2000s

From Hell (2001)

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From Hell is a film adaptation of a graphic novel by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell of the same name focussing on the real-life Jack the Ripper murders that occurred in London in the 1880s. The Ripper murders have always captured the general public’s imagination, particularly with the fact Jack was never caught and brought to justice. The film follows Inspector Frederick Abberline played by Johnny Depp (Sleepy Hollow, Pirates of the Caribbean) as he attempts to solve the rash of horrendous murders occurring in the Whitechapel district. Abberline uses unorthodox methods to tackle his cases relying on visions he has when ‘chasing the dragon’ to augment more usual methods.

In From Hell Jack the Ripper’s crimes focus on a group of prostitutes, namely Mary Kelly played by Heather Graham (Boogie Nights, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me), and her friends. The group of unfortunate women are being terrorised for “protection money” and think their lives can’t get any worse but when one of their old friends who has found herself a rich man is kidnapped. The worst aspect of From Hell is the terrible accents. I don’t know whose is worse, Depp’s over the top attempt at cockney or Graham’s wooden Irish accent. For a film about gruesome murders, a surprisingly small amount gore is actually shown, however there is a lot of blood thrown around and people reacting to the mutilations. My favourite reaction is that of the medical examiner, who has a very weak stomach for someone in his profession.

At the very basic level, From Hell is a conspiracy film which features the classic cast of characters: the aristocracy, a secret all-powerful society (the Freemasons )as well as the maverick detective who is the only one who has the courage and ability to go against the establishment. In a lot of ways it is very similar to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code set around a series of real historical events.

The film’s origin from the graphic novel is clear in the film and it is easy to imagine stills as frames in a graphic novel. The directors, the Hughes brothers (The Book of Eli) employ the use of scrapbook-esque montages to set the scene which is both an effective means to set the scene and again links to the graphic novel style. The colour palate of the film is very dark with a strong use of red and a sickly, luminous green which adds to the ominous and claustrophobic feeling of the film. Despite this the actual film is far cleaner than realistic for 19th century London.

From Hell does not remain very true to the actual historical events but rather a dark, dramatic romp through Victorian London and a classic whodunit. If you are looking for historical accuracy I wouldn’t recommend this film, however if you are a fan of murder mysteries I think you’ll enjoy this film.

Rating: 4/5

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Fun Fact: Alan Moore, one of the authors of the graphic novel the film is based on did not enjoy this film adaptation of his work as Abberline has been changed significantly. I haven’t read the novel but wonder if any of you have and how does it compare to the film?

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Jennifer’s Body (2009)

jennifers body

Jennifer’s Body is a dark horror comedy narrated by and starring Amanda Seyfried (Mean Girls, Mamma Mia!) as Needy. When we first meet Needy she is locked in a high security mental institution and is clearly several sandwiches short of a picnic but on hearing how she landed in there her attitude is a lot easier to understand.

In the small US town of Devil’s Kettle (named after a waterfall with no bottom) Needy is a quiet nerdy teenage girl. Needy’s best friend is Jennifer, played by Megan Fox (Transformers) and she is the complete opposite, popular, outgoing and a cheerleader. It is very hard to see why the two are friends as they have very little in common and frankly Jennifer is a bitch, this sentiment is shared by Needy’s boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons, The Perks of being a Wallflower) but being a bit wet himself he puts up with it.

Things start to go wrong for the girls when they go to see Low Shoulder play, a “city” indie band trying to make it big. A horrific fire breaks out in the bar killing several townspeople (there appears to be no fire safety measures like fire exits, alarms or extinguishers). The girls manage to escape unharmed but Jennifer leaves with the band who sacrifice her to the devil in order to get fame and fortune. Whilst the ritual goes as expected there is an unforeseen circumstance, because Jennifer was not a virgin she does not die but rather becomes a succubus, a woman who needs to consume human flesh to survive.

The characters in Jennifer’s Body are pretty one dimensional and mostly unlikeable, you don’t find yourself rooting either for or against Jennifer. The difference between Jennifer before and after her transformation isn’t obvious so it is easy to see how nobody but her best friend has noticed. What is less unclear is how she wasn’t caught after the first dead body turned up, surely there were enough DNA/finger prints/teeth impressions to point to her but nobody except Needy even suspects her.

Jennifer’s Body is a pretty entertaining film to watch, especially if you don’t want anything too taxing. The supernatural storyline sets it apart from the usual teen horror film which is inevitably a serial killer (e.g. Scream) but I feel director Karyn Kusama (Girlfight) could have taken it up another level, especially with such a star-studded cast. A lot of the scenes have a really strong visual look, especially the finale in a derelict swimming pool but makes little sense (why is the pool still full of water and not properly decommissioned? How long has it been there is there are now plants growing in the pool?)

Rating: 3/5

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Fun Fact: If you do watch Jennifer’s Body don’t forget to watch the credits to see what happens to Low Shoulder after their foray into the occult…

Gossip (2000)

 

Just a short review today because I have been super busy moving house (and I’ve got a cold).

 

gossip

Whilst not technically a traditional horror film, Gossip has nevertheless earned its place on this blog for not only the subject matter (rape) but because of the worrying fact that it could happen in real life. Gossip tells the story of how a rumour can quickly gain a life of its own and the disastrous consequences it could have.

Three college students, Derrick, Cathy and Travis played by James Marsden (X-Men), Lena Heady (Cersei  Lannister in Game of Thrones) and Norman Reedus (The Walking Dead) respectively decide to make up and trace the track of a rumour for their final psychology project.  When Derrick oversees Beau (Joshua Jackson, Dawson’s Creek) pressurising his girlfriend Naomi (Kate Hudson, The Skeleton Key) into having sex at a party before Naomi passes out and Beau leaves her to sleep it off, the three have the perfect situation to test their theory about gossip. Before long the rumour takes a dark turn and mutates into Beau raping Naomi which he (obviously) denies. The film soon spirals down a dark path with both Beau’s and Naomi’s lives ruined by the rumour as he gets arrested and she has a nervous breakdown. However more interesting than the unfortunate plight of the two lovers is the effect that this rumour has on the trio that began it all of who react in very different ways revealing their true character.

The film has a very interesting and stylistic aesthetic, based in New York everything is dark with no soft corners. What I find most telling is the couch in Derrick’s loft which he shares with Cathy and Travis. The couch is painted (presumably by Travis who has the tortured artist thing down to a tee) with a portrait of the three friends but only Derrick has a mouth, the other two just have blurred regions and it was ultimately Derrick’s idea and it is by his lead that the three let the rumour continue to the dramatic end.

Don’t watch Gossip if you are looking for out-and-out scare fest or gore but if you are in the mood for a thought provoking and slick film then Gossip is right for you.

Rating: 4/5

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Queen of the Damned (2002)

queen of the damned

Queen of the Damned (QOTD) is based on third book of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles and takes some ideas from the second of the chronicles, the first of which, Interview with the Vampire was released in 1994. Unlike Interview however, QOTD is very loosely based on the novel, I would be tempted to say it is rather inspired by than based on them.

The film follows the vampire Lestat as he wakes in current day New Orleans after sleeping for two centuries where he decides to call the rest of the vampire race out of hiding by fronting a death metal band. Lestat is played by Stuart Townsend (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) who spends a lot of time topless in leather trousers. Through the film we learn the story of how Lestat was turned into a vampire by Marius (Vincent Perez, Cyrano de Bergerac) who as well as being a talented painter is the guardian of Enkil and Akasha the king and queen of the damned, the first vampires who ruled over ancient Egypt and are now ‘living’ statues.

It is not only the attention of vampires that Lestat has attracted but also the Talamasca, a secret cult that monitors supernatural activity, in particular that of apprentice Jesse played by  Marguerite Moreau (Runaway Jury). The film climaxes at Lestat’s concert in Death Valley, where a band of disgruntled vampires angry about their secrets being exposed plan to kill Lestat. Against the raging vampires stand Marius and a small band of vampires (who readers of the book may be able to recognise) and Akasha who has arisen and plans to make Lestat her new king. Queen Akasha is played by Aaliyah (Romeo Must Die), a well-known and respected R&B singer who tragically died in a plane crash shortly after filming. Aaliyah’s queen has the sensuous and seductive characteristics of a deadly snake and looks entirely otherworldly in slightly soft focus with glowing golden skin. Although she doesn’t have very many lines or much screen time compared with other characters, she is the undeniable centre of the film.

One of the best parts of QOTD is by far the soundtrack produced by Jonathan Davis (aka JDevil from Korn) and features performances from the likes of the Deftones and Marylin Manson. The songs performed by Lestat are primarily written by Davis and Richard Gibbs (not a Bee Gee) perfectly capture the darkness and anguish of the two centuries Lestat has felt wondering alone.  The accompanying music videos are highly influenced by early 20th century German expressionism (e.g. Der Golem) and particularly Nosferatu which adds to the gothic atmosphere. Indeed the whole film is very dark, partially due to the fact that most of the action takes place at night, but even the daytime scenes are lacking in bright colours except red, which subconsciously links to the vampires need for blood. The special effects of the vampires are well done, I particularly like the reflections of their eyes like that of an animal at night which hints at their supernatural nature.

I enjoy QOTD but not if I try and compare it to the book, or even the Interview film. It is a pretty quick paced film (it’s only 101 minutes long) with plenty of action and a great soundtrack but it has none of the depth and brooding gothic darkness of the books. Another issue with the film compared to the book is it wipes out any homosexual undertones (and some pretty blatant storylines) which I feel is completely unnecessary in this century.

Rating: 3/5

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Komodo vs. Cobra (2005)

Komodo vs Cobra

I don’t really know where to start with Komodo vs. Cobra, otherwise known as KvC, it is the B-movie a film of that title promises to be. The film opens on the survivors of a US scientific base on an island in the South Pacific running for their lives from a giant Komodo dragon of their creation, unfortunately two don’t make it but their companions escape to a picturesque waterfall only for their other creation, a giant cobra to spring up from the stream and swiftly consume the lead scientist leaving only his (very attractive) daughter.

After the scientists miss their daily check-in, the US military investigate and decide to go with the most “sensible” plan of blowing up the island and all the creatures on it, including any civilians such as the unfortunate news-crew-come-animal rights protestors that have illegally landed on the island to expose the “evil science” (more fool them!). The crew comprises of three environmentalists, a C-list celebrity who has fallen in love with one of the protestors and a TV reporter and her camera man, none of whom are very convincing in their roles. Along with the crew there is the incredibly macho captain Mike Stoddard, played by Michael Paré (The Virgin Suicides, Street of Fire) who is not only able to drive them all to the island but a capable helicopter pilot in possession of an amazing gun that never needs reloading firing well over 15 shots at a time at the giant monsters even though they never do any damage. Pretty soon they all realise that they need to get off the island before the government close down (aka blow up) the island project but the only way is through an island infested with giant komodo dragons and cobras (yes, there are more than one of each!)

Two things that made me really angry with KvC were the “science” and the logic behind it. Apart from the limitless ammo in Stoddard’s gun, at the start we are told that by not moving the Komodo dragon won’t see you and you can escape (think T-Rex in Jurassic Park), however at the end when one inconveniently appears between the survivors and the helicopter, we are told that it is drawn to the helicopter as it smells like humans, if this is the case, surely it would be able to smell you even if you are stationary and eat you?! The reasoning behind creating the giant beasts is dubious, the US military funding the project wants to use the “growth matrix” developed to increase crop production in two randomly picked animals (it could easily have been Hamster vs. Robin) in order to gain a vaccine to use on troops to protect them from human diseases. This makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, why do the animals need to be giant to do this? Clearly the outcome is going to be giant animals you can’t control. Also, I doubt the DNA matrix created for plants (which we still don’t know the long term impact of) would so readily be applicable to animals.

The budget for the film was clearly all spent on the aerial shots and location in the South Pacific, leaving very little for the (arguably very important) CG of the giant animals. What little plot there is in the film is almost identical to Director and Writer Jim Wynorski’s previous film, Curse of the Komodo, also featuring giant Komodo dragons. The dialogue and acting in KvC is predictable and stunted leaving me questioning why would anyone say that? Rather than helping the film progress.

Whilst the film closes on the battle we are all watching the film for, which is better a Komodo dragon or a Cobra, we never receive a definitive answer, so bets are still on for the inevitable sequel!

Rating: I can’t decide if it is so bad it is good so I’m plumping for an average score of 2/5

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Martyrs (2008)

Martyrs

Martyrs is essentially a film with three acts centred around two young women, Lucie and Anna, played by Mylène Jampanoï (Hereafter, The Chinese Botanist’s Daughters ) and Morjana Alaoui (Rock the Casbah, Special Forces) respectively. The film opens with a young Lucie’s  escape from an abandoned warehouse where she is being abused. Put into a children’s home, Lucie refuses to communicate with the authorities but forms a close an enduring friendship with her roommate, Anna. The film then skips forwards fifteen years where we see Lucie break into an ordinary family’s home and kill them all with a shot gun, however the pile of corpses are not Lucie’s only problem, she is plagued by an emaciated, scarred woman (think Gollum but way more scary) who attacks her repeatedly. Needing help, she calls her life-long friend Anna who rushes to her aid, cleaning her wounds and disposing of the bodies. It turns out that the family was not as ordinary as on first appearances and Lucie is sure the parents are the people who kidnapped and tortured her fifteen years previously. This is essentially the first act dealing with the ramifications of Lucie’s actions and the mysterious woman, ghost, monster or in Lucie’s psyche.

The catalyst of the second act is Anna’s discovery that the mother is still alive and the deterioration of Lucie’s behaviour and focusses more on the relationship between the two girls. Anna begins to doubt that the parents are those responsible for Lucie’s torture, after all it has been fifteen years and she only had a newspaper clipping to go on. Discovering Anna’s doubts, Lucie brutally kills the mother with a sledge hammer in graphic details, the most unnerving and effective part is the dull thuds as the hammer lands in the woman’s skull before killing herself. Anna is distraught but the next morning, thanks to large chunks taken out of the wall by Lucie’s sledge hammer, discovers an underground complex with the same chair-chains-bucket combination from Lucie’s past. What I didn’t understand was the size and professional look of this chamber, for example it went not just one but two storeys underground and featured poster-sized illuminated photos of people close to death in extreme circumstances. Surely anything of this size and quality would have cost a fortune and required a serious team of builders.

The third and final part of the film I’m not going to ruin the surprise here, but it is a cracker of an ending that I didn’t see coming. It takes the film from an average psychological thriller to the next level. Whilst at the start Martyrs reminded me strongly of another French film released at the same time, Switchblade Romance (released in the US as High Tension),writer and director Pascal Laugier (The Tall Man, House of Voices) pushes the idea to its limits, ramping the tension throughout the film. I think Martyrs is an excellent, if not necessarily enjoyable film that will stay with me for a long time.

Rating: 5/5 (although very different from the last film, The Bat, which also got full marks!)

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Battle Royale (2000)

Battle-Royale

Set in an alternate and gritty Japan where in order to quell the uprising of ‘The Youths’ a random class is picked to undergo the titled Battle Royale. The film starts with a horde of reporters swarming round that year’s winner, a small girl in a pink, gore-splattered dress possessing the blood-curdling  and unhinged smile. We then move onto this year’s chosen class (although they don’t know it yet), a middle school class of 42 students and their teacher Kitano, played by Takeshi Kitano (Kikujiro, Brother). After trouble with the class, including being stabbed by one of the more troubled students, we see the students messing about on the coach on a compulsory school trip. However the students never arrive at their destination, rather they are drugged and wake up in an abandoned school with electronic collars on and two new ominously silent ‘exchange pupils’.

When they have all recovered from the effects of the sleeping gas, Kitano accompanied by a squad of soldiers appears to explain what is going on with the aid of an incredibly peppy video the plan of Battle Royale. From the students’ reaction, it doesn’t seem like they have even heard of it before let alone that it was the big deal in order to keep The Youth in order that it was supposed to be. The outcome is that they must battle one another until there is only one left standing using the weapons provided in the packs, which could be anything ranging from machine guns and bow and arrows to poison to a tracking device right through to a pan lid. To make things more complicated, the island is split into zones and every hour a new zone becomes a danger zone which automatically catch any unsuspecting pupils caught in that zone.

After proving that, it is indeed a matter of life and death (to a few unfortunate students) the class disperses around the abandoned island. With a class of so many, Director Kinji Fukasaku (Tora! Tora! Tora, Day of Resurrection), does a good job of showing all the deaths, many of which it would have been easy to overlook. Inevitably though, we end up focussing on two students, Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara, Death Note), a sensitive boy who is coming to terms with his father’s suicide, and Noriko Nakagawa (Aki Maeda, The Cat Returns) the teacher’s pet.

Battle Royale is an extremely imaginative and well thought out film. The range of deaths, from suicide to the hunting mentality to the paranoia between a group of friends is impressive and imaginative and the psychological effect of the task at hand on the teenagers, presenting the many different facets of human reaction is a real joy to watch. It is no surprise that Battle Royale  is one of the highest grossing films in Japan and has influenced so many films and TV shows including Kill Bill and Lost and most notably the hugely popular The Hunger Games in which the parallels are as glaring as some of the outfits.

Rating: 5/5

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Fun Fact: Battle Royale is based on the novel of the same name by Koushun Takami published a year earlier. It has also been adapted into a manga series. If anyone has read either of these, I’d love to heartheir views on them!