I Saw the Devil (2010) – Review


In I Saw the Devil, Kim Jee-woon articulates a bloodlust that is nauseating and fascinating compared to the normal torture porn we see today. If I had been eating during my viewing, I probably wouldn’t have been able to hold down anything that I had just ingested. I knew the movie was going to be graphic and push my limits from other’s appraisal for the film, but I didn’t know how far until now.

Secret agent Dae-hoon is grieving over the loss of his fiancée, after she has been murdered by a psychopathic serial killer. Assisted by his father-in-law, who also is luckily the chief of police, Dae-hoon goes on a revengeful journey to make her killer suffer and realize how much pain he has caused him and her family. Oddly enough, the film isn’t just a chasing down of the killer, Kyung-chul, as much as it is a game of cat and mouse that Dae-hoon is playing with him. He hunts him down and punishes him several times throughout, each time being more brutalizing and tormenting than the last.

Now I know I said I had heard about this film, but I wasn’t entirely sure of what I was getting into. All I knew is that this was a revenge film with lots of blood and guts, and that in itself garnered my attention. The film also took my attention hostage, almost immediately. I mean, this is a film that you watch through it’s entirety and almost forget that it is 2 ½ hours long on account of the plot just being force-fed down your throat from the opening scene to the finale. A lot of the scenes will make you wince, there are mutilations, decapitations, rapes, and even cannibalism. Fortunately for me, I don’t think I will ever forget some of the scenes in this film, and I find it odd that Korean films tend to push my limits this much farther than their American counterparts.

Now, I have to be honest. Some of the things that we see in this film, are things we have seen before. This isn’t going to make you vomit from realism because you know it’s not real since you’ve seen it in other films. That being said, I Saw the Devil doesn’t shy at all from showing the results of its madness. Blood is filled in every nook and cranny of the film, and if something you see on screen is a result of something being hurt, just know that you will be able to see that hurt. It’s almost surreal in it’s cinematography, but I think that adds to the charm. The surrealism and hyper-reality that’s depicted allow us to suspend disbelief whilst also knowing that what we are watching is probably pretty similar to what would happen in real life. One scene that comes to mind is the taxi scene with Kyung-chul, stabbing attempted-robbers repeatedly whilst the camera spins around them to showcase the morbidity taking place in the vehicle. Although it is disorienting, the film does an excellent job of showcasing the horror and making you want to watch out of sheer curiosity.

We have seen revenge films. Last House on the Left, I Spit on Your Grave, etc. That being said, the way this movie goes about taking revenge is more original than your typical revenge/thriller/horror. It’s a journey of character, and even their onscreen counterparts reiterate this. We watch two people start off completely different and end up on in the same. Our characters, the main two, are stalwarts in their lives, and when they cross paths it becomes obvious that neither of them is going to budge. They keep brawling, even though both of them, namely Kyung-chul, suffers injuries that would make a normal person pussy-out and hobble home, calling their mom to come and swaddle them. It’s a testament to will and perseverance, the power of evil and vengeance, and how much we want to see our most grandiose fantasies play out. Moral lines become blurred, emotions become one, and on the whole, we have a hard time swallowing the reality of the situation.

The only problem I encountered through the film, was timing, in a way. It almost seems as if a few scenes are a tad too long, and that other scenes are too short. I think that there are some portions of the film that are utterly pointeless, but that is not to say that they are bad, it’s just thinking about them in retrospect caused me to think about the purpose the scene served to the overall impending message and deliverance of the film. Not to call the film pompous or over-indulgent, as I don’t think he means it or it comes off as such, but there is definitely a story within this one that is more precise than the one we are handed at a 140-minute mark. The gripe is that a well-polished film can come across as sloppier than the gem hiding within it.

The performances are spectacular, especially the role of Kyung-chul. Oldboy is one of my introductions to ‘Korean horror’, though I guess we could say that it is more of a revenge film itself. It was interesting to see Min-sik Choi play the perpetrator in this film after I saw him play the innocent in Oldboy. Nevertheless, I thought his performance was absolutely stunning and the way he convinced me that he was a bloodthirsty killer who will bow to no one is unmatched. I think his counterpart, Byung-Hun Lee, also did a fantastic job as Kim Soo-hyeon. With what little we know about his character, I’m thoroughly impressed by how he portrayed the character on film. We also want revenge for him and almost relate, though I myself have never been put in a situation that could’ve garnered such hate and ferocity. Their transformations, magnetism, and intensity is a force to be reckoned with, and I admire them for that.

This movie is a revenge-thriller. A good one. I highly suggest watching this film if you’re into ankle-slashing and cannibalism. If you aren’t in the mood to watch someone dig through their own feces or get a screwdriver shoved through their cheek, I’d sit this one out.

Rating:

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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Phenomena (1985) – Review

I know that a lot of people dickride Argento, and now I know why. This is the only film of his I’ve seen so far, and if this is any indication of what his other work is like, I’m going to have a great time getting to know Dario. Let’s see, we get bug-whispering, a straight-razor wielding monkey, a swimming pool of decaying flesh, and a crippled scientist. That’s a lot to unpack, I know, but somehow it all works. This film almost seems like a bunch of half-finished scripts were melted down and glued together, but it never fails to fully flesh out the ideas that are put in place during the course of the movie.

So basically, Jennifer Corvino is the daughter of a famous film director, and is sent to a boarding school away from her home in America. A murderer is killing young teens in the area and, coincidentally, her telekinetic/psychotropic bug powers might just be the solution to everyone’s problems. After stumbling upon her roommate’s carcass, she is sent on a journey to avenge her death by John McGregor, an entomologist and professor.

Let’s set something straight. The soundtrack/cinematography combo in this movie is next fucking level. The POV-killer shots really drive the mystery forward without being overly gruesome to satiate gore-hounds. The atmosphere is dangerous, although ominous, and the scenes we get that take place in nature feel almost lonesome and gave me a feeling of the supernatural. One thing I did find odd though, was the dialogue. Before you’re strapped in for the ride, you immediately notice the dubbing, and boy, can it be painful to sit through. This falls to the wayside though, as through visuals and mythos we get a much deeper story than what some shoddy dialogue might make seem shallow.

It’s fantastical, dreamy, lucid, and more. I almost couldn’t get enough of it. After being burrowed in my brain for a week, I definitely know how I feel about this film, and I feel a lot of love. I highly anticipate watching other Argento film’s, though I don’t know how you can top one such as this, though I know Suspiria will put that to the test. If you’re in the mood for a slow-motion stabbing and rich-people problems, give this movie a watch. If you want to steer clear of maggot-pools and disfigured-evil-demon children, I’d skip this one.

Rating:

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

Starry Eyes (2014) – Review

Hell and Hollywood, Satan and stardom, sex and the sinister. We have seen it time and time again in movies for as long as I can remember, and while I’ve seen it done quite well in movies such as Mulholland Drive, I think the way Starry Eyes portrays the relationship between sex and stardom comes off as not original or as enticing as I would’ve hoped.

The first two acts of this movie, while quite a slow burn, actually had me invested and interested into where the film would end up going. Our lead, Sarah, is facing a moral dilemma, and struggling to make it in a shit-hole world where it seems dreams are never as easy to achieve as we would want them to be. We get hallucinogenic 80s-esque sequences through the first two acts of the film, and while slow, it really brings tension to the film and honestly I liked the speed it was going though it did feel more like a suspense film with eerie shots and music to set the tone. The synth-filled soundtrack and blueish hue the movie has throughout really evokes a mood that I wish the last portion of the film would’ve maintained in its entirety.

Now I know I shouldn’t trust any opinions but my own, but I’ll admit I did take a look at the IMDb page for Starry Eyes and I saw that many people found this movie divisive. It’s a love/hate film, and unfortunately I think I fall into the hate category. I think that’s all because of the last act; this carefully crafted and suspenseful beginning ends with gore-porn and while I am a fan of good eyeball-crushing kills, I thought these, unfortunately, don’t sync up with what the beginning of the film had to offer. I mean we go from Sarah screaming “I’m dying!” and crawling around on the ground, to murdering four of her friends in a matter of 10 minutes.

All in all, I won’t say this movie is terrible, I just didn’t enjoy the payoff. It’s definitely a “what-the-fuck” film and enjoyable if you aren’t looking for an A+ grade movie with a plot that will change your life, though I know some people will beg to differ. If you feel the need to see a couple of titties and a bald-headed cultist, give this movie a watch. If you don’t feel like seeing someone bludgeoned with a barbell or a fingernail-peel-off scene, I’d skip this one.

“Hail Astreus!”

Rating:

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Black Magic (1975) – Review

From the very beginning of the film, you know that this is going to be a compilation of all the sex and blood the 70s exploitation genre had to offer. The plot essentially revolves around a love triangle and a black-magic-using ‘wizard’ who utilizes breast milk and voodoo dolls to conjure up spells that his clients want. That’s not all that entails though, as the sorcerer’s wacky and wild experiments soon garner the attention of an opposing wizard, who clashes with him throughout the film.

The film itself is easily one of the more campy movies I have seen recently, even more campy that the Met Gala 2019. I love the dubbing, in its awful entirety, and how the movie seems to forget what it’s about occasionally, but never in a way that hinders the progression of the film. As expected, we get a lot of zoom-in closeups and oddly unexpected dialogue (as expected with most foreign films from this period) but something about the film really engaged me and left me with a warm and fuzzy feeling, like a new-born puppy appeared in my colon.

An amusing and fun experience, laser beams, fireballs, and more, collide to give a viewer a fun view of Asian black magic, and although the movie does lack the special effects of movies now, it’s still an engaging film. If all these things aren’t already making you salivate, then I don’t know what else will. A marvelously fun movie with enough entertainment to enjoy from now, to anytime in the near future.

Rating:

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Devil’s Sword (1983) – Review

I saw this film in the theater, this year. You read that correctly. I saw this film, inside of a movie theater where people paid to see this movie, with other people, in the year 2019. Admittedly, the movie can drag on at times, but there is a lot of things that make up for it and make the movie incredibly rewarding even if you are watching soberly. Crocodile men (although they look more like lizards), a man who uses his hat as a decapitating boomerang, and laser beams, are just some of the few keywords that come to mind when attempting to promote this movie to future film connoisseurs.

The dialogue is impeccable (“you bitch!”), the sex scenes (or what a twelve year-old would consider sex), and cannibalistic dungeon dwellers are another couple of positives I would award the film. As afore mentioned, the movie does drag, so if you get a surprise call from your mother or your significant other during a viewing, don’t be afraid to walk outside and talk for five to ten minutes, you most likely won’t miss anything that important or pertinent to the plot. If you decide to watch this film, do not expect a bad time, nor would I expect you to have a good time, but I also don’t know you, so do as you wish. One thing I do know though, is that this film is definitely one of my favorite exploitation films as of now, and if the opinion of a 21 year-old college student strikes you as something you find poignant, I would recommend you watch it as well.

Rating:

⭐️⭐️⭐️ 1/2

Chopping Mall (1986) – Review

Chopping Mall is a cliché 80’s film, which means it’s full of horny teenagers, robots who shoot lasers and sleep darts, and abysmal dialogue. What more could you ask for? The Park Plaza Mall, our location in the film, has just installed a new state-of-the-art security system, complete with steel doors on the exits and three AI-controlled robots with the capability to detain and incapacitate thieves at large. Three sex-crazed couples, and one “doomed to survive” duo, decide to throw a party in one of the furniture stores in the mall where a few of them work. Multiple tit-shots ensue, and an obligatory “yes, yes, you’re the king!” porno-esque dialogue is shared. Things are all going cordially until lightening strikes the mall, and the computer-controlled robots lose their ability to differentiate friend from foe. The movie then plays out quite how you’d expect. The latter 40-ish minutes of the film consists of run, get trapped, fight robots, someone dies, rinse, and repeat. This may sound as a distasteful cash-grab on the Robocop and Short Circuit formula, but god, is it fun to watch.

(Chopping Mall, 1986)

At the very least, the movie seems to acknowledge the absurdity of its own plot, and in somewhat of a nod to the audience, embraces the fact that you know exactly what you’re getting into when watching the film. Its contextual references to exploitation films of the past, notably the scene where Ferdy and ‘Curly-hair’ watch “Attack of the Crab Monsters”, show what the movie is getting at while still preserving the charm that the sleazy horror films asked of directors and actors in the 80’s. This most likely due to the director being Jim Wynorksi, who’s made a career of directing exploitation films and has 75 feature-lengths under his belt. This movie, obviously will strike you as one that is truly garbage. With that in mind, who doesn’t love to watch a garbage fire? The acting can be laughable, the special effects are not great by any standards, and the gore is definitely lacking. The movie itself makes up for all of its downfalls with it’s charm, though. The movie is an invitation to laugh and cringe all at the same time, and never puts itself in a place where you think the creators are taking themselves too seriously. As a horror fan myself, something I could’ve done with more of is the gore. The scene where someone’s head explodes is there, but even that is a quick shot and not as satisfying as going all out in a film like this. On a similar note, a few people also die from electrocution, and where’s the fun in that when these robots are obviously able to explode heads and chuck propane cylinders? The movie does seem to tighten the rope the farther we get into the plot, probably in conjunction the more characters that die, and even at a runtime of 77 minutes, it can seem to be a bit boring at times. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that the surviving characters are your average celibate do-gooders of the 80’s, and don’t have much to offer us besides “thank you, have a nice day”. Still though, what is to be expected in a movie of this caliber, it is harder to ask for deep complex characters in a film that lacks a lot of subtext and plot points to begin with. At its best, Chopping Mall is a bad movie with good watchability, and for that I can’t be mad at it. It’s not an abysmal chef-d’oeuvre, or anything quite good for that matter, but the ride it took me on was enjoyable and the references and laughs I shared with it are ones that I appreciate. With the right friends (or drinks) I’d recommend this film on a night with nothing better to do.

Rating:

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Mandy (2018) – Review

Mandy is a bizarre, psychedelic-fueled ride that will test your patience at parts, and reward your patience at others. Red Miller (Nicholas Cage), and his partner/girlfriend Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) live an idyllic life in the ‘Shadow Mountains’.  That is, until, they cross paths with a small religious cult headed by a self-prophetic leader, Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache). Jeremiah claims he is the god of all things in the universe, and upon seeing Mandy, wants to assumedly recruit or enslave her into being apart of his ‘society’. Things go awry for the couple when Red is left for dead. On a quest of revenge and vengeance, Red encounters four-horsemen-like leather clad bikers, chainsaw battles, and blackish goo that causes us, and Red, to truly question his sanity. Mandy isn’t really a movie about plots, more so about the atmospheric experience that director Panos Cosmatos (Beyond the Black Rainbow) is crafting through distinctive imagery in the movie. The movie feels as though an 80’s metal band’s album cover has come to life, and also implicates other 80’s memorabilia and nostalgia along with it. The revenge formula is there, but one can find themselves wondering what else Cosmatos is communicating through the silver screen.

 The problem with this is that it’s easy to lose viewership along the way, as some people will either stay for the journey that is ‘Mandy’, or check out wondering what kind of art-house bullshit they decided to watch. While both phantasmal and engaging at parts, Panos seems to leave story elements behind for the sake of visual stimuli and creative decision-making.  The possibility of connecting with the movie essentially relies on whether or not this movie’s atmosphere engaged you or not. The overall plot is minimalist, campy, and basic, so the performances the actors give can really be sharp and cutting at times. For example, Nicholas Cage goes full ‘Rage-Cage’ towards the middle and end of the movie, and it really plays to some of the better qualities that this movie has. This movie almost seems designed for the modern-day stigma that Cage carries with him, and he plays into those facets in a remarkably beautiful way. Cage fully embraces the insanity of the film, and I believe that it’s one of its biggest strengths. Mandy, a campy 80’s revenge movie never seems to belittle the viewer or make fun of what’s happening onscreen so much as praise the absurdity of what this movie is.

Cheddar Goblin (Mandy, 2018)

There is a film trapped within this fever dream that only takes a third of the time to deliver the same results, but Cosmatos’ sheer love and indulgence seems to hinder it in some ways. The score of the film (Johan Johannsson) is varied and musically diverse. He draws from the metal influences on this film and creates a sonic backcloth suitable for a film as brazen and distinctive as Mandy. If you can appreciate what this movie is, and not what it could’ve been, it is quite a fun ride. Following the crazy unconventional nature of the film and not as much of the plot and characters still left me to be intrigued and interested in what the film had to say. If you can’t, this movie is definitely one to let slide and maybe not labor through the runtime that hinders it. This criticism may sound discriminating based upon the nature and dreamlike state that film takes place in, but I do believe that even in dreams we tend to flesh out more story and shape to an image. Mandy is a dream with a loose plot structure, impeccable images, and even more remarkable feelings, and that can end up being some of its pitfalls. I do enjoy the strange, but almost wish the strangeness were more connected.

Rating:

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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