It’s a baffling oversight in an otherwise incredible screenplay and really the only significant flaw with the whole production.

martyrs3There is just so much to unpack here, especially when it comes to the secret society; their quest for transcendent knowledge through extreme suffering, the casual way they inflict violence like it’s a routine job, and of course the brilliant end when the matriarch is so rattled by knowledge of what is actually awaiting us in death, that she takes her own life. Suffice to say, this film is a unique, complex and exquisitely crafted piece of highly disturbing art that ranks among the most brilliant horror films ever created.


Twelve Pole (2017)

Twelve PoleA good opening scene that grabs the viewers attention is very important for setting the tone of your film, especially in a horror movie. Conversely, when the opening of your film is so misguided that the audience is already rolling their eyes at minute one, you’re not off to a great start. Unfortunately, this is the case for Twelve Pole, which makes an incredibly lame attempt to be edgy by opening the film with a voice-over, warning the viewer about how graphic the movie is. Problem is, actual warnings like that aren’t a thing! Legitimately hardcore films don’t bother with such gimmicks, and for a film that doesn’t even qualify as Extreme Cinema, they’ve got some nerve pretending that a warning is required. Still, you can’t judge an entire film by a single misstep in the beginning, so let’s see how well the film itself holds up.

In a plot that can be best summed up as “Redneck Amityville Horror” a group of good ol’ boys purchase a dilapidated house in order to fix it up themselves and sell it for a profit. The fact that a violent crime had been previously committed on the property means that the house is a real steal, but naturally, it isn’t long before the cursed property starts affecting the men in strange and horrifying ways.

The first thing I have to say about this film is that at least everybody tries, which is not something to be taken for granted. Being that it’s a micro-budget film, the acting is bound to fall on the wrong side of realistic, but there is at least a sense that the cast is fully committing. I also appreciate that, while it may not be the most ground-breaking concept, at least it doesn’t take place in the fucking woods, and the story itself is something that is well suited to a single primary location and a small central cast.

There is certainly nothing wrong with a classic haunted house set-up, and the fact that certain characters start behaving in drastically different ways after being in the house too long, is a time-tested concept that is effectively unsettling. In fact, the overall concept is a very solid one, and basing a film around real-world anxieties, such as buying a house, is a smart, logical setting for a horror film. Unfortunately, Twelve Pole also makes some very illogical choices, such as having two of the characters spend the weekend in the abandoned house to guard it (!) until the locks are changed. That’s also not a thing! Why would you need to guard an abandoned house that sat there untouched for years and doesn’t even have any of your stuff in it yet?

There is one key area that this film does really deliver in though, and that is the gore. While this may not be an example of Extreme Cinema, there is no denying that it is plenty bloody. That, in and of itself, isn’t always a wholly positive trait in micro-budget films, but what sets Twelve Pole apart from many of it’s contemporaries is that it pulls off the effects very well. From a gloriously realistic hanging to ripped out throats, graphically broken limbs, barbwire strangling, disembowelments, and so much more, the uncompromising violence is by far the best part of this experience.

Since the gruesome parts of this movie are so well done and many of the scenes in between are weighed down with lackluster static shots and awkward, stilted dialogue, I honestly feel that this would be far better if it was trimmed down to a short film. At 20-30 minutes Twelve Pole could be a visceral, kick-ass ride that grabs the audience by the throat and gets right down to business. As it is, the good parts are there, but the lack of convincing characters and a less than compelling plot make it hard to justify waiting for them.

*Reviewer’s Note: After my review posted, I was contacted by the film’s director, Sam Hodge, who let me know that he will be removing the opening warning from the final version of the film, which I think will be a substantial improvement.