27 February 2012

TRAIN/2008/THORA BIRCH

Does seem there are things worse for bands of American teenagers than having their car break down somewhere in the Smoky Mountains, and that is traveling and partying through Eastern Europe. The type of demented running around the villages and forests of Belarus or Romania make the hicks in the backwoods of Georgia and Mississippi look like a bunch of happy Mormons. In 2008’s Train, directed by Gideon Raff, is just too reminiscent of 2006’s Hostel to not bring it up at the beginning of things here. It is obviously inspired by Eli Roth’s film and at times inspiration seems to blend into simply redoing the film in some ways. But it is not really a rip off film as far as I am concerned though fans of Hostel will see the similarities in the films atmosphere, general story line and intense gore and violence. The film was shot in Bulgaria and is supposed to take place in the Ukraine, where an American wrestling team has traveled for some sort of tournament. Among the wrestler is Alex, played by the usually capable Thora Birch. She does well enough here but I had some problems with her, though I loved her work in films like American Beauty and Ghost World. And my problems is not that she did badly at all, but that she seemed really too good to be in this film. Lot of hostility towards the film online as far as reviews goes. Actually hard to find a few that were favorable. And while not a great film, and not one for the squeamish or people not on psychotropic medications, it is not really a bad horror film in terms of story, direction, photography, acting and special effects. People who hate the way CGI effect looks should be happy since the effects here seem to be all old school special effects. And they are done very good and at times they were more than a bit unnerving. I seem to have gotten a hold of the unrated version of the film which includes quite a few scenes trimmed by Lionsgate to get an R rating for some limited degree of commercial distribution in the States. The gore and violence in this thing is simply over the top and I cannot recommend this one to everybody. And of course, that is probably going to make more people run out and check it out.

While the focus of Hostel (a film I did not much care for really and which, like Train, I will probably not watch twice) was a group of teenagers being tortured by high-paying thrill seekers, the bad guys in Train are essentially harvesting organs and body parts to sell on the insidiously evil black market in East Europe. The team is in a rush to get to Odessa for their wrestling meet and take an offer from a skinny, gaunt faced women with a strong accent that it just so happens her train is on the way to Odessa, and they can all buy tickets on the train. A couple of goofy yokels help the team aboard and then take all their passports, to “keep them safe from thieves”. The passports end up in the incinerator in no time and the members being gathered up and tortured, murdered and cut into pieces by a gang of Eurotrash butchers. Leading them in the mayhem is brawny and ruthless Vlad. The teens realize something is up and seek help from the conductor, but it is a simple case of not being able to trust anybody and that everybody on the train is involved in some way or another, either actively or passively. And since they are on a train there is no escape though the film nevers seems to be able to capture the real claustrophobia this situation should creat. But even though they only have these long corridors to run up and down they do seem to manage to avoid detection and manage to get lose one another quite a few times. Once one of the team is caught and winds up in the machine room, where Vlad does his work, it is all pretty grisly. Like I said, the effects are pretty darn good and really unsettling for the most part.

This is all just torture porn of course. Much of the gore and violence is gratuitous and deliberately over the top. Gore hounds should not be disappointed. I have seen plenty of gore films in my day and while not a fan of the genre I like to check it out here and there. I enjoy well done violence in films and have to say, again, that the effects in this one are pretty convincing. Much can be said about the cinematography as well and music score. Over all the film is very well made and acted. The problem of course is with the rather lowbrow story that, like Hostel, makes Eastern Europe look like some sordid hell hole of sleazy discothèques and neo-Nazi types with nothing better to do than stalk tourists. Hell might be true for all I know, but it just seems like the formula of lost/stranded/stalked city teens was transplanted from rural USA to the Ukraine. But to be honest, I sort of like that twist. And for whatever reason a lot of films are being produced and shot in East Europe anyway, though the location is sometimes supposed to be the US still. This was the case with Amusement (reviewed here a few posts ago) and with the upcoming review of The Hills Run Red. I am not sure why this is though I suspect saving money is somehow involved. So far have not found information online why studios prefer former communist bloc nations to the heartland of America, but it seems to be a trend. If anybody has insight to this please let me know.

25 February 2012

THE VAGRANT/1992/BILL PAXTON

I caught this film on a thing here in China called PPTV on our iPad. It is some sort of streaming software and has TV shows and movies of different sorts that have had Chinese subtitles added to them. I did not expect much from this film as the user ratings were a bit low really –as they are on IMBD- but I was really surprised and enjoyed this effective little black comedy and thriller from Director Chris Walas (more known really for his special effects work) and producer Mel Brooks. The films one of my favorite actors Bill Paxton as yuppie analysist Graham Krakowski who is certain he is going to that promotion at the office he works at and so purchases a home. The place is a fixer-upper but Graham is pretty sure things are going to work out and even his gold-digging girl friend Edie (Mitzi Kapture) should be pleased. What Graham does not realize is that the house comes with it own homeless vagrant who refuses to leave or let Graham have any peace. Graham is quickly revolted by the one-eyed bum (played to full creepy effectiveness by Marshall Bell) and becomes obsessed with knowing where the vagrant is at all times. He is constantly calling 9-11 with complaints and soon realizes the guy must have some sort of access to his house. He goes into a state of near paranoia as he sets up a security system in his house and is not sure at times if he is dreaming when he sees the creep in his house at night.

Things get more complicated and tense for Graham when he begins to wonder not only if the bum is a local serial killer but whether he himself is the killer and the bum is a figment of some sort of psychosis he is suffering. Detective Barfuss (played by Michael Ironside in a rare and well done comedy role) does not believe there is any vagrant and is sure Graham really is the very serial killer he has been searching for. Well of course things only get worse and worse for Graham and things with the girlfriend don’t work out. Nor does the coveted promotion after his horny real estate agent is found in his refrigerator in a serving tray. He manages to garner the mercy of a jury and avoids murder charges and ends up a white trash trailer park manager. But of course the vagrant is not done with him as there is more to the bum than simply being a homeless derelict. The film is really well done and Bill Paxton in particular is great in one scene after another as the tormented yuppie who has no clue as to why his once predictable life is now one nightmare after another. I found the film online actually and posted as a feature over at The Uranium Café Matinee. Click the link below to see the film. Worth a viewing for fans of black humor.

SEE THE VAGRANT AT THE URANIUM CAFE MATINEE HERE 

07 February 2012

AMUSEMENT/2009

Sometimes when a film takes too much of a beating online I get a little sympathetic and try to find some quality that is a bit redeeming in it. I think to enjoy most horror films, whether modern or not, you have to be a tad forgiving. If I could not stomach plot holes and over acting (or no acting) then I probably would not watch horror films all all for the most part. Now that being said I have to admit that 2009’s Amusement –directed John Simpson, who has only one other film to his credit, Freeze Frame, and that was released five years earlier in 2004, meaning this guy does not do too much- was not a great film story wise. As are many horror films to be frank. The story is full of illogic and gaps that require massive leaps of suspension of disbelief. I am serious about this. Just the opening sequence involving a “convoy” of cars and a truck, driven by a wasted Kevin Gage who has only a few minutes on screen at best, is simply absurd in the way it plays out. It almost is reliant on the bad guy, known in the credits as The Laugh, being clairvoyant or able to see into the future in order for things to play out then way they do. And his character is not psychic, and there is no way he could have predicted certain events that happen on the road trip in order to 1) realize his devious plot of revenge and 2) at the same time shift suspicion from the real killer to another character so that we are surprised a few minutes later. Rather than feeling shocked we are left feeling a bit confused and wondering if we missed something. In fact you are left feeling that way through the entire film, which went straight to DVD upon its release.

The story is about acts of elaborate revenge that The Laugh –named some because of his annoying, rather than frightening, laugh- wrecks upon three women, Shelby, Tabitha and Lisa. The reason for this, as far as we can tell from flashbacks, is because they all made little boxes with a hole in them that you peer into and see a setup little scene, and the girls did not like his because it had a tortured little mouse or squirrel in it. His asks them if it is funny and they let him know they do not. He is later sent to a mental institution and upon release seeks out the girls for revenge for not liking his little scene. The revenge episodes are just too complicated and you again are left wondering how the guy can finance all of this. For example he has access to a massive factory space –like the killers in many of these torture- porn flicks do- and in that space he has designed complicated devices and moving walls of glass that simply defies reason. How could this guy get this space and design all of these gadgets and then finance getting them built? He just got out of a nut house for Pete’s sake. Another sequence involves him as a scary clown and yet another where he runs a creepy and decrepit hotel or guest house that nobody in their right mind would stay at. And yet there are enough regular guests to keep a room full of beds full of tortured and dead past guests fully occupied. Luckily the police or FBI have never decided to investigate the disappearance of all these local women who were last known to spend a night at the strange inn. The character of The Laugh is forgettable and we are treated to a fairly decent final girl confrontation between and the last girl standing character, Tabitha.