Posts Tagged ‘Saw’

The recent release of Jigsaw proves, I guess, that the whole “torture porn” thing isn’t over with just yet, but earlier in 2017 low-budget writer/director Joshua Shreve beat the latest installment of the Saw franchise out of the gate with his straight-to-streaming (and, I guess, DVD, but for our purposes the fact that it’s available on Amazon Prime is all that really matters) effort Talon Falls — the question is, did he beat its at its own game?

There’s no question that this story about four road-tripping teens (played by Morgan Wiggins, Ryan Rudolph, Jordyn Rudolph, and Brad Bell) who make a pit-stop at a Kentucky roadside “scream park” featuring a plethora of blood, torture, and gore that all seems a little bit too realistic is, in fact, sadistic in the extreme — especially when the burly rednecks who run the joynt kidnap all our protagonists, one by one, and proceed to show ’em how things are really done at this backwoods splatter-show — but there’s a decidedly clinical feel to the whole endeavor that not only reduces the grotesque and (should-be) disturbing to a mere business, but robs it of its its ability to shock, as well.

In other words, no matter how bad things get here — and they do get pretty goddamn bad — it all feels terribly expected.

You name it, we’ve seen it : the animal masks. The hatchets and axes. The makeshift “medical” devices designed to inflict maximum bodily harm. The evil inbred yokels. The fetishistic focus on torment. The free-flowing blood, viscera, and entrails. It’s all shot with surprising professionalism by cinematographer Jeff Steinborn, to be sure, but damn — the gore and torture should be excruciating here, but they’ve got nothing on how excruciatingly predictable the plot is.

I guess that the titular Talon Falls is a real Halloween attraction (the flick was shot there), and that’s cool and all, but that’s about the only thing to set this apart from any of the other “torture porn” flicks that were big business about a decade ago, other than the more-competent-than-usual acting of “final girl” Lyndsey (Wiggins) and the slightly-more-menacing-than-most figure of chief killer Tiny (Tim McCain), who cuts a pretty cool — and suitably silent — figure as he chases people around, trusses ’em up, and all that.

Seriously, though — if you’ve seen House Of 1000 Corpses (and, come on, you know you have) then you’ve seen Talon Falls. In fact, you’ve seen a much better version of Talon Falls. It’s not that Shreve and Co. aren’t trying or anything — clearly they are — but what they’re trying to do is make a movie that’s already been made (and more than once, at that), and just do it cheaper. Serious gorehounds will probably find enough here to keep them interested, and more power to ’em (hey, I’m not one to judge), but for the rest of us? This is one you can safely skip — and in my considered opinion that’s precisely what you should do. The only thing that hurts about this flick is watching it.

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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.