Knock Knock

US/Chile | 2015 | Directed by Eli Roth

Logline: A married father, alone and working from home, is caught up in a seduction game of two seemingly stranded young women.

As a rule I’m not a fan of Eli Roth’s movies, whether he wrote, directed, or produced, or acted, for that matter (he’s okay in Inglourious Basterds). He annoys me in a similar way to Rob Zombie; both filmmakers champion horror movies, yet they make crap. Actually, that’s not true, they’ve each managed to pull one rabbit out of the hat: House of 1000 Corpses and Hostel: Part II. Now I know both directors have a legion of fans, but I don’t care, they’re both hacks as far as I’m concerned.

Okay, so Roth has now opted for lighter fare, having attempted to deliver what he thought was going to be a kick-arse cannibal gut-cruncher, The Green Inferno, but in reality turned out to be the biggest steaming pile of jungle poo I’ve seen in a long time. Knock Knock is a departure from the kind of horror Roth has made up until now; essentially a black comedy-thriller quietly fashioned after a rarely seen exploitation flick from the 70s called Death Game, which starred Sandra Locke and Colleen Camp. Knock Knock is co-produced and co-scripted with his Chilean friends, who have been collaborating with him for several years now.

In Death Game a businessman, whose family is away on his birthday, picks up two young women. He takes them back to his pad, and they seduce him. Later, they tie up him, humiliate and torture him, trash his home, and murder a delivery boy. In Knock Knock, which gives story credit to the Death Game screenwriters, Anthony Overman and Michael Donald Ross, Keanu Reeves plays Evan, a wealthy DJ-turned-architect, married to a sculptor, whose family has gone to the holiday house on Father’s Day weekend. During a torrential downpour (in California??) two exceptionally pretty young women, Genesis (Lorenza Izzo) and Bel (Ana de Armas), knock on his door, somewhat desperate, as they are soaked and lost, trying to locate a party. 

Evan is a decent bloke, and he offers towels and robes, dries their skimpy clothes, and calls a cab. The girls, however, have a secret agenda. After much suggestive chitchat, and whilst waiting for the cab to arrive, the girls manage to get Evan into DJ mode. Before he can say “Superfunkycalifragisexy” they have shed their robes, and are romping in the bathroom. When Evan tries in vain to get them to leave, they latch onto his cock with their mouths. He was a happily married man with two children, but now it’s gone beyond the point of now return. He can’t help himself.

There’ll be tears before Karen (Ignacia Allamand) and the kids return. But before they get home there is much mischief, manipulation, and mayhem to deal with as young Genesis and Bel cause a mountain of trouble for poor Evan. Yup, ‘cos he let his dick make a decision he will now pay dearly. According to Roth, all men are the same, and one should never, ever trust a couple of minxes at the door.

Knock Knock is so eager to please that it almost trips over itself. Plausibility is thrown out the window early on, as the farce becomes truly farcical (much of Reeves' latter dialogue is cringe-inducing). Most of this rests on Keanu’s performance, which once it hits the hysterical notes becomes something one has to see and hear to believe. Or not believe, as the case may be. One can’t help but wonder if Roth was having a laugh at Reeves’ expense. Surely he was aware at just how incapable Reeves is at delivering the intense dramatics. His casting is the piece that brings this Jenga tower crashing down.

On the other hand, it is the spunky performances of Lorenza Izzo and Ana de Armas, especially Izzo, whose smiling assassin is nicely sustained through the theatrical proceedings, whilst Armas (who came to my attention as the damsel-in-distress in the not-too-shabby giallo Blind Alley from a few years back) plays the ditzy bombshell with aplomb. The young women definitely keep the movie buoyant.

My immediate reaction after watching the movie as Sydney Underground Film Festival’s closing night feature was one of, “Meh!” (I had laughed only once the entire movie, right at movie’s end when Evan tries to delete a compromising video from Facebook, only to accidentally press the Like button). The movie had left an odd taste in my mouth, like I’d been hoodwinked. But now, a few days later, I feel okay about describing Knock Knock as an entertaining disaster, a perverted sex farce masquerading as a thriller, that may just haunt Keanu Reeves for the rest of his life.  

The Human Centipede III (Final Sequence)

US | 2015 | Directed by Tom Six

Logline: The psychopathic warden of a failing prison takes inspiration from a horror movie and has a “human centipede” created surgically using all the inmates.

The most anticipated sequel since Dario Argento announced Mother of Tears (the third part of his Three Mothers trilogy), but only marginally less disappointing than Argento’s disaster, Tom Six’s rip-roaring trilogy of revulsion is finally stitched up (well, not quite, but more on that later). The Human Centipede III is the Final Sequence, and, fittingly, it pushes the boundaries of “good taste” deep into the trough, swirls it around, fishes it out, and flaps it in your face, flinging fecal matter and disgustingness in your eye. But is it actually any good? Well, this depends entirely on your point of view.

The First Sequence was an exercise in grotesque restraint, far more suggestive than explicit, a little like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in tone and execution. The title alone conjured up far worse things than what was actually depicted on screen. Still, it was an experience that few people were prepared to take on, and even some horrorphiles found it unpleasant. But any narrative that involves poor victims being force-fed shit is, well, unpleasant.

Dieter Laser played the insane surgeon with consummate skill. The move became a modern “classic”, did solid business, and secured Six the opportunity to move onto the production of the sequel - Full Sequencein which he stated, “Part 1 was My Little Pony compared with Part 2, and Part 2 is a Disney film compared with what will be in Part 3.” Yes, to the former, no to the latter. 

Tom Six decided in the editing stages of Full Sequence to grade the movie into monochrome (with the exception of fecal splatter), as he thought the black and white effect would make the movie scarier, and ultimately would effectively reflect the intensely dark psychological state of mind of the movie’s protagonist/antagonist Martin (Laurence R. Harvey). With minimal dialogue and maximum grime the result was an expressionist nightmare masterpiece, not too dissimilar to David Lynch's seminal Eraserhead in its Grand Guignol weirdness. It was also a brilliant piece of coal comedy. The dark comic tone of the first movie painted even blacker, with a clever juxtaposition between the two movies (Martin repeatedly watches a DVD of the fictional First Sequence, fetishising it, possessing the evil, and eventually creates his own elaborate monstrosity).

It made sense then that the Final Sequence would take inspiration from the first two movies and continue the fictional/non-fictional stylistic. As such, the Final Sequence begins with the last moments of the Full Sequence (just as Full Sequence begins with the closing scene of First Sequence) being played on video and watched by prison warden Bill Boss (Dieter Laser) and his personal assistant, Dwight Butler (Laurence R. Harvey). The three movies are now “stitched” together!

With the bar raised so high (or low, depending on your sensibilities) and the subsequent immediate cult status of Full Sequence, Six made the decision not to play to fans' assumptions that he would up the gore quota, but instead opted to keep the shit out of sight, and the bloodletting to a minimum. The shock factor is definitely in effect, however, the biggest slap in the face is just how disappointing the movie is. 

Six has attempted a satire on American morality and political correctness (a la John Waters), but the movie simply isn’t very clever in that department. Even Tom Six playing himself only comes across as a self-indulgent gimmick. As a parody of the first two movies I barely spluttered out a chuckle, so as a comedy, the movie fails miserably. Dieter Laser’s bully warden is meant to represent the nadir of human despicability; a deeply sexist, racist, bigot drunkard, who savours dried clitorises from circumcised native African tribeswomen, and enjoys the crumbed testes of a particularly staunch inmate, whom he castrates with pleasure (the movie’s only genuinely horror cringe moment), but – and this is probably the movie’s biggest flaw – much of Boss’s dialogue is unintelligible due to Laser’s thick German accent and his penchant for shouting most of the time. Sure he's completely OTT, but he's no Divine. 

It’s a shame Harvey’s Butler is a shadow compared to his inspired turn as Martin in the trilogy’s middle sequence, whilst Eric Roberts brief appearance, as the State Governor, is completely thankless. Porn star Bree Olsen plays the buxom warden secretary, waddling around in a tight uniform, being humiliated and abused left, right, and centre. I was very surprised she didn’t get her kit torn off by lusty inmates, considering the “offensive” nature of the movie. Robert LaSardo, as the nut-doomed inmate, attempts to have fun, and, in a nod to Paul Morrisey’s Flesh for Frankenstein, he gets to fuck the warden over in gung-ho kidney fashion.

Oh, I'll give props to Six for including The Human Caterpillar! The movie's one true inspired moment. 

Shot like daytime soap, The Human Centipede III might've been more interesting springing out of nowhere as a late night television sitcom about a megalomaniacal, lunatic warden trying to keep his head above (latrine) water in a riotous prison system, instead of having the brilliant shadow of The Human Centipede II shrouded over it. But it was always going to be the difficult third, and perhaps in years to come Final Sequence might be judged less harshly when viewed without the comparisons to the first two parts. I doubt I will change my mind, but, that said, I am interested in watching the “Complete Human Centipede Cut” (all three movies edited together into a four-and-three-quarter hour crawl) that Tom Six intends to release a little further down the track, call me a glutton for punishment. 

Spring

US | 2014 | Directed by Justin Benson & Aaron Moorehead

Logline: An orphaned young American man escapes to Italy and begins a whirlwind romance with a beautiful, mysterious, and elusive woman.

There is so much to love about Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead’s sophomore effort, but it comes at a price. After the brooding science fiction nightmare that was Resolution, one of my favourite horror movies of 2013, and my interview with them revealing their next production, Spring, I was sold immediately. If it was even half-as-good as Resolution it would still be an interesting and compelling movie. Weel, it's maybe three-quarters-good, which is ultimately a shame, because I really, really, wanted to love Spring. I wanted it to be my next Monsters, my next Bellflower, one of those hybrid movies that utterly entranced me.

Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) is not in a good place. His mother, riddled with cancer, passes away in front of him. That night, whilst drinking at the joint he cooks at, he gets into a brief, violent altercation, and is fired. Drunk at home he makes a booty call, but passes out. With a hangover, he takes heed of his colleague’s advice and gets the hell out of dodge. He arrives in Italy and immediately finds himself tailing along with two Poms to picturesque Puglia, on the south coast. They end up bailing, but not before Evan strikes up a conversation with a local, Louise (Nadia Hilker), a sultry brunette with spunk to burn.

Over the next week Evan and Louise get to know each other … but not that much. It’s a classic summer romance, all red wine, ocean breezes, coy propositions and stolen kisses. Evan falls head over heels; he’s got nothing to lose. Louise plays a different game; she’s got everything to lose, so no strings attached is where she’s at. 

“Love is a monster” is Spring’s tagline, and the poster depicts tentacles surrounding the silhouette of a slim female. This is a romantic drama that slides into a creature feature. It’s a fresh take on the conventional vampire or werewolf tale where the innocent protagonist falls for the antagonist harbouring a dark and dangerous secret. There are so many elements that work beautifully in Spring; the likeable young American (I really enjoyed Pucci in the Evil Dead reimagining), the rustic Italian setting, especially that bay, the gorgeous “femme fatale” (a German native with one of those seductive hybrid accents), the dreamy, floating cinematography (washed out hues, and some stunning drone camerawork), the subtle score, the spare, but effective creature effects, and, most importantly, the wonderful lead performances.

It is the burgeoning adventure and subsequent romantic intrigue that provides the movie with its charming spine. There is a natural chemistry between the two leads, and their dialogue spills forth with a terrific ebb and flow. We soon understand there is something very wrong with Louise; she is dealing with a supernatural affliction, and Evan is getting in the way.

A movie that starts out as a naturalistic romance will inevitably hit a wall when the horror sub-text bursts to the surface, and Spring slams into it around the 2/3rd mark. Once Louise is revealed to Evan in all her slimy, primordial monstrosity the suspension of belief becomes a very heavy one. As Evan bravely hangs around and asks pertinent questions, and Louise does her best to answer them with all her bioscience gobbledygook, the movie’s charm slowly slid from my grasp. I became less interested, and even less convinced, the more Louise’s plight was revealed, and the more Evan tried in vain to rescue the woman he’d fallen for from the clutches of her ancestral evolutionary devices.

As tragi-romantic a fitting as Benson tried with his screenplay Spring, it was the narrative obscurity and the bleaker, more nihilistic, and overwhelmingly abrupt ending of Resolution that I desired.

 

Spring plays as part of the Freak Me Out section of the 62nd Sydney Film Festival, Saturday 13 June, 8:30pm – Dendy Newtown.

German Angst

2015 | Germany | Directed by Jorg Buttgereit, Michal Kosakowski, and Andreas Marschall

Logline: Three bitter tales of love, sex, and death, all set in Berlin.

I was hanging out for some extreme Euro horror. It’s been seven years since the French and Spanish carved out some seminal and highly original pieces of extreme horror; Frontier(s), Martyrs, Inside, and the first two [REC] movies. Those five signaled the arrival of some serious talent in the genre. But none of the directors have been able to follow up with anything as memorable. Instead, we’ve been overwhelmed with a steady saturation of Hollywood PG-13 flicks, and remake after remake after remake.

I’m not a fan of Buttgereit. I saw Schramm a few years back and thought it was okay, nothing special. I finally caught up with his two Nekromantik films a year or so ago and I thought they were both rubbish. The first one was particularly self-indulgent and tedious, the second one marginally better, but that’s not saying much. Perhaps if I’d seen them back in the late 80s, early 90s, I might have found them shocking, but somehow I doubt it.

Buttgereit is the most prolific of the three anthology directors, with numerous shorts, documentaries, and features to his name. The other two, who I had not heard of, have a clutch of shorts, a few features and a couple of documentaries between them. Apparently they’re considered Germany’s most shocking directors. Well, France and Spain have got nothing to worry about. German Angst failed to deliver on several accounts: there was very little that was actually Germanic about the three shorts, there wasn’t much that could be described as “angst-ridden”, and there was virtually nothing shocking about any of them.

In the first short, Final Girl, directed by Buttgereit, a young girl, barely in her teens, lives with her pet guinea pig in a filthy apartment. She has a man (her father??) bound and gagged in the bedroom. In a voice-over she relates how the guinea pig is operated on to neuter him. She then indulges the technique on her captive.

In the second short, Make a Wish, directed by Kosakowski, a deaf-mute couple sharing a romantic moment in a derelict building are set upon by a bunch of brutal thugs who proceed to ruin the couple’s lives. The handicapped man uses a talisman to apply a supernatural remedy and exact a revenge of sorts.

In the final short, Alruane, directed by Marschall, an American man relates a very strange story to his German girlfriend about pursuing a mysterious young woman who leads him to a clandestine sex club where members indulge in the imbibing of the notorious mandrake root.

Marschall has the best premise and sports the best shot short, a Lovecraftian vagina dentata black magic nightmare, but squanders it with a gruff, moody, and ultimately unlikable protagonist, and takes too long to deliver the horror. When it finally reveals itself, it’s all a bit late in the game (I was reminded of Isaac Ezban’s Nasty Stuff, a much more effective short with a similar sting). Shame about Kira (Kristina Kostiv), she had the most charisma of the entire movie.

Buttgereit’s short is the most concise and, ultimately, the most effective of the three, shot with a great tilt-shift technique. The middle short is the ugliest, most obnoxious, and the most pointless. It does, however, feature the only obvious German element (other than the Berlin setting): WWII Nazi brutalism in the form of a yarn being spun by one of the victims, and arguably the only genuinely ghastly moment, a blink and you’d miss it moment of infant bashing. There also are a couple of graphic head injuries, but again, cut so tight you could blink and miss them.

German Angst should’ve been a kick in the teeth. Instead it was a slap on the butt, and a nudge in the ribs. While the subject matter was edgy, it promised far more than it delivered. I wanted to recoil and shudder, to gasp and goggle, but I was only disturbed by an inconsiderate elderly couple sniggering and muttering in German in the row behind me (?!).

Come on Europe; bring (back) the dark love for us True Believers!

 

German Angst screens as part of the Freak Me Out section of the 62nd Sydney Film Festival, Sunday 14 June, 9:45pm – Event Cinemas 9

We Are Still Here

US | 2015 | Directed by Ted Geoghegan

Logline: A couple, grieving the loss of their teenage son, move into a rural home not knowing it is haunted by vengeful spirits harboured by the townsfolk. 

Haunted house movies are a dime a dozen, and most of them are about as scary as a prod on the arm in the middle of the day. But every now and again a director gets it bang on, or at least manages a half-decent atmosphere and a few cheap thrills. The haunted house’s cinema heyday was during the 70s and early 80s, a time when the clichés weren’t quite as hokey, the art direction was more authentic-looking, the music dripped with genuine Mooginess, and the special effects were all done with prosthetics and engineered in front of the camera.

The haunted house sceptre was brandished by the late, great Lucio Fulci, an Italian who drenched his movies in atmospherics and an oneiric sensibility. His presence - in particular The House by the Cemetery - is draped all over Ted Geoghegan’s feature debut, and it’s this element that shines darkest. Geoghagen is an established screenwriter now turning his talents to the camera, and his eye for the lingering moodiness is most apparent.

Anne (Barbara Crampton) and Paul (Andrew Sensenig) have moved into a creaky old two-storey home in the snow-laden wintery expanse of late 70s New England. Anne still feels the presence of her dead son, Bobby, close by, whilst Paul would rather pour himself another Scotch. Before some friends turn up for the weekend, their neighbours drop by for a howdy-doody. Dave (Monte Markham) and his wife Maddie (Susan McCabe) can’t help but mention the house’s dark history, the trouble and bloodshed, and then they’re on their way.

Jacob (horror indie veteran Larry Fessenden) and May (Lisa Marie - yes, that Lisa Marie) arrive. May is a medium, and Jacob is a stoner. Nice combo. Jacob’s son Harry (Michael Patrick Nicholson) and his girlfriend Daniella (Kelsea Dakota) are due to turn up too. The house needs the company.

Turns out the house wants more than just good conversation, it demands flesh and blood to sate its evil hunger, and it will burn like hell if it doesn’t get what it wants. Cue: Joe the electrician (Marvin Patterson) getting more than he bargained for when he turns up to check out the dodgy wiring. That basement isn’t hot because the boiler is playing up, that basement is hot because the embers of fury have been smoldering for thirty years and are ready to ignite once again.

I’m not entirely sure just how much humour Geoghegan intended to be plucked from his movie, but in the full cinema I watched it in the audience were at first sniggering with mirth and eventually hooting with hilarity. It became apparent that the retro elements of We Are Still Here were being devoured as unintentionally comedic, just as a modern audience unaccustomed to Fulci’s narrative and visual stylistics would probably receive his movies now. 

We Are Still Here wasn’t the straight-as-an-arrow horror I was anticipating (like Ti West’s The House of the Devil), but after gauging the pitch black comic edge, and watching it with an appreciative full house, it was a most entertaining carnival ghost ride with some effective thrills and spills.

 

 

We Are Still Here screens as part of Freak Me Out section in the 62nd Sydney Film Festival, Friday 12 June, 9pm – Event Cinema 11.

  

Infini

2015 | Australia | Directed by Shane Abbess

Logline: During a daring search and rescue mission an elite team and the lone survivor find themselves at the mercy of something far more dangerous than they anticipated.

It’s all well and good taking inspiration from other movies, it’s the fuel that feeds the creative oomph, and it’s just as fine and dandy to put those influences up on the screen. The cinephiles nod and smile, the fans hoot and cheer, the critics take note, and the end result is a movie that oozes cult appeal and smacks of movie saavy. But sometimes a movie can be so weighed down by its own muse that the audience becomes distracted from what is original, by what has been seen time and time before.

Shane Abbess has certainly created an impressive production with Infini, his sophomore feature. The first was a low-budget dark fantasy flick, Gabriel, which garnered him a lot of attention, most notably for the film’s striking visual style. Abbess certainly has a talent for action set pieces and creating a palpable atmosphere. Infini makes more than a passing nod to the most obvious comparison, Ridley Scott’s seminal Alien.

Not only does Infini have a very similar production design, right down to mimicking the same computer interface a la “Mother”*, but also it captures a similar sense of grimy claustrophobia, and plays on the same kind of cat-and-mouse tension, while Event Horizon, another hell-in-a-tight-space scenario, and the extreme paranoia of John Carpenter’s The Thing echo and resonate throughout Infini’s look and feel.

Less obvious, but more interestingly, Infini’s storyline involves a sentient planetoid and the immediate consequences of humans, both physically and mentally being affected by their close proximity. This bears comparison to the ponderousness of Solaris, one of the great science fiction movies (and novels) of the past fifty years. Unlike Solaris, which deals with the manifestation of characters’ memories, Infini plays on the extraction of the characters’ base emotions of rage and hatred, and the subsequent violence it sparks.

Indeed, Infini is a study of identity and self-control, and the violence that tears humanity apart. There are some powerful moments, but it’s a shame that none of the characters are that likeable, or that interesting, making the nearly two hours holed up with them shouting and screaming at each other in a dark, cramped mining facility a bit of an endurance test. Not sure about the ending either, which felt tagged on.

The cast is strong though, the performances solid, and nice to see a bunch of mostly lesser known, charismatic Australian actors delivering the goods. Daniel MacPherson (yet another ex-Neighbour), as the long-suffering lone survivor Whit Carmichael, is the standout, but also of note, Luke Ford as one of the search and rescue team, and Andy Rodoreda as West Coast Division leader Sefton Norick.

There are not that many Australian science fiction movies of this calibre, and Infini kicks some visceral arse. Okay, so maybe not into the beyond, or even the middle of next week, but definitely hard into tomorrow. 

 

 

* In 1979 when Alien came out the MS-DOS-style interface of the Nostromo’s ship computer, Mother, had a clunky-cool aesthetic. But for a science fiction movie made thirty-five years later and set two hundred years in the future involving the super-advanced technology of “slipstreaming” (or, teleportation a la The Tomorrow People or Star Trek) Infini’s concept of a computer interface that looks exactly like the one used in Alien is, at best, contrived, and at worst, risible. Of course, Shane Abbess might've intentionally set his movie in the same universe as Alien, in which case, my gripe is null and void. 

 

Infini is available to rent or purchase on iTunes and other digital platforms now. 

Late Phases

US | 2014 | Directed by Adrian Garcia Bogliano

Logline: A blind war veteran moves into a retirement community and discovers the dog attacks on residents aren’t from dogs at all, but something far sinister.

There’s an elusive quality to the movies of Bogliano, a kind of drifting atmosphere that lingers, like the acrid smell of gunpowder, or the sickly-sweet scent of musk from a wounded animal. A prolific filmmaker with eleven features in ten years under his belt, Bogliano loves putting his protagonists in the lurch, in extended jeopardy, under extreme pressure, having them spooked, or just plain terrorised.

His best work is, arguably, also one of the most powerful and atmospheric rape-revenge movies ever made; I’ll Never Die Alone. Late Phases isn’t anywhere near on the same level, but it provides enough intrigue to warrant watching through to the end. What makes Late Phases more interesting than not, is that it deals with lycanthropy. I’m always game for a lupine nightmare, but the problem is, there are so few that are actually above-average as horror movies.

Late Phases slides between being a creature feature and a character study, but can’t seem to work out which one it really wants to be. For a beastly nightmare, there’s precious little transformation, but there’s a lot of groping and snarling in the dark, and Ambrose isn't the most empathatic guy on the block.  

Ambrose (Nick Damici) is a grumpy and blind war veteran who reluctantly moves into a retirement village on the recommendation of his son Will (Ethan Embry), and is befriended by his neighbor Gloria (Rutanya Alda), and local padre, Father Roger (Tom Noonan). Ambrose has his trusted seeing-eye dog at this side, but everything is torn asunder when Ambrose is attacked in his home by some kind of large ferocious dog, leaving his own canine mortally wounded.

It becomes apparent the dog attack is not random, but one of a series of focused home invasions. It’s no dog that is the culprit, but instead, a huge werewolf. Now armed with a spade as his trusty blindman’s crutch, and his faithful revolver, it’s up to Ambrose to end the cycle of lunar violence. Can he peer past his disability, and stare down the abyss?

Bogliano has opted for an old school approach for his first English-language movie, employing the prosthetics talents of Robert Kurtzman (of legendary KNB fame). There's a decent gore gag, but the man-in-a-suit isn’t the most frightening werewolf we’ve seen, looking like a cross between the statuesque beasts from the action-fest Dog Soldiers and the pig-nosed snout from the brilliant An American Werewolf in London (a movie still very hard to beat). However, the actual transformation that is depicted, late in the game, is easily the set-piece highlight of the entire movie.

It's a shame then that Late Phases is a movie that meanders along, promising much more than it ever delivers (the US poster art is certainly misleading). The performances are adequate at best, with only little of Bogliano’s character edginess that has made his earlier movies, for example, Here Comes the Devil, so disquietingly memorable. Late Phases feels more like a TV movie with hairy benefits. I howl quietly in disappointment. 

 

Late Phases is released on BLU-RAY & DVD by Accent Film Entertainment on April 22nd 2015.

Kwaidan

Kaidan | 1964 | Japan | Directed by Masaki Kobayashi

Logline: Four tales of the supernatural, jilted wife, wrathful woman, greedy warriors, mischievous Samurai, that tell of possession and confrontation.

The title translates as “ghost stories”; and the four tales combined clock in at nearly three hours; the first two are around forty minutes, the third is about seventy minutes, and the last tale is the shortest, at twenty-five minutes. The first three are based upon traditional Japanese folk tales, and the last was written specifically for the movie. Screenwriter Yoko Mizuki took the first three stories from the published works of Greek ex-pat Lafcadio Hearn, who moved to Japan in 1890, and so taken with the culture he changed his name to Koizumi Yakumo.

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The film production company employed Kobayashi to helm the ambitious project partially because of the social commentary he invested in his movies. He had never made a fantasy picture, yet he completely immersed himself in the project, even painting much of the elaborate sets (which were constructed inside an unused aircraft hangar) single-handedly. The direction, as well as much of the production design, combined elements of Kabuki Theatre and traditional art. Rich in colour, often using tableaux for poetic effect, Kwaidan is a masterful mural of motion picture art that dabbles with surrealism and expressionism. 

The Black Hair (Kurokami) has a Samurai suddenly leaving his wife and re-marrying into a wealthier family. But his new wife is odd and cold, and he longs to return to his first love, despite having abandoned her. When he does, he discovers nothing’s changed, especially his ex-wife. Something strange is in the air. This is the freakiest of the four tales, and one can see the influence it has had on modern J-horror, especially Ring and The Grudge.

In The Woman of the Snow (Yuki-Onna), two woodcutters are caught in a blizzard and seeks shelter in a shack where they are visited by a chilly spectre who drains the lifeblood of one of the men. She makes the other promise never to tell a soul. Years later the man is married, and itching to tell his story, and so he spills the beans to his curious wife …

In Hoichi the Earless (Miminashi Hoichi no Hanashi) a blind servant with a gift for plucking strings is besieged by the ghosts from a battle 700 years earlier. The ghosts demand he entertain them with his melancholy ballads, but it comes with a cost. Priests attempt to protect him from their wrath with painted prayers all over his body, but they fail to cover his ears …

In a Cup of Tea (Chawan no Naka) a Lord visiting a temple sees the visage of a young man floating in his bowl, much to his bewitchment. Later that night the spirit appears again at the Lord’s home, but his presence is menacing, malevolent even.

These ghost stories are not that frightening, but they are drenched in atmosphere, soaked in an oneiric mood, and saturated in design. Executed with a sparseness of dialogue and a audio minimalism, yet still vivid, even studied. The score is as experimental as it is creepy. The overall tone is one of careful thought, reflection, ponder, and muse. Provocative without being ostentatious, these are nightmares for the quiet soul.

Kwaidan won the Special Jury Prize at Cannes. It is an acquired taste; very languid, very composed, very deliberate, but ultimately rewarding.

Charlie's Farm

Australia | 2014 | Directed by Chris Sun

Logline: Four friends visit an apparently derelict property to experience its haunted vibe as a thrill, only to find themselves at the hands of a sadistic serial killer.

Chris Sun has written, directed, and produced three features, and he is a strong advocate for the use of practical special effects over the use of CGI, in fact his own special effects unit, Slaughter FX, doubles as his production company. His new movie, no longer restricted by previously low budgets, claims to feature the next great horror villain icon, one Charlie Wilson, “7ft 170kg of Pure Aussie Killing Machine.”

Don’t worry Greg Mclean your Wolf Creek is safe from harm.

Jason (David Kirkright) and his buddy Mick (Sam Coward) entice Jason’s girlfriend Natasha (Tara Reid) and her friend Melanie (Allira Jacques) into an Outback for a little fishing adventure, not informing them of their secret agenda to suss out a property supposedly haunted by a bunch of gruesome murders thirty odd years earlier. Their guise is exposed around a campfire and Mick spills the beans on the dark history of the young retard Charlie Wilson, his twisted ma (Trudi Ross) and pa (Bill Moseley), and their deadly confrontation with angry locals.

Despite the local bar flies warning them to piss off back home, Jason, Mick, Natasha, and Melanie enter the Wilson farmland. Two backpackers (David Beamish and Genna Chanelle Hayes) turn up for the same dark thrills. The filthy teddy bear Melanie had claimed as a horror souvenir has vanished. There’s a sickly-sweet stench rising from a mysterious hole in the ground nearby. And Natasha looks terminally hungover.

Actually, Natasha appears crook because Tara Reid looks absolutely haggard and anorexic. Not only is her performance dialed in from some dive bar in LA, you can’t help but cringe at her thin, grim appearance. She sticks out like a sore thumb, almost as frightening as Charlie himself. But then Charlie isn’t that menacing, and it takes ages before he makes an appearance. He’s a roaring, crashing hulk with glazed eyes and horribly scarred flesh, brandishing some kind of huge cutlass, but I found Michael Myers more terrifying in a white mask and boiler suit, just standing motionless behind clothes blowing on a washing line.

It’s not as if Sun has made a technically bad movie, the production values are solid; there is definitely a slick veneer, most of which is courtesy of the cinematography and 2nd unit. But Sun and his book of adolescent horror clichés falls out of the ugly tree and hits all the branches on the way down. All the predictable, groan-inducing elements are in place, right down to the puerile sex and fart jokes. You can’t wait for lard arse Mick to get royally gutted, but disappointingly, and predictably, he only gets his “donkey” cut off and shoved down his throat. It’s Mel (a Sun cast staple) who gets the best Charlie treatment; having her jaw torn off in easily the movie’s most impressive gore gag.

Considering the enormous hype surrounding this movie I really expected a lot more in the blood and gore department, but much of it happens in semi-darkness, is edited too quickly to fully appreciate, or happens off-screen. The characters are cardboard cutouts delivering risible dialogue. Hell, the movie would be a comedy, if it didn’t take itself so seriously! Whilst Kane Hodder’s casting is ill conceived, his inclusion absurd even, it’s an absolute crying shame Bill Moseley wasn’t given a more substantial role, something he could really get his teeth into. I’m sure he’d have been far more memorable in the titular role.

No doubt the loyal Sun fans will flock to Charlie’s Farm, but one thing’s for sure, the turkey’s arrived early for Christmas.

Bag Boy Lover Boy

US | 2014 | Directed by Andres Torres

Logline: An opportunist photographer approaches a lonely hotdog vendor to model, which in turn sparks the vendor’s own dangerous desire to find the perfect muse.

Albert (Jon Wachter) cooks sausages. He sells hotdogs from a street vendor in downtown New York. He alternates with a Japanese girl, Miyuki (Saoko Okano), who reprimands him for his unclean working ethic. Albert does the night shift, and then slinks off home to his tiny windowless cell of a room where he munches on slimey, cold hotdogs and fantasizes about Lexy (Adrienne Gori), who brings a ray of sunshine whenever she swings by the vendor.

Albert is the epitome of Loser. An uptown jerk harasses him for dropping a dog on the filthy floor, a camp photographer, Ivan Worthington (Theodore Bouloukos), intervenes and attempts to befriend Albert. But Albert is aloof, reluctant, throwing the photographer’s card in the bin. When a cool young photographer entices Lexy away, Albert decides to contact Ivan, maybe learn the seduction tricks of the photographer’s trade, and find his elusive muse.

There is no such thing as love and adventure, only trouble and desire.

It’s hard to tie this movie down. A curious and perverse creature that captures an intrinsically New York sensibility, but also harnesses an eccentric European vibe. It’s almost as if the movie is set in the early 80s, or even made in some other place and time. Hal Hartley meets Abel Ferrara and Tom DiCillo in an alleyway. Hal mugs for Tom, Abel mugs them both, beats on them, and they're minced up for the perfect Hell’s Kitchen burger.

Bag Boy Lover Boy, right down to its lurid, sarcastic title, is the most blackest of comedies, dripping with the grease of off-cut meat, the rank stench of body odour wafting through the air, the sweet scent of a model’s perfume, the reek of photographic chemicals, the dank smell of soiled money, the sickly steam rising through the subway grates from the city’s underbelly. This is a tale of one man’s descent into a delusional world of poor man’s power games.

Slickly shot with solid performances, Torres has a slyly hypnotic style. Jon Wachter is a director in his own right, and Bag Boy Lover Boy is his debut in front of the camera. He pretty owns the flick; a kind of inverted Travis Bickle, but props to Bouloukos for his bang-on unctuous, sleazoid, and to Gori, who makes her own acting debut and delivers the perfect counterpoint to Albert; the damaged bride and her unhinged paramour.

 

Bag Boy Lover Boy screened as part of Sydney’s 8th A Night of Horror International Film Festival.

In Fear

UK | 2013 | Directed by Jeremy Lovering

Logline: A fresh young couple driving to a music festival become lost following directions to a romantic prelude in remote countryside and are terrorised by a local.

In Fear is one of those movies that shouldn’t be as good as it is. Very little happens to very few people in not much of a place. But In Fear is awash with atmosphere, soaked in style, and drips with dread. Jeremy Lovering does wonders with his own script, basically a Straw Dogs meets The Hitcher meets Them scenario. All the elements are phenomenal, and they work like a glue keeping together what is essentially a far-fetched piece of nonsense.

Tom (Iain De Caestecker) has met Lucy (Alice Englert, Jane Campion’s daughter) a couple weeks earlier at a bar. Now he’s invited her to join him in attending a music festival in the Irish countryside. After an incident at a local pub, the details of which remain sketchy at best, and remain so for the entire movie, although the incident itself becomes a point of contention for all of the three lead characters. The third wheel is Max (Allen Leech) whom is glanced by their car in the dead of night along a narrow road. His head injury seems worse, apparently a knife wound from the same people that have been pursuing Tom and Lucy. Probably the same bunch of local bogans from the pub.

Before you can say, “I’vebeenwatchingyouprancinglikeatityouneedworkingonlad” the three young hopefuls are caught up in a cat and mouse game. But who exactly is the cat? The claws’ owners are eventually revealed, and there’ll be tears before dawn. Much teary action indeed.

Lovering has come from a background of directing television, and In Fear his feature debut. The visual narrative is bursting with vibrant cinematic technique; lots of closeups, crazy angles, tilt-shift perspective. The cinematography from David Katznelson is fantastic. Most of the point of views take place from within the car, as much of the time spent with Tom and Lucy they are trying to get the hell aware from Kilhairney House, the apparent hotel where they were to spend a snugly night before arriving at the festival.

The title leaves a lot to be desired, even when you tenuously apply it to the terroriser’s motive, or lack thereof. But what the movie doesn’t possess in terms of dramatic arc makes up for it in tension and suspense. This is very much a movie that demands to be watched late at night, and preferably alone. The three performances are excellent and they lift the movie’s game considerably. So good are they that you forgive the screenplay for making them act so stupidly. But hey, if they did act sensibly they wouldn’t have gone any further than that first shackled farm gate, and we wouldn’t have a movie.

In Fear is one of those videos on the shelves that you’d have probably passed over because the title is so lame, but now you know it’s worth renting. Especially since it's Hallowe'en.

Fear(s) Of The Dark

Peur(s) Du Noir | France | 2007 | Directed by Blutch, Charles Burns, Marie Caillou, Pierre Di Sciullo, Lorenzo Mattotti, Richard McGuire

Logline: Several nightmarish tales of the macabre, grotesque and creepy delivered in heavily-stylised monochromatic animation by leading European artists of the surreal.

We’re so used to modern animation being saturated in colour, especially the stuff that comes out of Hollywood (Pixar and Dreamworks Animation), that a collection of animated tales in stark black and white seems strangely refreshing. Add to it a distinctly European (with a dash of Asian) sensibility and a healthy dose of surrealism and you’ve got the fabulously "noir" tales and interludes that make up the Franco fears of Fear(s) of the Dark, a title which plays deliciously with both its subject matter and its stylistics.

There are four main stories, plus one that is cut up and played between the four main tales, and another that is delivered as a series of shape-shifting interludes with narration. The movie opens with the hounds from hell barely being held in check by a ghoulish-looking leash-holder. These dogs snarl and devour anything that gets in their way including a lost little boy. Later they ravage a young gypsy woman. Eventually the dog-owner (?) gets his.

The first main tale describes in flashback a nervous young man’s romance with a very strange woman who enters his life not long after he’s lost his praying mantis pet. She becomes his lover and more, her personality transmogrifying along with her physicality. Carnal desire becomes very heavy and sticky for the young man. This was a most grotesque vision, and reminded me of David Lynch.

The second story is of a Japanese schoolgirl who falls foul of a Samuari ghost. There is blood spilled here (the only splash of colour in the whole 85-minute feature). The animation style leans toward anime but also seems vaguely, strangely South Park-esque in style too; unsettling, yet very striking.

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The third tale is dreamy and painterly, with washes of grey and floating shadows. A man reflects back on a village terrorised by a monstrous beast. This is one of the standout stories visually. There are many stunning images that drift and coil like clear light over dark water, undulating with the potency of a beautiful, but dangerous dream.

The final tale is my favourite (although they’re all superbly made, no qualms there). A middle-aged man who never says a word, simply grunts and groans, has moved into an old house only to discover he’s not alone. It’s haunted and it ain’t gonna let him go. There are no shades of grey or cream here, it’s all either pitch black or white as a ghost. The shapes and patterns created by the shafts of light and the dense shadows make this the most visually striking tale of the whole collection.

Although this is adult fare, it’s not about gory viscera, graphic nudity or even expletives. The emphasis is on atmosphere, texture and tone, and Fear(s) of the Dark delivers in spades; black spades digging coal at midnight under a moonless sky.

Womb

2010 | Germany/Hungary/France | Directed by Benedek Fliegauf

Logline: A woman’s consuming love leads her to bear a clone of her dead beloved, raising him to adulthood where she faces unavoidable complexities.

Womb (released in the UK as Clone) is a movie of deep, emotionally charged, poetic moments. It is a narrative that lies in stillness and reflection, relies on nuance and subtlety, but at the core there is heartbreak and desperation. It is a powerful and unsettling tale that disturbs in the disquieting way a dream does as it lingers in your mind during those waking moments.

Rebecca is nine when she firsts meets Thomas who is ten. The time and place is never identified, but it is a coastal environment, and the science of human cloning is something that has been both embraced and shunned. This is a science fiction morality tale; not as explicit warning, but a timely reminder of the complex responsibilities and potentially awkward (to say the least) situations this bio-tech advancement will have on society’s ethics and the future of the human race.

Young Rebecca and Thomas forge an immediate close bond, but it isn’t to last, as Rebecca has to depart for Japan. She is gone for twelve years. When she returns they are adults, Thomas (Matt Smith) is an entomologist who moonlights as a political activist. Rebecca and Thomas resume their childhood sweetheart program, but their romance is shattered. Rebecca decides to walk the controversial avenue and visits the Department of Genetic Replication where she uses Thomas’s DNA (secretly supplied by the father, as the mother is loathe to) in a bid to reclaim what she lost: she is impregnated and subsequently gives birth to a baby boy who grows up looking exactly like young Thomas.

Benedek Fliegauf opts for a less obvious approach to the passing of time; there are no sub-titles saying “five years later” or “many seasons later”, but there doesn’t need to be, the visual narrative is strong and succinct enough. Eva Green should have been visually aged once Thomas reaches seventeen (or thereabouts), but as the movie is a symbolic tale, the emphasis on that level of realism is not important.

Peter Szatmari’s cinematography is stunning, icy blue widescreen vistas of the beach, shot on the Germanic island of Sylt, lots of long shots, tableaux. Fliegauf loves his photographic rule of thirds and uses it extensively, but never ostentatiously. There is a cool vibe, a warm chill to the mood, both visually and tonally. It’s an original screenplay, but it feels like it’s based on a novel; or possibly a play, especially the languid pace, small cast – all of who perform excellently – and only a clutch of locations.

Womb is a deep movie that swims in shallow waters; on the surface is a melancholic romantic fantasy, but underneath is a dark psychological drama; one woman’s mental health unhinged, her self-control slipping through her fingers like eels through a net. Womb is as insular and life affirming as it is tenebrous and primal. There is a dysfunctional carnality that is tugged and pulled as the strands of procreative reasoning fray.

What We Do In The Shadows

NZ | 2014 | Directed by Taika Waititi & Jermaine Clement

Logline: A documentary portrait of four very different vampires who share a house and attempt to live normally amongst mortals.

In the tradition of This is Spinal Tap, What We Do in the Shadows is a mockumentary that follows three undead men around their house and small town as they, mostly, make fools of themselves (a fourth vampire essentially remains housebound). It’s a low-budget affair, loose and rough around the edges, but infused with charismatic personalities, and it exudes a curious, fetid charm.

Viago (Taika Waititi) is a slightly goofy three-hundred-and-seventy-nine-year-old vampire. He tries to keep the household together and calls for flat meetings to address the state of the dishes. Deacon (Jonathon Brugh), aged 183, the young vamp on the block, hasn’t been pulling his weight. He thinks his suave sexiness warrants laziness. Then there’s Vladislav (Jermaine Clement), a mature 862-years-old, and the more decadent and nonchalant of the three flatmates. Finally there is Petyr (Ben Fransham), the uber-creepy Nosferatu, down in the basement. He’s about 8,000 years ancient, and looks it.

The three vampires present their issues and yearnings, explain their trials and tribulations: the struggle with living in a contemporary world, the age-old problem of having to avoid sunlight and drink the blood of mortals to maintain their youth. It seems the quaint old township of Wellington, New Zealand, has charmed the world-weary undead. But it is romance that continues to plague them.

Based on a short film Clement and Waititi made in 2006 What We Do in the Shadows feels like a short that’s been expanded to feature length. It’s a series of comical vignettes, with the vampires having to deal with the mundane day-to-day chores, but the jokes don’t always hit home, some falling flat, while others warrant barely a chuckle. I certainly wouldn’t describe the movie as “hilarious”, despite the quote being used ad infinitum on the movie’s poster design. Admittedly high expectation can be a dangerous thing.

One of the genuinely laugh-out-loud scenes is a nocturnal confrontation between our undead subjects and a pack of roaming lycanthropes. The vampires pass the werewolves and words are exchanged, expletives even. Anton (Rhys Darby in fine dry form) immediately addresses the standoff, “We’re werewolves, not swearwolves!”

This is a broadly entertaining vampire comedy that squeezes every inch of humour from the vampire lore. The performances are solid, though I found Clement’s curiously subdued. Ultimately it’s a shame the movie isn’t as eccentric or quirky as Flight of the Conchords or Boy, or the overall comic tone a few shades darker, as I think that would’ve given the movie the delicious neck cult flavour it so clearly demands. 

The Green Inferno

US/Chile | 2013 | Directed by Eli Roth

Logline: A group of student activists arrive in the South American jungle to save the rainforest from destruction, but are captured by a cannibal tribe.

Not to be confused with a lame Italian exploitation flick of the same name, since Eli Roth’s “homage” to Ruggero Deodato’s notorious gut-munchin’ chunk blowin’ cult classic Cannibal Holocaust is simply glossy trash, and should never be considered as anything but a travesty of the cannibal sub-genre of nightmare movies. Roth's movie is a lame turkey indeed.

I’ve come to the conclusion that Eli Roth is almost as reprehensible to the horror genre as Rob Zombie, a filmmaker who claims to be a True Believer, but continues to wreak havoc on the scene. The Green Inferno is Roth’s first film as director in seven years. Admittedly Hostel: Part II was a decent Euro-flavoured exploitation piece that was much better than it deserved to be, especially considering how dreadful the first movie was, and I’m not a fan of the messy Cabin Fever, so it looks to me like Roth sold his soul to the Devil for Hostel: Part II.

His story credit for The Green Inferno might’ve look okay on paper, but the screenplay, with his Aftershock writing colleagues Guillermo Amoedo and an uncredited Nicolas Lopez, is diabolical. Aftershock was a trash-fest, and The Green Inferno is no different. In fact, six of the actors – as well as the cinematographer and editor - from Aftershock surface in the jungle, including pretty young thing Lorenza Izzo, whose pained deer-in-the-headlights look sums up the entire movie. She plays Justine, the movie’s central protagonist, and the menstruating sacrifice to the female circumcision gods in Roth’s infernal catastrophe.

A bunch of gung-ho student environmentalists spurned on by charismatic activist Alejandro (Ariel Levy) travel from NYC to the Peruvian rainforest to save the Amazonian flora and fauna from the natural devastation of ruthless urban expansion. Everything seems to go to plan … until the flight out goes into a tailspin. Then it’s out of the frying pan and into the tribal fire; civilised skin vs. savage flesh, and nothing’s off the menu. 

There are so many things wrong with The Green Inferno, I don’t know where to start. In a nutshell: it's juvenile and puerile. Apparently Cannibal Holocaust is the movie that made Eli Roth want to be a director, and The Green Inferno was the original title of Deodato’s pioneering found footage nightmare. But the two movies are worlds apart. For the most part Deodato’s is grounded in gritty cinema verite realism, and is genuinely shocking, whereas Roth’s production is a hammy cartoon; over-lit, over-wrought, and its atmosphere (or lack thereof) is utterly unconvincing. It’s simply too clean and pretty to take seriously, and its far from being any kind of mondo shocking.

Roth’s uneven tone, penchant for scatological humour, self-indulgence, dire dialogue are rife. One of the students suffering extreme diarrhea while the natives laugh and gesture, and later the prisoners manage to stuff a plastic bag of marijuana down the throat of one of their dead before she’s cooked up in the tribal smokehouse. The pot smoke manages to get the entire tribe stoned, falling out of their tree ripped even, thus enabling the prisoners to stage an escape. It’s preposterous.

Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger’s special effects makeup is okay at best, and at worst as stiff or rubbery and unrealistic as the work they produced for Roth in the first Hostel movie. What’s with that?! KNB have delivered some kick-ass stuff over the years, but in Roth’s six million dollar romp in the jungle the results are mediocre. The editing might have something to do with the lack of impact, so I wonder if Roth was forced to cut anything out to avoid an NC-17? Not that I really care anymore.

And what’s with the no real nudity bullshit? Lorenza Izzo is tied down, about to have her womanhood cut off, and the next thing she’s managed to KO the torturer and miraculously has donned a tiny string bikini.

The late, great True Believin’ critic Chas. Balun, who was Cannibal Holocaust’s great champion, famously tagged Deodato’s movie with the line, “The one that goes all the way.” My message to Roth: Don’t go there, unless you’re gonna go all the way.  

Cannibal Holocaust roasts and eats The Green Inferno for breakfast, picks the fat and gristle from its teeth, and spits the bone splinters in the jungle dust.

Proxy

US | 2013 | Directed by Zack Parker

Logline: A grieving woman is befriended by another damaged soul with both women finding their lives dangerously and irrevocably entwined with their respective partners.

An unusually impressive movie, much more so than it should be considering how far-fetched the narrative is, but therein lies the nasty rub, as Proxy proves that if you pull the strings are made of the right fabric and pulled the right way, you can execute a horror-thriller with serious panache. Zack Parker has managed to mix a rare cocktail, a heady beverage that will kick the bar stool out from under you.

Proxy is the kind of Brian De Palma return to form we’ve been itching for, minus the flashy camera tricks. Perhaps Brian should commission a script from Parker and his co-screenwriter Kevin Donner, then we’d have a seriously ciné descent into lusty madness. But, Zack Parker’s low-budget doesn’t stop him from producing a compelling piece of cinema, even if it does take a little long to get to its rug-pulling denouement.

A heavily pregnant Esther (Alexia Rasmussen) is brutally assaulted (a truly disturbing scene) after leaving her final check-up. She loses the baby, and consequently, she finds herself in a support group for grieving parents. Another mother, Melanie (Alexa Havins) befriends her, and Esther reveals the baby was conceived by sperm bank. Melanie claims her husband and baby were killed by a drunken driver, but at a later date Esther spies Melanie in a department store, hysterical, as, apparently, her son has just been kidnapped.

Then throw a vengeful lesbian lover and an unhinged husband into the stew.

Proxy twists and turns like a cut snake. Protagonists and antagonists swerve with seemingly little rhyme or reason. But then, that is half the point, as this is a study of unreliable states of being, and perspectives via psychological imbalance makes for interesting viewing in the right hands. The cast of unknowns (with the exception of indie veteran Joe Swanberg), deliver convincing performances. These are some truly screwed up misfits indeed.

Which brings me to the clever play on the meaning of the title. There’s a form of psychosis that results in a behavioral pattern known as Münchausen syndrome by proxy (I’d never heard of this before) where a parent or caregiver fabricates or exaggerates a child’s sickness or injury, or actually harms the child themselves, in order to gain attention from others. In simpler terms, it is a unique form of child abuse.

The literal meaning of the word “proxy” can be applied to Esther and Melanie who use each other (and others) for their own agenda that is outside that of the aberrant medical condition. But enough wallowing around in the plotted mire of these characters’ wicked, wicked ways! The less you know about Proxy, the more pleasurable the headfuck is.

Proxy will divide audiences, no doubt. Those that relish the mischievous narrative structure, savouring the demented power games, the murderous perversion, and those that find the movie far too ludicrous and long-winded to be taken seriously. I’m definitely on the dark and dangerous side of the fence.


Proxy screens as part of the 8th Sydney Underground Film Festival, Saturday 6th, 10:30pm, Factory Theatre, Marrickville.

Suburban Gothic

US | 2014 | Directed by Richard Bates Jr.

Logline: An over-educated young man with paranormal insight returns to his small hometown, and finds himself at the mercy of everything wrong with it, including a vengeful ghost.

For his second feature the talented Richard Bates (Excision) turns up the comedy dial, turns down the perversity level, and broadens his appeal. The result is an entertaining supernatural romp that teases with romance, plays mischievously with horror, and manages to tie a purple scarf around the creepy old oak tree.

Raymond (Matthew Gray Gubler, a kind of prettier version of Johnny Knoxville) is the flamboyantly dressed prodigal son returned to less than proud parents, well, certainly dad, Donald (Ray Wise), isn’t that happy with how his son turned out. Raymond might be a tad queer, but he isn’t gay. Of course the bullies who slapped him around at school couldn’t care less about the truth. It seems only bar bitch Becca (Kat Dennings, playing, well, Kat Dennings) understands Raymond’s reserved, yet colourful personality.

Following some foul fiddling on Raymond’s property by meddling landscapers, the spirit of a young girl is unleashed, and the ghost of her papa ain’t none too happy either. It’s up to Raymond, with Becca’s keen help, to try and get everything hunky dory again.

If you can imagine Hal Hartley and John Waters having an adopted love child kidnapped by Tim Burton and Sam Raimi, then that Stockholm Syndrome delinquent would be the Suburban Goth kid playing silly buggers here. In fact, John Waters makes a cameo! As does Jeffrey Combs! And the Twisted Twins! And was that Mackenzie Phillips and Sally Kirkland too? I almost expected Bruce Campbell to make an appearance!

Suburban Gothic is kept buoyant by the charismatic cast and the delightful nuanced performances of the leads. I’ve not seen Gubler before, but he’s great to watch, and the sardonic chemistry between him and Dennings is perfect. Their scenes together are a hoot. Bates writes great characters and gives them spot-on dialogue; he’s one of the more exciting genre filmmakers on the scene. 

What gives the movie an extra splash of cult zing ping is Bates’ penchant for the crude and vulgar (a la John Waters) which rears its head in one scene in particular when Raymond is getting his rocks off watching some Latino web-cam porn on the computer and the vindictive spirit decides to play nasty by filling the ceiling lampshade fixture above him with … cum. Then the fixture bursts.

Suburban Gothic charms the braces off of you while it sticks its bristly, fetid tongue in your ear. Ergh! Yup, it’s that kind of kitschy-campy comedy-horror. Enjoy.

 

Suburban Gothic screens as part of the 8th Sydney Underground Film Festival, Friday 5th, 6:30pm, and Sunday 7th, 3pm, at Factory Theatre, Marrickville.

Haunter

Canada | 2013 | Directed by Vincenzo Natali

Logline: A teenage girl finds herself – and her family – trapped in a supernatural time-loop within the home, reliving each day over and over, until she makes an even more frightening discovery.

Like a less-than-stellar episode of The Twilight Zone, Haunter meanders into frame and quickly wanders into the foggy wilderness of mediocrity. It’s a cliché-ridden ghost story that relies on its twist to keep the bar raised, but the bar was never high enough in the first place. This is strictly haunting-by-the-numbers, with a saccharine feel-good ending.

Lisa (Abigail Breslin) is the moody teenager who becomes aware of a supernatural glitch in the time-space continuum of her home. She is forever washing the same clotches, being accused of losing clothes by her mother, who’s baking the same cake over and over and over; her birthday cake. It seems Lisa’s birthday will never, ever arrive.

After a few wash, rinse and repeats Lisa makes contact with another girl, Olivia (Eleanor Zichy), from the future. Olivia and her family are to be the next set of victims of a sinister serial killer, Edgar Mullins (Stephen McHattie). Yup, Lisa is a ghost. But unlike the rest of her family, she’s worked out she’s one, and it’s up to her to wriggle free from the dark spectral force that has surrounded and infiltrated the house. She’ll need help from Olivia, and the spirits of other previous victims.

Haunter is about waking up to the fact that you’re dead. It’s a spiritual thriller, weaving dangerously close to Christian territory. There is sweet little nightmare edge in this safe-as-houses horror; I’ve seen episodes of Antiques Roadshow that were more disturbing. Even the presence of McHattie (a wasted opportunity, if ever there was!) fails to provide any genuine menace.

Abigail Breslin is in a similar boat to Chloë Grace Moretz. They were great as child actors, but as they enter late adolescence they are not exhibiting much acting range. Of course, it could have a lot to do with the director whose previous movies have featured some very wooden performances. Natali is a former storyboard artist, and certainly his movies have a visual narrative that is so slick as to be like a television advertisement. But they leave me cold. Haunter is no exception.

What scares me the most is Natali is directing William Gibson’s Neuromancer.

 

Haunter is released in Australia by Umbrella Entertainment.