AICN HORROR looks at DEADLY EYES! AFTERMATH! SX_TAPE! BLOODY BIRTHDAY! OPEN GRAVE! MONSTERS TV! & UNDER THE SKIN!
Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. This week, on tap we’ve got naked aliens, mass graves, a kiddie killing spree, giant rodents, haunted sex, nuke survivors, a damn dirty ape, & more MONSTERS TV episodes!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
The Boo Tube: MONSTERS Season Two Episodes 18-24 (1990)
Retro-review: BLOODY BIRTHDAY (1981)
Retro-review: DEADLY EYES (1982)
OPEN GRAVE (2013)
UNDER THE SKIN (2013)
And finally…Aaron David Gleason’s MASTERMIND!
The Boo Tube: Collected DVD Box Set new this week from eOne Entertainment!
MONSTERS: THE COMPLETE SERIES Box SetSeason Two: Episodes 18-24 (1990)
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Ahhh, MONSTERS. It’s one of those TV series that warms my heart. Back in the late 80’s, when practical effects were king, Mitchell Gallin and Richard P. Rubinstein, the producers of TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE TV series, decided to put together a show which highlighted a different story about a different monster every week. In my region the show was broadcast late at night, and it was a thrill to be able to stay up late and watch it. Now, given the amount of years since I’ve watched it, I’m bound to be disappointed at the way some of them present upon reviewing. But still, this was a fun series deserving of this look back, episode by episode, of this quaint little shock series. I’m currently looking back on the TWILIGHT ZONE series as well, so for the time being, I’ll be flipping between TZ and MONSTERS every week looking back on TV horrors of yesteryear episode by episode!
Episode 2.18: The Offering
Directed by Ernest D. Farino
Written by Dan Simmons
Starring Orson Bean, Robert Krantz, Bob Larkin, Karen Hittelman
This was a surprisingly heavy episode of MONSTERS, dealing with cancer in a way that feels like it was written through the eyes of someone trying to understand and make sense of the horrific disease that takes away so many. A man wakes from a car accident with a brain injury in a hospital that also houses his mother, who is terminally ill with cancer. The doctor (played by BEING JOHN MALKOVICH’s Orson Bean) warns the man that he might have some hallucinations due to the brain swelling, but that warning doesn’t prepare the guy for the visions he sees. Taking a page from HP Lovecraft’s FROM BEYOND, the man sees things the normal human can’t—this particular case being a weird insectoid creature that injects patients with black slug-like monsters. This shows up as cancer in the real world. The episode culminates in the man’s fight to save the life of his mother by battling the cancer beast. There are definitely some creepy moments, like when the man notices that his own doctor has a cancer beast in his mouth while smoking a pipe. While horror is usually a place ripe with metaphor, MONSTERS episodes have not been, so it’s refreshing to see these allegories play out when they can.
Episode 2.19: Far Below
Directed by Debra Hill
Written by Robert Barbour Johnson (story), Michael McDowell (teleplay)
Starring Barry Nelson, John Scott Clough, Calvin Levels, Rick Goldman, Jan Munroe
Longtime John Carpenter collaborator Debra Hill directs from a script from Michael BEETLEJUICE MacDowell about a subway operator played by THE SHINING’s hotel manager Barry Nelson and a quality inspector who see Yeti-like creatures shambling around the tunnels of the subway system. This is a somewhat goofy little yarn which reminded me of the “The Crate” installment in CREEPSHOW in both the choice of beast and the way the two throw their lives on the line and in the line of the beast’s claws and teeth. Ending on a bizarre note, this one isn’t going to win any awards, but definitely is high on the old odd-meter.
Episode 2.20: Micro Minds
Directed by Anthony Santa Croce
Written by D. Emerson Smith
Starring Troy Donahue, Belle Avery, David Parmenter
Discovering a sentient microscopic world puts two scientists as odds with one another. This fun science gone wrong episode stands out for its goofy yet fun sequence featuring a woman being chased by a giant undulating brain creature. While it’s simply a gooey sack of filled with air, the effects behind this one make it more fun than it deserves to be.
Episode 2.21: Refugee
Directed by Scott Vickrey
Written by Haskell Barkin
Starring Peter White, Judy Geeson, S.A. Griffin, Philip Abbott
Super spies meet deadly demons in this goofy story that deserves to be revisited in some kind of reboot or reimagining. I love the idea of mixing high-stakes intrigue and espionage with the occult and though it only barely taps into the creative potential the mixing of these two subjects possess, there are some fun bits here as black suited demons show up to take on our 007-esque spies. The effects are subtle here which make it all the more fun, especially the glowing hot fingers of the demons melting through leather gloves.
Episode 2.22: The Gift
Directed by Jeffrey Wolf
Written by D. Emerson Smith
Starring Abe Vigoda, John Bolger, Brad Greenquist, Zach Overton, Carlos Lauchu
The fact that BARNEY MILLER star Abe Vigoda stars in this one as a kidnapper who eloquently explains the different between the haves and the have-nots in the world to the young man he has stolen makes this episode memorable and amazing. The added bonus that it also has a shape-changing monster thing that can turn others into shape-changing monster thing is all the more fun. Not high quality, but Vigoda and the monster make it fun.
Episode 2.23: The Bargain
Directed by Tom Noonan
Written by Tom Noonan
Starring Kim Greist, Kevin Geer, Sharon Sharth
Written and directed by creepy actor Tom Noonan from HEAT and MANHUNTER directs his co-star on MANHUNTER Kim Greist as a book store worker trying to get a TV repair man to notice her. When she happens upon a number in a old magazine promising a new face, the bookish woman turns into a blonde bombshell and the TV guy can’t keep his eyes off of her. But with all deals too good to be true, this one comes back to haunt her and while the ending is predictable, Noonan shows a lot of promise as a director here. It makes me wonder what Noonan would have accomplished had he stayed behind the camera instead of playing offbeat characters in front of it, as this one is decently written and filmed.
Episode 2.24: The Family Man
Directed by Michael Warren Powell
Written by Allen Coulter, Gordon Rayfield
Starring Michael O'Gorman, Annie Corley, Calvin Armitage, Kelli Rabke, Carlos Lauchu
BOARDWALK EMPIRE and THE SOPRANOS writer Allen Coulter helped co-write this story of a young boy who defends his family from aliens which only can be seen when he wears his father’s glasses. This one attempts to pull at the heartstrings, but the acting isn’t really up to snuff to do that. That said, the reptilian aliens are pretty nicely rendered. Still this definitely isn’t one of the stories Coulter used to get his gig writing for HBO.
Season 1: Episodes 1.1-1.6, 1.7-1.12, 1.13-1.18, 1.19-1.22, 1.23-1.24
Season 2: Episodes 2.1-2.5, 2.6-2.10, 2.11-2.17
Retro-review: New this week on BluRay from Severin Films!
BLOODY BIRTHDAY (1981)aka CREEPS, ANGST
Directed by Ed Hunt
Written by Ed Hunt (screenplay), Barry Pearson (screenplay)
Starring Lori Lethin, Melinda Cordell, Julie Brown, Joe Penny, Bert Kramer, K.C. Martel, Elizabeth Hoy, Billy Jayne, Andrew Freeman, Susan Strasberg, José Ferrer, Ben Marley, Erica Hope, Ellen Geer
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Like VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED and THE CHILDREN (reviewed here) before it, the effectiveness of BLOODY BIRTHDAY lies in the juxtaposition of two things that simply shouldn’t go together. In this case, it’s murderous intent and innocent-faced children. There’s something about this schlocky film that is most definitely going to unsettle, especially given the amount of school shootings and gun violence with kids occurring every night on the news.
BLOODY BIRTHDAY opens with a trio of women delivering three children on the night of a lunar eclipse. Years later, and the pre-teens have grown into little monsters as Curtis (JUST ONE OF THE GUY’s Billy Jayne), Debbie (Elizabeth Hoy who is the leetle gurrl John Beliushi attempts to purchase in THE BLUES BROTHERS), and Steven (Andy Freeman who went on to star in BEYOND WITCH MOUNTAIN) go on a killing spree later explained through pop astrology as Saturn, which is the source of our emotions (WTF?), being blocked out by the eclipse resulting in the little shits being born without emotion or remorse. K.C.Martel (who went on the play one of the kids in E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL) plays the wholesome Timmy who tries to befriend the kids, but ends up being the first to realize something is not kosher with these kids. Meanwhile, the teen unit of this film including Timmy’s sister Joyce (Lori Lethin from THE PREY and THE DAY AFTER) and a very naked and young Julie Brown (from the MTV back when videos were played there) walk around ignoring obvious signs of kiddie killing sprees.
The true shock of this film happens when the leader of this kid gang, Curtis, gets a hold of the gun of Debbie’s father and goes around pointing it at kids and adults alike, who think it’s a toy until it’s too late and the kid starts blasting. Unlike most slasher films which stick to sharp edged weaponry, this film takes the plunge into handguns and with the rise of kids getting into pop’s gun cabinet, resulting in murder and other horrific accidents, this film serves as a pretty strong stance for gun control if viewed in the proper light. The scene where Curtis brings the gun to school and blowing away his teacher in the teacher’s lounge is definitely one that made me uncomfortable given all of the similar events that appear in the today’s news.
Despite all of that, BLOODY BIRTHDAY does swipe a lot from films like THE OMEN, THE CHILDREN, and HALLOWEEN with the teenage babysitter angle and especially during the killing sprees. Lori Lethin’s Joyce lacks the spunk of a Jamie Lee Curtis, but there are scenes of her and Julie Brown walking down the street talking about boys and then running into Brown’s police officer father that feels like it’s been completely lifted from Carpenter’s classic. There’s even a boyfriend named Paul, fer chrissakes.
But despite all of that, it is disturbing seeing these bright young faces commit these horrible acts. The gun scenes with Curtis are particularly disturbing, but all of the scenes seem to take innocent things like a jump rope or a skateboard and apply devious things to them.
So while BLOODY BIRTHDAY owes a lot to many different and better films, it is worth checking out. Mr. Skin-o-philes will want to catch Julie Brown as she was a hot little number in this film. And while the acting is not top tier and the film definitely cops out in the end to give it an ending that gives these asshole kids what they deserve, there are enough creepy scenes to make understand why it is the cult classic as it is.
Retro-review: New this week on DVD/BluRay from The Shout Factory!
DEADLY EYES (1982)aka NIGHT EYES, THE RATS
Directed by Robert Clouse
Written by James Herbert (novel), Lonon F. Smith (earlier screenplay), Charles H. Eglee (screenplay)
Starring Sam Groom, Sara Botsford, Scatman Crothers, Cec Linder, Lisa Langlois, Lesleh Donaldson, James B. Douglas, Lee-Max Walton, Joseph Kelly, Kevin Foxx, Jon Wise, Wendy Bushell, Charles Jolliffe, Dora Dainton
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
I’ve always had a soft spot in my coal black heart for rat movies. Maybe it’s because of the serpentine slickness of their slithery tails or the skittery way they zip across a city street at nighttime or the way they cling to walls as they run through alleyways. Whatever it is, the mere sight of rats cause a kneejerk reaction in me to jump and, having watched my fair share of horror, if something can cause that kind of base reaction, I definitely find myself enthralled by it.
While DEADLY EYES is not a fantastic movie, it is a whole hell of a lot of fun to watch. The story itself is just ridiculous enough to be appealing as a factory full of steroid laden corn feed spawns super rats the size of small dogs with an appetite for human blood. When the feed site is burned in what looks to be a very uncontained and unsafe fire conducted by the government’s pest control unit, the rats are dispersed from their roided out feeding ground and make their way through the sewers and into the city streets and subways. It’s up to an animal pest control agent with big poofy red hair, a hairy chested gym teacher, and a kid in a conductor’s hat to stop this wave of vermin before it floods the city with death, destruction, and rat turds the size of chalkboard erasers.
Taking a page from THE KILLER SHREWS (reviewed here), the makers of DEADLY EYES decked out dachshunds in rat costumes to give the rats mobility –this was before CGI, you know. Other shots are obvious hand puppets, but director Robert Clouse (who directed ENTER THE DRAGON and A GAME OF DEATH which is featured as playing in the movie theater which is besieged by rats during the climax of the film) did a pretty decent job of splicing it all together to make it all work. Seeing the rats make their way through the maze of tunnels actually looks pretty awesome, despite the knowledge that these are obvious practical effects. Something about that ingenuity makes it all the more appealing to me and Clouse didn’t hold back on the blood either as the film is filled with all sorts of biting rat mayhem. Clouse keeps things dark, which most likely was due to cover up the seams of the rat costumes, but these scenes bring an air of shadowy atmosphere as well.
While you do have to sit through quite a bit of horrible drama between a student with a crush on her gym teacher, you also get some cool Scatman Crothers scenes, an awesome rats amok in a theater and a subway train massacre, and a ballsy scene where a baby goes bye-bye. DEADLY EYES isn’t high cinema. It’s a goofy film with a goofier story that serves as a means to show lots and lots of rat attacks. I had a great time revisiting this one and I think those who remember this one as a kid will have fun too.
Special features to this Blu include an awesome documentary called DOGS IN RATS’ CLOTHING which talks with the filmmakers about how they got the dogs into the rat costumes and the arduous task of making them all work. There are also interviews with actors Lisa Langolis, Lesleh Donaldson, Joseph Kelly and Special effects artist Allan Apone. As usual, Shout Factory has done it again, dusting off the droppings collected on this bright shiny rat turd of a fun film and making it look as good as it ever will be.
New this week in theaters, On Demand, and iTunes from RLJ Entertainment!
AFTERMATH (2012)aka REMNANTS
Directed by Peter Engert
Written by Christian McDonald
Starring Edward Furlong, Monica Keena, William Baldwin, Andre Royo, C.J. Thomason, Luis Da Silva Jr., Bo Mitchell, Ross Britz, Randal Reeder, Christine Kelly
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
It’s not that AFTERMATH is a bad film. Structurally, acting wise, hell, even stylistically, the film has a lot to offer. It’s just that as far as end of the world/post-apocalyptian survival flicks goes, there’s not a lot the film offers that is new or innovative.
During the opening sequence of the film, a lone man named Hunter (C.J. Thomason) staggers across a deserted road while news plays in the background talking about heightened conflicts in the Middle East, American involvement, and an increase in terrorist activities and then a nuclear bomb drops in the background. Struggling to get to shelter with survivors from a nearby highway, Hunter leads a group to a farmhouse with a concrete basement where more survivors have congregated. Sealing themselves in, the group must work together to survive or die from the dangers both nuclear and human trying to enter their sanctuary.
What plays out is your typical trapped survivors tale where it’s the fact that humans are too fucked up to share the same space proves to be a bigger undoing than the horrors outside. THE WIRE’s Andre Royo and Edward Furlong and Monica Keena (both from NIGHT OF THE DEMONS) play some of the other survivors. The bickering commences and Furlong leads the charge as resident asshole for no apparent reason other than the script telling him to do so. Furlong’s decent as the asshole, but his forced arguments with others in the basement are only there to give people someone to bicker with. Sure the pressure is high since his wife is about the have a child, but the selfishness exuded from the character makes it hard to root for him when he supposedly has his arc of redemption by the end. The fact that others don’t see how inane the arguments are and give in and participate in them made me care less for them as well. All in all, the forced arguments really get in the way of liking anyone here.
What this film does offer is an info dump as Hunter appears to know quite a bit about nuclear survival and the aftereffects of the radiation. But instead of incorporating that into the story, Hunter just barks these facts at the other survivors the whole time. I really found this info fun and something I hadn’t really seen before in a film and had the script made it happen in the film, I think this would have been all the more successful. Instead the easy way of telling us this info results in the least interesting.
AFTERMATH isn’t without its cool moments. The final conflict with the nuke radiated survivors outside features multiple freeze frames to accentuate the action and perspectives of each player. It’s old school grindhousey fun that had me wishing the rest of this film had this type of spice. But while the ending of this film including the freeze frames are thrilling, it kind of comes a little too late after a whole lot of bickering for no reason.
If you’ve seen any zombie/nuclear apocalypse/monster outside the house standoff film, you’re bound to get bored with the situation AFTERMATH plays out in the first hour fifteen. It’s people trapped and bouncing off of one another—the kind of conflict we’ve seen in everything from NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD to THE DIVIDE. But because so many films have been made about the apocalypse and life after, you have to do something pretty special and different in order to be worth seeing. AFTERMATH tells the story decently, but it’s the same thing with too little to make it distinct from the rest of the fallout.
New this week on DVD/BluRay from Well Go USA Entertainment!
SX_TAPE (2013)aka SXTAPE
Directed by Bernard Rose
Written by Eric Reese
Starring Caitlyn Folley, Julie Marcus, Chris Coy, Daniel Faraldo, Diana García, Eric Neil Gutierrez
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
I’ve heard a lot of harsh criticism of SX_TAPE, the latest in what seems to be an endless barrage of found footage films. For what seems like ages, first time and fledgling filmmakers have made attempts to make it big by cutting costs and filming in the first person. But it seems like even more seasoned filmmakers are firing that fancy cinematographer, dropping the steady cam, and shaking that lens. Last year, wizened filmmaker Barry Levinson took a stab at the subgenre with THE BAY and now CANDYMAN director Bernard Rose is dipping his toe into the POV pool.
While SX_TAPE is not the best footage found, it certainly is better than some of the other one’s I’ve reviewed in this column. The story literally follows a sultry young artist named Jill (Caitlyn Folley) as she flits around life tossing her hair and devious smile at the camera. She is obviously in love with herself and in her mind, is the shining star of her own and everyone else’s movie as she seems to disregard anyone else’s thoughts or feelings, at least in the footage presented. Following her around like a puppy is Adam (Daniel Faraldo), who is more than happy to film the two of them having sex in various places and feeling into her ego by saying how great an artist she is and how big a star she is likely to become. Adam leads Jill to an abandoned hospital which he promotes as a cool site for her to put on an outsider, indie art show to promote her work. While they explore the hospital, of course they have sex in one of the beds and when Adam leaves Jill strapped to a bed with the camera running, a ghostly figure enters the room and Jill becomes possessed by an unsettled spirit roaming the hospital. When another couple join Adam and Jill in the hospital, they all get split up and the rest of the film follows Adam’s desperate search to find the seemingly possessed Jill.
As far as technical aspects of the found footage film, the whole thing is structured in a sound fashion. No cheat edits or cuts are made and pretty much everything looks and feels as if this were an authentic tape. Having this plus going for the film, in terms of keeping this viewer into the film, it was successful. The main problem is that there aren’t a lot of characters here worth following. Jill is vapid from the get go and leads Adam on as if she has him on a lease. At the same time, the only advantage or some semblance of control Adam has in the relationship comes when he actually binds her to a bed which doesn’t exactly paint him as a strong or likable character himself. Let’s not even go into the dickbag friend of Jill’s who bullies Adam and threatens to sleep with Jill as soon as Adam’s back is turned and another female; the only “good” person in the group, who barely has enough screen time to form an opinion about her. Because of this lack of likable characters, it’s hard to give a shit about them once they’re in peril. Sure Jill is sexy as all get out, but presents with an air that will most likely register as shallow and the worst type of product of Hollywood.
There are a few quality scares in this film though. I have to admit, I was enthralled after Jill’s first encounter with the spirit and a few of the venturing down dark hallways that follow. But things get tiresome by the final act, despite a decently shot final sequence. I do understand why some would hate this film as the final scene is absolutely asinine and unnecessary. The last few seconds of the film throw all common sense and purpose out the window in favor of some kind of shock which simply falls limp and flat (pardon the pun).
Director Rose, who was so effective in chilling and thrilling with CANDYMAN, doesn’t really show any of that intensity or creativity here. Sure SX-TAPE is a technically sound found footager, but the simple fact that I didn’t care whether or not this footage was found or about any of the characters makes the film one I’d prefer to remain lost. A few jumps and startles make it fun, but nothing more than run of the mill. Still the ire for this film confounds me, as it is simply middle of the road and not worth the effort or all the hatred.
New this week on BluRay/DVD from Tribeca Films (available on iTunes this week)!
OPEN GRAVE (2013)Directed by Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego
Written by Eddie Borey & Chris Borey
Starring Sharlto Copley, Thomas Kretschmann, Josie Ho, Joseph Morgan, Erin Richards, Max Wrottesley
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
A man (Sharlto Copley) wakes up in a pit filled with dead bodies confused and without a shred of memory as to how he got there or even who he is. That’s how OPEN GRAVE begins and its one of those films which hits the ground running and never really lets up until the credits start to role.
Copley is fantastic as a John Doe among a group of John and Jane Does who are all experiencing amnesia as well. Haunted by vague recollections of relationships and past skills, all of the cast is phenomenal at playing with the paranoia writers Eddie and Chris Borey and director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego toss at them from start to finish. As memories begin to come back, the group uncovers what looks to be a community of sorts surrounded by dead bodies bound to trees and fences. The group also has bruising akin to needle marks on all of their arms. These are the clues expertly laid out on the table in front of us for all of us, including the cast to dissect, deduce, and sleuth.
While there are homicidal axe-wielding madmen and corpses hanging from trees in this film, for the most part this is a tension filled mystery with a clock ticking to see who can solve the riddle and make it out alive. While it may be difficult for some to deal with all of the ambiguity in the opening 45 minutes, the strong characters make it all the more enjoyable and will most likely entice you to ride this wave to the end, despite not knowing what the hell is going on.
Most mysteries of this kind loses its steam once the answers begin to be unearthed, but OPEN GRAVE continues to ask questions and more importantly, makes me care about who survives once the questions are answered, so the tension continued even after the mystery is revealed. Lopez-Gallego and the Borleys are ever so patient in doling out answers and the expansive shot the film leaves us on ends it all an utterly gloomy note.
OPEN GRAVE is thriller/chiller tighter than a Marine’s bunk sheets with Copley once again proving to be a fantastic actor in that he causes us to identify and hate him intermittently throughout the narrative. Though uncharacteristically expansive in scope, OPEN GRAVE feels like a mystery that Hitchcock himself might have cooked up.
New this week on DVD/BluRay from A24!
UNDER THE SKIN (2013)Directed by Jonathan Glazer
Written by Walter Campbell & Jonathan Glazer (screenplay), Michel Faber (novel)
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Lynsey Taylor Mackay, Dougie McConnell, Kevin McAlinden, D. Meade, Andrew Gorman, Joe Szula, Krystof Hádek, Roy Armstrong, Alison Chand, Ben Mills, Oscar Mills, Lee Fanning, Paul Brannigan,
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
UNDER THE SKIN is an ambitious film unlike any I’ve seen in quite a while. The film is obtuse, open for interpretation, and utterly patient as far as storytelling, and while it is definitely a film I am glad I saw, I know it’s definitely not going to be a film for everyone.
<br< UNDER THE SKIN follows an alien that wears the skin of a human who assumes the form of another alien laying dead on the side of the road (both played by Scarlett Johansson). Aided by a mysterious biker who seems to be the alien’s guardian of sorts, the alien steals the clothing of a prostitute and then drives around Scottish countrysides and suburbs picking up random individuals and harvesting them for what looks to be their skins.
There’s more to UNDER THE SKIN. The film is actually quite nuanced, but for many, I think it’ll be hard for folks to stick with the film in order to see just what transpires. Moving at a snail’s pace, the alien picks up one person after the next, taking part in the same ritual over and over which entails the alien (Johansson) disrobing as she walks across a mirrored black floor. Behind her, follows her victim who, thinking he’s going to have him some sexy time, who disrobes as well one article of clothing at a time. What the victim doesn’t notice is that he is sinking into the floor and soon sinks completely into the mirrored surface and disappears. This scene is repeated numerous times through the movie, revealing a little more info about what’s going on every time it occurs. Still, even after we find out what happens to the victims under the surface, it’s still not completely clear.
Now, I’m not someone who needs everything explained to me. The surreality of this ritual was engrossing for me. Sure it’s awesome to see Johansson disrobe over and over, but the reflective surfaces, mixed with the bizarre gravity of the situation and the hypnotizing music make it all feel as if I was witnessing some type of upside down dream through the eyes of something that doesn’t follow by the same rules of physics as I do. Director Jonathan Glazer who offered up his fair share of memorable imagery in SEXY BEAST, tops himself and then some with this visual smorgasbord. Glazer definitely channels his inner Kubrick as everything about the opening and these erotic death sequences feel as if they are the next evolution of the visuals seen in 2001: A SPACE ODDYSEY. From the long silences to the unnatural music used, the film feels as if it were some kind of long lost film Kubrick hid away and Glazer found.
Now storywise, I think the film comes up a bit lacking as it’s not until an hour in that we really see anything resembling a conflict in need of a resolution until Johansson starts feeling some kind of empathy for her victims. Those with little patience will definitely have tuned out by then. Johansson is amazing in the role, offering up an inscrutable façade for most of the film and shifting this look only slightly once she begins to realize what she is doing might be wrong when she picks up a man who is terribly deformed. Still, even when the emotions start to creep in, Johansson plays it pretty blank; emoting only in small ticks and quivers. Yes, there has been much said about her nakedness in this film and those scenes are bound to excite men and women alike, but her performance here is much more nuanced than sheer cheesecake and shows a talented actress under all of that sexy exterior. I was surprised at how much she says simply with her eyes alone as much of this film is following her silently pursuing her victims, while the other half is her running away from the chaos she has caused.
One thing that needs to be mentioned here is the music of the film by Mica Levi who makes everything feel unnatural and gives every scene its own theme song. The crude yet sexy music that showcases the grotesque way Johansson lures in her victims feels as if it were made by instruments made on another planet. Reminiscent of the soundtrack to THE SHINING, the off-kilter feeling I got while watching this film had a lot to do with the musical accompaniment. While I’m not one to notice soundtracks that often, Levi makes the music another character that lingers in the dark corners of every frame and tells us more about Johansson’s alien that she ever does in words.
The ending, when it does arrive at just shy of the two hour mark, is pretty intense. Again, as Glazer did throughout, it is filled with shots I had never experienced before. Again, it’s a quiet, yet utterly deafening barrage of imagery and sensations. It takes things to a logical place, though the rest of the film feels highly foreign to logic and resolves things in a tragic and awful manner. UNDER THE SKIN got a lot of press because of Johansson’s nudity, but that’s the least interesting part of the film. What really makes it work is the unique eye of Glazer and the bizarre story by Michel Faber. At times, it’s so grotesque you’re going to want to turn away, but the inundation of sights and sounds are going to grip those who allow themselves to be engulfed by the film.
And finally…here’s a music video directed by Jeramiah Kipp who directed the short film CRESTFALLEN which I featured a while back. This video from Aaron David Gleason stars Chris Sarandon (FRIGHT NIGHT, THE PRINCESS BRIDE), Joanna Gleason (INTO THE WOODS, Dirk Diggler's mom from BOOGIE KNIGHTS) and Alice Ripley (The Who’s TOMMY). Not only do I dig the song, but the video is full of all types of spooky and cool imagery. Enjoy MASTERMIND!
See ya next week, folks!
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over 13 years & AICN HORROR for 4. Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller.
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