Friday, August 28, 2009

Down by the lake

The UK might not strike anyone as the typical producer of horror flicks, a long history of dark dungeons and crazy for cocoa puffs nobility or bleak, uninhibited moors where no-one will hear you scream nonwithstanding. However, you will find that the Brits have managed to produce some quite snappy horror in their time, all the way from Ramsey Campbell, taking Lovecraftian ideas and transplanting them to England, leaving the islands with quite a few flailing tentacles to show for it, to modern horror flicks describing such diverse elements and settings as: Werewolves in major cities, Zombies (and not zombies) in major cities, crazy women under the earth, werewolves in the wild, and now, killer chavs
Yup, enter Eden Lake. In this tale of terror, we follow Steve and Jenny as they go to the secluded titular lake to enjoy some time together. Of course, anyone who's seen any kind of horror flick other than the summer camp teenie slashers knows that much bloodshed is yet to follow. Comparisons to The Strangers do come to mind, but I digress. So, our two lovebirds are harrassed by some local punks. Tension is on the rise between the main character and said group, and things does not get better when the chavs steal the couples car. In most stories you can set a cut-off point, where the heroes could still escape and be no worse off, hadn't it been for some character flaw. This holds doubly true in horror movies. In Eden Lake, this is the moment when they find the car keys, and thus are able to go home but Steve insists on trying to retrieve his cellphone from the chavs as well. Might not be too unreasonable, but if he had been the least bit of genre savvy, he'd be outta there, plust of course, there's the "death by materialism"-rule that seems to exist in a lot of films, horror and otherwise.

I won't spoil too much past this point, but it must be mentioned, the ending is just brutal. In much of horror, the ending is either a twist ending to leave your head spinning, a gentle denounment to lull you back into your sense of probably false security, or a half-assed sequel hook that's thrown in last minute about as subtly as a derailed train. In Eden Lake, the ending is cruel, brutal, and downright upsetting. You get used to a lot of cruel and unjust endings when you're into horror movies, despite the prevailing notion that there's some kind of twisted conservative justice operating behind the scenes, but the ending to Eden Lake, I wouldn't say it was entirely unexpected, it was kind of set up as a possibility, but predictability did nothing to soften the impact of this sledgehammer to the pathos.

Eden Lake is kind of walking a tightrope on the line of horror and thriller, again much like The Strangers, but due to its usage of fairly standard horror conventions, I choose to call it more of a horror movie. That's not to say there's any supernatural or almost-supernatural elements in play here, no, the gritty realism is kind of what makes it so intense.

Just to sum it up, Eden Lake isn't what I'd show to my friends to have a good time with many scares and adrenalin for all, unless my friends were as weird as me, which only some of them are. But yeah. Eden Lake, intense.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Hack, Slash

You know how there tends to be one girl left standing at the end of a slasher movie, usually surviving thanks to the virtue of being virginal and somehow capable of besting the slasher at his own game, often with his own weapon. Yeah, that's a survivor girl, aka. a final girl. What, however, happens with a survivor girl when the movie is finished, the killer is dead (temporary as it might be,) and the credits have rolled?

Most cases, the best thing a survivor girl can hope for is laying low and praying that the killer isn't of the vindictive kind, in which case things look grim for you. Heaven forbid actually involving yourself in anything vaugely related to the ordeal you survived. Of course you could do that...

Or, you could do as Cassie Hack, the protagonist of the Devil's Due publishing title, Hack/Slash, and take a slightly more, shall one say, offence-based stance to the whole "supernatural killer"-thing. Cassie didn't have the best of childhoods, as the occupation of killer of serial killers might suggest. Her father abandoned her and her mother, and her mother took upon herself to protect Cassie against the evils of the world, mainly from isolating her from said world and killing everyone who picked on Cassie and serve them as "mystery meat" in the school cantina. When discovered by the authorities thanks to a tip from Cassie, mrs Hack takes the easiest way out and commits suicide by sticking her head in a pot of boiling gravy... yeah.

Of course, this being based on a horror movie, the traumatizing childhood couldn't end there. Y'see, Mrs, Hack didn't settle for being dead, and came back from the grave as a badly charred undead slasher and resumed killing. This time, Cassie had to put down her mother by herself. Now with a backstory like that, how could anyone not be a wholesome all-american girl? Well, trudging down the path to she who fights monsters-land Cassie travels The States, killing the killers who just won't stay down.

On her travels, Cassie encounters and befriends the masked giant Vlad, who despite his imposing appearance, conspiciously similar a slasher design, what with the meat cleavers and all, is a kind and somewhat naive soul. Together, these oddballs fight such meanances as reanimated pets, malicious dream masters, and even a short brush with an unspeakable god-beast and its high priest Elvis (no, really,) all the while overcomming other, more mundae problems like the fiscal challenges of traveling all over the place while not having a job, and the odd nervous breakdown or other angst associated with the not-really-a-job of killing killers.

As you might have been able to glean from the rather long concept synopsis, this is a series I've been following, and if I'm to follow anything, I have to like it, at least a good bit. Quality-wise, H/S had some rather spastic art changes at first, making reading the first volume of the omnibus somewhat less enjoyable than it could be with a stable art style, but considering it was a series of one-shots, I do realize why it's like so. As far as the story and characters goes, H/S does fairly well. I mean, Alan Moore it ain't, but the character manages to invoke a good bit of sympathy. I find it a good thing when horror can keep you interested when there's not a drooling maniac swinging an axe around. Sure, Cassie has a few "WTH, hero?"-moments, but I'm guessing that's intentional, what with her anti-hero vibe.

Now, some of the vilians in this series is just coolsauce. For example, we have the aforementioned evil god(s), or the bible-thumping religious strawman, Father Wrath, who is mentionable alone for the fact that he's one of few slashers who use a blunt weapon rather than the standard sharp thingies. Oh, and not to forget her memorable run-in with Herbert West, the Reanimator of HP. Lovecraft/several B-movies-fame.

Well, that's it on hack/slash, it's a fun read for us horror movie nerds. Beware, though, the fanservice is rather heavy at times.

'till next time

Monday, August 3, 2009


Back during my trip to London a couple of months back, I got to see the first reel of a thriller named Hush. Aside from the mere concept of reels tickeling my cineastic side, this was a very interesting experience for an aspiring horror screenwriter Mark Tonderai also did a Q&A session afterwards. From a movie-watchers perspective, I was also intrigued. Despite some rather glaring similarities with Duel, the plot seemed interesting, the combination of the tension between the main characters and the threat of the anonymous, unspecificially foreign truck driver subscribing to the Texas Chain Saw Massacre school of recreation, made for an interesting hook to draw you into the film.

Due to the bothersome fact that I had to go home before the film premiered, I didn't get to see the whole thing at that point. Also, due to the local cinemas being less than satisfying what with low profile/unusual horror/thrillers, on that note I'm still waiting (in vain) for Lars Von Triers Antichrist to hit the silver screen here, I didn't get to see it until it hit the DVD market.

Now, I must say, that is a pretty sweet poster there. It's exciting and kind of draws you in, wondering how on earth this happened and how it will end, also, it creates a fine sense of isolation, with the only iluminated area being under attack by the towering trailer. One problem, at least in this version, is the text.

This is a rather common problem on advertising and, in some cases, DVD covers, and it annoys me to no end. This happens a lot when there's large parts of black on the cover, for example my copy of Oldboy, which throws in some review highlights and a quote about how much Tarantino loves it. The problem is that marketing people seem to think large amounts of black, or white, is a clean slate for them to smear whatever praise they can gather all over it, which ruins what could be some rather epic designs. It must be said that there's a poster-version without the text, and I'm considering to buy that, but the layout on this cropped version is better in my opinion.

But enough about the poster, on to the actual movie, which I recieved by mail courtesy of my friends over at, just the other day, and the watching commenced. Luckily, I was not dissapointed. Don't get me wrong, Hush is not great, eyeball-melting art on the same level as some of my other favorites, but it delivers a pretty good twisted tale, and it's definitely worth a watch.

As mentioned, the movie focuses on our protagonist, the uninspired writer, Zakes and his girlfriend Beth as they travel North England at night, going from petrol station to petrol station to put up posters, and secondarily, argue over a crumbling relationship. However, this comes to an end when Zakes sees a naked woman caged up in a passing truck. What follows is a short argument about if they should do anything past phone the police which gets cut short when the truck driver figures that Beth would make a nice addition to his collection and kidnaps her. Zakes must then save his girlfriend/not really girlfriend any more from a fate most certainly worse than death.

As far as tension goes, this film does it pretty damn good, the ever-present threat of the anonymous truck driver coupled with the trouble with the law that Zakes manages to accumulate through a series of unfortunate circumstances, leaves a supressive atmosphere, although I feel they didn't make the most out of the threat of the truck driver. It could be that it's because the matchup of Pedestrian VS Truck tends to be short and gory, but the truck driver seems to cause the most peril in large parts of the movie through independant agents of his will, which makes him seem like something entirely different from what you'd expect. Of course, during the films climax, he's back and swinging, but it's my opinion they did not make the most of the whole truck thing.

Also, of other nuisances is a scene and a couple of characters that feels like entirely pointless padding, untill the end, when you realize it was also the set-up to a rather annoying sequel hook. To add to the annoyance, it also serves to prove one of the horror genres most persistent trueisms. I kind of understand the padding, considering the film would run kind of short (not that there's anything wrong with that) without expanding it a little, and it also adds a little to the desperate feeling that the only one who actually wants to help our hero out gets rewarded with an eye scream end.

Despite these two problems, I think Hush was a worthwhile effort, even more so because it was the directors first flick. It's exciting and got a nice visual style, also surprisingly good gore, at least for my expectations. Sure, Duel it ain't, Duel was a lot more conservative about it's characters, and that makes it a bit tenser, but you have to give Hush credit for its rather unexpected finale. I won't spoil anything, but this was a Chekov's Gun that I did not see comming, and I still haven't decided if it was crazy awesome or just crazy.

'til next time.