Written Reviews

Written Review: Hellraiser (1987)

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“Hellraiser” is a film that manages to disturb viewers in all the right ways. It blurs the already nebulous line between pleasure and pain, mixing love with cruelty in a way that provokes curiosity into the raw vulgarity hidden within our subconscious. It’s a violent and visceral experience, but takes meticulous efforts not to waste a single drop of blood. Despite the plethora of carnage there is no excess. Every disgusting detail serves to further explore a reality in which sin and vice are unfiltered by societal norms and where people wander endlessly in the pursuit of materialistic satisfaction. Within the tumult of lust and greed exist an order of demons referred to as the Cenobites. The Cenobites act as the gatekeepers of chaos. They shield us from the harsh realities of human nature and maintain order between the savage beast and rational being that make up the contradiction that is mankind. Through the Cenobites, we are given a glimpse into the darkest corners of the human soul, where fear and desire intersect and become indistinguishable from each other. A place we try to deny and turn  away from, but is permanently engraved into our very being.

Written Review: Beyond Re-Animator

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Beyond Re-Animator Poster

“Beyond Re-Animator” is the final installment of Stuart Gordon’s
“Re-animator” series that began in 1985, Like most late installments, this movie comes off as unnecessary and a failed attempt to cash in on a popular title. In the fashion of “Jason goes to Hell”, “Freddy’s dead: The Final Nightmare” and “Halloween: H20”, Beyond Re-animator attempts to restart the series by trying to retcon certain plot elements while pretending to be a legitimate sequel. The result, as usual is a colossal mess of inconsistencies, leaving only the most superficial elements from the originals and leaving out the heart of what made the originals so beloved in the first place. We find our protagonist Herbert West imprisoned in a federal jail after his former assistant Dan Kain apparently turned him in to the authorities for his illegal experimentation. We never find out why Dan, a prominent character in the original films would do such a thing and Beyond Re-animator brushes off any details as unimportant. We’re also provided with no explanation as to how West escaped the cliffhanger conflict at the end of the last film “Bride of Re-animator”.
Jeffrey Combs reprises his role as the mad scientist, who continues his devilish experiments on whatever subjects he can gain access to within the confines of his small prison cell. However,
everything changes for West when Dr. Howard Philips (Jason Barry) takes
over as the prison physician. Philips had witnessed the power of West’s
reagent serum as a child and has since become obsessed with the science of re-animating the dead. Handing West his iconic syringe containing the glowing green reagent, it’s only a matter of time before West restarts his old experiments, and the entire prison is thrown into chaos. The film plays out in the typical fashion that we’ve
come to expect from this series. Characters die only to be used as test subjects for West and Philips who bring them back to life as vicious, murderous monsters. The style blends graphic body horror with ridiculous slap stick comedy. While entertaining at times, Beyond
Re-animator does little more than copy it’s predecessors and fails to
further the story of Herbert West in any meaningful way. The absence of
Stuart Gordon is obvious as the film feels more like a what if
scenario, rather than a genuine attempt to further an existing mythos.
The story is convoluted as the majority of scenes serve little more than excuses to get from A to point B. For example, there’s an ongoing joke about one of the inmates having a pet rat. We see West experiment on the rat which serves as an all to predictable
foreshadowing of the rat being re-animated as one of West’s
experiments and eventually attacking his former owner. The characters in this film, save for Herbert West, were all one dimensional and failed to establish meaningful identities for themselves. Herbert West is deranged and lacking in social graces as always, making him the sole source of entertainment. By comparison, the scenes without West were uninteresting and took up far to much of the film’s run time. It was fun seeing Jeffrey Combs reprise his
most famous role one last time. However, the unoriginal plot and hollow
performances by the rest of the cast simply couldn’t keep up with him
and ultimately dragged him down along with them and the rest of this film.
Beyond Re-animator attempted to bring new life to the Re-animator
series. Unfortunately, this experiment was a failure.

Play Violet for Me (2015)

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“Play Violet for me” is a murder mystery in the style of a classic Noir film. Foley, a stalker obsessed with a young woman named Violet, finds Violet murdered one night after following her home. He calls Violet’s identical twin sister Lyla to discuss the murder and affirms his innocence. The film transitions between the present day and the past, showing the exchange between Foley and Lyla as well as scenes of Foley’s increasing obsession with Violet up until her murder. The present is shown in black and white to portray the somber overtone of the murder being discussed. Conversely, the past is represented in bright and vibrant colors, symbolizing Foley’s idealized version of the past.  After listening to Foley’s story, Lyla confesses to murdering her sister and claims that she was actually Violet all along. Foley’s failure to identify Violet reveals his obsession as nothing more than him projecting character traits onto someone he never actually knew. This exposes his feelings as superficial and lacking justification in reality. Violet had used Foley’s obsession to set him up as the main suspect of her sister’s murder, placing him at the scene of the crime. In the end it’s uncertain whether the murderer was in fact Violet, or Lyla playing her sister and taking on Violet’s identity. This film questions the very concept of identity and whether our perceptions and the qualities we attribute to ourselves and others define reality.

The Curse of Blanchard Hill (2006)

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This movie is so forgettable that I’m having trouble coming up with anything to say about it. The plot revolved around an area in the woods called “Blanchard Hill”, that was cursed by the restless souls of a native tribe. The souls would possess people who entered the woods and have them kill any white people they encountered as revenge for how they treated the natives in the past. The story has potential, but the execution is extremely poor. Most of the scenes have little to no connection to the plot and are nothing more than filler intended to extended the length of the film to full length status. It’s obvious that the film crew had little to no budget while making this movie so they were unable to really include any nature related deaths. This resulted in the film looking more like a typical demonic possession story told poorly. The themes and moral lessons present in “The Curse of Blanchard Hill” are heavy handed and come off as trying to hard. There’s really no point in watching this movie, unless you plan on sleeping for an hour and fourteen minutes.

Absolution (2003)

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I’ve watched hundreds of low budget films. As such I’ve learned to
judge what I watch by how well executed the film is given the budget
and technology restrictions that the film crew had available.
Therefore, I feel secure saying that “Absolution” is such a terrible
film that I was barely able to sit through it. This movie is part of
the “Sub Rosa Extreme” collection, which consist low budget,
underground films shot on home video. Most of the films by this
production company are meant to imitate existing films, but with more
explicit and “extreme” content. These films consist of titles such as
“I Spit on your corpse, I piss on your Grave”, “Last House on Hell
Street” and “Killers by Nature”. All obvious rip offs of well known
films. “Absolution” attempts to be every Quentin Tarantino film ever
made all at once and fails miserably at it. Each scene consist almost
entirely of dialogue so forced and cringe worthy that it took every
once of will power I had not to turn it off or fast forward through 99
percent of it. The poor visual and audio quality only served to make
the experience even more unbearable. The plot is virtually non
existent, jumping from scene to scene with little to no transition. If
you wish to keep your sanity, then I suggest you stay away from this
one at all cost. This film isn’t bad just because it was made on a low
budget. It’s bad because every quality of it is offensive to the
senses.

I Spit on your Grave (1978)

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Minority Report (2002)

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I may be in the minority (lol bad puns), but I was less than impressed with the film “Minority Report”. I wasn’t bothered by the fact that the movie deviates from the short story of the same name by Philip K Dick. I was looking forward to seeing how the concepts of the source materials could be explored in new and interesting ways as well as with more action scenes. Unfortunately, what we got was a standard action film that pretended to be more intelligent than it actually was. John Anderton (played by Tom Cruise) is a detective who works for a special agency called “Precrime”, where he helps prevent crimes before they actually happen using the predictions of a group of psychics known as “Pre-Cogs”. The movie briefly touches on the moral and ethical principles of such an organization arresting people who haven’t actually committed any crimes when Anderton finds his own name selected as a future killer. From that point on, Anderton is hunted by the organization he used to lead in some of the worst chase scenes I’ve ever seen. In an attempt to make Anderton look cool, they make everyone else look incompetent. To prove his innocence, Anderton attempts a ridiculously convoluted plan to capture one of the Pre-cogs in order to prove his innocence. This fails and ends up having no impact on the plot other than having the pre-cog become a character. Eventually a conspiracy by the agency is exposed and Anderton manages to clear his name by proving that the Pre-crime unit was a stupid idea. This whole movie just talks in circles, making simple ideas seem complex and deep. Most of the scenes serve as nothing more than showing off the futuristic environment, where you can’t help but think that the future has way too many unnecessary advancements (talking cereal boxes?). Minority Report talks a big game, but fails to deliver anything of real value other than the aesthetics. This movie defines style over substance. Don’t waste your time with this trash. There are better action and Science Fiction Films out that deserve more attention than this one.

Breaking the Waves (1996)

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Breaking the Waves Poster

At first glance, “Breaking the Waves” may appear to be slow paced and full of unnecessary exposition. However, as the film unfolds, each scene comes together like pictures in a photo book. Protagonist Bess McNeil is an innocent and naive woman, who falls madly in love with a man named Jan Nyman. After the two are married, Jan is sent off to work at an oil rig, leaving Bess all alone. Bess pines for her husband and prays for his safe return to the point where her family and friends call her selfish for not readily accepting circumstances. Tragedy strikes when Jan is badly injured in an accident and is feared to never recover. In order to keep his beloved wife happy (and in a drug induced delusional state), Jan encourages Bess to sleep with other men in order to feel the love and affection that he can not show her. Torn between her devotion to her husband and the strict religious convictions she had been raised with, Bess struggles to fulfill Jan’s wishes and maintain her role as a devoted child of God. Ultimately Bess chooses to serve her husband, believing that God would want her to make him happy. Bess feels no love from her encounters with other men, longing only for the touch of her husband. The task kills her inside, but she lies to Jan, saying that she enjoyed the experiences. She soon finds herself shunned from her community as her attempts to serve her husband, her community and God fall apart and ultimately lead to her exile and death at the hands of a violent gang who sexual assault and murder her. As she prays for guidance, it becomes clear that there are no answers and the choice between being a good wife and a good Christian can not be compromised. We’re given a small solace at the end of the film, when Jan (recovered from his injury) learns of his wife’s death and the loyalty she showed him pays tribute to Bess after the church refuses to show such respect. “Breaking the Waves” is a tragedy of conscience, in which no matter what choice is made, heart break is the inevitable outcome. It show cases the conflict between following the strict and unwavering doctrines of religion and doing what is right in unusual and unforeseeable circumstances.

Harlequin (2016)

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This short film follows the day in the life of a clown who struggles to find meaning in his job and his existence. The clown puts on a veneer of joy during his performances that is clearly superficial, and meant to hide his melancholy and the emptiness he feels inside. At the start of the film, the audience is asked “What does it take to kill a clown?”. This question could easily be rephrased as “What does it take to kill the human spirit?”. We see the clown drinking by himself before a performance in order to numb himself to the darkness that plagues him. Flashes of the clown staring into space, with his make-up in disarray, and look increasingly deranged are interspersed throughout the film. This provides a visual insight into the clowns deteriorating sanity. A clown’s purpose is to make others laugh. To shield his audience from the ever growing Nihilism of the world. However, this clown has fallen victim to the darkness he shields others from, turning his job into his own existential hell. When performing in front of a crowd of two unenthusiastic onlookers, the clown finally snaps. He lashes out at them, as if to blame them for all his pain. If only they would laugh, then maybe he would have a purpose once again. This scene makes the audience question whether our sense of purpose derives from inside ourselves or the approval of society. Are we simply the reflection of how society views us? If society rejects the clown, refusing to laugh at his jokes, then can he even call himself a clown at all? Or has society successfully killed the clown?

Screamers (1995)

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As a huge fan of the works of Philip K. Dick, I was excited to find out that a film adaptation of his story “Second Variety” had been made. I wasn’t expecting a completely faithful adaptation to the original story. I had already seen “Blade Runner” which was very different from “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, yet it still ended up being a fantastic film. Unfortunately, Screamers plays out like a standard Sci Fi action flick. Doing very little to establish an identity of its own. A group of humans attempt to survive against some kind of hostile, non human force. In this case, the non human force consisted of war machines, which use their built in blades to chop up enemies without mercy. Originally created by the military, these “Screamers”, named for a screaming noise they make before attacking, went rogue and began attacking indiscriminately. We soon find out that the Screamers come in various forms. Some of which look like humans. It also turns out that a mysterious third variety of Screamers exist, but the humans can’t identify it due to lack of data. This leads to mistrust between the group as they begin accusing each other of being Screamers. From that point on, most of the characters die, either from killing each other or from being killed by the Screamers themselves. It turns out that one of the group members actually was a Screamer the whole time, but by the time we learn who was, it really doesn’t matter. The big reveal only serves to create a final conflict before the movie ends and there really wasn’t much evidence to suggest that this character was a Screamer It really could have been anyone and not made a difference to the plot. “Screamers” is by no means a bad film. The action and violence is fun and impressive consider the low budget that this movie had to work with. However, there really isn’t much that this movie has to offer that you wouldn’t find in any other Sci Fi action film. It’s not a waste of time, but it’s also not the best way to be spending your time either.