You’re never sure where you will find yourself when you watch a film by director Lars Von Trier. The style, environment and even color scheme of his movies differ drastically depending on the story he’s trying to tell. “Europa” or “Zentropa” as it is commonly referred to, brings us to post world war 2 Germany. The film is shot mostly in black and white, with color dispersed intermittently within scenes to highlight important elements and during the few happy scenes that Europa has to offer. An American named Leopold Kessler moves to Germany just after the war and takes a job as a car conductor at the Zentropa railway network. Leopold falls in love with a woman tied to a pro Nazi group of extremist and finds himself entrenched in a conspiracy to blow up one of the Zentropa trains. Leopold’s conflict stems from his desire to bring some good onto a darkened world. He believes that through kindness and charity, he can help lead the war torn country towards a brighter future. The conspiracy reflects Leopold’s struggle to do what he feels is right and his desire to fix everyone’s problems on his own. In the final scene, we see one of the Zentropa trains submerged under water as a result of the terrorist attack enacted by Leopold himself. We see Leopold trapped inside the sinking train unable to escape his fate. The problems of the world proved to much for him to take on alone and ultimately destroyed him making the world an even darker place. Europa shows us how fragile the line between good and evil is and how those determine to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders will inevitably be crushed
“Scrapbook”markets itself as being shocking and edgy, which it would have been had it not been so poorly executed. It’s essentially just an hour and thirty five minutes of the creators trying to come up with different ways to torture some woman to make the audience feel uncomfortable. Pretty standard for this type of film, but unfortunately, not only does this movie fail to also include a compelling or interesting story, it also fails to shock. Clara, the victim, is raped, beaten and humiliated over and over, all the while doing little to nothing to actually save herself. For the majority of the film she isn’t even tied up, and she never actually tries to fight back against her attacker. The obvious argument is that she was scared of what her kidnapper would do if she fought back. However, the kidnapper isn’t armed throughout most of the attacks and to be honest, she looks like she could over power him. There’s a stupid sub plot about the kidnapper creating a “Scrapbook” of all his victims, detailing each of his assaults. Clara analyzes the Scrapbook to convince Leonard (The kidnapper) to let her tie him up because overall, he desired to be submissive, or something like that. The writers attempted to make Leonard seem interesting by giving him a traumatic past and a bunch of mental illnesses that cause his depraved actions and his hatred of women. He ends up looking like an idiot man child attempting to be as edgy as possible. I half expected to see Leonard posting on Reddit about what an edge lord he thinks he is. The rape and torture scenes, as well as the humiliation that Clara undergoes, serve as nothing more than cheap gimmicks intended to distract you from the fact that there is virtually no story being told. If you’re looking for a psychological thriller, then this isn’t the film for you. If your just looking for torture porn, then there are still better options out there for you. This movie fails to satisfy any of their intended audience.
“The Last House on Hell Street” doesn’t seem to know why it exist and plays out as if the creators were writing the script as it was being filmed. Some guy marries some woman and the two decided to have their honey moon in the middle of a field. Seriously, they had no plans beyond laying in a field. The couple luckily comes across an abandoned house, where they take refuge. However, it turns out that this house is actually cursed by the guy’s mother, who became a ghost after she was murdered by the guy’s father. Apparently in this universe, being murdered causes your face to become distorted by cheap color effects. The guy then goes crazy (Jack Nicolson in “The Shining” style) and tries to kill his wife. Luckily for the woman, her husband turns out to be completely incompetent at the art of murder. I guess he did not inherit that skill from his father. Somehow the woman manages to kill her husband, causing the house to re-birth him. I’m not kidding. This house literally grows a womb and gives birth to a dead man. The couple then walk off into the sunset together as if nothing ever happened. This is by far the worst film by Eric Stanze that I’ve seen. It’s boring, makes little sense, and is just plain weird at times. The plot consist almost entirely of the characters trying to find things do, just to transition to the next scene. Luckily even Stanze himself admits this movie is terrible, so it shouldn’t be used to judge his films as a whole. Still, “The Last House on Hell Street” manages to be one of the most bizarre films I’ve seen in awhile. Unfortunately, it does not manage to be entertaining.
Director Eric Stanze has become infamous for taking a minuscule amount of resources and turning them into art. His most famous (and in my opinion best) film “Ice from the Sun” managed to be both visually impressive and unique despite having virtually no budget to work with. “Savage Harvest” was created five years earlier, and it’s clear to see that Stanze was no stranger to stretching limited resources to do amazing things. The characters in this film were likable, even if underdeveloped. Most of their relationship conflicts were less than interesting and worked mostly to set up the plot. This is typical of slasher films, so I won’t hold it against this film in particular. Once the slaughtering began, this movie became a non stop Gore fest that actually took some unexpected turns. The ending was a bit confusing, as I’m not entirely sure what happened to the surviving character. Still, it did seem to tie the film together, while adding a much appreciated element of mystery. Savage harvest doesn’t offer much as far as originality. However, it manages to be an entertaining horror film, with enough realistic blood and gore to satisfy any seasoned gore hound.
Having never seen the original two “Kung Fu Panda” films, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. Jack Black is hit or miss for me as far as comedy goes. He constantly seems to border the line between funny and annoying. I was pleasantly surprised after watching “Kung Fu Panada 3” to find that not only was Black’s performance not over the top, but that this movie was overall enjoyable. I didn’t really need to see the first two films to figure out that Po was a clumsy, over weight, under dog with a mysterious destiny. The jokes in this movie were delivered quite well, and neither felt forced or drawn out as is the case in far too many children’s movies. Each character was likable in their own way and felt three dimensional, having individual personalities and flaws. Brian Cranston did a phenomenal job as Po’s father. His interactions with Black’s character felt natural, showing that the two veteran actors perform quite well together. The plot was a typical good versus evil story, with the twist being that Po was put in the position of teacher, as opposed to student. I wasn’t expecting a deep story from a movie about talking animals doing martial arts, so I was not disappointed by the typical plot. This movie actually makes me want to watch the original films.
Puppet Master is a fun and entertaining film… when the puppets are actually on screen. The human characters are less than engaging and the plot is ridiculous. Still, the scenes in which the puppets interact with the human characters help to make up for the slow paced plot and uninspired story. Each puppet is unique in movement, ability and even personality. The climax of the film is just amazing and makes this extremely long hour and a half journey worth it. Charles Band is the master of writing inanimate objects, coming to life and killing people, and David Schmoeller managed to perfectly bring Band’s vision to life. While not a perfect film, Puppet master definitely deserves it’s cult classic status due to it’s unique style and brutal death scenes.
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was not prequel levels of bad. It was worse. There is absolutely nothing unique about this movie. It has no identity of it’s own. The movie follows protagonist Rey, a young woman isolated on a desert planet (Sound familiar). She soon finds herself in the middle of a rebellion against the Empire… sorry “First Order”, where she joins a group of rebel soldiers (*cough New Hope *cough) and discovers that she has an untapped potential to manipulate the force. She even meets an oddly shaped droid, who conveniently holds an important secret. In this case, it’s the location of Luke Skywalker, who has gone awol. Rey is one of the most boring characters in Star Wars history. She’s instantly good at everything she tries and receives no character development throughout the film. Unlike Luke Skywalker, who had to struggle to become a Jedi, Rey manages to use the force with ease, mastering every technique instantly. She’s accompanied on her journey by Finn, a former Storm Trooper, turned comic relief.
Next we have Kylo Ren, or who I like to call “Darth Crybaby”. He’s this film’s attempt to have a Darth Vader like character. His motivation is that he wants to be just like Vader, who (Spoiler) is his grandfather. Kylo is the son of Princess Leia and Han Solo, but unfortunately for them, he resembles Anakin Skywalker in all the worst ways. There are plenty of cameos in “The Force Awakens”, but the manner in which these Star Wars veterans are introduced, makes me wish they hadn’t been in the film at all. Han Solo is just in this film to be Han Solo and to tell us how cool these new characters are. Leia’s role is similar, but far less plot relevant. Later in the film, we find out that the “First Order” built a new Death Star, creatively named the “Star Killer”. Except, here’s the twist. It’s even bigger than the last one. This one can blow up multiple planets at the same time. So the obvious sequence of events play out, Rey and her new friends disable the shields on the “Star Killer”. Han Solo gets killed by Kylo Ren in a manner resembling Obi Wan getting killed by Vader. Rey beats Kylo (a seasoned Sith warrior) in a light saber fight, and everyone escapes right before Death Star 2.0 explodes. In one of the dumbest scenes in Star Wars history, R2D2 just so happens to reactivate, after being shut down for no apparent reason, just in time to reveal where Luke Skywalker is hiding. All so we can get a final scene of Rey meeting Luke before the credits begin to roll. Imagine “A New Hope” without any originality. Imagine “The Empire Strikes Back” without the heart wrenching drama. Imagine “Return of the Jedi” without the satisfying conclusion. If you can imagine these things, then you can begin to see why “The Force Awakens” is so bad. This was a lazy attempt to cash in on the popularity of one of the greatest cinematic stories ever told. The fact that this mess of a film is considered just as canon to the official “Star Wars” universe is just depressing. Mock the prequels all you want (and there is plenty to mock). At least those films attempted to tell a unique story, albeit a bad one.
The element of crime plays like a Film Noir, set in a dystopian alternative universe, within the mind of David Lynch. Detective Fisher returns to Europe after a thirteen year stay in Ciarro, to catch a murderer responsible for the deaths of several young girls. Fisher takes an untested approach to investigating, after reading a book written by his old mentor entitled “The Element of Crime”. This book argues for an alternative method of understanding the human mind. It requires the researcher to relive the life of the one they are following, in order to gain a greater understanding of who that person is. Fisher soon finds himself, living the life of suspect Harry Grey, living in his home, interacting with his cohorts, and loving his former lover. Fisher’s sense of identity is challenged as his individuality becomes indistinguishable to that of Harry Grey. The film is encompassed in a reddish overtone, resembling an eternal twilight, which could either represent dawn or day break. The story is told from the point of view of a man attempting to recall his memories while in a hypnotic state. Fisher even deliberately skips certain parts of his story, declaring that they are pointless to recall and at times admits that he isn’t sure if certain parts of the story are true. ‘The Element of Crime” is a good introductory film for anyone interested in the works of director “Lars Von Trier” It’s unorthodox style of environment and story telling immerse the viewer head first into the mind of Lars Von Trier, showing them that the typical rules of story telling no longer apply.
I don’t exactly know what is about the combination of Christmas and horror that goes so well together. Maybe it’s the fact that after so much cheer, one can’t help but crave a bit of senseless slaughter. “Good Tidings” is about a group of homeless people, locked in a court house who are hunted by three seemingly mindless killers, each dressed as Santa Claus. While the three psychotic, serial killer Santas are silent throughout the film, you manage to get a sense of their individual personalities through their interactions with each other and their victims. The smallest of the three “Curly” seems to simply be following orders from his superiors and doesn’t appear to understand the permanence of death or the consequences of his actions. He is child like and almost sympathetic. The second in command displays the most amount of blood lust, killing indiscriminately and without mercy. The leader and largest of the three attempts to keep the other two in line, demonstrating some kind of intelligence and sense of awareness that the other two lack. The three killer Santas have their own conflicts and at times fight among each other as opposed to their victims. All this is shown through non verbal gestures, that manage to make these three even more terrifying and unpredictable. The idea of having the victims consist of the homeless and former drug users gave “Good Tidings” a level of depth absent from typical slasher films. Seeing the victims being slaughtered by the embodiment of Christmas serves as a metaphor for just how cruel and unfair the holiday season can be to the less fortunate. At the start of the film, the homeless are brought together by a war veteran, who attempts to provide them shelter as well as help with their various problems with addiction. A great scene within the first twenty minutes of the movie shows the veteran talking to a former heroine addict. The veteran explains that he had lost his wife and child long ago and hopes to dedicate his life to helping others. The veteran represents the true altruistic meaning of Christmas, while the three killer Santas represent the materialistic and self serving side of the holiday season. The Santas treat the homeless like objects that exist only for their amusement. The use and break them, like children playing with toys, only to discard them when they get bored. On the opposite end of the dichotomy, the veteran cares only about saving as many people as possible and shows great remorse for those he fails to save. It’s easy to find a slasher with nothing more than gratuitous gore and violence, but it’s less common to find one with an strong underlying message. “Good Tidings” manages to supply enough blood to satisfy most seasoned gore hounds, while managing to serve as an insightful social commentary.
A Glimpse into the Origin of Horror
Scars is an intelligent, psychological horror film, that explores the complex mind of a woman on the edge of despair. After losing hope for the future, protagonist Faith struggles with the decision of whether to end her life or to fight through her pain. The inner conflict soon takes on physical form, manifesting two individuals, representing the two sides of the conflict. One projects a caring and friendly demeanor, and attempts to convince Faith not to take her own life. The second, a much darker and more intimidating figure, encourages her to give into her despair. Both figures offer her “Solutions to Sadness”, through different and opposite means. One through hope and perseverance and the other through submission and surrender. You’re left unsure whether the two visitors were supernatural forces, or metaphoric hallucinations manifested from the mind of someone devoid of hope. The mostly white environment helped create a contrast of light and shadow that helped further paint the inner turmoil of this films protagonist, and distinguish the dichotomy of choices presented to her. Scars plays out like a poem, adapted to the screen without losing any meaning or impact. I would recommend this short film to any fan of the horror genre. Scars manages to show us the darkness within us all and gives a glimpse into where true horror is born.