Friday, October 30, 2015

Crimson Peak (2015)

Crimson Peak (2015)

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam, Doug Jones

Every time a Guillermo del Toro film premieres I get giddy as a schoolboy because you know, he’s one of the modern day greats. There’s no denying he’ll go down as one of the greats of his generation, and best part of all is that he’s all about horror and sci-fi, and trust me, a director who is as knowledgeable about the genre as he is, is not an easy thing to find. I mean, sure there’re directors making horror films out there, but most of them don’t truly understand and love horror, they don’t know all the right movies to borrow from, they don’t have that fanboy mentality. Not even half of them. Guillermo del Toro is a rare breed of director and I, as a fan of the genre, truly appreciate whatever he does because you just know it comes from someone who knows his shit. So of course I was excited when word of Crimson Peak came out, I just knew Guillermo del Toro was going to load it with an extra dose of Gothic sensibilities! So did he? Did Crimson Peak disappoint?

Story is all about this writer called Edith Cushing, who’s swept off her feet by Thomas Sharpe, an entrepreneur who comes into town looking for financial backup for one of his business ventures.  He doesn’t find it, but he does find Edith, whom he immediately falls in love with and marries. He takes her with him to his mansion in London. The mansion looks awesome and it’s huge, but it’s kind of old and falling apart. Ghosts have been warning Edith (who is a bit of a psychic) about something called ‘Crimson Peak’, what are these ghosts talking about? Should Edith listen to them?

If you are a horror connoisseur, then you’ll be picking up references and plot lines from a zillion old horror movies all throughout Crimson Peak. For example, there’s an obvious influence by films like Robert Wise’s TheHaunting (1963) and The Innocents (1961) which are spooky horror movies that rely more on psychological horror rather than on anything we actually see, which is kind the ‘modus operandi’ on Crimson Peak because while the film does have its share of ghosts and spooks, it doesn’t rely only on them to create its dreadful mood. This movie is more about ambiance. I wouldn’t necessarily call this film a true blue horror movie though. Like its main character Edith, who writes stories that aren’t ghost stories, but rather stories with “ghosts in them”. The same can certainly be said of Crimson Peak which is actually more of a love story with horror elements in a Gothic setting, which of course is cool as well. Here’s a movie that maintains its spooky Gothic vibe all the way through to the end. It never lets go of its spookiness, any true horror fan will understand just how great that is. Now, this is not to say that the film isn’t scary of horrifying, it has its bloody, scary, spooky moments. It has stormy nights and ghosts and things that go bump in the night, but with a tragic romance attached to it as well.

Speaking of influences, I’d say that the biggest influence on this film is Roger Corman’s The Fall of the House of Usher (1960) which by the way is one of my favorite films to see on Halloween night. I’ve already re-watched it this October and enjoyed every part of its spooky, atmospheric vibe. Same as The Fall of the House of Usher, Crimson Peak is about family legacies, houses that are falling apart, doomed romances and that constant dreadful atmosphere. That idea that houses can carry evil across generations; that the ground on which the house was built is cursed and therefore so is the family that lives in it; all these elements can be found on both films. And yet another huge influence on del Toro is, his own film The Devils Backbone (2001). On Crimson Peak we once again have ghosts with blood that floats up into thin air and disappears, which is kind of trademark of Guillermo del Toro at this point. So as you can see, Crimson Peak is an old fashioned horror story, inspired by the best old fashioned horror movies.

Same as all Guillermo del Toro films Crimson Peak is a beautiful film to look at; del Toro once again plays with the color palette in truly satisfying ways, so much so that color actually plays an integral part of the story, which of course makes sense in a film called ‘Crimson Peak’. The art direction is excellent; the house looks gorgeously gothic. It’s that kind of film where 90% of it takes place mostly inside of a house, again, same as Corman’s House of Usher which takes place entirely in one location. For this film, Guillermo del Toro decided to focus primarily on the art production, the set design, which makes sense because if your whole film is centered around a house, then you’d better make damn sure it’s one awesome looking set with lots of nooks and crannies to shoot in, which is exactly what they did here. The house is awesome, worthy of standing next to some of the best haunted house films like Jan De Bont’s The Haunting (1999), which I think is actually a very underrated haunted house film. So anyhow, is there anything wrong with del Toro’s Crimson Peak? Personally, I would have amped up the horror and the ghosts a bit, but then again, it’s not my film, it’s del Toro’s. So Crimson Peak is what it is; a gothic romance with some excellent atmosphere and in many ways, the perfect film to watch on Halloween night! So if you see only one spooky film in theaters this Halloween, Crimson Peak is an excellent choice.

Rating: 4 out of 5  

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Parasite (1982)

Parasite (1982)

Director: Charles Band

Cast: Demi Moore, Luca Bercovici, Tom Villard

So here’s another one of those films that made me crap my pants when I was a kid. Back when I was about 5 or 6 years old, I had this uncle who would take me to all the movies he’d go see, and that’s how I ended up seeing Parasite (1982). Never mind that it was an ‘R’ rated horror film with rape scenes and gore, my uncle just took me to everything he went to see with his girlfriend. I remember at one point his girlfriend realized I was frightened out of my skull and offered to hold my hand if I got too scared. For Parasite I held her hand the whole time! This was the first 3-D film I ever saw; it came out during a time when 3-D was enjoying a revival during the 80’s. The 3-D effects so impacted my young mind that I remember seeing freaking slugs everywhere, even after I’d left the theater! Ah, the delicacies of having a feeble and gullible mind! Those days are long gone and horror movies don’t really scare me anymore, but ahhh, the memories! Back then this movie frightened me like no other! I think what frightened me the most were the body horror elements, creatures squirming beneath the human skin is still a frightening idea to me. So this Halloween, I’ve decided to revisit films that scared me as a child and this was one of them, how did it measure up after all these years?

Parasite is a post apocalyptic science fiction horror story. It takes place in a society that is on the brink of extinction, with people living in a “dog eat dog” state of mind. The film follows a scientist who has created these slug creatures that live under your skin and then burst out of your body, killing you on their way out. He was making these things for the government to use as a weapon, but after creating them he decided he wants no part of it. Unfortunately, he’s created two slugs, one he keeps in a containment unit and the other has found a home beneath his skin! Now he must find a way to kill the slug within him, and destroy the experiment so it never reaches the hands of the government. Unfortunately, he escapes to a wasteland filled with gangs of idiots who live for raping and pillaging. Will he manage to kill all the slugs he’s created?

Parasite was a film produced and directed by b-movie mogul Richard Band. For those not in the know, Richard Band is responsible for all those Full Moon horror movies that include the Puppet Master, Bloodspecies, Dollman, Trancers and Demonic Toys movies among many others. But before creating Full Moon, he directed movies like Parasite, these Richard Band theatrical releases are way better than anything he ever did under Full Moon. I mean, these movies while still well within B-Movie parameters, where extremely watchable movies, which is something I can’t say for a lot of the films he directed and produced for Full Moon. During those early years, Richard Band directed films like Laserblast (1978) and Metal Storm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn (1983), both of which are fun because they are bad. The dialog on these films is atrociously hilarious and the special effects are laughable, yet entertaining. Parasite complies with all the troupes you’d find in your a-typical post apocalyptic low budget movie, the end result was something along the lines of Italian Mad Max rip offs like 1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982) mixed with a little bit of David Cronenberg’s Shivers (1975).

The film does have a few amusing things about its cast. First, this was Demi Moore’s second theatrical role which shows once again that many stars start out their careers in cheap ass horror movies. Johnny Depp started out in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Kevin Bacon in Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981), Meg Ryan on Amityville 3-D (1983) and Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger both started out in Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994). On Parasite we get Demi Moore playing the role of the post apocalyptic survivor, her performance is nothing to brag about. The film also counts with Tom Villard in the role of Zeke, who gets to one of the better death scenes in the film. Some of you horror hounds out there might remember Tom Villard as the main villain in the obscure 90’s slasher film Pop Corn (1991). But the best performance in the whole film comes from a guy called Luca Bercovici who plays Ricus, the leader of the post apocalyptic gang. Bercovici went on to appear in bigger and better films, usually as the villain. Some of you might remember him as Kevin Costner rival in American Flyer (1985).

Still, there was something that set Parasite apart, something made it special. Sure it was a cheesy,  low budget production all the way, but it had one great thing going for it: Stan Winston was doing the monster effects. That’s right, the same guy that created the creatures seen in Predator (1987), Aliens (1986), Terminator (1984) and Jurassic Park (1993) started out with Parasite, creating all the slimy slugs and the gory body horror. Some of the makeup effects truly stand out and when you mix those effects with 3-D you got yourself some horror movie magic that will make any five year old squirm in his theater seat. At that tender age I was subjected to slugs slithering beneath the skin of people, stomachs exploding and slugs splitting people’s heads apart, no wonder I grew to love horror movies! Stan Winston’s work alone elevates this film a bit, but truth be told, Parasite remains a low budget post apocalyptic film of the cheesiest caliber.  

I mean, the cheese just flows here. For example, the government sends this really weird character called “The Merchant” to find the scientist that created the slugs. Funny part is this Merchant also shoots lasers…truth be told he’s like some sort of a Terminator who drives a black Lamborghini, which I’m sure was supposed to be a futuristic car, but now looks retro. In fact, the film is set in the “not too distant future” of 1992! That always cracks me up when movies do that, it reminded me of Escape from New York (1981), a film in which “the future” was 1988! Parasite was even promoted as being “the first futuristic monster movie”! Even funnier is that it’s supposed to be futuristic, but the town in which the film takes place looks like it came out of the Old West! But anyways, this is all part of the films b-movie charm. For a Charles Band film, this movie is actually pretty cool and has its moments. I remember the film had me by the throat during that scene in which everyone is just waiting for the slimy creature to pop out of that canister! That scene is still pretty effective in my book.  Since Parasite was first released in 3-D back in 1982, you will see many things being hurled at the camera, the filmmakers really squeezed the 3-D to full effect, objects are always placed in the foreground so they would pop up. I remember the 3-D being a highlight. Some might consider this one to be in the lower echelon of post apocalyptic films, but I’d give anything to re-watch this one in a theater with those red and blue 3-D glasses and I'd especially give anything to feel those same, frightful chills I felt while watching this one as a kid.
Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5

Behind the Scenes Awesomeness: The Hellraiser Franchise

Clive Barker (right) next to "Uncle Frank"

Friday, October 9, 2015

Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992)

Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992)

Director: Anthony Hickox

Cast: Doug Bradley, Kevin Bernhardt, Pala Marshall, Terry Farrell

In the Hellraiser universe, continuity doesn’t really matter much. They give you the illusion that there’s continuity because they’ll start with a recap of the previous film, or they’ll mention some character from the previous film, but believe me, it’s all an illusion. In the Hellraiser franchise, each film exists within the universe that Clive Barker created but each film brings its own characters in and eliminates anything established by the previous film. By way of an example, just when you think Hellbound: HellraiserII (1989) is going to give us a bit of continuity because it brought back the character of Julia Cotton, they go and kill her off, eliminating with no amount of respect, characters and situations established on the first film. It seems like the only constant in these films are The Cenobytes and the Lament Configuration. Well, Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992) does the same; it ignores previous films, avoiding any sort of continuity and presents us with an entirely new set of characters. How did this third outing in the franchise turn out?

This time around, the lead Cenobyte a.k.a. ‘Pinhead’ is trapped inside of a sculpture. How did Pinhead end up in a sculpture? Who put him there and why? Never mind these questions because the filmmakers never bother to answer them. You’re asked to accept the fact that Pinhead is a sculpture now and that’s that. It feels like the filmmakers simply said “You know what would look cool? Pinhead trapped in a sculpture! Let’s go with that! I like it!” They didn’t care if this concept made sense or not, or if it fit with what had happened to the character on previous films, they just went with it. Then we are presented with J.P., the owner of a New York dance club called ‘The Boiler Room’. J.P. also happens to be an art collector. One day, while visiting an art gallery, J.P. stumbles upon the sculpture in which Pinhead is trapped in and buys it. Little does J.P. know that he’s bringing ole Pinhead home with him. Similar to previous Hellraiser films, you have to feed the demon in order for it to become flesh. What happens when Pinhead is released from the sculpture?

The idea behind this film is that hell will come to earth. Sounds epic and grand don’t it? This epic premise was a giant red flag for me because if there’s one problem I’ve always had with the Hellraiser films is that they are big on ideas but small on budgets. As a result, even though their concept might be grand, what they actually get to shoot looks cheap. Take for example the premise for this film, what is ‘Hell on Earth’ reduced to in this film? Hell on Earth translates to the main character running through a deserted city street while man holes explode and fire comes out of them, a few windows explode and that’s it; kind of small scale for “Hell on Earth” wouldn’t you say? My point being there’s no grand scope to the concept even though it should’ve been grand. You’re left wanting more, disappointed. Something all Hellraiser sequels do.

Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988) left us without our favorite Cenobytes. For some reason the filmmakers behind that film decided to eliminate everything that Clive Barker had established on the first Hellraiser film. They killed off all the memorable Cenobytes from the first film, even Pinhead himself! Yet here is Pinhead, alive and kicking on this film. Why didn’t all the other Cenobytes return as well? I guess it was just an excuse to present us with a bunch of new Cenobytes, which sadly are not better then the originals. Let’s see, we get a Cenobyte that kills with the lens of a video camera that pops out of his right eye. There’s a cd spewing Cenobyte which feels so out dated now that CD’s are disappearing. Worst part is that these new Cenobytes are on the film for only five minutes, they are sent back to hell in the blink of an eye…and again you are left wanting. It’s as if they really didn’t think of interesting situations to put these characters in. The main character (a reporter trying to get to the bottom of things) gets rid of the Cenobytes so easily, that you never feel she’s in any sort of peril. And we’re talking about 5 or six Cenobytes with deadly weapons against one human female! It seemed like lazy filmmaking to me, there was no intent to shoot something worthwhile. Cool make up effects do not make a movie my friends. You need tense situations, you need complexities.

Is there anything positive to say about Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth? Well, not really. It feels like a lame-o sequel when compared to the original first film. At least the second one entertained with the ultra gory violence, which by the way is considerably toned down for this third entry. That edge, that feeling of shock, of the forbidden is gone; it’s not on this sequel. There are a couple of cool moments in the film, like when Pinhead walks into a club and the Cenobytes start killing everyone in the club, but it feels restrained. It feels like a wasted opportunity, that whole scene could have been so much more. Okay, I did like those scenes in which Pinhead fights himself. It’s like Pinhead the evil demon vs. the human side of Pinhead, who he used to be before he became a servant of hell. That concept was cool. The film does get sacrilegious at times; there’s a scene in which Pinhead walks into a church and starts bashing down crosses and cackling away like a mad man, but sadly these scenes amount to nothing but having Pinhead pose. The only purpose this film serves is to show us exactly what a cash in is. It kind of makes sense that the director for this film is Anthony Hickox, during the 90's, he was one of the go to directors for cheap horror sequels like Waxwork II: Lost in Time (1992) and Warlock: The Armageddon (1993). Hellraiser: Hell on Earth (1988) proves what I’ve been saying all along about the Hellraiser franchise, that after the first film, all Hellraiser sequels have gone from bad to worse with each consecutive film. It’s a good example of a franchise being treated like a cheap whore and being bled to death.  

Rating: 2 ½ out of 5  

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Hellraiser (1987)

Hellraiser (1987)

Director: Clive Barker

Cast: Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence, Sean Chapman, Doug Bradley

As I write this, it’s been almost thirty years since Clive Barker’s Hellraiser (1987) first opened the gates of hell, giving us a new horror icon to rival that of Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. Weird part is that Clive Barker wasn’t aiming to create a horror icon for a new generation, he was simply adapting his novella ‘The Hellbound Heart’ into film, his intent wasn’t creating a horror icon that horror fans would embrace vehemently and ultimately christen “Pinhead”. And Pinhead it has stayed, even though Clive Barker himself says this name is not dignified enough for the character that Barker called ‘Priest’ in the first versions of the script. Still, the character caught the public’s imagination, and there it has stayed. As I write this, there have been 9 films inspired on Barker’s Hellraiser universe, with a tenth one in production hell. Sadly, none of these numerous sequels have been as good as the original Clive Barker directed film which still remains the best film in the lengthy franchise.

Honestly, I don’t think anything done today will be as good, horrifying or gory as the images that Barker conjured up in his directorial debut. Very rarely do extremely gory or overly sexual films make it to theaters today, which is why I say that Hellraiser is a rare film that we should relish and thank the movie gods for. To use a tired phrase “they just don’t make them like this anymore”, but it’s not for lack of trying. Modern horror filmmakers are constantly trying to make films like these, but they always end up straight to video, where most gore fests end up nowadays. I know Barker is currently trying to get Hellraiser properly remade, but if you ask me, the way Hollywood works today, this remake will never go theatrical. Barker would have to tone down the blood and gore and if he does that, then it won’t be Hellraiser anymore. Sad but true. That’s why I see films like Hellraiser as a rare jewel from one of the goriest decades in horror, the 80’s! A decade in which films like Hellraiser could end up in theater screens and get a sequel every year! Seeing it now, it’s such a shock to the system when compared to the light horror films seen today, which speaks volumes about the soft core crap that passes for horror today. I feel special for having grown up with these twisted/cool horror movies that titillated my young mind!

Hellraiser was another one of those horror movies that as a 12 year old kid, I wasn’t supposed to see, yet found a way to see anyway. My morbid curiosity peaked with these films. The themes explored in Hellraiser were deadly serious and adult, yet there I was, sucking it all in, absorbing the darkness that the world had to offer.Like the dark delights the Cenobytes brought to those who opened the Lament Configuration, so where these movies for me. Dark, hellish delights that presented my young mind with a side of the human psyche I knew nothing about, but was eager to discover. These films were all about uncontrolled passions and the lengths to which a person can go to in order to get ultimate pleasure. How far will a man or woman go for the ultimate ‘good fuck’? Pretty damn far that’s how far! The film has a thing or two to say about the banality of a boring marriage versus the intensity of amazing forbidden sex. It also plays with the idea that pain and pleasure are close bed partners concepts maybe a bit too profound or dark for my innocent little mind, but hey, there’s a first time for everything right?  In Hellraiser, the Lament Configuration is a puzzle box that opens the doors to a dimension where pain and pleasure are indivisible and whoever is dumb enough to solve the puzzle instantly regrets having done so, hence the ‘lament’ in its name. This idea that a supernatural artifact can open the gates to hell isn’t in a new one, other films have played with this premise: The Beyond (1981), City of the Living Dead (1980), The Gate (1987) and The Ninth Gate (1999) come to mind, but only Hellraiser mixes the whole thing with these themes of lust and desire.

This was Clive Barker’s first film so he was a rookie when he made it, he’s admitted to not knowning much about the intricacies of filmmaking at the time of making this picture, still, what he did have was the view point of an artist, a necessary quality to pull off a film like this one. Plus, he wrote the story the film is based on, and while it’s not always a great idea to put writers behind the camara, in this case it worked with hellish charm, because Barker is a painter and he treats the images he captures with his cameras as if he was layering one of his paintings. He showed promise with what he did with this film, and went on to show growth as a filmmaker in films like Nightbreed (1990) and Lord of Illussions (1995), my favorite Barker film. This first Hellraiser film is more aesthetically pleasing to the eye than any of the sequels in the franchise. The special make up effects are amazing on this one. The resurrection sequence, in which the character of Frank comes back to life is one of the high points of the film. I recently screened this film for an audience and that scene still makes hearts stop. It’s a show stealer. Where the film does have a few faults is in the visual effects department and Barker admits that these were done in a hurry to meet the schedule, and it’s a damn shame because when those cheesy visual effects show up, it brings the film down a few notches for me. Still, as a whole the film is solid, if it wasn’t for those cheesy visual effects I’d give the film a perfect score. But whatever, I love the film, warts and all as they say.

The success of Hellraiser spawned a sequel that started rolling mere weeks after Hellraiser proved a success in cinemas and so we got Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988), a decent sequel that sadly wasn’t directed by Barker himself. Hellbound: Hellraiser II was messy in terms of story (last minute rewrites galore) and it had flaws in the visual effects department as well, but it gives us some of the best and bloodiest moments in the entire franchise and let’s not forget it also gave us Pinheads origin. For me this franchise was good up to Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992), after that one, things started to really go downhill for the franchise, with each sequel being worse than the last. If you’re really bored, then the last one that’s “watchable” is Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996), the fourth film in the series. You know the franchise was on its last legs because on that one they sent Pinhead to space! If that isn’t the sign of a franchise running out of juice, I don’t know what is. After Hellraiser Bloodline, the franchise consists of extremely low budget films that were made from scripts that weren’t even Hellraiser scripts, they were horror scripts that the producers had laying around and converted into Hellraiser films. What’s one got to do to get a decent Hellraiser film nowadays? Go to hell to get one? Here’s hoping Barker successfully reboots this franchise and gives us a new dose of decent (or maybe even better?) Hellraiser films.

Rating: 4 out of 5  



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