Archive for October 1, 2014

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“Man, if anybody hurts my kid, I’ll fucking kill them.”

We’ve all heard that said more times than we can count, and if you’ve said it yourself I sure won’t hold it against you — after all, it means you’re only human, right? Unfortunately, it also means you’re an asshole.

Now, before you walk off in a huff, let’s take a moment and consider the statement from the beginning : “if anybody hurts my kid” — not if anybody kills your kid or anybody even cripples your kid — just hurts your precious little angel. What if it was an accident? What if the person who hurt your kid is mentally retarded and doesn’t understand the consequences of their actions? What if —- you get the idea. I think just about anyone is justified in being upset if someone harms their child, but would you really kill somebody for it?

Probably not. So let’s go with something more people are likely to agree with, even if it means they have to knock their dull, bullshit macho posturing down a peg : “if anybody kills my kid, I’ll fucking kill them.”

Again, you’re only human for saying something like this, but guess what? You’re still an asshole.

Think about it for a second — is a sentiment like that really even about protecting your child? It’s too late for that if they’re dead. It’s also not about justice, since you don’t have the ability to conduct your own investigation, find the party responsible beyond a shadow of a doubt, and make sure their case is adjudicated properly. That’s why we have cops and courts. So if it’s not about protecting your kid or achieving some measure of justice for him or her, what’s it really about?

Truth be told, it’s not about your kid at all — it’s about you. It’s about what someone did to you. The average person views their children as an extension of themselves, as their legacy to and in the world — proof that they were here and that they left something behind. And I’m sorry, but that’s kinda fucked up. Your son or daughter is a distinct entity separate from you, with their own mind, their own ideas, their own personality, their own everything. A good half, if not more, of the kids out there in the world don’t even particularly like their parents, which is a bit of a shame, but maybe if more parents viewed their kids as unique, individual beings and not as some vehicle for carrying on the family name, etc., they’d get along better.

It’s a thought, at any rate. But it’s only part of the reason that anyone who says they’d kill somebody for killing their child is a prick. The other part’s an even tougher pill to swallow — it means that there’s probably little, if any, difference between you and the killer. It means that the same evil rage that the killer gave in to exists within you, as well, and that all it takes to unleash it is for something bad to happen not to you personally, but to a member of your family.

It means that you’re one tragedy away from turning into the same sort of monster that you purport, in your cheap moral indignation,  to despise. Kinda scary, huh? Especially when you consider that very few psychopaths are just “born that way.” Most of them had bad things happen to them, too. The only difference between them and you is that they acted on their darkest internal desires — and you’re still looking for an excuse to.

Hell, you’re not even looking — you’ve found your excuse already, its just hasn’t happened yet. And let’s hope it never does, for the sake of your child and yourself.

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These are the weighty themes tackled in an admittedly clumsy manner in director Robert Lieberman’s 2010 offering The Tortured (currently available by means of Netflix instant streaming), a mostly tepid affair from Saw franchise producers Mark Burg and Oren Koules that treads pretty familiar turf for their company, Twisted Pictures :  well-to-do yuppie couple (he’s a doctor, no idea what she does) Craig and Elise Landry (played by Jesse Metcalfe and Erika Christensen, respectively) go through a living hell when their six-year-old son, Benjamin (Thomas Greenwood) is abducted in broad daylight right out of their back yard by a nutcase named John Kozlowski (Bill Moseley), who’s quickly apprehended when a couple of cops, responding to a complaint about hearing crying coming from his basement, bust into his house without a warrant, cuff him, arrest him — and find the young boy already dead.

As far as movie psychos go, Kozlowski is a pretty unremarkable one — he puts on makeup and a tiara and pretends to be a little girl before murdering his captives. He’s apparently been at it for some time, as a mass grave is unearthed in his back yard, and he’s quickly convicted and sentenced to life, despite the fact that all the evidence against him (and there’s plenty) was obtained illegally.

Still, he could get paroled in ten years under Vermont law (well, supposed Vermont law — the six-lane highways clearly shown on a couple of occasions and the huge downtown metropolis where the courthouse is situated would tend to indicate that this flick was shot somewhere else, and sure enough! A quick glance at IMDB shows it was made in Vancouver)  and that just ain’t gonna cut it for the Landrys, who enact a harebrained and entirely unrealistic scheme to abduct him from his armored prison transport vehicle and enact their own brand of homemade “justice.”

This being the movies and all their stupid plan actually works, and despite the fact that he’s been horribly disfigured in the wreck they engineered and even seems to be suffering from amnesia, they spirit him off to a secluded cabin (that, speaking of stupid, they don’t actually own) where they intend to torture him relentlessly for a few days and then kill him.

Yup, friends (even if I did just call some of you assholes — rest assured, I’m one, too), so great is their suffering that they intend to enact their idea of “righteous vengeance” upon a person who doesn’t even remember what he did.

Unless, ya know, he does, and he’s just playing it coy. In any case, the two get pretty creative — and pretty sadistic — in the methods of torment that they employ, but all in all we’ve pretty much seen this kind of thing done plenty of times before, since the lineage of the “torture porn” that screenwriter Marek Posival seems pretty well-versed in goes all the way back to Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring before, of course, really taking off with Wes Craven’s seminal The Last House On The Left.

Of course, the parents in both of those films were a bit more sympathetic not just because they weren’t rich bastards taking out their pound of flesh on a poor person ( did I forget to mention that Kozlowski is obviously a man of little economic means who lives in a dump? I guess I’m so used to Hollywood’s standard formula of rich=good, poor=bad that it completely slipped my mind), but because the killers of their children made their way to them by accident, rather than by means of a premeditated (if, again, stupid) plot.  The Landrys lose some major sympathy points in my book when they resort to a criminal scheme themselves in order to stop a criminal whose activities have already been stopped. Or maybe I’m just being picky.

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In any case, in due course the deed is done and Zozlowski is — spoiler alert! — dead. But weirdly enough, that’s when The Tortured  very nearly redeems itself.

I say “very nearly” because the movie delivers a good, solid punch to the gut right at the end — but only to us, not to the characters. There’s a monster “reveal” that comes our way in the final few minutes by way of a TV evening news broadcast that makes you think “hey, wow — I didn’t see that coming” (even though, looking back, all the clues were right there, of course) that, unfortunately,  loses a good deal of its power when you realize that the Landrys themselves aren’t actually watching it, the footage is only tacked on to shock the audience. It does that, sure, but what good is a big come-uppance if the people who are being “come-upped” don’t even know about it?

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Still, it’s probably fair to say that anyone who watches The Tortured — numerous (and obvious) flaws and all — might think twice before saying “if anybody hurts or kills my kid I’ll fucking kill them.” again. And if they still don’t, well — maybe that person really is an asshole.

 

 

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Is it October again already? I guess it is, and you know what that means for this (and, frankly, more or less every other) film review blog — it’s time to talk horror movies all month in preparation for Halloween.

Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, as evidenced by the fact that I seem to do it year in and year out, but this year, rather than blindly selecting any old movie just because it fits a particular genre theme, I thought I’d narrow things down a bit and only review stuff that’s currently available in the Netflix instant streaming queue. I’m sure I’ll have cause to mix things up a bit and look at a small handful of other horror flicks, either currently playing theatrically or on DVD, but by and large I thought it would help give things some focus if I just limited the pool of possibilities a little bit. I trust you won’t mind indulging me when I do veer off my self-prescribed course (and gosh, I wouldn’t want to forget about doing the occasional comic review, would I?), but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, let’s play this out until I get bored and see where it all goes, shall we?

A few ground rules — I won’t be bothering with any technical specs such as you’ll commonly find in reviews of DVDs and Blu-rays, I’ll be trying my best to look at somewhat less “mainstream” horror titles, and when I can, I’ll try to contian my penchant for droning on and on and (hopefully) keep these fairly short and sweet.

Or, failing that, at least short. So let’s get started, shall we?

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I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a tremendous fan of The Asylum — as a general rule, even for what it is they do (cheap Z-grade straight-to-video “found footage” horrors and “mockbusters” being their specialties) I find that, by and large, they don’t do it very well. I usually go into their productions with abysmally low expectations and,  more often than not,  they struggle to meet even those. I get that they have their fans and all — shit, I guess everyone does — but they’re just not my cup of tea.

Still, even the worst production houses have a nadir, a rock-bottom, an absolute worst offering from a very bad lot, and 2012’s shot-in-Belize effort Alien Origin just might be the lowest of the low from the “studio” that also gave us awful-and-not-in-a-good-way numbers like Transmorphers and Battle Of Los Angeles. To say this thing is completely devoid of anything that even smells like a redeeming quality is probably being too kind. It’s just shit, pure and simple.

Furthermore, it doesn’t even spend so much as a moment trying to convince itself — much less anyone who might be unfortunate enough to be watching it — that it’s anything but shit. Writer/director Mark Atkins is all about knocking off at 5:00 and getting to the bar, by the look of things, and if there’s one consistent “vibe” given off by the proceedings here, it’s that no one really gives a flying fuck about what they’re doing.

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I might give something of a pass to the film’s nominal “star,” Chelsea Vincent, who plays Julia Evans, a reporter ensconced (I guess in the days of Gulf War I and II we would call her “embedded”) with the special forces branch of Belize’s army as they undertake a search for some missing anthropologists who apparently found some mysterious alien artifacts of some sort before disappearing altogether, but it’s not like she’s terribly competent or anything — she’s just less incompetent than the locals they found laying around on the beach who they used to fill the other roles.

Anyway, her camera’s rolling throughout, as you’ve no doubt already guessed, and she’s “documenting” the mission when things suddenly get purportedly dangerous and creepy. Not that you’re likely to feel overly endangered or creeped out or anything of the sort. Hell, if you’ve got any sense you’ll turn this thing off at about the 15-minute mark and find something better to do with your time — might I suggest watching the flagpole rust or your toenails grow?

Either would be more involving than this snooze-fest, which can’t bother to register any sort of a  pulse even when we finally get the the meat of the matter and learn about the monsters from outer space who have been here for a long time and may have  played a hand in the devleeopment and evolution of mankind out of the primordial soup that, to be perfectly candid, we probably would have opted to stay in if we’d known that centuries down the line one of our ranks would come up with anything as insipid and worthless as Alien Origin.

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About the only thing worth paying attention to at this point are the numerous creative cop-outs that Atkins employs in order to never actually have to show us our evil alien overlords, but even that little play-along-at-home game isn’t nearly enough to grab your interest for long. If you’re still awake by the time anything actually happens in this flick, you’ll be praying for nothing so much as a speedy resolution so that the cinematic endurance test you’ve subjected yourself to can finally, mercifully, come to an end.

The rest of the movies we look at this month can only get better from here on out, right?