Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Perfect Host (2010)

Director: Nick Tomnay

Writers: Nick Tomnay, Krishna Jones

Genre: Psychological Thriller, Mystery, Home invasion
Recommended To: Fans of the genre or David Hyde Pierce

Warwick Wilson (David Hyde Pierce)- The perfect host
Clayne Crawford (John Taylor) - Bank robber
Simone (Megahn Perry) - Clayne's accomplice
Cathy Knight (Helen Reddy) - Warwick's nosy neighbor

Synopsis: A bank robber on the run cons his way into the upperclass home of a fashionable gentlemen preparing to host a party. When his ruse is discovered, he finds the tables turned.

The Ramble:
Not every movie needs to be great to be enjoyable. The less you know going into the film the better. It sells itself as classier variant of Last House on the Left, with the criminal finding himself at the mercy of a supposedly normal home owner, but that's just the beginning. There are twists and turns that follow that should keep you guessing throughout. Admittedly the film's logic is tenuous at best, and requires some suspension of disbelief, but by the time things get out of hand the film had earned enough of my good will that I was able to give the story some leeway.

The best part of the film is David Hyde Pierce, chewing the scenary as a demented Niles Crane. Yes he is typecast to a fault here, but he has fun with the material.

The film is available on Netflix for instant download, and worth your time if this particular niche is your thing (though I'd be remiss if I didn't steer you towards the far, far superior Sleuth with Lawrence Olivier and Michael Caine). If not, I can't say you'd be missing much by giving it a pass.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Dead (2010)

Directors: The Ford Brothers (Howard J and Jonathan)

Writers: The Ford Brothers (Howard J and Jonathan)
Genre: Horror (Zombie Horror)

Recommended to: Zombie fans
Characters: Lt. Bryan Murphy (Rob Freeman), Sgt. Daniel Dembele (Prince David Oseia)

Synopsis: Two soldiers cross the African savanna in the midst of the zombie apocalypse.
The Ramble:

With Resident Evil 6, a third season of the Walking Dead, and a big budget, Brad Pitt starring adaptation of World War Z all slated for 2012, it is unlikely that the end of ZombiMania is anywhere in sight. Of course that means that we will continue to see a glut of zed-centered, low budget horror flicks for the forseeable future. So what makes The Dead stand out?
For one thing, it’s beautiful.

Seriously, I’ve watched dozens of zombie movies, and this is the first one I can say is simply beautiful to look at. The filmmakers exploit well their African setting, something surprising novel for such a well mined genre. We all know that the Australians have been exploiting their home's natural beauty for horror films for years; I hope this starts a similar trend in the Dark Continent.

Of course the wrapping paper doesn’t make the gift, and if gorgeous vistas were all The Dead had to offer, it would be an easy film to pass on. Thankfully there is enough grist in this mill to warrant your attention.

Most zombie films are some variation on a siege movie (survivors trapped in farmhouse/mall/gym etc), but The Dead is more of a road movie, sort of a serious take Zombieland. Two soldiers, the American merc Murphy and African soldier Daniel meet up in the midst of the apocalypse. Murphy is looking for a way to get back home, and Daniel wants to find his son, who managed to survive a zombie attack on his village. Along the way, shit happens. People live, people die, there are zombies everywhere, and maybe someone learns a lesson along the way. Or not.

Really if “African zombie outbreak” didn’t get you interested in The Dead, I doubt a synopsis of the admittedly thin plot will do the trick. Hell, there isn't even a lion attack or a zombie elephant to break up the monotony (surprisingly, the native fauna is absent in the film).

What works best is the zombies themselves. They are everywhere. Every place the characters stop, you’ll see at least one dead head shuffling in the background. And these are old school, shambling, Romero zombies. It has become hard to do them justice of late; it’s just too easy to make them into something farcical – funny costumes, extravagant make up, over the top zombie kills all add to the fun but take away the terror. But the Ford Brothers get them just right. The actors mostly maintain a blank stare, white eyes gazing from mostly black faces, rocking back and forth with the barest hint of forward movement. When they reach out, it is passionless, weak, and silent. The net effect is a sense of ever encroaching death, pervasive, persistent, inevitable. When classic horror fans bemoan the loss of the slow zombie, this is what they miss.

The leads are both solid, but special mention must be made of Prince David Oseia (is that his name or is he really a prince?), who I think steal the show.
If the film has any weakness it is that there is not much depth to be found. Zombie films are famous for working in satire and allegory, but The Dead, so far as I can tell, doesn’t play in that sandbox. Its telling a simpler tale, and while there is some attempt to add emotional resonance, it is so obvious, and is set up so late into the film, that it feels more than a little forced.

The film is a strong recommendation for any horror fan, but especially for fans of the classic zombie genre. I can’t wait to see what the Ford Brothers bring us next.

The Human Centipede II: Full Sequence

Director: Tom Six

Writer: Tom Six

Genre: Horror (Body Horror, Gross Out Horror, Torture Porn)

Recommended to: Fans of extreme cinema, coprophiles

Not recommended for: Most of the human race 

Characters: Martin (Laurence R. Harvey), Martin’s Mom (Vivien Bridson), Martin’s Doctor (Bill Hutchens), Miss Yennie (Ashlynn Yennie), and 11 other poor bastards.  

Synopsis: A deranged fan of the original The Human Centipede acts out his twisted fantasies by trying to create his own 12-person monster.

The Ramble:
Let’s be upfront about this: the movie is The Human Centipede II. If you had no interest in the last film, you have no reason to watch this one. If the last one disgusted you, know the sequel is more perverse in every way. If you found the first movie to be morally reprehensible, you will find no redemption here. If any of the above applies to you, just move on – there’s no point to reading further. This is not a movie you will enjoy.

As for the rest of you...

I confess I am a fan of the first movie. Tales of experiments (real or imagined) that push legal and ethical boundaries tantalize my scientific sensibilities. The Human Centipede: First Sequence did this with perverse humor, and I think most who saw it will admit that it was not nearly as gross or exploitative as we imagined it would be. It could certainly be graphic, but in the end the idea was more disturbing than the images on screen.

And then there’s The Human Centipede: Full Sequence.

Where the first film was often cold and clinical, HC2 is gross and grimy (an effect oddly enhanced by the decision to release the film in stark black and white). HC1 implied (strongly) the diet of the centipede’s back end, while the sequel splatters shit into the camera lens. And it is not nearly the worst material in the film.

But that’s mostly the last 15 minutes of the film. Let’s jump back to the beginning.

The film cleverly turns expectations on their head by making it a movie about The Human Centipede. The lead, Martin, is a mentally disabled, sexually abused parking garage guard obsessed with the film, and with making a centipede of his own. Tom Six went out of his way to make the bug-eyed Martin as distinct from Dr. Heider as possible. Where Heider was tall, lean, brilliant and detached, Martin is short, fat, stupid, sloppy and perverted. Heider was obsessed with conjoined twins. Martin is obsessed with shit.

If you take anything good away from this film it should be Laurence Harvey’s performance. For him to… ahem… expose himself in this way was bold for the novice actor, and the challenge of carrying the entire film on his slumped shoulders without a word of dialogue could have backfired completely. That he succeeds so completely is a testament to the actor and filmakers. The flipside, though, is that Martin is so unpleasant a character that some may have a hard time watching him, and he is in almost every frame of this film.

Some attempt is made to explain (not justify) Martin’s obsession. He was sexually abused by his now-incarcerated father, and his verbally abusive mother never forgave him for getting her husband locked up. His therapist is a pervert in his own right, and wants nothing more than to get in Martin’s dirty pants.

At work Martin watches The Human Centipede over and over. He keeps a scrapbook with images from the film and scribbled notes, and specifically obsesses over the scenes in which Dr. Heider describes the procedure necessary to make a centipede of his own. At one point he masturbates to the film, his penis wrapped in sandpaper.

When someone in the garage distracts him from his film, he cracks them over the head with a crowbar, and drags them off to his hideaway, where he will make them a part of his own human centipede.

Martin might have been more sympathetic had Six taken a page from films like Carrie and May, watching him get abused until he finally snaps and unleashes hell on his tormentors (and maybe some innocent by-standers). But Martin is snatching people pretty much from the start, and only a few of them arguably deserve their fate.
The "surgery" comes about an hour into the film, which many have complained is just too late in the film. While they may complain that the opening hour drags, following Martin’s routine, watching him fantasize and scheme, captured my interest more than what followed. Once the monster making begins, the story runs out of ideas and descends into absurdity.

When Martin does start building his creation, there is a measure of black humor as we realize that he’s not up to the task. He lacks the proper training, facilities and equipment to do the job, and must do some on the spot improvising with a hammer, staple gun, and lots of duct tape. That aside, the “surgery” is brutal to watch, and far more visceral than anything we saw in the original.

It takes another 15 minutes for the “feeding” scene, the explosive, screen splattering feces I referenced earlier. This should have been the climax of the film, but even though there are only minutes remaining, Tom Six manages to squeeze in a little rape and infanticide for good measure.

This is where the film lost me. Yes, I could deal with the shit spraying (I mean, it IS The Human Centipede) but the final moments spin so far out of control, and are so brutal and ugly and nasty, that I just couldn’t understand what the point was any more. Was Six mocking his fans, warning gore hounds to be careful what they wish for? Was he trying to show up the critics of HC1 and give them the sick, twisted film they expected the first time? Or could he really be twisted enough to enjoy all of this?

I’ll be honest and say that there are things in this film that work for me, and I enjoyed most of its 90 minute run time. It’s just the last 15 minutes that I feel pushed the boundaries beyond what the narrative called for.