Posts Tagged ‘Meta


Hellraiser: Hellworld (2005)

Up to this point, this year’s iteration of 31 Days of Horror has offered up a pretty darn good list of horror flicks. It’s about time we had a real stinker, and Day 9 more than delivers that. Remember when I warned y’all that I was going to intentionally make the mistake of watching the rest of the Hellraiser series, even after Hellraiser: Inferno insulted my intelligence? Well, I’m a woman of my word folks; when I saw Hellworld on sale for $3 I figured it was time to bite the bullet. After all, Lance Henriksen is in it, so it can’t be that bad, right? Sigh… sometimes my optimism needs a reality check.
This computer game's menu is a little outdated, even for 2005.

This computer game’s menu is a little outdated, even for 2005.

So, this is when Hellraiser attempts to go meta, sort of. The film takes place in a world where the Hellraiser movies are a thing that everyone knows and loves, and there’s a computer game and everything! I’m not exactly sure what the stupid game entails, but I do know that some kid named Adam “took it too far,” doused himself in gasoline and set himself on fire. All of his friends are on a major guilt-trip, because they watched him get consumed by the game and sat back and did nothing. The only guy who seems to really feel super bad about it is this little twerp named Jake who freaks out on everyone at Adam’s funeral. Jake and his asshole friends consider themselves to bet he only “family” that Adam had, since his father was pretty much absent for most of his childhood, and I guess the mom is crazy or something? Whatever, within the first five minutes it is already apparent that we aren’t going to care about any of the characters.

Anyway, whatever, the four jackasses obviously didn’t learn their lesson and two years later are still hung up on Hellworld. If you can solve a particular puzzle with the puzzle box online, you get a special invitation to a Hellworld party! Despite our heroine (if you want to call her that) Chelsea’s reservations, she agrees it would be totally awesome to go to a Hellworld party, and so the  foursome head on over to some scary old house, where surprise, surprise, their old pal Jake shows up, too!  Looks like our host (Lance Henriksen) knew how to target all the right Hellworld fans. As the group convenes in the hallway, Henriksen invites them into a special room where he serves them questionable beverages and shows them fetuses in jars and stuff. So spooky. So edgy. Let’s party!

As I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, this party isn’t just fun and games. One by one, each unlikable asshole meets a pathetic end, seemingly at the hands of Pinhead. These fools stroll around the house, opening

Ladies and gents: your edgy host.

Ladies and gents: your edgy host.

doors you obviously shouldn’t be opening. Their curiosity kills them in the end, and the only two we are left with are Chelsea and Jake. When they set their feeble minds to work at figuring out just what the hell is going on at this “party” they start putting the pieces together. What they find results in one of the most unsatisfying and stupid endings to any horror movie I’ve ever seen, except, perhaps, Hellraiser: Inferno. Turns out, Henriksen is actually Adam’s father and is seeking revenge on all the kids whom he blames for his child’s death, even though he didn’t give a shit about his kid while he was alive, or even after he died; the scumbag couldn’t even make it to the kid’s funeral. Makes a whole lot of sense, right? But it gets better: he drugged the kids and then buried them alive, and everything we watched was nothing but a hallucination! Pinhead didn’t kill them, see, they killed themselves! Seriously. Wow. That is lame. Really, really lame.

It is truly amazing how easily dumbed down a great premise like Hellraiser can be. I know all too well that, usually, the quality of a franchise plunges the higher the sequel number, but holy bejeezus, I’ve never

Oh, if you care, Henry Cavill is in this.

Oh, if you care, Henry Cavill is in this.

seen anything quite as bad as the plummet from Hellraiser’s best films to the last two (maybe even three, Hellbound wasn’t so hot, either, but at least it wasn’t a total wreck) I’ve watched. The folks writing these films are literally given a premise and world in which to work, and they still can’t come up with anything worthwhile. There are many directions Hellworld could have taken, and a lot of them would have been a lot more interesting than what they decided to go with in the end.

While watching the movie, I have to say I was wondering why the hell Pinhead was using such lame methods to kill these kids. I thought the whole premise of Pinhead and the Cenobites is that they enjoyed bringing pain by way of torture to their victims. That’s not what we’re presented with here; instead we get a simple slashing of the throat or, perhaps the most egregious knock at Pinhead yet: decapitation by way of cleaver. Seriously? Even the kids in this movie should have known better than to think that Pinhead would use a cleaver to kill them. There is just no imagination whatsoever in this movie. And it looks like shit. And the characters are assholes, so who gives a shit if they die anyway?
This is wrong on so many levels. For the same reasons Captain America shouldn't use guns, Pinhead shouldn't use cleavers!

This is wrong on so many levels. For the same reasons Captain America shouldn’t use guns, Pinhead shouldn’t use cleavers!

Another thing I wondered while watching Hellworld: does Doug Bradley actually read the scripts of these sequels, or does he just show up, do a few takes, and leave? How much are they paying him to act in these films? It must be so sad to remember what it was like to have an interesting, meaty role in a horror film and then have to turn around and say a few cheesy lines as the same character just to take home a paycheck. His screen-time is probably shorter than the time it takes for him to get all that make-up on. On a related note, if I were Clive Barker I’d politely ask to have my name removed from such films. If you are considering, even for a second, that this movie is worth your time, please think again. It isn’t. It isn’t worth the plastic it’s printed on. It’s probably not worth the time I spent writing this post, either. Just say no.


Berberian Sound Studio (2012)

The world of horror movies can be very alienating to the uninitiated. Unless you’re used to decapitation and blood-curdling screams, I suppose a horror flick might actually seem, um, scary. Even so, in the end a movie is just a movie; we can throw out our exorbitantly-priced popcorn and call it a day. But what must it be like for the uninitiated folks working behind the scenes on such a film? Peter Strickland explores this idea in Berberian Sound Studio, a film about a British sound editor whose been recruited to work on an Italian production. Unfortunately our hero failed to get all the details before traveling to Italy…

BerberianSoundStudioPosterGilderoy (Toby Jones) is an older gentleman; shy, but very skilled at his job. Usually, he works on sound-editing for educational documentaries and children’s programming. Seemingly out of the blue he is called upon by some Italian folks working on a film called The Equestrian Vortex. Assuming this is just another nature documentary, Gilderoy travels to Italy. Of course, he is stunned to discover the film is about as far from documentary as you can get! Instead of benignly educating its audience, The Equestrian Vortex is a cookie-cutter giallo film out to make them squirm!

Gilderoy attempts to convey his discomfort, but the members of the Italian production team are completely uninterested in hearing any of his complaints; they’re far too wrapped up in their own egos and drama to worry about a milquetoast Brit like Gilderoy. The poor fellow can’t even get anyone to reimburse him for his flight out to Italy; the receptionist out front is insufferably rude, and the folks inside the studio are pushy to say the least. Without much of a choice, Gilderoy is thrust into the world of horror filmmaking, and let’s just say the two weren’t exactly made for each-other. He becomes intimately familiar with all manner of fruit and vegetable; what lovely squashing sounds they make! Seems benign enough, but more unsettling are the guttural grunts and moans of “The Witch,” the screeching horror of “The Goblin” and of course, the incessant and ever-disappointing screams of actress after actress; all of which Gilderoy must record and mix with painstaking accuracy and attention.

The only comfort Gilderoy enjoys after a hard day’s work of screaming and fruit-crushing are letters from his Mum back home. She anxiously awaits his return so they together can enjoy the nest of baby chicks that have made their home on the front porch. He smiles to himself each night as he reads his mother’s letters, but there’s always a bit of dread behind that smile, because he knows tomorrow will be another difficult day with the Italians. The only other person who seems to sense his extreme discomfort is Silvia, one of the lead voice actresses in the film, and notably the only other non-Italian involved in the production. Silvia is the only one to treat Gilderoy kindly, and tells him the only way to get anywhere with “these people” is to demand the things you need.

Seemingly from a dream, Gilderoy takes Silvia’s advice and marches up to the receptionist desk to demand the BerberianSoundStudioSilenziomoney for his flight to Italy. Unfortunately, he is quickly shut down and loses his gumption, but even still, something has changed in Gilderoy. This new attitude, coupled with a tragic letter from Mum about the downfall of the chicks (‘it must have been the magpies’) is where the film really starts to get strange. From this point forward, We’re never quite sure what’s taking place on the screen; are we seeing inside Gilderoy’s head? Is he having a dream? Or is what we’ve seen prior a dream? We see scenes we have already seen, but with a different audio track; this time Gilderoy speaking fluent Italian. Instead of being removed from the action, he is integral to it – not only behind the scenes, but in The Equestrian Vortex itself. This is where that whole ‘blurring the lines between reality and fantasy’ comes in, and it’s a real head trip.

Berberian Sound Studio is a movie for movie nerds. It helps if you’re familiar with the trashy world of Italian 70’s giallo – there are definitely a lot of winks and nods that you just won’t get otherwise. But I think anyone with an interest in filmmaking (particularly sound-editing, natch) will find the film intriguing. What I liked most about it is that with all the suggestion of blood and violence, there’s absolutely none to be seen in the film. It is of course heard, and clearly the mere suggestion is what seems to drive our old boy Gilderoy mad.

In one sense, I saw the film as a comment on how the horror film can draw the innocent outsider into its fold; kind of like recruiting new talent into a shady cult. At first Gilderoy is unsure and resistant, but soon (perhaps due to the magpies and the realization that the world is full of horror, and he is already a part of it?) he seems to feel as if he’s belonged here all along. What better way to convey this than by replaying previous scenes with a different audio track? Not only does that make the audience rethink what we’ve already seen, but it points out just how important sound is to the film experience, something I’m sure many casual moviegoers don’t give a second thought.

The trouble is, for all its great ideas, I feel like the movie could have been executed better. It got the atmosphere right, but I felt throughout the whole thing as if something was missing. And, truth be told, at the very end of the film I was so stunned that it was over, I had to rewind it to make sure I hadn’t missed something important. That’s the one thing that rubs me the wrong way about Berberian Sound Studio; nothing really happens in it. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, it may even be a little boring. Immediately after the film I felt disappointed that it hadn’t done a better job. It wasn’t until days afterwards that it started to gel in my head. So, I think it’s a better movie in theory than in practice. Still, I would love to watch it a second time, knowing what I know now, and seeing if it makes a difference. Definitely worthwhile, but slightly disappointing. I just wanted it to be a little bit better.


The Legend of the Mask (La Leyenda de una Mascara, 1991)

Note: Hi! This is Mike Q, and I’m not the one who usually writes here. I got this guest-spot because Katy’s fallen behind in writing up movies of late, so I’ve been called in to do some of the titles she doesn’t especially want to deal with.

Legend of the MaskWhen I first ran into mention of Legend of the Mask a few years back, it was described off-handedly as “the Citizen Kane of lucha libre movies”. “Why not?”, I thought, and since the price was right, and the DVD had English subtitles, I gambled a stamp and bought a copy. It seemed like a potentially good gamble if done right — I’m always hungry for superhero flicks that have something to say — and like an amusing curiosity even if it didn’t (something along the lines, perhaps, of Mil Mascaras: Resurrection). So there it sat on the shelf, waiting for the right moment to get watched.

I don’t know if it was that Citizen Kane comparison, or the years of anticipation and latent potential, but though Legend of the Mask was strong and well-done, my hopes were too high to meet well what we actually watched. For starters, that Citizen Kane thing was almost too accurate — Legend takes its narrative cues almost point-for-point from the Welles film until its final act, to the point where it was somewhat distracting. A shabby, drunken lout of an investigative sports reporter gets assigned to write a deep profile of the recently-deceased masked wrestling legend El Angel Enmascarado, a pastiche of the real-life El Santo, perhaps the world’s best known Mexican wrestler. As our intrepid reporter looks into the loose ends of El Angel’s life — The manager/agent who discovered an idealistic young wrestler and convinced him to mask up to re-invent himself, the shady comic-book publisher who saw a way to turn the cult star larger than life, the b-movie maker who made him Mexico’s number one star, the buxom nightclub performer who he made tabloid headlines with — we put together not only El Angel’s story — and with it see the hopes, dreams, and feat of clay that all-too-commonly motivate and bring down celebrities in these sorts of films —  but also slowly get a sense of the reporter’s investment in all of this; how his fandom is adding on yet another layer of color to the whole affair.

Of course (of course!), there’s more to the death of El Angel than meets the eye, and all the nastiest parts of El Angel’s story are still very much alive. In the final act, everything hits the fan, and we’re in a really different movie than what’s come before — a kind of pulp soup, heavy on the paranoia, and the gothic/noir/funnybook imagery that makes me sit up and grin — shades of something like a live-action Richard Sala comic strip. I wish, in fact, that the movie that had come before had better set up the eye-popped breathlessness that it concludes with, and in doing so, it might have reached a sort of Ken Russell place in relation to its material: equal measure winking dismay in its weaknesses and yet intense, bursting, almost inarticulate love for them at the same time. Instead, once the final twist comes atop the roiling chaos of mashed-together imagery in the climax, I was left thinking that there’d been a missed opportunity. Do the reporter’s investigations (and fandom) amount to the same thing as the crimes he was accused of committing? That particular nail is never really hit with the force that so many others are here, leaving the sense that this affair ended with a whimper when it really seemed to have wanted to end with a body slam.

If you want a “smart” or insightful take on the old chestnuts of Mexican wrestler superheroes versus vampires, Aztec mummies, or mad scientists, this unfortunately isn’t your stop. If, though, you’re more interested in the bugs that are hiding underneath the edifice of cultural mythology, this one might tickle your fancy. Just, you know, don’t believe all the hype!


Rubber (2010)

rubberposterUsually after watching a film, I have some idea what it was about. Additionally, it is normal for me to have some sense of how the movie made me feel: did I like it? Dislike it? Did I feel nothing? Almost always I’m able to answer all of these questions in some way, shape or form. In the case of Rubber, however, I must confess I am not entirely sure of the answer to any of those questions.

The movie starts off with a little lesson on Hollywood films. Movies have always had things happen for no reason at all, and we are told that this movie will be no different at all – in fact, Rubber is a sort of ode to “No Reason.” So when a group of random people who have no connection to one another collect together in the desert and don binoculars to watch a “movie” I try to let go of my skepticism and just go with it. Soon enough though, it is apparent the weirdness has only begun.

Finally, the “movie” starts: a tire named Robert has been left out in the desert to rot, and seemingly out of nowhere wakes up and begins to move. As it starts its journey out of the desert, it runs into things and has an urge to destroy them: water bottles, bunny rabbits, cars on the road with pretty girls behind the wheel, you name it! He has no problem destroying most of these things, he just vibrates insanely until the object of his ire explodes. Anyone who crosses Robert’s path is subject to his telekinetic whims.

Robert follows the pretty girl to a motel, where he leaves behind a trail of destruction. Eventually the cops show up, and it is here we find out that the Sheriff, Chad, is also in league with the people showing the “movie.” It seems they are on a quest to make the “movie” as short as possible, and will stop at nothing to destroy their own audience.

This movie is nothing if not filled with surprises, so it would be silly of me to reveal them all here. Suffice it to say, whatever you think is going to happen is probably not going to happen and vice versa. Rubber is truly one of the most bizarre and baffling films I’ve ever seen, and as I’ve already said, to this day I am still not sure if I liked it or not! Either way, the movie is certainly intriguing and I’m curious to see what else the director (Quentin Dupieux) has to offer. It is definitely entertaining; really, what could be more fun than watching a movie that could go in any direction it wanted? I’m still not sure what the point of the thing is, or if there was a point at all? Was this story shared with us for “No Reason”?

I can safely say that if you are a person who likes a movie with a clearly told plot, a discernible beginning, middle and end and lovable, relatable characters this is NOT going to be the movie for you. But if you appreciate a film that plays with its audience’s head and turns everything upside down, this is a must-see. That’s not to say that you’ll like it, but at the very least it will get you thinking.



JCVD (2008)

Jean-Claude listening to his new bosses

Jean-Claude listening to his new bosses

I’ve never been a huge fan of action films, so I can’t say that my knowledge of Jean-Claude Van Damme films is any good. I’ve known this for a long time, and a few years ago finally watched Bloodsport. I must admit, I really liked it. How much that has to do with the charms of the martial arts star I cannot say, but it is true I have not watched another of his films since, until one day a friend sprung JCVD upon us on a night when we were supposed to be collecting together to watch a horror film.

I’d never heard of JCVD the film, and so of course had no idea what to expect. I’m quite often saying that this is the most ideal situation under which to watch a film; there is no danger of expectation ruining things for you. I believe this is just as true for JCVD as with anything else, though I must say watching it a second time I liked it only slightly less than the first, and the film is likely to still be a pleasant surprise for most viewers no matter how much they know about it ahead of time.

Things aren’t looking good for Jean-Claude Van Damme these days; he’s losing a custody battle with his wife because their daughter is embarrassed by him. He’s struggling to pay bills, and just lost a recent starring role to his martial arts film star rival, Steven Seagal. With nothing much left for the states to offer him, Jean-Claude opts to go home to Belgium, where his roots are, to start over again and make a better life for himself.

JCVD Training

JCVD Training

Unfortunately, things only get worse for the man once he gets out of his cab from the airport and attempts to withdraw money from an ATM. Having no luck, he goes into the Post Office to get some money, but finds it is strangely empty, and apparently closed. But why, he wonders, would the Post Office be closed in the middle of the day on a weekday?

He soon finds out the Post Office is being stuck up by a nasty group of desperate thieves who latch on to Jean-Claude’s stardom and make him their mouthpiece. Jean-Claude is told to act like he is the desperate man robbing the bank and to make demands of millions of dollars and helicopters in exchange for releasing hostages.

Fans and skeptics alike gather outside the Post to cheer and jeer Jean-Claude. His parents arrive, desperate to talk to their son on the phone and figure out why things have gone so wrong. Meanwhile, inside Jean-Claude tries to persuade one of the robbers to let the hostages go and take things over so they can leave the Post Office without anyone getting hurt. The only way to persuade the robber is by latching onto the one thing the guy seems to care about: learning some of JCVD’s greatest film moves!

JCVD addresses his audience

JCVD addresses his audience

While it is no meta masterpiece, JCVD certainly has its moments. I can’t speak to how true the depiction of the desperate movie star is to the events in Jean-Claude Van Damme’s real life, though certainly a great deal of the character’s problems mirror the actor’s; multiple wives, drug problems, casting issues, custody disputes. What must it be like to be the failed martial arts movie star? How does one go from the “Muscles from Brussels” to “that guy that robbed the Post?”

In what I must say is the most impressive scene in the film, Jean-Claude rises above the set for an intimate one-on-one with his audience, where he informs us “this movie is for me.” The soliloquy goes on for something like seven minutes, where JCVD lets it all hang out, and even cries a little bit. Are these the tears of the character from the film, or from the actual, living, breathing human being whom I’m to believe has been batted around by the film industry for years? I suppose that’s for everyone to decide for themselves, but I’m a sap and of course want to believe this man has laid himself bare for all of us to see.

So, while JCVD certainly offers up its fair share of martial arts choreography, it doesn’t stack up to other action films that center around slick moves. It seems much more concerned with the aftermath of fame and drug use than bank robbing and kung-fu fighting. I suppose, then, one could argue this movie is about Hollywood more than anything else. At any rate, I did find it really enjoyable and quite surprising and would recommend to anyone who’s interested in films that are slightly offbeat.


I, Madman (1989)

It all starts with the turn of a page...

It all starts with the turn of a page…

I’ve said many times before, I’ll gamble my time on just about any movie. And, as time passes on it seems I’ll gamble my money, too. I don’t quite know if it’s a rush, a thrill, or what, but I’m more willing now than any other time in my life to blow a few bucks on a potential stinker at the used record store. And, as I’ve also said before, though these gambles rarely pay off it is worth it when they do. One such positive case: I, Madman. Completely sold by the synopsis on the back, we brought it home and were pleasantly surprised to find a competent, engaging horror movie. Yay!

Virginia works in a used bookstore by day, and reads pulpy horror novels by night. Her boyfriend, Richard, is a police detective and can’t wrap his

I never said he was a looker.

I never said he was a looker.

head around why she wastes her time reading that crap, especially because she gets so darn absorbed she always gives herself a fright. Things get particularly bad when she finds a copy of I, Madman on her doorstep…

Virginia easily sees herself in the shoes of the book’s main character, a young actress who is the victim of the affections of a mad scientist who incessantly stalks her. He’s also pretty good at murdering people, but it’s the strangest thing: the murders in the book seem to bear a striking resemblance to the murders that are happening around the city. Soon enough, Virginia knows she can predict where and when the next murder will take place, but can she

You'd probably scream, too.

You’d probably scream, too.

and the cops get there soon enough to prevent it from happening?

In the end, I, Madman is a fun horror flick that’s worth checking out. It seems to be sorely under-watched for something that’s actually worthwhile; I’d never even heard of it, and in fact probably never would have heard of it if we hadn’t seen it there amongst the other rejected DVDs. It’s directed by Tibor Takács, a name I wasn’t familiar with until seeing this movie, though he also directed The Gate, which was a childhood favorite of mine. I can’t say if his other stuff is worth checking out, but maybe, just maybe…



Faust (1994)

So you get stuff like this weird claymation baby... that's cool, right?

So you get stuff like this weird claymation baby… that’s cool, right?

Writing this movie blog has really exposed my literary shortcomings. Imagine, a grown woman who’s never read Faust! The closest I’ve come is Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, which I understand draws heavily from Goethe’s Faust (and is amazing, in case you’ve never read it – go out and get a copy right now). Even so, I’ve never read the actual Faust, but I must have seen a bazillion film adaptations of the thing. And, out of all of those adaptations, Jan Švankmajer’s has to be the most entertaining, creative, and hilarious of them all.

The story starts off with a rather miserable-

Our hero,  but who's pulling the strings?

Our hero, but who’s pulling the strings?

looking fellow is on his way home from work. A man on the street shoves a map into his hands. Uninterested, our hero crumples it up and throws it out, but the thing mysteriously appears again in his apartment. Naturally, the man is curious, and so follows the map to a warehouse where, suddenly, the man is put on stage and is unexpectedly cast as Faust. Whether he likes it or not, he’s about to make a deal with the devil.

Here’s where watching films with an English faustfinalpuppetPhD Candidate is helpful: the film flips between different literary versions of Faust, at times quoting directly from Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus and Goethe’s Faust among other versions – obviously subtleties that were lost on me. This did not affect my overall enjoyment of the film, however. It’s so visually exciting, almost everything else is secondary.

For the Švankmajer-uninitiated, let me explain: Švankmajer’s a stop-motion animation genius, so we aren’t just watching actors at work, we’re watching his art, too. And his art is so gloriously weird! Personally, I think this is a great way to watch a classic story unfold: with ultimate weirdness and coolness.


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