Friday, June 21, 2013

Worth Mentioning - Release the Beast

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody tells of murderous swamp ghosts, thieving magicians, and a frightening future.

HATCHET (2006)

There's a legend in the Louisiana swampland on the outskirts of New Orleans of a boy named Victor Crowley, born so deformed that his caring father kept him hidden away in their isolated shack, safe from the cruelties of the outside world. Until one Halloween, when a group of trick or treating went to the Crowley shack to pull a trick while Victor was home alone, attempting to scare him into coming out of the shack and showing himself by tossing firecrackers around the place. But their plan went wrong, a firecracker accidentally caused the shack to burst into flames. Victor was trapped inside. His father arrived and tried to bust through the front door with a hatchet, not knowing that Victor was pressed up against the other side. The hatchet hit Victor in the face, killing him. His father was so distraught that he died of a broken heart not long after. Now they say that Victor's spirit is trapped in the Honey Island Swamp, in his perception reliving the night of his death over and over, manifesting in the swamp nightly to roam around, crying out for his daddy... And if anyone is unlucky enough to cross paths with Victor, he murders them, blaming them for the pain and death that outsiders have brought upon him and his father.

The legend of Victor Crowley, a.k.a. Hatchet Face, was conceived by writer/director Adam Green when he was just eight years old but already an established fan of horror and slashers. While he was attending camp, a counselor warned him about a certain cabin, "Stay away from that cabin or Hatchet Face will get you." But the counselor had no information on this Hatchet Face boogeyman beyond the name, so it was up to Green's young imagination to cook up the Crowley backstory.

Around twenty years after first thinking Crowley up, Green was able to bring his creation to cinematic life, and his fandom of the Friday the 13th franchise had made him familiar with the man he ended up casting to play his slasher, four time Jason Voorhees performer Kane Hodder.

The Hatchet saga begins with Robert Englund (Nightmare on Elm Street's Freddy Krueger) and The Blair Witch Project's Joshua Leonard (Humpday) as father/son alligator hunters Sampson and Ainsley Dunston, who have tracked a twelve foot gator into a restricted area of the swamp. The hunters become the hunted when they enter Victor Crowley's territory.

Not long after the pre-title kill sequence, a lovesick college kid named Ben bails on Mardi Gras and takes a "haunted swamp tour" boat ride out into the bayou at night. Also on the boat are a friend of Ben's who decided to accompany him, a middle-aged couple on vacation, a pervy videographer from the softcore porn company Bayou Beavers, two bickering breast-baring models, the tour's unscrupulous and inexperienced guide, and a young woman named Marybeth, whose secret reason for taking this ride out into the swamp is so she can look for her missing father and brother, the Dunston guys.

When the Scare Boat accidentally sinks, its passengers are stranded in the Honey Island Swamp, and soon start getting picked off by Victor Crowley.

Though it doesn't feel quite so long, there are forty-five minutes of set-up and comedic banter, as well as a cameo by Candyman/Night of the Living Dead (1990)'s Tony Todd as a voodoo shop owner called Reverend Zombie, between the opening kills and when we next see Victor Crowley in action. The wait is worth it, because the rest of the kills that are packed into the film's last 30 minutes are its main selling point. With John Carl Beuchler (Slave Girls from Beyond Infinity) providing the special effects, the kills are brutal, gory, bloody as hell, as Crowley hacks into people with various implements or just tears them apart with his bare hands. Beuchler directed Kane Hodder in his Jason debut, Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood, a film which was butchered by the MPAA even worse than the victims in it. Fans long pined to see the excised gore footage, finally getting a look at it in recent years but only in the form of poor quality VHS footage. Beuchler got to make up for what was lost from that movie with this one.

Viewers who know the Friday the 13th movies will pick up on homages throughout Hatchet, but Kane Hodder plays its killer quite differently than he played his zombified version of Jason. His Victor Crowley is fast, jittery and spastic. This character isn't much for calm stalking or deliberate movements, there's no subtlety, when Crowley spots a potential victim he rushes in with a roar.

Hatchet is a fun slasher with some awesome death scenes, but it doesn't rank up there among my top favorites. It just doesn't take my ideal approach to the subgenre: I prefer slashers to pick off unaware victims one-by-one, whereas this film, like many modern slasher flicks, has its whole group of characters find out about the killer together, making the last 30 minutes one long chase sequence involving everybody. The movie also has a bit too much goofy humor my taste. I enjoy having some comedy mixed in with my horror, as in Jason Lives, and I especially like the comedy of hysteria, characters that are freaked out of their minds can be hilarious to watch. Perfect examples of that include The Return of the Living Dead, or outside of horror the adrenaline scene in Pulp Fiction. Most of the comedy in this one just doesn't work as well for me as I would've liked. Some of it's amusing, but it takes me out of the situation.

Although, the comedy does make some of the moments of violence all the more horrific. When one of the more likeably silly characters is crawling around in agony after having their jaw removed with a belt sander, that is disturbing.


The man who was at the helm of the 2008 Incredible Hulk reboot, Louis Leterrier, directs a cast headed up by The Avengers' Hulk Marc Ruffalo, who was reportedly Leterrier's first choice to play Bruce Banner in his Hulk movie before the role went to Edward Norton. Here Ruffalo plays FBI agent Dylan Rhodes, who's investigating The Four Horsemen (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, and Dave Franco), a group of magicians who somehow pull off multi-million dollar heists during their performances and give the stolen funds to their audience.

It's up to Rhodes and a female Interpol agent played by Inglourious Basterds' Mélanie Laurent to figure out how the Horsemen can pull off jobs like extracting 3 million euros from a bank in Paris and send it raining down on a crowd in Las Vegas while they're live on stage, then try to put a stop to their antics before they complete the three act plan they're believed to have. Also mixed up in all this is a wealthy benefactor played by Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman as a professional magic debunker.

It's quite entertaining watching the Horsemen pull off their capers and rooting for them to get away with it, even while spending most of the running time with the agents trying to stop them. It's also interesting when the magic tricks they use to pull off the robberies are broken down and viewers can decide whether any of it is at all plausible. Well paced, with a great ensemble of actors and an intriguing story, Now You See Me is a whole lot of fun and well worth checking out.

THE PURGE (2013)

Sometime in the next few years, the United States comes to accept a group of New Founding Fathers who turn the country around. In this nation reborn, crime is at a record low, unemployment drops to 1%. The key to the U.S. becoming a peaceful utopia? Once a year, from 7pm on March 21st to 7am on 3/22, all crime is legal. This allows the citizens their Annual Purge, the chance to release their anger and hatred, their pent-up desires. They can do anything they want - murder, rape, pillage - with no fear of consequence, it's not only perfectly legal but encouraged and widely celebrated.

Set in 2022, the story of the film centers on the Sandin family; parents James and Mary, teenage daughter Zoey, oddball youngster Charlie, and Timmy, the remote controlled tank - baby doll hybrid surveillance bot Charlie has created; who live in a well-off neighborhood full of homes that are tricked out with the security system James sells. The Sandins do not participate in the Purge themselves, they spend the night of lawlessness locked safely away in their home. But if this was just another average Purge night for them, there would be no movie.

Things go very wrong for the Sandins when Charlie, who is uncomfortable with the idea of the Purge and the support that it gets, sees a wounded homeless man stumbling down his street, calling out for help. Charlie lets the man into his home, and in doing so puts the lives of his family in danger.

The people who were chasing the man, a bunch of upper crust college kids wearing masks and toting guns and various other weapons, arrive at the Sandins' front door and demand that their targeted victim be returned to them. The man who they have in their home had the audacity to fight back when assaulted, he killed one of their own. In the eyes of these murderous "Haves", this homeless man is subhuman, a swine, he exists only for them to use for their purge. If the Sandins don't turn the man over to them, the masked group will bust their way into the home and kill everyone.

As you can imagine, the killers do end up infiltrating the house.

When I saw the trailer for The Purge, it made me want to see the movie but I also didn't fully get it. The whole idea of the Purge itself (which writer/director James DeMonaco acknowledges was inspired by the "red hour" in the Star Trek episode The Return of the Archons), I didn't understand why it was necessary for there to be such a high concept set-up for what appeared to be another home invasion horror flick along the lines of Ils, The Strangers, Inside, etc. While it is very reminiscent of some of those earlier films, The Purge does bring up some interesting issues during the proceedings and does wisely set up a world that's ripe for being explored further over the course of sequels.

The Purge is a decent thrill ride. I wouldn't call it a great film, there are some repetitive elements that took me out of it at times - DeMonaco really liked wounding his characters in the left side of their abdomens, people in a power position keep dicking around long enough for others to get the drop on them - but I really enjoyed watching it overall. DeMonaco came dangerously close at one point to ensuring that I would never watch the movie again, but pulled back from the direction it was going and kept it on the Worth Mentioning track. Something about it made it feel like something I would've watched on cable twenty years ago, but maybe that was just the inclusion of Timmy the tank-doll reminding me of Full Moon movies.

The cast is very good, from actors I was familiar with like Tape and Sinister's Ethan Hawke (who has long been a favorite of mine) and Dredd's Lena Headey, to ones who I was seeing for the first time. In particular, Rhys Wakefield is fantastic as the psychotic rich boy who leads the killer gang.

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