Celebrating 80 Years of Frankenstein
Ben Bussey introduces Brutal As Hell’s 80th anniversary tribute to Frankenstein.
November 21st 1931 – i.e. 80 years ago today – saw the theatrical release (not that there was any other kind back then) of Universal’s Frankenstein, and popular culture has never been the same since. Yes, that is an absolute, inarguable fact. So often we deal in arguing the relative merits of a film, what is or is not significant and why, but in this instance there really is no debate. The horror genre, the horror film, and indeed cinema overall would not exist as we know it without Frankenstein. Sure, the German Expressionists had given us the nightmarish visions of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari and Nosferatu; Lon Chaney had his celebrated macabre collaborations with Todd Browning in the silent era, and Browning had subsequently brought the first talking horror picture to the silver screen with Dracula. But it was Frankenstein which – not unlike the good doctor himself – brought all the pieces together and charged them with life, creating an entirely new entity in doing so.
Let’s be candid: Browning’s Dracula is far from a masterpiece. Despite its star turn from Bela Lugosi and the unforgettable imagery of the early scenes, it rapidly descends into stagebound tedium, blandly performed, severly lacking the gall to let things get truly sinister. The key problem, or so it would seem, is that Browning was just not comfortable directing dialogue: note that the most powerful, memorable sequences are those with little or no speech involved. Nor was Browning alone in this. What the movies really needed, then, were directors who did know how to get great speaking performances out of their actors. Enter James Whale, whose experience of directing, acting and set design for the stage were pivotal to making the film what it is. (Look out for an article discussing Whale’s work in detail later on.) Read the rest here.
and check out more awesom coverage of Frankenstein’s 80th birthday here at BAH.
Blu-Ray Review: Straw Dogs (1971)
by Stephanie Scaife
Sam Peckinpah’s most controversial film Straw Dogs finally makes its way on to Blu-Ray this week, just in time for its 40th anniversary and to coincide with the release of the remake (out in the UK on 4th November, and reviewed here). It was made during a difficult period in Peckinpah’s life when he’d been blacklisted by Hollywood, after the catastrophic production of The Ballad of Cable Hogue, and his drinking problem had started to take hold. Upon its release Straw Dogs was universally well received by critics but due to the violent content it somewhat predictably came into trouble with the censors, particularly here in the UK where it wasn’t available uncut until as recently as 2002.
Dustin Hoffman stars as David Sumner, an American academic and mathematician who moves with his beautiful young wife Amy (Susan George) to live on her family farm in her hometown of Wakely, a fictional West Country village. Almost immediately they run into conflict with the locals, Amy with Charlie (Del henney) the childhood sweetheart she’d left behind to attend university in America, and David doesn’t do himself any favours by walking into a pub and ordering “any kind of American cigarettes” whilst obliviously getting in-between a darts player and his board, living up to the stereotype of an arrogant American with a superiority complex. Not that the unwelcoming, borderline inbred and often hostile Cornish locals don’t equally live up to their own stereotypes.
David is a small, mild mannered man who goes completely out of his way to avoid any sort of physical or verbal conflict, making him the ideal target for the tough local group of handymen and layabouts that he hires to help fix up his garage, including Charlie who still clearly has an eye for the unruly Amy. Clearly frustrated Amy acts up and often behaves in a childish fashion; chewing gum loudly, messing with David’s mathematical formulae on his blackboard and just generally behaving in a belligerent manner. This of course is due to their marriage being on the rocks and David’s insistence on old fashioned ideals whereby he works and she takes care of the home. Amy however has other ideas; she resolutely refuses to wear a bra, believes she can control any situation and fawns over her cat (that David clearly hates). Read the rest of this review here.
DVD Review: The Woman
by Keri O’Shea
The internet may be a boon for film fans in many ways, but it can also be a curse; try avoiding the reviews and opinions of your peers when you’re desperately trying not to form a verdict on a film you’ve yet to see and you’ll understand what I mean. The Woman (2011) was just such a movie: it was, for many folk (including Ben!), the best thing at this year’s FrightFest and they wanted to share their thoughts accordingly, on Twitter and elsewhere. So, I did go into my first viewing of this much talked-about movie with some idea of what was to follow – including the various debates about misogyny, or otherwise, being present in the film – but I was keen to see what had garnered such praise from nearly everyone I knew.
Well, The Woman is slick, well-packaged and well-shot. It boasts some decent performances, and good locations. There is a lot to like here. I can see that.
However, that’s where I part ways with the general consensus; I have no wish to be a contrarian, but allow me to throw my hat in the ring here: I found The Woman vulgar, bordering on stupid, with heavy-handed dialogue and sloppy symbolism throughout. As for the cries of ‘misogyny!’, that heavy-handed dialogue gives us an answer on that score. The fact that it’s used to pepper the movie with sexist platitudes actually demonstrates that this isn’t a misogynistic movie; what we have here is a screenplay designed to press buttons, designed to irritate, rather than any organic sense of a prevailing attitude, sexist or otherwise. Misogynistic? No. Offensive? Yes – it’s offensive to me when a film strives so cynically to be offensive. It smacks of a film made to be discussed first and enjoyed second.
Is it just me? Are other horror fans getting tired of being manipulated like this?
You probably all have an approximate idea of the plot by now, but just to outline it: family-man-with-a-dark-side Chris Cleek (Sean Bridgers) is out hunting one day when he spies a strange, feral-looking woman bathing in a creek. He decides to make it his project to take her home, clean her up and ‘civilise’ her, with the help of his unwitting wife Belle, his daughters and his son. This civilising influence consists of chaining her up in a fruit cellar and mistreating her – not that she can’t give as good as she gets, mind, hence this is one warped family unit which is about to implode. Read the rest of Keri’s review here.
DVD Review: Mother’s Day (2011)
by Aaron Williams
How do you approach a film that has the words ‘From the director of Saw II, III & IV’ proudly emblazoned across its poster? That’s a rhetorical question, obviously. I’m pleased to say this turned out to be one of the more surprisingly pleasing guilty horror pleasures I’ve encountered this year. I have yet to see director Darren Lynn Bousman’s Repo! The Genetic Opera for the simple reason that every genre fan I ask spits the same opinion at me every time I ask – it’s shit. I only have the other spectacularly dumb Saw films to compare this to and it seems that the intelligence has been brought up a notch. Only a notch.
Jaime King throws a party for her distinctly unlikable group of young professional friends, completely unaware that the house they are in was once the dwelling of dangerous criminal family the ‘Koffins’, who just botched a bank heist and are coming home to tend to their wounded. Two of the Koffin Brothers storm the house, armed to the teeth with their little brother in tow, mortally wounded with a shotgun blast to the stomach. Taking the entire house hostage, they wait for their mother and boss, Natalie Koffin. It soon comes to light that Natalie has been sending money to the house under the impression it was still owned by the family. One of the group has been keeping the money for themselves and the Koffins are not about to leave without it. So unfolds a night of torture and torment as the group of friends begin to unravel at the hands of the Koffins. Read the rest of this review here.
DVD Review: Red White & Blue
Review by Ben Bussey
Red White & Blue is the story of Erica (Amanda Fuller) and Nate (Noah Taylor), two neighbours in a crumbling apartment building, and Franki (Marc Senter), a guitarist in a struggling rock band. It takes place in Austin. Beyond that, I’m wary to mention anything of the plot. Simon Rumley’s film is a difficult one to discuss without giving anything away, which might explain why in the run-up to its British release some reviewers seem to have thought to hell with it and given away the lot (not naming names, but shame on you). One thing I will categorically state is that if you’re looking for a horror movie to facilitate a fun night in with a curry and some beers, Red White & Blue is most definitely not the film you’re after. If, however, you want to see independent filmmaking of the highest order, filmmaking which challenges the viewer at every turn and pushes the boundaries of what we percieve to be horror, then you need look no further.
It may be set in Austin and peopled with working class Americans (yes, I’m aware Noah Taylor isn’t actually from round those parts), but at heart Red White & Blue is not too far removed from the upper class English drama of Rumley’s previous film The Living and the Dead. Both films defy easy description; both for the most part emphasise character over narrative. Perhaps most significantly when considering these films as entries in a modern horror cycle, these are films with horrific content but without clearly defined antagonists. Yes, heinous acts are committed by people in a more than questionable state of mind, but each person has their reasons for doing such things. We certainly need not condone these actions, but nor do we condemn the person responsible as evil. This is a pretty rare approach, even in the most uncompromising films of today; even A Serbian Film, notable for featuring its protagonist Milos engaging in some of the most hideous behaviour imaginable, ultimately relieved Milos of much of the blame and heaped it all on the shoulders of the unequivocal villian Vukmir. In Red White & Blue, however, the actions of Erica, Nate and Frankie are entirely their own doing, right or wrong, and each in their own way remains to a certain extent sympathetic in spite of the awful things they have done. Read the rest of this review here.
Fantastic Fest 2011 Review: Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence
by Britt Hayes
Two years ago Tom Six premiered Human Centipede at Fantastic Fest, earning high praise for the button-pushing genre film and promising a more provocative and brutal second film in the planned trilogy. This year Six is back with Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence.
Six introduces his audience to Martin (Laurence R. Harvey), our depraved antagonist — and in an interesting move chooses to construct a meta narrative, where Martin is a mentally disturbed and slightly disabled man obsessed with Human Centipede. He watches the film every day and keeps a scrapbook of key moments and information. Working as a parking garage attendant, Martin attacks and collects victims to create a 12 person human centipede of his very own.
Where Human Centipede 2 largely succeeds is in its hypothetical notion of a fan of the first film attempting to replicate the violence. It’s as if Six is in a direct dialogue with his audience, reacting to the demands to up the ante with more violence and depravity. You asked for it, you got it. Unfortunately this creates a disconnect between filmmaker and viewer, where Six is seemingly positioning himself as better than or above his audience. The meta aspect fails to cement itself as anything worthy or meaningful, but almost works as a commentary on cinematic endurance tests.
Much like the excrement passed from person to person, the gimmicky endurance tests of horror cinema have been part of a trickle down effect for decades, with each latest entity assimilating the harshest elements of its predecessors while pushing the boundaries even further. At the end of the horror movie centipede, we’re left with the endlessly processed and repulsively filthy result: Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence. Read the rest of this review here.
Review: Straw Dogs
by Britt Hayes
Screenwriter David Sumner and his actress wife, Amy (James Marsden and Kate Bosworth), leave Hollywood for Amy’s childhood home in the south – a place where David can work on his latest screenplay in peace. Once they arrive, though, all the honey-coated nostalgia from Amy’s youth quickly dissipates, as tensions escalate between the couple and the locals, including Amy’s former high school boyfriend, Charlie (Alexander Skarsgard).
A remake of the Sam Peckinpah film from 1971 of the same name, Straw Dogs is a grimy tale of baser instincts, of men motivated and driven by pure id, and the meaning and consequences of being a coward. Unfortunately, this film’s tonal disparities never allow for these messages to speak clearly or eloquently. Director Rod Lurie (The Last Castle) only seems to know what he wishes to say because it’s already been said in a better film, though he’s either unable or unwilling to convey anything poignant.
Straw Dogs concerns itself very little with the conflicts between Amy and David, though there is a brief dialogue exchange regarding Amy’s belief that David is a coward, but it is never the driving force it needs to be. Instead, Lurie chooses to focus on the good ol’ boys of Amy’s youth – the football players (including Amy’s ex) hired by David to repair the old barn on his property, the former alcoholic football coach (James Woods in a delightfully scenery-chewing turn), and a bewildering arc involving a brain-damaged Iraq war veteran (Dominic Purcell), lovingly referred to by the townsfolk as “retarded,” of course.
Straw Dogs begins as a thriller, with stress simmering just beneath the surface, ready to break into a full boil at any moment. And it’s this dramatically thrilling first half of the film that – while riddled with southern clichés and near-agonizing characterizations – feels the most genuine and promising. There’s a moment where something truly deplorable falls upon Amy, creating a distinct fork in the narrative path. Instead of telling David what has happened, when she has every reason to speak up, she chooses to remain silent, thus forgoing the opportunity to create legitimate motivation for the action that follows. Read the rest of this review here.
Definitive Directors: Rob Zombie
Definitive Directors is an ongoing series here at Brutal as Hell, examining directors we feel are currently defining the genre. Every two weeks we’ll present a director, take a look at their best work, and how their films are setting the standard for the future of horror.
by Kayley ViteoRob Zombie is certainly a controversial figure. Yet there’s no denying — at least in my mind — that he’s a definitive director of the horror genre. Even before entering the feature film game with House of 1000 Corpses, Zombie was attached to the genre through his music. Still, there’s no doubt that House of 1000 Corpses blew everything wide open, not the least of which was Zombie’s own potential and possibility. Although subtle isn’t one of the words I’d use to describe Zombie or his filmmaking, there’s a witty undercurrent to his work that speaks of an intelligently crafted script, and a director that works his ass off to make films that simultaneously entertain and challenge the viewer’s ability to continue watching. Read the rest of this article here.