Short Film Review: I Baked Him a Cake (2016) Duration: 5 min

I Baked Him a Cake - Official PosterCreating a short film that tells an interesting and compelling story within the span of minutes can be challenging. Shorter films don’t have to hold the audiences attention for as long but also have less time to develop the plot. In the case of I Baked Him a Cake, the running time of only five minutes requires that a lot of story is packed into a very short amount of time, so let’s see if director Vanessa lonta Wright is up for the challenge.

The first thing that I noticed with this film is that it’s very professionally shot and the opening scene sets the tone with some great high-contrast shots and excellent sound design. It also helps that the first shots are very engaging and leave you eager to see how it will play out. Of course, bad acting can instantly derail even the most interesting stories, especially when only two actors are involved. Luckily, in this case, both actresses do an excellent job with their respective roles and imbue the scenes with the realism, tension and underlying menace that is needed.

Everything here is competently done, so my only real complaint is that I feel like the film shies away from gore in some key places. Aside from the blood-soaked bathroom, we don’t really see any, and rather than having the opening scene represented with shadows, it would have been more effective to show a nice, graphic practical effect. I also felt that the ending was a bit abrupt and would have benefited from having a gruesome reveal to close it out instead. Obviously, these were stylistic choices made by the director, but unless there is a strong reason not to, it’s always best for horror films to really lean into the gore and violence, and it looks like this production had the means to do so.

It also could be that the film is deliberately open-ended in order to expand the story more with a future work. I’m hoping that the latter is the case, as there are a lot of questions about motivation and what happens next that would be very interesting to explore.

Thematically, the film brings up some interesting ideas such as how much influence a caretaker has over a child who must look to them to provide a sense of normality, even in a very abnormal situation. In the end, this is a short but sweet film that packs a surprising amount of emotion into its tiny runtime and actually made me feel for the character of the daughter quite a lot, which is not an easy feat to pull off in something that’s the length of two movie trailers. It also made me want to see more about what’s going on in these characters’ lives and look forward to hopefully seeing what Wright can do with a feature some day.

3-stars-red

Ichi the Killer (2001)

IchiBased upon the Manga of the same name, Ichi the Killer is one of controversial director Takashi Miike’s most well known (and most gruesome) works. Often found on lists of the most disturbing films of all time this is certainly not one for casual moviegoers who require a calm, numbing escape from reality. The numerous scenes of rape, graphic torture, and blood-spraying violence is sure to scare off all but the most hardened fans of Extreme Cinema. As always, the most important question becomes “is there more to this film than it’s graphic content or is it little more than a two hour exercise in shock value?” Well, let’s discuss.

When the head of the Anjo crime family goes missing it’s up to the ultra-sadistic chief enforcer Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano) to get to the bottom of what happened. As Kakihara begins his brutal investigation, he soon discovers that a mysterious man named Ichi (Nao Ohmori) may be the key to uncovering the fate of the boss. As the bodies begin to pile up, he also realizes that Ichi may also be the only one sadistic enough to prove a worthy challenger.

That’s the plot in very broad strokes but there is a lot more going on here. The storylines of Jijii (Shin’ya Tsukamoto), the head of a body disposal crew, Kaneko (Hiroyuki Tanaka) the disgraced policeman turned Yakuza gunman, and Karen (Paulyn Sun), the boss’ bilingual prostitute girlfriend, all factor heavily into the complex, interwoven story.

At the heart of any film, what really matters is how engaging the story that is being told is and how well it can sustain the viewers interest throughout the runtime. This is where Ichi the Killer really shines because, underneath the gruesome blood and violence, is an incredibly well-structured story that will hold your attention through fascinating and unpredictable twists and turns. As the story goes on, more and more details are revealed, as Miike masterfully unveils the backstory and character motivations in a natural and deliberate manner.

Even after you’ve unraveled the whole story the film remains highly rewatchable and I actually enjoyed it more upon the second viewing. This is in large part due to the highly skilled acting on display across the board, as well as the fascinating characters themselves. It’s always refreshing to see a film where there are no “good guys” and “bad guys” but rather a host of complex characters with a variety of motivations. Kakihara for one, is without a doubt one of the best and most realistic portrayals of a true sociopath that I have ever seen, a dead-eyed, asexual psycho who only enjoys pain and sees no value in human life. However, Ichi himself is the most interesting and unusual character, a craven, whimpering, coward in a superhero costume who unleashes reactionary bursts of ultraviolence when upset.

Since this is an Extreme Cinema film, the gore is naturally an important factor. In this regard the film delivers in many scenes where throats are slashed, limbs hacked off, and of course the infamous suspension hooks/boiling oil scene. These scenes are mostly well executed and feature cringe-inducing brutality, but there were a couple points where the effects missed the mark. The most glaring example of this was when a character is literally split in half and Miike opted to go for cartoony looking CGI, rather than a more realistic practical effect that would have created a far better illusion.

Ultimately, this is a very exciting, interesting film that will be highly enjoyable for those who enjoy challenging cinema and have had enough of Hollywood’s safe, bland, escapism bullshit. It’s also an excellent introduction to one of cinema’s great auteurs, Takashi Miike, whose work is fascinating, unpredictable and completely fucking uncompromising.

4-5-stars-red

Visitor Q (2001)

Visitor QIs it possible to have a film that features incest, necrophilia, rape and a whole lotta violence and still have it infused with genuinely heartfelt sentiment? If you’re maverick director Takashi Miike, the answer is abso-fucking-lutely! Just like other Extreme Cinema films like A Serbian Film or Irreversible, Visitor Q is not actually a horror movie but is an incredibly horrifying drama that goes way beyond the boundaries of most horror films in terms of content. So, how does all this shock value content actually marry with a sentimental core? Well, let’s discuss.

I do want to mention before I start, that while I’m not including spoilers, I do talk about quite a few plot points, so if you want to go in completely fresh, you’ll want to track down a copy and watch it first.

The story centers around the Yamazaki family who, it’s safe to say, has a couple of issues to work out. Patriarch Kiyoshi (Ken’ichi Endô) is obsessed with trying to create a documentary special for TV that takes an unflinching look at what’s really going on with Japanese teens today, especially in regards to bullying. His son Takuya (Jun Mutô) is the victim of severe bullying and takes his rage out on his mother Keiko (Shungiku Uchida) who in turn prostitutes herself to afford the heroin she needs to cope with the abuse. Kiyoshi’s teenage daughter Miki (Reiko Matsuo aka “Fujiko”) is a runaway turned to prostitution whom Kiyoshi interviews for his documentary in the opening scene of the film. After minimal convincing, Kiyoshi is soon fucking his own daughter, and that’s where this film starts. In the midst of all this extreme dysfunction, a mysterious man known only as The Visitor (Kazushi Watanabe) inserts himself into the family’s lives (after brutally attacking Kiyoshi with a rock several times) and begins to subtly influence them in surprising ways to achieve his goal.

What’s clear from the start, is that Miike set out to utterly shatter as many taboos as possible, which he does in a variety of bizarre, grotesque and extremely shocking ways. What’s perhaps most shocking to some, however, (although not surprising to fans of Miike’s work) is how well he is able to incorporate these extreme elements into a nuanced story about a disintegrating family unit. Rather than being gratuitous, the shocking scenes are an integral part of the story and work perfectly within the heightened reality of the world Miike has created.

Despite the fact that this film features a scene where a female character literally coats a room in a seemingly endless supply of her own breast milk, the part that struck me as most bizarre when I first saw it years ago, was the fact that people’s genitals are usually blurred out. Of course this has to do with Japan’s incomprehensible anti-obscenity law that allows graphic necrophilia, incest, and unsimulated oral sex, but draws the line at showing a flaccid penis. Being that Miike is known for pushing artistic boundaries and advocating for free speech, the extreme content in this film was no doubt a commentary on the ridiculous and arbitrary nature of censorship in Japan.

Overall, this is an incredibly interesting, engaging film with an unpredictable storyline that must be seen to be believed. For fans of Extreme Cinema this is an absolute must watch, especially if you enjoyed Miike’s more well-known films like Audition and Ichi the Killer. So gather your dysfunctional family around the TV and enjoy the most unique depiction of family dynamics you are ever going to see.

4-5-stars-red

Short Film Review: Coming Home (2017) Duration: 15 min 57 sec

ComingHomePosterWhite _July2017Even though it’s a tremendous amount of work creating a short film, it is undoubtedly a far more achievable task then attempting a feature, and a great way for indie filmmakers to hone their craft as they try to break into the business. Still, it comes with a unique set of challenges and being able to tell an interesting, concise, story in a very limited amount of time, is the most important (and difficult) of all. Given that most shorts are made independently, with very limited resources, there’s bound to be some rougher edges, but discerning audiences are willing to overlook such things as long as there is a compelling story at the core. So, does Coming Home have what it takes to be an indie short that’s worth your time? Well, lets discuss.

The story centers around a goth teen serial killer who goes by Craw (Nicholas Trivisonno) and a man named Richard (D. Duckie Rodriguez) who is trying to track him down with the help of his wife and son. The film also makes a point of explicitly letting you know that it takes place in 2003, which is curious since the date has no relevance to the plot and the entire story takes place within the same year. However, the conclusion is very open-ended and it’s possible that the date would be a factor in a sequel or if the short is adapted into a feature. I’m hoping that’s the case and the date wasn’t just put in to justify the tepid jokes about computers being “magic boxes that everyone will have someday” even though by 2003 they were already ubiquitous.

For a short film to work, it must get right into the action and immediately pull you in. Fortunately, Coming Home does just that and, right from the cold-open, sets up a world that you want to see more of. Director Shiva Rodriguez is able to strike just the right balance by naturally revealing the information you need without resorting to clunky exposition to move the story along. She is also able to imbue the story with enough mystery and intrigue to make the viewer want to watch until the very end to see how it will all play out.

Trivisonno gives a very solid performance as the emotionally damaged Craw, but a few of the other actors fall a bit short of being able to portray their characters with enough emotional resonance for the audience to properly suspend disbelief. Now, it was clearly a stylistic choice to have the first murder occur in the background out of focus, but it undercuts the power and emotional weight of the act if we don’t properly see it. If there is going to be violence in a film, it’s always better to show rather than imply unless there is a good reason to hold it back, such as keeping the identity of the killer secret, etc.

As I mentioned before, the conclusion of this film leaves the story open-ended but rather than feeling unfinished, it simply makes me want to see it continue. I don’t know if Rodriguez has plans to adapt this into something longer, or continue the story with another short, but I very much hope she does. At sixteen minutes, we’ve only scratched the surface of this world and the twisted characters in it, and when the credits rolled, all I could think was “I want to see what happens next”.

3-stars-red

Frontier(S) (2007)

FrontiersThe New French Extremity is the term used to describe a particular subset of films within the Extreme Cinema category, that were made by French directors around the start of the new millennium. Artforum critic James Quandt coined the phrase but, just as with the invention of David Edelstein’s term, Torture Porn, it was used in the pejorative sense. Regardless, both terms have been subsequently embraced by fans of boundary-pushing cinema, and it wasn’t long before the labels were worn like a badge of honor. Xavier Gens’ Frontier(s) is one of the most recognizable films of the French Extremity movement and certainly earns its stripes with graphic, visceral violence. But that aside, the real question becomes “how does it actually hold up as a film?” Well, let’s discuss.

The main story is set against the backdrop of a controversial election in France where rioting has broken out after right-wing extremist politicians have seized power. Alex (Aurélien Wiik) and his gang of young thugs need to get out of the city with their bag of ill-gotten money as soon as possible, so they divide into two groups to meet in an inn outside of town. Unfortunately for them, this particular inn is run by a sadistic family of neo-Nazis that is determined to make their lives a living hell.

It makes sense that films, especially horror, typically build in intensity as they move towards the climax but one of the most notable aspects of Frontier(s) is how it takes that concept to the extreme. While many horror films will start with a horrific scene establishing the tone you can expect throughout the movie, this does not and for a significant amount of viewing time it plays out as more of a crime thriller without any horror elements.

But rest assured, the horror does come, and by the time we reach the climax, we’ve been treated to numerous scenes of gruesome violence that (in true French Extremity fashion) lead to characters being literally blood-soaked . Ultimately, this approach serves the film well as viewers unfamiliar with what they are getting into will no doubt be taken by surprise and it makes the violence that does happen, all the more shocking. It also serves the narrative well to have the film become more visceral and gruesome as the situation worsens for the characters.

The film itself exists in a world of slightly heightened reality and, at times, the characters (particularly the villains) come off as just short of cartoonish. Regardless, the acting is actually very well done and Karina Testa especially shines as Yasmine, the sole female member of the gang. In this role she is exceptionally effective at physically conveying the mental toll that an ordeal like this would take on a person.

Social commentary plays a big part in the story and Gens has revealed in interviews that the 2002 French presidential election, which had an extreme right party in the second round, was a direct inspiration for this film. Certainly the subtext can be read as a manifestation of the fear and anxiety caused by the thought of right-wing extremists in control of the country, but the execution of the concept manages to be both superfluous and slightly heavy-handed. Even though the idea feels incredibly prescient to those of us in the US right now, it still neglects to really get at the meat of the issue or bring something new to the conversation.

In the end, Frontier(s) succeeds in being a fun, bloody, survival horror film that draws more than a little inspiration from Texas Chainsaw Massacre. With a runtime of nearly two hours it does take some time to get where you’re going but is worth the trip when you arrive.

3-5-stars-red

American Guinea Pig: Bloodshock (2015)

AGP2 V2After successfully capturing the gruesome and dangerous feel of the original series with the first American Guinea Pig film, Bouquet of Guts and Gore, the primary challenge for the sequel becomes figuring out how to follow it up without being repetitive. It’s not surprising then, that Bloodshock would take the franchise in a pretty different direction from the first as it focuses on a male protagonist and is primarily shot in black and white. This is certainly a gamble, so the real question becomes, “does it pay off?” Well, let’s discuss.

The film stars Dan Ellis as a man being held in a small white room in an unknown location, who is occasionally brought out only to be tortured by a psychotic doctor (Andy Winton) and his orderlies. His miserable routine of boredom and agony is suddenly broken up by the notes that start being slipped to him through the walls from a woman in the next room (Lillian McKinny) who appears to be doomed to the same fate.

This time around, Stephen Biro stays on as writer, but taps Marcus Koch to direct. Koch, for his part, does an amazing job creating an atmosphere of bleak despair and utilizes the black and white style to create very well-crafted shots of the gruesome torture on display. Speaking of torture, the special effects in this film are also incredibly realistic, detailed and gruesome as one would expect in any good Guinea Pig film.

As far as acting goes, both Ellis and McKinny bring it, delivering performances that are vulnerable, sincere, and compelling. Winton also makes for an imposing figure with his commanding stage presence that conveys a genuine sense of malevolence. Now, I hate to call one person out, but in an overall great cast, the one part that wasn’t selling it for me was the head orderly, whose performance was just a bit too unnatural and made him stick out as an actor surrounded by characters.

Even more than the black and white style or the male protagonist, what really sets this apart from other Guinea Pig films is actually the runtime. At 98 minutes, it’s the only one of either series (so far) to actually be of a standard feature length. This is notable because it is also where the film runs into it’s biggest issues. It’s not hard to maintain an audience’s interest in the virtually plot-less torture of the original Japanese films for their 45 or so minute runtimes, but when a film of this type is stretched to an hour and a half, that starts to become problematic.

That’s not to say, of course, that this film is plot-less, it does have a definite story that picks up speed and pays off towards the end, but it is also not a film with the kind of dramatic arc that is typically found within a feature. I’m all for breaking the conventions of cinema, but you have to replace them with something that works just as well and, in this case, it unfortunately amounts to large stretches in the middle that feel repetitive and dare I say, boring. Now, I’m not saying the overall film is boring, simply that it would have been a much stronger, tighter picture if 15-20 minutes had been cut from the middle.

As Bloodshock ramps up towards the climax, it does reinvigorate itself and delivers the defining scene of the film that makes the journey really pay off. I won’t spoil it with specifics, but I will say that it utilizes the concept of a transition from black and white to color better than I have ever seen previously in film. Some minor continuity issues aside, this is an amazing and visceral scene that must be seen to be believed.

Some key backstory about the characters is actually revealed during the credits which does place the events of the film in an interesting light and adds a new dimension to the film itself. Despite this, it still falls just short of really tying the story into a cohesive package, something that a brief scene bridging the gap from the backstory to the main story would have neatly solved, especially concerning the involvement of the doctor.

All in all, an extremely bleak and interesting anti-Hollywood journey that is worth strapping yourself in for, even if the trip sometimes feels a bit too long.

3-stars-red

American Guinea Pig: Bouquet of Guts and Gore (2014)

AGP 1The Guinea Pig film series is celebrated by fans of Extreme Cinema for it’s uncompromising gore and sadistic violence that reaches levels so rarely able to be seen in film. Even though these films remain near and dear to the black hearts of us gore hounds, the fact is, that it’s been decades since the last film was released and at this point, the out-of-print DVDs are hard to even find. Although prior to the limited DVD release in 2002 by German company Devil Pictures, North American fans of the series only knew the films as grainy bootlegs from multi-generation VHS tapes.

Despite the 2002 release, though, the series still seemed destined to eventually be forgotten, but in 2005 Stephen Biro rescued it from obscurity by giving it a proper North American DVD release through his company Unearthed Films. However, not content with simply preserving the original series, Biro also took it upon himself to resurrect the concept for contemporary audiences and, in 2014, kicked off his American Guinea Pig film series with the first entry Bouquet of Guts and Gore. Does this update properly capture the look and feel of the original Japanese films and set itself as a worthy standard bearer for the series in the new millennium? Well, let’s discuss.

Like much of the original series, this film is light on what most would deem a “conventional” plot and can essentially be summarized as “three men capture a pair of women and torture them to death to make a snuff film.” Of course, as fans of the original series know, the real appeal of a Guinea Pig film isn’t its storyline.

Content wise, this film is most similar to the second Guinea Pig entry, Flower of Flesh and Blood, as it also features the graphic disassembling of a female victim (or rather victims in this case) who remains unnervingly unresponsive due to the drugs she is given. Naturally, if you are going to brand yourself a Guinea Pig film you need to be able to showcase brutal and grotesque gore effects that are realistic enough to convince Charlie Sheen it’s a genuine snuff film. On that most important front, AGP: BoGaG delivers, with stunning practical effects that show every graphic detail of what it looks like to take apart a human body. From limbs being laboriously sawed through, to eyeballs being slit, jaws hacked off and guts pulled out, every aspect is presented in incredibly detailed realism that is essential to any true Guinea Pig film.

Biro also makes the interesting stylistic choice to show the characters themselves filming the events, which adds to the found footage/snuff film feel he is going for. The footage is also shot mostly handheld from different types of cameras and it is made clear that they are recording on both VHS and film. This makes for a sometimes jarring change in image quality from one shot to the next, although, this appears to be Biro’s way of paying homage to the grainy, bootleg style of the originals, while also ensuring that audiences are able to view the brutal effects in all their gruesome glory.

Now, I like the idea that the characters are creating this snuff film (that also serves as a Satanic sacrifice) at the behest of unseen clients, but this does make the movie a bit problematic from a story perspective. Are we to assume that what we are watching is the final edited product that will be sent to the clients? This makes the scene with the snuff film editor feel a bit out of place, as it would be the only part of this movie that takes place in the “real world” of the film and not within the snuff film itself. This would also be true for the end scene, although it is not entirely clear whether that is meant to be the opening footage for the next project they are making. No spoilers here, but I actually found that to be the most disturbing part of this entire movie, simply for what is implied.

This also brings up the questions “why would the clients want the movie to be made on multiple formats that ultimately result in inconsistent footage quality?” And “is this film meant to take place before the invention of digital cameras?” Now, while I’m on the subject, I do feel I have to mention that the only other area where I saw some room for improvement, was in the performance of the director character (Scott Gabbey) who struck me as a bit stilted. There is not a lot of dialogue in this film and, since he is responsible for much of it, a more naturalistic delivery of his lines would have improved the audiences immersion in the film.

To be clear, these are ultimately minor, quibbling points that don’t detract much from the overall experience of the film, but as a reviewer, it is my duty to address any parts of the film that aren’t hitting it at 100%. Rest assured, this is very much a worthy continuation of the Guinea Pig legacy. Unlike most American takes on foreign films, this one is very successful at capturing the authentic tone and feeling of the originals, which is a rare feat indeed. It is also able to create the same kind of extremely dark, gritty, and dangerous feeling of the original series and may actually surpass it in the level of extreme violence on display. This is absolutely the way a Guinea Pig film should be made, but also stands on it’s own as an all too rare example of truly uncompromising, uncensored filmmaking. Take note horror fans, this is what genuine Extreme Cinema looks like. It is also definitely one of the most violent, disturbing American film ever made, and that in and of itself, is a tremendous fucking achievement.

4-stars-red

The Hitcher (1986) vs The Hitcher (2007)

The HitcherHorror movies are a great way to explore the feelings of anxiety and fear that are inescapable by-products of living in the insane fucking reality we all inhabit. Sometimes the fear represented is an intangible part of our subconscious and other times it is based upon violent and terrifying experiences from the real world. In the case of The Hitcher films, the fear is based upon the anxiety derived from bringing a total stranger into your car, or getting into theirs. In reality, numerous people on both sides of this interaction have met with deadly ends, so the effectiveness of these films is reliant in large part on how authentically they can represent that legitimate danger. A lot has changed in the twenty-one years between these movies but some dangers never lose their relevance, regardless of how many technical advances we make.

The original follows Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell) who is driving through the American southwest to deliver a car to a client in California. When he sees a man (John Ryder, played by the exquisitely creepy Rutger Hauer) broken down in the rain, he is kind enough to offer him a ride, but almost instantly regrets his decision when it becomes clear that Ryder is a murderous psychopath. After literally kicking Ryder out of the car, Jim soon finds himself embroiled in a fight for survival with the crazed man on the sparely populated desert highway.

The remake features the same basic conceit, with the primary difference being that college-age couple, Jim and Grace (Zachary Knighton and Sophia Bush), are instead driving through New Mexico on their way to spring break in California. Their relationship also effectively functions as a replacement for Jim’s (sort of) love interest from the first film, Nash (Jennifer Jason Leigh).

The first question when comparing an original to the remake is, naturally, “how well does the original itself work as a film?” In this case, the concept it’s working with is unusual and interesting, as well as being grounded in a legitimate real world fear. The acting is overall very solid and Hauer really shines in this chilling portrayal of a subtly crazed sociopath. The film also does a good job of holding the audiences attention with a series of plot points that keep the tension up. So, overall a solid film, but in this case, it was also one that left significant room for improvement in certain areas.

The primary one would have to be the fact that many of the major plot points rely on very coincidental events that are taken for granted and never really explained, especially towards the end. In addition, the movie is grounded in a reality-based world, yet Ryder seems to possess near supernatural ability when it comes to always being exactly where he needs to be or, say, shooting down a helicopter with a hand gun from a moving car (!). Some minor spoilers going forward here, but I also have to say that the movie goes to great lengths to tease a larger connection and sense of purpose between the characters but ultimately fails to pay it off in a satisfying way.

The quality of the film is also chipped away by a series of unanswered questions that pile up throughout. How exactly did that finger get in his fries and why didn’t he tell the cops about it? If Jim’s the one that called the police from the diner why would they immediately assume he’s the killer? If you’re on the run and ditch a stolen cop car, wouldn’t the first thing the police do be to check the nearby motels? And so on and so forth.

Now, even though I do my best to watch movies with an open mind, I think I can speak for most horror fans when I say I have a bit of inherent bias when watching a remake, that it will simply be a lazily written cash-grab that pales in comparison to the original. Indeed, when the remake started with an attractive young couple that looked straight out of central casting, road-tripping their way to spring break while the shittiest possible song played in the background, I thought I had this film’s number. But as soon as that unpleasantness was over, the remake began to do what remakes so rarely do and present a more compelling, realistic version of the original story that actually polished up the mistakes. While it’s certainly true that over-explaining is a sign of poor filmmaking, the remake actually strikes the right balance by going into more detail with scenes that needed it and incorporating more realistic and logical solutions to various problems the characters face. I also like that the characters initially make the sensible choice to not pick him up but through a series of reasonable events end up in a situation where it actually makes sense to offer him a ride.

I also want to be clear that the original is sorely lacking in blood and, overall, fits much more comfortably in the thriller category rather than horror. The remake rectifies that issue and also adopts a tone that pushes it away from the action-thriller feeling of the original firmly into the category of horror-thriller. This is especially true of a key scene towards the end that was begging for gore in the original which the remake fully delivered on.

In a way, I feel like it was a missed opportunity to not have C. Thomas Howell take up the role of Ryder in the remake.  It would have set the film up as more of a sequel with very dark implications and we could all just pretend that the straight-to-video The Hitcher 2 never existed.  However, Sean Bean is just so fucking good in the role that I couldn’t possibly advocate for it going to anyone else. In fact, as good as Hauer was, I feel that Bean was able to really convey a clearer sense of motivation and understanding of the character that greatly benefited the overall product.

Ultimately, this is what a remake should be, a film that stays true to the concept of the original while polishing up the rougher edges. It’s also a good reminder that you can’t really judge a film until you see it and preconceived notions are often wrong.

Winner The Hitcher 2007

Raw (2017)

RawSometimes the trailer for a film is so compelling and intriguing that you instantly know it’s a film you absolutely must see. For me, Raw was such a film and the dark, unusual, and clearly well-shot movie that was promised was one that I couldn’t wait to watch. Of course, a great trailer followed by months of waiting can certainly raise expectations for the film itself so the question is, did Raw live up to the hype and deliver on the high promise of the exquisitely made trailer? Well, lets discuss.

The story follows Justine (Garance Marillier), a young woman from a strict vegetarian family, who is going off to the veterinary school that her rebellious sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf ) already attends. After being forced into eating meat in an initiation ritual, Justine soon begins to have an insatiable craving for flesh that she struggles to control. That’s about all I want to reveal about the story because, truly one of the best things about it, is the shocking twists and unpredictable plot.

What’s instantly apparent when watching this film is just how incredibly well made it is. The cast, primarily consisting of young adult actors, is absolutely flawless and their strong, realistic performances are a huge part of what makes it successful. The lion’s share of the credit, however, belongs to writer/director Julia Ducournau, who’s brilliant script and assured direction, are responsible for creating a film that is visually stunning and thoroughly compelling.

It’s utterly amazing that this is Ducournau’s debut feature because, the way she skillfully balances the elements of a coming-of-age drama that’s infused with horror, is nothing short of masterful. The story is not only very different from what I assumed it would be going in, but also remained unpredictable throughout and was certainly a far cry from what Hollywood would have done with the material. The twists in the story make for some surprisingly shocking moments and the subtext about discovering one’s sexuality (and the horrors that go with it) is expertly infused into the story.

The fact that Ducournau relied on real animals and practical effects over CGI adds to the overall realism and, while this is not an extremely bloody film overall, the gore effects that are present are pulled off perfectly. All in all, this is a film that actually does live up to the promise of it’s trailer and, although it’s not exactly a horror film, it’s a horrific and beautiful journey that is very much worth taking.

4-5-stars-red

Guinea Pig 6: Mermaid in a Manhole (1988)

GP6With this review I wrap up the original Guinea Pig series with the final (produced) entry, Mermaid in a Manhole. With the notable exception of the “comedic” outlier, Devil Doctor Woman, the series so far has ranged from solid to very good and set a high standard for Extreme Cinema that is rarely equaled to this day. So, does the final film live up to the expectations set by it’s predecessors or does the series fall flat at the finish line? Well, let’s discuss.

Unlike many of the entries, this film has a very clear narrative structure and is actually the only one in the series to not use any kind of framing device for the main story. The story itself centers around an artist (Shigeru Saiki) who copes with the grief of his wife leaving him by going into the sewer and painting the filthy and decrepit things he sees. On one such trip he discovers a mermaid (Mari Somei) who has become trapped down there and brings her home to try and heal the festering sores on her stomach. Her condition rapidly grows worse however and as she becomes more and more disfigured by her ailment she begs the artist to paint her before she dies.

This film marks the return of Flower of Flesh and Blood director, Hideshi Hino, and it’s no coincidence that these two entries are not only the most brutal of the series, but also generally the most well regarded among fans. As good as FoFaB was though, it is refreshing to see Hino take a very different approach with this one rather than rehashing the same premise. Mermaid not only presents a very creative concept but also features surprisingly well developed characters and a genuinely tragic story, complete with an ambiguous twist ending that will make you question everything you saw leading up to it. Since the film is based upon a Manga that Hino himself created, it’s no surprise that the story is well fleshed out and uncompromising.

This film also takes a very interesting and unusual approach to body horror because rather than showing a man torturing a woman, it shows him spending most of the time trying to help her, but with no less grotesque results. In fact, I think a strong case could be made for this being the most gruesome, disturbing and difficult to watch of the entire series. There’s something about seeing someone writhe in agony as grotesque tumors riddle their body that is so much more disturbing than seeing them being tortured by a person. Of course, that’s just where the film starts and before long the artist is painting with her multi-colored pus, pulling live worms from her tumors and cleaning up piles of them from her bloody puke. It’s okay, you can go throw up, I’ll wait.

All these scenes are pulled off with the well-crafted, gruesome practical effects we’ve come to expect from the series, complete with copious amounts of actual, slimy, wriggling worms and bugs. As far as I’m concerned extreme films like this function as a kind of litmus test for those who claim to be fans of movies that are meant to horrify. In a world filled with art that is compromised and censored in the interest of “morality” and mass appeal, it’s always great to see the vision of an artist who doesn’t give the slightest fuck about how the audience will react to their work. Plus, it’s by far the most fucked up movie involving a mermaid that has ever been, or will be, created.

4-stars-red