Raw


Viewed – 02 October 2017  Online-rental

I think it can’t be argued by anyone familiar with French horror cinema, that they certainly challenge boundaries and cross lines on what is acceptable or even tolerable in a horror movie.  The infamous Martyrs proved that and now we come to this latest, French-Belgian offering that quite literally goes for the jugular.

RAW

Justine (Garance Marillier), a gifted female student starts her first week at Veterinary school where she finds herself involved in a brutal hazing ritual.  Whilst getting covered in Horse blood and generally abused by the seniors, despite being a devout  vegetarian, Justine is pushed into consuming raw meat.  However the experience unlocks a new found craving and it’s not long before Justine finds herself developing a hunger for human flesh.

Part coming-of-age movie, part sexual awakening with a twist … this gritty, somewhat tongue-in-cheek drama is equally distasteful and weirdly fascinating.  The movie jumps from development to development a little too quickly for me, with Justine’s cannibalistic cravings coming as a bit of a leap.  However with at times artfully stylish and unflinching direction from first timer Julia Ducournau – I couldn’t look away.  Even during some of the sicker sequences, with a stomach churning finger-eating like it’s KFC scene almost reaching my limit.  It never gets as gory as suggested though, but is gradually disturbing in it’s rather ‘matter of fact’ approach to something unthinkable.

Certainly not for a wide audience and well, left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth (no pun intended) … but as an example of daring, provocative movie making, this still proved effective.

Verdict:  3 /5

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The Handmaiden


Viewed – 06 August 2017  Blu-ray

Let me say straight away that I regard Korean director Park Chan-wook as one of the best around and his much acclaimed vengeance trilogy (which includes the famed ‘Oldboy’) speaks for itself.  Add to this his previous American debut ‘Stoker’ being an underrated gem and well to say I was looking forward to what came next, was an understatement.  Once I discovered it would be a period piece though, for a director more known for contemporary (and bloody) revenge thrillers … I did feel a little trepidation.

The Handmaiden

A seasoned crook (Ha Jung-woo) with his eye on a wealthy heiress (Kim Min-hee), sends a trusted young pick pocket (Kim Tae-ri) to pose as her handmaiden.  Once gaining the Heiress’s trust the crook himself poses as an eligible count in hope of marrying the heiress and gaining access to her fortune.  Once plan is set in motion however the pick-pocket/handmaiden finds herself drawn to the lonely heiress who has lived all her life in a secluded mansion, overseen by a controlling and perverted uncle.

This beautifully shot film is full of character and period atmosphere, complete with stunning costumes and spot-on performances.  It’s an intriguing premise that twists and turns, spread over three distinct parts, where we get to see the differing points of view of the various characters and gradually learn about each of their underlying plans and cunning manipulations.  Who will come out on top?  Think to some extent Dangerous Liaisons and you’ll have a good idea what this about.  It’s got a quirky sense of humour (especially during some explicit but not particularly erotic sex-scenes) and some of the Korean / Japanese traditions are fascinating.  For a film by Park Chan-wook however it lacks the showmanship he’s displayed in the past, going for a more sedate, realistic vibe that’s still eye-catching thanks to gorgeous cinematography and lavish locations / set design.  At over 2 and half hours, it’s a bit drawn out, but packs in a lot of personality.  Not as immediately essential as his best work … but still one to check out if your a fan or enjoy quality Korean cinema.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

Get Out


Viewed – 01 August 2017  Online-rental

I kept hearing very good things about this relatively under-the-radar horror-thriller so thought I’d check it out.  A black guy goes to spend the weekend with his white girlfriend’s family but not long after arriving he starts to feel there is something rather strange about these people.  Is it simply paranoia or is there really something sinister afoot?

Get Out

Think of this like a more seriously creepy version of Meet The Parents.  I quickly began to get absorbed by the concept and the racial tension take was refreshing.  British actor Daniel Kaluuya (Psychoville) proves an effective lead and support from Catherine Keener and Allison Williams were also decent.  It’s what makes this work so well; a strong cast and a foreboding, well handled sense of dread and eeriness.  The eventual revelation of what is really going on is also pretty damn disturbing.  Comic relief from motor-mouthed newcomer LilRel Howery felt a little out of place but still kind of worked and although not a horror in the traditional sense, this holds up a compelling reflection of modern racism and social classes that is surprisingly scary and probably still relevant.

It descends into typical horror survival territory towards the end despite maintaining a freaky atmosphere (with echoes of The Wicker Man).  However, along with good use of foreshadowing, solid performances and leaving this viewer with plenty to think about post-credits …  this remains one to see.

Verdict:  4 /5

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage


Viewed – 20 June 2017  Blu-ray

Cult Italian horror auteur Dario Argento’s 1970 debut, has all the trade marks that have distinguished his career right through to the present.  The black gloved killer, beautiful female victims, superb camera work, an effective, characteristically unnerving musical score, and grand set-piece murders.  Tony Musante plays an American writer travelling in Rome with his girlfriend (the gorgeously photogenic Suzy Kendall, who resembles like a young Suzanne George), when he witnesses an attempted murder on a local female gallery owner by a dark figure dressed in a black raincoat.  He quickly becomes amateur sleuth after the local detective takes away his passport, and soon further murders take place and he grows ever closer to unmasking the assailant.

Although by no means as graphic as the director’s other works, this well told murder mystery harks back to the classic films of Alfred Hitchcock in both the theme and iconic imagery.  Dario Argento has been often labelled the Italian Hitchcock, and with this thriller such a label is hard to deny.  Yet although his work has become more abstract and bizarre over the years, and such creating a style that is distinctly his own, with this effective film, the director made a mark in cinema that introduced the world to a bold and brilliant new visionary.  Engaging performances by its lead actors (especially Musante), several colourful, odd-ball characters and situations that really get your pulse racing create a distinctly classy thriller right up their with the director’s best.  

Bird with the Crytsal Plumage

This newly restored 4k transfer from the always dependable guys at Arrow Video comes in a deluxe box set that boasts a vintage poster, a detailed booklet and the movie itself on both Blu-ray and DVD complete with a plethora of extras.  We get an essential audio commentary by Argento expert Troy Howarth as well as a new interview with the director, featurettes, trailers and newly commissioned artwork with a reversible sleeve.  Add to this 6 art cards.  The movie itself is in great shape with a clean, grainy image that only suffers from somewhat garish colours (which I’ll admit suit the era the movie was made in).  The soundtrack may only be in it’s original mono audio but is still effective, especially with composer Ennio Morricone’s memorable, haunting score.  An impressive treatment for a genuine classic of the Italian giallo genre.

Verdict:

(the movie)  4 /5

(the Blu-ray)  5 /5

Phenomena


Viewed – 10 May 2017  Blu-ray

International Version

I went through a phase of collecting the movies of revered Italian horror director Dario Argento in the early-to-mid 2000s, and had nearly every movie he’d made on DVD, whilst always trying to seek out the most complete, uncut versions of his art.  With the advent of Blu-ray I sort of began collecting again, to a less obsessive extent but have been happy to see some of his movies get deluxe releases in recent times.  Therefore we come to one of his more bizarre and most mistreated works.

Jennifer Connelly

Just prior to finding world-wide fame in children’s fantasy ‘Labyrinth’ this stars a young Jennifer Connelly as a student who comes to stay at an elite school for girls in Switzerland and quickly befriends her rebellious roommate.   However at the same time there have been reports of a series of brutal murders involving female students and with the help of a paraplegic insect expert played by genre legend Donald Pleasence and Jennifer’s own ability to communicate with insects, an investigation ensues to unmask a killer.

This blends two of Argento’s favourite styles; dark-fantasy and murder mystery and is very similar in tone to his acclaimed classic ‘Suspiria’, sort of a spiritual successor you might say.  However unlike that movie this lacks the excessive style and garish colour pallet (despite a few visual flourishes here and there).  We also get some woefully amateurish performances, even from Pleasance who sports a dodgy accent throughout (is he attempting Scottish?) and dialogue is delivered for the most part personality-free.  The plot is also a bit messy and not very well written with some faintly ridiculous moments (Jennifer declaring to a bunch of bullying schoolgirls “I love you all” and Pleasence happily sending Jennifer to track down a killer).  However if you can look past such shortcomings you still get an entertaining and suitably-violent ride with several great set-pieces and excellent use of a pulse pounding score by not only Argento regulars ‘Goblin’ but also ‘Iron Maiden’ and ‘Motorhead’.  Far from Argento’s best, but with a b-movie schlocky vibe to it all, there’s still fun to be had and remains streets ahead of the director’s more recent work.  There’s also a chimp brandishing a straight razor – so what’s not to love?

Arrow Video

The Blu-ray, another impressive job from Arrow Video comes with three cuts of the movie, the International Version at 110mins, the slightly longer Italian Version at 116mins and the heavily cut Creepers U.S. release at 83mins.  My preference is the International Version even if it has some long drawn out moments of throwaway dialogue that could easily have been trimmed.  The Italian Version is pretty similar but has inserts of Italian-only scenes complete with subtitles but is great for completionists.  I haven’t watched the Creepers cut but hear it’s not good at all.    The new 4k restoration of the image is very good however.  Clean and mostly pretty detailed.  The soundtrack (in 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio and 2.0 Stereo) is also very pleasing even if dialogue sounded a bit low (especially noticeable when the music kicks in) and surrounds are given some love with the various music inserts.  Extras are plentiful with a feature length documentary consisting of new interviews with Dario Argento, actors Daria Nicolodi and Fiore Argento (no sign of Connelly sadly) and with production crew and effects artists.  We also get a brilliant commentary on the Italian Version by author Troy Howarth.  Rounding out the release is a detailed 60 page booklet.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3 /5

(the Blu-ray)  5 /5