XX (2017) Review

One from the to watch pile…
XX (2017)

Monster Pictures Australian Bluray release of XX


Film: I have said previously that I love anthology films (the last time with the anthology Torture Garden): one of the things I love about horror is that there is a capacity to tell a quick tale of terror, be it in this way, or even with some of the YouTube shorts that get developed into full length features, like Lights Out, or TV shows like the Twilight Zone and Masters of Horror.

Horror: yeah! Most anthologies have a thematic similarity, like Creepshow’s comic tales from the pen of Stephen King, or Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors train-bound tarot reader of doom, and XX is no exception. As the title may suggest, all the directors of this anthology have a double xx chromosome, or in more general terms, are women. Our directors are writer/ director of Southbound, Roxanne Benjamin; director of Jennifer’s Body and Aeon Flux, Karyn Kusama; musician St. Vincent aka Annie Clark and writer/ director of The Guest, as well as former editor-in-chief of horror magazine, Rue Morgue, Jovanka Vuckovic.

Quite a line up of impressive talent, for sure.

Most anthologies have some kind of connective narrative and in this case it is a mysterious, almost Jan Svankmeyer-ish stop motion of a walking dollhouse created by artist Sofia Carrillo that connects the tales, not so much as an introduction to each one, but instead just as a break in between each story. It looks incredible but doesn’t really seem to have any kind of reverence to the story, though each story seems to be a ‘room’ of the dollhouse.

The stories, though are mostly wonderful.

Danny (Peter DeCunha) looks into terror


First cab off the rank is Vuckovic’s The Box. Based on a story by Jack Ketchum and adapted by Vuckovic, The Box tells of a boy named Danny (Peter DaCunha) who asks a strange man (Michael Dyson) on a train what is in the box he is nursing. The man lets him sneak a peak, and this immediately stops Danny from wanting to eat. Danny slowly starves himself and as he shares his secret, other family members stop eating as well. Will his mother, Susan (Natalie Brown) be able to save her family? Vuckovic has created a true tale of fear here that’s told very matter-of-factly and leave you with a sense of dread, and is probably my favourite of the collection.

The second story is The Birthday Party, co-written by Roxanne Benjamin and director Annie Clark. This is black humour at its finest as it tells the tale of a woman, Mary (Melanie Lynskey) who is holding a party for her daughter Lucy (Sanaa Victoria), when she discovers that her husband, David (Seth Duhame) has inconveniently passed away. The tale then leads into her attempts to hide the body so that Lucy’s party can go on without any interruption… will she be successful? Annie Clark directs Lynskey into some funny physical situations which she takes too like a duck to water, and the whole tale is told with a colour palette that suggests a sugary 60s sitcom. It’s heaps of fun, and a nice break after Vuckovic’s dense tale.

Next is Don’t Fall, written and directed by Roxanne Benjamin, which tells of four friends, Paul (Casey Adams), Jess (Angela Trimbur), Jay (Morgan Krantz) and Gretchen (Breeda Wool), who has an abject fear of heights, on a camping trip. Whilst resting against a shallow cave wall, they find an image of several figures painted on one of the walls. During the night, Gretchen is attacked by a creature who looks like one of the painted figures, and she attacks her friends with an animalistic ferocity… will they survive her?

This was my least favourite of the tales as it after the complexity of the first two, it felt a bit empty. If Benjamin was influenced by films like Primal or Dying Breed, I wouldn’t be surprised. It’s nicely filmed, but essentially below average.

Last is Her Only Living Son, written and directed by Karyn Kusama, and it’s a tragic tale of a single mother, Cora (Christina Kirk) who is called up to the school as her son, Andy (Kyle Allen), has assaulted another student, but it would appear that the staff of the school aren’t too worried about it… which leads Cora to suspect that he somehow has them under his thrall. She has a horrible suspicion about her boy, which becomes greater when she sees he is developing talons on his hand and feel… could her only son be a Spawn of Satan?

Mary (Melanie Lynskey) has a horrible secret revealed


Kusama’s story is steeped in tragedy, and is well shot and acted well, and is a great way to finish the film after the disappointing third entry.

All in all, the parts of this film make up for a greater whole, and I certainly hope we see an XX2 down the track with some of the directors who were originally proposed when this movie was first announced, like American Mary’s Soska Sisters, Boxing Helena’s Jennifer Lynch and American Psycho’s Mary Harron.

Score: ****1/2

XX Bluray menu screen


Format: On the Australian bluray, this disc runs for approximately 80 minutes and is presented in a perfect 2.39:1 image with a matching DTS Digital Surround 5.1 sound.

Score: *****

Extras: This disc is bloated with extras, and it starts with a trailer for the film Raw, before we get to the menu.

The extras are:

Making of the Box looks not just at the making of Vuckovic’s entry, but also the proposal for making an all-female director horror anthology.

XX Set Visit in 360: A Behind the Scenes Look at the Birthday Party takes a look at some of the filming of The Birthday Party with pop-up bits saying who did what… like those old pop-up videos.

Don’t Fall Stunts and Special F/X is a series of stills and behind the scenes stuff on how the effects were done for the Don’t Fall entry.

Behind the Scenes of Her Only Living Son is really just some behind the scenes footage of the cast and crew at work (but with a cool synth score!)

Making of XX: Directors Interviews is a series of interviews with the directors, but what’s great is immediately after that we have Extended Interviews with Karyn Kusama and Jovanka Vuckovic, Roxanne Benjamin and Annie Clark and Sofia Carrillo

Trailer: I bet you can guess what this is.

This package also contains a reversible slick for the bluray.

Score: *****

WISIA: Loved it, and I’ll definitely watch it again.

Cora (Christina Kirk) is concerned for her son…

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Nightmares in Red, White and Blue: The Evolution of the American Horror Film (2009) Review

One from the To Watch Pile…

NIGHTMARES IN RED, WHITE AND BLUE: THE EVOLUTION OF THE AMERICAN HORROR FILM (2009) REVIEW

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Film: Even though their releases are hit and miss, I am always willing to giving Australian company Monster Pictures a go. Sometime I get a gem like   All Through The House, other times I am kicked in the nuts with trash like Pod, but I still feel that support is important.

On a few occasions, Monster Pictures will release a documentary ABOUT films, like Andrew Leavold’s The Search for Weng Weng, the unusual film about Richard Franklin’s descent into madness Lost Souls, and this, the more mainstream horror based doco about the American horror film, Nightmares in Red White and Blue: The Evolution of the American Horror Film.

Now I am a massive fan of documentaries about film, and site The History of Film TV series as my second favourite TV series of all time (the first is Doctor Who, the third is Criminal Minds) and I am a regular viewer of other docos like Video Nasties, Channel Z, Not Quite Hollywood, Machete Maidens Unleashed, Rewind This et cetera.

I think the reason I am so interested in these documentaries is because I am somewhat of a frustrated filmmaker myself, and would love to make docos!

Now the history of horror films would be a TV series unto itself as so many countries have a massive horror film industry themselves, so this one egotistically narrows its focus solely on the American horror film.

The film is narrated by horror icon Lance Henrickson, and features interviews with various directors like Joe Dante (The ‘Burbs), George Romero (Land of the Dead ), Brian Yuzna (Beyond Re-animator), John Carpenter (Halloween (1978), Larry Cohen (The Stuff), Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II), Mick Garris (Riding the Bullet), Tom McLoughlin (Sometimes They Come Back) and Roger Corman (trust me, you’ve seen a Corman film), as well as film historians John Kenneth Muir and Dennis Fischer and ex-Fangoria editor in chief Tony Timpone.

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This is a pretty good movie, though as the title would suggest, its very insular and outside a couple of mentions of what is happening in the overseas film industries, it talks repeatedly about what was happening in America, to Americans (though apparently Canada is America now, according to the Cronenberg mentions) and how the various world wars effected Americans and the American horror film industry.

That’s a minor criticism though and the documentary takes a fleeting look at the entire history of American horror from the dawn of cinema appearing in America to Universal Monsters, to thrillers, savage cinema, slashers, zombies: you name it.

This documentary also looks at the highs and lows of the industry, and how the ‘real’ world (whatever that is these days) effects the quality and tone of horror films.

Horror movie fans will love the fact that this film doesn’t hold back on the violence and blood: obviously the director, Andrew Monument and writer, Joseph Maddrey (also the writer of the book on white this was based) know where the bread and butter of the genre usually is; you know, that surface interest before the story or acting or direction becomes and appeal.

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The real shame in this film is the lack of female discussion: no women directors, historians, journalists or actresses get a say here which I found unusual, considering how great their presence has become, and how important both sexes are to the genre. Seriously, Rue Morgue, the wonderful horror magazine was at its best when under the control of now-director Jovanka Vukovic, surely someone like her or her contemporaries (like Monica S. Kuebler or Rebekah McKendry or April Snellings or any of the other wonderful female voices in horror)  would have had something important to say.

Even over that, I enjoyed this documentary and am happy to have it in my collection of docos about horror films.

Score: ***1/2

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Disc: This region 4 DVD release from Monster Pictures runs for roughly 96 minutes and is presented in a 16×9 image of varying quality, which is not entirely fair as some of the footage is from old films but some of the interview do have some noise on their image, and the audio is presented in an entirely functional Dolby Digital 2.0.

Score: ***

Extras: Not a sausage.

Score: 0

WISIA: I have no doubt that I’ll watch this again as I do re-watch horror documentaries regularly.

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