Tag Archives for " Supernatural Horror "

October 25, 2019

NHE’s Modern Horror Classics: The Devil’s Backbone (2001)

the-devil's-backbone

From comic book films like “Hellboy” to the blockbuster action of “Pacific Rim” to the majestic fantasy of his masterpiece “Pan’s Labyrinth” Guillermo Del Toro has proven himself to be one of the best genre directors of the 21st Century. It was certainly difficult to pick one film for Del Toro for the book as most of his films have some horror element. Yes, even his Academy Award-winning feature “The Shape of Water” has a touch of horror about it even although it is mainly a romantic-fantasy.

Del Toro frequent mixing of genre also makes it difficult to establish which of his films you consider to be horror. From his 21st Century filmography, there is two that stand out as being horror films this film and “Crimson Peak.” Between these two it was easy to pick which one should be included on the list. Your writer here would like to state before continuing that I consider “Crimson Peak” to be nowhere near as bad as many people claim. There is much fun to be had with that films brand of overblown Gothic horror, and performance-wise Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, and Tom Hiddleston make for an impressive triumvirate.  However, suffice to say it is nowhere near as good as “The Devil’s Backbone.”

Tragic to think then the movie was nearly never made. The reason for this was partly that Del Toro was considering giving up filmmaking after his bruising first Hollywood experience on the Weinstein produced “Mimic.” On that movie, he frequently clashed with Harvey and Bob Weinstein and felt the film had been taken out from under him. The other reason was he could not getting fund for the story in its original form (then set during the Mexican Revolution) which he pitched to the Mexican Film Institute. The film institute rejected it on the grounds it was “too big” of a film. The movie was however saved with the intervention of Pedro Almovodar. Almovodar had admired Del Toro’s work and had passingly said to the director if he ever wanted to make a film in Spain he would produce. In 1997, Del Toro “took a chance and wrote to Pedro and said, ‘Remember that conversation we had?’”[1].. He did indeed, and the rest as they say is his history.

 

The change of filming location did not alter the plot too much, but the backdrop of the story did move from being the Mexican Revolution to the Spanish Civil War. The plot focuses on Carlos (Fernando Tielve), a 12-year-old boy who finds himself at a leftist orphanage following the death of his father. Carlos soon discovers that the orphanage is haunted and hides some dark secrets.

Given a quick synopsis “The Devils Backbone” may seem like a regular ghost story but this is Del Toro we are talking about and as is usual with his films things are not that straightforward. Far from being your regulation haunted house pic, this films mixes horror with drama, coming-of-age and Western elements with John Ford’s “The Searchers” being one of Del Toro’s touchstones during the film. The Western influence is strong throughout with many of the outdoor shots being composed like a Western, and the orphanage itself is made to look like one of those barricaded forts seen in so many Westerns.

Like with many a Del Toro it is not the supposed monster, in this case, the ghost that is the villain here but human cruelty, the cruelest character being Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega). Even this character though is not without his sympathies. His actions are frequently despicable and grow more so as the film goes so you actively cheer on his demise, but there are also times you can see Jacinto is a man still viciously lashing out against festering childhood wounds. That is one of the critical strengths of the movie all the key players are given psychological depth and believable motivations in a way often missing in mainstream horror.

Jacinto not the ghost child Santi (Andreas Munoz) may be the real threat in the movie, but that does not mean the ghost doesn’t look creepy, far from it. The design of Santi is very creepy indeed with his ashen white complexion (inspired by Sadako in “Ringu”), cracked porcelain-like face and the blood that emanates from a head wound like a mist. There also some eerily atmospheric scenes involving the ghost before we, the audience, realise he does not pose a threat. Particularly in an early scene where Carlos first catches sight of him in lower reaches of the Orphanage building.

As well as the design of the ghost being outstanding the overall design of the movie is equally gorgeous and gothic. The film’s budget was actually only 3-4 million Euros, but from the look of it, you would imagine that the budget was far higher than that which is a testament to both Del Toro as a filmmaker and the skill of his crew.

The design is not the only outstanding element though as there also many great performances here. Notably from Del Toro favourite Federico Lupe as the kindly Professor Casare. Also in fine form is Marissa Paredes as head of the orphanage Carmen, Eduardo Noriega as the aforementioned Jacinto as well as Fernando Tielves who is excellent as the young protagonist Carlos.

Upon release the film was not met with quite the same adulation as its sister picture “Pans Labyrinth“ (Which Del Toro recommends you watch with this film) it was still met overwhelmingly positive reviews and was a modest box office success. As mentioned earlier Del Toro’s career would go from strength to strength from here culminating, of course, in his Oscar win for “The Shape of Water.” However, this film still ranks as one of the visionary filmmakers finest and up until recently was the one that Del Toro himself cited as his favourite amongst his works.


[1] All Guillermo Del Toro quotes taken from “Guillermo del Toro's The Devil's Backbone” by Matt Zoller and Simon Abrams

September 27, 2019

NHE’s Modern Horror Classics: Final Destination (2000)

Final-Destination_Devon_Sawa-Disaster

While this series delves more into the indie side of horror, I thought it silly to ignore some of the more mainstream releases. The reason for Final Destination’s inclusion is, not only did it kick one of the biggest horror franchises of the 21st Century’s first decade but also your writer here considers it to be one of the most fun franchise of the 21st Century so far. There is little doubt these are silly movies right enough, but for pure popcorn horror thrills most of the “Final Destination” films work a treat.

The 2000 original started life as an X-Files spec script by screenwriter Jeffrey Reddick way back in 1994. A fact well known by fans but maybe less known was when the first draft of the screenplay, then titled “Flight 180”, was sent to New Line Cinema, the project executive took it to read on the flight to read. A decision he changed upon realising that he was on Flight 180 from LA to New York and praying it would land safely which it did.

The X-Files connection remained as after New Line bought the Reddick treatment and brought him on to write the first draft they then brought in eventual director James Wong and Glen Morgan to rework it both of whom had written for the show. In the end, Wong and Morgan rewrote the script, but Reddick’s story and concept remained.

 In some ways, the movie is quite an inventive mix of teen slasher, disaster movie & X-Files episode. The latter aspect is particularly accentuated by the two FBI Agent characters in the film. That said Agent’s Wiene and Schreck (get it? As in Robert Weine and Max Schreck, there are also several other horror referencing character names in the movie) are no Mulder & Scully. In many ways, it looks and feels like that kind of late 90’s/early 00’s Post-Scream slasher.  You can certainly see this in the casting with many of the cast coming off the back of successful teen movies or TV shows at the time such as Sean William Scott (American Pie), Ali Larter (Varsity Blue), Kerr Smith (Dawson’s Creek) and lead Devon Sawa (Idle Hands). The difference here being there is no monster or physical killer instead these teens are stalked by death itself. Not some black hooded version of death either as the studio wanted but an unseen elemental force.

There may be several outlandish and over-the-top moments in the movie, but it does have very creepy opening effectively using sound and music cues as well as clever edits to make what is really just a scene of someone packing seem sinister. The eerie atmosphere is kept well in the opening act in the lead up to the plane disaster something helped out a lot by Sawa’s performance as lead character Alex Browning who envisages the plane's explosion and set off the events of the rest of the film. Other acting performances in the movie are less decent as is to be somewhat expected in this type of movie. There is however a great cameo from Tony Todd who would go on to be a franchise regular. However, those going to see it for the great acting but the deaths. Here the movie delivers for the most part.

The over-elaborate deaths are the thing that is most entertaining and central to the appeal of the film and the franchise. Now some of these over-elaborate accidents are genuinely effective, and some are just ludicrous. Take the first post plane accident death for example. Here the character of Tod (Chad E. Donella) is killed by a chain reaction of things that lead him to be strangled by a cord in the bathtub. Not too ludicrous you would think but more so when you see the scene where he appears to be stalked by the water that he eventually slips on to fall into the tub. Even more hilariously it snakes away post-kill. That is not the most overblown or convoluted death though that honour goes to the death of Miss Lewton (Kristen Cloke) who dies in a chain of events too convoluted to go into, but it ends with her being impaled with a falling knife and her house exploding. Not that this is necessarily a complaint as it is very entertaining to watch.

The most brutally effective and best deaths though are also the simple ones like Amanda Detmer’s characters death via speeding bus or the decapitation of Sean William Scott’s character. The funny thing about the former is you know it is going to happen, but it still works. Much like a joke that you know what the punchline is going to be but laugh nonetheless.

Upon release, the movie did poorly critically but did pick up the odd positive review most notably from the late Roger Ebert who gave it three out of four stars. Also in 2010, the film was featured on a Metacritic list entitled 15 Movies the Critics Got Wrong. It is easy to why critics took against as, as previously mentioned, this is a silly movie, and few would claim stone-cold classic horror status for it. However it’s also easy to see why audiences liked it as the film has a killer concept, some great deaths and it is just very fun.

The same can be said for the franchise it spawned as, except for the fourth one, all of them are solidly entertaining films. Sure it is the same formula repeated in different settings but each entry has a lot of fun with that formula, and there are several stand-out deaths peppered throughout. The Final Destination is also one of the few horror franchises to go out on a high with many sighting “Final Destination 5” as their favourite one. That film also cleverly brings the series full circle by tying into the original giving the franchise a fitting end. We can only hope this fitting conclusion will not be ruined by the long rumoured but as of yet unmade “Final Destination 6”.

February 1, 2019

Review: Velvet Buzzsaw

Director: Dan Gilroy

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Zawe Ashton, Toni Collette John Malkovich

Run Time: 113mins

Horror has seen it all killer cars, dogs, mirrors you name it but killer paintings? That might be a new one (although it probably has been done) and it would be about the only new thing in this sophomore effort from “Nightcrawler” director Dan Gilroy. Not to say there is not much to enjoy here as the feature is a campy delight but just to say there are clichés and stereotypes abound.


Certainly, anyone expecting the same razor-sharp satire displayed in the Jake Gyllenhaal-starring “Nightcrawler” will be sorely disappointed. As where that film cleverly satirised the world of the paparazzi and asked intelligent questions about the role, this movie takes obvious pot shots at the commercial art world. A world ripe for satire indeed but given it has been so heavily satirised before it is hard to say anything new and so many of the gags here feel tired. For example, a bit where an art dealer mistakes a pile of garbage bags in an art studio as an artwork seems particularly hack. There are more bits like this, and you may feel they lack the any of the same bite shown in the likes of last year’s “The Square.”


The characters seem similarly one-note a revolving line-up of bitchy, pretentious and shallow art dealers, artists and critics. However, some of these characters are still entertaining given the relish they are played by some of the cast. In particular, Jake Gyllenhaal’s who camps it up to 11 as flamboyantly vicious art critic Morf Vandewalt. Yes, once again the effete razor-tongued art critic is a well-worn trope but Gyllenhaal’s wild-eyed bug-eyed performance brings the character especially the more the movie wears on, and Morf’s sanity starts to fray. Gyllenhaal is not the only one having a ball though as both Toni Colette and Rene Russo bring a similar devilish glee to their respective roles as conniving art dealer Gretchen and ruthless gallery owner Rhodora.


What of these killer paintings then, you may ask? Ah yes as this piece is not only an art satire but a supernatural horror centring on a series of paintings by unknown artist discovered by Josephina (Zawe Ashton), who so happens to work for Rhodora after the artist died in her apartment block. After this bad things start happening to all those who try to profit from them. The horror element, like the satire element, is not as clever as it thinks it is. Also for a movie that is aiming for something arty it’s funny it is not above using a classic cat based fake-out jump scare. On the flip side, some of the deaths are well staged, and there are moments of surreal horror flourishes that really land such when one character ends up turning into graffiti.


In the end “Velvet Buzzsaw” is probably best summed up by itself when Morf manically describes his theory of the cursed paintings to Rhodora and she pithily replies; “A bit baroque, isn’t it?” Indeed.


Overall: If you are looking for intelligent horror, a truly scathing satire or a thought-provoking critique on art vs. commerce look elsewhere, but if you want some campy fun on a Friday night this movie could be just the thing.

6/10