FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

May 5, 2010

Short Review Round-Up Part 1!

Man, the movies I need to review have been pilin' up and pilin' up- so much so that I'm afraid of the pile. How can I dig myself out from under it? How can I dig myself out when it keeps growing? When I feel such désespoir du blog, I should remember my mantra: what would Arbogast do? He would cook up a fresh batch of Arbogast minis, that's what he would do. Now, I can't call these Arbogast minis, and calling them minis of any variety feels gauche. Therefore, I will call these Short Reviews. That there's poetry, I know. Don't be intimidated!

Ab-Normal Beauty

Art student Jiney (Race Wong) is bored with her work. She carries her camera around dutifully, but can't find inspiration in her surroundings. One afternoon she witnesses a fatal car accident and impulsively photographs a dead body- the thrill of capturing the delicate moments between life and death awaken a new passion. She moves on to photographing dead animals, going so far as to orchestrate their bloody demises at the butcher shop- as the cleaver chops harder and faster, Jiney furiously clicks the shutter.

Boundaries of taste, already strained to the breaking point, are obliterated when she captures a suicidal woman's plummet from rooftop to sidewalk. Though she thrives on the adrenaline rush, Jiney is troubled by all the death surrounding her- she begins to hallucinate. The model in her painting class begins to bleed- is this a manifestation of Jiney's guilt over dabbling in the macabre, or is Ab-Normal beauty going to turn into Shutter? Is this a cameras steal souls and the ghosts want revenge flick? I mean, it is an Asian horror film, after all, so it must feature vengeful ghosts, right?

Nope. That adrenaline rush that Jiney feels is like that provided by any other drug or extreme behavior; she becomes desensitized and she must push herself further in order to feel anything at all. You know how it is- you get hooked on the giddy feeling from a glass of Riunite, so you drink a glass every day. When a glass isn't enough to make you giddy, you start downing a bottle a day. When that no longer works, you chase that bottle of Riunite with a box of Franzia. When, after all that, you still remember that your life is a complete fuck-up, you drink everything in the house to ease the pain, right down to that jug of Jean Naté After Bath Splash your gramma gave you when you were 8 but for some reason it's still sitting at the back of your closet.

Umm. Anyway.

So, when Jiney brandishes a butcher knife during a photo session with a friend, you think maybe Ab-Normal Beauty will become that kind of movie and Jiney is going to go around killing people for the art of it all.

But it's not. As memories resurface and we learn more about Jiney, the film becomes something else altogether, something more compelling than the two movies it could have been, something with a bit more substance. I love that the ride didn't end up where I thought it was going to, and that the twists and turns of the narrative weren't cheap or present simply for the (unshocking) shock value of a twist.

With Ab-Normal Beauty (Sei mong se jun, 2004), the Pang Brothers have outdone themselves with regards to style. The film- virtually every frame- is so beautiful that I want to eat it. I wouldn't even bother with condiments- that's how delicious it looks. At times the film may be a little too stylish for its own good- some music cues don't really jive with the action, and the climax is almost too murky to enjoy but sakes alive, they know how to work the frame.

The Human Centipede

Oh, Human Centipede. You're perhaps the most anticipated film in recent memory, solely based on your freakshow concept. An eeeevil surgeon grafts victims' asses to other victims' mouths to fulfill his insane vision: to create a human centipede...say whaaaaat? I think reactions to the concept went something like this: "Gross!" That "gross" was then followed by "Why?" The answer to the second reaction, according to writer/director Tom Six, is essentially the first reaction: it's a gross concept, so he made a movie out of it.

Unfortunately, The Human Centipede is little more than a gross concept. That concept, of course, is revealed when you read a synopsis or watch the what is there to expect when the big reveal occurs long before you begin watching the film? Where can the movie go from, well, from showing the centipede? Sadly, it doesn't really go anywhere. Half an hour in you get your centipede, and then it all just sits there. Or rather, sometimes it sits there and sometimes it's made to crawl around. Regardless, not much happens.

Now, I don't think people are clamoring to see this movie because they think it's going to be some deep meditation on man's place in the universe or something. Let's face it- The Human Centipede appeals to that part of us- or, at least, that part of some of us- that wants to see something gross. A movie featuring asses attached to mouths and shared digestive tracts has to be disgusting, right? Like, the most shocking thing you've ever seen? Or, at least, the most shocking thing you've ever seen that's fiction, I guess I should say. I've seen about 20 seconds of 2 Girls, 1 Cup. I learned my lesson, and I think that my lingering childhood curiosity about gross things has been put to rest forever.

As such, I was happy to find The Human Centipede surprisingly tame. There's a bit of surgery, a bit of pus, and...not much else. It's not explicit in the least- rather, it's all implied. How this affects your enjoyment of the film (if "enjoyment" is the right word) is, of course, your bag, baby.

Without the expected shocks, though, what is there? Not much beyond some bad acting and a ridiculously over-the-top performance from Dieter Laser (best name ever) as evil Doktor Heiter. It had some enjoyable moments, but overall...well, who knew that ass-to-mouth could be so damn dull?


When Turistas hit in 2006, hot on the heels of Eli Roth's Hostel, I blew it off as...well, as a copycat of Hostel. "Torture porn" movies were en vogue, and frankly that ridiculously-named subgenre doesn't much appeal to me. However, the movie ended up on IFC recently and, I decided to give it a go- partially due to a "Why the hell not?" frame of mind and partially due to the fact that Olivia Wilde is in it. Even if it's the worst movie in the world, it's worth watching because come on you guys, she's so fucking pretty. Lucky me, it's not the worst movie in the world! In fact, I thought it was better than not the worst in the world- I kind of dug it.

To generalize, the horror community bitches an awful lot- mostly justified- about the vapidity of the genre's current output, about slickness of the retreads and rehashes, about how content seems to be dictated by boardrooms. Back in the day, horror filmmakers had something to say, dammit, about race relations and religion and society- all those Masters of Horror gave us substance with our scares, and why isn't anyone doing that today? It's all music videos and video games.

However, Turistas got me thinking (and talking with Heidi) about whether or not that complaint- that there's no relevance to these films- is true. There are undeniably themes explored in horror films made since September 11, 2001. Filmmakers are exploring the idea of "American vs Other" as countless groups of American ninnies travel to foreign lands and inevitably run afoul of the locals. Sometimes it's because the Americans have fucked up, and sometimes it's because...well, those foreigners are just plain savages, how do you expect them to treat outsiders? This sort of thing would never happen in the states! Obviously, I haven't done any in-depth analyzing of any of these movies, and I haven't yet figured out which side of the fence each particular film lies. Still, it's difficult not to notice a trend, and I think post-9/11 horror is worth exploring- films like Hostel, Turistas, Live Feed, Vinyan, Dying Breed, and The Human Centipede all apply. This isn't news, necessarily, but I'm just saying- maybe hindsight will reveal that some horror filmmakers have, at the least, intent where it was assumed there was none.

Mind you, I know that intent doesn't necessarily make a movie good, or render a horror movie effective. n this light, how was Turistas? Well, I said I kind of dug it. It's not nearly as torture-heavy as I'd anticipated. I'm not sure quite what it wants to be, if that makes sense- the "horror" aspects of the film take up very little of the running time, and there's an awful lot of "character development" time that doesn't actually develop any characters. The affair is helped by the serviceable acting from Wilde, Josh Duhamel, and, in particular, Melissa George. She's quietly becoming an unsung hero of indie horror, to the point where I'll pick something up if her name is on it. Why doesn't anyone ever talk about her?


Bill Walsh said...

Melissa George! I have to say, I enjoyed her a lot on the short-lived Thieves. It was fluff, but it was pretty entertaining fluff. Also she was good in 30 Days of Night. So, yeah.

CashBailey said...

I really didn't enjoy AB-NORMAL BEAUTY. In fact I think the Pang Bros films are as shallow and slick as any Hollywood studio horror film.

THE EYE was tolerable, but even that had to descend into loud, overblown Hollywood horse-s**t by the end.

AB-NORMAL BEAUTY is pretty much the prime example of that, where the movie suddenly turns into SAW for no good reason.

And HUMAN CENTIPEDE looks like a movie Takashi Miike wished he had made.

Maybe he still will. He's not averse to remaking things in his own style.

Andre Dumas said...

I have to ask you this because I too used the word "pus" in my Human Centipede review---but don't you always feel like that word is spelt wrong? I always want to put puss. but it's NOT puss it's PUS and pus looks wrong. It boggles my mind.

Anyways way to steal my review again!

I agree with you though 100%, watching them crawl around for the 100th time gets old and fast. Plus those tighty whitey diapers did nothing for them. Oh and if they crawled around 100 times, why did they have such a hard time crawling in the end part? Fatigue? Psssssh. I ain't buying it.

Stacie Ponder said...

What's that, Andre? Have I seen Single White Female? Why no, I haven't.

Yeah, the fact that they were on the lawn at one point and then later, couldn't navigate the stairs was a big ol' plot...hole. Or something.

I agree, 'pus' does look weird, but so would "buss" when speaking of the mode of transportation. Think about THAT, smarty!

Andre Dumas said...

Wise words. I guess I just like words with the "ssss" sound...also I once read that names which begin with the letter 'S" are the names of SNAKES!!!


Oh and if you throw a puppy out a window on me, I'm stabbing you with a screwdriver right where it hurts.

Kensington said...

How could you turn away from 2 Girls 1 Cup? I wish I'd never started watching it, but I couldn't look away because I was afraid that if I did, my mind would just fill in the blanks with even more gruesome imagery.


I still have the need to watch the Human Centipede for some sick reason.

Hud said...

Avoid 'Triangle', Melissa George or not!

Zane Grant said...

I wonder how many of those 'US citizens in international settings' films are making critique of tourism and corporations abroad vs. playing on savage foreigners. The pre-emptive attack on NAFTA found in 'Dolly Dearest' and other cursed doll factory movies were... ummmmm... definitely before their time?

Missy Y. (formerly A Case of You) said...

I was planning to see The Human Centipede this weekend at IFC Center, and now I feel like I shouldn't. It just seems... well... not that great. I mean, I guess great is not what I was expecting, but I kind of thought it would rape my sanity, and I was maybe looking forward to that, and it looks like it won't. I posted a whole blog about how I was nervous about seeing it, and I was just waiting for your review (and B-Sol's), and then I would know for sure.


I just want to see something in the theater that makes me react in some way without boredom or anger.

Good thing I am seeing Harold and Maude in Chelsea tonight.

Stacie Ponder said...

Hud, whatchoo talkin' 'bout? I thought Triangle was pretty damn good! I really liked it- I was pleasantly surprised by how much, in fact.

Kensington, I was afraid that if I DIDN'T look away, I would throw up. It's 20 seconds of my life I really, really wish I could get back.

Zane, you make a great point about Dolly Dearest- it certainly presented controversial political viewpoints that you won't find in Child's Play. Who knew it was so deep? Plus, Tasha Yar.

Missy, I think you'll be bored by Centipede. I was. There's a huge chink after the construct is...constructed where there's nothing going on- like I said, where can the film go once you've got the centipede? And it's all definitely campy and much of it is played for laughs, which surprised me. The trailer makes it seem dour and terrible and serious,'s not. The concept is, but not really the execution. The guy playing the doctor is SO over the top, he's not even human.

hepalien said...

Just stay away from Woz, not even Melissa at her very finest, (pretending to be Angel from Home and Away agains obvs!) could save what is genuinely one of the most dull, ridiculous and disgusting (there's a rape with a broken bottle storyline) films ever!! It's so BAD, not even slightly enjoyable!
Not going to see the human centipede, usually I have a certain fascination for really awful/shocking things (I watched Antichrist, bleugh!!) but from the first time I saw the trailer I just thought... mmmm NO!
Question people, is the new NOES worth my time? I LOVE the originals, they're what got me into horror, and the BRILLIANCE of the last one, Wes Cravens New Nightmare (seriously, how could you not love it?!) makes me think maybe I should pass, BUT I think Jackie Earle Haley is one of the creepiest creeps ever, he makes me kind of want to go see it! Whats the verdict?

Stacie Ponder said...

I've yet to see NoES, but from what I've heard the consensus is: Haley's pretty good, the rest is terrible.

Missy Y. (formerly A Case of You) said...

No! No! Don't see the NOES remake! No!

Missy Y. (formerly A Case of You) said...

Sorry, that was an urgent reply. To be more specific, Haley does what he can, but he doesn't have much to work with. He gets a bunch of shitty puns. They aren't even really Freddy puns. They are somewhere between Freddy puns and actually entertaining, so they're like in this netherworld of unfunniness that just makes you uncomfortable.

And they changed Nancy's name to Holbrook, which just seems unnecessary.

And the mythology of Freddy is adjusted in a way that seems almost tasteless.

The kills are very, very boring.

There is a line at the end that is so boring that I honestly shouted out loud in the theater, "You have got to be fucking kidding me!" And no one in the theater was bothered by my outburst.

One more thing, they use this bullshit science theory that is really just laziness. How hard is it to make people fall the fuck asleep in a movie in which people are exhausted? Why do they to develop this bullshit science? Gawd, I thought I would explode.

Carrie said...

Thank you for the review of The Human Centipede...I've been dying to read it ever since you mentioned it! And I think I can safely pass on it.

And, Missy Y., it's funny because how they adjusted Freddy's mythology is actually the way Wes Craven originally wrote it (or so I've read). He changed it before they shot the original NoES. I think that was a good thing.

And I had managed to block out the time I saw 2 girls 1, yeah, thanks for bringing that image back into my head!! I don't even know if a whole case of Riunite will scrub that from my brain again. But I'll have fun trying!

Missy Y. (formerly A Case of You) said...

Carrie, you're right. It was the way Craven originally wrote it (that he was a child molester); however, the way Platinum Dunes has chosen to conclude this mythology with Nancy is absolutely tasteless. It was handled very poorly.

I think, even though Craven eliminated that from the original script, it was present in the original NoES. I mean, child murderer kind of automatically implies molester, does it not? And certainly "filthy" child murderer, no?

Carrie said...

Very true, Missy Y., it was definitely implied in the original NoES. It was nice that they didn’t focus on it like the re-make. The way they related it to Nancy creeped me out...and not in a good way. It really just made me want to watch the original!

Rhubarb said...

This may ruin the magic for some people but I just felt I should point out that 2 girls 1 cup is in fact fake. A girl really does poop in a cup but a mixture of thick chocolate pudding with crushed pineapple and peanut butter for texture (sounds yummy) is what is actually eaten. This is apparently common practice in scat fetish films, there's usually a concealed cut or a substitution off camera.

I have, however, seen something much worse than 2G1C that was actually real.

Stacie Ponder said...

Honestly, it doesn't matter to me whether or not it was fake...the power of suggestion was extremely strong and that was enough!

P. K. Nail said...

I saw THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE in NYC last weekend, and Dieter Laser sat just across the aisle from me. I could hear him giggling, and it was awesome/nightmarish. This probably affected my viewing of the film, but I thought there was some lovely tension throughout the movie. I agree that once you know the concept, the damage to your psyche is done, without you even having to see the movie.

Oddly, what bothered me more than the, um, digestion scene was when they tried to climb up the stairs. Just THINKING about how much tugging was going on in those very delicate areas had me squirming more than anything else in the whole movie.

Kensington said...

Oh dear lord, what was worse than 2 Girls 1 Cup?

Anonymous said...

I think Turistas got a real raw deal. It was pushed as something along the lines of Hostel, and critics blasted it for being something it just wasn't. Even the one "torture" scene is not torture. The person is not torturing some girl for his pleasure. There is a reason and purpose behind the villains actions that is entirely different than Hostel. Turistas is much smarter than either Hostel film could have hoped to be.

Joyce said...

just so you know, my captcha word is forksno

Joyce said...

now my word is mormlike. i could do this ALL DAY.

Missy Y. (formerly A Case of You) said...

Well, Ponder, I wouldn't say I was bored exactly.

It was... shit, I don't know. I'm going to write up a review when my brain stops bleeding (and when it's not almost 3am). You were 100% on when you said it was tame. I never thought I would leave saying I wasn't shocked.

Meh. I think... meh.

Stacie Ponder said...

I just found the whole middle chunk- mostly, where he was "training" the centipede- to be dreadfully dull and too silly. It picked up in the last quarter, though.

I think my favorite part was when he was telling his intended victims what he was going to do to them. It was absurd, sure, but terrifying.

I hadn't expected it to be played like such a black comedy. Eh.

Missy Y. (formerly A Case of You) said...

Yeah, I hadn't expected everyone to be so in on the joke either. But then, I thought that was really only the case through most of the beginning. Like, whoa, up until he explains the surgery really, everything is a huge joke that we are all in on. But after that it sort of switches gears and it gets more serious. And I think it's still not really successful.

I started out annoyed about the whole flat tire situation. I just... um... argh... how... er.... you dumb assholes. You know?

Sick House Admin said...

I know I jumped in on this conversation WAY late, but eh...whatever. I feel the need to stamp my opinion here as well.

Re Human Centipede: Dieter Laser is awesome. I would say "Nuff said" but nuff has definitely not been said.

The movie was totally enjoyable! Sure it was silly. The whole concept is silly, but come on. Watching three people ass-to-mouth-sewn crawl around on the ground trying to escape a crazy german doctor, with a guy in the front that really can't understand a damn thing that's even going on? pure genius. Four stars, I say! Four stars!!

Re Turistas. You liked this pile of junk? I admit, Hostel was nowhere NEAR anything to rave about, but Turistas was (Olivia Wilde aside here)utter crap. Aside from the one nifty torture scene, which I STILL believe the entire film was built around, the whole thing was a bore. All the chase scenes through caverns and underwater and crap? C' least Hostel was made to be ridiculous and over the top. But Olivia Wilde? Yeah, smokin'. Yeesh!!

Missy Y. (formerly A Case of You) said...

Sick House -- I just do not agree about Dieter Laser. I thought he was totally over the top, like a soap opera villain. (That's what I called him in my review.)

I don't think it was silly so much as childish. If it were silly, I would have enjoyed it. I mean, the entire production came out him thinking of the worst thing that could happen to you. I can just see the dude sitting there with his buddies getting drunk and saying, "Oh, no, it would totally be worse if someone stitched your ass to someone's mouth." He strikes me as a filmmaker without much purpose. Even to sicken is a purpose, and he doesn't even have that.

Though, after days of thinking about this, I think I can say one positive thing about it. It is the most hopeless film I have ever seen. That end scene there with Lindsay? That is where hope goes to die. Try to think of something more hopeless than that. Go ahead. You can't do it. And that is a bit of an accomplishment.

Sick House Admin said...

Tom Six most definitely DID have a purpose: to entertain. Whether it be silly, over the top, ridiculous, sickening, or was intended to entertain.

I'm glad you don't agree with me. If everyone agreed, we'd all be very, very boring. Dieter struck me as nothing short of AWESOME, and I'm sticking to my guns on that one.

I will agree with you that the ending to The Human Centipede pretty much embodied hopelessness. I actually really loved the ending, despite our arguments about the rest of the film.

Missy Y. (formerly A Case of You) said...

When I said purpose, I meant, I suppose a "higher" purpose than entertainment--though I hate that I've just used "higher." Even still, if entertainment was the goal, I wasn't actually all that entertained. Well, after he made the centipede, anyway. Before that I was laughing my ass off at the ineptitude of the two girls.

But yes, disagreeing is how this grand variety of films get made. This one, though, was not for me.

dementia13 said...

So, let's talk about Melissa George. I've seen her in some pretty good movies lately, "Triangle" being one. I didn't think she was very good in the "Amityville" remake, but that movie was otherwise a lot better than I expected. She's one of the few these days whose presence is enough to get me to watch a movie, because I've been having great luck with things she's in. I liked "Turistas", and I think that what you're saying about post-9-11 horror is very true in this case: international relations is very much the subject of this film. And not in a xenophobic kind of way, which is what Eli Roth exploits in "Hostel" (and even in "Cabin Fever"; despite its domestic setting, they're both movies that have to drive the travel industry crazy), some of the travelers' actions are very unsympathetic. And you know there are a lot of people going out into the world, and representing your country in that way.