EX MACHINA (2015)recommended! Dir: Alex Garland (Writer of: 28 DAYS LATER, SUNSHINE, DREDD and THE BEACH)
Fantastic indy sci-fi about Articial Intelligence reaching the "Singularity" (self-aware sentience.) Not a horror film, but certainly unsettling and filled with a host of horrific moments. EX MACHINA follows in the lineage of Dean Koontz' PROTEUS aka: DEMON SEED (see review), Philip K. Dick/Ridley Scott's BLADRUNNER, James Cameron's THE TERMINATOR, Mamoru Oshii's GHOST IN THE SHELL (see review), Kubrick/Spielberg's A.I., The Sci-Fi Channel's: BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and especially Stanislaw Lem's SOLARIS (specifically, the 2002 Steven Soderberg remake of the 1972 Andrei Tarkovsky classic.)
...and by the way, it's pronounced: Ecks Mawk-ee-naw
Full review coiming soon...
GHOST IN THE SHELL (1995) / EX MACHINA (2015)
GHOST IN THE SHELL (1995) / EX MACHINA (2015)
"Such a vast network- where shall the newborn go?"
BLADERUNNER (1982) / A.I. (2001) / EX MACHINA (2015)
GHOST IN THE SHELL (1995) / TERMINATOR:SALVATION (2009) / EX MACHINA (2015)
BLADERUNNER (1983) / A.I. (2001) / EX MACHINA (2015)
BLADERUNNER (1983) / A.I. (2001) / EX MACHINA (2015)
"Fiery the angels rose..." Birth of the new proletariat under-class
Playing God: Creation imitating Life, imitating Creation...
BUG (2006)recommended! Dir: William Friedkin (THE EXORCIST, THE FRENCH CONNECTION, TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A., RULES OF ENGAGEMENT)
Outstanding! Unbelievable performance by Ashley Judd. (Not to be confused with the 1978 feature by the same name) Similar to INTRUDERS (see below) shared co-dependency between two individuals manifests into physical consequences. Not for the feint of heart, this adaption of the stage play of the same name, takes place in a singular and very insular location with only a handful of characters.
Agnes (Judd) is a mother in a two-bit nowhere town just getting by as a waitress and is in perpetual grief over the loss of her child. After meeting a very strange and ill-adjusted young man named Peter (Michael Shannon), the two begin a bizarre romance based on their mutually unhealthy need to be understood. Peter is tortured by these microscopic "bugs" that he claims have infested him, although no one seems able to see them but him. Soon after, Agnes begins feeling the bugs too. As Peter's paranoid schizophrenia becomes more and more obvious, Agnes sinks into further and further denial. Rather than chance losing this rare human connection she seems to have made, Agnes spirals into lost co-delusion with Peter until they decide the only way to be free is to self immolate, which they do.
The film is an obvious study in co-dependence and mental health, but it is the nuances and the intense interplay of Judd, Shannon and Harry Conick, Jr. (as Agnes' abusive and controlling ex-boyfriend) that drives the stark humanity of the story so powerfully. Certainly the actors performances are what make the film, as well as Friedkin's direction.
EUROPA REPORT (2013)recommended! Dir: Sebastián Cordero (CRONICAS, RATAS-RATONES-RATEROS) Low budget but very engaging Sci-Fi salute to all things science. It begins with an actual clip of astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, PhD explaining how Europa (one of Jupiter's moons) is probably the closest to Earth in terms of life hosting environments and has vast oceans beneath a covering of ice. "I want to send a probe there, drill down in the ice, stick a camera down in the water and see what swims up to say hello..." explains Tyson. The rest of the movie is about an international team of astronauts who do exactly that.
What the team finds and the way they go about their discoveries underscores the often harsh realities of Scientific pursuits and the specialists who dedicate their lives to such quests. The passion, risk, sacrifice, terror and wonder that inevitably flow from such endeavors are all center stage. Although the ending is knowingly a bit implausible, it serves as a final "what if?" to what is essentially a film about possibilities.
ZEDER (1983)recommended! Dir: Pupi Avati (THE HOUSE OF THE LAUGHING WINDOWS, UNA GITA SCOLASTICA, I CAVALIERI CHE FECERO I'MPRESA)
Great Italian entry that is part "Giallo" (mystery-thriller) and "Euro-shock" horror. When a writer transcribes words from a used typewriter ink ribbon, he unleashes a mystery about scientists who've discovered a way to cheat death. There are some terrific Fulci-esque visual scares that are nicely restrained although none-the-less ghoulish. The mystery aspect of the story was ever engaging, but it was the conceptual backstory about finding geographic locations where time and space reach a "zero-point" that I found most intriguing. Great set-up for a horror mystery tale.
I really liked the way the ZEDER narrative unfolded. It didn't withhold its secrets too much or for too long like so many films nowadays, yet it still kept us guessing the whole way. The concept material was good without being too hokey. I guess "well contoured" was the overall sense I got from the narrative. Great Goblin-esque score as well.
DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014)recommended! Dir: Matt Reeves (LET ME IN, CLOVERFIELD)
Fantastic post-apocalyptic Sci-Fi tale about evolved apes who match wits against humans for domination of the Earth. Will either species' "humanity" allow for peaceful coexistence, or is war inevitable? Amazing motion-capture acting performance by Andy Serkis as "Caesar" the embattled leader of the apes. Gary Oldman co-stars.
Although this is not really horror, there are many of the same themes at work here as the current zeitgeist of "zombie" horror that has saturated our culture. The post-apocalyptic survivor milieu is at an all time high in sci-fi/horror at present, but I felt that this film had a lot to offer. Issues of scientific hubris (SPLICE) as well as general species evolution (BATTLESTAR: GALACTICA) touch on our current fears about the future. What role does the human race really play in the scheme of things? Where do our world-views and our practical ethics fall in the shadow of these questions?
THE CHANGELING (1980)recommended! Dir: Peter Medak (PONTIAC MOON, SPECIES ll, ROMEO IS BLEEDING, LET HIM HAVE IT, THE RULING CLASS)
Again I find myself refreshed by all things Pre-Mid-Eighties. George C. Scott stars in this ("older-skool") spooky haunted house thriller with some genuine scares. A haunted house tale where the occupant of the house is actually smart and not an idiot. John Russell is a composer who needs a getaway location to revive his work after the loss of his wife. Soon after moving in to an old historic property, he begins hearing voices and unsettling noises. Eventually there's a seance and experts who come to test for poltergeists and a budding romance with the real estate woman Claire, who represents the property. Slowly, John and Claire get caught up in solving the mystery of the (you guessed it) un-avenged ghosts and the old house.
Although well worn motifs now, this 1980 feature pre-dates many of the films that have made these motifs cliche by today's standards. Finding his way to an attic stairway, John finds an old hidden room where it looks like someone was once confined. Here again is a plot element that has been used and abused for generations, yet this film seems to keep it fresh, mostly due to Scott's earnest performance. An old wooden wheelchair is found and later goes on a rampage, chasing Claire down the stairs in one of the films' most memorable and truly creepy sequences!
Unlike other ghost stories (POLTERGEIST, THE WOMAN IN BLACK) it is never quite clear if the ghosts are dangerous or benevolent. The compassion on the part of John and his willingness to solve the mystery of the house gives the story a decisive moral center. A bit like JANE EYRE or GREAT EXPECTATIONS, the house burns itself down after John and Claire solve the tragic family mystery of the unavenged ghosts. Stylishly produced and executed and sprinkled with a good amount of spooky thrills, if not completely original in concept.
INTRUDERS (2011) Dir: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (28 WEEKS LATER, INTACTO)
Very well done, particularly the cinematography by Enrique Chediak (28 WEEKS LATER, TURISTAS) and the acting performances of Clive Owen and Ella Purnell, and an amzing score by Roque Banos. Although the entirety of the film kind of falls anonymously into the current sea of modern horror, I found the thematic subject rather engaging. There are so many horror films out there now about identity and perception, however, there is a maturity in the storytelling of INTRUDERS that stands out amongst its contemporaries. (see: HIDE AND SEEK, THE MACHINIST, IDENTITY, SHUTTER ISLAND, NINE MILES DOWN, 100 FEET, THE UNINVITED, REQUIEM, HEAD TRAUMA, FIGHT CLUB, THE TENANT, HIGH TENSION) The treatment of the story also never quite lets us know what is real and what is not, leaving us to experience the same conundrum as the films' characters.
Rather than having a literal slasher, alien, demon or ghost figure running around, or having one that is figurative and not real, this films' antagonist "Hollowface" is both at once. Here is an interesting theme about imagination manifesting into real causation and these pseudo-realities being shared between parent and child. It felt as though INTRUDERS was both a metaphor and a creature-feature at the same time. Although I was not sure which was which, the ending resolution amounts to the same solution. It's as if the story is telling us that it doesn't matter if fears are real or imagined, they must be faced on their own terms regardless. Un-settled, yet interesting stuff.
DELIVER US FROM EVIL (2014) Dir: Scott Derrickson (SINISTER, THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE)
Eric Banna is terrific in this thriller about an ancient curse unleashed in modern New York City. Very much an update on William Friedkin's THE EXORCIST(1973), this film tries to meditate on some of the same themes as that classic, but in updated form.
An ancient evil discovered by Gulf War soldiers haunts and slowly destroys those who returned State-side with the curse. A veteran cop (Banna) and a gruff, drinking and smoking ex-Priest begin investigating a host of ghoulish happenings, ultimately culminating in an exorcism. The priest character is a follow up on the Father Karras character from the Friedkin film. A tortured and imperfect man, he has seen and knows evil and from this he has galvanized his faith. He tutors Banna's character on such elements of faith. Here was the real heart of the film. There are some great dialogue moments between the two men as each searches his own soul in the face of true evil. Although the film was well crafted and had some insightful moral commentary, the ending was kind of a big so-what in light of all the other exorcism movies we've grown accustomed to.
THE DEVIL INSIDE (2012) Dir: William Brent Bell (STAY ALIVE)
Another "caught on tape" docu-verite video feature about a film crew following a young woman to meet her supposedly "possessed" mother. The mother is housed in an asylum and after some freaky goings-on the two priests hosting the trip become convinced its a real possession. The old theme of "is it real or only if you think it is real is it real?" which mostly just serves as a mystery element to keep us guessing. Ethical confusion ensues as the group tries to free stage an exorcism on the demonic mom, only to unleash the evil on the world. Soon there's a bit of a Zombie-film motif as the plague/virus/demons/whatever starts spreading. Sure enough the daughter becomes possessed. Struggling to contain the possession, the priests flee the law and everyone else only to die in a not-so-coincidental crash and the end sets us up for a sequel.
There is emphasis on the nature of possession in that, the girls' life was already consumed by the tragedy of the mother so its as if she was already gone. Also there's a dynamic of being "outside" the world while still in the world. These tragic characters live with knowledge and circumstances affected by the supernatural and they are on their own to suffer them. I found the film well acted and put together but was essentially a lot of the same exorcism stuff we're all used to seeing these days (PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, THE FOURTH KIND, THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE, THE LAST EXORCISM, DELIVER US FROM EVIL (see above) and of course, THE EXORCIST.) I have no real complaints other than the fact that a few days after viewing I forgot I ever saw it.
THE LORDS OF SALEM (2012) Dir: Rob Zombie (HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, THE DEVIL'S REJECTS)
In my view, Rob Zombie's first legitimate horror film and best film effort yet. Another love note to John Carpenter (THE FOG) but turns full-tilt Ken Russell (THE DEVILS (see review), LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM, ALTERED STATES) in its final act. Stunning Technicolor visuals as usual. The film definitely riffs on (pays homage to) CITY OF THE DEAD (1960) (see review) among others, particularly in its flashback scenes of 19th century witches being executed.
Dee Wallace is wonderful as one of three elder witches living in present day Salem, with a healthy speckling of humor to go with the horrific reality the witches present. There is a mood and tone of David Lynch as well in parts. As Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie) becomes transfixed by a door at the end of a shadowy hallway, I was immediately reminded of LOST HIGHWAY and BLUE VELVET. It is in the ending "trip out" sequence that Zombie goes all music-video with his filmmaking (and a bit more Lynch as well) although I actually found this the best part of the film.
Overall, I found this entry to be a bit more conventional than Zombie's previous works, which I found refreshing. Gone are the ghoulish, over-the-top, anti-hero motifs- in favor of a more conservative, classical horror tale. The musical score is also properly understated and effective.
See my reviews of Zombie's THE DEVIL'S REJECTS (here) and his remake of HALLOWEEN (here).
THE DINOSAUR PROJECT (2012) Dir: Sid Bennett
Yet another video-docu-verite "found footage" feature. This time we're off to find lost dinosaurs in a secret jungle. I love this kind of thing and there was actually a clever set up for it. A famous explorer and his scientist partner take a crew (and some stow-away kids) into dangerous and unexplored wilderness to look for un-documented animals. Turns out- its dinosaurs! After their plane is taken down by Pterodactyls, the group begins a survival quest, following ancient tribal lore and their nifty modern technology straight to the heart of a "lost world." Of course, none of this is new, but the found-footage angle allowed for some clever CGI work-arounds for the Dino-effects. There is also an interesting ethical dilemma that breaks out between the two scientists and some commentary on Scientific hubris and the failings of the human ego. In the end, this was a pretty entertaining flick for the pre-teen set of sci-fi up-and-comers that I couldn't hate :-)
GRAVE ENCOUNTERS (2011) Dir: Colin Minihan & Stuart Ortiz
Similar to Vincento Natali's CUBE or the H.P. Lovecraft short story (the title of which I can never remember...) A group of TV producers and actors who produce a show about haunted places named "Grave Encounters" investigate a supposedly haunted old asylum for one night. After filming their episode and joking about how fake it is and actually all an act for TV, the group hunkers down till morning. Unfortunately, when it is time to go, the front door no longer seems to lead to the outside, but rather, into a hallway that stretches back into the complex. Freaky and unexplainable, the group endeavors to find a way out, but to no avail. Becoming tired and hungry, they return to their base camp to discover their food and resources spoiled and aged. Apparently, time isn't what they thought it was either. The group now accepts that there is in fact, something evil about the place. Members slowly begin disappearing as their camera gear and recording devices pick up all sorts of supernatural oddities. Eventually, the remaining members starve to death. Although the story takes place over many days, when the maintenance crew finally arrives to unlock the doors, it is merely the next morning and the group is nowhere to be found.
Although the "caught on video" angle seems tired and the snarky TV types predictable, the plot twist and concept of the ever-changing location are quite compelling.
CARRIE (2013) Dir: Kimberly Pierce (BOYS DON'T CRY, THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED)
Disappointing fail. I don't mind classic tales being retold for new generations, I think there is a place for that, but only if the central, core ideas that made the classic a classic remain at the core. This film is an example of filmmakers taking a celebrated work and keeping only the exterior details while changing the heart of the piece. Especially disappointing was the fact that Lawrence D. Cohen, who wrote the screenplay for the original Brian DePalma CARRIE(1976) based on the Stephen King novel, also penned this version.
I was very excited to see Julianne Moore reprise the brilliant Piper Laurie role of Mrs. White, Carrie's religiously crazed, powder-keg of a mother. However, with the premise and themes being different in this telling, Moore's character was forsaken in my view. The original CARRIE(1976) is about an isolated and tortured young girl who's repressed energies manifest in clairvoyant powers she cannot control. Her domineering, bible-thumping mother is so obsessed with thoughts of sin and self repression, she creates a tempest of inner conflict that is represented in Carrie's supernatural rage. Here we have commentary on religion and religious world views in confrontation with modernity and individualism. This new CARRIE(2013) swaps all of this for a character study on bullying, female-empowerment and snarky revenge plots. Gone is the tragic, abject Carrie figure at the mercy of family, society and religion (character that gives rise to all the conflicts and themes of the story) and in comes this new, fresh and punky chick who goes on a rampage. The movie wants to glamorize Carrie's revenge exploits and make an anti-hero of her, rather than illuminate the underlying humanity. Unfortunately, anger seems to overtake empathy as the audience driver for this one.
Everything that the DePalma/King film served is completely thrown away in this version, rendering it not only seemingly worthless, but insulting to the legacy of the original. The WB-Network-esque, goth-chick horror sub-genre is tired enough (JENNIFER'S BODY, GINGER SNAPS, THE CRAFT, etc.) but treading on the very worthy classic CARRIE(1976) is going too far. Again, the biggest quandary is trying to figure out what was going on with Cohen and his screenplay here(???) Too bad too, because I thought Pierce's BOYS DON'T CRY was somewhat of a masterpiece of indy film.
EXCISION (2012) Dir: Richard Bates Jr. (SUBURBAN GOTHIC)
Everyone has their limits and I reached mine with this film. Very well made and acted film but offensive, disgusting, pandering and very aware of itself the whole time. Very much a John Waters version of AMERICAN BEAUTY in many ways (In fact, Waters plays a cameo in this film.) Although I appreciate satirical absurdism in horror, this feature pushed the envelope a bit too far in what has become an overused milieu in indy-horror. The punky, anti-social charms that worked in the films of Todd Solandz or Hal Hartley in the 1990's become predictably cumbersome here. Whereas DEADGIRL, MAY, TEETH, GINGER SNAPS and others utilized in-your-face motifs for social critique, EXCISION just made me ill.
I would like to criticize something else about this film. For decades, popular cinema has been accused of perpetuating stereotypes of GLBT (gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and trans-gender) characters as homicidal or given to homicidal tendencies. Although I support artistic expression and free speech, I have to agree that this phenomenon is very much true and seriously past the point of tired. EXCISION presents itself as if it would be in the camp of those who would make such criticisms of other films and yet, it is itself guilty of creating these same cliches. I for one am tired of "murderous lesbians" as a constant in horror (BASIC INSTINCT, JENNIFER"S BODY) or the subconscious repression of gender or sexually-anomalous individuals as motivation for murderous rage (HIGH TENSION.) As much as EXCISION wants to be progressively critical of gender identity and dogma, it manages to create a lot of the same-old-same-old even as it seeks to comment on it.
VAULT OF HORROR (1973) Dir: Roy Ward Baker (THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, SCARS OF DRACULA, ASYLUM, MOON ZERO TWO, FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH, A NIGHT TO REMEMBER) Another anthology brit-horror (Amicus) full of snarky winks and ghoulish twists. Fun but tepid "so what" includes Tom Bakker (BBC's: "Doctor Who") and Denholm Elliott (RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.) A group of men summoned for a business meeting take an elevator down to an unknown floor of a building where a dinner reception is waiting for them. The men do not know why they are there and it soon is revealed each has a secret past. After discovering the elevator is apparently a one-way device, the trapped men struggle to reveal unethical sins of their pasts (each tale is one of the anthology shorts.) In the end, the men realize they are in Hell where they will be doomed to repeat this evening of confessions over and over again forever!
KILLDOZER (1974) Dir: Jerry London
Made for TV movie about a bulldozer that becomes possessed by an alien meteorite and goes on a homicidal rampage. Hysterical fun, the highlights of this goof were the endless shots of the dozer running around on its own, which actually came across not too bad for such a silly concept. There is a cool clash between the dozer and a big crane that reminds one of any "T-Rex vs. Triceratops" sequence from a host of classic monster movies. Nothing stops the possessed dozer until the end- which I don't remember or much care about. I love these old TV thrillers no matter how cheezy. Robert Urich's first TV role!