Category Archives: 3.5 pirate flags

House of the Devil

House of the Devil (2009): United States – directed by Ti West

Rated R by the MPAA – contains some language, blood, violence, and suspense

There haven’t been a great number of quality American horror films in the past few years.  Not that the genre has ever been particularly high-brow, but there seems to have been a more dire dearth in the past decade.  Meanwhile, European horror, including French films like Inside [review here] and High Tension and the less effective Martyrs [review here] have taken center stage as far as the genre is concerned.

For these reasons it is rather pleasant to see such a precise and measured retelling of a well-trodden story in an American horror movie.  Director Ti West knows the history of the horror film, and crafts a remarkably effective pastiche of a time when horror was much simpler, more frightening, and not afraid of blood.  Even the small things are properly honored, such as the opening titles suddenly freezing like many were in the 1970’s.  Lovers of the genre, in particular, will appreciate these little touches.

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Mondo Cane

Mondo Cane (1962): Italy – directed by Paolo Cavara, Gualtiero Jacopetti, and Franco Prosperi

Not rated by the MPAA – contains real-life violence, “scientific” sexual content, animal violence, and some disturbing material

Mondo Cane was, I believe, the first of the mondo documentaries.  They were generally produced like the travelogues of the earlier years of cinema, but focused on shocking locations and peoples and cultures.  Some of the films were much reviled upon release, and probably with good reason.  Mondo Cane is, when viewed with mature eyes, actually a fascinating and enlightening film.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a great deal of shocking behavior and customs exhibited in the film.  Rather, the footage is almost always engaging and the technique with which it is presented is remarkably effective.  The narrative, which attempts to make grand comments on life around the globe, is best viewed from a skeptical perspective: very few of the scenes are as truthful as the narrative would imply.

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The Human Centipede (First Sequence)

The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009): The Netherlands – directed by Tom Six

Not rated by the MPAA – contains exceedingly disturbing material, nudity, bizarre and disturbing gore, blood, language

Note: If you have heard of The Human Centipede and are still interested in watching it, you may be curious to read this review.  If you have not heard of the film I strongly urge you not to continue reading or look up other information concerning the film.

Looking back at cinema certain countries have created more disturbing and disgusting films than others.  Germany is responsible for trash such as Nekromantik and a number of others.  Italy has thrived for many years, granting cinema-goers a great many sick and twisted giallo and horror films, with titles like Cannibal Holocaust and Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom topping them all.  Japan has been the master for the past 20 years, with Takashi Miike’s entire oeuvre leading the way.  But most of these films remain hidden in niche markets among movie lovers, something that has changed a bit with the release of The Human Centipede (First Sequence).

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Micmacs (2009): France – directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Rated R by the MPAA – contains some violent content, some language, and some sexual content and partial nudity

Jean-Pierre Jeunet hasn’t done a great deal since his masterpiece Amélie [review here] in 2001.  There was A Very Long Engagement in 2004, but that was a bit of a departure in tone; more serious and romantic than whimsical and fantastic.  Now, with Micmacs, Jeunet is back to his old form, proving once again that his attention to detail and visual aesthetic have virtually no peers in cinema today.

Before the opening credits a man dies courtesy of a landmine.  He’s a Frenchman, surveying some ground that has been littered with deadly ordinance.  His family takes the news rather badly, but these somber scenes are filled with Jeunet’s touch of the absurd and the morbidly skewed, reminiscent of Amélie’s suicidal goldfish.

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Troll 2

Troll 2 (1990): Italy – directed by Claudio Fragasso

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains some stupid sexual references, sex accompanied by popcorn, violent green goo, utter stupidity, piss-poor dialogue, bad writing, bad directing, bad acting, and goblins

Troll 2 is a truly incomprehensible motion picture.  It is so bad that it shines with a special glow, the aura that only comes from having a director who is convinced he is making a masterpiece.  Ed Wood had this special quality.  Uwe Boll does, too, to some extent.  And Claudio Fragasso, according to Best Worst Movie [review here], certainly believed he was making a truly great picture.

In the annals of bad films, a few stand above the rest.  Plan 9 From Outer Space was the favorite for quite some time, though it is not even Ed Wood’s worst film.  Manos: The Hands of Fate has been considered truly terrible, and it is.  And now The Room is making the rounds, and is perhaps on its way to being considered the worst film ever.  But I don’t believe another film has been as adored and as inexplicable as Troll 2.

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Platoon (1986): United States – directed by Oliver Stone

Rated R by the MPAA – contains strong language, war violence, mature themes, drug use, some sexual content

Platoon opens perfectly, with a quote from Ecclesiastes:  “Rejoice, young man, in your youth.”  The movie then launches straight into the story of a young man freshly arriving in Vietnam.  It follows him through the first several months of his year-long tour of duty, through deadly ambushes and boring days at camp, and finally through a frantic and chaotic battle.

There’s not a great deal of exposition in Platoon, merely Charlie Sheen’s narration as Chris, a lowly grunt in the infantry.  He writes home to his grandmother, the only member of his affluent family who still talks to him after he enlisted.  His reasoning is that it shouldn’t just be the poor and the unwanted that fight for society.

There isn’t much of a greater context for the war, though Chris talks about it in an idealistic way.  This, too, is soon swept away by the torrent of war that he faces continually.  The challenge he faces of being the new guy, a man who is more expendable because he hasn’t put in as much time.  The longer a man’s been serving, the more he should be put in cushy positions, in the opinion of many men, including half-crazed grunt Bunny (Kevin Dillon) and the vile Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger).  On the other side is the “waterwalker” Sergeant Elias (Willem Dafoe).  He has concern for the fresh meat, as well as for the innocent civilians the platoon encounters on their maneuvers.

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A Nightmare on Elm Street

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984): United States – directed by Wes Craven

Rated R by the MPAA – contains violence, massive amounts of blood, sexual content, some nudity, language

A Nightmare on Elm Street is one of the most successful horror franchises in history, starting during the slasher film’s heyday in the mid-1980’s and continuing through to the 2010 re-imagining of the original film.  It is understandable why Freddy Krueger has lasted for so many years; the concept of an unstoppable killer that strikes in dreams, when victims are most vulnerable, is compelling and horrifying.  It is unfortunate that even the first film in the series is not particularly great, though still a fair deal better than Friday the 13th’s initial entry.

One of the best aspects of A Nightmare on Elm Street is the simple story and setup.   There are a minimum of characters, and this is helpful even though it limits the number of deaths Freddy can cause.   But each of the three primary deaths is brutal, and two are particularly gruesome and horrific.

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Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple

Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple (2006): United States – directed by Stanley Nelson

Not rated by the MPAA – contains language, disturbing content, some sexual dialogue, violence, mature themes

There are a lot of horror movies out there, and I’ve seen my share of the no-budget and the classic and the epic.  Some have been scary, some disturbing, some unsettling.  But few have been as horrifying as Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple, a film that is not even a horror movie.  As a documentary it is more potent and devastating than any dramatization of the events could ever be.

There’s nothing commercial or mainstream in Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple; the title says it all.  The film merely uses archival footage and stills to complement interviews with ex-Peoples Temple members, including Jim Jones Jr., a black man that Jones and his wife adopted for his rainbow family.  The film opens up with a reminder of the events of November 18, 1978, and archive footage of Jones preaching.  “You want me to be your father?” he says.  “I can be your father.  You want me to be your savior?  I can be your savior.  You want me to be your god?  I can be your god.”

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The Shawshank Redemption

The Shawshank Redemption (1994): United States – directed by Frank Darabont

Rated R by the MPAA – contains language, some violence, and some sexual material

On its initial release The Shawshank Redemption was favorably received, even if its box office gross was not phenomenal.  It has only been in the years since that the film’s legend has grown.  The Top 250 on IMDb has held a special place near the very top for The Shawshank Redemption, and when the dust cleared after The Dark Knight uprooted The Godfather from the top position in 2008, The Shawshank Redemption filled the void and is still number one as of this writing.

People love the film, even if the Academy couldn’t provide it with anything more than seven nominations.  It has become oft-quoted, and many people will claim it as their favorite movie of all time.  And rightfully so; it is a very good film, an uplifting experience, and a genuine crowd-pleaser.

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Suspiria (1977): Italy – directed by Dario Argento

Not rated by the MPAA – contains some language, violence, gore, scariness, pretty colors

Dario Argento, back in 1977, made murder beautiful.  With his shockingly gorgeous giallo film Suspiria he set a high mark for art in horror films, a level which has not since been approached.  The film varies between terrifying and entrancingly gorgeous, an odd and interesting combination.

The opening sequence is evocative and atmospheric.  A young lady named Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) disembarks at an airport and ventures through driving rain to find a taxi.  She is mostly alone at the airport, walking down bright blue hallways.  The camera moves slowly and lingers as she approaches the automatic door, then jarringly cuts to the door’s mechanism bursting open.  Suzy takes the taxi to a ballet school, where a scared young woman is hurriedly leaving.  Suzy tries to gain admittance but is denied: she is forced back into the taxi to find another place to stay for the night.  Meanwhile, the scared girl runs through the woods in an amazingly lit scene where the car’s headlights are the only light source.

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