Jul 31, 2012

YESSSSSSS


This.

Jul 29, 2012

PREPARE


Imagine: You half-hear a low, guttural sound from outside as you lay sleeping. You figure it's just your stomach after too much delicious Mexican food...but a sudden thud on the outside wall of the house shakes you from a peaceful slumber. Deep within the primal centers of your brain, you realize the dead have risen to claim our once-peaceful realm. What do you do? What do you need? The dead have risen, and they've returned as something different. Those you were once closest to now hunger for your flesh, and possibly the Mexican food you had for dinner.

There is no room for error when dealing with the undead. Our Z.E.R.O. (Zombie Extermination, Research and Operations) Kit takes into account all the different aspects of surviving the looming zombie apocalypse. When the undead hordes rise from their shallow graves to wreak havoc on all decent civilization, you'll need to both fight back (Extermination), and find a cure (Research).

Always be prepared. In the new zombie world you can be king of the hill, or the tastiest treat in town.
Source.

Jul 28, 2012

SHITTY FLICKS: CRAZY FAT ETHEL 2

Shitty Flicks is an ongoing column that celebrates the most hilariously incompetent, amusingly pedestrian, and mind-bogglingly stupid movies ever made by people with a bit of money, some prior porn-directing experience, and no clue whatsoever. It is here you will find unrestrained joy in movies meant to terrify and thrill, but instead poke at your funny bone with their weird, mutant camp-girl penis.

WARNING: I tend to give away major plot points and twist endings in my reviews because, whatever. Shut up.


Once upon a time, a fat woman named Priscilla Alden met an auteur named Nick Millard.

"I could put you in the movies!" he cried. 

Priscilla made a slight gurgling noise. 

"That's a good idea," whined Nick, and they made a movie called Crazy Fat Ethel aka Criminally Insane.

Thirteen years later, Nick ran into Priscilla at a pie eating contest. Priscilla was in the lead, whereas Nick had attended just to steal all the leftover crusty pie plates to snack on until his next unemployment check posted to his account. Their eyes met and they knew what they had to do. Nick hastened to his mother's bedroom, where he wrote 20 pages worth of a screenplay on the walls.

In crayon.

Making a trail of chicken wings up to the bedroom, Priscilla followed. He then showed her the screenplay, circled with barbecue sauce. The rest, as they say, is history. The two became one for a second time with another film: Crazy Fat Ethel 2.

After Ethel’s first bout of fatting and killing, she was shipped back to her former home: the Nappa Mental Institute, where she now resides in a room, sullenly leaning against a wall as she dreams about the first movie. After a couple rounds of that, Ethel feasts on some bread, sopping up some plate sauce and stuffing it in her fat hole, working it around as Nick Millard becomes acquainted with the zoom function.

Crazy Fat Ethel 2 is comprised largely of footage from the first movie, and it should also be noted that while the first film was shot on 16mm, this movie was shot with someone's borrowed VHS home video camera. The two mediums, when combined, are glaringly different, and it really shows just how pedestrian this sequel looks in comparison to the first film. This also produces a strange realization: as bad as the first movie is, it's nothing when compared to this movie. If Crazy Fat Ethel 1 was a ball of shit, then Crazy Fat Ethel 2 is a ball shit that the previous ball of shit somehow shit out.

 Sure, working sixteen-hour days was a daunting task,
but those old truck parts she was promised was a
treasure well worth earning.

In the hospital, a very real doctor named Dr. Stephens sits in his very real doctor's office, complete with a desk lamp and framed inspirational picture of whales, as he establishes with another very real doctor how the state has cut funding to the hospital and the less dangerous patients (which includes Ethel, despite her murderous and cannibalistic past) must be transferred to halfway houses. Other doctor only nods in agreement and is probably never seen again.

Ethel, meanwhile, snacks on a small glass jar of pudding, and as long as it takes for her to eat it, that's how long we're forced to watch it. Then she throws down the glass jar and spoon upon its completion and farts, "It's too damn little!"

This is when we meet Hope Bartholomew, who is wearing the skins of a recently deceased zebra. She fields a call from Dr. Stephens, who requests that she agree to take in Ethel to her home, which she does, proclaiming, “You know my motto! We must never lose hope!”

Ethel is dropped off at Mrs. Bartholomew’s, wearing her signature fat body and brown duds.

“Welcome to Bartholomew House, Ethel," says Mrs. Bartholomew. "I trust you’ll be happy here.”

Ethel’s poorly lit face remains emotionless, signifying the same lack of interest in her life that I have in this movie. Mrs. Bartholomew’s attention to Ethel will cause her to believe that she is actually her Granny, and she’ll refer to her that way for the rest of the movie.

Once inside, Ethel freaks out upon seeing a particular patient, insisting that he is the cop that put her away at the conclusion of the first movie. As the camera zooms in on her fat face over and over, the man disinterestedly stares back at her, sniveling his mustache.

A close up of an intercom (brought to life by a woman obviously shouting off-screen) informs us that it’s lunch time. Ethel eagerly slimes off her bed and thunders downstairs, only to stop and see the wall groper, Greg. After watching this groping man for far longer than is necessary, Ethel sits down to a nice hot bowl of black water, all the while giving the evil eye to the mustachioed man she still believes to be the cop.

Greg at first refuses to sit down to lunch, but mustachioed man placates him, telling him that he would give him “some of that special seasoning” he likes: dead flies.

Say, these guys really are crazy!

After a while, Greg grows tired of eating fly soup and begins to play an imaginary piano.

Later, Mrs. Bartholomew tries to give Ethel her medication, but she reacts negatively, flinging the tray from Mrs. Bartholomew’s old hands and pooing, “I don’t want any damn pills! I want a snack, Granny!”

Mrs. Bartholomew leaves the room to rat Ethel out to Dr. Stephens, who continues to be a real doctor by sitting behind a desk in a white room and wearing a lab coat.

"Hello, I am a real medical doctor. I would like to order
some pill medicine, and some of those brown medicine
jars with the lids that are hard to get off. No, I will not
hold. I am due in a brain surgery meeting."

An extremely Jewish looking man plops down the steps, an alarmingly accurate clone of Parenthood’s Tom Hulce. He proudly states that Mrs. Bartholomew had to go into town, and has left him in charge. When Ethel demands to know when dinner will be served, he responds that he “doesn’t want to hear any complaints about the corn-beef hash.” And then we cut to see him prying open cans of dog food and divvying them onto several plates.

Let's all laugh together, shall we?

As the other members of the halfway house debate over the quality of the meat, Ethel laughs absurdly for absolutely no reason.

Later, as Ethel is washing dishes, she catches Tom Hulce sexily eating a candy bar in the kitchen. She longs for it from afar, biting her lip and dreaming of its chocolate nuts, and how good it would feel inside her.

After what feels like two weeks, Tom Hulce states, “This candy bar is SO good! It’s so chocolaty and sweet inside!" As Tom Hulce withdraws another from his pocket, I can’t help but wonder: why can’t I be dead?

Ethel, not one for letting sleeping hot dogs lie, procures a length of rope from the curtains and jimmies a booby-trap on the banister that wouldn’t have even trapped the Wet Bandits. But no worries, because it works almost instantly, as Ethel drops the noose around Tom Hulce’s neck and somehow lifts the man off his feet with her flabby arms, killing him. Mustachioed man slowly shuts the door, having witnessed this horrible crime, setting in motion his dastardly plan.

Ethel then replaces the length of rope, because why not? I've shat out better things than this movie.

Priscilla just kept laughing, hoping the crew would forget
they had asked what happened to the entire table of day-old bagels.
 
Later, Mrs. Bartholomew talks with a cop in her living room. The cop soon turns his sights on the very large bastard that is Ethel Janowski as he questions her about the strangling of Tom Hulce

“I was watching 'Gunsmoke' on TV!” cries Ethel, staring at her fat feet. She runs into the kitchen and is confronted by mustachioed man, who tells her he will rat her out to the cop unless she “gives up [her] dessert for the next month.” The horrified look on Ethel’s face as the camera zooms out is almost priceless.

Ethel, so distressed by this recent development, takes yet another nap, where she dreams of the first film—more specifically, murdering Rosalee, her atrocious-looking sister, and John, her atrocious-looking pimp.

At dinner, Ethel begrudgingly hands over her pudding to mustachioed man, who eats it slowly in front of her. Ethel stares back in slight curiosity and utter desire, trying to understand the man’s intent. Wishing she could smush the chocolate deliciousness into her own mouth, she quickly tends to the whistling tea kettle in the kitchen and pours a healthy dose of rat poison (courtesy of a large white box with ‘rat poison’ written in unrealistically small letters) in mustachioed man’s tea.

As Ethel sips apprehensively from her pig mug, the two attempt to ignore the fact that they're outlandishly insane and make idle chatter about tea, and how they like it “hot”or how they like it “good and hot.” The oddly sexual undertone of the scene comes to a mercifully quick close as he puts down the mug, deciding not to drink it. Ethel rolls into the kitchen, where she bangs pots and eats an apple. Mustachioed man busies himself at the sink as Ethel withdraws a very small blade from the drawer and stabs him in the back, the knife flopping immediately to the side. She withdraws several more knives, applying them sloppily to his back. She pauses for a moment to snack off her apple, and then continues stabbing, laughing as she does so.

"What? No, Ethel, you can't suck on the fucking ham bone."

As the cop “discovers” the body in the kitchen, stating, “I might as well set up shop right here,” without the least hint of horror, Ethel snacks on forbidden pretzels in her room. She then hides them as Mrs. Bartholomew enters to explain that her house had never seen such horror, miles from the realization that this only happened once Ethel came to live there.

“You know my motto: we must never lose hope!” she restates.

As Ethel sticks her hands in her mouth, Mrs. Bartholomew spots the pretzels and attempts to leave with them, but Ethel shouts, “You give me those pretzels, Granny,” and chases her into the hallway where she beats her to death with a tiny candle holder.

“I guess I just lost hope!” Ethel says to no one, spraying the room with pretzel crumbs as she cackles.

Dr. Stephens, the real doctor, decides to take a trip out to the Bartholomew house after not being able to get in touch with her over his doctor phone. Ethel panics and lunges at the good doctor with her large knife into the sitting room where she chases him around the couch three full times, grabbing at random pieces of furniture as she runs for some support, lest she wipe out and beach herself like a fat ass whale waiting for a mouthful of warm, dead meat. The very fit-looking man opts to make a break for the front door. Thanks to the power of editing, the extremely old, fat, and feeble Ethel catches up and stabs him in the back, burying her fake knife into a pillowcase of ketchup. Does it matter that he falls on his stomach and his white shirt is stabbed, but a different cut shows him on his back and wearing a blue shirt?

Yes, yes it does.

It really does.

But not in this movie.

Ethel then wanders into the back yard and pulls a Julie Andrews, spinning around with her arms spread and doing some killer prancing, content that she has murdered the entire household and probably eaten large quantities of buttered steak.

Ethel, now having finally lost everything in her mind, answers the knocked door to see the cop. “Hello, I am Hope Bartholomew,” she moos. “Welcome to Bartholomew House. I hope you’ll be happy here.” She then laughs as the cop looks as disgusted and annoyed as I feel right now.

Ethel tries to distract herself with some television as a
plumber performs some monthly maintenance on her vagina.

After the end of Crazy Fat Ethel 2, Nick Millard and Priscilla Alden felt they should say farewell to their exploitation horror films featuring a wide-assed woman eating eclairs and committing heinous murders. And then, Nick Millard wrote a screenplay about a wide-assed woman who commits heinous murders (while dressed as a nurse). In keeping with his style, this particular screenplay was scrawled on the side of a tractor trailer at a truck stop that Millard visits to get peed on by road-weary truckers who are into that sort of thing.

What I Learned From Crazy Fat Ethel 2:
  • Watching a stationary shot of a fat woman eating pudding for three real-time minutes is as unappealing as it sounds.
  • No, seriously, using footage from the first film of a series in the second installment is a great way to save money while also being a lazy douche bag. (See Death Nurse; Death Nurse 2; Silent Night, Deadly Night 2).
  • Standing/facing walls and quivering took off as the national pastime in America in 1988, just below baseball and sex.
  • Always make sure to pay your taxes, or else mental institutions will lose funding, close down, and seriously let the insane wander the streets.
  • Flies in soup taste really good if you're batshit insane.

Jul 27, 2012

ONE

 

After nearly 30,000 visits and 230 posts, The End of Summer turns one year old today. I'd like to thank the folks at Greenleaf & Associates, Drafthouse Films, Breaking Glass Pictures, The Asylum, MTI Media, MVD Entertainment, FilmBuff, and the other movie companies generous enough to send me screening material. Much more importantly, I'd also thank everyone who has visited, and especially those who have made it a consistent stop during their daily Internetting. Writing is fun and all, but it's especially rewarding knowing folks out there appreciate it and come back for more.

Here's to another year.

Jul 25, 2012

REVIEW: HEADSPACE (DIRECTOR'S CUT)


I wish I could say that Headspace was an interesting failure. Not many films merit that kind of simplistic response, but it does happen. But Headspace is really just one of those unfortunate, regular kind of failures. It is a hodgepodge of ideas liberally borrowed from other movies, mixed together by filmmakers who seem to be taking themselves way too seriously, all of which is wasted on a cast of horror veterans who deserve better roles and a better movie.

In a prologue that completely wastes Sean Young, a mother of two young sons goes nuts and monstrous and needs to be dispatched by the boys’ father (the always wonderful Larry Fessenden). We flash forward about ten years, and see what has become of the younger son, Allen (Christopher Denham, the mental patient from Shutter Island who was convinced a nurse wanted to see his penis so she could laugh at it). Allen, separated from his brother, and out of contact with a father who signed away the custody of his children, lives in New York, where he has cursory friendships with people we never quite learn enough about. One of these friends includes a neurotic hippie looking man who plays chess every day in the park. Allen forms an instant connection with this man, even though the guy seems to be halfway insane.


After Allen becomes super smart for seemingly no reason, he suffers a seizure and is taken to a hospital, where tests are performed on him. Once released into the care of a psychologist, people around him begin to die one by one. And frightening visions of monstrous, Lovecraftian things lurking in dark corners begin to torment him.

Headspace is basically a re-manufactured version of Jacob’s Ladder, even borrowing some of director Adrian Lyne’s signature quick shaky-head effects. The big difference between the two is that while Jacob's Ladder was both unique and interesting, Headspace is neither. Our lead character is almost immediately unlikeable, especially evidenced when he realizes that he can memorize entire books just by flipping through them a single time, which leads not to worry on his part, but overwhelming pride. At one point he even lurks outside a friend’s window and watches as he fucks his girlfriend for a solid five minutes. How are we supposed to sympathize with a person like this? And how are we supposed to take these filmmakers seriously after they’ve shoehorned in a completely useless sex scene?

"Trust me: I've killed werewolves, Critters, and Cujo."

Headspace is a movie that wants to fuck with your mind, but all it does is test your patience. You’re never really given a reason to care about Alex, his problems, or those folks who his problems are immediately affecting. And once the big reveal comes in the final act that is supposed to blow your mind, you’re only left with the reaction, “Who cares?”

Headspace features some grisly and well-done effects, the best involving a shotgun blow to a head. A limited budget causes some of these effects to be captured in quick cuts or overly edited sequences, but what we do manage to see is pretty effective. It’s also nice to see the likes of the aforementioned Young and Fessenden sharing the screen with Dee Wallace (The Howling), William Atherton (Ghostbusters), Udo Kier (Blade), and Olivia Hussey, who will always be sorority girl Jess, Audra Denbrough, and Mrs. Bates, and who is destined to be beautiful no matter her age.


What attracted me to this film in the first place was its recent re-release dubbed the “director’s cut.” Releases like this have become commonplace, but only when big money is involved, and half the time what is termed a director’s cut is just the original movie with an extraneous scene added back to the movie in order to market it as different. You hardly ever see “director’s cuts” of low budget horror films that hardly set the world on fire. Every once in a great while, you manage to come across a director's cut that is somehow inferior to the original theatrical cut (Donnie Darko, for one; and some would argue Richard Stanley's Dust Devil). If this version of Headspace is the director’s cut - and therefore the "better" version - I sympathize with those unfortunate enough to have suffered through the first incarnation.

Jul 24, 2012

MASS HYSTERIA

"For the first time, the stage-scenery of the senses collapsed; the human mind felt itself stripped naked, vibrating in a void of shapeless energies, with resistless mass, colliding, crushing, wasting, and destroying what these same energies had created and labored from eternity to perfect."
- Henry Brooks Adams

Jul 23, 2012

REVIEW: EXIT HUMANITY


“Beautiful zombie movie” is probably all kinds of things: an oxy-moron, a contradiction, and if you want to get really philosophic, a paradox. But that’s exactly what Exit Humanity is. It is a gorgeously written, envisioned, shot, acted, narrated, scored, and realized film. It just so happens to feature the undead ripping apart other human beings.

In my review for The Asylum’s Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies, I railed against what’s quickly becoming a trend: the historical mash-up. Despite the superficial urge to describe such a concept as a former president dispatching the undead as “clever,” once that novelty wears off, you’re still stuck with a story struggling to be interesting, engaging, and worth experiencing. Throwing such an idea into the mix will not sustain you if you don’t have a compelling story with which to back it up.


Exit Humanity is another kind of historical mash-up. It doesn’t re-imagine any one particular person as this double-life leading undead killing machine. Vampires don’t do flips. Heads aren’t cut off and punctuated with a bad pun. And its immersion in the past is not done strictly for kitsch value. All it does is ask the question, “What if there were a zombie epidemic during the Civil War?”

The year is 1865. Edward Young is a confederate soldier, caught between the enemy soldiers who wish to put him down for God and Country, and the swarm of the undead that slowly begin to trickle through the trees towards him and his men. Once the undead threat is established across the land, the war struggles to maintain relevant.

We jump six years to the end of the war. It's 1871. Edward returns home from a two-day hunting trip to see that his wife has been reborn as one of the infected/undead. To make matters worse, his young son, Adam, is missing. After Edward is forced to dispatch his young wife, he departs to locate his son. It's not that much later when he very unfortunately does: Adam shambles towards his father with full-dark eyes and pale, dead skin. After already having killed his wife, Edward has no choice but to put down his son as well. He returns home an even more tortured soul, and it’s not long after when the muzzle of Edward’s pistol is hovering beneath his chin, as he clearly has no desire to live.


However, after remembering his family (in beautiful Christopher Nolan-esque flashbacks), he realizes he has unfinished business. In one of these fond recollections, he remembers promising his son that he would one day take him to Ellis Falls, a waterfall miles away from their property. Edward decides to keep that promise and gathers the boy’s ashes in a small tin. Grabbing his horse, Shiloh, he sets off on his journey. And what a one he'll have.

Writer/director John Geddes' Exit Humanity is Night of the Living Dead by way of Terrence Malick. It is a very thoughtful and introspective take on a sub-genre that's been done to death. And it just might be the weightiest addition to that same sub-genre since Romero's original trilogy. It is not a movie about people barricading themselves into a house and fighting off the walking dead. It is not about gore effects and carnage. It’s about the soul – the human spirit. It’s about what humanity is willing to do to each other. It’s about a country split in two because of political ideology, and how it makes enemies out of former friends and neighbors (and if you don’t find that relevant in today’s political climate, then I don’t know in what America you’re living). It’s about hope for humanity. It’s an artful message begging us not to give up – not to ever give up – not in the face of war, or death.

Mark Gibson makes his film debut as Edward Young, and selfishly I’m glad that his first role was in a film such as this. I can only imagine that once an agent calls up their veteran client and says they've gotten them a role in a zombie movie, all desire to deliver a credible performance must go right out the window. But Gibson’s desire to prove himself as an  actor has paid off big time. Granted, one could coin the first ever Exit Humanity drinking game by taking a shot every time Gibson’s Young bellows emotionally into the sky, but even so, there is real anguish and pain in every scream.


Fellow horror veterans Dee Wallace and Bill Moseley provide equally powerful parts, one representing decency (Eve), and the other depravity (The General) (and who better than Moseley to provide the latter?). Normally the presence of two or more well-known horror actors in one cast immediately turns me off. I picture the dozens of titles I’ve seen on store shelves that never had a chance to make it to theaters, all of which feature several recognizable faces (see Deadspace, for instance). But both of their performances here are exemplary, and it’s to the benefit of an already great film that’s made even better because of it. Special mention must also be made of Stephen McHattie as The General's surgeon/scientist, tasked with finding a cure for this infection. He plays a pretty tortured amalgamation of Eve and The General, willing to carry out The General's orders, but feeling pretty damn conflicted about it.

Film legend Brian Cox provides the narration for the film, and his deep, soulful voice is a perfect one to lead the viewer on their emotional journey. His never-seen character of Malcolm Young, descendent of Edward, reads the entries from the diary that Edward has kept all during his journey across the war-torn, zombie-infested lands of former America. There is no greater sense of legitimacy than having Brian Cox have anything to do with your film. And because the movie is told using these journal entries, beautiful animation sequences are also peppered throughout, recreated by the illustrations Edward himself drew to bring his experiences to life. What may seem foreign at first in a movie such as this soon feels normal...even appropriate.


There’s another incredibly important aspect to the film as well, and that is the absolutely wonderful musical score by Nate Kreiswirth. If you consider yourself a fan of film music, and love Clint Mansell’s The Fountain, or Nick Cave & Warren Ellis’ The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, then I give you permission to skip reading the rest of this review and head right over to Nate’s Soundcloud page, where 80% of the Exit Humanity score is available for your listening pleasure. And while you’re there, send him a message of support. Tell him that you hope his score sees the light of day in an official capacity. I’ve already told him this myself.

If Exit Humanity has one misstep, it would be in the decision to provide an explanation as to how the infection came to be. While it doesn't take away anything from the film, it could have just as easily not been included and nothing would have changed. It would still be incredibly emotional, powerful, and brilliant.

I often try very hard not to take the views and opinions of others on movies very personally. Cinema is art, and art is subjective. Your trash is my treasure, and vice-versa. But people, Exit Humanity is not Resident Evil. It’s not your SyFy garbage. In many ways, it’s not even a zombie movie. It’s a personal journey for one man in a world that happens to be infested with the walking dead. The zombies are the hook, but not the focus. The focus is Edward Young. It’s about him finding the will to keep surviving in a world where he is surrounded by those who impossibly continue to live…dead.

Exit Humanity is a living painting. It's cinematic poetry. It's, dare I say it…important.

Jul 22, 2012

DREAM

I had a dream I was interviewing Joss Whedon about a project he was producing. For some reason during my questioning I began ripping off little pieces of paper from my notes, rolling them into little balls, and throwing them at his head. He was a good sport and ignored the first few, but after a while he said:

"Stop it, or I'll bite you."

"Do your worst, Whedon," I said and bounced one right off his nose.

He promptly lunged for my left leg and sunk his teeth in just below my knee cap.

"Fucker!" I shouted. I tried to rip away from his jaws but he held on like a shark. I began punching the back of his head, but with each punch he just clenched tighter and tighter.

Beginning to panic I tried everything I could think of to get free: I continued the punching but I also flicked his face with my finger, ripped his hair, and even stuck my hand through his open teeth and stabbed at his tongue. With each assault he bit down harder and harder.

After I while I began laughing uproariously. And as I did so, Joss Whedon began to laugh, too, and eventually his toothy grip on my leg loosened. Soon he had let me go and we both just laughed at how absurd everything had just become.

Then I delivered a really solid sucker punch to his face, and we freeze-framed on this action like it was the last shot of an '80s comedy.

Then I woke up.

Jul 21, 2012

UNSUNG HORRORS: DOLORES CLAIBORNE

Every once in a while, a genuinely great horror movie—one that would rightfully be considered a classic, had it gotten more exposure and love at the box office—makes an appearance. It comes, no one notices, and it goes. But movies like this are important. They need to be treasured and remembered. If intelligent, original horror is supported, then that's what we'll begin to receive, in droves. We need to make these movies a part of the legendary genre we hold so dear. Because these are the unsung horrors. These are the movies that should have been successful, but were instead ignored. They should be rightfully praised for the freshness and intelligence and craft that they have contributed to our genre.

So, better late than never, we’re going to celebrate them now… one at a time.

Dir. Taylor Hackford
1995
Castle Rock Ent. / Warner Bros.
United States

Dolores Claiborne has always been the most wrongly unheralded Stephen King adaptation. Despite the immense talent in front of the camera and behind it, for some reason it never became either the box office juggernaut like Stand by Me, or the underground cult classic The Shawshank Redemption. And I could never figure out why, as it is far superior to both those admittedly great films. While Dolores Claiborne is not a traditional horror film per se, horrific themes are definitely at play here. There is an unrelenting darkness, along with several disturbing scenes that lend itself to our genre. While it may not be about horrific creatures that hide in the dark, it is very much about horrific human beings and what they are capable of doing to people they claim to love. It is about the horror of memory, time, betrayal, and so many other weaknesses that make humanity just as flawed as we are intriguing. And besides, on what horror blog is a work by Stephen King not welcomed with open arms?

Dolores St. George (Kathy Bates) is a loving but no-nonsense, bull-headed and forthright woman who says what’s on her mind, and hardly minds what she says. She lives on Little Tall Island, Maine, with her husband, Joe (the slimily good David Strathairn) and their young daughter, Selena (Ellen Muth of “Dead Like Me”). Joe drinks too much and seems as bull-headed as his wife, but otherwise life isn’t too bad. After all, Dolores has just gotten a job working for the very rich Vera Donovan (Judy Parfitt), and though the money isn’t rolling in, she receives enough to put in the bank every week for Selena’s eventual college tuition.

What many would consider a pretty ideal life, living in picturesque New England and right on the beautiful Atlantic ocean, comes to a screaming halt one particular afternoon when Joe’s had a bit too much to drink and he misinterprets Dolores’ chiding as an attack on his manhood and his ability to provide for his family. After swinging a large piece of firewood directly into Dolores’ spine, sending her shaking into a nearby seat, he goes back to watching television as if nothing ever happened. And what could have ended with an angry husband’s act of dominion over his wife instead ends with an intensified act of reciprocation, in which Dolores smashes a dish over his head and threatens him with an ax. An understanding between man and wife is temporarily established, but Dolores knows she’s got to get out. She just has to save a bit more money and she'll be free to flee with Selena…until one day she sees that Joe has closed her bank account, something he had no moral or legal right to do. Dolores sees her future, as well as Selena’s, come crashing down before her eyes. All the hope that was stored away in that account is gone, and she must now risk resigning herself to a permanent future where Joe is abusive to her…and a sexual predator to their own daughter.


In an eerie scene in which Dolores breaks down in Vera's presence and confesses having discovered that Joe has been molesting their daughter, Vera shows the closest thing to humanity she will exhibit during the entire film. With restrained tears in her eyes, she tells Dolores, "Men die every day. Sometimes the brakes in their cars fail as they are on their way home from their mistresses'. They die, leaving their wives their money." The message is clear: Some men do not deserve to live. Joe does not deserve to live. 

Dolores makes a choice to no longer exist as a woman in a man's world. She decides to take action. During a much-ballyhooed eclipse, which has stolen the attention of the entire town, Vera excuses Dolores from her housekeeping duties and tells her to spend the day with Joe. The exchange is simple, but her eyes speak volumes.

Dolores sets a trap, weighing Joe down with too much food and too much liquor. Once he is nearly drugged from the spread she has prepared for him, she confronts him. She tells him she knows about the bank account...and of what he's been doing to Selena. He begins to chase her, and she leads him to an open mine shaft located not too far from their property. Still drunk, he plummets through the ancient wood and hangs on for just a brief moment before falling to the darkness, and his death.

Many years later, Selena is grown and gone, and Dolores still maintains duties at Vera Donovan's house, though this time as a nursemaid. Vera, an invalid imprisoned in a wheelchair, is disgusted with what she has become. She tells Dolores she hates the smell of being old, and she just wants to be done. She throws herself from her wheelchair and tumbles down the stairs, injuring herself quite badly but not quite finishing the job. She begs Dolores to put her out of her misery. Dolores nearly does, with a marble rolling pin, before she is interrupted. For the second time in her life, she will be tied to a murder of someone close to her. It will bring a daughter home (now played by Jennifer Jason Leigh) and force her to confront the memories she has long repressed, and it will cause an old nemesis to begin circling again, this time determined not to let her get away.

Dolores Claiborne is very much a film about female empowerment. Dolores, Selena, and Vera are all victims of the men in their lives who were never supposed to do anything more than love them and take care of them. Dolores suffers physical and emotional abuse, Selena is sexually used by her editor/boss, not to mention her own father, and Vera is imprisoned for years in a loveless marriage with an unfaithful and distant husband. Vera’s own adage, “Sometimes being a bitch is the only thing a woman has to hang onto,” is eventually passed from her, to mother, to daughter, and all three recite the motto at some point. And yeah, it's easy to point to a film like Dolores Claiborne and call it a female empowerment film, all based on the fact that women play the primary roles in the film, but to make such an assumption would cheapen the care that went into the careful crafting of the story. Dolores isn’t just roughed up by her husband; she’s disregarded by Mr. Pease, the local bank’s president, whose silence basically concedes to Dolores’ claims that Joe had no rightful access to her account. And she’s been the target of John Mackey’s decades-long attempts to see her pay for Joe’s death, for which he knows she is responsible.

In one particular scene where Mackey requests a hair sample from Dolores’ head, she wryly states, “Go ahead, I ain’t entering any beauty pageants this week.” Because Dolores was never meant for that kind of life, her physical attributes notwithstanding. Because she’s not a womanly woman. Though she is loving and fiercely maternal, she has a man’s resolve and even his masculinity. Her years of wintry outdoor laundry has given her a man’s ruined hands and stolen any good looks she might have had. She did not live the idealized life of a woman, or even a man. She lived her life as a broken soul, isolated, persecuted, and alone.

Following the death of her husband, Dolores changes her name back to the maiden Claiborne. Because after rightfully (?) killing Joe to save her and Selena from a life of torment, she has rediscovered her womanhood and her independence, though not without consequences. Perhaps most telling, during the last scene that Dolores and Vera will share in the past, where the death of Joe becomes an inevitability, Vera icily tells her, "It's a depressingly masculine world we live in."


Though the film details the redemption of our three primary women, don't assume that the few men present are painted as weak, imbecilic, or otherwise inferior. That would be an easy out, and the novel and script are smarter than that. However, that doesn't mean the men aren't your antagonists, because they most certainly are. In fact, there is a male antagonist present for both time periods: Joe in the past, and John Mackey in the present. And while John Mackey is only doing his job, there is almost no chance for you to like him. He is obsessed with bringing down Dolores for her crimes, either for having killed Joe, or possibly Vera. He never had a chance to be liked. And though I earlier mentioned that the men are not depicted as inferior because they simply are men, it must be a very emasculating feeling for John Mackey that seemingly an entire town knows Dolores offed her own husband, and yet he was never able to prove it. As for John C. Reilly’s Constable Frank Stamshaw, he is the perhaps the most decent and likeable character in the film, though he seems all too eager to stay out of Dolores’ and Mackey’s warpath, leaving him appearing gutless and childlike.

Five years after winning Best Actress for her deranged portrayal of Annie Wilkes in another King adaption, 1990’s Misery, Kathy Bates revels in yet another King-created woman riddled with dark secrets and a past she tries to keep buried. Her role is one in which she is not afraid to look unkempt and unglamorous. She wears every year of her life in her winkled face, and her gray hair swirls above her in the cold winter winds. Her eyes are the most haunting part, as they contain a deadness that only comes from too much life. She is someone who has spent the better part of her life with only one person: her employer, the irascible Vera Donovan. Dolores’ tenure at the Donovan house gradually matriculates from house keeper to house nurse during Vera’s elderly years, feeding her, cleaning her bedpans, and lifting her in and out of bed. The pay is shit, and Dolores is too old for such work, but the two women remain together because they are all each other has. It’s a sad life for both of them, but it’s the life each was given.

Jennifer Jason Leigh is probably the most underrated actress of our time. She has shown an amazing versatility throughout her career, leaping from mile-a-minute news reporter in the screwball comedy The Hudsucker Proxy, to outright psycho in Single White Female. She is that very rare actress who possesses the ability of her male counterparts Daniel Day Lewis and Gary Oldman to disappear, chameleon-like, into her roles. Her performance here is her career-best, forced to play a woman living in complete denial as to what happened in her youth, hoping that pills and booze and a career grilling prominent male figures for the truth will help to bury the real truth, should it ever begin to work its way up into the recesses of her mind.


Speaking of underrated, David Strathairn plays the perfect kind of slime ball here. Relegated to supporting work for most of his career, he plays wonderfully against type and paints himself as the cancer tearing through the St. George household. He is rotten to his wife and daughter, but in very different ways. There is a very disgusting undercurrent within his “relationship” that he shares with his daughter. It’s bad enough that he’s molesting his own flesh and blood, but he even goes as far as giving her a piece of jewelry that once belonged to his mother…as if Selena were not his daughter, but a woman he were courting. It’s sick and depraved, and subtly makes you wonder just what on earth is going on inside his mind. In the scene where the grown Selena is forced to recollect her father’s abuse, and Joe forces his daughter’s hand inside his open jacket, he isn’t a grinning monster with a deviant face. He looks very worried and even terrified—that he’s become this man willing to do this to his own daughter, and that he seems unable or unwilling to stop.

The hardest job on the film belongs to Ellen Muth, who is tasked with displaying a wide range of emotions. She plays a girl who goes from happy-go-lucky to emotionally destroyed almost over night. Like many victims of sexual molestation, she is filled with anger, humiliation, and guilt. It rockets across her mind almost daily, where it gets to the point that she tries to spend as much time away from home as possible, spending it at a nearby hotel where she has been working. And in the scene I earlier mentioned in which Joe forces his daughter’s hand, Hackford lets the camera linger on young Selena’s face. The moment her hand makes contact with her father, you can literally see her die. All the fear disappears from her face and her eyes become immediately hard. On the commentary track, Hackford explains that for this scene, Muth utilized a tactic she learned after spending time with victims of familial molestation: that every time it happened to one of them, they pretended to be a bird, or a stone, or a cloud—something that allowed them to leave their body and become this other thing, so that they did not have to experience the horror that was occurring. While this does come across in Muth’s performance during this scene, I see more of the former. I see quite literally the death of her innocence.


In a well-known anecdote, after Judy Parfitt auditioned for the role of Vera Donovan, Kathy Bates reportedly turned to director Hackford, and said, “Who was THAT?” With such a performance, it’s not hard to see why. Judy’s role as stone-cold bitch Vera Donovan is stone-cold good, and her transformation from the uppity, bitchy socialite into the bed-ridden invalid is even more impressive than Kathy Bates’ own. She is the catalyst that both dooms and saves the entire St. George family; her presence systematically seals each of their fates. It is because of her that Joe dies, that Dolores becomes hunted and vilified, and Selena is rescued from her tormenting father, if not the scars he left behind.

As for Christopher Plummer, well, he could shit on a dinner plate and call it steak and I’d believe it. The man is a genius, and his presence on any film immediately legitimizes it. His obsessive and ruthless take on Detective John Mackey is a wonderful foil to Bates’ Claiborne. He proudly claims that he’s never been wrong (“not when it counted”), and he makes it known that he was able to close every single one of his murder investigations except one. Guess which. The scene he shares with Leigh at the conclusion of the film – one in which Dolores, for the first and last time in the film, remains meekly quiet – is nothing short of miraculous. These two titans go at it with all the unleashed fury and vitriol they can muster, and it’s completely awing to watch them go back and forth. Besting the antagonistic opponent in a film is one thing, but when that subjugation comes using only words, its extremely powerful and rewarding. It’s one of the best-scripted scenes I’ve ever seen.


There’s one more performance in the film that needs to be mentioned: that of Nova Scotia, standing in for the fictional Little Tall Island, Maine. Though the surroundings are often dark and foreboding, and the elements harshly cold, there is no denying the natural beauty of the place. From the water to American iconography, Nova Scotia works so eerily well as a New England stand-in that for years I believed the film had actually been shot there.

Director Taylor Hackford injects Dolores Claiborne with cold blues in an attempt to make his audience freeze to death. New England is known for its extreme winters, and he endeavors to capture that as best as he can. And he does. To watch this film is to stand outside in the dead of winter wearing a bathrobe. Like I mentioned in my fellating write-up of Ravenous, wintry landscape does wonders for a film where you want your audience to feel isolated, stark, somber, and hopeless. He wants you to feel like that because that’s how Selena feels, and that’s how Dolores has been living for the last twenty years.

The scenes involving the eclipse are exceedingly complex, combining elements of green screen, in-camera effects, and CGI. While the look of the sky in the last few minutes before the sun is covered borders on artificiality, the look is still somehow appropriate. Because, as we all know, one does not simply watch an eclipse. So who knows what it really looks like? And it helps that Little Tall Island is briefly transformed in this foreign looking place dripping with vibrant and cartoon colors. Because Dolores’ world is changing. After she finishes the job of killing her husband to spare both her life as well as Selena’s, Dolores realizes she will never be the same. That what she has done is going to be with her for the rest of her life, and that it will define her as a person, both from her daughter’s point of view as well as the town’s.


It’s always difficult to tell a story that takes place in two different time periods, but Hackford not only pulls off such a device, but actually finds way to show that past and present are merging. Scenes in which Dolores begins recollecting will feature a character from the past enter through a door behind her, and it never fails to be jarring. If Hackford is the first person to utilize such a device on film I could not say, but I’m confident I’ve seen it utilized several times since then.

Taylor Hackford has had a pretty stable and consistent career, though besides an Officer and a Gentleman, has never really directed a movie that both caught the attention of the masses and pleased the critics. His biggest hit to date may be 2004’s Ray, about the life of Ray Charles, but he’s stayed mainly out of the limelight. Which is a shame, because Dolores Claiborne deserved many more accolades than it received. Though it made five times the amount that The Shawshank Redemption did in its opening weekend, Hackford hasn’t quite enjoyed the same success of his colleague Frank Darabont. Here’s hoping he returns to the Stephen Kingdom sometime soon. 

Dolores Claiborne is not a feel-good movie, not even at the end when the redemption for our characters becomes prominent. This is a film where no one smiles, unless it's a rueful one. And it’s a film where the cold, dark surroundings of wintertime wraps itself around you with frigid arms, refusing to let go, your only relief being the flashback sequences filled with dazzling sunlight and warm breezes…during which a well-known and well-liked man named Joe St. George is inside molesting his teenaged daughter. It is an ugly film about ugly things, and even when mother and daughter are emotionally reunited at the end, their presence in each other’s futures is still left largely ambiguous. We want and need for Dolores and Selena to reconcile, and to have the relationship that many of us are lucky enough to have, and are foolish enough to take for granted. But decades of secrets and pain are a lot to overcome, and we can only hope they both find the peace for which they long.

Jul 19, 2012

REVIEW: THE DISCO EXORCIST


The other day I received a screener for The Disco Exorcist in the mail. I took one look at the synopsis...and I groaned. And after I watched the trailer, out of curiosity...I groaned even louder. But, because I vowed to review every single piece of material sent my way, I bit my lip and hit play.

I gotta tell ya...I laughed quite a bit. And not ironically. I found much of it to be legitimately funny.

As is all the rage these days, The Disco Exorcist is shot to look like a '70s film - more specifically, a satanic thriller...but with a lot of sex. Think Boogie Nights, when Jack Horner wants nothing more than to make a legitimate cheesy action film that happens to feature a lot of sex. Bad wigs, bad disco, horrendous acting: that is The Disco Exorcist in a nutshell, but on purpose.


As the opening title sequence declares, Michael Reed is Rex Romanski: The Disco Exorcist. From what I can garner, he has no job whatsoever, but because he is a wicked disco dancer, he manages to bed pretty much every single woman who catches even a mere glimpse of his ludicrous wig. One day Rex beds and dismisses the wrong girl - a fellow discoer named Rita Marie - who happens to not only be completely insane, but also a bewitching practicer of the dark arts. Once Rita Marie is scorned, she turns her devilish attention to Amoreena Jones, Rex's new main squeeze as well as a porn star. Murderous manipulation ensues. Black-eyed possession becomes commonplace. And it is up to Rex Romanski to save the day, vanquish evil, and receive, like, fifty blowjobs during the course of the adventure.

The Disco Exorcist is exactly the kind of movie Troma would make, only it actually manages to be funny. And it also has a lot more penises. While not all of the intended humor works (and to be fair, not even your favorite comedy is flawless in this regard), I have to say the screenplay was not only very funny at parts, but in some ways reminiscent of Woody Allen's late '70s career, where he took more chances and seemed both angrier and more absurd. Props especially must be given to Rich Threteway as Angel, whose every line gave me one laugh bigger than the last. His poorly performed and faux Italian accent made each of his ridiculous lines all the more amusing.

Though for films like this the temptation to be self-aware may be overpowering, there are no cheap jokes in regards to The Exorcist, The Evil Dead, or the like. (Although I'll be damned if I didn't hear an, "Oh, Hi, Mark!" crammed somewhere in there.) 

The filmmakers did a great job in post of making the film look every bit as old as it's supposed to be. Unlike Tarantino's Death Proof, his half of Grindhouse, they actually bothered to maintain the weathered look from beginning to end, and it lent a touch of novelty to the movie's bizarre events.

Even better, The Disco Exorcist is actually smarter than you would think. What appears to be, on the surface, nothing more than a c-grade skin flick is actually a morality tale about misogyny, monogamy, and women empowerment. These were common themes in the horror genre during the '70s, perhaps best exemplified by Meir Zarchi's Day of the Woman (aka I Spit on Your Grave). Not bad for a movie that rips off a man's penis and throws it across the room (for laughs).


The Disco Exorcist opens with sex, closes with sex, and crams a whole lot of sex into the middle portion, known as "the rest of the movie." And though the ironically-titled green band trailer (which wasn't "green" at all) should have prepared me for all the sex, I was still taken aback. And before you shout at me, possible fan of the film, I understand that the horror genre has long included, even since the 1960s, this sub-genre of c-grade to z-grade exploitation films featuring very shoddy film making, even shoddier acting, and very mangy nudity. Some of the stuff is often outright porn, with some tedious set pieces in between the hardcore scenes serving as pathetic tools to keep the action moving forward. This isn't a sub-genre I particularly seek out, not for any reason other than it's just not my bag. I know some people out there are into this, and that's cool. Perhaps me complaining about the amount of sex is like saying there are too many dream sequences in A Nightmare on Elm Street. I'm sure one of the points of the film was to fill it with campy and over-the-top sex scenes, as that's exactly what the filmmakers were going for. It's a tough call to make, but for me personally, crude humor was used as a crutch far too often. Were it not for all the debauchery involved, I would happily recommend The Disco Exorcist to more of my like-minded friends, for if I did that now, they'd look at me as if I were some kind of pervert. 

I guess The Disco Exorcist will have to remain my dirty little secret.


Definitely NSFW Trailer.

Jul 18, 2012

Jul 16, 2012

ARE YOU HENRY?

"In Heaven, everything is fine.
In Heaven, everything is fine.
You've got your good things.
And I've got mine."

Jul 14, 2012

REVIEW: GOD BLESS AMERICA

"My name is Frank. But that's not important. The important question is, 'Who are you?' America has become a cruel and vicious place. We reward the shallowest, the dumbest, the meanest, and the loudest. We no longer have any common sense or decency. No sense of shame. There is no right and wrong. The worst qualities in people are looked up to and celebrated. Lying and spreading fear are fine, as long as you make money doing it. We've become a nation of slogan-saying, bile-spewing hate-mongers. We've lost our kindness. We've lost our soul."
Between his feature film debut, World’s Greatest Dad, and now with this, Bobcat Goldthwait just might be the angriest man alive.

Luckily he’s got a sense of humor about it.

Frank (Joel Murray, “Mad Men”) has had enough. After being unceremoniously fired from his job for harmlessly sending flowers to the receptionist, and after being told by his extremely snotty daughter that she refuses to come visit because he’s boring, and after being told by his moon roof-loving doctor that he has an irreparable brain tumor growing inside him, Frank gives up. And after catching glimpse after glimpse on his television of how ugly and rotten American culture has become, he decides to take down as many rotten and spoiled motherfuckers as he can before eating his final bullet.

Sounds all kinds of bleak and depressing, doesn’t it? Well, it’s not. It’s actually kind of hilarious.

Along the way, Frank meets Roxy (Tara Lynn Bar, star of copious Disney programming), who is equally disgusted with the state of American culture. After witnessing Frank kill Chloe, who is meant to be a riff on the starlets of MTV’S "My Super Sweet 16," Roxy joins Frank on his crusade to exterminate the vapid and the offensive. It brings them literally across the country, laying waste to those they feel are harming every day citizens, as well as punishing the rude and mean when necessary. Their relationship is very similar to the one shared between Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page from last year's Super.


God Bless America is a concept that I’m sure many of us have been writing in our heads over the last five to ten years. I know I have. It is an absolute crucifixion of the American culture, a term I really use loosely. Because America has no culture. As the Republican Party attempts to cut funding to National Public Radio, a harmless little radio station that only wants to play classical and jazz, present live readings of literature, and transmit audio documentaries, "Jersey Shore," meanwhile, is greenlit for a fourth or fifth or whatever-the-fuckth-season. As arts programs in public schools shrink smaller and smaller, every single fucking kid in the world inexplicably has an iPhone or an iPad. And as schools struggle to have at least one computer in each classroom, those that do are used to log onto Youtube and watch people die, or hurt themselves, or hurt others.

Think of God Bless America as an angrier and darker Idiocracy.

I’m sure many of us have had enough. Filmmaker Bobcat Goldthwait definitely has. The movie isn’t just a condemnation of American culture, but a warning as to what so many of us are very possibly thinking. For how much longer will Bill O’Riley or Rush Limbaugh get away with imposing their personal and vitriolic political opinions but calling them facts before some of us finally go mad and do a bit of house-cleaning ourselves? How many of us would take a baseball bat to Snooki’s knees if we ever came across her in a dark alley? How much longer will we all be able to stand seeing multiple television shows capturing every waking moment of the Kardashians, or Paris Hilton, or every single person who is famous simply because they were born into money, but are actually terrible and cruel people?


Interestingly, Frank’s anger is directed at “American Superstar,” very much an “American Idol” parody that re-imagines the William Hung fiasco with a mentally challenged singer named Steven Carter. I say interestingly because while it becomes the focal point of Frank’s rage, the show is actually depicted as the least harmful and least obnoxious of all his other targets. I suppose that could have been the point—that the most harmful parts of our culture are those that aren’t on-the-surface evil until we began to really break them down and realize just how much they are infecting our unconsciousness and turning us into an army of insensitive assholes.

And that scene in the movie theater…tell me with a straight face that you’ve never fantasized about blowing off the faces of the assholes sitting a few rows behind you who frequently answer their phone and talk way too loud.

Watching God Bless America, you might be shocked, and you will definitely laugh, but as the credits roll on the film, that indifference and angst you might have momentarily put away will come flooding back. Because this movie is just that: a movie. When you go out your front door, people are still going to be rude, and hurtful, and completely self-absorbed. When you turn on that television, people who have never worked a day in their lives are going to act like fat, nasty cows while you count the few miserable waking hours you have before retiring to bed to prepare for another nine hours in your too-hot, cubicle-shaped prison cell.


G.B.A. just might be something I revisit on a regular basis to live vicariously through Frank and Roxy’s actions, and hope that one day someone actually picks up where they left off…but this time for real.

Jul 12, 2012

KREEG'S TASK

"It happened thirty years ago on a late Halloween afternoon. A school bus was on its usual route, but this wasn’t your typical school bus… and they weren’t your typical kids. There were eight of them, and they were… different… troubled… disturbed. Every day, parents put their dirty secrets on this bus to be driven to a school miles outside of town. But that day, the driver took a different route. And instead of taking the students home, he drove the bus to an abandoned rock quarry. What the kids didn’t know is that over the years their parents had become exhausted… embarrassed… and they were willing to do anything to ease their burden. So one day, the parents approached the bus driver and made him an offer. With the money they collected together, they asked him to do the unthinkable...."
 
 

Jul 11, 2012

DEMENTIA

"Come with me into the tormented, haunted, half-lit night of the insane. This is my world. Let me lead you into it. Let me take you into the mind of a woman who is mad. You may not recognize some things in this world, and the faces will look strange to you. For this is a place where there is no love, no hope...in the pulsing, throbbing world of the insane mind, where only nightmares are real..."

Source.

Jul 10, 2012

REVIEW: A NECESSARY DEATH


"It's not that I want to die. It's just that I don't want to live anymore."

The "story" of filmmaker Daniel Stamm is one that is starting to become irritating and all-too-common within the unhallowed hills of Hollywood. A Necessary Death, his found footage film debut, made the festival rounds and captured all kinds of attention, including that of hack Eli Roth. In conjunction with Strike Entertainment, Roth hooked Stamm up with the gig of directing The Last Exorcism, another found footage film, this time with far less brains and more cheap theatrics. And like so many other directors, whose knack for low budget and unique ideas was wasted on brainless studio fare, Stamm, too, was instead assigned to a generic project that was entirely beneath him. After first watching The Last Exorcism, I was merely disappointed by what as only an overly hyped film. But now, after watching A Necessary Death, I look at Exorcism not just as a bad film, but as a huge waste of time, money, and resources, all of which could have been used on a different project for which Stamm had more interest and passion.

A Necessary Death is not only remarkable, but the most realistic found footage movie I've ever seen. Though it would not be traditionally considered a horror movie, the fact that this narrative could very well have been a real documentary is what truly provides the audience with all the horror it could ever need. In this day and age, in which the curious could literally log onto Youtube and watch real people dying real deaths; and in this time where everything needs to be recorded on video and released to the masses, whether that be journalists being beheaded by terrorists, or a man's face being eaten off on a Florida street, A Necessary Death could literally have been released and marketed as a 100% real documentary and I doubt it would have caused any sort of uproar. It's this kind of demonizing, yet desensitization, to death and dying that has driven our filmmaker/lead character, a college student named Gilbert, to carry out his vision: to capture, from first realization to final act, a person's suicide. It is the very kind of ego-inflated, self-important, pretentious idea that any college student might have, which makes it all the more believable.


After a series of open interviews, in which candidates vie to be the focus of Gilbert's film, he and his crew settle on a kid named Mathew, who is dying from an untreatable brain condition and has opted to end his life before encountering the condition's very painful final stages. After Gilbert explains the "point" of the documentary to Mathew - to strip away the taboo and baggage associated with suicide and show that the person who wants to end their life is completely cognizant of their decision - Mathew agrees to be the focal point.

Like all things in life, God laughs as we make plans, and what started off as a peculiar but straightforward project eventually becomes anything but. It all unfolds strikingly realistically, and except for one or two sequences that reek too much of narrative, it never comes across as blatantly cinematic. Meaning, if a person had told me to watch the movie and told me it was real, I would have believed that person...that is until the ending.


A Necessary Death is an amazing debut from a young filmmaker. It is a highly emotional journey, as the characters onscreen are just as affected by the events as the movie's audience. We understand, condone, root for, and then eventually despise Gilbert. His transformation is as obvious and dark as the unfolding events of the film. A slightly arrogant but ultimately likeable young student (who goes as far as alerting social services after two young girls come to his suicide candidate interview, which shows that he does have a conscience), eventually devolves into the very thing you may have sensed was inevitable, but definitely hoped was not unavoidable. It very much captures very real people experiencing very real conflicts and emotions in conjunction with the project. And the scenes consisting of Mathew and the film crew visiting Mathew's mother, and lying to her as to why Mathew is the focus of their documentary, is especially heartbreaking. We as the audience cannot help but put ourselves in Mathew's shoes. We can't help but wonder how it would seem if that were our mother, or father, or grandmother or grandfather - someone who cared for us and loved us and would die a thousand times before we ever experienced pain - and wonder if we would ever be able to wear that fake smile and tell that lie without breaking down in front of them.

The actors are all incredibly wonderful and real, especially Mathew. He isn't the slobbering mess our preconceived notions of a suicidal person may fool us into expecting. He is a kid who happens to be dying, and who very calmly has made a decision based on his own needs and desires. He's not just some sad sack who is heartbroken over a bad break-up, or who feels the world is a cruel place. Ironically, he is a kid who would actually prefer to live - who shows signs of being happy with who he is and the life he so far has lived - but who understands that his proverbial ticket has already been punched. 

Gilber, too, is real, and likeable, though marginally less so than Mathew. Because he is the person endeavoring to capture a death on camera, by default you approach him with great caution. Though the movie takes great pains to paint him as an equally sympathetic person, who looks at his project as a way of waking up the masses and forcing them to see that suicide shouldn't be this shameful thing we hide away in our subconscious, the movie relents that because it is providing us with this character, we will never be 100% behind him. But we do want him to succeed. It's a very dangerous gamble to make, as how the audience approaches and responds to the film rests entirely on Gilbert's ability to be a sympathetic character. Luckily, he does.

The rest of the supporting cast, one of whom ultimately derails the the project once they become a bit too close to the film's subject, all do a great job at playing their roles exactly as they should be playing them. They aren't entirely comfortable with the film's topic, though they agree what is being captured is important. At several times throughout the film they all sort of tag up at first to remind Gilbert and the audience that though they're driven to continue, they are hesitant as well. (Stamm also appears as the documentary's cameraman.)


My only qualm is with the ending, and I can honestly say in the case of A Necessary Death that the "alternate ending" included on this screener copy of the DVD is more realistic and more affecting than the one the filmmakers opted to go with. While being as completely spoiler free as I can, I will say this: when the garage door comes down at the climax of the film, your heart will be in your stomach, as mine was. But some of this shock occurs due to its inevitability, which is somewhat telegraphed at the beginning of the sequence. While the "alternate" ending may be less shocking, it is far more realistic, and far more haunting.

A Necessary Death, though made in 2008, has only very recently come to DVD, and can also be purchased through iTunes.