Thriller

From Hell (2001)

from hell

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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Nine Dead (2010)

nine-dead

Nine Dead has a fairly simple premise; nine strangers are put in a room and one is killed at random every ten minutes until they figure out how they are connected. The strangers are from all walks of life, from a catholic priest to a strip club owning loan shark via a Chinese shop owner who doesn’t speak English and a slimey paedophile. It also includes a feisty district attorney played by Melissa Joan Hart aka Sabrina the teenage witch and her ex, a cop played by William Lee Scott (The Butterfly Effect). For strangers who have been kidnapped over the course of several days they are remarkably clean and well looked after and not particularly panicked about being held hostage. The main issue I have with the film however is the reaction of the hostages. Instead of trying to find out the connection, most of them spend the time complaining and moaning about each other.

Nine Dead is Chris Shadley’s first feature film as director and I think it shows, there was much more that could be developed in the film, particularly the back stories of the patients. There is some uses of flashbacks to explain the connection, but they could have been utilised more thoroughly in fleshing out the characters and building up tension. However, the plot and particularly the connection between the hostages was very good, I didn’t work it out until right at the end.

As with all similar films there is a twist at the end, however in this film I really didn’t like it; the twist didn’t fit with the rest of the story and whilst it was “explained” I feel it was only included because the writer felt that a twist was required. I think it would have been a much better film if the twist-time was spent bulking out the back stories and improving the tension in the room.

Nine Dead is an average watch that is neither particularly gory or frightening but does entertain for the duration of the film. I would recommend it to fans of the Saw films who have run out of similar films to watch.

This is quite a short review as there isn’t really much to say about it – it is neither good nor bad and generally quite forgettable.

Rating: 3/5

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Ravenous (1999)

ravenous

I picked Ravenous to review based on three facts, 1 – the cover of the dvd, 2 – the decade it was made, I have done several post-millennial films recently (although as it was released in 1999 it only just fell into the category) and 3 – I hadn’t done a film about cannibals since Cannibal Holocaust back in July. Given these reasons for choosing it, it is needless to say that I didn’t really know anything about the film or what to expect before viewing.

Ravenous is set in California in the mid nineteenth century following Captain John Boyd, played by a rather stoic Guy Pearce (Momento, The Hurt Locker) on his new post at Fort Spencer, a remote outpost in the mountains. The film opens at Captain Boyd’s promotion ceremony where he has gained his promotion due to singlehandedly capturing a Mexican command camp in the Mexican-American war. However, in a series of flashbacks, we learn that Boyd managed to survive the massacre of his entire regiment by pretending to be dead. This act of cowardice is known by the General and hence his promotion has also earned him a ticket to the most remote outpost, the aforementioned Fort Spencer. As a portent of what is to come, the new Captain is served a very undercooked steak for lunch which along with the memories of the act that earned him the promotion, causes him to rapidly lose his lunch.

On arrival in Fort Spencer, Boyd meets an assortment of outcasts including affable but inept Colonel Hart (Jeffrey Jones, Sleepy Hollow), drunkard Major Knox (Stephen Spinella, Milk), a collection of Privates each more hopeless than the last and two Native Americans who lived there when the fort was founded.  Shortly after Boyd’s arrival at the fort they find a half-dead man outside the walls. It turns out that the stranger is a man named Colqhoun, played by Robert Carlyle (28 Weeks Later) who was on his way through the mountains with a wagon train that got snowed in after trying a short cut. In the three months that they were trapped, Colqhoun and the others in the wagon train were forced to eat whatever was available, starting with the horse and oxen and culminating in human flesh. The story Colqhoun tells is a chilling one that really could have occurred in those times. It transpires that, through an act of cowardice of his own, Colqhoun has left the only woman in the party (50% of the female characters in the film) alone with the maniacal Colonel Ives. It is the duty of the soldiers at the fort to head into the mountains to rescue the lost travellers.

On arriving at the cave where the unfortunate travellers sought shelter it transpires that Colqhoun is in fact Ives and has lured them up there to replenish his supply of human meat. In the ensuing fight, Colqhoun manages to overpower and kill the soldiers except for Boyd who jumps off a cliff, landing in a ditch with a broken leg. Although Colqhoun searches for Boyd he is unable to find him and Boyd survives by eating the flesh of his dead comrade. The plot thickens as upon returning to the camp after an undisclosed period of time the replacement for Colonel Hart arrives and it is none other than Ives, a.k.a. the cannibalistic Colqhoun! Only Boyd knows this (as the others did not meet Ives in his previous incarnation) and things go steadily downhill for the Boyd and the fort. Will Boyd succumb to the flesh hunger or will he stop Ives before he destroys the whole fort?

There are no ‘perfect’ characters or heroes in the film, which makes a refreshing change, Boyd is plagued by cowardice and the rest of the men at the fort from afflictions ranging from anger issues to alcoholism. There are a number of well-known actors in Ravenous, all of which do a good job portraying their various character and their flaws. I found Carlyle’s portrayal of both Colqhoun and Ives to be amongst the best with the slightly deranged look of a man on the edge in evidence in the lost traveller which turns to sociopathic egomania in Ives.

Ravenous is based on the Native American myth of the Wendigo, that if a man consumes another’s flesh he takes their strength but is cursed to hunger for human flesh. It is an interesting idea, normally cannibals are portrayed as less civilised, either a remote forest tribe (e.g. Cannibal Holocaust) or inbred hillbillies (e.g. The Hills Have Eyes and Wrong Turn). I think the idea that anyone, through circumstances out of their control could become a cannibalistic monster is far more disturbing than less “developed” (for lack of a better word) cannibals.

I would recommend Ravenous to as a film for anyone to watch (as long as they aren’t too squeamish about cannibalism). The main downside to the film is the lack of female characters, there are only two in the whole film and they are in very, very minor roles.

Rating: 4/5 (It lost one mark due to the lack of female characters)

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Gossip (2000)

 

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

 

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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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Priest (2011)

priest-movie

Whilst this is my second vampire film in a row it is as different from Queen of the Damned as Stilton and Feta cheese (I’m not quite sure which is which in this analogy). Priest is loosely based on a Korean comic, Manhwa (Korean for Priest) by Hyung Min-woo, it is set in a dystopic future where humans have finally defeated vampires, a war that has been going on for centuries. Following the victory over vampires, human civilisation is ruled by The Church a twisted take on today’s Catholic church complete with confession booths, which were very reminiscent of the dodgy portaloos you find at music festivals. The film follows Priest, played by Paul Bettany (A Beautiful Mind), one of the warrior priests that were instrumental in defeating the vampires. However, Priest along with the rest of his warrior companions was cast aside after the war back into the general population.

The plot is a simple one, Priest’s brother and his family are violently attacked by a group of vampires who kidnap his niece, Lucy played by Lily Colins (The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones and coincidently Phil Colin’s daughter). On hearing this news, Priest seeks permission from The Church to go and hunt for Lucy but is refused. Priest sets out anyway and in doing so becomes a fugitive who is pursued by fellow warrior priests. Upon arriving at his brother’s home, Priest is joined by the local law enforcer (and Lucy’s paramour), Hicks, played by Cam Gigandet (Pandorum), complete with “witty” one-liners.

I would be hesitant to call the vampires in Priest vampires, they are not like your “usual” vampire (e.g Interview with the Vampire, Vampyr and Captain Kronos) rather they are more akin to Alien, lacking all facial features except a very large mouth. These vampires are a completely separate race (as opposed to humans turned into vampires) and whilst humanoid lack all human characteristics making it very hard to relate to them. Indeed their very society is more similar to that of ants than humans, living in a hive each with its own queen.

More alien than vampire?

More alien than vampire?

In director Scott Stewart’s (Sin City, Dark Skies) vision is clear to see the inspiration from a graphic novel, indeed the opening of the film is an animated history of the vampire war. There was the sense of some greater depth to the film bubbling under the surface which was unfortunately left untapped and I was left feeling the plot was very light and an excuse for some set action pieces. Perhaps if I was more familiar with the original manga I would have been aware of some more subtly but to me Priest felt very one dimensional.

I would recommend Priest only if you are a fan of action films and don’t want to think too much about a plot.

Rating: 2/5

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Has anyone read the manga? Does it give more insight into the film or are they completely different?

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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The Bat (1959)


the bat

Set primarily in “The Oaks”, a large mansion rented by murder mystery author Cornelia Van Gorder played by Agnes Moorhead (Bewitched, Citizen Kane), The Bat is a quintessential 1950s murder mystery film containing a masked serial killer and a million stolen dollars hidden somewhere in the house. When arriving in the small town, Cornelia learns that a masked serial killer known as the eponymous “Bat” a faceless man who kills women by ripping their throats out with steel claws and unfortunately for her, the crimes were committed in and around The Oaks. Cornelia is undeterred and stays in the house, however she loses all of her servants except her faithful maid, Lizzy, played by Lenita Lane (The Gay Deception – I wonder what that is about!?). The relationship between Lizzy and Miss Cordy as she calls Cornelia is very close and more like an old married couple than employee/employer, indeed when scared there is much clutching of one another and sharing the bedroom.

On a routine visit to the bank we are introduced to the remaining characters in the play including Victor and Dale Bailey, the vice president of the bank and his wife, played by Mike Steele (The Rockford Files) and Elaine Edwards (Curse of the Faceless Man) respectively and Lieutenant Andy Anderson (Gavin Gordon, The Bride of Frankenstein), the local law enforcer. In this unfortunate scene we learn that the president of the bank and owner of The Oaks has stolen $1 million (over $8 million in today’s money) and has headed off to the forest with Doctor Malcolm Wells, played by horror aficionado Vincent Price (House of Wax). Victor Bailey informs Anderson of this not in a private office but in the middle of the bank separated from the rest of the office by a hip-high wall, this strikes me a very silly as surely people would overhear and start a riot on the bank? Only Dr Wells returns from the forest alive and soon the serial killer is back to his old tricks, searching the house for the missing money and killing anyone who gets in his way.

There is a decent stream of dead bodies and mystery with several curve balls thrown in as to the identity of the killer. Indeed, it kept me guessing and changing my mind as to who I thought it was. I also liked the portrayal of women in the film, it definitely passes the Bechdel Test, that is; 1. It has to have at least two [named] women in it who talk to each other about something besides a man. Unlike many films the killer is fallible, making a huge racket and alerting people when looking for the money, but equally The Bat is not inept. One thing that did irritate me about The Bat though was the method for killing, the steel claws are incredibly impractical and whilst it makes an effective silhouette, a faceless man in a suit and hat with these giant curved claws I feel it would have restricted a lot of his movement. Although there are a lot of murders in the film there is not a single drop of blood on screen, indeed in one of the cases I wasn’t sure if the victim had been killed or just knocked unconscious! I would recommend The Bat to any fan of murder mysteries.

Rating: 5/5

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Fun Fact: This 1959 offering is not the first time The Bat has been on screen, in fact it is based on a 1920 Broadway play and had been adapted into a film of the same name in 1926 and as The Bat Whisperers in 1930.