Archive for February 21, 2011

"I Spit on Your Grave" (2010) Movie Poster

Well, here it is. The remake of the mother of all rape-revenge films, and one your host had been looking forward to, sure, bu I don’t mind admitting that my eagerness was mixed with more than a little trepidation. Turns out I needn’t have worried — at least not that much.

Our story’s essentially the same — young up-and-coming New York City novelist Jennifer Hills (Sarah Butler — don’t ask me why the added an S to the end of the character’s last name here)  heads to a quiet cabin in the country in order to find the peace and solitude she needs to write her next book. Along the way, she draws the unwanted attention of some local redneck yokels at a gas station and these guys find out where she’s staying and use the excuse of trying to pop their mentally retarded buddy’s cherry as the pretense for a night (and day) of brutal gang rape. Things get ugly. Damn ugly. They toss her in the river and figure she’s dead (a solid plot derivation from the original wherein they just sent their slow-witted friend in there to finish her off and he, of course, can’t do it, but tells the fellas he did). She’s not, though, and spends te next month or so surviving on her wits in the forest and plotting her revenge.

And what a revenge it is. Frankly, the way remake director Steven R. Monroe (who’s got a very solid knack for visuals and pacing, by the way, and brings out some strong performances in his central cast, particularly on the part of Ms. Butler, who delivers and extraordinary turn in the lead role, and Jeff Branson, who plays leader of the pack Johnny) and screenwriter Stuart Morse structure this new version makes a hell of a lot more sense than Meir Zarchi’s original — the gang-rape sequence is not nearly as drawn out, yet it’s (perhaps paradoxically) even more psychologically disturbing than it was the first time around. And the emphasis is squarely on the revenge aspect of the story, which, while certainly creative, always felt a bit slapped-together in the original (she didn’t even bother to save the ringleader of the gang for her last victim in it, for instance — although admittedly he did suffer the most gruesome fate).

Some of the more visceral horror of the first, though, is frankly missing. Sitting through the entire extended gang-rape in the original is admittedly a very tough proposition, but you really do feel like the bastards had it coming (and then some) when they get theirs. Here, it feels like she’s paying them all back with more than sufficient interest because the (admittedly quite expected, given the day and age we’re living in) Saw-style torture-porn scenarios she concocts to exact her pound of flesh upon her perpetrators (especially the last one) are seriously depraved and feel more thought-out (because they obviously were). This isn’t bad, per se, but the end result is to make Jenny Hill(s) feel more like your standard cinematic calculatingly revenge-obsessed  killer and less like an unpredictable force of naturally righteous anger.

On the whole, though, it works, so I’m not complaining, and the decision to add the local sheriff (Andrew Howard in yet another of this film’s terrific performances) into the mix as well adds an extra layer of horror to the proceedings, as does the time the filmmakers spend showing said sheriff’s apparently happy domestic life. It shows that monsters may indeed lurk amongst us and these evil bastards are, in fact, good to other people — something only vaguely hinted at by Zarchi.

The end result is a more mature and sophisticated work of horror cinema, and a more violent one to be sure, but one that lacks a little bit of the sheer visceral energy and power of the original. It’s both more creatively realized and more horrifying in many respects, but lacks some of it’s predecessor’s harrowing, soul-shattering fury. For fans of the original I certainly recommend it without reservation, and it’s a damn site better than almost all of the other horror remakes out there, but dues to the (entirely understandable) shift in emphasis to be weighted more heavily on the revenge side of the equation, and its (again entirely understandable) nod to modern horror conventions, it’s a different viewing experience. Just as shocking, to be sure, maybe even moreso, but on the whole maybe just a touch less powerful than that which came before it.

Given that this flick never made it to my native Twin Cities during its extremely truncated theatrical run, I snapped it up off Netflix the second it became available on DVD, and Anchor Bay has done a really nice job on that front. The wide-screen picture and 5.1 sound mix are great, and the extras include a making-of featurette, the full theatrical trailer as well as a “teaser” trailer, a radio spot that evidently ran in the San Francisco area, and a full-length commentary from director Monroe and producer Lisa Hansen that gets a little bit pretentious at times but on the whole is very involving and well worth a listen.

I Spit On Your Grave (2010) , while taking the story in some directions I approve of and others I’m not so hot on, is a more than worthy heir to its groundbreaking source material and is a gut-wrenching and important entry into the annals of horror cinema. If this kind of thing is, in fact, your kind of thing, you’d be doing yourself a massive disservice if you don’t check it out.

 

Adam Green's "Hatchet II" Movie Poster

It hasn’t been too terribly long since we took a look at the first Hatchet flick around here as part of our 2010 Halloween 12-pack, but as the sequel, Hatchet II (properly referred to, I guess, as Adam Green’s Hatchet II) just came out on DVD from Dark Sky Films (who also handles its — admittedly limited — theatrical run), and the second movie picks up exactly where the first one left off, we might as well jump right in and review it right it straight away.

So Marybeth (Danielle Harris) escapes the clutches of murderous deformed psycho Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder, everybody’s favorite Jason) and after finding no shelter with a backwoods survivalist (horror EFX legend and occasional director John Carl Buechler) high-tails it back to Reverend Zombie (the Candyman himself, Tony Todd)’s cut-rate French Quarter voodoo shop in the hopes that he’ll have a strong enough conscience to decide to go back and try to retrieve his boat, look for what’s left of his tour guide, and maybe even help her rid the world of the Crowley menace once and for all.

To her (and let’s admit it, our) surprise, the not-so-good Reverend agrees and after assembling a crew of local yokel quasi-fortune hunters to help him in his daring mission, it’s back to the swamp they all go. Marybeth just wants to find the remains of her family members and give them some semblance of a proper burial, but Reverend Zombie, of course, has slimy ulterior motives galore for agreeing to help our young damsel in distress out, and naturally, this being a sequel and all, along the way we’re made privy to some new wrinkles in the Victor Crowley origin story that give him a more firm connection to our intrepid heroine than we’d previously imagined (but no, she’s not his long-lost sister — thank God).

Yup, folks, this is old-school slasher-style horror amped up to the Nth degree again, with more blood, more guts, more kills, more thrills, and more laughs. It’s really not even a sequel so much as a direct continuation, and if you watched both Hatchet films back-to-back (as I admittedly ended up doing later), what you’ve basically got here in one solid three-hour-plus story. And your humble host has to say that it’s a pretty damn good one.

Writer-director Green knows he’s not mining any new ground here story-wise and the only way he can top himself is by going for the jugular more directly, so the violence is more spectacular (and spectacularly funny), the characters are more OTT, and the whole thing just takes on the atmosphere of a straight-up slasher party flick. As always, I’m more impressed by a movie that knows its limitations and just tries to do a damn good job of what it sets out to do than something that’s bury reaching for a goal that’s well beyond its grasp. Hatchet II doesn’t fuck around — it knows why you’re watching it and it sets out to serve you up a heaping helping of everything you love.

My only real beef with this movie, honestly, is that it was show on HD instead of good old fashioned 35mm, but that’s a small gripe — apart from that, everything here is spot-on and it more than fulfills its worthy mission of  bringing old-school horror to an appreciative audience of old-school horror fans. It’s not for everyone, of course, but if your idea of a good time is watching a guy get strangled by his own intestines or a young lady fuck (or getting fucked by, depending on how you look at these things) a dude who gets his head hacked off mid-coitus and she keeps bucking back on him anyway until she figures things out, this is is the movie for you.

Dark Sky does a nice job with the DVD, too — the picture and sound are great, as you’d expect from a new release like this, and it’s loaded with some nice extras including the theatrical trailer, a making-of featurette, and two full-length commentaries (one cast, one crew) that are both a lot of fun(my favorite part being where Green points out all his horror-director friends that he got to e extras or take on minor parts in group scenes,  just in case you might be a horror geek like myself who wonders what some of these people look like) if a little bit in-jokey at times.

Anyway, Hatchet II — it’s exactly what you think it is, on steroids. And that’s a very good thing indeed.