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6.12.14

Creepshow (1982)


Director: George A. Romero
Starring: Ed Harris, Leslie Nielsen, Ted Danson, E.G. Marshall, Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins, Stephen King
Rated R

This horror anthology from director George A. Romero and writer Stephen King is an unabashed love letter to the infamous EC horror comics of the 1950's. A boy (Joe King, son of Stephen, aka writer Joe Hill) is confronted by his angry father (Tom Atkins) over one of the boy's prized possessions: a lurid horror comic called "Creepshow." The exchange gets heated to the point where Dad slaps the kid in the face and storms out to toss his beloved comic book in the trash. The heartbroken boy cries over the loss...until "the Creep" appears at his bedroom window. From there the comic appears and introduces us to five tales:

"Father's Day" - The corpse of a cruel and domineering millionaire rises from the grave in search of the birthday cake his good-for-nothing children never gave him.

"The Crate" - The discovery of a crate containing a furry and ferocious creature leads a p-whipped college professor (Hal Holbrook) towards a creative solution for his troubled marriage.

"The  Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill" - A dim-witted farmer (writer Stephen King) discovers a meteorite that oozes a glowing liquid that covers all it touches in a rapidly growing moss.

"Something to Tide You Over" - A wealthy psychopath (Leslie Nielsen) devises a sadistic revenge against his wife and her lover (Ted Danson).

"They're Creeping Up on You" - A mean rich guy (E.G. Marshall) finds himself trapped in his apartment with a horde of ornery cockroaches.

CREEPSHOW isn't remotely scary, nor is it trying to be. Instead it sets out to capture the macabre tone of comics like "Tales from the Crypt" and "Vault of Horror." Like its source of inspiration, each story features a revenge theme in which characters experience an unexpected, and grisly, fate. The script by Stephen King has been often criticized as being too simplistic and heavy-handed. The critics are missing the point -- the old EC comics were basically simple morality tales in which a clear villain paid a horrible price for their misdeeds. There was nothing subtle about them, and they were more about setting up a shocking payoff than exploring complex themes. To that end, King perfectly captures the vibe of the influential comics. Meanwhile, George Romero incorporates a a colorful, comic-inspired visual style throughout the film that perfectly complements King's stories. It's a fun and unique way of making viewers feel like they're thumbing through the pages of a lurid horror comic, and it's unlike anything Romero has done before or since.

For my money, the person who really shines here is special effects wizard Tom Savini. Having made his name as the "Master of Gore" (MANIAC, DAWN OF THE DEAD, THE BURNING, THE PROWLER, etc), Savini was given the chance to spread his wings and tackle a slew of creature effects for the first time. From the very detailed corpse in "Father's Day" to the awesome puppetry behind Fluffy the crate creature, Savini shows that he is capable of so much more than blood-and-guts.

If you're over the age of five, there's little chance CREEPSHOW is going to frighten you in any way. However, it's the only collaboration between three masters of their craft at the height of their respective powers. It's also a fun movie that demonstrates just how much love the three have for the comic books of their youth. Over thirty years after its release, CREEPSHOW remains on of the finest horror anthology films ever made.




5.12.14

Snowtown (2011)


aka THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS

Director: Justin Kurzel
Starring: Lucas Pittaway, Daniel Henshaw, Louise Harris, Aaron Viergever, Richard Green
Not rated, 119 minutes


SNOWTOWN is a harrowing portrait of the people surrounding Australia's most notorious serial killer. The film focuses on teenage Jamie, a young man living with his cancer-stricken mother and his two younger siblings in a low income housing community in Adelaide. His mother, Elizabeth (Louise Harris), is in a relationship with a neighbor who enjoys taking nude pictures Jamie and his brothers. Meanwhile, step brother Troy thinks nothing of wrestling Jamie to the ground and sodomizing him when the feeling moves him. It's a hopelessly bleak existence in a neighborhood teeming with sordid characters and broken souls.

Hope comes in the form of a charismatic neighbor named John Bunting (Daniel Henshaw).  John invites himself into the family's life and quickly becomes a sort-of boyfriend to Elizabeth, and a father figure to her sons. When John learns of the nude photos, he immediately devises a solution: psychological warfare. With Jamie's assistance, John chops up the corpses of a dozen kangaroos and and soaks them in five gallon buckets of blood. In broad daylight, John splatters the creep's house with gore, sending a very clear and terrifying message.  As Jamie becomes drawn into John's inner circle, he learns that John is not content with acts of psychological terror -- nor are pedophiles the only target of John's rage.

There's an oppressive atmosphere of dread and despair that hovers over SNOWTOWN, which perfectly compliments the unsettling subject matter. With the exception of one extremely graphic torture scene, the film doesn't wallow in the sordid details of the John Bunting story. Instead, director Justin Kurzel forces viewers to experience the feeling of pending doom that hovers over virtually every character in this movie. No one is safe in John Bunting's world; anyone can be tortured and killed at any moment. This feeling of unbearable tension is due in large part to Daniel Henshaw's astonishing turn as the psychopathic John Bunting. Affable working class bloke one minute, a snarling attack dog the next, Henshaw's Bunting pulsates with danger in every scene.

This is a movie that makes you see and feel things you don't want to see and feel. This isn't a pleasant movie, or one that you could call entertaining. It is, however, an incredibly well-made and profoundly disturbing look at a real-life monster and the people in his grip.  SNOWTOWN is one of the best true crime/serial killer films ever made, though it's one many will not be able to make it through.

4.5 out of 5

2.12.14

Eden Lake (2008)



Director: James Watkins
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kelly Reilly, Jack O'Connell, Thomas Turgoose
Rated R, 91 minutes

The time-worn trope of sophisticated city slickers clashing with lower-class country dwellers gets the survival horror treatment in James Watkins's EDEN LAKE. Here the urban folk are represented by Jenny (Kelly Reilly) and Steve (Michael Fassbender; PROMETHEUS), a couple of lovebirds who seek to escape the grind of city life with a romantic weekend in the English countryside. They cross paths with a gang of trashy kids, led by an especially nasty little prick named Brett (Jack O'Connell; STARRED UP), and what begins as minor annoyance is exacerbated by a few bad decisions and ends up leading horrific violence. 
It's a story that has been told in many ways and in many genres. EDEN LAKE manages to set itself apart by being meaner and nastier than its peers, as well as by featuring terrific performances by the film's leads. Despite the fact that they do some tremendously stupid things, which only serve to make their situation worse, you genuinely care about Steve and Jenny's plight. The come off as decent people who are thrust into a world whose rules and customs they cannot possibly comprehend. And on the other side, Brett is a monstrous character, perfectly depicted by O'Connell, that will have you gritting your teeth and yelling at the screen. This is a case where actors elevate the material, and director James Watkins keeps things lean and mean, slowly ramping up the tension until the film's pitch black and haunting conclusion. Highly recommended.
 
4 out of 5