Martyrs (2008)


Directed by Pascal Laugier
Starring Morjana Alaoui, Mylène Jampanoï

Wow, just got done watching this one and it is…intense. Like with my Cannibal Holocaust review, I recommend this film only to horror fan aficionado who feels they’ve seen it all. This is not for the faint of heart and will more than likely offend or scar you. In many screenings, vomiting and fainting has been reported. That said, let’s jump in.

Martyrs is divided into three acts which stand in stark contrast to one another. The first follows a young girl’s path of revenge against the people who kidnapped and tortured her and the demons she faces out of her past. This plays like your standard horror fare, but technically competant and successful in its scares, harkening back to the original Grudge. A satisfying resolution leaves the viewer wondering where the film willl go next. The next act follows her friend’s exploration of the girl’s past, at which point the film descends into sickening dread and revulsion. Without going into too much detail, the third act, punctuated by an unnecessary expositional scene, locks the viewer in the room with its victim and subjects them to a transcendant level of torture imagery. An ambiguous conclusion lends less of an explanation and more of an excuse for the violent extremes explored.

Having a similar opinion to British film reviewer Mark Kermode about horror being the last genre to push the art form that is film, I think this is worthy of a viewing. Is it torture porn? Yes. Is it expoitational? Some argue no, I say yes. But for the structure and cinematic crafting of sound, image, and effects to create an experience you cannot ignore, this film accomplishes its task. Much like Noe’s Irreverisble, this is one film that will stick with you and probably alter your psyche a bit. It’s rumored the director has been tapped to remake both this film and Hellraiser.

You’re not gonna like what you see. Or maybe you will, sicko.

Also by this director: Saint Ange (2004)

Man Bites Dog (1992)

Directed by Rémy Belvaux

Starring Benoît Poelvoorde

Since out last film took place in Belgium, why not a Belgian film?  I revisited this film recently while preparing for a presentation on the subjective camera and it’s uses in film. In the past, I’ve found Man Bites Dog to be an inspirational film for me, one that I actually referenced for some comedic scenes in a children’s animated movie, Surf’s Up.

The film follows a fictitious documentary crew as they record the daily events of an amiable, erudite serial killer. Sometimes funny, sometimes scary, often times repellant, the film is decidedly original. The immersive nature of the camera work and natural acting on the part of Poelvoorde, draws the viewer into the strange world of the protagonist and eventually the film crew as well.

As the film progresses, the documentary crew becomes more and more involved in the killings and two members are coincidentally killed. We used this idea in Surf’s Up when we had the camera crew following a chicken hunted by cannibal penguins get hit with darts and spears. A little morbid for an animated movie about surfing penguins, but it got a few laughs and a nod for technical application.

It’s a student film on a shoestring budget, but it will draw you in and rivet you to your seat. Not for the squemish, this film is definitely a horror movie, but one with some interesting reflections on the media and modern society.

Teeth (2007)


Directed by Mitchel Lichtenstein

Starring Jess Wiexler 

Ok, you can easily piece together the premise of this movie from the trailer.  But what you can’t appreciate is the expert hand that delivers a high concept idea like this in such a technically competant, skillfully acted, and craftly written way.  Adverb nazis eat your heart out.

All kidding aside this is the best quirky horror movie since May, previously reviewed by Sir Dantasia, viewed by both of us, probably on the prodding of AICN recommended geek movie pundits as Harry Knowles.  I got the word on this one from Mark Kermode initially, but Dan told me to check it out after his viewing.  In the vein of Saved! and Masters of Horror’s Jenifer, this film delivers the goods (by the way, to fully appreciate Jenifer, rent the DVD and watch the deleted scenes, D’Argento fans eat your **** out).

This movie could not have achieved its intended affect without the talent and skill of actress Jess Weixler and guiding mind of Mitchell Lichenstien.  Jess had an amazing way of delivering the performance required of such a tongue-in-cheek role as the protagonist of this movie.  She handily shifted her acting between surreal and sublime so expertly that the role was completely believable.  The direction cannot be ignored also, because I’ve seen this kind of genre blundered before and the overall vision of this project is evident and laudable.  The cinematography (Wolfgang Held) should also recieve praise for such parsinium shots as Dawn’s ride back to her home against the backdrop of the nuclear silos and the creative disguise of “suggestive material.”

I pray we see more of these two artisans in future Hollywood cannon as they both have command of their professions.  Big applause for a highly entertaining, comedic, and satisfying visceral horror romp.

Braindead/Dead Alive (1992)

Directed by Peter Jackson

Starring Timothy Balme, Diana Peñalver, Elizabeth Moody, Ian Watkin

Still one of my favorite horror films and one of Peter Jackson’s best films, even though low-budget and tongue-in-cheek, Braindead to this day holds the record for the most fake blood ever used in a film (300 liters). Full of gore and slapstick humor this film starts out quirky, turns stylishly gruesome, and never lets up. Once you see the trailer, you’ll get the idea. Though technically not an Austrailian film, I’m still sticking with the down under theme and we can’t miss one of the most celebrated modern directors (we got Peter Weir covered with Picnic Rock, but don’t worry I’ll get to George Miller).

The film opens with the discovery of the Sumatran Rat-Monkey (look for the reference in the King Kong remake), a vicious little creature the product of a plague rat copulating with a tree monkey. The rat-monkey bites an explorer and the rest of his team kills him to prevent the spread of disease, then delivers the monster to the Wellington Zoo. There it bites the possessive mother of Lionel Cosgrove, a meek man who is obsessed with a local shopkeeper, Paquita.

Lionel’s mother deteriorates quickly and eventually becomes a flesh-eating zombie, forcing him to try to hide her condition with makeup and anesthetic. Eventually she bites other people, turning them into zombies as well. This includes a baby, which sounds horrific, but leads to some of the funniest sequences in the movie. In fact, Jackson came in under budget so used the excess $50,000 to go back and shoot a hilarious three stooges-like scene with Lionel and the mutant baby.

The zombies get out of control and Lionel is forced to anesthesize the growing crowd, but he mistakenly injects them with animal stimulant. Soon he has a hoard of blood-thristy undead on his hands and only he take them down using his wits and suped up lawnmower.

Try to get your hands on the unrated cut, as you’ll missing out on about 15 minutes of the funniest horror scenes you’ll ever see. You’ll still be cut off from watching 10 minutes of the orginal film that only came out on foreign releases due to the gore. Look for the director’s cameo as the mortician’s assistant.

Other Notable Films by this Director: Heavenly Creatures (1994), The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)

Blue Velvet (1986)

Directed by David Lynch

Starring Kyle MacLachlan, Isabella Rossellini, Dennis Hopper, Laura Dern

Today I was reading about a man who designed his coffin to look like a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer can, and naturally, I though of Blue Velvet. Widely claimed to be Lynch’s best film, Velvet was also one of his more controversial given his on-screen treatment of Isabella Rossellini and the sadistic nature of Hopper’s character Frank Booth. What came from the film was a genre-bending take on the psychological thriller and one of the most memorable villains to ever utter the words, “Heineken? Fuck that shit!” You know the rest.

The film is largely is based on a song (Bobby Vinton’s Blue Velvet), a feeling (the film’s time period), and an image, namely captured in the film’s opening sequence, when young college student, Jeffrey Beaumont, discovers a severed human ear in a vacant lot. The ear, represents a hole into another world, in this case, the underworld. A world that sucks Beaumont in with its dark temptations of violence and sex.

Befriending the sheriff’s daughter, Beaumont starts to investigate the case, which leads him to the Slow Club, where he encounters lounge singer Dorothy Vallens. Jeffrey finds her apartment, sneaks in while he thinks she’s at the club, only to be caught by her…and fellated at knifepoint! Enter jealous sadomaschist Frank Booth and Jeffrey is shoved into a closet and forced to watch Vallens get violently ravaged. Fascinated, Jeffrey follows Frank and is introduced to a seedy world of drugs and violent crime.

Hopper completely commits himself to his role as Frank and the character shines in horrific splendor because of it. Some of the most insane lines you’ll ever hear a human being utter come out of Frank Booth’s mouth and it’ll leave you wide-eyed and 100% entertained. Arguably his best role.

Scenes to note are the symbolic editing during the rape scene, cutting back and forth from fire and layered alien sound, and Booth’s amyl trip in the car, best depiction of drug-induced psychosis I’ve ever seen. Next to A Straight Story, Dune, or the Elephant Man, this is probably Lynch’s most accessible film for the mainstream audience, but it still has those elements of his personality pervasively through and through that earned him the nickname, “Jimmy Stewart from Mars.”

Other Notable Films by this Director: Eraserhead (1977), Lost Highway (1997), Mulholland Drive (2001)

Les Diaboliques (1954)

Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot

Starring Simone Signoret, Véra Clouzot

What attracted me to this movie was a review I read somewhere that called Les Diaboliques, “the greatest Alfred Hitchcock movie never made,” and wow, does it feel like one. Rumors abound that Hitchcock lost out on the right to the novel by a matter of hours. Though Clouzot lends his own directorial style and executes some truly scary and creepy moments that still hold up to scrutiny today.

A brutal headmaster of a provincial boarding school terrorizes his wife and mistress to the point where the two conspire to kill him. They drown him and dump his body in the school pool only to find the next day the body is missing! Tense days pass until signs start to point to the headmaster moving about the campus. A haunting seqeunce punctuates the climax of the film, but I’m not going to ruin it for you.

I was torn between reviewing this Clouzot film and Wages of Fear, but I’ll tackle that one later, for it warrants its own review. Much better than the Sharon Stone remake, this classic horror film is not to be missed.

Other Notable Films by this Director: Wages of Fear (1953)

Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

Directed by Ruggero Deodato

Starring Robert Kerman, Carl Gabriel Yorke

I kept going back and forth on whether or not to post this one, but for the horror/gore fans, it just doesn’t get any better/worse. This is the sickest, most disturbing movie you will probably ever see. I can’t even post the poster, because it would be in poor taste. I’m giving all the warnings now, because I don’t want the wrong people renting this film thinking it’s going to be the next Mary Kate and Ashley team-up romp. This is just horrible at it’s most horribleness.

It’s sick.

The film revolves around the discovery of some tapes from a lost American documentary crew that disappeared in the Amazon rainforrest and the filmmaker Monroe who followed their journey to discover what happened. After encountering two extremely savage tribes of cannibals, he comes to find that the documentary crew behaved poorly around the natives and were thusly dispatched in the most gruesome way possible.

That’s the plot. What fills in the other 90 minutes is the most disturbing gore and horror you can possibly imagine. Controversy is rife surrounding this film as numerous real animals were slaughtered on film and some very unsavory material is explored, rape, murder, torture, dismemebering, impalment, you get the idea.

Highly sensationalized and definitely exploitational, this film was railed by critics upon its release and banned from most countries. The director was even brought up on charges of murder, claiming that Holocaust was a snuff film. What’s disturbing is that clips of actual execution footage are used in the film, taken from The Last Road to Hell. It also happens to be one of the most successful horror movies ever made, which is an interesting reflection on our society.

After watching this I felt a strong need to shower and burn my clothes. It’s that disturbing. It makes films like Hostel and Saw look like a Vegetales movie. Don’t see this movie unless you want to be scarred for life.

Other Notable Films by this Director: Seriously? You watched and you want more? You’re sick.

Don’t watch the trailer at work…

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