Contracted (2013) – Eric England

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It’s always nice to see a new spin on a familiar genre. Eric England’s 2013 entry Contracted, gives us just that. It’s a great body-horror film with a twist. While it certainly achieves its goal of gross-out film making, Contracted does still fall a bit flat in terms of the plot and character development.

I’m not 100% sure of what the film is trying to say either. Is it a commentary on the vapid culture of the millennial generation? Is it a study of a complex character? Or simply a condom PSA? I know there’s something he’s trying to get across, it’s just hard to pin down exactly what that is.

Some of my loyal readers may remember my last review of this director didn’t go so well. Mr. England actually read the negative review and commented on the blog. It was…uncomfortable for everyone involved. Fortunately, I found this film to be better than that in almost every way so hopefully, if he reads this, he won’t come to my house and beat me to death with a shovel. Granted, this film is not a masterpiece, but it’s a big step in the right direction

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Contracted is about a troubled 20-something, Samantha (played by Najarra Townsend), dealing with the struggle of life, relationships and transitioning from the end of adolescence into adulthood. While drinking heavily at a party in an effort to forget about said struggles, she gets taken advantage of by a mysterious stranger. The next morning it becomes very clear that she has caught what she believes to be an STD. Over the next few days it turns out to be more than your average case of the clap. And it becomes pretty clear that she’s going to need more than just a shot of penicillin.

I’ve explained why I love body-horror before. It’s easy for us to identify with characters and feel like these things could be happening to us. By ‘these things’ I mean, bleeding from strange places, discolored skin and eyes, sores, fingernails and hair falling out. Its very upsetting and disturbing to see people literally rotting from the inside. England’s film handles the decomposition of young Samantha very well with just the right amount of blood, guts, and maggots.

That leads me to the biggest problem I had with this film. People don’t seem to react properly to Samantha’s varying states of decay. Particularly her doctor. She goes and sees a doctor twice and he remains uninterested even though she’s literally falling apart in front of him. Later our heroine develops a huge open bloody sore on her mouth and proceeds to make out with not one, but TWO people. Though it’s totally nonsensical, it adds to the gross-out factor – which I found to be the film’s strong suit – so I’ve allowed myself to suspend disbelief.

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In terms of scares, Contracted follows a familiar body-horror recipe. The horror comes from watching this girl disintegrate in front of us. She seems unable (or unwilling) to get the help she needs. We can put ourselves in her shoes in that respect so the fear is transmitted to the audience in that way.

The acting is okay – not great. And I had some trouble really identifying with, or even really liking the characters, which is probably the biggest shortcoming of the film. All that being said, I really liked it. There’s a cool punchline at the end that I wasn’t expecting, so kudos on that. I usually see these things coming a mile away. Though I wonder if it detracts from the overall message of the film (whatever that may be).

At any rate, the moral might just be ‘Always wear a condom, and keep an eye on your drinks at parties’. I think that’s a moral we can all get behind.

Is it scary: 6 – Solid body horror experiment. Definitely upsetting and haunting to watch a beautiful girl rotting on the screen.

Originality: 5 – It’s a clever twist on a story we’ve seen a thousand times before.

Blood: 7 – This film is soaked in blood. Delicious decaying blood.

Believability: 2 – As I mentioned before, I had a hard time following the reactions of other characters to Samanta’s illness. Most people didn’t react realistically at all.

Setting/Cinematography: 5 – The setting was mostly out in bright sunny southern California which isn’t ideal for horror, but the cinematography was executed perfectly. They way it was shot to expose each new symptom was great.

Final Score: 25/50

Verdict- Not a perfect film, but definitely entertaining and worth a viewing if you like watching people decompose, that is.

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The Fly (1986) – David Cronenberg

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All throughout the bible, it states that “your body is a temple.” Regardless of your religious feelings on this, you have to admit that we all do take our bodies very seriously. Have you ever spend 10 minutes staring into a mirror trying to fix your hair or hide of a pimple? The thought of even something very small being wrong with our personal temple is upsetting. And it’s disturbing to watch bad things happen to others’ bodies as well. There’s a whole genre of horror movies out there called Body Horror dedicated to this very idea.

When you think about it, it’s all very relatable. It’s one of the few things we all have in common- the human body. When you watch something happen to someone else, it’s easy to put yourself in that situation. Body horror movies focus on the details of destruction of the human body. David Cronenberg’s 1986 The Fly is a body horror masterpiece depicting the slow, graphic mutation and decay of a man’s body after being spliced with fly DNA.

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 The film opens with Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) being awesome and trying to pick up/show off to Veronica (Gina Davis). He’s a scientist; She’s a reporter doing interviews at a university meet-and-greet party with the press. For some reason, she gets in the car with CREEPY-ASS JEFF GOLDBLUM and goes to his apartment/lab to see some mysterious new invention that’s supposed to change the world: a teleportation pod. Only problem is that it only transports inanimate objects. When they try to use it on a living baboon, the thing comes out looking like Omaha beach right after the first scene of Saving Private Ryan. Don’t worry. After a post-coital eureka moment and a couple of keystrokes on his Apple 2, the machine works perfectly. Baboon #2 comes out unharmed.

Seth and Veronica have struck up a nice little romance/business arrangement where she’ll document the development of his experiments and give him BJs and stuff in exchange for exclusive reporting rights. After a dispute one night, Veronica runs off and Seth gets drunk tries the machine out on himself. It works fine, except for the fact that a fly buzzed into the pod with him and the machine has spliced their DNA together. At first everything is great. Seth is smarter, stronger, more energetic, but this starts to fade into a sort of mania as the fly personality begins to take over.

Then we start to see his body changing. Fingernails falling off, teeth coming out, skin getting blotchy and peeling off. Basically puberty from Hell. Each time we see him he gets more and more disfigured. He can’t eat food normally anymore- he has to puke up  this milky acid and melt his food and then slurp it back up. The whole thing is pretty revolting. Veronica is surprisingly cool through the whole ordeal and tries to help him out, but becomes clear that her BA in journalism is not going to cut it.

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 Not only is The Fly a great horror movie, but it’s just a great movie in general. It’s not overly complicated (it’s based on a short story). We really just have a short list of characters, whom we get to know very well. Jeff Goldblum as the half-man half-fly mad scientist monster is pretty much the best casting I’ve seen since Jack Nicholson in Cuckoo’s Nest. And they used all practical effects and makeup to create this bloody monstrosity that Jeff Goldblum will become. If you’re interested in seeing a step-by-step progression of his deterioration. I found a great pic. It’s pretty spoileriffic, so if you haven’t seen the film, don’t click:

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  1. Is it scary? 6Watching this guy literally rot alive in front of your eyes is bound to terrify you. You can almost feel it happening to you.
  2. Originality: 5Well it’s a movie based on a short story for which there was already a movie made in the 50’s. I can’t give them big points here but they definitely made it feel new and unique.
  3. Blood: 7 – By the end Jeff Goldblum has no skin and he’s just a pulsating mess of guts and hair and two giant eyeballs.
  4. Believability: 7 – I thought it was very believable. The plot was simple enough, the casting, directing and acting were right on. The only thing I’ll say is that Gina Davis’ character should have been a little more freaked out.
  5. Setting/Cinematography: 7Jeff Goldblum’s house/lab in a warehouse is the perfect mad scientist lair. They do some cool walking on walls and ceiling shots too.                

Final Score: 32/50

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Event Horizon (1997) – Paul W.S. Anderson

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So we know there are lots of subgenres that fall under the “horror” umbrella. One of my favorites has always been Sci-Fi horror movies. Some of the best horror movies out there fall under this category, The Thing, Alien, Scanners and of course, Jason X (wait, what?). Maybe it’s because the source of the horror is anchored to reality by some kind of science, or maybe they just remind me of Star Trek. A lot of these movies are not really that scary- they may play up the Sci-Fi angle and downplay the horror. Paul Anderson’s 1997 Event Horizon, does a good job bridging the gap between sci-fi and conventional horror.

The film opens with us learning that a spaceship, called the Event Horizon, disappeared on its maiden voyage and has been lost for years. We’re in the mid-21st century, and we soon find out that Sam Neill (Dr. Weir) built this ship that can “fold space” to travel incredible distances instantaneously. We’ll just give them the benefit of the doubt on the explanation. A distress signal is received from what appears to be the missing ship so Laurence Fishburne, and his crew, along with Dr. Weir travel out to see what’s up.

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When they get to the deserted ship, it’s not a pretty site. The crew is missing, but we see blood and body parts floating around in zero gravity. During the search and rescue mission, The “Gravity Drive” which allows the Event Horizon to travel faster than light speed, activates itself and damages the other ship. Now we’re stranded on this derelict ship and shit is getting worse. The crew starts having seriously fucked up hallucinations and acting crazy. Eyeballs sliced out. Self-mutilation. Blood spraying everywhere.  Bodies on fire. Dead friends coming back to visit, that kind of thing. Then in an all-too-Bond-villain-esque explication monologue, Sam Neil goes all mad scientist tells us that the ship has actually traveled to Hell and brought back something purely evil that intends to cause death and dismemberment to anyone it comes in contact with.

It’s interesting to see how filmmakers interpret the future even just a few years ago. In the 90’s the future always looked sort of accidentally steam-punk. Rusty panels and exposed wires, even steam pumping out of vents everywhere. And everyone wears leather bomber jackets with patches on them like Top Gun in their 2048 space ships. The interior of the spaceship and the rapport between the crew is very ripped off from Alien. I kept waiting for someone to start puking up rice pudding and trying to kill the crew.

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Overall, the film had a great set-up. Spaceships, black holes, bombs, demons, intestines- everything your twisted little heard desires. The story is fairly original and clever too. I like how they merged sci-fi and conventional, semi-religious horror and made it work. It’s almost like Alien meets The Shining meets The Exorcist. It’s one of the films that I remember from childhood that scared the shit out of me. The scares are overwhelmingly visual, which to me is less scary, but it’s hard to come up with better nightmare fuel than some of the stuff they showed.

  1. Is it scary? 6The suspenseful sequences are fairly predictable and flat but the visuals are downright disturbing. (If it gives you any context, I had to hold back and use some more tame pictures for this blog- it gets a good deal worse than I’m showing you.)
  2. Originality: 7 – The plot is fairly formulaic once you get past the initial set-up, but the boiled-down version feels pretty unique.
  3. Blood: 8 – Buckets of blood and guts floating through space.
  4. Believability: 5 – The cast does a pretty good job acting. I thought Weir’s turn from magnanimous to mad scientist was a little abrupt though, even if he was pushed in that direction by the devil.
  5. Setting/Cinematography: 7The ship itself was pretty epic and they did a great job with CGI and space. There were some amazing shots zooming through space station architecture.                                          

Final Score: 33/50

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Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013) – John Luessenhop

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First of all, I feel obliged to apologize to my swarms of loyal readers for my recent hiatus. I moved last month and frankly, I’ve been lazy. It’s hot out, get off my back. Anyway, I’m back so quit whining, buckle up and get ready to have my opinions thrust upon you. You’re welcome in advance.

They say, “There’s no such thing as bad pizza or bad pussy.” That statement is obviously flawed for reasons I don’t feel I need to get into right now. It should really be “There’s no such thing as a bad Texas Chainsaw Massacre film.” Take a pro-wrestler sized dude with a learning disability who probably needs to switch to decaf, put a chainsaw in his hands and then come up with a flimsy pretext for a group of sexy teenagers from the big city to break into his house. It’s so simple but it just works.  John Luessenhop’s 2013 installment Texas Chainsaw 3D fits the mold in every way we want it to.

Let’s be honest. The saying I mentioned above does not mean that that DiGorno’s stacks up to a fresh New York slice, but pizza is pizza. Or that chick you picked up off the floor just after last call is going to be Charlize Theron, but you know what you’re getting and you know it’ll probably be good enough.

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Texas Chainsaw 3D adds a modern twist that fits into the original story. The film opens a short time after the original film has taken place. If you remember, there was one girl who escaped right before leatherface does his famous “chainsaw dance” in the hot Texas sunset. Now there’s a cop and a mob outside his family’s house itching for some Texas justice. Fast forward: big fire and lots of dead bodies. Fast forward some more to present day and we meet our heroine Heather. She’s the sole survivor and heiress to the family farm. She gets a letter from a long lost grandmother who has died telling her she’s inherited a big old house in Texas. So she packs her friends into a VW bus, picks up a hitchhiker for good measure and heads down to check out her new place. Spoiler Alert: Leatherface survived the fire. Duh, he’s on the fucking poster.

Well if you’ve seen any of these movies before, or dissected something in biology class, I think you know where this is going. There are few big surprises here.

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Overall the movie is solid, for what it is. There are some good scare scenes. Some chainsaw chasing, people getting naked and doing drugs to be used as chainsaw fodder, and plenty of 3D organs flying across the screen. I do have a couple of issues though. The biggest one was that they tried to add too much background to the Leatherface character. They take away that cold, mindless fury that he has and try to give him some real emotions. One thing we don’t need from Leatherface is pathos. He’s a monster, not just a large man who didn’t take his meds. Also, though it’s a fun movie, it’s still a pretty horrendous bastardization of one of the scariest movies ever. It’s bad form and downright sacrilege to show shots from the original during the opening credits.

Well, I don’t foresee a very high score for this flick. If we were rating it on the pizza scale, I’d give it a “Yesterday’s Papa John’s from the fridge.”

  1. Is it scary? 4 -There are a couple of good scary scenes but overall it left me feeling less than massacred if you catch my drift.
  2. Originality: 3- Nope. I did add a point or two for some little twists at the end, but we kinda saw it coming.
  3. Blood: 8- Come on, it’s a movie about a man who cuts people up with a chainsaw.
  4. Believability: 5- Honestly the acting wasn’t half bad. The story was a little far- fetched, but hey, read the description for the previous criterion. There was some “girl running up the stairs” caliber stupidity, like “Hey, I think I’ll go hide in this open grave.”
  5. Setting/Cinematography: 5- In general, I hate 3D. I hate that they charge you like $16 to see these movies in the theater. I don’t even think that they did a great job with the 3D in this film. Besides that, the cinematography wasn’t bad. There are some cool shots and camera stuff.                                                            

Final Score: 25/50

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The Collection (2012) – Marcus Dunstan

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When we hear the word ‘sequel’ it instantly conjures up a certain feeling- like the one we get when we hear ‘remake’  or ‘Hitler’ but marginally less unpleasant. The reason for this is pretty simple. When a sequel is made, it’s generally something that was planned after the original film was written, filmed, released, and had some commercial success. So there are different motives for making a sequel than there are for making the original. And that basically boils down to “I want to tell a great story” vs. “I know an easy way to cash in on that story I told 2 years ago.” There’s nothing wrong with that-it’s the American Dream. But all too often, we see sequels just basically telling us the same story again. And to make up for the lack of originality, they crank up all the non-essentials, leading to a film that’s top-heavy. All sizzle, no steak, as they say.

Marcus Dunstan’s 2012, The Collection (follow-up to 2009’s The Collector) falls into this typical sequel trap. That’s not to say it was a bad movie (but it might be), I’m just saying it feels very sequel-y. In the first film, we had about 10 deaths, while this one has closer to 200. There’s an unexplained 2-3 minute dance party/techno music scene (think: the underground dance scene in the second Matrix movie) that contributes exactly nothing to the story. We get to see into the Collector’s lair, or his headquarters or whatever. It turns out to be an enormous hotel/mad science lab/elaborate Saw trap. Everything is so over the top like this, that it starts pulling you out of the realm of reality, in which we were firmly planted in the original.

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(Warning: Minor spoiler to the end of the original film)

The Collection picks up a short time after the first film ended. Arkin (our hero) is still trapped in the box. Though he’s been moved (ostensibly, to the Collector’s hideout and then) to a back room in a secret underground dance club. We hear news reports that this guy has been very busy slicing, dicing and kidnapping people. Our new co-main character, Elena, happens to this dance club. The collector has rigged up some industrial farming equipment with spinning blades (google “combine harvester”) to mass murder all the ecstasy-fueled dancers. Elena is the sole survivor, Arkin escapes and the Collector takes Elena back to his hideout.

Arkin, the only person who knows where the collector lives, teams up with some mercenaries, hired by Elena’s father, and they go to save her. At this point the movie turns into a gory/torturey survival horror movie much like Saw II. The badass mercenaries get picked off one by one as they stumble through the trap-infested maze that is the Collector’s lab. There are all sorts of human experiments and bodies everywhere. Razor wire and spring loaded traps in every room. Empty elevator shafts while piles of dismembered body parts and pools of blood. Drugged up experiment victims/zombies that attack the good guys…basically the most hostile environment imaginable. Everything is very predictable and you can probably guess the ending.

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I had two main problems with the film. The biggest was the lack of real character development. I loved the first movie because you get into Arkin’s head. You sympathize with and root for him immediately even though he’s a criminal. In this movie, we get exactly 0 development for him. In fact, he comes off as kindof a pussy. Everyone else in the movie was just a walking cliché. Elena is the closest to a real person. There’s a half-hearted attempt at some pathos/backstory that never gets followed up on. But then she rips apart her bra and MacGyvers the underwire into a hook/flimsy pretext to have her nips poking out for the rest of the film.

The other thing that bugged me was the sheer amount of work that it would take for the Collector to actually be able to build, maintain and operate this whole carnival of death/science lab from hell. The logistics are mindboggling. Where does he find the time? And the energy? This dude is somehow able to set up house after house after house into elaborate murder traps, kill everyone but one sole survivor, then take that survivor to his lair and do experiments on them. He’s got to have a degree in mechanical engineering, and some sort of human medical degree, and he’s also a licensed etymologist (this final fact is all but irrelevant in this film).

Anyway, the verdict is, it was a fun, but forgettable sequel to a great movie. They should have kept it a little closer to reality and focused more on the characters. Like, why don’t we know anything about the Collector himself? Don’t worry, they left the door wide open for “The Collection Agency: Dunstan’s Credit Cards are Past-Due so He’s Making Another Movie”

  1. Is it scary? 3You’re too distracted by the lack of logical progression to be scared. It turned out to be more of an action movie than a straight horror.
  2. Originality: 4– The Collector’s bachelor pad was definitely worth some points here. But the movie falls flat in terms of being anything we’ve never seen before.
  3. Blood: 8– From start to finish, there’s blood shooting across the screen. Incomplete medical experiments and body parts all over the place. The dance club massacre scene was pretty perfect to set the mood.
  4. Believability: 4The whole thing felt like a cheesy 90’s movie that they’d show on basic cable on a Saturday afternoon (anything with Van Dam or Steven Seagal). Cookie cutter action and violence. Clichés on top of clichés.
  5. Setting/Cinematography: 6– They definitely did some cool things with light and shadows. The torture chamber setting was certainly effective, albeit heavy handed.                                                                                                                        

Final Score: 25/50

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Under the Bed (2012) – Stephen C. Miller

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In 1989, something amazing happened- something that changed the course of history and forever altered the way we look at cinema, art and culture. Since then, it has stood as a pinnacle of the achievements of the western world. It’s basically the American Great Wall of China. I’m talking about the movie Little Monsters (by the way, this blog is not about that film). Not only could this movie stop a horde of screaming Mongol invaders, but you can actually see it from space (If equipped with a large enough scree pointed up into the sky.) It’s about a kid and his brother (Fred and Ben Savage) who get visited at night by a lovable, mischievous monster (Howie Mandel) who travels to their world from under the bed. They run into some trouble and have to try save each other, and there’s a great Talking Heads song at the end. If you’ve never seen this gem, I thoroughly recommend it. It might look like a kids movie (and I guess it is) but it holds up very, very well. 

Anyway, some time passed by and director Steven C. Miller decides he’s going to take this basic formula and change it from a late 80’s story about friendship, courage, sacrifice, etc. into a legit, serious horror movie: 2012’s Under the Bed. Miller boils down the framework of Little Monsters and adds in a traumatic back story, a little blood, and some psychological/ mysterious grit. Unfortunately, I don’t think he pulls it off. It’s almost like the movie doesn’t know what it wants to be. It’s heavy on the melodrama and it moves at a slow, brooding pace. Some of the plotlines were confusing and lead nowhere. Miller’s directing was strong though and it leads me to believe this one might have gotten ass-raped in the editing room. (Though it certainly has other issues). Overall, I wanted to like it, but they didn’t make it easy for me.

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The movie opens with our hero Neal, returning home after an extended time away. We find out that his mother died tragically and he was in some way involved. He comes home to a new step mom, a frustrated father and a relieved, but troubled younger brother Paulie. Turns out that something has been visiting Paulie from under his bed at night and that Neal used to have the same visitor before his undisclosed traumatic event. The bros decide to figure out what this thing is and why it comes to them at night. Their behavior is causing problems at school and at home and dad and stepmom are not putting up with it anymore. They decide that this thing is dangerous and needs to be killed. So they try to go in under the bed and defeat this thing on its own turf. (In broad strokes, this the exact plot of Little Monsters– even down to the un-understanding father (played by Daniel Stern in LM) The Stepmom even refers to Paulie and Neal  as “little monsters” at one point. This is not a coincidence.

Anyway, I don’t want to give away too much of either movie. Under the Bed is all slow, methodical build up for the first hour and ten, and then Boom- Payoff. The last 15 minutes or is balls to the wall. It gets pretty intense and even a little scary, and we finally see all the blood we’d been waiting for, but it’s really too little too late.  By this point I was literally fighting to keep my eyes open..

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I think my biggest problem with the movie was how these events and plot points were revealed. I felt like they were holding a carrot out in front of us the whole time.  And the way it played out to me didn’t even make sense. It was like they gave 5 people an outline of a movie and had them each write 20 minutes of it in separate rooms without consulting each other.

Like I said, despite the structural issues, I think this movie was directed well and it had potential. I think another round of script revisions pre-filming to keep the pace more active would have done wonders for this film. You could basically watch the last 35 mins of the film and get the same experience. Not only did they wait till the end to give us all the action, they waited too long to give us the twist (for lack of a better word).

The basic flow of any story or movie is to have it basically look like a heartbeat monitor. Peaks and valleys of intensity that slowly progress into the big one. This movie would look like a dead guy who got one good jolt from the defibrillators after arriving, flat-lined in the ICU. And bad news, they couldn’t save him.

  1. Is it scary? 3There are some scary bits towards the end and a few creepy scenes throughout, but it just didn’t do it for me.
  2. Originality: 3– I mean, it was a crappy un-remake of a great movie. They tried to put a new spin on it. I’ll give them that.
  3. Blood: 4– There was definitely some surprise gore at the very end but it wasn’t enough to get a good score here.
  4. Believability: 5Though I was frequently distracted by some plot lines that went nowhere, I think this one was ok in this department.
  5. Setting/Cinematography: 6– Nothing amazing here. I like the idea of the sterile, cold, suburban house being set against this nightmare, though.                                                                                                                                   

Final Score: 21            

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Maniac (1980) – William Lustig

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What do George Costanza and Norman Bates have in common besides being, well let’s call it, socially awkward? Mommy issues. Big time. If you were to combine the George and Norman, and then ramp up the insanity by about 25%, you’d get Frank Zito – title character of William Lustig’s 1980 exploitation slasher, Manic. If you’ve seen Seinfeld, you probably know that George was only about 3 episodes from going on a rampage anyway. That might have been a better ending to the series…but we’ll tackle that in a different blog. Anyway, Maniac is one of those cult movies that was banned, censored, etc. when it was released. The violence was too just gruesome and disturbing to be shown in its original form. Since then, the bar has been raised dramatically in terms what we consider “too gruesome”. Other than a scene or two, the violence in this movie is on par with a Saw or a Hostel or any other gory modern horror movie.

Technically speaking, Maniac is a nightmare-in every sense of the word. Conventionally, it is a nightmare to watch him butcher young ladies, cut off their scalps, and nail the hair to mannequins in his dingy apartment. For the first half of the film, I really wasn’t sure if there was going to be a plot. It was just a long and drawn-out sex tape that keeps getting interrupted just when it’s about to get good. And by interrupted, I mean by a knife, a shotgun or length of piano wire. As this plays out, we slowly get inside Frank’s head and that’s when things start to get interesting. I’d like to think that the way the film unfolded was a Tarantino-esque revealing of facts out of order, but I think it was more like a 16 year-old struggling to unhook his date’s bra in the back seat of his parent’s minivan.

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The movie starts out with the killing of a young couple on a beach. Then we cut to Frank in his house acting sad and creepy, then back to another murder, then back to Frank’s house for more moping and Buffalo Bill/Leatherface/Ed Gein-style insanity. So the movie just bounces back and forth in this fashion for like 45 minutes, and we are starting to get a sense of who Frank is and why he does these things. Inexplicably, Frank meets and begins to date a beautiful European photographer- who, by the looks of her apartment in Manhatten, is doing very well for herself. This is inexplicable because Frank is a big, ugly fat, scared monster of a man. He’s able to turn on the charm and act like a completely well-adjusted member of society.

Of course, homegirl starts to figure out that something is off with this guy when he takes her on a date to go visit his mother’s grave. Remember I mentioned those mommy issues? I won’t give away the ending but it’s worth sitting through this one because the payoff at the end is worth the awkward set-up (see bra reference in the second paragraph). There are some serious plot holes in how Frank and his girl struck up their relationship. You’re going to have to flex your willing-suspension-of-disbelief muscles in a big way on this one. The storyline is patchy and confusing at times and downright retarded at other times. But, as with all movies like this, that’s not really the point.

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Maniac falls into this sort of sub-genre of 70’s/ 80’s dark, gritty, New York City/urban horror movies- The New York Ripper and Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer are 2 good examples. They focus on how sick, crazy people can move unnoticed through a busy city. They can be sitting next to you on the subway or walking past you on the street and you’d never know it. When you think about it, this actually makes them a lot scarier than any monster/ghost movie out there. To build up their cult status, these movies usually shared 3 main elements. 1. Over-the-top violence and gore. 2. Not so subtle sexual violence toward young, attractive women. 3. A dismal, and gloomy view of city life. These movies are (in the grand scheme of things) presented in a realistic and plausible way. That makes them even scarier.

There are so many things that shouldn’t have worked in this movie, but they do work. Once you forgive the plot holes, and the awkward, flirty dialog (It’s like Sloth from The Goonies is trying to pick up Jennifer Aniston and it’s working) the movie actually falls in place and gets pretty intense. There are some jarring POV changes, but they work too. You go from following Frank around to following his next victim. That adds to the suspense because you know he’s close, but you don’t know where he is. Or sometimes you know he’s right around the corner but the lady getting out of the bathtub has no idea.

The gritty, realism of how Maniac was shot, is its biggest asset. It wasn’t fancy or pretty, it was dark, bleak, and unpleasant. You just feel uneasy watching this movie. It’s so un-stylized and low-fi that you almost forget it’s a movie. You get the sense that you’re in the filthy subway station with someone following you.

  1. Is it scary? 7- A grim view of city life and some grisly murder scenes will keep this one pretty high on the list.
  2. Originality: 4- It fits into that urban horror tradition I mentioned, but Lustig still tells the story from an angle that gives the audience something new (at least in 1980).
  3. Blood: 8- Times have changed so this movie probably wouldn’t be banned if it was released today, but there are still some shocking moments. There’s a very famous scene where Frank does some reconstructive surgery to a dudes head with a shotgun. It’s appalling and vivid.
  4. Believability: 6- There are some distracting technical issues, but the premise is believable. That’s what makes it scary.
  5. Setting/Cinematography: 8- The dark, dreary way the movie is shot, and it’s setting in the dense urban jungle are what makes it a success.                                                                                                     

Final Score: 33/50

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