The Woman in Black (2012)

One from the rewatch pile…

The Woman in Black (2012)

Film: Any horror fan worth his mettle knows of the famed English studio Hammer films. Over many years Hammer entertained the world with Gothic tales of terror and fright, and gave us brilliant performances from the likes of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. They also introduced the world to many a blushing busty English rose. Great things don’t last forever though, and as a new generation of horror came to light in the 70s and 80s, Hammer disappeared. But not forever.

Recently, Hammer have re-emerged with a few new films: the English language remake of Let the Right One In called Let Me In and this, a retooling of Susan Hill’s novel The Woman in Black, filmed once before in 1989. This version has been adapted by Jane Goldman, who scripted Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class and is directed by James Watkins, who previously helmed Eden Lake.

A young lawyer, Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) is on his last legs at his job. It has been several years since his young wife Stella (Sophie Stuckey) died during childbirth and he has never gotten over it, bringing up their son Joseph (Misha Handley) with only the assistance of a nanny (Jessica Raine).

As the final chance to save his job, Kipps’ boss has given him the challenge of travelling to the town of Cryphin Gifford to make sure that the final will and testament of the recently deceased owner of the secluded property Eel Marsh, Mrs Drablow (Alisa Khazanova) is correct, by checking through any and all documents at her estate. What Kipps finds there though is a hate filled spirit of a woman in black, but why is she so filled with loathing, and can Kipps do anything to appease her torment of the town and it’s children?

The Woman in Black looks quite beautiful, and has a mood that perfectly matches that of the main character. The township of Cryphin Gifford is so dank that one feels the cold, wet and clamminess as if it is present in the room in which you are watching the film.

The performances are all solid. Still quite young, Daniel Radcliffe plays his Peter Cushing styled character with the intensity of a man well beyond his years, or an emo on depressants. The addition of the wonderful Ciarin Hinds as his ally within the town is excellent, and Hinds has a weight and subtlety in his performance as a man haunted by the death of a young son, and whose wife has never recovered from it.

The script also tells a grand ghost story, but here lies its biggest problem. Ghost stories in cinema have a language of their own and they can fall into a trap. That trap is they either do something out of the norm and have audiences not ‘get’ it, or they stick to the generic ghost story devices such as a creaky house and creepy toys et cetera, and even though they are speaking a cinematic language that your average cinema goer will comprehend, the story just doesn’t stand out.

Unfortunately, The Woman in Black is guilty of the latter. Even though there was some impressive imagery (Eel Marsh itself is simply amazing) the story just feels as though it is telling a tale we’ve all heard many times over. It seems to me that the makers of The Woman in Black tried to ignore the fact that the tastes of horror fans have moved on, and that perhaps this type of film isn’t relevant any more. I know whilst I was watching it I didn’t feel like I was watching a classic horror film, but someone who was trying to emulate one.

So Hammer are back, baby! The pure gothic tales of fright they have given us have returned with them, but, I’m afraid their time may have passed. The acting is generally of a high standard and the movie boasts some amazing gothic horror visuals, but it seems to miss that ‘classic’ horror mood. Perhaps this is due to the main elements of that “classic horror mood” being Cushing and Lee, who would have kicked arse as Kipps and Daily respectively, but without them, this whole event just feels a little ordinary.

Spooky toys, a creaky house, ghostly children, mysterious rocking chairs, generic, generic generic. The Woman in Black is a great looking film that ticks all the ‘spooky’ boxes and has some fine performances, but it fails to deliver any real scares and never tries to rise above the regular ‘ghost story’ trappings.

Score: **

Format: This film is presented in a pristine 2.35:1 aspect ratio, which I have to say, due to the colour palette of the film, works much better is pitch darkness, If your lounge room has even the slightest bit of light in it, you won’t get the full benefit of deep blacks and immaculate shadow detail The soundscape matches the visuals in excellence, and like it, works best in the dark, and is presented in DTS-HD 5.1.

Score: *****

Extras: The disc opens with trailers for Lockout, Magic Mike and Killer Joe before taking us to the menu.

There are only two, quite short, extras on this disc:

No Fear: Daniel Radcliffe as Arthur Kipps is a brief exploration of Radcliffe’s performance as Kipps, with comments from other cast and crew as to why he was good for the role.

Inside the Perfect Thriller: The Making of The Woman in Black, obviously, looks at the making of the film featuring interviews with cast and crew.

Score: 2

WISIA: It’s highly unlikely that I’d ever waste anymore of my precious time on this film.

Mystics in Bali (1981)

One from the rewatch pile…

Mystics in Bali (1981)

Film: When it comes to cinema, gems are hard to find, but now and again you’ll find yourself sitting in front of a film thinking to yourself ” why the Hell have I never seen this?”

Honestly, I had never even heard of this film, but one of the many movie magazines I buy did a blurb on it a few years ago, and I thought I should hunt it out, but other, seemingly more important releases always overshadowed it. This was a mistake, as I can’t even remember what some of those other films may have been. I should have immediately grabbed Mystics in Bali the very second I heard of it!

Mystics in Bali tells of curious tourist Cathy Kean (played by German tourist Ilona Agathe Bastian, who had no acting experience but did the film so she could stay in Bali longer) who wishes to learn the magical ways of the Leyak, an Indonesian black art. Her friend, and potential lover Mahendra (Yos Santo) takes her deep into the jungle to meet a cackling old Leyak witch (Sophia WD) who takes Cathy under her wing as an apprentice. She starts by learning a few spells but soon discovers that once you are under the thrall of a Leyak, it is difficult to get out. Maybe even impossible, even with the assistance of local shamen and mystics!

Mystics in Bali is one of those ‘kitchen sink’ films: you know, as in it has everything but! Witches (well, Leyaks), metamorphosis, floppy titted pig women, ancient mystical masters, flying vampire heads, people vomiting live mice, awkward romance and most incredulous of them all, a baby eaten right out of a pregnant woman’s… um… punani.

Now don’t tell me you didn’t want all that in one film.

The film does suffer from some poor dubbing, but considering the female lead was a German tourist and the rest of the cast are Indonesian, I guess one can overlook that.

The special effects aren’t so special, but are a treat to watch as there are some spectacularly bad animation effects, lightning from fingers and such, that look like hand drawn animation on the original film cels. The metamorphosis scenes do their very best to be American Werewolf in London, and fail, but are actually still quite off putting.

It is without a doubt one of the nuttiest and most entertaining films I have ever seen! If I am to recall how I felt after watching this, I would compare it to how I felt after watching Evil Dead for the first time, though this isn’t at all scary like Evil Dead was the first time I watched it. Although, I was about 13 then, so give me a break.

If you don’t have Mystics in Bali in your collection, it is an error you must immediately fix.

Score: ****1/2

Format: Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, Mystics in Bali has a clarity that is surprising for a film of this age and region. There are occasional film artefacts, and admittedly at some of the more ‘special’ effects heavy sequences it does go slightly foggy, but I don’t think that is a problem with the transfer, but instead the original source. Presented in stereo only, but it is crisp and clear, considering it is an English overdub recorded in a studio somewhere.

Score: ***

Extras: We start with a fairly poor quality trailer and then get some extras that would have been great… if they weren’t text and had instead been actual documentaries. They are Mystics in Bali and the Indonesian Exploitation Movie, which talks about Indonesian cinema, H. Tjut Djalil – Director Filmography, which is just that and How to Become a Leak (sic) which I am sure should have been spelt ‘Leyak’, which contains the rites to becoming a Leyak. Don’t try this at home.

Finally we have a trailer park for Mondo Macabro, which features Snake Sisters, The Blood Rose, The Bollywood Horror Collection, Snake Dancer, The Devil’s Sword, Lifespan, Don’t Deliver Us From Evil, Satan’s Blood, Virgins From Hell, For Your Height Only, French Sex Murders, The Deathless Devil, Living Doll, Satanico Pandemonim, Panic Beats, Clonus, The Killer Must Kill Again, The Mansion of Madness, Alucarda, The Diabolical Dr. Z, Aswang, The Living Corpse, Blood of the Virgins, Seven Women for Satan, Lady Terminator, Crazy Love, Mill of the Stone Women, Dangerous Seductress and Girl Slaves of Morgana Le Fay. Honestly the disappointing text extras are saved by these awesome trailers!

Score: ***

WISIA: Hell yeah! This film is a hoot and a holler!

Hatchet (2006)

One from the re-watch pile…

Hatchet (2006)

Film: Writer/director Adam Green is one of us. He was shown Friday the 13th Part 2 when he was 8, and has never looked back. Thankfully, that movie fermented in his brain, and while at summer camp, a story about a murderer who dwelled in a cabin that was forbidden to the campers turned into something else, something that 20 years later evolved into this film, Hatchet.

Hatchet tells of lovelorn Ben (Joel Moore from Bones and Avatar) and his friend Marcus (Deon Richmond aka Token Black Guy from Not Another Teen Movie) who are visiting new Orleans for Mardi Gras, but Ben, who has just broken up with his girlfriend, isn’t into the idea of seeing a bunch of drunken women showing their boobs for beads.

Pfft, idiot!

So, instead of enjoying the frivolities these two friends decide to take a tour of the Louisiana swamps, in the ‘Scare Boat’ run by local Shawn (Perry Shen), and perhaps see where local legend Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder), aka Hatchetface, once lived. Once on board they meet kindly older couple Jim and Shannon Permatteo (Richard Riele and Patrika Darbo respectively), titty filmmaker Doug Shapiro (Joel Murray), his flashing females Jenna (Joleigh Fioraevanti) and Misty (Mercedes McNab) and mysterious, gun-toting honey Marybeth (Tamara Feldman).

Unfortunately, and of course, the boat comes to a crashing halt, and the gang of tourists and their guide become stuck in the woods, wet, cold, lost, and now with Victor Crowley, whom they realise is no legend but instead a horribly malformed mutant killing machine, hunting for them.

How many will make it out… if any? Will the survivors be horribly maimed and psychologically scarred? And where exactly did a mutant hillbilly get a petrol-powered sander?

The script is a fun adventure into 80s styled horror, and even though it has a few great and funny lines, at no point did I think ‘horror comedy’, which I believe to be the scourge of the genre. I think the reason that the comedy never overpowers over the horror is because the violence is just so damned nasty: spine rips, head splits, axings… a veritable treasure trove of blood spraying and sputum spewing gags that should keep most fans happy, and their non-horror friends crying ‘Ewwwwwww!’

One thing I have to pick on this film about anything it is the costume of the creature that is Victor Crowley. Rubber suits and appliance rarely look 100% perfect, but unfortunately this one doesn’t look as good as the worst of the Jason Voorhees ones.

The other is its biggest problem: this film has to live up to a expectations that started as hype on the internet after a teaser trailer oozed out, and those expectations were that it could be horror’s salvation. It isn’t, but what it is a bit of gory fun and what the DVD cover says: “Old School American Horror”.

It’s got gore, boobs, gore, violence, gore, Robert Englund, Tony Todd and Kane Hodder in it, and those elements make it alright in my book. While I don’t think the character of Victor Crowley has the longevity of Freddy or Jason it is a fun example of what a slasher film is supposed to be: gory, unpretentious fun. With boobs.

Score: ***1/2

Format: Nice clear picture presented in 16:9 with no artefacts or apparent damage. A really good Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that is clear as a bell, with the rear channels coming to life whenever Victor Crowley terrorises his victims.

Score: ****

Extras: Straight off the bat we are given a commentary by writer/director Adam Green and his Director of Photography Will Barratt, with a few do-drop-ins (specifically actors) here and there to add more colour to the proceedings. It is a full commentary that is both entertaining and informative. Yes, it is inforcational.

The Making of Hatchet is one of the better making of docos I have seen. It discusses the origins of the film from conception to … heh… execution. Mainly features interviews with Green, Barratt and producer Sarah Elbert (who I admit to having a micro-crush on) but also chats with most of the cast and a fair bit of the crew. This is the type of doco that makes me want to grab my video camera and go and film stuff.

Of course, no decent extras package is complete without the trailer, so here it be!

Also there are four behind the scenes pieces, which are all around the ten minute mark:

Meeting Victor Crowley is a look at Kane Hodder’s performance and substandard make-up. What it lacks as a visual though, he made up for in terrorising the cast with his on camera and behind the scenes routine.

Guts and Gore looks at the red stuff… which is why a lot of us are here. Well, this and boobs.

Anatomy of a Kill dissects the ‘pop top’ scene, from the original idea to John Carl Buechler’s effects teams result.

A Twisted Tale looks at the moral support that Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snyder has given Green over the years, both before and after they had met.

Score: ***1/2

WISIA: There is far too many super slashers from the 80s that I could rewatch rather than give this another look.

House of 1000 Corpses (2003)

One from the re-watch pile…

House of 1000 Corpses (2003)

Film: Are you a fan of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Last House on the Left, Eaten Alive, and sleazy 70s grindhouse? Well I’ve got a delectable feast of delights for you! A tale where Life and Death are Meaningless…and Pain is God!!

October 30, 1977, Ruggsville, four twenty something’s on a road trip across the USA (Chris Hardwick, Jennifer Jostyn, Erin Daniels and Rainn Wilson) stop at Captain Spaulding’s (Sid Haig) Museum of Monsters and Mayhem, a gas station/ fried chicken hut with a Ripley’s Believe It or Not styled freak show, whose main attraction is the bizarre ‘Murder Ride’. In the ride, the travellers are told about a local psycho, Dr Satan, who was hanged out in the woods by Ruggsville townsfolk, and whose body mysteriously disappeared the next day. The four decide to visit the tree on which he was hanged, and on the way pick up a hitchhiker, Baby Firefly (Sheri Moon). Soon one of their tyres is shot out and the four have to stop in at Baby’s House, where they are introduced to the murderous Firefly family (Karen Black, Bill Moseley, Robert Mukes, Matthew McGrory and Dennis Fimple). The succeeding story will shock, terrify and haunt the viewer…FOREVER!!!

Filmed in 2000, but not released until 2003, due to Universal’s cowardice towards an NC-17 rating, but eventually picked up by Lion’s Gate Films, Rob Zombie has created a visual trip that has more genre homage’s than you can poke a stick at. House of 1000 Corpses received Best Special Effects for Wayne Toth and Michael O’Brien at Fantasporto in 2004 where it was also nominated for Best International Fantasy Film, not to mention it was nominated for Choice Movie- Horror/Thriller at the Teen Choice Awards 2003.

Zombie obviously has great affection for everything that we Horror fans and Gore fiends love. Being a collector of the macabre and trash culture himself, not to mention a Marx Brothers aficionado (to which some of the characters are named after: Otis Driftwood, Rufus Firefly and Ravelli). To a layman, this film might seem a rip-off of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and there is no doubt that there are many comparisons, but there are levels to this film that make it so much more than that. To go into those levels would be to reveal far too much of the film itself, and lose some of its journey for the genre fan. Unfortunately this film has been heavily cut, when played at the Mar del Plata Film festival, it ran at 105 minutes but the eventual release plays at a mere 88 minutes. Don’t worry though; there is still plenty of carnage to enjoy.

The filming of this movie is great, sometimes Hollywood gloss, sometimes gritty and grainy, which gives the viewer an impression this was actually made in the seventies, and also has some quick MTV style cuts for dream sequences and such.

I absolutely love this movie. It’s never going to be known as a breakthrough of originality and top shelf acting, but isn’t entertainment what cinema is all about, something that this film delivers by the bloody bucket load. Zombie knows his genre stuff and has collected a cast from movies such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Spider Baby, Trilogy of Terror and others, to deliver ‘the Most Shocking Tale of Carnage ever Seen’. Have fun!!

Score: *****

Format: Always crisp and sharp, the 16×9 anamorphic widescreen is impressive, the only time this movie sinks to grit and grain is in its segues, where it is obviously deliberate. The audio is presented in an immaculate DTS-HD 7.1.

Score: *****

Extras: Unfortunately, this Bluray release is missing the spectacular menus from the initial DVD release. Those menus, hosted by Baby, Otis and particularly Captain Spaulding were fantastic, powered by Mojo DVD navigation; those menus had these three characters commenting on everything from what the special features contain, to your very own sassy hairdos.

Directors commentary is as you would expect from someone like from Rob Zombie. He talks all way through, rarely taking a break and revealing some interesting aspects of this film, including how much of it was filmed in the basement of his own house. Sometimes commentaries from only one person have long breaks or pauses, but Zombie has a short story for every scene that plays. The amount of extra bits and pieces he points out are incredible, even down to continuity faults.

The Making of featurette is a 4:14 minute summary of the film as told by the actors playing the leads, and a couple of sound bytes from Zombie about the making of the movie, but not very special or informative.

Casting is audition footage of Dennis Fimple (King Kong) who played Grandpa, which is pretty funny.

Rehearsal footage show some of the cast in their rehearsals for some particular scenes in the film.

The Interviews section has Q & A’s with Bill Moseley, Sid Haig, Sheri Moon and Wayne Toth (special make-up effects). Fairly standard fare, but interesting never the less.

Interview with William Bassett is a new interview from Umbrella Entertainment with William Bassett from The Towering Inferno and The Karate Kid.

Theatrical Trailers are fairly self explanatory.

Score: ***

WISIA: I love this film so its a regular rewatcher for me!

The Killer Must Kill Again (1975)

One from the rewatch pile…

The Killer Must Kill Again aka L’assassino è Costretto ad Uccidere Ancora (1975)

Film: I love giallo films, and it was with great pleasure that this one, The Killer Must Kill Again, finally crossed my palms. Also known as L’assassino è costretto ad uccidere ancora or Il Ragno (The Spider), The Killer Must Kill Again is the second film directed by Luigi Cozzi and was made in 1973, but was initially banned, and did not get an official release until 1975.

Scumbag husband Giogio Mainardi (George Hilton) had decided to leave his bitchy, mistrusting, but rich, wife but gets a better idea when he happens to witness a serial killer (Michael Antoine) dispose of a body. Giorgio blackmails the killer, and for some reason also offers him $20,00, to kill his wife. The Killer executes the plot perfectly, but has fate thrust upon him when the car he is storing the body in the boot of is stolen by a pair of joyriders, Luca (Alessia Orano) and his girlfriend, Laura (What Ever Happened to Solonge’s Christina Galbo) who are travelling to a place called Seagull Rock where Luca intends to deflower Laura.

The Killer steals another car in the street and pursues them cross country. Meanwhile, Giorgio waits with a police investigator who is led to believe that Giogio’s wife has been kidnapped, seeing as how her father is rich, and so they make preparations for a ransom call that has yet to be made. The inspector though, slowly becomes more and more suspicious of Giorgio.

Eventually the Killer catches up with Luca and Laura, but what happens next?

The answer quite possibly lies within the films title…

Cozzi wears his influences on his sleeve with this film. It is a little bit Dario Argento, but with his usual ploy of not revealing the killer until the end turned on its head, and a little Alfred Hitchcock, but much sleazier. Sleazecock perhaps? Several scenes are clearly influences by Hitchcock, such as the Killer pushing a victims car Marion Crane like into a body of water. In actual fact, Michael Antoine looks a little like Anthony Perkins, although maybe more like a DNA splicing of Charles Bronson and Reggie Nalder with Johnny Cash’s wardrobe.

The whole film appears to be made to offset the mind of the viewer. There is a lot of queer scoring and music effects and some some fantastically weird camera work and editing. One wonderful example is the juxtaposition of a rape and some lovemaking that makes for a scene that acts as a sexy/repulsive collage of lust. The script follows some strange paths as well. Even though the ‘kidnapper’ has not made any sort of demands, the inspector suggests that a ransom is put together… but why?

There is a lot to like about this film. It is super cool and somehow extraordinarily scummy at the same time. George Hilton is suitably bastardish, and Michael Antoine’s cavalier sociopath is a perfect example of how to act creepy. You really have to love a film that doesn’t really have a clear ‘good guy’: all the characters are either macho womanizers, bitches, slutty bimbo’s or just plain out frigid.

Simply, I can’t recommend this enough: I loved every second of it.

Score: *****

Format: The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation has a few tiny artefacts here and the but nothing to really detract from the viewing experience. For its age this is a splendid transfer. No fancy 5.1 remix here, with The Killer Must Kill Again presented in old school stereo, but it is a decent track. You also have the choice of subtitles Italian or dubbed English.

Score: **

Extras: A nice basket of extras on this disc.

 

There is a thorough commentary track by Cozzi, who is prompted along by interviewer Pete Tombs, author of Mondo Macabro. Cozzi talks about all aspects of the film, and it is entertaining and informative. He discusses the original title – Il Ragno – and where it came from, and generally has great recollections of the films production.

The Road to The Killer is an interview with Cozzi from October 2004 and he talks about his influences and career.

Initials D.A. The Killer has a lighter with the initials D.A. on it, and Cozzi discusses how this is a tribute to Dario Argento, a man whom he seems to respect.

The Giallo Genre is a documentary originally presented on the Region 2 Mondo Macabro release of Death Walks at Midnight. It is narrated by Adrian Smith, author of the giallo book Blood and Black Lace, and is a decent introduction to the world of giallo. I did find an issue with the audio at this point though. Everytime Smith spoke, my sound system accompanied his speech with a dull hum, whether this is present on the disc or was just my equipment, I am not sure.

There is also a theatrical trailer, a blogs and stills galleries, which feature posters and text filmographies, and an original title sequence of the film as it was known as Il Ragno.

In addition, this disc has a collage of film scenes called More from Mondo Macabro, which shows scenes from their other releases, such as Alucarda, The Diabolical Dr. Z, Aswang, Living Corpse, Blood of the Virgins, Seven Women for Satan, Lady Terminator, Crazy Love, Mill of the Stone Women, Dangerous Seductress and Girl Slaves of Morgana Le Fay Special Edition. The worse thing about this sequence of films was the amount of DVDS I am going to have to purchase over the next few months!

Score: ****

WISIA: With it’s strange vibe, The Killer Must Kill Again is a definite rewatcher.

The Wind (2018)

One from the to watch pile…

The Wind (2018)

Film: I must start this review with a simple statement about my genre tastes: I have zero interest in films, TV, comics or video games that take place in the American so-called ‘wild’ west. I’ve seen very few Django films outside of Tarantino’s, I’ve only watched the ‘Dollar’ trilogy once, my comic collection has a couple of cowboy comics, but not in comparison to horror, sci-fi and superhero ones and the video Red Dead Redemption 2, that everyone was cartwheeling in excitement over, bored three different shade of crap out of me.

I’m not a cowboy guy, ok? Even when everyone in horror was excited about Bone Tomahawk, I couldn’t get much more than a raised eyebrow out of the film, and that was just at the graphic violence! Maybe I should give it another go…

This film was directed by Emma Tammi, who directed the documentary Lens Across America, and was written by Teresa Sutherland, who prior to this hadn’t written a full feature, but her short film The Winter was very well received.

This film tells of Lizzy Macklin (Caitlin Gerard) and her husband, Isaac (Ashley Zukerman) who live in 1800s America in the Wild West. They live a frugal life and he spends a lot of time away working for their survival, leaving Lizzy alone, who is potentially suffering from post natal depression after a stillborn birth and because of the isolation, thinks something is in the plains watching her.

Our story sees a young couple, Emma (Julia Goldani Telles) and Gideon Harper (Dylan McTee) move in to the cabin close by, and Lizzy paranoia starts getting worse, thinking that Emma is attempting to seduce her husband.

So is there something in the wind on the plains, or is Lizzy slowly but surely losing her mind?

So this wasn’t the movie to change my opinion on the western. Don’t get me wrong, this film is visually realised beautifully and the performances are fabulous, but I found no tension and the story to be disjointed and plodding. I’m not one to be looking at clocks whilst watching a film, but this time, I was constantly with one eye on the time praying for the 80 odd minutes to come to an end.

As a discussion of post natal depression, paranoia and post traumatic stress disorder is where this film work best, and honestly I really think the addition of the supernatural elements may be where this film falls apart as you aren’t quite sure what it is you are watching.

I’m a fan of more deliberate horror films, like The Wicker Man, for example, but I just couldn’t get into this. Yes, maybe it was because I’m not a fan of westerns, but I am a fan of good pacing, and this didn’t have that.

Score: *1/2

Format: This film was reviewed with the Umbrella Entertainment region 4 DVD which runs for approximately 84 minutes. It is presented in a quite clear 2.35:1 image with a really good Dolby Digital 5.1 audio.

Score: ****

Extras: None. Not even a menu screen.

Score: 0

WISIA: Nope. It’s that simple.

The Curse of the Weeping Woman (2019)

One from the to watch pile…

The Curse of the Weeping Woman aka The Curse of La Llorona (2019)

Film: Sometimes, when choosing a movies, alarm bells should ring.

First, I don’t like supernatural films, but like some kind of self-flagellating moron, I still like to give them a chance, hoping that I might find another Sinister, instead of another dumb piece of tripe like Insidious. My mistake here was that the cover quite clearly states ‘From The Producers of The Conjuring Universe’ which for someone like me who isn’t a fan, that basically is like a restaurant having a sign out the front that says “our chef has a cold and never washes his hands after taking a dump’ and me going in and eating there anyway.

I deserve whatever I get.

Secondly, I occasionally make the mistake of watching a film because of the lead actor, and I have sat through some buckets of poop because of this. In this case, the tempting lure was two-fold: Linda Cardellini, Velma from the 2002 and 2004 Scooby Doo movies, stars and one of the supporting actors is Patricia Velasquez, from 1999’s The Mummy, and I bit like a hungry trout at a fish farm.

This film is directed by Michael Chavez, from a story by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis, who co-wrote Five Feet Apart, the teen tear-jerker… was that another alarm bell?

Set in 1973, The Curse of the Weeping Woman tells of social worker, Anna (Cardellini) who has been called to investigate Patricia Alvarez (Velasquez) who has apparently been abusing her sons, but when she gets to Patricia’s house, she finds the boys locked in a closet, and Patricia willing to defend their imprisonment… violently if need be.

The police step in and Patricia tells Anna she needs to protect the boys from La Llorona, before she is taken away, and her sons are placed in temporary housing. On the first night there, though, they are taken by ‘something’ and drowned.

Anna, a single mum herself, is called to the scene of the crime late at night and has to take her son and daughter with her. Her son sneaks out of the car to see what’s going on and is attacked by a spirit of a woman, who attaches herself to the family, and the terror of the Weeping Woman, a scorned women who killed her sons and then herself, continues…

Will Anna and her children be able to survive her grasp, even after they enlist the help of father religious man, Rafael (Raymond Cruz), a shaman with seeming insane practises for exorcising ghosts?

Now the first thing I must point out that this isn’t just from ‘the producers of the Conjuring universe’ but IS a part of the Conjuring universe, and the character of Father Perez, played by Tony Amendola, was also in 2014’s Annabelle, so maybe that blurb on the cover should say ‘ steeped well within The Conjuring universe’.

Now, this is one of those post-millennial ghost stories that all seem the same: set in the seventies (to avoid technological trappings like mobile phones), deep bassy sounds to add to the terror, a ghost style-guide that fits an aesthetic that has worked so far in far too many films, a cold filter on the image to make everything look dark and wet (or should I say ‘the Wan Ghost Aesthetic) and a bizarre re-installation of Christianity/ Catholicism wielded loosely by a bizarre shaman as the heroic tool.

It’s boring, made seemingly exciting by SUDDEN INCREASES IN VOLUME, but essential is just another forgettable ghost story that’s directed well and has a half-decent cast

Score: **

Format: This film was reviewed with the Australian, region B release which runs for 83 minutes and is presented in a high definition 2.4:1 image with a matching Dolby TrueHD 7.1 audio track, which it relies on heavily for its scares. Honestly you couldn’t watch this late at night while everyone else was in bed because you would be adjusting the volume up and down for the quiet ghostly bits and the LOUD SCARES!

Score: ****

Extras: There are 5 extras on this disc.

The Myth of La Llorona is a brief look at the history of the myth of the Mexican ghost ‘the Crying Woman’ and how it apparently dates back to the days of Cortez. This isn’t the first time this myth has been filmed: the TV show ‘Supernatural’ used her legend in the pilot episode, and in 1963, Mexican Director Rafael Baladón’s Le Maledición de la Llorona entertained the legend as well. This featurette is two minutes of cast members talking about the legend.

Behind the Curse looks at the making of the film and the incorporation of the legend into the film. Hilariously, one of the cast members mentions how it’s ‘not cliched’ which is one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard.

The Making of a Monster looks at the design of this ‘new, original’ monster. Make up effects are always interesting so at least it did offer that, and the performer Marisol Ramirez is a trooper.

Deleted scenes are just that! About ten minutes worth of stuff that really didn’t add to the film at all, if anything, it detracted from it somewhat, and would had slowed the film down, and even made Cardellini’s character seem maybe less of a good mother than she was.

Storyboards shows some PIP storyboards in comparison to the film, but don’t expect beautiful lavish illustrations here! No these are fairly crudely drawn thumbnails but they show they sat pretty close to the final film and it’s always interesting to see a director or cinematographer’s processes.

Score: ***1/2

WISIA: I can 100% guarantee the next time I need to see something with Cardellini in it, I’ll watch Scooby Doo again and that’s a much better rewatcher.

Podcast Transcript – Episode 3

Welcome back, terrorphiles, to The To Watch Pile After Dark Podcast. My name is Justin McNamara and we are counting down my top 50 favourite horror movies.

You’ll find in this list that there is a lot of 70s and 80s films, and that’s because my opinion is that the best films came out in this period, and certainly the ‘horror franchise’, a pop culture trend that I love, was at its height towards the end of the 80s. This film WAS a one off, but the 2010 remake, and its sequels, were so successful that they eventually spawned a sequel to the original in 2019, which feels like Déjà Vu…

(Play trailer)

I Spit on your Grave aka The Day of the Woman tells the story of writer Jennifer Hills (Camille Keaton) who retreats to the countryside of Connecticut from New York to work on her latest novel. At a service station near her house she meets a bunch of ne’er do wells who act in a lecherous manner towards her, and her casual way is taken by them as flirting.

She goes to her country house and has some groceries delivered, which is done by mildly mentally disabled man Matthew (Richard Pace), goes tells his friends, the same ones at the service station, included ringleader Johnny (Erin Tabor) that she had been VERY nice to him and shown him her boobs, which they take an an invitation.

They descend upon her house and tell Matthew that he should rape her and that they are helping him to lose his virginity, but we he declines, the other men repeatedly violate her, beating and raping her, until Matthew, under the influence of alcohol decides to join in. This torture lasts for hours and they finally leave her for dead…

… but she’s not dead…

She carefully creates plans to exact her revenge on the men, and does so one-by-one, taking no prisoners, and doing so in grisly, violent ways.

This film was written and directed by Mier Zarchi after he and a friends found a naked woman who had been beaten and raped, and took her to the police. Zarchi claims the police officer was extraordinarily cavalier in his behaviour towards the woman, even insisting that she answer questions even though her jaw was obviously broken. Zarchi was offered a reward by the woman’s father, which he declined, but the experience stayed with him and he eventually wrote the film whilst on his commute to work.

As a writer and director, Zarchi isn’t really know for many other films, other than 2019’s sequel, I Spit On Your Grave: Deja Vu and the terrible ‘Don’t Mess With My Sister’ whose title offers some sense of dread, but never actually gets to the levels of this film.

This film, depending on the version you get your hands on as it’s received many cuts over the years, and was even one of the UK’s ‘Video Nasties’, goes for between 93 and 101 minutes, which is a standard movie length of its era, but what is unusual is the length of the gruelling rape scene which sits at around the 25 minute mark in the full uncut version, and Keaton spends all that time totally naked, a brave, potentially career killing choice in that day and age.

Rumour has it that the rape scene was so emotionally difficult to film that two crew members quit, one being a make up artist who was struggling with her own demons after experiencing a gang rape.

Zarchi skills as a director aren’t great and this shows in the average performances and dialogue delivery of his male cast, but his ability to direct an assault scene is amazing, and the scenes of Jennifer’s rape are gruelling, so gruelling in fact that by the time you get to the ‘revenge’ part of this ‘rape revenge’ film, you feel the men are actually let off lightly in comparison. The remake shows the Jennifer character, this time played by Sarah Butler, offer the men far more ‘torture porn’ styled punishments, which is to be expected in a post-Saw version of the film.

I Spit on your Grave was originally released as The Day of the Woman in 1978 and wasn’t received very well, but Jerry Gross renamed it I Spit On Your Grave and redistributed it in 1978 to a bit more of a response, though film critics Siskel and Ebert hated not just it, but the audiences response to it. In the UK it was labelled a Video Nasty and feminist Julie Bindel protested against its release, though she later claimed it was actually a feminist film.

I think many people protested this film initially without taking into account, described best in the 1986 book The Encylcopedia of Horror by Tom Milne and Paul Willeman, that ‘the men are so grossly unattractive and the rapes so harrowing, long drawn-out and starkly presented that it’s hard to imagine most male spectators identifying with the perpetrators’. I don’t think this quote means the men are physically unattractive, but instead psychologically unattractive with their attitudes which manifests initially as leering lust before escalating into so much worst.

Keaton’s performance in the ‘revenge’ part of the film has been criticised as well as being flat and almost catatonic, but I think that the assault causes her to be stripped back to an almost avenging angel figure, and that perhaps she has actually lost some of who SHE was.

The reason this film is in my top 50 is it is a film that effects me. As a married man with a daughter and mostly female friends, I find the film difficult to watch, and isn’t that what horror is supposed to be? It effects you in a way that I haven’t seen in many films, and this is all due to Keaton’s performance: her fear of her solitude being invaded, the response to every part of the rape, the dead-eyed horror of being stripped back to nothing more than a thing to be abused by bad men, and rebirth as an angel of vengeance with a cold heart.

I have to admit to being a latecomer to this film, and was surprised by how violent it was for the era it was from, and I have wrote at length about it, even to the point that the current release on DVD and Bluray in Australia has a quote from my review from my days as a film reviewer for now-defunct website Digital Retribution.

Thank you all for listening! At my website The To Watch Pile, (www.towatchpile.com) you can find movie reviews and a transcript of this episode of the To Watch Pile After Dark, and please, give a 5 star review on your listening program, hit the subscribe and even drop a few works of support: it heaps a great deal if you do.

You can also find me on Twitter at @thetowatchpile or on Instagram, seeing as I am part of the Nerds of Oz network, @thenerdsofoz. Also please check out our comic and nerd-related podcast Nerds of Oz, available where all good podcasts can be found.

See you on the next episode…

The House That Jack Built (2018)

One from the to watch pile…

The House That Jack Built (2018)

Film: It is a strange thing that sometimes, the viewing of a film makes you realise that you haven’t experienced a particular director’s work at all. Before starting the review on this film, The House That Jack Built, written and directed by Lars Von Trier, I looked at the directors filmography and discovered that even though I have both volumes of Nymphomaniac and Antichrist, I don’t remember actually watching them.

This is why this is called the To Watch Pile: too many movies, too little time.

Von Trier originally perceived this film as a television series, which it would have possibly suited considering it is played out episodic in a series of 5 ‘Incidents’ that take place over a 12 year period from the 70s to the 80s.

The House That Jack Built tells the story of architect, engineer and serial killer, Jack (Matt Dillon), and a discussion he is having with Verge (Bruno Ganz), a disembodied voice whose identity we eventually discover, but to share here would be to spoil the ending.

The two are looking over a series of incidents, in reality murders, that Jack has committed on various victims (played by Uma Thurman, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Sophie Gråbøl, Riley Keough and others) that Jack attempts to justify as psychological soothing acts which result in art. Jack and Verge explore Jack’s origins as well as his state of mind during the acts, and the highs and lows of the act of murder itself.

This is a quite fascinating look at the functions of a serial killers mind, and Von Trier has done his research. Von Trier doesn’t just reference psychology though, as Jack finds justifications for his ‘art’ everywhere, and his fractured thought process is shown through archival footage from hunts, World War 2 newsreels, cartoons… everywhere really, and it represents the state of mind perfectly.

One thing I can say is that even though its a discussion on serial killers, their acts and their origins, it certainly doesn’t mind showing you the acts of violence and the ensuing gore or the results of the violence, and even though it appears to be practical special effects, some of them aren’t necessarily great… but that also might be the point: it’s hard to tell whether Von Trier’s restrictions are deliberate, or an accident of budget or lighting. There is also a little bit of animal violence, both in the afore mentioned archival footage of hunting and special effects, so if that’s something that completely and utterly repulses you, this film definitely isn’t for you.

Von Trier’s camera style is unusual too. The whole film is told in this almost voyeuristic news camera-styled look that perpetually moves and keeps every scene, no matter how static, interesting.

The casting is fantastic too. It’s easy to forget just how good an actor Dillon is, and he both recounts his tale to Verge, and acts like a psychopath with such a lack of enthusiasm that is comes across as very real. The other cast are fantastic in their roles too, a highlight being Thurman playing quite possibly one of the most horrible human beings ever put to film, which in a movie about a serial killer is saying something, and is an interesting juxtaposition on character.

It’s a long film, but there is always something happening, and it is constantly saying something about the psychology of killers, and also how societal norms have changed the regular human being into a lamb, and there are very few tigers.

Score: ****

Format: This film was reviewed with the Australian Umbrella Entertainment release, which is apparently the complete and uncut version, which runs at about 2 hours and 32 minutes and is presented in a fines 2.35:1 image with a deep Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track.

Score: ****

Extras: Nothing.

Score: 0

WISIA: Whilst this film is both interesting and provocative, I am not sure if it does hold itself up to repeat watches.

Saw (2004)

One from the rewatch pile…

Saw (2004)

Film: The genesis of Saw came from two young Australian writers trying to overcome the main problem of limited budget independent film-making: an interesting story utilizing a small cast. Sometimes, as in the case of this story by James Wan and Leigh Whannell, the story can be so good that it gains the attention of Hollywood producers. With that kind of interest it’s only a matter of time before you get a decent cast, including Cary Elwes (Twister), Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon), Monica Potter (Along Came a Spider) and Shawnee Smith (The Blob) and Whannell himself, and you have a serious movie on your hands, though it has been suggested that the inclusion of names like Glover and Elwes were working of a contractual obligation.

The Saw films became an impressively successful series that saw one being released every Halloween until 2010, and the sequels, which revelled in their love of the torture devices, became a part of the ‘torture porn’ titles named by critic David Edelstein (apparently: he is regularly cited as the one who coined the term) in 2006. People got up in arms over the whole ‘torture porn’ thing, but splatter movies had been around from the sixties, so they all needed to cram the Hell down.

The story of Saw is simple: two men wake up chained by their legs to pipes on either side of an abandoned men’s room. A doctor, Lawrence (Cary Elwes) and a young photographer, Adam (Leigh Whannell) have to sift through a series of clues and lies, to figure out how to get out, but the clock is ticking. As they discuss previous experiences that may have led to their imprisonment, including Lawrence’s being pursued by an obsessed ex-cop (Danny Glover) who believes him to be a violent criminal; they slowly start to realise the truth of their terrifying predicament.

The performances from all the actors are impressive, although Leigh Whannell’s character has more whine than the entire Hunter Valley, and it tends to become a bit annoying at times. I honestly not sure if it’s Whannell’s This film is powerful and has many moments where you really cannot begin to guess the outcome.

In a time when the average viewer expects twists and turns, it is hard to come up with new ideas, but Wan and Whannell delivered the goods, enough so to be some of the ‘pioneers’ of torture porn, if that’s something they want to own up to… I know I would as I enjoyed the whole sub genre. Unfortunately, the story does rely occasionally of coincidence or for characters to do specific things for Jigsaw’s plan to work, but I guess that’s cinema, isn’t it?

A really good film let down by a poor extras package. Saw deserves a lot more respect than what it gets from this release. On it’s own however, it is certainly worth all of it’s hype, make sure you see Saw.

Score: ****

Format: This is a real interesting film to watch. Using everything from an Argento-ish palette to CCTV style images, Saw is very nice to look at, especially on bluray, coming in on the a]Australian multi-region release at a 1.78:1 image. It has a sharp image and even treats its ‘total darkness’ scenes with a nice lighting style. There are only two choices for sound: 5.1 Dolby Digital EX and 6.1 DTS ES (which was not reviewed.. The sound have great depth to them and each echo lingers and creates a truly spine-chilling atmosphere.

Score: ****

Extras: The old DVD release had some pretty poor extras on it but that’s NOTHING compared to this BD release, which has nothing on it but a bluray trailer which talks about the format, and what releases are coming. This release of Saw did come out fairly early in the Bluray lifecycle, to the point it even has a ‘this is how bluray works’ feature on it!

Score: *

WISIA: Oh yeah, I dig this film and some of its ever-unfolding sequels.