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John’s Horror Corner: The Girl with All the Gifts (2016), a great modern zombie movie deeply exploring the Devil’s advocacy of morality.

September 26, 2017

MY CALL:  A fine contribution to the zombie subgenre!  Very pleased with this scientific approach to zombiism and the film’s ability to capture humanity and the Devil’s advocacy of morality.  MORE MOVIES LIKE The Girl with All the Gifts:  Well, above all others see The Returned (2013)—it tackles morality outstandingly.  Then go for 28 Days Later (2002), Children of Men (2006; not a zombie film), and maybe even World War Z (2013) and the TV series The Walking Dead (2010-present). Also sticking an emotional vein for the zombie genre was Train to Busan (2016).

Director Colm McCarthy (Peaky Blinders) doesn’t have a long filmography, but he has balls and wit—the balls to take risks and the wit to make it work. It may not be so uncommon to find new dystopian future and/or zombie movies nowadays, but the good ones are far and few between.  I’d say McCarthy’s risks paid off to our benefit here…

Introduced to a bleak world in the early stages of zombiegeddon, we find daily activities beleaguered by draconian military procedure aimed at the securing, incarceration and control of… children?  But why, one must wonder.  Warm-souled preteens are strapped down and wheeled to their seemingly routine classroom lessons at gunpoint, tended with more caution than if Hannibal Lecter himself was transported.  We know something, some otherwise normative axiom, has been quite violated in this future—and the violation clearly resides under the veil of innocence.

A school teacher to these young threats, Helen (Gemma Arterton; Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, The Voices, Byzantium) serves as our voice of compassion.  She feels for the humanity that clearly resides in them—or so she would contest.  But opposite Helen, Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close; Fatal Instinct, Mars Attacks!) would posit these kids’ sympathetic behavior as putatively adaptive.  We are left to wonder who is right.  Or, possibly, could both correct?  I’m sure Physicist Erwin Schrödinger would be most elated by the cinematic analogy of his packaged feline paradox.

Mediating both counterpoints is Sgt Parks (Paddy Considine; Hot Fuzz, The World’s End) and his men, who adopt a “typical” military approach to the threat. And to give that threat a name, we focus on the kind-hearted Melanie (Sennia Nanua).

The most successful modern zombie movies need more than rotting animated corpses.  The zombie genre thrives on sociology, its degeneration and humanity alike.  Inevitably viewers will compare this to World War Z (2013) or The Walking Dead (2010-present) due to scenes of scrambling zombie hordes (or herds).  But that aggregating behavior predates such work and goes back to the root of all: Romero’s trilogy.  Instead, I’d compare this to the trials of TWD’s characters struggling with morality, or the empathy of the “turn” championed in The Returned (2013).

Reflecting on sympathy for the infected, consider Roger (Dawn of the Dead), afforded every minute by his fellow mall-marooned survivors to live out his humanity before his turn; or Bub (Day of the Dead), given so much compassion for the echoes of humanity hidden beneath his flesh-eating surface; or any other character altruistically ending themselves (to keep others safe) or conversely fearfully begging for every last minute after being doomed by a zombie’s bite even to the point of hiding it (a dangerous denial putting all others at risk).  Dealing with thatthe infection (not the zombie)—is this film’s focus and strength.

This film digs deep and manages to garner something zombie movie fans (or film fans) haven’t quite seen before, or at least does something you may find familiar in a novel manner.  While I thought many aspects of the third act were executed suboptimally (in my opinion anyway), I was largely pleased with the overall product.  It took some interesting turns that go against our troped up expectations for the genre, and it does so with a less predictable moral grounding.  Very pleased with this one!

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John’s Horror Corner: Saw V (2008), just okay—I miss Leigh Whannell and characters that matter.

September 25, 2017

MY CALL:  I was entertained, but I miss the quality of parts I-III. This was just “okay.”  The characters were lame and, despite being thoughtfully elaborated, the story was ill-executed to the point that I never really cared…and I wanted to care!  MORE MOVIES LIKE Saw:  Well, after Saw (2004), Saw II (2005), Saw III (2006) and Saw IV (2007) there are sequels up to part VIII, Jigsaw (2017). Other torture porn for gory thrill-seekers would include Hostel I-II (2005, 2007; but not part III), Martyrs (2008; not the remake), The Human Centipede films (2009, 2011, 2015), the I Spit on Your Grave series (1978 original, 2010-2015), and even the Final Destination films (2000-2011; but skip part 4).

The “where are we now” SIDEBAR:  Part IV was a bit confusing, so let’s review.  Late in part IV we learn that during the events of part III, John Kramer (Tobin Bell; Boogeyman 2-3, Saw I-VII) had recruited the apprenticeship of Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor; Saw IV-VII, The Horde), unbeknownst to Amanda (Shawnee Smith; The Blob, Saw I-III/VI, The Grudge 3).  So essentially, sometime during part III’s timeline, part IV’s timeline begins to parallel it (e.g., Detective Kerry’s death), and the two timelines actually end at the same time when Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson; Saw IV-VI) kills Jeff (Angus Macfadyen; Saw III) after Jeff kills Jigsaw and Hoffman locks Strahm in with the bodies and strolls off!

The autopsy that opened part IV actually occurred at the end of the timeline for parts III and IV, showing Detective Hoffman playing the tape (swallowed in part III) revealing that, despite Jigsaw’s death and the completion of Hoffman’s assigned tasks, that this was all “only the beginning.”  Now part V begins the very night that Hoffman trapped Strahm…

Picking up after Darren Lynn Bousman’s (Saw II-IV, The Devil’s Carnival, Mother’s Day) mid-franchise trilogy, director David Hackl (production designer on Saw II-IV) boldly continues this brutal franchise by opening with a classically-inspired pendulum death…which was conceptually basic yet satisfying in its sloppy, chunky delicious gore.  And, I’m sorry to say, this was the best death scene in the movie.

Much like part IV, I can tell that this sequel and its filmmakers are trying, and admirably so.  But somehow the execution just never hits the mark from parts I-III (when Leigh Whannell was writing).  We continue to find new bold revelations that are tactfully reverse-engineered to befit the story of the entire franchise, but I’m simply less impressed with the delivery than I am with ideas themselves.  However, let me take off my “critic’s hat” for just one moment and speak as a fan: yes, I’m glad they continue to make these movies.  There, I said it.  “Critic’s hat” back on— while enjoyed watching this the first time (in theaters years ago), this film’s rewatchability is low.

Somehow escaping Hoffman and Kramer’s machinations, Agent Strahm is one Hell of a survivor!  Not only that, but one Hell of an investigator since he readily senses Hoffman’s involvement and digs his heels deep into the case.  That’s the focal point of the film: Strahm vs Hoffman.  But every saw movie has two parallel stories; part of their charm.

As a series of flashbacks add flavor to Hoffman’s relationship with Kramer, we likewise presently follow a group of victims who, not surprisingly, serve as each other’s own worst enemy as often as ally while trying to survive one death trap “game” after another.  The group dynamic is vaguely similar to that of part II (the deadly funhouse of horrors when everyone turned on each other).  Part V’s traps strike me as uninspired (although somewhat elaborate) and not very exciting to witness.  Despite likewise uninspired traps, even part IV’s (the first noticeable drop in franchise quality) games were somewhat entertaining to watch as they gorily unfold.  Part V’s are less so.

People beat each other to death, get decapitated, succumb to improvised explosives, get crushed in enclosing walls, suffer electrocution, and buzz saw their own limbs…and you know what, none of those scenes were cool.  The kills felt comparable to a SyFy Channel movie-of-the-week, and the characters were accordingly poorly written such as to cultivate not a care in the world (on our part) that they survive.  By far the best death scene was the pendulum opener, and that should not be the case in a franchise once known for gut-punching endings.

Look, this flick is entertaining and the filmmakers are still ambitious (even if they fail to impress). But the only reason I can muster to watch this is because you just saw the mediocre part IV and intend to power through.  This can be your evening opener or a Sunday afternoon hangover movie, just don’t make it your main event of the evening.  We’ll catch up more when I review part VI next week…

The Best Moments of one of the Worst Decades in Horror: looking back 20 years to 1997

September 24, 2017

This is a follow-up article to:
The Best Moments of one of the Worst Years in Horror: 1996
The Best Moments of one of the Worst Years in Horror: 1995

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There are great horror films (e.g., Saw, The Conjuring), there are typically color-by-numbers trope-rich sequels (e.g., A Nightmare on Elm Street after part 3) and there are zany, gory, low budget direct-to-video releases (e.g., Puppet Master and almost everything by Full Moon Entertainment).  Generally we see maybe one or two great films, several enjoyable trope-rich flicks, and countless DTV releases in any given year.  We recently did some articles on more current “best moments” in horror: 15 Images for 15 Years of Horror, Part 1 (2000-2014), 15 Images for 15 Years of Horror, Part 2 (2001-2015) and 15 Images for 15 Years of Horror: The Good, the Bad and the Hilarious.  But I think we all know that The Best Horror came from the 80s!  Between those eras befell the Rise of Video (and drop in quality) of the 1990s.

Now the year of 1997 was one of the better years of its decade. But make no mistake, it still hails from a lousy video-era decade:

  1. 1997 was a part of the 90s.  As a blanket statement, all years of that decade were generally bad for horror fans (when compared to the 70s, 80s and 2010s).  A few good gifts under the Christmas tree from mom and dad don’t let us completely overlook a stocking full of coal.  Check out my Horror Index and you’ll find very few 90s horror reviews (or, at least, not many positive reviews).  There’s a reason for that!

  2. I really struggled to put together 10 decent movies for many years of the 90s.  Last year I was so desperate I used Head of the Family (1996).  Thankfully, I didn’t need to pull Hideous! (1997) to make this year’s line-up.  Again, 1997 was a highlight for its decade.

So let’s turn back the clock 20 years to reflect on the more memorable moments that 1997’s horror had to offer.  Here are some moments from 1997 horror movies, in no particular order…

Mimic (1997; Guillermo del Toro) is regaled by some as a bad movie of sorts–honestly, I think it’s great.  This creepy film accomplished some great things and memorable scenes.  In shadowy settings, our man-eating giant cockroach had the ability to physically “mimic” the form of a man in a trench coat by positioning its head and palps (those antenna-like parts around the mandibles) and uprighting its body.  I about flipped when I first saw it abandon this false form and its limbs gangled out!  Thankfully, entomologist Mira Sorvino was there to crack the case and save the day.

Anaconda (1997) was a terrible film, a so-so movie, but a great ridiculously fun flick!  This giant snake was a blast to watch, Jon Voight’s weird attempt at a Brazilian accent was an awkward joy to hear, and I’ll never forget when the snake regurgitated him after swallowing him whole! I love that his half-digested face BLINKS! LOL

I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) warns teenagers and parents of the consequences to skipping Driver Safety courses.  Even before texting and driving was a thing they managed to nearly kill a man on the road.  Just look at Jennifer Love Hewitt’s face as she opens the note…yup.  That face–when you know your parents will be pissed at how your car insurance rates skyrocket after you hit some mentally imbalanced fisherman.  Not sure what the big deal is, Freddie Prince Jr was driving and it was Phillippe’s BMW.

Scream 2 (1997) was a released so quickly after Scream (1996), it’s a wonder it wasn’t awful.  In fact, I quite liked it as it took the metamovie approach of part 1 to the next level.  We have guys discussing the technical logistics of sequels using real-world examples while eating ice cream, and movie fans in Ghost-Faced Killer costumes at urinals look over their shoulders at people freaking out about a REAL Ghost-Faced Killer.  The satirical irony is deliciously thick, much like their Baskin Robbins treats.

Probably a strong influencer of the eventual Saw films (2004-2017), Cube (1997) changed the face of horror and made suffering into a game.  The most iconic death scene from the Cube franchise, this scene has been replicated by Resident Evil (2002), Ghost Ship (2002) and Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead (2009) among others.

Wishmaster (1997) is not a good film.  Rather it’s a GREAT bad horror movie and, for all it’s ambitiously playful gore, it’s probably one of the best bad horror movies of the 90s.  This movie knows exactly what it is and has a good sense of humor about it, making it a blast to watch with friends who grew up in the 80s and 90s.

Event Horizon (1997) is a great Hell-in-space follow-up to Hellraiser IV: Bloodline (1996).  It brought horror to space, and did so to new levels with a great cast, great story, and a CREEPY-AF atmosphere.  Remember when Dr. Weir (Sam Neill) had become fully “possessed” and was explaining “where we’re going we won’t need eyes to see the suffering,” but then he showed us anyway?  That imagery is soul-rattling evil at its best.

Alien: Resurrection (1997) was the loony videogame action movie of the franchise.  Nut they got one thing right.  The xenomorph’s movement was the best.  Check this out, they really move like animals; like predators.  A perfect mix of a cat, velociraptor and (in the water) maybe an iguana.

Look at that snaggletooth from The Night Flier (1997)! Is this not the most busted-ass-faced vampire you’ve seen since Fright Night (1985)? But really, this is one of Stephen King’s stranger stories: that of a night-flying pilot vampire who feeds on attendants at small air strips.  Sounds awful, but I promise you, it’s not.

An American Werewolf in Paris (1997), basically a contemporary and Parisian remake of An American Werewolf in London (1981), demonstrates how a twenty-something man always picks the most cursed women.  But at least he has great taste: Julie Delpy and Julie Bowen!  Admittedly, this movie is awful “as a remake/reimagining.”  However, it remains a very fun coming-of-age horror comedy that I continue to love.

If you enjoyed this weird article, please check out last year’s edition:
The Best Moments of one of the Worst Years in Horror: 1996

The Best Moments of one of the Worst Years in Horror: 1995

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John’s Horror Corner: Saw IV (2007), very ambitious story with lackluster execution and so-so death traps—my least favorite of the franchise so far.

September 23, 2017

MY CALL:  This franchise was always good about featuring characters in whom we invested…but this time I just didn’t care about any these characters. Easily my least favorite (and by far the most confusing) of the franchise so far (I-IV). But I’ll give credit where it’s due—the contributions to the franchise story-arc were ambitious.  MORE MOVIES LIKE Saw:  Well, after Saw (2004), Saw II (2005) and Saw III (2006) there are sequels up to part VIII, Jigsaw (2017). Subsequent torture porn for gory thrill-seekers would include Hostel I-II (2005, 2007; but not part III), Martyrs (2008; not the remake), The Human Centipede films (2009, 2011, 2015), and the I Spit on Your Grave series (1978 original, 2010-2015).  For more fun and innovative kills I’d also recommend the Final Destination films (2000-2011; but skip part 4).

The “where are we now” SIDEBAR:  When part II ended we learned that Amanda (Shawnee Smith; The Blob, Saw I-III/VI, The Grudge 3) had been Jigsaw’s (Tobin Bell; Boogeyman 2-3, Saw I-VII) disciple throughout the entire film, and as part III developed we learned her involvement extended through the majority of events of part I!  But something else was new.  Amanda’s death traps were unbeatable; designed to kill rather than challenge their victims to live. So, Jigsaw tested her (she failed, and died).  But she wasn’t alone.  Jeff (who we just met in part IV) failed, too.  Now on the fourth film in as many years, director Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II-IV, The Devil’s Carnival, Mother’s Day) and executive producer James Wan (The Conjuring 1-2, Insidious 1-2) continue Jigsaw’s intestine-exposing shenanigans.  Much to my dismay, this is the first film of the franchise not written by Leigh Whannell (Insidious 1-4, Saw I-III, Cooties).

After Kerry’s (Dina Meyer; Bats, Saw I-III, Piranha 3D) death and so many others, Lt. Rigg (Lyriq Bent; Saw II-III, Mother’s Day) remains to be tested by Jigsaw.  And so, he must save the apparently still living Detectives Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg; Dead Silence, Saw II-IV) and the recently captured Lt Hoffman (Costas Mandylor; Saw V-VII, The Horde).  But where’s Jeff (Angus Macfadyen; Saw III) in all this?  When part III ended Kramer’s tape instructed that Jeff would have to “play a game” to save his daughter…then the credits roll.  Curious.

The extensive gore and long-scened brutality persist beginning with an enduring autopsy which recovers the tape Kramer swallowed right before our eyes in part III.  However, these gruesome scenes simply don’t hit as hard as they did in the most brutal part III.  The “see no evil, speak no evil” opener really only felt intense during the painful stitch-ripping yell, the voyeur-rapist’s demise was bloody but unsensational, and the impaled marriage packed no punch behind its cleverness (although the actors playing the victims did well).  Just about the only time I was nervous for a victim and reeling over her torment was during the scalp-tearing hair winch scene.  I can’t tell if our director has grown uninspired and lazy, perhaps over ambitious and unable to keep up with his elaborate plot, or if he’s mourning the loss of the franchise’s great writer (Leigh Whannell).

Speaking of whom, I’m really feeling Whannell’s absence.  The story and exposition in this installment feels stale—clearly a lot of thought went into it, but it didn’t seem as proficiently and thoughtfully executed as we’re accustomed to in this series.  Before we were shown how things came to be and how Kramer’s pathology formulated.  Now we have the FBI spewing explanations at us viewers as if we sit in a lecture hall.  We learn more about Kramer’s marital problems, his ex-wife Jill (Betsy Russell; Saw III-VII), and what they suffered that incited his motive and philosophy.  But, like the death scenes in this sequel, there is just no magic; no cultivated tension.  I’m not invested in any of these characters (as I once was in I-III) and I just don’t care like I once did.

It’s still pretty fun (though no longer awesome) watching the death traps unfold, but that’s all that’s fun.  The quality is just way down (except for maybe the hair winch).  Even the manner in which they are staged feels weaker, as if Riggs was just walking through a funhouse scavenger hunt, reading clues aloud, and then a judgy tape narration explains away the next death as Jigsaw tries to proselytize Riggs from the grave with mantras written on the walls in blood.  Oh, and the FBI agent (Scott Patterson; Saw V-VI) will bullet point everything in case you missed it the first time.  It’s somehow convoluted and cryptic yet simultaneously shallow.  I mean, in parts II-III we learn about Amanda’s involvement, we have no clue of Jeff’s (Angus Macfadyen; Saw III) whereabouts (even though part III ended implying he’d become Jigsaw’s new executioner), and it’s revealed that perhaps others are behind the scenes in one way or another.

There’s too much going on with too many people for me to start caring about any of them.  Dare I say it, but this may be the first of the Saw films during which I found myself just “waiting” for it to end.  It’s maybe kinda’ boring (for a Saw film, that is—not in general).  When we meet the great reveal at the end, I wasn’t exactly stunned. I absolutely didn’t see it coming (it was basically impossible to see coming), but I just didn’t have any reason to care.  That used to be a strong suit for this franchise.

This was easily my least favorite (and by far the most confusing) of the franchise so far (I-IV). But I’ll give credit where it’s due—the contributions to the franchise story-arc were ambitious.  Honestly, in hindsight I find myself “appreciating” this sequel more than I “liked” it.

The 2017 MFF October Streaming Calendar: 31 Films for 31 Days

September 21, 2017

The MFF October Calendar is back and I’m hoping this years edition will introduce you to some fantastic  films that will change your life forever and give you a horrible fear of trolls! I searched the streaming services Netflix, Amazon Prime, Shudder, Hulu and HBO GO and put together a list of films you can stream at your leisure.

I didn’t want to burn people out with too much intense horror so I included some creature features, thrillers and horror comedies to add some laughs and monster carnage to the depravity and murder. I’ve included some alternates in the calendar just in case you don’t have all the streaming services.

Look underthe calendar to find links to the movies we’ve reviewed or covered on our podcast!

Enjoy!

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What did I miss? Let me know in the comments.

  1. Cheap Thrills
  2. The Blackcoat’s Daughter
  3. Green Room
  4. Fright Night
  5. 10 Cloverfield Lane
  6. The Void
  7. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
  8. What We Do in the Shadows
  9. Grabbers
  10. Train to Busan

Here is the 2016 calendar as well! The majority of these movies are still streaming and I’m pretty sure you will dig most of them. This gives you tons of options!

  1. The Witch – Amazon Prime
  2. Pontypool – Netflix
  3. From Dusk Till Dawn – Netflix
  4. The Invitation  – Netflix
  5. Bone Tomahawk – Amazon Prime
  6. Housebound – Netflix
  7. Under the Skin – Amazon Prime
  8. Rosemary’s Baby – Amazon Prime
  9. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil – Amazon Prime/Netflix
  10. The House of the Devil – Hulu
  11. The Voices – Amazon Prime
  12. Trollhunter – Netflix
  13. Hush – Netflix
  14. An American Werewolf in London – Amazon Prime
  15. It Follows – Hulu
  16. Poltergeist – HBO Now
  17. 28 Days Later  HBO Now
  18. Spring – Amazon Prime
  19. Honeymoon – Netflix

Alternates

  1. Backcountry
  2. We Are Still Here
  3. Creep
  4. Innkeepers
  5. Tusk
  6. Blue Ruin
  7. Scream 2

More Horror reading

  1. The Top 21 Horror Films of the 21st Century!
  2. What Are Your Favorite Horror Films That Don’t Appear on “Best of” Lists?
  3. The 10 Best Moments of 21st Century Horror.
  4. What is the Best Horror Movie of the 21st Century? An In-Depth Look into Critical and Audience Scores.
  5. 10 Films That Can United the Art-House Hardcore Horror Fans.
  6. Examining the State of 2015 Horror Cinema.
  7. Everything You Need to Know About Horror Franchises.
  8. Breaking Down the Plots of Jaws 5-19. 

 

John’s Horror Corner: Saw III (2006), proving that torture porn sequels can have good writing AND loads of lingering, gross, chunky gore!

September 21, 2017

MY CALL:  Better than the second and highly rewatchable.  I’ve come to quite enjoy the highly different styles of these first three moves.  This is the most gruesome so far, but it still takes time to thoughtfully develop the overarching franchise story.  MORE MOVIES LIKE Saw:  Well, after Saw (2004) there were six sequels and now part VIII, Jigsaw (2017). Subsequent torture porn for gory thrill-seekers would include Hostel I-II (2005, 2007; but not part III), Martyrs (2008; not the remake), The Human Centipede films (2009, 2011, 2015), and the I Spit on Your Grave series (1978 original, 2010-2015).  For more fun and innovative kills I’d also recommend the Final Destination films (2000-2011; but skip part 4).

As Saw II (2005) rolled the credits, we left Detective Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg; Dead Silence, Saw II-IV) for dead in the very same filth-painted bathroom as we opened and closed in part I, and Jigsaw (Tobin Bell; Boogeyman 2-3, Saw I-VII) escaped with his disciple Amanda (Shawnee Smith; The Blob, Saw I-III/VI, The Grudge 3). This sequel picks up right in that very same bathroom, with its accumulated cadavers ever more decayed.  Now on the third film in as many years, director Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II-IV, The Devil’s Carnival, Mother’s Day), writer Leigh Whannell (Insidious 1-4, Saw I-III, Cooties) and executive producer James Wan (The Conjuring 1-2, Insidious 1-2) continue Jigsaw’s intestine-exposing shenanigans.

Whereas part I was character and story-driven, part II was a chaotically mean funhouse of horrors, and now part III takes yet a new approach—that of a Final Destination-style kill flick that basks in the gory glory of its death scenes.  Basically, while thoughtfully deepening the over-arching franchise story, these sequels keep getting meaner and clearly delight on transforming each subsequent release into something devastatingly harder to watch than the last.

Everything is yet more gruesome and brutal as we skip the saw and go right for bone-crushing blunt-force trauma.  The early chained victim sequence is viciously cruel, with the rib-ripping harness and the hypothermia rig follow suit.  But something else is new beyond the more abundantly showcased chunks of gore.  The camera lingers more on the suffering…  The brain surgery scene offers exactly what you expect, yet takes its time to such extent that you find yourself dreading each application of the power drill.  Paving the way for films like Evil Dead (2013) and Drag Me to Hell (2009), the offal pit offers waves of putrefied bodies frappe-blended into a slimy drowning pool and “the rack” regaled us with the sounds of slippery twisting flesh punctuated by cracking and splintering bones exposing themselves through mangled skin.  That’s right, people—don’t watch this with your grandmother.

During the offal pit scene, I was eating scrambled eggs with chunks of bacon covered in (no joke, folks) a green avocado chili sauce.  Nice timing.  LOL.

Each movie seems to have its star victim; the one with the deck stacked most against them. Gordon in part I, Detective Matthews’ son in part II, and part III follows Jeff (Angus Macfadyen; Saw IV) who encounters death trap victims at the mercy of his forgiveness.  Yes—forgiveness.  This film is about redemption.  Detective Kerry (Dina Meyer; Bats, Saw I-IV, Piranha 3D) seeks to save Matthews, Amanda is trying to save Jigsaw, Jigsaw wants to save Amanda, and Jeff is challenged to save his family.

As each film in the series advances, so advances John Kramer’s cancer.  Now near death in his work shop, Amanda continues his handy work as we explore the history of their relationship—her frailty, his hopes for her, her jealousy, his disappointment…and how much it has evolved over the course of three films.  And therein lies the elegance of the franchise—three stylistically different films with three different approaches, but all stacking the deck high.  I continue to love all three films, but this third installment is probably the most rewatchable.

John’s Horror Corner: Saw II (2005), more brutal, more death traps, more ominous tapes, more Jigsaw!

September 18, 2017

MY CALL:  Less tactful and more brutal, this was a very different film than part I.  Following very much the trajectory between Hellraiser (1987) and Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988), we shift from a film driven by atmosphere and characters to one of world elaboration and gorier effects.  But honestly, it’s a rather satisfying shift.  MORE MOVIES LIKE Saw:  Well, after Saw (2004) there were six sequels and now part VIII, Jigsaw (2017). Cube (1997) and Se7en (1995) share some of the death trap and methodical villain themes, respectively.  Subsequent torture porn for gory thrill-seekers would include Hostel I-II (2005, 2007; but not part III), Martyrs (2008; not the remake), The Human Centipede films (2009, 2011, 2015), and the I Spit on Your Grave series (1978 original, 2010-2015).  For more fun and innovative kills I’d also recommend the Final Destination films (2000-2011; but skip part 4).

Show me a horror sensation and I’ll show you a swiftly released sequel, and that’s exactly what happened with the Saws (2004) success—not that I’m complaining!  Just one year after the original’s release, James Wan (The Conjuring 1-2, Insidious 1-2) stepped back to the role of executive producer and writer Leigh Whannell (Insidious 1-4, Saw I-III, Cooties) joined director Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw III-IV, The Devil’s Carnival, Mother’s Day) for parts II and III.

At the end of Saw (2004), we watched in shock as Jigsaw (Tobin Bell; Boogeyman 2-3, Saw I-VII) stood up and strolled away after playing the unobtrusively limp centerpiece to his last death trap, leaving poor Adam (Leigh Whannell) to die in a filth-smeared bathroom.  But now with his mystique largely revealed, what will this sequel have to offer from our yet more terminally ill John Kramer (Jigsaw)?

Whereas part I was thoughtful and character-driven, this sequel replaces much of its class with crass.  More akin to a teen slasher, our victims awaken in a deadly funhouse of horrors that is more chaotically Cube (1997) than tactfully Se7en (1995). The rules are less clear, the tape player is less eerie, and our villain’s purpose is somewhat obscured. I’m not saying I don’t like it. I’m simply saying that the very elements that drew many fans to part I (its subtlety) has been rather sidelined.  However, that said, we do develop Kramer’s motive and back story.  And while many fans adored the characters of part I, others reveled more in its brutal nature.  And it’s that very brutality that gets turned up quite a bit in this sequel.

As detectives Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg; Dead Silence, Saw III-IV) and Kerry (Dina Meyer; Bats, Saw II-IV, Piranha 3D) race against time to locate Kramer’s murder house, his victims begin to turn on one another.  The aspect of choice deciding his victims’ fate is less of a driving factor, now taking a back seat to their own murderous desperation.  Adding intrigue is that the only survivor (Shawnee Smith; The Blob, Saw I-III/VI, The Grudge 3) from part I has returned to play another deadly game.

Perhaps more mean-spirited, this sequel is more gruesomely cringe-worthy than its predecessor.  There’s much suicidal and self-mutilation imagery, wrist and throat cutting, impalement and skinning.  If anyone has an issue with needles, the “syringe scene” will make you reel.  No one even dies, yet it’s one of the most uncomfortable things one can watch.  Yikes!

Overall, this was a very different film than part I.  Following very much the trajectory between Hellraiser (1987) and Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988), we shift from a film driven by atmosphere and characters to one of world elaboration and gorier effects.  I miss James Wan’s more thoughtful influence, but honestly it remains a rather satisfying shift in style.

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