Tag Archives: serial killer

Snowtown – Review

5 Jun

You know that feeling you get when a movie just completely obliterates you? The credits are rolling and you’re just sitting there, numb to the world, with the film acting as a sort of pressure prohibiting you from doing anything at all? That’s how I recently felt after my viewing of Justin Kurzel’s 2011 film Snowtown, also called The Snowtown Murders in some parts of the world. This piece of unequivocal horror is based on the brutally true story of Australia’s worst serial killer, and the people he drew into his web of torture and murder. This is not an easy film to watch, and I’m sure there are some that may call it unwatchable, but I firmly believe that this may be one of the most horrifying films I’ve seen in a long time.

Jamie (Lucas Pittaway) is a teenager growing up in a poor suburban area of Adelaide. He has a couple of brothers and a loving mother, Elizabeth (Louise Harris), who despite the love has a hard time making ends meet. After the short lived relationship she’s in with her neighbor ends with her sons becoming in danger, Elizabeth doesn’t know where to turn. That is until she meets John Bunting (Daniel Henshall), a charismatic man who has a sort of team of vigilantes who keeps a harsh eye on certain people in the neighborhood. Jamie takes and especially strong liking to John, and it doesn’t take long for John to become Jamie’s mentor and father figure. As Jamie spends more and more time with John, he begins to notice certain behavioral patterns that don’t seem quite right, and when more and more neighbors begin to disappear the pieces really begin to fall into place.

Snowtown is a ten ton punch in the gut, and I really wouldn’t have it any other way. Kurzel does not mess around with what he’s willing to show and it makes the movie all the more horrifying. There’s terror to be seen everywhere from the people living around this family to the actual members of the family and finally from John, who is a presence that’s hard to describe. It was also a smart choice to have this film shot mostly in a hand held style with the surroundings often times being close to colorless. This is a very down to earth movie in the way it’s presented, but the lack of color brings in a layer of hopelessness and the living situations make it seem impossible for these people to escape the horror that is plaguing their lives. This is how you do it, ladies and gentlemen. This is top tier horror film making.

It’s kind of hard to find really serious problems with Snowtown because they really feel very few and far between. There’s some unnecessary padding to the plot in a couple of scenes. A few bits go on a bit too long, but it’s really nothing that noticeable unless you’re really trying to nit pick, which I’m certainly not. The plot moves at a very certain pace, which boarders between being a slow burn and an edge of your seat thriller. The only thing that really sticks out to me that I can complain about is the way the passage of time is shown. There are a few cues to show that time is passing, but I feel like a lot happens in this movie without any sort of clue as to how much time has passed from one scene to another. This movie could happen over the course of years, months, or weeks. I’m really not too sure. This does add a layer of disorientation, which is kind of cool, but it still would have been nice to have seen progress shown in a more clearer fashion.

With this movie being told in the way that it is, the actors would really have to sell that they aren’t actors playing characters, but are the actual people they are playing. It’s clear Kurzel wanted the audience to completely lose themselves in this movie and not just switch off and watch it. That being said, he casted a lot of people who aren’t actors, but were rather people who lived in the area. Lucas Pittaway, who was never in any kind of film before this, is excellent as Jamie, who gets completely entangled in John’s plans. His mother, played by Louise Harris, was also virtually unknown before this and she does a great job at bringing this character to life in a realistic way. Finally, Daniel Henshall, who plays John Bunting, was only known for some performances in television, but he gives a horrifying performance as the murderous mentor of Jamie. It’s something I won’t soon forget.

Snowtown is a prime example of true, excruciating horror. Justin Kurzel and his team do not hold back with this movie. Some truly terrible acts that really happened are depicted in this movie, which may turn some people off. It’s definitely not an easy movie to sit through, but it does tell a story that will guarantee to send shivers down anyone’s spine. I can’t emphasize enough that this is the way horror films should be made, even though this particular one is also filled with a lot of drama and true crime elements. If you ever get a chance and think you can stomach the content, I would highly recommend checking this film out.

Final Grade: A

Monster – Review

13 Dec

Between 1989 and 1990, a Daytona Beach prostitute named Aileen Wuornos killed 7 men in cold blood. While Wuornos isn’t America’s first female serial killer, she is the first one that got this amount of attention thanks to the media and her reputation as psychotic. It goes without saying that there have been a few documentaries, books, and other works dedicated to Wuornos, but none have had the impact that Patty Jenkins’ 2003 film Monster had. Instead of focusing on the crimes themselves, Jenkins decided to focus on Aileen as a human and what drove her to do such horrible things. If that doesn’t sound interesting enough to grab your attention, Charlize Theron’s transformation into Wuornos surely is.

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Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron) is a prostitute working the streets in Florida who has just about completely given up on her life, that is until she meets a woman named Selby Wall (Christina Ricci). Selby is a lesbian and has strong feeling for the straight Wuornos, who at first turns her down, but soon finds out just how nice it is to be loved and the two start an unlikely relationship. Money soon becomes tight after Aileen decides to quit being a prostitute, so she hits the streets once again but instead of sleeping with anyone she begins to murder them and steal their money and their cars. Aileen feels this is all justifiable since she believes that all of these men are going to rape her, but her story begins falling apart and soon she won’t be able to keep this cold blooded secret from Selby or law enforcement.

I’m gonna start with the weakest part of this movie so I can dedicate the rest of this review to what is so overwhelmingly positive. The narrative flow of Monster is very weak and makes it kinda hard to follow at times. Aileen Wuornos killed people between 1989 and 1990, but there is no indication as to how much time has passed between scenes. It could be an entire year of 3 weeks for all I know. If you’re making a movie about a very specific amount of time, it’s important that the audience feels that this amount of time has passed. By the end of the movie, I didn’t really feel like I’ve been with the characters for over a year. This is actually a pretty major complaint since it actually affected how the movie flowed and made the overall narrative feel pretty choppy.

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But really, what is the main reason anyone is really interested in seeing Monster for? It’s obviously to see what is one of the best onscreen performances you will ever see. I don’t even know if Charlize Theron was actually in this movie. There was no evidence onscreen that she was ever there. Theron completely succeeds at transforming herself into Aileen Wuornos. Not only is the make up applied perfect, but also the fact that she gained a decent amount of weight and mimicked Wuornos’ facial expressions and ticks in a creepily authentic way. It’s an almost incomparable performance that, to me, should make Theron one of the most respected actors working in Hollywood. While I really can’t say enough about Theron’s performance, I also have to give a lot of credit to Christina Ricci for giving a performance on the exact opposite end of the spectrum. She’s a timid, almost pathetic, character that is played out wonderfully.

Something else this film succeeds in is putting an interesting twist on the cinematic views of a serial killer. Many films make their serial killer subjects, whether they be real or not, into something inhuman. What Patty Jenkins does with Monster is show Aileen Wuornos as a tragic human being. Make no mistake, though. Jenkins in no way condones or tries to defend what Wuornos did, but she does sprinkle a theme concerning circumstance and environment into the film. This kind of puts this movie into an interesting sort of category where it doesn’t focus on the horrors of the murders, but the horrors of this woman’s life and actions.

Narratively, Monster may not be the strongest movie out there, but this film is ultimately a character study. Charlize Theron gets so deep into her role as Aileen Wuornos, it’s truly unsettling, but it’s also a relief that Patty Jenkins showed a different kind of side to what we normally see in films about serial killers. Everyone will agree that what Wuornos did was despicable and wrong, but what was done to her was also despicable and wrong and, especially in a time when there are more and more mass killings, maybe this is a good topic to talk about.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – Review

22 Jan

The slasher subgenre of horror isn’t something that you sorta like or have no opinion on. You either love it or you hate it. Personally, I love it. There’s something about the classic slasher films that I used to watch when I was younger that fills me with both nostalgia and just simple reminder of why I love horror movies. It can be said that Alfred Hitchcock kickstarted the slasher genre with Psycho in 1960, although Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, also from 1960, can be said to be the start. But that’s not what we’re talking about. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was one of the proto-slasher films that came out before they were even really a thing, and it still holds up as one of the best horror movies ever to be made.

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In a rural part of Texas, Sally (Marilyn Burns), her paraplegic brother Franklin (Paul A. Partain), and their three friends are on a trip to find Sally’s grandfather’s grave to see if it has been vandalized. Things begin to get strange when they pick up a hitchhiker (Edwin Neal) who cuts his hand open, injures Franklin, and nearly lights the inside of the van on fire. After kicking him out they find Sally’s grandfather’s old house, and begin to explore the area around it. This area just so happens to be inhabited by a family of murderous cannibals who begin picking off the friends one by one. Sally soon comes face to face with the violent, chainsaw wielding Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) who brings her back to the family home to have dinner, and be dinner for Leatherface and rest of the family.

Tobe Hooper, the director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, has gone on to become a prolific horror director. His other crowning achievement was the 1982 horror classic, Poltergeist, but this is where he really found his stride. One of the most amazing things about this movie is its almost complete lack of budget and experienced cast and crew. The cast were just friends and acting students from the University of Texas, and the budget was so limited that Tobe Hooper and co-writer Kim Henkel had to keep selling their shares of the movie. Even with these limited resources, they were able to create one of the most iconic horror films of all time.

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One of the first things you may notice on your first run through of this movie is the image quality. It looks very cheap and almost like a documentary, which actually helps the film because it solidifies the fact that all of this could really happen. That’s what really makes the film so terrifying. There aren’t any superhuman killers or ghosts or vampires. The family of cannibals make my skin crawl so much because they are completely human and can exist in the real world. In fact, I’m sure there are people just like this family that exist in America today. I can guarantee it. That’s infinitely scarier than any spooky creature you can throw at me.

Something that actually separates The Texas Chainsaw Massacre from the slasher films that came after it is that it is almost completely bloodless. It’s weird to say that a movie is so unflinchingly brutal without a lot of gore, but this one is. There are a few gory scenes, but overall, it’s pretty bloodless. The aesthetic tension that this film creates more than makes up for it. The editing can sometimes become completely chaotic which has a bigger effects on my comfort level than you might think and the set design by Robert A. Burns is excellent. Robert Burns would go on to be a big name in horror art direction, working on films like The Hills Have Eyes and Re-Animator.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre isn’t just a horror classic. In terms of film as a whole, it is a classic. In a time when drive in theaters and exploitation films flooded the film world, a lot of what was seen was trash. Fun trash, maybe, but nothing too memorable. But there were a few gems, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre being one of them. It helped redefine horror as a genre and was a testament of Tobe Hooper’s and the rest of the cast and crew’s talents. It’s an awesome horror film that has a spot in film history, which may seem odd considering the subject matter, but it is rightfully earned.

Opera – Review

6 Feb

I’ve already talked a lot about Dario Argento on this blog. So far I’ve talked about Suspiria, Inferno, and The Mother of Tears. Well, here we are, back with Argento, one of the masters of the horror genre with his 1987 film Opera. When it was first released for U.S. audiences, it was heavily cut, and therefore never complete. Luckily, I’ve seen the uncut version and I have quite a bit to say, both bad and good.

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MacBeth has always been a cursed show, but never before seen like this. After the original choice for Lady MacBeth is injured in adar accident, the role then goes to newcomer Betty (Cristina Marsillach). Her first performance is met with a standing ovation, but also attracts the attention of an obsessive and violent stalker. Soon after the performance she is forced to watch the masked man kill one of her friends. In the days to come this happens again and again, giving her all the more reason to find out who the murderer is and stop him before she becomes the victim.

It seems that Argento movies always have their fair share of really great things and really terrible things. This film is case and point to my theory. In that same way, he’s kind of lucky that he’s so good at creating memorable scenes of horror, because there are so many things in this movie that have the potential to drag this movie down. The biggest problem, since it happens throughout the entire movie is the acting. This is a problem throughout Argento’s filmography, and this doesn’t have the worst acting (Suspiria), but it can be pretty laughable when the scene is meant to be dead serious.

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The “joy” that is found in Opera are the fantastic murder sequences. These scenes are some of the best that you will ever see in horror along with Psycho and the original Saw. I find it remarkable how the needles that are taped under Betty’s eyes aren’t recognized as a major symbol in the horror genre. The film also shows that Argento will not hold back in his violence. The first killing that is shown is memorable, unexpected, and wonderfully gory. It was so good that I had to rewind the scene a couple of times just to prolong my giddy laughter. The scene that really stands above the rest in the movie features a bullet being shown shooting through a peep hole and into the victims head, all of it in slow motion for maximum appreciation. And what would these murder scenes be if they weren’t accompanied by some unexpected 80s metal music? There are some against this choice of soundtrack, but I think it’s a great contrast from the opera music heard throughout.

The set design also looks fantastic, especially the opera house, where a lot of the action takes place. The hall and the backstage design is both beautiful and spot on. Even Betty’s apartment has this old Italian style that you can’t really find in America. I wouldn’t be able to fully take all of these sights in if it weren’t for Argento’s stalking camera work. The camera seems to have a life of its own as it chases, stalks, and even flies throughout the opera house and the various apartments.

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The problem that almost ruins the entire movie is its godforsaken ending. I can honestly say that this is one of, if not, the worst ending I have ever seen. Never has an ending felt like it was literally thumb tacked on by a kindergartner. The conflict is over way too fast and the whole scenario is way too absurd, bordering on deus ex machina. It’s a joke.

Opera is a very good horror movie, even though it has all of the makings to be dreadful. There’s bad acting throughout and an ending that will leave even the most casual cinephiles annoyed. Still, the murder scenes, set design, camera work, and idea are all great and work well together. This isn’t going to change anyone’s minds about Argento nor will it be appropriate for anyone with a weak stomach, but it’s a fun watch for horror fans, especially those already accustomed to Argento’s style.

Blitz – Review

14 Oct

If Jason Statham is in a movie, you know there is going to be a certain degree of ass kicking. It’s pretty much a given, and Blitz is no exception. This is still a mixed bag for me with more positives than negatives. Still, it’s frustrating to see a movie that has the potential to be great, but falls short, nonetheless.

Detective Sergeant Tom Brant (Jason Statham) is causing a bit of controversy for the police force due to his violent tendencies. His position on the force appears to be jeopardy until a maniacal serial killer, who goes by the name Blitz (Aidan Gillen), begins targeting cops. Now they could use a cop like Brant, and with the help of Sgt. Porter Nash (Paddy Considine), a manhunt through the darkest corners of London begins with deadly consequences.

I want to start with the positives. First of all, Aidan Gillen gives a phenomenal performance as the killer. He doesn’t even have to say anything. Just his facial expressions and body language are enough to understand what he is thinking. The whole psychology behind him is so well crafted that I couldn’t help but love to hate this guy. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about any of the other characters, including Statham’s. It’s weird to have a movie where the main character isn’t anything memorable. It makes you almost not care about the outcome. Thankfully, Gillen supports the entire cast and makes the viewer care.

 

The compositions of the the shots in this film are surprisingly well done. Not very often do I see an action thriller of this caliber with style so above average. The use of negative space is utilized to the best degree that really gives the feeling of being exposed. No one is safe in this movie and there is nowhere to hide. This could have been a very bland looking movie. The gray London streets without anything really interesting to look at. But, the film makers recognized this and made it much more elaborate.

As far as the story goes, it’s nothing I haven’t really seen before. Sure, it’s original in its own way, but the formula remains the same. A tough cop who’s been through hell and back uses whatever means necessary to bring a villain to justice, even if it compromises the integrity of the station. Basically, it’s your textbook “tough as nails cop who doesn’t play by the rules.” I don’t want to say that the movie had stretches where it bored the shit out of me, but it had stretches where it bored the shit out of me. Statham has been in movies that are thrilling and not very violent. He can kick ass or act in a plot driven story like The Bank Job and ChaosThese are two fine examples. This one was close, but wasn’t as original as the other two I mentioned.

 

Blitz is saved from the hell of sub par action thrillers, and sits comfortably in the upper realms of the land of mediocrity. Jason Statham has been in many awesome action and thriller films, and even a couple bad ones. This one is closer to being good than bad, but is still just ok. Aidan Gillen’s performance supports the entire movie, and the style that is present adds a little bit more.Too bad the story and the rest of the characters have all been seen before in one form or another. If you’re a Jason Statham fan, then I don’t see why you should skip this. It isn’t bad, but isn’t too good. Still, give it a chance and see what you think. It definitely has potential.