We’re back to our (ir)regularly scheduled program with some horror flicks! I figured I would kick things off with a bang, finally getting around to watching a film that has been heralded as one of the scariest movies ever made. Many fans (and even critics) at the very least consider [REC] to sit proudly in second place behind The Blair Witch Project for best found footage horror film, and pretty much everyone ever who has seen it has pooped themselves at least a little bit from witnessing the final 10 minutes.
[REC] is a Spanish found footage horror film about Ángela, a local news reporter and her cameraman Pablo who are filming a segment on night shift firefighters for their show While You’re Sleeping. While at the firehall, an alarm is sounded and they tag along with the emergency response team to investigate a woman trapped in an apartment. Once they reach the apartment building and investigate the old woman, they are locked and quarantined inside the building with the remaining residents by the army special forces and they begin to realize that they’re now trapped inside with a horrifying force. Residents of the building begin acting irrationally violent and cannibalistic, and as the blood flows, whatever happens to be affecting these people begins spreading to the new victims. Ángela, Pablo, and the remaining apartment dwellers need to look for any way out of the building, all while fending off the affected people and watching their numbers dwindle.
Not too long ago I dipped my toes into the New French Extremity movement by watching the home invasion gorefest, À L’interieur. Seeing how Shudder has given me access to the big three French Extremity films, I decided to check out one of the ones that blew the door wide open for films like À L’interieur and Martyrs to enter horror’s filmography, Alexandre Aja’s twisted slasher: Haute Tension.
Haute Tension (High Tension in English, and sometimes known as Switchblade Romance) is the second full length film by Alexandre Aja who is best known for directing the 2006 remake of The Hills Have Eyes. It stars a tomboyish Cécil de France and Maïwenn Le Besco as the punk rocker Marie and the preppy Alex, two college girls who are retreating to Alex’s family’s country home to study for their upcoming exams. Horror movie does and horror movies do, and their peaceful, quiet time away from civilization turns into a Hellish nightmare.
A mysterious man invades Alex’s family’s home, systematically slaughtering them before kidnapping Alex and driving off with her chained up in the back of his rusted truck. Marie stows away in the back of the vehicle and it’s up to her to figure out how to get her and her friend away from the killer and off to safety.
2016 was a big year for horror movies about people being held in one location against their will. Green Room, Hush, and 10 Cloverfield Lane all featured our protagonists caught in a pickle, stuck in a room or house trying to escape. I’m always interested in one-location films because I love to see how the filmmakers work around only having one type of location available to film in. It’s harder to make your movies more engaging when you can only work with a bunch of dingy rooms in an old house, so when they pull it off it elevates the film to something a little more special for me. When I heard that Fede Alvarez (director of the 2013 Evil Dead remake, which I love) was going to be making another horror film set mostly in one house, I was totally sold.
Don’t Breathe is Alvarez’s second full length film, and sees him pairing up with Jane Levy again as his leading lady. Levy played the drug-addled Mia in Evil Dead, and returns in Don’t Breathe as Rocky, a young woman in a broken family trying to escape her shitty life in Detroit with her younger sister. Rocky, her boyfriend Money (played by Daniel Zovatto who was Greg from It Follows, and yes, Money is the character’s real name) and her friend Alex played by Dylan Minnette (Goosebumps, Prisoners) break into houses and sell off whatever valuables they can steal to get by. Alex’s father works for a home security alarm company, and Alex takes advantage of his knowledge of the security systems to help their burglaries go off with out a hitch. After finding out that a blind war veteran (Stephen Lang) came into a large amount of money after his daughter was killed in a car accident, our intrepid band of deplorables set their sights on his house for what could be the last heist they’ll ever need to pull.
So Hellraiser was pretty dope and I knowing myself as well as I do, I think I’ve resigned to watching all the Hellraiser movies now. It’s honestly the last big horror franchise I have to burn through, and then I’ll have the Big Four series of ’80s horror icons under my belt: Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, and Hellraiser. These are mammoth titles, sprawling between nine and twelve films. Not many modern horror franchises have managed to get up there in numbers yet. I’m sure they will, given enough time, but even a series as popular as Paranormal Activity only has six films. It’s been six films over six years mind you, so I don’t know how saturated audiences will get with Paranormal Activity, and when they’ll have had enough. A long running franchise is not necessarily a mark of quality, either. Look at Halloween, or A Nightmare on Elm Street. Those series both have more shitty movies than good ones in them. Point is that Hellraiser is a staple horror franchise that I feel like I need to fully experience, warts and all to really call myself a horror fan.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II is obviously the sequel to the original Hellraiser, taking place hours after the wild events of the first film.
Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) is admitted to a psychiatric hospital where she’s trying to convince the staff and the investigating police that her story about the Cenobites, her zombie uncle Frank, and Hell is true. Meanwhile, the head of the hospital is obsessed with the puzzle box and the mysticism surrounding it, and attempts to learn as much as he can about the afterlife. Unbeknownst to him, exposing himself to such knowledge brings with it rather devilish consequences. Once Pinhead (Doug Bradley) and his gang of Cenobites show up, Kirsty and fellow patient Tiffany (Imogen Boorman) delve into and navigate through Hell itself to try and bring Kirsty’s dead father back. (more…)
So I know I literally just wrote about how well crafted horror movies can be elevated past dumb schlock that appeals to the lowest common denominator audience, but sometimes you just want to turn your brain off and watch some dumb, raunchy horror. As someone who loves the slasher subgenre, more often than not, I’m watching sleazy trash flicks. And boy, did I just watch a sleazy trash flick.
Pieces is a Spanish slasher made to cash in on the success of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Sure, it came out almost a decade after Texas Chainsaw, but between the marketing “You don’t have to go to Texas for a chainsaw massacre!” and the fact that this was released pretty close to the height of the slasher craze of the ’80s, all the ingredients were there to make a stand out exploitation flick.
Pieces (also known by it’s much better title, A Thousand Screams in the Night) is about a mysterious killer on a Boston university campus who has been brutally killing beautiful young women with a chainsaw and stealing various body parts from their corpses. A handful of cops have determined that the killer is either a member of student body or the faculty, and they need to figure out who’s behind the murders and the theft of dead body parts before whatever grim plan that has been put in motion can be completed.
Did that sound interesting? If it did don’t worry, because the way Pieces presents the plot is the least exciting way possible. This movie hits the ground running about as quickly as you can, with murder after bloody murder before grinding to a halt. With a complete lack of proper characters and a molecules-thin narrative, Pieces occasionally fails one of the golden rules I judge slashers on: The movie must be entertaining whenever the villain is not on screen. The victims are not a small group of college student friends who are hacked up one by one. They’re all random students across campus, usually with no relation to one another, and because of this, they’re not worth spending time writing out or developing. Even our main character, Kendall is completely underwritten. He doesn’t have any motivations or reason to be involved in the story, he can be replaced with any other character and the movie would still flow.
You’d think that because of this, Pieces is a slog to get through. Fortunate for you, my beautiful readers, Pieces clocks in at under 90 minutes and what dialogue and exposition there is on screen can be just beautiful. The script is absolutely absurd. The writer of Pieces feels like someone who has never had a conversation with another human being. At the very least, there was an extreme language barrier in the way. The awkward, stilted lines are elevated even further by some of the worst dubbing and ADR I’ve ever heard. I don’t know if the film was recorded in Spanish, so I have no idea why they overdubbed the existing audio, but I’m so glad they did. Even barring the dialogue, Pieces has a couple nonsensical scenes sprinkled throughout that bring it up to good-bad movie territory. If a cop-undercover-as-tennis-coach running into a Kung Fu professor on a jog who then promptly snaps and attempts to kill her before blaming his odd behavior on bad chop suey he ate earlier sounds like something out of a totally different movie, I’m happy to surprise you that what I just described is an actual scene in this movie. It just kind of happens, and then is never touched upon again.
Unfortunately, all of this is still somewhat marred by the complete lack of story and characters, and while I can see through that and find enjoyment over how badly executed this film is, it can see how a lot of people might just find Pieces boring or frustrating. This is definitely a bad-moviegoer’s kind of movie.
Now let’s get to the good stuff. This is a grindhouse flick through and through. Pieces had a couple of the more brutal murders in a slasher flick I’ve seen, most notably seeing the aftermath of a woman getting sawed in half in a small elevator. Sure, the effects would be cheesy as hell to any seasoned horror fan but when paired with excessive nudity (gore’s close cousin in exploitation films), you’re in for a fun hour and a half. And don’t worry, if you were wondering about how realistic the violence is in Pieces, I’ll let you in on a little spoiler. There’s a scene where a woman is stabbed to death, and you can clearly see the rubber prop knife folding and bending when it makes contact with her skin. I don’t know how anyone missed that in editing but regardless, it’s still in the final cut. I’m going to keep this review pretty spoiler free but if it helps convince you to check Pieces out, the ending of this movie is completely bonkers. I’d say the last thirty seconds of Pieces are akin to the very end of Sleepaway Camp in terms of how jarring and unexpected it is. And they both include dicks!
I’d say Pieces is a cut above your average exploitation/ European knock-off horror film with enjoyably awful acting and “suspense”, solid practical effects and some scenes that come completely out of left field. Blood and boobs co-star alongside
cardbord cut outs and wooden planks actors, which is never a bad thing either. So, if you’re looking for a cheesy, dopey horror flick where you can drink a beer or five and laugh and cheer throughout with your friends, Pieces is it.