Sunday, October 29, 2017

Baskin (2015)

Bathed in beautiful blues and reds, with an often pounding heartbeat of a soundtrack, Baskin is a nightmarish 1hr37min. You may well breathe a sigh of relief once it's done.

Directed by Can Evrenol as his first feature, this is the long-form version of his short film of the same name, describing the same events. Here's the Netflix blurb:
"A group of tough Turkish lawmen answer a call from a remote town and stumble into a gory Black Mass that appears to be occurring literally in Hell."

The intensity of that is well-deserved. As they venture further down into the darkness of the sub-levels of an abandoned building, these cops discover rooms of abhorrent acts, torture, mutilation, and satanic rituals.

Time for these men skips and loops, too, so along with some mind-bending and batshit encounters, we're forced to question too what is real, or what is happening when.

Initially with only their torchlight to guide them, we see slices of horrors before being able to take in the full tableau. Catching glimpses of incredibly fucked up shit is arguably worse, because your brain fills in the gaps.

Oh that's what she's doing!

And then comes the point where you're able to see everything that's happening, and you wish for the darkness and ignorance again.

Some horror films become more than simply "horrific"; those that use their imagery in such a way that it becomes a deeper level of offensive or taboo-breaking. Not just the subject matter, but the way it's presented. I found Baskin to be such a film. I'm not in the least bit religious, but there were things in this that disturbed me more than normal horror fare. The vibe of this film is evil. Its intensity and the blood-drenched, religious forward-motion of the characters reminded me of Martyrs (a film I like, but have never been able to watch more than once).

It's an understatement to say that Baskin is not for the squeamish, or the easily shocked. It's beautiful to look at, but what you are looking at is... well, deeply fucked up, a lot of the time! This is a serial killer's fever dream.

Streaming on Netflix at time of writing...

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Blood Lands / White Settlers (2014)

As much as it pains me not to like a film with Pollyanna McIntosh in it, I have to say this one was a miss for me.

It just made me want to watch Eden Lake again... which is some feat, considering how grim Eden Lake is (but in a good way). A married couple threatened by locals in a remote area hasn't got any more horrifying since, in my opinion.

Theoretically, The Blood Lands (or White Settlers, if you prefer, though neither name really suits it, to be honest) has the makings of something great: masks, home invasion, pursuits through woodland, yet another - my third this month! - Achilles Tendon injury...! But the chemistry between the leads was lacking as much as the tension over their fates.

It sucks, but with the high concentration of films I'm watching this month, I'd have no time left at all if I were to dwell too much on the ones that don't ring my bell. This isn't an all-out "avoid!", but more an "I was disappointed but open to hear a counter-argument if you have one". 

On Netflix now! :P

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Cabin Fever (2002) & Hostel (2005)

Do you like Eli Roth? I can't make up my mind. I kind of accidentally watched two of his films back-to-back the other night.

Both Cabin Fever and Hostel show us a group of friends way out of their element, far from home and under threat. Both are satisfyingly (and practically, effects speaking) gory and gross, and both were strong enough in premise and critical/audience reception to have spawned sequels and remakes. Let's take a little look at them...

Even though I've never considered myself an Eli Roth "fan" as such, I remember having an appreciation for his work. Sure, it's a little immature, but it comes from a love of the genre, right?

Hostel's Natalya (Barbara Nedeljakova)

To focus first on the women in these films (because that's where my representation interests lay most heavily), I have to give Roth his due; there's an evolution from the standard "helpless and topless" female characters. Natalya (above) is actually by far the most interesting character in Hostel: she's presented in more than one dimension and has something approaching a character arc! Natalya begins as a sexually liberated hook-up, and progresses through lure to full on traitor, with her appearance following the disintegration of her morality. More thought went into that than I remembered, to be honest.

Cabin Fever has another strong brunette in Marcy (Cerina Vincent). She is comfortable with her sexuality (which I guess in these films amounts to "is willing to get naked" but I'm not judging - women like sex!) and she's also brave and capable.

She's also the bum in this Texas Chainsaw Massacre homage shot!

Female representation is, surprisingly, not as poor as I recalled. There are still ample scenes of sex (centred on the male experience, of course) and boobs, but at least we have characters who are ultimately more than their body parts. They are somewhat multi-faceted personalities, not just a walking pair of tits.

Male characters... don't fare so well. Let's just say that the most striking thing on this rewatch was the reminder that early 2000's Roth sure did a fine line in absolute douchebags. From Bert (James DeBello, below left) in Cabin Fever to all three male leads in Hostel, if you ever feel an inexplicable need to hear characters call one another "fag" and "gay" repeatedly, then you're in luck, I guess?!

Cabin Fever's Jeff (Joey Kern, above right) experiences the best/worst reward for his selfish arseholeness, in another horror homage moment at the film's climax. Having saved himself from infection by abandoning his friends, he staggers out of his hiding place and back to the cabin. In a less shocking but still cool nod to hero Ben's fate in Night of the Living Dead, he's promptly shot and killed by police.

In terms of gore, I feel like it's kind of redundant to comment on at this point. Hostel shows us so much realistic violence that it was rolled into the whole "torture porn" debate. Cabin Fever too, is stomach-churningly gruesome (the shaving scene!) but comes under less fire due to the intent; sick shit is happening to these kids, but it's not directly at the hands of others gaining pleasure from it. In Hostel, people are deliberately captured, sold, sat down and tortured. It all looks very real.

To some this is too much, it's a step too far to show such extreme pain with no real message behind it. Personally, I use the "torture porn" label as a way to know what the movie is about, and gauge if I'm in the mood for it, but it's not a deal breaker by any means. Experiencing the pushing of boundaries is all part of being a horror fan, for me. And if the characters are set up the right way, well, I want to see those kills. Not everything has to have a message!

And if we're talking sick stuff, I'll take this opportunity to say that I've a real soft spot for films that use sexual arousal and infection as an interchangeable/confused notion. The scene with Paul (teen Jo crush Rider Strong) and Karen (Jordan Ladd) in bed, where he's trying to initiate something and moves his hand under the sheets, only to take it out a minute later covered in blood and goo... Hahaha, so good!

Contracted plays with this too, when the main character passes on her virus to a lover and her putrefying pussy is mistaken for being wet from sexual arousal. It's so sick and I love it!

Both of these are on US Netflix at time of writing, and worth revisiting if it's been a while since you've seen them and are happy to take them for what they are. Roth certainly knows what works for an uncomplicated and few-holds-barred horror movie, and he clearly loves being part of the genre. These were not quite as "from a mind of a ten year old boy" as my memory had me believe - the cringey homophobic language aside - and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I still enjoyed them.

But it must be said that the director cameo in Cabin Fever is one of the worst I've ever seen...!

Edited to add: Ugh. Forget any praise for him. I've just been made aware of this interview. Gross.