Eaten Alive

Tobe Hooper sure likes them weirdo, murderin’ yokels. As if he couldn’t get enough of all the dead skin wearin’, chainsaw totin’, blood suckin’ hicks in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre he takes us back into familiar territory with Eaten Alive – the loosely factual based story about an unhinged hotel (?) owner with a swamp instead of a backyard, and a croc instead of a dog. After the success of his breakthrough film it appeared that Hooper was safely giving the audience more of the same – but is it as good as its predecessor?

No is the short answer. There are many reasons why The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is held in such high esteem and many horror films are not. That doesn’t mean Eaten Alive isn’t worth watching – for horror fans it’s fairly close to essential viewing given the director’s pedigree, and it stars a varied cast making some interesting choices. The film starts with a lead character fake-out a la Psycho or Scream – a young woman called Clara is a somewhat reluctant prostitute working in a small town brothel. Her reluctance causes her boss to chuck her out, and she is advised to walk to a nearby hotel for the night. Lets back up – the film actually opens with a nice crotch shot as Robert Englund utters the Kill Bill inspiring ‘my name’s Buck and I like to…’ you get the idea. It’s not often that Englund gets to play a ladies man, but here we assume he has the stamina and libido of an adolescent rabbit, casting off Clara before having a threesome, before picking up a girl in a bar. The film takes place over the course of a single night – a few hours – so that Buck fella must hella fuck.

Clara finds her way to the hotel, run by the muttering unhinged Judd (Neville Brand), who recognises her as coming from the brothel. Ol’ Judd isn’t a fan of such things so he grabs his handy scythe and dispatches of Clara, feeding her to his pet crocodile. The remainder of the film is Judd’s night being disturbed by additional visitors – Buck and his girl, the local Sheriff, a bickering husband and wife and their daughter and dog, and Clara’s father and sister hot on her trail. There are quite a few comparisons to be made between this and TCM – there is a similar low grade, dirty look to the cinematography, although at times there are bizarre saturated reds and backlights. Both films feature women in peril, both feature an unhinged man using a farming tool to murderous ends, and both films are incredibly noisy, with screams and shrieks and a buzzing atypical score. The scares here don’t work nearly as well though and there is a more voyeuristic, lurid tone with plenty of boobs on display and a little more blood. The crocodile never feels like a threat and is mostly used as a disposal unit, and Judd pales as a villain in comparison to any of the TCM family.

Where the film at times surpasses TCM is in its performances. There are some truly WTF moments when it comes to the acting and some strange choices which hurt overall, but Hooper is in command of professional actors this time around. TCM’s heroine Marilyn Burns appears here too in a role that largely recalls Sally from that film. It’s the characterisation which lets the film and the performances down – Burns plays a wife and mother who moves between hating and loving her husband and giving him drugs? She is wearing a wig when she first arrives and it’s unclear if she is supposed to be some sort of criminal. It’s difficult to feel any sympathy for her then when Judd kills her husband and ties her to a bed for who knows what. Roy, her husband, is played by William Finley who gets the lion’s share of bad moments, wailing and stretching and overacting to the point of underacting. At first he is confident, then he has an inexplicable breakdown, before turning into some attempt at a vengeful hero. Judd all the while stumbles around the hotel, muttering and groaning to himself. Neville Brand has a great voice for Cinema, a deep, low tone which instantly grabs your attention, but it isn’t put to use here – hi mutterings mostly indecipherable. He’s never less than manic, hopping about on one good leg and displaying a range of tics but like his pet you imagine that a good stiff boot in the nuts would put him down easily enough.

The better performances come with Mel Ferrer and Crystin Sinclaire as Clara’s siblings. Ferrer aches with loss and guilt and a touch of manic desperation himself, while Sinclaire is the spitting image of Hilary Swank. Sinclaire doesn’t get a lot to do, but she has a confident presence and allure which makes you wonder why she never became a star. The Sheriff, as played by the ever familiar Stuart Whitman, adds his own brand of tainted understanding. Rounding out things are a young Kyle Richards as the annoying, screeching child who is chased under the house but won’t scream when there’s actually someone there who can help her, and Buck’s pickup Janus Blythe who brings another layer of amusing sleaze – both decent performances. The performance and appearance of the croc is underwhelming – it’s hidden for most of the film, but when it does pop out it doesn’t look the best – think Jaws but cheaper.

I never got around to seeing Eaten Alive until recently – it wasn’t the easiest movie to get a hold of and it never struck me as a must-see. For some reason I always assumed it was a cannibal movie and combined with it being hard to get a hold of I assumed that all meant that it probably wasn’t very good. There is an Italian cannibal movie with the same name, so somewhere along the way I merged the two in my own mind. It’s worth seeing, both as a follow-up to one of the greatest of all time, and as a quirky slice of Southern grime. Just why is there a hotel out there in the middle of nothing? Why does Clara have to struggle through a bushy forest to find her way to it – isn’t there a path? Should we assume Judd has been killing all of his guests? If he remorselessly wipes out several in this single night, then we have to assume he has done it before giving him a probably high kill rate and surely then the authorities would have been knocking on his door years before? In any case, it’s not a film you’re supposed to question – it’s played more to make you uncomfortable rather than outright scare you, and there has always been something about crazed loner hicks which has both entertained and put me on edge. While there isn’t anything a dedicated horror fan won’t have seen here before, it’s exactly the sort of film a dedicated horror fan should still get a kick out of.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Eaten Alive!

Ring 0

*Originally written in 2004

If you enjoy real, fill your pants atmosphere in films – that creeping feeling of dread usually reserved for coming face to face with your own personal phobia, then watch this and prepare yourself – the final fifteen minutes may well be the most heart-stopping, chilling fifteen minutes you will ever witness.

Just a warning though; it is slow paced, even more so than Ringu, a complaint many people seem to have with these movies, and the first time I watched it I wasn’t sure if it was leading anywhere. My problem was that I was watching it and comparing it to Ringu in my mind. The last few scenes changed my mind. The next time I watched, my mind was clear, and it scared the wits out of me. The few scary moments before the final scenes are pretty good, employing classic ‘should I look behind me’? techniques much like the previous films, but before I get to the final scenes, I’ll explain everything else.

The film begins in modern day Japan – someone has heard a rumour about a videotape with a curse… then we flashback thirty years or so and meet the Evil Spirit Sadako… only to find she is a beautiful young woman, a talented actress though shy, and misunderstood. Sadako Yamamura is part of an acting school, and her first role is a few days away. She keeps to herself, but the attentions of Toyama infuriate the other girls, who can’t understand what he sees in her when he could have any of them. The girls get jealous, and a number of deaths occur mysteriously. The story also follows a journalist who has traced down Sadako – she is the widow of a man who died, also under mysterious circumstances at the hands of, she believes, Sadako’s estranged mother. Sadako’s mother was famed for her supposed supernatural abilities, and killed herself a short while ago. The journalist wants to find out the truth, and finds Sadako just before opening night. Paying one of the jealous girls to mess with the audio equipment, hoping to get a reaction from Sadako, the play begins to go wrong, and in a Carrie-like scene, everyone blames Sadako. Then the fun really begins…

Up to this point, the film is equal parts chilling, beautiful, and to a certain extent confusing. The acting has been very good from everyone, especially Yukie Nakama who drags out our sympathy. Toyama is the only person who trusts Sadako, and tries to defend her, eventually leading to one of the most tragic scenes I can recall seeing. Every scene is shot trying to balance beauty with the creation of fear, a wonderful irony considering Sadako’s own birth and life – she doesn’t want to hurt anyone, and is capable of great beauty, but all she seems to do is scare and kill.

I’ve probably hyped the film too much now, but the final scenes in the forest and Sadako’s old home are really that good. Terrifying, and directed brilliantly – watch for the way the forest suddenly changes colour from green and full of life, to that Sepia tinge used in the first films to show both the past and the afterlife. And watch in the background for a long haired figure in white floating past the trees. One of the most underrated horror movies of recent years, mainly because it can seem confusing at first glance, and because very few questions are actually answered. The point is, the questions are there to be asked, for us to work them out ourselves – we become like the journalists in each of the movies, drawing ourselves closer into the tragedy and threat of Sadako’s life until we cannot escape.

Wake In Fright

For the longest time, Australia has been known more as an exporter of beer, singers, and Television, even though they have a wide, varied, and interesting home-grown cinema. Even though there have been a number of breakthrough hits or films which have brought attention to the country – Mad Max, Wolf Creek, and of course Crocodile Dundee, it remains a mysterious uncharted land for your average cinema goer with a slew of undoubted classics of multiple genres passing far under the radar. Wake In Fright is arguably the foremost of these – a film which received critical praise upon release but a muted commercial response and which has found subsequent acclaim with each new generation of viewers.

I should get the notorious elements out of the way first, as they may be the deciding factor on whether you watch or not. The film does feature live and active violence against kangaroos, with some scenes of a drunken hunt. We see them being chased by dog, by car, shot, wrestled with, and stabbed – it’s understandable if you want out at this point. The filmmakers defended the footage by saying it was part of a real hunt and later became disgusted by it that they feigned a power outage so it would end. The hunt is just one of the symbols of machismo which the film explores, surrounded by drinking, fighting, a give no fucks attitude, and a disregard for anything resembling cultured humanity.

It’s the descent of an otherwise decent man into this male pack mentality which takes up most of the film. John is an affable teacher in the Outback but who wants more from life – an escape from Australia and a more cultured and worthwhile existence. During the Christmas holidays he heads towards Sydney and his girlfriend, stopping off in an outback town known as The Yabba. The locals are overbearingly friendly, casing John as an outsider and keen to involve him in their customs – namely, drinking, eating, and gambling. John as an intelligent educator views himself as better than them, treating these experiences as an off-putting but nevertheless interesting excursion on his way to civilization, but the effects of alcohol and the lure of a huge gambling win to fund his escape to London set him on a downward spiral. Trapped without a penny to his name, he must rely on the charity of the locals and pay them back by getting involved.

The film takes a different approach to the ‘fall of the civilized man’ sub-genre which populated the early 70s. Rather than some extreme event twisting the protagonist towards violent revenge, John is led by smiling faces and helping hands towards what would appear to be man’s natural state. He isn’t forced or forcibly coerced but knowingly succumbs to a societal peer-pressure however horrendous the result. This is all convincing thanks to a terrific lead by Gary Bond and a host of buffoon locals and drunks, most notably a fantastic lost performance by Donald Pleasence. Pleasence veers between funny, charming, extremely creepy, displaced, and at home often within the same scene, often with just a glance and a facial expression. Few films have a power to fill you with unease quite as much as this, and upon rewatch it’s not clear why or how these feelings come so powerfully. There is nothing overt in the first 30 minutes, nothing grim or harsh or violent or frightening. Certainly Kotcheff’s direction has a lot to do with it with plenty of rapid camera moves and spins and frantic close-ups of shouting and claustrophobic masculinity. More likely it is that the film, through its many combinations of writing, direction, score, performance and more, has tapped into a fear which many men have – a fear of the alpha, a fear of not being part of the pack or possibly worst of all, the fear of being part of it – and enjoying it.

The film starts out with a wonderful shot, evocative of Once Upon A Time In The West of all things – just an empty landscape which stretches on forever, a railway track yearning for the horizon, and a single building on either side. The camera does a creeping 360 and we see, impossibly, that there is nothing else for miles – we may as well be at the end of the Earth. It’s the only glimpse of beauty we get as the camera spends the rest of the film closed in and up close. As hopeless and vast as the opening shot is, and as much as John desires to escape from it, by the end he and us want nothing more than a return to its simplicity. Wake In Fright is one of the finest Australian movies ever made and one of the best films of the 70s. It’s depressing that so few film fans have seen it or even know it exists, but it should be spoken of in the same breath as Straw Dogs, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Taxi Driver as an example of striking, unforgettable 70s Cinema.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Wake In Fright!

The VVitch

Few horror films of recent years have seen the acclaim that The VVitch has received. Maybe only The Babadook has reached those heights, and of course The Conjuring movies from a moneys perspective. It’s often a crutch when a genre film receives such adoration – fans expect greatness, it’s hyped as the greatest thing since Regan turned her head 360, and many are left disappointed. We know these things, so it’s always prudent to ignore hype, good or bad publicity where possible, and watch the film on its own terms. I dream of living in a fascist state where we are forced to consume entertainment on Day 1 with no spoilers. Or like things used to be in the good old days, dagnammit. Speaking of the good old days….

The film is set in the grimy, desolate wilderness of New England in the 1600s. A Puritan family is expelled from their village for some religious reason, and is forced to squeeze out an existence on the outskirts of a nearby mammoth forest. One day, their newborn baby seemingly vanishes during a game of peekaboo with daughter Thomasin, kicking off a series of unnatural events which causes the already fractured family to suspect one another of witchcraft and fall apart. As far as plot goes, there isn’t a lot on the surface, but the rites of passage, fear, and sexual tension bubbling underneath barely scrapes the surface of everything else going in.

The debut by Robert Eggars is one of the most startling in recent years, showing an assurance and skill most directors never achieve. Eggers wrote the story too, so his familiarity with the characters and with tone already places him at an advantage for telling the tale, but he makes the whole experience so visionary and cinematic too. While the Witch itself only appears in a few scenes, her presence is ever-felt – in the wind, in prayers, in shadows, in the characters’ whispers, and via the woods themselves as a metaphor. Eggers shoots with a looming distance – these small, inconsequential people on the verge of massive and ancient unknowns, giving their existence over to one God while a more malevolent opposite stalks them with efficient glee. The film is shot in near darkness and like Kubrick before him, he went for an authentic approach with respect to lighting, using only candles and the stars. Likewise, costume and soundtrack are sparse, and the casting sees British stalwart Ralph Ineson playing the frustrated patriarch over Anna Taylor-Joy in her breakthrough performance. The performances are worn and ruined wonderfully, the casting picking English talent with distinct features and voices who have an authentic air of having ‘been through some shit’. While the score is sparse, it is also punctuated by a sound design filled with air and the burden of silence and space.

Horror fans looking for blood and guts or obvious scares may be disappointed, but those of us who also enjoy a story expertly directed and descending towards the enraptured layers of hell will adore this. Anyone who has lived outside of suburbia or who has walked through the countryside at night will understand the inbred fear of darkness and the unknown when the sun lays its head – modern technology and knowledge has taught us that there is little to fear, but hundreds of years ago when light was your only protection and a Bible verse your only armour, isolation and darkness and weather were all-pervading issues of concern to overcome. Throw in a murderous supernatural enemy and things go from bleak to apocalyptic. Eggers harnesses these fears and this atmosphere perfectly, creating a film experience unlike anything else in recent memory.

Ring 2

*Originally written in 2004, so apologies for the quality

The fear and utter dread continues in Part Two of the Ringu trilogy, set one week after the events of the first film. The girlfriend of Takayama tries to solve the mystery of his death by finding his ex-wife and son, and in doing so brings herself deeper into Sadako’s life than anyone previously had.

The movie is at times frustrating and confusing, at others ingenious, yet  the scares remain intact. For the first time we get the sense of Sadako as a tragic figure, rather than a relentless spirit with the sole purpose of seeking revenge on everyone. She had been alive down that well for a long time, and seeing the world from her eyes helps us appreciate the build up of rage. While the tension is lessened, the sudden jolt scares are increased – terrifying moments including the well scene at the end, one involving a mirror, and a scene with a treacherous journalist. Again the acting is flawless, but the most interesting part for me was the fact that minor characters from the first film get the top billing here.

The film is let down by its confusing explanation of the curse and how to stop it, or harness it, but this is a minor flaw. When you feel your stomach turning inside out, your breath catching in your throat as Sadako floats past doors, you know you’re watching an excellent horror movie. And when you turn off the lights, and imagine those nail-less fingers stretching for your ankles, you know you won’t be able to sleep easily for a while.

The Night Eats The World

Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend is my favourite book of all time. Beyond its influence on horror (no I Am Legend, then no Night Of The Living Dead, no Stephen King, and nothing which either of those two examples have influenced) it remains a stone-cold classic, chilling, prescient, written with a surgeon’s precision and nerve, and it is filled with horror, humour, despair, and acceptance in defeat. It’s so rarely included on any best books of the 20th Century lists as to render those lists worthless. Aside from the many films, TV shows, and books which it has spawned, there have been a few direct or pseudo direct adaptations – The Last Man, The Omega Man, and Will Smith’s I Am Legend. None of those are worth watching more than once, and none come close to the majesty of Matheson’s original. Although it is completely unofficial and not mentioned anywhere as being an influence, The Night Eats The World is the best film version of Matheson’s story we have so far. Interestingly, the movie is in fact an adaptation of a different book by Pit Agarmen/Martin Page which I have not yet read but almost certainly borrows from Matheson.

Just to expand further on that point – both works see a man left seemingly alone in the world, surrounded by the undead. In I Am Legend they are vampires, and here they are zombies, but they are fairly interchangeable – all they want is to kill the lone survivor. The survivor in each spends his days barricading himself up, scavenging for food and supplies, keeping fit, and trying to not go insane. I Am Legend has a dog, The Night Eats The World has a cat. Both are character studies on the nature and notion of survival, on humanity, on loneliness, and while Matheson goes all in on the scientific side, here director Dominique Rocher is more concerned with philosophy, with tone, with cinema. Both works discuss whether the human is now useless – a soon to be extinct relic no longer required by nature and that the undead are the new normal. Our hero in the movie, Sam, discusses this as he descends into madness with a zombie named Alfred which he traps in a lift shaft. Those viewers looking for a straight horror movie may want to look elsewhere because while there are scares – effective ones – this is not supposed to be a visceral experience and instead is a rumination on existence when there seems to be no future – an idea so horrifying you’d struggle to name one worse.

Sam is a musician living in Paris. The film begins with him visiting an ex-girlfriend to pick up some of his recorded pieces of music. Unaware that she is having a monumental party in her apartment block he struggles with the pretentious people, the strangers, the crowds, and the sheer awkwardness of being there. With little to no dialogue or interaction we are put firmly in his shoes and know pretty much everything we need to know about him. A series of unfortunate events lead to Sam falling asleep in a locked room while the camera slowly zooms towards the door as familiar sounds of carnage erupt briefly. The next morning Sam wakes, finds the apartment empty but destroyed and filled with blood. He meets his zombified ex-girlfriend, locks himself away, and soon discovers that some cataclysmic event has unfolded leaving him abandoned an alone. Cultured viewers already know the zombie tropes, so the film doesn’t need to bore us with explanations or examples of how you’re turned, how to kill them, et cetera, and Sam simply resigns himself to the facts. He is alone, he needs food, he needs water, he needs shelter. The rest of the film is a showcase for these struggles, but more importantly what to do with his time and with his existence once these struggles have been overcome.

Sam is as uncomfortable with people as he is without. His descent towards insanity is gradual, shown in clever ways such as terrifying nightmares, possible hallucinations, definite hallucinations, and other subtle and not so subtle changes in his personality and actions. I’ve often wondered how I would cope under the same strains. Part of me thinks I would have the time of my life – free to do whatever I wanted and perfectly fine with never meeting another living soul again. Then again, that was before I had a family. And I’m essentially useless at DIY, cooking, farming, and anything else needed for surviving under these conditions. And most of the things I’d want to do would be rendered obsolete by the fact that electricity would be gone and a step outside would likely lead to certain death. Like many of its ilk, the film forces these questions and assumptions upon the viewer, though this is the most effective example I’ve seen since Dawn Of The Dead. 

The film is a slow-burner. There is almost no dialogue, and any violence and action when it comes is swift and brief. For me this worked, especially knowing Sam’s character and within the self-defined constrictions of the piece, but I understand that other viewers may get frustrated or even bored by the unfolding story. A few negative reviews have gone so far as calling it dull and a few have been angered by the open-ended conclusion. This isn’t a film which has a beginning and an end. This is a few months in the life of a man trapped and buried by insurmountable odds, and the conclusion is simply one more step – a step towards more of the same, or a step towards whatever is next is down to the viewer to assess. Again, you’ve asked what you would do if faced with the same situation – what would you do faced with the ending?

Anders Danielsen Lie is an up and coming star, with a number of notable releases and performances in this and recent years. The film belongs almost entirely to him and the director, who I can only assume worked closely on most aspects. His performance is gritty and quietly powerful, avoiding many of the usual hallmarks of the ‘guy goes mad’ story. Without becoming too extreme in any single direction, he runs the gamut of emotions and remains convincing throughout. Rocher is surely a name to watch now too, the latest director to wield a more subtle approach to terrifying audiences, and I will be excited to see what her comes up with next. His camera rarely jump-cuts or moves beyond a pedestrian pace and he is more interested in how desolate a room or a city can look than how bloody a person can be when being torn to shreds. The decision to make zombies almost completely silent is more potent than it sounds and leads to some of the more frightening encounters in many years. A strong soundtrack fills out some of the empty spaces and a few supporting characters add to the overall quality and effect. Although I admit to being predisposed to loving this, it is a highly recommended voyage into the horror of solitude. Train To Busan came from nowhere and thrilled audiences and rejuvenated a genre everyone was sick with – The Night Eats The World does the same, but in an entirely different style. In a year where horror saw a number of major financial and critical successes, and in a year where I read countless best movie of the year posts featuring every Superhero movie under the sun, The Night Eats The World is not being discussed by anyone but should be leapfrogging its way onto every series movie fan’s list.

Ring

*Originally written in 2003

Just when horror movies were slipping back towards mediocrity and worse, after the high of Scream and the many lows which followed, Hideo Nakata decided to bring Koji Suzuki’s hit novel to the big screen. The result is the most terrifying movie of the decade, and one of the most chilling movies of all time. Made on a tiny budget the film is relentlessly evil, the tension never gives in, and you will not forget it for the rest of your life. Stylish, borrowing from other films and surpassing them, Ringu is a demon reincarnated as a movie, its effect on us everlasting, ensuring we spread the word…

The film opens with a Scream-like scene and the tension is already high, our wrists put in a deathly grip from the outset. Two teenage girls are discussing a video one of them claims to have seen, saying it is the scariest thing she has ever see. Once you watch it the phone rings, and a voice tells you you will die in seven days. The girl though says she is joking. Then the TV switches itself on and she hears scratching noises. It has been seven days. We cut to a reporter, Reiko Asakawa who is doing a story about the video curse. She investigates some local deaths, including her niece and soon realises that all her niece’s friends are dead too, having watched a mysterious video. Leaving her son behind she goes in search of the video. Eventually she finds it, watches it and answers the ringing phone. Convinced she is going to die she contacts her ex-husband and tries to find a way to save herself. He is not convinced, and watches it as well. However, later that night their son Yoichi also watches, so they all try to solve the curse, uncovering the story of the Yamamuras, in particular – Sadako.

Aside from having one of the most frightening climaxes in movie history, one which the recent remake completely failed to resurrect, there is an eerie atmosphere throughout the film. There are many other moments which add to the atmosphere and build towards the infamous final scare. The last 15 minutes are extremely scary as Reiko and Ryuji search for Sadako and feature some of extremely nail-biting scenes. Everything in the film is designed to unsettle – the unearthly soundtrack reminiscent of Argento and Goblin’s works, the fixed and cornered camera angles so we can never see what is near, the grim surroundings, the complete lack of humour, the use of colour etc. The performances are all very good as well, Nanako Matsushima as Reiko swiftly moves from confident to frantic wreck, and exudes every possible emotion. Hiroyuki Sanada is extremely strong, slowly coming to realise the truth, conveying guilt over his son and remaining both mysterious and strong when his ex-wife gives up. His final scene is perfectly acted, heightening the overall effect. Rikiya Otaka as Yoichi manages to be creepy, but his role becomes more central in the second film. The rest of the cast are all immensely good. The inclusion of the timer is also highly effective, ensuring the tension rises as we know time is running out.

Of course the film has its flaws. Some people will be put off by the slow nature. Some people will feel the need to have every question answered, and Ringu leaves many unanswered – that is the point. If we were in this situation we would be looking for answers – anything to help us, to relieve the fear, something real to hold on to, but nothing is given. As we are left wondering, the film will stay with us, continuing to haunt us over time, ensuring we do not escape the ring. As it was adapted from a novel, certain inherent difficulties arise. In the novel it is a man who is the reporter, his wife is barely around, and his near-sadist friend takes up the Ryuji role, hoping to put some excitement into his life. In the book, beware all reflective surfaces. The curse is more of a disease than a ghost. Nakata takes the best elements, and makes the story his own. There will be some confusing moments, but the constant threat of something happening will mean you will continually be focused on the film.

The sense of isolation is strong, and there is a coldness surrounding the film. Many rooms are blank, places lack expression, and people speak in monotone, and avoid eye contact. Nakata explores Japanese culture and mythology, showing the intrusion of the West via moments which remind us of past films. There is more than one reference to The Terminator – the final shot, the dates, the relentless evil of Sadako, technology backfiring, and it recalls other films such as Videodrome, Eraserhead, Straw Dogs, and there is veiled thanks to Stephen King. (Translate the name of a certain familiar Stephen King town into Japanese). Nakata shows himself to be the new master of tension, and along with Miike, Kitano and others is proving that Japanese cinema is a force not to be taken lightly. I first saw this around 5 years ago, and it is still rewarding and scary today. The themes of abandonment, fear and guilt stay with the viewer, coming out more with each viewing, once the initial fear has gone. This is one horror movie everyone should see, vastly superior to the remake which opted for cheap scares, flashy camera-work and loud noises. This is subtle, both nightmarish and real, and uses one of the most effective themes of horror movies to the fullest – the inevitability of death. We are doomed and there is no escape, but that should not stop us fighting for each other and ourselves, no matter how invincible our enemy.

Paranormal Activity – Unpublished Screenplay

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY

OPEN ON:

EXT. SANTA ROSA. CALIFORNIA – DAY

A WOMAN drives into a DRIVEWAY in a CAR and steps out.

KATIE

Seriously?

MICAH

What?

KATIE

What? We have just bought this inexplicably gargantuan house that there’s no way we can possibly afford given that we are apparently unemployed, and now you have also purchased a Hollywood grade camera. And now you are pointing it at me.

MICAH

Yup.

KATIE

Why you do that?

MICAH

Well you know, it’s what all the kids are doing these days – filming pranks, shooting themselves eating tide pods, unwrapping toys, and uploading the clips to Instagram

KATIE

Insta-wha?

MICAH

Emm, oh right. What year is this again? 2007?

KATIE

It’s 2006, you dick.

MICAH

Really? Right. What about Youtube – is that a thing?

KATIE

Yes. Micah, you are behaving quite oddly today, and only marginally less annoying than you will be later.

MICAH

HA HA HA! Yes, it’s wonderful being young, white, and Middle Class in these United States! Nothing will ever go wrong!

INT. BATHROOM – NIGHT

KATIE is brushing her teeth. MICAH is grunting.

MICAH:

HEURRRRGH! RARRRRR! PLOP!

KATIE

Seriously? Do you really need to drop one off while I’m in here? It’s disgusting.

MICAH

HRRRRNNNGGAAA!

KATIE

And why on Earth are you filming this!?

MICAH

Gotta get dem likes and subcribes, boiii!

KATIE

Well, don’t get any ideas about bringing that thing into the bedroom tonight. I need my beauty sleep because my sister KRISTI and her husband DANIEL are coming, but not his daughter – our niece – ALI, or their son, HUNTER.

MICAH

HRRRYUUUNNNTERRRR! PLOP!

INT. BEDROOM – NIGHT

KATIE

Ahhh, I can’t wait to get into bed tonight, for a long and restful night without any funny or spooky busin- hey, what is that thing doing in here?

MICAH

Ugh. Why are you always com-plain-ing about EV-REE-THING? Look, it’s important that we document every pointless second of our worthless lives for future generations. You never know who might need it! Now stop your yapping and take off your bra.

KATIE

I will not!

MICAH begins stamping his foot in front of the CAMERA and mewling like a SPANKED INFANT.

MICAH

WHAAAAAAAA! WHAAAAAAAA!

KATIE

Stop that right now, you’re making the floor creak!

MICAH

WHAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

MICAH stamps his FEET around the room until A DRESSING GOWN falls off the BEDROOM DOOR.

MICAH

What the!? Did you see that? The dressing gown just flew onto the ground as if possessed by an evil spirit! I think this house might be haunted! YIPPEE!

KATIE

Seriously?

INT. BEDROOM – LATER THAT NIGHT

KATIE and MICAH are in BED. They are sleeping. THE DRESSING GOWN lies on the floor where it fell earlier.

MICAH (mumbling in sleep)

Mmmy life is brrilllya. Mmylifeis mmmm. You’re beautifu-ul, it’s true!

Suddenly, the DRESSING GOWN stands up all on its own as if possessed by an evil spirit. It starts to MOONWALK in front of the CAMERA before sliding out of the door and out of sight.

DRESSING GOWN

WEEEEEEEE!

INT. LIVING ROOM – DAY

MICAH

Wowzers – look at this footage!

KATIE

What is it? Did you record any further ghostly sightings?

MICAH

No, somehow I missed those, but check out how cool the toilet looks when it flushes in HD!

KATIE

Ew, gross.

The DOORBELL RINGS.

KATIE

That’s probably my sister, KRISTI and her husband DANIEL.

MICAH

Cool! I can’t wait to show DANIEL my sweet setup.

KATIE

Hello KRISTI!

KRISTI

Hello KATIE!

KATIE

Where is your husband, DANIEL?

KRISTI

He couldn’t make it, he is busy setting up cameras around our house.

KATIE and MICAH together

Cameras? Really? Why?

KRISTI

Yeah, also he hasn’t been cast yet, and come to think of it, neither have I, but we can retcon those details in later.

MICAH

Let me give you some privacy so you can talk about WOMAN STUFF. I’ll just leave my camera here.

MICAH leaves and KATIE and KRISTIE sit down

KRISTI

So why do you have a camera now? I hope you haven’t encountered any spooky goings-on? Going-ons? Whatever.

KATIE

Well, now that you mention it, I did think I heard some chilling noises last night, and ever since we’ve moved here I think I keep seeing a shadow standing at the bottom of my bed. And one time I thought I saw a Mexican running through my kitchen, but that seems unlikely.

KRISTI

Oh ho ho, I’m sure it’s probably nothing. La la la, lets talk about something else.

KATIE

Wait a second, I’m remembering more things – things I had forgotten about. Things from our childhood.

KRISTI

Yeah, our childhood was great. Nothing weird ever happened. Apart from that time our parents were gruesomely and mysteriously murdered and our Grandmother had to take care of us.

KATIE

WHAT!? I had forgotten that – I thought they died in a totally accidental housefire! But who cares, what’s important is that I remember I had a friend called Toby. You all thought he was imaginary, but he was really real! Wouldn’t it be cool if he came back?

KRISTI

No?

INT. BEDROOM – NIGHT

MICAH and KATIE are sleeping again, the lazy BASTARDS. Suddenly, the DOOR creaks open. It’s really quiet, but out of nowhere A LOUD NOISE MAKES A LOUD NOISE!

MICAH

Jesus, do that in the bathroom will you?

KATIE

I’m like literally terrified. I think this house really is cursed! I want to move out!

MICAH slaps her face. Twice.

MICAH

Silence woman, you are being hysterical. The only thing cursed in this house is your infernal mouth.

KATIE

I’m so sorry, sweetie, I’ll be good.

INT. LIVING ROOM – DAY

KATIE is literally on the TELEPHONE. Not literally.

KATIE

Come on, come on, pick up. Oh! Yes, hello! Is this the Priest’s hotline? Oh, thank goodness. Tell you what it is, I recently moved into a new house and I think it might be haunted – possibly by my imaginary childhood friend, TOBY. Uh huh. Uh huh. Mmm. That’s right. Uh huh. Mmm. A crucifix, yes. Uh huh. Got it. Mmm. Uh huh. Oh – you’ll send someone over right away? That’s fantastic! I’ll be here!

EXT. DRIVEWAY – DAY

A PRIEST arrives on a BICYCLE. You know he is a PRIEST because he is carrying a BIBLE, a set of BEADS, a LARGE FLASK with ‘HOLY WATER’ written on the side, and one of those things around his NECK.

PRIEST

Hello, you must be KATIE, and I must be a PRIEST.

KATIE

You are correct on both counts. Do come in.

PRIEST

Ah, before we enter, I would like to say a quick prayer in LATIN, if you don’t mind.

KATIE

Go ahead, that’s what I’m paying you for.

PRIEST

Semper ubi, sub ubi. AMEN.

KATIE

I don’t think that means what you think it means, but whatever.

INT. LIVING ROOM – DAY

The PRIEST is looking up at the ceiling, as if he can see something only he can see. He SHIVERS.

PRIEST

This place is…. evil. This room…. this house…. that lamp…. evil.

KATIE

Oh woe! Is there nothing you can do!? Why will no one help us poor, defenceless millenials!?

PRIEST

This rug…. that wall… evil.

Suddenly, ANOTHER REALLY LOUD BANG GOES BANG, and the EVIL LAMP wooshes across the room and smashes behind the PRIEST.

PRIEST

What the fuck! That lamp almost got me! I’m getting out of here!

KATIE

But what should I do?

PRIEST

Contact your Rabbi!

INT. BATHROOM – NIGHT

KATIE is in the shower. The CAMERA is watching every CREVICE. Uh oh! The DRESSING GOWN is moving again!

DRESSING GOWN

Now’s my chance. BOW-CHIKA-WOW-WOW!

The DRESSING GOWN steps into the SHOWER with KATIE.

KATIE

What the – OH NO! HELP!

For a moment it looks like they are struggling, but eventually the DRESSING GOWN wraps around KATIE and begins to squeeze her.

KATIE

OWW! OWWW! OOOOH! Ooooh, I like that. Mmmm, come here baby.

They kiss and the CAMERA SOMEHOW FADES TO BLACK.

INT. BEDROOM – NIGHT

KATIE is already in BED.

MICAH (OS):

Honey, I’m home! Where are you?

We hear FOOTSTEPS approaching and assume it is MICAH ascending the stairs. We are correct.

MICAH

Oh, there you are. Sorry I’m late, it’s just, you know what the guys are like when they’ve had a few. I missed you so much.

MICAH stops talking into the CAMERA and turns to see KATIE sitting up in bed and STARING at NOTHING.

MICAH

Oh, hi, I ah, didn’t see you there. Are you keeping well?

KATIE says nothing. In fact, she doesn’t say anything at all.

MICAH

Ohhh-kayyy.

INT. BEDROOM – LATER THAT NIGHT

KATIE and MICAH are sleeping. SOMETHING bumps the CAMERA and KATIE stirs.

KATIE

Ugh, what a weird dream. I dreamed that I was… never mind. Back to sleep we go.

KATIE lies down again, but is suddenly grabbed by an unseen force and dragged out of the BEDROOM feet first.

KATIE

MICAH! Help meeeeeee!

MICAH

In a minute.

KATIE (OS)

No, please don’t kill me, I’ll do anything! TOBY? MICAH!

MICAH finally wakes up, STARTLED.

MICAH

Katie? KATIE!

MICAH runs out of the room. OS we hear various screams and grunts and demonic CACKLES. There is one final yelp, and then a loud SNAP. Then silence. Eventually FOOTSTEPS come up the stairs and we assume it is KATIE or MICAH or DANIEL. We are only half right! KATIE crawls disconcertingly into the room and her face is all weird and messed up in a spooky way. She suddenly lunges at the CAMERA.

CUT TO: BLACK

A TITLE CARD READS:

Five days later, after being alerted by a neighbor concerned by a foul smell, a local Constable found the body of Micah with his head twisted all the way around. This footage was taken as evidence. Katie’s whereabouts are unknown.

POST CREDITS SCENE – INT. BEDROOM – NIGHT

The Dressing Gown is doing THE THRILLER DANCE in front of the CAMERA.

MICAH (OS):

Keep it down up there, some of us are trying to rest in peace!

It is unclear if this section took place before or after MICAH’S death, but is ironic either way.

THE END

Leatherface

We’ve been slicing up this story for a while now haven’t we? Even through all the sequels, remakes, and copies, few films touch the raw, visceral power of Tobe Hooper’s 1974 original – a film which still gets under the skin after multiple decades and viewings. What can we possibly add to the story, and do we need to? My feelings have always been that (and the same goes for most horror films and icons) we don’t need an origin story – all we need to know is that this creature or person exists, and that it’s trying to kill the protagonists. Most origin stories try to reason with the murderer and inevitably make us sympathize to a certain degree, yet end up not making the character any more interesting. If your original story contains the origin – fine, but can a prequel coming much later be anything other than a cash grab?

Cash grabs can be entertaining, no matter how cynical they may be. Thankfully, as many flaws as this one his – almost entirely due to the plot and premise – it still does the job of entertaining me. For horror fans, there is plenty of gore and violence (though not as explicit as most others in the series) and for everyone else it is peppered with good performers giving good performances. Viewed as a standalone film separate from the mythology of the franchise it works a little better. It tells a story of revenge echoing through the years – a policeman’s daughter is senselessly murdered by a brutal isolationist family and as retribution the cop abducts a baby from the family. The baby grows up in an institute but eventually escapes with a group of Bonnie and Clyde wannabees and they embark on a collision course of mayhem which leads baby, family, and cop back to where it all began.

Sam Strike takes up the unenviable task of playing the young Leatherface – UK viewers will know him from Eastenders – and I have no issues with his performance. He has the script, he’s been told how to play it, and he follows through. Similarly, the always reliable Dorff and Tyler are engaging and Vanessa Grasse is good as the sympathetic final girl. French directing duo Maury and Bustillo became instant horror legends after their incredible debut Inside, but they don’t get to expand upon their penchant for threat and terror here, hindered by an idea and a screenplay which is entirely by the numbers and unnecessary. There’s a point in the movie – I’m not sure if it was ever intentional – that it seems like the filmmakers are going to pull an early Shyamalan and actually have a different character turn out to be Leatherface. Based on what we do get, that twist could have improved matters.

Going back to my point about not needing origin stories – a related point is that I never found Leatherface to be such an interesting character anyway. Here was this hulking man-child who appeared to be severely mentally challenged, and just happened to enjoy killing things and dead things – like the rest of his family. He was essentially a slave and both didn’t and couldn’t know better. That’s all you need to know. The original offers no suggestion of him being a complex character – that’s us projecting onto him. Rather, the film portrays him to be an almost mindless child in the body of a WWE Superstar, likely the result of generations of inbreeding and seclusion. Leatherface does a ridiculous double sell-out, a triple sell out in fact; first, by showing the young Leatherface being abducted and raised by a different family before being placed in a Young Offenders/mental institution where he is presented as a sympathetic, caring, yet conflicted human, secondly by making him become violent for no good reason, and finally by making him lose his mind and regress to…. something? There’s no reasoning behind any of it. We start out the movie not buying into the character being this emotionally involved teenager, and we end the movie not buying in to him becoming the mindless Leatherface. They even make a mess of explaining the origin of the mask – him wearing it out of necessity due to taking a bullet to the face, rather than because he simply likes the feel of human skin on his own. It makes the character much less interesting, and crucially, much less frightening. What is scary about the original is that history has shown us that there are people out there who commit these crimes for no reason other than they enjoy it. Here, in trying to explain evil they instead act like the parent showing that the coat in the closet isn’t the boogeyman.

Still, with all that said it’s better than a lot of movies of its ilk and it’s likely an improvement on many of the franchise entries. I can’t say for sure how I feel as the three other entries between 2003 and 2013 are of similar middling quality. In the end, they all feel like watchable throwaway horror which don’t come close to the madcap disgusting nature of Part 2, and are a world away from the relentless perfection of the original.

The Wailing

Before I saw The Wailing I had seen it described as one of the scariest Asian movies of the decade – that sort of widespread feedback is enough to get me excited and wary at the same time, and by thirty minutes in to the movie I was wondering if I had accidentally selected another Korean movie with the same name, a comedy caper which was nevertheless entertaining. That’s what most of the reviews don’t tell you – The Wailing isn’t just a horror movie – it’s a comedy, it’s a drama, and it’s a tragic character study which will suck you in and spit you out if you allow yourself to be swallowed.

There’s a certain cultural divide you have to be prepared for when going into most foreign cinema. Sometimes an Asian film can be straight enough and universal enough to be fully understood by any viewer, and sometimes there can be quirky moments or pieces of dialogue or character traits which seem alien. Most of the time if the film is good enough, interesting enough, these can be overlooked or even enhance our viewing and become something a Western viewer looks forward to. When you watch a film with a certain historical or political context, or in the case of The Wailing, with numerous instances of Asian folklore, it can become a little overwhelming. I’ll admit to feeling a little lost in places while watching The Wailing – coming from someone who considers themselves a seasoned viewer of Asian Cinema. I feel like I can’t give an adequate synopsis of the plot due to this, and also due to wanting to avoid spoilers/mystery. All you need to know is that it’s about a small Korean town/village policeman and father who is investigating a mysterious sickness which has been sweeping through the town, coinciding with the arrival of a Japanese man.

The film has received universal acclaim from critics and I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed it too, even if I didn’t absorb everything I could have on first viewing. I suspect more of the puzzle pieces will become clear on a second viewing, possibly uncovering more of the Asian folklore and nods to Christianity. The film passes two and a half hours long and I feel like some of the early scenes could have been saved to get the film closer to a 120 minute run time. 150 mins plus is a long time for a horror film to retain scares and dread and threat and that opening half an hour or so almost feels like a different film, with bumbling keystone cop antics at loose character info eventually giving way to the procedural, the macabre, the horror. Mystery and myth intertwine and a father who seems careless and distant is forced to reevaluate his life and priorities in a race against time, but deception and intrigue seem to thwart him at every turn. Is it scary? There are moments, set pieces, both early on and towards the end which will scare or chill, but once the main plot picks up steam it is that sense of unearthly dread and tension which will get under your skin. The film is so well acted, so beautifully crafted, that it should unnerve even the most hardcore horror viewer – just don’t go in expecting jump scares and knife attacks. Expect the unexpected, expect provocation, and expect lots of reading up on the film after watching. I expect you’ll love it.