Monday, May 25, 2009

Season of the Hunted (2004)

Sue me, I picked this out of the 4 for $20 rack at Blockbuster. Seriously, that's my favorite place to get awesomely bad horror movies. The tagline "Are You Game?" makes this sound like a Saw sequel, but on the contrary, we've got five dude on a man-cation walking into a cannibal trap. Fun!

We open up with some horrible cinematography, lame synthesizer music, and a blurry sex scene. They're really setting the tone for a scare-fest here. So the star of our story, Steve, is planning a post-9/11 (no idea why they specify this) bowhunting trip. His military buddy, Frank, is a little reluctant, but they get all five guys together and peace upstate.

I am psyched to see that the location of the movie is actually realistic. The man-crew cruises up the Northway (in upstate New York) and gets off at Lake George/Diamond Point. (Holla, I used to hang out all summer there) They meet their guide and head over to the so-called lodge. These dudes are unreasonably excited to be shooting innocent animals. Unfortunately, the people in the lodge are a bunch of upstate NY hick stereotypes...we're not like that, I swear!

We've got a bunch of middle aged guys playing poker and drinking PBR and as it turns out, these people do not have a bathroom or a phone. This whole thing just spells disaster. The soundtrack is all early 90s angst rock, and I can't figure out if it is ridiculous or perfectly suited to this movie.

So in the AM, our esteemed crew suits up and heads out for some good ol' hunting. The natives and the tourists split up, and not so surprisingly, the hunters become the hunted! We've got the boys from New Yawk Citay on one side and the corn-fed hicks from upstate on the other. And I haven't seen bows and arrows used as weapons in a horror movie in a LONG time. Well played, sirs, well played.

We've got a twelve-man game of cat and mouse as they run around the woods and split up for the cannibals' benefit. Frank, the military vet is such a badass, except for all of the weird Vietnam flashbacks which are just confusing and have nothing to do with the movie. There's some hacking of bodies for dinner consumption that you haven't seen since the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

However, the transisitions from scene to sense are weird and random. They skip whole parts of the plot --for example, a guy goes from sitting next to a tree to being tied up to it in a mere camera turn. Honestly, the story is really good and the movie could have been decent. But it lacked in production value and acting chops in the worst way, and unfortunately even campiness couldn't have rescued this flick.

The Last House on the Left (1972)

Decades before Hostel, Turistas, and Captivity, The Last House on the Left was the original torture porn. This was the film that kicked off Wes Craven's career, even though it was extremely low budget and heavily "borrowed" from The Virgin Spring. The flick's tagline warned, "to avoid fainting, keep repeating 'it's only a movie, only a movie.'"

The Last House on the Left gained extreme notoriety over the years due to it's controversial and gruesome content. Originally rated "X" and banned in several countries, an original version, containing most notably the forced lesbian scene, is still not available in any release.

The introduction to this movie cautions that it is based on true events. Although this is not the case, the film lacks monsters and spiritual beings, and is definitely something that could happen in 1970s upstate New York, and even today.

We kick things off with a shower scene that attempts to be "artsy" in only the way that low-budget 70s horror can be. We've got young, sweet Mari Collingwood, who is off to see a band in the city, underage and sans bra. She is meeting up with her friend Phyllis who appears to be a bit more outgoing and promiscuous than our young Mari.

The girls meet up and down some alch in the woods before hitting up the concert in the big bad city. They ignore warnings of escaped convicts being broadcast on the radio, like most teenagers would. Upon arrival in the city, they decide that Bloodlust would be a lot more rad with some weed so they look for the hookup. Now I know zero about buying drugs but common sense would tell me not to enter some random apartment to complete the transaction. Obviously the apartment is chock-full of jailbirds looking for cute girls and things do not go well.

Next thing we know, Mari's parents are worried and the two lovely ladies are in the trunk of a car headed upstate. The car is, of course being driven by said escaped convicts. We've got a father and son (Krug and Junior), their buddy Weasel, and their galpal Sadie. Krug (pronounced "Krueg" as in short for Freddy) is running the show and even has his son hooked on heroin to keep him in line. Sadie is being used as the town pump and Weasel in chilling out in a suit and joining in every once in a while.

They make their way upstate and the car breaks down right outside of Mari's house! Of course, this is the basis and ultimate irony of this movie. They ditch the car and pull the girls into the woods for some "fun." The following scenes are harrowing, yet interesting. The girls are abused, tortured and raped, actions which are obvious and expected from the movie's description. However, the choice of bouncy and upbeat music during these incidents is quite jarring. Also, the dynamic of the two teenage girls really plays into the drama; the more sexually experience Phyllis really takes one for the team.

More violence and abuse ensues and unfortunately for the attackers, they take refuge in the home of Mari's parents. I don't want to give too much away past this point, but the revenge scenes are really Home Alone meets I Spit on Your Grave. As lousy as the production value is, the movie is a true classic. There's enough mystery behind the violence to make it more Audition than Hostel and it really shows the beginning of the genius that is Wes Craven. Check it out, you won't regret it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Martyrs (2008)

It's been a long time since I've seen a movie that truly scared me. It's been a VERY long time since a movie caused me to run from the room screaming and shielding my eyes. And I cannot even remember a time where I've hid behind the doorjamb in my bedroom, begging my fiance to tell me when that image is finally off of the screen so that I could come back in. Martyrs is that movie and then some.

It is very difficult to describe this movie without giving away important plot points and details. The premise is pretty basic: As a child, Lucie escapes from a warehouse where she's been brutally abused. She goes to an orphanage, where she befriends Anna. Although Lucie is not able to open up to anyone regarding what happened during her captivity, she forms a lasting bond with Anna.

Fast forward to fifteen years later and the two girls are joined at the hip, and possibly even more than friends. (The unrequited lesbian love theme appears common in French horror films) Lucie has decided to track down her former abusers and confront them. Anna is supportive of this plan, but only on a "watch and see" basis. Lucie, however, has other, more violent plans.

While helping clean up her friend's destruction, Anna is confronted by how truly and deeply disturbed Lucie is, represented by a Grudge-esque ghost who appears to follow her around and incites self mutilation.

At this point, the film takes a complete and horrifying turn. Although the first and second portions of the movie definitely relate to one another in the grand scheme of things, the second half of the movie is incredibly heart wrenching and terrifying. It is truly a cold and fierce look at torture and the pure amount of suffering that humans can survive. There's nothing Hostel or Turistas-like about this movie. It's a frightening look at the capabilities of human beings, and certainly not for the weak-hearted. The ending will leave some confused, and some fulfilled.

Comments on sites such as IMDB have led me to believe that viewers have very dissenting opinions about this movie. Some were profoundly disturbed, some were beyond grossed-out, and some, for whatever reason, just could not take the movie seriously.

I do personally believe that women will be more affected by this movie than men. Not only because the two main characters are women, but because the observations and statements made about females and their ability to survive is quite true. A tattoo artist once told me that women are much easier to tattoo than men, because while men can get punched in the head and get back up, women are used to the long, enduring pain that comes with something like childbirth.

I was deeply affected by this film, and weeks later, still find myself thinking about it. The only flaw with this movie (which is obviously unavoidable) is that, like Seven, you'll never be able to see it for the first time again. You'll never be able to experience the true shock and horror once you view the twists and turns. So do yourself a favor, don't Google image search this movie, don't read any spoilers, and just go into this movie with a clean slate. You'll be glad you did...although you might lose a little sleep.

Grade: A+ (Audition: harrowing and nightmarish, yet also thought-provoking. Sticks with you long after you've seen it.)