Carrie (2013)

Carrie (2013)

You will know her name

Raised by a religiously-obsessed mother, innocent Carrie White is an introverted girl at school who suffers torment from the other girls when she has her first period in the school showers and thinks that she’s bleeding to death. Sue feels guilty about her involvement and asks her boyfriend Tommy to take Carrie to the prom. However they don’t realise that the ring leader, Chris Hargensen, is plotting revenge after being barred from going. Rigging the election to have Tommy and Carrie elected as the prom king and queen, Chris and her friends don’t reckon with Carrie’s newly-discovered psychic powers with which she turns the prom into a massacre.

 

Though the original is heralded as a horror classic, I’ve never been particularly keen on Carrie. There’s nothing with it as a horror film, it just never grabbed my attention or captured my imagination in the way other classic horrors from that era did. It was an influential genre film however and is generally ranked quite high amongst the pantheon of horror films from the 70s. So in this day and age of remakes, it was only a matter of time before Carrie was the next on the hit list. I’m surprised it took them this long to be honest. With Hollywood virtually empty for horror ideas, I’d have expected the remake bandwagon to have arrived earlier than it has (especially considering this whole remake fad really kicked off around 2003’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre). It’s not as if the original is sacred property either. It had a pointless, unrelated sequel with The Rage: Carrie 2 in 1999 and was remade into a TV series in 2002. The original’s legacy was already tarnished somewhat so this remake doesn’t offend me nearly as much as the Halloween remake did.

Carrie is billed as a re-imagining and more faithful to the source material but that couldn’t be any further from the truth. With the exception of a handful of scenes, it’s virtually a scene-by-scene remake with a more contemporary feel to it. I question the logic of this approach which only serves as proof that Brian De Palma got the material spot on first time around and director Kimberly Peirce is reluctant to change a winning formula. Advances in special effects over the years mean that the eventual massacre is a lot more visual than it was before but more on that later. What Carrie still manages to get right is how it treats the characters. This is still very much a character-driven story with the radical transformation of the main character being the centre point. Whilst some of the supporting characters are little more than your average good-looking American actors and actresses pretending to be back in high school, the main characters of Carrie, Margaret and Sue are all developed and well-rounded to make you sympathise with Carrie’s plight and eventual breakdown.

Bullying in school is something that still happens this very day. As a teacher, I know only too well the regularity with which pupils come to me and complain that they are on the receiving end of insults or physicality at the hands of another pupil. But hey, this is an American high school and if there’s one thing that we know from cinema, it’s that it’s the single worst place to be if you’re somewhat odd and don’t fit into the norm. Carrie contemporises the bullying aspects, bringing the story into the modern era by using cyberbullying as its main weapon of choice. The footage of Carrie in the shower is plastered all over Youtube. More could have been made of this angle, especially given the frequency of sad stories in the news of school children taking their own lives after being on the end of cyberbullying. But it’s a nice tweak to make it relevant to the younger viewers.

Whilst Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie are a tough act to follow from the original, both Chloe Moretz and Julianne Moore put in a shift for the roles of Carrie and Margaret respectively. Moore fairs the better of the two in putting a new tilt onto a familiar character but that’s to be expected from a multi-time Academy Award nominee. She needed to have more screen time but does great in the time she’s given. It’s hard to stomach Moretz as a ‘weird and kooky’ teenager given that she looks a million times better than the rest of the female cast during the prom scenes. But she does have a certain sympathetic charm to her and the fact that she was a teenager whilst filming gives the role an added edge that Sissy Spacek couldn’t give it before. Moretz is very appealing in the role, a frightened young girl in a strange and cruel world, and you can only watch in heartache as she is on the receiving end of some truly awful bullying. But, on the flip side, because she becomes aware of and starts to control her powers, the eventual revenge is a little harder to take. We know she’s doing this maliciously and the sympathy she’s worked hard to build is eroded very quickly.

Thankfully, Carrie avoided the feeble 12a rating in the UK and received the higher 15 certificate meaning that the blood is able to flow a lot more freely. The film is geared towards the infamous set piece at the prom and whilst there is some blood early on (of various kinds!), it’s only in the film’s climactic scene that the effects department run rough shed over the screen. Carrie’s revenge is brought to life in more vivid detail thanks to modern special effects and like a puppet master guiding her toys around, Carrie uses her telekinetic powers to manipulate objects around in the school hall, electrocuting people, trapping them in seats, setting them on fire and so on. It’s worthy carnage, even if the effects are a bit too obligatory, but the film rushes through the motions to get to it as quick as it does. Drawing out the characters a little more at the start would have given this scene added impact.

 

Carrie is a competent remake which does the original justice and adds in enough modern twists to keep the material fresh and engaging for a younger audience who have not seen the 1976 version. It makes as many mistakes as it manages to get things right but is never dull, contains some decent performances and a satisfying conclusion. Hardly going to change the way the world works but could have been a lot worse.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Don’t Go In The House (1980)

Don't Go in the House (1980)

If you do…then don’t say we didn’t warn you

Donald is a disturbed man who has suffered from years of abuse at the hands of his mother. Lacking social skills and stuck in a job stoking coals in an incinerator, Donald’s fragile state of mind is shattered when his mother dies. Unable to cope with the trauma, Donald begins hearing voices which tell him to lure young women to his house where he burns them alive in a purpose-built fireproof room.

 

Long banned in the UK and labelled as one of the 80s video nasties, notorious exploitation horror Don’t Go in the House has finally been released uncut in all of its controversial glory. It had a short-lived status as a ‘video nasty’ due to it being tagged along with a number of more sinister films which started with ‘Don’t …..’ and was available with three minutes cut from the running time. Now that we live in a more tolerant society subjected to nastier and more malicious horrors like Saw and Hostel, these three minutes were restored and it has been released uncut for the first time. Don’t Go In The House can best be summed up as ‘killer burns naked women alive with a flamethrower’ and it is another of those ‘misogynistic male killer with mommy problems’ horrors which started off with Norman Bates in Psycho and was brilliantly realised in the 80s with Maniac.

Often labelled as a slasher film, Don’t Go In The House is more of a psychological thriller but it’s content and approach means it can be placed alongside the likes of Friday the 13th and Halloween, just don’t expect anything nearly as impressive. You see there are two kinds of this type of horror: those that follow the victims and those that follow the killers. Those that follow the killers tend to be raw, seedy and generally tougher to watch than those which follow the fun and frolics of the unsuspecting victims. Those that follow the killers do so in the name of Norman Bates and take cues from how Hitchcock presented the character as a likeable, well-meaning young man who just so happened to have some major psychological issues. Don’t Go In The House stays with this tried-and-tested approach but it isn’t Psycho.

Let’s cut straight to the chase. Don’t Go In The House isn’t a great film. Its threadbare story hardly gives us any characterisation, from Donald to his priest and his best friend, and little happens except Donald snaps and starts killing women. Like the rest of these psychological horrors which deal with male killers with mother issues, Donald’s character is depicted as the victim. It’s not his fault that he’s like he is and he’s dealing with his new-found situation in the only way he knows best: violence. What was done unto him is now being done unto others. However Donald’s characters is so one-dimensional that you’ll be hard-pressed to feel real empathy for the character. This isn’t really the fault of Dan Grimaldi who plays Donald with a wide-eyed cluelessness as if he is totally detached from society and real life. It’s down to the script which gives us literally no reasons to care about anyone in the film.

The film drifts aimlessly once he starts killing women and falls into a repetitive cycle where he picks up a woman and then the film cuts to the aftermath. We don’t get to know too much more about Donald. His best friend is even more anonymous as the only other character with any sort of development but he’s virtually useless to the plot. Donald has hallucinations of his victims coming back to life and haunting him as charred corpses. He scowls at the camera. He walks around his house. He sits in a chair and contemplates what crazy stuff he can do next. It’s monotonous material and the audience is sat waiting for something, anything, to get worked up over. The problem is that the film peaks too early and then never manages to get back to that level of intensity and shock.

Don’t Go In The House is infamous because of its scenes of pyrotechnic terror – well actually its one scene of pyrotechnic terror. The film only shows us one of his female victims being burned alive and it’s that striking an image that the film doesn’t show us any more victims being incinerated. That image is sketched upon our minds throughout the film and so we don’t need a repeat viewing. The scene in question was way harsher than I was expecting: a young female florist accepts a ride home from Donald before he convinces her to come and meet his mother. Whilst in the house, she is knocked unconscious. The next time we see her, she’s chained up from the ceiling, completely naked and then dowsed in gasoline by Donald, now wearing a flame-retardant costume. As the poor woman begs for her life, Donald unleashed the flamethrower and, with the use of some reasonably satisfying special effects, the woman writhes screaming and howling as she is overcome by the flames. The next shot we see of her is a charred corpse hanging in the same position. It’s a grim scene, one of the most depraved I’ve seen due to its graphic detail and sheer unpleasantness. It’s basically the scene that led the film to being banned – the rest of the film never comes close to being as nasty or as graphic.

 

Don’t Go In The House isn’t as sleazy or disturbing as similar grindhouse exploitation thrillers but it will leave a sour taste in your mouth with that one scene of fiery cruelty and there is enough of an unsettling atmosphere to keep promising that it will get better even if it doesn’t. Its undeserved reputation as a video nasty is certainly just that and the fact that it is now uncut will hardly set feminists rushing out with their banners of protest.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Texas Chainsaw (2013)

Texas Chainsaw (2013)

Evil wears many faces.

When word gets out about what happened at the Sawyer farmhouse, Sheriff Hooper heads straight there to demand that they hand over the perpetrator. With the Sawyer clan fortified inside and refusing to come out, an angry mob descends upon the building and torches it to the ground after a shoot-out. One of the mob finds a survivor in the barn along with a baby girl. Taking the baby and killing the mother, the man decides to raise her with his wife who was unable to have children. Moving ahead to the present time, Heather is a now a young woman who receives papers to say that she has inherited a house from a grandma she didn’t know existed. Finding out that her parents aren’t her biological parents, Heather and some of her friends head to Texas to check out the house, unaware that Heather isn’t the only descendant of the Sawyer clan left.

 

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of horror’s greatest films. One of the most brutal, unrelenting ordeals of all-time, as the years go by it seems that the film becomes more and more appreciated for the nightmarish masterpiece it is. The grainy, pseudo-documentary style brought to life the horrors of Leatherface and his cannibal family in shockingly realistic fashion. It’s an assault on the senses and makes you feel like you need a shower after watching because you’ve been put through the ringer along with the cast. With the horror boom in the 80s, it was only a matter of time before someone went back and revisited the iconic Leatherface and a couple of sequels followed, none of which did the original any justice whatsoever. Then way back in 2003 (that sounds really weird saying that but its eleven years ago!), Platinum Dunes kicked off the whole horror remake fad with their pretty decent re-imagining of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. A prequel followed which wasn’t so decent and Leatherface was sent back into oblivion….until now.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre films have never adhered to continuity. The patchwork sequels picked and chose what parts of the original they wanted to follow on from and never followed on from each other. The Platinum Dunes remake in 2003 and its resultant prequel exist in their own bubble. Now along comes a glossy sequel which would have fit in better with the modern films but decides to go back to its roots instead. Texas Chainsaw kicks off minutes after the moment that the 1974 original ends. Yes, despite the passage of thirty-nine years of real life, the film decides that it would be a great idea to deal with the immediate aftermath of the original attacks. Talk about confusing – most of this film’s target audience will wrongfully assume that the 2003 remake is the only ‘original’ out there anyway.

Whilst the idea is nice in theory and it is executed as best as it has any right to do to begin with, it doesn’t quite fit right with the original due to the cleaner, glossier digital print. Then come all of the temporary lapses in logic that this film doesn’t have answers for if we take the thirty-nine years between films as being some reflection of film time (given the cars and clothing from the 70s in the prologue and the iPhones from the 2000s and 2010s used in the modern part of the film). This would make Leatherface about sixty so why is he so agile and spritely? Why does Heather look like she’s in her early twenties when surely if she’s a baby in the 70s she’d be pushing her forties?

Texas Chainsaw’s faults lie squarely at its bizarre script. Not only is there the questionable decision to follow on from the original but the narrative then sets about becoming a poor man’s remake of the original, with similar set-ups and death scenes (mallets to the head and bodies thrown onto hooks after investigating strange rooms). Leatherface is clearly the antagonist, smashing and slicing the teenage cast with his usual array of meat-cutting utensils. The sad thing is that we saw all of this during the recap of the events of the original and so showing us newer versions of the same scenes just keeps reminding us of how superior the original was. Granted the film is quite bloody during this first half, with one unlucky victim being chainsawed in half being amongst the scant highlights. The film tries to make use of its 3-D gimmick as best as it can but most of the shots are predictably pointless. This half completely goes against the grain of the original, showcasing gory set pieces and throwing CGI blood around like confetti in an attempt to mask its blatant shortcomings.

However in the final third, there is an even more random development where Heather finds out she is related to the Sawyers and due to events in the film, Leatherface becomes her saviour – despite the fact that he just butchered her friends. The novelty of seeing Leatherface as an anti-hero wears off in about two minutes when you realise he just does the same things only to different people. This kind of sums up the whole film: once certain novelty factors have worn off, Texas Chainsaw is just your very average, sub-par rather, teen horror film which just so happens to include one of horror’s most iconic characters. Remove Leatherface, rename the film something else and you have any number of backwoods horrors with demented hillbilly killers beating a path of destruction through a teenage cast. Throw in some generic ‘boo’ scares, a contemporary soundtrack which doesn’t invoke any sort of atmosphere whatsoever and a bunch of unlikeable, one-note characters and you’ve got pretty much any teen horror film released in the last fifteen years.

Three former Chainsaw alumni appear in roles in a nice nod to the films that preceded this one: the original Leatherface, Gunnar Hansen, pops up as one of the older Sawyers in the introduction; Bill Moseley, who played ‘Chop Top’ in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II, takes over from Jim Siedow as Drayton Sawyer for the introduction; and Marilyn Burns, who was put through the ringer by the cannibal clan in the original, is Verna Carson, Heather’s grandmother, who tells her of her family ties.

One last gripe: why knock off the Massacre part of the title?

 

Perhaps we’re entering into a new phase of horror. Instead of the pointless remakes, will Texas Chainsaw kick off a fad where sequels are made to films which are thirty and forty years old in an attempt to appease both fans of the original and introduce them to a younger audience? Actually, I doubt it. Texas Chainsaw is dire. Even younger genre fans will smell the foul stench of death a mile away. Leatherface is an old man now and it’s about time he was retired permanently. Texas Chainsaw is such a wasted opportunity to kick off a real series of linked sequels and reboot the legend of the Sawyer family for a new generation.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Triassic Attack (2010)

Triassic Attack (2010)

The skeletons are out of the closet!

The dean of the local university wants to expand the campus but this means bulldozing through a swathe of local businesses including a Native American fossil museum. The disgruntled owner of the museum uses some mystical powers to bring to life the museum’s three dinosaur skeletons to life which proceed to wreak havoc on the small town.

 

You should know what to expect by now from a Sy Fy Original with a name like Triassic Attack. The random title generator seems to have gone into overdrive this time around, with a daft name that screams attention and sums the plot up in two words. Why bother with timely exposition when your title can do the job in a split second? (Thanks for setting the trend, Snakes on a Plane). I’ve seen this film dozens of times before, mainly thanks to Sy Fy, with slight alterations made between each one including the type of monster and occupation of the main characters. Is there any point in going into too much detail on this? I knew full well what I was getting myself in for when I sat down to watch.

Triassic Attack could quite easily be chopped up into a brief highlight reel and no one would notice the difference because there is that little to get excited about. You’ve got actors going through the motions in roles that they’ve most likely taken for a free holiday to Eastern Europe. You’ve got special effects guys making dinosaurs in their spare time between takes on more important projects. You’ve got a director who was actually over in Bulgaria filming Lake Placid 3 (in an acting role) for Sy Fy when they must have thought “hang on, let’s save some more money and have this guy direct our next dinosaur flick” and roped him in to taking the hot seat. Ferguson’s direction is as flat as his acting was. This is hardly a director’s film though, more like a cut-and-assemble job which has been rushed along the Sy Fy production line.

The fossil dinosaurs are certainly unique in the fact that the animators didn’t have to spend time in coming up with unrealistic textures and colours for the skin. However they virtually do the same thing as every other Sy Fy dinosaur movie has done including roaring (which is impossible given their lack of muscles and vocal chords!) which is a real shame as the novelty of skeletons coming to life could have been so much better utilised. The T-Rex skeleton swallows a frat boy at one point only to have him fall out of the bottom of its skull because it has no throat. It’s a funny moment as the script at least appreciated the fact that these were only skeletons but it’s one that is a few and far between. You’d have thought that by coming up with the idea for the film, the script would be more inventive in how it treat the skeletons. But that’s asking too much from Sy Fy. They had the same script as they usually do, swapped the monsters around and then forgot to tailor it to the new monster’s needs.

Do I need to comment on the acting? It’s awful across the board, with two Scottish leads (Steven Brand and Kirsty Mitchell) doing their worst American accents and English actress Emilia Clarke as their teenage daughter fairs no better. Game of Thrones fans should take note of this early appearance of Miss Clarke about a year before she became famous as Daenerys Targaryen and began disrobing for the enjoyment of males the world over. Clarke shows none of the same feisty nature as she has on the show and judging by this performance, it’s amazing how she ever got her big break. Though I bet it’s not like she goes around trumpeting the merits of Triassic Attack and has probably slumped to the bottom of her (as it stands) very slim résumé.

I’m not sure that in 2010, we should still tolerate the daft idea of Native Americans having some sort of mystical powers which can do all sorts of weird and wonderful stuff when called upon in television and film. Horror films love the Native Americans and their spiritual and supernatural superstitions and yet again the token ‘medicine man’ character is here to both destroy and then eventually save the white man. I was quite expecting a few smoke signals or a war dance from him at some point. It’s beyond ridiculous but Triassic Attack isn’t the only recent horror film to fall guilty of that (Monsterwolf springs to mind, another Sy Fy flick).

 

Not to be outdone, Sy Fy would make the totally-unrelated Jurassic Attack a couple of years after this. With a whole host of prehistoric eras to go through, it’s only a matter of time before Devonian Attack or Cretaceous Attack go into production! Triassic Attack is just Sy Fy going through the usual creature feature motions…..again. Go and visit The Natural History Museum if you want to see dinosaur bones! They’ll be a lot more interesting to look at than this.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Hike, The (2011)

The Hike (2011)

It’s all about survival

After returning from a tour in Afghanistan, a young female soldier heads off with four of her friends for a camping weekend in a remote area of British countryside. But when one of the girls goes missing, the remaining girls are plunged into a nightmarish world of violence in which survival is their only goal.

 

It isn’t very often that the Brits go down the survival horror route so beaten to death by their counterparts across The Pond but judging the ‘merits’ of The Hike, it’s a good job that this is the case. Not worried about breaking new ground and sticking to the genre script to the letter, The Hike might as well have ‘Made in America’ stuck all over it. It’s a bit sad to see the limited number of horror films that we make in the UK end up as generic and one-note as this. You’d hope that they’d come out all guns blazing and make the most of their situation. Not with The Hike.

The Hike starts off promisingly with a pre-credits sequence that is arguably better than the rest of the film put together but then quickly degenerates into a routine survival horror film where the attractive young female cast head out for a spot of bonding in natural surroundings (in many ways this film reminded me of Neil Marshal’s The Descent) only to fall foul of something nasty. Whilst the opening scenes serve as an introduction to the various characters, most of whom receive some minor development to at least flesh out their characters, they do go on for a while and outstay their welcome very early on. Red herrings are introduced. Some plot threads are set up for later in the film. And the scenery is very nice so credit to the cinematographer for some great shots of the British countryside.

Heading into this environment, there is the usual mix of stereotypical female characters with baggage of the male variety and tension in the ranks. I’d be hasten to add that these females are some of the worst written characters I’ve had the misfortune of watching. In fact their whole portrayal in the film is something I have issue with. Not wanting to get all feminist about them but it’s clear that they were written by men because everything about them just sets off warning bells. They’re clearly designed on the females from The Descent however unlike the strong female characters there, here they’re just fakes. Trying to buy the fact that one of their number is ex-army is a hard sell when she finds difficulty using a map and compass. Apart from being good-looking, the women also have their obligatory bikini scene when they go bathing. Not having a clue about hiking and spending some time in the woods, these women take all manner of silly things like designer handbags and fancy shoes. It’s cheap and lazy writing designed to portray these women as hopeless and clearly in danger from the minute they leave their car. These women flirt with any man that cross their paths, implying non-too-subtle messages about ‘wanting it’ but then reacting badly when they get ‘it.’ It’s a rather dangerous implication that is being put across here that these women are in some way responsible for their eventual treatment at the hands of the psychos.

If you’re going to go down the ‘rape revenge’ route that will immediately attract criticism then at least have the conviction to go down it fully it. The Hike dabbles in sexual violence and gory exploitation but rarely manages to make itself appear as shocking or brutal as it clearly wants to be. I don’t want to come off as some sex-obsessed schoolboy who giggles at a bit of titillation and lusts after wanton violence but The Hike really needed some more sexiness or nastiness. The draw of these films are those elements so to skimp on them is cheating the target demographic. As it turns out, The Hike is more ‘family friendly’ torture porn (not really, I’m exaggerating – do not show this to children!) where the director is clearly gunning for a certain niche but doesn’t have the convictions to fully go through with it.

Once the film takes its nastier turn, it becomes a mess of mildly gory set pieces, gaping wide holes in the script and random plot twists. There’s lots of running and wrestling in the woods and on the floor as various characters encounter each other in the dark. There are no thrills here, no excitement and, despite some obligatory slasher-lite stalking moments, there’s no tension or suspense. The finale sees the strongest members of both groups fighting for survival but we know how this will end from the first moment one of the males makes sexual advances earlier on in the film.

There’s a good-looking cast featuring the stunning Barbara Nedeljakova from Hostel, who convinced a generation of teenage boys that Eastern European hostels were filled with horny chicks like her, willing to drop their clothes in a heartbeat. Co-writer Ben Loyd-Holmes also stars as the leader of the psycho group which is a bit odd to discover, given the content of the film and who gets to do what to which character. Is this wishful thinking on his behalf by living out some bizarre fantasy? If I was writing a horror film like this, I’d want nothing to do with starring as people like me would put two and two together and wonder why he was cast (well that and the director was his co-writer). Cockeny rent-a-goon Tamer Hassan also pops up in a small cameo.

 

I do feel like I’m being overly harsh on The Hike because it’s not a total bomb but at the end of the day, it’s a lukewarm horror which is neither full-on torture porn nor outright slasher. It’s like ‘Horror for Dummies’ with some mildly offensive stuff thrown in, softening you up for the main event of Eden Lake or I Spit On Your Grave.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆