The Fog (1980) vs The Fog (2005)

The Fog

When comparing remakes to originals the remake is typically at an inherent disadvantage. We want the original to be better. And why wouldn’t we? It certainly deserves credit for creating an entire cinematic experience that didn’t even exist before, frequently the result of a single artist’s passion project. Additionally, so many of the original films ended up being incredibly significant works that had a major impact on the genre as a whole. Not only is the remake merely a copy of the original but it can feel like a usurper trying to cynically mine our nostalgia to make a quick buck.

Keeping all that in mind, I believe every remake deserves a fair shot because if done right it is also an opportunity to upgrade the experience with higher production values and patch up some of the shortcomings that the original production couldn’t avoid having. Of course this only works if the spirit of the original remains intact and today we’ll see if that’s the case for The Fog or if it ended up just being another soulless cash grab.

The original John Carpenter film tells the story of a small seaside town that is plagued by the supernatural creatures accompanying a mysterious fog that rolls in on the 100th anniversary of the town’s founding. Once the shit hits the fan it’s up to a small group of survivors to try and stop them or at the very least, survive the invasion. This includes the radio station owner, Stevie (Adrienne Barbeau), Elizabeth (Jamie Lee Curtis), a hitchhiking drifter just trying to pass through town, and Nick (Tom Atkins) a local who picks her up.

While the remake does follow the same basic story there are some notable changes to key parts of the plot. For one, the catalyst for the attack involves a small fishing boat catching its anchor on some buried items lost in a shipwreck rather than the 100th anniversary of the town’s founding. Probably a wise choice since clipper ships were a lot more common in 1880 than they were in 1905. Nick (Tom Welling) still picks Elizabeth (Maggie Grace) up hitchhiking, but in this case she is his ex who has unexpectedly returned to town. While these were pretty minor changes, the ending of the remake is where the biggest diversion is seen but more on that later.

Of course these weren’t the only changes made and the remake tries hard to jazz things up a bit by shoehorning in exactly the kinds of antics you would expect from a Hollywood production. For instance, the first victims are still aboard a small fishing boat named ‘The Seabreeze’ but the grizzled fishermen have been replaced by a couple of bros and some scantily clad girls who just want to party, man. In fact, all of the surprisingly beautiful residents of this small town look (and act) like they just walked off the set of a CW show. Speaking of the CW, it’s utterly impossible to take pretty-boy Tom Welling seriously as a small town local, even if we set aside his incredibly stiff acting.

This was the first time I had seen the remake and despite the obvious shortcomings, I was actually pleasantly surprised throughout most of it. I was expecting a lot of shitty CGI fog faces replacing Carpenter’s effectively menacing silhouetted figures from the original but instead the film focused more on unseen horror and some very well done practical effects work. Well, at least the first half did because once it starts ramping up towards the climax, say goodbye to cool melting skeletons and stunt work and say hello to god awful cartoon ghosts. This all culminates in an ending that tries to throw a clever twist on the original but instead makes for an eye rolling scene that isn’t at all supported by the story that preceded it.

To be fair, the original did leave some big shoes to fill as improving on one of John Carpenter’s minor masterpieces is a tall order to begin with. But classics are classics for a reason and even though the remake tries to build fear through music cues and tense scenes every few minutes it never captures that organic sense of dread that the original was able to produce. It is also missing Carpenter’s excellent film score from the 1980 version and is instead crammed with derivative pop/rock from the early 2000s.

One of the scenes that best highlights the difference between the versions is the one where Elizabeth and Nick get their truck stuck in the mud after rescuing Stevie’s son. It’s a genuinely tense scene in the original as the creatures close in on the truck brandishing weapons until Elizabeth is able to finally gain traction and speed away. Contrast this with the remake where the same scene plays out in a far more anemic fashion only to end with Nick shoving Elizabeth out of the way so he can mansplain driving to her and save the day.

Despite all its flaws, the remake is actually better than I expected and does manage to be a light, entertaining film in its own right that at least starts out on the right foot. However, if you want any chance of unseating a Carpenter classic, you need to bring a hell of a lot more to the table than CGI jump scares and a half-assed attempt at a twist ending.

Winner The Fog 1980

The Dinner Party (2020)

unnamed (3)Sometimes just the fact that a film is in the horror genre tips you off that the plot is going to go in a certain direction. I mean, if a movie called The Dinner Party had everything go completely well for the characters the entire time you’d probably end up with a drama (and a damn boring one at that). So, while there is a certain amount of predictability and expectation within the basic structure itself, the real test of artistry is found in how well the filmmakers can finesse the details and create something original. Sometimes this means artists will take big swings with unusual concepts and plot twists, the end result of which is invariably a brilliant hit….or a spectacular miss.

Small-time playwright Jeff (Mike Mayhall) seems to have gotten the opportunity of a lifetime when he is invited to a secret dinner party by a group of wealthy elites with enough pull to get his work onto Broadway. His wife Haley (Alli Hart) gets dragged along for the ride and before long the couple is bearing witness to the increasingly strange behavior of their wealthy hosts.

I always appreciate it when independent filmmakers are able to work well within their financial limitations and play to their strengths. Co-writer/director Miles Doleac (who also plays Vincent in the film) clearly understands this concept as he wisely keeps the action limited to one central location and utilizes a talented cast to bring life to the characters. Sawandi Wilson especially deserves to be recognized for his portrayal of the flamboyant and unhinged Sebastian which he imbues with a significant amount of subtly and depth.R4_1.61.1

The most welcome surprise for me however was just how depraved the film got at times, diving headlong into dark territory with cannibalism, necrophilia, and some scenes of gruesome violence. Doleac does an excellent job lulling the viewer into a false sense of security with warm, comfortable lighting and high-brow conversation right before violently yanking the rug out from under them. It’s a clever and subtle touch that mirrors the experience the characters are having and the solid acting across the board sells it perfectly.

A less successful gamble comes in the form of a third act twist (the details of which I won’t spoil) that severely erodes much of the good will the film had earned up until that point. It’s really unfortunate too because up until then I had really been enjoying the film. I mean sure there were lengthy discussions about opera that were as gratuitous as they were pretentious but this was still right on track for a four star rating. Not so once the “big revelation” slaps the audience across the face with a ridiculous concept that would be utterly eye-rolling in any film and feels exceptionally out of place here. You won’t have much time to dwell on it though because after that the film barrels toward the end credits, leaving in its wake a series of carelessly unanswered questions that put a nonsensical bow on an otherwise well made film.

Had this film simply carried along on the track it was already on for most of the runtime it would have ended up being a very solid horror experience punctuated with some great details and wry social commentary. Unfortunately, in its attempt to be entirely too clever for its own good, a mostly satisfying experience ultimately left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

3-stars-red

M.O.M. Mother of Monsters (2020)

M.O.MEver since The Blair Witch Project exploded onto the horror scene in 1999 and crushed the box office to the tune of a quarter billion dollars, countless filmmakers have tried their hand at tapping into that low cost Cinéma vérité style magic. Now that it’s 21 years later any filmmaker looking to utilize that format needs to bring something more to the table than abandoned footage found in the woods. Fortunately, M.O.M (Mother of Monsters) does bring an innovative twist to the standard formula as all the footage comes directly from cameras that characters use within the world of the film.

This approach alone isn’t unique but the justification and execution make it work better than most. Old home movie footage is spliced with straight to camera testimonials and consumer grade home surveillance as Abbey (Melinda Page Hamilton) obsessively documents the actions of her teenage son Jacob (Bailey Edwards). The more we see, the more it seems that this strung out single mother has good cause to worry as Jacob kills animals, has violent outbursts, and makes troubling maps of his school. Is Abbey uncovering the genesis of a dangerous criminal in the making…or is something else entirely going on?

Since the film devotes so much run-time to trying to make the viewer wonder about Jacob’s true motivations, it’s unfortunate that an early scene on an overpass heavily tips the scales, clearly showing which character is capable of committing unrepentant acts of violence. While the scene itself is well done, the film would be far stronger without it and would allow for some actual ambiguity throughout the story. It’s a shame too since the novel approach actually does effectively make use of the found footage conceit in a way that is modern, innovative and justified (mostly) within the world of the film. It also maintains a storyline that does drag a bit in places but overall manages to be engaging and at times all too real.

M.O.M’s true strength however is with its actors, which is fortunate as this is pretty much a two-hander between mother and son. The acting (and I cannot overstate this) is fucking incredible! Hamilton and Edwards truly live inside their characters and their pitch-perfect depiction is what makes the film work. The nuance and subtlety that they bring to their roles make this prescient story about a young man potentially going down a violent path feel even more dangerous and real. In a world where senseless acts of violence are commonplace, a film that reflects the anxiety that the true monsters can be found within the people we are closest to is a very scary concept indeed.

3-5-stars-red

29 Needles (2019)

29 NeedlesAs anyone who follows me on Twitter knows, it’s my mission to track down and review the most fucked up films ever made. Because of this, my idea of what truly constitutes Extreme Cinema may be a bit …..different than many people’s so I’m always at least a little skeptical when filmmakers contact me out of the blue and claim that their film is shocking and edgy. Still, I went into 29 Needles deliberately knowing nothing about it and keeping an open mind. Within the first few minutes one thing became perfectly clear, this is one film that DEFINITELY belongs in the Extreme Cinema category!

The story follows Francis Bacon (Brooke Berry), a troubled man who uses alcohol and pain to help abate the symptoms of his inner turmoil. He is beginning to lose hope as his self-destructive coping mechanisms are becoming less effective and his strange hallucinations more prevalent. When a mysterious young man named Hans (Jamee Nicholson) offers him an invitation to secret society where there are no sexual limits it may be the cure he’s looking for….or the beginning of a whole new nightmare.

One thing viewers should know going into this is that it’s the very definition of “not for everyone” and if copious amounts of unsimulated gay sex is too much for you to handle then this is probably not going to be your particular brand of vodka. However, for Extreme Cinema fans without such hangups this proves to be an interesting and unique ride into some very dark and depraved territory.

My favorite thing about this film and something that is unequivocally true is that it does NOT hold back. 29 Needles is a great example of raw, unfiltered cinematic expression that gives zero fucks about appealing to a mainstream crowd or worrying about who’s 29 Needles Bathoffended in the process. Rape, mutilation, watersports and bloodplay are all on full display here as well as fetishistic acts that even I had never seen before (I have two words for you, eyeball tube). Writer/director Scott Philip Goergens clearly has a vision and takes a punk rock, no holds barred approach to executing it.

So, clearly the film has balls, ones that it’s not afraid to literally skewer with needles, but there’s still the question of how well it’s made. On that front it’s a little bit of a mixed bag as it does fall pray to some of the common shortcomings of indie films such as a flat, digital image quality and some supporting actors whose performances fall well short of convincing. However Berry more than makes up for this with his fully committed, method performance that is absolutely mesmerizing to watch. There is also some great practical effects work in the form of a giant sentient cock that looks straight out of Cronenberg’s golden era.

Ultimately this film is an endurance test of shock and depravity and one that real fans of genuinely edgy cinema won’t want to miss. An interesting and engaging plunge into darkness that’s completely fucked up, in the best possible way.4-stars-red

 

Short Film Review: Duérmete Niño (2019) Duration 9 min 38 sec

DNShortifilm_PosterClocking in at under ten minutes total (only about seven of which is the actual film) Duérmete Niño (Rock-a-bye Baby) is an interesting little slice of horror. Inspired by a real, sleep deprived nightmare that director Freddy Chávez experienced after the birth of his daughter, this short captures the horror and anxiety of being a new parent in a very creative and unusual way.

In the film Piercey Dalton plays a single mother of twins (a terrifying enough prospect in and of itself) who begins to hear strange noises through the baby monitor that connects to her children’s room. Text in the beginning lets us know that the use of baby monitors can actually be traced back to 1937, an interesting fact that also properly justifies the 1940’s setting. The retro feel adds an extra layer of creepiness to the film as technology from that era was so inherently clunky and prone to dangerous malfunctions. It also allows for the inclusion of an animated faux commercial for the monitor that serves as a fun bonus during the credits.

When viewing this film it is clear that a lot of care and effort went into crafting not just the atmospheric setting but also the tense, well paced story that leads to a horrific and immensely satisfying conclusion. Dalton is essentially a one woman show and does an excellent job in conveying real pathos and emotion through a dialogue-free performance. The skillful use of special effects really seals the deal and makes this one short that is well worth your modest time investment. A must-see film that was inspired by nightmares and will certainly go on to inspire quite a few more.

4-5-stars-red

Empathy Inc (2019)

Empathy1As new forms of media consumption are released so too are new cultural anxieties born, along with the films that reflect them. Whether it’s VHS in Videodrome or cell phones in One Missed Call, films have always been a way of expressing the inherent discomfort that is an inevitable part of adjusting to ever more rapidly changing technology. With VR becoming an increasingly prevalent part of our society, it’s only natural that films like Empathy Inc would come about to explore the darker side of the technology. Of course, the idea itself is nothing new and classic films from Total Recall to The Matrix and many in between have delved into the potential consequences of experiencing a virtual world that is indistinguishable from our own. However, while this was an abstract concept in the ‘90s, ever advancing technology is bringing us closer to this becoming a reality, making the subject far more prescient today.

The story centers around Joel (Zack Robidas) who has to move with his wife Jessica (Kathy Searle) from Silicon Valley to her parent’s house on the east coast following a public scandal and the closure of his company. When an opportunity comes along to get in on the ground floor of a new company that promises a unique VR experience, Joel sees it as his way to get back in the game and convinces his father-in-law (Fenton Lawless) to invest his family’s entire nest egg in the venture. As you can imagine, it’s not long before things start to go horribly wrong.

Of all the VR themed films, Empathy Inc draws the most influence from Strange Days as its invented technology also allows users to enter a fully immersive world where they can live out experiences that are completely foreign to their own in a supposedly consequence-free environment. It does put its own unique spin on the concept (which I won’t spoil here) that makes it feel like a fresh take on the subject rather than a rehash. Unfortunately, this unique take also brings up some important questions that are not resolved like “given all that’s involved, would people really pay for this experience?” Even if they would, the logistics of actually pulling it off seem highly impractical and regardless of how far out your concept is, it needs to be grounded within the logic of the world it creates.

Empathy pic

Despite some glaring inconsistencies with how it’s used, the technology itself is actually an easier sell than some minor but significant plot points that could have been easily addressed in a rewrite. I mean, I’m more than willing to suspend disbelief for the idea of world where fully immersive VR is possible but a world where you can easily sneak a gun onto a cross-country flight (twice) is just far too ridiculous to accept. This is also apparently the same world where you can wander around a city and accidentally run into the exact person you are looking for by pure coincidence.

It’s really a shame that these entirely script-based issues exist because they take away from a film that is otherwise executed incredibly well. The camerawork is beautiful and the black and white aesthetic works very well, especially for the high-contrast shots. Director Yedidya Gorsetman also wisely chooses to keep the effects simple and execute them well which adds much more production value than attempting to overreach far beyond what the budget allows. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the acting which is simply flawless across the board and especially impressive given the events of the third act.

All in all Empathy Inc is an interesting film with a unique perspective that is worth the watch but certainly won’t be supplanting VR classics like eXistenZ or Strange Days anytime soon.

 

2-5-stars-red

Madness of Many (2013)

Madness CoverIf you like your torture porn with a hefty helping of pseudo-philosophy, then Madness of Many might just be the film for you. At least, that’s what Danish filmmaker Kasper Juhl is hoping you’re into because his 2013 feature packs a surprising amount of both into its scant 73 minute run-time. Is this an effective combination? Should voice over be used in more than 90% of a film? Who the fuck are all these people being tortured and what exactly is going on here? Read on, for the answers to some of these questions in the review below!

The plot (such as it is) centers around Victoria (Ellen Abrahamson) who we first see walking in the woods in the beginning of the film. We are told through VO that she is 23 and has grown up in the most horrifically abusive home possible. After years of rape and starvation she has recently escaped and now we see her make friends with someone off-screen who brings her back to their home. Things seem to be going well until she is bludgeoned unconscious and spends the next year being held captive and tortured. The bulk of the rest of the film depicts seemingly random other women being tortured who (I think) are meant to represent her inner anguish through depictions of physical torment…..and puking up blood every five minutes.

I’m only pretty sure that’s what’s going on because despite the fact that nearly the entire film contains VO, it seems less concerned with illuminating the details of the plot and more concerned with incessantly repeating its theory that suffering is a transcendent experience that leads to enlightenment. This concept worked in Martyrs several years earlier but that was because it was bolstered up by an excellent plot and a sparing but intense use of violence. The brutality here is certainly the best part but the overuse of it without a solid foundation to stand on makes for diminishing returns. I mean, once you’ve watched someone puke up blood for the fifth time in an hour it’s kind of lost it’s effect.

The fundamental problem here is a real lack of prioritization of the story elements. Sometimes the information is maddeningly sparse, such as how did she get from spending her whole life in tortured squalor to just kind of strolling around in a nice outfit, looking normal and put together? Other times it feels like it’s compulsively berating you with the same information, prattling on about enlightenment and suffering like stoned freshman around a bonfire. This all results in a lack of emotional investment with the events of the film and an attempt at a profound ending that falls flat because it’s not even remotely earned. Madness blind.jpg

This is unfortunate because despite its flaws there are definitely some things that the film does very well. First and foremost, I have to commend the numerous actresses who fully commit to their roles as torture victims and all deliver genuinely great performances. This, coupled with the well crafted gore, makes for some glorious and authentic depictions of violence that are well worth the watch. Additionally, Juhl brings a visual artistry to many of the shots that elevate them from mere set pieces to visually arresting works of macabre beauty.

If only he had spent as much time crafting the story then the end result may have felt more like a provocative art film and less like something made by a film student who took took SFX and intro to philosophy in the same semester.

 

2-5-stars-red

Short Film Review: Aftermath (1994) Duration 30 min

AftermathAhhh corpse fucking, a taboo subject that even the most hardcore of Extreme Cinema films rarely delve into. Sure, directors are willing to mutilate teenagers with chainsaws and machetes all day but once you add in a touch of deviant sexuality it goes to a whole different level for most people. Obviously you’ve got your underground classics like the Nekromantik films or even a bizarre romantic drama like Kissed, but all in all it’s a pretty short list of films that make necrophilia the central focus. Of course, an essential entry to that list is Nacho Cerdá’s ultra twisted mini-masterpiece, Aftermath.

There really isn’t that much to say about the story beyond the fact that it centers around a deviant forensic surgeon (Pep Tosar) who has his way with the corpse of a young woman in one of the more shocking and disturbing sequences ever put on film. The fact that it’s light on story really doesn’t matter much in this case since it’s the incredible visual style that does the heavy lifting in this dialogue-free film. Much like A Serbian Film, the thing that makes this so effectively shocking isn’t just its subject matter, but also that it’s just so goddamn well made.aftermath cameraEvery detail inside the surgeon’s lab is so meticulously created that it gives an incredible level of authenticity to the overall film. This is helped greatly by the fact that it was filmed within a real forensic institute in Barcelona and that Cerdá had the chance to witness an actual autopsy prior to filming.  While the little details are great, the real showstoppers are the corpses themselves, masterfully crafted by special effects studio DDT. Each cadaver has such brilliant attention to detail that they come across as genuine characters right down to the tracks in one man’s arm that were probably the cause of his death.

Speaking of genuine characters, Tosar does more with his incredible eyebrows and menacing stare than many actors are able to accomplish with two hours of dialogue. Added to this is the fact that every shot is expertly crafted and the whole thing is scored to Mozart’s hauntingly beautiful Requiem in D Minor. It’s these small but significant touches that really elevate Aftermath beyond just a shocking video into the visually arresting and provocative art that it is.

5-stars-red

The Cannibal Club (2019)

CannibalClub_Key ArtCannibalism in film is generally depicted in one of two ways; either it’s being perpetrated by savage maniacs who messily devour human flesh or savored by members of high society as an indulgent and sophisticated ritual. As is immediately evident by the cover art, The Cannibal Club clearly falls into the latter category. These sorts of depictions tend to have an undercurrent of social commentary, as the rich literally devour the lower classes for their own pleasure and this film is no different in that regard. However, that is far from all that TCC has to offer as this delectable treat gives viewers a lot more to chew on.

Wealthy social elites Otavio (Tavinho Teixeira) and Gilda (Ana Luiza Rios) are a Brazilian power couple who enjoy indulging in the flesh of their workers, in every sense of the word. Their life of leisure and twisted pleasures soon becomes threatened when Gilda accidentally uncovers the truth about a prominent member of the secret society that Otavio is part of.Cannibal Club - Still 2

There is a lot to like about this film, from the flawless acting, to the beautiful camerawork and of course the graphic gore effects, which are utterly sublime. What’s most interesting though is the unconventional and unpredictable script that subverts the expectations of what a film like this can be. I imagine that had this been made in Hollywood (or when the inevitable, ill conceived remake is greenlit) the plot would have the couple portrayed as the antagonists or softened their characters with a significant amount of remorse. Instead TCC leans into the twisted nature of its protagonists while still portraying them as fully fleshed out people in an imperfect and realistic relationship.

The only thing that I found lacking here (and frankly a bit surprising) was that a film with such graphic sexuality and violence would occasionally shy away from the good stuff and have it take place off screen. Perhaps writer/director Guto Parente was going for a “less is more” approach with these scenes and while they are still effective, I couldn’t help but feel a little cheated out of some great gore that I thought was coming.

cc2Fear not though gore hounds because there is still plenty of violence on display, especially as the film works up to its climactic ending. I also want to give credit to the fact that the social commentary is woven subtly and expertly into the story which gives the message a lot more resonance, especially in this day and age. So, if you are looking for an exotic and satisfying treat to satiate your darker appetites, you’ll definitely want to put this one on the menu.

 

4-stars-red

Short Film Review: Lion (2017) Duration 11 min 49 sec

LionWhen working within the medium of short film it’s essential to communicate a lot of information in a small amount of time. Making the audience feel for the characters and telling a worthwhile story from beginning to end in just a few minutes is a very challenging task but Davide Melini’s Lion does all that and more within its concise runtime. Located entirely within the confines of an isolated family home somewhere in the snowy wilderness, Lion tells the story of an abused little boy who wishes his favorite animal could come and protect him from his own family.

Lion has a very professional feel to it, especially for a short, and has the rare distinction of actually using CGI properly. Not only is the CGI that is on display of excellent quality, but Melini also shows great restraint with a less-is-more approach that makes the scenes that contain it incredibly effective. The film is well edited, delightfully bloody, and centers around the very real and very horrible problem of violence against children. I do think that the character of the father could have been dialed back just a little to be even more effective but that’s a small note within this nearly perfect film that is well deserving of the numerous accolades it has already received.

4-5-stars-red