A trio of films featuring snakes, The Dragon, and human cruelty.
I've been a fan of Stephen King since I was very young and have read most of the novels he has written, so by extension I am very interested in the works of his son Joe Hill, who has followed in his father's footsteps and become a genre novelist. I have still never picked up a Hill novel, but after watching Horns, which was directed by Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes remake, Piranha 3D, P2, Maniac remake) and is based on Hill's second book, I am left with the impression that Hill must be a very unique talent in his own right, as this was a highly intriguing, very strange horror mystery.
Daniel Radcliffe stars as Ig Perrish, a young man who is considered the prime suspect in the murder of the love of his life Merrin (Juno Temple). With crowds of people picketing his house and condemning him to Hell, it seems almost fitting when he wakes up one morning to find that a pair of demonic-looking horns have started growing from his head.
Something about these horns warp the minds of the people Ig comes in contact with. They notice the horns, but don't think much of them, and are compelled to tell him their deepest, darkest, often naughtiest secrets. They have no filter around him. This odd superpower that Ig has somehow gained could be very useful in his search for Merrin's real killer...
While Ig goes on this quest, Hill's story draws comparisons to his father's work by featuring flashbacks to some of Ig's childhood experiences with his brother and friends. Groups of adventurous youths is something that's sort of a King trademark. Out of the childhood scenes spins the flashback love story of Ig and Merrin, a deep and intense relationship that starts to hurt like hell even before ending in her tragic death.
I found Horns to be a rather fascinating film, and I was completely invested in finding out the answer to the "whodunit?" aspect. There are some surprises along the way, some nasty moments of violence, and the supernatural element - which gradually goes even further than the horns and confessions, including Ig having a new connection with snakes - added a whole extra level of interest.
The actors deliver great performances, from Radcliffe and Temple to Kathleen Quinlan and James Remar as Ig's tormented parents, Joe Anderson as his troubled brother, Kelli Garner as his donut-loving friend, Heather Graham as a local nutcase, and Max Minghella, with a wonderful screen presence, as his best friend Lee, who also happens to be his lawyer.
Now I'm looking forward to seeing (and reading) more from the mind of Hill.
BLOODFIST II (1990)
In Bloodfist, retired boxer Jake Raye (Don "The Dragon" Wilson) became a kickboxer and entered a dangerous tournament to avenge the murder of his half-brother Michael, who was played by Ned Hourani. Raye accomplished his mission there, but obviously got a taste for kickboxing, as the sequel begins with him continuing the fight as a professional kickboxer and the reigning light heavyweight champion of the world. His career comes to an end when he unintentionally kills his latest opponent in the ring. That's traumatizing enough on its own, but when you take into account the fact that this opponent is played by Ned Hourani, you can imagine it's even worse to be responsible for the death of a guy who is identical to your murdered brother.
Jake returns to the retired life, only to be called back into action some time later by a friend who has gotten mixed up in some bad business with a lowlife named Su (Joe Mari Avellana, who played a different character in the previous movie) in Manila, the setting of the first Bloodfist.
Met in the Philippines by multiple attackers, Jake discovers that Su is abducting champion fighters and having them taken to a private island called Paradise, where they are forced to compete against Su's own group of fighters in a gladiator tournament. The matches are fights to the death, and Su has tipped the scales in favor of his men by giving them a souped-up, undetectable steroid. This tournament is just a demonstration for his gambling buddies to show off the benefits of this steroid.
Bloodfist I was a version of a familiar story, and as you can see, screenwriter Catherine Cyran didn't aim for originality with this one, either.
Jake figures out what's going on by being abducted himself. He has to thwart these evil shenanigans while also being forced to take part in them, which is a lot for anyone to take on, and yet along the way he even finds the time to embark on a romance with Su's reluctant henchwoman Mariella (Rina Reyes) and deliver a message: "When you fight on drugs, you don't win anything!"
Bloodfist II endeavors to give the audience what they're looking for by packing a whole lot of fighting into its running time. It's never dull, but it's also not all that good. This is the one and only directorial credit for Andy Blumenthal, and it's kind of understandable why he never directed again, as he didn't bring much to the table here. As cheap and unpolished as the first movie seemed, this sequel comes off as being even more low rent.
But is anyone really going to find a lack of technical artistry to be a substantial detriment to their Bloodfist II viewing experience? It's not as good as the first movie, it's so simple that it barely seems like a movie, but it features a ton of the sort of old school fisticuffs you're expecting to see when you put it on. How much more can you really ask for?
When the credits start rolling at the 77 minute mark, that's the end of the line for Jake Raye. Don "The Dragon" Wilson would go on to star in six more Bloodfist films, but never portrayed this character again. They really could have started changing the name here, because there is no connection to the first movie beyond the name Jake Raye, and they were already re-using actors for Wilson's supporting cast.
The following review originally appeared on ArrowintheHead.com
CRUEL SUMMER (2015)
The directing duo of Phillip Escott and Craig Newman have made a stunning, chilling feature debut for themselves with Cruel Summer, a film which claims to be based on unspecified true events. Even if the exact case it was inspired by isn't directly stated, or even if no true crime case went down exactly as things play out in the film, any viewer is likely to be familiar with some similar scenario, a tragic story of people preying on someone weaker for incomprehensible reasons, or for no particular reason at all. The knowledge that this sort of thing really happens quite frequentlty makes watching these dramatized events all the more disturbing.
A Welsh production, Cruel Summer stars Richard Pawulski as Danny, a young man with autism who isn't letting his condition hold him back in life. He's seeking a little independence, and he wants to better his standing in the Duke of Edinburgh's Award rankings, the DofE being a program that award young people for going through self-improvement exercises. The exercise Danny embarks on as the film begins is a solo camping trip, an exercise that will unfortunately make him very vulnerable.
Pawulski delivers a great, endearing performance, and as we watch Danny go about his day and have awkward interactions with people, we get a good sense of who he is. We come to care for him. He's a good, thoughtful kid, with sweet, caring parents. He hasn't done anything wrong, and wouldn't.
But rumors begin to be spread about Danny. When tough kid Nicholas (Danny Miller) has a blow-out with his girlfriend, his pal Julia (Natalie Martins), who would like to have Nicholas to herself, comes up with a lie that Nicholas's girlfriend, who was a virgin until they got together, was with several guys before Nicholas. The one she names is Danny, "that spastic kid". Julia is just hoping that she'd be able to lure Nicholas from the other girl with this lie. She doesn't consider how dangerous Nicholas's bruised ego might be.
Nicholas immediately launches into a rage, deciding he needs to go beat the hell out Danny, or worse. Julia is so enamored with him that she's willing to along with whatever he wants. To make things even less fair, they recruit the aid of their friend Calvin (Reece Douglas) on their violent mission by making up another lie about Danny, this one that Danny is a rapist pedophile, a danger to Calvin's little sister.
The trio's search for Danny leads them into the woods where Danny is camping alone, and as these storylines and characters near convergence, the feeling of dread becomes palpable. As troubling as the situation is in itself, the score composed by Josef Prygodzicz makes it even more effective, almost unbearably unnerving. Cruel Summer may not be a horror movie in the strictest sense, but it's certainly horrific.
Also making the film work as well as it does is the fact that Escott and Newman did an incredible job in making the movie seem very real. There isn't a false step at any point, this truly feels like life playing out on the screen, a terrible event captured on camera as it occurs in a beautiful location.
As of this writing, Cruel Summer has not yet secured a distributor and is just starting to make its way out into the festival circuit. It remains to be seen how things will go for it, but I believe that it is going to go over very well, and that Escott, Newman, and the cast are going to receive a lot of deserved positive attention. This is a fantastic indie thriller that will get under your skin and hurt you, and when the chance arises I highly recommend that you let it do so.