This episode of LCBM explores how great storytellers, such as Welles and Spielberg, can help shape cultural beliefs for generations.
Alexander Aja, Joe Hill, and Keith Bunin pulled together to create a Gothic romance called Horns. Iggy, played by Daniel Radcliffe, is accused of murdering his childhood sweetheart and future fiancée, Merrin who is played by Juno Temple. One of the unique parts of this story is Iggy is developing devil horns which entices people to ask Iggy if they can act out their darkest desires. Although this ability creates some great laugh out loud moments, the story largely focuses on the mystery of who killed Merrin. The story follows a duel narrative structure. One takes place in the present and follows Iggy uncovering clues. Solving the murder will help prove Iggy’s innocence and create an opportunity for him to enact his revenge. As Iggy follows the trail of breadcrumbs we discover nobody believes Iggy is innocent. The horns, bringing out the worst in people, forces Iggy into many awkward confrontations, especially amongst his immediate family and friends. The second narrative interweaves in and out of the present. Although it’s a tonal shift from the present day, it’s justified because it focuses on the blossoming romance between Iggy and Merrin. The greatest part about Horns is how each flashback will give more information which will completely change the context of both the present and past. This Memento-esque style enhances the rewatchability. When it comes to directing, this is Alexander Aja’s best yet. Every shot and frame was beautiful. The camera work kept the viewer interested in every aspect of the action. Each scene was well paced and wouldn’t linger too long. Daniel Radcliffe’s performance ran the gamut and was believable every step of the way. Watching Radcliffe’s transformation from lover to devil felt genuine and enhanced the tragic tone of the story. Overall, this was a captivating story which showed what it would take to awaken the devil hidden inside all of us. However, the narrative never gets weighted down by becoming too lovesick or preachy. The pacing flows smoothly and naturally. This gothic horror also showcases Aja and Radcliffe’s range of talent as well as new comers Hill and Bunin’s ability to craft a fresh take on a familiar tale of tragic romance.
Found began circulating the festivals in 2012, but it wasn’t until 2014 the October People decided it was time to unleash this brutal film upon the public. The film is an extreme horror adaptation of Todd Rigney’s book. It has the minimal set design and lighting of a low budget movie, but it’s able to still deliver the excess of blood and extreme carnal violence.
The story begins with a coming of age protagonist explaining his older brother is a serial killer. However, the story pulls back from the horror and the first half of the movie is about a boy being bullied while living in a suburban and abusive household. Despite the setup, one should not be fooled into thinking this is a tale about brotherly bonds. Instead, the simple theme of the movie is about oppressing others through physical violence. This is evident when the father abuses the boys, the racial hate crimes, and the extreme forms of rape. Why not? This theme offers an ample opportunity for the filmmakers to give us many sickening scenes of death.
Regardless of its low budget and student film quality, there are two scenes which were combined to create the most disturbing aspect of the film. While the young brother is having a sleepover, the two boys decided to raid the older brother’s room for horror movies. The one they prophetically choose is Headless. In a movie within a movie style, this is where the audience will see the most gruesome scenes of death and torture. Headless offers no plot. It’s just a compilation snuff film made by the killer. The camera never shies away or pulls back from the brutality. Instead, the filmmakers let our eyes soak in every last drop of sadistic brutality.
The movie’s end progresses towards an Oedipus Rex confrontation between the older brother and the parents. However, this time we watch this from the perspective of the little brother who is gaged and bound to his bed. Although the depiction of violence is mostly auditory, the screams, blood gurgles, and heavy thumping combined with what we saw in Headless forces the audience’s mind to imagine and thereby enact the scenes themselves. That, combined with the last shot of the little brother gets the movie to creep under your skin long past when the credits stop rolling.
In the fall of 1987 Clive Barker reshaped the erotic horror genre with his sadomasochistic Hellraiser. Unlike the previous decades Hammer Films, Barker used eroticism to flesh out the duality between pleasure and pain. Although each scene built upon the character’s sexuality, they were overshadowed by the painful depictions of gore and torture. Although Clive Barker uses a lot of religious symbolism, much of the story as well as editing focuses on the dichotomy between pleasure and pain. Furthermore, as the story progresses, the iconic Hellraiser puzzle box becomes synonymous with Pandora’s box, the box which contains all the evils and forbidden desires of the world. The tragic personification of this is embodied by Clare Higgin’s character Julia. We learn Julia had fallen in love with the seductive evil brother in law Frank. Some time later, she is confronted again by Frank, explaining to her, she must help him in order to save his life. Keep in mind she is being told this by a Frank who is now little more than a sticky body consisting of little more than bloody tendons and bone, and saving him involves her seducing men and killing them so Frank may feast on their body. Consequently, we watch Julia’s state of mind slip into a constant state of anxiety and fear. In addition, we see her personality go from being timid towards blood and violence to deriving pleasure from them. As she becomes more of a succubus, Julia pulls further away from her own sense of humanity and autonomy. Meanwhile, the story also follows Kirsty, whose sexuality and adulthood is being awakened. This is depicted by her finally moving out of her father’s house, drinking alcohol, and making love to a boy before she confronts her stepmother. Kirsty’s Elektra complex leads to her stealing the puzzle box and being told by her doctor to open it. As she playfully opens the box, we see a curious cliché montage of flowers blooming. This symbolism suggests Kirsty has bloomed into adulthood and literally only hell follows. Although the underworld of Hellraiser and Kirsty will be explored more in the future installments, Julia’s tragic path was perhaps the most focused and seductive aspects of the original. Barker’s Hellraiser use of symbolism, extreme violence, sensuality, helped illustrate a fresh take on a female’s path towards the Original Sin. This combined with Christopher Young’s score and the production created a timeless erotic horror.
In the fall of 1985 New Zealand released The Quiet Earth. Another entry in the last man on earth genre created by Sam Pillsbury and Geoff Murphy. Similar to the Zombie genre, this post apocalyptic genre emerged from the nuclear fever of the Cold War. However, instead of focusing on the social dynamics of the survivors, this genre focuses on what one would do after being left behind.
Bruno Lawrence plays our protagonist Zac Hobson, a scientist who is partially responsible for the disappearance of Earth’s population. The reason behind why there are survivors is an interesting similarity towards the Zombie genre. Everyone who had died during the time of the extinction event somehow came back to life. Rather by suicide, murder, or accident each character we meet is in fact the walking dead. Instead of stumbling around looking for flesh, the characters are learning to cope with their isolation and to discover what happened to the planet and if they can stop the effect.
The first act of the movie involves Zac learning to cope being the last man on earth. His isolation begins to take it’s toll on his sanity and leads to some of the most memorable parts of the movie. Bruno Lawrence’s performance makes each scene stick and keeps us captivated despite the lack of dialog and narrative purpose. Act II and III introduces us to two new characters. This writers decide to flesh these acts out with a free love subplot. The free spirited protagonist Joanne consistently bouncing back and forth between the Zac the intellectual and Api the alpha male fighter. This subplot seems to only serve to strengthen our bond and to pose another question polyandry versus monogamy. As we approach the last scenes of the movie, the movie becomes increasingly nihilistic. The last shot becomes one of the most iconic and surreal endings which hasn’t been felt again until perhaps Melancholia.
Despite the awkward pacing and obligatory romance, The Quiet Earth is a cult classic because of some of the twists and themes it explores in the last man on earth genre. It subverts the common idea of the walking dead. More importantly, it explores a cosmic apocalypse and not only does it question the role of a scientist in their society, but also it ponders what their relationship is with the universe.
In 2014, while people ran to see Luc Bessen‘s Lucy, many criminally avoided or brow beats his other effort, 3 Days to Kill. McG and Luc Besson teamed up to deliver an absurd and stylish action thriller. Much like Besson’s Taken the plot involves a father named Ethan, played by Kevin Costner, who is pulled back into a chaotic world of espionage, murder, and torture. This plot has been chomped up and spit out countless times; however, Luc Besson and McG give enough twists and self aware winks to the audience. This isn’t Taken 3 nor is it a parody of those movies. These two are merely taking one last fun ride through this genre. This movie focused less on plot and more on character development. Because of the characters, we’re given a delicious amount of WTF? moments with their dark humor and screwballs. The torture scenes are a great example of the change up. Instead of screaming in the victims face, “where is she?”, Ethan’s fatherly approach is beating and threatening a hostage until he tells Ethan’s daughter Zooey a tomato sauce recipe. Yes, the father somehow patches things back up with his family and decimates all the bad guys. McG’s camera work is stylish and fun with a wonderful color palette, yet the scenes seemed a little undercooked. While some scenes were pure eye candy others seemed mellow in comparison. Although it never attains the height of Crank: High Voltage or even McG’s Charlies Angels: Full Throttle, this movie definitely goes to the same dance clubs. Then there’s Kevin Costner’s performance. I quite honestly bought that he was dying of cancer while tripping balls because of his medication in the middle of a shootout, or he was earnestly trying to be a good father while simultaneously choosing which torturing tactics he should use next. Honestly, if he or another actor came in and phoned in this performance, the movie would have lost its cerebral WTF charm. His acting was Oscar worthy compared to the snoring Draft Day where we needed to cattle prod Kevin Costner to make sure he was alive. If you love Luc Besson’s work, this is a movie worth checking out. Bessen traded some of the snarl and spit of Taken for the attitude and humor many of his other movies are known for, and McG did a pretty fine job translating the work to film.
Guardians of the Galaxy was finally released, and it quickly became a juggernaut of 2014’s box office. Although this movie is currently embedded in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, it’s the first chart topper this year whose roster of characters weren’t previously established. This is quite an achievement for James Gunn, who is the writer and director. Previously, his most notable works included movies such as the Scooby Doo movies and cheeky horrors like Slither and Tromeo & Juliet. So, GotG is unsurprisingly on track to beat all of Gunn’s previous records. The profit and a majority of the critics can agree this is by far Gunn’s greatest work to date. However, Gunn didn’t necessarily reinvent the wheel. Much like Gunn’s previous works much of the drama focuses on the social dynamics of the protagonist, yet this time the relationships seem a little more convincing. It may be because of the camaraderie between the actors, the outsiders plot thread, or the spectacle interspersed to keep us more interested. Whatever it is, I felt more invested in the group dynamic. With that being said, I most definitely cringed at the Gamora and Peter Quill romance. Peter Quill is established as a sleazy loner; meanwhile, Gamora is a brutal warrior. Although their romance could be seen as character growth, it was still hard to see the sincerity of the relationship from both perspectives. Not only did Winter Soldier stay away from this trap, but also Brian Michael Bendis stays away from this dynamic in his GotG comic run. It’s true audiences love to see romance, but it would have made more sense to stay focused on the familial bond rather than creating romantic investment. It felt very unnecessary and went against the characterization of the two protagonists. The way Gunn portrayed the GotG outsider status was stylized in both writing and visualization. First we see Quill’s status as a loner established when he is wandering an abandoned planet and dancing with rats. When we are on Xandar, the look of Rocket, Groot, Quill, and Gamora greatly contrast with the semi sterile and Utopian Xandar community. They look so out of place that one can’t help but wonder why nobody is noticing a raccoon creepily spying on every passerby. Now, the next scene takes place in an intergalactic prison. Some critics had issues with the prison break out to be a tired cliché. However, this early in the movie one should realize this isn’t going to be a movie based on life inside of an intergalactic prison cell. After all, how can one guard the galaxy from the inside a prison cell? This isn’t a Mandela in space movie, and who would want to see that anyways? Secondly, Rocket repeatedly lets the audience know he is going to break the group out. He’s done it twenty two times and we have no reason to question his ability at this point in the movie. So why send them to prison in the first place? It’s simply to enhance their outsider status. On Xandar we saw how the group conflicts with the law abiding civilization. In the prison we see how the group conflicts with the outlaws and degenerates of the galaxy. Although the inclusion of Drax felt more forced than sensible, by the time we get to the big spectacle of the prison breakout the group is solidified, and we can finally move the plot towards an end goal. Like I already said this movie doesn’t reinvent any of the wheels. Thematically, this story is a culmination of all the things we have grown to love about Gunn’s work over the years. However, this is definitely a Marvel movie. Just like all of Marvels other movies it still retains the same origin story formula story right down to having a counterpart antagonist to every protagonist. Because this movie doesn’t take itself too seriously, the audience is allowed to sit back and have fun. For me, this movie created a sense of nostalgia and reminded me of other tongue in cheek sci-fi movies like Flash Gordon, Ice Pirates, or Barbarella.