1990s

Audition (1999)

No film poster today as my laptop is playing up 😦

Audition opens with the death of Shigeharu Aoyama’s wife leaving him to care for their only son, Shigehiko. Seven years later and Shigehiko is your typical teenager who suggests (or rather bluntly tells his father) that he should find a new wife. His son’s suggestion gets into Shigeharu’s head and with the help of his friend, Yasuhisa he sets out on the hunt for a new wife. Yasuhisa is a film producer and helps shy Shigeharu put on a series of auditions for a fake film in order to meet women. Out of all the women that apply Shigeharu is drawn to Asami Yamazaki, played by Eihi Shiina (Helldriver).

Things seem to be going well for the pair but Yasuhisa becomes suspicious when he cannot get in contact with any of the referees on Asami’s resume. He confides his feelings to Shigeharu but with no hard evidence they fall on deaf ears with the blossoming romance proceeding at an ever increasing speed.

Audition has a very clear beginning, middle and end structure. It spends a lot of time setting the scene and letting the audience get to know Shigeharu. Ryo Ishibashi (Suicide Club, The Grudge) does a great job portraying the lonely widower Shigeharu and his search for companionship. The first half of the film feels more like a romantic drama than a horror film complete with floating musical score. It is only after they spend a night together and Asami disappears that things get steadily darker.

I have watched Audition a couple of times and I still have to look away at the end. Director Takashi Miike (Ichi The Killer) is unrelentless in the graphic realistic nature of what Asami inflicts on Shigeharu. Although brutal, the violence fits completely in with the plot of the film and doesn’t feel gratuitous. It is a very compelling watch that I would recommend to anyone who can stomach it.

Rating: 5/5

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Scream (1996)

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Scream introduced the prolific director Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Hills Have Eyes) to a new generation and breathed new life into the slasher genre, indeed Scream 2 was the first slasher film and second real horror film that I watched and got me hooked on horror films. Scream starts as it means to go on with an explosive and powerful scene in which Casey (Drew Barrymore, E.T) and her boyfriend (Kevin Patrick Walls, Blade) are brutally murdered by a masked figure. It was unusual at the time for a director to kill off arguably the most famous star so early in the film.

The rest of the film follows Sidney Prescott, a high school student played by Neve Campbell (The Craft, Wild Things) and her friends who include her boyfriend, Billy (Skeet Ulrich, As Good as it Gets), her airhead best friend Tatum (Rose McGowan, Charmed), Randy (Jaime Kennedy, Three Kings) and Stu (Matthew Lillard, Thir13n Ghosts). It soon becomes clear that Sidney is the target of the killer and there is a connection to the brutal murder of Prescott’s mother a year ago. All the action taking place in Woodsboro covered by the no nonsense, no holds barred reporter Gail Weathers, played by Courteney Cox (Friends), a particularly unlikeable character.

Whilst Scream is a serious film, the action is tongue in cheek, referencing multiple other horror films, including a janitor dressed called Freddy dressed like the villain from A Nightmare on Elm Street). It even goes so far as Randy, espousing about the formula of who is the killer and what’s going to happen next and others discussing who would play each other if a film was made of the murders and the rules of how to stay alive in a horror film. The rules are: You can never have sex, you can never drink or do drugs and never, ever, ever under any circumstances say, “I’ll be right back,” because you won’t be back and everyone is a suspect. To be fair to Craven, the film sticks to its own rules! It also has all the classic slasher film shots found in earlier films, dark figures lurking by hedges and reflections in a corpse’s eyes.

The action is kept up throughout the film and the special effects are good, plenty of blood (as expected in a slasher flick) with a great sound track including the screaming violins and ominous slashing noises from a pair of innocent scissors which made me chuckle.  Scream keeps you guessing right to the end about who the killer is and if you can guess the first time you are doing better than most (unless you’ve cheated and Googled it)! What is particularly good about the killer in Scream is that they are a bit inept adding a human element, unlike some of the supernaturally strong killers found in earlier slasher films such as Elm Street or Friday 13th. Indeed, Scream has found its way into the public consciousness and most people would recognise the ghost mask even if they hadn’t seen the film. If you haven’t seen it I would recommend watching it (and then watch Scary Movie, an almost scene for scene parody made in 2000).

Rating: 5/5

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Fun Fact: The killers iconic black outfit with white mask was originally all white but was changed as it was worried it may have been associated with the Ku Klux Klan.

Interview with the Vampire (1994)

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Brad Pitt (World War Z) and Tom Cruise (Top Gun, Mission Impossible ) head this all-star adaptation of Anne Rice’s novel Interview with the Vampire. The film does exactly what it says in the title, with reporter Daniel Malloy (Christian Slater, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) interviewing the vampire, Louis portrayed by Pitt an otherworldly being who tells his life (or death) story from the moment of his making. After the death of his wife and infant son (human) Louis was a reckless man with no care for his life when he meets the vampire Lestat played by Tom Cruise who takes up Louis on his wish for death, turning him into a vampire.

The film then follows the pair and their complex relationship through hundreds of years, with the mix of growing resentment  and loathing that Louis feels towards his maker and in return Lestat’s fear of being alone driving him to do ever more desperate things including creating Claudia, a child vampire played by Kirsten Dunst (Spider-Man, The Virgin Suicides). Whilst this serves to keep Louis with him, it eventually leads to his destruction and Claudia and Louis escape to Paris on the search for others of their kind where they meet Armand (Antonio Banderas, The Skin I Live In, Desperado) the leader of a vampiric theatre group.

Interview with the Vampire portrays vampires as creatures with an air of sadness and loneliness surrounding them that drives both Louis’s self-hating and Lestat’s constant attention seeking. Pitt’s Louis is resigned in the contemporary interview and full of self-loathing throughout the film and Cruise’s Lestat a narcissist of the highest order. Indeed in general the casting is tremendous, with one false step in the casting of Banderas as Armand, who is the antithesis of how he is described in the book. The vampire’s make-up is done well, with a subtle whitening of the skin and the prominence of a few veins lending them a marble-like appearance. The special effects are subtle and so well executed they are often almost imperceptible, for example Claudia’s transformation from a dying child into a ruthless vampire with her hair curling, complexion lightening and fangs slowly extending. Even the larger special effects, such as Claudia’s The large budget is obvious in the opulent and varied set design, from 18th century New Orleans to 19th century Paris through to modern day San Francisco.

This film is based one of my favourite novels and I think that director Neil Jordan’s (The Crying Game) adaptation does the book justice, expressing the gothic opulence and the feeling of oppressive immortality found in the book, possibly due to the fact that Anne Rice wrote the screenplay for the film. Inevitably there are differences between the two but the film stands on its own merit and is a definite must for any vampire fan.

Rating 5/5

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Fun Fact: To achieve the pale complexion, the actors were reported required to hang upside down during makeup which in total took up to three and a half hours.

Shikoku (1999)

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Shikoku means ‘four providences’ or ‘four countries’ in Japanese and is where the film is set. Additionally, when the kanji (Japanese character) used is altered, it also means ‘the land of the dead’ and it is this idea that the film focusses on. The film starts with a ceremony similar to a séance in which a young girl is possessed and channels the spirit of a dead boy, indicating what is to occur later in the film. The film then goes on to show a close friendship group between the girl from the previous scene, who we find out is named Sayori and two other children, a girl named Hinako and a boy named Fumiya. But the friendship group is not to last as Hinako and her family move to Tokyo.

The film then moves forward to present day (well 1999) and follows Hinako (Yui Natsukawa) returning to the small rural town in Shikoku where she discovers her childhood friend Sayori had drowned sixteen years ago. Upon bumping into Fumiya (Michitaka Tsutsui), she learns that her friendship with the deceased was not as rosy as she originally thought with much resentment and jealously on the other girls’ part.

The film takes a while to set up the background of the story and the relationships of the characters involved. Along with the three childhood friends, other characters of note are Sayori’s mother and father and Sendo (Makoto Satô), a perpetual pilgrim at the islands 88 temples.

Hinako begins to dream of her deceased schoolmate and notices something strange going on at Sayori’s old house and enlists the help of Fumiya to discover what is going on. They find out that Sayori’s mother, Teruko (Toshie Negishi) has been visiting the temples backwards in a ‘reverse pilgrimage’ every year as part of an attempt to bring her daughter back to life. The pair consult with local paranormal experts who direct them to the creepy old man (C.O.M), Sendo, who realises what Teruko is trying to do. Hinako and Fumiya are too slow to catch the deranged Teruko and following a ceremony at the local ‘no-go’ creepy cave/pond region, complete with an ominous stone obelisk which culminates with Sayori emerging algae covered from a primordial soup.

With the barrier between the land of the dead and the land of the living breached other spirits begin to cross over and the film culminates in a dramatic scene at the gateway to the land of the dead in which the C.O.M along with Hinako and Fumiya try to seal the barrier again.

Sinkoku is a very restrained film, which at the beginning I was worried was not going to get anywhere, but after a slow start I was sucked into. The religious beliefs behind the plot are interesting and the facts needed by the viewer are skilfully and subtly shown to the viewer, rather than spoon fed as in many big Hollywood blockbusters. I would very much recommend this film to anyone looking for a sensitive, clever film but it is not for those looking for a fast paced, shock filled film.