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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The Art of Horror Comedy

Genres. We know the main ones: comedy, drama, horror, romance, science fiction, western, musical, action, adventure, etc. We know that genre is a term applied usually to some sort of personalities or tropes found in films that make them easily identifiable when categorizing movies. Without them, it would be almost impossible to locate films similar to one another and we would never actually know what we are getting into. That being said, genre can be flexible. Filmmakers can use the expectancies we enforce on genres to shock us. Shifting from one to another, or taking aspects from different genres altogether, genre can become fluid in the eyes of filmmakers and watchers alike. Most often, we see elements of a particular genre combined with the comedic genre; this is apparent in: romantic comedies, action comedies, musical comedies, and, my favorite, horror comedy.

            Horror comedy, by nature, seems off. In theory, both genres are purposed to illicit entirely different emotions from a person. Comedy makes us laugh, happy, and filled with joy. Horror, on the other hand, plays with our fears, scares us, and most importantly, creates disruption and stress in our life. These two genres also give us some of the two most visceral reactions found in genres. When successful, we are either uncontrollably laughing, or fear-stricken. Though they are different, comedy and horror both affect us on a base level. Joyous. Fearful. These are two of our most human qualities in life. It is also the qualities that set these two genres apart from others. So what happens, when we blur the lines between these two genres?

            One of the most popular ways to weave these two genres together is to put a comedic character in a terror-filled situation. We see this pretty early on, with films such as Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), their other ‘Universal Monster’ counterparts, and the duo’s first horror comedy Hold That Ghost (1941).  The two actors provide comedic relief, and the horror elements of the film are almost secondary to the comedic genre. We see the trend continue into films of today as well, with films such as Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Eli Craig’s Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil (2010). The film is almost just one genre, and horror just seems to be a set piece or segway to more comedic elements.

We also have what is known as the “meta” approach to horror comedy. This is where the comedy isn’t as outright, with comedic elements coming to fruition from recognition of horror tropes and qualities predictably found within the genre. These films have been increasingly prevalent since the 1990’s, with Wes Craven’s Scream (1996) and New Nightmare (1994), as well as Drew Goddard’s The Cabin in The Woods (2011). In both of these methods, comedic characters and comedic Meta, we normally find quite a balance. The movie will give us a horror scene, as well as a comedic one, and typically allow for the film to be considered what we refer to as a “horror comedy”. There is another approach though, and this is evident in the films that Sam Raimi has made, originating with Evil Dead II (1987).

            There is nothing in particular that makes these movies comedic, and on paper, they should be deemed to be ‘classic horror’. In Raimi’s films, and films inspired by his work, the scary parts are also the funny parts. The scenes that make some people’s blood curdle; make other’s burst with laughter. The characters aren’t necessarily comic relief, and the situations in which they find themselves in aren’t either. We get something similar to comedic films though, and that’s the set-up and payoff. In comedies, we get a joke set-up, and we see how it plays out on screen. In Raimi’s films, we see a suspenseful situation, payoff with a scare. Instead of separating the two into scary parts, and funny parts, they become interlaced and as a result, are the same thing. Oddly enough, the first Evil Dead (1981) doesn’t follow this route. The film is a straight-up horror film and takes itself quite genuinely. The sequel on the other hand, while almost indistinguishable, finds a way to tilt itself into the absurd and allow for a horror to become a comedy without spoon-feeding you jokes or things of the sort. The key thing in this situation would be the nature of the film.

            The stage is set by exaggeration. Dialogue. Cinematography. Effects. Sound. All are made almost extreme, and allow for a movie that is obviously horror, to tip into the comedic realm. Once the tone is set, Raimi can use things like sound and camera movements to evoke comedic elements in a film that in theory is horror. One example, which I can think of, is the excessive amounts of gore and gross-outs that Raimi will use. The blood we see on film can be in absurd otherworldly proportions, and that, in unrealism, is comedic. There is also intense melodrama, such as when characters share heartfelt moments in nonsense situations that bring out comedic elements in a horror film. Maggots. Decapitations. Disembowelments. All of these can be comedic if the correct tonal approach is taken to creating and crafting the scene.

            This is the art of the Raimi film. Creating a movie that can evoke multiple emotions at once, tickling our brains, and puts us in a place that we are unsure of what is to come next, and in that non-predictableness allow ourselves to see the absurdity and laugh at it in these extreme situations. Fights can be gut wrenching, jaw dropping, and belly crushing. Oddly enough, most movies require a familiar tone throughout to be successful, both critically and commercially. This is evident with most films that we consider to be some of the universally accepted ‘greatest’ of all time. Coppola’s The Godfather (1972) maintains a serious and dramatic tone throughout, never flinching and allowing the viewer to become invested in what the movie has to say. It’s fascinating how Raimi can take the exact opposite approach and still achieve similar results. His inability to stay in a singular space makes his films more creative, intuitive, and gripping. For this reason, I think it’s important that we recognize what horror comedy is as a genre, and its importance to the evolution of horror as a whole.

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:

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Halloween (1978) – Analysis

Halloween is the godfather to all modern slasher flicks, specifically the ones in which a group of teenagers fall victim to a weapon-wielding psychopath who hacks and slashes his way through them. The teenagers who have sex die, and the one’s who don’t live. That’s the formula, and John Carpenter concocted it all with the release of Halloween. Though many have attempted to recreate the magic, only a select few have reached the heights that Halloween has through both visuals and sensibility. The movie begins with one of the most spellbinding scores I can think of in cinema, and it pierces you right to the bone. The stabs of synth and piano are hinting at so much, and in combination with the first shots of Michael Myers, our antagonist, the tone of the movie is set right from the beginning. Although the movie may lead you to believe that the film is going to be through Michael’s eyes, since that is how it is depicted at first with a single take from the six-year-olds point of view, the movie that will take place is vehemently opposite. Showcasing a technique that has become a staple of the horror genre, Carpenter structures shots from behind objects, only to reveal what is unseen beyond that object by moving the camera. This is first seen when we see Michael’s home, the first of many reveals.

            Although the movie begins with Michael’s escapades of murdering his family, coincidentally on the night of Halloween, the focus of the story shifts to Laurie Strode, and instead of falling into the ditch where most other slashers reside, Halloween makes a name for itself by focusing on the psychology of our protagonist, Laurie. Laurie lives in the same location as Michael Myers’ family’s murders, some 15 years later after the fact. On Halloween, she has to babysit whilst her friends are trying to scheme and come up with ways to meet with their boyfriends. This is opposite of our protagonist, as she seems to be withholding those impulses, though it is known she does have a crush on one of her classmates. Jamie Lee Curtis, or Laurie, seems to have skipped the entire phase of teenage rebellion, and gone straight to the maternal and more logical qualities that we see with maturity, or perhaps with anxiety. With that in mind, it makes the actual murders and sexual punishments of Michael’s much less significant when comparing them to the overarching themes that are Laurie’s anxious nightmares, embodied by Michael’s doings. It is important to note that we do get more background on Michael, specifically from his doctor or psychiatrist, but the devices used to convey these messages are unnatural and forced, and the film may as well lose them all together. I believe it is a much more interesting story to visualize Michael as the personification of what Laurie fears most, and that’s the anxiety and struggles that come with being a stereotypical teenager.

            This works well with how Michael is perceived in the movie, thanks to Carpenter and cinematographer Dean Cundey. Michael is merely a conjectural or imaginary presence in a very real world. Once Michael begins stalking Laurie, some scenes point to this theory, such as him standing outside in the middle of the day wearing his infamous mask and boiler suit. It gives the impression that maybe only Laurie can see him, or if not, does not care whether or not others can see him at all. Its also important to note his resilience to pain and his magical ability to disappear almost as soon as he appeared. With credence to the aforementioned theories, I think it’s important to discuss the ending of the film, which can seem almost embarrassing. Several times we see Michael attempt to stab or slice Laurie and miss completely; Laurie also throws her knife away before making sure Michael is dead and even turns her back on him several times. I think it’s unrealistic to think that Carpenter has suddenly lost his affection for the “blocking shots” used in the beginning of the film for the third act. Perhaps this is intentional, allowing us to see everything going on because what we are seeing may in fact be taking place internally. After all, the film does end with Michael disappearing yet again, allowing us to fight our demons, win sometimes, but inevitably, have to face them again sometime down the road.

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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